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Doctor Strange: A Comparative Review

Spoilers below for Doctor Strange, Iron Man, Age of Ultron, Captain America: Civil War,

I just recently watched Doctor Strange for the first time. Afterwards, I immediately went to two of my three favorite reviewers to see what they had to say about the movie. Screen Junkies and Hishe both compared the movie heavily to Iron Man, saying that it is basically the same movie. Instinctively, this felt wrong to me, mainly because I was thinking of the main characters and how different they were, despite everyone seeming to think they are the same. So I went back and watched Iron Man again, because let’s face it, it’s been a while, and luckily it was on Prime (btw, Iron Man is distributed by a different company than later MCU movies, along with Thor and the first Captain America movie, so it is doubtful that you will see all of the MCU movies on the same streaming service or in a box set). Having watched it again, so quickly after having watched Doctor Strange, I can tell you without a doubt that the only two things these have in common are that they are both hero’s journey stories (which is one of like five stories you can tell) and both superhero origin stories (which is needed when you introduce a new superhero. Duh.). Otherwise, I found these movies very different.

“But Aren’t They Both Just Arrogant Jackasses?”

Arrogance is a trait both Tony Stark and Stephen Strange carry; however, in truth, Strange only seems arrogant. Many people have previously called Stark a narcissist. In point of fact, by psychological definitions, he is not. Strange, on the other hand, very much has narcissistic personality disorder. Stark is full of himself, but he grew up in money and prestige and genius with a demanding and distant father. As such, Stark doesn’t care about much except having a good time when we are first introduced to him in Iron Man. He is child without adult supervision. He has fun whenever he can, however he can. He doesn’t care if the company is truly successful or how, just that it keeps him in money (i.e. fun). He has no real goals. It’s just party, party, party all the time.

He plays craps when he should be getting a prestigious award and gives that award away to a stranger on a whim, because awards from society or friends don’t matter.

He races his bodyguard/driver to get to his private jet, where he left his more serious friend to wait hours.

His flight attendants bring him drinks and double as strippers. It’s all fun. And it is all pointless. His lack of care is what almost got him killed. If he had been more on his guard, more involved with his company, he would have figured out that Stane was selling their weapons to terrorists and kicked him out long ago. But he didn’t care. He was having fun. What did Yensin say to him? “Don’t let your life be a waste.” Most everyone puts Tony Stark as either an ENTP or J. You can look up their profiles here and here.

Now compare that to the Doctor Strange we are introduced to at the beginning of the film. He prides himself on knowing useless information so that he can stump his coworkers, a way to one up them. He also prides himself on beating his coworkers down when they make a mistake. He’ll do this in front of everyone and make sure everyone knows that the gravity of his coworker’s mistake and that he’s the one to fix it. He wants to break new ground medically and wants procedures he creates named after him, even though he has to be reminded that he alone did not create those procedures. He loves going to award ceremonies for himself.

He has only the best home, only the best clothes, only the best accessories, and only the best cars.

Only the best.

All his past awards are displayed in a rather large and showy case, so that anyone who comes to his home knows just how awesome his is. He has to pass all other drivers to show that he is the best driver. He refuses to take cases that others can solve and refuses to take cases with a low probability of success. For him, everything is about status. Showing to the world around him that he is the best. That no one is as good as him at anything and that he is perfect and never fails. What does the Ancient One say to him? “You did it because of your fear of failure.” I would put Doctor Strange as an INTJ because he is a jack of trades when it comes to knowledge, has a great memory, doesn’t see the point in much social interaction, is a self learner, and rules that don’t make sense are ignored, but once they make sense from new information, they are followed. Others have agreed with this, while others disagree. But personality types are hard to lay out on a character in the first place, but the two in question are obviously not the same type.

Inciting Incidents

These two men are faced with very different psychological problems. There isn’t really a disorder for what Tony has (maybe there should be: HPD, hedonistic personality disorder?), but it is clear that Strange has NPD. Tony Stark is shown to have no fear of failure, and he shouldn’t because he is an inventor. They fail all the time. It’s a constant working through set backs and failed versions. We get three different Iron Man suits in the first movie. We get multiple tests that go haywire too. None of that seems to set Tony back at all. He just keeps going, working out the kinks. In fact, we laugh with him as he works them out. While his lack of care got him into trouble, that trouble got him out of his apathy. When Yensin dies, he suddenly has a reason to care. He realizes that by ignoring his company, innocent people were getting hurt and that was his fault. So he was going to do something about it. Failures be dammed.

Strange’s own psychological problems led to his own downfall as well, but Tony obviously recovered much quicker and better than Strange did. He could still work no problem. The car crash, caused by Strange’s desire to be the best at everything, resulted in the loss of his abilities as a doctor. This destroyed everything Strange had been working for all his life. He couldn’t work anymore. There would be no more awards, no more breakthroughs, no more adulation. He wasn’t just a failure; he couldn’t even try. Unlike Tony Stark, who became a better person for his inciting incident, all the worst traits of an NPD were maximized in Strange upon his accident. NPDs are hard enough to be around when they are successful, as they tend to rub everyone’s nose in their success, but they are far, far worse when they have failed. They lash out at the people around them in cruel and hurtful ways and may even become violent for it. So failure only worsens their condition, which is why Strange avoided it all his life and career. Strange becomes obsessed with fixing the cause of his failure as he sees it: his hands. The reality is that his failure came from his fear of it because he had to be the fastest driver. It is almost cruel of a writer to do what happens to Strange, not because he was such a nice guy, but because he was functioning somewhat well even if he couldn’t have healthy personal relationships.

The Journey

Tony Stark’s journey is pretty straight forward: shut down the weapons manufacturing, create a better suit to help the people his weapons have hurt. He gets a little side-tracked on the second part because it is more fun, thereby making it harder to do the first part. He’s still a little too focused on the fun. But it’s not much of a sidetrack really. Iron Man, by and large, is a very simple, plot-based movie, so it’s hard to give the hero’s journey too much attention. Tony actually keeps choosing the more fun options throughout most of the movies. Fun for Tony is also about what is most interesting from a scientific standpoint. That’s why he made Ultron. It’s not until after Ultron that Tony finally realizes that scientifically interesting may also mean dangerous. That takes quite a while.

Strange’s journey is more focused and interesting. He has to learn “that it’s not about [him]”. The Ancient One keeps recognizing exactly what’s wrong with Strange and saying it to him point blank. This is where things take an interesting turn from a psychological and social standpoint. NPDs never seek professional help, because they don’t think anything is wrong with them. After all, they are perfect, the best of the best. Everyone else has a problem. But when Strange loses the use of his hands and Western medicine cannot help him at all, he becomes so desperate that he is willing to look for answers in places that don’t have the kind of controls that modern medicine has. He has looked everywhere else for the answer, so now it’s time too look in the shadier corners. When he comes to the Ancient One, he believes that she is still a scientist, but that she is doing something illegal. When it turns out that she is more of a mystic than a scientist, he scoffs at her ideas. Until she blows his mind. Now we don’t have the ability to blow the mind of an NPD the way the Ancient One did, but if we did, I imagine it would have a profound psychological impact on them. After he asks her to teach him and she refuses, we see just how low Strange has been brought. He is there for hours, begging to be let back in. The last thing he says before they open the door is “I’ve got nowhere else to go.” Strange truly has been destroyed at this point. He is a complete and utter nothing. But when they open the door, amazingly, the first thing out of his mouth is a feeble “Thank you.” It gets a laugh, but it also shows something interesting. I do not believe that had he fallen through a door before he had been brought this low that he would have said “thank you.” Instead I believe he would have berated the person for opening the door while he was leaning against it. He has been changed. Finally.

But he is still arrogant and still afraid of failure. Well, a cure for a personality disorder doesn’t happen in one fell swoop. Now, some psychologists and laymen don’t believe that personality disorders can be cured, especially not NPD. It’s just who they are, right? Why else would they call it a personality disorder if it wasn’t a personality? Well, they’ve found that with certain treatments some people can lose symptoms of a personality disorder, thus sliding out of the DSM requirements to be diagnosed with that disorder. The one that seems to have some of the best results is borderline personality disorder, which with certain medications, one-on-one counseling, and group DBT therapy can cause actual recovery. The problem is that too many psychologists don’t try to get their patients to recovery, just through the day to day, and too many sufferers of personality disorders consider themselves unworthy of treatment, incapable of recovery, or, in the case of almost every NPD, perfectly fine the way they are. Now there is not a lot of research into if NPDs can recover because of the very fact that they don’t think anything is wrong with them. Doctors can’t research patients that don’t go to the doctor. But recovery from any ingrained psychological condition, especially one that took someone as far as it took Doctor Strange, is time consuming and not at all quick. So yes, Strange is still kind of a dick. But why is the Ancient One’s method’s working at all?

Many Western philosophies deal in the idea of the individual and the importance of each individual. Things such as subjectivity vs objectivity, perception, sensation, aesthetics, and signicance tend to run through most of these philosophies. Many Eastern philosophies, on the other hand, deal greatly with the unimportance of self, the destruction of the individual, sacrifice of self, all to achieve a greater unity with the world. NPD, which most laymen will understand is about narsicsim, is all about the self. The self is most important. Especially, the perception of others of that self. So perceptively, the Ancient One doesn’t buy the bull that Strange keeps trying to sell her. She repeatly calls him Mister and corrects him when he tries to correct her. Every time he tries to tell her who he is or what his motivations are, she calls him a liar. And he confirms what she says too. He has been brought low by his accident, then shown how insignificant he was when she showed him the multiverse, and she will not let him lie about who he is. He is experiencing a distruction of self. Whether he likes it or not. It’s interesting to note at this point that most psychological disorders do not cross cultures. The WHO is trying to come up with an international way of looking at psychology, but it seems that culture ties too tightly into what is considered disordered and how disorders form. As such, I’ve never heard of NPD in China and the like. An ingrained cultural sense that the self is unimportant may in fact prevent NPD altogether. So perhaps the correct treatment of NPD is the destruction of self.

Because what happens at the end? Doctor Strange is destroyed, and again, and again, and again, and again. And again, and again, and again. In fact, as he puts it he’s losing over and over again. Finally, Strange understands that failure is not to be feared. In fact, at times, it is the only way to succeed. It is also interesting to note that Dormammu was played by Cumberbatch as well, adding into the internal struggle metaphor of Doctor Strange. Not only did he set it up so that he would fail over and over again, but is also being destroyed by himself every time.

Now some would counter that Strange doesn’t really have NPD because he loves Christine and NPDs and some other personality disorders preclude the capability of love but I just believe it often precludes healthy expression or experience of love. No where in the DSM definitions of personality disorders does it list a symptom as “incapable of love”. It may say “poor interpersonal relationship skills” or something to that effect. So please stop saying these people are incapable of love. Strange displays the required number of symptoms to be diagnosed as a NPD, and by the end of the movie he has lost enough symptoms to be considered cured. He is humble and self-sacrificing. A complete 180.


Vs Iron Man

We just don’t get the kind of in depth character ark or metaphorical play in Iron Man that we got in Doctor Strange. It was the first attempt. They didn’t have much of a script. And they didn’t really know what they were doing. We’re now in phase three. The characters are starting to become better out the gate and the older ones, like Tony Stark, are becoming more complex real people as well. It’s not really until Iron Man 3 that we see that Tony can be vulnerable, it’s not until The Avengers: Age of Ultron that he allows fear to get the better of him, and it is not until Captain America: Civil War that we see him try truly to make up for the mistakes he made as Iron Man. Iron Man’s journey is actually the journey of the MCU. It’s all fun; whoa, things just got scary, better step it up a notch; crap, I went too far. In fact, in Iron Man it’s all fun even when killing people, which Tony has no compunctions about. Which makes sense given the fact that he grew up on the money of weapons manufacturing. Doctor Strange, on the other hand, is introduced in the “crap, I went too far” stage, so he kills one guy and is immediately upset by it. After all, he is a doctor. The Ancient One kind of calls BS on him again, but I don’t believe Strange is really lying when he says he’s upset for killing that man. He was fighting for his life and he gets that, but he’s not okay with how far he had to go. He didn’t want to be part of a mystic war. In fact, he said just that right before the fight started. Tony has no issues killing what he probably thinks of as “enemy combatants”. There is no moment of “Oh, my god. I killed someone” for Tony in the first movie. Probably because he knows as a weapons manufacturer he has blood on his hands and to him making and selling the weapons is no different than firing them. It is actually an admirable stance for Tony to take for it makes it clear that to him he is responsible and that is his fight in the first movie. But it is barely touched on. The whole movie is party and doesn’t go too deep into the ideas of responsibility or hedonism.

Finally the Facial Hair

Interestingly, Stan Lee has stated that Tony Stark was based on Howard Hughes and Doctor Strange was based on Vincent Price. Now, Stark was based on Hughes’ personality wise, the high-flying, the girls, the parties, etc. Strange was based on Price’s look. He’s often voiced in a Price kind of way too. Luckily, we didn’t get that in the movie from Cumberbatch who just played him straight. So the beards seem kind of like a coincidence to me. I’ve never quite gotten Stark’s facial hair to be honest. It’s just a very strange look, that they even did in the movie. It tends to go back along his jaw but not all the way along his jaw and up around his mouth but not to meet his mustache. That’s weird. They did eventually change it in the movies to just a bushy, dark van dyke so that it wasn’t so weird. Strange’s on the other hand is a pretty straight forward thin van dyke. I can dig that. It’s been done before. Stark’s not so much. Who the hell takes the time to do that to their face? Stark apparently. I guess he is rich. Probably has a barber come in and do it for him on a regular basis. They’ve also pretty much updated it in the comics too. For which, I’m glad.

Conclusion

Way better than Iron Man. Like a thousand times. And Iron Man is enjoyable. It’s just not got the depth and social implications and work that Doctor Strange has. I wasn’t expecting to enjoy Doctor Strange as much as I did, but I wasn’t expecting to enjoy Ant-Man or Guardians of the Galaxy as much as I did either. My favorite Marvel characters are Spider-Man, Wolverine, Psylocke, Deadpool, and Black Widow, and so far Ant-Man, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Doctor Strange have been my favorite movies. It’s hard to please me when four out of five of my favorite characters are not readily available to MCU. Now Spider-Man is and I’ve been disappointed by what they’ve done with him so far. It’s hard to top Spider-Man 2 for story and character development. And I am not a fan of Iron Man knowing his identity as no one is supposed to know who he is. Overall, I think the greatness of Ant-Man, Guardians, and Strange come from the actors and/or great story and character development. Doctor Strange was directed by a (creative) fan of the character, which I believe we can all agree can be very important to the success of an adaptation. See below.


Here’s a singular idea: don’t direct it if you weren’t a fan. It means you didn’t understand or care about the central themes. That’s important to creating a new story with that IP. More than the world creation or plots. Scott Derrickson got that and that’s why he did such a good job with Doctor Strange: themes, not plots, matter.

And that’s all I have to say about that.

P.S.

I will be going to a double feature for Guardians fo the Galaxy tomorrow before it premiers on Friday, so look for my first thoughts this weekend. I usually like to watch a movie several times and think about it a while before I write my full review but I’ll try to give a recommendation at the very least. Happy watching and reading!

 
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Posted by on April 30, 2017 in Craft of Writing

 

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Star Wars: Why I Don’t Like It

Whoa! Before you start throwing tomatoes at me, understand that I don’t like Star Wars, but not because I’m a bad person or because I don’t like sci-fi. I love sci-fi, but Star Wars is not on my list of must haves for sci-fi. I love 2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Trek: First Contact, Terminator, Fifth Element, and Interstellar. Now, yes, I like Star Trek better than Star Wars, but I don’t compare the two and think one is better than the other. Instead, I don’t like Star Wars, and I like Star Trek. They aren’t all that comparable, and I’m not going to in this post. Much. Instead, I’m going to go over all the reasons that make Stars Wars not as good as it could be. Now first off, I haven’t read any of the books or comic books nor watched any of the shows. Like CinemaSins, to me, the books don’t matter. The movies are all the average person gives a crap about and they are the original versions of the story. So let’s dive in. Beware, spoilers below.

The Prequels

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Clear cut fans of Star Wars would have me ignore these entirely, but fanboys think these movies are good, and their suckage should be explained. And they suck for several reasons, not all of them exclusive to being prequels. Comparatively though, they are far worse than the original series.

The Acting

Now, I’m in complete agreement with CinemaSins when they state that every sin in acting in the prequels is actually a sin for George Lucas. The actors of the prequels had nearly no say in any of their performances, from intensity of tone to the circumstances of their lines and body language. Much of this can be seen in Hayden Christianson’s performance, especially in Attack of the Clones. He is sooooo whiny. But as ScreenJunkies pointed out, so was Luke in A New Hope, so most likely this was a decision made by Lucas, not Christianson. Lucas can’t think of teenage boys in any other way than whiny. Admittably, they usually are, as are teenage girls, but that’s not necessarily something an audience wants to see. Unfortunately, for audiences of Attack of the Clones, Lucas decided to showcase Anakin’s whininess far more than Luke’s was in A New Hope, making him nearly unbearable.

Besides that, one way that the acting fell extremely short is the woodenness of the performances from such amazing and award winning actors as Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, and Natalie Portman. Portman, let’s not forget, was nominated for an Oscar when she was a little girl and would go on to win one after the dreadful prequels for Black Swan. But Portman, like all good actors, needs good direction. Her performance in V for Vendetta, while amazing, fell short in a few spots. And she’s quite dull in the MCU Thor movies which is possibly why she’s not returning. The problem with the acting in the prequels wasn’t just that the actors may have not been giving it their all but also that the director wasn’t more demanding of their performances. He seemed perfectly satisfied with very mundane takes. I’m sure on the editing floor that all the takes were poorly performed and that had they chosen the worst takes that the performances could not have been much worse. But besides the poor direction, what made their acting quite so god awful?

Acting is reacting. This is a very old acting saying. It is also very true. And sadly during the prequels, the actors had very little to react to. Not just from their costars that were in the room with them, but also from those costars that weren’t on set with them. How about the fact that in Attack of the Clones Portman takes a bite of a pear slice that isn’t even there? Or all the reaction shots to amazing sights that also weren’t there? CGI benefits audiences by being exactly what the director envisioned and it benefits the studio for now being cheaper than using actual sets. It does not benefit the actors in their performances. It’s hard to react to something that isn’t actually there. It turns actors into mimes and children playing pretend. This isn’t such a bad thing with a little bit of CGI here and there, but the prequels were mainly CGI. It made the performances of the actors seem somewhat silly on top of being wooden at times.

The Writing

Direction and acting are not the only issues with these movies, of course. The starting point, the story and dialogue with which some of the story is conveyed, is also awful. As Mr. Plinket explained in his Red Letter Media reviews of Star Wars, the plot was far too complicated, with multiple climaxes happening at once, and the characters were undeveloped. It is important for stories to be complex, but it is especially important for a movie to come to a single boiling point where everything is wrapped up, not only at the same time but also within the same climatic action. What does that mean exactly? It means subplots and the main plot all need to be resolved within the same scene. Watch the first prequel. In it we have the Queen running an insurgent attack, Anakin in a fighter in the space battle, the two jedi fighting Darth Maul, and Jar Jar Binks taking part in the droid battle. The movie jumps between the four scenes, all of them with completely different tones. None of our main characters are working together. Now watch Marvel’s The Avengers. At the end of this movie, we have our heroes spread out over several blocks of New York, but all battling the same army, all with the same major goal. The same is true in Galaxy Quest. The crew split up, but they are all on the ship together, fighting to save it, then they all come together on the bridge for the actual final battle against Saris. Showing us four different fights, with four different goals, with some of those fights being huge, means that our characters’ actions don’t affect the other characters’ situations right now. Jar Jar Binks’ hijinks on the battlefield have no affect on the jedi fight. So why even show us what Jar Jar is up to?

We don’t care what Jar Jar does, because we don’t care about this character. We also don’t really care about Anakin. We frankly have a hard time caring about any of the characters in these movies because there is really nothing but costume and position to them (as again Mr. Plinket pointed out). Think about Daredevil season one, not only do we root for Matt, but we also root for Wilson Fisk, even if they are at odds. We feel sympathy for both characters. When watching the prequel films, we don’t feel sympathy for any of them. What do any of them actually want? Why do they want it? How are their goals at odds? What will they do if they don’t get what they want? These are important questions that the writers of the prequels never really addressed, so it’s hard for the actors to convey what no one knows, and it’s even harder for an audience to suss it all out and then feel something about that when the focus is on fancy, shiny fights and boring, talky plot points.

The Money-Making Aspects

A lot from the prequels is about making money. The flashy costumes, the different aliens, the pods and spaceships, the light sabers (you thought Anakin kept losing his light saber for story? That doesn’t hold water when Luke is supposed to have his dad’s light saber), and the fact that they were made at all. Did we need more Star Wars? Did we ask for more Star Wars? Most of us did not. We didn’t ask for all those crappy re-edits and remasterings of the originals either. Most of us were content to let it go. But Lucas and co wanted money. This is why there are so many characters, so many costumes, so many different aliens (pretty much none of which were in the original series). So instead of trying to make a good new Star Wars movie (guess what? Not everything needs to be a freaking trilogy) with a good story and in depth characters with interesting motivations, we instead got overly marketed crap that looked like Lucas ate a box of crayons and a tube of glitter glue then vomited into a camera. That’s why, more than any other reason, these movies weren’t good.

The Most Recent Prequel: Spoilers and Spoiled on Rogue One

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I just watched this. It was hard to get through the first half. It had a lot of the prequels’ issue of too much talking and not enough character development. But I will say this and it means a lot: it is the best prequel of any series that I have ever seen. Why? Because the ending was completely unexpected to me. Now, that sounds like a really stupid or impossible statement for a prequel, but it is possible due to the fact that the story of Rogue One is vague from A New Hope. What do we know? Leia ends up with the Death Star plans and a lot of people died for those plans. That’s it. And considering how much Disney wants to make money off of this IP, it was a bold move to go for the ending they did. Some people, however, complained that the tone of A New Hope’s scenes about the actions of Rogue One is completely at odds with what happened in Rogue One: mentions of spies and a diplomatic meeting, the idea that the Empire doesn’t know for certain that the plans to the Death Star have been stolen or that the Death Star has been sabotaged. There was nothing spy-like about Rogue One and saying that Jyn, Cassian, and K-2SO’s infiltration was spying is quite a stretch to my mind. The closest character to being a spy in the movie is Jyn’s father, but he’s not even that because the Rebels think he’s on the side of the Empire.

My Biggest Problem with the Movie

Character Development. First of all: our main two characters are played by the two relatively inexperienced actors: Felicity Jones and Diego Luna. They can’t do the work this script required. They very rarely bring enough depth in the stilted scenes of the first half of the movie that is required since they are given so little to work with. Poor character development is really the fault of writers and directors, but a good actor usually can make an audience get an idea of a character without many lines. Unfortunately, neither of them were really pulling it off. I felt bad for Jones for having so many moments wherein I imagine the script said Look conflicted/sad/angry, instead of giving her an action or line to work with. At one silent point, I thought maybe she was about to vomit. I was wrong. Luna’s character was also a confused mess, the script seemed not to understand the difference between complex and complicated. In his first scene, he kills an ally, for the good of the alliance I suppose, but then doesn’t shoot her father in a later scene. I have no idea what changed his mind about being a stone cold killer for the alliance or why he doesn’t believe her when she tells him her father is innocent or why he then changes his mind and believes her. Again, we don’t know what either of these people really want. When Jyn suddenly decides to care, I couldn’t pinpoint the reason behind the change in motivation. Possibly, because I couldn’t understand her motivation beforehand, though I knew she didn’t seem to care about the fight before. Nor was I sure why she didn’t care. I saw one review in which they said she believed her father was a traitor to the Empire until she saw the message. I didn’t get that sense at all. I got the sense that she believed that her father was kidnapped by the Empire and possibly dead, like her mom. Though, there isn’t much to go on in the beginning of the movie for character development, so any interpretation of her inner thoughts and feelings is valid, which is a major problem.

And they aren’t the only people suffering from a lack of motivation. The others included Zatoichi and his more Dakka buddy. It was understandable why they got on Cassian’s ship. What isn’t clear is why they stuck with him and Jyn throughout the whole movie. Just saying that Zatoichi was following the guiding Force, and his more Dakka buddy was along for the ride, seems like a cop out writing-wise. The Force being the answer whenever the writers can’t come up with a motivation is a little lame. And then there was wheezy and heavy handed Whitaker (again, I don’t really blame him too much for his performance; it’s obvious someone asked him to perform that way), whose motivations were all just “he’s lost his mind”. Even crazys have some kind of internal logic usually based on magical thinking and his didn’t seem to follow any path of reasoning. Even a loopy path. Speaking of would-be crazys, I kept expecting the pilot to do something insane that nearly screwed everything up based on what Whitaker said would happen to the pilot after having that creature probe his mind. I guess, losing one’s mind is just a very, very temporary thing in that case. And as always, there wasn’t enough Alan Tudyk. Just like Transformers 3, 28 Days, and A Knight’s Tale, there is never enough Alan Tudyk. At times, when Cassian would tell him to wait on the ship, I hoped, I prayed, that we would also stay on the ship, so I could see Alan Tudyk shine more. Some might accuse him of simply reprising his role from I, Robot, but the truth is that Sonny was never as acerbic as K-2SO. Nor was K-2SO a carbon copy of C3PO, though his name is very similar for obvious marketing reasons.

All this lack of character development and motivation meant that the last half of the movie, wherein all the greatest moments of character, what with their points of decision, fell somewhat flat because we weren’t sure what we were expecting in the first place. And the final moments of each character was less interesting and impactful than they could have been.

The Worst Moments

When Jyn is trying to “escape” her “rescuers”. I feel like we’ve been here before in other movies. I’m sure this was about showing how “tough” she was, but there was no real reason given for this. I can suss out that maybe Jyn was afraid that these rescuers were after something more sinister since no one is all that friendly in this universe, but that’s not shown in the movie. That’s not work a viewer should do; it’s work the movie should do for the viewer.

Twenty-five minutes into the film, we get a flashback to scenes we watched twenty minutes ago. Thank you for your concern, movie, that I may have suffered a blow to the head in those twenty minutes, but I can assure you I was fine. I not only did not forget what happened at the beginning of the movie but also figured out that the adult woman played by Jones was the little girl from the beginning of the movie just all grown up.

When Whitaker and Jones are stiltedly arguing about how they parted, I couldn’t help but wish that the flashbacks from the point above had been replaced with flashbacks of their parting instead. Show, don’t tell.

When Jyn just had to save that little girl. It’s “character development” but I can name tons of movies that have already done it. The first that comes to mind is Spider-Man. Cliche: kid in the middle of chaos just stands there with no adult supervision just waiting for the chaos to take their life. Enter the main hero to usurp evoloution’s right to take out the person with the least amount of survival instincts. Non-cliche: kid does that and the hero shouts at the kid “Run! You’ve got legs, you idiot!” It may not be nice but at least it isn’t pat. Oh, yeah. That kid died like a couple of hours later along with everyone else in that city, so I’m so glad we had to watch Jyn do that.

Cassian having to stop to watch Jyn be a “badass” in the middle of a fight because the only character development we get is “she’s good at fighting.” But this is another cliche moment. Man watches woman kick ass because she doesn’t need his help.

Zatoichi standing up to fight all of the storm troopers. I double-face-palmed at that moment. ZATOICHI! Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mind the original Zatoichi, but I’m really tired of seeing him pop up in other IPs. Not that I mind Ip Man actor, Donnie Yen. I’m just tired of Zatoichi being in everything (Looking at you Daredevil!).

Every time K-2SO left the screen. Come back, Alan!

When everyone was all split up around the platform that Galen Erso and Olson Krennic were having their confrontation on. What was Jyn trying to do? Why did Zatoichi and his more Dakka buddy leave the ship? Why didn’t Cassian take the shot? I would have much rather have a really tense scene between Erso and Krennic uninterrupted by these questions.

Stardust, stardust, stardust. Remember that word. It’s important. To help you remember, the movie will continuely say it just to be sure. You know, the head injury we suffered earlier makes remembering hard.

Darth Vader’s first scene which was somewhat pathetic in trying to be cool and failing.

The war room scene wherein for seemly no reason Jyn wants to give a rousing speech to the people who have been in charge of the rebellion for years but now just want to give up.

“We’ll find them. We’ll find a way to find them.” The second sentence does not inspire confidence in this mission.

The many, many, many complications of the ending. Let’s go through the list: they don’t know which file is the Death Star plans, they have to work a giant claw to get the file, they have to get a message through the force field to the rebel fleet because they don’t know they’re sending them the file, they need to flip a master switch to get that message out, they also need to hook something up to their communicator to get that message out, oh and the cord isn’t long enough and they’re being shot at, the claw shut down and now they have to jump across a chasm to grab the file, they have to climb the massive filing cabinet to get to the satellite at the top of the building risking falling to a very Star Warsy death, they’ve got to jump through a giant sphincter to get to the satellite (this is very much a Galaxy Quest problem: “What’s the point of a bunch of choppy crushy things in the middle of a hallway?”), the fleet has to destroy the shield being guarded by two destroyers, the satellite is out of alignment, the control panel for the alignment is out on the end of a walkway that risks an even more Stars Warsy death, the sky battle took out the walkway and made it harder to get back to the other panel that will allow the file to be transferred, and the bad guy is standing there with a gun. How about we just boil it down to there are troopers and bad guys in the way instead of these several video game objective-like complications? We didn’t need that many problems. It was already hard. Did they want to pad the time? They could have done that with character development.

How in the world did Cassian get up there? He could barely move. Is the movie trying to convince me he acrobated his way through the slicing sphincter with a lame arm? Doubtful.

Having to watch the individual deaths of Zatoichi, his more Dakka buddy, and the pilot when the whole place exploded literally minutes later.

The Best Moments

Alan Tudyk. I’m not sure how much I’m going to address this point, but I figured I’d bring it up at least one more time.

When K-2SO grabs the grenade out of the air and casually tosses it at the approaching troopers.

The lack of a bunch of new aliens taking center stage. Thank. You. We didn’t need more of that.

K-2SO trying to pretend that he’s taking Cassian and Jyn as his prisoners to a prison because they are his prisoners.

When they put the bag over Zatoichi’s head and he lost it, reminding them he was blind.

Cassian confronting Jyn about how long he’s been in the war and how she needs to get over herself since the war isn’t about her specifically and other people have suffered too and that meant making hard decisions that weren’t pretty. Hey, this movie just got serious.

How everyone died. I wasn’t expecting it. I knew people would die, but I wasn’t expecting that everyone involved in getting the plans, excepting Leia who just got them handed off to her like a bloody relay race, would die. It was somewhat impressive that Disney didn’t try to milk the characters for another two movies. It was bold which is somewhat sad that not turning something into is trilogy is now a bold move.

Darth Vader’s final scene in which he became the walking nightmare of the rebels. Their screams for help were so intense and real, and while I know before the scene that the plans make it out of that hallway, it was so terrifying that I actually was afraid that all would be lost. That was the moment he became cool. Also, good job showing him outclass all of those rebel soldiers without making them look like goobers as they did with the other Jedis in the prequels.

That Cassian and Jyn didn’t kiss. This wasn’t a romance and I was afraid they may try to make it one. I mean, they only knew each other for a couple of days.

In Conclusion

The first half of the movie was mostly painful, but it had its moments. The climax was overly complicated but tied the movie up well. I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. I just wish the characters had been better developed so that the ending was more impactful.

The Original Films

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The Basics

We can all remember these movies fondly, especially when we compare them to the prequels. But every time I rewatch them, I can’t help but have things pop into my head that question just how good these movies really are (like when I rewatched Raiders of the Lost Ark recently). We know that for the most part the stories were cribbed from much older work, which can be okay. It’s a hero’s journey meets some old samurai flicks. I don’t have much of a problem with that because there is a lot in the Star Wars universe that wasn’t taken from somewhere else. The specifics, the tech, the aliens, the look. That’s all very original. Or the sources are very well hidden. Leia and Han’s relationship is very much It Happened One Night, but I loved that movie and Star Wars gave it a good homage. Luke was a little whiny, but he grew throughout the three movies and really progressed as a person in his hero’s journey. But the movies have some glaring inconsistencies that refute the idea that Lucas had all of it planned out perfectly before they were moving forward.

Luke and Leia’s kiss is the biggest one. Most writers and directors run like mad from the idea of incest unless that is the whole point of the story they are trying to tell. I, like many others, don’t believe that they had a plan given that scene and the intensity of the kiss to make Luke and Leia siblings. With that point in mind, we’re left to wonder how Luke contacted Leia when he had nearly fallen to his death. Fans often state that it is because they knew she would be a force user as Yoda stated that there was “another”, but I don’t believe they knew who that was going to be. Maybe Lucas did know that Leia was supposed to be Luke’s sister but Empire director, Kershner, or writers, Brackett and Kasdan, didn’t know that and didn’t know who he wanted the other to be. Leia being the other force user on the light side came as a let down anyway. First of all, hindsight said it had to be her or Han because it was doubtful it was going to be someone we hadn’t yet seen or that it would be sound board and muscle man, Chewy. It was a let down though to find out it was Leia because nothing really came of it. She didn’t do anything with this potential. We find out in The Force Awakens that she didn’t do anything with it in all those years either. Like finding out you’re a magical paladin isn’t exciting? I’m not sure why they even teased us with the potential of another Jedi, and a female one, if they weren’t going to do anything with it. It almost feels archaic that nothing came of it.

The other big inconsistency that HISHE has brought up is the idea that Darth Vader is only finding about his children decades after they were born and doesn’t react at all. Not only does he have kids he didn’t know about, but they are fighting on the other side. No, no reaction. No excitement. No regret. No shock. Nothing. This is not how anyone reacts to finding out they have kids they didn’t know about, especially a person who is supposed to be steeped in emotion. We know that they kept Vader’s identity secret from the actors to ensure that it wasn’t leaked but the utter lack of reaction from Vader more likely suggests that there was no plan to make him Luke’s father until the second movie was in the works. It’s called subtext and Vader lacks it completely in the first movie. It also seems that at the end Vader forgot that he tortured Leia; otherwise, he may have expressed some regret for that one thing in particular.

These are minor compared to issues the other movies had. The original three are still pretty good movies with just some fridge logic problems that can be ignored. But those aren’t the only problems these movies suffer from. See below.

The Endless Re-editing

HAN SOLO SHOT FIRST!

I’m sure I don’t have to say much more than that . . . but I will. This has gotten so annoying. I’m never sure which version I will be talking about in a conversation because I haven’t seen every version of these movies. What I know for certain is that no one who knows gun laws would consider Han’s actions in the original version to be out of line. He had a gun on Han and was planning basically to kidnap him. No one thinks Han is in the wrong for shooting first because the situation was already life threatening. No need to wait for the bounty hunter to shoot first. None. Just like there is no need to constantly re-edit these movies in the first place. Oh, CGI didn’t exist in the ’70s and ’80s? Who cares? It existed in the ’90s, and try watching a movie with CGI from that decade without laughing at how bad the CGI is. It’s just as bad and frankly out of place in the original Star Wars trilogy. We didn’t ask for it. We don’t need it. Not in those movies.

Episode VII: Mary Sue Much?


Someone gave me free tickets to go see this movie, so I didn’t even pay to see The Force Awakens, but I still feel cheated. I don’t buy hype for one thing. The more a movie, game, or book is hyped, the more suspious I am. I was very much prepared going into the theatre to be disappointed. And the movie didn’t let me down by letting me down. The opening shot was very much original Star Wars, dynamic and interesting, but the plot and characters were so bad that everything went downhill once people came on screen.

First off, The Force Awakens is just a remake of A New Hope. Another person trying to escape with important information but is captured but manages to send a droid off with that information. Another desert planet where our young hero is stuck and trying to get by but finds the droid with the important information. Due to this, hero gets whisked away on an adventure where they will have to learn about the force and grow, but first they have to call the Milenium Falcon a piece of junk. The bad guy wears a mask and dresses all in black and is “scary”. Hero makes friends along the way that they don’t get along with completely but come to love. They’ve got to get that important information to the rebels. The “I’ve got a bigger penis than the first guy” new Death Star blows up more planets. The old man who’s supposed to be guiding the hero dies. They blow up the “bigger penis” Death Star and there’s a big celebration. Hooray. I was so glad to be forced to watch A New Hope again. Maybe that is the awakening force, forcing audience members who may have again developed amnesia to watch this forty year old movie again. I’m not sure, but the plot was so old at this point that I don’t think any of us needed to see it again.

There seems to be a trend these days in movies of making “bad-ass” female characters. I wouldn’t have a problem with that if it weren’t also a trend that these women are cardboard cutouts with no real inner life (i.e. motivation) and if they weren’t just Mary Sues. Rey is so much of a Mary Sue that it is frankly painful to watch her. Due to the fact that this is just a remake of A New Hope, it brings up comparisons of pacing to the original, so I end up comparing Rey to Luke at first. Then Han Solo. Then Luke again. She is a better pilot than Luke with basically no flying experience. Luke at least knew how to fly a ship. We have no indication that Rey has experience. She’s also better at flying the Milenium Falcon than Han Solo without a good copiolot. She’s also better at mechanics than Han Solo even on the Milenium Falcon which is his ship. Then in one movie, she manages, without a Jedi master helping her, to handedly fight a Sith Lord with master training in a light saber fight, practice telekinesis, and mind control. Compare that to Luke’s pace: one master in the first movie and sucks at light saber fights, second master in the second movie and he learns telekinesis and still isn’t that good at light saber fights, and then in a third movie his second master dies and he knows mind control and is much better at light saber fights. The only possible answer I would accept for why she outpaced Luke so much and without any reasonable setup in the The Force Awakens is if she was literally the Force itself.

But if that is not the answer, then she is way too OP on just the Force use. And even if that is the answer, she’s still OP with the Force and the mechanical and flight abilities. If you’ve ever played a Star Wars RPG, you’ll know that you can’t make Rey as a starting character because it’s broken to make a character have that many different kinds of expertise at the level that she did. By making her this powerful and capable without a reasonable background, as a woman, I felt like Disney was trying to pander to my genitals. Those organs are incapable of thought though, so I feel like they very much missed the mark in creating a powerful and interesting female lead. Jyn was better and she had almost no characterization at all. My brain kept cringing at each new reveal of Rey’s so-called awesomeness. All of it was just unrealistic. It reminds me of something I heard from the writers of Stranger Things. In their first imagining, they introduced Eleven by having her burst a door open with her powers. Then they rethought that. They realized they had eight hours to bring the audience up to that level, so instead we got intrigue and heightened awareness of Eleven, the intensity growing and growing until we were surprised by how serious things got. The other big example is Person of Interest. It started out as an idea of a weekly case but by the end we were facing the end of the world as we know it. Now I know that The Force Awakens didn’t have eight hours or five seasons to bring us to climax, but the original trilogy managed to do it in three movies that were really very good depictions of Luke’s growth as both a person and as a Jedi, so if they were going to copy that movie, why not copy the pace too, which was a far sight better than the pace we got?

There’s also the issue that making a female badass with nearly zero flaws and an impossible plethora of expert skills, especially, with zero training causes a major split in the audience. You have the more story versed half which is pissed off beyond recovery and those who are so overworked and feel so put down by life that they’ll take any schlock that makes them feel good. And then the two start fighting. This is the critics versus the average movie goer. This movie got bad ratings for a reason but with so many people so desperate for a hero that represents them, they’ll even take a bad one. I’d rather have River Tam any day. At least she has problems and flaws.

Both this movie and Rogue One seem to have Disney’s Marketing department shouting at the casting director to make the cast diverse. I have no issue with diversity, but this again felt like pandering. I don’t think Disney wanted to make strong female characters or strong characters of color; I think they just wanted to line their pockets with the money of the vast majority of America. It seems forced. “We need a woman lead! We need a Hispanic man! We need an African-American man! We need a Chinese man! We need a man that no one can easily identify as any one ethnicity!” It’s like they are ticking off boxes. That kind of diversity is a little disgusting to me. I compare it to something like Firefly and see immediately how far short it falls. There are a lot of women in Firefly and two black characters. Disney seems to avoid the African-American woman entirely. Some may argue that Firefly has too many white males but they only make up slightly less than half of the show’s cast and the male to female ratio is also pretty good (4:5). But it doesn’t feel like any of this is forced. Unlike Disney’s recent obsession with diversity. It’s also not even as relaxed as Star Trek: The Next Generation which has again two to three African-Americans, depending on whether or not you count Whoopie Goldberg, and a not as good ratio of male to female characters (6:2), but is better if you count Whoopie Goldberg and Tasha Yar.  So the question becomes for Disney, what is with the one female character? Are women rare in the Star Wars universe? We really only had Leia in the first trilogy. We really only had Padme in the prequels. And now in Rogue One and The Force Awakens we have one per movie. Women make up a large part of the population that I know of since evolutionarily you can have one male to a large number of women and it still work out. One woman to a large number of men is a problem. So where are all the women in Star Wars? If you didn’t notice in my Disney Marketing department shouting sequence above, I only mentioned one woman and mentioned four men. That’s not just a joke. That literally is the casting of Rogue One and The Force Awakens. Any other women in these movies are minor, and that’s typical of Star Wars, so I’m soooo glad that Disney is continuing that tradition. Ethnic women have been complaining more visibly lately of the white washing of women’s issues and look at Disney just proving them right. If Disney really wanted to get with the times, then they should have more female roles, not just a flat lead, and they should provide more variety based on something other than marketing. Danny Glover was not hired for Lethal Weapon because he was black; he was hired because he was the best man for the job. Donner, in fact, hadn’t written that part specifically for a black man, but Glover added so many layers to that character and wasn’t a stereotype that those movies wouldn’t be the same with anyone else. Those movies went in directions we weren’t expecting just because of Danny Glover and Donner’s decision to cast him. That’s the kind of diversity we want in our movies and that was the freaking ’80s. Disney also has a history of avoiding the very delicate subject of sexual orientation, unless it makes no sense, like Beauty and the Beast, which supposedly takes place in a time when being openly gay would problably result is ostrizaton or death. I’m not saying that they need to dive into that diversity like they did with racial diversity as they sucked at that and so far no story has really left room for that kind of character development. Star Wars also is archaic enough of an IP to try to avoid it too, even though even older IPs have dived into that subject with grace and aplomb, so it’s not like it isn’t possible. Disney is just too inept to do it well. So we end up with strange diversity that doesn’t actually mean anything.

Back to the actual movie and not the behind the scenes decisions that disgust me, let’s look at the Big Bad Wolf of the movie. Blech. Kylo Ren is quite possibly the worse super villain ever. I won’t say that he is yet, because I still haven’t been able to sit through Batman vs. Superman and Suicide Squad. First off, he is, as a lot of people call him, Darth Emo, who throws hissy fits like a teenager. For example, why wear the mask if you aren’t disfigured or need it to breathe? Because you want to look imitating and with that face, how could you? When he first took off the mask, I was thrown completely out of the movie when I saw his hair because I couldn’t help but wonder how he got all that hair under the helmet without slicking it back. He didn’t have helmet hair at all. It was like time pauses as he takes off the helmet and a professional hair stylist invisibly cleans, dries, and quaffs his hair. Oh, wait . . . One of his first moments in the movie, he does something “badass” because the people behind the movie thought it looked cool. Not as cool as Han shooting at Vader and Vader just deflecting the shots with only his hand and snatching his pistol out of his hand with the force. So how is Kylo so much more powerful than Vader, the one who was meant to bring balance to the force? No answer? Because it looks cool is not an answer.

The main threat of the movie. The new Death Star, or as I like to call it My-Dick-Is-Bigger-Than-George-Lucas’-Death-Star, is twenty times bigger than the original Death Star. This kind of sequel I’ve-Got-a-Bigger-Dick-Than-the-First-Guy device seems pretty common these days. The first time I saw it was that awful Predators movie, which could have been good, but had to have bigger, badder predators than all the previous movies. Then came The Force Awakens and it’s bigger, badder Death Star. Then just six months later, I was given a free ticket to see Independence Day: Resurgence and a-freaking-gain it had to have a bigger, badder mothership. It had a half hour sequence of the thing showing up and I’m just sitting there bored out of my mind as this thing “lands”. I’m thinking to myself as the ship rips apart huge swaths of land, killing millions of people, how this is just like The Force Awakens, and how the dick measuring needs to freaking stop if we are going to have good sequels. This is not original. It’s not interesting. It’s not impressive. It’s like someone said: “You know how the original had all that great imagery? Let’s use those images again, but make them bigger.” And someone with jello for brains said “Brilliant! Brilliant, I tell you!” Those images in ID were pretty much taken from the original V mini-series anyway. The problem is, though, that while A New Hope and Independence Day were entertaining and interesting on a first view, a rehash of those movies is boring. No matter how much bigger your dick happens to be. Eventually, we just can’t take any bigger. It just becomes painful.

All in All

I’m not a Star Wars fan for so many reasons. From the originals to the latest attempts by Abrams and Disney, the IP has changed dramatically. That’s expected over the forty years that it has been in existence. Those changes haven’t always been for the better. The first bites of this IP were still better than the sugar they’ve been shoving down our throats in recent years and I have to say that I long for forty years ago fresh-faced Lucas and his ideas from then. I don’t feel sorry for him for critic and fan reactions to the prequels, but I do feel sorry for him for what Disney has done to his original concepts.

 
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Posted by on April 5, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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Customer Service: The Make or Break of a Company

We deal with companies every day. We have to. Often we have to speak to customer service, or even just a representative of the company. Typically, the reason why we are talking to them is that the company has failed us in some way.How they handle our questions, feedback, and complaints is very important. Customer service doesn’t have a direct monetary value to a company. It has a non-direct value that is hard to track with hard data. A customer who parts ways with a company because of poor customer service may not ever state that’s why they left, though if you look at Yelp, you’ll find that the majority of negative reviews are based on poor service and not poor products. This is why it is so important for representatives of a company to give good customer service and why it is even more important that a company values good customer service. Let’s take a look at the few ways in which poor service can drive a customer away or lead to poor reviews.

One Way Communication

In today’s internet world, it’s crazy to not be open to communication from customers. Customers like to voice their concerns and feedback. They like having the opportunity to talk to a rep of the company that they may or may not give money too. Spotify does not give a phone number or have a live chat on their website. This is a big no-no for a company that holds on to credit card information. If you peruse the support forum, you will find many people who have had their card charged when they shouldn’t have been, such as a free trail of premium (which to my mind, any company that asks for payment information for a free trail is trying to trick you out of money by autocharging you once your free trail is over) or people who have been doubly charged. If Spotify had a call center or a live chat, these problems wouldn’t be posted as often as they are to the support forum. They have a contact ticket form. I had tested this form out nearly a year ago, putting in several tickets, and I never once got a response (yes, I checked my Spam/Junk folder). Finally, after doing a Google search, I found an email for Spotify Support. These actually got responses. A customer should never have to do a web search to find contact information. “Contact Us” should be on every webpage of the site and should have multiple forms of contact. But the main point is, any company that actually takes your money should have a way to contact them immediately.

Not Listening

Some companies make it really easy to contact them, and they respond too. But their responses are useless because they didn’t actually read or listen to everything the customer said. This one happens a lot and a lot of companies do this. For example, I recently contacted StarzPlay to tell them that while I knew that they didn’t currently offer StarzPlay for individual pay, if they were to offer it separate from a cable/satellite bill, that I would pay for it (when you want something from a company, it’s a good idea to ask for it). The reply I got was a pat “we don’t offer it except through cable providers”. Since I didn’t ask if they did or not and in fact, stated that I knew that they didn’t this was an infuriating response. There is almost nothing more frustrating than feeling like a company didn’t read everything you wrote. This happens a lot on Microsoft support forums. The most common one boils down to “Dark Grey for MS 2013 is not dark enough” with a moderator stating “To change the theme, go to Options, select Dark Grey.” They are missing the point. This happened to me once when I couldn’t log in to my Live account. I kept trying to get help on this. The problem was that the login page in a browser would say that I signed in too many times with the wrong password, so I had to fill out a CAPTCHA. I’ve told part of this story before. The CAPTCHA was always read as wrong, no matter what. I told this to the account help team. Their reply? “Enter the CAPTCHA correctly and you’ll be able to log in.” I lost it a little bit and replied in all caps that the CAPTCHA was broken. They had no actual help for me, and randomly, my login stopped asking me to fill out the CAPTCHA. The point is that trying to get help or give feedback to a company and then getting a response that means they obviously didn’t read or fully hear what you said is the height of stupidity. At that point, the company may as well not have a way of contacting them because their support and CSRs are trained so poorly or have so little care as to not be there. Microsoft is trying to improve their reception of feedback. In my recent post about Windows 10, I said how annoying it was that there wasn’t a universal dark theme and how tasks didn’t even show up in the Calendar app. In a recent update, the Mail and Calendar apps now have a dark theme, and while you still can’t add tasks from the Calendar app, you can at least view tasks, even those seen from Wunderlist. It’s great that the Feedback app actually got comments to Microsoft and that they actually acted on those comments. They need to keep this up, but direct Windows support still needs work. I think, at least, they are moving in the right direction. Listening to your customers and actually making an effort to comprehend and act on what they are saying is very important to making a customer feel as though they matter to the company.

No Follow Through

The unfortunate thing about a call center, be it in America or not, is that a customer almost never talks to the same person twice. This often leads to promises made then broken, because one CSR makes a promise, and another one won’t follow through on the promise. Once I needed Cox to come out to check my internet, I made the CSR (CSR A) assure me that it wouldn’t cost me anything. After the tech came out, a fee was added to our bill. The second CSR (CSR B) and supervisor we talked to wouldn’t remove the fee despite what CSR A had promised. After calling a second time about getting the fee removed, I got a third CSR, who removed the fee immediately. I really don’t understand how this happens. If a CSR makes a promise to a customer, they are representing the company’s word. I take a company at their word, and I will force them to follow what their representatives promise me; otherwise, I have no faith in that company. When the second CSR wants to refuse to fulfill the promise and they state that the first CSR was wrong or made a mistake, with the logic that I shouldn’t hold them to that mistake, my blood boils. It’s not my fault as the customer that the company’s CSR was wrong. I shouldn’t have to pay for their mistake. The company should take responsibility for the CSR’s mistake and meet what expectations the customer was led to believe would be met, despite the incorrect statements. This is just ethical. Especially when the customer is trying to confirm prices before committing to anything. I brought this up in my Health Care post. Some people disagree with this idea because it damages the company. In response to that, I say it damages the individual customer more and if a company is in trouble and repeated mistakes are made, then they don’t deserve to stick around. Repeated failure with or without good customer service will cause a company to fail, but especially without good customer service. With good customer service response to a mistake, the company has a chance to improve their financial standing.

On a side but still related note, when I set up internet at my current residence, we wanted the internet set up the day before we moved. When we moved in, it wasn’t working. The call center CSR said it was turned on by a tech and that to have a tech come out we would be charged a fee since it was a “customer error” based problem. I don’t know how they can determine such a thing over the phone, but the tech came out again four days after the internet was supposed to be turned on (meaning three days later than we needed it) to discover that the internet had been turned on at the wrong location. So. Not customer error. Tech error. They still tried to charge us for having the tech come out, even though they were giving us a credit on our next bill because of their screw-up. When I had Cox in a different state, the service was great and the quality of internet I received was ten times better than AT&T. Understand that in different locations, the customer service you receive will be different. Different states practically equals a different company because of regional and local management.

Apathetic Attitude

One of the worst experiences in customer service is when a customer is at a restaurant or store and can’t get help from anyone. You’re sitting at the table waiting forever for the waiter to take your order or you’re walking through a store looking for something and there are no employees around, or they ignore you, or they make the minimal effort to help you. This is very annoying. Two big instances come to mind for me. The first happened at a cafe/bar/restaurant (yeah, trying to do everything). We had gone there to try their coffee. We waited at the front counter that had no line and no employee. Someone finally came out of the restaurant/bar area to take our order after five minutes. When we got our coffee, we sat down in the dining area and decided we wanted to order food. When we flagged down the one waiter, we got menus, then he never came back. In fact, it didn’t even look like he was in the building, so we left without ordering and never came back. The place wasn’t set up all too well and was understaffed. It was dead when we went in there, but we still couldn’t get any real service, even though there were three employees, two of which just disappeared. No service means no customers.

The other time I remember well was in a Total Wine. It was a Friday at six in the evening. The place was packed, but they had stopped doing the tastings (yes, because people aren’t just getting out to stores on a weeknight at six–oh, wait, that’s exactly what happens). Worse than that, there were absolutely no carts available for customers. None in the parking lot, none in the cart area, in fact, almost none with actual customers. Where were they? Littered around the store filled with stock that no employee was actually putting on shelves. They were prepped to exchange stock after they closed but had all the carts in use for it during a peak customer time. That’s poor management. We were planning to buy a lot but saw that there were also only two cashiers open with lines stretching into the aisles. We weren’t going to stand there forever holding a lot of very breakable products. Tons of employees seemed to be walking up and down the aisles and studiously ignoring the customers, including one person who looked like a manager. When we finally asked an employee about getting a cart, he looked around and said, “It looks like none are available.” Then explained they were prepped for stock shuffle, but then offered us no more help. We left. We also called Total Wine corporate customer service to report our dissatisfaction. The CSR was very understanding of how inappropriate the situation really was. The management had set a precedent that night that customers didn’t matter, which is funny and horrible since that’s the only thing that sustains a business, so the employees didn’t notice the problems, let alone try to help customers by solving them. We haven’t been back to that location. I’m sure most people have a Walmart story like this, which is why most people avoid Walmart whenever possible.

Not making an effort to help the customer because well, you just don’t care, makes you a bad employee, and frankly an unempathetic person. Because service industries are based on–gasp!–service, employees and managers should act and manage in way that a company that they would want to do business with would act and manage. That’s empathy. I’m sure most of these people would be upset if they were the customer and had experienced the same situation. I understand that not all companies and managers value empathetic service, which is why many employees are apathetic. They’ve learned that empathetic service is not rewarded and that they can get away with apathy or that they shouldn’t bother trying. This can come from a corporate level, like with Walmart, from a more local level, such as regional management, or even from just one manager, causing one store or certain shifts in a store to be worse than others. This is a behavior that employees learn from their supervisors, and it’s hard to change without changing out all the employees and supervisors that are part of it. It’s also the number one reason customers avoid a store or chain and write a bad review.

Arguing with the Customer

I hate having to argue with a CSR. Obviously, I had to do that with Cox a few times. It’s not that contradicting a customer is wrong. It’s how the CSR does it. If they are dismissive, talk over the customer, interrupt the customer, or are generally combative, then they are arguing. This is when they enter inappropriate behavior for customer service. If I’m just voicing feedback, I don’t want the CSR to tell me that my feedback is basically stupid and they aren’t going to make a note of it. That just makes me not want to deal with them or give their company my money (it is, afterall, hard earned). This is especially bad when making a suggestion. For example, that UPS shouldn’t ever leave a package at a person’s door in an apartment complex unless instructions state otherwise. I literally had a UPS employee arguing with me over this suggestion, and he was combative and used the word “stupid”. Here’s a good tip: Don’t ever call your customer stupid, even if they are being stupid. Seems like it doesn’t need to be stated, but there you go. In the same vein, an employee shouldn’t ever hang up on a customer. This has happened to me. I was already upset when I made the call, and I wasn’t angry. I was just upset. I ended up calling the main office of the company and explained what happened with the phone call. They were really embarrassed and upset that I went through that phone call and did everything to fix the problem I was having, which is the correct response. If a company cares, then they should remember that how their employees treat, or in these cases, mistreat, a customer is very important. When they hear that an employee is being combative, instead of just contradictory, then they need to respond by correcting that employee’s behavior. There is nothing wrong with being firm or trying to represent the policy of a company. There is a problem with being rude.

No Choice

I’ve mentioned in my Health Care post how a customer not having a choice lowers an industry’s standards. But it isn’t just true in the Health Insurance world. It can get worse in the private utilities world. Why don’t I switch from Cox internet to something else? Because I can’t. I used to have a different provider and our internet never went out, so I never had to call. Their customer service could have sucked way worse, but if you never need them except to turn it on and turn it off then you really have no way of knowing. Cox has given me problems from the jump, but I’m stuck with them until I move. But internet isn’t considered a utility. Power is. I’ve had the same power company for the last two years, and I hate them. I don’t have a choice in the matter because my city has power districts that are run by a few power companies. In my current residence, my power has gone out at least twice. According to their CSRs, it is company policy that they don’t give credits for when the power goes out accidentally. As if because it was a mistake, they shouldn’t be held accountable for the outage to their customers. They said that we pay for usage, but after looking at their net profits, I figure they aren’t just charging me for my actual usage, but that included in their pricing formula is a profit amount. So I know they can afford to give me a break on my next bill because of incompetence. But I can’t threaten them with going with a competitor because they don’t have any real competitors. When I tell McDonald’s that I’m going to Burger King next time, that’s an action I can realistically take, but I can’t tell my power company that I’m going to switch to a different power company. They say these are not monopolies because there are other power companies in the area, but that’s BS when a customer can’t choose their power company separate from their home or business. Because of this, a company that’s gotcha won’t even try to provide good customer service because there is no need to. This needs to stop. I understand that it is easier for certain grids to be managed by a specific company, but it would be better if the grid was managed by one company (maybe the local government) and that different and separate companies handled their customer service, essentially outsourcing customer service and billing to more than one company. This would at least give the customers a kind of choice. Either way, the current system is stacked against the customer and good customer service. Minimonopolies are still monopolies. They still shouldn’t be tolerated by the government, the industry, or the customers.

In the End

All that matters is that both customers and companies value good relationships. I try never to be rude to a CSR because I know they are a person and that they didn’t necessarily have anything to do with why I’m angry or upset. I also understand that most of the above customer service issues are based on company culture or management. This won’t stop customers from getting frustrated though. All companies should understand that good customer service is good for their profit margin, even when they are refunding some money. Some of the companies I frequent have awesome refund policies, like refund and replacement on products, and they continue get my business because I feel like they understand that it’s not easy for a customer to part ways with their money and that the product or service they receive should be worth that money. When this isn’t the case, the company and it’s employees should do everything they reasonably can to get the customer to return. They should make it easy for the customer to spend their money, which is where poor service or apathetic attitudes get in the way. The number one reason I don’t go back to a store or avoid a company is because not only were their products and service not up to snuff, but that the straw that broke the camel’s back was their response to my issues. When I have a choice, I don’t give money to a company that I can’t stand working with. When I don’t have a choice, I will call repeatedly with my complaints, including that the last person I talked to was rude or unhelpful. That’s what a customer should do. A company should hear their customer and potential customer complaints and suggestions and work to improve themselves, even and especially in harder economies.

 
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Posted by on October 15, 2015 in Consumer Rights

 

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A Gamer’s Complaints: Mechanics and Trends I Wish Would Change in Today’s Video Games

I play a lot of video games. I’m not very good at them though and am a very big fan of getting to 100% completion on a game (including all the grindy stuff). On most games, I hit a snag and stop playing, but I tend to play the same one for months. I play for months because I really only play on about three days out of any given week. I have other stuff to do. None of this means I don’t have an opinion on game mechanics and trends. Of course, I do, and I’m going to express them here. I’m not going to talk about poor quality craftsmanship in gaming but am going to discuss some social mores and features that bother me. I know what you’re thinking, oh, she’s going to go all Gamer Gate on us. I’m not, but I am going to get that sticky topic out of the way first.

Gamer Gate: Bioshock Infinite

I find Gamer Gate distasteful. For the most part, the “problems” they see are imaginary or are not a sexist issue. For example, the idea that images of women in games are almost always unreasonably represented. This is true in a lot of games, but guess what? The images of men in games are also almost always unreasonably represented. Women are overly sexualized, what with their armor that is more about showing off their bodies then protecting them in combat, and men are overly masculinized, what with the giant, overly muscled meatheads that wear bandannas, smoke cigars, swear like they have a quota to fill, and spit every where they go. So I ask, how is this sexist? Maybe it is, but it isn’t misogynistic. Games that do this, and it’s not all of them, are misrepresenting both sexes. They objectify and show unreasonable images of both sexes. So I don’t see this as a female crusade, so much as stupid fantasy. It is a stupid trend, but it also is an understandable one from a business standpoint since gaming is a form of wish fulfillment since gamers are literally putting themselves in the point of view of an avatar with a better body than them, better sexual prospects, and a much more fun life. I don’t see why it is wrong for some of the games on the market to meet this wish fulfillment. Saying that these games pervert male understanding of relationships is a leap to me since most peoples’ understanding of relationships come from their parents and how those parents react and teach on media. The same principal applies to violence in games. Media really only reinforces what a person has learned in their childhood from their family; otherwise, people wouldn’t develop a dislike for certain types of media. If violence and possible sexism in video games really did result in life copying art as much as people say, things would be a lot worse since millions of people (male and female) play video games. It’s not a billion dollar industry on a few weirdos.

A lot of people are hopping on the Gamer Gate trend, including humor website, Cracked. Lately, Cracked has replaced their Saturday Photoplasties with rehashes from their articles with images created by AutieMeme. And while I’m not going to get into why that is a problem within itself in this post, I will bring up one they did related to this subject: 19 Surprisingly Sexist Messages in Modern Pop Culture. Not all of them are on gaming, and not all of them are off the mark. Lara Croft’s reboot is pretty spot on, and Yahtzee already mentions this problem when he reviews the 2012 Tomb Raider and the newer Metroid main character. But immediately following the good examination of Lara Croft, we get a major reach in the description of Ellie in The Last of Us.

Now, I know that I would collapse in tears upon seeing the first non-zombie person after the start of an apocalypse, no matter what my age. In fact, it is believable that any one of any sex or age would do this, but especially a child. Children cry a lot when things aren’t apocalyptic. I’m actually freaked out by children who don’t cry when something terrible happens to them. Isn’t that one of the first forms of expression we have as humans? It’s one we go to when happy, sad, angry, or relieved. Of course, she’s crying! There is nothing unreasonable or sexist about this.

Then there was the crapstorm of number one on the list: Elisabeth from Bioshock Infinite. The idea that Elisabeth was ever sitting and waiting to be rescued is a laughable misrepresentation of the game. Elisabeth learned to pick locks in her many attempts to escape. She could tear portals in time, yes, but her prison was weakening her powers, making them useless in escape attempts. This is one of my favorite games. The story is amazing, the characters are well developed and believable, the mechanics are fun, and the mind-bending plotline is just great. Trust me on this, if Elisabeth had not been a strong and capable character I wouldn’t like the game half as much as I do. She is a very powerful figure in the story, stronger than Dewitt, not just in terms of raw power but also as a person, showing much more strength of character, much more integrity. She is both McGuffin and a powerful lead affecting the arc of the story and even resolving it. The interpretation from the picture is distasteful in its misleading bent and omission of other information. It is highly frustrating to read as someone who has actually played the game and connected to the characters. Both of the interpretations on Ellie and Elisabeth show someone searching for something to complain about. They lack in depth examination and an understanding of reality. Women can be both strong and vulnerable in video games, as can men. Men are much less likely to show vulnerability in video games than women are to show strength. But reality demands a balance between the two in both sexes which is why I can’t support Gamer Gate. It calls for women in games to be sexless and invulnerable, while neither of those things is real.

Most of the time, I don’t hear backup to the claim that video games are sexist. Instead, I hear that claim repeated ad nauseam. When I do hear some backup, it’s typically a major reach, such as the two examples from Cracked. I find this very insulting. I enjoy video games and the majority those play don’t feel like they are attacking me as a woman. Women actually play more roles in video games than one would first think. In fact, they tend to take up all the same roles as men. Games that go for realism don’t often have female cops or soldiers, because the rate on the first is low, and the rate on the second is even lower (remember the US doesn’t have women in combat roles). So for the most part, I don’t see what they are talking about.

Real Sexism: Marvel Heroes

I play a lot of MMOs. I enjoy most of them. I’m also a very big Marvel fan. As such, when Marvel Heroes went to open beta, I was all over that. I had a lot of fun too. Now, there are a lot of problems with Marvel Heroes. Some have been addressed. For example, at first a player couldn’t playtest a hero before buying them, which was crappy because no matter how much you like a hero doesn’t mean they won’t suck to play. Now all heroes are playable to level 10, which is great. Try before you buy. However, every time I get back on Marvel Heroes, I have to reallocate my points because they keep messing with the play of the heroes. That is so annoying. I want to play not spend ten minutes assigning points any time I log on. But all this is besides the main point of this section. Still had to get those out there. The real problem is the gender swap enhanced costumes. Okay, if you’ve never played this game (which you totally can as it is free to play), you pick one starting hero and level them and can unlock other heroes with Gs (which you have to pay for) or Eternity Splinters (which you can find while playing). So one way is paid and another is free. You get the standard costume when you unlock a hero, whichever one that may be. Costumes cannot be unlocked with Eternity Splinters. So if I want to play female Hawkeye, Ghost Rider, Black Panther, God of Thunder, Deadpool, Loki, Punisher, Spider-man or male Warbird, I have to pay. The base playable characters includes 38 male characters and 12 female characters. There are not a lot of female superheroes in Marvel Comics. Why would you make 8 of them only unlockable with real money? This is crazy unbalanced. They are adding ShadowCat, which will bring the total to 13, but I bet anything they will add American Dream as a costume.

What is this problem exactly? The problem is games that have gender options that are partially locked. Older Diablo versions and Path of Exile had static genders for characters, and a lot of non-MMOs or top-downs have gender locks because you are a specific character in a very specific story, such as a lot of FPS games. That’s fine for FPS games. But why would you ever make a gender option and then not actually give it to your players? Do you know how frustrating it is to have that dangled in our face? Marvel Heroes needs to stop this gender swap enhanced costume BS and let the players choose their sex when they get the hero; and let us choose it for heroes that we received when we didn’t have a choice. I’ll pay for an enhanced costume that gives a different dialogue or voiced by an actor from the movie, but I’m not going to pay for what should be a different freaking hero.

Flirting Mechanics: SWTOR

Flirting mechanics can be interesting, especially when the designers of the game put in negative responses. But I hate the fact that there isn’t a flirt response option for every character I speak to. They decide that I wouldn’t flirt with certain people. That’s stupid. I could, in theory, attempt to flirt with everyone I meet in the real world–doesn’t mean I should, but I totally could. In fact, I could attempt to flirt with a rock. Not that it would get me anywhere. So why do games with flirt mechanics tell me who I’m willing to flirt with? You don’t know me! Maybe I want to flirt with the big lizard companion. You know, just to see how he’d react. Flirting isn’t always used as a sexual ploy. Sometimes it is used as a method of teasing. I think that would be pretty interesting in a game. Also, why stop at flirting? There should be an option to insult everyone. Hell, there should be an option to punch everyone! I’m not saying that you should actually do these things in real life or even in a game, but as games keep trying to add more “reality”, they just keep showing us how not-real they are. An artificially limited flirt option just shows a player that they are playing a game and takes them out of the immersion. So go whole hog with social interactions in games! I know that’s hard to do, but work to it. (Also, Sims woefully underestimates the player’s desire to make their Sim punch other Sims, especially when they come into our homes uninvited.)

Morality Scales: SWTOR Again

Morality scales are a lot like flirting mechanics, as in incomplete. But also just weird as hell. Not every decision made has an effect on the scale, which everything should. But also, they often don’t make sense when you combine them. On Alderaan there are two such missions with morality choices that are just messed up when both are considered. These are pretty early on for a Republic player. You meet a reporter whose partner has run off and joined the rebels (they really are scum this time) and she wants you to get back their footage. You also run into an older couple whose son is believed dead, but mom has her doubts and wants to check if the rebels have him. You run into the other reporter and the son in the rebel stronghold pretty much one right after the other. The son says the rebels kidnapped him, forced him to take drugs, then used him as a soldier. They apparently have been doing this to other teenagers as well. Your moral choice is to let him leave the planet, telling his parents some lie, or to tell him to go home to mommy and daddy. The first is light side points and the second is dark side points. Now, I will discuss why that’s a problem in the next paragraph, but first on to the reporter. Upon meeting him, he says that if you give the footage to the other reporter, she will cut it to make the rebels look bad and that their plight is actually very dire and they need supporters. So he gives you the choice to let him keep the footage (light side points) or take it from him (dark side points). Now, first of all, I don’t believe that he’s going to give an unbiased cut of the footage to people either. But I can’t see him as anything but freaking insane for taking the rebels’ side after hearing the kid’s story. The lineup of light side and dark side in these two missions don’t make any sense when compared to each other. I don’t feel any sympathy for the scum that is an African warlord who kidnaps children and forces them to fight for him either, and I’m certainly not going to feel any sympathy for the reporter who tells me he’s not a bad guy. That’s insane.

The other problem besides morality not matching up among separate choices is the lack of a grey area. It’s neither bad nor good to help or force the son to go home. It’s kind of just a personal choice based on your upbringing. It’s also not good to help either reporter because neither of them is unbiased. So why have such black and white choices? Yahtzee’s biggest cripe against morality scales is that you have to be all good or all bad to see anything good come out of it. I agree that that makes the choices a little superfluous, because you could just choose an alignment at the beginning of the game instead. They are just making you choose it again and again throughout the game. Because of this, games with morality scales should include middle options that also give a player some benefit. Otherwise, it’s just too childish.

Forced Multiplayer: LOTRO

I hate playing with other people. I am a loner. I like to play by myself with no one else in the room. I like MMOs though. I don’t join groups, I don’t join guilds, I rarely trade with others, and I don’t chat. Why play an MMO then? Well, I like the character creation and build that comes with MMOs. There aren’t a lot of single player games with those features, namely Oblivion, Skyrim, and a few non-Elder Scrolls games. So I play a lot of MMOs, I beta-tested LOTRO, Marvel Heroes, and The Elder Scrolls online. I played City of Heroes/Villains, Champions Online, WOW, and a few others I can’t remember. I play LOTRO, Marvel Heroes, SWTOR, and DC Universe Online. All these games try to make you play with other people. I get the fact that they want to utilize that millions of people are playing, but they shouldn’t make it impossible to play solo (Han Solo). SWTOR only gives F2P players one crafting ability, when you need two to make something useful. That’s more about them trying to make F2P into Pay to Win players, but F2P players could conceivably trade with others for the stuff they need. LOTRO gives everyone all three of their crafting abilities, but they are set up that you need stuff from a fourth crafting skill to complete some items. I’m crazy, so I created four other characters on each of my servers to make them all craft the stuff I need (now I have to do some shuffling because of the server shutdowns) and just mail it to my other characters. I hate to have to do this, but I really don’t want to be forced to play with other characters. It’s worse when it is about quests. Ugh. I just level up on side quests until I can do a group quest on my own. I know, I’m antisocial, but don’t act like I’m the only MMO player out there that would rather play alone. I assure you I’m not.

MMO Stalkers

Yes, I’m antisocial, but let’s face it, pretty much every MMO player doesn’t like to be stalked. It happens to people more when they play female characters I bet, but that doesn’t always seem to matter to the stalkers. A player that stalks others sees a player they don’t know running around, completing missions and starts to follow them. Maybe they don’t say anything or send invites. Maybe they just want to steal your kills. This happens to me a lot on Marvel Heroes. They don’t want to play with me, they just want help not getting mobbed or want to take the quest kill from me after I’ve killed all the baddies between us and the big baddie (happens way too often in SWTOR and LOTRO). That isn’t much of a problem in DC Universe Online (or as it is called in my home “DahCooniverse”) because that game is set up that if you land one blow in the fight (not the first one, like other games) you also get credit for the kill and get loot too. That sounds like forced multiplayer but it’s more sharing than forced. It makes gameplay a little less frustrating when you get a stalker. My problem with the silent stalker is that I feel crowded out of an area. It’s more obvious in a top-down game like Marvel Heroes where you can see that other player following your every turn. I quit playing when that happens.

The other kind of stalker doesn’t last as long but can be more annoying. This is the person who sends you multiple invites in a row. When the area is crowded, I can understand how they may have accidentally sent me a second request. But sometimes no one else is around and they send three to five. Or once in SWTOR a person sent me 15 requests. One can only guess that person had to be five, because only five year olds ask the same question that many times in a row. So I hightailed it out of that area and the range of their social ineptitude. No means no, even in MMOs, people.

The Dominance of the Sandbox and FPS

I’m not sure if it’s obvious to most readers at this point, but I don’t play a lot of FPS or sandbox games. First of all, I’m not a console player. I’m a PC gamer. FPS games seem to work better with a controller. I’m not very good at these games. I tend to die very quickly. Bioshock and Bioshock Infinite weren’t too hard for me (especially when I realized that I could just use the wrench to beat down the squirrely doctor in Bioshock), but Oblivion (which has some broken leveling) and Skyrim lost some of their fun being in first person (yes, I know you can do third person, but the feel of those games and the mechanics are made for FPS styles). Then I tried Speck Ops: The Line. It’s brutal and the story is great, but I still suck at it.

I’m also not all that into sandbox gaming. “You can do anything you want!” But what should I do? “Anything you want!” Okay. My point is that sandbox gaming tends to lack focus and it’s hard to tell what you’re supposed to interact with. Complete sandbox is also a turnoff for me. Mostly I don’t like sandbox gaming because those games seem to have the same kind of story and that story will usually just pause while you are futzing around, completely losing all urgency. While Fable 3 was somewhat sandboxy, once you knew about the dark monster coming for you, the story was on a clock (this is one of the only games I beat, note that it was 3rd person) and that lent more realism to it. Some games keep the story going even though they are also sandboxes, but they don’t warn you that the story will keep going (i.e. Oblivion). This is a low down dirty trick. “You can do anything you want! (but the problems you’re supposed to fix will still happen)” What was that? “Anything you want!” Yahtzee talked a lot about these kinds of problems in some of his videos, so why don’t you go watch those too?

I don’t think FPS and sandbox gaming is just a problem because I don’t like or am not good at them. The problem is that there are so freaking many of them. Thank you so much GTA! I’m not saying don’t make them, but how about you make other kinds of games too, triple A game companies? This is why I tend to be excited by indie games. They have more variety.

The Fall of the (Turn-based) RPG: The Lord of the Rings: Third Age

My favorite kind of game is the turn-based RPG. I do not like JRPG, so don’t suggest any to me, though I loved Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete. That game was fun. A million freaking disks and tiny little characters and an interesting story. I beat that game too. The second one was harder. I like turn-based gaming because I’m a fan of strategy and building a character. I’ll play RTS games, but they’re not my favorite. My favorite game of all time is The Lord of the Rings: Third Age. Turn-based, six characters, the entirety of the story all from the movies, its own side story, and pretty good graphics for the PS2 engine. Now, I’m a little OCD. Each character had two power sets you could level up by doing a move each time in battle. I had each character completely leveled up by the end because I would park my butt in Helm’s Deep and go into battle for hours, prolonging the fights to get in as many moves for each character as possible. My spouse thought I was crazy since I wasn’t advancing the story at all. Then he realized I was also smart because in some of the later battles all of your characters have to fight two different battles at the same time and if you didn’t level up your second stringers, they were just going to die. The only thing I didn’t level up completely was the crafting ring. It took too long. I got 100% complete on that game, twice. That’s right twice. Each saved game had about 99 hours of playtime on it, which means I spent a total of 198 hours playing that game. The only reason I’m not playing it now is that I don’t have a PS2 anymore. But I miss that game. It’s the last really great turn-based game I can remember, especially one with modern (for its time) graphics. Now, it seems only the Japanese companies and indie developers are making turn-based games because all the other companies are so busy making their FPSes and sandbox games. Ugh. So when you hear about a turn-based game, please drop me a line. I’m always interested.

The Point of It All

Maybe it’s a good thing that I have so many issues with video games: it stops them from becoming an obsession that takes up all my time. These aren’t all my problems with video games (ex. crappy controls, poor story, freaking autosave!, lack of instructions, WASD explanations–really? you’re going to explain that but not how your battle simulator works?), but they are the ones that bother me most. I know that companies don’t have to satisfy just me, but I also know I’m not the only one who is put off by the issues on this list. The biggest issue seems to be the lack of variety coming out of big video game companies. It seems sometimes that more money and time are spent on graphics rendering than on gaming concept and story. Sometimes testing even goes out the window, looking at you, Arkham Knight for your PC version. Maybe this time it won’t suck quite so much, or at least not crash computers.

Got any trends or mechanics that bug you? Tell me about them in the comments. We’ll talk shop.

 
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Posted by on September 30, 2015 in Consumer Rights, Social Issues

 

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Premature, Mature, and Postmature Cancellations: TV Show Endings (All in Running Metaphors!)

Some T.V. shows are cancelled before their time, some go on too long, some should never have been made, and some lucky few actually have an ending, and some of those few are even luckier to have a good ending. Everyone has that one show they loved that they wish was still on the air, the one they wish had never been made, and the one they wish hadn’t gone off the rails. I’d like to examine some shows I’ve watched and explain why they should, shouldn’t have, or were cancelled. So Spoilers!

Running Past the Finish Line, Way Past: Supernatural

This is the only show on this list still on the air, and therein lies the problem. Supernatural is a great show. It’s funny, heartbreaking, dynamic, epic, and totally worth watching. However, of late, there have been some great stinkers of episodes. Such as, in season nine when they introduce Oz into the mythos. What was with those ruby slippers? I could find better quality shoes at Payless. Don’t get me wrong. There have been some great moments still. Timothy Olmundson is just amazing in any part he plays. I mean, look how angry he is. Every moment, even when calm, he looks like he will murder everyone around.

But a lot of recent episodes are poorly written and some lack good research, such as Artemis, goddess of hunters and virgins, having had a lover. Do they know nothing of Greek mythology? The only reason the show is still watchable at this point is the actors and the characters they play. Ackles, Padalecki, Collins, and Sheppard still bring their all to the show, making their interplay still really fun to watch. The characters are still dynamic. However, if you watch the entirety of the show over a roughly single sitting (not truly possible, but watch them all in a row stopping for sleep and work), you’ll notice some weird cyclical character developments:

  1. Sam’s done something bad or thinks he’s evil, Dean’s mad at him, Sam tries something drastic to make up for it: Sam drinks demon blood, tries to kill Lilith; Sam frees Lucifer, quits hunting/sacrifices himself to the cage; Sam thinks he’s just b-b-b-bad to the bone, does the trials to close the gates of hell.
  2. Dean tries to sacrifice himself for the greater good/Sam because he doesn’t believe he is worth saving: Dean sells his soul; Dean wants to do the trials; Dean takes the first blade. (1 & 2 are what I like to call: One of the Winchesters is trying to dive off a bridge.)
  3. Sam wants out of the life, tries to help others stay out, Dean tells him it’s impossible: The many freaking times Sam has quit.
  4. Dean tries to help others stay out, Sam tells him it’s impossible: Speaking to Adam about the life. (3 & 4 are The Godfather Part III: “Everytime I try to get out, they pull me back in!”)
  5. Cas does something he thinks is for the greater good, Dean gets mad at him: Betraying the Winchesters for the Angels (which time am I referring to?), Working with Crowley, Staying behind in Purgatory, Working for Hannah (even if brainwashed).
  6. Crowley is their friend: During the Apocalypse, Against Abaddon.
  7. Crowley is their enemy: During the fight for Purgatory, During the trials. (6 & 7 are essentially the daisy game: He likes me, He doesn’t like me, He likes me . . .)
  8. Dean thinks all monsters deserve to die, Sam argues otherwise: the good vampires episode (also the introduction of Gordon), Ruby (though he is right about this one), the episode with Jewel State (the kitsunke).
  9. Sam thinks all monsters deserve to die, Dean argues otherwise: Crowley (Sam never trusts him) and Dean thinks they should work with him, when Sam meets Benny. (8 & 9 are the dumbest flip flops on the show).

Some of these are paired together because they show a switch of positions, but all of them happen at least twice in the show. But why do all these pop up again and again? Well, that easy. They’ve run out of ideas to make the characters grow and create conflict. Why? Also easy. Season Five was the real conclusion of the show. Armageddon was stopped, Sam made up for his most drastic mistake, and Dean lived out a happy life with Lisa and Ben. The end. No more. But the show was too good and too profitable to stop there. I totally don’t blame them for continuing the show, a big part of me is glad they did. I love this show. But I can’t deny as a writer that the complete (cannonical) piece is just five seasons. This is why we get some pretty crappy episodes and cyclical character development. Because the characters and the actors are so good, Supernatural is doomed to repeat the same developments over and over again until one of the major actors quits. No major plot development can compare to ending the Armageddon. It’s basically impossible. Also impossible is continuing dramatic conflict with having your characters actually, permanently learn from their mistakes (sounds like the opposite of a soap opera). Like that’s ever going to happen, Looking at you Cas!

Tripped Mid-stride: Lost

This is the juggernaut of the list. Critically acclaimed. Loved by nearly all. I was patently uninterested when it was airing, because I refuse to watch shows one episode per week, especially when they are as confusing and complex as Lost. Everyone was telling me I should watch it, but I held off until it was over and on Netflix in it’s entirety. Then I tried watching it. I got bored, really bored, mid season six and about a year or two later, tried coming back to it. I started where I left off, had no idea what was going on, so I went back to the beginning of the season. I was still completely lost, so I went back to the beginning of the show. I watched it all in a row. (Unfortunately, someone else was sometimes in the room saying things like “Oh-kay”, “Aaall right”, and “What the fuck?” every time something weird or dramatic happened, which is freaking always!) This is a great show. It has a great story. It has great characters. It should not have been six seasons long. It should not have had so many character groups. Half the watching time is trying to remember who the hell this or that person is. For example, we have the fuselage passengers (or main characters), we have the Others (who by the way are never explained as how and why they are on the island), we have the tail section passengers, we have the Widmore mercenaries, we have the Dharma Initiative members, and we have the Ajira flight passengers. And that doesn’t include people from the past who are meaningful to the main characters, Desmond, Daniel Faraday’s mother, Rousseau (and the original members of her team), Richard Alpert, Jacob, the Man in Black, their mother, their real mother and her people, the past Others. THIS IS TOO MUCH. When Illana was introduced in season six, along with her crew, all I could think is “I. DON’T. CARE.” But this is just a problem of trying to create an opus of a T.V. show. The real problem is the weird floundering that happen halfway through the show when the Writer’s Strike happened.

J.J. Abrams and crew all quit writing for the show and took to the picket lines. While this ultimately was good for T.V. writers and writing, it was not good for Lost. Why? Writing a specific piece is about being in a specific mood for that work. It’s hard to sustain creative motion after stopping. Sometimes one can get back into that mood by re-experiencing the progress so far. However, sometimes the work is too big and too deep to get back into that mood. And T.V. shows have added constraints of compromises with the studios that produce them. Which is why Annie (can you possibly remember this character without me showing you a picture?) is dropped like a bad habit in Lost. It is why the dark versus light foreshadowing of the first season is not brought up again until season six, which most viewers would have forgotten in the first place, but is the main point of the show. Instead of getting bogged down in what stupid thing Locke is doing now or what contrary and stubborn thing Jack is doing now, we should have been reaching more main point stuff much earlier on. Season Six: Oh, you remember those caves from season one? No, here they are. Remember those bodies and the stones in the cave? No, here they are. Now we can show you Jacob’s origin, since you forgot all that stuff long ago (even if you watched it all within one month, let alone the six years it was on the air).

There is some great character development in Lost though. Locke desperately wants his faith affirmed, Jack will say no just because someone asked, Kate will run away, Sawyer will sabotage any interpersonal relationships, and everyone loves Hurley, because duh. But eventually, Locke realizes his affirmation of faith is not as important as people, Jack says yes because he believes, Kate stops running, Sawyer can have a stable relationship, and everyone still loves Hurley, because duh, but also Hurley doesn’t think he’s crazy or cursed anymore. So watch it, but be prepared for some missteps (the whispers are the Others as confirmed by Ben when he takes Alex from Rousseau–No, wait, we meant the whispers are the sounds of the people who died on the island who can’t move on as confirmed by Michael when he speaks to Hurley as a ghost) and some dragging.

Crappy Equipment: Eureka

Eureka is one of my all time favorite shows. It was just so funny. But it only has five seasons. I’d say this is the best amount, because there was a chance for Eureka to have a season six of six episodes but their budget was being pulled by Comcast. The creator and producers decided instead of doing six really crappy episodes, they would use the much smaller budget to create a finale to the show. Bless their hearts, because I’d rather have a conclusion to the show than have six badly made episodes wherein we get no closure afterwards. It sucks that the show had it’s budget dramatically reduced, but to some extent this is because viewership started to drop off.

This happens for three reasons in our current television age: 1) the channel keeps changing the time/day on which the show is aired, 2) the channel does not advertise new season premiers enough, 3) viewership is calculated through ratings which do not take into account online viewing on the channel website or paid streaming services such as Amazon Video, Amazon Prime, Hulu, Hulu Plus, or Netflix. The first two are totally Sy-Fy’s fault, and they did do these. I remember Eureka was changed to Tuesdays from Fridays between two seasons, and I missed the premiers of new seasons of all their shows because I never heard about them until after the fact. Sy-Fy, when I was watching cable or satellite T.V., has a tendency to not advertise new seasons enough or evenly across all shows and over advertises new episodes of currently airing shows, which is usually when I found out a new season had premiered. The third one is because ratings, and studios by extension, have not caught up to the changing technology of viewership. I have left the ratings count completely, and I’m sure there are a lot of other people who have too. Which means studios need to get with the program and stop defunding shows that possibly have higher viewership than they are currently willing to count. How people watch T.V. is changing rapidly, and no matter how many stupid mail flyers Cox, Dish, or Direct T.V. send me, I am not going to pay $150-$300 to have annoying ads most of the time, censored/truncated content, inconvenient air times, and channels I will never use (Looking at you, CSPAN and ESPN!).

But back to Eureka: a show losing it’s budget is a good reason to just close up shop. Some may disagree with me and want as many episodes as possible, even if they suck. But I’m no fanboy. I want the story and the production to be of quality, so I’d rather have shows do what Eureka did than have them flounder out weak, shoddy episodes. This is a case of quality over quantity. I miss Eureka, but I consider it, for what it is, to be nearly perfectly done (one major misstep, read further below). It had a formula that it stuck to, but the characters grew and their lives changed. I’m glad it exists and will always treasure it.

Fell Face First Right Out the Gate: Charmed

I watched a couple of seasons of Charmed, and to be honest, I’m not sure why it lasted as long as it did. Frankly, I’m surprised it made it past the pilot stage. There are a couple of shows that are awful from the very start: the production is low quality, the writing is passe, unrealistic, or lazy, the acting is phoned in. This is one of those shows. Some people love that show. I’m not sure why. The one good actor on it, Julian McMahon, didn’t have much to work with. Shannen Doherty was unwatchable. And the rest of the actors were pretty green. Other shows like this include Roswell (Twilight anyone? You know before Twilight was written) and Bones. I like Bones, but I like David Boreanaz and Emily Deschanel, so maybe that’s the only way shows like this work.

One of the worst things Charmed ever did was shoehorning in the night club wherein a different flavor of the month band would play every other episode. They did this on T.V. shows a lot in the nineties, and every once in a while a show will try it again, Bones again. Thank you for wasting two to five minutes of each episode to a band no one cares about anymore or maybe even by the time the episode aired, instead of, you know, spending the time resolving the plot in a meaningful and acceptable way, instead of going “We need to tie a bow on this, got to get to the band scene!” This is a bad idea. Don’t do it. Most shows are cutting out theme songs and actor shots (ala Lost style) to save that time too. Don’t waste even more time than that on a stupid band I couldn’t name two seconds after you announced it.

On shoddy production, Charmed takes the cake, and sets it on fire. Almost all of the show is shot in about two locations, which could be fine, but the real problem comes with the special effects quality and the monster creation. It’s certain they didn’t spend any of their budget on writing, but with how the show looks, one wonders where the money went. I could say something catty about the actors, but I’m going to refrain because the joke lacks any truth, I imagine. Shows of the nineties, and Supernatural, have an annoying habit of having monsters and aliens just be people, more times than necessary professional wrestlers specifically, wearing weird makeup, latex, and/or contacts. Never is it something completely inhuman. They’re all upright bipeds with two arms and basic facial features. Sometimes, the show just says they’re something inhuman, which is only displayed by powers (ala the dragons and phoenix from Supernatural–why not show us what the freaking dragons looked like picking up a chick? Because now I just picture that guy doing it in cargo pants and a zippered jacket. Not very exiting.). This is the sign of a low budget, or a budget that isn’t valuing creating the world. I gave Farscape a pass on this because Jim Hensen’s Workshop did Rigel and Pilot, and those were awesome concepts, but Star Trek (all of them, even the recent movies), Charmed, and Supernatural display a complete lack of imagination when it comes to showing us crazy, different forms of life. I’m not saying every monster needed to be something totally different, but at least the ones that are traditionally so and a few every once in a while. If Buffy can do it (ala the mantis from season one), so could they. Charmed was the most pathetic when it came to showing us interesting monsters. Oooh, Cole really looks like a WWE member with red and black makeup on. How intriguing.

Charmed really never should have been made. It didn’t really have anything going for it, and I watched a couple of seasons, so you can’t say that it was the season one growing period. There just wasn’t anything there of substance or quality. Maybe it was made and sustained entirely on girl power, which just makes it all the more insulting to the discerning viewer. I’m all for strong women kicking butt, but this show was more about showcasing “sexy” women’s butts (Milano & McGowan are sexy) and telling us they were strong. It was a relief beyond measure when Doherty was no longer on the show, like when someone gives you morphine after you’ve been stabbed, but it’s not like the show got all that better afterwards, what with that stupid elusive enemy of The Source. The Source of What?!

Lost a Shoe in the Middle of the Race: House, M.D. and Two and a Half Men

The cast of a show is as important as its writing. Writing is limited by what actor is available after a certain point in a show’s lifetime. Bewitched lost the original Darren, Dick York, but replaced him with Dick Sargent, when they really should have just cancelled the show. Eureka lost Ed Quinn. Lost lost Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (wow). Charmed let Shannen Doherty go. Misfits lost Lauren Socha. Two and Half Men dropped Charlie Sheen, and House, M.D. lost Kal Penn to politics and Lisa Edlestein possibly over her not wanting to take a pay cut. Actors leave T.V. shows for many reasons: they get sick, they want to do other projects, they get sick of the show, they get arrested, the show gets sick of them, or they argue over money (match ’em up). But this affects what the show can do. They can replace the actor as in Bewitched, which sucked after the change. They can write a goodbye episode, wherein the actor is still used, as in Eureka, Lost, or Charmed. They can write the character out of the story after the actor is gone, as in both cases of House, M.D. Or if the actor they lost was a main character, they can try to desperately hold on to the structure of the show around a new character, as in Two and a Half Men.

Some think that Kutner got a goodbye episode in House, M.D., but a goodbye episode requires the actor be there, which is why when Kutner dies, it is completely out of left field and the writers are trying to salvage the situation. I’m not sure why Penn didn’t stick around for at least a goodbye episode considering how he appeared on the show at least two more times after his character’s death. It was, however, quite clear that Edlestein was done with the show completely once she left it, but it seems her leaving had more of an impact. Possibly because the main dynamic of that show is House, Wilson, Cuddy, and Team (which can change without too much impact because of the other three). Some believe the show unfinished because Cuddy wasn’t at House’s funeral and feel that the House/Cuddy question was never resolved. While stuck with the fact that they could not include Cuddy because the actress would not take part or because they did not wish to work with her, the question can be pretty well resolved within the story of the show. She wasn’t at his funeral. She left the hospital. She obviously didn’t want anything more to do with him. There’s your answer. Maybe it wasn’t the one you wanted, but it is still an answer. If you want your answer, try to imagine House five months after the end of the show. Maybe he killed himself. Or maybe he went and found Cuddy and apologized for all he did, and she took him back. We don’t know. But the show lost something when it lost Edlestein. The interplay between House and Cuddy was very interesting, but the show took a major misstep when it broke them up over his relapse, especially considering that he was contemplating relapsing when they got together and she told him it was his choice. It’s like they weren’t watching their own show. I do not blame the writers for concluding the show at that point. It was a pretty good conclusion, but I wish they hadn’t introduced two new characters in the last season, because like Lost it was too late in the show to make anyone care.

We all remember that Charlie Sheen kind of went off the deep end a few years back. As a result, his presence on Two and Half Men was no longer a good idea. Nor was the continuation of the show. By that point, the show had gotten boringly cyclical: Charlie sleeps around, he meets a serious woman whom he considers a serious relationship with, he’s in a serious relationship with her, he messes up the relationship and it ends, he sleeps around, he meets a serious woman whom . . . and so on and on until Sheen was no longer on the show. I’m not sure why people kept watching it after three seasons, but I’m especially not sure why the writers and studio decided to continue the show after he was gone or why anyone kept watching it. Maybe to see how bad it got. I’d understand that. If in season five of House, M.D., Hugh Laurie quit the show, I wouldn’t have expected them to continue the show. Nor would I in shows that don’t involve a title character but a main one, such as Quantum Leap, Supernatural, or Eureka. I can’t imagine what would happen if these shows lost Scott Bacula, either of the JSquared, or Colin Ferguson, and decided to keep going. That just seems crazy. Some shows are built around a single actor, and sorry to the other One and Half Men, but Sheen was the main character. It seems like the show, that already wasn’t that good, was a wash at this point and should have been cancelled instead of calling in Ashton Kutcher to try to take his place in some strange way. Sorry to those fans out there, it hurts but the truth often does.

Tripped End Over End and Ate Dirt: Heroes

I watched Heroes religiously when it premiered. I loved it. I loved Mondays because of it. Every episode was a treat. The conclusion of season one was a bit of a letdown, just wasn’t as climatic as it should have been. Season two premiered, and I eagerly watched. That wasn’t all that awesome. Season three I watched on Netflix, and that was awful, and then I stopped watching halfway through that season. What happened? How could it all go so horribly wrong? I’m not entirely sure. I can’t remember another show that fell apart quite so badly, to the point where the show became a punchline on The Big Bang Theory (“They lowered the quality season by season until we were glad it was cancelled.”) I haven’t done a lot of research into this phenomenon, but when something like this happens it can usually be because of one of three reasons: 1) The main creative force left the show, 2) The main creative force has run out of ideas, or 3) The studio has a different idea for the show than the main creative force. Either way the quality of the episode stories decline rapidly as a result of a loss of focus. I’m still really surprised by how bad this show got, especially when it started out so good. For example, Peter left his Irish girlfriend in a horrific future and never mentioned her again! That’s insane. The writers forgot about her? Didn’t care about her? The studio wanted to drop that storyline? What? Tell me. If you have some backstory on this, I’d like to know it. Another example of bad writing is when Sylar kind of becomes a good guy, at least he’s not killing the other heroes. He’s traveling around with Elle and is kind of at peace. That is until suddenly and out of no where he decides that he’s still a bad person and kills her. There isn’t really any impetus for this decision. He just does it. We saw him develop into a less evil person and then suddenly for no reason he decides to go back to his old ways. I think maybe people were unhappy with the turn that Sylar’s character took, or maybe the studio blamed the decline in viewership on the turn, so they told the writers to make him evil again, and because this change didn’t happen organically like the first development, it was done poorly. The show only gets worse from there. Don’t know how I feel about the upcoming Reborn series.

Took It Way Too Seriously: Warehouse 13

This show was always pretty campy. It was very silly, which is why to some extent it made sense as being part of the same world as Eureka but not so much Alphas. The villains were always rather cartoony and the artifacts were often silly. That’s not to say that the characters didn’t have problems or that the plots didn’t go to darker places. In one season conclusion/season premier, all hope in the world is destroyed, one of the agents is stuck in a cell just big enough for her body, and another agent is shot. But that all seemed to be a progression of the plots already related to the warehouse. What wasn’t a progression was Myka getting ovarian cancer. It had nothing to do with stopping villains or the warehouse. She just got cancer. As people do. But the show was silly to begin with, so bringing in this very heavy real world issue seems to be a big ole damper on the viewer’s fun. We understand that people get cancer, but they shouldn’t on a show where a man switched brains with a dog. That’s just incongruous. The show was cancelled before the thrilling conclusion to if Myka was okay or not, then returned for a final season to conclude it. I haven’t watched this last season yet because it’s not on Netflix, but I can’t image that the tone is repaired after such an out of character conflict. It’s very important that a show stick to the tone it started with; otherwise, viewership is lost. I don’t expect a laugh riot with Lost, but I did with Warehouse 13 (especially with the hilarious Christmas episodes).

Decided to Run Back and a Lap and Try It Again: Fringe and Eureka

These two shows are both hour long sci-fi stories, but that is where the similarities end. Fringe was a serious police drama as well, while Eureka was a small town comedy (the theme song said it all; Andy Griffith meets The X-Files). However, because they are both sci-fi, they both made a drastic mistake, one I hope all sci-fi shows learn from: Timeline Shifts. Now, this is okay in one episode wherein everything is back to normal at the end of the episode, such as the conclusion of season one of Eureka. But it becomes a major problem when those changes are permanent. Eureka and Fringe both did this at the beginning of season four. In Eureka, several things changed. Allison wasn’t head of GD, Fargo was head of GD, Lupo was head of security for GD (who did this before?), Zane was still an ass, Henry was married, and Kevin was no longer autistic. Those are the changes that were made obvious to audiences immediately. Questions, though, were left up in the air, because everything we knew happened didn’t. Was the artifact ever at GD? Did it go in Kevin? Did Nathan still die? Did Kim still die? Etc, etc. We have no idea what all happened in the past. If it happened as we saw it on the show or if it happened in an entirely different manner. Obviously, it was different. And we didn’t see it happen. That’s frustrating.

Fringe did the exact same thing, and we had to question even more when the change was that Peter died as little boy. How did Olivia get to see Walter when they said only family could see him? Peter is how she got to him in the first place. Half the problems on Fringe in the first three seasons are solved because of Peter, so now the audience has to question the outcome of all the past cases. Olivia went to the other universe to get Peter back and that’s when Fauxliva becomes a part of the story, so why in the new timeline did she still replace Olivia when Olivia had no reason to go to the other universe in the first freaking place because Peter didn’t exist? Then Olivia remembers everything as we do, and that just makes everything more confusing. I have no clue what happened in the timeline of the first three seasons of the show as the characters know it, so I can’t help but feel like the show is worthless at that point. My impetus to watch dropped dramatically in season four and disappeared almost entirely by the time I reached season five. You can see why voiding everything the viewer knows up to this point is a bad idea. It leaves too many questions that are almost never resolved and makes the viewer feel as if their time has been wasted.

Trying to Teleport down the Track: Fringe

I wrote above that season five of this show left me basically devoid of any reason to watch it and that is the other time pitfall shows tend to fall into: jumping into the future. I don’t mind a quick jaunt into the future (the episode before the conclusion of season three is a good example) or months or maybe a year tops into the future, but anything more than that makes me question the writing of a show. Fringe first jumped into the future in season four episode nineteen, and it ruined all tension of the season four plotline. Gee, do they stop Bell? Well, I don’t know. The earth was still there in episode nineteen, so I guess so. Thanks. They tried to not give away what happens to Olivia at the season four conclusion, so that still had some surprise to it, but the major dramatic question (Will Bell succeed/Will they win?) was resolved before the climax by that stupid episode. Then we have the huge jump in time between season four and five. Why do those decades destroy the show? Mostly, it makes viewers feel like they are missing out on stories, it creates a need for flashbacks (which lets face it, if the show wasn’t already utilizing those, it’s a bit late to be adding them in) which are typically not as active and therefore interesting as current scenes, and puts your characters on development ice. Now for some of the years, they were frozen in amber, but for some they weren’t, wherein we would imagine the characters went through some growth as per usual. The most important development we missed out on is probably the Observers decision to invade. I mean, that’s huge. Now, they tell us why they invade, but since these characters were already pretty central to the show, we needed to see their point of decision. The loss of this moment due to the time jump makes their actions seem completely out of character after the invasion and the invasion itself is questionable at this point. Time jumps leave far too many questions and a feeling of having missed major events in our characters’ lives.

Mimicking Another Runner: The Event, Flashforward, Insert-Lost-Copy-Name-Here

Lost really isn’t the first show like itself (that sounds really strange). Instead, I can name The 4400 as the first otherworldly mystery dramatic epic (that’s a lot of adjectives, but that is pretty much the best description of Lost, its fore-bearers, and successors). However, Lost made this type of show a seemingly money-making setup. A large group of people, something weird happens (sci-fi or magical), and they have to deal with it and their own personal problems. This also almost entirely describes the Global Event Magical Realist form. Shows starting popping up all over cable and broadcast trying to follow this format. For most of them, it didn’t pan out. The two big failures are The Event and Flashforward. Both these shows only lasted one season, and left us all with a bunch of questions. The Event was especially bad. In the first episode we see the main character in a past event with his girlfriend on a cruise ship and now trying to stop an airplane. Never in the entirety of the show do we see how he got from the cruise ship to trying to stop the plane. How did he know he needed to stop the plane? How did he physically get from the cruise to chasing down the tarmac? No clue. No answer. Most likely they didn’t have a plan for that. The show ends after one season on a cliffhanger. Flashforward, which also ends on a cliffhanger after one season, was based on a work of fiction that was not an epic dramatic mystery so much as it was more typical sci-fi that asks questions about how science affects our understanding of life. This show is better done than The Event, but still tries too hard to be Lost. They did hire Charlie and Penny (no, I’m not going to look up their real names). The show also, like Lost and The Event, was too bloated with too much going on. Most of these Lost copies don’t do all that well because they tend to lack vision as Lost had. Most come out of a desire to make that Lost money, as opposed to someone having a good idea.

Running in the Wrong Direction: V

I’m a big V fan. I can watch the original miniseries again and again. It has direction and good imagery (some of which is stolen for Independence Day). It’s heartbreaking at times in very real ways and its play on Nazism is very well done. The Final Battle is okay by comparison, and I never watched the series. I did watch the new series when it came out a few years ago. First of all, I hated the fact that they kept saying V stood for Visitor. I hated Tyler. Most annoying teenager ever. They were far too in love with the green screen. But that’s beside the point. The real problem with this show is how the rebels, for whom the audience was rooting, never won a single fight. Not only that, but somehow, everything they did kept making things easier for Anna. They blow up a shuttle, she makes it look like it was full of humans. They try to destroy her power plant, instead they knock out all the human power. They try to kill her, instead she looks like a brave hero and kills her mother. It’s the most frustrating plot progression ever. The only ground they ever gained is when Erica killed all the soldiers. After that, it’s all a pretty smooth ride for Anna. Hell, she even gets the hybrid. Second season was especially bad for this, and they tried to make it more palatable by having Diana and Marc Singer. That was nice, I guess, but it’s no coincidence that Anna basically won all of Earth and then the show was cancelled. It’s not an underdog story if the underdog doesn’t win.

Tripping Up on the Second Lap: Battlestar Galactica

I’ve never seen the original TV show, but I watched the new mini-series and series. I, for the most part, enjoyed the show. Gaius Baltar and Caprica Six were very interesting. It was fun trying to figure out if he was crazy or if she was really there. Though the show took things too far at times with the mysticism, such as Starbuck’s storyline. Bringing in Admiral Cain was a major misstep, because her character and her methods were so hateable, it made it hard to watch the show. Rape as a form of interrogation is not just the most ridiculous and detestable of ideas but also a form of sensationalist writing that the show should have avoided. The series finale tried to compete with The Return of the King for most endings, to the point where I stopped caring and just wanted it to end so I could move on with my life already. Then there was Dean Stockwell’s death at the climax that seemed so slapdash and quick that for a moment there I thought I was watching a parody. The show started to show its true issues in the first episode of season two. No progress in plot was made in this episode. It was all a stall to not answer questions or resolve issues. They couldn’t remove the bullet from Adama’s stomach but were able to open his chest and perform open heart palpitations? That’s insane. Open chest surgery involving a person’s heart is so much harder than removing a bullet from the abdomen. I remember being confused as well by the sudden appearance of Ty Olsson as Capt. Kelly, but at the time, I hadn’t been able to see the miniseries yet. I wonder what Olsson had been doing instead for all of season one. The reason why this first episode was all a stall is that a show usually has way more time to develop season one than they do season two. As a result, season two can sometimes suffer from rushed pre-production. If you pay close attention, you can see that this also happened in the first episode of season one because the real first season is the mini-series which had more pre-production time than the first season of the show. Second seasons have a tendency to be kind of weak story-wise, but some are more weak than others, namely Battlestar Galactica and Heroes, both of which premiered their season two with lackluster stories. For some strange reason that is completely beyond me, a lot of people liked the season two premier of Battlestar Galactica. Nothing happened in that episode. Nothing. What’s there to like?

Going Too Slowly: Caprica

This attempt at a spinoff wanted to show BSG fans how the cylons were made (but, doh! the show it spins off from gives conflicting origins, Oops!). It could have been really interesting. But it totally wasn’t. This is the main reason it never took off on its own. That show is boring. It’s hard to believe that terrorists, parents dealing with the loss of their children, the invention of AI, and really cool technology couldn’t hold any interest, but when the show goes at the pace of snail making its way through mud and dicks around with far too many subplots, viewers tend to lose interest. I don’t believe this show was just cancelled because it was boring, but also because it was contrary to the plots of Battlestar Galactica. There isn’t much to say about shows like this because nothing much happens in them. Well, it was okay, but I’d rather watch something else even if I’ve seen it before is the most one can say when it comes to boring shows. Could’ve been good, wasn’t.

Running in First, But the Coach Decided to Run on the Field and Tackle Their Own Runner: Alphas and Firefly

Now this may be the saddest thing you’ll ever see on television: a great show, with great writing and production, that’s killed too early. Alphas, Firefly, A Gifted Man. These are just a few of the heroes we’ve lost to consumerism. There is nothing wrong with any of these shows. Alphas lasted two seasons and ended on a cliffhanger. A Gifted Man lasted one season and ended up in the air. Firefly didn’t even get a full season, but we were lucky enough to get a movie. Alphas was great. It was better than Heroes. It had a tight cast of characters and a single direction (unlike Heroes which was far too much like an actual comic book). A Gifted Man was pseudo magic realism and followed one man’s journey into becoming a better person and saving lives in the process. Firefly, like Alphas, had a tight cast of characters but was much more about adventurism. It was better than Farscape. Why were these shows cancelled? It wasn’t the writers, the directors, or the actors. It was the channel and the studio. Sy-Fy strikes again with Alphas by not advertising enough. At this point, I don’t trust Sy-Fy to actually conclude a show ever again. I never heard of A Gifted Man until it was on Netflix and my spouse suggested it. Again, feels like a lack of advertising and not keeping up with changing viewership. Then there was the clusterfuck that was Firefly’s handling by Fox. They put it in the nicknamed “Friday Night Deathslot”. You can pretty much trust sci-fi nerds like myself to stay in on a Friday night to watch a show, but we all already were staying in on Friday nights to watch Sy-Fy’s Farscape, an already established show. I didn’t even hear about Firefly until years after even the movie came out, and I love sci-fi. Then Whedon tried to work with Fox again what with Dollhouse, and we all saw how well that worked out. I hope some execs got fired over there once The Avengers was the top grossing film of the year. Serves them right.

Cancelled

Being cancelled is not always the worst thing to happen to a show. Sometimes they drag on forever getting worse and worse as time goes on. Sometimes they suck from the beginning. Sometimes they go off the rails, and they can do that in several different ways. It is, however, very hard to handle when a good show is cancelled for no good reason. For the most part, it comes down to mishandling scheduling, advertising, misunderstanding viewership, and feeling like the project is “not successful enough”. Not that it isn’t successful, but that the project isn’t making as much money as they would like. They could, in fact, be making money over their costs, but the studio isn’t satisfied with the profit margin. That seems like a crazy attitude. It means that the studio is willing to cancel a sure thing for a possible loss or possible better thing. It just seems stupid. I get wanting to make money, but if you are already making money, why scrap the project? Just invest in getting more viewership, or wait for word of mouth to do it for you. All I’m saying is stop making bad decisions about TV shows, stop fighting with the creators so much. Demographics, statistics, and ratings are at this time very unreliable information. Move with the times, of fall in the dust.

 
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Posted by on August 30, 2015 in Craft of Writing

 

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Growing Older but Not Afraid of Age

My birthday was this week, and I’m quickly approaching the big Three Oh. But I’m not upset that I’m getting up there in age. Some of my older readers may be scoffing at the idea of me “getting up there” or that thirty is anything to feel bad about in the first place. Some of my younger readers may think there isn’t much difference in our ages, and therefore, our physical conditions. When I think back on how much more energy I had and how much less stiff my joints were eight years ago, I can’t help but feel myself growing older. What doesn’t make me feel old, however, is the fact that my ten year high school reunion was also this week. The ten years between then and now were the best of my life: I won some writing awards, got published, met the love of my life, got a job I love, and discovered some new things I really love–that’s a lot of love. But I want the fun to continue, so I want to explore some ideas that help that happen.

Taking Care of Myself:

I want to be around for a while. I want a long and healthy life. Long isn’t worth much if it isn’t also healthy. Which is why I try to workout everyday. I’m not always successful. I miss a lot of days, but it’s not like I haven’t worked out in a week, more like I miss 2-3 days a week. I remind myself that that’s better than nothing and that just because I don’t meet the goal of working out everyday, doesn’t mean I should give up entirely. I also try to eat better, mostly by going with the healthier option or stopping when I’m full. I still drink coffee (with cream and sugar) everyday (I never miss a day of coffee). I don’t, however, count pounds or calories (I don’t even own a scale), because I base my eating and working out habits on whether I feel well or bad. I don’t over eat because it makes my stomach hurt. I workout because it makes my joints and muscles feel better–sometimes it even helps my energy level and any stomach issues.

One thing I have noticed that has changed as I’ve gotten older is the number of pills I take. When I was younger, it was only one. Now it is six. There is a joke in our house that you can tell how old you are by how many pills you take. It’s funny, but as we age our bodies need more help. In the last year, my health hasn’t been the best, but my best isn’t all that good in the first place. The need to protect your health isn’t something that happens overnight. It’s a gradual build as things start to break down. Like an aging car, parts of the human body start to fail as time passes, and as more time passes, the more parts start failing. I’m a huge believer in preventative care. I don’t have the same health problems of a person in their forties or fifties, but I know that now is the time that I make decisions and habits that will help me stay healthier in my forties and fifties. This is the whole reason I wear sunscreen everyday, even on cloudy days (that sounds like I’m a freak, but in truth, I don’t check the weather before I put on sunscreen). I am aware that not all health problems are preventable, having had some that weren’t, but a good enough amount are. Taking care of myself isn’t about looking good or impressing people, nor is it meant to be a chore, but a way of life. My health is a priority.

Enjoying Myself:

I also make it a priority to enjoy my time. Our time is limited. There’s only so much of it we should be spending on things we don’t enjoy. I try to have a bit of fun everyday, even if it is just reading a chapter of a book, having a single cookie (or five), watching an episode of a TV show I like, or playing half an hour of video games. Doing something fun everyday doesn’t mean party drinking or doing some crazy or irresponsible act. Instead it means making sure I’m having a good time with my life. In America, there seems to be a struggle between the Lazy or Party attitude and the Workaholic attitude. It’s centered around the idea that some don’t want the party to end or don’t want to work are at odds with those that think adulthood means the end of fun. Both are kind of crazy. You can’t have fun if you don’t have a roof over your head, and just because you’re working, doesn’t mean you’re a robot. A balance is needed between responsibility and fun. I’ve never been much for crazy parties or spending or a lack of work ethic, though I find myself to be less hardworking than I want to be. I didn’t work as hard as some of my classmates when I was school (high and college), but in college, that seemed to pay off for me. I got better grades than the students that spent all their time studying and working and those that partied, because I refused to stay up late and always got a full night’s sleep. This is a very roundabout way of saying that the middle way is better than the extremes. I want to enjoy myself, but I also want to be responsible. If I do everything I need to do, my relaxation or fun is even better, because there is nothing hanging over my head. My happiness is a priority.

Learning from Mistakes:

This is a pretty big one. As we get older, we are supposed to get wiser, which typically comes from screwing up a lot and learning why we screwed up and never doing that again. Not everyone learns from their mistakes. They make the same mistakes over and over again, typically when it comes to finance. No one is perfect, and everyone screws up every once in a while. That’s fine. As long as we aren’t all Stan Smith (“You should know by now, I don’t learn lessons”), we should be good on this front. Most people can’t learn from other peoples’ mistakes. Most of us have to make the mistake ourselves first. That’s fine too. We learn lessons better from our own perspective, but it’s not a bad idea to look to history first. “Hmm, does dumping my entire life savings and everything I own into stocks sound like a good idea? Let me check history first . . . Oh, oh-ho. No, not a good idea. Is working out and eating right really worth it? Well, my parent died of a heart attack, so yes. Does marrying my ex-spouse again sound like a good idea? I think not.” We don’t learn from our mistakes or the mistakes of others when we believe we haven’t made a mistake or are incapable of doing so. We are not infallible. The people who believe they are make the most mistakes. It’s important to look back on a disaster and ask ourselves what we could have done differently, what we should have been doing in the first place, to avoid the disaster a second time. It’s not about hindsight; it’s about growth. It’s not about blame, because if you’re looking for someone to blame, check the mirror first. I try my best to admit when I’ve made a mistake both to myself and others. My growth is a priority.

Don’t Be Afraid to Try Things:

Some people end up pretty set in their ways. I like to stay at home and watch the same movies and TV shows over and over again. Though I am trying to finish TV shows that I have started and haven’t finished yet (recently just finished Lost, A Gifted Man, and I refuse to finish Heroes because what in the world were they thinking?). On my birthday, I prefer to eat at the same restaurant every year: a Mexican restaurant more than one freeway away from where I currently live where parking is metered and a meal for two is about twenty bucks. I don’t go to this restaurant any other time of year, and I don’t really want to eat anywhere else. It’s a total pain, but the tacos make it worth it. I did not go to that restaurant this birthday, though I may still later this month. Instead, I got a free burger at a chain restaurant, because free, and went to my high school reunion. My point is that sometimes people need to try new things and not set themselves up to hate it. Once I tried octopus sushi. Now I love octopuses (octopi is not correct by the way) when they are alive. They are smart with long memories. But that wasn’t going to stop me from trying it. I wish I could say I loved the taste, but I did not. Trying new things doesn’t mean you’ll love every new thing you try. It means that sometimes the new thing will suck and sometimes it will rock. This is mostly true of food, but also of events. I went to writers’ critiquing circle some months ago, hoping I might meet some people I could share my work with, that was a bust, but I tried. I tried a coffee shop near my old apartment, and whenever I’m out that way, I try to stop in there, because my god! I got a book of writing prompts for my birthday, and while I usually avoid these like the plague, I decided to save them and write one a day. Hopefully, that goes well. I try not to expect the worst to happen when I do things. I try to expect the best but not to be too disappointed if it doesn’t all go well. My positive attitude is a priority.

Age as Triumph:

Some people get really down around their birthdays because they are getting older. They aren’t as young as they used to be. They try to hold on to the kinds of crazy things they did when they were younger by drinking too much, buying products that make them feel young, staying out too late, shirking their responsibilities, or making life decisions like they are still in their early twenties. Or people act as though they are already in the grave, walking through life as if it is already over and they’re just waiting for the grim reaper to make it official. Neither way is a good outlook and makes for a crappy birthday. Each year older we get is a triumph over a dangerous world. To me, each birthday is the score, and each birthday I have means I’m winning. It’s why I’m happy to tell people how old I am (if they ask, it’s superfluous to announce stuff like that). I’m happy to be growing older, especially when I am happy with my life. So if you want to wish me a happy birthday, know that I’m already having one!

For those of you who’s birthdays are near, I wish you a happy birthday as well, hoping that it is joyous and exactly the kind of fun you want.

 
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Posted by on August 3, 2015 in Social Issues

 

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