Friday, 15 July 2016

007 Announcement - The Second James Bond Month

Dundedun dun dun dun dundedun dun dun dun 

Welcome to the second edition of James Bond month. I'll be taking a short hiatus for research but Friday the 5th of August will see the first of three, yes, that's right, three articles covering the Roger Moore era of Bond.

The second James Bond Month will be capped by a post looking at the black sheep of the Bond franchise, covering George Lazenby's single outing as the world's most famous secret agent and Timothy Dalton's two missions in the late 1980s.

This is gonna be interesting since I haven't seen a lot of these films and don't entirely know what to expect aside from the casual misogyny, fancy gadgets, and outlandish adventures of course.

Friday, 8 July 2016

Family Ties in Legend of Korra - Book 2

Book 2 is often seen as the weakest season of Legend of Korra with some valid reasons. While it's not really the goal of this series of posts to examine the narrative or other elements of the show but rather to focus on the interpersonal relationships, I do want to address those critiques of Korra's second season and defend it a little.

Now, this might not be a popular opinion but I actually like Book 2 over Book 1. When I rewatched it, I noticed there was a lot more to be mined from a rewatch than when I watched Book 1 again. A lot of this has to do with the deepening relationships between the characters which I'll get into but also because Book 2 has some simply amazing moments.

The problem is that is an uneven season. The writers had written themselves into a bit of a corner with the end of Book 1 (since they didn't know they would get a second season) and started the season seeming with a number of interesting ideas, half of which they never explored.

They also had to dial back some of Korra's character development in the beginning of Book 2 becase of how they worked themselves into that corner, although as I have argued before
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.
I understand that this a bit of honeypot on my part, trying to explain away a flaw in the writing but I still stand by it to some degree. Honestly on the rewatch, while Korra does appear to be just as brash as she was in the first season and reacts to things in a confrontational way, most of the time she is justified in the way she feels, if not in her reaction.

"My father and my mentor purposely lied to me because of their overprotective paternal desire to 'keep me safe' despite the fact I'm the Avatar, while my boyfriend is seemingly supportive but passive aggressively undermines me due to his own ego issues.
So yes, I'm a little pissed, why'd you ask?"

Korra is frustrated at the sense of betrayal and lack of trust from the father figures in her life who are more concerned with controlling or shielding her in the name of keeping her safe than they are about letting her become her own person.

Korra had spent her whole life up to this point believing that Avatar Aang had decided it was best for her to live and train isolated in the Southern Water Tribe with the White Lotus but learns it was actually her father and Tenzin who made the call.

Add to this her frustration at her inability to develop spiritually is misdirected at Tenzin's teachings, it is no wonder that she responds positively to the first male authority figure in her life who tells her that he has faith in her and treats her as an adult instead of a child that he must shield from the world.

The fact Korra doesn't pick up that he is totally evil from the first second she meets him is understandable in those circumstances.

People forget but Korra is around 18 at the time of Book 2, she's a young adult who wants to establish her own identity but feels as though she is still treated like a child by the men in her life, especially by her father. In that context, while she definitely reacts far too angrily at times, there is a real cause behind those emotions that I think is often dismissed.

Most criticisms of Book 2 revolve around the retread of character developments from Book 1, Tumblr blogger beccatoria argues that the show repeats those beats to first deconstruct and then reform them,
"The latter half of the series began to rebuild itself in new and fascinating ways, but it was here that the series made a radical, handbrake turn. This was where Korra’s queer origin and radical future were expressly clarified."
For the second season is when the interpersonal relationships and familial drama between characters becomes incredibly intertwined and complex. The foundations of those relationships were laid in the first season but Book 2 steps it up massively.

Now it doesn't always work and the narrative occasionally presents some unintentionally problematic relationships without realising it (which we'll get to), but when it gets it right, it is some of the most touching and effective storytelling on television.

Pictured here.

I'm sorry but every scene with Tenzin's family and his siblings Bumi and Kya is golden. While other aspects of the story might have been uneven or even annoying (like the incompetent dumb detectives who were supposed to be foils to Mako), the fact that Book 2 had the familial drama of Tenzin's siblings more than balances out the missteps elsewhere.

There is so much to get into that it's hard to know where to start but I suppose a good place is with Aang. Aang, the beloved bald protagonist of The Last Airbender, wasn't a good father. He wasn't a terrible father but he wasn't there for all his children the way a good father is. And that is important.

It's a nice deconstruction of the idealisation of fatherhood, which is an important narrative to tell. Not in a "I never knew my father!" way, or even in villainous "he was an arsehole" way, but rather showing that although Aang was the protagonist of the previous season, he had aspects of his personality that didn't make for a great father.

Which was a bold move for the writers to make simply because of how much Aang was as a character, not to mention as the hero of the previous series. It would have been easy for them to depict Aang as a perfect dad. But his failures as a father are clear in the obvious favouritism he had towards Tenzin as his only child who could airbend, something which caused lingering resentment from Bumi and Kya.

Pictured here.

This isn't mentioning just how heavy Aang's legacy as the Avatar weighs down on his children. It affects each of his children but let's spare a tear for Bumi. As Aang's oldest child he felt a massive responsibility to uphold his father's legacy but as a non-bender he felt he let his father down.

I think LoK Gifs & Musings put this better than I ever could so I'll just quote her here,
"Bumi may well be one of the most tragic characters in the show. Though Aang and Katara likely wanted children, I’m sure given Aang’s status as the last airbender, they also felt a great responsibility to do so. Though I am sure Aang or Katara loved Bumi, the fact that their eldest was a nonbender had to have been a bit of a blow for them. And even though they seemed to let Bumi be free to follow his own passions (joining the military and drinking a lot of cactus juice, from what I can tell), there was a part of him that internalized the guilt of not being “enough” for his parents." 
Bumi's juvenile behaviour (especially for a man into his 60s) is his way of standing out even though he can't bend. Considering both his siblings are benders and formed bonds with their parents that he couldn't, it's no wonder he plays the clown to mask the internal sense of inadequacy he feels.

All of which is crystalises in the scene where Bumi talks to Aan's stature.

"Uh, hey there, dad. You're looking well.. Look, I'm sorry I didn't turn out to be an airbender like you hoped, but I've tried my best to make the world safe. Hope I made you proud." - Actual, heartbreaking, dialogue.

I think we have to move on to Tenzin now. Tenzin may be Aang and Katara's youngest child but as the only airbender, he felt a particular responsibility to uphold his father's legacy, even more so than Bumi.

Tenzin was so dedicated to preserving Aang's legacy as the Avatar that he created an idealisation of his father which glossed over Aang's real flaws as a parent. Also, this dedication meant he focused all his attention on being like his father instead of accepting that he is his father's son, not his father.

I don't want to go into this too much since LoK Gifs & Musings basically covered everything I want to say in her "I Am Tenzin" article. The only thing I will say is how Tenzin's journey to let go of his internalised guilt as a failed spiritual leader is combined with learning to let his daughter Jinora come into her own as the spiritual leader he couldn't be is something else. He escapes the spectre of his father at the same time that he, as a father, allows his own child to grow.


I don't want to seem like I'm neglecting Kya but she isn't given as much attention in the narrative as her brothers. That said, she has to deal with the emotional baggage of their less than ideal childhood as well and actually seems the most bitter of the siblings despite her empathetic caring nature.

For example, she is the one who snaps at Tenzin for idealising their father. While Bumi was definitely upset by the special attention Aang gave Tenzin, Kya seems genuinely hurt by it and became defensive as a result.

She tried to escape her family's legacy in her youth, travelling across the world while Bumi joined the military and Tenzin join the council in Republic City. However, she then went back to the Southern Water Tribe to look after their elderly mother after Aang died, which is something she chastises her brothers for failing to do.

On the other hand, after Bumi has his confessional moment talking to Aang's statue wondering if his father would be proud of him, Kya overhears and immediately says that of course Aang would be proud. She then gives him a hug as Bumi tells her she always knows when he needs one. It's a touching moment.

Sibling huggery.

Jumping back to Tenzin for a second, in light of the emotional journey that he goes through over the course the season  it's not surprising how constricting he is as Korra's teacher in the beginning of Book 2 and why she bristles against that.

I covered in my previous Korra post how the differences in their personalities make them the perfect teacher/student combination but only by adapting to each other. Now, although I can totally see where Korra is coming from, at times the anger she flashes at Tenzin seems unfair in light of his transgressions.

Regardless, their reunion in the second half of Book 2 and the fruition of their relationship as it blossoms by the end of the season is completely worth the (only) slightly contrived nature of their parting of ways in the beginning of the season.

Did I mention that Tenzin is the one who helps Korra complete her spiritual journey?
With hugs!

But before we celebrate the wonderfulness that is the familial drama of Tenzin's family and the blossoming of his relationship with Korra, I mentioned there were some problematic relationships in this season, so let's look at the most problematic - Bolin and his love interests, Eska and Ginger.

There's no other way to say this, Bolin is in an abusive relationship with Eska. She forces him to do things he doesn't want through intimidation, fear, and the threat of violence, isn't interested in his well-being, only in how he can better serve her. He isn't her boyfriend, he's her victim.

And yet the show presents this as something funny in a 'Oh, look at how Bolin can't get out of this abusive relationship, isn't it hilarious how Eska, a girl, dominates him and he just whimpers?' way. It's not like they ever examine the destructive nature of their relationship in a meaningful way, it's only depicted as a gag.

The fact they immediately follow this up by having Bolin sexually harass his co-worker Ginger on the set of their movers (old-timey film reels) is rather tone deaf, especially for a show that gets so many other things so right.

And let's be clear, Bolin is sexually harassing her. They're at their workplace, she told him that she wasn't interested and that he is confusing "Ginger the actress with Ginger the character" but he still continues to flirt inappropriately and make unwanted advances.

The difference between their facial expressions says it all.

And so we come to Mako and Korra. I discussed before how their relationship had a sense of contrivance to it since there never seemed to be any reason for them to get together aside from the fact that they were the male and female protagonists.

However, there is a lot wrong with Mako's behaviour and how he treats Korra that I didn't notice until this rewatch. The reason I didn't notice it the first time around was that I used to be a lot like Mako in terms of the type of boyfriend he is.

Therefore, I didn't see anything wrong with his actions despite the fact that they are only superficially supportive and actually quite defensive in nature. For example,
Korra: What do you think I should do?
Mako: I guess you should do what you think is right. I support whatever decision you make.
Korra: Oh thanks. That’s a big help.
Mako: I thought you wanted me to be supportive? Now you want me to tell you what I think? Make up your mind!
Korra: Just forget it.
I originally sided with Mako in this argument because it hit home with what I would likely would have said in the same position but then I realised that he isn't being supportive by withholding his opinion, he's avoiding conflict. Korra expressively asked him for advice and his response was to give an empty declaration of support for fear of her disapproval.

Like Mako, I wanted to place myself as the protector and feel useful to, or even needed by, the person I was with. This is something that's subsided now and I don't feel that same need to be a 'protector'. because I figured it's not necessary, and even more than that, it's infantilizing. If you see your partner as someone who needs to be protected constantly, you're not treating them as an equal but like a child in your care.

She really doesn't need anyone's protection.

However, I didn't have the same anxiety Mako has in regards to being dominated by Korra since I came more from a "white knight" place and didn't feel threatened by the accomplishments of my partner. Because Mako's ego does bristle at the fact Korra is the Avatar, with more responsibility and power than he will ever have.

At one point before their break up, Korra apologizes to Mako for her inconsistent behaviour and blowing up with him due to the stresses of her role as the world's protector,
Korra: By the way, I'm really sorry for being a total pain. Things were really stressful and pretty confusing. It's hard being the Avatar.
Mako: (jokingly) It’s harder being the Avatar’s boyfriend.
Mmmhmm, really? It's harder being the boyfriend of the most powerful person on the planet with the weight of innumerable political, social, spiritual, military pressures than being that person? I know, Mako's cracking a joke here but it does seem to indicate where his head's at.

I mean, he doesn't offer any substantial response or support to address the stress that Korra's feeling, he just makes a joke about how hard things are for him.

"Yeeeaah... not quite the supportive response I needed there, Mako." - Korra, probably.

So yeah, its't not at all surprising that once they get back to Republic City and Mako is able to go back to his job as a police officer that even his pretense of support for Korra kinda evaporates. It's like as soon he is back into his role as a 'protector' in an official capacity, he's freed himself from having to support Korra.

He practically blames her for the civil war between the Water Tribes even though in the previous episode he helped her break her father out of prison, an inciting incident for the war in the first place. After Korra visits the President of Republic City to ask for his help in the war and he refuses, she complains to Mako who agrees with the President.

He eventually betrays Korra's plan to get the Republic fleet without the President's permission which leads to their breakup. All because he felt his job was more important than their relationship due to the insecurity he felt at being 'dominated' by Korra. While he loved her as a person, he couldn't accept her role as the Avatar.

This is more obvious when later in the season he is willing to risk his job to be a protector for Asami, setting up a sting mission without proper approval. Unlike with Korra, Mako doesn't feel threatened by Asami's power (she is a wealthy industrialist after all) in the same way and therefore doesn't need to hold on to his official police officer role as 'protector' with her.

To be fair to Mako, I would want to protect Asami as well if she looked at me like this.
Then I remember that she is a highly intelligent and capable person who holds her own in a team of benders.

In regards to the whole Mako/Korra thing, I'm glad they showed the dissolution of their relationship. It really seems like a deconstruction of the 'inevitability' of them getting together in Book 1 simply because they were the male and female protagonists and highlighted why they shouldn't be a couple.

I'm going to have to end it here but again there were things I didn't get to touch on, like the retread of brother vs brother with Unalaq and Tonraq, Korra's relationship with her parents, the dynamics of Tenzin's children, or Bolin and Asami's wonderful bromance.

This gif is everything.

Oh, well. Maybe next time.

Book 3 in this series will come out whenever I manage to finish the season. I should probably get on to that.


The Legend of Korra: Deliberately Deconstructed - beccatoria

Korra's Relationships - Avatar Wiki

Bolin's Relationships - Avatar Wiki

Meta: Mako’s Castration Anxiety - LoK Gifs & Musings

Bumi, Kya, and Tenzin: Analysis - LoK Gifs & Musings

I Am Tenzin - LoK Gifs & Musings

Friday, 1 July 2016

The Anatomy of a Fight Scene

Fight scenes are often maligned as dumb bits of action with little intellectual or thematic worth. I mean, there's a reason why action movies aren't often considered films that say something or have little artistic merit.

To be fair to that critique, most action movies, while enjoyable on a visceral level, don't have much to say about the human experience but then the same could be said of most genres. More often than not, their goal isn't to make a profound comment on the meaning of life but rather to entertain, which is valid aspiration in its own right.

However, the value of action movies not really what I want to focus on. Instead, I want to examine what makes some fight scenes work and others not. There's an art in choreographing the perfect fight scene and what needs to go into giving that fight scene weight. For example, a fight scene might look great but feel hollow or another might look simple yet be completely engaging.

Let's start with Star Wars, a very good place to start. Okay, I'm going to real here for a second, speaking purely in terms of action and the choreography, this scene is simply boring. There's nothing visually interesting and the lightsaber "battle" is just a bunch of old guys tapping glow-sticks at each other while talking.

However, this scene is often praised over the complicated flippy twirling battles in the dreaded Prequels where Jedi are bouncing here and there and everywhere with back-flips and Force aided acrobatics. That doesn't make sense, right? Surely, the more visually stimulating an action scene, the better? Not if those visuals don't have any meaning to them.

In the clip above, while it is is rather restrained visually, there is so much narrative and thematic weight to the fight that it feels more far more epic than it actually is. Through the dialogue you get the backstory of Obi-Wan and Darth Vader which frames their fight as a confrontation between former friends who were once in a master-student relationship. The fight has meaning, which is why,

Hmm, Obi-Wan didn't do a back flip in this one?

People remember that fight fondly because it had consequence. It also had a purpose within the narrative since it ended with the death of Obi-Wan, an act which was needed for Luke's character development and the fulfillment of his hero's journey.

As Tumblr blogger meddlingwithdragons puts it,
“A fight is conversation. With stabbing. But still, it’s communication. You’re supposed to learn things about people in the fight. And not just oooo shiny swords moving.”
This comes through in the fight with Obi-Wan and Darth Vader. You see the dynamic at play between them, not only through their dialogue but through their fighting styles and the type of fight they're having.

They're older men and their movements are slowed by age but Obi-Wan favours parries and controlled stabs to Darth Vader's more forceful thrusts and slashes. This mirrors their different personalities and perspectives - it actually says something about their character ans what this fight means to both men and the story as a whole.

And then we get this,

What is this even?

The Yoda versus Count Dooku fight in Attack of the Clones is one of those things which seems like a good idea at the time and is kinda fun while you're doing it but immediately regret afterwards when you think about it for more than two seconds.

Now, I don't want to harsh on the Prequels since that is a dead horse which has been well and truly beaten to a pasty mulch but let's just examine that scene for a moment in contract to the Obi-Wan versus Darth Vader one just discussed.

The scene opens after Dooku has easily defeated young Obi-Wan and Anakin. Yoda walks in all boss-like and Dooku starts throwing things at him with the Force, including some CGI lightning which hasn't aged that well, which Yoda deflects. Dooku then declares they must settle this by their skills with a lightsaber and so they fight.

And by fight, I mean, Yoda jumps around flipping this way and that while Dooku twirls his lightsaber around, both occasionally hitting the other but missing just as much (see above gif). There's absolutely no wait to this fight. Yoda is a CGI Muppet and it shows that Dooku is fighting something that isn't really there.

Just in case you missed it.

Also, Yoda tells Dooku that he has fought well and drops the bombshell that he was once his Padawan - near the end of the fight, undercutting any impact that revelation might have had during the fight itself since it's after the fact. And the Dooku bounces out of there.

It's obvious that they were trying to recall the whole student gone dark versus wise master thing but it just falls flat. I might have blocked large parts of Attack of the Clones from my memory but I don't think Yoda or Dooku have ever mentioned each other before this.

In A New Hope, one of the first things Obi-Wan does is give Luke some backstory (later retconned in Return of the Jedi) about how his father was betrayed by a former pupil of his who was seduced by the dark side of the Force, Darth Vader. So when they face off later in the movie, you understand the history between the characters.

"I didn't even mention that time your father and I fought on a lava moon and I chopped off his limbs, leaving him to die."

But the Yoda/Dooku fight doesn't even work with the choreography for the scene. Yoda's spastic twirling and hyperactive jumping don't really lend the fight the gravitas which would match the type of emotional beat they're trying to go for. Furthermore, the editing continually cuts away to hide the imperfections in the fight or changes to a close up when their lightsabers engage so you don't notice the Christopher Lee's stunt double or the average CGI.

This is supposed to be a fight between a master confronting an old student who has betrayed his teachings. However, all I see is an old guy in a cape randomly swinging a red laser sword at a jumping frog-thing with a green laser sword. The only thing that makes this feel epic is the music, which hits the intense tone just right. Too bad the fight itself feels empty.

Staying with Star Wars, because why wouldn't we stay with Star Wars, I want to contrast that fight to Rey and Kylo Ren's lightsaber battle at the end of The Force Awakens. There's no way I can contain my enthusiasm for how much I love this scene but I'll do my best.

Firstly, the cinematography and lighting is just brilliant. Each shot is frame perfectly and gives you the full sense of the fight with no tricky editing to disguise or hide mishits. It's nearly all shot in long shot or medium shot, with close ups only used for a purpose (which we'll get to).

And each swing of the lightsaber had substance to it. In the Prequels, a big problem was that lightsabers were swung as they had no physical weight, like a glowing plastic sword. When lightsabers clashed in those movies, there was no oomph behind that clash, it might as well have been two pillows smacking into each other.

But in this fight a lightsaber seems physically heavy and when they clash there is a real collision there. Rey and Kylo Ren don't jump around each other light as a feather, they swing their lightsabers with some exertion. This isn't an easy thing and it feels like they are wielding supremely dangerous weapons. Each blow seems heavy and packs a punch.

And then there are the close ups. remember I said we'll get to them? Most of the fight is shot in medium or long shot, framing the fight in camera with no tricky editing. The only real time we get a close up is of Rey's face where Kylo Ren has her pinned and says she needs a teacher to learn about the Force. She then closes her eyes and opens herself up to the Force (something she had been actively rejecting), turning the tide of the battle.

This is not the face of a woman who was losing this fight a few seconds before. 

We also see Kylo Ren's face in close up as he watches this transformation with some puzzlement, not realising he had inadvertently given Rey the means to defeat him. My point is that these close ups had a point and served to show what each character was going through emotionally.

Not to mention that the setting of the dark snowy forest is inspired and just lets the heavy blue and bright red of their lightsabers really stand out. The fact that the planet is coming apart forming gigantic caverns is something else, I know this isn't the most original visual metaphor for the destructive forces at play in their fight but the way it actually ends the battle with one of them on each side of a gigantic cavern creates a striking visual which is quite effective.

This fight is not only epic, it feels mythic, like something from an old legend. The duality of dark and light, the wonderful choreography, the forest setting on a planet falling apart, the dynamic at play between Rey and Kylo Ren. It's just beautifully done.

Speaking of things, which are beautifully done, let's leave a galaxy far, far away to talk about Daredevil.

In this scene, instead of being an invincible badass, we see Daredevil getting tired as the fight wears on. He has to catch his breath after dispatching bad guys, pausing before going to the next one, his punches getting looser, arms heavier. By the end of the fight, he can barely walk into the room where the child was being held captive but forces himself to. It feels real in a way so few fight scenes are. And it is expertly crafted.

Daredevil was actually why I wanted to write about fight scenes in the first place. The fight scenes in Daredevil are impeccable, just everything you could want in a fight scene. So much so that I looked up who was the stunt coordinator for the show which isn't something I think I've ever done before.

His name is Philip Silvera, by the way, and he also did the stunts for Deadpool, which were great for the complete opposite reason to Daredevil, over the top and hilarious opposed to brutal and realistic. Eschewing the wire martial arts which has been in vogue since The Matrix and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, the choreography on Daredevil emphasises fatigue and vulnerability with hits that have real oomph behind them.

And they are designed to serve the story. In Silvera's own words,
"I hate repeating the same story or telling the same story. The stairwell fight that everybody's talking about, it's the one shot fight on crack. I like to think it's its own, it's its own piece right now. Not trying to do what we did last season 'cause that was unique to that story and I think this one is unique to this story."
Because a good fight scene helps tell the story. Here's that stairwell scene he's referring to:

I'm sorry but that is possibly the most impressive fight scene I've seen in years, definitely among the best ever on television. That's a five minute fight in a single take tracking along as it moves down a stairwell. I can't imagine the amount of planning and practice it took into bringing that fight to the screen since everything needed to be thought out and executed perfectly. They didn't have cuts to hide behind.

It also tells a different story than the hallway fight from the previous season. That Daredevil was still inexperienced and learning, only half-healed after an ambush. The hallway scene was supposed to emphasise his determination and grit, not refusing to stop even though his body ached.

The stairwell scene showcases an older and more confident Daredevil. He has full command of the environment around him. He even uses what could have been a handicap (his one hand has a chain wrapped around it while his other hand has an empty gun duck-taped to it) as an asset.

The fight is still difficult and tiring (he's exhausted by the time he gets down the stairs) but shows how far he has come as a fighter while still highlighting that his determination to keep fighting despite the odds hasn't wavered.

There's a reason "daredevil fight choreography is the third auto-complete search term if you Google "action choreography".
Fight scenes shouldn't just be guys punching each other or swinging swords with no point aside from looking cool. They should tell a story and reveal something about the characters.

A fight is a conversation, so it should say something. It's speaking with punches and swords.


A few thoughts on GoT’s fight scenes - turtle-paced

Daredevil: Exclusive Behind-the-Scenes Fight Footage

Philip Silvera IMDb page