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Windows XP Retrospective

Apr 04 2014 07:00 AM | Crazy Luigi in Editorials

Windows is starting up.

On Christmas Day of 2013, I had heard from a relative of mine (who heard it from his own computer guy) that once 2014 came to pass, the computer software known as Windows XP would be having its last update(s) real soon. By the time this article comes up, it may very well have already gotten its last update that would help make those computers feel more secure. While there are still about two more years left on this system's life-cycle before it truly bites the bullet and becomes a system that's permanently obsolete, it really does signify how old of a software this type of system really is. In 2001 (the year that Windows XP was first released to the public), it was considered one of those computers that it felt like practically everyone had to have in their business or home or something like that in order to have a fun and safe time with the Internet. Yet here we are over a decade later with not only Windows updating its software with stuff like Vista, 7, 8, and 8.1 (and real soon, 9), but Apple, Linux, and even Google (and to a lesser extent, Amazon) have also (re-)emerged as major competition towards Microsoft's PC and laptop market. Not only that, but new markets like smartphones, tablets, video game consoles, and even a thing called "smart-watches" have emerged as strong technological environments that make PCs almost feel like they'll be a thing of the past.

It does feel kind of sad to see that a device that many people on this site have used at one point or another is about to kick the bucket for good. It had some pretty interesting aspects that truly affected how we used our computers, for better or for worst. Not only that, but there were also a lot of memories that truly influenced how much change it had brought up on the Internet. Still, as humans, we do have this everlasting need to evolve ourselves to make bigger and better things that the masses could benefit from, and in our modern day society, we just so happen to offer a bit more power than what Windows XP has. In fact, we also have an apparent interest in special applications that may or may not be built into our newer systems that could do things that we likely won't use in the first place, such as using Netflix or Hulu. With that said, there have been many positive things about Windows XP that we might have taken for granted at the time of its release.

Windows XP was unveiled officially to the media during the month of August 2001 and eventually was released to the public for all to see on October of the same year, and its impact that would be put onto the public was something that took time to do, yet when it came up, it showed off just fine. As a new web browser, it helped standardize what was, at the time, an increase of power by being a 32 bit processing unit instead of a 16 bit processing unit. To give out a proper understanding of what that means, think of an operating system like Windows 95 as a console similar to that of the original Playstation or a Nintendo 64; it was good for what it was as a computer at the time, but it could get pretty unstable every once in a while if you leave it on for too long (think one of those early educational Charlie Brown PC games as an example of sorts there). Windows XP, on the other hand, allowed for it to start out with a video game like Halo pretty easily with very little issues in the process. This helped show off that this operating system would have more of an impact than some people would have thought it had.

Chances are more likely than not that you've not only seen this, but also loved it at one point or another.

For starters, by allowing for more memory in a PC, it allowed more users to do things that would have normally been limited to just supercomputers that only a select few people had at the time. Programs like Direct-X and Photoshop that had aspects about them that were just "pretty good" beforehand got upgraded to make them really good in not only the mid-2000's era, but also to this day. Not only that, but the improved memory spaces that would be on further operating systems would help make not only video game systems like the NES, the SNES, and the Sega Genesis easier to emulate, but it also allowed for a system as recent (keeping in mind the same era where Windows XP was the most prevalent system) as the Nintendo 64 (and later on, the Gamecube and even the Nintendo DS) to work with little to no hiccups whatsoever. There was also some improved flash capabilities that came through which helped make people like Egoraptor and Eddsworld (R.I.P. Edd Gould) stand out as fun people to look through in the future. However, what felt like a major aspect that many of feel like we've overlooked as a whole is the video editing capabilities that we have.

Before Windows XP, there weren't really any major video editing software tools that you could use to edit videos with since the applications were pretty primitive and the ones that did exist didn't have enough memory to really make something major with them. Sure you can save them onto your PC for whatever reason possible, but there wasn't really much of a purpose to having them out on 16-bit computers since no major websites were created for them at that time, especially when looking at stuff like the Space Jam website. With Windows XP, it allowed users to have a purpose to create new videos for themselves for free and do whatever kinds of crazy shit they want to do, regardless of how good or bad it looks now. Not only did Windows XP help give video files like .avi and .mp4 hold more of a purpose these days, but they also helped influence video hosting websites like EbaumsWorld and StupidVideos to come up and set up a new environment for us to use for future reference. I say that because its through websites like that which helped put up YouTube and its personal influencers like DailyMotion, Vimeo, and blip.tv to set up videos for people like us to set up our personal YouTube Poops through hundreds upon thousands, if not millions of people under an easy method! Still, while Windows XP did help set up some good things about the Internet, it also helped bring up some very bad aspects that needed some serious fixing up to work with.

When thinking about WIndows XP, you usually think of one of the most "popular" web browsers around in Internet Explorer. That is partially due to how during the early days of Windows XP, it was pretty much the only major way users could access things online alongside AOL, and in those times, that was truly something else for an experience. With Internet Explorer 6, it brought out the absolute worst of finding thing on the Internet to date, what with it being filled with exploitable ways of not only being filled up with viruses, but also means of crashing your PC due to some very exploitable hidden details that Internet Explorer 6 had when no other web browser afterwards, regardless of whether you still use Internet Explorer after 6 or not, had ever used them since then! When considering that combined with how Microsoft went and almost monopolized the web browsing universe and how newer web browsers made by Mozilla and Google ended up showing off some aspects of web browsing better than Internet Explorer despite some of its many improvements it made afterwards, and it's almost no wonder why Internet Explorer has the reputation that it has in the first place! Still, having a web browser crash during the start of an operating system's life cycle is nothing compared to an ever-lasting legacy that it had left behind for the rest of its days.

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Imagine working with that all day long.

Another major problem that I had briefly mentioned was viruses; while they definitely weren't anything new nor were they anything close to safe for PCs to have beforehand, the way they were implemented throughout most areas of the Internet helped make them become the single most annoying and killable ways you could ever destroy some of your PCs, especially if you weren't wise to know what to do there. When it came to viruses before Windows XP, while they still did some dangerous things on your PCs, they at least had some interesting methods of putting them out onto either MS-DOS systems or on Windows 95/98/ME computers, as well as some pretty strange results coming out of it in the process (with danooct's YouTube channel giving off some proper examples of just that). Starting out with Windows XP systems onward, however, they implemented some of these viruses in the most douchebaggy, Hellbent methods possible. Some of these viruses ended up being displayed as annoying pop-ups that you couldn't get out of unless you pressed the Ctrl+Alt+Delete method on your keyboard and quit that method that ran; the end result from the virus would either be that you clicked on a button to have it take you to a fake virus scanning method that'd be ready to con (and infect) you or you'd end up losing your Internet data if you quit the method that was running. Either way, it was still annoying to see, but that's just the tip of the iceberg on that shit.

When Windows XP came out, it introduced an interesting little folder called "system32". That folder was a very nifty way for it to store important things onto your PC so that it always ran it properly no matter what. However, it also introduced a horrible exploit that can still be rampant on certain PCs to this day; with Windows XP and other 32-bit PCs, you could write a small little batch code that allowed you to write down something along the words of "delete the C disk drive that holds the system32 folder" (I'm not typing the exact code down here lest I accidentally end up deleting my own PC in the process) and it would end up being able to quarantine very important files for the system to run on. In the end, all that you'd have left is a blank black screen with a FATAL error on your system, with there being no other choices than to either try and find a way to revert your system back to normal (which not many people knew how to do in the first place) or you'd more likely have to install a new version of Windows XP or whatever system you had onto it with all of your data being left behind in the process. While this little piece of code is still a bitch to have been discovered and exploitative to some people, it is something you could outright avoid altogether provided you stay away from batch files like this. However, not even the best kind of protection can prevent you from seeing fake virus protecting applications.

What would usually be the worst of the bunch that not many people could avoid outright are the viruses that pretend to act like a company like McAfee, Norton, Malwarebytes, or AVG and help you catch them while pretty much infecting your system on the inside-out. These viruses have the looks and styles that they need to have in order to pretend to be trustworthy pieces of data when they really have that special something that infect your system before you know it. By having it look like an actual virus blocker combined with putting in secretive data that can allow it to infect whatever it wants to infect, they make for some of the biggest dickbag viruses that we as computing users have ever seen yet! Once it has its way onto your system, it would then mess with your files in ways that only massive dicks would by making a great majority of your files (even game files like Solitare and 3D Pinball) inaccessible through simple methods and force you to input a credit card number in order for you to try and "un-infect" your PC. That is probably the absolute worst way to infect a PC yet since not only is it more common to get than ransomware viruses, but it also has the potential to lead to phishing, which is basically people having access to your credit card information and using it for their pleasure. Really, combining serious damage with potential threats helped make browsing on Windows XP almost feel like a minefield when first starting out; in a way, it still kind of is on other PCs to this day.

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It's especially a pain in the ass when you can't even understand what the fuck it's trying to say here!

With this in mind, I personally had some pretty interesting and unique moments with Windows XP. I had started out as a person that was not really caring too much about stuff like the Internet since I basically was the person that liked playing video games on my Nintendo 64 and sometimes on the Windows 95 PC that I had up until sometime in the early 2000's (I'm thinking either 2002 or 2003 here). Anyways, when it came to upgrading my PC back in the early 2000's, I won't lie and say that I wasn't hesitant with upgrading my system into Windows XP because I was still attached to the system in a sense. However, once I had no choice but to integrate into these new Windows XP computers that my grandparents and my mom had (let's just say that I had an interesting little way of living sometimes throughout my childhood), I had grown to eventually love playing with stuff on there. From simple games like Billiards and checkers to some unique online slot games to even playing a new sort of game they had called Pinball 3-D, I had realized that there was a whole new way of looking through things online. It also didn't take long until I started going more outward into the online world for the first time in my life, and to be fair, most of that stuff was involving things that a normal, young kid (that's also a fan of all sports) would look at, such as Nickelodeon's website, places focusing on video games, and other stuff like that. However, it's when I started venturing out at I think the age of 12 that I started noticing some... interesting things online with Windows XP.

From that point in time with Windows XP, I had my life change in ways I had not expected. Whether it was for the better or the worst, I'm not 100% sure on, though. For starters, some of the art that I had seen on stuff like Super Mario and Pokemon would invariably lead me to some pornographic websites that had allowed me to secretly see porn online at an age that I wasn't really supposed to have. Not only that, but some of my interests ended up growing from simple things like having me not being much of a music person beforehand to listening to lots of different music now (although I know I don't show that on here), as well as gaining more interest in the artistic style of life. It also let me be introduced to the idea of having multiple PCs for the first time in my life, although one time was involving a very slow PC and some virus attacks that threatened my first PC's performance. Not only that, but there were growths of newer, major websites like Wikipedia and YouTube that would still have quite a grasp on our society to this day, as well as introduce websites like MySpace that would fall almost as quickly as they would rise outright. I especially had a nice growth from hating to write down stuff for school to enjoying writing to the point where I can say that I have helped out a Writing Staff of sorts for a website. Even with Windows XP, there have been some people that had to use Windows XP's Movie Maker in order to make YouTube Poops like SuperYoshi, Pimpsahoy, IAmTheGang, and many more people that I have likely forgotten about; it even had myself try and take a stab at making one back when YouTube Poops were making a major boom onto the Internet! Seeing quite a movement like this happen truly made this era quite a unique experience that we'll probably never experience in our lives ever again.

Still, the memories that we might have with Windows XP will be quite an experience that will take a long time for us to really forget about them. While it is true that some members here might have never really had a Windows XP computer in their lifetimes, there are definitely aspects that won't be taken away from us even as Microsoft ventures to try and go from a good computing experience to a... let's just say more interesting cultivation of ideals that appear to mix-and-match together into a blurred line on what is truly a computing experience and what is more about a multimedia extravaganza. From advancing technologies on aspects like quality of pictures and videos to more extreme viruses that act like fake prompts that you can't escape from so easily, there was definitely an experience that not many other computing system's could say they had in their lifetimes. If you had your own memories of working with Windows XP computers, such as how this piece will probably be the last article where I did the majority of my work on my Windows XP system that I currently have, now would probably be the best time to share them while you still can. Otherwise, it is finally time to honor the past and look forward to a brighter future, for without it, we might not have greater personal experiences at hand.

Windows is shutting down...

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The Christmas Classics And Caustics Collab

Dec 23 2013 09:55 PM | HerrVarden in Editorials
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Ah, December. It's the time that kids pray for snow days and adults pray that they don't have to shovel the driveway out. But more relevantly, it's the time when people prepare to celebrate Christmas. Christmas has long been a tradition that has managed to impact everyone around them. Though it certainly has been difficult to come to a consensus nowadays. It's either the time where people learn to be kind and loving to one another, or when they become greedy and selfish. You're bound to come across a humble Santa Claus and a grouchy Scrooge around this month. The holiday's divisive nature is not completely unwarranted, as it's roots have long been a dispute. It appears to have connections to St. Nicholas, and also to the birth of Jesus. Then came the issue that some people though Christmas was choking the likes of Hannukah and Kwanzaa, and so came the issue of saying "Happy Holidays". After that came the issue of commercialization, which made people feel as though the values that the holiday was trying to capture were being sucked away as fast as money was on gifts. If that wasn't bad enough, there was also the issue of smaller bits of the holiday that managed to get on our nerves. We're here to basically talk about both sides of the coin, the things that we adore and abhor about the yuletide pastime. So let's eat some Christmas turkey and throw out that fruitcake and dive into one of the most recognized holidays in the world!

HerrVarden (Films For The Festivities):

It's safe to say that when Christmas comes around, it's the best time for all the sappy films to come out. It's mainly due to that feeling of relaxation that manages to dumb your senses down just enough so that you can enjoy any silliness involving Santa or getting the proper gift. These movies may be cheesy, but they brand a special kind of cheese that you get every once in a while. It's the kind of cheese that you put on select breads, crackers or wines and simply savor each second of it rather than have it for the sake of having it. Though that's not to say that there aren't some kinds of Christmas cheese that end up making you feel like you ate a whole ball of moss. For you see Christmas films are a volatile kind of campy. It's not like a summer blockbuster where there aren't as many rules to apply. They require precision and convoluted calculations so that they can be considered not only Christmas films, but also Christmas classics. See, a good example of the difference between the two is Die Hard. Die Hard works a summer blockbuster because it has explosions, fighting, guns, smart-ass jokes and a likeable protagonist. It does not work as a Christmas classic because it does not carry with it the essence of what the holiday is supposed to represent. You can throw as many ornaments and snow in the film as you please, but it is always going be a set-piece...nothing more, nothing less. It's still a good film regardless, but I don't think it really represents the holidays and much as people would make it seem as it does.

But getting away from my little pet peeve there, let's get to talking about some Christmas films. Specifically I want to talk about two because they summarize a lot of what the holidays represents to some. First off, I'd like to go with my favorite choice. It's a very tough thing to choose your favorite out of all of them. You have Home Alone which teaches us that we should be together for the holidays and Joe Pesci will struggle a lot to not swear. Then there's It's A Wonderful Life which teaches you about your self worth and how bad Jimmy Stewart's stutter really is. And we can't forget about A Christmas Story which teaches you that the world sucks whether you get that BB gun or not. There's more to list, no doubt, but by far one of the greatest ones, at least in my eyes, has to be Joyeux Noel.
I remember seeing this in a French class and really enjoying it. Not simply because it was a French film that didn't throw me off with some bizarre quirk or nakedness, but because it made me think a lot more than most Christmas classics do.

This film talks about WWI at first, which is as fitting to the occasion as saying "Yippie kai yay, motherfuckers". The story really hits hard that this is a war mentality as you have the kids in classrooms from both sides of the war praising their country while slandering the enemies. It focuses on the French, Scottish and Germans, whom are fighting in the barracks as per usual. Along with that, there are some side-stories scattered within the soldiers, which while having their own significance, are superseded by the grander theme. It's your typical war film up until the point that Christmas comes by and it slowly leads up to a truce. Now, this isn't one of those famous film ass-pulls as this really did happen, though I wouldn't mind too much if it was because the way they present the concept is magnificent. It's common that war films and Christmas films tend to have a huge amount of sappy sentimentality that can sometimes make it seem like they're trying too hard to make you cry. Hell, with the two together, you figure that they're gonna throw in a cancer-ridden orphan boy in the mix singing an aria. Joyeux Noel's emotional side isn't exaggerated like that though.

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It plays it up at the level that's necessary and the gravity of the situation is actually very powerful. The soldiers begin to create the truce by singing festive tunes, which might seem corny at first, but the music moves elegantly and expresses a connection between these men who are more focused on hating one another. Eventually a ceasefire is achieved and all the soldiers decide to get to know one another. They talk about their family and exchange chocolate and champagne, along with celebrating a mass and playing soccer. They show their humanity in the midst of the war and they find it so hard to continue even though that's what happens. The great beauty of the movie though is that while it shows this optimism that nears the border of "too romanticized", it still grounds the story by having the people who participate in the cease-fire be punished. It's heart-wrenching when you see that after that split second of humility that they have to be set back into the mindset of hatred. One part that really shows this is when you have the priest who held the mass be scolded by a bishop who then preaches to the soldiers about how the Germans are evil. You can even see in some of the soldiers' faces the same amount of mixed feelings and pain that is present on the priest. This film manages to take the bittersweetness of the situation along with the ever so present message of "good will towards all men" that Christmas represents and makes you feel that even in the darkest times, a sliver of light can always creep by and illuminate the world for a while.

With such a wonderful film, it's a shame that I have to now switch to the mean-spirited Grinch here and talk about bad Christmas films. There are some that are terrible, but you can't help but like. Jingle All The Way and the Jim Carrey The Grinch are the prime examples of this, though some might argue that Elf is that as well. But then there's the ones that are simply garbage, bar none (see: The Santa Clause). Originally I was thinking about putting A Christmas Story here, but I wasn't sure if I was saying that because I didn't quite enjoy it's uniquely dated presentation and annoying acting choices or if I was just being a contrarian curmudgeon, so instead I had to think really hard about the worst film. I hate to be predictable with a piece like this, but we can't deny that Christmas With The Kranks is probably the worst one.

Yet another winter wreck starting the Tool Man, this film is basically going to make all those who scoff at the holiday scoff even more. It talks about the Kranks, who generally celebrate the holidays up until the point that their daughter leaves to the Peace Corps. So, realizing that they're going to celebrate Christmas without her, they decide to take a cruise to the Carribean, which in turns means that they're not going to bother setting up all the things they need to do over the holidays. That in turn angers their residence which might as well be called Moraltown because it's just as putrid and hypocritical. It seems like there was a better script that was basically supposed to subvert the idea of Christmas, sort of acting as a satire of the culture surrounding it. T That is not necessarily a bad thing, films that make commentary about how obsessive or all-consuming Christmas can be can work. It simply requires good comedy, a proper understanding of what's wrong with the way Christmas is conducted and a moral that doesn't necessarily have to resort to an overblown chicle. Christmas With The Kranks is neither of those things. Rather it becomes a futile attempt to brush off a somewhat unique idea of a couple not following with the usual Christmas traditions by throwing in all the bad parts of Christmas classics to bury it. Oh and this too:

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This film is basically a nasty guilt trip for a person who doesn't feel like setting a Christmas tree. The town does everything they can to force them into the spirit of the holidays, and having them set up decorations and what-have-you, and they form a campaign to go after the Kranks simply because they don't want to set up their house with a bunch of lights. But what's made worse is that you can't root for the Kranks because they cave in at the end. See, the premise would have worked well if they were just trying to celebrate the holiday in a new way and figured that they didn't need to set up anything because their daughter is away. That way it would make the community look vain in their attempts to "unite" themselves and not let the Kranks celebrate in the way they wish to. Hell, when the twist comes that the daughter is coming home, rather than them telling her "Sorry honey, we're going on a cruise. Maybe we can set something up so you can join us", they decide to go into the madness that they were trying so hard not to fall into. That in turn makes them unlikeable because rather than representing the holiday as a time where people don't need to be held to such absurd standards to have a merry time, they are instead acting like a bunch of psychopaths on Black Friday who represent everything wrong with the capitalist nature of the holiday. It's all made worse by the terrible comedy and the forced morality, which is a bad sign since a lot of Christmas films usually can get away with that. If there was a concise way to describe the film, it's basically "if you don't celebrate Christmas with decorations on your house, a pine tree, fruitcake, stockings and snow, fuck you".

Crazy Luigi (Music For The Questioned Soul):

Music has usually been a big part of our lifestyles, even when we may think otherwise. Whether it comes from video games, sports events, or even travelling to a different destination of sorts, music will always find a way to enter our lives in some form... unless you're deaf, but that's beside the point. However, when it comes to the month of December (and sometimes be as early as the beginning of November), local media places like radio stations and even town halls can easily remind you without warning that we are now entering the Christmas Spirit. With this time, either one of two thoughts can come into your mind: either you're ecstatic to hear joyous music like "Winter Wonderland" and "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" come on or you feel disdain over how repetitive hearing the same songs you heard every year beforehand come back once again. Personally, I'm more torn with myself on what I should be feeling, and that is more due to how I view Christmas music these days..

On one hand, we're pretty much given a break from music that would be considered banal and inane towards our society. You know songs like "We Can't Stop" by Miley Cyrus and "Gas Pedal" by Sage the Gemini and IamSu? Well those songs are just very few examples of songs that are not only absolute shitty to listen to, but also sadly promote negative behaviors that we seriously don't need to see in a time like this. When it comes to Christmas music, the general idea of what they represent involve the basic positivity and good-will not only what the holiday represents, but also what we should strive to look at a bit more often ourselves. It's through songs like "I'll Be Home For Christmas" and "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" that help really get to have a sense of better understanding on the December holidays are like for all people, regardless of race, creed, or nationality. In fact, there are still quite a few artists that have been able to either make really great covers towards such Christmas songs or have even been able to write their own Christmas songs altogether.

An example of an artist that has held a magnificent voice that could make almost any Christmas song sound better in its own way is Josh Groban. When listening to Josh singing, regardless of whether it's in English or Italian, you know that whatever the song he's singing, it's usually going to sound magnificent with his voice around (with an arguable exception being his contribution to the 25th anniversary of "We Are The World"), and the songs that relate to the holiday season certainly are no question. In addition, I personally own a few of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra's CDs, and when it comes to how they do Christmas music, they create an atmosphere that not too many groups could create with the amount of people and instruments they have working with them, and for the most part, they produce songs that are pretty enjoyable to listen to during the month of December, original or otherwise. Speaking of original songs, who better to look for artists that could come up with nice, original Christmas music than the The Beatles and their individual members? Not only does the group have the song "Christmastime (Is Here Again)", but the individual members also celebrated with their own ways with "Happy X-Mas (War Is Over)" by John Lennon (with a hint of Yoko Ono inside), "Wonderful Christmastime" by Paul McCartney (and Wings), "Ding Dong, Ding Dong" by George Harrison, and even Ringo Starr releasing his own Christmas album. Admittedly, while some of those songs might not have lasted through the test of time, it does show that if the right mindset comes into play, you could have enjoyable holiday songs celebrating what the holiday represents.

Still, while there are songs that represent the joys of Christmas, there are other songs that you just plain get sick and tired of listening to over and over again during every December, if not earlier than that. If you ever go through a day's worth of listening to Christmas music on the radio, you'll notice something about either Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (instrumental or not) or Frosty the Snowman come up, and considering that those songs always get played every single day during that time, you'd be hard-pressed to not dislike either song eventually. Not only that, but there are also some songs that can rub people off the wrong way on how screwed up their songs can truly be by having them sung about a Christmas-related theme, such as "Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer" or "Christmas Shoes" having some pretty iffy ideas on how their topics were dealt with. What probably makes these notions feel even worse is that any new Christmas songs that you hear these days, it feels more likely that it's going to be someone covering a song like "Oh Holy Night" or "Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire" than someone trying to create something new and original. Even worse, the artists that do try to come up with something new for Christmas songs are either more negative about the holiday spirit or would go the route of Justin Beiber's "Mistletoe": people forgetting about it after a year or two of its existence. It's probably the lack of originality these days that can make someone hate Christmas music for a reason now.

The idea of Christmas music being uplifting is nice, but at the same time, there are still some Christmas songs that I enjoy listening to despite having a more saddening or glum feeling regarding them. For example, while I haven't really heard much of the song "Last Christmas" by Wham! in the past, the song does come up the radio from time to time again, and despite it being a break-up song that has Christmas involved in its chorus, there's something about it that gives off a feeling of happiness that I somehow don't get from other, cheerier Christmas songs. Another song that comes to mind on how sad Christmas time could be for some people that I could also still enjoy is the more popular and well-known "Blue Christmas" by Elvis Presley, which has a more somber environment that somehow also feels strangely comforting during this time of year in the process. Hell, even I can admit that the Christmas version of "We Are The World" (known better as "Do They Know It's Christmas?" by Band Aid) can be pretty enjoyable to listen to, as well as some songs that you don't hear on the radio that list out the negatives of Christmas can be fun to listen to when you're in the right mood for listening to these kinds of songs. Still, when I think about what type of Christmas music I enjoy a bit more than others, the songs that I could find a bit more enjoyment over more often than not pointed out the negatives of the holiday instead of the positives. To me, that kind of shows a bit of a sad type of failure on the part of the promoters of Christmas songs.

At the end of the day, however, music is pretty much a subject of personal tastes over anything else. While someone like me can get sick and tired of the Spanish sung "Feliz Navidad" by Jose Feliciano since it's pretty repeats itself for three minutes with some different changes in music making it sound like it's different when it really isn't, someone else like a young child could get into a song like that and Frosty the Snowman due to its magical whimsy that it has. At the same time, a song that more describes the winter holiday like "Winter Wonderland" may be great to listen to if you live in a place like New York, Pennsylvania, or Alaska, which has plenty of snow involved, but might appear to be a bit pointless in places like Arizona, Florida, or even Hawaii where little to no snow would appear in these places whatsoever due to the heat that comes through these states. Even songs from cartoons like "How The Grinch Stole Christmas" and "Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown" can still be enjoyed by people from all ages, regardless of whether the songs are in actual context relating towards the show or if it's just the audio being heard through something like the radio. Really, it's all about how one views Christmas music that makes an opinion on it stand out from anything else. So whether you're sitting by the fire listening to "Let It Snow" and watching a Christmas film like "A Christmas Story" or if you're just treating the month of December like any other month with nothing truly special going on, the idea of wishing good-will towards others alongside spending more quality time with family and friends can still be something that we could take fond measures of what we're like as humans before moving on to a brand new year of hope.

supreme_slayer (Simply Giving):

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Charity might be one of those things that most anyone can talk about and say is good, as its name alone tells of good will and helping others, which is especially a strong sentiment around the holidays. However. charity for me it hits home on a personal level, especially during Christmas time, for a good number of reasons. Not only have I been greatly involved in a few charitable organizations in the past such as Red Cross and those which seek to assist the physically and mentally handicapped, but as I was growing up in a household of five children we were what many would consider “poor”. In years I was too young to recollect my mother would even be forced to go without food herself to keep the rest of us fed, but that's not something I want to discuss now. In the years I DO remember, while we certainly did have all of the essentials we needed to live, whenever the holidays came around there was quite the stress in our household over what presents my mother would be able to afford for us.
Sometimes, if things went well that year, we would get mountains of presents and things such as foosball tables or video games, but more often than that I can remember the years when very little boxes were found beneath the tree. However, we never, ever went without more than these few toys, as a man dressed in a santa outfit would visit our home in those meager years and drop off big bags of toys. We of course believed when we were younger this was the real santa, but in actuality it was a kind soul from a local organization which collected presents for the less fortunate—known by us as Community Christmas, though I'm not sure if that's what people typically call these things. Most of the time when I was younger these presents would be wrapped in secret by my mother, but as we got a bit older she decided not to bother, and gave us our gifts just as they had come. While clad in giant, unattractive trash bags, we didn't care about the lack of wrapping and would eagerly dig in to find out what else we had gotten for the year.
Inevitably, there would be essentials such as hats and socks, but those few teddy bears, coloring books, light-ups and other such toys always made us much happier that season than we would have been without. As an adult now, I could say that I'd be fine without any presents from anyone, but as a child, there's a lot of expectation there, and it would be heart crushing for the one and only time you are supposed to get the things you wanted to end up a bust. For this reason, now knowing what was really going on all those years, I have a special spot in my heart for charities such as those that give presents to children. Whether it be Toys For Tots, Community Christmas, or anything less known, it's a great feeling to me, knowing that a child won't be left wishing there were something beneath their family's tree.
Of course at the same time, there are many other kinds of organizations and charities in the world, and especially around the holidays they ramp up their own collection campaigns. After all, it is the season of giving. You can't exactly be angry at someone for trying to help their community or a greater cause out. However, we do have to admit, and all likely know, that it becomes extremely overbearing and grinds on us over time. At every street corner, at every store, someone is jingling a bell in front of a bucket, asking us if we want to donate a dollar here or a dollar there, if we want to purchase something to donate, and so on. There certainly is nothing wrong with giving, but everyone has their own limits, and being bombarded with all of this makes many turn a bit sour or cold to the concept altogether.

The store I work for even did this with a charity for military families where people would donate toys, and of course I had to hear every excuse in the book as a result. Many of my coworkers didn't even like to ask customers if they wanted to donate or not because it seemed like a burden to them, though for reasons already explained I had no personal qualms with it. From an outside perspective, all of this can seem cynical and mean, though it's very easy to think of all these charities in a negative sense when put in the other's shoes, trying to scrounge us for every penny using our emotions and the excuse of “it's the holidays”. You think that giving a bit will make you feel better and somehow make it stop, but it just keeps going and going and you're expected to donate more and more ("I've already donated to something else" isn't really much an excuse) until the holidays finally pass and everyone has slept off their eggnog, returning to status quo.

Tofucakecan (The Shopping Query):

There are some things in life that I’ll never do. Skydiving…pursuing a career in the armed forces…noodling (yes there’s actually something called noodling). Why won’t I do these things? Because they all have an inherent element of danger and the reward doesn’t outweigh the risk.
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In various parts of Europe, adrenaline junkies take part in a ridiculous “tradition” called “The Running of the Bulls”. A practice that became popular in areas that held bullfights, a group of bulls are let loose on a specially blocked of path that usually leads to the arena where the bullfight was to occur. Participants run along the same path and run the risk of being seriously injured or killed, and yes, people have died while doing this. I’ll be just fine going to my grave and never having run with the bulls.

Why am I bringing up this European tradition in an article about Christmas? Because in the United States we have an equally dangerous tradition we celebrate during the Christmas season. It has become so popular in recent years that people line up hours before it starts to take part in it, often sitting outside in freezing temperatures. Many people take time off from work to attend, and some businesses even give people the day off. It happens in every city across the country, and just like The Running of the Bulls, people get injured regularly and some people have even died taking part. The only difference is that our event doesn’t have any bulls…well not literally.

If you haven’t figured out, I’m talking about Black Friday; the busiest shopping day of the year in the United States. Some accounts will tell you the name “Black Friday” comes from retailers who spend January to November operating in the red, and the sales from day after Thanksgiving put them “in the black”. I’m more inclined to believe that the term comes from the retail workers and the dread they feel when they’re face to face with thousands of hostile consumers sprinting to get a Tickle-Me-Elmo for 50% off at 3am.

The holiday has become such a train wreck in recent years that Black Friday is becoming more known for crazy behavior than crazy deals. On top of that, retailers are constantly trying to out-do each other in order to increase sales, and that includes opening earlier and earlier each year. I was working in a small electronics store during Black Friday 2002, and we opened at 6am, which seemed early but still reasonable. Black Friday 2003 was a different story. The store I was working at opened at 5am, which meant that the workers had to be there by 4:30am. I lived half an hour away so I had to leave my house by 4am, and I had to wake up at 3:30am just to get ready. This, to me, felt absolutely ridiculous. Thanksgiving was supposed to be about family, stuffing your face, and being able to relax and slow down. At 5am, the customers came flooding through our doors, and within five minutes there was a 20 foot line at the registers (which basically went up to the front doors). Everyone working stayed until at least 6pm (12 hours) and some worked straight to closing time (15 hours). I was lucky enough to be able to leave retail work for many years after that. But on Black Friday 2012, I found myself back in retail due to a struggling economy, and this time I was working for the largest retailer in the world, Wal-Mart. I had to come in at 10pm on Thanksgiving night, and work until 5am Friday morning. Then I had to come back in at 3pm Friday and work until 10pm.

In recent years there has been a sort of “moral backlash” against Black Friday, many people are fed up with the unabashed consumerism from the retailers and the greed of the customers who act like they would buy horse manure if it was on sale. K-mart came under fire this year for starting Black Friday at 6am on Thursday and staying open for 41 hours straight. That’s right; Black Friday has become so huge it’s taking over Thanksgiving too. And the backlash came from both employees and customers alike. Some claimed that they were treating their employees unfairly and therefore didn’t deserve the customers, while others were of the opinion that “K-mart employees don’t have to work there if they don’t like the work schedule. I love a good deal as much as the next person, but personally I’d rather stay home in my pajamas the day after Thanksgiving instead of asking retail workers to give up their holiday or time to sleep, so I can save a few bucks on a new TV. Then I’d go buy the TV online during “Cyber Monday”.
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Destructive Walt and the Slight Redemption: A B...

Nov 11 2013 04:00 AM | Malkmusian in Editorials
Warning: There are massive spoilers for the show. Do not read if you haven't watched the show yet.

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Real Season 5b DVD box art.

Breaking Bad had quite an impressive run. Filmed in mid-2007 by little-known TV industry veteran Vince Gilligan, sitcom actor Bryan Cranston, and that guy who acted in that one Korn music video back in 2002, this black comic tale about a teacher who resorts to making meth with a delinquent ex-student of his has grown to be one of TV’s best dramas, showcasing actors and indie directors for what they were really worth. In the end, as Walt drifts away from his body at the end of “Felina,” Vince left many questions unanswered. Will Gretchen and Elliot do what Walt says or realize that his operation was a total sham? Where will Jesse go? Has Saul made his Cinnabon the best in Omaha? Do Badger and Skinny Pete ever sell their Star Trek spec script?

However, the real question that comes in my mind is, “What did Walt really mean to Skyler when he confessed to her that final time?” As a guy who’s watched quite a few episodes (and read about the full plot in detail), I know for a fact that Walt has a history of lying to Skyler. And his former colleagues. These lies usually come in pairs – you can’t tell Skyler that you have Albuquerque’s largest non-Madrigal meth operation and then talk about how you got into the prog rock industry with your ex-flame. There’s something very odd about Walt manipulating Gretchen and Elliot into laundering his money to Flynn and having him confess to Skyler that he made meth because it gave his ego fuzzy feelings. Given his prior patterns with lying, he wouldn’t deviate from the norm because of a six-month sabbatical in New Hampshire, nor would he change his entire modus operandi all because his son called him out on his emotional neglect. Walt’s managed to find another way around this. Just as how he found a way to send money to Flynn without making it clear that it’s from him, Walt would find a way to satisfy his and Skyler’s goals.

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Walt meditating at a horrible restaurant about his plan of action.

I am of the opinion that Walt did not confess to Skyler about why he entered the industry. Not only would it be out of character for him – having him make meth just to revel in his final two years of life completely violates any established motivations Walt has for entering the industry (subverting Gretchen and Elliot’s expectations; frustration with his over-qualification; trying to make a nest egg for his family) – it would also be too perfect for Walt to say that he made meth “for me.” Given that Vince is a standard dramatist, this could just be the case, but watching the prior episodes, he and the scriptwriters tend to hide something in them that completely changes the interpretation. Vince, in an effort to write a satisfying story, would not resort to having Walt state a dramatic cliché just to satisfy his duties to Skyler.

No, I believe Walt told his last lie to her in the “Felina” timeline. Vince wants you, the surrogate omniscient viewer, to believe that his last lie was the call that failed to erase Skyler’s involvement with his crimes at the tail end of “Ozymandias.” He wants you to believe that Walt will be truthful to her from now on. However, why would Walt want to support a family that vehemently believes that he killed Hank? Why would Walt want to support a family that has probably detailed to the agents-in-charge about how he’s been cold and distant for the past two years? Also, would they really get the money he forced the Schwartzes to take? To me, it makes more sense for Walt to give what Skyler wants – which is radically different than what happened.

Yeah, Walt had a massive pride problem – and that’s one of the reasons why he got into the drug business in the first place. He didn’t want his family to ride off the legacy of Elliot and Gretchen, who merely appropriated Walt’s work and called it their own. He wanted his family to not rely on stressing themselves out and forcing themselves into poverty when they died. His main intent throughout the series was “make my family financially secure by my hard work.” He was underpaid as a high school chemistry teacher AND car wash employee. When he did, his jobs then wouldn’t have made his family live somewhat comfortably – no benefits whatsoever. Simply having him state “I did this for me” is merely a slap in the face to his family – the family that refused to listen when he desperately tried to tell the truth about what happened with Hank and how he adamantly begged Jack to spare his life.

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Skyler's reaction to my proposition.

Don’t forget that he was willing to give up his goods to bring closure to Hank’s investigation. This is similar to what might have happened between Walt, Gretchen, and Elliot at Grey Matter – Walt was willing to give up something for the upstart company’s happiness, Gretchen and Elliot merely patent all his ideas as their own, and he wants nothing to do with them (thus one reason why he took the buyout). In the end, Walt views his family as crooked and uncompromising as his former business partners – thus he takes them down in one fell swoop. Implicate Gretchen and Elliot in his business by having his money and then say the equivalent of “you broke my heart” to Skyler.

But in that case, Walt’s character becomes utterly horrible. He’s willing to destroy his family just to inflate his pride. According to Vince, Walt experiences a slight redemption at the end. If my theory is to be believed, then him making Gretchen and Elliot give his dirty money to Flynn isn’t the redemption. To me, it’s when he saves Jesse. He does it for the same reasons – he realizes how much he’s destroyed Jesse’s life, both intentionally and unintentionally, and therefore decides to take a fatal bullet for his former student. To him, after severing ties with Skyler under the presumption of “telling the truth,” he saves the only person he truly cared about. Granted that he want to Jack’s compound solely to kill Jesse, but he knew deep down in his head that Jesse wouldn’t turn his back on him, get a massive amount of power from Jack, and supply Blue Sky all over the world. Jesse wanted to get out of the industry, Walt remembers, and so he wouldn’t go back into the industry behind his back. Walt knows that Jack betrayed him – he saw the neo-Nazi murder Hank in cold blood despite his desperate pleas. Also, even if Jesse made Blue Sky by his own free will, Walt wouldn’t run back to ABQ just to kill a former partner – too much of a risk. Why was Walt willing to take the risk to drive back to Albuquerque, start a nationwide manhunt, and take down the parties that shoved him aside for their own biases?

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Protip: it's not the badly-dressed guy on the right.

Simple: he came back to rescue Jesse. The report on the TV about Blue Sky being manufactured? This alerted Walt that Jesse was being forced by Jack to make his product. A freed Jesse wouldn’t do such a thing. Assuming that he would kind of makes Walt into an utter moron – assuming that a neo-Nazi would let Jesse have a share of the empire despite being put into slavery. Walt also most likely heard about Andrea’s death from the vacuum cleaner salesman – that should tell him that his former partner, the one that teamed up with Hank, was being beaten down by the neo-Nazis, not an equal business partner. Walt drives to Albuquerque, ties up the loose ends with the Schwartzes and his family, and plans an assault on Jack. When he gets there, he knows that Jack wouldn’t want to bring Jesse out in case if the guy made a mad dash for the exit, so he played with Jack. He made assumptions to Jack about Jesse’s role in the empire. Jack is insulted, so he takes out the bedraggled and emaciated Jesse to show Walt how “stupid” he is. Walt starts the trunk turret and immediately shields Jesse from the torrent. If Walt hated Jesse with every fiber of his being, he would’ve let Jesse die in the torrent.

So, why does he want Jesse to kill him? Walt knows how much he fucked up Jesse’s life and, realizing that he’s not only dying but has done enough damage for a lifetime, wants Jesse to take out his anger on him. Walt is willing to sacrifice himself for Jesse’s happiness. Jesse, knowing that Walt’s bleeding, hands the gun back, asks Walt to do the deed himself, and drives off into the night.

That’s my fan theory in a nutshell. Rather than dwell on the official “Walt loves meth 5evr” explanation Vince gives out, I feel that it plays around with Walt’s fragile character and still manages to redeem the guy in a sense. As with all fan theories, it’s merely just one big wild guess, but I hope it gives you a new take on things during your second or third or fourth binge-watch of the show.
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Youtube Poop, CD-I, and the Power of Association

Nov 04 2013 02:00 PM | Nozdordomu in Editorials
I recently watched a short TV miniseries called Merlin, and it made me realize something odd. I wasn’t really interested in the story, though I like Arthurian myth as much as anyone. I didn’t really care about what happened to Merlin or any of the characters really, though I thought Sam Neill did a pretty good job playing the wizard. I didn’t even laugh at the laughable parts, like the hammy performances (Martin Short especially) and some of the most incredibly dated special effects you’ve ever seen. Just think: a live fish necklace! A CGI dragon on loan from the D&D sequel! Computerized blood! (Kind of pointless, really.) Why did I keep watching? The answer is CD-I.

Don’t dispute me on this: Merlin has to be the most CD-I TV show ever. When a wizard fails to solve a problem, a tyrant king orders a guard to “take him away,” complete with hand gesture. When Merlin meets his love Nimue, he asks her for a kiss, which he refuses (though she doesn’t think he’s kidding). Later, when Merlin saves her from drowning with a long piece of wood, she says, “I suppose that’s deserving of a kiss.” After a long battle scene, Merlin’s voiceover says “I had won,” just as Link said at the end of Faces of Evil. Even smaller parts brought CD-I to mind, like the scene where Merlin’s mom gives him a cloak and tells him that it’ll be “enough,” or the occasional cry of “You must die!”

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I write as if those phrases and actions came exclusively from CD-I. Apart from “Squadallah!” (which I still haven’t been able to trace), everything funny about Poop sources existed long before they did. That explains why the dialogue seems to crop up in so many films and books. A fatherly character in Barry Lyndon makes a point of calling Barry “my boy” in every line. A British policeman in Gandhi orders some other policemen to “take him away.” An angry anime character says "That's Mr. Kaneda to you, PUNK!" in Akira, echoing Mama Luigi's famous catchphrase. Emperor Palpatine says “You will die” before spraying lightning from his hands in the end of Return of the Jedi. Plus, I’m sure that several villains have said “You MUST die” at one point.

Still, for some reason, the traditional Youtube Poop sources figure strongly in my mind, and in the minds of poopers everywhere. When one game reviewer saw the Stone Tower Temple as a symbol of masculinity and anti-feminism, the members of this forum just saw “FOR.” When Jim Carrey channeled Orson Welles and Bela Lugosi in A Series of Unfortunate Events, we only saw a live-action I.M. Meen. When we saw the Lizard in Amazing Spider-Man, we couldn’t help noticing that he looked a lot like the Goombas from the Super Mario Brothers movie. When we saw the cover of A Confederacy of Dunces, we instantly thought “Morshu.” (Who can blame us?) When we watched the dreadful Felix the Cat movie, we couldn’t stop comparing its ending to Faces’ infamous conclusion. Could it have been simple coincidence that both works end with the hero defeating the villain by throwing a book?

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Beyond works of fiction, we’re constantly reminded of CD-I. We see signs advertising “spaghetti dinner” on campus, and we see offers of “spa dinner” in the newspaper. Everyday products come with enclosed instruction books. People tell us that we “gotta help” them. We may even hear “you will die” from a friend or creepy stranger, and we definitely hear parents calling their sons "my boy." Hell, it happens all the time where I live. When my class read Othello, I laughed when Othello said “my boat departs early next morn” or something like that, even though I probably shouldn’t have. Around voting time, there were signs all over my city saying “No on prop B: BAD MEDICINE.” Evidently Yoshi is into politicking. Masses at my Catholic school sometimes include a song called “Your Grace is Enough” (no explanation needed there).

Why do CD-I, Super Mario World, the Sonic cartoons, and everything else poop-related have such strong powers of association? I’ve seen Battleship Potemkin multiple times and I’m very familiar with the “Odessa Steps” sequence in which a baby carriage rolls down a stairway in the middle of gunfire. Somehow I sat through a long scene in The Untouchables that clearly and officially paid homage to Potemkin and didn’t realize it until reading about it on Wikipedia. And yet I immediately think of CD-I and Youtube Poop the instant someone says something as common as “my boy” or “spaghetti.”

I can’t throw out my own background, of course. I’ve known about poop for six or seven years. That’s one-third to almost two-fifths of my life. It makes sense that I associate many things in life with Poop stuff. Still, I know that several poopers haven’t been in the scene as long as I have, and they still associate anything vaguely King- or Mario-like with the CD-I games. It might be that we subconsciously prefer those things that we encounter frequently, as the mere-exposure theory states. Or we might deliberately seek out parts of life that remind us of Pooph. Is there any good reason why we Youtube search “The King Must Die”? Because we like Elton John? Hell no. We want to be reminded of Youtube Poop. It brings us back to what we love doing, and it makes us laugh in a special way; i.e. "wow, did they actually just do/say that?" I'm convinced that a video like "Youtube Poop" could only come from the desire to find every poop reference ever. Why else would someone willingly watch an episode of Everybody Hates Chris?

We even had a whole thread solely dedicated to finding CD-I and other Poop references in real life. They extend from “Send Link” on a control click to our mothers observing that “the birds are singing.” If I remember correctly, the thread had over 15 pages (it's archived now). It’s like we can’t escape our own culture, if you could even call Youtube Poop a culture.

And sometimes, it does seem like Poop has its own world. This is a world where plumbers travel through time, royal figures engage in disgusting sexual acts on a regular basis, and everyone has a stuttering problem. Even the things that weren't originally part of the sources - "Gay Luigi," "double n***er," "a fuck for luck" - have kept us constantly thinking about Poop. And it doesn't even stop there. Not only have poop sources cropped up in real life, but poop itself has become synonymous with any kinds of crazy editing. Some of us might think we're watching one when a DVD skips or an experimental movie uses mirror and twirl effects, though it usually takes more than that.

Soon, though, those Poop references will no longer be unintentional. Actual knowledge of poop is still low - I only know 2 people in my area who watch it - but awareness seems to be growing. Somewhat recently, a Regular Show animator came out in his love for Youtube Poops, and openly acknowledged them as a major influence for one of the show's episodes. We're used to a world that doesn't care about us, though. TV writers can write "toast for dinner" or "you gotta help us" without meaning anything else. What will happen when those writers are in on the joke and specifically targeting us? Will the joke lose its flavor? It will for me. I wouldn't have laughed as much at Merlin if its creators knew how closely they hewed to CD-i tropes. I don't want to sound like one of those "I liked it before it was popular" people, but on the other hand, I'd prefer not to lose any of our in-jokes, no matter how esoteric they might be. Most of us don't poop anymore; those references just might be our last connection.

Whatever the reasons, the tendency of Youtube Poop to influence our view of the world deserves mention. It might just be another one of the odd things about Poop, but it seems too powerful for that. We will remember these quotes for the rest of our lives, and no one will understand why, not even us. And that's fine by me. I’ll bet you anything that we’ll still be calling our sons “my boy” well into adulthood.

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An Analysis Of Halloween Culture

Oct 30 2013 07:30 PM | HerrVarden in Editorials
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Mwahaha! Greetings to all of you. You're probably preparing for the eve of Hallow, where you will partake in the rituals that have been passed down from generation to generation. Now, everyone who makes content has to do some sort of gimmick for the holidays because that's what holidays are for. I was thinking of reviewing a movie, but I already did Blacula, and I'm not sure what other spin I could put on The Shining since everyone and their mother has some sort of alternate interpretation of it. Then I thought I would tell a scary story, but writing horror is a very tricky task to endure and I'd much rather try to wait a while until I somewhat understand properly how others managed to successfully scare the shit out of you simply with the power of words. As I kept skimming through the possibilities, I figured why not just get into talking about the holiday in a general sense. It's like killing multiple birds with one stone, only to find that they'll stay on my window-still and quote pretentious poetry driving me to either insanity or writing more pretentious poetry...which really isn't different from one another. But before we can even get to that, let's just get rid of the not-important stuff.

First off, the history of Halloween. According to History.com, Halloween began as a Celtic ritual where the drunk bastards would light a bonfire and prance around in costumes to scare off spirits. Then the Pope decided to make the day about saints and martyrs because the Catholic Church has to stick it's fingers into everything. Yeah, from that we came to what we have now. I'm sure there's other details I missed and nowadays the credibility of History has gone down the shitter ever since it decided to talk about aliens so maybe this is one whole fluke, but who cares? Valentine's Day probably has nothing to do with the Saint Valentine, Easter went from talking about Jesus's resurrection to a giant lagomorph hiding eggs and are we just gonna forget that Christmas used to be a time when Greek pagans would chug down wine and engage in orgies? But do we have to include this into what the holiday has become now? No, there's no need to do because we're fine with the new way we enjoy our silly holidays instead of going back to the old way of enjoying silly holidays. The only people who do are the ones that want to look like the biggest asshats. So there's really no point.

The other thing I want to talk about real quickly is Halloween-themed writing. Now as I've already mentioned above, writing something that really creeps people out is not easy. It's not impossible though since people like Bram Stoker, Mary Shelley, H.G Wells and H.P Lovecraft managed to make the most iconic horror stories of our lifetime. Nowadays, the only one really churning out good horror is Stephen King and...uh...erm...maybe Neil Gaiman too? I dunno, there's not really many names to speak of. The crappy stuff on the other hand has gone through the roof ever since someone decided to make the creepypasta, which has the most ironic name since the Ministries in 1984. If that isn't bad enough, the whole "telling scary stories near a campfire" thing has died out, being replaced with "watching someone tell you an hour-and-a-half long scary story in a theatre that you have to pay for", but I'll get to that later. Point is, unless the person that wrote the story is an alcoholic who can't get enough of the lobster capital of the USA, there is absolutely no reason you should even bother with horror writing.

Now that we got the dull crap out of the way, let's talk about the important factors, such as costumes. I don't really know how people handled the costumes in the past, I assume it was just like another ball but with a more terrifying theme put forward. There was still the influence of popular culture in the choices that people would take no doubt, but it was usually the parts that were more horrifying such as vampires, werewolves, ghosts, witches and what-have-yous (those are so frightening that people melt right in front of you at the mere sight of your attire). As more and more stories started to enter into pop culture, there was a greater variety of creatures that you could disguise yourselves as for the occasion, but with that came the devolution of how scary the costumes would be. Today, Halloween is basically diluted to simply pop culture. With that said though, that's not to say that there isn't any effort put into costumes. Cosplay has been growing substantially throughout the years and people are able to make mindblowing costumes, some which will keep to the terrifying traditions. You'll just have to sift through the countless Walter Whites knocking at your door for candy. And you better believe one of those will be some chick who wants to make it unnecessarily sexy.

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I'm sure "I am the Danger" means "I have crabs"

Speaking of sweet stuff, let's talk about candy. Now, one would think that I have to talk about trick-or-treating in here as well, but that's a different subject entirely. I'll get to it though. The treats that one gets on Halloween are subject to seven categories, the chocolates, the sugar powder kegs, the sweet-n-sours, candied apples, the inevitables, the miscellaneous and the hidden gem. The chocolates are by far the most popular with the kids as they will scarf them down first. It would be hard to speak for everyone on which one is the superior chocolate bar, but I'm sure one couldn't go wrong with Kit Kats. The sugar powder kegs would be the second ones that come through and these vary from being relatively okay for the youngins to turning them into pinballs. The sweet-n-sours are sometimes similar to the sugar powder kegs, at least in the wrapping. Kids will fall prey to one powerful mouth-vacuum accidentally thanks to this category and while some have the advent of being damn good, they're damn dangerous too. Candied apples are a nice little treat, and it's better to have that one first or put it in the fridge as fast as you can after a night collecting treats. The inevitables are the ones that no one wants to have, but will end up in the basket anyway. This is basically the black licorice, the raisin boxes and the mystery candy that no one wants to touch. You can guess what the miscellaneous are, but the hidden gem is by far the most important. It's the candy that everyone has had but no one can agree on. It's the best damn thing in the basket, bar none, and it's not as widely spread as the Hershey's or the Nestle's. Oh, I remember my hidden gem, it was quite the beauty...

I better not sidetrack myself about the talk about delicious candy, so allow me to collect my thoughts here...uh...what else...oh right! Decorating! It depends mainly on how enthusiastic the people in their house are around the holidays, and in a way it also depends on the house itself. Sure, one could spend all their time and effort buying props and turning their nice lawn into a graveyard. They could add little details to make their well-furbished house look like a monstrosity. Hell, they could even buy a fog machine and place stereos underground to really commit to the occasion, but I guarantee you that the nice old lady living in the crooked mansion up the hill, guarded by a large, black gate that seems to attract dozens of crows would win "Haunted House Of The Year" over that anytime. If we're gonna talk about decorating, we might as well talk about pumpkin carving too, because it's in the similar vein. The only difference is that effort actually accounts for something. It's a very tragic thing too because it's along the same lines as ice sculpting. Yes, it looks absolutely wonderful when someone takes time to add so much detail into the work, but it's a hell of a shame that it'll deteriorate faster than an internet meme.

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I'm sure it was worth it to sculpt on something that'll last a week or two at most.

Getting back to candy, now we must talk about how one gets it as opposed to the candy itself. Through the trials of the trick-or-treat trail, one finds themselves looking upon many houses asking the owners for a delicacy. Much like the candy itself, there are select types of people you will meet along your quest for your cavity-creating rewards. There's the average Joe who might acknowledge how good you look in a costume and give you a reasonable handful of candy. Then there's the person who wants to go with a more personal touch and makes cookies or brownies and gives them to you. Sometimes, if you're lucky, you might find yourself with the humble rich family who will give you a full size or even king sized candy bar instead of those mini ones that all the other cheapskates throw in apathetically. Occasionally there might be the owner with some foreign/exotic candy and/or the house of an owner who's left and decides to put a bin of candy along with a letter that basically sums up to "hey, don't be a greedy fuck", but you'll go ahead and take as much as you can because you're not gonna listen to what a piece of paper says. Last and very much least is the jerk who'll either give you dental products, no candy or not even open the door. I'm not sure if the policy of tricking has changed recently thanks to this wave of PC-ness and/or pranksters going too far with the comeback, but usually that house ends up with the most eggs on the door and toilet-paper on the trees.

If you're too old for that sort of kiddy crap, you can always go to a Halloween party. Halloween parties basically substitute the overload of sugar with the overload of alcohol. All of them basically just dumb down to "make an ass out of yourself while in a costume" but some get inventive with stuff like jello shots with toy insects inside them or glowing cocktails that give you the feeling someone put glowstick fluid inside the drinks. As for the types of people, you have the people who put too little effort in their costume, people who put too much effort into it, the usual crap either consisting of cliche characters or modern references and my personal favorite, the super-sexy costumes. Though, it has become more and more of a touchy subject when it comes to the kinky costumes. And I realize that while that pun was unintentionally great, it's also unintentionally tragic for some cases. Now, it may sound like fun to go to a Halloween party, but you have to consider that when you wake up with a hangover, you might find your snazzy costume covered with puke (either from you or another party) and getting a picture on your phone where you were frenching some witch and bobbing her apples too...or maybe his.

By far though, the most iconic thing that has come out of Halloween is the movies. The black and white era practically had a field day with Universal Studios making the classics that we revel in. It actually was quite fitting to have these shock-filled films be without color as it really made the atmosphere that more eerie. Much of the stories said above were adapted to films and brought home some eerie folk like Vincent Price, Bela Lugosi, Peter Lorre and Boris Karloff. Along with the real creepy stuff was the more over-the-top work which we refer to as B-Movies. They still had some semblance of scares, but the cheese factor was more prevalent. They were still fun, and in a way they captured the holiday spirit, but it's not as highly-regarded as the other work. Over the years, those two seemed to blend a bit more, but iconic characters still came out from it. Mike Myers, Jason Voorhees, Leatherface and Freddy Kreuger made their names in the holiday and left people screaming out the theatres. Though the one that did that the most is still the masterpiece of The Exorcist. How about today? Well, I don't wan't to sound like a cynic since I like movies like Saw, but horror really isn't that good today. There's certainly some good horror films and there are films that capture horror elements perfectly, but there's no denying there's a lot more schlock, sequels and remakes. And I swear to god if I see another Paranormal Activity or a Texas Chainsaw Massacre, I'm going to do something that will inspire them to make a story on my reign of terror, you mark my fucking words.

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I swear to god I saw an internet ad for this that said "Keep calm and Carrie on", I shit you not.

The holiday has certainly had a weird evolution since it has become less about fear and menacing monsters and more about binging and banging. It's still certainly something to celebrate because it's the one time that you can wear whatever crazy thing you want without having to be labelled as a freak or convention frequenter. It's a time when we can see the night sky and find a little more than just the stars and the full moon. There's a sense of mystery and wonder there too and if you stop chugging a bottle or scarfing down candy for a second you can sense it and find yourself entranced by it. Plus, it's not like the fear has completely vanished. If anything, the fact that there seems to be less genuine scares helps it to hide in the mesh of everything else. It deludes you into thinking that you're safe from the vile unknown that will come to consume you. And when you're safe at home, relaxing, thinking that this holiday has become nothing but a former shell of itself...that's when it gets you. Sure, you might think that perhaps what will come after you won't be as creepy as anything else. Maybe you'll scoff the idea off and imagine some cheap cardboard cutout being tossed towards your direction for a cheap jump-scare. But as time has gone on, humanity has evolved, and as humanity has evolved, so has it's knowledge of itself. And when the most twisted and disturbed of minds are capable to dive deep into the depths of what we all are afraid of, when they can tamper with the world that we have set up in order to use it against us, that's when we have to realize that there is no place to be safe from what the day is really all about.

This will be you...jerry curls included.
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Let's Talk About The Animation/Live-Action...

Aug 23 2013 07:45 PM | HerrVarden in Editorials
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I'm going on record on here to tell you that my absolute favorite movie in the whole wide world is Who Framed Roger Rabbit. It may not be the very best film and it may be partly due to nostalgia clouding my judgment, but I still think that it holds a close place in my being as both a person and as a "creator". Whilst I would love to enjoy gushing about the movie as a whole, I would instead like to gush to you about what the movie is categorized to be, an animation/live-action crossover. What Who Framed Roger Rabbit managed to do was turn a simple special effect gimmick into a selling point for a story. Back then, when you thought that cartoons and people were going to be in the same place, all you could think of was some Disney schmultz (ironic that I say that) or Gene Kelly in a sailor suit dancing with Jerry. It was never thought to be anything more than that. Who Framed Roger Rabbit put forward a concept of putting the skill of the brush with the skill of the flesh together as one whole structure and trying to cement concepts from both worlds so that they could gel together in a narrative instead of leaving to simple suspension of disbelief. That's not to say that the two being more mixed together wasn't happening back then. If one recounts The Three Caballeros, Donald Duck and two other feathered friends go about with more realistic fellows and senoritas. While I do find myself liking the movie, it wasn't done right. You knew that when you saw the drawings with the live-action, it didn't feel like the two were truly in sync. The premise didn't help since it wasn't very cemented and focused more on silly visuals.

Now it is true that the last bit does apply partially to Who Framed Roger Rabbit, but it had a point to why it did what it did. What made it so great wasn't that it was doing something new with such a combination but that it was doing something new with the way that they combined the live-action with the animation. The animation along with the live-action served to build up an atmosphere rather that one or the other being some sort of way to transition or serve as an effect. In the world, the animated characters which they call toons are considered actors and work on cartoons which is basically their movie/TV deals. Right there you see a role that is given to the animated portions and how it relates with the rest of the world around them. It also gives a sort of indication as to what the animated characters are capable of as it gives you insight on how they function in the world. They're basically indestructible (which is why they're great for the slapstick) but when presented to a mixture of paint thinners and removers, they can be killed. In a very subtle way, they're giving the animation a biology to it and they indicate why it's there. The realism of how the toons were in the world certainly helped to drive this further as it shows that the animation is rooted in the story rather than a simple set piece. That sort of an animation/live-action crossover is brilliant and leads to an ample amount of possibilities. The problem? Well, it hasn't been that explored.

Why could it be? Is it because of cost and tools? Well, if I believe that James Cameron can make Avatar (which is a CGI pseudo-version of the concept) with the amount of money that he did, I don't doubt that there is a possibility that the cost could maybe be overlooked. It's more within the interest of others in the concept. Sure, it could be an affordable venture to make the film, but is it going to get its money back? Most likely not. Only people interested in this sort of thing are losers like me. CGI animation, if it wanted to, could work as an animated/live-action crossover, but it's more used to add details or make things fly out without having to pay for the thing and the explosives to make it fly out (remember, you want to make your money back and more for a profit). So if say we wanted more traditional animation, then we might as well just shoot ourselves now. Not many people are thinking that the venture is worth it since people are forgetting now what that means. That's not to say there isn't a market for it, but it's very limited. With CGI though, we could have it looking more traditional and Flash also serves to be closer to that department. Both pose some problems, but it is capable to make the effect and make it work. Either way, there needs to be interest and it seems like there isn't. I can't say why, maybe it's the scarcity of seeing something rooted with the label of "animation/live-action crossover". It could also be of the troubles that two particular films made to the idea.

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The first one is the R-rated wreck of Cool World. As much as I don't like this movie, the one thing that I'll give it credit for is adultizing cartoons. Ralph Bakshi being able to add more grit into animated movies is something that is to be respected considering every single flick that happens to be animated always falls into the "family-friendly" category. It did also have some interesting concepts, even if they sound stupid, such as a toon (or in the context of the movie, a doodle) having sex with a human and what would that bring as well as the extension of an artist's imagination when he/she sees it fully realized. The problem that was faced as with most bombs of Bakshi is that it was a very forced and clumsily handled insertion of the adult material. The logic that came from the world was not centered well enough and when animation would appear it was more so distracting in either its use or consistency. Now I don't mind that you don't fully see the potential of the effect realized in this movie as you did in WFRR, but the reasoning behind it wasn't clear and it failed to work. And I understand that cartoons don't need to make sense, but if you're going to mature the medium (even if it is a more exploitative way), you have to add more details to it or give more indication that there's no rules instead of staying in this bizarre middle-ground. As such, this movie not only gave the concept a bad name, but also gave the idea of maturing cartoons for the big screen a very slim chance.

It's not to say it killed the idea dead in the water. When WB had to revamp one of their greatest franchises they figured why not add that guy from the Mummy, Dharma from Dharma and Greg and that guy who'd go on to remake the Pink Panther into the mix? That would go on to be Looney Tunes: Back In Action. I know that there was another WB revamp that involved those wacky toons meeting humans, but I don't speak of Space Jam here. Why? Well, Space Jam, while a fun movie, was terrible and centered more on a gimmick rather than being a satire. Looney Tunes: Back In Action was more of the opposite, basically mocking spy films, sci-fi and the Looney Tunes themselves. It also managed to have similar effects to WFRR, allowing for greater comedy to flow from it. If there was any film that could be considered as the follow up to the best animated/live-action crossover, it'd have to be this one. So...with that said...why did it flop? Was it competition? Well I guess, The Matrix Revolutions and Elf are a tough cookie to beat. But I think the greater issue came less with the idea and more with the presentation. The voice actors behind the toons did fine, the animation did fine, but the live-action portion seemed lukewarm. I'm not just saying that to rip on Brendan...well I kind of am, but even a guy as animated as Steve Martin didn't seem to be at his all when doing the film. That and I guess maybe it could have gone further. Less cultural references and more mocking of the genres would have worked for its benefit. If it doesn't manage to make it's money back, there's not much chance that Hollywood will do the same...

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With both of these films being able to bring something to the table by one being more adult and another one using the animation to aid with parody, what they seem to have lacked is a better presentation and dedication. Don't get me wrong, the people that were working on both films seemed to have put a substantial amount of effort into the work. Or at the very least the animators did. The writers, actors and directors (to an extent) perhaps could have used more effort by structuring the worlds better. It really requires more attention to detail than one would think when you mix the two. Sure, it's easy to have something animated be superimposed on something real, but for it to have a point and a purpose takes time. WFRR knew that and tried to clean up the details as best as it could and keep consistent with what occurred in the world. It didn't side-track itself too much with the zany effects, it rather conserved that for when it was necessary for a joke or building the environment. Cool World did it in a drive-by manner and while in some cases that works, it doesn't help when you do it all the time. If you do that, you might as well make a mindless cartoon. Instead of simply spitting out references, it allowed for the references to be more built into the narrative. It also managed to satirize better by building both the parts that it could subvert for humor but maintain for drama and atmosphere. It might have been hard for Looney Tunes to do that, but What's Opera, Doc? managed to do that. If there isn't that sort of attention provided to the film, it loses the chance to be something truly great, and in this sort of genre, truly great is the minimum to break even.

To fix this from an industrial standpoint obviously requires people to care both from the viewing aspect to the creating aspect. Real passion and energy helps to make this work. Even if people are that dedicated, it wouldn't hurt too much to find ways to cut costs. I'm not sure how that would work out, would it mean there's less action so that less cash is put towards how to create the effect that the cartoons are there in real life? Would it have to require a cheaper animation tool? Would you just need to hire a few actors? I'm not sure which one to go to, but if you find a way to reduce costs, breaking even becomes less of a stretch. Another way that it could do better is to make it more original. Rather than associate the animation with a famous brand like the Smurfs or Garfield, it should try to be more independent. This rings very true with CGI because a good chunk of those cartoons just look bizarre in 3D. That really seems to be the only major parts that could help it from the technical standpoint. We might have to wait a few years for this to take effect (if anyone was listening to this), and obviously the build-up to this idea will also take time.

With all of that said, I'd like to tap into concepts that the animation/live-action crossovers could tap into. As stated above, there is the maturing of the animation allowing for the production to be more adult and being able to use animation as an extension of the satire (which also kind of happened with Enchanted, so don't say I didn't bring it up) along with the idea that the animation is a realized version of the imagination of one character. I'd like to tap into the last one because I don't think that Cool World really did what it should have with the concept. Art is a way to convey current emotion and to lose oneselves in their own fictional paradise. It also serves as a gateway to how one's mind works. Having the animation being able to exaggerate the emotions or ideas that the character holds true allows for them to analyze them and see if they are proper. It could also be a way of the character confronting the fears dead on or being absorbed in the madness that is caused by what the animation brings forth. The animation itself could also be more centered around the story. Most animation is considered very childish, goofy and silly, so having the animation try to become more serious with the world or try to bring more of the light-heartedness to a se-oh...well WFRR did it but it could be done in many other ways and lead to many other results. Filling in the details leads to a great amount of possibilities and there's probably more that are in store if one prods further (such as the animation being able to consume the reality of the person, the nature of the animation and the live action pretty much represent the same world in different ways, the animation changing as the world changes, etc.).

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I know that for a fact, very few people that are willing to carry this out into the film industry are going to do so. I'll be surprised/glad if any of them have come across this and actually say something about what I've written here. What I do know is that the idea of mixing animation with live-action can be much more than a gimmick. It has the potential to span out into the territory of great art and can reveal a lot of parts of humanity in a new and interesting light. Who Framed Roger Rabbit was proof of that and while Cool World and Looney Tunes Back In Action had it flaws, it showed that it could carry out those ideas and develop them to something greater. Both animation and live action film making require a lot of creativity, artistry and passion for them to succeed and to see both of them side by side, sharing that energy and putting it to the fullest that it can is something that I want to see again because it's beautiful to see it. It says to the audience that there is something more to the film than merely drawings over film. It says to them that both can make an experience and they can make it well. That one must maintain their imagination and use it in any way it can to help themselves. Maybe I'm just a fool to be overthinking this. Considering that there's such a thing as Smurfs 2...I most likely am.
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We Must Look Beyond Disney for 2D Animation (Ed...

Jul 23 2013 04:00 AM | UncleChuckTH in Editorials
The last 2D animated feature produced in America was released around two years ago. It was Disney’s Winnie The Pooh, a faithful, but unnecessary nod to the studio’s past. Pooh didn’t achieve much at the box office, due to limited advertising and an inauspicious release date (shared with the final Harry Potter). After it flopped, work on 2D projects at the Mouse House began to slow. The Academy-Award winning short Paperman was produced, among other side projects, but another feature did not seem to be on the company’s mind. Disney finally put their cards in the table in March: the leading company for drawn feature animation was letting go of its “traditional” animators. Again.

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Lest we forget what prompted them the first time...

There was a lot of speculation over what happened, and the decision stirred a big controversy among fans of animation. To me, the news definitely felt like a blow, but I also had to acknowledge that the claims surrounding the layoffs were exaggerated. Disney did not fire every person at the studio who draws. They held onto a small crew of 2D animators, and elected to keep their training program open. This was a way of leaving an option for the long-term future, so it isn’t fair to say that Disney has decided to be done with hand-drawn animation for eternity. It is fair to say, however, that they’ve decided to be done for now.

That choice seems perplexing, and it certainly raises a lot of questions. Disney is the company that built the animated medium up from the ground. Why would they choose to limit themselves to one method of producing films, when they can competently do several? Why do they regard 2D as a risky venture, when the films they’ve produced that way have been their highest earners? Why didn’t they promote Winnie The Pooh, and if they didn’t believe it would be successful, why did the studio approve it? What, if anything, did John Lasseter do to prevent the artists he rehired from being tipped out the door again? Will animators such as Glen Keane have an opportunity to convey their expertise to another generation? These are all questions that won’t be answered immediately; only time will allow for a clear perspective on this development. In the meantime, meaning the here and now, Disney is focusing on making what the other companies are making: 3D blockbusters.

Passion tends to run high when people get into the 2D vs. 3D debate. I am not seeking to write about that issue; rather, I am here to emphasize that 2D has a future outside of that drama. We simply have to look away from the American feature studios, and distance ourselves from the idea that 2D and 3D films are at odds.

Right now the big studios have an active interest in creating hip, new stuff (because it makes a lot of money!). The problem here is that people forget that cartoons produced in 2D are also hip and interesting! 2D animation is not an old, outdated way of doing things. The process has changed with the times, and by this point 2D production is no less technological than 3D’s. Considering this, the word “traditional” begins to feel inappropriate. Practically nothing done in Hollywood today could be considered traditional, least of all animation, a form that has been on the cutting edge since its beginning. Still, the term and its connotation have made the large studios nervous about working with 2D.

Katzenberg’s trust fund (aka Dreamworks) gave up hand-drawn pictures ages ago. Warner Bros. made a few attempts at regaining their old glory with some Looney Tunes movies, but those did not make much of an impact. Blue Sky and Pixar have never produced 2D films, so it’s highly unlikely that either of them will start. Fox’s animation division, at best, can be depended upon for another chipmunk sequel. Others, like Don Bluth, seem not to be producing anything at all. No doubt, this inactivity in theaters is troubling to the generations who grew up with hand-drawn films.

So where should we turn when we want some frantic cartoon action presented in an even number of dimensions? There are many places we can look.

One of them is TV. Over the last few years the quality of animated programming has improved noticeably. Cartoon Network filled up with original programs like Adventure Time and Regular Show, both of which convey a classic, cartoonish sense of wonder and frivolity. Later this year we’ll see a new show called Steven Universe, which—if the pilot is any indication—promises to be entertaining. In the meantime there are AT and RS to enjoy, as well as reworked versions of classics, like Mystery Inc. and The Looney Tunes Show. There’s also the ever-thriving Adult Swim, which recently launched a new season of Venture Bros, and Toonami, which was rebooted with a strong set of (mostly the same) shows. Cartoons aren’t quite as widespread on TV as they were at one time, but at the moment CN at least is doing well, and it’s a fine resource for 2D fun.

Another great way to see modern 2D animation is to look outside of America. This may seem a little obvious, but nonetheless it remains true that the rest of the world is still producing great stuff in the 2D style. Notable films from the past few years (all of which have been shown stateside) include The Illusionist, Chico and Rita, Summer Wars, A Cat in Paris, The Secret World of Arrietty, and From Up on Poppy Hill. Miyazaki and Takahata both have films due out this year, and they may not even be the last we’ll see from the two masters. Beside them in Japan, new crews of dexterous artists are popping up (see studios Khara and Trigger), and we can expect to see the volume of 2D works continue at its present rate (as for the average quality of a modern anime, we’ll discuss that another time). 2D features may not be so common in the US, but when times get tough I’ll always be content to look elsewhere in the world for examples of excellent works.

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Miyazaki's next movie, The Wind Rises, is due out this month in Japan.

The most tedious (but perhaps the most accurate) way of appreciating today’s 2D animation involves seeking out independent filmmakers and aspiring artists. Student film festivals and indie screenings are the most romantic ways of finding art such as this, but thanks to the internet it can be easy to find a short 2D film. News sites, blogs, advertisements for Kickstarters, all showcase short films in some way. The only difficult part is finding one that you like! Independent and student films often lack the unity and collaborative energy that permeates large productions, and at times they can seem frustratingly simple. But the good films will eclipse whatever lesser products you subject yourself to. Anything that can make a clear statement that is emotive and direct will stick with you. If you are committed to staying in the loop about 2D animation, it can be rewarding to go blog-hopping and watch a bunch of low-budget shorts made by young people. A good number of them will surprise.

So, there are many ways in which one can get their toon fix without having to make contact with the Hollywood majors. Personally I believe it’s worth making contact with them anyway, because 3D films are also worthy of great recognition and patronage. However, to me 2D is an essential part of the package. It is something that can’t be lost or underappreciated.

Unfortunately, nobody can reasonably expect a revival of Disney’s peak art at the moment. But it was the studio’s decision to fall off the horse, and 2D animation will continue, with or without its architects. If Disney’s out for now, somebody else will step up, and works from outside the Hollywood sphere will continue to dazzle. 3D innovations may be fun and interesting, but there is plenty going on in the animated world that doesn’t involve them, and the fact that we all looked to Disney as the exemplar in the past doesn’t create a need for us to do so today.
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Go Green - A Case For Marijuana

Apr 19 2013 06:00 AM | Tofucakecan in Editorials
Go Green: A Case for Marijuana

Disclaimer - The following article is an opinion piece and is not meant to be taken as legal or medical advice. Marijuana laws vary depending on your location. Those who chose to consume cannabis do so at their own risk. Youchew is not liable for your actions.

The majority of the Youtube Poop community has probably never seen Brian De Palma’s 1987 crime epic “The Untouchables” simply by virtue of its age. In my opinion however, this is not only a movie that people should see, it’s a movie that deserves induction into the Library of Congress for its cultural relevancy. Some people have seen this movie simply because they were fans of Brian De Palma, or because of the all star cast featuring Kevin Costner, Robert De Niro, and Sean Connery. But rather than delving into the virtues of its writing, cast, or cinematography, consider the film for its historical aspects. “The Untouchables” is based on a 1957 novel written by the lead character Eliot Ness. The story is an autobiographical account of his work as a federal agent during the Prohibition era. For those who aren’t yet familiar with Prohibition, suffice it to say it’s a period in US history that most would consider “a mistake”. From 1920 to 1933, the sale of alcohol was illegal thanks to the “Volstead Act” (despite being vetoed by President Wilson). Ness was charged with enforcing a law that the majority of the country did not support. Though he was technically the “good guy”, he was more like the hall monitor in high school telling guys not to make out with their girlfriends between classes. To make things more difficult, he had to deal with the organized crime element led by Al Capone who made sure everyone who wanted to drink could, and where there’s organized crime, police corruption is sure to follow. Lots of money was spent fighting the production of alcohol, and the costs were heavy on both sides. Prohibition continued to lose supporters as time went by, and eventually alcohol production was legalized again in 1933.

Why am I opening an article about marijuana by discussing alcohol? Because those who don’t understand history are doomed to repeat it, and as you may have guessed, history is repeating itself. Alcohol may be free of prohibition, but the mistakes of the past are being repeated via marijuana prohibition, and people are paying the price for it in all sorts of ways. Now more than ever, our country needs a serious, nationwide reform of cannabis laws. There are so many potential benefits that could translate into huge windfalls for the government if we could just get over the stigma that continues to plague everyone’s favorite plant. So on this April 20th, sit back, relax, smoke ‘em if you’ve got ‘em, and lets talk pot.

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Don’t be Afraid of the Ganja!
If you had told me 20 years ago that I would be writing an editorial in favor of marijuana legalization one day, I would have laughed in your face and told my mom on you. I remember taking a vow to be “drug free” in first grade, and thinking “I’ll just say no, and never do drugs”. The Regan era which I grew up in was waging the “War on Drugs” and programs like D.A.R.E. were scaring kids straight all across the country (me included). Let us fast forward to the first time I got high smoking weed. I wasn’t thinking about how I was breaking the law. I wasn’t thinking about how disappointed my parents would be if they could see. I wasn’t thinking about how I had broken a promise to myself never to do any drugs. What was I thinking? “Why the hell is this illegal?” All my life I was taught to fear marijuana. It was supposed to be this awful substance that would surely ruin all aspects of my life, but it didn’t feel awful at all. For the most part I felt happy and relaxed. I think I was also really impressed by how the room suddenly seemed bigger too. Then I ripped into a bag of Gummi Savers.

In my opinion, marijuana is one of the most vilified and misunderstood substances on the planet. Don’t get me wrong, there are definitely dangers that can come from smoking, but most of the “dangers” get blown way out of proportion. Some of the rumors perpetuated by the Office of National Drug Control Policy hold very little real truth and deserve some examination.

Myth – Marijuana is a gateway drug
People love to scapegoat. For those in favor of prohibition, this is usually the “go to” reason used to keep the plant illegal. The idea that marijuana use will lead to harder drug use is older than dirt, and it’s easy to see how it caught on because so many people who do harder drugs (cocaine, heroin, etc.) have used marijuana before. It should come as no surprise that most people who have done harder drugs have also smoked cigarettes or consumed alcohol in their lives, yet these substances rarely ever get the “gateway drug” label applied to them. Using the same logic, we could even brand “McDonalds” a gateway drug since probably every obese person on the planet has had the golden arches once in their lives.

But as we learned in math class, correlation doesn’t necessarily imply causation. The numbers alone disprove the gateway theory when you consider that in a 2009 survey, almost 60% of people surveyed admitted to trying marijuana within the last year, but the combined total of people who tried heroin and cocaine for the first time was less than 1% of those surveyed. In addition, there are more and more reputable studies coming out each year that disprove the gateway theory. Most instead favor the explanation that a person’s environment or individual circumstances are much better predictors of who is likely to try harder drugs. For example, a person living in the slums of Chicago, Illinois and has divorced parents is much more likely to try harder drugs than someone who lives in a three story house in Greenwich, Connecticut and is on the honor roll.

To really understand where the gateway theory comes from, it is important to consider why the numbers of people who have tried pot are so high compared to other drugs. Many articles on this topic mention teenagers who say it is easier for them to get a hold of pot than it is to get alcohol or cigarettes. I believe that (ironically) marijuana is easier for a teen to get because IT IS illegal. Consider this - If someone wants to get into the business of selling alcohol or tobacco, there are endless hoops to jump through and regulations to follow, and of course taxes to pay. In turn, this legalization and regulation not only make it harder for minors to get tobacco and alcohol, it also makes these substances less appealing to would be “dealers” because the potential profit margin of selling to minors will never outweigh the risk. I mean seriously, how often do you hear of a drug dealer who sells alcohol and cigarettes? So for a 16 year old, I hypothesize that it’s far easier to find a friend who has some weed for sale than to bribe someone they don’t know into selling them some alcohol (or buying it for them).

There are many other possible explanations for the high numbers, but they do suggest marijuana use is far more accepted/tolerated than it was fifty years ago, and the more it is studied the less legitimacy the “gateway theory” holds.

Myth - Marijuana Has No Medicinal Value
Before I delve into this myth, a little background on how the US government classifies controlled substances like marijuana. The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has five “schedules” numbered I-V which they use to classify drugs/controlled substances based on potential for abuse/dependence, currently accepted medical uses, and overall safety/health risks of the drug. Schedule I substances are generally considered the most dangerous and usually have the harshest penalties for offenders, whereas schedule V substances could be considered the “least dangerous” of the bunch. Commonly abused recreational drugs such as heroin or methamphetamine appear in schedule I while Schedule II has many drugs that are commonly prescribed for pain such as morphine, opium, and oxycodone. Schedules III-V are mostly drugs that the average person has never heard of. The guidelines for classifying a drug are vague and open to interpretation of those making the laws, but the main distinction between schedules I and II is that schedule II substances have accepted medical uses.

So where does marijuana fit into the DEA schedules? It’s in schedule I. That’s right. Despite the fact marijuana that is legal for medical use in nineteen states and has been used in treatment for a variety of conditions (including glaucoma, Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, cancer, opioid dependence, and chronic pain to name a few), in the mind of the US government it has no medical value. Am I the only one that sees a hole in this argument? Now I’m not saying that weed can cure any of the above conditions, but there is concrete evidence to support the idea that marijuana can be used for medical purposes, and the list of possible uses grows as we continue to study it.

Cannabis was first classified as schedule I in 1970 at the recommendation of Roger O Egeberg who at the time was the “Assistant Secretary of Health”. In his recommendation he basically said that not enough was known about marijuana at the time to make a truly informed decision about its scheduling, so it should provisionally be classified as a schedule I substance. Forty two years later, and every attempt to reschedule marijuana (including attempts as recent as 2012) has been blocked, vetoed, or otherwise ignored by the government. The reasons will vary depending on who you ask, but it does make you wonder why people with no medical background (politicians) are passing judgment on the medicinal value of cannabis.

On a side note… anyone wanna guess what schedule cocaine falls under? Well because of its limited medical use, cocaine is a schedule II substance, and in the minds of some people this classification sends the message that cocaine is somehow less dangerous than marijuana. Some of you might even be asking yourselves “what classification(s) do alcohol and tobacco fall under?” Well these two substances, which are generally considered more harmful with a higher risk for dependence than marijuana, aren’t even a part of the controlled substances act. They’re exempt. I personally find this particularly disturbing when you consider how many diseases can be linked to tobacco smoke. Not to mention, alcohol addiction can be so extreme that there are documented cases of addicts dying from withdrawal effects. If the government gives adults the choice to consume potentially deadly products such as these as much as they want, it presents a huge, glaring hypocrisy for them to continuously ignore the growing evidence which supports medical marijuana uses. Our society trusts people to be responsible about their tobacco and alcohol use. Why could we not extend that same trust to adult cannabis smokers?

Prohibition is the problem, not the solution.
It seems like a logical solution - if something is a problem, just ban it and tell people that it’s bad for them. But when your mom brought home a bag of Chips Ahoy and told you to wait until after dinner to have one, did you always listen to her? There are legitimate reasons for the prohibition of many drugs, and you’ll never find me writing an essay in support of meth or heroin legalization. But when a small minority of elected officials prohibit something that the majority of the population wants legalized, problems are inevitably going to arise.

This is where my reference to “The Untouchables” comes back into play. When Alcohol was made illegal, the demand didn’t just disappear. New problems arose when people who didn’t know anything about making liquor started brewing their own. Organized crime elements moved in to meet the demand. Law enforcement had to create new teams to enforce the laws. Each new problem brings in its own subset of problems while the original intent of the law gets lost in the flood. Prohibition didn’t reduce the number of people who drank, just as prohibiting marijuana has done nothing to reduce consumption. And just as it was in the twenties, the same problems that plagued the prohibition era have returned.

During the prohibition era, when people couldn’t buy liquor, some would resort to making their own liquor in whatever ways they had learned. As you can imagine, with no regulation, people could put basically anything they wanted in the alcohol, and there were documented cases of people developing blindness or paralysis as a result of drinking various incarnations of “moonshine”. These days, the production of any kind of alcohol is heavily regulated to ensure purity and safety and people don’t have to fear the possibility of adulterants in their beers or whiskey and this is thanks to government regulation.

Similarly, if you’ve visited a smoke shop any time in the last three to five years, you’ve probably seen a variety of products that have been dubbed “spice” or “herbal incense”. These products are to cannabis what bathtub gin was to alcohol. They appear on the market as a “legal” alternative to weed, and they exploit loopholes in the law in order to stay on the shelves and avert prosecution. As you can imagine they have been the source of much controversy. Each bag/container is labeled with a disclaimer that says “not for human consumption”. Likewise, if you were to ask a store clerk what they are for, you’ll most likely get a very vague explanation of what they are. You might be told to “burn it”, while avoiding terms like “smoking”. Because these products are “not meant for human consumption”, they do not have to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration, so they are technically “legal”. The illegality comes when a person tries to smoke it, because they’re using it for other than its intended purpose. Bags are filled with various legal smoking blends that have been sprayed with synthetic chemicals that are intended to mimic the effects of marijuana. Unfortunately, unless you’re a chemist with a gas chromatograph, you probably have no idea what you’re smoking. Bags typically have no information about where they come from or what chemicals they have been sprayed with. Over the last several years the DEA has been banning countless chemical compounds in an effort to curtail the sales of spice. But every time they ban five substances, ten more pop up to take their places. The irony of the whole situation is that if weed were legalized, the demand for these products would almost certainly disappear, just like the demand for moonshine disappeared after prohibition. Government regulation of marijuana could be a potentially great thing for pot smokers because they’re in a position to ensure the quality and safety of what is sold. Smokers would have assurance that someone who knows what they’re doing has grown it and hasn’t adulterated it.

Now on the subject of cannabis law enforcement. The Texas Democratic Party recently published some statistics on marijuana arrests. According to them, the War on Drugs (as it relates to marijuana enforcement) costs the US twelve billion dollars annually, and 85% of marijuana related arrests are for possession only. Although penalties for possession are starting to soften and people aren’t being incarcerated as much, the country still has to pay the costs of processing these offenses, including court costs for lawyers and judges, and the salaries of police officers and DEA agents whose time might be better served going after meth labs instead of raiding medicinal marijuana dispensaries that are operating within the laws of their respective states.


A segment from the film "Super High Me" documenting a DEA raid on a medical marijuana dispensary in California. Watching this will give you an idea of why the "War on Drugs" is costing the US So much money.

Prohibition doesn’t just cost the government and the tax payers. It costs the end user. If cannabis were legalized and regulated, it would hugely cut into the profits of the drug cartels that are the only ones benefiting from prohibition. Anyone who has ever bought some decent sensimilla (high grade seedless marijuana, sometimes called “dro”) can expect to pay around $60 for an eighth of an ounce (which translates to around $7600 a pound). A large part of this inflated cost comes from the dangers of selling and transporting marijuana. To what degree this affects the cost is open to speculation, but some sources say that if cannabis were legal the price for a pound of sensimilla could be as low as twenty dollars. This leaves plenty of room for the government to tax the hell out of it, and there will be no shortage of people willing to buy weed on the shelves of a legitimate dispensary rather than someone who may or may not be a from a gang or involved in cartels like a dealer.

And last certainly not least, lets not forget that magic “T” word I’ve been using. That’s right, Taxes. It’s no secret that the US is in recovery from the worst financial crisis since The Great Depression. Taxation of cannabis has the potential to make a serious improvement in our economy, because if there is one thing that history has shown us with alcohol and tobacco, it’s that people are willing to pay taxes on items that are in demand. Since cannabis hasn’t ever had an economy in this country, there is obviously speculation about how much tax revenue could be raised from weed, but a realistic figure after all is said and done would be somewhere around 25% of the end cost which is close to what Americans are taxed for alcohol.

Also, legalization could create a significant amount of new jobs in the field of agriculture and in the form of dispensaries and processing plants. Oregon and Colorado (the first two states to legalize marijuana for personal recreational use) are in a unique position to affect future legislation on the plant as they begin to implement new infrastructure to grow it commercially and regulate it. If they can show that marijuana can be grown legally and regulated efficiently, more states are sure to follow. And the sooner that happens, the sooner the federal government is likely to repeal federal laws about marijuana so each state can have the freedom to choose how they will handle marijuana legalization.

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Screen capture of a map from Norml.org. Icons show which states have medical marijuana laws and which states have legalized/decriminalized it.

Even though the US has finally breached the landmark first states to legalize cannabis, we are still many years away from legalization. But thanks to the growing level of literature and studies on cannabis, people are now more informed about it than ever and public opinion continues to grow in favor of weed reform. It “high time” we started getting honest and up front about the plant and stop trying to ignore this real issue. If you’d like to learn more about marijuana laws in your state, visit the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (Norml.Org).

Happy 4/20!









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The Death of Hugo Chavez

Mar 15 2013 05:30 AM | HerrVarden in Editorials
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This was a day that I knew I would come some time in my life. It was a day that I figured would mean great change for Venezuela and that it would pave the way towards progress. Now that it's here, that glimmer seems to have faded away along with the fervency of my hatred I had for the ex-president. It has been a weird 17 years slowly understanding how exactly to shape my opinion on this man. I've chirped here and there about how I don't favor him, but I've always seemed to talk about him in a light that has been more passionate and emotional. It's no surprise that this would happen though as it certainly is something that greatly impacts me as a person. Just because I no longer live there doesn't mean that I don't worry about what happens to close friends and family members. At the same time, I have learned more about what exactly it is that the man has done, and while I can't lean towards neutrality let alone like him, I can at least understand why others would. So, I'd like to tell you from all that I've read about, endured and understood, the impact that Chavez has had in his years.

Chavez was born in 1954 and joined the Military Academy in 1971. He participated in the 1992 coup d'état to overthrow Carlos Andrés Pérez. While it did not succeed and he did end up being in prison for his involvement in the coup, he had gotten vast amounts of attention for the act. Eventually, he was released and then managed to enter into the 1998 elections. As fate would have it, Chavez won. For the next 14 or so years, Chavez did much to not only stir the nation that he ruled over, but also the world itself. The man was not a quiet creature, when he made speeches, he made them loud. They were filled with intensity and ardor, drawing many people into what he had to say. Not only that, but he always spoke about a revolution that would come by and swoop them off their feet. That's what probably what made him so appealing to the poor.

Due to the spiritualism in the nation, he's been glorified to nearly a god. Not necessarily because of his speeches, but he has somehow managed to decrease the poverty of the nation substantially from 60% in 1998 to less that 30% in 2008. This has allowed the poor to afford the bare necessities that they require, and as such, has strengthened the bond between the people and the president. Naturally, this bond that he had with the most common of folk allowed him to have more control over the country itself. It basically was the pivotal reason as to why he lasted for so long. He was a powerful televangelist, giving people enough of what they needed and barking better than his bite. This would become very apparent once he finally stood on the world stage.


In 2006, Chavez stood in front of the UN and vehemently preached about how we must avoid American imperialism. He was a devout critic of George W. Bush, calling him the devil. Some saw him as showing himself as the true revolutionary that he was, standing up to his enemies. Others figured that he was merely a pompous, arrogant hypocrite. As time went on, it became clear that he wanted to establish himself as someone who greatly opposed the ideologies and policies that were being established in the US. He constantly shook hands with America's rivals such as Castro, Gaddafi and Ahmadinejad, strengthening the ties between their countries. Many people seemed to adore Chavez for being vocal against Bush, and various people such as Barbara Walters, Oliver Stone and Sean Penn have gone to subvert this idea that Chavez is not this nasty caricature that is portrayed in the media. I can't be so certain if it was because Chavez had made a great first impression on them or if they simply enjoy someone with an equally adamant dislike for a president that everyone and their mothers wasn't pleased with. Either way, this truly did have an impact on how others viewed Chavez. It wasn't the proper view that one should have, in my opinion, but in some fairness America still had both sides. I will say that it still is weird that I could say that I might have agreed with the right concerning the subject.

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One thing that is for certain is that he has made an effort to eliminate opposing voices. Due to the 2002 coup d'état that failed to completely overthrow Chavez, he cracked down powerfully to remove any of this opposition on him. As such, he has gotten a stronger control of the judicial system so that it favors his wishes and has arrested a deal of people in political positions which he has deemed "traitors". The most prominent of his efforts to remove the other side was stopping RCTV from broadcasting. RCTV was a television channel that had been very critical of Chavez, with the occasional mockery here and there done for the sake of political satire. It had also supported the coup, mainly because they believed it was leading towards a more democratic Venezuela. Because of this, Chavez considered them fascists and had made efforts to remove them and put in their place something more appealing to his presidency. As such, on May 28th, 2007, RCTV no longer became a lingering threat, dealing a critical blow to the opposition. That in turn, doesn't signify that liberty of free speech. Without that liberty, it could be safe to say that it was turning into a dictatorship.

While Venezuela's poverty has managed to lower, the crime rate has continued to soar, with Caracas being one of the most dangerous cities to go to. Even though I've lived there and have not had close encounters with gangs, I do recall hearing gunfire one night outside of my house and an object being hurled at one of my classrooms from afar (most likely a bullet). Not only that, but when passing through the slums in the core of the capital, one could faintly hear the sound of guns flaring off. This has shown how incompetent, corrupt and/or overwhelmed the police are, which does not shine so well to the man who has shown to be a grand change in the nation. Power outages have also reared their ugly heads, making matters even worse to strengthen his case. Perhaps the most peculiar of the problems that Venezuela does face is that the economy has not shown significant improvement with inflation nearing 30%.

It's sad to say that some of these larger economic problems are not completely at the fault of Chavez. The country's economy is heavily petroleum-centric, as very little else is exported from such. Thus, the price of oil is what controls the economy for the most part. So when the 70s brought the price up due to a siege of OPEC ministers, prosperity arose. With all the money came in, Venezuelans managed to live the good life, being able to buy various objects of desire with veritable ease. The government was equally as frivolous with the money, spreading the wealth to the nation, but not in a way that would benefit it in the future. Arturo Uslar Pietri, a Venezuelan intellect, stated that we should "sembrar el petroleo" which basically meant that the money that we gained from petroleum should be used in investments to break from our oil dependency. Needless to say that did not happen and when the 80s brought the price down, so went Venezuela, which ultimately led to riots. Chavez could at least reference the leaders of before to make himself better suited when compared, yet his more "socialist" policies have not helped lure outside investors that could turn the economy for the better.

To this day, I still did not like seeing the change that has come about from Chavez's reign. He may have had the key to rouse people to follow his ideas, done some effort to aid those who are struggling in the slums and shown signs of a revolution that would turn the world around, but his faults do enough to outweigh the hope that he seemed to have promised so much. At the same time, the rage that he had brought me from his decisions has cooled down, now knowing that even before him, issues such as corruption and a failing economy were evident. I do not hold that much hope that the elections will bring forth the president that will at least make a decent effort to fix the glaring problems that face the nation, but I can only wait and see what will happen. Chavez has done a great deal to divide not only the nation that he ruled over, but those outside of Venezuela, which has served nothing more than an annoyance to have to cope with. The only word that I can think of that describes everything the president has done is "polarizing". I bid you farewell, Hugo Chavez, so that a new chapter can begin in Venezuelan politics.



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Let's Talk About Gritty Fairy Tale Movies

Feb 18 2013 07:15 AM | HerrVarden in Editorials

Once upon a time (2010 to be exact), in a land far far away, there were these four producers (one played by Leonardo DiCaprio) that decided it would be a good idea to make a darker version of Little Red Riding Hood. It wasn't a good movie in terms of content, but it sure as hell made them rich. In fact, they made more than double their original budget. Soon others figured, why not make other fairy tales into a grittier story? If they could get such success, why couldn't they? And thus, we have begun our adventure into 2013, where gritty fairy tales seem to be popping up a little more. They were going to pop up in 2012, but due to some studio problems, we're now faced to gulping them down in a new year that's supposed to bring us hope that perhaps Hollywood isn't so tapped out of ideas. Then again, let's not be so cynical, as it is a small amount of films that seem to follow this trend. Still, let's delve a little more into this sudden concept of making these more "twisted" takes on classic stories (that oddly were kind of twisted on their own).

Based on what I can gather so far, we have about 4 gritty fairy tale movies (Red Riding Hood, Snow White and The Huntsman, Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, Jack The Giant Slayer) that have come about the start of this decade. Perhaps a few more, if we really want to dig deeper (honestly, I was going to say 5, but it's debatable to say if The Wizard of Oz is a fairy tale). Now, usually something that trends can't simply be counted on with your two hands, let alone one. They happen to a more exaggerated scale that ends up suffocating you with its ridiculousness. Perhaps it is quick to say that we're jumping on to the idea that this is becoming a fad. On the other hand, Hollywood has seemed to make a great deal of unorthodox concepts play themselves straight, such as making Abraham Lincoln a vampire hunter. Even though it's evident that this leaves the general consensus mixed to negative on the films, it sells. If it sells, they'll keep it going, no matter how awful it is. That's just how the business world works.

I suppose it doesn't become too much of a surprise that they would now decide to use fairy tales as the vehicle of this trend, since it is common for Hollywood to recycle concepts and package them in a new light. That doesn't necessarily mean it's a bad thing, a lot of the greatest works out there rely on reusing old concepts and adding on to them. Plus, fairy tales can strike a cord with the audience because they're familiar with how these tales went when they were a kid. Seeing them as an adult in a more mature light serves not only to bring them back to the past but also shed light on a theme that can impact them stronger due to them being older, wiser and more experienced. Not only that, but when one looks back at the actual stories that Disney had toned down for them when they were a child, they see that there was much less dancing and singing that took place. If anything, this darkening of the stories can serve to show the audience that they're ready to face a serious take on the tale. The only issue? That's not what's happening.

When I say that these films are gritty, they're not "brooding, cynical, depressing, disturbing" gritty, they're "dark colors, deep voice, strange imagery, maybe-action-like" gritty. That's not to say that the former and the latter are two completely different entities, there's a great deal of works out there can be both, and pull it off well. The graphic novel Watchmen, for example, manages to use the latter to accentuate the themes that revolve around the former. These movies aren't Watchmen though, they're not even close to it, they're more safe in their approach. Yes, you see these dainty, innocent characters become stone-cold killers or brave adventurers or passionate romantics, but the films don't seem to succeed in pulling that off well. One could easily blame this on performers phoning in the performance and portraying them as if all they're expecting out of this is a paycheck, but then what can be said about those who do put forth the effort and come out looking out of place? The only other aspect you could blame is the way it's presented in terms of it's aesthetics and writing for not being able to take proper advantage of the concept.

That, to me, is the biggest problem that faces these films, based on what I've seen so far. It looks edgier, but if you took away that it was a re-imagining of a fairy tale, it might as well be another mediocre fantasy epic that's trying too hard to be epic. You can see in the way that they cut everything fast, rev up the mysterious element that's vaguely there and toning the light down so it feels as though it's going to be intense. Simply giving something a coat of black paint and splattering blood all over the place doesn't immediately cause someone to feel as though what they're watching is more intriguing and risky. Not even raising the stakes to great levels can do that, because it has no substance to it. One could implement any device into a story and give the illusion that it's more that what it appears to be, but if there's no rhyme or reason it, it's basically a waste. The films don't serve to do more with the idea other than make it appear as though it's this cool, new, hip stuff that all the young kids are looking forward to. That, in the end, feels as though it's insulting the younger demographic by fooling them into thinking this is something cooler and it insults the older demographic because they see how absurd it is. There are only three ways I see this upcoming "genre" becoming something wonderful. They either focus on the darker elements of the tale (or attempt to properly add a darker tint to it), not take themselves too seriously and deliver on a better fantasy epic or make it into a dark comedy.

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Like I mentioned before, some of the stories that we've heard of before are much less kid-friendly than what we have been given. The Little Mermaid doesn't end with her getting the prince and living happily ever after. It ends on her refusing to kill the prince (who ended up marrying the Sea Witch) to become a mermaid again, throwing herself to the sea, which in turn causes her to turn into foam. Add in that the potion not only made her mute, but also made her feel that every step she made was as if she was getting stabbed with sharp swords and that the prince loved seeing her dance, and you get something that's far too intense and brutal for a little kid to comprehend it's horrible magnitude, let alone read. If one were to make a more mature rendition of this tale, they would take closer note of the harsher aspects of it and be willing to sew them into the narrative properly. Now if the original fairy tale isn't that somber such as Rapunzel, then they shouldn't alter too much other than the tone. That will affect the characters, the setting, some of the progression of the story and perhaps the theme itself, but it should not alter it to a drastic degree. Rather it should stay somewhat rooted to how the story usually moves but let it move with a more desensitized and distorted fashion that usual. That allows not only for the familiarity of the story to be taken into account, but can also leave the viewer interested in how one could view it in a jaded, bitter tone.

That's easier said than done since you can't just snap your fingers and magically make sugar-plums and pixies look like something that come from the lowest levels of Hell. That requires more attention to detail, precision and careful construction. It's not impossible though, but I imagine that's not what they're looking to achieve. They want more of a grand journey sort of romp. In which case, what I recommend is simply...don't take yourself so seriously. It is well-known that no matter how bizarre a concept is, one must play it off to some level of seriousness to give credibility to the world or to become more engrossed in the film. At the same time, if someone wears a giant foam cheese hat on their head and does nothing more than pout, it will either come across as annoying or incredibly silly. One must find a certain balance of knowing how far they can take themselves seriously with the role. They also need to acknowledge the absurdity of the situation, not necessarily by winking to the audience and saying "Yeah, I know it's weird that I want to fuck a wolfman, but you know what they say about guys with furry feet", but by attempting to play on the ridiculousness from time to time and enjoying themselves. In turn, this makes the audience feel as though that even though what they're watching is ludicrous, they're willing to take it in stride and enjoy themselves.

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Finally, we have the idea of just making it into a dark comedy. This is perhaps a very effective way of darkening a fairy tale because it not only allows for someone to take in the both types of gritty I mentioned before and use them both to their advantage but also creates a good semblance of what sort of tone a recreation of this sort needs. Although it's not necessarily hilarious nor conventional in its approach (hell, I'm not sure if that's what the author intended), an example that comes to me as a good way to explain how this should be pulled off is the Alice is Dead series. For those of you who don't know, it's a flash game series that turns the well-known characters from Wonderland into mercenaries. At first, it sounds very idiotic, but it's aware that it's not something that one can just simply take seriously, so it makes a lot of references to how the characters are in the story whilst also filling it in with a disturbing tone. The comedy doesn't come so much from how the characters act (well, not intentionally), but rather of the setting and how the characters come to be what they are. It manages to be serious not so much because of the mercenary aspect but rather due to it's odd approach of the tale while also weaving in this world of fantasy that we're familiar with with the world of the mercenary that we're also aware of. The two end up playing off each other as the bits of humor bring you back to a comfort zone that is then slapped away when the grimness settles in. At the end, you find yourself laughing at it slightly, but you also feel weird about laughing about it and seek to look into it more. Whilst one can play a more "make this disturbing scenario more silly" form of dark comedy, giving it a warped, surrealistic tint to the humor allows for that laughter to get them thinking about the gravity of what it occurring, making them more engaged.


It's still hard to say where this movement is going to keep marching through and whether or not it will lead anywhere good. From what I tell from the two latest ones, I'm still very mixed on the matter. Mainly because both present the two possibilities of how the concept could turn out awful. Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters feels like it would fair much better if it wasn't attached with the story of Hansel and Gretel. The designs of the witches look phenomenal and the weapons have a certain badass feel to them based on their look, but they feel somewhat unfitting. This is simply due to the association of the story. We know that the basic elements of the tale are intertwined into another tale, but it doesn't mesh right. It comes off as incredibly laughable to turn these two kids who happened to let their sweet tooth get the better of them suddenly decide to go hunting witches. Not only that but the look is unsure if it wants to capture a fairy tale feel or a epic fantasy-adventure feel, so it's caught up in this unpleasant limbo.


Jack The Giant Slayer, on the other hand, isn't actually based on the Jack we usually think of. While the original tale that this film is based on is more complex than some kid who finds a bunch of beans and then climbs a beanstalk to steal from a giant, it decided that it should implement themes from it. My guess is that's it's trying to get the public to relate to it more clearly, but it comes off forced and it acts as a detriment to the whole film by stooping it to a lower level that what it wants to achieve. Excluding the fact that it shoehorns the more relatable Jack fairy tale into its story, the other problem arises in how it tries to be like other grand fantasy films. This might be more to it's advertising, but it feels like they had a checklist and they were making sure that it could properly hit those sweet spots as cliched as possible. Booming voice over? Check. Overview of landscapes as the hero traverses through them? Check. Slight comedy relief? Check. Badass retort? What do you think? Rather than become something more unique (which is what it should be), it clings to the old methods and takes the skin of better movies in the hopes that it may become what that skin represents instead of a disgusting mess. Both advertise themselves as these fantastic adventures, but all I see is a laughable time-waster. Trust me when I say that there are too many of those kinds of films these days.

In the end, if this does become a trend and more movies of this caliber do start to clog up cinemas everywhere, it would be nice to see if they could tap into its greater potential. A wise man once said that there aren't bad ideas when it comes to stories. There are only bad ways of conveying them. Even though their premises are ridiculous, with the right hands, someone could make it into a spectacular experience. By researching more into the original story, they could play up with references to it or give a more faithful rendition of it that amplifies its more macabre tones. It could also accept it's stupidity and make sure that it does enough to deliver this absurd adventure in a way that it is as insane as it it fun. Hell, if it goes that dark comedy route, it may end up as not only a good way to bring forth more avant-garde films into the scene but also provide a somewhat clever and thought-provoking experience. I don't want this to just become another quick-buck fad, nor do I want it to be just a series of misled half-assed projects. Rather, I'd like to see this bring forth tales that will live on as long as the stories they're based off on. That way, the audience can have a happily ever after instead of a "I'm going to write a long, detailed rant damning this film forever" after.

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