The Deal with Pocket Monster Designs

Behold this horrid wretch before you, and ask yourself: how did Donald Trump beat this thing out of the first place in Time Magazine’s Most Influential People of 1998?

Not that any of that happened, of course. But imagine.

The thing I wanted you to take home from this is that no matter how awful the shape, the design in itself is instantly recognizable. And Pikachu, the loveable little thing, would probably give Trump a run for his money in terms of lovability versus fame (then again, a lot of Pokémon probably would).

Most people recognize at least one Pokémon, and everyone who went through the original craze probably has a favorite one. The initial 150 Pokémon (the so-called Generation I) have become almost iconic. But the Pokémon franchise has now existed for over twenty years total, and the 150 Pokémon have now been expanded to a whopping 802. And as the Pokémon universe as a whole has been growing along, the Pokérap could now be dubbed a Pokérhapsody. And some people, including those who dislike stupid puns, aren’t too happy about that.

This is one of the main problems the Pokémon fandom has been dealing with over the past few years: with each new entry into the series, less and less people recognize all different Pokémon. For a series that thrives on collectability (as reflected in the show’s tagline, “Gotta catch ‘em all!”), one would say that more Pokémon would thus equal a better game. Sadly for Nintendo, not everyone agrees.

One of the main points of conflict is the design of the new Pokémon, the current generation (Generation VII) indeed being a far cry from the original 150. In no way should design choices be underestimated as a major key to the player’s appreciation of Pokémon. The way the Pokémon look, the way these looks relate to their abilities, and their general cuteness or coolness all play a decisive role in the player reception. Nintendo’s team has operationalized these elements in quite a few clever and inventive ways. Naturally, these ways have not remained exactly the same over a span of twenty years.

For instance, let’s take a look at something simple, such as Pokémon eye design:

Players have been noting these differences for a while now, and the new design approach is quite visible indeed. The original designs mostly have sharp edges to them, and small, concentrated pupils. Note the predominantly triangular shapes. The result is a Pokémon that looks more focused, a bit more cranky, or cool, so you will. Most of the Generation I Pokémon with round-eye design later evolve into having a triangular shape. This is the case for Charmander, Squirtle, Psyduck, Poliwag, Magikarp, and the list goes on.

On the other hand, the new designs show eyes that avoid sharp edges and triangular shapes. The eyes are mostly round with large pupils which are often accentuated by a distinct highlight. The result here is that the Pokémon looks “softer”, for lack of a better word. The eyes more often seem fully opened, whereas the triangular shape implies a furrowed brow. Large pupils create a cuter look to the Pokémon as opposed to the focused glare of the tiny pupil. Only bigger, and evolved Pokémon tend to have triangular eyes in the new designs.

This design choice might be one of the reasons that makes old players look at the newest generation and say, “Where are the cool ones?”, as they glance over the newest additions.

However, it should be noted that it is always easy to cherry-pick contrasting designs when your pool of choice is 802 samples big.

There are also some distinct similarities that occur within each new generation of Pokémon. For example, here’s Throh. He’s a Generation V fighting-type Pokémon, who typically wears what seems to be a judogi. Poor little Throh here has frequently been bashed for the fact that a Pokémon wearing clothes doesn’t make all that much sense. Where does it find a tailor? Did it hatch from the egg like that? Is it part of its skin? We might never know the answer (although you’ll probably find something if you dig deep enough, but why ruin the mystery?).

It should then be said that clothed Pokémon have always been a part of the original set. Here we also have Nicki Minaj, the racist stereo-type Pokémon. Jokes aside, Pokémon such as Machoke, Primeape and Jynx have all been known to be dressed, be it with undergarments, boxing gloves or robes. What’s more, Pokémon are also known to carry around props as they’re born, such as with Farfetch’d and its leek, Alakazam with its akimbo spoons or Cubone’s skeletal attire on which fan speculation still runs rampant. The conclusion should be drawn that Pokémon with clothes and props are a constant feature throughout all generations, and the attributes often create a large part of the Pokémon’s character.

As tastes can differ, there has also been a large influx of Pokémon deemed ugly within the newer generations. They are accused of looking uninspired, or like straight-out trash. Like this little guy over here, Trubbish. He is, quite simply, a bag of rubbish, and it’s rather obvious the designers went for just that. While some may call it uninspired, a tradition of straight-forward and simple Pokémon can also be traced back to the original generation, such as with Grimer, who is a blob of grime. It wouldn’t be too far-fetched to say that Trubbish comes from a very similar line of thought that might have originated with Grimer. Both are poisonous, and resemble a result of human waste coming to life. Similar straightforward designs in Generation I can be found in Butterfree (a butterfly), Seel (a seal), Krabby (a crab), Horsea (a seahorse), and many more. The outside world and its animals, objects, and backgrounds have always played a major part in how Pokémon are designed.

As you might have noticed, many of these design grievances revolve around comparisons between the first generation of Pokémon and newer ones. There is a final gripe on this topic I would like to shed light on, which is the general adaptations of Generation I Pokémon.

Behold here, the “mega evolutions” of the three original starter Pokémon. They are alternate forms which can be summoned in the game, and they have caused quite some heavy backlash. If I were to guess why, I suppose nostalgia is the biggest factor as to why many people don’t like these designs. When certain characters with a large enough cultural impact in their wake are changed, or altered, people often tend to feel robbed. The characters are treated as idols that are not to be tampered with. Similarly, this might also be the reason why people dislike having certain buildings (dis)appear over their hometown skylines. It could also be traced back to why people hate plastic surgery with celebrities, Michael Jackson and Renee Zellweger being prime examples of people who were heavily shamed because they altered the look so many people had come to love them for. The reasons as to why people are so sensitive to nostalgia could provide enough material for multiple essays. Is nostalgia an elaborate coping mechanism? Are the icons of nostalgia inseparable parts of our identities? Perhaps it all revolves around the sense of belonging and community that comes along with great collective memory? Whatever it could be, nostalgia in practice is never a subject one can look at without a colored lens. It is quite feasible for people to grow defensive over their views, even though their views might not be all that reasonable; nostalgia can have that power. It is then a shame that these icons (memories of Pokémon, your hometown skyline, celebrities) become viewed as public property instead of someone’s personal property. The childhoods are of the people, but the icons are not.

So some people like the new designs, and others don’t. The one thing I’d like to stress is that new Pokémon are different from the ones back in the day, and that this is a very natural thing. The design approach, however, is still stocked with the same tradition and convention that the original Pokémon were designed with. Ken Sugimori, the original artist, still stands at the head of the entire process of Pokémon creation, after all. The ideas behind the Pokémon haven’t changed all that much, but we, as a generation of people raised on Pokémon, have. When you’re looking at the new designs, a good exercise might be to try and place yourself into the mindset your inner ten-year-old, and see if you wouldn’t want to catch any of these new Pokémon. After all, the game is still marketed toward children. And if you start taking a children’s franchise too seriously, then you might want to take the hint and let it go altogether. You might not be the target audience anymore, and at the end of the day, maybe that’s how it should be.

On a final note, however:

The original chubby Pikachu remains superior to any new design or form—and that’s an objective fact. I did the math.

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Review: Wonder Woman

So, a big monster guy crashes down onto Times Square, plucking a young maiden from the crowd. With a booming voice he proclaims, “Fuck you, citizens of New York! Bow and tremble to the might of Zorblon the Terrible!” Then Gal Gadot (our Amazonian heroine) comes out of nowhere and knocks Zorblon to the moon in one hit, rescuing the maiden. In a corner of the crowd one paparazzo nudges the other, saying, “Did ya see that? She must be some kinda… Wonder Woman” They start snapping pictures. Queue to the next day with presses rolling out a front page picture of the newly baptized Wonder Woman.

Luckily, this didn’t happen in Wonder Woman (2017). In my experience, a scene such as this wouldn’t be too far-fetched for a movie trailer, and it would also have been a major red flag. Superhero movies have a hard time to refrain from using clichés such as these—something director Patty Jenkins and her team had obviously worked on. But when it comes to red flags, Wonder Woman (2017) had quite a few before I went into it. There’s a lot of history to go over when trying to address these red flags. If you just want the short spoiler-free review, feel free to skip the background stuff.

Wonder Woman’s history of red flags:

The DC film universe has been trying (and arguably failing) to catch up with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Whereas DC’s comics have been performing very well over the last couple of years and Marvel’s comic sales have been plummeting, the companies show a big power switch when it comes to the movies. The three earlier entries into the DCU (Man of Steel (2010), Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2015) and Suicide Squad (2016)) were all met with mixed reviews. A thing these movies all had in common was that the trailers looked great, the marketing was hardcore, and they gathered a lot of hype, but the end results were disappointing. In addition, they all had stilted development cycles of extensive script rewrites and reshoots. They were box-office hits, but not much else. Wonder Woman (2017) showed all the same symptoms, and was next in line. Moreover, the crew wasn’t shaping up to be an all-star formation. The previous entries into the DCU had bigwig Hollywood personalities working in front of as well as behind the camera. The film had been in the works since 1996 (going through what is generally known as development hell), with Patty Jenkins being the umpteenth director to pick up the project. Jenkins, a director with relatively little experience or exposure, would then have to work with a cast of similar imagoes. Gal Gadot, the lead actress, used to be a supermodel before making a switch to acting. And lord knows that models don’t have the best track record in their big screen appearances (traditional “eye-candy” roles and the likes). With only minor roles to her name (most notably in the The Fast and the Furious-franchise) there have been serious doubts regarding her ability to star in a major blockbuster. Even our own Doutzen Kroes had a part in the movie, and anyone who has seen her commercials on TV or her role in Nova Zembla (2011) could tell you not to expect too much of her part. Personally, I was hoping that Gadot wouldn’t end up falling into the same category as Doutzen.

Needless to say, I was a bit worried when I sat myself down in the movie theatre. Not because of the above, but largely because I knew what I was in for: just another superhero flick. They always tend to be entertaining, visual spectacles—but also deeply formulaic. You can often imagine the checklist of what events need to unfurl at which moments. It’s often just a matter of how “seamless” the creators are in putting all the elements in place, and even then the experience remains linear at best (that is not to say that linearity can’t be done well). So my mentality going into the film wasn’t a “I wonder if it’s good,” but rather a “I wonder if they fucked it up.”

But still, my expectations weren’t all negative. I asked myself what I wanted out of this movie, and it boiled down to two things:

  • I wanted a decent DC superhero movie. A good way to promote the quality of a product is solid competition. As dislikeable as company wars can get, having two factions provide superhero entertainment is still better than one. Also, I felt bad for DC fans after Batman v Superman (2015) and Suicide Squad (2016). If Miss Jenkins could make Wonder Woman (2017) work, then I would have renewed hope for a turnaround in quality on the DC side, and maybe (just maybe) an overall increase of quality in the genre.
  • I wanted a decent Wonder Woman. Not often am I eager to talk politics in pop culture, but wasn’t it about time for a female superhero to get her own movie? The only other ones I could think of were Catwoman (2004) and Elektra (2005), which both featured eye-candy heroines in godawful movies. While I deem those two characters somewhat disposable, I didn’t want Hollywood to mess up the single most iconic female hero—an icon of feminism since 1941, and still going strong. Even better: the movie was directed by a woman, who also happens to be the first female entry in the gallery of superhero directors.

I was looking forward to a change in direction for the superhero genre, adding a female touch. However, it did up the pressure quite a bit. If the movie sucked, or would turn out to be overly preachy on feminism and such, it wouldn’t do much good for feminists in pop culture. Even worse, overly preachy movies trying to tackle social subjects like feminism often tend to do their respective movements more harm than good. And that’s what worried me most.

Please, I thought, don’t make Wonder Woman comment on manspreading.

The review:

It was pretty good. For superhero standards, the movie was pretty damn good, even. But I’ll stick to pretty good, since I’m trying not to move goalposts here.

The movie followed a fairly generic storyline in an original setting, starting on the mythical island of the Amazons, Themyscira. It showed Diana’s (our heroine, portrayed by Gal Gadot) coming of age, and the big event that would urge her to take on the mantle of Wonder Woman. This first act mostly shone through a badass depiction of the Amazons and their martial prowess. Sadly, the first act also included the necessary amount of exposition and all the unrealistic dialogue that comes with it. On the acting side, Gal Gadot and her opposing star Chris Pine showed surprising chemistry, something which carried on through the rest of the movie. I could rest easy knowing that I probably wouldn’t be cringing my way through the rest of the movie.

Then the second act came around, and I would like to assure you that this act alone makes the movie worth seeing. The setting switched to the harsh frontlines of WWI, and the scenes ranged from heartfelt to really damn awesome, having a decent blend of various genres: action, romcom, drama, even showing competence as a period piece. It showcased all the qualities that make Wonder Woman an inspiring character, and Patty Jenkins did a magnificent job on the cinematography and direction of the action sequences. The film shows great heart by not only focusing on its central heroine, but by also picturing the grimness of war, which I appreciated very much. This dark tone is something the movies of the DCU have tried to embrace, but only Wonder Woman has been able to make it work so far. Having Wonder Woman running around as a beacon of hope in that grimness wasn’t just awesome, but even believable. There are but a few formula-checks, one of which of course being the villain of the film, which I found bearable but not earth-shaking. There was not a lot of depth to the antagonists as characters—but then again, what Wonder Woman was fighting could be argued to have more to do with the violent nature of mankind itself rather than just an evil professor or Zorblon the Terrible. The only real annoyance on my part came from the code switching that happened every now and again. Instead of having the Germans speak German, they all spoke English with a stereotypical kraut-accent. Even when the English speakers switched to German, all that happened was a change in accent, which felt rather silly. Could it have been that hard to have a few German actors, or have your actors learn a few German lines? Wonder Woman is shown to speak pretty much every language, so why did they choose to do this? Perhaps it was an attempt to make the film more accessible for all ages—which might have succeeded, however jarring it was.

When the third act rolled around, I was already plenty satisfied. The final plot was still generic, though it did a decent job at tying up the loose ends. I cared enough about the characters up to this point to be curious about what was going to happen, even though the clichés were kind of piling up. Still, the movie didn’t miss beats in terms of acting or action. Of course, there is a big final fight, and there are some points which made me wonder if the CGI budget had all been spent by the second act, but I took it in just the same. It felt good to see Wonder Woman mature as a person from beginning to end, and I believe Gal Gadot is to praise for this. Her character showcased the basic hero-characteristics since her first scene of the movie: bravery, compassion, and an almost naïve trust in the good of the world. As the film progressed, all of these ideals were tested in realistic ways. The dilemma posed to Wonder Woman could come down to the following question: how can your belief in the good of mankind weather one of the most cruel wars in modern history? This dilemma reaches its peak in the last act in a spectacular, satisfying fashion. Her character development is a pleasure to watch, especially when compared to other superhero movies.

A lot of which I was sceptical about turned out better than I expected, and a bit of surprise is always a good thing, if you ask me. In this case, the surprise came from how the film diverted from several formulaic patterns, and how human and likeable the character of Wonder Woman was. Though the first and third act have a lot in common with standard superhero flicks, the film is at its most powerful in the second act. Here, we finally get to see a female hero with substance, one that has been long overdue. Wonder Woman wasn’t a flawless character, but at the same time larger-than-life. She hits all the marks as both a hero and a character; her womanhood being an essential part to both. Simply put, if the film had been “Wonder Man”, nothing about the film would have worked. Seeing a narrative supporting its titular character with such understanding is refreshing.

My biggest gripe would be that the film sometimes seems to be torn between what the superhero genre (and so the producers) needed it to be, and what the movie itself wanted to be. I suppose the film is undoubtedly led by a company that feels the need to steer the story toward big set pieces and landscape-shattering explosions. Regardless, enough of the film’s heart shone through in the loveable characters and solid directing. Despite its flaws, Wonder Woman (2017) far exceeded my expectations.

I’m rating this flickaroo with three outta four stars.

The Redundancy of Memes

Memes. What about ‘em?

I dread them, that’s what. Luckily for me, my hate for the concept only boils up on a very superficial level, namely most of the stuff you go through on your social media feed: captioned pictures, short clips, inside jokes and puns that revolve around certain formulas and themes. However, the origin of what a “meme” is lies elsewhere—a place that has fairly little to do with the internet. The word “meme” can be seen as a prime example of a word being used out of context, but still being widely popular regardless. An ever-growing spectrum of jokes is fabricated (often forcefully) each day, and the internet has baptized these assorted jokes as “memes”. And by “the internet”, I mean no one in particular; there is no specific group that could be held accountable for attributing the term to the phenomenon. This makes determining why the word is used all the more difficult, since there is seemingly no motivation behind it. And yet, it happened. The average Joe in the street will probably answer the question “what are memes?” with an internet-related response; the definition is shifting. But from what exactly is the definition shifting? A short bit of history:

The word meme originally appeared as a newly coined term in Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene (1976). Simply put, his definition was “an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture”. Dawkins, being a biologist, modeled the word after the word gene + mimeme (Ancient Greek for “imitated thing”, crudely translated), and thus tried to emphasize the evolutionary nature of the word, as well as the element of mimicry. Dawkins’ meme is related to the idea of a gene in the sense that it is a cultural analogue which self-replicates, mutates and responds to selective pressures. In short, without all the technical stuff: a meme is a scientific unit that could contain any culture-related idea. Any.

Let’s do a quick list of things that are, by this definition, memes:

  • Writing and speech? Check.
  • A fist-bump? Meme.
  • Religion? Most definitely.
  • An inside-joke between you and your friends regarding that one thing X once did on a wild night in location Y while under the influence of substance Z? It’s quite probably a meme (and a dirty one, at that).
  • Clear-knee mom jeans? Expensive, trendy memes.
  • Ideologies? All of ‘em.
  • A picture of a chubby cat with a puzzled facial expression asking for a cheeseburger in crude English? You betcha. (No matter how oddly specific, this is quite probably the most recognizable meme on this list)

As you see, Dawkins’ memes can go from ordinary, everyday practices to pretty obnoxious random stuff. Sky’s the limit. The way in which memes develop and work can be so convoluted that there’s a scientific field dedicated to it, memetics, which aims to explain patterns in cultural ideas. Just goes to show how difficult it is to pinpoint exactly what a meme is, or can be.

And that’s exactly the problem: what exactly is made significant by a term this broad? Several of Dawkins’ critics note that the idea of “memes” verge more on philosophy instead of science. Moreover, it begs the question whether or not the idea of a meme is even relevant in any way; it has all the characteristics of linguistic bureaucracy, meaning that it expresses a simple concept through unnecessarily complex means, all for the sake of making it a scientifically researchable subject. Memetics are thus often dismissed by the critics as pseudo-science, a notion I could get behind. So is Dawkins’ original idea of a meme redundant? Until memetics show any significant results, I’d be inclined to say yes.

Now, let us consider the internet.

With Dawkin’s definition being so easily applicable to anything and everything, you’d be right to assume that internet memes became a thing as soon as the internet was born. However, while they technically do adhere to the original meaning of “meme” (then again, what doesn’t?), that’s not what internet memes are known for these days.

Internet memes feed mainly off humor, or attempts at it. They used to be funny pictures or clips sent via e-mails and all that old stuff. As the internet progressed, forums and message boards quickly became breeding grounds for all internet-related jokes. These early memes (photoshopped images, absurd GIFs, prank e-mail chains) formed the templates for modern memes, and were very original at the time (think late 90s to early 00s). The amount of people involved in the actual creation of the inside jokes were relatively scarce, unlike now. Sites such as 9GAG soon provided easy ways for the masses to partake in the creation of memes, and the results turned out to be devastating. Today, memes run rampant, and the face of the internet has never been the same again.

A short list of internet memes, old or new:

  • Planking
  • Image macro’s such as “Bad Luck Brian” and “Scumbag Steve”, amongst a plethora of others
  • Lolcats
  • The Harlem Shake
  • Shrek (along with the song which shall not be named)
  • Obama, Biden, Trump, politics in general
  • Freek Vonk (if you’re Dutch)
  • Starterpacks
  • “Yasss queen slay slay yaaaass”

You’ll see these things appear on Facebook, YouTube, Reddit, 4chan, and other popular sites and internet media like BuzzFeed, Huffington Post, etc… It could be argued that these sites all run on memes, as all of them produce memes which are made to appeal to the audience which the site wants to attract. In short, the internet meme has become a medium in itself. And that’s all fine and dandy, except for one thing: the originality is easily drained once commercialism gets its grubby paws on it. Sadly, it’s not often that an original joke is produced based on an established formula.

These formulas are often not too hard to figure out, and the memes then often devolve instead of evolve. Let’s check out a recent meme that went viral:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cbKmm_xAEro

I’ll say that I thought it was kind of funny when it first popped up. But if you frequent the internet enough, you’d know at least 5 different takes on this “shooting stars” meme. And while they do follow the exact same pattern as the original, it’s just never as funny (says me, wanna fight about it?). And the humor is depleted with every subsequent new one that pops up, the reason being fairly self-explanatory: it’s the same thing in a different jacket. Of the hundreds of variants that appear, only one had the original element of surprise that perhaps made you chuckle like the first one you saw. The other 99 are as redundant as the word meme in itself, which prompts me to believe that in a twisted way, it was all meant to be.

This leads me to a final, alarming issue: the redundancy of this joke-repetition that floods the popular internet these days has not gone unnoticed. I’m not too sure whether it is by a process of evolution or devolution, but the word “meme” in itself has started to become a meme. A lot of people seem to recognize the dread that comes from a deluge of memes, and are entertained not by the memes themselves but rather by the situation as a whole. It is because memes are generally lazy, stupid and childish that these people find it funny. The response is a sarcastic usage of internet slang and general meme formulas. And this is what really gets my gears a-grinding.

A phrase you’ll often see pop up is “dank memes”. You’ll see pictures of self-aware memes pop up on Facebook, with phrases like “that one friend you only communicate with through memes”. You’ll even see people going post-ironic, making memes about people who sarcastically spout shitty memes. There is no end to the mundanity, the predictability and the unoriginality which proliferates in this part of the internet, and its influence is growing bigger by the day.

To all these people and “memers” I’d like to say: shame on you. Even if you are creating or spreading memes ironically, you’re still adding to the cesspool of obnoxious, childish humor and behavior that springs on the internet. I won’t dictate what you should think of as humorous, but I will say that you shouldn’t be surprised if I mentally spit on you as you pass. Consume your garbage anyway you like, but keep it the hell away from me.

So let’s summarize.

The origin of the word “meme” is a fairly redundant one, in the same way that the shifted definition of “meme” (on the internet) is redundant. Seeing memes being wiped from the face of the earth would take away many of my restless nights, in which I ponder, who? Who likes this garbage?, until I cringe myself to sleep at 5:30 in the morning. I will further inquiries with medical instances in order to reaffirm my condition, but until that time, I know that I am not alone. And for the sake of people like me, please, keep your memes to yourself. The very least that I would ask of you is the following: if you must dabble in memes, be it about Harry Potter, videogames, being a student, being a cat lover, being into sports, PLEASE:

Keep memes out of real life.
Keep them on the internet.
Contain this plague.

Thank you.

Review: 69 Love Songs by The Magnetic Fields

luc-69-love-songs

Ah, love songs. They’re hard to love, but harder to hate. The two are never far apart.

Except for today, that is. Around Valentine’s Day people usually start to ponder more about love. What’s it all about? Worth the trouble, or just a pile of rubble? It’s different for everyone. Yet the songs on the radio suddenly get a new ring to them. As you listen closely, you’ll soon find that a big chunk of the pop charts are composed of love-related songs. All year through, people hum along without noticing. It’s usually only until around Valentine’s Day that people start to hate the same songs, and with good reason. Who needs a millionaire pop artist to whine about that particular one who got away, their break-ups or happiness in love? We ordinary people go through the same shit every day, except we don’t have money-oozing bank accounts and tons of admirers. Damned be capitalism, commercialism and their soul-wrenching, toe-curling spawn that is Valentine’s Day!

All that aside, the fact remains that love songs are an integral part of popular music. Some of them are pretty dumb, yes, but almost everyone has at least some love songs they like. There’s just something magical about them that resonates with our hearts. Here I’d like to discuss the frequency that mine is tuned into:

In 1999, the so-called “indie-pop” band The Magnetic Fields released the concept-album titled 69 Love Songs. The term concept-album basically means that the songs exist more around one particular theme rather than around the sound of the music itself. And while the theme of this album is indeed love, there’s a twist to it. Here’s how Stephin Merritt, songwriter and mastermind of the band, put it:

69 Love Songs is not remotely an album about love. It’s an album about love songs, which are very far away from anything to do with love.”

The three-volume album pays homage to the history of love songs through the use of a myriad of sounds combined with clever lyrics. “Clever”, meaning that all songs are posed as love songs, but always have a twist to them which makes them humorous, dark, heartfelt, depressing or just awkward (which does add up since it’s about love and all). At times it can be hard to get a grip on how a song is supposed to make you feel due to the frequent juxtapositions of sad lyrics set to happy tunes. All clichés ever produced in love song history show up on the album, but always in a surprising or plain unorthodox fashion. Stephin Merritt skillfully shows just how much he flouts the concept of a love song, but at the same time he honors its tradition with care and dedication.

An example can be found in the song “A Pretty Girl is Like”, a parody on old minstrel show tunes (specifically Irving Berlin’s “A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody”):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PevViEXDcY0

As you might have heard, the song revolves around the love song cliché of overblown metaphors. In this take of Merritt’s, the conclusions to his similes are anything but romantic, however.

Merritt’s low singing voice is fairly untrained, which, strangely enough, adds to the overall sound rather than detracts from it. The album often has a lo-fi sound which comes off as amateurish, corny or vulnerable in the places where it should be. This does not mean that the sound produced in the songs are particularly pretty, but they do get the job done in terms of creating an atmosphere. There is nothing virtuosic about the instrumentals or the singing, but the album does well to make up for that in terms of songwriting and the aforementioned atmospheric qualities. Furthermore, there are songs which are complete jokes, such as “Experimental Music Love”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HP-D0ujV9Pk

Yeah. Not much to be said about that. The joke is a fairly direct jab at the “experimental music” genre, but delivers its punch in a theoretical sense rather than in a practical one; you might enjoy the idea of the joke, but you’ll probably skip through it next time when you listen to the album.

However, as stated before, I think there are quite a few songs that do get better after multiple hearings, and some of them (the most heart-felt ones) have the potential to be classics. Probably the most famous song to come from this album is “The Book of Love”, Peter Gabriel’s orchestral rendition of which you might know from TV-series such as South Park (the Tweek X Craig episode) or the finale of Scrubs:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SZQIfEN_p2A

The song itself reflects on love as being a fairly silly concept, not always that great, but ultimately worth it considering the person you love. It poses sober cynicism against the overwhelmingness of love in a very effective way that makes my heart jump with each of the song’s triumphant cries. It feels good to have negativity, cynicism, reason—beaten by love; a message that resonates with a large number of people, including me. It is also a take on love songs that isn’t heard on the radio every day. One could say that it is a more profound exploration of the whole “Let’s have sex because #yolo!”-thing, which even romantic poets where on back when they were relevant. Dirty, dirty Keats.

To conclude, I recommend that you check out this album. It might be from 1999, but I’d say that this work is still relevant in terms of craftsmanship and message, which I would boil down to something along the lines of “Love songs can be pretty stupid. But so is love, and who doesn’t want that?” Especially around Valentine’s Day it might be nice to consider the possible meanings of love, and I think Stephin Merritt does a great job of showing many different aspects, be it stupid, delicate, or just plain fun:

It makes you blind, it does you in
It makes you think you’re pretty tough
It makes you prone to crime and sin
It makes you say things off the cuff

It’s very small and made of glass
and grossly overadvertised
It turns a genius to an ass
and makes a fool think he is wise

It could make you regret your birth
or turn cartwheels in your best suit
It costs a lot more than it’s worth
and yet there is no substitute

They keep it on a higher shelf
the older and more pure it grows
It has no color in itself
but it can make you see rainbows

You can find it on the Bowery
or you can find it at Elaine’s
It makes your words more flowery
It makes the sun shine, makes it rain

You just get out what they put in
and they never put in enough
Love is like a bottle of gin
but a bottle of gin is not like love

-Love is Like a Bottle of Gin (1999)

luc_wbkaartjes

The Crash of Originality

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Do you remember 2016? I don’t know what you’ve been up to over the Christmas holidays, but let’s assume that you do remember, for the sake of argument. So, whether you’re a 2016 hater or lover, you’ve probably been to the cinema once or twice. It’s not too far-fetched to say that the consensus on 2016, life-wise, has been pretty shitty. But the movies—oh, the movies! Surely, there’s a small yet radiant twinkle of positivity to be found in all of the great movies that came out in 2016, right?

You’d be wrong. (Disclaimer: buckle up for an unhealthy dose of cynicism coming your way from this point on)

As a matter of fact, 2016 has been garbage in a lot of fields. Seldom have politics been this superficial, polarized or as unironically offensive. Sure, politics have never been top-notch entertainment, but we used to be able to get a good yuck or two out of it at the very least. No longer.

Music-wise, I think most people are ruefully aware of all the one-of-a-kind icons that we lost. Lord knows that we didn’t get anything back for them, not in the pop charts at least.

And then there was the thing with the American elections. Emotions were (and still are) running high, and the whole circus has left people tired. Jaded. Forworn. Other fancy terms that express a form of exhaustion.

And what do people do to escape the stressfulness of real life? That’s right, they get the heck out of real life and dive into the realm of fantasy! And justifiably so. Sadly, imagination isn’t a given for most people. Luckily for them, Hollywood produces and provides enough for millions.

But oh-ooooh. Looks like good ol’ Disney just drew up the bucket from the fantasy well—and well, the bucket came up near empty, it seems. Zoiks! The well of fantasy, dreams, and ambition beneath Hollywood has run dry! Whatever will we do in this most dire time of need? A short break for a not-that-nuanced allegory:

 

The men in suits peer into the bucket. The undrinkable sludge that was hoisted up looks back at them with eyes that say “Please, feed me! Have mercy!”. The men look back at each other, shaking their heads. The bucket is solemnly slung back into the pit. They ponder. Suddenly, a lightbulb pops up above one’s head, a lightbulb as cliché and predictable as the idea it spawns. The men in suits head down to the Disney farmlands, where the prize-winning horses of yore graze. The men wring their hands, chuckling with yellow teeth exposed. They take up their clubs and other blunt objects, and creep up behind the biggest and prettiest horse they own. With dollar-symbols bulging from their eyes, they start beating the horse, again, again, and again. There is no escape. With each hit, money sprays from the poor animal’s orifices until it is as empty and dry as the Hollywood well itself. After a day of pummeling, the sun finally sets. Panting, but still grinning, the men in suits stuff their pockets and pat each other’s backs. The chief acutely stops laughing and silently gathers the attention of the other men. Making a hushing motion with his finger over his lips, he points toward a different horse, a little further up. The next victim. The men suppress their giggles and creep off, pockets jingling. The night is still young, but the dead horse that was left in the men’s wake did not live to see it. Its name: Star Wars.

 

The above mentioned vivid rendering of 2016 is a bit crude, I agree, but there’s something I’m working toward, and that’s the following: sequels, to me, are causing the crash of originality. There has been an overwhelmingly positive reaction to all big new cinema hits  over the past couple of years. Just look at the Marvel Cinematic Universe, making around $716 million a movie, if not more. A positive reaction, of course, means not only a satisfied audience, it also means big financial success for the industry! And as the marketers do their trick, a formula is created to systemize and uphold this success. The name of the game is rehashing, and the aim is to pick up old brands and previous box-office hits and make new movies out of them. It’s as if all your imaginary childhood friends are back in action! In 3D.

Over the last couple of years, we’ve seen this formula shape itself into the most efficient one possible: pander to the most superficial denominator of the fandom, and keep the money coming in. We’ve seen reboots and rehashes of all kinds of 80’s, 90’s and early 2000’s franchises with Robocop, Star Wars, Harry Potter, The Powerpuff Girls, Godzilla, Terminator, Planet of the Apes, The Mummy, Ghostbusters, a plethora of superhero flicks, and the list goes on. While some of these films turned out to be critically acclaimed, I don’t necessarily reckon that to be a good thing. Reviving old brands instead of thinking of new ones shows how originality isn’t the goal anymore—something which is crucial to a genre such as fantasy, most of the movies I just listed being a part of that. At a certain point, the imagination isn’t necessary anymore. The contexts have all been established; all that changes is the look, and sometimes the actors. And don’t forget that it’s in 3D, so be sure to pay up that extra two bucks for a flimsy pair of glasses that doesn’t even have the cool red and blue lenses like they always did on TV, to add insult to injury.

The difficulty of establishing a new magical universe on a movie screen can be elevated to an art if the core of the genre is stayed true to: fantasy. Only a unique mind who can picture something unseen and continue to portray just that in a thrilling manner can produce a truly original world of fantasy, one that I would love to see. Sadly, there is not much originality that goes into these films. In fact, repeating what the source material did is praised, instead. The director is put on a pedestal, and is said to “really understand what the franchise is about,” while the fandom actually ends up watching movies incredibly similar to those they’ve already seen in a new jacket (“new”, of course, meaning the same jacket you once had, but just a tad more expensive and not of the right size anymore, almost as if you outgrew it before you owned it). Originality is thus replaced by rehashing, mistaken for integrity.

Furthermore, the industry cleverly taps into our most vulnerable places: our childhoods. The biggest manufacturers of our childhood fantasies are indeed the ones we are most prone to praise. We love our childhood movies, after all, and for that reason alone the belief is established that the studios who created these movies can do no wrong. But a quick look at a much beloved studio like Pixar, for example will show that they are not nearly as creative or original as they used to be. Since 2010 their movies have mostly been built upon rehashes, with more still in the works:

 

Toy Story 3 (2010)

Cars 2 (2011)

Monsters University (2013)

Finding Dory (2016)

Cars 3 (2017)

The Incredibles 2 (2018)

Toy Story 4 (2019)

 

The movies that weren’t sequels were the arguably lackluster Brave (2012) and The Good Dinosaur (2015), and then one big commercial hit, Inside Out (2015). With one original and successful movie in a span of nearly a decade, one would hardly call a studio like Pixar worthy of all the praise it gets. The quality of their animation, while still spectacular, is not even that ahead of the curve anymore compared to other animation studios (Dreamworks, LAIKA, and whoever made The Lego movie (2014)), like it used to be. Sadly, Pixar too seems to have picked up on the formula, and their films still steadily take spots on the Oscars list for Best Animated Feature every year, while the somewhat smaller, more original films (such as this year’s The Red Turtle (2016) or My Life as a Zucchini (2016)) take a backseat to the power of childhood nostalgia. Sure, the two aforementioned films might get nominated for awards, but the audiences they pull are significantly smaller nonetheless. The issue goes beyond a lack of originality in the big studio films—the acclaim they get for their unoriginality is harmful to the entire industry.

Perhaps the reason why these sequels work so well is because people desperately want their childhood to be pristine. There is a beauty about nostalgia that is held so dear by many of us that it blinds. Perhaps the popularity can be explained as a sociological matter rather than through an allegory that shows greedy businessmen beating dead horses. Internet has laid bare all of the outer reaches of fandoms and communities, and now, more than ever, has it become easier to be a part of a fandom. Being part of a group can be a powerful confirmation for your personal obsessions—be it your Hogwarts house, your hate for Jar-Jar Binks, or your knowledge of Disney-movie song lyrics. Why would you want to lose faith in a company or franchise when you and all your friends enjoy their products on a daily basis? Since the products from the rehashes are so dear to so many of us, the game becomes only more foul.

The only conclusion that I can draw here is a plea to the movie industry: please stop beating the horses we love, and bring us some new foals who can grow and live alongside the next generation. And to us moviegoers, please avoid supporting the releases of these big blockbuster rehashes, and go support some smaller films. If you want to escape from the sucky-ness of reality, you can. Just be sure to dive into the future of movies, and not the past. Otherwise, nothing is gained, and nothing is improved. Not reality, not fantasy.

luc_wbkaartjes

December horoscopes

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Oh geez.

I guess you’re looking for the monthly horoscopes we provide here at Writer’s Block. Sadly, there is not much to be read about your future other than the immediate one you’re trying to bridle right now.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the Master astronomer/star-seer can’t be present today. She is currently occupied spearheading a crusade against the false imputations of the so-called thirteenth zodiac sign that has people all riled up these days. She packed her diviner’s toolkit (telescope, star map, crystal ball and a copy of Gypsy Accent Daily) and left. When I asked her what to do about the horoscopes she muttered something along the lines of “The final reckoning is at hand! Those astronomers have received their last horoscopes! The stars spell blood for astronomy!”

I’m just guessing, though. I couldn’t her hear through all the gun-cocking and whatnot. Point is, you’ll have to make due with me this month. Taro, the diviner’s apprentice.

Please, don’t leave yet. I’m still learning, I know, but I’ll try my darn best to bring you your accurate horoscopes. The cosmic observatory is filled with dusty books, papers, dice and other coin-toss substitutes. The answers you seek for are right here, I just gotta find ‘em, is all.

Oh, geez. Bear with me on this one. Some of this may be translated from Hungarian. Or Moldovan. Or whatever these moon runes over here mean.

Here goes nothing:

 

ARIES

The air outside gets colder, but the walls of your house will get warmer. Expect mice.

Whatever happened to those scribbles at the back of your brain? Did you crumple them up, toss them around and leave the ideas incased by your forgetfulness? Pick one up, any of them. Try to unpack what’s inside, and find in its contents a new home. Share it with the world—It’s the season, after all.

Go through your bookshelves. Not the crisp one, but the musty one (AN: The original text may have two meanings, as musty and childhood are apparently interchangeable in Old-Albanian. Figures). Delve into the books of your past, and carefully scan the pages for dried leaves. Touch them, inspect them. Trace their tips back to their stems, and tell the road’s story. It’s still worth telling.

TAURUS

I can smell your financial discontent from here. It’s like your breath: Chocolate and salt. Shreds of aluminum foil. Orange wrappers. Loneliness. The sickness you feel is not your fault, but your duty. Be sure not to pick up that phone when it calls you again.

Spend your energy on adventure, spend your money on nothing. You will encounter an Indiana Jones-y, flimsy rope bridge on your way. You may not be Indy, but you’ll cross it nicely. Remember that easy does it in a balancing act.

However sturdy your footing might be, remember that the floor is covered in corks, cans and bottle caps. Tip-toe, or you might slip.

GEMINI

You’re Batman.

But for goodness’ sake, dress like a normal human being. The pants go over your underwear, and don’t believe people who tell you they didn’t notice.

Each morning will find you with the weight of volition slung around your neck. Luckily, the yoke is bipartite and fueled by dynamicity. Grab your Robin by the collar and throw him in your Batmobile. You’re on a mission.

There’s violence in your house, so be sure to turn that red into a hue of passion. Or is that spaghetti sauce? Anyway—oh geez this won’t get out, will it?—tired, blue winds waft through your room, and they’re pining for a change. Allow yourself to ride its current, and you will decide which sea you will end up in. The rain will take you home, slowly, but unscathed.

You’re Batman, after all.

CANCER

There’s a hole in your kitchen where your culinary excellence used to be. Don’t worry, it’s still your shoe size. Even better, there’s room for growth. Try to imagine the dishes you’ve created, and put them on a scale. Fill up the other side with the dishes you haven’t made. Now effectuate a balance.

A remembrance fills up your cup. Dry soil and seeds in your windowsill, a world of potential unreached. Spend your imagination on reentering this plane, and it might not yet be too late. Ashes and soil may look alike, yet they indicate very different elements. The ash came from fire, with its ignited nicotine and tar residue. The soil came from the earth, dry and hard, a ground of symbiotic workings between burials and breeding. Together, they are lives unlived, and thoughts unthought. Feed the earth with your ashes, and the world will be greener when you wake.

LEO

Consider the power of the mistletoe. Fueled by promiscuity, colored by the lush green of hopeful winters, and unapologetic like my mother smashing the door in my face when I come home for the holidays without a grandchild again. Oh, well.

You harness the obtuse powers of this unkind leaf. One side warms, and the other chills. Keep your eye on it, or it might just turn on you. You know, like being disinherited by papa for not taking on his clown’s mantle in the circus, even though you were never meant for a role such as that because your severe lactose intolerance does not go well with a full-time profession which involves a lot of cream pies to the face, especially not when—

…Err, wrong book. My apologies. I did think my diary sounded familiar. Anyway, your real horoscope actually does read something about love. It’s all a bit hazy, and quite a hassle to translate. There’s not much text left in this box, either.

So, eh, just be careful around love. And stuff. Throw away your smartphone or something. Solves about 90% of all love problems.

VIRGO

The air hangs thick with peril. Boarding your windows won’t do, nor will nailing shut your doors do you any good. You can hole up beneath the covers of your bed, but the monster will find you regardless. It will tear the sheets from underneath you, and drag you into its fiery maw, hell’s fitful flames licking at the soles of your feet while it laughs its guttural, croaking, apologetic and desperate laugh.

Your ex is coming for you.

You pull up your defenses on every social media page you own, and block everything. As you put away your phone, exhausted, it slips from the table and strikes a few strings of the guitar that was lying there. A perfect harmony for an E minor. Remain vigilant, for the sad chord you play might attract a more welcome passer-by. One that might not have been too cuddly with your sister once.

…Hold on, this one has to be my diary. I thought I picked the right one for sure this time—err, nope. This is definitely my sign. Yikes.

LIBRA

You’ve been staring at a blank canvas for a while now. Either untouched, or so unfinished that you might as well call it blank—it doesn’t matter. The paint in the pot has run dry. Tear your eyes from the canvas, and look outside. A different palette of white shows the unseen perspective, the missing ingredient. And as a natural well which never truly runs dry, there is still life water underneath the skin of dried-up residue. You’ll have to delve through the layer to get to the treasure. But in this case, what costs energy, will repay itself with energy. (AN: and hey, if you can make a nice painting out of it, or something, you might just sell it for some serious moolah. It’s not the end-all be-all goal, I know—but wouldn’t it be nice?)

Remember that the comfort of your house is fueled by the love you allow in. When someone knocks on the door, feel free to let them in. But keep the door open for too long and your plants might shrivel, the cat might flee, and your plumbing might freeze. But you won’t be frightened by that. Your imagination will allow you to carry your bed with you, wherever you go. Just make sure that you’re not in it alone. (AN: take that as you will)

SCORPIO

The conclusion has to be drawn that your leash is too long. Your parents, caretakers, lovers—they’re being dragged along as you’re running around the block. But what for? Surely, it’s not because you want to see what’s around the corner that badly. The scenery doesn’t get taken in just like that; it allows itself to be taken in at a very slow, very natural (AN: overly dramatic) tempo. No matter how fast you’ll go, the world won’t slow down, and the leash will eventually yank you back. Before you get to that point, make sure that you know the colors of your neighborhood by heart. You’ll need them.

The opposite, however, is also quite true. Once you slow down too much, take in too much of that scenery, the extending leash will go click and you’ll be the one that’s being dragged along. The best place to walk is near the one whose holding that leash for you.

Look for your leash-carriers, stick close to them, and most importantly, remember to return the favor to them.

SAGITTARIUS

Green-felted tables pave your way. You walk bow-legged, a mobile Atlas under the weight of your winnings. The smell of your favorite liquor pulls at your nose, and leads you from the path. Momentarily distracted, you sit yourself down at the table with the liquor smell. Your hand reaches for the dice, and casts them down with the spin that has won you so many games. But where the dice land, the green felt turns out to be more leathery, more slithery, and definitely more moving than you think it ought to be. Suddenly, you realize that tables don’t usually move, and that liquor doesn’t usually smell. You want to get up, but the felt-table path has disappeared. The only things left are a hissing noise behind your ears, and two sharp snake eyes in front of you.

You wake up at home with a bitter taste in your mouth. A look in the mirror reveals that your locks aren’t golden anymore, and your teeth not to be pearls. At least the weight has completely evaporated from your shoulders, even if it wasn’t the kind of weight you actually wanted to lose. On that note, you could work on that, too. (AN: hate the universe, not me)

CAPRICORN

There are holes in your vision, holes in your teeth, holes in the knees of your jeans. You’ve worn down your bones, ground to dust what should have kept you up. Trying as you might, you bounce and tumble your way through the early winter days, their unkindness tinging your skin with icy kisses. Then, through the haze, a warm glow sings to you like a kind-hearted siren. You reach the island and strand upon its rocks which are unlike any other you’ve ever felt.

Soft, warm, huggable, the island is a bed—your bed. It embraces you. But through the fog, distant lights travel over the horizon. The lighthouses of the world are looking for you. But don’t be mistaken, they are the true sirens. Devour you and rend you to bits they will—no matter the amount of wax you put in your ears.

You are caught at the crossroads, doubting. Which one is the real siren, the bed, or the world? The latter you’ve tried, and see where it has gotten you. You don’t have to trust the bed, its softness, its unwilling to release, but what you could do is give it a shot.

The lighthouses will still be there when you wake.

AQUARIUS

So, those previous ones went quite well! Not too many hiccups. Master would be proud. I hope. Now, let’s see for the next one…

…Oh, my. Quite the classic over here, we have. You’re in luck, Aquarius! My orb reads the following:

You will meet a tall, dark stranger.

Oh, that’s juicy! So what else does it say?

…That’s it? The big kahuna? Talk about an anticlimax—this could hardly be considered a useful horoscope. Master wouldn’t put up with this, and neither will I. Time to roll up the sleeves on this one.

What you don’t know is that I have a visual representation of said “tall, dark stranger”, shown to me through the glass orb. I couldn’t tell you in words. What I see could hardly be translated from the information contained in the galactic ley lines. Only through the use of advanced technology can I show you the picture in my mind’s eye. Now, the stars shall guide my hand over a digital drawing board. Even though I will be blindfolded (wouldn’t want those pesky senses getting in the way) the picture you see here is completely accurate.

Behold:

luc-december-horoscopes-2

Now, that you can work with. In case you might know this particular person, be kind and guide him toward your nearest Aquarius. You will be much appreciated, I’m sure.

PISCES

You vault over the last hurdle and sprint for the finish line. In the moment you land, the world slows down, and you get a rare chance to look around as if nothing would be affected by it. The other contestants are nowhere near as close as you had pictured them to be. If you wouldn’t know any better, you’d say that you were the only one occupying a lane, the other seven completely empty. Somewhere in the back your adversaries might still be, but then again, they might not be.

In your mind hangs a limestone of a question which slowly begins to drip. Who were those people? Were they even my adversaries in the first place? Have I outrun them, or am I the last one left on the track? Why are the hurdles scattered so unevenly? Which ones did I jump? Which ones did I miss?

As the thoughts drip on, the world recovers its original tempo. The finish line comes closer. You can smell the fireworks, feel their blows against your eardrums. The feeling is frightening, but happy. The answers might not all lie beyond that finish line, but a few of them might. Maybe you’re just lucky like that.

And with that, this month’s batch of horoscopes comes to a solemn conclusion. And just in time—I think I can hear Master’s footsteps coming up the stairs, now! Wait, does that mean astrology wins? Astronomy has been defeated?

If so, whoopee! I’m getting solid food tonight! …maybe.

In any case, until we meet again!

luc_wbkaartjes

The Three Worst Directors You Should Watch

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What a time to be alive. Not all of you might be fully aware of it 24/7, but I’d like to give you a reminder that, truly, we are living in an age of cinematographic marvel.         That being said, I am certainly not referring to your local Pathé or Vue establishments. The current trends of Young Adult book-to-film conversions, brand reboots and superhero flicks could hardly satisfy a person like yourself; our beloved reader for whom an acquired taste is an undisputed must. After all, who needs formulaic blockbusters in which the protagonist’s blank-slate typecasted actor is locked in a cockfight with the director who wants to show off his goods with gimmicky thirty-minute trackshots and lens flares?

Not you, that’s for certain! The mainstream is too crowded with people you’d never want to be associated with, and the indie scene is filled with purist snobs who take things way too seriously. Quite the dilemma! It’s like choosing between grabbing a demoralizing, shameful bite at McDonald’s or having a fermented bark superfood potpourri (with sprinkles made from Ulysses or Infinite Jest snippets) at your local vegan joint. Both are insufferable, but you need culture! Food for thought! And you’re probably starving at this point.

I’ll let you in on a substantial alternative, for which I’ll try and extend this food metaphor to help illustrate what we’re up against: around the back of your McDonald’s or Bagels & Beans, you’ll find some really nice bins. Indeed, they’re filled to the brim with garbage, hardly safe for consumption. But if you’re willing to take a good, deep plunge into that vile-smelling territory and dig around thoroughly enough, you’ll find the gems. Not the regular garbage, no. What I’m talking about is the true Garbàge. It is a specialty of a rare cuisine, both inedible and mouthwatering, atrocious yet infatuating. This is more or less the best description I can give for films more commonly known as disasterpieces, movies with such a high volume of train wreck that they can only be described as masterful, or as Bob Ross would put it: happy little accidents.

I’ve been an enthusiastic and proud movie equivalent for a dumpster diver for most of my life, and know my way around a nice plate of Garbàge. For those new to the art: don’t worry. You won’t have to delve through the regular garbage as I did. Instead, I’ve made a short list with the critically acclaimed worst of the worst. The list consists of three directors whose entire oeuvres will leave you with a taste for less. Remember: less is better in this territory. Think of it as the bizarro realm of movie criticism.

I’ve chosen to refrain from certain movie studios who knowingly cash in on the so-bad-that-it’s-good trend, so no Sharknadoes on this list! A defining trait for the disasterpiece is the integrity of a director who is completely unaware of the genuine awfulness they are producing. I think the correct term for this type of charm would be “earnest”. And here are three of the earnestest of them all:

  1. Ed Wood

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For as far as documented disasterpieces go, this guy is the real OG. He made a hilarious string of bad horror/sci-fi movies in the 50s and 60s. And with bad, I mean 50s bad, not ’16 bad. Horror and sci-fi are arguably the worst aging genres in the industry, most notably because people aren’t stupid and know that there’s a man in a monkey suit trashing a cardboard cutout of NYC and not King Kong laying waste to an actual city. Take any pre-70s film from the genre, and it will probably look laughable at best from our CGI-pampered lives today. But Wood’s movies were laughed at in the 50s, when people were just starting to figure out that “Hey, that wacky television box in our living room is actually pretty rad!”.

In short, the standards back then weren’t too high, but Wood’s efforts managed to sadden a weary, post-war audience and push them away from the cinema-medium altogether. All this, while Ed Wood was thoroughly convinced that he was creating Citizen Kane upon Citizen Kane. Instead, his Plan 9 From Outer Space coined the term Z movie among critics. Often labeled the worst film ever made, this movie alone earns a firm spot in this list. And that’s just one of his many.

A keen horror-enthusiast might spot the name Béla Lugosi, the original Dracula, on the bill. His career took a deep dive after dwindling popularity of the genre, and was reported ending up as close friends with Wood (so basically the bottom of the Hollywood well). But the fact is that Lugosi never actually starred in Plan 9 From Outer Space, which probably has to do with his death three years prior to the movie’s shooting. Wood had some leftover silent footage from previous failed projects starring Lugosi, which he put in this movie instead. But how do you plan a movie around the main antagonist when the actor is long dead? The answer: you make a different actor put on Lugosi’s costume, but make him cover his face with a cape for the rest of the film, Dracula-style.

A fun watch in addition to his entire oeuvre is the Tim Burton’s 1994 academy–award winning movie Ed Wood, starring the one and only Johnny Depp. The biopic shows all the highs and many lows of the most intriguing director to ever walk this planet; a background that might explain a lot about his films.

Enjoy the original trailer in a spectacular color restoration!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fjmFLx9bGeI

  1. Neil Breen

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The most recent filmmaker on this list is no one else than Neil Francis Breen. He has been the writer, director, editor and lead actor in all four movies he has put out to date. He has also worked as a real-estate agent before he put himself behind/in front of the lens. Truly a man of many gifts.

Like most indie-filmmakers, Breen takes great pride in his low-budget filming. Nothing out of the ordinary there. What makes Breen stand out, however, is that he claims to make full feature-length blockbusters that rival today’s Hollywood productions. In this regard, he is by far the lowest budget blockbuster filmmaker I have seen to date. He shamelessly re-uses his props, actors, locations in every single film. Arguably the best shots in his films are the stock footage, which takes up an estimated 30% of screen time. Special effects are almost always laser pointers, MS Paint-like or basic film editing tricks. They never fail to impress in the worst way possible.

But what matters isn’t presentation, it’s plot! And boy, what a plot this guy has. Plot, as in singular, yes. Up to this point every film has been the tale of a rebellious individual rising up against the big, evil, corporate masses. What makes it more interesting is that this individual is usually some sort of turbo Jesus from outer space who has reached the peaks of human moral high grounds.

His rise to cult-status started when his first film, Double Down (2005), hit Netflix. He has been a regular to several film festivals ever since, a small, devoted group of Garbàge connoisseurs following him wherever he goes.

Luckily for you, his newest movie, Pass Thru, was released this year. Observe the trailer thoroughly, for this man is well on his way to becoming a filmmaking legend.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pHwKPErsSt8

  1. Tommy Wiseau

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I have to admit that I am fairly reluctant to talk about this guy. What hasn’t already been said about this walking, talking phenomenon? New facts about him are uncovered every once in a while, but his persona is largely shrouded in mystery. His age, country of origin, accent and hairdresser are all undetermined, though I presume he fabricated most of these things himself.

What we can say for certain is that he is another man of many trades: director, producer, screenwriter, actor and fashion designer. His first feature-length film was the 2003 cult-classic The Room, based upon an unpublished 540-page novel he wrote. Through undetermined ways, he managed to scrape together a good $6 million worth of budget. A popular theory that supposedly made its round among those involved with the project was that the film was one big money-laundering scheme.

Whatever the twisted cause for this film was, it became a smash hit. A romantic, dramatic indie film about a love triangle, largely taking place in—you guessed it—a room. This film is filled to the brim with continuity errors and completely unrelated subplots which are as absurd as they are abrupt.

A popular example of this pops up at the start of the movie where the character Claudette talks to her daughter, Lisa, casually telling her “I got the results from the test back. I definitely have breast cancer.” Delivered with a shrug. This goes ignored for the rest of the film. The movie is a treasure of off-handedly delivered one-liners and unintentionally humoristic characters.

Next to checking out The Room by yourself (or preferably with some drunk friends), another thing to look out for is the award-winning book The Disaster Artist by Greg Sestero, one of the lead actors in The Room. A large part of the book focuses on the elusive Wiseau, and the chaotic development and production of their cult film. The book is currently being worked into movie, produced by Seth Rogen and directed by James Franco.

If that wasn’t enough to make you (re)watch The Room, here’s a trailer. Pay attention to the fact that Wiseau redubbed his movie from a romantic drama to a “quirky, new black comedy” post-release. What a guy.

http://www.imdb.com/video/imdb/vi1546846745

And with that, this list comes to an end. Surely, there is way more Garbàge out there, but part of the fun is digging around the bins by yourself. This list has been fairly accessible to all audiences who appreciate a good piece of trash, but be aware that once you go in, the dumpster goes deep.

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