Lady Bird (and 5 other movies) Review

By Nick. 

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(Spoiler free!) Pardon my finals, but it's been a while since I've written something. Normally, I like to only write when something moves me enough to be inspired to talk about it, but I also realize that it isn't a good habit to pick and choose things based on what's essentially "when I feel like it." I'm hoping by having this preface out there for anyone to see motivates me to push past my lethargic reservations and challenge myself to write about any film (or sometimes topic) regardless of how I personally felt about it. 

 

Since we last met, I was in a pretty pessimistic hole regarding the movie industry, and its lack of an effort to put out new exciting and original projects in favor of sequels, pre-established IP's, reboots, and films that pander to foreign audiences in the name of money. While I still hold out certain resentments and personal boycotts for certain types of film (y'all know whoms't y'all are), I realized that a full-on self-sanction of any movie playing in the theatres is irrational and stubborn on my end. So, since around September, I've been making an effort to go out and see films that I at least saw some potential in being entertaining or.... dare I say.......fresh and original (emoji with a monocle + emoji with money tongue). Gut-busting jokes aside, I wanna do a quick 1-2 sentence review of all the movies I've seen since September up until yesterday. These are films I either wanted to review but felt like it was too late, or had no desire to write about in the first place (and that's no good):

 

Baby Driver - Edgar Wright top 5 directors in film industry today, RIP enjoying Kevin Spacey roles - 9/10

 

Mother! - Director of Black Swan makes Black Swan 2: Electric Boogaloo with his girlfriend who plays mother earf but earf is a house and No Country for Old Man is God.  Equally as thought-provoking as it is pretentious - 7/10

 

Kingsman: The Golden Circle - Same movie as the first one but Julianne Moore is Sam Jackson's character this time - 5/10

 

The Square  - You ever go to a modern art museum and have no idea what the fuck is going on, and when you think you finally get what they're trying to say, you still swear on your life half of what they're doing is just random bullshit? - 6.5/10  (also this movie won the pom d'or (best picture) at Cannes film fest, like excuse me is this really the best movie y'all saw over there? smh)

 

My Friend Dahmer - Pretty good I guess, not a fan of realist biopics, but does a good job of humanizing (not normalizing, you vultures) someone who eventually becomes one of the WOAT serial killers. Don't have a ton to say but neither does this movie, younger Naked Brother Band is in it - 6.5/10

 

Okay so onto Lady Bird... 

 

It's awards season, and that means that films trying to compete for nominations are starting to be released around this time. A lot of these movies are only in limited releases, meaning they're shown across certain select cities with a high movie-going audience (i.e. New York and LA) before they get a wide release to most theatres around the country. One movie, in particular, I've been hearing a lot of buzz about is Lady Bird, the directorial debut of Greta Gerwig. My only experience with her work in the past is her role in the movie Frances Ha, a film about young women in New York city desperately trying to make a stable living for herself. I was a fan of her and the movies charm, and I would later find out she also wrote the film (Noah Baumbach directed). There was just something about how she carried herself that, on paper, I feel like I would find kind of obnoxious, but in practice, I was pleasantly attached to and engaged with. And to me that says a lot about her as a person when she can transcend what could normally be considered indie art house pity trite into something likable and endearing. 

 

Yet despite all of this, from what I saw in the trailers for Lady Bird, I still had that same apprehension of "oh this is gonna be some granola-coming-of-age-I'm-different-than-the-people-around-me-Cat-Stevens-ass-soundtrack-with-a-sepia-lookin-filter movie that seems to be released once a year without fail." It's probably because I had such a small sample size of Gerwig's work, but something in me didn't trust it. And once again, I was honestly pleasantly surprised at how this film defied all of my expectations and gave me an authentically heartwarming story about a senior girl in high school trying to figure herself out. 

 

Lady Bird follows Christine "Lady Bird' McPherson (played by Saoirse Ronan), a senior at an all-girls Catholic high school in Sacramento, whose family has serious income issues. Her mother (played by Laurie Metcalf) works double nursing shifts at a psych ward since her husband lost her job, and subsequently takes out all of her pressure and frustration on Lady Bird. Lady Bird's goal is to go to a four-year university in New York, but the obstacles of finances and her less-than-desirable grades are making it a bit of a pipe dream for her. The film essentially followers her entire senior year of high school, dealing with boy issues, fitting in, friend drama, and any other problems most high school seniors face today (or I guess 2002 when the film takes place).

 

So right off the bat, what sold me here, similarly to what sold me in Frances Ha, is the performance of the lead. I could tell this was a bit of an autobiographical tale for Gerwig, as I noticed similarities between the characters of Frances Ha and Lady Bird (both are from Sacramento, both want to be in New York, both don't really have it figured out yet). In that vein, this movie almost feels like a prequel to Frances Ha, like where she was at emotionally in high school. Ronan does an excellent performance in conveying Gerwig's mannerisms and tones, but in her own way. I noticed the similarities between the two, but I never felt like I was watching a carbon copy of the former. Essentially, Ronan takes Gerwig and makes it Ronan (if that makes sense). This sells me on the believability of the character, I don't feel like I'm watching someone do their best Greta Gerwig impression. With the combination of the two personalities, I feel like I'm watching a completely new and unique character. Ronan is Irish, and does have an accent in real life, but never did it slip during the entirety of the film nor was my illusion ever broken that I was not watching a character who grew up in Northern California her entire life. Though it's not a performance for the ages per say, I would not be surprised if Ronan ended up with an Oscar nod similar to Ellen Page in Juno. The rest of the performances were all great too, with Metcalf having the strongest of the bunch. I was sold on the fact that everyone in the film could be a real person.

 

Adding on to that authenticity factor, this to me is what left me delighted walking out of this film: all the relationships and interactions in this movie feel so damn real. And by that, I don't mean like what you watch is something that happens in everyday life one to one. In fact, as a comedy, it's a bit more of a caricature of these moments. But it's the emotional response you get from these interactions that feel so alive. Her banter with her best friend and how they lose their shit over mundane jokes was something I'm sure everyone can relate to with their own best friend. Her interactions with boys, though simple and to the point, can sum up most high school flirting and first-time relationships. I caught so many relatable moments that I thought were unique to me and my experience in high school, that the film had me unintentionally (or maybe intentionally on Gerwig's end) evaluating the quality of my time in school mid-film. But it does this in a way that isn't obvious or easy. There was never that "oh, come on" moment or "yeah yeah we've seen this before." And the thing is we have seen this before, just not quite in this way. There are some moments that truly move you in a manner that is definitely earned.

 

But the best and strongest relationship in the film is between Lady Bird and her mother. Both of them are constantly bickering and getting at each other over seemingly nothing, you know like a mother and teenage daughter naturally would especially around the time she's getting ready to leave the nest. At the beginning of the film, her mother is chewing her out unrelentingly, and Lady Bird's response is to open the door of a moving car and literally just fall out. This causes her to be in a cast for a good bit of the film, and I think that's pretty emblematic of their relationship. Her mother is so overbearing and controlling, like a cast, but in the end, it's Lady Bird's fault she's in it in the first place. Lady Bird is entitled and ungrateful at times, but her mother is unreasonably on her case at others. Yet despite her unreasonable behavior, we as an audience know or at least can tell that she truly loves and cares for Lady Bird, and only wants the best for her based only on their interactions. Conversely, we know that Lady Bird really does love her mother, and is subtly crying out for her approval. It's a fantastic dynamic that reaches a very satisfying arc by the end of the film. For those of us who had mothers that showed their love through, should I say, unfavorably unconventional but ultimately beneficial methods during high school, this movie should feel right at home (hey mom). 

 

Now while I sing this films praises, it is far from a perfect one. I did enjoy the fast moving pace of the film (kept it from being slow or stale at any points), but something about it didn't feel particularly different or stylistic. Not every film needs to be like this, but generally, when you have the creative freedom of both writing and directing, you wanna show that your movie is visually different from what's out there in some way. The rhythm of the film felt like a dollar bin version of something Edgar Wright has mastered in the films he makes. I chalk it up to being a directorial debut, and I certainly do see the potential for achieving a personal style down the road, but it was something I did notice. The cinematography was also just average, and though I vividly remember the feelings this film left me with, I can't say quite the same about its visuals. 

 

Lastly, the soundtrack was pretty good too! While I wouldn't say it's anything special (special means I want to go out and buy it separately), it wasn't your average curation of indie folk songs that are sentimental for the sake of being sentimental in films like this. The songs do just fine in establishing the tones for scenes while also not being obvious or obnoxious choices. 

 

In the end, I'm very glad I saw Lady Bird. If you are at all feeling the same way I was about it beforehand, I would say give this one a shot. It's not trying to be something it's not, nor does it make you want to roll your eyes in distaste (does anybody else do that.... no...? okay :-/ ) like in some movie's effort to be "different," it ultimately becomes contrived (like 20th Century Woman). From what I've heard, this one is probably going to receive its fair share of nominations during the awards circuit, so I suggest getting ahead and watching this one now so you can be cool and tell your friends "hey I saw this before it was nominated" and they can be like "cool you find value in things others barely pay half a mind to NERD." 7.5/10

Make No Mistake, Lavar Ball is a Genius

By Nicholas. 

Okay full disclosure, I am about as big of a Lakers homer fan as it gets. I boo hoo cried when Kobe retired. I defended the team signing this thing with these stats to a 64 million dollar contract, crippling our cap space and flexibility, because I thought we were 12 steps ahead of the league or some bullshit (we weren't). Point is, I have somewhat of a biased lens coming into this, but as always, I'll try and remain as objective as possible. As an act of good faith, I'll prove it with one statement: Lebron James will go down as a better player than Kobe Bryant when it's all said and done. Gross. Stef If you're reading this I'm sorry :(.

Before you click away because you're not interested into basketball or sports, let me stop you real quick, this isn't a post about basketball. I mean sure it'll revolve around the game, but this has more to do with something a little more universal: branding. Whether you know it or not, branding is one of the most crucial components to anything you enjoy or appreciate in popular culture. An aware brand knows exactly what it is and what it isn't, and will do everything it possibly can to make you understand and appreciate its perspective and brand identity. Brands can range from faceless entities, like clothing line Supreme, to singular individuals and who they are as a whole, like the Kardashians (we'll get to them later). A good brand will toe the line perfectly between manufactured and authentic: controlled meticulously and carefully on the back end to make sure the identity stays true to its core, but on the front end displaying a personality or vibe that's unique and genuine to the brand itself. They're not trying to be something they're not, and they certainly aren't trying to emulate other successful brands 1 to 1.

Where is this all leading to? Well, the Lakers last week drafted one of the most talked about players coming out of college in a good while, Lonzo Ball from UCLA. Now don't get me or the entire Lakers fanbase wrong, Lonzo has the talent to back up all this talk surrounding him. Without getting too deep into it, I have not seen a basketball player like him, who focuses on unselfish team ball the way he does, come out of college in my brief, but extensive time paying attention to the NBA draft. But what makes Lonzo's case so interesting is why he's truly getting all of this heavy media attention: his father Lavar.

Lavar Ball has been easily one of the most polarizing figures in sports to come out of the last decade. Think NBA caliber soccer mom. And not just that he's a soccer mom that has a kid in the NBA, but as far as soccer moms go, he's round one pick one of the professional soccer mom draft. Here's a clip of him on ESPN's first take where you can get an extremely good impression of what exactly he's been doing and what he's about.

Now you might be thinking to yourself, "who the fuck is this guy, and where the frick does he get off?" and you'd be kinda right to think so. You, me, and Stephan A. all know very well there's no way Lavar's beating Michael Jordan one on one. But here's the key: Lavar truly believes so. And this is an important distinction in any brand. You have to really believe in everything you're advertising yourself as or it will not work. People will see right through it.

A little backstory on the Ball family. Lavar was a semi-pro football player that could never quite hit that big success in the NFL. As far as basketball goes, he averaged roughly 3 points per game in college. He himself never quite had it on the professional end. But Lavar had a dream damnit. He moved to Chino Hills, California where he started his family, or should I say empire. He had three sons, Lonzo, LiAngelo, and LaMelo. According to Lavar, after the birth of LaMelo, he decided he was going to have his kids play professional basketball. So, he set up a very scrappy operation out of his house where he would train his kids extensively to play very good ball. Lavar's operation grew so much that he began coaching and training all the boys interested in basketball in Chino Hills, and even coaches his own AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) team. He's been doing this a while, and he's clearly had his mindset very resolute to this.

Now did you see that shirt with the 3 B's Lavar was wearing in the clip? That is his Big Baller Brand that he started jointly with his kids. It is the brand he wants the world to associate with himself and his boys. If you go on https://bigballerbrand.com/, you can see there are a plethora of SKU's to choose from, all with that BBB logo on them. $50 for what is most likely $3 wholesale Gilden shirt. He even announced that he and his son Lonzo passed on endorsements from Nike and Adidas, because Lavar wanted Lonzo to have a shoe deal out of college, something that's never happened before. In turn, the ZO2 was announced, a shoe, as Lavar claims, designed 100% from the mind of his 19-year-old son (oh and a team of designers or something). What's even more flabbergasting is that they are charging $495 for it. In comparison, a shoe from Kyrie Irving, an established NBA star/champion, is around $120 on the Nike website. Lavar explained the reasoning behind it was that he wanted to hit a price point between the $100-$200 dollar shoe market, and the $700+ luxury shoe market (Gucci for example). Now if that doesn't make any sense, don't worry cuz at face value it really doesn't. But it was the Tweet Lavar made that sealed the deal with this shoe: "If you can't afford the ZO2s, you are NOT a BIG BALLER (moneybags emoji)." (spoiler alert: it get's people talking).

I know what you're thinking, how in the hell is this man a redeemable individual, let alone a genius? If you look at Lavar case by case, it's really easy to come to that conclusion. Hell, I myself remember hating on him, truly believing he was costing his son a lot of money, as well as putting a huge target on his back, all for this attention. But when you look at the Ball story as a whole, as a collective, you'll see this isn't a mindless, shallow attempt to become famous. Let's look at Lonzo first. 

We have to assume that this has been who Lavar is Lonzo's entire life. I personally do not believe anything about his father's behavior stunningly changed just because of this exposure, he couldn't have just conjured up all this personality over the course of a few months. So Lonzo has been putting up with his father's antics for let's assume the past 19 years. His game is not only immaculate, but it is completely unfazed by his father's words. Lavar boasts about his son everywhere on very prolific shows, and Lonzo's play does not seem compromised for it. I mean you can ask anyone, this kid turned around very poor UCLA program almost single-handedly. That's the biggest thing I think people struggle with; Lavar practically backs up his talk. And it's a safe, although not certain, bet that nothing about that will change at the next level.

But let's also look at Lonzo as an individual. From interviews and social media, you can see he's a very poised and well-spoken person who clearly doesn't have much of an ego (his style of play speaks for itself). He also allegedly kept a 4.0 GPA during his time at UCLA (although I don't know if that's saying much that scrub school heh heh). Having your father as such an integral part of your life like this, and still being able to be the kind of person Lonzo is is no accident. I truly believe Lavar raised his boys to be very respectable young men. He cares about the Big Baller Brand, but what is this brand at its core other than an over appreciation of his kids? Are we really going to hate on someone for loving his boys too much? Even if it tiptoes into exploiting their talents for attention on himself, I really think that is necessary to maintain the brand he has been building. I'll leave it at this: when Lakers GM Rob Pelinka went to go visit the Ball household for a pre-draft evaluation, he noted that Lavar at 8 am was training around 20 kids whom he knew all by name, and cooked them all breakfast afterward. All while juggling the media and his son transitioning into the NBA. He has also been credited with providing the boys of Chino Hills an opportunity to gain scholarships for colleges that they probably wouldn't have had in the first place. This isn't a greedy money chasing one track mind father with no regards for his children, a la Joe Jackson This is a man who cares. 

I want to touch on the Big Baller Brand itself, purely as a brand. I thought it was pretty cut and paste at first, seeming like a pretty decent but still amateur attempt at including the whole story in the name/logo. I saw what Lavar was going for, but I wasn't sold on his execution yet. When the shoe dropped I thought he was costing his son millions of dollars for his stupid reasons, and everyone was ripping on them on the social media. It wasn't until the aforementioned tweet when it clicked to me: He gets in people's heads, he gets people talking, and he embraces the meme. "You're not a big baller" has been an inside joke/meme on /r/NBA, the leading forum for NBA talk on the internet in my opinion,  for months now. People have been using it as responses to anything negative or even positive happening in the news. "Lebron James loses 5th finals" "I guess he wasn't a big baller."

You get the idea. He KNEW people would be quoting that like some Rick & Morty Mr. Meeseeks Bulshit, where everyone just says it in response to everything. He fucking knew.  Levar also exclusively wears BBB merch. So when he's everywhere on TV so is that logo

So now we get to the NBA draft, the night I believe the culmination of Lavar's work came truly to a head. First of all, he wore a BBB tie, which was classic. But it was the responses he gave after Lonzo was drafted to the Lakers, a moment where the entire basketball world was watching, where he was wearing a Lakers-themed BBB hat. Not only did he claim that he made the hat before Lonzo was born, He also boldly predicted that the Lakers will be in the playoffs next year, in large part thanks to his son. But the biggest kicker was five minutes BEFORE he was even drafted, Lonzo under the table changed his shoes into a Lakers-themed pair of ZO2 shoes (the Showtime edition lol), which was announced later that night for pre-order on the BBB website. Like guys, there was a chance he could have ended up somewhere else. That's ballsy (no low hanging fruit pun intended). The whole operation is ballsy, everything had to go Lavar's way for this to work. And it is. He believed in everything he said, remained unwavered by what people thought, and the result elevated his entire brand to unimaginable new heights. People are talking about the shoes like no other now. Whether or not folks bought them initially, I have a good feeling fans will grow to want them. I can't stress this enough, by sticking to what he believed in  Lavar is now beginning to erode the preconceived notions and apprehensions towards him and his family. 

What inspired me to write this in the first place was Lavar's appearance on WWE last Monday night. Because of it, I've decided that I will now be an open and vocal Lavar Ball supporter. Watch this clip and see for yourself.

Not only is Lavar perfect for this setting, he truly, truly, handled the performance perfectly. Like for real, talk about an elite embrace of meme. That's the authentic part of a brand that gets people behind it, the self-aware aspect, the knowing exactly who you are and are not and playing to those strengths. Not only did this provide a platform for Lavar to demonstrate to a new audience the kind of person he is, but I also think the Ball family gave great value to WWE, making it talked about for the first time in a very long time in the mainstream public (I understand its popularity is vast in the country, but it never garners any media attention these days). And notice all the BBB mannequins in the back with merch? Like fucking brilliant, the exposure is not squandered one bit. Bravo Lavar, you won. 

Whether or not it's talked about positively or negatively, if a brand is talked about at all it's a good thing, at least initially. The value comes from the volume of buzz behind the brand, rather than the quality of what's said. You have plenty of time to convince them otherwise, you need that platform and clout in the first place to accomplish any of your goals. Look at the Kardashians, look at how long they've stayed relevant, probably the most influential family of the past 10 years, selling god knows how many products, all while still being shat on by the greater public. That's a lot in part thanks to Kris Kardashian, the matriarch (COUGH COUGH COUGH) and head business woman of the Kardashian family. Look at Kanye West, another polarizing figure in his space who says some of the most outlandish and egocentric things about himself and his vision. Despite the seething hate he gets from many, he is not only one of the most influential rappers of our time, but he is also the literal center of culture for the hip hop and street wear (ie supreme, Anti Social Social Club) game. And that's not an exaggeration, it is said that anything hip hop or fashion related doesn't become truly real until it passes through Kanye West (See Chance the Rapper, Cactus Plant Flea Market, Travis Scott, Yeezys, Lil Yachty etc.). He practically dictates the sound of Rap and the look of fashion. Ye backs up his brash talk, and yes he too is a genius. 

And not gonna lie, after the WWE performance last night, I highkey want to buy a BBB shirt for 50 American dollars. I respect the hell out of what Lavar is doing. I want to support all of his hard work that he's been dead set on since day 1. Like if I catch anyone in the street wearing a BBB shirt, that's an instant high five from me :).  And I'm also willing to go down with the Lavar ship too, were he to do anything that would destroy his reputation, I won't back peddle on any of accomplishments so far. Lavar and the Balls are forwarding the culture of basketball and sports in general. For him to emerge in 2017 (which as you may or may not know is the year of weird) is a beautiful and fitting thing. For Lonzo, his first born, to be on the Lakers is even more perfect, I can't think of a team or city that would do a better job at tolerating his antics while keeping the focus on winning basketball games. If you aren't on the Lavar Ball train yet, I cordially invite you to join, it's not as dusty as people would have you believe. It's truly an oil well of entertainment and it's barely been tapped. This is just the beginning. All aboard cucks. 

 

Why Mario Hasn't Gotten Old Yet

By Nick. 

Look, I don't care how beloved or iconic something is, if you keep shoving it in our faces it's bound to get old and stale at some point. Just like anything, you can only really ingest something in moderation for an extended period of time, the same thing over and over becomes predictable and uninteresting. Our beloved friend, the Star Wars series, is at terminal risk of succumbing to this fate. Come on Disney, how do you think a new Star Wars movie EVERY YEAR until "we don't feel like it" would end well (other than the billions of dollars in gross revenue, and not to mention the lucrative opportunity to license and merchandise everything from here until eternity)? I've talked about this at length before in some of my other articles so I won't stray away too far here from my main point.

Whether it's an entire franchise, like the aforementioned Star Wars, or a single mascot IP, like say, ohhh I don't know, Sonic the Hedgehog (who if you need a bit of context as to why he's a failing IP, just give any review of Sonic '06 a look), if you keep selling the same product year in and out expecting your audience to be just as captivated and excited as they were when they first became attached, you're going to run into a bit of trouble.  You know real talk, this intro paragraph is a little flimsy for my taste. I don't want to talk down too many franchises, you never know who is attached to what. And while I'm not necessarily here to please anyone, there isn't a particular franchise that has offended me more so than any other franchise that has fallen victim to the same MOTHER FUCKING TOY STORY THAT'S IT. GOD  I was stuck trying think of one, I knew it was in there. Yeah Toy Story is a great example of the shit I'm talking about, and if you're sitting there in your Herman Miller Aeron Chair thinking to yourself, "well Nick I actually liked all the Toy Story movies, and think there's nothing wrong with the franchise at all" then I shall refer you to this video and ask if you still feel the same way. And if you still don't, well shit, why they doing Toy Story 4 huh? HUH??? Yeah, that's what I thought, I'm not very nice what are you going to do about it >:P? 


Sorry. 


Anyways, already deflected two tangents, I'm off to a great start here. I'll get your attention back though. You like video games? You know those guys at Nintendo? Pokemon and Gameboy people! Yeah, they have been killing the video game industry since it officially became one. In a world where big names come and go as quickly as they emerged in the public eye, Nintendo has reminded damn near the only consistent video game entity for the past 30 or so years (and yeah I know they've been around since the 1800s, but that was for different stuff like playing cards haha crazy). I could go into so much detail (and believe me one day I will) about how they've played the industry so smart by sticking to their guns and making not just good, but masterful and transcendent video games through precise and thorough design. But I wanna take a step back and talk about something a bit more observable and digestible as an introduction to me talking about Nintendo as a whole. Going back to my original statements earlier, Nintendo actually does appear to fall victim when it comes to shoving an icon in our faces. That's right, the ambiguously racist red plumber himself, Mario. But here's the difference: Mario in 2017 is just as fresh and exciting as he was when he was first introduced as Jumpman in original Donkey Kong arcade game from 1981. 


Now really think about that, don't just take my word for it. Think back to when you first heard about Mario and what you hear about Mario today, and think about how he hasn't gotten stale, tired and old yet. Weird right? Why is that? Well, all you have to do is look at the main line of Mario games since the first Super Mario Bros. To put it briefly, Mario represents the evolution of platforming mastery though it's inception. Platforming for the longest time was closest associated with the overall impression of video games before games like Minecraft and FPS's like Call of Duty and Overwatch took over in popularity. Mario is the relative representative for the evolution of the platformer, and in turn, video games in general. And I want to break it down game by game to show you kind of what I mean. But first, I wanna talk a little about Mario in general.

Mario is a very unique character, in that you don't really know what the hell to make of him. Red Italian plumber who eats mushrooms to grow bigger (and yes they did draw inspiration from the hallucinogens in case you were wondering) and save a non-Italian princess from a giant turtle monster. It's so out there that you almost just accept it at face value, hell most people did back in '85. But I think one of the most important distinctions Mario has is that he doesn't talk. Yes he has his one liners (voiced by the legendary Charles Martinet), and he'll make noises and chuckles as he jumps, but you'll never catch my mans uttering more than a few words ever. To me, the lack of talking allows you as the player to relate and immerse yourself into the character you're controlling. He doesn't have distinct personality features other than he's resolute to save the day. No political preferences, no predominant moods, no annoying traits or qualities. This makes him such a malleable character that you can stretch out over the years without becoming stale, and place into almost any scenario (and believe me Nintendo tries every scenario). This to me is all key in the Red Plumber's staying power. His brother Luigi both the other hand, has a pretty defined personality in comparison, and though he gets his love every now and then, there is a reason why Mario stay in first place, you know? Anyways, let's take a look at Mario's games thourghout the years:

Super Mario Bros. (NES 1985) - The first true Mario platformer. Since it was a launch title of the NES (Nintendo Entertainment System), Nintendo's first consumer home console, Super Mario Bros. became the de facto video game. Many NES's were packaged with either this game or Tetris out the box, so many people's first video game experience, in general, was Mario himself. Mario became associated and synonymous with video games. A classic to say the least. It had tight controls, an observable objective, changing worlds with varied levels of difficulty and terrain, memorable and diverse enemies, and of course, the iconic music. This helped shape people's minds and impressions of what to expect from a video game with the same mechanics as this game (which was a 2D side-scrolling platformer). Not to mention it was chalk full of secrets that kept the replayability factor very high. 


Super Mario Bros. 2 (NES 1988) - WE DON'T COUNT THIS ONE ALRIGHT?? It wasn't even made by the guys who make Mario so it's k let's move on. 


Super Mario Bros. 3 (NES 1988) - This one took everything that made the first game great and just made it better. Upgrades in the visuals, increases on the number of levels, new power-ups that involved new methods of play like flying, the first Mario overworld (one day I'll talk about how fucking important overworlds are), themed worlds, new varied bosses, recurring enemies integrated with newer and original-er ones, and how about some more iconic music. Everything about this game was a noticeable upgrade from the first in every aspect. How can they possibly top themselves from here?


Super Mario World (SNES 1990) - How can they top themselves from Mario 3 you ask seconds ago? Well, how about by making possible my all time favorite video game? Yes, Super Mario World is my favorite Mario game ever. I grew up on its Gameboy port, and I have such fond and vivid memories of trying to beat these super colorful yet super challenging levels. This game upped the ante even more. It was made on the SNES wich meant an upgrade from 8-bit to 16-bit graphics baby, the sky was the limit (not to mention the processing power but like, colors!). I can almost copy and paste what I said about Mario 3 on to here because it essentially does that but I'll elaborate even further. There's something about this Mario world that you're in that feels soooo immersive. The word's levels are segmented into different areas such as woods, caves, and deserts. The woods levels feel woodsy and more closed off from the normal open levels, the cave levels feel dark and chilling, the ghost houses make you feel like you're in a haunted ass house with some ghost trickery afoot, which you certainly are. Though they all have distinct feels, they are all thematically tied together. You are in this world with Mario, and you enjoy ever single minute of it. One other thing I'd like to point out is the controls here, yet again, are tight as hell. I want to link this video on how the camera, something you don't think about ever in a 2D side scroller, changes as you play. It's pretty mind blowing the level of attention put into it. 


(I'm skipping the game boy games sorry fanboy)


Super Mario 64 (N64 1996) - New console from Nintendo naturally meant a new Mario game. But wait this console was in 64-bit, meaning that you got to upgrade to a whole new linear plane (I think, Calc was 4 years ago for me *sighs*), that's right, 3D baby! This game, while still somehow being a launch title and having no other 3D platformer to reference and build upon, showed the world how you make a 3D platformer. And that is to me, to put it simply, a confined and explorable world with clear and semi-linear objectives, and just enough personal space given to you as the player. The way the worlds were set up were big enough for you to explore, with observable areas you could reach, but perhaps access in only in the later part of that world. Instead of creating a new level where your goal was to reach the finish line from the start, you instead had to collect stars (the unit of progression in all 3D Mario games) either laid out explicitly in the level you selected, or by completing side missions like collecting all coins or sometimes special NPC (non-playable characters) quests(?). There were even secret stars hidden throughout the levels. While how you earned stars changed every time, areas you played in stay the same for each objective. Meaning you were able to become familiar with a given world naturally while still progressing in the game, making more difficult sections feel more earned and a greater challenge. Nintendo outdid themselves with this iteration and is considered the favorite amongst many Mario fans. 


Super Mario Sunshine (GameCube 2002) - My favorite 3D Mario game. I'll keep this one short because there is a point to all of these breakdowns that I want to get to. Think of what Mario World did after Mario 3, Sunshine did after Mario 64. The world of Delfino Island is so goddamn immersive. I swear to you half of my obsession with the beach, and if you know me personally it's pretty big, comes from this game. When I play Smash Bros. I almost exclusively select the Delfino Plaza Map just so I can feel like I'm in this game's world. It's consistent, just like Mario World, nothing about the world feels disjointed. It's got the same elements from 64, but now you have F.L.O.O.D. tool which adds an extra layer of depth to your gameplay. Just a really good time!


Mario Galaxy 1 & 2 (Wii 2008, 2010) - I tied these two games together because in my opinion 2 is just a continuation and slight improvement on 1. These games expanded outside the universe, cleverly using the space and planet theme as an excuse to go to crazy diverse and different worlds. It works so well and the game is so gorgeous. The motion controls and the gravity aspects of the gameplay are what's worth noting here. Different objects have different levels of gravity and it kind of felt like you were really platforming on space objects. It feels and controls like a Mario game, but there's no mistaking when you're playing Mario Galaxy.


You can see now why Mario hasn't gotten stale right? It's not about Mario himself, no. It's about the adventures he takes on and the subsequent boundaries he (Nintendo) pushes. Mario is our reference point to how much Nintendo has just upped the ante year after year with their impeccable game design. He is our reminder that video games can be made endlessly with the same IP if you execute properly and keep changing up the formula in an appropriate way; Keeping it just familiar enough for you to invest in the first place, but new and innovative enough to make you surprised and excited about playing a Mario game. He truly represents how good games have become better throughout the years. 


Now you may be noticing I left out a few Mario Games in there, and I'm not talking about the spin-offs like Mario Kart. Yes, I left out the New Super Mario Bros. games. Not because they're bad, no they're good games objectively. They serve to hit my main point home. They were the first games to really pimp out the Mario IP. They took all the elements fans saw as iconic and made it into a high def reskin of Mario 1. Now that's not a bad thing to do once, and maybe, MAYBE, twice. But there are 4 (and a half*), new super Mario bros games. They are really just retreads of the previous iterations with slight improvements in level variety, the most coming out of New Super Mario Bros U. It wasn't enough to distract from the fact that they weren't changing anything, adding new music, creating new enemies, making super interesting powerups, or adding new depth to the controls. They just seemed complacent in the fact that it was Mario, and designed Mario tight. But as you can see from the breakdown of all the games, each iteration in the series really raised the bar from the previous game. They each had a distinct and unique personality and feel that you were easily able to distinguish just by saying the title alone. It seemed like Nintendo was beginning to finally settle on the Mario license (I mean this version of Mario aesthetically and spiritually is the one that is portrayed in Nintendo advertisements the most). 


* That half part I was talking about in the 4 and a half New Super Mario Bros. was Mario 3D World for the Wii U. This one is tough, because it's a really good game and a lot of fun, but it felt like they took Mario Galaxy and stripped it down to just a basic Mario game, with nothing extra distinct like a world surrounding it, or a new innovation in gameplay. It's still fun as hell so.... half haha. 

All hope seemed a little lost there in the Mushroom Kingdom, for me at least. I thought Nintendo had hit its breaking point and really settled on who they wanted Mario to be as their flagship IP. But then the Nintendo Switch was announced. And then all these crazy launch titles start having their trailers released. They announced a new Mario game, and holy shit guys I think we're in for a good one: Mario Oddesy. I kind of want to see if this at all proves my theory or not before the game is out. If you look at any of the gameplay and trailers, you'll see that this looks like a weird ass Mario game. He's in New York with humans, a weird Mexican area, he's taking the bodies T-Rex's and frogs via an anthropomorphic hat, there's like a wedding or something, shit is weird. But it looks different. It looks like a new and refreshing approach to the formula. This is the first Mario game that looks like you won't enter specific levels and you just sort of find your stars (or in this game moons) by just generally exploring the world, an open world Mario game if you will. That's bold, and I like it. You can also tell from my testimonies of the Mario games, that I really value the ones with immersive and consistent worlds. While this won't have a main singular world like Sunshine or Mario World, the main focus of this game seems to be exploration and world immersion, so I'm super optimistic for what this game has to offer. 

Bonus points for anyone who can correctly guess how many times I said "Mario" in this post. What else can I say other than if you keep it interesting, you can have any IP stay relevant forever? Micky Mouse sticks around, but think about how many Micky Mouse movies or shows Disney has put out since 1922. He mainly serves as the mascot to represent Disney, not something they can ride into the ground over and over with movies like I dunno TOY STORY. Sorry. And maybe Mario's case can only be exclusive to video games, as a film or show has no freedom for the consumer to have a say on what happens. But I do believe if you take the essence fo the Mario approach and apply it to any respective field or industry, you will at least be met with at the very least some of the same success (has to be authentic tho). As for our Italian friend, it appears Nintendo is still trying to push his relevancy to future generations the right way, and I only hope and pray we speak about Mario Odessy in the same light as the other games broken down. Nintendo stay killing it my guys, I hope that Mario theme park is lit as hell. Alright now, can someone loan me their Switch? 

 

Best of the Decade: Her (2013)

By Nick.

 

I often get asked what my favorite movies are, and as everyone probably knows when they're asked that question, it's never quite a simple answer. The range and variety of films that are out there are so immense, it's hard to break it down to even a top 5 let alone a single favorite movie. I usually deflect into saying my favorite director and asking theirs, since I think you can get a better idea of what kind of movies people value the most by examining the body of work from their favorite filmmaker (for example, mine's Paul Thomas Anderson). But I also think another great way to look at someone's movie tastes is to see what their favorite movies of the decade are (so far at least). Movies that are being made right now are the most culturally relevant as well as emotionally reflexive of our society that we live in today. Like noir's dark tone coming as a result of two great wars and a depression, perhaps there's a little more to movies like Get Him to the Greek than we realize. SO, what I'm going to write about every so often is my favorite films of the decade and why I feel they deserve to be called such. I would like to point out in advance that Moonlight is very much amongst my favorites right now, and I already talked about it in my review, so if you want an idea of another movie I really value, check it out. So here it is my first favorite movie of the decade: Her.

 

Briefly, Her takes place in an undisclosed future Los Angles (my man!). We follow Theodore (played by Joaquin Pheonix), a man who's job is to write love letters to significant others on behalf of the, well, one of the others. This forces him to deeply analyze traits and quirks of a relationship thus exposing and immersing him in all of these love stories. Ironically he is suffering from a love loss himself, as he is fresh off a very serious and emotionally damaging relationship. Shortly after we get a sense of his character, a new technology is introduced in the film, having the most efficient and life-like personal AI be available for consumer use. The story then follows how Theodore falls in love with his AI, Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). First of all, I am just in love with the whole premise, and how it was executed. Without any context, the way I just explained what the movie was about could be construed as weird and creepy. However, as most who watch the film can attest, there is absolutely nothing creepy about it. This is mainly due to the fact that the relationship that Theodore and Samantha have is probably one of the most realistic and authentic relationships I've ever seen portrayed in a film. And I'm not talking about like, "oh they have good chemistry" or like, "oh she's not as robotic as I thought an AI would be," I mean how we see the relationship begin from its inception and watch it grow, going through the exact ups and downs of many (post) post-modernist relationships these days is about as authentic and accurate as it gets. Like it hits every single beat that someone would probably go through in a new and nonsuperficial relationship. I found myself taken back by how real things got in the film, and it really puts you in a position to reflect on yourself, your past relationships, what they meant to you then, and what they mean to you now. And like, I might be screwing my format and pacing here by getting to the big picture before the end of the article *cough cough*, but if a movie makes you feel a real emotion that you know isn't fabricated or disingenuously produced, you have a special film that was made with a lot of thought and effort (that's what all these movies I'll be talking about will have in common). This movie, in my opinion, has scienced down what it's like falling in and out of love.

 

And that's the whole point of this film. It brings the question(s) into the forefront "What is love? Does our partner need to be a human in order to form and maintain an authentic relationship? Who defines the constraints of what we're allowed to emotionally invest ourselves in (besides the law lol)?" Because the film is totally self-aware of how weird this concept can be. Theodore vents with Amy Adam's character about if it's socially acceptable to fall in love with their OS (the AI). And if you consider yourself to be a fairly open-minded person, I'm almost certain this film will make you reconsider what is and isn't acceptable. Getting into the other details of the film, first of all, I think every decision and choice made for the film was perfect. And that's all thanks to writer and director Spike Jonze. Jonze won the best original screenplay for this film at the 2014 Oscars, and you could make the case he should have won more. It's evident that every detail and idea were planned and fleshed out to it's fullest extent. For example, undisclosing how far in the future this move took place was a brilliant choice. The point of this film is not "if" or "when" this is happening, it's more that it could happen. And not disclosing the date helps mask the illusion and not put a Back to the Future 2-esque pin on the film's predictive abilities. Much like the background characters in the film, it may happen while we're not even looking. And that's another thing by the way. The people surrounding these characters are all citizens of Los Angeles who are totally sucked into their phone or OS. The film doesn't make a big point about it at all, and you kind of just have to notice it. I think this is a great social commentary on the kind of people we've become since smart devices have been introduced into our mainstream. It's highlighted subtly acts as a reminder that this is who we are when we're always on our phones, and if we aren't paying attention, we might not notice our society becoming "full time" with personal devices. Going even further, one could say that Theodore's relationship with Samantha is a metaphor for us being in love and dependent on our technology. We all have a special relationship with our devices, and in a weird way, Samantha could just be the personification of it.

 

Another great choice on Jonze's end was picking alt-rock band Arcade Fire to do the movie score. It's honestly one of my favorite scores in a 2000's film. The piano pieces perfectly match the emotions and feelings of the relationship as they occur. It sets the tone beautifully and poignantly. It's one of the few Soundtracks I was trying to go out of my way to buy, but they unfortunately never released it (!!). But oh well I can't be too mad, more excuses to go back and watch the film (yikes that's corny). The casting was P E R F E C T. Everyone in this film was their character. Like seriously, even Chris Pratt's small role had me believing he was a part of that world. This being Jonze's first film that he wrote, I could tell a lot of care and detail was put in to make sure his vision was fully realized. Not having the right person play the character you've spent so much time creating and developing would have been such a waste. Thankfully Jonze knows exactly what he wants, and exactly what he's doing. The cinematography as well... like damn. A lot of movies these days I feel piggyback off Her in how things are shot and framed in films today. It has that look that a lot of indie-house and oscar bait movies are having these days. This weird ultra focus yet fluid motion in the camera work is spectacular. I'm not saying Her was the first movie to do this, or that it's never been done before, but only that a lot more films started to do it after this movie came out. The color palettes are great too, giving both the look and feeling of warmth and love, yet also having this feeling of uncertainty and insecurity. Costume design too is just on a new level. They practically invented a new fashion look that is completely believable for us as a society to potentially trend towards in the near future. Like he sold this world so well you guys. And LA in the future looks like an LA in the future. They shot parts in Shanghai and digitally added in some buildings to the establishing shots in post, but I never once was taken out by saying "this doesn't look like LA in the future."I feel like there's so much I'm missing that I have to say, but I think a lot of this gets the point across anyways.

 

One last thing I'd like to bring up is Theodore's flashbacks. Now any future filmmakers reading this blog, THIS is the gold standard for how you develop a character through flashbacks. Instead of going back in time to a new scene where we see specific events play out exactly how they went, Theodore's flashbacks are spontaneous, quick, and quiet. They happen in moments where he's reflecting on events or relating to his past relationship. What's great about this is that they play out in the exact same way and length as most real memories play out. And the best part about all this is that, only once in the movie mind you, there was a part where we see him on a date play out fully, and then he later reminisces on it and his flashbacks do not match what we saw exactly. IDEALIZED*clap*MEMORIES*clap*.  This is how we think back on anything fond or formative in our life, it's not exactly what happened, it's an alternate, idealized, or skewed interpretation of what's going on (AKA most of our memories involving relationships @LaLaLand). Meaning that all his other flashbacks are just like this, idealized, so we don't really know how his past relationship played out. He's basically an unreliable narrator. But these memory flashbacks really help me as a viewer relate to this film and buy it's message so much more. I can relate my experiences and how they've unfolded with me and see an authentic and genuine congruence that this film has presented and is trying to convince me to believe in. And it worked. This is how storytelling is supposed to be. Do what you can to show and not tell. That's what makes the best movies, in a spiritual sense.

 

And thus ends my love letter (eh more like a mind dump) to the movie Her. I think you get a good idea of why this movie moved me the way it did. I really like to us this film in my list of films that I use to hold other films to a higher standard (hi I write good). This is how you do a love story. Rom coms are nice hyperbolic escapisms and a good easy way to bond with a date/lover, but watch this movie with someone you love and I think there will be a stronger connection formed. Movie's like the Notebook are great for what/who they serve, but at the end of the day it's not an authentic love story, it's more like a fairy tale. We're in 2017 and I think we're craving a bit of real in our everyday diet. So if you haven't given this film a watch yet, I implore you. Go do it with all this in mind. (still waiting for a good movie to watch and review in 2017 haha !!!) 

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Hello Everyone. 

My name is Darrell and I document it all with my camera. First of all I want to welcome you to our virtual home. Being family with these guys makes life worth living and sharing. I started this *vlog* because I was scared about forgetting the memories I've made in college.  To this day, I really can't tell what my life is so I just will have to show you! 

 

*Vlog*-Selected Visual Works, Curated by Darrell Florence.