No, I’m not talking about Jason Bateman, the star of Teen Wolf II and more recently Arrested Development. I’m talking about the protagonist/antihero of American Psycho, a 2000 film starring Christian Bale as the title character. As much as the film is a portrait of the businessmen and culture of the late 1980s, it doubles as a venue of the means people use to define themselves. In the film Bateman expresses a nightly bloodlust, but it is his more businessman persona that reveals just how dependent he is on his colleagues and cultutral standards to fill the otherwise blank-slate personality he cobbled together.

Another example appears in Bateman’s ordering dinner. “Courtney, you’ll have the peanut butter soup with smoked duck and mashed squash.” The next sentence is key. “New York Matine called it a playful but mysterious little dish. You’ll love it.” This may seem normal on paper, but what you have to understand that Bateman is almost monotone in his description. There is a strong reheasal in Bateman’s description. The only reason Bateman has the dinner is because he is told what is good and what is bad from a source that deals with the standards of his upper-class culture. Bateman defends himself later in the film by saying “he just wants to fit in.”

Bateman’s inner self is clearly demonstrated on his obssesion with Paul Allen, a coworker. Though never clearly stated, it can be implied that Paul Allen is the boss’ favorite and an alpha male in the group as a whole. The implication of his renowed status is shown in the demonstration of Bateman’s and his friends’ business cards (which are judged and defined by it’s varying shades of white and font but really just the same card). The coworkers one-up themselves, but when Paul Allen’s card is shown, the group is reluntant. It is as if they know their little game to determine their rank in the group is just a game, that they are in truth the frauds, while Allen is the real deal.

This contrast forces Bateman over the edge. This self-reminder of his imitating mechacisms (and the ideal that Allen embodies) leads him on a path clearly mirroring Maslov’s Principles of Hierarchy. The lower-ranking beta male seeks to be the alpha male and aspire to be close with the subject embodying the ideal the lower-ranking worker reveres. Over time, this aspiration leads to an intense desire to become the alpha male. The only way to do that (and become the ideal person) is to kill the alpha male and take his place . . . which is exactly what Bateman does. He lured Allen to his house and kills Allen with an axe.

Bateman loves control. He has regular sex with prostitutes (and not with his fiancee) because he shows a slight obssession with his own self-image. He records having sex with the prostitutes, and during that recording he is paying more attention to himself (through a mirrored wall) than the escorts he hired. He establishes his macho superiority through the male’ sexual hierarchy.

In fact, when he does lose control, Bateman becomes frantic and paranoid. He is almost drawn to tears in an encounter with a dry-cleaning service where his clothes have been mistreated. Later on Bateman enjoys a spur-of-the-moment killing, but is forced in a firefight with nearby police. Things have gone out of hand, and it is in this panicked state he calls his lawyer and confesses everything (including his off-screen cannibalism). When the two meet the lawyer mentions that he had lunch with Paul Allen during the period of time of his “supposed” murder, which forces Bateman to wonder if anything he’s done is real.

In the end, Patrick Bateman has no personality. He is merely imitating the posh lifestyle because the standards of his upper class standards tell him to do. His killing is an extreme way of breaking free of that mold and establishing an identity of his own. At least, that’s what I think.

NCIS’ current season opened with a shocking plot twist: Cote de Pablo left the series that made her an international star. Adding to the departure’s surprise was the circumstances surrounding it. Some sources say de Pablo left concerning a rise of salary that was ultimately denied. de Pablo herself said her leaving was the result of personal issues, but would not elaborate. Me, I think this is a red herring. I think de Pablo’s departure was staged. Her leaving the show would build up the suspense of the plot, to make Ziva’s return later down the line to have even more emotional impact.

NCIS has done this before. Gibbs himself left the agency at the end of season 3, yet he returned at the next season’s premier. There’s nothing to suggest this ploy isn’t in effect right now. This is just a theory I have. Please tell me what you think in the comments.

Dynasty Warriors is a tactical action game that borrows characters and concepts from the Romance Of Three Kingdoms novel. Gundam refers to the anime series revolving various wars and the giant robots used in said battles. In 2007 the video game company combined the tactical strategies of Dynasty Warriors with the use of Gundam’s giant robots to create Dynasty Warriors Gundam. The third incarnation of such was localized on North American shores of June in 2011.

Dynasty Warriors 3 features more tactical strategies than it’s two predecessors. While a key facet of the Warriors games are to find and defeat certain officers to halt reinforcements, different variations have now been implemented.

For example, certain strongholds have different functions that aid the enemy. Capturing a “catapult” field (capturing fields take place by defeating a preset number of enemy robots) disables the use of a “teleporting” system that allows the enemy to jump to allied strongholds within short periods of time. 

Another facet of all Warriors games is the defeat of key commanding officers. Up to Gundam 3 one merely has to defeat the commander once to gain special abilities and weapons. However in Gundam 3 one of the enemy fields allow for the continual deployment of enemy officers.

I found (and sometimes still find) the shift of the game’s rules very annoying. However, by shifting my focus from defeating enemy officers to disabling enemy fields to hinder the enemy’s abilities, I was able to play the game of an even level. However I should mention that the game still gives me frustration. The sheer advantages given to the enemy forced me to skip the “eliminate the minor officers first/the final commander last” mindset I have always adopted and go straight to the enemy commander to win, taking much of the fun of achieving the most damage from the game.If you can get past that, then good luck. If not, then move on.

I was in Barnes & Noble when I happened to come across a Star Wars hardcover book called Heir To The Empire. The hardcover was an omnibus of Timothy Zahn’s Star Wars Thrawn trilogy. While other science fiction writers have made their mark into adding to the Star Wars lore, Zahn is the one who repopularized the genre and paved the way for every Star Wars novel that followed.

Notable events include the birth of Han and Leia’s twins Jacen and Jaina, the Force-neutralizing Ysalamir, the cloned Jedi Joruus C’boath, and the introduction of the late Emperor’s assassin Mara Jade. Mara Jade would go on to her return to the Light Side and later, become Luke’s wife and the mother of his son Ben. Not to mention Luke’s climatic duel with his clone (created from the severed hand he lost in Empire).

Zahn’s trilogy proved so popular that the planet Coruscant (the planet that serves as the main backdrop for the trilogy) was adopted by George Lucas as the pinnacle of Republic civilization as described in the prequel trilogy. Both Jacen and Jaina have gone on in stories of their own. Every novel since Heir of the Empire featured the Solo twins in one role or another. Hell, an entire series of books (Junior Jedi Academy) was written around their lives and their graduation to becoming Jedi Knights. That’s how great this trilogy is.

If you’re curious about stories that take place after Return Of The Jedi, the Heir trilogy are the books you want to read. Trust me. You will not be disappointed.

How To Be A Gentleman debuted this week. As you’ve no doubt gathered from the commercial, the producers are playing to the strength of it’s cast. Kevin Dillion comes fresh off Entourage to star in the show. Hiring a popular character to boost ratings is one of the oldest tricks in the Hollywood book. Unfortunately, in this case, the tactics backfired.

The main protagonist is so bland I’m not going to bother you with the actor’s name. He’s an idealist who’s comfortable in the bubble of his own universe. This quickly changes when the newspaper he works for (he’s a columnist on how to act a gentleman) goes for a new, more modern audience. Insert awkward-take-baby-steps-into-real-world joke here.

Kevin Dillion stars as Bert, an old high school friend who takes the columnist under his wing. While Bert is less ego and more Zen, Dillion himself kept the Drama haircut and attitude. People are watching this and are expecting Drama Chase’s exaggerated hijinks. Dillion should have altered his appearance as a way to separate his new character from Drama, but instead fans will watch this show and expect Drama when they got Bert. That’s the true failing of the show, because Bert is NOT Drama.

Gentleman is on Thursdays right after Big Bang Theory. Hope you enjoy.

For those who have been living under a rock for the past eight years, the HBO show Entourage has finally produced it’s final episode. Like many final episode it tries to tie all the loose plot points together and sees it’s characters on the brink of the next stage of their lives. And yet as I’m writing this a dissatisfaction creeps over me about it’s pacing.

The latter half of the eighth season produced a minimum of five episodes after a six month hiatus. Instead of laying the groundwork and allowing events to continue and blossom on their own, plot points are being mashed together without mercy. The previous episode drops some bombshells — Eric learning he’s a father-to-be, Ari Gold breaks up with his former flame Dana Gorden with hopes of renewing relations with his wife, among others — and then events speed to dizzying heights. The revelations of the previous episode is overshadowed byVince’s impulsive decision to get married, and everyone drops what they’re doing to go to it.

The typical Hollywood ending makes things even more strained. Everyone’s troubles are magically solved by the characters “realizing” that their antics are selfish and sacrifice their careers in order to do the right thing. While their motivations are indeed life-changing — having one’s kid is indeed one of the more powerful forces for change — it seems rushed. Eric has spent five episodes getting in and out of trouble with his former flame Sloan and now everything changes because of his kid? Had this been a full season the consequences would have been allowed to percolate over time. Eric could have gone back and forth struggling between keeping his job and the life he’s established for himself and the kid he is going to be responsible for. Instead he drops everything. As a writer, I can’t help feeling that the plot point was underused.

The ending depends too much on the “cusp” tactic — everyone on the verge of beginning their new lives — and leaves things open-ended. While this is a tried-and-true page in the Hollywood playbook, the vagueness of the characters’ continuing journeys leave a big door open for a movie to fill the potential blanks. This isn’t the last we’ve seen of Vince Chase and his entourage, I promise you.

I have just read the Superman graphic novel “Grounded,” written by an author whose last name I can’t even spell much less pronounce, so let’s just call him JMS. You want to know who he is (and trust me, you do), then go wikipediate Babylon 5.

Anyway, the plot arc goes like this: Kryptonians are discovered under the thrall of supercomputer Brainiac, and are rescued. Said Kryptonians use Brainac’s technology to create a new planet hereonin dubbed New Krypton. In order to foster good relations and to reconnect with his heritage Superman voluntarily goes to New Krypton to ease the transition the thousand or so people who suddenly have superpowers.

Now remember, these Kryptonians did not get the strong moral compass that the Kents taught Clark. Some egos are bound to grow. Tempers get short. Invasion seems imminent. In the end New Krypton is destroyed, and Superman’s reputation is at an all-time low. Blaming himself, Superman believes that his failures with New Krypton result as becoming disconnected to the average person he supposedly protects. So, alone, in full Superman gear, he starts walking across America. In Austraila this journey is called “walkabout.”

A walkabout is a very simple concept. The idea is to walk until you face yourself (metaphorically speaking). It involves re-connecting to the simple things that one forgets while going through the motions. It requires facing your troubles and have a heart-to-heart talk with your inner demons. Sounds silly? Here’s an example.

What is fascinating to me is that this is not JMS’ first use of the walkabout idea. In his science-fiction show Babylon 5, he introduces a physician by the name of Dr. Stephen Biggs, Chief Medical Officer of Babylon 5. He is responsible for the welfare of millions of beings, and as such is under tremendous pressure. Eventually he becomes addicted to stimulants so he can continue to act full time in that role. The addiction gets the better of him, leading to his resignation and personal journey.

The walkabout has done it’s job. Biggs realizes that he doesn’t have to become more capable of workloads, just that he has to get things done smarter. It’s the same for Superman. By going on this walkabout Superman discovers the real-time consequences of his acts (brilliantly shown when a full-scale battle demolishes an entire town). Although he rebuilds all that he has destroyed, he realizes that while he can re-create a town, he can’t give the townspeople back their family heirlooms or sense of security.

He also comes to realize the more pedestrian possibilities of his powers. One mother complains that Superman’s use of heat and X-ray vision could have located and treated the cancer that killed her husband. It is clear that this notion was a complete surprise to Superman, and he didn’t respond with my obvious reaction: that he can’t save everyone.

Superman’s walkabout is far from over. He’s still on this journey to figure out his place as the planet’s champion and the effective use of his duty. There isn’t much challenges to a hero that can destroy an alien planet by sneezing, but JMS’ delivers the poignant, almost universal punch to the gut: getting free from the moral quagmires that haunt all of us. For that, JMS, I salute you.

Do you remember a time when television seasons were actual a full thirteen episodes instead of six? When you didn’t have to wait for the “summer season” six months later? I do. And to be honest, I’m frustrated on many different levels.

But in order to explain, I need to go back a couple of years. In 2007 the Writers Guilds Of America (both East and West) declared a strike against corporations like CBS, MGM and others. I could get into a lot of jargon but the meat of the problem was that writers’ salaries were being lowered while corporation’s profit margins were increasing. One key issue was the arrangement of profit on the blossoming DVD market, and the definitions of new media like torrents and the legal status of downloading films on the Internet.

As a fellow writer (and one that hopes to make a living off writing), I support these writers who sought to maintain a foothold in the ever-shifting quagmire of monetary equality. As a television fan I am frustrated of the model of distribution that followed. Seasons were no longer spread over 13 episodes but divided into two segments of 6 episodes separated by a space of six months. This is the core of my frustration.

Any drama teacher will tell you that success depends on momentum. The beginning of a tale starts small, then each succeeding segment outdoes the first, and so on and so forth until the finale which takes all the previous material and unites it together in a conclusion that is certain to drop jaws and wrench hearts. It is the basic formula for writing.

The current version of the formula dilutes the impact of the drama by revealing the final, plot-centric suspense too early. For example, the show Doctor Who has had fans eagerly awaiting the truth behind the character of River Song ever since she debuted in 2008. The show featured strategic involvement in the episodes in which Song starred in, adding to the mystery of the character without revealing any hints of who she really was. All of this preparation was to get fans drooling to the moment when the mystery was finally revealed.

Only it wasn’t the season finale. It was the mid-season finale. The penultimate moment was robbed of it’s drama by revealing the truth too soon. It was cut short by episode placement, instead of allowing the mystery to peculate. Now it was, “oh, River song is really (spoilers). Time to move on.” This frustrates me as a writer because it damages the writing formulas set down by the beginning of the written word. And while I’m sure the writers of Doctor Who still have an ace or two up it’s sleeves, I can’t help but think that the truth of River Song would have been more meaningful if revealed as a cliffhanger instead of being a neat little package all tied up with a bow.

A key rule of the theater is what I like to call the “staircase” rule. First the play begins with a small example of drama, then proceeds with a larger and larger act of drama, culminating in a final, penultimate expression at the end. It is a building process, and a mode of storytelling that has been utilized for centuries. Adherence to this formula can either help or hinder a film’s potential. Such is the risk of all movies. 2011′s Conan The Barbarian is no different.

The movie’s introduction is an example of the film’s bloody, over-the-top violence. Five minutes into the film and a 10-year old Conan brings back the severed heads of foreign invaders. Then the film jumps forward an unknown number of years, where a chance encounter with a noseless raider takes Conan on a quest to avenge the death of his father and his village.

The time jump could be seen as both good and ill. Back stories, while important, can overwhelm the movie’s pace with too much information, or leave a movie struggling to top expectations that are simply too high to reach. In jumping ahead in years the film seeks to keep the rhythm flowing from event to event, but it also serves as an abrupt halt, leaving Morgan Freeman’s narration to describe a vital chunk of Conan’s life.

The film has the usual fantasy elements: bloodthirsty sand-mummies, an unseen homage to the 1982 film’s giant serpent, among others. However, the devotion the film pays to it’s creatures leaves the human cast somewhat wanting. The film’s antognists (father-and-daughter duo of Khalar Zym and Marique) leave a lot to be desired. There is a moment between these characters that illustrate their toxic relationship. It is clear that Marique is desperate to prove her importance to her father’s bloody quest of godhood but is only seen as a vessel for his ideals. “You are not your mother,” he says after Marique’s begging. It implies that, were his daughter’s sacrifice necessary for the resurrection of his wife, Zym would not hesitate to abandon her to such a fate. But the moment is only an implication, never explored in the film.

Jason Momoa provides an intense but slimmer Conan. His over-the-top voice is a reminder of Christian Bale’s “Batman growl.” Momoa does carry a natural intensity to the character, portraying a Conan that is constantly keeping his temper in check, that might explode into bloody vengeance at any time. Schwarzengger’s Conan brought more physical presence to the role but ruined the performance with his accent. Momoa’s character, by contrast, is more believable while keeping an over-the-top exaggeration.

Is Conan the Barbarian better or worse than it’s 1982 predecessor? That is kind of up in the air. The audience will have to decide whatever or not to become one of the Conan faithful, but it is a good two-hour adventure. Go ahead. You might just enjoy it.

Welcome to World According To Wolff. I created this blog as a means to explain and inform the ins and outs of popular culture to those people who do not have ready access to that information. You want to know what your nieces and nephews mean when they mention Ultimate Spider-Man or the “new” Batman? You come here. That’s what this blog is about. Happy reading.

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