Review the Old School: Kingdom of Heaven (2005)

Let me be absolutely clear about something right from the beginning. My most recent viewing was of the Director’s Cut. The glorious, three-hour-long Director’s Cut. Did this make a difference? No clue, I watched the original cut way back when it came out and I wasn’t about to rewatch the same movie just to find out what parts they cut out. I’m not that masochistic. I have a job. And other shit to write. Moving on.

Directed by Ridley Scott and released all the way back in 2005, Kingdom of Heaven stars Orlando Bloom as Balian (later de Ibelin), the blacksmith for a Lord in France who finds out he’s the bastard son of a well-regarded Crusader recently back from the Holy Land, Godfrey de Ibelin played by Liam Neeson, shortly after his child dies and his wife tops herself out of grief. At first seemingly angry that Liam Neeson is his father (God knows why), Balian soon decides to join dad in the family business of killing the enemies of the leper King of Jerusalem (voiced by Edward Norton). Him killing his half-brother priest may or may not have helped in the decision making. Dad doesn’t make it past Italy, unfortunately, but makes sure to make Balian his heir and a knight before carking it. Balian gets to the Holy Land, hijinks ensue. These included Balian bedding the King’s married sister Sibylla (played by Eva Green), sparing and impressing a Saracen Cavalier (played by Alexander Siddig), killing a decent number of Christians and Muslims, building a few wells and, of course, taking command of the defence of Jerusalem against Saladin’s overwhelming forces after the new King of Jerusalem (spoiler, Edward Norton dies) starts a war then promptly loses it, all while learning the true meaning of knighthood. Good times.

This is a good movie, but it’s far from a perfect one. Orlando Bloom plays the role surprisingly well. There were one or two moments where I felt he was channeling Legolas or Will Turner, but I’d blame some awkward and clumsy moments in the script more than anything (a moment before the final battle when he’s giving everyone a pep-talk stands out). His character was a little too perfect though. It was lampshaded at the beginning of the film that he’d fought for lords before joining his dad on horseback and in the engineers, had participated in the building of powerful siege weapons, but we see him the movie as one of the best fighters, a skilled tactician and an expert in irrigating deserts. I mean, is there anything this guy isn’t good at? Similarly the villains are cartoonishly bad. Or specifically Guy de Lusignan played by Marton Csokas, the man who would be king and fuck everything up. Don’t get me wrong, Csokas plays the role well enough, but he’s just such a fucking stereotype with no motivation beyond “I’m gonna start a war and kill me some Saracens.” This worked with Brendan Gleeson’s character, Reynald de Chatillon, the insane commander of the Knights Templar, but he’s played as the mad attack dog whose entire purpose is cutting down people who don’t deserve it for his twisted faith. Guy is supposed to be the one who stands to gain the most and lose the most, but we see no reason for him to be such an arsehole. He doesn’t seem to want to conquer, doesn’t seem to give any shits about the faith or crusades beyond providing him with support or troops. There’s some vague hope for winning glory on the battlefield, I guess, but it just seems shallow. Maybe I’m not reading enough into the character, but it seemed like he was acting the arsehole simply for the sake of being an arsehole who we can blame him when the Kingdom of Heaven all goes to hell, and the audience can say, “See? Should have listened to Balian.”

The direction is mostly good, Ridley Scott knows how to cut together an epic and visceral battle, the combat is clear, bloody and wider shots are used to great effect. Smaller skirmishes meanwhile are lonelier, more intimate affairs, but their setups (long shot of a single knight at an oasis) reminded me of showdowns in old westerns. There were a few moments where the editing made me cringe. One in particular, where Balian first meets the king of Jerusalem seemed badly and unnecessarily cut together. They start out talking over a chessboard then are suddenly looking at plans for a fort, which Balian gives his advice on, then awkwardly shifts to the king with him. It’s meant to feel like a long conversation but instead just feels like they decided to skip half a sentence. It’s weird and unnecessary. But not common. As for the music, well, the only time I really noticed it was during the big battles when I realised it was the same theme from The Mummy. Take that as you will.

Regardless, the cast is stellar. And I mean, really fantastic, putting excellent actors in even minor roles. Liam Neeson has a major role but doesn’t make it through a third of the film, Kevin McKidd has about three minutes of screentime before being killed off and is billed only as “English Sergeant” and Michael Sheen plays the priest I mentioned above. The one who gets stabbed by Balian not even ten minutes in. A special mention should go to The Hospitaller, played by David Thewlis. While remaining nameless, The Hospitaller actually manages to survive most of the film and plays a sort of mentor and father to Balian. He’s a man of faith if not religion, and acts as conscience for Balian in his harder moments with good humour and sincere kindness.

But the characters I really wanted to see more of were the Muslims. I remember when I first watched this not long after it came out for the first time on DVD feeling that the Muslims were treated unfairly, and they may have been. But rewatching it, I felt like this was one of the best possible portrayals of an Arab conquering Christians that we could’ve gotten out of 2005. The Christian folk who want peace always remark that it requires both the King of Jerusalem and Saladin to maintain the peace. Firuz, his retainer spared by Balian in the beginning of the film, is a good man and remarks that it was because Saladin was his teacher. Saladin, played excellently by Ghassan Massoud, does a solid job as the stoic general, who doesn’t really want to go through the trouble of taking Jerusalem but has his own fanatics to deal with. He shows disappointment when he meets a captured Guy, and good humour after treating with a worthy opponent. Not a perfect portrayal, but two years into the Iraq War and four years after 9/11 from an American director? Not bad. Not bad at all, and I wish we saw more of it.

Strange to think that this was directed by the same guy who’s now in so much trouble over fucking Exodus: Gods and Kings. What happened Ridley? You used to be cool.

Irrational irritations and other unnecessary issues (19/1/2016)

Bloody hell, tuesday already? Almost slipped by me. Changing work schedules have messed up what day of the week I think it is. Anyway. I wanna have a quick chat to you all about skateboarders.

Now, I have nothing against most skateboarders. I’ve known and been friends with a lot of skateboarders over the years I’ve been kicking around this planet. I have a lot of respect for a talented skateboarder, with their ollies and kick-flips and well-tuned senses of balance. Hell, I respect untalented skateboarders even more. Falling off a skateboard can be a hilarious affair for everyone else and anyone willing to still climb back onto that narrow piece of plywood (or whatever skateboards are made out of) after a plummet deserves a nod. What grinds me the wrong way, however, is people who simply must travel any distance, no matter how short, on their board. I mean, after a while it just becomes unpractical.

Case in point, a couple of nights ago I was getting off the skytrain (still the most pretentious name for a public transport system around) and there was this kid who got off at the same station, from the same carriage, using the same door as me. A kid with a skateboard. A kid who promptly dropped his skateboard to the ground and rolled on it over to the stairs down to the street, a distance of roughly three metres. No, really, three metres, maybe three and a half, at a painfully slow pace made slower by the fifteen or so people who’d climbed off the train with us and were also converging on the stairs. I was halfway down the stairs by the time the kid managed to pick up his board and start his own descent. And I couldn’t help but think, “why didn’t you just fuckin’ walk it?”

And I get that if you love doing something you want to do it whenever humanly possible, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you should. You don’t see cyclists riding their bikes up and down the platforms (well, I did once, but he more just stood on one of the side pedals and pushed). Just because someone can parkour their way down the side of the building doesn’t mean that they don’t occasionally use the stairs. And sometimes just because you’ve got your skateboard handy doesn’t mean you have to use it. Fucking walk it.

And with that, I’ll take my leave. Have a good week everyone.

Irrational irritations and other unnecessary issues (5/1/2016)

Happy New Year everyone! And welcome to 2016. Hopefully it’ll be better than 2015. Well, I had a decent year last year (the excitement of moving to another country and all that) but it seems that much of the world seemed to have a pretty shitty time of it, with the terrorist attacks and police shootings and Donald Trump and more than a couple of natural disasters and endless civil war and all the places failing to handle the refugee crisis (Australia included, but I’m looking at you large swathes of Europe. Germany’s cool though). Others had a decent year as well. Change of leadership in Canada seems to spelling good things, everyone around here seems pretty excited. Change of leadership back in Oz as well (the lion got the boot and the tin man took over). Change of leadership in Myanmar. But regardless we should always hope that tomorrow is an improvement over today. ‘Cause that is progress and we don’t want to stop progressing no matter how great things are.

Anyway, NYE has come and gone and there’s plenty to get irritated and outraged about (unnecessarily of course). Like all the end of year “best of…” lists. And “worst of…” lists. And “I think I’m creative so I’m still gonna make a list but I’m gonna give it a stupid theme, ‘cause that’ll be hil-ar-i-ous!” lists. Or people talking up their New Years Resolutions. Or other people talking down New Years Resolutions in general ‘cause they aren’t into that conformist bullshit, man. What’s really getting to me this year has been the number of Facebook and Instagram posts talking about how this year is going to be all about themselves.

It’s the weirdest fucking thing. Like, they’re posting these pseudo-profound sounding statements and e-cards with “I am going to invest in myself” and “It will all be about improving myself” with the odd hint of “in loving myself more I will be able to love others better” on a few rare occasions. That last one’s got the air of “so I’m not going to be a completely selfish bastard.” Because that’s what a lot of these posts seem to be implying. That they’re going to be selfish bastards this year who only give a fuck about their own improvement and well-being.

Here’s the thing though, I know these people aren’t. I wouldn’t be friends with them if they were. Christ, who would? I mean, it’s something I saw a lot of in the tail end of 2015, posts on Facebook and Tumblr telling people to worry about themselves first and other people second. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing considering the number of anxious and generally-in-a-bad-situation people there are who need the boost to their confidence and self-esteem. Funny thing is a lot of those people making those posts are the types who very obviously care about the confidence, self-esteem and mental well-being of others. Certain irony to that, yeah? What’s more, saying that you’re going to take the time to work on your own physical and mental health is great, people need to do that regardless of what time of the year it is.

But please, for the love of all that’s holy, don’t do this by bragging about what a self-centred arse you’re planning on being. ‘Cause I know you’re not a self-centred arse, but others might not.

Let’s make a movie. Maybe.

Krieg and Maya drawings Edited

Did you hear they’re making a Borderlands movie? Yeah, they’re making a Borderlands movie. Well, at least they’re starting to workshop or pre-produce or whatever it is they do with the intention of eventually getting around to making a Borderlands movie. Great. Fantastic. I should be excited about this, right? I mean, I’m a fan of the franchise. Love the heroes, the not-quite-heroes, the anti-heroes, the villains and the general supporting cast. Love the crude, violent humour. Love the world and lore. It’s all good fun. Why wouldn’t I be excited to see all of this get the big screen experience? Is it ’cause of the long history of video game movies being shit? Probably a little. A lot. But not entirely. But a lot.

I mean, you look back through that history of movie adaptations and it is not particularly heartening. At best, you’ve got movies that are fun swashbucklers if not exactly memorable like Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. At worst you’ve got Super Mario Bros (’nuff said). That’s not even getting into all the movies based on fighting games like Street Fighter, Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li, Mortal Kombat, Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, Mortal Kombat- you know what, let’s just stop there before this gets out of hand. Point is fans of games that have been turned into movies are as likely to turn up to the theatre with a sense of apathy or dread (a feeling of “so how are they gonna fuck this up?” if you will) as they are excitement.

This isn’t all that surprising given the games chosen. Many video games have the barest of stories and are better remembered for their mechanics and gameplay. The plot of the Super Mario Bros games is not taken particularly seriously. It’s simply an excuse for the player to guide Mario through each of the levels, getting high and murdering turtles on the way. The video game Prince of Persia: Sands of Time is remembered less for its story then for its excellent platforming and time reversal mechanic (shit I can’t even remember the story, is it the same as the movie?) Max Payne similarly earned its place in living memory as the game that introduced us to bullet-time mechanics, rather than its plot that was “pretty good for a video game” back when that phrase had more (loaded) meaning. Let’s not even get started on the flimsy plots most fighting games use to justify their one on one brawls.

Something important about many video games that those trying to adapt them don’t seem to understand is that it is not always the plots that are important, but the lore of the game world. Game plots are often simple things, simple spins on the old hero’s journey or some such. But the worlds in which these stories take place are rich and full and often relayed over dozens of hours of gameplay, through codexes, indexes, documents, audio logs, snatches of conversation and offhand remarks. It’s a depth that cannot be easily related in a ninety to hundred-twenty minute feature film. Attempts to do so simply come off as (at best) shallow and (at worst) the boring parts of otherwise exciting action films. But it is completely unnecessary.

I’ve mentioned previously that one of the best video game movies, Crank (and its sequel Crank: High Voltage), was one not actually based on a video game but rather embraced the logic of video game mechanics, structure and pace. Another great example would be Edge of Tomorrow (or Live. Die. Repeat. or whatever the fuck they ended up calling it), whose main narrative conceit (every time Tom Cruise’s character died the day reset) bears a striking similarity to the respawn experience of most gamers. Part of what makes these films great fun is that they don’t spend too much time explaining those mechanics. There’s a bit of world building. News reports at the beginning of Edge of Tomorrow that explain the alien invasion and the exoskeletons worn by the human soldiers fighting them, an initial mention of the Angel of Verdun, high hopes for the human counter-attack. A movie within a movie at the start of Crank explaining who he is, who his enemy is and what they’ve done to him, with some clarification not long afterwards. Then they just run with it, allowing the actions of the protagonists and their responses to the changing plots to explain all the implications. Same as a game does after the opening cinematics. Well, most games.

I’ll admit this might be easier said than done. Not being a movie maker myself this is all entirely uneducated opinion. Certain games would find it a smaller task then others. The Assassin’s Creed games for example, who’ve had a movie in the works for some time now that is due for release December next year, is set more or less in the real world. You don’t have to provide an audience unfamiliar with the games much more than a date and place name for them to be able to have a rough idea of social structure, norms, local architecture, system of government and climate. The Assassin’s Order (do they call it a brotherhood? Seems a bit sexist if they call it a brotherhood), the Templars (or the somehow more ridiculously named Abstergo Industries) and the Animus technology don’t need much more than a brief explanation, an exposition heavy conversation or two, before the audience can jump to the appropriate conclusions (Assassins mostly good, Templars mostly bad, blah blah blah shades of grey, blah blah stab that guy).

The world of, say, the Mass Effect games (apparently with a movie in development… maybe? Not sure? Perhaps?) where someone is adapting a hundred odd hours across three games (books, an anime) into a film or two would be a different matter.  Seriously, there is a fuck-ton (a metric fuck-ton, in fact) of back story, history and explanation in the universe of the Mass Effect franchise. Don’t believe me? Regular conversations with your crew members includes information on the Council, Citadel, Citadel Space, Human Alliance, the Human-Batarian conflicts, the Batarians, the Asari, Asari biology, the Asari Matriarchy, the Turians, the Turian military, the Turian-Human First Contact War, the Salarians, Salarian spies, the Krogans, the Krogan Rebellions, the Rachni Wars, the Geth, the Geth-Quarian conflicts, the Quarians, the Quarian fleet, the Quarian immune system, and this all before getting into the really important stuff like Element Zero, the titular Mass Effect, Biotics, the Reapers (overall villains of the piece), Protheans, Cerberus and the supporting cast’s varied back stories. Yeah, metric. This doesn’t mean that all this information is strictly necessary for a good Mass Effect film but, well, for anyone in the audience who hasn’t played the games a lot of it is.

I’d claim Borderlands occupies a space closer to the middle of the spectrum. The stories of the main games (ignoring the more complex Tales from the Borderlands by Telltale just now) are pretty simple. Four Vault Hunters, mercenaries and treasure hunters, arrive on a dangerous planet called Pandora to find a Vault, kill whatever’s inside and loot the riches believed to be held within. The second game throws in the downfall of the Hyperion corporation and defeating the fantastically psychotic villain Handsome Jack, the Pre-Sequel throws in saving Pandora’s inhabited moon from destruction, but otherwise that is the ultimate goal of the games. Open a Vault and steal the shit inside. But there’s still a ton of backstory to the world and people that we barely even hear about. The corporations and their ongoing conflicts. Dahl’s failed mining operations on Pandora and its moon, responsible for so much of the dangerous flora, fauna, bandits, cannibals and mutants. The Eridians, the alien races that built the Vaults. How did Doctor Zed lose his medical licence? Did Doctor Zed ever have a licence? Who died when Janey Springs got her (“real sexy Athena”) scar? The Sirens, no more than a half-dozen women at a time with glowing blue tattoos and near magical powers somehow linked to the Vaults and Eridians. There’s a lot of information barely skimmed over, but that’s fine because that information is never revealed unless it’s necessary or entertaining. Much of the world we explore in these games is wrapped in mystery, teased in “Echos” (audilogs) and revealed at plot or comically appropriate times. Sometimes there’s no context provided at all. Sometimes you just gotta go and shoot someone in the face.

This is helped by its ‘Space Western’ setting. We’re used to westerns filled with men and women with barely alluded to secret pasts, silent protagonists, corrupt officials who bought their way into power, bandit gangs, warring factions and more or less neutral mercenaries on one side or another looking to make their fortunes through bounties and contracts. The world(s) seen in Borderlands could make for a great movie as long as they don’t spend to much time trying to explain it, because you don’t have to. It would simply join a long list of past movies, ranging from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (and the other films in the ‘Man with no name’ trilogy) to The Magnificent Seven. That’s if the guys making the film follow the style and standard the games set.

And that segues badly into my next concern. I guess we’ll call it style. Borderlands is cartoonishly violent and cartoonishly animated. The characters and enemies are unrealistically and exaggeratingly designed and proportions, as is the wildlife, towns, vehicles and landscape. Legend goes that at the start of development Borderlands was supposed to be a far more realistic, gritty and dramatic (as can be seen in the original trailer). But they didn’t have enough money, so instead went with what is now the series’ signature cel shaded look. This allowed it to be a lot lighter in tone, and a lot more violent. Seriously, even for a video game Borderlands is bloody. By the time you get to the end of the campaign in one of the three main games you’ve probably got a kill count in the thousands (many of whom have been incinerated, disintegrated, melted or otherwise exploded), and have witnessed scenes of torture and defilement (and have probably participated once or twice). But because you’re dismembering wave after wave of highly stylised, colourful and (important here) inhuman enemies it becomes fun and funny instead of, y’know, psychopathic.

The violence would already need to be toned down to get an MA-15 rating over in Oz (an R rating in the US, I’d guess to be the nearest equivalent) and be turned down even further to get the M or PG-13 rating that studios are known for demanding. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, mind you. There’s more to these games than simple violence, and video games kill, maim and explode more nameless and named goons than all but the bloodiest films. But the excessive violence is a strong part of the aesthetic, since a large part of the humour is its satire of the traditional notions of the Wild West where the law was on the side of whomever brought the most firepower to the table, and settlers had to deal with the threat of bandits, mercenaries, road agents, soldiers and the Native population they inevitably crossed. Again, however, we don’t need a triple-digit body-count to achieve that aesthetic. What it does need is a great deal of absurdity.

So the problem I’m getting at is not reducing the violent nature of a game for a movie adaptation then, but in trying to ground the film too much in reality. Video games are, in their need to be fun or deliver gameplay, completely unrealistic. Real people, for example, cannot survive multiple gunshots, duck behind a chest-high wall and pop up again a couple moments later good as new. Real people get at least a little winded when they parkour their way to the top of a castle. Real people aren’t usually assaulted by gorillas hurling barrels. Fun shit, but not very believable. The danger than comes when you try to ground something that is by its nature ridiculous and unreal closer to reality and believability. Turns a perfectly good game about jumping on angry brown fungi with legs and anthropomorphic turtles in order to rescue a princess from (hopefully) the next castle into whatever the fuck the Super Mario Bros. movie was about. It’s still pretty bonkers, but it’s not the kind of bonkers you really want. It points out its own ridiculousness instead of rolling with it and insults the fans of the original property by changing the things it doesn’t think an audience will buy into something it thinks the audience will. Which is stupid. But hey, y’know, that was the nineties. We made a lot of weird stuff in the nineties.

Far more likely these days is that it will in the best case turn into yet another generic action movie with some vaguely supernatural (see Lara Croft: Tomb Raider) or science fiction (Doom) elements. A formulaic and familiar show with a familiar name. Nice to look at, but none to memorable. That’s probably the thing that worries me the most, is seeing such a vibrant and colourful franchise watered down til it loses what made it so remarkable in the first place. This doesn’t just happen to video game movies, and there are far more examples from other mediums (I reckon my fellow nerds would make the claim that until recently comic book adaptations were the worst offenders). The hyper-ridiculous Tank Girl was supposed to be even more hyper-ridiculous were it not for a meddling studio. One of the great complaints about X-Men Origins: Wolverine was the film’s treatment of character Wade Wilson, better known as Deadpool (but don’t worry, the new movie ought to fix that). It is known for great movies to have surpassed the works they’re based on (I heard that even the author of the original book Fight Club preferred the movie’s ending to his own), but this is more exception than rule.

Would someone making a Borderlands film be comfortable with a character like Tiny Tina? She arguably uses the second most sexualised language (the first being Mad Moxxi), is extremely talented at violence and casual about torturing those who’ve done her wrong. She’s also, like, twelve or thirteen, and brings with her all the immaturity you’d expect from someone who was forced to adapt after being broken at a young age on a planet filled with cannibals and monsters. She’s also the centre of some of the game’s most touching and heartbreaking moments (like when we find out what happened to her parents or the her dealing with the trauma of losing another important father figure in the Assault on Dragon Keep DLC). Doctor Zed, Scooter, Doctor Patricia Tanis. They’re all insane, broken, violent people, the last of whom is attracted to furniture. And these are your friends. Let’s not even get into the characters you aren’t supposed to like. Like Claptrap. Let’s not talk about Claptrap. Can you imagine a film that includes the odd yet beautiful relationship between the Psycho Krieg and the canon asexual (but not confirmed aromantic) Maya. Hell, can you even imagine a film where one of the main female characters ends up getting together with one of the main female supporting cast-members like Athena and Janey Springs at the end of Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel? If that’s too much for a big-budget blockbuster, it’s unlikely they’d get away with all the actual crazy shit.

There is also the habit of producers to assume that people won’t be able to relate to characters unless they’re all conventionally attractive white folk. Because we as a varied group of peoples and cultures can’t possibly relate to people who, y’know, actually look like us (hey, I’m only a conventionally attractive-ish white guy, I’m allowed to make the point). Point being that the titular Prince of Persia in the movie, and the princess he was after, were played by white actors. Point being that it happens all the fucking time. Shit, they even do it in reboots these days (I’d go gay for Benedict Cumberpatch, but did they really have to make him fucking Khan?) or to the goddamn Bible (that’s an odd bit a blasphemy right there). Admittedly while all six of the female playable characters are pretty white women (something that I’m hoping will change in future games), but there is still a diverse cast of different colours, genders, sexualities and body shapes. I can’t imagine too much of that whitewashing happening in these circumstances, can’t see Roland, Brick, Mordecai or Salvador being turned into a bunch of generic white dudes. I can, however, see a character like Ellie (the digital embodiment of body confidence) being ignored or downsized in favour of someone or something more, well, conventionally attractive.

Not that video games themselves aren’t guilty of some pretty heinous crimes turning colourful characters into bland cut-outs (compare what Overstrike was to what it became) or hypersexualising female characters (if I need to provide examples of this than you probably don’t care too much about this article anyway). ‘Tis why we need to guard our most interesting characters so carefully.

Alright, last thing I wanna do is ask a simple yet oft underestimated question. Who the bloody fuck is going to care? I mean I do, obviously, or I wouldn’t have gone to all the trouble of writing this. But it’d be more accurate to say that I care about this now.

Way, way back in 2012 I was in the car with my father and younger siblings. Think we were on our way to grandma’s house or something. Anyway, we saw a billboard advertising the imminent release of Max Payne 3. My dad, casually, turned to me and said, “I didn’t even know they made a Max Payne 2.” I was a bit taken aback by this, and replied with something along the lines of “Yeah, years ago.” He thought about it for a moment then asked if they still had Mark Wahlberg playing Max. No, Max Payne was a video game series and this was the third instalment. Oh, okay. My dad looked into the rearview mirror and asked if any of siblings knew that. None of them, including my younger gamer brother, did.

I care about a Borderlands film right now. I might not care in the however many years it takes for any Borderlands film to be made. Three or four years is a long time for video game franchise. Anything over five is a lifetime. The Max Payne film was released a whole seven years after the game. Same with the Prince of Persia: Sands of Time film. Few games have the kind of broad cultural longevity that an MMO like World of Warcraft have, which still has a large, solid fanbase after eleven years of life and is still relevant enough in the broader pop-culture as ‘The one MMO to rule them all’ (even earning an episode dedicated to it on South Park) that the movie due out middle next year will likely be a rousing success. Maybe. Probably. Will the Borderlands franchise still be relevant in the years it takes to write, make and release a film? Maybe. We’ll see. Point is that in four or five years you’ll have a bunch of young’uns entering the target demographic for this kind of film who’ll never have played a Borderlands game (maybe they’re aware that Borderlands 3 was released a little bit ago, but didn’t pick it up cause they didn’t have the time or interest to go through the first three games and assumed you’d have to). And studios won’t be able to rely on those of us who are and were fans of the series going to see it for nostalgias sake alone. We’ve had our heart broken way to many times before. It’s gonna have to look good, it’s gonna have to follow in the spirit and character of the games to get us in to see it.

Ultimately, what I’m getting at is that it is possible to make a good movie adaptation of a video game. And we want good adaptations of the things we love. We really, really do. So please, if you’re going to make those adaptations, please don’t fuck it up. Please.

View from across the ocean (14/9/15)

Well, it finally happened. Malcolm Turnbull has challenged Tony Abbott for the leadership of the Liberals and won. With a solid lead as well, 54 to 44. Australia has a new Prime Minister with Mr Turnbull’s victory that, judging by the #putoutyouronions posts appearing on social media, surprised no one but Mr Abbott and a few of his more die hard supporters.

So, now the corpse is in the morgue and the autopsy begins. Did the absolute fucking disaster of a first budget or his stubborn loyalty to Bronwyn Bishop do more damage to popular opinion of Mr Abbott’s leadership and government? Just how much of Mr Abbott’s downfall can be attributed to Joe Hockey and Christopher Pine? His tired stance against Marriage Equality? Biting into a raw onion like it was a fucking apple?

Then there’s the question of who’s gonna survive the presumed blood bath of the senior Coalition leadership and ministers. Joe Hockey and Christopher Pine will likely need to walk the plank. I can’t see under-performing George Brandis and recently-in-trouble-for-insulting-remarks Peter Dutton making it through unscathed. Will Mathias Cormann might have to pay for supporting Abbott in this spill as well. Scott Morrison is looking good for the Treasurer, putting his weight behind Mr Turnbull in his victory but deciding not to run as Deputy. Julie Bishop has earned a place as king maker, having decided to remove her support from Mr Abbott and handily won the position as Mr Turnbull’s deputy (you can’t help but wonder if her support was a necessary trigger for Mr Turnbull’s coup).

It’s expected that there’ll finally be a few women whose names don’t end in Bishop invited into the cabinet, and Mr Turnbull has promised a more consultative leadership (“first among equals” and all that). Let’s presume that this means remaining ministerial vacancies will be decided by bloody gladiatorial bouts in skimpy leather armour (regardless of age and gender, of course) in front of a cheering, betting Liberal caucus.

Political analysts, commentators and random amateurs with far-too-high an opinion of their own opinions like myself will be busily reading the stars, the tea leaves, the coffee grounds and the speech and press conference transcripts in order to predict the policies of the new regime. Is Mr Turnbull finally going to finally do something about negative gearing and superannuation reform? What’s going to happen now that we have a pro-marriage equality PM (who needed the support of his party’s right wind to get into power) and opposition leader? What about climate change policy, the pin that popped Mr Turnbull’s balloon the first time? We’ll just have to wait and see.

Nice to hear a politician talking about treating the public like it’s intelligent, and trying to do what’s right for the economy instead of shouting about their only two victories (“We stopped the boats!” and “We got rid of the Carbon Tax!”) over and over and fucking over.

Good onya Mr Turnbull. You were patient, smart and you won. Now please don’t screw this up.

I’m gonna go see if I’ve got an onion to take a picture of.

Try harder, or why I’m loving Bitch Planet

There’s a really excellent comic series running right now by the name of Bitch Planet. Written by Kelly Sue DeConnick and drawn by Valentine De Landro it takes place in a future in which ‘non-compliant’ women are sent to the Auxiliary Compliance Outpost, nicknamed (you guessed it) Bitch Planet. It’s a clever feminist satire of 70s exploitation films. The art style and colours (done by the excellent Cris Peter) are deeply reminiscent of grainy film and a tacky science fiction aesthetic, cleverly placing the female cast in positions where they are sexualised in the context of the world without sexualising them for the readers. The characters are likeable and real, representing not just a cross-section of race, body-types and sexualities, but also personalities and motivations, coming together for an opportunity to strike back at the patriarchy that governs their world. And man, fuck the patriarchy that governs their world. With a brick. Sideways.

What really exemplifies this series for me, however, is how fucking disgusted with myself I feel after I read them. Just really goddamn gross. And yeah, that is a good thing.

The scary part of this particular dystopian future (like many great dystopian futures) is just how familiar it feels. Body-shaming, slut-shaming, sexuality-shaming, racism, stereotypes, pseudo-scientific explanations for why man is superior to woman, a belief that the sole purpose of females is to serve men perpetuated by the media and popular culture instilling little doubt in the younger generations about this ‘truth’. This is the world we live in now. The world of Bitch Planet simply codifies it into law and makes non-compliance (being fat, gay or promiscuous) punishable with prison sentences and even death (shit, it’s not even hard to think of countries where this is actually a reality). The villains of the piece, Father and the other old men who rule, are unpleasant caricatures scarily reminiscent of the good old boys who fill governments and governing boards the world over. And good god how I wish for the protagonists, the bitches of Bitch Planet, to punch their smug, misogynist faces in. The part that gets to me, however, is that they might not.

Right from Issue #1 it was made clear that any victory would be bitter-sweet and failure was the more likely outcome. That undercurrent of failure being more than possible has continued through the series all the way to this weeks Issue #5 and doesn’t look like it’ll be ending soon. You feel like no matter what they do, no matter how hard they try, those above will simply change the rules to keep themselves there and there is nothing that these heroic women will be able to do to stop it.

Just like it often feels in the real world. The real world where women are blamed for being the victims of sexual assault, harassment and violence, then punished with more of the same. The real world where a woman has to work twice as hard to be in the same position as a man and still earn less pay. The real world where a woman’s reproductive rights (and their universal rights to bodily integrity) are constantly under attack by backwards moralists and their pocket legislators. The real world that I am a part of. And part of the problem.

I’m a big believer in the old saw that art mirrors life and society, and when I read Bitch Planet I see a pretty ugly reflection. I can’t read this and not feel like I’m not doing enough to change this reality. Change this reflection. I’m not doing enough to make this world we live in a better place for my sisters, my cousins, my daughters if I ever have them, my friends. Shit I’m not even sure what I should be doing, just that I’m not currently or not doing well enough. Not trying hard enough.

That’s what’s great about Bitch Planet. It’s a simple reminder to try harder. And that’s what I’ll do. It’s what we should all do. Because the world of Bitch Planet is not a great place to be.

So I’d definitely give it a recommend giving it a read. It’s fun, exciting, horrifying and tragic all at the same time. Most importantly it’s a reminder to keep trying harder.

Irrational irritations and other unnecessary issues (8/9/15)

Yo. Here we are, on time. This week’s topic: overt displays of affection by couples in queues. Let’s get right into it, like these couples get right into each other. Alright, that was a bloody atrocious attempt at a play on words I admit. But don’t you judge me. Writing is hard. Like a bloke feeling up his lady-friend in a line buying movie tickets. Heh, that was better.

Something that I’d like to make very clear is that I don’t necessarily have an issue with public displays of affection. If you wanna dry-hump your partner with your tongue three quarters of the way to triggering their gag reflex, then that is quite alright. But pick an appropriate time and place to do it, like on the grass at a park beneath a warm sun or in the corner of a dingy pub beneath the energy efficient lighting installed so long ago it’s now just lighting that takes two minutes to switch on. Waiting in line at the M&M store, however, is not.

I’m also not (usually) one of those “think of the children” people. No, in this case I’m more “Oh god the couple in front of me are sucking face a half foot from my face and I can’t move back because the queue’s too crowded and I keep trying to look away but then they make a weird noise and I’m back to staring at them and this is getting really uncomfortable is it just because they’re incapable of talking to each other that’s not a sign of a healthy relationship if they can’t and shit he’s just made another weird noise what the hell is wrong with these folks for the love of god will the person in front please hurry up they’re still going at it” kind of people.

Now, admittedly I might just be jealous. I probably am a little. After all, who enjoys knowing that random strangers are getting some when we’re not. But I find it hard to believe that I’m the only one who starts feeling awkward and uncomfortable when two or more people decide that the best way to handle being stuck in a crowd of tightly packed strangers is to start necking each other.

I’m not telling you to get a room, just wait until you’ve got more than two feet of space. Think of the children or something.

Irrational irritations and other unnecessary issues (1/9/2015)

Hey folks, sorry I missed last Tuesday. And the Tuesday before. My bad, and a frequent lack of wifi. I’ll make it up to you next week. Maybe. Or something. We’ll see. How are you guys doing? Great. I’m also gonna make it up to you now, and have not one, not two, but three (count’em three) things to talk about. The first of this week’s topics is people who struggle with taxi ranks.

I mean, fuck me dead mate, it’s really not that hard. You talk to the dispatcher, you line up or walk over to the appropriate bay, and when it’s your turn you climb into cab. Simple right? But some people really struggle with the concept.

About a year ago I was in Melbourne about to meet some mates to go see the Formula 1. I was at the airport standing in front of bay some-random-number waiting for a taxi to pull in front of me. Patiently, because what’s the bloody point of getting stressed about it. But two bays away was a lady freaking the hell out. Seriously, stamping her foot and ‘muttering’ complaints loud enough for the whole goddamn airport to hear her. Far worse though was that she kept trying to steal other people’s taxis. A cab would be driving past to go to the next person waiting she’d step out onto the fucking road and try and get it to pull over. Meanwhile the rest of us are just watching her, thinking “just calm down, wait your turn, and stop almost stepping into the way of moving traffic.”

Last week, me and my sister were waiting in the queue at the New Orleans airport once again waiting for the taxi. Unfortunately the arsehole behind us didn’t understand how “waiting your fucking turn you ignorant jackass” works. He was yelling and mumbling and spitting (what is with white Americans and spitting? They’re worse than a llama eyeing a fountain and thinking “I can beat that”) The dispatcher helped the group in front of us into a taxi and he began to bellow that he and his friend were ready to go RIGHT NOW as if the rest of us didn’t matter. I wanted to spin around and mention that so were goddamn we. The dispatcher ignored him, bless her patient soul. We got in a taxi before him, and he was still bitching and moaning. Meanwhile his poor mate (looking incredibly embarrassed) was trying to calm the guy down, telling him to relax and be patient. After all, what’s five extra minutes? Quite a lot, apparently, if some people are to be believed.

Moving on to the second of this week’s topics. Cold weather dogs in warm weather climes.

I mean, this is just cruel. You shouldn’t have a Husky, built for belting through the snow in minus whatever conditions, running down a sunny street in Sydney or Los Angeles where the weather regularly tops out around 40 degrees Celsius. Yeah, a lot of these dogs sit somewhere on the cuteness scale between ‘adorable’ and ‘majestic’ but that’s no reason to put them through the hell of existing in places that they were not designed to exist in. But even then, it would be alright if you the owners then had the good sense to keep their coats short. Clipper’em down so they aren’t stuck wearing a thicker fur jacket than the only teetotaller Russian trying to survive the Siberian winter. You still see dogs though wandering around that’d give polar bears a run for their money, because their owners are lazy or too busy or far more concerned about their dog’s appearance than comfort.

And that just ain’t fucking right. Part of the culture though, I guess, of treating household pets more like a lifestyle choice or accessory than friend, companion and sentient being capable of feeling pain, pleasure and discomfort. Because humans are arseholes sometimes. Oftentimes. Don’t be an arsehole, clipper their coats when the warm weather hits.

Speaking of dogs let’s move onto our third topic: do you have any goddamn idea how hard it is to find the Harry Potter books in US airports?

I am the king of segues.

Anyway, the answer is: alarmingly goddamn hard. Seriously. I’ve recently been convinced to get into the Harry Potter books (more on that on a later occasion), and figured that my current travel arrangements made for a good time to get through’em. Lotta time on planes (and a literally day-long bus trip) for reading. Figured that I’d be able to pick up each book as I got through the previous. Turns out I was wrong. First book wasn’t too hard to get at LAX, since those crazy Californians reckon they’re cultured or something. But trying to get hold of Harry Potter… the second one… The Chamber of Secrets I think it was? Yeah, that’s it, was a proper challenge. Finding places that sold books was hard enough (lots of news agencies selling magazines, not many selling books apparently), but thorough searches of those surprisingly rare bookshops failed to turn up the desired literature about a twelve year old boy being allowed to put himself into a dangerous situation by the supposedly responsible adults. Not a one.

Crazy, right? I mean, this is Harry fucking Potter we’re talking about, not its Polish homage Harry Pottski. One of the biggest literary phenomenons to have ever struck the world, inspiration and bed-time reading for millions of kids and kid-at-hearts, and no one seemed to stock the second book. Crazy right? Couldn’t even get hold of an e-book because of the shitty wifi. Drove me nuts.

Got it eventually, but it was still way more difficult then it should’ve been. Up to the fifth book now.

Alright. There we are. Nice talking to you all again. Sorry for the hiatus. Life happens, yeah? I’ve been having a good time. I’ll tell you about it in not too long.

Irrational irritations and other unnecessary issues (4/8/2015)

Today let’s talk about bicycles, trains and why a combination of the two is one of the worst possible things that can be inflicted on the world.

If you’re a long time reader then you might remember my feeling towards hopping on a bicycle ranges between telling people that I never do and threats involving circular saws. Turns out I have just as strong an opinion about other people who do cycle. Specifically, I have just as strong an opinion of people who decide to bring their bikes, their big, clumsy, awkward bikes, onto trains and buses with the rest of us. Because it’s fucking annoying.

You see it all the time on the train. Some hipster with a top-knot who’s parked his fixie across three seats. A bloke whose mountainous mountain bike blocks off half the carriage (and probably the doors as well) forcing the crowd that piles in after into a fraction of the space that should be available to them. Someone on their way to work risking a fine and the anger of their fellow commuters by bringing their carbon fibre monster onto the train against the rules during peak hour. A uni student trying to be helpful by lifting her bike vertically so it’s resting on it’s rear wheel, then being shocked when the rocking caused by a gentle bend sends the front wheel straight towards some poor bastard’s head (but god bless her, at least she’s trying). Another hipster leaving bruises and annoyed glares in their wake as they roughly shove another fixie in amongst the crowded carriage, then roughly drags it back out again at the next stop.

Not everyone who brings their bike on the train is a massive pain in everyone’s arse of course (#notallcyclists). I know a guy who always makes sure when he’s catching the train, after a long day of work and never during peak hour, to park his bike against the carriage doors that only open once on his entire trip home (and that’s his stop anyway). Plenty of people manage to get their bikes onto a train without pissing off everyone else. It just makes the inconsiderate ones look like even bigger jackasses.

So next time you’re thinking about dragging your bike onto the public transportation system, ask yourself two questions. The first is: “am I physically capable of getting this heavy lump of metal on and off the train without injuring, delaying or otherwise inconveniencing my fellow commuters?” The second question would be: “is the train so packed with people that it answers the first question for me?”

It it’s “no” to the former and “yes” to the latter, or even a maybe to either, than you probably shouldn’t be dragging your bike onto the train. Here’s an idea, how about instead you actually ride your bicycle to wherever you want to go instead. Ever thought about that? Fucking crazy thought, I know. But, hey, you guys are the ones always banging on about how cycling is a legitimate mode of transportation. So go and bloody prove it.

Parental guidance, or why I loved Mad Max: Fury Road

Max and Furiosa, sketch

As always, heads up that there are some spoilers ahead. Y’know what? Go see the movie first. Go see it. It’s brilliant.

There’s a scene around the middle of the Mad Max: Fury Road that I think sums up what makes the film so great. The appropriately named War Rig (a jury-rigged armed, armoured and supercharged oil tanker), carrying (the also appropriately named) Furiosa, Wives, a changed Nux and a less reluctant Max, has become bogged down in the wet soil and sand of what we might assume is a desolate former swamp. Behind them the war lord in charge of the Bullet Farm (an ally of primary antagonist Immortan Joe) and only one in possession of a vehicle with the treads necessary for traversing the treacherous terrain quickly, is closing in. Bullet Farm. It’s a clever name that draws upon an offhanded remark by one of the wives, the Capable I think it was, that one of her relatives used to call bullets “antiseeds. Plant one and watch something die.”

The sun set some time before, casting the world in a blue filter that marks a striking contrast against the reds and yellows of the wasteland during the daytime and forcing the (again, appropriately named) Bullet Farmer to probe the darkness with a bright white spotlight (and randomly directed shots from his enormous arsenal). Planning to slow down the progress of their pursuer Max kneels down with a scoped rifle, takes aim at the spotlight, fires, misses. Again, he takes aim, fires, misses. Is informed that he only has two shots left for that rifle. For a third time, he takes aim, fires. For a third time he misses. One shot left.

Before he can take it, before he can hit or miss, Furiosa comes up behind him. Max glances at her, back down the scope, then hands her the rifle. We, the audience, already know she’s a brilliant shot with this weapon. We saw her using it to pluck motorcyclists out of the air like clay pigeons as they jumped over the War Rig, then use it to pick off an approaching straggler well in the distance. What makes this scene something special, why it is such a fantastic demonstration of the evolved relationship between the characters and their combined strength is that Max doesn’t get up. He remains kneeling, allowing Furiosa to rest the stock of the rifle on his shoulder as she takes aim at the approaching spotlight. He doesn’t need to be told, he just does, and while he’s obviously not entirely pleased by the thought of having a gun fire right next to his ear, when Furiosa says “Don’t breath,” he doesn’t. She pulls the trigger. The spotlight shatters into the face of the Bullet Farmer. The ambient noise of the film is replaced by the high-pitched whine of Max’s dying ear cells (there’s a reason you might not be happy about someone firing a gun right next to your ear). He doesn’t complain, just gives his head a shake.

A lesser character in a lesser film, with a lesser writer or director, would have felt the need for their male title to try and reassert some dominance and masculinity after being used as a prop by the female lead. Maybe with an offhanded remark about how he “was just about to do that” himself, maybe claim that some blunt force trauma to his head which occurred in an earlier fight (while saving the lady’s arse, of course) had thrown off his aim. Not Max though, and not Fury Road. He doesn’t say much at all. Just gets up and joins the others in getting the War Rig moving again. Cause we’re not watching Max’s story, we’re watching Furiosa’s story from Max’s perspective. It is Furiosa’s ambition, strength and desire that propel the story forward and drives the action. Max’s role is to support her in this, keep her moving forward, and at the end point her in the right direction to achieve those ambitions.

It reminded me of my parents. The supporting relationship, I mean, not the gun play. Both of them have their own plans, dreams and ambitions. When one needs to do something to achieve their goals, the other is there to provide the moral and physical support necessary to do it. Of course a big part of those ambitions was raising me and my siblings right. Making sure we achieve what we want to achieve.

The movie is a master-class in ‘show, don’t tell‘ and it’s what makes this film such an absolute joy of stoic characters and insane action. One of those important things is the relationship between Max and Furiosa. It is Furiosa’s desires and ambitions that are ultimately achieved, but I believe she could not have achieved them without Max’s help. Right here I want to be very clear that this is not a statement against Furiosa. Some would call her the best female action hero since Ripley in Alien and Aliens. I would call her better. She’s smart, fierce and amazingly capable. As I said, she drives the action, the plot and the motivations of the other characters. Furiosa is the knight errant rescuing the princesses from the tower, but Max is her squire. An important part of a more important character’s story, providing an extra pair of hands to maintain their steed, an extra fighter when she’s driving, a driver when she’s fighting, the hardened reinforcement to keep moving forward when she desperately wants to turn around but knows it would be folly (you know the scene if you’ve seen the film… “under the wheels”) and in the very end the herald announcing the end of her quest and displaying the trophy of her victory. In return for helping the hero on her journey Max receives the things he lacked travelling alone through the wasteland. Respect. Companionship. Hope. A cause worth fighting for beyond survival. Identity. Someone to witness who he was, who’d also understand what he was. Empathy. The Wives.

Fuckin’ hell, I cannot stress just how important the wives are to both Furiosa and Max. I’d call those two each other’s moral compasses, but it is the Wives who are the north that both end up trying to reach. A few commentators and reviews of Furiosa have missed the fact that in her first face-to-face meetings with both Max and Nux she tries to put them both down. Unsurprising, considering the context in which she meets them (threatening her and the women she is protecting with a shotgun and sneaking through the Rig to kill her, respectively). In both cases, it is the Wives that influence her actions during and afterward. It is the fact that Max, a feral dog after years in the wasteland with only his hallucinations for company, only bares his teeth (and nicks their ride, admittedly) even after Furiosa presses that shotgun against his head and pulls the trigger. He doesn’t harm the girls beyond what could easily be argued was necessary for his own survival, and so she sees the potential in trusting him to protect the Wives in the next scene. Between this she is ready to gut Nux but the Wives stop her. They call him a confused boy and his death as unnecessary. After this, it is the empathy of one of these wives that sees a scared, lonely and confused Nux (who knows he cannot possibly rejoin the society that was his whole identity, his whole existence) change sides and fight to protect the women who showed him compassion. In the end he does not desire to ride through Valhalla, shiny and chrome, he wants to be remembered by someone who genuinely cared about him.

As for Max, well, by the end of the movie he may not be sane but his experience with the Wives has reacquainted him with a sense of justice that he thought was dead at the beginning of the story. He sees Furiosa, who wants to do more than protect them, and grows from that. She wants to give the girls a chance to grow, live, make their own decisions, be more than just property, live up to their true potential. Is it Maternalism? Maybe. Probably. It certainly contrasts pretty sharply against the toxic paternalism and patriarchy of Immortan Joe and his hyper-masculine death cult. But isn’t that what all good parents want regardless of gender? For their children to live, thrive, and reach their own potential? To be happy? I bloody think so.

That’s what I think this movie is about. Two parents helping, learning from and supporting each other to give their adopted children a chance that they never had (or in Max’s case, was never able to give to his biological child… if we assume this is the Max from the original). A victory of Parentalism over Paternalism and Patriarchy. That is wonderful.

It also has a guy playing a flame-throwing guitar on the back of a giant doof wagon. That is also wonderful.

Go see Mad Max: Fury Road. It is wonderful.