Friday, 23 August 2013

Devil's Advocate: Batman

The internet is once again abuzz with a controversial casting decision:  Ben Affleck will be the next Batman, making his début in the next Superman film.  The majority of responses have been 'Noooooo!' or 'I must be dreaming!  This can't be happening!', but is all this just an overreaction?  After all, this isn't the first time Batman has had controversial casting decisions, and in some cases the actors have pulled off performances that many consider couldn't have been done better by anyone else.  So let's have a brief retrospective of other casting controversies in the Batman series (only going by the films).

"Warner Bros. received thousands of letters of complaint by fans commenting that he was the wrong choice to portray Batman, given his prior work in comedies and the fact that he lacked the suave, handsome features and tall, muscular physicality often attributed to the character in the comic books."  This is not a future biography of Affleck, but it is in fact a quote from Wikipedia regarding Michael Keaton- the man who reignited the public's interest in Batman after the campy Adam West series of the 60s.  Keaton's portrayal received wide-spread praise, and Batman would become one of the highest grossing movies of 1989.  Also of note from this Batman reboot is Jack Nicholson as the Joker- a multiple Oscar-winner, his portrayal of the chaotic evil Joker is considered one of the best performances of his career.

Val Kilmer was the next Batman, and he seemed like he could portray the role better than Keaton due to his more muscular figure.  And sure enough he was a good Batman, able to keep up with all the fight scenes etc- but his Bruce Wayne performance was lacklustre, and so he received mixed reviews.  Proof, therefore, that perhaps Bruce Wayne is more important than Batman?  After all, most of Batman's screen time can be filled by a stunt double, especially with digital enhancement.

Next came Batman and Robin, featuring George Clooney as Batman- this may have been a controversial choice, but his performance is vastly overshadowed by the poor writing and direction of the film, and the performances of his co-stars.  Of course this was the film so bad that it killed the franchise for almost 10 years.

Then came Batman Begins, with Christian Bale- perfectly suited for the role, the only criticism people tend to have of him is his at-times ridiculous gravelly voice.  There was little controversy about his casting, but then came The Dark Knight, featuring the character that inspired me to be 'Devil's Advocate' for Ben Affleck:

Heath Ledger as the Joker.  This was the biggest controversial casting decision that I can remember from any movie, let alone Batman.  Ledger had previously been known for playing handsome leading men- specifically a gay cowboy- and now they wanted him to be a psychopathic villain in clown makeup, that had to top Jack Nicholson's performance.  And it worked better than anyone would have believed.  Sure, there's a lot of cynics that say he was only good because of some sense of guilt over him dying, but it's indisputable that he did a solid performance and showed he could pull off a role that no-one would expect from him.

This is where Ben Affleck comes in.  Affleck is known for being an actor that stars in films that receive bad reviews, yet inexplicably do well in the box office (shades of Val Kilmer?).  He is known for playing... well, himself.  He has said himself that people don't see him as a fictional character- they only see him as Ben Affleck, and being Batman may be a way to overcome that (reminiscent of Heath Ledger?  Before the Joker, Ledger was always instantly recognisable as 'that guy').  He also doesn't have the muscles to be Batman, but then the story is that Batman's coming out of retirement so he's bound to be a bit out of shape (and again, where were Michael Keaton's muscles?).

Ultimately, I think Affleck could portray an excellent Bruce Wayne- so long as people try and see him as the character and not the actor.  In my mind, the man is always more important than the suit as that's where the character is developed (and from a technical view, you can always hire a stunt man).

That being said- this film is guaranteed to have high box office ratings due to the subject, so does he need to redeem himself?  Why not stay typecast as the man who stars in inexplicably successful bad movies?  Then when this movie kills the franchise for another ten years, Affleck could work on becoming the next George Clooney...

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Monthly Update: 8/13

Greetings Readers!

As you may have noticed, a logo has been developed and the blog has been revamped to accommodate it.  Aside from that, shop developments are all about potential this month- potential supplier, potential backer, potential new job, potential house to move to... End of the month is when I should have some news about moving, and once we've moved then I'll get to know some of my future customers and hopefully set up a gaming group!  We're looking to move within commuting distance of Bristol and as such the group will probably be based in the city centre, though depending on where we live then it could be based in Weston-Super-Mare, Midsomer Norton, or even Newport.

As for the blog- I've got a few series' of posts on here now, which gives me an idea for what people want to read.  As such I'll endeavour to write more of my more popular posts (Traveller's Guide to Faerun, and Devils Advocate), and I'm going to drop the Doctor Who reviews in favour of more general reviews; I'll be reviewing both films and video games, and I will be tending towards Steampunk and Fantasy themes, though there may well be some completely unrelated things involved as well (one series I'm considering is overanalysis of Disney films, as I love over-extending metaphors).  Once I've established a gaming group I will be looking to review some of the games we play as well, and if we're playing a long-term campaign it's probable I'll be writing an accompaniment on the blog, essentially a novelised version of the game.

So... a fair bit to look forward to; next month will have Asylum coverage and hopefully news on the move as well!

Until next time,


Saturday, 17 August 2013

The Traveller's Guide to Faerun: Furthinghome (Elven Quarter)

I told the innkeeper of my predicament, and he seemed evasive.  'I wouldn't know nothing about that sir,' he said, 'but a word to the wise- wear your hood up round these parts.  Not much love for elves here.'
'But I'm not an elf...  I've never even seen an elf.'
The innkeeper shook his head.  'Doesn't matter to the people of Furthingharrow; to them, pointy ears equals elf and elf equals self-entitled foreign pansy that gets everything handed to them on a plate whilst us humans are forced into the gutter.'
'What happened for things to get like this?'
I would soon regret asking that question.  For the next hour or so I received a lecture on the history of
The Elves' feared for the future of Yuirwood
Algarond- fascinating, but I'd prefer to hear it from a scholar than a bartender.  Basically, half-elves pre-emptively invaded the human towns on the north coast to prevent the Yuirwood from being destroyed to further human expansion.  The humans saw this as typical elven obnoxiousness, believing they wouldn't have had an impact on the huge Yuirwood, and so the majority moved further up the coast to found Altumbel.  The ones that remained have been stewing hatred ever since, and now that Algarond is ruled by a human- the Simbul- these remaining humans think they have a chance to overthrow their elven oppressors.  The only problems are that the Simbul was a half-elf's apprentice, has her hands full dealing with Thay, and is quite possibly insane.

After this lesson I thanked the innkeeper and enquired about work to reclaim my stolen money.  He asked if I had adventuring experience which I found a little odd.  I said I hadn't, so he suggested going to the rich side of town and helping in the elven greenhouses, as at least there I wouldn't have to disguise myself.  

I found the transition quite remarkable.  As I walked through the streets the buildings became less weathered-wood and more solid stone, and the city seemed to visibly brighten as I headed into the wealthier area.  Here I got my first good look at elves, or half-elves at least, and was shocked to find they looked almost exactly the same as humans.  From the way the innkeeper spoke I thought their ears would be like
Elf ears do not look like this.
scythes attached to their heads, but these half-elves ears were shorter than mine!  If I hadn't known to look at their ears I wouldn't have noticed any difference, aside from their much more refined dress.  Of course, I wasn't here to study them as if they were some alien species (though I suppose they technically were, to me)- I was here to work.  It seemed taverns were the best place to find prospective employers, so I headed to the closest one- The Aglarond Arms.  What a change from the Beached Mermaid!  This place was huge, with lovely wooden flooring, a grand fireplace, several fine dining tables, the smell of woodsmoke, and even at this time of day it was busy with patrons- who I became disconcertingly aware were all staring at me and had suddenly gone very quiet.  I realised I must look very out of place in my tattered rags, and thankfully as I lowered my cowl revealing my glorious ears there was an audible sigh of relief.  I approached the bar, which was decorated with all sorts of paraphernalia, and caught the attention of the admittedly somewhat attractive barmaid; clearly a full wood elf judging by the lovely copper shade of her skin.  I avoided flirting with her as I know how much annoyance it must cause from other patrons, and simply asked about work in the area.
'Oh another adventurer...'
'People keep calling me that...  Why?'
'You mean you're not?  I'm sorry, it's just we don't get many non-elves here, and what with the robes...  Can I get you a drink?  My name's Melindraea.'
'Thank you Melindraea, my name is Zephran, but regrettably I am short of coin.  Hence why I'm looking for work?'
'Oh, I see.  Um... actually yes, there was someone looking for help with his dahlias- Sir Rayner, he lives at the large house on Queen's Street, you can't miss it.'
'Thank you, I look forward to seeing you again, Melindraea.'

'Yes?'  The man who opened the door certainly wasn't what I was expecting.  I expected a frail old man that couldn't look after his flowers, and instead I'm greeted by a man in full ceremonial golden armour.
'Sir Rayner?  I was told you needed some gardening help...?'
He gave a snort of derision.  'Gardening?  Please, that's when it's done out of necessity.  This, my boy, is horticulture.  Say, you're an Outsider aren't you?  Not taking revenge for that little misunderstanding in Sigil are you?  No, you'd have to be better armed than that... Oh well, come in and let's see what you can do.  Judging by your stubble I don't hold out much hope though.'
A painting of Sir Rayner
I followed Sir Rayner into a veritable mansion in pristine condition.  The walls were decorated with trophies from all manner of beasts; clearly this man had seen his share of adventure.  I was led out to a small glass house in which were kept various plants.
'Right, let's see what you can do.  Clear the weeds from these roses, and perhaps I'll let you have a go at the dahlias.'
He handed me a pair of gloves and what looked like scissors.  I was momentarily taken aback- how do you make things grow by cutting them?  Nonetheless I made a few careful cuts on the plant, not entirely sure what I was doing but desperate for the money.
'Hmm!  Not bad, you seem to be very careful, you must take a lot of pride in your work!  Very well, I shall leave you to it.  I'll be in the conservatory writing this blasted report if you need me, you can leave at dusk as I've got to be at the palace.  I've fought hordes of orcs, demons, even dragons, but nothing terrifies me more than meeting with the Simbul!'

As I worked I found the experience quite relaxing, and soon my mind began to wander.  I reflected on the past couple of days, and how strange things were in this world.  The humans resent the half-elves, and the half-elves seem fearful despite being the ones in charge.  But if Sir Rayner was a half-elf, then it certainly seems they have the capability to be ruthless...  And what of full elves?  There must be some remaining in the forests, yet the half-elves do all the fighting for them?  Perhaps I should ask Melindraea about her people?

'Elves hide in their forest, whilst men chop it down,
Elves' ultimatum: stop or we'll frown.
Men's response: we can't or we'll drown!
You have your forest, we have our town,
Logging won't make a dent- your forest won't brown!

Humans claim they mean Elves no harm.
Elves are not swayed by the humans' charm.
Elves take too long to make their decision,
Half-Elves step in to make a swift incision.

Half-Elves now rule Aglarond,
Gone is the Human/Elf bond.

Half-Elves are neither Elven nor Human,
Now they are treated as some mutant fusion.
Better than Humans, lesser than Elves,
What sort of future will they carve for themselves...?'

'What was that?' said Sir Rayner.  He had apparently been stood behind me some time.
'Oh, I was just singing to myself.  Sorry, I won't let my mind wander again.'
'Don't be a fool man!  That was marvellous!  Not many understand the decision we had to make; if we waited for our elven fathers then the forest would be destroyed!  Taking control of the humans was the only way to stop them from getting out of hand.'
'I'm glad you liked it...'
'Hah!  You've inspired me, boy, we need to get you to the Simbul!  Tell me, have you ever considered becoming a bard?'

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Rooksburg Reviews: Father's Day

Doctor Who s1e08: Father's Day

Rose comes to the realisation that she can travel to any point in time, and uses the opportunity to visit her father, who she never knew.  She witnesses his death, and as she laments that he died alone, she convinces the Doctor to go back so she could comfort him.  Instead, she saves his life, causing a paradox and attracting the attention of the Reapers, creatures that feed on paradoxes which would result in...

Seriously, who designed this??
Sigh, we've already reached this episode's fatal flaw and that's the lack of explanation as to what the Reapers are and how they work.  All that is said about them in-universe is that the timelords could prevent them getting involved when they caused paradoxes, and that they are like bacteria that sterilise the wounds of time.  The implication is that they are 4th dimensional beings that can only break through when the walls of time are thinner, at which point they consume everything around them unless the paradox resolves itself; however due to the shoddy writing I found myself thinking they were some sort of time-police that were attempting to fix the paradox themselves, in which case it made no sense that the Doctor would try to stop them because he knew things had to be back the way they were.  Ultimately the Reapers are a great concept, but very poorly explained- and it doesn't help that they're so poorly designed, looking like a 5-year old's attempts at morphing several plasticine creatures together.

This story desperately wanted to explore how paradoxes work, but because it's an episode of Doctor Who they had to shoehorn a monster in somewhere.  It is clear they wanted to explore a variation of the grandfather paradox- Rose knows how her father died so goes back to save him, but if he lived then she wouldn't have had a reason to go back.  The usual resolution of this paradox is the victim dying a completely different way, which proves the time-traveller's attempts useless in the face of destiny.  That may be a bit depressing for a family show, so they dwell more on the butterfly effect- even an insignificant nobody could have a profound effect on history, based on all the little things adding up.  Throughout the episode the Doctor keeps reminding us that nobody's unimportant, and that countless variables made things the way they are.  Now they couldn't think of an appropriate way to wrap up the story, so along come the Reapers, ensuring the only thing changed in the history books is that Pete committed suicide rather than get killed in a freak hit-and-run incident.  Personally I would have preferred the alternate ending in which Pete survives and is motivated to build a successful business empire as seen in Rise of the Cybermen, but understandably they needed Earth to remain unchanged for future stories.

A touching father-daughter moment.
Regarding the characters, there's a fair amount of development.  We see what Rose's father was like (incidentally Shaun Dingwall is one of the better actors you'll see this series), and how Jackie used to be (as insufferable as always).  Young Mickey gives the performance you would expect from a child actor (I'm scared, but can't stop smiling because I'm on Doctor Who).  The Doctor has conflicting feelings regarding humans- one second Rose is 'just another stupid human' but the next he's comforting a soon to be wed couple saying they're the most important creatures in the universe, and ultimately he demonstrates his willingness to sacrifice himself for humanity.  Finally, Rose reveals how selfish and short-sighted she is.  It's heavily implied that she planned to save her father from the moment she knew the TARDIS was a time machine, with no thought to any repercussions, and even as the world dissolves around her she still seems unphased, and of course next episode it'll be as if nothing happened at all.  It is this episode above all others that makes me wonder how she could be anyone's favourite companion, and at the risk of sounding like a deranged fangirl, I can't believe she's the one the Doctor would fall in love with.

First Impressions: Not entirely sure what's going on, but it's alright
In Retrospect: Reapers are annoying, and why haven't they showed up in the countless other paradoxes throughout the series?

Why am I still watching this show when every episode seems to have such terrible flaws?

Next Time: The Empty Child/ The Doctor Dances

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Doctor 12 Revealed!

Doctor... Who?
It seems a little redundant, but be warned there are spoilers in this post.  I'd be amazed if you made it here without already knowing though.

On June 1st, Matt Smith announced he would be stepping down as the Doctor, stating 'when you gotta go, you gotta go'.  Since then he has expressed regret, after seeing the fans' reactions, but it was too late- the search for probably the most iconic character on British television had begun.

The internet was abuzz, and the usual speculation started again- would the Doctor be a black man? A woman? An unknown actor like Matt Smith was, or a well-known celebrity?  Young to attract younger audiences, or older to go back to the show's roots?  And most importantly, would the Doctor be ginger?  All sorts of names popped up at betting offices, ranging from Russell Tovey (best known from Being Human), to Olivia Coleman (Hot Fuzz) and Rupert Grint (Harry Potter)- some even had odds for Grint's Hogwarts classmates Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson!

The BBC then decided to make a live announcement for the new Doctor, as they would rather make an official announcement than have yet another online leak spoiling it for everyone.  Funnily enough this live special was announced around the same time one particular actor shot up in the bookies' odds- to the point where he became favourite and no further bets were taken.  This man had appeared in the show before, was an avid fan of the show, and would keep to the tradition of the Doctor being a middle-aged white man, so seemed like a pretty safe bet- and the rumours turned out to be true, as this is the face of our new Doctor:
The 12th Doctor: Peter Capaldi
"The list went 'Peter Capaldi'.  It was a very short list."- words from Stephen Moffat, who apparently thought Capaldi was the only option to succeed Matt Smith.  For those of you who don't recognise him, he has previously featured in In the Loop, the BBC TV adaptation of Neverwhere, and The Thick of It.  It goes without saying that he is an excellent actor, but will he make a good Doctor?  Only time will tell.  But where's the fun in waiting?  Time for speculation!

First, an observation of previous regenerations: The replacement always has a personality that addresses the previous incarnation's weakness.  Going just on the new-series Doctors, Nine's weakness was his aggression so Ten became much softer and more forgiving- but in doing so became overly sensitive and so his relationship with Rose became his weakness.  Indeed his constant acceptance ate him up inside until he couldn't take any more, leading to the 'Time Lord Victorious' element towards the end of his arc.  Eleven did away with any love for humans (the exception being River Song, whose relationship I see as more of a pre-destination paradox but more on that in a later blog).  He chose instead to go back to treating humans as an icky alien species and generally jumped to conclusions quicker than previous Doctors that so far seem to have paid off.  As a result, I believe this new Doctor will counter Eleven's short-sightedness and be much more methodical, planning before he acts, possibly resulting in another 'greater good' scenario echoing the Time War.  And I believe he won't necessarily make the right decision, as part of his progression into the inevitable Valeyard.  Looking at Capaldi, he has a very sinister look- especially in his promotional video:

This suggests his Doctor will have a darker edge to him, and he looks much more serious than Smith whilst still having a mischievous side- in fact closely resembling the first Doctor, William Hartnell.  Recent viewers of Doctor Who may be surprised to learn that the first Doctor was very different from the one we know and love- he was an old man that stole a TARDIS, lived as a recluse, and was extremely curious- often putting his companions in harm's way just to explore a little further.  If Moffat does have plans to descend slowly towards the Valeyard, then I shall certainly be interested to see what happens next...

Saturday, 3 August 2013

The Many Themes of Disney: An Overanalysis

For over 75 years, Disney has been synonymous with good animation.  And for good reason.  Most people watched a Disney film so far into their childhood they don't even remember it; all they remember is that it was good.  Then as they grow older they start to notice all the political incorrectness, and over-extend metaphors for drugs, and devise drinking games with their college buddies.  Then they grow older still and become parents, realising how effective the morals are and deciding their children could learn a thing or two, and so the circle of life continues.

That being said, everyone has differing views on different films- for instance my personal favourite is Hunchback of Notre Dame despite it receiving comparatively low ratings.  I have given this some thought, and separated groups of films into several recurring themes- if my theory is correct then the most popular films should contain several of these themes, whilst the least popular may only contain one or two.  More may follow in a future update.

The Princesses.
Newest at the front, ethnics at the back.
The theme Disney wants you to believe in.  Children want to be the princesses, young adults want to criticise the 'forgotten' princesses, and adults want good role models for their children (something only recently being addressed by Disney).  For the purposes of this article, I will divide the princesses accordingly.
The 'popular' princess films: Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Tangled, and Princess and the Frog.
 Odds are children will want to imitate the heroine from at least one of these films, and if they do then the theory is that they will enjoy the others in this group.  Note that they have been getting progressively 'stronger' as society has progressed to have better female role models.
The latest 'Disney Princess'
The 'other' princess films: Pocahontas, Mulan, Brave, The Black Cauldron, Wreck-it-Ralph, and Princess and the Frog.  These are the princesses that some claim Disney have 'pushed aside' due to being unmarketable, whether due to ethnicity or age.  Note the inclusion of Princess and the Frog, as some consider the film to be too recent for Tiana to be forgotten, but her time is coming due to her ethnicity.  These films are most enjoyed by those that enjoy pointing out Disney's political incorrectness.  Incidentally these are also the strongest female role models.
The 'hipster' princess films: Bambi, Peter Pan, Robin Hood, Hercules, Atlantis, and Enchanted.  This category is so named as it is most enjoyed by those that have a smug self-satisfaction when explaining to others how the female leads are 'technically' Disney princesses whilst not being officially considered as such.  These viewers are most likely to call Princess Leia their favourite princess, as she's 'technically' a Disney princess now.

Prominent examples: Aladdin, Robin Hood, Sword and the Stone, Princess and the Frog (special mention to the Little Mermaid, which used snake-like fish).
Just ignore the fact he sounds like Winnie the Pooh.
Snake imagery is used a lot in Disney, occasionally in a hypnotic form (see: Kaa, and Jafar's staff).  Interestingly they are always shown as cowardly- a somewhat unusual characterisation that I don't believe I have seen outside of Disney.  More typically, they are also shown as highly untrustworthy.  They are always a supporting villain (except in Princess and the Frog, which subverted many clichés), to the extent that the majority of appearances happen in the various tv spin-offs.  If you enjoy this Disney-specific archetype, your favourite film is likely to be the Jungle Book.

Most commonly occurring in contemporary films, cats are often inherently evil or at the very least mischievous- rarely are they shown in a positive light.
Never trust a grinning cat.
'Evil' cats: Sword and the Stone, Cinderella, Basil the Great Mouse Detective, Emperors New Groove, Pinocchio.  The cats are most commonly manipulative, greedy, or outright evil.  Not unique to Disney, as many consider real-life cats to be inherently evil and vindictive.  If you enjoy evil cats, your favourite film is probably Lady and the Tramp- two evil cats for the price of one, and as you're probably a dog person you get the bonus of the protagonists being dogs.
'Big' cats: Jungle Book, Tarzan, Aladdin.  Interestingly, big cats are wise and friendly- with the exception of Sabor from Tarzan who is a mindless killer.  Naturally, if you enjoy films with big cats then your favourite film is the Lion King.
'Mischievous' cats: Aristocats, Pinocchio, Oliver and Company.  Often these cats are kittens that are yet to learn they're supposed to be evil, however your favourite is probably going to be the Cheshire cat from Alice in Wonderland.

Alcohol/ Drug references.
Almost every film involves alcohol or other drugs- seriously, keep an eye out next time you watch one.  It may be for brief moments, such as glasses of wine in Aladdin, or the feast of fools in Hunchback, but at other times it's more noticeable- join me as I play 'Drink along with Disney'.
Robin Hood- Sir Hiss gets drunk after being trapped in a barrel of (strangely coloured) ale.
Beauty and the Beast- Copious amounts of drinking with Gaston in the tavern.
Basil The Great Mouse Detective- A drunk mouse finds himself in trouble
Pinocchio- Alcohol and tobacco contribute to Pinocchio 'making an ass of himself'.
Nightmare fuel.
And, of course, the pinnacle is Dumbo- full on Disney Acid Sequence from Dumbo indulging in too much champagne.  This crosses over into the next subcategory: the Disney Acid Sequence, things that must have been conceived whilst under the influence.
The Lion King- 'I Just Can't Wait to be King'.
Winnie the Pooh- Various.
Aladdin- 'Friend Like Me'.
If you like any of the above over any other Disney feature, then odds are your favourite film is either Alice in Wonderland or Fantasia- both are feature-length acid trips, Fantasia getting the edge as it even involves Dionysus the God of Wine.

Fire is the one element that appears in every Disney film, and seems more prominent in the more popular films.  This is probably the theme that attracts me most, and through sheer coincidence the more fire there is, the more I like it.  Here's a run-down of my top 10 Disney films, and the amount of fire involved. (Special mention to Toy Story 3 for the furnace, as I wasn't going to include Pixar).
Hercules- Hades' 'angry' face.
Dumbo- The circus act.
Sword and the Stone- the Wizard's Duel.
Fantasia- A glimpse of the pits of Hell as shown in Night on Bald Mountain.
Robin Hood- Prince John's castle is set alight.
Aladdin- Climactic battle in a ring of fire.
The Lion King- Lightning sets fire to the desolated pride lands.
Jungle Book- Lightning sets the scene for a climactic battle in a ring of fire.
Hunchback of Notre Dame- the whole city of Paris is set alight, and there's a song dedicated to Hellfire.
Treasure Planet- an entire planet goes up in flames.

OK, I take back what I said at the start- Treasure Planet is my favourite Disney film.