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The Worst Thing About Kingsman: The Golden Circle

Kingsman: The Golden Circle is not a great movie. It’s overblown, bloated, and fails to deliver a coherent and satisfying narrative, despite its considerable entertainment value. But I’m not here today to talk about the quality of the movie. I’m here today to talk about a particular aspect of it, one that overshadows almost the entire movie.

I’m talking about FOX News.

It’s everywhere in The Golden Circle. It reports on everything. Everyone in the world seems to watch it. It’s in the White House. It’s in a Kentucky bar. Bafflingly, it’s in an English flat on a council estate. In the world of Kingsman, there is only one news source, and it’s FOX. It’s like Donald Trump’s dream world.

On one level, this is entirely rational and normal. 20th Century FOX are paying for the movie, so it stands to reason that the company news station would be included in its products, regardless of whether it’s plausible or not. On another level, it’s deeply troubling. For one, FOX News doesn’t make a single mention of Hillary Clinton’s emails throughout its numerous reports in the movie, not even in a chyron at the bottom. This is very strange and worrying to see. I was supposed to be compelled as the news anchors gravely commentated on the growing drug problem in the movie world, but the way in which they did not make a single reference to Benghazi, or how the movie’s events could be linked back to black-on-black violence in the suburbs of Chicago, or even how this proved the strengths of the GOP’s new healthcare bill, entirely broke my suspension of disbelief.

The president even watches FOX in this universe. This is more realistic, because, of course, our real life president watches FOX. But the problem comes when the President continues to do things other than reaching for his phone and mashing out a tweet praising the news coverage he is seeing. We’re supposed to believe that the drug problem portrayed in this movie conforms to some version of reality, and that it confronts issues that are prevalent in our modern world. But if the President doesn’t live tweet FOX News in the Oval Office, how can we really trust that the writers know how to portray current events and social issues?

The weirdest thing is that even British people watch FOX News, according to this movie. Never mind that FOX News is about the 500th channel on anybody’s listings, or that you need a cable package that most council houses wouldn’t have in order to access it, what would compel a British person to bypass BBC, or ITV, or even, for some unknown reason, Sky News, and think “yes, I need the right-wing American perspective, and I need it now”? The movie doesn’t stop to explain this. It just assumes we’d accept that a working class British twentysomething’s first port of call for current events is FOX News. The fact that this movie can claim to be set in our reality, and yet portray such egregiously unreal behaviour, is morally repugnant, and, um…

I’ve run out of words.

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The Alternative Emmy Predictions

It’s the 108th Primetime Emmys tonight, where the stars of television will all gather together to celebrate another year of brilliant artistic achievement on the silver screen. It’s a night of competition – between network dramas like This is Us, global hits like Stranger Things and niche cult favourites like Better Call Saul, and there’s no telling who will win. I can tell you this, though: it’s all a sham.

The Emmys don’t reward real artistic achievement. They don’t really care about the very best shows on television. They just care about congratulating themselves, and parading around another display of tedious ‘critically acclaimed’ dramas, watched by a maximum of twelve people, most of whom live in the same house. With that in mind, then, I’ve devised my own Emmy winners – for those who would be standing up on stage tonight in Hollywood if it weren’t for the Academy’s disgusting bias. Here, I’m not rewarding more of the same. These alternative Emmys will go to the real winners of 2017.

Outstanding Drama – Marvel’s Iron Fist

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Reviled by critics, Iron Fist has been consigned to the dustbin of television. But that’s not fair. Those who have panned the show based on the negative reviews have missed a genuine televisual gem – a post-modern delight with a stunning deconstructive structure that eviscerated viewers’ expectations of a typical season. Slow and meditative TV is all the rage, but when Iron Fist makes the daring choice of creating entire episodes without any remarkable incident, reminding the viewer of the empty spaces that consume our life and suggesting an escape from the modern worker’s struggle through the practice of mindfulness, it’s seen as ‘boring’ and ‘sluggish’. In a year where the internet fell over itself to praise David Lynch’s surrealist work on Twin Peaks, they ignorantly passed over scenes of arguably superior power such as the moment where Danny Rand has just fought a dragon, but it’s not actually a dragon we see, as it’s just represented by two glowing eyes. Where the moody explorations of the human condition in Westworld captivated the internet, there was no room for Iron Fist‘s dark and terrifying journey into the heart of human torment, as represented by the scene where the main villain beats his personal assistant to death with an ice cream scoop. The show is full of dense metaphors like this, cloaked in disturbing allusions to the source of human evil and the decay of the modern American dream. Those who claim to have an enlightened outlook on television made the critical error of overlooking Iron Fist this year. It’s their loss. Their brains are smaller now than the rest of us.

Outstanding Dramatic Actor – Finn Jones (Marvel’s Iron Fist)

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Repetitive, you say? That may be the case. But when a show contains an auteurist performance this singularly brilliant, it has to be highlighted. Most actors play superheroes. Ben Affleck plays Batman. Tom Holland plays Spider-Man. Finn Jones, though, is Danny Rand. He simply sinks into this beautifully complicated character, to the point where I occasionally forget that there is a man named Finn Jones with his own autonomy and personality behind the mask. He brings all of Danny’s multitudes to life: his anger, his rage, his petulance, his frustration, and his indignation. The way in which Jones pouts, and makes his face go red, is as compelling an embodiment of pure anger as we’ve ever seen on either film or television. Some may have claimed that the Iron Fist mythos was too strange for audiences, but the way in which Jones reminds us that he is the Immortal Iron Fist, repeating the phrase dozens of times to signify the cycles of time that probably have something to do with Buddhism, makes this magical world as real as the one we live in. It’s hard to know how he did it. Maybe it was method acting, where Jones went around set whining at interns while listening to ‘Now That’s What I Call Music 99’ for the eleventh time in a row. Maybe he was born with it. Either way: Finn Jones is Danny Rand.

Outstanding Comedy Series – Marvel’s Iron Fist

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Do not interpret this as a criticism of the show, to say that it’s unintentionally funny. It’s not. Iron Fist is a deadly serious prestige drama most of the time, but it can be sharply, brutally funny when it needs to be. The show’s satirical edge is unrivalled on television, despite what others may tell you. The long, endless succession of boardroom scenes brilliantly skewers the monotony of the modern-day corporate world, poking fun at its inability to break from the capitalistic patterns that plunged the economy into a death spiral ten years ago and may threaten to do so again. At times, the show even takes its aim at the proliferation of superhero shows and movies, creating a bland and homogenous genre that Iron Fist aims to subvert. Danny’s choice to barely ever use his power is a clever rebuke to the impatient masses who desire action and explosions from their superheroes, tempting them with the promise of excitement only to snatch it away in a reminder of the creative command exercised by showrunner Scott Buck. Equally, the dialogue is as sly and cutting as anything you’ve ever seen. Lines such as “The Hand are murderers and killers!” and “What’s the Hand doing in Rand?” make a mockery of Hollywood’s slapdash scripting process and the unseemly dialogue it produces, indulging both in hilarious parody and highly enjoyable wordplay (‘Hand’ rhymes with ‘Rand’), demonstrating the show’s writerly touches. I haven’t laughed at any show more than Iron Fist this year. That, in my view, means something.

Outstanding Comedy Actor – Finn Jones (Marvel’s Iron Fist)

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Danny Rand is an idiot. This is a well-known fact, and it’s the crux of Iron Fist. The show adopts a traditional superhero structure, and places a complete fool at its centre. Danny Rand is a cunning deconstruction of the impulsive hero, a pointed commentary on the prevalence of white male heroes who believe might makes right, and an absurdist parody of the imperialist post-war culture and disdain for cultures of the Eastern Hemisphere that helped birth these antiquated hero archetypes. This, truly, is a recipe for comedy, and it’s one that Finn Jones is perfectly positioned to craft into a delicious performative omelette. Jones always seems deeply conscious of Danny’s ridiculousness, turning his moments of supposed intensity into bathetic displays of incompetence, revealing the true inadequacy of the modern American hero, in a time of complex geopolitical instability that has revealed the flawed nature of American exceptionalism and military might in theatres such as the Middle East  in a manner that just makes you want to laugh out loud. He brings dramatic power to his scenes, but there’s also an underlying comic subtext to his ravings about immortal dragons and secret disappearing cities, with Jones exposing the ludicrous nature of fantastical comic-book stories and the toxicity of escapist literature in a dark political climate where engagement with the reality in front of our eyes is paramount to ensure the survival of the democratic liberal order that has existed since 1945 in a way that had me, literally, crying from laughter, on the floor. Finn Jones is doing masterful comic work here. It’s simple, really. Any viewer could grasp this.

All Other Categories: Irrelevant

Iron Fist would be ineligible for these other categories, so, in my view, they should not count.

What do you think of my nominations? Leave a comment below and share yours!

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I Want to Write Something

I want to write something.

I’m not sure what, though. That’s a difficult combination of factors. Creative drive accompanied by no direction is like starting a car that has no tyres or engine – you can’t do it, and why would you try and start the car if it was that clear nothing would happen? The result is frustration, and it’s not a frustration that’s easy to solve with ideas and action, the way a typical creative impulse can be.

I think it’s been pretty clear that I haven’t been sure what to write lately. The last post I put up was on August 2, about six weeks ago now. That’s… a while. In six weeks’ time, I’ll have been at university for three weeks, and the prospect of that happening so soon is utterly terrifying But, dear two readers, I’ve been trying. Trying to think, mostly, of what to write.

Sometimes, you envision a blog as a perfect creative outlet. Rationally, it should be. If you remove the impetus for clicks and followers that paid content provides, all that’s left is unchecked creativity, you’d think. But clearly no-one gave me the memo, because dozens of my posts have been lost to the world because I didn’t think they were good enough. Good enough for who, exactly? The two friends I know who definitely read my posts, but wouldn’t openly criticise my content anyway? Internet strangers who I’ll never identify? Why impose standards on a consequence-free platform, where I could post a transcript of the backwards talking from Twin Peaks, or a highly positive review of Hillary Clinton’s new book, What Happened, and nobody would change their opinion of me? It’s absurd, right? There’s no editor peeking over my shoulder, no ad rates to chase.I I’ve set the stall out for strangeness pretty far, one time typing up a long conversation with myself, and another time, writing about the experience of watching bad action sequel London Has Fallen in unsubtitled Spanish. Realistically, there shouldn’t be a lot left to surprise whatever readers haven’t run away yet.

Okay, you might have the answer to those questions, because they are not rhetorical. It’s not hard to guess. But continuing on with this thread, anyway – I had a few ideas for blog posts today. I thought I might write about Amazon’s drive for the new Game of Thrones, and how TV studios are now driven by an irresistible craving for hit shows before they even come up with the premises. Then I junked that one, and thought I might write about how Rick & Morty is the best show on television right now. Then I considered writing about shows I like in general that are good because they don’t attempt to be high-brow or artful. None of those really panned out. It’s a weird art to creating a blog post – too thinkpiece-y, and it could end up being just like everyone else, but too weird and offbeat, and you’ll just look like a rambling lunatic. Why, you ask, did I impose those rigorous standards by which all three of those ideas didn’t fail on a blog post with a likely 3-5 pageviews? Um. I’ll get back to you on that one?

Despite that, though, I’d still like to write something for this blog. It doesn’t matter that virtually every idea I put down doesn’t hold up after 30 seconds of scrutiny. At this point, I’m just going to forget the self-consciousness. I’d rather have some new content on the blog than five unpublished drafts languishing me about, reminding me of the five minutes apiece of creative inspiration that drove them. I mean, at this point, I’ll write about anything. I’d even write about the process of wanting to write about something, if I could somehow squeeze 600 words, or something, out of it. At least, then, I could say I’ve written about something.

I mean, not specifically that idea. Writing about wanting to write would be silly. I wouldn’t do that. There’s better ideas out there, I’m sure.

Just give me a minute to think of them.

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The Blockbuster Season 2017 Wrap Up

Oh jeez, is it that time of year again already?

Summer, the eternal season, still has a way left to go until it retreats into the objectively better golden colours of autumn. But in Hollywood, where summer lasts as long as there are lucrative release dates they can stake out ten years in advance, they’re just about done for the season. The last of the big summer tentpoles has hit multiplexes, and now there’s just a few bits of weird, radioactive residue left that’ll ooze out into the world over the course of August before Hollywood enters its power nap hibernation period. Don’t worry. Blockbusters start again in September. You’ll live.

But as someone, somewhere once said, never look forward, only look back. And, for better or for worse, there’s been a lot to look back at this year. So, for the third year running (it has passed beyond tradition now, but the city council will not respond to my emails about a street festival), here’s my tribute to the months that have gone by, solely through the lens of $100 million plus budgeted cinematic universe explosion clip shows:

Note: Like Hollywood’s, my definition of ‘summer’ for this is pretty loose. I remember it being warm in March once or twice, so Kong: Skull Island, which came out March 10, counts. Don’t contradict me with ‘March isn’t summer’. I know. I just don’t respect the meteorological calendar anymore.

Most Post-Credits Scenes – Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

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I love post-credits scenes. Really, I do. I enjoy the waiting through ten minutes of interminable credits. I enjoy telling my friends that the wait will be worth it, and then seeing their faces when it is not. So imagine my delight when Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 busts out five post-credits scenes! It’s like being served Christmas dinner in brunch at August – it’s just hard to process all the goodness. My desire for the equation to be reversed, so that there are only a couple of scenes before the credits and a three-hour movie during them, has never been closer. 2017 was a good year for me.

The movie itself was good, by the way, although not quite as invigoratingly unusual as the first one. Its commitment to evolving its characters rather than keeping them in stasis made for a messy and overloaded movie, but one that was richly rewarding when it came to pay-offs, and genuinely uncynical in its exploration of family and solidarity. The soundtrack was once again excellent, and really gave the movie a vibrant personality matched by the colourful neon sci-fi visuals.

But, to be honest, I wish more of it was after the credits.

Best Anti-War Movie In Which Giant Gorilla Uses a Tree as a Baseball Bat (Of All Time) – Kong: Skull Island

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Technically, Kong: Skull Island is an anti-war movie. Its villain, in reality, is Samuel L Jackson’s personification of insatiable American imperialism, and its heroes are a pacifist photographer, an ecologist tracker and a John C Reilly who has been embraced by the island’s indigenous population. On paper, it’s a scathing critique of the bloodthirstiness that provoked the war in Vietnam and runs throughout Western society.

But in reality, this is a big, silly monster movie where King Kong hits evil monsters in the face with trees and punches helicopters out of the sky. It’s a good case study in the idea that anti-war movies just end up glorifying their subject, because it asks us to find certain forms of violence and killing a-okay even as we boo and hiss at Samuel L Jackson as he tries, desperately, to blow some indigenous life-forms up. It’s anti-‘skull crawlers’, though, so it’s at least taking a stand on that issue.

Don’t get me wrong, this is a fun movie, and I’m pretty excited to see Godzilla and King Kong go a few rounds in 2020. But it’s not really Apocalypse Now. 

I’m Going to Park the Sarcasm for a Moment – Wonder Woman

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Wonder Woman took a lot of people by surprise. I certainly didn’t think it would both be critically acclaimed and massively successful commercially, but here we are, as it sits with 92% on Rotten Tomatoes and nearly $800 million in the bank. It’s also transformed the conversation about representation and diversity in blockbuster films, possibly for good, punching a hole through the already flimsy myth that female heroes don’t sell tickets. This could end up being the most influential superhero movie since The Avengers, but actually in a healthy and necessary way for the industry. Certainly, for millions of underrepresented voices, it’s been the most inspirational one in yonks.

So it’s hard to be snarky about this movie, because it’s come to represent a lot more than two hours of fun at the multiplex. In my view, it’s as good as it gets for two acts, up to and including the outstanding No Man’s Land scene, and then tails off big time in the third act as it reveals its villain, and spoils its interesting commentary on whether war is the product of external or internal forces in man by saying, nope, it’s all down to evil David Thewlis, and then dovetailing into a paint-by-numbers PS2 final battle. But hey. Wonder Woman got what it needed to get right very, very right. The sequel is finally a DC movie I’m legitimately looking forward to. And if we get a bunch of superhero movies that branch out from the all-white-male perspective in the next few years, then it’ll have done its job.

But it was pretty funny to see Ares’ little moustache poking out of the helmet.

Best Playlist (Obviously) – Baby Driver

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Can you believe that Baby Driver invented music in movies?

Before the creation of this movie, films just had ticking sounds and beeping to accompany the excitement on screen. One man, Edgar Wright, sought to change this. He put his foot down, and came up with the idea that changed it all: what if there was music in movies?

Cinema would never be the same again.

Thank you, Edgar Wright.

Best Trilogy Closer In Spite Of Problematic Marginalisation of Female Characters – War for the Planet of the Apes

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Double-think, invented by George Orwell, is the concept of holding two contradictory thoughts in one’s head. George Orwell was not talking about War for the Planet of the Apes, but I’d like to think he anticipated. This is simultaneously one of the most thoughtful and deeply human blockbusters I’ve seen in years, and also a movie that includes no female roles aside from a young mute girl and a wife that is killed off to make a male ape feel mad. It breaks boundaries, but also embraces some of the oldest boundaries in cinema. It’s a $150 million action flick that is universally better when it’s deathly quiet. The best dialogue in this movie is sign language. The climax basically confirms divine justice in what is obviously a godless world. War for the Planet of the Apes is full of contradictions and ambiguities, so it’s a weird movie to love. It’s like having a pet Schrodinger’s cat – an exciting and worthwhile experience, but sometimes you just want to ditch the nuance and know for sure whether the cat is dead or alive.

Best Spider-Man Reboot of 2017 – Spider-Man: Homecoming

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There have been so many Spider-Man reboots that it’s just damn hard to know how to rank them all. I can say, however, with confidence, that Homecoming is definitely the best reboot of the character in 2017. Like no other interpretation of the character that has come before, it is set in the year 2017, and was produced the year before, making it an unparalleled step forward into uncharted territories for a character who has only starred in movies that came out before 2017. Some claim of superhero fatigue, but when the… just let me Google this one… seventy-fifth live action reboot of Spider-Man is this good, setting new records for Spider-Man reboots in 2017, those claims become all the more dubious. Tom Holland’s magnificent performance tops it all off, and I could argue that this is the finest ever performance of a Marvel hero played by an actor named Tom. Despite this, it’s hard not to wonder whether the character needed another reboot. Nonetheless, it is clear that the character has been rebooted, and I would argue that a sequel to this movie is coming out in two years. This is a good, or a bad thing.

I hope you appreciate this opinion piece. I get paid by the click, so please view the ads to the right so I can continue to provide for my wife and drug habit.

Best Heart Attack – Dunkirk

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The internet insisted that Christopher Nolan’s latest movie had to be seen in IMAX. I happen to live near an IMAX, so I forked up the extra money for the comfy seats and bendy screen of premium cinema. And boy, let me tell you, IMAX Dunkirk is the best cardio I’ve ever had. The insistent, rhythmic ticking of the soundtrack and the screeching horror of the Nazi attacks on the soldiers that cascaded throughout the movie really had an effect on me. By ‘effect’, I mean ‘help, I am no longer certain my heart is in my chest cavity’. By the end of the movie, I had aged 75 years, and I now require constant defibrillation to allow my desiccated heart to pump blood throughout my body. Expiration, I am certain, is imminent. Boy, IMAX Dunkirk is intense.

Best Franchise Fatigue Diagnosis – Pirates of the Caribbean 5/Transformers 5/The Mummy/Fast and Furious 8

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Have you been suffering from franchise fatigue? The symptoms are easy to miss. Here’s our quick chart of the sure signs that you might be coming down with this highly contagious condition:

  • Hiring of Anthony Hopkins as exposition man
  • Hiring of Tom Cruise, a 54-year-old, as a ‘young’ character
  • Hiring of Johnny Depp, in any capacity
  • Hiring of Charlize Theron, but not to actually do anything
  • Introduction of baffling mythology e.g. ‘the Transformers killed Hitler’ or ‘Russell Crowe is Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, and he has hunted monsters for decades’
  • Serious contemplation of sending your franchise to space

Don’t worry. Franchise fatigue has a low mortality rate, and can easily be treated. Here’s some of the ways you can combat it;

  • Actually sending your franchise to space, because it would be hilarious
  • Removing Mark Wahlberg from your franchise
  • Removing Johnny Depp from your franchise
  • Introducing new ideas
  • Hiring less than 10 separate writers to work on your screenplay
  • Do a Bumblebee spin-off, set before the original movies but before he killed Hitler
  • Ending it all, for the sweet release that only death’s cold hand can provide.

I haven’t seen any of these movies.

 

 

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Life is Strange Revisited

We’re doing sequels to blog posts now?

Look, I’m not asking you to remember the history of my blog. There are better uses of your brain out there. But if you somehow did, you might recognise this as the second post I’ve done on the episodic 2015 game Life is Strange, the one and only entry in the genre of coming-of-age teen sci-fi surrealist psycho-horror thriller melodrama. The first one is here, and it’s a pretty effusive look at why I loved the game first time around.

But Life is Strange is a hard game to love in a way that’s simple and clear-cut. It is not, in any way, a conventional masterpiece made by people with a total grasp of the story they want to tell and the form they’re telling it in. It is almost objectively a mess on a plot and structural level, and it’s evidently written by middle-aged white men trying to thread a needle with a sewing machine.

So, with that in mind, I gave the game a second run-through in a bid to try and untangle whether this weird, sometimes brilliant experiment withstands its many, many flaws. And… oh, God knows what is up with this game. Trying to pin it down is like trying to catch a caffeinated rabbit. On a second go-through, the plot hiccups and general sloppiness of the game become more frustrating, while its strengths become even more elusive and hard to describe.

The thing about Life is Strange is that it’s a genre blend on steroids. Fiction wouldn’t work if we kept every single genre in its pen, restricted to a narrow set of tropes, because you’d just be telling the same story over and over again. Name any seminal work of fiction, and the chances are it’ll have mixed and matched genres in a way that had never been done before. Twin Peaks, the drama that Life is Strange bears a very superficial resemblance to, took the small-town crime drama and introduced unexplainable surrealist weirdness that eventually overwhelmed the story. So you can tell that Life is Strange‘s approach at being more than just one thing is pretty normal.

What isn’t normal is how it tries to blend, seemingly, every genre ever. No, really. The game is trying to be, at once, a wistful teen drama indie flick about a shy teenager and her old friend, a layered crime drama that peeks under the hood of an idyllic Pacific Northwestern town, a philosophical time travel story about fate and the consequences of free will, and eventually an unsettling psychological horror about a patriarchal monster who considers murder and rape to be art. Maybe two of those, together, would work? The first two episodes, the best of the game, are a straightforward blend of time travel and teen drama that explores the tangled interpersonal dynamics of high school and the idea of consequences in a way that is genuinely interesting and mostly coherent. I also like the bits of the final episode that are compellingly bonkers and commit to a very sci-fi way of making Max feel the consequences of her tinkering with time.

The rest, though? Yeesh. How about the game’s riff on Flashpoint, where it hops over to a vastly different alternate universe that it spends twenty minutes in, mostly going over character details we already knew before returning to the main plot in a way that also wipes out the conflict that made Max change time anyway? How about the game’s insistence on shoving uninteresting idiot characters into the spotlight time and time again where there are massively consequential stakes to what’s going on elsewhere (my favourite of that is Warren, the boring and whiny ‘nice guy’ love interest, and his incredibly relaxed attitude to what he has surmised is the apocalypse)? How about the strange details of apocalyptic symbolism the game keeps throwing up that make no real sense (why… are there two moons?). Around half the time, the game is working against itself, telling two different stories at once that just do not cohere, where the intention of the author is evidently a million miles away from the execution of the ideas. If you want a food metaphor, it’s like putting Marmite into ice cream. Don’t do that.

There’s no better way of summarising this than Chloe, the secondary character. I didn’t talk about Chloe last time, because I didn’t really mind her. This time, though. Oh, jeez. There are a lot of irritating characters in this game, but at least they occupy their own little spaces on the fringes of the game. Chloe, on the other hand, is right at the centre. She’s there all the time. She is inescapable. Frustratingly, she’s about 2/3 of a good character; her reignited friendship with Max after years of estrangement is interesting, and there’s clearly an attempt to explore depression and the debilitating impact of grief through the lens of her directionless anger and rebellious behaviour. I’m all for exploring mental illness in teens, especially in a more detailed and nuanced light than the clanging theatricality of 13 Reasons Why. The game’s commitment to exploring this experience is one of its most admirable aspects.

But it doesn’t really go into any depth with Chloe, who is mainly defined by her actions. And good lord, her actions are not sympathetic at all. She’s abrasive, demanding, and ferociously self-absorbed, coming across as an extortionist more than a friend who uses her powers of guilt and coercion to push her friend into scenarios she’s not comfortable with, but never compromises herself. She is seemingly incapable of processing and evaluating decisions before making them, and rejects support from sympathetic characters like Max and her mother regularly. And what’s weird is that the game basically supports her in all this. It actually valorises her constantly – there’s a strange aside where Max comments on her fearlessness for no apparent reason, just to let us know how great Chloe is. Life is Strange wants you to love Chloe. The ending, ostensibly an agonising choice between head and heart, pivots around you loving Chloe. The prequel that’s coming out soon makes her the lead character, too. And, look. She’s a popular character, so obviously this approach has worked with many. But for me, Chloe is deeply tiresome, and casts a shadow over the more interesting and nuanced high school story that Max, a less easily categorisable character, dominates, and there really isn’t a lot of room to allow this interpretation in the text. It’s strange to play a game and constantly disagree with it, but that’s how my play-through this time around went.

It’s also interesting to consider how weird it is to play a game about the benefit of hindsight with complete foresight about what’s going to happen and what the best choices are. Despite all the rewinds you can have, the rewind trick is just that; a trick that barely intrudes into the narrative until the final episode. The game is more concerned with scenarios that cannot be fixed, presenting two ostensibly problematic choices where there’s no right answer. In arguably the best scene of the whole thing, Max’s power stops entirely so, for once, you have to play through the immediacy of talking Kate (whose arc is a bit strange, considering it’s a story of a bullied girl driven to desperate measures, but also the specially chosen model of innocence by a psycho photographer) off the ledge with no room for error. The thematic point of this is obvious; you have to live with the consequences of your mistakes. Life is Strange, for four and a half episodes, cares a lot about holding your feet to the fire over decisions you’ve made across the game and now can no longer undo.

Except, once you know the ending, the minutiae of whether you try to shoot pointless drug dealer Frank or not or whether you cause the death of your dog is basically meaningless. You have to live with the consequences of your decisions, but these are decisions that all get undone at the end. (The end I’m talking about here is the one where Chloe dies, because that’s the only ending that makes any conceivable sense and doesn’t make you a monster). The game is all about choice, but it ultimately ends with a lack of choice; a resignation to the same passivity that began the first episode. This isn’t bad storytelling – the idea of coming to terms with the imperfections of life is a pretty good conclusion to the game’s themes – but it does make a second run-through, with knowledge of what’s to come, a bit pointless. Every side character the game tries to convince you as important and consequential becomes the obvious stalling tactic they are. Even the ostensible bad guy, Mr Jefferson, becomes transparently pointless, caught easily once you rewind back to the start. In short, it feels like nothing really matters in the world of Life is Strange apart from the two central characters, who are also ultimately passive at the end, once you try it again. I have no idea whether this existential nightmare is what the creators intended, but it’s… definitely there.

In case this post sounds incredibly negative, then it’s worth qualifying; I still stand by what I said last year, more or less. The game’s earnestness and empathy for everyone is admirable in a story that could easily tip into bleakness, and I still like how every unsympathetic character save one is revealed to be well-intentioned or suffering from problems like mental illness or a bad family dynamic. The coming of age story that begins and ends the game and intrudes every now and then in the middle is still a fundamentally interesting one, because Max is the kind of character we don’t often see as a protagonist (she’s not unlike a Manic Pixie Dream Girl in concept, but since we’re in her shoes, the game can subvert those sexist tropes). And, ultimately, the game’s commitment to just going for it at any given point always has some pay-off along the way. For every tedious bottle hunting quest, there’s a scene like the confrontation with drug dealer Frank, which sets up an easy situation and then slowly unfurls the impossibility of solving it without spilling blood and causing trauma, or the rooftop moment with Kate. For every awful moment spent indulging Chloe, there’s a rewardingly unusual bit of experimentalism like the bit in the final episode where you hop between alternate realities, scribbling all over the established events of the game in a bit to create a ‘perfect’ timeline.

Life is Strange‘s ambition, and dedication to tackling sensitive subjects in depth, is commendable and somewhat rare in mainstream video gaming. But it is, admittedly, impossible to ignore the game’s bone-headed insistence on interpreting the characters a certain way, or its overwhelming and incongruent genre mix-and-match, or that the dialogue needed to be comprehensively rewritten by someone, anyone who isn’t a middle-aged white man. But it’s the fascinating messes that are ultimately more interesting than the competent baseline success stories. I’d compare this to Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, which similarly starts with a successful and coherent blend of genres and then slowly collapses under the weight of its own batshit mythology. Both works of fiction are frequently aggravating and sometimes feel completely misconceived anyway. But, nonetheless, I’m kind of glad they exist.

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Review of the War for the Planet of the Apes

And so ends one of the best trilogies Hollywood has ever put out. I’m genuinely amazed this franchise, of all of the dozens of intellectual property reboots out there, has produced three consistently compelling yet fascinatingly different instalments that never feel hewed in by studio interference. The studio system can work, you guys!

War for the Planet of the Apes is a strange movie in some respects because it seems absolutely determined to stay ten steps ahead of your preconceived notions of what it’ll be, and what will happen next. The opening action sequence revisits the pine forest vistas of Dawn and delivers on that movie’s promise of a greater intensity and violence to it, before that setting is ditched entirely for a barren weapons depot in the middle of god knows where. The movie promises a fast, kinetic revenge story and then takes a hard left turn into a meditative, slow-cooking prison camp story that takes a searing look at the cruelties of man.

And hey, speaking of the humans, they’re worth talking about. One of the most interesting things about this trilogy is how it’s carefully altered our own perspective. In Rise, James Franco (of all people) was our viewpoint into this world as he learned the incompatibility of his life with the maturing perspective of Caesar. In Dawn, we split our time pretty evenly between Caesar and a mix of friendly-but-bland and distinctive-but-psychotic humans. In War, it’s more or less all apes, all the time. There is no human protagonist. The main human character, the Colonel, is an embodiment of a species in an sickening death spiral and unleashing its worst instincts as it goes down (Woody Harrelson delivers a fantastic performance, reminding us of how you can plug him into any blockbuster franchise, and it will always work). The rest of the human characters are basically an unintelligible morass, defined by unrepentant cruelty and in doing so losing their right to individuality.

Slightly related to this, it’s also remarkable how this movie uses noise. Relentless, unmodulated sound and fury seems to be the defining aspect of some blockbuster franchises, so the utter quiet of vast stretches of this movie stands out all the more. And it’s a great way of throwing into relief the differences between man and ape. In all-ape scenes, the ambience is serene and balanced, as they communicate in clear and effective sign language. When the humans come in, the volume cranks up, and that peace is shattered; especially in the all-guns-blazing final act that depicts the ugliness of pointless, self-defeating human conflict as a cacophony that eventually purges the humans from the landscape. That’s the kind of clever, sensory storytelling that I hope that Matt Reeves will bring to his next project, The Batman.

Anyhoo. This is not a perfect movie. It indulges some pretty tiresome clichés – fridging its only female ape character of any real note for an inciting incident in the first act is never a good look. And the pace sometimes slackens, such as the overindulgent first act that takes its sweet time getting to what ends up literally being a fireworks factory, or the slight repetition of powerful dramatic beats such as the apes’ solidarity in the face of oppression.

But to pick too hard at it would be churlish. I’m grateful that this personal, emotional character drama and philosophical meditation on the brokenness of humanity in in unconvincing action movie’s clothing somehow exists, and was given a $150 million budget by a major studio. If you want to avoid franchise fatigue and audience apathy, Hollywood, this is the kind of stuff you make. Learn from it. Be good.

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A Female, Woman Doctor?

The casting of a new Doctor is a beautiful thing. It’s like a less frequent Christmas: feverishly anticipated, commodified, met with disappointment and then sadness when it’s gone, and then feverishly anticipated as the cycle begins again.

But it turns out that it’s a bit special this time. After decades of constant speculation, the role of the Doctor has passed not just from one actor to another, but also one gender to another. I genuinely thought four years back that we’d never see a female Doctor, but here we are, with Jodie Whittaker confirmed as the Thirteenth Doctor.

This is a really big deal. It’s hard to understate that. The role has been male for 54 years, and for obvious reasons, it’s become entrenched in the minds of the public that it has to be male. For it to be a woman is to blow up that widespread perception entirely, and that’s huge; you’re redefining one of the most iconic characters this country has created in a way that has never been done before.

I should step back here and say that I think that this is a really good thing. I’ve loved Peter Capaldi’s take on the Doctor, and have enjoyed the last few seasons of the show, but it’s passing into the hands of a new showrunner, Chris Chibnall, amidst a widespread surge of support for greater representation in pop culture, in a political climate where defaulting to a white male template just isn’t that acceptable anymore.

Obviously, we have to be a tiny bit cautious about proclaiming this as the world’s greatest victory for diversity. It’s a fantastic and subversive change, but Jodie Whittaker’s casting does not change the fact that the Doctor has always been white. The BBC can do better on that front, and I hope they will next time. We’ve broken the white male mould now, so I really hope the powers that be keep striving for more, rather than making this a one-off experiment.

And, let’s face it, Doctor Who has been building to this for years. Like him or not, Steven Moffat’s era of the show has funnelled into this choice. It’s taken pains to establish the gender-fluidity of the character and their race by turning the Master, his arch-enemy, into a woman and later putting her up against her male predecessor. At one point, in the season nine finale, the show stopped to show a white male Time Lord regenerate into a black woman for a tenuous plot purpose. A recent episode contained an extended discussion of how the concept of gender is petty and irrelevant to the Doctor. These weren’t pointless asides; they were big neon signs pointing to an announcement of the kind we got today.

So, yeah, I’m happy. I’m happy that the BBC and new showrunner Chris Chibnall have given the role a new lease of life. I’m happy that there’s a new and iconic heroine running about fighting evil, inspiring girls and boys alike and reminding them that gender is an irrelevance when it comes to heroism. I’m happy the BBC chose not to care about that angry, small minority (and it really is small) harping on about the scaredness of the Doctor’s masculinity.

I’m happy, too, that they gave the role to a genuinely accomplished actress. I can’t claim to be an expert in Whittaker’s work, but she was terrific on Broadchurch given how difficult and searingly emotional her part was, and she aced her guest appearance back in the first season of Black Mirror. She was also a big part of Attack the Block, co-starring with new Star Wars lead John Boyega, which I guess makes that tiny little cult favourite a breeding ground for two of the biggest heroes in pop culture right now. And just look at her in that above photo – she just looks like the Doctor.

What kind of Doctor will Whittaker be? I can see her emulating a bit of Christopher Eccleston’s Ninth Doctor – they’re both Northerners, and famous for emotionally grounded performances with minimal quirk, but funny and warm all the same. I can see her having some of the serious gravitas of Peter Capaldi’s Doctor, or the youthfulness of Tennant. But, hey. Comparisons only go so far. Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor, at the end of the day, is going to be Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor. The Doctor has never been a patchwork made up from the past – it’s a role defined by renewal and transformation. This feels, to me, like the kind of renewal that the show needs as it strives forward into the future.