This One Won’t be Making me any Friends

20170723_221122It’s not tremendously often I go out to see new movies. Most of this stems from a surreal combination of lack of cash and, more often the case, the lack of desire to drive half an hour to spend the aforementioned cashery. But on the rare occasion I do go out to see something on the big screen, I typically enjoy the experience. This week prior, however, I went to go see media sensation and equal rights front-runner Wonder Woman.

I realize that, by the very nature of who I am, any blog I write about this movie that doesn’t include “I loved every aspect of this movie forever and always and erhmagerd” will likely be discounted by my demographics: straight, white, middle-class male type thing. And while I’m not here to discuss the finer points of gender equality (a topic I lack the mental capacity to discuss properly), I am here to discuss a movie’s strengths and weaknesses.

I would like to preface this with a few disclaimers: I have about as much experience and certification to discuss a movie as I do with anything else I talk about. And my discretion of this movie is not, shockingly enough, fueled by any sort of sexism towards the material or subject matter. In fact, most of my problems with the movie come down to plot progression and source material.

Also an overwhelming dislike for Ben Affleck being cast as Batman. Still don’t like that one; please pass the pepper, as I already have more than enough salt.

So, in an interest of some sense of continuity, let’s start with the beginning of things. The movie starts off to a bad start with Mr. Wayne delivering a photograph to Diana Prince: for further explanation, please refer to the paragraph prior.

321_CPT_BeachBattle_v020_15.JPGOkay, in all seriousness: let’s actually actually start at the beginning. Before I had watched the movie, I’ve been loosely apprised of some of the praise lauded at the film for various aspects. Much of it I could appreciate and agree with: the armour worn and displayed by the Amazonian warriors was exquisite to someone of my interests. It was function, it made great sense and the historical references to certain pieces was a masterful stroke. And in the sense of the scenery of the island (which I shall refrain from trying to spell due to having exceedingly limited internet at present and no clear recollection of the name) was gorgeous. The setting, set pieces and framing of shots in that area was very well done.

But one thing I had read at one point or another was how incredible the sense of sisterhood was from the first quarter of the movie. As a writer trying to improve my writing of female characters, I was very interested in pulling apart those scenes to see what it was that other writers were speaking about in specific so that I could use similar methods and aspects for my own purposes. What I was presented with was several scenes of women doing fight-y things.

I’m willing to admit that I was largely disappointed by this: if for no other reason than the only way to represent a strong sense of sisterhood is to have women fighting together against evil Germans. It’s entirely possible that there might have been some subtle nuances of the scenes that eluded me in my single watching, or maybe it’s something only women can see and appreciate (in which several questions about empathy and understanding come up, which are another topic all on its own), and so I don’t consider this to be a massive issue against the movie.

A much bigger issue was with the fight choreography in general and, more importantly, the framing and camera techniques. While the fights were visually impressive, the nature of how much CGI these action sequences greatly undercuts the very significant physical training and practice that the whole cast underwent to make it a truly awe-inspiring accomplishment. Having confirmed with friends of mine from a very work-out intensive circle, they confirmed that the physical training these actors underwent is very strenuous and something a flub like me would probably have died trying.

And instead of showcasing this, the movie largely relied on CGI renders of the characters to have them perform sequences and movements that the actors quite possibly could have accomplished with some clever framing and a few camera tricks. I’d go so far to say that at least 50% of all action sequences involving the cast and 70% of action sequences involving Wonder Woman were completely computer rendered. It reminded me of a cheaper version of 300; similar action sequences, just involving more nerds at a desk instead of more actor performance.

And in between the action sequences, fairly unimaginative camera angles and shots were used, occasionally being a little too static or “by the book”. I’m not looking for a completely new and innovative way to showcase a movie, but something a little more interesting than a series of static shoulder/hip-and-up shots would have been a nice change of pace.

3236382-wonder-woman-lifts-tank-in-reald3d-posterBut, for the biggest nail in the coffin for me would have been the plot progression itself. I know DC can make brilliant stories with great arcs and clever twists; if anyone has taken the time to watch Batman Beyond, they’ll know what I’m talking about. In this movie, however, the writer seems undecided as to what they want to focus the message of the story on: is humanity innately evil, or is Ares the reason for WW1.

There was actually a very heated argument about this in my friend’s basement after we watched the movie. The only thing we could agree upon is that Professor Lupin is not a good representation for an antagonist. Moving on.

I understand the nature of including the lore of Ares being established at the beginning of the movie and that, from an outside source, the appearance of Ares was predictable to say the least as a result. And if this was the moral of the story the movie had tried to stick to, it would have been fine. Not great, but fine. However, then some philosophy about the nature and ethics behind the human condition got shoe-horned in and things got bogged down.

Outside of the Amazon Island, great effort is placed into showing the evils of humanity and the atrocities they can commit on their own, regardless of outside influence. Well, slight correction: the evils that Germans can perform, because Germans are pure evil in the early 21st Century. The entire movie, Diana is fully convinced that the source of the war is Ares, and the supporting cast and main villains go through great lengths to prove that humans commit terrible things without godly influence. Then, upon the death of the German commander, Diana begins to realize that the simple and naive beliefs she once clung to might have been wrong.

Suddenly: jokes, Professor Lupine pops up and says “Hay, it was me but not really,” so Diana kills him and the war ends rather abruptly. The sudden 180 the movie takes is jarring and kills all the good material the plot had going for it up until that point. I am fully convinced that, if the writers had not tried to inject god-plot into the movie at the end, it would have been great. We, the audience, would have seen Diana question the beliefs she held on her own and question the morals of the people she was trying to protect. It would also have shown that evil is not a one-person problem: it’s a slow and clever system that happens through many people and politics.

But nope; we don’t want any of that philosophical nonsense in this movie! Let’s have a CGI fist-fight with a god to showcase how badass he is. Because ratings!

The battle with General Ludendorf was a fun fight on its own. His battle and defeat was quite satisfying without having to take it over level 9000 with a duel against Magneto afterwards. General Ludendorf and Doctor Poison were really cool villains on their own without trying to cram Ares into the story as well.

wonder-woman doctor poisonAnd on those really cool villains, it would have been nice to have seen more of them. I mean, Doctor Poison was a really cool bad guy. What event caused her face to be partially melted away? Why was she so inclined to make such dangerous weapons? She really needed more screen and plot time than was allotted, so the whammy of being forced to believe Professor Lupine was the BBEG was more than I could choke down.

Which leads me to another common problem with Superhero movies in general (and usually DC is the ones more prone to this than Marvel), but trying cram multiple super-villains into one movie is just too much. I know it’s a method to raise the stakes, and typically the second villain is someone who has a more “profound” effect on the protagonist, but it just pads extra movie time in a film that’s already quite long enough.

I could also rip apart several of the historical inaccuracies portrayed in the movie about WW1 in general (like the half-asses approach to PTSD, or that German soldiers took civilians as slaves when they were captured, or that Germany fought Britain, France, Russia and the US on their own… does no one really remember that Austria-Hungary and Italy were also in those trenches?), but if I start ripping apart Hollywood for taking creative licences with history, we’d be in for a very long list of movies that were terrifyingly wrong in very nearly every aspect.

At the end, with the choices that were made by either the producers or direction, we went from a movie that could have been “holy shit wow” to “meh”. And I know that makes me the enemy of women everywhere to rate a movie like this as “100% meh”, but as things stand, I probably won’t be rusting out to buy this one on Blu-ray when it comes out.

Let’s see more of what the actors can do, let’s see superhero movies asking much harder philosophical questions and let’s see less Ben Affleck. You can fight me on that one, but you’ll lose.

And I really think that stance makes me a “Mediocre Hero” at the end of the day.

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Masterful, Merciless, Madness

Darkest Dungeon

Red Hook Studios/ Horror, RPG, Strategy

20170716_212924I’ve had a long standing relationship with the darkness and with hopelessness. Quite likely stemming from a very intimate history with depression; how riveting it can be to peel back the layers of the shadows and to peek into the fragile minds that dare to delve within it. When you realize that the people behind great deeds are, in fact, human and prone to the same weaknesses we all are, it reduces an idol to a breathing soul.

It’s perhaps one of the things that’s always irked me most about fantasy stories and adventures: how inhuman all the main characters are. In human in the sense that, despite overwhelming and impossible odds, or great horrors, their minds remain unblemished after the battle ends. Sure, they’ll be distraught by loss or over joyed with victory, but these are fleeting emotions before they just kind of… move on.

This is why games that have mechanics to really reflect the fragility of the human mind are something I strongly value in many game genres. And while I certainly don’t, for a moment, think that every game needs to have such mechanics: the ones that do are a very welcome change of pace. As such, Darkest Dungeon has become something of an obsession of mine in the recent weeks.

DarkestDungeon_Metadata_BackgroundPDP_1That’s a slight lie on my part: I was infatuated with the game when I first discovered it last year late, late into the summer. I poured many hours into it before I was dealt a series of devastating losses that I , personally, was having a hard time recovering from. More on that later.

Let’s start from the beginning of things here: in the game, you play as the ancestor of a once great and powerful family. Of course, as your ancestor (know in game only as The Ancestor) grew bored of more conventional diversions, he began to dabble in the forbidden and the insane. This dips very heavily into H.P. Lovecraft‘s works as the Ancestor discovers ruins and gateways beneath the family manor.

And anyone familiar with Lovecraft knows that, when you find a door guarded by squid-faced statues, the correct answer is always, ALWAYS nope right out of there. Breaching the gateway, of course, releases unspeakable and unfathomable horrors into the mansion, and a creeping doom begins to infect the lands surrounding.

It is your job, dear player, to play clean-up. Tainted monsters, blood-thirsty brigands and all manner of eldritch horrors need killing. But since you are by no means a fighter yourself, your only option is to hire others to do the cleaning for you. That way, when the terrible realities of what it is they’re seeing start to sink in, you’re no worse for wear. Kinda.

I’m going to by-pass a lot of the mechanics of the game in favour of getting to the real meat of my interests with this game. And in all honesty, if understanding the mechanics in more depth is your thing, you can find 1000 and 1 reviews out there that’ll pull them apart. No, my interests lie in the unique stories each and every of these characters you’ll hire tell. And, most fascinatingly, how the game encourages you to either be a caring or apathetic commander.

Let’s take this one step at a time, shall we. Starting with point one: these strangely unique characters who’ll wander their way into your town, looking for gold and glory. Or perhaps redemption. Aside from the first four characters you get when you start the game, each character is randomly generated every time you return to town from an expedition. And while the base stats of each class are very uniform and all the faces look the same, what’s more interesting is the random quirks that each character begins with.

chesterThese quirks come in two flavours, good and bad. And with a little bit of imagination, you can conjure up all sorts of fascinating potential backstories for each of these new arrivals. Of course, this requires a degree of acknowledging the cannon lore for each class, as according to the official IG write-ups: each class represents one specific person. For example, the highwayman’s name is Dismas, and upon game completion, you can unlock a comic strip that tells a little of his specific backstory.

This begins to fall apart a little when you consider how many Dismas’ are running amok at any given time. Not too long ago, I had 3 highwaymen in my roster, one of which was named Dismas, and the other two were very nearly clones aside from their scarf colours (in the couple of expeditions that followed, pretty well all of them died horrible deaths. #adventurerlifegoals ). Upon inspection of each character, their personalities were quite different, and because of how I was trying to save some IG money by not unlocking each and every one of their skills, they all had a slightly different way of fighting and working with a team.

I got to know each of these characters rather well. In one case, a highwayman (I’mma keep using these guys as an example for reasons well beyond my own comprehension) names Meri arrived in town. About as low level as they come, he seemed to be more skilled in swordplay than in the use of his gun. What was interesting, though, was that his positive trait was Weald Scrounger, meaning he was more comfortable in the woods and better at scouting ahead there. But his negative quirk was Witness. At some point in his life, he had seen something unsettling happen in a place of worship, and as a result, refuses to go back inside.

darkest-dungeon-review-crop-a_480.0Like I said, a little imagination and you can start to piece together Meri’s backstory. Off top of my head, I can picture a young lad who was training to be a knight in the service of God. Perhaps it was a scandal from the local abbot, but he saw something in his youth that caused him to turn his back on the church. He was a skilled swordsman already, so carving a life for himself out in the woods as a brigand would be no major difficulty. With rumours persisting of a wealthy family hiring explorers to delve into dangerous ruins and the like for good coin, Meri signed on to the nearest caravan and found his way to the Hamlet.

Kind of hits the realm of fan-fiction in many regards, but a good piece of fan-fiction can serve as the basis for great writing material.

Each and every of these characters seem so interesting in their own way, which made leading them further and further down into despair and danger all the more harder. This ties in that second point I mentioned previously quite nicely, and also relates to that point on a crippling defeat I had brought up some ten paragraphs ago. As you begin to get to know these characters, invest a lot of time and effort into raising and improving them, their deaths become all the harder to burden.

Perma-death mechanics are a fickle mistress in gaming. You either love or loathe them. In this case, I view it as a necessary part of the experience. Because I do feel sad when I lose an adventurer I had grown fond of. Sure, I don’t know them on a personal level, and I didn’t watch any cut-scenes featuring exposition or points from the Writer’s Guide to Making Audiences Love Your Character nonsense. No. Instead, I watch these brave, sometimes desperate souls, fight impossible odds or losing battles against mind-breakingly strong adversaries.

So when I would watch, of that party of four who left confident and full of vigor come back as only one or two, horribly broken both physically and mentally, it can be very draining for me. As I’ve learned, I’m not the sort of leader who can just throw bodies into a meat-grinder if it meets a goal. I want to see as many of those heroes return after the battle and celebrate victory with me.

The last time I had played extensively was November of the past year. I don’t remember all the details specifically, but I had suffered a string of terrible losses that forced me to surrender to the demons, as it were. Many of my best and favourite adventures had died one after the other, my coffers had become so light the only option was to send out more parties with bare minimum equipment and pray for the best. Of course, these expeditions would end in disaster, if it were the best case scenario anyway.

After a couple of IG months of this, I turned back and surrendered the Hamlet to the creeping demonic influence that was laying claim to the land. I lacked the emotional fortitude to keep going and I surrendered.

There’s something very visceral and powerful about experiencing that in a game. Not because it was a scripted loss where the game was stacked against me (though, with the nature of RNG dungeons, that very well may be the case sometimes), but because of the circumstances, I found my breaking point. And the best thing about it is, aside from time invested, I didn’t actually lose anything for the experience. No one actually got hurt of worse, and I personally grew from the experience.

Now I’m back delving into the Darkest of Dungeons (with a new file, obviously) and applying the lessons I learned from my previous incarnation to wage war against the Eldar Ones. And these lessons are also useful outside of this game.

I know now that, in the heat of the moment I will make a choice to sacrifice everything to obtain my goal but will very much regret it later on. I also know that the individuals are important to me, and that the ends don’t justify the means. Care and caution are paramount, and I can’t ignore that about myself.

This didn’t fall under the category of your typical review. I didn’t assign it an arbitrary number, I didn’t discuss extensively the graphics or even the team that made it. I needed to review my own process and thoughts with this experience and how it has shaped me today. Because that’s what games and experiences do: they shape us.

Even if, to do so, they expose us to horrors our rational minds could never fathom.

How Many Episodes does it Take?

20170628_001052-1

There are times where I watch episode after episode… not entirely sure if I’m enjoying it or not.

Anime and I have a long-standing, albeit complicated relationship. One that typically works in a cyclical pattern:

 

  1. Craving: Not to any sort of degree that affects my daily decision making process, but a general itch that needs to be scratched
  2. Need: I’ll maybe spend some time and sit down to a series I enjoyed in the past and revel in the nostalgia
  3. Obsession: Then comes the binge. I’ll pour through the shows I want to watch, then go off searching for new material to distract myself with
  4. Apathy: If there’s anything I started, I’ll endeavor to finish it. Otherwise I’m starting to lose interest in the genre
  5. Reset: Technically that resting period between the fall and the rise, but I digress. In general, not much of anything.

In the past couple of weeks, I’ve found myself steadily locked in stage 3, and I’ve well expended my ready supply of favoured titles. This is when I go looking for new material, and if there’s one thing any anime aficionado can agree on, it’s that there are a lot of titles out there. An almost unreasonable number of titles, honestly. Well beyond unreasonable.

I think you get what I’m getting at here. Moving along.

But, unlike most shows, where you can watch an episode or two and know pretty quickly if its worth watching the full season (or worse, all 12 or so seasons), anime is a funny beast for me. There are times where I watch episode after episode, and even after I walk away from the show, I’m still not entirely sure if I’ve enjoyed it or not.

Strike Witches

Strike Witches: cute underage girls who forgo pants to fight aliens during WW2.

Hell, there’s even times where I can finish watching a whole season and still not be entirely sure if I enjoyed it or not. And I wish it was easier for me to quantify what kind of content it is I enjoy or don’t, but the answers still elude me. I can enjoy anime that is utter garbage (such as the case for Strike Witches and Trinity Blood, two very VERY different anime), yet still disdain anime that is largely agreed by anime savants to be great shows (for all the praise I hear about Dragon Ball and its 1-sextzillion series, can’t say I’m a fan).

 

So, included below are some anime I’ve been watching recently and seriously cannot decide if I liked it or not.


Hinako NoteHinako Note

What happens when you take an extrodinarily shy country girl and fill her with aspirations to be an actor at a prestigeous city high school, then put her in an apartment with three other cute girls (one of which is the landlord, despite being a high school student herself) and rival her with a tsuendere fan of said landlord?

You get Hinako Note. I think.

It’s a fairly cute anime with a charming cast and an easy to understand plot, but for some reason, it just seems to lack anything, well… anything. The episodes feel largely empty, but because it’s still a pretty-looking show with interesting (if somewhat trope-y) characters, I cannot decide if I like it or not. Every so often I come back for another episode and, afterwards, can’t figure out if I’m enjoying myself or not.


Love Tyrant

Love TyrantThis one has a pretty standard harem-style formula, so nothing else really needs to be said about the plot of the show. Except that the main love-interests are the air-headed angel of romance (in training, kinda sorta) and the yandere. That equation alone is entertaining, especially when Guri (the aformentioned cupid) writes the MC’s name along with hers and the yandere’s name (as well the tsuendere girls name, who happens to be cousins with the yandere but still infatuated with her; bear with me, it only gets weirder as the episodes go on) in a book called Love Note, which of course makes this little harem immortal (so the yandere frequently trying to kill the MC for “cheating” on her is totally okay)

That gag alone is very funny, and the anime isn’t content with just settling with your standard mainstream animation quality, frequently bouncing back and forth with more simplified art styles as the shots demand it.

Where the anime loses me is that everyone is infatuated with the MC (even his younger sister, but I digress), who doesn’t seem to have any real defining traits other than “stock romance MC protagonist”. And with the inclusion of the sadistic deviant, the anime is largely not good. And yet, the jokes and core-cast interactions are great, even if the plot is paint-by-numbers and you can already figure out the ending by episode 2.

I’m about 5 episodes in and still haven’t the foggiest if I actually like it or not. It just leaves me perplexed about myself. What am I doing with my life, and why do I keep letting the next episode roll over?


Shingeki no Kyojin (Attack on Titan)attackontitan

This one probably surprises you just as much as it surprises me. The anime possesses everything I love in a narrative and terrific visuals. And yet, after watching 13 (read ’em, THIRTEEN) episodes from season 1, I still haven’t a clue if I like the series or not.

Of course, I’ve even broken it down in my head as to why I like/dislike it. As for the points in its favour: the characters are (except for Eren) rich and interesting, the world lore fascinates me with great technology and idiosyncrasies, a high degree of lethality to really drive the stakes even higher, and intriguing political intrigue.

And frankly, there aren’t many things about the anime that I dislike. Except for Eren; everything about that character bothers me. Like, seriously, everything. Note to Self: that’s probably a good article for the future. But even my strong dislike for a character isn’t enough to seriously dampen my enjoyment of a series.

Again, thirteen episodes in and I don’t know if I like it or not.


Anime is a funny creature, and I have no doubt that as I continue to poke around, I’ll find more great, bizarre and unusual material to sate these passing fancies. If you have any anime you’ve watched that you can’t decide if you enjoy or not, share them in comments below. Because weird anime is part of what makes the interest so… well… interesting.