Jul 16 2016

Actually, Yeah, I’m a Little Afraid of These Ghosts (and It’s Awesome)

Posted by

So I discover from my Twitter feed, much to my own surprise, that I had people specifically wanting me to weigh in on Ghostbusters before they decided whether or not to go see it.[1] Well, the answer to that is an unequivocal: Yes! Go see! Preferably opening weekend because that’s all Hollywood cares about, they consider anything not a blockbuster to be a flop, and we don’t want to give the assholes any excuse to say “See? Women in the lead, killed it!” Or, as I put it on Twitter:

GUYS GUYS GUYS GHOSTBUSTERS IS SO DAMN GOOD OMG

Now that’s out of the way, let’s get into the nitty-gritty of it a bit, shall we?

Gneech the GhostbusterAs should be obvious to anyone, I am a Ghostbusters fan. As such, my experience of Ghostbusters: Answer the Call (or simply “Ghostbusters 2016″ as I suspect it will generally be known) is going to be colored by that. All those fanservicey inserts? Those were put there for me. And reader? I squee’d.

I can’t address whether the mainstream viewer will enjoy it as much as I did, because mainstream audiences and I are from different planets. I mean, I think so? The ghosts are scary regardless of whether you get the connection between the subway ghost in this movie and the Scoleri brothers from Ghostbusters II, and the jokes are funny regardless of whether you notice the “Big Twinkie” ad in the background.

However, if you are a fan already, this movie is steeped in Ghostbusters history. The cameos are obvious and awesome, even if some of them were a bit shoved in. Bill Murray’s especially stands out as not only an important moment in the current story, but also as a sly commentary on Peter Venkman. But there are references to and elements brought in from just about every previous incarnation of the Ghostbusters, from the Extreme Ghostbusters-ish array of busting gear that Holtzmann dreams up, to the animated logo ghost from Real Ghostbusters, to a stinger at the end that references… [spoiler!].

However, of special mention and dear to my own nerdy heart, is that the entire thing is almost a movie version of Ghostbusters: The Video Game, which I was totally not expecting. And by that, I mean, the core plot of the story is the same core plot of GBtVG: “Evil genius using ghosts to power up ley lines and ascend to kaiju-hood.” In the Video Game, it was the ghost of Ivo Shandor using rivers of slime, deftly tying the original two movies and the game into a cohesive trilogy. In the new movie, it’s an internet comments section personified in the form of Rowan.

Between Rowan and Kylo Ren? Watch out, internet manbabies. Hollywood is coming for you.

But the biggest GBtVG moment, and one that is way too specific to be an accident, is the Macy’s Parade. The Video Game takes place on Thanksgiving, 1991, and originally had a giant parade sequence which had to be dropped in production. And while yes, it’s a perfect way to give [SPOILER] a cameo, it’s also a shout-out to a lost moment in the game. Given that Dan Ackroyd and Harold Ramis wrote the game, and that Ackroyd was a big consultant behind the new movie, I can’t help but think this might have been something he specifically brought to the table.

So yeah, as a Ghosthead, this movie definitely reached into my brain and pushed the Happy Button. It wasn’t absolutely flawless, but my quibbles with it are matters of emphasis rather than any serious objection. I would have liked Erin and Abby to be differentiated a little more. I would have liked a little more backstory on who Rowan is and how he ended up that way, as well as a little more definition of his personality in general beyond “creepy dude,” and honestly his big transformation at the end is a bit clunky and inconsistent– but that moment is short and it actually is kind of a footnote to the “real” ending, so you get carried past it quickly.

But these things are all minor clunkers in the overall result. I spent 99% of the movie either grinning or laughing, and came out of the theater already planning my trip back to see it again… later today.

-The Gneech

[1] The power! The raw social POWER! I AM GNEECH, MOLDER OF OPINIONS! *cough* Erm. Pardon me, got a little carried away. ^.^’

Share
Filed under : Reviews | 2 Comments »
Apr 11 2016

Zootopia and 7-Point Structure

Posted by

So sometime last week Matt Trepal (creator of Fight Cast or Evade) pointed me at a writing technique called “7-Point Structure.” It’s not that far removed from the Snowflake Method/Five Act Structure I’ve already been using, but it is different enough that it can give you new insights on a story.

The best breakdown of it I’ve found comes from the person who first popularized it, Dan Wells, and you can see that here:

In order to sort of teach myself the ins and outs of it, I decided to make a 7-point breakdown of Zootopia, as that’s fresh in my mind and a remarkably-tight story considering the “toss everything out and start again” way it came together. I mentioned it on Twitter and had several folks express interest, so I’ve decided to post it here, because I love you.

WARNING! ZOOTOPIA SPOILERS AHEAD! BECAUSE DUH.

This discussion assumes you already have the gist of 7-point structure. If not, go watch those videos and come back. 😉 Also, Zootopia (in italics) refers to the story/movie, while Zootopia (not in italics) refers to the city itself.

As John Lasseter so aptly put it, Zootopia‘s real subject is bias, both how it effects people and how they deal with it. As I started dissecting Zootopia I rapidly came to the conclusion that it has three major arcs, to wit Judy Hopps’ arc, Nick Wilde’s arc, and an overall Zootopia’s Promise arc. They are all connected by bias: Judy’s having to cope with bias against the idea of a bunny cop as well as her own bias on the subject of foxes, Nick having internalized the bias against foxes as well as his own bias on the subject of Zootopia’s failure to live up to its own ideals, and all of Zootopia’s struggle with the messy intersection of its stated ideals and the reality of life.

In light of that, the true plot points of Zootopia aren’t necessarily a simple list of “A happened, then B happened, then C happened” but of the characters’ progression. Zootopia is a character-based story, not an event-based one. And here’s how it falls out:

Starting Point Hopps: Hopps is discounted as a police officer (by Bogo and Nick)
Nick: Nick is convinced there’s no point to being anything but “a shifty fox”
Zootopia: Zootopia claims to be “where anybody can be anything” but is far from that in reality

 

Plot Turn 1 Hopps and Nick: Hopps recruits Nick to help her search for Emmet
Zootopia: 14 animals are missing

 

Pinch 1 Hopps and Nick: Captured by Mr. Big
Zootopia: Manches goes savage

 

Midpoint Hopps: Nick stands up to Bogo for Hopps
Nick: Hopps saves Nick’s life during the Manches chase and shows him respect and compassion
Zootopia: Lionheart is arrested, revealing that all the missing animals are predators turned savage

 

Pinch 2 Hopps: Hopps resigns from ZPD in despair
Nick: Nick feels betrayed and breaks off his friendship w/ Hopps
Zootopia: Zootopia is violent and full of prejudice

 

Plot Turn 2 Hopps: Hopps figures out the mystery
Nick: Nick realizes Hopps truly values his friendship and forgives her
Zootopia: Bellweather’s plot is revealed

 

Resolution Hopps and Nick: They become respected police and equal partners
Zootopia: Zootopia lives up to its promise, even though “life is messy”

 
The way the 7-point structure works is that you start with your desired end state and from there you make the start the opposite of that. Thus, if the end state is “Judy and Nick are partners and Zootopia is making progress on its ideals” then the beginning has to be “Judy and Nick are enemies and Zootopia is failing or actively working against its ideals.” In this particular case, it’s Bellweather who’s actively working against Zootopia’s ideals, but she wouldn’t be able to succeed if the rest of the city didn’t already have the underlying tensions that she exploits.

Each plot turn or pinch, therefore, is a stepping stone from the starting point to the resolution. An interesting thing to note is that a lot of scenes or moments that stand out about Zootopia do not actually register in terms of plot: the character of Flash for instance, while an awesome piece of set dressing, doesn’t really impact the story at all except as a plot device to burn up some of Judy’s timer and add dramatic tension to the “Nick stands up to Bogo” moment. The character of Gazelle, despite her incredibly catchy song, is not important to the plot at all except as a sort of mouthpiece for the ideals that Zootopia is failing to live up to.

This kind of analysis can show you hidden things about your story, such as empowerment issues. For instance, if you have a story full of “strong women,” but all of the plot points are driven by male characters, guess what? You still have a patriarchal story. (Not a problem in the case of Zootopia, but one I did find in another piece I applied this method to.) It can also help you boil down your story to the most essential elements, and show you where things need to be stronger.

For instance, if your resolution is “Luke becomes a fully trained Jedi” and your starting point is “Luke is a mostly-trained Jedi,” this is gonna be a pretty weaksauce arc. On the other hand, if your resolution is “Luke becomes a fully trained Jedi” and your starting point is “Luke is a powerless nobody in the middle of nowhere,” you’ve got a lot more to work with!

In the case of Zootopia, they did a really good job intertwining the characters’ arcs with the thematic (“Zootopia’s Promise”) arc. Judy and Nick have to be friends and equals at the end: therefore they have to be enemies and socially-disparate at the beginning. But the reason they are enemies is because Zootopia isn’t living up to its ideals.

Dude. That’s some tight plotting.

This, more than any adorable furry critters or catchy songs, is why Zootopia works. It’s just damn well written!

-The Gneech

Share
Feb 17 2015

Kingsman: You Are a Bad Movie and You Should Feel Bad

Posted by

“Jeeves is a secret agent, starring Colin Firth.” I should love that, right? I mean, I have one or two other buttons you could push, but this should be a slam-dunk “instant favorite” for me.

Nope.

I loathe this terrible, awful, no-good movie. Besides not actually being very good at what I would have considered its selling points, it is also deceptively marketed and prurient in its intent and tone. All of the “charm” is not charming. All of the “humor” is not funny. And instead of being escapist superspy fare, it’s just idiotic, hateful, sophomoric violence-porn with no aesthetic or story value.

In short, it sucks.

NOTE: There will be spoilers ahead, if it is indeed possible to “spoil” a movie that is already rotten. But you’ve been warned, in any case.

So we start things with a clear “George Lazenby couldn’t make it” James Bond stand-in being sheared in half by Gimmick Henchman, with one half flopping to the left and one half flopping to the right, Wile E. Coyote style. It’s dumb, but they’re trying to establish an OTT aesthetic, I get it. Amazing how there’s not even a drop of blood in this room full of rubber body parts, but yeah, okay, I get it. CGI dismemberment is fine as long as it’s not bloody, sayeth the ratings board. That enough would have knocked the movie off my faves list, but it isn’t the real problem.

So then we move into the main meat of the story, where Forgettable Protagonist Boy gets inducted into the Kingsmen, hitting all the same beats MiB did better, while Colin Firth investigates the mystery of Samuel Jackson as Lisping Steve Jobs Wants to Destroy the World. It’s serviceable if a bit dull, but leads to where the real problem is.

Samuel Jackson as Lisping Steve Jobs has stolen the macguffin from Secret Agent Super Dragon: he has a hate plague app implanted in cellphones all over the world, which makes people go berserk and kill everyone within plot device radius. He decides to run a test of this at the !Westboro Baptist Church; Colin Firth attends to investigate, gets hit by the mind control ray, and then spends the next ten minutes slaughtering everyone in the church, because he’s a badass superspy in a bulletproof suit and they’re all just degenerate hicks.

And then I walked out.

I’m told it gets worse from there. I don’t even want to imagine. But let’s dissect this moment of cinematic poo-throwing, shall we?

First and foremost, it’s clear that the movie thinks that filling the church full of annoying bigots makes it totally okay to spend ten minutes showing them all slaughtered one by one, in close up from almost Colin-Firth-cam view. It’s all super-quick cuts and choreography, and again without a drop of blood. You’re not supposed to be thinking about the horrors being inflicted on these people, you’re supposed to be impressed by what a badass Colin Firth is. (Luckily for us, we were reminded by a PSA at the beginning of the film that if a kid puts on harris tweeds and shoots up a school after seeing this, it’s totally not the movie’s fault.)

Well guess what, movie? It’s not okay. Do you maybe not understand what makes bigotry bad? The reason these hate group people are awful is because they would think it was funny to have a single person walk into a room full of [group they don’t like] and wipe them all out in gruesome ways. Ha, ha, darn those wacky bigots! …Wait.

Presumably the movie will then follow up with Colin Firth being all horrified at what he’s done and whinge about not having any choice, etc., etc. (I don’t know, because as I say, I walked out); and while that may theoretically be an out for the character, the filmmakers had a choice. You were the ones who chose to revel in this crap; you were the ones who said, “Hey, who wouldn’t want to vicariously slaughter a church full of crackers?”

I was shaking with rage when I walked out of the theater. Not just at what the movie had done, but that none of the previews or reviews had objected to this, or even fucking mentioned it. I went in expecting classic superspy escapist fare; instead I got loathsome violence porn. If I’d wanted to watch a goddamn Tarantino movie I would have had my head examined watched a goddamn Tarantino movie. One of my standing policies is to never willingly watch movies in which “murdering people and laughing about it is totally okay, as long as they’re the wrong sort of people” is a core value.

To hell with you, movie, and to hell with your poisonous mindset. You are absolute garbage, and you’ve brought shame to everyone involved in the production.

-The Gneech

Share
Filed under : Reviews | 5 Comments »
Feb 02 2013

EXPLOSIONS????

Posted by

I finished Mr. Torgue’s Campaign of Carnage add-on for Borderlands 2 last night. It was a lot of wild, over-the-top fun, up to (but not including) the big fight at the end against the Badassasaurus Rex and your ultimate foe. This is because, for all the things the Borderlands team does right, they really suck at making interesting solo boss fights.

It’s a thing that can one-punch you. With area effect attacks. Which you can’t effectively dodge. In the middle of a large, open, completely empty and featureless arena. The strategy for soloing any boss in Borderlands is “Get killed so you respawn just outside the fighting zone, find the one corner the boss can’t hit you but you can just snipe at them, stand in it and plink away until they die ten minutes later.” It’s not fun, it’s not exciting, it’s just grindy.

It was particularly disappointing in the case of the Badassasaurus because it was such a visually nifty boss– I wanted to be able to see it while I fought it! But no. Because if I could see it, that meant I didn’t have enough cover, and got one-punched. Sigh.

But I don’t want to harp too much on that, because the rest of Mr. Torgue was all the best stuff Borderlands has to offer: action, a lot of loot-and-level fun, and wry satire/spoof that goes from being smirkingly humorous to break-your-furniture funny.

On finishing that, I started the third add-on, Sir Hammerlock’s Big Game Hunt, but so far I can’t say I’m impressed. As charming as Hammerlock himself is (“That’s just a bit of ribald humor for you. Ha, ha! Quite ribald.”), the whole “white guys vs. savages with some Heart of Darkness riffs” thing is way too creepy for me to enjoy. Also, there’s a really huge and annoying difficulty spike, in the form of the “witch doctor” enemies that buff their allies, insta-heal upgrade them to tougher versions just as they’re about to die, and do piles of damage to you, all simultaneously. Even the random encounter wandering-monster types have huge hit points and do tons of damage; I’m guessing the developers were like “Oh, you think the game was too easy, eh? TAKE THIS! Heheheheheh!”

Ugh. If Torgue has all the good stuff from Borderlands, Big Game Hunt seems to have all the worst. I’m not sure I’m going to be able to sustain my interest in it long enough to finish; what I might do is go back to the regular story and finish getting up to the level cap, then come back and power through BGH at +5 levels over, just to get through it.

-The Gneech

Share
Filed under : Reviews | Comments Off on EXPLOSIONS????
Sep 24 2012

InterventionCon and Borderlands

Posted by

So this past weekend was the third (already?) InterventionCon. It’s a fun, if smallish, local con put on by an impressively small staff who nonetheless manage to give it a “big con” professional feel. The basic theme of the con is “your online life, offline,” basically giving it a “meta-geekery” vibe similar to Dragon*Con (but on a much smaller scale). There’s a bit of comics, a bit of anime, a bit of cosplay, a bit of technogeekery, even a tiny hint of furry, but no one element really jumps out. This big tent approach is good in that everyone is welcome, but it also has its downside, in that there’s no really strong pull for any group. Despite being open to everybody, InterventionCon is not a “must-go” con for anybody, at least not yet.

Granted, I see most of the con from inside the Dealer Room (or “Artist Alley/Vendor Room” as the con refers to it), which possibly colors my perceptions. On the other hand, the Dealer Room is also usually the main hub of activity. There are several breakout panel rooms which usually have a double-handful of people in them at any given time, a videogaming room, and an open gaming room, and several corridors. Although the Marriott where the con takes place has a huge and impressive restaurant/lounge area (which at a furry con would be overrun with fursuiters and artists), as far as I can tell InterventionCon doesn’t go down there. What crowds there are to find, are in the Dealer Room.

The other thing I’ve noticed about InterventionCon, is that there isn’t much of an art culture. Most people in the Vendor Hall are there as vendors, selling books or crochet ponies or what have you, not doing art at the table– and the attendees don’t seem to be expecting it, either. I was never asked to do a badge or a sketch (my primary profit-makers at most cons), even by people who seemed very taken with my work. Furthermore, those people who were offering sketches at the table, were undercutting themselves badly. One artist wanted to charge me $10 for a fully inked, elaborate sketch; another $15 for an inked and shaded pair of characters. In both cases, I shoved $20 bills at them, just to drive the lesson home.

gneech_chanWhile sitting around at the con not doing any badges or sketches (le sigh), I decided to noodle around with new persona ideas for myself, including this cute little guy, who combines the whole “dapper lion” thing with my little buddy Keroberos. Only problem is, I still can’t figure out how to get more of the sea green and similar colors I wanted into the design without becoming garish. I’m an autumn, and if the persona is to reflect me, he should totally be dressing in gold and burgundy.

Also, I think way too much about that kind of stuff.

But Enough of That Art’n’Creativity’n’Stuff. Let’s Blow Shit Up

As InterventionCon rolls up its sidewalks at 3:00 on Sunday, that left me with all of last evening to occupy myself. I could have watched that Doctor Who we’ve got on the DVR, but instead I downloaded BorderLands 2 to give it a try. Mrs. Gneech and I are forever on the lookout for brainless shooty games we can play together, and this one is about as brainless and shooty as they come. Gung Ho FPS in a quasi-post-apocalypse SF setting with a soundtrack by Escape From LA, Borderlands 2 is snarky, sarcastic, and winks at you from the other side of the 4th wall to make sure you don’t take all the explosions and bloody head-shots seriously.

Does it work? Eh… sort of. The snarky humor and Wile E. Coyote violence are basically there to punch up pretty cut-and-dried FPS gameplay… go here, kill baddies, pull lever, kill baddies, find boss, kill boss, rinse and repeat. The loot is completely randomized, which does sometimes make for strange and amusing results. I picked up a gun which does something like 70+ points of damage and has a sniper scope (as opposed to the more common ~20 points of damage on the first level), so I spent a lot of time starting a battle from far distant cover and going “Boom! Headshot.” Borderlands 2 also floats around somewhere between FPS and MMO, with quest-givers, side missions, and explorer deeds, and encourages you to hook up with other players (via Steam) and take on missions together. However, your character model is determined by your class (all the women are “sirens,” for instance, and all the sirens are women) and the character models only vary by means of three different heads and palette-swaps. So it won’t be long before every character looks exactly identical to every other character.

Correspondingly, the difficulty seems to be all over the map, too. There’s a giant set-piece battle at the end of the first section of the game where you’re in an open area fighting a giant brute of a guy who is not only on fire, but who keeps setting you on fire as well as opening up giant fire pits all over the level. If you die, you simply respawn around the corner, which is handy, but every time you do, he goes back up to full health again. This led me into a loop for the longest time where I could just get to him, nick him a little, and then run out of ammo and get killed. Over and over. I finally defeated him basically through an exploit– I left the arena all together, which lured him over to one corner that stuck out so he could shoot at me, and he got trapped there by the AI pathing. So all I had to do at that stage was peek around the corner, snipe at him, and duck back until my shield recharged, then do it again. Since he was an otherwise unbeatable boss, I didn’t feel too bad about this– I figured that if the game is gonna cheat, I’m gonna cheat right back.

On the plus side, I do like the animation-esque art style and the western-bluesey soundtrack, which give me (positive) associations with Full Throttle. And I can see how the game would be fun with a full party, although I haven’t had the chance to try it yet. However, I suspect it’s going to be real hard to find a group that isn’t made up of four sirens, just because she’s the most appealing character design. We’ll see!

-The Gneech

Share
Filed under : Reviews | Comments Off on InterventionCon and Borderlands
Jun 29 2011

Not-Sucking Is Magic: My Little Pony

Posted by

Well, I binged on the first five (six? I lost count after the Ursa Minor) episodes of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic via YouTube last night, while workin’ on various stuff. It was enjoyable and I can see why it’s popular, although it didn’t cause me to squee with the light of a thousand suns the way it has some others.

I can see the Powerpuff Girls influence in it, and that can be nothing but good. I also wholeheartedly applaud a Very Girly Show For Girls That Is Girly that has things like well-defined and likeable characters, plots with conflict, and themes of self-reliance and personal development, without actually being a show for boys where the characters all have long hair and squeaky voices (a pitfall PPG could occasionally fall prey to).

In the episodes I watched, it never quite reached the level of awesome, although it did have moments that approached it, such as “I cannot tolerate such a crime against fabulosity!” and “But … the rainbow one kicked me…” With a few nudges in the right direction, it could easily become awesome, but my gut feeling is that Hasbro wouldn’t tolerate it.

So what’s my analysis of the whole Brony thing? Well, some of it is the same “breath of fresh air” phenomenon that made the original Star Wars such a hit after a decade of sci-fi movies that made you want to kill yourself. My Little Pony is a well-written, enjoyable, decently-animated show, which means it blows the doors off of anything else happening right now. Since the collapse of TV animation in the late ’90s, there’s been painfully little that wasn’t outright crap, and since it’s not crap, MLP shines like gold. And while I don’t want to belittle the quality of the show, I do think the lack of competition has a lot to do with the sheer enthusiasm of the fandom that’s building up around it.

Fans are gonna glomp onto something, and if there’s only the one thing around worth glomping onto, it wins. Once upon a time, animation fans could geek out about Animaniacs, Chip and Dale’s Rescue Rangers, Powerfpuff Girls, Balto, Cardcaptor Sakura, Dexter’s Laboratory, The Lion King, even the good old-fashioned Looney Tunes, and all still be fairly current. But all those things are old now (sorry, but it’s true, people like the New Hotness), and even if they weren’t old, they’re not being broadcast. You have to already be a fan of those for them to still be relevant to you.

If MLP was going up against the WB at its height, or even Cartoon Network during the Space Ghost: Coast to Coast era, it would have had a harder time of it, true, but on the other hand, it is a show being made right now that could stand up to those and give them a run for their money, and in the current climate that’s an accomplishment in and of itself.

-The Gneech

Share
Filed under : Reviews | 6 Comments »