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Space Car

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Feb 10 2018 · 83 views

Essays, Not Rants! 307: Space Car

There is a car in space right now.

Like an actual road-safe, driven on earth on an actual road, not-originally-intended-for-space car in space. And it was playing David Bowie until it ran out of juice.

So, a while ago, Tesla/SpaceX/Boring Company founder/potential supervillain Elon Musk tweeted that the Falcon Heavy’s test payload would be his own Tesla Roadster. The Falcon Heavy is the latest rocket to come out of Musk’s SpaceX. Which sounds pretty cool but it's important to know what the Falcons are: reusable rockets.

See, when you launch a rocket in space, it’s kinda a one-off thing. The Saturn V that launched the Apollo missions were just junk afterwards. The Space Shuttle was revolutionary because the booster rockets could be recovered and refurbished (along with the orbiter as well). The Falcon Heavy, like the Falcon 9 it’s built on, can also be reused. Not just that, but the rocket literally lands itself. As in, after launching its payload, the first stage detaches, turns around, comes home, and lands.

It’s really cool, both as a technological marvel in itself and also for what it portends to making spaceflight more affordable. Which is really cool because if we’re going to start mining asteroids and send people to Mars, we’re gonna need to make it cheaper to get out there.

And there’s also a car in space.

Tuesday was the Falcon Heavy’s first launch and its payload was, as promised, Elon Musk’s red Tesla. Given that it was the rocket’s first flight, and first flights tend to result in things exploding, it made some sense that it wasn’t anything too valuable (although there’s an argument that given the prohibitive nature of space travel, any risk is one worth taking). But a convertible instead of a mock satellite?

It’s a pretty remarkable image. Leaving Earth’s orbit is a red car, top down, with a mannequin dressed in a spacesuit in the driver’s seat, "DON’T PANIC" written on the dash, a towel and a copy of The Hitchhikers Guide to The Galaxy in the glovebox, and David Bowie’s "Space Oddity" and "Life On Mars" playing on the radio. It was sent beyond Earth’s orbit into an elliptical around the sun, its aphelion nearly reaching the Asteroid Belt.

There’s a car in space.

And its picture’s been all over the internet, all over newspapers. This picture of a spaceman in a car, Earth in the distance behind. There’s been a lot of press, a lot of people are talking about it, and you’re probably wondering why I’ve been ranting on about spaceships and space cars on a blog that’s usually about stories.

Because, by launching a sports car into space, Elon Musk created a pretty neat narrative for the Falcon Heavy’s launch. It’s not unusual for a dummy payload to be a bunch of concrete bricks, something heavy and unimportant. But because the payload here’s a car (and the company CEO’s personal car at that), it becomes that much more interesting. There’s an endlessly shareable image that captures the imagination in ways the picture of rockets touching down can’t quite.

People are talking about the Falcon Heavy’s launch far more than the Falcon 9’s maiden launch or when the Falcon 9’s booster landed for the first time. It’s even gotten way more buzz than when a Falcon 9 rocket exploded on the launch pad (All this is based on a cursory Google Trend comparison for the Falcon Heavy and Falcon 9, with SpaceX used for reference). There’s buzz, people are talking about space travel. And all the little touches and the Hitchhiker’s reference gives it all a sense of romance and whimsey we don’t usually get in the usually very rigorous and economic space travel. It’s cool, and it’s a little silly.

Call it an attention grab, but I figure that’s just what’s needed. Musk and SpaceX have the world’s attention as they forge on ahead in an attempt to revolutionize space travel. An aware an excited public puts space exploration back into vogue, which could lead to NASA having a bigger budget and, in turn, more contracts for SpaceX, and so bigger rockets and crewed missions to Mars.
And in the meantime, Elon Musk launched his car into space. And I think that’s wonderful.


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Space Car

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Feb 10 2018 · 36 views

Essays, Not Rants! 307: Space Car

There is a car in space right now.

Like an actual road-safe, driven on earth on an actual road, not-originally-intended-for-space car in space. And it was playing David Bowie until it ran out of juice.

So, a while ago, Tesla/SpaceX/Boring Company founder/potential supervillain Elon Musk tweeted that the Falcon Heavy’s test payload would be his own Tesla Roadster. The Falcon Heavy is the latest rocket to come out of Musk’s SpaceX. Which sounds pretty cool but it's important to know what the Falcons are: reusable rockets.

See, when you launch a rocket in space, it’s kinda a one-off thing. The Saturn V that launched the Apollo missions were just junk afterwards. The Space Shuttle was revolutionary because the booster rockets could be recovered and refurbished (along with the orbiter as well). The Falcon Heavy, like the Falcon 9 it’s built on, can also be reused. Not just that, but the rocket literally lands itself. As in, after launching its payload, the first stage detaches, turns around, comes home, and lands.

It’s really cool, both as a technological marvel in itself and also for what it portends to making spaceflight more affordable. Which is really cool because if we’re going to start mining asteroids and send people to Mars, we’re gonna need to make it cheaper to get out there.

And there’s also a car in space.

Tuesday was the Falcon Heavy’s first launch and its payload was, as promised, Elon Musk’s red Tesla. Given that it was the rocket’s first flight, and first flights tend to result in things exploding, it made some sense that it wasn’t anything too valuable (although there’s an argument that given the prohibitive nature of space travel, any risk is one worth taking). But a convertible instead of a mock satellite?

It’s a pretty remarkable image. Leaving Earth’s orbit is a red car, top down, with a mannequin dressed in a spacesuit in the driver’s seat, "DON’T PANIC" written on the dash, a towel and a copy of The Hitchhikers Guide to The Galaxy in the glovebox, and David Bowie’s "Space Oddity" and "Life On Mars" playing on the radio. It was sent beyond Earth’s orbit into an elliptical around the sun, its aphelion nearly reaching the Asteroid Belt.

There’s a car in space.

And its picture’s been all over the internet, all over newspapers. This picture of a spaceman in a car, Earth in the distance behind. There’s been a lot of press, a lot of people are talking about it, and you’re probably wondering why I’ve been ranting on about spaceships and space cars on a blog that’s usually about stories.

Because, by launching a sports car into space, Elon Musk created a pretty neat narrative for the Falcon Heavy’s launch. It’s not unusual for a dummy payload to be a bunch of concrete bricks, something heavy and unimportant. But because the payload here’s a car (and the company CEO’s personal car at that), it becomes that much more interesting. There’s an endlessly shareable image that captures the imagination in ways the picture of rockets touching down can’t quite.

People are talking about the Falcon Heavy’s launch far more than the Falcon 9’s maiden launch or when the Falcon 9’s booster landed for the first time. It’s even gotten way more buzz than when a Falcon 9 rocket exploded on the launch pad (All this is based on a cursory Google Trend comparison for the Falcon Heavy and Falcon 9, with SpaceX used for reference). There’s buzz, people are talking about space travel. And all the little touches and the Hitchhiker’s reference gives it all a sense of romance and whimsey we don’t usually get in the usually very rigorous and economic space travel. It’s cool, and it’s a little silly.

Call it an attention grab, but I figure that’s just what’s needed. Musk and SpaceX have the world’s attention as they forge on ahead in an attempt to revolutionize space travel. An aware an excited public puts space exploration back into vogue, which could lead to NASA having a bigger budget and, in turn, more contracts for SpaceX, and so bigger rockets and crewed missions to Mars.

And in the meantime, Elon Musk launched his car into space. And I think that’s wonderful.


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But For Adults

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Jan 27 2018 · 75 views

Essays, Not Rants! 305: But For Adults

Dennis Villeneuve is currently attached to the latest adaption of Dune. It's an exciting prospect: Dune is a rich novel and Villeneuve has shown himself to be both a skilled director and excellent at adaptations. Arrival was an excellent adaption of a terrific short story, one that managed to make the feeling of the ephemeral come as much to life on the screen as the page. Blade Runner 2049 somehow captured the moodiness of the original while injecting it with something new.

So if there's someone who can do Dune, a big sci-fi epic novel, justice, it's probably him. And recently, when asked about it, he said “in a way, it’s Star Wars for adults.” Which, at first blush, sounds cool (lasers and spaceships with wanton sex and violence!), but it belies a frustrating intellectual divide when it comes to fiction, particularly genre works.

Take Game of Thrones, which I've heard described as The Lord of The Rings but for grown-ups. Which, sure, makes sense. Both are epic fantasies, but Thrones has a more dubious depiction of morality, a stronger emphasis on politicking, and, of course, the sex and violence it's infamous for. It's a fair description. But, implicit in the comparison, is the idea that The Lord of The Rings is not for grown-ups and is thus a kid’s story, and a kid’s story not particularly suited for adults at that. In other words, if Game of Thrones is adult, then The Lord of The Rings is childish.

Which is blatantly untrue. Sure, I first read and loved Rings as a kid, but the books and films resonate as much, if not more, today as they did fourteen years ago. Rings might have a clean-cut approach to the idea of good and bad, but is that any less appealing to an adult than what we get in Thrones? Isn't there something to be said for a story that works well on different levels?

As a side note, it's kinda ironic too, given than when Rings first came out it was unique for taking fantasy tropes like wizards, elves, and dwarves and putting them into a more mature context.

So Star Wars. George Lucas himself described the movies as basically being for kids. Which is kinda true, even if the prequels spent an odd amount of time discussing trade tariffs. But that doesn't mean it's just for kids. The story of a nobody leaving her home planet and finding herself to be more powerful than she ever imagined is as fun as an adult as a kid. Because the Star Wars films don't talk down to they audience, they doesn't feel geared too heavily to one audience. In other words, just because a movie works for kids, doesn't mean it's a kids movie.

I think there's an overcompensation here when it comes to science fiction and fantasy works. Because these genres are seen as being less serious than, say, a period piece or a capital-d Drama, there's a need to make them seem grown-up so as to not be laughed off. Game of Thrones, with its incest and child marriages, gets lauded as showing the gritty realism of a fantasy world that Rings glosses over. And maybe Villenueve’s Dune’s Arrakis will have all the harsh brutality of desert world that we never saw on Tatooine. But isn't there room for both? Can't we have more adult-orientated works without dismissing others as childish?

I describe The Last of Us as a grown-up video game. Not because video games are just for kids, but because it goes places most games don't; its rich exploration of grief and loss aren't the sort of things you'd find in Halo or even more adult-intended games like Spec Ops: The Line. The pleasure of the game (although The Last of Us can be a decidedly unpleasant game to play in places) comes from having the emotional maturity for the themes to really resonate. That's not to say games intended for a younger audience like Uncharted or, why not, Mega Man Zero 3 are inherently lesser because they don't go where The Last of Us goes; rather they're different games and great for different reasons. I love Mega Man Zero 3 and its epic story as much in my mid-twenties as I did at thirteen.

I'm looking forward to this new adaption of Dune. I've been meaning to reread the book and it is one of the grandfathers of space opera as we know it. And of course I'm rooting for Villeneuve and I want the movie to be good. But I think this impression that the more romantic takes on genre fiction are childish is, well, childish. A story can be uncomplicated and romantic but still resonate strongly with an adult. And as an adult, sometimes I want a story uncomplicated and romantic.


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Artistry in Disaster

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Jan 20 2018 · 64 views

Essays, Not Rants! 304: Artistry in Disaster

The Room is an awful movie and I adore it. It's terribly made, replete with an incoherent plot and some truly questionable acting decisions, but it also manages to cross that elusive line of terribleness into wonder. It's a movie that makes you ask how on earth could something like this have been made as you delight in the fact that it was. It is also a movie best enjoyed at a midnight screening with a multitude of plastic forks and having imbibed an adult beverage or three.

Like I said, it's a delight.

Part of the fun of the movie is, of course, Tommy Wiseau, the writer/director/producer/funder/lead actor. Him of indeterminate age and untraceable accent. In an ordinary world he wouldn't be the face of a romantic drama (turned comedy by happenstance), and yet, here he is, at the forefront of his realized vision. And by vision I mean a fever dream that borders on misanthropy. The making of the film is mythic, with stories from the set describing a filmmaker with too much money who didn’t know what he was doing.

In any case, it’s kinda hard to sum up The Room in all of its absurdity and unintentional hilarity, but needless to say, it’s totally deserving of its cult status.

Which is what makes the film The Disaster Artist so odd. Based on a book about the making of The Room, The Disaster Artist dramatizes the production of The Room, showing off some of the set’s idiosyncrasies and also zeroing in on the friendship-of-sorts between Tommy Wiseau and co-star Greg Sestero. It’s a perfectly decent movie in its own right, but its choice of subject matter is where things get hairy.

Because the production of The Room wasn’t really a great thing. Wiseau was a draconian director which, if reality was remotely like how it’s portrayed in the film, created a really not-great set to be on. Yet it’s really funny to watch, especially as something of a dark comedy. The problem is, Wiseau’s presented as being kinda heroic, which isn’t quite bad, it just makes it a little harder to laugh at. Especially because in The Disaster Artist’s revisionist take, The Room’s premiere is met with immediate laughter and applause and Tommy quickly revels in the so-good-it’s-bad status (in reality, the film was reviled and only later became a cult classic; Wiseau’s embrace of that came even later). In essence, The Disaster Artist is about a funny-but-tortured filmmaker who puts his cast and crew through the worst to make Art. Which feels overly simplified.

It doesn’t seem much better if you look at the movie as one about friendship. Tommy and Greg are friends, friends who promise to push themselves further than they’ve gone before in pursuit of their dreams. Yet, within the context of the film (and maybe real life too), Tommy effectively sabotages any chance of Greg’s success outside of the film. And when Greg calls him out on it, Tommy gaslights him into staying friends. Sure, it’s funny, but The Disaster Artist’s basis on a true story moves some of it into the realm of the uncomfortable. Because for all its talk about dreams of success, the real life ending to the story is that neither Greg Sestero nor the rest of the cast went on to any level of filmmaking success.

Maybe The Disaster Artist would have worked better as a really funny tragedy, maybe if the movie had some breathing space after the premiere where Tommy made amends and tried to become a better person before getting his catharsis of being a 'beloved' filmmaker. As it is it feels… odd.

I enjoyed The Disaster Artist well enough, and it is a very funny movie. But it falls into the category of a movie about making movies that’s so in love with the idea of making movies that making movies is the ultimate absolution and apotheosis. Which is a bummer, because The Room is at its heart, so much more. Well, maybe less. I’m still not sure. But it’s sure something else alright.


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Personal History

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Jan 13 2018 · 99 views

Essays, Not Rants! 303: Personal History
Exposition is, by nature, a weird thing. In fiction, it is effectively the author, whether through prose, dialogue, or (in video games) incidental environmental encounters telling you stuff about The World you’re visiting. It could be something as mundane as Ted and Jack used to be dating but now Jack’s into Sheila and that’s when Ted decided to quit his job or something as subtly major as "Years ago you served my father in the Clone Wars. [need better example]" You need exposition so the audience know what’s going on, but when done poorly it can feel like infodump, that is a whole lotta information dumped at once, usually just to keep the audience in the loop. It can be clunky and heavy handed, transparent in its purpose to the point where the immersion in the narrative is disturbed. It’s especially an issue in fanatical stories where a world’s gotta be established whole cloth (though stories set in the real world do sometimes stumble on the issue).

But sometimes it works.

Let’s talk Star Wars, because I want to. After the opening crawl (which, holy snap, is a magnificent narrative device in its own right that deserves its own essay), we’re told really freaking little about this world until Luke sits down with Ben — a solid quarter of the way into the movie. And so comes the exposition. Leia reminds Ben that he served her father in the Clone Wars. Ben tells Luke about his father. For a thousand years, the Jedi Knights were the guardians of peace in the galaxy. But it works. Why? We wanna know what's going on! After this big space battle we've been following a couple droids around and met this kid named Luke. Luke wants to get off this nowhere planet and be a part of something bigger, and we wanna tag along on that journey.

So there’s Horizon Zero Dawn, a video game I’ve only been able to put down because my girlfriend really wants to know what happens next and I’m waiting until we hang out to progress. One reason I love it so is that it uses one of my favorite settings: it's post-apocalypse, but it's been so long since that a new society has developed and there's a mystery about what came before (see also: Mega Man Legends and The Chrysalids). The setting and its history, though, is wonderfully tied into the game’s narrative. In the game I'm Aloy, an Outcast from a matriarchal tribe who doesn't know who's her mother. My quest to discover where I come from reveals a connection between me and the Metal World of the Ancients (that is, the ruins of 2066) and starts to raise more questions than answers.

Over the course of the game I uncover more of what caused the apocalypse, and Aloy’s link to it all. There is a lot of expository information thrown around, both through the narrative itself and old records Aloy finds and can read or listen to. But it doesn't feel like an overwhelming barrage of useless information. For starters, we’re more than halfway into the game when we start getting this and we've spent hours surrounded by these mysterious ruins and machines. At this point, we're ready for some answers. And, it's all related to Aloy. I'm connected to this history, and that connection might just help me figure out who I am. Assuming you're invested in her (and why wouldn't you be, Aloy’s great), you wanna know who you are. The exposition is important because it serves as a narrative catharsis to the character’s arc. In other words, the answers are the answer.

The worst effect of the story is for the recipient to not care. When people monologue on about the geopolitical state of whatever, it’s easy to zone out. But when it’s personal, when the history of an apocalypse is relevant to your character, then it’s easier to care. And it helps when the world’s pretty dope.


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The Return of The Boyband

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Jan 06 2018 · 128 views

Essays, Not Rants! 302: The Return of The Boyband

One hundred and forty-four essays (not rants) ago I wrote about the then-upcoming Final Fantasy XV and how it was frustrating to see an entirely male party, albeit one justified by a space to allow the exploration of bromances.

Anyway, the game came out and all that, and I stopped paying attention to much (any) of the press. Then it went on sale on Amazon for $20 and, after being convinced by my girlfriend ("You’ve been waiting eleven years, just buy the game") who informed me it was $16.45 in 2006, adjusted for inflation, I bought the darn game. And have subsequently played it.

And boy howdy it is odd.

A ten year development cycle is never a good sign for a game, and Final Fantasy XV (née Final Fantasy Versus XIII) shows a lot of growing pains. Its mechanics are a little wonky, with its open world showing nowhere near the contemporary finesse of games like Horizon Zero Dawn or Metal Gear Solid V. Even Mass Effect Andromeda for all its flaws made exploration fun; in FFXV, it’s a bit of a commute. Combat is cool, although it feels like it’s hampering itself by not letting you make more changes to your gear on the fly. It’s fun enough, if a bit of a mechanical mess.

But the story is where the game is at its most, both for better and worse. You play as protagonist Prince Noctis (Emo Bro) who is on a road trip to meet his betrothed, the Oracle Luna, with his retinue/bros consisting of Gladiolus (Muscle Bro), Ignis (Nerd Bro), and Prompto (Selfie Bro). We’re from the capital city of Lucis, Insomnia (this game is not subtle). Anyway, a cold war goes hot, Insomnia falls, the king dies (so Noctis is king now?) and we gotta find ancient magicky Royal Arms weapons to take back the throne.

Or something.

Truth be told, the narrative is a bit of a convoluted mess. I mean, I know what’s going on, insofar as I just explained, but the political lines aren’t really drawn all to well and I’m not quite sure how the Royal Arms are gonna help me get my kingdom back and avenge my father and all that. Also I think we’re still going to pick up Luna? But right now Luna’s going around waking up these gods and I’m also going to the gods to get their powers? I think?

In some ways it feels like there are ten years’ worth of ideas stuck to a cork board in this game, and they don’t always mesh too wonderfully. I’m not saying this game needed another year of development, more its connective tissue needed to be worked out a bit more, keep the player placed in the story.

Because there’s a lot of good! The combat system is wonky but when it works it is awesome to be warping around, swapping from a sword to a spear by materializing the new weapon out of mid air, and plunging into a giant frog (then warping across the field to stab a goblin). Exploring the world isn’t always smooth, but it’s a really cool world, with a delightful merging of contemporary tech/culture (smart phones, dope cities, route 66 style rest stops and garages, machine guns, etc) with some serious high fantasy (magic swords, normal swords, deamons that only come out at night, gods, magic meteors, etc). It’s weird, it’s fun, but we don’t really have enough moments to really get the feel and explore this world. Like, I’m told that in Lestallum it is the women who do the work, but outside of seeing female NPCs in overalls, nothing really happens with it.

But. The bromance. I can go fishing while exploring, and afterwards Muscle Bro sets up camp, Nerd Bro cooks, and we look at the pictures Selfie Bro took during the day (and I choose which ones to save). Along the way they talk rubbish about all sorts of things, be it Nerd Bro’s glasses or Selfie Bro asking what I want him to take pictures of. Nerd Bro and I (Emo Bro) had a bonding moment over cooking once, and Muscle Bro told me that he’s sworn to protect my life and that means that he’s gonna call me on my crud. Sure, I’m disappointed that the main female characters thus far are all NPCs and are basically just pure angel lady, Muscle Bro’s sister, and eye candy mechanic; but I am actually enjoying my retinue/bros (though Emo Bro is pretty boring thus far).

I’m told the game is about to get even weirder soon, with the open world being abandoned for something more traditionally linear involving a train, and in all honesty, I can’t wait to see where it goes. It’s nowhere near as compelling as, say Final Fantasy XIII or VIII, but it’s a lotta (weird) fun.

This is a game where an actual battle command is to have Selfie Bro snap a picture. And for some reason, having this dude take a picture while I’m fighting for my life against a massive monster feels just right for this game.


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2017 In Review

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Dec 30 2017 · 118 views

Essays, Not Rants! 301: 2017 In Review

2017 has been a year. And it ends in a couple days, so that means it’s time for me to phone it in and post about posts!

Five Most Popular/Viewed Posts

#5: Hanging Out

You know that thing where you talk about fictional characters as if they were your actual real life friends? This post is about how really well crafted characters make you happy just to watch them interact.

#4: Trusting The Story

It’s nice to be able to shut off your brain when you watch a movie or read a book, insofar as that means you don’t overthink it. But part of that means trusting the storyteller that everything will make sense. Dunkirk and Star Wars are movies that if you stop asking why and enjoy it then, dang, they’re great.

#3: Let The Past Die

Woah, this one got hits quick. Or maybe my blog’s just not as busy as it used to be. Either way. The Last Jedi is a rich movie (which you gotta admit, even if you'd didn’t like it) and this is me getting into some of its layers. There’s more I wanna unpack which I may go on about in due time (consider Rian Johnson’s use of fakeouts and a twisty plot in light of Luke’s admonition that this isn’t going to go the way you think).

#1 (tie!): So My Apartment Building Caught Fire

Well. This was a blogpost born out of an unexpected adventure. This is me talking about one of the reasons I love living in New York.

#1 (tie!): Xenophobia, Science Fiction, and, eventually, Hope

Stories are important. Science Fiction is important. And sometimes the real world sucks (that this was posted in January 2017 definitely has nothing to do with the post, cough), and sometimes stories remind you that, hey, there is good. And that through it you can learn something.

Stories are important.

Josh’s Pick of Three

#3: On Visibility and Character Creators

I love character creators. I spend way too long in The Sims’ Create-A-Sim and love agonizing over my character in games that let me design my avatar. But as someone who’s neither entirely white nor entirely Chinese, it’s hard to recreate myself when many presets are decidedly one or the other. Maybe if more of us were represented in stories I might be able to make a half-Asian commander Shepard.

#2: The Ephemeral And The Sublime

This blog is guaranteed to be the only place you’ll find indie darling Lady Bird and Hideo Kojima helmed video game Death Stranding spoken about in relation. But they’re similar! Read this to see me making a weird connection that actually makes an amount of sense.

#1: AMERICA

Another post that Definitely Has Nothing To Do With The Date It Was Posted. I love multinational teams, and I love how U.S. Avengers uses such a team to redefine the idea of an American. It’s a team of immigrants, minorities, and a homegrown, corn-fed Kentuckian. It’s truly a special comic. And there’s something wonderful about seeing the Finnish-Norwegian Aikku be comforted by her girlfriend about the oddness of America.


And so 2017 draws to a close. Thanks for reading folks, and I dearly hope you keep doing so. 2018’s gonna be wild and I’m still gonna be here ranting about whatever the ###### I want. Which, given that we’re seeing Black Panther, Pacific Rim: Uprising, and the new Tomb Raider movie come out, probably means more of the same.

Cheers,


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Let The Past Die

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Dec 23 2017 · 103 views

Essays, Not Rants! 300: Let The Past Die

Part of why I like The Force Awakens is that its characters are, in many ways, Star Wars fans themselves. Rey and Kylo Ren both grew up on stories about the Rebellion and the Empire (though with different takeaways) and so want to live out their version of the stories. Kylo fashions himself into an ersatz Darth Vader, Rey sees the chance to join up with the legendary Han Solo and maybe become a Jedi like Luke Skywalker.
The Last Jedi, on the other hand, deconstructs those dreams (and those of the audience too). And since I'm gonna be talking about The Last Jedi, this is where I let you know that here there be spoilers. About character arcs and stuff, which as we all know is what really matters.

So anyway. Spoilers. And deconstruction.

Kylo Ren is called out by Snoke for being nothing except a shadow of Vader. Killing Han’s not good enough; Kylo’s just a fanboy. It becomes clear that Kylo will never come into his own so long as all he wants to do is imitate his grandfather. And so the character of Kylo Ren, as we knew it in Awakens, is dressed down and forced to forge a new identity.

Meanwhile, on Ach-To, Rey can only watch as Luke Skywalker casually tosses the revered lightsaber over his shoulder. Turns out Rey’s idea of Luke is terribly misinformed. Even her understanding of The Force (controlling people and lifting rocks) is wrong. Rey’s expectations are dashed and eventually she has to, in the words of another Jedi, unlearn what she's already learned, and try and start afresh.

The Last Jedi sets fire to a lot of what we hold dear about Star Wars. Sometimes this is done through character (Poe is chastised for his propensity for reckless and costly space battles where they somehow overcome the odds) and other times it's through the story itself.

Look at the Jedi.

They're cool, right? With their dope lightsabers and all the heroing we see them do in the movies. Luke outright calls them fools, a prideful group whose hubris allowed the Empire to rise. He goes so far as to desecrate one of the finer points of the Star Wars mythos, derisively calling the Jedi’s weapon a laser sword. And Luke has a point. Maybe the Jedi weren't all they cracked up to be (and, as we see in the prequels, they really weren't the brightest of the bunch). The movie takes apart a chunk of Star Wars, and puts its pieces on display. The Jedi are flawed, overblown legends, maybe it's time for them to end.

The response to this deconstructed Star Wars is embodied by the movie's hero and villain. Rey and Kylo have both seen their goals tossed aside, goals that were, in essence, to emulate the Original Trilogy. They each respond differently: Kylo sees this as an opportunity to burn it all down and let the past die so he can remake the world as he sees fit; Rey, however, wants to rebuild from the ashes, learning from the mistakes of what’s come before. The epic battle between the light side and the dark side continues, though this time it's one that these two have defined for themselves.

And that's this movie’s relation with The Force Awakens. The prior one re-established Star Wars as we remember it, replete with high-flying romantic adventure. The Last Jedi takes apart those tropes, breaking down the notions of chosen ones, daring plans, and wise masters. But writer/director Rian Johnson loves Star Wars and so, now that he's taken them apart, he can develop them deeper than before. Luke is bitter and stubborn, a far cry from an idealistic farmboy or a sage like Yoda. But he still has much to learn, especially from his shortcomings. The idea of a wise master who knows everything doesn't stand up, but when we take that away we're given a Jedi Master who is still learning. Which is a more interesting, deeper interpretation.

Rey is a nobody, but she's still strong with the Force - all that talk about chosen ones and being descended from a great Jedi (like Kylo) is bunk, but, but but but, now anyone can be a Jedi. Luke Skywalker doesn't swoop in to defeat the First Order, because that hero could be anyone, that hope is bigger than he is.

What Rian Johnson does seems almost anathema, counter to the distilling of Star Wars that is The Force Awakens. But Johnson gives these stories new room to grow, and so he forces Rey and Kylo (and fans like me!) to reexamine the older Star Wars movies and figure out a new what's next. Kylo Ren isn't gonna be Darth Vader, and Rey isn't about to be Luke Skywalker.

And we're better off for that.


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Long Live The Resistance

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Dec 16 2017 · 59 views

Essays, Not Rants! 299: Long Live The Resistance

It's really easy to see the original Star Wars as an anti-establishment film. Han, Luke, and Leia are a trio of rebels vying to undermine and overthrow the Man. And given that the movie is a product of the 70s, it just might be intentional. Empire has the Man crackdown on our plucky heroes, and Return of The Jedi culminates in the final usurpation.

Of course, within this framework, any story about plucky rebels can be interpreted as anti-establishment. Mega Man Zero is about Zero and the Resistance exposing Neo Arcadia for the dystopia it is. The Matrix has Neo fighting back against the humanity-controlling Machines. Harry Potter and his friends form Dumbledore’s Army to take on Umbridge.

But antiestablishmentarianism is in Star Wars’ DNA, and not just as an idea as in some other examples. And for that, you need look no further than the prequels.

Which, sounds kinda odd, because the heroes in the prequels are part of the establishment. The Jedi Order is in full swing and Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan are members. Padmé is a Queen and a Senator. On the other hand, Tatooine, a planet beyond the reach of the Republic, is a lawless land of slavery. The villainous Confederacy is trying to destroy the peaceful Republic. Ostensibly, it’s the inverse of the original trilogy’s ethos.

But the prequels are about the fall of the Republic. And it is not brought down by an external resistance: it is brought down from within. For all the fighting the Confederacy does, they don’t destroy the Republic. The Republic is a corrupt system, full of infighting that prevents anything from being done (as we see with Naboo’s blockade in Phantom Menace). The Jedi Order is all too ready to make the jump from peacekeepers to generals. The Republic is not a good thing: it is old and decrepit, and its conversion into the Empire is a product of its own failings. In the prequels, the heroes may be servants of the establishment, but the establishment is not a good thing. Revenge of The Sith has the Senate, who our heroes have been championing, capitulating to Darth Sidious. No, the prequels don't have Obi-Wan, Anakin, and Padmé fighting the Man, instead their loyalty to the establishment is their undoing.

The recent movies carry on this point of view. The New Republic in The Force Awakens doesn't believe the First Order to be a credible threat and are so destroyed, leaving Leia and her Resistance to fight on. They were, to an extent, abandoned by the establishment and left to fend for themselves. Rogue One speaks for itself (if you need a reminder: ragtag team of diverse nobodies take on a monolithic empire).

So Star Wars is decidedly anti-establishment. Cool.

The Last Jedi, however, embraces this ethos with an unrivaled vigor. In the bigger, meta scheme of things, Star Wars is now the establishment. It's no longer this weird sci-fi movie that mixes together westerns, samurai films, and Flash Gordon serials; it's its own thing and its heroes pop culture legends. So The Last Jedi sets out to deconstruct a lot of Star Wars’ tropes, this time turning its anti-establishment lens on its own heroes. The establishment in The Last Jedi takes the form of a variety of legacies; the legacy of the Jedi, the legacy of the Empire, even the legacy of Luke Skywalker. The movie itself challenges our assumptions about these things, challenging us to ask questions about them we may not be too keen to ask. What if the Jedi should end? What does it mean to have been Luke Skywalker? Why do we care so much for legacies?

Some of these questions are answered, and some of these have no easy answer. Sure, there's still a plucky Resistance against an indomitable First Order, but director Rian Johnson wants to figure out what Star Wars really is, and that means bringing a hammer to some stuff you'd rather not. It's excellently done and particularly bold given how safe Star Wars usually is.

I have A Lot Of Thoughts on The Last Jedi, thoughts that I'll need another viewing and many beer-fueled conversations with friends to mull over. But one thing that's abundantly clear is that The Last Jedi has a very clear image of its identity, and one facet of that is as the culmination of an anti-establishment vision.

Which is pretty neat.


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The Ephemeral and The Sublime

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Dec 09 2017 · 27 views

Essays, Not Rants! 298: The Ephemeral and The Sublime

Over the years, Hideo Kojima has, because of his Metal Gear Solid games, become one of my favorite video game designers. He's also certifiably bonkers, mixing in discussions of American militarism-as-neo-colonialism in a game where you fight giant mechs alongside a mostly naked sniper who can't speak because of a parasite that uses language to spread (and thus serves as a vehicle for Kojima to discuss how English becoming the global lingua franca is in turn another form of colonialism).

Point is, I'm always stoked to see what he's making.

A new trailer for Death Stranding, his first post-MGS game, dropped last night. Like the handful of other trailers for the game that have come out, it's weird and near indecipherable, with little information on what it's like as a game. And at eight minutes long, it's a pretty long trailer.

To the point where it's less a trailer and more of a short film unto itself. It's very self-contained, missing a lot of the “what comes next”-ness of trailers. While it does evoke a desire to figure out what's going on, but that's hardly the point.

There is little narrative in the traditional sense. Sure, we have a protagonist in Sam and a beginning, middle, and end; but it's not about him doing something. Rather, the trailer presents a tableau of a scene, a moment for you to experience and are the better for having done so. The trailer presents the sublime, something quite beyond our comprehension but beautiful in its terror. It's less about the catharsis and more about the process of watching Sam and his compatriots attempt to fend off these unseen creatures in a mysterious, physics bending world.

So in that sense it's a lot like the movie Lady Bird.

Lady Bird is about a girl in her senior year of high school, her relationship with her mother, her relationship with herself, and that messy transition from seventeen to eighteen. It's a tender story, told with a full heart and helpings of honesty. It's reliant less on vying for that big, cinematic climax than it is on capturing a very particular moment in time for a very specific person.

And like the trailer for Death Stranding, it captures the ephemeral. Things happen, and then something else does. Lady Bird isn't trying to say something bigger about the world, it's just trying to tell its story (as Death Stranding’s trailer weaves its vision of terror). There's no One Big Moment that defines protagonist Lady Bird’s life. Rather we see snapshots of a very specific person. Because of its honesty and specificity (Lady Bird’s idiosyncrasies are at once wholly unique and beautifully universal), we, as an audience, are allowed to experience a part of a life. One that, having seen, we are more for having done so.

It's a fairly common anti-structure in indie-darling movies; you can see it done well in Drinking Buddies and Lost in Translation. Boyhood doesn't know what it's trying to capture besides “uh, time passes, I guess” and so fails to capture anything. Meanwhile Monsters sets its journey against an alien presence to heighten its exploration of loneliness and presentation of the sublime. Ken Liu’s short story “The Paper Menagerie” captures a difficult relationship. And it's what Death Stranding’s trailer does so well.

I will campaign for narrative until the sky falls. But stories can be about moments too. The key is to make the audience feel something. As a reader/viewer/player I engage in fiction not because I want to sit idly by as something happens, but because I want to be taken on a journey. I want to feel something, sorrow or joy, something funny or something epic. Lady Bird didn't need a Big Epic Conclusion to make me feel like a teenage girl. And Death Stranding doesn't need flashy gameplay to present the sublime in a fracking video game trailer.






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josh


grew up on a ship


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

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Josh works for LEGO at the LEGO Store at Rockefeller Center. Despite this, any and every opinion expressed herewith is entirely his own and decidedly not that of The LEGO Group.

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