Friday, February 19, 2010

The Wheel Of Fate Is Turning (Again)

Longtime readers of this blog will note that last year I sang the praises of Blazblue: Calamity Trigger, the little fighting game that could. Mind you, I was still playing the game's Story Mode through at the time and only a couple months after I finished the True Ending (which explains the multiple time paradoxes that frame the story and how pretty much every ending actually happens in a closed-off time loop--seriously, if I were to try to explain to you, your head would explode, so I'll let the TV Tropes page do what it can) It wasn't a hugely successful game, but it was successful enough to get an update, which, as some may grit their teeth, is more of a Championship Edition style upgrade, but with a twist--since Blazblue's True Ending smashes the time loop that the first game took place in, time is free to take a new path (indicated in the new game's subtitle, hence, our sequel/revision/whatever, Blazblue: Continuum Shift

And here's the intro from the arcade version:

Man, I am so stoked for this.

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Whole Damn Thing--THE PRISONER, Episode 17

(NOTE: I realise this episode is baffling, contentious, and utterly mystifying in spots. I also realise people have been writing huge great books of analysis and criticism of The Prisoner, and this episode specifically and I'm liable to come no closer to deciphering all the symbolism and all in this episode. So--my analysis will focus on the parts of the episode that I have a reasonably good handle on and also seem, in my eyes to being the "main idea" of the piece)

Right--Let's do this.

Episode 17--"Fall Out"

Last time, No. 2 and No. 6 squared off in a contest of wills and endurance. And No. 2 lost. Not just the contest, but his life as well. Upon winning, he declared his intention to meet Number One.

And off to the races we go. After a quick wardrobe change (back to his suit from "Arrival," indicating a return to "himself" or the completion of a circular journey, something that comes back a little later) Following a hallucinatory interlude he's taken to a place under the Village, which smacks of "Bond Villain Lair" as much as it does the usual queer aesthetic of the Village. One could be forgiven for thinking this was a completely separate entity from the Village.

But if one reads the cues, it's very much the Village. No. 6's guide dons a robe and mask and disappears into a mass of similarly dressed people, all of whom seem to be seated behind signs indicating generalities.

All of which snaps into focus as we meet the Judge, who declares that No. 6 has "vindicated the right of the individual to be individual" and declares that the assembly behind him has been called in a matter of crisis--to address the question of "rebellion." Eventually No. 6 will get his reward--whatever that might be--but first, he (and us) sit through the presentation of two cases of "failed revolt:"

The first is No. 48 (who you might recognise as The Kid from "Living in Harmony," and depending on how often you think about this stuff, may or may not be considered the same character) No. 48 is called by the Judge "Uncoordinated Youth . . .rebelling against any accepted norm because it must."

No. 48's trip seems to be to be as boisterous, loud and disruptive as possible (as he demonstrates a few times in the course of his "case") for no other reason than what is termed in the Internet age as "the lulz." But hidden within his seemingly random acts of rebellion are veiled messages aimed at the older, established, order (specifically that however rebellious he is, No. 48 is still one of them and is owed something by the community) As to what dooms his rebellion to failure, the clue may be in how The Judge attempts--somewhat deliriously--to communicate on No. 48's level and how the song he constantly sings is subsumed when the entire "jury" joins in with him. His rebellion "fails" because the elements of it can be co-opted by the established order and the "soul" of his rebellion (whatever that is--remember, this is the adolescent, "Whatever mom and dad are for I'm against" kind of rebellion) and if his rebellion is so easily defused, the notion is that ultimately he will one day quiet down and join the crowd.

Failed Rebel No. 2 is, appropriately, No. 2--resurrected for this occasion with the help of shaving cream, a sink plunger, and blinky lights. His crime is "being an established, stable member of the community and turning upon and biting the hand that feeds him." As dodgy as the circumstances of this are, it gets us to a rather good and meaty scene, wherein No. 2 explains what brought him to where he finds himself--he had power, influence, and all he imagined he wanted, and really only upon losing it ("dying") did he realise how ephemeral it all was--after all, the power he so coveted has moved to No. 6 with nary a pause in things and even the small dignity of his death was taken away from him.

The real crime, in his eyes "was that [he] resisted for so short a time." Only now, stripped of his power and his old life can he find it in himself to resist, simply because he has nothing else to lose. But even though this act of rebellion is heartening (and Leo McKern does method spitting not equaled until Timothy Dalton in that Dr. Who episode) his rebellion fails because it's too late--he's already been compromised by the life he leads and his rebellion can be ignored as the ravings a harmless crank who's just grumpy because he's not the one in charge again--the perception of fundamental dishonesty negates its power. And how sincere could be be, anyways? Dangle the promise of the same power he possessed before and wouldn't he fall back in line?

So now it's No. 6's turn. It's somewhat puzzling that after 16 episodes of trying to destroy the man every which way they could think of and a few no one had considered up to now that they're now venerating him as though he just cured cancer or turned water into wine. The Judge gives him everything he needs to return to his life--money, a key to his house, traveler's cheques--he can go anywhere he wants.

Or he can stay and lead them by example. That bit ends up being a bit more fraught than one imagines--Upon addressing the assembly, No. 6 can barely get three words out because everyone is shouting "I! I! I!" at the top of their lungs. This calls to mind the scene in Monty Python's Life of Brian where Brian exhorts his followers that they are all individuals, wherein they bleat out, in perfect unison, that they are all individuals.

So, leading this lot isn't an option. Or it's not an option anyone could take without going absolutely nuts. So all that's left is to meet Number One, who waits at the top of a huge rocket (the rocket thing is a bit puzzling unless you study some of The Prisoner's apocrypha--there's a subtle notion about The Village being a "perfect blueprint for world order" and in one alternate take of the pennyfarthing symbol over the end credits, the small-wheel microcosm--Earth/The Village--spins against the big-wheel macrocosm of the Universe, suggesting that the ultimate goal of the Village is to export itself beyond the planet. The globes that adorn Number One's lair seem to suggest this as well) Number One is, like the assemblymen down below, masked and anonymous. It's only when No. 6 reaches for the mask that things get . . .odd.

A quote from "Arrival" plays again and again, settling into a steady drone of "I . . .I . . .I . . ." (completing another "circle"--see the assemblymen in the previous scene) One mask is removed, for another, and No. 6 sees . . .a very nutty version of himself.

According to McGoohan, Number One was always envisaged as the ultimate threat--the evil side of oneself. If we take the episode literally, McGoohan suggests that perhaps the ideal way to deal with evil side of ourselves is to chase it round the table a few times, lock in in the nosecone of the rocket and shoot it into space. But as blatant readings of this episode usually collapse into gibbering nonsense, let's assume there's a deeper meaning here.

Number One is "defeated" (or disposed of) and No. 6 frees Nos. 2 and 48 fight their way out of the Village in a thrilling jailbreak. The Village is evacuated, Rover is destroyed, and it all seems appropriately climactic and cathartic. But it's actually this (pretty much dialogue-free) stretch that provides some very intriguing possible answers.

For one thing, the Village isn't in Lithuania or Morocco or whatever . . .it's just down the A20. That this inescapable "prison" is so close to No. 6's home suggests in a sense that the prison isn't necessarily a place as much as it is a state of mind. There's a strong notion, especially in McGoohan's later interviews that he saw the story of The Prisoner as a cycle--one no sooner slays his Number One than he must face it again, one no sooner "escapes" than becomes trapped again.

Completing circles, again.

No. 48 hits the road, hitchhiking one way and then the other, going whichever way seems like the most interesting. This echoes his "rebellion"--there's no real direction behind it, no idea except the fire of youth driving him up one road or across to the next.

No. 2 returns to a place of power, once again one the road to becoming the man he was. Or maybe not--maybe with a second chance and a opportunity to look from the "outside" and what brought him to where he was, maybe things will be different.

No. 6 returns home, hopefully a little wiser (although the fact that his door is suddenly automatic like his Village flat was is a bit surprising) and, like No. 2 seemingly appears to be on the same course that got him into this mess to begin with (the final shot of the series is an echo of the beginning of the first) Whether history repeats itself nor not we won't know--or can't--because that's where we leave it.

In a later interview McGoohan spoke about the fact that one couldn't absolutely rebel against society--if you did, you'd get ulcers or worse still, lose your mind. That ambivalence tempered with pragmatism ("this may not be completely "right" but I as a person have to find a way I can live in this world without compromising myself totally and without alienating myself from humanity"--or, to borrow Cheap Trick's little bit of wisdom "Surrender, but don't give yourself away") makes the rather elliptical ending work for me, even though I usually hate endings that contend that it's all a big journey around the wheel (not that there aren't enough symbolic clues to let you know that's waiting for you) it makes sense and the notion of it being an open and closed story all at once encourages the viewer to draw their own conclusions and formulate their own response to it.

As you can tell, I don't have all the answers to The Prisoner, and no one does (not on this side of the veil, anyway) But I think there are answers to be found, questions that one can ask oneself, things to be had fun with, things to be thought over. The worst kind of art provokes no reaction at all.

Fortunately, the one thing no one can ever accuse The Prisoner of doing is not provoking a reaction.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

50 Things I Had To Say About Avatar

Well, I did it. Being the whore for peer pressure that I am, I knuckled under and saw Avatar. In 3-d. What a trend-whore I am.

Naturally, as I am a loudmouth with a venue for my loudmouthery on the Innernet, I feel compelled to say something about it.

However, the crazy thing is . . .I don't really have a long dissertation about it. It was OK--nothing I'm in a hurry to see again or buy on DVD, it shows off the 3-d stuff pretty well but I am have no strong opinion about it one way or another, which is unusual for me, as I can usually find something to explode in an incandescent rage about, but here? Nahh. It was OK.

So, rather than try to weasel out of it and leave it at "Ehh, s'OK," I have elected instead to document some of the rather random thoughts I had about the movie. Ladies and jellyspoons, I give you 50 random thoughts about Avatar.

  1. Unobtanium? Really? They couldn't come up with another name somewhat more exotic and less on the nose than that? I hope TV Tropes had a good laugh at that one
  2. Let's go check--yep, they did.
  3. The older I get, the more I feel a bit conflicted about all these movies wherein a white savior comes along to learn the Deeply Spiritual Cultures societal mores (which he's automatically better at) and then becomes their leader and saves them from his own imperialistic group of evil honkies is more than a little patronising.
  4. Or racist.
  5. Funnily enough, I have seen the basic plot for Avatar about 25 years ago. Except it took place on a desert, and they called it Dune.
  6. This move has fewer sex offenders powered by anti-gravity devices, so it's a bit easier to take.
  7. Sigourney Weaver played Dianne Fossey, and plays Dianne Fossey if she would have had the option of wearing a gorilla suit to better blend in with the gorillas she was observing. That's the kind of meta referencing that folds in on itself with the same complicated patters that one might use to make a paper crane.
  8. Fun game to play while watching Avatar: Count how many time the lead actor's American Accent slips.
  9. The hammerhead shark elephant things are pretty inspired creature design. They were pretty damn gnarly.
  10. In fact, the planet and the floating mountains and stuff like that is mind-blowingly awesome, and feels so realistically done that it's a bit like watching a Discovery Channel documentary of a place that doesn't exist.
  11. The Na'Vi are . . .well, it's been a few months, I'm sure they're someone's fetish now.
  12. In fact, let's have a look at DeviantaAAAARRRRGH MY EYYYYYYEEESSSSS!
  13. There goes the last shreds of my innocence.
  14. This movie is comprised of so many predictable elements I was "ahead" of the plot at pretty much every turn.
  15. OK, so, everything in the planet is plug and play, and apparently the Na'Vi's hair actually has something that plugs into the animals and trees and stuff like that. So despite being a fully natural integrated ecosystem, Pandora is basically a big USB hub. Good to know.
  16. I'm pleased as punch that a USC linguist came up with the Na'Vi language, but, uhm . . .am I betraying my prejudices here when I say that by and large invented languages and stuff like that are a huge turn-off? If you feel the need to do it, well OK, but for God's sake please spend as much time on the story as you do on that, otherwise it's just gonna seem like empty show-offery.
  17. I kinda like that the romance (if you can call it that) is predicated on him being a non-entity and her insulting him at every opportunity until they get their USB dongles together and are all of a sudden in love sweet love for no other reason than the plot demands it.
  18. Reminds me very much of my relationships, except I never took any ladies out for a night of shooting arrows at things and learning the proper ceremonial way to shank them.
  19. I thought dinner and a movie would be enough.
  20. I'm kind of a sentimentalist that way.
  21. Hmm . . .wonder if the legend about the red dragon that no one else but this one venerated guy could ride will be important later?
  22. Oh hell, Wes Studi's in the movie, which pretty much guarantees he's gonna be dead before the end credits. Look, he's a good actor and it's not his fault that a Native American actor was picked to play huge-ass Thai kickboxer Sagat in Street Fighter--the man has to eat, for Christ's sake. Stop punishing him for one little mistake.
  23. And it has no parallel at all with Muad'ib riding the sandworms, nope. Couldn't possibly.
  24. Military dude needs a mustache so he can twirl the hell out of it.
  25. In parts, this movie reminds me of Ferngully.
  26. Not sure that's a good thing.
  27. Na'vi sex is . . .well, I'm changing USB devices in my computer as I type this and . . .it's kind of like that, only blue-er and somewhat less than erotic.
  28. But getting in on in sacred places shows how spiritual you are. Just ask Billy Jack or Columbo--they'll back me up on this one.
  29. You know, right before the whole run-up to the attack on Hometree, our heroes just kinda sit down and sulk for a good long stretch of time. I dare say I don't think much of our heroes' level of pro-activity.
  30. "Hometree" sounds like a bit of slag that's gone wrong, doesn't it?
  31. More and more it reminds me of where the Shirt Tales used to live.
  32. Except they had a cool rocket car and all the Na'vi have is USB 2.0.
  33. OK, so no one who's had their body downloaded into an Avatar at Funky Glowing Trees has ever survived the process. I wonder if this little tidbit of information will come in handy later?
  34. And that it will have no correlation at all to that moment when Muad'dib took the Water of Life, which every man up to that point that had tried to do had died horribly.
  35. Clearly, this movie makes me want to re-read Dune.
  36. Y'all should, too. But stop after book #4. Trust me.
  37. So all this stuff about the Earthers blowing the shit out of Hometree and the several minutes long montage of the Na'vi stumbling around shell-shocked and dislocated . . .wonder if that's an intentional parallel for anything from our history, say U.S. history? It all seems so familiar, somehow.
  38. Things this movie has taught me--the baddest airborne predator on an alien planet never looks up, meaning that altitude solves everything or the Na'vi WAY oversold the badass red dragon.
  39. Which, sure enough, our hero tamed and the Na'vi acted like he'd just cured cancer. I must be psychic.
  40. Credit where it's due--The Na'vi try to square off with the Earthers and get the living hell blown out of them. Now I like this part not because the Na'vi are getting slaughtered, but because, damn it all, I am still pissed about the Ewoks being able to hand the Empire their asses in Jedi.
  41. In fact, the action quotient of the movie is pretty darn bulletproof--the battles are exciting, there's too much crazy-ass camera work that obscures it, and it's done with enough variety that it keeps it interesting, and given that this movie is nearly three damn hours long, is a godsend in terms of not making it feel draggy.
  42. Plot's as dumb as a backward jackass, though.
  43. Hot shit, final battle time. The best part of this scene--and indeed, the movie--is that the mech suit Evil General had has like three huge guns on it, and when those get knocked off . . .he whips out a robot mech-suit sized knife. Yes, like Rambo and shit.
  44. I think more movies should have a robot with a knife, and he should be all like "I-WILL-CUT-A-BITCH." Yes, even romantic comedies.
  45. And the good guys win. Was there ever any doubt that the deeply spiritual blue lemur people who live in harmony with nature were going to take this thing?
  46. I mean, it's a bit more credible a victory than the Ewoks/Empire, sure, but . . .
  47. Oh dear, Our Hero is not doing well. I wonder in all the hubub has everyone forgotten about the resurrection tree that doesn't work.
  48. Unless you're the main character.
  49. Eyes open and . . .credits. OH CRAP A DRIPPY TITANIC-ESQUE LOVE SONG! RUN FOR IT!
  50. In conclusion, it's an OK movie--stunning visuals, plot you could dictate in your sleep, competent performances, stunning battle at the end. Mind you, if you decide to blaze one (or two) before you hit the theatre, I'm certain the visuals will be even more stunning and the story deficiencies will wash over you. Not that I in any way shape or form advocate the use of legally questionable ectstatogenic substances to enhance your viewing experience. I'm just saying the movie probably plays better after a few bong hits.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Whole Damn Thing--THE PRISONER, Episodes 13-16

Hey kids, remember how I was doing this, then dropped off sharply? Well, here's why--for one thing, time has been a precious and fairly rare resource. For another, this last stretch of Prisoner episodes is, by and larger, kind of a slog for me to get through because well, two of them I find to be an unpardonable slog and the other two are good, but I don't have a whole long essay in my about why they may or may not be good. So I decided in the name of Getting On With It, I'd go through the last 4 in one go and keep my powder dry for the utterly baffling finale, which I do have some things to say about and I'd get these things out of the way.

Think of it like the Boss Rush right before the last fight of a video game if it helps.

"Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling"--I don't usually like to drop the F-bomb here at the Prattle (in a rare example of restraint as I'd like the Prattle to have a slightly higher level of discourse) but really, fuck this episode in the ear. I've heard all the usual excuses--Patrick McGoohan was off filming Ice Station Zebra so they had to build an episode around him, but all they built was a craptacular waste of my life. No. 6 is replaced via Avengers-level mad science that switches his brain with that of an utter milquetoast with the screen presence of oatmeal, we get a bunch of No. 6 backstory and . . .and . . .screw this, I'm posting the Kosho clip again:

For the love of all that is good in this world please avoid this episode, as it is totally inessential and more importantly, it's complete and utter crap that I despise. It is the worst episode in the run without question and the memory of it pisses me off so much I want to go kick a nun in her shinbone.

But it's still better than the remake. Yeah.

"Living In Harmony"--This is the Lost Episode (it was left out of the original run in America and no one's sure why) and this is also the Western episode (as it begins with a Western-tinged version of the familiar opening credits) and with that nifty twist, I'd love to be able to tell you that the whole episode provides a necessary subversion of the standard Prisoner formula.

I'd love to, but that would be a lie. This episode is a god damned mess--it's paced like molasses, and because it makes its point in the first fifteen minutes and there's nowhere to go until the final battle/big reveal, which means we get thirty minutes (feeling like ninety) of the point being belabored over and over again. Then we get the reveal that the Western thing was Yet Another Village Plot, and in about ten minutes, the episode takes this weird-ass dark twist which is actually pretty intriguing, but seems to come from another episode altogether.

I don't know, guys--your mileage may vary on how effective it is, and it's worth at least one look, but it's not a favourite of mine.

"The Girl Who Was Death"--God I love that title. This episode gets knocked because it's basically a very silly trifle in which Patrick McGoohan spends the entirety of the episode sending up the entire 60's spy genre, but people who would say that are fools who know nothing. I love this episode--it has a real sense of goofy fun to it and oh lord don't we need that from time to time.

No. 6, in a tale set before the series, plays a secret agent who possesses a mightily unconvincing collection of fake mustaches and disguises is hot on the trail of Sonia, whose skill with creating elaborate deathtraps is matched only by her ludicrous eye makeup (seriously--they must be seen to be appreciated. They're the kind of thing that even drag queens would say "Really, honey? Really?") Also, people who play cricket get blown up, which is how I think every game should end, frankly.

I really liked this episode--it's got a lightness and humour to it that The Prisoner (no McGoohan himself) isn't really known for and it's at just the right spot--this nice little interlude before the ultra-heavy two-part finale. You may not think of it as your kind of thing, but give it a chance--I really rather liked it.

"Once Upon A Time"--The No. 2 from "Chimes of Big Ben" returns, and he's not fooling around. No more games, no more elaborate schemes, they have resolved to break No. 6 once and for all with something rather worryingly called Degree Absolute, which may or may not have something to do with roll-on deodorant. No. 6 is doped up (of course) and subjected to weird hypnotic flashing lights (of course, again) and regressed back to childhood, wherein No. 2 will take him through six of the Seven Ages of Man and try to break him down once and for all. The only way out is conversion or death . . .but for whom?

It sounds a lot better if I say it that way rather than "this is mostly Patrick McGoohan and Leo McKern yelling at each other on one set for an hour or so" Silly and limited as you might imagine the whole business to be, the intensity of the performance sweeps you up after awhile and it gets really to be really riveting. Apparently Leo McKern had an honest-to-goodness nervous breakdown while filming it, and I can see why--Degree Absolute is, performance-wise and literally, and endurance test.

It takes awhile to get into it, but "Once Upon A Time" is a grand episode, really, and the tension in it really gets you up for the finale. Whether or not it sets up a certain expectation for the finale is something we'll address next time.

Speaking of which, I can think of no cleverer way of setting up our discussion of the perpetually controversial final episode than just using the last lines of this episode:

"What do you desire?"

"Number One."

"I'll take you."

Next time--"Fall Out"

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Just Sayin'--Let's Talk About Comics For A Change

Hey y'all--apologies for the lack of updates, but in my defence, I've been dodging snowstorms and generally been pretty busy. Also, the next episode of The Prisoner in my series is God-Christ-Awful and will take any excuse not to write about it, because I have nothing to say about it. But as it's getting to the "just get on with it" event horizon, maybe soon.

But while we're waiting, a thought experiment for you--OK, so Marvel and DC both are beating the drums that their newer events post Dark Reign and Blackest Night will be a dramatic shift in tone away from the sturm und drang that has occurred for the past half-decade or so under the pens of Bendis and Johns.

Putting aside that it's a damning indictment that once again we have to have a big fuck-off event just to announce that We're Doing Something Different Now (instead of just getting on with the "something different") And the people bringing you this shift in tone are . . .Bendis and Johns, neither of whom has ever convinced me they can play outside of their very limited grooves to any great effect. I've never cared much for Bendis' work, and Johns has a high fail rate with me (though in the interests of fairness, Johns will come up with things I find intriguing, usually by accident)

So, uh . . .how's this supposed to work?