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2013 in Review

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Dec 28 2013 · 98 views

Essays, Not Rants 041: 2012 in Review
 
That’s right people, I’m doing it again.
 
Once again instead of a usual post I’m going to look through some of the posts from this year and link ‘em. Because it’s something appropriate to do at year’s end and not because a buddy of mine and I watched two movies in two separate cinemas and last night and I’m working today.
 
Five Most Popular/Viewed Posts
 
#5: Two More Hours
On occasion my blog posts are, there I say it, topical. This usually happens during those weeks when I get time to see a new movie (this last semester was spent mostly working on a movie of my own). One of these was Ender’s Game and in that post I explain why it needed two more hours. Hence the title.
 
#4: Science Fiction, Parables, and Gravity
I had a creative writing class this semester that took a hard approach to genre fiction so a handful of my posts were rants essays of my addressing some of those thoughts. I do like this one because Gravity was fantastic and I love getting to talk about science fiction.
 
#3: Projection and Empathy
This is one of those spitball essays where I figure out what I’m writing a paper on that, surprisingly, found quite an audience. So here’s to you, dear readers, for reading me bouncing thoughts. And yes, I did quite well in that class.
 
#2: Too Many Characters, Too Little Time
Behold, another instance of me being topical. I really enjoy Game of Thrones (even The Red Wedding, though that’s a very different sort of enjoyment), so writing about it was fun. I still stand by this post, and I still want Joffery to die, and I still haven’t read the books.
 
#1: Why I (seldom) Write About Ships?
Another one of those that grew out of my creative writing class, this one’s my defense of setting my stories in space. It ended up being a rather bloggy post, mostly due to me talking more about me than stuff, but I do really like it.
Fun Fact: My dad shared this one on Facebook, giving me one of my busiest days and instantly propelling it to the second most viewed post of all time (behind that one post that keeps catching search queries).
 
And there we have the five most viewed posts. As with last year, what follows will be a few posts that I really like, for various reasons. These posts are also posts that aren’t in the afore top five.
 
Josh’s Pick of Three
 
#3: Becoming Iron Man
I wrote a few posts on Iron Man 3, most of them analyzing Tony Stark’s character (hey, I wrote a big paper with him as one of the subjects around the same time). I’m picking this one out because it’s one of those occasions when I pick something apart. And it’s about Iron Man and I had to have at least one Iron Man post here.
 
#2: A Grownup Video Game
I love The Last of Us. It’s all over this blog and I wrote a paper on it. This was written when I was only a few hours in to the game, but it still hits the nail on the head. That game is phenomenal. On a side note, I was thinking of calling the post something along the lines of Adult Video Game or Video Game for Adults, but, well, I feel like I would have gotten the wrong sort of attention.
 
#1: Humanity, Hubris, and Canceling The Apocalypse
Pacific Rim is my favorite film of the year. Granted, I’m still catching up with movies (I really want to see Inside Llewyn Davis and her, for example), but Pacific Rim wins my pick for not only its awesome mechas-fighting-kaiju action, but for its themes. It’s a movie that goes beyond its action into a very hopeful movie about making the world a better place.
I also did a close reading of Pentecost’s speech, which I’m quite proud of.
 
And bam. That’s 2013. Fifty two posts in as many weeks, so here’s to you, readers, for actually reading the stuff I write. See you next week wherein I will most likely cite two completely unrelated works to described a point.
 
Here’s to 2014.
 
Oh, and if you will, watch my movie.


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In Defense of Escapist Fiction

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Dec 21 2013 · 143 views

Essays, Not Rants! 092: In Defense of Escapist Fiction
 
A term that I see thrown around a lot regarding my preferred fictions is “escapist fiction.” You might have seen it before; films like The Avengers and Pacific Rim are just escapist fantasies, especially when compared to ‘real cinema.’ Or video games are just ways to live out a fantasy and science fiction a way to avoid problems and reality.
 
It’s an interesting criticism, to say the least, one that sometimes culminates in me giving up and closing the tab halfway through. The idea is that a lot of fiction (and, of course, video games) are easily written off because they’re escapist.
 
So what exactly is escapist fiction? Wikipedia has a (surprisingly short) article on it that sums it up as “fiction which provides a psychological escape from thoughts of everyday life by immersing the reader in exotic situations or activities.” So basically, it’s genre.
 
As I said before, it’s here that the criticism comes out; the idea being that these forms of fiction are a method of avoiding problems; a means of escape. Rather than confronting or dealing with problems, they encourage readers/viewers/players to just ignore it and go off in a fantasy world. They’re fluff; shallow, non-serious entertainment.
 
I disagree. Hence the name of this blog post.
 
Way I see it, there’s enough of life happening in the real world. Enough irresolvable conflicts, enough wars without a good guy and a bad guy, enough people leaving, enough [crud] in general. Escapist fiction often offers a world where there is a solution, where there might be meaning and, when barring that, action can be taken. Because in fiction, the Evil Empire can be overcome by a backwater farmboy.
 
These ‘escapist fantasies’ are ways out. When life gives you lemons it’s far more fun to read a story where those lemons can be overcome rather than one dwelling in them. Returning to the Star Wars example, it’s at its core the idea that some nobody could wind up as the hero, save the princess, and defeat the bad guys. Luke’s predicament early in the film is relatable to any nineteen year old (or older, as the case may be). Stuck in a lousy job, feeling trapped in the middle of nowhere and wanting to do something more. Something bigger. He does and, by proxy, so do we.
 
Pacific Rim is a ‘millennial’ approach to the apocalypse, one that may not be quite as nuanced and subtle if it were a film by David Fincher and Daniel Day Lewis, but the movie does address ‘topical’ issues. There’s the idea of self-sacrifice, of overcoming grief, and of connection all wrapped up with saving the world. No, it’s not ‘serious’ fiction in the way that, say, The Book Thief or Dallas Buyers Club are, but it’s not to say that reality isn’t woven into its being.
 
All this to say, escapism is awesome. Escapism is coming home from a lousy day at work and running through Renaissance Italy and attacking guards. It’s a way out, a way to do something beyond life. There is a time for more ‘real’ fiction, but that is not to say that escapism is any less serious. In any case, J.R.R. Tolkien defended his work in two sentences better than I did in this post: “Fantasy is escapist, and that is its glory. If a soldier is imprisoned by the enemy, don't we consider it his duty to escape?" In other words; life can be a bit of a bummer sometimes, so let’s get out of it sometimes.
 
 
On a different note, watch my new short “The Mysterious Glowy Object” now!


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Defying Conventions

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Dec 14 2013 · 122 views

Essays, Not Rants! 091: Defying Conventions
 
I’m still not done spitballing this essay (which is problematic, seeing as it’s due on Monday) but I’ve narrowed in my focus to make it more relevant to the class. Rather than comparing Mass Effect 3 and The Last of Us, I’m going to look at the latter game and how it does away with many of the accepted conventions of narrative video games.
 
Academically. Because I can.
 
See, for the most part narrative video games have taken on three very common tropes. Now, these aren’t bad. Phenomenal games like Mass Effect 3, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, and Halo 4 employ these to great effect. What The Last of Us does is dare to do away with these.
 
Take saving the world. We see it everywhere in games; just looking at my shelf we have Mass Effect and the Jak and Daxter trilogy, all about saving the world (or community or what have you) from some evil. Within these games a lot of the drama comes from the need to save the world. Look at Mass Effect 3, in it Commander Shepard has to save the galaxy from the apocalyptic Reapers. There is great tension in the game due to the ever-present threat of the reapers. Every action Shepard takes, particularly with diplomacy, is heavier because if he fails the galaxy then the galaxy is lost. Commander Shepard must save the day.
 
Joel, the protagonist of The Last of Us, does not have the world at stake. The story is not about Joel saving the world, it is about Joel bringing Ellie to a destination. It’s a video game about a journey where the goal is almost irrelevant. The tension in the story is steadily born not out of any grand importance but out of the relationship between the two main characters. The Last of Us goes smaller and far more personal and manages to pull it off. Here we have a video game with a comparatively small focus, one unlike many of its contemporaries.
 
So then what is the central tension of The Last of Us? In most video games (and even several books and movies) it boils down to the fundamental conflict of good versus evil. And why not? It’s a universal conflict. The central theme of Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is such. Will Nathan Drake do the right thing? It’s handled with a deal of nuance better than other games (say, any Final Fantasy), going so far as to have each love interest in the game embody one side of Drake’s duality. Among Thieves is a stellar game about good and evil. Sure, there are a few shades of gray thrown in, but still; a story about good versus evil is not bad.
 
The Last of Us is built on shades of gray. Joel is not a good man. We hear hints throughout the narrative of what he’s spent the twenty years since the outbreak doing. He was a raider, he killed people, he’s been a thief. He is not a nice man, if anything, he’s a hollow man no better than the others in the wastes. So what then of Ellie, the fourteen-year-old you’re charged with protecting? In any other story, no matter the medium, she would be Joel’s morality pet. Instead, Ellie is a fallen character unto herself: she’s willing takes up arms to kill others and will fight to survive no matter what. She is by no means an objectively ‘good’ character in the way Nathan Drake or Shepard are. What we have in The Last of Us is a story that hinges not on any sort of morality. Instead it is a story about surviving at any cost.
 
Which brings us to the third trope. Video games are more than about survival, they are often power fantasies, whether it is mowing down terrorists or fighting off invading aliens. Again, this, along with the other two tropes, is not bad. Video games, like many other mediums, are a form of escapism. In Halo 4 you are the Master Chief, an incredible super soldier who can stop the Covenant and The Didact and his Prometheans. You singlehandedly take on entire armies, thereby defeating evil and saving the world. In Halo 4 you get to be the hero and you are capable of being a one man army.
 
In The Last of Us you are constantly on the run. You never have enough ammo (it’s the only game I’ve played where having seven bullets is considered a lot), you are frequently low on health, and any more than two enemies usually means you’re in trouble. Rather than making you feel powerful, The Last of Us makes you feel desperate. If you miss this shot you won’t have enough ammo to kill the other soldiers hunting you. Unlike many other contemporary games, your health in The Last of Us does not regenerate, meaning if you take damage you have no way to recover beyond expending a valuable medkit. You are not all powerful: you are vulnerable and doing what you can to survive.
 
Though it discards many of the accepted norms of its medium, The Last of Us does it with a finesse seldom seen. The game does not subvert these tropes just for the sake of them, but rather to drive home the theme. The comparatively small stakes, the lack of a grand morality, and the vulnerability all work together to create something unique. The Last of Us is a AAA-studio game unlike many others before it, due in no small part to it daring to do something different. Neil Druckmann, creative director of the game, wanted something to raise the bar for the industry as a whole. It’s arguable this game has helped elevate the medium.
 
Now then. Let’s write this essay.
 
 
What else do I do for school? Make movies. Watch my newest short, “The Mysterious Glowy Object” now!


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Projection and Empathy

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Dec 07 2013 · 108 views

Essays, Not Rants! 090: Projection and Empathy
 
Every now and then I repurpose this blog to spitball various ideas for papers I have to write. These are usually not terribly coherent. I’m doing it again.
 
For my class on Melodrama (yes, it’s a thing) I want to write about video games, because I can. Particularly Mass Effect 3 and The Last of Us and the different ways each game immerses the player to build drama.
 
In Mass Effect 3 you are Commander Shepard. You choose your first name, you choose how you look, you choose your backstory. Beyond that the game allows you, the player, to choose what Shepard does throughout the game. Say you’re faced with someone refusing to let you past. Are you going to try to talk him into it; or will you hold a gun to his head until he listens to you? The game gives you that choice.
 
Of course, a lot of Mass Effect is far more subtle than that. Your attachment to your crew is based on your own actions. How much time you spend getting to know them and whether or not you help them out with their side stories is entirely up to you. You’re never obligated to spend to interact with them. But then, the fate of your crew is up to you.
 
Say you decide to cure the genophage in order to have the warlike krogan on your side in the fight against the Reapers, though also allowing the krogan to become a major contender in the galaxy (and threaten a war), To do so, the scientist (and friend) who delivers the cure will die. He doesn’t have to, of course. You can lie to the krogan Battlemaster (and friend) and say that you tried to cure it while the scientist goes into hiding. Or you can order him not to go and renege on your deal. Or you can tell him to go up anyway, knowing he will die. And if you do, you know it was your choice. So his death (or your betrayal) hits harder because you know you had the choice.
 
The Last of Us gives you no choices. The player is constantly ushered and ordered along, never given a say in the events. You live out the story that unfolds. Now, The Last of Us owes a great deal of its drama to its deft writing and exceptional acting, but playing as Joel —and allowing his goals to become yours — drives home much of the emotional weight of the game.
 
One of the strongest examples appears early on (and I’ve mentioned it before) During the game’s opening you play as Joel as he tries to escape with his daughter, Sarah. For a few minutes you’re running through town as Infected close in behind you, Joel’s daughter in your arms. Your goal mirrors Joel’s throughout the scene, get Sarah to safety, which makes her death all the more painful.
 
After all, you finished the ‘level,’ you got to the checkpoint without dying. By right you should be safe, you should be clear. You should be safe. There’s no going back, there’s no way you can prevent her from dying. Furthemore, the affect of her death is intensified because you, the player, failed too. Your goal was to get Sarah to safety and you failed.
 
Unlike in Mass Effect 3, The Last of Us, immerses the player through empathy (rather than projection). The player does not direct the flow of the game, thereby becoming the protagonist in the process, rather the player’s mindset is molded to that of Joel’s. They’re two different ways of creating drama that, when used as well in these two games, really work.
 
Hey, wanna see a movie I made? Of course you do. Check it out here.


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Why I (seldom) Write About Ships

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Nov 30 2013 · 168 views

Essays, Not Rants! 089: Why I (seldom) Write About Ships
 
I grew up on a ship. I also like writing.
 
Now, these two should go hand-in-hand. Write about living on a ship, it’s what you know! But then, who lives on a ship. No one would believe that. So I write science fiction. Because it’s easier to believe folks living on a spaceship than on a real ship. Less time explaining stuff. Also, I really like science fiction.
 
But, and I do get asked this, why don’t I write about a real ship instead? After all, then I can reap the prestige literary fiction. Why do I waste my talents/history on science fiction?
 
Because, surprisingly, living on a ship is actually quite boring. Yes, you travel, but that’s hardly unique (you could do the same in a bus or plane). The actual parts of living on a ship are terribly routine. You wake up, go to school (or work, but I went to school), come home, read, homework, video games, eat, whatever, sleep. Whether we were in Sierra Leone or Barbados, that’s what we did. Life is life.
 
So what is it then that makes living on a ship special? Relationships. Bonds. The sense of a weird sort of family formed by virtue of having no one else.
 
Like in Firefly. I’ve found that show to be the most honest take on life on a ship. Sure, my ship was lacking in the fugitive doctors and smuggling part, but there was certainly that sense of community. On the show Jayne may antagonize Kaylee, but when the chips are down he’s as ready to protect her as the captain. Serenity’s crew has a decided “we’re in this together no matter what” mentality. Sometimes it touches on the idea of family, but, as cemented by Mal’s speech at the end of Serenity, it’s about making a home. You want a story about life on a ship? About what makes life on the ship special? Look at Firefly and Serenity.
 
But that feels pretty obvious, y’know, Serenity is a ship, of course it’s going to have parallels. What about when there’s no ship?
Well, this might explain one of the many reasons why I love Chuck. Over the series, Team Bartowski and the other characters slowly come together to form, well, a crew of sorts. Even though the lot of them don’t always get along, they’ve formed a sort of family. Yeah, it’s very similar to my example from Firefly above, but it’s that idea again. For much of the series Casey doesn’t even like Chuck, but again, will come through for him when it counts; as will the others for him. Everyone has this forged bond with each other. That’s the essence of life on a ship.
 
Sure, there’s the incredible sublime feeling of being in the middle of the ocean at night, the ship’s running lights extended less than a stone’s throw away; but it’s nothing that can’t be transported elsewhere or substituted. Because that’s just setting, it’s not the interesting part.
 
I suppose that’s one reason I love writing science fiction; it gives me liberty. If I want to explore the idea of home I can add a plot device that threatens it. Could be, say, a mysterious box that shows an alternate world. Wanna stress the bond between the Captain and his Bosun? Arrest one of them. There’s a great freedom in a world where you get to make the rules.
Not to say I don’t put everything in science fiction. One of my short stories I’m the most proud of is set in a small town (though there’s a ship in a character’s past) and the screenplay I’m working on with my brother is set in the real world, though on a boat. But the former is about coming home and the latter is about an adventure. Writing about a ship in and of itself is boring. It’d like be writing about everyday life in the suburbs or a city or anywhere.
 
But writing about home, about family, about leaving? That’s interesting. So I seldom set my writing aboard an actual ship; but I always write about life on a ship.
 
 
Writer’s Note: Yeah, did something this week. Something almost...bloggy. Stuff in this vein may show up again.


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Little Things

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Nov 23 2013 · 127 views

Essays, Not Rants! 088: Little Things
 
The biggest difference between fiction and reality is that the former is not real. Duh. Ergo, one of the greatest challenges of fiction is making it seem real. Doesn’t matter if it’s Star Wars, Pacific Rim, or Chuck; it’s gotta feel realistic. Lived in, real.
 
The crew behind Star Wars, Pacific Rim, and the film adaption of The Lord of the Rings achieved this through set design. There are tiny, almost unnoticeable details all over the movie. The ships in Star Wars are old and worn; the Jaegers in Pacific Rim show signs of years of use. Compare to being told that the heroes in Pacific Rim had been fighting the Kaiju for over a decade but everything looked bright as new. We wouldn’t buy the history nearly as well as when we can see it for ourselves. It’s the same principle as in writing: show, don’t tell.
 
Take the simple example of the presence of the kill markings on some of the Jaegers in Pacific Rim. We don’t have any context for that, just that Striker Eureka has seen its share of combat prior to the film. It’s never elaborated on, nor is attention ever directed at it; it’s just there for the audience to see. It’s a little detail that gives a great deal of history and context for the story. Hardly anything would be lost without details like that, but its presence belies much.
 
The same thing can be found in characters’ dialogue. Sure, the world may be (partially or entirely) fictional for us, but not for the characters. Unlike us, they know the world, and, as such, should talk about it as if they do. Some of my favorite examples of this comes from the original Star Wars. When we first meet Han Solo he boasts about making the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs. What the heck is a Kessel Run? We don’t know, but Han does (and Luke the farmboy acts like he does too). At one point Leia mentions Dantooine, Obi Wan says something about some ‘Clone Wars.’ What I love is that we don’t know what any of these things are, but the characters talk about them fluidly, as well as someone in our world would discuss London or Atlanta. It makes it all feel that much more real.
 
But that's just the world. Characters have history too. They know people, and they know people a certain way. Let’s look at Chuck, because I love that show and am rewatching it. Whenever Chuck refers to his old friend Bryce, it’s most commonly as ‘Bryce Larkin from Connecticut.’ Let’s look at the fact that ‘from Connecticut’ is in it. It’s just two added words, but all of a sudden Bryce is given a home and we learn that he’s from somewhere. It also gives us a measure of context, seeing as it implies that Bryce was from outside Chuck’s usual world (that is, California).
 
You can see this in The Avengers, when Black Widow and Hawkeye mention Budapest, or Summer’s exes in (500) Days of Summer. The usage of specifics (Budapest, Charlie) lend credence to their past and make it more real.
 
These little things in movies (and television, books, video games; everything, really) wouldn’t really be missed if they weren’t there, but when they are they help immensely.


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Good Female Protagonists Revisited

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Nov 16 2013 · 162 views

Essays, Not Rants! 087: Good Female Protagonists Revisited
 
This blog's inception came about a year-and-a-half ago due to an essay (not a rant) about Katniss of The Hunger Games and other strong female characters. In light of the fact that we're once again a week away from the release of a movie about Katniss Everdeen, I figure, hey, let's look at this subject yet again. And again.
 
Strong female characters are strong characters. Period. There's no special checklist that needs to be applied to women characters. There aren't any set of traits that a female character must or cannot embody, just as there aren't for male characters. To suggest otherwise is not only kinda dumb, but also robs characters of the incredible depth that real people have.
 
So, essentially, a woman in fiction doesn't have to be out kicking butt to be a strong character. I think this is something we get mixed up a lot. We suspect that Katniss is stronger than Bella Swan because Katniss can shoot stuff with a bow when, as I've said before, it's rather because Katniss has agency and is active in pursuing her goals.
 
Firefly is another strong example of this. Compare Zoë and Kaylee. Zoë's ex-military and frequently joins the captain in fighting bad guys. Kaylee is a mechanic and freezes up when she's handed a gun. Gut reaction could be to say that Kaylee is a dull, cliché character. Yet anyone who’s watched the show will quickly realize that Kaylee is as well developed as Zoë.
 
How? Because Kaylee’s an interesting person, plain and simple. As a character she has her own quirks, she has her own agency, she’s her own person. What makes Kaylee interesting is that she’s a layered, developed character. She’s someone you feel like you could have a full conversation with, even if taken out of her setting.
 
Agents of SHIELD is another great example of this. I talked about this a few weeks ago, though with regards to non-combatant characters in general being given their moment. It excels with its female characters too. Skye and Simmons are both fleshed out and interesting enough characters, even though they aren’t out actively fighting. Furthermore, they aren’t treated patronizingly. They aren’t those moments where the plot almost conspires to create a situation where the character would be proven right or put in a very I-told-you-so moment, almost elevating her above the others. (It’s interesting to note that while Skye falls victim to patronization on occasion, it’s due to her hacktavist nature rather than based on her being a woman)
 
A lot of the women in Game of Thrones are also well-developed, even the ones who aren’t swinging swords. Sansa Stark, who’s basically a prisoner-of-war, would be very easy to come off as being very damsel-y. Yet she’s still a cool character, we can see that she’s not meekly complying with everything but instead has her own agenda, however powerless she can be.
 
So what’s the point of this? Shockingly, women are people too. A strong female character doesn’t have to be out kicking butt (see Salt for evidence of how it can go wrong), just be an interesting person. For every Katniss and Black Widow we need a Sansa and Simmons. Keep things interesting, y’know?


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Once Again on SHIELD

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Nov 09 2013 · 140 views

Essays, Not Rants! 086: Once Again On SHIELD
 
Yep. I’m talking about this show again. Because it’s great and I don’t have much time to watch new movies (besides The Dark World) or read or play much video games. So we’re talking about Agents of SHIELD again.
 
The show started strong and since then has steadily improved in itself. Characters have been fleshed out, dynamics enhanced, and it's proved itself capable with taking on different sorts of plots. What's even better is that all of this is usually done together, rather than individually.
 
See, it's easy to do these one at a time. When How I Met Your Mother does a high-concept episode it's usually at the expense of characterization. This isn't necessarily bad, there's nothing wrong with a plot-powered episode in a show that's usually very character driven. Shows like Community and Lost occasionally mix new concepts with character growth (see “Remedial Chaos Theory” and “The Constant”), but beyond that mixes are few and far between.
 
SHIELD is one of them. The most recent, "F.Z.Z.T.," dispenses with the usual good-guys-fighting-bad-guys typical of shows like this in favor of a far more internal conflict, one that can't be shot at. What's remarkable is that the writers take this in stride, maintaining high tension throughout an episode where the action could be described as "they science stuff."
 
Not only was it well done, but the plot allowed for some fantastic character moments. With the conflict science based, we were able to see Ward grapple with being powerless. Similarly, it allowed the show to further explore the dynamic of Fitz and Simmons. Prior they'd been presented as two parts of a whole, albeit two parts with a few contrasts. "F.Z.Z.T." explored those contrasts, really highlighting not only what makes them individuals, but also why they work together. It's a character study facilitated by a shift in the nature of the conflict.
 
The best character moment, however, is probably Coulson's. With a relatively quiet threat, we're able to see more of Coulson's character. When he comforts a firefighter we begin to see the consequences his death had on him. When Simmons is at risk we his his steadfast devotion to saving his team. And lastly, his own doubts about himself show is another side of him. He becomes far more deep and we, as an audience, are informed that there is baggage there to be worked out. And baggage makes for good television.
 
"F.Z.Z.T." is another step forward for Agents of SHIELD for so many reasons. Characters are stronger, humor hits more, and the drama's more dramatic. I was excited when the show first aired, now I'm thrilled with where this show is going.
 


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Two More Hours

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Nov 02 2013 · 203 views

Essays, Not Rants! 085: Two More Hours
 
The book Ender's Game is near to my heart. I listed it as my favorite book on my college apps years ago (in lieu of The Lord of the Rings — too cliché). I've read it at three different stages of my life: in high school, in the army (during basic training and later as a corporal), and for class during my freshman year of university. What I'm saying is I love the book. Not just because it's about kid-soldiers saving the world, but because it explores questions of warfare, empathy, and trauma.
 
See, Ender's Game is a two-headed beast. You have the story of Ender, the child chosen to save the world. The novel follows him from earth through his trials at Battle School and on to Command School. We see him grow and excel in this environment, triumphing despite the odds being stacked catastrophically against him.
Alongside that it’s a story about a boy forced to deal with isolation and detachment; Ender never has the luxury of friends. Ender’s Game is also about a boy being molded into the weapon at the cost of his psyche and the effect it has on him and those around him. As the novel comes to a close it becomes a story about PTSD and atonement.
 
So it was with cautious hope that I saw the film of the book Thursday night. It wasn't bad; it touched on the themes and hit on many of the book's highlights. But it was too short. It’s really hard to condense all of that into a single movie. Which brings me to the greats flaw of the film of Ender’s Game: It needed two movies.
 
The movie desperately needed more time, another beat in Battle School, another beat in Command School, and another at the end. Ender’s Game is on of the few books that really needed two movies to tell its story.
 
That’s the main criticism I can levy against the film. The cast was exceptional, Harrison Ford as Graff in particular. Some of the script was a little wonky, but never enough to drag down the rest. The visuals were beautiful (though I would have done something different camera-wise in the Battle Room). The movie was great, just too short.
 
Which just might make it that much more painful. It’s easy to hate a movie that’s just plain shoddy (See: The Last Airbender) or fails to capture the spirit of the book (See: BBC’s The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe). Then it’s easy; the movie felt nothing like the book, missed the point, and sucked. In those cases you laugh off the movie figuring, hey, they tried, whatever.
 
Ender’s Game came so close as a movie. It had all the pieces it needed for a great adaption. Everything was freaking there, the movie had it all. And it was great, for that. But it needed the chance to breathe. It needed the time to get into Ender’s isolation, to explore Dragon Army, to explore the consequences of his decisions. We needed two movies!
 
Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed the movie. I almost cheered when we met Bean and later Petra. Every one of Graff’s scenes was an absolute blast (Ford was able to capture Graff’s severity and warmth like no other). It was great; it just needed more time. What makes it more painful is that if someone ever tries again in the future, the parts will no longer be here. We won’t be able to have Harrison Ford as Graff again nor many of the other people involved.
 
Ender’s Game is by no means a bad movie, great even; but it came this close to being incredible. Movie’s worth a watch, but definitely read the book.


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Genre Blending

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Oct 31 2013 · 85 views

Essays, Not Rants! 084: Genre Blending
Originally posted October 25th 2013
 
Remember when superhero movies were just becoming a thing? They usually fell into the same pattern: someone gets powers and saves the world. Fairly straight forward, right? Sure, there were different approaches to the idea: X-Men drew on themes of discrimination and Spider-Man was about a hero trying to balance life and superheroing. The Dark Knight, Watchmen, and The Incredibles deconstructed several tropes associated with the genre, and Iron Man and The Incredibles reconstructed a deal of them (yep, The Incredibles did both). But at the end of the day, all of them were, for the most part, variations on a theme.
 
Then Thor rolled around. While, yes, it was still about a superhero saving the world, the film and character were approached like a fantasy film in the vein of The Lord of the Rings rather than an out-and-out ‘superhero film.’ The result was a movie that felt very different from, say, Iron Man. Suddenly the superhero genre had expanded. Thor wasn’t just about a normal guy getting powers; it was about a fantastical superhuman progressing through the hero’s journey in a blend of fantasy and reality.
 
A few months later Captain America: The First Avenger came out, transplanting a superhero movie into a period piece (like The Incredibles!). Unlike The Incredibles, though, The First Avenger fully embraced its time period: World War II. Just as Thor crossed into fantasy, this film blended the a war movie with superhero tropes. Yes, The First Avenger still has all the hallmarks of the superhero film, but it’s hardly a strict superhero movie. We have a superhero who’s more like a commando (or is it the other way round?). Similarly, X-Men: First Class (also released in the Summer of 2011) took place in the ‘60s, keeping its discrimination subtext and mixing it with Cold War imagery.
 
Which brings me to The Winter Soldier, the trailer of which just dropped (if you haven’t seen it, go now!). The new Captain America movie seems to be, like The First Avenger before it, dispensing with a lot of ‘classic’ superhero tropes. If anything, The Winter Soldier is shaping up to be more like a political thriller in the vein of Patriot Games or The Bourne Identity rather than Iron Man. Yes, it’s still a movie about Captain America and there is an evil looking villain; but Blade Runner has androids and it’s not Star Wars. It’s not solely a film of one genre.
 
As a genre, superhero movies, like science fiction and fantasy before it, are rapidly becoming far more diverse with their subject matter. The Avengers drew some aspects from war movies, Man Of Steel focused its central theme not on Superman vs Zod but on the question of Superman’s identity. Of course, this doesn’t always go so well; Green Lantern tried to create a space opera and, well, failed miserably. So what did Green Lantern do wrong? Does space opera simply not work with superheroes? No, Green Lantern was a reminder that blending genres isn’t enough: you always need a good story.
Fun thing is, this trend shows no sign of stopping. Upcoming Thor: The Dark World is still a fantasy (directed by some Game of Thrones alum, no less), Guardians of the Galaxy is looking to be Marvel’s attempt at a space opera, and Ant-Man is gonna be an Edgar Wright film. Why is this so important? Folks, we’re watching a genre develop.
 
Short post? Yes. Why? I’m working on a short film this weekend. I’m busy. Heck, I hardly have time to go out and watch movies.






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josh

twenty-three

grew up on a ship

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