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Sticking To The Obvious

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Jun 25 2016 · 52 views

Essays, Not Rants! 223: Sticking To The Obvious

I put off watching Spotlight for a while. It had a lot going for it — talented cast and the subject matter — reporters investigating child abuse covered up by the Catholic Church — was charged, tragic, and topical. Way I saw it, this was gonna be a heavy, intense movie. Hence putting off watching a presumably gut-wrenching movie

Which is why it’s so frustrating that Spotlight wastes so much potential in favor of being painfully obvious at best, and poor melodrama at worst.

Spotlight is definitely about something: namely the Catholic Church covering up child abuse scandals. This is undoubtedly an important topic. The thing is, it doesn’t say anything about that, except that, well, it’s bad. Which it is, but that’s the obvious thing. It doesn’t say anything more about it, nothing about personal impact.

Since it’s hard to critique this movie in a vacuum, let’s compare it to The Big Short, shall we? There are some similarities; both discuss recent happenings, and both are about a group of people looking into it and are proven right. In Short this is about finance people who saw the housing crash coming and invested on it happening (and they’re right).

Now, Short has an excellent moment when the main characters are finally proven right when the housing market crashes. But rather than just letting it be a victory, the movie turns it tragic when the protagonists realize just what it means. Yes, they’re rich, but the economy is screwed over. It’s not sad just because we know what it means, but it’s sad because the characters realize exactly what their predictions mean.

Conversely, Spotlight has no stakes: the coverup is never made personal. The abuse victims who step forward are supporting characters, plot devices with some great moments, but we aren’t really invested in them. As for the main characters? They’re all lapsed Catholics, which is touched on in one quick scene and never comes up again. The closest we get is when Sacha Pfeiffer mentions that she can’t go to Mass with her grandmother anymore. But we don’t see how the revelations about the Church has affected their relationship (as Sacha only goes to church because of her grandmother). Imagine if we’d been invested in Sacha and her grandmother and we’d seen the rift Sacha’s pursuit of the coverup created between them.

As the movie is, there’s precious little conflict in the film. The Spotlight team never argue amongst themselves and there’s no debate at the newspaper if they should continue pouring all their time into this story. Furthermore, for all the talk of the influence of the Catholic Church on Boston, they don’t really get in the way of the team at all. We’re told that there’s a coverup — and we’re even shown it happening in the first scene — but beyond that the Church doesn’t take an active role in stopping the uncovering. Thus the Spotlight team carries on their investigation without any major obstacles and with little personal/non-professional investment.

All this could be done well enough, but the thing is Spotlight doesn’t spend time unpacking what the cover up really means. Yes, it’s bad, but so what? The movie doesn’t go any further than the first thought. Herein is Spotlight’s biggest flaw: it’s obvious, safe. It’s a good portrayal of investigative journalism, but doesn’t do much to explore just how important it is. Say that covering up child abuse is bad, but don’t get personal with it. Have all the potentiality for negative fallout should the piece go to print, but instead have them getting it published be a plain, obvious, victory. Use ominous piano music to remind us that this is serious.

Now, much of my dissatisfaction with Spotlight stems with my own expectations. Having followed the more recent spate of news concerning the Catholic Church covering up child abuse, I was expecting a movie that really got into it, really explored the corruption and awfulness; I wanted a movie that stressed how much of a fight it was to get this to light. That Spotlight played it so safe was disappointing. So much more could have been done with what they had that the movie can’t help but to end up being a bit of a let down.


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Top Nine Movies of 2015

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Jun 18 2016 · 133 views

Essays, Not Rants! 222: Top Nine Movies of 2015

Woah, it’s June, and I haven’t done of these yet? Big reason is because there are some movies that I still haven’t seen. Like Carol, which I really need to get around to soon. Then there’s The Room, which I really should see, but am not sure if I’m ready for the toll of that movie.

So anyway, here are my, at current, top nine movies of 2015, with an extra space left for a movie that catches me in left field.

9. The Martian
It’s a well done movie about a Mars exploration; honestly that’s all The Martian needed. But that it’s dang entertaining and has a strong scientific (if not totally accurate) bent just makes it that much better.

8. The Big Short
This is a movie that made me not only understand, but laugh at the housing crash that may or may not screw over my financial future.

Yay.

7. Sicario
Woo, another movie about cartels. Except Sicario exists in a very gray world, where good and bad are hardly as clean cut as you’d want them to be. It’s a gripping story, where the lesser of two evils mayn’t be as much of a lesser evil as you’d hope. Plus, this is a movie that makes every freaking gunshot count.

6. Ex Machina
Ex Machina is a small movie that feels so much bigger. It’s tight focus on three characters really lets it explore them, and grapple with the questions of artificial intelligence. Plus, I love me some haunting science fiction, and that’s definitely what this movie is.

5. Infinitely Polar Bear
There’s a beautiful scene early on between the two leads as Maggie encourages Cam that he is capable of taking care of their daughters alone, despite his bipolar disorder. It’s heartbreaking, filled with a tragic honesty that goes on to permeate the entire movie. It’s not a story of recovery — that’d be too easy — instead it tells a story about not being alright. And it’s all the better for it.

4. Inside Out
I’m a Pixar nut; I’ve seen every one since Finding Nemo in theaters. What’s remarkable about Inside Out is how it handles a very grownup topic — depression — with such nuance. It, like Polar Bear is a story about not being alright; and though this one ends with recovery it is no less potent.

3. Mad Max: Fury Road
Dang, dude. This is an action movie. The movie’s outlandish spectacles and nonstop action grip you from start to finish. That it’s grounded with a strong feminist perspective is a bonus that makes it so much better. And that’s not even getting into the sheer craft of how it’s shot. I want more movies like this.

2. Creed
Watch this scene.

I can’t think of a movie as comfortable in its own skin as Creed. Filled with a youthful energy that fuels a terrific underdog story of identity, the movie is an expertly crafted fist-pumping, cheer-worthy movie. Plus, its use of motivated long takes shows The Revenant how to do it.

1. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Could it have been any other movie? It’s a phenomenal follow up to the original, that captures the beautiful optimism that made the originals so special. But it’s the old movies updated with wonderful diversity and a worthy successor of a protagonist. This is Star Wars, this is a movie that reminds me why I like telling stories. This one wins, hands down.


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Visions of the Future

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Jun 11 2016 · 119 views

Essays, Not Rants! 221: Visions of The Future

There are a lot of things I like about science fiction, chief among them the genre’s capacity for using metaphor to discuss bigger ideas. Like how the original Gojira explored nuclear fears and Edwards’ Godzilla discussed the question of the relation between humanity and the environment.

But another thing I really like about science fiction is the way it tries to guess what happens next. Ender’s Game saw the potential of computer networks for a user generated news network, though writer Orson Scott Card didn’t quite capture just how prolific the user generated and focused content of Web 2.0 would be. The divide that exists between the future that could be and the future that is is the source of so much fun.

It also says a lot about the concerns of society. Look at how many 80s films set in the near-future showcased crime-riddled New Yorks and Los Angeleses. Or New York as a walled off prison colony that Snake Pliskin has to escape from. It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to say that rising crime was on the public consciousness.

So then it’s interesting to look at what today’s science fiction says about tomorrow. Now, the beauty of science fiction is that it doesn’t have to be accurate, just plausible. I doubt anyone seriously believed New York would become a giant prison, but the looming potential for crime was there. Take Firefly, which envisions a future where the combined might of the United States and China was able to colonize space in order to escape a decaying earth. A logical assumption, what with China on the rise in the early 2000’s.

The Expanse also features a spacefaring humanity, with one of the protagonists being part of a crew mining ice from asteroids. Which makes sense, since getting water would be an essential part of sustaining and off world colony. Another tiny detail of The Expanse that I love is the existence of a seawall around New York. It’s a small thing, but one that grounds the future in a certain kind of realism. Rising sea levels will necessitate some sort of countermeasure, and a seawall makes enough sense.

The Windup Girl takes things in a different direction. Rising sea levels consumed many cities (including New York — why’s it always New York?) and others, like Bangkok, sink a wealth of resources into keeping the ocean at bay. But Paolo Bacigalupi paints a grim image of the future, one where a scarcity of fuel has plunged humanity into a time when electricity as we know it now is a distant memory. Now genetically engineered domestic animals turn cranks to power machinery and store springs with potential energy. It seems old fashioned, but at the same time, all too likely.

It’s a bleak outlook to be sure, but Bacigalupi’s novel (which I’m still reading, as of this writing) is also set against a world where genetic modification and patented genes are rampant. Sure, it sounds like science fiction, but both are things currently being discussed. A world where rice itself is copyrighted isn’t as nonsensical as it would have sounded a few years ago. The Windup Girl just takes sends things to a pessimistic conclusion.

Maybe in a couple decades we’ll have solved the energy crisis and stopped the sea levels from rising and these futures will look as ridiculous as assumptions that the United States and USSR would still be at war in the 2030s (in space!). But it’s okay to be wrong, it’s fun to imagine what’ll happen next. Sometimes things turn out right, sometimes not. Still makes for a good read.


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Clever Stupid

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Jun 04 2016 · 93 views

Essays, Not Rants! 220: Clever Stupid

Hot Rod is one of my favorite movies. I’ve got its poster framed in my living room, and it’a movie that I’ve analyzed on this blog for its presentation of Rod’s mustache as a symbol of self-actualization. It’s also not a movie you’d expect to be analyzed, seeing as Hot Rod is, well, incredibly stupid. It’s about a (bad) amateur stuntman who needs to raise enough money to save his stepfather’s life so he can beat the stuffing out of him (and earn his respect).

Like I said, incredibly stupid.

But.

But but but, what makes Hot Rod so flipping great is how well it harnesses that stupidity. It’s not a smart comedy, and has no intention to be, but it’s done really well. It’s not just dumb jokes, well, it is, but the dumb jokes are couched with a great deal of craft. The team behind the movie (which happens to be a pre-“I’m On a Boat” Lonely Island) know exactly what they’re doing throughout.

Because of this, laughs don’t feel cheap. Yes, there’ll be a throwaway gag involving Cool Beans or exactly how it is you proceed that elusive ‘wh’ sound, but the comedy is anchored in character. There’s a strong central story, characters are fleshed out and have goals; the comedy, stupid as it may be, exists in tandem with the story. The characters don’t feel like they’re just there to be funny or laughed at; it is, put simply, a clever stupid movie.

So why does Hot Rod work?

Hot Rod doesn’t talk down to its audience. Though the film’s humor relies primarily on slapstick, non sequiturs, and downright silliness, never once does it treat its viewers as if they are idiots. In that process, the movie establishes that the audience is in on the joke. The movie isn’t just trying to serve up something barely palatable for laughs. It also helps that Hot Rod isn’t particularly mean. For all its silliness, Hot Rod lets its characters live. There’s nothing vindictive about Rod falling in a pool, or Rod tumbling down a hill for an inane amount of time, or Rod getting hit by a van (again). We enjoy Rod’s pain, but we’re not interested in watching him suffer. Because, and this may be in part to blame on Andy Samberg’s performance, we actually like Rod.

And that’s the proverbial second shoe. Couched among all those silly jokes is that sense of character I mentioned earlier. Rod and his crew, Kevin, Dave, Rico, and Denise, don’t exist just for the sake of jokes. Yes, they’re funny, often outright hilarious, but amidst all that humor are genuine relationships. The characters feel real — well, as real as they can in such an odd world — and, as such, we get invested in them and their plight. We want these idiots to succeed, and we care about their relationships. Stupid as Hot Rod might be, it doesn’t dispense with the humanity of the story.

That’s the thing about Hot Rod, it doesn’t just coast by on stupid and silly jokes, it actually bothers to create a story and characters for those jokes to exist in. Even though they aren’t particularly groundbreaking, they’re executed with enough of a precision that it works on a narrative level. As stupid as it can be, there is a great intelligence in its creation. The movie knows when and how to be silly, there’s a deftness, a cleverness to its stupidity.

And that is how it’s done.


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All Bricked Out

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Los Legos Jun 03 2016 · 108 views

Does this count as an MOC?

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More GOT Thoughts

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , May 30 2016 · 81 views

Spoilers, obviously, for last night's episode.

It's more of me thinking about this tv show!

Spoiler


The overall pacing of the show isn't slow, it's just off. Almost like it's meant to be bingewatched.



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Being There

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! May 28 2016 · 147 views

Essays, Not Rants! 219: Being There

It’s a stormy night in 1995 and you’re a college student just returned from a year abroad. During that time your family moved to a large house on the outskirts of town. A house, you discover, without anyone home that looks like it’s been stolen.

That’s how Gone Home opens, a game where you assume the role of Kaitlin and explore your new house, trying to figure out what happened during the year you were away.

Now, Gone Home toes the line of being a video game. Sure, it’s ‘played,’ but there’s little in the way of actual choices to be made; you’re essentially walking around. There’s no proper conflict, no goombas to stomp nor Russians to shoot; you’re exploring a house and trying to discover what happened to your family. It’s a cool experience rife with environmental storytelling that sits somewhere as a first-person adventure game where the emotional heft comes from a sense of being there.

But that’s Gone Home, a game built entirely around that experience by an independent developer. It’s not something you’d expect to see in a Triple-A video game, the blockbusters of the gaming world. These games, much like movie blockbusters, focus on the action with the story being told through brief cutscenes (or, in the case of the Metal Gear Solid series, radio calls that last a quarter of Gone Home’s playtime). There’s a distinct separation of gameplay and story.

And this is where I talk about Uncharted.

Now, the Uncharted games have made a reputation for themselves by allowing you to play an action movie. Meaning that you don’t just watch Nathan Drake trying to grab on to a falling cargo container or running through a crumbling city; you, the player as Nathan Drake, get to try to grab on to falling cargo containers and run through crumbling cities. Big moments that would either be a cutscene or ignored entirely are made playable. It makes the action in Uncharted feel that much more visceral, you get to be the action hero.

Story, though, has mostly been done through cutscenes and bits of banter interspaced through gameplay. In that sense, Uncharted wasn’t really doing too much besides telling great stories.

Then, earlier this month, came Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End. Still a grand action-adventure story that would make Indiana Jones jealous, this entry took the time in the story’s downbeats to really let you be there.

Much of the central tension stems from Nathan being persuaded to leave the normal life he’s built with his wife, Elena. But the game doesn’t just tell you this, because that’d be obvious and boring. Rather, once we’ve caught up to Nathan in the present, we get the beautiful chapter “A Normal Life.” In it, the player can explore Nathan’s house, starting in the attic where they can look at notes and mementos of Nathan’s prior adventures before exploring the rest of the house where they can flip through a book of wedding photos and look at to do post-its on the fridge before sitting down with Elena to talk and play a video game (yes, in a video game; it’s awesome). What this delightfully quiet chapter does is put the player in Nathan’s shoes, establishing what he’d be walking away from were it to go on another adventure. Rather than just having Nathan say “I have a good life” in a cutscene, A Thief’s End employs Gone Home’s technique and has the player explore a space, using the clues to form their own narrative.

In other words, “A Normal Life” has the player playing a cutscene, only instead of an action one, it’s a purely story and emotional focused beat. You don’t fight anyone or climb a rockface, instead you just get to be there.

Which is pretty friggin’ fantastic.


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Conflict of Thrones (Not BZP's)

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , May 24 2016 · 118 views

I've been wondering why this latest season of Game of Thrones hasn't felt as enticing as usual, why it feels a little meandering-y. And I think it may be because of a lack of conflict? Last season had clear bits: Tyrion and Varys were going to Meereen (politicking their way there), Jon Snow was trying to save the wildlings (against Alliser), Jamie, with Bron, was trapped in boringland trying to get his daughter-neice back (against the boringones).

This season hasn't had that much of a conflict yet. Sansa and Jon have been doing their thing, Arya's moving in circles, etc. No conflict has lasted more than one episode, besides Daenerys's (which has been without the rest of her crew) and the King's Landing politicians verses Sparrow one. Even Littlefinger (who's the best) has just been politicking in circles.

Basically, GoT needs more friggin' conflict.


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Superhero Stardom (A Response)

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! May 21 2016 · 135 views

Essays, Not Rants! 218: Superhero Stardom (A Response)

There’s a recent New York Times article I came across that laments how the rise of the superhero genre has conflated actor-stardom with character-stardom. The article itself doesn’t really chase down the points too well, but the central gist (as far as I can see) is that in the recent slate of films, characters have come to trump actors. As Wesley Morris suggests in the article, when you watch Oceans Eleven, it’s George Clooney doing all the cool stuff as Danny Ocean; but when you watch Rush, you don’t see Chris Hemsworth as James Hunt, you see Thor as James Hunt. And as more big name actors get roped into superhero films (Cate Blanchett’s gonna be in Thor: Ragnarok!), it’s more actors being roped in to playing a specific character.

Which makes Morris’ point of view seem a little weird. He implies that the fun of Ocean’s Eleven is seeing the star-studded cast play off of each other, whereas Civil War is more about watching the characters interact; the former being better. Which begs the question of whether or not you’re supposed to forget that it’s an actor playing a character and not something happening before you.

Now, the attitude here feels a lot like that kid who’s angry you got the same toys they did. For ages, the idea of a superhero has been derided. Like science fiction and fantasy it was that genre, one that no serious actor would get involved in. Heck, we even had a movie called Birdman which was all about how superhero films and all their sequels was where art went to die. Except now they are, and with it, taking on (and being known by) personae that they don’t get to create per se. Superheroes are a cultural mythology, why else are we able to discuss who’s the “better Batman?” Taking up the cowl means playing someone bigger than life. Kinda like being the next guy to play James Bond.

Hang on.

See, this is where things start to get a little weird (and Morris’ argument starts to fall down). Daniel Craig’s Bond is sharply different from Pierce Brosnan’s Bond. I mean, sure, they’re the same character, just done differently. Same with Clooney, Bale, and Affleck’s Batman. There’s still some wiggle room in really getting to build a character.

But, all the same, the more recent superhero movies are very much adaptions of the comic books; someone like Batman’s very much in the public consciousness, more so than, say, Star Lord was in 2013. It would make sense, then, that casting Chris Pratt as Peter Quill would allow for a straight shot of an adaption.

Except, again, it’s kinda not. Star Lord as he appeared in the comics was quite different from the one in Guardians of the Galaxy, more authoritative and less bumbling, though still prone to having everything blow up in his face. Much of Peter Quill in the film — and who he’s become in the comics these days — grew out of Chris Pratt’s performance and James Gunn’s script. So sure, it was based on something, but there was still a big room to build there. Heck, you can see it with all of the MCU characters.

In spending a chunk of today trying to pry apart Wesley Morris’ article I kept losing track of his point (which may be because he doesn’t back it up much). In any case, based on the title, is about the changing role of celebrity that the uptick of superhero film franchises has brought about. Which, alright, sure; but we’ve also changed from the studio system of the ‘50s. Marvel with the MCU (and, Fox with X-Men and DC with their attempts at catchup) are working on a new form of storytelling, one that sits somewhere at the nexus of film, television, comics, and those old serials from forever ago. Maybe it’s time that the nature of stardom changes, what with the steady rise of nerd culture into the mainstream. After all, the geeks shall inherit the earth.


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Graduated/Alumnus.

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Life And Such May 19 2016 · 120 views

So yesterday, well, Wednesday, I was at Yankee Stadium for the all NYU graduation where the entire NYU class of 2016 commenced. Or did commencement. Whatever. Was cool.
Today (Thursday), though, was the Gallatin graduation, the one specific for my school. Gotta walk across the stage and all that.

Did the thing.

Got a degree in Narrative (Re)Construction; now to find a job. But first, wooo!






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josh

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grew up on a ship


studies Storytelling

at New York University


frequently found writing in a coffee shop, behind a camera, or mixing alcohol and video games

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