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Computer-Mediated Communi-what now?

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! May 10 2014 · 192 views

Essays, Not Rants! 112: Computer-mediated Communi-what now?
 
Being a big fan of his other stuff, I saw Jon Favreau’s Chef last night. It’s a wonderful movie full of heart and food porn. Seriously. That movie will make you hungry. Really hungry.
 
It’s remarkable for more than just salacious shots of food, though. There’s the fun character dynamics and the great soundtrack. There’s the fact that it avoids the obnoxious Bad Thing Before the Third Act that’s so commonplace in comedies and other films like Chef. But what I wanna talk about is its use of social media.
 
Oh boy, there’s that buzzword.
 
Social media and other forms of computer-mediated communication, as it’s known in Conversation Analysis (which is a thing, and I’m taking a class on it), are becoming more and more common. Heck, you’re probably reading this ‘cuz I posted the link on my Facebook or Twitter.
 
In Chef, the protagonist, Carl Casper, sets up a Twitter account and gets involved in a flamewar with a critic. It’s delightful to watch because of how it’s presented: we see an overlay of the Tweet box which, when sent, becomes a small blue bird that flies off screen. But what’s really great is that it’s treated not as a fad or something insignificant, but rather as a legitimate means of communication. In the world of Chef, just as in the real world, Twitter (along with texting, Vine, and Facebook) is a perfectly normal way of interacting with other people (and drumming up noise about your awesome new food truck).
 
The TV show Sherlock and the film Non-Stop both use an overlay effect for texting and present it as a normal means of conversation. Non-Stop uses its potential anonymity and discreetness to hide the identity of the hijacker and to build tension, but it never feels like a gimmick. Characters in Sherlock, well, mostly John, will get texts during conversations. As viewers we now get to watch the all too familiar tension that comes from being stuck in one conversation when there’s another waiting in the wings. Wonderfully, Sherlock also treats texting as something people do. It’s as commonplace as phone calls and given equal weight.
 
Texting is showing up in books too. The Fault in Our Stars has Hazel and Gus texting each other. Like in the other examples, it’s treated as a normal part of life. People text to talk. It’s a thing. The Fault in Our Stars has a very, well, contemporary, attitude to texting. It’s not a Big Deal or even some magical piece of New Technology or a sign of Declining Sociality; instead it’s downright normal. It’s not trite, it’s just a part of life. You don’t have to call someone, you can text them instead — which is often more convenient.
 
What sets these examples apart is how well integrated they are. A lot of shows and movies either ignore the presence of cell-phones or only use them on occasion. It’s seldom to see texting and social media as integrated into a story as in Chef, Sherlock, and The Fault in Our Stars.
 
The world’s changing. Computer-mediated communication is becoming really commonplace. Not only that, but it’s steadily being scholarly accepted as a legitimate form of communication (seriously, I read a paper on gossip in instant messaging). Yet pop-culture has been oddly slow on the upkeep. There aren’t many shows like Community where everyone’s digital lives are presented as normal, including Jeff’s constant texting and Troy’s Clive Owen Tumblr. Granted, it can be a slow or overwrought way of communicating exposition, but it can be done well and, as in Chef, it can be visually interesting. I want to see more movies, shows, and books like this; where computer-mediated communication isn’t necessarily nerdy or reclusive, where a Vine and Facebook can be a bonding moment between a father and son.
 
Because hey, this is the world we live in.


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A Narrative Is A Train

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! May 03 2014 · 96 views

Essays, Not Rants! 111: A Narrative Is A Train
 
So I saw The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Though the final act is excellent, the film as a whole tends to stumble where the prior movie succeeded. Why? It lacked a central through line to follow. See, the first Amazing Spider-Man had a core theme: Who is Peter Parker/Spider-Man? Every thread in the story’s web (ba-dum tish) comes out from that; his tension with Uncle Ben is a question of identity, the conflict with Curt Conners is Peter looking for his father, his romance with Gwen Stacy is him coming into his own. It all served the central question.
 
I was told by a professor to think of a film’s narrative as a train. The plot is the engine, the driving force of the story. The subplots are the carriages that make the whole thing worthwhile. A plot is hollow without subplots to give it weight, and subplots don’t really do anything without a plot. They need both, and they have to work together.
 
Let’s look at The Avengers, a movie with no less than eight central characters that could easily have gone wrong. What’s the central through line/plot/train engine? What to do with Loki. Each character’s conflict emerges from that question. The tension between Iron Man and Captain America, for example, is their disagreement over how to deal with Loki’s threat. All the other bits — betrayal return, Nick Fury’s disagreement with the World Security Council, the highlighting of Black Widow’s red in her ledger, and so on — never feel tangential to the story since they’re rooted firmly in the central plot. This means that the film is free to explore character’s motivations and relationships without bogging the story down. The film still feels like a cohesive whole.
 
But back to Spider-Man.
 
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is, sadly, not as strong as its predecessor. It’s threads are all over the place. We have the subplot of who really were Peter’s parents that’s so peripheral it’s on a train unto itself. The main villain this time ‘round, Electro, doesn't have a plot nearly as intertwined with Peter’s story as the bad-guy, Curt Conners, in the 2012 film (or Norman Osborne and Doc Ock in Sam Raimi’s 2002 and 2004 films). Even when Peter and Electro’s plots interact, it ends up giving Peter a whole ‘nother plot to follow, especially when complicated with Harry’s involvement. Meanwhile, his relationship with Gwen — and the question with where it stands — is its own plot.
 
Here we have Peter, our protagonist, following four plots that don’t really have any bearing on each other most of the time: who were his parents; should he help Harry; the Electro situation; and working on his relationship with Gwen. The reason these are all plots (and not subplots) is because they’re all on different tracks. There lacks a central train pulling them all together. As such, it feels discordant.
 
Something else I was told, by the same professor, is to always give solutions when finding flaws. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 needed a through line. Maybe it could be Peter and Gwen’s evolving relationship. Better yet, why not the question of why is Peter special? Electro is mad that Spidey gets all the attention, that he’s the only special one. Harry wants to know what makes Spider-Man special, why he survived being bitten by the radioactive spider. Gwen wants to help Peter, that he doesn’t have to bear it all alone (and her choice matters too). Peter, meanwhile is trying to balance all the responsibilities that come with his specialness. There we have four subplots that all follow the main one and the central narrative becomes much stronger. Four carriages on the same train on the same track.
 
Don’t get me wrong, I still liked The Amazing Spider-Man 2. I don’t think it was as strong as the first one (which my brother vehemently disagrees with me on), but I do think it felt very Spider-Manish. As someone who grew up on the cartoons and video games, recently began reading the comics, it felt right. Spider-Man quipped, which is important; New York was there (Union Square! The Highline!); and there was a Marc Webb Musical Moment™. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 may be a messy movie, but it’s a wonderful mess.
 
And the final act is brilliantly done.


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Of Ludonarrative Dissonance

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Apr 26 2014 · 135 views

Essays, Not Rants! 110: Of Ludonarrative Dissonance
 
I say again and again on this blog that video games are a truly unique medium especially when it comes to storytelling. Thing is, storytelling in games is inherently weird. What you do in the game doesn’t always quite line up with the narrative it’s telling. Clint Hocking dubbed it ludonarrative dissonance, TV Tropes calls it Gameplay and Story Segregation.
 
As narratives in gaming become more complex, this dissonance becomes steadily more pronounced. Much of Among Thieves, the second Uncharted game, has Nathan Drake chasing after war-criminal Zoran Lazarevic (and Shambala too). Drake, the wise cracking treasure hunter, is the clear good guy since, well, Lazarevic is a war criminal. At least that’s what the narrative says. During gameplay the player will wind up shooting quite a few bad guys. And by quite a few I mean easily a couple hundred. See, Among Thieves is an action-adventure game and, like many games in its genre, a frequent obstacle for players comes in the form of enemies. There’s some platforming, some puzzles, and several bouts of shooting. It’s fun, but it does make it weird to have Drake calling Lazarevic out on him being a ruthless killer at the end. To the game’s credit, Lazarevic responds by calling Drake out on it too. But that’s not much, seeing as Drake’s, y’know, mowed through a small army.
 
There’s a lot of writing on this, actually, a quick google of “Uncharted body count” brings up as much. I always justified it for the most part by using the cutscenes as the actual story and the gameplay bits as more gamey bits. When Nate, Lazarevic, and the others prepare to enter Shambala there are only a handful of henchmen in the cutscene, despite the several dozen you encounter in firefights. The gameplay and story are segregated. Is it a perfect solution? No, not at all. Is Among Thieves still a phenomenal game? Yes, but the argument is no less valid.
 
Some people feel that this dissonance is a big problem with stories in games. Way they figure, for a game to really tell a good story, gameplay should be story and vice-versa. An open world game, like Skyrim, attempts to reconcile all this by giving the player a ridiculous amount of freedom in their actions. Though there is a main story, the player is under no rush to complete it and can even ignore if they wish. Skyrim becomes a sort of choose-your-own-adventure story, wherein you tell your own story through your actions.
 
Journey takes the opposite route. In the award-winning independent game, the player can only do a few things (jump/glide, move, and chirp; compared to jump, move, roll, climb, shoot, hit, etc in Among Theives) and follows a very linear path. The story is simple, but incredibly heartfelt. The simplicity of the narrative and gameplay allows for little ludonarrative dissonance. It works, but it just doesn’t have the depth that Among Thieves has.
 
So what’s the solution? There are some who say that video games are simply ill-equipped to tell stories at the present (I believe Johnathan Blow said something to the effect of to truly reconcile gameplay and story we’d need an incredible AI to be able to adapt to player input much the way a Dungeon Master would in tabletop). Steve Gaynor, who did Gone Home, thinks that one of the most unique ways games can tell stories is through the environments. Exploring a virtual space can be a story in its own way.
 
I think ludonarrative dissonance is something that has to be accepted. Among Thieves would be a very different game were it have only a few firefights. They have to be accepted as part of the game. Furthermore, to remove the game’s linearity (something that does come up) would wreck the finely crafted narrative. Games are, and I say this a bunch, a very nascent medium. Designers and players are finding new ways to tell stories and hear them told, be they procedural like Among Thieves and Journey or emergent like in Skyrim and The Sims. Unlike much of film, tv, and books, wherein the strength of the work is primarily found in the story; games are not beholden to it: Pacman and The Last of Us are both great games, one has no plot and the former has one that rivals — and beats — what you see in theaters. Video games allow for works all over the ludonarrative dissonance scale; what’s wonderful is that they can be good no matter where they fall.


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For Want of a Glass of Water

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Apr 19 2014 · 115 views

Essays, Not Rants! 109: For Want of a Glass of Water
 
Kurt Vonnegut once said, “every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.” This piece of advice functions as a very simple and straightforward way to ensure a character has some semblance of depth.
 
What's important about a goal? A goal gives a character purpose and gives an audience a reason to invest. In Star Wars, Luke wants to leave Tatooine. In How I Met Your Mother, Ted wanted to meet the mother (or at least we thought he did). In Pirates of the Caribbean, Jack Sparrow wants his ship back. As viewers, we want characters to want something. It’s dull if a character just exists with no want (i.e. Ted for many of the later seasons of Mother). Chuck begins with a very complacent Chuck who’s just floating through life. Receiving the Intersect gives him a purpose too.
 
Characters then have to do something about it. Solid Snake crawls trough a microwave chamber in Metal Gear Solid 4 to stop the Patriots. Katniss famously volunteers as tribute. Taking a proactive role about their goals is what separates Katniss from Bella Swan. The former may want Edward and/or Jacob, but she just sits around; Katniss actively fights for not only her life, but for those of her friends. It’s not enough for a character to have a goal, they have to do something about it. Jack Sparrow spending two hours talking about how much he wants the Black Pearl would be a terribly boring movie.
 
Those are the fundamentals of having a potentially interesting character. Following that we need conflict. There has to be something stopping the character from getting what they want. Harry wants to be a wizard with the sense of family and acceptance it entails, Voldemort wants him dead. That conflict of interest fills seven books. This so called ‘external conflict’ as your High School English teacher called it can be far more subtle. In The Last of Us, Joel’s goal becomes to protect Ellie whereas her goal is to make her life count. For the most part the goals don’t interfere, but when they do we get some magnificent, quiet drama.
 
Additionally, having the protagonist conflicted makes them that much more interesting as we get to watch them change or resist it. Columbus in Zombieland already has the zombies interfering with his goal of staying alive. His emergent want to win Wichita’s heart, though, also screws with his sense of self-preservation. Suddenly, Columbus has to make a choice: what does he value more, his life or Wichita? A conflict like this forces the character to change. Columbus has always been a wimp, someone who’d rather cower than take action. His interactions with Wichita force him to nut up and grow.
 
But what if she doesn’t get the water? Sometimes the most interesting thing to happen in a story is for the character to not achieve their goal. Tom’s goal in (500) Days of Summer is to win Summer’s heart, then to stay with Summer, and then to win her back. It’s his proverbial glass of water and what the film centers on. Tom, however, doesn’t end up with Summer. The complete destruction of his goal forces him to reassess everything and, eventually, gets him back on track to doing what he wants in life. Losing the goal he thinks he wanted reveals what he really wanted. Like a conflicted desire, it gives added layers to his character.
 
Conversely, achieving a goal may crush the character. Zero Dark Thirty ends with Bin Laden dead and Maya Lambert successful. She’s achieved her goal, but her goal was all consuming. The film leaves her suddenly aimless and without purpose, adding a sense of somber hollowness to it all. Just as giving a desultory character a goal yields interest, so does robbing a purposeful character of hers.
 
Wants and goals fuel stories. Look at Game of Thrones, everyone wants something, almost always at the expense of someone else. These goals breed conflict and add depth to characters. Just make it more than a glass of water.


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Interconnected

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Apr 12 2014 · 134 views

Essays, Not Rants! 108: Interconnected
 
I’ve been waiting for Agents of SHIELD to really get into its groove proper. It finally did last week, courtesy of some major plot points from Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
 
Which is kinda odd, really. A feature film bearing a different name affecting a TV show that much. I mean, it makes sense within the universe they’re creating, but from a meta perspective, it’s terribly uncommon.
 
And that’s one thing I love about the stories Marvel Studios’ been telling. They’re all connected. This was a gamble. Back in 2008 when Iron Man came out and Nick Fury mentioned the Avengers Initiative, Marvel was asking audiences to wait a few years and watch a few seeming unrelated movies in hope of a big team up coming out later. It could have failed, some of the movies could have sucked, but they took the risk to try and build their cinematic universe.
 
Seeing as The Avengers made what businesspeople call a ‘crapload of money,’ it paid off. Not only that, but it was a legitimately awesome film. Best of all, it stood alone. You didn’t have to have seen any or all of Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, or Captain America: The First Avenger to get it. Sure, watching those movies helped, but it was great on it’s own. Each Avenger was quickly and succinctly introduced enough for a new viewer to get what was happening.
 
Every Marvel movie works that way. Someone can see The Winter Soldier on its own, or after having only also seen The First Avenger, or seen all the films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe chronology as well as Agents of SHIELD and enjoy it. There’s a decided effort for each film to be able to stand on its own and yet play with the others around it. They compliment each other but are not dependent on the others. It’s a fun sort of storytelling; you follow a group of independent characters and then see them all in a big event, then see them apart again.
 
Marvel’s asking viewers to embrace a sort of storytelling not really seen in film (or TV, really). Outside of the occasional Alien VS Predator, having independent franchises team up like what happened in The Avengers just doesn’t happen. Though it does in the comics. Their Guardians of the Galaxy title may intersect with the Avengers title, but you don't have to be following both to understand what's going on. Does it help? Sure, but it's not a requirement.
 
Consider the last episode of Agents of SHIELD, "Turn, Turn, Turn." What happened in The Winter Soldier directly affects the show in a massive game changing sort of way. Like in the comics, they’re weaved together to stand alone but also enhance each other. “Turn, Turn, Turn” offers a different perspective on what happened in The Winter Soldier and the film shows the big picture of the events in the show.
 
This also makes great business sense. See, Marvel’s smart; they know that not everyone will watch every one of their movies. It’s to their benefit for every film to be as stand alone as they are. It allows them to remain accessible to anyone. Winter Soldier deftly sets up Steve Rogers as being a man out of time who feels a bit lost in a way that doesn’t feel obtrusive to someone who’s seen the prior movies, yet so that someone new can follow what’s going on. It plain works. Add in the fun of getting more understanding the crossovers and Marvel’s market expands.
 
I’m so glad Marvel managed to pull this off. Things like seeing Bruce Banner at the end of Iron Man 3, references to Stark tech in The Winter Soldier, and Sif showing up in Agents of SHIELD remind me of the Iron Man and Spider-Man cartoons I’d watch as a kid where anyone could and would show up. Somehow, Marvel did it: they made a cohesive cinematic universe. Now I really wanna see what happens next in that world.


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Mother Met

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Apr 05 2014 · 115 views

Essays, Not Rants! 107: Mother Met
 
I wasn’t a fan of the How I Met Your Mother finale that aired on Monday. Now, I usually like finales; I love the ending of Lost and I do like how Chuck ended. Though both are controversial in their own right, they felt emotionally honest and true to the show. The problem with How I Met Your Mother’s “Last Forever” was that for what it was trying to do, it felt unearned.
 
And if you haven’t seen it yet: SPOILERS
 
My main complaint is, of course, Ted and Robin getting together at the very end. Why is this such a big issue? Because it undoes a season’s worth of work. That’s the primary problem with the finale: it backtracks. What’ve we spent most of the past season doing? Just about every episode’s pursued either a ‘Ted-gets-over-Robin-so-he-can-meet-the-eponymous-mother’ or ‘Barney-and-Robin-get-over-issues-and-recommit-to-each-other’ plot in some form or another. The penultimate episode (finally) wrapped up both arcs; Ted was over Robin, Barney and Robin were married.
 
Undoing the latter within the first fifteen-odd minutes of the finale and undo the former in the last three not only feels cheap but doesn’t mesh well with, y’know, everything else. It feels like a gut punch to anyone who spent those hours with the show.
 
Sure, people get divorced in real life, but the issues with Barney and Robin is, again, the year we spent confirming that they should be together, only to see a single fight a couple years in the future that led to them deciding they shouldn’t be together. It was handled so abruptly that it’s unmerited. If they were to pursue this route, they would have to spend more time on it. It’d been such a long time coming; both Barney and Robin had to get over commitment issues over the years to get here. To have it undone so quickly was a shame.
 
With that, How I Met Your Mother has been a show that lets its characters change. Barney spent the past couple seasons leaving his womanizing ways. It was a huge change for one of the pillars of the show, but it worked. Though him regressing post-Robin does show signs of rock bottom, it feels like a huge slap to the face of the last couple years (and 31’s baby, though sweet, also feels shoehorned and raises additional questions [does he have custody, is he settling down with 31, etc])
 
Finally, the mother. My biggest concern with the finale (and this season) was that we wouldn’t be sold on her relationship with Ted, wouldn’t get that catharsis. And with so much of the finale spending time with the other couples (despite both being pretty much wrapped up in the prior episode), I felt like we were running out of time. But the scene under the umbrella where they meet (Tracy!) was wonderful and the train moving past would have made the perfect ending. Because right then, I was sold on the mother. Even if she died, it’d make for a pleasant, bittersweet ending.
 
To have it end with Ted going after Robin, though, made the mother seem like an obstacle along his way to Robin. Suddenly the mother didn’t matter. And that felt dishonest, that felt untrue to the Ted from the beginning and the Ted we got to know. It happened too quickly (though it was six years in the plot, it was barely a cut for us) to feel earned. It felt cheap, and made the show feel cheap.
 
All that said, I have the utmost respect for Carter Bays and Craig Thomas. They shot the bit with the kids nearly a decade ago and stuck with it (though editing could have changed the ending); they stuck with their original idea through it all. They stuck to their guns and told the ending they’d wanted to tell all along. I do think they got screwed by the network, though in basically the opposite way that Firefly did: the show went on too long. I feel like the twist would have worked better three or four (or even more) years ago, or even if they hadn’t built up Tracy so much. But still, to pull a twist that big on this sort of show? That takes stones.
 
I guess your reaction to this ending depends on why you’re watching it. To call back to Lost for a second, I watched it for the characters, not the mysteries, and loved the finale. With How I Met Your Mother, I watched it because I wanted to see Ted meet the mother. I guess if your investment was anywhere but there, the ending would have landed better.
 
In any case, I would have been alright with the finale were it not for those last three minutes. For me, it ended with the train.


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About That Noah Movie

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Mar 29 2014 · 102 views

Essays, Not Rants! 106: About That Noah Movie
 
So. Noah. That new Darren Aronofsky movie. Let’s talk about it.
 
It’s an adaption, obviously. And it hits all the main beats of the biblical narrative. Noah’s told to build an ark, he builds an ark, animals, dove with the olive branch, landfall, the wine incident we don’t talk about at church, and the rainbow. That’s all there.
 
What Aronofsky and crew do is build on that, and for good reason. The account in the Bible is short and not terribly cinematic. Noah, too, is a terribly uninteresting character. He builds the ark and all that happens. There’s little explicit characterization in the Bible. Noah asks how someone copes with being told that the earth will be destroyed; how someone lives with being told that YOU are one tasked with saving the innocent; how someone deals with the notion that God is displeased enough with mankind to wipe them from the face of the earth. How does someone take this?
 
To that, Noah is presented as a sort of a proto-superhero. Like any superhero, he’s given a a purpose and an exceptional means with which to do it (in lieu of a Batmobile he builds an ark). Also like many recent superheroes, though, Noah is grounded and made very human. Which is cool because biblically he’s, y’know, human. Aronofsky’s answer to those questions listed in the prior paragraph is a man who comes to embody the concept of justice.
 
And here is where the film is strongest. Noah deconstructs the role of justice in society. What’s fair? What do people deserve? How far must Noah go to carry out what he believes to be God’s will? Noah wrestles with the interplay of justice and mercy, something amplified by the whole flood thing. We see justice in the judgment of the flood, mercy in the ark. Then with all that we see the effect of embodying the concept of justice on a person.
 
So is Noah a perfect movie? By no means, no. The pacing’s a little off and it drags at times. I’m not a huge fan of the presentation of the opening, but it serves its purpose. Some other bits here and there don’t quite work, a certain external conflict in the third act feels unnecessary and distracts from the justice/mercy dichotomy. That said, the movie succeeds for what it is, and what’s cool is that it explores ideas of the biblical Noah story that most adaptions don’t.
 
This is where Aronofsky as director really comes in to play. Noah isn’t what you’d call a ‘Christian movie‘ — and all the better for it. Noah here isn’t held up as being some perfect saintly hero, instead he’s treated as a very human character, allowing for an interesting story. More importantly, unlike many ‘Christian movies,’ Noah didn’t seem like it was trying to sell me something. It didn’t feel like a propaganda tract, instead it was an honest story about justice, mercy, and love.
 
Noah is an adaption of a very familiar story in a very different way. It’s different and mildly surreal (as you’d expect a movie by the director of Black Swan to be). As a whole, Noah isn’t one of the best movie of 2014 thus far (that’d be The Lego Movie), but it is a successful adaption of the Noah story.


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Nerd Culture, The Big Bang Theory, and Chuck

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Mar 22 2014 · 205 views

Essays, Not Rants! 105: Nerd Culture,The Big Bang Theory, and Chuck
 
I stopped watching The Big Bang Theory a couple years ago. Part of the reason was because I was growing tired of it, other part was I simply couldn’t be bothered to keep up with it. For a class, though, I have to write a scene for The Big Bang Theory. This means watching episodes of the show to get a hold of the rhythm and voices of the show.
 
I started watching Big Bang during its second season and enjoyed it for what it was; a sitcom about a bunch of nerds. I got the references they threw around, had or wanted some of the memorabilia in their rooms, and remembered when that Rebellion poster in Leonard’s room was announced. This show speaks my language.
 
So did Chuck, another show I began watching around the same time, although it spoke it differently than Big Bang did. In Chuck the nerd shout outs came as frequently and as accurately as in Big Bang, but in this show they felt more a part of the plot. Maybe it’d be meta gags like an entire episode following the structure of Die Hard or guest stars quoting characters they’d played in Terminator or Firefly. Other times the show would work it into the story: Chuck and Bryce speaking Klingon so they won’t be understood or Casey telling Morgan there are only three Indiana Jones movies. Chuck used nerd culture to enhance the story, partially because the protagonist himself is a nerd, partially because it’s that sort of show.
 
The protagonists of Big Bang are caricatures more than characters; Sheldon the insufferable genius, Raj the funny foreigner, Penny the clueless blonde, and so on. The entire premise of the show stems from their nerdiness and inability to mesh with the ‘real’ world.
 
Chuck of the eponymous show, is a far more rounded character. Yes, we’re told he can quote Wrath of Khan word for word and he does employ the Wookie prisoner trick on a mission, but it’s all part of who he is rather than who he is.The show’s about a normal, nerdy guy who gets brought into a world of spies and intrigue, and sometimes it’s his nerdiness that saves the day, other times it can be his sheer gumption. Chuck’s identity goes beyond his nerdy traits.

This yields different treatments of the characters and their nerdiness. Take gaming as an example. Rock Band is played for laughs in Big Bang, whereas Chuck brokenheartedly playing Guitar Hero while drinking whiskey leads to one of Season 3’s most heartfelt moments. Halo Night in Big Bang is often used as a gag or an opportunity to show how unchanging Sheldon is, even if the other guys would rather be doing something else. Early in Chuck’s first season, Chuck and Morgan are discussing something while playing Halo. The former presents Halo as being a gag in and of itself, whereas Chuck presents it as just something guys do.
 
And there’s the central conceit of the nerdy humor in The Big Bang Theory: It’s funny because they’re nerds. The characters playing Dungeons and Dragons or reading comics is funny in and of itself, not because of anything they do with it.
 
Compare Community, which just aired their second Dungeons and Dragon episode. Once again it features the characters playing a relatively realistic game of D&D. It’s funny, not because they’re playing D&D, but because of what they bring to it. Hickey using his ex-cop interrogation techniques on a hobgoblin or Dean Pelton’s overcommitment to his character’s relationship with his father. It wasn’t funny because they were playing D&D, but what they did while playing it.
 
Now, Chuck ended in early 2012 and I stopped watching Big Bang shortly after. In the years since I started watching these shows nerd culture has, as a whole, become far more mainstream. The Avengers happened, superhero movies are topping the box office, suddenly it seems like everyone’s watching shows like Game of Thrones or Doctor Who. Nerd culture and pop culture are overlapping more and more. Big Bang is steadily becoming out of touch with where things are headed. A recent episode has a gag about how girls don’t play D&D though I know more than a handful who play tabletop off the top of my head.
 
What I love about Chuck and Community is their willingness to embrace nerd culture for all that it is. For someone like me, someone who’s been neck deep in nerd culture and general geekiness since before Iron Man became a household name, it’s great to see shows who love this and celebrate the fun of being a nerd. With regards to Big Bang, well, I’ll quote Penny Arcade: “In Big Bang being like me is the punchline.”
 


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Top Nine Movies of 2013

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Mar 15 2014 · 209 views

Essays, Not Rants! 104: Top Ten Movies of 2013
 
I have weird taste. I love pulp, but I love heart, and I love a movie well done. In light of that, here are my top nine movies of 2013. Some movies didn’t make the cut. I really liked 12 Years a Slave for what it managed to do, that is create a story about slavery was genuinely moving yet not a white guilt tract. And I thought Her was fantastic as I did Star Trek Into Darkness, but all those aren’t on this list.

So what movies are? These are the ones I loved and the ones that stood out. They may not objectively be the best films of the year, but to me, they are.
 
(Wait, why nine movies? There are a bunch of movies I haven’t seen yet [Fruitvale Station, Desolation of Smaug, Dallas Buyers Club, etc] so there’ll be a tenth spot open should something else really stick out)
 
9. Rush
This movie will surprise you. It seems like an über macho racing flick. What it is is a slick drama, with more time spent on the emotional lives of the drivers than the race track. What we end up with is an engaging, beautifully shot film. And c’mon man, F1 cars are great.
 
8. Drinking Buddies
There’s a lot to be said about this movie, especially because it says so little. It’s a quiet film about relationships that’s gorgeously shot. It sticks to you not because a lot happens, but because it feels so true to life.
 
7. Much Ado About Nothing
I like Shakespeare. I like Joss Whedon. That combined with a fantastic cast (Clark Gregg and Amy Acker and Nathan Fillion and Sean Maher and Ashley Johnson and BriTANick!?) yields a really fun interpretation of the play.
 
6. Iron Man 3
Yeah, Iron Man 3 had to be here somewhere. I wrote a bunch on it when it came out and I stand by everything I said. It’s a blindingly fast paced movie that takes Tony Stark’s arc to a brilliant conclusion.
 
5. The Spectacular Now
Here’s a movie by the guys who wrote (500) Days of Summer and it feels a lot like said movie. Which is a good thing. It’s a coming-of-age story that discards a lot of the usual tropes of the genre in favor of a far more compelling, quiet story that rings of Say Anything… It’s great.
 
4. The Way Way Back
Yeah, another coming-of-age film. What The Way Way Back does so well is layer its film in charm and sweet without ever coming as trite and saccharine. We’ve got great performances (Sam Rockwell never disappoints) and a beautiful score that serves to create a story that feels very true.
 
3. The World’s End
This one could be classified as a coming-of-age story too, seeing as it’s about Gary King dealing with having to grow up. Only because this is Edgar Wright it’s a lot more than that. What we have is a moving story that’s part about friendship, part about old dreams, and part about the end of the world. It’s all balanced beautifully between drama and comedy with enough heart sprinkled throughout.
 
2. Gravity
As I touched on before, Gravity is what science fiction does best. It’s a story about reality, about people, set against a backdrop that heightens the entire affair. A brilliant performance by Sandra Bullock adds to the intensity of the film that really should have won Best Picture.
 
1. Pacific Rim
Yes. Pacific Rim. I’ve written a lot on this film since it came out and I stand by all of it. What could have easily been a big, dumb, testosterone fueled movie is instead a much more nuanced film that’s still about giant robots beating the snot out of giant monsters. Amidst all the spectacle there’s a strong emotional core about friendship and family. It’s an unusual movie rife with heart and a touch of social commentary.
There are so many reasons I’d enjoy this movie even if it was big and dumb, but because it’s so much more, because there’s so much behind the spectacle, it’s my favorite film of 2013.


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Why The Last of Us Should and Shouldn't Be a Movie

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Mar 08 2014 · 140 views

Essays, Not Rants! 103: Why The Last of Us Should and Shouldn’t Be A Movie
 
Big news broke on Thursday: The Last of Us is becoming a live action movie. Now, you have to understand, I love The Last of Us. I wrote a final paper on it (see notes here), I wrote about its characters and convictions, and I wrote on how it’s a grownup video game.
 
I’ve said before that The Last of Us is an incredible game that deserves to be seen in a more literary light. And now it is, it’s being made into a movie so more people can experience it.
 
At least that’s Screen Gems president Clint Culpepper’s idea. Honestly, I have to agree. The Last of Us is a phenomenal piece of storytelling period. Video games remain something of a niche market; one sometimes deemed inaccessible. For good reason too: movies don’t require viewers to buy a $300 piece of equipment to watch them and then force them to complete challenges to see what happens next. A cinematic adaptation of The Last of Us would nullify this and allow anyone to experience Joel and Ellie’s story.
 
Thing is, The Last of Us is an incredibly visceral story, due in no small part to the fact that you’re playing as Joel. The tension in battles with the Infected and other people and the relief of those long quiet moments in between are all heightened because it’s you fighting the Infected and you initiating conversations with Ellie about football mascots. This is what gaming does best; making you feel truly involved in the action. A film wouldn’t be able to capture the same kind of rush of the battle and emotional bond with the characters.
 
With that, casting presents another obstacle. Voice actors Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson are intrinsically inseparable from Joel and Ellie. Their performances are incredible, bringing life to fantastic characters. Whoever plays them in the movie would have to be wonderfully cast, else much of their dynamic — that blend of tension and affection — would be lost. And it’s the bond between Joel and Ellie —not the Infected or the American wastes— that makes The Last of Us.
 
But then, Neil Druckmann, writer and Creative Director of the game, is confirmed to be writing the film. Druckmann has more than proved himself a competent writer with The Last of Us and Left Behind. And who better to write a film adaptation than the original writer? He knows what’s at the heart of the game and how to keep it in a film.
 
I have hope for this, mostly because Druckmann is writing but also because Bruce Straley, The Last of Us’ Game Director, is producing the film with Naughty Dog’s co-presidents and Sam Raimi. The creative core of the game is on the film too.
 
There are things they’ll have to do for it to work One would be keeping the extreme violence and consistent swearing that built game’s tone (and thereby earning a hard R-rating). A second would be casting two leads who would be able to match Baker and Johnson’s nuance and chemistry. Most importantly, Druckmann and team will have to adapt The Last of Us not as a game but as a story. We don’t need scenes of Joel crouching down and listening or incessant crafting; what we need are those quiet moments of conversation between the two protagonists.
 
Do I think The Last of Us needed to be made into a movie? No. It’s one of the best video games of not just its generation but of all times. It used its medium to great effect, telling a story unlike any other.
But now that it is do I want it to be a good one? Of course. Stripped of the experience of the game it remains a phenomenal story one that, rightly, deserves a wider non-gaming audience.
 
One thing’s for sure, though, they need Gustavo Santaolalla’s score.






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josh

twenty-three


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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