Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Movie Review: Hulk (2003)

Apologies, I have been busy lately and so haven't had much time to update the blog. It's not a matter of lack of content/inspiration... on the contrary, I have a notepad file with more than a half dozen ideas I could use in a pinch. In any case, I'm not shirking my commitment to make a post at least once per week - unlike my past blogs, I want this one to last long enough to get some sort of readership!

So this week I'm tackling a bit of a personal review. I recently saw Ang Lee's Life of Pi in theatres, and quite enjoyed it, it was an almost perfect adaptation of the book (although I wish that M. Night Shyamalan had gotten the director's duties, but I'm not about to complain about the movie we did get). However, there was only one other Ang Lee movie I had seen up to this point, and that was his 2003 blockbuster Hulk... which for at least half a decade I had proclaimed "the worst movie I'd ever seen". Now, the last time I saw it I was 14 or 15. Both the superhero genre and myself have changed mentally and physically. I decided that it was time to give Hulk a second chance. Was I just harsh on it as a stupid teenager, or did it really deserve my righteous indignation? Well hang on, we're gonna take a trip back to the past...


Let's travel back to the year 2003. Superheroes were just starting to get really cool again. Spider-man had blown our minds, and its sequel would soon top it. Batman Begins would revolutionize the whole genre in a couple years, but at the time comic book properties were treated as... well, comical properties. I had watched some of the Hulk cartoons on TV as a kid, so when I heard they were making a movie adaptation I thought that it had the potential to become the new Spider-man. Of course, when I saw the movie itself, I was extremely disappointed with the direction Ang Lee went in. It was more of an art-house film than a superhero blockbuster, and so I was very bored with it. However, I also noticed some rather... questionable elements of the film that further added to my distaste for it. I hadn't been more disappointed in a movie before, and so I proclaimed Hulk the worst movie I had ever seen (it wasn't until my mother made me watch The Santa Clause 2 years later that it was finally knocked off its "lofty" position).

Honestly, the action element of Hulk hasn't really changed at all. It really is a quiet, thoughtful production. If it wasn't about a man who turns into a big, green, pissed, muscle-bound monster when he gets angry, then this might be more forgivable. However, the whole point of the Hulk is that he smashes things. It's his thing. Ang Lee might have been brave tackling this property in such an intellectual way, but he also displays that he just doesn't understand why people like the Hulk in the process. He compensates by trying to deconstruct the character, specifically asking "why is the Hulk so angry?" and then exploring the potential origins of that. The answer Lee comes up with? Daddy issues, and lots of them to go around. Lee also treats the film as more of a monster movie than superhero origin, in the vein of Frankenstein or (especially) The Wolf Man. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it's just another source of disappointment for fans, it was marketed incorrectly and towards the wrong audience.

The Contemplative Hulk (this image seriously summarizes about half of his screentime).

If Ang Lee had pulled off his super-hero deconstruction project successfully, then I could have totally forgiven the lack of action... however, Hulk is caught in the uncomfortable crossroads between being very smart and very, very stupid. I mean, the film is attempting to work psychology into the superhero mythos and figure out what makes Hulk angry. That's pretty interesting. However, that effort is sharing screen time with jaw-droppingly idiotic moments like this:

Nice acting dude...

...or this:

Ugh, those dogs would look out of place in a Star Wars prequel...

When the Hulk finally goes on his rampage, the smashing is frequently broken up by the big guy staring at things thoughtfully. This is where I can legitimately call out Lee for being overindulgent - the Hulk is impulsive, not contemplative. Bruce Banner can be thoughtful all he wants to, but Hulk should be the embodiment of aggression and impulse. Quite simply, Hulk can't stick to a consistent tone. Whenever it tries to get you to take it seriously, a really intrusive and cheesy transition will pull you out of the drama, a CGI monstrosity will invade the screen or someone will do something maddeningly illogical that shatters all its efforts. Central to this issue is the plot itself. Lee wants to make a psychological drama, and while he gets the psychological aspect down well enough, the plot that it is hung on is, put simply, an atrocious mess. Here's just a few of the biggest issues I noticed while watching it again:
  • How/why did Bruce become the Hulk?
  • How did David know that Bruce would become the Hulk?
  • Why does General Ross hate Bruce so much? He didn't do jack shit to anybody.
  • Why does David NOT become the Hulk when he goes through the same process? It seems to be some sort of trauma-based process... but how does that make sense?
  • Why does David suddenly decide to join with Betty after trying to kill her earlier?
  • WTF is up with the ending...???
And who thought covering Hulk in fecal matter would be a good idea?

Ultimately, the writers would have been better off not changing the Hulk's origin at all, because the version they came up with just plain didn't work, nor did it make any sense, undermining the movie's braver efforts in regards to its psychological focus.

This might be a controversial statement, but I wasn't particularly impressed on the acting-front either. I have looked up some contemporary reviews such as this one in preparation for this review, and they seemed to like Eric Bana, Jennifer Connelly and Nick Nolte's performances. For my own part, I thought that Eric Bana and Jennifer Connelly were unconvincing to say the least. As for Nick Nolte, he made David Banner batshit insane, although I'm not so sure that this was acting on his part or just him being himself. In all, I don't think any of the leads were particularly awful (Josh Lucas doesn't count as a lead), but they didn't deserve the praise that some people heap on them either.

Finally, the special effects are one glaring noteworthy mention. At the time they weren't exactly top-notch, and they look downright cartoonish now. You already saw the video with the dogs earlier, and they just look like cartoon characters. Check out the picture of Hulk covered in shit above, and focus on the pants. They don't even look real, they look like someone photoshopped them on. And check out Hulk's proportions here:

His proportions are all wrong. He doesn't even look like a real being. And I can blame this one on Ang Lee himself, because he is directly responsible. The "overlay" effects were awful as well (as you can see most egregiously in the video of Talbot's death).

Geez, I've really been ravaging this one. You might ask if there's anything I enjoyed about Hulk, and to that I say that there were a few things. Honestly, when Hulk actually does start smashing things it's pretty enjoyable. I also thought that the split-screen shots were pretty cool as well, and the film is shot with the eye of a true artist - I can give Ang Lee that (although he puts that eye to much better use in Life of Pi). I also quite enjoyed the Stan Lee and Lou Ferrigno cameo, it made me chuckle and wasn't too blatant. Finally, I appreciate Hulk for what it is - a risky experiment with the superhero genre which was honestly trying to elevate it. However, unlike some reviewers I do not consider this grounds for absolution, for if I could then Birdemic would fall under the same criteria. I think my younger self was a tad harsh on the film when it came out due to not appreciating its efforts, but I wasn't totally wrong in my assessment. Hulk is a colossal failure, as both a disappointment for the people who went in expecting a smash 'em up, and just for people who love good movies in general.

3/10

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

5 Reasons Why Raiden (Still) Sucks

I'm a big fan of the Metal Gear Solid franchise, counting Snake Eater and Guns of the Patriots among my all-time favourite video games. Yes the overarching story is very convoluted and loopy, but the stories in the individual games are amongst the best in gaming. Equally importantly, the gameplay is very fun, free and humorous, giving you the sorts of options that no other game series can get away with.

That said, the series isn't perfect. There has been much ink and fanboy rage spilled over the issue, but upon the release of Metal Gear Solid 2 there was a lot of criticism leveled at the protagonist, Raiden. The flowing blonde hair, the whiny attitude and annoying girlfriend were all starkly at odds with the series' regular hero, Solid Snake. Of course, most Raiden apologists have clung to this notion, saying that people simply don't like him because he is not Solid Snake, and for no other reason than that. As a result of the criticism, series creator Hideo Kojima gave him a major makeover in Metal Gear Solid 4, turning him into a sword-wielding  cyborg ninja. The makeover seemed to work, as many peoples' opinions turned around and suddenly people wanted to play as Raiden again. That wish is finally coming true soon, as Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is going to be released in the coming weeks. It looks like Raiden has finally redeemed himself...

...actually, no. He really hasn't.

Put simply: Raiden still sucks. "Why's that?" I hear the fanboys crying, demanding blood. Well let me enlighten you through 5 reasonable points...

Note, I unfortunately haven't played MGS2 in quite some time, although I have played through MGS4 recently. This might affect my views on MGS2 somewhat, although I've made sure that my reasoning doesn't hinge on that game too much. Also MAJOR FREAKING SPOILERS!!!

5) Whiny as all hell
Watch this video. Within the first couple seconds Raiden's bitching about not having the card key he needs. Then skip to about 0:45 and see how long it takes you to throw up in disgust...

Maybe it's just me, but it's not a flattering appraisal when your action hero's most consistent character trait is that he's very whiny and angst-ridden. It makes it incredibly difficult for me to empathize with a character who refuses to help himself, but this is basically Raiden's defining feature. In MGS2 Raiden spends much of the game uncertain of himself, whining about his situation to his girlfriend over the Codec whenever you try to save. Basically the only reason why he gets through the game is because "Iroquois Plisskin" motivates him to do so. In the process Raiden actually begins to develop as a character. By the time he got ahold of the ninja sword near the end, it was time to nut up or shut up, and I actually found myself enjoying Raiden finally. Ok, so they laid the groundwork for the character here, getting the painful origin out of the way so we can have a badass sword-wielding dude in the future...

...except no, this bright future kind of got thrown to the wayside in MGS4. Raiden believes that his girlfriend has a miscarriage and runs away from home because he's so sad, becoming a cyborg ninja in the process. So clearly Raiden hasn't learned his lesson - if anything, he's even whinier and angst-filled than ever. Seriously, half of his dialogue in MGS4 is in the vein of "You wouldn't understand..." and "I have no future...". Kojima gave Raiden a ton of power, but Raiden just doesn't care and it really robs his character of any real essence. I mean, he looks cool when he's battling a dozen Gekkos, but it's really a superficial fight - there isn't a lot of narrative weight behind it because Raiden just doesn't care. Worst of all, when he reunites with his family at the end of the game, Raiden doesn't even acknowledge Rosemary - clearly he still wants to run away from his problems, and it's exceptionally grating.


Now with Revengeance on the way, the question is - is this element going to continue into the future? And if not, is the character still going to feel like Raiden?

4) Revisionism
Remember what I said about the ends of MGS2 and how all Raiden's character development got thrown away? What are the chances that this is going to happen again in MGR:R? Pretty damn strong I'd say. At the end of MGS4 Raiden became human again, putting aside his cyborg ninja get-up to live with his wife and son. Once again he finally seemed to have some sort of happy future ahead of him, but MGR:R looks like it's giving Raiden another make-over.


This reminds me of the (terrible) Resident Evil movies. Its main character, Alice, is very badly defined, and in every single movie in the series they have been rewriting her in an attempt to make her interesting. Of course, this creates a jarring tonal shift between each movie, but it's painfully obvious that their attempts at revisionism are hurting any chance of establishing a character identity for the series' freaking protagonist (for example, Alice went from an everyday security guard, to experimental warrior, to superhero, to badass bitch and now she's a Ripley-wannabe). Similarly, the constant revision of Raiden is making the character arcs of the previous game worthless. Ideally, each narrative should build upon the next and give us some development. Despite all my criticism, Raiden has a great backstory which can be mined for material with ease. With any luck, MGR:R will do so and finally give us a consistent story for Raiden.

3) God Mode

When I first saw Raiden destroy a half dozen Gekkos and Vamp in his introduction in MGS4, I almost shit myself in amazement. In the back of my mind there was something niggling me, saying "this is totally ridiculous" but it was also really, really cool. Suddenly everyone wanted to play as Raiden again if he could pull off moves like that. However, it soon becomes apparent that Raiden is retardedly unkillable. He nearly dies from stab wounds from Vamp, but later he gets crushed by a giant battleship and somehow suffers even less damage. Even then he's able to continue fighting despite missing both of his arms. Unlike Snake, whose death it seems is inevitable and very possible at any given moment, Raiden is basically invulnerable and overpowered in MGS4, making him a rather boring character (and making his whininess even more grating). One of the best moments in MGS2 was when you controlled naked Raiden through Arsenal Gear - he was very vulnerable at this time but it was one of those moments that endeared you to the character.

2) "Badass" to the detriment of the story
This one is related to the previous point. Remember the part about Raiden getting crushed by a battleship? I'm not done with that yet. Just watch this:

While I'll admit that the ending of that sequence is very sad and incredibly well directed, this is probably my least-favourite sequence in all of Metal Gear. It's just so stupid and makes absolutely no sense. "Well wait," you might say, "you're arguing about sense in Metal Gear? This is a series where psychic connections are made with severed arms (amongst other things)!" While that is the case (and, I might add, most of the retarded plot points in the series come from MGS2...), this one just takes the cake in my opinion. Just watch it again... Raiden somehow stops a massive, speeding battleship... by standing in front of it... on flat ground... which is breaking up (and has had no trouble breaking up until that point I might add)... and somehow stabbing himself in the foot makes the ship stay in place longer... the idiocy of the whole situation is just head-smackingly terrible. It literally is one of the main reasons why MGS4 isn't my favourite entry in the series. Here, Kojima overcompensated to make people like Raiden, and did so to the detriment of the game (and considering how important story is to any Metal Gear game, that's pretty bad). If he had died it might have made this a little less criminal, but the fact that he lives with nary a scratch (somehow he lost another arm?) means that this whole sequence was horrendously unnecessary.

1) He's not Snake

Ok, I made fun of this argument at the start of the article, but in all honesty it really does boil back down to it... although not in the way that a defender of Raiden would hope it to. A Raiden-fanboy would argue that people hate Raiden simply because he is not as badass as Solid Snake is. However, I believe the real case is that Raiden is simply a worse character overall. Look at MGS4 again - Solid Snake is an old war veteran, fighting his last battle and racing against time to kill his arch-nemesis before he dies. He's frail, beyond his prime, and fighting on anyway. All that matters to him now is completing the mission and ending his father's legacy. Solid Snake is badass, but it's because his character has been defined as such, and he earns the distinction. Similarly, Big Boss (Snakes father/genetic progenitor) earns his distinction as a badass through his character development, rather than because he looks like Snake... in fact, Big Boss is easily my favourite character in the entire series simply because he has such a great character arc. Unfortunately, Raiden isn't nearly as compelling as either character, in part because they insist on rebooting him in each subsequent game.

That said, there's plenty of room for improvement - as I said earlier, Raiden has a great backstory as a child soldier and the effects this has had on him provide the perfect material for a great character. Sadly it has been wasted thus far, but I can always hope that they actually go somewhere with him in the future.

BONUS: MGS2 Commentary
I, like many MGS fans, was rather disappointed with MGS2... not because of Raiden (I knew about the twist by the time I played), but because of the ridiculously convoluted plot, which was dense and incomprehensible even by Metal Gear standards. In recent times, people have been defending this, saying that Kojima intentionally was creating the first post-modern video game. To that I say... yeah, you're right. It was damn impressive in that sense. At the same time, I have hated most of the post-modern fiction I have read. I might appreciate them on a technical level, but they typically refuse to be enjoyable. MGS2 suffers from this by having plot twists invalidating plot twists that had been revealed 5 minutes earlier, logic that was tenuous by the series' standards (the psychic arm...) and confusion piled on top of confusion. In a sense... the story is a total mess, and in a game where the story is as important as the gameplay, that really hurts.

In addition, I have a lot of difficulty going back and playing MGS2 now... I had fun with it when I played the first time (I fondly remember disarming the bombs on the struts still), but now the controls are exceptionally clunky. Compared to MGS3, which struck a balance between complex controls and player freedom (not to mention the free camera in Subsistence, MGS2 feels ancient. I dunno... at some point I'll try my hand at it again, but I honestly had an easier time going back to MGS (or even the first 2 Metal Gear games for that matter).

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Quick Fix: More Gun Stuff

I'm getting tired of ranting about gun control on here, so I promise I'll move on to something else soon. However, I keep getting caught up on it because there is a lot of talk about it in the media and current events are constantly relating to it. For example, today I heard on CBC news a story about a 12 year old boy who shot his brother. My initial reaction was actually that it was a murder case, but it's looking like it's actually another gun control and safety issue. Unless the owners had the gun and ammunition stored separately in a locked cabinet and the kids just circumvented these restrictions (which I'm not inclined to believe), this is a pretty clear case of poor gun safety. I'm not a gun owner myself at the moment, but my aunt is, and she drilled into us as kids (much to our disappointment) that you are to keep your guns locked up, out of reach and unloaded. Oddly enough, Sun News Network of all sources backs me up on this issue.

So while gun control is a priority (in the US at least), gun safety is a key issue as well - banning assault weapons won't stop people from being complete morons and leaving loaded handguns lying around their kitchens and closets. Gun education should be stressed as well, especially among owners with family.


Saturday, 19 January 2013

Quick Fix: Religion Control...?

So this morning I was woken up by my radio, and decided to listen to CBC for about a half an hour. They were talking about the Algerian hostage crisis at first, but soon the discussion turned to gun control as someone they were interviewing discussed his own thoughts on it. The pundit seemed to have a rather centrist position on the issue - he hates the NRA, but also seemed to oppose gun control as well, so it's not like he had an actual concrete opinion/solution on the matter to put forward.

However, the interviewer's final prompt to the pundit was something I found incredibly odd. They said that the man is an atheist, and wants religion to be done away with, but guns to be unrestricted as well. The pundit said that he believes that guns can be used constructively, but religion has been used to restrict scientific progress, among other things. Understandably, it was at this point that he lost me completely.

I hear often the argument that religion is an outdated institution, the people who practice are stupid and it needs to be eradicated. I believe this is an extremely intolerant and ignorant thing to espouse. Religion has been at the root of many violent conflicts leading into the present day, but it also has done far more good on an individual and global scale. Most of the violent consequences arise from human evil, not the evils of religion itself. To call for the destruction of religion is not only unrealistic, but misguided (not to mention that it could be the root of future violence if the next generations take it to heart and go radical with it).

Furthermore, violence, intolerance and hatred are hardly religiously-exclusive. The Thirty Years War, probably the most destructive religiously-based war, saw only 1/5 of the casualties of the First World War, a distinctly non-religious war (although estimates vary to as much as 1/2 of that number). Similarly, the bloodiest conflict the world has ever seen, World War II, was non-religiously motivated. I can't back this up with exact numbers, but based on my research, there has been more non-religiously motivated killing in the past century than there has been in the name of religion throughout all of history.

I will say that I believe that religion should be separate from state (and that the Republican party should divorce itself from Protestantism immediately, because it gives it a bad name), but that alone would cover the pundit's desire... so why call for the eradication of religion entirely? I'll leave it at that.

Monday, 14 January 2013

Movie Review: Dredd

When I reviewed Judge Dredd, I promised that a comparison-review would be coming in regards to its successor, 2012's Dredd. Naturally, with the DVD/Blu-Ray now out, I am delivering on that promise. First off, a bit of background information. I personally had very little interest in the 2000AD universe before seeing the film, and based on the trailer I figured it was going to be a generic action movie. However, about a week before its release, I noticed that Dredd had a staggeringly high rating of 94% on Rotten Tomatoes. This score would dwindle down to about ~75% around the release date, but by then I was sold - I had to see Dredd to get my fill of adrenaline-pumping action.


First off, we'll focus on just the most important element of an action film, and that is the action itself. In this sense, Dredd delivers from the opening scenes with a blistering car chase which sets the bar for the action and extreme level of violence that is to come. The meat of the film basically revolves around a single set-piece, Die Hard style, as the characters fight their way to the top level of the Peach Tree block. Lamentably, while Dredd came up with this idea first, The Raid: Redemption was released earlier and stole a great deal of thunder for the concept. That said, it certainly is a fantastic set-up for an action film, and works to great effect here.


Dredd punctuates its action sequences with some impressive uses of super slo-mo footage. Normally I dislike slo-mo in action movies because it is either a) gratuitous, b) cliche or c) all of the above (eg, 300 or House of the Dead). Some movies manage to overcome this hurdle because they work the slo-motion sequences into the story (such as Sherlock Holmes), and Dredd is definitely an example of this. In the film, some of the characters take a drug which causes the brain see the world at about 5% its normal speed, and the results are quite striking... especially when the bloodletting begins. Bullets fly and explosions go off in super slo-mo, causing quite the visceral spectacle for the viewer. These sequences also made the 3D used by far the best in any movie I have seen to date.


The integration of spectacle and story are some of the most impressive elements of Dredd actually. The film doesn't waste time using exposition to set up "Chekhov's Gun". Rather, it integrates elements in naturally. For example, foundational world-building is done very quickly at the beginning of the film, but is expanded throughout the run-time: an unobtrusive shot of the sheer, overwhelming scale of the crimes occurring across Megacity 1, Dredd informing his superiors that the bodies in a shootout need pickup to be "recycled", little snippets about mutation, etc. The script does a great job of pulling us into an incredibly grimdark universe without doing so bluntly (unlike, say, Inception). Anderson's psychic abilities are another example of this, which we discover ourselves rather than have listed out to us so we know what exactly it is she is capable of. Perhaps my favourite example in the entire film is how we discover that the guns used by the Judges have "special" features... I will say no more, because to ruin the surprise(s) would be an injustice to the script and destroy some truly badass moments.


In terms of characters, Dredd is much stronger than its predecessor. Judge Dredd himself, played by the always-badass Karl Urban, is very true to his character - constantly scowling, morally inflexible and devoted to the law (and no, he doesn't take his bloody helmet off). Dredd is a force to be reckoned with, an unstoppable embodiment of the law. He is difficult to relate to, but this is part of his character - he is intentionally impenetrable, basically a sci-fi Harry Calahan. While you may not relate to him, you'll certainly find yourself grinning with glee at the acts of mayhem he produces. I also appreciated that the costume department did not do a literal translation of the comics like they did in the previous film, because the result was pure camp. Instead, they opted for a more practical (and far cooler) costume design which suits his character and the darkness of the universe.


The counter-point to Judge Dredd is the rookie, Judge Anderson. I'll admit it here and now: I fell in love with Olivia Thirbly's portrayal of Anderson. Dredd's the unstoppable badass, but Anderson is the human connection, and Thirbly did a great job of this. Unlike some sidekicks that we could name, Anderson isn't a burden either - she can keep up with Dredd most of the time, and actually exceeds his abilities in others. Most impressively, this all happens without falling into the usual Hollywood cliches - Anderson is not a love interest (see any boy + girl pairing in an action movie), she is not a man written as a woman (eg, Sarah Connor in Terminator 2) and she is not an aggressive attempt at shoehorning in feminism (eg, The Enforcer). Instead, she is a very natural addition and feels like a real, identifiable character.


Finally, rounding out the important characters is Lena Headey's sadistic villain, Ma-Ma. The way in which Headey chooses to play her is as a very subdued, but sinister manner. She rarely outwardly displays any signs of aggression, but there is a palpable sense that she would willingly carve up any of the thugs she surrounds herself with should it please her. It might have been interesting to see how a hammier villain would have been in this film, Ma-Ma is certainly a distinct threat to the heroes throughout their ascent to the 200th floor of Peach Trees. One of Ma-Ma's underlings, Kay, is also given a bit more of a background than you would expect for a common thug, but Dredd, Anderson and Ma-Ma round out the important characters in the story.


While I have given nothing but overwhelming praise for Dredd thus far, I must admit it is far from the best film ever (or even of 2012). However, in a year where many of the biggest films had some major flaws (eg, Prometheus, The Dark Knight Rises, The Hobbit, etc), Dredd stands as one of the few in which its inner-workings are damn-near flawless. While it's not exactly lofty or revolutionary, its individual components are greased to perfection, making Dredd a great example of why a well-polished work can be better than a intriguing failed experiment. If nothing else, Dredd harkens you back to 80s-style action films with its sheer amount of violence, badass-ery and one-liners, while marrying itself to modern conventions in the process. It's truly a tragedy that it under-performed at the box office and will likely not see a sequel, but one can always hope.

8/10

Thursday, 10 January 2013

The Future is Scary: 3D Printed Firearms

As a miniature wargamer, the 3D printing business is one that I find interesting because it is inevitably the future of the industry. I might be another 15+ years before they're commonplace and of a reasonable level of quality for consumers, but they definitely have plenty of practical applications that make them very desirable. However, recent news has revealed how this technology can be abused in frightening ways: 3D printers can be used to manufacture firearms. Just think about it for a second - in the future, gun control is going to be very difficult to enforce, because anyone can download the schematics for a handgun, assault rifle, machine gun, etc and build their own arsenal at home. Predictably, there are people who are dedicated to this cause already in the name of the Second Amendment, and have actually been able to build a functioning assault rifle with it.


Even if you're an American who is a proponent of the Second Amendment, you're just one country with a small percentage of the global population. These guns are undetectable by metal detectors. The schematics for these are now available worldwide, and all you'll need is a high-quality 3D printer. That might be a tall order at the moment, but in 15+ years, I wouldn't be surprised if that's the norm in the household. The point is though that most nations have strict gun control laws, and by pushing the Second Amendment on the world, you're threatening those controls (not that they care of course).


I'm still very excited for 3D printing technology, but the people who insist on using it to make weapons are showing the dangerous potential it holds. Regulation is going to have to become more strict and intrusive if there's going to be any hope of preventing illegal ownership of weapons, terrorist actions and mass murder...

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Opinion: Stop Harper's "Crimes Against Humanity"

Preface: I am not a conservatively-biased person. I tend to swing towards far left of the political spectrum, but that doesn't stop me from agreeing/disagreeing with issues on either side. I would also like to say that while I would not vote Conservative, I think that Harper is probably our best candidate for Prime Minister - he is a very shrewd politician and hasn't had any major personal gaffes in his term in office (pretty amazing, especially considering the socially networked world we live in now). I'd prefer a Conservative-led minority government over one of the alternative parties taking power.

As a Canadian university student, it shouldn't come as a major surprise that I frequently hear people espousing their denouncement of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's policies. Most recently, a campaign has been going around campus called "Stop Harper's Crimes Against Humanity", and it's hard to find someplace on campus where someone hasn't plastered one of those stickers on the wall. Like I said in the preface, I don't really like or support the Conservative party all that much, but the campaign left a bit of a sour taste in my mouth from the start - what supposed "crimes" has Harper committed? Of the small bullet-points listed on the sticker, none of them were "crimes" at all. Of course, this prompted me to actually check out their website and investigate for myself... and I've gotta say, my initial reaction wasn't really challenged very much by the result.

The page lists the "Top 10 crimes against humanity" which Harper has committed, so I'll go through each of these briefly. The first is the blocking of climate change bills and environmental destruction, which I actually find the hardest to refute. It seems as if the Conservative government does not care about climate change (probably because it's a prisoner's gambit), and doesn't really give much ground on the issue. I won't try to defend them on that issue. That said, this is clearly not a crime against humanity, unless you're an environmentalist.

The second "crime" is probably the one I take the most offense to, that Harper is promoting "endless war". This pretty much betrays a pacifist bias on the part of the campaign creator, Yves Engler. First, he complains that the Conservative budget increased military spending... which is kind of ridiculous to me, because it's pretty much public fact that the Canadian army is poorly equipped and in dire need of the money. Unfortunately I can't find a source to back this up, but when Canada deployed to Afghanistan, we didn't even have desert camouflage to outfit out troops in. Our troops' equipment has been a joke for decades as well, because of our role as a "peace keeping nation" throughout the Cold War era. Even if you are against war, I think it's reasonable to not want our troops to get killed because we have poor equipment standards (not to mention that national defense is an ever-present, although not exactly pressing, concern). In addition, Canada really is historically a "warrior nation": we participated in many major global conflicts since Confederation, so denying that history and branding the Prime Minister a criminal is just blatantly pushing a pacifist agenda. So no, Mr. Engler, as a Canadian I do not support your position on this "crime".

The third point is similar to the first, that mining companies are destroying the environment. I don't have an issue with the concern either, aside from the fact that it seems to me that this should be largely against the mining corporations themselves, rather than against Harper. I mean, sure he could legislate against them, but ideally this should be directed towards the corporations first. Again... not a crime.

The fourth point is that the government has lied about the War in Afghanistan. Again, this is a political issue more than anything else. Yes, the government said they would pull out of Afghanistan by 2011, but if they have not accomplished their mission, is there any sense in leaving until it was accomplished? Afghanistan was under the Taliban simply because the West pulled out of the country when it stopped being in our best interests (kicking out the Soviets), rather than educating the people and helping them. I think that leaving before we have actually helped them is a mistake, and will lead to similar problems in the future. Engler also mentions elements like Canadians killing surrendering Taliban and Afghan police raping children. To this, I say it's the horrors of war... when you have a war, there's so much bureaucracy that sometimes you can't prevent police from raping people because it's out of your jurisdiction. And when you and your buddies have been shot at by the Taliban for months, sometimes you shoot one that surrendered. Not to mention that PTSD and just plain insanity settle in as well, at which point I find it difficult to call Harper a criminal because, quite simply, war is hell. Clearly, Engler wants a transparent, pacifistic, open government, but I'm not entirely convinced that he represents nearly as much of Canada as he thinks.

The fifth point is a little murkier - the Conservative government's support of Israel. Put simply, the entire situation in Israel's a clusterf--k with no real perfect solution anywhere. That said, ever since becoming a nation, Israel has been constantly under threat of military attack. I fully support the right for Israel to defend itself, even if it is partly to blame for the attacks in the first place. With that in mind, I also fully support Palestinian statehood, and don't understand why we can't all come to a compromise on it. I'm sure there are more political issues behind the Israel-Canada relationship, but we are generally not privy to that information. This is one of those points that is murkier and, due to the nature of the very issue, there isn't really a right answer. Harper's inflexibility on the issue is troubling, but he is basically just supporting his ally. If anyone can be pegged with crimes here, it'd be Israel, not Harper.

The sixth point is another environmentalist one, relating to "dirty oil", the tar sands. The obvious reason for the Conservatives to back this is money. If they can harness these resources, then Canada stands to make a ton of money and create a phenomenal amount of jobs (in fact, quite a few members of my own family have moved out west to work on the oil rigs - it's big business). Yes, it's going to hurt the environment, but I really cannot blame the Conservatives for not throwing away a cash cow, especially with oil reserves slowly drying up.

The seventh point regards supporting Middle Eastern dictators, something which also tends to be supported by the USA (to be fair, Harper tends to align quite well with American interests). This one's tricky because, on one hand, ideally we should be promoting democracy (or something which is in the interest of the people anyway). On the other, democracies are typically dysfunctional, and the fear is that the people will vote in extremist parties which will be against the best interests of our governments (hence the fact that we support them in the first place). I don't make a habit of it myself, but my parents were watching Sun News Network, and one of the Conservative pundits was lamenting this very thing as a consequence of the Arab Spring movement, saying that our interests in the region have now been lost. I think I'd prefer if a better solution could be brought about, but this point is more against conservative self-interest than anything else. This is another point I'm a tad murky about, because there isn't exactly a good solution.

For point eight, indifference to Haitian suffering, I can't really say much. I'm not sure why the Conservatives would want to prevent a Haitian peoples' uprising, or would keep aid money away from them (in the news recently, they actually cut funding because they want to see the Haitian government distribute it to the people efficiently... or that's what the official release says anyway). Since Engler's page isn't exactly the most unbiased source, I will refrain from making a judgement call on this issue. However, if he is actually giving the facts here transparently, then that's pretty screwed up (but based on the nature of the information, something tells me that we aren't getting the whole picture).

The ninth point is basically the same as the seventh, supporting Latin American coups. Although I'm less knowledgeable on the issue than I am with the Middle East situation, I'll just say that my points in regards to the seventh "crime" stand.

The tenth point is once again in opposition to Engler's pacifistic side, the Conservatives' dislike for arms controls. In regards to the cluster bombs issue, Canada generally goes to war alongside the USA. If we didn't put the condition into the treaty then we'd basically break it every time we supported them (because like hell the USA will ever stop using cluster bombs). In the end, the Conservatives just want weapons to defend their country with (or enforce their interests, let's be honest), it's not like they're legalizing cluster bombs for domestic use. That is something I would oppose with flaming vitriol. So again, Harper is not committing a crime against humanity here, he's not suggesting that we cluster bomb puppies personally or anything like that. In the end, he just wants less regulation on weapons in order to retain the Western status quo.

The page ends with a final "potential crime", stating simply "War with Iran?" I think you know where I'm going with this: Israel and the USA are our allies, and it's sensible for us to back them. I'm not entirely sure where I stand on the issue, but I can understand why we would support them in it.

In closing, calling these points "Harper's Crimes Against Humanity" is just plain wrong for quite a few reasons. First, it's hyperbolic, and really just makes you sound like a sign-waving lunatic, rather than someone with legitimate concerns about the way that Harper manages his foreign policy. Second, it places all the responsibility on Harper, a figure, rather than his party. If we went to the literal conclusion of this campaign, we'd throw Harper out of office. Of course, that wouldn't solve anything - he acts based on the policies of his party, rather than dictating everything for himself. The campaign should simply come out and say as much. Finally, the campaign moralizes political values in most of its "crimes". Engler is basically saying that unless you're a left-wing, environmentalist, pacifistic and/or pro-Palestine thinker, then you're morally objectionable and don't represent Canadian values. It also is dangerously close to demonizing the opposition, a definite faux pas in a truly reasonable debate, and which doesn't make Engler appear any better than, say, Sun News Network.While I have a lot of problems with the form of the government and democracy in general (which we can get into later), Engler espouses a pro-democracy ideology. However, the Harper's Crimes campaign comes across as anti-democratic, like the losing party is just whining about how the one which was voted in came to power (the old "I support democracy, except when I don't win" issue). By all means, this sort of page is a part of freedom of speech and is therefore encouraged, but I think they're also a great danger when they contain misinformation and become one-sided and masked political grandstands like this one.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

5 More Tips for Battlefield 3 Players

I want to preface this article with a story of 2 kids on headsets that I played with a couple weeks ago. We were playing in a DICE server, the most popular maps/modes from the base game. The whole time, they were bitching about how the enemy team was cheating, spawn camping, ripping them off (how the hell did he kill me, I shot him first!) and so on. I found them incredibly grating, and so wrote down their PSN IDs for future reference. Later I checked their BF3 stats and... they suck. Hard. They both had around 20 hours of experience. One of them had less than a 0.5 K/D ratio, while the other had around a 0.38. Kiddies, the enemy is not to blame for your poor performance - you are. Try to keep that in mind.

My previous BF3 post covered most of the basics that an aspiring noob should know, but it was hardly comprehensive. This post covers a few more tips, and is based on my own experiences so it's a little more opinionated (as you'll soon see). That said, I'm sure you'll agree for the most part and will find this info very helpful.

5) Laser Sights/Flashlights... not a fan
I see people rocking Laser Sights all the time, and I just can't fathom it. Flashlights are a little more rare now since DICE nerfed them, but they still show up from time to time. However, this brings me to my point - why do people still use these things? Both give away your position to the enemy very easily, and the blinding effect is really poor. I can honestly say that I have never been killed because of the blinding effect preventing me from killing someone (if anything, they already had the drop on me). In fact, I find the blinding effect easy to compensate for - just shoot towards the middle of the light, or take cover. I think it's pretty telling that when my enemies' laser sights and flashlights have given me more kills than deaths that they're a pretty terrible weapon attachment.

That said, they have their useful situations, but I would never turn off my useless attachment every time I spawn on the off-chance I might need it someday. The laser sight in particular gives you better hip-fire accuracy. However, I personally have learned to just take my silencer/RDS P90 and compensate.


4) Sometimes You Just Have to Charge
If your team and the enemy are stuck at a choke point firing back and forth, your attempts at flanking have failed, and your team is bleeding tickets, sometimes you just have to take the initiative and barrel in there (I'd recommend Assault or Support classes for this, or if you're using a shotgun). I'm not going to lie, 9 times out of 10 you'll probably die (although you may drag a couple people down with you). However, sometimes you'll catch the enemy off guard, especially if you're quick out of the draw. If you're lucky, you'll kill 3+ enemies (possibly the entire opposition on that side of the door) and single-handedly pave a path for your team to advance.


3) Persist
Sometimes, no matter what your team does, it looks like you're totally screwed. The urge to rage-quit can be pretty strong, but it's not over til it's over. And by that I mean that the tide can totally shift unexpectedly. I've had games where my team was getting their asses kicked all game, and then suddenly, with 1 Rush objective left, suddenly we rally and hold the last base from the previously unstoppable foe (and with 300 tickets no less). The reasons for this are simply because if you have a bad team that is losing, then there will be rage-quitters, whose positions will hopefully be filled by skilled players who then turn the tide. In a recent game, I was barely pulling off a 1.0 K/D average in a game (I was about 23 to 20), but my team suddenly was boosted and I managed to rally with a 60 to 40 K/D (pretty damn good considering how badly I was doing).

If you lose a match, then a similar thing will happen with rage-quitters. As a result, the game rebalances the match by taking players on the other team and then puts them on yours (depending on your server settings anyway). In another recent game, my team lost pretty badly, but I knew that the game would rebalance after the match since most players were quitting on my team. Lo-and-behold, in the next match we shut out the enemy and I actually managed to top my Nemesis Victim streak.

Basically, if your team is doing poorly, stick with it. Consider hanging back for a few minutes and picking off the enemy more conservatively. They might turn things around unexpectedly.


2) Change Up Your Tactics
When I play, if I have tried to attack a base from the same approach but have died the last few times, then I believe it is essential to approach it from the opposite vector. For example, if I'm playing Rush on Damavand Peak, and I'm trying to capture the 2nd set of objectives, I generally hang towards the right flank and make my way into the destructible building overlooking the right objective. However, if the enemy has holed up here, and are anticipating us, I will immediately change up my approach, hanging towards the left side of the battlefield instead. Unless the enemy is smart and have spread out evenly, a disproportionate number of troops will be on the right flank, expecting an attack which has stopped coming, allowing you an easier chance at taking the left flank.

Of course, if no approach is working, refer to point #3 and keep at it!


1) Play As a Team!
This ties into my previous list's points, but I didn't really state it quite so explicitly: Battlefield 3 is a team-based shooter, and if you're not playing as a member of a team, you're going to suck. Similarly, if you're going to set the MCOM station but don't have any cover, there's a very good chance you're going to die. BF3 players, support your allies and don't dick around uselessly! I shouldn't have to say this sort of thing so often!


Good luck, and see you on the Battlefield!

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Movie Review: Transformers - Dark of the Moon

This shouldn't really a big surprise, but I'm not a big fan of the Transformers film franchise. I was moderately familiar with the series before I saw the Michael Bay movies (mostly thanks to Beast Wars), so it's not like I went into them with any ill will. I'm not looking back on the series in the post-RotF era - I honestly didn't care much for the film series from the start. I mean, Transformers was a decent film, but nothing special (even if audiences and critics dubbed it the #1 blockbuster of 2007). Then Revenge of the Fallen came out and cemented the series as a cinematic travesty. Now with this in mind, it shouldn't be a massive revelation I hadn't bothered to go see Dark of the Moon until now. I had heard it was an improvement over the previous film, but I decided it was finally time to find out for myself. As usual, spoilers abound.


So, right off the bat, we're shown the film's major positives - it features some jaw-dropping special effects and action on a massive scale (clearly that was the intention, to start the film on a high-note). Even though the battle on Cybertron is very short, the effects and action here are incredible. The opening also highlights something that I didn't think I'd say - the film's conspiracy-theorizing story is actually a very interesting opening to the film. The film would probably have been better if they had dispensed with the Cybertron opening and instead made the moon expedition more of a mystery to the viewer, but suffice to say that the film opens on a positive note.


The effects and action are not limited to the opening either. You'd think this would be obvious, but I actually found the effects in Transformers and Revenge of the Fallen to be rather weak, mostly due to the fugly robot designs which made it nearly impossible to discern what was happening on-screen. Consequently, the action scenes were a mess - a problem compounded by the long stretches of half-baked plot between these parts. In Dark of the Moon however, I actually didn't have any trouble with the designs making the clashes murky. While I still hate how the ugly Transformers have been designed, it's less of an issue this time around.


And... uh... that's all the good stuff I have to say about the movie. Really? I had more to praise in Judge Dredd than this... sheesh, well onto the first problem: plot. A lot of people (and Transformer fans in particular) will argue that plot doesn't matter in a movie about robots fighting robots, but you're just plain dead-wrong. Why settle for a piece of crap action movie when you could be watching something like Terminator 2 - a movie about robots fighting robots which also happens to have a great story (not to mention far superior action)? And, predictably, Dark of the Moon screws the pooch. The opening minutes of the film establish this: the half-destroyed Autobot ship somehow travels an unspecified number of light years to reach the Moon... how did this happen? Did it teleport? Did it have some sort of "hyper-drive" that somehow was set off and then transported it to the Moon? Was the Cybertron war taking place millions of years ago? Of course, no one really thinks its necessary to explain this, just leaving it up to editing to conveniently hand-wave it away: it happened, that's all that matters. That wouldn't be so bad if this sort of thing wasn't a hallmark of the series - for example, the Autobots appear, disappear and get captured based on whether its convenient for the writer to keep them around, even if they weren't in the area to begin with (eg, Optimus and Sentinel Prime are hanging out in the desert alone, and then suddenly are barreling down the freeway with the other Autobots with no explanation). In a particularly hilarious example of this, Optimus gets sidelined for much of the final battle because (and this is not a joke) he flew into a bunch of cables and had to get disentangled. Seriously. Similarly, the film doesn't really seem to keep its fiction in mind. The whole evil plan is tenuous to begin with, but taken into account with the action of the previous 2 films, it makes no sense at all. Furthermore, Sentinel Prime states that the film's MacGuffin, the teleporting pillar things, "Defies your [human] physics"... First off, did he mean our understanding of physics, because I'm pretty sure physics aren't confined to Earth. Secondly, what does Sentinel know of the human understanding of physics? Did he attend an elementary school science class before heading back to NEST to meet with the CIA director? Admittedly, many of these quibbles are rather nit-picky, but they break the sense of immersion in the film's story (or attempt at one), and they happen constantly.


The next major issue with the film is the characters. I can't think of many other series which feature so many genuinely infuriating characters. Foremost amongst these is Shia LaBeouf's deservingly derided Sam Witwicky. I don't have a huge problem with Shia as an movie star, but the Transformer movies have done him no favours. To make matters worse, Dark of the Moon is by far the worst performance I have seen of his. During the first half of the movie, Sam freaks out constantly and at damn-near everybody, coming across as nothing more than a whiny, entitled bitch. Thankfully, when the shit hits the fan, he finally nuts up and shuts up, but even then he isn't exactly an endearing character - he's just finally bearable. Furthermore, the authority figures are totally justified in saying that Sam is just a messenger (which is what made him all whiny in the first place): he isn't qualified to risk his life with the Autobots at all, and the fact that he isn't dead yet comes down to little more than sheer luck.


Next on the firing-line: the much-maligned Rosie Huntington-Whiteley. You can tell how deeply a woman is going to be developed when the very first shot of them in the movie is focused squarely on their ass. She is written in as nothing more than sex appeal to horny teenagers, and doesn't do anything but conform to this. Considering this, RHW wasn't nearly as bad in the film as I had heard (she, like basically everyone else, was merely serviceable), but I was not convinced that she would ever fall for Sam Witwicky. (By the way, if you don't see the mindless pandering of women to horny men as a problem [or even as a positive], then fine by me - but this is my opinions on the matter, so write your own damn review if that's offends you.)


As for the other characters, they're mostly just an annoyance more than anything else, or are just plain useless. Brains and Wheelie are literally useless and unfunny "comic relief" characters, Sam's parents don't do anything of value (and are as irritating as ever), Simmons is pointless and the new additions are either wasted or nothing of note. For example, John Malkovich's character is utterly pointless and wasted, disappearing without having caused any sort of important impact on the plot. As for the Transformers themselves, they're about the same as ever (although the stereotypically "Spanish" one made me cringe every time he spoke... which, thankfully, was less than you'd think), including excessive pop-culture references and terrible attempts at humour.


In all, the movie is just way too overindulgent (in more ways than one) and was in serious need of some finer editing. For starters, the movie was way too damn long, and would have fared much better if somebody had cut out the terrible attempts at humour, useless characters and pointless side-plots. Secondly, the movie itself promotes a sense of materialistic excess, reveling in ridiculously expensive cars, houses, etc. Finally, it sometimes just shifts tones in an ill-advised manner. For example, the piano ballad at the beginning of the invasion was very tonally "off", and doesn't really jive with the expressly mindless (and distinctly not serious) tone of the film itself. In addition, for a film marketed towards kids, the violence is pretty shocking: robots get torn apart, decapitated and evicerate (by the "good guys" no less), and that's in addition to mass numbers of people being vapourized and killed on-screen (and having their skulls go flying out at one point) and the numerous counts of collateral damage (including some caused by the Autobots themselves). As an adult, I'm cool with this in my sorts of movies, but in a kid-oriented movie I don't think I'd want to expose them to this sort of thing until they were closer to the PG-13 age bracket.



Bottom-line: Unless you're already a fan, there is literally no reason to recommend Transformers: Dark of the Moon, other than the special effects and the last 40 minutes of non-stop action. Thank God Battleship crashed and burned, so we shouldn't see as many summer blockbusters like this in the future.

4/10

Post-Script: I swear, I'm not just looking for movies to ravage on this blog, but it has just sort of been the trend. I'll review Dredd next, then you'll get to hear me gush.