Thursday, 25 October 2012

Death of big budget indie games

New article by me up at

Monday, 24 September 2012

Studio Ghibli Part 4

From up on Poppy Hill

 Ghibli's latest work is one of their more down to earth pieces. This time the screenplay is co-authored by Hayao Miyazaki and Keiko Niwa, based on the manga by Tetsuro Sayama. It’s directed by Hayao’s son Goro, who co-wrote and directed the Disappointing Tales from Earthsea. I think he does a slightly better job here, it’s a screenplay that doesn’t lend itself so well to animation, but there are few flourishes to bring it to life. But it’s not one of the most interesting stories they’ve produced, but it does still have some endearing characters to carry enough interest. It does leave me slightly worried as to how well Goro will carry on his father’s legacy if he is to be carrying on with this for years to come. It’s a passable film, but in terms of their drama’s set largely in schools. The made for TV movie Ocean Waves does a better job. 

 Ocean Waves 

 A slightly different work from Ghibli, a film worked on by some of the more junior members of the Ghibli staff. They were given a chance by being asked to produce a made for TV movie. Although it still went over budget anyway. Still the shorter running time seems to really help this film as it tells a much tighter, more focused story. Aimed at a demographic they don’t go for as much - the teenage love triangle story and how a girl affects the friendship between two boys. It’s not able to have as strong an emotional impact as some of their major features, but what it aims to do, it does well. It seems a shame they’ve not done smaller films like this, as it allows them to try their hand at different styles.

 Whisper of the Heart 

 A screenplay by Miyazaki but the only film to be directed by Yoshifumi Kondō who tragically died of an Aneurysm a few years after making this film. It was believed to be caused by work-related stress. And you can see from the film that he was a man who dedicated himself to his work, because it looks stunning even by Ghibli’s standards. Its story falls in-between the down to earth and the fantastical stories. So it has the strong resonant character driven drama, along with some of the more childish wonder. That description may give you the wrong impression, from what I’d read about it going in, I thought the main character Shizuku would enter a fantasy world at some point. All that actually happens is we see some small extracts from the book she’s writing. There’s a sense of some other magical things going on but they’re macguffins, albeit very effective macguffins. When thinking about the Disney comparisons it occurred to me that the closest this film gets to a musical number is when the characters sit around at one point singing and playing instruments, performing a cover of “Country roads” which somehow manages to feel much more exciting and magical than any other Disney number that springs to mind. So this films goes somewhere near the top of my list for managing to combine many of the elements that Ghibli do so well. It feels different yet still does what they do best as well. 

The Cat Returns

 Loosely a sequel to Whisper of the Heart in that it heavily features The Baron from Whisper of the Heart. This is certainly one of the films aimed at a younger audience and it’s much more of an adventure story. It’s one that feels a little more ‘slight’ in comparison to their other works and it would probably be because it had been intended for a straight to video release. It’s the only film to be directed by Hiroyuki Morita. It may have had a similar intent behind it as Ocean Waves. The animation does look a little cheaper and simpler than the average Ghibli film but they were evidently impressed enough with it to give it a cinematic release. It does have a shorter, simpler running time. So it’s an enjoyable story, but not essential, one for people like me, who have become compelled to be completest. I think if there’ one problem with it, is it’s largely centred on a secret kingdom of cats. Which is cute and everything, but the internet has ruined cats for me. It does predate the proliferation of cat memes though, so that shouldn’t be held against it.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Replaying Silent Hill 2

So I’ve replayed Silent Hill 2 recently and let myself get properly sucked in to the world this time, I’ve done speed runs to get bonus endings and stuff in the past, but this time I took it in slowly, listened on headphones and played it late at night to really get absorbed into the world. One thing I’ve been reminded of in replaying is just how detailed the world is. Every time you enter a room it tells a story. Sometimes, an obscure, indecipherable story, but there’s a reason it’s there. The room in the apartment complex with all the butterflies – I’m not sure why it’s there, but there’s a probably a good reason for it. The riddles and puzzles in the game are there to explore specific themes. The hospital in particular constantly brings things back to mental illnesses. You could tell some fascinating backstories based on the puzzles and memo’s found in Silent Hill games, and indeed the plot of SH4 was based on a newspaper article found in SH2.

What Silent Hill has, and Silent Hill 2 in particular has that other games lack is that the whole experience feels like someone is fucking with you. Everything is tailored towards you. One of the differences in Resident Evil games for instance is that the world still operates without you. This is a normal world gone wrong, but one of the fascinating aspects of Silent Hill games is there’s the sense that someone has been there before you and left all these hints for you to find. But you can never tell if they’re on your side or not. You always feel that there’s some intangible presence, whose mercy you’re constantly at, and whether they’re enemy or friend you can never be certain. There’s something that actively hates you and wants to punish you and make you unhappy.
There’s also no other game world that feels so grimey and decaying. It’s irritating that the art direction in Silent Hill games would subsequently come back to the iconography of the first game as if the mist world/otherworld divide was all there was to it.

SH2 seemed more pre-occupied with things that have become rotting away. It’s harder to describe it simply because the idea of the ‘otherworld’ is much more blurred in the game. You don’t get an ‘otherworld’ until the hospital and that has more the look of a condemned, bombed building. The prison and labyrinth beneath the historical society all already feels like a nightmarish alternative world when you arrive, and it’s debatable just how real that is anyway. So the only other place with an otherworld is the hotel, which feels more flooded and burnt than anything else. [Spoiler] And the implication is, the hotel had burnt down, so the otherworld version is the real version of the Hotel [/spoiler]

So many themes and ideas are reinforced in every aspect of the game. So for any future developers that want to do something “that gets back to SH2 roots” what you need to do is think about how everything you include in the game adds to the overall piece.  You can’t just throw a load of Silent Hill clichés at the wall and hoping they stick together.  

Monday, 10 September 2012

Debunking the Phrase "You forget you're watching an animation"

I’ve become quite annoyed put by the amount of times I’ve read the phrase “you start to forget it’s an animation” This has come up quite a few times for me recently, since I like to look at some of the IMDB reviews after I watching one of the Ghibli films I’ve been going through lately. I remember seeing Roger Egbert’s comments on Grave of the Fireflies, even though he’s made some excellent comments on why that and Totoro are great, there’s always the slight sense that he’s trying to apologize and justify the film because of reservations people might have because it’s animated.

The only thing I can read into it is that these people have very narrow preconceptions about what Animation is and does. How exactly could you forget you’re watching animation? Just because something is telling a heartfelt and compelling story, is that suddenly outside the realms of what animation does? Do you feel slightly insecure about liking animation? I think we’ve proved by this point that it isn’t just for telling wacky children’s stories. I mean come on guys; it’s the 90’ for goodness sake! We’ve all seen the Simpsons.

Personally I’ve never found I forget I’m watching a cartoon because they can themselves to a specific art directions that defines the world it’s taking place in. It can do things with mood lighting in a way that isn’t always possible when relying on natural light. You can tell so much about a character through simple eye movements and even through things like the way they move and walk and other little bits of physical business that have a unique look and feel because of the way it’s animated. So no I didn’t forget I was watching an animation, because even some very down to earth stories can be best told through animation.

Studi Ghibli part 3 - Isao Takahata

Isao Takahata brings a more experimental angle to Ghibli. Not to diminish Hayao Miyazaki – He produced so much, you can’t expect him to not be more inconsistent, but seeing as he's directed so many films, you do see more of a formula emerge. Takahata goes outside the usual remit. You wouldn't get Pixar making the films he makes. I’ll be focusing on a few of his films today.

Grave of the Fireflies

Set in Japan during World War 2, we see the struggles teenage boy Seita and his child sister Setsuko. From the opening you know the two of them are going to die by the end of the film, so you can expect it to be going to be tough going. It’s not a war film about soldiers but about the struggles it puts on civilians and the callousness of adults that develops because of it. In spite of all the tragedy there are moments of levity to the film. But it doesn’t pull any punches about the horrors of war. The film was released as a double feature alongside Totoro at the time, which seems incredible. Though there’s nothing in particular about the film that is something children shouldn’t see, but we understandably want to shelter children from these things in films because we don’t want to upset them. It was a relief to read that they’d play this one first and then Totoro second. You’d at least get a charming, benign world afterwards to contrast with the traumatising, devastation of Grave of the Fireflies. So it’s an important film to see, there are moments of beauty within the film, but definitely one you have to be in the right frame of mind to see.

Only Yesterday

Only Yesterday tells the story of Taeko - a woman in her mid to late twenties, she’s lived in Tokyo her whole life, works in an office, but spends a holiday in the countryside working on a family’s organic farm. Throughout the film she remembers incidents from her life when she was 10 years old. It’s one that of all the Ghibli films could be the closest to being applied to my own life. It’s not an age group we usually see depicted. Looking at the conflict between rural and city life, and whether you’ve followed the path you wanted in your child. It’s a film that beautifully evokes childhood. I sometimes found myself having to pause and rewind the film as I suddenly realized I’d been just thinking about incidents from school, rather than paying attention. Next to Ocean Waves it’s the most realistic, and staid of all the Ghibli films. Not that I’m suggesting it’s boring because of this, a scene of ten year old Taeko and her family trying a pineapple for the first time is incredibly endearing. So it combines the beauty of countryside depictions, childhood and the small details of human interaction. It takes a very realistic story that could arguably be better performed in live-action but makes it work much better for the medium.

Pom Poko

This film probably isn’t quite what you’d expect from any images you’d see of it. A group of Japanese animals called the Tanuki. It translates as Raccoon Dogs although in the film this is simplified to just Raccoons. It was only through reading that I realized quite a bit of the film is based on Japanese folklore about the creatures. You’ll get by without knowing this, but there are moments where you might find yourself thinking “there’s a reference I’m not getting here.”
From the look of the film, it would almost appear to be a Disney or Dreamworks esque wacky adventure about talking animals. And well it kind of is in a way, but I wasn’t expecting it to have such a wry sense of humour. It’s easily the funniest Ghibli film. The plot is driven by the fact forests are being cleared in Tokyo and so the racoons have to find ways to fight back, in their desperation, they discover that many of them have shapeshifting abilities, to the extent that many of them can disguise themselves as human, and go to the city to bring back food. The humour slows down as it becomes more of a nature vs. man story that is typical of Ghibli, though it plays out through a different angle. Again it’s a something a child could probably enjoy but it’s a little more mature in some it’s humour. There are some fairly dark jokes where people die along the way. It reminds me of Arrested Development at times in the ways it uses the narrator to comment on things on-screen. There’s also the matter of the Tanuki testicles. The creatures are well known in Japan for their large testicles (yes) they aren’t mentioned in any kind of sexualized way and in the English translation they refer to them as pouches. Just so you know. (As if anyone was looking at this blog for that kind of advice.)

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Radio comedy

I went to see a recording of radio 4 show, Party tonight. I’ve tended to bypass a lot of radio comedy, which is my own loss I know, and it’s a bit of an unusual situation since it’s now in its 3rd series. And I was going in cold. It’s usual for me to be a bit more clued up on these things before going to them and writing about them.

Still it was a pleasant evening, half the audience like me, hadn’t been to see it before. I’ve been a fan of Tom Basden and Tim Key’s work so I was intrigued to see it. Tom Basden came out beforehand to explain it wouldn’t matter if you hadn’t seen it before, so not exactly the most narrative driven show then.
It’s an enjoyable show, with a good group of actors and characters playing off each other, but it’s still seems to exist in this radio 4 void where everything is a lot safer and more twee than real life. 

That’s fine really. It’s amusing tea time listening. I think that’s why Radio 4 comedy isn’t something I’ve ever really made much effort to seek out. This probably sounds dismissive towards an entire beloved institution, it’s not really meant to. But I think it suggests to me that there’s a surprising lack of really ambitious radio comedy. There’s a lack of unusual, experimental or darker radio comedy in the vein of say Blue Jam, even Podcast haven’t taken up that market much. But with Radio Comedy being more of an institution here I’d like to see more of it in either medium. 

Monday, 27 August 2012

Studio Ghibli part 2

Laputa: Castle in the Sky
Dir: Hayao Miyazaki 1986

The first official Ghibli film. It is usually recognized as one of their stronger works. At over 2 hours it is a little bloated, you may find yourself wishing they’d get to the titular castle in the sky a bit sooner. The attempts at humour translate a little awkwardly as well with some strange bits of slapstick.
It also feels the age it’s being aimed at feels a little more awkward. Tonally it can feel very much like a children’s film, and at other times seem to be well above the heads of a younger audience. Other films by Ghibli have managed to strike a better balance. That said it does create a vibrant, exciting and charming world, but if there’s an overarching theme and moral to the story it’s not expressed very clearly. But I’m probably being harder on it than it deserves. It’s an important one to see in the Ghibli collection.

Tales from Earthsea
Dir: Gorō Miyazaki 2006

A rare case of a Ghibli film that disappointed me. Slightly odd, unsatisfying structure that doesn’t have the usual charm of other Ghibli work. It’s much more black and white in its depiction of Good and Evil. Lots of their works have been adapted from Manga series, but this is a rare case where it feels as if there’s an established world that hasn’t been explored properly. The film seems obliged to make some nods to the series but doesn’t really focus on them. My research tells me it focused on a story from the middle of the series, which would account for why it feels a bit disjointed. Another issue is a very strange decision was made in English dubbing. I vary in whether I choose to watch these films in English or Japanese, but this is one where despite some good acting. The slightly transgender main character has a creepy male voice where in the Japanese dub it has a seductive female voice. Very odd decision.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Studio Ghibli

I used to be a bit put out by anime, I tended to find the animation style unappealing, particularly in its facial animation. It often seemed odd to me that I didn’t really go for it, considering my love of Japanese video games. Years ago, Spirited Away from the infamous Studio Ghibli studio seemed to be one that really broke to the mainstream, in 2001 but after seeing it, I still remained unconvinced and it still seemed to do things that I found off-putting, although thinking back now, I’m not exactly sure now what my logic was and may have just been some irrational prejudice. 

 A few months ago though, I gave ‘My Neighbour Totoro’ also from Studio Ghibli a chance and it changed my attitude completely. It struck an emotional chord with me in a way I can’t really remember feeling before. Studio Ghibli are often seen as “The Japanese Disney” but that doesn’t do them justice. They do animated films, usually but not always aimed at children. It difficult to judge sometimes as their ideas of what’s suitable for children can differ from western ideas. 

 Their range of work is more diverse, more idiosyncratic than Disney and even more so than Pixar. They deal with themes of greater maturity and in doing so the lighter moments by contrast can feel warmer. At the same time in their more epic works, the battles between good and evil are a little greyer. It’s rare that you’ll find an entirely evil antagonist. The main creative forces behind Ghibli are Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata though with a few being taken on by other directors, and more recently, Miyazaki’s son Goro has taken up directing some of their films. Takahata hasn’t had as much to do with them for a while, but he’s tended to experimental one, to Miyazaki who prolifically delivers most of the studio’s works, though they have always been about collaboration. 

My Neighbour Totoro. 
Dir: Hayao Miyazaki. 1988

 I’ve talked a bit about it already, but it’s main beauty lies in how it captures childhood and what it doesn’t do. In American animation the children could very easily be bratty and annoying, but here they feel charming and adorable. It’s also intriguing for the way it handles the magical elements. The father indulges the children’s belief they’ve found the magical Totoro creatures. It’s ambiguous whether they really believe the children have seen these magical creatures. But the father ultimately lets them believe and doesn’t doubt them. This is a more realistic depiction than getting angry with them and telling them these creatures don’t exist - which you can imagine happening in animation from other cultures. 

 There are more serious themes as well, as the families mother is suffering from an illness in hospital. She’s expected to recover, but it dangles the possibility that she could die. The concept of illness serves as pretty much the only antagonist in the movie. It’s a world free of evil characters. 

 But it trusts children to be mature enough to handle its darker themes and understand them. This lack of condescension means it can appeal to all audiences without a need to sneak in pop-cultural references that only adults get. 

 Kiki’s Delivery Service
 Dir: Hayao Miyazaki 1989.

 One of the other differences in Ghibli’s films over western films is an ability to utilize young female characters. And no not in a way that’s at all sexualized. Kiki is a witch who on her 14th birthday as part of her training must leave her parents and move elsewhere to try and make it on her own to develop her skills. As quite typical of Ghibli young female characters, she’s a determined, resourceful with good intentions that are maybe a little set back by her naivety. It’s refreshing to have characters like this be such a focus of their films and be depicted in this way. Delivery Service is probably one of the more slight Ghibli works, but also a very warm and charming one. In the English dub, Phil Hartman plays her cat; only witches are able to understand cats, in a nice expansion on the mythology of witches with cats. Although I have to say it feels a bit jarring tonally. He seems a little too wisecracking for this world. 

 Dir: Hayao Miyazaki. 2008.

 One concept in quite a few Ghibli films is to subvert traditional stories and fairy tales. Ponyo is a twisted take on The Little Mermaid. It does the Ghibli thing of living in a realtively innocent and peaceful world. There isn’t an evil queen or anyone in the undersea world, just someone who has to take a very harsh but fair attitude towards keeping the sea in balance. And in this case the love story occurs between two rather adorable young children. And the human/fish hybrid isn’t exactly a mermaid, but something a bit different. Iit’s the boy that lives underwater that wants to become human. It’s not their most original or daring work, but it’s a very warm and uplifting world. It feels quite similar to Totoro in a lot of ways, albeit a slightly safer, faster version. 

The Secret World of Arrietty 
Dir: Hiromasa Yonebayashi. 2010

 For me, this is the best non Miyazaki or Takahata work. There’s some utterly beautiful animation of the intricacies of gardens leaves and grass blowing in the wind, animation of insects and The interiors walls of the house. Like Ponyo, it subverts a traditional story, in this case the borrowers and it tells the story more from the perspective of the little people rather than the humans. But it tackles other more serious films of debilitating illnesses there’s again some parallels with Totoro that I won’t get into for fear of spoiling too much. The score is beautiful as well, and it gets away from the traditional Japanese scoring and utilizes a more Celtic sound from French singer and harpist Cécile Corbel, who uses English Language vocals on some tracks even in the Japanese dub. It’s one of their more small scale works, set in one house and in its garden for the most part. But it’s one their more emotionally resonant work. One of my favourites. I'll continue to add to these reviews over the weeks.

Friday, 17 August 2012

Hey where the hell have you been?

I know I needed a bit of a break, then I had a longer break then planned, then I got ill, then it got really hot for a week and I couldn't concentrate on anything for more than a second. Then I couldn't think of anything to write about, Then it was the Olympics, and after that it had been so long, I'd forgotten how to write. Really will try to get back into the habit again soon.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

My exclusive non-spoiler review of Batman - The Dark Knight Rises

Yes I know it hasn't even been released yet, but I managed to sneak in to an exclusive preview screening, it did add an extra layer of tension to the experience, wondering if I'd get caught, but I was soon so swept away by the movie I soon forgot all about it. So I've written some of my thoughts below.

It's good, but not as good as this.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Mass Effect 3 Ending DLC and Death in Video Games

*Just a warning to say that this blog will spoil the endings of Mass Effect 3, Red Dead Redemption, Shadow of the Colossus and L.A Noire.*

The Mass Effect 3 Ending DLC has been released, and the general opinion from its critics seem to be that’s it’s slightly better, but it doesn’t really solve the core issues with the endings. I’m one of the people who’s of this opinion; I only finished the game for the first time a few days ago so, I was able to go online to watch the extended endings as soon as I’d seen the regular endings. I think I’ve gone through the five stages of grief in reaction to it, at first I thought it was okay - I was in denial, but then gradually the more I thought about it, and the more I looked at blogs and YouTube videos criticising the ending, the worse it seemed. I think I’ve moved past the anger and bargaining parts now though thankfully.

Most comments from mainstream articles on the story seem to have missed the point of why people were complaining. In particular the defence seemed to be that people were just unhappy that there wasn’t a star wars style handing out of medals at the end. But that isn’t what most of the criticism is about. Although I will say it is a bit contentious to suggest the Mass Effect series is so much deeper than Star Wars just because it didn’t have a happy ending where everything is wrapped up properly.

Most things that can be said have been said have been said at this point, but there’s a particular idea of the story I want to investigate, namely the endings in which Shepard has to sacrifice him/herself in all the choices it brings you. Now I’m fine with the idea that Shepard would have to die at the end, the possibility was foreshadowed in the game and I was prepared for it being a possibility. The problem is the way it’s handled is wrong for the medium of games. Even putting all the problems with the ghost child AI aside, seeing that ending play out in a movie, might not be good, but it would be more palatable. Doing it in a game however is very frustrating.

I want to stress, you can have the main character die in a game, but there’s a particular way it should be done, and the best examples I can think of are Red Dead Redemption and Shadow of the Colossus. (Well he doesn’t technically die, but it uses a model that I’m suggesting other games could learn from)

You know that point in so many games where you fight your way through hordes of enemies, overcome traps and trials. Then a cut-scene happens and an enemy gets the jump on you somehow, or your character just does something stupid. It’s in countless games and it’s always incredibly annoying, because you feel like if you’d been in control, it wouldn’t have happened, and you resent your cut-scene avatar for not being up to the task.

Things like this are actually fine though when there’s an in-game moment where you’re scripted to fail. It can’t suddenly change the physics and believability of the gameplay’s internal rules too much, but if done right it works well. The moment at the end of Shadow of the Colossus essentially forces you to give up as a magical pool starts pulling you towards it, and as much as you try to run away and hold on to ledges, you know you don’t have a chance. People aren’t all going to experience that moment in the exact same way, they might not give up at the exact same moment. But when you do let go, you know it’s on you and that makes the moment so much more powerful.

In Red Dead Redemption, you send your wife and son to run away and then step outside to face hordes of lawmen. You’re impossibly outnumbered, but you go down in a final stand-off and try to take as many with you as you can. There’s a moment the first time you play it when you think “this is ridiculous there’s no way I’m going to be able to take down this many people, its impossible” And of course it is. There’s no way you’d be able to succeed even within the framework of the game. You realize you were destined to die and you feel silly for thinking you’d be able to pull of such a miracle. At first you think the game might restart and maybe there’s some trick you’re supposed to pull that you didn’t see the first time. But it just cuts to the next scene of your wife and son running away on horse, and you’re in control of the son now. It really subverts the game logic you’re used and that’s why it’s effective.

L.A noire, another Rockstar game however, screws this up a bit. Where you character simply gets swept away in a drain flood, undermining all the effort you made to get to that point. Not to mention that game commits some even more sins earlier on by revealing your character has been having an off-screen affair. It doesn’t seem fair to have your character do things you wouldn’t do if you were in control. At least in a game where you make a lot of choices for the character.

Mass Effect 3 doesn’t quite do any of these things. You admittedly have an in-game choice to make, but you’re still essentially just choosing how you want to die in a cut-scene, and that’s incredibly frustrating. In the game part you survive against impossible odds, time and time again, but cut-scenes demand you die.

The ending would have been better if Harbinger had taken you out properly on your run towards the citadel and you died there. Though on that topic, I didn’t particular care for how it does take you down at the same scripted moment. I tried to roll to the left, but Shepard was suddenly rooted to the spot. The game 'me' should have survived that moment. If the laser had taken me down and proved impossible to dodge further on, or if Marauder Shields had proved too powerful, I would have preferred that. 

 The difference between games and movies is that we aren’t supposed to be powerless over the main protagonist’s actions. If you take away the player’s right to that power then we’re just watching a movie.  I don’t want to be too rigid and say that games should have to abide by these sets of rules, because it does seem to undermine gaming as an art form to say the main character can’t die outside of gameplay, and I’m sure there must be plenty of exceptions I’ve not thought of. But at the very least, developers need to understand that in games you want to feel like you’re the hero, and you want to be rewarded for your efforts, If you’re going to subvert that, think about why you’re doing it, and how best to implement it.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Misogyny in Video Gaming: Hitman Trailer, Tomb Raider, Anita Sarkeesian

So I thought I’d write about sexism in video games, after all, it’s about time a white man gave his perspective on the issue. It’s a topic that’s been coming up a lot recently and lots of other blogs and articles have already echoed my own thoughts, but I’d thought I go through the issue nonetheless.
At the end of May IO Interactive, released this trailer for the new Hitman Game. 

There’s already been articles written on the topic here that dissect the controversy, this one does a better job that I’m going to do 
But let’s just summarise what happens in this trailer: Agent 47 takes off his blood-soaked clothing, cleans his wounds, and then puts on his iconic suit and tie. Meanwhile a group of Assassin nuns , march towards Agent 47’s motel, strip-off their garb to reveal latex PVC/latex leather bondage style nun gear, continue towards the motel where Agent 47 is hiding, and shoot it with a rocket launcher. Then there’s a cut and Agent 47 appears behind them silently takes a couple of them down and a gory battle ensues in which he violently takes down these eight scantily-dressed, tattooed assassins.

I’m interested to know the thinking behind his plan exactly. These women have been tasked with assassinating Agent 47, so they disguise themselves as nuns, hire a school bus and then take a rocket launcher with them? Um Okay? Well uh… maybe dressing as nuns meant they’d be able to sneak through passport control without suspicion or something, I don’t know. I still don’t get why they had to strip down to latex gear before shooting the motel with a rocket launcher. Didn’t exactly seem combat practical, a little less unwieldy than nun’s robes I guess, but you’d think they could have something much more suitable on underneath. Maybe they all have 2nd jobs at a bondage club and they knew they wouldn’t have time to change after the assassination?

Well whatever flimsy excuse you could conjure together, the main visual images of the trailer is women stripping off into revealing gear and getting violently beaten and killed by agent 47. Yes this kind of violence isn’t really anything, and this kind of objectification of women isn’t really anything new either. Taken on their own they’re slightly dodgy, questionable things, but have become so ingrained that we’re used. The real problem comes from the combination of the two. Firstly there’s cheap shock value of juxtaposing the traditionally ‘pure’ repressed nuns with overt sexuality. Then they strip off and attack agent 47, and it’s now that we see him violently killing them all. I know their assassins and he’s defending himself, but there’s a subtext that they’re being punished for being slutty. It may not have literally been what the makers of the trailer intended, but this attitude is so prevalent; it’s hard to see it being taken any other way. This has been quite an on-going trope in media  this was something initially pointed out to me by a university lecturer that the “promiscuous” girl in a horror movie will be the first victim. This isn’t just about religious ideas, there’s an ingrained idea in society that it’s worse for a woman to be sexually promiscuous. Women should be virgins… men not so much. Although women shouldn’t be frigid bitches either of course.

I’m hardly the first to point this hypocrisy out of course, but I’ve started to think this needs to be pointed out a lot more and men should probably be more vocally against this as well, In part I’ve been inspired by Greg Proops’ Smartest Man in the World podcasts, and Jen Kirkman's Jen Kirkman’s blog on women in comedy 

But as I was saying, it’s the combining of sexualisation and violence; these two things together reveal some troubling attitudes. Evil femme fatale/ asskicking, scantily clad assassins aren’t that unusual, though they’ve always been a dubious premise for film and videogame characters, but even putting that aside, putting such overt objectification and graphic violence towards women is something else entirely.

That’s what commenters on the Keza MacDonald’s article seemed to miss and it’s the sheer defensive rage and idiotic point missing on display in these comments about representation of women in video games that’s troubling to me. It made me realize that this is a more pressing issue than I’d first thought.

So I became slightly alarmed by the language the Executive Producer of the new Tomb Raider game used when discussing the new game. The new character design for Lara was actually quite encouraging , she’d considerably less sex appeal, and the game was promoted as an ”origin story” a reboot for the franchise. It seemed like they were trying to make the character less defined by her assets. But as more was revealed, there appears to be something slightly sinister to the game, much of the focus seemed to be on how much physical punishment Lara takes. This is still potentially justifiable, action heroes will suffer before they triumph. But then Executive Produce Ron Rosenberg said this in an interview with  Kotaku

"When people play Lara, they don't really project themselves into the character," Rosenberg told me at E3 last week when I asked if it was difficult to develop for a female protagonist.
"They're more like 'I want to protect her.' There's this sort of dynamic of 'I'm going to this adventure with her and trying to protect her.'"
So is she still the hero? I asked Rosenberg if we should expect to look at Lara a little bit differently than we have in the past.
"She's definitely the hero but— you're kind of like her helper," he said. "When you see her have to face these challenges, you start to root for her in a way that you might not root for a male character."

Now this doesn’t quite seem right. The implication is there’s a distance between player and character. It’s very misguided in its language. What they’re doing seems to be trying to forge a stronger emotional connection to the character.  But phrasing it in this way suggests it’s about male characters wanting to protect the vulnerable helpless little lady, which is something Lara’s supposed to be perfectly capable of doing. To top this off he also said revealed

“In the new Tomb Raider, Lara Croft will suffer. Her best friend will be kidnapped. She'll get taken prisoner by island scavengers. And then, Rosenberg says, those scavengers will try to rape her.
She is literally turned into a cornered animal," Rosenberg said. "It's a huge step in her evolution: she's forced to either fight back or die."

Which does make it seem like the use of magic in the series is going too far.
But anyway the rape bit is what’s concerning. I’m fine with games addressing this as an issue, but the problem is from what we know of its use, it’s just a bullet point in the trials Lara will have to endure. It’s not going to be a serious analysis on the psychological effects of rape, and it’s a lazy device to provoke emotion. There’s not really much more nuance to “bad evil rapey man” and “pretty, vulnerable young woman” scenarios.

To be fair, this sounds more like a case of bad PR that doesn’t quite explain things in a satisfying way, the offhand way it’s mentioned doesn’t even seem like he’s courting controversy to me. It just sounds more like men, not really thinking about how women might really feel in this situation. But some of the intentions in the game do seem good, just ill thought out and misguided.

*edit* Since writing this it's turned out the game is being written by Rhianna Pratchett who wrote Mirrors Edge. She talks about the story and the scene here 

So the other reason this topic has been in the news is because of a Kickstarter Project. A woman named Anita Sarkeesian started a project to:

“Explore, analyse and deconstruct some of the most common tropes and stereotypes of female characters in games.  The series will highlight the larger recurring patterns and conventions used within the gaming industry rather than just focusing on the worst offenders. “

As you can imagine this made YouTube commentators mad. The mere idea that someone would even want to research the possibility sent these people into a blind rage, this wasn’t even someone decrying games as being massively sexist, and this was a gamer wanting to put together a research project on the idea. It’s hardly even worth pointing out that there are nasty comments being made on the internet, but this rage was so misdirected it almost reached the level of surrealist art. You can see why young men on the internet could feel defensive over the accusation that a hobby of theirs is wrong and misogynistic. And indeed perhaps the reason they might not like seeing a woman tell them what they should and shouldn’t be doing reminds them of their mother telling them what to do, and that puts them into a childish, petulant rage. It’s hardly surprising games have been so marginalized when there’s appears to be its core audience.

The irony is of course that the abuse was so out of hand, the twitterverse and wider circles of the internet caught hold of the story and the abuse, and it helped the campaign immeasurably, meaning the project raised far more money than its initial target.

But these stories do reveal a very real problem of attitudes women, not just in video games, but in wider society. Some of these online abusers may just be young boys that will grow out of it, but it’s quite likely if we saw the general age, a lot of them would be grown men too. So to other men out, I think we need to make of a fuss about this as well. Terrible representation of women in games is insulting to us as well. If we want nuanced female characters we have to demand these things as well. If developers realize their market isn’t just misogynistic young men then they’ll realize there’s much wider market that they can appeal to and profit from. But that change isn’t going come from tolerating the kind of crap we’ve been getting.

*UPDATE* I was just reading this article on the topic  and found this quote too good not to update

Blystad is a nice, well-meaning man that simply doesn't understand why anyone is mad about the trailer for his game. This is actually a very large part of the problem.

Blystad isn't sure why this trailer in particular upset people, when he feels this is the way the series has always presented itself. When I asked him why these ladies were in dominatrix gear, and why they had to remove their nun costumes before coming to kill Agent 47, he said the ladies are "dressing as something less conspicuous, getting up to their mark, and revealing their true colors."

He does not realize that giving these women dominatrix outfits as their "true colors" is the problem.

Well there you go then, I think that sums up the problems perfectly.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

E3 2012

The e3 conference 2012 passed in fairly unremarkable fashion this year. There was a slight lingering tension that it might be the year for Microsoft or Sony to unveil their new consoles, but it wasn’t to be. As a gamer, I’m happier with that decision. There was a bit of a cold war scenario going on between Sony and Microsoft where if one revealed their new technology, the other would be under pressure to prove they could match this. But I don’t want either to rush into releasing a new console yet. Last time this resulted in some faulty consoles and some technical decisions were made that might not have been for the best.

Nintendo meanwhile had more of the upcoming Wii U to show off, but it somehow lacked any real excitement, it didn’t really feel like the next generation, it felt like it was catching up with the technical abilities of the PS3 and Xbox360. This didn’t matter with the release of the Wii because its focus was completely different. It has a unique interface and it was bringing gaming to a whole new market that wouldn’t normally play games. At the same time, it was doing something fresh and new in a way that interested hard-core gamers. It’s hard to see this having the same success as the Wii. The console seems to merge the functions of the Wii and the DS. One of its major selling points seems to be its portability and the fact that the console can be played on a tablet. While that may be convenient for some, sharing a television isn’t an issue for me. A big television is still a preferable way to play console games than a tablet. But of course I’m not everyone and others may see this as a good thing.
While there were plenty of exciting releases shown to be coming, the conferences did suggest perhaps the end of this generation has been approaching, particularly with quite a big focus on family games and gimmicky interfaces.

Microsoft went out first; they had probably the least successful conference. Their focus seemed to largely be on gimmicks rather than games. The main game attraction was the new Halo which seemed to have taken a lot of inspiration from Metroid. But the main push of their new show was the new smart glass concept was. It’s hard to see it having much affect at this time, and how much affect can it really have on a console so late in its life. If anything it seemed like what we were seeing could have been a test, an experiment that could be later expounded upon on Xbox’s next incarnation. The rest of the presentation was fairly gimmicky, an NFL commentator was brought out to promote the new Madden, and a voice interface seemed to show that FIFA would allow you to get booked by the referee for swearing at him. How this could be seen as anything other than a gimmick that’s amusing for 2 minutes I’m not sure. They finished the show by bringing out Usher to perform a song for some bored journalists.

Sony faired a lot better. Jack Tretton comes across as rather humble and likeable for the CEO of a huge company. (Well, the American branch of it anyway) The highlight of the show was probably Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us, which made physical violence look like it actually should be, horrible and painful. The idea that having to kill to survive actually felt like the dark and harrowing prospect it should be, albeit in a way that looked fun and exciting. I’m suspicious if it’ll manage to sustain this throughout the game though. The dynamic between the two characters was a better example of “interactive storytelling” than David Cage’s efforts. As much as I’m glad there’s someone that aspire to the things Cage does, his latest effort, Beyond which was the other highlight of Sony’s conference. It doesn't really look like he’s moved on from the writing ability he displayed in Heavy Rain. It’s too early to tell, and I may be interested to ‘play’ it when it comes out, but I remain sceptical. Still the presence of Ellen Page in the game may mean the acting will be better than his previous games. The other large feature in their show was Wonderbook:  Book of Spells (you know, for kids!) something that seems to be trying to find a use for eye toy. It could well be very good and fun for children, but again, it’s too hard to predict at this stage.

The Nintendo conference promised to be more focused on games, but didn’t quite deliver on that. My twitter feed went wild at the reveal of the new Pikmin, which must be another video gaming icon that passed me by somehow. I’ll have to go on faith that this was a good thing. But the bulk of it was dedicated to promoting the new Wii U and a bizarre amount of time was spent on showing a new version of Batman: Arkham City. It just seemed like a very weak way to appeal to hard-core gamers, as well as showing off the new interface design, anyone who would care, has already played it. I’ve already talked about my scepticism at the Wii U, so I won’t repeat myself. They showed some things that would appeal to their fan base, but I don’t think they did much to reach outside their own demographic.

It’s been said by many, but the real winners of the show were Ubisoft. Assassins Creed 3 and Watch Dogs the real highlights of the show.

In many ways the live streams has affected the way the e3 conferences are viewed and presented, the conferences now have to consider the large audience watching at home, but it’s not just intended for them and so too much is made of which company “ won” the conference. So the conferences aren’t quite satisfying for journalists, viewers or the company’s stock-holders. It’s become a weird meshing of different aims. So let’s try not to make too much of them.  

Thursday, 31 May 2012

More favourite podcasts part 2

Pod F Tompkast                     
Podcast frequenter Paul F Tompkins (He’s mentioned about 50 times on this blog) own podcast, is one that puts a lot of effort into the production side of things. It took me a while to warm to it, and appreciate the work that gets put into it every month. With that said the strongest part of every episode is often the conversations with Jen Kirkman. The 2nd series has also started introducing other studio guests as well. The recent one with Gillian Jacobs was one of the better ones.

One of the few sketch show podcasts. A lot more work goes into sound, production and editing on these, and it’s also semi-improvised. Jeremy Carter and Matt Gourley are the main masterminds/technicians behind the show, and perform in the sketches and frequent performers include Paul F Tompkins, Erinn Hayes, Chris Tallman and one of the best performances comes from Patton Oswalt as a game show host that goes increasingly insane over the series at his stupid contestants.

Thrilling Adventure Hour
The Thrilling adventure hour is recorded from a monthly stage show written by Ben Acker and Ben Blacker. It’s a kind of pastiche/love letter to old time radio stations, frequent performers include Paul F Tompkins, John Ennis, John Di Maggio, James Urbaniak and Paget Brewster. Shows are usually only around 20 minutes, so it’s just a short fun little story every month.

The Todd Glass Show
Has probably become my 2nd favourite podcast after comedy bang bang, over time the podcast has built up an array of running bits and jokes. The show has had some good guests, but the episodes that work best are with people who know Todd well and share his sense of humour. Rory Scovel episodes in particular are usually the strongest. The show can also switch in a second between a very silly improvised sketch into a deadly serious and passionate conversation about political or sociological topics, but the loose feel is part of its charm and it’s always compelling.

You Made it Weird
Pete Holmes is much more in the traditional podcast going for in-depth conversations with one of his comedian friends. But he’s good at it because he’s a very engaged host. There are a lot of themes he often seems to come back to, but he manages to make his interviews strike a very good balance between funny and serious topics.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

More favourite podcasts part 1

A Bit of a Chat with Ken Plume
Ken Plume has a different style from other podcasts, he’s not an L.A comedian, and his one-on-one interviews are conducted over Skype and they go out completely unedited. His subjects are just anyone he finds interesting, so it’s not just comedians he interviews. He lives in North Carolina but his knowledge of British Comedy far outstrips most people who are paid to write about it in the U.K. He really makes for a great interviewer. He has a different perspective and he’s able to ask in-depth questions, and he comes across as a very charming and endearing person.

The Dana Gould Hour
Dana Gould’s Podcast is in its infancy at the moment, but it’s already found a unique voice for itself. Usually a bi-weekly podcast, it has other scripted and, produced pieces and jumps between these and the main conversational parts of the show. Eddie Pepitone is usually present and is always a great addition. Politics, neuroses and Planet of the Apes seems to come up a lot. But there are usually other themes and topics that drive the episode. Conspiracies, Woody Allen’s marriage to Soon Yi have made for some very fascinating and funny conversation topics.

The Dead Authors Podcast
Paul F Tompkins plays the part of H.G Wells in this podcast in which he uses a time machine to bring back famous authors (Usually played by other L.A Comedians) to interview them about their work. Sometimes the performer will learn as little as possible about the author, sometimes a lot, sometimes somewhere in-between. It’s a monthly podcast, and the strongest so far for me has been Brian Stack as P.G Wodehouse. There doesn’t seem to be a set formula for what works best yet, but it usually seems best if the comedian knows something about the author, so they can choose how best to get things wrong.

Brett Gelman has probably the most unique podcast around, the tone is somewhat reminiscent of Chris Morris’s Blue Jam and Gelman’s character for me brings to mind Simon Munnery’s persona from Attention Scum. Gelman’s character though seems to see himself as a revolutionary and a leader of people. The show usually features sketches and monologues. Delusions of greatness seem to be the recurring theme throughout the show. The production and music on the show is always excellent. It’s not a show that seems to get delivered very frequently, but it’s always a delight when it is.  

Matt Besser’s long-form improv show will feature three other improvisers, and they improvise scenarios usually based off one-word suggestions from twitter. They’ll use the word to see if anyone has a story about that word, and so that story will inspire an idea for a sketch, that they find as they go along. It’s a much purer form of improv and it’s always impressive how often they find a great sketch. The back-referencing is great as well. Throughout the later sketches, they’ll usually find a way to refer back to an earlier sketch and whenever they do it almost always seems to make the less successful bits worth it.

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Comedy Bang Bang TV Show Preview - Recap

So the Comedy Bang Bang TV series has now been shown online at IFC.

I first heard the podcast two and a half years ago, but it was a year before I become a regular listener. The time I spent catching up to it, listening to two sometimes three episodes a day was a joyful time. When host Scott Aukerman described what the series would be like, he said it would be similar but different from the podcast. He also cited a short lived Letterman daytime show as being an inspiration.

The result is best described as a warped take on the Talk show/Sketch show format. It seems to follow the podcast format of having a regular guest followed by a character guest. It’d be senseless to expect the character work to have the same strengths of the podcast. This is after all a twenty minute show, not an hour and twenty minutes. There might be some room for improvisation, but it’s obviously going to be far more scripted. Characters don’t have time to develop so much. A difference is also that the real guests aren’t there to have serious conversations. They’re scripted bits rather than loose conversations, and Aukerman is straight into his weird/awkward persona Reggie Watts is to Aukerman what Paul Shaffer is to David Letterman, and adds some strange banter between the two of them.

Amy Poehler is the regular guest in this episode, and Don Dimello - theatrical director - played by Andy Daly is the character. Brian Huskey also has a brief appearance. The weaker spot in the episode is probably Dimello as it does just feel like a very brief, sanitized version of the character from the podcast, and the show seems best when it’s doing its own thing, rather than trying capture the spirit of the podcast. The strength of the show is in the sketches, with Aukerman’s monologues and bits to the camera. There’s some very amusingly bad wordplay with Scott talking to his ‘bookie’ the sketches are also strong. There’s a film trailer parody and something about Reggie Watts is very funny in sketches. He’s actually quite a capable sketch actor, but of course his hair and beard undercuts everything he says.

The guests are also given something interesting to do when Scott has to leave and a substitute host is introduced. Adults’ acting like school children is an obvious trope, but something about Amy Poehler, Reggie Watts, and Andy Daly as Don Dimello acting like school children makes it work really well.

So it’s a promising start, very much looking forward to the series. I hope the characters can work better and are less predictable in other episodes, but it’s still fun to see them introduced visually.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Story Arcs in Sitcom

Lately we’ve seen an increase in on-going stories in sitcoms.  More than ever before the latest seasons of Parks and Recreation and Community have been driven by an overarching narrative. Leslie Knope’s campaign to become City Councillor has been the basis for many stories in this season’s Parks and Recreation and even in more standalone episodes the arc has been hanging in the background. The Thick of It has a universe that’s expanded and developed over time. And recently Grandma’s House has had many continuing story threads over the course of the season.

There could be a few reasons why story arcs used to be less popular in comedies. Traditionally sitcoms have been about people who are trapped in their situation in life and don’t grow or change. They’re about people who repeatedly try to get out of their circumstances and fail. And that’s something that can be quite relatable to many audiences.  A more cynical view of this though could be that people only want familiarity and formula from sitcoms. And it’s also cheaper and easier to have everything located around as few sets as possible.

The other difficulty with serialized storytelling was that TV used to be seen as a more ephemeral medium. (How else can we explain the fact that nobody kept any copies of Fred Emney Picks A Pop.) Obviously in the times before VHS recorders, if people missed an episode then your luck was out and you’d just have to hope for a repeat someday. So it’d be very easy for a series to lose much of the audience over time. In the early 90’s my parents missed the episode of Twin Peaks in which Laura Palmer’s killer was revealed. It wasn’t until I discovered the series and got the DVD’s that they were able to remember this and realized exactly what they’d missed. These days they’re both perfectly capable of catching up on iPlayer if they miss anything. The more savvy of us – the one’s that know how to download an entire 22 episode  season of an American show for free by entirely legal means – know that being able to watch as much of something as you want at your own leisure is the best way to watch something. Arguably having a week gap gives you more time to reflect on something, but nonetheless, many shows now seem perfect for the DVD market, since stories can be enjoyed without distraction, particularly with American networks cutting time from shows to make space for more adverts. (I’m not quite sure how anyone can still call an American show a half-hour when it’s actually barely 20 minutes.)

Personally I’m enjoying the move towards serialized stories, it demonstrates how sitcom can do everything drama does but with jokes as well. This is always going to be a circular debate, because it can also lead to stories being driven too much by plot exposition and might move the focus to sentimentality at the expense of humour, but I think if it’s handled right it can work brilliantly, and I think the touching payoffs to the latest seasons of Communty and Parks & Recreation bear that out. Of course not every show would be improved by more emotional depth and a heavier focus on story structure, but for many shows, character depth is what allows them to avoid becoming formulaic. Characters growing and their situations changing have helped Parks and Recreation and Community immensely. I think they would have got boring by now if everything had stayed at square one.

It’s been one of my disappointments with Futurama lately. There have always been slight hints at a larger story to universe and there have been some changes to the status quo, but it’s mostly stayed static and there are times where an episode from season 6 could be pretty much indistinguishable from season 1. Futurama’s shown potential to have a stronger story-arc but hasn’t really committed to it and it’s a shame. After the feature length DVD’s Fry and Leela declared their love for each other, and the returning season seemed to continue on from this. But after this some episodes seemed to suggest they weren’t together or it was just left completely ambiguous. I’ve never know a sitcom where the writers seemingly don’t know or can’t decide whether the main two characters are in a relationship or not.

 It’s largely why The Venture Brothers has made me look down on it retrospect. (It might not be fair to compare them, but they are both animated sci-fi comedies, so I think it’s a worthwhile comparison.)  Over time It has expanded its universe and deftly handled multiple story-arcs in which the characters grow and develop.

Story arcs aren’t just about characters developing though, it’s allows running jokes to build and develop over time. Seinfeld of course was a much earlier show to play with serialized stories, particularly in season 4 and 7. But more than just stories it was just jokes and lines of dialogues and turns of phrases that evolved over time to the point the show had developed its own style of dialogue.

So as I said, it’s not needed for every show, but a sense of continuity and consequence can add a lot to a series.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Bobcat Goldthwait - God Bless America

The fifth feature film from Bobcat Goldthwait follows Frank. (Joel Murray) A frustrated middle-aged man, who on losing his job and being diagnosed with terminal cancer, is pushed to go on a killing spree. The condition being that he'll only kill people that he believes deserve to die. He’s aided by 16 year old Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr) who shares his dissatisfaction with the world.

It’s a controversial subject, the kind that Bobcat has become known for throughout his career. The film’s fairly limited release seems to have precluded it from any major press attention though, so maybe it’ll escape being blamed for any future high profile massacres.

Frank at often times seems to be a mouthpiece for Bobcat’s own frustrations with the world. There’s a long scene at the beginning where he talks of these things to a co-worker and it often sounds more like a ranty article than a dialogue between two people.

The thing’s that get Frank so angry include American Idol or X Factor type shows, MTV’s Sweet Sixteen, the abundance of social networking and iPhones, right wing Fox News editorial anchors.  Targets that the kind of person who’d see this film will probably sympathize with Frank in. (Well maybe not the iPhones) and of course these people become the targets of Frank and Roxy’s killings. It’s a fun idea although if it’s really intended as a satire and criticism of society, its targets are a bit shallow. The hosts and viewers of American Idol are blamed, but not really the producers. Essentially Frank’s targets come down to just people who are rude and inconsiderate. Which is still a good enough premise for a film, who doesn’t want to see teenagers that talk on their phones during a movie getting shot? But it is a step short if it's hoping to make a truly pointed critique of modern society.

What helps carry the film though is the dynamic between Frank and Roxy.  The issue of a middle aged man being friends with a 16 year old girl is handled very well. Frank flat out refuses to take any sexual interest in her, despite her questioning of how he sees her, he refuses to even comment. There’s a 'fuck you' given out to men who’ve married very young women in which Woody Allen is singled out, which seemed surprising to hear.

After a while the film starts to repeat itself. Bobcat has responded to this criticism of his work, claiming that he wants to fully explore the idea. This is valid up to a point, but after a while the film does seem to lose its momentum. Thankfully the story manages to find a direction to take it into the 3rd act, eventually building towards a suitable climax.

Ultimately the strength of the film is in having something that’s angry, dark and funny that also has a genuine heart to it. It’s not a film about morality. Bobcat said rather astutely on a recent Comedy Bang Bang episode that murder is justified in serious action films, because according to some people’s morality those people deserved to die. But he doesn’t ever believe murder is right. It goes without saying that the murders performed by the two protagonists aren’t seen as moral by the film. Their actions aren't justified, but it’s not a film about the morality of these actions.

It is worth seeing though, and it’s also worth looking up Bobcat’s previous film, ‘World’s Greatest Dad.’ I can’t speak for the rest of his work, but I’ll certainly be interested in seeing the rest of his output on the strength of these two films.

Monday, 14 May 2012

Back into it with Veep episode 4

Okay time to get back into it. I seemingly didn’t find the time to write for this at all during my 3rd year of university. Now that it's finished I should have a lot more time for it.  My aim now is to be a little more casual with this just to keep myself in the habit of writing more.  Then hopefully once it’s a habit, I can work on making it better. So here we are, a recap of Veep S1 E4.

This week’s Veep saw Selina making a racial blunder in which she unintentionally questioned the American heritage of a Chinese American war veteran after an interview in which she continued to talk while she was still on mic. It’s not the most original premise, but even though it’s a perfectly valid avenue of political to explore. Once again the shows premise of covering the vice president means it lacks a little dramatic tension. A vice presidential blunder is a bigger blunder than a ministerial blunder, but she’s not expendable, and there just isn’t the danger of her being fired.

Elsewhere we see the more lustful side to Selina, with her flirtatious chatter with a romantic interest. But these scenes feel a little awkwardly written. They’re obviously supposed to convey awkward phone sex chat, and that the characters aren’t that good at it, but it still feels a little stiffly written. The language isn’t quite as explicit as it should be.  There’s a slight ring of awkward Britishness in the writing of it. This episode was co-written by the other Will Smith, who plays posho tory Phil Smith in The Thick of It. A sort of right-wing Chris Addison (If such a term isn’t redundant) it might not be fair to bestow that judgment upon him, he probably isn’t really that close to his character. It’s hard to picture him writing convincing phone sex chatter. (Go on, try to picture it, you can’t can you?)

Some of the more interesting dynamic shifts in the episode came from Dan and Amy, who seem to have come to a kind of truce in their working relationship. They’re more comfortable and unguarded about each other’s personal life around each-other. Amy even seems to greatly impress Dan, in her ability to sell some of her soul to a pair of racist, boorish ex-senators during a dinner, which they’re recruiting for the clean jobs committee.

They’re portrayal though did feel like American politics through a very British lens. Not that the senators enthusiasm for Ribs, anti-Mexican, anti-immigration sentiment is untrue and something you wouldn’t get from American writers, but again, it didn’t seem to have the same finesse and research behind it as episodes with Armando’s name on the writing credits.