Thursday, December 30, 2010

Of Retrospectives and Flashforwards


Babylon 5 is renowned, of course, for a completely mapped-out five-year storyline, a character quirk which made it both anomalous and ahead of its time in one fell swoop. But there is another, much more intrinsic flourish of its narrative architecture that makes it so compelling 12 years after its denouement: its timeline.

It goes without saying – but only because creator/showrunner Joe Michael Straczynski has said it so often over the past decade-and-a-half – that B5 had a backstory that was fully developed 1,000 years, generally, and 100 years, specifically, before the start of the show, helping to ensure that, say, the politics of EarthGov or the societal structure of the Minbari Federation remained exactingly consistent from the very first episode to the 110th (a feat which its forerunner and one of its chief sources of inspiration, Star Trek: The Next Generation, sadly could not boast, as a look at the wildly varying Ferengi can easily attest to). Even more, the timeline after the series’s five-year span was similarly mapped out at both the century and millennium marks, resulting in a story that, much more than any other television production, feels like a natural piece of a much larger, organic puzzle, as opposed to a cardboard cut-out narrative shoehorned into a wider, but still largely paper-thin, context. Immediately in the first season, as such, the audience is thrust right into the middle of a slew of historical processes: some, such as the First Narn-Centuari War, find extension to the new round of historical developments that sweep the characters up within B5’s run; others, like the Earth-Minbari War, merely reverberate along the show’s narrative spine, adding extra depth to the plot’s melody.



And then there are others still – the Telepath Crisis being a prime example – that are diligently, even obsessively, tracked and followed and built upon… only to have their pay-offs being placed just beyond the temporal scope of the series. These are, by far, the most intriguing of all of Straczynski’s storytelling tricks, for these represent the single most brilliant method of constructing a truly living and breathing world. The most appropriate analogy would be to a show centered upon the beginning of the Cold War: in telling a tale that spans from 1947 to 1953, there is room enough for a quick look back to World War II before moving on to the beginning of the nuclear arms race, the proclamation of the Truman Doctrine, and the quick but painful duration of the Korean War, with just enough left over for the intimations – but not the telling – of such future calamities as the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Vietnam War. Why not include it all, along with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan or the negotiations over the (first) START treaty? Because it took an additional 35 years for all that to happen!

By almost abruptly cutting off the audience’s window into his fictional universe, JMS pulled a Sopranos years before The Sopranos either aired or ended – but he didn’t leave audiences completely in the dark as to the ultimate fate of his timeline. In addition to employing that most wonderful and standard of tropes, the flashback, he also utilized flashforwards (well before the dynamic duo of Braga and Goyer forever tainted the term), moving months or even years into the future, thereby rendering the typically rigid and fixed focus of a story into a dynamic and free-floating one. Indeed, these scenes certainly end up becoming some of the show’s most important elements on both a narrative level – by giving away the ending almost right away, in the beginning, audience expectation and contemplation shifts away from what is going to happen to the infinitely more important question of why – as well as on a character plane, helping to resolve arcs and polish off leitmotifs (as best seen in “Sleeping in Light,” the series finale, which is set 19 years after the series proper and shows how both of Babylon’s main stars, John Sheridan and the B5 station itself, go quietly into that gentle night). And it is a device that, in JMS’s capable hands, is used to maximum effect: while the immediate and intimate effects of his characters’ actions are exhaustively parsed within the five-year domain of the show, he drags its temporal slider to ever-more-distant points further along the timeline, revealing what consequences and reverberations are to be had 100, 500, 1,000, and even 1,000,000 years down the road. It is hard to be more comprehensive than this.



There is a twist in the aforementioned finale that reveals the entire show was, indeed, a show, a production for future television watchers that sought to reconstruct the heady events of the Babylon 5 station’s 25-year lifespan. It recasts the entire experience, fundamentally altering the audience’s perception of and reaction to its narrative, unifying form and function into a seamless whole. It is a turn, of course, that is quintessentially metatheatrical, and it is only made possible by B5’s altogether singular (and singularly unique) creation, maintenance, and exploration of a true-blue history.

Here’s to looking at television’s future by studying its past.




This piece is part of Marc N. Kleinhenz's The Babylon Project series of articles, which comprises essays, reviews, and interviews. The other items can be found here:

The Passing of the Techno-mages and the expansion of previous narratives
November 2009
Blue Buddha

The Lost Tales and the undermining of worldbuilding
December 2009
Blue Buddha

The Shadow Within, The Passing of the Techno-mages, and the role of technology in love
January 2010
PopLitiko

The history of Babylon, from Babylon 5 and Babylon Prime to Crusade
February 2010
PopLitiko

Sandy Bruckner and the dream of fandom
May 2010
PopLitiko

Patricia Tallman, Lyta Alexander, and the path to extremism
June 2010
PopLitiko

Matthew Gideon and the apocalypse
July 2010
PopLitiko

Maggie Egan, ISN Jane, and the craftsmanship of delivery
August 2010
PopLitiko

Jeanne Cavelos and the perfection of storytelling
November 2010
PopLitiko

Joe Michael Straczynski and the dark side of Babylon 5
January 2010
PopLitiko

Painter Fred Fields and Poet Alex Ness

Poetry and Fine Art collide

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Happy Holidays Loot of Darkness Winner announced.

Anna Bennett swooped in to score the books.

Hooray for Anna!
Thanks for entering the contest.
Well for being the only entry in the contest.

Monday, December 20, 2010

A PSA For Lazy Shoppers: Plastic =/= Present




Christmas is a joyous time of year. Happiness, holly, ho-ho-hoing, and some other H-word. Most say it is better to give than to receive. But, let's all face it - it feels pretty good to receive too. Ripping open presents at a family Christmas party is a great feeling - it makes you feel like a kid again. Then you get that one uncle - you know him well, the one who got you those savings bonds when you were six - who instead of a box wrapped in colorful Christmas joy, he hands you a small little envelope. When you open it up, you see that inevitable 5-dollar Starbucks gift card that probably expired around a few days ago, meaning he probably got it for his birthday that past year and didn't use it and decided to pull off the infamous re-gift technique.

People seem to think that giving people a small piece of plastic for a store the person may or may not like obliterates their gift obligation. In a way, it does, but two things need to happen: it needs to be a place you actually like, and it has to be a pretty good amount (this varies from store to store. If it's for McDonald's, 5 to 10 dollars is fine. It's for Best Buy, anything less than 20 is probably only gonna get you a pack of gum.).

Another thing wrong with it is... what do you say besides "thank you"? "This is just what I wanted"? What, have you lost your dignity? All you wanted for the most well-known and loved holiday in history... is a freaking piece of plastic? I mean, the same could be said about a lot of things people take in value, but still. It's all very awkward. And you sure as hell can't say, "Oh, cool, now I can buy that thing I wanted from that store", because then you run the risk of making the other person feel like an a-hole because they could've easily gotten you what you really wanted for the same price, if not less.

A big problem if they just get you a gift card to a place you don't even like, or haven't been to. Or if it's a place that doesn't have anything you're interested in. Don't get a beer-glugging hillbilly a gift card to Bed Bath and Beyond. It's like giving cheese to a pig and mud to a mouse - it just doesn't work.

But, now, what if this person actually did do their research? What if they did get you a good gift card with a good amount of money to a store you go to frequently or like or maybe even one you haven't heard of that has things you like? Then you need to go to that person and give them a hearty Merry Christmas and a nice friendly hug. Or if either you or they are claustrophobic or just think it'd be awkward, just wait a week or two for your annual thank you card sendings.

I guess when it's all said and done gift cards aren't that bad no matter what, but come on - you need something to gripe about this time of year.


No real bitterness or hatefulness towards gift cards or those who like them/buy them frequently. It's all in the name of humor, folks.

Merry Christmas, everybody. :)

Friday, December 17, 2010

CROSSGEN COMICS ARE BACK?

CrossGen Comics has returned as an imprint from Marvel, who is owned by Disney, who bought the bankrupt company CrossGen's properties.

So CrossGen is back

OH REALLY?



Well not exactly, not really. You see, while I seriously liked the vast majority of CrossGen, the best books at CrossGen were written by Chuck Dixon, Ron Marz and Tony Bedard. I liked RUSE by Mark Waid, so I am not totally against this all, but, without Chuck, Ron and Tony, the heart and soul of the work will not be there. If the Marvel CrossGen imprint puts out some great work, hooray. I am glad to hear it. If they don’t ok, that is sad, but, the vast majority of quality works came from CrossGen when Marz did Sojourn and The Path, Bedard did Route 666, and Dixon did: Brath, El Cazador, and The Way of the Rat.




Now don't think I am ignoring the beautiful art and quality standards of production at CrossGen. They had a lot a great art talents there. But for me, pretty pictures are just that, unless brought to life under the keyboard or pen of a brilliant writer. And while at CrossGen Ron Marz shined, Tony Bedard leapt into popularity, and Chuck Dixon did some wildly entertaining works.



So pardon me for being cynical, but until the heart of the best works is revisited, by the authors of those works, this is pure marketing. And I am an old fart. So I take that very seriously, I may not be in the proper demographic, but I am still a fan of CrossGen’s output, and I prefer to consider the best of CrossGen to be emblematic of it, rather than the sexier titles.



Good luck however to Marvel in this endeavor. I hope they are a great host for some wonderful works. And I expect things to blossom there, since Disney and Marvel both desire this to succeed. And they have the money to do this right.



But bring back Chuck and his works, OK Marvel/Disney? Thanks.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Happy Holidays Loot of Darkness

So here is the deal, on December 25th I am offering a contest. The books shown below, and more are to be sent to one lucky winner.

What do you need to do to win? Post five different comments on this blog by then, and then send an email saying you did it to ME, and, then wait to see if you are the one randomly chosen. Since this blog isn’t getting a lot of comments, this could be your chance to win.

The winners will be announced Christmas day sometime when I sober up.

(Oh I should say, that while the books are mostly new, some have shelf wear or were read once.)



Super Mario Galaxy Challenge Run

A Proposition For One of the Wii's Best Sellers


For those of you who have been fans of my YouTube channel for a while may know that for a few months I ran the Super Mario Sunshine Video Quiz. Due to various mutinies and constant jerks yelling at me, it ended up being a complete disaster and was dropped, stopping around level 2. Someone else picked up from there and came up with SUPER AMAZING tasks and I was burdened with the fact that I couldn't keep it running.

What is a video quiz? Well, it's where you play through a game competing with other people in an event generally held on GameFAQs.com (aka home to some of the most sour-tempered people on the planet) and you do "tasks", which are just different ways of doing things in levels. The most famous being the one for Super Mario 64 one. There's a second SM64 one run by Quate32 (GameFAQs account is Kuwait8) which is going on right now.

So, why am I bringing all this up? Well, as the title says, I was thinking of starting a Super Mario Galaxy challenge run... not necessarily a video quiz. It'll be similar, but not split up into different tasks for different levels. I was thinking more along the lines of having five or six categories, such as "speedrun" or "coinless run" or "pacifist run" or "kill all enemies run", things like that. These six categories would determine how you do certain missions in the game. They'd get progressively harder, and they'd go in the order of the levels, and how the categories rotate would depend on how convenient they'd be for the level. The idea would be to have a fair amount of skill and precision at the game.

I don't have all the details worked out, but I wanted to get the word out to see if anyone would be interested in doing this. I have a YouTube account, so what you'd really have to do is just put it on YouTube or Blip or some other video sharing site and give the link on GameFAQs. You could record it through a camcorder or an actual capture card, and it's probably advised that there's not much commentary, but it wouldn't be a rule.

Like I said, I'd need to really work out all the details about it, but if I can get everything worked out and I can get a decent amount of people to join in, then expect updates on both GameFAQs, Poplitiko, and my own blog. Give your opinions on this - comments are welcome.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Happy Holidays, whichever you celebrate


EPIPHANIC HIEROPHANIES

Words: Alex Ness
Images: Marc Kleinhenz

(copyright 2009)


THE PROMISE

Bells and sleighs and winter snows
Pine forests and silent nights
Are frames for the photos
Of celebrations of life

Of the world in slumber
To receive the blessings
Of the new child of wonder
Of a new year of living

We bow down before
The majesty of the king
For the new year
Rekindles

New life in our veins
Wipes out the clutter
That presaged our ways
The child is redemption

We know it is true
We recognize the promise
That we can renew
So we bow down and rise


TO AWAKEN IN WINTER

What is there in our sleep
The winter is our dream
We huddle down tightly
To warm from the days
We huddle to sleep through the nights
The season is our reminder
That there is a cycle
We are part of in life
Birth in Spring
To dance in Summer
To quiet in Autumn
And to sleep in the depths
Of Winter’s embrace
But in the midst of that
Though the cold
We have warmth and hope
For a season of giving begins
To remind us all of the gifts
We are given
And the hope for a world
To awaken with joy




SENDING AND NEVER ENDING

Sending cards
Sending prayers
Sending thoughts
Lighting candles

Children laughing
Paper ripping
People singing
Fires warming
Life is good
Together

Christmas songs
Trees decorated
Presents wrapped
Food prepared
Remembering lives
Forever

Every moment
Every hug
Cherished and saved
For the year’s slog
Through event and trial
Each year an endeavor

Time for endings
Time for beginings
Time to share
Loving within
Every bond
Secured

Never ending love







SACRED GROUND

Every moment spent together
Is a promise to be moral
Kind, and simply better
For in sharing we become kin
For in loving, we become good

In the midst of the year’s coldest weather
We are called to join together in love
We give gifts
We love and share
We wait for sounds from above

Of footsteps upon our roof
So children can know
That love is more than familial
That love is the truth

It comes from within but grows only
When shared with others
Together
Who are in need

Father Christmas is proof
That we are bound
That when we love as if loving forever
Our lives become sacred holy ground





CHRISTMAS

To the children of African skies
Who dreamed of a better day
He brings love and hope

To the children of Europe
Who long to feel in a world so modern
He brings hope and love

To the children of North America
Who forget if never taught his truth
He brings gifts of dreams

To the children of Asia
Where so few know his name
He brings the love of good

To the children of South America
Where hope is bound with morning
The children will rise and be surprised

To the children of and in worlds unspoken
Father Christmas is love
And is a promise unbroken


Marc Kleinhenz interviews Alex Ness about the project...

How did you come to be involved with the project?

As Marc Kleinheimer asked me to collaborate with him, it was really not a question of if but of do I have the time to do it. I have respect for him and thought it would be nice. As it turned out, from the time he asked to the time I finally finished, my life experienced some turmoil. A good friend of a dozen years passed away, my mom had ended a very sad visit here in my home, where she spent nearly the whole of it in bed, sleeping due to her Alzheimer's, and the aftermath of a big fallout with a publisher/artist was going on to depress the life out of me.

So when facing the poems, I had to consider the subject, the Christmas holiday, versus my own sorrow. But I did it.

With that said, how much of that sorrow do you think bled through? And of that quantity, how much was intentional?

Intention is different, I think, than result. My intention was to channel the glory of the season, and if there is sorrow in it, it was neither purposed nor desired. However, I am not saying any of the work for pic was something I wasn't happy with. The fact remains, however, that the message is receiver-driven, and whatever the voice of the creative talent, the receiver is bound to receive the message through their own particular mindset, circumstances, beliefs, hopes, fears... A perfect example of this would be the number of poems I've written in worship for God but, having not named God in the work, is received as worship from an adoring lover. It is all good, mind you -- I hope my love for God is so true as that -- but beyond that, if a person has only a hammer, they tend to see everything else as nails.

I find that a very interesting response; in a previous interview you did last year, you said: "I have dropped the view that the message is with the receiver. That is a cultural myth we hold."

Well, there is an amazing amount of suggestion that it should be true, almost saying that the receiver is so much more important than the work or voice of the work. I think that it should just be noted that, whatever the receiver brings to the poem or prose or movie or song, if the subject is about Godzilla, the receiver is free to interpret, and will interpret it however it will. So my point is that, when dealing with creative works and the reception of the same, you both create a work, and allow it to be interpreted. The fact is, the creator of a work is not hostage to the interpretation by the receiver, but the receiver is under no onus to do or think or feel anything that the creative person wishes. I knew someone who got a perverse thrill out of masturbating to nude photos done in an artistic and non-prurient fashion. He said he wanted to teach the photographers and models that he could do whatever it is he would do. I am not saying that the actual message is receiver-bound, but that the receiver is unbound by anything to accept what the intended message is.

Two of the biggest thematic motifs throughout both your work and your conversations about your work are religion and the nature of and value in art. So let me ask: where does religion end and spirituality begin? And where does spirituality end and art begin? Or is there any connection between the three at all?

Religion is a set of beliefs that have a code based around them. It involves ritual, standardized patterns of worship, something you can say I am -- and someone will have at least a clue what you are saying you are. Spirituality is both more than and less than that. People who follow a religious belief are not all spiritual, but most of them are. But not all people who are spiritual follow a religion. I think religion is more of a template to believe and spirituality is living and believing in what you believe.

Spirituality and art are connected in that we are made in the image of the creator, and, from what I can tell, the manner in which we worship, understand, grow is to create. Some people create and raise children. Some create arts. Some create paradigms to understand reality. I am sure not everyone agrees that when they create they are being spiritual, but I am suggesting, whether they realize it or not, creation is an act of spirituality that celebrates the creator/ creation. I am a Christian, but some suggest I am a universalist. I am not that, but the truth is I am much more emotive, organic in belief, than religious. So I am more spiritual than religious.

When you sit down to write, is there a conscious decision to include spiritual or religious overlays to your work?

Well, in the case of Christmas poems, I certainly didn't avoid such messages or imagery, but the best answer is no, it is not usually a conscious decision.

How closely do the Epiphanic poems resemble what you had originally intended? Is there usually a lot of variance in the writing process for you?

Okay, this gets into just what the poem is about and why I am doing it. Generally speaking, my creative form involves three sorts of beginning places. I get a word combination or am inspired by an image or idea and it burns in my head until I write about it. I read and research a subject, think deeply upon it, then let my words fall where they may. Or I have a subject I am to write about, and I simply write from a Zen place, hoping what results is poetry. In all cases, the original intent is to create something, not a specific item, really, but something. In that case there is no variance between what I wanted and what resulted. In a very real sense, I almost never know how my effort will result, but I am content that if it is a poem, it is good.

How often with your poetry do you go back and rewrite? Not just edit or tweak words, but actually redraft and re-contemplate?

Never.

That's interesting. That's quite the opposite of someone like John Keats, who could literally spend years writing and rewriting and rewriting just one poem. Do you think there's any inherent advantage or disadvantage to either approach?

The reality is that you can achieve perfection both ways. I think there is evidence that the first blush is often as good as the end result of hyper-revisionist tendencies. So, the advantage, of course, to less edits is that you get the original intent; the advantage to more edits is that you may reach the perfect formula of words. As a creative person, I understand the desire to achieve perfection and think it is a good thing if you can arrive there. The vast majority of people I know, however, who do the hyper-critical editorial eye are never happy, ever, with their work. The vast majority of people who are one-run-and-done might be more prone to flaws, but they appreciate their result.

How often do you feel you've reached perfection in your work?

I am not a perfectionist, so I've never considered it. And, frankly, a prophet who interprets his visions is a fool, and an artist who assesses his work or its importance is a bigger fool.

This may be a silly question, but are you happy with the way the Epiphanic Heirophanies poems came out?

I don't let anything be published in my name that I am not happy with. Any poem I write that you see I am happy with. I have had works in numerous anthologies that the book itself I am unhappy with (Mysterious Visions After Hours, for example) but am happy with my own work and that of others.

In that case, are you happy with the way the photographs came out?

I've worked with many artists and photographers and only once have I felt that their work was wrong. I guess it is because I let others interpret as they will. I might well have taken or used more black and white images myself, but that is a personal preference, and I am not the one doing the interpretation. The answer is yes, I am happy with the photography accompanying the words.

How did the word-picture process work? Did you write to the pictures or vice versa?

I've no idea, really, how others work, but more than anything else, if I see an image, it causes words to form in my head. It always has. Some people are moved by music, and I love music, but more images bring tears to my eyes than songs. So, for me, while I don't write to an image, there is always one in my mind. I've been told my work is highly visual, so perhaps it is because of that.

So you wrote the poems first, then Marc added the pictures?

Very much so. On two occasions he asked me for a response to a pic, but that is the only time.

Generally speaking, do you think the pictures added to or subtracted from your original intent or internal imagery? Or were they completely off-base to what you had in your head?

I think the pics worked, and they were Marc's interpretation, so I am content with how they worked. Any time I enter into a collaborative effort, I fully allow the partner to do his or her thing.

Has there ever been a time when you thought a collaboration with another artist, for whatever reason, just fell through or flat?

Fell through? Ha! I had two books promised to me to come out by July 2009 that never happened, and one of them was originally promised by October 2008. Collaborations fall through more than happen. Fall flat, though? I am sure it happens, but I've been extraordinarily lucky every time with projects that happen. Marc Kleinhopper included.

Given the infinite medium that is the internet, what is poetry's future?

The future of poetry is ever more bright with the existence of the internet. People are able to share 100 times easier, get feedback, get published, even if it is self-publishing. Places like Lulu.com, CreateSpace.com, and more popped up and you can get your work out there.

Can you make money at it? I can't, but that doesn't mean I will stop trying.

That leads perfectly to the next question: what's your future in/with poetry?

I have 3,000 unpublished poems. Most are good work. If I don't publish them or have them published, it will be up to my wife or son to do so. I never stop writing. If I did, I'd die.

I plan to write until I die. Whensoever that occurs.

What is your favorite type of poem? Iambic pentameter? Haiku? Free verse?

I love all forms of poetry, probably especially if I understand them. There are people who throw this and that and the other thing in a list of demands and it has nothing to do with form, style, or, in the end, enjoyment. I like free verse, but blank verse interests me, and haiku is magnificent.

If the life and biography of Alex Ness were written as poetry, what form would it take? And how long would it be?

I could do it in a haiku. Let me see:

Falling upon rocks
I scream at indignities
And people applaud

Sunday, December 12, 2010

"Tangled" Review

Last week, I saw Disney Animation Studios's 50th animated feature film called "Tangled", along with the trailers for Cars 2, Gnomeo and Juliet, Prom, Justin Bieber 3D: Never Say Never, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and probably some other movies I forget.


The movie starts out with the voice talents of Zachary Levi, who plays one of the protagonists in the movie, Flynn Rider (who we find out later has an embarrassing real name that I won't spoil for you), a cunning kingdom-wide-hated thief who gets the most out of life from stealing things. Think of Robin Hood, minus the "gives for the poor" part. He and his two cohorts find a sacred crown and put it in a special satchel and plan to run off with it. But Flynn's plan goes haywire when he is separated from the dynamic duo and is chased by a white stallion named Maximus. He manages to escape through a small cove and finds a large tower - Rapunzel's tower.

Now, Rapunzel's story starts off with a golden flower. It had the power of the sun and glowed very bright. An old lady named Lady Gothel found it one day and found that when she sang a certain song while touching the flower, it would glisten brightly and it had the power to heal the sick or injured and to turn the old youthful again. Instead of telling the kingdom about this great discovery during their time of need where the queen was sick and was about to have a baby, she kept it to herself and sang to it on a regular basis to keep herself from getting old. Eventually the kingdom found the flower and cured the mother, who gave birth to Rapunzel. Unlike the rest of her brunette family, Rapunzel was born with silky golden hair with the power of the flower in it. Her hair had the same powers as the flower (flower power lawl). People would try to cut it to have the power, but all that would do was make the root brown and it'd lose its ability.

Furious, Lady Gothel kidnapped Rapunzel in a fleeting instant and Rapunzel became known to the kingdom simply as the "lost princess". Lady Gothel raised Rapunzel as her daughter and locked her with her in a huge tower and gave her specific instructions never to leave so that she could keep he "daughter's" power of keeping her young. And Rapunzel doesn't suspect a thing.

Now, it's Rapunzel's eighteenth birthday tomorrow and Flynn Rider climbs up to her tower to find refuge with his crown-bearing satchel that I mentioned earlier. But he not only gets several whacks on the head with a frying pan (which later turns out to be the number-one weapon of choice), but he also gets a huge surprise.

God, that's a lot of exposition. But I wanted to get it out of the way so that I can freely say things without having to explain it mid-review. So, now that I've explained the entire first 12 minutes of the movie to you, let's actually get on to the review.

I honestly didn't know what to expect going into this movie. I didn't know much about it, despite the thousands of promos on TV. All I knew was some dude goes into Rapunzel's tower and lets her out and then they... do crap. And there's a horse named Maximus who from the trailers looked like Flynn's horse who just hated him for some reason, and then there's a chameleon named Pascal that Rapunzel has for a pet. And that's it. But then after watching that first part of the movie with the massive amounts of exposition, I realized that that's all they could really throw at you in a two-and-a-half-minute-long trailer. They'd have to get some serious Speedy Gonzalez action if they wanted to explain all that in less time than the movie itself does at the beginning.

That being said, I knew not a whole lot about the movie. After... storytime, there is a scene where Lady Gothel leaves the tower and Rapunzel is left alone in the morning to do whatever the crap she wants. She cleans, she sweeps, she reads, she makes dresses for Pascal, and she makes huge panoramic murals on her walls using her extremely long hair as a pulley to keep herself up. ...Oh, did I not mention she has long freakin' hair? I thought that was kind of a no-brainer. And when I say long, I don't mean like rock band long, I mean like you could hide a dishwasher with her hair. Either way, she does all this crap, and then her "mother" comes to the tower after her day of... whatever the crap she does. Then we see the second instance of her mother using her hair. She's getting kinda wrinkly, so she quickly tells Rapunzel to sing and she instantly becomes younger. I guess being locked up in a tower means you never really got an education, but come on, Rapunzel, you're smart enough to know how to paint murals using your hair as tightropes but you can't see that your so-called mother NEVER AGES?

Anyways, Rapunzel asks her mom if she can go see the "floating lights". Yeah, in memory of the lost princess, the kingdom always sets out these floating lantern things (they exist - don't think Disney's gone retarded on you), and she wants to go to the kingdom to see them. And in the second song in this music movie, her mom sings to her a song called "Mother Knows Best", telling her about all the dangers that lurk in the outside world without mentioning that she herself is the greatest danger.


And a bunch of crap happens and Flynn comes into her tower and she agrees to give him back his satchel if he takes her to see the lights and they go on an adventure and Flynn's being followed by people and they eventually team up with the horse and they bring Pascal along and he and the horse fight and on the way they fall in love and the mom is creepy because she can't be pretty and it's all well and dandy.

This movie was really funny. It's just very... involved. Though I do think the tough-looking bar guys singing about how they have all these petty dreams as they're punching people and the girl is liked by all of them and the guy is the one getting thrown around scene was pretty typical and honestly something I think they do way too often in Disney movies. But there were plenty of scenes that were honestly humorous.

By now it's expected that the animation is gonna be really good, but for some reason there was something about this movie that really stunned me. I didn't even see it in 3D but I still think one scene that has to do with lights that I won't spoil for you looked really awesome. And especially during the night scenes and all the times she is singing, Lady Gothel has a very lifelike creepy edge to her that reminded me sort of Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty.

Overall, I give this movie an 8.5/10. It was cheesy, there were predictable scenes, but several redeeming qualities come into play, such as funny moments, good emotion, outstanding animation, great voice acting, and songs that were catchy but not to the point where you hate them.

Add Tangled to your list of movies you should see over your winter break, because no matter how much of an adult you are, I think Disney movies can usually really bring out the kid in you, and this movie's a great example of that.

- Written by Tim

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Analyzing Zelda, Part One

This is a series I am starting on the philosophical viewpoints that the Legend of Zelda video game series can bring to the table. Whether you are a fan or not of the series, I will be going over the emotion, experience and thoughts of the series, as well as going over slave morality and ludus and paidia play of the games.

This is just an introductory video to the series and to get you familiar to the series and what it encompasses.



Transcribed from video:

This is a philosophical study of the theories presented in the Legend of Zelda series. This does not necessarily present my own beliefs, nor am I forcing these beliefs on anyone watching. Please do not start any religious arguments or cause a flame war. Comments will be deleted if that happens.

Discuss only that which is relevant to the video. Thank you.

This series is based on the excellent book the Legend of Zelda and Philosophy. This is a fan's attempt to take the somewhat confusing language of the book and make it understandable on a basic level.

One of the most popular franchises to date is the Legend of Zelda. Beginning with the original Legend of Zelda and continuing on to Spirit Tracks and beyond, the tale of Link is familiar to any gamer--a kid or adult named Link is on a quest to rescue Princess Zelda, and reunite the Triforce to save the land of Hyrule.

Of course, the fact that the storyline, enemies, characters, and music change slightly with each game is part of the fun. The Zelda franchise has become a cultural wellspring. Forget just video games, Zelda is huge. From cartoon shows in the 80's (which some would like to forget), to present-day comedic skits on YouTube, the franchise is prolific.

Calling yourself a gamer requires at least a passing knowledge of Zelda. There are entire websites devoted to Zelda and nothing but. Many of these have sections for dungeon guides, timeline theories, item listings, walk-throughs, forums, ringtones, game art, and much more. There are official comic books, fan comics, webcomics, and the Zelda music has been translated on just about every instrument.

But beyond all that, the original gold-plated Nintendo cartridge has sentimental value for all of us. It marks the beginning of a saga--or perhaps our childhood. While your love for Zelda might not have landed you a date (unless it was another gamer, like I found), it did give you a chance to take Link on an adventure through the fantastic world of Hyrule.

The exact reason that the gamer can guide Link is one of the reasons why Zelda is so ripe for philosophical speculation. A movie-goer cannot guide Luke Skywalker--he can only sit back and hope Luke doesn't give into Vader or the Dark Side. Despite having some fixed elements, a Zelda game is not entirely out of the gamer's control. The gamer plays the game as Link, and is not a passive observer.

Zelda does something for you that you may not even realize. Many of you, I'm sure, know that feeling of finally understanding something; of struggling and struggling to no avail, until, lo and behold, everything becomes clear.

It's like the puzzle has settled into your brain, and you can just sit back and admire the beauty of it, and you know the struggle was worth it. There's a difference between looking something up in a manual, and then finally getting it yourself. What is important here is that you go from knowing the answer, to figuring out the answer AND knowing it.

That point when you finally see something is the case, is called the "Aha" feeling.

In most of the games, the gamer has to struggle through dungeons, solve difficult puzzles, and defeat tough enemies. Towards the end, he often encounters a secret room with a special item like the raft, silver items, or hookshot, etc... When you get the item, and those four familiar notes ring out, it can be seen the gamer is being rewarded for his struggle. The gamer feels a sense of gratification, accomplishment, or the "aha!" feeling.

Join me in Part Two as I discuss "Why We Care About the Princess".

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

KILL ALL MONSTERS!




KILL ALL MONSTERS!



(This interview is with Jason Copland and Michael May, two very good friends of mine who have a creative work they've brought to the public, called KILL ALL MONSTERS! I am biased, in that I know both well, and don't intend to chew any new assholes with this, but, the work speaks for itself, they are doing incredibly good work. Please click the images for a bigger, more clear and stunning look...)

Alex Ness: What is the concept?

Jason Copland: Giant Robots fighting Giant Monsters set in the near future.

Michael May: That pretty much sums it up. I always like to add though that it’s a future where the monsters have already won the war. They’ve obliterated most of humanity and left only a few people scattered across the world to fight back. Which they’re about to start doing, in spades.

Who came up with it?

MM: The idea to do a book about giant robots fighting giant monsters was all Jason’s. But some yahoo named Alex Ness came up with the basic world that the story would be told in, for which I’m eternally grateful. I came up with the story we’re telling and created the characters, but you created the starting point and it’s been a lot of fun building from that.



Why a webcomic?

MM:
We’ve been working on it long enough that comics formats have changed as we’ve developed it. We originally conceived it as a traditional mini-series broken up into periodical issues, but as graphic novels started to become more prevalent, we started thinking of it in those terms. Even then though, a lot of the publishers we pitched to still wanted to publish single issues and it was tricky. Not knowing how it would eventually be released, we had to keep our minds open to either format.

Eventually though, we realized that weren’t getting any firm commitments from publishers. We had a couple who were interested, but no one was saying, “Let’s print this thing!” So Jason and I decided to take matters into our own hands. We know we have a cool story; we just want people to be able to read it and the Internet’s the easiest way to do that right now. We’ll figure out how to make money on it later.

What popular culture works have influenced this work?

Jason:
For me, mostly Shogun Warrior comics and Godzilla movies.

MM: I didn’t grow up with a lot of giant monster/robot stuff. Other than King Kong, I don’t know that I saw any of the classic stuff until after we started working on Kill All Monsters. I was aware that stuff like Godzilla and Voltron existed, but I never watched it.

Probably the thing that more directly influences my storytelling style on this than anything else is the first Star Wars movie. Not plot-wise, but in lots of other ways: from how the story starts in the middle of a battle to the way the characters interact with each other to its PG-rating. Our main characters Spencer, Akemi, and Dressen aren’t direct analogues to Luke, Leia, and Han, but I wanted them to have a similar camaraderie in the way they work together. I want Kill All Monsters to have the same sense of fun that I experienced when I first saw Star Wars in 1977.

I should mention though that I had some help in applying that influence. I originally conceived a much darker story and Jason and I actually created an entire first issue from it. It focused on how bleak the KAM world is and was mostly a character study about what it would be like to live in that world. At the time, our friend Jason Rodriguez was helping us develop the book and he wisely questioned my approach; especially about how low-key the ending was. He told me we needed a big climax. “You have to blow up the Death Star,” he said. That was a defining moment for me. It not only completely changed my ending for that first version of the story, it contributed to our eventually deciding to scrap that version altogether and come up with a bigger, more adventurous story to tell.

Why does Jason talk weird?

Jason: I don’t know what you are talking aboot, eh.

Is the intent with Monsters needing to be killed to make it Kaiju big monsters or more Cloverfield big monster scary?

MM: Hm. If I understand the distinction, then it’s probably more Cloverfield than Godzilla. Or at least, it’s more Cloverfield than what Godzilla eventually became. We owe a lot to the original Gojira though, which had much more in common with Cloverfield than it did with – say – Son of Godzilla.

Our giant monsters aren’t at all heroic and they rarely fight each other. They’re more forces of nature. Again, more like the original Gojira, our monsters were created by human technology that perverted nature and came back to bite us on the butt. There’s a huge theme about technology vs. nature that runs through the story. It’s just as important for us to think about today as it was in the ‘50s when Gojira came out. We need to be scared about the influence our technology is having on the planet.



Michael what movie monsters do you dig?

MM: In any other context, I’d go straight to the Universal monsters from the ’30s and ‘40s. Especially Frankenstein’s Monster and the Wolf Man. I love how human those guys are in spite of their monstrous appearances (and sometimes, actions).

But if we’re talking about giant ones, I’ll start with Godzilla as portrayed in the first couple of movies. Not that I hate the sillier Godzilla or anything. Another favorite is Mothra, who’s very much from that goofier world. And I love her because she’s so kind and unmonstrous with her island of peaceful worshipers and little fairy priestesses. I don’t so much dig the influence she had on Godzilla, but I like her.

On the flip side of that, I like King Ghidorah because he has the guts to stay evil. At least up to the point where I am in the series. I’m only just now digging into those movies.

Oh! Can’t forget King Kong. Especially as portrayed in the Peter Jackson version. I know that’s an unpopular thing to say among hardcore fans, but I never really felt Kong’s plight until I saw Jackson’s film. I intellectually acknowledged that Denham did a crappy thing, but I never felt anything about it. Jackson’s movie makes me cry.

My son and I are currently watching the Firebreather movie on TiVo and also really like Belloc. I can’t wait to dig into the comics and learn more about him.

After a while would you publish this yourselves if it does not get picked up for print?

Jason:
We will definitely print this ourselves if no publisher steps up.

Imagine this work in film, how could it be brought to life, would it have to be cartoon?

Jason:
No, I think it would work as a traditional film.

MM: It would be cool to see as a cartoon, especially if someone like Genndy Tartakovsky was to do it (if, you know, he wasn’t already doing giant robots vs. giant monsters on Symbionic Titan). But I agree with Jason. There’s no reason it couldn’t be done as a live-action movie and it makes me extremely giddy to imagine it that way.

Where can everyone find the work?

Jason: Here or Here.

MM: We’re the only comic at the Kamikaze website for now, but as Kamikaze adds to its pool, we’ll share that spot with other comics. The Review2AKill address Jason mentioned is exclusively us.

Giant monster/robot fans can also get updates on the comic as well as other giant news at our blog.

HELL TRAIN by Christopher Fowler


HELL TRAIN

by Christopher Fowler

January 2012 £7.99 UK

ISBN 978-1-907992-43-8


January 2012 $7.99/9.99 US/CAN

ISBN 978-1-907992-44-5

Non Stop. One Way. Straight Down!


Solaris is delighted to announce the acquisition of a new horror novel, Hell Train, by Christopher Fowler, best-selling author of the Bryant & May mystery novels. Fowler says: “This is an unashamed pedal-to-the-metal supernatural thriller that goes back to my roots, and a multi-layered fun ride to the dark side. I'm thrilled to be working with the hottest new publishing house for genre fiction in the UK.”

Jonathan Oliver, editor-in-chief of Solaris, has commented: “I’ve been a fan of Christopher Fowler for a long time and have always loved his horror stories. So it’s very exciting to be working with him on this rip-roaring supernatural yarn. Christopher brings us something of the British horror film industry at its height, while also stamping his own mark on this thrilling tale.”

“Fowler writes devilishly clever and mordantly funny novels that are
sometimes heartbreakingly moving.”
Val McDermid, The Times

“Christopher Fowler is an award-winning novelist who would make a good serial killer.”
– Time Out

Synopsis

Imagine there was a supernatural chiller that Hammer Films never made. A grand epic produced at the studio’s peak, which played like a cross between the Dracula and Frankenstein films and Dr Terror’s House Of Horrors...

Four passengers meet on a train journey through Eastern Europe during the First World War, and face a mystery that must be solved if they are to survive. As the ‘Arkangel’ races through the war-torn countryside, they must find out:

What is in the casket that everyone is so afraid of?

What is the tragic secret of the veiled Red Countess who travels with them?

Why is their fellow passenger the army brigadier so feared by his own men?

And what exactly is the devilish secret of the Arkangel itself?

Bizarre creatures, satanic rites, terrified passengers and the romance of travelling by train, all in a classically styled horror novel.

Hell Train will be published in January 2012 in both the UK and the US.

The Sentinel Mage






The Sentinel


Mage


by Emily Gee

3rd February 2011 • £7.99 (UK)

ISBN 978-1-907519-49-9

25th January 2011 • $7.99/$9.99 (US & CAN)

ISBN 978-1-907519-50-5

The start of the gripping new Cursed Kingdoms trilogy!

In a distant corner of the Seven Kingdoms, an ancient curse festers and grows, consuming everything in its path. Only one man can break it: Harkeld of Osgaard, a prince with mage’s blood in his veins. But Prince Harkeld has a bounty on his head - and assassins at his heels.

Innis is a gifted shapeshifter. Now she must do the forbidden: become a man. She must stand at Prince Harkeld’s side as his armsman, protecting and deceiving him. But the deserts of Masse are more dangerous than the assassins hunting the prince. The curse has woken deadly creatures, and the magic Prince Harkeld loathes may be the only thing standing between him and death.

The first book in a thrilling new heroic fantasy trilogy, Emily Gee’s The Sentinel Mage combines high action and an exciting new take on magic with challenging themes of identity and social taboo, as a strong cast of engaging characters races against time to save a world threatened with a horrific curse.

“Her haunting prose reads like Hans Christian Andersen for twenty-first century adults.”

– New York Times bestselling author Nalini Singh




Monday, December 6, 2010

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

On Empire Strikes Back and Irvin Kershner


For Proust, it's a tea-dipped Madeleine. For me, it's a theater full of faces bouncing light back at the screen.

All that is my conscious mind begins in 1982, with a South Carolina summer and a mop-top left just long enough to frustrate the eyes as it danced to the unpredictable rhythms of air-conditioning. The ice white of Hoth surrounded me (and nothing surrounds quite like the ice white of Hoth), warmed me, and welcomed me to what would turn out to be my lifelong passion: the cinematic experience. I knew I was alive. I stood on my mother's knee, turned around, and looked to see if those behind me knew, too. They did. For the first time in my very short life, I felt myself to be a part of everything, and not its center.

The Empire Strikes Back means more to me than any other movie, and movies mean more to me than most people. I could tell you why it means so much to me, but I have a feeling I don't have to. It means a lot to a lot of people, and a lot of people have bonded over their shared experience of it.

There continue to be people who are too embarrassed to like some of the things they like with any degree of pride or candor. They construct something of an apologia around the idea of the "guilty pleasure," or they attempt to grandfather their continued affection for something on nostalgic grounds. The worst of the lot crowd under a cloak of irony and hope the ever-marching throng of cultural elitists will lockstep on by. The Empire Strikes Back would seem, on its surface, to be the kind of movie a person might wish to disinherit, but it has done a better job of skirting this injustice than many of its spiritual and generic brethren. People aren't ashamed to admit to liking it--perhaps because it doesn't give them a reason to. The Empire Strikes Back is almost Beatles-like, in fact, in its ability to cause critics and commoners alike to sing its praises.

Whether or not it is--as some would claim--the greatest genre film of all time, it has become the standard hoisted by a unified front. Comedy, romance, and drama enthusiasts are locked in eternal dispute over which flag to fly, and I feel they are all the more directionless for it. Drama has its Citizen Kane, but so many argue so violently for the superiority of other dramas that its usefulness is forever compromised. Artists and audiences need a Blue Flower to strive for and fall short of, and The Empire Strikes Back is as good a one as I've ever encountered.

When Irvin Kershner is remembered, it will be primarily for his involvement with The Empire Strikes Back. Irvin Kershner is more than The Empire Strikes Back, of course, just as The Empire Strikes Back is more than Irvin Kershner. He directed other things. Of the things I've seen--The Flim-Flam Man, S*P*Y*S, RoboCop 2, Never Say Never Again, The Return of a Man Called Horse, the pilot episode of SeaQuest DSV, and his Amazing Stories episode, "Hell Toupee"--I doubt I could recommend half. I couldn't tell you with any honesty that anything about them stood out to me as characteristic beyond their being competently directed.

I can tell you loads, on the other hand, about Kershner's involvement with The Empire Strikes Back. I can tell you what shots and lines he fought for, where his hand is heaviest, and what decisions he regrets. I can tell you this because his movie made me care enough to research it, and because, despite my research, at times I believe I feel it. Yes, he and The Empire Strikes Back are more than one another. For me, however, neither would have existed without the other. I'm glad to have started my conscious life with them, and I'm glad that, as long as there are movies to get lost in, I can thank them for first showing me how to get lost.

Gamer Reviews: Majora's Mask



In the year 2000, following the success of the big hit, Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Nintendo pushed out a title called The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, a direct sequel to the story of the Hero of Time. The game used the same engine as Ocarina of Time, retaining the concept of dungeon and over world exploration, but added in a whole lot of character development, massive amounts of side quests, and a time system. Because the developers used the same game engine and graphics of Ocarina, Majora’s Mask took only 18 months to complete, which is pretty good for a Zelda title, which can take 3-6 years to complete on average.

What is staggering about this game is the sheer amount of gameplay. While Ocarina of Time was decidedly linear, Majora’s Mask has the ability to let you skip around a bit. Now, it’s not anything like Morrowind, but coming from the somewhat linear storyline of Ocarina, it’s a nice change of pace.

Majora’s Mask was first named Zelda Gaiden, which, in rough translation, is Zelda Sidestory. Interestingly enough, in the year 1999, Famitsu released a statement saying that the long-planned Zelda expansion for the 64DD was underway in Japan. This is what was originally planned for Ocarina of Time, but never came to fruition. This was called Ura Zelda, and was supposed to expand Ocarina’s levels and designs. However, since the 64DD never took off, this would later be released as Ocarina of Time: Master Quest, which was bundled with the original Ocarina for the Nintendo GameCube and could be gotten with a preorder of The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker.

Screenshots were finally released, and you could see the familiar elements that Majora’s Mask still has in it. Finally, Nintendo released the finished product in March of 2000. Majora’s Mask requires the use of the 4MB Expansion Pack, which enabled greater draw distances (the amount of land you see on the screen at one time), more accurate and dynamic lighting, detailed textures, and complex frame buffer effects, such as motion blur, plus allowing more characters on the screen. Building interiors are also rendered in real-time, unlike the fixed 3D feature in Ocarina, which some critics called “blurry”.

Now that we have the technical side, let’s talk about the storyline.

This is the first Zelda to really have a rather dark tone in it, which many fans didn’t like. They were used to the neutral tones of the stories, not really having a dark or a light side to it (not counting the obvious dark/light tones of A Link to the Past). This Zelda title became the black sheep of the series.

The game is set in Termina, a parallel universe to Hyrule. There are tons of speculations on what exactly Termina is when compared to Hyrule, which can encompass a whole article on it’s own. I have plans to make that article too, and it will be a series concentrating on the philosophy side of the Zelda series. But for the sake of brevity here, we can just refer to Termina as an alternate Hyrule.

Termina, according to legend, was split into five areas by four magical Guardians that live in the compass points of the land. At the center of all this lies Clock Town, which boasts a large Clock Tower that counts down the days until the Carnival of Time, a major festival each year in the land.

The game starts out with Link riding through a forest, presumed to be the Lost Woods (once again, speculation--it is never actually revealed). He is searching for an unnamed friend (Navi, the fairy helper from the first game, some like to think), when a character named Skull Kid and his partner fairies, Tatl and Tael, steal Epona (Link’s horse), and the Ocarina of Time from Link. Naturally, this makes Link a bit cheesed off with Skull Kid, and proceeds to chase the thief through the forest. One transformation later, and you and Link are thrust into a strange world filled with familiar people.

Oh, and you have a time limit.

Three days to be exact, which takes up 54 minutes in real-time. There is an on-screen clock where you can track your progress, and once you get the Ocarina of Time back from Skull Kid, you can turn time back to the first day, thus forcing you into the three-day cycle until you can save the world from it’s impending doom.
What is this doom? Just look up. Yep, the moon is about to crash into the land.

You can’t have a good story without good gameplay, right? Some might argue that, but Majora’s Mask has both, so it’s a moot point. There are four main temples to beat in this game, which might sound a bit lax in the game play department, but never fear! The temples aren’t the point of this game anyway. Masks and side quests are the name of the game this time. Masks are obtained in side quests, which are usually integral to the game, as well as outlining major character development.

There are three main masks you can get which changes your appearance and abilities: Deku Scrub, Goron, and Zora. In later temples of the game, you can use these masks to combine your powers to finish an area. Songs also play an important part in Majora’s Mask. You can use songs you play on your ocarina to alter time, warp, awaken, heal, and change the weather. The ocarina usage is pretty much exact from it’s predecessor, Ocarina of Time.

So what’s bad about the game? Now, the good far outweighs the bad, but what is bad is annoying. Saving the game isn’t like the good ‘ol days of Ocarina of Time, where you could save anywhere you wanted. In Majora’s Mask, you have two choices. You can either save and return to the first day, or you can find checkpoints marked by a statue of an owl. When you save and return to the first day, you lose all collectable items like bombs, arrows, and everything you’ve done in a temple so far is reset.

If you don’t want to do that, you can save at an owl statue, and when you turn the game back on, it’ll start you right back where you left off. The trick is you have to turn back time again once you’ve completed your objectives for that cycle, or else you’ll have to save at the owl statue.

Sound complicated? It is. It’s a glaring flaw in an otherwise great game, but we have it better than the Japanese version of the game, which doesn’t even have the owl statues.

The other thing that might cause people to shy away from this game are the side quests. Some people just aren’t side quest people, they like the main dungeons and overworld exploration. The world of Majora’s Mask is large, but when compared to Ocarina of Time it feels a bit cluttered and shoved into a too-small bag. Granted, there are lots more things to do, and the land doesn’t feel barren and empty, but it doesn’t have that grand, sweeping scale to it.

However, I can put this up to being part of the design. The very essence of Majora’s Mask makes you uncomfortable, and you never really feel at home in this strange world. This works brilliantly when combined with the claustrophobic feeling of the land design. If Majora’s Mask’s story was in Ocarina of Time’s over world, it would fall flat.

Summary:


Solid gameplay
Developed storyline
Impressive graphics for N64
Odd save system

You can obtain Majora’s Mask for the Nintendo 64, the GameCube Collectors Edition Disc, and Virtual Console on the Wii console in the Shop Channel.