Monthly Archives: December 2012

Hypocrisy? What hypocrisy?

We’ve barely had time to try and process Friday’s tragic events in Newtown, Connecticut and UK tabloids are up to their usual tricks.

Oh look - one of those hyper-detailed murder simulators that the kids all love...

Oh look – one of those hyper-detailed murder simulators that the kids all love…

Rupert Murdoch’s wholly above reproach UK tabloid newspaper The Sun today has a headline story skirting around the idea that Adam Lanza’s rampage is somehow connected to his ‘obsession’ with Activision’sCall of DutyFPS franchise.

You know the kind of thing before you read it – no real evidence to speak of, a few splashy pull-quotes and amateur psychology aplenty conspire to deliver the kind of schlock, predictable, cynically hand-wringing story we usually see after a tragedy like Newtown, all the while trying to inspire an emotional, “Won’t Somebody Think About The Children?” type reaction in the kinds of parents who are (whisper it quietly) probably buying “Black Ops 2” as  a Christmas present for their kids (if they’re not already playing it themselves).

Did Lanza play “Call of Duty”?  Who knows – who cares?  He was a young American adult.  The bigger story would be that he didn’t play “CoD“, “Battlefield” or “Medal of Honor”.

If he did play video games, why does it automatically follow that he was being somehow desensitized or made more susceptible to violent power fantasies?  I’ve played “Call of Duty” instalments in the past and all that I can point to is an increasing lack of desire to engage with that franchise.  Am I somehow miraculously unaffected by the otherwise corrupting, pernicious influence of these games?  Is it down to my living in a different country without easy access to guns?  Am I too old and set in my ways to buy into such shock and awe pyrotechnics?

Just as a matter of curiosity – is the “Call of Duty” game series being raked over the coals by The Sun today any relation to the “Call of Duty” game lauded in breathless prose in a story tied to the launch of “Black Ops 2”?  Or in this feature about how ‘SAS hero (TM)’ Andy McNab believes that the game teaches morality to kids?  Or is that a different series of blockbuster action FPS titles from Activision, Infinity Ward and Treyarch?

When it’s going to sell copies or connect The Sun in a positive way with a blockbuster, generation-defining pop culture entertainment brand loved by their demographic, the paper will happily get into bed with Activision in a mutually beneficial relationship.  When there’s a sliver-thin line of particularly smelly, easy answer bullshit to peddle, that partnership gets swiftly forgotten about in the rush to sell papers or get page impressions.

Hypocrisy?  Surely not.  Not on Rupert’s watch.

No violence here, eh, Rupes?

No violence here, eh, Rupes?

It’s a good job that Twentieth Century Fox doesn’t make violent, gun-heavy entertainment isn’t it?

 

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Further Into Darkness

Lovely "Star Trek Into Darkness" images (c) Paramount Pictures

Lovely “Star Trek Into Darkness” images (c) Paramount Pictures

There’s a new trailer for J.J. Abrams‘ second “Star Trek” adventure, “Into Darkness”, which is technically the first proper look at the film – last week saw a teaser trailer and a nine-minute prologue which unfurled ahead of selected IMAX screenings of “The Hobbit“.

But, as I was denied such bounty by the uncaring folk at my local cinema, let us not focus on what we don’t have and instead turn our attention to what we do get.

Yep, no portents of angst or doom in that image...

Yep, no portents of angst or doom in that image…

Which is Bruce Greenwood‘s glum voice over suggesting there may be trouble ahead for Kirk & Co., huge action sequences, portents of dread and lots of furrowed brows on display.  Watching it, there’s a palpable sense that there’s a big elephant in the room with this “Star Trek” sequel – is it following the path laid down by “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” and upping the emotional stakes big time (i.e. killing off major characters) or is the speculation about the identity of the villain merely misdirection of the kind so beloved of and oft-practiced by major magic geek Abrams?

The trailer indicates that nobody’s safe in this movie – Chekov‘s even sporting a Red Shirt at one point, for pity’s sake! – and I’m all for that if  this eagerly anticipated follow-up has the courage to deliver on all that Debbie Downer potential.  This is, after all, a summer movie – not a genre known for wallowing in melancholy and bad vibes, man.

You can be in danger – but nobody’s allowed to get hurt.  Or are they?

 

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No Easy Choices

I don’t see any point in preaching to you about Friday’s events in Newtown, Connecticut.  Like many people worldwide, I felt a sense of futility and horror as the story developed in real time and got steadily worse with each reading.  You know how you feel, why you feel it and what you think should be done about gun laws.

At this point in time, thanks to a powerful combination of national mythology, entrenched fear of violent crime and a fiercely guarded right to self determination, it seems like insurmountable effort beyond the ability of any American president to introduce legislation which will reduce gun ownership.  

“If you take away our legally-obtained guns’, so goes the argument, ‘How do we defend ourselves from criminals who don’t care about licenses, waiting periods and legality?”  Try to intervene as a government in a constitutional right which so many Americans regard as integral to their pursuit of life and you run the risk of initiating a path which ends in full-on Civil War.  It might seem fanciful to a Briton who lives happily without ever seeing a gun in real life, let along owning one, but that’s the way it is.

The notion that America will one day be a gun-free society is so esoteric that it barely deserves discussion – for many Americans, the genuine distrust they feel for government necessitates (in their minds) their right to own weapons and protect their freedom from interference and tyranny.  We’re too far gone, it would seem, to change that way of viewing the world.

How do you begin to convince a people that this line of thinking only serves to perpetuate the cycle of horror that they’ve found themselves in? That’s the task that America now sees itself tasked with.  

Do you continue down this road, where each year sees multiple, gun-related atrocities committed by a malcontent, mentally ill spree killer whose suicide invariably acts as the climactic act of their destructive path?  Or do you try to change the way that your society functions, with no concrete guarantee of changing hearts and minds in your lifetime?

I should contextualise my remarks by telling that I’m not a parent, so the rawest emotions that many of you reading this will have felt over the weekend are not ones which I can honestly profess to feel – I think Charlie Brooker’s column in the Guardian today sums up what many families will have felt at one point or another in the last few days.

The only reaction that I can have is empathy for those who have lost loved, cherished, yearned-for children in circumstances so utterly distressing and vile that they pierce the hardest, most cynical heart.  I can’t purport to solve the situation that Americans now grapple with, nor absolve my country of the myriad issues and inequalities which tax our ability to function as a nation.

When children die in banally horrific situations like this we should look deeply at our world. We can all be better than this – we should want to be.  

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Metallic Faith Malarkey

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When I’m not learning how to write my name in Elvish, I’m being utterly perplexed by my fellow citizens.

In data extrapolated from the 2011 UK census results, it would appear that 6,242 of Britons declared  Heavy Metal as their religion (for the record, that’s more respondents than self-identified as a Scientologist, Druid or Shaman).

To which one can only remark “Huh?”

I love a bit of Maiden as much as the next middle-aged, dog-walking vegetarian but can’t quite get behind the notion of aligning my musical genre of choice with organised faith – the goals of one seem quite at odds with the professed beliefs of the other, surely?

Obviously this result should probably be taken in the spirit of the kind of lightly subversive, nose-thumbing surrealism that I suspect it to be (note the high ranking of ‘Jedi Knight‘ as a faith of choice in the UK census, even after the quality of the “Star Wars” prequels should have killed aligning oneself to Uncle George’s franchise outright).

So, if I’m reading all of this correctly, the proper conclusion to draw from this census is that agencies of social control (which we normally oppose with all-consuming fervour) are a very bad idea until they provide you with the opportunity to make a snarky response to a survey.

Swell.

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“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” film review

Make mine Bag End...

Some pertinent business to deal with before I start my review proper:

1) The much-ballyhooed 48 frames per second process, which makes its debut with “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” is more or less unnoticeable.  Advanced reports of the film looking like a TV soap opera, or as though it was shot on digital video, are utter piffle.

2) If you can see “The Hobbit” in traditional 2D, feel free to do so.  I saw it in a 3D ‘LieMax’ screening and felt that the 3D frequently detracted from the experience – several action sequences were rendered impossible to watch comfortably, thanks to our old friend, Mr Irritating Motion Blur.  Mrs Rolling Eyeballs, who saw the film with me, currently rates the film as a 5 out of 10 as she saw roughly half of it – IMAX 3D and people with glasses apparently don’t mix too well.  A 2D viewing may be required for our actual full enjoyment of the film.

3) That 9 minute “Star Trek Into Darkness” prologue?  The “Man of Steel” and “Pacific Rim” trailers?  Conspicuous by their wholesale absence.  Thanks, Cineworld, for screwing your UK consumers and having the nerve to charge a premium for an experience which is decidedly lacking.

Minor, nerd-entitlement caveats aside, did I actually enjoy the film?

Well, yes.  Yes.  Yes, yes, YES!  It’s Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and a prodigiously talented ensemble in front of the camera and behind it delivering epic fantasy on the kind of scale that fans always dreamed of seeing but rarely experienced before Jackson’s initial “Lord of the Rings” trilogy expanded the possibility of cinematic adventure in the early part of the 2000’s.

Getting over the fact that these movies are inherently episodic and tell their story in a serial fashion – don’t count on getting much in the way of closure until the summer of 2014 – going back to Jackson’s Middle Earth is like visiting a much-loved holiday get away destination and finding everything much as you left it.

Breathtaking New Zealand vistas, Hobbit holes, craggy old wizards and Howard Shore‘s delightfully evocative musical score are very much present and correct – thankfully Mr Jackson has resisted the urge to cast Justin Bieber, pump up the dubstep and ‘fix’ that which isn’t broken.  As I mentioned before, the major add-ons this time around – 3D and 48 FPS – are either a waste of time (3D) or imperceptible (48 FPS), so it does feel very much like business as usual.

The changes to the plot don’t really offer up anything particularly problematic – we get a fantastic prologue which deftly underlines lead dwarven warrior-in-exile Thorin Oakenshield‘s motivations and show us more of Middle Earth than we saw in the “LOTR” trilogy, and the climax imagines the events of ‘Out of the Frying Pan Into The Fire’ quite a bit differently, and really shows how Jackson and his team have rendered three films from a fairly slender piece of source material.

Where Tolkien’s classic tale for children of all ages alludes to action occurring off-screen or dispenses with blood and thunder battles in a sentence or two, Jackson’s film goes to town by mounting elaborate, bravura sequences which pile on the Orcs, Goblins and Warg enemies for our band to face off against.  It’s probably a bit too intense for younger kids, I would guess – this iteration particularly amps up the ass-kicking whilst not exactly down-playing the whimsical nature of Tolkien’s book but emphasizing the heroics in an appropriately cinematic fashion.

On the performance side, Martin Freeman is superb as Bilbo the Younger.  He’s not doing an Ian Holm impersonation, but instead gives a turn which is funny, touching, quietly decent and layered – I’m going to enjoy following him on his burglary mission and I predict that you will too.  He’s perhaps at his best during the “Riddles in the Dark” sequence, which brings back Gollum for a spell and reminds you how utterly brilliant Andy Serkis is.  New addition Richard Armitage makes a commanding appearance as Thorin, quietly dominating scenes and neatly filling the noticeable, Viggo Mortensen-shaped hole for a heroic, smouldering lead.

I really enjoyed this movie – tech qualms be damned.  And I look forward to seeing more of Smaug, how Jackson stages the battle of the Five Armies and how the extended lore of Tolkien’s epic fantasy cycle is added to what is at heart a fairly simple and linear tale.

A qualified thumbs up for “The Hobbit” part the first it is, then.  Try and find time in your Christmas celebration to see it and I’m sure you’ll enjoy it too.

Related Arcana:

 

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Hirsute “Man of Steel” trailer defies snark, loves Malick

Gritty, crime-ridden mean streets? Check.

Great news, everyone – there’s now a proper trailer for the 2013 blockbuster perhaps best described as “Terrence Malick‘s Kryptonian Reverie'”

We had a first look at Zack Snyder, David Goyer and Christopher Nolan‘s “Superman” reboot, “Man of Steel” in the summer  this year when a brief, impressionistic first look was attached to prints of Nolan’s “Batman” trilogy-capper,  “The Dark Knight Rises“.  As we near the end of 2012, and next summer’s action extravaganzas are beginning to make their play for our eyes and ears, it’s no surprise that Warner Brothers have placed Krypton‘s last son front and centre with this 2 minute and twenty seconds trailer due to play before “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” from Thursday.

That Malick comparison won’t yet abate, as the imagery in the first part of the trailer which Snyder has chosen in collaboration with cinematographer Amir Mokri clearly evokes the bucolic world visuals which have become integral to Malick’s past few films.

A nice way of saying, perhaps, that it all looks very pretty and scenic for the first minute of the trailer, with the once and future Supes coming of age, developing his remarkable Kryptonian abilities and growing up into brooding, beardy boy-next-door, Henry Cavill.   The more impatient viewer might begin to drum their fingers at this point and wonder where the flipping action got to.

Big S

As is by magic, this is roughly when we bear witness to the Superman that we might reasonably expect to turn up – the alien champion of our planet, replete with redesigned uniform, super strength, gift of flight and moral compass set approximately to ‘Boy Scout’ (not that this is a bad thing, in my book – I’ve always been more of a Superman fan than a Batman devotee when it comes to DC heroes).

After doing a very reverent and perhaps underrated job of bringing “Watchmen” to the screen, it’s nice to see director Snyder getting to stage huge action sequences and not have to apologise for cutting loose with all of the toys at Warner Brothers’ disposal – this is a summer movie with $225 million to play with, so you can imagine just how eye-popping some of these quick-cut, slam-bang action moments are going to be in the end product.

Not that there was ever going to be any doubt that I would be going to see this film, but the trailer does a pretty good job of convincing me that my money will be well spent come next summer’s IMAX engagement…

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“After Earth” trailer – Post-humanity never looked so good

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Epic science fiction adventures set on ruined, post-humanity Earth are clearly like buses – you wait for one and then two come along at once.

Sunday saw the full trailer for the Tom Cruise apocalyptic drama “Oblivion” swoop online and today sees the first trailer for Will Smith‘s next starring effort, “After Earth”, take a flying leap into the spotlight.

And a cautiously impressive science-fiction adventure it looks like, too.  Directed by M.Night Shyamalan from a script by Gary Whitta (he of “The Book of Eli” fame), this story pitches Will Smith and his son Jaden into a desperate adventure on a far-future Earth long devoid of human interference and now stuffed to the gills with hostile creatures and deadly natural phenomena.

I’m getting a bit of an “Avatar”/ecological sci-fi vibe from the assorted, super-evolved creatures in the trailer and a curious, perhaps not intentional “Lost in Space” movie hint from the costumes that Smith senior and junior are sporting throughout the scenes we see in this two-minute and 28 second first look at the film, which opens in June 2013.

It could be a great adventure film – and who doesn’t hope that Shyamalan will buck his recent run of mediocre cinematic form and once more deliver a film which is akin to his “The Sixth Sense” rather than his genuinely quite dreadful “The Last Airbender”?

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