Archive for the ‘Featured’ Category

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, Personal Hardships, and Letting It Slide

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

In the last several weeks, the latest viral internet craze, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, has resulted in an massive outpouring of donations to a more than worthy cause, and a flurry of mildly amusing YouTube videos to boot. In terms of internet trends, it’s actually rather…well, cool and refreshing!

But as always, the trolls are out. Which is fine, we need skeptics and contrarians out there. But in this instance, they’re wrong.

Let’s set the table here: ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a neurodegenerative condition that effects the brain and spinal cord. The motor neurons that initiate muscle movement in the body gradually die off, leading to progressive paralysis, and eventually death.

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge occurs when you challenge someone to either donate money (usually $100) to the ALS Association, or dump a big bucket of ice water over their head. Since the beginning of August, the internet has been flooded (no pun intended) with videos of both average joes and celebs dousing themselves with water. The publicity has brought the ALS Association, $13.3 million (as of August 17) in donations, compared to the $1.7 million they received at the same time last year.

Naysayers have called out the Ice Bucket Challenge for essentially prompting Americans to celebrate the notion of not giving money to a charity. Hey, fair point. While many are indeed dousing themselves AND making a donation, it’d be foolish to think that a lot of us aren’t doing it simply for fun. And let’s certainly not rule out false boasting, narcissism, and flat out stupidity. Make no mistake, it’s a lot easier to pretend to be charitable than to actually be charitable. Plus, there are a lot of countries in dire need of all that clean water.

But in spite of all that, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge gets a pass from me. And here’s why…

Several years ago, I was working for a small regional newspaper. One summer, around this time of year, I was dispatched to do a story on the Les Turner ALS Walk for Life, a Chicago area event that raises money for ALS patient care. When I got the assignment I had never heard of the event, and had no knowledge about ALS.

Then I met Len, and his wife Sarah. At the time, Len was confined to a wheelchair and was only able to move his head, neck, and left arm. They were very open about what they’d gone through, especially considering I was such a young reporter, let alone a complete stranger. Len told me about being forced to leave his job, the trip to Hawaii he and Sarah had taken once they learned about his ALS (a last vacation of sorts), and how his body had gradually broken down. He did, however, tell me with pride that he was able to stand up at his daughter’s wedding, despite having extremely limited use of his legs.

When the interview was over, and Sarah had left the room to get something, Len and I small talked for a minute. In all honesty, I don’t remember what the topic was. But then, as we could hear Sarah coming back, he thanked me for my time, and said eight words I don’t think will ever leave me…

“I just try not to think about tomorrow.”

He started to choke up a bit. But he fought it back.

Len is gone now, but I’ve thought about him quite a bit over the years. I can’t even imagine what must have been going through his mind when we talked, or Sarah’s for that matter. It sounds incredibly corny when you put it into words, but what kind of strength do you imagine needs to be mustered to face something like that? Even all these years later, I can’t even begin to comprehend it.

Sarah still participates in the ALS Walk for Life with her team “Len’s Den.” Through the wonders of internet stalking, I discovered they have a Facebook page. On August 15, Sarah posted a message, and signed off with: “Keep those ice buckets coming!”

So I’m okay with the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. As a member of the human race, I’m willing to bear whatever idiocy or ingenuity arises from it. Because $13.3 million is a lot of money. You can’t treat ALS with money, but you can with what put the money there: Generosity, compassion, human decency, and the willingness to take action.

I guess the moral of the story here is that sometimes, you have to be willing to take the bad with the good. Is this ice bucket thing a little over the top? Absolutely. Does it expose America’s bizarre fascination with stupid YouTube videos? Of course it does. But it’s got people talking about donating to charity, and the ALS Foundation has reaped great benefits from it. I’ll take that trade off.

Front page image from sammy-riggs.com. Image 1 from centralaz.com. Image 2 from time.com. Image 3 from time.com.

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Robin Williams, Mental Illness, Hidden Pain, and the Future

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I’ve spent a good portion of this week thinking about Robin Williams. I suspect I’m with the majority on that one. Robin Williams hangs himself because of depression? It’s just so out of the blue, and seemingly so out of character…

Williams’ death shook me up quite a bit because of its connection to depression and mental illness. Without getting too personal here, my life, like the lives of so many, has been touched by things like clinical depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, etc. For some of us, it’s a daily battle. The simple act of getting up to greet the day can be excruciating if your mind isn’t in a good place. And the notion that Robin Williams, seemingly the epitome of happiness and zest for life, dealt with such issues just doesn’t seem to fit. Mind you, in the last day or so we’ve learned he was in the early stages of Parkinson’s Disease, which can often lead to depression. But it still seems so out of left field.

Naturally, the internet and social media have been flooded with tributes to Williams. I happened to be on Twitter Monday night, and I stumbled on to a tweet sent by none other than Kevin Conroy (widely known as the voice of Batman). I understand his inclusion in here may induce a few eyerolls, given I’m obviously a comic book/superhero geek. But what he wrote has been in the back of  my mind since I saw it: “Robin Williams inspired while fighting demons of his own. His humor floated on a sea of pain. …”

Heavy stuff. I don’t know what relationship Conroy had with Williams, if any. But what really hit me was: “His humor floated on a sea of pain.” Obviously, Robin Williams has millions of fans mourning him. And I’ll never discount him, his legacy, or what he’s brought to the world.

But how many people live their lives on that same sea of pain, and don’t have legions of admirers? How many people battle those same demons, and aren’t rich, famous, or loved like Robin Williams? And how many people are able to hide it as well as he did, and walk through their lives quietly suffering?

I don’t know if people necessarily want to hide things like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, etc. But of course, they do. In America alone, one in four people deal with such issues in a given year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. So if so many of us are dealing with this kind of thing, then why hide it?

From an American standpoint, I think a lot of it has to do with the culture. The average American only gets two weeks of paid vacation a year. For those other 50 weeks, we’re trained to be nose to the grindstone, working our collective asses off to provide our families with a high quality of life, and keep this country chugging along. A recent episode of Real Time with Bill Maher pointed to a Cadillac America commercial as a prime example of what the mindset of the United States workforce is supposed to be…

I’m not at all opposed to the concept of paving your own way in this world, working hard, or putting in long hours. But with that mindset comes a certain “push through the pain” attitude. We keep forging forward, despite whatever pain (be it physical or mental) might be ailing us. That’s a cool mindset to a point. But after awhile, it obviously has its drawbacks. And I think that’s what a lot of Americans do with mental illness. They forge through it because that’s what they think they’re supposed to, rather than taking care of themselves. Which ironically, would lead to longer and more productive careers.

Plus, I think a little bit of that “crazy person” stigma still exists, and as such, people are afraid to get that stamp. That’s probably not anybody’s fault, per se. It’s just the way our culture has been for so many generations, and you can’t necessarily eradicate that all at once.

In terms of the public’s awareness of mental illness, we live in an interesting time. Both the advancement of medical science and the emergence of the information age have paved the way for what exactly mental illness is, how it can be treated, and where one can get support. Still, I don’t think we as a culture are where we want to be.

Work is important. Ambition and drive are important. Putting a roof over your head is important. But so is enjoying your life. So is spending time with the people you love, and experiencing that love to its fullest. In my little head, that’s worth more than whatever professional accomplishments your professional life has to offer. It’s certainly worth more than material possessions, and it’s definitely worth more than corporate profits, or however you want to judge the success of a company.

Robin Williams was a man who could evoke great emotion from people. He made us laugh, obviously. But he could also make us cry. He could make us think. He could inspire us. And in his tragic death, he may have stumbled on to a way to inspire us one last time. NBCNews.com published a story about how William’s death has inspired a “coming out,” i.e. a dialogue about depression and suicide. Despite the horrific way it came about, that’s a great thing. The more we talk about something, the more aware we are. And with that awareness can come knowledge. And knowledge can pave the way for change. Specifically, change the way this country, and the world, see mental illness.

But at the very least, I hope Williams’ death inspires people to be a little nicer to one another over the next couple of weeks. Whether it’s an acquaintance, a coworker, or just a random joe on the street. Because you never know what someone’s going through. You never know who’s floating along on that same “sea of pain”

Front page image from cabletv.com. Image 1 from anthonygeorge.wordpress.com. Image 2 from shechive.wordpress.com. Image 3 from latest.today.

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A Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Review – When The Fanboys Are Right

TITLE: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
STARRING: Megan Fox, Johnny Knoxville (voice), Noel Fisher, Alan Ritchson, Jeremy Howard,
DIRECTOR: Jonathan Liebsman
STUDIOS: Paramount Pictures, Nickelodeon Movies, Platinum Dunes, Gama Entertainment, Mednick Productions
RATED: PG-13
RUN TIME: 101 min
RELEASED: August 8, 2014

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

The fanboy/fangirl community has earned the right to be skeptical. Over the years we’ve been let down by so many lackluster takes on comic book stories and concepts. Too many to name here. So when this Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reboot was announced, with Michael Bay attached as a producer and Megan Fox cast as April O’Neil, a lot of justified skepticism and criticism was leveled at the project. Fans would go on to scratch their heads at the sight of these new CGI motion capture Turtles, and roll their eyes when Johnny Knoxville and Tony Shalhoub were brought in at the last minute to do voice over work for Leonardo and Splinter.

But as both a critic and a fanboy, my philosophy is that while you have every right to be skeptical, you’ve got to see the full movie before you can officially condemn it.

And as a life-long, die hard Ninja Turtles fan, it breaks my heart to tell you the skeptics were right. Not only that, but the film’s three major problems were all evident in the trailers and the advertising:

1. They overthought the concept.
2. They forgot to have fun.
3. They cast Megan Fox.

As expected, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a rehash of the origin story. There are some tweaks here and there, but essentially it’s the same. Our heroes are Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael, and Michelangelo. They have a sensei/father/humanoid rat named Splinter, a human friend named April, and an arch enemy called The Shredder. In this film, The Shredder and his scientist pupil Eric Sacks (William Fichtner) attempt to steal the mutagen in the Turtles’ blood, and use it as a cure for a bioweapon they plan to unleash on the city, thus allowing the Foot to extort massive amounts of money and rise to power.

There’s been a lot of talk as to why the Turtles and Shredder were tinkered with so much in this film. They’re all gimmicked up for no real reason. Leonardo wears bamboo armor, Michaelangelo wears pants when none of the others do, Donatello wears taped glasses and is geared up like a friggin’ Ghostbuster. Meanwhile, Shredder is no longer a sinister ninja master wearing some intimidating bladed armor. Now, he’s essentially a nameless, faceless big bad who puts on a techno wondersuit and becomes an evil CGI Transformer. All the pure hate and evil has been sucked out of him, and he’s been reduced to a mere special effect.

So why has so much been tinkered with to the point of ridiculousness? There could be a multitude of reasons. But my gut tells me the filmmakers wanted to give us something a bit different than what we’ve seen before, while also making our villains more dangerous, and raising the stakes. This is all fine on paper. But remember, you’re catering to a vast audience ranging from little kids to grown adults, and all these people are expecting these characters to more or less look a certain way. For the Turtles, it’s been bandanas and elbow/knee pads for 30 years. If you’re going to change that, give me a reason. Donatello’s techno attachments make sense, but they overdid it. Ditto for Shredder. It’s a classic case of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

This notion of four talking turtles and their enemy who wears knives on his arms is pretty damn far-fetched. But if you pull it off the right way, you can suck the audience in and get them invested in this ludicrous fantasy. But make it TOO ludicrous, and give the audience too many questions to ask, then the whole thing falls apart and you lose that connection. Ninja Turtles lost that connection with me once friggin’ RoboShredder walked on screen. They stretched our suspension of disbelief too far and robbed us of an awesome villain in one fell swoop.

Ninja Turtles isn’t much fun to watch, either. Mikey brings some great comic relief to the table, as he should. But the boys in green spend most of the movie either bickering with each other or dealing with the battle at hand. I believe they’re brothers, but the fun of seeing them interact on the big screen is missing. It’s ironic that one of the elements that the Nickelodeon show really nailed, the Nickelodeon movie let sail over its head.

And then there’s Megan Fox’s portrayal of April O’Neil. This version of April, much like the one we saw in the ’80s cartoon, is a hard-nosed journalist who’s not willing to risk her safety to get the big story. She’s the Lois Lane of the TMNT universe. In Ninja Turtles, she’s in many ways the main character. She’s also the one we’re supposed to connect with, and it’s her actions that drive the story forward.

But in the end, casting Megan Fox as April O’Neil was a TERRIBLE mistake, and it’s her presence on screen that drags the movie down more than anything. Instead of coming off as ambitious and brave, the character becomes annoying and stupid. It boggles the mind just how many better actresses could have been chosen to play this part (for instance, Mae Whiteman, who voices the character on TV). But instead we’re forced to endure Fox’s wooden, and at times downright irritating performance.

Casting aside Megan Fox (gladly) for a moment, one can argue the April character was overemphasized in this film anyway. When we open the movie, she’s struggling to be taken seriously as a reporter. Her cause isn’t helped when she brings her boss (played by Whoopi Goldberg) this story about six foot turtles that can talk and do karate. But is the movie about her, or is it about the Turtles and the oddball family they’ve created together? Thus, the film becomes unfocused. Come to think of it, that whole “April wants respect” plotline isn’t even resolved. So in the end, it didn’t even matter…

The sad thing is that from a story standpoint, what we see in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles isn’t necessarily bad. If we’d made a casting change or two, simplified everybody’s look, and fleshed out Shredder, this could have been a passable attempt to revive the TMNT movie franchise. It wouldn’t have been perfect, but it would have at least been respectable. Instead we have this. A joyless, largely lifeless CGI suckfest. And ultimately, that’s pretty much what the skeptics said it was going to be, isn’t it?

Fate added insult to injury, what with this movie being released one week after Guardians of the Galaxy. That movie did the whole sci-fi/action/comedy flick in a way that got almost everything right. As much as I love the franchise, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles got almost everything wrong, just as we all feared it would. If you’re looking for your Turtle Power fix in the modern era, my advice is to stick to the TV show.

RATING: 3.5/10

Front page image from fandango.com. Interior images from rottentomatoes.com.

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