Thursday, February 26, 2015

Grow Old

Today is my birthday.

Sometimes I'll be looking at a mirror and an idea will creep into my brain. I latch onto that idea and become mesmerized by the sight of my own face; the fully-developed features, the shadow of an unshaven chin, and the glimmer of naivete fading from my eyes. The idea, of course, is that I'm an adult now. Rather than feel nostalgic at this realization and yearn for the past, I feel comfortable in my skin for the first time in years. I feel that this was the way I was always meant to look; that this is the visual representation of who I've always thought I was.

Either out of arrogance or the complete shedding of my self-doubt and insecurities, I think to myself "who is that handsome devil staring back at me?" then shoot myself a pair of finger guns complete with "ka-chink" sound effect and return to my adult life with a renewed sense of purpose and belonging.

-Ryan

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

My Thoughts on Fifty Shades of Grey - The Film

It's difficult not to talk about; Fifty Shades of Grey has been released in movie form. Upon reading many (negative) reviews, I considered blogging my two cents about the film, decided not to bother, then reconsidered when someone on Reddit, upon reading a brief post about my thoughts on the film, said:
"The world needs more people like you man"
So now I have decided to write down and publish my thoughts for all the world to see. I will start with my initial impressions of the book series, so feel free to skip further down for just my thoughts on the film (I've tried to make it easy to navigate with relevant headlines), or see my review on Flixster for an even more brief critique.

Disclaimer: I just want to state for the record that I am not going to discuss the Fifty Shades of Grey film purely because it's the hot thing to talk about right now; I was genuinely impacted by the film and feel the need to share my thoughts amid a sea of negative reviews. I'm sure this post will get lost to the untouched corners of the web, so I assure you that I am not writing this to get attention or any sort of profit. Also, I refuse to use "the film was fifty shades of __" wordplay in my review like seemingly every other blogger.


My Introduction to the "Fifty Shades" Books

My wife read the entire Fifty Shades trilogy in a matter of days, and around the same time I was made aware of the phenomenon that the media circus called "Mommy Porn." My wife and I were still in college at the time, and she had never before expressed any interest in erotic fiction. I was glad that she had found and enjoyed the books, because I knew it was important for her to explore her sexuality beyond the confines of our relationship (as we are each other's first and only significant others).

When the Fifty Shades phenomenon started to gain more media attention, I grew curious to it. As an aspiring author and feminist, I realized the importance in trying to understand what it was about these books that took such hold of so many women; I was curious to learn from them so that I could understand the female perspective better and apply that understanding to my own writing. One day, on a whim, I picked up the first book and read through a few chapters. While I found the quality of writing to be as poor as I'd heard, I found the emotional charge of the book electrifying. Anastasia's "should I/shouldn't I" monologue was filled with an undeniably intense emotional tone that was incredibly addicting. I didn't finish the book on account of the sexual scenes being quite boring to me, perhaps because I'm a heterosexual male, or perhaps because much of the tension I enjoyed of the earlier chapters vanished, but I was left with an understanding of what made the books break so many sales records.

The moment I heard about the movie deal, I was delighted that something so risqué was being created for the mainstream, and when casting petitions were started I immediately signed every one begging for actor Ian Somerhalder to play the part of Christian Grey.
Ian Somerhalder was born for the part of Christian Grey, in fact, he already plays an eerily similar role perfectly in The Vampire Diaries

My Thoughts on the Film - A Valentine's Day Treat

When I saw the first trailer for Fifty Shades of Grey, I was in a movie theater, and upon seeing the release date of "Valentine's Day 2015" I immediately burst out laughing so annoyingly that my wife smacked me across the arm. The trailer had a brooding and serious tone to it, seemingly completely unaware of just how ridiculous it was. Such became my attitude for the film in the months leading up to its release; mockery.

My wife asked me to take her to see the film on Valentine's Day, and I accepted. Aside from my obvious desire to do good by her, I was as curious to see the film as I was to read the first few chapters of the book. I wholeheartedly expected it to be terrible in that over-the-top cheesy romantic sort of way that the movie The Best of Me was, which I took my wife to on sweetest day and absolutely detested.

I'm quite glad to say that my expectations were completely shattered, and I left the theater wishing that I could re-enter to see the film yet again.

A Fantasy World

I think that the key to enjoying the Fifty Shades of Grey movie (aside from not being uptight) is to go into the movie with realistic expectations. For example, whereas many of the negative reviews I've read point to the cheesy dialog as a prime reason that they couldn't enjoy the film, claiming that it wasn't realistic or believable, I went into the movie knowing full-well that the film was based on a poorly-worded romantic/sexual fantasy. The key word here is fantasy. Every time that a character said something odd and unrealistic ("are we going to make love now?" Anastasia asks the moment she signs the non-disclosure agreement) I needed only to remind myself that, though the world I'm looking at looks like ours on the surface, it is not; it is a fantasy world where every bit of cheesy dialog serves to either set you up for or deliver a sexy retort ("I don't make love. I fuck. Hard." Christian replies to Anastasia). The source material for the movie is one woman's sexual fantasy that thousands of other women happen to enjoy, which is a very important detail that I feel many reviewers either deliberately or obliviously ignored.

The movie cannot be reviewed by the same standards that we hold other movies to, because it is unlike other movies in this regard. It is not about being realistic, it's about emotion. From the beautiful sight-seeing flights over and around the Seattle area, to the palpable sexual tension, to the emotional lows of Anastasia trying to come to grips with her complicated relationship, the film did an excellent job making me feel like I was right there; feeling all those emotions along with the lead character. I'll even admit to feeling on the verge of joyful tears as the couple experienced the beauty of a nighttime Seattle skyline set to the perfectly-selected song.
Actress Dakota Johnson did an excellent job selling Anastasia's inner thoughts and emotions through the slightest of expressions.

A Playful Interpretation

I was quite worried that the film would take itself too seriously and end up being completely dull as a result (see "The Best of Me" as mentioned above). Fortunately, the movie had several moments that felt genuinely funny and self-aware. Having not read it, I cannot personally speak for how many of the jokes came out of the book, but my wife said she didn't remember the book being so funny - a great indicator that the film knew not to take itself too seriously. The jokes did a great job to break up the tension and remind you that it's meant to be a fun film.

Barely Controversial

The two most common complaints causing controversy with Fifty Shades of Grey are that:
  1. It's too graphic/kinky (or not enough, depending on who you ask)
  2. The relationship portrayed is abusive
The first point is absolutely absurd no matter which side you take. To the prudes who say it's too much: the sexual content of the film pales in comparison to the source material. All on-screen sex amounts to nothing more kinky than topless humping while Anastasia is (willingly) tied up in various positions. If you've seen sex in any R-rated film, you've seen what Fifty Shades of Grey has to offer. To the perverts who say it's not enough: I'm sorry, but what did you really expect? These are not pornstars in an X-rated film. It may not be the most faithful adaptation of the books, but it's a step closer to the line that Hollywood has been unwilling to approach in years. There's plenty of videos online to please your kinky desires.
This compilation from the trailer is literally as kinky as it gets.

This second point seems to stem largely from the same controversy regarding the books. As someone who has not read the books, I can only say that the arguments seem somewhat valid, though I've heard others (including my wife) disagree. However, thanks to the film's creators, with the gift of hindsight, all of the points made in that article regarding the books are completely absent from the theatrical adaptation:
"For example, the researchers pointed out, she withholds information about her plans to visit friends and family members and avoids social outings so as not to anger Christian."
In the film adaptation, Anastasia withholds information about these plans because (as she boldly states) "it's none of your business." The Anastasia in the film is actually quite strong-willed, and she frequently talks back to Christian so as to point out his obvious possessive issues and flaws.
"In consensual BDSM relationships, partners take negotiations seriously and respect each others’ boundaries, she said. In “Fifty Shades,” she noted, Christian bullies Anastasia and plies her with alcohol to coerce her into sexual acts that she finds uncomfortable."
Again, there is an entire scene in the film in which Anastasia and Christian sit down for a very serious (and playful) discussion about the terms of the BDSM contract, during which time Anastasia orders certain acts to be removed from the contract entirely and Christian obeys without debate. As a bonus, at the end of this scene, it is made obvious that the whole situation has aroused Christian, and Anastasia straight-up leaves him high and dry. Furthermore, Christian never once gives Anastasia alcohol in the film as far as I can remember, and in fact occasionally warns her of the dangers of excessive drinking, at one point taking a glass of wine right out of her hand so as to keep her clear-headed.

The Bottom Line - A Step Forward for Women and Cinema

Fifty Shades of Grey was an at-times cheesy, self-aware fantasy that successfully tugs at your emotions and removes the flaws of its source material. At the same time it stands on its own as a daring attempt to push mainstream cinema to not only recognize that women have been neglected as sexual beings, but to push the boundaries of our culture's ability to understand and accept diverse sexuality as something totally okay to talk about. We are now living in a post-Fifty Shades world, and I, for one, think the future is looking bright.

Also, the soundtrack was absolutely incredible! It fit the mood perfectly and stands on its own as one of the best compilations from different artists of original and reworked material that I've ever heard.
-Ryan

Friday, February 13, 2015

Advertising Critique - The Real Cost: Stay In Control

After making fun of commercials by Chevrolet and NOMORE.org, I figured that my next commercial critique should be of one that I actually like. I was going to do a "best and worst commercials of Superbowl XLIX," but I figured that's probably pretty overdone, and none really stood out to me this year aside from the attempt to use sex to sell a burger, which isn't very creative or effective.

The Real Cost - A PSA With Style, Atmosphere, and Creativity

I, like most people, don't generally enjoy watching any public service announcements, which explains my first commercial critique. They usually feel like the they're trying to shove something unwanted down my throat (I just read that sentence again after typing it, and I'm going to leave it as is). Some of the more common PSAs to pop up recently have been anti-smoking commercials, most of which rely on the same few arguments:
  • It's not cool
  • It could kill you
  • It costs money
I'm no expert, but these ads probably don't work, especially when you check out this awesome chart showing how money spent on anti-drug campaigns do literally nothing to decline the use of drugs, no matter how many trillions are wasted spent. The fact of the matter is that smokers already know they shouldn't smoke and are acutely aware of why; there's no proof that hits closer to home than being addicted to something you know can kill you. They don't need to be told not to smoke, they need help to stop - if they even want to.

Disclaimer: I've never once inhaled a single cigarette. Anti-smoking PSAs are not directed at me, and so I typically ignore them or ridicule them for just how stupid and ineffective their message is. Yes, I understand they mean well, but they don't ever seem to accomplish anything.

And then I saw this gem:
That, my friends, is what I call a really well-done PSA. The editing, and directing is all top-notch, in fact, this is the level of style and quality that I would expect from my favorite movie director; David Fincher.

But all the style in the world can't make up for a terrible script or concept, right? Well then it's fortunate that, in my humble opinion, those elements are just as stellar in this commercial. The flash of moments that any typical teenager experiences (and in some cases yearns for) create a beautiful vignette, all while the character narrates her twisted pledge to give up the most important thing to any to-be adult; her freedom.
"Now that I finally have the freedom to define who I am, I hereby agree to be bound to you."
Again, I'm not the target audience for this commercial, as I'm neither a teen nor a smoker or would-be-smoker, but I can't help but feel like it really hit the nail right on the head in terms of identifying what every teenager wants most, and then relating that to the negative effects of smoking.

Is it a bit exaggerated? Of course, especially when you realize that the scene in which the girl smokes alone away from her friends ignores the fact that most smokers are friends with other smokers (or perhaps it's a metaphor for her leaving behind her carefree childhood?), but in a world where PSAs are full of cheesy attempts to make smokers realize something they already know, this commercial stands out as something striving to be more.

I can't speak for the effectiveness of this commercial to keep people from smoking, but I stand by my assertion that it is effective at conveying its point in a unique and attention-grabbing way. I enjoy it so much that I've watched it for fun a few times; trying to analyze and capture the mood of it for use in my future storytelling attempts.

Agree? Disagree? Let me know below! And don't forget to sign up for my email list to get updates about my new posts right to your email!
-Ryan