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Not Another Peter Parker

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Feb 14 2015 · 222 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.


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.


Keeping Pace

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Feb 07 2015 · 136 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.


The New Western

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Jan 31 2015 · 153 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.


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.


But What Is A Strong Female Protagonist?

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Jan 24 2015 · 273 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.


I'm Complaining About The LEGO Movie Snub Too

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Jan 17 2015 · 255 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.


You Should Really Watch Agent Carter

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Jan 10 2015 · 171 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.


Concerning Hobbits

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Jan 03 2015 · 217 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.


2014 In Review

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Dec 27 2014 · 183 views

Essays, Not Rants 145: 2014 in Review

2014 is a few days from being over. So once again it’s time to go through my rants essays from this year and pick out the special ones.

All statistics are based on essaysnotrants.net, since, y'know, I don't wanna count through the views on BZP.
Five Most Popular/Viewed Posts

#5: Relationship Advice from Scott Pilgrim
The thing about Edgar Wright movies is that they work on so many levels. I was… off put the first time I watched Scott Pilgrim vs The World, so I watched it again, realizing what I was in for and loved it. One of the reasons is that despite (or perhaps because of) it creating a video game sort of reality, it tells a very serious story about love and self-respect.

#4: Representation, Big Hero Six, and Me
Representation is something that I care about, in case my running commentary on female protagonists didn’t tip you off. But Big Hero Six is special to me because there’s a kid like me starring in a Disney action movie! And that makes me very happy.

#3: Verified Fiction
The idea for this one had actually been brewing since I saw that TIME article a couple years back. Took a while for it to come together in and now it’s something that’s pretty bloggish and yet still about storytelling.

#2: About That Noah Movie
Look at me being topical. I suppose this was more for me to collect my thoughts and weigh in on the film. Seems that jumping on the train got my a bunch of views, so there’s that.

#1: The LEGO Hero’s Journey Part One and Part Two
I could do two separate entries for these, each of which got three times as many views as the Noah one, but I figure they should go together since they’re interlinked. The LEGO Movie is easily one of the best movies of this year, in no small part because it’s about a very normal boring person undergoing the Hero’s Journey. It was a lot of fun linking up the beats of the movie with the Monomyth, and hey, I guess some other people enjoyed it too.

And there we have the five most viewed posts. As with last year, what follows will be a few posts that I really like, for various reasons. These posts are also posts that aren’t in the afore top five.

Josh’s Pick of Three

#3: Of Ludonarrative Dissonance
I took a class on video game theory this past spring, which probably shows when I use terms like ‘ludnoarrative’ and ‘narrative architecture.’ Video games really warrant a closer look than they’re often given.

#2: The Mustache of Self-Actualization
Okay, so this is a more recent one, but I love when I’m able to use this blog to write a scholarish rant essay on something that isn’t very scholarlish (see a close reading of Pentecost’s speech). Being able to write about Hot Rod like this was a lot of fun and also good practice. So hey.

#1: Nerd Culture, The Big Bang Theory, and Chuck
I know it very much comes down to opinion, but I still love the way nerd culture was portrayed in Chuck and I’m waiting for something to do it as well (though SHIELD is doing alright, with Mack and Fitz bonding over Halo and Bobbi wearing a Star Wars tee). Man, Chuck was a special show.

So there you have it. Nine posts out of the fifty-two that made up 2014. Thank you for reading!

Here’s to 2015.

(And then it’s 2016 and then 2017 and then 2018 AND A CAPTAIN MARVEL MOVIE)


Of Movies and North Korea

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Dec 20 2014 · 235 views

Essays, Not Rants! 144: Of Movies and North Korea

I have a strange fascination with a certain North Korean dictator. Maybe it’s because he’s barely eight years older than me, hangs out with Dennis Rodman, and tyrannically rules a country of 25 million people with a combination of a cult-of-personality and sheer terror.

Like I said, fascinating.

So naturally I was really looking forward to The Interview. I had passes to a preview of it on Thursday and was all set. Only, it turns out, North Korea was really mad about it and, a hack and couple terrorist threats later, and it’s been pulled from cinematic distribution. And I’m bummed.

Because The Interview is satire and satire is important. Because North Korea is terrifying; for there to be a country that, well, crazy is scary. But that’s the thing: we make fun of what scares us.

Satire takes away the teeth. It’s why The Great Dictator exists, why videos about Iraqi loyalists like this exist, and, of course, what makes The Interview funny. But what’s worth noting is that The Interview, like that video about subtitles and terrorists, seemed ready to make as much fun of the ‘good guys.’

The comedy of the subtitles video comes not out of how the reporter (and, by extension the media) treats the soldiers, that is her insistent condescension to them. The Interview’s comedy, based on the trailers, looks to stem from the bumbling antics of Seth Rogen and James Franco in a place where they really shouldn’t be. Plus, Kim Jong Un and all of his eccentricities makes for great fodder. Taking the mickey out of him with a movie like that doesn’t diminish his status as a threat, one that everyone is aware of, but reminds us that he’s still human. ‘cuz Supreme Leaders are people too.

But now I didn’t get to go to my screening and theater chains won’t be showing it. Granted, there’s some justification in not wanting to incur the wrath of North Korea, but it’s the precedent that’s worrisome. Another film about North Korea in production, Pyongyang, has been canceled for much of the same reason. There’s a weird sort of fear that’s stifling satire and fiction. Which, again, is a shame. Without it we wouldn’t have The Colbert Report taking shots at everything from terrifyingly conservative politicians to, of course, North Korea.

Now, there’s a distinction here to be sure. We make fun of the part that scares us, not what saddens us. There’s no comedy about those dying under the Kim regime, just as Jon Stewart couldn’t find anything funny to say in the wake of the grand jury’s decision on Eric Garner. There’s a line between the amusing and the not. Kim Jong Un exists on that line, almost caricature that he is. He’s an easy target, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth taking the shot.
So I’m of the opinion that The Interview shouldn’t have been canceled. Even if it’s cinematic release has been pulled, then at the very least there should have been plans made for an immediate digital release. It doesn’t make sense for the Hermit Kingdom to be the one calling the shots on what gets released in a different country. If anything, this has also upped the hype for the movie more than an advertising campaign could.

Because, hey, what gets a public’s attention more than an international incident?


The Mustache of Self-Actualization

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Dec 13 2014 · 167 views

Essays, Not Rants! 143: The Mustache of Self-Actualization

I use this blog to hash out ideas for papers sometimes. Writing weekly helps me get ideas sorted or even just to keep churning out 600-800 word rants essays keeps me on my toes. One thing I’ve found myself needing to work on recently is zeroing in on one aspect of a work rather than only looking at the big picture. So I thought I’d do that.

“All great men have mustaches,” says Andy Samberg’s character, Rod early in Hot Rod, hence his choice to wear a fake one while attempting to defeat his stepfather, Frank, in hand-to-hand combat to earn his respect. That is to say, Rod wants to be respected by a “great man” and he believes that the only one who can bestow that on him is his stepfather. Since Frank cares little for Rod’s amateur stuntmanship, Rod’s only recourse is to beat him in a fight, a seemingly impossible task.

Essentially, Rod seeks self-actualization, “to realize one's own maximum potential and possibilities” [x]. The mustache becomes a symbol of Rod’s desired manliness and: his dead stuntman father had one; Rod adopts a fake one when attempting stunts and combating Frank. Rod can't grow one (due to a "hormone disorder"), but sees it as necessary to the manly identity of the adults he respects. In a sense he’s playing at being being a man, wearing the mask of who he wants to be.

The occasions where Rod wears the fake mustache reinforces this. Initially, we just see him wearing it when jumping ramps on his moped and fighting Frank. But after he finds out about Frank’s fatal condition and hatches a plan to save him, we also see Rod wearing it while doing stunt work to raise money for Frank. Here Rod is doing things of his own to raise money, entering the sphere of adulthood on his own terms.

But when his plans come crashing down both in the short term, losing the money raised save Frank, and in the long, finding out his father was not a stuntman, Rod grows disillusioned. He tears down posters of stuntmen, stomps on his cape, and, notably, rips apart the fake mustache. Rod is later seen wearing a tie, looking for all the world like a normal adult, albeit one without a mustache.However, he still does not have Frank’s respect and his crew, who’ve stuck by him thus far, leave him. Here he is called out by his love interest, Denise: “You've always done exactly what you wanted to do, and everybody else just grew up, and got boring, and sold out, but you stayed exactly the same.” Rather than continuing to emulate the ideas of manliness which he worshipped before, Rod has forfeit his mustachioed goals in favor of becoming boring and selling out to the mainstream conception of adulthood.

So now it’s fitting at the film’s climax when Rod attempts to jump fifteen school buses in a last ditch attempt to earn money for Frank’s surgery, he is once again waring a fake mustache, though this one presented to him by his reunited crew. The use of the mustache is key: his friends already believe that he's a man worthy of respect both for risking his own life to save his stepfather and for doing it regardless of what other people will think. Rod then attempts the jump and fails. But unlike the last two jumps we’ve seen, where Rod shorts it and crashes into a mail truck or falls into a pool, Rod overshoots and raises enough money to save Frank. After they both heal, Rod — now able to grow his own mustache — confronts a healthy Frank and defeats him, forcing his stepfather to admit that Rod is, in fact, a man.

But Rod has a real mustache in that last scene — and thus is self-actualized — before he defeats Frank. Though he thought that defeating Frank was his goal, it was not the means for his graduation into manhood. Rather he is able to grow a mustache after making something of himself on his own terms: by being a stuntman not because his father was, and not because it was inherently masculine, but because it was taking matters into his own hands and doing what was necessary to achieve his goals despite the setbacks along the way. Rod’s arc culminates with his self-actualization, not by the approval of his stepfather, but by growing from a imitator of men to a person who had discovered what it meant to be a man in his own right..


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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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