Dec 10, 2014

Best TV of 2014

By Josh Oakley

The following are my favorite television shows from the past year. Lists are in alphabetical order (Mad Men or Orange is the New Black would probably be my number one, but I didn’t feel the urge to rank this year). This has been yet another tremendous year for television, and an especially great one for animation. Without further ado, my picks for the best TV of 2014.

Aug 25, 2014

The Legend of Korra Book 3 Finale

By Nico Danilovich

The two-episode finale of The Legend of Korra’s third season manages to do something that the past two season finales have failed to: satisfy. The entire ordeal is a stressful thrill ride that remains constantly engaging. Focusing on what the show handles best—plot and action—“Enter the Void” and “The Venom of the Red Lotus” are together one extended final showdown between Team Avatar and the Red Lotus. The stakes are high, the environments beautiful, and the battles, soundtrack and plot twists exhilarating. All the important plotlines are wrapped up, including ones pertaining to character development (eg. Bolin unlocks his special earthbending subset skill). Furthermore, the finale is filled with emotional moments that feel completely earned. Suffice to say, the Book 3 finale feels like a finale in all the right ways.

Aug 22, 2014

The Legend of Korra: "The Ultimatum"

By Nico Danilovich

Ever since the Red Lotus attacked the city of Zaofu in “The Terror Within,” The Legend of Korra has fallen into a pattern. The past three episode have all gone as follows: The first act of each episode deals with the immediate, but not always terribly compelling, consequences of the previous episode’s explosive finale. This manages to satisfy the viewer’s natural curiosity about what happens next, a fundamental element of any good serialized plot-based show with frequent cliffhangers. Next, the second act, not yet ready to get to the episode’s point, tries to kill some time with filler. This is what the past three episodes have suffered from the most. Eventually, the third act rolls around, the Red Lotus poses a dire threat, a thrilling battle occurs and the episode finally gets to its main point. For example, the point of “The Stakeout” is to exposit information about the Red Lotus, the point of “Long Live the Queen” is to kill off the Earth Queen, and the point of “The Ultimatum” is to set up the stakes for Book 3’s finale. While the episode does indeed achieve its goal, “The Ultimatum” conforms just a little too much to this formula to feel entirely fresh. Furthermore, it fails to overcome the pitfalls inherent in this particular pattern, resulting in another good but not great installment.

Aug 12, 2014

The Legend of Korra: "Long Live the Queen"

By Nico Danilovich

I can’t help but feel ambivalent about “Long Live the Queen.” Last week’s episode, “The Stakeout,” built up a lot of potential for this episode through the reveal of the Red Lotus and two compelling cliffhangers. In doing so, it also set Team Avatar, the Red Lotus and the Earth Queen all on a crash collision course. Surprisingly, though, most of “Long Live the Queen” works to ensure that Team Avatar sits out on the sidelines. Consequently, much of the installment is comprised of plot contrivance and filler material. Thankfully, however, the Red Lotus and the Earth Queen still come to a head, resulting in a shockingly brutal scene with thrilling consequences.

Aug 4, 2014

The Legend of Korra: "The Stakeout"

By Nico Danilovich

If Book 3 of The Legend of Korra were to have a thesis statement, it would probably be Zaheer’s warning in “The Stakeout” to Korra: “once change begins, it can not be stopped, even by the Avatar.” Not only does this tie together everything seen thus far in Book 3, but it also applies to both Korra and The Last Airbender as a whole. When Aang froze himself in a ball of ice, he left behind an ancient era that had lasted for countless centuries. When he awoke, war had transformed civilization. Industrialization had begun, spiritualism was fading away and new subsets of bending were quickly being discovered. The world simultaneously grew much smaller and much more complex. Though Aang restored balance, change had already begun and there was nothing he could do to stop it. Now, Korra lives in a world where technological innovation flourishes, cultures mix together in the United Republic of Nations and radicals are constantly attempting to revolutionize the status quo. Book 3 is drawing upon multiple seasons from two series to explore its central theme, change. If that’s not smart storytelling, I don’t know what is.

Jul 28, 2014

The Legend of Korra: "The Terror Within"

By Nico Danilovich 

As I’ve discussed at length in my previous reviews, Book 3 of The Legend of Korra has so far been a pronounced improvement over the show’s first two seasons (especially Book 2). “The Terror Within” cements this idea by providing what is the strongest installment of the season thus far. Unfortunately, while Korra seems to be thriving creatively right now, the show is faltering in other regards.

Jul 21, 2014

The Legend of Korra: "Old Wounds" & "Original Airbenders"

By Nico Danilovich

Book 3 of The Legend of Korra is moving ahead at breakneck-speed. After a three-episode premiere, the network has chosen to air two new episodes each week. As a result, we’ve already reached the middle of the season. Thankfully, the show continues to demonstrate positive signs of change, focusing less on complex issues and more on straightforward storytelling. The advantages of this are clear to see, as Book 3 is currently shaping up to tell a much more cohesive story than previous seasons. However, there is an obvious downside to this decision: the stories that Book 3 is telling are starting to feel simplistic and ultimately less compelling than they have the potential to be. This effect was felt in “Old Wounds” and even more so in “Original Airbenders,” two solid episodes that moved the story forward in concise ways, but failed to achieve a powerful effect.

Jul 20, 2014

On Boyhood

By Josh Oakley

This post discusses Boyhood, and my personal life in full. Consider yourself warned.

“I think the boring stuff is the stuff I remember the most.” – Russell, Pixar’s Up; my high school senior yearbook quote

“The moment seizes us.” – Nicole, Boyhood

If first grade Mason constantly has his eyes locked outside the window, mine are firmly set in the direction of the rearview mirror. I've always been obsessive about the past, the way my story is shaping up to be. It's an unpleasant way to live, constantly feeling the need to contextualize even the most minor experiences. It’s certainly not the healthiest outlook, the present and future curbed by expectations from and comparisons to what once was. Even when I daydream of what is to come, it's in relation to people I’ve known or places I’ve been. Context is there for everyone, but I become jammed in a need to consider all of my life to this point.

Jul 14, 2014

How The Legend of Korra has Seemingly Changed for the Better; "In Harm's Way," "The Metal Clan" Reviewed

By Nico Danilovich

The Legend of Korra seems to have indeed changed for the better. The three-episode premiere from two weeks ago indicated just as much. However, given the show’s history of two seasons with strong beginnings and then unsatisfying conclusions, it was difficult to put much stock in the Season Three premiere. Now that we’ve hit the five-episode mark, though, it seems safe to say that Season Three’s goals are relatively clear. Gone are the days when The Legend of Korra would pretend to be interested in themes such as inequality and spirituality, only to ditch these ideas last minute for the sake of plot convenience. These types of deeper themes are still present in Book Three. Thankfully, however, these ideas are not put on center stage; plot is.

Jul 7, 2014

Moving to LA & The Meltdown with Jonah and Kumail

By Josh Oakley

I’ve always felt that there was something more. It’s an impulse intrinsic to human nature, to a certain extent, though it affects some more than others. I am, unquestionably, one of the “some”. That isn’t to say that I’m ungrateful for the life I've lived or the people I’ve met or the experiences I’ve had. But none of them have made the yearning subside. Perhaps, I both fear and hope, it is a thing that never truly fades.

A piece of that forward-driven persistence stems from wanting to be around a tidal wave of culture. My hometown, Wheaton, a nice suburb that I’m happy I was able to grow up in, lacks that sort of active drive. I’ve resided in Chicago, and though it contains a powerful alternative theater scene, and provides the rest of the country with plenty of talented individuals, it doesn’t feel like a tipping point, at least in the way I’ve been able to utilize it. I long for something to rival the New York scenes of punk music in the 70's or literature in the 90’s (as captured in this, one of the best pieces I’ve ever read). I’ve always wanted to be somewhere that felt unpredictable.