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Once Again on SHIELD

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Nov 09 2013 · 147 views

Essays, Not Rants! 086: Once Again On SHIELD
 
Yep. I’m talking about this show again. Because it’s great and I don’t have much time to watch new movies (besides The Dark World) or read or play much video games. So we’re talking about Agents of SHIELD again.
 
The show started strong and since then has steadily improved in itself. Characters have been fleshed out, dynamics enhanced, and it's proved itself capable with taking on different sorts of plots. What's even better is that all of this is usually done together, rather than individually.
 
See, it's easy to do these one at a time. When How I Met Your Mother does a high-concept episode it's usually at the expense of characterization. This isn't necessarily bad, there's nothing wrong with a plot-powered episode in a show that's usually very character driven. Shows like Community and Lost occasionally mix new concepts with character growth (see “Remedial Chaos Theory” and “The Constant”), but beyond that mixes are few and far between.
 
SHIELD is one of them. The most recent, "F.Z.Z.T.," dispenses with the usual good-guys-fighting-bad-guys typical of shows like this in favor of a far more internal conflict, one that can't be shot at. What's remarkable is that the writers take this in stride, maintaining high tension throughout an episode where the action could be described as "they science stuff."
 
Not only was it well done, but the plot allowed for some fantastic character moments. With the conflict science based, we were able to see Ward grapple with being powerless. Similarly, it allowed the show to further explore the dynamic of Fitz and Simmons. Prior they'd been presented as two parts of a whole, albeit two parts with a few contrasts. "F.Z.Z.T." explored those contrasts, really highlighting not only what makes them individuals, but also why they work together. It's a character study facilitated by a shift in the nature of the conflict.
 
The best character moment, however, is probably Coulson's. With a relatively quiet threat, we're able to see more of Coulson's character. When he comforts a firefighter we begin to see the consequences his death had on him. When Simmons is at risk we his his steadfast devotion to saving his team. And lastly, his own doubts about himself show is another side of him. He becomes far more deep and we, as an audience, are informed that there is baggage there to be worked out. And baggage makes for good television.
 
"F.Z.Z.T." is another step forward for Agents of SHIELD for so many reasons. Characters are stronger, humor hits more, and the drama's more dramatic. I was excited when the show first aired, now I'm thrilled with where this show is going.
 


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Two More Hours

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Nov 02 2013 · 208 views

Essays, Not Rants! 085: Two More Hours
 
The book Ender's Game is near to my heart. I listed it as my favorite book on my college apps years ago (in lieu of The Lord of the Rings — too cliché). I've read it at three different stages of my life: in high school, in the army (during basic training and later as a corporal), and for class during my freshman year of university. What I'm saying is I love the book. Not just because it's about kid-soldiers saving the world, but because it explores questions of warfare, empathy, and trauma.
 
See, Ender's Game is a two-headed beast. You have the story of Ender, the child chosen to save the world. The novel follows him from earth through his trials at Battle School and on to Command School. We see him grow and excel in this environment, triumphing despite the odds being stacked catastrophically against him.
Alongside that it’s a story about a boy forced to deal with isolation and detachment; Ender never has the luxury of friends. Ender’s Game is also about a boy being molded into the weapon at the cost of his psyche and the effect it has on him and those around him. As the novel comes to a close it becomes a story about PTSD and atonement.
 
So it was with cautious hope that I saw the film of the book Thursday night. It wasn't bad; it touched on the themes and hit on many of the book's highlights. But it was too short. It’s really hard to condense all of that into a single movie. Which brings me to the greats flaw of the film of Ender’s Game: It needed two movies.
 
The movie desperately needed more time, another beat in Battle School, another beat in Command School, and another at the end. Ender’s Game is on of the few books that really needed two movies to tell its story.
 
That’s the main criticism I can levy against the film. The cast was exceptional, Harrison Ford as Graff in particular. Some of the script was a little wonky, but never enough to drag down the rest. The visuals were beautiful (though I would have done something different camera-wise in the Battle Room). The movie was great, just too short.
 
Which just might make it that much more painful. It’s easy to hate a movie that’s just plain shoddy (See: The Last Airbender) or fails to capture the spirit of the book (See: BBC’s The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe). Then it’s easy; the movie felt nothing like the book, missed the point, and sucked. In those cases you laugh off the movie figuring, hey, they tried, whatever.
 
Ender’s Game came so close as a movie. It had all the pieces it needed for a great adaption. Everything was freaking there, the movie had it all. And it was great, for that. But it needed the chance to breathe. It needed the time to get into Ender’s isolation, to explore Dragon Army, to explore the consequences of his decisions. We needed two movies!
 
Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed the movie. I almost cheered when we met Bean and later Petra. Every one of Graff’s scenes was an absolute blast (Ford was able to capture Graff’s severity and warmth like no other). It was great; it just needed more time. What makes it more painful is that if someone ever tries again in the future, the parts will no longer be here. We won’t be able to have Harrison Ford as Graff again nor many of the other people involved.
 
Ender’s Game is by no means a bad movie, great even; but it came this close to being incredible. Movie’s worth a watch, but definitely read the book.


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Genre Blending

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Oct 31 2013 · 89 views

Essays, Not Rants! 084: Genre Blending
Originally posted October 25th 2013
 
Remember when superhero movies were just becoming a thing? They usually fell into the same pattern: someone gets powers and saves the world. Fairly straight forward, right? Sure, there were different approaches to the idea: X-Men drew on themes of discrimination and Spider-Man was about a hero trying to balance life and superheroing. The Dark Knight, Watchmen, and The Incredibles deconstructed several tropes associated with the genre, and Iron Man and The Incredibles reconstructed a deal of them (yep, The Incredibles did both). But at the end of the day, all of them were, for the most part, variations on a theme.
 
Then Thor rolled around. While, yes, it was still about a superhero saving the world, the film and character were approached like a fantasy film in the vein of The Lord of the Rings rather than an out-and-out ‘superhero film.’ The result was a movie that felt very different from, say, Iron Man. Suddenly the superhero genre had expanded. Thor wasn’t just about a normal guy getting powers; it was about a fantastical superhuman progressing through the hero’s journey in a blend of fantasy and reality.
 
A few months later Captain America: The First Avenger came out, transplanting a superhero movie into a period piece (like The Incredibles!). Unlike The Incredibles, though, The First Avenger fully embraced its time period: World War II. Just as Thor crossed into fantasy, this film blended the a war movie with superhero tropes. Yes, The First Avenger still has all the hallmarks of the superhero film, but it’s hardly a strict superhero movie. We have a superhero who’s more like a commando (or is it the other way round?). Similarly, X-Men: First Class (also released in the Summer of 2011) took place in the ‘60s, keeping its discrimination subtext and mixing it with Cold War imagery.
 
Which brings me to The Winter Soldier, the trailer of which just dropped (if you haven’t seen it, go now!). The new Captain America movie seems to be, like The First Avenger before it, dispensing with a lot of ‘classic’ superhero tropes. If anything, The Winter Soldier is shaping up to be more like a political thriller in the vein of Patriot Games or The Bourne Identity rather than Iron Man. Yes, it’s still a movie about Captain America and there is an evil looking villain; but Blade Runner has androids and it’s not Star Wars. It’s not solely a film of one genre.
 
As a genre, superhero movies, like science fiction and fantasy before it, are rapidly becoming far more diverse with their subject matter. The Avengers drew some aspects from war movies, Man Of Steel focused its central theme not on Superman vs Zod but on the question of Superman’s identity. Of course, this doesn’t always go so well; Green Lantern tried to create a space opera and, well, failed miserably. So what did Green Lantern do wrong? Does space opera simply not work with superheroes? No, Green Lantern was a reminder that blending genres isn’t enough: you always need a good story.
Fun thing is, this trend shows no sign of stopping. Upcoming Thor: The Dark World is still a fantasy (directed by some Game of Thrones alum, no less), Guardians of the Galaxy is looking to be Marvel’s attempt at a space opera, and Ant-Man is gonna be an Edgar Wright film. Why is this so important? Folks, we’re watching a genre develop.
 
Short post? Yes. Why? I’m working on a short film this weekend. I’m busy. Heck, I hardly have time to go out and watch movies.


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Awesome Non-Combatants

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Oct 31 2013 · 79 views

Essays, Not Rants! 083: Awesome Non-Combatants
Originally published October 18th 2013
 
During my idle perusal of the vast wastes of internet I came across a review of this past week’s episode of Agents of SHIELD. What caught my interest was one of the reviewer’s criticisms: there were still too many techie-type characters who couldn’t fight. And that that was lame and frustrating.
 
Now, besides wrong, I find this criticism fascinating. Because yes, it is interesting to see an action-orientated show where half of the main cast aren’t able to actively fight bad guys. What often happens instead is we get only one of these characters who gets overshadowed by everyone else. When done poorly, this can get to the point that we wonder why they’re even one of the main characters. Yet there’s an obligation to have these sorts in a story. After all, not everyone in real life runs around guns blazing. Paramilitary groups and ships’ crews need their support teams. So they’re there, and that’s about it. But when written well, like I think Fitz and Simmons of SHIELD are, they can become great, interesting characters in their own right and add another dynamic to their story.
 
Let’s look at Fitz and Simmons further for a second. No, they don’t fight, in fact, they’re pretty adamant about avoiding combat. They’re scientists! Yet the show still keeps them vital to the team. In the pilot it was Fitz who engineered Coulson’s nonlethal third option, for example. Skye too, the other non-combatant, holds her own too, be it through hacking or sweet-talking. Point is, they do stuff! They’re cool! And, rather than having one Science Guy to do all the sciencing we have a team of three splitting the load.
 
We see the idea of vital non-combatants in another show Joss Whedon worked on: Firefly. Kaylee, Simon, and some of the others don’t do much fighting, but they’re still made to feel useful through how they’re written. The show’s plots aren’t always (and seldom solely) of the “we’re in a tight spot, let’s shoot our way out” variety. Instead, we’re given a variety of plots where sometimes mechanicing or doctoring is the best solution. Yeah, it’s harder to write, but when it works it makes each character feel that much more needed.
 
Pacific Rim did it too, with the scientist characters of Newt and Gottlieb. They’re interesting enough as they are, clearly, and they also want to help with the cancellation of the apocalypse. No, they aren’t pilot Jaegers and fighting Kaiju firsthand, but, as Newt puts it, he wants to be a rockstar. And later on he and Gottlieb are given their chance and proceed to get the information needed to save the day. The film’s written well enough that their moment doesn’t feel awkwardly worked in or just tacked on. Furthermore, it ties in to the movie’s theme of everyone having a part to play in saving the world, even the nerds.
There’s an interesting misconception that a strong character has to be a fighter. Ergo a strong female character has to be out doing something adventurous and can’t be one who stays home. Yet a character like that can still be terribly boring (see: Salt) and a character can be stay in the castle yet still be terribly interesting (see: Cersei Lannister). The strength of a character isn’t judged by the amount of butt they can kick but that they’re both interesting and vital. It’s up to good writing to ensure that characters feel needed and interesting throughout a story.
 
So by all means, keep Fitz, Simmons, and Skye inept at combat, just keep writing them as interesting, legitimate characters.


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Science Fiction, Parables, and Gravity

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Oct 31 2013 · 38 views

Essays, Not Rants! 082: Science Fiction, Parables, and Gravity
Originally published October 11th 2013
 
Yes, I’m still on my science fiction apologetics kick. As I’ve established over and over again, as a genre, science fiction can say a lot that normal fiction can’t, or say it in ways it can’t. Gravity is a fine example of this. Because like it or not, Alfonso Cuarón’s masterpiece is science fiction. If Super 8 and Moon are science fiction, then so is Gravity.
 
Super 8, like E.T. before it, is fundamentally a movie about growing up and moving on. Moon isn’t about Sam Rockwell mining Helium-3 so much as it questions ideas about what it means to be human. Pacific Rim is as much about togetherness as it is about canceling apocalypses. Similarly, Gravity is a movie about faith,the will to live and what exactly being alive means. All these movies use the trappings of science fiction as the backdrop for their stories and to tell stories that could not be told otherwise.
 
Pacific Rim communicates its refusal to settle for the world we’re given though Jaegers and Kaiju. We’re presented personifications of fear and devastation and then told a story where those beasts can be stood up to and defeated. The movie’s centered around this idea, with other themes wound into it. It’s the clear-cut line of all of humanity against the invaders that allow it to be conveyed so clearly and yet so artfully. It plain works.
 
Moon uses its lunar setting to heighten the feeling of isolation that permeates the film. It also uses its twenty-minutes-into-the-future time period to address its central issue in a unique way. Duncan Jones’ film gives physicality to the question of identity and humanity; rather than having characters discuss it they’re forced to confront it. We, as an audience, don’t choke on the philosophizing, instead it’s presented to us through the story. Through the use of science fiction, storytellers are able to smoothly communicate themes and ideas that, in another setting, could feel heavy handed or just plain out of place. Gravity does this magnificently.
 
Gravity could be called Life of Pi in space without a tiger. Like Yann Martel’s novel, Gravity centers itself around people trying to survive where people aren’t supposed to survive. Also like the book, it examines the meaning of life, insofar as what’s the point of being alive? Gravity explores this theme through its two astronauts drifting in space, dying to survive. Where better to ponder God then miles above the atmosphere? Where else to examine humanity’s need for connection than in the isolation of space? By setting Gravity in space as opposed to in the middle of the ocean, a desert, or vacant island, Cuarón can hone his film to what he wants to address and mask it beautifully in a sublime story about survival. There’s little preachifying, instead its message is communicated through the story and characters.
 
Science fiction, like fantasy, can be a parable. Within its lack of limits we’re able to personify evil itself or present a helplessness beyond the scope of anything we know. Within it lies the capability to eloquently communicate a message unique to itself. Does all science fiction explore the depth its afforded? No. But then does all non-genre fiction?


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Genre as Literature

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Oct 31 2013 · 49 views

Essays, Not Rants! 081: Genre as Literature
Originally published October 4th 2013
 
I love science fiction. I’ve said that before on this blog, and I’ll say it again. I like spaceships. I like a world that’s a little more than ours. But when it comes to literary value science fiction almost always gets written off as being science fiction. Fantasy gets the same treatment. Why? Because it’s genre. Here’s the thing, though: science fiction can be as literary as it can be pulpy. Just like any other genre.
 
First off, let’s look up what exactly literary means. Wikipedia sources Joyce Saricks and defines literary fiction as “serious,” “critically acclaimed,” and “complex, literate, multilayered novels that wrestle with universal dilemmas.” Most interestingly, the term ‘literary’ fell into common usage in the 60’s. Why? To differentiate ‘serious’ fiction from genre. Which doesn’t make sense.
 
For example, look at The Left Hand of Darkness or The Dispossessed, by Ursula K. LeGuin. The former (published in 1969) deals with questions of gender and politics as well as being an outsider. There are layers and layers of this in The Left Hand of Darkness; some of it implicit and others not quite clear until after later thought. The Dispossessed (published 1974), on the other hand, looks at anarchy vs capitalism, individualism vs collectivism, and the tension when a person from one worldview visits a world where the opposite is practiced. So far, these seem to be pretty universal — and topical — themes. Both books are also extremely serious and have both been critically acclaimed (they won both the Hugo and Nebula awards, two annual science fiction accolades). So far this sounds very literary to me.
 
What about Ender’s Game; does Orson Scott Card’s novel fall under Saricks’ definition of literary? First glance would imply not; after all it’s just about children saving the world from aliens. Only it’s not. Ender’s Game is, at it’s core, a novel about empathy. Throughout the book Ender struggles with the tension between hate and love. Can you still hate someone, even your tormenter, after you understand them completely? What happens if this capacity for empathy is used as a weapon? And what if you’re institutionally ostracized from everyone else into becoming a weapon? Here lies the focus of Ender’s Game, not in killing aliens (whether the upcoming film keeps these themes is another issue). Like LeGuin’s novels, Ender is also critically acclaimed and, arguably, quite serious.
 
We can easily apply this lens to cinema as well. Underneath its slick action sequences, Inception asks questions about the nature of filmmaking and reality. Would you stay in a world where things were perfect, even if it wasn’t real? District 9 explores similar themes to Ender, albeit with regards to racism. Moon questions the meaning of identity in ways normal literature cannot.
Granted, a lot of genre fiction can be bad. Pulp novels from the early 1900’s tend to lack any sort of depth (though they set a lot of genre conventions still observed today). But then, can’t ‘normal,’ ‘non-genre’ fiction be lousy You can find lousy detective novels, lousy historical fiction, lousy adventures, lousy fanfiction, lousy thrillers, and, redundant as it sounds, lousy romance novels. Why is some of it lousy? Because some of it is good; really good. Some might even be ‘literary.’
 
So why was a term like ‘paraliterature’ coined to differentiate popular or commercial fiction from consecrated ‘literature?’ Does having the presence of anything outside the realms of normalcy instantly lousy a piece of fiction? Way I see it, there shouldn’t be a divide: genre can be literary. Video games can be literary, look at The Last of Us! Comics can be literary (Watchmen). The problem with setting up a hard and fast guideline about where the line between literature and genre/paraliterature is that, like it or not, some of what you’re trying to keep out will inevitably slip through the cracks. Even if a criteria is as subjective as ‘serious.’ The alternate would be completely arbitrary decision making which, frankly, is just plain stupid.


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Let's Talk About Agents of SHIELD

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Oct 31 2013 · 59 views

Essays, Not Rants! 080: Let's Talk About Agents of SHIELD
Originally posted September 28th 2013
 
Did you watch it this week? Because you really should have.
 
See, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (henceforth referred to without the periods), is a spin-off of a movie. A movie series, mind you. And it doesn’t focus any of the protagonists from said movie series. The deck is kinda stacked against it. With all that it’d be easy for the show to wallow as just something to sorta tide us over while we wait for the next big Marvel movie. Alternately, it could be a half-hearted show just meant to cash in on the Avengers craze. Instead, SHIELD is a fully formed show that exists within the same world as The Avengers but, rather than being dependent on it, is able to stand on its own and tell a great story.
 
Of course, we have to talk about its ties to The Avengers and the others. We’re clearly in the same world; we see action figures of the Avengers in a store window and an ad for Stark Industries on the side of a bus. But when all the fun’s to be had by genius-billionaire-playboy-philanthropists why are we following around such ordinary non-superpowered people? That seems to be show’s central question: at the climax of the episode, the hunted Mike talks about normality and gods, about wanting to be more than normal. The tension comes from relatively normal people being thrust into abnormal situations, that line between normal and super. And instead of sitting around waiting for Iron Man and Hawkeye to come save the day, we’re following the agents of SHIELD (hey, that’s the name of the show!).
 
Who, by the way, are terrific characters, owing in no small part to the very smart, very tight script. Skye, for example, at first seems to be the usual super-capable, antiestablishment, rebel-hacker. But we quickly learn that she’s a bit of a fangirl (cosplaying outside Stark Tower? One of us!) and isn’t as confident or one note as she appears. Every character feels distinct and unique rather than just a bunch of bland faces around Coulson. Even Fitz and Simmons, the two scientist types, feel different from another and yet complimentary. And Coulson gets even more development than he did in the movies; he grows into not just the leader of the team but into a father figure and moral center.
 
Of course, as much as we’re told about these characters we still want to learn more about them. Why doesn’t Melinda May want to go back into the field when she’s so clearly capable? And what really did happen to Coulson? We get all these tidbits, knowing full well there’s more just waiting for us to find out. They seem interesting, there’s so much more about them we want to know. Now that our interest has been piqued, we’re going to watch every week to get to know them better.
 
Along with that, each character feels needed. It’d be plenty easy to just dismiss Fitz and Simmons as the sciencey ones who do science when the plot needs a science to move the plot on while the heroes set about with their thrilling heroics. Yet there’s a certain badassery to the way their roles are portrayed. In SHIELD, it’s cool to be the scientists. It’s like Firefly or Chuck the way that everyone in the team has their role and purpose. Everyone feels real, everyone feels needed.
 
Agents of SHIELD has me very, very excited. Everything from the Extremis tie-in to Shepherd Book Ron Glass as a doctor has me giddy. I haven’t been this excited about tv show in years. We’re getting more stories in the world of Iron Man and Captain America, only it’s not about them. It’s about the agents policing that world.
 
Man. I can’t wait till Tuesday.


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Of Board Games

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Oct 31 2013 · 37 views

Essays, Not Rants! 079: Of Board Games
Originally posted September 21st 2013
 
Board games are still a thing. And card games and other such games that don’t require a TV, computer, or phone. Fascinating, isn’t it?
 
Now, I love video games. The Last of Us is a work of art and there are feel things in life that can compete with mixing alcohol and Super Smash Brothers. That’s just how things are and it’d be blind to ignore it. Video games are excellent, and are here to stay. So how long is it till digital gaming eclipses old fashioned Monopoly and Risk?
 
Let’s get this said first: Monopoly is a terrible game: usually. It’s almost entirely based on luck, has what’s usually an arbitrary end time, and, most frustratingly, can get boring. It’s easy for your attention to wane as the game slogs on and nothing seems to come of it. Sure, you can talk to each other, but, well, why bother? Just let the game end already so we can do something else.
 
But that’s Monopoly. Some games are more entertaining, like Munchkins. It’s all the fun of a tabletop rpg, only without, well, the role-playing. It’s backstabbing, looting, monster killing, and very funny cards. Unlike Monopoly, it encourages much more player interaction (much of which is conniving against each other). There’s also a measure of fudging the rules a little, something you can’t do in a digital game. Of course, sometime the pacing can go south and you tire, but it’s usually a fun game; especially if the cards are right and group’s up for it.
 
Which brings me to Settlers of Catan, the veritable epitome of board games. If you’ve never played it go buy a copy, make friends, and play it. It’s a game that revolves around interaction. If you’re playing and you haven’t cut alliances, ganged up on someone, or manipulated the mess out of the person next to you, you’re playing it wrong. Essentially, it’s Game of Thrones.
 
But it’s not just the game that facilitates it, it’s the nature of being around a table. You can watch the despair in your opponents eyes as you cut off her burgeoning road or sit helplessly as the guy next to you laughs maniacally as he and someone you thought would be your ally corner you in your section of the map. More than that, it’s the fun of trying to talk your way out of someone choosing to take one of your cards (as opposed to the other guy who’s definitely winning I mean c’mon man look at that city he just built). The fun of being around a table together is when two of you are each trying to talk a third into making a decision that will supposedly be fore his benefit but’s really for one of yours. This interaction is the soul of the game, as vital to play as rolling the dice. Board games are inherently social games, and the best ones make full use of it.
 
Playing a game like Settlers digitally against an AI or with opponents miles away causes it to lose much of its human aspect. Furthermore, when rules are enforced by emotionless lines of code, concessions like undoing a move, trading on the sly, or showing your buddy your hand for a laugh are no longer possible. It’s just more fun around a table.
 
There’s that moment in a good board game where everyone is talking over each other. Maybe two people are each trying to convince a third to enter into a deal that will definitely benefit the player (but really the two are trying to screw each other over by proxy), another player’s laughing and the other two are trying to be advisers to the player being offered the deal. All this is happening at once, of course. Board games aren’t going anywhere.


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Formulaic Formulas

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Oct 31 2013 · 70 views

Essays, Not Rants! 078: Formulaic Formulas
Originally posted September 14th 2013
 
There are a lot of people who, when it comes to movies, say there’s a distinct formula to how everything works. Some people blanch at the thought, others say it’s blame for the derivative nature of, y’know, everything.
 
Well, there is a formula.
 
Sort of: there are these certain moments you can use to plot the course of a movie’s story. Just about every good story will hit these beats. They may not always be as pronounced as in another film, but they do happen.
 
Now, this isn’t bad. This isn’t the same plot, it’s the same moments. Campbell outlined this over sixty years ago where he outlined the Hero’s Journey in his Hero With a Thousand Faces. For my purposes (and as a way to prep for homework), I’m gonna be using what Viki King lists in her book How To Write a Movie in 21 Days mixed with what I learnt last semester.
Let’s look at Iron Man. Because I love the movie and I analyzed it for a midterm. As the movie opens we’re introduced to Tony Stark; genius, billionaire, playboy. We’re also introduced to a central theme: Tony’s irresponsibility. Now that we’ve got all that set up, it’s time for stuff to happen, like getting shrapnel in his chest. This changes his life, so what’s he gonna do about it? Tony opts to make his life count and builds the prototype Iron Man armor and breaks out, returns home, and shuts down Stark Industries’ weapons manufacturing; thereby crossing the point of no return.
 
Welcome to Act Two. This is where we spend time dealing more with Tony’s inner workings, figuring out who he is. He builds a new armor, continuously improving it, almost as a symbol of his working on himself. Of course, if this was all that happened in Act Two it’d get boring quick. So we force Tony to recommit to his goal. How? His weapons are still being given to the bad guys. He suits up and fights them, proving that yes: he is Iron Man, he’s done just sitting around. From here things only escalate. Obadiah Stane becomes more obvious in his villainy, leading up to where the worst possible thing happens: Tony loses his Arc Reactor and Stane goes after Pepper. This in turn leads us to the climax: Tony suits up with an underpowered Arc Reactor and fights Stane and wins. So concludes Act Two.
 
Now we’re tying up lose ends, Tony’s alright and, in a press conference, says that, yes, he is Iron Man. And the movie ends.
We can run Iron Man 3 through a similar break down: Tony’s introduced as an insomniac, the big issue of the movie comes up shortly after (he feels vulnerable; is he Iron Man or is the armor Iron Man?). Then his world changes: the next Mandarin attack leaves Happy Hogan injured. So Tony issues a challenge and his mansion is destroyed, creating his point of no return. Act Two begins with a broken Tony who, over time, rebuilds himself. We soon reach the midpoint where Tony recommits to his goal: he goes to the Florida mansion to continue doing the hero thing. This is followed shortly after by the worst thing possible: Air Force One is attacked, Pepper captured, and Rhody’s armorless. Then the climax at the docks and the resolution at the cliff. See? Still works.
 
But what about a movie that’s not about fighting bad guys? Like (500) Days of Summer?
 
Tom’s normal world is introduced by the narrator and the theme is brought up shortly after (what is love?). Then we’re given the inciting incident: Tom and Summer meet. The point of no return comes when they sleep together. From there we build their relationship, culminating in the midpoint where they break up and Tom fights with himself about whether or not go after her. The worst possible thing is portrayed to Regina Spektor’s “Hero”: Tom find out she’s engaged. The climax is Tom looking for work and Summer getting married. The resolution? The talk on the bench and Tom meeting Autumn.
 
Movies need these beats; without the midpoint Act Two starts to sag and gets dull. Without the worst thing possible happening (even if it’s not earth shattering), the climax loses its potency. We need some semblance of normalcy for the protagonist to leave behind. It all has to happen in some form, scale, or another.
 
Anyway, with all that done, I now have a quartet of movies to watch and break down. See you next week.
 


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Commercial and Literary

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Oct 31 2013 · 71 views

Essays, Not Rants! 077: Commercial and Literary
Originally posted September 7th 2013
 
There’s an interesting divide that tends to come up when discussing literature of any sort in an academic setting. That is, the divide between the commercial and the literary. What’s this mean exactly? Apparently when it comes to fiction and stuff there’s the stuff for ‘the masses’ and then the stuff that’s more for only people who would really understand it.
 
It’s the difference between Beasts of the Southern Wild and Pacific Rim. The latter is a movie that’s geared for just about anyone, the former is a borderline experimental movie with a tenuous grasp on a story. Maybe it’s its experimental nature of maybe it’s because it seems like you have to really really get it to understand it, but Beasts of the Southern Wild has been met with awards and Oscar nominations and the like. Pacific Rim on the other hand has gotten fanboys but will, of course, be absent from any considerations of it being a truly ‘great’ film. Why? Because Beasts is literary and Pacific Rim is commercial.
 
This is where I feel that things get weird. How do we define what’s entertainment and what’s art? On which side of the divide does a movie like Black Swan land? Or District 9? District 9 tackles the issues of race and prejudice with all the gusto of Invictus only masked in the slick veneer of excellent science fiction. Sure, District 9 was nominated, but there was little buzz afterwards (especially in comparison to The Hurt Locker). It was relegated to being ‘good science-fiction’ rather than a good movie. Because it’s got aliens and spaceships.
 
My problem with all this is that it’s such an arbitrary distinction. Maybe it’s because true art is incomprehensible, or maybe some people just like the ability to be snobs. Way I see it, literature is literature. The best way to judge something is whether it accomplishes what it sets out to achieve (for example, Pacific Rim told a phenomenal story about canceling the apocalypse; Hereafter failed to provide a half-interesting look at life and death). Even then, it’s unfair to say one film is better than another simply because it’s more arty, more literary than another. It’s that weird thing in the library where you have the fiction section here, but the literature section over there. Of course, that’s all genre; some fiction gets written off completely because it’s in a different medium.
 
Ah, video games. Not unlike science-fiction or movies about giant robots, video games as a whole are written off by most people by virtue of them being entertainment for kids. Never mind that there exists games like Spec Ops: The Line, Journey, or The Last of Us; all games that push and blur the ideas of games and stories, playing with their form and the stories that can be told. I’ve written about The Last of Us a few times, and it bears repeating just how great a story and game it is. Yet it won’t be considered literature (thought by all means it should be). Why? Because it’s a video game; childish entertainment. Hence: commercial, not literary; low art not high.
 
I fully realize I’m championing a lost cause. I know Pacific Rim and The Last of Us will never be considered in the same league as A Tale of Two Cities. It just seems to be such an injustice that this distinction exists and that it’s such an arbitrary one.
All said, I suppose it’d mean we would have to compare Sharknado with The Avengers, so there’s that.
 






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grew up on a ship

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at New York University

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