Why is Twilight Popular? A Short Animated Explanation

The Lego Brick effect he’s talking about is called “Masking“, and is extensively explained in Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics, a book I highly recommend everyone read.  I think the video’s definitely on the right track with this approach, but it’s more complicated than this. After all, Stephanie Myers is hardly the first person to use this technique- the Japanese have been using it for 60+ years! No, Ms. Myers definitely managed to tape into something deep in the female psyche and give women the same high men get from a perfect action movie, or perhaps porn.

The Leviathan Chronicles

In honor of the Leviathan Chronicles reaching its season finale, I decided to make a point of giving it a listen and checked out the first Chapter.  I don’t listen to as many new shows as I used to, and what I knew of the premise for this one didn’t interest me much. The moment I hear the world “immortal” in anything these days it gets the same reaction that the word “vampire” does- “ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz”. It’s like RAID for my interest- kills it dead!

However, now that I’ve given it a  listen,  I have to say that is one sweet piece of audio engineering! Really, it’s easily one of the best engineered things being done in audio drama right now- just gorgeous. Story-wise it’s tough to say based on one episode, especially since the first episode feels like Tom Clancy wrote it, but with a twist. Tom Clancy’s dialogue is awkward and wooden, but his narration is usually pretty solid if not fancy. Here, the narration is awkward and stiff (typical newbie AD writer issues with the narrator describing sounds to us, and giving us a lot more information than necessary- issues that I expect gets corrected later on after he got some feedback) but the dialogue is really solid and flows well. The acting is also good, and the actors well chosen for this roles.

I have to say, I’m intrigued by it, and it’s definitely getting a spot on my iPod playlist for the next couple weeks while I catch up. Not sure if I’ll like it or not once the actual story kicks in (we’re still in the introduction by the end of Chapter One), but it’s got my attention so far! (Which is more than I can say for a lot of AD after their first episode.)

A History of Power Rangers

I know I’m showing my geek roots here, but it’s time to come clean.

I was a Super Sentai fan. -_-

There, I said it. It’s out there.

Sentai (and by default Power Rangers) was one of those things I would have sold my left arm to be able to watch as a kid if I had known it had existed. It was my 10 year old dreams come to life at a time when all I had were a few Godzilla and Gamera movies to dream of whenever Superhost showed them on Saturday afternoons. I loved superheroes, I loved giant robots, I loved giant monsters- what combines all three of these? Sentai!

I still remember on my trip to Disneyland when I was 14 or so I wandered into a shop there that was selling imported sentai toys, and to get interest they had a TV above the pile of toys silently playing clips from what I think was Google V. I just stood there in rapt fascination and watched for literally an hour, and then the next time we went back to that area two days later, I went back and watched them again!

That’s why when, ironically enough, Power Rangers came out in the early 90’s I was still interested. Now, I wasn’t fanboy level interested, because to be blunt the show was kinda stupid and at that point I was in University not elementary school, but the base appeal was still there. I saw there was something there, and if only it wasn’t written so badly I could see how it could be pretty entertaining. Eventually, of course, I discovered a way to watch actual Japanese sentai shows, and became a fan of those for a while, but I did keep an eye on Power Rangers, watching the occasional episode and hoping it would get better at some point.

It did, actually. There were a few seasons like Power Rangers- Time Force, and the most recent Power Rangers:RPM that actually transcended their genre to reach decent levels of cool. (RPM was intended to be the last season and the producers didn’t care what they did, so the creative team went all-out to produce quite a dark show.) Although in between those seasons there was a lot of drek, and lord knows I didn’t have the patience to go back and actually sit through the crap for those few gems that might be hidden in there someplace.

Luckily now we have someone else to do it for us! Louis Lovhaug of the blog Atop of the Fourth Wall has begun putting together a series of 40 minute retrospectives about each season of the series which are both funny and critical in a way only someone who truly loves something can be. So far he’s done the first six seasons of the show, and for even a casual fan they’re pretty entertaining. So if you’re curious how this show managed to stay on the air for literally 17 seasons, now’s your chance to see why.

Hidden Talents

One of the great things about Youtube is that it’s a mini American’s Got Talent of sorts, where all sorts of interesting abilities people have can be showcased for the world to see. In this case, a young actor named Hunter Davis has an astounding talent for sounding like Sir. Ian McKellan and is using his natural gift for the very SNL purpose of reciting TV show theme lyrics in that perfect grandfatherly voice. Not sure how this talent would translate to any other use (except maybe Voice Acting  a Lord of the Rings animated TV show) but at least he’s using it for good instead of evil!

Here he is reciting the theme to Ducktales…

The Infoladies of Bangladesh

In a place where women dutifully give birth in dingy huts, the men know of little outside their fields, and the world revolves around the local mosque; the sight of a “modern” woman visitor astride her bike is a spectacle. The more so as Akhter zaps around with gadgets like a netbook, GSM mobile, blood pressure monitor and pregnancy kit, all deftly packed in her shoulder bag. “It was a scandal when I started my rounds two years ago with just a mobile phone”, says Akhter. Now it is more of a phenomenon. She is treated like a champion by people whose lives she’s shaping with once “scary machines”.

While I have mixed feelings about this new interconnected world we live in, there are definitely advantages for a group that’s all too often forgotten- the nearly half the world’s population who live in poverty. These people will have great difficulty finding proper medical care or the knowledge they need to better their lives, and the ability to consult a whole world of information can truly make a difference in their lives. The Infolady program is one such attempt, and looks to be a good one, with technologically equipped ladies pedaling their way across Bangladesh and sharing knowledge with the people in poorer districts.

Actually, this should also serve to remind us that a good percentage of the world barely has access to electricity, much less the internet, and we should do all we can to help make knowledge available to them when they can get access. Projects like Wikipedia and Archive.org are so important exactly because they help to make the breadth of human knowledge available to those who need it most, and can afford it least.

Nollywood Calling

Nollywood, Nigeria’s booming film industry, is the world’s third largest producer of feature films. Unlike Hollywood and Bollywood, however, Nollywood movies are made on shoe-string budgets of time and money. An average production takes just 10 days and costs approximately $15,000. – Thisisnollywood.com

Every now and then I stumble across something completely surprising on the internet, and today’s surprise was the scope and size of Nigera’s film industry. When we North Americans think of Africa, one of the things we don’t think about is the obvious- what do they do for entertainment? (Although, given the media’s portrayal of Africans as savages, I think most people would answer “hunt and drink”.) In reality of course, Africa is not a country, it’s a continent, and is filled with both a large diversity of cultures and economies. Some African countries are actually doing quite well, and one of these is Nigeria.

Now a friend once commented to me that with video equipment becoming so cheap and plentiful, and video editing software also so easy to access, one of the natural results was going to be a natural democratization of filmmaking. If everyone can make films and then get them out there into the world- why wouldn’t they? For a lot of people, this means Youtube and “Guerrilla” filmmaking, but for the people of the developing nations of the world, this can mean a birth of new national film industries. The Nigerians saw a niche market not being covered, their lives and their stories, and they’ve leapt into it headfirst! Sure, the films are cheaply made, and rushed out direct to DVD as fast as the editors finish with them, but they’re a lot more relevant to the hopes and dreams of the Nigerian (and African) people than most Hollywood films ever will be.

That said, you can find Nollywood films on Youtube and I tried watching some since they’re made in English. The first thing I noticed (as someone who does audio engineering for a hobby) was the poor sound quality (lots of spiking) and the second thing I noticed was the really stiff acting (reminds me of American Soap Opera acting), but overall they remind me a lot of 1980’s American made-for-TV movies.

If you’re more curious about the actual industry itself, there’s three documentaries out there, the above Nollywood Bablylon, another called Nollywood- Nigera is available for free on Youtube, and the other, following an actual Nollywood film through it’s production cycle, is called This is Nollywood. A photographer named Pieter Hugo has also done a photo series about Nollywood, and more information about it can be found here.

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WuXia versus Kung Fu

Recently I’ve been watching a lot old Shaw Brothers Kung Fu movies on Youtube, and it occurred to me that from the point of view of someone not really familiar with the WuXia genre (ie most foreigners) there’s probably something they’re missing when they watch these films.

The WuXia genre is the Chinese equivalent to the American Western, or the Japanese Samurai film- a romanticized action story genre set in the past where good guys and bad guys are clearly marked most of the time. Its roots trace back to the Water Margins tales, but the genre really hit its stride in the early to mid 20th century when serialized pulp adventures about Xia became a mainstay of the Hong Kong and Taiwan publishing industry. Thus, just as Westerns flourished in the early part of the 20th century when film rose in popularity, so did the WuXia genre when the Hong Kong film industry bloomed somewhat later on.

Which brings me to the thing that most viewers outside Chinese speakers fail to understand when they watch these films- Kung Fu films are really two genres, not one. There are the Kung Fu films, and the WuXia films, but they are not the same thing. The WuXia films came first, because for the most part they are adaptions of those printed stories I mentioned above, and the Kung Fu films came later- generally being original stories created specifically for film. Knowing this, it’s actually not that hard to figure out which one you’re watching- if it has a complicated story with sudden jumps in time and location, it’s usually a novel-based WuXia adaption they’re cramming into a 90 minute film. If it’s a fairly smooth film with a simple linear plot and limited cast, it’s mostly likely a Kung Fu story made specifically for film.

To give actual examples- compare Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (a WuXia film that most non-Chinese people have seen) to Enter the Dragon or most Jackie Chan films like Drunken Master and you’ll see the differences. The other obvious hint is that a Kung Fu film is usually based around literal hand-to-hand combat, whereas most (but not all) WuXia films feature swordsmen as the main characters (thus WuXia films are sometimes nicknamed “Flying Swordsman” films by some reviewers). WuXia films also tend to center around the Jiang-Hu, or “Martial World”, and their byzantine politics as different clans and societies struggle for power against each other, whereas Kung Fu films generally amount to variants of “you killed my father/master/mother/sister/brother/dog- prepare to die!”.

It’s sad in some ways, that a lot of the scorn that the “Kung Fu” genre tends to get from the general non-Chinese public is actually based on the simple Kung Fu films, but the more complex WuXia films tend to get lumped in with them. While many WuXia films are indeed also crap, there are quite a few gems in there as well, such as the Sentimental Swordsman movies. (Although it too suffers from the typical WuXia problem of too much story and too little time.)

Not that “pure” Kung Fu films are always bad, movies like the 36th Chamber of Shaolin, Iron Monkey and even The Karate Kid are cinematic masterpieces that everyone would benefit from seeing. The point I’m trying to make is not that either genre is better than the other, but that they are different, and it’s a difference that’s worth being aware of if you’re going to appreciate these movies for what they have to offer-good and bad.

Genre Fiction Generator 2000

Care of David Ault and Fiona Thraille comes the solution to all your plotting needs! Stuck on what to write, dear friend? Never fear! The Genre Fiction Generator 2000 is here!

John Williams- Musical Plagerist?

So there I am in church for the Mother’s Day service, and we start singing a beautiful hymn called “I, the Lord of Sea and Sky” (aka “Here I am Lord”)….

And a few bars in, I’m thinking…”wait, I know this song…” and by the end of the hymn I remembered where I’d heard it before….

Now, I know that all musicians borrow from the past, but still, it’s barely modified at all! You can practically sing the lyrics to the hymn along with it! I did! Try it!