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Ahistoricism

I went into The Favourite like I do with many movies: knowing very little and having seen maybe a part of a trailer. I knew it was a period piece (duh) and there was a Queen in it (also: duh). Anyway, after watching the movie I read up on it on Wikipedia and found, to my immense surprise, that it was somewhat based on actual historical fact. It makes sense enough that I thought this movie was fabricated wholesale: there’s a Queen in power, nobles are vying for power, and England is at war with France; it’s the proverbial typical Tuesday. And yet, Queen Anne actually did have a pair of rival handmaidens, and many of the characters had their own Wikipedia articles detailing their real-life stories.

It was all quite fascinating, but, ultimately, also quite irrelevant.

Unlike many historical dramas dealing with heads of state, The Favourite is not terribly concerned with the major political movements of the time. Rather the focus is on Anne and the machinations of Abigail and Sarah that take place behind the scenes. There is some influence on the larger political landscape, but we see very little of life beyond the lush estate the action transpires in. Court life is ruthlessly savaged in this satire, the politicians reduced to overdressed men slathered with makeup in foppish wigs racing ducks.

Now, there is some criticism of The Favourite for playing fast and loose with history. Anne’s husband was still alive at the time all this drama went down, and the idea of there being lesbian liaisons between the Queen and her ladies-in-waiting is dismissed by some historians as nothing more than contemporary slander by the opposition. Despite being about real people and set against real events, The Favourite is an out and out lie.

Which is great, since the movie doesn’t purport to be anything but. There’s no fancy title card letting us know what century we’re in, there’s no real reference to the actual geopolitical situation at the time (let’s face it, England and France are at war in basically every period piece, and there’s always an opposition party). All the temporal trappings of the movie serve its central story and all the schemings therein.

The Favourite’s detachment from historical fact is what makes it all the more scathing. Since the exact time-period is indeterminate to the layperson (ie: me), I’m not gonna get caught up wondering about the exact details about the time and can instead happily get lost in the film. The world of The Favourite is the world the filmmakers want to use to tell their story. It is a world where men are useless and relegated to the background while the women with their plots and aspirations are far more important. We don’t need to care too much how accurate to the contemporary social mores it is, the way things happen is how they happen. It’s fantasy.

That’s the real pleasure of period pieces: they feel like another world with another set of rules and another life that’s very much not that of 2019. There’s a different set of rules, one that’s foreign yet familiar. Though the Queen may rule in The Favourite, some words in her ear from Abigail or Sarah can sway her mind. We go along with it because it makes enough sense not to break our suspicion of disbelief. Consider how most Westerns play fast and loose with reality, or the ersatz 80s-ness of Metal Gear Solid V; it doesn’t matter how accurate things are, so long as they feel real.

And so, despite its lack of historical accuracy, The Favourite really works so well because its world feels right and its characters real. For Anne, Abigail, and Sarah the world is deathly serious, and we buy in and get to enjoy the hijinks as they unfold.

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The Joy of Exploring

I continue to be endlessly fascinated by Breath of The Wild’s open world. Since the last time I talked about the game I’ve taken on one more Divine Beast, but I still spend so much of my time exploring Hyrule and trying to find everything.

Which of course makes me wonder why I find this wandering so satisfying. I have a completionist streak in me, a part of me that wants to finish everything. Get all the dang feathers in Assassin’s Creed II, unlock every character in LEGO Avengers, get the Platinum Trophy in Burnout Paradise. Open world games are thus a scary beast for me; sure, it’s fun to explore and stuff, but I also want to Do All The Things. I’m terrified of missing something, of there being some little nugget of fun that I glossed over.

In many ways, I’m very grateful for the map and its icons in Spider-Man. One glance and I know if there’s still stuff to do in any given neighborhood, I know if I’m missing anything. There’s a bit of a freeing feeling when you have that reassurance that you’ll be able to get to it later and there’s no harm in running up the Empire State Building again. Since it’s so clear what I ‘have’ to do in the game, the potential shenanigans are too.

Conversely, Breath of The Wild is absolutely taciturn with its goals. Sure, there’s a quest tracker, but beyond that you’re in the wind. The map is barebones, displaying only region names and the occasional marker for towns once you discover them. Those shrines and Korok scattered everywhere? Yeah, they’re only added after you find them. Massive monsters, treasure, and all those other little secrets will forever remain unmarked, unless you manually add a note to the map.

Hyrule is yours to explore, there’s very little in the way of guides to where things are or even how many of something there is (how many Shrines are there? I haven’t a darn clue). It’s kinda terrifying, there’s So Much to this world, and no way to know how much there is — unless I break out a guide or something.

Yet I’ve made peace with knowing that I might not be able to find Every Last Thing. Wandering Hyrule and discovering its secrets is fun enough in and of itself, plus there’s usually one of those Koroks hiding on the top of that really-hard-to-reach pillar. In Breath of The Wild I’m enjoying the journey.

Maybe this is because the Switch doesn’t have Trophies, and I know that it won’t make a difference if I’m missing one or two shrines in the run of it. I don’t have the pressure of a checklist of things to do while I play. Now, I do like Trophies; I like challenges to do on the side as I play the game. But the lack of them in Wild means I can really do whatever I want and not have some background concern that I’m not doing everything as it should be.

There’s also not really too much of an overbearing narrative in Breath of The Wild. Sure, there is the whole assemble the Divine Beasts and fight Ganon thing; but there’s little pressure beyond that. Link doesn’t say to himself “Hm, I oughta get to saving Hyrule.” In practice, doing whatever you want may as well be the story as it happens, and it’s so much better for that.

Hyrule is a world for you, as Link, to explore as you please. It’s baked into its DNA in a way that no number of expertly crafted side quests could ever muster.

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2018 In Review

2018 came and, as years are wont to do, went. Stuff happened, I wrote blog posts; you know the drill. It’s time to look back on the year and stop writing this silly excuse for a preamble.

Five Most Popular/Viewed Posts

#5: On Crazy Rich Asians

As someone who’s spent a good deal of his life in Singapore, it stands to reason that seeing a big movie about Singapore would be a bit of a deal. Crazy Rich Asians is that movie and it’s one that I have a lotta complex feelings about. Hence this post.

#4: Star Wars as an Anti-Capitalist Discourse

Oh I was really hoping this would be here. I love getting to go on and on about a relatively silly premise that actually bares some merit. I maintain my argument that the Star Wars saga contains an inherently anti-capitalist narrative; if you don’t believe me then read this post.

#3: A Celebration

Ready Player One is a bit of an odd beast, but the movie is certainly a delight, due in a big way to how much it plainly loves the material it deals with. For all its flaws and foibles, the movie’s a whole lotta fun.

#2: Reframing A Narrative

One of the neatest things media can do is change the way we look at things. Black Panther took a lot of elements not usually present in futurism and sci-fi and threw it in. And it is wonderful.

#1: Wakanda Forever

This post is nothing more than me enthusing about Black Panther and how it’s a potential watershed. Can’t wait to what this portends for movies in the future.

Josh’s Pick of Three

#3: Exploring Worlds

My Switch tells me I’ve sunk over 70 hours into Breath of The Wild and I’ve only taken on one (of four) Divine Beast. It’s a gorgeous, gorgeous world to explore, and I’m delighted in games that let me do that.

#2: The End of (Star) War(s)

Again, I absolutely love reading a little too much into things that usually don’t necessitate it. The demilitarization of the New Republic present in the new Star Wars canon is such an interesting choice that I absolutely had to dig into it.

#1: Poking Around

It took me way too long to realize I was playing One Night Stand wrong. Not that I wasn’t hitting the right buttons or anything like that, but rather the approach I took to it. This isn’t a game that you’re supposed to win, it’s a game to be experienced.

**

Alright, that was this year. Tune in next to hear me geeking out incessantly about Captain Marvel when that movie finally comes out.

Cheers,

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Spiders

Comics are weird. Especially superhero comics. There are people who come back to death, people with weird powers, people who lose those weird powers but then get them back when they come back to life. Also, y’know, aliens and monsters and crazy science crap.

Like I said, weird.

There are also multiple universes, and so multiple versions of characters. There’s a version of Captain America where she’s the biracial daughter of Luke Cage and Jessica Jones and beats up a version of MODOK who looks like a certain American politician. There’s one where Mr. Fantastic is a villain, like, the villain.

And, of course, there is a ridiculous number of variations on Spider-Man. A lot of them are, of course, Peter Parker in one form or another. Spider-UK is a British Spider-Man. The Ultimate universe saw a return to a younger Peter, one who, incidentally, dated Kitty Pryde for a while. And out there somewhere is Spiders-Man, wherein Peter Parker’s consciousness was passed on to a horde of spiders (it’s weird).

The Spider-Verse event from a few years ago saw a whole mess of Spiders teaming up to fight the Inheritors, a group of pseudo-vampires who feed on the essence of spider-powered beings across the multiverse. A variety of new (and old) Spiders were (re)introduced; including Spider-Gwen, from Earth-65, where Gwen Stacy was bitten by the radioactive spider and so got the powers. Spider-Verse saw these Spiders teaming up together, so the Spider-Man from Marvel VS Capcom used fighting moves, and the Spider-Man from an old Japanese show had a giant robot.

Essentially, the Marvel universe has a bunch of different Spider-People, and sometimes they hang out (and one version of Gwen Stacy gets to complain about getting, and I quote, “fridged off a bridge”). It’s definitely pretty outlandish, and also something pretty unique to comics.

And now we have the movie Enter The Spider-Verse. I’m going to forgo talking about how the film’s animation style is a love letter to comics and just focus on the story of it all, namely how multiverses play a huge role and we’ve a bunch of different Spiders.

Quick rundown of the dramatis personae: in addition to Miles, the Spidey-in-training, you’ve Peter Parker, an experienced Spider-Man from his universe; Gwen Stacy, Spider-Gwen who knows what she’s doing; Spider-Man Noir, a hard-boiled guy who’s literally in black and white; Peni Parker, who’s basically from an anime; and Peter Porker, who’s, um, a pig, but also Spider-Man (Spider-Ham, to be exact).

Miles, our protagonist, gets to interact with four alternate versions of Spider-Man, each of whom provide a different take on the character, and, for Miles, a different version of who he could be. Much of Miles’ arc revolves around him learning how to be Spider-Man and what all that means. For a good chunk of the movie, that means he’s trying to emulate a Peter Parker, wearing a knock-off of another Spider-Man’s costume, playacting at being someone else. He is not his own hero yet, rather he is attempting to be someone else. It is no spoiler, then, that Miles’ self-actualization sees him making his own suit; one that is uniquely him. He’s the only one who can really decide what to do with the powers that’s been given to him — and with it the responsibility.

The central tension in so many great Spider-Man stories is that of power and responsibility. How does Peter (or Gwen, or Miles) navigate that space between the two, that fatalistic flaw of needing to use that power to protect, but at the cost of one’s own well-being? The multiversal nature of Spider-Man allows for a multitude of interpretations and interactions, tackling these themes from a host of different angles. Events like Spider-Verse let these characters team-up and has their takes on power and responsibility clash or feed off each other. So then we have Into The Spider-Verse, where Miles sees these different takes on who he could be. It’s up to him to figure out just who that is, what is expected of him and what he will do. By having all these different versions of Spider-Man, Miles is given the space to create his own.

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Exploring Worlds

I have a complex relationship with open-world games. On the one hand, it’s real neat to get to go explore a big world and do stuff. On the other, I really like the more catered, narrative experience offered by more linear games. On the other other hand, open-worlds are kinda the genre du jour for single-player video games, so I’m gonna end up playing them no matter what.

But first, a definition of open-world games. The idea here is that rather than having a series of levels or stages to play through, open-world games offer players a big map to run rampant around, with various missions/quests scattered about. In between missions, players have the opportunity to explore the world, usually leading to power-ups or fun narrative diversions.

My feelings probably stem from the fact that most open-world games tend to fall into one of two problems. Either the worlds, for all their massive play space, end up being kinda brining and repetitive, without too much variation in quests or landscape; or they end up with too darn much to do. I approached Metal Gear Solid V with some trepidation, given that this was a series known for excelling in linear games. I was pleasantly surprised to find a gorgeous world to explore, and missions that put the sandbox of the world to great use. There’s a multitude of different ways to achieve your goal (Sneak in? Gallop in on horseback, grab the target, and escape? Roar in, guns blazing, in a massive tank?), and so much to be found in the world that it’s overwhelming. I finished the story, and eventually had to make the decision that I was ‘done’ with the game and to stop trying to check every darn box. There was just so much.

I’ve been playing The Legend of Zelda: Breath of The Wild for a few weeks now, and I have no idea how far I am into the game. I think I’m still relatively early narrative-wise, but that’s probably because I’m having so much fun exploring Hyrule.

Breath of The Wild’s Hyrule is gorgeous, evoking memories of Horizon Zero Dawn’s post-post-apocalyptic Colorado. Which makes sense, Wild is set a century after a massive cataclysm; ruins dot the world alongside the husks of ancient war machines. It’s a desolate world, rendered in a wondrous stylized palette. It’s a beautiful world to explore, devoid of the heavy bleakness that’s made some others laborious.

It helps that Hyrule is brimming with things to explore. Shrines all over the map hold puzzles and challenges that yield power ups (and are also just plain fun in and of themselves). Creatures called Koroks can be found under rocks, up trees, and, amongst others, by throwing rocks in ponds. These guys offer you seeds which in turn can be used for — you guessed it — power-ups. There’s always something new to be found, maybe just over that ridge. It could be a Korok or a shrine; maybe that group of monsters down there have a new weapon you can use.

Once, while exploring, I saw a huge dragon flying in the distance. Some time later, I was exploring a region to the north and, lo and behold, there was that dragon again. I eventually got close enough to see it barreling towards me in all its fire-enshrouded majesty. And then it was gone, flying up away. The game told me very little about this dragon; the in-game encyclopedia just telling me Dinraal, the dragon, was thought to be a myth and bore no ill-will. Later, I used a scale from it for a side-quest, but there was still that awe of the sublime that finding the dragon gave me.

It’s neat because that experience is almost entirely my own. It wasn’t scripted by the game, it just happened because of how and where I was exploring. Breath of The Wild is a game that invites exploration. Not just because it benefits your in-game character, but because there’s so much wonder to be found.

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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.

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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.

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