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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.

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A Conversation About Superhero Movies

Wait. Bold type. Is this a new one of those slightly misguided political parody posts where you had to put an afterword to try and mitigate the ridiculous offensiveness of it?

No. That was a phase. I’m so much older and wiser now.

Are you?

No.

So, what is this post then?

It’s a review of Spider-Man: Homecoming. But everyone has reviewed this movie, so I thought a gimmick might be fun.

The gimmick in question being?

Pretending to discuss the movie, only I’m discussing it with myself?

You have become creatively bankrupt. No-one will want to read this.

I’m okay with that. Also, this is a fun way of articulating all the doubts I have about my initial judgements. And I’ve seen other people doing this.

Fine. So, how was Spider-Man: Homecoming?

It was good. I liked it. It’s fun, and satisfying, and justified the reboot of the character. I’ll want to see it again.

This seems like a pretty definitive judgement. Why are you talking to yourself about this, then?

Because this movie made me realise something about Marvel’s movies, and about blockbuster filmmaking as a whole.

Which is?

It’s cool to say that all superhero movies are the same, and that they’ve contributed to a creative stagnation in Hollywood. That noise became especially loud last year with car crashes like Suicide Squad and X-Men: Apocalypse. I’ve always rejected that, and this year has vindicated superhero fans. Logan, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2, Wonder Woman and Spider-Man: Homecoming have been critical and commercial hits. The genre is in better health than ever, just as it expands.

What’s the problem with that?

The problem is that one of those movies exercised genuine storytelling innovation, which was Logan, an elegiac, sombre character study in superhero’s clothing. The other four all felt like they were drawn from the same well – different aesthetics, different intent, but all circling around the same basic themes and philosophy.

What about Wonder Woman? Everyone loved that movie!

They did, and I appreciate that. I saw the movie and thought it was solidly enjoyable but didn’t take the genre anywhere new. I’ve had a learning experience in seeing how impactful it has been in terms of representation as the first female superhero movie in over a decade, and I concede that it is, if not a masterpiece, than at least one of the most important movies the genre has produced so far.

I haven’t completely discarded that judgement – the third act is a CGI gloop face-off against an underdeveloped enemy with an emotional beat that’s effective, but also the climax of Captain America down to the fact that the person sacrificing themselves for their love interest are muscular heroic white men named Steve, played by actors named Chris. And while the themes and ideas raised by the movie revolving around a woman are original, the bedrock of the movie is still a familiar hero’s journey set within a familiar storytelling universe.

Wait, weren’t we talking about Spider-Man? What happened?

I got sidetracked. So much so that I just changed the post’s title from ‘a Spider-Man review’.

This is why no-one reads your blog.

Eh.

Anyway. What was it about Spider-Man that made you think about this, as opposed to say, Guardians Vol 2?

Guardians 2 was a sequel made off the back of rapturous acclaim for the original by the same director. It’s unsurprising that it was enjoyable, but less fresh, because it was always going to give people exactly what they wanted, and wasn’t in a position to take risks. I enjoyed Spider-Man about the same as Vol 2, and I left the movie feeling the same way. That felt surprising, in a way.

Why?

The Spider-Man movies have always been kind of all over the place, the product of a ferocious tug of war between creative and commercial interests. Spider-Man 2, the best movie featuring the character, was a perfect distillation of Sam Raimi’s auteurist instincts into a franchise-friendly mould, a complete and satisfying story. On the other end, Spider-Man 3 and The Amazing Spider-Man 2, the two movies before Homecoming, were chopped-up messes with no coherent through-line where the handprints of a nervous studio were visible for all to see. Even the two in the middle feel distinctive – the original 2002 movie is a really fun origin story caught between grounded high-school movie realism and being a story where Willem Dafoe flies around in a plastic suit screaming while Spider-Man bounces around on inflatables, and the 2012 reboot is a Coldplay song gained sentience that reproduces the origin story with 20% extra pouting.

Wow, okay. Did we need all that detail? Nerd.

Yes.

Anyway, Homecoming was the first that felt… normal. It felt confident, sure of itself, striking a precise balance between close-ended storytelling and world-building. The jokes were reliably funny, and the action was basically fine, with one standout sequence. There were lots of characters who weren’t very developed, but were played by overqualified actors who made them interesting anyway. It crafted a moderately compelling but entirely unsurprising hero’s journey with a nice moment of catharsis at the end. There wasn’t much individuality to it, but it had its own sheen of difference anyway. felt… like other Marvel movies.

It is a Marvel movie.

Yes, but it’s the first Spider-Man ever to feel like it was made completely painlessly. The character had been a weird, volatile experimental adjunct to the Marvel universe for over a decade; a microcosm of the highs and lows the genre could strike. And now, the character is in safe hands, starring in a fun but safe movie that’s making a lot of money. And that feels like a microcosm of where the genre’s at too.

Fun but safe movies?

Yeah. Superhero movies feel like they’ve gone from weird, experimental quality lotteries to products of ruthlessly efficient machines. Outliers exist, like Logan. But even when the genre produces a bad movie, it’s just because the studio/creative balance the genre is now built on was wrong.

This is what the critics of the genre are saying – that they’re samey corporate products built to a formula and stifling creativity. Is that what you’re saying?

… Kind of?

Look, I like superhero movies. I always go and see a new one. I even ran to a bus stop so I could be in time to see the Fantastic Four reboot. I’ve also enjoyed all of the movies that have been released this year, which is a relief.

But I do recognise that complaint now. I no longer go in and expect ‘art’ when I go and see a superhero movie; I just kind of want it to be fun and engaging like the ones I’ve seen before. Is it right that these movies keep giving me the same feeling, keep providing the same insights into the world, and feel like they’re the products of the same algorithm?

I’m meant to be asking the questions. I can’t answer this for you.

Rude.

There is an answer between yes, and no, right?

See, you’re answering the questions now. How the tables have turned.

Why are you developing this conversation so elaborately? Don’t you have any real friends that you want to talk to about this?

I’ve been told that telling people that you’d like to discuss the creative state of superhero movies in depth is not a positive social action.

Returning to your (my) question, there is an answer between yes and no to this question, and it’s the only real one that can capture the strange contradiction that the superhero genre is currently in a better state than ever creatively, but are becoming more and more polemical.

I’m sure an eighteen year-old nerd like you could find this elusive answer.

Hurtful. But the best answer I can come up with is that superhero movies have gone with the tide, and that they’ve become more like comfort-food TV. You know what you’re going to get from your favourite shows, because they have a timeslot and a status quo to stick to. Sometimes, there are big twist episodes that surprise people briefly, before the next one clears it all up. It’s reliable and familiar, like the taste of cheap hot chocolate on the disappointingly rainy first day of winter.

I feel like you’re making a lot of ambiguous statements that could be interpreted as praise or criticism.

I am, which I suppose gets to the core problem. Do we want our movies to be like TV? Do we want to feel the same way each time we come out of the cinema if it means we know we’re getting good value? Is consistency in franchise filmmaking good? Every answer begets another question. And I can’t answer them all.

That’s unsatisfying.

So is life, but we get on with that just fine.

So, the superhero genre – is it stagnating, or flourishing? 

Neither. Haven’t you been listening? It’s plateaued at a satisfying level, probably as a result of studios being too scared to rock the boat either way, and because they’ve learned from some particularly egregious mistakes.

What’s the consequence of this?

Superhero fatigue. Fire. Rivers of blood. A plague of locusts. Death of the first born.

I feel like you’re not taking this seriously anymore.

Uh huh.

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Open Worlds

Cinema loves franchises, and if there’s one thing any good franchise needs, it’s a convincing open world; a place that acts as a sandpit for the adventures of the hero, but also as a place that lives and breathes beyond the events of the given movie. It’s no wonder, then, that Hollywood is absolutely obsessed with cinematic universes right now. You can barely get out of bed without tripping over one. Marvel. DC. The ‘MonsterVerse’ with King Kong and Godzilla. Universal’s terrible idea, ‘Dark Universe’. And those are only the ones that survive.

But the thing that unites all of those movies isn’t necessarily how well they’re executed; it’s the fact that they all draw from a rich vein of source material. They’re building a LEGO set with the manual, or whatever analogy works for your childhood. So it caught me by surprise when, as you do, I caught up on the movies that Twitter just loves to talk about; John Wick and its sequel, starring Keanu Reeves as a soulless husk most famous for pencil-related murder, and discovered that this franchise contains one of the most improbably detailed open worlds in cinema at the moment.

This isn’t just a world where assassins operate behind closed doors, like in your average action movie, and where there are some organised criminal organisations. No. In John Wick, there is a hotel for assassins. It’s managed by a group of elders called the High Table, and it’s funded by special assassin tokens. This hotel, in the sequel, turns out to be an international chain. In my favourite, most gloriously stupid scene of the second movie, John Wick goes to buy guns from the hotel, only the guy he buys guns from is called ‘a sommelier’, and the entire conversation is conducted in terms of fine wine. I didn’t know cinema could be as exquisite as the sight of seeing Keanu Reeves ask for a bold dessert, get handed a pump-action shotgun, and then smile as if that’s exactly what he wanted.

I know. It just sounds like I’m listing a bunch of nonsense. And yes, in some respects, it is nonsense. The first movie tentatively embraces this, with the introduction of the hotel and a strange assassin underworld with its own folklore. Yet it’s only in the second movie where the franchise totally detaches from reality. Gunfights, in this world, occur exclusively in massively populated areas where everyone reacts as if it’s just a regular Tuesday, and these are street performers. The only policeman we see is friends with John Wick. It becomes abundantly clear that approximately a million New Yorkers (if anything, this seems like an understatement) are trained assassins under deep cover. It’s incredibly, self-consciously, silly.

But, in its own deeply strange way, it all holds together, and becomes far more convincing than so many other cinematic universes we’ve seen. Too many of those attempts try hard to graft on a mythology, to desperately convince us of the larger world outside the events of this particular movie. Just look at the terrible sequence in Batman v Superman where Batman watches specially recorded promo clips for the other Justice League movies. Attempts like that are earnest, and well-intentioned, but the concerned voice of the studio executive is always discernible.

John Wick‘s mythology works because it never actually treats anything as if it’s a mythology. Particularly in the sequel, Keanu Reeves assembles his gear for an assassination as routinely as he would make scrambled eggs. The absurdity of assassin blood oaths with the penalty of deaths isn’t treated as absurdity – it’s played deadly straight, with the full assumption that we should probably have known this anyway, somehow. In short, the John Wick movies drop us into a world already in motion, with rigid internal logic and processes that stretch back decades, and trusts the viewer to extrapolate how it could all have been built. That’s an impressive feat for any franchise, let alone for one that’s completely created its mythology from scratch, without any ancillary material like prequels or comic books to provide shortcuts for savvy viewers. It means that the movies can hang big dramatic moments, like the sequel’s inciting incident and cliffhanger, on rules that would be incomprehensible to those unfamiliar with the franchise.

Even better, though, the world of John Wick is as fun and interesting as it is intricate. As impressive as the Marvel Cinematic Universe is, it can create intrigue for further stories purely based on things it hasn’t adapted yet – all Kevin Feige has to do is suggest that the next Spider-Man film will have, say, Kraven the Hunter in it, and he’ll instantly have bought the ticket of thousands of excitable nerds (and hey, that would totally include me, because Kraven is great). John Wick lacks that advantage, but its world is, nonetheless, one that feels absolutely full of stories, far beyond anything the trilogy, or even the mooted prequel series, is likely to manage. Studios would kill for intellectual property that would achieve that effect, but John Wick did it all on its own. It’s an example that Hollywood, as its shared universe attempts flounder away, would do well to follow.

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Cult Show Clips

I’ve been researching. What do my two readers want from my blog? What’s popular, out there? Is it commentary on the movie London Has Fallen? Is it definitive rankings of the Marvel Cinematic Universe? Is it low-rent, dated social satire? Is it a long list of articles the writer hated too much to publish? I have tried them all.

But one thing that I haven’t tried is to use this blog to do what only a blog can do: exploring my own past, like a self-indulgent idiot. You see, the internet preserves a lot of things, and as a child of the Internet who can’t remember when it doesn’t exist, there happens to be a long catalogue of things I have done. Most of them are boring. Some of them are embarrassing. But if you go back far enough, you find something that seems to be from another person. Things that would be inconceivable to the person you are today. These things exist. And here, today, with the distance that time gives, I am here to show those things to you.

Those things are my 2011 YouTube videos, from the time when I probably thought I could make it big without any editing skills or personal charisma or original thought. I’ve protected them for a while, safe in the knowledge that I chose a strange and unrelated name for the channel that no-one would guess. But hey, they’re funny now. There’s only six videos on the channel, and they tell a wonderful story.

Titled ‘video008’, this first venture into the grim and gritty world of YouTube is one fraught with obstacles. For one, it gives the false impression that I’m a Liverpool fan, because I was filming in my brother’s room. For two, I seem to be dressed up weirdly formally, because I had no clothes other than school uniform in those days. And, for three, it has no sound. I can’t lip read, so it’s genuinely impossible to tell when I was talking about. As first efforts go, this was not good. I’m unsure why I uploaded it.

Sound! This is instantly better than the first one, because it can be understood. At a slender 19 seconds, this is a pithy, punchy intro that lets you know what this YouTube channel will provide you: reviews, film character evaluations, and regular updates. That’s content for the people there. My favourite part is when I say to enjoy the channel, despite the video you just watched being the only thing that was available at the time.

Also, there’s a comment there that says ‘honestly, Louis?’

Oh boy. Quite why I thought showing off a modest collection of DVD boxsets by waving them up awkwardly to the camera was good content is unclear now. I also remember posting about this on Twitter and Tumblr, so this was definitely a point of pride for my strangely materialistic 12-year old self, who would take a considerable amount of time to accept the advent of Netflix. I guess, of the three categories, this would count as ‘regular updates’. The topicality comes from my reminder that Primeval season five would come out the next week, and that I couldn’t want to get it, bye! I had my finger to the pulse.

I guess this was my first ever real review, and it’s a powerful piece of television criticism. Primeval was one of those culty sci-fi shows of the 2000s that rode off the Doctor Who wave, for context, and I was really into it at the time; enough to share my nice and succinct outline of the episode’s events before my 15 seconds of criticism (well-written, well-realised) . Useful, I guess, if you just wanted a 12-year old boy to describe it to you to relive the thrills. The best bit comes at the end, though, where the video abruptly comes to a stop and I say ‘Okay bye!!’ before shutting off the camera, as if I had just realised that this was a terrible mistake.

A stunning 156 views! I’d credit that incredible figure to the fact that this has the most interesting premise of all of my videos: a nice, quick recap of the history of a show before the new season. The only problem is that the video itself is, essentially, me reading some Wikipedia entries and stuttering a bit. I do not actually recap the events of the show in any detail, but I do list every episode title, which is much more useful.

The ‘bye!’ in this video is also, quite frankly, the creative pinnacle of my existence. Everything after that has just been a footnote.

It looks like my commercial success of the last video didn’t carry over to this one. I think I was planning to really kick things into high gear by giving my reviews an official name, but ‘iReview’ probably got lost in the wash. In retrospect, I don’t know why I named it for Apple, but these things are easy to say with hindsight.

The real tragedy is that I promised the next review would be uploaded later today. Do you see the next review on there? Do you? No. It’s like that novel that Charles Dickens never finished, or something; a creative endeavour cut short by the hand of cruel fate.

I plan to revive this channel in 19 years and cash in off the 2011 nostalgia for simple times. Just you wait. A premium cable network is going to snap this up.

Okay.

Byeee!

Posted in Uncategorized

Fear of Flying

Hey there, two readers. I’m doing something new. You see: this is my place to indulge myself. There are no stakes, and there is no editor. I could write endlessly about my life, and there would be no consequences. So I’m going to play into that, and write about myself. Welcome to my vanity. You have absolutely no obligation to come in.

But this is also an experience that I think relates far beyond my own: the feeling of creating something that doesn’t quite feel right. Almost everyone creates something in some way in their hobby or occupation, whether that’s a robot arm that packages ice cold cans of Diet Irn Bru, an Excel spreadsheet, or, I don’t know, pottery. So I’m assuming that this is universal.

I feel like, however, that writing holds a unique place in this. One of the things I love, and hate, about writing is that an essay or a story can exist in of itself. It stands there, unblinking, on the page or Word document, and it doesn’t speak back to you, or demand instant judgement. It’s not evidently broken or pristine like anything physical. So, in theory, it should be the most reassuring of hobbies for someone like me (local obsessive about others’ opinions).

And sometimes, that is genuinely the case. I wrote a 30,000 word novel back in 2012 for NaNoWriMo about a time-travelling team who are stranded in the past, and I was proud of that novel because I clocked in the time and I finished it ahead of schedule (for a wee little 13 year old, 30,000 words ain’t nothing). The thing is: that novel is terrible. I’m 99% sure it’s a disaster, from the characterisation (I did not know women, and still do not) to the plot (one twist worked… and there was only one twist) to the lack of a fixed set of time travel rules (I call myself a nerd?). But it didn’t matter. I showed it to a couple of people, but the achievement was enough for me.

On the other hand, writing is rarely as pure and as immune as Welcome to the New Age (yes, that is my novel’s title, and yes, it’s from an Imagine Dragons lyric, in case you wanted an insight into my deviant 13-year-old brain). Often… it’s made to be seen by people, and that’s where it gets all knotty. Those people will have reactions, and will make judgements. Those reactions and judgements can’t be controlled, can’t be predicted, and often can’t be seen.

It’s easy to ignore the idea that people see your stuff, sometimes. It’s what I do for the majority of my reviewing, where a lack of comments means a lack of judgement. Every now and then, people might come up to you and tell you that they read your review, and had opinions, and then that falsity comes crashing down.

The net result, ultimately is fear. It’s amazing how irrational that fear is. It’s led me to reject about 30 draft posts, some of which have clocked in past the 1000 word mark when I realised that I hated them. One of these posts was about those unfinished posts, if you like irony. This is ridiculous, of course. If I’m lucky and my post is shared somewhere, it’ll inch over 10 pageviews. Otherwise… well, put it this way: I’ve had blog posts that no-one has ever seen apart from me. That gut worry that other people will judge me for it, therefore, is ridiculous. It’s even more absurd when you factor in the feeling of affirmation you seek when you put out a piece into the world. Craving something and fearing it at the same time? As someone, somewhere, once said, nope.

That’s the thing with irrational fear, however. The irony of it is that it pushes you away from, or ruins the experience of, good things, for no logical reason. It’s the same reason why I hate flying and always worry for a while before about it, despite the fact that I’ve never had a genuinely bad flight. You can throw all the logic in the world at the problem, and it bounces right off.

I’d love to say I’ve had an epiphany writing this post, but this was simply my attempt to unpack a thought process that’s defined a great deal of what’s happened, or failed to happen, on a blog. Maybe in the future, though, this post will be here for when the back button looks like a tempting prospect instead of soldiering on. After all, who’s judging?

Aside from myself, that is.

Yes, I briefly abandoned this post. THE IRONY IS NOT LOST ON ME