Friday, June 28, 2013

Pleasant Surprises (3/6)

Never underestimate your enemy, or your potential entertainment source.  
Sometimes disappointment will win out, but other times you may find a pleasant surprise lurking where you least expect it.  Here are six works I found waiting just around that proverbial corner.

Ranking of these is not by quality, but rather how unexpected it was that I liked them.

4.   Kralie Film Presents...

In Association With University Labs...


a film...

about finding your place...

Entry 46

Ohdearheaven save me!

I don’t like horror.

Marble Hornets is a horror series.

I really like Marble Hornets.

This YouTube series is inspired by and is a pillar of the Slender Man Mythos.  Slender Man, for those of you unfamiliar, is like the Bigfoot of the Internet.  A tall, man-like creature that lurks in the background of photos, faceless yet watching.  Blogs, YouTube videos, games, and even a few movies have been made surrounding this Urban Legend that was born out of a few photoshopped images on a forum.  Marble Hornets was one of the first and one of the most (if not the most) popular entries of the Mythos.

- I’m not sure I like Where’s Waldo any more... -
Photoshopped image from Slender Man creator Victor-Surge.  Can you find Slender?

The show follows a young man named Jay who finds out that his friend Alex Kralie has been stalked by a tall, faceless entity.  Evidence of this is found in the discarded tapes of Alex’s student film “Marble Hornets,” through which Jay has begun to search for clues of his friend’s whereabouts.  However, it appears that Jay’s curiosity has drawn some unwanted attention upon himself.

Like I said at the beginning, I don’t like horror.  The following it a list of things that made it difficult for me to sleep at night: Shyamalan's Signs, Spielberg’s War of the Worlds, Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth.  Not a single one of those is horror.  Only one is rated “R.”  Can you imagine me watching something like The Ring?  Nope, I can’t either.

I don’t think it’s wise to allow an opening for fear to roost in yourself.  Fear can be a hard thing to get rid of and my imagination can get the best of me.  So you won’t find me watching The Ring or Saw or Paranormal Activity.  But you will find me belly-first on the floor, my face not a foot from the computer screen, with the next Marble Hornets entry loaded.

Granted in about thirty seconds, I will be sitting up with my feet putting as much distance between myself and the video as possible.  And still watching.

Why?  Dear heaven why?

Is it addicting?  Yes.  The mystery of the Slender Man - called the Operator in the series - is intriguing.  No one knows what he wants, or what he will do to get it.  Other creepy characters appear who may be friends, who may be foes, and even friends may not remain so for long.  Jay himself treads the edge of sanity and we see what he may become if he steps too far.  These are mysteries too terrifying to be left unanswered.  So back I come to the next entry.

But I am not one to get addicted on pure misery.  The lack of hope or joy is what makes it hard for me to read the work of Philip K. Dick.  It’s why I can respect the works that are Watchmen and Dune, but never consider myself a fan.  Marble Hornets, despite all the jump scares and the descents in madness, carries both.

It lies within the main character, Jay.  He’s by no means perfect.  He will lie, he will be drastically inconsiderate of others, and many times he will be an complete idiot.  

- Yes, Jay.  Why don’t you take a walk into the woods with the unhinged psychopath at twilight? -
Entry 38

You will want to shout at him, smack him upside the head, and then cheer him on.

Jay got into this mess because he was nosing around Alex’s stuff.  He stays in the mess because he can’t get out. He goes deeper in because he wants to save his friends.  Be it Alex or people he meets along the way, Jay is determined to fight because of the people around him.  He will take risks not just to solve the mystery, but to save a friend, even if it would get him killed.  There is an especially terrifying and touching moment when the Operator is closing in on Jay and an incapacitated companion.  Jay refuses to leave even as the other shouts at him to go and the Operator comes ever closer.

So even as the cold chill runs up my spine and I do the occasional double take at night, I recall more the moments that the characters, especially Jay, take risks for each other.

I watch for the mystery, the story, and the camaraderie.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Pleasant Surprises (2/6)

Never underestimate your enemy, or your potential entertainment source.  

Sometimes disappointment will win out, but other times you may find a pleasant surprise lurking where you least expect it.  Here are six works I found waiting just around that proverbial corner.

Ranking of these is not by quality, but rather how unexpected it was that I liked them.
6th Place

5. It just looks so kiddie!
Take the Transformers.  Take a PlaySkool toy.  Now mash them together as hard as you can.

Congratulations, you have just reproduced the visual aesthetic of the show Transformers: Rescue Bots.  Is it as kiddie as it looks?  Well, yeah.  And that’s a good thing.

Created while Transformers Prime was taking the breather between season one and two, this show skewed to a younger audience.  That’s right, ladies and gentlemen!  No Autobot stabbed through the chest in the first five minutes here!

As a result, the show tended to focus on more family-sized issues than planet-sized disasters.  Don’t let that fool you into thinking they just threw money and toys at it.  This may not an ambitious show, but it is a genuine one.

The premise for this show is that four Autobots arrive on earth in the middle of the war with the Decepticons. However, these Rescue Bots are far from capable on the battlefield.  So Optimus Prime assigns them to a small island full of experimental technology where they can live hidden amongst the humans.  Here they are teamed with the Burns family who runs the emergency response system on the island.  Only the Burns are aware of the Bots’ sentience and together they help keep the island safe.

There are no real hidden depths to the cast.  They each fit a role nicely.  Sometimes that means conforming to stereotypes, sometimes not.  Even so, each of the family members and the Bots are treated as characters.  They are allowed to have full range of emotions and passions, and their interactions are often more than enough to make you laugh.  My personal favorite is Chase.
Image from
Chase is a by-the-book police car.  If there is a rule, he will rigidly stick to it, be it reasonable (halting a robbery, reinforcing traffic laws)  or ridiculous (over-analyzing the “rules” of comedy and babysitting).  The humor behind his concrete way of thinking clashes with the other characters who vary from out-and-out rebellious to simply more flexible.  Sometimes his rigid view of the rules cripples him while other times it becomes his advantage.

"Then I will study Earth humor. But why the road-crossing habits of poultry provoke involuntary laughter, I will never comprehend."
Image from  Episode "Shake Up."

This show gives every character a foil and a chance to be both wrong and right.  They aren’t afraid to show more than one side of an issue, but they also aren’t afraid to say which they think is right.  Every episode ends with a good feel to it.  Well, almost every episode.

- Behold, Tim Curry Villain! -
Image from  Episode "The Other Doctor"

Like Friendship is Magic, the show tends to mostly deal with day-to-day issues.  Things are more on the personal side.  Also like Friendship is Magic, however, Rescue Bots is willing to raise the stakes.  Two episodes in the first season end with a villain who wins, putting the entire island at risk.  It also trusts its viewers enough to understand that doing the right thing may come with a cost, but is worth it in the end.

Rescue Bots may not be ambitious, but it sure does leave you with a smile on your face.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Pleasant Surprises (1/6)

Never underestimate your enemy, or your potential entertainment source.  
Sometimes disappointment will win out, but other times you may find a pleasant surprise lurking where you least expect it.  Here are six works I found waiting just around that proverbial corner.

Ranking of these is not by quality, but rather how unexpected it was that I liked them.
5th place

6. Stop me if you’ve heard this one...
You all know where this is going.
“My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is a great show that’s not just for little girls anymore. An unexpected amount of 18-to-21-year-old men are watching and loving the show.  Blah, blah, blah blah.” - A ridiculous number of legitimate news articles 
I’m not disagreeing.  In fact it was because this thing was creeping around the internet that I decided to take a look.  I knew a guy in college who was enjoying it.  One of my childhood friends was also into the show.  So I tried it.
Each episode was like one of those shortbread cookies that are so sweet and so addictive you just have to eat one more.  Just one more, you promise yourself as your hand comes out of the cookie jar with twelve.
The strength of the show does not lie with the cutesy factor, although a few “D’aww” moments do not hurt.  Rather it comes from the characters.  You will find endless debates about “___ is the best pony!”  Many of the arguments will have a solid foundation.  Almost all the characters, especially the Mane Six, are given both strengths and weaknesses.  Episodes give them chances to explore those strengths or challenges the weaknesses.  While stereotypes can be found within the characters, they don’t adhere completely to them.  A fabulous example is the unicorn Rarity.
Image from 

Rarity was I character I was expecting to be annoyed with.  A fashionista.  A diva.  If she had nails, heaven forbid one that should break.  All points of her character, but not her entirety.  
In terms of fashion she is first and foremost an artist.  There is skill and expertise behind her craft and she works hard at it.  Her profession is her passion.  As a hobby artist/writer myself and daughter of a watercolor artist,  I can relate to Rarity in that.
While overdramatic, Rarity had no lack in smarts or commonsense.  Not the strongest or most athletic of the cast, she has relied on her wits and her knowledge of interpersonal relations to overcome challenges and out-maneuver dangers.  Miss Rarity teaches that a strong female character does not have to be sporting biceps.

- This is not a female character. -
Image from  Episode "Hurricane Fluttershy" 
Lastly, but most importantly, is where her moral core lies.  She dreams of recognition, both as a beauty and as a professional and will take great pains to maintain both.  Eventually, as it is with any good story, her highly-held reputation will meet an adversary known as “doing the right thing.”  It may be instantaneous or it may be journey throughout the episode, but in the end it is always Rarity’s reputation that she will sacrifice.
This show was good enough to take a stereotype that I not only disliked, but actively tried to distance myself from, and showed me that a fashionista can have depths beyond what I had considered and is just as valid an identity as the one I claim for my own.
Let it be also known that Friendship is Magic is not without its moments of epic, and here I do not simply mean “awesome.”  While a good deal of the show, especially the first season, has the general day-to-day worries we come to expect out of a kids show - especially those targeting girls and including some previous pony series - it also has some moments of real stakes.  Life and death come into play.  Multiple times the future of the nation, or even world, is on the brink.  This is a show that respects its target audience enough to not just make it peaceful and loving but gives rhyme, reason, and importance to it.  A peaceful, loving nation and its ponies are important enough to take risks for, both big and small.
- Just one of many battles -
Image from  Episode "A Canterlot Wedding - Part 2"
There is good reason for the popularity of Friendship is Magic, and I'm glad I started watching.