Friday, January 30, 2015

Review: Constantine S1E11, A Whole World Out There

No sooner had the companions of John Constantine received some much needed fleshing-out last week, than we got an episode that sees John on a solo adventure with an oddly brief hand-wave about Zed and Chas being on holiday or something.

There is nothing inherently wrong with doing a solo one-off episode, except that it falls into the obvious trap that a solo one-off would tend to imply, namely that it devises a terrific concept and then finds itself without the necessary time or space to give that idea its full due.

Specifically, this episode sees Constantine help yet another old occultist chum from his younger days - and since to my recollection we have yet seen neither footage nor photograph of his whole former entourage together, the show can keep on doing this more or less indefinitely - to fight a mad doctor in a magical mindspace in which the power of the consciousness determines the nature of reality.

This is a terrific idea, packed with not only exciting story and visual potential, but with tremendous thematic resonance if the show were only to start digging for it. Unfortunately, the time constraints inherent in an hour-long show do not accommodate the possibility of making good on all of this potential, and so even the grand climax less resembles a Dark City-style reshaping of the world than one good CGI shot and an array of underwhelming greenscreen effects.

In short, the key phrase of the day is unrealized potential. A very interesting idea is left without the necessary room to breathe, and the result is an intriguing but ultimately middling episode of the series. The teaser for next week's episode seems to imply the return of the main season arc along with the side characters the show has been slowly developing over its run, so that will be worth returning for at any rate. Until then, we are left with this noble failure of an episode, and at the very least I would much rather see an installment that fails due to an surplus of ambition rather than one kneecapped by a dearth of it.

Cinemibus: Episode 1, I Love The Cabin In The Woods

The first episode of my new series, Cinemibus.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Review: Arrow S3 E11, Midnight City

After an intriguing but somewhat underwhelming episode last week, the latest episode of Arrow tells a much larger and more compelling story, marred only by one nagging flaw that I will come to later.

The best stuff first. The overarching plot with Brick as the new villain had threatened to become like the Slade Wilson mega-arc last season, in which the villain takes an unreasonably and - ultimately - self-defeatingly long time to bring any of his plans to full fruition. Happily, in line with the aggressive persona of this new villain, his take-over-the-slums scheme is refreshingly straightforward, simple, and fast. He kidnaps three city officials and holds the area to ransom, essentially declaring his own fiefdom over The Glades district of the city. Done.

And in point of fact, he wins! With Oliver still gone, the city is left with his entourage to sort everything out in his absence, and their struggle to do so feels very real, very dangerous, and very suspenseful. As it turns out, struggle is much more engaging and relatable when not constantly interrupted by huskily whispered platitudes from a joyless mentor.

But we are by no means free of Oliver in the interim, and this is the nagging problem with the episode that I so crudely hinted at above. Not only are we intermittently assailed by more interminable flashbacks, which have always been the most bloody-mindedly tedious part of the show after the previously on... segments, but we also get a handful of scenes of Oliver recuperating in the present day. These scenes serve the dual purpose of bringing the story to a grinding halt every time they appear and reminding us of similar scenes in The Dark Knight Rises, another superhero tale that took an ill-advised break from building up tension to watch the hero recover from severe injuries sustained in the line of duty.

I am, however, being far too cruel. Midnight City is a very compelling episode that moves the season arc forward but still manages to tell an engaging story of its own in the meantime, which is as succinct a definition of a good TV episode as I can be bothered to think of. There is also a small but satisfying final twist that sets up more intrigue for the future, so well done there as well. It will be interesting to see if the next episode will be able to sustain this high.

Review: Batman #38

We are now four issues into the Endgame arc, and Scott Snyder continues to do a fantastic job. This review is going to be relatively short, since there is only so much I can say about the issue without giving the kind of spoilers that would defeat the whole purpose of a positive review. As with my review of the latest The Flash episode yesterday, I will add a spoilerific section at the bottom for the benefit of anyone who has read the issue and wants to talk about that.

Suffice it to say, there is some very clever stuff going on here. Almost too clever, as is more or less de rigeur for Scott Snyder Batman stories of late. As with its immediate predecessors, the issue occasionally risks getting bogged down in complex, plot-hole-filling explanations of why exactly we are going to the next place we are going to, or why precisely this chemical will have the effect that it does. I very much appreciate the research that must have gone into these passages, but it does sometimes threaten to bring the whole enterprise to a grinding halt.

That, however, is a minor quibble, and there is much to love about this latest issue of the arc. In fact, I think it is the best issue of the arc since its first one. That first issue, if you will recall, was terrific in the way that it brought the rest of the DC Universe crashing into the insular world of Batman in the most violent way possible, but all of the issues of the arc since have brought back the insularity to enhance the claustrophobia factor. Happily, Scott Snyder finds a way to expand the scope of his story without sacrificing the closed-in feel that has made the arc so scary so far. This will be discussed in more detail below in the spoiler section.

The issue also ends with what might be the best end-of-installment cliffhanger that Snyder has yet written for Batman. Even if I had no other reason to return, that ending would have me coming back for the next issue.

The idea of tying the rest of the DCU to the story by giving an in-narrative explanation of the immortality of various unkillable characters is absolutely brilliant for the reasons cited above, and the idea that the Joker is one of those infected immortals ties back to the opening narration of the Death of the Family arc, where Batman has to talk himself into remembering that the Joker is a mere man after all. And that final page...Oh, wow, that final page. It conveys how desperate Batman is, suggests several possible ways forward for the installments to follow, and leaves enough mystery to make the reader want to come back. This is a callback done right, a cliffhanger done right, and an issue of a superhero comic done right. Full marks!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Review: The Flash, S1 E11, The Sound And The Fury

As previously mentioned, the character of The Flash has one of the best-remembered rogues galleries in comics, and one of the most prominent of those villains is Pied Piper, perhaps best remembered for coming out as gay in issue #53 of The Flash in 1991. It was an ahead-of-its-time move, and one that has made the character stand out even in the crowded field of Flash rogues ever since.

And now that we finally see the first appearance of the character on The Flash TV show, that element is nicely handled, neither glossed over nor allowed to define the character on its own. Rather, this version of the character - civilian name Hartley Rathaway - is given an Asbergers-ish, even Sherlockian quality. True to that idea, he seems to know more about everyone in the room than anyone in the room, and is just as deliberately abrasive as that might imply. Additionally, of course, his smugly-withheld knowledge of various character secrets allows the writers of the show to hint at mysteries yet to be unraveled for the viewers.

Unlike last week, this episode tries to be hyper-cerebral almost to a fault, with the dense jargon about sound waves being more than likely to confuse some viewers, particularly as the climax nears. Also unlike last week, this episode moves the season arc forward considerably, as the great cipher of the series, Dr. Harrison Wells, has a great many of his secrets stripped away with even more hinted to come. Of course, the greatest secret surrounding that character - his identity - remains a very deliberate mystery. I will discuss that briefly in a spoiler section at the end of the review.

Before that, we have just enough time for a few observations. First, the episode opens with Barry foiling a robbery by the Royal Flush Gang from the comics, although the card-face motorcycle helmets they wear are really the only aspect of their outfits that really identify them as such. Second, the subplot with Iris getting a job at a major newspaper may pay off later in the season, but in this episode it feels remarkably vestigial, really only serving to make the life-and-death elements seem markedly less urgent. Third and finally, the alternating cooperation and antagonism between the folks back at Star Labs keeps things interesting throughout the episode, and gives me to hope that their on-off resentment of Dr. Wells will force him to show his hand sooner rather than later.

In summary, this is an excellent episode of The Flash, both as fun and as full of vaguely obtuse intrigue as that would imply.

Spoiler-ish final notes--
The episode actually does some very clever things with Dr. Wells. The writers know that the biggest question with the character is his true identity, and so they drop multiple - and contradictory - hints as to the answer. This is why we have Barry sliding into what is almost a Wells impression during a conversation with Iris, seemingly lending credence to the theory that Wells is actually a future timeline version of Barry himself. Then we have Wells having to replenish his connection to the Speed Force - nice little comics shout-out there, incidentally - which suggests he might be someone else entirely. Then we have him addressing his house computer as Gideon, which some have interpreted as a reference to the DC Comics New Gods. This is all deliberate wrong-footing on varying scales of cleverness, and as such gives us no real hints. But boy is it fun to fruitlessly speculate! Until next week, friends!

Monday, January 26, 2015

On Remakes

A word on remakes. Obviously, as I’ve mentioned before, they tend not to make me angry since they’re so easy to ignore. A remake does nothing to the original work, it can only hurt itself. That said, if remakes are here to stay, let me give out some unsolicited but nonetheless sage advice.

First, don’t remake really good movies. This goes for adaptations as well. I say this not because I irrationally imagine that a remake will somehow “ruin” the original, but rather because when you decide to remake something good, you only end up damning yourself. Your film will inevitably be compared to its source and will not come off well in the comparison, no matter how artfully you approach it.

This is fundamentally because there is no purpose to a remake of a good film. What are you accomplishing, what are you improving? Nothing.

Thus, if you’re going to remake something, remake something mediocre but which has a spark of inspiration to it that you can exploit. Or, if you must remake something good (like King Kong), pick something that has a fairly obvious flaw that it is within your power to correct (in this case, the personality-filled but unconvincing special effects in the 1933 Kong). The point of a remake is not to just do the older film over again, it is to comment on the older film, making clear your affection for it but also pointing out its flaws by correcting them.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Review - Constantine, Season 1, Episode 10: Quid Pro Quo

Unlike some, I was never reflexively opposed to the idea of John Constantine having a more or less constant entourage following him around on his show. There are definitely merits to having the character constantly alone, particularly since it would emphasize the extent to which the abrasive aspects of John pushes everyone away no matter how hard he tries, but at the same time the sharp demarcation between those who hate Constantine and those who trust him far past the point of reason says just as much about the character, as well as providing some as yet unexploited opportunities to comment on the nature of fandom, but I digress.

All of that said, the various hangers-on only really work if they exist as characters in themselves, not merely as functional tools in the arsenal of the main character. Otherwise they might just as well be spell circles or reliquaries that occasionally deliver lines of exposition. We have gotten some hints of that sort of development with Zed in the last couple of episodes, and now we get a sudden rush of that sort of development with Chas. In this episode alone, we are introduced to his wife and daughter, told about his first run-in with Constantine, given an explanation for his extraordinary resilience, and shown perhaps the biggest piece of character development we have gotten in the show so far.

While the introduction of all this information can feel somewhat rushed at times, the backstory given to Chas is genuinely compelling and tragic, all tied up into a thought experiment that never loses its sense of the human cost of the magic involved.

The plot of the episode is - perhaps by necessity - not as interesting as everything that surrounds it, although it does manage to slip in one dramatic little twist just at the climax. Fans of the comic will doubtless be pleased at the introduction of legendarily weaselly magician Felix Faust to the show, and we will doubtless be seeing more of him down the line. Also, the last two scenes in the show may be the best that this show has yet produced.

In fact, while by no means perfect, this episode is one of the best of the series so far. And, as I mentioned above, if we are to be saddled with not only John Constantine but with his ragtag family, then developing the characters that make up that family can only bode well for the future of the series, and I will be returning to see whether the show can make good on its promising new direction.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Review - Arrow Season 3, Episode 10, Left Behind

Arrow appeared at its mid-season finale to be going in a more interesting direction, having ostensibly killed off its main character. And, to be fair, at the beginning of episode 10 we get a little taste of the sort of show that might have arisen were the series to have stuck to its guns, with the Arrow-family teaming up to fill the void left by their friend and mentor, trying to honor his work while still letting the criminal element of Starling City - and incidentally, the hinted name change to the more source-appropriate Star City cannot come soon enough - know that the Green Arrow never truly left.

What we get instead is a great deal of dreary is-he-dead-or-is-he-not wavering, both from the characters and from the show itself, as it stretches out a disappointing reveal over the full runtime of the episode. Spoilers, I suppose, though anyone who has not figured this out probably does not have much of a future in comics media - Oliver is not dead, and a figure from his past looks set to repay a life-debt to him by nursing him back to life. At the very least, this means that we might have a couple more episodes before Mr. Myfault McHumblebrag makes his inevitable return to the city, allowing us to focus on the more interesting characters in the meantime.

To this end, the oddball work relationship between Ray and Felicity is given a nice wrinkle by the disappearance and presumed death of Oliver, as Felicity tries to work through a grief that Ray has had much longer to adjust to since his own seemingly obligatory personal trauma. That said, Brandon Routh and Emily Bett Rickards have probably the two most compelling characters on the show and remain perhaps its two most engaging screen presences, to the point where if the show was announced to be retooled entirely around them it might have a chance of surpassing The Flash as best DC show on the air right now.

Despite all this negativity, I am interested to see where the show is going with all of this, particularly with the introduction of new supervillain mastermind Brick, played by Vinnie Jones doing his best impression of Vinnie Jones. As with The Flash, Arrow is taking advantage of a lull after a mid-season blowout to pick up its plot threads in preparation for a spirited dash for whatever end-goal it has in mind. That, in my view, is reason enough to keep watching for a spell.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Review - The Superior Iron Man #4

Comics writer Tom Taylor has only been in the public eye for a relatively short while, cutting his teeth on the videogame tie-in Injustice Gods Among Us and somehow making it one of the best comics that DC has put out in recent years. With The Superior Iron Man, Taylor has gone from a dark reinterpretation of DC superheroes to a dark reinterpretation of a Marvel superhero.

It has become routine, therefore, for reviewers to assert that his talent clearly lies in writing alternate versions of familiar characters, but the last three issues of this series has demonstrated a remarkable aptitude for writing Daredevil in his classic form.

To be sure, in its portrayal of a Tony Stark robbed of his moral compass by a freak accident, the series has provided a fascinating look at the dark side of a popular character as well as using that theme-and-variation format to address the dark side of the starry-eyed futurism that has defined the character ever since the Warren Ellis reinvention of the character, Extremis.

To be fair, this new series is very true to the spirit of the Ellis reinvention, what with its cynicism and moral ambiguity. But the secret weapon of this series is and continues to be its use of Daredevil as its counterpoint and moral compass, and the greater and greater lengths that Tony has gone to in order to silence this representative of his last pangs of conscience. I will not spoil it, but at the end of this issue, he tops himself.

As compelling as this series is, if Mark Waid is really leaving Daredevil after issue 15, I would be happy to see Tom Taylor replace him, in part because Taylor seems to have the same knack Waid does for imaginative plot twists and consistently entertaining character work, but largely because he seems to understand the Man Without Fear remarkably well.

Until then, the way Taylor handles the two characters in his care approaches the masterful, and each issue is at least eminently entertaining, and I continue looking forward to pretty much anything he writes.

Review - The Autumnlands: Tooth and Claw #3

This Image series, written by Kurt Busiek and drawn by Ben Dewey, has been largely absorbed with world-building for the past two issues, establishing a world of anthropomorphic animals stratified into an overclass and underclass by their respective levels of access to magic. The magic, however, is running out, and a last desperate attempt to recover the mysterious champion - believed to be the source of magic - from the depths of history destroyed the floating city our protagonists had lived on in issue 1.

In issue 2, the champion was revealed to be a human in the Conan mold.

Now, in issue 3, the world-building is set aside somewhat to deal with the more pressing question of how - even with the reluctant champion at their side - the former residents of the floating city can possibly survive surrounded by the hostile ground-dwelling underclasses they once oppressed and without the magic that once granted them their supremacy.

Busiek and Dewey quietly subvert the Conan tropes by making their hero eminently practical. He refuses the enormous sword he is offered by his animal hosts in favor of a smaller and more maneuverable one, and while he is clearly physically fit, he is hardly a Swarzeneggerian superman. Spoiler warning - hints are also dropped that he is a latter-day soldier, though his access to technology beyond that even of the modern day implies the possibility of some sort of alternate or future timeline scenario.

Yet more intrigue is promised with the first hints of a schism between the survivors, which should provide a great deal of grist for the plot mill going forward.

The art by Ben Dewey continues to impress, with an impressive and slightly unsettling knack for fitting an extraordinary variety of animals into anthropomorphic frames to the point where the actual human frequently seems less relatable than some of the dogs, owls, etc. he is placed next to.

This is the best issue of the series so far, finally striking a perfect balance between constructing the fictional universe and telling a compelling story within it. The series has finally hit its stride, and I will definitely be back for the next issue.

Review - The Wicked + The Divine #7

We are now two issues into the Fandemonium arc, and the murder mystery subplot that appeared so vestigial in The Faust Act has become the main driving force of the story.

In this issue, Laura has become a guest at a fan convention in order to gather information that might lead her to identities of the people shooting at Luci in issue #1. As ever with this series, however, anyone expecting straight answers can just about jog on, and the mystery element - despite its relative ubiquity here - does not move very far forward in this installment.

Instead - and perhaps preferably - we see a great deal more interaction between the gods, and some of the smallest moments of this interaction are the best ones in the issue. Minerva using her previously unseen powers on a mortal, or Inanna glimpsed through a doorway shouting at Woden, for instance.

Speaking of the Daftpunk-esque WicDiv Woden, we get our first real look at his personality in this issue, and it is unabashedly reprehensible. Kieron Gillen has said of the character that if the other gods are pop singers, then Woden is more of a producer. If that is the case, then we can see from this precisely what Gillen thinks of music producers. Woden has no powers himself and is capable only of giving them to others. He is also cruel, petty, tacitly racist, and pathologically envious of his fellow deities, to the point where - minor spoiler warning - he essentially confesses that he would be willing do kill them if he thought that doing so would give him their abilities.

This issue also sees the return of Cassandra - my favorite character in the series - who is happily just as ornery as ever, as well as another look at underground gods Baphomet and The Morrigan. The only disappointment here is that Baphomet and Badb do not hold another pun-filled and filthily poetic snark-off like in issue 3.

The issue ends by teasing the next god we will be introduced to, whose identity I will not spoil here, though I will say the grapes-as-pills design of his logo in the wheel on the next page over is a brilliant bit of work.

Overall, another excellent issue from Gillen and McKelvie that fails to deliver on what is expected of it but delivers more than we could have reasonably asked for of something completely different. And if WicDiv could be said to have a standard operating procedure, that would probably be as good a summary of it as any.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Review - The Flash, Ep. 10, Revenge of the Rogues

This week on The Flash, we saw the return of Captain Cold and the introduction of new villain Heat Wave. As it has from the beginning, the show continues to highlight the rogues gallery of its comic book source material, which makes a lot of sense. The villains associated with The Flash may not as be as operatic and thematically resonant as those of, say, Batman, but their simple and easy-to-grasp concepts certainly make them eminently memorable.

Case in point, Captain Cold is called Captain Cold because he has a freeze gun. Heat Wave has a heat gun. And there you go, another fruitful day at the office.

So it is perhaps unsurprising that this episode focuses mainly on Barry and his personal struggles both as himself and as the Scarlet Speedster - and incidentally, I was delighted when Captain Cold referred to him by that epithet during their final confrontation of the episode.

In the last episode, Barry confessed his romantic feelings for his lifelong best friend, Iris, dispensing with what had long been a tedious ongoing source of forced tension in the show up to that point. The risk going forward, then, was that the show might merely replace the forced tension of romantic longing with the forced tension of awkward avoidance, but by the end of this episode all of that is resolved and the characters are free to move on with their lives. Well done. Somewhat belated, but well done.

The episode does not ignore the other fallout from the mid-season finale, either. The fear and uncertainty Barry feels concerning the mysterious, newly-christened Reverse Flash is the main emotional thrust of this episode, as he wonders whether those he is sworn to protect are best served by tackling the petty immediate threat of the Cold-Heat coalition or by continuing to train for the next time his new arch-nemesis zips into town.

The subplot concerning Ronnie/Firestorm also gets a look-in, with multiple hints at intrigue that will doubtless carry through the rest of the season.

The regular cast members are very good as usual, with Jesse L. Martin as Detective Joe West proving once again that he is the real secret weapon of the show, making every gesture in his interactions with daughter Iris and surrogate son Barry seem astronomically more meaningful than they might have been in lesser hands.

Wentworth Miller, reprising his role as Captain Cold, occasionally slides uncomfortably into camp territory but largely gets away with it by dint of playing a character who is clearly as in love with the codenames and theatrical affectations of supercrime as imperishable geek Cisco is.

Meanwhile, Dominic Purcell gives an oddly stilted performance as Heat Wave that actually works really well for a character who is not quite right in the head and into fire in a way that implies that he probably has burns on parts other than his arms, so well done there.

Overall, this was hardly the best episode of the show, largely devoted as it was to picking up the pieces left over from the installment immediately prior, and the conclusion was less imaginative than we might reasonably have come to expect from such a consistently smart show. But that is the thing about consistency - the troughs and the peaks remain fairly close, and even a below-average episode of The Flash is better than most of what is on network television at present. In short, The Flash is still a good show and still worth your time. In other news, let us go to our bears-pooping-in-the-woods correspondent...

On Twists and Spoilers

There is a lump discussion about what constitutes a good twist. To me, it comes down to this - a good twist enhances the drama that has come before it, while a bad twist negates it.The first approach has replay/rewatch value, the second does not. This is why the twist of The Sixth Sense works. It doesn't render repeat viewings worthless, it renders them more meaningful as they take on fresh relevance in light of what we now know. 

The twist in Bioshock, similarly, just adds new significance to what we have seen before. It changes it, certainly, it alienates you in a Brechtian sense, but I really like that kind of approach and bollocks to anyone who says otherwise.

On the other hand, I will give another M. Night Shyamalan film as an example of a twist that does not work, at least in the format in which it was presented, and that is The Village, where you have a whole movie of effective suspense and tension which is also masterfully underlined by the fact that you don't know what the outside menace is lurking on the edges of this quaint colonial New England town, and as soon as you realize that this town is a little as-yet-uncivilized pocket existing within the modern day and that the threat from the outside is the modern world encroaching on it, you are gone. 

It is a good Twilight Zone-style twist, but it only really works in a short subject, because a short subject requires less of a time investment from its audience, so even if they don't like the twist they will have lost nothing but a few minutes of their time to itWhereas if you put that same twist at the end of a feature film, all it does is motivate the entire audience to go, is that really what I spent two hours on? was I actually scared and suspended for the sake of something that turned out never to have been a threat to begin with

So you see what I mean; it is a bad twist because it negates everything that came before. The only reason that it would work in a short film is that not as much comes before and so there is not as much to negate and hence less damage to be done. It you are efficient enough, the intellectual merits of the twist will outweigh the time-sink that you have asked your audience to devote to it.

To take another example, let us look at Now You See Me, a magician heist movie. Mark Ruffalo plays the obsessed detective trying to track down and apprehend the skillful magician master criminals, and it turns out at the end that he masterminded the entire thing. Now when I saw this in the theater with family I was the only one who saw the twist coming, and that was mostly because I was not looking at it from a plot perspective, since it doesn't make a lick of sense from a plot or character perspective. Rather, I was thinking about it from a writer's perspective, i.e. when you have come up with a story this weird and convoluted, you are going to want to lead up to a big twist at the end in the mould of the Sting, because all heist movies live in the shadow of The Sting and its masterful final con of the audience. 

In this case, you cannot really do that. I predicted the twist because Mark Ruffalo's character was the only one for whom it made absolutely no sense. Really, any other character could have been the mastermind, but that would have rendered the reveal less surprising. Make him the mastermind, and it is entirely unexpected. But here is the problem - it negates every scene the character was in before. All the development that has gone into that character has been wasted, because he was actually a completely different character the whole time.

Which brings me neatly into the issue of spoilers and why I don't really care about spoilers at all. Here is the thing: if your story does really hinge on a plot twist being a surprise, then as far as I am concerned you have just written a really bad story. These things should hold up to repeated enjoyment, provided you have genuinely written a good story. If you have succeeded, the twist should make the story better, and hence going in with foreknowledge should enhance your experience. A twist that does not enhance the experience is the equivalent of a jump-scare. It is very easy to do and the impact lasts for only a second and won't work the second time around. In contrast, good twists and atmospheric drama implant ideas into your head that you just cant shake. Either way, a bold-faced twist is consistently meaningless.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

On Anime, Walled Gardens, and Maximizers

I have been thinking about why there are some people who only seem to watch - to take a random example - anime as their primary form of intake for dramatic fiction. Because even if it were a genre (which it isn't, even though I can see why people would think it is given that it does have its own occasionally quite bizarre set of idiosyncrasies), then I would still have trouble understanding that tendency because having an intense passion for a particular genre has never seemed, healthy to me. It just seemed artificially restrictive, a manacle you have forged for yourself.

But in giving it more consideration I did sort of come to understand the impulse, which I connect with what we might call the minimizer's impulse. The basic concept is that we can broadly split up human decision making tendencies into two extremes with everyone at different points on the spectrum between them. Maximizers really cannot make a decision until they have seen every choice and analyzed all the opportunity costs involved, whereas minimizers are perfectly happy with an artificially restricted set of choices because it makes the decision making process feasible and sometimes even easy. If you are a minimizer, you have cut down your range of possible decisions on the possibly quite correct and yet frequently unconscious assumption that even if there is a better choice available somewhere far off among the countless possible choices you have neglected, chances are it will not have been sufficiently better than what you ended up with to compensate you for the time you would have sunk into trying to divine which of several choices might have been the best one. That said, I tend to fall into the maximizer's category, not because I think it is necessarily more logical, but rather because my personality does not admit any other possibility.

A similar impulse applies to my view of art, which is why I am never going to stick to one medium or one genre, and consistently try to absorb and process them all, find out what makes them all tick, and then try to use those principles in my own work.

I also tend to reject - in Warren Ellis' terminology - walled gardens. Ellis used the term to describe the chat rooms in the early days of the internet that people tended to stick to even after the internet opened up, largely because it was easier and more comfortable for them. And that isn't necessarily a judgment, it just means that there is what we might call a minimizing tendency there, an impulse when faced with a mountain of choices to artificially restrict your choices to a manageable range.

In the case of anime, there are a lot of internal genres so you can get the illusion of having the full range of choices while staying within that walled garden. While, again, I can't say that I entirely approve of this, I acknowledge that it is not entirely my place. What I will say is that devotion to particular genres or artistic mediums leads inexorably to apologism for those categories, which is really not good for the state of those forms.

What do I mean by that, broadly? Well, let us take the example of horror, particularly American horror. When something comes along like All The Boys Love Mandy Lane, everyone goes crazy because it tweaks the formula just a little bit, but in reality it doesn't move anywhere outside of its comfort zone. It is only fresh to someone who has stayed inside the walled garden of American horror cinema for so long that they begin to mistake the slightest bit of storytelling spice for groundbreaking innovation, and it is only really by stepping outside that walled garden that you acquire the necessary perspective to see that.

It is maybe a little too easy to use a sick man as a straw man, and American Horror has indeed been the sick man of the cinema landscape for so long, so let me instead pick something a little closer to home - musical theatre.

I do know people who are, and I hate to say this, almost pathologically obsessed with the musical theatre, and those are the people who are most likely to say that, for example, Legally Blonde The Musical is great, which it really isn't. Oh, it's perfectly entertaining, but it is only really good within the walled garden that is the modern musical theatre, and it is only by going outside and looking at the other forms of storytelling that the story might have been better-suited to that you begin to see how lacking that particular work really is. So my own favorite genres are hardly immune to this Apologist's Syndrome, as I have just now decided to call it.

And to be fair, I see a lot of these walled gardens breaking down a bit, especially in fields like music, and I really do credit the iPod with this. A lot of kids of my generation now listen to a little bit of everything. Sure, we might have our preferred genres and artists, but you are going to be much more likely to find a country fan with some rap on their iPods or a rap fan with some Johnny Cash on their iPods than you would have been to find roughly equivalent music fans with roughly equivalent anomalies in their record collections in earlier years.

Just to give you some background, I am generally convinced that anyone who claims that the internet has either saved or ruined the world is talking out of their arses. The internet has not changed anything. Email has replaced snail mail, texting has replaced telegrams, twitter has replaced muttering to yourself after you've finished eating or whatever; it really has not changed all that much, it has just moved everything into another arena.

That said, I think in this case there is an argument to be made for this movement from the physical to the virtual having enhanced the cultural landscape. To be sure, that is partly to do with accessibility and cost, but I think it has far more to do with communication. So, instead of getting a local music community or publication which will tend to exclusively review the things that are popular around where you are, on the internet you can access reviews of any record from any genre you care to mention. You are not limited in your cultural outlook by the region you happen to be born in.

The obvious downside to that is that there is now a lot more competition for your attention, and again we run into the maximizer's problem, in that suddenly we have everything available to us, so how do we choose anything? The answer, as we have seen, is usually that we restrict our attention to the inside of that walled garden.

The flip-side of this positive movement, therefore, is the extent to which the internet has enabled the survival of niches that might not otherwise have survived. Trading card games used to have a rather short shelf life, and a lot of games had the misfortune to die before the internet really kicked off, but the major three - Pokemon, Yugioh, and Magic The Gathering - experienced a resurgence, and I personally attribute that to the rise of the internet. Even as local game shops died or stopped hosting tournaments, the online community supplanted the local communitya and thus saved these particular communal pastimes from extinction.

These entities that the internet saved are very niche, so niche, in fact, that in what I might tentatively call the real world - which is in itself artificially restricted by geography - these niches would not have survived. Instead, they are flourishing and peacefully coexisting, and the online community is responsible for that.

Incidentally, this tendency towards the maintenance of niches online is not necessarily a bad thing either, at least in comparison to the analog world. The analog world is restrictive too, and all the internet has really done is to replace restrictions of geography with restrictions of personal preference. They are still restrictions, and restrictions are generally bad, but I think it is at least a baby step in the right direction.

So, in a sense, the internet can promote walled gardens, but the walled garden concept is not an inherently pernicious thing. It is really just a method of cutting the otherwise overwhelming myriad of cultural choices down to a much more manageable set from which to make your own personal selections.

Again, I would assert that this is not entirely healthy, but I at least understand the psychological necessity for it. So while I would feel comfortable nudging them into areas they might not have contemplated exploring previously - for example, I might present a serial musical humbugger with a curated selection of musicals for them to sample, because I think they might enjoy them and would be gratified if they did - I am not at all comfortable with condemning the walled gardens. It may not be my thing, I may tend to think it is very unhealthy for the individual consumer and the broader intellectual landscape alike, but I definitely understand how necessary it is for a great number of people, and understand that to reach out to those people, we should gently nudge and shift the borders of the walled garden rather than unilaterally decide to tear those walls down.