Nitpickery

It may well be apparent by now that one of my favourite pastimes is nitpicking at things.   And a little while back, I watched this:

http://thatguywiththeglasses.com/videolinks/thatguywiththeglasses/nostalgia-critic/39964-nostalgia-critic-is-it-right-to-nitpick

On one hand, he’s got a darned good point.

Then again, I fell this doesn’t cover the entire thing.  Here’s my take.

I have been absolutely forbidden from talking during movies by my uncle.  I nitpick too much.  I make sarcastic comments.  This throws him out of the movie, and I can respect that.  I do tend to be much more detached from movies; I like to think it’s because I’m discerning enough (or mired enough in my English degree) that I pick up this stuff. 

Does this mean I don’t enjoy the movie?  If I’m nitpicking, does it mean that I’m not immersed?

No, I don’t really think it does.  I absolutely adore the Mummy movies (the first two, at least).  They’re my exam fodder.  I put them on when I’m doing other things as well, because I totally don’t need to pay attention, but they’re still fun.  Same thing with the Matrix movies: I still rewatch them and enjoy them (even the second and maybe the third movie – more on that in a later post, I think).  Does that mean I don’t point out that scarabs don’t eat people, that the sun would have hit the pyramid first before the valley floor, so the kid should really be dead already?  Does it mean that I ignore that if your mind makes muscle damage and bleeding real, the body shouldn’t be atrophied when it comes out of the pod, or that just starting Trinity’s heart pumping again should have meant she bled out more, rather than that she started living again?  Not at all.  I notice, discuss and rationalise all these things.

And here’s where I deviate from the Nostalgia critic.  He says that you shouldn’t be noticing these things, and yes, I agree.  But I don’t think that it’s necessarily a failure if you do.  Most of my friends are perfectly capable of enjoying a movie while also pointing out its flaws.  In fact, I can’t imagine enjoying many movies quite so much if I wasn’t also pointing out the little things while I was going along, for one reason: If I didn’t notice what was going wrong, I wouldn’t notice what was going absolutely right.  If you’re at all mythologically minded – Irish mythology in particular – or have interest in visual media, go and find Secret of Kells.  It’s a gorgeous movie, and if I wasn’t so used to pointing out flaws in other movies, I would never have noticed the significance of the beach at the end, the way each character is animated which reflects and builds on their personality, the tiny mythological references in the shadows and in the character of Aisling.  I adore that movie because of the depth of thought it shows, and I wouldn’t enjoy it half as much if I wasn’t motivated to watch for those things.

And I entirely agree with the point the Nostalgia Critic makes, that if you notice what goes wrong, you know how to make something better.  As someone aspiring to be an artist, noticing these quirks of storytelling is possibly the most important thing for me to improve my art.

Thinking too hard about Short Stack

I promise this is the last “So I was consuming this media and thought everyone should know about it” post.  For now.

Actually, this one started last year.  It was the middle of exams, so you can probably imagine that my mental state was somewhere between “I don’t even” and “My brain is crying”.  I thought some music would be in order.  Something a little upbeat.  Something I hadn’t heard for a while.  I put Short Stack on.

My mind was blown.

I couldn’t understand a word that they were saying.  Not that the singer was indistinct.  Nope, the words just made no sense in order.  “I miss you already/My eyes are getting heavy/It shakes, so keep it steady/I’ll be your blunt machete.”

What?

However, what I realised, with a little perspective, was that Short Stack’s lyrics perfectly encapsulate teenager.  They’re confusing, vaguely horny, and speak about romance using violence metaphors.  “I’ll write your name in bullets/So you’re the  last thing through my head”, anyone?  On one hand, it’s really hard to take that seriously.  On the other hand, I’m certain I wrote very similar things when I was sixteen.  Heck, I’m fairly certain I heard people at my school say very similar things.  I’m also certain *I* said very similar things.

Short Stack managed to impress me by replicating the exact sort of meaninglessness that sounds so meaningful to the teenage brain, is what I’m saying.

Nothing shall be said on my ongoing internal debate on how much of that was deliberate.

Why Cowboy Bebop’s Storytelling Works So Well

Yeah, it’s another ‘hey, I have this show/book/movie on the brain’ post.

So, I finally got around to watching Cowboy Bebop.  I’m now six episodes from the end, 24 hours after starting.  Not the fastest I’ve ever watched a show, but it’s certainly not too shabby, either.

And, because this is what I do, I’ve been thinking about what makes me love it so much.  Now, the simple answer is the characters.  I am now and always will be a sucker for vivid characters in the media I consume.  But just having great characters isn’t enough to make something an instant classic for me – there’s got to be other things as well.  So what is it that makes me utterly gleeful every time I start a new episode of Cowboy Bebop?

Let’s start with the first thing that comes on the screen every time you start an episode: The theme music.  Unlike a lot of shows, Cowboy Bebop doesn’t bother with a short recap or a plot hook before the opening music, and I think this is a very wise move.  The music that starts playing is just about impossible not to get into.  It’s jazzy, it’s catchy, it’s frenetic … everything that’s great about this show is encapsulated in this opening music.  As soon as that music plays, I’m ready to have fun with this show.

I also love that we’re fed backstory and plot in drips and drabs – at no point did the writers or producers or directors or anyone involved in this feel the need to sit the reader down and explain things like how the political system works, how the characters got to where they are (at least, not immediately).  They trust their audience to follow along and find out things as they go.  Now, I’m the sort of person this works very well on.  I hate long infodumps because they do slow down the story.  And while the world is obviously a really awesome place, I don’t mind not knowing everything about it, because what I do see is very internally consistent, and you can at least make some educated guesses from the info we’re given.

The other thing that impresses me is the range of tone this show has – it manages to move from the ridiculous (the whole crew is high on mushrooms) to utterly serious (heavy revenge themes and backstory issues) without any of it feeling out of place.

Partly, I think this is because it’s able to merge the humour with the serious – this is a show that makes chasing a corgi down the street into a matter of just as much importance as capturing a gang of eco-terrorists without detracting from the gravity of either.  One of the most horrifying episodes ends with it being because Spike is a slob, another takes place in an amusement park.  One of them, the tension was defused, the other, heightened, by the ridiculous situation.   All I can say is that these people knew what they were doing when they made this show.  They know it doesn’t have to be funny to be fun, and it doesn’t have to be dark to be dramatic.

And, of course, the characters probably play a whole lot of a part in it.  The way they interact with each other really keeps the story going.  They always feel genuine, and their dynamic is just a joy to watch.  And that’s where it is – nothing ever feels out of place, the tone always works, and it’s just so very, very fun.  And that is why it’s engaging enough to keep the audience there until it finishes piecing together parts of the plot.

Guillermo Del Toro on the Brain

So, I only kind of knew who Guillermo del Toro was until a few weeks ago.  I had seen Pan’s Labyinth, and both the Hellboy movies (which I still enjoy and usually watch while studying.  Yes, I acknowledge they’re not great cinema.  No, I don’t really care.  Even about the second one).

And you should also know that Monster, by Naoki Urasawa is one of my favourite manga and anime of all time.  Tied for favourite, with one or two other series depending on my mood at the time.

Now, it’s really difficult to find a copy of Monster on DVD, mainly because a DVD version was only ever released for the first 15 episodes (this may be only in English, I’m not sure about Japanese).  And then Siren Visual bought it, and will be distributing it in Australia at the end of the year.  When I discovered this, the noises I made cannot be described either with letters or with most parts of the human vocal range.  I bounced around my friend’s lounge room squeaking for a full ten minutes.  I’m not proud.  I’m also not particularly ashamed.

With that news (which I found here: http://www.sirenvisual.com.au/News/201305/345.php#comments) , came the link to the fact that there will be an HBO series released.  And it will be directed by Guillermo Del Toro.

Great, I thought.  I liked his work.  But reading more, he seems like the kind of person I should watch more of.  Let’s check what else he’s done.

And then I found ‘Don’t be Afraid of the Dark’ for hire on iTunes.  I watched it quite late at night.  People who know the movie (or the movie it is a remake of) will probably be laughing at me right now, because that was possibly the silliest thing a girl who’s not particularly well-versed in horror films could do.

But what else can you do in this day and age but blog about it (apart from freak out on Facebook, which I assure you I did).

Let me begin by saying that I really loved the movie.  In actuality, it wasn’t as bad as I’m making it out to be.  I can actually sleep in a dark room, for one thing.

So, into the overanalysis.  The structure really intrigued me. As I said, I’m not that much of a horror fan, but still, I could pick out every cliché in it (the child who believes she’s unloved, so falls prey to the creatures, the groundskeeper who knows all about it, but refuses to tell the family more than ‘it’s dangerous’, the fact that anyone in a bath in a horror film is about to have their shit ruined).  But the movie still kept me in.  I attribute this to the characters.  Sure, I was kind of left wondering how many darkened rooms a kid can walk into before she realises it’s a really awful idea to walk into another one, but she was still believable.  Her father, at the beginning, was slightly neglectful and clueless while never really being unsympathetic, because you could see why he thinks the things he does.  You can tell he’s trying to do the best he can, but the girl is just not having any of it.  He’s under a lot of pressure from his job because he’s in an unstable financial situation, so you can see why he’s distracted by that.  Later on, he gets a little more towards the unthinking idiot side of the equation, but for the most part, well done.  The girl, too, had an amazing actor (Bailee Madison), who I’m seriously hoping goes far in her career, because she’s got so much talent for it.  She sold the little girl better than many adult actors.  So, even when I could see what was coming, I still cared about the characters enough to not be completely thrown out of the story.

It’s not really surprising that I could see a lot of del Toro in the cinematography, either.  Part of what I adore about his films is the rich mythology in them, and you can certainly see it here, from the history of the homunculi to the description of the koi fish, to the ring of fairy mushrooms the groundskeeper kicks away.  For a while, I admit, I played spot-the-film – the Tooth Fairies also make an appearance in Hellboy II, in an early scene where they’ve devoured everyone at an auction.  Same thing – small, many of them, they eat teeth.  There are some differences (like DBAotD’s tooth fairies being confined to one place, having more explanation, and eating exclusively teeth), but the concept is the same.  Also, the hedge maze with a water feature in the middle, which appears again in Pan’s Labyrinth.  I find this actually quite cool, because it gives me a better idea of how he uses each of these motifs to flesh out a story, by seeing the role they play in different narratives.  Plus, it’s fun.

However, I did find that, once the homunculi were revealed, they suddenly became far less scary to me.  They were still threatening, but no longer terrifying like they had been at the beginning.  There is something about not being able to see the monster that is far more awful than not being able to see it.  So, once they were visible, the fear had to come from elsewhere.  Del Toro pulled this off excellently (oh god, why do they have access to sharp objects??), because this was quite close to the final scene, so the movie’s tension carried the fear the rest of the way.
On the topic of things not being as scary as they should have been, I must admit being very ambivalent over the deep-voiced homunculus.  Most of them spoke in a very high-pitched, breathy voice that just made me want to mute the television because nope, nope, all the no. But one of them (implied to be the old man from the first scene) spoke with a far deeper voice.  And this really threw me.  It wasn’t comical coming from the small creature, but it wasn’t intimidating like the breathy whisper on the edge of hearing was.  It was just kind of a voice.

Other than that, the first and final scenes were just marvellously done, and there was a lot to love in the middle.  These are just the things that really stood out for me.

Currently waiting with glee for the live action Monster series, because it’s going to be absolutely marvellous.

Sharing Some Frustration

Well, it’s finally happened.  I’ve finished the first draft of the novel.

On one hand, this means that I get to start revising.  On the other, it means an incredibly short blog post, because my brainspace is all out of words.  All gone.  I have used all of the words.  Except for the really odd ones, like somniloquence, or pluperfect.  But it’s really difficult to write a blog post using only those.

You were originally going to get an in-depth post about Guillermo del Toro, but that might have to wait.

Instead, I’m going to share a little about how I look at a work of fiction when I analyse it. This is how I do my I Can Explain episodes, and it’s the basis for any of the posts I make about looking into a particular work.  And also, y’know, most of my essays.  Because school is important, too.

So, dot point list:

  1. Look for archetypes.  Character archetypes, plot archetypes.  Is the author using them, subverting them, deconstructing them?  Why is that particular archetype used? How does it affect the story?  Did you notice it, or did you have to think?
  2. Look for motifs.  Images, lines, whatever.  How do they affect things?  Are they there as a reminder of something, or do they show character development?  Are they a symbol of a particular person, and if so, what do they symbolise about them?  Is it symbolic of a particular concept, and if so, what is that?
  3. How is pacing used?  Is there a section where the story slows down?  Speeds up?  Does it rush to the finale, or does it maintain speed and build tension?  Does that work for me, as a viewer/reader?  Why/why not?
  4. What does the ending say about the theme?  Does it support either side, or is it ambiguous?   Is it happy, sad, bittersweet, abrupt, unsatisfying?  Does it contradict itself?
  5. And finally, any really obvious allegories to real-world places, events or people?  How does the author think about those things – are they portrayed positively or negatively?  Does the author change anything, and if so, is it because the author would prefer it that way in real life?

And that’s about it.  Everything I say about a book or movie or TV show was found by answering one of those questions.

Hope that was interesting, will return less burned-out next time.