Panel Discussion: Hitting the Mark

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By James

There is something about the show Arrow that really appeals to me. The dialogue is cheesy, the plot predictable, the stakes too low. And yet, there is something fairly addictive about the show that gets me to watch and rewatch episodes. I went through the same sort of fascination with the show The Cape, but in the end, that intrigue faded when the show was canceled. There is something about the concept of a superhero story told through television that I really enjoy. The concept of a serialized story medium appeals to my sensibilities and schedule. The format is conducive to that of comics themselves, complete with the one villain per story and the cliffhanger endings. And I think that that’s underrated.

Recently, there have been quite a few superhero films in theaters. Captain America, Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises, Avengers, Thor, the list goes on and on. It has become an imperative to release superhero movies on almost a bimonthly basis now. In television, the number of comic adaptations is surprisingly low. Arrow and Smallville are among a very small list of non-animated shows adapted from comics. Rather than focusing on a particular chapter of a character’s life, a movie chooses to focus on the growth and development over the course of a particular chapter of that character’s life. With a television series, the story that we see is more clear and complete. Although it takes more time for a television series to start and stop, and to remind the audience of the previous adventures, the result is closer to the comic format that I have come to know and love. The subtle references to characters and events within the larger DC continuum are huge reasons why I continue to watch Arrow. The self-referential characters, the small links to the larger universe, everything else adds to the comic book style that it borrows so heavily from.

Even though I don’t particularly enjoy origin stories, Arrow does the job properly. Starting with the relatively unknown hero Oliver Queen, the show even explains how he developed his archery skills brilliantly. In much the same way that the Christopher Nolan Batman series started a gritty take on that particular franchise, Arrow creates a strong new take on a character, albeit a less popular one than Batman. The result is a movement into a brand new type of story. Relatively unknown characters are given a new life. This is a trait that I would love to see with Ant-Man, Marvel’s size-changing super hero. To serialize such a witty, real character gives the franchise a chance to appeal to a new audience. Although I am sure that director Edgar Wright will do a fantastic job with this movie, I think that the best medium for comics has now emerged.

 

Today in Pop Modern: October 30th, 2013

October 30th, 2013Allen: The video for Jhene Aiko’s “Bed Peace” featuring Donald Glover aka Childish Gambino was released today. Aiko’s been a stalwart presence in the hip-hop/R&B scene for the last few years, featuring on almost every major rap album either alone or with her R&B collective known as Cocaine 80s. “Bed Peace” showcases her beautiful vocals coupled with Gambino admiring her both in the song and video. I’m not actually sure if the two are dating in real life, but they sure can act like they love each other, whispering lyrics to each other about love and peacefulness. These two are definitely forces to be reckoned with, and only more people will discover them with this smooth, relaxing single. It’s nice to see such a zen message being spread when so much of R&B is about loss and intensity.

Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BBBmI_-gscs

James: Having played Xbox to the point of stopping for a while, I decided it was time to move on to television. This week I marathoned Arrow, the CW show about the superhero Green Arrow. It recently went up on Netflix, and is a fine show to watch. While the individual episodes have some trouble getting the seriousness down in a serialized format, the show as a whole does well, introducing the hero successfully, giving him motivation to become a superhero. The thing that makes it fantastic is the references to the DC universe. The villains that Oliver Queen faces are actual DC comic book villains, and the people he meets are well within the canonical reach of the universe. The flashbacks to the island where he learned archery is particularly rich, a storyline that shares the benefits of the overall show, while feeling fresh and humorous.  I found myself particularly attached to this overarching plot, and the ending of the season finished the first chapter in what I anticipate to be a long story of survival that is definitely worth watching.

Link: http://movies.netflix.com/WiMovie/Arrow/70242081?sod=search-autocomplete

Magellan: October is drawing to a close, meaning the movie-going public only has another few days to get their annual dose of horror movies before we all start gearing up for Oscar-bait season. There are a handful of movies that I’m excited about for the last two months of the year (The Wolf of Wall StreetInside Llewyn Davis, and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty to name a few), but this week we also got a glimpse of another exciting time for film: next summer. Maybe it’s a bit early to be thinking about the next big blockbuster, but yesterday saw the release of the official trailer for X-Men: Days of Future Past, which doesn’t look half-bad. Sure, by now we’re all probably burnt out on superhero stuff (the shakily handled X-Men franchise in particular), but X-Men: First Class was a triumphant return to form for the series, and Days of Future Pastlooks to be following in its horribly mutated footsteps. I’m hopeful, but that may be because I have a soft-spot for X-Men media done right. Watch the trailer and judge for yourself.

Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pK2zYHWDZKo

Frames of Preference: Final Fantasy Tactics

Final Fantasy TacticsI could write a million essays about Final Fantasy: Tactics. In addition to having one of the best stories of a Final Fantasy game (think Game of Thrones-style politics with more magic), it’s also one of the best examples of game mechanics that could stand entirely on their own. With such a simplistic yet detailed, watercolor-esque aesthetic, battles play out like extended chess matches with RPG mechanics stringing them together. Movement, preparation, even directional facing of each of the many units in the game are absolutely crucial to success in this game. Many games have attempted to recreate the tightly-paced dance that is the average battle in Tactics, but few have succeeded outside of its sequels.

Flix Fix: Fixing What We Can’t See

YunioshiBy Allen

The concept of “21st-century racism” has been coming up in various conversations that I’ve had this week. Just a month ago, I finally saw Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and I was surprised how well it’s tale of love and capriciousness holds up today. The film focuses on Paul Vorjak, and his infatuation with his next door neighbor, Holly Golightly. The two meet, go on dates, and fall in love over time. However, it becomes evident very early on that Paul (and the viewer for that matter) is only seeing one aspect of his neighbor’s personality.

The other main character that is most often discussed when bringing up Breakfast at Tiffany’s today is her landlord, Mr. Yunioshi. He’s basically a caricature of grumpy Asian men, but there’s something disturbing and dark about Mickey Rooney playing him as a joke for everyone to laugh at. The big teeth, the strong accent, and the thick-rimmed glasses all made me cringe, even knowing that it was coming. The main problem with this portrayal is that it is not only played for laughs, but clearly meant to be taken seriously in the context of the film’s audience. No other character remarks on his absurd antics and they all simply look down at him as the silly landlord who can’t take a joke. Now, it’s easy to say that this was what America found funny in the 1960s, and we’ve changed today. Today, racism is more internal, and is coupled with other negative thoughts that don’t bubble to the surface as flambouyantly as an Asian landlord eating from a big bowl of rice with chopsticks. This is 21st-century racism, and although it’s less offensive than stereotypes, it’s just as harmful to society.

With the rise of the Internet and portable smartphones, people are simultaneously more and less connected. One can read about the triumph of modern social justice on their phone, while simultaneously missing the beautiful girl giving them googly eyes from across the subway car. The initial impression of modern Americans is that we are open to all, yet we have still have some deep-seated problems in our nature. Like Ms. Golightly, what appears on the surface isn’t all that there is. Each and every one of has some sort of bias deep inside of us.

Everyone’s a little racist and a little sexist, but some are better at hiding it than others. It’s the same reason that we can’t in good consciousness take a seat from a pretty lady, and why we always assume that more attractive people are kinder. These ideas are so ingrained in our minds because of films like Breakfast at Tiffany’s, where prejudice is treated like a background joke. How do we slough off these dregs of a past that we don’t like to bring up anymore, that has become a shameful mark on our history? One way to work towards that is admitting that we are all fundamentally flawed, and allowing these negative aspects to define us.

I didn’t expect the back half of Breakfast at Tiffany’s to go the way that it did. Holly and Paul have a falling out when he finds out that she lives a false life after having fled her family’s farm many years ago, and she prepares to flee yet again. However, in the climax of the film, the two kiss in the rain, and learn to accept each other’s differences as all lovers should. It’s a typical Hollywood ending, but applied to our modern day issue with accepting others, it seems appropriate. Hiding one’s faults only makes them worse, and leads to a culture of people who can’t admit when they’re wrong. If we’re to be like the ending of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, we need to accept each other’s inner demons, not pretend that they don’t exist. Because, like Mr. Yunioshi, they’re always going to be there, ready to rear their deformed, unfortunately-shaped heads.

Frames of Preference: Justified

JustifiedAlthough I watch plenty of cable television, very few shows of that type stick with me. Part of it is the serialized format and the clean, well-lit backdrops of these shows, but I also get tired of watching the same plots play out with slight variations each week. Justified abandons this type of storytelling after it’s first season, and it truly came into its own when the villainous matriarch that is Mags Bennett was introduced to Harlan County, Kentucky. Timothy Olyphant plays his character like a modern day cowboy, and Mags was his first truly terrifying adversary. Her manipulation of the drug industry flowing through the town, ruthlessness, and penchant for poisoning people made her one of the best villains on TV, and the show has only gotten better since then. This frame showcases the relaxed Southern atmosphere that permeates the show between intense gunfights and clever dialogue.

Today in Pop Modern: October 28th, 2013

October 28th, 2013Allen: A hot topic in the gaming press these days is the ever-increasing popularity of YouTube videos of games being played. These “Let’s Plays” are growing in popularity exponentially, and new Internet personalities have sprouted around this phenomenon. In this excellent article, Giant Bomb’s Patrick Klepek brings up an interesting point: are Let’s Plays hurting the horror genre? As someone who just recently started streaming and uploading game footage with commentary to YouTube, I can understand his trepidation when it comes to a genre so centered on player control. By watching someone else play a horror game, one essentially misses out on the most terrifying and intimate aspect of these games; the control. As I touched on briefly in my latest article, it’s a subject where, as with all good topics of debate, both sides have valid points. Some people will never get to experience these games specifically because they’re too afraid to take control, and it’s going to be even more of a hot-button issue when the next generation of consoles allow streaming of games without any software required.

Link: http://www.giantbomb.com/articles/not-everyone-wants-to-be-a-pilot/1100-4770/

James: The other day, my suite got an Xbox. Despite the lack of productivity, there has been an increase in morale stemming from this acquisition. The games that we have consist of three different football games, Halo 2, Battlefront 2Spiderman 2, and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. These games are straight out of my childhood in the 2000s, so they have a deep meaning for me. These were the games that taught me how to play video games, and here they are, back in my room. In particular, playing Battlefront 2 is an amazing experience, as the split screen multiplayer allows someone else to hop on the couch and play. The game center is conducive to socialization, and is one of the best purchases my suite has ever made, except for our disco ball.

Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mMsMpbv9OnA

Magellan: As everyone must be well aware of by now, rock pioneer and music legend Lou Reed passed away over the weekend. There are no doubt countless articles out there which could tell you the nuances of his talent and his affect on the music industry, so I won’t pretend like I know everything about the man or his music. Still, he’s a figure in our popular culture who has influenced countless others, so I thought it would be insensitive and foolish to let his passing by without so much as a respectful nod. So here it is, my respectful nod to Lou Reed: go listen to The Velvet Underground and join me in poseur pleasure. Just close your eyes and listen to “Sweet Jane,” or “Pale Blue Eyes,” or “Heroin,” or whatever you need to listen to in order to honor this man. That’s all I’ve got for today, now if you’ll excuse me I’m going to go blast some more Velvet Underground.

Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nkumhBVPGdg

Frames of Preference: The Velvet Underground & Nico

The Velvet Underground & NicoAlthough a commercial failure at the time of its release, The Velvet Underground & Nico has become one of the most critically acclaimed and influential albums of all time. The album varies wildly in style, from droning, pounding rock songs to slower, lighter ballads. It also features the elegiac opus, “Heroin,” which is arguably the best song on the album and one of the best songs of all time. The iconic Warhol cover serves to reinforce the pared down, yet intensely beautiful and powerful nature of this album.