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’.

the_walking_dead_season_8_episode_5_2
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.

the_walking_dead_season_8_episode_5_3
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.)

Advertisements

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 four 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 simply trying to secure his tacit hold on gut-wrenching drama, or if the last twenty minutes of mother! is the ineludible product of trying and failing inexorably to resolutely conflate the horrors of human history into a single, post-Lapsarian 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, that were invariably stolen and disseminated 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 an ineluctable 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, and consequently 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.

Baby Driver: iKowalski

This is half an op-ed and half a review with spoilers throughout.

It’s been a while since I wrote anything about film; I just finished a three-year Film and English degree and felt like I was justifiably tired of writing words about pictures on a screen, about words from a script, transcribed from the imagineerings of someone else’s head that I could never properly realise, especially if they couldn’t fully realise them for themselves with a (-) dollar budget. But Baby Driver (2017 (it still feels odd typing that, like we’re getting ahead of ourselves)) has pulled me practically tantruming from my slump because there is simply far too much to glean from it to pass up the op for me or my blog.

Suffice it to say (after I’ve already said it but) I just want to add to the already triple-point conversation surrounding Edgar Wright’s latest masterweerk. If there is anything to add. Obviously, because it’s still in theaters there hasn’t been much close analysis of the movie, so not much ‘why’ or ‘how’ to explain the 9 tens and a 6 it’s currently throning over on Rotten Tomatoes. So it occurs to me that that might be my way into the conversation, and my way to add something a little special. Because while I definitely don’t have a photographic memory, I would say I have a bit of a cinematic one, and what I already got from Baby Driver is enough for a throwaway piece on a blog no one reads.

Wright is the king of reincorporation: watch one of Wright’s films and then watch it again and you’ll start to pick up on all the clues, liberally peppered throughout the beginning of the movie to telegraph the key plot points of the rest. For example, in 2004 horror-comedy classic Shaun of the Dead, Ed’s plan to help Shaun get over his breakup is essentially the bare-bones of the whole story:

‘You know what we should do tomorrow? Keep drinking. We’ll have a Bloody Mary first thing, have a bite at the King’s Head, couple at the Little Princess, stagger back here and BANG, back at the bar for shots…’

The pair do keep drinking; they sleep into a very quick, English apocalypse and wake up hungover to two zombified people in the back garden of their shared house- an obese man and a bloody woman with a name-tag: ‘Mary’. They drive to Shaun’s mum’s house where her second husband and Shaun’s stepdad, the ‘King’, gets bit; they go to Shaun’s ex’s flat, the ‘Princess’- they ‘stagger’ like zombies through the hoard to get into the Winchester pub and BANG, Shaun has to shoot his mum with the rifle hanging over the bar after she turns into a zombabo. Finally, after the zombies breach the Winchester’s barricaded doors and get into the pub, Ed, Shaun and his ex, Liz, set fire to a row of shot glasses along the bar to keep them at bay while they pick them off with the gun.

Baby Driver is no different. Buddy’s (Jon Hamm) arc is foreshadowed throughout the movie by everything from dialogue to what comes on when Baby (Ansel Elgort) is flicking through the channels on TV.

Early on, Baby watches ten or so seconds of a show about bullfighting. At Bo’s Diner, Buddy’s wife Darling/Moniker/Monica tries to intimidate Bats (Jamie Foxx) and shut him up by telling him about Buddy’s potential for blind violence:

‘When my Buddy see red, all you see is black.’

Bats claps sardonically and asks if the whole thing was rehearsed. Over the course of the movie Buddy is recharacterised from a party-boy to a bull; so much so that, during the final action sequence in the parking garage, running on adrenaline and grief, a wounded Buddy drives at Baby like a barbed bull, goaded by bullets, his face lit up by the red tail lights on another crashed car. Baby leaps over Buddy’s car, causing him to miss and crash into a wall instead. It’s probably the most ludicrous action scene in the film, but it feels earned because the binarised metaphor of Baby the matador and Buddy the bull is sewn into the overarching narratology of the movie. And that is why Wright does it, and why he can mish-mash Baby, Bats and the second gang grand-theft-autoing a woman with a baby and a lame one-liner about heistman JD (Lanny Joon of Lost and Saints Row fame) leaving his shotgun behind at the scene of the crime. There is no tone and there is every tone- in a way, like many of his post-postmodern moviemaking contemporaries, Wright’s films are omnitonal.

A lot of people have talked about the music in the movie, and that’s fine, but I’d much rather talk about the actual headphones that are super-glued into Baby’s ears.

Baby’s earbuds are the Apple-age equivalent of Flintstone Gazoo; they are a coping mechanism- for Baby’s literal and symbolic tinnitus and intervolved trauma from the car-crash that killed his mother and abusive father, as well as the stress of his illegal work- and they represent his moral compass, which is why his co-conspirators are always trying to pull them out, change Baby’s song to their song, and why Bats calls them ‘phones’: because they are a hotline to his subconscious. Yes, ‘phones’ is a colloquialism, but the choice was probably conscious when we have two separate scenes of two different crooks messing with Baby’s headphones, and a third of Buddy getting Baby to pull out a different iPod and listen to Queen with him. They bob their heads together, and so, essentially, Baby dances with a/the devil- something Wright stresses again using reincorporation, when Buddy reappears at the parking lot and plays the same song through the speakers on a stolen cop car, just before he accelerates at Baby and his girlfriend, Deborah.

By jamming out with Buddy, Baby accepts that his cohorts are people too, and lets them into his space; he opens the floodgates, and his personal and criminal lives start to overlap. Such a small, simple scene, like two characters nodding along to a song together, carries a staggering amount of narratological and moral weight; of course, Wright has an incredibly entertaining and brutally original way of making the mundane- from a boring London borough in Shaun of to a Gloucestershirean village ‘of the Year’ in 2007’s Hot Fuzz– overexciting, compelling, and meaningful.

Fallout 4 ‘Nuka World’ Review

fo4_nukaworld_feature

Nuka World is essentially a New Vegas redux with god rays and castrated decision-making. From parlay at noon with a hick robot to the arid wastes that cut up the park grounds, Bethesda have gone out of their way to recapture the messy magic of Obsidian’s Nevadan dystopia. Unfortunately, they fly far and wide of the mark.

Fallout 4’s final buildout shirks everything that Far Harbor did so well in favour of blatant padding and asinine fetch quests. Howard and team manage to make Disneyland dull; the park is a blunge of old assets and re-skins and fronts like it didn’t have a budget, even though it’s a videogame and the only limitation is effort. Ludicrously padded quests have you fast-travelling back and forth between Nuka World and the Commonwealth, which means a loading screen to switch maps and a loading screen to get where you actually want to go. Quest givers always seem to be shut up inside unloaded interiors, even when it makes absolutely no sense for them to be there. The most glaring example is Fritsch for the first Amoral Combat radiant quest. Fritsch, who you don’t and never know, is stood around inside the Nukacade for absolutely no apparent reason, and all he does is tell you what you already know and send you to where you were already going. It’s one of many transparent and empty attempts to lengthen the stunted main quest, which is easily the worst out of the expansions and the game proper.

You can’t really make an antagonist out of anyone. Mutant crustaceans, ferals and robots on the fritz have zero motivation, just instinct and programming, so it’s impossible to invest in fighting them for what is the sad majority of the DLC. You would think, then, that one or all of the gangs would pick up the slack and be your big, big bad(s); after all, The Pack are depraved, The Disciples are sadistic and The Operators only care about caps. For a good character, there are enemies everywhere. But they never get to be your villains because no matter how you feel about them, you still end up doing their bitchwork regardless, unless you slaughter them all straight away, emancipate their slaves and forfeit the rest of the questline. One will inevitably end up turning you during the final act of the main quest, but who it is is completely arbitrary. You get the same cut-and-paste ending whichever way you decide to go, so it’s not really a decision at all.

The most grievous issue with the story content is the dialogue. What you can do and what you can say completely undermines your position as lynch-pin of the desert triad: you don’t give the orders- Gage does; the gangs don’t work for you- you work for them. Sure, you can send them around and kill whoever you want in the end, but beyond some shallow settlement mechanics- that controvert your every effort in the main game to rebuild and resettle the Commonwealth- and a deposit chest that generates a few hundred caps every couple of in-game days, for all intents and purposes you’re the apocalyptic janitor you always have been. You do the bitchwork. For what had the potential to be a gluttonous Lord Humongous power-trip, everything ends up going limp; a sense of total impotence pervades everything you do and say, and the structure of main and radiant quests.

It’s not all bad, though. There are some great side locations, and the new weapons, especially the paint-splattered Problem Solver and the Commie Whacker, are pretty awesome. The rapacious Pack add a bit of flavor to the brown/gray mix as well. It’s also quite challenging- at least, it was on very hard. Some of the bugs, especially the cave crickets on the outskirts of the map, are a real nuisance.

Overall, this is another missed opportunity from Bethesda. They started strong and peaked with Far Harbor, but after this and the piss-poor Vault-Tec Workshop, I don’t feel content to let the game go. We need one more high note. Here’s hoping.

2/5

In Defence of No Man’s Sky

I should preface this by saying that I have only- and only plan to- play(ed) the game on PlayStation 4. So if you were looking to have a tidy bitch about how your three thousand dollar rig and seven industrial fans couldn’t even boot the game, you really haven’t come to the right place. 

maxresdefault (1)

No Man’s Shoes

Ever since Sean Murray stumbled his way onto the E3 stage back in 2014, No Man’s Sky has been the every-game. For two tantric years, every gamer from every corner of the fiber optic globe flocked to Sony’s triple-E blindside like it was the Messiah reincarnate, and packed its empty spaces with all the dreams and hopes every seven-year-old boy with a couple of freebies on their boxy PC had scribbled into a notebook and promised they would reify when they grew up and figured out just how the hell any of those vanity cards did what they did.

What that meant was that there was absolutely no way it couldn’t disappoint. And so when the lukewarm reviews started piling in, I wasn’t surprised; that is, I wasn’t surprised that they were bad. But what I was surprised by was the lack of any sort of defense. It was like as soon as the space-worm in the trailer passed into pre-release myth, everybody with a pre-order and a week off work jumped ship. Or should I say spaceship. There was no sort of loyalty to the game or the developers or any of the things that they did do and did achieve and did deliver on.

The crux of the online criticism all over Reddit and YouTube is that we were lied to, and that half the features we were promised are inexplicably absent from the final release. I will concede that there was a lot of stuff in the E3 demos and trailers that incalculable random generation can’t even pretend isn’t there, but I’m not seeing a lot of ‘Where is’; I’m seeing a lot  of ‘What if it was’ and ‘What if it wasn’t’.

What if it was Mass Effect with a god engine? What if there were cities and politics and populations and people? What if I could build this or build that? What if it wasn’t a mining sim? What if it was a procedural shooting gallery? What if I could rear alien cattle and raise a god damn space farm? (These are all things I’ve read and all things I’ve heard; if you don’t believe me, I’d suggest checking out Previously Recorded or AngryJoe’s reviews of the game).

Don’t get me wrong; I would throw my money around like a madman for all of that stuff (bar the bloodbath). But that isn’t what was promised, and that isn’t what was sold, or hinted at, or implied, no matter how much you try to convince yourself or tell yourself that Sean Murray has the key to your imagination.

So let’s not get hung up on what the game doesn’t do, like everybody else, and focus on what it does.

What it does is a lot, and almost all of it is fantastic. The sound design is par-excellence, driving and shaping your journey and matching every emergent move you make. The score could beg to impress, but it doesn’t. It touches here and there, but it never breaks from the whole, chiming a warm key or a pulpy synth before a jet blast flushes it back through the stellar galactic milieu.

no-mans-sky.png

Seven generations and counting

The technology and what it has the capacity to produce is awesome, and, from what I’ve seen during my 20+ hours, the variety of its planets and solar systems is staggering. The infinite minutia of its ships, its lifeforms and plant-life, give the whole game a reality and genuine magnitude that nothing else on the market has ever come close to achieving. Yes, Minecraft is big and random and yes, you can do more with the environment. But it’s also made out of blocks. The graphical fidelity that Murray and team have managed to achieve in a game of this scope is mind-blowing. And to make it all feel real, to make a lightyear feel like a lightyear, is quite the feat.

No Man’s Sky is not the Second Coming, but it is pretty special. If Sony hadn’t bused Murray around like a tech Belfort, maybe things would have been different. Maybe people would be talking about that awesome new indie game instead of a fresh batch of digital snake oil. Because Sean Murray and his tiny team are not to blame; this is a case of corporate pressure on a studio, not corporate rooking of a playerbase, a la Watch_Dogs. Stop playing market victim and take a measured look at the size of Murray’s team and the scale of their project.

For all its faults, No Man’s Sky is the first game in a long time that has floored my flesh and blood brain with a 2D screen, and for that it gets my gratitude (if the opinion of one blogger among millions, like a planet among 8 quintillion, means anything at all…)

 

Suicide Squad: The Avengers on bath salts Escape from New York #MovieReview

maxresdefault

Suicide Squad is a hot, hot mess. There’s some good stuff on offer here- the best that DC have been able to cobble together since The Dark Knight– but it’s muzzled by a checklist military hodgepodge plot and a film student editing job that makes the Margot/Smith mega-movie more music video than film. Luckily, because of the bitty puzzle-piece plot, it’s not too much of a challenge to separate the good from the bad. And the very bad.

Ayer’s antihero flick is a bipolar blockbuster of binary halves: half a good cast, half a bad one; half a good script, half a bad one; half an original idea, smothered in its bed by a pillow stuffed with cash. And as that metaphor implies, none of this is a surprise. The film is a mess because the production was a mess, and the production was a mess because of the massive financial pressures and expectations that the film’s grossly overblown marketing budget and tortured production cycles ultimately precipitated; a vacuum for an empty film to fill.

Essentially, DC couldn’t have picked a tougher adaptation to sell, and a worse time to try to do it after Vancity Reynolds blew in from Nowhere and punted them into the fucking Marianas Trench; hence the reshoots, rewrites and competing cuts that turned a simple adaptation into an impossible project with too much to do and too many people to please.

suicide-squad-will-smith-margot-robbie.jpg

But, like I said, there is a lot of praiseworthy stuff here. Jared Leto’s Joker is a personal standout; Leto manages to echo Heath Ledger’s Oscar-winning 2008 turn without overrunning or aping it. He does his own thing, and I think it works. He’s a Joker for the iPhone age, with silver grills and tats and a Sony tablet with Steve Stephensian Periscopes on standby. Margot Robbie is a bit of a blood diamond. For the most part, she’s a lot of fun and brings a lot of life to an otherwise dead and done-over cast. But almost every other laugh gets a flop for a chaser, and every bit of badassery is disappointingly checked by a perturbing and frustratingly persistent sexual infantalization that caters to the creeps and fucking no one else. Think ‘BB Talk’ on a Sony lot.

miley.png

NB: there is something seriously wrong with the baby/daddy talk of modern sex. Why is it sexy for Harley to blabber and blubber like a toddler? Is that the fantasy? For her to be physically developed and mentally arrested? And if so, why? Or maybe I/we don’t want to know.

In short, the film tries to juggle too many balls. The film turns on 175 million dimes from crocodile Sambo to empowered African-American power-player Amanda Waller; daddy’s lil’ nymphomaniac to daddy’s lil’ archaeologist; Eminem to royalty-free rouse #4 with no semblance of self-awareness or irony atfuckingall. I’m sure Ayer had a solid idea of what he wanted the film to be, and I’m almost as sure that his first cut, before the test screenings and corporate screenings and, of course, Deadpool, had a consistent style. And I say that not just because he’s the guy who wrote Training Day, but because most of what is wrong with the film lies in the way that it’s cut, and that means post-production. It’s less a movie than a bunch of random scenes on shuffle; a dislocatory Janusian shambles thrashing around in the deep-end of the Deadpool. What a shame that we all saw coming from miles to the power of googol away.

But real talk… WHERE THE FUCK WAS BATMAN?