The Hallway Fight: Daredevil and OldBoy

Before bed last night, I watched a couple of movie/show reviews on YouTube, including one for Daredevil. I’d watched a few episodes, but ultimately found it a bit boring and repetitive. Plus, I really like crime procedurals, and “beat the shit out of the guy until he reveals the next clue” is not a procedural, no matter what fans of the show seem to be claiming.

But there was one scene in Daredevil that was absolutely wonderful, and that I will probably still be raving about years from now; specifically, the hallway fight scene in the second episode of the first season. It is just gorgeous, a joy to watch even without the context of the show around it, even if we don’t care much about the character or the context. It’s just a visual treat.

Daredevil

This, of course, made me think of the gorgeous hallway fight scene in OldBoy, which it is clearly drawing from (right down to the green colour scheme), and what it is about those two scenes that is so attractive to me.

So, of course, I rewatched both on YouTube and gave it some thought.

The colours: This is an obvious one. Both make excellent use of a monochromatic scheme, which is just visually appealing in general. As an added treat, Daredevil puts a red light shining under the door where his goal is located, contrasting with the green and serving as a visual reminder, throughout the whole scene, of what he’s fighting for.

The humanity: In both scenes, the characters are human. The main characters get tired, and we see them stagger, we see them pant, we see them lean against the wall or take longer to get up so that they can have a quick rest before the next hit. And that’s another important part – they actually get hit. In OldBoy, the main character is repeatedly thrown to the ground and we, the audience, don’t know if he’s going to get up again as the baddies crowd around to kick him. Heck, he goes through about half of the fight with a knife sticking out of his back. In Daredevil, it’s clear that Murdock is absolutely exhausted and hurt. By the end, he can barely stand. Yet in both cases, we see the triumph of will as they keep getting back up, over and over again, to fight on. It feels real, and it’s inspiring, and it’s so much more compelling than the Superman types who either never take a hit to begin with, or who plough on unaffected by them.

The humanity, part two: Another important piece of this is that the baddies are human as well. None of this one-shot-you’re-dead business. They can’t just give a baddie one punch to the head and the guy goes down, unmoving for the rest of the scene. The baddies remain in the shot, moaning, in pain, and sometimes getting back up.

The confined space: There’s something very intimate about the use of a hallway, so that the main character is crowded into a sea of enemies. This also means that the characters are always doing something, and attacks are coming from every direction. Visually, it means that there’s more opportunity for choreography, as the characters use the walls and each other to leap into the air, spin themselves around, and use every part of their body to land hits in many directions in quick succession.

The steady camera: Another feature of the confined space is that the eye can take in the whole fight at once, aided by a steady camera and long take. It’s so much more satisfying than the up-close jumpcut technique that’s far more popular (likely because jumpcuts make it easier to use stunt doubles). I get that the jumpcuts are meant to convey the confusion of battle, but they do so at the expense of visual beauty (and, in my opinion, cause an overload effect where I am too confused to be able to worry about the protagonist’s safety). But in OldBoy and Daredevil, we see everything that is happening, and it lets us be both in the moment and out of it enough to appreciate the beauty of the movement.

The off-screen: Not really something OldBoy does (except for the very wise choice to off-screen the elevator portion of the fight), but the use in Daredevil was exquisite. As the camera flows up and down the hallway in a beautiful, almost oceanic movement, the fight itself weaves in and out of our field of vision. I’m not sure why I enjoyed this so much – I guess I need to give it some more thought – but it was just wonderful.

The music: In both movies, the fight scene has a very muted, tonal soundtrack. It provides a little extra emotional resonance (with a few heroic swells, as in OldBoy), but largely sticks to the background. This allows the energy of the visuals to dominate (not to mention the sickening thok-thok of the punches).

I should also given an honourable mention to the spinning hallway fight scene in Inception (what is it about the hallways??). Again, we have the fixed camera, the confined space, the use of environment, and that flow of movement of battlers through the camera’s field of vision (in that case, of course, in a more three-dimensional sense). I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Christopher Nolan got some of his inspiration for that scene from OldBoy, actually.

An interesting difference between Daredevil and OldBoy that I noticed was the presence of a goal. In OldBoy, the field of vision is from the side, so that the main character’s goal isn’t seen at all until it is reached (making the fight seem endless, and raising the stakes when added to the main character’s expressions of fatigue). In contrast, the goal in Daredevil is specifically highlighted with the use of red lighting. I don’t prefer one over the other, but I did find the difference interesting.

The Art of T-Shirt Buying

Due to body image issues, I’ve tended to buy t-shirts at the largest size available, preferring shapeless bags that would hide my body. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve benefited from getting some perspective, and decided that I would slowly replace my t-shirt collection over the course of this year with shirts that I actually enjoy wearing.

A strange thing happens when a habit like this is changed. At first, I felt self-conscious, and I crossed my arms over my stomach to hide myself in the way that my shirt was suddenly failing to. But then, I started to get used to the feeling of exposure, and it didn’t bother me any more. Even better, I started feeling better about myself. By no longer trying to hide my body, I stopped thinking about my body (at least in the inappropriate/intrusive sense). Just in the past year, and largely as a result of changing my dress, I have started to feel far more confident in my body, and even happy with it.

This has had a pretty huge ripple effect. When I’m not thinking about hiding my body, I can think about running, about moving, about getting exercise. I can do that without worrying that someone is going to laugh at my flesh moving around, one beat off from the rest of me. It’s fantastically freeing, and quite a bit better for my health.

All this is just to say that I’ve done a fair bit of t-shirt buying this year, and I wanted to share some of my experiences with different companies.

LootCrate

The company that got me started when it forced me to actually measure myself rather than just pick the largest size. Owning a shirt that was properly fitted inspired me to get more, and set off my journey to feeling better about myself.

Designs: LootCrate is a “mystery box” service. That means that you pay a fee for the month, and get a box with an unknown assortment of items. Sometimes that includes shirts. While the box themes are announced ahead of time, I’ve found the predictive value to be quite poor. So far, I’ve gotten a D&D shirt, two Transformers shirts, and a Power Rangers shirt – none of which are shirts that I would have bought on my own (although the D&D shirt has an interesting design that I actually quite like).

Quality: The quality is variable, since LootCrate sources its products from a range of places. The D&D shirt, for example, is fairly thin and already (after just under half a year) getting a hole or two. While none of the shirts I’ve received so far have been really great quality, the others have at least been thicker than that. The designs are well printed, and aren’t fading or flaking.

Fit: Every LootCrate shirt so far has fit me perfectly. That said, there are fewer larger options, (shirts only go up to 20.5″W).

Value: I find LootCrate to be a pretty good deal, most months (there have been one or two months of disappointment, but also one or two months of happy surprise, so it evens out). At under $20 for the US, it definitely does come out to a good deal (a shirt alone will often cost that much). At close to $40 CAN for shipping to Canada, however, the price gets a little harder to justify, especially when you don’t know ahead of time if there will be anything you’ll like in the crate.

Customer Service: I had an issue with one of the boxes a few months ago. When I contacted LootCrate about it, they responded fairly quickly and sent a replacement box within a couple of days.

Conclusion: If you want to buy specific shirts, LootCrate isn’t the right place to go. On the other hand, it’s a decent value just to get a little surprise every month, and sometimes shirts are included. The shirts often aren’t what I would buy for myself, but the designs have been interesting and I’ve enjoyed them anyway. The only problem I have with LootCrate is that the billing can be tricky, particularly if you want to wait and see the theme for the month before ordering. There’s no way to sign up for a single month, only one month recurring, and the packages are processed well in advance of the “next billing date” displayed in your account. So if you want to order for only one month, you have to sign up for the one month plan, then check with your credit card company so that you can cancel it as soon as the charge comes in. Leave it too long, and they will begin processing your crate for the following month, and there’s no way to stop it if you don’t like that month’s theme. (I see that they’ve now added the option of skipping a month, but it only gave me the option to skip the month I wanted, not pre-skip the next month. So the downside of having to monitor and click the right button at the right time remains.)

TeeFury

When I first wrote this review, it had been a month and a half since I had ordered the shorts, and three and a half weeks since they had been shipped, and I still hadn’t received them. Because of this, my review was mostly about their customer service, since I didn’t have much else to go on. But now, about two months since I placed my order, and about a month since they were shipped, I finally have them in hand and am ready to amend my review!

Designs: TeeFury’s designs are fantastic, and they have tons of options (with more added frequently). It was the quality of the designs that made me risk TeeFury, despite its poor reviews. I particularly like the variety of fandoms (I was able to find a Monkey Island shirt, which was understandably far more of a temptation than yet another Doctor Who design).

Quality: The shirts themselves look quite nice. The material is fine, and has some flexibility to it. I did notice that threads started coming out of one of the shirts the first time I wore it, which is pretty unusual (but could be a fluke). The printing of the design seems fine – you can see the weave through the design, which is a good sign (it means that the shirt can move around on your body without the design cracking).

Fit: The sizing charts are rather unrealistic for women (being only half an inch larger than the equivalent youth size). So I ended up paying an extra $2 per shirt because, according to TeeFury, I’m so huge that I’m costing them that much in extra fabric, even though the same size is only a medium in men’s (and thus is $2 cheaper). This also means that women who would like larger shirts are plain out of luck. Adding a bit of insult to injury, it seems that they still skimped on fabric. While the shirts otherwise fit quite nicely, they are fairly short. I like shirts that come at least halfway down over my bum, and these end right at the bottom of my stomach. If I’m going to be charged extra for additional fabric, I expect there to actually be sufficient fabric for the shirt to fit properly.

Value: At around $20 USD per shirt, the prices are pretty average, though the extra $2 for a shirt would only be M in men’s (a Girl Tax?) is a bit ridiculous. Shipping and currency conversion can make it a fair bit more expensive for Canadians, but that’s pretty normal as well. Until I find a local distributor with the same quality and selection of designs, I’m stuck ordering at higher prices from the US.

Customer Service: Pretty bad. It took about two weeks to get a response, even though my credit card was charged as soon as the order was placed (which I find rather odd – most online retailers don’t charge my credit card until the item actually ships). Once I finally got through, the representative was apologetic and offered to send replacement shirts. Since I had finally received the original shirts on the same day, this wasn’t necessary. So I can’t say how long things would have taken if they hadn’t resolved on their own. It seems that this backlog for customer service is a chronic situation for TeeFury. The consensus online seems to be that they’re great if nothing goes wrong, but if things do go wrong, they go really wrong.

Conclusion: I’m on the fence about TeeFury, and I think it will be a long while before I risk ordering from them again. While I did eventually get the shirts I ordered, it took about two months, and the customer service is extremely slow to respond if anything goes wrong.

DFTBA

Designs: Most of the designs are YouTube channel branding. Which, I get it, that’s the niche they’re going for. But, personally, I don’t believe in paying to advertise someone else’s company. They do have a handful of nice designs, though, so it’s worth checking out.

Quality: Really good. I believe they get their shirts from American Apparel, and they are very soft and quite thick. The shirts are clearly well made, and they feel great to wear. The designs are fairly well printed, and I haven’t noticed any flaking or unusual fading.

Fit: I’ve had some trouble finding shirts that come in women’s sizes, which is quite a problem for me (my breasts are rather on the large side, so if I get a men’s shirt that fits my chest, it’s very frumpy around my waist, and a men’s shirt that fits my waist is obscene around my chest). But the shirts that do come in women’s sizes fit very well. I also noticed that, unlike TeeFury and LootCrate, the women’s sizes go up quite a bit higher than what I need. In fact, according to DFTBA, I’m only M (thank goodness I checked instead of just ordering XXL!).

Value: At around $20 per shirt, the prices is fairly average. I’ve also been able to take advantage of a few sales, getting one shirt for $10 and another for $15.

Customer Service: I haven’t needed to contact customer service, but so far my interactions with the company have been very pleasant. My orders have all been filled within a day or two.

Conclusion: The shirts are really nice, and the price is reasonable. I also love what the company stands for, and the way that its owners hold themselves accountable. The problem is the lack of designs that I’d be willing to wear (or, in the case of branding, that I’d be willing to pay for).

CafePress

Designs: Since CafePress prints on demand, the designs are potentially limitless. There’s a bit of an overload factor, though, in trying to find something worth buying. The two times I’ve ordered from CafePress, it’s been for my own designs, and being able to customize what I wear to that degree is a pretty big draw.

Quality: The shirts are pretty good quality. The cotton is nice and thick, so it takes a long time to wear them out. The design printing isn’t quite as good, I believe because it’s more cost effective when doing one-off printings. I ordered one shirt about four years ago and, while the shirt itself has held up, the image is very faded and cracked. The shirt I ordered more recently (this summer) has the same plastic-y feel to the design, and I’m sure that will begin cracking in not too long.

Fit: The fit around my breast and waist is quite good, and the length of the shirt is nice (I can pull it partly down past my bum). The only problem is with the sleeves, which I find are a bit too tight. It’s not constricting or particularly uncomfortable, but it means that I’m aware of the shirt being there all the time, and I find that distracting. It wouldn’t take much for them to add half an inch or so, and the fit would be much improved.

Value: Individual sellers set the prices for the shirts themselves, but they are almost always above the $20 USD benchmark (since CafePress charges the regular rate and, to make any kind of profit, sellers must go higher). I found the shipping charge to be quite a bit higher than normal as well. The result on my last order was a $45 CAD charge on my credit card for a single shirt that had only been priced at $24 USD. It can be worthwhile to wear your own design, but is far too much for regular shopping.

Customer Service: I accidentally bought the wrong size shirt several years ago. When I contacted CafePress, they responded quickly and sent me a replacement shirt, even though the issue had been my own fault. This was several years ago, though, so I don’t know if the quality of the customer service has changed since then.

Conclusion: There’s a lot of potential for finding (or making!) great shirts, but with so many options, it can take a while. This versatility must be balanced against the so-so quality of the fit and printing, as well as the higher cost.

Adventures in writing

I haven’t done much writing of my own for a long time (blog posts and e-mails excluded). There’s always something getting in the way – a job, dirty dishes, children requiring attention…

But over the last few years, I’ve slowly and tortuously managed to write a novel-length piece of fiction. This is a pretty Big Deal for me. Growing up, I always had my verbal/writing skills praised, and this was couched in terms of intelligence. Even as an 11 or 12 year old, I can remember a specific incident of putting a writing project away and deciding not to continue because I feared that it wasn’t perfect enough, that anyone who read it would decide that everyone had been wrong all along and I would be exposed as the unintelligent fraud I had always been. Since then, I’ve found writing extremely difficult. I would start a project, get midway through my first draft (which is about where the initial euphoria of inspiration starts to wear out), realize that what I was writing was the kind of thing only an unintelligent person would write, and give up.

So being able to stick with a project for so long (and to actually reach an end, no less!) is a very big step for me.

Even bigger was letting anyone see it.

In addition to my concerns about appearing unintelligent, I also worried about what I might accidentally reveal about my private psyche. My main character is a lot like me, in both personality and formative experiences. Even though the situation she’s placed in is entirely fictional (there’s magic and vampires, so rather out of my realm of experience), her perceptions of those events are very much mine. And very much private. They are the things I would perhaps rather no one know that I secretly think about them.

I had to close my eyes when I hit “send,” but I did it. And it took me a week after getting the first review back before I was finally able to open it and look.

As worked up as I had made myself, the comments my reviewer left really weren’t that bad! Still, it’s quite a process to dissociate myself as I read. There are times when I play around with words or grammar, when I invent words that have the right feel for what I need, when I omit punctuation to convey a particular messiness of thought, that my reviewer didn’t grok at all. Worse, she thought them errors, and so I appear unintelligent.

But I expected those feelings, and the week I took before opening her comments document was precisely intended to prepare myself, to get into the right frame of mind to read her comments impersonally.

What I didn’t expect was her disbelief at several details of my main character’s past. These events, she writes (I paraphrase), wouldn’t happen like that. Couldn’t happen like that. Yet they would and could, and I know that because they did. The parts she found most unbelievable were the parts I had borrowed from my own experiences.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I found it upsetting, so much as unsettling.

In any case, I’m glad that I went through the exercise, as painful as it was. I feel looser now, somehow, like I’ve already been for a swim in the deep end so there’s nothing to fear from the kiddy pool. I’m already excited to work on a final draft, incorporating the comments I’ve received (and I need to re-write the denouement, which is bloody awful right now), and then to move on to something new.

I’m also incredibly proud of myself just for finishing. Good or not, I did it, I wrote a novel. If I die tomorrow, my eulogy could honestly call me a novelist. I am brimming.

Reverse Racism

It may be a little hard to tell as I’m trying to plough through the Wheel of Time and Dresden Files series, but I have been trying to make a conscious effort lately to select more books by women, POCs, and where the two overlap. Since I’m a horribly slow reader and, I reiterate, trying to get through two series authored by white men, the evidence for this shift is still mostly only found in my To Be Read and To Buy lists, where I’ve culled many of the white male authors present, and have started dismissing out of hand recommendations for books with white male authors.

And I’m not the only one. I started doing this after reading an article (lost to the annals of my browser history) in which the author wrote about her realization that the vast majority of the books she had read in her high school English classes had been authored by white men. More recently, heinous Heina has decided to exclusidely read non-male authors in 2015 and non-white authors in 2016 (you can read her explanation of this choice here).

My high school experience was very much as described. The few books that didn’t fit this trend were very tokenistic, the same collection of classics trotted out by every educator who doesn’t want to seem too archaic (To Kill A Mockingbird, Autobiography of Malcolm X, and… that’s it?).

Thankfully, my university reading lists were a bit more diverse. There were still plenty of classes with an entirely male reading list (now that I think about it, those classes were all taught by men), but I had a whole whack of professors who took special care in putting together a broad roster of authors. Best yet, this was also in many of the courses required for my degree, so they were unavoidable.

But what really highlighted the issue for me was when I started to dip my toe into the idea of doing a project like Heina’s. I’ve been wanting to get into SF/F more, because I always enjoyed the genres but never really had access to them. So I started with the “bests” lists, hoping to get through the classics and to move on from there. Unfortunately, those lists tend to be blanched sausage parties, and there’s only so much of that I can get through before I start to feel a little jaded – even when those authors make an effort to have diverse character lists.

When I tried to reach out and ask for recommendations of books not written by white men, only two names were really forthcoming – Ursula Le Guin and Octavia Butler. Both fantastic authors and entirely deserving of their fame, but oh my ghawd, they do not bring balance to the genres!

I’m very glad to see this acknowledged as an issue, and I’ve been especially pleased in just the last year or two to see reading recommendations for non-white/non-male authors become so much more common and accessible. When I first started trying to get into SF/F, it took a lot of googling to find anything beyond Le Guin and Butler. Now there are entire blogs devoted to the discussion.

This has been really meandering and mostly just a word-vomit of my thoughts on the subject. Since there are far better discussions elsewhere, in an effort to provide at least a little value, I thought I might mention some of SF/F books currently on my To Be Read list. Obviously, I can’t recommend any of these because I haven’t read them, but they have been recommended to me and maybe this list will be helpful to someone:

  • Ahmed, Saladin: Throne of the Crescent Moon
  • Brown, Rachel & Sherwood Smith: Stranger
  • Cashore, Kristin: Graceling
  • Cherryh, C.J.: Foreigner
  • Chima, Cinda Williams: The Wizard Heir trilogy
  • Cooper, Susan: The Dark Is Rising sequence
  • Croggon, Alison: The Naming
  • De Bodard, Aliette: Obsidian and Blood Trilogy
  • Delany, Samuel R.: Dhalgren
  • Elgin, Suzette Haden: Native Tongue
  • Elliott, Kate: Crown of Stars Series
  • Fox, Rose & Daniel José Older (ed.): Long Hidden (Anthology)
  • Friedman, C.S.: Black Sun Rising
  • Gentle, Mary: Grunts
  • Griffith, Nicola: Hild
  • Hanley, Victoria: The Seer and the Sword
  • Hendry, Frances M.: Quest for a Maid
  • Hobb, Robin: Liveship Traders Trilogy
  • Huff, Tanya: The Fire’s Stone
  • Hughes, Monica: The Golden Aquarians
  • Hurley, Kameron: The Mirror Empire
  • Jemison, N.K.: The Killing Moon
  • Kirstein, Rosemary: The Steerswoman
  • Liu, Cixin: The Three-Body Problem
  • Lo, Malinda: Huntress
  • Locke, M.J.: Up Against It
  • Lowachee, Karin: Warchild
  • Mandel, Emily St. John: Station Eleven
  • McKinley, Robin: The Blue Sword
  • Melling, O.R.: The Summer King
  • Norton, Andre: The Zero Stone
  • Pierce, Tamora: Alanna: The First Adventure
  • Priest, Cherie: Boneshaker
  • Samatar, Sofia: A Stranger in Olondria
  • Sargent, Pamela: Earthseed
  • Snyder, Maria V.: Poison Study
  • Stanton, Mary: Unicorns of Balinor
  • Tepper, Sheri S.: The Gate to Women’s Country
  • Valente, Catherynne: Deathless
  • Wecker, Helene: The Golem and the Jinni

Can you own too many books?

According to this Toast article, you can:

How many books does a person have to own to officially be labeled a book hoarder? According to Shelfari’s Compulsive Book Hoarders Group, the answer is simple: 1,000 or more.

Being well above this number, I’m obviously resistant to the idea. But I thought that the idea warranted a little more than a “NO! You are!”

My personal rule is that every book I have must either be a) something I really enjoyed, or b) something on my To Be Read list. If I’ve read something and didn’t like it (or even just found it “meh”), it’s got to go. That, to me, is the line – keeping books for the sake of keeping books, not because a particular book has value of some kind.

Even if I won’t read them again, I like having the books I’ve loved around. I like having a friend over for tea and being able to send them home with a loan to read. That has value, and it keeps the behaviour of owning books purposeful rather than being a possible sign of mental illness.

If you have any thoughts on the matter, I’d love to hear them! Am I way off base?

As Demographics Shift, Kids’ Books Stay Stubbornly White

There’s a story on NPR about demographic shifts in the US, and how the publishing world has not been keeping up. The problem is a big one, and it affects all of us. It means that non-white children don’t feel represented in literature, which can affect engagement with texts and reading rates, the effects of which ripple through their future lives.

It also affects white children, who benefit from access to narratives other than their own. I’ve frequently referred to fiction as “empathy training.” When we read fiction, we see the world through the eyes of another person, we experience things that we cannot and do not experience in our “real” lives. This trains our brains to consider the stories and backgrounds of other people, it helps build our ability to slip into their perspective and try it on. It makes hate so much harder.

We need diversity in literature – especially in children’s literature. We need it for the people who are currently locked out, and we need it for the people who, unless they look really hard, often see only their own stories reflected back at them over and over and over again.

33 of the most hilariously awful first sentences

These first sentences are absolutely magnificent in their awfulness. For example, #7:

On reflection, Angela perceived that her relationship with Tom had always been rocky, not quite a roller-coaster ride but more like when the toilet-paper roll gets a little squashed so it hangs crooked and every time you pull some off you can hear the rest going bumpity-bumpity in its holder until you go nuts and push it back into shape, a degree of annoyance that Angela had now almost attained.

Read the rest of the collection over here.

Tombouctou manuscripts online

You may have heard of Timbuktu as a stand-in for a far away, exotic place. It also happens to be the location of one of the most magnificent ancient libraries in the world. The Timouctou Manuscripts Project is trying to get that library entirely digitized so that it can be accessed online!

slide_1-480x280This is pretty magnificent, so make sure you go check it out!