Wednesday, 6 July 2016

A Note About the Most Obvious Foreshadowing in TV History

I didn't sleep much a few nights ago, so I thought I'd make the most of my time and watch the remainder of Season 4 of Orange is the New Black. The first half is, frankly, meh, although the show does pick itself up as it goes on, and I'd say that this season more than any before it really puts its cast through the wringer. I can't imagine how much money they must have spent on pale foundation and that fake sweat stuff they use to make people look clammy, but it must have made some make-up supplier very happy.

As well as whomever handles the royalty payouts for Oz. Jus sayin'
I don't want to talk about the plot or the characters or this that and the next thing that everyone else will likely drone on about. OITNB is not as good as it was, but it'll get you from 2 to 6am without a second thought, so it's still got that going for it, and that's where my critique stops. What I'd like to talk about is our good friend, foreshadowing. You might be more familiar with it by it's pet-name: the Indiana Jones "I told you not to trust anyone" effect. If you ever spot something in a film or TV show that seems like it's oddly specifically placed or phrased, likelihood is that it's the filmmakers trying to make some sort of subtle nod. Sometimes its an in joke or a reference, but often it hints at future revelations in the movie. For a good example of really fucking obvious foreshadowing, watch Fight Club.

"A movie about Edward Norton repeatedly punching himself" must have been the easiest sell ever.
OITNB's newest season is all about rug pulls; playing the storytelling long con, if you will. Much of the plot elements introduced in the first episodes aren't developed fully until the closing few, which lends a great deal to the great overarching tensions that pervade the season. OK, this is where we'll be getting spoilery, so stop, collaborate and Netflix if you would rather experience the show's twists al dente from this point on. Right at the start of the season we're introduced to a swathe of new characters who all serve to unsettle the already choppy waters the inmates were left in after season 3, of particular note being a bunch of new security guards, both maximum security officers and army veterans.

And, it appears, the Jigsaw Killer.
Their captain, one Piscatella, encourages unorthodox and often barbaric tactics that gradually turn the inmates against the guards, eventually resulting in a plot to overthrow him. The plan for a peaceful protest ends in the sudden, unfair murder of the innocent Poussey (insert joke about murdering some Poussay here, cause I ain't doin it). Warden Caputo attempts to defend the actions of the guard responsible for Poussey's death, and as a result, incites a full scale riot, on the climax of which the season ends like the massive emotional blue ball that it is.

Yes, this is likely mainly a Games of Thrones "kill a popular character out of nowhere" trick to attempt to seal the deal on season 5, but much of the latter episodes of season 4 are actually a rather liberal re-imagining of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, if you can believe it. It's a complicated play, and liberties are taken, but short story: a group of people plot to kill Julius Caesar before he has the chance to take the throne as emperor; they succeed, however are eventually turned upon by the populace and driven out by a mob who, in their furore, accidentally kill an innocent bystander; then murder, suicide, suicide (cause this is Shakespeare, people), exeunt. No, the stories aren't by any stretch of the imagination identical, most notably differing in that the plot fails in OITNB and focus is shifted to the death of the innocent, but a great deal of similarities do exist between Shakespeare and Season four of OITNB.

The constant, unsettling presence of Brian Blessed notwithstanding. 
It all really kicks off in episode 12, where we have the plan to remove the man of military experience, Piscetella, from power:

Orange is the new black season 4 Netflix meeting piscatella red library
"So what, we do a dance number or some shit?"
This plot culminates in (skipping the death of Caesar) the murder of a bystander, thought to be one of the conspirators or, in OITNB's case, mistaken for an attacker:
Orange is the new black season 4 Netflix poussey death scene samira wiley
Spoiler Warning: Kaiser Sose is actually Kevin Spacey.
Caputo is essentially playing Mark Antony here, initially attempting to support the inmates and punish those responsible for Poussay's death (which has now replaced that of Caesar's, just to confuse things), but then going on to defend the guard who killed her under the belief that he was acting appropriately; for "the good of Rome" if you will:

Orange is the new black season 4 Netflix caputo speech scene
"I am not good at picking sides."
Then, slightly out of order, there finishes with a riot, incited by the words of our Mark Antony, albeit the...wrong ones, but damnit this is definitely intentional! The closing episodes of this season are a retelling of Julius Caesar. And I'll darned well prove it! Here's a shot of Poussey talking to Judy King in the library in episode 8.

Orange is the new black season 4 Netflix poussey library
Lookit dat smile.
And here's the shot immediately after the last one. Poussay has put a book on the shelf, and look what it happens to be...

Orange is the new black season 4 Netflix poussey library julius caesar
Them evils tho.
That sure is an oddly perfectly framed place to put Julius Caesar, no matter what ordering system you might be using. Just so you know, the OITNB library uses Dewey Decimal:

Orange is the new black season 4 Netflix library dewey decimal system
I have too much spare time on my hands at the moment.
Julius Caesar (822.3) and Prescription for Excellence (658.812) are both in completely the wrong place in this library, so either Poussay is really bad at her job, the set designer is a hack, or there's a reason for all this. OK, I don't actually think there's much to Prescription for Excellence, aside from maybe alluding to the poor organisation of Litchfield and its sudden decline into a money-oriented business rather than, you know, a prison. But Caesar? It's like Prop Choice 101 to never make a character handle Shakespeare unless you plan to have them die, go mad, or go mad then die. Even if you're not personally aware of the story comparisons, seeing a character so blatantly display a work by literature's greatest mass murderer is one hell of a red flag for shit about to go down. I hereby declare, for the sake of all fictional characters everywhere, that Shakespeare may never be handed by another living soul while in front of a camera ever again.

willy wonka and the chocolate factory 1971 film gif gene wilder eat flower cup
Gene Wilder even weaponized Shakespeare by quoting it on 5 separate occasions
and irreversibly ruining the lives of as many families.

Monday, 6 June 2016

Mini-ish Monday: A Girl Like Her

a girl like her 2015 film lexi ainsworth hunter king poster

You know, the good thing about a mockumentary is that you can have all of the hard hitting emotion and exploitative trickery of a normal documentary without any of the actual real life nonsense getting in your way. Amy S. Weber's A Girl Like Her really ramps up the real factor and, by the end, completely alienates you with the absolutely fantastical, pie-in-the-sky butt-fuckery that is it's concluding moments. It sounds like I hate this film at the moment but really I'm so in two minds about this movie, because it is pretty great. It's well made and emotional and really nails the peaks and troughs of high school life; but at the same time it's fucking dumb, nauseatingly idealistic and inadvertently satirical to great unintentional comedic effect. OK, this is going to be hard to do in three paragraphs, so we'll go good then bad. Ahem.

a girl like her 2015 film lexi ainsworth hunter king jimmy bennett camera
"This tiny my opinion. And I'm going to shove it down your throat."
One sentence blurb: A Girl Like Her is a mockumentary charting a top-ranking American high school as it deals with the attempted suicide of one of it's students (Jessica, played by Lexi Ainsworth), exploring the very real US bullying epidemic and such like. We start the film with Jessica popping hella pills and going into a coma, as you do with all that hydrocodone you just so happen to have lying around your house. It very quickly transpires that she has been suffering some pretty intense bullying from the popular girl, Avery (Hunter King) and has been encouraged to start recording the abuse by her friend, Brian (Jimmy Bennett). The acting from King and Bennett, as well as the majority of the supporting cast, is spot on and hard hitting; King is a suitably vile beast from the stygian abyss, revelling in the torture of Jessica, who sadly doesn't get a great deal of screen time due to the aforementioned coma. The documentarian style of candid cameras and talking heads works very well in the context of the narrative and keeps things grounded nicely as events unfold and we dip into the beating heart of the school. Plot itself very quickly takes a back seat in favour of developing our antagonist and pushing the very forward, but very necessary, anti-bullying message of the film, which on a whole is well intentioned and correct. OK, um, here's the bad bits.

a girl like her 2015 film lexi ainsworth hunter king coma
The person we're meant to give a shit about, doing what she does for the entire run time of the film.
I have the weirdest feeling that Amy S. Weber is trying to make up for something with this movie. Very quickly do we curtail any pretence of this being about Jessica and focus solely on her harasser, Avery; an act which worryingly parallels the way in which modern media obsesses over the accused in cases of sexual assault and the like, leaving the survivor as a footnote. I know this breaks my three paragraph rule but I think it's important that you see who we're dealing with here. I apologise in advance to anyone whom this might awaken awful high school memories for; King is too perfect as the archetypal evil popular girl.

a girl like her 2015 film lexi ainsworth hunter king locker

a girl like her 2015 film lexi ainsworth hunter king smirk
That is a face only an icepick could love.
I don't care if this is a movie about redemption and accepting that "hurt people hurt people" and all that lovey dovey nonsense. It works in theory, yes, but in theory alone; and that's exactly where this movie resides, in that magical fantasy world where the school bully would eventually see the error of their ways and apologise rather than dig their heels in like a cantankerous mare and double down on the bitch-factor. I've witnessed events very similar to these myself and in my experience no-one ever admits to being the one to blame, usually the exact opposite to tell the truth; everyone else in the school will feel guilt before the actual perpetrator will. No, it shouldn't be like that, and yes, it should be more like what happens in this film, but it feels unfair to those who suffer to assume that an apology and some tears is ever going to be enough to make up for what the victim has been put through. It is a noble message, but a heavily misguided one. Misguided would be a way to describe some of the choices of filming at a few points in the story as well; documentaries are voyeuristic and exploitative in their very nature at the best of times, but when you're secretly filming crying students and shoving a lens in the face of a grieving father you might be taking the biscuit a little.

a girl like her 2015 film lexi ainsworth hunter king mother father grief
Crew needed for new documentary. Stone heart absolutely necessary.
You don't line up a shot like that without thinking about a little thing called subtext, so this is what I think this movie is really about, and one more little aspect of A Girl Like Her lends it some credibility: the maker of the film's fake documentary and the woman who conducts the interviews throughout is actually Amy S. Weber herself. I think this film might be Weber acknowledging her past as either a bully or an accessory to someone who did these kinds of things when she was at high school. I think she understands and accepts the shallowness of these kinds of documentaries and, in likeness, of trying to apologise to a person whose life you have so thoroughly ruined. I think she never did apologise and this is her way of saying that, in a better world, this is what should have happened, but even then how much weight does that even carry? In the end, whatever you do is forced and manipulated either out of self preservation or guilt, and attempting to humanise and justify the actions of the person who did these things merely serves to trivialise the suffering of those she has affected. How do you come to terms with the fact that you did something that is irredeemably bad? I don't know, and neither does this film; but I think it sincerely wishes it did.

a girl like her 2015 film lexi ainsworth hunter king coma awake
Either way, the sequel is gonna make for one hell of a revenge slasher.

Monday, 30 May 2016

Mini Monday: Parasyte -The Maxim-

Parasyte the maxim poster

Japanese anime/manga likes to ask big questions. Death Note ponders how good intentions can, with the introduction of almost limitless power, be warped into monstrous acts. Barakamon explores art and how our creativity is intrinsically linked with the people around us. Dragon Ball Z attempts to create a cohesive story around hair gel and the age-old playground battle of wits that is "I'm better times a million...PLUS ONE". The anime that I just finished watching a matter of days ago, Parasyte -the maxim-, tackles equally as lofty subject matter, inquisitively poking the concepts of humanity and mankind's destructive relationship with nature; something which, for the most part, it does very well.

Parasyte the maxim reiko tamura head split screenshot
Helped along with a healthy dose of unpleasant body horror.
This show is super heavy on the plot, so I'll give you the beginner's version: weird parasites of unknown origin (maybe space, they never say) appear on Earth and infect humans by crawling into their brains and taking over their heads (see above); these monsters then survive by feeding on other human beings to keep their host body alive. Our hero, Shinichi Izumi, is infected by one of these parasites but manages to stop it from reaching his brain, instead it burrows into his right arm and takes that over instead. So Shinichi now has a sentient, shape-shifting right arm called Migi (Japanese for "right") and the pair work together to survive as they come to blows with other parasites and try to keep their existence secret; obviously this doesn't go particularly well.

Parasyte the maxim shinichi migi fight Mr A school gif
Seen above: Not being very inconspicuous.
The animation is fabulously grotesque, particularly when it comes to the strikingly regular eviscerations/decapitations, and it helps make the action, although blindingly fast, feel heavy and consequential; you're never sure how things might end up playing out. And boy does the show play off that as best it can! If you thought Game of Thrones was trigger happy with doing unspeakable things to its characters, you're in for one hell of a treat; no-one gets out of Parasyte unscathed. There's multiple massacres, usually in schools, and the majority of the principal cast ends up killed, infected or both, usually in a most unexpected and brutal fashion; although there's a few spots of nice humour thrown in there to keep you calm. It's a heart pounding experience that, with a meaty yet brief 24 episode run, maintains a firm narrative rhythm and knows exactly for how long it should stick around.
Parasyte the maxim shinichi migi reading morph change gif
Migi is adorable. A cold, ruthless killer, but still adorable.
There are always downsides, however, and Parasyte has a few. The plot runs thick and fast throughout the show, but often each character's internal monologue and contemplations with one another become repetitive and extremely protracted; there's only so many times someone can say "You're not like you used to be" before it loses any meaning. This gets particularly bad in the closing episodes, where you're regularly treated to over-bearing 5-minute long speeches about how mankind is the real evil due to its destruction of the natural world, or how Shinichi has realised the true meaning of being human yada yada bleh bleh. Luckily the writing and translation is good and the points relevant enough to the show's overarching themes to still be engaging, but you can't shake that icky forced environmentalism schtick. Also, it felt like the final epic confrontation was sort of shoehorned in at the end, sticking out like a compound fracture compared to the rest of the show; it may have worked better to introduce the unkillable nemesis earlier in order to establish him as a constant threat, ie Alien or Resident Evil: Nemesis. On a whole, though, if you're looking for some great body horror with satisfying action, fascinating characters and a healthy dose of cod-liver-musings, then, yeah, this one'll do you. Also, you have super specific tastes.

Parasyte the maxim shinichi school massacre gore screenshot

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Let's Cook! Curry with Rhona 2.0

Arm narm narm narm.
So in January in 2015, I showed you guys how to make curry! Now today I am back to show you how to make... Curry...? Do I eat anything other than curry? Sometimes. Is curry the best? Yes.
Today I'm showing you how to make katsu curry with crispy sweet potato! Basically the homemade version of the yasai katsu curry from Wagamama!

Fun fact, this post was originally meant to go up a couple of weeks ago, but because I'm still getting used to my Go Pro, on the first attempt, I totally fucked the angle and you couldn't see a god damn thing!

Good fucking job, Rhona.
Difficulty rating: 2/5
Duration: 2/5

I've put the difficulty as two out of five, because it's not highly technical (I'm really not that good of a cook), but there are a few of elements, time management is key and can be a wee bit fiddly in places. All in all, it takes about 30 mins to make, from prep to shovelling it into your face.

What you'll need
1 White Onion
2 Cloves of Garlic
1 Chunk of Ginger
A Pinch of Chilli Flakes (depending on how spicy you like it)
1 Tablespoon of Curry Powder
1 Tablespoon of Plain Flour
250ml of Vegetable Stock
Drizzle of Honey
Drizzle of Soy Sauce
1 Egg
1/2 Sweet Potato.

If a big ole idiot like me can manage this, so can you! Trust me, it tastes delicious, so try it out for yourselves!

Friday, 15 April 2016

Guest Post - Naomi's CeX Haul

Well hello there! As you can see from the title of this blog post I am neither Rhona nor Ben, but a friend filling a little space on the web. This post may feel a little weird to read if you're used to their writing but be patient and we'll get to the end.

So I am a very close friend of Ben and since becoming friendly with him he has introduced me to a number of things: how to criticise films effectively by seeing the messages behind the film, how to spend more money than I need to on des joux du video but most importantly how to save the money up for these games by shopping at CeX.

Cabaret film 1972 money makes the world go round gif
"Money makes the world go round."
As you may or may not know CeX is a high street shop which buys people's used games, films and other techy accoutrements (phones, consoles, controllers etc.) and sells them on to other humans. It's a flawless plan! You either earn a little money or buy something for cheaper than when it was new new. AND I CAN'T BELIEVE I HADN'T USED IT B.B. (Before Ben)!!!!

Since discovering the joys of buying numerous films and games as cheap as chips, I've seen that you can justify buying all those terrible films you guiltily wanted to see but were not about to burn your money going to see it at the cinema or on DVD new (like Bad Teacher, a truly dull and boring film for just 50p, yet you can't help but swoon that tiny bit over Justin Timberlake in those teacher glasses/jumpers/cardigans...). OR grab those little gems you watched when you were younger that you'd completely forgotten about that you just NEEEEEED for those nostalgic hits when adult life just gets that little too much and you're lying on the floor staring through the ceiling. OR See something random and pick it up and find it's the best thing ever? You just never know.

So let me talk you through my most recent splurge at CeX, buying 8 films for £4.50.

the lego movie film 2014 gif
Haul summary, Hit em'!

A Little Princess

Rating: U
Price: 50p
a little princess 1995

This film was bought because I haven't seen it in so many years and the only memories I have of it are a monkey and walking between houses on a tightrope or plank of wood... and that's just not good enough! My little sister had the same response I did when I saw the title amongst the reflective sleaves "Oh The Little Princess, we watched that when we were little... what on earth happens...?". So I need to poke my memory place and awaken the reason why even after all these years I have this strange compulsion to watch it.

From the blurb I can decipher that the film is an adaptation of Frances Hodgeson Burnett's tale A Little Princess published in 1905 about a young girl (Sara Crewe, Liesel Matthews) who is moved away from her home in India where she lived with her father (An English Captain and widower) to study at a bording school in New York reigned by a miserable headteacher. She tries not to lose her imagination as the colours of India are replaced by the bleak city landscape.

A Knight's Tale

Rating: PG
Price: 50p

heath ledger a knights tale 2001
Heath-Senpai... *shiny anime eyes*
If you don't know this film, GO WATCH IT! It's lighthearted and fun, and you'll fall in love with Heath Ledger just like you did in 10 Things I Hate About You and you won't find him dangerously sexy like in The Dark Knight. Sexy knights, nudity and farting... Those are the bits I vividly remember, a simple start from nothing to getting the girl story which is perfect for a lazy Sunday afternoon or evening when you need something fun to iron to.


Rating: 12
Price: 50p
Little monsters blanket fort comic a guide to blanket forts

This is a blind purchase... What can I say; I saw Health Ledger in period dress and they said it was like Shakespeare in Love, and that's definitely one of those guilty pleasure movies. So I'm hoping for more of the same!! The blurb tells me Casanova (Heath Ledger) meets his match in Francesca (Sienna Miller) and a tale unfolds of a game to find each other while risking life and reputation for true love! I can't wait!!! To enjoy this film fully many nibbles will need to be gathered, along with pyjamas, slippers and blanket forts! As long as it's as awful as it sounds, it shall be perfect.

The Devil Wears Prada

Rating: 12
Price: 50p

what oh this old thing meme snake

You watch this film because Emily Blunt and Meryl Streep are just amazing. Yes Anne Hathaway is also there but she just never really impresses me... But this film is fun, frivolous and fabulous! And it just so happens I wanted to watch it recently and didn't own it! It fills a little "I feel rubbish today and I need to watch a film where someone achieves something through the struggles of life" space. Mini-blurb: an underdog struggles through the challenges of a busy office space run by someone far more important than them, eventually to be respected for who they are. I love it.

The Boat that Rocked (also know as Pirate Radio)

Rating: 15
Price: 50p
bed scene naked ladies girls the boat that rocked pirate radio 2009
"HEEEEEEEEEEY Sexy ladies" - Psy
This was a film I blindly picked from LOVEFiLM a good long while ago and I just really enjoyed it. It's about a boat where cool music is played and broadcast to the children of the 60s as a rebellion to the classical music radio stations. As you can see from the picture above the film does not take itself seriously. At the same time it follows Carl (Tom Sturridge) through the journey of discovering himself and experiencing things for the first time, and this story behind the silliness keeps the movie grounded.

Hot Fuzz

Rating: 15
Price: 50p
the three flavours cornetto trilogy shaun of the dead hot fuzz the world's end fences jumping

The first time I watched this film I was by myself (probably eating all sorts of naughty nibbles) and I just was giggling at the ridiculousness of it all! It was my introduction to The Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy and is still my favourite. The story of a Police Officer (Simon Pegg) who is so good at his job that the rest of the department have nothing to do so he's sent away from the city for crime rates to increase again. Once settled in a sleepy little village, bored out of his brains, strange things start to happen with the stupidly gory deaths of a number of characters concluding in a hand-brake turn into the credits. It's a silly movie I've now watched 3 times and enjoyed every viewing and will continue to do so. Mainly bought in case I don't have access to Ben's copy because he's been absorbed into some odd cloaked cult; a necessary part of my DVD collection!

The Pianist

Rating: 15
Price: £1
the boy in striped pyjamas 2008 fence

I was initially confused when Ben mentioned this film as I thought he was talking about the film The Piano, an incredibly weird film which my 70+ year old piano teacher told me to watch and I was a bit weirded out by the recommendation of... But no, this film (based on a true story) is about a man who tries to not be defeated by The War (it gets its own capitals) and the struggles of man in such a time. I have not watched it but expect to cry. So hard. I've visited Ypres and the reminder of the atrocities of war just breaks me. The lives of people facing this at the time, those not on the front line, are the stories I want to hear (like The Boy In Stiped Pyjamas, shown above) I'm going to need someone with me while I watch this.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Rating: 18
Price: 50p
eezma the emperor's new groove 2000
Let's start by saying, I do not enjoy horror, thriller or gory films. Rape, torture and other unpleasantries I run far, far away from, so you won't be surprised to hear that I WILL NOT be watching this film. It is for my mum. She shares the odd fascination that my grandma has with dark, daaaark creepy stories. Ever heard of Wallander? Decapitated head in a stream, it's all very unpleasant. I'm sure it's great TV if you like it but gah!

But anyway, I got the Swedish version based on the Millennium book series by Steig Larsson following the awesome-looking Leisbeth Salander (Noomie Rapace) as she becomes trapped in a world of a dark and dysfunctional family whilst avoiding the dangers that come with it.

So... all in all a funny little mix that I'll enjoy (apart from the last one... that is not my cup of warm milky chai with honey). This is not the last time CeX will take my money off me and I skip across the mountains jovially!

Thank's for reading, maybe I'll see you again some time. Naomi xxx

garnet steven universe heart hands

Kindly edited by Ben

Monday, 21 March 2016

Mini Monday! - Love

love tv netflix judd apatow gillian jacobs paul rust 2016
The show is about as interesting as its poster.
This new Netflix Original is a pile of self indulgent garbage.

Gillian Jacobs is great. In Community, she played Britta's ball of lovably misguided but well-intentioned self-righteous anger spectacularly well. Britta was by no means a good person (nor is the rest of the show's cast, which is half the point) but by god was she trying, and we loved her for it. This new show, Love, has her cast in a somewhat similar role as Mickey, a heavy-drinking twenty-something with no direction in life who works in a radio station. Oh wait, no, that's nothing like Britta and more like a bingo card for "most unimaginative, contrived, bullshit Judd Apatow comedy character ever". Hold on...holy crap. It is a Judd Apatow comedy! It all makes sense now.

love tv netflix judd apatow gillian jacobs paul rust 2016 sandwich
Each episode's script: *30 minutes of fart noises*
Mickey starts out as a reasonably relate-able but barely functioning human being and gradually descends over the course of ten episodes into a forced caricature of every type of addict in existence. She starts out by drinking too much, like every goddamn twenty-odd year old in existence, then gradually graduates to heavier drugs before miraculously realising out of nowhere in the last episode that she's not only an alcoholic and drug addict, but also a sex addict too, because I really don't know. This doesn't occur over the space of months or years by the by, the whole series takes place in a couple of weeks, so we're meant to assume that she was like this from the beginning, but maybe all of these addictive behaviours just went on holiday for the first few episodes or something? It's stupid, really really stupid. Oo, and then there's Paul Rust's Gus. Heh. My god... Have you ever wanted to watch a grown man snivel and whine his way through 5 Christ-fucking hours of your life like a ten year old with Tourette's? Maybe you would like to watch him systematically ruin his perfectly good career because he's a completely useless human being who throws tantrums at his boss and has absolutely no concept of what he should and shouldn't do. He's not funny, he's not sympathetic; he is the single worst, most horrifyingly written pile of steaming turd that has ever dropped unceremoniously out of the imagination of another human being like a frozen stowaway falling out of the landing gear of an Airbus A380 at 30'000 feet.

love tv netflix judd apatow gillian jacobs paul rust 2016 argument
I do not like this show.
My final paragraph will be about the show's writing; if you would like to save time, it's pretty much more of the above. Imagine if you fast-forwarded into the future to the age of about 60 and, along the way developed severe head trauma or some kind of brain defect. Now imagine trying, with your limited intellectual capacity and horrifyingly outdated concepts of what is and isn't hip/cool/happenin', to write a television show that appeals to the current generation of penniless students and man-children. Congratulations, you just wrote the remake to the criminally despicable Netflix show Love. The characters have an inexplicable obsession with taking Ubers and some other unnecessary and already outdated cultural phenomenon that I can't be bothered checking to see what it was. Point being, pop culture buzzwords replace actual characterisation or comedy and awkward Mexican standoffs and arguments replace comical timing or wit. It's everything I expect from a US comedy and less. I'm done here.

Overall Ben Equivalence Rating

I Don't Even Know... - Nothing compares to how disappointingly awful Love is. Although, maybe that was the cynical point they were trying to make all along... Nope. It's just plain shit.

Monday, 14 March 2016

Mini Monday! - Stonehearst Asylum

stonehearst asylum kate beckinsale jim sturgess 2014 film poster
Don't let the shoestring budget-porn poster fool you.
I don't post often enough. I know, it's a real tragedy for us all; and the reason for this is often due to the long, tangential prose that I'm prone to writing. To correct both this and the issue of a rather sparse posting schedule I've decided to start reviewing select films in a rather truncated 3-paragraphs-or-less. Concise, snappy, and never listing more than two synonymous adjectives at any one time. Without further ado, here's the first of hopefully many to come.

stonehearst asylum kate beckinsale jim sturgess 2014 film lamp
Obligatory gothic-horror "character holding an oil lamp in a dank cellar" moment? Check.
To successfully portray old-fashioned medicine through the lens of a modern conscience is akin to trying to understand why 14-year old white girls on Tumblr are so angry all the time without being one of said 14-year old white girls; that is to say nigh impossible. That said, I was pleasantly surprised by Stonehearst Asylum's noble effort to do just so. With an insidiously star-studded cast, a rather sprightly 6.8 on IMDb, and drawing influence from the Gothic King himself, Mr. Edgar Allan Poe, it is a thoroughly pleasant film to watch on a Thursday night after a bag of M&Ms and three gin and tonics. If the bracingly despicable Shitty Island were German supermarket own-brand 2-ply, then Stonehearst Asylum would be the infinitely more comfortable cheap branded 3-ply that's on buy one get 1/3 off fabric softener.

stonehearst asylum kate beckinsale jim sturgess 2014 film hat outside
I pretty much exclusively know this actor as that guy who always tilts his head when he acts.
Acting-wise, there's A-listers bleeding out of the dank walls, all performing with the lackadaisical attitude of someone who was handed the script and a delicious sandwich and told to choose only one. But campy gothic period thriller is as campy gotherioller (ew, that didn't work) does, and the stunted performances bow out to make room for fog and plot, in that order. Young academic, weird asylum, creepy lead doctor, underlying mystery. It's all very expected but presented like a reasonably up-market free buffet; you're not going to complain. There's a few twists and plenty of atmosphere and I'm sure you'll enjoy yourself. Just try not to think too hard about the uncomfortable sub-plot of Jim Sturgess' doctor getting very fond of Kate Beckinsale alarmingly quickly.

stonehearst asylum kate beckinsale jim sturgess 2014 film hysteria
When a lady convulses when you touch her, it probably means no. Unless under very particular circumstances.
The interesting bit for me, though, is the medicine. Stonehearst portrays a world flipped on it's head, where the patients have taken over the asylum (no relation to the great Ken Stott/David Tennant mini-series) and put in place a system of their own. Out goes the tortuous force-feeding and humiliating examinations and in comes space for patients to express themselves, to develop occupational skills, and to begin adjusting to normal life. It purposefully parallels with many of the tenants of modern psychiatric medicine, criticising the archaic methods of old and championing these new, then avant garde ideals. What's good is the way that they manage to present these changes from the point of view of the time; as terrifying, chaotic concepts literally dreamt up by a madman, but undeniably effective. It is here, however, that the film precariously straddles the borders of profoundness with it's well-intentioned ignorance. Despite suggesting that these methods are more beneficial to the patients the film also paints it as an unsustainable model, with the asylum gradually falling apart under it's new chaotic rule, as well as once again falling into the age-old trap (bad One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest, bad!of believing that electro-convulsive therapy (ECT) is some barbaric mind-wiping zap-magic. In the end, the message reflects the general "-ness" of the film: good, but not great.

stonehearst asylum kate beckinsale jim sturgess 2014 film michael caine electroconvulsive therapy ECT
As good as any film that gives Michael Caine the same number of lines as a character who
believes he is a horse could hope to be.

Overall Ben Equivalence Rating

A Starbucks Hot Chocolate - Well presented and reasonably enjoyable but inherently flawed, leaving you with a metallic taste in your mouth and the wonder as to whether you really actually liked it.

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Dark Souls: Not As Hard As You Think

dark souls video game 2011 gaping dragon boss
Pfft. Eaaaaaasy.
So, you've heard about Dark Souls I assume? The spiritual successor to the PS3 sleeper-hit Demon's Souls (a game I've started twice and never finished, for shame), Dark Souls is most well known for being a brutal gauntlet that redefines the human perception of suffering. Your own knowledge of it may start and end at "You die. Lots." and, to a degree, that is pretty accurate. Death is everywhere in this game and if you fuck up, which you will, it will greet you more enthusiastically than a Labrador on ecstasy.

dog jumping pond happy
"Sir, is that your dog frantically trying to have sex with a pond?"
"Yes. Yes it is."
As such, when I leapt into the grimy, utterly depressing world of these now 3 games, I was expecting the worst. Demon's Souls took me by the throat and made me eat it. Have you ever seen a video game force a man to eat his own throat?! No, I thought not. That was the level of awful fuckery I was expecting. And granted, the first half of Dark Souls is pretty darn hard, but frankly, by the time the credits rolled, I was underwhelmed by the overall difficulty of the whole affair compared to how it sounds coming from the mouths of those who champion it as an interactive trial by fire. It's tough, yes, but with perseverance and a little time anyone can crack it. The greatest number of times I had to repeat any boss was around 10, which is hardly repeating yourself ad nauseum.

Since I spent the best part of a year playing this game (and thoroughly enjoying it) I thought it best to write at least something about the experience on here. This won't be a complete review or an in depth explanation of the game, there's enough of those already, but just a few observations I've made that stick out to me as often being forgotten when this series comes up in conversation. Here we go.

Stupidity, and Only Stupidity, Begets Punishment

The most common one-word description of Dark Souls, and a description I myself have used, is "sadistic". Why do we say this about it? Is the game revelling in your misery? Does it try to make you fail as often as it can, just to watch the little helpless mouse that is your character scuttle through the maze of spears, ooze and traps again and again? 

dark souls video game 2011 ceaseless discharge
"Hi there, I'm here for my 5 o'clock immolation...?"
All in all, "sadistic" could really be a synonym for "unfair". It makes you think that this game is setting everything up into a little domino set of moments designed to fuck you over, like the immensely popular I Wanna Be the Guy, a game specifically designed to screw with you to make you die. It's a complete and utter load of crap, though. Dark Souls does a spectacularly good job of laying everything out in front of you fair and square to then allow you to make your own mistakes. The tutorial level of the game has bad guys hiding behind doorways, so if you forgot to check your corners later on, that's all on you. Didn't think there was going to be a giant boulder rolling at you? Then how do you explain the mangled corpse and crushed tiles lying there in the light of day for anyone to see? Dark Souls is never unfair because it gives you everything you need, either by experience or environmental clues, to manoeuvre the situation correctly; like a puzzle whose solution results in you not getting your ass handed to you.

dark souls video game 2011 sens fortress outside
"We hope you like swinging axe blades and giants hurling boulders, cause we got you a whole castle full of 'em!
Now, question one: Why is a raven like a writing desk?"
 The two most recent occasions I can think of when I died the most suddenly and unceremoniously, together causing me a net loss in the tens of thousands of souls and a half dozen humanity (if you've no idea what I'm going on about, just roll with me here), came in two late-game areas. In one, I had just been killed by a giant flaming tree with a bug-heart and lava wings (again, just let the words wash over you like a wave) and was eager to get myself back to the fight. I sprinted out into a pool of lava, completely forgetting that I had unequipped the ring that was meant to stop me from getting burnt to a crisp by said lava so I could wear something more appropriate for the fire-bug-tree fight. Fwoosh, I died.

In the other, I'd just cleared out a cave of giant skeletons and was feeling pretty good about myself. I found a crypt that was likely full of loot and thought I could take on the three skeletons I'd spotted wandering around down there, so dropped down. Four or five more immediately sprung from the shadows and I was made into yummy adventurer sashimi before I could scream peanuts. Both of those times I was foolish and brazen, forgetting about simple aspects of the game that I'd seen a hundred times before. 

dark souls video game 2011 mimic open attack gif
For the rest of my life I'll even kick Tupperware before opening it.
There is then, however, the few occasions when Dark Souls is most definitely unfair, which mainly comes in the form of gammy combat or slightly too tight environments. I'm calling shenanigans right now on those two god-forsaken Anor Londo archers who just...fucking sniping...nnnggghh! Them and the bloody Capra demon are single-handedly preventing me from wanting to play New Game+ right here and now.

dark souls video game 2011 new londo ruins landscape
Well, that and the entirety of New Londo, but I kind of take that as a given.

The Combat is Great and Awful in Equal Measure

I've been in a total of one fight in my life (I put the guy down in a single hit, like One Punch Pan before her was cool; true story), and so I feel like I'm well versed enough in the martial arts to comment on the quality of video game combat. The Arkham series? Spot on.

batman arkham knight video game 2016 backflip kick gif
This move was actually modelled off of my own fighting style.
After the Arkham games, I would not hesitate in suggesting that Dark Souls take the silver medal when it comes to satisfying, meaty fighting. Which is very fortunate, as it is literally the only thing you do in the game: fight increasingly larger enemies, fight an even larger boss, fight other players invading your game, fight the seductive draw of the fathomless despair that engulfs your world. Initially, it looks like you've really just got the standard light/heavy-attack dealio, but then there's jump attacks, parry/riposte, running attacks, back-stabs, drop attacks, two-handing weapons; and that's without even going into the sundry weapon types which each act and react differently.

The depth to the combat system is splendidly deceptive, particularly as the game never properly introduces it to you, leaving you to find it all out for yourself. There's something very rewarding about discovering that your spear, when held in two hands, inflicts two hit-boxes of damage, or becoming particularly adept with a certain combination of stabby things all on your own. And with the subtle ways in which different equipment react with each other, you're always changing up the way you play; well to a certain extent...

dark souls video game 2011 naked gaping dragon boss fight
Here we see the famous "Run around naked with a halberd and hope for the best" method.
You see, even with all this delicately-balanced guff going on, fights all usually end up going the same way: block, wait for opening, attack, retreat, repeat. When applying that to almost every boss fight in the game, the "wait for opening bit" is pretty much synonymous with "run around in circles and shove your head up its arse". As for other players, it becomes a matter of who has a bigger stamina bar or, alternatively, resorts to pyromancy first; which is, frankly, a dick move.

dark souls video game 2011 black dragon kalameet boss
"Not cool, mate."
Oh yes, and then there's those moments when the game simply decides it doesn't like you. You see the whole entry above this one about Dark Souls generally being fair and playing by its own rules? Sometimes the enemies don't get that message, and attacks you've clearly dodged will connect, or others will simply decide that walls and other barriers don't count for them (Gwyndolin, I'm looking at you...). It doesn't sound like much, but tell that to the massive boulder-rolling guy who somehow managed to Katamari me up after I was behind him, taking the remainder of my health (and 10'000 souls) with him. Bastard...

No-One Talks About the View

Well, OK. Not entirely true. In-game, it's impossible to go within fifty paces of a sprawling, sun-drenched vista without getting drowned in a hundred "Praise the Sun!" and "Gorgeous view" messages from other players.

dark souls video game 2011 amazing chest princess gwynevere
"Heh, giant lady boobs."
But back in the real world, people are far too busy discussing what a grammatical change in an item description in the latest update means for the extended lore (see below) to remember that these games could sell themselves on their looks alone. Yes, sometimes the backgrounds look like they wouldn't be out of place in a cheap Dreamcast game, but that's an exception to the rule, and the general environment building and enemy design is phenomenal! I actually had a genuine stop and "Woah..." moment (teensy spoiler alert) upon reaching the Kiln of the First Flame, the game's final area, just due to the brilliant, ash-soaked beauty of what would soon be the setting for an epic final showdown. It was atmosphere at it's very best.
dark souls video game 2011 kiln of the first flame landscape
It's not often that games manage that real awe factor.
I've heard that Dark Souls 2 really lets it go on the interesting boss design front, but with this one there were multiple occasions where my first death at the hands of some of these brutes was entirely down to me being dumb-struck at how cool they looked (the big guy up top being a prime example). 
dark souls video game 2011 seath the scaleless boss fight
"Goodness, you have wonderful complexion! Do you exfoli-auuuughaeorhppp..."

The Story Doesn't Matter

Die hard Dark Souls fans just love their lore. They get all up in scouring the minutiae of every item to find out what relation giant spider lady was to this that and the next thing. Yes, the story is exceptionally esoteric and open to a multitude of interpretations, as well as extremely engaging and well put together if you'd like to put the time into it (which I, and the some 20 wiki tabs I had open for quite some time, did), but it's really not necessary. Yes, Seath the Scaleless up there may have betrayed all of the other dragons and become the creator of magic as we know it in this world, but to me he's just the naked lizard dude who killed me one time before I got to stab him to death in his weird wriggling dick-snake legs. But that's fine, because these games boil down to being very fancily dressed boss-rushes, and the story is just another treat for those who want it. 
dark souls video game 2011 menu cat covenant ring
Who needs weapons made from the tails of felled dragons when you could have menu screens instead.
You're not missing out on anything by not bothering to go back to that area you only visited that one time to speak to someone you had no idea was even going to be there, and it's mental that anyone could suggest that. Enjoy the game for yourself the first time around (you'll still be able to complete it even if you miss a few quests or items), and if you liked it, go back with the wiki open and scour every inch to your heart's content.

All in all, Dark Souls has been a lesson to me in taking the consensus on something with a pinch of salt. The expectation of gruelling difficulty in my head couldn't possibly have been lived up to, which marred my enjoyment of the still very hard and possibly best designed late areas of the game, and often I found myself swamped in research trying to understand little breadcrumbs of lore so I could find every secret or just learn more about the world. That's partially a character flaw on my part and also endemic of the community that surrounds these games. People want you to get as much as you can out of what could otherwise be a very sparse experience, which is admirable, but we all need to realise that it's OK to miss a few things or not understand what the hell is going on, because in the end you just killed a giant flaming centipede and all you want to do is savour the moment.

I love you, Dark Souls, you imperfect beauty, you.