Archive for June, 2012

4

Teaching Moments with Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club

NB: I’ve worked about 65 hours this week on only 20 hours of sleep. Much as I want to run the review that I have planned, I don’t trust my editing abilities in this state. Next week should be a return to normal Page of Reviews programming. For now, I offer a story about Scotch and Fight Club.

Date: Thursday June 28, 2012

Location: Oakwood Resort. Grand Bend, Ontario.

Time: 8:15am

After working a twelve hour night (can’t say that my summer job isn’t interesting that way) I needed a change of scenery. Armed with a breakfast Scotch and a copy of Fight Club on my Kindle, I sat down by the pool. My plan was to spend an hour reading before retreating to the vampire suitable darkness of my room.

Fifteen minutes passed before another resort guest, also armed with a breakfast cocktail, sat down in the pool chair two abreast of mine.

““Morning,” she said.

““Hello,” I answered.

I got to the end of the page before she asked, “What are you drinking?”

““Scotch.”

““Wow,” she said. “Having an early start to the day?”

I shifted my gaze to her glass as I raised an eyebrow.

““Yeah, me too,” she confessed.

I got through two more pages before she asked, “What are you reading?”

I am Adam’s inability to deal with people when he wants to be left alone.

““Fight Club.”

A moment or three past before she asked, “Wasn’t that a movie?”

I nodded.

““Isn’t it old?”

““About fifteen years old,” I answered, desperately wanting an end to conversation.

““So, why read an old book of an old movie?”

I won’t like, part of me wanted to commit a sin of utter rudeness and change seats. But some voice in my head suggested another plan.

““Did you see Fight Club?” I asked.

““When I was in high school,” she cautiously answered.

““Do you remember what it was about?”

““Terrorists and fighting and blowing up buildings.”

I nodded before asking, “What buildings were they blowing up?”

““Businesses, I think.”

““Tyler,” she raised an eyebrow as I said the character’s name. “Brad Pitt,” I corrected myself. “Wanted to blow up credit records so that everybody would have to start over on an even keel. He wanted to give people who work for a living a chance to be on par with the upper class.”

My companion seemed to think for a moment before tapping a finger on her chin.

““Sounds a lot like what the Occupy movement wants. That’s pretty amazing for fifteen years ago.”

And for the first time during the entire conversation, I offered her a genuine smile. “And that is why I’m reading the book,” I said.

““I think I want to read it now, too,” she said, raising her glass to mine.

It’s nice to know that when Chuck Palahniuk opens his royalty cheque next month, I’ll have made an indirect contribution.

Next week on the Page of Reviews: fantasy fights a war with science fiction, horror pulls a Kobayashi Maru, and I look at some web series that never were.


4

Guest Hosting the Limited Release Podcast

Last week something pretty awesome happened. Well, it was awesome for me at least. However, there’s a good lesson to this story, so I promise it won’t be all shameless self-promotion. Anyway, last week I guest hosted on the Limited Release Podcast. For the record, this was my first time appearing on a podcast other than my own. To say that I was excited about the experience would be a considerable understatement.

For those who don’t know, Limited Release is a podcast based in Guelph Ontario. Their bread and butter is web series reviews. And though I only met Candice and Nick, the hosts of Limited Release, at this year’s Ad Astra when the lot of us were on a podcasting panel, I quickly became a fan of their show as I started listening to their back catalogue of episodes. The opportunity to switch from fan to participant was really quite amazing. Recording a ‘cast in a real studio with a sound engineer rather than the closet that I call a “studio” with my cat shooting me judgmental glares all the while, well there are no words for that.

So what did Candice and I talk about while Nick was off consulting on the set of Game of Thrones? (NB: Nick may not have actually been doing this, but that’s the idle speculation I’m going to run with) Being the gracious host that she is, Candice let me pick the programming. Given that it is currently my favourite thing on the internet, we spent half the episode talking about Job Hunters. For the rest of the time we discussed an older web series called On Empty. Here’s a link to the cast. Once you are done with that, make sure to check out the rest of Limited Release’s podcasts – truly fantastic stuff.

As for the lesson I promised at the start of this shameless self-pimping, here it is: there’s no way I would have been asked to host Limited Release if I had not worked up the nerve go to conventions as a panelist. It is as simple as that. If you care about what you do, go somewhere where you can connect with others who do the same. If you really want to impress, spend twenty dollars on a box of business cards. You don’t need to be a pro to act like one.

There you have it: advice on how to make build a profile as a pro geek and a podcast.

Make sure to check out Limited Release on iTunes. My deepest thanks to Candice and Nick for letting me guest host on the Limited Release podcast.


1

Dredd Trailer and Breakdown

The Theatrical Poster for Dredd

A bit of disclosure before I talk about the Dredd trailer. I saw Judge Dredd in theatres back in 1995. At the time I was fourteen years old, and I loved it. I could not understand why my father thought it was a giant turd of a movie. I suppose it had something to do with his having read a few 2000AD comic strips where I had not. Fast forward to the aftermath of my 26th birthday party wherein a drunken Shaftoe demanded to watch the Judge Dredd DVD he got as a joke present. On that day I came to understand the complete and utter contempt that Joe Dredd’s first screen appearance held for the source material.

Therein lay the challenge for director Pete Travis and his new Dredd movie. I can talk about disrespect for the source material and Stallone’s diva-ish demands not to be stuck under a helmet for ninety minutes until second coming of Bruce Campbell, but that’s going to do nothing to disassociate the name “Judge Joe Dredd” with this monstrosity. For eighteen years, this has been how popular culture and popular memory have crafted Judge Dredd. Bearing that in mind, the Dredd trailer had, in my mind, only one objective: to show me, and anybody else who might enjoy a science fiction movie, that Dredd is as far from Judge Dredd as can be. Let’s take a watch.

 

Initial impression: Training Day meets Die Hard set in Mega City One.

The first thing to note is the rating on the film: “R” instead of “PG-13”. That in of itself should be some indication that Lionsgate is going to treat this movie with the seriousness that the source material always offered its audience. Next is the vision of Mega City One. Instead of something that looks like a Warner Brothers farce of Blade Runner’s Los Angles, this city has a real dystopian feel about it. The block towers are surrounded by slums. Ramshackle ground vehicles, rather than the obligatory flying cars of the future, populate the trailer.

Then comes the hook. There are no megalomaniacs out to conquer the world. Nor do we see crooked judges tenting their fingers like Mr. Burns. Instead, we are presented with a drug war, the perfect compliment for a cop story. The foe: a drug queen called MaMa played by Lena Headey. Her product: Slo-Mo, a drug that makes the user perceive events at 1% of life’s normal speed. I’m going to give the story the benefit of the doubt and assume that the drug only slows perception not actions. Thus, every user stands to become Neo.

So we’re fifty-nine seconds into the Dredd trailer and it is already better than the first fifty-nine minutes of Judge Dredd.

Karl Urban’s narration also helps remind the audience that this is not Judge Dredd. In that film, Mega City One was a big-ish city of fifty million people. This Mega City One is clearly the one from the comics, stretching from the East Coast of Canada down to the Carolinas and as for West as the Mississippi. Pairing MC1’s population of eight hundred million with scenes of urban unrest establishes the lawless reality of this post-apocalyptic world. This world is grim and bleak, but not so over the top that it starts alienating potential viewers.

Meanwhile the trailer hints at a story that targets the action movie crowd as a whole, not just a handful of genre aficionados. Dredd is paired with rookie Judge Anderson on her training day when MaMa takes over her block tower. All of the Slo-Mo production is focused in that block, so if the judges can take it out, they remove the only source of the drug. Instead of fighting killer cyborgs, robots, and clones, Joe Dredd is going to become the inverse John McClane, working his way up a sky scraper to take out terrorists and drug dealers.

Sidebar: I didn’t think it possible to cook up a character for Lena Headey who would be more chill inducing than Cersei Lannister. Freudians around the world are going to have a field day with this one.

What are we left with at the end of this trailer? Judge Dredd is a motorcycle cop, not a runway model for fetish wear. Mega City One is a horrible place populated by terrible people where the street judge system is a necessity rather than some picayune attempt to be totalitarian. The antagonist is played by one of the most fantastic actresses of the last ten years, who looks to be in fine form for this picture. Assuming the trailer is honest to the final product, Dredd is going to be a gritty cop movie first and a science fiction story second. Karl Urban is clearly doing everything he can to dislodge the brick of Camembert that Stallone shoved up Dredd’s ass back in the 90s; he even manages to deliver Dredd’s iconic “I am the law” with all the seriousness that it deserves.

Am I going to go see this? Allow me to answer that in my best Judge Dredd voice, “What do you think, creep?” I won’t say that Dredd looks like the smartest movie out there. However, the trailer suggests something that has the chops to regenerate a much maligned character. Simultaneously, the environment of Mega City One could prove an equally impressive rendering of a now classic dystopian world.

Let’s just hope there is an option to watch it without the 3D gimmickry.


0

Podcast Episode 21: Mourning Community with Matt Moore

Despite hiccups with recording, construction above my closet studio, and problems with the theme music, I’ve finally managed to put together the first official episode of the second season of the Page of Reviews podcast.

Thanks to Matt Moore for coming on to talk Community with me. You can check out his work here.

Also, Kari Maaren’s article on gender and How I Met Your Mother, which Matt and I mention during the podcast, can be found here. No word of a lie, it’s one of the best critical inquires into television character development that I’ve read in quite some time.

As is the case in many of our conversations, Matt and I were all over the place with this chat. As such, I’m not even going to try and offer up a podcast by timeline breakdown.

Generally the topics under discussion included:

-   Did Dan Harmon and team know their days were numbered?

-   A brief history of turfed show runners.

-   Ways season four might be good.

-   If season four is the last, could Community continue in other mediums?

-   How Community fans could be more like Jericho fans.

Music: Bionic Commando stage 4 (Dale vs Wray mix) (NecroPolo) / CC BY-NC-SA 3.0


0

Derezzed is the new Dead: The Brilliance of Tron Uprising

The arena is filled with tens of thousands of spectators. A calmed hush descends over the crowd as a regal figure walks forward from the recesses of his private box. He points to the floor below. Two men emerge, and the crowd cheers as the warriors who have fought so valiantly during the day’s games are presented for their approval. Both men have killed countless others during the day. Neither allows himself the luxury of thinking about the cost of his survival. That’s really what it’s all about: survival for the warriors, and entertainment for the crowd. But the crowd hungers for more. They want worthy foes to face the men who have bested all challengers.

From his box, the master of ceremonies announces the combatants for the day’s final battle. The two men will fight each other. The winner will be set free from the games, the loser will die at the hands of the winner. The crowd roars. Their lust for battle, for a distraction from the privations of their real lives, is palpable within every atom of the arena.

The two warriors refuse to fight at first. A bond of loyalty exists between the strangers made allies through shared bloodshed. The crowd simmers. They could get ugly at any moment.  The master declares both will be killed if neither fight, and the arena bends to his will. The crowd is appeased. He knows the games are a dangerous necessity. There is no better way to showcase the futility of resistance than through the games. But no matter what else happens, the games can never become a breeding ground for heroes.

Unwilling to be slaughtered, unable to take his own life, one of the warriors makes the first strike. He wants to die at the hands of his brother, not his enemy.

It could be a scene from one of Spartacus’ various screen adaptations. Perhaps it’s an excerpt from Ridley Scott’s pitch session for Gladiator? Obviously neither given the title of the post. But who would have thought a pretty, if unremarkable, sequel to Tron would incubate an animated series that dares to march where angels fear to tread?

Tron Uprising is a story of terrorism, or freedom fighting, depending on how you look at such things. It’s a story of a hegemonic empire imposing a world view on otherwise free people. We could even make a case for the show as an inquiry into social control through spectacle; what will a people abide so long as you give them bread and circuses? In short, Tron Uprising has restored the philosophical backbone that was essential to the first feature film, but subdued, if not entirely missing, from the Legacy. Only now the discourse has shifted from something that explored Enlightment ideas pertaining to man’s relationship with god to the philosophies of Edmund Burke and Hannah Arendt. In donning the guise of Tron, thought dead at the hands of Clu, Beck, takes up a banner which preaches evil triumphing if good programs do nothing. Moreover Uprising constructs a totalitarian state so that the narrative might safely explore ideas of resistance within it.

How then does Tron Uprising enact an exploration of such lofty ideas while remaining a Disney branded product? Through exploiting one very simple loophole in standards and practices: that which is not alive can not be killed.

Giving the show a prime time spot also helps, but so does that last bit. Allow me to explain.

The Grid, the world of Tron, is set inside a computer. Like any computer, The Grid is full of programs. These programs look and sound very much like humans or, as we are known the programs, users. But when a program is cleaved in twain with another program’s identity disc, the weapon of choice within the grid, they don’t die, they de-resolve or in the common parlance, they derezz. The null program takes on the appearance of a piece of cubist art before crumbling into so many bloodless sugar cubes. To other programs, the sight of de-resolution is abhorrent. To the censors, who are primarily concerned with violent visual cues, there’s little ground for objection. Remember that audience emulation is paramount among the concerns of the censor; will an impressionable idiot child attempt to replicate the actions that they see on screen? Should they do so in this case, the result will be an army of children throwing Frisbees at each other. Given North America’s childhood obesity problem, this is hardly something to be eschewed.

Within the story, however, the derezzing of a program has all the permanence of death within the human world. There are no “saved” programs or such gimmicks that would invalidate the finality of deresolution. Once you’re derezzed, you’re as good as dead, but conveniently not dead since you were never alive in the first place.

The potential payoff for narrative development here is boundless. With derezzing as a practical alternative to death, Uprising can actually explore how/why Clu went about purging the ISOs from The Grid. If said story ends with a camera pan back to a flash of light that sees two million programs getting mass derezzed, then so be it.

Why not go on to measure the greater good of programs sacrificing themselves for the idea of Tron against Clu’s attempts to create order as a moral chiaroscuro? Three episodes in and we’ve already seen programs sent to the games to be derezzed as a means of combating Beck’s subversive message of resistance. Extending that to its natural conclusion would make Uprising something that is as laden with political subtext as V for Vendetta. Political, but still something that is safe for the Disney brand. With nobody dying there’s nothing to tarnish the corporations family friendly veneer.

The only risk is that Tron Uprising may suffer the same fate as Exo-Squad and Transformers: Beast Machines. Therein both shows had a decidedly grown up subtext, but couldn’t convince adult audiences to watch. Arguably the success of series like The Clone Wars and Avatar: The Last Airbender (pay no attention to the horror show that was the movie of the same name) have done much to legitimize western animation for an adult audience. Time will tell of Tron Uprising follows suit.


3

Web Series Review: Job Hunters

I was immediately sceptical when I first read the press release for Job Hunters. How often does a person see the words “dystopian roommate comedy” within the same sentence? By its very nature, the dystopia is not something that lends itself to comedy. Nonetheless, I watched the first episode on the day the series premiered on youtube. After eight minutes and forty-five seconds, Job Hunters had demonstrated two things: a brilliant taste for black humour and bang for the buck production values that put traditional television to shame.

For the record, I gave Job Hunters another four episodes before putting pen to paper on this review.

The premise of the series capitalizes on popular culture’s current fixation on young adult death matches while keeping a healthy distance from other established properties. The setup is straight forward: as a means of population control and social engineering, college graduates report for mandatory arena combat. Within the arena, the grads spend the work day battling each other to the death as a means of showing off their talent to potential recruiters. Their off hours are spent in a safe house where the majority of the series finds its focus. Therein newcomers Devon (Forest Gibson), Avery (Kristina Horner), and Paige (Meagan Naser) form a co-existence pact with arena veterans Max (Joe Homes) and Tiffany (Tara Theoharis). But with an 80% mortality rate, the arena is a dangerous place to make friends.

First question: if this is what happens to college grads, what’s life like for the people who don’t get into a university? Do high school drop outs become Soylent Green?

Initially, I thought that the series might be trying too hard to be all things to all people. Upon further consideration, I’m content to chalk this feeling up to a side effect of pairing something as mainstream as comedy with a sub-genre as specific as near-future dystopia. What emerges, despite the “roommate comedy” branding is a comedic sensibility that is often very dry and very black. Think along the lines of Episodes with a dash of Community’s paint ball oeuvre thrown into the mix. The comedy can often be subtle, but so are the dystopian elements.

There’s also a soft spoken, but decidedly intense, dedication to professionalism within the production of Job Hunters. The post production effects are subtle but add a Mass Effect inspired aesthetic to the gadgets of this near future. The interior of the safe house, as well as the location shots for the arena, are stunning. In addition to the primary cast, there is a venerable army of extras adding to the “this isn’t your average web series” vibe that permeates the production. The music which accompanies key scenes could be mistaken for the work of Bear McCreary or Clint Mansell. And did I mention that each episode is nearly ten minutes long? With the first season funded entirely via kickstarter, and probably no shortage of sweat equity, I can only imagine what wonders the producers would be capable of with a grander budget.

Granted, there is the odd bit of acting ends up chewing the scenery rather than conveying an expected emotion. The character of Doctor Monroe stands out in my mind on that point; the actor in question could have made an at-his-prime Paul Darrow blush. Yet these minor imperfections never amount to much. Instead, the story has kept my focus on the complicated relationship between a group of characters who, in all but one case, refuse to acknowledge that they are going to likely end up killing each other…for a job offer.

And that sense of polite yet high stakes competition speaks to where I think is Job Hunters is going to find its core audience. Consider the series as a metaphor for anybody who graduated university within the last ten years only to find the job market saying “Nah, we’re going to go with somebody older/more experienced/better connected.” Friends quickly turn into rivals when competing for work in a shifting economy. Cognitive dissonance is often the only thing that keeps those relationships from devolving into outright hostility. If I set aside everything else that makes this web series work, the fact that it is using humour rather than a soap box to channel a generation’s anxiety about finding meaningful employment is enough make me sign up for the rest of the season and any others that follow.

Bravo to the entire Job Hunters team. I know I’ll be contributing to the kickstarter for season 2 when it comes around.

You can watch the first episode of the series below and head over to http://watchjobhunters.com/ for updates on the show and behind the scenes video.


0

Guest Post Friday Featuring K.W. Ramsey: Whatever Happened To The Classic War Movie?

So, quick question, what do Tora, Tora, Tora, Battle of Britain, Battle of The Bulge, and Midway all have in common?

If you answered they’re all war movies then you really aren’t trying. (I mean, look at the title of this post, I’m giving you half the answer already.)

The fact that they’re war movies is only half the answer. Admittedly, it’s an important half, but not quite everything. The other half is much harder to discern and requires some critical thinking. (Yes, I know thinking and the Internet quite often don’t go together. Bear with me on this one.)

Still struggling with it? Okay, I give. Here’s the answer: In all of the examples mentioned above the focus is on the event rather than the characters. Watch just about any war movie from the fifties, sixties, and most of the seventies and you’ll see they quite often have this in common.

You’re probably asking, “Okay smart-ass, what does that mean?” First off, yes I am a smart-ass, thank you for noticing. Second, it means that the story fixates on one, small, isolated story inside of a larger event, such as you see in a movie like Saving Private Ryan where the focus is on the mission to pull out Ryan and it takes place in World War II. The war is the setting rather than the focus in that case, and yes, I do think this is an important distinction to make.

In the classic war movies I’ve mentioned, the story usually breaks down as thus:

Inciting incident: quite often with a couple minor characters who may or may not live through it.

Introduction of a main character: often after they find out about/react to the inciting incident.

Forward progression: more characters introduced as events unfold – level of character control varies, often they have very little as unseen outside agencies/authorities influence events.

Climax: major battle scene/resolution of conflict – often forms a major part of the movie and will see quite a few minor characters die and perhaps one of two major ones.

Denouement: aftermath of the battle and closure of all the subplots running throughout the movie – usually denotes the disposition of the main character and may or may not have a historical note pasted on the screen.

Now the fact that these movies focus on the event rather than the characters doesn’t mean they don’t have compelling character stories inside them. For instance, Battle of The Bulge has a final shot where a German trooper realizes the futility of war and tosses away his gun and ammunition. The Battle of Britain has a pilot horribly burned before showing the reaction of his wife upon learning the news.

Another thing to keep in mind is that these movies weren’t propaganda films. They didn’t glorify war, and by the standards of the time they were shot, they were rather brutal. Yes, the didn’t match the sheer horror of the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan, but keep in mind this was the same time-period when the Hammer horror films and Night of The Living Dead were the height of scary and well before the slasher-flick made it okay to show buckets of gore on-screen. The point is, characters suffered and if they didn’t openly question why they were fighting, that question was left to the audience.

On the flip-side though, a lot of these films were about events taking place in World War II (the last conflict in recent memory at least at the point the films were made) where a clear good guy, the Allies, and a clear villain, the Axis, seemed apparent; a fact that modern video games are still taking advantage of. (Still yet to see Call Of Duty: The Trenches of The Western Front, dagnabit). Also, they had the perspective of looking back on history, so the audience knows approximately what’s going to happen and doesn’t have to worry that the battle is going to be lost.

So what killed these movies? A few things such as George Lucas, Vietnam, and the Grim Reaper. (I leave it up to you to figure out which is the most evil of the list.)

Okay, okay, I better explain myself. I’ll start first with Vietnam. Vets coming back from that conflict told people, “You know, the whole war thing isn’t quite like what you’re all seeing on screen. It’s a lot dirtier, bloodier, and makes a hell of a lot less sense to the guy with a gun in the front.” The classic war films tried to make sense of the chaos of war, and for returning vets that likely didn’t ring true.

Next is the Grim Reaper. Let’s be honest, even if a soldier comes home from a war they will carry scars for the rest of their life, some physical and some psychological. Few men escape these scars. While most learn to cope, studies have found their life-expectancy is greatly reduced. Throughout the period of the classic war film, the vets were the main movie-goers. It made sense to make and market films aimed at an audience who lived through those times as they would have the disposable income and the desire to see something that might help them make sense of what the big picture was while they were stuck in a foxhole in Italy. However, by the end of the seventies a lot of these men and women’s scars were starting to catch up with them, and even the ones who remained alive had moved out of the age-zone movie makers target their films towards.

Finally, there’s George Lucas. How did he kill the classic war film? Well, with the Star Wars franchise, of course. Star Wars solidified if not created the blockbuster concept, and by Return Of The Jedi it had caused the target demographic for movie-goers to shift. Now it was no longer people in their twenties and thirties that were targeted for the next big Hollywood flick, it was their kids and younger siblings who brought in the big bucks and ensured the movie made bank.

The funny thing is, Lucas is connected to the latest example of a film that hearkens back to these classics. His passion project, Red Tails, is an unfortunately poor relative to the classic war story. It’s weak (if oddly enjoyable at times) and much less than what the valiant Tuskegee Airmen deserve.

So will we ever see another film like one of the classics I’ve mentioned above? Unlikely. Nowadays, with cameras everywhere, Facebook, and reality TV, the individual’s story, rather than the event, appears to be king. That doesn’t mean we aren’t getting good movies, or even good movies that touch upon historical and important events (I refer you to the previously mentioned Saving Private Ryan or the equally good but completely different King’s Speech - incidentally both set in nearly the same time period), but in the end I think the classic war movie has flown off into the sunset.

I leave that up to you to determine if that is a good or a bad thing.


0

Round Two with Hitman Absolution

Nothing Phallic About This...

Wherein the trolls troll me, and things get even more creepy than they were yesterday.

Prior to about 11am this morning, I was quite content to move on to new things for today’s post. Then I got trolled. Under normal circumstances I wouldn’t care as I tend to get trolled at least once or twice per week. But this particular troll decided to accuse me of plagiarism. For the record, my day job for eight months of the year is busting plagiarists. Needless to say, I didn’t take kindly to the accusation. So no, dear troll, I won’t stop talking about this issue. Should you take umbrage at my words, might I recommend clicking the little “X” in the top right corner of the window.

To the point at hand.

Shortly after I posted yesterday’s Hitman piece, I found another trailer for the game. I think this one predates the “Saints” trailer, but it is no less problematic. Once again, the themes in play are sexposition and monumental fails in marketing. Let’s bring in the accused.

 

Really? 47 busts up all that security and there’s not a single alarm triggered? Where are the security cameras? Perhaps a motion detector for the stairwell? And how sound proofed is the bathroom that Diana (47’s former handler) doesn’t hear electrical wires being ripped from drywall? Forget about gender portrayals, I’m having trouble suspending my disbelief long enough to get through the meat and potatoes of this trailer.

Seriously though, does anybody else remember when the Hitman games were at least somewhat plausible? This trailer is about one sword and nine cyborgs short of being a companion piece for Metal Gear Rising. Forgive me for belabouring the point, but rapid fire action like this isn’t how I remember playing the Hitman games. Yes, the option was always there for aggressive tactical action. And each time I said fuck it to stealth and went in guns a blazing, I ended up getting killed for my efforts. The spirit of the game is anchored to finesse and cleverness. 47 is the sort of killer who replaces a prop gun with a real gun to get at an actor who is his target. This vision of 47 lacks the elegance in wet work that the Hitman series has always rewarded.

Some might argue that Diana, despite her nakedness, falls into the category of “Strong Female Character”. Perhaps this is a valid point given this character’s history with 47 and “The Agency”. Yet this trailer presents her as a helpless victim from start to finish. A developer who had any sense of their actual audience would depict Diana sitting behind a desk, pistol in hand, akin to 007’s M. This trailer eschews any of that context, opting for something that looks more like the opening act of a snuff film. Need proof? Okay. Point 1: She’s a victim of home invasion by a formerly trusted companion. Point 2: She’s caught naked. Point 3: She’s caught naked in the shower.

For a moment, forget about how the die-hard Hitman fans are going to respond to something like this. Instead think about the reaction of a newbie. Between this and the Saints trailer, IO Interactive is presenting the franchise as something that has a very odd relationship with women. Women are either getting killed while skanked up, or caught naked in the shower – perhaps to be killed? Why? What’s the point? What possible take away message could this be offering other than: buy this game and maybe you’ll see some cleavage. To reference a friend of mine, if I wanted boobies I would go buy Dead or Alive Beach Volleyball. At least that is decent enough to be up front and honest about what it is, and it’s not a volleyball game.

I want to wrap up with an assertion. If the trolling of Anita Sarkeesian has demonstrated anything, it is that a rather vocal percentage of gamers view the industry as their own personal Augusta National Golf Course. Said members don’t like hearing that women in video games should be more than objects of fetish and fancy. They think that a more respectful, and less exploitative/rapey, treatment of women in games will somehow translate to censorship and a limiting of “artistic expression”. This is a rather misguided belief. Making more games like Portal and fewer like Bayonetta, doesn’t mean the Bayonetta games are going to go away forever. There will always be a market for T&A. Equal rights legislation for women didn’t magically kill porn, did it? This progressive paradigm shift will mean more games with characters like Chell, Cortana, Shodan, and Sarah Kerrigan (at least before she became a talking point for colonization – and go figure that two out of the four non-reprehensible female characters I could think of off the top of my head aren’t even human).

This is not a conversation that should end. Gods help the gaming industry if it ever does.


2

Is the Hitman Absolution Trailer Offensive or just Grotesquely Stupid?

I grok that both stupidity and the quality of being offensive are in the eye of the beholder. Nor would I consider either of these traits to be mutually exclusive of the other. But when it comes to the Hitman Absolution trailer, I, as a male gamer, need to let it be known to the world that I find the latest from IO Interactive so stupid as to be offensive.

For anybody who hasn’t seen the offending piece of promotional material, here it is. It’s a mildly NSFW due to cartoon cleavage and excessive violence.

 

Violence unto women dressed for a night of parochial school themed S&M has never been a motif of the Hitman franchise. The series has always put a premium on stealth and a Bond-esque level of subtlety in the protagonist’s wet work. To fire a bazooka into a no-tell motel is to miss the point of the Hitman games. To do so attired in a puerile attempt at titillation is as intuitive as obeying traffic signals in Grand Theft Auto. Kudos to IO Interactive; in two minutes you’ve managed to mortgage a large quantity of the critical credibility that you acquired through four successful video games and one average theatrical adaptation.

Somebody call Quentin Tarantino and tell him that's he's officially subtle.

IO Interactive’s efforts to make something that looks “cool”, their own words per a recent apology for this trailer, are a colossal failure in marketing at its most fundamental level. Conceivably, I’m a member of their target audience. Yet the presumption that a union between PG-13 sexuality and violence will arouse my interest is as faulty as a Kardashian wedding. Violence turns my crank (and if you’ve ever watched a single episode of Game of Thrones, Spartacus, or True Blood it does yours as well so don’t judge me). Sex turns my crank considerably more than violence. Assuming that the two would go well together is the sort of juvenile syllogism that argues being drunk is fun, and driving fast is fun. Therefore driving drunk at very fast speeds would be super fun. Moreover, the trailer tells me, the consumer, nothing about the game, or perhaps more accurately how the game plays. I dare say this trailer speaks volumes about the game and the “creative” minds behind it. To put a finer point on it, I, and I expect any member of the target audience who has seen more than fifteen minutes of pornography in their life, have evolved past the crap that Hitman Absolution is selling.

To the other issue at hand, does it offend me to see Hitman 47 laying some slaughter on a bunch of women? No more than it offended me to see a Roman throw an axe into Mira’s chest in Spartacus. No more than it offended me to read about mixed gender matches of Rollerball in Rollerball Murder. What I recognize as a problem is the trailer’s shameless sexposition, which attempts to normalize a gender hierarchy between the Hitman and his foes. Further, I object to the assumption of stupidity on my part whereby I won’t pick up on this passive audience programming.

47 is wearing his trademark suit; the subtext is that he remains a professional. By dropping their habits, the female assassins are symbolically shedding their credibility as guns for hire. Thus the killer nuns’ termination at the hands of the Hitman was preordained via their fetish-wear as an indication of their naturally inferior state compared to 47.

Therein rests some of the inequality within this particular rogues’ gallery. But before we decry the gaming industry as an evil empire of misogyny, remember that this sort of gender issue is by no means limited to video games. HBO’s Game of Thrones illustrates hierarchy through sex scenes where men remain clothed but women bare all. Arguably if everybody was naked in the Hitman trailer, don’t ask me why assassins would go about their business in the buff, perhaps they were all attending the same Roman orgy, it would be less shameless then it stands now. It certainly wouldn’t make the trailer any more stupid than it already is.

Among the sort of folk for whom the above trailer finds traction, I expect walking erect, opposable thumbs, and running water to be a novelty. Certainly these people are to be pitied for their retrograde ways, rather than framed as agents promoting an agenda of chauvinism and heteronormativity.


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Movie Review: Anonymous

Starring: Rhys Ifans, Vanessa Redgrave, and David Thewlis

Directed by: Roland Emmerich

Summary Judgement: Though lacking the general appeal of the Bard’s plays, Anonymous remains a fascinating, if overambitious, piece of storytelling.

There’s a certain something to seeing a director whose claim to fame is big budget action films trying his hand at historical revisionism. This sensation ranges somewhere between curiosity and anxiety; indeed it is made all the more acute due to the fact that Emmerich’s work over the last few years (2012, 10,000 BC, The Day After Tomorrow) has received no end of critical and popular scorn. Therein, I expected Anonymous to be the worst sort of bodice ripping sensationalism. While the entire experience is big, arguably too big, in a way that comes very natural to Emmerich, it’s also thoughtful and quite creative in its story telling.

Contrary to what the trailers suggested, this movie isn’t exclusively about the authorship of William Shakespeare’s plays. Rather it is a time shifting affair through the life of Edward De Vere, seventeenth Earl of Oxford. De Vere, who spends his life writing poetry rather than focusing on affairs befitting his high station, gives his work to Ben Jonson, then an anonymous bankside playwright. De Vere, like any writer, aspires to have his works known to the public, even if he can’t take credit for the words. This film’s Shakespeare is little more than an illiterate actor. He usurps creative credit from Jonson before extorting De Vere so that he might build the Globe theatre. All of this is set amid the turbulence of Queen Elizabeth’s final years, the looming threat of James I and his Catholic friends in Spain, and the Earl of Essex’s rebellion against the Queen.

Given this description, there are likely three sorts of people who will enjoy this movie: writers, students of English literature, and history nerds. Unlike most of Emmerich’s body of work, this isn’t a movie that is made for everybody. Even within the target demographic, some people might be put off by the liberties that the story, also written by Emmerich, takes with Shakespeare as the non-author of his plays, Christopher Marlowe as a jealous pariah who snitches to the Master of Revels about the seditious metaphors in the plays of his contemporaries, or Queen Elizabeth’s string of bastard sons. But if a viewer can suspend their disbelief for even a short time, they will quickly find themselves wrapped in a world as richly detailed as John Madden’s Shakespeare in Love.

While I’m not normally one to care/notice things like costuming in Hollywood movies, Anonymous managed to make me pay attention. The volume of labour that went into clothing the film’s extensive primary cast, as well as the army of extras – remember this is Emmerich, he likes to do things BIG – is almost beyond my capacity for measurement. The contrasts between the attire (and teeth) of England’s ultra rich, the theatre going mob, and every person of every rank in between is sensational. Similarly striking is the evident devotion to authenticity within the film’s numerous set pieces. There is a persistent feeling of dirt and grime within London’s public spaces, so much so that it is a palpable relief when the perspective shifts into a relatively clean palace or manor home.

The aplomb with which the cast carry this story is no less outstanding than the costuming and sets. Though some actors do tread a bit too close to scenery chewing, Rafe Spall as Shakespeare and Trystan Gravelle as Marlowe are the worst offenders therein, I was inclined to enjoy it. Such tendencies to embellish seem fitting within a period piece that attempts to frame Shakespeare’s plays as propaganda tools in the cold war of Elizabeth’s succession. For her part, Vanessa Redgrave played Gloriana as a passionate queen, a character who  more closely resembled Cate Blanchett as Elizabeth than Judi Dench.

It’s the pacing that stands out as Anonymous’ most problematic component. Again, Emmerich is attempting to bring a certain type of cinematic spectacle to historical revision. The attempt is laudable if a little over ambitious. Part of the problem is that both of the stories within Anonymous play like the “A” plot. On the one hand, there is an examination of the difficult world writers inhabited in protestant England. It’s a glimpse into a society that looked at playwrights with distain, as peddlers of blasphemy and heresy, back when those things meant something. At the same time Anonymous is also a story of politics and intrigue; an examination of Tudor history through the lens of what might have been, rather than what was. At times, bringing these two worlds together feels forced. To invoke the language of the time, there is an unnatural mixing of social orders. This cross spectrum of late-Elizabethan society is rarely seen on screen, big or small, which contributes to the film’s overall originality. The unfortunate trade off is a story that runs a bit long for the effort, and perhaps fails to deliver a suitable payoff for taxing its viewer’s attention span.

Given this film presumes a certain type of audience, and may yet alienate within that niche, it’s no wonder Anonymous came and left theatres without an abundance of fanfare. However its tendency to explore the psychology of the writer, the compulsive need to write and be recognized, will no doubt resonate with anybody who has ever put pen to paper. As well, English lit/History aficionados who are willing to accept this movie as historical fiction will find something to their taste.

Anonymous will not find the Bard’s broad appeal, nor that of Shakespeare in Love. Nevertheless, it remains a beautifully assembled and generally well executed film. Those with even a passing interest in Shakespeare, spectacle, or historical drama would do well to give this film a watch.