Category Archives: News

Various news and historical topics related to pop culture…

Pop Thoughts: Big Hollywood and the War on Independent Journalism (Part Two)

This entry will be significantly shorter than my last ramble but I intend to keep this topic alive because I feel it is important.  If we hope to maintain an open and honest media, even if it is a blog that is a barely-trodden corridor of the city-sized labyrinth of Internet rags, we have to get the word out whenever we feel there is some sort of system in place that exists to handicap or even eliminate our ability to share our own thoughts on a product released by a major media corporation.

A long-time studio tactic that has been called into scrutiny more and more of late is the review embargo.  A review embargo is a prohibition on the early release of reviews and detailed commentary before a certain specified date after early screenings or pre-release copies of a product are made available to critics.  These individuals are usually your standard mainstream newspaper critic but their ranks also encompass a rollcall of columnists from other “trusted” sources.  Often coming with a written agreement to the studio’s terms and even the occasional non-disclosure agreement, these embargoes are almost always a red flag for me.

While I often prefer to avoid citing any corporate-fed media source, I think critic Marshall Fine said it best on the Huffington Post; “It’s all about controlling information — and bad word of mouth.  This kind of embargo is almost never associated with a movie which is expected to be a critical hit. (source)”  I think this pretty much hits the proverbial nail on the head.  If a movie or game is expected to rock everyone’s world, why keep them out of the loop as long as possible?  Sometimes these review embargoes can be in place up to as late as the Wednesday before the release of a film, intentionally buried in the middle of the workweek.

I stated in my previous diatribe (for lack of a better word) that as products become more expensive, it becomes more necessary to hide or silence any negative press for as long as possible to get the cash of early adopters and opening weekend addicts who want to beat the barrage of inconsiderate spoilers that will inevitably flood the Web by Saturday evening.  However, I believe this tactic is starting to lose its effectiveness.  Consumers are growing more and more savvy to the biases and manipulations of major media sources and are less tolerant than ever of being conned into buying a product that is knowingly-bad, the flaws of which being intentionally hid from them in the hopes that they will spend first and ask questions later.

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Pop Thoughts: Big Hollywood and the War on Independent Journalism (Part One)

Before my rant begins, let me be clear by stating I, in-no-way, consider myself a “professional journalist”.  In fact, I am merely a journalist in the most literal sense of the world in that I am a “person who writes” as an entirely independent commentator and reviewer.  I am more of a “hobbyist journalist” than a paid contributor or a critic contracted to any major media outlet.  To be entirely honest, I will never consider taking such a job without the express condition that I will be absolutely free to offer my own opinion on any product regardless of what others may feel about it.  So, with that capricious disclaimer out of the way, let me express to you why I am so pissed off at, sick of, and downright appalled by the major media both online and in the dying legacy sources…

When I was a kid in the 80’s and 90’s, even at a very young age, I adored watching Siskel & Ebert At the Movies.  They were my first exploration into the world of film criticism and gave me a stronger perspective of how film works on us; How movies should and do affect the audience and how these effects influence our attitudes towards popular culture at large.  Have no illusions, no matter how objective a critic may claim to be, we all have biases that manifest in one form or another.  Take myself, for instance: I really dislike (and often despise) how CGI has affected storytelling in movies and the filmmaking process as a whole.  I find it funny that movies like Avatar and the recent Star Wars movies actually look like video games and, as if it were some Freudian expression, we then get a movie in which Adam Sandler and Peter Dinklage actually battle giant video game characters from the 80’s (regardless of the quality of that film).  That bias does subconsciously affect both my suspension of disbelief and my subjective reaction to special effects as they happen on screen.  My brain processes an 80’s action flick with a real exploding car differently than a massive CGI monstrosity oozing across a screen.  So, when I see most CG special effects I tend to be put off of them and it does change my interpretation of the qualities of the film I am watching.

So, given that I will expect all critics to express their own biases in any report or review they scribe for any site out there.  Even things like political leanings may change one’s interpretation of the content of any media, which is fine as long as these personal determinations are clear to the reader/watcher in some context.  However, where I draw the line is when a reviewer expressly defines to the audience how they should feel about something.  I’m sure I have exercised this fallacy in the past at some point, possibly even recently, and I do appreciate being called out for it whenever possible.  It is important to avoid cognitive dissonance in general, but when you are trying to convey feelings and reactions to media, as trivial as that media may be, if you are unable to provide some objective observation without skewing things to a bent, the factual information provided about the film (basic plot, names of actors, locations, etc.) that may prove useful to the reader or watcher becomes overshadowed with their implicit biases that fire subconsciously during the consumption of said review.

In the past year, we have seen more and more reviews that rely solely on identity politics as qualitative variables to determine the value of a product.  It’s important to accept that all films, video games, TV shows, comic books, and novels are just that: products.  The studios releasing a film do not care about how their product makes you feel, they only want your money.  That’s their job.  Art is subjective and it does act on us whether we want it to or not or even realize it.  This is now apparently being used by major studios and the media to manipulate and even attack potential consumers based solely on their reactions and opinions on something as minuscule in value as a movie trailer.

I hate to say it, but I can’t help but feel like media outlets are using some manipulation tactics to drum up grassroots support for products before their release.  I can’t be certain that is the motivation, but that is certainly happening.  I would say, if you have a movie with a message, that’s fine.  However, a movie that should be accessible, enjoyable and just be entertaining like Ghostbusters or Black Panther being used as a marketing gimmick for studios is not uncommon, but their being brandished as some sort of weapon against potential consumers is unacceptable behavior by a major media company and I do feel this is going to backfire.  This may seem like a new trend, however, these promotional tactics have been used in the past to manipulate audiences into seeing movies.  Sensationalism sells and Hollywood knows it.  This goes back to horror films that were sold as “Banned in ‘x country’!” and “The movie your parents don’t want you to see!”  This isn’t a new tactic and consumers must be wise about how they are being marketed to.

The key to all pop culture is enjoyment.  For every truly awful film, there are fans (I know I have a few bad movies I like) and that’s okay.  It’s just important to remember that not everyone will always share your sentiments towards a particular movie, TV show or game.  This is not going to change in an age where subjective ideals reflected in various mediums are treated dogmatically or even as empirical truths.  So today, Hollywood and major media outlets have begun campaigns to lock out and outright attack independent reviewers for sharing their opinions.  This isn’t exactly a new trend, but it is absolutely obvious why it is being done.  With movies becoming more and more expensive to make, burnout for franchises like Star Wars and various superhero movies at an all-time high and fan cynicism hitting new depths, studios have an incentive to make their movie appear as promising as possible.  If emotional manipulation of consumers is what it will take, then dammit, they’ll do just that.

There is an active campaign by Hollywood to discredit and block reviewers who aren’t part of the mainstream press.  The reasons for this are not entirely transparent, but an obvious point could be they realize that independent pop culture journalists are not beholden to any major corporation or media outlet which shares corporate ownership of, or has some ad deal with, a studio or publisher.  As a result, there is less skin in the game when it comes to liking or disliking a movie, therefore their opinions are likely to be more honest.  If I’m not getting a check from Disney, I have no incentive to write a positive review of one of their films if I do not actually enjoy it.  The same goes for any form of media.  So, it behooves a major corporation to be methodical in how they deal with negative reviews.  For instance, a Rotten Tomatoes score can be called a “snapshot” into the quality of a movie, but it in no way actually provides a sound rating of what critics thought of the movie, only an average of critics who liked or disliked the movie in a thumbs up or thumbs down sort of way.  A movie with a 75% doesn’t mean the movie got 3 out of 4 stars, it only means 75% of critics who reviewed the movie liked it.  It’s also important to note that the site deceptively divides reviews based on “trusted” critics versus everyone else.  As a result, it isn’t uncommon to see a dramatic dichotomy between fans’ and journalists’ respective scores, especially in the case of projects with a lot of money on the line.

Because of this, we are starting to see fan ratings of movies become more and more denigrated and with that so are the independent reviewers who just write a quick blurb on IMDB or run their own blog.  The “fans do not matter” mantra that we know Hollywood has held up for decades has never rung truer.  In the end, most of these big budget movies will make more money on merchandising than overall ticket sales anyway, especially in the case of major brands like Marvel.  It’s doubtful a producer is going to scoff at a bad review of a mediocre MCU flick like Thor: Ragnarok, instead they’ll laugh their brand licensing all the way to the bank.  They already have your money, they certainly do not have to care if you liked it or not.  This is why fans’ scores are becoming more and more important on websites.  A reason a lot of sites are removing comment options and disabling ratings for advertised products is that fan ratings, comments and reviews work.  They are proven to have a significant impact the perception of a film and they do have a natural effect on the way people see the final product, even if it is in retrospect.  A person who liked The Last Jedi in the moment but disliked it more and more upon reflection (such as myself) is less likely to jump on the merchandising bandwagon for the long term, so it is essential that my views on such a product be kept hidden as best as possible to ensure maximum sales returns.

I know all of this may come off as a more than a little jaded but given these past few years of nonstop fan-shaming and vitriol coming from creators, actors, etc, towards detractors of various entertainment products who are merely sharing their own opinions, I do not think this is unwarranted.  I do not agree with every view put out there, but I also do not want anyone to feel like they should be afraid to offer that very view.  This concept that one is not allowed to have an opinion of a product because of entirely arbitrary or superficial reasons is asinine and unacceptable.  It’s time to start treating these little pieces of entertainment as they are, oft-nonsensical distractions that entertain at the moment.  If we allow our tastes to be tied to what major corporate outlets dictate, the public loses its autonomy, and in the end, our choices in what entertainment is out there for us.

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Important Pop News: Robert Wagner Named As a “Person of Interest” In 1981 Death of Natalie Wood

It was late November of 1981 when the historic Hollywood story struck the headlines.  “Natalie Wood Dead: Body found floating off Catalina” dominated the front page of the Daily News on November 30, less than 48 hours after the notorious incident.  While on a sea excursion off Catalina’s coast on a boat owned by superstar Robert Wagner and co-star Christopher Walken, an argument broke out between Wagner and his wife, the late Natalie Wood.  After the stars were reported to have gone to sleep, a loud thud was heard from the deck and when the passengers investigated they found Wood was missing.  The following morning, Wood’s body was discovered beached a mile down shore.

The death has always been controversial, and suspicions have lingered.  Wood was known to struggle with alcoholism and painkiller addiction, and autopsies discovered she was intoxicated when she died.  However, suspicions were further fueled by the discovery of abrasions along Wood’s body, including on her arms and face.  These wounds, typical of domestic violence, led some to speculate that Wagner had attacked her during a fight and either Wood fell off the boat, hit her head and disappeared into the black water, or was intentionally thrown overboard.

30 years after the incident in 2011, the boat’s captain, Dennis Davern, who was piloting the ship that night, stated he was certain that Wagner was responsible for the death of the famous actress.  However, despite the controversy, Wagner got by unscathed.  Wood’s cause of death was changed from “accidental drowning” to “drowning due to undetermined factors” and the case was officially reopened.  A recent statement by LA County Sheriff John Corina during a 48 Hours interview has sparked new life in the story in the last 24 hours.  “As we’ve investigated the case over the last six years, I think he’s (Wagner) more of a person of interest now,” Sheriff Corina stated during the interview. [source].

Wood was most famous for her classic role as Maria in Robbins & Wise’s musical retelling of Romeo and Juliet, West Side Story, as well as Splendor in the Grass that same year and her childhood role as Susie in Miracle on 34th Street from 1941.  She was nominated for three Oscars and won three Golden Globes, including one for “Most Promising Newcomer” in 1957 for Rebel Without a Cause.  Natalie Wood was not a “Newcomer” when Rebel was released having appeared in a number of roles as a child on film and television. [source].

I can only speculate what truths will be revealed in the coming months surrounding this legendary case.  Could one of Hollywoods most infamous cold cases finally be solved?  Wagner, who is nearly 90 now, could finally face charges for Wood’s death after almost four decades of mystery and conjecture…

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My Thoughts On The Controversial Updates To YouTube’s Monetization Policy

Over the last 24 hours there has been a stir online surrounding a memo from YouTube regarding some impending changes to their monetization policy.  The memo in question, titled “Additional Changes to the YouTube Partner Program (TPP) to Better Protect Creators”, has received both defense and criticism from some who describe it as yet another means by which YouTube is attempting to drown out smaller channels.  This is an accusation that has be levied at YouTube’s parent company Google before as the Internet’s most popular video hosting platform has been reported as a loss leader costing possibly hundreds of millions of dollars to operate with little boost to Google’s bottom line.

One speculation ties this with a recent push by Google to feature more featured, paid content from major creators as well as the questionably-successful YouTube Red subscription service.  By that, it is reasonable to assume Google is trying everything they can to keep YouTube around and make it profitable.  It’s undeniable that Google isn’t exactly hurting for money at the moment with Alphabet, Inc. stocks on a steady incline in value, however things aren’t as simple as “They have a lot of money.”

The precarious anvil that has been looming over YouTube’s already aching head over the past few years comes in the form of controversial YouTube channels and a few high-profile creators finding themselves in headlines and hot water.  If you were to ask me, most of the outcry surrounding otherwise innocuous creators like JonTron, Pewdiepie, and most recently, Logan Paul, is a distraction at best; fallacious at worst.  It’s difficult to believe there is a massive influx of vile people on the rise in YouTube because of a few incidents (most of which were entirely overblown, yet a few were certainly questionable).  However, this argument that one has to take sides because of “reasons” utterly escapes me.

So, a quick rundown of YouTube’s policy changes indicate a few details.  First, the article points out troubling issues in YouTube that have been ongoing.  Immediately, the recent controversies about bizarre Flash animations featuring Disney characters and Donald Trump in compromising or even horrific circumstances (that are apparently part of an AI-generated video scheme to hijack YouTube’s algorithm to capture views via auto-play program), to an increase in creators advocating support for things as horrific as pedophilia both come to mind.  These are the “bad actors” that I imagine being a real sore spot for YouTube.  Even more broadly, the requirements for the YouTube Partner Program have been strengthened and now require not only 1,000 subscribers at minimum, but also a cumulative 4,000 hours of watch time over the past 12 months with a 30-day grace period.  These changes are slated to take effect on February 20th, 2018.

All of that sounds reasonable enough, but there is a spot where things start to get a little hazy.  The article refers to “bad actors”, “abuse” and “harm” but never really explains what any of these mean.  It then hotlinks to the article on YouTube’s Community Guidelines which is equally vague but at least provides some examples of what could constitute a policy violation.  To make things even more concerning, if a channel does manage to achieve the requisite subscription base and view count, these creators then have to submit their own channel for “review” to finally get permission to monetize their content.  The problem with this process takes me back to the nebulous terms like “harm”.  Is there any way a video reviewed on such a basis can be done so objectively?  From the way it sounds in their own post, even if a channel is big, whether or not the creator can monetize their own creation is entirely at the subjective whim of a handful of thus far unidentified reviewers.  I find this to be suspicious and believe it will likely contribute to much of the content that made YouTube famous leaving for good.  Some video hobbyists may be forced to reconsider whether or not it is even worth suffering the slings and arrows of the video streaming giant’s new terms to even justify putting in the effort.  As for myself, I do not know if I really even want to start going down the YouTube path.  I simply do not have the time, hence the infrequency of posts on my own damn site.

I felt compelled to weigh in on this a little bit as I want to do a little more editorializing on news and events surrounding popular culture as, while lists and reviews are certainly more fun to write, I also would like to share some thoughts about other goings on in the world of entertainment.  That said, I plan to have another review up in the next few days so here’s hoping I can keep up some momentum…

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TGS 2017: A Quick Reaction to Sony’s Press Conference

While watching the Sony conference at Tokyo Games Show 2017, I feel like I was bombarded with a lot of information, but I must admit, I was rather underwhelmed.  The Playstation Experience 2017 will certainly bring with it some huge announcements, but Sony showed a great deal of reservation for this event and it shows.  It actually kind of makes me a little nervous.  

Naturally, the headlining title is Monster Hunter World, a game that is going to make Capcom and, by extension, Sony, a very large amount of money.  That’s good, because I like Monster Hunter and honestly look forward to the game when it launches this January.  Other titles got a mention here and there, including a few I have a feeling will not come out in the US, including A Certain Magical Cyber Trooper (based on the popular anime series) and Fist of the North Star.

About a third of the event was dedicated to Playstation VR, including a segment for immersive concert viewing via the PSVR online stream for an orchestral concert performance of selections from popular JapanStudio classics like Ico and Shadow of the Colossus.  The remainder of the information was loose hints and clips of games we already knew about.

The entire event felt to me like I was rewatching a press conference from late 2016.  It did not really feel like news; rather, it felt like somebody was reading me my own grocery list after I already got back from the store and took my groceries into my house.  With a few exceptions, there were no announcements during this press conference that really took me by surprise or even got me all that excited.

Such a shame, but there is obviously more to see from TGS 2017, though, so I will keep posting as I get news.  Here’s hoping the rest of the event makes up for this surprise-free anti-spectacle. 

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Irene Looms…

It’s Monday and the start of the storm began to hit us this morning although it was very minor.  I hope to have a First Impressions game review posted sometime today or tomorrow.  I’m working from home today, so I’m sitting in my usual chair, hoping I do not get too bored, though I doubt I will have a chance to be.  I am going to be working on an article for the site PlaySomeVideoGames as well.  So standby despite the weekend and the freaking superstorm, by God I am still going to write!

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MoviePass Is Coming! …Eventually!

I wanted to make a quick update on MoviePass.  I did get an update from their support that there is a delay in delivery of new cards due to the large influx of new subscribers.  This is entirely understandable.  The current wait is 2-3 weeks.  Tomorrow will mark two weeks since the order was placed, so there’s a chance it will arrive sometime in the next few days.  By next weekend I should be able to give an honest review of the service.  I hadn’t lost hope and the fact that they did issue a public apology and explanation is good enough for me.

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A Note on the Coming Storm…

I wanted to make a note that there may be a delay in posts for next week.  I am currently in the path for some remnant storms from Hurricane Irene so if I am without power, Internet access or time to write, that would explain any delays over the weekend into the first half of next week.  I still plan to get some articles posted for this weekend so stay with me and I give my best wishes to everyone in the storm’s path this weekend.

Thank you…

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Trying MoviePass… Maybe?

 

On Sunday, the 27th of August, I subscribed to to the service MoviePass.  I downloaded the app, got everything ready, then all I had to do was wait for the arrival of the debit cards in the mail.  Yes.  This is an online service that still requires you to wait for snail mail.  The idea is, you go to the theater, pick your movie and time, then when you are there, MoviePass loads your card with the exact ticket cost for that ticket.  You get one per day per account at $9.95 per month.

There’s just one problem: The cards have not arrived yet.  After nearly two weeks, I’m still waiting on them to show up.  Now I chalk this up to the Labor Day weekend and the surge of storms raging from the Atlantic possibly slowing things down, as well as a known influx of subscribers after it was announced they would be changing format.  I have heard mostly-positive reviews of the service with the primary complaints being getting everything set up can be a pain.  I can empathize already and I haven’t even been able to use the service.  A second complaint about MoviePass subscriptions is it is only one subscription per person.  So, couples, friends, siblings, ect., who want to frequent theaters together will be out of luck.  At this time, MoviePass has not launched a “couples plan” per se.  Instead, if you want to share the movie experience with someone else, they have to have their own, separate paid subscription.  One post from what is presumed to be a MoviePass support agent does clarify that they “hope to add couples and family plans in the future!” (source).  I can only presume this is a delay caused by the change in format and the future addition of this plan will likely rely on the service’s success in the long run.

Now as for having to wait for the debit card to come in, I would say in an age where online transactions are ubiquitous for just about anything, the delay caused by a debit card having to arrive by mail for a service such as this is baffling and can only be explained by MoviePass not getting proper cooperation from the appropriate corporations in order to give subscribers a way to pay for your tickets online as it would require an intermediary like Fandango, for-instance.  I am hoping to see my card arrive by this weekend so I can get some use out of my plan, but I am not going to hold my breath.  Not to say I do not believe they are coming at all, but given it has taken far longer than the 5-7 business days notice, I cannot be certain they will show up in a reasonable time.

I will write up another review of the service after I’ve had the chance to use it a few times.  I don’t want to use it once, have a good or bad experience, then judge the entire service on that one subjective, anecdotal experience.  I would rather give a review of MoviePass based on a longer-term experience.  Maybe after a few weekends of service I will be ready to really judge it for what it is.

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Game Deals – Picks for The Week of 09/06/2017

So, I hope to be able to do this pretty regularly.  I will be updating a (mostly) weekly list of game picks that are on sale for numerous platforms.  I will probably feature maybe five or six choices per week.  I will try to diversify my sources as well, so not all of these deals will be from Steam.  Let us begin…

NOTE: All prices are in USD and are subject to change.

Valkyria Revolution (PS4)

  $19.90 $39.99

Amazon
While Valkyria Revolution isn’t the best strategy RPG out there, it is a solid action RPG with strategy elements and a pretty solid evolution of the excellent Valkyria Chronicles.  The only downside I can find is the flux of difficulty between the weak cannon-fodder enemies and the excessively-tough bosses is quite jarring.  However, a quality upgrade system, deep character customization with unique skills and pretty fun gameplay makes this one worth a $20 price.

 


NieR:Automata (PC)

$38.99 $59.99
PC/Steam
A must-have for September is NieR:Automata, a smart and exciting anime action/adventure game from SquareEnix.  If you have not played this combination shooter/hack n’ slasher, you owe it to yourself to give it a play, especially with it being more than $20 off retail!

 

 


SNK Publisher Sale (PC)

Various prices
PC/Steam

For arcade gaming fans like myself, this sale is awesome. Featuring a bevy of excellent King of Fighters and Metal Slug games, it really is a who’s-who of NeoGeo arcade brilliance! I would also check out the fun SHOCK TROOPERS series as well as the competitive, split-screen shooter Twinkle Star Sprites (Yes! That name is for-real) that has rarely seen a US release so far.

 


Dark Souls Series (PS4)

Various prices
Playstation Store
If you like a little punishment, you can always bet on the quality Dark Souls games and Dark Souls II and III as well as DLC and special editions are all on sale this week on the Playstation Store. Get your download on and good luck on the Nameless King!

 

 


God Eater 2 (PS4)

$14.99 $59.99
Playstation Store
For fans of the popular Monster Hunter franchise, God Eater 2 is a welcome change of scenery maintaining many of the core elements of the classic kill-and-craft action.  Effectively, God Eater 2 is a Monster Hunter clone but post-apocalyptic and in a sci-fi setting.  It is quite good though, with interesting classes and skills and some pretty challenging fights right at the start of the game.

 

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