Rise

A six week counselling window has increased to ten. It will probably increase further. That means I gotta stop hoping somebody else is gonna throw me a line and get started on addressing the issues. Being a functioning adult (most of the time) has its disadvantages, who knew? Stick the latest Prodigy album on loud: let’s see if we can’t set the world to rights…

When you’ve decided that your ‘job’ is to comment on other people’s output, or to make sense of the mass of entertainment on offer to consume, there will be moments when you don’t like what you’re given. How you then present that criticism is as important as the fact you’re able to do so in the first place. It is surprisingly easy to sound entitled and whiny one moment yet be the voice of reason the next. What defines that state of affairs isn’t just the content you pick to examine, but the mindset taken into that process.

However, more crucially, it is the material itself which is the foundation of the problem. The X men remake above, for that is what it is, is based on source material that remains inherently flawed. Yeah, the X Men concept is sound, but the building blocks used to construct it are not nearly as strong as perhaps some people might like to cling onto. If you keep recycling the same stories and they’re never really great, who’s to blame? If you keep telling audiences the same things, over and over, but that basic storytelling fails to engage, is it any wonder they aren’t interested?

More and more, I feel critics are asking the wrong questions of movies. It certainly seems to be that if your rabid female-hating patriarchy can negatively top-load the reviews for a movie that’s not even out yet (see: Captain Marvel) then anybody can condemn a concept on a trailer with the belief that well this is gonna be shit, obviously. It took poor Peter Parker a VERY long time to become an acceptably narrated superhero after all, and why was that, exactly? We had to have the origin story every time the reboot happened. When you rebooted and very intentionally diversified the origin story, that film won an Oscar. Well, look at that.

Was live action Peter’s shortcoming because nobody knew how to handle him but Marvel? Well, looking at the X Men, and the discomfort now being generated by this Dark Phoenix trailer, giving the material to a certain production company is no guarantee that it will ever actually become better. Mr Parker’s redemption doesn’t come from Tony Stark providing his suit either, it undoubtedly is embedded in the idea that origin stories, after a while, don’t need to be endlessly repeated. Stop treating your audience like idiots, and something amazing happens.

What critics and filmmakers continue to do is assume that the same questions always need to be asked, when more and more that is not the case. All those people who hate The Greatest Showman because it’s not very good fail to grasp the emotional, visceral reaction that the narrative has in its fan-base. The comic book geeks who keep lamenting that nobody can do their version of events justice continually fail to grasp that if you keep comparing other people’s output with the pictures in your head, nothing EVER looks as good.

Subjective opinions are everybody’s basic failing. Objectivity should always win the day, and it’s why when I see someone who’s shown a flair for just presenting facts get all ‘oh well this is crap’ in my feed that a small part of my heart dies. You’re asking the wrong questions, you’re simply reacting to capitalise on likes and retweets, whatever happened to thinking before you speak? Some stories should only ever have been told once, but Hollywood (quite rightly) assumes that if it made money once, it will again, or why else would we have umpty-two bazillion Star Wars things all happening at once?

Why is my life full of misfit superheroes all of a sudden? Oh yeah, because this is a bandwagon that everybody can ride. Why can’t you like them all and be grateful that suddenly, there’s stuff that has some self-depreciation and self-awareness? Sorry, you gotta choose a side and Marvel has to beat DC because everything is a contest. Newsflash, geek and nerds, this isn’t sportsball. You don’t need to take this massive artistic freedom on the table and stick it in old fashioned pigeonholes.

Honestly, you can let people enjoy stuff, even if you don’t. If you wanna be critical, how about you do it sensibly, objectively and without all the fucking hand-wringing and condescension that seems to inhabit far too much ‘criticism’ of late. People will respect you more for that, trust me. Everybody has an arsehole point of view, but the smart people know the best means to demonstrate this is not with the drive by condemnation. It’s a bad habit that a lot of us really need to start breaking.

Yes, that includes me too.

Respect

My thought train begins today with this Tweet:

It is the first time that the idea of ‘social media as a mirror’ has registered in my brain. This, as it transpires, is a remarkably apposite description of how many people use it, confirmation bias included. I’ve not yet seen The Last Jedi, but the divisive nature of reviews says very much in my mind that this is going one of two ways. There are those people watching the film and considering it as entertainment, and then those whose perception of the Star Wars Universe is so personally warped to begin with that this  narrative will inevitably end up as an affront. It doesn’t matter if you believe that the whole thing’s simply a rehash of The Empire Strikes Back or not. You didn’t write the script. That’s how fiction works.

You accept the concept you are given, or you don’t.

However, and this is important, denigration of the older generation is now a thing. This is, like it or not, the inevitable consequence of dozens of sex scandals and the disparaging of both women and minorities, which remained acceptable until this year [*] and now is the metaphor du jour. If you look beyond the vanity mirror of Twitter, and grasp the wider social issues, however, the young have always held a love/hate relationship with their elders. Go back to the 1920’s if you want to see it beginning, and you can argue that youth v experience has been a force majeure in literary terms since time in memorial.

The problem now, undoubtedly, is that there’s a lot more older people dictating the life of those younger than them. The life expectancy of the average American might be beginning to drop, but there’s still a phenomenal number of people who’ll argue that their voice matters, and their opinions should be heard. Looking at Twitter bots over the Christmas period, the assumption is they’re either run by a) under 25’s or b) Moscow. The truth, as played out in the United States, is that old white people are a force to be reckoned with. Piss them off, and everybody suffers, especially the minorities. You only have to look at the oldest kid in Washington DC to grasp what then happens as consequence.

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Except on Christmas Day I saw a number of Dr Who fans quietly frustrated at the nature of certain aspects of the Christmas Special script, using 1960’s ‘mentality’ as means by which to garner some cheap laughs. It’s the situation that happens when you look at a Carry On film with modern sensibilities and realise that certain jokes just won’t wear in the current climate. The key here is that you accept both are appropriate in the context of their own time-frame: Who’s about to cross into territory that’s as alien for a lot of its audience as the planets they’ll happily visit if there’s a man in charge. It is time to be sympathetic over the audience you’re dealing with, as well as accepting a past that, despite the ability to travel in time, cannot really be changed.

Many people are afraid of letting power away from themselves and having to trust others with decision making. Movies, TV and books allow those people the opportunity to safely experience these situations without the reality ever taking place, but social media has now empowered some to erroneously grasp that if they don’t like what they read, hear or see, it can be altered. You don’t get to do this with what other people make. They stand and fall by their own choices, and art is not theirs to recreate, but to look at and consider before deciding to like it or not. It is perfectly okay to not enjoy something, but telling a company to remove it from canon because it upsets your own world view?

That’s not how entertainment has ever worked.

[*] It’s been a thing since Adam and Eve if you’re the one on the receiving end. Now, because the practice has become socially unacceptable, it’s news.

It’s still happening though :(

You Know My Name

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Took a day off all forms of writing yesterday, because occasionally even I like to not worry about output. Then I went with Mr Alt to the Royal Albert Hall and watched Casino Royale scored by a full orchestra (plus David Arnold on guitar) and was in the same place (briefly) as Michael G Wilson and Barbara Broccoli. I continue to maintain that this is the best Bond movie ever made. After 11 years it stands up incredibly well to scrutiny, which is more than you can say for many of its predecessors. A long (bar based) conversation was had over the merits of 50 plus years of the Franchise, agreement that most of the ‘best’ movies are undoubtedly products of the age in which they were made. This movie is dated by its electronics, as has been the case for decades. That Sony Vaio laptop… plus so many mobile phones. Ah, nostalgia.

However, as a writer, the progression and eventual denouement of this movie are the most satisfying of any that precede it, and that really matters. You’re also given motivation for a series of four movies that follow and, like it or not, that ‘story’ ends at the end of SPECTRE, which makes the task of tacking on a fifth movie even more problematic. When you know the reason Craig finally said yes to the role (having initially turned it down) was on the strength of this script, one has to think doing one more is going to be a mistake for everyone involved.

The feeling refuses to go away: it isn’t just historical precedent at play here either. Diamonds are Forever, View to a Kill and Die Another Day are hardly stellar examples of the franchise, and all three just showed up the need to change the current actor with the designation to someone younger. The script for Bond 25 frankly has to be so good that it could win an Oscar, or else this landmark film will end up just being remembered as the last one that an actor made who should have quit whilst everybody was ahead. Whatever happens, however, this is where Craig was undoubtedly best as Bond: raw, malleable and ultimately prepared to die for his Country.

My feeling we should have stopped at Skyfall continues to persist, even more so having seen Casino for the first time on the big screen: I only ever got that on video as 2006 was the point in my life where depression consumed everything. I’ve often wondered if that mental attitude clouded my judgement of just how good Craig’s inaugural outing was. Last night confirms just how strong, brilliant and quintessentially Bond the whole experience was. If I am going to remember anything from the tenure of this actor, it will be his first movie and the third. Everything else will be consigned to space marked as ‘acceptable filler’ and I’ll wait to see which British actor is given the nod to replace him. Of course, I’d like an actress or a non-white male to take the role, but there’s as much a chance of that as me getting to write a Bond script.

This version of Bond undoubtedly has run his course. Time for a change.

I am the Law

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Spiderman’s reboot’s been getting a lot of airtime in my Twitter feed this week, people stating it is by far the best version of the character as yet committed to celluloid. Except, amongst the platitudes have come some sniffs of unexpected dissent. I’m not talking about the apparent disparity in the Marvel timeline (the nerds can argue that one) but the assertion that perhaps the film could have been… well, a bit darker and dangerous. Everything is, like it or not, the path of least resistance: there is no risk taking. Now, as I’ve not yet seen this movie I cannot and won’t comment on these claims. However, I can use some evidence that does suggest that maybe, possibly, Marvel was never here to be edgy and controversial to begin with. They’re just here to make money.

I watched Dr Strange on its TV ‘rental’ release and was, I have to say, disappointed for the first time I’ve experienced a Marvel Universe title. The conceit is well executed, Mr Cumberbatch exactly the right fit for his character, and the journey that takes us from selfish to selfless well written and presented. However, without doubt, there is something missing. Maybe it is because I’d argue the origins of Strange are a little too close to those of Tony Stark to allow a measure of sympathy, but that isn’t the only discomfort. I’m also not about to get into Tilda Swinton’s casting, which creates more problems than it solves for the purists but finally establishes that, in the male-centric Marvel Universe, women took a while to graduate past supporting roles. One wonders what might have been different here if Black Widow had got a solo movie before this one was made, but that’s a different conversation for another blog.

The problem with the franchise, as it stands, is adequately demonstrated in this video which dissects the musical cues presented in Marvel Universe titles thus far. The key when you look at the bigger picture of the arc, is not to create a series of peaks and troughs in terms of cinematic presentation. All these movies are being produced with a very specific tone in mind, obviously consistent bar in terms of visual and audio cues. It is, like it or not, like reading a comic. Depth is not provided by the film but you: ambiguity kept to a minimum. You’ll rarely see blood either, to ensure the finished product reaches the widest possible audience.

In fact if depth is what is required one needs to go to the small screen: the various Marvel TV shows have been open to a range of criticism and perhaps even higher praise than their film ‘parents’ because it is abundantly obvious a different set of production and narrative values are at play. Ironically here’s where true diversity exists and has been allowed to shine: Agent Peggy Carter, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage presenting a far more realistic view of the superhero landscape as it should exist. The fact it has taken this long for Black Panther to make it to the big screen is, on reflection, not really a surprise. If the trailer is any indicator, Natasha Romanoff’s awful treatment plus the recent arrival of Diana Prince in the ‘other’ Universe is going to significantly redefine our ‘comic’ going forward.

I kop a lot of flack for my love of the DC Universe, almost on a daily basis, because of all manner of reasons, but mostly because nobody likes Zack Snyder. I still maintain that Watchmen is as good an adaptation as was possible at the time, have a soft spot for Sucker Punch (despite the fact it is quite easy to label it soft porn in certain lights) and am one of the nine people who think Man of Steel is a Superman worth rooting for. Here’s a Universe that is refreshing and obviously missing both thematic and narrative  consistency: one only needs to look at Suicide Squad to grasp the hit and miss nature of that particular approach. However, this is the same place in which Wonder Woman now looks set to outpace and conquer pretty much everybody else’s origin story, regardless of their affiliation. The unexpected irony of the man who wrote The Avengers now working on Justice League is not lost on me. Movie making is quite a small universe in itself at the top end.

Marvel’s approach to the business of movie making has always been ‘better safe than sorry’ which might make for a lot of fanboy love, but in this case the fangirl in me is being increasingly left wanting. Listening to nerds getting upset over Aquaman’s trident (which isn’t) has been typical of the toothless criticism I’ve seen levelled at DC. Sometimes, looks aren’t as important as actual depth. I suspect the true sweet spot for Superhero movies lies somewhere in between both camps, and maybe Whedon’s influence might have some sway in producing a continuation of the franchise that makes more people happy.

I for one love arguing that both group of Superheroes have equal merit.

Eat to the Beat

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Today, someone took the time to explain to me how one properly flosses teeth. I realise that this has never been pointed out before, and understanding WHY something happens is probably more important than the fact it is done. Sometimes, that extra step is hard when everything else matters. I’d never visited a hygienist until today either, so please feel free to chuck a disapproving look this way. However, I made sure to tell her how gentle she was, how nobody else had ever taken that care before with my teeth, and that being willing to learn brings great reward.

Remember to tell someone today how important they are, and how much they matter.

Last night, I rented a movie as I was alone in the house: Dr Strange now explains a lot of the motivation in the Marvel universe, the location of one of the outstanding Infinity Stones, and that however much I love Benedict Cumberbatch he’s fucking wasted as badly constructed combination of Tony Stark and Star Lord. The cut of the film feels horribly off in places too, and the effects sequences… it was like watching a migraine. However, I may yet give it a second viewing to see if stuff improves. This does mean however that two of the best British male character actors of a generation now hold significant store in a Comic book Universe. There’s always a bright side.

Last night was also my first lesson in what my body enjoys digesting post operation and what is unacceptable, and an important correlation was made. I understand why a certain Chinese dish makes me unhappy: it’s not the fish, but the batter they’re coated in. Sadly that means last night’s chicken also makes it onto the ‘avoid like the plague’ list, which is sad as it was lovely at the tastebuds stage. There was a warning I might also need to lay off trigger foods that were an issue pre-Operation, but as yet I think I might yet get away with going back largely to normal.

Today is the last day of playing with back end stuff for the other sites. Starting tomorrow, it’s T Minus 15 days to full-on Patreon awesomeness. I’d better get on with my to do list :D

Architecture and Morality

‘If something offends you, go do something else.’

I’ve spent a lot of time talking to my husband about ‘Passengers’, a film which has caused a bit of a fuss over the moral dubiousness of its plotline. I was genuinely excited about this movie when the trailers first surfaced in June, but when it became apparent that what this movie isn’t either pleasant or comfortable in terms of how the two leads end up together? I pretty much lost interest. The biggest problem however for me, on considered thought, was the fact that this movie intentionally skirts those real issues in all of the promotional material, and it was only when the first indignant reviews emerged that it became apparent what you were really buying into. Once that becomes unavoidably apparent? Well, it is obvious that some people didn’t care about anything else except the bad things.

My husband has very rationally and logically pointed out that if you know about the moral duplicity of the plot? It could make things more interesting, and not less so, and this is a very fair point. The problem is however that with the year that’s just gone, I suspect many people went to see this movie in the hope it would be sunshine and rainbows, and not to be metaphorically kicked in the genitalia. As a result, this whole endeavour also suffered as a result of circumstance. However, if your interest is the moral complexity of how to deal with isolation and loneliness? I suspect this movie could be right up your street. In discussion over this, my husband pulled up ‘While you Were Sleeping’ as a perfect example of a movie that, like it or not, is really rather morally dubious, but won’t see people bemoaning Sandra Bullock pretending to be an unconscious man’s fiancee.

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For my husband, the reaction to this whole debacle simply amplifies the depressing ‘echo chamber’ effect of the Internet. That revolves around a subset of people who decide to hate something based solely on exploitation or received moral indignation and doesn’t take at all into consideration the fact the focus of their ire in this case is a) entertainment and b) fiction. Because it is art there should be no need for such a reaction: if you don’t like it, then you can simply ignore the thing and move on. Those who somehow feel better about being part of the lynching party not simply over movies but in every aspect of modern life are genuinely scary, and it is becoming increasingly galling when these flash-points end up splitting up friendships and causing people to threaten others livelihoods or existence. Mostly, this particular episode has been a salutatory lesson for me, to remind him and myself that the only way all this works is when you listen to each other, and learn from contrary viewpoints.

I’m still not spending my cinema money on this however, that will be going on Rogue One.

What happens next for me in personal terms is becoming increasingly better defined as time goes on. Maintaining an open mind needs to be top of my list: engaging, not arguing, making people think and not imposing points of view on others. It isn’t about being right, and never will be, it is far more important to understand WHY and look to yourself as a potential source of change before expecting anybody else to do the same.

I want to talk with you in 2017 and very definitely not at you, and that will need some work.