Editorial 43: Johnny Mnemonic

At the start of every June is the Electronic Gaming Expo (E3), an event where developers and publishers show off upcoming titles and demos to the public. This year was okay with not many worthwhile announcements other than the Cyberpunk 2077 presentation. While the footage shown was pre-rendered, it revealed that Keanu Reeves would play a character before the man himself appeared on-stage. His presentation became a meme within minutes, but he reminded me of a lesser-known movie from his past. He is best known for Neo in The Matrix, but years before, Reeves was Johnny Mnemonic.

The early 80s and 90s saw an explosion of cyberpunk films. Blade Runner was the first to put the genre to screen and influenced many a prospective director. Hardware, the Nemesis movies, Class of 1999, Cybernator, and Hands of Steel were low budget attempts to capture the essence of Blade Runner. Whether they succeeded or failed is debatable, but because of the volume of such movies, cyberpunk was pigeonholed into B-movie status for years.

By the time Johnny Mnemonic (JM) came out in 1995, many tropes were established in how these movies were supposed to look based on budget limitations. The genre was still in its infancy and I imagine not many producers would take the risk of dumping money into projects about cyborgs. As a result you get a false equivalency: most cyberpunk films are cheap and thrown together, so all cyberpunk movies should be cheap and thrown together.

Rather than begrudgingly accept this fact, JM embraces it. From the very start, the film is proud to be a B movie, and does a great job of appearing professional.

From setting to setting you feel the desolation and decrepitude of the world. The opening hotel scene appears clean and tidy, but it is packed with people and cluttered with stuff that likely does nothing except take up space. Then you get to the truly ruined setting of Newark that is lawless and disgusting with trash piled in corners of run-down buildings. There is this anti-corporate resistance group called Lo-Tek living in this fort built of scrap and garbage on a destroyed bridge with tons of make-shift elements inside.

The costumes leave a bit to be desired. Everything looks mostly thrown together or pulled right out of the closet hours before shooting. Even the borderline homeless Lo-Tek guys look like extras from a Mad Max knock-off. Early on, Dina Meyer’s Jane wears this chainmail top that looks so out of place and uncomfortable that she loses it not long after. All the Yakuza goons wear trench coats that were three sizes too big. Then Dolph Lundgren’s Street Preacher is dressed like a friar that slept in a dumpster for three days straight and somehow he is this powerful cyborg.

However, all the awesome props throughout make up for the lack of better costumes. From mini-cd readers the size of pagers to a giant VR headset made of computer scrap, there are so many little things to admire because the tech in JM is analog. It came from a time when no one knew how advanced wireless would become; hardwire seemed the only way to connect back then. On top of that, it works in favor of the setting because the world is so rundown it has not progressed beyond analog. As a result we get physical, unique props that someone put effort into making appear real.

Good production value can only get you so far without a good story. The titular Mnemonic is a courier that stores information in his brain for delivery. On his latest job, the data Johnny downloads is so overwhelming that it will kill him in a matter of days unless he gets it out. While tracking down a specialist to extract the data to give to the client, Yakuza under contract by a major pharmaceutical company is on the hunt for Mnemonic’s head to take the data.

Given what we know about the storage capacity of the brain today, the story is totally far-fetched. At the start, Reeves plugs a device into his head to give himself extra gigabytes, which does not make sense unless it removed data because the brain retains about 2.5 petabytes. Unless Reeves had a ton of uncompressed crap in his head from other incomplete jobs to the point he deleted parts of his childhood to make room, still nothing makes sense. That being said, the story has stakes and a ticking clock to keep things moving along. Once you divorce logic from the equation it works a lot better and makes for a great cyberpunk adventure.

It also helps that the movie is just about perfectly cast. Actors from a wide variety of fields take up the supporting roles like B-movie veteran Udo Kier, the late voice actor Denis Akiyama, rapper Ice-T, and Takeshi Kitano, a legend in his home country of Japan. The only bad casting choice was Henry Rollins. Whoever thought that was a good idea probably lost their job. Everyone else does very well, but Lundgren had such a tiny part that why he was cast remains a mystery. All he does it show up when the characters need to be in more danger, but he is so non-threatening it does not matter.

The way Reeves plays Mnemonic is related to why he picked the roles he did back then. For years he was the Ted-half in the Bill and Ted movies, a skater-punk that travelled back in time for reasons (haven’t seen it). The kiss of death for actors is to become typecast in the same part over and over again because casting directors think you cannot act. Reeves played a pretty convincing skater-punk and signed on to not only a second Bill and Ted movie (soon to be third), but a show as well. To audiences at large that part was him and Reeves knew he had to show off his acting chops elsewhere, lest succumb to slow career death.

And so he branched out after 1990 with Point Break, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Little Buddha, and did not stop for nearly 24 years. Each new movie he showed off his skills as best as possible with varying degrees of success. The self-imposed demand for diversity shines through in JM where Reeves plays not only an arrogant scoundrel, but also a petty one. Mnemonic’s a morally neutral criminal that takes most dirty jobs and the last thing he wants is complication. When he gets the data uploaded, everything turns upside-down, and he just wants it out of his head. What begins is a cascade of hardships that culminate in a hilarious rant by Reeves that should have been better remembered had people actually seen it.

While JM is not the most remarkable cyberpunk movie, it nonetheless had a look and feel that influenced some, most likely the developers of 2077. Blade Runner may be the grandfather of the visual style of cyberpunk, but it was JM that perfected it if you ask me. Casting Reeves was a no-brainer considering his role as Mnemonic, but after re-familiarizing myself with the movie, I noticed JM had a lot more to do with 2077 than Reeves’ casting.

If you take a scene from the film and put it against any 2077 footage, they almost blend together. The degradation of the setting, rudimentary tech, and clutter are inherent throughout the movie and game. There is some wireless tech, but the hardwire element is still prevalent in 2077 with the characters putting chips in their heads or plugging into each other. It is not a clean setting either with grimy, dirty rooms packed with people. Little things also appear busy and overbearing with oppressive neon advertisements and clothing on the characters that is so complicated I cannot imagine wearing it in public… except the Samurai jacket.

Johnny Mnemonic is based on a story by William Gibson, the father of cyberpunk, and Cyberpunk 2077 is a follow-up to the TTRPG Cyberpunk 2020, which references Gibson’s work as the progenitor of that world’s punk movement. And being the visual realization of a seminal work of cyberpunk, it would be fair to say that Johnny Mnemonic had as much to do with the creation of 2077 as 2020. Casting Keanu Reeves seemed almost necessary. Whether other members of the cast or figures in the cyberpunk genre will also make an appearance remains to be seen.

Obviously I am going to write about 2077 when it comes out next year. Before then I will review the “Cyberpunk Red Jumpstart Kit” in August from the original creators of 2020. As a fan of the genre, the next several months are going to be great. Getting back into writing after an extended hiatus to talk about a cyberpunk movie was a great reminder of why I got into this hobby so many years ago. I apologize for the long wait and it will be a very long time before I leave you guys hanging like that again.

Editorial 42: Metro Exodus

Not long ago I was a videogame reviewer when I lived in Orlando. I would not have considered myself a games journalist; I have dignity, but I did not have a great time to say the least. It is far more fun to play videogames than write about them, which explains why real games journalists are cowardly degenerates. I would either make up nonsense I did not give a shit about or outright lie to meet the required word count. The only articles I am proud of are my review of Doom (2016) and an analysis on BroTeamPill. Everything else belongs in the garbage. That being said, I find it difficult to not write something about Metro Exodus.

When we think of the post-apocalypse many imagine barren blasted wastelands patrolled by raiders in makeshift cars and revealing attire. Road Warrior and the like have taken over our imagination of what the world would look like following a nuclear holocaust. The genre has been so impacted by this collective understanding there are hardly any deviations across cultures, except for Russia. Obviously, I am sure there are other localized interpretations, but the current benchmark for the Russian post-apocalypse comes from Dmitry Glukhovsky’s Metro trilogy.

Set in the Moscow Metro the story follows Artyom, one of thousands of people living underground 20 years after World War 3. In an effort to survive with little to no resources and under constant threat from mutants, the Metro is divided among a handful of factions that look to the past to survive the future. There is the egalitarian Hansa, the communist Red Line, and the fascist Fourth Reich. Everyone is trying to take over while the Spartan Rangers keep to the margins of society, taking down anyone or anything that threatens the Metro.

Metro 2033 was the first book and first game in the series. Originally released in 2010, I played the Redux version some months ago, and before that Last Light, the sequel. Both experiences are very different, but the core design ethos of the series is still there. Half-Life 2 set the standard for all first-person shooters, but I think Slav developers like Metro’s 4A Games perfected it.

The series is known for their immersion. You really feel you are underground not just because of the atmosphere and technical tricks, but how you progress from level to level. You as Artyom walk through long stages that have different ways of progression, either loud or quiet, with little to know direction. The developers were mindful to use light sources to guide players in a natural, unconscious fashion. On top of that is the sense of claustrophobia and danger. You have to maintain the power in your flashlight and keep a supply of gasmask filters in the event you stumble into a toxic area or journey to the surface. The tension is ramped up thanks to the fantastic sound design that make monsters scary and stealth heart pounding.

Metro Exodus continues the series traditions while taking a massive risk. After a certain revelation I will not spoil, Artyom, his wife Anna, and a handful of Spartan Rangers escape Moscow by train. When they find out Russia is not as desolate as they once thought, the group decides to search for a place to settle down and give the people of the Metro a proper future. With a greatly overhauled karma system, what happens along this journey depends on your actions.

Each level is the size of a small open world with points of interest that offer supplies to craft perishables and work/rest stations. Exploration is encouraged and not restricted by linear progression. You can start a level, go just about everywhere, and the characters will even bring up that you already visited certain areas. Character requested items are located throughout that can boost your karma if you get them. There is absolutely nothing stopping you from striking out on your own and if you follow just the main missions, you will miss a ton of extra content and negatively affect the ending.

This works in tandem with the game’s character development. The way you figure out where to go or to search for items is by interacting with your comrades. You do not speak as Artyom, but when you hover around characters they will talk to you. If you played the original games, this is how you gained karma between shoot-outs. When you listen in Exodus you not only get side objectives, but also learn about the characters and build rapport. Though not quantified in a way similar to Mass Effect 2, you get to know them like real people, and enhance your experience. For your wife Anna, not matter what, listen and interact with her whenever you can.

Gunplay is vastly improved. No one makes a better military shooter than Slavs and Exodus plays like Call of Duty made by artisan craftsmen. Every shot feels like it has so much power with each squeeze and with accompanying sound effects that sell the sensation. Modifying your weapons is far more fluid and easy. The more parts you gather from enemies, the more you can change. When you trade one gun for another in the field, you can take those parts and save them for when you get the same gun again. There are also several customization options. You could turn a revolver into a rifle or the Kalash into an RPK. There is so much you can do and the only drawback is you cannot replay the game and keep all of your attachments from your first play through.

I hope that changes in the future.

It is easy to call Exodus a “fans only” kind of experience. Newcomers will not be aware there is a karma system or how it works without research and miss out on some important character moments. It would be a learning experience, as it was for me. Where I was used to the claustrophobic tunnels and mild survival elements, I had to contend with wide-open spaces and a lack of resources to create what I needed to stay alive. Couple that with great character interactions and gunplay and you get a fantastic experience that is well worth your time, fan or not. It is certainly a more worthy purchase than Anthem or that new Far Cry expansion I cannot remember.

Editorial 41: Frank Castle, Ubermensch 2

So, the site in which this article was posted disappeared and all its contributor’s work with it. Thankfully, I have the original final drafts of what I wrote, including my favorite Punisher-related article. Enjoy.

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Any time I have the opportunity to talk about Punisher I go all out. Of the Marvel Pantheon, he is the most interesting character with great depth that many readers overlook. Garth Ennis was the first to delve into Frank Castle’s psychology in Punisher MAX, exploring his transformation during the Vietnam War and time as a vigilante. After reading so many comics, I have come to the conclusion that Frank is a Nietzschean Superman.

To the uninitiated, Fredrick Nietzsche was a philosopher that pioneered the concept of nihilism, the belief that morality means nothing because they are ideas adopted on the basis of human ignorance. He really spoke to me growing up and influenced how I see the world today. My knowledge of Nietzsche is cursory to say the least, so I recommend doing your own research.

One of his more famous concepts is the Superman or Ubermensch, introduced in Thus Spoke Zarathustra. The Superman is an individual that can transcend the bounds of common belief and operate on his or her own terms. They are completely independent and function on logic alone, forming a set of values that supersede those of the majority, and shaping their destiny.

In fiction and history there are positive and negative examples of the Ubermensch. The Founding Fathers, Napoleon, and Hitler overcame society and did what they wanted. Colonel Kurtz from Apocalypse Now discarded morality for instinct to fight the Vietcong. The Emperor from Warhammer 40k developed the logic based Imperial Truth to unite disparate human worlds across the galaxy. The Brotherhood of Steel from Fallout worshiped technology because it means salvation for the Wasteland.

The Superman concept fits right in with the pseudo-objectivism of superheroes. A hero using their powers to save people could be a form of showing how much better they are. Does Clark Kent really care about humanity or does he enjoy being revered? Why else would Batman enforce his own justice if not to assert his values? Does Captain America use his inherent symbolism as a way to show others how to act and behave? Though cynical, it is hard to deny the underlining motivations of vigilantes. What really drives someone to take up a symbol, a set of principles, and enforce it upon the people they do not like?

Castle’s transformation into a Nietzschean character happened in Vietnam. Overtime, he could not live without war because he loved fighting. In the story Born, America was pulling out and Frank actively prevented his unit from leaving their post. Later his war ended, but when he returned home, the incident that killed his wife and children forced him back into the mindset of a soldier.

He is driven by a bloodlust resulting from PTSD. Usually soldiers at home will want to go back to the front because that was the last place they felt normal. You spend a year in place where everyday could be your last and when you transition into a whole other environment, it can be difficult to accept the change. Hunting Vietcong was Castle’s normal and after his family was murdered, he saw the gangsters, murderers, and child molesters as Vietcong. Even after getting revenge he kept going because he believes he is fighting a war and does not want to stop.

Frank’s set of values as an Ubermensch is based on basic justice and pure instinct. His motivation is very simple: If you are evil, you die. He has no problem murdering someone for even associating with people connected to a major crime. He killed his partner Microchip because he worked for a heroin kingpin and executed a thug that helped him infiltrate a gang hideout.

He sees the world in a black and white moral spectrum. Castle thinks you are either totally bad or totally good with no in-between. When dealing with good, he acts with a compassion that penetrates his stoic demeanor. He was once a family man and when reminded of that life, he regresses into a father or husband. Frank is selective about what he cares about, but he actually cares and feels emotion. Mother Russia has the strongest example where he rescues a little girl from a missile silo and prevents her from seeing the worst of him. When fighting off waves of Russians, he made sure the girl was nowhere in sight of the violence and safe.

Castle holds so close to his values that there is no room for hesitation. He is a practical man, using his training as a soldier to function in all aspects of life besides work. If he owes someone a favor or they have something he needs, Frank is willing to play nice, which happened a lot in Punisher MAX. He is dismissive about working with others and moves on once he gets what he wants.

There is also no feeling behind his need to punish because to him it is normal. It takes a very specific event to really compromise Castle’s cold exterior. One time was a mobster filming himself defiling the corpses of his family. Another was a prostitute telling her story about being a victim of human trafficking. In those instances, Frank’s stoic bearing broke and he was a different man all together. After the deed was done he returned to a state of calm.

We idolize heroic figures because they transcend our notions of humanity. Inside us is the power to be something more and all it takes is the will to do so. Fredrick Nietzsche believed that the Ubermensch was the next step in human evolution as we drift further away from our primordial roots. Frank Castle is just one of many possibilities if we are to realize our potential. He may not be the most ideal, but even damaged of individuals have the capacity to become heroes.

Editorial 40: The New Thing

Neon Oldie is my second attempt at a serialized story. My first was essentially the same narrative years ago, but of less quality and time devoted to getting it perfect. I just jumped in without thinking and lost interest shortly thereafter. Later I figured out how to approach the story and format and here we are.

This endeavor is mostly experimental. I not only wanted to attempt serialization, but give my take on cyberpunk and noir. I studied the genres and worked up a decent understanding before putting pen to paper. My hope is I translated the various tropes and clichés well enough that readers will get what I am trying to do.

I have half the full story ready with roughly a quarter in final-ish form. Each completed chapter or installment is scheduled to post every Sunday morning EST. While some completed chapters wait to be uploaded, I will finish and edit more before getting them ready for posting in the future.

Keep an eye out every Sunday for new installments.

Editorial 38: A New Thing

So, the past five months have not been great. I do not want to get into it too much, but back in December, a very close friend of mine broke my heart. It felt like a whole part of my life just ended, like a death in the family. As much as I have tried to move on, I have not felt the same since. I have a real job and I am arguably in a better place as of now, but I do not feel any different. I am still empty.

Usually, to get out of an emotional rut, you take anti-depressants or focus on your work. I am not filthy millennial, so pills are not a practical solution in my eyes. However, my writing has been stagnating as of late. There are less and less new movies I actually want to see and the ones I do are spread weeks apart. My last review was Infinity War and while waiting for Deadpool 2, I have seen it three times. I was going to write about Internet Blood Sports until the entire establishment imploded on itself. I could not find any motivation to write and I have no idea why. Sometimes I go back to what inspired me if I ever need help putting pen to paper, but even that did not help.

After a lot of thinking, I decided to do something new and different. I have been working on a follow up to my book Back to Valhalla. It is not a sequel, but a new story entirely. My plan was to go through the usual routine of publishing and releasing it sometime towards the end of the year. However, given what I am trying to do and my lack of motivation, I am going to release the story chapter by chapter on here, once a week.

As of writing this, I am halfway through writing the completed work. A small portion is a draft while the other is rougher than sex with a paint shaker. Obviously I have a ways to go, including getting a cover artist, and copyrighting the story. I cannot say when I will release the first chapter, but be on the look out in the near future.

Editorial 37: Muh Domino

Like Bryan Singer and Holocaust porn I am obsessed with how Fox ruined the X-Men. Other than X-Force, I never cared for that part of Marvel Comics. They never clicked with me, but when it comes to the X-Men movies, I am like a hardcore fan. The MCU set a standard that was not only achievable and infinitely more appealing than what was the norm until 2008. When I look at what Fox has done in comparison, I am dumbfounded they cannot grasp basic aesthetic and tonal concepts that would vastly improve the films. And while the man responsible is more or less out of the picture, the bleak seriousness of the Singer-Verse persists and it has affected one of my favorite characters.

Prepare for some high quality autism.

Domino is a mutant with the power of probability manipulation, a passive ability where she creates her own luck. It happens in random, small bursts where she will hit a target via ricochet or score big at the tables. In terms of character, there are a lot of places you can take the idea of a person who basically gets whatever they want. Based on what has been written, Dom is a fun-loving free spirit, living life fast and loose as one of Marvel’s many mercenaries. She is a great action character and her premiere cinematic incarnation in Deadpool 2 (DP2) looks like pure dog shit.

Before I get into: no, it is not because the actress is black. Zazie Beetz is pretty good on Atlanta and I have hope she will do Dom justice. However, whoever picked her make-up and outfit should lose their job forever. DP2-Dom looks like a cross between a spinster stuck in the 70s and an extra from a Mad Max rip-off like Land of Doom. If there were ever a time and place for Singer-Verse tight leather, it would have been perfect for Dom. Instead we get a failed Black Widow cosplay made by someone who is colorblind. There are blue patches on the sides, a flesh-colored stripe down the middle that was clearly unnecessary, and lots of dirt-stained vinyl.

DP2-Dom is a microcosm of the problems with Fox’s X-Men. It is devoid of class and style and reeks of embarrassment. The people that make these movies hate the material and do everything they can to distance themselves from the comics. There were moments when the X-Men films embraced their origin. X-Men First Class was a step in the right direction and Deadpool could not have been better. DP2 looked like it was keeping up the momentum until I saw what they did to muh Domino.

There is a lot that goes into character design in comics. First and foremost is the color scheme. Everything has to match and look good on the page. You can have a terrible looking costume and make it great with the right choice of color. I am not a fan of Wolverine’s traditional outfit, but the use of color makes him look awesome. The same can be said for Mitch Gerads’ Punisher with a combination of tan, black, and white. What matters is how color is arranged into the character design. The MCU understands this and translates the costumes directly from the page to screen.

Like other characters Dom has a simple three-color combination. This changes depending on the artist, but the usual scheme is ash-white, black-blue, and black. The arrangement of color is typical Marvel character design, particularly in regards to the X-Men. If you need to make a ton of different mutants, easiest way to do it is change their skin color, hair color, or put some weird marks on their faces. In Dom’s case she has a giant blue-black spot over her left eye and ash-white skin. Her lips and hair are also blue-black, giving her a geisha look that was common among 90s era characters. The black in Dom’s design lies in her costume, though this changes between artists.

Most Marvel characters are visually striking, but what sets Dom apart is her high contrast. Her color scheme is heterochromatic with intense light and dark shades, allowing her features pop. Her emotions are clear as day thanks to her blue-black lips and her left eye practically glows surrounded by her signature spot. The high contrast also makes Dom aesthetically pleasing. Her features are not too busy or outlandish. She is beautifully simple and stands out among the Marvel pantheon with little to no effort. I would go so far as to say her design belongs up there with the likes of Captain America and Iron Man.

So, what did DP2 do to Dom? They gave her a gaudy ‘fro, did not paint her skin, and put some white shit around her eye. I gather the thought process behind the make-up was to add contrast based on the actress’ natural skin tone. However, the tone of white they used does not pop enough to qualify as contrast. The spot should have matched her hair or a darker color that would have stood out. Muted is the operative word here because nothing about DP2 Dom’s design pops. I also have no clue why they went with a fugly-ass ‘fro that would be impractical in a gunfight. It is more of target than a hairdo.

I can just feel the laziness in her design. No one bothered to paint her in the standard colors. I understand if Zazie Beetz did not want to be painted; Jennifer Lawrence hated being Mystique so much, she was barely in full make-up. If it is so irritating wearing body paint, then why are so many actors in the MCU okay with it? From what I know, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, and almost everyone else in the Guardians movies wear body paint without complaint. It is not even that much: just the face and hands. That is all Dom needs unless she is wearing something other than her costume. It is so easy and I cannot believe the make-up department was that lazy.

A faithful incarnation of Domino would have not only been easy to pull off, but fit perfectly in line with Deadpool 2. Again, this is not a matter of casting choice; this is all about aesthetics and the continuous failure of Fox to shake the (allegedly) pedophilic stench of Bryan Singer from their X-Men. I am going to see Infinity War this week and I hope, when Thanos uses the Infinity Gauntlet, he merges the MCU with the Singer-Verse and erases it in favor of something to be proud of.