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Zombieland: A Treatise on Life in a Post-Consumer Society

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Aug 13 2016 · 82 views

Essays, Not Rants! 230: Zombieland: A Treatise on Life in a Post-Consumer Society

I mentioned it as a joke last week, but this week we’re going for it.

I’m so sorry.

Zombies have long been used as a means to comment on the perils of consumerism. Mindless hordes doing things without thinking for the few capable of independent thought to stand up against. Zombieland takes the conceit one step further, within the film self actualization is only possible in a world free of the shackles of traditional consumerism.

Much of the conflict in Zombieland takes place in the ruins of grocery stores, downtown areas, and, climatically, a theme park. The main characters too exist outside of the established economy; Columbus and Tallahassee loot and rob cars in the post-apocalyptic wasteland (the titular Zombieland) and before the outbreak Wichita and Little Rock were con artists, stealing rather than working jobs. But it’s now that they’re no longer part of a consumerist society that they are able to really come in to their own.

When Columbus and Tallahassee meet up with Wichita and Little Rock there is a great deal of distrust. Distrust that is primarily due to them fighting over guns and a car, of which there are not too many. Their strife is born of competition over limited resources — the backbone of a consumerist society. It’s because they’re holding on to one of the principle tenants of a pre-Zombieland world that they fight; as long as they live by the rules of consumerism they won’t be able to truly develop a friendship.

If one of the central themes of Zombieland is that people need other people — it is after all a movie where survivors come to realize they’re stronger together than separate — then that true friendship is only possible when they no longer subscribe to traditional views of consumerist culture. This is made clear when they finally do become friends. It’s not when they’re fighting a horde of zombies together, this is far from a battle-forged friendship. Rather, they only truly bond when they utterly destroy a gift shop together. Unlike many of the other locations visited by the survivors, this gift shop is in immaculate condition. All the gaudy trinkets and shiny rocks are still on the shelves, nothing’s out of place, even after Tallahassee dispatches of the lone zombie in the shop.

It’s in this place that Columbus first stands up to Tallahassee, a significant character moment as it shows him beginning to come into his own. Immediately after that character moment, however, he knocks something over by accident. Then another deliberately. The others join in and a montage of them destroying the stores contents ensues. It’s a blithely irreverent destruction of private property and also a rejection of the need for silly tchotchkes that have worth just because they’re supposed to. The act of destruction unites them and marks a shift for the characters bonding and sets them on the path to self-actualization.
According to Zombieland, it is in this post-consumer landscape that real relationships can thrive. Where before Columbus only knew his neighbor by her apartment number, now he has people he trusts — and he learns Wichita’s real name too. Wichita and Little Rock put aside their grifting ways and Tallahassee finds space in his vengeful anti-zombie agenda to care for other people. All they needed was to be free of the consumerism.

Writer’s Note:
There! Did it! It’s a little half-baked and there are some ideas that could be explored more (in the climax Wichita and Little Rock are stranded in an amusement park ride, trapped by their want for the vestige of consumerism that is Pacific Playland; Tallahassee wants a Twinkie which he only gets after he’s learned to be content with other people and not need something mass-produced), but, hey, this was more for fun/to prove a point than anything.

Also I’m so sick of the word ‘consumer.’


Meaning Upon Meaning

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Aug 06 2016 · 109 views

Essays, Not Rants! 229: Meaning Upon Meaning

Every movie monster in the book has some sort of sociocultural commentary associated with it. Zombies are the embodiment of a fear of conformist consumer culture, vampires are the elite rich who drain the life of the poor, werewolves are your neighbor’s double life, Godzilla is nuclear terror made real. A lot of fun can be found in figuring out what these all mean. Is Zombieland about the isolation that comes as a result of being the only people special in a world of copies? Or is it a celebration of life in a post-consumer society?

That’s one thing I love about fiction is that there are as many meanings of it as there are people watching. You see this particularly science fiction and fantasy which, by virtue, often deal with some embodiment of the unknown/other, and thus can really explore the parable-ness of stories. But like I said, meanings. I see The Force Awakens as a story about identity and finding belonging (which makes it different from the original Star Wars despite hitting many of the same plot beats), Firefly is a story fundamentally about family, and Iron Man 2 is about embracing mortality. You could disagree and you’re more than welcome to because, again, the joy of fiction.

A good story has enough substance that you can watch/read/hear/play it multiple times and get different things from it over time. While discussing children’s books, CS Lewis wrote in Of Other Worlds: “No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally (and often far more) worth reading at the age of fifty(…).” It’s how you can enjoy Prisoner of Azkaban as a kid for its magic and scary monsters, then years later love it for its wonderful take on depression; or how Justice League remains intriguing if you’re twelve or twenty-five.

(500) Days of Summer is perfectly enjoyable as a romcom where the male character is afforded the same amount of emotional intimacy and depth the female lead usually gets. Then you can also read it as a deconstruction of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope that was alive and well in 2009. Or as an exploration of how being selfish and only looking for what you want dooms a relationship. Are any of those wrong? Not necessarily (though if you see Tom or Summer as being an ideal, dreamy, romantic partner… you’re misreading it). Do any of those interpretations discount the other? Unless you’re googley over Tom or Summer, again, no. If I watch this movie again in five years will I find something new (and maybe stop using rhetorical questions)? Yeah, probably. I still love (500) Days of Summer, as much (or more) than I did when I first saw it seven(!) years ago, but the reasons I love it now are really different from when I watched it then.

I mentioned briefly that there could be a wrong reading (Tom and Summer are deeply flawed, deeply selfish characters, not dream lovers), which is true in a way. The LEGO Movie is the hero’s journey retold with LEGO bricks. But is it also anti-capitalism with its overthrow/redemption of an evil businessman? I’d argue not, because, really? But wrong doesn’t necessarily mean invalid, and if you read Tom as being a dream guy even though the writers have outright said he’s not meant to be one, fine, more power to you, you’re still wrong.

Stories are fluid and for a lot, the authors are decidedly dead. So it doesn’t really matter so much what the exact intention was exactly, so much as you connected. This doesn’t mean you can go around saying Gojira isn’t about the Japanese terror of nuclear weapons (because look at the context and everything), but it does allow for a range of interpretations of that. I know the The Force Awakens has belonging as a theme, because Maz mentions it to Rey, but the importance I place on it is all, well, me.

And at the end of the story, that’s the important bit.


Nothing's In a Vacuum

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Jul 30 2016 · 74 views

Essays, Not Rants! 228: Nothing’s In a Vacuum

San Diego Comic-Con brought with it a new teaser for Netflix and Marvel’s upcoming Luke Cage, featuring said hero beating up bad guys. Ordinarily, this would be cool enough, because, duh. But, before this butt-kicking takes place, we get a shot of Luke putting up the hood of his jacket. It’s a precise shot that focuses a lot of attention into the act: Luke doesn’t just wear his hood up, he deliberately puts it on before heading in.

Luke Cage is making a statement with this teaser: a big black man in a hoodie can be a hero.

Which, given, y’know, everything, is really wonderful.

“So what?” my theoretical straw man asks, “Maybe he just wants to hide his identity.” Which, fine, and sure, a domino mask would be cliché, but it’s still a conscious choice the creators made. And an important one.

Entertainment doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It reflects and comments on the world around it. Luke Cage is coming out in a world wherein being black and wearing a hoodie is grounds for distrust and villainization. For a myriad of reasons, popular perception paints a very negative picture.

And that’s why Luke Cage wearing a hoodie matters. It’s a counter narrative to the scary black man, offering a decidedly different take on it. Sure, he’s still imposing, but he’s the good guy and the hero of this show, the hero. There’s this wonderful hint of antiestablishment about it, which is one of the things that’s got me excited for this show.

One of the other things being that Mike Colter is really hot.

But anyway.

Fiction, and the imagery it creates, exists beyond the work from which it originated. Like I said before, nothing is created in a vacuum anymore, especially not since the rise of Web 2.0 has democratized content generation and facilitated and even greater osmosis of pop (and ‘real’) culture. We are, in many ways, exposed to a lot of the same news and memes, though our takeaways and lenses may be wildly different. Fiction, then, sits in a place where it can comment on it.

Luke Cage is going to be Marvel’s first movie/tv property with an African-American lead (until Black Panther), so there’s a lot riding on it. One of those being the question of what exactly a show about a black character is. Based on the trailer, it seems that Luke Cage is fully aware of its position.

It might not, being a tv show by a major studio/storyteller, be able to take an overly explicit stance (something, by the way, which hasn’t stopped a few of Marvel’s comics from having particularly dope commentary*), but that doesn’t mean it can’t still play with our expectations, whether through imagery, music, or plot. I keep campaigning for different narratives, and it looks like that’s where this one’s headed.

I’m excited.

*Spider-Gwen Annual #1 has a black, female Captain America attacking a caricature of a certain political figure. Captain America: Sam Wilson has recently been dealing with aggressive, militarized police. In Mockingbird you come for the fun and humor, but stay for the biting feminist commentary (and also objectification of male characters).


The Beauty of Pokémon Go

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Jul 23 2016 · 56 views

Essays, Not Rants! 227: The Beauty of Pokémon Go

A recent issue of TIME Magazine (a magazine I usually like) ran a small article about Pokémon Go. In an article describing how the game “shows the unnerving future of augmenting reality,” writer Matt Vella describes players in Prospect Park as “a dozen people shuffling about haphazardly, their zombie eyes fixed on glowing phone screens.”

Okay. Fine.

Honestly, I shouldn’t be too surprised. This is the same publication that ran a cover article about how millennials (ie: me) are entitled and narcissistic; Pokémon Go is more smart-phone enabled shenanigans. But that this article essentially dismisses the game is frustrating. Because yes, Pokémon Go is another game, but it’s position as a augmented reality game makes it something really special.

Something beautiful.

The open-endedness of games like Mass Effect make comparing notes with other players a lot of fun. Who did you romance? What did you save? Red, blue, or green? Your choices in the game give you a common ground. Same with discussing responses to The Last of Us or describing that great moment you had in Halo. Video games create (virtual) experiences and memories. Like any memory, these then become things you talk about.

But Pokémon Go exists in the real world. You don’t catch a Seel in the Seafoam Islands, you catch a Seel in Battery Park. You don’t hatch eggs by walking from Cerulean City to Vermillion City over and over again, you do so by walking to work and back. That gym doesn’t exist in your GameBoy, it’s the Washington Square Arch.

Because of this, those memories become physical. My brother and I roamed the East Village together looking for Pokémon, glued to our phones, yes, but also talking and enjoying the outdoors. The outdoors outside, in the real world. In other words, Pokémon Go makes the very act of walking into an adventure. The game augments reality itself (hence the whole AR genre) into a game.

That Pokémon Go exists in the real world is part of its beauty. Players have to go outside to catch Pokémon, collect items, and challenge gyms. So folks are going to parks, museums, and zoos to find Pokémon. Yes, on their phones, but actually out there.

With the game comes a community, one that, in my experience, has been remarkably positive. Stopping at Astor Place to take over a gym and catching someone’s eye, knowing we’d worked together to claim it in the name of Team Valor. Or striking up a conversation with someone at the Garibaldi Statue Pokéstop where someone used a lure. Then there’s my Facebook feed starting to look more and more like a schoolyard conversation about where to find Pokémon and whose is the best.

Pokémon which, remember, you find in the real world.

Look, I’m twenty-five; smack-dab in the middle of Generation Y. I’m one of those who grew up with the internet and social media. We’re those who see technology not as something to be scared but by which we’ll save the world. Pokémon Go, though probably not quite that extreme, exists within that vein. For all the stories of players finding dead bodies in rivers and falling off cliffs, there are many more about the game helping people deal with anxiety or depression and stories of it providing an avenue of social interaction for autistic kids. You can complain all you want about phone-addled Millennials, but a fear of AR as a harbinger of awfulness is unfounded.

‘cuz this present is the future.

Our future.

And it’s wonderful.


Excuse Me As I Geek Out About Rogue One

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Jul 16 2016 · 26 views

Essays, Not Rants! 226: Excuse Me As I Geek Out About Rogue One

A new teaser of sorts for Rogue One dropped and it’s the sort of behind-the-scenes sizzle reel that I go nuts for. You’ve got folks on sets, folks in costumes, folks with prop guns; all that good stuff. ‘cuz when you combine Star Wars with moviemaking stuff, you’re really going right up my alley.

It also helps that I’m incredibly psyched for Rogue One.

Right off the bat, there’s the obvious thing that I love the cast’s diversity. It fills my soul with glee to know that there are two Chinese actors in a new Star Wars movie, along with people from all over the place. Not just that, but that these characters aren’t just window dressing but people people. Who, based on what we’ve seen, get to do cool stuff.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record (of which I have no guilt), diversity is friggin’ important, guys. This is Star Wars; it’s science fiction, not reality. I’ll hear you out if you complain about not being able to have a Japanese woman show up during the War of the Roses or a black man in a movie about the Incan Empire, but science fiction is, uh, science fiction. Especially when it’s in the vein of Star Wars; stories set a long time ago in a galaxy far far away. There’s no reason for the world to not be diverse. We’ve got aliens already, so why can’t the (presumable) leaders of the team that steals the plans to the Death Star be a woman and a Latino man?

But beyond that (because there’s more to Rogue One than its wonderfully diverse cast that I will never shut up about), there’s the fact that Gareth Edwards is directing it. Which, as we see more of it and hear more about it, he seems like a great person for this movie.

Which may sound a bit odd, given that his prior major filmography has been Monsters and Godzilla, neither of which are really war movies, a genre which Rogue One seems to be drawing a lot of influence from. But, what Edwards is bringing to Rogue One is a tremendous sense of scale.

What both Monsters and Godzilla do incredibly well is contain an immense sense of scale. When you finally see the titular monsters at the very end they’re treated as being absolutely sublime. There’s a wonderful mixture of terror and awe that’s nothing short of memorable. Godzilla too gave the famous kaiju a special kind of awe, making him feel like an unstoppable force of nature.

Star Wars has usually been about the heroes and the Jedi, the big players in the galaxy. Rogue One steps away from that and tackles more ordinary rebels (or at least the Rebellion-affiliated) in their fight against the Empire. These aren’t people who can cut a hole in an AT-AT with a lightsaber. For these heroes, an AT-AT is really bad news. This is where Edwards shines. Look at the way he portrays the AT-ATs in that first trailer, those machines are huge, destructive monstrosities. If the Empire is going to be this unstoppable military force, then this is the guy to be directing the movie.

Especially since Darth Vader’s going to be showing up.

If you haven’t gathered, I’m really excited for Rogue One. In part because, yes, it’s more cinematic Star Wars stories, but also because it’s a new and different sort of Star Wars story.


Catching 'em All

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Jul 09 2016 · 51 views

Essays, Not Rants! 225: Catching ‘em All

Like many people my age, I grew up playing Pokémon. And man, I caught ‘em all. Literally all of ‘em. At least in Yellow and Gold; I got close in Ruby and that’s where I stopped.

So when Pokémon Go was first announced last year I thought it seemed really cool. Like worth upgrading my four-year-old phone for. In case you haven’t heard, here’s the skinny on Go:

It’s Pokémon in real life. You go places, your phone tells you there’s a Pokémon there, you catch it. Certain landmarks are gyms where you can battle people and other landmarks give you items. Again, it’s Pokémon in real life.

Now, the game is very much in its infancy. It’s a drain on battery and there isn’t much in the way of depth to the game (there is no way to traditionally level up Pokémon, which means you’ll probably find yourself releasing your starter). Then there’s the awful server lag currently present that makes playing chancey at best. A game’s not great if you can’t really play it. It’s a mess.

And yet.

I’ve found myself walking through Washington Square Park, looking for Pokémon with friends, and running into other people also looking for Pokémon. I walked to the Arch to challenge the gym there and, upon seeing that someone had used a Lure Module on the Gibraldi Statue, sat around there catching Pokémon with a handful of strangers. And then all of us getting excited when a hitherto uncaught Ekans showed up.

I think this is where the beauty of Pokémon Go, even in its nascent state, shines. There’s an excitement in the traditional Pokémon games when a random encounter yields that one Pokémon you’ve spent ages searching for (I’m looking at you, Tauros). Same with when that egg you’ve been walking around with forever finally hatches. Go takes that feeling of success and translates it to real life. When an egg hatches it’s because you’ve carried it for five kilometers. Not your digital avatar walking around Johto, but you, in real life, walking around your town. When you, at last, finally get a Pinsir it’s because you decided to walk to Starbucks for coffee instead of spending your break inside. That joy you got in the games is made visceral. Now your ability to catch ‘em all is a direct result of your own exploring — you’re looking for Pokémon.

It helps that the simple mechanics (go somewhere, find a thing, get a thing, look for a better thing) is bolstered by the pop culture familiarity brought on by Pokémon. It’s no coincidence that the available Pokémon are the original 150, the ones people my age fondly remember from growing up. There’s an appeal to the familiar, and man, it’s working — I don’t think I’ve been this excited to find a Bellsprout since I was seven. There’s an implicit invitation in the game to be a kid again, to look around your world with a wonderment because that mural on the wall could be a Pokémon Gym and there’s a Bulbasaur down that road in the West Village.

Pokémon Go still has a lot of room to grow — and it’ll have to to keep people interested over the long term. But for now, just a couple days out of the gate, it’s a whole lotta simple, magical, fun.

Except for those Rattatas. I am so sick of finding freaking Rattatas.


Regarding Movies About Two Superheroes Fighting Each Other

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Jul 02 2016 · 29 views

Essays, Not Rants! 224: Regarding Movies About Two Superheroes Fighting Each Other

If you were to put 2016’s blockbusters in a museum, Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice and Captain America: Civil War ought to be displayed next to each other. They’re the sort of movies that, when looked at together, take on a whole new dimension. Because one is far more successful than the other.

To understand why Civil War succeeds, you don’t have to look much better than at how BvS fails. Both movies have the same conceit: Two heroes fight each other. Thus, if you want both characters to remain sympathetic, they’d better have a dang good reason to be fighting. Funnily, both movies end up on the topic of collateral damage. In Civil War, Tony Stark/Iron Man and Steve Rogers/Captain America disagree on whether to put the Avengers under UN oversight, something that is complicated when brainwashed assassin Bucky Barnes enters the fray, forcing Steve to go outside the law. Bam, conflict.

In BvS, Batman doesn’t like how Superman is so powerful and causes so much collateral damage, and Superman doesn’t like Batman because he, um, takes the law into his own hands? Right off the bat the difference is clear, Civil War had a clear conflict, BvS was murky at best. Watching BvS, I was never sure why they were fighting, what it was they disagreed on. Furthermore, BvS has no complications in the conflict between Batman and Superman; they don’t like each other in the beginning, and continue to dislike each other the same amount until the fight. In Civil War the accords form the initial conflict, which then get complicated by Bucky’s reappearance and what they uncover about Zemo. Meanwhile, in BvS, the status quo between Batman and Superman doesn’t really change.

Which is weird; you’d think that with Lex Luthor running around with Kryponite and Zod’s corpse he’d be in a good place to incite some tension between the two. However, he doesn’t have any direct bearing on the plot until he kidnaps and threatens Superman’s mom well into the second hour (blowing up the Capitol sends Superman into exile and doesn’t directly escalate the conflict between the two heroes). Compare this to Civil War, where Zemo (who fulfills the same role as Luthor) blows up the UN (and frames Bucky), thereby setting Cap on a path that’ll put him at total odds against Tony. That’s before he sets Bucky on the other Avengers too, by the way. In other words, Civil War escalates the animosity between its two heroes. By the time they come to blows, we totally get why.

The coming to blows bit is where we see another divide. In BvS, Batman and Superman’s fight is just a skirmish before their big brawl against Doomsday. Civil War has a big airport fight with all the heroes happen before Steve and Tony’s one-on-one. This ordering shows where the priorities of each movie lie. See, you save the best, biggest, and most important climax for last. Rey and Kylo fight after Poe blows up Starkiller base. Frodo climbs Mount Doom after the battle of the Pelennor Fields. If the fight against Doomsday is the Biggest Moment of BvS, then the “Dawn of Justice” subtitle becomes the most important part. Which is weird, because the whole movie up to that point has been ploddingly trying to excite us to watch the heroes fight, only for the big thing to be them teaming up. Despite Batman versus Superman being the dang title, the ending tells us we’re not supposed to be interested in watching them fight. In Civil War, however, Steve and Tony throw down comes at the very end and proves a catharsis for the entire movie.

Okay, so, there’s actually a lot more about these movies. Both of them have a third party who joins them in the climax, though where Wonder Woman gives interesting looks throughout, Black Panther brings an additional point of view to the plot and ends up being the only true hero. Both have heroes manipulated into fighting, but while Lex kidnaps Superman’s mom, Tony finds out Steve’s best friend kill his parents (and so Tony fights Bucky [and Steve] because he wants to, while Superman is doing it because he has to). Then there’s also BvS contorting Batman and Superman into being funhouse mirrors of their accepted selves to fit the plot, while Civil War sees Steve and Tony’s own flaws orchestrate their undoing.

But I’m at my word limit and it’s getting late here, so I’m ending this here. Point of all this? Sometimes it’s worth watching a lesser movie to appreciate one that does the same thing better.

Except for Fant4stic. That movie just tells you what not to do.


Sticking To The Obvious

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Jun 25 2016 · 125 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.


Top Nine Movies of 2015

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Jun 18 2016 · 206 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.


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.


Visions of the Future

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Jun 11 2016 · 158 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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grew up on a ship

studied Narrative (Re)Construction

at New York University

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

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