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Top Nine Movies of 2014

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! May 16 2015 · 122 views

Essays, Not Rants! 165: Top Nine Movies of 2014

Eventually you get to the point when you realize if you keep putting off this list until you’ve seen everything you wanna see you’re never gonna write the darn list. So I’m writing it.

So here’s my list of top nine movies for 2014; nine because I’m leaving a space for movies I haven’t seen but want to. And it’s my list, so it’s very, well, me. I liked Birdman well enough and loved Godzilla, but neither quite made the list. These are the ones that I liked best.

9. John Wick
I have a soft spot for action movies, especially when they’re really slick action movies with Keanu Reeves doing what he does best. But what really sets John Wick apart is the incredible world building. There’s a deep background to the assassins and mafia that made me really want to know more. Also, it’s beautifully shot.

8. Gone Girl
Y’know that thing where you’re enjoying a story and then it changes gears? Like how Black Swan went from ballet drama to psychological horror? Gone Girl does that with ease, masterfully unfolding its plot like a magnificent murder mystery. Also, it’s decidedly not a date movie.

7. Whiplash
A movie about drumming should not be this intense. But it is, due in no small part to Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons’ phenomenal performances and how far the script goes. By foregoing a moralistic thrust in lieu of about pure drive the movie is able to get grippingly dark. And it works, man, it works.

6. Interstellar
Christopher Nolan’s greatest weakness probably lies in his portrayals of characters and emotion. Yet Interstellar, for all it’s sci-fi grandeur, is able to remain grounded in people and be genuinely moving. It may border on being overlong, but it expertly weaves in its core of love into a movie about wormholes and time dilation.

5. 22 Jump Street
Being unfamiliar with the original television series, I thought the original was a lot of irreverent fun; but it’s in the second film, I think, that Chris Lord and Phil Miller really cut loose. Blisteringly self-aware, the movie skewers sequels (and itself) while packing in the laughs start to finish.

4. Chef
No, the movie may not be super dramatic, and yes, it is a very warm, very feel good movie. It does it all well, though, and its charm more than ends its sweetness. Plus, it’s a delicious movie rife with heart.

3. Guardians of the Galaxy
I limit myself to one Marvel film on these things, and Guardians beats Winter Soldier by a hair, and that’s probably due to my love of space opera. James Gunn’s effortlessly handles high adventure while keeping it firmly rooted in character. And it’s just plain fun. And the soundtrack’s awesome.

2. The Imitation Game
I actually read Turing’s titular paper a week or two before I saw the movie, which gave it some cool context. The movie, though, is beautifully heartbreaking. Benedict Cumberbatch turns in an unparalleled performance as Alan Turing, a Turing given considerable depth and breadth by a gripping story. The movie plain works.

1. The LEGO Movie.
Could it be any other? I grew up with Legos so the movie appeals to the kid in me. But then the film’s superb plotting and usage of the Hero’s Journey and various tropes is what really pushes it up there while still consistently bringing the funny. Then the movie brings in an emotional beat that you’re simply not expecting yet doesn’t feel at all out of place. It’s simply magnificent and also my favorite movie of 2014. Easy.


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I printed a TMD

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , May 14 2015 · 98 views

After printing an Akaku a couple weeks ago, I decided I had to go bigger.

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Print!

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Done, in my hand, and covered in supports:

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And then some time digging off the supports...

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Ain't perfect; sword didn't come out right/at all; but, dude, I've got a TMD I made nine years ago.

Dude.


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Let's Talk About That Whole Black Widow Thing

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! May 09 2015 · 258 views

Essays, Not Rants! 164: Let’s Talk About That Whole Black Widow Thing

People are mad on the internet. As usual. The hubbub recently, though, is about choices made regarding Black Widow in Age of Ultron. Now, I’m a big fan of Black Widow. I’d really like her to get her own movie and Nathan Edmonson’s run on the comics has been fantastic (issue #13 is framed on my wall). And I’ll be the first to admit that a character beat in Age of Ultron did throw me off for a bit. But I didn’t realize the furor until I started reading up on it.

Mild spoilers for the film from here on out.

Most all of it seems to boil down to one particular piece of characterization: In a quiet moment, Natasha reveals to Bruce —who she’s debating entering into a relationship with — that she was forcibly sterilized and she laments being unable to have a normal life. It’s clear what there is to take issue with: The one female Avenger is preoccupied with romance, babies and the lack thereof. It doesn’t matter how awesome Black Widow is, Natasha’s life is still incomplete without a man and children. Hence the death threats against writer/director Joss Whedon.

The beat did get a knee jerk reaction from me, but it made sense enough given her characterization. Natasha’s something of a reformed assassin and her past missions haunt her (as we see in her interactions with Loki in Avengers). Along with that, she’s never had a proper childhood, let alone any semblance of a normal life. We also see that she’s good with Clint’s kids and close enough to the family for the kids to call her aunt. Her attraction to Bruce makes sense, then: Both are damaged people who are trying to atone for their own inner monster. We can also see in it her desire for normalcy (and with it, motherhood). This all makes Natasha a very complex character. She’s torn between the normal life she could never have and atoning as an Avenger. There’s tragedy there too; while Thor enjoys the thrill of the fight, Natasha’s ultimate fantasy is a normal life. She’s forced to make a choice by the end of the movie: continue fighting or run off to find a sort of normal life.

It’s a shame that all of that gets forgotten in light of her grief about being unable to have kids. I’ve seen some people defend the scene by saying that what really was affecting her was that she was denied the choice of being able to have kids — she was denied her agency. Whether or not that’s the case, I don’t think her wanting kids necessarily diminishes her character. If anything, it added the depth detailed in the prior paragraph. There’s a beautiful dichotomy to the cold-blooded assassin wishing she could have a family.

So why the controversy? Are strong female characters not allowed to want families too? It seems male characters are — no one’s complaining about Clint Barton having a wife and kids (except those of us who wanted a Hawkeye Netflix series about him in Bed-Stuy like in Matt Fraction’s comics). Even though his personal life could easily be described as traditionally masculine — what with the farm, wife and kids and, always fixing stuff around the house — he doesn’t get any flak for it.

Ultimately, the issue is that it’s the one female Avenger. Since she’s the only one, she’s going to come under closer scrutiny. There are a host of narratives for the male Avengers, meaning that Clint could have his farm and Bruce be hesitant towards action without undercutting The Manliness as we had characters like Thor and Steve (that and, y’know, 70% of movie characters being men). Criticism is inevitable no matter how unfounded if the only female Avenger’s narrative contains shades patriarchal femininity. We need more good stories about strong women so we can have different sorts of strong women. Give us stories about moms, scientists, and fighter pilots saving the world. Black Widow can’t be the only female superhero.

Which is why we need Captain Marvel next year and not in 2018.


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Ulysses

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , May 03 2015 · 182 views

Just finished reading James Joyce's Ulysses (for class).

Yes. This totally warrants a blog post.

Yes.


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Masculinity in Age of Ultron

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! May 02 2015 · 123 views

Essays, Not Rants! 163: Masculinity in Age of Ultron

I saw Age of Ultron Thursday night and I have thoughts. There’s the obvious nerd-out factor of the film, and it’s really cool and does a lot of things right (and, arguably, does indeed go smaller than the first Avengers), but those are essays rants for another day.

So let’s talk about how the movie portrays the idea of masculinity. Because it’s actually really interesting.

Age of Ultron, like The Avengers before it and probably every Marvel movie until I get my friggin’ Captain Marvel movie, is very male dominated. But that doesn’t stop it from portraying a variety of roles for the men to take on. Macho men being manly all the time this is not, rather the Avengers portray different shades of masculinity.

Bruce Banner may be the most obvious. His ‘alter-ego’ is inherently violent and destructive, a stark contrast to his more mild-mannered usual self. He’s a violent man who eschews violence. Here’s a man who would rather that problems not be solved by punching.

This serves as something of an antithesis to Thor, who delights in battle (and tries to comfort Bruce at one point by telling him how well he fought). That said, when Thor competes with Tony, it’s not over who’s the better fighter. Instead they’re boasting of the impressive accomplishments of their significant others. Implicit here is that these two who embody traditionally masculine traits (Thor’s the fighter, Tony is characteristically bawdy) are both with accomplished and important women, and both are okay with it. Being ‘manly’ doesn’t mean downplaying the accomplishments of others and sometimes it means deferring to that as the true measure by which they measure themselves.

It’s Steven Rogers, though, who as Captain America is in some regards the paragon of masculinity: he’s brave, physically fit, honorable, a leader, and so on. But at the same time he’s also humble, he hopes for the best in people, is willing to be vulnerable, and knows he can’t always do it alone. He’s a lot like Captain Awesome from Chuck, in that he embodies a sort of ideal masculinity, but without a lot of the toxicity that goes with it.

Which brings me to Hawkeye, who gets a vastly expanded role in this film. Not only do we get a deeper look into his inner life, but we also see his role as a part of the team. Clint is, not unlike his comics counterpart, effectively the most normal of the Avengers. More than that, though, he’s the one with the most normal and fulfilled personal life, making him also the most stable; the least ‘manly’ of the Avengers is also the one who’s got it the most together. Furthermore, within Age of Ultron he carries much of the film’s emotional weight; he may not be the hardest hitter but he is the heart. In many other stories this position is usually occupied by a woman, or the most feminine one if there are multiple (think Katara from Avatar and Kaylee from Firefly). Clint isn’t seen as less capable for it; he, like Raleigh in Pacific Rim, portrays a form of masculinity that’s supportive in nature.

The male action hero has been somewhat pigeonholed over the years. There’s an immense focus on the John McLane, John Matrix, and Indiana Jones type, that is the swaggering, self-reliant, gun toting, never backing down sort. Compare The Expendables, an ensemble cast of very traditionally manly action heroes, to Age of Ultron. The former are all cut from the same hyper-masculine cloth, whereas the male Avengers are more nuanced. None of them are seen as lesser for not being as much of a brawler as Thor or as brave as Captain America. Rather, the film acknowledges that masculinity comes in different forms and that’s perfectly okay.


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I printed an Akaku.

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , May 01 2015 · 154 views

I recently learned that I have access to a 3D printer through NYU. That I can use. For free.

Because I don't have the time yet to find the plans for an Iron Man gauntlet, I decided to do some digging.
Despite losing all my files, I managed to find some old Anim8or models that I'd emailed Motago so he could render something.

Then I decided to start small.

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Folks. I have a PHYSICAL VERSION of a model I made OVER NINE YEARS AGO.

THIS IS THE FRIGGING FUTURE



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Age of Ultron

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , Apr 30 2015 · 138 views

Caught a 7pm IMAX showing (for the poster!)

It's, it's good. Makes a lot of really bold choices. Choices that I like for the most part. Lots of fun character beats.
And dude, it feels like a comic book. There are a lot of those really cool HOLY SNAP moments, which, y'know, is fun. 'cuz that's what you want in a comic book movie.

Also it's interesting to watch it as someone who now reads comics. Characterization works and there are some cool set ups too.

Man. Now to see it again sometime soon.


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Apartment

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Life And Such Apr 28 2015 · 111 views

Brother and I signed a lease on an apartment today, as neither of us wanna live in dorms next year.

It's very much a dinky New York apartment (sixth floor walkup, no sink in the bathroom), but we figure it's got character (also: actual two bedroom, a living room [!]) and it's near our usual haunts (few minutes from some decent bars, not far from my favorite dollar pizza place, near Trader Joe's, near campus), so, yeah, it's a win.

Holy [censored] this is what growing up is. My name's on an apartment lease.

Move in day is June 1st, but move out day of my current place is May 20th... Figure that means couchsurfing/sleeping in NYU buildings. Should be fun.



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How Do You Make An Avengers?

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Apr 25 2015 · 166 views

Essays, Not Rants! 162: How Do You Make An Avengers?

Avengers: Age of Ultron comes out here in the States in a few days, which makes me realize that we now live in a time where time can be measured in Avengers movies. Which makes me think about three years ago when I was eagerly waiting for the first one to come out.

It’s important to look at just how sharply The Avengers affected the current blockbuster landscape. The idea of a bunch of characters from separate films coming together in one movie was a very novel idea, outside of maybe Alien vs Predator. Now, ever since The Avengers made approximately all the money, DC’s been working fast as they can to establish their pantheon of superheroes. Amazing Spider-Man 2 spent much of its time trying to set up as many plot points for there to be a variety of spin offs. There’s even been an attempt to revive Universal’s horror movies with the intention of having Dracula, et al team up. Ever since The Avengers proved that it works, there’s been a big push to establish these so-called shared universes.

Of course, that’s missing that one of the things that made The Avengers work was that it wasn’t rushed. Marvel Studios spent five movies and four years building up their characters and their world. By the time The Avengers came out, audiences were at the very least aware of Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, and Captain America through good old pop-cultural osmosis. That done, they still took time to set up each character — including lesser known characters like Black Widow.

Furthermore, Marvel Studios hired a writer/director with a reputation for being able to handle ensemble casts. Joss Whedon’s only other movie at the time, Serenity, was able to reestablish the crew of the titular ship for people who both had and hadn’t seen the show. He had a similar task in The Avengers: establish six heroes, their boss, a couple minor characters, and a villain while also weaving together a coherent plot. The Avengers worked, due in no small part to Whedon’s writing.

The other thing about the shared universe concept is that it’s different from your typical movie production. There are grand story arcs that each film has to navigate around and fit in alongside. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is being run more like a television show than a typical movie series. Kevin Feige, executive producer on all Marvel Studios films, is effectively the showrunner of the series. He’s come up with the big ideas and found writers and directors to do each ‘episode.’ Once again, getting Joss Whedon onboard for the first two Avengers films made sense, most of his experience has been within the constraints of television. The Dark World was directed by someone who’d worked on Game of Thrones, and the Russo brothers, who did The Winter Soldier, directed for Arrested Development and Community. It’s also the Russo brothers who’ll be directing Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War, showing again Feige’s predisposition to those used to working in television. But this is still a novel form of filmmaking, and it’s one that Marvel’s making work.

I’m as excited to see Age of Ultron as I was to see The Avengers three years ago. Of course, I’m approaching this movie from a different perspective than I did the last year. And I don’t just mean someone who now actually reads comics, either. I’ve spent the greater part of the last three years at university studying storytelling and narrative. All this to say, I’m really impressed with how Marvel’s been handling their universe. It takes a lot of work and there are a host of missteps they could have taken.

So come Thursday evening I’ll be sitting in an IMAX theater in Kips Bay. I want the movie to be good, because I want to see Marvel keep expanding their movie world. That and I can’t wait for the Captain Marvel movie.


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Chewie, We're Home (The Essay, Not Rant)

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Apr 18 2015 · 155 views

Essays, Not Rants! 161: Chewie, We're Home

Every so often on this blog, I am liable to nerd the flip out. ‘cuz as a general rule, I like liking things. Also, I’m a huge nerd, and when what was basically the first thing I was a nerd about does something cool, I”m gonna be there. So let’s talk about The Force Awakens. Again. Though this time it’s less recapping and more analysis.

Based on the trailer, and also what was said at Celebration, it’s really sounding like Daisy Ridley’s character Rey is going to be the protagonist of The Force Awakens, which I’m obviously excited by. It also seems like they’re building her up along with John Boyega as Finn and Oscar Isaac as Poe Dameron as the ‘new’ Luke, Leia, and Han (or Anakin, Padme, and Obi Wan).

It’s cool, since one of the Holy Trilogy’s greatest strengths was its core characters. We knew Luke was our protagonist, and Han and Leia the deuteragonists. Luke had the biggest arc in each movie and was the most dynamic character while the other two had their own smaller ones and supported Luke’s along the way. There was a cohesion there that gave us a throughline through each film. So unlike Anakin, Obi Wan, and Padme who hardly ever had key moments together, the new one seems ready to establish this trinity of characters from the outset. Furthermore, one of the Prequels’ bigger narrative issues was the lack of a true protagonist. The character who should have had the biggest arc in the latter two — Anakin — ended up not doing much for big chunks of the film (while Obi Wan discovers a nascent rebellion, Anakin… falls in love with Padmé. While Obi Wan goes after a Separatist commander, Anakin… sits around on Coruscant). It’s hard to support a protagonist who’s not doing much.

To that, The Force Awakens, thus far is making an effort to pay tribute to the Holy Trilogy. Besides character archetypes and dynamic, they seem geared to do this through visuals too. Sometimes this means replicating shots — the Falcon’s dodge in the derelict ship’s engine is straight out of Jedi, and the droid BB-8 looking around the corner is a dead ringer for Leia’s introduction in A New Hope. Then you’ve got the with grand epic shots and a world that reeks of an unknown history (crashed Star Destroyer!). There’s even stuff similar to the Prequels; the shot of the Stormtroopers turning round is not at all unlike the end of Attack of the Clones. There’s a rich visual history woven into the look of the new film that makes it feel Star Wars.

There’s new to it too, though. The snap-zoom as the Falcon is pursued by TIE Fighters is a very Abram’s Star Trek shot (which in turn is arguably influenced by the visual work of Firefly). They’re also taking full advantage of how far special effects have come in the past few decades and giving us starfighters flying through atmosphere, which is what we’ve all always wanted but didn’t really know until we saw it happen.


Look, I’m excited for this movie. Star Wars has been a part of my life literally as long as I can remember (no lie, one of my earliest memories is me discussing the ending of Empire with another kid in the first house I lived in — so I’d have to have been four at the oldest). It’s hard for hype not build when we see a new movie coming out by a team that’s proving themselves more and more capable with each teaser. They’re taking something old and making it new (more diversity, taking advantage of technology) while remaining true to itself (visual style, character archetypes), making a new Star Wars that feels fresh.

On a more personal note, there’s this mix of wonder and craft that satisfies both the kid who saw The Phantom Menace for his eighth birthday and the twenty-three-year-old who spends his weekends ranting about superheroes, feminism, and video games.






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josh

twenty-four


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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