Tuesday, 29 April 2014

+++WE INTERRUPT THIS PROGRAM+++

Okay, obviously this isn't Shrek 2. That'll come at some point in the near future I'm sure, but right now... well, it took me some time to come to this conclusion, but I think it's time for a short hiatus from the blog. Between work, hobbies and other responsibilities lately, I'm finding it hard to make time to put out anything more than a brief blog post. So, rather than put out a half-assed Retrospective like I was planning on doing (and did, in my opinion, last week), I'm going to take a much-needed break. I've been updating this blog weekly for the past year and a half without fail, but my readership has dropped from ~300 per day to about 10% of that on a good day. As a result, I doubt anyone's going to be screaming in outrage at this announcement.

Now I want to be sure to emphasize that this is not the end of the blog - I'll be continuing the Shrek Retrospective in the next couple weeks I imagine (if only because I want to bitch about Shrek the Third). For now though, I just don't want to go in half-heartedly.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Retrospective: Shrek (2001)

Welcome back good readers as we begin a new retrospectives series! The franchise that we're going to be focusing on for the next few weeks is the Shrek series (for the record though, I'm not including the holiday specials and countless short films on the DVDs in this analysis, otherwise I'd be at this for months). The franchise has been incredibly successful, raking in over $3.5 billion in just a decade and being popular among kids and adults alike. In this entry, we're going to cover the film which started it all - 2001's Shrek.

A bit of an odd poster design, but I like it (maybe I'm just nostalgic for it though).

In 1990, William Steig published a children's book called Shrek!, about an ogre who travels away from home and finds another ogre just as ugly as he is (and falls in love with her of course). It's a gross and irreverent story, with very little in the way of plot. However, Steven Spielberg saw merit in the premise and bought the rights for the story prior to founding DreamWorks. He was initially planning to turn it into a traditionally animated film which hewed closely to the book, starring Bill Murray as Shrek and Steve Martin as Donkey. After the success of Toy Story, the film was reconstituted as a motion captured animation. However, the results were considered unsatisfactory, so it was once again restarted as a CGI animation. First time director Andrew Adamson was hired to co-direct alongside Kelly Asbury - however, Asbury dropped out after a year and story artist Vicky Jenson took over instead. Adamson actually wanted the film to appeal more to adults than the final film did, putting in more sexual jokes and Guns N' Roses music (both ideas which caused a clash with the studio executives).


Initially, Chris Farley was cast to play Shrek, and recorded most of his dialogue. However, he died in 1997 before the film was completed. As a result, Mike Myers was cast to replace him. Myers actually recorded all of his dialogue twice, replacing it all of his original lines with the iconic Scottish accent that we hear in the final film. The process cost the film an additional $4 million, but was considered such an improvement that Spielberg himself thanked Myers for the change. The character also was better understood after the change and more comedy bits were added as the creators gained a better handle on the film. Janeane Garofalo was initially cast as Princess Fiona, but was unceremoniously fired and replaced by Cameron Diaz. Eddie Murphy was cast as Donkey, who was actually modelled after a real donkey named Pericles.

...am I the only one who doesn't see the resemblance?

The plot of Shrek is quite different than the book it is based on. For one thing, in Shrek!, the ogre is so ugly that he actually smites donkey with his ugliness. In the film, Shrek is a grumpy ogre whose swamp becomes a dumping ground for fairy tale creatures by Lord Farquaad, who is trying to build the "perfect kingdom". Farquaad declares he'll give Shrek his swamp back if he rescues the perfect princess, Fiona, from her dragon guarded tower. Together Shrek and his annoying talking sidekick, Donkey, have to rescue the princess, but discover that there's more to her (and themselves) than meets the eye...

I probably don't need to tell you the plot to Shrek because let's be honest - everyone has seen it. Even the last man on earth can quote it word for word (and you were doing it too alongside him). The plot is a relatively straight-forward fairy tale/hero's journey, but the expectations are inverted and played with. Instead of the noble king vanquishing the terrifying monster to get the princess, the monster is the hero and the king is the villain. Furthermore, the princess is a monster as well. This simplistic plot makes the film appealing enough for children, but the inversions keep it fresh and interesting enough for adults as well. The inversions also help to make the film very funny. The humour in the film is a perfect mix of satire, references, gross-out humour and clever jokes, often springing from the excellent chemistry between the lead characters. There are also lots of pointless little moments in the film, such as the Robin Hood attack, which could have come across as little more than filler. However, these almost all end up being hilarious and highlights of the film (although the "muffin man" bit is the annoying exception). Some of the jokes are more adult-oriented as well, although there is plenty of content to entertain both children and adults. In general, the film is just plain funny and nearly every joke hits its mark.


As for the characters, all of them are a lot of fun. The performances are exceptional and it's difficult to imagine anyone else in the roles. Mike Myers is great as Shrek, making us genuinely care about such a grumpy individual. Donkey could easily have been annoying as shit, but Eddie Murphy does a good job of keeping him funny throughout. Cameron Diaz also adds a lot to Princess Fiona, a role which could have easily been dangerously close to the "generic damsel in distress" if the wrong actress was cast. John Lithgow's Lord Farquaad is also an interesting role - on the one hand, he's an effective villain, but on the other hand he's hilariously diminutive and unthreatening. Farquaad strikes a very delicate balance as a comedic villain, and in my opinion that balance is achieved perfectly. The minor supporting cast also add a few laughs, such as Pinocchio, the three blind mice and the Gingerbread Man.

I'm also pleased to see that the animation still holds up very well almost 13 years after the film's release. Shrek isn't quite as detailed or flashy as many of the CGI animated films which have succeeded it, but the characters' movements are still top-notch and all of the scenes are rendered very impressively. I was watching the film with a critical eye towards the animation in particular to see if I could find any problems, but I ended up being more impressed by the little details, such as bent grass, Donkey's fur, Shrek's subtle facial details, etc. Shrek could be released today and still easily achieve nearly as much acclaim as it did in 2001.


If there's a weak point in the film, I'd say that the biggest problem is probably Donkey and Dragon's relationship. It makes for some funny moments initially, but it really seems to be done for little more than plot convenience. Donkey's going to die? Make the dragon fall in love with him! Need to get to the wedding fast? Take the dragon! Lord Farquaad's about to kill Shrek and Fiona? Make the dragon eat him! Dragon just deflates some of the more interesting ways the plot could have gone for the sake of convenience, and makes for some more awkward problems later on down the line... All things said and done though, Shrek is an awesome movie. Everyone loves it, from all ages. I remember going to my friends' birthday 11th party and seeing the film with absolutely no prior knowledge of the film, and loving it. Seriously, if you haven't seen Shrek yet then you must have been living in a Fallout vault or something.

8/10

Be sure to come back soon for the second part of this retrospective series, Shrek 2!

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Quick Fix: Paintball Videos!

As I implied in last week's blog post, I definitely was quite busy so that next retrospective series is going to begin on the 22nd. However, in the meantime, you can enjoy some PRZ Fight for Asylum 3 footage and a recap!

Yes, this actually happened.

Myself and 3 other Stormrunners attended the event in Picton, Ontario. It was absolutely perfect paintballing weather - very little wind, sunny weather, not humid, not too wet and not too hot either. We played on Josh Samure's team, which featured some pretty major teams such as Citrus Connection and the Devil Dogs (humourously, the Stormrunners got a shout out as a fellow TechPB team, even though we aren't... but hey, I'm not going to complain about the complement). There were about 650 people playing which made for a very exciting event.

...although this guy was easily the coolest of them all.

My only complaint on the day was that the other team got absolutely smoked. They had a poor initial spawn point and were too disorganized at the beginning - they didn't even leave their spawn point for about a minute after the break and none of their forces were sent to their alternative spawn points (a major issue because it would have delayed our reinforcements as we mopped up their troops, allowing their forces to take up better positions). The organizers did their best to even it up a bit, including a reinsertion and a ton of "air strikes" to clear our forces out, but it was definitely a one-sided day.


On the plus side, the Stormrunners did fantastic. The Stormrunners had a confirmed 116 kills and only 17 deaths, which is just a mind-bogglingly high number. Most of those kills were between two of our members, but I myself got 12 kills and only 1 death - not too shabby if I do say so myself. Images and videos are still trickling in, so if you're interested then keep an eye on The Stormrunners' Facebook page and our Youtube playlist. If you want to play with us at some point, we are going to be attending Commando Paintball's D-Day Big Game on June 14th - if you are, leave a comment and feel free to say hi. Maybe you'll get to be in our next video!

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Quick Fix: Paintball News and Retrospectives

Hey good readers, I've got an exciting week ahead of me! On the 12th, I'm going to be kicking off the paintball season by attending PRZ's Fight for the Asylum once again. It's a world-class paintball field and I'm extremely excited to get out and capture plenty of footage of the action. I expect that by my next blog post, there will be lots of new footage of the event on my Youtube channel, so be sure to check it out by then. I've been stoked for this event for the last few weeks, upgrading and testing out my marker loadout in preparation - seriously, every time I pre-register for a paintball event, it's like a mini Christmas to me (with the carols being pump-up rock and metal).

Commando Paintball's D-Day event has also been recently announced as being on June 14th. The Stormrunners have attended D-Day since 2011, so this will make it our 4th attendance at the event. Most of the guys are still in school and so will be missing out on Fight for the Asylum, but by June 14th they should be all good to attend - D-Day tends to be one of our best events in regards to turnouts, so I'm excited to hang out with the team and kick some ass. It also tends to be my most popular event in terms of video views, with one of last year's videos just shy of 10,000 views on Youtube (and still growing). You can be sure I'll be attending D-Day this year and getting even more quality footage for everyone to enjoy.


Also, I'm considering upgrading my helmet cam from the Contour HD to a Contour+2. I've got a few reasons for this, so I just want to put them out there. First of all, my Contour HD is in rough shape - a lot of the vital bits which keep the camera's battery in the unit are broken. It's still in working order, but there's only a couple pieces actually keeping it all together, so I'm expecting this to be my last season with the camera anyway (for the record, I bought it used for a half decent price and have been very happy with the camera in all my time with it). Also, my Youtube channel is overwhelmingly paintball-related, so I think I should focus my efforts on improving that part of the channel and making it the best it can be. At present, I can only shoot in 720p (well, I technically can shoot in 1080p, but the field of view is too restricted for my liking). This was fine on my laptop, but now that I have a new computer, I can edit 1080p and 60fps footage with ease. Luckily, the Contour+2 has a much wider FOV for 1080p footage, and I think the video quality is simply better anyway, making it a very attractive option for me. The bells and whistles are also just plain cool: smart phone integration, GPS tracking, plug-in microphones, etc. Anyway, there's no way in hell I'll have one by Fight for the Asylum, but I hope to have saved up enough to make the purchase by D-Day - fingers crossed!

In other news, I'm going to start the next Retrospective series within the next couple weeks. I might be too busy this week to get it done, but if so then it will be posted by the 22nd at the latest. In trying to keep things fresh, it's a very different sort of franchise compared to all the (generally horrible) action/horror/thriller series I've covered thus far. I'm sure you'll like it (and have probably seen at least two of the films in the franchise as well)!

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Video Game Review: Metal Gear Solid V - Ground Zeroes

As you probably know if you read the blog, I'm a big Metal Gear Solid fan. Snake Eater and Guns of the Patriots are amongst my favourite games of all time, and I've played through each probably at least a half dozen times. Naturally, I bought the game almost immediately, despite some trepidations about its short length. Is it really just an over-glorified demo as some are stating, or is it a solid prologue for The Phantom Pain? Read on to find out...


First of all, I have to get this out of the way: Kiefer Sutherland is fine as Snake. Fans were talking about boycotting the game if David Hayter didn't get the role, but if you seriously skipped out on this game only because you thought only Hayter could be Snake, then you're an idiot, pure and simple. I think I would have preferred Hayter, but I was surprised to find that Sutherland brought a more serious edge to the role. Rather than Hayter's awesomely over-the-top voice, we get a more subdued performance which sounds like Snake could actually be a grizzled veteran. In any case though, Sutherland does a fine job, and is not distracting in the least.

Now for the real talking point about the game - the length. It's true, the main mission in Ground Zeroes is pretty short - probably on par with the Tanker chapter or Virtuous Mission prologues from MGS2 and 3. I spent somewhere between an hour and a half to two hours on the mission and wasn't even doing all that much exploring - mostly just trying to get from point A to point B while minimizing kills and alerts (well, until I stole a LAV anyway, at which point I couldn't help myself...). However, that said, there is a lot more freedom to approach the mission, which makes it much more replayable and can vary the playtime significantly. Like any Metal Gear game, I can see myself playing through the main campaign a few times to try out different strategies and search for secrets.


The game isn't just restricted to the main mission though either; it also ships with 5 side ops. Unlike most open world side missions, the side ops are surprisingly compelling. Kojima has clearly gone to a lot of effort to make them interesting and varied. There's one mission where you have to visually identify two targets and stealthily assassinate them both. This would be fun in itself, but as we play the mission, we're given backstory into the war crimes these targets committed. Learning about how awful the targets were makes the mission completion all the more satisfying and compelling, rather than a chore. That's only one of the side ops too, the others are equally as enjoyable, and well worth playing through. People are getting way too caught up on the short length of the main mission itself, because I imagine on a reasonable playthrough you could get another 3+ hours out of the side missions themselves, and that's not including the inevitability of replaying missions to increase your score. If you really want to squeeze every second of value out of the game, there's also a bunch of collectable cassette tapes and XOF patches to find, and some weird tiki heads you can shoot too for a reward, all of which should keep dedicated players occupied for well over 15+ hours. So really, the game certainly has plenty of content for $30, but you have to be willing to work for it. In any case, if you're a Metal Gear fan like me, you already knew you'd be willing to spend $30+ up front. At worst, wait a few months for it to drop down to about $20, or wait until the inevitable Ground Zeroes + The Phantom Pain bundle that will drop in a year or two.

Anyway, now that the big controversies are out of the way, it's time to move onto my impressions in proper. First of all, the game is very much Metal Gear, but with a lot of needed refinement. The cutscenes are far less overbearing, which is welcome. As much as I enjoy the cutscenes in Metal Gear games, it becomes annoying having to wait upwards of an hour and a half to play the game again, only to have another cutscene interrupt me 30 seconds later. In Ground Zeroes, the cut scenes are still key, but they are spaced out far more infrequently, and don't meander nearly as much. The open world trappings also work very well and provide a lot of freedom and replayability for the player. Some people wondered if an open world was appropriate for Metal Gear, but I always thought such thinking was very short-sighted - these games have always aspired for an open world setting (yes, even since the original Metal Gear on MSX), but always lacked the technology to make that a reality. Instead, they've been restricted to maneuvering through linked corridors and open jungle and urban settings, but I can't have been the only player to think "damn, how awesome would it be if all these areas were seamlessly linked without loading screens?" Now that is a reality, and I couldn't be happier.


As far as the gameplay goes, it feels a lot like 2010's Peace Walker. Gunplay is certainly better than it was in the early games in the series, although it doesn't feel quite as smooth to me as something like, say, Uncharted does. Luckily, the game is about avoiding combat as much as possible, and so that's not a major issue by any means. Appropriately, Ground Zeroes also seems to have taken some cues from Splinter Cell: Blacklist, most notably the "last known position" mechanic, marking enemies on the HUD and Reflex mode. Reflex mode was a bit of a controversial addition, but I welcome it - sometimes it can be incredibly frustrating to sneak through an area, only to have an unseen enemy suddenly spot you and set off an alert phase. Reflex mode gives you a last chance to take that enemy out, although if you panic fire there's a good chance you won't pull off the shot. Perhaps best of all though is the fact that the developers made Reflex mode completely optional for those who want a challenge. I really appreciate when a developer gives players this sort of option, and it's just further incentive to become more skilled at the game so that you won't need to activate Reflex mode at all.

I would also like to point out that the game looks gorgeous on PS4. I've seen some comparison videos online and it looks quite good on last-gen too, so you really can't go wrong in terms of graphics (although current-gen is clearly superior). On the negative side though, there are still some issues I noticed with the engine which need to be ironed out before The Phantom Pain is released. Most noticeably, there's some considerable pop-in. I've tranquilized enemies, looked away from them and then looked back, only to have their bodies disappear for a couple seconds before the game reloaded them into the scene. It's not a major issue, but it is distracting and a surprising issue to see in a released title. I also notice that objects completely disappear at long distances, but can reappear when you zoom in on them. In the helicopter extraction side op, I noticed that exploding barrels were completely missing until I zoomed in on them - a pretty egregious issue because I could need to shoot those to kill enemies (or, theoretically, could accidentally shoot one and kill my target). These are relatively minor technical issues, but noticeable and annoying none-the-less.

I should also probably mention that the enemy AI can be pretty stupid at times. They're fine in general until an alert gets triggered, at which point they crouch through the open to try to attack Snake head on. When a full-on shootout occurs, it's not uncommon to gun down a half dozen idiots as they try to get closer to Snake (although I'll admit their animations when they get shot are very nice). That said, I was playing on Normal, so maybe they're improved in Hard mode... but somehow I doubt it. In my opinion, MGS2 continues to reign with the best AI in the series.


Moving on from gameplay, how is the story in Ground Zeroes? After all, for all its convoluted threads, story is just as important as gameplay to a Metal Gear game. In that respect, I'm pleased to announce that Ground Zeroes lives up to the previous games in the series, despite its short runtime. Of course, it's merely a prologue, but it lays the groundwork for The Phantom Pain very well, and am absolutely certain that that game is going to be gripping. It's also a far more mature story, touching on themes of torture and suffering in war (and explicitly drawing real-world parallels to Guantanamo Bay). Of course, there are still hammy bits, and lots of signature Kojima humour, but in general the story feels much more dark than normal. The ending is also not very satisfying, but it definitely leaves you pumped for the next chapter.

However, there are some rather shocking, and dare I say gratuitous, moments due to this mature emphasis. Paz ends up being subjected to some truly awful stuff - she has to have a bomb removed from her stomach sans anesthetic (which is shown in gory detail), and we find out that she was raped by the villain as well. That's pretty dark stuff, although it definitely tows the line of the "rape as plot device" trope. It certainly fits into the themes of the game overall, but Paz herself is reduced to nothing more than a torture plot point... a distressing reality which doesn't bode so well for Quiet's characterization later on. To be fair though, these sorts of dark moments have been a part of Metal Gear for quite some time now (probably most memorably with the origins of the Beauty and the Beast unit in MGS4, whose stories could probably rival anything on display here), but such moments tended to be off-screen and de-emphasized compared to what we have here.

All-in-all, it really is hard to score this game. It's fun, but it's clearly divisive. There's also some technical issues that need work, and its narrative leaves you hanging, but the core game play is very liberating. I think the best I can say is that you probably already know if you want to buy Ground Zeroes, and what price point you'd consider it to be worthwhile. If you aren't yet ready to take the plunge, hold off until it gets cheaper, or wait for the inevitable The Phantom Pain pack-in. If we take price out of the equation though, Ground Zeroes is undoubtedly a ton of fun.

7.5/10

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Some Thoughts on Feminism

I've noticed lately that I've written quite a lot about feminism in the past few months, kind of like how in my first few months I talked about gun control a lot. It's a bit odd too, because I wouldn't have necessarily considered myself a feminist. I mean, I support women's rights and equality, but just what that means to a more vocal feminist often leaves me confuzzled. However, I've been mulling over a few feminist subjects recently and figured I'd work them into one giant feminist theory extravaganza. I'm not promising that all of these thoughts will be positive, but I believe they are fair at the very least.

Let's smash it, together!

Okay, first of all, this whole line of thought stemmed from this article about rape culture. Women's rights campaigners have really been pushing the notion of rape culture recently, but I'm not so sure that they're doing a great job of conveying to the general public exactly what they mean by it (I have a similar critique about the public expression of many women's rights issues, it's like they expect us to agree with them without explaining their positions). But anyway, I agree with the article overall, but when I was thinking about it afterwards, I came to the realization that feminists have appropriated rape. What I mean by that is that rape is a major issue and overwhelmingly occurs to women, but in order to push rape culture, feminists have turned rape into a women's problem. Yeah, that shouldn't be all that revelatory - really, it's rather obvious, but the realization of it is almost ironic. Feminists want to eliminate rape (and, well, let's be honest, every decent human being wants to eliminate it), but in order to do so they have to take it on first.

That said, trivializing rape against men is a byproduct of such a move. Yes, men are raped far less than women, so it's fair enough, but it occurs just the same. I also wonder if other forms of sexual violence are also taken into account here, because when someone says "molestation", I think "little choir boys" rather than women. Perhaps that's why the focus is just on rape though - it is overwhelmingly a women's issue.

Oh, and I just want to comment on this passage from the article quickly:

"Most women and girls who travel abroad, who take public transportation, or walk to a dimly lit parking lot at night experience that "what if" panicky moment. Women reading this know what I'm talking about. Men, in general, do not. And knowing that most men don't rape, and that most women will never be victims of rape, is not enough to erase that fear. Because it's real, and it's the legacy of a culture where rape (and rape denial) exist in too high numbers."

I'm not going to trivialize that, because I really don't understand that sort of daily existence (well, unless I was in prison anyway), but I do have a bit of an analogue. If I walk through city streets late at night, I'm not afraid of getting raped... I'm afraid of getting jumped and robbed and/or stabbed. Sure, I'm not getting jumped, robbed, stabbed and then raped, so it's not exactly as "bad", but even men don't exactly walk the streets 100% securely. I attribute that to the media creating a state of fear, especially since crime rates have been dropping for decades, so such fears should really be unfounded.

...sigh. *Facepalm*

Anyway, next topic. This one has really been confounding me, so if you want to offer some perspective then please leave a comment below. The topic boils down to this question: is objectification inherently wrong, or is it only wrong when it happens to women? I really wonder about this one because a good deal of my posts on feminism have been dealing with my irritation at the objectification of women, whether because they are reduced to plot points or because they're considered nothing more than a walking pair of T&A. However, I've been noticing a rising trend in films in the last few years of men becoming objectified, with nary an outcry. It's a bit confusing, and it's what has made me mull over this question. Is objectification the bad thing, or is it that the target of the objectification is women? Is there an acceptable level of objectification? Is objectification of men acceptable because it is counter-cultural? If we're truly looking for equality for genders, shouldn't the goal be no objectification for either (or are we settling on equal amounts of objectification then)?


The most obvious example of this in action is the wolf pack from the Twilight movies. They basically only exist to be oogled at and give audience members lady-boners. Hell, the guy on the left is barely even wearing those pants. Even Jakob isn't much of a character, being about as well-defined as a brick wall. In fact, being prone to fits of rage and violence makes him sort of sexist against men for that matter. Of course, Jakob's the most egregious example I can think of, but what about Thor in The Dark World or Finnick in Catching Fire? Both appear in their respective films in really pointless topless scenes which clearly only exist to provide female audiences with some fan service. Their characters complicate things a little bit though, because while they're briefly objectified, they are actually given pretty good characterization in spite of that. Is that the key right there - is objectification not as big a deal if it doesn't define and overwhelm the character? It should also be noted that these characters may have gotten characterization simply because they were men, whereas objectified women simply aren't allowed out of the background (such as in any Michael Bay movie ever). It's a bit of a puzzle and I'm still not sure where I stand on it.

"Hey look! Someone doesn't understand how feminism works!"

Finally, I've been wondering lately whether feminists can be insensitive to cultural differences. For example, I reacted pretty much the same way as the rest of the internet when Quiet from MGS5 was revealed. However, having taken a step back since the reveal, I'm beginning to wonder just how different North American and Japanese culture is. Quiet is obviously designed from a Japanese perspective, and from my understanding, sexualization isn't equated so much to objectification there as it is here. Perhaps there is something more to her outfit than mere titillation? Kojima seems to suggest that this is the case, although we'll see when The Phantom Pain is released. Similarly, the Dead or Alive series of game have a reputation as nothing more than softcore porn, but their creators insist that they don't intend it to be that way. Looking at some of the character models, I have a hard time believing that, but could it be that they see things much more differently than us? I mean sure, it's possible that they're lying through their teeth, or are just ignorant of how sexist they really are, but I think there's at least a certain level of cultural difference clashing here.

Anyway, hopefully you found this article at least a little enlightening. If you want to say anything, please leave a comment below!

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

My Thoughts on the State of Battlefield 4...

If you follow video game news, you might have heard that Battlefield 4 is a broken piece of shit which has essentially tarnished the reputation of one of the biggest franchises in gaming. In spite of that, I've logged about 150 hours into the game and have been playing from launch to now (and will continue playing into the future for that matter). I've been meaning to write a BF4 guide for quite a while now, but the issues with the game made me postpone that for a long time because I couldn't be sure how much it was going to change things. However, I think the time has finally come where I can start talking about the game properly, and address some of the claims about it.


First of all, I played the BF4 beta on PS3, and despite being a tad buggy, it controlled fairly well and was a lot of fun (although the draw distance bug on the rooftop of the C flag was pretty egregiously broken). All-in-all, the game seemed to be a clear improvement on the foundation of BF3. At the initial launch, I played BF4 on PS3 for about 2 weeks waiting for the PS4 version to release... and it was buggy as shit at launch. The game would freeze up pretty frequently and I ended up in one server where you couldn't even kill anyone. Oh, and Defuse mode, the game's take on a Search & Destroy mode, was absolutely broken. Seriously, there were so many bugs just in that mode that it was insane - players would spawn but couldn't control their characters, the killcam would randomly appear when you were still alive, the bomb carrier would randomly appear on the enemy team's radar (LOL), etc. Things were worse on PC, where the game would crash frequently and wouldn't even play on many systems. In spite of that, I figured this had something to do with a combination of the PS3 hardware and the launch period - the game clearly wasn't built for last-gen hardware, so they weren't going to give it as much attention as they were the next gen versions. On top of that, I remember BF3's launch being very rough as well, freezing very frequently until about 3 months in, when a large patch took care of most of the issues (although Seine Crossing in Rush was still notoriously freeze-prone and never got fixed).


Anyway, come the PS4 launch, the game was in even worse state. For the first day or two, PSN servers crashed and so you couldn't even play the game online, forcing me to play through the godawful single player campaign... twice. Yes, I got the notorious single-player-game-deletion glitch about 4 hours in. And for some reason, my copy of the game seemed to think someone who had English (UK) as their language meant that they wanted to play the game in Spanish (oddly enough, it was fixed when I changed my language to English [US]). Things actually got worse when PSN got back up because Conquest mode, the main attraction in the series, was broken to the point where DICE had to remove it from the game for weeks. This was especially egregious because my favourite mode in Battlefield games, Rush, was poorly supported by the maps in BF4 - very few of them are fun to play Rush on, whereas every map in BF3 was a viable Rush level. On top of all this, the game still crashed quite frequently. Simply put, it was a bit of a mess, but when it worked, it was a lot of fun.

As time went on, the game kept getting patched and issues started to go away. I can't really speak for the PC version, which sounds like it had the biggest performance issues, but the PS4 version hasn't crashed for me since perhaps mid-December, and the game got way more enjoyable when Conquest was reinstated. I also managed to complete the single player campaign without losing my save game again*, so that was nice too. However, for each patch, it would seem that something else would end up getting broken - there have been a few separate patches which have rendered the game damn-near unplayable for me due to horrendous lag and rubber-banding issues, although these have usually been patched yet again within a week. The China Rising DLC added more issues as well at launch, but I didn't really like it all that much anyway so I can't really remember everything that was wrong with it. There was also a notorious glitch which was only patched a couple weeks ago, wherein every loading screen a game of Russian roulette - basically, after the load screen for a map completed, a final loading indicator flashes for a second and then you enter the match. However, with the bug, the loading indicator would flash indefinitely, forcing you to return to the home screen and reload the game. That particular glitch was so bad that I'd estimate you had a 1/3, or maybe even 1/2, chance of encountering it the first time you tried to load a map.


That said, significant progress has been made. The game is pretty much playable now, with nearly every major issue now patched (including some stuff which we didn't expect, such as significantly lowering the time it takes to spawn in and making DMRs better... however, the kill cam is totally broken for some reason). The DLC has also improved since China Rising, with Second Assault being fantastic fun (and bringing back 4 awesome Rush maps in the process). Naval Strike also looks to shake things up and make me happier to have bought a Premium pass at launch. The only real issue right now is that the netcode is probably worse than it was at launch - players seem to lag behind the action by about half a second (I actually spotted a guy before he even showed up on my screen the other day), which is pretty fatal in a fast-paced FPS. DICE is promising to patch this soon, so I hope that they can at least get it to the level that BF3 was at (although even then, BF3's netcode wasn't exactly great - if you didn't die around a corner a half dozen times per match, then you could consider yourself lucky).

All-in-all, BF4 is still a bit of a mess at times, but it is fun in spite of all of its issues. I wish that the game had worked out of the gate, but I don't regret buying the game (or Premium for that matter). I am pretty annoyed at EA though for forcing the game out of the gate when it was in such a poor state. I wish that game producers would learn to put quality ahead of release dates - Ubisoft seems to understand this, hence why they pushed Watch Dogs back instead of releasing an unpolished game that would just disappoint everyone. Worse still, I fear that EA might try to annualize the Battlefield brand, putting out a new game every year in order to compete with Call of Duty. Please, please do not do this EA - Battlefield: Bad Company 2 won you fans, such as myself, because it was so much more refined than Call of Duty had been for years. Give us another year to enjoy BF4 now that it's working half decently, and we might even forget this whole launch fiasco ever happened...

Oh, and make the P90 available for the Assault class again. Who the hell wants to run a PDW on the Engineer class anyway?!

*The single player campaign is absolutely horrendous. It's only about 5 hours long, maybe, and features absolutely no logic. Stuff just happens as you listen to infuriatingly annoying characters banter and then mow down useless mooks one by one. I would never even touch it if I didn't need to beat it to unlock the P90 and M249...

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Quick Fix: International Women's Day Fails

I've been labouring for quite a while on what to write this particular blog post on. I had pretty much no inspiration, aside from lots of little developments which could make for a half-decent (if scatter-shot) quick fix. However, Saturday just dropped a topic into my lap like a hilarious gift from the heavens. In case you didn't see the Google doodle, it was International Women's Day, and the fails were (expectedly) abundant on my Facebook feed.

Anyway, first off was Blood Bowl's post. As a bit of background, Blood Bowl's a bit of an odd tabletop football spinoff of Warhammer Fantasy. It has also had a couple PC games, a new one which is coming out sometime soon. I'm actually looking forward to the game, but my enthusiasm was tempered a little bit when they posted this picture as a celebration of International Women's Day:


"Today is March 8th! Be wary when on the Blood Bowl pitch, as the Amazons are fiercer than ever on this precise day! Happy Women’s Day!" - Actual caption

That... uh... wow. Predictably, pretty much every comment on the photo was very angry at the insensitive nature of the post - after all, the picture represents an objectified male fantasy of a woman. On any other day I doubt anyone would have batted an eye at it, but trying to tie this into a celebration of women and women's liberation was just stupid... that said, I'm still gonna buy the game probably. When I reposted it though, the first commenter said something particularly dumb: "Honestly, it's lest sexist than another 'get back in the kitchen and make me a sandwich' joke"... well no shit, but that doesn't mean it gets a free pass either.

However, the Blood Bowl team has supreme tact compared to the official Morph Suits' photo celebrating Women's Day:


Literally, they posted this photo with the caption "Happy International Women's Day". This one doesn't even bother to hide the fact that it's sexist... in fact, I find it hard to believe that is isn't an intentional middle finger to the concept since it's brazenly putting the girl's breasts on front-and-center. Would you have even noticed there was a morph suit in the picture? Probably not (although maybe that says more about the male brain than anything). Anyway, on behalf of men who aren't total douchebags, I apologize for how stupid many of us were on March 8th... sorry!

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Video Game Review: Gravity Rush

It's no secret that I'm a big PlayStation fanboy - I've owned every PS console and handheld and loved them. However, even then I wasn't really planning on jumping on the PS Vita. For one thing, when it was released it was obscenely overpriced, and the proprietary memory cards were even worse. Then there's the typical memes on the system that you can see plastered across the Internet which display the common knowledge about the system...



Well I want to do a bit of mythbusting before we hop into the meat of this article. I bought a Vita on a bit of a whim after the price drop a few months ago. However, I wasn't getting a ton of use out of it until I got my PS4 and PS+ subscription, at which point my eyes were opened to the awesomeness. PS+ carries across all PS devices, and so suddenly I had access to a ton of free games. Seriously, whoever said that PS Vita has no games has clearly never played one - I've been spoiled with Gravity RushUncharted: Golden Abyss, Hotline Miami, Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath, Guacamelee! and Kick Beat - all of which I got for free or heavily discounted thanks to PS+. Then there's the games I happily paid full price for, including Ninja Gaiden Sigma +, Ninja Gaden Sigma + 2, DOA5+, MGS3 and Soulcalibur: Broken Destiny (oh, did I mention it plays PSP and PS1 downloadable games too?). That's not mentioning the games I want to play soon enough, like Killzone: Mercenary and Borderlands 2, but am too swamped with games to justify the purchase quite yet. Plus you can remote play PS3 and PS4 games, such as Battlefield 4, via the Vita. Bottom-line: PS Vita has an excellent games library, and people need to wake up to this fact.

Is it probably still better to get a 3DS? Yes, probably, if you want only one handheld. However, you can't really go wrong with a PS Vita, it's still a great little handheld with a ton of potential still in store (such as the epic-sounding PlayStation Now cloud streaming service).

Anyway, with that out of the way, onto the real purpose of this article - Gravity Rush. I had heard that this was the best game in the Vita's launch lineup, but I wasn't entirely sold on it until I played the incredibly fun demo. As soon as I got PS+, I downloaded the game (which I got for free, remember) and booted it up. I finally finished it a couple weeks ago and knew I needed to write a review as soon as the credits began to roll.


Gravity Rush is an open-world adventure game about a mysterious girl named Kat who is befriended by a celestial cat she names Dusty. Dusty gives Kat the ability to "gravity shift", allowing for them to reorient the direction of their personal gravity. This gives Kat a plethora of abilities, from being able to float, fly, launch objects, set up a high-speed kick, walk on walls/ceilings, etc. Gravity shifting is a fantastic central mechanic and is an absolute joy to perform. It's a little difficult to control at first, but quickly you'll build up your skills and be soaring and aligning yourself with total precision. I got about 12 hours out of the campaign and didn't grow tired of shifting once, which is quite a feat - I loved the Assassin's Creed franchise, but ended up ditching it because of how irritating and repetitive free running a city for 5-10 minutes just to get to the next objective would get.

The story was also surprisingly engaging. It's told in a rather silly and whimsical manner, with all sorts of random stuff just showing up out of nowhere, but it manages to stay engaging and fairly coherent. Kat was also a fun, light-hearted protagonist, which is refreshing compared to the dour, self-serious heroes we have to put up with these days. Her asides provide quite a bit of humour to the proceedings. The game also features quite a diverse female cast, a rarity within the games industry (especially since they aren't extremely sexualized either). In addition to Kat, the game also features Raven (another gravity shifter who is notably more dark than Kat), Cyanea (a "creator") and Yunica (a hardboiled soldier who is second in command of the army). Considering that many games don't have female characters outside of minor supporting roles, this has to be commended. That said, Kat and Raven aren't exactly feminist icons - both are somewhat sexualized (especially Kat in a fanservice DLC costume, a mission where she's hunting for a boyfriend and a couple very random shower scenes), although it's not to a particularly untasteful level at least. Outside of those shower scenes, I didn't really feel like the game was ever objectifying the characters, their garb was just the norm of the shifters.


Beyond the story and gameplay, the graphics are just gorgeous for a handheld, and a launch title at that. The game has a distinct cel-shaded look with fairly sprawling and detailed city-scapes, featuring plenty of citizens milling about. It'll seriously make you reconsider what is possible on a handheld system. On the negative side though, the draw distance isn't as good as it probably needs to be and the cities are lacking in stuff to do outside of explore and complete a few side missions, but at least shifting to find gems is fun in itself.

The only major fumble is that combat can get pretty irritating. The enemies, called Nevi, all feature requisite glowing weak points and come in a variety of shapes and sizes. They're not too bad usually, unless you have to "gravity kick" them mid-air. This involves shifting and then launching a kick at them, which makes Kat shoot towards them for a monumental kick. Unfortunately, Kat has a limited lock-on to the target and it's too easy to overshoot them. In some of the later fights, I was having to line up 4 or 5 gravity kicks just to hit the target, which got especially annoying when I would have to cancel my kicks to dodge projectiles. However, this was hardly game-breaking.

I was also annoyed by the tacked-on "gravity sliding" sections. A lot of PS Vita games have annoying features to taut the system's touch screens and tilt functionality. Uncharted: Golden Abyss is a particularly egregious offender in this regard, but Gravity Rush is usually pretty good at incorporating swipes for dodging, turning pages in cutscenes and tilting the camera. However, the gravity sliding sequences were just way too imprecise as you tried to tilt the camera so Kat wouldn't run into anything. Luckily, gravity sliding is largely confined to side missions and isn't a major requirement to complete the game, but it was definitely a cause of frustration.

Also worth noting is that the ending of the game isn't particularly satisfying. The game ends with a lot of loose ends still hanging, which is clearly just done because Sony sees the game as a potential franchise. Luckily, Gravity Rush 2 was recently announced, so hopefully it will give us more answers and improve on the combat.


So what did I think of Gravity Rush? I thought it was slightly flawed, but very charming and it kept me engaged for many an hour. I can't wait to step into Kat's shoes again for the sequel, and will be sure to buy it as soon as it comes out. If you have been thinking about getting a PS Vita and are looking for a good game for it, or you have a Vita already and haven't experienced the game yet, I heartily recommend Gravity Rush.

8/10

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Retrospective: The Butterfly Effect 3 - Revelations (2009)

Welcome back to the third and final part of The Butterfly Effect retrospective! You'll probably notice that this has definitely been the shortest franchise we've covered so far, and I must say that that's one of the reasons I chose it. For one thing, it saves me a bit of schedule juggling which can get hectic with a franchise with 5+ entries. I also chose it because the idea of the retrospectives is to cover franchises, and not all of them are extensive - hence why I wanted to focus on the shorter end of the spectrum with a film I liked. I think 3 entries will be the minimum barrier of entry though, so no Battle Royale or The Raid quite yet. Anyway, with that in mind, we get to the most recent Butterfly Effect movie: another straight-to-DVD release. Would it succumb to the same problems that plagued The Butterfly Effect 2, or would Revelations carve its own niche? Read on to find out...

This poster may not tell us a single thing about the movie, but it's pretty cool looking in my opinion.

The Butterfly Effect as a viable franchise was pretty much dead even before the second film was made (due to the venomous lashing it would get whenever anyone brought it up), but apparently it was successful enough to merit another straight-to-DVD sequel. The film was produced by After Dark films, which marketed its releases with an annual After Dark Horrorfest, which showcased eight independent horror films. Most of them were pretty shlocky, but it seems they've built up enough capital to get some more high profile releases, including Wristcutters: A Love Story and Sylvester Stallone's Bullet to the Head.

The script was written by Holly Brix, who has written basically nothing... it would seem that this was her first screenwriting assignment to get greenlit. Seth Grossman was hired to direct, who similarly hadn't really done much. He had a couple documentary and short film credits to his name, but not much to go by to get him the gig as director of a dark time travel thriller... although at least The Elephant King was supposed to be pretty good. Anyway, the cast was once again filled with nobodies. The protagonist, Sam, is played by Chris Carmack, who is known less for his acting (which includes such greats as David R. Ellis' Shark Night 3D and Into the Blue 2) and more for his physique... a fact reinforced by his damn Wikipedia portrait. The only other character worth noting is Sam's sister, Jenna, played by Rachel Miner (who has some decent TV credits to her name but a lot of poor quality stuff as well).


While Hollie Brix is a neophyte scriptwriter, her take on the material is probably the most interesting aspect of the movie. Rather than rehashing the story of the first movie like The Butterfly Effect 2 did, Revelations follows a time traveler who uses his abilities to solve crimes, while sticking to a code to prevent himself from changing the past. He has determined that changing the past only results in tragedy, and so needs to restrain himself to prevent himself from inadvertently killing people. However, when the sister of his murdered ex-girlfriend asks for his help in solving the killing, the rules get thrown away as Sam can't help but try to save her. Unfortunately, in the process he accidentally unleashes a sadistic serial killer on the populace...

A mystery is a pretty cool angle to go with the time travel material, but unfortunately it doesn't manage to be engaging for a few reasons. First of all, the whole relationship between Sam and his dead girlfriend is basically jettisoned out the window as soon as Sam time travels, so we don't get any sort of emotional drive from that and when she shows up again at the end of the film it's very awkward. This largely stems from the fact that the acting and dialogue is mediocre at best and the two leads are bland (Rachel Miner is especially bad and sometimes Chris Carmack's facial expressions are unintentionally hilarious).

The script is also absolutely riddled with plot holes and fridge logic. Seriously, just writing this retrospective entry made the logical issues even more prevalent than when I was watching the film. For one thing, characters aren't consistent at all when time travelling. In the original timeline, a cop named Glenn is a good friend of Sam's. However, when he changes the past, Glenn begins pursuing him as a suspect of the murders. Despite that, when Sam gets arrested they talk like they're old pals, even though in this timeline they only know each other as hunter-hunted. The character Lonnie, who was cheating with Sam's girlfriend, is also a blatant red herring in retrospect, since the only reason he exists is for him to say to Sam "YOU KILLED HER!!!" to make it look like Sam's the murderer all along... except that when it turns out he isn't, mistaking somebody else for Sam makes absolutely no sense. Sam also makes a change that makes him have to rent out his couch to a dude named Paco, and then after another change suddenly Sam becomes Paco's couch mate... how does that work exactly? It's like a lot of the attempts at "butterfly effect" changes were made without really understanding the idea of the concept, because there's absolutely no logic to the decisions they make.


In a time travel movie, the "rules" should be well-defined, and Revelations seems to actually try this. Sam's friend, Goldburg, lays out the basics - only observe so you don't change the past, always "jump" with supervision and don't return to the same time twice or you'll fry your brain. Unfortunately, two of those rules are incredibly ill-defined and don't really make a lot of sense (not to mention that they're broken in the film itself without consequence). First off, if you're jumping to the past, why would you need supervision? It's not like they're going to notice if you do something... the only possible explanation I can think of is that if their observer is gone when they wake up, the time traveler knows they changed things. Still, some elaboration would have helped here, because otherwise it just sounds like Golburg and Jenna like to stare at Sam's naked body... Anyway, the "don't jump to the same time or your brain will fry" thing is clearly just a plot convenience. That way people can't say "well why not go back to your girlfriend's murder again and kill the killer this time?", because clearly that's what Sam should actually do. Luckily for the plot, Sam's an idiot (although at least he's a well-intentioned idiot) and messes up his chances to change things in the silliest of ways every time he jumps. Most hilariously is the time he hides in a victim's closet and watches her getting raped... until it turns out that it was just a roleplay between her and her boyfriend, who then finds Sam in the closet and punches him out. Oops.


Another notable element of the film is that its content is noticeably more explicit than the previous films in the franchise. By that I mean that the violence is extremely bloody and gory and that the movie features a borderline pornographic sex scene... and yet it still doesn't manage to be as dark as the original film was. I'm guessing that the more hardcore elements of the film in part stem from After Dark films pushing the horror angle and trying to get a wider viewership, but it makes the film feel more sleazy and cheap than either of the other films in the franchise. The violence is pretty over the top, with the first couple minutes featuring a brutal, detailed shot of a mother getting her skull caved in in front of her son. Then there's a few scenes of women getting chopped up with a buzz saw (complete with fingore), which of course results in fountains of blood. The violence is infrequent, but when it hits it's like an Evil Dead movie. As for the sex scene, it just comes out of absolutely nowhere. First we get the generic bartender woman flirting with Sam, pan down to her cleavage and then HOLY CRAP, UNNECESSARY, GRAPHIC SEX SCENE. Like, I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say borderline pornographic. It's only about 30 seconds long, but in that time they go through a half dozen ridiculous positions, the girl looks like a porn star and they even play a bloody porno soundtrack over it all. It's just a totally out of left field scene and was obviously only thrown in because someone decided that the movie needed boobs or it wasn't going to sell.


And then there's the ending... Sam finally unravels the location of the serial killer and discovers that the killer is... Jenna!? And she can time travel as well? Oh no! Turns out that Sam saved her from dying when they were kids and she's had a creepy, incestual obession with Sam ever since. Therefore, she has been killing off all of his potential girlfriends to force them to be together... she's like the time travelling version of the Overly Attached Girlfriend. It also turns out that her cover has been blown a bunch of times now and she just changes the past to keep Sam from knowing. As a result, Sam time travels to when he saves her and just lets her die instead, making everything alright. It's a rushed ending that isn't satisfying in the slightest. For one thing, having two people time travelling at the same time creatures enormous logical headaches - in order for the plot to work, Sam and Jenna must have been travelling to the same time periods simultaneously, which shouldn't work according to the film's logic. There's also the fact that Sam blatantly breaks the "don't travel to the same time twice" rule in order to kill Jenna, with no repercussions. Couldn't he have, I dunno, just prevented the fire instead of killing his sister (therefore keeping everyone alive and keeping Jenna from going gaga over him)? Again... Sam's an idiot. The ending is also kind of stupid because Sam's daughter, also called Jenna, seems to be a psycho as well - it's sort of implied that the other Jenna got reincarnated into her or possessed her or something, but it's just silly and unnecessary. Someone probably said "dammit, this ending where the sister gets burned alive is too happy, we need to make it dark, STAT!" Anyway, all of this resolution happens in about a 5 minute span, which is way too short for what the movie needed. Kind of like Die Hard With a Vengeance, the poor ending ruins the rest of the film.

The Butterfly Effect 3: Revelations isn't as horrible as I make it sound. It certainly gets points for originality and actually manages to be somewhat engaging, but the glaring issues with the script, acting, overall cheapness and horrid ending dampen the enjoyment significantly. That said, I think there's a kernel of a great film hiding within the film, so if you're very forgiving you might want to check it out - however, it doesn't hold a candle to the first Butterfly Effect film.

3.5/10

So, The Butterfly Effect is dead and buried now, right? Well no, it's not, and that's another major reason why I chose to cover the film in a retrospective. Almost half a year ago it was announced that a remake of the original film is in production, with Eric Bress returning to write the script. People have reacted pretty derisively of the announcement, but there hasn't been any news on the film's status since, so for all we know it might have been cancelled. However, if it does get made, then it could be a blessing - The Butterfly Effect has a great premise, one which hasn't been properly explored yet. If the remake manages to fix the logical issues with the original, it could be the best entry in the series. Like they say in the link, The Butterfly Effect is the sort of movie that should be remade because it hasn't been done properly yet. Speculating even further, I think that a sequel should give Revelations' murder-mystery angle another shot, because it is a great central idea to go with. That said, if the remake never happens I'm sure I'll be satisfied with the uniqueness of the original film, but I'm moderately intrigued at present.

This is how I'd rank the series from best to worst:
1. The Butterfly Effect
2. The Butterfly Effect 2 (it's better made than Revelations, even if it's not as worthwhile)
3. The Butterfly Effect 3: Revelations

As always, thanks for reading and leave a comment for any future franchise suggestions!

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Retrospective: The Butterfly Effect 2 (2006)

Despite a very mixed reception, The Butterfly Effect made enough money for New Line Cinema to warrant a sequel. Could it fix the issues with the original, or was it doomed to straight-to-DVD hell? Read on to find out...


While The Butterfly Effect made New Line a solid profit, its very mixed reaction made a sequel a bit of a risky proposition. As a result, while a sequel was quickly greenlit, the production budget was slashed in half and the film ended up going straight-to-DVD. To be honest, I'm having trouble finding out if the film was always planned as a straight-to-DVD feature or if it ended up that way due to a lack of confidence over the production, but in any case it's not a great sign of the sequel's quality. In any case, original writer-directors Eric Bress and J. Mackye Gruber did not return to write the script or direct.

The film was directed by John R. Leonetti, better known as a horror movie cinematographer/director of photography rather than a director in his own right. The script was written by Michael D. Weiss, whose CV includes such notable films as... uh... I'll Always Know What You Did Last Summer, Hostel: Part III and Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D. Ouch, when a Brendan Fraser kids movie's the highlight of your resume, you know something's wrong. As for the cast, the film stars a bunch of nobodies: Eric Lively (who has really only been in unnotable roles for his whole career) plays the lead character, Nick. Dustin Milligan (male lead of... Shark Night 3D) plays Trevor, Nick's best friend. His girlfriend Amanda is played by Gina Holden (known for minor roles in Saw 3D, in which I remember her dying an infuriatingly unjustified death, and Final Destionation 3). The only "big name" in the film is Erica Durance, famous for TV series Smallville and Saving Hope, who plays Nick's girlfriend Julie.


The plot follows Nick, a sales representative at a tech start-up. After his girlfriend and best friends are killed in a car accident, in which he was the sole survivor, he discovers he has the ability to time travel to fix his life. However, as he changes things to try to get himself ahead, he soon discovers that altering the past can lead to unexpected consequences in the future... As you can probably tell by that short synopsis, The Butterfly Effect 2 is basically a "rehash-sequel" along the lines of Howling IV. The script is a hell of a lot less daring and complicated than the original film. In a lot of ways, it feels like Michael D. Weiss was trying to fix some of the criticisms of the original film. One of the ways this is done is by making the plot far simpler. For example, the blackouts have been removed from the equation entirely, the time travel sequences only stretch back a year and the number of time travel instances has been cut back significantly. As a result, The Butterfly Effect 2 boasts far less plot holes and logical inconsistencies than the original film, although more time travel couldn't have hurt. Weiss also cuts out much of the extremely dark content which defined the original (the darkest thing in this is a really awkward man-rape, but it's played for laughs). However, this change is less-positive, since instead of interesting, psychotic leads we get whiny, pretty-faced douche bags. Ultimately, this just makes the sequel's content far more boring.

While the film doesn't have as many logical issues as the original, the script still has some strange issues. For example, there's no real setup for Nick's time travel abilities. His mother says that he has always had nightmares and headaches, and it's sort of implied that post-traumatic stress disorder unlocks the ability to time travel. However, it's not really explained at all how he unlocks his abilities, or how he manages to function when just looking at photos gives him debilitating headaches. The film also works a mention of Jason Treborn into the plot just to link it to the original movie, but that just makes the mechanics of time travel more confusing... how many people are out there that can change the past?


The characters are also very uninteresting. No one puts in a particularly great performance, although they don't really have much material to work with. Compared to Evan Treborn, Nick just comes across as a dick. Rather than using time travel to help his friends, he uses it as a self-serving tool to get ahead. He embarrasses his boss, steals his promotion and makes himself rich as a form of revenge... and then continues to treat his (now innocent) former boss like shit after he does all this. Not only that, but he inadvertently screws over his company in the process, taking it from a successful start up to a company hemorrhaging money and in debt to the mob. The other characters aren't much better - Julie is the generic girlfriend, Trevor's the annoying best friend and Amanda has so little screentime that I can't even tell you what she was like. Like Evan, Nick also has a whiney mother, but she's basically useless to the plot, existing only to tell us that Nick's father was crazy too... a plot point which really only exists to rehash the original film's family dynamics. Oh, and I'd be remiss to neglect to mention that totally random and offensive gay gangster, Wayne. He barely has any screen time, but he is such a ridiculous addition to the plot that he's memorable (and yes, he has the stereotypical gay voice). This is mostly due to the aforementioned man-rape scene where Nick wakes up getting blown off by somebody. He thinks it's his girlfriend, but then suddenly Wayne pops out of the covers and everyone in the universe yells "WTF?!?!" simultaneously. It's such a random and pointless scene that it's almost funny.


Actually, the random gay blowjob seems to be a symptom of the lowered budget, because The Butterfly Effect 2 features a few pointless sex scenes which seem to only exist to sell copies of the movie. Now, The Butterfly Effect didn't exactly shy away from sleaze (there were plenty of sex scenes and a random full-frontal shot), but these sequences were usually very short - in the sequel, they're far more pronounced and extended, even if they don't show as much. In addition to the gay blowjob scene, there's also a mostly-clothed sex scene which goes on longer than it really needed to without any real justification beyond "(clothed) boobies!!!", and a goofy scene where Nick bangs his boss's daughter in the bathroom. These scenes don't really add anything and were clearly only implemented to secure an R-rating and draw in viewers looking for a bit of sleaze.

Of course, the budget also shows itself elsewhere. The opening titles and title card are pathetically tacky, like something you'd expect to see in a student horror film. In general, the film just looks cheaply filmed, in spite of Leonetti's cinematographer experience. The editing is also very bad at times - I noticed that the blood makeup would very noticeably change at times and that even one of the pictures that Nick looks at changes between shots.


It also seems that a lot of content ended up getting cut out of the film. At one point, Nick whines that everything he does just makes things worse... which doesn't make a lot of sense, because he has only time traveled twice and all the bad stuff only happened because of one change (which only attempted to "fix" one thing). I really wonder if they had more time travel sequences planned and/or written, but weren't given the budget to implement them. It's also possible that they had filmed much of the movie, but then ran out of budget and had to rush the last act as a result.

Oh and speaking of the ending, it's an absolute embarrassment. It makes no sense and is not set up at all. To set the scene, Nick travels back to just before the car accident to try to save his friends. He tells Julie that he's breaking up with her (which doesn't make a lot of sense in itself, he's only time traveled twice and hasn't exactly exhausted his options enough to require self-sacrifice), which causes Julie to rush off in her car. Nick chases after her to save her from crashing and dying (even though the accident can't even happen now as per the butterfly effect itself), and succeeds... however, in doing so, he ends up in oncoming traffic and decides to sacrifice himself to save her by driving off a cliff. What the hell!?!???!?! Why did Nick commit vehicular suicide? He barely even bothered to change his past, suicide wasn't even a justified option to save anybody, unlike Evan in The Butterfly Effect director's cut, where he had exhausted all other possibilities. It's like they wanted to force in a twist/Christ-like ending, but did so without logic. As a result, we get an incredibly unsatisfying non-sequitur ending of epic proportions. Of course, that's not the end, because Julie gives birth to a son who shares Nick's time travel abilities. Oh no! Time travel baby! The cycle continues!

All in all, the movie just isn't very interesting. It's basically just a cheap, sanitized version of the original, which is about the worst thing you can say about a sequel - why bother with it when there's a superior version out there? The Butterfly Effect 2 is just mediocre, although the stupid ending makes it hard to recommend, even as a curiosity.

4/10

Be sure to come back soon for the third, and final, part of this retrospective series, The Butterfly Effect 3: Revelations!

*Coincidentally, Holden and Milligan both appeared in Final Destination 3... that franchise always seems to be an anchor for the Retrospective series!

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Retrospective: The Butterfly Effect (2004)

Welcome back good readers as we begin a new retrospectives series! If you want to check out previous series, I've added a "Retrospectives" link on the pages sidebar that lists all the previous series we've covered and links to all the entries - be sure to check it out! Anyway, the franchise that we're going to be focusing on for the next few weeks is The Butterfly Effect series. And obviously, since this is the first entry in the retrospective, we're going to be examining the first film in the franchise, 2004's The Butterfly Effect. For the record, this is easily one of the most divisive movies that I can think of, so much like my review of Live Free or Die Hard, I expect this entry could get heated. That's okay, we're all entitled to our opinions, and that's all that this is. Oh, and this review is based off of the Director's Cut, which is generally considered the "definitive" version among viewers.

Kind of an odd poster design. On the one hand, I like how sinister it looks, and it plays up the messed-up romance between Evan and Kayleigh. On the other hand though, it doesn't really scream "psychological-time-travel-thriller".

The script for The Butterfly Effect was written by J. Mackye Gruber and Eric Bress, both of which would end up directing the film. Bress and Gruber were also known for writing Final Destination 2, with Bress also having the dubious "honour" of having penned The Final Destination. The story was heavily inspired by Ray Bradbury's short story, "A Sound of Thunder", in which a time traveler accidentally steps on a butterfly and changes the future through a seemingly insignificant event. Of course, both stories stem from the butterfly effect itself, an example (and shorthand) of chaos theory. The idea is that small changes in a system can have larger, unforseen consequences. The classic example is a butterfly flapping its wings can cause a chain of events which eventually leads to a sunny day becoming a hurricane instead. It's also one of the reasons why the weather can't be predicted with any sort accuracy more than 3 or 4 days ahead of time.

Apparently The Butterfly Effect's script had been floating around for quite some time, becoming known as one of the most widely read unproduced scripts in Hollywood. However, when Ashton Kutcher came on as executive producer, the script finally was greenlit and entered production. Seann William Scott and Josh Hartnett, among others, were offered the lead role of Evan Treborn, but it eventually fell on Kutcher himself. Kutcher's involvement in the film was (and still is) the film's biggest controversial talking point, as he was (and still is) mostly known for being a horrible actor who appears in terrible movies. Final Destination 2 actress and Retrospectives favourite Ali Larter was offered the main female role of Kayleigh, but the role eventually was picked up by Amy Smart (best known for Rat Race, Road Trip and, uh, Crank...).


The story of The Butterfly Effect revolves around a child called Evan Treborn. When he's seven, he starts experiencing blackouts, during which he displays seemingly psychotic behaviour (violent drawings, grabbing kitchen knives, etc). His psychiatrist recommends that he begin chronicling his memories in journals as therapy and that he see his father, who went insane years prior. However, when Evan confronts his father, he blacks out, only waking in time to see his father trying to strangle him before being bludgeoned to death. As the years pass, Evan becomes close with his abused neighbour, Kayleigh Miller. He, Kayleigh, her disturbed brother Tommy and another friend named Lenny grow up together, until a prank-gone-awry committed by Tommy ends fatally. This prank gives Lenny severe PTSD, causing Evan's mother to move away. Evan promises to come back and save Kayleigh from her pedophile father and psychotic brother.

Seven years later, Evan's a gifted psych major working on theoretical memory assimilation. However, when he uncovers an old journal, he gets a flashback to one of his blackouts, shocking him since he could not remember what happened during them. As he begins to uncover more details about the past, Evan discovers that he can use these flashbacks to not only witness the past, but to change it as well. Unfortunately, as Evan changes things, the consequences of his actions reverberate and cause unexpected tragedy in the future...

Obviously, the film's plot is fairly complicated (it is a time travel movie after all), and what you think of it will really make-or-break the film for you. On the one hand, the script makes for a very effective tragic thriller. On the other hand, the movie's rules aren't particularly well-defined and as a result there are some pretty major logical gaps. For example, in the opening scene, why the hell does Evan bother to write a note? Who's going to read it if he's going to change the past anyway? Also, when Evan blacks out he seems to remember some aspects of what happened, because he writes down details he wouldn't have known otherwise. Why did Evan's father try to kill him (remember, when Evan goes to the past, he changes the future, so he wasn't travelling to his own past to make his father kill him)? Probably the biggest, most noticable logical gap though is when Evan goes back in time to give himself "stigmata" - how did he not change his future in the process? The last two points in particular highlight how ill-defined the rules of time travel can be in the film. The movie doesn't seem to make up its mind whether Evan's actually travelling to the past without changing the future or not. For the most part, it's fairly consistent, but there are moments which don't make a lot of sense under scrutiny. There's also the fact that when Evan changes the past, only his circle of friends seem to have any changes, rather than the world around them, but this was likely done to simplify things rather than being an oversight.


The blackouts as a plot device are pretty confusing too. For the first viewing or two they're totally fine because they're meant to be a mystery. However, when you actually start thinking about them, they don't make any sense. It's heavily implied that Evan's time travelling causing his own blackouts, but since the whole point of the movie is that time travel changes the future, how is this even possible within the movie's own logic? I'm not even taking time paradoxes into account either with this assessment - the time travel in this movie doesn't operate with multiple dimensions or alternate timelines. When the past is changed, everything is changed instantly. Then there's the question of whether Evan can only travel back to times where he blacked out - this is implied as well, but never really stated. I kind of wonder if there's a deleted scene somewhere where Evan finds out he can only change the past during his blackouts. In any case, the blackouts are a very confusing element of the film once you start dwelling upon them - however, this point isn't too critical since it's intentionally kept mysterious and doesn't detract from enjoyment of the film.

The plot is also notable for just how dark it gets. Sometimes it goes on overload, since it always seems like everything ends up being the worst case scenario. Seriously, how much bad shit can happen to one group of people!? Evan ends up in the worst prison ever, Kayleigh ends up in the dirtiest whorehouse ever, Lenny ends up in solitary confinement at the psych ward, etc. Anyway, think of the most vile evils you can, and there's a good chance that it's a major plot point in The Butterfly Effect. It's hard to choose the worst thing when you've got child pornography, molestation, abuse, rape, suicide, animal torture, death, murder, attempted infanticide, sadism, forced prostitution, etc. Hell, that's not even going into the even worse details of these acts - one murder is committed by a child. A woman, her baby and another child get blown to smithereens by a stick of dynamite. The Director's Cut ending is perhaps the crowning achievement of darkness though - a baby commits suicide by strangling itself with its umbilical cord. Lovely. As screwed up as all of that sounds (and it's sure as hell screwed up), the script is kind of enjoyable for how twisted it is. It's certainly not for the weak-willed, but I struggle to think of a movie outside of the horror genre which is this relentlessly dark.

Of course, since it is a time travel film, one of the most interesting aspects is seeing how the future is changed each time Evan travels to the past, and the unintended consequences of his actions. Honestly, the viewer is rooting for Evan to fix things - I know I'd keep on trying, even if I kept making things worse every time. The changes are a little... drastic though sometimes. How does Evan go from relatively normal college guy to frat boy douchebag, simply because he and Kayleigh stayed together? Why does Kayleigh sell herself to the dirtiest pimp ever when her brother dies? For the most part it's not too bad, but those two examples are points where the film could have done with some restraint.

As for the acting, Ashton Kutcher is of course the talking point. He takes a lot of shit for his role, but I honestly think he did very well overall... well, except for this scene anyway. The only actor who I thought did a particularly poor job was Melora Walters, who plays Evan's mother. Almost every line of dialogue she says comes out unconvincingly, but at least she's a secondary character. Amy Smart's Kayleigh was also rather inconsistent, although not enough to derail the film by any means. The Butterfly Effect also features quite a few child actors due to the time travel mechanics, which could have been very problematic - after all, child actors aren't exactly known for being amazing performers. However, the movie dodges a bullet, since I actually quite liked the child and teen actors in the film. The kid who plays the teenaged Tommy might have been a tiny bit over the top, but he really does a great job of coming across as a disturbed, twisted son of a bitch... not to mention that he totally sells Tommy's implied incestuous desire towards Kayleigh.


The theatrical and director's cut endings both deserve a mention, as each radically changes the film. In the theatrical ending, an exasperated Evan goes back to his seventh birthday party and tells Kayleigh that he'll kill her if she comes near him again. This causes Kayleigh and Tommy to move away with their mom, therefore avoiding their father's abuse, preventing Lenny from becoming traumatized by Tommy and allowing his mother to have a fulfilling life. In the present, Evan destroys his journals and tries to regain a relatively normal life. It's a bittersweet ending, since Evan has to hurt his true love to keep her safe, although the viewer definitely feels that things are going to be ideal for everyone involved... although it never really addresses how messed up Evan had become throughout this whole ordeal.

However, the director's cut is another beast entirely. For one thing, the ending is better set up - Evan discovers that his mother has had two stillbirths before him, and that both his father and grandfather both went crazy from their "gift". This cut of the film also actually sets up the revelation that journals aren't the only means of time travel available to Evan. In the ending, Evan goes back to his birth and strangles himself in the womb. This ending is just plain tragic and depressing, and you could also argue that it's preposterous and tasteless... but it's far more in-tune with what the rest of the film had been setting up and brilliant in its audacity. I prefer the director's cut ending because it's very powerful and affecting, although I'm glad that there are alternate cuts for those who want something a little less depressing.


The Butterfly Effect was, and continues to be, an extremely divisive film in pretty much every regard. For as much as its plot, acting or ending are praised, it seems to get an equal number of scorn for the exact same qualities. For my own part, I actually went into this review with a harsh eye on the property to try to see what the haters dislike so much about the film... but I still came out thinking it's a flawed piece of brilliance. Honestly, I can look past most of the logical gaps, because The Butterfly Effect is so unique and daring that it nullifies their impact for me. If you can stomach the dark content, then I heartily recommend the film.

7.5/10

Be sure to come back soon for part two of this retrospective series, The Butterfly Effect 2!