What is a ‘Proto-feminist’? I thought you’d never ask…

Here’s an annoying article which will attempt to piss all over your enjoyment of the BBC’s modernisation of classic Conan Doyle: Sherlock: Is Sherlock Sexist?

If you can be bothered to read the whole lot (hopefully you’ll be as irritated as I was) then feel free to continue commentary below – the Guardian saw fit to close their comments section already.

Anyway, I object to the article on a number of levels, none of which I can be bothered to explain in detail – perhaps ironically for a blogger? – but expressed most simply, it’s because I think Sherlock is a cracking good show. Jane Clare Jones is apparently not such a fan, and here is a provocative quote of hers I’ll leave you with which jumped out at me for it’s flagrant arrogance and self-rectitude. It’s a lovely, accurate, unbiased definition of a woman with her views:

…a “proto-feminist”, a woman of great intellect and formidable agency…

Hmmm…discuss?

Stand aside Evil, I won’t be as gentle! Dragon Age II under (too) close scrutiny.

Just read an article over at IGN360 about Dragon Age II and it’s “improvements” and “updates”. I’m a little dismayed to tell you the honest truth. If you can’t be bothered to read their whole article (I don’t blame you – read mine instead), the gist of it is that the sequel to the acclaimed Role Playing Game (RPG) has been tweaked to look considerably better on consoles “especially”. “Especially” in that context means, ‘but dumbed down for PC’. At least, that’s how it seems to me.

– The necessity and skilled usage of the pause button has diminished it seems, as individual enemies ‘go down fairly easily’.

– Zooming out has been limited (even further) than in the original game. To the extent that you can’t zoom out beyond the ceiling of the room you are in! I think I feel sick.

In fact, this line from the IGN article pretty much sums up the changes to Dragon Age II, and it doesn’t appeal to me for obvious reasons:

It seems as though BioWare is taking Origins, which was super nerdy and very specifically targeted players like me, and giving it a graphical facelift so it can appeal to a wider crowd.

A wider crowd. Ach, what tasteless words. What that means is, they’ve stripped it of all complexity and cult attraction and all but blockbusterised it. I know that’s not a word, but come on! In the immortal words of Ricky Gervais, “Fuck the crowd, most of them are idiots.” He couldn’t be more right. The problem is, most of them are idiots with wallets, and BioWare, like every business since time itself, is all about the money.

Anti-capitalist rant aside, I am absolutely gutted about the lack of zoom out function. The main reason I loved DA: Origins was that it could be played in the style of Baldur’s Gate and Icewind Dale. All RPGs these days are way too close up and, for lack of a better word, 3D. (I’ve talked about how much I hate that before…) It was a downhill trend which started (I think) with Neverwinter Nights. Still great, but lacking.

I’m one of those gamers who plays for the compelling storyline, the spectacular magic and mystery, the ludicrously expansive side quests. Nobody cares if there’s a little more glass on the ceiling chandeliers, or if the blood splatter on your character’s face has increased since the last gory battle. Hell, at least give us the option to look on from a distance.

I want sorcery and adventure and a birds eye view. In that order. And while you’re at it BioWare, let us string the commands together like the old days. I want to prove my mastery by casting the perfect killer combo before my enemy has incanted their first spell. Sure, Dragon Age II will do for now, of course, but when you’ve created a game as thorough as Baldur’s Gate again then you’ll really have my attention.

Yup, Minsc and Boo stand ready…

As the soul slides from the Xbox, I examine the alternatives

I’ve been an Xbox fanboy (or fanboi to use the colloquial) for the vast majority of my life. Maybe the marketing campaign Microsoft ran throughout the 90s and 00s got me jumpin’ (the very same campaign that they continue to run – “jump in!”); or maybe the flashing green rings around the on button (I didn’t know the red rings denoted ‘Death’ until recently) drew my attention; or could it have been the giant X that was sprawled boldly across the top of the original console (we all know that X is a key letter used to denote so many exciting things…) More likely my obsession could be summed up much more simply than all of the above: HALO.

Yes, Halo reigned supreme among online multiplayer FPS for a long time (I state “online multiplayer” because nothing has ever come close to the Half Life series as a straight FPS franchise). Halo still does reign on Xbox live, even compared to the likes of CoD, although Reach was a step backwards in many ways from Halo 3. However, now that that fantastic world of Humans, Elites, and Floods worse than Brisbane has drawn to a close, or at least reached an optimum peak of player enjoyment, I find myself looking at the alternative gaming options available.

It should go without saying that little challenges the PC for power, graphics etc. It’s still my platform of choice for RPGs (although I deviate for Mass Effect), and for a long time was almost my sole gaming platform whilst I played WoW. I’m not typing that out in full… Also, recently the iPhone has really come into it’s own as a gaming solution. It provides a quick fix that you can score during a toilet break, or while you’re waiting for a bus/ train or other delayed public transport. Initially I was sceptical of the iPhone has a gaming device, but games such as Osmos, Plants Vs Zombies, GeoDefense and Spirit soon changed my mind. It’s just a different style of gaming, and one to be embraced.

Likewise, I was dubious when the Wii, The PS Move and the Kinect for 360 tried to put action, I mean literal, physical action, in to gaming. It has always been a passive hobby. RSI was just an occupational hazard, and hardcore gamers were proud to risk it. This motion gaming tech seemed to trivialise gaming, pitched it to the wrong people. Hardcore gaming was for an elite, the part of society that didn’t want to get involved in the social mix, who were often actually outcast from the social mix anyway. To attract the average consumer to consoles seemed like heresy. It’s still seen as such by an obstinate few. I am not one. As with the iPhone, I see that motion gaming has introduced a different way to experience technology. Indeed, I would say that my Kinect isn’t really about gaming at all at the minute, but is instead a personal trainer – a gym that even I will frequent regularly. That can only be a good thing.

If I’m honest, against Microsoft, who had the might of Bungie at their beck and call, Nintendo and Sony had never even received a second glance from me. I’m afraid Nintendo are now definitely out of the competition (although I am almightily intrigued by their specless 3D), but Sony might just be worming their PS3 up alongside the Xbox 360. Nowadays I have to think practically. That means: value for money vs media solutions vs gaming enjoyment. There are several things to note here:

Online. PS3 is free for online gamers whilst Xbox live is extortionately priced and Microsoft seem to be messing with their pricing all too regularly. Online gaming is essential in this day and age where the majority of video games either provide multiplayer or use it as their primary selling point (Halo being a prime example).

Blu-ray. It is a joke that even after a redesign, and re-release, the 360 still lacks this technology that has been available on the competition since the PS3 first hit the shelves. Blu-ray HD technology could do so much for the 360 both in terms of games and films and there is no excuse for it to still lack the facility.

Bluetooth. While we’re on Blu things, yet another lacking feature for the 360 is bluetooth compatibility which has the potential to open up the console to a myriad of new devices and technology.

BBC iPlayer/ ITV Player/ 4oD/ FIVE Demand/ Love Film. Microsoft fairly recently released a statement which used words to the effect that, because iPlayer is free, and the BBC wouldn’t agree to Microsoft only providing access to it to Xbox Live GOLD subscribers, it wouldn’t be available at all. Money-grabbing scum. That alone is enough to make you look elsewhere. The 360 also doesn’t have any of the other TV catchup or rental services mentioned above, aside from Sky on Demand (which costs £10 monthly and sucks. Trust me. Been there, done that, got a big bill).
What should be clear from this post, is that whilst consoles used to be defined as “gaming solutions”, they are now so much more than that. The whole ‘Media Center’ hype that Bill Gates tried to stir up a few years ago has actually taken ahold now, and as they say, the proof is in the pudding. The pudding being that I use my Xbox 360 to watch films and workout as much I watch my blu-ray player, and I would watch it more if it’s media playback was vastly improved. Which is where my sudden interest in the PS3 derives from. The PS3 has Media capabilities that slam the 360 in to the ground. You only need to see a video of each side by side and it’s easy to see which has the slicker interface, and faster, more user friendly compatibility with other home tech devices. If only it was possible to achieve the best of both worlds. Aside from owning both it’s definitely not and won’t be for the foreseeable future. With that in mind, yes, I think I’m adding the PS3 to a very long list of desirable objects that I intend to one day afford and buy, below the iPhone 4, the iPad, some sick Sennheiser Wireless Headphones I’ve been admiring for sometime and a shit load of Blu-ray dvds. Bah, being an attentive consumer is so much effort…

Note To Film Makers: Endings Matter

Whether it’s the screenwriters, the directors, or the studios – in too many films, someone doesn’t have the balls to finish the convincing, gritty ending that we’ve all been waiting for.

It happens time and time again, a fantastic premise, solid acting, characters that deserve a birth certificate… And then something happens. Somebody interferes. The flow of the movie is interrupted and all excellence scatters on the breeze. Plot holes appear, undermine the integrity of the film, and the whole story subsides, swallowed up in to the depths of the bargain basket and newspaper freebees.

What am I talking about? Some examples off the top of my head; Fracture, Murder by Numbers, Law Abiding Citizen, three films defined by four men of infinite genius, whose devious schemes are nigh on perfect in planning and execution, and yet each is brought down by petty contrivances or deus ex machinas, (usually as simplistic as bad luck).

Then think Se7en. The concept was bold and terrifyingly brutal and arguably it’s one of the best crime thrillers ever created. Why? Because it stuck around even after the final shot (pun intended). The inevitability of that final deadly sin, the sudden violence, the chord it strikes with everyone watching, knowing: “that’s what I would do”. I defy anybody to suggest they would act any differently to Brad Pitt’s character, Detective Mills, as the head of his wife is presented to him in a bloody box. Really, who wouldn’t pull the trigger in anger and hatred at her killer in those initial few seconds after the gruesome revelation? David Fincher and Andrew Kevin Walker were unafraid to do what so often needs to be done. Let the bad guy win. It’s an unforgiving climax that is memorable and moving because it is real. It is haunting because John Doe (played artfully by Kevin Spacey) succeeds.

Of course, there’s a happy alternative. Let the bad guy lose but back it up with something substantial, some irrefutable reason for their failure. Besides being disappointing, it’s insulting to an audience to spend a film building the character of a criminal mastermind, only to reveal, in some kind of clumsy twist, that he overlooked something elementary, or was dealt a duff card by the hand of God etc. etc.

On a lighter note of the same theme, The Inside Man, Spike Lee’s heist thriller was so entertaining because the robbers got away with it. It allowed you, even welcomed you to share the satisfaction of their success, and that was a joy that stayed with you long after the film finished. My point being that such endings mustn’t always be depressing.

Let me put it like this: if you make an audience root for the bad guy, you’re only going to disappoint them when you set him up to lose. If you create a perceptive villain that overlooks nothing, the audience won’t believe you when he slips up. Be true to the stories you create. People want film making that’s honest, plausible within it’s own context, and unafraid of controversy. Film needs to provide two things, entertainment, and art. With one or the other you’ll usually get by, but land both and you’ve created a masterpiece.

With the rant over, here’s two such masterpieces I’ve seen this year: The American, and The Secret in their Eyes.

Quote of the Day: Thomas Robert Malthus

Maybe getting a little heavy with this one, but Malthus is unnervingly convincing in his observations and suggestions:

“The power of population is so superior to the power of the earth to produce subsistence for man, that premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race. The vices of mankind are active and able ministers of depopulation. They are the precursors in the great army of destruction, and often finish the dreadful work themselves. But should they fail in this war of extermination, sickly seasons, epidemics, pestilence, and plague advance in terrific array, and sweep off their thousands and tens of thousands. Should success be still incomplete, gigantic inevitable famine stalks in the rear, and with one mighty blow levels the population with the food of the world”. —Malthus T.R. 1798. An essay on the principle of population. Chapter VII, p61

We don’t go to Burlington’s. Or, why there is a fine line between hairdressers and con artists.

I got conned today. It wasn’t a conventional con – that is to say, I wasn’t actually ripped off of any money, it was more of a psychological scam. I was preyed upon for my good nature.

Let me pitch you the scenario.

I was having a bad day anyway. It’s raining heavily, I have a headache and my bus to the cinema was not only running late by about twenty-five minutes, it was actually so slow that I ended up jumping off and walking. Needless to say, I beat the bus to town on foot, a small victory, albeit I got very wet.

I nipped in to Sainsbury’s for an expensive sandwich to see if I could abate my headache, but due to their astonishing lack of anything enveloped in bread, I ended up perusing the salads and buying a Caesar Salad (what am I, post pregnancy?)

The rain hadn’t let up, and as I left the shop I was practically running to reach the cinema for three different reasons:

1) I was late for The Next Three Days. Never be late for Russell Crowe.

2) It was raining, and despite a fair grasp of the bit of physics that dictates running through rain is equal to walking through it (your body displaces the same amount of water), I wasn’t thinking rationally.

3) I was trying to avoid the people in umbrellas and charity printed t-shirts who persist in hassling passers-by even in the rain. Don’t get me wrong, some of them are doing a great job raising money for good causes (others are just twats flogging hair cuts), but it reaches a point where you can’t walk down the street without being harangued. It’s tiresome.

Anyway, I was mid-run across the street, when a girl, she had an umbrella but was devoid of a charity Tee (how could I have known?!!), addressed me politely:

“Excuse me, do you know the way to Burlingtons?”

I paused. I was late, it was wet, but honestly, the poor girl was looking for somewhere in this rain, the least I could do was respond.

“Sorry, never heard of it.” I turned to go, but it was too late.

“That’s great!”, she said, “that means I can give you one of these!” She shoved something in my hand and proceeded to espouse some Hair salon or other, enthusing that my girlfriend, mum or sister would love it and that Burlington’s were doing a great deal of 90% off a full make-over, normally worth £500 but offered today for just £60. “How great is that?!” She exclaimed.

I had several problems with her sales patter. Firstly, she doesn’t know the girls in my life. None of them would want that (except perhaps my girlfriend, and she’d like the idea of it more than the actual thing), and even if they did, why would I be the one willing to shell out £60 in the street to buy it for them?

Secondly, something irritated me about her suggestion of the price. “Worth £500!” I took her up on it.

“Hang on a minute, I only know it’s worth £500 because you’re telling me it is, and you work for them so you’re not an entirely reliable source. Additionally, 90% off £500 doesn’t leave the price at £60, it leaves it at £50, so that’s just not true (your credibility is dropping like a stone), and finally – even if I was carrying 60 (or 50) quid on me, I’m a bloke, and that remains an extortionate price for a God forsaken haircut!”

There was a pause.

“Do you want to know what comes with it?”

It was at this point that I asserted that I really was running late, and that there was no way I was prepared to pay £60 for it. She wished me a fine day, ironically, given that she’d just added to a growing list of reasons why it was most definitely anything but ‘fine’, and I darted off through the scatter of rain drops and bus shelters to watch me a ‘fine’ film. (In all fairness, the film was much better than I anticipated. Flawed on numerous levels, but still entertaining, and probably the highlight of my day.)

So where was the con? You are thinking. The con, is that this girl, who was chubby but otherwise perfectly pleasant, used my own good nature (stopping to help with directions) to try to take my money. It was dishonest. If you are the type of person who pays through the nose to momentarily make yourself feel better about your dwindling looks, don’t go to Burlingtons – Unless you go in to tell them that you know exactly where they’re located and you still don’t want the shit they’re flogging.

Avatar proves pirates and studios have got it all wrong.

Disappointed by the news reported on the BBC today, that James Cameron’s Avatar was the most pirated movie of 2010 according to TorrentFreak. Ok, Cameron’s gigantic ego, his huge budget productions, and the colossal profit they rake in all indicate that having the biggest pirate downloads is only proportionally fair. But what is saddening, is that it is these, the most visually striking movies, that really need to be seen at the cinema, or at least on blu-ray/ dvd in their highest possible quality.

The Studios Vs. The Pirates

Kick Ass, another high octane action blockbuster that really deserved to be seen in all it’s glory at the cinema, is the second most pirated film this year. Closely followed by Inception, Shutter Island, Iron Man 2 and Clash of the Titans. In fact, of all ten films, I don’t think there’s a single one that is fully enjoyable in low quality, slightly pixelated, downloaded format. I’m slightly baffled that people would be content watching that, and it annoys me that some people evidently are.

I’m not going to suggest that any films are more or less deserving than others of being pirated, but it certainly makes sense that people download a drama, or a comedy. Unfairly perhaps, as that means low budget movies would be most vulnerable to suffering from piracy, their lack of special effects easily watchable with a little less quality. However, the fact that the top ten downloaded movies are all dependent on visual style leaves me a little exasperated.

As a film fan, I find piracy to be a tricky topic to discuss, and certainly a balancing act in practice – is it ok to download a movie if I first watch it legally? Is it wrong to download a movie in order to share it with your friends, when in a manner of speaking that could be advertising and promotion? I’ve downloaded movies in the past, watched them, and then bought them. Equally, I’ve seen a film and thought, wow, I wish that was out on DVD, I want to watch it again right now – to Isohunt I go.

The fact of the matter is, piracy is here to stay for the foreseeable future and both punters and studios need to adjust accordingly. Film goers should act responsibly; never watch a cam for instance, try to buy or gift films you love, get to the cinema and support the industry you rely on for so much enjoyment. Equally, studios should meet the demand for immediate content, provide alternative, legal downloads of new films, offer subscription services (such as NetFlix in the USA) etc. at prices people are a) willing and b) capable of paying.

Number one rule: give the people what they want. (Or they’ll take it anyway).

Terriers cancelled because the public majority watches shit.

Terriers, starring Donal Logue and Michael Raymond-James, was a phenomenal show that did not deserve to be cancelled. The marketing team deserved to be fired, their strategy was atrocious, but the real creators of the show definitely earned another shot. I could rant for ages about how frustrating and disappointed I am in FX’s decision, but when browsing news articles I found someone who already said it succinctly. Here’s what she said, and you can add to her list Rubicon, another terrific series that never received the exposure it needed and was hung out to dry:

(Tribute to unknown user, Nicole, because she summed it up better than I could have.)

Nicole
Mon 12/06/10 2:18 PM
I’ve been checking for news over the last few days and dreading hearing this. I can’t blame the network for cancelling it I suppose (the numbers were spectacularly bad), but I DO blame them for terrible marketing which is a direct cause of the bad numbers. When you look at it from that perspective, it’s hard not to blame the network outright and be pissed that they didn’t give it a second chance with a new strategy next year, given all of the critical acclaim.
And I do think that EW could have done more to promote it – it’s clearly a show that critics love, and while other critics were going to bat for the show (Sepinwall, Mo Ryan, etc), has EW even mentioned the show other than Ken Tucker’s online recaps? I do recall seeing a nickel-sized blurb at the bottom right corner of the Bullseye on the last page of a recent print issue, but c’mon.
Sadly though, this is mostly just a reflection of the plague of bad taste. As long as the majority likes crap, that’s what we’re going to get. And the majority has proven again and again that crap is their favorite thing ever. Tons of my own friends have never seen Arrested Development or Freaks and Geeks or Terriers and yet will discuss the intricacies of Dancing with the Stars or American Idol or the freaking Kardashians for hours. Welcome to the underserved minority, people with discerning taste. It’s pretty lonely.

For people who didn’t see the show, it was not to do with dogs or dog racing. It was named Terriers because the two main characters, private investigators who stumble upon a dangerous conspiracy, were tenacious and hot-tempered. It was probably the best show on TV (after Dexter) until it was cancelled. I blame the public. Yes. You.

Dear IGN: a few thoughts regarding Game Changer

Dear IGN,

I didn’t want to enter – I just wanted to express how unbelievably stingy and ungrateful the Terms and Conditions of your competition are. Not only does the Game Changer website offer no indication of what the awful prize is (except for in the ‘small print’ T&Cs), the four stage competition demands a hell of a lot of work for nigh on fuck all compensation. Sure – you claim to offer a helping hand for those struggling to worm their way in to the film and video game industry, but frankly this seems like nothing more than a jumped up PR stunt.

The prize for this painstakingly epic tournament is just three instances of exposure on your website, for which you offer no payment and in fact, declare that “entrants’ participation will be at their own cost.” You also mention that participants will take part in challenges in London! That’s really exciting news, and I can think of nowhere I’d rather spend all of my money while I make a futile grab at a future career in your company…

Let me lay this out clearly: you are hosting a competition with no financial or material prize, that will cost participants time, immense effort and money? Does this strike you as something you would enter?

As one of the biggest online video game sites, one would expect that you might offer up….oooo, I don’t know…a free game? A free console? There are competitions to which entrants must simply enter their name that offer much more satisfying rewards than yours. To be honest, your ‘prize’ appears to be little more than a massive, egotistical pat on the back for yourselves, that you are generously offering the humble layman the opportunity to appear, briefly, on your prestigious website. Great. You pompous arses.

Oh, and finally, if the presenter in your Game Changer promotional video is anything to go by, then standards are evidently not being set very high. You really are in dire need of some new talent. So get off your high horse, think up some original prizes, and pitch us something worth buying in to. Until then, kindly remove the Pop Factor X Idol banner from your homepage.

Yours sincerely,

yada yada yada…