Critique VS Criticism: The Ever Changing Art of The Review.

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Criticism is as old as the arts themselves.  We humans love to voice our opinions on the world around us just as much as we enjoy taking in all the sights and sounds.  However over the past century with the advent of things such as film and television we have seen much of our efforts in this aspect dedicated to both the analytical dissection of these mediums as well as the unabashed praising or crucifixion of works depending on our outlook of them.  In modern times with the advent of the internet age any of us for better or worse have the ability to do this with ease. “Everyone is a critic” as we finally see the old saying come to fruition.  While this can be a positive thing as it helps give us a diverse range of voices and opinions towards a work I also personally feel there has been a negative effect to this as well in regards to the actual profession of film criticism.

 

In theory a proper critique of a film is an analytical dissection of the work, with the reviewer going through and sharing what they saw as strengths and weaknesses in the film and giving their piece on what possible paths could be taken to avoid any potential repeats of these mistakes in the future.  While still subjective as all opinions are a professional critique is meant to be more or less similar to a teacher grading or reviewing a students work.  It is meant to come from a good and helpful place, it is meant to be a way for those who enjoy a form of art to contribute their voice to help it grow and improve in the future.  More or less critique is meant to be a good thing, not a bad, even if the overall review of a work is more negative than positive, it still comes from a good place.  This however no longer seems to be true in modern film reviews for the most part as helpful critique is far too often set aside for more brash, cruel and mean-spirited criticism on sites for easy clicks.

 

Modern film Criticism often goes beyond helpful or professional analytical critique as many big sites and names put aside calm professionalism and instead bathe in the volatility and toxic miasma of modern internet culture. And while a desire to be more casual and honest with ones opinions is indeed admirable, the fact that for better or worse many of these professional critics and big sites can have an effect on the box office of a film to some degree is a dangerous thing given the fact that there is increasingly blurred line between a traditional “professional critic” and the rest of us ranting and raving on our blogs, twitter & YouTube channels.   The truth is though we need that divide stable to some degree. We need film critics to be more analytical and balanced in their criticism of film instead of spending so much time and effort to attempting to destroy a film before it even comes out or attacking it or anyone who enjoys it long after it  is released.  Again, critique should come from a good place, a desire to see the form of art you enjoy improve and succeed in the future.  I know all to well film can easily disappoint and emotions are just as much as part of what make a film good or bad for us as the characters and the narrative.  But even with that in mind it is important for mainstream critics to be better then the rest of us on the internet, for their reviews to not be born out of spite, but to come from a place of good intent the same way a good teacher would want a student to improve.

 

In closing I beseech thee dear reader to take all reviews in modern time be they from some nobody like me or a big wig on Variety or Rotten Tomatoes with a hefty cup of tea. At the end of the day art in any form will always be subjective and no one can truly decide weather a film is good or bad in your eyes but you.  In an age when very few critics are much better than a twelve year old or a madman like myself rambling on twitter, the best person to trust about your feeling towards a film, be it positive or negative is indeed yourself.

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Thoughts On: Building Better Fanbases

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One of the most common complaints in the digital age and even before is how insane and down right toxic fandoms for everything from Comics to Cartoons, Film to television to video games can and have been.  One thing I always find myself wondering is why things are like this and really there is no easy singular answer to this question but today I will be doing the best I can to from my perspective point out the various flaws in the way we as both groups and individuals portray ourselves as fans.  So without further hesitation I ask if you will please humor me and see what you think, am I spot on or way off the mark?

 

 

I. The Psychology of A Fan

1: Fulfilling A Need:  Before one can ask what is wrong with fandom we must first ask why we become a fan of something in the first place?  There is of course no right or wrong answer, different people gain or lose interest in things for different reasons.  However in base psychological terms one could argue that we become a fan because we feel the thing we gain interest in fulfills a psychological &/or emotional need that was previously missing in our lives or was not present to a degree that we were satisfied with.  Whether it is  being inspired by superheroes, letting animation tug at your heartstrings or satisfying your adrenaline rush with certain scifi and horror franchises we all have our own reasons for partaking in the fictions we choose as they give us something we feel everyday life doesn’t and if we like what we partake in well enough, and if we feel it can help fulfill what we see as a gap in our emotional and psychological needs we will justifiably become a long time fan.

2: Obsession:  This is one step that every fan enters to some degree during their lives and it is arguably the most dangerous one to navigate through.  After we get our first hit of something we keep coming back for more, like an addict we can become increasingly obsessed with a character/series/franchise of choice to where it can consume every facet of our lives and we think about it every waking moment of our existence, we branch out from just casual enjoyment to a more hardcore endearment towards our new found obsession.  While this in and of itself is not always a bad thing and may just result in joining a forum or two, occasionally drawing some fan art, watching some Youtube videos and getting a couple of knick-knacks here and there for others and can become an extreme it can result in doing everything you do, every action being about or for this thing you now love to a point to where like any other addict it can interfere with your real life and the relationships with in it.  If left unchecked obsession can lead to an individual being unable to handle any form of criticism towards the thing they like taking a general critique of it as a personal attack on their honor and person which can lead to never ending ever increasing extreme and ridiculous arguments between different factions both within and outside of fan communities.  This is the most dangerous part of the fan life because it can easily lead fans to extremist levels of overreliance of the thing the love and lead them to be so out of touch with reality that they would openly threaten the life of another person for merely having a different opinion or viewpoint than them on it.  Thankfully though many of us grow out of this phase and slowly learn that not every negative word given is an attack on their person.

3: Control & Reconciliation VS Submission:

If you manage to wade through the sea of obsession you will eventually find yourself at the shores of sanity once more.  You can acknowledge that you are a fan of something, accept you may be a fan of this thing for the rest of your lifetime, but you also accept that it is merely an interest a hobby, just one part of your character and psyche and not the totality of your being.  You realize that it is OK if not everyone else has the same interests as you and that it is OK if people like the things you like for different reasons. You learn to control yourself and only indulge in excess content related to this thing you love in moderation over reasonable periods of time and within reasonable expense.   You know there will always be people that both like and dislike your thing and that’s OK.  However if you don’t eventually get to a point where you break free of the bright and shiny lights of obsession you in a way are submitting to something, letting this thing that doesn’t even exist on the same plane as you, letting a mere idea and dream, a metaphysical existence control you and your actions.  Instead of being a mere fan you are now a servant to this force with no will of your own and like a cultist you blindly follow it wherever it goes and whatever the hive mind of the community says.   This is a very dangerous path to tread down as it can stunt personal growth not only as a fan of something but as a person as well.  At the end of the day we have to stand tall and say that we control our interests and that they do not control us.

 

In closing while being a fan can be a very satisfying experience we need to like with any other aspect of our lives practice these things in moderation and sensibility.  We are the ones responsible for our actions both good and bad while participating in a fan community and no level of delusion or obsession can ever justify treating a fictional character or creature with more decency and respect than a living one.  We must learn to keep ourselves in check and not overact to every thing said about our interests we dislike.

 

II. Fixing The Cracks

 

  1. Acknowledging Alternative Views:  While it is true that many sites and critics will be purposely overly negative or unprofessional to rile-up controversy just to get easy clicks and advertisement we should realize that not everyone who has a view differing from our own is out to harm or demonize the things you enjoy, in the wise words of the great sage Linkara “Get over yourself internet, not everyone has the same interests as you!”

2. Putting The Pro Back in Professional:  The advent of the digital age has arguably caused critics both young and old to get a bit lackadaisical in their practices, far too many critics online and in print form have taken a more hostile and troll like approach to their job.  Given this smug sense of elitism has always existed in the profession to a degree but we have known for decades you can dissect a film or any work of art and storytelling without being cruel even if most of your conclusions of it are negative ones.  Critics may be getting paid or praised for their word but at the end of the day they are also a type of fan and it is important to be aware of ones own confirmation biases both positive and negative when going into a review and still trying to give everything you view an even shake and letting each individual work stand or fall on its own legs.

 

3. Talking about the issues:  Whether we like to admit it or not things like Toxic Masculinity, Mental Instability,  Exclusivist mindsets, Sexism, Racism, Homophobia and every other nasty part of human nature can and do butt their ugly heads into fan communities.  It is important we continue to discuss these issues and call out those guilty of these practices to help make a better and safer fan community for those from all walks of life.

 

III. Final Thoughts

Overall the points and topics presented here are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the complexity of human interaction and how fans and fanbases/communities view one another.  In truth you could write an entire series of books about the psychology of the various fanbases on the internet and it could take a lifetime to even get everyone on board to consider addressing the problems inherent in their communities but I do believe that if we are willing to acknowledge the faults both within ourselves and the communities both online and off that we partake in we can make better more professional, mature, caring and empathetic fans in the future.  Or who knows maybe i’m just a madman.

Thoughts on: Ben10 Reboot! (2017)

 

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Reboots & Launches of popular IP’s are common place in American media, especially amongst series in the superhero genre.  It is a way for companies to publishers to keep their characters fresh and relevant for a new generation of readers and viewers.  However like with anything else the various incarnations of these heroes can be met with positive or negative feedback from their fans.  Today we will take a look at one of the newest heroes to get a reboot; Ben10!

 

First off I will admit right off the bat that growing up as a kid I despised the original Ben10 and really never had any interest in its various sequels /movies /spinoffs /specials /etc.   And this was because around the time Ben10 originally aired in the middle of the 00’s like many I was a teenager in that “everything replacing the shows I used to watch sucks” phase. To me Ben10 was just a wannabe a show that tried to capture the spirit of popular DC superhero cartoons and anime without putting any of the effort in.  I acknowledge though I was most likely in the minority of individuals in that mindset as the series became one of Cartoon Network’s most popular original series for a good number of years not only amongst those who were kids in the ought’s but  some nineties kids as well who saw it as one of the last hold outs of shows with that classic action cartoon vibe to it, and I can see where they are coming from, looking back the original Ben10 has that late 90’s Saturday morning cartoon feel to it to a degree, however even looking at the previous incarnation from a more objective and mature standpoint I still can’t say I care for it all that much.

 

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So here is where I will most likely get a fair amount of shade thrown at me, but oh well.  Overall I find the 2017 incarnation of Ben10 to be the most entertaining version yet!  The characters are all fairly lively and Ben & Gwen act like real kids not just stereotypes of what adults think kids act like, they have fun, relax and bicker with each other but not to a cliché extreme like the originals did. This gives their dynamic a more natural feel which benefits both characters and makes both much less annoying than they were in the past.  The color pallet of the show is also much brighter and more visually appealing and the characters redesigns really breath new life into them and visually it seems to fit somewhere between Be Cool Scooby Doo and Gravity Falls, making for a cute yet quirky visual experience. The shortened run-time of episodes also helps the series in my opinion because like with the original Powerpuff Girls or Courage it feels like something is always happening, it is fast paced enough to keep the viewer engaged in the episode while still being contained enough to not feel as disjointed and manic as something like Teen Titans Go!  While like TTG & last years PPG reboot it is more on the comedic side than the action side it never feels like it is over doing it, there is a good balance between humor and action that in my book puts the show closer to series like Regular Show, only instead of two friends working at a park this is two kids spending the summer traveling the U.S. with their Grandpa.   Overall I just find this new version much more enjoyable and entertaining.

 

At the end of the day like with any reboot or reimagining your personal enjoyment of this series will vary and I understand why some hardcore fans of the original series may not be on board with this new incarnation and that like TTG! and PPG16 that it will be yet another show that will be divisive amongst Cartoon Network and Superhero fans.  I myself though would urge to give the show a chance, if you are a 90’s kid you should have grown out of your “everything sucks” stage by now and to all those ought’s babies out there don’t make the same mistakes we did, don’t let nostalgia goggles and confirmation bias cloud your judgement take in every new experience you have, even something as simple as watching a cartoon with all the same innocence you did as a child, let a work speak for itself and analyze how it holds up on its own terms not how it works compared to the past.  If you like it great and if you still dislike it that’s fine too.  I guess all I am saying is, give the new Ben10 a chance!  If you do I think you might just be pleasantly surprised. 😉

 

Season 1 of Ben10 2017 is currently airing weekdays on Cartoon Network.

Thoughts On: The Nintendo Switch

 

 

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Nintendo has been a household name in video games for over 30 years, throughout the company has its highs and lows and dealt with competition from SEGA, Sony, Microsoft and more.  Despite this they have endured and continued to create new, fun and innovative ways to play.  Today we take a look at Nintend0’s latest video game system, the Nintendo Switch.

 

In truth I am not much of a gamer, while I have been playing video games since I was a kid and clocked in a fair share of hours on my Nintendo 64 back in the day, I have never spent as much time on video games as I have things like cartoons and comics.  Because of this I have become arguably become fairly critical of which systems I even consider buying.   Microsoft and Sony systems don’t have much of anything that appeals to me personally, and my interest in virtual reality is fairly minimal, so for me Nintendo has been my go to avenue for most video games throughout my life.   They however are not without flaws, The Gamecube had some decent titles but compared to past systems it didn’t really stand out, The Wii while fun was plagued with shovelware and the WiiU while a decent console in its own right, and the generation that brought us such great games as Super Mario Maker & Splatoon just hadn’t hit with audiences the way prior systems had.  Thankfully Nintendo’s latest outing the Switch seems to solve the problems of these past systems by having a useful gimmick that can appeal to a wide array of fans.  The switch is both a console and a handheld, you now can take the same Legend of Zelda, Mario, Splatoon, etc adventures you play on your big screen on your small screen.   The only thing I am not to fond of is that as others have stated taking the Switch in and out of the dock it can scratch the screen!   Other then that the system is pretty sleek.

 

In terms of games, Legend of Zelda: Breath of The Wild alone is a massive game and a worthy launch title, as slow as some people, such as myself are at video games many could very well get years of entertainment value out of it.  Other then that popular titles like Mario Kart and Splatoon are coming to the console in the coming months, as well as new IPs like ARMS.   Third party and indie support seems decent with popular titles like Shovel Knight and The Binding of Isaac being available for the system and games from series like Sonic, Street Fighter and PuyoPuyo/Tetris will be coming soon, and more titles are slated to be announced released as the year goes on.

 

Overall the Switch is a solid System, its not perfect and like with any new console it may take awhile to get games for every genre and type of gamer out, but overall I would say it is a worthwhile investment.  Though I do agree with those who are a bit disappointed it didn’t come with apps like Netflix at launch.

Thoughts On: Why We Love Samurai Jack!

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On August 10th 2001 Cartoon Network premiered Samurai Jack, an original series created by  Genndy Tartakovsky who had previously made a name for himself with one of the network’s earlier hits Dexter’s Laboratory as well as helping Craig McCracken out on the much Beloved PowerPuff Girls.  This however would end up being  Taratkovsky’s biggest hit yet. But why is it so beloved?   Well, I cannot speak for everyone, but here is my two-cents on the subject.

 

If you look at Jack’s success in its simplest form it is arguably one of those in the right place at the right time situations.   Jack aired when action based animations were still popular acquisitions and anime had been rising in popularity in the west over the past five years, so you take an original series that is action oriented while still having the style of comedy one would expect from the Cartoon Network brand at the time mix that with some Asian themes and boom you have yourself a show that could grab multiple demographics in one foul swoop.   This explanation however is vastly over simplifying Jack’s success and is more of something you would hear in a cooperate boardroom then an average animation fan such as myself.

 

The true reason for Samurai Jack’s success is in the execution of the show, the series used the animation medium in ways that are still a delight on the eyes.   Taking the traditional simple shapes of cartoon characters and juxtaposing them with even more simplistic yet beautiful painting like backgrounds having a characters motion and sound effects fit perfectly with the music, making every little sound as crystal clear as what little dialogue came from the characters all made for a truly unique and enjoyable experience.  Yes unlike so many cartoons that depend so heavily on dialogue to move their story forward Samurai Jack depended on action in a literal sense.  There were whole episodes where jack would hardly or never speak at all, episodes that fully depended on the movements of the characters and world around them to tell the story.  This also helped the series have a cinematic feel to it which made things feel as if they had even more depth and weight to them.  This in my opinion is why Samurai Jack was so successful and why the series has resonated with so many for so long, it was something genuinely unique in comparison to other animations on television at the time, it fully took advantage of animation as a form of visual storytelling.  It was a simple as it was complex, and as refined as it was innocent.  Even by modern animation standards it is a series that truly stands out.

 

Sadly Samurai Jack ended its initial run in September of 2004 but its legacy would endure.  The series continued to get new adventures in comic books from both DC Comics and IDW Publishing over the years and constant on again off again rumors of a feature film, reruns on Boomerang, and fans demanding more adventures kept the flame alive and finally after over a decade Adult Swim,Cartoon Network and Genndy Tartakovsky  have answered fans demand and greenlight a 5th season to wrap-up the storyline which began airing on Toonami on Saturday nights as of March 11th 2017.

 

Overall Samurai Jack is a series that so far has stood the test of time and continues to be one the most beloved original series Cartoon Network and Tartakovsky have produced.  And while true the Adult Swim revival is a bit more bloody and intense then the original, for the most part it still manages to retain the spirit the original had and continues to be a genuinely enjoyable piece truly showcasing animations legitimacy as an art form.

 

So welcome back Jack, and thanks for all the memories.

 

This post is dedicated to Mako Iwamatsu, the original voice of Aku and Last Airbender’s Uncle Iroh.

Thoughts on: Kong: Skull Island

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Warning: This post may contain spoilers

Disclaimer: The views in this post are solely my opinion.  King Kong, Skull Island and all related content are property of Warner Bros. Legendary and Universal Pictures.

This past Friday, Kong: Skull Island launched in theatres nationwide.  It is the second film in the Legendary/WB Kaijuverse series as well as the first King Kong film to hit the big screen in roughly twelve years.  Is it a film worthy of the King Kong legacy, or is this ape a false prince!?  Lets find out.

 

In terms of negatives, thankfully there aren’t very many, the only thing I could think of off the top of my head is some of the soldier characters are all pretty generic and one dimensional,  though given that most of them end up being cannon fodder this makes sense, but it would have helped the film to give more then a couple of them a defined personality.  Also Samuel L. Jackson, who plays the leader of set soldiers and the one who ends up being the human villain of the film is a fairly stereotypical villain to the point it gets ridiculously over the top , also the CG effect used to make Kong and the other beasts at times does seem a bit off and other then Kong himself some of the monsters look more like beasts who walked out of a video game as opposed to ones made for a film.  But overall these are minor complaints in the big scheme of things and in no way ruin the film as a whole.

 

Kong: Skull island has a lot of positives going for it, it is finally an original story with the Character and not yet another rehash of the same old tired tale, it also serves as a decent prequel and set-up to Godzilla and the other upcoming Kaiju films in a way as it takes place in 1973 as opposed to the modern day.  The actors all give genuinely solid performances especially John Goodman, John C. Riley & Jason Mitchell who all help bring some fun and life to the cast.  And while true Tom Hiddleston and Brie Larson’s characters are fairly subdued in terms of line reading most of the time, they do execute their roles well enough to make you care about their character’s survival.  Kong also thankfully has a pretty active role in the film, unlike other monster movies which show more of the humans then the title creature, Kong balances out its time well between the humans trying to survive the island and Kong fighting various other not so gentle giants, ranging from a giant squid to the main threat of the Skullcrawlers

 

As for story and structure, things are fairly straight forward, John Goodman’s character believes Skull Island will finally help him prove that monsters exist and the group piggybacks on another scientific expedition to the island under the guise of geological surveying.  After that it is your typical survival story mixed with your typical giant monster story, but that is by no means a bad thing as both are well executed and both the Kaiju and survival aspects of the film are well balanced out  for the most.  Kong may not fight a T-Rex like in days of old, but his fights with the squid and the Skincrawlers, and the human soldiers fights with a giant spider and deadly mini pterodactyl like birds are all fairly entertaining ones.  Like most stories things escalate up to the end point where Kong ends up facing both Samuel L. Jackson and the leader of the Skincrawlers which is as large as him.  The film of course is given a happy ending with Kong defeating his foes and the remaining humans successfully making it off Skull Island.  The film also gives us a nice little easter egg at the end as Tom Hiddleston and Brie Larson’s characters are told Kong wasn’t the only monster out there and we see pictures of cave paintings of Godzilla, Mothra, Rodan & King Ghidorah.

 

Overall if you are a King Kong or Kaiju fan, I would say the film is indeed worth checking out.