Geeks of the Round Table

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3/30/13

The "Good" versus the "Awesome".

There is a phenomenon in movies that I feel needs to be further explored: the difference between being a “good” movie and being an “AWESOME” movie. Logically, one would think to be an awesome movie, it must first be considered good. This could not be further from the truth.
Probably one of the more well-known recent examples of this idea is the Expendables movies. I have heard them described (especially the second) as “the 80's kicking down your door, guns blazing.” This is probably the most accurate description you could reasonably ask for. It has everyone, Rambo, the Terminator, Ivan Draggo, John McClain, Chuck Norris, just to name a few, but it does not try to be a “good” movie.

This is good, because it is not a “good” movie in the technical sense. The characters (in the loosest sense of the term) are mostly bags of testosterone and bullets. The plot is virtually nonexistent, and is just an excuse for getting the characters from one fight to the next. But here's the thing: it is still an “awesome” movie. It knows exactly what it wants to be: over-the-top violence that appeals to the basest of emotional gratification. It isn't Citizen Kane, but it is not supposed to be.
That's not to say that The Expendables is alone in this category. Look at any of the Grindhouse Picture or something like Shoot 'Em Up, and it's the same story. Now some of you may point to a mainstream filmmaker and ask if his movies, based on a high selling toy franchise, also falls into this category. I speak of course of Michael Bay.

I hear he tried to change his middle name to 'splosion.

Michael Bay movies initially seem to embody this idea, especially in Bad Boys and Transformers. The problem is, however, Bay does not go in to these movies trying to make an “awesome” movie, or if he is, he fails at it. In Shoot 'Em Up, there is a plot (kind of) but you don't care, and can just laugh at the ridiculous gunfights. In Transformers, not only does the plot try to be more relevant, but it's kind of distracting. Probably because the characters and story aren't just present, they actively detract from the experience. The character of Sam from Transformers is the worst offender. In an “awesome” movie, this character wouldn't even exist, because an “awesome” movie, the focus would squarely be on the giant, gun-totting robots. Instead, Transformers tries to get the audience to connect with the characters and the story through Sam, and doesn't do it especially well. In fact, one could say it fails miserably.

Because of this, Michael Bay movies can't be “awesome” by my definition. On the other side of the spectrum, there is the greatest “awesome” movie I have seen recently: The Man with the Iron Fists.

There is a plot, but it's dirt simple: there's a bunch of gold, and a lot of people want said gold. There are a whole slew of colorful and unique fighters that pull ridiculous martial arts moves and weapons that make no sense in the slightest, but create great visual effects. I measure this movie's greatness in how many times something makes me laugh and go “wait..what?!” and it does that a LOT.

I know many people turn their noses up at “awesome” movies. They appeal to the basest of emotions, they don't push the art of storytelling and blah blah blah. I don't feel that way. Art in any format is supposed to be an emotional experience, and there is nothing concrete that says the emotional drama of people in suits being sad is intrinsically “better” than the emotional experience of an “awesome movie.”

In essence, stop being a snob, and enjoy your Kill Bill.

3/20/13

Trailer Trashing: Gallowwalkers

SO
MUCH
YES.
This is a movie set in the wild west, with undead creatures that aren't romantic interests, and Wesley Snipes slaying them. I know I say that this is going to be basically Blade in the Wild West, but you know what? There is NOTHING wrong with that.
In all honesty, I don't think this movie will be "good", in a critical sense. I imagine the characters are going to be shallow, the motivations unclear and the relationships less than well-explored.
But I don't care.
See, a movie doesn't have to be good to be awesome. Was The Man with the Iron Fists "good"? Good God no. But was it awesome? Hell yes it was. Same with Expendables 2 (less with the first one) Machete (reigning champion of this genre if you ask me) and any other mindless shoot 'em up that just goes all out with how ridiculously awesome it can be.
I'm excited for this one, and you should be too.

3/13/13

So what IS the deal with D&D?

Mike talks about one of the most highly stereotyped aspects of nerd-dom: Dungeons and Dragons.

3/11/13

Trailer Trashing: After Earth

I'm not entirely sure what to make of “After Earth” from this trailer. Basically, I can see it going one of two ways:
A: What “Avatar” SHOULD have been, with interesting and more believable imagery and a vast, open world to experience that doesn't feel quite so fake.

B: An uninteresting, unoriginal special-effect piece about how humans brought destruction to themselves and the world, and how now everything has risen up against mankind because we're evil and blah blah blah.

So I'm not sure what to say here. Will Smith has been in a lot of great movies, and a lot of terrible ones. I guess all there is to do is keep an eye on the trailers as they come out.

3/9/13

Social Media and "Awareness"

(The pokemon retrospective is still going, there will just be some stuff in-between updates to that series)

Since its beginnings, social media has been trying to find its place in today's world. At first (at least for me) we had the journal-style xanga, where you actually had to write posts that were paragraphs long, and there was no such thing as a “feed” showing you what your friends were doing. It was simple, and took a ton more work, but the actually connectivity between users was somewhat lacking.

Then there was myspace, and I'll be honest, I never really used it. I had a myspace account for probably a month. It was still a crucial step in the evolution of social media, however. Now your entire posts could be shortened to a single word, your favorite music available as a playlist, and little icons that were supposed to tell people how you were feeling. You could put on entire albums of photos, and we thought it was a big deal when you could actually add video to anything. It was a big step towards what we have today, but it was not quite there yet.
A true visionary
Then, of course, facebook came on to the scene. Not only did you have the myspace style of conveying messages, but now there was a feed, right on your homepage, bringing you what all of your friends were saying right to your face. Gone were the days of having to say “man, I wonder how Zach is doing. Let's visit Zach's page and find out.” Of course, facebook has not stopped changing since, to the point that it's constant format changes are now somewhat of a joke (though in all seriousness, I still hate timeline). This was all simplified with twitter, which cut everything out of the facebook/myspace formula, and just let you post a single short status at a time, and having the statuses of all your friends flowing through your homepage.

But now social media faces a new problem: finding its place in today's world. The journal style of xanga is, for all intents and purposes, completely obsolete. Sure, you can look back on what you've said and done in the past, but to do that you have to deal with timeline. Nothing about social media can have a private function because, and I must emphasize this because so many people I know don't seem to grasp it, whatever you put on facebook or twitter is completely and irrevocably public. Oh you can delete posts, and even go as far as shutting down your account, but all that information is still on on the internet, waiting on some server.

So if social media is no longer a private experience between you and some close friends (assuming you don't legitimately have 400+ “close” friends), then perhaps facebook can perform a public function. We are all about throwing the term “awareness” around when it comes to our social and political issues, because surely if everyone is aware of something, the problem will be solved. Looking back at movements like Kony 2012 and Occupy Wall Street, can't we say that social media is a great tool to spread awareness of today's issues? Perhaps it is, but this leads us to an even bigger question: can social media make a difference? When you repost a picture, or a statement, or an article, aren't you contributing to your cause in a real and meaningful way?
Well, let me say this with as much subtlety as possible:
Hahahahaha   
AHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

To be totally honest with you, dear reader, I absolutely hate this obsession we have with “promoting awareness”. Take breast cancer, for instance (I'd use Kony or Occupy, but those were so laughably ineffectual that they don't really make the point). I'm not saying it's not a serious issue, or that its not something that needs and deserves support, but I feel as though we're in breast cancer awareness century. There are breast cancer awareness events all the time, people are buying those pink ribbons, and if you walk outside right now I bet you can find one person dressed in pink supporting “awareness” of the cause.

Whoop dee do.

Do these people honestly think that people aren't “aware” of breast cancer? Do they think that the problem is simply that the masses don't know about the problem, and that if they did they would throw money hand over fist at it? We have a technical term for that sort of thinking: it's called wrong. I should not even be annoyed with the people wearing the t-shirts or displaying the ribbons, because some of the money they bought those with probably went to research funding, even if the buyer him/herself was not aware of it. They've contributed something, at least.

Which brings this back to social media, let's talk about causes on facebook and twitter. Let's talk about all those pictures of starving, third world children, or of great disasters or brutal dictatorships. Let's talk about all the sob stories and political stances that are supported by pictures with clever captions. They all have one thing in common: “like and share to spread the word!” “let's make this the year that (x) happens by spreading this message!” “show your friends, and we can change things!” So all of your facebook friends who “have a heart” share it, because if they share it, then they're contributing by letting people know what is happening. They're changing the world, making it a better place, aren't they?

No. No they are not. At all. And frankly, I think it's insulting that they think they are.

Let's do an experiment here. Go to your local hardware store. You want to buy materials so that you can help fix a low-income home, or build an animal shelter, or whatever you want. Try to pay the cashier in “awareness” and tell me what you walk out of that store with.

“Spreading awareness” has its place, to be sure, but it changes exactly nothing. If you want to change the world, then it takes two things: hard work and money. If you want to help hurricane victims, then you need to pick up a hammer, or some supplies, and GO HELP THE HURRICANE VICTEMS. Understandably, many might not be able to do that, but lucky for you, there are ways you can help without leaving town. It's called donating money. Baring that, volunteer to help handle the donated money in your local area.

So yes, people who think they're contributing meaningfully via facebook are na├»ve, but are they really insulting? Yes. For every hundred or thousand people feeling proud of themselves for sharing a link (or in the case of a few of my friends, 500,000), there is one person getting their hands dirty, spending hours and days and weeks building, cleaning, researching or helping in some actual way. There might be two or three others who donate money towards the cause. The rest of those thousand people clicked a “share” button, and told themselves they were helping. That they were being part of the solution.

These people get every ounce of my hate for this. And to what purpose? If you're a gay marriage supporter, are you really friends with that many anti-gay people that will even see this message? Do you think you're convincing anyone, using someone else's words mind you, to come to your side of the debate? What actual, tangible result are you achieving by this constant bombardment?

Are social media and awareness of the issues useless? Of course not. We've just lost sight of the steps in between awareness and achievement. Somehow, and don't ask me how, we've come to the conclusion that one just leads to the other.

Let me close this ridiculously long rant just by saying this: if you want to change something, then get off the computer and go change it.

3/7/13

Pokemon Retrospective: Red and Blue

Geekasaurus Mike takes a look back at a staple of his childhood, and a major influence on the interests of a generation: Pokemon, in this, his 100th blog post.
If you'd like to see the other 99 posts, please visit geekasaurusmike.blogspot.com