July 30, 2014

Stuff That I Like- 7/30/14

I really hope I get to do another one of these before I begin college, but if not, I'll definitely be doing one or two while at college, because that's an experience in and of itself! Anyway, there are two fantastic pieces of internet buzz I came across, both of which relate to storytelling and one of which relates to the god-awful "strong female character" label!

The first is a TED Talk by one Andrew Stanton (Wall-E, Finding Nemo, Toy Story), and in it he talks about the ingredients for a good story. All of what he says is what I've believed in since I first started recognizing my tastes in stories and in fiction, and I think he does a marvelous job of summing this up. He focusses on theme, character, and making the audience engage their brains and care about what's going on in the story. And that's exactly what I look for in stories as well: a strong theme, an engaging and relatable character, and above all, I hope the story is engaging and draws me in not just in terms of interest and entertainment, but also in terms of intellectual stimulation. Check out the video below:

The second bit of news I came across was on denofgeek.com, and they did an interview with Zoe Saldana on her work in the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy movie and Star Trek, and in there they ask her very plainly what she thinks of the "strong female character" label, and I for one think that her answer hits the nail on the head!

"It bothers me that I'm always told that I do strong female characters. When in reality, I look at my characters and I feel like they were all broken. They all came from a very devastating past. They were trying to achieve something, they had hope, and they wanted to get someplace, like everything other character that has a meaningful and relevant arc in the story.

"It's because we don't really know women. We don't write women accurately. We don't see women the way that we should see women as a society, as a human race. When you see a real woman, you shouldn't be saying she's strong, you should be saying she's real."

The full article can be found here.

So, those were two things that really got me thinking and made me pretty happy about the world and I just wanted to share that.

July 24, 2014

Shadowcon Reviews- Con Job

Shadowcon Reviews: Transformers Prime season 1, episode 8: “Con Job”

I’m going to be taking a different approach to this one than I normally do. Probably has something to do with the fact that I’m on vacation and that laziness is just infecting. So, sorry if you enjoy your blow-by-blow review, because this one is just going to be me and my thoughts on the matter.

July 20, 2014

Shadowcon Mini-Views- Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Okay, just got back from seeing Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, which is the sequel to Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which is itself a reboot of the Apes franchise. A quick note before I talk about this one: I loved the first one of these. The way this all comes about in the first film is pretty plausible and it had character depth and the best of the Apes franchise's themes, that being prejudice, moral ambiguity, looking at the human condition, etc. It was a good reboot that established a more realistic world and a realistic people.

This one follows a similar path, though the arc of the film is a little tougher to follow. Not a bad thing, as this has plenty to get you through it. The effects in this thing are absolutely stunning; just the way the apes move and interact with their environment is masterful, and I love how Caesar and the rest of the apes are distinguishable from one another. It gives them an identity all their own and helps to flesh out this civilization and give it character. Caesar, the leader of the apes, is an emotional character and really gets you invested in the questions that the film is raising about prejudice and complacency by making his and Malcolm's relationship bloom steadily and naturally.

Caesar's character is given good foils/antagonists in the forms of Koba and the human leader Dreyfus. Both are good characters as well because they represent extremes of leadership and lawfulness. Koba fits quite comfortably as an antagonist through and through, but Dreyfus, however villainous the screenplay may want to make his character, is not actually a villain; his motivations and actions are very clearly built upon the idea that what he's doing is for the betterment of mankind's survival, and you really get the sense that he's a good guy with in an impossible situation. His character was quite good.

The tone of this piece is much darker, and the lighting, score, cinematography, and pace all make sure that we know it. One moment that stuck out to me was when Malcolm's kid was bonding with an ape and getting across rudimentary reading, and then the scene cuts immediately to two humans shooting guns at targets. It just had this great visual and audio starkness to it that really grabbed me. I also like this because Apes is not an action flick; it's a slow buildup of suspension and tenseness that leaves you just as engross two hours in as you were at the movie's start, and what action is in here fuels the tone and tension and is in itself riveting and fascinating to watch. Once again, the apes are remarkably unique in their movements and fighting styles, being more about containment and human targeting than about all-out destruction. I also liked that there was friction even as Koba took command. This wasn't just Caesar against the whole pack; this was the pack going along with Koba because of manipulation and anger and when Caesar returns, the apes aren't really which side they should choose. It made for a better story and once again fleshed out the simian cast remarkably.

This is science fiction at its best, tackling real-world issues and fusing that with the emotional weight needed to carry you through to the end. It has wonderful effects, superb cinematography and directing, and it builds on its predecessor in a great way! Everything is here to make a solid sequel and it does so and manages to come out as a fantastic piece of science fiction film! Good job, Apes!

July 19, 2014

Stuff That I Like- 7/19/14

Just got back from the Taos Writers Conference, and I have to say, this was the best thing for me in terms of finally getting my novel off the ground. I wrote up the outline a couple months ago and hadn't done anything with it since, but once I got up there, the creative juices started flowing. I was in a week-long class of novel structure with Laura Brodie as our teacher, and it was really cool because the age ranged from 19 (which was me; I was the youngest in there) to 78! That's crazy! And everyone was just so positive and outgoing and gave excellent feedback, and the homework we had made me write some pages for my novel that quickly turned into very light chapters. It was a great experience with such creative people, all of whom had superb ideas and stories and drafts! Such a fun time.

I'm currently reading A Dance with Dragons, and I'm tempted to call this my favorite book out of the whole series that's been released so far! I haven't finished it, but when I do I intend to do something on here regarding my thoughts about this one, because my reasons for liking this one so much are pretty skewed, and I recognize that this one is not liked by many, so I'm coming at this with some things to say! Nevertheless, this story is awesome, and I love that we've returned to the fan-favorite characters after a book of not having them there (though I'll talk about that when I eventually do finish this and have the time to write a post about it... so yeah, expect the series to be finished when I do that!)

Going to see the new Planet of the Apes tomorrow (I know, a week late again, but there was a schedule change). Pretty excited! Only three weeks before I leave my home to finish off the summer with family up in the Northwest and head off to college! Pretty exciting. In those three weeks, I do hope to get some reviews of Prime episodes up, and we'll see what else gets tossed up here for your reading pleasure!

July 12, 2014

Shadowcon Mini-Views- Transformers: Dark of the Moon

One of the things that has always annoyed me about these movies (and indeed many film adaptations of franchises) is their continued failure to capture what the Transformers franchise is really about. And that's kind of a tricky thing to pinpoint: what is Transformers even about? What's the draw? On the one hand, and in the broad sense, it's about a war between two factions of robots both of which come to Earth and continue their fight here with the humans stuck in the middle. Now, that's the premise, and from there the fiction has diverged and run with any number of things, the most successful (in my mind) being the stories that focus on the Transformers as characters, as people, or the stories that actually tackle the horrors and moral conflicts of war and barbarism.

July 11, 2014

Shadowcon Mini-Views- Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

Up until recently (sadly), Revenge of the Fallen was the worst of the three Transformers films, and the primary reason for that is because it didn't have a script. Literally; Michael Bay began shooting before an actual script was handed in, and so he had absolutely no fucking idea how to work a film that hand't been written yet.

In fairness to the film, however, there was a reason behind this (unlike with Dark of the Moon, which had kind of a script, or this years' Age of Extinction, which didn't have a script because EXPLOSIONS!), and the reason for that is because of the writers' strike and the need to hit that summer blockbuster deadline. But that only tells you the why of this movie's failures. It's an excuse, and quite a bad one at that. The first film had an overabundance of material that made it a messy film. Revenge has a thin strip of plot that is carrying bloated action scenes. Unlike Age of Extinction though, this film manages to keep itself together just enough to be a shitty popcorn flick, at least to me. That opinion will differ from person to person (and certainly if you're a Transformers fan or not), but I think Revenge has enough in here to make it not be a complete and totally bloated piece of garbage like Extinction. Oh sure, it's rotten, but it's not completely inedible.

July 9, 2014

Shadowcon Mini-Views- Transformers (2007)

Alright, so I'd said I'd do this and here we are! Quickest turn-around time for this site I think, and I'm pretty happy to be back on here after a week of absence (seriously, that's like a whole year in Internet world).

I feel the need to clarify a few things before we begin our brief look at the film Transformers, because many of you might be going into this review with your own opinions on the film, or if not that, then you probably have preconceived notions of what I'm going to say about the film given that I am a Transformers fan. Let me be clear: these are not good movies. There is very little humanity in any of these, the plots of all three of the films are at best tepid (and become worse as you progress through the series), and the humor is some of the worst I've ever had to sit through. So no, these films are not good films. But that's okay from time to time. There's a reason that the title Summer Blockbuster exists: because a stereotypical summer blockbuster isn't going to have much of a plot or deep intricate characters. And these are very much stereotypical blockbusters (hell, some would say that these are parodies of summer blockbusters for how much ludicrousness is in them). Yet these movies (at least the first and third ones) do at least lend themselves very well to that audience; there's a distinct difference between a dumb popcorn action flick and a movie that actively tries to kill all brain function in its audience. Thankfully, the first Transformers is the former of these two types of films. So let's dive right in.

July 1, 2014

Shadowcon Mini-Views- Transformers: Age of Extinction, AKA Not A Film

It's a three-hour explosion. That's literally the best way I can describe this albatross of a film. It's like sitting through noise. Like visual and auditory noise. I'm not even going to explain the plot because there isn't one. What this movie is doing to the brand is just atrocious, and if you can believe it, what it's doing to the film franchise that it's in is atrocious. That's right: this thing manages to make the film universe even worse than what it had been back in Revenge of the Fallen and Dark of the Moon. Because say what you will about those things (and by God there is much to say about those things), at least those had slivers of storyline connected to them. This latest one doesn't even have that. It has faded bullet points and a blank check and some of the most gratuitous action scenes I've ever seen... and not the good kind either; these action scenes make you long for the days when Neo would face down thousands of Agent Smiths in the Matrix sequels. That's how irrelevant and monotonous these action scenes are.

Now, I never go into these kinds of films expecting greatness. We know Transformers is crap, but we go anyway. Why? Because we do enjoy seeing giant robots fight, and that's okay from time to time. I'm of the opinion that this type of film isn't ruining cinema; we've had well done action in action films in the past like Die Hard and we've had brilliant films with a high dosage of action in them like Terminator 2, The Dark Knight, The Edge of Tomorrow. So I don't say this as a fan of the old Transformers cartoon who doesn't like anything that comes after it, but as someone who recognizes how ridiculous the films are and who admittedly enjoys that sort of thing: THIS MOVIE HAS THE MOST ANEMIC ACTION... EVER PUT TO FILM!!!!

Seriously! How hard is this? How hard is it to make a compelling gripping action film with giant robots? Apparently it's damn near impossible, because the closest we've gotten to a good one of those in this Transformers franchise has been the third one in the series and that was utter awfulness! And that's my problem with this movie: even the things that are supposed to be ridiculous and over the top are pushed to such a degree as to not effecting us in either thrill or emotion. The action is so overblown and absurd that it loses any and all chances to be enjoyable.

The characters in this one are even more boring than Sam was in the last three films. The actress who plays Mark Wahlberg's daughter makes Megan Fox feel like Oscar material. Mark Wahlberg himself sucks in this movie; Stanley Tucci sucks in this movie (and you know it's bad when his performance sucks; he's usually any movie's safety net); poor Kelsey Grammer has literally sacrificed higher brain function to be in this movie; it feels like the script... oh I'm sorry, did I say "script"? Yeah, sorry. I meant the unravelling one thread of yarn that attempts to hold all the explosions together was made specifically to make every actor in this movie want to die. Grammer, I love you, but that was the most stoic performance ever... no fault of yours, sir; I blame the one-page outline draft that serves as the movie's script.

I'll touch on the robots a little bit here as well, because after all that's what we all go into these films wanting to see. The Autobots were weird in this one. Like more weird than they've ever been in one of these... and not in a good way. You have Optimus and Bumblebee returning, and then alongside them you have this gun-toting cigar-smoking bearded guy Hound who isn't Hound (or Bulkhead) in any incarnation at all from any other continuity; you have Crosshairs who barely does anything; and then you have possibly the least effective Autobot both in terms of "character" and in terms of action, Drift. Optimus himself is the best thing in the movie... damning praise if I've ever written it. He's over the top as normal, but this time the charm of homicidal Optimus is lost since it's now rendered normal because of how many other crazy things are going on around him.

EDIT: Oh! I totally forgot to talk about the Dinobots... kinda like how the movie forgot to talk about the Dinobots... moving on.

The new "Decepticons" are also weird. Like in the previous films, the 'Cons don't have any personality at all. Galvatron is even more unthreatening as Megatron was, all the other human-made Decepticons are just mindless drones, and you're left with the impression that these things could just be anything and it wouldn't matter because they'd blow up anyway. And then you have Lockdown... yeah, fuck that guy. He's about as effective a villain as Zod was in Man of Steel. Actually, no. Scratch that. This makes Zod look like Darth Vadar, because at least Zod had a shit reason for doing what he was doing. This guy has literally zero motivation! Oh sure, there's a line in there about the Transformers Creators (don't even get me started on that), but beyond that there's nothing.

And the runtime. Holy fuckballs. The runtime is just insane. This has the length of two hours and forty-three minutes; it felt like five hours had gone by by the time this shit was over! Non-stop explosions? You got it! And it's the most boring ride I've ever been on. This has anemic action held together by some duct tape characters and silly strings of outlined plot material. I'm pissed off at this movie for wasting my time. I'm pissed off at this movie for bringing the quality of the film franchise down to a whole new low (a feat I never thought possible given that Revenge of the Fallen exists). And most of all, I'm pissed off that this movie now represents the Transformers franchise... and the world is getting the worst of it. This has surpassed Revenge of the Fallen in my shit movie scale. This has reached a level of pissed-off-ifity that I haven't reached with a film like this ever. This is going in my Transformers tag, but it's being done as the more human part of my soul weeps for all the actual Transformers-related material in that tag... yeah, I think that about covers it.

Oh, PS: in case it isn't clear, I don't recommend this movie.