Top Ten Movie Challenge Thing

There’s been this thing circulating around online challenging people to post a collection of top ten movies. I’m not a huge fan of ranking things, because it’s arbitrary, limited, and tends to change on a dime. Heck, I do a Top Nine every year and more often than not I’ll see something later that I’ll wish I’d added or something else will emerge as being a bit of a dark horse.

In any case, a friend of mine challenged me to do this and, after much consternation, I decided to just take the plunge. I’m loath to call these a Top Ten, as opposed to just ten movies that I really like for a variety of reasons. There are certainly omissions, but screw it. Here are ten movies I really like, with a gorgeous still from each with a little bit of a blurb.

Pacific Rim

Pacific Rim

It’s hard for me to overstate how much I absolutely adore this movie. Yes, there are my beloved giant robots, but it’s a hopeful movie, where the apocalypse can be canceled. The end isn’t the end.

Up

Up

Tied with Wall-E for being the best Pixar film. Magnificent all around.

Police Story

Police Story

Jackie Chan is tragically underrated as a filmmaker. Police Story balances a variety of tones and is a fantastic kung-fu romp.

Empire Strikes Back

ESB

If I had to choose on Star Wars, it might be this one.

Fruitvale Station

Fruitvale

This movie wrecked me.

Captain America: Civil War

Civil War

Pending Captain Marvel, probably my favorite MCU movie (subject to change). Anything that lets us get into Tony’s head.

Lost in Translation

lost in translation

Beautiful meditation on loneliness.

Scott Pilgrim

Scott Pilgrim

It’s about self-respect.

The Return of The King

Return of The King

It was hard to pick a shot for this one. But I like this, the hobbits are finally home after an adventure that no one around them could care for.

The Princess Bride

Princess Bride

Everything I love about 80s movies; an unabashed earnestness that knows it could be cynical but chooses not to be.

 

 

 

BONUS: The Last Jedi

Last Jedi

Behold, my favorite shot from one of my favorite movies that absolutely had to be included.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Play Together

Easily the highlight of my time playing Destiny was Vault of Glass. It’s a raid, that is a really difficult mission that requires serious teamwork and a pretty major time investment. It took work to even find a group to play with: I play on the PS4 and didn’t know anyone else who played Destiny. So I had to the internet to find a group who wanted to run Vault of Glass and were okay with bringing someone along who hadn’t done it before (me).

It took us around five hours.

Destiny’s raids are notoriously Big Deals. There are enemies to fight you won’t find anywhere else in the game, some fights necessitate really specific strategies to get through, and the final boss is really, really hard. It’s also the most fun thing in the game. The five others and I were all mic’d up, coming up with plans on the fly and, y’know, teamworking our way through it. Lots of calling out plans, asking for help (or telling the other to not help us as it was a lot cause), and so on. There was also a great deal of banter; complimenting each other’s work and comparing gear. Part of the fun was certainly the challenge of it, but much of it came from the camaraderie of spending that much time working together.

Teamwork is an aspect of multiplayer games that often gets downplayed in favor of competition. A game like Battlefront II isn’t so much about working as a cohesive unit as it is about beating the other faction and, ideally, playing the objective. Super Smash Bros. is all about beating each other up. There’s a bit of a reason for this; pitting human players against other human players allows for more complex games. There are things that AI is simply not good at doing in games, whether it’s balancing objective completion with combat or the on-the-fly countering that Smash lends itself to. It’s one reason why I gravitate towards games like Lovers In A Dangerous Spacetime or Overcooked; yes, I love on-the-couch multiplayer, but I also enjoy having to figure out how to work together to do something.

Overcooked is frustratingly hectic, as everyone’s running around the virtual kitchen trying to serve up orders while not falling off the iceberg the kitchen happens to be on (or dealing with ghosts moving kitchenware about, or not letting rats steal your ingredients). Maybe this means assigning people roles or just constantly yelling about what needs doing and all, but most times we’ve managed to get all three stars on a particularly hard challenge was when we somehow started to really gel as a team.

My brother’s been playing Destiny since the game came out in 2014. But since he had an XBox, we couldn’t play together as there’s no cross-platform multiplayer. Courtesy of a recent sale, though, he picked up his own PS4 and with it, of course Destiny. Because now, after four years, he and I can finally play the game together.

And it’s like Vault of Glass all over. Granted, he’s still early on in the game and I’m piggybacking along while he gets back in the realm of where he was on his old account, but there’s still those elements of teamwork (“Let me know when your Super’s charged and we’ll tag-team them”) and plenty of banter — I’ve lost count of the amount of times one of us has yelled “Yoink!” into the mic upon stealing the other’s kill.

Destiny, despite all its narrative foibles, is a really fun game. One of my biggest disappointments is how, up to now, I’ve essentially been playing it alone. Now that I’m not, I’m reminded of how much darn fun the game is — especially when sharing it with another person. It’s an annoying amount of hoops to have to jump through, but now that I’m here, yeah, it’s pretty great.

Which means I’ll have to grab Destiny 2 at some point in the future to continue these adventures.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The Mythics of Mega Man

I cut my teeth on the Mega Man series of video games. Legendary for their difficulty, mastery of the games comes from getting a handle on their mechanics and memorizing stage layouts and the patterns of boss fights. They’re tough, and oh I love them so. Getting through each stage is such a magnificent moment of catharsis; and the good entries in the series are so well designed that victory isn’t because of a lucky break but from actually skill.

They’re also fantastic examples of some elements of the Hero’s Journey.

All stories follow specific beats; there will be a moment when the hero is chosen, the hero will be tested, the hero will face a (maybe metaphorical) death. They’re vague moments, but appear in everything from adventure stories to a romcom. Call it structure, call it motifs, these elements are a part of stories.

And, like I said, video games. The structure of Mega Man, at its most basic, is the same throughout all entries in the Classic series. The hero, Mega Man, shows up in a place, fights eight Robot Masters, then lays siege to Wiley’s Castle which inevitably includes a rematch with all those prior Robot Masters before fighting Wiley himself. The X series is essentially the same, just swap Mega Man out with X or Zero, Robot Masters with Mavericks, and Dr. Wiley with Sigma. The actual ‘stories’ depend on the game, from the very barebones of Mega Man 2 to the much more grandiose Mega Man X5, but that structure remains essentially the same.

Two of the games’ trademarks are being able to tackle the stages/bosses in any order and getting a bosses’ ability upon defeating them, which in turn is the weakness of another boss. The weapon you get from defeating Magma Dragoon in Mega Man X4 does a chunk of damage to Frost Walrus. It’s like rock-paper-scissors, but with spiffy robot weapons.

A vital part of the Hero’s Journey, as emphasized by Joseph Campbell and Christopher Vogler, is the Threshold Guardian. The idea is that every time a hero moves forward into a new space, there is someone guarding the way. To meet Old Ben, Luke Skywalker must first confront the Tusken Raiders. Lara Jean has to talk to Lucas about the letter she wrote him. In many situations, the hero will assimilate attributes of the encounter into themselves. The run in with the Tusken Raiders brings Luke closer to Ben. Talking with Lucas gives Lara Jean a new ally in her quest to restore some normalcy to the chaos that her life has become.

In Mega Man? The hero gets an ability from the boss which is then useful against another boss. In other words, Mega Man’s fight against a Robot Master makes him stronger and more able to take on the next challenge. It’s a learning curve too for you, the player; just because you’ve a boss’ weakness doesn’t mean the fight will be a walk in the park. But by the time the big rematch happens in Wiley/Sigma’s castle, going through all eight fights again will be a comparative breeze because not only is Mega Man stronger, but you’ve overcome a series of challenges to get to this point, enough challenges that fighting these guys again isn’t all that hard anymore. You’ve figured out their weaknesses and have mastered the techniques needed to dodge their attacks. And now you’re ready for the Final Boss, who you will inevitably lose to several times before finally, finally, emerging victorious.

The narrative of the game would hardly work near as well without those bosses. Going straight to the final castle and all the dangers that lurk within would not just be ridiculously difficult, but would also be too much too soon. As a player, you relish that feeling of accomplishment that comes from getting better and being able to take on harder challenge. Story-wise, even if the story is as barebones as some of the Mega Man games, there’s that need for a rising action (as Freytag paced is out. Beginning slow makes the final climax all the more exciting.

The Mega Man games are, in my opinion, definitely worthy of being among the canon of video games. They’re exemplary platformers, but also present a particularly fun twist to their gameplay via a probably-subconscious application of mythic structure. If you care for that, anyway; I won’t judge you for just really enjoying the games.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Mary Jane Watson

One thing I love so much about Spider-Man is how so much of the narrative can be stripped down to its archetypes. Peter Parker is an unlucky kid who’s suddenly had this great power thrust upon him. Otto Octavius is a genius scientist doomed for tragedy. And Mary Jane Watson is the girl next door.

A lot of the fun of the various incarnations of Spidey, be it different adaptations or reimaginings across the multiverse (see: Spider-Punk or Spider-Ham), is seeing how the play with the familiar narrative. Spider-Man is so deeply embedded in the popular consciousness that it’s a barrel of fun seeing what each new story will do.

All this to say I absolutely love Insomniac’s take on Spider-Man in the eponymous video game. Peter is a wisecracking twenty-something who always seems at the very end of his rope. Octavius is a down-on-his-luck scientist who genuinely wants to make the world a better place. And Mary Jane, well she’s a particularly great part.

The classic Spider-Man mythos is has a bit of a problem with its women. Gwen Stacy was, up until recently, best known for getting fridged by a death that haunts Pete. Mary Jane’s primary feature is that she’s the hot girl Peter has longed for for ages. This has been rectified a bit recently: an alternate universe Gwen Stacy was the one who got bitten by a radioactive spider and, upon finding out about the main universe’s Gwen’s fate, outright expresses disgust at being, and I quote, “fridged off a bridge.” The Spider-Gwen comics also had her confronting the fact that so many versions of Gwen Stacy die falling from a bridge and reclaiming that aspect of her character’s history. It’s all really cool and Spider-Gwen has long been one of the comics I most look forwards to.

Insomniac’s Spider-Man does work to make MJ more of an interesting character (though not to the extent that Spider-Gwen remains instructs Gwen Stacy). In this story, she’s not a model or actress, but rather an investigative journalist for the Daily Bugle. She’s someone who’s decidedly good at what she does, and her job gives her opportunity to get up close with the action.

In fact, it’s some such investigation into the rise of a new gang in the city that leads to her and Peter running into each other again. You, as player, are also given the opportunity to play as Mary Jane as she sneaks around. So not only is she given a more active role in the narrative, but the mechanics of the game are used to put MJ front and center. In games like Spider-Man playing as ay character is an important thing. Strong characterization is mixed with the immersive nature of games; the goals and fragility of the character become your own (consider how powerful it is in The Last of Us to play as Sarah during the opening).

Gameplay-wise, the MJ segments aren’t perfect. Compared to webzipping Spidey, MJ’s sneaking and waiting varies a lot in how good it is. Much of the action is very scripted, with there usually being one way to get through the stage which leaves little room for player creativity or choice. But they are heavy in atmosphere and shine the spotlight on MJ who, as it happens, is quite wonderful.

Her journalistic chops and contacts make her a valuable ally of Peter’s (she knows he’s Spider-Man in this one, which also means for a complex and interesting dynamic). She’s a bold character, someone who willingly sticks her nose in trouble, even when it’s inarguably a bad idea. Her relationship with Peter is a complex one; they were together for a while and have been broken up for a while when the game begins. What’s real neat though, is that even still there’s a mutual attraction; MJ isn’t some unattainable goal for Peter, they’re both really into each other and things just didn’t work out last time. This distinction is important: MJ’s not the prize for Peter being good at Spider-Man and/or life, she doesn’t date him because he does x-y-z to impress her; she’s into him, she likes him for, well, him. Their whole chemistry is very mutual. All in all, she’s an interesting character and is a delightful reimagining of her.

It’s always interesting to see how stories reinvent themselves. You’ve the retcon of how Captain Marvel got her powers from a few weeks ago that was really cool, for example. And Insomniac’s Spider-Man puts a spin on Mary Jane that made her into one of my favorite characters in the game. Her and Spider-Man’s friend in the NYPD, Yuri Watanabe. Also Aunt May’s really cool in the game too.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

A Normal Teenager Named Lara Jean

To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before really feels like a classic 80s teen romcom, except it was made much more recently. It’s delightfully sweet, and has that uncynical honesty that readily calls back to fare like Sixteen Candles or Can’t Buy Me Love. Honestly, this movie is almost an anachronism, but a delightfully refreshing one at that.

Now here’s the thing, unlike all those 80s teen romcoms, To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before’s protagonist is Asian-American. Lara Jean Covey, played by Lana Condor, a Vietnamese-American actress, is one of three sisters. Their Dad’s white, their passed-away mother Korean. This isn’t really relevant to the plot, it’s mentioned in passing here and there, and their dad makes a decided effort to blend some Korean culture (namely: cuisine) into everyday life. But beyond that, Lara Jean and her sisters are just typical Americans.

Point is, she’s really pretty normal.

Which is actually pretty unusual. Lara Jean’s narrative has nothing whatsoever to do with her identity. She just happens to find herself in the midst of some romantic comment shenanigans after some love letters that were never meant to be sent got sent.

To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before is based on a book of the same name by author Jenny Han. Apparently, there was a few groups interested in adapting it to a movie, but they all wanted to make a change: make Lara Jean white. Han stuck to her guns and eventually a studio came along that was alright with keeping Lara Jean Asian (as, let me remind you, she is in the books) and so we got the movie.

Let’s focus in on just how ridiculous this is. You’ve a bunch of movie studios game to adapt a book, on the condition that the protagonist be white. Only one of the ones that approached her agreed to keep Lara Jean as an Asian-American. Sure, the story’s got basically nothing to do with her race, but that’s all the more the reason why it’s important for her to be Asian.

If you’ve read this blog for a while you probably know that I am a really big proponent for representation in fiction. So of course I want a character who’s a minority in the source to remain such for the adaptation. Especially when it’s a story where her race doesn’t come into play.

Yes, there’s a time and a place for ‘Asian stories’ and all that, but there’s also a space for stories about people-of-color getting to be normal. Look at all those classic 80s teen romcoms we love so much, everyone’s white. Kevin Bacon in Footloose, Molly Ringwald in Sixteen Candles, John Cusack in Say Anything. There’s the implicit suggestion that those stories are their stories; sure, they’re meant to be everyman, characters who the audience can see themselves in, but there’s still this undercurrent of the everyman usually being a white dude.

To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before isn’t exactly reinventing the wheel with any of its plotting. Yet it’s a delight of a movie, especially coming in an age when we really don’t have much in the way of romcoms anymore (Set It Up, also on Netflix, is wonderful too, by the way). Having an Asian-American woman as the main character, adds a small, cosmetic spin on things and makes these stories just a little more inclusive. So if we’re in the middle of a romcom renaissance, I’d like more of that too, thank you very much.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Poking Around

Games have rules and expectations. If you’re playing a first-person shooter, violence is the expected solution to most problems. A puzzle encountered in an RPG is going to have a solution, though it may be one you need to progress a little further in another direction to be able to solve. The rule of thumb in point-and-click adventures is that everything you can click on and inspect is gonna hold something of interest.

Say you’re playing Monkey Island and you’re stuck in a room. Somewhere in there is the key to your freedom. So you’re gonna click on everything you can to try and find the right stuff so you can say the right things in a conversation and get on with it. It’s the way it works, check all the things for things to use to advance.

Now, One Night Stand is usually classified as a dating sim, what with it dealing with the aftermath of a one night stand and having lots of conversations with choices for you to make that will net you one of several endings. Though there are strong elements of point-and-click adventures in it, as you are frequently given opportunities to poke around in the room you wake up in, and what you inspect can then unlock new dialogue options.

It’s a short game, and so befitting many playthroughs. The basic premise is you wake up in bed with someone after a drunken one night stand with no memories of the night before and have to figure out what to do. Do you just leave? Do you try to piece together what happened and play it off? Or are you forthright with her and admit you don’t remember anything? What’s gonna get you the ‘best’ ending?

Here’s the thing, although taking on the guise of an adventure game or dating sim, One Night Stand isn’t quite either. Sure, it’s got the mechanics of them, but the contract between the game and the player isn’t nearly the same.

One Nigh Stand has a decided rhythm. The girl leaves the room for some reason, you look around the room, she returns, you two talk. Repeat. You can only inspect so many objects while she’s out of the room, and they range from grabbing your clothes to leafing through her wallet to try and figure out her name. You have to choose what to prioritize in order to create the most meaningful interactions.

As I played the game it became apparent that there seemed to be a lot under the surface. One time I sneaked out of the house and saw her crouched over a toilet, throwing up. I figured that there had to be a way for me to help her out next time since that’s a rotten position to be in. On her bedside table are some earrings in a box, which she’s cagey about when asked. Same with the pills there. She has an interest in writing (as you can tell if you look at her notebook underneath the book she’s reading) but she doesn’t really engage if you ask her about it. Which, okay, got it, clearly I’ve gotta say the right things to get us close so she’ll feel comfortable talking about these things. Presumably then I’ll be able to get the Best Ending which, also presumably, would be a romantic one.

Yeah, no.

I played through the game being completely honest and was awarded with an ending where we parted ways as friends. But no matter how I played my cards I couldn’t get her to open up about her writing or earrings — in fact she would get straight up mad if I kept asking about it to the point where she’d throw me out. This threw me for a loop: those things are there, they’re meant to be investigated, why am I being punished for poking around? Why won’t she tell me what’s going on? I did the thing you do in these sort of games, so where’s my reward? They’re right there on her nightstand, why’s she made at me for looking through her personal stuff—

Ah. Right. It’s rude to go poking around like that in a relative stranger’s room. One Night Stand isn’t interested in creating some wild romantic fantasy, rather it lets you experience an awkward situation and the best result is for you to not be a jerk. You’re not gonna get brownie points for snooping, nor will gaming the system and faking a memory of the night before yield any outstanding results. Rather, being honest about not remembering the night before, getting dressed, and leaving as friends (without any romantic subtext) nets you the ‘best’ ending.

I think this is why I’m so charmed by One Night Stand. It subverts much of what you’d expect from a dating sim or a point-and-click adventure in lieu of letting you inhabit that awkward space — the game discards fantasy for quiet discomfort. The girl is not a prize for playing well; pretending to know more than you do won’t get you points. The point of the game isn’t to ‘win,’ but rather to be there and try and make do. It’s a unique experience, the sort you can really only get from a video game.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

A New Origin

Captain Marvel’s new series, The Life of Captain Marvel, sees Carol taking some time to reassess. In the aftermath of infighting with Tony Stark and some other less than great events, she goes to her family’s summer home in Maine to spend some time with her mom and injured brother. There’s a lot of self-reflection, some reveals of family secrets… and a Kree hunter after, presumably, Carol. Because who else?

The Kree hunter closes in on the Danvers house and prepares to wreak havoc. Carol steels herself for a fight, only for her mother to reveal that the hunter is here for her. Turns out her mother is a Kree warrior, who for years has been living a quiet life on Earth. And she has superpowers.

As the next issue reveals, Carol’s Mom, Mariel (or Mari-Ell, as she was once known) was a Kree special operative, sent to Earth to asses it as a potential threat. But she met Carol’s dad, fell in love with him and Earth, and abandoned her mission. So Carol’s not the only superpowered alien-ish woman in the family; her mom is too. Flying and punching hard is in her blood.

This is a significant retcon of Carol’s old origin story. Originally, she was caught in the blast of the Psyche-Mangnetron, a Kree device that gave her the powers of the original Captain Marvel (Mar-Vell… yeah, Kree names are weird). Now, Mar-Vell was, at the time, an on-and-off-again love interest for Carol. She was up to her own things, of course, but in this skirmish she was the bait Yon-Rogg used to lure Mar-Vell in — essentially, she was the damsel. Long story short, Psyche-Mangnetron goes boom, Mar-Vell saves Carol, she gets Mar-Vell’s powers. All because of an accident that’s essentially caused by two men fighting over her.

Now, Kelly Sue DeConnick’s run on Captain Marvel saw this get changed a bit; now there was a time-traveling Carol Danvers (long story) watching the fight play out, all the time knowing that she could jump in there, stop it all and never have to deal with the powers and responsibility. She chooses to let it play out, to let herself become who she now is. The difference this makes is pretty neat: Carol now has a measure of agency in her powers. It didn’t just happen to her randomly, it’s as a result of (future) her making a choice. She has a hand in her own creation.

But it was still an origin intrinsically tied to a male character. Those powers weren’t inherently

hers, rather a byproduct of wanting to be like Mar-Vell. It’s not the end of the world, by no means, but it’s still a pretty lackluster origin, especially given that Carol’s tenure as Captain Marvel has pretty much eclipsed Mar-Vell’s.

The new explanation for her powers reframe all of it. All this time she had latent Kree warrior abilities, but it took the Psyche-Mangnetron to activate them. As Mari-Ell tells Carol, her powers are “Not borrowed. Not a gift. Not an accident… They’re not anyone’s but yours. They never have been.”

It’s a huge change in a comic that’s full of them (For example: Carol’s father’s alcoholism and controlling nature was because he was scared of Kree threats coming for them; during the night he told Carol he wouldn’t pay for her college [that led her to run away and join the Air Force], Mari-Ell was pawning her wedding ring to pay for Carol’s tuition [hey, look, more female agency!]). Carol Danvers’ powers are innately hers, passed on to her by her mother. It mayn’t seem like a really big deal but it puts Carol front and center of her own narrative. This is important since Carol, as a character who’s been around for ages, has a lot (and I mean a lot) of baggage with her. By placing Carol and a maternal legacy at the center of her genesis her story is able to be that much more hers from the get go; Marvel’s major female hero’s backstory is no longer based around a male character. This retcon isn’t the Biggest Retcon in Comics Ever, but it’s still a really cool step forwards and one I’m totally onboard with.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized