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Twisted Echoes

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Mar 07 2015 · 112 views

Essays, Not Rants! 155: Twisted Echos

I’ve actually got a bunch of half-written posts I wanna post. Stuff on Birdman and the Oscars, or one on the Parks and Rec finale. However something came out, and, well, I can’t help myself.

I’m talking about the new Age of Ultron trailer.

There’s a lot to nerd out about. You’ve got the Vision teaser at the end, all the hints of the Avengers falling apart, Ultron being deliciously evil, and the glorious shot of the Avengers soaring into battle. I’m getting excited. Really excited.

There’s one moment in the trailer that’s particularly significant, and since I’m not above writing a rant essay on a small part of a trailer, we’re going to do so. About 1:36 into the trailer we have one of my favorite bits: Hulk and Iron Man’s Hulkbuster fighting against a building. Obviously, this is another geeky moment; the Hulkbuster has been a staple of the comics since the ‘90s, so seeing it on screen busting the Hulk is grand. But that’s not why it’s important.

Remember the end of The Avengers? After Iron Man has blown up the Chitauri ship he’s falling down to earth. Then Hulk bounds up and catches him, slowing their descent against a building. It’s the culmination of Bruce Banner’s arc, where the Hulk is usually a wild force of destruction now he’s saving someone. Furthermore he’s saving Tony Stark, the first one willing to befriend him not in spite of the Hulk but because of it too (see their first meeting and conversation in the lab).

Age of Ultron looks to be turning it on its head. Instead of going down a skyscraper, Iron Man and Hulk are going up one. Instead of Hulk catching Iron Man, Iron Man is propelling them upwards while Hulk attacks him. It’s visually reminiscent of the beat from The Avengers, only turned on its head into a twisted reflection.

Now, the reason for Iron Man and Hulk’s battle isn’t overly important (there’s a theory floating around that it’s a result of Scarlet Witch’s mind-altering powers). Rather, let’s focus on the visual significance. Beyond being a callback to the first film, we have two friends fighting. This, along with much of the rest of the trailer, brings up the idea of division among the team. It’s somewhat dialectical materialist in its approach; having been brought together by the first movie, now the opposite has to happen. Because a sequel can’t just rehash the first, it has to go deeper. We have a positive, let’s hit the negative of that now.

In a way, Age of Ultron is looking to deconstruct elements of the first movie. Joss Whedon’s said that one of the driving forces of the film is “the idea of heroes and whether or not that's a useful concept.” So where the first film had Nick Fury straight up telling the World Security Council that, yes, we need heroes, Ultron turns this on it’s head and questions if they’re really necessary after all. The new film will probably take each stance (“We need heroes” / “we don’t need heroes”) and synthesize a new idea from the product. This bit of dialectical materialism, playing a defense against a rebuttal to come to a new consensus, serves to reconstruct the themes of the superhero films.

Back before the first Avengers was released, Whedon was asked how he’d try to top it with a sequel. He said he wouldn’t try to, rather he would by “being smaller. More personal, more painful. By being the next thing that should happen to these characters…” Now, he’s since admitted that Ultron’s gotten bigger than the first, but there remains the throughline he set forth three years ago. Age of Ultron is going deeper into these characters, figuring out what makes them tick, and pushing them to their breaking points. From a storytelling point of view, I am beyond pumped to see this movie.

That and, of course, this shot.


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Manners Maketh A Genre

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Feb 28 2015 · 150 views

Essays, Not Rants! 154: Manners Maketh A Genre

Spy movies are old hat. Well, least the slick James Bond ones are. Movies like Goldeneye have either been deconstructed by the Bourne movies (or even by more recent Bond flicks, to an extent) or lovingly lampooned by the likes of Chuck and Archer. Now, this isn’t bad (I love Chuck and Skyfall). Spies aren’t the sort to smoothly enter in a suit with a myriad of fancy gadgets, they’re gritty people in dark, realistic worlds. If you aim for a more lighthearted approach, chances are the genre’s used as the setting for another story, be it a workplace comedy or romance. There’s been a dearth of pure spy movies.

Enter Matthew Vaughn’s Kingsman. Though it may seem like a deconstruction — it plays with and pokes at a couple tropes — ultimately, it’s a reconstruction. Now, Skyfall was to an extent a reconstruction in its own right as it defended the relevance of the government-run spy agency (as opposed to, say, rogues like Jason Bourne) in a very modern world, keeping as much of the spy-gadgetry we’d allow in a grounded film. Kingsman on the other hand, decides to amp things up a couple notches.

The throwbacks to classic gadgetry are present in Kingsman: the heroes have weaponized pens, hidden shoe-blades, bullet-proof umbrella shields, and hi-tech glasses. The agents dress in tailored suits and a great deal of emphasis is put on the way one carries oneself. And, of course, this is a slick movie with good guys being awesome and an evil madman trying to take over the world. It’s a straight up spy film.

Now, it’s not all spies-on-missions. The first half of the film focuses on Eggsy training to be one of the impeccable spies. But even though he’s not actively going after the villain, it still feels spy-ish as the candidates go through increasingly harder trials with more and more flair. It’s over-the-top, sure but it’s great fun to see this kid from the wrong side of the London’s tracks grow into a super-spy.

I think what really makes Kingsman such a wonderful ode to its genre is its tone. Classic Bond had this strong sense of romantic adventure to it and many of its imitators followed in its steps. Kingsman returns to that spirit, though it does so older and wiser. The movie knows that a jet pack’s been done to death, so the film uses a mothballed high-altitude balloon from Reagan’s SDI. Similarly, the gadgetry feels appropriately futuristic for a more modern setting (see the AR glasses mentioned above). This keeps it from feeling too old-fashioned, but a technology update alone wouldn’t push it from good to great. The movie knows it’s a spy movie, as do its characters; Eggsy and the others are almost Chuck-ish in their knowledge and meta-commentary on spy tropes. This doesn’t diminish it, rather it keeps the film feeling decidedly present while still keeping a decades old tradition alive.

This is how you breathe new life into a genre. You take all of its flaws and preposterousness and roll with it, accepting its prior deconstruction and morphing it into something new — in other words: reconstruction. Pacific Rim created a world where Mecha made sense and where Kaiju were cool; Godzilla once more had the titular monster a force of nature while still making sense; Star Trek accepted Roddenberry’s idealism and made space opera cool again. Kingsman makes being a suave, well-dressed badowl integral to being a super spy. Manners maketh man and all that.

Writing off a genre as being silly unless you take it apart bit by bit is foolish. But every now and then deconstruction needs to happen. Casino Royale had to show the ramifications of being a super spy so Skyfall could ultimately show why it’s still needed and so Kingsman could deliver its pulpy fun. It’s fun to see things deconstructed — it’s what makes The Cabin In The Woods such fun — but it’s not the only way to make an old genre new again. Look at Kingsman, Skyfall, Star Trek; you take the thing apart so you know how to put it back together better than before.


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Control in The Avengers

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Feb 21 2015 · 111 views

Essays, Not Rants! 153: Control in The Avengers

I’m working on an essay for school this weekend (seriously, when aren’t I?), and once again I find myself needing to practice analysis and stuff. And because this is me, I’m doing it about something fun.

Manipulation and control of people play big roles in The Avengers. Loki’s staff gives him the ability to outright control minds, the bloodied Captain America cards are Nick Fury’s subtler means to get the Avengers to team up. A lot of the film’s runtime has characters competing to be the one in charge, to be able to control the others.

This is probably most visible in the characters and dynamic of Natasha Romanov and Bruce Banner (or, y’know, Black Widow and the Hulk). When we first meet Natasha she seems powerless: she’s tied up and being interrogated by some Russian mobsters. We quickly find out that this is exactly where she wants to be as she reveals that she’s been using this to get information out of them before effortlessly beating them up. Natasha is used to being in control and around those she can manipulate or overpower, often by seeming like the one who isn’t in control at all.

However, the next time we see her she’s recruiting Bruce Banner to the team. She’s in a position where losing control of a situation could mean Banner hulking out and plastering the room with her. Her wariness of Bruce, which becomes more evident as the story progresses, stems from her inability to control him. Finding out it’s her job to get Bruce on their side is enough to make her stop in her tracks, when confronting Tony Stark — who isn’t a huge fan of hers after the events of Iron Man 2 — hardly elicits a reaction. She can even get Loki to reveal his plans to her — even if he does get under her skin — but she can’t talk down a Hulk.

Bruce Banner’s own arc similarly deals with the question of control. Central to his character is the ability to keep the Hulk in check. If he loses control of his emotions he hulks out and risks being an uncontrollable rage monster, which, as Natasha points out, he’s “…been more than a year without an incident. [She doesn’t] think [he wants to] break that streak.” Bruce is a man who by necessity must always be in control. Not only his internal conflict, but his interactions with others too is colored by this theme. Aboard the Helicarrier is a chamber designed to contain him should he suddenly pose a risk to the safety of those aboard. Even those who want him around want to keep him check, want to stay in power over him.

All this comes to a head at the midpoint. The team has fallen out, Loki’s people attack, and everything goes sideways. Banner is a victim of this chaos and the monster he’s been hiding is released in a fit of blind rage. Natasha is the one who first faces the Hulk and there the the Avenger who’s power is founded on being in control is suddenly powerless to the one who is uncontrollable. For Natasha this is terrifying; she has no angle to control the Hulk. Banner, meanwhile, has been rendered helpless. The team’s low point sees both of them bereft of control.

By the time of the climax, however, things have been reversed. Natasha, after a heart-to-heart with Clint Barton, is coming to terms with not always having the upper hand. Bruce, meanwhile, has been assured of his latent heroism (the security guard tells him lack of hurting anyone was due to “good aim”), and returned to the team. As they face down what looks to be certain doom, Cap looks to Bruce and says:

Steve Rogers: Doctor Banner, now might be a good time for you to get angry.
Bruce Banner: That's my secret, Captain: I'm always angry.

And then we know that Bruce has control over his Hulk and this time, when he transforms, it’s far less painful and far less wild than before. It’s not so much a curse as it is a blessing.

Now, control plays a role for the other Avengers too. Tony Stark and Steve Rogers both play opposite sides of a coin, first is impulsive, the other disciplined. Clint spends most of the movie under Loki’s thrall. Thor, perhaps, might be the one with little personal investment in control (though an argument could be made about his relationship with his brother being one that Loki uses to manipulate him). All this to say, control is obviously a major theme in The Avengers, but it’s in Natasha and Bruce that the conflict takes its clearest form.


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Not Another Peter Parker

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Feb 14 2015 · 200 views

Essays, Not Rants! 152: Not Another Peter Parker

I’ve had a relatively busy couple weeks, which means less time to see movies and play new games, so more yammering on about recent events (either that or wax on about Agent Carter again, but I’m waiting on that one.

So let’s talk about new news, comic book news. Namely, Spider-Man’s going to be part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as opposed to standing alone. Which is cool, because we’ll finally get to see Spidey swinging on the big screen while Iron Man and Cap stare disapprovingly. But then, a new Peter Parker’s being cast, thereby throwing out Andrew Garfield and giving us what’ll be the third live-action Peter Parker in barely twenty years. In other words, we’ve got ourselves another Spider-Man reboot.

Another!?

I really enjoyed Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker, more so than Tobey Maguire. He struck me as feeling more like a teenager, felt a bit more true to my idea of Pete. Then there’s the question as to why we even need a reboot in the first place. The original Amazing Spider-Man would have worked in fairly neatly with the MCU, and The Amazing Spider-Man 2, though a narrative train-wreck, hit a key moment of the Spidey mythos that could really deepen future installments. But fine, an all-new Spider-Man. Again.

I think some of my disappointment/frustration on this part stems from the fact that we’re getting another Peter Parker. I do wish Marvel had been willing to really shake things up. Why not have Miles Morales as Spider-Man? Sure, they’d have to play around with his backstory some, but it’d be really interesting to have someone else in the suit (and also because I still want to see Donald Glover as Spider-Man, even if he’s steadily outgrowing the role). We’d get a really new Spider-Man with a new inner-life and a new arc. And a little diversity doesn’t hurt once in a while. Granted, Peter has his, well, Parker-ness – but that’s been done. I want things to move on. Heck, at this point, why not really upend things and throw Spider-Gwen in, or even Mayday Parker or, heck, anyone but Peter Parker.

What’s especially bothersome, is that because of Spider-Man’s inclusion on the Marvel slate, Black Panther, Inhumans, and – most importantly – Captain Marvel have all had their release dates pushed back (And Thor: Ragnarok, but that’s not important at the moment). We’ve just had Marvel turn a bunch of no-name superheroes into megastars, and Ant-Man, another lesser-known hero, has a movie due out in a few months. It’s disappointing to see them take such a safe bet.

Now, yes, Spidey in the MCU is really cool. If they use him right, he can bring a new point of view to the series; he’s usually the kid, he’s a bit naive, and he’s not as mature as the other heroes of the MCU. Like Kamala Khan, the new Ms. Marvel who’s arguably the new Peter Parker of the comics. A movie about her would be a welcome addition.

But hey. Kevin Feige’s involved and he’s proven that he knows what he’s doing and Spider-Man brings with him characters like Jessica Drew and Venom, so that’s cool. I’m bummed that the new movie will be pushing back fresh faces and I do wish that if we had to have a new Spider-Man that it’d be someone else after under the cowl. But the movie’s not out yet, so who knows, maybe it’ll be really good.


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Keeping Pace

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Feb 07 2015 · 105 views

Essays, Not Rants! 151: Keeping Pace

I rant write a lot about genres and mediums. Discussing what’s considered art, or why science fiction is important. As I’ve said, a lot stories get dismissed simply because they take place in space or in the pages of a comic book.

Which is a bummer.

Especially considering the novel used to be held up as a lesser form. See, poetry used to be seen as being superior to the novel. Allen Tate, critic and generally important writer, thought that it was until Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary that the medium of the novel caught up. Not surpassed, mind you, caught up. It took a staggering amount of time, given that the novel came into being in 1008 or 1605 (depending on if you see The Tale of Genji or Don Quixote as the birth of the novel) and Madame Bovary wasn’t written until 1856. Way Tate sees it, most things written before then failed to measure up to the perfection of poetry. That means Gulliver’s Travels and Pride and Prejudice may have been good, but as a medium as a whole weren’t nearly good as a poem. The medium just wasn’t elevated enough.

These days novels are seen as being pretty darn artistic. Movies – the medium, if not all genres – too have grown up and are held up as another Paragon of Good Culture. These mediums are important, y’hear; a serious movie or book matters. Least that’s how it is now, anyway.

Right now, video games are to film as novels were to poetry in the days of Tate. Games are slowly catching up to film with regards to not just narrative, but also with technical prowess. Though supposedly still ignored by mainstream critics, gaming has been steadily getting better and better, with games like The Last of Us mining great emotional depths, BioShock: Infinite reconciling mechanics and story, and Papers Please showing off the potential of immersion. They’re becoming a medium, an art form, unto themselves. They are set apart from existing artistic mediums by the potential for audience involvement, like projection and empathy. Games are doing big things.

What’s interesting is that gaming started out so, well, basic. Spacewar! and Pong were hardly intended as the forerunners of gaming as we know it. They’ve long been seen as hobbies and ‘just’ games, like playing pretend or model making. So there’s a weird sort of pubescence that video games are going through as they go not from a pulpy form of storytelling, but from hobby to art form.

This is where comes the push back, because gaming is suddenly forced to confront the same literary criticism that other mediums are held up to. For so long gaming has been seen as simple amusement, that there’s almost a sort of culture shock as more critical lenses are applied to it. You don’t have to look hard on the internet to hear the cries of gamers who want games to be left out of this sort of scrutiny.

Literary criticism is incredibly important, especially in a nascent medium like video games. This can mean asking hard questions, like why are so many games about white men? Why are we usually fighting faceless, vaguely brown enemies? What is it with video games and portraying women as helpless sex objects? Seriously, what’s with all the white guys? There needs to be a discussion over topics like these and there needs to be a change in the way games handle these topics.

And in response, some games are becoming more self-aware. The new Tomb Raider eschews Lara’s previous sexualization for a characterization more befitting being a ‘female Indiana Jones’ and Spec Ops: The Line brutally destroyed the tropes of the military shooter. Moving things even further, Thomas Was Alone and Gone Home are modern games that don’t have you fighting enemies to progress, yet remain compelling games.

We need more of this. For games to really stand alongside film and books as not just legitimate, but accepted forms of storytelling there needs to be a conversation. It can’t just be independent developers making games that aren’t about violence and movies without white male protagonists shouldn’t be the exception. We’ve got a new medium here, one with great and new potential, it’s time we start treating it seriously.


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The New Western

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Jan 31 2015 · 122 views

Essays, Not Rants! 150: The New Western

The superhero genre – since it’s become a genre unto itself and not a subset of science-fiction or action – is really taking off, in case you haven’t noticed. Between Marvel Studios putting out two movies a year, DC’s big plans to do big things, and the companies Marvel sold characters to over the years trying to make good on their investments. It’s big.

Some articles I’ve read online have likened the superhero genre to the western. It sounds a touch farfetched at first; the western’s about cowboys and lawless towns, superhero flicks are about people in costumes and their derring-do.

But the western is also in some ways a morality play. You’ve got the good cowboy and the bad one, the white hat and black hat. Good versus evil. Same with the superhero genre. Dark and brooding as Batman is, he’s fighting for good. The X-Men want acceptance and coexistence, as opposed to the Brotherhood’s want to dominate. Robert McKee’s description of the western; “a mythical golden age for allegories of good versus evil,” works equally well for the superhero.

The western was immensely popular for a period of time, with some of the earliest movies ever made showing shades of the genre. These films, particularly the ones most remembered (which I’ve found out are considered revisionist westerns, as they deconstructed a lot of tropes of the westerns that came before), feature elements that can be reliably found across the board. You’ve got the desolate town on the edge of civilization and the duel at high noon, for example. There’re the themes of lawfulness and lawlessness and doing wrong to do the right thing. Conventions are expected.

Likewise, the superhero genre, now reliably bringing in millions of dollars at the box-office, is arguably the closest thing we’ve got to a sure thing. Until recently, the structure and set up of superhero movies were reliably similar to one another. You had the hero getting powers, the hero figuring out what to do with his (because face it, just about every lead in a superhero film has been male) newfound powers, rises to the mantle of his responsibility, then goes to fight the villain who’s often a byproduct of his own call to heroism. Usually, if we’re watching a superhero movie, be it Batman Begins or Iron Man, we know what we’re getting into – and we’re watching it for that.

There’s the argument that the western afforded greater flexibility. Simpler sets and lower budgets meant just about anyone could take a stab at it. With a great range of voices involved, the western offered diverse takes on the themes of the genre which allowed it to grow into the esteem it holds today. The western could be about someone audiences had never heard about and would still be engrossing.
But superhero movies need massive budgets for intricate special effects and they need the comic book source to do well. They’re tied to studios and the money they afford, strangling out creativity and voices in favor of rolling in the dough. Hence the formula.

…right?

See, here’s where I think the superhero genre’s moved forwards, maybe even more so than the western. And I’m not talking about the smaller, independent ones like Chronicle; I mean Marvel’s tentpoles and the like. Over the past few years, we’ve seen superhero films going past what we’re expecting from them. The Winter Soldier was more like a spy thriller than your usual superhero set up; The Dark Knight was a crime movie; and Thor has heavy shades of fantasy. They remain expensive, but the movies show thematic and stylistic variance.

Guardians of the Galaxy may be most emblematic of superhero movies going forwards. For starters, Star-Lord and the others were hardly household names when the film was announced. The majority of the film’s audience wasn’t going to the movie because of the recognition of the name. Then Guardians hardly followed the typical superhero plot, eschewing it instead for the space opera. So here’s a superhero movie that feels very much unlike a superhero movie, yet still is one. Why?

At its core, Guardians has that central theme of a superhero film: good versus evil, where the hero has to overcome their flaws to defeat the villain. At the end of the day, that’s the kernel of the genre. Unlike the western, however, superhero films have a lot more flexibility setting-wise with how to explore it.

So here we are, on the verge of several, several new superhero movies over the next few years, with a big concern being that we’re gonna grow tired of them really soon. But give the genres similarly to the western, the western’s staying power in its heyday, and the comparative flexibility of the superhero film; I’m thinking we’ll be alright.


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But What Is A Strong Female Protagonist?

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Jan 24 2015 · 240 views

Essays, Not Rants! 149: But What Is A Strong Female Protagonist?

I write a lot about strong female characters here, heck, it was my first post. It’s still something I really care about, seeing how often it pops up in my blog posts here. I’ve got a small list of characters I bring up often: Black Widow, Captain Marvel, Chloe Frazer, Katniss Everdeen, Zoë Washburne, etc.

Thing is, it’s easy to conflate the idea of a strong female characters with that of a woman who kicks butt. When we compare Katniss from The Hunger Games to Bella Swan from Twilight the former is clearly the stronger character. When asked why the easy answer is that she does stuff, herein taking charge and fighting. So does Captain Marvel. And Arya Stark.

We see this particularly in areas which already have a history of relegating women to the back burner, like video games or the action adventure genre. Damsels meant to be saved by strong men, the voice of reason, or to be relegated to being a person of support. Thus being promoted to action hero seems like quite the step up.

So comes the masculinization of women, where women are placed in male roles and can do everything a man can. The new question that comes with this is whether they’re losing depth because they’re becoming less of a woman. After all, they’re pushing for violence, a ‘masculine’ way of problem solving, instead of finding non-violent means of conflict-resolution, like manipulation. But assuming a strong female character must be good in combat is a flawed idea. Women – people – don’t have to go around kicking butt to be a strong character.

Take Zoë and Inara from Firefly, both arguably strong female characters. The former, Serenity’s tough-as-nails first mate, is awesome in the more masculine way. Inara, however, wielding diplomacy, is as strong without being masculinized. She’s strong on her own terms, kicking proverbial butt without having to carry a weapon.

So which portrayal is more feministic? Both masculinizing women and confining them to feminine traits run contrary to feminism since it genders a set of actions and traits. Is Zoë stronger since she’s nearly indistinguishable from a man? Or is it Inara, who fights in a more ‘feminine’ sphere.

So now what? Women are, surprise, people; people are, also surprise, different. And people do different things. To say that a man can succeed as a character in both action and drama genres but a woman only truly succeeds if she’s placed in a drama is a terrifyingly narrow view. If we want to advance the role of women in fiction, we can’t limit them to certain roles. We need women doing everything.

This is one of the reasons I love Game of Thrones. There’s a great deal of variety to the roles women play, and a lot of them are wonderfully well written. Ygritte the Wildling archer and Margaery the politicking queen-to-be are very different women and both great characters. Yet neither would work in the other’s roles; they’re strong on their own terms and in their own ways. You can’t discredit Margaery because she’s worming her way to the top of the political sphere because she’s not running around with a sword, likewise with Ygritte for being an archer rather than a politician. This show, known for the HBO-iness of its content, displays a great deal of nuance and variety with its women. Sure, some are problematic and shallow, but there remains the potential for a woman to be strong, no matter her position.

To return to the comparison of Zoë and Inara in Firefly, we need to accept both as strong women because choosing one over the other would confine the ways in which a female character could be strong. Kaylee, the mechanic, though she’s neither forceful nor a fighter, can hold her own and adds necessary element to the crew. Even River, who more often than not seems to fulfill the role of damsel, is fully realized and not just a shadowy archetype.

There is a danger in making all female characters masculine, but the same could be said of making all female characters the same kind of anything; we need women portrayed in every field. Soldiers, spies, engineers, doctors, and so on. A truly inclusive media should be just that: inclusive.


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I'm Complaining About The LEGO Movie Snub Too

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Jan 17 2015 · 214 views

Essays, Not Rants! 148: I'm Complaining About The LEGO Movie Snub Too

I’ve made it clear that I don’t really care for movie awards. Mostly because there’s a level of snobbery and predictability to them and also because, well, mostly because of the snobbery.

So naturally, like many people, I have great opinions on the stuff I don’t care about.

Like how this year’s acting nominations are blindingly whitewashed. Which, sure, happens, but is also incredibly indicative of culture as a whole and why movies like Big Hero 6 are important.

But something I found incredibly glaring – and also feel more qualified to talk about – is The LEGO Movie’s lack of a nomination in the animation department. It got Best Original Song and that’s it. This is a problem.

Now, I like the other nominations that I’ve seen (and have been meaning to find a way to watch Song of the Sea); Big Hero 6 is great, How To Train Your Dragon 2 is important, period, and The Boxtrolls is stop-motion which is always great to see. But The Lego Movie, as I’ll say again and again, is absolutely wonderful.

The LEGO Movie is an odd film to be sure. It’s something that could easily be a toy commercial, what with it being all about LEGO. There was a ready made audience for it, all the crew had to do was poop out a half-decent plot and go home to their paychecks. Only they didn’t. But The LEGO Movie isn’t just an animated with a great story, no they made a great story that plays with not only the fact that it’s a movie about LEGOs, but with the genre of adventure movies as a whole.

But it’s not snobby about it. There’s no mockery from The LEGO Movie. Rather it, very much like The Princess Bride, wholeheartedly embraces it knowing and even poking at its flaws. And also like The Princess Bride, there’s no cynicism to it. The film doesn’t embrace the idea that a deconstruction must be brooding, nor does it laugh at the genre it plays, ruthlessly mocking it. RatherThe LEGO Movie is filled with an unbridled love and passion for not just the toy but the genre the story plays out in. It starts a deep consciousness of what makes adventure stories tick – the call to adventure, the idea of being a chosen one, the quest into the villain’s fortress, and so on — then the film turns it up to eleven. There’s no subtlety to its narrative structure, it know what it is and runs with it.

So there’s a great grasp of storytelling from directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, same could be said about the folks behind The Boxtrolls and How To Train Your Dragon 2. What really setsThe LEGO Movie apart is its balance of a breakneck, almost psychedelic pace with its knowing of when to slow down. The film could be all fluff, all a great adventure with nothing deeper to it – and it seems that way with its bright visuals and hyperactivity – but they lay off the gas pedal at the climax. The movie is able to breathe and we’re held in this twist that has us rethinking the entire movie prior, but also lends a new deal of emotional weight to it.Yet it’s a beat that doesn’t feel out of place, it’s not something simply tacked on for the drama.

The LEGO Movie did something different. It’s a movie about originality that, for once, is actually very original. It merges Saturday morning cartoons’ visuals with a mastery of plotting and the ability to throw emotional post-modern curveballs. It’s rare that a movie – animated or not – even tries to do this, let alone pulls it off so spectacularly.

It’s all this that means The LEGO Movie should have gotten an Oscar nomination, it didn’t just tell an (animated) story well, it told it with more heart and gusto than a lot of stories do. But again, what makes this movie so great is that it marries its enthusiasm with impeccable craft. One without the other, or with any less of any of its parts, would be a lesser film. Seriously, everything about this movie is awesome. Would have been nice for there to be some recognition.


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You Should Really Watch Agent Carter

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Jan 10 2015 · 136 views

Essays, Not Rants! 147: You Should Really Watch Agent Carter

Peggy Carter was an unexpectedly great part of Captain America: The First Avenger. Beyond being a woman in an otherwise very male-dominated cast, she held her own and served an important role in the progression of the story’s arc. Then a One-Shot on Iron Man 3’s BluRay had her tackling sexism and bad guys in a post-World War II setting. All the while there was talk of a tv show happening, and then it was planned, and then this past Tuesday the first two episodes aired. And they were fantastic. As in better than the entire first season of Agents of SHIELD and gives the second a good run for its money. I haven’t had this much fun in a long time.

A good deal of this is due to how well it captures the spirit of the Marvel movies proper, just in tv format. It makes sense too, the writers of The First Avenger and The Winter Soldier wrote the pilot and the second episode was directed by one of the brothers who did The Winter Soldier. There’s the now-familiar mix of high adventure with some quieter moments and the ability to get quite dark without getting oppressive.

But where Agent Carter really stands out against similar pulpy shows is in its feminist slant. Like Parks and Recreation, however, it’s not preachy or overly idealized; instead it feels grounded and almost natural. Peggy Carter’s outlook, like Leslie Knope’s, makes sense for the character. As part of Captain America’s crew, she was used to being judged by the merits of her work and being allowed to take part in missions; now in an office she’s been put into the position of a glorified secretary, her previous exploits dismissed as being because of her relationship with Captain America. She has an understandable frustration that colors her actions and immediately puts the audience in her corner as she navigates a male-dominated world.

Here it’d be easy to make her a character of retro-active wish-fulfillment, where she merrily wades true the sexism of the 1940s, men cowering before her and women idolizing her. Rather we see her navigate the system, using it to her advantage when she can while still resisting it along the way. The show presents Peggy as a person of two worlds, those stereotypically of women and men. Enjoyably, Peggy is shown to be a master of both.

Take a scene about halfway through the first episode (which I’m going to spoil for you if you haven’t seen it yet [which you really should]). Having just returned from getting a bomb from a bad guy’s swing club, Peggy, in a fancy and decidedly feminine dress, now has to defuse it. She grabs a collection of household items and ingredients and takes it to the bathroom where she creates a mixture that she then puts into a perfume bottle. She uses a perfume bottle and kitchen supplies, as both things typically seen as ‘feminine,’ to defuse a bomb, an action comparatively very ‘masculine.’ Once done, Peggy reaches for the unused glass and bottle of bourbon she grabbed to pour herself a glass – something that would be called unladylike. Immediately after a villain breaks into her home and murders her roommate and fights Peggy. Peggy fights back and a vicious brawl ensues, which is, again, considered a much more ‘masculine’ thing. What’s really fun is that the fight takes place at home, a supposedly feminine sphere, and she uses elements of it – such as a fridge and stove top – to her advantage. The show plays with gender norms, mixing up the interplay of the feminine and masculine in the backdrop of the 1940s, against which the gender divide is heightened. After the fight, though, Peggy, in a stark contrast to the typical action movie hero, cries for her friend. However, it’s not seen as weak – we’ve just seen her defuse a bomb and throw a bad guy out her window! – rather it humanizes her, reminds us that she’s not all-powerful.

Of course, Agent Carter takes its liberty with the depiction of society of the time. Somethings probably wouldn’t fly and some others would be much harder. But rather the show uses its setting to play up the tension of its protagonist. These elements create a truly great show that works across the board, during both set pieces like infiltrating a factory and smaller moments like two women talking in a diner.

I recommend things a lot on this blog, but I cannot praise Agent Carter enough. Though were only in the very beginning, it’s a solid show that’s a crazy amount of fun. Give it a shot, trust me, you won’t regret it.


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Concerning Hobbits

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Jan 03 2015 · 185 views

Essays, Not Rants! 146: Concerning Hobbits

I finally saw The Desolation of Smaug Thursday night, and with that out of the way saw Five Armies yesterday. So it’s time to talk about them as a whole, since the trilogy’s so interconnected you’d think they were supposed to just be two movies and not three.

But first, it has to be said that what the movies do well, they do well. Any scene with Smaug is wonderful; he looks great and Benedict Cumberbatch turns in a fantastic performance. The bits incorporated from the appendices, particularly the White Council’s assault on Dol Guldur, work well. Then there are a handful of scenes with Thorin, Bard, and the other major players that echo the drama of The Lord of the Rings. Lastly, Bilbo, of course, is terrific.

Which makes me wish we had more of him in his movie. There’s a protagonist shift during the trilogy and by Five Armies Thorin has taken over from Bilbo, who’s fighting a losing battle for the role of deuteragonist against Bard and — of all characters — Legolas. This causes a change in the narrative, from it being about a Hobbit stepping out into a larger world and instead one more heavily focused on politicking and warfare. In doing so the film loses a lot of the book’s heart.

Accentuating the divide is that many of the films’ additions do nothing don’t help. Much of the changes made to The Lord of the Rings added; Faramir’s temptation and Aragorn’s self-doubt accentuated the questions of choices and hope, for example. But in The Hobbit they bog the film down.

Tauriel is particularly frustrating. On the one hand, a female character is a welcome addition to the film, yet she’s a narratively unnecessary. A voice of dissent among the elves could easily be conveyed through Legolas (in his odd being of a main character rather than cameo), leaving her in the tired position of a love interest. This already troubling scenario is exacerbated by her being thrust into the center of a lackluster love shape that is sometimes, albeit inconsistently, a triangle. All this contributes to her feeling like a straggler, just there to add some romantic drama while engaging in ridiculous Jedi-esque combat alongside Legolas.

Some of these problems can be attributed to the decision to split the film into three parts, reshoots for which included adding in the love triangle. But most noticeable is the weirdness it gives the pacing. The meeting with Beorn is a short, but strong moment, one that would feel the right length were it part of a single film or even in a duology. But as part of a trilogy as inseparable as this (compare it to Rings, where each movie felt whole on its own), it feels like a blip that’s easily forgotten. This isn’t a major problem with a part like Beorn, but it’s when the same issue applies to Thorin’s growing greed that it becomes particularly painful. Not enough of the three films’ collective runtime is spent with Thorin’s madness. It feels so sudden given all the time it takes to reach it, and his redemption too comes too quickly. It feels like more time is spent on the battle (which is a short blip in the book) than Thorin’s personal conflict. Again, time is relative, and when a story stretches out as long as this, there needed to be more time given to moments like these. The story couldn’t breathe. Too much was happening too quickly, too much of which added nothing to the central narrative.
The Hobbit is not a complex book. Even when Gandalf’s adventures are added in, it’s still a straightforward enough story about adventure and avarice. The films are best when they keep to that, and worst when they stray. I’m looking forward to the inevitable fan-cut where it’s turned into a single film or duology; all the fat excised to leave the core of the story on full display.






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josh

twenty-four


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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