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Dialogue in Fight Choreography

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Jul 20 2013 · 75 views

Essays, Not Rants! 070: Dialogue in Fight Choreography
Did you see Man of Tai Chi? Don’t bother; the acting’s questionable, plot is tenuous at best, and the dialogue is stilted. And that’s just the surface. The one thing that makes the movie remotely remarkable is its choreography: more so than in many other movies, the fight scenes seem to convey not only the growth of the protagonist but a sort of dialogue between the characters as well.
Let me explain (and I will spoil everything because there’s no need to see the movie besides this). Tiger (yes, that is the main character’s name) is a naive practitioner of Tai Chi. His first fight or two are in tournaments where he’s primarily defensive and uses his opponents’ strength against themselves. After he’s recruited as a prizefighter by Donaka and becomes more accustomed to it, his fighting style shifts to a more aggressive form. So great. There’s character development. Big deal.
Where Man of Tai Chi gets really interesting is during the more important fights, that is Tiger versus his mentor and Tiger versus Donaka. The way each combatant fights speaks in lieu of meaningful conversation or much in the way of substance. In the former fight we see just how far Tiger has fallen: he’s gone over to the kung fu dark side and he attacks his mentor who deflects every blow as Tiger grows more and more frustrated. It’s this fight (especially in comparison to an earlier training scene) that informs us of their shifting relationship. Where before Tiger was content to be bested, now he vainly tries to overpower his master. When Tiger mirrors his master’s stance in the final showdown against Donaka, we see that he’s come back to the light side. That and the fact that he’s fighting the villain/his prior employer, obviously.
This isn’t anything new. The exponentially better film The Princess Bride has the famous duel between Inigo Montoya and The Man In Black. Yes, they talk throughout the fight, but there’s no dissonance between their swordplay and intentions. Each has garnered a measure of respect from the other and, if anything, the fight seems friendly. Neither are employing dirty tricks to gain the upper hand (thereby showing that killing the other is his priority) nor is one taunting or baiting the other. In light of the duel is it any wonder we readily accept both of these seemingly villainous characters as heroes by the end?
It’s this sort of communicative swordplay that made the duels in the original Star Wars films so captivating. Where the prequels had a lot of flash and epic scores, the classics had character. Look at the duel between Luke and Vader in The Empire Strikes Back. Vader lets Luke take the offensive for much of it. Why? Because Vader’s plan rests on him imprisoning Luke rather than killing him. Like The Princess Bride, we’re told this beforehand but it’s reflected even stronger in the choreography. In The Phantom Menace, why do Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan, and Darth Maul end up in the exhaust shaft? Is Maul leading them there or is he being pushed back? Where’s the dialogue?
Now, Neo fighting a seemingly endless number of Agent Smiths or Gipsy Danger brawling a Kaiju aren’t duels in the same way as the other examples. Sure, there’s an understood dialogue to those fights, but it tends to be limited to deciding who’s better. Duels like in The Empire Strikes Back or The Princess Bride have a conversation to them. In the case of Man of Tai Chi the fight choreography carries more than anything said verbally. Still doesn’t redeem that movie, though.


TMD VS Heart Disease: Three Years Later

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , Jul 13 2013 · 139 views

Three years ago to the day I was hospitalized for the first time on account of my heart trying to kill me.

What's happened in the last three years? Here's the quick timeline:
  • July 13 2010, Josh goes for a cardiac stress test, his heart goes into Ventricular Tachycardia and hits 255 BPM. Is subsequently hospitalized and diagnosed with ARVC: his heart is turning to fat.
  • Plans emerge to implant an ICD (defibrillator), however an MRI discovers water near his heart and the surgery is postponed and Josh is sent home to recover.
  • Josh's Dad speaks at a relative's church, after someone offers to see Josh for free.
  • After much consultation, it's decided that Josh probably doesn't have ARVC, tests are done to try and figure out what exactly it is.
  • After stuff keeps coming back negative, it is theorized that Josh's pectus excavatum (sunken chest) is rubbing on his heart and causing trouble. CT Scans show that, yeah, his sternum and ribs are pushing on his heart. It looks almost heart-shaped from above.
  • Nuss Procedure is performed on November 8 2010 to correct his chest.
  • Normal procedure entails a bar being inserted and turned, breaking the sternum out and the ribs along with it. Josh's doctor has the idea to nick the cartilage between the sternum and ribs, causing nothing to break and reducing recovery time. Due to some plotting on the doctors' part, this is all done through the public system and paid for by the Singapore Army.
  • Everything seems normal.
  • In December 2011 Josh temporarily goes off his medication and another stress test is performed. No VT. However, ECG still shows an anomaly.
  • Late October 2012, Josh stops taking his medication again because, y'know, Hurricane Sandy. Never gets back into the habit. Terrible.
  • March 21 2013, date is booked for Josh to have bar removed on June 24.
  • May 3 2013, Iron Man 3 is released, in which Tony Stark has his Arc Reactor removed. Josh checks over his shoulder.
  • June 12 2013, Josh does another stress test (still off medication). No VT. ECG appears normal. Prior anomaly is gone.
  • June 24 2013, the exact same team that put the bar in take it out, at a different hospital, and, due to more plotting on the doctors' part, all covered by Josh's insurance. Now with no metal bar in the way, an MRI is done
  • July 5th 2013, Josh's cardiologist informs him that everything checks out. No more scarring on the heart. Heart is no longer weirdly shaped. ECG is normal. Josh doesn't have heart disease.
So yeah. As that last sentence says: I don't have heart disease anymore. I'm fine. Healthy. Normal. Or at least as normal as I'm gonna get. Bad news is I can't use heart disease as an excuse anymore.

Frankly, it's been a heck of a time. No one likes being told their heart tried to kill them when they're 19 and no one knows why. Yet every twist and turn since has fallen so perfectly into step (doctors accommodating financially, timing being perfect, not dying at any other point along the way, etc) that, well, it's hard for me not to see a plan in all this. This could have gone very differently. I could have had the ICD in me and needed my batteries changed every few years (and the whole thing replaced every so often too) and been unable to do a lot of things I do. I could have died at any point along the way. This could have all gone down at a point when neither army nor insurance could help pay. And yet it all happened when it did and how it did.

So what now? Well, tonight, a beer or two and video games and movies, as is tradition. After that I've got another stress test coming up (because the insurance is paying for it, so let's go for it again, yeah?) but in the couple weeks since the surgery I've worked up enough of a sweat/pulse that it's certain nothing will happen. I'm fine. The bar that used to be in my chest is sitting on my desk next to my phone.

Thanks to all of you; thanks for listening to my late night ranting, thanks for the prayers, thanks for the hugs, thanks for putting up with my endless barrage of heart disease jokes. Seems like this heart disease thing is finally over.

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In Defense of Giant Robots

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Jul 13 2013 · 40 views

Essays, Not Rants! 069: In Defense of Giant Robots
I grew up on Power Rangers, giant mecha anime, and Transformers. I built giant robots with my LEGO’s (and spaceships, natch). Of course, all this was just cartoons and imagination for the most part.
And now we have Pacific Rim.
It’s easy, heck, it’s natural to brush aside the movie as being simple childish nonsense. After all, giant robots are the stuff of anime and Power Rangers. The stuff you enjoyed as a kid. You’re an adult now. You have grown up tastes now. Like The Great Gatsby. You like movies that are ‘mature’ and ‘grounded’. Like how dismantling MI6 is so much better than a giant space laser or how Wayne Enterprises’ Applied Science division doesn’t give their suits of armor nipples. Giant robots are impractical, the physics doesn’t add up, and how the heck you power something that enormous? Come back when it actually makes sense.
This movie takes all of that and merrily laughs at it. Pacific Rim is unashamedly a movie about giant robots beating the stuffing out of giant monsters. Like any good story, there are shades of deeper themes and ideas throughout, but its focus is purely on the childlike glee that comes from watching 300 foot tall robots doing battle with similarly sized monsters. If you’re me, it means you get to watch your childhood fantasies in a cinema.
There’s no attempt to firmly ground the story in reality like some movies do. They don’t discover some new element or power source to make the giant robots work. Creating them is summed up in the prologue as being the logical thing to do. Because of course. The monsters are referred to as Kaiju, harking back to old Japanese monster movies. The giant robots are called Jaegers and given appropriately awesome names like Striker Eureka or Cherno Alpha. The Jaeger Gipsy Danger has an elbow rocket. It’s made very clear that Pacific Rim knows exactly what sort of movie it is and it embraces it wholeheartedly.
It’s terribly easy to do this wrong. The first GI Joe movie, Rise of the Cobra, tried to serious-ify the lore. What we wound up with was a movie that was laughable in its attempts to be dark. It just didn’t work. Conversely, we have Batman and Robin, a movie that made Batman something of a punchline. Unlike Batman: The Animated Series which aired only a couple years prior, Batman and Robin decided that sense and logic could be left at the door. Both movies were trying to be something they weren’t. Batman can be funny, but a Batcard is a mockery; GI Joe is meant to be fun, not a dark thriller-esque film.
Pacific Rim does it right. From start to finish the movie runs on sheer fun. The protagonists face no crisis of faith regarding their roles and there’s no humanization of the Kaiju. All that’s not the point of the story; it’s an earnest story about good guys fighting bad guys, Jaegers hunting Kaiju, and giant robots beating the stuffing out of giant monsters. It’s simple, but it’s not stupid.
Despite what Revenge of The Fallen might have made you think, giant robots aren’t drivel. Pacific Rim never feels childish. Guillermo del Toro and team give the movie its due; the plot may be thin but it’s cohesive, the Kaiju do have a goal, characters have motivations. As del Toro himself said, “It has the craft of a 48-year-old and the heart of a 12-year-old.” Yes, giant robots are freaking awesome and that’d be all there was to it, except that this movie does it so well. Described as a love letter to mecha and Kaiju stories, Pacific Rim is all the defense the idea of giant robots needs.



Posted by Ta-metru_defender , Jul 12 2013 · 135 views

It's everything we wanted. A movie that's unashamed about giant robots beating the freaking stuffing out of giant monsters.


Borneo, BRB

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , Jul 07 2013 · 95 views

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Off to Borneo on a family vacation for a few days. Will let you know if I find the remnants of some of Marco Polo's ships.


Violence and Video Games

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Jul 06 2013 · 125 views

Essays, Not Rants! 068: Violence and Video Games
Violent video games are a hot topic, or at least they really were six months ago. Well, here’s the thing: video games aren’t violent. Angry bears are violent. Video games aren’t. That said, there is violence in video games. The thing is, the portrayal of violence in video games is as varied as in books of film.
Can video games glorify violence? Sure. Look at Army of Two: Devil’s Cartel. You play as two mercenary-commandos sent into a cartel-run town in Mexico to escort/rescue/defend a mayoral candidate. Like any action movie with a similar pitch, Devil’s Cartel is light on the thought and heavy on the guns and explosions as you blow limbs off cartel members. Is it violent? Yes. Is it fun? Yes. Is it clearly fictional? Yes. Despite some tidbits in early loading screens, the game is completely detached from any semblance of real-life cartel warfare. It’s a video game; the characters even call out some of the more ridiculous aspects of the game. Like The Expendables or one of the GI: Joe movies: it’s over the top and meant purely for entertainment. Being unable to distinct differentiate a game like this from reality is a problem that lies not with the game itself.
But video games with violence aren’t all senseless and flashy with blood flying everywhere. There are games out there that attempt to address or at least justify the violence in the game. It could be Elizabeth calling Booker out on his ease of killing in BioShock Infinite or Snake forced to walk a ghostly river populated by everyone he’s/you’ve killed thus far in Metal Gear Solid 3. They’re often just in passing as the game’s focus lies elsewhere.
At first blush, Spec Ops: The Line seems like your standard military shooter. Captain Walker and his squad are sent into Dubai months after its been ravaged by a massive sandstorm in search of John Konrad and the 33rd Battalion. Then you realize it’s been nicknamed Heart of Darkness: The Video Game and it starts to set in. Sure, in early combat you’re shooting faceless middle-eastern men like many other shooters. Then you meet members of the 33rd. And you find out they’ve gone rogue. And now you’re shooting American soldiers.
It’d be a ballsy move in any form, but in a genre and medium where more often than not you’re Sergeant American gunning down terrorists, nazis, or soviets, seeing the familiar American ACU in your reticule is especially jarring. Spec Ops: The Line revels in this discomfort and uses it again and again. Sneaking around a building you see two soldiers at the foot of the stairs, one asking the other for a stick of gum. Not only are they not wearing balaclavas or any kind of face mask, they’re speaking English — with an American accent. You have to kill them. The game does not give you a choice.
The Line has a feature where any explosion causes the game to briefly switch into slow-motion. In most games it’d be a cool little gimmick where the player gets to delight in their destruction. The Line isn’t much different: you get to watch your target — more often than not a familiar American soldier — get blown apart or lose his legs by the grenade. Then suddenly you’re reminded of wounded veterans and any sense of empowerment quickly dissolves. At another point you might, out of reflex, shoot someone running towards you only to realize immediately after your target was an innocent woman running to safety. You will encounter soldiers and civilians burned alive by white phosphorus. You will become a monster. You’re not playing a hero here; you’re doing horrible, terrible things. The game doesn’t let you forget it either. There is little glory in the violence of this game.
Similarly, The Last of Us will never let you glibly take a life. Whether if its you as Joel sneaking up on a sobbing Infected — are you executing her or putting her out of her misery?— or Ellie swearing as you blow a man’s head off with a shotgun, The Last of Us will not let you forget the consequences of your actions. You will wound a man and fire the killing blow just as he begs for his life and exclaims he has a family. You see the effects of violence on the relatively naive Ellie and as it chips away what little that’s left of Joel’s soul. The Last of Us is the only action game I’ve played where I’ve wished I could continue the game without having to shoot anyone else.
Games like Spec Ops: The Line and The Last of Us force players to think about the violence they deal out. There is violence in video games, and the violence can be gruesome. But it’s not always mindless. There are games out there that give violence its due diligence and those that revel in it, just as there are movies or books that do. To write off video games as a whole because of their violence is a thoughtless disservice to the medium.


Collapsible Lung

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Music Jul 03 2013 · 118 views

Been listening to Relient K's new record more or less incessantly since yesterday.
Gotta say, I really like it. No, not quite as good as Forget and Not Slow Down, but that's more because it's incredibly different (And FNSD is one of my favorite albums ever (up there with Vice Verses and How To Dismantle an Atomic Bomb and Scars and Stories).
But I really like the differentiness. To that, "If I Could Take You Home" is an early favorite ("Don't Blink" and "When You Were My Baby" are other highlights [So are "Boomerang" and "PTL", actually]).
So yeah. Different. But great.


Protagonists, Goals, and Conviction

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Jun 29 2013 · 122 views

Essays, Not Rants! 067: Protagonists, Goals, and Conviction
Let’s talk about the characters in The Last of Us. Because I still want to talk about that game. For the sake of direction, we’ll focus on Joel and Ellie, because they’re the protagonists (and arguably each other’s antagonist) and you spend nearly eighteen hours with them.
I’m going to try to keep this mostly spoiler-free, but since this’ll be discussing characters and arcs and development, be warned of mentions and implications and stuff. If you’re playing the game right now or are planning to in the near future, might be best to avoid this.
So. Characters.
The dynamic of Joel and Ellie is not like Batman/Robin’s hero/sideckick or even a sort of Riggs/Murtaugh case of contrasting partners. Sure, they have their joint task of getting Ellie to the Fireflies, but there’s nothing personal to that; it’s what they’ve been told to do. That hardly makes for interesting characters. In the words of Kurt Vonnegut: “Every character has to want something, even if it is only a glass of water.” So what do Joel and Ellie want?
Ellie’s goal is made clear in early conversations: she wants her life to be for something; she doesn’t want to just exist. Like all good goals, it sheds a lot of light on her character. See, Ellie was born after the outbreak, she’s used to a world where people have resigned themselves to the bleak status quo (and eventual death). She wants more than that.
Joel’s goal is more fluid. At the outset, he’s content to just get by. Enter Ellie, the other protagonist. She’s serves as his antagonist just as he does hers; she interferes with his life and forces him to find a new goal and he is the catalyst for her ability to journey after her goal. Joel can no longer live just for the sake of surviving, he has to change. There are no other candidates for an antagonist in the game; the Infected, hunters, and other enemies are exactly that: enemies without personification. Eventually, Joel does change and he does achieve his new goal, he finds a new reason to live.
What complicates this is that Ellie’s goal cannot coexist with Joel’s new goal. Joel now wants to protect Ellie best he can, but this protection means that Ellie cannot do the thing she thinks she might be meant to do. Now we see Joel as Ellie’s antagonist in full. There’s tension in the dynamic but no enmity; rather it’s iron sharpening iron as Joel and Ellie rub off on each other and challenge the other to do more as they forge their pseudo-father/daughter relationship.
The Last of Us, however, merrily subverts any innate expectation a player might have of that dynamic. Ellie doesn’t sit around waiting for Joel to save her: she’ll often stab people in the back or save Joel from a dead end. But, like Elena and Chloe from Naughty Dog’s other PS3 games, Ellie’s not just there for support or a sort of surrogate daughter but a strong character in her own right. Her cheerfulness masks a strong sense of survival’s guilt (which, again, stems from her want). She’s used to the violence littering the post-apocalyptic world but she’ll still wince at Joel’s brutality. Neil Druckmann wrote a character who’s incredibly interesting, and, yes, happens to be a woman in a video game. On that note, it’s worth mentioning that she’s never portrayed patronizingly or as an act of affirmative action. More so than Joel, Ellie has a sense of personal direction for much of the game. Though she’s not quite sure where she’s going, she has a conviction about her life.
Interestingly, Joel lacks much of this conviction. More interestingly, he’s the character you play as for almost the entirety of the game. In The Last of Us you only play as a character when their conviction is shaken and they’re not entirely sure what they should do. Often Joel’s not even sure how to get somewhere and is following someone else’s lead. He’s listless and without any driving force for much of the game. He’s looking for a reason to survive, remember?
Contrast this with Uncharted where Nathan Drake’s going after the treasure or saving the world (he’s a little sketchy on the how) or Halo’s Master Chief who has a very clear direction of defeat the bad guys and save the world. This is what sets The Last of Us apart, the perennial “what now?” And where do we see this the most? In the characters: the complex, layered characters of The Last of Us.


Barless Wonder

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , Jun 26 2013 · 137 views

tl;dr: I no longer have a bar in my chest.
Longer version:
Got into Singapore on the 10th. Spent the intervening time playing video games and eating, Monday morning local time went into surgery to have my bar removed. Since, y'know, it's time. Everything went well; the bar's sitting on a shelf here in the hospital room (along with some chips of bone [my bones]); I can walk and move and stuff. Useful abilities, those. Current signs point to heart being alright.
So yes. I did just pull an Iron Man 3.


With Regards To Capes

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Jun 22 2013 · 179 views

Essays Not Rants! 066: With Regards to Capes
In Man Of Steel Superman has lost his usual red underwear. Well, more he never has it in the first place in this adaption. It's no wonder why, no one, not even Batman, wears their underwear outside anymore.
That said, Superman still has his cape, something that's seemingly as much an artifact as the underwear thing. Yes, Thor and Loki both have capes, but they're demigods. Batman's cape is explained away as serving not only the effect he creates but a utilitarian purpose as well. Hardly anyone wears capes these days. In The Incredibles, the first superhero deconstruction you saw if you’re my age, Edna Mode goes to great lengths to explain the impracticality of capes in a morbidly comedic sequence.
So why does Superman still have his bright red cape? It's doesn't make much sense (see Edna Mode's list for reasons), yet it's part of his costume and and he doesn't rip it off. More importantly, why did the filmmakers choose to keep the cape? It's iconic, sure, but nothing is sacred in adaptions. Here's the deal: capes are heroic. There's the image of the kid with the towel tied round his neck pretending to be a superhero. That's Superman. He's the Boy Scout, the Kansas-bred all-American hero.
And his cape is an integral part of that. Look at the use of capes in the film. General Zod, when we first see him, is wearing a cape. It doesn't take long, however, for him to shrug it off and, of course, become the villain he is. When we first see Superman in his outfit we first see his red boots and red cape. When Superman meets the military, we once again focus on his cape. His cape is what sets him apart. Zod doesn't have a cape, nor do any of his followers; but Jor-El, Superman's father, does. It's a beautiful visual cue, one that speaks to the basis of our pop culture mythology: the person wearing the cape is a good guy, a hero.
Such is Superman: he's the archetypical superhero. The cape-wearing, evil-fighting man in tights. Contrast him to Joel, from The Last of Us (because that game is amazing and bears referencing). Joel is not a hero, he's not even a good guy. Joel is a desperate man who's more than willing to do horrible things. Joel is a survivor, he acts solely to survive and protect his own interests. Superman, conversely, simply is good and will protect anyone.
So where do we get a narrative? Joel's comes from challenging his interests and upsetting his status quo to see how he reacts. The narrative/arc is clear from the onset, though Naughty Dog makes several bold choices with where to take it. Superman has no obvious arc. He's invincible and infallible; any impending doom or moral dilemma lacks tension because we know Superman can't be hurt and will always do right. After all, he's wearing a cape. So where does the narrative tension come from? How does Man of Steel craft a story that doesn't undermine his character but still delivers an engaging story?
The movie addresses the question of the cape. The story's primary tension comes not from Superman vs. Zod, but rather within Superman himself. Clark Kent must become Superman... Or must he? The Clark Kent we meet is a Clark Kent divided. He has these powers, but should he use them? How should he use them? There lies the conflict; the tension is the question of should Clark Kent wear the cape or hide in anonymity. Granted, we already know the answer, but it's a far more interesting arc than "will he survive?". Once that question is answered, however, a new one arises: to what lengths will Superman go in pursuit of what the cape means? How far will Superman go to protect someone?
Zack Snyder has described Man of Steel as the least ironic movie he's made. It might be the most honest recent superhero movie besides Captain America, there's no attempt to give Superman the dark and gritty treatment so common in our era of antiheroes. Where The Last of Us gives us an antihero who rings closer to a villain, Man of Steel presents a hero with no doubt of his goodness. So Superman wears a cape.


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