You Got Taylor Swift in My Trent Reznor!

I am not generally impressed by Taylor Swift. I like some Nine Inch Nails and respect Trent Reznor, but I also think the whole act is a little overwrought and silly sometimes.
I had no idea that the two, not unlike peanut butter and chocolate, could be so good together.

And now, of course, “Shake it Off” is stuck in my head, and I’m beginning to get why the people like this Swift person so much. God dammit.

The Old School Transformers Movie You’ve Been Wishing For

There hasn’t been a Generation-1 Transformers animated movie since Transformers: The Movie (discussed in depth on my podcast) in 1986. As excited as many folks my age were that the Transformers were coming to live-action film in 2007, despite the return of Peter Cullen as the voice of Optimus Prime, the Michael Bay versions clearly aren’t quite what a true fan was hoping for.

But why? Aside from terrible writing, which even the best iterations of Transformers were always plagued by, what about the Bay Transformers movies doesn’t work? Too many humans, for one. Sorry, but Spike never will be interesting enough to carry a movie.

But I think the biggest problem is that in the live action movies, the Transformers don’t look like Transformers. Now, the bots never sported svelte, Jony Ive-approved designs, and much to my disappointment, as the years passed, newer versions of Prime and other characters had so many guns, blades, spikes, and other protrusions glommed onto them, that they looked like big mechanical jumbles.

The Michael Bay movies take that into the stratosphere, and make the Transformers all so busy-looking, so, well, messy, that they no longer resembled the robots we used to know. They were now robots in disguise in disguise as, well, junkyards? If shape-shifting robots were to emerge from Saruman’s forges, I think they’d look a lot like Michael Bay’s Transformers.

This is part of what makes this video so great. Harris Loureiro of Malaysia has taken what look to be the “masterpiece” versions of Generation-1 Transformers toys (so-called because they are built to mimic their platonic ideals from the cartoons and comics, articulating and transforming just as they would), and using stop-motion animation to create his own short Transformers films.

He’s using sound and music from the 1986 animated film for this, a battle between some latter-day version of Optimus Prime and the Constructicons, which of course form Devastator. (They apparently have different names in different parts of the world, but it’s them.)

But it’s tremendous. There’s nuance, there are graceful moves, suspense and surprises, and yes, they look like Transformers. Loureiro’s done an excellent job with this. He has some others on his YouTube channel, which seem more like experiments and expositions of what he’s able to do, but they’re worth checking out too. But this is the one with an actual conflict, and it’s rather bad-ass. Hollywood may need to hire this man.

Many thanks to Len Sanook for pointing me to this.

Tony Stark and Me and Our PTSD

On an episode in May of this year of the podcast The Incomparable, which is a great panel discussion show about whatever bit of culture, entertainment, or literature strikes their fancy, the topic was Iron Man 3. Somewhere in the middle of the conversation, Guy English takes the temperature of the group concerning the introduction of Tony Stark’s panic attacks, a symptom of his PTSD following the harrowing events of the previous film, The Avengers. There was general agreement that, yes, what Tony experienced battling the aliens at the climax of The Avengers would definitely fuck one’s shit up, but there seemed to be some ambivalence about whether it out of place in the context of the film in question.

I quickly want to address what they did not, which is whether it was done well. I watched Iron Man 3 only recently, on my MacBook during a flight a month or so ago, and I found the portrayal of someone suffering from post traumatic stress disorder shockingly realistic.

Let me qualify: I have only my own experiences to draw from. Read this to get a better idea of how I know anything about the topic — it doesn’t involve aliens. I do not at all want to assert that my experience of PTSD is universal or even common. It’s just what I know.

All that said, I was amazed at how much I related to Stark in his moments of panic. I recognized my own behavior in his when one of his attacks set in. (For the sake of rhetoric, I’m going to use the word “you” even though I’m really talking about “me.)

Something sets you off — a reference to an event, an association, a physical stimulus, what have you — and an animalistic fight or flight instinct takes hold. But it doesn’t necessarily own you entirely, you don’t turn into some werewolf in a waking nightmare. Your conscious mind is aware of what’s happening. You know you’re having an irrational rush of emotions and that your body is now compelled to act with sudden and overwhelming urgency. Maybe you run, maybe you fight, maybe you hide, maybe you scream, etcetera. All the while, you recognize that something not of your neocortex is in control. You may even be able to make jokes about it while it’s happening.

So I was mightily impressed and very much surprised by the way it was handled in this movie. It would have been easy to overdramatize Tony’s episodes, to make them Hulk-like in their violence and intensity, to make Tony unrecognizable in those moments. Instead, they let them be very much Tony’s episodes. We got to see him become aware of something happening to him, see him comment on it, struggle with it, and even try to mitigate it based on circumstance. And yes, he could even have a sense of humor about it in the moment. What was so true to life for me was that Tony never loses all control in those moments, but you do see his whole body carriage change as though a new force were asserting itself on his body’s operation, as though he was the Iron Man suit, and his amygdala now the driver.

We see a lot of troubled superheroes. Too often, though, their traumas exhibit themselves in brooding or vendetta. It was extremely refreshing to see a trauma manifest clinically in a superhero character, in a way I as a fellow-sufferer recognized. Indeed, Downey’s portrayal of PTSD episodes was so real to me, it mildly triggered my own responses, sitting there at over 10,000 feet, in the dark. My heart raced with his. My amygdala called shotgun in my mind for a little while.

I understand why it might have seemed a touch superfluous to the Incomparable cast. There are a lot of ways to tell the story of Tony growing as a character and knowing what it is to have weaknesses and failings. But this way of telling that story was crystal clear to me. For a big, explode-y Hollywood blockbuster, they told that about as well as I imagine anyone could.

Justin Who-ber? Tweeps School Me on Pop Culture

Over the past couple of days, I kept seeing this name pop up in tweets and around the intertubes: “Justin Bieber.” Now, look. I opted out of popular culture pretty much entirely after college, so I have no idea who that is. (I think he may have been on SNL this week? See, no idea.) So I asked my tweeps to tell me so I didn’t have to a) do the googling myself and b) stumble upon a website promoting or praising this person that I was sure to find depressing.

Some highlights:

@elizapi: 16 year old singer, kinda looks like a girl, but a guy, and some people find him attractive.

@archineas: you are seriously better off not knowing…

@chthoniid: my teen daughter assures me he is a youngish teen singer who has exploited social media to become popular.

@mirandachale: He’s an icky little teenage white rapper kid.Hadn’t seen him before SNL last night.Little girls want to heavy pet him, it seems

@kf: He’s a magical little boy who lives in a tree and bakes cookies.

@geekwithsoul: You know all those Catholic priests in the news? Well Justin Bieber is the one they all carry around a picture of 😉

I think that’s sufficient information considering the topic, don’t you? I just hope the cookies thing is true.