Fuck 2009

I don’t know about you, but I thought that — as years go — 2009 was fairly shitty. There were a few good points (awesome birthday party, Primavera, holidaying around Italy with my wife), but when I look back, I can see a whole bunch of shit that I really didn’t want to have to deal with. So hooray for 2010.

Except when my wife asked me what I was most looking forward to about 2010, I went blank. The joke about it being the year we make contact is getting a little old. The only thing I could think was “at least Lost will FINALLY be over.”

The AV Club lists 32 of their most anticipated movies, games, books and albums of 2010, and that’s a pretty good start. I’m pretty psyched for Shutter Island and Tron Legacy, but I have to be honest, I’m not particularly fussed about Bioshock 2.

Most of all, what I’m looking forward to about 2010 is that it won’t be 2009. That’s good enough for me.


Jersey Shore

Are you watching Jersey Shore? You should be. It’s perfect car-crash TV. Self-obsessed guidos and guidettes living together, all boozed up, horny and aggro. It’s entertaining in the same way that nature documentaries are entertaining. The pure, primal instinct of a pack of lions is always fascinating to watch because you never know when things are going to kick off. Now, imagine those lions were drunk – how much better would that be? Well, that’s what Jersey Shore is like. Drunk lions, covered in fake tan.

How good/bad is it? UNICO, “the largest Italian-American service organisation in the USA” has called for it to be canceled, describing it as “trash television” and saying the show “relies on crude stereotypes” and deliberately highlights the worst aspects of guido culture.

Trash television? Crude stereotypes? Why not just put out a press release, saying “Everyone, stop what you are doing and go watch this show now“?

During a promo for the rest of the season, they showed a clip of one of the girls, ‘Snooki’, getting a full-on punch to the face. From a big, muscly dude. Now, I’m totally against violence towards women, but HOLY FUCK LOOK AT THAT SHIT! HE BOPPED HER RIGHT ON HER STUPID FUCKING NOSE!

Idiots like me have been posting this clip all over the internet. It’s huge. It’s, as they say, “gone viral”. And so, MTV have decided to cut the scene with the punch out of the episode. They said that “seeing how the video footage has been taken out of context to not show the severity of this act or the resulting consequences, MTV has decided not to air Snooki being physically punched in next week’s episode.” I’m no expert, but if they’re that concerned about the context of the clip, I would have thought that the best way to give some context would be to show it in full? If I search for this clip now, I just get a load of user-uploaded videos taken from the the promo clip. If MTV don’t show the full clip, with context, then this is all there will ever be. There won’t ever be context.

Oh well. Punch or no punch, this show is still ridiculously entertaining.


Nicolas Cage, Goodwill Ambassador

This is just bizarre, Nicolas Cage has been appointed Goodwill Ambassador for the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. My favourite quote from the press release:

> “Until today, justice has been a cause without a rebel. Now we have one,” said [UNODC Executive Director] Mr. Costa.

Cage has said that he will “use the performing arts as an engine for global justice and victim support”.

Now, let’s take a look at a couple of Nicolas Cage’s movies that are coming out in 2010.
Drive Angry – “A vengeful father chases after the men who killed his daughter”.
The Hungry Rabbit Jumps – “After his wife is assaulted, a husband enlists the services of a vigilante group to help him settle the score”

This is Nicolas Cage’s interpretation of “global justice”? What next? A right-wing homophobic actor with a history of drug use and sexual assault being elected governor of California?

Wait, what?


Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2

When it comes to videogames, sequels tend to be less like the Godfather II and more like Jurassic Park II: The Lost World. Rather than making something that stands alone, that rips up the play-book and starts over from scratch and, as a result, creates something truly exceptional, you tend to just get more of the same, only slightly bigger and slightly sillier. So instead of “I know it was you Fredo. You broke my heart!”, you get Jeff Goldblum’s child lepping about on monkey-bars and drop-kicking a velociraptor out a window. (Not that I’m making a judgement-call here, both films have their times and places.)

It’s kind of hard to tell where Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 falls. On the one hand, it completely obliterates the first game in terms of the scope of the action and the improvements to the multiplayer are just a shade short of revolutionary. It’s probably the most beautifully rendered conflict I’ve seen in a videogame and every level manages to create its own unique sense of tension – from close, claustrophobic fighting through corridors and narrow streets, to giant open levels where you’re being attacked on all sides.

On the other hand, it really is dumb as a bag of hammers.

The narrative is all over the place. With the first game. developers Infinity Ward lifted heavily from all the big modern war movies – Black Hawk Down, Jarhead etc. I guess they must have played their cards early. With this new one, we get a couple of bits taken from Generation Kill (“Put the camera down, Spielberg” “CNN’s gonna pay loads for this footage!”) before they seem to say “fuck it, there’s nothing else we can steal” and go all Red Dawn – RED FUCKING DAWN – complete with Russians parachuting down into suburban America. I shit you not.

Now, I love Red Dawn as much as the next guy, but like I said, there’s a time and a place for everything. And the time for Red Dawn was thirty years ago, because now it’s just a dumb relic of a dumb time. Here’s the thing though: the writers make it very clear that they’re aware of how dumb this is. The level where you’re battling the Russians through a middle American neighbourhood is called “Wolverines!” – you know, an explicit reference to Red Dawn. It’s a knowing wink to the audience, like they’re saying “hey, we know this is stupid and ridiculous and over-the-top, but it’s all just a bit of fun, y’know?”

Which makes the now-infamous airport scene all the more curious.

(If you care about this game, don’t know what happens in this scene and don’t want to be ‘spoiled’, then stop reading now. The game came out almost a month ago, which is like ten years ago in internet-spoiler time, so don’t complain if I ruin the impact of this scene for you.)

Still reading? Good. If you don’t know what happens in this scene, then I’ll explain. You’re playing an American agent who has infiltrated a Russian terrorist group. The level opens on a crowded airport full of civilians. Your group walks in and starts shooting indiscriminately into the crowd. How you take it from here, is entirely up to you. You can get through the level without killing anyone, or you can do what I did, walk through the level spraying bullets at everything that moved and tossing grenades in every direction. (I don’t feel even slightly bad about this because I can tell the difference between real life and videogames). The level ends with the head of your group shooting you and leaving you to die, placing the blame on the Americans for the massacre.

Outside of the game, though, it’s a little more confused. Why did the developers feel the need to include this level? Most other games would have been content to tell this part of the story through dialogue or a cut-scene. “*ring ring* Hey bro, you’ll never believe it! The Russians killed a load of people and are blaming Americans and – wait, are those parachutes?” Instead, they actually had you walking through the scene with a gun in your hand. Even if Columbine and Virginia Tech had never happened, this would be an uncomfortable sell. As it happens, they’re impossible to escape throughout this scene. And a lot of people are asking why Infinity Ward chose to include it, especially when you spend every other part of the game mowing down various nameless, hard-to-distinguish ethnicities.

Now, here’s my take on the whole thing. I don’t think that anyone telling a story is obliged to cover all bases. They tell the story that suits them best. Within the context of the game, the airport level makes perfect sense. The Call of Duty: Modern Warfare games take place in an alternate near-future where Russian ultra-nationalists are in power, and this is just the excuse they need to send the country to war. Placing you in the thick of the action, then, draws you in. Even if you go through the level without firing a single shot, you feel complicit and spend the rest of the game trying to ‘fix’ your mistake.One thing I found interesting though is that despite the fact you go through suburban and central Washington, there’s not one American civilian to get caught in the crossfire. And in those levels where you’re supposed to be saving hostages, if even one of them dies, it’s game over and you have to try again

As to why the rest of the enemies in the game don’t get the same level of attention to their back-story or motives, well that’s just as simple. Why should it? From a narrative point of view, what purpose would it serve? Does the fact that your virtual enemy has a wife and child and perhaps dubious motivations change the fact that when he’s shooting at you, you’re going to pop his head like a melon? It’s similar to the complaints labeled at Black Hawk Down, that it was about dehumanizing the enemy. The story was about American soldiers and their point of view in this fight. The film split its time between five or six main soldiers and the story was told almost from their first-person point of view (well, as first-person as you can get in a movie without it being a gimmicky pile of ass. Right, Doom?). If the Somalis had a back-story, the US soldiers didn’t know it and so we, the audience, didn’t know it. Isn’t that why we invented the unreliable narrator?

Of course, this all changes in games like Modern Warfare 2 where you are the narrator, and you are narrating the story of the enemies. We will probably need a new paradigm for this kind of storytelling, but I’m not sure I’m going to figure it out in this (already long-winded) blog post. Don’t get me wrong, Modern Warfare 2 is a great game, and the only thing that has helped me kick my Modern Warfare 1 addiction. I just wish there had been some consistency throughout it. The airport level was something completely new to videogames and extremely well done. They laid the groundwork for an amazing story, but the Loony Tunes cartoon violence bullshit they followed it up with just felt a little flat.