Jawas are A-holes

Random thoughts about the first episode of The Book of Boba Fett

I don’t honestly have a lot to say about The Book of Boba Fett yet, since the first episode was mostly just laying the foundation for the series. But it’s a new Star Wars TV series about Boba Fett, so I mean it’s not like I can not force my opinions onto the internet.

I really like both Ming-na Wen and Temura Morrison, so I like seeing them be able to take the lead in a series. Especially an action series highlighting lead actors in their late 50s and early 60s — although I hate even mentioning their ages as if it were some kind of novelty, since they’ve made it more or less irrelevant. Before checking IMDB, I would’ve assumed they were at least a decade younger, and obviously, they can both still, as they say on Tattooine, “get it.”

The first episode seemed to be doing everything it could to restore Boba Fett to his 1980 bad-ass status, since the franchise has been piling indignities onto him ever since Return of the Jedi. He didn’t just jetpack out of the Sarlaac, he punched his way out! Granted, the entire episode was basically him getting his ass kicked, but the key was getting his ass kicked and coming out on top. And with his sense of honor-among-thieves-and-murderers intact.

Although I liked it quite a bit, I couldn’t help but wonder whether the budget for this series was cut relative to The Mandalorian. In that series, I can’t remember a single moment where I was taken out of the story by effects or costumes, even when they were paddling down a lava river. In The Book of Boba Fett, though, I kept noticing that they were on a set, or the costumes looked like costumes and the make-up like make-up, or the CGI was noticeably CGI.

One scene in the city had droids that were clearly Boston Dynamics robots in the foreground, which seemed mid-way between a cop-out and a commitment to practical effects. The Gamorrean Guards looked like they found a couple of guys from the Folsom Street Fair and gave them a light coat of green body paint. Speaking of green body paint, one of the Sexy Twilek Servants from the casino looked like they’d brought him in without doing a camera test to make sure the paint worked.

I was wondering whether it was an aesthetic choice, especially when Boba Fett was fighting a monster that looked like an homage to Ray Harryhausen. Some of the animation looked almost like stop motion. To be clear, I’d absolutely 100% respect it as a commitment to practical effects, I just wish I could be more confident that it was. There was a lot of ambition elsewhere in the episode, with perfect costumes for extras only on-screen for seconds.

In any case: I was surprised to see Jon Favreau so heavily involved in the series, just because I’d thought this was more of an independent spin-off with Robert Rodriguez as show-runner. It’s a good sign even though the projects have so much in common, that this already feels distinct from The Mandalorian, with its own tone and a scope that feels just right for a seven-episode series. It’s not exactly what I expected it’d be, but I’m already on board and looking forward to the rest.

Rumors of the Author’s Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

The state of lazy media analysis in the age of Twitter

As I’ve been trying (with varying success) to ween myself off of social media, it’s been a little easier to recognize that the internet discourse has probably been a net positive. For as awful as it often is, it has changed the way I think about a lot of things. I tend to think about diversity and representation with more empathy instead of just sympathy, and I’m better at being mindful of my implicit biases and my own tendency to assume white, middle-class male by default.

I have to keep reminding myself of that, because so often I’ll read something that triggers my reactionary The Internet Is Irredeemably Broken, Shut it All Down Now response. The most recent trigger has been the corruption of the idea of “the death of the author,” turning it from something potentially expansive and democratic, into a regressive, lazy, arrogant, and willfully incurious way to approach art.

It’s been annoying me for a couple of years, as I’ve seen the regressive version gain traction and eventually become just taken for granted. When I first encountered the assertion “intent doesn’t matter,” I’d assumed that it was just a typical case of over-simplified hyperbole. Of course they realize that intent matters, I thought. They’re just being provocative, to make the point that a negative or stereotypical depiction can still be harmful, even if it isn’t intended as such.

As I’ve been seeing increasingly literal and shallow interpretations of art and entertainment, I’m not so sure. Especially since it’s so often used in conjunction with my other most hated, regressive trend in popular media analysis, the bullshit idea of “punching up” vs “punching down.” It perpetuates this idea that art and entertainment isn’t actually a dialogue between authors and audiences, but an environment in which powerful creators make products for people to consume or reject.

If you take “intent doesn’t matter” to its extreme, you make it impossible for camp, black comedy, and satire to exist. Or at least, if it still exists, it’s been rendered so toothless as to be inert.

(I should probably mention that I’m talking about actual satire, and not the version in which anybody who’s been called out for being an asshole immediately and invariably shouts “it was satire!” as their first line of defense. Because come on, nobody actually believes it).

Even if that’s an over-exaggeration of “intent doesn’t matter,” the idea is arrogant and reductive at its core. It assumes that an audience’s interpretation — or more often, a hypothetical audience’s interpretation, since it too often looks for potential offense instead of responding to actual offense — takes precedence over the author’s, instead of being on equal footing with it.

That reduces your media analysis to be based on your own assumptions and your own experience, without needing to challenge those assumptions. If you assume that a negative or stereotypical depiction is negative or stereotypical regardless of intent, you ignore the potential for an artist to use that depiction to say something that’s not completely literal. Literal in the same sense as putting disclaimers before cartoons that have racist caricatures, for instance. Having to explicitly acknowledge “this is bad and we, the artists who created this material or the publishers responsible for releasing it, know that it is bad” in a way that can’t possibly be misinterpreted by even the most stubborn person in the audience.

Even if it’s being used to establish a time or place, to consider themes of racial or cultural identity, or to comment on the stereotypical depiction itself. Or all three, like for instance, all of the anti-semitic (and anti-Italian, and anti-Irish, and misogynist, and homophobic) material in Miller’s Crossing. Removing any of that from the movie would cheapen it irreparably. It’s as impassive as its protagonist when it comes to questions of loyalty and morality, and it defiantly resists a literal interpretation, a declaration of who’s good and who’s bad and what it all means.

If you’ve only got the one hammer and approach every piece of art looking for nails, you’re shutting out the potential for art to change how you think. Treating every negative depiction as interchangeable imposes a new sort of Hays Code on art: context is irrelevant, only the depiction matters. Eventually, you end up with a cargo cult going through the motions of progressive representation instead of making actual progress. It becomes a list of approved and taboo depictions, instead of more thoughtful consideration of what makes a depiction negative or how it actually affects people.

And even if you don’t believe in — or don’t care about — the potential chilling effect, it’s still just an extremely shallow and ignorant way to approach art. I don’t understand watching something with such a lack of humility that you refuse to consider that it’s challenging your assumptions instead of just reinforcing them. If you genuinely believe in diversity of representation, then excluding anyone’s voice from the conversation goes against that.

My Favorite Games: Day of the Tentacle

I’ve said several times before — to anyone who will listen, with or without their consent — that the demo plus first “Meanwhile…” cut-scene in The Secret of Monkey Island is what made me want to work in video games. Playing Sam & Max Hit the Road is what made me feel like I “belonged” at LucasArts and had to work there someday. And almost immediately after finishing Full Throttle, I decided I had to apply for a job no matter what.

But if I had to pick one of the adventure games as my favorite, I always thought it was Monkey Island 2. Its pixel-painterly backgrounds have a style that’s been unmatched in any other game1Although Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis comes awfully close., and it felt more endlessly expansive than anything I’d seen or played up to that point — there seemed to be no shortage of new, evocative locations. And up until the end, it felt like I was in sync with the game; it was setting up jokes and giving me tools to deliver the punchlines.

Now, though, I’m realizing that I don’t have any desire at all to revisit it. I tried playing the remastered version for a bit a few years ago, but there wasn’t much “magic” left in it for me, and I didn’t get very far before losing interest completely. I’m sure that much of that is due to over-familiarity, and I’d be happier with my memory of playing it than actually playing it again.

But more than that, I think that the feeling I had of set-ups and punchlines was surpassed several times over by Day of the Tentacle. That’s the entire game, after all. The initial storytelling does its thing pretty quickly and then gets out of the way, leaving you with a long chain of setups and payoffs. It feels much smaller in scope than Monkey Island 1 or 2, but what you lose in exploration is instead spent directly engaging with the game, looking for connections and predicting the solutions to puzzles.

It’s really a masterpiece of adventure game puzzle design. In my opinion, the gold standard of adventure game design is giving the player the feeling that they’re actively telling the story, instead of triggering moments of passive storytelling. So many of the puzzles in Day of the Tentacle are just setting up a gag or a piece of slapstick, rewarding you for being able to predict the punchline of the gag, and giving you the tools to make it play out yourself.

As for whether I’d like to play it again, or just be content with my perfect memory of it, I can’t really say. I will say that every attempt to add to it has left me cold. It was one of the first (maybe the first?) of the SCUMM games to be released on CD, and I played the “non-talkie” version of it on floppy disks. I remember that a while after I’d finished it, a friend called me to ask for help getting through some of the puzzles. At one point I told him to take an item and put it in the Chron-o-John. I heard a toilet flushing from over the phone and asked him what the hell was going on; I’d never heard the voices or sound effects. I did play the “improved” version later on, and I have to say it left me cold. The voices were all fine and performed well, but I’d already spent hours with the characters, and the voices didn’t match the ones in my head.

Also, while looking for a screenshot for this post, I kept finding images of the remastered version instead of the original. It actually surprised me how much I dislike them. I’m not typically precious about pixel art in the slightest2Unless it’s on an original black-and-white Macintosh, in which case it’s sacrosanct, but there’s just so much charm in the original art that’s completely lost in the attempt to make it smoother and higher detail. Even more than the Monkey Island 2 backgrounds, the process of translating analog art into lower-resolution pixel versions ended up creating a visual style that’s inseparable from the games that made me want to get into video games in the first place.

  • 1
    Although Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis comes awfully close.
  • 2
    Unless it’s on an original black-and-white Macintosh, in which case it’s sacrosanct

One Thing I Like About Hawkeye

The Hawkeye series is a reminder that “super-hero” isn’t really a genre all on its own. (Spoilers for the entire series and maybe Daredevil)

One thing I like about the Hawkeye series is that they committed to making it an action comedy. Sure, it’s got themes of trust and betrayal, and dealing with loss, and they’re given enough weight that they rarely feel like it’s just going through the motions. And the overall theme — that being a hero is about responsibility and sacrifice more than super-powers — is both stated explicitly and also carried more subtly through the entire series.

But more than that, it’s just unapologetically silly. What I’d initially thought was a vague undercurrent of “arrogance” turned out to be a quiet confidence that they were telling a lighter story, and they didn’t have anything to prove. It’s Christmas! It’s supposed to be fun!

Ultimately, it’s more like the buddy comedy that I’d been afraid The Falcon and the Winter Soldier was going to be. That series wisely veered into more serious questions of race and privilege. It definitely had its moments of humor, but it was really more about expanding on the MCU post-Endgame, re-contextualizing the past four-plus hours of cosmic-scale action into the effects it’d have on actual human beings.

Hawkeye has more the spirit of the Ant-Man movies, confidently transitioning between comedy and action and getting laughs out of both. The trick arrows are just fun. I appreciated that they spun Hawkeye’s ostensible status as “the least lethal Avenger” into a positive, using it for some hyper-violent slapstick they’d normally have to steer clear of. Lots and lots and lots of guys get impaled, poisoned, frozen, stabbed, or even devoured by an owl, but the series never feels obligated to undermine it with a token acknowledgement of either “no really they’re all fine,” or a moment in which the characters have to consider the Serious Human Costs of the Battle for Justice.

I was surprised, though, to find myself taken out of my detached “Yes, this is all quite charming” state and genuinely laughing out loud at the scenes with Kate and Yelena. It’s easy to think of the MCU’s 900-pound-gorilla-scale budget going into CGI, stunts, and pyrotechnics, and forget that it also extends to casting. Finding one actor who is good at drama and comedy and action is rare; finding two and being able to play them off of each other is unheard of. Not to mention finding actors who understand the tone down to the atomic level, recognizing all of the shifts required for something that’s supposed to be grounded and relatable and shamelessly nerdy at the same time. Hailee Steinfeld and Florence Pugh are both astounding.

It’s also easy to forget that this confidence in and commitment to tone is a huge part of what got me into the MCU in the first place. Infinity War, and Endgame are very much “super-hero movies,” and they loom so large that it’s easy to assume that’s what the entire MCU is. But the best entries in the franchise have all tried to add something to make them distinct. I’ve always thought of Iron Man as a romantic comedy that is also about a super-hero, The First Avenger as The Rocketeer-style WWII nostalgia, Captain Marvel as 1990s period piece, The Winter Soldier and Black Widow as two tonally different spy movies, Black Panther as bringing Afrofuturism to mainstream (i.e, white) audiences, etc. WandaVision was a showcase for genre-hopping, being the MCU’s first TV series that was also a meta-commentary on both TV and comic books.

A while ago I saw a tweet from somebody forgettable, responding to a photo of the upcoming slate of Marvel movies with something like “This makes me weep for the homogenization of cinema.” And I mean, it was deeply ironic, seeing someone complain about homogeneity with a comment that was completely indistinguishable from hundreds of other pretentious nerds who’ve been making the exact same complaint for a decade or longer. (Before it was the MCU, it was Harry Potter that was “killing cinema,” and before that it was Star Wars. I wonder if there were d-bags complaining about the preponderance of trains-coming-at-the-audience movies destroying the potential of the medium).

It annoys me not just because I’ve appointed myself defender of the multi-billion dollar media conglomerate, but because it’s just such a lazy and shallow way of approaching any piece of art or entertainment. For one thing, for all the whining people have been doing about how the MCU is destroying cinema, it didn’t seem to stop anyone from releasing The Green Knight1I still haven’t seen it, but even if it turns out not to be great, it’s visually amazing, or a movie about a couple who have a kid with the head of a lamb for some reason. But more than that, the MCU has rarely been content to just make another super-hero adaptation. The reason it’s resonated with audiences enough to become so dominant isn’t just that they’ve got a ton of marketing money behind them; it’s because they keep experimenting with the formula, incorporating more of pop culture — and culture in general — than just comic books. Nobody’s obligated to like super-hero stories, but to go pfft and declare that that’s all they are, is just stubbornly incurious.

It’s also dumb because it assumes a hypothetical audience of comic book movie fans that doesn’t actually exist. If there is a “typical” comic book movie fan, they’re a lot more likely to be alienated by Marvel’s experiments in tone and genre, instead of attracted by it. The perfect example is Hawkeye‘s version of Kingpin.

I really liked Netflix’s Daredevil series2At least, what I saw of it. I fell off around the time they started focusing on The Punisher., but it undeniably catered to an audience of comic book fans. Of course, it went beyond that, to attract people like me who’d never been a fan of Daredevil before, but it had everything that most comics readers wanted out of an adaption in live action: a mature story with real characters in a realistic-feeling world, with a villain brought to life with every single bit of his outsized sinister intensity in place.

Hawkeye has the same character, performed by the same actor, but played with a markedly different tone. He’s not a real-world version of a comic book character; he’s a comic book character brought into the real world. His size is exaggerated, his twitchy menace is no longer doom-filled suspense but outright villainy. He’s taking arrows to the chest without a second thought. He’s ripping the doors off of cars. He’s getting hit by a car and still overpowered next to our hero. Most of the comic book fans that I know would scoff at such a comic book character as being too over-the-top and unrealistic. The MCU’s approach requires the filmmakers and the audience both to understand the differences in tone and appreciate how they’re both valid. It’d be just plain inaccurate to declare they’re both the same, though.

I’m glad to see the MCU not just leaning into comedy, but staying broad enough to encompass multiple types of comedy: Ant-Man, Guardians of the Galaxy, Thor: Ragnarok, WandaVision, and now Hawkeye. It doesn’t always work in Hawkeye; I still don’t like the LARPers, and I feel like their version of Rogers: The Musical wasn’t nearly as delightful as they seemed to think it was. But even that had a great line, when the singers are praising all of the super-heroes and the best they came up with for Clint Barton was “Hawkeye seems cool, like a really nice guy.”

  • 1
    I still haven’t seen it, but even if it turns out not to be great, it’s visually amazing
  • 2
    At least, what I saw of it. I fell off around the time they started focusing on The Punisher.

Yukon Cornelius

My experiments with Nomad Sculpt for iPad continue. Here’s Yukon Cornelius, lickin’ his old pickaxe (so to speak).

I’m not going to lie, I’d originally thought this would be my first attempt at animating one of these models, and I’d do a constant loop of him just licking the pickaxe for infinity. But of course, when I went onto YouTube to look for reference — and I still haven’t found any good reference for his back, even if I hadn’t omitted the backpack — one of the very first videos was exactly that. Never change, The Internet.

One Thing I Love About Spider-Man: No Way Home

One scene in No Way Home articulates what I love about the MCU, and also the One Thing I Hate about the movie. Lots of spoilers!

Pretty much everything that happens in Spider-Man: No Way Home is a spoiler, so I recommend avoiding reading anything like this until after you’ve seen it!

There’s one scene midway through No Way Home where I was taken out of the action for a second, and I had a minor epiphany, recognizing a huge part of what’s made me become such a shameless fan of the MCU, and why I think the formula works so well with this incarnation of Spider-Man in particular.

The set-up: Spider-Man has gone into a wooded area, tracking down a villain who’d been teased in an earlier fight scene. (And in the trailer). Because I can recognize the pumpkin bombs from the Sam Raimi movies, I know better than Peter Parker does what is about to go down. He’s got his friends talking to him and watching what’s going on via a cell phone duck-taped to his chest (a brilliant touch), and they have even less of an idea what’s about to happen. It’s a nice twist on dramatic irony, since it’s based not only on stuff that’s happened in the movie so far, but on the audience’s general pop cultural knowledge.

But then the scene subverts those expectations. And then keeps reinforcing and then subverting them, pulling in stuff we’ve seen from the trailers, previous movies, ideas foreshadowed by Doctor Strange, a general idea of how movies work, and so on. The whole sequence works a little like a horror or suspense movie, with that call-and-response of expectation and subversion. It ends up feeling like a dialogue between the filmmakers and the audience, relying not just on the story so far, but everything the audience knows.

Entries in the MCU are rarely just a live-action interpretation of a comics story, and rarely an entirely new story based on familiar characters. Instead, they’re more like remixes, taking multiple aspects of existing characters and existing storylines, and then recombining and rearranging them, to keep giving the audience that flash of recognition before turning it into a flash of discovery.

Even with characters that aren’t as universally known as Spider-Man, like the Guardians of the Galaxy or Shang-Chi, it still works, because it’s never drawing only from the comic books. It assumes that in addition to comics, the audience is also familiar with science fiction, martial arts movies, other entries in the MCU, and pop culture in general. In fact, it doesn’t assume that; it depends on it. A side effect of that is that the storytelling can’t be condescending, or too smug about its secrets and reveals. It always has to assume that the audience understands this stuff, and we’re on board with seeing it expanded and reinvented.

Explaining more of how that relates to No Way Home requires explicit spoilers, so I’ll put my short review here: it’s extremely well-done and surprising, and it’s a solid finale to the three standalone Tom Holland Spider-Man movies. I’m not as happy about what it means for the future of the character and the MCU in general, but even the parts I hated were well-written, performed, and perfectly integrated into the story. In other words: I hate what it did, but I like the way it did it. Now stop reading unless you’ve seen it.

Spoilers Below!

Cute Felt

Might delete later, idk. (Heads-up: the “present” is just a bunch of seeds and a dead cricket, but it’s the thought that counts).

Made with Nomad Sculpt on iPad and textured in Blender, using a tutorial by Southern Shotty. I also cheated and added some tint to the final render in Procreate, because it was a lot easier than getting decent UVs on the model. Retopology is definitely a subject I’m going to have to tackle later, but for now I’m just having fun.

Tuesday Tune Two-Fer: Kutiman Mash-ups

Today’s episode of Tuesday Tune Two-fer is unique, and requires a special introduction.

Kutiman, master of the video-remix, embraced the spirit of Tuesday Tune Two-fer by posting a ton of short mash-ups using video clips of famous musicians jamming.

My favorites are “Herbie Collins” with Herbie Hancock on organ and Phil Collins on drums, and “Sabbath Boys” mashing up “Intergalactic” and “War Pigs.”

YouTube isn’t letting me embed the latter one, though, so instead I’ll include this short, pleasant combination of two eras of Eurovision.

Literacy 2021: Book 24: Eternals

Neil Gaiman and John Romita, Jr’s 2006 update of Jack Kirby’s The Eternals is exactly that.

Book
Eternals by Neil Gaiman and John Romita, Jr

Format
7-Issue limited series collected in one edition

Synopsis
Medical student Mike Curry is approached by a strange man named Ike Harris, who claims they’re both immortal, super-powered beings, left on Earth by ancient, colossal space-gods called Celestials. They have to find the other Eternals and make them aware of their true identities before one of the Celestials buried deep within the Earth re-awakens and destroys all life on the planet.

Pros
Incorporates almost every aspect of Jack Kirby’s original series — minus the Hulk and a few humans who were mostly there to stand around and watch — and presents it as a contemporary, slowly unfolding mystery. Focuses on a few characters and their own “hero’s journey” stories, instead of slamming them together as fully-formed super-heroes with their memories intact. Feels like Gaiman bringing his personal interests to the story, recasting Zuras to be more like his American Gods version of Odin, giving more depth to Druig as a villain discovering his own abilities to manipulate others somewhat like The Sandman‘s version of Doctor Destiny, adding a light early-2000s commentary on the media and fame, and building up to a cosmic (but non-violent) climax. The ominous build-up to the re-awakening of the sleeping Celestial is really well-done, and it feels like it finally achieves the level of awe and doom that Kirby wanted with his originals.

Cons
Inescapably feels like it was written on assignment: we saw what you did with The Sandman and Miracleman, and we want you to do exactly that with these old Jack Kirby characters. The inclusion of Iron Man and frequent mentions of super-hero registration don’t feel organic to the story, but like a mandate from Marvel to tie the story into Civil War. The familiar elements that do make this feel like an original story also make it feel like a retread. Trying to cram all of Kirby’s set-up into characters’ repressed memories, and then piling twists and double-crosses onto that, make for an awful lot of inert exposition. Character arcs and conflicts don’t feel sufficiently worked out; Mikkari and Sersi keep holding onto their skepticism and denial long after it feels justified.

Verdict
Expertly checks off all the requirements of an early-2000s reinterpretation of Kirby’s original comics, fitting it into the Marvel universe at the time. But it never manages to hide the fact that it’s checking off a list of requirements.