Black Panther (2018) #MovieReview

I don’t know if anyone really cares what a white blogger has to say about Black Panther but hey, I really enjoyed it and I compulsively need you to know, and why.

Everybody acknowledges how crucial this film is, especially now, and especially for the African American community who, in the wake of Trump and his vile retrofit of the GOP, are in very real danger of being marginalised and maligned all over again. That’s a double-edged sword, especially for the virgin adaptation of a relatively unknown IP; like a lead balloon, Black Panther is almost too big to fail.

Luckily, Ryan Coogler’s Marvel debut is good irrespective of the context. Black Panther is a wonderful first showing for black film in the superhero blockbuster arena, brimming with the kind of energy we all guiltily recognise has been biding and building for decades, just waiting for the right conditions to breach and blow the competition out of the water. You need look no further than the Wakandans’ face paint and costumes to see how much time, dedication and artistry went into this royal bonanza. There is simply so much creative expression and imagination in the film that it is both a delight to watch and a shame that, if we’re being honest, racism has held these talents back for so long. In my opinion, the general audience has been ready and waiting for something like this for years, and now that we have it, we need to make sure people see it; not just because it’s culturally significant, but because it’s a fucking good film.

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Black Panther is undeniably political, but never ham-fisted or clumsy. Don’t get me wrong- I have all the time in the world for frank cinema about racism, both historical and present, but I think it works to the film’s advantage that the racial component is ancillary to the personal drama of the characters, as well as the world-building and political intrigue of the fantasy state of Wakanda. Instead of labouring the point, Coogler opts to ground the narrative in the unadulterated racial context of the present day, highlighting it where appropriate, but only in service of the story. By acknowledging black reality, but not anchoring the entire film in racial politics, Coogler avoids making ‘the black superhero movie’ and instead makes a superhero movie, with black characters and quintessentially pan-African esthetics and themes. Obviously Black Panther is an explicit response to under-representation, but if we uncomplicate it, it is still, fundamentally, good. I guess what I’m saying is, in a colourless vacuum, Black Panther would still be a fantastic film; it acknowledges its cultural responsibility, but it doesn’t rely on the sour, perennial state of modern Hollywood to leave its mark- it doesn’t ride on the coattails of social justice: it puts in the work and stands on its own hind legs.

By simply presenting the reality, with no lens, undistorted and unpoliticised, Coogler is able to sell an implausible premise and make a controversial, highly pertinent and political subject fun and accessible, without pulling any punches. There are jokes- there are ‘whiteboys’, a Fear of a Black Planet poster (‘Tell ’em ’bout it’) and an explicit reference to slavery, but none of it feels heavy-handed, or forced. Black Panther is prideful, not aggrandised; a celebration looking forward, not a complaint looking back (even though black people are indisputably entitled to feeling aggrieved for the foreseeable future- slavery and segregation is not something we will ever ‘get over’, nor should we). Yes, there are flaws, in the narrative, in the logic of the story, but what gets my back up are the people thinking they can tank the entire message of a two-hundred million dollar leviathan like Black Panther with an internet comment.

Most of the criticism of the film has centred around Wakanda and how, essentially, it is an Africanised inversion of a white-nationalist utopia, with a racially homogenous population, traditionalist values and strictly closed borders. My response would be thus: Wakanda isn’t aggressively insular- it’s simply invisible. The Wakandan ethos may be vague and a little confused, but it is certainly not about racial supremacy- it is a reply to a hypothetical, where a nation, regardless of colour, have singular access to an infinite reserve of magical bloody rocks. Unlike Hungary, or the US, Wakanda didn’t develop in step with the rest of the world, so there is not the same expectation that they participate in the global community. The second major criticism is that the explanation of Wakanda is actually unflattering to African people; the Wakandans didn’t develop at an accelerated rate because of who they are, but because of the pot luck of putting down roots atop a gargantuan deposit of vibranium. Again, this says more about the critics themselves than the film. No, the Wakandans are not more advanced because they’re Wakandan, because race and nationality have nothing to do with intelligence; history is a story of chance. Wakanda is no different- the environmental conditions controlled and ultimately benefited the civilisation, not the other way around. The mindset of people making that argument tells its own story.

Either way, logic in a movie about a prince from an invisible space-age city in the middle of Africa dressing up like a panther and flying around in a UFO is unsurprisingly not important. Vibranium may be a deus ex machina, a shovel for digging Wakanda, T’Challa and his family out of problematic situation after problematic situation, but it is also a powerful metaphor for the rich cultural resources of Africa and its diaspora that have been ignored by the occident and ostracised from the cosmopolitan conversation for so long. Well now, we have Coogler and Boseman and the launchpad for a series of Afrocentric superhero movies that could overtake the Caucasian tentpoles that have dominated the screen for so long. And I couldn’t be more excited.

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Carry on Courtney: How a RuPaul alumni brought body politics to the forefront of national television, and fought to keep them there

Alienated by complacency, hypocrisy, and good old-fashioned bigotry, the Big Brother house is the last place Australian drag queen Shane Jenek/Courtney Act probably wants to be right now. Losing his friends in the most recent triple eviction, Shane has been completely isolated and castigated by the older members of the house. For having a passionate, genuine voice on unpopular subjects, he has been lambasted: bitched about by an openly gay dancer, dressed-down by a soapstar who lived her whole life in the closet, and nominated by a ‘social influencer’ who claims to be a feminist, but is happy to call a retired Tory MP who vocally opposes a woman’s right to choose ‘Grandma’. Disgusting.

As other (commonsensical) viewers have already said and tweeted and blogged, this is not about Shane as a person: it is about how he exposes his housemates’ prejudices, hypocrisy and latency, and reminds them that they have a responsibility, as B/C/D-list celebrities, to conduct themselves properly and in keeping with the liberal trajectory of British society, a media-focused, sexually emancipated society that, by and large, has put them where they are today. Clearly they do not want to face up to that reality.

Ergo, this is not about Shane- it is about his housemates, and their own insecurities.

For Wayne and Amanda, gay rights worked: they have what they want. They are satisfied and now they’re sick of hearing about it. Shane L feels some kind of myopic comradery with Ann because they’re both Catholic; Malika is onside but fed up; Ashley is playing to win and Jess Impiazzi is…

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Despite all of this, despite Ann’s targeted campaign against him, Shane has managed to demonstrate something invaluable to the British public: that being a woman doesn’t make you any less of a man.

As Shane himself said prior to the triple eviction, he doesn’t mind people (namely Andrew!) sexualising and objectifying Courtney- if anything, that’s what he wants. Courtney exists to be perused and enjoyed by the public- she is an entertainment, a spectacular visual creation, and an expression of Shane J’s inner-femininity, taken to the nth degree. She is a hypersexed, hyper-feminine figurine; a living Barbie doll with big hair, big eyes, big, full lips, a big butt and big boobs. But, when the tape came off, he always went back to being ‘one of the boys’, and was afforded the same level of mutual respect and fraternity that he would have if he’d never even put on a bit of guyliner. For the longest time, how Shane was positioned on the show, how he could be a she but sit so squarely in the male camp, was game-changing and inspiring to watch. Shane had a lad from the North fawning over him; was able to educate the infamous Love Island contestant Jonny Mitchell about feminism; was remarkably close to a comedian who made a name for himself harassing women on Vine. I think it is both wonderful and worrying that, in the apparent ‘year of the woman’, a man dressed as one has been a better ambassador for women, feminism, the LGBTQ+ community, and modern liberal values than any of the other young women on the show, the sole female politician, and even an MTF transperson.

What Shane J and his fellow Ru alumni have done- although maybe not as successfully and accessibly- is obliterate the arbitrary sociosexual boundary between male and female. Shane J/Courtney has shown the British public that the body is anything you want it to be- in the vein of academic somatechnics, it is a social tool for expression, individuation and communication- and as a result has gained loyal followers of both sexes both inside and out of the Big Brother house. And I count myself among them.

The Hungry Eye of the Late, Great Hungarian-Indian Artist Amrita Sher-Gil (1913-41) #ArtHistory

Well-practised in everything from Impressionism to Minimalism and Modern Realism, the late Amrita Sher-Gil is widely recognised as one of the greatest female artists of the early 20th century and a pivotal figure in modern Indian art.

Born to an aristocratic Indian estate owner and his Hungarian wife, Marie Antoinette (no word of a lie), Sher-Gil was educated in Paris, where she was inspired by post-Impressionist painters like Paul Gauguin, and was able to travel throughout both Europe and Indochina. During her travels she was influenced by a wide array of regional art and culture that she would later incorporate into her own work. Her mixed ethnic background provided her with a then-rare transcontinental perspective, allowing her to bridge the cultural and visual gulf between Europe and the pre-independent colonies of Indochina. Travelling through India, Sher-Gil was influenced by Western Indian Miniature Painting, a tradition of small, but colourful handmade paintings depicting religious and literary scenes, mostly from Sanskrit and folk literature. Like tapestries, characters are rarely, if ever, given front face, generally depicted with side profile.

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The Emperor Bahadur Shah I enthroned (circa 1707)

The Ajanta and nearby Ellora cave monuments, two rock-cut cave complexes in Mharashtra state in the western portion of India, influenced Sher-Gil’s work as well, introducing earthy browns and reds to her already extensive palette, and changing the way in which the painter engaged with composition and orientation in her later work, particularly in Minimalism. The Hindu-Buddhist excavations, now UNESCO World Heritage sites, are full of beautiful stonework, and the cave walls and ceilings are decorated with carvings and paintings of early Hindu and Buddhist civilisation, fables and religious and historical figures.

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‘King Mahajanaka, having heard the wise words of the sage and returned to the palace, decides to renounce the wordly life’ in Ajanta Cave 1 (7th Century)

Despite- or perhaps in spite of- her privileged, bourgeoisie background, Sher-Gil possessed a keen eye for the emotional experience of the proletariat, painting the peasants and laborers she met during her travels through Europe.

Here are a few of my favourite Sher-Gil’s, how I think they fit into her general ouevre, and what we should get out of them (if not everything we possibly can!):

Nude (1933)

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During her time in Paris at Ecole des Beaux Arts, Sher-Gil painted several friends, family members, fellow students and professional models. Nude is one of those paintings- an elegant oil on canvas that highlights Sher-Gil’s gentle, yet bold brushwork. Like many of her other portraits, Sher-Gil portrays her subject as both passive- naked and asleep- and engaging, emboldening and subsequently empowering her naked body with chiaroscuro and sfumato. By prioritising her female subject over the bright pink Oriental gown on the bed next to her, Sher-Gil emphasises that the female form is the nucleus of the painting.

Hill Scene (1938)

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Hill Scene is like a reinterpretation of the Garden of Gethsemane, where the disciples have been replaced by Indian figures in cloaks. Painted before Sher-Gil left for her final visit to Hungary, the painting is seen as a transitional phase in her work, demonstrating her late interest in smudgy impressionism and muted colours, capturing organic scenes against muddy, melancholy skies.

Winter (1939)

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Painted in Zebegeny, Hungary, this oil on canvas reimagines the European winter scene as a starkly minimalist, monochromatic wasteland of harsh whites and blacks, dead trees, a railway line and a lone crow perched on a branch. With oil work like Winter, Sher-Gil reversed the one-way colonial dialogue of early-20th century art by ‘orientalising’ the occident, reducing one of Europe’s most important topographic images to a bleak, oppressive, and aesthetically orthodox, minimalist landscape, devoid of life or energy.

The Merry Cemetery (1939)

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Painted in 1939, the year Sher-Gil finally returned to India, The Merry Cemetery is an avant-garde impression of the eponymous Merry Cemetery in Romania that plays with perspective, composition and scale. The cemetery is known for its colourful tombstones covered in crude drawings and bad poetry; however, much like with Winter, Sher-Gil decolourises the location, geometrically reimagining the gaudy graveyard in the orientational style of Mexican folk art, where the components of a scene are stacked on top of each other. Additionally, in choosing the limited orientation of a portrait, Sher-Gil condenses and confusciates the space. Looking like something from German-expressionist classic The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, it is no surprise that Cemetery was displayed as part of a year-long exhibition in Munich, dedicated to Sher-Gil and her family.

The Walking Dead S08E08 ‘How It’s Gotta Be’ #TVReview

I felt a lot of different ways about last night’s episode. Optimistically, it was a return to form; cynically, it was more of a weary nod to how the show used to be, when the series had competent showrunners, and a dedicated production team who knew what works and what doesn’t. In a year and a half- which is the blink of an eye on modern TV, where intellectual properties are born and die like mayflies- TWD has plummeted from a premium cable drama to a veritable mess of Swiss fucking cheese and Flash Gordon schlock, replete with digital zooms and jeep chases. For some ineffable reason, the team can no longer execute on what is, on paper, some great material, supported by some of the most lauded source material in Western graphic novel writing. The TWD team have every advantage- a magic bag of money, legions of (especially) vocal fans and scores of talent from every sphere of the industry- but Gimple and co. are rarely able to do anything right, or with even marginal competence.

At this point, the show’s sole surviving strength is its inarguably professional cast, who swallow the swill the writers’ room faxes them every week and do their best to give it some je ne sais quoi, like Josh McDermitt, who doggypaddles through the oceans of nonsensical Foghorn Leghorn Gimple and his team shovel-feed Eugene week in and week out to give us something emotional, and raw.

The only character (and actor) untouched by the clinical approach AMC have taken to the show over the last year or so is Rick, Mr Andrew Lincoln, who is still the same old dog with old tricks that age like whiskey. Regardless of the various catastrophes happening in writers’ rooms C7 and F12, on subplot 3B or for Lennie James’ transition team to Fear the Walking Dead for Q2 of the next fiscal year, the crew still know how to execute on our favourite Python-wielding sheriff- give him some people to punch and a couple of dry one-liners and you’ve got yourself an episode. Rick is honestly a stroke of genius- entire episodes can ride on the coat tails of one or two scenes with Officer Friendly. Take the penultimate episode last week; despite a lot of meandering and the atrocious culmination of Daryl’s third ‘Fucking everything up because I’m the wildcard’ arc- where he crashed a dump truck into a building and helped The Saviors escape because… they couldn’t have just shot all of the walkers before?- one scene of Rick throwing down in his unmentionables did the job. Andrew Lincoln was a real grab for the show, and in my opinion, The Walking Dead is only still on the air because he likes the size of his monthly paycheque and hasn’t found anything more exciting to do. For now.

I’m not going to talk about the plot because very little of consequence happened. That might sound nonsensical because ‘Didn’t I just sit and watch sixty something minutes of Negan systematically breaking the whole resistance?’ Yeah, that’s what I thought too, but no, we didn’t- all Negan did was empty two settlements and send their populations running to the hilltop, which Simon left inexplicably unmonitored. Under the leadership of a woman Negan widowed, who shot at him eight episodes ago, who has thirty of his men in an animal pen. Not that that seems to matter because Negan clearly has thousands of people at his disposal if he can lose hundreds of them to walkers and a war and then simultaneously annex two settlements and track, surround and reroute a convoy of trucks on a road in the middle of Georgia in one night. Negan has a finger in every pie, and every time someone slices one off with a cake knife he regenerates it, and when they take the knife to his wrist he grows another hand.

The fight between Negan and Rick was obviously fantastic (if not a little silly), as was Maggie’s execution of Pissed Jeans. Don’t hold it against me, but I even liked the lame montages of the ensemble’s faces that bookended the episode (what can I say, I’m a sucker for broodiness, and Tony/Ridley Scott guitar solos!) but apart from that, there was very little to write home about. Or in a review.

The big ‘loss’ of the night was popeye, baby boy Grimes, everybody’s surrogate son, from Michonne to JDM- and I don’t know who’ll be more devastated.
This is a tricky one, because according to the online rumour mill- which is never wrong- Gimple told Mr Riggs that he had at least three more years on the show. Subsequently, he and his family up and left Timbuktu and bought a house in Georgia, in the immediate vicinity of several key filming locations. But with Carl currently walking the fun run for Flavourtown in the sewer system underneath Alexandria, it doesn’t look like the boy wonder is going to be filming much in the next few months, let alone the next few years. Now that bites.

Ultimately, Season 8A has been in turns simple entertainment and simply embarrassing. The Forbes review of the midseason finale called it a ‘(bad) joke’; I don’t entirely disagree, but unlike most online sites who still review the show on a weekly basis because it’s easy to nitpick, I actually want The Walking Dead to get back on its feet. This show has given us so many memorable moments, so many great episodes and some of the strongest commentary on moral relativity and human purpose in the history of television. Ironically, much like its staple droves of roving undead deadmen, TWD has deteriorated into an empty shell of what it once was, shuffling on for AMC shareholders and licensed iOS games, but not for the original, honest vision of Kirkman, Darabont and his successors, bar Gimple. I don’t like jumping on bandwagons, but the online fandom are right: Scott Gimple has gutted this show. He is not an artist; he is a corporate shill, brought in by the network to maximise the show’s profitability, to suck in the lowest common denominator with cheap cliffhangers and major but ultimately unearned deaths, and to turn The Walking Dead franchise into The Walking Dead brand. AMC: don’t reduce this series to mugs and figurines- don’t waste the source material you were so very lucky to acquire, before HBO or any other premium cable network who would have given Negan his fucks. Make a show worthy of the books, and of what it was for so long, to so many dedicated fans who cannot accept that this show is past the pale.

The Walking Dead S8E05 ‘The Big U’ #TVReview

This was everything I guessed it would be- the kind of deep human drama that attracted me to The Walking Dead in the first place.

‘The Big U’ was a throwback to the earlier seasons of the show in more ways than one. There were echoes of Rick and Shane during Rick and Daryl’s squabble over the bag of dynamite; guts were back in fashion for Father Gabriel and Negan, and the latter’s demagogic reception back in Sanctuary hearkened back to The Governor, duping the whole of Woodbury and presenting himself as their father-protector, when, in fact, he was half-blind leading the blind and terrified into a war over nothing.

Season eight has been plagued with problems, from latent cinematography to a needlessly abstruse plot. I’m more than happy to admit that because I love this show, and I want it to succeed; what that means today is telling hard truths, and the reality is that the show hasn’t been hitting the mark for quite a while. However, ‘The Big U’ was a mahussive stride in the right direction.

Episode five was a return to the kind of prying dialogue that character dramas thrive on- and make no mistake: that is what TWD is and always has been. Maybe it’s veered a little too far into character worship over the last few years (real obsessives, Caryls and Richonnes and Carzekiels, probably helped make the writers feel infallible, like they couldn’t whiff so late in the game), but at its core, TWD is about well-drawn, multi-dimensional characters interacting and fighting and struggling to survive. In the Kirkmanverse, a kind of perverted mortality- the dead-alive- catalysed a global evolution, terraforming (at the very least) the greater US overnight. The first wave weeded out the weak that both goodies and baddies on the show are oh so keen to diatribe on (Negan in his early days, separating the wheat from the chaff, sounds uncannily like Rick arriving at Alexandria and redefining the rules for survival- what happened, what’s happening, and what needs to happen). But where the apocalypse was the death knoll for people who couldn’t put up, so shut up forever, it sharpened the holdouts into human daggers like Carol and Daryl, whose sightlines could slice you in two. Regardless, whichever way you fall, inevitably you’ll always reflect; on who you were before ‘this all started’, and who you became because of it.

Everybody in this episode was stellar- from Jayson Smith to the delectably ferocious Steven Ogg- but Jeffrey Dean Morgan was exceptional. JDM did a wonderful job bringing Negan back into the fold with a *crack!* and a *thwack!*, and of stripping Negan down to his component parts- anger, more anger, frustration, even more anger, sarcasm, gross axioms, dicks and pussies, and something desperately sad, rotting away underneath the veneer of his shiny leather jacket, his white white tee and his even whiter teeth, almost always on gleeful display; and not just Lucille, no- because she’s his weapon of choice and the person/memory/thing that literally ‘gives (him) strength’. There’s more to Negan, and the prospect of there actually being more to someone or something in this show is indescribably refreshing for a jaded fan like me who misses the rich psychosomaticism of the show’s early days, and prays every Monday for the terrible gunplay to go the way of the dinosaurs. The idea that this horrible man might have some depth to him is much more enticing to me than however else they plan to adapt ‘All Out War’.

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Jayson Warner Smith as Gavin, Austin Amelio as Dwight, Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Negan – The Walking Dead (Season 8, Episode 5) – Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC

Everything is this episode just worked, and resonated with me in a way that started to feel unfamiliar after season seven. This is how you make a show like this work: give it some oomph and put the characters we’ve gone the whole hog with in peril- not a series of nameless faceless extras. No more pratfalls- give me a convincing prat, flesh them out, and then document the blow by blow of their obliteration. It worked with Shane, it worked with The Governor- it worked with The Claimers, The Termites, Grady and The Wolves. And if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. AMC don’t need to engineer anything new- they just need to go to what worked in the first place.

It was, honest to Gabriel’s lazy god, unbelievably satisfying to see Negan, someone the show has dedicated hours and hours to developing, flummoxed, and stuck, with an equal. It was so great to see him have a normal conversation without his goons, without the pretext of who he supposedly is- just a simple one-on-one, unburdened by cojones.

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Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Negan, Seth Gilliam as Father Gabriel Stokes – The Walking Dead (Season 8, Episode 5) – Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC

(N.B. So Negan didn’t get to do his helicopter line from the comics, but he does get an actual bloody helicopter. So that’s something. Good trade I would say- for him; maybe not so much for anyone else.)

Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus #GameReview

A topless, HEAVILY pregnant Polish revolutionary drenched in Nazi blood, shredding through a platoon of Stormtroopers with Sturmgewehrs might be the most glorious thing I’ve seen in a game. And I scaled Mount Olympus during The (other) Great Flood (i.e. I played God of War III like every other bozo with a PlayStation who wanted to feel like they made the right choice).

Set directly after the events of MachineGames’ 2014 softboot, Wolfenstein: The New OrderThe New Colossus takes place in an alternate timeline in which the Reich developed the atom bomb first, dropped it on New York, and forced the Allies- even the United States- to surrender. America and the Free World’s only hope is a troupe of untermensch (wanted POWs, women, Jews, African Americans and handicapped people) who call themselves The Resistance. In actuality, they’re a desperate, motley band of wannabe-terrorists with a single ace in the hole- you: busyboy B.J. Blascowtiz.

Wolfenstein II is a wonderful and timely homage to the original Wolfenstein series and its ilk, like Doom and Duke Nukem, who pioneered the FPS genre in the early 90s, and a throwback to a time before matchmaking and lootboxes, where shooters were a power trip, not a .server powwow for preteens (and a cash register for mammoth publishers). Health regenerates up to 20 (of 200); there are no inventory slots- your weapon-wheel is the baby and the bathwater of the commandeered Nazi U-boat from The New Order, Eva’s Hammer; and yes, The New Colossus is singleplayer only. Which is infinitely refreshing. There are challenge rooms, secondary objectives and collectibles, but ultimately, The New Colossus is a retro shooter through and ficken through. And the benefits of that decision show; instead of wasting their time on compulsory multiplayer game modes and maps, developer MachineGames were able to pool all of their resources for the only mode- the story mode. As a result, every level, room, weapon and enemy is meticulously modelled, technically and narratologically sound, and a boon to the central catharsis of blowing up Nazis.

Just like its mucho mucho leading man, World War II veteran and all-round, all-American superman Captain Billy ‘B.J.’ Blascowitz, The New Colossus is of one mind, tough as Kreisau steel, practically unfaltering, and gagging for vindication, from New New Orleanian ghettos to the mutter of all the warships in the Reich’s flying fleet, the Ausmerzer, returning villain Frau Engel’s floating fortress.

There are a few mechanical and technical niggles. For one, loading times are far too long for what they have to load. There are no load times outside of death- cutscenes mask the transitions from level to level- so the only thing the game has to reload are some of the enemies you just chewed your way through before taking a temporary dive. Furthermore, inconsistent visual feedback for when you take damage means you never really know if you’re getting hit, where from, and if you die why. The equally inconsistent radial vacuum for ammo, armour and health packs is a problem too- sometimes you have to make a manual input to pick up items, and others you’ll hoover them up automatically. Some of the backtracking and the occasional- but still aggravating- slog through room after room of inevitable Deutsch cheese in some of the less inspired levels hurts the pace of the gameplay, but, overall, the excellent, hyperactive combat, the blooming, arresting visuals, the imaginative environs and the constant push to keep sprinting and firing and looting and sprinting and firing alleviate any contingent frustrations and urge you on, through the hiccups and back out onto the killing floor of annexed America.

And the predominately linear gameplay works, too. Although Eva’s Hammer serves as a hub between the different areas you unlock through the course of the campaign, for the most part, The New Colossus marches forward confidently on a level by level basis, bookended by flashy B-movie-style cutscenes with terrific VO and motion capture (particularly from Kane & Lynch alumni Brian Bloom who steals the show as player-character Cap.) The Polish lady on the verge of labour, Anya (B.J.’s indefatigable fiancé) is a standout too. She reminds me of my girlfriend, which is why I fucking love my girlfriend.

The whole experience is a welcome break from the never-ending sixth and seventh generation (primarily Ubi/EA) trends of liberating outposts and collecting fucking pelts; driving from one side of the map to the other to pad the campaign out under the guise of player freedom and agency. Guess what- being able to move around a big, boring space is not liberating; being able to approach a small, complex space in a multitude of meaningful and rewarding ways is. Not every game needs to be a sandbox- Anakin didn’t like it for a reason. And while it isn’t always rough and it isn’t always coarse, it is almost universally homogenous, wry, and vacant.

So, just to tie off every loose end- by which I mean Richard bloody Spencer- oh mein Gott, ja, The New Colossus is absolutely- and contemporarily- political.

Never was there a menace more malicious, more mechanical, and more terrifying than the Nazi war-machine. But imagine if 1945 hadn’t been the end of it? Oh, you can? Well that’s probably because it wasn’t, because the longwave reverberations of Hitlerism can still be felt today- most notably in Drumpf’s MAmerica(GA). And therein lies the magic of MachineGames’ finished product: none of it is politically, socially or culturally far-fetched. Nazified America is eerily familiar to anyone living in the States today, or anyone anywhere else in the world with a Twitter account; the way pretty white people on the streets of Roswell talk about cocktail parties where they’ll be selling slaves, the way the American arm of the Reich is funnelling money and energy into radical nationalist organisations like the Ku Klux Klan, is perturbingly inside the box. It’s sad to say, but MachineGames probably didn’t have to look too hard for inspiration; a quick glance at The Hill headlines every morning would have been enough of a fillip for each day of the development process.

The New Colossus is, without a doubt, the best shooter to come out in the last few years, one of the best games Bethesda has ever published, and the pinnacle of the prodigious series. As IGN wrote in a 2008 list of characters they would want to see in an ultimate fighting game, B.J. ‘fired the first shot in the first-person-shooter wars’, and by god, if there has to be a last I hope he fires that one too.

BJ_Blazkowicz

Hugh Hefner obituary

You know what Hugh Hefner’s legacy is? Me waiting in line in Santander this morning for a smelly octaganarian in a hat to stop flirting with the ‘lovely girl’ at the counter- a thirty-something clerk for one of the largest financial conglomerates in the world, at the busiest bank branch in Basingstoke. Not a child- a qualified adult woman. It is fucking staggering how quickly the papier-calque guisology of ‘sweetheart’s ‘young lady’s and ‘love’s peters away when old entitled men realise that the young woman behind the counter is not interested in flirting with someone twice her age. Maybe initially, because after all- and isn’t this the fundamental flaw for gender equality in service jobs- an employee doesn’t want to be rude to the people who reify their basest utility. Or lose their job. But after ten minutes, when the other customers waiting in line start to get a little shifty, they need Mr Simpla to bugger off. And that’s when the fogies get pushy and start asking for names. It’s essentially the geriatric substitute for calling a girl in a club an uptight cunt and throwing your drink over her when she says no, she wouldn’t like to dance thank you very much. A few generations ago you could at least say thanks for the War, but the boomers didn’t do a damn thing for any of us, and now they want to drool over millennials until respiratory failure puts them in the ground they told us to frack.

Hugh Hefner, his media empire and all its disgusting offshoots, from pinups to borderline criminal modern pornography, obliterated the idea of female sexual agency and monofied consent. The gradual accession of pornography into mainstream culture transmogrified every single new modern woman into a sexual outlet for dapper American and Anglo-European men. No wonder Hefner was engaged in such a bitter and unwittingly publicised war with third-wave feminism. In the Playboy Perververse, no is not a word.

Playboy repackaged cultural Western misogyny as a snazzy neoliberal product for the baying heteronormative market. Hugh Hefner and his gross cumpire codified the visual representation of women in Western media irrevocably, and conditioned generations of men to expect easy sex from every woman they encounter. Hugh Hefner was no icon; he was a usurious curmudgeon who masqueraded as the harbinger of the 20th century sexual revolution to smuggle damaging monosexual pornography into the mainstream, and irreversibly conflate female fame with female sexual appeal. Nowadays, it’s a tacit rite of passage for every popular actress to do a shoot for GQ or Sports Illustrated. And we have Hefner to thank for that.

Sayanora you gynophobic pig.

mother!fucker – mother! #filmreview

What a shitshow. What a circus. What an orgy of biblical fucking violence. What a carnival. What a parade of the worst that humanity has to offer, concentrated into what will no doubt go down in history as one of the most shocking and extreme sequences in mainstream cinema. I’m not too sure if Aronofsky was trying to secure his title as king of the nauseating horror-drama, or if the last twenty minutes of mother! is simply the inevitable product of trying to condense the complex and colossal horrors of human history into one cinematic sequence, like a fever dream, keening at fever pitch to the beat of the World Heart.

Darren: Cronenberg this is not, Lynch YOU are not, but a poor man’s von Trier mother! most certainly fucking is.

mother! is The Second Coming of art house shock schlock- a loose subgenre propped up by popular New Extremist and Dogme 95 films: one-note cinematography, lacklustre direction from a Jersey Shore auteur, shoddy acting and shockingly bad screenwriting. mother! is to the big old book of Jewicide and Jaysus what Baz Luhrman’s 1996 Midsummer Night’s Nightmare Romeo+Juliet was to Shakespeare and English literary heritage as a-hole: a penny-and-dime rehash of the oldest story in one of the post-classical world’s oldest and most culturally, socially and (unfortunately) POLITICALLY significant texts. Essentially, mother! is Biblical SparkNotes for snot-nosed movie buffs to slather over endlessly with other snot-nosed movie buffs- like me! And slobber we will, because beyond the very ham-fisted, on-the-rhinoplastic-nose Christian symbolism, as well as the lazy environmental-cum-theological subtext, there is quite a lot of overnight labour baggage to unpack here- most compelling of which is the maddening hoard of almost entirely credited extras who turn her and Him’s quaint little all-American home on the prairie into a wooden attestation to the folly and horror of the human condition.

Jennifer Lawrence doesn’t do anything noteworthy with the material; she spends almost the entire film reeling from showroom to showroom like a doughy-eyed incubator, asking people to leave. Lawrence is just another casualty in a long line of sullied Hollywood sweethearts; to me, she’ll always be the tweenage role model who betrayed millions of adolescent female fans by taking sexually degrading pictures of herself, which were invariably stolen and shared online during the 2014 ‘Fappening’. Maybe it isn’t my place to judge, but if you’re Katniss Everdeen to a global audience of impressionable young women, you should probably treat yourself with the same level of respect that your breakout role taught so many young girls to have for themselves. Going on that diatribe you can probably understand why I find it hard to like anything she does. And what a shame when Silver Linings Playbook is still my favourite David O. Russell film, and one of the few portrayals of adult mental illness that I would wholeheartedly recommend.

As other (much better and actually popular) movie finickers like RedLetterMedia have already said, it is downright bewildering that mother! managed to secure a wide theatrical release from a major distributor, when the movie rubber-bands between an indulgent chore and unbearable disturbia. But kudos to Paramount for supporting Aronofsky and fighting his corner after the pretty predictable, boring backlash the movie has received, even if the writer/director is a pretentious, lip-flapping muggle with no talent on paper and very little talent behind the camera; it was a real treat for a movie buff like me to hear people leaving the theatre, TALKING about the film until they were out of earshot. I know my girlfriend and I argued about it the whole way home (because she thought it was indefensible sexist shite and I thought it was a wonderfully amoral merry-go-round of horrible violence and a timely parable about the human desecration of Earth), so I can only imagine how long it stuck in however many minds for the rest of the night and through til morning. And that is an achievement. Say what you will about mother!, but at least people are saying SOMETHING.

Mastodon ‘Toe to Toes’ Track Review

I thought anybody who ‘yeah-eah’s had run out of ideas, but obviously I was wrong.

‘Toe to Toes’ is like an elegy for the plucky but unlucky protagonist (or protagonists depending on who you talk to or what day of the week it is) of Mastodon’s nigh-on twenty-year-long, colourful discographical narrative. Over almost two decades of hi-lo-hi with a Grammy nom and a head injury, Mastodon have done pretty much everything to their Eddies.

British cheesemakers Iron Maiden popularised the use of mascots in metal and popular music as a whole with the ‘zombie-like’ Eddie the Head

From a rambunctious reimagineering of Herman Melville’s Wet Hot American Summer, over rolling waves, into a great white mouth and along the long intestine of the leviathan on the Georgian metalheads’ second album of the same name, to cosmonautical freefall through the spacetime continuum into the body of Rasputin on progmetal paralydrama Crack the Skye, a cosmic concept album for drummer Brann Dailor’s late sister, Troy and co. have transmogrified their perennial protagonist every which way but loose: dead prey after dead prey for Mesozoic lizards in the sky and the octopi of Middle Life; a dummy, ventriloquised by gold and blow, on a paradimensional stage in a rock show for the Old Ones on polarising, Lovecraftian glamrockathon Once More ‘Round the Sun; and finally, a roaming cadaver, wandering through the empty desert beyond the hairline of time on the band’s seventh and most recent release, Emperor of Sand.

‘Toe to Toes’ is the teaser for an upcoming four-track compilation of outtakes entitled Cold Dark Place. While the other three songs on the release are leftovers from the 2013/14 sessions for OM’RtS, the lead single is the lone offcut from the making of EoS, and in my opinion, it is easily the best thing to come out of all of Mastodon’s time in the studio between 2016 and 2017, most of which was utterly fucking squandered on turning Mastodon songs into Stone Sour songs- like muzzling a good dog and teaching it to shit on the carpet when it used to open doors.

To me, ‘Toe to Toes’ seems to be the first time we’ve actually heard from Mastodon’s sonic mascot about being Mastodon’s sonic mascot; he (and he’s a he for the sake of simplicity and probability) knows the Hairy Bikers who sing him into life, and he knows that his seven-hour lifespan is a loop of the same 77 stories, bellowed, blastbeat and tremeloed into life by people with problems for people with problems, because the basic trial of Neanderthalean survival is the perfect cipher for the convoluted mush of modern life.

The single is remarkably fresh and flush with new, braver and better ideas. Opening with a commendably underproduced, two-bar star-spangled jangle, the song crashes headfirst into a frothing seastorm of viscous riffage, presided over by layers and layers of the Hair in Chief, Mr Sanders, roaring in place of the mouthless main character of the band’s discography and finally acknowledging his metaphorical metafictional prison. Other than the premature chorus, lyrically, the song is standard progmetal fare- claws and messages written in the sand in ‘your own blood’- but the cliches are educatedly elevated by stonking instrumentation. I could see Brann, Brent or Mastodon as a whole soundtracking something better than Jonah Hex in the future.

Thank god for the five-second rule, because it would have been a crime to leave this on the cutting-room floor. I can’t wait for Cold Dark Place to drop.

Stuck in a Rut: What I Came Out of so Maybe You Can Come out Now.

I wasn’t going to publish this. I wrote it for myself, to explain to myself why I was feeling the way I was and how none of it was true. If my brain would only let me think about how broken it was then that’s what I was going to do. But by doing it well, I could show it just how wrong it was, and prove to myself that I was actually okay.

Now, I am publishing it, because of what happened with Chester Bennington. I am open about my issues- if the conversation goes that way. Otherwise, it rarely comes up because, like most people with mental illnesses, I’ve gotten very good at covering it up and getting on with my day to day. And a sick day can always be a cold.

But after what happened with Chester, another casualty after Chris Cornell from the same world, for pretty much the same sorry reason, I think it’s only right that everyone with a loose screw adds their story to the conversation and does everything they can to keep it loud and, hopefully, helpful, so that nobody has to feel ignored, or unlike, or like they’re shouting into a void. I never really liked Linkin Park; I thought they were kind of embarassing- something that mental illness is very much notSo I’m not going to be embarassed, and I’m going to share with you what hurt me the most this year.

Less of a rut and more of a crevasse.

I’ve just finished a BA Film and English Lit degree and my brain is frazzled. Good parents, an unreasonably supportive girlfriend, late night trawls through Wikipedia and ‘consequently’ can only get you so far, and I found that out the hard way. I never really knew what it was to try; for so long, when something became a challenge I just gave up. I openly acknowledged that I was only interested in doing the things that I was already good at. Luckily, or maybe incidentally, that included a lot of my passions and interests- playing music, arguing and, for as long as I can remember, writing. But, in my final calendar year at university, 64s turned to 54s, and finally, a seafloor 53; by New Year, my confidence was shot.

It hasn’t recovered and, coupled with clinical GAD and ‘Pure O’ OCD (the fun one where you think everybody is trying to murder you), my final year turned into a NeverEnding Horror Story of late nights staring at blank Word documents, torturing myself with other, much more accomplished and substantial work- by both professional ‘adult’ critics and my former, ‘impeccable’ Year 2 self- and (if I’m going to do this I suppose I should be honest) suicidal thoughts. My GAD and OCD got so bad, had me doubting myself so completely, that I seriously started to consider what the point of it all was if I couldn’t do the only thing I was ever exceptionally good at.

Now that probably sounds dramatic but, for a kid who spent his tweenage years writing hundred-thousand word novels on the home computer, losing the ability to write was the most devastating thing imaginable. I remember I asked my mum when I was about eleven or twelve how many words were in a proper, proper book. She said about a hundred thousand, so I sat down and set myself a target of reaching six figures. When I ticked over 99,999 I stopped. I remember overwriting the last chapter for days just to clock those magic 0s (it was something to do with a dam flooding with the main character trapped inside, and I think the numbers gave him about four last laughs). Oh yeah: there were chapters, with individual titles and quotes from all-sorts, fictional or otherwise; a contents page and sketches, and anything else that a few hundred sides of A4 would soak up from my bulbous brain, burgeoning with faces and places and names and ways of making words sound so pretty where, now, they’re just ugly bothers that get in the way of saying what I really want to say.

I was always more interested in the big picture. I did it with my crappy books, I do it with my music, and I even did it with my BA Dissertation. For me, nothing beats finishing something, and getting to put my mark on the front: the title, the cover art; with my Dissertation it was the chapter headings- and I must have spent days deliberating between ‘Smashing’ or ‘Mashing’ for the ubertitle. In the end I went with both: ‘Smashing, Mashing and Anatomising the Body in Film’. It sounded good, but the essay itself was a convoluted mess. If I put my first draft and my seventh draft and the final thing I submitted somewhere in-between a tenth and eleventh side by side by side, it would be the picture of pettiness: they would be indistinguishable, save a few synonyms. But, to an obsessive narcissist, every word is the word, and every single thing you say has to be good enough to go on your gravestone.

The solution is simple to explain but very fucking difficult to realise. What you have to keep reminding yourself of is the indisputable fact that the misrememberings you make to justify your own self-loathing are all patent, lazy lies. You were never perfect- nobody is. You always felt like this- you always got tired and fed up; you always felt like a workhorse; you were never a rotunda of Dostoevskyian masterpieces. You are not the you you think you were; you were always the you you are, with the same foibles and scars, mortally limited talents and weaknesses. So stop beating yourself up- you’re a pink bag of guts and feelings, not a Slam Man.