Monday, 12 June 2017

PART 1: Sherlock: Steven Moffat's Scriptwriting Is Irritation Incarnate

 *Contains spoilers for the BBC show "Sherlock"*

When Sherlock first came out I actually rather enjoyed the first episode, "A Study In Pink". It seemed like a sharp and rather fresh take on the Holmes mythos. Cumberbatch's portrayal of Sherlock as a socially ignorant and dickish but deep-down seemingly good hearted genius detective seemed innovative. Martin Freeman put in a solid (if Tim-from-The-Office-esque) performance as Watson.

Then "The Blind Banker", episode 2, continued my interest even though there were a few frustrations with confusing plot points referencing random unseen events and unresolved plot points.

Episode 3 introduced Moriarty properly and (despite being "odd for the sake of odd"), he was a rather interesting version of the character and seemed to truly be an evil match for Sherlock.


The guys striking a pose

All in all, first impressions were good. Then Season 2 started, and cliffhangers from Season 1 started getting some rather lame and unsatisfactory explanations. Characterisation got increasingly abrasive, the crimes were beginning to be solved purely by Sherlock "being clever" rather than actual logic, and slowly the long running teases the main show-runner (Steven Moffat, of Doctor Who fame) was piling onto the story started to feel decidedly hollow.

By the end of Season 2 the show started to feel like a mess - I haven't even seen Season 3 or 4 yet, but reviews have got worse and worse, with Season 4 apparently pulling some truly absurd jumping the shark moments - like "Sherlock has long lost relatives who are evil" and "Sherlock can literally attune his mind to infinite data points like a computer connecting to the internet."

In actuality, this disease eating at the show is simply poor writing and poor structure - and, on re-watching, is eminently obvious even in Season 1. To see why the show is so frustrating we first need to have a glance at some of Moffat's other work.
  
PART 1: Moffat and Dr. Who: An Obsession with Overpowered Protagonists, Endless "World-Building" and Loose Ends

Moffat's dubious writing style begins to show with Dr. Who...

I've never really got into the Moffat-era of Dr. Who. And since seeing Sherlock I finally understand why: the man has an absolutely infuriating writing style. I thought I was initially imagining it, but Sherlock really highlighted the flaws for me.

Season 1 of the new Dr. Who was primarily penned by Russell T. Davies (with a few one-off episodes by Moffat), and he performed an admirable job of keeping the stories accessible to all kinds of viewers while providing core pillars of good writing:

Davies-Era Writing

1. Interesting main focal points for a story for each episode that are focused on as a priority.

2. Actual character development and neat character arcs over the course of a single episode. New characters are only introduced if they have something to contribute to the episode.

3. Cliffhangers that are resolved in a logical and timely fashion one or two episodes after their introduction

4. No real long-hanging threads or loose ends that make no sense. In essence, no glaring plot holes.

These four qualities of his writing make the characters satisfying to watch (Christopher Ecclestone was by far my favourite of the new Doctors, in no small part due to Davies' fine writing style) as well as making the stories themselves interesting, entertaining and self-contained.

By contrast, Moffat-era episodes feature a number of very clear deviations from the original formula of the show that make the show a lot less enjoyable to watch:

Moffat-Era Writing

1. Interesting ideas for each episode that are often squandered by bizarre plot twists or are simply built into larger "world building" ideas hinted at for future episodes. These ideas are just continuously stacked up and never delivered on, resulting in growing frustration for long term viewers.

2. No real character development or even plot development across an episode. Any real changes or dangers to characters or the plot status quo are usually temporary or dismissed after the episode is concluded. Lots of minor characters are brought in and killed off over one or two episodes for seemingly no reason.

3. Slow power-creep of the Doctor as a protagonist and over-focusing episodes around him. Not only does the Doctor seem to become more and more God-like in his ability to get out of every situation, there's a clear shift away from the narrative idea of "the Doctor going on awesome adventures" to "The Doctor is being AWESOME because he's THE DOCTOR AND HE'S AWESOME!!!111ONE"

4. Mysteries and cliffhangers are wound up and up further and further across multiple episodes, with each episode promising increasingly spectacular mind-blowingly intriguing explanations for the thing that happened 8 episodes ago that still hasn't been explained.

5. Loose ends all over the place. Sometimes these are never even tied up, and often they leave serious glaring plot holes.

PART 2: Great, How does this apply to Sherlock?


So, how does all this figure in to the show about our favourite hatted detective?
Well, chances are you're already seeing the pattern - almost ALL of the flaws Moffat-era Dr. Who flaws are actually the critical flaws with Sherlock too!

Let's look at even just the first episode. When you first watch "A Study In Pink", it seems like pretty reasonable entertainment. We have an interesting villain - a serial-killing smart and evil cab driver who somehow always forces his victims to kill themselves when given a 50-50 chance of death with a poisonous pill. We have Sherlock being a dick but basically making seemingly logical and clever deductions about the murder.

We have Watson being somewhat helpful to Sherlock (using his medical skills and eventually shooting the main villain dead).

But there are questions - many questions, that the episode brings up even so early in the season. 

1. How did the murderer, a lowly serial killer, hear of, meet with and team up with Moriarty...who is basically the King of crime?

2. How did the killer convince his victims to pick the deadly option in his "chance" game every time? What did he say to them and how did he "play" them psychologically, exactly?

3. Did Sherlock pick the right pill? What was his reasoning? Would he have beaten the murderer with his intelligence and deduction in the end or not? Wasn't his whole plan to outsmart the guy?

4. If Sherlock is so damn intelligent, why does he always do the stupid thing when given a choice? (Not bothering to explain his deductions to his allies, leaving them blind...getting in the cab with a murderer rather than simply having him arrested and interrogating him, etc.)

All of these questions are raised throughout the episode (and 1-3 are actively encouraged for the audience to think about as key plot points). How many are answered? None. How many are ever answered by the show? Zero.

And that's just the first episode.

In literally every single episode of the show, Moffat builds these kind of questions up and then just doesn't bother answering them. He combines this with constantly ramping up every single plot to hint at the answers being included in the next episode, and then yet again doesn't bother.

And this is the main problem.

The result is that each episode feels (for want of a better word) like a massive cocktease. You're getting blue-balled over and over by Moffat's awful non-commitment to actually following through on his narrative promises. Yet you keep watching because you're hoping he'll explain.

The actual mysteries, or at least the interesting parts of them don't exist. They are never resolved or explained. In Dr. Who this is frustrating and bullshit, but it can be handwaved as it's a sci-fi show about different worlds.

In Sherlock, a show about a detective solving mysteries, we literally have mysteries that over the course of an hour and a half aren't actually solved or explained at all. And they never are. This is totally unforgivable for a show that's supposed to interest us in the details, and is utterly maddening when you realise that Moffat has literally no intention of doing anything with all the build-up he throws around in each episode.

--

And that concludes Part 1 of my disassembly of Sherlock's insane, manipulative writing style. I'll be continuing Part 2 shortly, covering inconsistent and weak characterisation, Holmes' dubious investigative approach, bizarre sub-plots and Moffat's addiction to building over the top ubermensch protagonists.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Blood Bowl Races: Norse

So it's been ages since I've written a Blood Bowl post, and since that's one reason I actually established this blog in the first place, I'm gonna get on it and talk today about the Norse, one of my favourite teams in Blood Bowl.

It's easy to look at Norse and dismiss them initially, or completely misunderstand what they're all about. "They almost all start with Block! What an easy team!" Wrong.

"They're like Dwarfs but faster." WRONG.

"They're a team for newbs trying to get to grips with Block before they play Dwarfs." WRONG. (I've actually seen this on the BB forums and found it kind of hilarious - they are just as hard to use as Dwarfs, if not more a heck of a lot more so in many ways).

The Norse Team


The Norse are a team of contradictions. First of all, the players all look like beefy savages, and they're all about maiming and killing the other team. Great...except the first thing that'll make you wince when looking at the team roster is that almost everyone has AV 7, almost the weakest Armour Value in the entire game!

Even your expensive positionals only have AV 8, which is by no means tough.

You've got guys who are all Movement Allowance 6. This is distinctly average. The Runners are MA 7, which is only slightly above average speed-wise, and won't allow them to outrun Elves.

Then you realise that for a "fighting" team, your guys can only have 5 players with Strength skill access on normal skill up rolls. Compared to Orcs, Chaos and Dwarfs, who can saturate the pitch with 9-11 Mighty Blow and Guard players, you suck by comparison, right?


Well, yes and no.

A Norse team that attempts to take on an Orc or Dwarf team in a line-against-line traditional bashing competition is going to get ruined.

The Norse operate around some very specific rules.

Norse Rule #1: DO NOT LET THE OTHER GUY PUNCH YOU IN THE FACE. This is the most important rule. Avoid ending your turn in contact with anyone unless your opponent is prone and you can hit him (again) reliably and safely next turn.

Norse Rule #2: At every possibility, punch the other guy in the face. Really hard. Lots. As many damage modifiers per Blitz/block as you can.

Norse Rule #3: Always look for opportunities to crowd-surf opposing players with Frenzy.

Norse Rule #4: Always look for opportunities to gang-foul opposing high value players. Spreading out your opponent with good positioning on your side helps this.

With a lot of Frenzy on their positionals (five Frenzy players is standard on a Norse team), Dauntless on their Runners and Claw on the Yhetee (their 5 STR big guy, for the un-initiated), the Norse EXCEL at moving their damage skills to exactly where they are needed, and really *really* making them hurt. No other team has so many guys with damage-skill access that can also move a pretty long way each turn.

Each match with Norse (at least how I play them) is basically a death race. Your opponent is going to be trying damn hard to smash up your AV 7, so you need to use that bloodlust to lure him to the players on your team who can hit like a freight train. Then you make him regret squaring up to you as much as you can.

So, now I've talked general tactics, let's elaborate when discussing each type of positional the team can hire.

 The Norse Lineman

Norse Lineman
Cost: 50,000

Movement Allowance: 6
Strength: 3
Agility: 3
Armour Value: 7

Skill Access (no doubles):
General 

Starting Skills:
Block

Recommended Skills (normal roll):

Dirty Player
Fend
Dauntless
Tackle
Frenzy (if you're nuts)
Kick

Recommended Skills (double):

Guard (priority)
Dodge
Mighty Blow (only if you get 2 doubles on one guy, otherwise always Guard)

Recommended Stat-Ups:

+Strength  

Summary:

The humble Norse Lineman is a real workhorse for the team. He has Block right out of the box and thus is reliable when hitting people. He can 1-dice block out of trouble with only a 1/6 chance of failure (and a 50% chance of knocking a player without Block over!) and he has AG 3, so can dodge and handle the ball when needed. 

With MA 6 he can easily move around the field to provide blocking assists and screen players out of the action (something that makes him a lot more useful than a Dwarf Blocker or Line Orc in lots of situations).

His only big weakness (as with most of the team) is AV 7. This means he must be the one hitting people rather than the one taking hits. You only rarely want to man-mark players with him - it is far better to screen with him and force your opponent to blitz him.

Finally, at only 50 k, the Lineman is cheap enough to be easily replaced when killed or injured and makes an excellent cheap fouler too. 

Wherever possible, your Linemen should be used to shield your better players from your opponent's Blitzes. This is their most important task. This will keep injuries restricted to your crappier, less developed Linemen rather than your star killer Berserkers and the Yhetee.

In a pinch, Linemen make good blitzers and safeties, and can take down Elf catchers and the like as they sneak backfield.

Skills, Subs and Development:

When skilled up, Guard on doubles is lovely because your team will *always* lack Guard. Otherwise always take at least 1 Dirty Player (preferably 2) and a bench of at least 2 Linemen, even in matchmaking. I take only 2 rerolls as a trade off, to keep Team Value lower.

Dirty Player Linemen are essential for both pressuring your opponent and countering any damage skills your opponent has. Your opponent will lose the bash war nine times out of 10 if he's hitting you once every turn with Mighty Blow and you are fouling him with Dirty Player and 4 assists every turn. FOUL, FOUL and FOUL again! Especially against high armour teams.

The only time you should not foul is if you can't get enough assists, or you are already terribly outnumbered.

Getting three Linemen with Fend can be useful for limiting blocks your opponent gets on the Line of Scrimmage, but I find it can be of limited use: if your opponent knocks you into next week with one knockdown, Fend is useless!

Tackle is always useful against dodgy foes and Dauntless can help you out against stronger opponents that you might otherwise struggle against (such as Lizardmen and Orcs in particular).
The Norse Runner

Norse Runner
Cost: 90,000

Movement Allowance: 7
Strength: 3
Agility: 3
Armour Value: 7

Skill Access (no doubles):
General
Agility 

Starting Skills:
Block
Dauntless

Recommended Skills (normal roll):

Dodge
Fend
Tackle
Strip Ball
Diving Tackle

Recommended Skills (double):

Guard (priority)
Mighty Blow (good when combined with Tackle and Strip Ball for a safety Blitzer)

Recommended Stat-Ups:

+Strength
+MA
+AG  

Summary:

The Norse Runner adds a much-needed injection of speed into the Norse team, and makes for an excellent Blitzer against Big Guys and STR 4 players with his Dauntless skill. He is essentially a cross between a Troll Slayer and a more conventional Runner or Catcher.

In general you'll want to keep him hanging back to hit players who get through your lines, provide assists where necessary and he'll probably be your main scorer too. Definitely worth the money, they can transform your offensive game and be useful on defence too.

Otherwise notable is their default access to Dodge, which can make them hard to pin down and knock over.

The Norse Ulfwerener

Norse Ulfwerener
Cost: 110,000

Movement Allowance: 6
Strength: 4
Agility: 2
Armour Value: 8

Skill Access (no doubles):
General
Strength 

Starting Skills:
Frenzy

Recommended Skills (normal roll):

Block (priority)
Mighty Blow (priority)
Guard
Juggernaut
Piling On
Stand Firm
Fend
Break Tackle
Strip Ball

Recommended Skills (double):

Dodge
Jump Up (maybe not as solid a choice due to AG 2)

Recommended Stat-Ups:

+Strength
+MA
+AV

Summary:

The Ulfwerener is one of the big punchers on your team. With AV 8 and STR 4, he is one of the best players on your team for man-marking weaker opponents, especially if you've got a numbers advantage. He's fast for a STR 4 player and starts with Frenzy, which makes him very dangerous to opponents on the sidelines.

Break Tackle can make him excellent at moving around to Blitz players, and Block is pretty much essential - with Frenzy he can be quite unreliable at hitting early on and will account for many of your turnovers. Be wary of this.

He must also be protected where possible because his STR 4 and poor armour will make him a hefty target.

I used to always go Block first, but actually I much prefer to get Mighty Blow first on my Ulfwereners now. This immediate makes them very scary and your opponent will be wary of getting too close to them. They will also level up faster and get Block sooner, plus the rest of your team has Block already so the reliablity is less of an issue. It also gives you at least one STR 4 player every turn with high damage potential.

They make *excellent* safeties because they can smack STR 3 ball carriers down on their own. To that end you can skill them up to be killers with MB and PO or have a more support role. Guard is always good on these guys (and much needed in many situations).

Personally I prefer NOT to take Piling On, and leave that to the Berserkers. Ulfwereners are better for chain pushing your players out of trouble and causing lots of damage every turn while they do it.

Juggernaut and Stand Firm can be used to turn them into very dangerous crowdsurfing players.

+STR is golden on an Ulf (and I'd definitely go Break Tackle next if I got it), and I'd also consider +AV considering the team really lacks armour across the board. Always get Block or Mighty Blow first, though, unless you get +STR.

The Norse Berserker

Norse Berserker
Cost: 90,000

Movement Allowance: 6
Strength: 3
Agility: 3
Armour Value: 7

Skill Access (no doubles):
General
Strength 

Starting Skills:
Block
Frenzy
Jump Up

Recommended Skills (normal roll):


Mighty Blow (priority)

Piling On (priority)

Tackle
Stand Firm
Dauntless
Guard
Fend
Juggernaut
Strip Ball

Recommended Skills (double):

Dodge
Diving Tackle

Recommended Stat-Ups:

+Strength
+MA 
+AG

Summary:

The Norse Berserker is not a subtle player, but nonetheless he's one of my favourites. He exists to do an insane amount of damage to the opposing team, whenever and wherever possible. You want to totally focus on damage skills with the Berserker as fast as possible: Mighty Blow or Piling On first, and then the skill you didn't take of the two second.
Piling On synergises very well with Jump Up and makes him a killing machine able to knock someone over, pile on to reroll the hurt and then immediately hit someone else (or the same guy) next to him the next turn. MB just amplifies the hurt. Your opponent will FEAR him!

After that, take skills that will either help him get people on the ground (Tackle) or keep him safer (Dodge, Fend). Guard is also handy, though it paints an even larger target sign on him, and ideally you don't even want him in contact with standing opponents.

Also, try not to let him get isolated because he WILL get fouled after piling on if you do. One of the team's biggest killers, and definitely the most reliable, it's worth giving them the ball in early games to help them level up quickly.

They can also be used to play the ball in a pinch, and make very good safeties and ball strippers thanks to Frenzy and Block.

The Norse Yhetee

Norse Yhetee
Cost: 140,000

Movement Allowance: 5
Strength: 5
Agility: 1
Armour Value: 8

Skill Access (no doubles):

Strength 

Starting Skills:
Loner
Disturbing Presence
Wild Animal
Frenzy
Claw

Recommended Skills (normal roll):

Mighty Blow (priority)
Guard (important)
Piling On (optional, but can really heap on the pain)
Stand Firm
Juggernaut

Recommended Skills (double):

Block (priority, an absolute Godsend)

Tackle

Recommended Stat-Ups:

+Strength
+AV

Summary:

The Yhetee is a controversial player. He can be amazing and clear the pitch of tough opposing players, or be or a total liability who loses you games. He can be a hammer who clubs enemies off of your players in chain push blitzes (one of the best ways to use him), or he might roll triple skulls on the Blitz and kill himself.

Out of all the Big Guys, I've always found Yhetees to be the least consistent. Lacking Mighty Blow to start with means they have a tendency to go a long time before they level up. I've had one go 10 games without his first 6 SPP!

Similarly, Frenzy plus no Block and Loner means it's *very* common for them to turnover, and AV 8 means that if an enemy big guy gets the Both Down or Attacker Down hit on you, you're normally watching your 140,000 gold Big Guy being carted off the pitch dead or unconscious.

The biggest weird thing about the Yhetee is that he's pretty much designed to be hitting opposing players as much as possible. Most Big Guys just as a road block, standing in the way and funnelling the opposition away from a key area of the pitch, maybe soaking up some knockdowns for the rest of your team.

With AV 8 and at a high cost, the Yhetee is terrible for this. If he takes hits he'll almost always bite the dust. By contrast, his Claws make him quite a danger against high AV targets when he's on the offensive, so you'll actually always want him getting stuck into tough targets wherever possible.

The Norse can REALLY struggle with high AV teams, especially if their fouls don't turn out well and they get a few send offs. Your damage skills can struggle to penetrate the armour and you start getting out bashed. For this reason, I almost always take the Yhetee.

Once you get MB on him, he can be a brutal blitzer who can kill the opposing team's hardest players before they get hits on you

Yhetee Rule #1: Always (where possible) use him LAST.

This goes for all big guys but especially the Yhetee. Whenever blocking with him, do it at the end of your turn. This limits the harmful turnovers from being game changers to usually less decisive affairs.

Yhetee Rule #2: Use him to maim weaker players who can't fight back (i.e. downed linemen behind your line).

Yhetee Rule #3: Use him to chainpush stronger players off of your line.

Yhetee Rule #4: Keep him out of scrums with stronger players.

Screen your Yhetee with Linemen and move him in for blitzes where necessary, or keep him focussed on an isolated downed player. He can push stronger guys off of your line, saving your Zerkers from taking blocks, but you don't want him bogged down or taking blitzes from killers.

After Mighty Blow, Juggernaut is a good skill pick for the Yhetee, making him more reliable. Break Tackle can help to get him out of trouble.

The Holy Grail is Block, and I might even take it over a +STR for him - in fact I almost always would, since it makes him far more dangerous to the opposition, harder to knock over and far less of a liability to my game.

--

Honourable Mention: Norse Thrower
Cost: 70,000

Movement Allowance: 6
Strength: 3
Agility: 3
Armour Value: 7

Skill Access (no doubles):
General
Passing 

Starting Skills:
Block
Pass

Recommended Skills (normal roll):

Sure Hands
Accurate
Leader
Fend
Tackle

Recommended Skills (double):

Guard
Dodge
Strong Arm

Recommended Stat-Ups:

+Strength
+AG
+MA

Summary:

I've not really bothered talking about the Norse Thrower here because, to be honest, I hardly use him. He's nice as a Leader (you're basically paying 20k extra for Passing Skill access on normal rolls) and that's handy because in a Matchmaking environment (like in the Cyanide games) you'll be wanting to keep your TV low.

He can add a bit of diversity and save you against very bashy teams, but frankly if you're losing the bash war you're probably losing the match big time anyway! He has much the same flexibility as a Lineman, with a few frills.

Definitely an optional position since the running game is dominant with Norse. I would take him in a league, not in perpetual matchmaking.

---

Well guys, I hope that was helpful. I will do another post on specific Norse tactics soon.

Monday, 17 April 2017

The Walking Dead Season 7: 16 Episodes of Nothing

***Contains spoilers.***

Never has a TV show made me feel like I'm abjectly wasting my life watching it quite as effectively as this year's Season of The Walking Dead.

When the show started years ago I rather enjoyed it's fresh approach to the zombie genre, the sympathetic Rick as the protagonist and his ragtag group generally seemed to be efficient at surviving even if they occasionally made dubious decisions.

Fast forward to now, however, and the series is really starting to grate on me. The writing seems lazy, lacklustre, predictable and above all just plain stupid in places.

Rick in particular has become a complete joke over the course of several seasons. He manages to completely fuck up almost everything he does, usually getting large numbers of people killed in the process. And yet the group still venerate him as THE GREAT LEADER WHO IS NEVER WRONG despite these constant idiotic blunders.

I mean, just off the top of my head, Rick has:

1. Left the excellently defensible prison "overrun" instead of merely clearing the few zombies out and resettling there after defeating the Governor.

2. Lost cars, food, people and guns on multiple ill fated outings to get supplies (usually cars, food, people and guns). Extra props for reversing a truck full of food into a lake.

3. Found an entire quarry full of zombies and proceeded to unleash them on his own camp, nearly killing everyone.

4. Got ambushed and captured by about 6 different groups of bad guys. In fact he gets captured every time they meet hostile survivors.

5. Nearly gone completely mad in the wilderness.

6. Fucked up every interaction with Negan he's ever had, despite moronically insisting over and over that he will "kill him".

7. Entrusted a huge cache of automatic weapons to some creepy cultists living in a junkyard even after they attempted to murder him and even TOLD HIM that they take all their shit off of other survivors by force. Group then of course betrays him at the critical moment (really Rick? You were that dumb? Really?)

Then we have stupid situations like Darryl and Maggie hiding from the Saviours in Hilltop (which is constantly visited by suspicious Saviours) rather than literally any one of the hundreds of anonymous abandoned buildings in the towns near camp.

This season has been even worse, though, not merely for Rick and the other characters consistently acting like brainless gibbering idiots, but also for the incessant padding of practically every scene.

When we're not treated to long, lingering shots of zombies walking about or long, lingering shots of people walking about we're plied with cheesy sentimental conversations.

Or flashbacks. The Season 7 finale features Sasha having about 10 flashbacks with Abraham, all of which were extremely long and barely made any sense.

Normally I'd place this on poor pacing (which The Walking Dead is awful for: remember the season with the cannibals featured them for literally 2 episodes after building up to it tediously for about 12) but this season and last season all this mind-numbing filler bullshit feels intentional. Call it cynical, but if I didn't know better I would say that pretty much the entirety of the last two seasons have existed only to set up Finale cliffhangers for the next season.

Think about this season: what's actually happened? We lost a couple of uninteresting characters no-one really cares about (Richard's death at the hands of Morgan was perhaps the only jarring thing that had any meaning, and even that felt silly and not particularly noteworthy) and that's it. We're in exactly the same place as we were almost SIXTEEN HOURS of television ago, with the exception that Rick et al. managed to fuck up shooting at Negan once in the last 5 minutes.

To me that's pretty inexcusable. Viewers should be rewarded and entertained for putting the time in, not just feel like they're clocking up the hours until the next series is commissioned and something vague happens.

I'm going to give the show one more season to buck up the shitty writing, dumb characters and lack of any kind of actual real plot...and then that's it. Right now the only thing that's good is Negan: I actually like him more than Rick. He may be evil, but he's leagues more efficient and is actually pretty good at surviving as a form of society compared to our utterly dysfunctional heroes...

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Black Mirror, the Kardashians and the Insanity of Modern Celebrity

Okay, so I'm going to open this with what is probably an astoundingly ignorant comment, but I think this is possibly the only kind of ignorance I can feel proud of:

I have no idea who the fuck Kim Kardashian actually is.

Seriously. I mean, Googling her reveals she is a "Reality TV star", and other than that all I know is that she is married to Kanye West (who is himself an egotistical fuckwit). Apparently she has abnormally huge arse and shows it off at every opportunity. That's it.

This is now seemingly the criteria for the soulless vacuum that is the A-list celeb member's club - looking "attractive" and being rich. And even the definition of "attractive" is something the media itself defines in an insane cannibalistic feedback loop. I don't think huge arses are attractive, personally, but apparently I should because ALL GUYS LIKE BIG BUTTS RITE?

See, I know Kim is an A-list celebrity because she is literally everywhere. If you go on Buzzfeed you see article after article on her, if you switch the TV on she's always on it. In the papers and even on rolling news channels the most inconsequential details of her life are apparently ranked as more interesting than mass murder in Syria, starvation in the developing world, or a UK-wide vote to cut student funding.

How is it we've now arrived at a point in society where ignorant, privileged people who offer literally nothing useful to the world are seen as something to aspire to? Where doctors, soldiers, scientists and entrepreneurs and seen as less important than the Kanyes and Kims of the world? Is the world of "Idiocracy" coming to life, slowly?

Perhaps it's unfair to blame the more vacuous celebrities themselves. Mass media is the demon behind all this bullshit, anyway.

I'm on S1E3 of Black Mirror at the moment, and it's an excellent series. I highly recommend it. The writing and acting is top notch, skewering this cult of false celebrity perfectly. Charlie Brooker's satire of our own society through only moderate exaggeration is quite profoundly horrifying.

The episode "15 Million Merits" in particular plays out almost as a modern "Entertainment 1984", depicting a near-future where people spend their entire lives mindlessly riding exercycles, apparently to provide power for their own society. The only release from this dull tedious loop lies with intrusive and tasteless TV entertainment, pointless digital avatars and apps and a hellishly manipulative X-Factor-style talent show. The latter offers a select few the ladder to becoming a celebrity: though the price paid is typically grotesque exploitation.

Like "1984", the episode ends with the soul-crushing revelation that one person, no matter how principled, enraged and despairing, cannot alone stand against a society gone too far without being corrupted and chewed up by it.

Let's just hope that unlike the bleak mass-media saturated future "15 Million Merits" offers us, we draw a line in the sand and recognise what human qualities are actually worthy of celebrity.

(Oh, and for the record I'd say those qualities are bravery, hard work, creativity, compassion, intelligence and altruism. When was the last time you watched Geordie Shore and saw that?)

Saturday, 31 October 2015

Matt's Blood Bowl Tactics: Norse Team Overview (video)

So, after a long hiatus, I made a video this weekend discussing some opinions regarding one of my favourite Blood Bowl teams, the Norse.

Catch it below, and drop me some comments.


Sunday, 4 January 2015

TV Series Overview: Mad Dogs

*Contains spoilers*

So today, after a TV journey that's lasted a couple of years, I finally finished watching the British TV series Mad Dogs.

My feelings have flickered between real interest and irritated boredom over the course of the series, and the ending itself was so disjointed and bizarre as to really highlight exactly where the script was weak along the way.

For the uninitiated, the show follows four English middle-aged friends: Baxter (John Simm), Quinn (Philip Glenister), Woody (Max Beesley) and Rick (Marc Warren). Having reached the mid-point of their lives they have very little to show for it.



All of them exist in a state of disillusionment at the start of the series, whether it be with erstwhile partners, dull jobs or kids they've missed growing up...and so they agree to take a holiday trip out to Majorca to meet their old friend Alvo (Ben Chaplin). Alvo is rich beyond the wildest dreams of the other four, and they quickly end up embroiled in dangerous business after he is murdered in Season 1.

Season 2 and 3 then focuses on the after-effects of this disaster, and how the four hope to extricate themselves. Season 4 deals with the inevitable consequences of all that came before.

Now, all four actors are pretty much heavyweights of British drama, so you'd expect the script to pull the big punches too. The actors certainly play the characters very convincingly: but disappointingly, Cris Cole's writing seems to go nowhere over the course of the four seasons.

"Going nowhere": it's a prominent theme of the series. In every season, oddly melancholy and sinister billboards can be spotted in the background in some scenes showing a sad woman in makeup, or a creepy demonic face, prefaced with the slogans "road to nowhere" or "going nowhere" in foreign languages.

An example of one of the sinister billboards

It's a clever bit of foreshadowing that hints at the ultimate fates of the characters, but at the same time as the series drags on for four seasons without any real character development it becomes hard to see if the characters' lack of self-awareness is intentional or an oversight of bad writing.

Both in the first and last series the characters bicker with each other over stupid things. They get into a major fight in practically every series. And despite being offered the chance to leave behind all the bad things that happened to them, they repeatedly go back for more.

This isn't so much of a dealbreaker when you consider that it's likely that Cole intended for the narrative to feel like it's stuck on a loop: the show attempts to go for that Shakespearian tragedy feel of characters that are painfully unsure of themselves or even how to interact with their life-long friends. Characters who can't be grateful for what they have, and who always want the easy way out rather than facing up to fixing their lives.

However, other choices in the finale and from the halfway point of the third Season on feel very lazy and generic, almost as though the series was cut short.

There are several big plot strands in the last few episodes that are introduced and then dropped with no explanation, which I found highly irritating:

- Rick at one point finds a glass eye in a toilet seemingly at random: the object later prompts him to change his mind and risk his life when he could otherwise remain safe. No explanation is given for what the object might represent, or why he came to find it in the first place.

- The *third* CIA agent in the story seems amazingly incompetent, even given that Season 3's Lazaro was an absolute nutjob. Cole seems to have written her as an obligatory "zany" character, but she just comes across as really unprofessional and irritating. She then gets killed in a really stupid way, too, and we're expected to believe that a thirty-year veteran of the CIA would just turn up at random to a house siege and not even be prepared for a violent confrontation: ridiculous.

- Quinn's friend at the bar, the "connected" bald guy he shares many discussions with in Season 3, doesn't do anything. He does literally nothing over the course of the series except provide an ear for Quinn to talk into. I kept thinking he would turn up later and help the group out, but no.

- Mercedes, the female soldier who saves the four in Season 3, vanishes forever at the conclusion of S3 and isn't seen again. This is despite the group looking for the CIA's files on her, and finding that she mysteriously had none. It's repeatedly hinted that she is somehow a lot more important than she seems, but this never materialises.

- The fate of Woody's girlfriend and adopted kid is never answered.

Even more unforgivably, the choices the friends make at the end of the show are absolutely insane and show no forethought at all:

- Pursued by professional killers, they make no attempt to hide, contact the police or other authorities, or even just lay low at a hotel or something. Instead they drive out to a deserted beach (!)

- Quinn owns a bar and supposedly has lots of social connections, but mentions that "You can't just call people there, they don't give out numbers." If he owns the bar, why not just call the bartender and get his friends put on the line? That he doesn't even try to do this seems ludicrous.

- Woody ineffectually fires the group's only weapon (a shotgun) at a guy about 500 metres away, until he runs completely out of ammo. WTF?


Plot Summary:

Season 1: The group goes to Alvo's villa. Alvo is murdered by a group run by Dominic (a corrupt cop, English ex-pat), Maria (a CIA agent running narco-finance operations) and an old English dude named Mackenzie who is running the drug operations. The series ends with Maria dead and the very tense scene of Dominic walking up to the villa, about to kill an unsuspecting Quinn.

Season 2: The group promptly run Dominic over in a car and escape. There's a lot of well-plotted stuff with Mackenzie, who wants his cash back. The group is eventually cornered in Morocco by a militia force funded by the UK.

Season 3: The group is held in a blacksite prison, the CIA connection is explained, eventually they are sent to South Africa with new identities and they wriggle their way out of a CIA hitlist (though it's perplexing the CIA care about them so much, since they're essentially four civvies in the wrong place at the wrong time).

Season 4: This, for me, was where it started getting stupid. The group sells Alvo's villa, gets rich, decides to move back to Cape Town for no reason and promptly the whole lot of them get executed by Dominic's gang. The ending has them plunging off a metaphorical road to Hell.

I mean, just look at those summaries: we go from a plausible crime thriller in Season 1, to the Season 4 ending in which everyone dies and goes to straight to Hell, do not pass go, do not collect $200.

While the doom of the group was hinted at the whole way through, I was pretty disappointed at how it happened. It seemed completely avoidable had the group actually had half a brain, but the plot demanded they died in such a fashion and so they did.

Verdict

So, should you watch Mad Dogs? I'd say yes - just be prepared to be irritated by it towards the end.

The acting's good and Seasons 1-2 have some really good moments. Season 3 has some poignant scenes and purposeful plotlines, but for me Season 4 was when the show really seemed to lose sight of where it was going.

For the record, I don't mind ambiguous endings: and the ending of Mad Dogs is very surreal and very ambiguous. It's more the fact that you can assemble such a talented cast with such an interesting concept...and then do so very little with it and leave so much unexplained.

[*][*][*][ ][ ]

3/5

A show that's equal parts interesting and frustrating, and sadly descends into poorly written nonsense close to the end as it searches to be more profound than the sum of it's parts.

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Movie Review: Strange Days

A while ago I heard of "Strange Days", a sci-fi movie set in LA during an alternate 1999. It got pretty good reviews (~70% average) so I thought I'd give it a watch.

The basic premise of Strange Days is interesting: SQUID magnetometry (a phenomenon ironically used in my work field as a Chemist in real life) has evolved to the extent that it can be used to completely record someone's feelings, thoughts, emotions and experiences on a "tape", directly from their brain.

Obviously, this technology is not merely limited to recording mundane things. The film opens with a bombastic sequence in which a man "tapes" the robbery of a store, culminating with his own gut-wrenching death as he falls from a building. This depiction of real death in a "tape" makes it a "blackjack".

The main character, Lenny Nero (Ralph Fiennes) is a washed-out ex-cop who makes a sleazy living from selling "tapes" that allow users to experience illicit thrills. He has a pathetic hang-up on his ex-girlfriend, Faith (Juliette Lewis) that's bolstered by his constant re-watching of his SQUID memories of her. While he proclaims that he has ethics ("I don't trade blackjacks, everyone knows that."), most of the film he comes across as a loser with minimal scruples.

Fiennes does a really good job of somehow making Lenny likable enough to care about. It'd be very easy, with his fake Rolexes and selfish demeanour, to make him a character that the audience takes an instant dislike to. But somehow he hits that sweet spot where we pity him because his life is such a wreck, and also perhaps because his wretched state stems from losing his "true love".

Really, though, the show is stolen by Angela Bassett as "Mace", Lenny's close friend. A bodyguard in an LA completely overrun by crime, Mace is tough, smart and uncompromising. However, she's also caring, compassionate and honest, unlike almost everyone around her in the film. It is often her discussions with Lenny that give the film it's best moments.

Unfortunately, the film itself for me was a real example of how poor scripting and lazy action scenes can really detract from a movie. Despite Fiennes and Bassett putting in performances that are worth watching, the story itself devolves into being almost nonsensical by the end, and it feels like the film entirely squanders the ability to really explore the whole "tape" concept when it goes off trying to make some really vague, confused statement about civil liberties instead.

Firstly, there is a ridiculous amount of repetition. The worst example in the film has to be the club scenes: there are so many scenes in which Lenny walks into the same club and bickers with Faith and nothing actually gets resolved that I started genuinely feeling like the DVD was stuck on a loop or something. This is combined with slightly bizarre drawn-out shots of Faith singing in the club with a Grunge band that seem to go on for ages and contribute nothing.

Philo Gant (Michael Wincott) is Faith's new man. He is one of the most pointless and irritating characters in the movie by far. He plays a part in the plot, but is a 2D character stuck in the same loop of walking around pouting and threatening Lenny while not doing much else.

Finally, the action scenes are just stupid in places. We have a scene in which a bad guy gets shot in the chest three times at almost point-blank range, but then simply jumps up and is fit enough to have a car chase immediately afterwards because he was wearing a weedy looking bullet-proof vest. There are a couple of good fight scenes with Mace, but the majority of them are so over the top they're just silly.

The ending deserves a paragraph of it's own: it's clear that the scriptwriters wanted to produce an "unexpected" ending, but they do it through a really formulaic twist that doesn't make any sense at all. Especially when it requires us to believe that one of the main characters is actually a psychotic rapist, but can completely hide that trait from everyone else for years.

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So what do we have? We've got a unique and interesting concept that is actually left barely explored over the course of the film. It's perplexing: the story could have been really strong if it focused on the profound nature of being able to experience any sensation as any person, but the fact that doing so requires that you leave your own consciousness and ethics behind.

Similarly, making the action more realistic and cutting all the pointless scenes with Gant and Faith to allow us to focus on Lenny and Mace would have made the film much more lean and dynamic.

As it is, though, with so much filler and so many pointless scenes, parts of the movie are a real drag. Combined with the ludicrous ending, it's a real shame that I can't give it more than 2 stars.

Rating: 2/5
[*][*][ ][ ][ ]

An excellent premise with some strong main characters, sadly hampered by a go-nowhere story and a complete inability to actually use that premise in the plot in a meaningful way.

I still recommend seeing it if you're a Fatboy Slim fan: you'll immediately recognise Mace's amazingly distinctive shout of "Right here, right now!" as one of his samples.