DID IT

Hey.

Today, being the last day of November, is when NaNoWriMo comes to an end.

And I friggin’ did it.

50,000 words (and change) written in a month. Somehow.

I’ve no real idea where this story’s going and I’m pretty sure about 50% of those words are trash, but I did it. That’s 50,000 words done.

Finishing the novel is for another day, now it’s time for video games and whiskey.

Expect some regular scheduled geekery next Saturday.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Ah, Crap, It’s 7pm.

Hey!

If you’re wondering, yes, I’m still doing NaNoWriMo while trying to remain a functional adult! (I’ve also, by my count, consumed, twenty beers, nine cups of coffee, seven bottles of kombucha, and seven whiskey sours [amongst other beverages] while writing this month [yes, I am keeping count, and yes, I usually write in the evenings])

And I just realized it’s 7pm and y’all need to hear something from me because, I dunno, blogs are supposed to be ~regular~.

So. Hi. I live.

In my non-writing misadventures I’ve been clicking around the internet, and in so doing came across a LetsPlay of The Last of Us by Nolan North, Troy Baker, and Hana Hayes. Troy and Hana play Joel and Sarah, the main characters in the opening of The Last of Us (which, if you’ll recall, broke me) and Nolan, the voice of Nathan Drake in Uncharted, hasn’t played the game before.

I did not watch the video, because it’s really hard to get me to sit down and watch something and I don’t usually see the appeal of watching other people play video games, which, for the uninitiated, is what a LetsPlay is.

But I did see a screencap from it, courtesy of the Kotaku comment section:

That’s their response upon hitting the title card after the devastating prologue. Nolan’s face on the right is one of pain and shock, which is fitting giving the prologue. It’s also why I’m so hesitant to engage with a piece of media I bought (again) nearly a year ago and have had sitting downloaded on my PS4 since. Waiting. Waiting to break me.

I could wax poetic about how wonderful video games are with how they can give you a visceral feeling of doing stuff, but I’ve words to write. It’s also a horse I feel like I’ve beaten to death on this blog and there are better and more interesting to write about (eg: The wacky nonsense of Star Wars). But there will also be time later for that when I’m not trying to knock out 50,000 words in a month.

Instead, here’s a bullet point list of Pop-Culture Thoughts I Have:

  • The Mandalorian is excellent
    • It captures so much of what made movies like The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly so good.
      • Including the humor!
    • I love the low stakes of Chapter 2.
    • I love how Star Wars-y Chapter 3 feels.
    • I love how it feels like a good RPG plays.
  • I really want to play Star Wars: Fallen Order and The Outer Worlds and Death Stranding but I’m WRITING and have not the time to really dig in to a game.
  • Folks, The Good Place gives me all the warms and fuzzies.
  • The Star Wars books Resistance Reborn  and The Legends of Luke Skywalker are both very good for very different reasons. The former is very much a Star Wars adventure, the latter is essentially a treatise on stories and legends using Luke Skywalker as a focus.
  • Jojo Rabbit is very good and very wonderful and very cute and very warm and a movie you should definitely go see.

 

Cheers, folks; I’m at 37,455 words.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

A Post

Hello. It’s November, a month where some people opt to forgo shaving for no other reason the alteration (and sometimes fundraising). It is also a month where foolish people try and write a 50,000 word novel with in its thirty days.

Reader, I am one of those fools.

In light of National Novel Writing Month, I’ve been writing pell-mell to try and reach my goal, and, as such, am going to forgo my usual rant essay this week (the last couple had been prepared in advance! I’m sneaky like that).

So maybe check out an older post. I’ve been in a science fiction mood (owing in no small part to the release of The Mandalorian and what I’ve been writing), and I really think it’s an important genre, as I rambled about on Christmas Eve three years ago. Or look at my new fancy website www.joshuatong.com.

I know this is a cop out, and you oughta expect another one next week and possibly the week after, but trust me, I’ll be back going on and on about Star Wars and whathaveyou soon enough.

But seriously, The Mandalorian is so good and it wears its spaghetti western influence on its sleeve, and not just in the gruff cowboy trope, but its use of comedy and more. That, however, is a post for another day.

Cheers,

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

What Is It Good For?

I’ve logged a really unholy number of hours in Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey. It’s a fun game, and there’s just so much to do. Plus, I’m easily distracted and so merrily go off assassinating nation leaders and taking part in conquest battles. It was during one of those conquest battles where I was fighting alongside the Spartans/Athenians to wrest control of some nation-state or another from Athens/Sparta that I finally got ahold of what Odyssey’s stance is on war.

Before I go any further, yes, the game has a stance on war. Any story that deals with the topic absolutely does. The Call of Duty games fall pretty firmly into the camp of wars must be fought to stop the bad guys. Star Wars sees all-out war as a tragedy (note that the start of the Clone Wars was a downbeat) and sees scrappy insurgencies as the recourse of good guys when others idle around to let evil men run rampant. The ultimate goal of the heroes is peace, not to fight more wars. Tolkien presents war as a place for honor and glory in The Lord of The Rings, but he is not blind to the horrors of warfare. The veteran of World War I spares thought for the horrors of warfare. The first time he sees a battle between Men – not Men and Elves against Orcs, but Men fighting Men – Sam is decidedly unsettled, wondering of a fallen foe “what the man’s name was and where he came from; and if he was really evil of heart, or what lies or threats had led him on the long march from his home; and if he would not really rather have stayed there in peace.” Tolkien appears to believe that peace would be preferred.

But can a war story be anti-war? There’s a quip by François Truffaut saying that no war film can be anti-war. There’s a nugget of truth there, no matter how terrible what is presented onscreen, ultimately there will be some pleasure on behalf of the audience for it to work narratively; warfare will be glorified to some extent. I’m not sure if I’m entirely onboard with that.  Dr. Strangelove is a bitter satire of nuclear politics that makes no glory of soldiering, but it’s also not a movie about a war so much as it is about the idea of war. Comparatively, The Hurt Locker does have soldiers doing badass stuff, but we’re also privy to the personal toll it takes on them; epic guitar riffs are meant to be discordant with the reality. It’s hard for a movie to be anti-war.

And video games? Spec-Ops: The Line is fiercely anti-war, and all your badass glory is The Hurt Locker’s discordance ramped up several notches. You’re mowing down fellow American soldiers and burning civilians with white phosphorus. You are not a good person. The Metal Gear Solid games praise the honor of soldiers, but director Hideo Kojima has little good to say of the countries who send them to die. Naked Snake grows disillusioned with the United States in Snake Eater after the Americans order his mentor to betray the country to embed herself with the Soviets to weaken them then ordering Snake to assassinate her — to his commendation and her degradation. Perhaps the absolute that there can be no anti-war films (or games) is too stark a statement, perhaps it’s often a lot more nuanced than that.

So back to Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey. You are awesome. Kassandra (who you play as lest you’d rather pick Dude McBlandman) kicks all the ass. Spears are stabbed into enemies, opposing soldiers sent running in awe of your might. Conquest Battles — big fights between the warring factions — are another chance for you to prove your martial prowess (and get some sweet loot). Now, Kassandra is a misthios, a mercenary, and so she can fight for whichever side she wants. But here’s some ludonarrative dissonance. As part of the story I’ll be helping Sparta take over a country, then hop across the border and fight for Athens, slaughtering Spartans. Which, okay, I’m a mercenary. Makes sense. But, due to the way the game works, I can roll up into a war camp, kill everyone except for the unkillable NPC who gives me the Conquest quest, and when I talk to said NPC he’ll be happy to see me despite the ground being littered with his dead compatriots. Ah, video games.

And war.

As far as Odyssey is concerned, war is pointless and random. Today’s allies are tomorrow’s enemies; the allegiance of any nation-state is up for grabs at a moment’s notice. Ultimately, it’s all meaningless, small pieces being moved around on a bigger chessboard whose players have no concern for the pawns. If Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey is to be ascribed a position on war, and it ought to be since it is a game that takes place during one, it is one of nihilism. No matter how much the narrative may account for a just war or honor, ultimately, it’s just the same dance over and over again with different partners.

But it’s really fun, though.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Shoeless Superheroes

Today we’re going to talk about one panel from a comic:

noshoes.png

It’s from Agents of Atlas issue #3 by Greg Pak and Nico Leon with colors by Rachelle Rosenberg and lettering by Joe Sabino. At this moment, the titular agents are meeting in their secret headquarters to discuss some potentially nefarious shenanigans that are happening.

And, naturally, all these superheroes have taken their shoes off.

Okay, so, the Agents of Atlas are all ethnically Asian. You’ve characters like Amadeus Cho and Cindy Moon, Korean-Americans based out of New York and Pearl Pangan from the Philippines and Lei Ling of Shanghai. There’s even a handy map on the credits page to offer an easy rundown:

AOA Map.jpeg

Look at that multi-nationality! | Greg Pak, Nico Leon, Rachelle Rosenberg, Joe Sabino / Marvel Comics

 

 

Yes, there’s a gut reaction to dismissing this sort of team-up as being pandering; it’s just Marvel realizing they’ve got a dearth of Asians and are mashing them all into one comic to highlight them and hope that combined their combined appeal can move books. Consider it tokenism but on steroids. Yet Atlas is able to get past that by applying verisimilitude to its fiction. An early beat during their War of The Realms introduction has the diverse cast (and yes, they are diverse: there’s a world of difference between being Chinese and Korean) sitting down to eat and bonding over the myriad of ways to prepare spam. It’s a quick gag, but one that quickly conjured up memories of how I’ve been served it in the past.

So the third issue and the lack of shoes.

I wrote not too long ago about how much I loved a beat of Always Be My Maybe that involves running kids taking off their shoes indoors and that same sentiment is in play here. It’s an absolute darn delight to see that tiny bit of detail. I take my shoes off indoors! And so do Silk and Shang Chi! There’s even a genkan where the shoes are left and fuzzy slippers available for indoor use. This ain’t some half-assed representation. It’s a small detail that’s really big in that it very much establishes that a) these characters are Asian beyond being drawn/named such, and 2) when given the opportunity will embrace that part of their culture.

There’s a narrative component to it too!

What’s it mean that they took their shoes off when going into their headquarters? Understand that taking your shoes off somewhere belies a sense of respect and comfort/intimacy. You don’t take your shoes off at the office or the movie theatre, but you definitely do in someone’s home and, in some parts of Asia, restaurants too. When someone like me — who’s been taking his shoes off in houses his entire life — sees this, it instantly communicates a lot of information about the people and where they are.

The Agents of Atlas are comfortable in their headquarters. Not like “ah, I’m comfy here,” but they treat it like a home. Sure, they’re all still in costume, but it’s somewhere they can take their shoes off. For someone like me, that feeling of taking off my shoes when I get home is a little marker that “yep, I’m back.” Thus seeing this being acknowledged in the comic is a delightful nod that immediately establishes how these characters feel about where they are.

It also helps with the conflict! In the scene we find ourselves in, Amadeus Cho, leader of the Agents, is wary of newcomer Isaac Ikeda — a hero in the employ of the entrepreneur responsible for the aforementioned potentially nefarious shenanigans. Amadeus didn’t invite Isaac; he’s surprised to even see him in the headquarters. Maybe he’s paranoid (he’s not quite sure), but he doesn’t want Isaac in their secret base, and for Isaac to be there — in this place where they’re able to take their shoes off! — isn’t unlike a roommate bringing home that super sketchy dude from the bar. This is made clear in the dialogue, of course, but the complication of the shoes adds an additional subtextual layer to it all.

Oh, diversity and representation. How I do harp on them. But this is why! This panel brought me such joy! This detail means so much to me because it’s something that I understand and speaks to me from a frame of reference I’m familiar with. Look, I’m a biracial third-culture-kid who’s an immigrant on both sides of the Pacific; I take the wins where I can find them. And yes, that means a comic where the superhero team takes off their shoes indoors. It’s important!

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Let’s Rank Star Wars Movies!

There’s a thing going around on the internet where people are ranking the Star Wars movies and, of course, other people complaining about people ranking the Star Wars movies. Now because I am who I am, I saw this and thought “Hey, that’d make a great rant essay!” since it’s an opportunity for an introspective look at the Star Wars movies (and definitely not an easy copout).

Of the ten movies to choose from (we’re omitting Clone Wars for obvious reasons), it’s pretty easy for me to put what I’d wager is tenth: Revenge of The Sith. Hold on, you say, Sith as the worst? In a world where Phantom Menace and Clones exist? Yes, strawman, yes. See, Sith is almost entirely reliant on us caring about Anakin’s arc, given that it’s about his fall and how that shapes the galaxy. The problem is that Sith doesn’t sell us on that, with Anakin’s big moment being the equivalent of the sitcom trope of a character walking in on two others in a compromising position and one saying “this isn’t what it looks like!” It’s frustrating, especially since the Clone Wars show would later go on to characterize Anakin in such a better way. Oh, there are some cool moments to be sure, but ultimately the movie is let down by its failure to execute a convincing fall from grace. Also, they completely sideline Padmé, which is terrible.

The other two prequels are in close contention with each other. Attack of The Clones is let down by a… not great love story, but one that’s buoyed by a cool third act, Obi-Wan’s detective story, and the amazing piece of music that is “Across The Stars.” I know The Phantom Menace is a bit of a mess, but it’s a lot of fun and Obi-Wan vs Darth Maul is one of the three best fights in Star Wars. Plus: Qui-Gon! For me, there’s a decent amount of positives for both movies.

Solo is another one that just doesn’t quite hit the mark. It’s certainly a bunch of fun and works well enough (with some great supporting performances and easter eggs that make me happy), but ultimately I’m not sure if it’s really all that more than ‘fine.’ Though it doesn’t annoy me quite as much as Sith, it’s nothing to really write home about it. I think, for now, Solo gets ninth, Phantom Menace eighth, and Clones seventh because, yes, Across The Stars is that freaking good.

The next chunk is when ranking gets tougher. Rogue One scratches so many itches for me (ragtag multinational team! badass woman! AT-ATs!), I want to put it higher. Return of The Jedi has a phenomenal climax, affords Vader so much complexity, and has Ewoks, which also makes me like it so much. A New Hope started it all and The Force Awakens is such a celebration of that spirit of the Original Trilogy that it’s almost difficult to rank one without the other.

Here’s where some of Star Wars rankings get really hairy. We can’t rank them in a vacuum, what with them working together and also being inspired off of each other. I put Solo so low because it doesn’t quite rise to the heights of the others. A New Hope is such an odd little movie (it takes a while before we meet our main character, Luke, and before that, it’s a lot of watching robots wander in the desert) but it somehow works so well it deserves recognition — plus it’s what started this whole thing. Perhaps now it’s time for ties: Rogue One and A New Hope are fifth and Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens are third. I know, Jedi over Hope is an unorthodox choice, but its handling of a climactic battle on three fronts is absolutely masterful. Also, I really like Ewoks, man.

Finally, we’re left with Empire Strikes Back and The Last Jedi. I used my make-it-a-tie lifeline last time so I can’t do so now, because that’d really be a disappointing copout (and this post is certainly not a copout, y’hear?). Both movies expand on and play with what’s been established by the prior movies, and both magnificently juggle very dark themes with radiant hope. Though I love The Last Jedi for so many things big and small (including the best Star Wars fight in the throne room and also porgs), I think I have to, cliche as it is, give the title to Empire. Its pacing is pitch-perfect, the romance between Han and Leia is excellent, Yoda lifting the X-Wing will never not be profoundly powerful, and Luke vs Vader is the second-best Star Wars fight. Plus: AT-ATs.

In sum, my ranking is:

1. The Empire Strikes Back

2. The Last Jedi

3. The Force Awakens

3. Return of The Jedi

5. A New Hope

5. Rogue One

7. Attack of The Clones

8. The Phantom Menace

9. Solo

10. Revenge of The Sith

Naturally, these are all my opinion and should be treated thusly. In addition, they are liable to change at any given time and I will not be held accountable for them.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Arthur Fleck and Emmet Brickowski

I saw Joker this week. It’s a movie that’s exceptionally well crafted, and also a movie that’s profoundly disturbed and ill-equipped to handle its subject matter to the point where it enters into the realm of very bad taste. This movie is one that kinda really hates women and also merrily parrots the idea that mentally ill loners are the cause of mass shootings but ultimately doesn’t have anything to say about anything, left me feeling really icky as I left the cinema.

So maybe let’s talk about something else I also did this week that I did really like: putting together a LEGO set while listening to music and drinking a beer. The set, Emmet’s Dream House/Rescue Rocket, is based on The LEGO Movie 2, and is, um, exactly what it sounds like. I built the Dream House (you can choose which one!) because it’s absolutely adorable. Though it ultimately plays a minor role in the film, Emmet’s Dream House is actually pretty dang important to his arc in the film.

The LEGO Movie 2 exchanges Bricksburg of the first movie for Apocalypseburg, a world where everything is dark, bleak, and edgy. Except for Emmet. He builds a house on the edge of town for him and Lucy. This house, by the by, is not dissimilar to a house they crashed through shortly after they first met in the prior movie. Which is a very cute touch because, hey, history. Now Lucy hasn’t got any time for domestic tranquility, because this is not what their life is about (it’s dark and broody!), and so dismisses Emmet out of hand.

When Lucy, Batman, Benny, and several other characters get captured by General Mayhem, it’s up to Emmet to go after them. But he needs a ship. So, using his Master Builder skills, he takes apart his dream house and rebuilds it into a rocket (a rescue rocket) to go save his friends. He’s quite explicitly dismantling his dreams in favor of doing the right thing, since, well, they’re worth it. In space, however, he runs into trouble and is saved by the enigmatic, badass Rex Dangervest. Unlike Emmet, Rex is a Master Breaker — a skill he demonstrates by destroying Emmet’s Rescue Rocket.

Rex is undeniably cool: he’s edgy, he has pet raptors, he’s wise to the world and everything Emmet is not. Emmet wants to be him because, hey, that’s what the world of Apocalypseburg needs now, right? It’s 2019; heroes are anti-heroes, it’s a crappy place, and there’s no space for the happy-go-lucky Emmet. Building stuff’s not cool; breaking stuff is.

Joker is a weird movie in that its protagonist’s fate is to become an iconic villain, not terribly unlike Anakin Skywalker in the Star Wars prequels. But once Revenge of The Sith sees Anakin’s (poorly executed) arc reach his fall, the movie neither lionizes him nor wants us to sympathize with him. We’re not cheering him on as he massacres children in the Jedi Temple or slaughters the Separatist leadership, we’re supposed to mourn his fall from grace. Joker, however, has Arthur cross a line quite early on and asks us to stay on board with him even as he (and the film) goes more off the rails.

Using a vague, unnamed mental illness to ask for the audience’s sympathy, the movie almost wants to bill itself as The Portrait of the Mass-Murderer As a Young Man, though with not point to its depravity other than “look what society made him do.” Joker’s murders are portrayed as him lashing out from his patheticness, a hurting man gaining the semblance of control. It sparks a movement of sorts, with others taking up the cause of a killer clown who puts the wealthy in their place. But here too the movie is muddled. There are only two camps the movie will let you, the viewer, fall into: either you are part of the system that tramples downtrodden people like Arthur, or you are a member of the downtrodden for whom Joker is your martyrial icon. The latter an extrapolation; the film’s finale sees Joker’s unconscious body carried by rioters like a perverse Pietá, and the unruly masses watch him in vigil.

The Joker is a fantastic villain. Mark Hamill’s portrayal of him in the Batman cartoons and Arkham Asylum video games offer a twisted, psychopathic maniac with outlandish plots to steal and destroy. The Dark Knight positioned the Joker as chaos personified, a Hobbesian foil to Batman’s belief in justice and order. That film, with its psyche split into the Freudian trio of Batman, Joker, and Harvey Dent, explored the idea of heroism and villainy, and whether goodness can stand in the face of men who just want to watch the world burn. Joker, conversely, has no such ideas, instead choosing to echo the manifestos of white terrorists I see on the news and play it off as some profound observation about life.

Forgive me, then, if I don’t enjoy a nihilistic film that hasn’t much more to say about nihilism than how it means nothing. Forgive me if I’d rather not watch a film that lionizes the lone gunman and reiterates that mental-illness is what causes mass shootings (it’s not). Forgive me if I’m sickened by a film that climaxes in a self-described mentally ill loner in clown makeup shooting in a theatre of people, barely seven years since a man in clown makeup shot up a theater in real life.

It turns out, in The LEGO Movie 2, that Rex is really an Emmet from the future, who grew disillusioned and believes that the only way to deal with anything is by being gruff and edgy, that there is no space for childish things. But Emmet realizes that, no, his hope and joy is valuable even in a terrible world. Dark grittiness only gets you so far, and expecting everything to be antagonistic and malicious only fosters more of the same. Taking stuff apart is cool and all, but where’s its worth without building something too? Amid an apocalyptic wasteland, it is worth building a bright yellow dream house for you and your loved ones.

This isn’t to say that isolating yourself from reality is the right course of action, far from it. The world’s terrible enough as it is, and though there are times when it’s worth it to engage with it thoughtfully. Emmet, and the other characters in The Lego Movie 2, come to realize that everything’s not awesome, but that doesn’t mean things are hopeless, turns out it’s still worth it to try and make things better, you can still choose joy. I do like a bleak and twisted story (Roald Dahl’s “Genesis and Catastrophe” comes to mind, alongside Taxi Driver and Spec Ops: The Line), but I like them to have a point to it all. Darkness can be used to highlight society’s ills and our own relation to them, but grimdark bleakness for its own sake is, ultimately, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized