Saturday, January 8, 2011

Sympathy for the Devil II- She Fights Like a Demon

Today's villain may be a bit unfamiliar to most viewers but I think she is very significant and one of the better written villains of my youth and even into adulthood. She has a deal in common with Magneto, not so much in terms of magnetic power, but in terms of back story, but with one VERY significant difference. But we'll get to that later. This villain is also significant as rarely (think about this for a second) is there a female villain in animation who is the antagonist of a male hero. Think about it. It's acceptable to have a female hero and a male villain or same sex hero/villain pairs but why is it so rare to have a female antagonist against a male hero? Is there some underlying social principal here that women are not capable of evil actions? Well, the next person is certainly capable of that. That's right- Demona.

For reference, the show Gargoyles was a cartoon from the 90s which featured a group of gargoyles living in New York City (in the 1990s) who were entirely male and lead by Goliath, their clan leader. Now, gargoyles themselves were not indigenous to the city and this group lived in Scotland in the 1100s (though curiously but one has a Scottish accent). Long story short, humans lived in a castle and protected the gargoyles by day and the gargoyles who were stone by day, protected the humans during the night. Sounds like a wonderful symbiotic relationship.

So, one day, the captain of the guard betrays the castle to Vikings during the day and most of the hundred or so gargoyles are destroyed. The seven or so remaining ones are frozen in stone by the castle magus to remain that way even during the night and are placed around the castle.

Fastforward to the 1990s, one of the other villains of the show, David Xanatos breaks the spell that keeps the gargoyles bound and the gargoyles basically fight crime and various other antagonists through the series. This is all fine and good, but where does Demona come in? She's a gargoyle too and as such would be all set to work with our heroes, no?

Clearly not. She blames the humans for the death of her entire clan (save for the handful still alive). Since Goliath and the other gargoyles are set to maintain balance with the humans that may misunderstand them, they are just as bad as the humans who betrayed her clan in Demona's eyes.

But when the series flashed back to how Demona was "created" for lack of a better term, we get a better view into her psyche. She disliked humans prior to the destruction of her people, and as such we find she plotted ALONG WITH the treacherous captain of the guard to ensure that their castle would fall. However, she didn't want her fellow gargoyles to know her part of her betrayal and flew off into the night right before the Vikings came and destroyed the castle and most of her people.

She returned to her castle the following night, when she awoke only to find her people slaughtered. Tears forming in her eyes, she cried out "What have I...what have *they* done?" Her inability to face the consequences of her actions led her to avoid Goliath when he awoke and search the castle, seeing most everyone dead and assuming that the love of his life was also dead.

After the rest of the eponymous gargoyles are frozen in stone, Demona still blames the humans, even though she had inadvertently caused this. She may be one twisted ball of pain, but when her sole tear falls on Goliath's frozen body, one cannot help but feel something for her.

Time continues and Demona lashes out against humanity whenever she has the chance, and by scarring one stable boy creates The Hunter, an anti-gargoyles human warrior, who hunts down gargoyles, specifically her though. This title and role of The Hunter passes from generation to generation, even until present day.

Now, Demona in her older age forms an alliance with a human named Macbeth (yes, *that* Macbeth) sometime around the year 1200. Why does she do this, the hater of humans that she is? Because she is old and needs protection for her and her new clan from other humans while he needs protection against King Duncan, his cousin. It should be noted in this version of events Macbeth is quite the heroic figure, not the villain of Shakespeare.

Anyways, the Weird Sisters (yes, those Weird Sisters) intervene and give Macbeth's youth to restore Demona to her highest potential while Macbeth gains her loyalty. They become a nigh unstoppable team. Until, Macbeth's ad visors grow leery of Demona and question her loyalty. She overhears them questioning her loyalty and deserts his castle right before his enemies decide to give a final ass ult- not hearing Macbeth berate his lieutenants for ever doubting his friend and ally, Demona.

So, she deserts and Macbeth's castle and rule are destroyed, all because Demona had suspicions that the humans were uneasy about her- not that Macbeth had ever actually thought of betraying her. The twist in this is that as a result of the Weird Sisters, Demona and Macbeth are bound together for eternity; one cannot die while the other lives. Translation- Macbeth and Demona cannot die or age unless one kills the other. Problem- both are incredibly skilled warriors. Result- Both are still alive as of 1997, when this series starts.

Anyways, as I said before the most intriguing thing about Demona, is not her fanatic racism- I could find that in Magneto. However, the defining and more interesting psychological issue is that she is at fault, directly or indirectly, for everything bad that has happened to her and refuses to accept it. However, while she cannot admit it (except under spell) is that above all her hatred and anger, there is something else she feels. When confronted by all of her misdeeds by the Weird Sisters, Demona tries to deny them, though knowing that she is completely at fault for her own misery, she breaks down and admits that she feels alone.

It's weird to go from complete hatred for a character to nothing but pity. Prior to the "City of Stone" arc where her past is revealed, I had Demona pegged as a two dimensional character, but knowing that she had this kind of pain behind her amazed me that a children's show villain could have levels and shades of gray. Poor Demona. A few thousand therapy sessions may help...

So, I got off my schedule for writing, but I swear I'll come back to it. I was able to finish the short story quota and am starting on a new one tonight. Hopefully you are enjoying this feature and the other five to come! It will be awesome.


Thursday, January 6, 2011

Sympathy for the Devil I- The Master of Magnetism

Starting off this week long look at what villains have influenced me and my writing is a character who has almost a fifty year history and is considered one of the most influential characters of comic book history. That right- first up for this week is the leader of the Brotherhood of Mutants: Magneto.

While I am aware of the character's history, the part I will be focusing on will be the first two X-men movies as those were more of what impacted me personally than reading the comics. I *know* there is so much history in the character, but for the sake of somewhat brevity, sacrifices must be made.

Born as Max Eisenhardt, but more often known as Magnus or Erik Lensherr, things were not easy for our young villain. Then again, that is to be expected when one is Jewish and also living in Nazi Germany. The opening scene of the first X-men movie shows Erik and his family in a concentration camp. While his age isn't explicitly stated, he appeared roughly ten or so years old. Anyways, his stay in the camp gets even worse when his parents are taken from him, presumably to be executed in the showers or by some other equally horrible method. Naturally, this would traumatize anybody, a child especially. Problem is that sometimes a scared kid can grow up to be a sociopathic mutant. With nigh godly abilities.

For those of you unfamiliar with the X-men universe, the idea is this: it's about half past the future and mutants are starting to be discovered all over the world. Now, mutants can have a variety of abilities such as the ability to fly or walk through walls or superhuman strength, but other than that they look remarkably like ordinary human beings (ignoring also, that all of the mutants are played by attractive actors and actresses, but the point stands). Anyways, the US Senate is nervous about the growing mutant "threat" as the government really isn't sure what to do with people with such power. One senator calls for the registration of all mutants and wants to keep them under watch, but cooler minds seem to be prevailing for the time being. However, a now adult Erik watching the Senate session has a sinking feeling that this situation seems all too familiar to the Holocaust.

Except instead of being a boy, he now is a powerful man with the ability to control magnetic fields. This may not sound incredibly impressive at first glance, but when one realizes that Magneto can effortlessly pick up and throw cars, stop tens of bullets in the air and even move the Golden Gate bridge himself, it is a power worth respecting. Or fearing as the case may be.

Now, if he was born Erik, why does he go by Magneto other than the fact that it is a really catchy name and alludes to his power? As evidenced by the second X-men movie, he seems to view having an alternate "mutant" name as a way of having embraced ones mutant identity.

Given the Senate's predictable "anti-mutant" stance (of course the general public fears what it does not understand), Erik/Magneto naturally will not take this whole mutant registration act laying down and of course plans to fight it by any means necessary.

Magneto's old friend and leader of the X-men (a group of mutants who work together to help younger mutants use their powers for the benefit of humanity), Prof. Charles Xavier senses that Magneto may be thinking rashly and confronts him. Magneto shrugs him off and continues his plan to assert mutant superiority over ordinary humans (how he goes about it, I'll leave you to watch the movies).

But, as powerful as he is, he is also charismatic and intelligent. It's quite fitting that he is played by Sir Ian McKellan, a Shakespearean actor. He isn't the sort to go in guns a blazin' though there are a few scenes where he literally turns said blazin' guns back on their users. No, in all of his plans he doesn't rage to the world to fear mutantkind but sits back smirking and watches as various machines and his allies do the work for him.

It is worth pointing out that Magneto and the whole X-men comics has been seen as a bit of an allegory to the Civil Rights struggle of the 1960s. Mutants, of course, being seen as the minorities to the normal human population are juxtaposed against African Americans in their struggle against highly racist sentiments from the Caucasian dominated America.

In this vein, Magneto and his idea of using violence was taken from the real life personality of Malcolm X who advocated violence when need be in case of struggles against their oppressors. Which is exactly what Magneto plans to do in both films- why wait for the humans to start up mutant concentration camps when humans could respect and fear mutants now? I mean, it hardly excuses Magneto's attempts at genocide but it is easy to see his thought process.

In fact- the first watching of the first X-men movie, I was almost on board with Magneto except for his complete and total disregard for life. How would have WWII have been different (or the Holocaust) if the Jews would have had the capacity to fight back against their Nazi oppressors? And please don't bring up Inglorious Basterds- I like Tarantino, but that film, I did not. But what if it was possible? Could things have worked better for the Jews if such a military force was assembled? This is more Magneto's thought process though his preemptive killing of humans before they pass legislation against humans is completely uncalled for. And it gets worse...

A character defining moment is in the first film where Magneto has a machine that kills any non-mutant within its radius. The machine takes someone with the power of magnetism to run, though whomever is running it will suffer a deal of fatigue from powering it, and with more use, it will kill the user. Instead of running the machine himself and sacrificing himself for his ideals, Magneto instead straps a teenage girl named Marie in the machine and has her run it instead. While the machine is powering up with her in it and her life draining away, Magneto coldly assures Marie that "[y]our sacrifice means our survival." Wow. Moral event horizon has been crossed...

So, sympathetic (somewhat), ambitious and a self-righteous bastard, Magneto has a lot of offer the world of villains and writing. Tune in tomorrow for the next villain.

Theme Week I- Sympathy for the Devil

So, as part of my efforts to continue writing, I'm going to try to come up with a theme for the week and write about it.

I should say that while I do continue this blog, I do like to keep writing short stories (which I have yet to work on, but I'm set to begin on one tonight) and I thought about how much media has impacted my characters and I guess I feel like I should make some acknowledgements.

In every story there is a hero. And for every hero, there must be a villain. Personally, I often find the villain more intriguing than the hero (which may or may not be a whole slew of psychological issues- you be the judge) and as such has impacted my writing. I do very much like to write people who are more...altruistically challenged, shall we say. This week, I'm going to consider villains in media who have personally impacted me and my writing. Now, this being said, given that I write short stories, it is harder to get into the complexities of a villain and her/his neuroses over the course of a few pages, but that is also something that I'm going to hopefully overcome.

Anyways, if you are interested in reading, shoot me a message and we'll have to hook you up. The first villain related post should be up some time later tonight. See you then!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Back to "work"

Sorry, nothing too interesting or any witty comments for today. I made the pilgrimadge back to my college which was uneventful. The weather was beautiful and I honestly could not have asked for better driving conditions.

However, the bigger matter looming over my head like an anvil is the exam I have on Tuesday for Biomedical Science. It covers a fair amount of material (three weeks, though that is easily a couple hundred pages) and I feel as though I really have not had the time to put into studying it. I invested a good deal of time today and feel alright about half or so of the material- but I am a bit nervous about it all the same. I don't like to let onto it too much so that I seem "above it all" and very chill about the whole shebang, but I'm just as anxious as the rest of them.

I am going to head to bed early tonight (yes, midnight is early for me these days) and hopefully the extra rest will do me some good. Fingers are crossed.


Saturday, January 1, 2011

"The Game Has Changed!"

A Review of "Tron: Legacy"

Since my last post has garnered my more traffic than I have had in months, I decided, why not give the people what they want? Err...people if you are out there, please let me know what you want. I love to write for an audience.

Anyways, the background to this particular film is interesting. I was sort of hesitant to see it as it looked very aesthetically pleasing but I fear that that would be all that the movie would: beautiful but without substance. Anyways, one of my friends from church wanted to hang out and do lunch and a movie. I was more than willing to oblige as it had been some time since I had seen him and I was up for anything.

It should be noted at this point that I had little to no clue about what "Tron" is or was. In fact, all of my knowledge of the series came from a gaming series called "Kingdom Hearts." Which is to say, not too much at all.

So, we got to the theatre and it turns out that the movie came in 3D and 2D settings, which was fine. I'm not a fan of 3D, mostly because it feels (more often than not) gimmicky. While gimmicks can be fine, they can't be the only thing holding up a movie. I'm talking to you, Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland! Ahem.

We opted for the 3D showing much to the pining cries of my wallet and the few dead presidents left inside and hopped in.

As the credits flew in a most beautiful way, I picked up a deal of the story. There was this guy named Kevin Flynn (played by Jeff Bridges) who was an amazing computer programmer who had oodles of dollars (unlike my wallet) and was the CEO of a computer company named ENCOM. And he has a son name Sam who has a wonderful relationship with his father, until Kevin flat out disappears. Yes, Kevin vanishes into thin air, leaving his young son the lion's share of the company.

Now, while Kevin's whereabouts are unknown (though he mumbled often about living in a computer and the games played therein), young Sam is left to muddle through the loss of his father and as a result turns into an angsty 27 year old young man who while intelligent is too much of a rebel to really accomplish anything in the way of college degrees or running the company his father pretty much left him.

Angsty young men are pretty much the standard bill affair for Disney protagonists for the last fifteen years (Hercules, Aladdin, Simba, etc.) and Sam Flynn is no different, though a few years older than the usual. He broods and rides his motorcycle and pulls pranks on the company he owns (pretty much) before returning to his "Fortress of Solitude"esque dwelling in a daring escape sequence (one of the better ones of the film).

It is there that Sam finds that his father in his ramblings may have not been far off in his statements of living in a computer and playing games on "The Grid." When Sam gets a tip to check out his father's arcade, he turns on an old computer and magically (as there is seriously no explanation for how this happens) is transported into the computer and onto The Grid.

Now, it appears that life in a computer is not all that it's cracked up to be. Sure, the architecture is beautiful in mostly drab greys and electric blues, but there seem to be an awful lot of people who have orange lights on them instead of blue, who decide to throw Programs (beings who live in the computer but look like human beings) onto The Grid and play various games against each other, not unlike ancient Romans, with similar consequences (de-rezzing, or deresolution, seems to be the equivalent of death in the computer universe).

Sam gets thrown right into the middle of these games and manages to survive, much to the surprise of the Program watching the games and after a few flashy action sequences, Sam's presence makes him the number one target of the dictator-esque, CLU (also played by Bridges) who seems to rule The Grid.

Long story short, Sam discovers that his father is indeed alive and well in the computer and chilling out in a hideout with a Program that he made named Quorra (Olivia Wilde). Though "hiding out" seems like it would be a better term as CLU is out to exterminate Kevin for a number of reasons, Kevin's abode is awful nice looking and sleek, almost if the entire thing had been designed by Apple.

So sum up the rest of the movie, Sam, Kevin and Quorra basically attempt to escape from The Grid and the armies of CLU preventing them from leaving. Yes, that is the plot. There is a whole lot more of detail, though the storytelling is convoluted to say the least and not especially engaged.

Though why should it be? The movie relies strongly enough on its powerful visuals and those visuals do succeed. Even if I hadn't seen the movie in 3D, I would still be raving about a few sequences- the light cycle sequence and the flying sequence near the end are of special note.

Also as a strength, the movie really delivers on the musical end of the spectrum with all of the music done by Daft Punk, who did the movie for the first film. The techno beats fit the film perfectly and make the action that much more believable and visceral.

Though with these strengths come many weaknesses. The plot, as mentioned before is poor and the characterization of the characters is disappointing, to say the least. Granted the movie mostly takes place in a computer, but must all of their performances also be robotic? I felt such low empathy for the characters in the film that I found myself indifferent to their plight and just wanted to do more of the action sequences.

The actors don't really bring much to the table here- Bridges is ok as Kevin, especially when he has that spaced out look in his eye and starts waxing philosophical about life in the computer, but not really intimidating as CLU. Garrett Hedlund is the generic angsty male hero as Sam and not really compelling. Quorra is just another pretty face and while she is a Program, she could at least attempt some emotion or make us feel for her. I mean, Wall-E was able to do that for most! Even Ah-nold in the second Terminator movie got us to feel empathetic for him by the end of T2! So, why not a Program?

Sigh. In the end, what "Tron: Legacy" does well, it does well. Even though it wasn't a great movie, it was an enjoyable experience, so I will give it that much.

Basically there are three reasons to see this film: soundtrack by Daft Punk, beautiful art/action scenes, and soundtrack by Daft Punk. If you go in wanting those three things you will be pleasantly rewarded by sparkly lights and choruses of "ooh, how pretty!" However, if you are looking for a deep movie or one with decent dialogue and characterization, I would direct you elsewhere.

7.1/10 - Alright



So, yeah. I had to write that. Anyways, it's another new year and as such I have several goals so what better forum to display them then here?

1. Write one short story every two weeks
2. Read the Bible in some capacity every day
3. Finish a playthrough on Mass Effect 2 with Male Shepard romancing Jack
4. Write in this blog every three days, minimum.
5. Stay up to date with school work
6. Limit my time playing "Mafia Wars" on Facebook.
7. Smile. Daily.

Anyways, I guess also since my viewership got a huge spike after I wrote that "Black Swan" article (according to the stats, anyways), I'd like to welcome any new viewers. If you have any questions or suggestions for me and this blog feel free to rattle off. Until then, I'll be outlining the first story. Oh, and I'll be chronicallying my success with these these seven tasks probably ever other post or so, to keep myself thinking about them.

Anyways, Happy New Year!


Monday, December 27, 2010

"I was perfect..."

A Review of "Black Swan"

So, some time back, some friends of mine and I saw the movie "Hereafter." We were uttely dissapointed by the movie and though it was not possible, we all wished that somehow we could have regained those two hours of our time and the $6.75 that we had lost. This was not possible, though there was one good thing about it. One of the trailers showed a very dark twisted movie starring Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis called "Black Swan". It seemed to promanently feature ballet, which admittedly was not too much of a draw initially, but the trailer looked disturbing enough for me to get interested.

Fast forward to two days ago when I actually saw the movie with one of my friends. He was skeptical of seeing a movie that centered around ballerinas, but I assured him that the trailer looked weird enough for him to be interested. His interest piqued, we walked in.

"Black Swan" is a psychological thriller by Darren Aronofsky which was intially released to a limited number of locations but has since rolled out to almost a national release.

First up we meet our protagonist, Nina Sayer (played by Natlie Portman), who is a ballerina. Yes, Nina the ballerina. My memory may be failing me, but I could swear that there was some children's toy with the same name. Anyways, Nina the ballerina is a sweet girl and Portman plays her with such innocence at first. She lives in New York City with her mother (played quite well by Barbara Hershey) who is something of a soccer mom by way of Carrie White's mother sans religious craziness. Nina while she is by age a woman, is somewhat (read: quite) emotionally stunted- almost reminiscant of a dog rescued from an abusive home who winces in pain every time a person moves towards it. She dreams of perfection in her dance and is frustrated with her lack of progress in her dance company in spite of her having been with the group for awhile.

But, that must change. The flamboyant and lecherous head of the dance company, Thomas (Vincent Cassel) announces that they are doing "Swan Lake" in the upcoming season. For those unfamiliar with the story, the story is such that a princess falls in love with prince, but a sorceror turns her into a swan. Fortunately, true love can change the princess back into human form, but *unfortunately* the princesses evil twin, the black swan seduces the prince and as a result the white swan princess in mourning throws herself from the top of a cliff to her death. Yeah, when you have *this* kind of story that the movie revolves around, you know that the movie is not going to exactly be rainbows and puppies.

The lead role for which all of the ballerinas are eyeing is the dual role of the White Swan and the Black Swan- which makes sense as the characters are twins, though the parts are quite different. While the White Swan part is more technical skill, the Black Swan is much more sensual and letting onesself go. Foreshadowing and symbolism much?

Anyways, Nina auditions and it goes quite well until the very end, when a newcomer, Lily (Mila Kunis) walks through the studio door and throws off Nina's concentration. Distraught and with enough existing emotional baggage to rival soap opera characters, Nina begs Thomas for the part the following morning. Thomas explains that Nina was quite good at the White Swan part but lacked the inability to let herself go to truly become sensual enough for the Black Swan. In short, Nina's obsession with perfection inhibits her from letting herself go to actually achieve it, which is deliciously ironic and boarderline poetic.

In order to not spoil too much of the plot for anyone actually interested in seeing it, Nina gets the lead part and that's where the story really heats up. The stress of such a complicated role lumps an enormous amount of stress onto the poor woman's psyche and various other stressors such as her micromanaging mother (who is herself a failed ballerina) and the overt sexual advances (boardering on harrassment) from Thomas adds more fuel to the fire. Enter Lily (Kunis) who appears to be everything that Nina is not. Lily is chill, calm and willing to let her hair down whenever and is a near perfect foil to Nina. Unlike Nina, Lily is able to let herself go into the part and while she lacks all of the technical skill of Nina, Lily is a darn good dancer herself. So, naturally when Lily approaches Nina for mere friendship, one would assume that it would exactly what Nina needed to help her calm down. And of course, Lily would learn from Nina and they'd become great friends.

...but this is "Black Swan" we are talking about. That doesn't exactly happen and a rivalry quickly rises between Lily and Nina and the central conflict of the movie appears and drives Nina further into her insanity.

And poor Nina, her hallucinations are absolutely nightmare inducing at the least. One of her early stress induced hallucinations involves her pulling at a recalcitrant hangnail on her index finger and ripping off skin up to her knuckle. My jaw was on the floor. I should also make the point that I am rarely squeamish and hard to startle- I have dissected cats and have seen many a cadaver and are able to call many "scares" in a given horror movie. With that out of the way, there are a few scenes that left me disturbed after the movie that I won't spoil in this review, but if you see it- the hallucination in Nina's mother's art studio was particularly jarring. Holy crap.

Nina's descent into madness is almost hypnotizing to watch and Portman's portrayal of her is nothing short of amazing. Portman, who is twenty-nine years old, can transform herself from young adult to emotionally wrecked little girl in a way that is both compelling and authentic. She makes the viewer really care for her and this viewer personally wished at a few points he could jump into the projector screen and assure Nina that everything was going to be alright.

The supporting cast is also incredible. Mila Kunis portrays Lily as the sensual, world wise woman that Nina clearly is not and reminds me of Brad Pitt's performance as Tyler Durdan in "Fight Club" (another excellent movie). Thomas makes me want throttle him every time he is on camera and manipulates the naive Nina and Cassel does a fantastic job, as does Hershey as Nina's mother. Also of note, is Winona Ryder's performance as Beth, who was the former head ballerina who is forced into retirement by Thomas to make way for Nina. Beth is full of bitterness and regret (understandably due to a plot twist about an hour in) and makes the viewer wonder if Nina will turn into another Beth.

Anyone going into the movie should not expect it to be a happy one. It is dark, psychotic, sensual and visceral. Of particular note on the "sensual" nature is a sex scene that is graphic and easily offended people may wish to skip out (for reference, Kunis, who participates in the scene, publically forbid her father from watching the movie specifically for that), though the scene is symbolic and makes sense in context of the movie.

The only (and this is really nitpicky) issue that I have with the film is the ambigious resolution in the end. I have no problem with the ending (in fact, I believe that it was excellent) but there is a plot twist near the end that really makes the viewer question how exactly the story took place. Weasel words, I know, and that this lack of clarity may have been the point that the movie was gong for. However, I felt one or two explainations were due that were left ignored, though that could be me being too anal retentive. But that's not enough to detract from a solid movie.

If you want a particuarly interesting character study full of drama and psychological thrill, I invite you into the tale of Ms. Nina Sayers. It is a dark one, and full of pain, but it is one of the best written films of this year and if you are willing to delve into her psyche, you will not be underwhelmed.

9.2/10- Excellent


PS- I will be away from the blog for the next few days. I am going to a Orthodox Christian retreat and hope to gain some level of comradery and spiritual enlightenment. Pray for me a sinner, please.