Thursday, April 21, 2016

Love/Hate Challenge

So I was tagged for this a long while ago by the good Crispian Thurlborn over at his blog. I've been working on this a while, and realized I should probably finally post this. So here you go!

I know I'm cheating by only putting 5 for each, but...well there it is.

Also, I tag...you! If you want to do this, go ahead!

Things I Love

1) Things that make me verbally respond in a positive way

We've all read a book or seen a movie that, for one reason or another, caused us to verbally respond. Granted, more often than not, I'm doing it in a negative sense, but I absolutely love it when something causes me to verbally respond in the positive.

One example is when I reading Clash of Kings, specifically the scene where a riot breaks out in King's Landing. As survivors gather back at the castle, some begin to wonder what happened to Sansa. Suddenly, in walks the Hound, carrying Sansa on his back. When that happened, I literally held up my hand up into the air and cried, "Yes!"

When you end up verbally responding to a work in a positive way, there's a strange feeling of connection between you and that work. It's difficult to describe, but I'm sure many reading this post know what I mean.

2) When a story makes an effort to put some realism in combat.

Whenever action becomes part of the story, you almost need to be resigned that movies will be movies, and books will be books. We all know the trope about people who jump into mud and come out perfectly clean, or the gun that never runs out, or the guy who can take ten bullets and shrug it off as a flesh wound (eg., Tom Cruise in The Last Samurai). It's pretty much expected.

That being said, I do appreciate it when there's some effort to put some realism into the situation, even if it's a little. One of the things I loved about the gunfights in Last Man Standing was that Bruce Willis had to reload his handguns every now and then. One of the things I loved about the climactic battle between Aragorn and the Uruk-Hai at the end of Fellowship of the Ring was that Viggo Mortensen played Aragorn exhausted, like he really had just fought an army of orcs.

Little things like this can add a sense of urgency, uncertainty, and suspense that otherwise wasn't there.

3) A strong father figure

Being a father myself (and of a little girl, no less), one thing I've become more aware of is the stereotype of the doddering daddy. If the MC is a teenage or preteen girl, then her father is often the secondary villain. You find shaking his finger at her vile shenanigans throughout the story, but at the end coming to his senses and shrugging off whatever it was she was doing, whether it was dating the social outcast at school or committing mass genocide. Dads get treated like bumbling, backwards idiots who need to succumb to whatever it is the manchildren and teenage girls want them to do.

That's why I adore it when you have a story that features a strong, or at the very least relatable, father figure. I don't necessarily mean something as extreme Liam Neeson's character from Taken; I just mean someone who you can understand is trying to take care of his family, and is looking out for the future generation. Heck, even Homer Simpson had that kind of appeal early on, before the new writers Flanderized the entire cast; as goofy and stupid as Homer could get, you also understood he was trying to make ends meet, and was just trying to be a good father to his three children (see, for example, The Simpsons Christmas special). Even Peter Griffith had some of this appeal early on in Family Guy, before Scott MacFarlane discovered he could make money off his fanboys by making five or six series based entirely around cutaway jokes.

Point is, having a father figure that isn't just a caricature to appeal to the sensibilities of teenage girls, and actually functions like a father is supposed to, is an enjoyable aspect to the story.

4) When characters actually care others have died

A pet peeve of mine is when a story has a character die, and the other characters either don't mourn at all, or mourn for maybe like a few seconds, then move on. I know that everyone responds to death and grief in their own way...but I'm fairly certain people respond to it somehow, let alone at all. The sheer nonchalance of some people after seeing their friend or lover die reminds me of that line from the MST3K Hobgoblins episode: "C'mon, Nick...oh yeah, he died. Oh well!"

On the other hand, I love it when they make reactions to death far more realistic.

One of the best examples of this I can think of is in the horror movie Abominable. A female character, after seeing her friends get brutalized by the title monster, has to be calmed down by the MC. She's weeping. She's distressed. You know, she's reacting like any rational person would after a hideous beast murders their lifelong friends. I give great kudos to Haley Joel and Matt McCoy for their performances in that scene, and filmmaker Ryan Schifrin for putting such a scene in his movie.

5) Actors who put great effort in a historical role

We all expect good acting - that's pretty much a given. What I love, however, is when an actor or actress puts such an effort into a historical role that they're able to repeat all the nuances and intricacies of that personality.

One example is Forest Whitaker in The Last King of Scotland; after watching some documentaries on Idi Amin, seeing Whitaker play him was like seeing Idi Amin live on the screen. He probably didn't look as much like Idi Amin as other actors, but he was able to capture the mannerisms, the ways of speaking, etc.

An even greater example is Robert Carlyle in Hitler: The Rise of Evil. My wife probably remembers washing her hands in the bathroom while I watched the movie, and suddenly hearing me leap up and say, "Robert Carlyle is a great actor!" Why did I say that? Because of a scene where Robert Carlyle, after finishing a speech, lowered his head and rubbed his mustache. Why is that so significant? Because I've seen videos where Hitler did that, either out of nervousness or in-between thoughts. I've rarely seen other actors playing Hitler imitate that motion, but Robert Carlyle did.

Things I Hate

1) The Third Act Break Up

This is the nickname given to the cliche most often seen in a romantic comedy where, either around or after the climax of the story, the couple breaks up. (The Nostalgia Critic referred to this as "The Misunderstanding," since it's often based around a misunderstanding between the two characters.) Granted, this scenario can happen in general romances as well, but I've seen it the most often in romantic comedies.

And it's one of the primary reasons I rarely watch romantic comedies.

I might compare this to the James Bond cliche of the villain leaving Bond and the girl to die. It doesn't give us any suspense - we all know that Bond is going to escape. It's not like they're going to pull one over on us, have Bond and the girl die, and then cut to the end credits. We all know Bond is going to break out and go on to defeat the villain. Similarly, we all know the boy and girl are going to get back together. The movie isn't going to end with them still broken up. The movie isn't going to show them with other people, and then cut to the end credits. They're going to realize they were idiots, get back together, make up, and end happily ever after.

Some people try to defend this because it makes us care about the characters. No, it doesn't. It just drags the film on for another ten minutes until we get the conclusion that we all saw coming. I've even seen films where it was completely unnecessary; there was absolutely no reason for the couple to break up, but the writers had them break up anyway, because...reasons.

2) When a horror/monster story becomes a string of killing scenes

Something that gets old real quick is when a story just sort of becomes a string of murder scenes tied together for no other reason than they all involve the same killer. At some point, it becomes episodic, and you just sort of watch one killing after another. I've seen this in serial killer and monster stories. Amazing as it sounds, I end up getting bored and disinterested. Halfway through I end up thinking, "Yeah okay, we get it, he kills things - let's move on."

Some people might find this a ridiculous contention, as a string of killings almost comes with the territory of anything involving a monster, be they human or not. However, plenty of entries into this have managed to keep it interesting by having something else going on. One example of this is Predator 2: even though you have the Predator going around killing people, you still have the parallel story of Danny Glover figuring things out. My point is, so long as the storyteller gives us some other reason to become emotionally invested in the story besides a rising body count, then there's a reason to continue being invested until the end.

3) Endings that ruin everything

There have been a few times when I've sat through something, either a book or a movie, and thought, "Hey, this is pretty cool!" Then something happens. Something occurs that ruins my entire experience.

Maybe it's like the movie Cube, where they randomly decide to kill off most of the characters for absolutely no reason, and in a way that leaves plot holes so big a semi could drive through it. Maybe it's like The Village, which is an otherwise good film destroyed by the worst plot twist ever conceived in film history. Either way, the payoff ends up being one that leaves a bad taste in the viewer's mouth.

4) When the military is absolutely incompetent.

Let me qualify this by adding that I'm well aware not every serviceman (or woman) is perfect. I'm not making any claim of perfection. However, many stories take potential military fallibility and make it extreme. Maybe my being a military brat has a part in this, but it's a major pet peeve of mine.

One of the most infamous examples of this is in the Italian horror film Nightmare City. In that film, the military is told that shooting zombies in the head will kill them. Guess what one thing no soldier does for the rest of the film? That's right. No one shoots the zombies in the head. Most of the time they shoot them in the chest, then stare like DERP DERP and permit the zombies to kill them. Two-thirds into the movie you find yourself screaming "SHOOT THEM IN THE HEAD! SHOOT THEM IN THE HEAD! FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY, SHOOT THOSE BUGGERS IN THE HEAD!"

By contrast, one of the things I liked about movies like Close Encounters of the Third Kind and the remake of Invaders from Mars is the very fact that the government and military characters are competent. They figure things out, they handle things in a rational manner, and while they aren't perfect in everything they do, they aren't so over-the-top stupid that you wanna bang your head against the wall.

Perhaps a slight addition to this might be when civilian characters, for no previously established reason, are far more competent or powerful than the military characters. It's hilarious in movies when a full-time nurse suddenly knows how to handle an assault rifle, or a desk clerk can suddenly beat up a team of special forces, or a small town sheriff knows how to drive and fire an armored personnel carrier. Seriously, unless there's good reason these characters can do those things, it's just ridiculous.

5) When something bad happens to a baby.

Chalk this up to me being the father of a little girl - a father who held her in his arms when she was a newborn and realized what it was like to have a precious little life in your hands. Whenever I see an infant on screen, or hear about one in a story, I think about my daughter. I know my wife feels the same way.

I'm fully aware life isn't fair, and that, sadly, bad things do happen to babies in this world. However, as far as the world of fiction and storytelling goes, I can't stand it when a story takes the cheap route for tragedy or suspense by putting a child in danger, or even kills them. It's like killing off an adult character or letting a female character get raped for nothing else but "muh drama." It's tasteless, unnecessary, and goes for shock value rather than any kind of development.

If you want an example of this, I recently watched Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem. There's a scene where the "PredAlien" (yes that's a thing) rises up in a hospital amid dozens of crying newborns. You don't see anything, but the implication is that, off screen, the PredAlien killed them. I was already hating the movie beforehand, but at that point it completely lost me beyond any point of redemption. Thankfully, I wasn't the only one who found that scene tasteless, and Requiem is considered by many to be the worst in the series (though granted, for a host of other reasons).

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