Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Demo Reel

Since this blog is me writing about things that wander into my head, here's my two cents on Demo Reel. If you don't know That Guy With The Glasses (TGWTG, for short), have a look, they have lots of awesome review shows. </ad>

If you do know TGWTG and Demo Reel, read on.


Full stop here. I don't hate Demo Reel. That said, I don't like it either. And what I'm doing now is kind of an experiment. This post will consist of two parts. The first part is what I write now, having only watched the first episode some time ago. That doesn't mean that I'll disregard the second one, especially since Doug realized that things weren't working out (and made a rambly video about that fact). Kudos for that, by the way.

Part one: The Thing That was

First, I'll talk about what the hell I still remember about the first Demo Reel episode, aside from that feeling of general unpleasantness. But more on that one later.
The characters: There's three four characters. Actually, it's three cardboards and Carl, who is made of awesome. He didn't do much, and most of what he does is classified anyways.
The others are Donnie, the black dude and the squeaky chick. I'm sorry, but I literally can't remember the names of these two, and it took me some time to remember Donnie's. The fact that this happens says a lot already. These characters are not memorable, but I'll try to get my details together anyways.
  • Donnie's a douchebag. He thinks he's a great filmmaker, but he just sucks. My main problem with him is that he has no redeeming qualities. And no, that supposed charisma everyone keeps mentioning does not count. To those who compare him to the Nostalgia Critic: The NC wasn't a character. He was a persona. Except for what happened in the specials, his actions didn't have consequences. We didn't need to sympathize with him. Donnie, on the other hand, is supposed to be a full-fledged and fleshed out character. He needs a good side.
  • Black dude, aka writer, is, as the alternate nickname says, a frustrated writer/actor. The sheer fact that he's working for Donnie for more than one episode of this is baffling and hitting my suspension of disbelief with a sledgehammer. I'm sure that working in accounting and sending scripts to random directors would be more satisfying than working for that guy.
  • Squeaky chick is... oh god. Memory, don't fail me now. I remember that she was squeaky and mainly did some acting. I don't remember any behind the scenes scene with her. Or, more exactly, I don't remember her doing anything. At least black writer dude had his conflict with Donnie.
  • Carl is an awesome ex-Gestapo/Stasi dude who operates the camera. He hardly did anything, but I still felt like there was something to him.

The plot:
The Dark Knight Begins Rising... yeah. There isn't really much plot in that episode. I don't know, but for a pilot episode, there should have been more plot, maybe some backstory that's not just every cast member standing in front of the camera and talking about themselves. Most of the episode is really just them making their moive with tons of green screen.

The gags:
And most of that moive, in turn, consists of gags. And here's another major problem of that episode. Demo Reel tries to parody the movies, as well as bad parodies of them. Like the Seltzer and Friedberg (Seltzerberg) approach. The problem with that is that, instead of making fun of Seltzerberg, Demo Reel ends up falling into the same traps.One of the scenes I remember is the clothing change gag, where Bruce changes into various costumes, including a Mario one. Which he takes twice. And oh my god, this scene is so drawn-out it's not even unfunny any more. It's just tedious. I don't remember much else, but that scene is representative of what doesn't work about the approach Demo Reel takes here. You can't pull that many gags out of just one movie, or even a movie series. There's only so much you can say about this Batman trilogy. And most of the gags were just meh.

Part two: The Thing That is

So I just watched the second episode. And hey, I now know that black writer guy is Tacoma and squeaky chick is Quinn. And I took notes. Note that this episode has been remade after they noticed that the first one wasn't really what they expected.

The main difference is that it's way less focused on the movie. It's barely about Wreck-It-Ralph at all. And that's good, since the movie scenes are still not really funny. Instead, we get more backstory, mostly in the form of Quinn and Tacoma trying to talk to their relatives, who turn out to not like them very much. I have to say, the actors aren't that bad, and we finally got some chemistry. But the thing that, in my opinion, lifted this episode up was the presence of Carl. The only scenes that caused me to actually laugh had Carl in them.

The rest of the humor is still... eh. Theoretically amusing. I can see what's supposed to be funny, and I appreciate the effort, but it still doesn't work out like that. And the ending scene where Donnie gives his in movie ending speech with somewhat ironic cuts to what's happening is not funny either. It's just a practice that hasn't aged all too well.

The Bottom Line

Demo Reel got better, but that doesn't mean it's good now. I feel like shifting the focus to Carl is merely a temporary solution. The acting was better than the script that was acted out and the parody is still not funny. I'm not looking at the third episode now, since I feel like the biggest change was between the first and second one.

The Below the Bottom Line

The thing that made me write this post was a discussion I had with a friend lately. We were mostly talking about what Demo Reel did wrong and, actually, some of the things I already mentioned came up. The other thing we thought about was how Demo Reel could be better.

Clearly, the main thing to fix is the parody segments. They aren't funny and fall into the same traps as the things they want to parody. The reason why is that, as we figured, the parody focuses on the wrong aspect. As I wrote above, you can't really get many good gags out of one movie (series). Our solution was to shift the whole thing to a genre parody, to turn Demo Reel into a bunch of people who want to cash in on general popular fads instead of specific movies. Now that The Hobbit came out, they could go and try to make a fantasy movie. It wouldn't need to draw its jokes from The Hobbit itself, but from the genre and its tropes. It would try to subvert them and utterly fail because Donnie was being stupid about it. Or he didn't get the genre. So many things to do there.

The second thing, which has already been improved in the second episode, was the behind the scenes part. The characters feel a bit more like characters, even if they have a long way to go. But hey, at the end of that way, Carl is waiting with a cup of coffee.

Right now, Demo Reel is in no shape to take the NC's place as the site's flagship show, but I really hope that this changes, or that there's another format that will do so.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Dark and Edgy

Okay, this is going to be difficult. First of all, the reason I'm ranting about this is that I'm on Twitter. I follow comic fans on Twitter. I see these comic fans talk about how various companies turn their beloved heroes into grim and gritty versions of themselves. And that makes me want to punch a wall, presumably while stating that I am a man (which I'm not). Also, keep your rotten tomatoes ready, because I'm gonna talk about things as I see them and may spout some BS

Dark? Edgy? What?

First, what's dark and edgy? There's not a fine line between dark and edgy and... bright and round? Dunno, but it's more of a scale of idealism versus cynicism. And I get why not everything needs to be sugar and sunshine. A well-written anti-hero in a dystopian city can be fun to read too.
But on the other hand, dark and edgy is a dangerous tool of storytelling.

The Dangers of Dark and Edgy

There's a few many misconceptions and dangers with dark and edgy settings/versions of things. Most of the times, it's what good dark and edgy writing is or isn't.
Dark and edgy is...
  • ...always relative. When you darken and edgify (?) a setting, be aware of the initial brightness. I think that, for example, it's perfectly possible to write a dark and edgy My Little Pony story. The thing is that, since it's f-ing My Little Pony, it will still be lighter than, for example, dark and edgy Power Rangers. Or really, pretty much any other dark and edgy thing. It's talking ponies, ffs!
  • ...not guaranteeing that it's cool. Yeah, we all love these people in black longcoats shooting each other in a city that doesn't seem to pay its electricity bills. But just because something's dark and edgy, it doesn't mean that it has that cool feeling. Badly-done dark and edgy settings are often just drab and unpleasant. They make you cringe and throw the medium of choice onto the ground in disgust. Sure, there's a market for that, too. On the other hand, cool things can also be light-hearted and funny.
  • ...not necessarily realistic. To hell with you, generic first person shooters! Reality is not brown. Or gray. It's green, blue, sometimes beige or maybe hot pink. Sure, brown and gray do exist, but damn, don't overdo it with the gray. And like that, while dark and edgy exist in our world, there's also idealism. Not everything sucks. So, if you're writing dark and edgy, you might end up being worse than the world as it is. That's okay, if it benefits the story. Just... please, be aware of it.
  • ...not about gore. Urgh. Also, no Al Gore joke here, sorry. I just hate it how, very often, darker and edgier settings are also bloodier. No. No no no. You can be dark and edgy without throwing blood like it's going out of style. (Which I hope it does.) Blood is like f-bombs. You're not looking more mature or more edgy just because your characters' vocabulary consists of (m)f, a, s, c and similar things. The same goes for dismembering characters. Just because Tarantino could make it look cool, that doesn't mean you can.
  • ...full of clichés. That's true for original settings as well as... well, non-original ones. There's tons of pits you can fall into when writing dark and edgy. For an original setting, there's enough stock characters to fill a city with. For dark and edgy versions of existing settings, people either follow common stereotypes for the characters and environment (how often have we seen mushroom-abusing Mario now?!), or, in an attempt to defy that path, derail the setting until it's barely recognizable any more. Do I even have to say why that's bad?
  • ...difficult. Hell yes. Writing an independent dark and edgy setting is hard enough. Too less and it's not convincing, too much and it's ridiculous. But darkening and edgifying (!) an existent setting is hard. Even when sticking to the aforementioned things, you can end up messing it up because you started from the wrong end.

The Obligatory Paragraph Where I tell you that I don't hate Dark and Edgy

Because that's always there. And no, I don't hate good dark and edgy. If well done, it's an interesting take on existing settings. As for original ones, Cyberpunk is mostly dystopian, and I like it. Fun fact, even Cyberpunk has undergone a certain darkening and edgifying (!!!) process. I read William Gibson's Neuromancer trilogy (it's awesome), and it wasn't nearly as dark and edgy as I would have expected. Sure, it was, but damn, that shows that even things that are already dark and edgy can become even darker and edgier.

Last but not Least

What do I want to say with this? Simple: Don't think that dark and edgy is generally more awesome/mature because it's dark and edgy. You still need to write things well, and there are things that just don't work when they're darkened and edgified (:D) beyond a certain point. And I'm sure we all have someone to death glare at right now.