Updated: Dec 11, 2019
Photo-editing by James Somerton.
As we come up to the end of 2019, I’ll admit that it’s been a hell of a year. There’s been a massive chunk of upheaval that’s been dropped into my lap and I have no idea what to do with it. Lucky for me, the last quarter of this year has been fantastic for all kinds of content! And while, by far, I haven’t experienced all of it, I think I can definitely throw together a brief description of a few things that have made 2019 a bit of a softer landing.
November, particularly, has been a real good spot for media. So, for the sake of getting back into regular blogging, let’s lick off 2020 (mlem!) with some fluff!
Now, as I wrote this, it ended up being WAY long. So instead of giving you 7000 words to slog through, I’ve taken out the longest three articles and they’ll be getting their own blogs as I polish them up!
In no order in particular, though grouped by medium, and with a hearty SPOILER WARNING…
I — Television & Streaming
The Mandalorian keeps giving me more reasons to tune in every week.
Yes, specifically because of Baby Yoda. But as the show goes on, it keeps better so much better. The action, the acting. Not to mention it’s refreshing to have an action television format which each week is a new story. And not to mention, this show looks better than most movies. The special effects are fantastic, and the costumes and sets are so detailed. It’s an incredible callback to the ambiance of the Original Trilogy in a way that hasn’t been captured since 1983.
But ALSO because this show is basically a reprisal of old Western movies/shows and I am ALL. HERE. FOR. IT. Does it have Watchmen’s gravitas? No. Is it doing what it does extremely well? Absolutely. The first two episodes were a little shaky but the third one delivered some amazing action and amazing feels.
Why do they get to cover up someone so pretty with a helmet like that though?
Problem: release time. This kind of stuff is spoilable, based on the widespread popularity. Having it released while most people in NA are at work means the people who CAN watch it when it drops might spoil it. I think episodes should be released at about 4:00 PM PST.
Problem: complete lack of Baby Yoda merchandise. What’s wrong with you, you monsters?
The Golden Compass…
I tried. Wasn’t into it. Pacing sucked and the acting sucked. Specifically the lead young actress — I hate picking on a kid, but she can’t deliver her lines to anyone but her CGI sometimes-ferret. But... when the season ends and I revisit it, the rest of the season may change my mind on her.
(She was a fantastic X-23.)
But aside from that the whole thing just stank from how little I felt for it. Not really as in negative opinions. I just… didn’t have any opinions on it one way or another. I kept looking at the clock. It was just… such a drag. I don’t even remember the Romani-esque characters from the book. Were they in the book? Or are they an addition? I’ve also developed a negative opinion on the book since I read it. And the more I think about the subsequent two books, the less the series actually ‘works’, you know?
I don’t know. The first episode did like… nothing to pique my interest. I might binge it when it’s done, but I feel that this show has the curse of just being forgettable. It looks like a TV show, and next to The Mandalorian and Watchmen, and especially coming out of HBO, that’s qualification enough to be passed-over.
I’m also annoyed because I see the show getting as full of itself as the books did.
How Pullman thought of his book: The title sequence
How the books actually came together: The other 55 minutes
Coming December 17…
II — Cinema
I loved The Last Jedi. That’s not news to regular readers. And while I am starting to feel that this new Trilogy doesn’t really ‘fit’ with the Original Trilogy or even the Prequels — The Last Jedi is a fantastic, outlying, meta-commentary about Star Wars itself. Even if we’re starting to see this Kennedy Trilogy (as I’m now calling it) is dually plagued both by ‘whose got the bigger force power’ and using a nostalgic IP as a vessel for new stories without really caring what those stories are so long as it sells tickets. The Last Jedi, at least, got carelessly handed to someone who cared very deeply about what he was putting on the screen.
As for J.J.’s hinted use of Mecha-Palpatine, I can’t say I have much faith in him. I can respect that he can make consistently ‘good’ films, but he’s never made anything ‘great’. He would be so much better if he made use of an incandescent screenwriter so he can work through his fantastic skill at visual storytelling. Creatively though, he’s a total hack and lacking in any kind of original idea and—
I’m getting very sidetracked, aren’t I? I have strong feelings.
I was curious to see how Ryan Johnson’s non-Star-Wars property would go. And I was curious to see how Chris Evans’ non-captain America would hold out.
He is definitely not playing Steve Rogers, and he does not at all feel out of place. For everyone who said he was not a great actor because he was too wooden against Robert Downey Jr., he is showing a fantastic range in this film. (I always said he was playing Captain America exactly as he needed to be played.)
Now, the film itself is incredibly entertaining: mixed visually stimulating with a very off-beat and unconventional whodunnit storyline, and an excellent job wrangling a cast of very high-profile actors. Everyone was distinct and memorable without anyone out-shining anyone else. But make no mistake, among the clown-car of super-talent, the starring role was Ana DeArams — a more-or-less unknown actress who does more than hold her own against Daniel Craig, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Christopher Plumber. I’m very pleased to see how much she has scheduled for the future — I hope this movie encourages studios and directors to continue to give her a leading role.
I’m amazed that Johnson and Craig managed to generate a ‘gentleman sleuth’ who is not a carbon copy of Sherlock Holmes. Craig’s Benoit Blanc is a southern gentleman who is delighted, amused, and surprised at his own powers of deduction, and who is more than a little bit goofy and eccentric. It doesn’t feel like it’s trying to be a Sherlock Holmes movie at all and I think that is of great benefit — especially as Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock Holmes spurred popularity in detective mysteries that have either been done poorly or which have simply not been that interesting.
I would be very interested in seeing Craig reprise the role if this is to become a franchise on its own. He’s got more than enough character there for him to bring back for more mysteries.
III — Video Games
The Outer Worlds…
I never buy games when they come out.
(That is an errant lie, but I never mean to buy games when they come out.)
It's just that... when The Outer Worlds got the kind of pre-release buzz that it did… I just got really excited. An open-world game? Made by the insanity of Obsidian Entertainment? In Space? About late-stage capitalism??? It sounded too good to be true.
I feel though… in spite of good buzz… it was a little too good to be true. I mean, I don’t dislike it… it was just really easy to get out of.
I love the colour, I love the world, I love the characters. But… there are some things that just got to me. Like how literally every NPC is entirely static, fixed in place, does not move, does not have a schedule. Vendors don’t even shut down for the night. It feels more like an open-world game from the early 2000s for that. And then, in spite of it being labelled as an open-world, it’s relegated to a handful of open maps… which are so intensely small I had a hard time really getting the gumption to do any exploring.
The interface is weird… you collect codex entries and area hints but it’s inconvenient to access them. Inventory management is a nightmare. Lack of 3rd person is a problem for me because too much 1st person in panoramic games like this and I start to feel claustrophobic. And then the inability to put your weapon away, in spite of being able to persuade your way through the game without firing a shot... it just breaks the immersion that the social aspect is supposed to offer.
Collectable decorations for your ship are a little vague, and even though things like this usually foster a sense of accomplishment… you don’t know where they are so you don’t feel it. The survival difficulty is — somehow — less realistic than non-survival; you have a tiny, 2-ish minute threshold where your stats are safe before you need to eat a full meal before you receive SEVERE stat penalizations.
And — this is something I’ve come to loathe about open-world games these days — you have a small pool of weapon designs, and when you get a ‘unique’ weapon, it just has the same skin as a normal weapon. That pisses me off so much... There’s no sense of accomplishment for collecting and having unique weapons if you don’t see them.
I keep thinking about it though, and think that I’m going to come back to it (though this might be mostly for the $80 CAD I paid up-front for it). My question is whether the humour is going to stick up. Is the infrequent, off-colour, despotic gag worth fighting against the interface? Is just existing in a dryly sardonic capitalist world a qualification for ‘humour’ and good writing? Especially when it’s more Orwellian than it is absurd — this world is closer to reality than we’d like to admit.
And in all honesty, it’s a huge downer to see it all be played for a gag. I can’t tell whether the punch line is that we already live in this world, or whether this is a corporation telling us to be thankful that we don’t live in this world. I think the reason I couldn’t get invested in the plot was that I kept asking myself that question. Maybe if I get a clear answer, I’ll have more interest to pick it up again.
Star Wars: Jedi — Fallen Order!
First impressions only! I’m going to come back to this when I’m finished and write a full review.
Is this part of the ongoing Jedi series? That would make sense I guess? Jedi Knight was stellar and Jedi Academy wasn’t fantastic but I played it more than I care to admit (I was very bored as a teenager). And granted, this is a great way to get over the canonical nightmare, emo-ridden, whose-got-the-bigger-force-power-show that was The Force Unleashed. Fun game as long as you weren’t paying attention to anything that was going on.
I’m not sure why they needed to cast Cameron Monaghan, though I’m grateful that they did. He’s definitely not what you’d typically expect from a si-fi action hero… Especially what the TrueFans™ have come to demand from Star Wars content. Never mind that Lucas broke the mould by casting Mark Hamill (a twink) as a heroic lead, when heroic leads from before were dashing, handsome, suave, and swole (Captain Kirk [early on], and Flash Gordon, as examples).
As it so happens, Flash Gordon-types are exactly what TrueFans™ have come to demand. If Lucas was dead he’d be rolling around in his grace — oh right! These are the folks who bullied Lucas out of his own damn franchise.
(STAR WARS DOESN’T BELONG TO YOU.)
If I had to criticize at this early stage… I dunno. I’m not really drawn to the character yet. Cameron’s doing his best, but at this early, first-act bit that I’ve managed to play because I stole it from my roommate while he was at work, I don’t have the impression like he has a lot to work with. (And he is a fantastic actor so I hope this means his character is a slow-burn.)
Thus-far, however… I feel like Cal is very paint-by-numbers as far as star-wars goes. In a galaxy full of neuro-typicals, who are perfectly capable at socializing with anyone. Where everyone knows who to trust at first glance. Where people form alliances based on progressing the plot. Where heroes, in spite of trauma, are alarmingly well-adjusted; where emotional management problems and mental health issues are reserved only for villains… I’d like to see a little bit more diversity beyond #TheForceIsFemale.
There’s a galaxy full of aliens… why do no species seem to exemplify neuro-divergence as their norm? Shouldn’t some species have vastly different ways of thinking by means of simply not having human brains? And why all the obsession over humans? Give me a non-human protagonist, DAMNIT. FULLY RENDERED MONSTER-BOY MASS-EFFECT GAY SEX.
I mean… it’s explicitly established that Cal has PTSD…
Which, is a MISSED OPPORTUNITY if I ever saw one. You have a force-sensitive, who also is set up as an individual who experiences intense vision-like hallucinations. Why not use that as a way to visually represent a PTSD flashback? Why not make the game a love-letter to coping with trauma by using the force as a framing mechanic for putting the player into that reality?
Maybe that’s yet to come? But I don’t like the whole ‘oh I don’t like to meditate because then I get a little bit uncomfortable, but then I come out of it in like two seconds so it really isn’t all that convenient — yes I have a solid grasp on my emotional limitations in spite of never really getting any kind of assistance to deal with my trauma, without really having to confront it, and all the while dealing with it by repressing and avoiding it.
BECAUSE THAT LEADS TO A WELL-ADJUSTED, STABLE PROTAGONIST.
Christ, if it were me writing the story, I’d have him on a teetering path to panic-stricken dark-side leanings. Instead of a dark-side user who is stoic, vindictive, angry, smug, and collected, have Cal in a teetering between emotional repression and the need to express them violently. His manifestation of the dark side would swing from explosively self-defensive to internalized and self-destructive. Show us how a Jedi deals with panic attacks, with dissociative fugue states, with psychosis. How does having that kind of power and ability mix with a very fragile emotional state brought on by severe trauma?
We’re getting a bit heady and dark, but hey — it worked for Hellblade. Why not use the force to explore mental health?
Okay shut up, I know that LucasFilm has some ‘damage control’ to run after the backlash over Daisy Ridley, Felicity Jones, and the F-for-effort attempt to launch Han Solo as the white man the TrueFans(TM) wanted to see. I mean, Pedro Pascal is the lead in The Mandalorian (#takethatarmoroff #allofit), but he has a helmet all the time — so the horrible, racist fans don’t have to confront the diversity. Even though these female-led movies that TrueFans(TM) threaten to boycott still pull in Multi-Billion dollar box offices (Captain Marvel, specifically) — I’d wager to say that we don’t need to listen to a single demand from these TrueFans(TM) because they clearly can’t made a dint in the box office.
Granted — maybe all this happens. I’m only a few hours in. And if none of this is in there, then I have some ideas of my own that I can use for my work. No spilt milk if it’s not there.
But I will say, I’m really digging this Dark Souls with Lightsabers approach they’re taking. (As much as I’m pissed off that blue lightsabers keep getting all the love.) Solid mechanics, great interface, and unlike Dark Souls, the main challenge of the game ISN’T fighting against the controls and physics.
This… is like Dark Souls but where the difficulty is in the gameplay itself. More rewarding when you win… even if when you rest it all gets reset. Does that mean it’s easier? Yes. But given that we’re in a world of digital entertainment where we have more than 8 colours, I really don’t think that difficulty needs to be the sole qualification of a video game’s quality, and not it’s ability to innovate in the portrayal of a story or entertain players.
Fallen Order does both very well. It’s visually raw in ways that cycle back to the way Lucas first presented alien worlds. They were things you could resemble form Earth, but there was something either ‘off’ about them, or just entirely heightened. In the Original Trilogy and the Prequels, every single world had its own marketable brand. This game really likes to lean on making each of its worlds distinct from what we’ve seen in the movies. Not just that, but revisits the idea of creating planets for having a ‘purpose’ that it serves to the galaxy, both historically and economically.
(I’ve been to two planets, but that’s apparent.)
And now I have to go home for the Christmas break so I can’t play it for a few weeks. SAAAAAAD.
I’m waiting to see whether his exposure to the new Star Wars Extended Universe warps becomes as cartoonishly grand as it did in the… well, the cartoons. (I have nothing good to say about Rebels and you might hear all of it when I finish the game.) However… as of this early point, it seems to be much more rooted in the survival of the non-chosen-ones and I’m HERE FOR THAT.
Pokemon: Sword and Shield!
With more Milo fan-service like this, who isn't?
IV — Wrap-up
This isn’t even all the content that came out November 2019, and it’s all pretty solid. Honestly the reasons why I put down the stuff that I did was because I am in school and have a lot of homework so I have to be very selective about the media I consume…
Okay fine! It’s mostly been Warframe anyway. GOD DAMNIT. Also still trying go get through RDR2. Also need to finish playing the Witcher 3… it’s been over a year. Still playing through Skyrim. Wanted to replay BOTW again…
I mean, I’d be doing that stuff if it weren’t for this new stuff I have to use for self-care while I try to cope with the stress of school, and the fact that school takes so much out of me that I can’t work on my fiction and that makes me feel like I’m slipping behind and that opportunity windows are passing me by and oh my god Marvel is making trans heroes and even though I worked really hard to give my work intrinsic value, I’m still worried that nobody’s going to read it if the novelty factor isn’t there, and it takes a lot of effort to tell yourself that your work has value if you aren’t actually in a place in your life if you can work on it, and even if I could push it, I don’t have it for sale anymore because I’m trying to get an agent for it so I can be published through a publisher because I wasn’t good at promoting myself, but finding a publisher is taking forever because I have to devote so much of my energy to school, and so that means self-care is eating up way more of my time than I want it to so I have so little energy left for doing the things that actually MATTER to me, let alone do the things I need to do to accrue a following who will buy my book, like writing blogs, which I’ve been shit at doing, but also venturing into populating my social media in spite of a backlog of hundreds of photos I want to add to instagram, and don’t even talk to me about starting to do YouTune videos—
I’m just FINE! How are you? Excited for 2020?
Make sure to check out my twitter (@NTHerrgott) and my Instagram (nt.herrgott). I'm going to take the winter break and upload ALL THE PICTURES I've taken since the summer to Instagram — so watch out for that!