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Why The Last of Us Should and Shouldn't Be a Movie

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Mar 08 2014 · 134 views

Essays, Not Rants! 103: Why The Last of Us Should and Shouldn’t Be A Movie
 
Big news broke on Thursday: The Last of Us is becoming a live action movie. Now, you have to understand, I love The Last of Us. I wrote a final paper on it (see notes here), I wrote about its characters and convictions, and I wrote on how it’s a grownup video game.
 
I’ve said before that The Last of Us is an incredible game that deserves to be seen in a more literary light. And now it is, it’s being made into a movie so more people can experience it.
 
At least that’s Screen Gems president Clint Culpepper’s idea. Honestly, I have to agree. The Last of Us is a phenomenal piece of storytelling period. Video games remain something of a niche market; one sometimes deemed inaccessible. For good reason too: movies don’t require viewers to buy a $300 piece of equipment to watch them and then force them to complete challenges to see what happens next. A cinematic adaptation of The Last of Us would nullify this and allow anyone to experience Joel and Ellie’s story.
 
Thing is, The Last of Us is an incredibly visceral story, due in no small part to the fact that you’re playing as Joel. The tension in battles with the Infected and other people and the relief of those long quiet moments in between are all heightened because it’s you fighting the Infected and you initiating conversations with Ellie about football mascots. This is what gaming does best; making you feel truly involved in the action. A film wouldn’t be able to capture the same kind of rush of the battle and emotional bond with the characters.
 
With that, casting presents another obstacle. Voice actors Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson are intrinsically inseparable from Joel and Ellie. Their performances are incredible, bringing life to fantastic characters. Whoever plays them in the movie would have to be wonderfully cast, else much of their dynamic — that blend of tension and affection — would be lost. And it’s the bond between Joel and Ellie —not the Infected or the American wastes— that makes The Last of Us.
 
But then, Neil Druckmann, writer and Creative Director of the game, is confirmed to be writing the film. Druckmann has more than proved himself a competent writer with The Last of Us and Left Behind. And who better to write a film adaptation than the original writer? He knows what’s at the heart of the game and how to keep it in a film.
 
I have hope for this, mostly because Druckmann is writing but also because Bruce Straley, The Last of Us’ Game Director, is producing the film with Naughty Dog’s co-presidents and Sam Raimi. The creative core of the game is on the film too.
 
There are things they’ll have to do for it to work One would be keeping the extreme violence and consistent swearing that built game’s tone (and thereby earning a hard R-rating). A second would be casting two leads who would be able to match Baker and Johnson’s nuance and chemistry. Most importantly, Druckmann and team will have to adapt The Last of Us not as a game but as a story. We don’t need scenes of Joel crouching down and listening or incessant crafting; what we need are those quiet moments of conversation between the two protagonists.
 
Do I think The Last of Us needed to be made into a movie? No. It’s one of the best video games of not just its generation but of all times. It used its medium to great effect, telling a story unlike any other.
But now that it is do I want it to be a good one? Of course. Stripped of the experience of the game it remains a phenomenal story one that, rightly, deserves a wider non-gaming audience.
 
One thing’s for sure, though, they need Gustavo Santaolalla’s score.


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Je Ne Sai Quoi

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Mar 02 2014 · 126 views

Essays, Not Rants! 102: Je Ne Sai Quoi
 
NB: This was posted on Saturday while I was on shift at work. Seeing as my job has me running around New York City, I couldn't post the BZP mirror.
 
I have an indie band crush. Well, I have a couple. One of them, Run River North, just released their first album this past Tuesday. Now, I have their demo back from July '12, so I've been pumped to get this. Yes, I know, I know, but I go to NYU; most all of us are at least a little hipster.
 
Anyway. I am in love with their debut album, Run River North, but I can't really say why. See, I can talk at length about movies, books, video games, television, and stuff, but music?
 
I can tell you that the occasional strums of electric guitar in ‘Foxbeard’ sound fantastic and that the violin in ‘Beetle’ adds so much to the song, but I can't tell you how. I know that the music makes you feel something, and I know there's a method to it, but I can't put it in words.
 
I write; I use words and images to do my dirty work. But images, especially of the moving variety, gain another level of impact with music.
 
Look at Paperman, that gorgeous short from Disney. Sure, it's pretty enough as it is, but Christophe Beck's gorgeous score gives it that sort of magic I mentioned a year ago. The score powers the short, matches the emotions of the protagonist gives cues for audience’s investment. Emotion is expressed (somehow) through the music, enhancing the story and adding layers to it. Because music can do it.
 
But those are scores written specifically for a movie. When it comes to ‘normal’ songs, Chuck is unquestionably one of the best. The TV show’s sound track (which one can find with some googling) runs the gamut; there’s everything on it; big acts like Pitbull and bands without wikipedia pages like Aushua.
 
What makes Chuck’s selection of music great is how it’s used. Sometimes it can be used as a sort of pun, like playing 'Toxic' while the characters are scrambling around poisoned or a snippet of ‘The Imperial March’ when Morgan's impersonating a villain.
 
For the most part, however, the songs are used to inform tone. The people behind the show are plenty aware of that inexplicable effect music can have and they use this. Need to establish the feeling of a bunch of guys driving to Las Vegas for a bachelor party? Throw on some Ke$ha*. Trying to create a sense of intimacy? Slow Club works wonders.
*this is the only time I condone listening to Ke$ha. It hurts to write that dollar symbol.
 
It gets better. There's a scene towards the end of season three where someone dear to Chuck gets shot. In lieu of some Hans Zimmerian tragic score, Nico Stai's 'One October Song' begins playing. The song, primary featuring just an acoustic guitar and Stai's voice, carries the sort of quiet, almost helpless desperation that mirrors Chuck's mental state.
 
Can I explain on a technical level makes 'One October Song' such a beautiful piece? I could mention his shouts in the song and the raw lyrics, sure; but how it all intertwines together with the music and what the chords and notes do? Nah, you got me.
But Chuck uses these songs, especially the ones from indie acts like Nico Stai, In-Flight Safety, and Frightened Rabbit to add emotional heft to crucial scenes. It works, man.
 
Run River North's music is in a similar vein. There's raw passion and emotion to the music; sometimes it's desperate, sometimes resigned, sometimes happy. It's a great album that has a, well, I don't know what to it that does wonders.
 
Basically I'm saying if Chuck was still on Run River North would have a song in the show.
 
And you should buy their album.
 


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The (Lego) Hero's Journey, Part Two

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Feb 22 2014 · 129 views

Essays, Not Rants! 101: The (Lego) Hero’s Journey, Part Two
 
It’s been a few weeks since The LEGO Movie came out and proved that everything was indeed awesome. As I said I would before it came out, I’m going to break down The LEGO Movie with The Hero’s Journey.
 
But wait.
 
Two things you gotta do before you read on. First; read that blog post. I’m not gonna bother explaining The Hero’s Journey again. Second: watch the movie. Seriously. It’s a great movie in the first place and, equally importantly, I’m going to ruin the film’s big, magical twist. And I don’t use that word lightly.
 
And in case you missed it:
 
HERE THERE BE SPOILERS. GO WATCH THE MOVIE THEN COME BACK AND READ THIS.
 
That clear? Alright. Here we go.
 
(I’ll be more or less using TV Tropes’ outline here; with splashes of other. Do note, some of the pieces can be juggled around, as they are in this film.)
 
The LEGO Movie opens with Lord Business defeating Vitruvius and getting the Kragle, at which point Vitruvius makes a prophecy about The Special stating that the Special will, be, well special. That’s step one.
 
Then we see Emmet, our protagonist, living out his normal, dull, life. His life is boring and routine. This is Thomas Anderson going to work in The Matrix, this is Luke on the farm.
 
Emmet's normal world comes crumbling down when, after work, he falls down a hole and finds the Piece of Resistance. Like Thomas Anderson/Neo before him, Emmet then finds himself a captive of the bad guys only to be shortly freed by someone else. This is his Call to Adventure, something he resists at first.
 
Then Emmet must cross the first threshold, in this case being when he and Wyldstyle break out of Bricksburg into the Wild West pursued by Bad Cop. In Star Wars this is when the Falcon leaves Tatooine pursued by storm troopers. Alternately, look at when Neo leaves the Matrix for the first time. Emmet’s life has changed for good. The following chunk (and next few beats) are part of the Road of Trials, where Emmet is tested and really yanked out of the world. Think Neo’s training with Morpheus, where he finds that he knows Kung Fu.
 
Emmet meets the mentor, Vitruvius, here; a vital part in any hero's journey. Like Obi Wan to Luke and Morpheus to Neo, and Dumbledore to Harry; this character aids the hero on his journey and urges him on. As Vitruvius does.
 
Next up is the Land of Adventure, which TV Tropes describes as "a strange, dreamlike realm, where logic is topsy-turvy and the "rules" are markedly different from the ordinary world." In other words: Cloud Cuckoo Land. Here Emmet is developed and the set up laid for his Night Sea Voyage.
 
Which, courtesy of the attack on Cloud Cuckoo Land and a hastily built sub, actually takes place at sea. Now, this Night Sea Voyage marks the end of the Road of Trials and when the Hero mounts an attack on the enemy stronghold. In The Matrix this is Neo and Trinity rescuing Morpheus; in Star Wars this is saving Leia. For The LEGO Movie this means stealing a hyperdrive and getting to the Kragle.
 
Alright folks. I'm getting into the real spoiler bit. If you haven't seen the film yet, bail now!
 
Spoiler

 
 
So there you have it, a fairly in-depth (but not as much as it could be) look at The LEGO Movie through the lens of Joseph Campbell’s monomyth as defined by TV Tropes (and myself). It’s a beautiful structure which, honestly, I haven’t seen pulled off this magnificently since The Matrix.
 
Seriously folks, this movie is awesome.


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Verified Fiction

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Feb 15 2014 · 109 views

Essays, Not Rants! 100: Verified Fiction
 
I’m an African prince. Well, sort of. More my Dad is a Chief in Ghana. Long story short, when we were there (while living on the ship) a local chief decided to make my Dad a Chief too. Far as thirteen-year-old Josh saw, he was given an ornate bracelet and, by the nature of him being my father, I became an African prince.
 
Don’t believe me? It’s fine, but hey, makes for a fun story huh?
 
I mentioned last week that my Dad told me a lot of stories growing up. Like I said before, some were Star Wars in nature, others dealt with superheroes, but among my brother and my favorites were stories of Zhuge Liang, a Chinese strategist who always had the smartest solutions. Sort of like King Solomon of the Bible, only, well, Chinese.
 
Anyway, my Dad would tell these great stories. I don’t remember any details, just that Zhuge Liang was really smart and sometimes his adventures had him winding up in present day or going on adventures with Star Wars characters. Some other stories he’d tell my brother and I were from when he was younger; adventures with his brothers or stories of when he’d lived on a ship in his twenties. Point is, they were great stories. Like that whole African prince thing; they’re cool and fun, something to tell others down the line.
 
Which, like many things in my life, makes me think of a movie. In this case it’s Secondhand Lions. Heads up, I’ll be discussing the ending of said movie, so: ten-year-old spoilers.
 
In Secondhand Lions, Walter is sent to spend the summer with his elderly grand-uncles Hub and Garth. Little is known by Walter, his mother, or the community about the brothers; just that they spent a long time overseas and are probably sitting on pile of wealth. There are theories as to what they did, one of the most popular being that they were bank robbers. According to Garth’s stories to Walter, they spent the years in Africa, fighting for the French Foreign Legion during World War I and later their own adventures including a notable escapade with a sheik before finally returning to the States.
 
Now, the central tension in the movie is the issue of whether the stories are true. When asked point blank, Hub tells Walter that it’s not so much the veracity that matters but that the meaning is true. That is, though a story mayn’t be true, ideals like honor and love are.
 
We don’t quite get an answer through the film’s climax — in fact we get a story in favor of the bank robber theory. It’s only at the very end, set years later, that Walter meets a man who’s grandfather — an old wealthy sheik — told him stories about two wild Americans who opposed him. For both men it’s a moment of realization that there were actually some truth to those stories.
 
I’m taking a class this semester called Historic Epics of China and Japan, for which I’m currently reading The Romance of Three Kingdoms. I’ve heard of this book before, mostly that it’s a cultural touchstone. Part way through the book, though, a major character was introduced: Zhuge Liang.
 
Yeah, the same guy my Dad told me stories about when I was a kid is a key player in a book I’m reading at university. There’s something exciting about this, in a way not unlike Walter meeting the sheik’s grandson: it’s a sudden realization that hey, those stories my Dad told me were actually rooted in Chinese culture. There’s a sudden added truth to those half-remembered stories I grew up with. That and Three Kingdoms is a great piece of literature.
 
We live in a world of stories. Not just those we watch/read/play, but ones we hear from and tell each other. With that, it’s always to find out that some of those more outlandish ones are actually quite true.
 
A couple years ago I was reading TIME when an article caught my eye: it was about foreign chiefs in Ghana. I read it, amused at the fact that hey, my Dad might not be the only one. Then I looked closely at the picture in the article, real close. On the chief’s wrist is a bracelet, one not unlike the one my Dad has.
 
Well whadaya know.


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Heart of a Child

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Feb 08 2014 · 111 views

Essays, Not Rants! 099: Heart of a Child
 
I grew up in the 90’s with a steady diet of Lego, Jedi, superhero cartoons, mecha anime, Power Rangers, and Ninja Turtles. All this was peppered in with bedtime stories from my Dad, some of which were about the Chinese strategist Zhuge Liang, others were about Han Solo and Luke Skywalker going on adventures, and still others about Superman and Batman teaming up to fight bad guys.
 
There are side effects that come with this; the firm belief that giant robots are awesome, for example. Others are the ingrained image of a mulleted Tony Stark at an anvil, or memories of Captain America and Iron Man showing up on Spider Man’s cartoon. But then, those are all cartoons and stuff, puerile parts of childhood.
 
Only not.
 
A lot of the stuff I grew up with is being tapped and turned into cinematic fare these days. Sure, there’ve been Batman and Superman movies since well before I was born, but a movie about Iron Man? And Captain America? And one where they team up with the Hulk and Thor? In a movie? Eight year old Josh would be giddy at the idea (as twenty-two year old Josh still is).
 
Here’s the thing, I’m not eight anymore. How does a movie work to appeal to me now? Characters like Batman and Spider Man have had several incarnations in various media for various audiences. Adam West’s Batman differs sharply from the one in Justice League who in turn differs from Arkham Asylum’s. Sure, there’s the same character but differences in tone and style. There are many different ways to interpret characters and genres these days.
 
Especially Batman. Christopher Nolan approached the Caped Crusader from a much more mature point of view than we’d really seen on screen at the point. He deconstructs the idea of a superhero throughout the Dark Knight Trilogy. This is how Batman would work in a ‘real’ world: masks bought in bulk to avoid suspicion, for example. Gone is the romanticism of being a superhero.
 
Nolan’s Gotham is awash in a gray world of corrupt cops, sold-out lawyers, and mob rule. Batman himself is not entirely in the clear and, as he Commissioner Gordon puts it at the end of The Dark Knight, isn’t the hero Gotham needs. This is Batman for a more grown up, more adult world, a blurry world where right and wrong aren’t quite distinct.
 
Then on the other end of the spectrum we have Pacific Rim. The movie has, as director Guillermo del Toro put it, the heart of a 12-year-old and the craft of a 48-year-old. The movie is brimming with the hope and excitement you had when you were 12. There’s little attempt to ‘grow up’ the mecha genre, at least as far as growing up means how everything must be brooding, dark, and deathly serious. Sure, characters die and sacrifices are made, but it’s a clear view of Good and Evil; it’s that idealistic dichotomy.
 
Pacific Rim, like The Avengers, is a reconstruction of its genres. The Avengers acknowledges the problems of having a team of six superhero egos, but factors overcoming it into a plot. Pacific Rim makes Kaiju terrifying and Jaegers awesome, crafting a movie’s world where it not only works but is acceptable. These are movies that have grown up but remember the romanticism of being younger.
 
There is, however, yet another point on the spectrum: The Lego Movie. This movie doesn’t give a rip about growing up. There’s no playing at re/deconstruction; instead it takes it’s idea — a movie about Legos — and runs with it. It’s a movie about being a kid, about those times when you built a spaceship and ran around your room making laser noises and chanting “spaceship!” over and over again. If anything, The Lego Movie is an ode to childhood in the purest sense. It doesn’t just have the heart of a child, it’s about being a child.
 
Is one way of doing it better than the other? Nah. I love the grittiness of The Dark Knight as much as I love the colorful cacophony of The Lego Movie. I was ten once and these movies, with all their different interpretations, remind me of what it was like.


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The (Lego) Hero's Journey, Part One

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Feb 01 2014 · 118 views

Essays, Not Rants! 098: The (Lego) Hero’s Journey, Part One
 
I had the pleasure of attending an advance screening of The LEGO Movie on Thursday at my university. Now, you have to realize, I’ve been into Legos as long as I can remember, have a couple models on my desk, and have been making Lego movies in one form or another since I was ten.
 
In a nutshell: The LEGO Movie is fantastic. It’s beautifully animated, superbly cast, downright hilarious, and has a great plot. Now, the plot’s not anything groundbreaking, in fact it follows John Campbell’s monomyth to a tee.
 
Wait. The LEGO Movie makes use of Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey?
 
Yes.
 
First, it serves to outline what exactly The Hero’s Journey is. Joseph Campbell postulated that myths and legends from around the world followed a similar structure. One where “a hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man” (Campbell). Translated, it’s a mythic arc that stems from a lot of ancient myths. It’s also been used in more modern media; George Lucas consciously set out to create a myth when he created Star Wars. The Wachowskis used it in The Matrix and thatgamecompany followed in closely enough in Journey that much of the soundtrack’s titles match individual steps of the monomyth.
 
With that, it bears mentioning that Campbell’s monomyth is hardly the only structure out there and a quick google search brings up several different takes on it. My favorite is the one on, go figure, TV Tropes, mostly because theirs allows for some leeway in the steps and rearrangements.
 
Now, this is hardly new. I’ve mentioned before how Aristotle talked about this in his Poetics and also how formulas exist for a reason. It’s also not bad. To do something like this doesn’t so necessarily mean a laziness of storytelling so much as, when executed well, displaying a mastery of it.
 
So how does this work with The LEGO Movie? The film adopts the monomyth and puts it to use for its story. All the key players are there: we have the very normal Emmet who wants very little to do with adventure until along comes Wyldstyle, who drags him out of normalcy and gives him the Call to Adventure. There’s the evil President Business with his right hand minifig Bad Cop. Vitruvius is the Obi Wan to Emmet’s Luke, with Batman (yes, the Batman), Uni-Kitty, and Benny the 1980-something Space Guy filling out the rest of the team.
 
But then, those are the characters, what about the plot?
 
Emmet is an ordinary minifig, one who receives his Call To Action to leave his town and help save the world. After his initial Refusal of the Call he must Cross the First Threshold, meet The Mentor, enter the Land of Adventure, and, well I’d love to say more but the movie’s not out ‘till this coming Friday and I really don’t want to spoil the movie. There’s a second rant essay coming a couple weeks after it’s released where I’ll break down the plot proper.
 
Is this post then just a big introduction? Sort of. But I will tell you this: The LEGO Movie is a magnificent piece of storytelling that you should really go see. There’s an earnestness to it seldom seen these days that makes it pure joy to watch. Plus, it really puts The Hero’s Journey to work, lending it an instantly classical feel that adds to it’s very, well, Lego-y feeling.
 
Go watch it when it comes out, then come back here in a few weeks for my monomythical breakdown.
 
Get it, because it’s Lego? And I’m breaking it down?
 
...I’ll see myself out.


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Gamey Education

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Jan 25 2014 · 143 views

Essays, Not Rants! 097: Gamey Education
 
For some reason, my high school World History teacher saw it fit to skip over the entire Ottoman and Byzantine Empires. This thus left me with the general feel that those empires were a completely disposable era of history. That’s high school in South Carolina for you.
 
This all changed when I begun playing Assassin’s Creed: Revelations.
 
The basic conceit of the Assassin’s Creed series is built around genetic memories; that is the idea that your DNA has the memories of your ancestors and, if you’re lucky, your ancestors were hooded assassins. You spend much of the game romping around Crusades-era Jerusalem, Renaissance Italy, or Revolutionary War-era USA (depending on the game). What adds to the fun of stabbing soldiers in the back is the attention to detail the team at Ubisoft put in these games. Landmarks — both famous and less so — are rendered in game for your scaling pleasure. Not just that, though, every landmark/city/person of note you encounter is accompanied by a database providing a quick rundown of the Hagia Sophia/Boston/Cesare Borgia.
 
So back to the Ottoman and Byzantine Empires. Revelations follows Ezio Auditore as he travels to Constantinople and his exploits therein. You’ll encounter a young Suleiman the Magnificent, Selim I, and Sehzade Ahmet, among others. Investigating the surroundings in Constantinople reveal those afore mentioned database entries and bits of history. Steadily, you begin to put together a functional history of the Ottoman Empire as well as the remnants of the Byzantines. Or, in my case, everything I know about the Ottoman Empire I learned from Assassin’s Creed: Revelations.
 
This is something that makes the Assassin’s Creed series relatively unique: they’re history lessons. Sure, the main plot of the game seldom revolves around real life incidents, but bits of actual history find their way into the plot (eg: how horrible the Borgias were). These games are decidedly not educational games, but by immersing the player in the world, you wind up learning stuff anyway. You’re able to recognize places like the Rose Mosque and the Basillica di San Lorenzo since you use them to navigate the city. Figures like Niccolò Machiavelli stick in your mind because of their importance in the game. You’re not so much taught by the game was you are immersed. You’re learning by doing.
 
There’s another game I’ve been playing a lot this past week; Kerbal Space Program. It’s an independent game by Squad wherein you run, well, the Kerbal Space Program. What makes it different is that it’s a bizarrely realistic space simulator where getting into orbit requires managing thrusters, detaching stages, adjusting your angle of ascent, and paying attention to your apoapsis and periapsis. You also learn what words like apoapsis and periapsis mean.
 
Kerbal is more intense than Assassin’s Creed in it’s ‘educational’ department. In order to be half-decent at the game you are forced to learn these concepts. Even if you’re not exactly clear on the math —and if you’re me, then you’re definitely not clear on the math — you wind up with a working understanding of stuff like thrust-to-weight ratios and atmospheric drag. Why? Because you have to. The information isn’t just background set dressing or details to make it seem more real; it’s vital knowledge to making sure your rocket doesn’t become a fireball. Though that’s fun too.
 
I love video games and it annoys me to no end how often they get written off as meaningless drivel. A game like Kerbal Space Program teaches players rocket science, though more for the fun of it than any practical reasons. Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty worked as a functional analysis of Meme Theory (amongst a lot of other stuff) — back in 2001, before memes were a thing. I learnt a lot of my eight-year-old vocabulary from the Pokémon games. All this to say that you can learn a lot from video games.
 
Now then, I have a few more ideas to send Kerbals flying into space I wanna try out.


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Playing With Expectations

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Jan 18 2014 · 113 views

Essays, Not Rants! 096: Playing with Expectations
 
In celebration of the wonder of Netflix, I decided to watch Drinking Buddies the other night. The premise is nothing new, Luke and Kate are coworkers with incredible chemistry who are, unfortunately, in relationships with other people.
 
What makes the movie such a joy is how the film plays with this idea. All the building blocks are in place, but the plot dances around them and subverts them. The scene where the Luke and Kate would/should kiss and fall in love is there. However, well, they don’t. Not then, and though the sexual tension is brimming between them, it never happens throughout the plot. Instead, the film looks at Luke’s relationship with his fiancée and Kate with her boyfriend while exploring the nature of Luke and Kate’s relationship. It’s been classified as a romantic comedy of sorts, but it disregards elements of the genre at will. Drinking Buddies teases the idea of a romance, but ultimately tells a story about, well, drinking buddies.
 
For someone who consumes as much media as I do it’s always fun to see a story that does something different (in a meaningful way, as opposed to just adding lesbians). Pacific Rim hit every beat the usual blockbuster does, but did so while running its own commentary on the world as it is. But I’ve written extensively on that movie (and will continue to do so), let’s look at another movie.
 
Like (500) Days of Summer (so much for something new). Like Drinking Buddies, it’s been billed as a rom-com and it, for all intents and purposes, at first seems to shape up to be one. One of the earliest scenes is of Tom and Summer sitting on a bench holding hands, a ring on her finger. We’re told this takes place on day 488, so we know it’s near the end. As an audience, we expect Tom and her to end up together, even as we see their relationship fall apart.
 
Many of the tropes of the romantic comedy are in full effect, yet they’re used almost ironically. Tom’s happy walk after getting together with Summer concludes with a flash-forward to his dejection after they break up. The whole idea of Meeting The One is taken brutally apart. But then, the narrator did say it was a story of boy meets girl, but not a love story. It plays with what we’d expect from the sort of movie it is, ultimately giving us something very different. And y’know what? It works.
 
Similarly, one would expect Scott Pilgrim vs The World would be a relatively straightforward movie: Scott fights Ramona’s seven evil exes in order to be with her. Basically an action movie’s formula mixed with a romantic comedy. Easy.
 
Only, this is Edgar Wright; it’s never that simple. As I said a couple weeks ago, the movie offers an interesting look at what’s vital in relationships. This isn’t what you, heck, this wasn’t what I expected at all when I first saw the movie. The movie seemed simple enough going in, but proved itself able to supersede both genres to create something new. Edgar Wright gave us an honest look at relationships through a comedic, video game-y, action-y lens. It did something different.
Back to Drinking Buddies, a movie unlike much else you’ll see; it’s slow, the dialogue is improvised, and not much happens. It’s a slice of life. I saw it based on a poster I’d seen a few months ago outside an independent cinema (and hey, Olivia Wilde and Anna Kendrick) and while watching expected it to go the rom-com route. But it didn’t, and it didn’t in a way that made for an interesting story. And for that, it succeeds.
 
Writer’s note: The discrepancy that I harbor an intense dislike for Blue Is the Warmest Color yet really liked Drinking Buddies is not lost on me. Especially given the critical/audience dissonance on the former (that is, audiences didn’t like Drinking Buddies as much as critics did). Chalk this one up to personal taste.


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I Didn't Get Blue Is the Warmest Color

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Jan 11 2014 · 204 views

Essays, Not Rants! 095: I didn’t get Blue Is the Warmest Color
 
There. I said it.
 
A lot of press surrounds Blue Is the Warmest Color for one reason or another, and with it winning a bunch of awards and ranking on some year end movie lists, I decided to see what all the fuss was about.
 
Long story short, I wasn’t a huge fan. Short story long, well, that’s what the rest of the post is for.
 
The concept seems interesting enough; we follow Adèle and the ups and downs of first love in her relationship with Emma. It’s something we’ve seen before, this time in a lesbian context. So far so good, but things fall apart when the concept leaves the paper and gets on screen.
 
Blue Is the Warmest Color is visually dull. Sure, there’s a lot of blue in the beginning, but it’s there almost indiscriminately (rather than in a way that would relate to Emma and her blue hair). The camera angles are repetitive; it’s the same medium close-ups and close-ups over and over again with framing just a little too tight. It wouldn’t be so bad were it not used for the majority of interactions. But then, maybe that serves the story. There’s little attempt to beautify the action. When Adèle eats it’s messy and pasta sauce dribbles down her chin; crying in the movie is snotty and unattractive; and dialogue is (at least translated) to sound banal at times.
 
So it could be then argued that the film wants to discard the hyperrealism so frequently found in ‘normal’ film, and this supposedly honest look at a relationship will be shot accordingly. Basically, the antithesis of (500) Days Of Summer, which, like Blue Is the Warmest Color, was more of a story about love than love story, except this time rather than seeing things through Tom’s hyperrealistic, romanticized point of view it’s told ‘realistically.’ Cool.
 
Only all that is thrown out the window when it comes to those scenes. Y'know the source of half the film’s press and, arguably, a large amount of its problems. Now, they’re shot in that same non-hyperrealistic way as the rest of the film: the lighting is stark and harsh and there’s no sweeping romantic soundtrack in the background. Yet it lacks a sort of emotional honesty. There’s no prelude to any of Adèle and Emma’s scenes and, barring the third, there’s nothing of pillow talk. They just happen.
 
Granted, this is hardly unique to Warmest Color, but it struck me as jarring that a film that focuses so heavily on relationships would have this be so abrupt. Worsening them is the lack of character showing through in the scenes. There’s no dialogue between Adèle and Emma nor attempt for their relationship (beyond the obvious) to show through their actions, it simply transpires as a sort of pseudo-pornography devoid of personality.
 
But then personality isn’t something the film thrives on either. Emma, the focus of Adèle’s affections, comes off as just another, albeit lesbian, Manic Pixie Dream Girl. It’s when Emma enters the story that Adèle is brought out of her unsatisfactory heteronormativity into a more interesting life. She’s quirky, she’s an artist, she’s different, and she has blue hair makes her stand out, especially when juxtaposed with Adèle’s bland surroundings. Now, Emma is by no means the worst offender, Adèle does not achieve a ‘happily every after’ through her and Emma has a measure of an inner life (though it is still primarily defined more by outlying qualifiers [her job, class, sexuality] than her own personality), yet she still plays the part. That aspect of their relationship feels like something we’ve seen dozens of times before. Adéle’s character suffers in a similar way; she feels defined more strongly by her nature as bookish, working-class teacher than by some of her other traits.
 
Not to say it’s all bad. There’s a fight between Adèle and Emma towards the end that is powerfully acted and genuinely compelling. For me it was the first time I suddenly felt myself really caring about their relationship and it became painful to watch, in a good way. The film does have its moments of excellence, it’s just bogged down in all the rest.
 
Which then confuses me as to why its receiving all those accolades. Now, I’m aware I’m someone who tends to harp on the idea of ‘high art,” but I found the only thing truly remarkable about Blue Is the Warmest Color to be its frank approach to LGBTQ themes. Have it be about a heterosexual relationship and it’d be all-but-mediocre.
 
It’s not enough to praise a movie simply because it features an LGBTQ romance at its center. It’s the same problem I have with Christian films or some approaches to women protagonists. As much as I’d like to see a good LGBTQ film, I can’t bring myself to just give it an A-for-effort. So yeah. I didn’t get Blue Is the Warmest Color when I watched it and, given its overlong three hour runtime, don’t much feel like trying again.
 
Writer’s note: Look, I just didn’t get it. Maybe if someone broke it down bit for bit and explained just why it was so great, sure. But ‘til then, I don’t understand the fuss.


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Relationship Advice from Scott Pilgrim

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Jan 04 2014 · 146 views

Essays, Not Rants! 094: Relationship Advice from Scott Pilgrim
 
Scott Pilgrim vs The World is one of my favorite movies. There’s the video game-y nature of it; a world that’s realistically unrealistic where fights look like Street Fighter and people explode into coins. With that, Edgar Wright and team put a great deal of love into making it; sound effects are borrowed everywhere from Legend of Zelda to Seinfeld. It’s a great movie.
 
For those of you who haven’t seen it (or fall outside its fairly narrow demographics), here’s a rundown of the plot: Scott Pilgrim falls in love with Ramona Flowers, but in order to be with her he has to fight her Seven Evil Exes. Mixed in with that is his struggling band, dealing with baggage from an old relationship, and breaking up with Knives Chau. Again, it’d be easy for this to be pure pulp and just a fun, silly story, but Wright and team give it its due. Though their world may not be strictly realistic, the characters and their relationships are. We see the effect ‘meeting’ Ramona’s exes has on Scott and we watch tension build between them (especially when Knives is involved).
 
So where’s this relationship advice, you ask? In the climax, we find out that love isn’t enough for a relationship.
 
Let’s back up. What’s the biggest in most romances? It’s, usually, the moment where the guy decides to throw it all away and go after the girl. Harry runs through New York to find Sally. Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan meet. Lloyd Dobler holds the boombox over his head (although, wonderfully, this isn’t the climax, but you get the idea). It’s that Big Moment of Love.
 
Scott Pilgrim, being at its heart a romance, plays this trope straight. Having lost Ramona to Gideon, Scott decides to set out to the Chaos Theatre to win her back by fighting Gideon. He arrives, fights his way in, and tells Gideon he wants to fight him for Ramona. When asked why, Scott responds that he’s in love with her. Scott thus earns The Power of Love and is awarded a flaming sword (from his chest!) with which he duels Gideon.
 
Great! That’s our Big Moment of Love! If there’s anything years of movie-watching should have taught us, know that Scott knows he’s in love with Ramona, he’ll beat Gideon and live happily ever after.
 
Only that’s not what happens here. Instead Scott gets himself killed.
 
Fortunately, however, Scott got a 1-Up earlier in the film and, after some brief soul-searching, uses said 1-Up to confront Gideon again. Again, Gideon asks him if he’s fighting him for her. Scott’s reply is different: “No, I wanna fight you for me.” And this time Scott earns the Power of Self Respect, gets a purple flaming sword, duels Gideon, settles things with Knives and Ramona, and fights Gideon again. With the Power of Self Respect.
 
Herein Scott Pilgrim vs The World suddenly does something that most romances don’t. Love isn’t enough. Thus far Scott has been fighting the exes simply because he has to if he wants to be with Ramona. It was Gideon who orchestrated the whole thing and, the first go round, Scott fights him like any other of Ramona’s exes, so he can be with her.
 
Only that didn’t work out.
 
The second time round, Scott fights Gideon for himself. This guy’s been screwing him over all along, yanking Scott’s chain. So Scott fights him not to win over Ramona, but to get his own back. Scott isn’t playing Gideon’s game anymore at that point, this time he’s engaging him on his own terms. The idea implicit is that in order for a relationship to work, you have to be able to be a person in your own right.
 
Sure, Scott Pilgrim vs The World is hardly the only place you’ll see this. (500) Days Of Summer did something similar: Tom gets his life together after Summer, dragging himself out of the routine and finally into doing something he loves, no longer looking for love to solve all his problems. What makes Scott Pilgrim special is that in a movie with bass battles and subspace highways we have an interestingly important commentary on relationships.






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