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Diversity: It's That Easy!

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Jan 02 2016 · 215 views

Essays, Not Rants! 198: Diversity: It’s That Easy!

Claire Temple, played by Rosario Dawson, shows up in the last episode of Jessica Jones, providing a quiet link between that show and Daredevil. She tends to a wounded Luke Cage, because it takes a special kind of doctor to treat an (incredibly hot) man with unbreakable skin. Malcolm, Jessica’s neighbor, shows up too and the three share a scene.

And suddenly there are more (important) people of color interacting on screen than in any other Marvel property. If anything, Jessica Jones shows how simple it is to diversify a cast. Why not make the cutthroat lawyer a woman? Why not make the police officer they interact with black? This intentional mindset of ‘why not’ really affects the overall look of Jones. New York in the Netflix series is diverse, far from the overwhelming whiteness of How I Met Your Mother and Girls. The prominence of women in the story also allows for different narratives, avoiding the problem of Age of Ultron. It gets to the point that it’s hard to find a prominent white male character in Jessica Jones who could be classified as a hero ‘cuz those spots are all taken.

Diversity in media oftentimes comes down to being willing to make a big deal about little decisions. It means not defaulting to “white dude” when creating or casting a character and realizing that archetypes and narratives can belong to anyone because everyone has a story to tell. Or even just because everyone wants to see themselves in a story. Especially as a hero.

J.J. Abrams does this exceptionally well in The Force Awakens. There’s a decided effort in the film to diversify Star Wars and yet doesn’t feel forced. Yes, the main characters are very different (the woman, Rey, is the protagonist [and the best], the ex-Stormtrooper Finn is Nigerian-British, and the hotshot pilot is Guatemalan-American) but the movie’s attention to diversity really shows in the background.

Think about Star Wars, Empire, and Jedi. With very few exceptions, all of the bit-part Rebel and Imperial officers were white guys. General Veers and Jan Dodonna have barely a couple lines each, but both were, of course, white men. But The Force Awakens does away with that tradition and switches it up. Imperial Officers are also women and minorities, besides being white. Ken Leung (of Lost fame) plays one of the Resistance’s admirals and a Trinidadian actor plays another. The small band of X-Wing pilots include, besides Poe and a couple aliens, a black guy and an Asian woman. Even the villainous First Order gets in on it: the random Stormtrooper that alerts Kylo Ren to the escaped Rey is a woman. That’s right, in The Force Awakens Stormtroopers can be not only black, but women too. And that’s in addition to the random officers who also just so happen to be diverse.

This is what I mean by making a big deal about little decisions. It means being willing to not just phone it in but decide “hey, maybe this person can look different?” We’re seeing steps being taken in this direction — and not just in Jessica Jones and The Force Awakens. Marvel’s recent slate of comics has been pushing a more diverse range of superheroes as does work like, say, Pacific Rim. It’s small details, yes, but do you know how cool it is to see someone like you on screen? It’s really not as hard to do as it seems, which is one reason why I’m a huge proponent of it. And if it’s not something you’ve thought about, well, you’re in luck.


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Just So We're Clear, Rey Is The Best

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Dec 26 2015 · 319 views

Essays, Not Rants! 197: Just So We’re Clear, Rey Is The Best

Rey, of The Force Awakens, is one of those characters I really like. Not just one those who I think’s really cool (Captain Marvel, Han Solo, Aragorn), but the ones who, for me, go beyond that (Iron Man, Nathan Drake): Rey’s one of those characters who I don’t just really like, but the sort I wanna be.

So what is it about Rey’s that captured my imagination (and everyone else’s)? What makes her so special?

Obviously, spoilers for Force Awakens follow.

The role Rey plays in the story is not new, by no means. She follows the hero’s journey; one we saw done with Luke Skywalker in ’77, Harry Potter, and of course Emmet in The Lego Movie. It’s the monomyth, a nobody is actually quite special and is essential for saving the day. Finn’s arc within Force Awakens has a few of the same mythic beats, but it’s Rey’s that most closely follows it. And it’s not just men who get to be the heroes, we had Katniss and The Hunger Games a couple years ago, also a story about a young woman that embarks on her own hero’s journey. What is it then that sets Rey apart?

First off, it’s the obvious one: it’s Star Wars. This is arguably the biggest film franchise in the world, so the scale Rey’s featured in is massive. There’s six movies of continuity already in play, an issue that new characters like Harry or Katniss didn't have to deal with when their books came out. There was a lot riding on this movie and, by extension Rey herself, but it also gives her a huge platform. That’s an opportunity few stories get.

Now, this is also a franchise famous for seldom having more than one woman, and in this one Rey the protagonist (and also not the only female character with lines — it might just barely squeak by on the Bechdel test, and yes, Rey is the only new female lead, but at least there are a few more women who speak in this one). Also, Rey gets to be a Jedi. Or at least one in training. Or at least a Jedi-to-be. It’s the seventh installment and we have, for the first time, a named female character turning on a lightsaber. That’s a big fricking deal.

Putting the Star Wars branding aside, is Rey still all that different? In The Hunger Games series, Katniss had her go at the hero’s journey and the resistance narrative too. Except, she is. Rey’s adventure isn’t gendered. While Katniss’ intertwined with her gender (see: dresses, pregnancy, men-wanting-to-protect/control-her, etc), Rey very much has an everyman story. No, there’s nothing wrong with a feminine story — look at Agent Carter!but it’s such a great change to see that everyman a woman. Rey’s gender is never mentioned. Sure, Finn does keep grabbing her hand in the beginning, but it takes all of five minutes for her to get him to stop — and establish her own independence in the same beat. But that’s not all: Rey’s not underestimated because of her gender. She’s frequently described as “the scavenger” (not “that girl”) and summarily dismissed as such. She’s just Rey the scavenger. It’s refreshing to see this, and even better that it’s something as mainstream (and awesome) as Star Wars

There are a bunch of other reasons I like Rey: snarky, excitable (ie: her and Finn celebrating their escape from Jakku), courageous, and occasionally downright gleeful. She’s a wonderful, winning character and I couldn’t be happier to have her as the new Star Wars protagonist. Then, of course, we come back to the whole Star Wars-ness of it. Deep beneath the spaceships, Force, and lightsabers is the narrative about being more than you thought you were; it’s the wish fulfillment of getting to go on a great adventure. And for Rey — and, personally, one of the many reasons I love her — this also means a search for belonging.

tl;dr: Rey’s awesome, go watch The Force Awakens (again)


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An Actual New Hope

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Dec 19 2015 · 169 views

Essays, Not Rants! 196: An Actual New Hope

One of my earliest memories involves, unsurprisingly, Star Wars. I, and another kid, were talking about Empire and how Luke loses his hand and gets a robot one. I’m sure in there was talk of Darth Vader being Luke’s father and all that. Now, I couldn’t have been that old; based on where we were I doubt I was more than four. Which shows just how inborn my Star Wars nerd is, but also, wait, I was four and talking about Empire? The darkest of the original Star Wars movies? We’re talking losing limbs and finding out your dad is the villain.

And yet, here I am, twenty-odd years later and decidedly not emotionally scarred. There’s no denying that Empire is dark, darker than I realized as a kid. But, this is Star Wars. Even though it’s a bleak ending, it’s still one with hope. When faced with the fact that Vader and his father are one and the same, Luke chooses to sacrifice himself instead of turning surrendering to his father. Han’s only mostly dead and Lando and Chewie have teamed up to find him. And, of course, Luke gets his hand back.

There’s a romantic optimism to Star Wars amidst its background of a cosmic Good and Bad. It’s Luke Skywalker versus Darth Vader, which is big, but it’s rife with hope. There’s no cynicism to Star Wars at its best: something can’t be ruined forever. No matter how far down they’re forced, good will be able to come of it. Luke’s father is Vader, but Vader can be redeemed. This isn’t something that would fly in the more recent slate of movies (besides the Marvel Cinematic Universe): whereas can the love between a father and a son be triumphant? Star Wars unapologetically wears its heart on its sleeve, which by today’s standards seems a little old fashioned.

So maybe this is one of the big places the prequels went wrong. They seemed to teeter a little too far into the realm of tragedy (which, it being Anakin’s fall, it is) without that earnest hope that made The Original Trilogy so great. That galaxy far, far away is one to escape to, one where a backwater farmboy, fumbling smuggler, and planetless princess can save the galaxy. Maybe the prequels got so caught up in their tragedy they forgot about the escapist nature of these movies, where it’s okay for the underdog to be the hero plain and simple. Obi-Wan, for example, is a Jedi, respected albeit inexperienced and not a crazy old wizard. The closest we really got were Jar Jar and Anakin in The Phantom Menace, but neither had an arc worth investing in. As a kid (and an adult), I wanted to be Qui-Gon because he was cool, but that’s about it. But Luke got to be the nobody-turned-Jedi and Han was the selfish-jerk-turned-war-hero. There was a change there — an optimistic one — that the prequels lacked.

The Force Awakens comes a solid decade after the last Star Wars movie. It’s also directed by someone who grew up with the movies and knows, as an outsider, why he liked them so (and they stuck with him). And the movie delivers. Despite containing perhaps the most tragic moment in the entire film franchise (and one that actually works courtesy of deft writing and acting), it remains rife with hope. There’s the declaration that unconditional love beats out hate, even when it seems like hate has won.

There’s an unquenchable joy to The Force Awakens that gives the originals a solid run for their money. Like in the old ones, we want to be a part of this world because there’s adventure here, and even when the adventure goes tragic, there’s hope. Star Wars is fun again.

And also, Rey is the friggin’ best.


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Thoughts On The Holy Trilogy

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Dec 12 2015 · 205 views

Essays, Not 195: Thoughts on The Holy Trilogy
Doing something different this week. In advent of The Force Awakens, the club I run at NYU is marathoning the Original Trilogy. In lieu of an essay, what follows is something of a live blog.
Star Wars
(A New Hope)
  • It’s remarkable how much of the first few minutes are told visually. The first proper dialogue isn’t until Vader interrogates Antilles. Once we get to Tatooine, we’re back to relying on the visuals for Artoo’s run in with the Jawas. The lack of explaining goes a long way to making the world feel lived in and, well, real. This way, by the time we get to Luke, we’re already immersed in this very foreign world.
  • Binary sunset. Freaking iconic.
  • I always forget how downright weird Star Wars is. We’ve got spaceships and robots but an ‘old wizard’ (as Owen calls Ben) and tribal people riding animals. There’s such a delightful mix of past and future that makes it feels very timeless.
  • Ben’s discussion with Luke is very much an exposition dump. But it works because by the time we get to it we wanna know what’s going on with Artoo and Threepio and we’re also very much in Luke’s position in wondering who is he and what’s going on. Also, the exposition isn’t so much on how the world works but on the romance of Luke’s adventure-to-come.
  • Once Leia joins the group she refuses to take ###### from anyone.
  • There’s a wonderful mundanity to some of the world; like Stormtroopers discussing speeder models while Ben shuts off the tractor beam.
  • There’s a strong focus on an emotional arc (rather than a character one). It’s about the thrills and the adventure, not so much about an in-depth character analysis.
The Empire Strikes Back
  • The opening of Empire really highlights the serial inspiration. IV, V, and VI all open with a misadventure of sorts (Artoo and Threepio on the Tontine IV, Luke and the Wampa, Jabba’s Palace) that isn’t unlike a cold open. Helps give the movies the feeling that things have been going on before the start (and will keep going after). The world’s lived in.
  • These movies are ridiculous: we’ve got a muppet fighting with a robot over a lamp. But they commit to it and that sells it. We take Yoda seriously despite how silly he could be because Empire isn’t winking at the audience. It’s played straight and it works so well.
  • Threepio interrupting Leia and Han will never not be funny.
  • There is a major gender imbalance in these movies, but Leia really holds her own among everyone else. She’s a strong character.
  • Unlike A New Hope, Empire focuses far more on character. We’ve got the relationship between Han and Leia and Luke’s own quest to become a Jedi. There’s no less derring-do and adventure than the first movie, but there’s a stronger focus on the character’s own internal emotional arcs.
Return of The Jedi
  • The misadventure cold open is most pronounced in Jedi where it’s in some ways it’s own episode.It’s a crazily convoluted way to get Han back in the picture, but it also serves to reestablish the relationships of the central characters. And it’s a whole lotta fun.
  • Leia getting to kill Jabba is a great moment.
  • Luke’s conflict is so much better than Anakin’s in Revenge of The Sith. Rather than the choice being a very clear Light Side or Dark Side, Luke has to choose between his father and becoming a Jedi. Neither choice is inherently wrong, but the interesting part comes in what each decision reflects: saving Vader is selfless, whereas becoming a Jedi is more self-centered. Luke’s arc in this movie is being willing to give up himself and his conflict along the way is really well done.
  • I know I shouldn’t but I do kinda really like the Ewoks. I think part of the reason is because they’re so reflective of the heart of the movies. There’s this uncynical hope to them that, even if they are people-eaters, fits into the movie well enough.
  • Fittingly, Luke’s brush with the Dark Side (when he attacks The Emperor) comes at the lowest point of the battle; the Ewoks are losing, the Rebel Fleet is being torn apart, and then Luke gives in to his anger. The protagonist’s inner arc is reflected in the larger conflict as a whole.
  • The music, man, the music. During Lando and team’s run on the Death Star it’s not this super-serious musical cue of epic-ness, rather it’s this romantic adventure theme. Star Wars doesn’t get weighed down with itself, it isn’t afraid to be a lot of fun.



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What Makes A Superhero Story?

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Dec 05 2015 · 164 views

Essays, Not Rants! 194: What Makes A Superhero Story?

Spike Lee was a guest on The Nightly Show the other day and one of the things they discussed briefly was people of color as superheroes. Lee offered up Bruce Lee as an example of an Asian superhero. Which raises an interesting question, what exactly is it that makes a superhero narrative?

Could be the narrative type. The typical superhero plot follows an outsider/everyman (so, Peter Parker, Tony Stark, Clark Kent) who has some special abilities (spider-stuff, money and brains, Krpton-ness) that is called on to use these abilities to do some heroing (save New York, save New York, save New York Metropolis). That narrative works well when you apply it to your typical Kung Fu movie. Jackie Chan’s Keung in Rumble In The Bronx is an outsider/everyman (dude from Hong Kong in New York for his uncles wedding) who has some special ability (Kung Fu) which he uses to do some heroing (save a small part of New York). So, sure, Kung Fu movies play into this superhero narrative.

But then, so does, say, Die Hard. It’s about an outsider/everyman (a New York cop in Los Angeles) who has some special abilities (not-giving-up and super-cop skills) and is called on to do some heroing (defeat Hans Gruber). And Hot Rod in which an outsider/everyman (Rod Kimble, stuntman) who has some special abilities (again, stuntman) is called on to do some heroing (do a stunt to save his step-father so he can beat him). It’s in Star Wars, it’s in Chuck. It’s, in some ways, the Hero’s Journey distilled. The obvious issue here is that it’s too broad a definition. Let’s try again.

Maybe the hero can’t do any vague heroing, but has to save the world. Superman saves Metropolis, but he also stops Lex or Zod from going on to rule more. But then, Spider-Man doesn’t protect much more than New York (if that) and Daredevil’s range of protection is a single neighborhood in Manhattan. But no one would argue that those aren’t superhero movies.

Does it have to be a villain, then? Most superhero movies have a villain who’s a dark mirror of the hero: Zod is evil Superman, Ivan Vanko is evil Tony Stark, Joker is evil/crazy Batman, Red Skull is racist/facist/Nazi Captain America. This framework rules out movies like Hot Rod (no evil stuntman) and Die Hard (no evil super-cop) and, conveniently, brings the Kung-Fu flick back in. What’s a good martial arts film without an evil martial artist for the hero to fight? But we also lose out on any Superman movies with Lex Luthor or Guardians of the Galaxy, where that foil isn’t quite at play. Many of the X-Men movies are also very much without the evil inverse of the hero beyond the Magneto/Professor X dynamic.

Maybe Spike Lee was referring to Bruce Lee in The Green Hornet, where he played the hero’s sidekick, Kato. That lets us define the superhero movie as one about people who wear masks (or disguises) to fight crime. Even though in the Marvel movies, Iron Man and Captain America aren’t secret identities, they do still wear outfits to save the world. But it breaks down with Guardians or Thor where there isn’t too much in the way of special outfits, least not more than Aragorn and Han Solo have special outfits.

If we are willing to throw Kung Fu films out the window, because at this point the interest is to just find an encompassing description of just superhero films rather than one that overlaps the two neatly, we can use the trusted it’s-based-on-a-comic thing. That gives us all of the DC and Marvel movies — good, but then we have to include Kingsman and 300 while throwing out The Incredibles. We can’t say superpowers, because then if Bruce Wayne gets to be a superhero, doesn’t Gorden Gekko get to too? Y’know, I’m almost beginning to think that the term ‘superhero story’ really doesn’t work all that well as a means for describing a movie.

Doesn't mean don't need an Asian superhero though (c'mon Marvel, make Iron Fist Asian!).


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The Surprising Elegance of Jackie Chan

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Nov 21 2015 · 211 views

Essays, Not Rants! 192: The Surprising Elegance of Jackie Chan

I’ve been on a bit of a different movie kick lately. Watched Attack The Block (finally!) before jumping into a bunch of martial arts flicks like The Raid and Armor of God. The latter prompted a dive into Jackie Chan’s filmography and that’s how I found myself watching Police Story. Which, somehow, I hadn’t seen before.

Which is a real shame. Because, dang, that’s an excellent movie. And not just in the “Good-Jackie-Chan-flick” or even just cool for an action movie. We’re talking great across the board. Yes, the action and stunts are unquestionably top notch, but the central story is quite robust and there are a couple truly exceptional scenes.

Like many a good cop movie, there’s a courtroom scene where the hero cop tries to indict the villain. What surprised me when I watched it was how surprisingly well done it is. Rather than being a scene just there for fluff, it’s a scene treated with as much craft as the rest of the movie. It’s an intense scene with as many twists and turns as an action scene. It’s good, is what I’m saying, something you almost wouldn’t expect to be in this sort of film.

The other thing that Police Story does that so many movies forgo is the use of slapstick. Emblematic of Jackie Chan’s films is slapstick — both within action scenes and in the story itself. This slapstick isn’t just physical comedy, but also fantastic visual storytelling. Take the scene where Jackie’s character, Ka Kui, takes the witness, Selina, back to his apartment. What follows is a great sequence where Selina and May, Ka Kui’s girlfriend, attempt to stay out of his sight as Ka Kui bad mouths her. It’s hilarious and it works, in no small part because there’s actually a great deal of effort and craft put into it. The camerawork is used to hide things for solid reveals and the characters’ blocking move them around, just keeping them missing each other.

But the best part of Police Story is how all of this works together, particularly within Ka Kui’s character. It’s not terribly easy to get a proper read on him, insofar as it’s hard to pigeonhole him into a Typical Protagonist Archetype. He’s not quite the renegade cop or the one good police officer or even the bumbling incompetent sort. Ka Kui is a good, honorable officer, but he’s also not above being a bit of a jerk. But even more noteworthy, the movie balances him being a slapstick character while also letting him be dramatic. He’s not just the comic relief character, he also gets heavy beats. The court scene is a big moment for Ka Kui, an early chance for him to prove himself to the audience. At that point in the film we’re able to take him seriously enough for it to have enough drama, but its ending on a comedic beat doesn’t feel out of place. Yes, it’s a blow to him and his goal, but it doesn’t diminish him as a character. It’s effective because Police Story’s world is one that allows for both deep drama and broad comedy.

It’s an unusual tone not really seen in Western films, where the hero can be the butt of slapstick jokes but still be, well, the hero. Maybe it’s partially born out of a familiarity with the sort of stuff Jackie Chan makes, but it may also be a willingness to think a little differently about storytelling. At the end of the day, I’m honestly not sure. I grew up with all sorts of movies from all over the place, but never realized how well done some of them were — like Police Story. In any case, I’ve a bunch more Jackie Chan flicks on my to-watch list.


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Why Easy A Is An Excellent Example of Storytelling

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Nov 14 2015 · 160 views

Essays, Not Rants! 191: Why Easy A Is An Excellent Example of Storytelling

I saw Easy A when it first came out a few years ago. Wanted to because Emma Stone (of Zombieland fame), Will Gluck (who did Fired Up!), and The Scarlet Letter (which I, being a dutiful student in 11th grade English, read). I liked it a bunch and so when it was on sale recently I picked it up.

And I finally re-watched it. And I think I like it even more.

Because Easy-A is an excellent piece of storytelling. There’s a lot to like about it, of course. It’s fabulously witty, with the script’s jokes coming fast and punchy. Then there’s the great family dynamic that comes all to seldom to high school comedies. Olive’s parents aren’t the losers or the antagonists, instead they’re, well, her parents. The movie’s one of all too few (Super 8 comes to mind) that doesn’t write out the parents completely but rather makes them interesting in their own right. Of course, that may be partially to blame on Stanley Tucci, but all the same. Where Easy A really shines, though, is in its excellent plotting and commitment to theme. Seriously. The movie doesn’t waste anything.

Clocking in at around and hour and a half, Easy A fittingly moves along at a brisk pace. It takes barely five minutes in to reach the inciting incident (the rumor about Olive spreads) and the movie ends shortly after that plot line ends (Olive comes clean about the truth). There’s no Return of the King style ending where we get a half hour’s worth of resolution, nor is there an age spent establishing characters and dressing up their normal world; Easy A skips right to the punch. Heck, the inciting incident happens before we’ve been introduced to all the major players.

This quickness reveals one of Easy A’s greatest strengths. Each character, from Todd to Olive’s parents, are established with an expediency that would make Joss Whedon jealous. Granted, Olive’s voiceover helps speed it along, but here it isn’t a lazy storytelling device. See, the voice over is worked into the narrative itself: it’s Olive’s confession and retelling of all the events. So not only does it help us, as the audience, get up to speed with everything really quickly. But it also serves the story in that it’s Olive saying what really happened. It’s not lazily doing nothing; her voice over emphasizes the central theme of the film.

That’s the other thing Easy A does so well: stick to its theme. As Olive says, there are two sides to every story. The film is about the truth and rumors and every conflict within the narrative is born of it. The central tension rises out of Olive’s story being overheard; it escalates when she makes a business of lying to spread ‘positive’ rumors. Lastly, it’s the truth — and Olive spreading it — that brings about the story’s resolution. Everything in the film is about it. But because everything adheres to this central tension (truth versus rumors), the plot feels incredibly focused.

So not only does Easy A know the story it’s telling, but it is firmly committed to telling that story. Everything is built around it; Olive’s relationships are built around honesty and who believes her. Who knows the rumors versus the truth. Who believes the rumors versus the truth. Here’s the biggest thing to learn from Easy A: if you know what your story’s about and develop everything around it, nothing gets wasted.

So yeah, Easy A is an excellent example of a story well told. And I’d got more into it but t’s almost midnight and I’ve gotta get this posted. Long story short, it’s fantastically paced and handles its theme in a great way.


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Signs of the Times

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Nov 07 2015 · 139 views

Essays, Not Rants! 190: Signs of the Times

The Uncharted games are what got me really into gaming as an adult (well, them and Metal Gear Solid). With the release and my subsequent acquisition of the Nathan Drake Collection, I’ve spent the past couple days replaying Drake’s Fortune, the first game in the series, for the first time in a few years.

And the game still holds up, because of course it does. Drake’s Fortune still looks great eight years after it came out (due in some part to the Remastered nation of the Collection) and it still plays great. Punching and shooting bad guys is as fun as ever and the platforming remains surprisingly deft.

It’s certainly different from the later two Uncharted games, though. Drake’s Fortune lacks the wide variety of verticality that became a hallmark of the series. The game’s firefight arenas are oddly linear. Sure, sometimes you have to shoot up to kill a pirate-mercenary-baddie, but climbing around to flank them from above isn’t so much an option as is continuing on down the differently-dressed corridors of gunfire. Also of note is how oddly lonely Drake’s Fortune seems, especially compared to Among Thieves. Where the later games would have you running around and exchanging banter with someone throughout the game, be it Elena, Chloe, Sully, or Charlie. Drake’s Fortune has Nathan Drake on his own for huge swaths of the game, to the point where it sometimes feels that Naughty Dog was deliberately setting him up to be alone. Sure, we still get him talking to himself now and then, but the lack of banter is noticeable. It also does a disservice to Elena and Sully, who frequently opt to sit out a part of the adventure for some arbitrary reason. Or maybe Among Thieves just isolated Drake more organically. I’m replaying that next.

But what’s most striking about Drake’s Fortune is the parts where it seems so old. The video game landscape looked very different in 2007 than it does now, particularly in narrative-focused adventure games like this. For example, there are a few glaring quick time events where you literally push x (or o) not to die. It’s obvious where the mindset comes from, trying to add some new actions to the game. Drake can jump off a falling ledge now (if you push x at just the right time). These quick time events, besides being annoying (dude, I don’t wanna have to push x not to die randomly during the final showdown!), are jarring when you look at the steps taken in Among Thieves, where the player is in control as a building explodes or a city crumbles. Drake’s Fortune’s quick time events feel lazy and, well, unimaginative.

They do add variety, though, but Drake’s Fortune was clearly born out of an era where gameplay variety meant a couple jet ski chapters and one where you manned the gun on a truck. And sure, it does succeed in switching up gameplay from the usual run-gun-climb, but it feels like a crude method to do so, once again something later Uncharted games have improved on by changing up the area where you run-gun-climb. Not to say it’s bad by any means, rather it’s very much a sign of when it was made. Drake’s Fortune is very much a video game from 2007.

I suppose then that it shows the growing pains of video games like Uncharted went through. Some concepts and features feel have-formed in comparison to what they would become and others feel downright old. All that to say, I can’t help but to wonder how games will look eight years from now; what mechanics that games employ now will be old hat then?

Oh please let it be micro-transactions.


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This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things, JEB!

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Oct 31 2015 · 302 views

Essays, Not Rants! 189: This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things, JEB!

I don’t really talk about politics on this blog…ever. Well, aside from, y’know, the historical or entries on diversity or women in fiction. But every now and then something shows up that’s nonpartisan enough but still related enough to what I usually write about for a good discussion.

An interview with Jeb Bush (Or JEB) has been making the rounds lately, wherein he’s asked who his favorite superhero is. This alone is worth noting because we’re at the point in where a presidential candidate can be asked about superheroes. Yes, this is a part of nerd culture becoming mainstream, but it’s also a reflection of superheroes forming a new mythology. They can be discussed as a cultural touchstone no matter who you are. Point is to say that the fact that he was even asked this question is remarkable in and of itself. Superheroes have become a new pantheron, to some extent; though decidedly fictional, they are a sort of example of humanity in all its forms (which, y’know, is all the more the reason to have a more diverse lineup, but I digress). There’s probably a whole other paper in that idea, but not here.

Anyway, after mentioning that watching Marvel movies makes him wish that he owned the company — which I’m not even gonna touch here — he decides that Batman may be his favorite, albeit a dark choice. But he’s aware of Supergirl being a thing, courtesy of the new advertising blitz, and thinks she’s hot.

Okay. He could have answered the question one of a dozen very neutral, safe ways; but he chooses to bring Supergirl up… because she’s hot? Dude, no. It’s fun that this is the sort of question we can ask a presidential candidate, but at the same time, but why does one of the more serious presidential candidates think it’s okay to talk about her looks as a defining factor? Even if a question like this takes center stage, a female hero still gets the short end of the stick. Yes, she got mentioned — that’s great! But she gets mentioned only to be reduced down to a pretty face. He could have mentioned that she could fly — that’s in the marketing too! — but nope, she’s hot and that’s key.

“But Josh,” you say, “you’re making way too big a deal out of this, it’s just one guy’s opinion!” Well, straw man, remember what I said earlier about superheroes being a new mythology? It goes with it then, that the perception of them is a reflection of culture as a whole. And Jeb’s comments reflect a culture that still judges a woman by her appearance rather than her abilities.

Which is really frustrating, because there’s a steady cultural shift away from female superheroes defining characteristic being their looks and related attributes. Carol Danvers got a new outfit and is firmly regarded as Earth’s Mightiest Avenger. I can’t speak for the show (having not seen it), but it looks like Supergirl is doing something similar, for starters by giving her a costume that’s more practical than titillating. Going beyond the world of comics, Fury Road mad us like Furiosa because she was baddonkey and capable, not because she was ‘hot.’ Furiosa, more so than Carol Danvers or Supergirl, has been recognized for this in a big way.

In the movie/TV world characters are idealized, and this means prettified, but while handsome male characters can still be interesting, the pretty women are often there just to be pretty. While kick butt grungy women are awesome, to really even out the gender imbalance we need to allow for attractive women to be interesting and valued for qualities beyond their looks. Because it’s not fair when a male character needs no justification, but a female one does — and it’s her looks.

In any case, we, as a culture, from presidential candidates on down, have gotta stop defining women — in fiction or not — by how attractive the are. In the meantime, we should at least talk a lot more about how hot the new Batman is. But especially the new Aquaman.


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The Honest Truth

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Oct 24 2015 · 107 views

Essays, Not Rants! 188: The Honest Truth

A lot of stories aim to be real. Or as real as you can be while being a, y’know, story. The challenge here, of course, is figuring out what real is.

One interpretation of ‘real’ is realistic. No spaceships, because spaceships are far from commercial right now. No superpowers or superheroes, because those aren’t things. And no magic either. Y’know, realism.

So like Lost in Translation. It’s about two people in Japan, and just about there. There’s no monsters in this Japan; Godzilla’s not here to do its thing this time. It’s a story about people, being lost, and being understood. This isn’t communicated through metaphor or by using fanatical elements to play it up. Everything’s communicated through Bob and Charlotte’s interactions, it all feels real. For these two people out of their element, the mutual feeling of outsiderness brings them together. There’s this sensation that, yeah, you could be one of them. But Lost in Translation is still very romantic — and not in the lovey-dovey kind of way, but that of something being idealized. Tokyo itself is almost magical in Lost in Translation.

‘Realism,’ then, tends to be interpreted as gritty. Compare Game of Thrones to The Lord of The Rings. Despite both being very much fantasy, the former is more ‘realistic.’ In Westeros there’s political machinations, religious bickering, prostitution, and gory violence you don’t come back from. It’s realistic fantasy! It makes for a very different tone and world from Rings, but it works for the story the show is telling.

Mr. Robot also aims for realism. Now, one thing the show does really well is do hacking proper. No one hacks the mainframe by reversing the polarity of the hard drive; all the technobabble is real (which is great, let’s have more of that). Now, Mr. Robot also adds other things of ‘reality.’ There’s the grime of New York City, there are events outside of the characters’ control that sends the plots off the rails, there are these bibs and bobs that are all there to make the show seem more real, seem like an honest portrayal of the world.

Not that it does anything. Look, I wasn’t impressed by Mr. Robot, and I know I’m ragging on it; but for all its attempts to construct a very ‘real’ place, the characters and events don’t resonate. It doesn’t matter how real the world is, if we don’t care for the characters, we don’t care for the story. Even if we’re angry at the characters, that’s still feeling something.

There’s nothing inherently added by including the gritty details of life. Fiction, despite being a well-crafted lie, relies on honesty. The reason something like Star Wars resonates so well is because the characters feel true; Luke’s wanting to be more than a farm boy on Tatooine is something all far too recognizable. Both Thrones and Rings have characters with tangible motivations and responses. We understand Tyrion’s hatred of his family and Boromir’s desire to bring honor to Gondor. Beneath the dragons and Elves there’s an actual honest emotional truth. Lost in Translation is built entirely on that emotional honesty; it’s an exercise in empathy. The stories that really work, work so well because they feel true, even they aren’t.


Postscript, because I absolutely have to mention this:
Hardcore realism can have a role in fiction, minutiae can work. It just has to be incredibly well done. Like in Ulysses, by James Joyce, which has all the ins and outs and dirty humanity of a normal day (plus or minus a little bit of oddness here and there). Ulysses works, though, because of the honesty within it. Bloom is still haunted by the death of his infant son and we, as readers, are invited to try and understand what it’s like to go through your day like that. There’s a verisimilitude to it that lends it the honesty that makes it successful.






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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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