Friday, December 13, 2013

The Desolation of Smaug

I saw The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug last night. In short, I liked it a lot.

I wasn't too thrilled with the first Hobbit film, An Unexpected Journey. Not that it was bad, per se, just that it was incredibly long and boring. And this is coming from me, an extremely dedicated Tolkien fan who believes that no one should ever watch anything less than the full extended editions of The Lord of the Rings. I once read a review of An Unexpected Journey that compared it to a calm, leisurely drive through Middle-Earth, as opposed to the masterful action drama of The Lord of the Rings. If that's the case, then The Desolation of Smaug is akin to jumping into a Ferrari and blasting through Middle Earth, engine screaming and adrenaline pumping.

TDOS takes quite a few liberties with the book, adding in natural context in some areas, altering select moments, and sometimes creating things that are entirely new. The end result is something that seems like it should infuriate a Tolkien diehard like myself, but it's all handled with so much love—and so much fun—that it's easy to accept. After all, The Hobbit, as a book, was a largely shallow story, focused more on entertaining children than delivering a powerful dramatic narrative. The fact that the dramatic context of The Lord of the Rings is retroactively applied to The Hobbit's story in these films—something that Tolkien himself attempted to do in written form but never finished in full—is a welcome change.

When the Hobbit film trilogy is finished, TDOS will probably be labeled "the action film." There's about as much fighting in this movie as there was walking and eating in the last film—which is, to say, a metric ton of it. If you walk into TDOS expecting or wanting to see lots and lots of epic fantasy action (as I did), you will be very pleased. Furthermore, even though the movie is just over 2.5 hours, it clips along at a rather quick pace, all things considered. When watching An Unexpected Journey, I felt that it needed trimming, but with TDOS I constantly felt that it was cutting from scene to scene unusually quickly. I suspect quite a lot of the movie is on the cutting room floor; the extended edition is sure to be much longer.

Some notes on the characters:
-Legolas shows up and kicks all the orc asses. Hooray!
-Thranduil was wonderfully venomous.
-Tauriel was enjoyable to watch, though without knowing where her story is going it's hard to tell what her purpose is. She seems to represent the opposing philosophical viewpoint to Thranduil, but given that there isn't any payoff for that yet, her story isn't satisfied as of yet. But, like Legolas, she also kicks all the orc asses, so hooray!
-Bard the Bowman was really well-acted and -written; I look forward to seeing how his story progresses. It's great to have so much depth given to a character that was totally underdeveloped in the book.
-Smaug the dragon is incredible. Seriously, this has to be the best movie dragon of all time. I'm still more than a little in awe of how well-realized he is in this movie.

Now, as positive as I've been on this film, I do want to clarify that it is not, in any way, on the same level as The Lord of the Rings. This is not the triumphant return to the epic cinematic mastery of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. This is, quite simply, a very fun chapter in a three-part story. But on that level, it's really enjoyable. I plan on seeing it again as soon as possible.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Iced in

On Thursday, a record-breaking winter storm swept through here and covered everything in ice. This is a very big deal for Texas. Unlike in colder states, there are no city-funded snowplows or other measures to deal with the problem. Lots of people found themselves iced into their own homes, myself included. To reiterate, the storm happened on Thursday. It's now Monday, and it's the first day I've been able to leave my house.

Things I did while being iced in:
Watched nine episodes of Star Trek: The Original Series that I hadn't seen before
Finished Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood
Finished Tomb Raider (2013) for the 3rd time
Played through the first half of Pokémon Ruby
Researched elven culture for a story I'm writing
Wrote more of said story
Listened to the Frozen soundtrack because of course

So yeah. Netflix, video games, and writing. That's about it. There really wasn't a whole lot else to do.
We didn't adequately prepare food supplies before the storm hit, so we ran out of most of our normal food. No bread, meat, or fruit. Towards the end, I had to get inventive. I cooked and ate a lot of popcorn (useful during Trek-watching). I learned to bake blueberry muffins.

When the sun finally peeked out for a few brief moments and temperatures got above freezing, I got to work on shoveling out the driveway. The problem was that the snow on the driveway had melted and re-frozen at some point over the weekend, forging itself into some kind of bizarre ice concrete. "Shoveling" was really more an act of breaking the ice, cracking it into flat slabs, lifting those slabs and throwing them onto the front lawn. And the ice didn't break easily. The concrete of the driveway warmed just enough to turn the bottom layer of the ice into sticky slush that wouldn't lift off the ground. So I was basically an ice harvester (it's a real thing; watch Frozen if you want to see) trying to break through a rock wall and pull out bricks that were glued down.

After an afternoon of shoveling (ice-picking? ice-battling? struggling?), I'd only finished half the driveway and I was exhausted. I went to bed that night and woke up late this morning, ready to get back at it. Either because I was (kinda) rested or because the ice and snow had melted even further, I was able to clear the rest of the driveway in an hour or so. And by "clear the driveway," I mean that I just barely made enough space for my mom's car to be able to get in and out of the garage. I actually left a bunch of ice near the sidewalk because I figured the car's inertia would carry it over that patch anyway. I was right, of course. It worked perfectly. PHYSICS.

Around noon, I left the house (SMEAGOL IS FREE!) to go get more anti-snow gear and a ton of food for the fridge.

First off, I headed to Home Depot for a new shovel and some de-icing salt for the sidewalk. They were completely out of everything I needed. Then I drove to Ace Hardware for the same items and found them in about 30 seconds.

Next I went to Kroger for groceries, but that proved problematic: apparently Kroger hadn't gotten many shipments in since the storm, so stock was low on lots of things. I bought what I could and headed for home, stopping at Chick-Fil-A for lunch. After I got home, I finished up the driveway-shoveling and went straight back out to Wal-Mart (they built a brand new one near our house) to finish the shopping. On my way back, I noticed that the car's left headlight was burned out. Since my mom drives to-and-from work in the dark both ways this time of year, that was kind of important. I didn't really have any choice other than to go back out AGAIN and get new headlights. I suppose mom could have gone out to get headlights, but... wait, no, there shouldn't be a but in that sentence. She just didn't want to.

So yes. I drove out to Autozone (because Wal-Mart didn't carry the headlights I wanted/needed), straight back near where I'd been earlier in the day. I got the headlights, replaced them in the Autozone parking lot, then grabbed a burger out (my payment from mother for my troubles) and came home.

When I got home, I logged into Facebook and saw that my weekly bible study / board games-playing group (kinda my only regular group of friends/peers at this point) was meeting at 7:30pm tonight. It was then 7:45, and I had literally JUST LEFT that general area. And I haven't seen my friends in... three weeks? Something like that. I'm bereaved. I could have left home AGAIN and gotten there 45 minutes late (which would have been fine), but I was so tired that I just had to shrug and forget about it.

I've had a day. Everything aches like crazy, and I feel like I need to do something tomorrow to relax. Maybe go see Frozen again.

(see, my theory is that if I reference Frozen three times or more, it'll Beetlejuice-style summon something Frozen-relate—AAAAAARUHGUH)

Thursday, November 28, 2013

For the Win

Everybody knows the cliché. A down-on-his-luck loser finds a golden ticket. A farmboy who dreams of adventure finds it and blows up a Death Star. The superhero is beaten down by the villain but finds enough strength at the last moment to save the day. The quarterback throws a winning touchdown pass and the team lifts him up on their shoulders as the crowd goes wild.

A funny thing about me: I've been that loser farmboy wannabe-hero for pretty much my entire life thus far. But I've never won anything. Never won a contest, never got a medal or a trophy. Now, I don't feel like I need to "win" most of the time. I often times actually prefer losing to winning in some board games because I really just like having fun with friends and not having to be the guy who makes everyone else at the table lose. However, occasionally I get super-competitive—completely obsessed with fighting as hard as humanly possible to win whatever it is I'm involved in. I think it comes down to whether or not it actually matters to me. A random game of Apples to Apples? I can stand to lose there; no problem. A swordfighting duel? Screw losing; I WILL ANNIHILATE.

To some extent, I think it's a matter of self-respect, or the lack thereof. Someone asked me recently when the last time was that I felt really, truly "special." I legitimately had to think about it for a while. The only solid answer I have is maybe my high school graduation in 2007. If I had to pick something more recent it might be when I got a letter in the mail from a friend on my birthday last year. But really, when I was asked that question, my first mental reaction was "well, I'm not special, so that doesn't apply."

I've lost a lot. Family, friends, my college career (somewhat). I've pretty much been gut-punched repeatedly by life. Every time I've been in a love triangle (a total of two times; I don't recommend it), I've been the guy not chosen. So much for the old "save the world, get the girl" routine.

People tell me I'm smart all the time. Female friends say they're confused as to why I'm single (but keep me at arm's length). Parents ask me what I'm up to as if they expect me to say I've published three books and solved the energy crisis by inventing a new form of math. By everyone else's indication, I should be a pretty special guy. But I haven't felt that way about myself in a very long time.

I really just want to win for once. To not be third best, left out, ignored, unwanted. I want that moment of triumph. I don't want to be better than anyone else; I don't want to be held up on a pedestal for all time. I just want to not entirely suck at everything.

One thing I actually am good at—not pro level, but still really good at—it's playing video games. Lots of my friends growing up were involved in sports, and some of them actually ended up doing really well with that. If video games were a sport, I could be the quarterback. I'd have been the guy winning all the games and getting cheered on by hundreds.

As it happens, my favorite show is a web series called Video Game High School. It's set in a version of our world where video games dominate modern culture. The so-named Video Game High School is, essentially, Hogwarts for video games: where kids go to learn to be better gamers. Instead of basketball and football, students join teams for First-Person Shooters, Drift Racing, Fighting Games, et cetera. Instead of sports championships, students have gaming championships. In short, it's a place where gamers aren't looked down upon as losers, but are recognized the same way everyone else is. It's a bizarre kind of fantasy world, but it's really fun. It's also got this fun 80s/90s teen movie/TV vibe (think Back to the Future and Saved by the Bell).
Go watch it on Netflix or search for it on Youtube. It's awesome.

So yeah, I didn't really have a point here. It was pretty much just "I want to win something / VGHS is awesome and you should go watch it."

Also this track by Two Steps From Hell has the same title as this blog post.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Doctor Who

Doctor Who is something I've gotten into only in the last couple of years, and it's already become one of my core favorite franchises.

For those uninitiated:
Doctor Who follows the adventures of a mysterious alien man—known only as "the Doctor"—as he travels through all of time and space in his ship, the TARDIS.

Doctor Who is a staple of British culture, but it's gaining more and more popularity worldwide, especially in the United States. It's also the longest-running science fiction TV series of all time, spanning 33 seasons (soon to be 34). However, although Doctor Who technically has 33 seasons, the show was relaunched in 2005 after a hiatus, and no viewing of the previous 26 seasons is required. Just hop on Netflix, look up "Doctor Who" (not "Classic Doctor Who") and start watching. The first season is a bit rough, but stick with it—it quickly gets amazing.

One of the reasons that DW has lasted so long is that the show is able to reinvent itself as it goes along. The character of the Doctor, being a Time Lord, is able to "regenerate" when near death, taking on a new physical body and personality. Because of this, new actors are able to assume the role of the Doctor, constantly keeping the show fresh and new. The current Doctor, played by Matt Smith, is the eleventh Doctor, with a twelfth to be introduced later this year.

The reason I love Doctor Who most is that, at its core, it's a story of endless fun and adventure. It's an oft-random, cartoonish-yet-dramatic story that can go from mind-bogglingly silly to darkly serious at a moments' notice—yet never so serious that it can't turn out happy by the end. The science fiction genre is dominated by shows and movies that are grim, dramatic, and "realistic." In a world where the ultra-serious Battlestar Galactica reigns supreme, Doctor Who stands out as a bright spot of joy. It's not shallow or childish, but it's mature enough to realize that stories can be emotional and fun at the same time. Even more than that, Doctor Who is an optimistic tale: one where altruism wins out, and the hero always does his best to save lives rather than take them.

Modern Doctor Who is well-written, well-acted, and endlessly imaginative. It'll likely be one of my favorite shows forever.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Flickchart: My Favorite Movies

There's a website called Flickchart that lets you compile a list of all the movies you've seen and helps you rank them through a tournament-style process. It's pretty amazing.
Here's my top twenty movies:

20. Raiders of the Lost Ark
Basically the epitome of adventure action. To say that it's a classic is an understatement.

19. Return of the Jedi
It's my least-favorite of the original Star Wars trilogy, but that's not to say that it's bad. It's an epic adventure on an epic scale. At the very least, this is probably the most fun film of the Original Trilogy.

18. Tarzan
I love this movie: the score, the "deep canvas" animation style, the Phil Collins songs, all of it. It's not on the epic level of some of the other Disney Renaissance films, but it's still one of my favorites.

17. X2: X-Men United
Essentially a masterpiece of comic book storytelling, filled with hundreds of character moments, beautiful directing, and a healthy reverence to the source material. The best X-Men film to date, and one of the best superhero movies of all time.

16. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
My favorite Indiana Jones movie. It's a bit sillier than Raiders and Temple of Doom, but in a way that's genuinely funny. The action and drama are also probably at their strongest in this film.

15. The Princess Bride
One of the greatest movies ever filmed. Manages to both capture the essence of fairy tales while also poking healthy fun at them. Whether as a comedy, action film, or romance, it's hard not to love this movie.

14. That Thing You Do
A feel-good comedy drama about a one-hit wonder band in the 1960s. It's nearly impossible to watch TTYD and not feel incredibly happy by the end.

13. The Lion King
Some call it the best animated film of all time, but those people are still stuck in 1994. Even so, it is indeed a classic, and one of the best animated films of all time. Equal parts fun and powerful.

12. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
The Lord of the Rings is easily the best modern fantasy film series, and The Fellowship of the Ring is easily the most fun of all three films—but not lacking in depth whatsoever. On one hand, there's endless amounts of depth in the culture and music of Middle-Earth. On the other hand, it's hard not to feel a sense of glee while watching the heroes slice their way through hordes of goblins.

11. Star Trek: First Contact
First Contact is the single most dramatically powerful Trek movie. In just about every way possible, FC gets it right.

10. Jurassic Park

9. Tangled
When I walked into the theater to watch Tangled, I only knew that it was a Disney CG animated film that had been very well-liked by critics and moviegoers alike. I had no idea that it was a straight-up Disney Princess film, complete with all the same tropes from my favorite childhood movies. Tangled is unabashedly sweet, and I absolutely love it for that.

8. Toy Story 2
IMO, still the best Pixar movie. An awesome masterpiece.

7. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
This is where Lord of the Rings slows down and becomes more serious and character-focused. The extended cut of The Two Towers is a long-form drama with so many character moments and so much genuine depth that it's astounding. It also feels the most "real" of the series, with more emphasis on humanity rather than the fantastical. It's not as fun as Fellowship or as epic as Return of the King, but Two Towers is still a monument of fantasy storytelling at its best.

6. The Matrix
Eastern philosophy cyberpunk hard sci-fi action drama. The Matrix is oft-underrated these days, mostly because of its less-impressive sequels. Regardless, it's a wonderfully deep movie that delves into the cyberpunk/hacker counter-culture, mixing it with Eastern philosophy in a surprisingly apt manner. It's also got the best kung fu gunfight action in any movie ever.

5. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
Return of the King is one of the rare films I've seen as many as five times in the theater, to say nothing of the many extended edition DVD marathons. Trying to encapsulate its greatness in a small paragraph is ridiculous. Suffice it to say that ROTK doesn't disappoint as the finale to The Lord of the Rings, which is a monumental achievement in itself.

4. The Little Mermaid
Yeah, this one... I can't entirely justify it, per se, I just like it for reasons I can't entirely explain. It probably has to do with the fact that I watched it a ton as a toddler and it imprinted on my psyche.

3. Star Wars
Pretty much the pinnacle of action and adventure in film. It's ranked at #3, but it's honestly tied with Empire Strikes Back. Star Wars is the "heart" of the original trilogy: it's Star Wars at its most fun, its most uplifting, and its most simple (in the best way). If you've seen this film, you've seen exactly what Star Wars has to offer: epic, mythic storytelling, told in a relatable and enthralling way.

2. The Empire Strikes Back
If the first film is Star Wars' heart, Empire is its soul. Empire takes the characters of Star Wars and turns them into real people who we really care about—all while still continuing with the mythic story and expanding it in ways no one ever expected.

1. Beauty and the Beast
Disney animated films are known for their incredible production value, but are sometimes accused of being shallow. After all, many Disney romances are simple tales of true-love-at-first-sight. Beauty and the Beast flips that concept on its head, forcing its protagonists to come together out of a genuine and mature care for one another. I can't quite explain precisely why this is my favorite movie at this particular moment; it just resonates with me like nothing else at this point in my life.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Superman/Batman Movie!

The sequel to Man of Steel is now going to be a Superman/Batman movie.

This is absolutely huge news. Monumental. I've given some thought about how to adequately respond to this, and I've decided to voice my reaction in animated GIF form.

I am very happy.

Now, many have voiced concerns about this move by WB. Among these concerns are:
-It's just a desperate cash grab by Warner Bros.
-This is bad for Superman because:
     -It robs Superman of another solo movie, thus diluting his story
     -WB apparently doesn't respect Superman enough to believe he can support his own solo series

Personally, I don't agree with any of these points. Yes, it's a move designed to make money, just like every other high-budget movie ever made. That doesn't mean it's going to be bad. On the point of how it affects Superman and his solo film series, that gets into a gigantic conversation.

Some have pointed out that Batman got three solo films under Christopher Nolan, meanwhile Superman is already crossing over with another hero in only his second film. However, I don't believe it's fair to compare the Man of Steel series with the Nolan Batman films—rather, it's better to compare it to Marvel Studios' cinematic universe.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe began with Iron Man, which ended with a direct reference to the fact that Iron Man would be crossing over with other characters. A mere two months later, Tony Stark showed up in the post-credits scene of The Incredible Hulk. The next Marvel film, Iron Man 2, featured Nick Fury, Black Widow, and War Machine in addition to Iron Man—hardly a true solo film for Tony at all. Until Iron Man 3 (five years after the first film's release), no Marvel hero got more than one solo movie before teaming up in The Avengers. If Warner Bros. is following Disney/Marvel's pattern (and they certainly are), it's no wonder we're getting a Superman/Batman movie before a second Superman.

This also helps WB speed up the process of gearing up their shared universe. Batman doesn't need his own movie to reintroduce him, even if it's an entirely-new version of the character; everyone knows the modern Batman by this point. By introducing Batman in a Superman movie, WB can give the new Batman a proper introduction while also creating the shared universe while also serving the story of Superman.

That's the other thing that I think many people entirely miss here: Superman and Batman strengthen each other; they don't dilute each other. They're each others' perfect complement: philosophically, physically, mentally, and tonally. They strike a balance and they test one another in the perfect way. Each time they meet, they come away from the experience the better for it. In the Man of Steel sequel, Superman will be dealing with the fallout from the first film while also trying to establish his new role in Metropolis. The arrival of Batman on the scene will further help define Superman's character, as he'll have the Dark Knight to be contrasted against and to be tested against. Conversely, the same will happen for Batman.

Were I to speculate, based on what little we've been told about the film, it seems that Batman is going to be treated as an oncoming challenger, somewhat like how the Nolan Batman films treated new villains. Batman is essentially getting the same treatment for this new film that the Joker got in The Dark Knight. Of course, unlike those villains, Batman will inevitably end up teaming with Superman at some point to lay some justice-smackdown on Lex Luthor and his evil schemes. (Lex has been basically confirmed for the film at this point)

This is a good thing. It makes my heart sing with glee (but, like, steely, dark, masculine glee).

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Steel Criticism

I've seen Man of Steel twice now; I'll probably see it a third time in the next week or so. I'll put up a review at some point, but for now I'll just say that I really liked it.
That said, there are a lot of major criticisms people have with the movie; I figured I'd respond to some of them.


Too grim
This one I partially agree with. For a movie about a guy who can fly, this one is extremely serious. At the same time, the tone works for the story they're telling. Man of Steel gives Clark a level of realism and drama that demands a more serious tone than something like what they're doing with the Marvel films at the moment. That said, I do wish there had been more bright moments to alleviate the grimness that permeates virtually every second of the film. The ending definitely is a bright note; hopefully that indicates that the sequel will have a more fun tone than this one. All in all, however, the seriousness of MOS wasn't so much that it made me not enjoy the story, and it's probably better to err on the side of too serious rather than lean too far back towards the Reeve/Routh Superman films of the past.

Too long
MOS takes its proper time. There's one scene that probably should have been edited out (the Indian Ocean battle), but aside from that everything in the story was necessary and well-told. I'd rather have a movie that takes its time to do things right than rush so quickly that it loses its impact.

Lois knows Clark's identity at the beginning of the story
The love triangle between Clark, Lois, and Superman is central to the Superman legend, and the fact that it's tossed aside and accelerated into the Clark/Lois romance from the get-go is a rather bold move. It's certainly different, though not unprecedented (Smallville did the same thing a couple years ago). I don't know that I prefer Lois knowing at the beginning, but it does do three notable things for the story:
1: It makes the story different enough that it's not a retread of every past Superman story ever.
2: It proves how smart Lois is. Instead of seeing Clark's two identities every day and never putting it together, in MOS she's so smart that she figures out Clark is Superman before he's actually Superman.
3: It emotionally ties Lois to Clark much more than normal. As one of the very few people privy to his secret now—as well as someone that's steadfastly supportive of him and romantically linked to him—Lois is now very important on a deeply emotional level. Yes, Lois was important before, but moreso in a "desire/love interest" manner; now she's Clark's confidante, best friend, lover (maybe), etc.
If and when I write a Superman story of my own, I will definitely keep the identity a secret from Lois for a good long while, if only because that fairy tale romance is very important to me for a plethora of reasons. However, I don't fault Man of Steel for breaking that tradition, and I'm very curious to see how it develops in the future.

Everyone (supposedly) knows Clark's secret
David Goyer, writer of MOS, mentioned this in an interview:
"In our minds there are people in Smallville who know Superman’s secret as well [as Lois], Pete Ross seems to know, there’s probably a couple dozen people who know and we thought it would be interesting if they’re protective of him."
That's fine with me. I think a couple dozen is probably too many, but the two that are confirmed to know on-screen in the movie (Pete and Lana) make sense. It's confirmed in the film that although the military knows Superman was raised as a human somewhere in Kansas, they have no idea who he actually is. The only thing I really don't like is that it's apparently public knowledge that Lois knows who Superman is. Now anyone who wants to know Superman's identity can kidnap her and use her (as was done by Zod in the film). They're gonna have to figure a way to get out of that in the sequel.

Jonathan Kent doesn't want Clark to use his powers (for now)
Jonathan in MOS is far more focused on the big picture than any other version of the character. He's partially concerned for his son, but also concerned about what might happen if the world found out about the existence of aliens. Jonathan is willing to even die rather than have Clark exposed to the world, which at least proves that he's willing to put his actions where his words are. The thing that bothers me about this version of Jonathan is that he's too motivated by fear, to the point where he literally thinks that the possibility of a national scare is more important than the lives of an entire bus of schoolchildren. That means that in Man of Steel, Jonathan represents Clark's fear of rejection and alienation, not his strength as in every other version.
I appreciate that Jonathan in Man of Steel is nuanced and realistic—and that he still loves Clark just as much as he does in every other version—but the fact that he effectively teaches Clark to make bad decisions out of fear is a very, very bad thing. For my money, this isn't the proper Jonathan Kent; this is very much an alternate-universe character.

Superman does too much fighting and not enough saving
He saved the people at the oil rig.
He saved the kids on the bus.
He saved Lois from bleeding internally.
He saved Lois from falling from space.
He saved Martha from Zod.
He saved that helicopter guy from dying during the Battle of Smallville.
He saved Colonel Harding from getting crushed by Faora.
He saved Lois from falling out of a plane.
He saved pretty much the entire planet.
I think he saved plenty enough people; the problem is only that some people think more people should be saved by Superman in the movie than should die. To be technical, since he saved the planet, that's exactly what happened, but it's not necessarily evident on-screen as much as some people would have liked. I'd have liked to see Superman's saving-to-destruction ratio a bit reworked as well, but as it was I was fine with it. At the very least, we finally got to see a real Superman fight scene for the first time ever in live-action. (Superman IV does not count)

Disaster porn
Some say that there was simply too much destruction in Man of Steel. I think I agree to an extent, but it's not as though it's a serious problem for me either. It's an odd move to have Metropolis go through a nuclear bomb-type event that surely killed thousands upon thousands of people. If there had been even one throwaway line about that part of the city being mostly evacuated, it would have helped things tremendously. Still though, the destruction in Man of Steel—particularly the stuff caused by the Kryptonian fighting—at the very least served to show off the incredible strength and scale of the Kryptonians' powers. It's hard to say that it's a bad thing that MOS too greatly realized superhuman fight sequences.

Superman kills Zod
So here we go. This is the big one. Superman actually kills someone, which is literally the last thing he'd ever normally do. Superman does not kill, period. It's not as though there haven't been a few stories here and there in Superman canon where he did kill, but given the sheer volume of Superman stories in comics (literally over 3000 individual comic issues starring Superman), a few exceptions were bound to occur.
So, to summarize: do I think that Superman killing Zod in any way contradicted his character, and do I have a problem with it personally?
In fact, I actually very much like it.
Here's the thing that most people don't understand about Superman: he's a good person because he has great compassion, not because he's made of a list of moral rules. That's perhaps the biggest hurdle for many critics and fans to get over: The Christopher Reeve Superman was an inhuman icon made of rules and ideas, not a living, breathing person. Henry Cavill's Superman, on the other hand, is a man first and an icon second. Personally, I vastly prefer the Superman-as-a-man approach. If Superman is mentally and morally on the same level we are, despite his powers, it makes his decision to do the right thing all the more amazing. It means that despite the fact that we don't have his powers, we can still choose to do the right thing just as he does.
The fact that Superman kills Zod instead of letting him kill the family (as well as the rest of mankind) is an act of compassion for those in danger, not a breaking of his moral code. He even has compassion for Zod to a degree. Clark pleads with Zod repeatedly to stop, but Zod assures him over and over that he is, on a mental and genetic level, singularly focused to destroy and kill. Clark is effectively backed into a corner, and he responds the only way he can given the situation.
Clark's emotional response to Zod's death is perfect and incredibly strong. Clark didn't kill Zod because he wanted to or because he chose the easy way out. He killed because he was forced, and he nearly breaks emotionally because of it. He's not only been forced to take someone's life, but he's also cut off his last remaining link to Krypton. He's effectively killed a part of himself along with Zod. It was an act of selflessness that led Clark to take Zod's life, not any lack of moral integrity. Zack Snyder (director of the film) explained the decision like this:
" the original version of the script [Zod] was simply once again banished to the Phantom Zone, but Snyder was adamant that Kal-El should kill Zod - because otherwise where does his aversion to killing originate from?"
There you have it. After the ending of Man of Steel, Clark now understands what it means to take a life, and it is precisely why he chooses never to kill again. I wonder how he'll handle similar situations to the one with Zod in the future? Will he work harder to find new ways to avoid killing, or will Snyder and Goyer simply not put him in that kill-or-let-others-be-killed position again?
In any case, I'm extremely pleased with the way they handled Zod's death. It was an incredibly powerful moment that both fit with Clark's character and helped him grow as Superman.

Superman has no red underwear
This one is just unforgivable.
Nah. In all seriousness, I'm slowly getting accustomed to Man of Steel's underwearless Superman suit. I can't say I like the fact that it's solidly blue all the way from chest to knee, but in the actual film and its promo material, it looks great because of the way it's filmed. And it would be extremely bizarre to have the underpants in a film with MOS's level of "realism;" they probably made the right call. In sequels, I do hope they put some more color (gold and red) in the lower torso area just for the sake of breaking up the suit's color and giving it some eye-pleasing contrast, but in the meantime I'm more than happy with Man of Steel's suit.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

iOS 7

This week, Apple announced and detailed the new version of their iOS operating system, iOS 7. It's a totally new design and it looks amazing.

It's pretty epic. Here's some comparisons between iOS 6 and iOS 7 (7 is on the right):

It's not as though the "classic" iOS look was bad, exactly, but 7 just looks wonderful. It's flat, elegant, sleek, functional, and new.

I got to download the beta version of iOS 7 the day after it was announced, and I'm very very pleased with it. Here's some of my screenshots:

Those images really don't do it justice, as they're nowhere near the crisp retina-display resolution of the iPhone. Still, though, they're pretty.

The new features of iOS 7, namely the control center and automatic app updates, are awesome. With control center, I can control Airplane Mode, WiFi, bluetooth, the Do Not Disturb feature, the rotation lock, the screen's brightness, the system volume, and the currently-playing music. It also gives you access to a flashlight feature (it uses the camera flash as a lightbulb), a compass, a calculator, and the camera. It's all surprisingly easy to use, and it's all there to utilize with just one swipe of the thumb. It's surprisingly simple.

I almost feel like I have a new phone now. Since it's only the beta of iOS 7, there's some bugs. Apple's podcasts app doesn't work at all, so I need to use a third-party app to listen to podcasts. Ever so often a menu won't quite reorganize properly when switching between portrait and landscape orientation, and I need to rotate it around again to get it the way it's supposed to be. They're ultimately minor inconveniences overall.

The only other problem I have is that the Music app is much harder to navigate through. It's partially because every element of the entire app is white, so there's no contrast to tell you instinctively which part of the menu is which, or exactly where you are in the app. However, it's obvious that the app isn't final, since certain functions aren't even available to choose in the menus yet are still built into the app. (There's no "play all by Artist" function listed, yet I can ask Siri to do that for me and it works just fine)

On the whole, I'm really impressed with iOS 7. I keep finding new fun things to do with it, and it really just makes me happy that I have an iPhone.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Six Days and Counting


Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Best Superman Stories

With Man of Steel coming out in less than a month (!), some people have been asking me for suggestions on what Superman comics are best to read. Here's a list.

Superman: Birthright
Birthright was DC's 2004 attempt at making a modern reboot for Superman's origin story. Apparently the last version of the origin, published in 1986, was too ancient to still be used. Fortunately, Birthright is anything but a by-the-numbers retelling of the origin; it's a fully fleshed-out story that stands on its own. It introduces the primary Superman characters—Clark, the Kents, Lois, Lex Luthor—and makes them real people, not mere caricatures. Furthermore, the way it establishes the Superman/Lex Luthor dichotomy is essentially perfect. It takes the best parts of every past Superman mythos—even the Smallville TV series—and weaves them together into a story that you can't help but love. I'm not going to say that it's literally perfect from top to bottom, but I can say with certainty that it's my favorite Superman comic story of all time.

Superman: Secret Identity
This is almost not even technically a Superman book. It's an alternate-universe story that is, for all intents and purposes, set in our world, where Superman is a fictional character. The story centers on a boy coincidentally named Clark Kent who lives in Kansas... and develops Superman's powers. Secret Identity covers this boy's entire life, from childhood to old age. It's surprisingly heartwarming, with emphasis on family and the normal trials of growing up.

Superman: Red Son
Yet another alternate universe story, this one deals with a world where baby Kal-El's spaceship didn't land on a farm in Kansas; he landed on a farm in Russia during the Cold War. Instead of being an American hero, Superman becomes a Communist icon—and yet, he is still the same hero he always was, merely in a different country. Red Son shows many heroes in this bizarre alternate world—Wonder Woman, Batman, Green Lantern—but focuses primarily on Superman and his struggle to do the right thing in a world hostile to his values. This story illustrates Superman's character regardless of circumstance, and for that reason, despite the twisted nature of the premise, Red Son makes this list.

Kingdom Come
Several decades into the (possible) future, many things have gone wrong. Lois Lane has died, Superman has gone into isolation, and the world seems to have moved on from the ideals of the superheroes of old. So-called "heroes" and "villains" now kill each other without a second thought, turning city streets into war-torn battlefields. After finally emerging from his reclusion, Superman must rally together the heroes of the world to rectify the shattered state of the world. As tensions rise between Superman's army of morally-upright heroes and the forces of the corrupt, events seem to be paralleling  things foretold in the book of Revelations. This could literally be the end of the world.
Kingdom Come can be a bit grim, but the fact that it pushes our heroes to the brink illustrates who they really are. The trinity of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman get particular focus, and their characterization really shines. This is easily one of the most iconic and important comics ever made; everyone looking to get into superhero fiction should read this at some point.