I fought the law…

March 25, 2009

For those not in the know, YouTube has had a bit of trouble recently with various record labels and movie distribution studios. The suits in charge of these multi-national media conglomerates want complete control of their creative property [ed. note: That they themselves didn’t actually create]. As such, they really get their panties in a twist when they see people upload videos that contain their copyrighted material to the largest video sharing site on the internet.

YouTube has tried to fan the flames and strike deals with these media companies, as the people that own most of the accounts on their site are just regular Joes, like you or me. Since we can’t defend ourselves from these big companies should we accidentally (or not) encroach on their property, YouTube has accepted the role of moderator.

In a metaphorical way, YouTube is like the parent who is met with an, “I hate you,” by the child they had to scold. YouTube willingly accepts the blame when people yell at them for taking down their video because it used a clip from a TV show or a snippet from a song owned by these companies. But like a scolded child, our lashing out against YouTube is just a knee-jerk reaction that we don’t really mean. The real enemy isn’t YouTube — they’re just saving their asses from getting sued. The enemies are the litigious companies that threaten YouTube. (And the media companies would call us the enemy.)

One deal that YouTube has come up with is to have advertisements for the movie/song in question embedded as pop-up ads in the video itself. The page which hosts the video will also have banner ads on it, displaying information that’s (sometimes) relative to the video’s content. Not a bad deal, right?
Well, several companies didn’t take kindly to that — they wanted COMPLETE CONTROL of their assets, and so they pulled out. Now YouTube has been forced to institute a zero-tolerance policy with ANY video that has anything to do with NBC/Universal, UMG, Viacom and (since December) Warner Music Group. I want you to understand that when I say zero-tolerance, I mean ZERO-tolerance.
Yes, even if you’re in the band, your record label won’t let you upload your own music videos to YouTube.

I told you all of that so that I could tell you this: I recently had a dust up with YouTube.
With my Inappropriate Soundtracks (refer to the sidebar for a link to my YouTube page), I mix and mash up music with film to make a pop culture casserole made of crap. As you can imagine, given the current climate over at YouTube, I’ve had my fair share of run-ins with copyright infringement. I’d argue that it’s parody/satire and since I’m not making money off of them, it could be considered fair use, but it doesn’t matter. (Zero-tolerance, remember?) I’ve had about 8 videos total get taken down at YouTube due to copyright infringement, but the video I uploaded this morning was special.

They allowed the video to stay, but they removed the audio because I used a song owned by the Warner Music Group in it. I was left in a weird situation; my videos NEED the music to be funny, but I didn’t feel like taking down the video after all the work I put into it and after several people had already seen it. What was I to do?

Well, I took a stand and turned the video into a platform in which to present the copyright issue as satire. I added (childish) annotations to the video making fun of WMG and how companies view us Joe YouTubes. Click the link below to see the fruits of my labor. I hope you get a chuckle.

[My mute, yet annotated, Wizard of Oz Inappropriate Soundtrack video]


Watchmen Review

March 8, 2009
"I'm gonna steal every scene if it's the last thing I do!"

"I'm gonna steal every scene if it's the last thing I do!"

Watchmen takes place in an alternate 1985, where superheroes are very real and so is the threat of full-scale nuclear war. The United States and Russia are vying for power in a veritable pissing match over who has the most nuclear weapons, and the Doomsday Clock is five minutes to midnight.
Against this pleasant backdrop, we have the murder of The Comedian, a former superhero who was a part of the now-disbanded crime fighting group, The Minutemen. Masked vigilante Rorschach investigates The Comedian’s death and tries to unravel the mystery of who would kill this superhero and why. As he digs deeper into this whodunit, other former masked adventurers begin to suspect that Rorschach is onto something, and that they may all be at risk of being murdered themselves.

To the comic fans, despite your reasons for an outpouring of nerd rage over this film, I suggest you just suck it up and accept it, because this is as close as anyone is, or was, ever going to get to translating the Watchmen graphic novel to film. I’m not saying it’s flawless by any means — no film is — but it’s hard to imagine how one could do better in taking this nigh 400 page graphic novel and converting it into a 2 and a half hour film. Zack Snyder should be commended for not fucking up as much as he could have. Honestly.
Since he got more things right than wrong and for the sake of brevity, I’ll pretty much just focus on what I didn’t like about the film because that’s just the kind of optimistic guy I am!

You know how I make Inappropriate Soundtracks by taking music and putting it to a scene from a film to make it ironic and comical and thus, take you out of the movie?

That altered scene I just posted was less jarring than most of the music cues in Watchmen.
Look, I understand that the film takes place in the 80s, so you’d want music that’s evocative of the time, but hearing “99 Luftballoons” and “Everybody Wants To Rule The World” during the scenes where they were used in the film, it just seemed… inappropriate. If they released a soundtrack album, I would like almost all of the songs on it, but the use of some of the music choices were less than ideal. It would’ve been more effective and dramatic in some scenes if they utilized a more proper orchestral score.

I also hate to say this, but in a sense, I think a detriment to the film is how closely it follows the comic. Dialogue and story progression in a graphic novel is approached differently than in film. Lines that sound perfectly fine in a comic can come out clunky when spoken aloud. The multitude of flashbacks and non-linear story progression, while expertly handled and novel back in 1985, almost seems a tad cliché and trite now. Then again, deviations can bring about nerd rage, which brings me to one of the major contentions that I’ve heard….

Yes, they changed the ending. If you haven’t seen the movie, but have read the comic, I guarantee you that your jaw just dropped after reading that. I don’t want to give away spoilers, so I’ll just say that you don’t have to worry. The change in the ending, when all is said and done, is quite cosmetic and not worth getting in a huff over. The ending they have is actually quite good and given what they focused on in the story, it felt like a natural conclusion. In fact, after my friends (who had not read the book) and I had watched the movie together, I told them how the graphic novel ended, and they looked at me like I had lobsters crawling out of my ears. In all honesty, those who have not read the book might find this ending superior because it felt more — for lack of a better word — real.

And now, some random thoughts:
• Rorschach’s amazing. He’s great in the graphic novel, too, so it’s expected, but if you had reservations about if they got him right or not, forget about it — they nailed him.
• The Comedian’s debauchery and douchebaggery was really brought to life. He’s way more menacing when seen in live-action.
• I honestly don’t remember that much graphic violence and sex in the graphic novel… although, I do remember that much blue cock. (Seriously, the amount of screen time Dr. Manhattan’s dong gets is about 5 whole minutes. No joke.)

Although, I enjoyed the film, I can’t really recommend it for everyone — this is a really violent deconstruction of superheroes, and if you aren’t aware of the construct, you might not be in on the joke. I mean, it is a joke, after all…. It’s all just a joke.

Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li Review

March 5, 2009
"Wait... weren't you Liu Kang from Mortal Kombat? What crappy video game film adaptation is this?"

"Wait... weren't you Liu Kang from Mortal Kombat? What crappy video game film adaptation is this supposed to be again?"

Signs that the movie you’re watching is probably not going to be good:
1) It wasn’t screened for critics.
2) It was based on a video game.
3) The biggest star in the movie is listed last in the credits.
4) One of the Black Eyed Peas is cast as a major character in it.
Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li has all of these strikes against it and more. Come along with me and find out more, won’t you?

As its title suggests, Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li is based on the Street Fighter series of video games, and it tells the origin story of the Chinese female protagonist, Chun-Li. The mythology of Street Fighter games 1 and 2 and the Street Fighter Alpha series is cribbed for the script, and it does its best to be as accurate and true to the mythos as possible. Trouble is, the story wasn’t very good to begin with. Let’s be honest; Street Fighter is a fighting game (duh), and the story to a fighting game is little more than justification for characters to beat the ever-loving hell out of each other. In the context of a game, the story’s at least serviceable — your character roughs up some morons until they’re all gone, then you fight the Big Bad. As far as the movie’s concerned,… to say the story is lacking is a laughable understatement.

The plot of the movie does double duty by being both nonsensical and barely existent. What little story there is is basically told through rushed, expository dialogue, and there are plot holes out the ass. Characters act to only advance the story with little logic or motive behind any of their actions. Why did M. Bison kidnap Chun-Li’s father? Why is Chun-Li following the cryptic message of an ancient scroll that was sent to her from an anonymous stranger? Why in the hell are agents of Interpol listening to the advice of Chun-Li — a former concert pianist and current vigilante — in how to trap one of the most dangerous men in the world? Why am I watching this shit?
Unfortunately, the movie never answers any of these questions.

Okay, so the plot blows. A lot. But hey, it’s a martial arts movie, and the plot doesn’t have to be that good as long as the action is decent!  …So is the action decent?
No, it’s not.
Each action setpiece is brimming with crappy wire-fu that would have felt dated 5 years ago. Not only that, but the fight scenes are shot in that “Oh no, I’m going to vomit!” shaky-cam, quick-cut bullcrap that we’ve seen so much in films recently. Many of the action scenes end abruptly, which, given how much they suck, is almost welcomed. Chun-Li’s fight with Vega — a masked madman who is built up in the movie to be some insane badass of the likes of Darth Maul — is a scene of particular note because it clocks in at under a single minute. Swing, miss, kick, punch, stomp, over.

Across the board, the acting is pretty abysmal. Kristen Kreuk does her darnedest with the material given to her, and it’s pretty sad to see that she’s the only one treating this movie like it’s worth a damn. In stark contrast, Chris Klein is hilariously miscast as Interpol agent Charlie Nash, and he plays the character like the bastard love child of Christian Slater and David Caruso. He snarks and scowls his way through every scene and tries to be cool and snide, but because it’s Chris Klein, the doofus from American Pie and Election, he simply comes across like a parody of every young, brash, impetuous cop you’ve ever seen in every hackneyed, piece-of-crap, B-grade cop movie ever made. It’s gloriously bad.  Think Bill Pullman’s character from Ruthless People, except he’s unintentionally funny.
Also, Neal McDonough plays M. Bison with an Irish accent despite the fact that the character grew up as an orphan in Thailand. I still can’t figure that one out.

Basically, the movie is garbage from top to bottom. I leave you now with quotes I actually said during the movie.
“I guess Michael Clarke Duncan is playing the world’s strongest secretary.”
“Oh great. More scenes with these two idiots. Just what this movie needed.”
“That’s… it? That was the whole fight? Well, that was mercifully short.”
“This movie’s starting to get good! …Oh, goddammit, no!”

Question: What do you get when you get rid of the camp and fun of the first Street Fighter film, but leave in all the fireball-throwing nonsense, the bad acting and the plot holes?
Answer: This bullshit movie.

Big Brother Is Watching

March 3, 2009

A recent traffic light camera at an intersection in my neighborhood has been taken down. You know those cameras that are installed at traffic lights to catch people running red lights…? Yeah, well, this particular intersection is near the largest mall in the state and one of the largest malls in the country; Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg, Illinois. People were getting ticketed by these traffic cameras and the city of Schaumburg was getting threats from consumers saying they would stop going to the mall because of it. The city eventually caved under pressure and took down the camera, and order was restored to the world.

Sounds like a story of whiny people simply getting pissed over getting caught breaking the law, right? I mean, the city has our best interests at heart — they said these lights were installed in order to reduce accidents, after all. Do you want us to get in wrecks and make the streets unsafe? Why are you complaining? You broke the law — deal with it.


Well, the real story is in the details. See, cities make SERIOUS fucking bank on these things. In fact, at this particular intersection, the city received $1 million through camera-issued tickets in the span of three months. One million dollars. In three months… at a SINGLE FUCKING INTERSECTION. I wish I were exaggerating, but I’m not.
Again, to the uninformed, this just sounds like a lot of people getting caught committing a crime and they’re just getting pissed over it. Bully for the city for cracking down on such rampant crime! Huzzah!

But think about this: How is it possible, in the span of 3 months, that 10,000 people can run a red light at an intersection and yet only 7 total accidents occur? For the mathematicians out there, that’s over 111 occurrences of people running a red light at this one intersection in a single day. If you extrapolate it, in less than 2 years, every man, woman and child in Schaumburg would have gotten a ticket for running a red light at this lone intersection. Statistically, none of this seems possible…. Something’s up.

Traffic light cameras are programmed to take a photo and issue a ticket every time a car crosses the white line while the light is red, including instances of people going right on a red light, with no exceptions. Now think about your driving history and how these cameras would adversely affect your life:
Every time you inched your car over the line to see past the SUV next you… that’s a ticket. Every time you slammed your breaks and your bumper accidentally crossed the line… that’s a ticket. Every time there was a blizzard and you couldn’t see the line and accidentally crossed it… that’s a ticket.

That 111 moving violations a day begins to make sense now, doesn’t it? Crime seems rampant when there’s zero tolerance.

Even though the city said these cameras were to make these streets safer by lowering traffic accidents, they still took the camera down. But if the cameras actually lowered accident rates, why take it down? Why fold so easily? Is it because… THEY DON’T WORK? The city even admitted the cameras don’t work in reducing accidents, and even if they did, how could you conclusively prove it without getting into a “coincidence vs. direct correlation” argument?

Like electronic voting machines, we’re instituting flawed technology that only creates a nigh-incontestable situation that ultimately harms us. Sure, you can appeal the ticket, but they might not listen to you. And that’s $100 a pop down the tubes over virtually nothing. Imagine how awful it would be to drive around if they install these cameras at every intersection. One snowy day could fill your mailbox with traffic tickets, and believe me when I say I personally know people who got a bogus camera ticket at this exact intersection.

In Illinois, the government will look for any goddamn excuse to squeeze as many dollars out of us as possible. Road tolls, city stickers, and the highest sales taxes in the entire country. Money is the bottom line to them, which is why the city folded so quickly when people complained that they would stop shopping at Woodfield because of the traffic cameras. It’s not about making streets safer — it never was — it’s about money.

Big Brother is watching you, and he has dollar signs in his eyes.