Friday, October 31, 2014

Theme Park Thoughts: Halloween Horror Nights 24

Blizz is back, and he has recently returned from his October tradition of attending Universal Orlando’s Halloween Horror Nights! He sent me his review of the event to post here, just in time for All Hallows Eve.  Enjoy!

by Blizz
Originally written: October 21, 2014

Well, I’ve now made it to Halloween Horror Nights for my tenth consecutive year, in spite of the fact that terrible airfares forced me to travel with Spirit Airlines, the only airline I know of that probably considers cabin pressurization worthy of an up charge.  Regardless, HHN is back for its 24th year, and it brings a good mix of properties and original material with it.

So how did it all turn it out? Let’s delve right in.


I won’t spend too much time here, because frankly 95% of people reading this won’t care too much, but I feel like a few things need to be mentioned.
The event has reached a tipping point where it has gone from “busy” into “Gameday at the Swamp”.  Worse, this is like a horrifying, Twilight Zone version of Gameday, where no one can afford to be properly intoxicated!  Over the last few years, HHN has begun to get too popular for its own good, to the point where the queue for every house is 75+ minutes from 8 PM onward. 

Crowding’s effects are felt most prominently in the streets, however.  The back of the park is crowded, but the streets from the entrance back to The Mummy in New York are worse than fricking I-4.  Everyone’s cramped together – which is annoying by itself – but it makes it nearly impossible for any atmosphere to be established.  Set pieces and theming are routinely placed off to the side, so as to provide as little impedance to foot traffic as possible.  Of course, this leaves the actors without much to hide behind besides the other guests, leading to reduced street scares.

While you can’t exactly fault corporate for boosting the popularity of their product, but you can blame them if the quality of the product continues to drop as a result, and nothing is done to fix it.  If the number one thing that guests start taking away is that they waited in line all night and got to do only half of what they desired, popularity will drop.

HHN has to go to two parks, and soon.  This has only been attempted once before, but now with increased revenue and experience, Universal is in much better position to pull it off properly.  While the vast majority of the good house locations would likely still be located in Universal, another two houses could easily be added.  The extra rides, as well, would thin lines out further.  There would be extra dead space, but the scarezones that are present would be able to thrive with the reduced crowd-flow.

As a final unrelated note, I’d just like to point out how lazy it seems to me that Universal couldn’t even think up a tagline for this year.  I know we’ve kind of reached a point where a theme, icon, or any kind of interconnectivity of the haunts is forgotten, but how hard would it be to think up something – anything – to tack on to “HHN 24” to remember it by?  I think it’s the first year they’ve ever done this, though I’m sure I’m the only one who’s concerned about it.



Thank God, scarezones are back.  No one – no one – can look me in the eye and tell me that they liked hearing the theme music for The Walking Dead playing on loop for 8 hours last year, as they ventured through an endless montage of photo-ops.  Though none are spectacular, this return to what works is a big plus for this year, and it gives us the best street experience since 2011.

MASKerade: Unstitched
This zone takes guests through a creepy, everlasting masquerade ball, where the dancers – still stuck in a surreal dance – have long-since begun to rot away.  It yields some of my favorite costumes of the entire event – most of the dancers have either crudely stitched their skin back into place, or they’ve made their ball room masks out of the more youthful faces of unfortunate interlopers.  The set pieces could use some work – I like massive candles with the blank human expressions melted into the wax, but is that really it for this zone?  Perhaps Universal doesn’t want to drop in too many obstacles in this high traffic street (which is a direct funnel to all four soundstage haunts).  If that’s the case, however, then I’d rather they just move zones like this to nearby streets where they can be fully realized, even if it forces guests to travel a little out of their way to see them.  In spite of their disadvantages, the actors do bring just enough energy to keep this one interesting.

Atmosfear:  C+              Characters:  A                Design:  C                        Intensity:  B-

Face Off: In the Flesh   *Zone of the Year*
This is based off the SyFy reality TV show, not the movie where Nicholas Cage and John Travolta wear each others faces for two hours (unfortunately…).  The TV show is basically a horror make-up artist competition, and the zone showcases a lot of the better creations.  I was frankly worried this would end up being a photo-op zone, but luckily I’d liken this more to 7 from 2011.  The most impressive creations stand atop pedestals, generating a lot of interest and pictures.  Their minions, however, weave in and out of the crowd, attacking anyone who distracted by the main attractions on the pedestals.  Much to my own bewilderment, it’s the most all-around solid zone this year, and gets the nod for Zone of the Year.

Atmosfear:  B                 Characters:  A                Design:  B                         Intensity:  B

The Purge: Anarchy
This property is a great fit for the New York area.  Most of the movie takes place in a metropolis in complete uproar during “The Purge,” so by tossing this zone where they did, Universal already had half their work completed.  I love that this zone seems to take on a life of its own – there always seems to be something going on, whether it be chainsaw gang, the moving vans that drop hordes off in one area or another, or just the violence going on on top of the bus set piece.  It’s also massive, expanding across the entirety of the New York area.  Crowds can suffocate this area at times, which often makes it hard to see a lot of the actors in motion.  There’s an actor in a wheelchair in this zone that combats this issue by simply bulling through crowds, which is easily my favorite thing to watch here.

Atmosfear:  B+               Characters:  C+              Design:  C                        Intensity:  B

Bayou of Blood
If you’re looking for the zone with the best atmosphere this year, this is it.  This is to be expected – whatever zone is located in the Central Park area usually takes the cake in this category.  This area has long been known for the awesome jack-o-lanterns hanging from the trees; this year the trees are lit with candles, and the street flooded with fog and characters that look like they’re right out of American Horror Story.  The Voodoo cabin near Mel’s Drive In is beautiful to look at, but a little wasted now that human sacrifices are no longer performed there.  Unfortunately, the actors here seem to have a lot more bark than bite; of all the zones, this is the one where intensity seems to be lacking most egregiously.

Atmosfear:  A                Characters:  B                Design:  C+                      Intensity:  C-


From Dusk ‘Till Dawn
From Dusk ‘till Dawn was the loose inspiration for my first ever HHN house, Demon Cantina, so needless to say I was pretty interested in this one.  The house is based on the TV show, but that frankly doesn’t matter, because the show follows the plot of the movie very closely.  The house takes you through the “Twister” – a biker bar in Mexico where the female entertainment is a clandestine horde of vampires.  Guests will enter past a group of private dances gone horribly gory; from there, the journey is into the Mexican temple where this vampire cult is based, and then finally back into the bar to exit past the designated Selma Hayek look-alike.  If you haven’t put this together yet, the distraction tactics used here are clearly geared towards one gender.  Even if this “scenery” isn’t to your liking, the cast seems to have a lot of fun with their roles, and in both of my runs through I’ve come away with a jump or two.  The sets are adequate, but not anything to write home about. Come on Universal – you can’t look me in the eye and tell me you thought hanging Toys-R-Us plastic snakes from the ceiling would really up the production value here.  It’s by no definition a must-hit, but I still find it to be one of the more consistently fun houses this year.

Story:  C+                         Atmosfear:  C+              Set Design:  B                 Intensity:  B

The Walking Dead: End of the Line
Walking Dead is back. Again. And though I’ve maintained that both of the previous installments got a lot more flak than they really deserved, I have to admit even I’m pretty annoyed at this point with Universal’s insistence that this property be shoved down our throat. This newest installment follows Season 4, and takes us from the prison in the middle of an outbreak all the way to Terminus, with every half-way notable episode you can think of in between.  TWD: End of the Line brings some appealing aspects to the table – it boasts an entire soundstage to work with, making it the largest house ever made at HHN, roughly double the size of some of the other haunts. The cast, as well, seems quite active; though ironically, they are once again forced to break character to do so.  There’s nothing I can point out about this house that is really half-bad, aside from that moment where crummy robotic zombies slowly roll forward on rails.  The biggest problem here is that TWD 3 really does nothing to differentiate itself from its predecessors.  None of the scenes are especially memorable, and a few (like the convenience store) could be cut.  Here’s the bottom line: if you missed the last two years of TWD houses, make time for this one; but if you’ve seen this before, you can probably spare yourself the longest line in the park.

Story:  D+                         Atmosfear:  C+                 Set Design:  C+              Intensity:  C+

AVP: Alien vs. Predator     *Honorable Mention*
Universal almost wrecked two fantastic properties by bringing them together in a house named for a crossover fuck-up of Freddy vs. Jason proportions. Instead, Universal basically came out and said “We’re sorry, we’d sooner make Twilight: The Maze than recreate Sanaa Lathan and a Predator riding a freight cart to the Antarctic surface together.” So they made up their own Xenomorph-experimentation facility that allowed them to use notable moments from both franchises that people actually enjoy.  A+ on that one, Universal.  This house is just a ton of fun for me – where else can you scream classic Bill Paxton lines in context?  You’ve got to love the military squad’s gunfire, which gives the house a great, chaotic vibe that makes it hard to focus on the more threatening actors.  The house does lose some points from having very few recognizable scenes – while solid sets, there’s nothing here that really screams “Alien” or “Predator” outside of the creatures themselves.  Still, the layout allows very little personal space, including a finale that forces guests to crouch through an alien-infested tunnel to escape.  The face-humpers are pretty laughable, and the actual alien puppets are often a little easy to see coming.  While quite intimidating, they aren’t quite on the level of sheer badassery showcased by their predecessors in last year’s American Werewolf. They are, however, very effective distractions for the 6’5” predators that lie in wait nearby.  The Preds are really what make or break the house, because if you don’t see them coming you’re probably in for one of your bigger scares of the evening.  If only for that reason, this one cannot afford to be skipped.

Story:  B+                         Atmosfear:  B-               Set Design: A-                Intensity:  A

Dracula Untold: Reign of Blood 
For years, someone in corporate has been just addicted to the idea that promoting a new, sub-par horror movie with a haunted house is a great way to get asses in the theater. I’d love to see some statistics on how effective that is, but I digress. Roughly 95% of guests have not seen this movie, and consequently, I can’t imagine it’s high on anyone’s must-do list.  Still, Dracula was a pleasant surprise.  In the midst of a down year in terms of set quality, Dracula really shines, providing the year’s most beautiful sets along the way.  Two scenes that really shine with authenticity to me are the trip to the top of the wall in Dracula’s castle and the journey through the smoldering countryside, littered with invading Turks.  Though the house doesn’t provide a lot of tricks and misdirection to disguise the actors, the cast seems active enough to keep Dracula at least respectable in the scares department. It’s a middle-of-the-road house this year, with the upside of usually being the soundstage house with the least intimidating line.

Story:  C                           Atmosfear:  A+              Set Design:  C+              Intensity:  C 

Giggles & Gore, Inc.
Giggles & Gore had a concept I was into from the start.  A manufacturing facility where the kidnapped are being stuffed into the husks of clowns, having their voice boxes replaced so they can only cackle?  Let’s be honest: that’s genuinely horrifying, not to mention pretty original – two things Universal hasn’t had exactly had in spades over the last few years.  The house gets off to a great start too – I loved the guy in the first room, with his eyes pinned open (a la Clockwork Orange) being forced to watch Woody Woodpecker on loop.  Unfortunately, despite its promise and a strong start, I consider G&G to be one of the weaker houses this year due to its want of focus and lackluster finish. The house steadily loses its “manufacturing” aspect after its midway point and looks more and more like a generic clown house by its conclusion.  The sets, likewise, become less interesting, and eventually by the end seem to be just empty hallways with boo-holes sitting in plain sight.  It’s by no means a truly bad house, but this is a year with a pretty high floor, and G&G is right near it.

Story:  B-                          Atmosfear:  C                 Set Design:  C-               Intensity:  C+

Halloween     *Co-House of the Year*
If creepy and detailed atmosphere is your thing, just keep walking – Halloween doesn’t give much of a damn about these subtle nuances.  This house only knows how to attack repeatedly, and without mercy.  The sets here are among the event’s most basic and uninspiring.  Granted, the movie takes place in a house, so it’s not exactly providing a lot of rich visual scenes to draw from, but even so, it really feels like HHN forgot to fill in a hell of a lot of blanks.  Now, while I said these sets were simple, I did not say they were ineffective.  In fact, Halloween puts on a clinic of effective set design, overwhelming guests with misdirection, ambient noise, and clever hiding locations for the cast. A great example of this is the winding hallway of hanging linens, where every individual closet door rattles as if an actor stands right behind it. Only about two or three hold an actual Michael Myers.  The cast is bar-none the best at Horror Nights this year. None of their appearances are half-assed – if they’re there, they’re coming full throttle, with a booming sound-effect to maximize the effect.  It’s one of, if not the, house to see this year.  Can’t miss.

Story:  B-                          Atmosfear:  C                 Set Design:  A+              Intensity:  A+

Dollhouse of the Damned     *Co-House of the Year*
If you’re the type of person who likes houses to be on the creepier side, Dollhouse is for you.  The collection of dolls, dummies, and mortifying over-sized babies leaves the house with a truly twisted feel untapped by Horror Nights since a personal favorite of mine – Scary Tales III – stole the show in 2008.  Even the audio in here is creepy – how about the dissection room, where you can hear a little kid asking if you “want to play doctor”? The attention to detail in here is fantastic – Dollhouse is stuffed to the brim with creepy artifacts, strobes, mirrors, and actor look-alikes, creating a cramped layout that makes it almost impossible to feel comfortable in your own space. The actors are full of energy and are more than capable of delivering jump scares; however, I will say that the “child” theme of the house led Universal to cast smaller actors in a lot of roles here, which means the characters aren’t nearly as intimidating as their counterparts in AVP or Halloween.  I’m also a pretty dubious of Universal’s original story that this house is supposed to be a decaying morgue taken over by a twisted little girl, as there seems to be no evidence to support this anywhere.  Still, it’s hard to find anything here to complain about too much.  Do not leave without seeing.

Story:  B                           Atmosfear:  A+              Set Design:  A                Intensity:  A

Roanoke: Cannibal Colony 
Roanoke leaves me with a lot of mixed emotions.  The concept of taking the lost colony of Roanoke and re-writing history to provide a reason for the disappearance of the colonists – starvation and eventual cannibalism – was certainly original and makes this one of the more interesting houses of the year to walk through.  In practice, however, there are a few drawbacks.  It’s not always easy to take the colonists seriously, especially when the house gives them awkward lines like “Beware the wendigo spirits!”  The house lacks any tangible intensity, and goes down much better if you’re looking for a “fun” house that isn’t necessarily scary.  My mixed feelings extend to the look of the house as well: the sets are quite good and give the house a very authentic feel, but they lack variety, and it’s often hard to distinguish any one scene from another in hindsight. Actually, the first time I went through here the only thing I could remember was bent wood and animal pelts.  The house doesn’t exactly work wonders at keeping the actors in your space.  But it does have a few creative hiding spots for them, including under a pile of severed legs and arms conspicuously sitting by a doorway.  Roanoke’s conclusion – complete with a two-story set and 12-foot, stilt walking Wendigos – is one of the year’s more effective finales.  In sum, it’s a very enjoyable mid-tier house if you go in with the right expectations.

Story:  B                           Atmosfear:  B-               Set Design:  B-               Intensity:  C


Halloween Horror Nights 24 does a lot of things well. The return of scarezones is a return to form for an event that has struggled with a repetitive and lackluster street experiences the last two years.  The quality of the houses is very evenly distributed this year, pretty much ensuring you won’t catch anything truly disappointing.  However, the “wow” factor is a little hard to come by this year – I find a lot of the houses to be very good, but there’s not one I can point to that really knocked me flat.  The overall quality of the sets seems like it took a step backwards this year too, with the exception of Dollhouse and Dracula.  I will say that I found myself more on edge in most of the houses than I usually do – and a lot of that has to do with the fact sprawling, wide sets have been abandoned this year.

I had more fun at this year’s HHN than I’ve had in years.  As always, it has my recommendation.  Still, from an objective point of view, I wouldn’t list it as one of the best in the last ten years.  It’s a solid year all around, but considering the lack of truly memorable houses or zones (or even a tagline), this might be a year we struggle to remember more than most.

Overall Grade:  B-

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Last of Us: What It Costs To Become...

 by XdarksparkX
Originally written: July 27, 2014

The Last of Us was my 2013 Game of The Year.  I knew that before the year was over. It had that title locked down mere minutes after I pressed the Start button on the controller.  Naughty Dog impressed me and got my attention with the way they brought a cinematic flair to the Uncharted trilogy, but they made me fall in love with The Last of Us.  As of this writing, I am working on my third play-through of the game on my PlayStation 3, with the intention of having many more in the future, especially when I finally have the means to get the Remastered edition for my PlayStation 4.  For my money, The Last of Us may just be the most emotionally-engaging story the video game industry has ever seen.  If you own a PlayStation 3 or PlayStation 4, do yourself a favor and pick this game up.  If you can’t procure either of these systems, I highly recommend watching a full play-through on YouTube.  This game is an experience not to be missed.

Of course, with such a superbly crafted narrative and meaty, three-dimensional characters, everyone and their mother wrote or posted editorials and opinion pieces on the symbolism and themes of the story.  One article in particular that caught my attention last year was from the gaming site Polygon, for the rather pessimistic outlook the two writers had on the games protagonist, Joel.

So what I’m going to do in part with this write up is just offer contrasting thoughts to certain pieces presented within this editorial, which will help me concentrate my thoughts on the story.  I’m also doing it this way because both parties in the piece seemed to be on the same page, and there really didn’t seem to be a yang to the yin.


The setup for The Last of Us is fairly simple for most to grasp quickly in todays pop-culture climate thats infested by The Walking Dead phenomenon.  In 2013, a mutation of the fungus Ophiocordyceps unilateralis has granted it the capability to infect humans. Its means of sustaining itself is to find a host, overtake said host, hijack their motor functions and force them to a prime space in which to complete its growth. When it reaches its mature state killing the host in the process it will release its spores to begin the process anew.

Im not going to pretend that this setup is revolutionary, the whole mass amount of people succumbing to a epidemic that turns them into uncompromising creatures of destruction, leading us to a narrative that fits to be an essay on the human condition of those who survive schtick, but I will say that at least this very different origin fits to make the aesthetic of the infected far more unique and frightening when a shadow is cast in a dark and lifeless ruin of our world that looks just as much alien as it does human.  

The world beyond the walls of the Quarantine Zones is filled with nightmarish creatures wandering aimlessly about a horrific ruin, searching for a sense of purpose
...there's also those who were infected by the Cordyceps...

The Cordyceps outbreak ravages the human population, plunging the world into a desolate societal wasteland. Vegetation reclaims buildings once considered the hubs of commerce, overgrowth turning our once proudest monuments into mere ruins of a forgotten world...

A man named Joel (portrayed flawlessly by Troy Baker) finds himself caught amidst the chaos of the zero hour of the outbreak in Austin, TX with his daughter Sarah and brother Tommy.  It is this opening that first grips the player into realizing that The Last of Us is a story-driven game unlike anything weve seen before in video games. In a very clever stroke of narrative genius, you play the prologue partially from the perspective of Sarah, as shes awakened in the middle of the night by her uncle calling the house and frantically telling her to get her father on the phone. Everything that descends from this moment in time feels gritty, authentic, and horrifyingly real. The Zero Hour Prologue probably connects so deep because its so damn honest. The entire thing: from the little bits of the escalating chaos you see (police cars flying by Joel and Sarahs house with their sirens blaring; massive traffic jams as people attempt a midnight exodus out of the area), to the big set-piece moments (panicked citizens getting into car accidents), to the motion captured performances feel completely genuine. It fits to connect me directly to the characters and their plight because the controller resting in my hand makes me feel a weight of responsibility towards them.  This feeling only fits to completely gut-check you when tragedy inevitably strikes our fleeing family through no control of our own, setting the mood and emotional core for the entire experience.

You have no idea what loss is...

20 years later, Joel has taken up residence in a quarantine zone in Boston. He and his smuggling partner Tess set off to track down a stolen shipment of firearms. They come to find that it was taken by Robert, a supposed confidant of theirs. When they corner him, they discover that he sold their weapons cache to a woman named Marlene the de-facto leader of a resistance group who calls themselves The Fireflies.

As she rightfully purchased them, Marlene agrees to split the cache with what Joel and Tess need, but only if they escort a young girl named Ellie (gorgeously brought to life by Ashley Johnson) to the Fireflies on the outside of the zone, because Ellie is allegedly immune to the Cordyceps infection.

Thus, against their better judgement, Joel and Tess begin their journey of taking this girl to the Firefly doctors who might be able to procure a vaccine from her condition. In classic post-apocalypse adventure fashion, road blocks repeatedly pop up that force the smugglers to carry out their obligation far longer than they anticipated.  The journey sees Joel and Ellie trek from Boston, to Pittsburgh, to Colorado and finally to Salt Lake City, where a Firefly headquarters is still in operation. The final leg of this journey sees them traverse a partially flooded highway tunnel, where both Joel and Ellie are knocked unconscious as the Fireflies find them.

When Joel comes to in the Firefly Lab, he is told by Marlene that Ellie is being prepped for surgery. What also comes to light is that because the Cordyceps infection grows all over the brain, the only way to figure out why shes immune and to engineer a possible vaccine is to kill her. He fights his way to the operating room, bursting through the doors just in the nick of time. It is here where the main controversy of the game comes to light...
A number of our colleagues have expressed frustration with having to "shoot the doctors" that are operating on Ellie. (I use scare quotes, because Joel will alternatively stab the lead doctor if you approach him.) I think shooting the doctors is a necessary moment in the player's relationship with the game, and couldn't simply have been another non-interactive violent cut scene. By the plot's climax, the game's designers needed to emphasize that the wants of Joel and the wants of the player are not the same. Sure, you're guiding Joel's external actions, but you have no control of his internal thinking. Forcing you to shoot the doctors — to externalize what's happening inside of Joel's brain — is the writer shouting, "Shame on you for assuming you are this man." It's a smart twist on our expectations from having played hundreds of faceless, characterless heroes in action games.
As a preface: you didn’t have to shoot all the doctors in the Firefly operating room.  I actually only shot the surgeon who threatened me, and that was after a stand off that saw me take a slow approach towards Ellie while pointing a shotgun at his chest issued zero resolve.  As the other two doctors weren’t in my way nor attempting to stop me, I let them cower in the corner as they gazed at the lifeless body of the clownshoes who brought a scalpel to a gun fight.

I actually completely empathized with Joel, and understood most of his actions fairly well.  When the world ends, the worst of humanity comes out.  The only way to survive is to become a part of that
to understand that survival will call for you to do things that are ethically wrong to most, because this construct of morals and ethics becomes a completely self created, man-made hindrance when structure falls away.  It’s like what Commissioner Gordon says in The Dark Knight Rises, “There’s a point — far out there — where the structures fail you, and the rules aren’t weapons anymore, they’re shackles letting the bad guys get ahead.”  The despicable don’t play by rules of morality, and the desperate damn sure dont worry about the ethical consequences of their actions. If you cant accept this, your corpse will become just a stepping stone for those who can.  As the old Nietzsche quote says, “Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster.”

I guess the biggest understanding point for me was that I too found myself slowly projecting my own protective instincts onto Ellie, with my point of empathy to Joels actions coming from the protectiveness I feel for my sister, who is 6 years my junior. Once I felt that Ellie was to Joel what my sister Ariel is to me, all concepts of a bigger picture and greater good faded away for the solitary goal of doing what was best for her. I wouldve massacred the population of a goddamn continent without the bat of an eyelash if it meant getting to her and keeping her safe in that finale.

I may not have been Joel, but I certainly understood him.
The moment is powerful and absolutely necessary for Joel's final lie to work. And the lie, wow, it's perfect. Because we expect this man to change. We misread him, because we think the empathic Joel in the cut scenes is different than the psychopathic Joel we play as. We've been trained to do that by the lion's share of action games.

When Ellie gives Joel the photo of his dead daughter, we think we're witnessing growth, Joel is finally moving on, but what we're really seeing, in hindsight, is Joel completing the projection of his old daughter onto his new one, that Joel is digging deeper into his emotional pit.

It's a horror story, right? In the end, Joel's taken this young girl hostage and turned her into his dead child.


For the record, the lie they are referring to is the last scene of the game. Ellie asks Joel if everything he told her about the Fireflies was true about how they found them and discovered there were a lot of other people like Ellie who were immune and who didnt do them a damn bit of good in producing a cure, so they simply stopped looking for one. She tells him to swear to her that it was all true. After a beat, Joel straightens himself and says, I swear. Her reply is a simple, ...Okay.

Now, according to writer and creative director Neil Druckmann, it’s a love story.  That makes sense, as the old adage tells us “love is blind” and can make us do rash and sometimes selfish or stupid things in the name of that love.

I actually believe that Joel did change, because he grew to love Ellie.  Not because she was Sarah to him, but because she claimed the same innocence and bystander-status that his daughter did when she became a victim of a mindless drone who was “just following orders.”  The entire game illustrates his struggle to let himself remember what it felt like to truly care about someone, before the world made caring a deadly sin.  I feel those seeds are planted when he, Ellie and Tess are on the roof of looking towards the Capitol building in Boston.  There’s this small, somber smirk that Joel lets slip that gives us a glimpse of his fleeting compassion.  I think that essentially, that’s the story’s core: learning to open yourself up to care again after you’ve been scarred so deeply.  This negative outlook on attachment is echoed through everyone he meets, including his old friend Bill:

“Once upon a time, I had someone that I cared about. A partner… someone I had to look after, and in this world that sort of shit is good for one thing: getting you killed.”

The world has engorged itself on apathy in the wake of the outbreak, yet the entire story seems to tell us that our sympathies can endure that life doesn’t become completely bleak unless we let it.

After all weve been through. Everything that Ive done. It cant be for nothing.

I also think that how you viewed Joel depended on how you played.  Yes, certain times you were forced to clear a room and leave nothing but rotting corpses in your wake, but sometimes that’s what pure survival is about: kill or be killed.  It doesn’t make him a psychopath.  I choked out or crept past about 65% of the human enemies I encountered when I could, which to me painted him as a far more calculating and intelligent survivor.  In the apocalypse, wildly firing bullets off isn’t exactly ideal when ammo is scarce (this approach proved particularly effective when I played through on the Survivor difficulty level, where ammo and supplies are almost non-existent).  While obviously not on the level of story interactivity as say, Telltale's The Walking Dead, I still feel that Naughty Dog gave us the option to craft the crisis-engaging side of Joel however we so chose for the most part.  If you wanted to go in guns blazing, letting the battle cry of “WOLVERINES!” ring out while you Matrix the entire room up, you could, but I don’t think it’s fair to say that the character was definitively one way or another because of how the individual chose to play the game.

For me, the concept was more about a really deep and dark question: after everything I’ve been through, where does the logic that this shit stain of a species known as humanity deserve a second chance to fuck Earth up again stand on it’s feet?  We had David who attempted to murder Ellie for cannibalism; we had a whole shit load of those Pittsburgh hunters who tried to murder us just for shit they may not even want or need; and we had poor Henry who had to resort to shooting his 13-year-old infected brother, before the trauma of the action proved too much for him and he resorted to taking his own life. We are beaten over the head throughout the game with the depths that humans can and will sink to just to see another sunrise.  The message of reality rang clear to me: we are not inherently good people. When the world goes to shit, we let it take us with it. Those that don
t can not and will not survive, because survival doesnt play by house rules and will always reward those who can cast aside moral dilemmas in favor of another gasp of air.  It is a perfect reflection and companion to the words Harvey Dent spoke in The Dark Knight: You either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.

Guess what, were shitty people, Joel. Its been that way for a long time.
No, we are survivors!

I actually paused the game when I burst through the door in the operating room, unsure of what exactly I had come to find on the other side.  In this moment, I reflected on my entire journey up until this point. When I resumed the game, I took a slow and calculated approach towards Ellie's body, holding the surgeon at gun point. Call me a cynic and selfish, but when he refused to back down despite staring down the smoking barrel of a shotgun held by a man who wants to prevent the death of a child, it was at that point that I came to the conclusion that no matter what I did at this point, we were already too far gone. Thus, I pulled the trigger, and carried the Fireflies last long-shot hope of stopping this epidemic out of the building.

I think the name The Last of Us is indicative of more than just devastated human population numbers — perhaps inciting that in the end, those of us that remain have only been able to do so because they have embraced the horror of humanity’s true nature: we are ruthless, sick, depraved killing machines — no better than the nightmare-inducing Clickers and Bloaters that wander the darkest regions of 2033...
I enjoyed the journey with Joel to uncover his true nature. But I hope for the next game, Ellie takes center stage. After all, she has the most potential to change: a young girl with a suicidal sense of purpose, a desire to do no less than save the world. I want to be alongside her when Joel's lie is made explicit.
I actually thought that Ellie knew that Joel was lying to her from the second it came out of his mouth.  I feel like she wouldn’t have asked that question if she thought everything he said to her in the car was true.  The expression she showed led me to believe that she didn’t buy what he was selling one bit, but that she chose not to hold it against him. She did this, because when she looked at him, she saw the words she spoke in the farmhouse within him the supposed heartless smuggler who didn’t even want to have anything to do with her in the first place:

“Everyone I've care for has either died or left me. Everyone — fucking except for you.  So don't tell me that I would be safer with someone else, because the truth is I would just be more scared.”

In an almost poetic beauty, Joel seems to reverberate this line when he tells his lie.  And Ellie accepts him — not as a liar, but as someone who understands the fear of loneliness he faces if he makes the choice to willingly lose her.  Right before this, Joel tries to comfort Ellies survivors guilt by telling her that you always find something that makes pushing through and surviving worthwhile.  When he tells his lie, Ellie realizes at that moment, she was Joels reason to keep pushing on, and he hers. And maybe she also realized that unlike her, Joel had no false sense of heroism to aid him in escaping this burden if he was going to quit surviving, it would be by suicide, and would force him to confront his own state of mind and the why of after everything hes been through, now would be the time to decide to opt out.

I struggled for a long time with surviving. And you No matter what, you keep finding something to fight for...

The question that flitters through my head though is why would it be assumed that Ellie has a suicidal sense of purpose?  Because of what Marlene told us?  I guess because she showed survivors guilt at the end, but honestly I felt that was more along the lines of looking for a cop-out.  Usually, surviviors guilt tends to be fairly irrational at it’s core.  Those who suffer from it are trying to say that because of their ability to adapt, others inability to adapt, or freak circumstance that theyve seen this day, somewhere along the line they shouldn’t have been chosen to survive.  Now, this logic is actually sound when it comes to Ellies case, but I guess the question really is: How do we know that after everything she went through, Ellie doesn’t see the world as something that’s possibly too far gone for saving, and she’s really just expressing remorse that (as far as she knows) she cant share her gift of immunity at will in any way?

I mean, let us step back a second: when the Fireflies find Joel and Ellie, Ellie is out cold. We’re making assumptions that when Joel woke up, Ellie had come to, talked to Marlene and said “yes, take my brain”. The problem is that Ellie asks what happened when she wakes up in the backseat of the car Joel is driving away from the Firefly HQ (and thus tells his lie). So, in reality it probably went something like — bring Ellie in, keep her sedated, prep her for surgery. The assumption that the Fireflies intentions are pure simply because they want to “save humanity” is na├»ve, and would be ignoring the entire commentary of the 20+ hours of gritty, raw humanity we were exposed to over the course of the game.

So if people do whatever the hell they want to suit their desires and needs, to the point where it’s valid enough to harp this chord repeatedly with Joel, it is just as applicable to Marlene and the Fireflies? At the very least, we have to consider that for every decent person we would be saving with a vaccine, we would also be inherently saving humans like the two girls who maliciously lit an endangered tortoise on fire in Florida along with them. That is a mere tiny fragment of the atrocities weve seen humans commit in this story, and you must be accepting of them being a part of your new world order. You must also find yourself under the belief that when you establish an order of a relatively safer future, these people will actually be able to adjust themselves down from the mental space of pure survival brutality. How long will it be before the people who simply cannot come back after two decades of scraping by inevitably fall back to their old ways? Sure, were led to see the good in people, but you must never forget their true nature and capabilities.

The biggest problem if people start buying the Firefly propaganda without questioning it simply because their motives appear pure from a surface level, is that you ignore the writing on the wall of the subsurface commentaries throughout the game. When Joel comes to and tells them to stop prepping for the procedure on Ellie, Marlene says:

I get it. But whatever it is you think youre going through right now is nothing to what I have been through.

You get that? Not only did she just trivialize a mans care for this child who he just trekked across the entire fucking continental United States with, but she just decided to have a pissing contest about who is suffering more for this potential loss of Ellie, which is coming from a choice she is still making. Does that not tell you about her personality? If anything was made clear from the game up to this point, its that Druckmann knows how to write dialog, and he damn sure knows about subtleties and their place within realistic exchange. If we read into her words based upon the context of the situation, Marlene has just shown us her true colors: she is the type who will beat her chest and climb to the highest mountain just to shout praise me, for I have suffered so that you may claim this reward! Thats some fucked up, narcissistic, martyr-like shit right there. We must at the very least consider the possibility that Marlene is no better than Joel, if not worse. For even though she states that procuring a vaccine through these means isnt about her, in the end, she would be the face that would be presenting this mythical vaccine to the masses should it be rendered. Thus, she would become the face of the Fireflies prevention of human extinction the Cordyceps Outbreak Savior to those who still remain.

In the opening credits, theres audio that highlights the changes over the 20 years between the prologue and main story, and it’s made quite clear that the Fireflies are persecuted in the beginning of the outbreak when the quarantine zones are constructed.  How do we know that manufacturing a cure isn’t just going to boost their ego so they can wave it around in faces of the remains of society and say, “See!? We did this!” To inflate their own self-importance?  I mean, do we honestly believe they would willingly dole out the vaccine to everyone, including the people who assaulted, tortured and murdered their family and friends?  It’s written as borderline fact by some people that it couldn’t happen any other way, as if as humans the Fireflies wouldn’t be prone to pick and choose and exercise the absolute power that they would finally claim, as if we dont have tomes of historical recounts proving that humans are more often than not power-hungry creatures Hell bent on obtaining even the smallest shred of it anyway they can. We simply do not and cannot know what their true motives would be until the time was upon them, but frankly, I wasnt comfortable with the idea of killing a child just to find out whether or not we went and substituted one over-lording group without the means to properly rebuild for another.

There is no other choice here!
Yeah... You keep telling yourself that bullshit.

I think the dilemma thats raised in The Last of Us is one primarily of conditioning. In so many games, our objective is to save the world through any means necessary, and if we happen to cross a few moral lines here and there, its justified because its for the alleged greater good. This is a game so intellectually deep and self-aware that it actually challenges the very essence of this logic, and asks us if the greater good is always such a binary equation as if there is never any emotional attachment, moral ambiguity, or underlying feeling of betrayal that goes along with such an objective. That in order to truly understand the gravitas of this situation, we must answer for every one of our transgressions, and claim a bit of time in existential meditation on the breadth of our actions. Maybe some gamers werent ready to cope with this reality: we are only good people in almost every other narrative because we are arbitrarily labeled as such. The Last of Us aint no place for no heroes.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Magic Mike

by XdarksparkX
Originally Written: May 17th, 2014

Well I'll be damned. Ladies (and some gentlemen), I apologize. I thought Magic Mike was just a stupid exploitation film. I'm here to admit it, I was wrong.

Magic Mike is worse than an exploitation film, it's an exploitation film that tries so hard not to be one on it's downtime, it ends up bogging itself down with some of the most mind-numbingly boring melodrama I've ever seen written for film. Magic Mike's script is akin to walking into a wall repeatedly to kill time before you eventually leave out the front door, like you were supposed to do hours ago.

I can hear the knee-jerk defense from a very certain section of the audience coming already, "you just don't understand it; it's a 'girl' thing." Well now hold the fuck on there, Gladys. That statement toes the line of sexism. For a film that seemed to be crusaded by the idea of gender equality (in that there are far more movies concerning the exploitation of women than there are of men, though if you ask me that seems to be logic that was the prime example used in the creation of the turn of phrase "an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind"), it would be dubious at best to assume that I cannot "get" a film simply because I have a penis, just as it would be ridiculous to say that a woman can't "get" a film because she's a woman. If someone of the female persuasion told me they didn't like Fight Club, Jurassic Park or Django Unchained, people would call for my head like I had committed high treason in the Game of Thrones universe if I uttered something even close to the phrase: "you don't understand [these films] because you're a woman". Likely because this is a stupid, close-minded bit of reasoning.

However, to imply that what I watched in dazed confusion for two hours yesterday was something with such nuance and subtext that it can only be seen by having a different set of genitals, or having a higher estrogen level, or by removing my freaking Y chromosome is probably the most blatantly raging bout of 1930s styled gender bias I've seen since the debate about a woman's rights to her own damn body hit the fan during the 2012 United States presidential election.

I hate to break this to some of you swooning fans, but Magic Mike isn't smart or intelligent. There isn't any deep subtext that only you are in tune to. It's a shallow story that orbits around scenes of guys flailing their junk in women's faces. Know that if you attempt to deny this, it will look just as ridiculous as if those attracted to women in your life tried to fabricate some deep, existential subtext of Debbie Does Dallas. As long as we're clear on this fact about the movie, we can move forward.

I will say though, being a straight man obviously does not allow me to understand the clear-cut sex appeal of the movie. The thing that had me confused though was, I don't get why some women chose to act like they've never seen a good looking guy with his shirt off until this movie came out. To play a very controversial card, I don't see many sober straight guys doing that when a chick breaks out her set of twins in a film. The ones I do see doing that are either 12 years old, drunk off their ass, or fucking clownshoes, and who wants to deal with any of those idiots anyway? Maybe the guys I hang out with have all come to terms with being desensitized to it, and maybe part of the whole equality movement is that if guys can openly be horndogs when they see strippers, so can women. (Though why exactly you would want to be the female equivalent to those aforementioned clownshoes I have no idea. Oh well, different strokes for different folks.)

Oh, but wait. One of my best friends, who is female, flipped on the movie while channel surfing and bored to tears. She was ten minutes into tearing the movie to shreds before I even got a comment in. Excuse me, could you open that window over there? I have a theory that might need to be thrown out. Appreciate it.

Clearly she and I are just crazy though, because even Rotten Tomatoes -- as of this writing -- has the film sitting at an 80% fresh "approved" rating. I was close to smashing my head into the nearest wall when I found this out, until I realized this rating might be due to the critics crediting man behind the camera: Steven Soderbergh.

For those of you unaware, Steven Soderbergh has directed many critically acclaimed and commercially successful films such as: Erin Brockovich, Traffic, Contagion, the Ocean's Eleven remake, and what most consider his tour de force: Sex, Lies and Videotape.

I on the other hand don't give two flying shits about who directed it, and will not be granting any points to the movie because of this. Steven Spielberg went and made Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull for fucks sake. There is no precedence for a movie being a guaranteed piece of cinematic mastery and genius simply because a very good director happened to be the driving creative force behind it. Directors are human and they phone things in or make stupid choices from time to time. My all-time favorite director David Fincher admitted to phoning in Alien 3, and one could argue his direction of some of his more recent films like The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo was uninspired. Magic Mike reeks of Soderbergh simply shrugging his shoulders half the time and saying "whatever."

Roughly two-thirds of the way through, I found myself feeling sorry for any woman who went to see this as the male exploitation film it was advertised as. The strip club and other "dance" scenes seem like they only take up 30 or 40% of the movie. The rest is filled with snooze-inducing melodrama. I'll admit, I have found myself being a sucker for intriguing melodrama (I fully admit to watching CW's One Tree Hill and 90210 in their entirety for crying out loud), but the melodrama in Magic Mike is so painfully uninteresting and uninspired, a day of long and tedious dental work seems like a more attractive alternative to watching it again. It's like watching everyday people have mundane everyday conversations, which amounts to actively trying to weed out the bullshit filler to find the lines that are actually supposed to be character or plot development. 

The characters all feel like the transformations they go through are so minimalistic. Channing Tatum's title character wants to open his own business, and make something of himself and not be a "40 year old stripper". Admirable. What happens in the end? He quits his stripping job, goes head-on into the uncertainty of unemployment because he finds out that his boss has no loyalty to any of his workers. *gasp* No, really!? I'm sorry, what made you think the guy who wants an empire of strip clubs wasn't running primarily off of greed and willing to throw anyone in front of the train for said greed? Is it because it's Matthew McConaughey? It was because it's Matthew McConaughey, wasn't it. 

"It's totally because it was Matthew McConaughey. 
I mean, dude won an Oscar bro!" 

Nothing of Mike's personal situation changed, he still needs to pay his bills, and he still has a shitty credit score. So...why didn't he just do this in the first place? "Wanting to make something of myself was a good pipe dream, until I found out that I was just a cash machine to my boss. This betrayal of trust! This... defamation of my morals!"  Maybe I missed the point where McConaughey said he'd send bouncers to break Tatum's face if he quit, but I fail to see the tactile tension and consequence of this decision that wasn't present before.

I swear, watching some of the scenes outside of the strip club felt like I was reading someone's journal if it read like:

"Got up late this morning. Stubbed toe trying to get ready. FML.

Rain is stupid. Late for class. Teacher was a bitch as usual. No assignments though.

ent out to eat, good meal. Jenna called, she's cool. I'd hit it.

Hit up this party. Stole some beer. Scored some X. Some chick blew me.

Jeff almost OD'd. Dumbass. How'd I get home?

Couldn't fall asleep. Infomercials are cheesy. Insomnia." 

Now, go ahead and try to say that the dialog is a more realistic representation of life. If I wanted an exact replica of real life, I wouldn't pay ten-dollars to sit in a theater and watch other people live it (or in this case, sit on my ass for two hours staring at a TV). People tend to go to the movies to escape reality, not to be burdened by it's mundane passages. Hell, that's why even reality TV is sensationalized -- true reality TV would be boring as fuck to watch.

The best word I can think of to describe Soderbergh's direction in Magic Mike is lazy. For so many scenes, it feels like this was his cadence: set up the scene, leave the camera on tripod, call action, take Director of Photography and Camera Crew with me to get doughnuts and coffee from craft services, have Assistant Director call cut when the actors finish their lines if I'm not back in time. There is such a glaring absence of medium or close up shots when two people are talking, it made me realize that MTV's The Real World has better and more creative conversation coverage than this movie. I get that it's a stylistic choice, but the problem inherent with said choice is that it takes away from the intimacy with the characters. By feeling so distanced, it becomes hard to "get to know a character". Take the mid shots and close ups David O Russell used in Silver Linings Playbook for instance. The intimacy that both Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence's characters share is evident from the close ups, and we as the audience begin to feel closer to them because the framing makes us actually closer. How can I get into a story when it feels like the director wants me to stay far away from the forced "plot point" scenes that take up damn near 70% of his movie!? The only reasoning I can think to do this is to make us feel like awkward voyeurs, a feeling one should probably have when at a strip club or similar establishment. You get half a pass here Soderbergh... but just half.

There is also a glaring lack of ambient noise or music during these "wide shot dialog scenes". All I can hear is this deafening silence when someone stops talking. Again, I think this would work if it was coupled with intimate medium shots or closeups on the characters, showing that they are wholly and completely focused on each other to the point where they can't even hear the world around them. There's a scene at a carnival or amusement park with Channing Tatum and his forced love interest played by Cody Horn. They walk through the park, talking amongst themselves. (Dear GOD! Soderbergh used a dolly to have the camera move with them! Be still my heart!) In this scene, there is a jarring lack of ambiance: no crowd noise, no music and sound effects from the games booths, nothing. They sit at a picnic table by a go-kart track, and not even the faint noise from the karts is audible at all. Obviously it shouldn't be as loud as it probably would be in real life, as it would drown out the dialog, but the karts go by damn near muted, and it makes the entire scene uncomfortable. Is that what I'm supposed to feel? Am I supposed to feel uncomfortable while watching this clumsy, forced romantic subplot unfold? Because that's what's happening, Steven.

The ending is probably the worst culprit of just phoned in effort, and contains the biggest "ahh fuck it" move pulled in the movie. After Tatum meets Alex Pettyfer's character, he runs into his sister, the aforementioned Cody Horn. Her entire one-note throughout the movie is "protect my brother Mike", but when the ending rolls around, both she and Tatum basically say "fuck that kid", figuring he's beyond help and let him go to probably die in a ditch down in Miami somewhere from a lethal combo of hookers and blow. Lovely! 

"Well, I got you into this, but I guess you're just too far gone for me to even feel semi-responsible for your downward spiral. Oh, your sister says 'fuck off' too. Welp, see ya at the morgue when they ask me to identify your body!"

And after such a weak buildup of Tatum wanting to do more with his life, and Horn's brother falling into "the fast life" of a male stripper and taking up Tatum's mantle, everything basically culminates to the fact that despite Tatum wanting to be treated as more than just a guy who's only worth his six-pack, that's essentially all he's treated as in the ending. Horn smirks when he says "what can we do for seven hours" before jumping across the table to make out with him. So, the difference from the beginning is that he won't be making money, and he now has no job, and has a credit score in the toilet... but he's... happy? Because... of... stuff? And will do... something with his life? Maybe? I honestly don't have a fucking clue. The movie ends on such an abrupt point that everyone comes out looking like lost dumbasses. Is that what this was supposed to be? A relation piece for dumbasses to not feel so dumb, because poorly written characters in an exploitation movie are also... dumb?

Overall, there is a general hollow feeling to everything in Magic Mike. Nothing feels concrete in it's presence. Maybe that was the intention, but if it is, is the movie trying to say that Tatum's character is so broken from his ordeal at the strip club that he now even views romantic pursuits as hollow endeavors?

After all that, I'm sure there are people who don't get why I do this, why I tear down movies the way I do on here. I've heard some of my friends say they don't believe I actually like movies, because I tear down so many. Well, lend me your ear and I shall tell you the method to my madness courtesy of Morgan Freeman.

"Because every time I show up and explain something, I earn a freckle."
-South Park's Morgan Freeman

Making movies at the level of nation-wide theatrical release is a very rare privilege. Those able to make these movies are granted a gift every time a studio or production group picks up a script and green-lights a project. They are given an almost demigod level of power, to reach out to people from all different backgrounds, cultures and faiths. And for the time of 90 minutes to 3 hours (more if they split one movie into two parts like they've been doing recently), they are able to tell a story that can make every one of those people forget about those meaningless differences and unify a group of creatures who seem to constantly find themselves focused on the idiosyncratic rather than the harmonious.

Movies can bring us together. They can empower us, enlighten us, and open us up to empathy with people or groups we had previously written off. When I see a movie that seemingly throws this gift away by being lazy in it's message or story, it feels like I'm watching as this gift is squandered. This gift is something I want to be given one day. I will likely be struggling for a very, very long time to obtain said gift and get my stories told. But in everything I write -- no matter how silly or crazy it may be -- it always maintains the core that people will be able to see a reflection of themselves, or someone they know. I want them to be able to connect with the journey, or with the characters involved. To offer a differing perspective that allows them to laugh at the pains of unimportant everyday struggle, or to realize something they hadn't before. And for those who were like me, I want a very special group of people to realize that someone else feels the way they do, and that if this movie says nothing else, it says that they aren't alone is this fucked up world.

Now, I'm not saying every movie has to be a deep work of art, and I'm not saying Magic Mike doesn't have it's place in the world. There's a sequel coming out, and whether the script is inspired or not, I'm sure it will make just as much bank as the first one. One of my favorite filmmakers, Writer / Director Kevin Smith, once described the concept of critics to the art of filmmaking perfectly: "Who is anyone else to tell you that your art is wrong, man? That you failed to express yourself through your art?" He has a very good point, and it's made me re-evaluate how I critically assess movies. However, his comment doesn't deter the reasoning for this site. For this movie, and for almost all of the movies that have articles on here really, I'm pointing out things that didn't allow me (or any other contributing writer) to connect with what is being presented from a storyteller's perspective, not an artistic one. If I can't connect to the characters, it's hard to see their plight as anything other than trivial. When Alex Pettyfer's character overdoses halfway through Magic Mike, I don't feel any sort of tragedy because I lack a true connection with his character. That's what a directors job is when a film introduces a narrative. It's exactly why I rip the Transformers sequels to shreds (God help me, even more are on the way...). No one in the audience -- short of the 5-year-old with the big barrel of Coca-Cola in his lap who's never seen one of these movies in his life -- actually buys it when they kill off Optimus Prime for the fifteenth time, because some convoluted deus ex machina bullshit has allowed him to come back fourteen times prior. So instead of saying "oh shit, they killed him", I'm saying "yeah yeah, when is he coming back?" When there's a lack of feeling any true stakes in a movie, it can make it almost impossible to reasonably care for characters (and the stakes don't have to be death). In the end, I just want people to understand one thing: just because a movie is made to entertain, doesn't mean it has to insult your basic intelligence as a human being while doing so.

Some of you will read that last line and say "but these movies you review/rant about don't insult my intelligence". If you like any of the movies I happen to throw into my line of fire, good, don't change that on my opinion. The point of this site isn't to tell you what to like and what not to like. My belief is people can like any movie they choose. Sometimes I would like for more of us critics to be able to see and judge certain movies for what they are (judging a film based on it's worth as an amazing classic or if it's "Oscar worthy" as opposed to assessing if it accomplished what it was trying to do within it's narrative is ridiculous). A movie should be an engrossing ride, and that even with it's problems, if you can walk away and say you were swept away for it's runtime, really that's all that matters. There are those who will say what I wrote at the beginning of this paragraph, and are also seemingly unaware of what a lot of producers and studio heads truly think of us -- as nothing but blind sheep willing to be led to anything with pretty pictures that can be warped to vaguely resemble cognitive sustenance. And well, as long as they're out there, I guess it just means that there will always be a reason for me to continue to try and "spark the dark".