The Not-So-Happytime Murders

I went to the Regal Town Center to see the 7:05 pm screening of The Happytime Murders, to which I arrived far too early. The movie theater was nice and slow. The perfect time to go the movies, in my opinion, is between releases when there is nothing to draw in a crowd. The staff was really quite friendly, and I barely had to wait in line at concessions to get my over-priced movie theater candy and Icee.

A poorly lit picture standing in front of the poster for Creed

The theater was really clean, although besides that it was not really noteworthy. As I had hoped, it was mostly empty and I could easily get an entire row to myself. The ads they played before the movie were as awful as one would expect, but they were at least tolerable.

Trailers

The trailers before the movie included Assassination Nation, Nobody’s Fool, and Night School. These seemed interesting, I had previously seen other trailers for Nobody’s Fool and Night School and these trailers did not really sell me any more than the others had. The trailer for Assassination Nation stood out to me. A black comedy thriller about a town where a hacker exposes everyone’s secrets which leads to ludicrous violence and chaos. The movie is written and directed by Sam Levinson. The trailer was kind of hard to follow, but the concept is interesting enough that I may end up checking it out.

The Movie

I wanted to like Brian Henson‘s The Happytime Murder, it had so much potential to be a silly murder mystery set in a puppet-filled world. The vulgar comedy stars Melissa McCarthy as Detective Connie Edwards and the voice of Bill Barretta as her ex-partner turned private-eye Phil Phillips. The bickering duo work together to solve a string of murders tied to an old TV show. Ultimately though, the movie left me disappointed.

Thinking back, I’m not exactly sure why I had such high hopes for this movie. An R-rated movie about a world in which puppets are autonomous creatures living alongside humans does not exactly fill me with excitement. If anything I guess I went in expecting something more akin to Who Framed Roger Rabbit? but obviously my expectations were much too high. First off, I don’t think the movie is bad per se. There were many moments that I thought were really funny, and actually thought that Melissa McCarthy was hilarious throughout the movie. My issues primarily stem from both the plot of the movie as well as its obsession with cramming its R-rating down your throat.

Plot Problems

Again, when I look at the plot of The Happytime Murders I cannot help but compare it to Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, a movie that most likely served as an inspiration, and that comparison does the movie no favors. You follow Phil Philips, a puppet ex-cop turned detective who has to work with his ex-partner Detective Connie Edwards to investigate a string of murders tied to an old TV show. The draw of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? to me was the way it combined a compelling and funny plot with interesting visuals to create an entertaining and enthralling movie. The Happytime Murders, on the other hand, feels more akin to a skeletal plot used to string the audience along from one gag to the next. Perhaps there is a deeper nuance than I could discover on a single viewing, but I find no compelling reason to waste my time watching it again to look for that nuance. I was disappointed that by the end of the movie I felt little satisfaction at the supposed “growth” of any of the characters, I could not care less for the triumph of the main character.

Comedy Problems

But it’s a comedy, it’s allowed to have a bland plot if it is funny you might think. And yes, the movie has its funny moments that stand out, which  definitely helps redeem the movie to me, keeping me from calling it bad outright. The issue I have, is its over reliance on vulgarity-as-comedy gags. A single scene that stands out in my mind is an exaggerated and overly long sex scene involving two puppet characters. The gag just keeps going, moving from chuckle-worthy to uncomfortable rather quickly and remaining there until it finishes with something that completely changes my perspective on silly string. This is far from the only scene which seems to rely on the bizarre dissonance of characters similar to your favorite Muppets can cuss and have sex for its comedy which just puts me off really enjoying the humor.

What I liked

Aside from the lacking plot and gross humor, there were some really, really funny moments in the movie. And I must admit, I am somewhat bias in that I think that Melissa McCarthy is a very funny actress, but most of all her comedy bits stood out as really funny.

Additionally, I must commend the movie for the excellent ways that it established a world in which puppets and humans lived alongside. It never felt forced when a puppet character appeared, although I guess that is to be expected of the son of legendary puppeteers like Jim and Jane Henson. The movie made it easy to almost forget that in reality the puppets were being controlled by someone, appearing more as merely bizarre looking characters. In fact, one of my favorite parts was that during the credits they showed some bloopers without the visual effects to remove the puppeteers which provided some hilarity as well as gave really cool insight into the work that goes into creating movies like this.

Conclusion

Another poorly lit picture, although somehow in a completely different way. This time in front of the poster for First Man

Overall, I enjoyed my experience going to the movies, even though The Happytime Murders failed to live up to my expectations. In the future I would definitely go to the Regal Town Center again, and would even see another movie from Brian Henson, although I’d probably wait and read the reviews first.

Article Review: “When Writing Becomes Content”

In “When Writing Becomes Content” Lisa Dush explores the concept of content has affected writing and how those in the profession of writing as well as those teaching writing studies courses can better adapt to the changing landscape of writing. She provides an in-depth definition of content, explaining that it is conditional, computable, networked, and commodified. Furthermore, she discusses the need for an improvement in the vocabulary used to discuss writing as content as the current vocabulary fails at being consistent and clear. She lays out some ways that writers can better adapt to the technological changes that affect writing and outlines the necessity of that adaptation in order to maintain relevancy as well as to hopefully benefit from those technological changes. She concludes with her own skepticism and concern for what this evolution in writing means as well as what it could signal about the future of writing as a profession.

Positive Aspects

In the beginning of her article, Dush provides her definition of content, outlining its four properties as conditional, computable, networked, and commodified. Her definition is excellent and provides a fantastic context for what content is. In providing her clear outline of what content is, as well as explaining its connection to writing, she provides a framework in which a common conversation about the importance of content can be had.

Additionally, the formatting of her article make it engaging. Her use of bolded block quotes to emphasize information both assist in understanding her argument as well as provide an accessible example of the commodification characteristic in her own content. Through these quotes she demonstrates her own writing as content as she provides the “marketable chunks” which work to commidify her content (Dush 178).

Another element of her article I found well constructed was her discussion of the distinction between the “writing metaphor” and the “content metaphor.” While I believe she could have worked more to simplify this overly technical section, her underlying argument is strong. She eloquently describes how our previous conceptions of writing fail to account for the modern technological tools which “circumscribe rhetorical possibilities.” (Dush 181). She makes it clear that we must work to use these tools in order to better augment our writing.

My Perspective

I believe that what Dush is saying is very relevant. The rise of social media, blogs, and especially the internet has forever changed writing and we as writers must necessarily adapt to that change. Her warning that “the real danger is in ignoring content” captures my feelings quite accurately, in that it is so imperative that we work to understand content in order to adapt to it so we can benefit from it. The internet is a behemoth, it is a rapidly changing landscape that is only becoming more ingrained in both our as well as our audience’s lives. It may on the surface appear to only threaten us, but it is also a gateway to a previously unfathomably large audience. Thus, if we learn the strategies and tools to grapple with that behemoth, we can reap its rewards while avoiding its fangs.

Criticism

While I enjoyed Dush’s article and found a lot of what she was saying to both compelling and relevant, it became repetitive. After laying out her initial definition of content in the beginning, as she continues on she begins to hollowly repeat her earlier points. Additionally, her use of figures seem redundant, as they present the same arguments as her writing but actually easier to understand.

I also took issue as she avoided any discussion about creative writing. Throughout the article her focus seems to be only on writing which is easily seen as related to “the content professions [who] do the work of strategizing, obtaining, organizing, storing, delivering, and analyzing the performance of digital assets.” (Dush 184). But these are far from the only forms of writing that are affected by the rise of content. Creative writing needs to adapt itself to the changing landscape of content just the same as the forms of writing she focuses on, but she provides no such perspective that accounting for this form of writing. What is more is her lack of consideration for the position of traditional media in relation to content, a consideration that I believe ought to be made when discussing the ways that our field must adapt to the rise of content. Writers still get published through these traditional avenues in addition to the emergent avenues, how should this dissonance be approached? What ways will these traditional avenues evolve alongside writing? She does little to answer these questions, and I believe that these are questions must be considered as they relate to writing as content.

Another criticism I have is Dush’s response to concerns raised by Tim Kreider. On page 174 she quotes Kreider, who is concerned about what he sees as the descent of “what used to be called ‘art’ ─ writing, music, film, photography, illustration ─ to the status of filler.” But even as she returns to this in her conclusion, she fails to fully address the ramifications of this concern. She agrees that the devaluation of writing as a profession is “a consequence that is worth taking seriously.” (Dush 191). But all she proposes is the incorporation of humanistic ideals into the “core of content work.” (Dush 192). This is not a solution, and while I respect her devotion to such ideals, this does little to solve the devaluation.

Honestly, while I admire her drive towards humanistic efforts, especially in regards to incorporating those beliefs into content work, I find that solution to be somewhat hollow and overly optimistic. We ought to be looking for solutions to better compromise the profession of writing with the rising prominence of content, not merely accepting that we must abandon the traditional ways of writing. I realize this may seem to contradict my previous claims that we must adapt, but that is not true. For in order to adapt ourselves to the ways that content is changing our field, that is not the same as abandoning it, leaving it for the pursuit of purely content-orientated work. Instead, we must first understand how content affects writing, an understanding which I believe that Dush’s article is an excellent foundation but further research and information is necessary. Then, armed with this understanding of content, we must work to adapt writing without losing the original. If we can succeed in evolving writing without abandoning it, that is our best chance of avoiding a future where writing is merely filler between ads.

Article Referenced:

Dush, Lisa. “When Writing Becomes Content.” NCTE, 2015, www.ncte.org/library/NCTEFiles/Resources/Journals/CCC/0672-dec2015/CCC0672When.pdf.