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“Gentlemen. You can’t fight in here. This is the Game Room!”


Who’d believe that GamerGate is almost a year old? Or indeed that the cacophony of misogyny, death and rape threats and general harassment would still be continuing to this day, expanding to cover more and more of aspects of “geek” culture?  Yet GamerGate isn’t the be-all-and-end-all of the problem. Entitlement, especially within geeky, typically male dominated realms of pop culture, is a problem that’s become increasingly highlighted as it diversifies. And not just in terms of attracting people from minority backgrounds, women, the LGBTQ community etc, but also in terms of content and the way in which that content is received.

Surprisingly not that bad.

Surprisingly, not that bad.

Today, Vice posted an article about PewDiePie which encapsulates just that point. The article quotes many comments about PewDiePie which criticise him and his content. In itself, that’s fair enough. Everything can’t be for everyone. Yet in a culture that’s only recently started to open itself up to a wider audience, not having stuff catered to you is jarring for some people. A time was when a guy who made millions of dollars playing video games would be heralded by these people as a hero. Yet PewDiePie doesn’t market himself at the hardcore gamers, the ones who feel increasingly marginalised by the way the industry is progressing.

It’s important to note that PewDiePie is no saint. In the past he’s made rape jokes in his videos. Crucially though he recognised that these offended and upset people and after receiving complaints he said he’d never make them again. To my knowledge, he’s kept his word. This ability to recognise such behaviour as wrong and to admit that is something that eludes Gamergaters and their ilk.

Fed up with your shit.

Fed up with your shit.

This phenomenon isn’t limited to gaming. Hell the term GamerGate was first coined by the actor Adam Baldwin, a man whose Twitter feed is a smorgasbord of right-wing rambling that would fit right in at a Rick Santorum dinner party. Then there’s this years Hugo Awards, which has managed to be hijacked by a group right-wing authors and their supporters calling themselves ‘The Sad Puppies’, even managing to raise the ire of George R.R. Martin. Whilst they’ve been around for a couple of years with very little effect, their sudden rise in influence has coincided with the emergence of GamerGate. And then there’s the YouTube channels that have jumped on the crazy train. I remember watching Thunderf00t videos to do with astronomy years ago. Imagine my surprise when swathes of his channel is now dedicated to bashing feminists.

It’s become a lightning rod for those who had their niche, a thing that they could call their own. Now that it’s become more inclusive they’re rallying against feminists, “Social Justice Warriors” and those who think that maybe, just maybe, having more equality is a good thing. Because everything in geek culture in the past was aimed at a smaller market to which they belonged, their sense of entitlement is so that they feel that should continue.

Do I think that the likes of Adam Baldwin gives a toss about video games, aside from being paid to occasionally be in them? No. But it helps to further their agenda and people who see themselves as victims get swept up in it.

Is there a solution to this? Can those of us who, through our fandom, hobbies and interests are inextricably linked to these people, do or say anything to turn people away from such hate? I would like to think yes. We need to support those game developers, film makers and creative types who are helping to diversify geek culture. It’s important to not be afraid to provide constructive criticism when they drop the ball from time to time.

It’s my hope that, given time, opportunists like Baldwin, the misogynists GameGate, the Sad Puppies and countless YouTubers will become increasingly marginalised. With the widespread critical acclaim of the likes of Mad Max: Fury Road and Her Story and the increasing condemnation of shows like Game of Thrones for its treatment of women, I’d like to think that perception is starting to change. Sadly, I feel that for the time being those that shout the loudest will continue to impinge on geek culture.

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It is a truth universally acknowledged that going into the third instalment of a trilogy without engaging with the previous two parts is a bad idea. Yet here I am, playing both The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and Dragon Age Inquisition after only brief encounters with their predecessors.

I’d managed to complete Dragon Age Origins and did about a quarter of The Witcher, whilst I skipped both franchises second games completely. I can’t say either experience left me inclined to trying their sequels. However, with the slow start to this console cycle and their rave reviews, I decided to give them a chance. Understandably this has left me playing catch up with the lore. What’s surprised me most is that in spite of having played less of The Witcher series, it’s the one in which I’ve had the most success in getting to grips with.

Normally, the move to appeal to more of a mass market would be seen as jumping the shark, a phrase which itself did a Fonz about 10 years ago. CD Project Red have managed to avoid that pitfall. It still feels like Lord of the Rings meets Game of Thrones, but in a version in which you could skip the rubbish bits like The Two Towers or Game of Thrones season two and not feel utterly lost. I don’t feel as though I’ve missed out. The world is still vibrant, but in an approachable way. A way in which I’m not overloaded with information and left to fend for myself. In contrast, Dragon Age Inquisition is like trying to eat a pack of Ryvita. It’s dry and fairly bland, in need of something to liven it up and give it some flavour. Had I enjoyed Origins and played Dragon Age 2, perhaps that would have come from there.

This isn’t to say Inquisition is a bad game. It’s achingly pretty and the interaction with your team mates is as good as you’d expect from a Bioware game. Where it really shines is in the metagame. Making the Inquisition a force to be reckoned with is reminiscent of building your forces in Mass Effect 3. It feels like you can affect the world in a very real way, more so than Geralt can on his own in Wild Hunt.

But where The Witcher 3 succeeds is it not only draws you in, it also feels like much more of a next-gen game. Sure, Inquisition looks pretty, but like Origins it can still feel like something Bioware did on their day off. The combat is laborious, the quests uninspired, mediocre characters and an unremarkable plot. These aren’t points which I feel apply to The Witcher 3. Take, for instance, The Bloody Baron. By all accounts an utter bastard, yet by the end of his quest chain I was pitying him more than any other character in a video game in years.

My hope is that Dragon Age will realise its potential the more I play it. It certainly has the capacity to be brilliant. Just building up the inquisition and consolidating your power is enough of a hook to ensure I continue. Yet so far, it’s The Witcher that’s the apple of my eye.

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It’s the biggest show on television at the moment and the one everyone’s been talking about ever since Sean Bean did what Sean Bean does and die in a piece of fiction. The critical acclaim around the show has intensified season after season and it now rightly sits in the pantheon of Greatest Ever TV Shows. Yet in spite of its monumental success, there’s always been a degree of criticism over the shows prevalence of tits and arses. Particular criticism has been levelled at its use of “sexposition” as a plot device, as well as the frequency of female nudity over male.

Both of these arguments have merit. I may not necessarily agree entirely or in the case of the sexposition even consider it a problem, but I can see the general point. However, this Huffington Post article by Osahon Okundaye on the sexual violence in Game of Thrones falls somewhat wide of the mark for me.

Apart from seemingly quite oblivious to the nature of the books and not being a frequent viewer of the show, Okundaye misses the point in several key aspects of his argument.

His opening gambit about the timid prostitute that the Martells deal with is somewhat convincing. She is quite clearly unwilling and Oberyn’s disrobing of her is unnecessary except to give the impression that he’s capable of being a bit of an arsehole. And yet I feel Okundaye maybe misses a larger point, which is Thrones’ use of the Happy Hooker cliché. To my memory, this is the first one we’ve seen who’s somewhat unhappy about her job. Now of course viewers of the show would know that Littlefinger owns the King’s Landing brothels and the one thing he can’t stand is a “bad investment”. Perhaps a bunch of happy prostitutes is management orders, kind of like a kinky Disneyworld.

His second and main point regarding the tavern girl at the end being sexually assaulted by Polliver and his men is a larger issue and one which I have a problem with in his assessment of. I wouldn’t for a second claim this isn’t sexual violence as it quite clearly is. However I would argue its presence in a fictional world is not necessarily a bad thing.

His breakdown of the scene is either based on personal opinion or is a case of 2+2=5. He says: “It cuts to a medium shot of a groping soldier repeatedly fondling her chest for way too long.” Now, I’ve rewatched the scene I have to disagree. The camera passes over it but it’s by no means the focus of the shot.

Where I really must object is in his next paragraph: “These few minutes of excellent dialogue are ruined by the guards we can still see groping that poor woman over Polliver’s shoulder. They add nothing to the crucial dialogue, so why are they there? Who is enjoying this detail?” Again, not only is this pure opinion but I would also argue he’s missed to entire point of this scene. Does the assault of this girl add anything to the dialogue? No. But does it add to the scene? I would say it does. As with every other instance of sexual violence in the show I can recall, it exists to make the viewer uncomfortable. You aren’t meant to enjoy it. As for saying it adds to nothing to the dialogue, I don’t even get that as a complaint. Part of what makes Game of Thrones a cut above the rest is that stuff goes on beyond the dialogue.

That scene is also all about Arya and her journey down a dark path. When these men are killed, we aren’t conflicted. These aren’t just men following orders or commanded by a monster, they’re monsters themselves. Seeing them put down by the Hound and Arya personally makes me feel somewhat satisfied.

What really adds insult to injury is that this guy has even had a chance to ask George R.R. Martin about this! And he’s still not satisfied despite an entirely reasonable answer. His solution would seemingly be for Martin and the showrunners to have Thrones exist in a world entirely at odds with the one they’re trying to reflect. Martin is on record as saying that this story is loosely a War of the Roses allegory, only with dragons and monsters beyond The Wall. Certainly the universe is meant to mimic early-to-mid second millenium Europe, with certain aspects more primitive and others nearer the Renaissance. “Instituting gender equality,” as he suggests, would not only be a total departure from this period but it would utterly ruin many of the main female characters plot arcs. Arya, Brienne, Daenerys and Cersei’s journeys would be infinitely weaker for such a move without a patriarchal society to fight against. It would also defeat the point of this very idea as these are some fantastic feminist characters that would be destroyed with that same pen stroke.

It’s more than reasonable for a person to have a problem with the sexual violence in the show. There’s a lot of it and if that bothers you I don’t blame you. But you can’t misrepresent what happens or project your own opinions in an unfair and ignorant way. Saying stuff like: “at best, it obscures the plot and at worst, it makes a real evil look attractive,” is purely trolling. If anybody finds the sexual violence in the show attractive that says far more about them than it does the show.

If Okundaye finds the sexual violence in the show repugnant then Jesus Christ, I hope he never reads the books…

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Unfortunately those tracks turn out to lead to cannibals, but you can’t have everything.


 

I think it’s fair to say that The Walking Dead is a hit and miss show. Apart from a largely excellent first season, each season has had one good half without much to write home about in the other. The first half of season two was a complete mess, the second half excellent. Season three started strong before going off the boil and that trend continued into season four. The two Governor centric episodes aside, season four had a fantastic opening. The plague storyline allowed for Herschel’s character to grow and culminated in his brutal murder at the hands of the Governor. And yet in the latter half of season four the episodes have flip-flopped more than an indecisive trout.

As viewers, we’ve been blessed with fantastic episodes like Claimed and The Grove, but suffered through the unremitting bullshit that was Still, with varying shades of mediocre in-between. It’s perhaps not surprising then that the finale was approached with some trepidation on my part. Not helped at all by the experience of the season three finale, Welcome to the Tombs. Thankfully we were treated to one of the best episodes of the series so far. Easily the best since Clear in season three, maybe even the best since the pilot.

It’s been a long road to travel for the show to get to this point, not least for Rick Grimes who finally seems to be in a place where he can be seen as a competent, decisive leader. From season one he’s had people in the group holding him back. From Lori’s constant hen pecking to Shane’s insubordination to Dale’s naivety. The only person whose caution and gentleness has really aided Rick’s evolution as a leader is Herschel. In showing him he doesn’t have to be a warrior all the time, Rick’s turn from benign to brutal when necessary is all the more notable.

Nowhere is this more evident in the scene near the start of the finale with the showdown with the Marauders, Joe’s pack of wandering hicks and nutcases. I’d argue it’s one of the best scenes the show’s ever done and it shows how Rick has evolved to be a true survivor and one who isn’t to be fucked with. One minute he’s sitting round the campfire with Michonne. The next he’s ripping out a guy’s throat with his teeth and cutting his son’s attempted rapist from balls to brain with a knife and stabbing him 20 times for good measure. It’s a scene that in previous seasons would’ve had Lori whining “she doesn’t know the person she married anymore” or Dale castigating him as a “danger to the group”. Yet the way these characters have developed over the years has hardened them to true steel and any less of a reaction would feel weak and a betrayal of these characters as survivors. And it’s hard to argue that the show is worse for levels of violence these people are capable of.

In stark contrast to the violence of Rick’s group is the cunning trickery of the residents of Terminus. As soon as you see Tasha Yar cooking huge slabs of meat on the barbecue at the end of the previous episode it’s pretty obvious they’re going to be cannibals. Despite what we’ve just seen Rick do, there’s still that line in the sand that you don’t cross. You simply don’t eat people. Daryl may have found the Marauders code rightly stupid, but that’s a rule you can really live by.

What makes this episode stand out amongst other great episodes is the quality of the writing and directing. Showrunner Scott Gimple has been responsible for some of the series’ best episodes (Pretty Much Dead Already, Clear, This Sorrowful Life, The Grove) and combined with Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones alumna Michelle MacLaren you can be sure this won’t be a standard episode. The shot selection is smart, scenes blend together naturally and there’s great foreshadowing with Rick teaching Carl about the snare. MacLaren also gets a great performance out of Chandler Riggs (Carl). Working with child actors is always a risk and we’d not been blessed with great performances from the two girls playing Lizzie and Mika throughout the season. Riggs’ acting could so easily have been a weak spot in this episode if directed by someone else.

For so long what’s held the show back is AMC’s seeming reluctance to splash out on consistently good writers and directors with a proven track record. Look at some of the episodes from this season and their writers and directors. Curtis Gwinn, writer of Dead Weight also wrote for such high quality drama such as NTSF:SD:SUV and Fat Guy Stuck in Internet whilst Julius Ramsay, director for the worst rated episode of the show on IMDB in Still, had never even directed before. It’s ridiculous that for a show with such potential and aspirations and that’s making a ton of money for AMC they aren’t getting in people the likes of HBO take for granted.

Hopefully for season five AMC will let Scott Gimple have much more of a say in the way the show goes and doesn’t leave him hamstrung with financial constraints. I get that they had to deal with one hell of a mess following Glen Mazzara’s stint in charge, but with a whole season of his own there’s no excuses now. They’ve set up something great with Terminus, a strong group of survivors (shit even Tara’s tolerable now she’s stopped with the fistbump nonsense) and a darker direction. If they manage to screw it up from here, they’re in trouble.

4290622577_553eee3945_oAs a keen gamer and someone who tends to horde digital media and then not actually get around to using it, the idea to complete four games from my Pile of Shame was a highly tempting one. As is the way of such things, the games I ended up playing and finishing bore little resemblance to my planned four. Initially, it was my intention to complete Metal Gear Solid 3, Demon’s Souls, Assassin’s Creed and Mirror’s Edge. Whilst I did play all four of those, not one of them was completed.

Starting with Metal Gear Solid 3 I had high hopes. I’d loved MGS 1 and 2 and heard 3 was the best of the lot. However, I must confess to being disappointed. Admittedly it’s been a good while since I played an MGS game, but I didn’t remember the controls being so bad. Perhaps this shouldn’t be too surprising for a game that’s a decade old, but I’d been spoilt by the Halo Anniversary edition where the gameplay has aged incredibly well. Unfortunately for MGS3, despite a new lick of graphical paint, playing it is a torturous experience. It’s not helped at all by some frankly terrible dialogue and some OTT misogyny (I mean seriously, pressing R1 to stare at some woman’s tits. Really, Konami?)

I then moved onto Assassin’s Creed. I’d managed more progress on this game than I had MGS3 before getting distracted by something else. However, again I found poor gameplay let down what was otherwise a decent game. Whilst the free running is very enjoyable, as soon as you enter into a fight you stop being this agile and nimble assassin and instead lumber around as though you’re wearing concrete boots. Compare the combat to something such as the Arkham games and it really comes across as being half-arsed and frustrating to deal with.

So with two games put back on the pile of shame, I was at a loss for what to attempt next. Thankfully I remembered my Playstation Plus subscription and started playing Spec Ops: The Line again. Now that’s more like it. Whereas the gameplay in this was nothing new, that wasn’t a problem. A tried and true third-person mechanic allowed you to concentrate on what is a great story. An abandoned, sand covered Dubai makes a great setting and whilst I doubt the geography is remotely accurate, the sense you’re working your way through this devastated city was incredibly atmospheric and gave a real sense of purpose. It helped being a massive Apocalypse Now fan as the game takes a lot of inspiration from the novel Heart of Darkness. Plus, hearing Bruce Boxleitner’s voice is always welcome.

I then went from the sublime to the pretty shit and managed to complete Rage. Rage is a fairly odd game. From the makes of Doom and Quake, it’s certainly got pedigree. Unfortunately it also has a whole host of health problems like you’d expect from something with said pedigree. Whereas the tried and true method of gameplay benefitted a game such as Spec Ops, in Rage it just feels old and creaky. To give id Software some credit, they managed to make a very interesting world and lore but utterly failed when it comes to basics such as gameplay, characters and plotting. It’s almost as if they’d seen Fallout 3 and excised the bits that made it good. Despite that, I did actually manage to have some fun with the game. The weapons are good and driving around the wasteland firing rockets never gets old. However, it’s a game that suffers from obviously being rushed. The final mission that the game had been building to is a massive anti-climax. There’s no challenge, no culmination of the plot and no sense of accomplishment.

The final game I completed is a little bit of a cheat in that it’s Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary Edition. Now technically I’d not completed this. However, I did complete the original Halo about a decade ago on the PC. But considering I’ve not got a Game Completed achievement I think this counts. One thing that’s remarkable about this HD update is how much the gameplay hasn’t aged. Compared to something like MGS3, which feels like it’s from the Stone Age, Halo Anniversary barely feels as though it’s aged a day. The gameplay itself feels largely untouched and the graphical overhaul is remarkable. This is made all the more apparent by the ability to swap between the original and updated graphics. In my memories, Halo still looked fairly pretty. Those memories were promptly blown out of the water by a couple of taps of the back button.

With one game left to complete my Four in February, I resolved to trying to complete one from my original list. As I’m not insane I decided against Demon’s Souls and plucked for Mirror’s Edge. My understanding was that it was a game you could blitz through in a couple of hours. Unfortunately it turns out to be a 6-8 hour game and as a consequence just feels too long. The running is good platforming fun and the first person perspective really brings you into the environment as you leap among the rooftops. However, combat is a complete pain in the tits. When you do manage to disarm a guard, the aiming is slow and unresponsive and you’ve no idea how many shots you have. Whilst I appreciate that the aim is to run and avoid combat, sometimes there’s no choice or it’s simply easier to take the guards out than try and dodge them. In spite of these flaws, Mirror’s Edge is a game I can see me returning to when not rushed for time. It’s got a fairly decent story and it’s nice to play as a strong female protagonist for a change. It would’ve been very easy to have made the character male and no-one would have batted an eyelid.

Overall, whilst I wasn’t able to complete my entire Four in February I’m pleased with the three I did manage to finish and just the sheer quantity of games I’ve managed to play. I’m over halfway through Halo: Reach, almost finished Halo 4 again, nearly done a full season on F1 2011, reached Level 38 on Simpson’s Tapped Out and on the last level of Bioshock Infinite on Hard difficulty (more like Impossible). Considering how much I’d put gaming on the backburner recently, it’s been really nice to settle down and get back into my PS3 and 360. Here’s hoping it’ll continue now I’m back at work…

vlcsnap-2014-02-24-19h23m33s123Firstly, I feel I should preface this review by saying how much I think 12 Years a Slave is an excellent film. A great deal about it is utterly sublime. From a technical perspective aspects such as cinematography, acting (particularly Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon Northup) and score are as good as you’ll find anywhere. It’s also the only other film besides Requiem for a Dream I’ll probably never watch again just because of how uncomfortable it made me feel. It certainly isn’t afraid to beat you over the head with the horrors of slavery, horrors which I’m sure don’t come even close to the full extent of reality. To paraphrase Bass, Brad Pitt’s character, Solomon’s story is amazing and in no good way.

And yet I can’t shake these niggling feelings that detract from an otherwise brilliant film. 12 Years a Slave is a perfect example of why I don’t like to give ratings or scores. It’s technically brilliant, but let down by a few minor quibbles that prevent it from achieving it’s true potential. For instance, some of the shots dotted throughout the film seem superfluous or overlong. The one that immediately springs to mind is right near the end after Solomon’s conversation with Bass, where Bass promises to pass on word about Solomon to people in the North. There’s one long, lingering shot of Solomon out in the woods with nothing but him and the sound of crickets in the background. It’s a beautifully framed shot make no mistake, but is utterly redundant. It follows on from one not long before where he smashes up his violin after whipping Patsey, finally sliding into the pit of despair he swore never to fall into. Whilst I recognise that long, uncomfortable shots are something of a trademark of McQueen’s, is another one so soon really necessary?

Whilst the acting performances from the main cast are all well worthy of praise, many of the supporting cast just come across as caricatures and clichés. Tibeats (Paul Dano) is your typical inadequate bully, Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a relatively benevolent slave owner feels like something straight from TVTropes and Mistress Epps (Sarah Paulson) is little more than a panto villain as the jealous wife of Epps (Michael Fassbender). Speaking of Epps, I was pleasantly surprised that he didn’t just come across as a simple sadist. Whilst he is obviously sadistic, there’s a degree of nuance to Fassbender’s performance. McQueen has to be praised for continuing to get the best of Fassbender, who I maintain is the best British actor around at the moment (sorry Cumberbatch and Hiddleston fans).

My other main gripe was that for a film called 12 Years a Slave, the passage of time barely registers. Whilst Solomon looks noticeably greyer by the time he’s freed, I would expect a dozen years of hard labour to have much more of a negative effect on his appearance. It’s not helped when during his reunion with his family, he apologises for his appearance. All that serves to do is draw attention to the fact he doesn’t look dramatically older.

It must be said that these complaints are minor shouldn’t give a false impression of the film’s quality. Like I said, it’s a very good film dealing with a very tough, sensitive subject. Over the last couple of years there’ve been three high profile films dealing with slavery in Lincoln, Django Unchained and now 12 Years a Slave. They all deal with slavery in different ways and a good essay could be written on a comparison between those three and how they broach the subject. What I will say is that as a white British male 12 Years a Slave certainly comes close to what I imagine slavery to have been like. McQueen does an excellent job of capturing the horror of it and the main cast are all excellent. I just wish that I could say I thought the film was perfect.

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It is easy to think of feminism solely in a negative way. A cause championed by angry old women, lesbians in plaid shirts and men haters. Yet this lazy stereotyping could not be further from the truth. Feminism is a cause that all right minded people, regardless of age, gender or sexual preference should be fighting tooth and nail for.

This years International Women’s Day comes on the back of an eventful 12 months for women’s issues around the world. From the shooting of 14-year-old education activist Malala Yousafzai in Pakistan, to the brutal rape and murder of the student in India that caused huge protests around the world. Such cases merely serve to illustrate what is still a global struggle for female equality.

Last months One Billion Rising campaign was a crucial step to raising awareness. It was a global event, held in countries from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, focused on raising awareness of the continued discrimination faced by women around the world. One Billion Rising is so named for one simple, shocking statistic: that worldwide one-in-three women will be raped, beaten or abused in their lifetime. Founded by Eve Ensler, it was a call for people everywhere to come together as a show of solidarity to end such violence.

Whilst gender equality has come a long way in the West and is certainly better than many countries elsewhere, it is still impossible to say that women are treated as equals to their male counterparts. The pay gap between men and women, despite falling last year in the UK, is still nowhere near reaching parity and women are underrepresented in many senior roles in society.

And yet perhaps it is Western attitudes towards rape and sexual abuse that is most shocking. The vast majority of rapes and sexual assaults go unreported, in no small part due to the lack of faith victims have in ensuring a conviction. We may take pride in the strides made towards gender equality, but it’s simply unacceptable that people are unable to come forward and report they’ve been raped. This isn’t helped by utterly ridiculous safety campaigns that tend to suggest women should take some blame for their rape, such as the repellent campaign by West Mercia Police. I was also shocked to learn that the exemption for marital rape in the UK was on removed in 1991. It’s not just confined to the UK either. In the USA for instance you have politicians such as Todd Akin citing: “legitimate rape” and Richard Mourdock saying pregnancy from rape was something that “God intended.”

A disturbing trend that I’ve noticed recently is of women decrying feminism, some of whom are in positions of authority and power they wouldn’t have been able to get if not for feminism. Take for instance this piece of sexist bilge by Suzanne Venker, titled ‘To be happy, we need to admit that women and men aren’t ‘equal”. Whilst there is no issue whatsoever with women who wish to settle down as a housewife and raise kids, peddling nonsense about women simply not wanting to be CEOs is utterly ridiculous.

Worryingly, it isn’t just old fashioned women stuck in the past that spread this attitude. A quick search on Twitter of the hashtag #tellafeministthankyou produces the expected amount of absurd men, spouting the usual nonsense about ‘Feminazis’. But hidden amongst those are a worrying number of women who simply don’t get it, that think they are equal in society when all the evidence points to the contrary.

It’s unsettling that these myths about feminists being man haters and Feminazi’s are able to gain so much traction. Because they are myths. I don’t doubt women like that exist, but it’s not representative of feminism as a whole. In fact, any feminist worth their salt is going to be well-reasoned and rational. Whilst the likes of Pussy Riot in Russia generate headlines, it’s hardly conducive to creating public discourse.

All of this serves to widen the gender divide. Crucially, the empowerment of women may go some way to solving many of the problems we face as a planet – overpopulation for instance. Allowing women the right to have control of their body and to choose when they have children and how many they have, can help to solve that issue. By extension, this could also have an effect on reducing poverty and economic turmoil.

Simply put, we need the feminism movement and to empower women worldwide to fulfill their potential. Hiding behind the status quo or basing arguments on outdated, inaccurate stereotypes helps no-one. To those that don’t classify themselves as feminist, perhaps you are happy to allow 50% of the population to be treated as second class citizens. Maybe you even actively enjoy it. In which case you should take a good, long hard look at yourself and settle those Mummy issues simmering inside you because your actions are detrimental to everyone.

Of course not all women will end up as successful businesswomen or lawyers or politicians, but for crying out loud they deserve the opportunity that is currently being denied them. So if a women decides she doesn’t want to be a working stiff and would rather be a housewife then so be it. She isn’t betraying feminism if it’s her decision, she’s actually employing it to do what she wants for herself.

If One Billion Rising and various other women’s rights organisations worldwide can help to rectify this inequality, then the world will be a better place. And it’s important to remember that men must also do their part. We have a responsibility as people to ensure all are treated as equals. Simply put, it is trivial to isolate this as being just  a women’s issue. It affects us all. Mothers and daughters, wives and girlfriends, we all have them, and all deserve to be treated as equals.

Photo: via Elvert Barnes

Of late, I’ve been bitten by the film-collecting bug, particularly when it comes to the acquisition of Blu-Rays. As such, in times of austerity but where having some retail therapy to help lighten up your day, it’s important to know where to go looking for the best deals.

When it comes to Blu-Rays, an important thing to bear in mind is that as they’re more durable than your standard DVD, buying disks second hand is less of a risk. This opens up a whole range of pawn, charity and second hand shops that you may not have considered before. Major retailers of second hand good like CeX or Cash Converters are a great place to browse for bargains, as more often than not they’re cheaper than online, even than the used section of Amazon or eBay. Plus you don’t have to pay P&P. For instance, I recently picked up the BBC Wonders Special Edition for £8 and the Star Wars saga for £40 from CeX, saving me £31. Moreover, if you’ve got DVDs you’re wanting to upgrade or just get rid of, getting the exchange price as opposed to the cash price can net you a few extra pounds to knock of the total price of your purchases. With CeX, check their website if there’s something you’re wanting in particular. The price on there will be the same as the price in store and you can check to see if they have it in stock. Personally, I wouldn’t buy anything direct from the website though as I’ve heard a few horror stories and I’m not that desperate just yet.

Another useful tip I’ve found is to have an Amazon Wish List full of Blu-Rays you’re interested in buying. If Amazon reduces the price then your wish list will show you the drop in price compared to how it was when you added it. This is particularly useful around Christmas and January during the sales and your patience can really pay off. Also, if like me you’ve a memory like a sieve then having a place online where you can check what you’ve been interested in buying of late is a real help. Especially if you’ve a smart phone and can check it when you’re on the go, it can save you a lot of time and money. Beyond Amazon, you’ve also got the likes of Play and Zavvi. Though with Play shutting down its own retail section and Zavvi’s reputation for poor service I’d use them more as a last resort. You get cheaper prices and in fairness more often than not you’ll be fine, but it’s up to you if you want to take the risk.

Keeping an eye on Internet forums is another good way of staying informed and up to date with the latest promotions and sales. Not only are the vast majority free to join, but also you can engage with a community of like-minded people who may be collectors of special editions or just your average movie fan who likes a bargain like myself. Also consider taking a look at YouTube for channels with folks who search for bargains or are collectors and give tips on where to look and what deals are out there.

Finally, with the news that both Blockbuster and HMV are going into administration it’s a good time to look for any deals they may have as a result. HMV are still running their 3 for £20/5 for £30 deal, as well as their blue cross sale, so as long as they’ve not been picked clean it’s worth a look. Similarly, Blockbuster is a good place to look for pre-owned stuff, especially if it’s one of the stores that will be closing down soon. I’ve picked up some real gems from their pre-owned section before so it’s definitely worth having a browse.

It can definitely be a rewarding hobby and I know I’ve found myself spending far too much time weighing up the pros and cons over whether or not I want to get something or hoping it’ll go down in price. Making the leap up to Blu-Ray and building up that library can be an incredibly rewarding experience, but it doesn’t have to be an expensive one. And at the end of the day, so long as you’re happy with what you got, that’s what matters. Just don’t pay through the nose for it.

The Colossus is dead. The Playstation 2, the titan of home video gaming, has had its plug pulled and been discontinued by Sony after almost 13 years. As the unequivocal winner of the last console war (shipping more units than the XBox, Gamecube and Dreamcast combined), the PS2 has a special place in the hearts of millions around the globe. A monolithic black slab, like something out of 2001: A Space Odyssey, the PS2 transformed video game consoles and what we expected from them.

Launching in March 2000, the PS2 blew all its competitors out of the water with a combination of savvy business decisions and excellent games to back them up. Sony’s decision to include a DVD player built into the console gave it a place under people’s television sets that was normally reserved for VCRs and Sky boxes. Its ability to be stored vertically was a significant selling point as well, with space under a television at a premium. But for all these nifty extras, what really made the PS2 such a success was its games.

The Playstation 2 had phenomenal third party support. Franchises such as Grand Theft Auto, Final Fantasy, Resident Evil, FIFA, Pro Evolution Soccer, Metal Gear Solid and Gran Turismo gave the console broad appeal. Games such as Ico, Shadow of the Colossus and Okami, though lacking the popularity of the aforementioned franchises, were critically acclaimed and provided something for the more cerebral and hardcore gamer. Crucially, Sony’s decision to have backwards compatibility built into the device from Day One meant that you weren’t restricted to the launch titles, strong though they were. On release, you had five years worth of games to choose from thanks to the original Playstation. You could even continue that save of a game you’ve invested dozens of hours into on the PS1 on your shiny new PS2 by plugging in your old memory cards. More than anything I think it was this feature that elevated the PS2 above its competitors. Nintendo was transitioning from cartridges to disks, Sega didn’t include it and Microsoft was just starting out in the console business. And there was Sony, with the game library of two consoles. How could they compete?

Certainly the backwards compatibility was what made me choose the PS2. It was the summer of 2002, I was a massive Final Fantasy addict and my PS1 had just broken. Conveniently, Final Fantasy X had been released a few months earlier and so for my birthday I was given a PS2 and taken on a trip to Electronics Boutique to pick out my games. It was a magical time and from that moment on I was hooked. The ability to use all my old games and get new, state of the art games? How could any geeky kid not be head over heels? The fact that console is probably the reason I didn’t do as well in school as I might isn’t something I regret. The PS2 really opened my eyes to the world of video gaming and for that I shall be eternally grateful.

Eventually, in the summer of 2008, my PS2 gave up the ghost and died on me. Well, I say died. Murdered would be a more accurate description. I punched it right in the middle after dying one too many times on a boss fight in Final Fantasy XII and that was that. I never bought a replacement, opting for an XBox 360 instead, which I grew to love but not in the same way. It (and the PS3 now that I have one) lack the character of the PS2. Though inferior in every way, the PS2 has a little place in my heart as a console that none since have matched. Sadly, I doubt I’ll ever feel that again. And so I raise a glass to the Playstation 2 and wish it adieu. The beautiful, magnificent bastard.

So it’s finally released and I have to say I’m not disappointed in the slightest. Despite the bad reviews and the bad press regarding the frame rate, I can honestly say that The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a great, fun movie. It’s not without it’s flaws and it doesn’t hit the highs of The Lord of the Rings, but what you do get is an exciting film and a promising start to a new trilogy. To expand on that:

Pros:

  • Riddles in the Dark. The best chapter of the book and by far the best part of the film. Hell probably one of the best moments from the Middle Earth films. Martin Freeman is excellent in this scene, going from humouring Smeagol to being genuinely terrified when he slips into being Gollum. And for good reason. There are moments where Gollum is genuinely unnerving, particularly when his eyes catch the light and go a ghoulish blue. As good as Freeman is in this scene, it’s Andy Serkis who steals the show. It’s a pity we shan’t see any more of him in the second and third Hobbit films.

 

  • The Necromancer. Though seen only fleetingly, the sequence with Radagast exploring Dol Guldur is certainly tense and a good prelude of what’s to come in the second and third movies. Sylvester McCoy is wonderful as the eccentric wizard and it shows in his scene with Gandalf that the two are good friends. This is contrasted wonderfully with Gandalf’s later scene with Saruman in Rivendell where he seems dismayed to hear his sonorous voice booming out behind him to announce his arrival. That whole backstory with the White Council and Dol Guldur has always fascinated me and I look forward to seeing more.

 

  • The development of Thorin is a welcome expansion on his character. Whilst re-reading the book he does seem rather one-dimensional, at least in terms of what’s portrayed in the book. What the film does well is to show you the motivation for his quest and to also make his aloofness more understandable, in particular his hatred of the Elves. As well as that, Bilbo’s actions towards the end of the film allow him to thaw somewhat and to accept Bilbo as one of their company, something that is essential if we’re to care about this character for another two films. The inclusion of Azog as a large albino Orc who is hunting Thorin and his company also provides the film with a running antagonist in lieu of Smaug. The history between those two will add an undercurrent to the remaining films, leading up the climax at the Battle of the Five Armies.

 

  • One concern I did have going into the film was that in having 14 characters on this quest, the film would spread itself thin trying to give each one their own moment. Thankfully this was not the case as the film focuses mainly on a few select members of the company. As well as obvious focus on Bilbo, Gandalf and Thorin, namely Fili, Kili, Bofur, Balin and, to a lesser extent, Dwalin. Hopefully the remaining dwarves will get their time to shine in the second and third films, but for this one it benefits it to focus on only a few.

 

Cons:

  • Though the set-pieces of the film are by and large fantastic, the scenes linking them all together can be a bit weak. Even for a Middle Earth film, there are a lot of shots of people walking up hills and down dales. Yes it’s a staple of these films, but it does make the film rather segmented rather than one that flows, something that The Lord of the Rings films managed.

 

  • The CGI in places is quite ropey. The Great Goblin, whilst not bad enough to make you go: “hang on…” is hardly Academy Award worthy. Similarly, scenes of Radagast in his rabbit powered sleigh take all the powers of suspension of disbelief I can muster. However, it must be said that Gollum looks amazing with updated CGI, so all in all a mixed bag.

 

General points:

  • I can’t be the only one who was slightly disturbed by the load of bird poo down the side of Radagast’s head, right?

 

  • Saw the film at the conventional 24fps 2D and it looked fine. If you really are worried about the higher frame rate then don’t bother risking it.

 

  • Something to mention that I think a lot of critics missed out on is that it’s much lighter in tone and more fantastical than Lord of the Rings. If you’re going into it expecting it to be just like LOTR, you’re in for inevitable disappointment. Yes it’s in the same universe, but it isn’t the same tone or style and nor should it try to be. Jackson, Walsh and Boyens do a great job of incorporating neat little references to the LOTR without copying it.

 

  • I didn’t expect Smaug to be pronounced like that.

 

  • Finally, the film manages funny without being forced, mostly due to Martin Freeman’s excellent delivery of lines. If you take nothing else from this film, take away Freeman’s performance because it really is top notch.