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The Gutsy Ending

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Aug 23 2014 · 62 views

Essays, Not Rants! 127: The Gutsy Ending

I feel like Edge of Tomorrow has been out long enough that it’s safe to talk about the ending. And honestly, I feel like I could have discussed the ending much closer to when it came out because, well, it kinda just was. There wasn’t a big shocker at the ending, no moment that left you going “woah.”

Edge of Tomorrow ends with breaking the loop, as one would expect from a movie that’s essentially Groundhog Day with aliens and guns. But unlike Groundhog Day which ended with the next day, Edge of Tomorrow ends with a reset. To the day before, only this time the aliens are defeated and such. So yay, there’s a happy ending, everyone’s alive despite the heroic sacrifices made by Will Cage and Rita Vrataski. It’s a happy ending and there’s the hint that that undercurrent of romantic tension is free to blossom. Woohoo.

But it’s the easy ending. Everything’s tidy and neat and somehow destroying the alien Omega hive mind meant time/Cage’s consciousness being shot back to the morning before — the loop is reset. Which makes sense (kinda), but, again, it’s so typical. It was a great movie up till then; really pushing the concept for all it was worth. There was also some build up as to what they would have to do to destroy the Omega. Maybe by destroying the Omega Cage would become the new Omega and control the aliens. There were hints that in order to end the loop Cage would have to be willing to sacrifice himself and Rita. Ultimately he does, but it’s cushioned because he’s back to the start at the end.

I’m told the manga the film is based on, All You Need Is Kill, has a much ballsier ending. In it Rita never lost her reset ability, so both would ‘wake up’ after they died. At the end, however, they turn against each other since they’ve become antennae for the hive mind themselves and, thus, one of them has to die. That’s a cool ending and it’s one that plays all its cards. The film, well, played it safe.

I like gutsy endings when done right. District 9, for example, didn’t end with Wikus reuniting with his wife but rather, well, he become one of the prawns himself. It’s a weird ending, but one that’s appropriate given the gritty tone of the film. For it to end happier would be untrue to the narrative that had been presented. Furthermore, it’s one that sticks with you long after the movie came out

The Last of Us is another story that had to be gutsy. Given how the game progressed, it couldn’t have a bright happy ending — to do so, in the words of writer/game director Neil Druckmann “...didn't feel honest anymore. After everything they've done and everything they've been through, that was letting them off a little too easy - especially for Joel." The honest ending was the ballsy one. The one that left you a little uncomfortable and questioning all that had come before. It worked, and the game is all the better for it.

Now, there’s a time and place for the gutsy ending, just as there is for the safer one. The recent film What If ends much happier than I expected, though part of me did want it to step up and be the romcom that ended melancholically. But hey, it didn’t feel nearly as schizophrenic as Edge of Tomorrow did. I’m just fine with movies like The Guardians of the Galaxy or The LEGO Movie ending with an optimistic note. The gutsy ending is the one that defies conventions and provides a resolution that, though not necessarily unexpected, is one that’s unusual. Like having your two main characters turn on each other.


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Antisocial Gaming

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Aug 16 2014 · 153 views

Essays, Not Rants! 126: Antisocial Gaming

My brother recently got Titanfall which means that I got to go a few rounds at it. That game is fun. It’s also unique in that there’s no traditional single player mode; the only way to play is competitive online multiplayer. It makes sense. There are plenty of games out there where the single player campaign is often passed over in favor of the far more popular multiplayer. But here’s the thing aboutTitanfall: only one person can play per console. If you want to play with a friend, they’ll need their own copy of the game and their own console and tv to play.

What strikes me as odd is how opposed this is to what gaming used to be. When video games first went mainstream with Pong back in the ‘70s, the arcade cabinet was designed so that when people were playing it they’d be forced to be almost shoulder to shoulder. In this brave new world of digital gaming there would still be interaction with other people. Sure, single player games against AIs were there too, but there was always the option to play a game with someone.

I’ve always loved playing video games with someone else. Sometimes this would mean scrambling to find my cable so I could battle that kid’s Pokémon team with my own. I have many fond memories of hours spent playing Crash Team Racing and Bomberman Party Edition while growing up. Heck, we even found ways to make single player games in the Mega Man series multiplayer by taking turns every game over/level.

In recent years this could be four of us yelling and taunting each other while playing Fifa or the hilarity that inevitably ensues when playing Super Smash Bros at four in the morning. Then there are the hours spent playing Halo in one form or another, or running around Lego New York with a friend in LEGO Marvel Super Heroes. Sure, these games can be played alone and you don’t necessarily even need to be in the same room as someone else to play with them, but there’s something special about sitting on the couch and playing against or with those around you. There’s a shared enjoyment for the comedy of what can play out on screen, or even the simple knowledge that someone saw that awesome move you just pulled.

Social-on-the-couch-with-your-friends-gaming probably hit its peak with Guitar Hero and Rock Band. Those games let you live out your rockstar fantasies and were that much more fun when you have some friends playing members of your band. You could play on your own, and it was still fun, but the experience was enhanced by having people with you. These games were designed around sociality. By having the controllers be plastic instruments rather than tapping buttons on a gamepad, players were encouraged to really immerse themselves not only in the game, but in the fantasy of being in a band on stage. And c’mon, if you’re gonna play a cover of “Livin’ On A Prayer” you can’t do it alone.

But as those plastic controllers have gotten dustier it seems that less and less games are aiming for that on-the-couch interaction. No, not all games need to have local multiplayer. Some do very well without it: The Last Of Us’ incredible atmosphere works best when it’s only one person using the television. But even then, when racing games with local multiplayer are becoming less and less common, it’s worrisome.

Don’t get me wrong, I think some of the stuff that’s happening in games is great. Titanfall making the campaign a competitive multiplayer is a cool idea and Destiny’s amalgamation of the FPS and MMO genres is not only unique but a heck of a lot of fun. Destiny in particular fosters a sense of togetherness by letting you team up with other Guardians roaming the wastes. It’s fun, especially if players have other friends with the same game and console. I just want there to always be games for those of us on the couch.


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The Reels Are Alive With The Sound Of Diegetic Music

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Aug 09 2014 · 81 views

Essays, Not Rants! 125: The Reels Are Alive With The Sound Of Diegetic Music

Here’s a word that no one uses unless they want to sound smarter than you: diegesis, that is the type of story that’s told by a narrator. Which means what, exactly? Well, in The Princess Bride the Grandfather is performing an act of diegesis when he tells the Grandson the story. The interactions he has with the Grandson are thus non-diegetic. Of course, it’s all a narrative being told to us, the audience, by the filmmakers in turn carrying out diegesis. In film criticism it gets a little more specific, referring to what happens in the film in and of itself.

Anyway.

Diegetic music is when music is played in the narrative itself. The band playing when Han and Obi Wan walk into the cantina in Star Wars is an example of diegetic music. The characters hear it, and so do we. As a bonus it adds texture to the world. It helps that it’s iconic enough that you’ve probably got it going in your head now.

It doesn’t have to be that big, though. (500) Days of Summer uses diegetic music as plot points; it’s Tom listening to The Smiths that helps strike up a conversation with Summer. No, it’s not a grand epic sequence (compare the Fairy Godmother singing “Holding Out For a Hero” during the climax of Shrek 2), but it serves the plot’s development and also provides an important touchstone of Tom and Summer’s relationship. We, the audience, are allowed to share in what brings Tom and Summer together. The film is not just telling us but showing us too, making the whole thing more immersive and more intimate.

And now I’m going to talk about Guardians of the Galaxy.

Diegetic music plays a huge role in Guardians, but not in the way it does in Star Wars. We’re not treated to a band playing local alien music as one would expect from a piece of fantastic science fiction. Instead, well, it’s pop music from the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. As in Earth’s ‘60s and ‘70s. And it makes perfect sense.

Peter Quill, the protagonist of the film, was taken from earth in ’88, his only belongings what he had in his backpack, the most important of which is a mixtape of songs his mom made him before she passed away. It’s very much Quill’s only physical and emotional tie to Earth as he gallivants around the galaxy under the name of Star-Lord. There’s a good reason for the parachronistic anatopism that is his music. Furthermore, the placement of some of these songs is often key. Hearing a prison guard manhandle his Walkman and listen to “Hooked One a Feeling” provokes him into a fight, for example. The songs are personal for Quill.

They can be personal for the audience too. Guardians of the Galaxy is outlandish on a Star Wars level, which is odd for any movie, let alone one that shares its world with Tony Stark and Steve Rogers. Having Star-Lord listen to “Come And Get Your Love” while exploring a ruin on Morag immediately clues the audience in that, yes, we’re still in the same world of the 1988-set prologue.Having the characters listen to it also gives us a connection to them. Look at the spectators stomping and chanting “We Will Rock You” during the opening joust of A Knight’s Tale. Like inGuardians, it gives the audience something in common with the characters. We’re all listening to the same music.

Diegetic music can be used to great effect. Film critics love to cite the infamous patricidal mambo from Douglas Sirk’s Written on the Wind as a prime example, but I’m gonna throw in Guardians of the Galaxy too. Diegetic music done right can do wonders to a film, be it through adding texture, granting intimacy to the audience, or serving as a character’s emotional touchstone. That and it’s pure fun to see Star-Lord fly through space to “The Piña Colada Song.”

And yes, a lot of the music in The Sound of Music is diegetic, what with it being a musical and all.


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Leslie Knope: Friends, Family, Feminism

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Aug 02 2014 · 149 views

Essays, Not Rants! 124: Leslie Knope: Friends, Family, Feminism

I’ve recently begun watching Parks and Recreation, and by recently begun I mean about five seasons in two weeks. The miracle of Netflix.

In any case, the show’s fantastic and I lack any sort of Netflix Binger’s Remorse (and wanna get caught up as soon as I can). One of the reasons it’s so great is its bucking of typical sitcom trends.Parks and Rec isn’t a mean show. Whereas a lot of other sitcoms, including the prior one with Greg Daniel’s name attached: The Office, create their comedic situations through conflict between the main characters, much of Parks’ humor comes from the outside. Thus in The Office you’d have one character trying to con over the other, to much amusement. The Big Bang Theory thrives on the rest of the group trying to get one over Sheldon. The Parks Department, however, is always a team. Sure, there will be parts where they compete, but it’s never malicious. They’re a team, a team against the frustrating citizens of Pawnee, the snooty residents of Eagleton, and other departments in their government.

This teamwork lends the characters a strong sense of family. Now, this isn’t there from the beginning, rather they grow into it — and their roles in said makeshift family — over the seasons. And here’s another thing Parks does that most sitcoms don’t: they let their characters change and develop. All of the main cast is surprisingly well rounded. Sure, some seem one note at first, but as the show progresses we get to know them more and find facets of them we would never have expected. When the gruff Ron shows that he cares, or as Chris grows less self-obsessed they feel more rounded and we can really watch their bonds form. It makes them feel more real.

Neither are the characters forced to remain professionally stagnant. Leslie doesn’t stay the deputy director of the Parks Department, instead the writers let her career progress. See, it’s a risky move, they’ve proved that the bunch of co-workers interacting works, but they’re willing to go past that formula (which also shows in the developing characters). Tom too ends up leaving the Parks Department and tries his hand at entrepreneurship. It’d be easy for a recurring joke to be his constant failures. Instead, we see Tom try his hand, and yes, we do see Tom fail, but we also see Tom make changes to his approach and outlook in order to eventually succeed. It’s refreshing and really cool to see happen in a sitcom.

Parks and Recreation is an inherently political show, albeit on the scale of the local city government of a small town in Indiana. Leslie Knope is very obviously a feminist. Yet the show doesn’t preach it at you. Rather, we see Leslie combatting sexism in the often very out of date systems of Pawnee. For example, Leslie’s approach to the very male gallery of councilmen isn’t to become disheartened renounce it as an Evil Symbol of The Patriarchy, rather she wants to change things by being the first woman on the board. Feminism in Parks is an active thing. There’s no lecturing and posturing about feminism about it, instead we see why we need it and what can be done. Furthermore, the show doesn’t get caught up in its hubris: Leslie may spout rhetoric on occasion, but she isn’t on some sort of a pedestal. She’s not perfect because of her beliefs, rather, she’s a relatively normal, multifaceted human being.

So yes, Parks and Recreation is such a refreshing show. I’d seen bits of it prior, but now I’m finally sitting down and blasting through it. It’s a great show, and I want more shows like it.


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Why Guardians of the Galaxy Will Be Awesome

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Jul 26 2014 · 129 views

Essays, Not Rants! 123: WhyGuardians of the Galaxy Will Be Awesome

Guardians of the Galaxy is not a Marvel movie I expected to ever happen. Not because they’re so, well, out there, but because prior to the announcement of the film I had no idea who they were. Unlike Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America, these guys had missed the general cultural osmosis that many superheroes enjoy.

So I read the comics; with the ‘new’ lineup from 2008, not from 1969. Simply put, the comics were weird. There’s a telepathic dog, time travel, a space warlock, a talking tree, and a gun-toting raccoon. Even by comic book standards it’s bizarre.

But it’s fun. There’s a cool dynamic to the changing team and their big struggle against Thanos is certainly exciting. The film is drawing on some great source material. Each of the six characters in the film are all rich within the series, which makes sense given that they’ve all been showing up in comics well before they teemed up. There’s history there.

History that the movie doesn’t need to adhere to. It’s an adaption, and as such needs to get at the heart of the idea. One of the cores of Guardians is a ragtag team who have no right to be saving the galaxy having to save the galaxy. There’s a team dynamic there that has to be maintained no matter the adaption.

Which, for all intents and purposes, the film seems to be doing. Based on trailers and such, the characters are all there. Rocket Raccoon is as sarcastic and trigger happy as he should be. Groot has heart. Drax is no-nonsense and hellbent on destroying. Gamora seems to be Drax’s distaff counterpart and properly deadly. Star Lord is roguish but trying to be heroic. The core characterization is there.And that’s quite exciting.

But what of everything else? The plot seems to be the next step of Marvel’s plans. Introducing the cosmic side of the universe allows for bigger stories later on. For the characters, meanwhile, it’s got a lot of what made The Avengers so great: it’s about a team coming together, figuring out how to be a team, and then working as a team. It’s a great personal plot structure and it works. Keeping the central conflict personal allows director James Gunn to go big and out there while we’re rooted with the characters.

That the characters seem to be the focus of it (rather than the world itself) brings to mind the original Star Wars trilogy. Like them it’s about characters in a world going on a big adventure. It’s got a very Star Wars-ian feel to it and may just out Star Wars the prequels. It has that bright, optimistic feel of adventure in a rich sprawling world. Which, adaption or not, is always a wonderful thing to have in a film.

For an idea of the fun nature of the film, look at a recently released clip which manages to balance the funny and the drama within a single scene. There’s an element of threat there, from Drax to Gamora, but there’s a wealth of humor to be found in Star Lord’s attempts at calming them down. Alongside all that we have world building going on too: Star Lord mentioning Kree and other aliens enlarges the world and gives it texture. Even from the scene alone, Rocket’s response to Star Lord’s intervention hints at their friendship. It’s a great scene, and we’re set if the rest of the film lives up to it.

I am excited for this movie, though fully aware there are things that could throw it off. But the trailers and clips thus far, as well as the 100% it has on Rotten Tomatoes while I write this are very reassuring. So yes, I am convinced Guardians of the Galaxy is gonna be awesome. Here’s to Friday. Or, y’know, Thursday night if you’re like me.


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The Internet, Neutrality, and Me

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Jul 19 2014 · 134 views

Essays, Not Rants! 122: The Internet, Neutrality and Me

Ender’s Game has this wonderful side plot (that didn’t make it to the film) where Peter and Valentine, Ender’s siblings, take to the Nets as Demosthenes and Locke. The anonymity of the Nets allows them, despite their young age, to garner an audience and political influence. Their machinations help prepare Earth for after the war as well as save Ender’s life.

It sounds a little farcical now, since, as xkcd pointed out, they’d essentially just be bloggers. Yet, considering Ender’s Game was published in 1985, it’s an awfully accurate portrayal of what the internet would allow. The Internet is, for better and worse, the ultimate egalitarian democracy. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you’re from, you have a say (who listens to that say is another matter). But, stateside, there’s this new issue: Net Neutrality. You may have heard of it, but its end (which the FCC is fighting for) would mean that Internet Service Providers can decide which sites get through fast and which don’t. Want to provide your viewers with smooth video streaming? Pay up. That isn’t a joke, by the way, Netflix had to pay Comcast for faster streaming. The end of Net Neutrality means that if your website can’t afford to pay an ISP then your site can fall through the cracks. Your ISP doesn’t like you accessing a site ran by a rival company? Funny how it loads at dial up speed.

The internet is a beautiful, terrifying place. It needs to stay that way, and we need Net Neutrality.

It’s December 2003. Twelve-year-old Josh is in Peru (he grew up on a ship), on the internet looking for news on Lego’s Bionicle line. He stumbles upon a forum and finds a whole bunch of people like him. Well, they don’t live on a ship, but they like Legos and Bionicle and suddenly he’s found a community. When you’re living on a ship where you don’t have many friends due to not having people your age, it’s incredible to suddenly find peers. That website gave me a social life of sorts, whether I was in Singapore, St. Vincent, or Sierra Leone. In addition to that, the site gave me an outlet for things like writing and cartoons, encouraging me to write stories and make videos.

During my Freshman year of High School I moved twice. Not move across town, mind you: my family and I packed up everything we owned and moved across continents. Enrolling in school would be a challenge, so I did school online. No, it wasn’t my best year academically, but it allowed me to have a somewhat stable education and — this is the best part — interact with other students. Again, I’ve a few lasting friendships from that year.

All that moving (and the ship) meant that a lot of my friends were oceans away. MSN, Skype, and, of course, email, let me stay in touch with them. Once again, despite the distance and craziness of life, I had people to talk to when I didn’t know anyone where I was. These days I can also keep in touch with my often scattered family, even when the four of us are in four countries.

Early in 2012 I’m unemployed and listless so I start a blog to force myself to write. 122 essays (not rants!), three jobs and two years of college later and I’m still at it. Sometimes it’s to help with an essay for class, other times it’s because I’m mad there isn’t a Black Widow movie planned, but I’m writing. And some people are reading (here’s to you!).

The internet is great. It’s been a crucial part of my life for over a decade. I’d be a very different person if I didn’t have access of these sites and services — several of which are not for profit and most likely couldn’t afford an imposed tariff. These days I can read articles on Cracked, watch movies and tv on Netflix, or get lost in TVTropes. I don’t want to have to choose an ISP based on which sites are fastest for them (besides, a lot of places only have one ISP in service). Furthermore, I don’t want the sites I love to have to pay for better access. I want the whole internet, as it is, no matter who I’m paying or what I’m looking up.

Net Neutrality is a big freaking deal. So maybe two kids aren’t gonna use its anonymity to become a famous politician and historian, but an open internet still something worth protecting. I owe the internet a lot, and I want to keep the internet I know in place for whoever’s growing up now. And that’s why I support Net Neutrality


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Of Dragon Training Sequels

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Jul 12 2014 · 113 views

Essays, Not Rants! 121: Of Dragon Training Sequels

So I finally got around to see How To Train Your Dragon 2 this week. I’d enjoyed the first one well enough, but it didn’t stick out as something with a must see follow up. Figured, eh, it’s just another sequel.

I was wrong.

How To Train Your Dragon 2 is arguably one of the most important modern animated films. It deserves this title for the reasons you’d expect: beautiful animation and technical brilliance along with a great story; but there are aspects that allow it, like Up before it, to really elevate the animated film.

But let’s talk about the animation for a moment. Simply put, the film is freaking gorgeous. Without a doubt, Dreamworks has finally given Pixar a run for their money. Details. Details like wisps of cloud or individual scales on Toothless give the movie a sense of being larger than life and yet still realistic. It’s amazing, and the quality of that alone makes it worth watching.

Fortunately, the animation isn’t everything. Dragon 2, unlike many other sequels — animated or not — has grown up. To an extent, literally: Hiccup and the other characters are five years older. Stoick is showing gray hairs, Hiccup’s taller; time has passed. This time gap is important. It’s easy for something animated to keep its characters the same age (See Ash Ketchum, who’s been 10 since I was barely seven). After all, it gives it a timeless feel. Going back to Pokémon, it means the show could continue for sixteen years with kids who weren’t even born when it came out able to latch on as if it was theirs. This does mean that characters remain stagnant, which is what Dragon didn’t do. Instead, it went the route of The Empire Strikes Back.

Now Empire is one of the greatest sequels, and also probably the best Star Wars movie. It earns it through several ways. For once it, unlike many sequels that have come in its wake, does not repeat the events of the first movie. Instead, it serves as an addition to the saga, a second episode (or fifth). With it, it takes the characters past where they started: Han’s showing signs of warming to the Rebellion, Luke trains to be a Jedi. Dragon also pushes forward in its plotting: there’s a psychotic warlord to deal with and it’s time for them to learn more about dragons. The same things don’t happen again.

For example, Hiccup’s relationship with Astrid. A simple subplot would be to add tension to the relationship established in the first film. Shrek 2 did it to great effect, others less well like the second Pirates of the Caribbean and The Amazing Spider-Man 2, the Princess Diaries sequel ditched the original love interest so there could be a new romantic subplot. It adds drama, so, y’know, why not? Instead, Astrid and Hiccup are untouched in Dragon; there’s no backsliding character development. They’re a couple, and it’s not big deal. Stoick calls Astrid his future daughter-in-law, the pair are seen cuddling and the occasional kiss on the cheek is seen as no big deal. It’s sweet, and it’s also refreshing to see a couple that’s simply understood as being a couple.

Refreshing too is the film’s treatment of its female characters. Astrid’s plot doesn’t revolve around Hiccup. Rather she plays Han Solo to Hiccup’s Luke (to continue the Empire comparison), embarking on her own quest in Hiccup’s absence. Ruffnut, meanwhile has several lingering ogling of a male character which, besides showing off Dreamworks’ impressive animation of rippling muscle, provides examples of the ever elusive female gaze. It’s played for laughs, of course, but that fact that it’s even there is worth mentioning. Valka too is a great character — period. She’s someone who’s spent twenty years out of contact with society. Now, it could be easy to make her a one-dimensional half-feral person, but instead the film takes aspects of that an wraps it into a more complete whole. She’s cool and wonderfully layered. Point is, female characters in this movie don’t get sidelined.

But what stood out the most to me was Dragon 2’s sense of scale. It went big, reaching settings and scenarios that were epic of The Lord of the Rings variety. Its sweeping moments give the film a grandeur just about never found in animation. The human drama is never lost within it, though. Whether it’s Hiccup’s bond with Toothless or a certain parental reunion, the movie keeps has emotion to spare. It also helps keep the fantastical and epic elements anchored.

There’s a gorgeous scene early on where Hiccup and Toothless are flying above their clouds as a Jónsi song plays. The animation and scale of it is breathtaking, but it, along with the dialogue and sound, everything mise en scène, all serves to establish first the relationship between rider and dragon, but also where and how they stand now. It’s beautiful, and one that sums up how well rounded the film is.

I know my reaction is late, but I say this wholeheartedly: How To Train Your Dragon 2 is a phenomenal movie, animated or not, and easily on the most important animated films of recent memory.


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It's All In The Pacing

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Jul 05 2014 · 149 views

Essays, Not Rants! 120: It’s All In The Pacing

Time is relative. Some scientist said that at some point. For my purposes, it means that one minute can seem longer or shorter depending on the context. That minute in traffic is far longer than that minute playing video games before work that got you stuck in traffic in the first place.

Naturally, this applies to stuff like movies too. A two hour movie can feel incredibly long or it can flash by in an instant. Why? Pacing. Pacing is important. Really important.

Let’s look at An Unexpected Journey. It’s a three hour movie but, unlike the prior The Lord of the Rings films, feels much longer. The simple reason for this is for lack of content: the film takes much to long repeating points. The run in with the rock giants, for example, is a lengthy sequence that adds nothing to the plot (except an extra action scene). Sure, there’s a small moment showing Thorin’s growing acceptance of Bilbo as part of the team, but that’s a beat that’s seen elsewhere. Sequences like these bog down a movie and draw it out. The Return of the King and the rest of the trilogy were bursting with story and characters: every scene added another layer to one or the other. Those films didn’t feel bogged down as every beat felt necessary to the movie at large.

Transformers: Age of Extinction feels overlong in a different way: there’s way too much going on. Though visually pleasing (as you’d expect from a Michael Bay film), it’s a narrative mess. There’s no clear antagonist antagonizing the heroes and, as such, the heroes have little plan thwarting to carry out. With no central throughline pushing the story along, the film winds up feeling like a series of vaguely connected misadventures involving giant robots. Which wouldn’t be so bad if we actually gave a [cyprindae] about these characters but, this being a Michael Bay film, we really don’t. As such, it’s 165 minute runtime really starts to drag after a while.

Guillermo Del Toro, another purveyor of giant robots, had this to say about film lengths: "All I know is that as an audience member, my [butt] meter starts ringing its fire alarm after two hours.” Essentially, there’s a point where it starts to feel like you’ve spent too long sitting in that chair. If a long movie is paced well it won’t seem long at all, if it’s paced poorly it’ll feel even longer. That said, you’ll probably start to notice how long you’ve been there as the two hour mark fades behind you.

Take Del Toro’s own Pacific Rim as a great example of a well paced movie that doesn’t feel too long. Big set pieces are linked together through emotional beats: The opening and Gipsy Danger vs Knifehead leads to the introduction of Stacker and Raleigh’s arrival at the Shatterdome before we see Mako’s flashback which in turn gives us a quiet character focused chunk before the big battle around Hong Kong. We get another break as Newt and Gottlieb work out the secrets of the breach before the final confrontation. These lulls not only to allow us to get to know and love the characters, but also give us breathers between action scenes and make us long for the next one. Del Toro, ever conscious of the audience’s collective butt meter, ensures that neither character/plot progression or action scene ever outstays their welcome, rather they work together to keep the movie puttering along, keeping us entertained throughout.

The LEGO Movie opts to follow Campbell’s monomyth and wisely never spends longer than necessary on individual beats. Not only does this allow for the movie to move along at a nice slick pace, but it means that when it comes time for it to spend time on something really important — take the conversation between the father/son and Lord Business/Emmet — there’s leeway for it to sink in without slowing down the plot.

At 143 minutes, The Avengers is a comparatively long movie. But it does as Pacific Rim does, stringing together smaller character moments between bigger set pieces, yet never allowing any to last too long. Add that to a group of great characters who you’re happy just to watch hang out with each other and it’s easy to get lost in the movie. And getting lost is the best, because suddenly you forget about time and your butt meter and just enjoy the movie.

Movie runtimes are one thing, how long they actually feel is another entirely. Watching Sex and The City (151 minutes) for class felt like an eternity, whereas The Dark Knight (165) felt just right. Time is relative — especially when watching movies. That’s where pacing comes in.

Note: Of course it’s not all in the pacing, but it is terribly important. Sometimes, a fascinating subject matter and engrossing characters are all you need — see Lost in Translation. That said, this blog post assumes that’s understood


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Unflinching

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Jun 28 2014 · 122 views

Essays, Not Rants! 119: Unflinching

I finally got a chance to see Fruitvale Station on a flight last week. In short, it’s a movie that definitely deserves upping my Top Nine Movies of 2013 to a list of the Top Ten Movies of 2013 (though which spot it deserves I can’t decide). The initial expectation for why it’s a great movie is obvious: it’s topical! A movie dealing with race and prejudice in the contemporary USA? If you’ll like this you’ll seem cultured, yes!

But to describe it as such not only does it a great injustice but also hardly describes the movie in full. Fruitvale Station is not a tract. Rather, it presents a sequence of events without actively telling the audience whether what’s happening is right or wrong. Rather the film presents the events leading up to the shooting of Oscar Grant as scenes in everyday life.
Here’s where Fruitvale sets itself apart from similar movies like They Help or 12 Years a Slave. There’s no heroizing of Oscar. He’s presented as, well, as a person.In the film Oscar is, unflinchingly, neither clearly morally good or bad; instead he, like people in general, fluctuates between the two. Sure, he helps a stranger at a grocery store, going so far as to call his grandmother for help, but he also lies to his mother and girlfriend about being unemployed. Shortly after we first see Oscar we see him stashing a big bag of weed in his closet, yet he’s also someone who’s willing to spend what little cash he has on his mother for her birthday. Oscar’s complex, a man of dualities.

It’s rare that we see a character this morally gray. Malcolm Reynolds, of Firefly, almost reaches the same heights of Oscar. Mal too is a man comprised of a duality: he’s rude and borderline mean to Book and Inara, yet he’s quick to defend them should anyone else threaten them. He’s someone who will return stolen goods to a sickly town but soon after unhesitatingly kick an unarmed man into an engine intake. He’s hardly someone who follows the straight and narrow.
Malcolm Reynolds, however, remains fundamentally heroic. He may not be the goodest of the good, but he’s still someone who not only tends to do the right thing but also usually comes out on the heroic side. He robs an Alliance hospital to help two members of his crew and only because the hospital will be restocked in no time. Mal, unlike Oscar, has a moral code. It may not be the most righteous one, but it’s there all the same. Oscar, like ‘normal’ people, has no such clear moral compass. Instead he’s just a guy.

If anything, Oscar is a man with the potential to be good. Yes, he’s an ex-con, but he’s trying to turn his life around. Rather than having the audience invest in Oscar because he’s the ‘good guy,’ like 12 Years a Slave did with Solomon Northup, we invest in him because we see ourselves reflected in him. Oscar’s a guy trying to make his way in the world, trying to do right by the people he loves.

Along with that, Fruitvale Station asks us to empathize with people we may not like in real life. When Oscar drives he blares rap music, like those degenerates who woke you up when they drove through your neighborhood last night. The film has us look beyond first impressions and see the people underneath. Furthermore, Fruitvale Station never tries to tell us to like Oscar, rather it shows us who they are and thereby get to know them.

Which is what makes the shooting all the more tragic. It’s not presented as a case of “look how awful racial prejudice is,” instead the tragedy stems from seeing the life of a young man trying to better himself and beloved by his family cut short. Oscar’s death is the loss of a person full of hopes and flaws. That it comes as a result of prejudice only serves to deepen the tragedy and illuminate problems of the system.

So yes, Fruitvale Station is topical, far more so than film like 12 Years a Slave. This relevance, however, never gets in the way of the characters and plot. It’s a slice of the life of a twenty-two year old man, albeit one which ends in his murder.


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The Dynamics of the Buddy Movie

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Jun 21 2014 · 119 views

Essays, Not Rants! 118: The Dynamics of the Buddy Movie

Im on vacation. As such, heres an essay I wrote for class during my Spring semester. We were assigned seven movies and had to compare the lot of them. Hence writing about The Parent Trap. Enjoy.

The buddy movie is one of the most prolific genres in cinema. With movies as diverse as the classic Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, recent blockbusters like The Avengers, and animated films such as Toy Story; chances are everyones seen some variation of a buddy movie. One of the things that keeps the genre timeless is the myriad of buddies they can feature. We could have four characters who start out as friends and have their friendship tested, or they could be rivals who learn to work together. Alternately it could feature a pair of old friends who decide to roam the world together, possibly saving it in the progress; or two people with opposite personalities and a common goal. Point is, these different character dynamics are what make the genre unique.

At its basest the buddy movie genre allows for two characters to work together towards a similar goal. Such is the case with The Parent Trap. Annie and Hallie, the long-lost twins, are essentially the same character, though in English and American forms. The first portion of the film focus on them meeting, disagreeing, and coming to terms with each other whereas the remainder of the film follows them as they strive to reunite their parents. Here the characters compliment each other, their shared goal and similar personalities allow them to work together perfectly to achieve this goal.

Of course, thats just one personality. Things get more interesting when more personalities are in play. The ancient Greeks put forth the theory of the four humors; that is that personalities could be divided into four temperaments: sanguine, choleric, melancholic, and phlegmatic. The definition of these fall on different ranges, being extroverted and people-orientated, extroverted and task-orientated, introverted and task-orientated, and introverted and people-orientated; respectively. Writers and viewers can use these to identify the roles characters have in a group. Take Sex and the City as a key example. Carrie, the main character, tends to be introverted and focused on her work (within the film shes not seen as being terribly outgoing). Samantha on the other hand, is much more extroverted and focused on the people around her, as seen by her frequent flying from California to New York to visit her friends as well as her constant interest in the people (particularly men) around her. Miranda and Charlotte fall between choleric and phlegmatic respectively. When the buddy movie features an ensemble of four, each character will usually embody one of these temperaments. These contrasts allow for tension to build between the characters and conflict among them which, in addition to the central conflict, makes for an interesting story.

The titular foursome of Fantastic Four fit these roles with near perfection. Reed Richards is the cool, collected, melancholic leader of the group; he wants to create a machine to reverse their transformation. Ben Grimm too is task-orientated, though tends to be more outgoing and fulfills the role of the choleric. Johnny Storm is even more extroverted than Ben and lives for the attention of people around him so he clearly is the sanguine member. Lastly, Sue Storm is the mediator of the three focused more on the team themselves and falls under the heading of the phlegmatic. The Fantastic Four fit the temperaments and with it conflict is born.

Johnny, the sanguine, is eager to embrace his powers and go public with them. Reed, however, wants to not only make sure theyre safe but to reverse them. Here we see the tension between Johnnys people-orientated nature and Reeds tendency to pursue tasks. This same dichotomy is where a measure of the romantic tension between Reed and Sue stems from: his want to finish his machine and undo the effects of the cosmic storm and her want for him. Its when Reed pursues her and momentarily abandons his focus on the task on hand that strain between him and Ben develops. Many of the films key moments, the incident on the Brooklyn Bridge and the fight outside the stadium, for example, are born out of the tension between these personality types. Its only when they learn to work together that they are able to beat the villainous Victor von Doom and truly become heroes.

Removing one character from the foursome creates a different dynamic, one which website TV Tropes dubs the Power Trio. In this set up the three characters contrast and compliment each other, often (but not necessarily) with each one embodying one aspect of the Freudian ideas of the id, ego, and superego. The id is wild and impetuous, frequently jumping headfirst into situations; the superego is the ids foil, rational and willing to look before leaping. The ego exists between them, balancing out their extremes. It can be seen in the original Star Trek TV show, with Kirk balancing out the hyper-rational Spock and the instinctive McCoy.

This also serves as a lens to look at Harry, Ron, and Hermiones relationship in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Harry is clearly the id of the trio; when he accidentally makes Aunt Marge float he doesnt think twice about leaving home and charging out into the night. We see this aspect of him again later when, upon hearing that Sirius Black betrayed his parents, he adamantly declares that he will kill the convict. On the opposite end of the spectrum, assuming the role of the superego, is Hermione. She is heavily focused on her studies, going so far as to have one of her professors procure her a time-turner so she can take a large number of classes. Furthermore, she is also the most sensible of the group, often exhorting the other two to calm down and listen to reason lest they get themselves hurt or in trouble at school. Ron stands between them as the ego. Sometimes ###### be as headstrong as Harry, other times hes with Hermione trying to talk down Harry from doing something reckless.

Though theres little infighting amongst the threesome (especially compared to, say, the Fantastic Four), their differing personalities still serve to accentuate each others traits. Harry and Rons laid back attitudes sharpen Hermiones studious nature, just as Hermiones tendency to sit back and figure things out contrasts against Harrys impulsiveness. The different views that Harry, Ron, and Hermione bring to the table enhance the characters and give their interactions and by proxy their adventure a great dynamic. It can also be seen in the key adults at the end of the film, with wild Sirius Black as the id, the mediating Remus Lupin as ego, and calculating Severus Snape the superego.
Narrowing the number of characters further results in foils; two characters who may share a similar goal but contrast sharply with each other. In Kinky Boots the tight-laced, somewhat-sheltered Charlie Price is paired up with the vivacious drag queen Lola. Their differing personalities clash on occasion, primarily over the subject of Lolas identity. Charlie wants her to hide who she is in Northampton for fear that people will think ill of him, whereas shes proud of her identity. The tension between their points of view and what they represent colors much of the films tension and the themes of acceptance and coming to terms with your identity.

Alternately, one character can influence the other. In Fried Green Tomatoes, the straight-laced Ruth becomes friends with the wild Idgie when asked to by the latters family. Over time, Ruth opens up to Idgies adventurous life and their friendship grows. Their differences help each other: its Idgies feisty boisterousness that causes her to get Ruth out of her abusive relationship with Frank; and its Ruths level headedness and warmth that help give Idgie a home. Theyre opposites, yes, but their personalities compliment and strengthen each other, making for a compelling dynamic.
Another common incarnation of the buddy movie is the buddy cop movie. The conceit usually incorporates two police officers of contrasting personalities and, frequently, different races who have been ordered to work together. Films like Rush Hour, BZP Lovers, and End of Watch have done this to great commercial success. Lethal Weapon too was a commercial success and is unquestionably the quintessential example of a typical buddy cop movie.

Like other buddy twosomes, Martin Riggs and Roger Murtagh are opposites. Riggs is young, white, impulsive, and somewhat suicidal. Murtagh is middle-aged, black, reserved, and has a wife and kids to worry about. What Lethal Weapon, and other buddy cop movies, does is accentuate these differences to near extremes and forces them, by virtue of orders from their chief, to work together. This handy trope explains why the two opposites have to be together and provides the catalyst for the inevitable fights between the two.

And fight they do. From their initial meeting, Riggs and Murtagh find themselves at odds with each other. Something as non-dangerous as dealing with a jumper displays their different approaches: Murtagh stays near the car and tries to talk him down whereas Riggs climbs up to the jumper, cuffs themselves together, and jumps off onto the inflatable bag with him. This conflict amongst the cops compliments their struggle against the antagonists. It's only when they are finally able to reconcile their differences and work as a team that they are able to defeat the bad guys, as we see in the iconic moment when Riggs and Murtagh shoot the villain Joshua together.

The buddy movie is a genre as diverse as its characters. Different combinations, be they based off the four temperaments, embodiments of Freudian ideas, or plain old opposites provide interesting dynamics that add an additional layer to the conflict and tension not usually found in other, single protagonist films.






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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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