The inevitable politicization of tragedy

July 20, 2012 Leave a comment

Many older generation Americans will tell you they can still remember exactly where they were when they learned of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination. For my generation, all of us can tell you where we were when the towers fell. Even more recently, I can remember where I was when I heard that former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shot on Jan. 8, 2011.

I was walking to the Daily Wildcat offices for a meeting, my first official action as incoming news editor. I happened to be absent-mindedly browsing through my Twitter feed as I walked when I saw the breaking reports. Shortly thereafter, people began texting me, asking if I had seen the news, what I had heard.

In the days that followed, I hardly left the office. I hardly slept. And even after the story had been dutifully reported and our collective attention began to return to normalcy, one questioned still rang out to me every time I contemplated the events of that day.

Why?

What could possess someone to so needlessly and heedlessly take someone else’s life? Who was this Jared Lee Loughner? What were his motivations?

Much of human existence revolves around the search for meaning or purpose. We go to school to learn about the world around us, to college to learn what path we want to follow in life. This inevitable human curiosity is what spurs innovation and creation, engenders our competitive natures and drives us to succeed in our personal goals. But, much like troublesome children around a hot stove, curiosity can sometimes be a painful experience.

In the aftermath of the Jan. 11 shooting, people began searching for Loughner’s purpose. They scrutinized his rambling YouTube videos in an attempt to determine his political leanings. And, in doing so, they arrived at the conclusion that he could be either a fringe right activist or very liberal. Eventually, one of his friends came forward to explain that Loughner harbored a grudge against Giffords stemming from an exchange at an event.

It is this same search for purpose that is driving the swirling speculation today regarding the massacre at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo. Just like the shooting of Jan. 8, people are trying to make sense of the senseless violence. Who was this James E. Holmes, and why did he allegedly, and seemingly randomly, open fire on a crowd of complete strangers?

Perhaps it’s just the times we are living in, or maybe it’s because news outlets are in full campaign mode, but already the politicization has begun. ABC News reported that he apparently had tea party leanings, an unfounded allegation that the organization later retracted. Joel B. Pollak, of Breitbart News, reported that Holmes may be a registered Democrat, a factoid that was, too, partly retracted as the story continued to develop.

So what we’ve learned thus far is that the shooter may either be a tea party activist or a registered Democrat, but may be neither.

While it may have been natural to speculate on Loughner’s political loyalties, given the target and nature of his crimes, there appears to be, at this juncture, no political reason why Holmes may have targeted a theater full of “Dark Knight Rises” moviegoers, unless he’s an avid follower of Rush Limbaugh. And at this point needless speculation only muddies the waters of tragedy further.

In time, perhaps the shooter’s motivations will become clear. Or, as may be likely, there may be no discernible underlying motivation, no conspiratorial headline for blogs and newspapers to trumpet. Maybe it was just another senseless act of violence in a world that is sometimes devoid of sense. And that may be the hardest thing for us to accept.

All my thoughts are with those who were affected by this tragedy.

Who says you can’t go home? Well, I used to

July 3, 2012 1 comment

High school is a time of uncertainty, a time when you begin to truly discover “who you are” and put the finishing touches on a transition into adulthood. Truth be told, when I was in high school I didn’t know where I was going to go for college, what I was going to study when I got there, how I was going to pay for it or a plethora of other mundane details that come with budding adulthood. But there was one thing of which I was certifiably certain: I wasn’t going to move home after I graduated.

Now, a little less than two months after graduating, my bags are packed and I’m homeward bound.

There’s always been a stigma surrounding the boomerang college student. When you hear of someone who moved back in with their parents after graduating you immediately think of a guy in a white tank top covered in the remnants of several microwavable meals who calls the basement his “bachelor pad” so often you begin to question whether he’s joking or not. Don’t deny it.

Then there’s the other implication of moving back home: That of defeat. Sure, you gave the job market the ol’ college try, but you just weren’t good enough to land yourself that sweet slice of employment independence. So you scurried back home, tail between your legs, immediately donned a tank top and dedicated yourself to watching the original run of “Star Trek” in its entirety.

That fear of failure rings particularly true for me. As a proud boy of Flagstaff, I had the opportunity to attend Northern Arizona University for next to nothing. I could have lived at home for free and assured myself that, no matter how tough things got, there would always be a pantry to raid. But, like teenagers are wont to do, I rebelled. With both a sister and a mother at NAU, I had to break out on my own, not only to show them I could do it, but to prove it to myself. Being an adult meant facing the challenges that accompany independence, and I was eager to go to Tucson and face them, head-on.

It certainly wasn’t always easy. Heck, I almost transferred back to NAU after my first semester. There was the time my meal plan ran out with two months left my freshman year and I had to survive in large part on Pop-Tarts and the occasional whole, rotisserie chicken when I could scrounge together the money. Then there was the time(s) I had to sell plasma and put almost all of my electronics on E-Bay to pay rent. I worked three jobs, and Hot ‘n Ready’s were manna from heaven.

Every decision I made, difficult as it might have been, was necessary to avoid a very tank toppy future. And after graduating, I was finally able to breathe a sigh of relief. I had done it.

Of course, then I remembered I majored in journalism and those easy sighs turned into hyperventilation.

Granted, I’m not alone in this mom-and-pop-ward migration. According to a recent study, as many as 85 percent of recent graduates will move home after they graduate, a statistic made all the more realistic when considering the fact that 53 percent of recent grads are unemployed or working a job that doesn’t require a bachelor’s degree. Let’s be frank, that picture wouldn’t be rosy even if you looked at it through rose-colored glasses.

But, as with most things, perspective is everything. After all, I could not have a home to go back to, or not have a mother who was so understanding, or a sister who had already done the same thing thereby guaranteeing I could do it, too. Sure, maybe I end up washing dishes at a diner, or giving disingenuous welcomes at Wal-Mart, but at least I have a family that supports me, and a group of friends who won’t tease me too much. About this at least.

And, if all else fails, I still won’t end up like the prototypical move-back-homer. I don’t even own a tank top.

The drive to drive, or lack thereof

June 29, 2012 Leave a comment

Most people are probably familiar with the concept of the game, “Never Have I Ever.” Basically, the idea is that people go around in a circle (or other preferred polygon) and say things they have never done. If you’ve done it, you signify by putting down a finger, taking a drink, or, in most cases, both.

For the last six years, I’ve always had an ace in the hole for “Never Have I Ever,” something I had never done that virtually every other adult had.

You see, until very recently (this past Wednesday, in fact) I had never gotten my driver’s license.

That factoid usually elicited a range of reactions, running the gamut from shock to strident disbelief. And really, who wouldn’t react that way? According to a study from the Federal Highway Administration, 87 percent of eligible drivers were licensed in 2006, a staggering proportion that somehow fails to fully encapsulate the car-crazy culture of the average American. Perhaps it’s the antiquated romanticism of the “open road” that harks back to the mobility modus operandi that has been ingrained in the American psyche since the days of Manifest Destiny, or perhaps it’s because the nation’s largest transportation network was built to accommodate the quick movement of supplies in the event of a Soviet invasion. Regardless of the reason, most Americans live in a constant state of bona fide four-wheeled frenzy.

Then there’s the social stigma around being an unlicensed teen. If I had a nickel for every time I heard someone tell me I had to get a license because it’s a “rite of passage,” well, let’s just say I would be more fiscally comfortable with my decision to major in journalism. I didn’t know a single other person of legal driving age at my school that wasn’t licensed, and the vast majority of them had their own cars, to boot. This, despite the fact that fewer teens are driving now than they were two decades ago, according to a study from the University of Michigan.

I wish I could say that I refused to get my license out of some noble interest in the health of Mother Earth (I am from Flagstaff, after all) or that I didn’t want to support an automobile industry that was quickly running out of gas (pun very much intended), but the simple truth is that I was never that interested in driving. I got my permit, but let it expire after exactly one driving excursion (the most memorable portion of which was my sister yelling at me to flip off someone who had cut me off).

And yet there I was, fresh off two jaunts around my neighborhood (never exceeding 20 miles per hour) and ready to take my written and road test at the local MVD. Ready to be tested in all manners of horrors I had never faced before. The phrase “parallel parking” was enough to make me break into a cold sweat. I told myself over and over that I knew how to drive, there were plenty of defeated video game levels that stood as a testament to my abilities, even if I could count the number of times I’ve driven on a paved road on one hand. The written test was a breeze, most of driving is pretty logical anyway (except for the stuff about children’s car seats. I’m just going to have my kids in full-body restraints while in a car until they leave for college, just to be safe).

Then it was time for me to get behind the wheel. First up, parallel parking, a bridge you have to cross to even get the privilege of taking a road test. Fun fact: You automatically fail that portion of the test if you so much as nudge one of the orange pylons that encircle the testing area. I suppose it’s preparing you for the real world, except replace “fail that portion of the test” with “get sued into oblivion by someone who is very protective of their car.”

Then there was the actual test, which provided myriad milestones for me as a driver. For instance: stopping at a traffic light, leading into an intersection to make a left turn and going above 25 miles per hour. Needless to say, I passed, with the lone critique that I should relax behind the wheel a little bit more because I looked nervous. I wonder why…?

And thus did I finally complete my “rite of passage,” only six years, four months and 16 days after most seemed to think I should have. Now it’s time to celebrate the finishing touches on my ascension to manhood, to revel in my newfound freedom and heretofore unimaginable independence.

Uh … anybody want to give me a ride?

Three Men and an Album: A Joint Review of The Offspring’s “Days Go By”

June 22, 2012 1 comment

The Offspring’s new album, “Days Go By,” is set for wide release later this month, but was available in its entirety as a stream on Rolling Stone. So I decided to partner with the two biggest Offspring fans I know, Dave Ross and Daniel Suhr, to review each song and give general reactions to the album. Dan and I discussed the album via Skype, and Dave gave his thoughts a few days later, as he was globetrotting at the time.

Dan: Alright, first song, “The Future is Now.” Title has me intrigued, and so does the opening guitar riff. So far, win. I actually really like this one, it has all the elements of a good Offspring song: Dexter Holland’s high-flying vocals, simple guitar riffs, but not too simple, and a decent enough chorus hook.

Me: Agreed on all counts. It does bear mentioning, though, that it sounds more like a Rise Against song rather than an Offspring one.

Dan: I can see that, but it’s still close in sound to “Rise and Fall, Rage and Grace.”

Me: Fair point. But I think we agree, this is a strong song to get the album started.

Dan: Overall, good start to the album. Second song?

Me: Alright, “Secrets From the Underground.”

Dan: This song reminds me of the sadder Offspring songs, think “Gone Away,” but faster. Or “The Kids Aren’t Alright.”

Me: I’ll buy that. It had a nice chord progression that we normally see with those types of Offspring songs. The chorus is probably the best part of the song. Very powerful overlapping vocals, nice tempo.

Dan: Overall good. I think there’s a reason why you listen to albums a few times before making a final judgment.

Me: Honestly my only critique of the song is the slowed down portion at the end. It’s unnecessary, doesn’t add anything, and is kind of redundant since “The Future is Now” did the same thing.

Dan: Yes, very redudant, but you can’t get too upset about that. It’s pretty typical of bands. Taking it on its own, good song.

Me: Easily one of the strongest on the album, and one of their best in recent memory, by my reckoning.

Dan: Agreed. “Days Go By” now?

Me: What, you mean “Times Like These”?

Dan: Prototypical single song. Nothing very special honestly.

Me: It’s a prototypical Foo Fighters single.

Dan: A good radio song, yes, but exactly. Very Foo Fighters. The bridge guitar riff is pretty cool though!

Me: No surprise, that’s a good radio band right there. It’s kind of disappointing to see they chose this song as a single, especially given how strong the singles for “Rise and Fall, Rage and Grace” were. Well, except for the song-that-shall-not-be-named, of course.

Dan: OTHER than that, it’s nothing special but acceptable in my humble opinion.

Me: Acceptable is probably the best word to describe it. But what about the next song, “Turning Into You”?

Dan: I feel like we keep hearing the same song over and over, and it doesn’t help that the lyrics are pretty much like every single song of the same topic. “I’m trying to be me, but I’m turning into you”? Really? You’re better than this.

Me: Could not agree more. At best, it’s a worse version of “Secrets from the Underground,” and at worst it’s a reject straight off a Good Charlotte album.

Dan: You would think a band as old as the Offspring would be done with the identity crisis of adolescence.

Me: Young at heart, man.

Dan: That Ph.D. says otherwise…

Me: Dr. Young at heart, then.

Dan: Apparently. Next song, “Hurting as One.”

Me: Speaking of the crisis of adolescense…

Dan: This is much more Offspring-y. Much much better.

Me: I was actually pleasantly surprised. I thought from the title that it would be more of the uninspired same, but I liked it. It probably helps that it’s a much more acceptable 2:50, as opposed to how long some of the other songs have been.

Dan: Definitely helpful. But it reminds me a lot of “Conspiracy of One,” which is a fantastic album. And then we move to the abomination…

Me: Ugh, do we have to?

Dan: Yes. This song is just plain awful.

Me: OK, fine. I think, I THINK that they were trying to do something like “Hit That” and have a tongue-in-cheek parody of popular music at the time but, it’s just not funny enough for that.

Dan: A part of me wants to think that this is their way of making fun of the industry. When I first heard this song, I was hopeful it would be put into context. Maybe the whole album would be ironic and make fun of the state of music. But no. In the context of the album I can’t support that theory.

Me: “The girl with the gloss and the g-string just like floss”? Oh, come on.

Dan: It burnnnnssssssss.

Me: Oh, for the sake of the record, we’re talking about the album’s second single, “Cruising California (Bumpin’ in My Trunk).” It’s so bad I almost don’t want to see them on their next tour, just because they’ll play this song.

Dan: I will see them, and then I will boo them. Because that’s what they deserve for this piece of drivel.

Me: Hey, at least they’ll play songs off “Ignition” as an apology. OK, onto “All I Have Left is You.”

Dan: Is this “Beat It”? Oh, I guess not.

Me: I wish … Is it just me, or do half the titles of these songs sound like what an angsty middle-schooler would title his poetry?

Dan: Did someone hurt you Dexter? Someone hurt you.

Me: The Offspring just don’t do these types of songs well. Aside from “Gone Away,” of course.

Dan: Which is gold. GOLD. This … This is … I don’t really even know what this is. Not the Offspring I grew to love.

Me: It’s “Kristy Are You Doing Okay?” all over again. And that’s not a good thing. At all. Which means it will probably be the next single off the album.

Dan: At least that song you could sit through and then be excited for the next song.

Me: A good rule of thumb: If your song sounds like something that could accompany an episode-ending montage of “Grey’s Anatomy,” scrap it.

Dan: That is the best advice you could give any punk band ever. Well said.

Me: But is this truly a punk album? “OC Guns” would beg to differ.

Dan: On first listen, I remember this song being bad. On second listen … Same thought.

Me: The thing is, as far as reggae songs go, it’s pretty good. But I can’t take Dexter Holland seriously when he’s singing in Spanish.

Dan: The chorus is annoying. Tiki tiki tiki tiki what? WHY?

Me: It feels like I fell asleep and the CD switched over to some second-rate Sublime knockoff.

Dan: And he’s doing a pretty atrocious job of rolling his R’s. This, coming from a guy who can’t speak a phrase of Spanish after three years in high school Spanish.

Me: Someone get him a jar of peanut butter, stat! OK, now the money question, is this worse than “Cruising California”?

Dan: I think it is on par. They both disgust me in ways that music shouldn’t be allowed to.

Me: It’s like choosing between Katy Perry or that one awful ska band we saw here in Tucson. I choose neither.

Dan: Precisely, next song. FAN SERVICE. But’s fan service I appreciate. Updated “Dirty Magic”? Gold.

Me: A re-release to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the excellent “Ignition” album. It’s almost unfair to compare it to the rest of the album, so how do you think it compares to the original release?

Dan: I feel like it’s the way they would play it live, and the Offspring live is amazing. So I’ll take the updated version.

Me: But there is something charming about how cheap the original sounds. It makes you feel like they recorded it in someone’s garage.

Dan: Fair enough. I think some of the charm that comes with listening to the Offspring is how great some of their albums are, front to back. On its own, I’d take this version. But “Ignition” is a far superior album and anyone listening should just do that. Next song, “I Wanna Secret Family (With You),: is right back to the angsty songs which we complained about earlier.

Me: I feel like it is kind of self-aware though. I get the sense it’s not meant to be taken seriously.

Dan: Hmmm … Perhaps. I still don’t think it’s a very good song.

Me: Fair is fair.

Dan: “Dividing by Zero” sticks with old Offspring principles of punk, and thus is a great song.

Me: I agree on “Dividing by Zero.” It’s the best song on the album so far.

Dan: Absolutely. It almost makes up for how bad a few of the songs are, but we are reviewing an album. And the album is extremely disappointing.

Me: We’ll get to that in a second. But, last song. “Slim Pickens Does The Right Thing And Rides The Bomb To Hell.”

Dan: I read that the title was a reference to the Kubrick film “Dr. Strangelove.”

Me: That alone makes it awesome.

Dan: I agree. Again, the word acceptable comes to mind while I listen to the song.

Me: I think this is where we have to disagree. I loved this song.

Dan: It sticks out on this album, but only because most of the album isn’t very good. Or maybe I need to listen to it again…

Me: Maybe that’s it. But alright, let’s look at the album as a whole. To me, it’s like serving a bologna sandwich on really fine artisan bread. The first few songs and the last few songs are pretty good, but the stuff in the middle is pretty dang bad.

Dan: And that’s a nice way of putting it.

Me: Got to keep it PG, Dan.

Dan: My statement serves to fill the gap between my real feelings and PG. Context. If you skip the “OC Guns” and “Bumpin’ In My Trunk,” the album isn’t half bad. Not as good as previous albums, but definitely different in its own right. And that’s something you really want from bands.

Me: Especially if the band has been around as long as The Offspring.

Dan: Songs settle after you first listen and gain their own charm. I think that a few songs will do that. It’s disappointing only because Offspring albums tend to be good from start to finish.

Me: But that begs the question. this is their second consecutive album produced by Bob Rock. Is this album better or worse than “Rise and Fall, Rage and Grace”?

Dan: I would definitely say worse.

Me: I would agree, but I sometimes feel that we are in the minority of Offspring fans that enjoyed “Rise and Fall,” at least in portions. Maybe that album was such a drastic departure from older Offspring albums that it caught fans off guard and this one represents a continuation along that same path.

Dan: It’s not something all that surprising. Bands orient themselves toward more pop-rock as they get older (and more skilled, ironic if you want to take a swing at pop music). With that said, there’s still aspects of old Offspring which I love. Then there’s new Offspring which I think I need time to take in. If the future is “Bumpin’ in my Trunk,” I don’t want anything to do with it. If it’s cool pop culture references in the song title … that’s another story.

Me: On that, we are in full agreement. But let’s hit the rundown. What’s your favorite song on the album and why?

Dan: “Divide by Zero.” First, math. Second, because it’s similar to old Offspring, but just enough “new Offspring” to make me look forward to further releases.

Me: Agreed. It comes down to that or “Secrets from the Underground” for me. I don’t think we need to further expand on the worst song on the album, do we?

Dan: Virtual tie, in my mind. So no.

Me: They are both horrid, let’s leave it at that. But now the $20 (or however much albums cost these days) question: Is this the worst Offspring album ever?

Dan: Yes. But to be fair, that’s not a hard distinction to make considering the competition. I think that’s part that makes reviewing albums so difficult. You want to compare them to previous releases (which is the reason why you might be a fan in the first place). I think that the album is reachable to NEW fans, which will then lead them to their old albums. As an older fan, I would say that I can listen to all the other albums over and over that I don’t need new releases. Though, at least there are a few songs on the album that I can add to list of great Offspring works.

Me: If this album draws new fans to the older works of The Offspring, then I think it’s a worthwhile release. I also don’t mind them experimenting and trying new genres, since that’s been a staple of theirs for awhile. Honestly, I think that if this was just a carbon copy of “Rise and Fall, Rage and Grace” I probably would have enjoyed it more as an album, but been more disappointed by it, if that makes any sense.

Dan: I know what you mean. You want bands to experiment. Getting the same music over and over is no way to be a great band.

Me: Agreed. We don’t need any Tim Burton bands.

Dan: No thank you.

Me: Last question, and probably the most important: Should people buy this album?

Dan: Always support bands that have had a history of good music. It keeps them going. This album might not be the best to own a physical copy for the kids, but that’s why we have the online option, right?

Me: I will gladly buy it, as I’ve bought every other Offspring album, as a sign of respect for one of the most influential, and best, punk bands ever.

Dan: Good man.

And now for Dave’s take:

 So, here’s my take on the album. I tend to organize my thoughts better in list form, so here we go:

On the album as a whole:

The Bad 

  • Comparing it to older Offspring albums, I give it a 7/10. My favorite being Americana (10/10) followed by Ixnay (9/10). My least favorite has to be Splinter (5/10).
  • Only 9 songs? Hmm….
  • Sort of seems like they’re straying more and more from their Smash roots. They seem to have lost a lot of their edginess, which made me a big fan in the first place.
  • Cruising California”… #smh
  • Dexter’s voice has some miles on it. Can’t blame him though.

The Good 

  • Overall, a very chill addition to their collection.
  • In comparison to their previous albums, it’s kind of refreshing in a way.
  • Better than “Rise and Fall,” mostly because less is more.
  • Pete Parada does some nice things on drums.
  • All I Have Left Is You” would be an OK song if it wasn’t by The Offspring.

Song Analysis:

The Future Is Now – Rise Against? Yet not finished I feel … But still good. 8/10

Secrets From The Underground – Very cool song with great beat. Edgy. 9/10

Days Go By – Chill song, yet shows the aging of the band both in lyrics and delivery. 8/10

Turning Into You – Kind of high schoolish. Not bad, not terribly great. 5/10

Hurting As One – A nice old school feel. Enjoyed it a lot. 8/10

Cruising California – Their traditional fun/goofy song off the album. Bit too fun for me. 5/10

All I Have Left Is You – Chill yet sappy song. Very un-Offspring-ish though. 6/10

OC Guns – Huh? Not for me, sorry. 4/10

Dirty Magic – An interesting mix of previous songs, yet I can’t quite point out which ones. Despite this, it’s a welcome case of déjà vu. 7/10

Overall:

  • They’re getting old. Get over it.
  • Strange feel, but pretty decent.
  • Solid addition to any collection. Yes, buy it. 

Choose Your Own Adventure: “Chernobyl Diaries”

In honor of the latest shaky cam schlock I subjected myself to, I decided to switch up the review format for this one. Let me know what you think.

WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS TO FOLLOW. 

ADDENDUM TO WARNING: THERE ARE NO SPOILERS IF YOU’VE EVER SEEN ANY HORROR MOVIE EVER. EVER.

Scene: Three starry-eyed youngsters, a man, his girlfriend and a newly single girl, are taking a trip across Europe. You play the role of the man. You and your companions are travelling to meet your brother in Kiev. Do you:

A. Meet up with your brother for a few days before going your separate ways.
B. Decide to call him instead of visit and bypass Kiev altogether.
C. Wonder aloud how you can afford this trip.
D. Hang out with your brother and risk his ill nature clouding the judgment of your companions.
(You choose D.)

You find yourself in a cafe trying to cure a hangover from the previous night. You are perturbed at the fact that the waitress doesn’t speak English despite the fact that you’re in, you know, Kiev. Your brother enters the cafe late and attempts to convince you and your companions to go on an “extreme” visit to Chernobyl instead of your planned trip to Moscow. You remember that, just the night before, you had told your brother that you planned on proposing to your girlfriend in Moscow. Do you:

A. Agree to go along and propose to your girlfriend in Chernobyl. Nothing says romance like an abandoned nuclear disaster site.
B. Ask to speak to your brother alone and appeal to his good nature to get him to drop the idea.
C. Continue to sulk about the lack of English-speaking help.
D. Allow your brother to hold a vote, straight out of third grade, and leave the choice up to your easily manipulated companions.
(You choose D.)
 

Your brother introduces you to the tour guide, Yuri, a gregarious fellow of Eastern European origin. He tells you that this tour is “particularly popular” and is excited to take you. Two other people, a vacationing couple, show up to join the tour. This is your last chance to turn back. Do you:

A. Make one final appeal to your companions that visiting an abandoned nuclear site may not be as fun as they think.
B. Scold your brother for Shanghaiing your plans to propose to your girlfriend.

C. Begrudgingly go along with their plans.
D. Be overjoyed that Yuri speaks English.
(You choose B.)

Don’t you get it? He’s the prototypical horror movie jerk. He laughs at you.
(You choose both C. and D.)

You and your companions arrive in Pripyat, a town outside of Chernobyl. The town is locked down with military personnel and Yuri is unable to convince them to let you through as the area is closed for “maintenance.” Do you:

A. Take this as a sign that you should forego your trip.
B. Attempt to bribe the guards. Since you’re American, you think every foreign official is corrupt.
C. Allow Yuri to take you his “secret way.”
D. Propose to your girlfriend. Nothing is more romantic than being rejected at a military checkpoint.
(After carefully considering B., you choose C.)

You, your companions and Yuri travel a back road into Pripyat. You explore for a bit, eventually entering a house. Suddenly you hear a sound in another room and Yuri goes to investigate. Without warning, you see a shadow lumbering toward you! Is it:

A. A wolf.
B. A mutant.
C. A zombie.
D. A bear.
(The answer is D. Seriously. And this is never explained.)

You get back to the van and, wouldn’t ya know it, it won’t start. Yuri says it will be dark soon. Do you:

A. Start walking toward the guard checkpoint immediately so as to avoid the impending darkness.
B. Endeavor to fix the van before nightfall.
C. Propose to your girlfriend. Nothing is more romantic than being in a dark van filled with people you barely know.
D. Wait until dark before making your decision.
(Feeling a sense of dread, you carefully weigh C. So carefully, in fact, that you end up choosing D. by default)

Yuri, who apparently has hearing like a Doberman, hears a noise out in the darkness. He takes a gun out of the glove box and goes to investigate. Do you:

A. Be shocked at the fact that he has a gun, despite the fact that it makes perfect sense for someone in his profession.
B. Wait patiently in the van for him to return. The enormous Eastern European man can handle himself, after all.
C. Propose to your girlfriend. Nothing is more romantic than … ah, forget it.
D. Follow him irrationally into the darkness because … why not?
(After choosing A. you decide to go with D.) 

Ack! You get mauled offscreen by a pack of raging and radioactive dogs! Yuri disappears into the darkness as your brother drags you back to the van. After a “tense” night, your brother, the girl and the couple decide to look for help the following morning and leave you and your girlfriend in the van. Because your leg is mangled, you cannot follow. What do you do?

A. Defy conventions and follow them anyway.
B. Let your companions go and trust them to come back for you.
C. Propose to your girlfriend. Nothing says romance like being alone in a dark van surrounded by raging forest creatures.
D. Despair.
(You choose A.)

Seriously, man. Your leg is messed up.
(You choose C.)

Cute. But no.
(You choose D.)

Probably the best course of action, but still no.
(You begrudgingly choose B.)

The perspective now shifts to your brother, since you are trapped in a van. 

You, the girl you just met but still wanted to hit on, and the couple you just met but didn’t want to hit on stumble into the daylight to look for help. After a while, you come across a parking lot filled with cars. Do you:

A. Look for the missing part of your van in hopes of getting it running again.
B. Try to roll start the cars so you can drive back.
C. Make ill-time Ferris Bueller jokes.
D. Jump scare!
(You choose D.)

Ooh! Scary.
(You choose A.)

Eureka! You find exactly the component you need. You head back, filled with the hope that you can finally make up for all of your years of sub-par fraternity. But egad! You arrive to find the van flipped over and nary a sight of your brother or his girlfriend. Do you:

A. Wait by the van so they can find you if they happen to come back.
B. Run around willy-nilly and scream shrilly into the night.
C. Keep your head and conduct a calm search of the surrounding area.
D. Propose to the random girl. At this rate you may not have much longer to get married.
(You choose B.)

You enter a dark, decrepit building and look around. You eventually come across your brother’s girlfriend, who is hysterical. There is no sign of your brother anywhere. What do you do?

A. Accept the obvious and mourn your brother.
B. Comfort his girlfriend, since she is obviously shaken.
C. Calmly stomach the situation and seek a way out of Chernobyl before anyone else gets hurt.
D. Run around willy-nilly and scream shrilly into the night.
(You choose D.)

As the night drags on, you continually get attacked by increasingly inconsistent zombies. Every one of your companions dies until it is just you and the girl you barely know. The Geiger counter Yuri gave you starts to go off, signifying dangerous levels of radiation. Do you:

A. Turn back and try to find a less dangerous way.
B. Push on regardless of the consequences.
C. Check to see why the counter only goes off when it’s dramatically convenient.
D. Look for a safe place to fortify yourself and make your last stand.
(You know nothing about Geiger counters, so you choose B.)

Ouch, the radiation is really starting to hurt.
(Still B.)

Your face is literally starting to smoke.
(La la la, can’t hear you, la la la.)

Salvation! Even in your radiation-blinded state, you see the shapes of members of the Ukrainian military. You plead for them to help you, but they shout at you in a strange language. What do you do?

A. Since you speak Ukrainian, you understand that they are telling you not to come any closer and comply.
B. You push on regardless of what they’re saying because … that makes sense.
C. You propose to the girl you barely know. Nothing says romance like radiation blindness.
D. You speak back at them in Ukrainian and explain what happened to you.
(You choose B. They open fire. Since you are dead, the perspective switches to the girl.)

You find yourself being whisked away on a gurney through a hospital. The doctors, who speak English, tell you that they will take care of you, before switching back to speaking Ukrainian. What do you do?

A. Question why they are switching languages. What are they hiding?
B. Just go with it. Whatever they have in store for you, it’s better than zombies.
C. Wonder why they didn’t shoot you when they had no qualms about shooting that other guy.
D. Ask why, dear god why, this movie isn’t over yet.
(Since option D. would shatter the fourth wall, you pick option B.)

Oh no! They’ve thrown you into a darkened room that is filled with zombies.

Bonus question! What was the worst part about this movie?
A. The pacing.
B. The lack of character development.
C. How horribly clichéd it was.
D. The overly xenophobic tone of the characters.
E. The fact that it cost almost $20 to see it.
F. The fact that it was still probably better than half of the other movies that are out right now.
G. All of the above.
(I answer G. A thousand times G.)

Categories: Movie Reviews

Review: Tim Burton’s “The Nightmare Before Dark Shadows”

I have spent the better part of the past fortnight railing against the utter lack of creativity in Tim Burton’s most recent films. I even posted several videos parodying the fact that Burton seems satisfied to plagiarize his older work in order to churn out the next in a line of increasingly disappointing releases. Things got so bad that I began to bear Burton a level of video vitriol that I normally reserve for such schlockmeisters as Roland Emmerich or Michael Bay. OK, it wasn’t that bad, but still.

I’m not entirely sure when I turned my back on Burton. After all, I can say without the slightest hint of sarcasm that he was the creative force behind several of my most favorite movies. “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” is, of course, a classic. His “Batman” is one of the best comic book movies of all time, and easily the second-best movie depiction of the Caped Crusader (if you don’t know what the best one is, you are missing out. Big time.) “Ed Wood” is one of my all-time favorites, and, though I don’t count them as favorites per se, I thoroughly enjoyed “Big Fish” and “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.”

Then this happened.

Pictured: Average.

Followed closely by this.

Pictured: AHHHHHHHHHHHHH!

As time went on, it appeared that Burton was allowing himself to be M. Night Shyamalan’d by public opinion. Much as M. Night fell into the habit of always making his films have a twist (since that was the popular perception of what kind of filmmaker he was) Burton has allowed himself to become a parody, someone so interested with bringing the darker aspects of light-hearted tales to the forefront that he’s forgotten what made some of his work so special. Now it’s nothing but Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter co-headlining a never-ending march of mediocrity.

Which brings us to “Dark Shadows” and, whew boy, this one hurt. This is easily Burton’s weakest film, and one of the most unenjoyable experiences I have ever had at the movies. Even my mom, who likes everything, turned to me when the film ended and said, “That was awful.”* It’s every bad aspect of Burton’s work rolled into a two-hour odious opus that overstays its welcome by … about two hours.

The performances are what makes the film virtually unwatchable. I haven’t seen this much overacting since my last high school drama camp. Every other line someone is wheeling dramatically away to deliver a line, usually one that doesn’t justify such heavy blocking.

The movie also suffers from an inability to properly distill its original episodic format. Plot points are introduced and then promptly dropped. Characters either do things without proper motivation, or react disproportionately to the events surrounding them. In short, it’s horribly directed, which I should have expected.

Bonham Carter’s performance is particularly necessary to single out because of how pointless her character is. Seriously, she does nothing aside from drink (get it? It’s funny because she drinks too much!) and participate in an erroneous, and quickly resolved, subplot. Oh, and she appears at the very end for an equally erroneous “shocking” end. How very fitting.

Depp, too, has allowed himself to become nothing more than a series of caricatures. He’s no longer an actor, not by his own standards set in “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” “Ed Wood,” or “Secret Window,” anyway. He’s the equivalent of a community college student doing character creation exercises. If he’s not Captain Jack Sparrow, he’s … a character in a Tim Burton movie. It’s truly disappointing to see someone who is obviously so dramatically gifted fall into such a relentless and joyless rut. He chews scenery so thoroughly you would think he just came from a seminar on proper table manners. His mannerisms are so completely over exaggerated it’s like … he’s in a Tim Burton movie. Well, walked right into that one.

And while we’re on the subject of Depp, let’s take the opportunity to send a message to all filmmakers: The whole “he’s from the past and knows nothing about modern technology … I smell shenanigans!” plot device isn’t funny. It needs to stop. Like now. I’ll wait.

(A short time later)  

The best word to describe this film is joyless. It falls into the unfortunate rift where it isn’t campy enough to be enjoyable, but the source material isn’t strong enough to justify how serious the film takes itself. Overacting is overabundant and the film as a whole takes an unnecessarily overwrought tone and tries to be an enduring love story fraught with the cliche “what makes a man and what makes a monster” plot. And, in doing do, it fails by every conceivable standard of entertainment.

If you’re curious about the subject matter at all, do yourself a favor and just watch the original television series on Netflix. I caught a few episodes immediately after this drivel and was pleasantly surprised. I recommend giving it a watch.

Preview Review

And now a new addition: a recap of some of the trailers that preceded the film. Needless to say, with the extraordinary exception of “Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter,” they range from average to awful. Of course there was the obligatory barrage of upcoming Burton works, featuring both the aforementioned adage to awesome Abe and the painful-looking “Frankenweenie.” Come to think of it, what was the last good animated film Burton had a hand in making?

There was also Ben Affleck’s new film, “Argo” which tells a story of trying to rescue some American refugees during the Iranian Hostage Crisis. It looks like it could be interesting, especially after Affleck’s last directorial work (“The Town”) was surprisingly strong. Of course, it will probably fall into the ever-common trap of misrepresenting the complexity of the Iranian Revolution and making it a matter of “Iranians bad, bad Iranians kill good Americans, must save good Americans” but it might be interesting. Here’s the trailer if you’re interested.

*Note: I only put this in specifically because she asked me not to. What can I say? I’m a contrarian.  

Categories: Movie Reviews

Archives fully updated

After a long and arduous process of thinking, linking, rethinking and drinking … lots of coffee, I now have links up for every article I have ever had published at the Arizona Daily StarArizona Daily Wildcat and the Tombstone Epitaph. My articles from the Star also have their PDF versions uploaded, which I hope to do for the Epitaph ones soon. I also have fixed the weird formatting on my Wildcat page, which has been a problem since I launched the site.

I will be tinkering throughout the next couple of days to revamp the look of the site. Please feel free to give me feedback on how I can make it more visually appealing and easier to use. If you happen to notice any links that are broken or not accurate, shoot me a message via email or on Twitter.

Categories: Uncategorized
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