Category: Media

Zootopia!

In 2015 I did not see any movie at all in a theatre. In 2016, I saw three; one of them was Deadpool, which I saw on a record heat day with a free ticket, and the other two were both Zootopia. I not only liked Zootopia, I liked it enough to see it twice. So here’s your spoiler-free penny-ante review and then I’m going to jump below a fold to say something about the specifics in the universe, about the storytelling of Zootopia:

Zootopia Is Really Good. I liked it a lot and I hope you enjoy it if you haven’t seen it.

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Shirt Highlight: No It’s Not Caffeine

Hi there! Did you know I did shirt designs on Redbubble? I wanted to show some of them off, because these are designs I’m proud of!

No It’s Not Caffeine Estradiol T-shirt

 

No It’s Not Caffeine Testosterone T-shirt

This time, I wanted to show off these two t-shirts titled No It’s Not Caffeine, made for my trans friends to wear on their bodies. To explain, these two designs show the chemical symbols for Estradiol and Testosterone respectively.

We in the geek community like showing off chemicals that mean something to us, and with that in mind, I thought it’d be interesting to put some more advanced chemistry lessons out there. I mean, it’s not like I’d have any means to read it myself, because I didn’t do chemistry at school –

like at all.

These shirts are available for you to purchase if you like the art I generate and want to put it on your body! It’s also available as a sticker or a notebook cover, too!

Do Daddies Dream Problematic Dreams?

I’ve written about Problematic in the past, with the simple premise that there are no non-problematic faves, and the baked-in nature of the colonialist world we live in is fundamentally damaged. Recent events (a hot take shot from the hip) put the term in stark relief and so, since you’re all so very interested in telling me what I should think about it, clearly you’ll be interested to hear me expound. Right? Right? You’re not just looking to complain at a stranger?

This is spurred in part by recent reading about Dream Daddy. Because that’s a thing I started caring about despite having literally no interest, whatsoever, in wanting to play it, for any reason, at all, gosh dangit. With that in mind there’s going to be a minor spoiler to a thing I don’t care about but let’s take it under the fold anyway. It also involves the genders.
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Leverage – Parker

When you’re introduced to Parker in Leverage it’s with the unfortunate offhanded phrase that she’s ten pounds of crazy in a five pound bag. To be fair she’s also throwing herself off a building.

Parker is a thief, and our introductory shot of her is, in sequence, being shown in an abusive household, having her toys taken away from her, a crying mother, and being told, as a challenge, that she needs to be ‘a better thief.’ Then it ends with her walking out of her foster home, with the toy, blowing up the home.

This is one tiny problem with the earlier parts of Leverage, though really, the first episode. They hadn’t found their stride yet, they hadn’t quite perfectly nailed down the dynamic. The early entries came with a lot more shouting tension between the characters, but the start of Parker’s character was there. She was awkward, she had outbursts at people when they confused her, and crucially, the line, “I don’t like things, I like money.”

Parker liked money, because money made sense. More money was better than less money, and that meant that money was, literally, a way to keep score. She cared about the experiences of theft, but not the value of the things money could do for her. That crucial core of the character, that she doesn’t think the same way the rest of us, was there, and was fleshed out as the series went.

Parker is a character we learn a lot about, mostly because the assumptions about how she is don’t work. You needed to explain why she became, which means there’s rich fodder in showing her stories as connected to greater events, to the inevitable connection to her father figure, to how she learns to care about greater groups of people than just herself, or her family, building relationships within the group.

One of the devices about Parker that I really love, and which reminds me of of all things the Tales of Earthsea books is that because of her neuroatypicality and lack of social context, Parker can be both an eye-level character, who needs things explained to her on a very rudimentary level, and a high-level character who is the one doing the explaining.

Good storytelling in a short amount of time is hard, and Leverage makes it work by doing that storytelling fast. The story doesn’t take breaks to explain to you the large, elaborate history of con artistry that they definitely researched, but instead gives you a short, quick exchange that sounds like characters know what they’re doing (‘Cherry Pie, but with Life Cards’). Parker is responsible for a handful of these – she rattles off details about security systems, about heights and tensile strength and physical athletic limitations of human bodies, and she does so very comfortably.

The other thing Parker does, excellently, is show an emotional vulnerability and obviousness that the other characters resist. Elliot is not going to call the rest of the crew his family: He’s too damaged, too hurt to do that. Hardison can’t bring himself to do it, hepped up on all his personal social values and his ideas of what he can afford to show about himself. And then there’s Sophie and Nate, who are for lack of a better term, the parents of the group, and they don’t show their emotional state so readily.

But Parker: Parker can. Parker doesn’t ‘understand her emotions’ the way the others do, she doesn’t consider that she shouldn’t be so obvious about it.

Parker is a wonderful character, and despite her being neuroatypical, despite the characters early reference to her as being ‘crazy,’ by the story’s development it becomes clear that they trust Parker, and nobody thinks Parker needs to be fixed or solved. Parker’s behaviour is Parkery, and it’s not a sign of the flaw or wrongness in her.

The Four Jaces

In Magic: The Gathering, there’s a character called Jace Beleren. You probably have heard of him. You really have if you’ve hung around me for any length of time, because I tend to make fun of him a lot. Yet for all that I talk about him, I very rarely talk about him. I tend to just make fun of the concept of him, and that’s meant to be funny in and of itself:

Jace is a character pulled between an unfortunate series of limitations and I think it’s worth my time to sit down and actually address them – because there is not one Jace that we talk about. There is a complicated, intricate web of Jaces. Come with me, beyond the fold, to the Jaceception. Continue reading

New Shirts! Paragon City College Shirts!

Hey there friends! Do you remember City Of Heroes, and its many different university campuses, where you could go to craft inventions in a relatively peaceful environment, without fear of being shot at? Well, we have some cool t-shirts designs you can wear to signify your affiliation with one of those places!

Founders Falls University t-shirt

Founders Falls was the oldest suburb in Paragon, and apparently, one of the snootiest. It had canals and bridges and arches, and was proud in the esteemed age of the area. It also had snipers in suits on the rooftops, which was a thing.

Steel Canyon University t-shirt

Steel Canyon was your lowest-level University you could access, heroside. It was a region full of skyscrapers and powerful businesses, with a self-image about being forward-thinking and recovering after the Rikti War.

Croatoa OSA University t-shirt

Did you know that City of Heroes had a Creepy New England Town? And that town had a whole university in it? Check it out!

Cap Au Diable University shirt

Blueside didn’t have the only Universities in-setting. Also, redside, Cap Au Diable, the personal domain of an evil super-scientist named Doc Aeon, had a university too!

Kings Row Community College t-shirt

And finally, here’s a little special one for the Kings Row diehards. Sure, we didn’t have a university, but we had spirit, damnit!

These designs are available as shirts, mugs and stickers on my Redbubble store. Please, do go and check ’em out!

Game Pile: World End Economica

Okay, let’s clear up something I didn’t know when I bought this game. It’s not a visual novel, that vague term we use to describe a particular style of game with some choices and narrative, a sort of light, eroge-heritage RPG storytelling game. World End Economica is a kinetic novel, a strictly linear progression of text and images.

This makes reviewing it slightly challenging, because the argument about whether or not it is a game is an interesting one academically and unhelpful indeed socially. As it is, World End Economica is such a singularly focused experience, telling you that it’s technically a game isn’t a super helpful recommendation. As it’s such a pure narrative with a primary form of reading, it seems to me best to talk about the game as a story with a particularly interesting delivery method.

With that in mind, it’s a tiny bit of a deviance here; while this is definitely a Game Pile post, it’s definitely going to be reviewing this as more of a book or a movie than if I was going to recommend it as a game. Will that make a huge difference? Well, probably not. Anyway! Continue reading

Leverage: The Mastermind

The first character you’re introduced to, the first one who’s fleshed out to any extent in Leverage is Nate Ford. We learn in the opening few minutes of the scene with him that Nate is probably an alcoholic, very good at a particularly obscure kind of job that you may have heard of but also haven’t really got a good handle on, lost his kid to an insurance agency’s decisions and is also a bit of a dick.

This is part of how the series works, of course; it’s very good at dense characterisation, something it can mainly achieve by making characters very broad, tropey archetypes. Good people in Leverage are often glowingly good, bad people are often cartoonishly bad; it’s rarely handled in a way that makes things subtle after either an introduction or a twist. You’ll see a few seconds of a character in which the series very cleanly tells you whether or not you’re dealing with an asshole.

Nate is not an asshole, but Nate is a Troubled Sad Dad. I’ve grown a lot on this archetype in recent years, particularly because I realise how well this speaks to the people to whom it matters: Not the waxing, mawkish perspective of the people who fantasise about it, but the burden of struggling underneath that weight, of the general, permeating sadness – or worse, the fear of ever invoking that sadness. Nate is a guy who has been through a lot, and his work is not the refuge from it he wanted it to be.

I didn’t know Tim Hutton before Leverage, which is funny, really. I’m told he’s one of those enduring character actors, and that’s something you need to get used to when you’re talking about Leverage – it’s a series full of characters who are being played by people normally used to taking second or third string in a series, someone who gets wheeled on, play a stock part, and then exit. In Tim Hutton’s case, the main role he plays when he plays Nate is, in-series, a colossal asshole.

I’m not joking!

Nate, in-universe, is a con artist who needs to be in the middle of a con to keep track of all the parts that are moving. He needs information and access, he needs some form of control, befitting his position in the role of the Mastermind. This means he normally plays a character in the cons the crew run that translates best to… well, the person you want to backstab. The person who offers you opportunity but not affection. The person who, in some way or another, you want out of your life.

He plays a dick.

Look back on the history of Leverage sometime. Literally the only time Nate isn’t being a total asshole in a character is when he’s being oily and unctuous. And then he’s also kind of being an asshole!

The story of Leverage tends to follow a series of beats, where each season is defined by the character of Nate’s personal arc; first his refusal to get close to the team, then the recognition he has, accepting his self-destruction, repairing himself. This means the moments Nate really shines tend to be the episodes that pull some part of his past into focus, and those tend to be at the start and end of each season.

Despite that, my favourite Nate moment is in The Studio Job, episode 34. Nate is isolated from the group, left with two guards who are there to work him over – and when we come back to him, he’s sitting there, in his chair with two unconscious guards. The only explanation we’re left is from Nate –

“These two guys got in a fight.”

 

In Defense of Glee

I quite liked Glee, Season 1.

I understand there’s a certain cultural cringe that comes from it. There’s a lot to dislike, certainly in its place in a greater whole. After all, most everything you’d complain about for any given mass-media capitalist entity still exists here, with slightly more representation and effort put into a few characters but we can also dismiss those as not good enough or sincere enough or whatever.

Still, when you sweep aside the purity tests and also dismiss the cruft of what Glee became, complete with a sad tombstone for one honestly, fairly unremarkable actor who struggled with everything that those former structural problems exacerbated, and just look at Glee season 1 as a complete story, I like it. Specifically, I like how it ended.

There’s a lot going on in Glee, and the framing device is pretty simple: It’s a universe where ridiculous people take unimportant things way too seriously. It’s a high school story that paints high school in terms of melodrama, not in terms of gritty, grungy reality like many other high school stories aim for. This is something I really like, because any high school experience you can imagine was definitely different to mine, so these huge buildings full of hundreds of people, some of whom may never meet, where structural violence is a matter of difficulty of enforcement rather than actively encouraged social punishments, they might as well be Viking Longboats for all they feel real to me.

This creates this scenario full of characters with very minor but very real-seeming problems whose solutions to them are in some way over the top and lacking in communication – you get a sort of Greek Tragedy in the way very simple, structural plot points are put under pressure by people taking silly things way too far. The infidelity and distrust angles in the one ‘adult’ relationship that exists are – well, they’re silly, extremely so, and that silliness propogates outwards in how it gets solved.

The world of Glee is a world in which the character of the adults is melodramatic, nonsensical, and extremely childish, which is sort of how adults look when you’re a high schooler? It makes more sense to imagine them as fussy crybabies or outlandish caricatures than deal with them being people pulled by lots of conflicting, small forces that make everyday emotional labour harder.

And then there’s the ending – spoilers for a seven year old TV show episode follow, so sure, have a fold Continue reading

Leverage – An Introduction

A friend once said Leverage was ‘that show with all the competence porn.’

I have always been a fan of thieves in media. I don’t know why, perhaps it was a childhood love of Robin Hood (and trust me, when you live on Christian Replacement media, there’s a lot of takes on Robin Hood), but thieves, theives have always been cool. They’re a great way to do Cool Bad Things and be impressively skillful, without actually ‘hurting anyone.’ Beating people up was bad, but beating people up who were doing something wrong, that was okay.

Basically, I’ve always loved thief stories, and Leverage is one of the best thief stories. It’s one of the best thief stories over 77 episodes, each an hour long, and almost all of them as tight, self-contained stories told in the ‘dramedy’ vein. Here’s the short pitch so you can decide if you want to watch this show:

Leverage is a story about a group of disparate thieves pulled together by one honest man to try and use their abilities to go after people the system has failed. They start out unfocused, they become a family, and in the end you’re watching cool competent people pulling off sweet heists against people who deserve it.

With me still?

Great!

TV is a complicated business and you sort of have to decide where you’re going to spend your time and money and talent. Shows like Game of Thrones get to stretch their grotesque breadth because of an enormous budget, with sloppy dangling bit of stories which you need to follow up on or infer around or whatever, and soap operas have a smaller budget they stretch by reusing actors and scenes and setpieces. In Leverage’s case, the cast is basically made up of Hey It’s That Person actors from series you’ve seen before, never really given the chance to show themselves off.

The nature of Leverage is a compressed story. Characters have to present themselves quickly and get out to convey the much larger story – usually because most episodes want to show you three or four plot beats of a major story and give you time to move pieces around. So what Leverage spends its time and effort on is making those exchanges fun, personable and punchy. It’s a real treat – there’s very little wasted time, very little one-scene-meaning moments.

As for the things the stories tend to be about? It’s pretty simple. There’s a lot of very real things in the world that suck, legally, and Leverage is about the fantasy, the desperate romantic need, that someone out there is looking out for it. That anyone is there to catch the bad people, and maybe the bad people can suffer in the way they’re supposed to.

I’m gunna talk more about Leverage, and, because the series is fundamentally a series about the interplay between characters, in a dynamic you can enjoy, we’re going to do it character-by-character.