Les Misérables: Being beaten into submission by an overcooked ham

LesMis2012MoviePosterNear the end of Tom Hooper’s Les Misérables (or at least I assume it was near the end as I lost all track of time after a while, like I was in the world’s most depressing casino), Enjolras and his gang of wannabe revolutionaries whack Russell Crowe’s Javert in the head with his own police baton. But instead of seeing Crowe take the blow, it’s a point-of-view shot, and the audience is struck by the baton. While I had realized long before this shot that I was being beaten and bruised by the film, I at least appreciated Hooper for having the courtesy to actually represent my bludgeoning on screen.

That might’ve come off as overly harsh — in fact, it is overly harsh — but Hooper’s filming of the 1985 musical is harsh. He wants you to feel everything and all of the time, and he’s damn well going to make sure that you do by filming the bulk of the movie in close-ups and (barely) medium shots with the actors to the right in the frame (I don’t know why) when the camera isn’t just veering around wildly unhinged. You’re going to see Hugh Jackman’s veins, Anne Hathaway’s snot, and Eddie Redmayne freckles, and these things, along with the live singing (did you know they sang when they shot the film instead of recording it in a studio and then lipsyncing later? If you didn’t, then contact Universal’s PR department and they will tell you all about it!), are there to work you over, to give you no escape. Continue reading

Favorite TV Shows of 2012

Cat watching tvI did one of these back in 2010, didn’t do one in 2011 (didn’t feel like I had watched enough, as I recall, or I didn’t really like a whole lot…bygones) and now I’m back to do one in 2012. Part of this is because as part of my freelance gig at TV.com I was asked to submit a top five shows of the year, so the notion of picking shows was in my head, and I thought I’d highlight some shows beyond those top five.

This list, you’ll note, says favorite. It does not say best. Because it’s lunacy to say that one show is really better than the other, and because I haven’t seen everything that aired on TV this year. Did you? No? You didn’t? Then how can you know something the best? It can be the best you watched, but then you’d be comparing something like Bunheads to Adventure Time to The Killing to The Big Bang Theory to Homeland and I think you’re just being silly.

So, after the jump, you’ll get my choices for my favorite (or interesting or memorable) TV shows of 2012 (and one not from 2012), including a link to the “top five” I did for TV.com. Where possible, I’ve linked the show’s titles to a piece of writing I’ve done about it.

After the TV.com listing, everything is listed in alphabetical order.
Continue reading

The loneliness of Vic Stone

In my last post about about DC Comics, I mentioned that the Justice League book had made it so that Vic Stone, the former high school football player turned into the hero Cyborg, had been seemingly regulated to the guy who summons boom tube-like warp portals, with no life outside of the League.

Turns out I was right. Cyborg doesn’t have his own book or his own adventures, like everyone else in the Justice League does, and the most recent issue of Justice League confirmed that. When the League’s not on a mission, Cyborg spends his day at S.T.A.R. Labs or reading and watching movies, or, “occasionally, Batman needs something.” He lives in the Watchtower, removed from the rest of humanity. If the League broke up, which is something underlining the current arc in the book, he’d likely just stay up int he Watchtower.

Flash and Cyborg talk in Justice League 13 (2012)

(click to see the larger version)

Similar to the treatment of Starfire in the Red Hood relaunch, it seems like DC Comics decided to squander the goodwill toward a character that new readers grew up watching on TV by reducing the character to an unrecognizable husk of a previous incarnation. This isn’t to suggest that the comics should align to the characteristics of  these characters as depicted in the Teen Titans TV series (that would be absurd), but to take such a left turn away from the positive images of those character is just…odd, and incredibly insulting.

In the case of Vic Stone, it’s especially frustrating since he’s a) the only person of color in the book (and in the book that DC considers its flagship title) and b) he doesn’t have his own book to flesh out any of these issues (and given the general failure of books headlined by POCs, there’s not a huge incentive to do it). And, really, given how he states his case, he’s essentially waiting on the white people to ask him to join in. And if they all leave, he’d be all alone, struggling with his own dilemmas of being a black man who isn’t even completely a man now. It’s a tough situation, and one that needs more nuance than Justice League is probably capable of. I mean, we do have the super-teenager lovefest of Superman and Wonder Woman to deal with, and that’s way more interesting.

Justice League #12 (and more)

The cover of Justice League #12 (2012)

This is not the worst thing about this title, though it is awfully close.

Almost a year ago, with the DC New 52 relaunch event, I decided to dip my toe back into superhero comic books after a long hiatus. And while I promised to blog about it, well, that didn’t happen. But here you get an year-in-review sort of thing, and that can’t be all bad, can it?

I’m not going to discuss a lot of big things that have been discussed over the course of the year, from DC’s apparent editorial incompetence, its treatment of women in any number of titles, or the fact that the relaunch seem to have fail to attract much in the way of legitimately new readers of any sort. All these things are troubling signs that DC’s relaunch wasn’t all that well-orchestrated or with clear, progressive (political or otherwise) goals in mind. For every attempt at something seemingly positive (“There’s a prominent gay character in DC Comics!”) it seemed to take a step back at the same time (“Really? Who is it?” “Alan Scott, the first Green Lantern!” “…I’ll ask again: Who is it?”)

Instead I’m going to talk about my experiences with reading these books for a year, sticking with a lot of titles, dropping a few (and will likely drop a few more as they do their #0 run in September). And I’ll talk about the most recent issue of Justice League, which rather nicely sums up a lot of my frustrations with reading superhero comics again. Continue reading

Film Review: The Avengers (2012)

I saw The Avengers over the weekend, which is a bit of a rare event, me going to the movies on an opening weekend (I intend to do it a few more times this summer, what with Prometheus, The Dark Knight Rises, and Brave out soon). In any case, I had some thoughts about the film that I wanted to get out of system.

I did like the movie, overall. It’s a little bit more clever, dialog-wise, than your standard action blockbuster (hat tip to Mr. Whedon there), and that does elevate it among most other examples of this particular film type. But, at its core, The Avengers is still relatively plotless, though not annoyingly so. Yes, the movie exists to make gobs and gobs of money at an industrial level (and it would’ve, by the way, with or without Joss Whedon), but the narrative is bit flat, serving as the climax to so many post-credit sequences and MacGuffins and referenced placed across the earlier Marvel films.

The aliens are just a phantom narrative threat (they’re not a very good military, seeking only one point of attack on an entire planet like this) so our heroes can join forces and trade sarcastic barbs and small moments with one another (Stark and Banner’s time in the lab together may have been the film’s highlight for me). And that’s fine. While it’s a foregone conclusion that the Avengers will triumph, it’s watching the journey that they take to get there that ultimately matters more than the actual destination.

But while I was watching it, I decided that this was as close to a comic book experience in the movies as I would likely ever get. As I reflected on this, I decided however, that it was a very specific type of comic book experience that The Avengers, and Avengers sequels, registered in my mind, and that was the comic book annual. Continue reading

Brief thoughts on Thatgamecompany’s Journey

Journey Title CardI purchased Journey last night after discovering that, as a Playstation Plus subscriber, I had access to the game early. Since I’m on a low tier DSL connection, I let it download and install overnight, and woke up early not because I was gung-ho to play it, but because my internal clock thought it was time to go to work.

Let me backtrack. I haven’t played Flower or Flow, so this is my first experience with a game from Thatgamecompany. I just say that as a disclaimer, so you don’t expect any discussion of how Journey compares to either of those games.

Traveler - JourneyAnd now we’re back. So I played a few minutes worth of Journey this morning, but nothing terribly in-depth, just enough to get a sense of the game: You’re a lone traveler, in a brown robe (think very tall Jawa) and you’re in a desert. There’s a mountain in the distance. You are going to walk toward the mountain. That is your goal. There are things along the way. Simple, elegant, beautiful things. You learn about this world, you solve simple puzzles. You gain an ability to jump and float. There’s magic.

To be more specific would discredit the joy that is this game. It’s something you should experience first hand so you can experience your own sense of pleasure. The robed figure that is your avatar is just abstract enough that putting yourself in the position of this traveler is easily achieved. But something startling occurred when I picked the game back up late this afternoon.

As I started playing, another player was visible to me. This won’t be uncommon. If you have an active Internet connection while playing, a single player other will be visible to you. You cannot communicate with the person through voice or text, like you would with a shooter or an MMO. You can only press the O button to release a small tone and an image of your symbol. The length of time you hold down on the O button determines how loud the tone is and how large the symbol appears on the screen. This is how you will communicate with anyone else in the game.

I gave a brief tap of my O button, basically just saying “Hello.” They replied with a similarly brief tap. From there, I must say, we became companions. We worked to solve puzzles together, exchanging brief tonal conversations during exciting parts. At a few points, where I was struggling with jumping and floating, this person waited for me to finish the section, tapping their O button so I had a sense of where to go. In another, more dangerous section, the tension was palpable as we dodged obstacles and ran to check on each other.

My Journey Symbol

My Journey symbol during the first playthrough.

Despite our inability to communicate in a way that we’re typically used to in a game, or even in person, something of a bond had been formed. That fact that this player waited for me, even though I was struggling touched me, made me feel special. There’s nothing in the game that cannot be completed alone (well, a few PSN Trophies require a companion), you don’t need a companion. It just…eliminates a sense of isolation in completing what feels like a daunting trek.

Due to that player’s willingness to wait for me and their willingness to engage me in “conversation”, I was legitimately sad when the other’s avatar sat down, and then disappeared. They had exited the game, leaving me by myself. And we were so close to the end, I thought (it turns out we were)! And they had left! And I was alone again. It was an unpleasant feeling, that they had just left. I don’t even think the player had “said” good bye.

I waited in the area where the player had vanished for a few minutes. I fooled around in a little alcove, hoping they’d come back and find me waiting. Instead, another player appeared, one who did not reply to my tones and symbol, ignoring me entirely. Another player, after I had advanced past the second one, did the same; but I think I met up with this player at the very end of the game. We finished Journey together, but it didn’t mean anything to me that I had finished this game with a unknown stranger. I wanted to finish it with the known stranger I had met so close to the beginning of the game.

This experience, for me, is what makes Journey a wonderful game. That I had become attached to someone whose username I didn’t know until I had completed the game (when you complete the a run of the game, a list of all the other travelers you meet will appear, along with their in-game symbol) left me feeling both sad and elated that a game had managed to worm its way into my heart in such a short amount of time.

The simplicity of it, in terms of design, aesthetics, and interaction, is what thrills and excites and holds onto you. You should take this  Journey.

Addendum: As I went about to grab a few photos for the post, I ran into another player, likewise unwilling to “talk” until things got a little hairy, and suddenly the player was pretty chatty. Don’t trust all travelers, I guess?

Addendum II: So it looks like the symbol changes from playthrough to playthrough. Sigh.

Book Review: Legitimating Television by Newman and Levine

Legitimating Television by Newman & LevineSo I found myself in an odd position while I read Legitimating Television. Like Television Studies before it, I read the book entirely on my commute back home from work. This in and of itself is not odd. People on this commute, a bus-coach service that largely serves professionals in bedroom communities around Atlanta, regularly consume media on the ride (if they’re not sleeping), including books, ebooks, music, and occasionally television episodes on a mobile device.

What struck me as odd, and I realized this about half way through the book is that I’d been reading it while listening to the soundtrack for Downton Abbey. Why is this odd? Well, here’s a show that is a soap opera through and through, but I don’t think the phrase is often uttered in connection with the show given its period settings, lavish production design (and cost!), and the cultural associations with British television and PBS.

Indeed, I’m listening to the soundtrack of  a show that, had it aired in the daytime on a U.S. broadcast network, had a lot less money, probably no Maggie Smith, and wasn’t available on streaming through PBS’s Website (never mind downloading it as a torrent when it originally aired in Britain (which I didn’t do)) wouldn’t be considered one of the current highwater marks of television pleasures by critics and audiences alike. Hell, it probably wouldn’t have had a soundtrack released in the first place if any of those things hadn’t happened.

And all of these thoughts (as well as other thoughts) came to me because of this book. What Legitimating Television does is perform an analysis of the various discourses — be they academic, journalistic, fan-created, or industrial discussions — that have helped create a situation in which television has been able to achieve legitimacy in the tail end of the 20th century and raising its profile even more during the start of the 21st.

Like other good examples of this sort of work, evidenced by my reaction to my habit of listening to the Downton Abbey soundtrack while reading it, Newman and Levine help the reader realize how these discourses about television legitimization occur.  The result is like when you first learn about the 180 degree rule, or when someone points out the arrow in the FedEx logo: You can’t stop seeing it. Continue reading

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