Friday, 29 August 2014

Let It Be, Seriously Let It Go Because You Don't Want To Miss a Thing

If you look at the archives of this blog, you won't find any musings on music. But that's not because I don't like music. I love music and talking about music. It's one of my favourite things. However, people can have pretty extreme reactions to people talking about music. Reactions which are often just bizarre when you realise they're upset that the collection of sounds which sound like awful noise to them are loved by someone else who hears those sounds as pleasurable music.

As is no surprise to absolutely anyone who's ever spoken about music in public or read YouTube comments below a music video, there is a lot of elitism, hate, and aggressive views involved in talking about music. Aggression that often is just so unjustified and uncalled for.

Why do people watch a Led Zeppeling video just to log in and comment that this is "So much better than the music today", "And kids today listen to shit like fucking Bieber", "This is real music" or "I really wish I lived in the 70s when I couldn't access the internet and find all the wonderful music I now love thanks to the modern technological wonder of YouTube which provides a virtual archive of practically every song ever recorded". That last one might have been made up. No YouTube commenter on a music video is that self-aware.

Can you believe it? Some people don't like the Beatles! That's just messed up.

I think some people have this really visceral gut reaction when they discover someone has different musical tastes than they do and hates a band they love or loves a band they hate. I should know, I was like that for a long time in my teens and early twenties. It actually felt as though I just got smacked in the face with a Molotov cocktail of utter disbelief when someone either didn't like a band I liked. How could they not? Did they just listen to music the same way as I did? Didn't they hear the craft of the song's structure, the subtle nuances in the melody, the weird use of dissonance, or that kickass riff which elevated what I liked into the realm of art?

Well, then they were deaf obviously. And I could feel superior to them since I could hear (not being deaf and all). As though what I liked was really good artistic stuff made with soul, not generic commercial popular music devoid of any creativity. You know. That crap most people listen to which they listen to because most people are stupid, am I right?

I know, right?

Actually, that's rubbish. It's a load of horse radish wrapped in a steaming dump of bull waste. I mean, yeah, much of the most popular music out there doesn't have much creativity or originality but that's because it's not supposed to. It's not supposed to be weird or try something different or really express something other than the most basic feels that everyone gets with vague statements about love, break-ups, and other stuff (like partying, can't forget the partying).

Often there is little to no specificity in the lyrics precisely so that they could apply to anyone but to no one in particular. Also, the people that complain about pop music are often not the demographic that pop music is catering to, so no duh they don't like it.

If this sounds dismissive, it's not really. Well, it kind of is, but it's more of an acknowledgement that pop music has its place, and that people listen to pop music and that's okay. Like seriously, whatever. It doesn't affect me in the slightest and I have no right to get upset or act smug (read: pretentious) about my musical tastes. So, I don't.


But I do get upset about the way people talk about music.


Yes, the music of today sucks argument.

Now first off, everyone is entitled to their opinion, even if that opinion is silly. And the idea that pop music is 'dead' is a silly opinion. And I know that music, perhaps more than any other art form, is a highly subjective thing. Music can affect us in often profound ways, tapping into memories, recalling feelings, making us want to move our bodies, evoking emotions, and so on. In fact, the influence music has on us cannot be understated. It literally tells us what to feel.

Think about the last movie you saw that made you feel so sad you wept like that day you realised there was no farm and that Puppington Barkelous the fourth was in doggie hell since he peed on the carpet all the time. Now think about the music that was playing in the scene which made you feel that way. The music was in all probability in a minor key and sad-sounding. And it was sad-sounding since the music is what cues your brain that "holy shit, this is really sad", even if the scene itself doesn't pull on your emotional heartstrings since the actors involved skipped out on their heartstring playing lessons.

This guy however is a virtuoso.

Actually on a side note, watch a horror movie with the sound off and you'll realise just how important music and sound is in making you feel scared and selling the 'creepiness' of a scene. Without the sound it becomes really boring or alternatively, really funny.

But back to the music today sucks argument. This is a line of thinking that is so limiting to me. Now, everyone has their own personal tastes and music that they like. And yes, there was a lot of good music made in the past. Like a lot. So much. But there is a lot of good music being produced today. A whole lot.

However, some people seem utterly convinced that music of this decade or other is better than now, which is fair enough if you feel that way. But what bugs me is the suggestion that there is no good music now. Not that they don't like the music being made due to their own personal taste, but that objectively there is no good music being made. That's ridiculous.

And often this view is rooted in a lack of awareness of the bias we can easily develop when we pit music of a past decade against the current decade (whichever decade it is currently, since this isn't a particularly new thing). This is because when you think of a decade like the 1960s or 1970s, you think of the best music of that decade. Bands like the Beatles and Led Zeppelin. Some of the biggest acts of all time.

Back when the line between looking like a pimp and a rock star had never been more blurred.

But that paints an extremely rose-tinted view of the music of that decade. For example, when you watch a Vietnam movie or a movie that tries to invoke the life and times of the late 1960s there are several stock songs they always have on standby to make everyone go, "Oh, yeah, it's the 60s". Two of those songs are Jimi Hendrix's version of "All Along the Watchtower" and Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Fortunate Son". But what was the number 1 single in 1969 around the time these songs were released and have now so completely been embedded in pop culture as invoking that time in history?

"Sugar, Sugar" by the Archies. A saccharine (sorry), admittedly catchy yet disposable pop song by a fictitious band based off the Archie comics. Actually, I don't even think "Fortunate Son" even charted at the time, although I didn't research due to supreme laziness so I could be wrong about that. In any case, there is a lot of disposable commercial music in any decade. The problem is when people compare the music of a past decade with the current one is that they cherry pick the best of that decade against the worst of the current decade, usually contemporary music they hear on the radio that they hate.

Like the Led Zeppelin/Justin Bieber comparison people love making. That comparison makes no sense. Now, it would be fine if people were just stating that they liked Led Zep and didn't like Bieber, that's fine. But people actively compare them as though they are things that could be compared. Yeah, they can in the sense that they both make music... and that's about it.

It really doesn't help Bieber's case that he's a giant douchecanoe with a wimpy pedo stache. 

But it's an unfair comparison. You're comparing a hard rock band with a totally different demographic and approach to making music to a teen idol making pop music for teenage girls. A fairer comparison, if you really wanted to do a "this decade's music is better than that decade's music" thing, would be to compare Led Zeppelin to a contemporary rock band like the Arctic Monkeys or somebody like that. And compare Bieber to one of the teen idols of the 1970s like David Cassidy or whomever  was making teenage girl music. Then you're at least in the same genre or general music hall.

Most people make the argument that there is no good music on the radio anymore. And they're correct. There isn't. But that's not because there's no good music being produced, it's because most radio stations play the hits since that's what people want to hear. And that's the thing, we don't need the radio to find good music anymore. Back in the 1960s and 1970s, pirate radio stations were vital to discovering the latest and coolest music coming up at the time. And then in the 1980s and 1990s MTV did a pretty good job of convincing everyone that songs needed a music video while also playing alternative music because that was in at the time until the boy band/bubble gum pop explosion of the late 90s.

And now thanks to the power of nostalgia, people listen to a completely manufactured assembly-line boy band of the late 1990s non-ironically and despair at the lack of Jewfros and frost-tips in modern music.

That's how it happens by the way. As soon as a decade ends the music of that decade gets crystalised and cherry picked into "Man, music in the [insert decade here] was so good, kids today don't even know".

But today, we have the internet. The greatest invention ever devised by man. Where the sum of all human knowledge rests. There is literally no excuse for not finding good contemporary music nowadays when it is just a YouTube search away.

However, therein lies the problem. You have to do the search yourself. There's no single medium telling you what is out there like radio or television which shout out at you. The internet asks you to tell it where to go. Therefore, music is more dispersed now, so it's way more common for you never to hear a band that could be huge or have stare at you incredulously since "this band is so good, man, I can't believe you haven't heard them".

(Speaking of which, I can't believe you haven't heard Hurt Everybody. Like man, seriously)

Now the point of this extended rant is not that people have to like music of today. They don't. It's totally fine if they don't. It's when people suggest that there is no good music today, like at some point in the past, music just said, "Okay guys, I'm gonna be shit from now on and nobody will be able to write an amazing song ever again because that's just how it goes". That argument is so weak and "You kids get off of my yard" it's not funny.

If you're stuck in the 1970s or whenever, good on you, have fun there, they made some amazing music that has really stood the test of time and probably always will. But I'm gonna be over here enjoying the best that the past had to offer while being blown away by the best music being produced today. Seriously, there's some good stuff out there right now. Maybe you should check some of it out.

Friday, 22 August 2014

Welcome to The Thunderdome, Superman Told Samurai Jack

In Mad Max Somewhere Over the Thunderdome, Max is not sufficiently mad, so he goes to Bartertown to barter for some mad. Aunty Turner uses Max to gain political leverage over Master Blaster by having him fight Blaster in the Thunderdome. They fight. It's great.

But then, Max knocks off Blaster's Juggernaut helmet revealing him to be mentally disabled with the disposition of a child. The revelation of Simply The Best Aunty's trickery succeeds in making Max mad.
Luckily for everyone involved, it happened after he had ditched the chainsaw.

Aunt Tina then exiles Max for not honouring their contract by refusing to kill the child-minded Blaster, Max is exiled to the desert on a horse. He nearly dies but a monkey brings him some water because of course it does. He doesn't die. But he does collapse again. Only to be found by a girl who brings him to the village of the Lost Boys from Peter Pan. He gets better and wakes up with lots of shouting since he is still mad. Probably because the Lost Boys cut his mullet while he was sleeping.

The girl then goes out into desert with some other kids towards Bartertown, probably to sell Max's hair or rejoin civilization or something like that. Max goes after them, they decide to save Master for some reason, there's big train/car chase, Max sacrifices himself so the kids can fly away, closing narration, the end.
"This is my last one, right? I don't want to get mad anymore." - Mel Gibson

Now, what's interesting about this Mad Max film is not the Lost Boys being so lost they thought they were on the set for Hook in the Australian outback, but the Thunderdome. It's the Thunderdome, naturally considering it's the title of the film, which struck a chord and introduced one of the most iconic phrases in all of pop culture:

"Two men enter. One man leaves."

Awesome. Nothing can be simpler. Two men enter the arena, they fight until one kills the other, the winner leaves. Boom, done. This simple idea proved too pervasive and cool for it not to be referenced in a bazillion things afterwards.

Farnsworth: There are no rules. Two robots enter, one robot leaves. Then later the other robot leaves after being declared the winner.
Bender: Well, that doesn't sound so bad.
Farnsworth: Oh, did I mention the crippling, agonising pain? I'm pretty sure I did. Oh, yes, definitely.
But then it got combined with the Spartacus 'free the slaves' theme and there emerged a new narrative from beyond the Thunderdome. One where the protagonist is taken prisoner, made a slave, forced to battle other slaves in an arena of death to a cheering crowd, before the protagonist emerges as the most popular warrior but refuses to kill, eventually leading a revolt and freeing the slaves.
Are you not pleasurably enthralled?

And it's official. We love seeing our heroes captured, enslaved, and forced to battle other enslaved warriors to the death in a Colosseum-style stadium. It's a narrative that's been repeated again and again in pop culture, often in cartoons because that is obviously the best medium for the expression of Thunderdome gladiatorings.

No, seriously. Now, a proper examination of the popularity of this narrative trend would have several examples and research to back it up, pointing out that such a narrative has a long history before the Thunderdome. I have two. And yes, it's because they're the only ones I could think of or be bothered looking up.

In the episode "War World" of Justice League, because Bruce Willis was too busy being in a couple of movies that apparently didn't do anything since I don't think anyone has ever heard of them, Superman and The Martian Manhunter are out in space placing bombs on an asteroid that's on a collision course with Earth.

"What you up to?"
"Oh, I'm just superheroing like I do. Planting explosions in asteroids, you know how it goes."

But the explosion is bigger than they expected because of the high amount of hydrogen in the asteroid and the needs of the plot, so both Supes and J'onn J'onzz are knocked out and then picked up by some alien slavers who just happened to be spacing around. They get taken to a planet ruled by Mongul who constantly holds Thunderdome fighting events to distract his citizens from noticing how shitty their lives are. Superman and Manhunter are enslaved and Superman is forced to fight the reigning champion, Draaga.
This is Draaga.
And yes, this is a still from a Justice League cartoon, not Dungeons & Dragons.

And of course, Superman defeats Draaga although he doesn't really want to fight him, and wins the crowd over since he's Superman. He naturally does not kill Draaga and becomes a symbol of resistance and freedom since he's Superman. Eventually, he fights Mongul in a rigged fight where if he wins, Mongul will destroy Draaga's homeworld but still manages to find a way to defeat him since he's Superman.

Hmmm... bad guy holds big fighting events to distract the masses, good guy refuses to kill in fight to the death, becomes symbol to the people, then the bad guy fights the good guy in a rigged match. Sound familiar?
Hello again!

In the Samurai Jack episode "Jack and the Smackback" (I don't know either), Jack is captured by slavers and taken to the Dome of Doom where he is forced to fight various warriors by the Ringmaster for the crowd's entertainment. Yes, it really is called the Dome of Doom.

And there is indeed a lot of doom in the dome.

Oh, and the Ringmaster is the announcer of the Dome and named Jack 'Two Sandals', which Jack hates since it's his slave name. The first champion is Gordo the Gruesome, who delivers such an awesome parody of wrestler smackdowns it has to be repeated in its entirety here:

"I am the master mechanic, the alpha and omega. I will put a hurting on you, slave. I'm gonna tear you up into little shreds, and then I'm gonna take those shreds and tear them up into little shreds. I will make your mother cry. I will make your Aunt Edna from Withershoot proper, south of Barnaby cry. Are you ready for pain, Two Sandals?"

Are you?

Predicatably, Two Sandals defeats Gordo rather easily before defeating the Aqualizer, and Sumoto (by tickling him until he passes out from laughter because kid's show) in turn. So, Ringmaster then makes all the remaining champions fight Jack at once since Jack will not kill because, good guy. Jack defeats them and gets back his sword, telling the crowd off for taking enjoyment in senseless violence.

He then violently threatens the Ringmaster to release the slaves, which he does. Jack then kills the guard that is whipping the slaves to freedom and who whipped Jack, but it's okay because violence is justified if it is for revenge. Jack then walks off like a badass.

Pictured: Badass.

So, why do we love seeing our heroes stripped of their belongings, enslaved, and made to fight in Dome battles to the death while resisting the urge to kill their opponent, eventually becoming a symbol of non-violence and hope by violently beating people up?

Well, it does remove them from their familiar surroundings and thrusts them into a situation where they have been stripped of their freedom and their status as a hero. Therefore, we get to see them demonstrate their heroism and prove their worth as a symbol of hope by winning over the crowd while defeating progressively more dangerous opponents in a dome of death.

Also, two men enter. One man leaves!


Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome Wikipedia page

War World (Justice League episode) DCAnimated wiki

Gladiator (2000) Wikipedia page

Jack and the Smackback (Samurai Jack episode) Samurai Jack wiki

Friday, 15 August 2014

Robin Williams is the Fisher King

By now, everyone knows all too well that Robin Williams died on Monday after having hung himself. There are other articles that discuss why comedians often battle with mental illness, or why his suicide was not a selfish act, or the many many tributes to just how amazing he was, like Russell Brand's touching eulogy.

Or, if you feel like getting simultaneously incredibly sad and infuriatingly angry, you can read the terrible things some people have written after his death, like the Daily Mail insinuating that he committed suicide due to financial issues or certain hurtful comments on Fox News' site, all of which show a complete misunderstanding of how depression and suicide work. I won't link to them because I don't wish to be directly responsible for driving up their traffic. Let's just say they're horrible and there are some incredibly ignorant and mean-spirited people in the world, but you knew that already.

Now, I generally never post about celebrity deaths because honestly, it usually doesn't affect me much really. I mean, it's always sad because death but I don't actually care since I didn't know them, I just know their work, however good or bad it might have been. 

However, with all the tributes poring out for Robin Williams, it seems a little different than the typical eulogies and homages that tend to flood when a celebrity dies. People seem genuinely upset that he's gone, despite the fact he hasn't been in a good (or rather, popular) movie for well over a decade.

And I think it's because he was such a fundamental part of a lot of people's childhood. Now, objectively, a lot of his movies aren't actually that great, they're often hockey and silly, with him doing funny voices for the sake of doing funny voices because he could, or were overly sentimental, see Bicentennial Man or Patch Adams (or in the case of Mrs. Doubtfire had a kinda creepy stalkerish undertone).

So here's the pitch: he's this guy, right, who dresses up as an old lady so he can be the nanny for his own children in order to be closer to them and keep tabs on his ex-wife all while lying directly to their faces and betraying their trust.
Hilarity ensues.

But the questionable quality or morality of some his movies doesn't really matter since Williams had this special innate quality of liveliness, often bouncing off the walls like he'd been covered in Flubber-spray. He seemed so boisterous and animated that his characters were just so [cliche alert] full of life that they seemed to suggest that the best way to deal with stuff is to just tackle it head on with as much optimism and energy as possible.

And he combined that with zany quick paced humour, to laugh at things, with/at other people, and at yourself. That anytime was a good time for a Groucho Marx impression or to speak incredibly fast like a racehorse announcer if it made someone laugh. 

Any time is a good time for a Groucho Marx impression.
Any time.

His characters often were constantly smiling and trying to make everyone else in the movie laugh. And that's why everyone's sad he's gone. Because he taught a lot of us that funny voices are funny and that it's important to laugh at things and deal with them with optimism, which is a great thing.

There's a memory I will always recall from my childhood involving his movie, Hook. Now for those of you too young to remember, back in the Dark Ages of the early 1990s there were these things called VHS tapes which you could record and watch movies on. They were kinda like plastic bricks with this tape inside which would inevitably get caught in your tape player at some point. Times were hard back in those days, you wouldn't understand.

So... we meet again.

Now, we had a tape that we had recorded Hook on. Unfortunately, it was recorded after another movie (I forget which) to fill up the two hours or so of space on the tape, which meant the tape ended roundabout two thirds through Hook. And I would play this time over and over again, even though I knew that the tape ended before the movie finished. Not only because we had fewer forms of entertainment back then since the interwebs hadn't really caught on yet, but because I loved the movie and would anticipate the scene when the tape ended every time. 

It was the moment when Peter is hit on the head by the baseball his son Jack hit into the stratosphere as it comes down. He then sees his shadow move independently of him and nudges him to go into a tree house... and then it ended. For me, it kinda became the ending of the film, although in a sense it was the beginning since that's just before he realises that he really is Peter Pan and flies to save the day and whatnot. But I just loved the whimsy of the scene, which thanks to the wonder that is YouTube, I managed to find online.

Right in the childhood, it even ends roundabout where my tape did... 

But rather than talk about how much joy I had as a kid watching him as Genie in Aladdin, Alan Parrish in Jumanji, Peter Pan in Hook, or even as Professor Philip Brainard in Flubber, I thought it best to focus on one of Williams' performances which I only ever saw as an adult and realised I needed to re-evaluate in light of his tragic passing. That is his masterful and poignant performance in Terry Gilliam's The Fisher King. For really it is the role he was most perfectly cast for. 

A number of Williams' roles in his films needed to provide some qualification for why the hell he was so frantic and frenetic, constantly bristling with distracted manic energy bouncing from one thought to the other in rapid succession, often in a different voices, which was the power of his unstable brand of comedy. Therefore, in Aladdin his character is a genie who is magic and had been suffering lamp fever for thousands of years and just wants to explore everything since he'd been imprisoned for so long. Similarly in Jumanji, he'd been trapped in a jungle death trap for 26 years and quite understandably has gotten a little crazed after surviving in a place where everything was trying to kill him for nearly three decades.

"You do not want to know what I had to do to get this leaf hat. Such terrible things... that poor squirrel monkey."

Meanwhile in Flubber, which is a remake of a 1961 movie called The Absent-Minded Professor, he plays an absent-minded professor, who gets so wrapped up in his work and being an eccentric genius that it blinds him to everything else while his enthusiasm for science-y stuff means he's often bubbling with uncontrolled excitement. Whenever Williams' character needed to be wacky, and since his particular style of manic comedy nearly always called for wacky, there needed to be some quirk of the character to account for the wackiness. And The Fisher King gave him the best justification for wackiness ever: he's crazy. 

"How crazy am I? Brother, you don't even want to know."

No, seriously. He plays a homeless man named Parry who experienced a mental breakdown following the brutal murder of his wife and suffers from delusions of alternatively heroic or nightmarish fantasies that he thinks are real. Believing himself to be on a knight's quest from god to find the Holy Grail, he enlists the Dude's character Jack, a former shock jock radio host whose callous advice to an unstable caller inadvertently leads that caller to kill yuppies eating in a restaurant, including Parry's wife, to help him in his quest.

Behold, a true knight of the realm.

Jack obviously wants to atone for the wrong he feels he's done to Parry in kinda sorta by accident encouraging the man who murdered his wife. Also Parry totally saved him from being set alight by some punks, so there's that too.

Now they get into all manner of hijinks as Jack follows Parry around and tries to help him since he feels responsible for the rehabilitating mental state he's in. However, rather than focus on plot, although it's a pretty solid plot, what makes this movie and the role of Parry particularly perfect for Williams is that counter-intuitively for such an unstable character, it is his most balanced performance. 

Now, I don't mean balanced in the sense he gave a measured and deft turn in the role but rather in the context of Williams' career it strikes the perfect balance from his wacky off-the-wall comedic roles, his touching inspirational dramatic turns in films such as Dead Poets' Society and Good Will Hunting, not to mention the insidious obsessed villains he played in the early 2000s. 

Left: That's him being a killer obsessed with a 17 year old girl and extorting Al Pacino.
Right: That's him being a photo developer obsessed with a family which he longs to be part of and who he extorts.
Hmm... I'm sensing a pattern here.

In The Fisher King, Williams' talent for playing obsessed characters comes through in Parry's stalkeresque fascination with Lydia, a shy socially awkward and introverted woman who works in a publishing house. Parry watches her from afar everyday, knows her daily routine perfectly, not to mention practically everything about her without her knowledge... but it's not like that, he's smitten. 

And Williams actually pulls off the "I know you don't know me but I've watch you everyday without you knowing and know the innermost details of you life, and I love you" angle which Hollywood for some reason thinks is endearing and cute instead of creepy and invasive. He portrays Parry as just so sincerely sweet in his feelings for Lydia such that you truly believe he loves every aspect about her. As the Nostalgia Critic points out in his video on the Top 11 Strangest Couples, he adores her so much that every single time he sees her his world is dancing because that's how he sees everything when she's around.

And then there's the scene after their date where she reveals she is afraid that he will never call her if he stays the night and she will just get her heart broken. But Parry declares his feelings for her and gives her his "I'll won't be distant and I'll come back in the morning, and I'll call you if you let me" speech. It is just beautiful.

While the initial stalkerish nature of his infatuation may little questionable, Williams' affable charm and the sincerity he brings to the character renders the moment absolutely genuine.

There is no joke here. This scene is simply heartwarming.

But Williams follows up possibly one of the most sweet and sincere romantics moments in film with a dramatic turn that is truly heart-wrenching. After Lydia goes up to her apartment, Parry suffers flashbacks of his wife's murder as he is tormented by the horrific Red Knight, the hallucination that embodies his traumatic experience of loss. The look on his face when he sees the Red Knight conveys the absolute terror he feels with brutal honesty.

Pictured: Brutally honest terror.

But the ways he pleads with his own mind to let him have this, to have this blossoming relationship with Lydia, the only good thing in his life since his wife's death, is a wonder to behold. The sheer desperation in his voice for this one relief from his torment and the pain he feels...

After running away from the Red Knight, he is then beaten up by the same punks from the beginning of the movie and goes into a catatonic state. When he eventually awakes from his coma, he asks Jack if it's okay if he can miss his wife now in what is an absolutely tender moment.

Now, I have totally been focusing on the more dramatic elements of the film, there are many scenes of hilarity where Williams did what he was the best at, running around talking fast, jumping from one thought to another, alternating different voices, casting asides (to the invisible fat little people he sees), contorting his body, and just being funny in the most delightfully manic way.

"Are you not entertained?!"

But I focused on those scenes because in watching the movie again, those are the moments that struck me the most, and actually hit me to the core. They elevate what all too easily could have been a really hammy role, playing a mentally ill homeless man in an over the top manner, some serious heft and pathos. And that is all on Robin Williams. He was fantastic.

So that is my tribute to Robin Williams. I've realised that I'm going to miss him.


Robin Williams and Why Funny People Kill Themselves

Robin Williams death: a reminder that depression and suicide are not selfish

Russell Brand: Robin Williams' divine madness will no longer disrupt the sadness of the world

The Fisher King Wikipedia page

Top 11 Strangest Couples - Nostalgia Critic

Friday, 8 August 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy (The Milky Way To Be Specific)

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...

An amazing sci-fi saga took place. This is not about that saga though, this is about Guardians of the Galaxy which is set in our own galaxy, the Milky Way but somehow contains interesting alien species, cool spaceships, and freaking blasters. However, you don't question things like this in a fictional universe that contains a man who regularly turns into a hulking rage monster but never rips his pants because of the power of modesty.


Now, as anyone who's read this blog can tell you, I tend to write about comic books and superheroes quite a lot. I grew up with comics and superhero cartoons, and a lot of my favourite movies are superhero movies.

That said, I have never read a Guardians of the Galaxy comic, ever. I mean, I recognise one or two of the characters from crossover appearances, like the squirrel with the bazooka and the green girl from Star Trek, but I have never read an actual comic of their galactic exploits. So, I have little to no idea what Guardians of the Galaxy is really gonna be about, aside from containing wisecracks, space battles, and explosions, not necessarily in that order.

And making the Guardians of the Galaxy movie was a bit of a gamble for Marvel Studios considering it is one of their lesser known brands and doesn't have superheroes with bright costumes in it. Also, one of the few other times someone decided to adapt one of Marvel's lesser known non-superhero franchises, bad things happened.
This sort of bad.

However, in the week since it got released, the movie has actually received rave reviews with a 92% rating on Rotten Tomatoes (none of which I've read) and such massive fan hype surrounding it, that it has become a joke that someone would not like it. And in all seriousness, how could you not like it? It's got wisecracks, space battles, and explosions, possibly in that order.

The hows and why have been lost to us in the passage of time, but here stands proof that at a point in our distant history during the Age of Facebook, someone disliked Guardians of the Galaxy

And I'm gonna see it. But due to my aforementioned limit knowledge of what the Qwarkians of the Galaxy even do, I don't really know what expect, aside from wisecracks, space battles, and explosions happening in that order. Therefore, I decided to rewatch the trailer for the film and try to figure out what the movie might be about.

I think everyone has seen the trailer, but just in case you didn't because the hole in which you live didn't have the internet until this very moment so you could read my article, here it is.

The trailer opens with an unknown dude who standing in front of ruin that looks like a leftover from that one Alien Vs Predator movie when there's a pyramid or something... nevermind, the point is that that movie is terrible. Seriously, don't watch it.

Off to a good start, reminding me of a movie that is objectively awful and shat on two movie franchises simultaneously.

But then we cut to unknown dude, who I'm gonna hazard a guess is our protagonist, inside the pyramid of dead franchises, as he shakes a glow orb to give some light before he engages in some Indiana Jones-style archaeological shenanigans accompanied by Inception bwah sounds.

"Shit. I forgot my space whip."

Space Indiana promptly gets caught by guards as soon as he takes the floating treasure thing from the place where it was floating peacefully minding it's own business. And here's where we get our first bit of wisecracking, as Space Indiana cockily introduces himself as Star Lord, hoping to strike terror and recognition in the hearts of his captors... But they have no idea who he is, leading him to quip, "I'm Star Lord, man... legendary outlaw? Forget it."

And then following the obligatory Marvel logo, we get the line up. Which actually is a clever way to introduce your characters without them actually doing anything but still have people talk about them. With John C. Reilly giving more exposition than when Joseph Gordon-Lewitt schooled Ellen Page, in a way that should seem lazy but comes off as smart and funny.

"Nah, I can't let you touch it, that would defeat the purpose. See only I know the balance and weight of this particular loaded die. That way when you look at your totem, you know beyond a doubt you're not in someone else's dream."
-Guardians of the Galaxy dialogue, probably

After running through what character archetypes we will see in the film, we see Star Solo gets upset when one of the guards is fiddling with his Walkman, because apparently people still have those in space, as the sounds of "Hooked on a Feeling" fill the air.

As soon as the drum kicks hit, we get a shit tonne of action shots with aliens yelling and running towards and away from things, Rocky Racoon shooting a machine gun while he's climbing the tree, a gratuitous topless shot of the Han Lord followed by an equally gratuitous shot of green Star Trek lady, Draxter killing dudes with a a blade-thingy, lots of explosions and space battles. This all before cutting back to John C. Reilly saying they call themselves the 'Guardians of the Galaxy' and the other guard calling them assholes.

Pictured: Assholes.

So, obviously this movie is about Indiana Solo Lord and green Trekkie girl having to shoot a porn video while the rest of the Guardians guard the set from being invasion by horny aliens with the 'kill anything that moves' defensive strategy.

The treasure thing from the beginning was the key to open the set door and the space battles are the other aliens trying to stop them from getting to the set because they oppose inter-species sexual relations.

However, the expert placing of her braid of hair so her nipple doesn't slip indicates that the sex scene might be softcore.

I will be judging the movie based on the expectations and speculations made above and will be bitterly disappointed if it differs in any way.

Because some of us still remember the last time they gave one of Marvel's cute anthropomorphic woodland creatures a big gun in a movie.
I'm just gonna leave this up here.

Surely, Guardians of the Galaxy couldn't hope to be better than the cinematic masterpiece that is Howard the Duck?

That's crazy talk.


Guardians of the Galaxy Rotten Tomatoes

Friday, 1 August 2014

Korra May Not Be the Last Airbender But She's A Steampunk

Avatar: The Legend of Korra is the sequel series to Avatar: The Last Airbender, a show which I've already mentioned is one of my favourite shows of all time in my article discussing Aang's hair issues, namely that he had any. However, despite being made by most of the same people who made Last Airbender, Korra doesn't seem to have captured the popular zeitgeist and widespread fan appreciation that its predecessor did.

Now this may be because of high expectations following The Last Airbender, which is fair enough since it is considered one of the greatest things ever to exists ever, so it's too be expected that people might have set the bar quite high for anything with the word Avatar in the title.
Which is why people were so disappointed in the Dances With Smurfs gritty reboot.

So, there is a sense of people wanting Korra to be the same as Last Airbender, when the two are quite different shows with their focus. For example, although The Last Airbender was a mature and dramatic series, its central characters were still kids, mostly around the 12-16 mark, whereas the main characters in Korra are all in their late teens, verging on adulthood. This adds a lot a teen drama into the story where Korra and company are all trying to negotiate that awkward phase where they're not quite kids anymore but still not yet adults, and they're figuring out who they are while going through a lot of changes.

Which meant quite a bit of the teen romance-y stuff, particularly in the first Book. It is very high school in the, "I like this girl, but she likes this guy, who actually likes this other girl who likes him, and they're dating which upsets the first girl, but he also kinda likes the first girl too, but none of us are mature enough to deal with it in a responsible manner yet, so we don't talk about it and it's, like, super awkward, you guys".
Pictured: Teenage awkwardness.

And that didn't sit well with a number of people. Which is fair enough, especially when it became less of a love quadrilateral and more a love triangle which most people have a serious hatred of. However, there are two aspects to this negative reaction to the seeing the Avatar entangled in a messy teen romance, and the first things is, that it is a messy teen romance. They're not adults navigating an adult relationship. They're teenagers, still very unsure of themselves, and of what/whom they want. Yes, it goes back and forth, at times annoyingly so, but that's the nature of teenage relationships: they are messy and confusing since none of the people involved have enough relationship experience to deal with all the emotions and drama that romance can come hand in hand with, especially when you're not equipped to handle it.

Secondly, I think it was less the fact the characters were in a love quadrilateral/triangle, and more that the love life aspect of the show seemed to have too much focus to the detriment of other plot lines. And that's because the show, again, particularly in its first Book, was trying to juggle a number of various elements and plot lines and unlike, The Last Airbender, it often wasn't able to give these plot lines the time and space to develop.

And that feeling that some aspects of the plot felt rushed is a criticism that has dogged the show for a while now, and it's largely due to the fact the show is not structured like The Last Airbender. Like at all...

Woah, let's just take a moment to breathe here, before someone says something they'll regret.

And that is not a bad thing.

The Last Airbender was structured with a series long arc in mind, telling one major story -of Aang learning to master all the elements so he can defeat Fire Lord Hamill before Haley's Comet arrives and the Fire Nation gets a nitrous boost- like a grand Lord of the Rings-esque epic over the course of three Books consisting of 20 episodes each. The Legend of Korra on the other hand focuses on Book long narrative arcs, each Book telling a self-contained story. Which is different but a good thing since it allows the writers to delve deeper into the various aspects of the fictional world of Avatar.

The problem with this that leads to accusations of being rushed generally have to do with there only being 12 episodes in the first Book, which focused on two plot lines, the main story with the Equalists and the other plot with the pro-bending. This means the show had little time to breathe, or to put it more bluntly, there were no filler episodes in Korra's first Book really since the pro-bending story in the middle of the Book seemed to be given as much weight as the overarching Equalist story.

And because of the fewer number of episodes, plus the emphasis in wrapping up each narrative arc at the end of the Book since they weren't sure if they were going to be renewed for another Book, there was no space to breath as it sprinted to a neatly tied up climax in its final third.
"So, that joke about breathing earlier was a pun or something?"

Just so we're clear on what a filler episode is, a filler episode is not the same as a weak episode. Too many people conflate the two. A filler episode is just an episode which does very little or nothing to develop the overarching plot, focusing instead on character moments or an action sequence that doesn't really move the plot forward in any way but might be important to show to let the show breathe and flesh out the characters. Essentially, if you took out a filler episode from the season, you'd still be able to follow the plot with little problem.

"Tales of Ba Sing Se" is a great example of an amazing filler episode from The Last Airbender. Broken up into 'tales' that focus on individual characters (or in the case of Katara and Toph, two characters bonding), it doesn't add to the overarching defeat Fire Lord Skywalker plot, nor even the immediate plot involving the Big Brother silencing tactics used by the Dai Li to control dissent in the city. Rather it serves as character pieces that highlight the core of the character or serve to develop them further.

It also had this. My, um, my eyes are tearing up... Ah, give me a moment...


Okay, I'm good...

But The Legend of Korra never quite had the time within that first 12 episode Book to have a filler episode to flesh out the characters, instead focused on propelling the various plot lines forward. And because of the desire to showcase pro-bending and the awkwardness of teenage love, meant the 'main' story with the Equalists never quite got the attention it quite deserved until the final third.

However, that did made the dramatic weight of the Equalist story with Amon as the big bad even more stark in comparison to the growing pains of adolescent love and the Mighty Ducks story of whether they'll win the pro-bending tournament when it was finally explored further, and Amon was a pretty awesome big bad.

"Why, yes. Yes, I was."

So, even if the criticism of mixed pacing is justified, this is also because people were expecting a Last Airbender style epic spanning three Books, and kinda didn't get that. But the fact the storytelling in Korra is more breakneck actually reflects the themes of the show, the balance between technology and spirituality, modernity and tradition, being young and brash before maturing.

And being brash is possibly Korra's defining characteristic. Unlike Aang, who was at heart a pacifist and trained as a monk such that he was a calm and intuitive person, Korra is the opposite. Her biggest failing is that she rushes into things head on and fails to read people. And that's not because she's stupid but rather that she is stubborn and rambunctious. She needs to be where the action is and can't sit still or be patient because there are things to do, bad guys to pummel. She is the internet generation, unable to take a moment to be quiet and self-reflect since there are too many things to distract her and her mind can't stop.

This is not a criticism, it ties into the rise of technology and media. With us, it's the internet and social media which means we are always connected and have something to occupy our attention at all times. For Korra it is the rise of media itself, with the explosion of newspapers, radio, and in the second Book, movers.

Starring Bolin as Nuktuk, Hero of the South.

Which reflects the setting too, since Legend of Korra is set 70 years after the events of Last Airbender and the times have change, things have gotten faster as technology makes transportation and communication faster. Republic City is a 1920s metropolis backdrop filled with automobiles and telegrams, loudspeakers and blimps.

Therefore, the feel of the show right from the offset is markedly different from Last Airbender which was set in an oddly per-Industrial age that still somehow had technology like tanks but not cars, where Korra is decidedly set in a jazzy age of modernity.

They are purposefully doing something different with the world of Avatar and that should be applauded. They could have easily have done a show in the same vein of The Last Airbender and it would have been successful, but they intentionally went a different route, like "how about we follow this thread instead of what people expected, this is cool".

And it is cool. There are as many elements of steampunk as there are mystic martial arts, from the aforementioned blimps to cameras, electro-gloves and steam powered man-tanks.
These Big Daddy things.

However, aside from its steampunk influence and kick ass jazzy soundtrack, the themes that Legend of Korra grapples with are much more complex and (this is not a knock against it in any way) mature than Last Airbender which for all the ways in which is was a rich and layered show, it still at its heart was a family show with children as its central characters. Which was great, but Korra is definitely aiming for adults.

And this is evident in the Equalist story from Book 1, it is a political thriller set in the world of Avatar. Non-benders form an anti-bending movement, started nefiriously by Amon, who yes, is himself a bender, but the sentiment behind the movement and why it gets so popular makes sense. The question of whether the people who have these powers have the right to use them on those that don't, or whether the abuse of that power has come at the expense of non-benders who, until the development of recent technology, had no means to respond or resist the might of malevolent benders, such as the Fire Nation or the Dai Li in Last Airbender.

These are valid questions of the use and abuse of power, might is right and so on. And the fact these issues are arising due to the development of new technology makes sense as the development of new technology always brings about change in some form or other. It's just that this technology is a way of leveling the playing field for non-benders.

But the show also has covered things like the pressures of responsibility and not knowing what to do when confronted by it, such as Korra agreeing under duress to join the task force to capture Amon because she is harassed by reporters and doesn't want to appear like she is neglecting her duties as the Avatar.
And like most Saturday morning cartoons it also featured brotherly murder-suicide.

And that's why I think some people had an issue with the balance of comedy and drama in Korra, because it was a more adult space and the comedy at times felt at odds with the serious tone of the show. For where, Last Airbender was a light toned serious with moments of drama and serious pathos, Korra is a "darker show with moments of light humor spread throughout".

Honestly, I thought the humour was great in Korra, just as it had been in Last Airbender but I understand why it would appear a bit off, since it seemed to stick out a bit in the more dramatic setting. But once the second Book came along, people knew what to expect of the show so things like Bolin's adventures acting as Nuktuk in movers were hilarious moments of levity amidst the dramatic tone of the show.

This is while things like the ongoing civil war between the water tribes, the really heavy familial drama with siblings Tenzin, Bumi and Kya, shady criminal dealings and Mako being all detective-y, not to mention the oncoming threat of spirit outbreak with no Ghostbusters to call are all going on.

In that context, people just loved that Korra was trying to out-Batman Batman with the whole vigilante interrogation thing.
I mean, does Batman have a polar bear dog acting like she'll bite a judge's head off? I don't think so.
Comedy gold.

It has to be noted that the second Book was a bit rocky, especially in regards to Korra, since a lot of her emotional development from the first Book didn't seem to be carried over and she seemed to be hitting the same beats again. She's rushing into things head on and is quite rambunctious with none of the patience you thought she learnt at the end of Book 1.

But this is how real people behave. We expect and want our fictional characters to grow and develop, learning from their mistakes and developing, but often people in the real world don't. Not because they don't want to or can't, but because change is hard and habits of behaviour are difficult to break.

However, she's not only being headstrong again but is angry. Like very angry. She is pissed off at her father, rightly so, for lying to her, seems oddly antagonistic towards Tenzin as her teacher and snaps at Mako for trying to be supportive or something. But I think that anger is key to understanding her stagnation as it is as a character.

Because it is frustration at having 'learnt' the lessons about patience and coping with the responsibility of being the Avatar, yet she still is not trusted by her father and Tenzin, who keep trying to protect and shield her, instead of allowing her to be her own person. Which is fair enough.

Where this becomes a problem in Book 2 is that her stubbornness and refusal to grow as a character soon just seems like a retread of her stubbornness and refusal to grow as a character in Book 1. However the difference is, that in Book 3, entitled Change, she actually has changed and become a more patient and intuitive character, having finally learnt the lessons we though she already learnt.

Well, finally. Someone who delivers on their campaign promises (eventually).

So, Korra can ultimately change and grapple with the issues and challenges that change can bring. That means you too change and grow as a person. Even if you have to retread your whole character arc from the first Book to do so.


The Legend of Korra Wikipedia page

The Legend of Korra Avatar wiki page

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