Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Don't be your own worst enemy: A lesson I'm always learning

When I was young, I felt as if I didn't have control over my life. Part of it was social. I moved around a lot and never developed the sort of friendships that most kids use to build the social skills that they later use without thinking. Instead, I just seemed a bit ... retarded (and I mean that word in the clinical sense in which I was introduced to it when I volunteered in a special needs class in grade school).

As an outsider, I latched onto the few things that could act as a social crutch: being funny, being weird. These things at least made people pay attention and sometimes react positively. I also suffered from what was never correctly diagnosed as attention deficit disorder (ADD), and the memory problems that came with it were often a source of additional strange behavior. For example, I would carry around a giant gym back full of every book I might need because otherwise I would always forget to have any given book for a class.

As I grew older, these odd tics mostly melted away. I met enough people who were in the same boat, socially, in college to catch up and develop some social skills. But some of the tics stayed and became part of my persona. One of them was the urge to be strange enough to get noticed. The number of times in my life that I've created a situation that made me strange in order to stand out are... well, difficult to count. I've probably spent upwards of a working year explaining myself or trying to get a bureaucracy to cope with some strangeness or other. Why? Because it's how I roll, to use a phrase that's more modern than I am.

I suppose I should just be glad that I never did anything too permanent. I never changed my name to something obviously made up. I never got myself plastered with tattoos. I'm generally free of any major fits of poor judgement.

Now that I'm getting older and I'm starting to see those places where I've deliberately made my life difficult, I'm starting to unwind them, but let this be a warning to others: if something seems like a great way to draw attention, think carefully about why you want the attention. Don't tilt at windmills if you don't have to. At the same time, fight the good fight for your individuality if you must. There are times and places for it, but like all of life, there is a middle way.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Dangerous Software Gaming Essays: My four blogs

I'm currently actively maintaining four blogs. This is my random thoughts blog where I'll continue to post about things like politics, science, media, and so forth. Some of my posts will continue to be essay-like, and some will be more traditional blog posts in a mix that I'm sure what few readers I have have come to expect...

In addition, I have three much more laser-focused blogs that will get less frequent updates:


Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Last Airbender movie review

The Last Airbender didn't suck. There, I said it. I put off seeing it for a long time, since the TV series was one of the few anime-style (I believe it was an American production with Korean animation) series that I've truly loved. The last thing I wanted to do was tarnish that memory with a crap movie, and everything I'd heard seemed to indicate that this was exactly what M. Night Shyamalan had done to it. Not so.

That's as much as you get without spoilers. From here on in, I'll assume that you have seen either the TV series or the movie. If not, go watch the TV series, and if you love it, see the movie, but don't expect a lot.

First off, let me be clear: I didn't think it was a great film. Casting was poor (though, to be fair, finding children that can carry an entire and relatively heavy movie is nigh impossible) except for Dev Patel and some supporting characters. The boy cast as Aang was acceptable, but not perfect. Part of my problem with him, though, was the writing, and I'll get to that. There was also a rush to tell the entire story of the first season. Frankly, this is where the movie made its largest blunder. If they had done a 2-movie set with the first and last half of the first season, then I think we could have seen a really great pair of films, but as it was we introduced and rushed past many interesting characters from the first season, just to get to the Northern Water Tribe. This had to be done, because Sokka's love is introduced and killed there... an arc which requires at least some time to explain and create an emotional resonance for. As it was, her death still felt artificial and rushed.

So, what did I like about the film? Clearly M. Night had a deep respect for the visual pallet of the series. He kept an awful lot of sets from the first season and they look beautiful. The core story is all there, and though there were some subtle changes, I mostly liked how it all played out. No one's back story was really broken, so much as just bent in places. Little bits of humor were much appreciated, especially Sokka's, "I always get wet!" Appa and Momo have sadly tiny parts, but what little we see of them is as fun as ever.

M. Night's writing has to be a major topic, here, though. He just turned what could be argued is the best children's drama of the past decade into a barely passable live-action film. It's not that he's a bad writer, but I think that he gets far too absorbed in certain aspects of a story or film, and he's just not that director that can write and direct his own work. This is made clear as he repeatedly has characters repeating themselves or consoling each other with platitudes that fall short of the dialog he was starting with. He has problems with pacing, structure and dialogue which simply cannot be ignored. Next time, Mr. Shyamalan, can I humbly suggest you get yourself a script doctor? Ask Joss Whedon (whose script doctoring is legendary). At the very least, he can probably point you at someone well worth the trouble.

Anyway, see the film and expect nothing. It's a fun popcorn movie and if you can get past the rushed storyline and late introductions of major characters, it will be worth seeing.