Make No Mistake, Lavar Ball is a Genius

Y'all get this one early <3

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 this 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

Flagship post 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? 

Power Rangers and Why the Movie Industry is Stagnating

By Nick

One of the things that has been consistent on my blogs, is my complaints and criticisms towards the movie industry of today. It's no secret that I think they're boofing up in a big way. Now I understand that this industry has and always will be about one thing: money. And you go where the money goes, yeah yeah you get it. But I think this is a mistake. At a certain point, people will start to catch on that there's a huge problem going on today with the movie industry. And I would like to bring that to a head by talking about the new Power Rangers movie, and why I think it'll be very not good. Now let me put in this little disclaimer by saying that it's never a good thing to write off a movie based on anything other than the actual film itself. It's not fair to the actual film because the marketing team and the writers/directors can and often do have very different visions of the film. However, in this case, I'm so confident with this one that I'm willing to break my own rule and become a hypocrite. I just see so much here that's going wrong that I really just cannot imagine that this one will be received very well. And they're all just super telltale signs of a flubbing industry. So let me egregiously contradict myself, as we dive into the issues plaguing the industry today and how that relates to this sure-fire hit!

 

Alright so what started all of this? Well, we did really. Or I guess our wallets? Or maybe it is our desire to live in our cherished memories? I'm not sure. The point is, our desire to see old franchises we grew up on in the context of today (aka Nostalgia) morphed the film industry into the muk that it is right now. Why do we put such a high value on nostalgia you may ask? My theory is that we have certain memories and pleasant emotions tethered to seeing special movie experiences for the first time. It's why we rewatch movies over and over that we love. We can feel that same feeling we felt when we saw the film or understood it fully for the first time. I also think that with the developments of the internet and social media, people are able to bond, connect, and appreciate all these franchises on a very large concentrated and observable scale. And we just crave those special experiences at a much higher rate. Now sequels are not a new thing by any means, but the way they're being made today is unprecedented. I remember when Marvel and Disney had movie sequels lined up through 2020 back in like 2013. How on Earth is that just cool to do? That's like completely neglecting the fact that perhaps our culture and interests can change in that time. And you may be saying, "oh chill out Nick, that's only like seven years" but let me tell you something; The internet has drastically sped up our interests and tastes to a level we've never seen or experienced before. The cultural groupthink shift that has occurred in society took maybe only two years to fully become socially normal. That's crazy. To say that "yeah you're gonna like the same shit we put out year after year after year" is a little insulting and small minded in my head. Superhero movies are already oversaturated and people are taking notice. Star Wars for damn sure is becoming oversaturated. And we're all sitting here like"yeah there's no way I can get tired of this Star Wars thing, I'm very okay with a movie every year spun off of this 3 (okay 6) movie universe until Disney says enough" (and by Disney says enough I mean when we stop paying money). See what I mean? We're letting something so iconic and beloved become pimped out unabashedly in front of our own eyes and we're so nostalgia blinded and happy that new Star Wars content is being created today that we don't care. Here's an idea: how about making the next Star Wars? How about making something that's original, genuine, and unique, so that we're celebrating it for many generations to come until the next next Star Wars comes? You know, like a natural growth progression or something? Sorry sorry I'm sort of veering off topic here. This is all relevant, but let me try and tie it back into a more concentrated argument. Basically because of nostalgia we have significantly less original ideas and franchises being spawned these days. When we look back on the content produced from this past decade and a half, all people will see are reboots and sequels. Why do you think movies like John Wick and shows like Rick and Morty are so stupid popular even though you wouldn't expect them to be at a first glance? They're both good original ideas for franchises. And we are inadvertently starving for material like this.

 

That brings me to our good friend Power Rangers. Now PR will serve as a guinea pig to test my hypothesis because I want to point out the flaws I notice from all the way out here and see if the same is said about the film upon release. What I'm trying to prove is that if it's this easy for me to say and predict this stuff now with what little context is out about the film, that maybe there's actually a huge glaring hole that needs to be fixed. All of this analysis is based off of the two trailers, promotional photos, and IMDB. I've read nothing on the opinions of regular to avid movie goers, nor have I looked into see if there were any issues with development (because if there were that would make this too easy to call). Let's br-br-break it down...


Problem 1: Issa Reboot - This is pretty self-evident but pretty important actually. Step one, find a franchise that's beloved by the masses and churn it into a Hollywood blockbuster: check. The money should come right? This actually plays into problems number 2 and 3


Problem 2: The Dialogue is poo poo -  Again, not super fair of me to make that statement from the trailers alone, but the trailers are what you want to put your best foot forward. I'll give them a break because you're trying to provide context for a two-hour film in two and a half minutes. But like come on, just give the trailer a listen "Somebody should have pointed that out. Oh wait I did" "That's not a piece of Cake". So why is this relevant? Well, when Hollywood decided to become the sequel farm, a lot of their most talented writers took a bit of offense to that. Their talents didn't want to be wasted on superhero movies and obvious cash grab reboots. So with the emergence of shows like Breaking Bad and sites like Netflix, Hollywoods most talented writers shifted from movies to TV. SO NOT ONLY are studios forcing these tired films down our throats, they don't even have the writing talent to even potentially salvage and make something out of nothing. And after what happened with poor Edgar Wright and the Antman film, I don't blame any of them.

 

 Alpha 5 voiced by Bill Hader

Alpha 5 voiced by Bill Hader

Problem 3: WHAT THE FUCK ARE THOSEEEEEEEE character designs? - No really, these designs for all the characters and zords(?) are gross and so uninspired. Actually, I take that back, they're very much inspired by Michael Bay's Transformers, another shameless 80s franchise turned film and money black hole, and something I hold in line with the first Spider-Man for creating this mess. "Make them look like the Transformers movie cuz that sells!" The result is so clumsy, messy, and just like I don't even know. I can't imagine a single person is super on board with them. I have an alternate theory for the designs, bear with me on this. SO, China is beginning to overtake the global movie industry. They're projected to surpass the United States with how much money Chinese filmgoers spend on movies every year. What sells over there (as of Febuary 2017)? Monster and Alien type stuff. And shitty films are being bailed out from domestic box office bombs here because they sell really really well in China (WarcraftTerminator GenesisNeed For Speed). The aesthetic that these characters have really match up with the aesthetic that sells in China. Not to mention that Power Rangers is already an Asian IP, so I'm sure it's being marketed heavily over there right now. So what does this mean? Film studios, I BELIVE, are beginning to tailor their films for a different audience than us for the financial safety net. Let's wait and see how well it sells over there. But going back to problem number 1, March is not a typically ideal time to release a movie with a 120 Million budget without any sort of prior demand for this, a real gamble with the money. But the Chinese market has the ability to bail them out from all of this.

 

Problem 4: For real another origins story??? - This one may seem like I'm stretching it but hear me out. I know that for some areas and some movie worlds, origin stories are important because they set the bulk of the foundation for our main character(s), and serve as a template to refer to when these characters make decisions/questionable actions down the line. But fuck me everyone is doing one of them these days. It's not a requirement for every new franchise to have one of these. You can give meaningful exposition or perhaps a shortened origin intro within the movie but no.(Special shout out to Spiderman Homecoming, after its THIRD reboot they finally realized that maybe they don't need the origin story movie, congrats you win the "changing conventions underwhelmingly" award) Why am I complaining about this? Well for one thing, it really messes with the pacing of the story. Chances are if it's an origins, you're going to be spending the bulk of the film with our main character slowly learning/adapting to his/her new found abilities. That's cool and all, but people are really paying money to see action at its highest and purest form. I bet you we will only get one really good and meaningful action sequence in the third act to make up this whole film. The rest of the movie will be training montages, and character building. For the Power Rangers. You know, the franchise with such a rich and storied history of compelling characters with deep and tragic backstories who I think maybe fight on occasion? I'm not sure. Get what I mean? I'm not saying it's impossible for this to work. It can be done if put in the right hands! But....

 

Problem 5: The Crew. Like all of it - This is where I may be getting a little too harsh and judgmental. But I'm in too deep now, there's no going back. Consider most of this my personal opinion and not something that should be scripture. That being said I feel like I have a case. Whoo boy where to start? Okay easiest one, the cast. If you were to read the top of the movie poster, you would see Bryan Cranston and Elizbeth Banks, two very capable actors, and that would put your mind at ease. Whether or not their performances are up to standards, they're straight up the only two recognizable actors in this film (Bill Hader is the voice of that gross UFO thing, that's a 50/50 success rate at best). So were going to have to rely on the casting directors to have done a good job picking everyone else. This is probably my weakest argument in this entire rant, but lack of acting experience is never a comforting sign. I can't tell you how many movies I've seen that not many people are aware of with five star A-list actors that are just awful. It's kind of the game of the industry, some movies are just for the checks. Then there's director Dan Israelite. This is his second feature-length film, coming off of his 2015 debut Project Almanac. The budget on that film was around 12 million dollars. The budget for Power Rangers is 120 million dollars. We're talking about a factor of 10 difference in scales of the film (which by the way, good luck making back your full 120 domestically Lionsgate, a lukewarm March release with lukewarm marketing is surely going to spike traffic for the general public to watch Power Rangers fanfic; hope you actually did your homework with the Chinese market). That's not an easy task for anyone to take on but hey, the director for Jurassic World did it right (haha?!?!)? SO I don't see a whole lot that could go wrong here, maybe I'm just nitpicking. And speaking of nitpicking, let's take a look at the gentlemen who wrote the screenplay and composed the music, the icing on the cake as I always like to say (I never say that). The man who wrote this glorious narritive is actor John Gatins, writer of such classics as Real Steel, and Hardball, and... and well that's it. This one time for an internship, I had to read a scrapped screenplay for a live action Pac-Man movie written by the dude who made Monster House. It was one of those so bad it's good sort of screenplays, although I don't want to give it that much credit as a lot of the fun came from me trying to visualize how a zombie apocalypse movie with Pac-Man (no really I'm not kidding) would play out in a movie in 2007. Needless to say, it may seem like you can turn anything into a movie, and actually you can. It just won't be that good a lot of the times. And from this trailer, I can see a lot of the same beats hit from a bad screenplay that you just know after reading so many trash scripts. It's something you can't put to words (or maybe you can and I just don't have enough experience to do so yet) but it's definitely there. And LASTLY can't forget my boy behind the music, Brian Tyler. Super prolific, very successful film composer. Just go to his IMDB page and give it a look for yourself, nothing but hits. But if you examine closely, they're all movies where music takes a back seat. And I mean waaaaaaaaay in the back. Marvel movies, Fast and Furious franchise (and keep in mind, he only does the SCORE, not even the hit songs),  Now You See Me 2 (an opus). He's responsible for the most successful music filler in movies I think I've ever seen. So this should be good. As you can see, there's a lot of lack of experience, as well as a sense of lack of inspiration for anything creative. We shall see if I'm wrong about this.


What are these problems indicative of?: Well now here is where analysis comes in. It may look like I'm mainly complaining that this movie won't be quality. Quality is not necessarily necessary in order to have a hit. I'm assuming that at the end of the day, Lionsgate wants a film franchise out of this. Okay so how does it get there? Well, it needs to make enough money and show that there's enough demand to make a sequel with a presumed higher budget and what not. How does it make it's money? It can make it in three possible avenues. One: It's actually 84% certified fresh quality. I think that's the minimum score it would need to generate enough buzz to get those reserved about seeing it to go see it (by the way, I understand this is a kids film and is targeted to like the 10-15 age demographic, so those are the ones who need to be pleased but come on, it'll need more than that to recoup). Two: It's well made for its demographic. This demographic being preteens and teens as well as action junkies? Transformers does this well, as well as the Divergent series (Until the end there yikes). Both not considered particular well made films, but within the fan groups and demographics they were hits. Three:  It kills it in China. And that's all relation in proportion to it's domestic reception. The bigger a bomb this movie is, the more ground it has to make up in the Chinese market. Looking back at the problems I really only think it can maybe be salvaged by avenue three. It isn't shaping to be a quality film, and it's not looking to be very inspired either to draw in fans of the series or newcomers looking to have a new favorite thing.

 

Okay, wow that was pretty pent up. A lot of that was mostly stream of consciousness and just a lot of thoughts I've had built up for months and even years now. There is a very clear and very exploitable problem in Hollywood right now. It doesn't take a rocket scientist or a movie freak like me to even see it, yet it still here it is trying to pass off like nothing's happening. Just take a look at the slated roster for 2017 blockbusters. See anything that you've been really dying to see? And I mean dying like a true fan not, "Oh I saw this a year or two ago, I eagerly await the next chapter!" No nothing (except Star Wars but refer to my earlier paragraph). Nothing inspiring or original, or just fun in movies right now. Everything is very much fan service because, unfortunately, fan service is what is selling right now. I however truly believe by 2020 the general population will have come to its senses. Once the Avengers is done I think that spells the end. Like you can't go anywhere else after this next film. It's two parts but whatever. I know it's all over after that for the most part. At least for now. As for Star Wars, and other beloved franchises that are getting the Transformers treatment. Well, unfortunately, I don't think Disney is looking to slow down, it's really not in their best interests and honestly, I don't blame them. But we're the ones who tells them what we want to see and what we don't. Speak with your wallets. Support movies you love and watch them in theaters, or buy them online or Blu Ray. This is a vent more than a call to action, but hopefully, I was able to get a thorough message across. It will all really come together when this Power Rangers movie comes out for good in March. A lot of it is dependent on that. For now though, here's hoping 2017 isn't half as bad as the previous year that shall remain nameless. As well as having a couple more Moonlight level movies. Cuz yeah we could REALLY use some more of that. 

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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