Empathy

Hello friends.

The following was to be the script to this week’s IN BOB WE TRUST, which would’ve been posted a few hours from now once it had been edited together. The subject was to be adding some context to some social media flaming I’ve been enduring for suggesting that, in the wake of Sunday’s ghastly events in Orlando re: the worst mass-shooting in U.S. history; it might be prudent for people presenting at the also-unfolding E3 conference to look at any of their trailers/showcases involving gunplay and ask “Is there anything in here that will make me look like an asshole today, in light of this?”

Since it was hard to think about anything else, I decided to turn elaborating on my feelings about the blowback my Tweet received and what it says about geek/gamer culture’s issue with empathy into an episode… only to discover when it came time to actually record the audio and put it together that there was just no way to make the seriousness of the subject-matter “gel” with my standard video presentation (i.e. jokey graphics, fast-delivery, etc) – and that in actually following through, I’d be (potentially, at least) engaging in the kind of good-intentions/poor-taste business I was questioning in the first place. So I decided not to.

There will be an episode of IN BOB WE TRUST this week, but it will arrive on Wednesday or late Tuesday night. My call, no one else’s, felt it was what was best. But for posterity’s sake (and because I feel it reads better in text format anyway, I’m presenting my thoughts as originally-scripted here. I hope you find something worthwhile in them, and apologize for the delay in episode production.

Thank you.

ORIGINAL “IN BOB WE TRUST” SCRIPT (w/ minor alterations for blog post form)

Okay! So, this episode is going to be about two things I generally DON’T want to regularly fixate on for this series: Current events and video games. I don’t wanna do too much game coverage because there’s another show for that – oh snap I guess I spoiled that’s coming back at some point, too, huh? – and current events because this really isn’t the forum but, hey, y’know, sometimes you gotta get something off your chest.

So, the United States just had itself another godawful mass-shooting, this time targeting a gay nightclub in Florida. It’s completely horrible, there is no upside, it’s a shitty thing made even more shitty by the fact that these things could be mitigated if not prevented outright by fairly simple measures that most other civilized countries have already put in place but we refuse to because enough of our population still somehow believes that the word “Ammendment” means “Sacred Unchanging Writ Seared Into The Immortal Rock By Fucking ZEUS.”

But that’s a different show. Bottom line: Horrible tragedy, an outrage, maybe keep these things in mind when you VOTE in a few months and while thoughts and prayers are lovely what they REALLY need down there is donations in the form of blood or money.

ANYWAY! All of this happened to be occurring right at the same moment that the video gaming press was hunkering down to start watching this year’s info-dump of pre-rendered overpromising cutscene trailers from the E3 show. And since MY MIND always goes to the worst-case scenario, a thought occurred to me: Since a plurality of games likely to be shown off at this show involve looking down the barrel of an automatic weapon to some extent because video games have gone from being a fertile and endlessly creative space to… NOT that… wouldn’t it be just one more layer of horribleness if one of these presentations was to come off inadvertently in “poor taste?”

Nothing “intentional” of course – mainstream triple-A gaming may be STUPID (proudly so, in fact) but it’s generally not suicidal or intentionally cruel. The first thing I honestly thought of was “Boy, I sure hope Rockstar wasn’t planning to pop in and say ‘Hey guys! Big news! GTA6 is going back to VICE CITY!” Which, y’know, could still happen – the show’s not over yet. I mean, obviously wouldn’t be INTENTIONAL, the announcement and accompanying footage would’ve been prepped weeks if not months ago, but still… we can all agree that shit would’ve been awkward as hell, right? Big presentation about how fun it is to pretend to the shoot-up Florida within hours or days of some asshole ACTUALLY shooting-up Florida?

Or if the next CALL OF DUTY trailer revealed one of those “No Russian” type civilian mass-shooting sequences to showcase how bad the bad guys were? That’d would’ve gone over like a lead balloon, and along with just being a tone-deaf way to conduct business it would’ve turned “LOOK HOW GROSS AND INSENSITIVE THE VIDEO GAME WORLD IS!” into a headline news story in the mainstream media – and it’d be really hard to argue with the optics without coming off like the worst possible stereotype of a gamer – as demonstrated when I said THIS…

…and was immediately set upon by people eager to prove themselves as embodying the worst possible stereotype of a gamer: Death threats, accusations of attempting to “censor” the medium, fat jokes, racial slurs, all the tactics you’d expect.

Now look, I’m no stranger to being harassed by idiots – check out the comments under this episode if you don’t believe me. But it really struck me that SO MANY people got SO OUTRAGED about such a minor sentiment. I hadn’t asked for any games to be “banned,” I hadn’t scolded any developer for which games they’d showed (I couldn’t have if I’d wanted to, since it hadn’t happened yet) I hadn’t Saif any games should be “banned” or “censores” because that would be wrong and stupid. I didn’t even say “don’t show any gun games!” because A.) I don’t think that’d be a good idea and B.) even if I did, this is gaming in 2016 – what the fuck else are they gonna show, Ubisofts skiing thing?

The SUM TOTAL of what I said was “Hey, people about to make a public presentation about stuff involving guns? Maybe take one more pass on your preparations and see if anything in there that was fine YESTERDAY might make you look like an asshole. You know, what P.R. people are *supposed to do.* Or what no less than GEORGE CARLIN did when he revised his standup set for a special recorded in the immediate aftermath of 911 out if sensitivity to the victims because he was a fellow New Yorker and also just a DECENT GODDAMN HUMAN BEING.

Not that I’m confused about WHY there was blowback. What we call “gaming culture” NOW evolved from gamers first coming together in the 90s and early-2000s to oppose the very REAL censorship threats from the likes of right-wing political agitators like Jack Thompson, and the idea of never giving an inch or admitting that ANYTHING involving games might be in bad taste for fear of awakening The Demon is deeply ingrained in gaming’s psychological DNA – even though the last “game censorship” controversy anyone who matters gave a shit about was a Japanese dev pretending to be afraid of censors as an excuse not to hire a localization team.

So yeah, not a surprise. Like I said, until spaces like Twitter, Facebook etc get some proper regulations in place; dealing with idiots is the price of doing business online. But the disproportionate response this time really shocked me. And I come to realize that what’s so depressing isn’t the anger… it’s the lack of EMPATHY. All I or anyone else suggested was that people about to have a HUGE platform think about the feelings of others, and THAT somehow triggered an ignorance-fueled backlash about “censorship.”

The thing is, we don’t talk about this enough, but geek culture in general has a real problem with the concept of empathy. You can see it in the micro where forum cultures like reddit and 4chan or social-media harassment movements like You-Know-Who attack the very idea of earnest feeling or sincere emotional investment in ANYTHING other than snark-for-snarks sake “lulz” as a sign of intellectual weakness; but you can also see it as an almost pathological inability to even consider that anything beyond our own fandoms, our own fixations our own immediate enjoyments can “matter.”

After all, why else is the go-too bogeyman always “censorship?” It’s certainly not out of concern for artists rights – internet culture stopped pretending to care about artists rights the minute NAPSTER was invented. No, it’s because “censorship” is the most obvious thing that could impact OUR enjoyment. A valid concern, absolutely – but should it really be the beginning and the end? I’m not exempting myself here, either: Best of intentions or not, it maybe speaks to MY subconscious priorities that “Hoo-boy, I wouldn’t want to have to show off a shooter at E3 right now” is (one of) the first places my mind went, right?

Nerd-cultures problem with empathy also extends to how unwilling we often are to even hear out concerns about representation from those outside the “traditional” audience base for the things we enjoy, or why so maNY of us tense up and start blubbering out memorized nonsense about “narrative” and “agenda” at the mere menation of comics, games, movies etc engaging with social or political issues – all in the name of preserving supposed “escapism.”

And escapism IS a great thing, and the idea of geek culture BEING a place to escape to is a key component of it. But it can go too far, and too often an attitide of “don’t ask me to think about things in THIS game conic or whatever” turns into “don’t make me think about things in ANY games comics etc” and then into “don’t make me think about things during this whole fandom convention” and then into “don’t make me think period ever.” Where’s the line?

Folks… its one thing to “escape” into a place, it’s another to STAY there, build a fort around it and try to shut the world out permanently – that’s not escaping anymore, that’s HIDING. And it’s also denying that same escape to people who might need it as much or more than you did. Playing a game, watching a movie… whatever, yes, that can an “escape” from the often trying experience of sharing the world with other people. But a culture around them really can’t be – not in the same way. Because a culture (even the so-called “geek culture”) is MADE of people – so it’s part of the grand human experience. 

And if we can’t at least THINK about having empathy for our fellow human beings… what’s even the point? I’d like to believe we’re better than that.


This piece made possible through donations to The MovieBob Patreon

Review: WARCRAFT (2016) – Updated with Video

This review made possible in part through contributors to The MovieBob Patreon.



Good news! After nearly 3 decades of video game movis being terrible because they didn’t respect the actual games at all, we finally have one that’s just as if not substantially more terrible because it reveres the games entirely too much! And now that Goldielocks has had her nibble at the Mama Bear and Papa Bear side of the equation, we should be just about ready for some enterprising go-getter to swoop in all Baby Bear and get things just fucking right – hopefully? After all, the next couple of these on deck are based on Ubisoft franchises; and they’ve never been known to vanish eagerly up the industrial-strength vaccum-like asshole of their own self-important mythological pretense!

Sigh. Yes, WARCRAFT is a colossal, monumental, staggering disaster. 15 or so years from when Sam Raimi, Peter Jackson and JK Rowling jointly planted their flags and kicked it all off, the Geek Age of Cinema finally has its answer to HEAVEN’S GATE (or, if we’re being generous, ONE FROM THE HEART): A film willed into being by a genuine visionary of a filmmaker whose unwavering confidence and utter, unapologetic, deeply-drawn love of the material has resulted in something that avoids being called a simple failure by being so visibly cherished by its makers. Too compelling in its misbegotten grandeur to be dismissed, too grim and determined of its own importance to be called a farce; the only fair description of WARCRAFT is a tragedy.

It can be exhilirating to watch a bad film fail – watching the apotheosis of every shitty, pandering, grim-n-gritty creative decision made in comics over the last 3 goddamn decades crash and burn in BATMAN V SUPERMAN has been, overall, a fucking perverse delight – but there’s no joy or even vindication to be found in WARCRAFT. It’s not just that so many people tried so hard and believed so much in this project that makes its collapse so sad, it’s that all that effort and belief is the main reason why it collapsed.

The fact of the matter is, WARCRAFT is the kind of bad movie that can only be made by fans – because you have to love something – really fucking love it – to the point of all-encompassing blindness to unwittingly yet so effectively smother it to death like this. This is video-game adaptation by way of the dad from THE LEGO MOVIE – a whole game’s worth of stuff that’s supposed to be fun all cragled into place so rigidly that it’s impossible to have fun with it: The characters are so arch the actors can’t move around inside them, the world has been so lovingly recreated you can practically see the museum display-ropes keeping everything from being handled and the dialogue practically chisels itself into the stonework for fear of a single line landing out of place. It’s clear that director Duncan Jones really wanted this to work – to make his mark, do something really different and set a new standard for blockbuster fantasy filmmaking… and geez, do you have to feel bad for this fucking guy, because what he’s managed to do instead is set a new standard for having missed the forest for the trees.

The flaws are baked in right from the get-go: WARCRAFT is, technically, a video-game adaptation… except somebody decided that instead of adapting a story from the games or even setting a new story in the world of the games, the place to start was retelling in pedantic BEAUTIFUL MIND-level detail – the setup of the original game – yes, this essentially an entire fucking movie’s worth of the kind of shit LORD OF THE RINGS blew through in bullet-points in the first two minutes of the first movie, or that STAR WARS wisely consigns to the opening title crawl. Previous video game movies may have failed because they were like watching someone else play the game, but WARCRAFT is like watching someone read the game’s instruction manual.

And that’s some heartbreaking shit, because it’s the kind of bad decision that only a truly lovestuck fan can make, assuming that the mechanics and mythology details are SO damn important that we need to learn every single piece of it rather than skipping ahead to the fucking interesting stuff. Make no mistake: This kind of attention to detail and narrowly-focused worship of the material is the reason that the armor and the weapons and the spells and the Orcs – holy shit are the Orcs amazing looking in this – all look so damn good… but it’s the exact wronginstinct for telling an interesting story.

Especially when the story already needs all the help it can get to be worth telling in the first place. Setting aside that for all its novelty the “World of Warcraft” is basically the same high-fantasy hodgepodge that every other kitchen-sink fantasy realm has aspired to post-Gygax; it’s still pretty astonishing to realize that once the movie is done introducing every location, race, faction, region, sect etc that someone seriously thought we needed two full hours to understand a plot that boils down to: “The Green Stuff Is Bad.”

Fine, it’s mythology… but mythology needs characters we can invest in, and apart from one early scene of an Orc couple just chilling and talking about life (which is probably the first and last moment where the film approaches “good”) there isn’t a single exchange between characters or line of spoken dialogue that doesn’t involve a character introducing themselves, explaining what’s going on, telling us what something is, how it works or where they have to go next. The screenplay is nothing but exposition, and the only thing that’s never explained is why the fuck we’re supposed to care beyond the supposedly edifying novelty of both the humans and the invading Orc army both being basically decent people trying to do right by their families and communities as opposed to the usual black and white morality associated with the genre.

Sadly, since none of these people ever register as actual fucking characters, all of that supposed moral gray area mainly boils down to the Orcs and the humans both being equally stupid; with the entirety of the would-be story tension resting on nobody noticing that the creepy Orc wizard building a giant magic-machine that runs on dead people and the creepy human wizard who fucked-off for a bunch of years and showed up again acting like a goddamn weirdo right when all the bad shit started might be the bad guys!

The closest we get to an actual character is Toby Kebbel as Durotan the Orc, in as much as he has the closest thing to a relatable storyline and because all the actually good stuff in the movie revolves around the Orcs – period. But for the most part we’re stuck with Travis Fimmel as a boring knight, Dominic Cooper as a boring king, Ben Schentzer as a mage and poor, poor Paula Patton struggling not to look stupid with inverted vampire fangs as a half-human/half-Orc lady Garona… who kind of feels like she should be the main character but then… isn’t.

None of these people manage to be interesting because they never get to talk about anything that isn’t tedious worldbuilding or exposition. At one point two characters suddenly seem to be involved romantically, and you could feel the audience come to life for the first time all night as everyone collectively looked at the person next to them and asked “Wait, when the fuck did that happen!?” Worse still, it all builds up to a chaotic climax full of death, betrayal, emotion, tragedy, huge stakes and grand self-sacrificing decisions that feel like they’d be the stuff of legends… if it was even remotely possible to give a shit who the fuck any of these assholes are or what the hell is going to happen to them. Even simply reacting to the ending feels like homework: “Okay, class – is this a sad ending? A happy ending? A cliffhanger? Or did they just run out of time?”

And despite all that, I still find myself wishing I could root for this fucking disaster just because Duncan Jones is so clearly talented and deserving of serious blockbuster clout, but… the most tragic thing about the film is how massively beyond his grasp it turns out to be. Sure, it’s possible taking this specific tone and route may have defeated any filmmaker, but whereas at the least the mostly-CGI scenes involving the Orcs or the (far too few) big scale battles at least look interesting… everything involving the humans or filmed on a practical set is staged and blocked in the most uninteresting ways possible. Everything plays flat, basic and dull, and it’s legitimately depressing seeing such dreary work come from the same filmmaker who brought such masterful command of cinematic language and scene geography to MOON and SOURCE CODE.

WARCRAFT wants to be big. It wants to be different. It wants to the be smarter, deeper, more meaningful breed of Summer blockbuster that explores ideas and asks questions. Unfortunately, the only questions that anyone will be leaving with “What the HELL did I just watch… and how the FUCK did it happen!?”


This review made possible in part through contributors to The MovieBob Patreon.

Review: TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: OUT OF THE SHADOWS (2016)

It won’t surprise me if the overall consensus on TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: OUT OF THE SHADOWS (just TMNT 2 from here out, okay?) is that it’s an improvement on the first film. It is – but only in the sense that the bar is already set so painfully low. The first film was a full-blown piece of shit – badly directed, badly scripted, poorly acted, edited into a clusterfuck to fix story problems that never should’ve made it that far to begin with and ugly to look at from top to bottom – this is seriously one of the worst production-designed series ever.

The sequel carries over all the pre-existing problems, but this time things are marginally better directed (however much of it was actually directed, since so much of it is so obviously comprised of bog-standard pre-viz) and they’ve imported a bunch of fanservice aimed squarely at the first-wave Millennial entertainment bloggers most likely to get assigned to review it by their Russian and/or Chinese owned traffic farm – er.. I mean, Perfectly Legitimate News Outlet so… yeah, the reviews will be better.

It’s still pretty fucking bad.

Yes, they clearly had more time to work on this one so it’s not quite as clunky and thrown-together as the original felt throughout, but an overriding sense of laziness and half-effort is still the name of the game. The plot (such as it is – see below) is an afterthought, the characterizations are basic to the point of parody (almost everyone introduces themselves with a description of their own personality and expected “arc”) and none of it ever manages to have any weight or feel like it’s supposed to matter – which I understand is a weird complaint to have about what’s ostensibly a kids movie, but like I said last time: Kids deserve better than this.

I mean, he first time they made this shit into a movie I was the kid and it was every bit as much of a cynical grab for my or rather my mother’s money for more licensed plastic Turtle crap; but at least they had enough respect for my hypothetical intelligence to slow the fuck down in Act 2 and have that quiet stretch at the farmhouse to develop the characters into something resembling depth. OR they figured that establishing emotional connection to the characters would generate even more devotion to the product line, but… look, the point is, “it’s just for kids” is not an excuse not to do your goddamn jobs – that kind of thinking is how you end up with tainted baby food.

Case in point: You might’ve been under the impression that there’s a new Shredder is this one… but it’s just a new actor supposedly playing the same part. Wasn’t Shredder a really old guy in the last one? Who fucking cares, right? And the Foot Clan are Ninjas again even though they were clearly black-ops mercenary guys in the last one because… okay, even I don’t care about that one at this point.

Anyway, the plot this time is that the Foot Clan wants to break Shredder out of prison by using an alien teleporter rebuilt by Tyler Perry’s mad scientist Baxter Stockman. But instead of sending Shredder where it’s supposed to, it drops him into another dimension where the cyborg dictator Krang tells him that the teleporter is actually part of a bigger teleporter whose pieces are scattered on Earth and if reunited will let him beam in and conquer the place, which Shredder agrees to do in exchange for help with his Turtle problem. Believe it or not, I’m pretty sure that ENTIRE goddamn setup plays out in less time onscreen than it just took me to describe it – and yet somehow the rest of the movie is still almost 2 hours long.

What passes for a “theme” intrudes on the proceedings when Shredder uses a serum from Krang to turn henchmen Bebop and Rocksteady into their cartoon selves, which apparently occurs by “regressing human DNA to its animal ancestry” which is not how that works but… whatever. The point is that for some reason this means the same serum could turn the Turtles into full-blown humans, the prospect of which divides the team ideologically because hey, if you’re going to steal a storyline from the fucking X-MEN movies, you might as well steal from the worst one… I guess?

It all feels phoned in and lifeless, save for the bizarre obsession the film has with reminding us that Bebop & Rocksteady really are BFF’s for life – in a movie that’s already much too long, it’s just bizarre that so much screentime is given over to two lumpy, farting CGI monstrousities engaging in endless Judd Apatow “bromance” improv. The rest of it is just mechanical as shit, a Mother Goose simple plot interrupted for scheduled interludes that feel dreamed up by a seven year-old who knows that a narrative needs character conflict to give it structure but doesn’t understand what any of that entails beyond cliches he’s seen in other movies.

The action scenes, once again, are a big fat letdown considering how much money got spent on the FX. I can’t for the life of me figure out why they decided to use motion-capture to create the Turtles or any of the shitty new villains since every big setpiece is the same bullshit mishmash of the characters flinging themselves through the air in weightless theme-park choreography designed to show off the 3D and not much else. The keep hammering the point home that these characters are ninja-master, but there’s almost zero martial-arts in either of these films so far – the fucking KUNG-FU PANDA movies have better hand-to-hand combat sequences, and their both basically cartoons.

Speaking of which, the garish aesthetic mismatch between the design and the narrative isn’t doing it any goddamn favors either: The story and characters are all pitched at the level of an audience that’s still shitting it’s Huggies, but the cinematography and editing make everything look so much like a faux-gritty cop show you expect the Dick Wolf logo to come up at any minute and the Turtles are all still overdesigned hulking brutes I can’t imagine NOT terrifying a small child in person, forget being embraced as a children’s merchandising icon – the resulting dissonance feeling like somebody dubbed a vocal track from BANANAS IN PAJAMAS over a particularly Ramsay-heavy episode of GAME OF THRONES.

Giving the dialogue some snap might’ve mitigated some of this, but the writing is uniformly bland and explanatory in a way that suggests everyone involved knows that the main function of this tossed-off kleenex full of turtle jizz (and every other third-tier tentpole franchise like it) is to suck up dollars from undiscerning overseas 4D “ride theater” audiences and figured they might as well make life easy for the poor souls who have to dub it all into Mandarin.

Oh yeah, Meagan Fox is also in this. I… once upon a time had some fucking douchey, not at all nice things to say about Meagan Fox early on in my criticism career that I’d pretty much take all the way back if I could. She’s not GOOD in this, don’t get me wrong, but it sometimes feels like she’s trying just a little bit harder than everyone else is. She almost certainly deserves a lot better than this… but, then, so don’t we all.

This review made possible in part by generous contributions to The MovieBob Patreon.