Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Last Year's Leftovers

So, there was a lot of stuff I meant to review last year but never got around to posting or finishing. Here it is. If I'm forgetting any other dropped threads, call me out on it and I will correct the oversight.

Big Hero 6

So good. Haven't enjoyed a Disney Film this much since The Golden Age, with the exception of Toy Story. As a huge nipponophile and a fan of San Fran, the film's aesthetics scratched an itch I did not know I had. The plot was predictable, but I also couldn't think of a better way to do it myself, which is a feeling I rarely have after walking out of a theater (whether or not it is true).
It's also tremendously refreshing to see a kids movie with a message other than "believe in yourself really hard and you can do anything!" Finally, it had one of the best trailers in years (linked)--I watched it periodically just because it was entertaining--and the movie managed to pay off what the trailer promised. So glad this won best animated instead of...

The Lego Movie:

Maybe the hype gave me unrealistic expectations, but I wasn't wowed by this one. Good voice performances all around, and mix of stop motion and CGI really was novel. But this film is a Grand Wizard in the Cult of Self-Esteem: You can achieve anything if you are confident enough and try your very hardest.

The reveal at the end felt odd rather than heartfelt, inspiring a series of uncomfortable questions: how long has that kid put up with his asshole father? And did that kid have to ruin the fathers meticulously built and organized city? Couldn't Will Ferrell buy the son a few sets to be used just for fun? There's something to be said for having a huge collection of masterfully built Legos. It also conveniently derails and neuters the anti-consumerism thrust of the narrative that we had been following all along. Which is convenient, because following that thread to its conclusion is problematic for Lego.


The writing is spotty, the acting soap operatic, and smoldering looks stand in for character development at least once an episode, so this should probably be listed as a guilty pleasure. But I feel no guilt, I have no shame. The creators of the show know the DC universe and seem love it more than the current writers and editors of DC comics.

Unlike Agents of Shield, Arrow isn't hoarding everything good to be optioned later. In fact, it borrows awesome people from Batman, Titans, and Justice League mythos. Deathstroke and Huntress spring to mind; great villains who translate very well to the superhero show as a soap opera format. I also really love Ollie's supporting cast. Diggle and Felicity are aggressively likable in a way that isn't forced, despite being archetypes.

The first couple episodes put me off because they were almost nonsensically dense in terms of introducing people, but it builds steam as it goes. I'm still very early in Season 2; Grace and I tend to binge on it and then let it lie fallow. I think the show actually lends itself to old-school week-to-week watching. After two episodes back-to-back the angst becomes a bit much. I think the pacing makes more sense with real-time breaks and the cliff hangers have more of an impact.

I do hope they ditch the Island thread soon, though. It was a strong initial conceit, but even by the end of season 1, I felt like I had a pretty good idea of Ollie's trajectory. In general, I have issues with prequels; always prefer to know what happens next. It's actually done quite well, and does the best thing a prequel can do: raising questions about the present situation rather than just laying things to rest. I would prefer some more time with Ollie decompressing and ditching those feral instincts. Spending more time to develop him in the present. Like, I would love to unpack Ollie's fairly abrupt and firm decision to stop killing people. I know this isn't a 'meditative' show but I feel like there could be a space for that there.

Yes, Ollie. We get it. The island sucked. You were tortured. You had to kill a lot of people. Console yourself with another hot chick.

Gotham Central:

When you look at what DC comics is pushing out today (at least in their primary universe) and compare it to this, it's baffling and infuriating to know this series came out a decade ago. For those who don't know, it explores Batman's city through the eyes of the police. It demonstrates that Batman's respect for cops is neither unfounded nor lipservice, while simultaneously showing the oft-referenced corruption in a way that hurts you as a reader. It blows away today's TV procedurals; supervillains and vigilante politics allow Rucka and Brubaker to deviate from the standard cop-show formula in exciting ways.

I think one of the jacket blurbs said it was more like The Wire: Gotham City, than Law & Order. The series did more to make Batman real for me than Chris Nolan's trilogy did (and I say that having loved the Dark Knight trilogy). You learn about the political dance the police force has to do to use the Bat Signal and avoid the appearance of condoning vigilantism. The arcs are still driven by superhero devices, but the breathless pacing and surreal action is actually more to my taste than The Wire's meticulous, slow-burn immersion.

One of the things that surprised me, is how much I came to really care about the police in the Major Crimes Unit. Very human personalities dealing with everything from inter-office romances to discrimination to balancing dangerous, taxing work with a family life. The ending made me sad, and mad, and begging for more closure... but now that I've had some time to digest it, I think it was the perfect way for the comic to finish. It ends on a powerful, intensely personal note, after exploring the full range of the DC universe's scope of threats.

Consequently, I can't bring myself to watch Gotham yet, because I know it won't measure up. As soon as somebody made the decision to turn it into another batman origin story, instead of focusing on the "normal" people in Gotham City, that show was going to fall short of what it could (should) have been.

Coming Soon
There may have been some other stuff I meant to write on last year, but can't remember what. Here's some stuff that's coming up:

Gunpoint has some of the best writing in video games ever; especially for a high concept game that could get buy without story; much less interactive dialog trees and branching narrative paths. Haven't wrote on it yet because I haven't beaten it (shameful considering how short it is). It's cheap and great so go buy it. Go for the writing, stay for the fun core mechanic.

Finally got around to reading and finishing Ready Player 1, which I know a lot of people have recommended or asked for my opinion on, and I will have something on that up in just a day or two.

I'm also still working on my bit about The Magicians trilogy. It really is my favorite series. And I absolutely see how it isn't for everyone, but some of the people whose opinions I hold in the highest regard and agree with most often, absolutely hated it. They couldn't abide the protagonist, which was really weird because I sympathized with Quentin Coldwater very strongly. It's a very strange feeling I want to explore with my friends, and not because I want to convince people I'm right, but more because it's an unusual thing to get the feels about and I think I may be an emotional exhibitionist / attention whore. Those three books are also the single most prominent influence on my writing, especially what I'm working at now. .

In closing, I will tell you that Bosch is great and advise you to go watch it now so we can get a second season and keep writing without worry of spoiling anything.

If you have any suggestions for other 2015 topics, please let me know.

No comments: