Warcraft

Alternate headlineWarcraft movie is so bad, David Bowie died after watching an advance cut!

Despite the jest, there are no strong feelings about the Warcraft film.  When reacting to the critics who are slamming the film, it’s important to keep the following in mind:  Most critics hate fantasy films, most video game movies are mediocre at best and there’s not any great expectations for Warcraft anyway.

It might seem a little ridiculous to say “critics hate fantasy films” in the age of a comic book movie.  All one has to do is look at the awards shows, though, and see that box office success does not translate to critical accolades.  The Dark Knight is one of the greatest movies of all time yet didn’t even get nominated for Best Picture (which went to Slumdog Millionaire).  Even after the number of nominations increased from 5 to 10 after that controversy, The Avengers didn’t warrant consideration in 2013.  This isn’t even a new phenomenon:  Annie Hall beat out the original Star Wars and Lord of the Rings only received the Best Picture honors in its last year when it should have won three consecutive awards.

So, yeah, critics aren’t going to like Warcraft or movies like it anyway.  Of course, video game movies have a pretty terrible track record.  What would be the best video game movie?  Resident Evil (which has inexplicably spawned a series of films)?  Tomb RaiderSilent HillMortal Kombat?  None of these are on the level of a Dark Knight or The Avengers, which comic book fans can proudly point to as great representatives of their medium.

Since critics aren’t going to like the movie and all since most video game movies are “eh” at best, the expectations for Warcraft should be very low.  It also faces some rather tough competition:  the star-studded Now You See Me 2, The Conjuring 2 (which will most likely be the popular alternative to the former) and for critical snobs there’s Genius.  Oh and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles sequel will be in its second week, which while action blockbusters tend to be front-loaded in their box office take, there will be that someone who thinks it’s worth seeing again (or didn’t see the movie the week before) and goes to see TMNT than Warcraft.

Let’s also not discount Blizzard’s rather awful track record with Warcraft since its merger with Activision back in 2008:  Wrath of the Lich King?  Hit but shouldn’t count since development on it started well before Activision and Blizzard got in bed.  Cataclysm?  Awful.  Mists of Pandaria?  Meh.  Heartstone?  Hit.  Warlords of Draenor?  Critical miss!

Sure, Warcraft could rejuvenate the series and be a super awesome fantasy movie this summer…but it won’t.  Critics already hate it.  Video game movies struggle to be “decent” at best.  Unless there’s more hardcore Blizzard fans than thought, people are going to be more interested in something else than what looks to be “ye olde derivative fantasy movie.”  Maybe a December release date would have been better?  Sure, it could still flop like Eragon and Narnia did but it’d also have a better chance of succeeding than it does now; sandwiched between Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Finding Dory.

The Future of Console Gaming

I used to have this magazine that was a holiday 2000 video game guide.  It detailed what sorts of games were worth getting, for what consoles and even speculated about the future.  This was around the time the PS2 launched in America and the Xbox and GameCube were only a year away.  SegaNet was also a thing, so there was an expansive piece on the future of online gaming and what it would mean.  I wish I still had the magazine itself but I remember it being very much a fluff-piece.  In essence, it argued “the future will be great!”  It’s interesting to think back on that magazine in a similar way that people get a kick out of seeing what the future would look like according to someone in the 1950’s.

It’s an article I thought back on when reading about the new Xbox console upgrade.  “In March, Xbox boss Phil Spencer dropped some hints about this new approach, telling journalists that he’d like to see consoles take a PC-like evolution.”  Well, hell, consoles have been on that trajectory since 2000 (at the very least)!  At this point, there’s no discernible difference between a console and a PC that’s relevant.  Some will argue hardware technicalities but as someone who values more important aspects like plot and functionality, arguing how graphically powerful a device is will fall on deaf ears here.

The first step towards console-PC integration was the inclusion of an internal hard drive with the original Xbox.  The magazine touted this up as a great feature that would “reduce load times” and be a substantial improvement over memory cards/cartridges.  That prediction was true for a time.  There was more than enough hard drive space for games on the original Xbox and the first half of the Xbox 360’s life span.  Then the attitude changed where players had to directly install games on to the drive to avoid issues (of the stability or loading variety) with games.  The Xbox One and PS4 now mandate it as a prerequisite to playing.

Games have also ballooned in size too.  It was pretty notable when an installed game on the 360 took up a few gigabytes.  Now games on the Xbone take up at least 20 and it’s not surprising to see them surpass 40.  20-40 GB games eventually add up on a game console, even if someone’s not using it as a multimedia device for Netflix or whatever else.  Factor in the paltry hard drive space of 500 GB and it’s a complete mess!  Compare that number to the store-bought computer I have that’s 6 years old, which has 700 GBs on it!  I suppose it’s just a marketing gimmick to sell external hard drives…

The real damning bit is online connectivity.  The magazine thought online gaming would be great:  “Keep playing your favorite games as developers can update them after release via the Internet!”  “Play with random strangers across the globe!”  It didn’t mention overpriced DLC.  There’s no mention of developers releasing unfinished games and then patching them later, if at all (or, if they’re really cruel, pricing them behind a paywall).  There’s no consideration that online gaming would be a factor in the death of split-screen multiplayer.

But enough sounding like a grognard, the damage “a PC-like evolution” has really done to consoles is rob them of what made them unique.  Before this generation, it was possible to buy a console and have a reliable piece of hardware that would last 6 years minimum.  If I ever wanted to scratch an itch for a certain game, all that needed to be done was take care of the console and it would still work.  Compare this to the nightmare of playing older games on a PC, where a change in the operating system can cause more than enough headaches.

That wasn’t enough of a selling point for consoles, though.  Now, companies need to “update” their hardware so they can keep up with the latest technology.  Shit like this is why it was difficult to get into PC gaming:  Every time a new and interesting PC game was out, something like a graphics card had to be updated so the game could be played.  And Sony and Microsoft want to bring that hassle into the console market?  More power to them but I’m going to go find a new hobby to pour time into.

Arrow

Saw this headline, read the ensuing article and found it to be a bit hilarious.  Not because a show’s fandom has turned against it to the point they’re hyping up another show but because of the article’s last sentence:  “If even these die-hard Arrow fans who made it through 4 seasons of camp can’t continue, it probably isn’t looking good for the show’s prospects.”  Now there’s no point in arguing Arrow season 4 is any good because it isn’t (the penultimate episode of the season got the lowest rating in the show’s history) but we can take issue with a pessimistic take on the show’s future.  We can also argue whether Arrow’s camp or not (it isn’t).

“It probably isn’t looking good for the show’s prospects.”  Well, Arrow just got renewed for a 5th season.  Obviously, The CW isn’t going to hold shows to the same standards as FOX or CBS would…but a renewal (especially after 5 seasons) is pretty good for what a network thinks about a show’s prospects.  Having a full season order to turn possibly turn things around is a lot more than the majority of TV shows get.

The above paragraph is only taking issue with half the quote, the other half labeling Arrow as “camp.”  Considering that using the word “camp” to describe a superhero TV show brings to mind the 1960’s Batman series, it’s absolutely hilarious to imply Arrow‘s in the same league.  In fact, the majority of complaints about the show are that it’s “too dark/serious/brooding, especially when compared to more ‘fun’ shows like The Flash or Legends of Tomorrow.”  It’s actually quite nice that Arrow stands out in that regard and gives people who prefer grittier, street-level heroes a watchable option.

So, if Arrow‘s not campy and the show’s prospects look good, what the hell went wrong the past two seasons?  Well, look at the correlation.  Most people enjoyed the pilot but the show didn’t really take off until The Odyssey episode, where Slade and Oliver develop an unlikely friendship in the flashback.  Sara Lance and her mother’s search for her also becomes a plot point around this time and Sara eventually appears.  From that episode on until the end of season 2 is considered the pinnacle of the show.

Season 2 bears some more mentioning because of how fucking awesome it is!  Slade basically gets injected with a drug that gives him superpowers (strength and accelerated healing) as well as making him crazy.  Events on the island cause Slade to lose his grip on reality and his friendship with Oliver disintegrates.  Things go south on the island, to the point where Oliver has to kill Slade…except he didn’t.  Slade survived and now wants revenge on Oliver, planning to achieve this by murdering everyone he lives (the entirety of Star City).  Sara reappears and some plot is devoted to figuring out how she’ll go about rekindling her relationships with various loved one while being pursued by the League of Assassins.  There’s also various other excellent subplots (Oliver training a sidekick, what happens when a rich idiot doesn’t do his day job, to name two).

Season 2 ends with the Slade plot being resolved and the third season opens with Sara being killed by a mystery assailant.  In two episodes, the show had neutralized one of its best villains and killed off one of its strongest characters.  This results in two of the show’s best actors (Manu Bennett and Caity Lotz) no longer being on the show.  There’s an episode of season 3 that encapsulates the decline; the episode where Slade escapes from his prison on the island and Oliver has to team with/protect his sister.  Now, Slade as a villain had a season and a half’s worth of focus so he’d be worthy of a multi-episode arc, right?  Wouldn’t it have been awesome to see how Ra’s al-Guhl figures Slade into his plans to make Oliver his successor (or how Slade would interact with the League)?  Instead, the issue’s resolved at the end of a single episode.

As for Caity Lotz’s Sara, she’s eventually revived via the Lazarus Pit so she can have a lead role on Legends of Tomorrow.  Unlike Slade, she at least gets some focus.  She’ll be missed on Arrow full-time, however, because of the talent and intensity she brought to the show (watch her fight scenes and compare them to anyone else’s).

Arrow has a future and it could be a good one.  Bringing back Slade or Sara would be a cheap fix but a better way would be to look at that stretch of episodes from The Odyssey to the season 2 finale; all the while taking notes on what worked.  Strong characters, drama between them, a competent villain, more science and street-level heroics than magic nonsense…these are the elements that made Arrow a great show.  Re-implementing them will give the show an excellent shot at returning to its season 2 form.

Hold the Inconsistencies

An HBO affiliate ended up releasing “The Door” episode of Game of Thrones a day early. The spoilers for that episode and the feedback for it was so wut-tastic that I had to lift the moratorium on watching the show to see the craziness for myself. The episode did not disappoint. It also looks like the source for this insanity is the laziness of the show-runners, as evident from all the narrative inconsistencies.

Without George R.R. Martin’s framework to keep the show in check, Game of Thrones has careened into a nonsensical mess. Just look at how Sansas interacts with Littlefinger, Jon and Brienne. She correctly tells off Littlefinger for “saving her from the people who murdered her family so he could give her to the other people who murdered her family.” Then she takes his word that the Blackfish has retaken Riverrun seriously enough that she sends Brienne away from Castle Black. Oh and she trusts Jon Snow enough to use him as a symbol to rally the Northern houses but not enough to tell him about Littlefinger’s visit?

The nonsense isn’t limited to the North either. The summit on Pyke to determine who will become the new King of the Iron Islands ends with Euron Greyjoy being chosen over Yara. They justify this by saying “Yara’s a woman and thus can’t rule” but it doesn’t Euron, who even admits to murdering the previous King (who is his own brother). Remember when Jamie Lannister’s reputation as the “King-slayer” was a major plot point and was used to develop his character? Or when the death of a character leading a house destabilized it?

These are but mere nitpicks compared to this visual…

fleet

So, Yara, can steal the entire Ironborn fleet to the point Euron’s first act as King is to order people to deforest the Iron Islands to “build 1,000 ships”….but she can’t win enough votes to become Queen? Maybe the writers should have played The Witcher 3, which shows how this type of plot should be done!

Of course, any review of this episode wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Bran. Bran in season 1 ignores an elder (his mother) to do something he’s not supposed to (climb a tower), the consequences of which results in him being paralyzed, the near-extinction of his entire family and the deaths of thousands (if not, millions) of people. So it makes total sense that he would ignore the wishes of an elder (Bloodraven) to do something he’s not supposed to (use his seer powers unsupervised); the consequences of which results in him being branded by the Night King, which allows the King to find where Bran’s located. The ensuing raid results in a near total party kill of Bran’s traveling company as well as the deaths of Bran’s mentor and the Children of the Forest.

Oh and the scene where Bran’s marked and Bloodraven has a sense of urgency of getting Bran to safety? The next scene shows them leisurely watching a past vision that doesn’t really relate to the story. Nothing says “immediate danger” like taking the time to casually view past events!

The real admission that Game of Thrones has gotten lazy and nonsensical is through an indirect admission by the writers themselves. From Slate: “When we first started working on the show, we did not want to do flashbacks because oftentimes it seems like a hallmark of lazy storytelling.” It’s no coincidence that season 5 (universally considered the worst season) began with a flashback and they’ve only become more frequent since.

Some book readers will cling to the hope that George R. R. Martin will handle these scenes better. Well, keep the following in mind when Brandon Sanderson eventually finishes the books: “[The Hodor twist came] from one of our conversations with [author George R.R. Martin]. This is one of his ideas that he told us in Santa Fe. We thought it was f–king fantastic.”

The Nice Guys

Comedies are often difficult to review because humor is so subjective among the viewing audience. Some people love loud, screaming nonsense punctuated with bodily harm. Others like sophisticated word-plays and “clever” dialogue that relies on established call-backs. Yet despite its marketing, The Nice Guys isn’t really a comedy but a action-comedic take on a 1940’s noir film.

Yeah, if that sounds weird, imagine paying to see a comedy and two hours later, walking out of an action/parody thriller.

The main strength of the movie is its excellent cast. Russell Crowe’s character is an enforcer whose methods are fairly direct. It’s a good contrast to Ryan Gosling’s role; a smartass private investigator who despite his incompetence (he’s dubbed the worst detective in the world by his own daughter, who also is kinda his secretary) occasionally has flashes of mad genius. If the movie was two hours of the duo bantering and interacting with one another (and Angourie Rice, who plays Ryan Gosling’s daughter), it’d be a great film.

Instead, the film struggles to find its footing between “comedy/parody” and “action conspiracy thriller.” The film’s plot revolves around Crowe and Gosling trying to locate a missing person and end up stumbling upon a vast conspiracy involving the federal government, Detroit car companies and the Los Angeles porn industry. There’s a good parody film that could be made with those elements but The Nice Guys fails to walk the line separating “comedy” from “serious.”

Take the film’s climax, for instance. It’s mostly an action set-piece but the moments where comedy is implemented really throws the film off-balance. There’s a scene where the duo are held up at gunpoint and then Ryan Gosling makes a sudden move trying to grab a gun from Russell Crowe’s leg. Crowe doesn’t actually have an “ankle gun” because Gosling hallucinated him having one earlier in the film…but the person holding them at gun point just stands there with a weird look on their face. Why doesn’t the gun-toting individual just shoot Gosling, especially if that person has told him to not to make any sudden moves!

If you’re nostalgic for the 1970’s, The Nice Guys should more than fit the bill. There are some moments that are legitimately funny and they mostly come from Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling having fantastic chemistry. The problem is the film never decides on its identity and any moment it comes close to doing so, it shifts gears.  Not recommended!