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Chewie, We're Home

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , Apr 16 2015 · 209 views

While browsing Twitter after class I realized that Celebration was happening now. And there was a live stream.

Couple minutes later Dylan and I had it playing on the projector in the Gallatin lounge. Then they announced that they were about to show the teaser. One of the grad students turned off the lights in the room (because who cares if a couple people are studying, this is Star Wars).

Dude.

Dude. Dude. Dude.
There were cheers. There was swearing (hey, that opening shot of the crashed Star Destroyer). And there was a lot of pure joy.

And Katie walked in a minute later and loudly said "Neeeeeerds."

This week's Essay, Not Rant is gonna be about it, because, duh, but gut reactions:
  • [redacted] YES DAISY RIDLEY SEEMS TO BE THE MAIN CHARACTER
  • And she looks like she can kick butt
  • Stormtroopers. Dude
  • The villain looks great
  • I really want Gwendolyn Christie to be in the chrome Stormtrooper armor
  • FALCON
  • X-Wings in atmosphere
  • Look at the mood of it! It's so uncynical
  • HAN SOLO AND FRIGGIN' CHEWBACCA



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Daredevil 'Pilot'

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , Apr 14 2015 · 131 views

Do we call 'em pilots? Like is the first episode of a Netflix series a pilot? I mean, by virtue of the way Netflix does their shows it wasn't commissioned to see if the show worked so...? How much of classic television parlance carries over into new distribution methods?

Anyway.

Dude.

Dude. Dude. Dude.

Lot to say. Action is impeccable. Dude.

Also really digging the very different tone; how it's gritty and dark, but not overbearingly so. It's doesn't feel washed in grimness, there's still pathos and joy and everything in between (even levity!), yet still able to bring the grit and the blood and the grime.

It also feels very New Yorky. I've a friend who lives in H–, uh, the Kitchen, and it's fun to see that part of Manhattan, albeit recovering from an alien attack and not gentrified.

So I'm stoked. To watch more of this series (dead god do I need more free time), but also for the rest of the Defenders. Man.

Also, Charlie Cox spoke in a friend of mine's class and is apparently a "real legit dude" so there's that too.



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A Manic Pixie Dream Problem

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Apr 11 2015 · 114 views

Essays, Not Rants! 160: A Manic Pixie Dream Problem

You know the story. Boy’s stuck in the doldrums of life. Girl shows up. Is quirky. Her quirkiness brings boy out of the normal world. They fall in love. The Manic Pixie Dream Girl has done her job. The Manic Pixie Dream Girl is a term to describe a female character archetype whose purpose is to bring a male character into a more interesting existence. Also they usually fall in love.

But this is a little broad. Is Wyldstyle from The LEGO Movie a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, then? For starters she’s Emmet’s love interest, should he be able win her away from Batman. Then her arrival brings Emmet out of normalcy into a life of adventure and she supports his transformation into the Chosen One. And she’s very different from anyone Emmet’s met, with her DJ-esque name, dyed hair, and rebellious nature. She seems to fit it to a T.

Thing is, Wyldstyle doesn’t only exist for Emmet. She has her own goal and arc. Wyldstyle wants to save the world, that Emmet is the Chosen one is more disappointment than cause for celebration. Over the course of the movie she learns to be vulnerable and to believe in herself.

Ramona, from Scott Pilgrim vs The World; however, is. Though a well-rounded character, her purpose in the plot is to be Scott’s prize and the catalyst for him to self-actualize (that is, realize that self-respect is necessary for love). Yes, she has baggage, but the movie doesn’t afford any runtime to developing it. And yes, she’s quirky: dyed hair, infinitely cooler than Scott, and is from New York. She’s that dream-girl who comes along and makes and makes the male character’s life better.

But Summer, from (500) Days of Summer, isn’t. Though Summer is someone a lot of people jump to when they think of this term (seeing as she’s quirky-ish and portrayed by Zooey Deschannel). The film, on the other hand, takes apart the notion of the dream girl. Tom expects Summer to ‘fix’ him and make his life better, but she doesn’t fit into who he expects her to be. Most notably, it’s only after they break up that Tom gets life together and gets out of his rut. Essentially, the movie breaks down the Manic Pixie Dream Girl fantasy, saying that someone else isn’t going to save you, you have to do it yourself.

I realize I’m using a lot of non-examples as a way of defining the term, but I owe that to my own unfamiliarity with a lot of the movies usually associated with the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. So why even talk about it?

In the years since coining the term, Nathan Rabin has distanced himself from it. Way he saw it, the term had almost lost reason; it’d become a trope unto itself rather than a symptom of problematic portrayals of women. It became easy to just say that a character was a Manic Pixie Dream Girl rather than it fostering discussion.

Because the term isn’t a way to demean women or to pigeonhole them, rather it should make writers and viewers conscious of women existing solely in relation to men. Though archetypes can be good, sometimes, like damsels in distress, they not only become emblematic of lazy writing, but also perpetuates a less-than-healthy view of reality (especially given how prevalent this one can be). That’s why I love using (500) Days of Summer as an example here, since though Summer very much fits the archetype, the film shows the consequences of the mindset.

In any case, it’s time to write better characters. Give a character depth, depth beyond “being quirky,” and give her life.


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So You're Saying You'll Give Me Money If I Let You Electrocute Me?

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Life And Such Apr 08 2015 · 216 views

So Monday and Tuesday night I took part in a study wherein I was put in an MRI and sometimes given mild shocks while watching a screen.

For money.

Woo science! I have no clue what they were studying and may have dozed off once or twice (staying up till 4 writing an essay on Ulysses will do that to ya), but hey! Science! And money! Not the first time I've done this. Well, the MRI is new (least for sciencing), but the shocks and studies aren't.
Hey, gotta pay for them Legos somehow. And booze. And groceries. Y'know.

tl;dr, Josh let people electrocute him so he could buy Legos.

Wait.

That didn't come out right.



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Sorry Nate, There’s No Princess In This Castle

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Apr 04 2015 · 191 views

Essays, Not Rants! 159: Sorry Nate, There’s No Princess In This Castle

Let’s talk about damsels, because the idea of the damsel in distress goes way back and ‘cuz damseling female characters (especially in video games) kinda has to stop.

So what is a damsel in distress? Anita Sarkeesian succinctly describes it as

“a plot device in which a female character is placed in a perilous situation from which she cannot escape on her own and must be rescued by a male character…”

This has been a staple of video games since very early on. In Super Mario Bros, Mario quests to save Princess Peach. This wasn’t necessarily bad, but it becomes a problem when the save-the-girl trope becomes systemic. It becomes old when I’m still saving Peach again nearly three decades later.

But let’s not focus on what games are doing wrong, since that’s plain depressing. Uncharted, in each of its three games, utilizes the damsel-in-distress trope, but in different ways each time. Given developer Naughty Dog’s near-legendary know-how of storytelling, it should come as no surprise that they know how to use and subvert this trope with great mastery.

The first game, Drake’s Fortune, seems to play the trope mostly straight. Reporter-of-sorts Elena, protagonist Nathan Drake’s sidekick/tagalong, gets captured early on in the story. The first chunk of the main story has Nate trekking to a castle to free Elena — only to get himself captured. It’s then Elena who busts him out, nicely turning the male-hero-rescues-imprisoned-female dynamic on its head. Elena does get captured again towards the end, and Nate sets out after her (and the treasure). It makes enough sense in context — and Elena is far from a helpless hostage, she fights her captors and effectively sets up the final confrontation of Nate and the villain. She’s damsel’d, yes, but she’s hardly helpless most of the time.

Elena shows up about halfway through Among Thieves, the second game; this time she meets Nate gun in hand, on her own (investigative) hunt for warlord Zoran Lazaravic. Not only does she not need saving: she’s now a fighter in her own right. This game doesn’t damsel her, and even getting caught in an explosion towards the end doesn’t make her the villain’s helpless captive.

But Among Thieves introduces a new character in Chloe, an old flame from Nate’s past who constantly flips sides between good and bad. Nate, feeling like he’s dragged her into this mess, is eager to rescue her from Zoran’s camp. To do so, he fights his way along a train traveling through Nepal (that he got on with Elena’s help, which is also worth noting). But when he finds Chloe it turns out she doesn’t want to be saved: this ‘damsel’ has her own agenda. Nate — and by extension the player — may see Chloe as a damsel, but she’s hardly in distress. Here Naughty Dog subverts the players’ expectations that the damsel awaits the heroes with open arms. Instead, Chloe saves Nate’s butt when they reunite and then calls him out on his stupid heroics. Nate’s princess isn’t in another castle: Nate’s princess plain doesn’t exist.


So come the third game, Drake’s Deception, it’s almost expected that no female character gets damsel’d. And they don’t, at no point is Nate trying to save a captured woman. Instead, his best friend and father-figure Sully is captured. A good chunk of the second act has Nate trying to rescue Sully. Having an older man as the damsel rather than the typical attractive young-woman is a fun twist in and of itself. But Naughty Dog doesn’t let it end there. Nate’s unrelenting quest to rescue Sully gives us a glimpse into his own psyche. Sully being captured doesn’t just serve as an arbitrary goal for Nate; instead his capture forces Nate to confront his own inner demons, demons that only a smack on the head from a father-figure can cure him of. Dameseling a male character not only avoids unfortunate implications, but also lets us a see a more vulnerable Nate.

We need more video games like the Uncharted games. Heck, we need more stories like this. It’s wonderful to see women in an action-adventure genre who aren’t reduced to set dressing. Characters who, like Marion in Raiders of the Lost Ark, can hold their own and are fantastic in their own right. What Uncharted does is show that stories with strong plotting and motivation can be written without resorting to creating damsels in distress. It’s time to stop being lazy and to work on storytelling.

Postscript: Gameplay-wise, Chloe and Elena are useful allies in firefights, never becoming a burden. Furthermore, these games fantastic to play and not just for the narrative, they’re solid all around. Also Drake’s Deception is an example of what I was talking about last week, where we have a mixed cast but also bits of intimacy between Nate and Sully. See? It’s doable.


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Another Boyband Saving The World

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Mar 28 2015 · 122 views

Essays, Not Rants! 158: Another Boyband Saving The World

So Final Fantasy XV is finally coming out ‘soon,’ with the demo dropping recently. The game’s been on my radar since the debut trailer for Final Fantasy Versus XIII (as it was called then) was released almost nine years ago and as a fan of the Final Fantasy series — mostly because I plain love a good JRPG (there’s something fun about Japanese melodrama and saving the world) — I’m quite eager to see how this game works and if it’s any good.

As we’ve slowly found out more about the game, however, I’m a little annoyed that the game essentially features what looks like a boyband as the main characters. It’s disappointing to see yet another male dominated video game, but certainly not a deal breaker, least at this stage. That said, I’m curious as to the reasoning behind them going in this direction. Fortunately, game director Hajime Tabata explained why:

"Speaking honestly, an all-male party feels almost more approachable for players. Even the presence of one female in the group will change their behaviour, so that they'll act differently. So to give the most natural feeling, to make them feel sincere and honest, having them all the same gender made sense in that way,”

This is where things start to really bother me: I don’t see how having a more diverse cast would be less approachable. These days around half of gamers are women and if we want video games as a genre to grow up we’ve gotta get away from this girls-have-cooties mentality that’s permeated the industry for far too long.

It’s especially frustrating that it comes a part of Final Fantasy of all things. The series has usually been quite good at representation, with the games featuring multiple female party members who often had an important role in the story beyond being damseled. The latest major installment, XIII had a woman as protagonist, something I talked about in my first post here three years ago. Not every game needs a female protagonist, but that doesn’t excuse making the game about a boyband.

Now Tabata does have some good intentions. He wants to get into the private life of men and stuff I’ve read about the game has said that the game does feature its male characters openly showing affection to each other. Which is actually really cool (suck it, patriarchy!). An unironic, actually honest look at a bromance is possibly as rare as strong female protagonists. There’s a reason one of my favorite moments in the finale of Agent Carter was Howard Stark admitting that he loved Steve Rogers and missed him. I am so down for more honest bromances in fiction.

But I do not believe that this has to be an either-or scenario. I think we can have a single story or game that features both male intimacy and strong female characters — especially since Final Fantasy games usually take well over thirty hours to complete. Final Fantasy XIII had a mixed cast, but had some great scenes between sisters Lightning and Serah. If it’s vitally important for there to be chunks of time with the guys alone, then why not split the party? Final Fantasy VIII did it sixteen years ago, why not do it again?

I realize that in some ways I’m splitting hairs here, and we still have an indeterminate time before launch during which, unlikely as it is, things may change for Final Fantasy XV. I’m probably going to play the game at some point too; this isn’t a boycott. But I love video games and representation matters as much as defying gender norms about men. In an ideal world, we could do both at once and I don’t see why Tabata’s game couldn’t be that ideal world.


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55, 56, 57, 58

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Life And Such, Uncategorized Mar 25 2015 · 122 views

So this is my late post-Spring Break entry.

For the first time in my college career(?) I left the City during Spring Break, this time to visit my girlfriend in Paris, where she's studying abroad (because she's super smart and writes essays in French when she's not sciencing in English).

Now, despite the whole growing-up-on-a-ship thing, I'd never actually been to mainland France (Martinique, yes, but that's practically a different country sorta), so going to France made country 55 for me, awesome.

Also awesome: seeing the girlfriend again. Didn't do much tourist stuff in Paris (though we did get a rowboat in Versailles). Lots of baguettes, lots of wine, I blanched at the plate of escargot she ate, a mild bar crawl, saw the Eiffel Tower (and the bridge from Inception!), ate Turkish food, went to a couple free museums, cooked, and so on.

The adventure proper begun last weekend. She skipped a couple days of class and we flew out to Prague, Czech Republic (56 – also, my first landlocked country). Now, Prague, as I found out, is called The City of Spies. Which makes me really regret not bringing my trenchcoat (and talking her into bringing her red dress, which she thought would make us a little Burt Macklin). We did a lot in Prague, and not just taking advantage of $1.50 pints (THEY COME IN [cheap] PINTS). Hummed the Game of Thrones theme while walking through a castle, ate a lot of pub food, saw a lot of history, bought post cards. The tourist schtick.

Only spent two nights in Prague, one being the night we flew in, Friday morning we caught a train to Vienna, Austria (57) where we met up with an old friend of mine. We got food (Vienna lager in Vienna, woo!) and saw the sights, the highlight for me is easily a statue of a man punching a horse.

That evening saw us on a train to Budapest, Hungary (58!) where we spent the night and the next day before flying back to Paris. We did more touristing, drank more pints, ate more local food (dude, Eastern European food is so good), I sent a very immature postcard to my brother, crossed from Pest into Buda and back again, and saw a pretty grand hotel.
In Paris I loaded up on Haribo and Mars Bars before flying back to New York.

So there's my Spring Break, now it's back to classes in a land where there are no cheap pints.


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On Finales

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Mar 21 2015 · 122 views

Essays, Not Rants! 157: On Finales

So Parks and Recreation ended a few weeks ago bringing an end to a particularly great show that I got into far too late. The finale was especially wonderful, elegantly tying a bow on seven years of stories.

Rather than having some big hoorah, though, the episode has the former Parks Department take on an utterly inconsequential task (getting a swing in a park fixed) before going their separate ways. With the whole season serving as an effective wrap up to the current proceedings, there was no need for there to be a big artificially succinct Final Big Moment. Instead, Parks makes fixing the dumb swing matter by flashing forward with each character to see where they are in the future.

Parks is far from the first; How I Met Your Mother did it in their finale first year. I’ve talked about my many qualms with it narratively, but it was a structurally solid technique. We got some closure on characters and know what Ted ended up doing, even if it went against everything that’d been built up thus far. But Parks goes further and arguably does it better by going to several different spots in the future for each main character (and even some lesser ones). We find out many of the key points events happens to them in the years afterwards. Some of their bigger decisions are prefaced with vignettes showing off key character moments and their growth. At the end of it all there’s this strong sense of resolution.

If anything, Parks errs on telling us almost too much. It seems nearly as if we know everything that happens to these characters in the future. Little is left to the imagination, we know Andy and April have kids, we know Ron ends up happily in charge of a National Park, and we know that either Leslie or Ben became president. By the time the finale ends we’re left knowing that we’ve heard just about all the stories there is to tell about these people.

Which makes me wonder what we want out of a finale to a show. There’s something fun about an ending that implies the adventure continues: look at Serenity (effectively the finale to Firefly) which has since spawned a couple comics, or even Chuck which remains open-ended enough for more to happen. But an ending like Lost's which firmly closes the door on anything else isn’t bad either. So what makes an ending satisfying?

I think closure is what really matters. The ending of Serenity left a few balls up in the air while still resolving some subplots, like Simon and Kaylee’s romance and what happened to River. But even though we knew Mal wasn’t quite out of the woods and that the crew as a whole were a little worse for the wear, we’ve got this sense of finality. This adventure is over; even if there’s more to come, for now the major issues are resolved.

What’s important is that the ending fits the story. Firefly’s works so well because the show has always been bittersweet. Lost is fundamentally mythic and Chuck was always about a romance and family. Parks’ fits because the show’s format has always been a little meta, so showing what happens ten to forty years down the line isn’t out of place. Lost couldn’t have Parks’ ending and it couldn't be the other way round either.

It’s hard to get endings right. Don Quixote’s ending allowed for some guy to write a sequel, so when Cervantes wrote an actual sequel he had Don Quixote die at the end so no one would write another allowing him to have the final word on his knight errant. How I Met Your Mother undid (at least) a season’s worth of character development with its finale so even though we knew what happened to the characters we felt a little cheated out of our investment. Parks and Recreation had its cake and ate it too; we know that things work out for everyone in their own way, and we’re okay with that. We’re invited to fill in the blanks (is Leslie or Ben president?), but we’re told things are alright. And that’s good enough.


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Superheroes Are For The Birds

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Mar 14 2015 · 122 views

Essays, Not Rants! 156: Superheroes Are For The Birds

I’ve said too many times before that awards don’t always mean quality (especially when The Lego Movie gets ignored), but that doesn’t mean I still don’t have opinions. Especially when those opinions are about Birdman.

I really enjoyed Birdman. Its shot-as-if-it’s-one-take-ness got a little obtrusive at times and bordered on being gimmicky, but its strong plotting and performances helped bring it past that. It was interesting and a great movie; can’t really argue with that.

What I can argue with is with is its point-of-view. Birdman’s about a former superhero actor who’s trying to be taken seriously as a theater actor. The dichotomy there is clear: on the one hand you’ve got superhero movies, the ultimate pulpy-popcorn blockbuster, on the other is a Broadway adaption of a Raymond Carver short story, about as high the performing arts can get. The genres are opposites, and one is clearly shown as being more artistically valued than the other.

Which makes Birdman’s relationship with the superhero genre so fascinating. It’s a movie about a genre but instead of parodying it, the film takes apart the culture surrounding the genre. There’s a question of why so many actors are in superhero films (even Jeremy Renner), but more importantly being known for a superhero film follows Michael Keaton’s Riggan around, a literal ghost of his past. Birdman could have worked differently — we could have had Bruce Willis or Arnold Schwarzenegger escaping from being action heroes, for example — and the central plot and theming would remain much the same: the idea here is that if you want to make true art you have to escape from the pulp.

Adding on to this view is that pulp and genre movies are inherently lesser than ‘serious’ ones. Especially when the genre’s a popular one. In discussing the overall critical distaste for superhero films, James Gunn, director of Guardians of the Galaxy, said “What bothers me slightly is that many people assume because you make big films that you put less love, care, and thought into them then people do who make independent films or who make what are considered more serious Hollywood films” (x). Way Gunn sees it, people figure that there’s a divide between real art and making money. Birdman, as an artsy movie, was made out of love whereas Guardians, the blockbuster, was made for a quick buck. Gunn vehemently disagrees, arguing that there’s still a great deal of love for the craft and storytelling even in an expensive, pulpy movie.

It’s storytelling, then, that should be paramount to defining art. Without its strong story Birdman would just be a movie about some washup idiosyncratically shot. What makes Guardians such a great movie is its commitment to plot and characters. Storytelling, not genre, should be the ultimate test of a movie.

I think that’s why I love good pulpy movies. Sure, they may not always be serious, but a strong plot goes a long way. Superhero movies too can deal with deeper themes. Iron Man 3 looks at identity, questioning whether you’re defined by who you are or what you’ve done. The Winter Soldier discusses privacy and the relevance of old ideals in a modern world. Guardians is about not having to be particularly special to save the world and the importance of having other people. That we don’t always notice these deeper scenes is part of the beauty, the films aren’t heavy handed; rather they intertwine theme and the story. Pulpiness and a lack of seriousness doesn’t mean a lack of depth.

Point of all this to say, genres are to be used. Though a great film, Birdman perpetuates the annoying trend that real art’s gotta be angsty, that flair has no room for substance. It’s problematic, saying that one way of telling a story is better than another. Because at the end of the day, nobody wants everyone telling the same story the same way.


Writer’s note: I definitely think Birdman earned its Best Picture, but I think Richard Linklater deserved Best Director for Boyhood give how singular that movie is. But eh, who cares, it’s just a statue.


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Let's Take A Look at IMDB

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , Mar 11 2015 · 158 views

Posted Image

And then...

Posted Image

And then...

Posted Image

I'M ON FRIGGING IMDB.

I have an IMDb page.

This is real. This is actually happening. Part of me can't believe it.

Now let's get this sucker screened at a festival.






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josh

twenty-three


grew up on a ship


studies Storytelling

at New York University


frequently found writing in a coffee shop, behind a camera, or mixing alcohol and video games

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