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About That Noah Movie

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Mar 29 2014 · 97 views

Essays, Not Rants! 106: About That Noah Movie
 
So. Noah. That new Darren Aronofsky movie. Let’s talk about it.
 
It’s an adaption, obviously. And it hits all the main beats of the biblical narrative. Noah’s told to build an ark, he builds an ark, animals, dove with the olive branch, landfall, the wine incident we don’t talk about at church, and the rainbow. That’s all there.
 
What Aronofsky and crew do is build on that, and for good reason. The account in the Bible is short and not terribly cinematic. Noah, too, is a terribly uninteresting character. He builds the ark and all that happens. There’s little explicit characterization in the Bible. Noah asks how someone copes with being told that the earth will be destroyed; how someone lives with being told that YOU are one tasked with saving the innocent; how someone deals with the notion that God is displeased enough with mankind to wipe them from the face of the earth. How does someone take this?
 
To that, Noah is presented as a sort of a proto-superhero. Like any superhero, he’s given a a purpose and an exceptional means with which to do it (in lieu of a Batmobile he builds an ark). Also like many recent superheroes, though, Noah is grounded and made very human. Which is cool because biblically he’s, y’know, human. Aronofsky’s answer to those questions listed in the prior paragraph is a man who comes to embody the concept of justice.
 
And here is where the film is strongest. Noah deconstructs the role of justice in society. What’s fair? What do people deserve? How far must Noah go to carry out what he believes to be God’s will? Noah wrestles with the interplay of justice and mercy, something amplified by the whole flood thing. We see justice in the judgment of the flood, mercy in the ark. Then with all that we see the effect of embodying the concept of justice on a person.
 
So is Noah a perfect movie? By no means, no. The pacing’s a little off and it drags at times. I’m not a huge fan of the presentation of the opening, but it serves its purpose. Some other bits here and there don’t quite work, a certain external conflict in the third act feels unnecessary and distracts from the justice/mercy dichotomy. That said, the movie succeeds for what it is, and what’s cool is that it explores ideas of the biblical Noah story that most adaptions don’t.
 
This is where Aronofsky as director really comes in to play. Noah isn’t what you’d call a ‘Christian movie‘ — and all the better for it. Noah here isn’t held up as being some perfect saintly hero, instead he’s treated as a very human character, allowing for an interesting story. More importantly, unlike many ‘Christian movies,’ Noah didn’t seem like it was trying to sell me something. It didn’t feel like a propaganda tract, instead it was an honest story about justice, mercy, and love.
 
Noah is an adaption of a very familiar story in a very different way. It’s different and mildly surreal (as you’d expect a movie by the director of Black Swan to be). As a whole, Noah isn’t one of the best movie of 2014 thus far (that’d be The Lego Movie), but it is a successful adaption of the Noah story.


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Nerd Culture, The Big Bang Theory, and Chuck

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Mar 22 2014 · 200 views

Essays, Not Rants! 105: Nerd Culture,The Big Bang Theory, and Chuck
 
I stopped watching The Big Bang Theory a couple years ago. Part of the reason was because I was growing tired of it, other part was I simply couldn’t be bothered to keep up with it. For a class, though, I have to write a scene for The Big Bang Theory. This means watching episodes of the show to get a hold of the rhythm and voices of the show.
 
I started watching Big Bang during its second season and enjoyed it for what it was; a sitcom about a bunch of nerds. I got the references they threw around, had or wanted some of the memorabilia in their rooms, and remembered when that Rebellion poster in Leonard’s room was announced. This show speaks my language.
 
So did Chuck, another show I began watching around the same time, although it spoke it differently than Big Bang did. In Chuck the nerd shout outs came as frequently and as accurately as in Big Bang, but in this show they felt more a part of the plot. Maybe it’d be meta gags like an entire episode following the structure of Die Hard or guest stars quoting characters they’d played in Terminator or Firefly. Other times the show would work it into the story: Chuck and Bryce speaking Klingon so they won’t be understood or Casey telling Morgan there are only three Indiana Jones movies. Chuck used nerd culture to enhance the story, partially because the protagonist himself is a nerd, partially because it’s that sort of show.
 
The protagonists of Big Bang are caricatures more than characters; Sheldon the insufferable genius, Raj the funny foreigner, Penny the clueless blonde, and so on. The entire premise of the show stems from their nerdiness and inability to mesh with the ‘real’ world.
 
Chuck of the eponymous show, is a far more rounded character. Yes, we’re told he can quote Wrath of Khan word for word and he does employ the Wookie prisoner trick on a mission, but it’s all part of who he is rather than who he is.The show’s about a normal, nerdy guy who gets brought into a world of spies and intrigue, and sometimes it’s his nerdiness that saves the day, other times it can be his sheer gumption. Chuck’s identity goes beyond his nerdy traits.

This yields different treatments of the characters and their nerdiness. Take gaming as an example. Rock Band is played for laughs in Big Bang, whereas Chuck brokenheartedly playing Guitar Hero while drinking whiskey leads to one of Season 3’s most heartfelt moments. Halo Night in Big Bang is often used as a gag or an opportunity to show how unchanging Sheldon is, even if the other guys would rather be doing something else. Early in Chuck’s first season, Chuck and Morgan are discussing something while playing Halo. The former presents Halo as being a gag in and of itself, whereas Chuck presents it as just something guys do.
 
And there’s the central conceit of the nerdy humor in The Big Bang Theory: It’s funny because they’re nerds. The characters playing Dungeons and Dragons or reading comics is funny in and of itself, not because of anything they do with it.
 
Compare Community, which just aired their second Dungeons and Dragon episode. Once again it features the characters playing a relatively realistic game of D&D. It’s funny, not because they’re playing D&D, but because of what they bring to it. Hickey using his ex-cop interrogation techniques on a hobgoblin or Dean Pelton’s overcommitment to his character’s relationship with his father. It wasn’t funny because they were playing D&D, but what they did while playing it.
 
Now, Chuck ended in early 2012 and I stopped watching Big Bang shortly after. In the years since I started watching these shows nerd culture has, as a whole, become far more mainstream. The Avengers happened, superhero movies are topping the box office, suddenly it seems like everyone’s watching shows like Game of Thrones or Doctor Who. Nerd culture and pop culture are overlapping more and more. Big Bang is steadily becoming out of touch with where things are headed. A recent episode has a gag about how girls don’t play D&D though I know more than a handful who play tabletop off the top of my head.
 
What I love about Chuck and Community is their willingness to embrace nerd culture for all that it is. For someone like me, someone who’s been neck deep in nerd culture and general geekiness since before Iron Man became a household name, it’s great to see shows who love this and celebrate the fun of being a nerd. With regards to Big Bang, well, I’ll quote Penny Arcade: “In Big Bang being like me is the punchline.”
 


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Top Nine Movies of 2013

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Mar 15 2014 · 203 views

Essays, Not Rants! 104: Top Ten Movies of 2013
 
I have weird taste. I love pulp, but I love heart, and I love a movie well done. In light of that, here are my top nine movies of 2013. Some movies didn’t make the cut. I really liked 12 Years a Slave for what it managed to do, that is create a story about slavery was genuinely moving yet not a white guilt tract. And I thought Her was fantastic as I did Star Trek Into Darkness, but all those aren’t on this list.

So what movies are? These are the ones I loved and the ones that stood out. They may not objectively be the best films of the year, but to me, they are.
 
(Wait, why nine movies? There are a bunch of movies I haven’t seen yet [Fruitvale Station, Desolation of Smaug, Dallas Buyers Club, etc] so there’ll be a tenth spot open should something else really stick out)
 
9. Rush
This movie will surprise you. It seems like an über macho racing flick. What it is is a slick drama, with more time spent on the emotional lives of the drivers than the race track. What we end up with is an engaging, beautifully shot film. And c’mon man, F1 cars are great.
 
8. Drinking Buddies
There’s a lot to be said about this movie, especially because it says so little. It’s a quiet film about relationships that’s gorgeously shot. It sticks to you not because a lot happens, but because it feels so true to life.
 
7. Much Ado About Nothing
I like Shakespeare. I like Joss Whedon. That combined with a fantastic cast (Clark Gregg and Amy Acker and Nathan Fillion and Sean Maher and Ashley Johnson and BriTANick!?) yields a really fun interpretation of the play.
 
6. Iron Man 3
Yeah, Iron Man 3 had to be here somewhere. I wrote a bunch on it when it came out and I stand by everything I said. It’s a blindingly fast paced movie that takes Tony Stark’s arc to a brilliant conclusion.
 
5. The Spectacular Now
Here’s a movie by the guys who wrote (500) Days of Summer and it feels a lot like said movie. Which is a good thing. It’s a coming-of-age story that discards a lot of the usual tropes of the genre in favor of a far more compelling, quiet story that rings of Say Anything… It’s great.
 
4. The Way Way Back
Yeah, another coming-of-age film. What The Way Way Back does so well is layer its film in charm and sweet without ever coming as trite and saccharine. We’ve got great performances (Sam Rockwell never disappoints) and a beautiful score that serves to create a story that feels very true.
 
3. The World’s End
This one could be classified as a coming-of-age story too, seeing as it’s about Gary King dealing with having to grow up. Only because this is Edgar Wright it’s a lot more than that. What we have is a moving story that’s part about friendship, part about old dreams, and part about the end of the world. It’s all balanced beautifully between drama and comedy with enough heart sprinkled throughout.
 
2. Gravity
As I touched on before, Gravity is what science fiction does best. It’s a story about reality, about people, set against a backdrop that heightens the entire affair. A brilliant performance by Sandra Bullock adds to the intensity of the film that really should have won Best Picture.
 
1. Pacific Rim
Yes. Pacific Rim. I’ve written a lot on this film since it came out and I stand by all of it. What could have easily been a big, dumb, testosterone fueled movie is instead a much more nuanced film that’s still about giant robots beating the snot out of giant monsters. Amidst all the spectacle there’s a strong emotional core about friendship and family. It’s an unusual movie rife with heart and a touch of social commentary.
There are so many reasons I’d enjoy this movie even if it was big and dumb, but because it’s so much more, because there’s so much behind the spectacle, it’s my favorite film of 2013.


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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 · 136 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 · 127 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 · 130 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 · 111 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 · 115 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 · 144 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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josh

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grew up on a ship

studies Storytelling

at New York University

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