Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Gotham Season 1 Episode 3 'The Balloonman' Review

A vigilante dubbed the ‘The Balloon Man’ is attacking the corrupt community members of Gotham. He attaches weather balloons to them and sends them up into the atmosphere to die. Can Gordon and Bullock stop him from this wave of atmospheric terror? Meanwhile a suspiciously penguin-like ‘Paolo’ returns to ‘Gotham’.

The “previously on” recaps at the start of the episodes seem to be getting longer and longer. I imagine by the finale it will take up about 90% of the episode. I get that a reminder isn’t bad but if you’ve forgotten that Mr and Mrs Wayne are dead then you’re probably watching the wrong show.

‘Gotham’ seems to be becoming more settled as it goes. The plot of the Balloon Man and who he might be is well handled. Clues litter the episode to suggest his identity and this week ‘Gotham’ genuinely feels like a police procedural drama. It was interesting to see focus given to Bruce Wayne starting to consider becoming a detective in an episode that focussed on clues and puzzle solving. It was a subtle thematic touch that worked very well.

What didn’t work so well was the characterisation of Barbara Kean (The Future Mrs Kean-Gordon). In the previous episodes we have been given the suggestion that she had a dark past. This week she is scene smoking weed and we are told that she used to be a drug addict. The issue comes in that her sobriety is being questioned by Renee Montoya, who used to be in a relationship with Barbara.

This is an issue because Renee seems to be lumped in with Barbara’s past drug addiction as a mistake of her past. I appreciate that the makers of ‘Gotham’ are probably trying to show that Barbara has changed a lot since she was younger. I don’t think that they are trying to suggest that Barbara grew out of her issues of drug abuse and being a lesbian, but it does come across that way.

Hopefully future episodes will clear this issue up and make the character a bit deeper. This issue is something the makers of ‘Gotham’ need to address as her relationship with Gordon could be seen as a sensible man saving a lesbian from a life of girls. I honestly don’t get the feeling that this was the intention but it certainly needs to be made clear what her character is all about. She could easily be bi-sexual and it could be just a constant part of her character, with 'Gotham' just throwing in the drug addiction on top as a clumsy attempt at being edgy. 

Bruce Wayne is better handled in this episode. The building blocks which lead him to becoming Batman are being established and his and Gordon’s illicit friendship seems to have been put on the back burner.

That being said ‘Gotham’ is rapidly becoming the Penguin show. I’m cool with that, that’s basically how the original pitch was sold to the audience. A bit too much is made of his vision for the future Gotham. This talk of the future is starting to get a bit repetitious but as we know he is correct, it isn’t that grating. The scene where Oswald returns to Gotham and is enchanted by the muggings and prostitution is wonderful. Oswald Cobblepot is in many ways the mirror image of Bruce Wayne as a child of Gotham, albeit one from the wrong side of the track, and that is how he is being treated.

Jim Gordon’s character seems to be becoming more likable and understandable as the shows goes on. That being said it seems that a conscious effort has been made to make the character of Harvey Bullock less deep, which is a shame. Bullock is in danger of becoming a comedy character. What made him a good character in the opening two episodes was that his motives were hard to completely understand, he had many shades of grey. Adding those grey shades to Gordon does not require everyone else to become less subtle and therefore less interesting.

So ‘Gotham’ is showing a few cracks this week but not enough to make it bad, not by a long shot. Hopefully some of these weird character issues will be sorted out, because they are all that is holding this show from reaching ever new heights! (HAR HARR HARRRRR)

Monday, 27 October 2014

Doctor Who: 'In the Forest of the Night' Review

Trees have grown everywhere around the world, covering it overnight. What caused the trees to grow like this and who is responsible? Can The Doctor figure these mysteries out and return the world to how it was? Or has humanity entered “The Tree Age”?

So I quite often get the feeling that ‘Doctor Who’ has been made for idiots. This week I had the rather refreshing alternative of having it made by idiots. The concept for this episode raises so many questions and refuses to answer any of them properly. It’s baffling how many elements of ‘In the Forest of the Night’ are not explained, properly researched or simply don’t make sense. Now I don't want to put all the blame with Frank Cottrell Boyce. This episode really feels like a first draft, it just doesn't hold together and it's hard to believe such a well established writer could have intended his episode to be like this.

So the episode opens with Maebh Arden, as in the Forest of Arden, running towards the Tardis. She asks to come in because “something” is following her. What this something might be is never explained. It could be the glowing things we see later, that’s the most likely option. Or it could be the wolves but we aren’t told. Then again, The Doctor is confronted by a little girl telling him she is being followed and he doesn’t care to ask by what, so why should we?

We see the earth from space and see how it is entirely covered with trees. To run this point home we see comedy news articles talking about the new amount of trees. I have to hope that if trees suddenly covered the entire earth over night the news media may deal with bigger questions than if people can ride a train to work or if football matches might be cancelled. This is fundamentally the biggest issue with this episode, the sudden trees are being treated like a giant peach or some other bizarre situation from a children’s book. Nobody seems to really care.

How many people died when the trees grew? Even if we assume that nobody was directly impaled on them, so many people must have died. What about the trees that suddenly grew on the busy roads for example? What about the lootings and the mass murder? The episode directly mentions that the roads need to be cleared for emergency services. With the routes blocked to the hospitals anyone injured by the trees or otherwise would have died.

Even if we assume, as the episode does, that the only issue is the escape of dangerous wild animals that’s still a pretty major issue when viewed globally. Dangerous animals are nothing however, when compared to dangerous viruses that may have been released from chemical labs during the chaos. I suspect that a few Nuclear reactors may have been breached by trees also but none of this is mentioned. We are given an unrealistically simplistic view of what would have been a truly terrifying situation for humanity.

That being said, the many positives of the situation are also ignored. With that many trees the whole global warming issue would have been fixed almost instantly. With all the trees apparently bearing nuts and fruit I guess world hunger is a thing of the past also? These topics aren’t questioned at all. To go with such a big story idea but to completely ignore the positive and negative ramifications of it seems really bizarre.

Now even if you ignore the many larger issues with logic this episode presents, it has many smaller issues that it seems to not care about fixing either.

Clara tells The Doctor, after hearing a wolf howl “No, that is impossible, we are in London!”. To which he replies “Would that be the London with a zoo? A zoo with a pack of wolves…No! Wolves are not impossible!”

This sentence has two distinct issues. Firstly and least importantly, London has several zoos, so it doesn’t have “a” zoo. Secondly and more importantly, London Zoo doesn’t have any wolves. London Zoo hasn’t had wolves for a very long time. The nearest zoos to Trafalgar Square with wolves seem to be Colchester and Reading. Now Reading Zoo is the nearest and is still 1 hour and 12 minutes by car approximately from The Doctor and Clara.

Even if we accept ‘Doctor Who’ exists in a fictional version of our own world, one where London Zoo has wolves, the wolves attacking them still doesn’t make sense. Why aren’t the wolves hunting the other animals at the zoo, or the other animals in London?

I find it hard to believe that a wolf would choose to risk attacking a human over a domestic dog or cat. Most wild animals don’t eat that often also. Unless the fictional workers of London Zoo were starving them, they must have been fed within 24 hours of the tree situation. I find it hard to believe that captive wolves, ones who have never hunted before, would so quickly risk going out into the world to hunt unless they were starving.

This also entirely ignores the fact that wolves are scavengers; they’ll eat food they find lying around before they’ll hunt. I guess that they must have ignored all the rubbish bags they walked past on their trip from London Zoo to Trafalgar Square, all 2.5 miles of it!

I’m not even done with the list of dumb things about this episode. I haven’t even touched on the stupid things the characters do. Maebh’s mum is angry because the trees have blocked out the sunlight in her house, so she can’t see anything. I guess when night time comes she just has to feel around her house in the dark? Maybe those light switches you have on the walls could be switched on? It’s just a suggestion.

Sadly enough the biggest idiot in this episode is The Doctor. Last week he assumed The Boneless might be friendly, even after they’d killed several people. This week he automatically assumes the trees are bad in some way. The idea that they might be friendly doesn’t even cross his mind for the majority of the episode. In addition he completely ignores a child who mentions that she gets exterior thoughts that she can’t explain, despite him having been a vocal believer of psychic powers in a lot of other stories. He carries and uses psychic paper for crying out loud!!

Now on the subject of hearing voices; this episode has another horribly thought out social message. Maebh has been on pills since her sister went missing, ones to stop her from hearing voices and having nervous ticks. This makes The Doctor angry:

“What is it with you people? You hear voices; you want to shut them up!”

I assume, therefore, that if The Doctor met someone who heard voices telling them to hurt themselves or other people he’d just leave them to it? I guess he’d assume that it was just psychic aliens and let things play out? This anti medication message is insulting; it’s insulting to everyone who has to take life improving pills on a daily basis. It’s also insulting to the real doctors who prescribe them to people, trying to help them. It’s weird to think that The Doctor, the one who met and understood Vincent Van Gogh, has such a childish view of mental health issues.

The high levels of stupidity in this script are making me almost ignore the smaller ones. I can’t believe that Clara, a teacher and human, asks The Doctor “Why am I frightened?” when she loses a little girl with apparent mental problems. That being said Clara is written to be pretty unlikable in this episode. When The Doctor offers to save her and Danny she says “Danny Pink would never leave those kids as long as he is breathing” I guess if Danny Pink was willing to leave the kids then Clara would have no issue also with leaving them alone to be eaten by wolves?

Now let’s move on to more positive things about the episode. I’m usually pretty hard on both Clara and Danny but this week they were considerably better than usual. Danny in particular was given more character and we, as an audience, could see and understand the good points that Clara can see. Now this might have been nicer nine episodes ago, when we were being told to like him for no reason. Better late than never I guess.

The child actors also weren’t bad, for child actors at least. I could have done with less of Maebh’s rave dancing but she was pretty good actress for her age and had a nice spark with The Doctor.
Peter Capaldi is yet again great and has some really nice lines. The line “I told you they were rubbish!” when the wolves run away is brilliant. The episode had a lot of really nice lines in general. Clara’s “I don’t want to be the last of my kind” was also a good line and it was well performed.

So what do I think of ‘In the Forest of the Night’? To be honest the constant stupidity of this episode is really hard to ignore. This episode has some really interesting concepts but they are at best handled badly and at worst handled insultingly. The script does have some really nice pieces of dialogue but the actual structure is really messy. This episode tries to do way too much and fails most of what it attempts due to this. So many elements are introduced that some of them are not explained enough to warrant them being included in the first place.

My reaction to the very last scene in this episode was to burst out laughing. I was laughing at just how stupid and unexpected the final scene was, I wasn’t alone in this reaction. To be fair, although this episode is probably about as stupid as ‘Kill the Moon’ in terms of science and social issues it didn’t make me as angry. Unlike ‘Kill the Moon’ I didn’t feel any attempt to manipulate me as if I were an idiot. That being said, the fact that watching 'In the Forest of the Night' didn't make me that angry isn't really a recommendation is it?  

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Disney John Carter Review

Disney’s ‘John Carter’, a production now on the infamous list of films synonymous with big budget commercial failures. Now obviously, not every financial failure is necessarily a bad film. Blade Runner for example took many years of home video sales to finally make a profit, having been initially crushed by the success of E.T in the cinema. Disney’s very own Fantasia took nearly 30 years and 5 cinematic runs to turn a profit.

When I first saw the trailer for ‘John Carter’ I thought it looked interesting, worth watching. The advanced word from reviews put me off going to the cinema however, as it did with most people. So 2 years after release and with the bizarre chance for a sequel upcoming, here I find myself watching it. Is ‘John Carter’ a lost classic, cruelly brought to its knees by confused critics? Or is it just a bad film that too much money was spent on?

‘John Carter’ follows the story of John Carter, surprisingly enough. John, an ex-confederate soldier, finds himself transported to Mars in the midst of a planet wide war. Having come from earth and earth’s gravity, John finds himself stronger on mars, faster and able to jump huge distances. Will John use these powers to help out those being victimised on Mars, or take the nearest teleporter straight back to earth?

Now if John Carter sounds like Superman that’s because he is him. Or to put it more accurately, he will one day become Superman. Once released in 1917, ‘A Princess of Mars’ by Edgar Rice Burroughs and the rest of the ‘Barsoom’ book series went on to ‘inspire’ comic books and films for years. This inspiration continues to this day, with James Cameron listing the series as an inspiration on Avatar. Burroughs is part of a very small list of authors who can be considered the primary creators of the science fiction genre. The above ninety three words of this paragraph is the exact reason that this film failed.

Everything in this film has been seen before in other films. I appreciate fully that the book they’ve been inspired by did these ideas first, but ‘John Carter’ can’t live in a vacuum where they don’t exist. By adapting this story you are putting it up against everything that took ideas from it. In some cases those rivals have had nearly one hundred years of time to perfect these very same ideas and improve upon them. If ‘John Carter’ had been adapted into a film in 1917 it would have had no competition. In 2012 it had to compete with ninety five years of science fiction story development. It had to compete with:

Metropolis (1927), Flash Gordon (1936), Buck Rogers (1939), Earth Vs the Flying Sauces (1956), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Star Wars (1977), Blade Runner (1982), The Matrix (1999), Avatar (2009) to name but a few notable examples.

Even if ‘John Carter’ had been an amazingly well made film it would still have struggled to excite an audience, it had nothing new to show them. Without fresh ideas the only way it could have made an impact is if the film had handled these old ideas with fresh creativity. Unfortunately this put the director Andrew Stanton in direct competition with directors like James Cameron and the young George Lucas. It isn’t really Stanton’s fault that he failed to compete, it was almost cruel for Disney to let him try in the first place. That being said you would hope the director of Finding Nemo and WALL-E might be able to bring something new to the table. 

This film’s biggest issue of all is its faithfulness to the original 1917 work. This faithfulness is evident from the opening line of the film:

“Mars, so you name it and think that you know it. The red planet, no air, no life but you do not know Mars. For its true name is Barsoom and it is not airless nor is it dead.”

Now in 1917, not much was known of Mars. In 2012, quite a lot was and still is. Mars doesn’t have air, nor does it have signs of an advanced culture having ever lived there. Now the majority of ‘John Carter’ is set in the earth year 1867. I appreciate that something terrible may have happened to Mars between 1867 and when we started to closely monitor the planet. I find this unlikely however as we would have seen some evidence of past life by now if that were the case. I appreciate that I am pulling apart a fictional world for not existing and that’s stupid. I’m doing it however, as this film is telling me that it does exist and that I’m stupid for not knowing about it. I don’t understand why the opening message of this film is aimed at a 1917 audience, they’re dead, entertain me.

The issues with this adaptation continue to rear their ugly head throughout the film. ‘John Carter’ is not really an adaptation in the strictest since. It adapts a book but very little adaptation of the book has been done to make the film. ‘John Carter’ is horribly stuffed with exposition and half-presented ideas. Even at a relatively long running time of 132 minutes, the film doesn’t have enough time to do the book justice. It feels like a solid hour of footage was cut out, an hour that might have made it make sense. Characters are inconsistent; ideas are introduced and never seen again. A proper adaptation would have taken the original idea and made it work as a film, cutting anything that stopped it from working in this medium.

These issues with the adaptation remind me very strongly of David Lynch’s ‘Dune’. The major difference is that David Lynch wasn’t trying to create a standard Hollywood narrative from the original material. ‘Dune’ still feels too short to do the story justice but the world feels fully realised. In watching ‘Dune’ you feel like a confused outsider watching events you don’t understand. You get the feeling however that the events do make sense to those living them. ‘Dune’ manages to capture the spirit and mood of the story, even if it doesn’t really sell the narrative of it very well.

Now this is really where the biggest issue is with ‘John Carter’, the world is not well realised. The compressed storytelling makes the world feel very small; everything feels very close and convenient. In addition the design of the world feels as if it had a single designer, a bored one at that. Different cultures should feel different and in ‘John Carter’ they really don’t. The two tribes of humanoid Martians are almost interchangeable in appearance and manner, despite being culturally opposite for a thousand years. The world just feels cold to me, the designs are boring and anything that isn’t required for the story doesn’t appear. We go from boring location A to boring location B and we never get a sense that anything is going on in the world in-between.

So the story isn’t very well told and the world isn’t very well created, what is good? Well the performances are reasonably good from the cast. Taylor Kitsch does a very good job of making John likable, as does Lynn Collins with Princess Dejah. They do a particularly good job considering how unlikable they are written to be. Willem Dafoe is very good as the chieftain Tars and Mark Strong is excellent as the villain Matai. Obviously the special effects are good but they should be with this amount of money going down the toilet. Even saying they’re good is somewhat of a criticism, they should be amazing. That being said with the level of competency the script and world design got, being just good is something to praise. One thing I can praise without reservations is the soundtrack, it's awesome. 

I don’t really get why this film exists. I don’t understand who would green light this; the odds would have been stacked against it from day one. This almost feels like the cinematic equivalent of licking food so that someone else can’t eat it. While watching ‘John Carter’ you almost feel like someone wanted to prove that this universe existed and was ripped off. To do this however they’ve produced a vanilla film, one that feels obsessed with keeping to the original source material at any cost. Without a modern feeling adaptation however, it all feels very antiquated. This world is interesting and has potential, it deserves an artist to get behind it and breathe life into it. 

Every reviewer mentions one scene in their reviews and how well it works. They mention it for the same reason I am. The reasons that scene works are why the rest of the film doesn’t work.

In the aforementioned scene John is fighting to his possible death at impossible odds to protect his friends. Intercutting this moment of emotional realism for the character, we see for the first time him discovering and burying his dead family in the past. This scene works brilliantly because it feels real, we feel what he feels. John’s loss of humanity when his family died is directly contrasted with him fighting for those who have helped him regain it again. The medium of film has been used to show this contrast in a way that the book couldn’t, it has been adapted.

This scene works really well but it is just one exciting scene in a very bland film. To call 'John Carter' bland is a bit unkind but as an overall experience it really doesn't do anything very new or exciting. It's an alright afternoon of your time but it would be hard to recommend to anyone who hasn't already seen a load of more interesting science fiction films. Somebody who just needs something new to watch.

I’m hopeful that more will be done with this license as with some care this could have been an amazing film. Some test footage is knocking about for when Paramount were trying to get this off the ground. The footage is directed by Kerry Conran, of ‘Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow’. Now ‘Sky Captain’ can be criticised for many reasons but it never felt cold or boring. Passion permeates every frame of that film and it does in this test footage for ‘John Carter’ also. Watch this and tell me you wouldn’t be interested in another visit to Mars and John Carter? I know I would.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Gotham Season 1 Episode 2 'Selina Kyle' Review

So this week in ‘Gotham’ homeless children are being snatched off the streets. They are being kidnapped for someone calling themselves The Dollmaker. It’s up to Jim Gordon and Harvey Bullock to solve the case, with a little help from Catwoman. While this is going on, we see the ongoing adventures of Edward Cobblepot as he tries to rebuild his life from scratch.

So Episode 2 of ‘Gotham’ is a lot stronger than the opening episode. The tonal shift issues have been fixed, as have the awkward introductions of future villains and future parts of the Batman mythos. In this episode we are introduced to the concept of Arkham Asylum, which we are told has been closed for 15 years. We don’t see it however, but it has been set up for when we eventually will. The subtle introduction of The Dollmaker is also a nice touch, adding the beginnings of the insanity angle that runs throughout the world of Batman.

Jim Gordon has been made more relatable since the pilot episode. He now seems more willing to bend rules if they allow him to solve cases. That being said the police force has been made noticeably more corrupt in order to make him appear better by comparison. Generally speaking more nuances has been added to all the characters. Alfred seems more human and vulnerable as does the villainess Fish Mooney. Edward Cobblepot has been made noticeably more menacing; shades of the older penguin are being introduced in him. It’s a real credit to the writing and performance of Robin Lord Taylor that I am finding myself routing for his horrible depiction of the character.

The child kidnapping plot and general increase of violence shows that ‘Gotham’ is very squarely aiming for the older teen and up demographic. The violence is far more sudden and unexpected in episode 2. The first episode seemed to be using violence to try and shock the audience, episode 2 seems to want you to think it’s a part of the everyday world. ‘Gotham’ in general just seems to be more unpleasant this week, showing the world as it is without Batman.

Episode 2 shows a distinct improvement over the first as it seems more confident in itself. With the first episode being the pilot it was very clear that they were putting in as many Batman nods as possible to gain the full season. Now a commissioned program, Episode 2 feels confident to dictate its own pace. The emo Bruce Wayne stuff still isn’t working for me; neither is his blossoming May-December friendship with Gordon which seems like indulgent fan fiction. That being said the world outside of Bruce Wayne is being extended nicely and ‘Gotham’ seems to have plenty of interesting characters to fill it with.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Doctor Who: 'Flatline' Review

Ok, so we’ve had two good episodes of Doctor Who in a row. That being a notable thing shows how far the show has fallen in quality over the last few years. We’ve had two episodes that have shown both a brilliant understanding of character and plot structure. Now before I sound like I’m in love with Jamie Mathieson I need to point out something. Mathieson is a good writer but what makes his scripts good is his understanding of basic storytelling logic and rules. If these rules had been applied to the other episodes of this series, they could all have been as good. These last two episodes have been objectively better written than the others of this series, they work where the others didn’t.

In ‘Flatline’ the Tardis is being attacked by two dimension creatures. With The Doctor trapped inside the Tardis, it’s up to Clara to fight the creatures and save the world. So I like ‘Flatline’ a fair bit, that much is obvious. What I really like about the episode is how fresh it feels. ‘Flatline’ is filled with new and exciting ideas, ideas that still feel entirely part of the long running show. The ‘Boneless’, the 2D/3D creatures are fascinating in both concept and design. We don’t know why they are there, or what they want but they work despite this. They’re definitely the best new creature added to the show since the Weeping Angels and much more can be done with the concept of them in future episodes.

The scenes with the shrinking Tardis are also very interesting, as is the introduction of the ship’s ‘Siege Mode’. Adding new enemies and mythos to a long running show like ‘Doctor Who’ is difficult. It is particularly difficult when most of the writers seem to be adapting uninspired fan fiction they wrote when they were kids. Most of the visuals effects used to create these new situations were amazing. Some of them, such as the giant hand and the train were not so great. I appreciate that the shot with the train would have been very difficult and expensive to shoot for real but I suspect that a Hornby train miniature would have looked a lot better than the shitty media student CGI we were given.

A still image can't do justice to how bad this looked moving.
Under Mathieson we have characters in ‘Doctor Who’ again. The Doctor has faults, he is a fully realised individual who can make mistakes. Clara has also been a lot better written in the last two weeks also, giving Jenna Coleman a chance to show what she can do. Although if she delivers any more lines as atrociously as she did “I’m the one chance you’ve got for staying alive, that’s who I am!” maybe that’s not a good thing. We as an audience needed to believe that she had authority over the group she was protecting; it was a vital moment in the script. They group only followed her because the script made them, that is an issue. Generally speaking however, Coleman as Clara was pretty good in this episode, or at least better than she has been since possibly her turn in ‘Asylum of the Daleks’.

Peter Capaldi yet again gave a fantastic performance. His fear for himself and the Tardis was completely believable, as was his fascination and excitement over those putting them at risk. His final speech, where he named The Boneless was amazing and showed in just a few sentences that he has an innate understanding of the character he’s portraying. 

Hans Holbein's creepy skull face in 'The Ambassadors' 1533

The real strength of ‘Flatline’ is the intelligence of the writing. Any episode of ‘Doctor Who’ that references an optical illusion from a 16th century painting in the opening moments is smart. We are given every element needed to determine the final conclusion of the episode but they are given to us in such a way as to make it interesting. Possibly this episode has a few too many interesting ideas for the running time but I’m refusing to criticise it for that, not when the overall show seems to generally have no ideas, or it does but they involve space eggs. I hope Jaime Mathieson will be back to write future episodes, but given how bad he’s making the others look; I’m not holding out much hope.  

Friday, 17 October 2014

Censorship and GamerGate

Now there’s been a lot of discussion in the last month or so about the nature of censorship. GamerGate has inspired this conversation with accusations of censorship being thrown back and forth by both sides. Now a lot of these arguments could probably have been cleared up by a quick check of the dictionary to see what censorship actually means. I appreciate however that that would be a lot of work and as I've always said, an uninformed opinion is still an opinion. It being completely incorrect shouldn't make it any less valid. No wait...that sounds wrong somehow.

Now GamerGate has become such a wide reaching and constantly shifting situation that I’m not going to try and summarise it. By this point it doesn't make much sense if you have been following it. If you’re reading this article and I have suspicion that you are, you will know the basics by now.

Some of the members on the side of GamerGate have claimed that Anita Sarkeesian, of Feminist Frequency, is guilty of trying to censor the games industry and that she wants to stop potentially sexist material from appearing in games. Now if she WERE trying to actively ban such content I would completely understand some of the ill feeling, not the death threats part but I’d get the dislike. That being said, she isn’t doing that, or anything even close to that. All she seems to be doing is listing issues that she sees in games and suggesting ways they might be more positive towards women.

Now since all she seems to be doing is what I’m doing now, explaining an opinion, I don’t see how that is directly causing any censorship. I appreciate that her videos might encourage games companies to make more positive female characters but that wouldn’t stop them making the stuff that already sells now. All she is likely to do from these videos and talks is show that the gaming demographic is becoming more varied and more varied types of game could be sold to it.

Anita Sarkeesian has the right to say whatever she wants, pretty much. If she doesn’t than she’s being censored, that's how that works. That being said if she has the freedom to criticise something, people have the freedom to criticise her for her opinions on it. For example, I personally disagree with her on some of her points. I have the right to respond to her with any criticisms I have with her work, free speech is pretty cool like that. Free speech however does not, and should not cover threats. If you believe that she’s wrong in her views, prove it with discussion. New opinions and Ideas are only dangerous to a society built out of matchsticks. If one person can truly make a difference than the society you live in is already in a pretty bad way.

I find it weird that the concept and definition of censorship seems to be so fluid. I've always thought the word was relatively self explanatory. That being said, the very group criticising Sarkeesian for censoring, attempt to censor things themselves. There are those in GamerGate who say that reviews should be more objective. They say that issues such as racism and sexism shouldn’t be used to criticise a game.

The issue with this idea, well one of the many, is that racism and sexism in games doesn’t matter to these people because they are male and white. To those playing games that aren’t white and male, they will want to know how they are represented when considering the purchase of a game. Arguments have been made that bad review scores will effects game sales, such as with Bayonetta 2, and cause people to lose their jobs. Obviously is people lose their jobs it is sad but if the overall product is bad in some way then people shouldn't buy it. Multiple reviews help to establish this kind of trend and one or two dissenting opinions will not sink a generally good game.

Now I would say that crucifying a game entirely based on any single negative aspect wouldn't be a good review. That being said you can't ignore the culture that a game is created in, or the culture of the market it is being aimed at. A purely objective review can only go so far. Yes you can rate graphics for their frame rates and polygons for their David Cage-ness but you can't objectively rate an experience. Particularly if some of the audience may find it offensive. Which if it's made by David Cage they probably will.
There are definite, easily proven issues with censorship and corruption in the world of video games, ones that should be questioned. ‘The Shadow of Mordor’ blackmail stuff that has come out recently is pretty terrible and sets a very worrying trend for example. I have trouble seeing how one person/gender is seemingly being blamed for destroying games using stealth when things like this ‘Mordor’ stuff is going on in the open and nobody seems to care. If only there was some kind of group set up to fight games corruption and censorship, they could get right on it…

Society is partially formed by the media it consumes. It’s very clear that the games industry has less positive female characters than male ones. I can completely agree with anyone who says that women would benefit from better gender representation in games, society in general would. I think that the games companies, along with all media outlets have a responsibility towards what they give to society. I wouldn’t want a world where the law would stop certain types of game from being made. I hope however we can make a world where the idea of games with diverse genders and ethnicities is considered a good thing and that anything other than that would be thought of as censorship.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Gotham Season 1 Episode 1 'Pilot' Review

So when the concept for this show was first introduced I was really excited. A show following the pre Batman days of Gotham, focussing on the crime families and a young Jim Gordon sounded cool. As time went on the pitch and advertising for the show became increasingly Batman like. The angle of the crime families was pushed to one side and publicity pictures showing young Catwoman, Penguin, The Riddler and Poison Ivy took their place. So increasingly it seemed ‘Gotham’ was to become the new Smallville. Now Smallville was pretty good, near the start at least but eventually became a generic teenage drama that happened to feature Superman.

Now unlike Clark Kent finding his powers, Bruce’s journey to Batman is relatively boring. That being said seeing what created his Arkham dwelling villains is fascinating. Seeing how the mafia families lose control to them is also an interesting story. So does ‘Gotham’ live up to its potential? Or is it yet another teen drama with added Batman?

Within seconds of the episode starting we are introduced to teenage Catwoman. She is seen prowling around rooftops and pick pocketing people. She even does the Catwoman butt shuffle when she walks, so we know for sure it’s her. While hiding on a fire escape she witnesses the brutal gunning down of a couple, with only their child being left alive. That’s right, within the opening minutes the Wayne’s are dead and Catwoman was there to witness them die. It’s actually refreshing for the show to make such an immediate change from the established canon, it sends out a very clear message. The actual shooting of the Wayne’s is pretty brutal, very much like a scene from CSI.

Next we are taken to Gotham Police Department and introduced to Jim Gordon and his detective partner Harvey Bullock. Jim is immediately established as our typical white knight detective. Harvey bullock is far less honourable however and wants a quiet live and if justice is served or not doesn’t matter to him. They are given the Wayne case and our story begins.

It’s easy to see why they make such slow progress in the case; they can’t cross the street without awkwardly running into a future villain. “If I wanted riddles I’d read the funny pages” Bullock tells ‘Ed’ as he shows them evidence at the police station. Believe it not, this is the most subtle introduction we get. Before the episode is out we also see a little girl playing with plants called Ivy and the beaked nosed Oswald who hates being called ‘Penguin’.

These introductions are pretty clunky and hopefully they’ll become more subtle. If not, I’m not looking forward to the “You’re pretty two faced Dent!” or “Hey, you’re good with dates. What are you, some kind of calendar man?

Now I’m not going to explain the episode any more, as what it doesn’t fill with cameos it fills with twists and turns. That being said I am going to comment on the final one, as it’s really stupid. We see Gordon is being forced to march a man down a pier at gunpoint. If he doesn’t kill him he will be killed himself. The fact that the man in question is the young penguin somewhat ruins the gunpoint suspense I feel.

Now the show’s original intent to be a more traditional crime drama is at odds with the villain filled version it became. We get traditional detective show conversations intercut with weird comic book sequences. At one point an executioner shows up, complete with medieval mask and I found it hard to not laugh out loud at that ridiculous concept being part of this show.

The biggest issue with this opening episode however is predictively enough Batman. Traditionally Bruce Wayne crosses the line to becoming Batman the second his family is killed. That is also the way ‘Gotham’ handles it. Bruce goes from a laughing child to littlest Dark Knight instantly and everyone talks to him as if he is now Batman. It’s hard to not think of this as a conscious creative decision, but to decide to skip Batman’s origins in a show about the origins of the Batman universe is rather odd. That being said, his story has been told many times before and Bruce Wayne’s enemies are far more interesting than he is, so I’m cool with it being pushed to the side. I just hope they tone his Batman Jr dialog down a tad.

Overall ‘Gotham’ has potential. The opening episode is nicely paced, visually vibrant and the plot and characters held my attention enough to watch the next episode. It has some issues, particularly with the tone shifting abruptly but those should be evened out as the show finds its own identity. That’s the best thing about ‘Gotham’; it is trying something different, ploughing its own furrow and ignoring the previous Batman adaptations. Now if this new direction for the franchise will work out or not is yet to be seen. That being said, I’m looking forward to where it’s going.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

The Money Pit Review

There was a time when Tom Hanks made comedies. I can only assume that before the Aids, the Second World War and being stranded in space, he was a more positive person. The Money Pit is from that lost era. Tom Hanks plays Walter Fielding, an attorney who specialises in the music industry. He and his partner Anna Crowley, played by Shelley Long, are convinced to buy a huge house for $200,000. The apparent low price of the house is quickly explained as it slowly crumbles around them. Even if they can fix up the house, will their relationship be able to take the strain?

When I was younger I really liked this film, so I was looking forward to revisiting it. I think part of why I liked this film so much was the huge reliance on slapstick comedy throughout. The majority of the scenes in this film are Tom Hanks or Shelley Long attempting to use things in the house, only for them to break in ridiculous ways as they do so. That’s it, that’s the comedy element covered. Some of these sequences are imaginatively designed but I didn’t find myself laughing at any of them. One issue is that most slapstick, if not most comedy, requires a set up.

In ‘Home Alone’ the misfortunes that befall the Wet Bandits are funny because we see Kevin set up the traps. We as the audience know what is going to happen to them, they do not. Thus them trying and failing to avoid the traps becomes funny. ‘The Money Pit’ lacks these kind of set ups. We see the couple filling a bathtub with water, it falls through the floor when they finish. We could have had the floorboards creaking, or dust falling from the ceiling as they filled it. We don’t get these traditional set ups because we as the audience are meant to root for them, hope everything will work out for them. Therefore, to replace these setup scenes we get characters saying ‘Well at least nothing else can go wrong’, before things get worse.

It’s a really odd creative choice to make a film where we are meant to root for people who we are constantly told to laugh at. The only assumption I can make is that we are meant to laugh with them. The issue is that if we personally make an effort to do something in life and it goes wrong we laugh because it happened to us, because we can see the funny side of it. We experienced the setup of everything potentially working out so the pay off of it going wrong has an ironic value. We see Walter and Anna working hard to try and build the house but we don’t experience it. We’re a passive observer of their trials and thus, also a passive observer of their misfortunes. We have no real investment in the project.

The relationship between Walter and Anna is not very compelling. Walter is a positive man who makes the best of things. Anna is cynical and far less optimistic. It is hard to believe that they got together in the first place, particularly as they have very little chemistry. Anna has far more chemistry with her ex-husband Max, which makes it hard to not side with Max’s endless attempts to break her and Walter up. Walter and Anna constantly say how much they love each other, although it’s very hard to believe that they actually do.

As the rebuilding of the house takes its toll on the couple we get introduced to one of the most ridiculous situations ever committed to film. Anna is stressed and spends the evening with Max. Anna wakes up in the morning in bed with Max and has no memory of the night before. Max tells her that they slept together. Feeling guilty she tells Walter who is understandably angry and they break up. Anna is angry that Walter won’t forgive her for what she views as a drunken mistake. Max then apologies to her and reveals to her that they didn’t sleep together at all and that he was trying to break them up.

Max tries to persuade her to patch things up with Walter but she says “He’s couldn’t forgive me, I can’t forgive him for that.” Anna is very hard to sympathise with and yet we are expected to understand both her and Walter’s view on the situation. Worst of all Walter then forgives her and says “I think you sleeping with Max is the best thing that could have possibly happened to us” because “Now I know how much I care about you”.

‘The Money Pit’ is a really stupid film. Tom Hanks gives a good performance and the film has some nice conceptual ideas but overall it just doesn’t work. The jokes fall flat and the relationship between the leads is confusing. All in all, ‘The Money Pit’ should probably just be demolished.