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Background Details

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Sep 13 2014 · 49 views

Essays, Not Rants! 130: Background Details

There’s a building I can see outside my window that’s under construction. I’m not sure what it’s going to be or where exactly it is, but it looks to be somewhere in TriBeCa. The basic structure of it is there, there’s a crane going up the side, and it looks like the skeleton of a monolith as there aren’t any external walls up yet. There are tiny lights on each floor that glint in the daylight.

To my sci-fi-addled mind it looks like something you’d see in the background of Destiny, or maybe a new spaceship being built in Star Trek. It looks cool, almost otherworldly.

In other words, it’s something that could help tell a story. Visual storytelling (comics, movies, television, video games; anything that requires you to look at images) depends heavily on details to give life to the scene. Filling the background of the scene with details lends credibility and reality to the world.

This can be done in very subtle ways. In early seasons of How I Met Your Mother there were a pair of swords hanging on the wall of Ted and Marshall’s apartment. They were referenced on occasion, used once, but for the most part were sort of just there. That said, these two friends who met in college having swords on their wall added a sense of history to them, more so, than, say, a wreath would have (needless to say, Chekhov was probably very happy when they finally used them in a duel).

For all its epic-ness and grandeur, The Lord of The Rings films are filled with smaller, tiny details. Carved on helmets are runes which, should you have the bother to translate them from Tolkien’s appendices, say stuff actually relevant to the world. One of the buildings in the background of Minas Tirith is a ratcatcher, for example. Another one of these details is found in the Tower of Cirith Ungol, where Sam rescues Frodo from the orcs. There’s a lamp in the uppermost room which, if you look closely, was made from the helmets of Soldiers of Gondor. It’s a tiny detail, one that most people won’t notice, but it adds to the overall feel of the film. As I’ve said before, it’s these little details make a world seem real.

Which brings me back to Destiny and the spaceship-under-construction building out my window. Much of the game’s storytelling is done through environmental details. You’re not necessarily shown the story or the game’s background lore, but it’s there. When you enter Old Russia’s Cosmodrome you can see ruined buildings all about and, rising over the horizon, a huge spaceship with what look like futuristic space shuttles attached around the side. You’ve heard details about a Golden Age, expansion, and colonyships, but seeing that massive spaceship decaying in the distance adds a reality to it.

[color=#000000]For a game so sparse on explicit storytelling, it does wonders with the little things. Item descriptions mention how the Titans raised the Wall or the exploits of some Saint-14. We’re not told more details than that, but, again, it adds to the feeling of depth and bigness of the world. Even things like seeing the crest of the Vanguards on a wall add further reality to it. The world feels like it’s breathing. These details make it seem alive./color]


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Becoming Legend

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Sep 06 2014 · 97 views

Essays, Not Rants! 129: Becoming Legend

On Thursday a new trailer dropped for Bungie’s Destiny. In the vein of trailers for Bungie’s prior games (like Halo 3: ODST’s trailer, which remains one of my favorite pieces of marketing ever), it doesn’t really tell you much about what the game is like. It’s live action, for crying out loud, not a cutscene, or let alone actual gameplay. Which almost begs the question, how does the game even play?

Only, no, the trailer actually does an impressive job of summing up what Destiny’s gonna be. Rather than advertising actual gameplay, something that’s been covered plenty by news sites, the trailer looks at the tone of the game itself, while still teasing gameplay elements. How? Let’s get into it.

Right off the bat, we’re informed that humans haven’t been on the Moon in hundreds of years. That line alone tells us so much about the setting of the game. It’s obviously future science fiction with spaceships and such, so why haven’t humans been on the moon in hundreds of years? There’s a sense of awe and mystery conveyed, further enhanced by the long abandoned lander module and American flag. That we next see an alien base (that the heroes assault) further adds to that feeling of a mysterious future. The game’s action takes place after there’s been a massive shift in the status quo. The trailer doesn’t clearly say what, just that it happened.

This setting is further hinted at when we see them arrive on Venus: gone is the oppressive sulfuric acid atmosphere, instead there are verdant forests, rivers, and the ruins of a long abandoned structure in the distance. It’s mythic in the vein of The Lord of The Rings where the Argonath statues guarding the Anduin harken to an eons old civilization. Destiny plays with the same imagery and atmosphere, only this time in science fiction. Gone is the gritty and angst-ridden tone much modern science fiction takes, instead is an idealistic planetary romance, a direction that far too few storytellers take, in any form of fiction.

But what of the actual players? Here too is where the trailer positively shines. There’s banter between the three players throughout it, but, in keeping with the tone, it’s all very light hearted and full of a sense of romantic adventure. They make quips at each other which, sure, is a little heavy on the cheese, but mirrors the sheer fun of playing Destiny. Gameplay in the beta (released for a few days over the summer) felt a lot like how the players/characters in this treat it: it’s a power fantasy in a way, but more than that it’s an adventure. The social aspect of Destiny is played up here too; as a self-described shared world shooter, teaming up with friends (or strangers) is part and parcel to the game. The trailer plays up that aspect, and rightfully so as it’s one of the things that really sets Destiny apart.

There are a few other hints of gameplay in the trailer; summoning the Sparrow speeder-bikes, each class’s unique abilities, and, of course, shooting aliens. Like the setting and social nature, these are all part of what the game will be.

Destiny comes out on Tuesday. Even before this trailer I was excited, now that I’ve seen this, I can’t wait. Of course, there is that mountain of homework to get through, so we’ll see how things progress.


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Of Boyhood

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Aug 30 2014 · 77 views

Essays, Not Rants! 128: OfBoyhood

I was finally able to see Boyhood this week. It came out over the summer when I was in South Carolina, which is not a good place to be if you want to see the latest indie film (I have yet to see Snowpiercer too).

But I did see Boyhood this week and in some respects it's a frustrating movie. There's little structure, if any, to the film. Which makes sense; a movie filmed over twelve years would be hard pressed to tell a single story. A strong narrative usually takes place over a relatively small amount of time, it keeps it brisk and gives urgency to the proceedings. It’d be far less interesting if Luke, Han, and Leia arrived at Yavin 4 while the Death Star was a week away. Boyhood disagrees with that philosophy.

]Like I said, it’s frustrating. Structure should be what makes a story work and, yes, Boyhood is still a story. And, yes, it does still work. But why, and how? There’s no grand journey that the ‘hero’ Mason embarks on; there’s no inciting incident, midpoint, or climax. See, Boyhood’s story is a slice of life, very much in the way that something like Seinfeld purports to be. Except more so. In the long run, though, Boyhood is incomparable and stands out as being unlike anything else in cinemas today. It’s a singular movie that demands to be met on its own terms.

So what are those terms? Boyhood feels in some ways like a period piece, the period in question being from May 2002 to late 2013. The film opens to the sound of Coldplay’s “Yellow” and various other songs show up throughout the film that serve primarily to date certain scenes but also managing to show a sort of evolution of what’s been on the radio for the last decade and a bit. In early scenes we see Dragonball Z on TV, later on we hear the kids discussing Revenge of the Sith, and still later on The Dark Knight is mentioned as being a favorite movie of the year. Pop culture landmarks like Halo 2, a song from High School Musical, and even Funny or Die’s “The Landlord” make appearances. It’s half winking at the audience, and yet also saying “remember when this happened?” To people my age, it’s reminding us of what it was like growing up.

But Boyhood does not run on nostalgia alone. It also focuses on the impermanence of life. Mason and his sister Samantha’s friends don’t stick around; the friends they’re hanging out with and even significant others change from time jump to time jump. The only ones who are always there are their mother Olivia and their father, Mason Sr. Natures of relationships change too; early on Olivia is distant towards her children’s father, but later on she becomes much more cordial. We never see the incidents that catalyzed the change, but are instead left with the feeling that time itself is what changes them.

Here lies another interesting choice taken by director Richard Linklater and crew: with very few exceptions Boyhood skips the highs of life in favor of the in-betweens. We don’t see important events like Mason’s first day of middle school or his prom, events that crop up in what seems like every movie about youth ever. Instead the film will look at moments before or after, instead our information of prom comes from a terse post-breakup talk between him and a girl he was dating; we see Mason coming home from graduation rather than him throwing his cap in the air. There’s restraint on the part of the filmmakers, and it’s this restraint that makes the film feel so much like life.

As the movie draws to its close we see a now-adult Mason saying goodbye to his mother as he prepares to go to college. Tearfully, she says “I thought there would be more.” It’s a summarizing look at life and the film; people come and people go and things end. At the film’s close, Mason and some new friends are trekking through a park and Mason is asked if people seize moments or if they’re seized by moments. His response — a statement so incredibly on-the-nose it almost breaks the fourth wall —is that they’re always in the moment. On-the-nose or not, it is what life is: a series of moments we’re stuck in — and Boyhood captures that splendidly.


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The Gutsy Ending

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Aug 23 2014 · 58 views

Essays, Not Rants! 127: The Gutsy Ending

I feel like Edge of Tomorrow has been out long enough that it’s safe to talk about the ending. And honestly, I feel like I could have discussed the ending much closer to when it came out because, well, it kinda just was. There wasn’t a big shocker at the ending, no moment that left you going “woah.”

Edge of Tomorrow ends with breaking the loop, as one would expect from a movie that’s essentially Groundhog Day with aliens and guns. But unlike Groundhog Day which ended with the next day, Edge of Tomorrow ends with a reset. To the day before, only this time the aliens are defeated and such. So yay, there’s a happy ending, everyone’s alive despite the heroic sacrifices made by Will Cage and Rita Vrataski. It’s a happy ending and there’s the hint that that undercurrent of romantic tension is free to blossom. Woohoo.

But it’s the easy ending. Everything’s tidy and neat and somehow destroying the alien Omega hive mind meant time/Cage’s consciousness being shot back to the morning before — the loop is reset. Which makes sense (kinda), but, again, it’s so typical. It was a great movie up till then; really pushing the concept for all it was worth. There was also some build up as to what they would have to do to destroy the Omega. Maybe by destroying the Omega Cage would become the new Omega and control the aliens. There were hints that in order to end the loop Cage would have to be willing to sacrifice himself and Rita. Ultimately he does, but it’s cushioned because he’s back to the start at the end.

I’m told the manga the film is based on, All You Need Is Kill, has a much ballsier ending. In it Rita never lost her reset ability, so both would ‘wake up’ after they died. At the end, however, they turn against each other since they’ve become antennae for the hive mind themselves and, thus, one of them has to die. That’s a cool ending and it’s one that plays all its cards. The film, well, played it safe.

I like gutsy endings when done right. District 9, for example, didn’t end with Wikus reuniting with his wife but rather, well, he become one of the prawns himself. It’s a weird ending, but one that’s appropriate given the gritty tone of the film. For it to end happier would be untrue to the narrative that had been presented. Furthermore, it’s one that sticks with you long after the movie came out

The Last of Us is another story that had to be gutsy. Given how the game progressed, it couldn’t have a bright happy ending — to do so, in the words of writer/game director Neil Druckmann “...didn't feel honest anymore. After everything they've done and everything they've been through, that was letting them off a little too easy - especially for Joel." The honest ending was the ballsy one. The one that left you a little uncomfortable and questioning all that had come before. It worked, and the game is all the better for it.

Now, there’s a time and place for the gutsy ending, just as there is for the safer one. The recent film What If ends much happier than I expected, though part of me did want it to step up and be the romcom that ended melancholically. But hey, it didn’t feel nearly as schizophrenic as Edge of Tomorrow did. I’m just fine with movies like The Guardians of the Galaxy or The LEGO Movie ending with an optimistic note. The gutsy ending is the one that defies conventions and provides a resolution that, though not necessarily unexpected, is one that’s unusual. Like having your two main characters turn on each other.


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Antisocial Gaming

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Aug 16 2014 · 146 views

Essays, Not Rants! 126: Antisocial Gaming

My brother recently got Titanfall which means that I got to go a few rounds at it. That game is fun. It’s also unique in that there’s no traditional single player mode; the only way to play is competitive online multiplayer. It makes sense. There are plenty of games out there where the single player campaign is often passed over in favor of the far more popular multiplayer. But here’s the thing aboutTitanfall: only one person can play per console. If you want to play with a friend, they’ll need their own copy of the game and their own console and tv to play.

What strikes me as odd is how opposed this is to what gaming used to be. When video games first went mainstream with Pong back in the ‘70s, the arcade cabinet was designed so that when people were playing it they’d be forced to be almost shoulder to shoulder. In this brave new world of digital gaming there would still be interaction with other people. Sure, single player games against AIs were there too, but there was always the option to play a game with someone.

I’ve always loved playing video games with someone else. Sometimes this would mean scrambling to find my cable so I could battle that kid’s Pokémon team with my own. I have many fond memories of hours spent playing Crash Team Racing and Bomberman Party Edition while growing up. Heck, we even found ways to make single player games in the Mega Man series multiplayer by taking turns every game over/level.

In recent years this could be four of us yelling and taunting each other while playing Fifa or the hilarity that inevitably ensues when playing Super Smash Bros at four in the morning. Then there are the hours spent playing Halo in one form or another, or running around Lego New York with a friend in LEGO Marvel Super Heroes. Sure, these games can be played alone and you don’t necessarily even need to be in the same room as someone else to play with them, but there’s something special about sitting on the couch and playing against or with those around you. There’s a shared enjoyment for the comedy of what can play out on screen, or even the simple knowledge that someone saw that awesome move you just pulled.

Social-on-the-couch-with-your-friends-gaming probably hit its peak with Guitar Hero and Rock Band. Those games let you live out your rockstar fantasies and were that much more fun when you have some friends playing members of your band. You could play on your own, and it was still fun, but the experience was enhanced by having people with you. These games were designed around sociality. By having the controllers be plastic instruments rather than tapping buttons on a gamepad, players were encouraged to really immerse themselves not only in the game, but in the fantasy of being in a band on stage. And c’mon, if you’re gonna play a cover of “Livin’ On A Prayer” you can’t do it alone.

But as those plastic controllers have gotten dustier it seems that less and less games are aiming for that on-the-couch interaction. No, not all games need to have local multiplayer. Some do very well without it: The Last Of Us’ incredible atmosphere works best when it’s only one person using the television. But even then, when racing games with local multiplayer are becoming less and less common, it’s worrisome.

Don’t get me wrong, I think some of the stuff that’s happening in games is great. Titanfall making the campaign a competitive multiplayer is a cool idea and Destiny’s amalgamation of the FPS and MMO genres is not only unique but a heck of a lot of fun. Destiny in particular fosters a sense of togetherness by letting you team up with other Guardians roaming the wastes. It’s fun, especially if players have other friends with the same game and console. I just want there to always be games for those of us on the couch.


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The Reels Are Alive With The Sound Of Diegetic Music

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Aug 09 2014 · 79 views

Essays, Not Rants! 125: The Reels Are Alive With The Sound Of Diegetic Music

Here’s a word that no one uses unless they want to sound smarter than you: diegesis, that is the type of story that’s told by a narrator. Which means what, exactly? Well, in The Princess Bride the Grandfather is performing an act of diegesis when he tells the Grandson the story. The interactions he has with the Grandson are thus non-diegetic. Of course, it’s all a narrative being told to us, the audience, by the filmmakers in turn carrying out diegesis. In film criticism it gets a little more specific, referring to what happens in the film in and of itself.

Anyway.

Diegetic music is when music is played in the narrative itself. The band playing when Han and Obi Wan walk into the cantina in Star Wars is an example of diegetic music. The characters hear it, and so do we. As a bonus it adds texture to the world. It helps that it’s iconic enough that you’ve probably got it going in your head now.

It doesn’t have to be that big, though. (500) Days of Summer uses diegetic music as plot points; it’s Tom listening to The Smiths that helps strike up a conversation with Summer. No, it’s not a grand epic sequence (compare the Fairy Godmother singing “Holding Out For a Hero” during the climax of Shrek 2), but it serves the plot’s development and also provides an important touchstone of Tom and Summer’s relationship. We, the audience, are allowed to share in what brings Tom and Summer together. The film is not just telling us but showing us too, making the whole thing more immersive and more intimate.

And now I’m going to talk about Guardians of the Galaxy.

Diegetic music plays a huge role in Guardians, but not in the way it does in Star Wars. We’re not treated to a band playing local alien music as one would expect from a piece of fantastic science fiction. Instead, well, it’s pop music from the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. As in Earth’s ‘60s and ‘70s. And it makes perfect sense.

Peter Quill, the protagonist of the film, was taken from earth in ’88, his only belongings what he had in his backpack, the most important of which is a mixtape of songs his mom made him before she passed away. It’s very much Quill’s only physical and emotional tie to Earth as he gallivants around the galaxy under the name of Star-Lord. There’s a good reason for the parachronistic anatopism that is his music. Furthermore, the placement of some of these songs is often key. Hearing a prison guard manhandle his Walkman and listen to “Hooked One a Feeling” provokes him into a fight, for example. The songs are personal for Quill.

They can be personal for the audience too. Guardians of the Galaxy is outlandish on a Star Wars level, which is odd for any movie, let alone one that shares its world with Tony Stark and Steve Rogers. Having Star-Lord listen to “Come And Get Your Love” while exploring a ruin on Morag immediately clues the audience in that, yes, we’re still in the same world of the 1988-set prologue.Having the characters listen to it also gives us a connection to them. Look at the spectators stomping and chanting “We Will Rock You” during the opening joust of A Knight’s Tale. Like inGuardians, it gives the audience something in common with the characters. We’re all listening to the same music.

Diegetic music can be used to great effect. Film critics love to cite the infamous patricidal mambo from Douglas Sirk’s Written on the Wind as a prime example, but I’m gonna throw in Guardians of the Galaxy too. Diegetic music done right can do wonders to a film, be it through adding texture, granting intimacy to the audience, or serving as a character’s emotional touchstone. That and it’s pure fun to see Star-Lord fly through space to “The Piña Colada Song.”

And yes, a lot of the music in The Sound of Music is diegetic, what with it being a musical and all.


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Leslie Knope: Friends, Family, Feminism

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Aug 02 2014 · 148 views

Essays, Not Rants! 124: Leslie Knope: Friends, Family, Feminism

I’ve recently begun watching Parks and Recreation, and by recently begun I mean about five seasons in two weeks. The miracle of Netflix.

In any case, the show’s fantastic and I lack any sort of Netflix Binger’s Remorse (and wanna get caught up as soon as I can). One of the reasons it’s so great is its bucking of typical sitcom trends.Parks and Rec isn’t a mean show. Whereas a lot of other sitcoms, including the prior one with Greg Daniel’s name attached: The Office, create their comedic situations through conflict between the main characters, much of Parks’ humor comes from the outside. Thus in The Office you’d have one character trying to con over the other, to much amusement. The Big Bang Theory thrives on the rest of the group trying to get one over Sheldon. The Parks Department, however, is always a team. Sure, there will be parts where they compete, but it’s never malicious. They’re a team, a team against the frustrating citizens of Pawnee, the snooty residents of Eagleton, and other departments in their government.

This teamwork lends the characters a strong sense of family. Now, this isn’t there from the beginning, rather they grow into it — and their roles in said makeshift family — over the seasons. And here’s another thing Parks does that most sitcoms don’t: they let their characters change and develop. All of the main cast is surprisingly well rounded. Sure, some seem one note at first, but as the show progresses we get to know them more and find facets of them we would never have expected. When the gruff Ron shows that he cares, or as Chris grows less self-obsessed they feel more rounded and we can really watch their bonds form. It makes them feel more real.

Neither are the characters forced to remain professionally stagnant. Leslie doesn’t stay the deputy director of the Parks Department, instead the writers let her career progress. See, it’s a risky move, they’ve proved that the bunch of co-workers interacting works, but they’re willing to go past that formula (which also shows in the developing characters). Tom too ends up leaving the Parks Department and tries his hand at entrepreneurship. It’d be easy for a recurring joke to be his constant failures. Instead, we see Tom try his hand, and yes, we do see Tom fail, but we also see Tom make changes to his approach and outlook in order to eventually succeed. It’s refreshing and really cool to see happen in a sitcom.

Parks and Recreation is an inherently political show, albeit on the scale of the local city government of a small town in Indiana. Leslie Knope is very obviously a feminist. Yet the show doesn’t preach it at you. Rather, we see Leslie combatting sexism in the often very out of date systems of Pawnee. For example, Leslie’s approach to the very male gallery of councilmen isn’t to become disheartened renounce it as an Evil Symbol of The Patriarchy, rather she wants to change things by being the first woman on the board. Feminism in Parks is an active thing. There’s no lecturing and posturing about feminism about it, instead we see why we need it and what can be done. Furthermore, the show doesn’t get caught up in its hubris: Leslie may spout rhetoric on occasion, but she isn’t on some sort of a pedestal. She’s not perfect because of her beliefs, rather, she’s a relatively normal, multifaceted human being.

So yes, Parks and Recreation is such a refreshing show. I’d seen bits of it prior, but now I’m finally sitting down and blasting through it. It’s a great show, and I want more shows like it.


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Why Guardians of the Galaxy Will Be Awesome

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Jul 26 2014 · 127 views

Essays, Not Rants! 123: WhyGuardians of the Galaxy Will Be Awesome

Guardians of the Galaxy is not a Marvel movie I expected to ever happen. Not because they’re so, well, out there, but because prior to the announcement of the film I had no idea who they were. Unlike Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America, these guys had missed the general cultural osmosis that many superheroes enjoy.

So I read the comics; with the ‘new’ lineup from 2008, not from 1969. Simply put, the comics were weird. There’s a telepathic dog, time travel, a space warlock, a talking tree, and a gun-toting raccoon. Even by comic book standards it’s bizarre.

But it’s fun. There’s a cool dynamic to the changing team and their big struggle against Thanos is certainly exciting. The film is drawing on some great source material. Each of the six characters in the film are all rich within the series, which makes sense given that they’ve all been showing up in comics well before they teemed up. There’s history there.

History that the movie doesn’t need to adhere to. It’s an adaption, and as such needs to get at the heart of the idea. One of the cores of Guardians is a ragtag team who have no right to be saving the galaxy having to save the galaxy. There’s a team dynamic there that has to be maintained no matter the adaption.

Which, for all intents and purposes, the film seems to be doing. Based on trailers and such, the characters are all there. Rocket Raccoon is as sarcastic and trigger happy as he should be. Groot has heart. Drax is no-nonsense and hellbent on destroying. Gamora seems to be Drax’s distaff counterpart and properly deadly. Star Lord is roguish but trying to be heroic. The core characterization is there.And that’s quite exciting.

But what of everything else? The plot seems to be the next step of Marvel’s plans. Introducing the cosmic side of the universe allows for bigger stories later on. For the characters, meanwhile, it’s got a lot of what made The Avengers so great: it’s about a team coming together, figuring out how to be a team, and then working as a team. It’s a great personal plot structure and it works. Keeping the central conflict personal allows director James Gunn to go big and out there while we’re rooted with the characters.

That the characters seem to be the focus of it (rather than the world itself) brings to mind the original Star Wars trilogy. Like them it’s about characters in a world going on a big adventure. It’s got a very Star Wars-ian feel to it and may just out Star Wars the prequels. It has that bright, optimistic feel of adventure in a rich sprawling world. Which, adaption or not, is always a wonderful thing to have in a film.

For an idea of the fun nature of the film, look at a recently released clip which manages to balance the funny and the drama within a single scene. There’s an element of threat there, from Drax to Gamora, but there’s a wealth of humor to be found in Star Lord’s attempts at calming them down. Alongside all that we have world building going on too: Star Lord mentioning Kree and other aliens enlarges the world and gives it texture. Even from the scene alone, Rocket’s response to Star Lord’s intervention hints at their friendship. It’s a great scene, and we’re set if the rest of the film lives up to it.

I am excited for this movie, though fully aware there are things that could throw it off. But the trailers and clips thus far, as well as the 100% it has on Rotten Tomatoes while I write this are very reassuring. So yes, I am convinced Guardians of the Galaxy is gonna be awesome. Here’s to Friday. Or, y’know, Thursday night if you’re like me.


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The Internet, Neutrality, and Me

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Jul 19 2014 · 131 views

Essays, Not Rants! 122: The Internet, Neutrality and Me

Ender’s Game has this wonderful side plot (that didn’t make it to the film) where Peter and Valentine, Ender’s siblings, take to the Nets as Demosthenes and Locke. The anonymity of the Nets allows them, despite their young age, to garner an audience and political influence. Their machinations help prepare Earth for after the war as well as save Ender’s life.

It sounds a little farcical now, since, as xkcd pointed out, they’d essentially just be bloggers. Yet, considering Ender’s Game was published in 1985, it’s an awfully accurate portrayal of what the internet would allow. The Internet is, for better and worse, the ultimate egalitarian democracy. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you’re from, you have a say (who listens to that say is another matter). But, stateside, there’s this new issue: Net Neutrality. You may have heard of it, but its end (which the FCC is fighting for) would mean that Internet Service Providers can decide which sites get through fast and which don’t. Want to provide your viewers with smooth video streaming? Pay up. That isn’t a joke, by the way, Netflix had to pay Comcast for faster streaming. The end of Net Neutrality means that if your website can’t afford to pay an ISP then your site can fall through the cracks. Your ISP doesn’t like you accessing a site ran by a rival company? Funny how it loads at dial up speed.

The internet is a beautiful, terrifying place. It needs to stay that way, and we need Net Neutrality.

It’s December 2003. Twelve-year-old Josh is in Peru (he grew up on a ship), on the internet looking for news on Lego’s Bionicle line. He stumbles upon a forum and finds a whole bunch of people like him. Well, they don’t live on a ship, but they like Legos and Bionicle and suddenly he’s found a community. When you’re living on a ship where you don’t have many friends due to not having people your age, it’s incredible to suddenly find peers. That website gave me a social life of sorts, whether I was in Singapore, St. Vincent, or Sierra Leone. In addition to that, the site gave me an outlet for things like writing and cartoons, encouraging me to write stories and make videos.

During my Freshman year of High School I moved twice. Not move across town, mind you: my family and I packed up everything we owned and moved across continents. Enrolling in school would be a challenge, so I did school online. No, it wasn’t my best year academically, but it allowed me to have a somewhat stable education and — this is the best part — interact with other students. Again, I’ve a few lasting friendships from that year.

All that moving (and the ship) meant that a lot of my friends were oceans away. MSN, Skype, and, of course, email, let me stay in touch with them. Once again, despite the distance and craziness of life, I had people to talk to when I didn’t know anyone where I was. These days I can also keep in touch with my often scattered family, even when the four of us are in four countries.

Early in 2012 I’m unemployed and listless so I start a blog to force myself to write. 122 essays (not rants!), three jobs and two years of college later and I’m still at it. Sometimes it’s to help with an essay for class, other times it’s because I’m mad there isn’t a Black Widow movie planned, but I’m writing. And some people are reading (here’s to you!).

The internet is great. It’s been a crucial part of my life for over a decade. I’d be a very different person if I didn’t have access of these sites and services — several of which are not for profit and most likely couldn’t afford an imposed tariff. These days I can read articles on Cracked, watch movies and tv on Netflix, or get lost in TVTropes. I don’t want to have to choose an ISP based on which sites are fastest for them (besides, a lot of places only have one ISP in service). Furthermore, I don’t want the sites I love to have to pay for better access. I want the whole internet, as it is, no matter who I’m paying or what I’m looking up.

Net Neutrality is a big freaking deal. So maybe two kids aren’t gonna use its anonymity to become a famous politician and historian, but an open internet still something worth protecting. I owe the internet a lot, and I want to keep the internet I know in place for whoever’s growing up now. And that’s why I support Net Neutrality


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Of Dragon Training Sequels

Posted by Ta-metru_defender , in Essays, Not Rants! Jul 12 2014 · 110 views

Essays, Not Rants! 121: Of Dragon Training Sequels

So I finally got around to see How To Train Your Dragon 2 this week. I’d enjoyed the first one well enough, but it didn’t stick out as something with a must see follow up. Figured, eh, it’s just another sequel.

I was wrong.

How To Train Your Dragon 2 is arguably one of the most important modern animated films. It deserves this title for the reasons you’d expect: beautiful animation and technical brilliance along with a great story; but there are aspects that allow it, like Up before it, to really elevate the animated film.

But let’s talk about the animation for a moment. Simply put, the film is freaking gorgeous. Without a doubt, Dreamworks has finally given Pixar a run for their money. Details. Details like wisps of cloud or individual scales on Toothless give the movie a sense of being larger than life and yet still realistic. It’s amazing, and the quality of that alone makes it worth watching.

Fortunately, the animation isn’t everything. Dragon 2, unlike many other sequels — animated or not — has grown up. To an extent, literally: Hiccup and the other characters are five years older. Stoick is showing gray hairs, Hiccup’s taller; time has passed. This time gap is important. It’s easy for something animated to keep its characters the same age (See Ash Ketchum, who’s been 10 since I was barely seven). After all, it gives it a timeless feel. Going back to Pokémon, it means the show could continue for sixteen years with kids who weren’t even born when it came out able to latch on as if it was theirs. This does mean that characters remain stagnant, which is what Dragon didn’t do. Instead, it went the route of The Empire Strikes Back.

Now Empire is one of the greatest sequels, and also probably the best Star Wars movie. It earns it through several ways. For once it, unlike many sequels that have come in its wake, does not repeat the events of the first movie. Instead, it serves as an addition to the saga, a second episode (or fifth). With it, it takes the characters past where they started: Han’s showing signs of warming to the Rebellion, Luke trains to be a Jedi. Dragon also pushes forward in its plotting: there’s a psychotic warlord to deal with and it’s time for them to learn more about dragons. The same things don’t happen again.

For example, Hiccup’s relationship with Astrid. A simple subplot would be to add tension to the relationship established in the first film. Shrek 2 did it to great effect, others less well like the second Pirates of the Caribbean and The Amazing Spider-Man 2, the Princess Diaries sequel ditched the original love interest so there could be a new romantic subplot. It adds drama, so, y’know, why not? Instead, Astrid and Hiccup are untouched in Dragon; there’s no backsliding character development. They’re a couple, and it’s not big deal. Stoick calls Astrid his future daughter-in-law, the pair are seen cuddling and the occasional kiss on the cheek is seen as no big deal. It’s sweet, and it’s also refreshing to see a couple that’s simply understood as being a couple.

Refreshing too is the film’s treatment of its female characters. Astrid’s plot doesn’t revolve around Hiccup. Rather she plays Han Solo to Hiccup’s Luke (to continue the Empire comparison), embarking on her own quest in Hiccup’s absence. Ruffnut, meanwhile has several lingering ogling of a male character which, besides showing off Dreamworks’ impressive animation of rippling muscle, provides examples of the ever elusive female gaze. It’s played for laughs, of course, but that fact that it’s even there is worth mentioning. Valka too is a great character — period. She’s someone who’s spent twenty years out of contact with society. Now, it could be easy to make her a one-dimensional half-feral person, but instead the film takes aspects of that an wraps it into a more complete whole. She’s cool and wonderfully layered. Point is, female characters in this movie don’t get sidelined.

But what stood out the most to me was Dragon 2’s sense of scale. It went big, reaching settings and scenarios that were epic of The Lord of the Rings variety. Its sweeping moments give the film a grandeur just about never found in animation. The human drama is never lost within it, though. Whether it’s Hiccup’s bond with Toothless or a certain parental reunion, the movie keeps has emotion to spare. It also helps keep the fantastical and epic elements anchored.

There’s a gorgeous scene early on where Hiccup and Toothless are flying above their clouds as a Jónsi song plays. The animation and scale of it is breathtaking, but it, along with the dialogue and sound, everything mise en scène, all serves to establish first the relationship between rider and dragon, but also where and how they stand now. It’s beautiful, and one that sums up how well rounded the film is.

I know my reaction is late, but I say this wholeheartedly: How To Train Your Dragon 2 is a phenomenal movie, animated or not, and easily on the most important animated films of recent memory.






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josh

twenty-three


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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