On The John
An Editorial By John Camarena
There are so many different types of YouTube channels out there, from the broad to the scarily specific. Some real gems may get passed up if you don’t sometimes search for things outside of your regular interest zones or feel adventurous on a thumbnail. But I’m here to dig through the dregs of content to filter out some unique or otherwise good channels that don’t get the attention they deserve. All of these that we’ll be looking into are channels I too am a fan of, and therefore can also serve as an insight into my inner workings.
Classic horror film and retro gaming enthusiast James Rolfe’s “Angry Videogame Nerd” character actually predates Youtube itself. Making videos since he was a child and posting online since 2004, he created a unique brand of comedy videos focusing primarily on criticizing retro games from the 80’s that were known for their ridiculous difficulty. Games like Back to the Future, The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Karate Kid, Castlevania 2 and Legend of Zelda 2 were all on the Nintendo Entertainment System, which is due to the character originally being called The Angry Nintendo Nerd; the name was modified to avoid copyright later on. Not long afterward, the Nerd covered other consoles and games as well as accessories like the Powerglove. The Nerd made his mark by having a unique way of reviewing games in which he will become increasing agitated by the games’ difficulty, drink beer, and eventually unleash a colorful stream of imaginative expletives. It’s a style that has since been copied with varying degrees of success, but there’s nothing like the original. The Nerd is still going strong to this day, and James will also appear as himself in some offshoot videos like Rental Reviews and James & Mike Mondays, and a personal favorite of mine, Monster Madness, in which he’ll give a short review on horror movies new and old, and themed runs such as the complete Godzilla series or every Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street. There was even a movie in which he reviews arguably the worst game of all time: E.T. Some notable reviews that I love to revisit include his review of the Atari, NES and SNES Star Wars games, his review of the Virtual Boy, and the Wish List episodes 1 & 2, which was like a time capsule from the 80s.
2. Red Letter Media:
Now, shifting focus from retro games to popular movies, we have Red Letter Media. First rising to almost overnight prominence after the likes of Simon Pegg and Damon Lindelof tweeted about it, their 70 minute Phantom Menace review broke down all the things that I subconsciously hated about the Star Wars prequels but lacked the general understanding of the language of cinema at the time to truly articulate. The narrator, a Mr. Harry S. Plinkett, speaks in what can only be described as a homicidal maniac’s voice and his choice of things he finds funny would corroborate that. That being said, the man behind the voice, Mike Stoklasa, is a former film student who has written and directed several projects under his own production company now known as Red Letter Media, and is well versed in story structure, shot composition, and possesses a sharp wit when pointing out inconsistencies and gaps in the logic of the screenplay. The Plinkett reviews actually started with reviews of the Star Trek: The Next Generation movies, in which he points out that the character of Picard was written almost as an exact opposite of his TV character for the sake of making the movies more action-driven. From there, we have gotten all the prequels, 2 of the 3 Disney sequels, and an assortment of other films such as Titanic, Avatar, Baby’s Day Out and Cop Dog. With their newfound success and attention, the channel began to branch out to some less scripted fare, from Half in the Bag, where they review one or two movies that are currently still in theaters, to RE:VIEW, where they do an in-depth analysis and praise some of their favorite classics movies such as The Rocketeer, Tremors, and Ghostbusters; and The Nerd Crew, where they essentially make fun of nerd culture in general. There’s also Best of the Worst, in which they will randomly, and sometimes creatively, choose from their massive collection of VHS tapes and have a roundtable discussion about them, ending with them destroying whichever they vote was the worst viewing experience. If you love film and want to listen to a bunch of interesting characters making fun of each other while also making some great observations about the movie industry, you can’t go wrong here, just be warned that they won’t shy away from joking about inappropriate things or events.
3. Girlfriend Reviews:
The most recent entry into my regular video rotation is a cute video series by early twenty-something Youtubers Matt and Shelby, better known as Girlfriend Reviews. The gimmick here is that Shelby was a backseat gamer that decided to start commenting on the games her boyfriend would play from her own unique point of view; not being an avid gamer herself, she brings some interesting and humorous insights into video game tropes that are normally taken for granted. Things such as overly convoluted storylines or play mechanics come under her scrutiny as she questions why they have to be the way they are. Eventually she started joining in and getting some first-hand experience, and also branching out into other media such as one of my favorite videos: watching Star Wars: A New Hope for the first time as an adult. Their videos are funny, well-edited, and very entertaining. So much so in fact, that there were rumors on the channel’s subreddit page that Matt and Shelby were just actors and the videos were actually being professionally produced by some marketing company. This is doubtful, although there is a suspiciously clean level of polish to their videos, they are not outside the realm of a couple of plucky kids with some video editing software and a razor sharp eye for meme humor. Three good videos to watch are the Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening review, in which she stops three-quarters of the way through and just plays the Untitled Goose Game; Doom, where she realizes her potential for enjoying bloodshed; and Bioshock, where she really goes into detail about the setting and art deco design juxtaposed with the horror of the story.
These are great primers for some good pop culture consumption, all from very different yet highly entertaining points of view, and really just the tip of the iceberg for deep-diving into the depths of my own geekdom. And no, you’re eyes are not tricking you, Macauly Culkin has appeared two of the three channels discussed today, since he is branching out and embracing the Youtuber culture with channels that he also finds entertaining.
An Editorial By John Camarena
The End of 2019 brought us some genuinely awesome entertainment of the sci-fi, fantasy, and comic book variety to our TV screens. We at the Geeks’ Watch podcast had some less than stellar viewing experiences early on; looking at you, Star Trek: Discovery, Electric Dreams, Carnival Row, and the last season of Game of Thrones! And while there were a few bright spots intermittently, it wasn’t looking like there would be much to look forward to. But thankfully I was proven way wrong. We ended up getting some of the best watching experiences of the year pretty much back to back just as it came to a close, and my faith in humanity has been restored! So let’s break it down and see what made these shows so great…
A sequel to the seminal classic by Alan Moore and Dave Gibson. My initial trepidation with this show was that it would have no involvement whatsoever by the writer/creator of the series. Moore famously cut ties with DC after he felt the company was just trying to commercialize his works and diminishing their value in the process, so he had zero involvement with the previous attempts to capitalize on the property, from the 2009 Zach Snyder movie to the prequel series Before Watchmen. The movie was good, not great, as it made some changes, some for better and some not so much, and the prequel comics had some interesting ideas but felt like fan fiction more than a part of the canon. Add to that, the show was going to be run by Damon Lindeloff, someone whom I had cursed to the heavens for ruining the script for Prometheus and making Lost feel like a meandering mess. But I was told The Leftovers was good so I gave it a shot. Right off the bat, the trailers didn’t seem that interesting. It looked confusing and a little silly with what looked like police wearing yellow masks, a brief shot of Night Owl’s airship Archimedes, or Archie for short, and a tease of Dr. Manhattan. This series was to be a sequel to the graphic novel, set in the present time some 34 years after the events in the story. Whatever, let’s see what it’s about. From the very beginning, this was not a show that was messing around. It begins during the Tulsa Massacre and continues in an unrelenting and uncompromising narrative about race relations, past transgressions on current generations, Redfordations, and moving forward. The true genius of this surprise hit is that it doesn’t attempt to rehash the plot points of the novel, but expound upon them. Miniscule details and mentions from the novel turn out to have surprising consequences. Questions set up 30+ years ago are answered, some in unexpected ways, and more than anything, the show provided us with a way to supplement the viewing experience with a collection of documents mirroring the world-building segments from the end of each issue of the original via the Peteypedia website. This show was deep, well thought out, and respectful of the source material. Three of the episodes in this singular season were three of the best hours of television watching in a good while, with some interesting story telling and cinematography. All the new characters were interesting and striking in their own right, definitely up to the standard set by the original. It didn’t deserve to be this good and yet here we are, wishing that Lindeloff will decide to come back for a second season. As it is now, this will probably be a stand-alone miniseries, but even so, it was satisfying with enough plot threads left over that should they decide to continue, I will be there waiting to devour it.
Now this show had a bit more expectation behind it. Being set about 5 years after the end of Return of the Jedi, a time period not yet explored in the new Disney continuity, we follow a Mandalorian bounty hunter just trying to be the best bounty hunter he can be. Within the Star Wars fandom, there are subsections devoted to this class of characters, with their cool armor and mysterious history, it felt like it was going to try to make both the fervent fans and more casual followers happy. Not a balancing act I’d like to tackle. But in the capable hands of Jon Favre, and with guests like Taika Waititi, Bill Burr, Clancy Brown, Ming Na-Wen, among others, this show turned out to be arguably better than the recent spate of movies in the Skywalker saga. And that’s not even touching on the incredible cultural impact that a certain baby has had. The Child, referred to by pretty much everyone as “baby Yoda”, has shifted the zeitgeist of what Star Wars can be. With the tone of a sci-fi western and a dash of Lone Wolf and Cub thrown in, The Mandalorian has become a runaway success and Disney cannot license baby Yoda merchandise fast enough to meet the demand. It’s a simple story, predictable even, but feels like such a breath of fresh air in a stale series that it, and the upcoming Clone Wars final season, may be the cure for the lackluster cinematic entries.
Now for the last show we watched just before the end of the year, The Witcher is not a series I was too familiar with. Outside of knowing it was a video game and book series, and some memes about taking a bath, I had no real anticipation for what this ended up being. The first trailer looked interesting, and to be honest, I was happy to see Henry Cavill in something after his absence from Shazam! hinted that he might no longer be involved in the DCEU. I love fantasy, magic, alchemy, monsters and swordfights, and this show looked like it was set to deliver all that, but I wasn’t truly sold until the first time Cavill’s Geralt of Rivia, when confronted by a group of angry villagers, realizes he’s going to have to fight his way through and kill them all. His exasperated “Fuck” was so well-delivered that I was hooked from that moment. All in all, I enjoyed this show more than I thought I would, even though I felt like I only understood what was going on maybe 75% of the time. Characters like Jaskier, the annoying bard that just grows on you, and the innocent-turned-power-hungry Yennefer, all have wonderful chemistry with our lead protagonist. Even long, drawn out scenes with crazy amounts of confusing plot elements, while obtuse, are never boring.
While 2019 was a dumpster fire of a year, it was great to finish it out with an explosion of good content. And if only 2 of these 3 shows continue to develop, that’s alright by me. We already got three good seasons and for the first time in a long time, I have hope for what’s to come.
By John Camarena
Going into The Rise of Skywalker, expectations were low to say the least. The Last Jedi felt like a slap in the face to the fans that held the franchise close to their hearts, and having 2 of the main characters essentially tell us, the audience, that we are basically stupid for holding onto it, while a brave and interesting move, is not what Star Wars should be. By now it’s been revealed that even though JJ Abrams had an outline for the rest of the trilogy, Rian Johnson was given free rein to make the second movie however he wanted, and what he chose to do was interesting but also misguided. Rian Johnson, in my opinion, is not a bad director; however, his choice to deconstruct the mythology in order to water it down for mainstream audiences split the fandom. Some people liked it, many hated it, and I felt like maybe Star Wars just wasn’t for me anymore. This was most disappointing after the acceptable movie that Abrams had crafted. The Force Awakens, while a soft reboot/remake of A New Hope, was exactly what we wanted in order to bring the old fans back after so many adults were let down by the prequel trilogy. Abrams set up a familiar premise with the potential for meaningful payoff. Then Johnson said “nah” to that and essentially ended the trilogy with the second movie by making the theme one of letting go of the past and starting something completely different. There was nowhere coherent for the third movie to go and it showed: the big bad villain was unceremoniously killed before we get to know anything about his past, his motivations, and his goals; the second most important character also dies kind of pointlessly after spending the whole movie being a downer and refusing to be involved. This was Luke Skywalker! And the movie even makes a meta commentary on the fact that Luke was the former hero now reduced to being a sad hermit. Finally, the big set up that Rey was somehow important got flushed down the vac-tube by revealing she’s actually a nobody and her parents were just drunks. More on that in a bit. Needless to say, Disney was in a bit of a panic and their solution to try and win back the fans was to get Abrams back for the third movie. For some strange reason, it was never intended to have a unifying vision guiding these movies the way Marvel does, but nevertheless, this was a hail Mary play. So we get Abrams back and what happens next? Well, he basically has to undo many of the plot threads from The Last Jedi, or somehow twist them so that they fit into what I presume must have been the original outline of the trilogy. The perfect metaphor for this situation is being introduced to Kylo Ren in Episode 7 with his black helmet, then Snoke makes fun of Kylo Ren for using it so Kylo destroys it in Episode 8, followed by Kylo Ren reconstructing the damaged helmet and wearing it again to bring us back to form. It’s as beautiful as it is stupid. So what happens next? Let’s take a look.
- Palpatine was behind it all. We thought he was long dead, having been thrown into a pit on the second Death Star, and thus fulfilling Vader’s redemption and the prophecy that would bring balance to the Force by eliminating the Sith once and for all. But no, somehow Palpatine survived his Force lighting self-electrocution, falling down a bottomless pit, and the Death Star explosion, so he could go into hiding for the next 30 years where basically no one would know where he was and secretly build a huge fleet of planet-destroying Star Destroyers, which now makes them the most inappropriately named ships. Palpatine literally created Snoke as a pawn and influenced Kylo through the Force, making him think his grandpa, Darth Vader, was communicating with him. The problem here is there was absolutely zero set up for this reveal. Which leads me to my next point…
- Rey is a Palpatine. So it turns out she isn’t really a nobody; she’s a direct descendant from one of the characters that’s now been a part of all three trilogies. Sure, her parents weren’t infamous, but the son of Palpatine would most certainly not qualify as a nobody. There are so many more questions that come from this reveal: why were Rey’s parents not on the same page as the Emperor? Who did the Emperor have a child with? Were there other children? Were the parents not Force-sensitive? Was selling Rey into slavery to a shady junk dealer as a small, defenseless child really the best option to keep her away from Palpatine after I’m assuming it was discovered she had Force potential?
- The Rule of Two. The Rise of Skywalker introduces a couple of ideas with deep implications, but like everything else in the story, they get glossed over with minimal explanation. First, Kylo states that he and Rey are a dyad in the Force. Somehow, the two of them are inexplicably and inexorably interconnected within the Force; soulmates. But this idea is new to the canon and has no previous frame of reference really understand the meaning of this. Then the Emperor wants Rey to kill him so she can fulfill her ultimate destiny and the Sith can inhabit her being. This is actually very interesting because it implies that the Rule of Two, first mentioned in The Phantom Menace, is with the goal of the master training an apprentice to eventually kill him in order to transfer his soul into the body of the apprentice and thus defy death and continue the cycle with a new apprentice. Since the Sith cannot commune with the part of the Force that would essentially turn them into ghosts like Luke, Ben and Yoda, they have strived to cheat death through unnatural means, and it seems that this is the secret that Darth Plagueis discovered and Palpatine briefly alludes to in Revenge of the Sith. Again, a very interesting idea worth exploring further, but no we move on and this is not mentioned again.
This isn’t to say the movie was bad as a whole. In truth, I liked this one the best out of the three. If you shut your logic circuits and can regress to being 5 years old, this is an entertaining ride. It’s only under basic scrutiny that the flaws in the story become apparent. A simple peek behind the curtain and the whole things begins to unravel. The main issue is the course-correction Abrams implemented that both had to undo or recontextualize a lot of the previous movie in order to make this work, and as a result, this felt like two movies compressed into one. Everything moves so quickly that you barely have time to grasp what just happened before we’re whisked away to the next plot point rushing to the finish line. Some of the best parts of my favorite entry in the series, The Empire Strikes Back, are the slow, character building and exposition scenes. Had Abrams at the very least been the guiding hand of the trilogy, we could have avoided a lot of the ill will garnered by the last movie. Had the idea of Palpatine being the puppet master been implemented earlier, this would have been an amazing reveal. In contrast to the movies, Jon Favre has demonstrated that it is still possible to make something good with the Star Wars brand when you have the right people and a vision involved. Here’s to hoping that this is a learning experience for Lucasfilm and better quality control begins to seep in.
A Review From John Camarena
As many of you may know, I’m quite a fan of Stranger Things. This show resonates with my 80’s nostalgia. It’s a fantastic blend of pop culture icons; everything from Stephen King to Stephen Spielberg, sci-fi and fantasy. The very first episode got me hooked, from that synthesizer theme song to the sprinkles of Dungeons and Dragons, Knight Rider, E.T., and so on. And the story is great too boot! Unlike the kitchen sink approach that Ready Player One threw at us, this show has an interesting mystery, likable characters, and well-paced action beats. It genuinely captures what it felt like to be a nerdy child with an overactive imagination. And now, while we wait for Season 3’s trailer to drop (any freakin’ day now please!) the supplemental materials are now making their way to tide us over: The Official Stranger Things Companion book, the Dr. Brenner-centric novel Suspicious Minds, and a whole slew of unofficial books are now available, with many more to come. As someone who loves consuming this stuff, I had to dive in and chose the 4-part comic book series just as the 4th issue released, because at the end of the day, Stranger Things is meant to be binged. Does the comic book meet the same level of awesome that the show does? Almost.
Massive spoilers ahead if you haven’t watched seasons 1 and 2, by the way, so here goes. The comic book 4-parter was written by Jody Houser, with art by Stefano Martino. Who are these people? I don’t really know, as I’ve not kept up with comic books for a very long time, but between the two of them, they seem to have done good work in the past. The comic takes place simultaneously with the events of the first season, beginning when Will Buyers realizes there’s something strange and dangerous in his home and runs to hide in the shed out back. Something not shown in the show is how exactly Will ends up in the Upsidedown, and this comic basically shows him teleporting there. Unlike other characters and sometimes the Demogorgon who are shown having to walk or crawl through a gross-looking portal that resembles an open wound in the fabric of reality, Will just kind of blinks and is suddenly in the Silent Hill version of Hawkins that we come to refer as the Upsidedown. Here he has his first encounter with the creature, and Will shoots it right in the toothy petal-head then it disappears. From here, the narrative jumps around with flashbacks to events leading up to the present, such as some more interactions between Will and his friends, Dungeons & Dragons campaigners Mike, Dustin and Lucas. We see a little more of their previous adventure and learn that Dustin and Lucas are apprehensive about Will’s choice to be a Mage, and questions his usefulness to the quest. This is put in contrast with the real danger he is in the present. While being shown as indecisive and defensive in the real world, Will takes action and fights back against the Demogorgon and goes out exploring the Upsidedown, trying to make sense of his situation. It’s here that I really appreciated the comic due to Will processing things as if it was a D&D campaign. Will finds strength by relating to his Mage character, imagining he is on some sort of quest he must endure after being separated from his party. These sections are short, and they depict them both with fantasy-style art and with versions that looked like they were drawn by Will himself, a reference to the character art shown in the series. I actually would have really liked if the whole series was done in this style, as that seems to tie in better without having to reveal too much or make up things that may be out of place or not fit in to the continuity.
Now, the majority of the story is set during the 7 days that Will was missing in the real world, and we do see how some of the time unfolds from Will’s point of view. It is shown that Will can sometimes hear the people calling out to him, and that although the Upsidedown appears to be devoid of life or light, there is still a connection to the powergrid of the real world that he has an indirect effect on. For instance, the Christmas light Ouija board that his mom, Joyce Buyers makeshifts on the living room wall works by having Will touch the corresponding letters on his side, and we are to infer that his proximity to the light is what causes it to react. It’s never spelled out and it is not consistent either; for instance, the first time Joyce hears Will faintly on the telephone, Will was trying to use the walkie talkie. It’s not clear if anyone in the Upsidedown would be able to do this or if there is something special about Will. After some time passes, Will decides to leave the house and explore around the town, and it is during this excursion that he sees Eleven for the first time. She appears almost as a vision, because she does not seem to be entirely corporeal, but she does seem to also see Will, which explains how she knew about him when she sees a picture of him at Mike’s house. The exploration portions turned out to be my least favorite part of this series, however.
Now after Will goes exploring, he essentially visits all the same other parts of the Upsidedown that other characters come into contact with. Will hears Barb scream for help and he follows her voice, but by the time he arrives to the pool outside of Steve Harrington’s house, all that’s left are Barb’s glasses. Will returns home and sees that a portal stared forming in the living room wall and makes brief contact with his mom, but has to run away when again the Demogorgon attacks. While Will is out in the woods, he almost runs into Nancy Wheeler, Mike’s older sister, and Johnathan, his older brother. According to the comic, he was within stone-throwing distance of meeting up with them in the Upsidedown, but just missed them. He also runs into a wounded victim of the Demogorgon that dies before his eyes, and eventually makes his way to Castle Buyers, a wooden fort in the woods of Hawkins, where Eleven makes contact with him letting him know that they haven’t given up hope and are still looking for him, even after a fake body was planted in the quarry by Hawkins Lab and presumed to be him. Finally, after days without food or water and cold due to the lifeless nature of the environment, Will is found by the Demogorgon. Will wakes up in the public library, which is now a nest of sorts and there are other bodies strewn about. While the other bodies appear decomposed, Will is still very much alive in a cocoon-like structure with a long tendril going into his mouth, not unlike the proboscis used by the facehuggers in Alien to impregnate their hosts. We don’t dwell on this too much though, because Joyce and Sheriff Hopper find him right then and take him home. The next few panels before the end are of Will recovering in the hospital and it leads to my favorite part of the whole series: while talking to his mom and brother, we see from Will’s point of view and for a moment, he sees them and his surroundings as if they were in the Upsidedown, with the two of them appearing decomposed while still talking to him. Will convinces himself it’s just his imagination, but leads to the idea that he is still connected to the Upsidedown, which we see later in season 2.
All in all, it was good. The art was well drawn, and the covers of each issue evoke the style of horror and sci-fi movie posters from the 80’s like The Thing and Aliens. The Easter eggs I caught were nice also, such as Mike reading Stephen King’s The Dark Tower in a flashback to get ideas for future D&D campaigns, and a brief glimpse of the Mindflayer, who did not appear in season 1 but was the big bad of season 2. You won’t miss anything important if you skip out on this comic, they leave the worldbuilding to the show, but for fans like myself who can’t get enough of this story, it fills in some of the gaps and gives you more of Will so he feels like he was there the whole time. I’m looking forward to more side stories but really hope they also expand on the mythology. So until the release of Season 3, due July 4th, 2019, this has been John reminding you to Geek Out!
Overall rating of 7.5 out of 10.