Sunday, 24 February 2013

Video Game Review: Dead Space 3

I was struck with a bit of good fortune this week: a couple months ago it occurred to me that my school's reading week coincided with the release date of Dead Space 3. I loved Dead Space, its sequel (which is easily one of my favourite games of this console generation), Extraction and most of the extended universe as well (the Ben Templesmith comic was amazing, the other comics and Martyr were decent, but the animated films kind of sucked) and so clearly I was eagerly anticipating the latest entry in the series. However, as I followed the pre-release info I was getting understandably nervous.
  • "They're adding co-op? Didn't that screw over Resident Evil 5? Isn't it hard to make a horror game with co-op?"
  • "That trailer really didn't scare me at all. It looked like a big shoot-'em-up like Lost Planet."
  • "WTF, there are going to be human enemies this time!?"
Despite my concerns, there was still no way I was going to pass up another excursion to the Dead Space universe. So, were my fears unfounded, or was Dead Space 3 a massive disappointment? Well I suggest you read on to find out... (Note that for my first [and so far only] play through, I played on Hard Mode and did not do any co-op or get any DLC aside from what's bundled with the Limited Edition. Also, there are some spoilers in this review, so be careful.)


Dead Space 3 opens very... dishearteningly. Basically all my worst fears seemed to be confirmed within the first 30 minutes. The prologue is pretty interesting, but it definitely emphasizes action and scripted set-piece moments over the slow-building tension and horror that the series is known for. Things get even worse when it shifts back to poor ol' Isaac Clarke. While I'm a bit dissatisfied with the story at this point (which I'll get to later), what really disappointed me here was the shootouts with Unitologist gunmen. This feature was incredibly ill-advised for a number of reasons. For one thing, the cover system is terrible. Isaac can crouch behind cover, but it doesn't really provide him with much protection at all. There's also very little hit feedback, so you can be taking damage and not know it unless you quickly glance at your RIG's health bar. The enemy AI isn't that smart either - they just sort of make their way to you while firing until you choose to blow their heads off or shotgun them. They don't provide any challenge at all until late in the game when they're attacking you from 2 directions at once or at one particular instance where 2 guys on a balcony are firing rockets at you while you're simultaneously being attacked by Twitchers, which took me almost a dozen tries to overcome. It should also be noted that I was playing the game on Hard Mode on my first play through, so the general lack of challenge is pretty unfortunate and surprising. Finally, the gunplay is simply just not that fun. Dead Space isn't built to accommodate a third-person cover-based shooter, and so throwing one in anyway wasn't a very good idea.

This opening doesn't have the same sort of "oomph" that Dead Space 2 did: in that game, the opening cinematic laid the groundwork for that game very well, and then when the game started in earnest I literally shouted "HOLY SHIT!!!!" All that without having to resort to over-the-top theatrics to try to get your blood pumping. In short, Dead Space 3 has lost most of the sense of subtlety and tension that the previous games fostered, something that the opening hour demonstrates very well to all the people who feared such a thing.


Anyway, once you get beyond the first couple chapters, Dead Space 3 starts to pick up a bit. The chapters spent in space feel largely like classic Dead Space gameplay... with some refinements and new issues of course. One notable difference is the new crafting mechanic, which allows you to customize your weapon, its attachments and upgrades, then add further upgrades in the form of circuits. The crafting benches also allow you to make health and ammo packs, as well as other items. Put simply, the crafting mechanic is very handy and it's fun to put together a super-weapon: I took the DLC Evangelizer Carbine + Shotgun attachment and it lasted me the whole game as my mainstay weapon, just tweaking it with new modifiers as the game went on. The only downsides to this system are that enemy encounters can be a bit of a joke as you blow them away with your super-gun, and that I miss having 4 weapons to switch between for different situations instead of 2... yeah you're technically still running 4 different guns now, but that also means you're down the alternate-fire from the previous guns as well. It also sucks when you're in the middle of an encounter and then suddenly find yourself needing to reload, losing the use of one of those guns. The other issue with crafting is that you're never going to be short on health or ammo packs... not that the game doesn't provide you with tons of them anyway. Health and ammo are ridiculously plentiful in Dead Space 3, even in Hard Mode. I literally never ran out of ammo in this game. In contrast, the last 1/3 of Dead Space 2 was an intense exercise in ammo conservation. I had to get really good at dismemberment, stasis and kinesis if I wanted to survive... in Normal mode, no less. In comparison, Dead Space 3 is a breeze.

Another new feature in Dead Space 3 which I really liked was the addition of optional side-quests. While they're all just a half-dozen Necromorph encounters to get a key to unlock a door, then a couple more encounters to find some epic loot, the developers did a good job ensuring that they stayed interesting... even if they begin to grow stale towards the latter point of the game. Some of these are co-op only, but that didn't bug me too much in all honesty. I hope they were a little more diverse than the single-player ones in any case.


Those disappointed that Dead Space 3 would be on a planet shouldn't be too put-off, since they're actually going to spend quite a few hours in space. However, the action soon switches to Tau Volanis, which is where the game actually manages to wring out a few scares and intensity. In the first 30 minutes or so that you're on the planet, you have to keep your body temperature regulated or you're freeze to death. This makes it pretty dangerous to be outdoors for very long - especially in a fight where you're given another way to die on top of being eviscerated by Necromorphs. The Feeders also will scare the piss out of you the first few times you run into them. They can be dealt with without confrontation, something this game desperately needed. Trying to sneak past and distract them is intense, they're creepy little bastards and if you alert them then it can be hell trying to deal with them coming from all directions. Enemies also occasionally burst out of the snow which can be startling (although not nearly as much as I would have expected it to be).

The stretch on Tau Volanis largely continues the same problems of the rest of the game, however. Enemy encounters are unfortunately still very straight-forward: Stalkers, my favourite enemies from Dead Space 2 for their clever AI, are reduced to simple and predictable foes since they're far more aggressive now. Encounters can also get infuriating as enemies have a tendency to drop in behind you unannounced while you're fighting waves of foes. It's not scary, it's just annoying. The planet setting has some great potential to be just as terrifying (if not more) than space, but the game does not live up to this promise. Just imagine how scary it would be to be in a blizzard with limited visibility, but hear Necromorphs creeping up on you just outside your field of vision. Or how about backtracking through a non-combat area only to discover a fresh set of footprints followed you through that area - OH SHIT, WHAT/WHERE IS IT?!?!


For the purposes of this review, I feel the need to mention the latter chapters since some new issues arise there as well. On the positive side, super-charged kinesis is EPIC. Tearing the limbs off of living Necromorphs never gets old, and throwing whole Markers into the eyes of a giant monster is probably the coolest thing in the entire game. However, the last chapter was a massive piss-off. Ignoring the physics of running and fighting on a giant rock which is flying through the air towards a living moon, the game doesn't tell you that there's a blizzard behind you which is tearing said rock to bits if you don't move fast enough. I literally died here about a dozen times with absolutely no explanation and was understandably frustrated until I just ran through the level. The lack of explanation here just ticked me off, and could have been easily fixed with some dialogue along the lines of "oh shit Isaac, the ground behind us is disappearing! Run!" The final boss fight is also exceptionally easy (although this seems to be a Dead Space hallmark at this point), although it was also very cool at the same time.


Moving on to other notable aspects, the story is a bit of a convoluted let-down in Dead Space 3. The scene is set for Isaac's personal journey, but the game fails to set up the events transpiring in the universe at large. Apparently an army of Unitologists have overthrown EarthGov and are causing Necromorph outbreaks across the galaxy through terrorist actions! Holy shit, that sounds insane! Unfortunately, the game doesn't set-up, elaborate on or provide closure to these events at all, which is a damn shame. Hopefully we get some extended universe pieces which cover these developments, because whoever wrote the script for Dead Space 3 didn't seem to care. The secondary characters are also really throw-away, I couldn't really remember who they were or even really care when they died. Simply, the plot is nowhere near as engaging or coherent as the previous games were, but I'm glad they did not default to the "Necromorph outbreak occurs and character X has to survive it" template which nearly every other Dead Space media falls into.

Other things worth noting are that this game is far less violent than the previous 2 games were. This is surprising and odd, and really just seems like another side-effect of a shift to a mass-market focus. Honestly, there's only 1 really violent on-screen death and the camera jumps away from it after a split-second. On a more positive note though, the co-op mode is very unintrusive and should set the bar for co-op modes in the future in my opinion.

Considering how much bitching you just read through, it probably sounds like I absolutely hated Dead Space 3. However, honestly I did enjoy it: the basic mechanics of the series are very enjoyable and the game adds some fun new elements to the mix. That said, the game does not live up to the expectations that the rest of the series established. Put simply, EA and Visceral sold out with Dead Space 3, toning down the series' horror elements in favour of the lowest common denominator shooter/action market. I can live with that if that's the future of the franchise, but if so then they should build the next game to be action from the ground up, rather than tack it onto a horror framework.

Bottom-line: Dead Space 3 is a lot of fun, but it'll be a disappointment if you're a fan of the series.

7/10

Monday, 18 February 2013

Movie Review: Noobz

So recently I stumbled across this review of a video-game movie called Noobz. Normally this wouldn't excite me all that much, except this particular review ravaged the film. As a bit of a purveyor of bad cinema and crappy-movie lover, I instantly knew that I had to track down this film and review it for myself. Was it really as bad as Dan Ryckert said? Well, read on and find out...


So what exactly is Noobz? Well it's supposed to be a comedic road-trip movie about a clan of gamers trying to get to the biggest gaming tournament in the country, celebrating gaming culture along the way. Honestly, that's a bit of a rote scenario for an independent film (see Fanboys for Star Wars, One Week for supposedly "Canadian" culture, etc), and Noobz really doesn't distinguish itself from the other similar movies in the genre... well, not in a positive way anyway. Why not? Well for one thing, it does a really, really poor job capturing gamer culture. While I didn't like Fanboys, its one redeeming feature was that it captured the Star Wars geek culture pretty well. Noobz is closer to One Week in that it shows a really stereotypical view of its subject matter... except, in the case of Noobz, this is a really BAD representation. The director and star, Blake Freeman, was actually a professional gamer... a decade ago. Based on the content of the movie, it seems like this is where all of Freeman's "research" came from, because it's a woefully outdated and portrays gaming as the domain of anti-social nerds. This MIGHT have flown back then, but this is 2013: basically everyone games now, and nerds are actually coming in vogue as well. You'd swear this movie was made by CNN or something based on the way it portrays gamers, not someone who is apparently one himself. Furthermore, he just completely fails to capture gaming culture in general. One of the most glaring examples of this is that there's a Frogger tournament at the same tournament that the main characters are at. However, only 2 people enter it because coin-op gaming isn't "cool" anymore. Now it doesn't take a lot of research to know that retro gaming is a huge subculture right now, and I wouldn't be surprised if such a tournament actually had more competition than a modern shooter. Another issue is covered here:


"There’s a passing mention of Frogger, but the only gameplay footage from the fictional Cyberbowl video gaming championship is based exclusively on Gears of War 3. While it's clearly a form of product placement, it's a bizarre choice at that: Gears of War 3 isn't a championship level game by any means (especially with the atrocious host-advantage issues in multiplayer)."

Watching the movie, I actually speculated that this was the case, but it's nice to see it confirmed. That said, I'm not really all that knowledgeable about tournament-level gaming (I'd imagine that PC gaming, particularly Counter-Strike, would be probably the #1 choice for competitive play...?), but it's notable that this stuck out as clearly as it did.



In addition, Freeman shows only the worst aspects of gamer culture. You know that douche bag 12-year-old screaming racist and homophobic slurs on your headset every time you boot up a first-person shooter? Basically every character in this movie is that kid, except that they're like that 24/7 and not when they've got the anonymity that a headset provides. Sure, some of them probably are douche bags like that in real life, but Noobz disproportionately presents every gamer as someone with some sort of major personality flaw. The "heroes" are stereotypical dicks living the Jersey Shore lifestyle (with the "dudes" and "bros" thrown around CONSTANTLY throughout to cement this), and every single female character is either a grotesque hag or a sex object. And, of course, everyone is shocked to discover that the girl gamers are actually good at video games... this, unfortunately, is probably a stereotype which actually persists in this culture, but Freeman isn't exactly putting this part in here to make any sort of statement. I think the worst part about all this though is that Blake Freeman really seems to think that he's portraying gamers in a positive manner, because you get this sense all the time when the character Andy spouts off his ramblings about how major league gaming should be considered a real sport. While I'm not entirely sure I'd call them "athletes", pro gaming clearly takes a lot of skill and deserves some respect, but Noobz isn't doing this culture any favours.



I think it's also worthwhile to go deeper into each of the characters... because boy do they ever deserve to be torn apart. Each and every one of them is a one-dimensional stereotype: there's Cody, the slacker with major anger management issues. Next is Andy the optimistic dude-bro who's in love (read: wants to screw) with Rickie, a girl gamer on the other team (who isn't really given much characterization beyond "is hot"). After that is Oliver, the massive screw-up who is also an extremely flamboyantly closeted gay (the movie tries to make his sexuality ambiguous, but the scenes where he runs around in lipstick, screams like a girl, constantly tries to suck his friends' dicks, etc pretty much destroy any possible sense of ambiguity that they could have tried to foster, instead turning him into a hugely offensive stereotype). Finally, there's Hollywood, a disabled kid who I believe has a severe form of asthma... of course, everything about him revolves around his juvenile sexual fantasies and his breathing apparatus (apparently it's supposed to be funny when his air supply gets cut off and the kid is freaking dying in front of us). Seriously, even in the end credits he apparently writes a hit hip-hop single called "Let Me Breathe", because everything in his life apparently revolves around his disability.

As you can probably glean from the descriptions of the main characters, Noobz is offensive as a bus full of dead babies, but you don't know the half of it. The portrayals of Oliver and Hollywood are really the worst of the bunch (apparently gays aren't considered "men" in this), but there's also plenty of casual racism and sexism. Did you see the picture above of the black kid with the comb in his hair? I'm pretty sure you can guess exactly how they portrayed him in this. There's also a scene where an Indian gas station attendant acts like a ridiculously racist caricature, and tells the cops he's white so they won't discriminate against him. It seems like Freeman thinks that he's being clever and satirical, but it really doesn't come across that way: I mean, is are we really supposed to believe that he is making fun of racists by being racist and then simultaneously calling out racial profiling at the same time in some sort of inverse-satire cluster-f--k? Short answer: no. Instead, I really get the feeling that Blake Freeman is just a hardcore opponent of political correctness, suggested by the scene where the douchey little black kid gets a free ride on "DeezNuts Airlines" ("thank you for riding DeezNuts!" ...I did not make that up) because he claims that he's being racially profiled by a white attendant. While I hate political correctness as much as the next guy, Freeman isn't using offensive material to make a statement or to be satirical... he seems to just find offensive things funny for no other reason than it's offensive. Even in this department, they fail because they recycle the same old offensive jokes over and over and over again.

In fact, for a supposed "comedy", Noobz is deathly short on laughs. I can honestly say that I did not laugh at any of the jokes in this film, which is pretty pathetic. The only times I did laugh were in sheer disbelief as I literally yelled out "WTF, did they seriously put something that stupid in the movie?!?" This is pretty brutal in the scenes with Greg Lipstein (a play on Billy Mitchell) which might have been funny for the crew but translate really awkwardly to the rest of the audience who are sitting here thinking "what the hell is wrong with this guy?" Furthermore, the comedic set-pieces are really tenuously constructed. Take, for example, the scene I mentioned earlier with the Indian gas station attendant. Cody goes into the gas station to pay for their gas and get some snacks, but comes across this little shit of a girl. Of course, the two begin going at it, insulting each other with dialogue that doesn't reflect human speech in the slightest (that might be an odd criticism, but the dialogue in this scene is just totally out of tone with the rest of the film). Then the girl's mother believes that, because Cody is hugging her daughter, that he must be a pedophile and proceeds to taser him without explanation. Then the Indian gas station attendant launches into his ridiculous shtick. This is honestly some of the most contrived comedy I've seen in a movie, and it's just not handled very well (uhh, no pedo).


Anyway, in the end the "heroes" lose to the girl gamers (who were far more deserving of the prize money anyway), but get signed to Mountain Dew... except they don't, because 2 seconds later in the credits they reveal that the guy was arrested for impersonating a Mountain Dew executive (WTF!? Is that even a crime?!!), but I'm not really sure that I care, because the main characters were such huge douche bags and they didn't learn or earn anything from the events of the movie... so it makes things completely pointless. Congratulations, you just wasted an hour and forty minutes of your life!

Bottom-line: the only positive thing I can say is that Freeman is a competent enough director, but he severely needs some better material if he ever wants to amount to anything. Noobz is not that material. It has a bland story, non-existent comedy, garishly offensive and doesn't even portray its own subject matter with any sort of reverence. Unless you're looking for a really bad movie like I was, stay away!

0.5/10

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Free Speech

I've been mulling over this blog post for a couple weeks. It has been sitting in an unfinished state in my drafts folder, with little more form than nearly a dozen news sources and a jumble of ideas swirling around in my head. However, now that the issue has largely passed, I think I'm finally ready to put forth my opinion on something which most people wouldn't really think needs defending - free speech.

A little background first: recently, at Carleton University, a group of libertarian students put up a "free speech wall" in order to promote the free flow of ideas. Well that sounds reasonable (if a little pointless in a liberal university setting) to me - sure it can be a little dangerous, but free speech is rather dangerous in its very conception. However, the twist is that the wall was torn down... by a gay-rights activist. Even stranger, it was not in response to anything which was written on the wall directly (someone wrote "abortion is murder", which had already gotten contrary response, and "traditional marriage is awesome"), but the very idea that someone could write something he didn't agree with. He claimed that the free speech wall was an act of violence against the gay community.


Understandably, this caused a fair bit of controversy, not only in the school, but the national media as well. In order to really get a grip on what occurred and why, it's probably a good idea to go into some further contextualizing. I will then lay out my own opinions on the matter and on this free speech debate.

First off, let's delve into the main figure of this controversy, Arun Smith, a 7th year human rights student. I had actually never heard of the guy prior to this, but it turns out that he's a bit notorious around campus for aggressively pushing his political agendas very publicly. Seriously, read those articles. A private, offhand joke to a friend turns into calls to resign for not respecting victims of sexual violence and because his apology was not sincere enough? Seriously? I can honestly say that my sincere response in this situation would be "F--- off". The other one was even more ridiculous - a game of water gun tag around campus (which sounds fun as hell) apparently promotes gun violence. Admittedly, Arun seems to back off a bit on that one, but still, he really comes across as someone who constantly has to push for his unilateral agenda as publicly and frequently as possible. Suffice to say, this, in addition to the wall incident, didn't exactly endear Arun to me very much when I looked into this.

In response to Arun's constant antics like this on campus, that some students ended up turning him into a meme (from the always unbiased Xtra!: Canada's Gay & Lesbian News). While I'll admit that some of them are funny, the fact that they're directed at a specific person was exceptionally mean-spirited and wrong (not to mention the medium they went with is incredibly juvenile). However, when one of the guys who started the memes confessed, Smith once again said that the apology lacked sincerity. The student, Deketele, stated that he acknowledges that what he wrote was offensive, but he was intending merely to insult Smith, not threaten him in any way. The following from the article is also of note:
"Despite what [Deketele] wrote in the apology, he blames Smith for publicizing the incident. 
'If he doesn’t like you he will try to assassinate your character. I was worried that if I came forward he would do that, and it happened anyway. Just my luck that it only happened to me; I’m the only person who had someone rat on them. I feel bad about what I did, I really do,' Deketele says. 
Prompted by Deketele’s apparent lack of remorse, Smith says he will provide Deketele’s name to police and seek legal counsel."
 
Smith also stated that:

"So long as Raphael continues to be a student, there’s still a fundamental question of my safety, whether we’re talking about my emotional safety or my physical safety," he says. "There has to be some actual justice, and right now there is no justice."


What I draw from this incident here is that here we have another example of Arun Smith ignoring freedom of speech as a legitimate tenet. On one hand, I sympathize with the man for being mocked as he did (even if it was in response to his very public actions around school), but his response to the ordeal and constant, public badgering of Deketele is excessive. Also, justice was served, although I'm sure that Smith doesn't really support the police or university management either... from my experience with activists at school, there's likely the sense that they reproduce patriarchal hegemony. This may be true to a point, but that also just reiterates the subjectivity of Smith's claims in the end. I think the comments on this article are also rather interesting, since there's about a 50/50 split between people arguing about Smith's methodology - surprising considering that the articles were published on an extremely biased news site, as I mentioned (not picking on gay news outlets in particular, just any overtly biased news site in general... don't worry, I'll piss off the right-wingers soon enough when I call out Sun News Network).

Finally, Smith was also involved in a protest against allowing anti-abortion groups on campus. I think it would be irresponsible for me to go much further without admitting that I'm personally against abortion, but at the same time I don't believe that I should be dictate what people do with their bodies... so I guess that makes me technically pro-choice? I dunno, clearly the whole issue is more complicated than the opposing sides would like to make us think. Anyway, the Carleton University Students Association's view on the matter was that:

"It looks like it will finally help them respect the free speech of pro-life students," Richmond says. "If you’re saying that a group cannot have the same privileges as other groups on campus simply because they take a particular stance on a human rights issue . . . that equates to discrimination."

Honestly... I'm inclined to agree with them. You by no means have to agree with pro-lifers, but as long as they're not being abusive or hateful then I don't see why a group should be banned from the campus. I mean, a few years ago Anne Coulter tried to come and speak at Carleton, but she was banned before she could. However, despite being staunchly left-wing and considering Coulter to be a complete idiot, I was one of the few who actually supported her coming. Why? Simply because she has the right to free speech. By shutting her out, you're turning her into a bit of a martyr. Furthermore, those who were going to see her are likely inclined to agree with her opinions in the first place, so banning her from the university is not going to change anyones' opinions on the matter. Similarly, banning anti-abortion organizations from the university doesn't change anyones' attitudes - it's just hiding them at best. Also, I'm not entirely sure of the exact reasoning why allowing anti-abortion groups creates an unsafe place for homosexuals on campus (which is what Smith's position in the article is about), as long as these groups are kept from making hateful comments. There's an argument that these groups do not believe their conduct to be discriminatory, but... I dunno. The abortion debate is a clusterf--k of ideologies clashing all over, and I really don't want to get into it much further beyond this.

Anyway, all of this happened before the wall incident, and so I believe that these incidences pretty conclusively suggest that Arun Smith views freedom of speech as a hostile idea to his own ideology. Smith seems to support the typical issues of gay-rights and women's-rights activist would be expected to uphold... although he also seems to take this to the extreme, being a very confrontational individual who might be doing more harm just because he has projected a very distastefully unilateral public persona of himself. Anything which could potentially infringe upon his political agenda is seen as a target which must be eliminated at any cost. This is, of course, great if you agree with his narrow point of view, but he does not seem to want to try to convert others to his cause, being more likely to just shoehorn people into it instead. This is just what I have gleaned from my research, but based on what I have read and heard from others, it sounds fairly accurate.

Moving back to the free speech wall, I think the reasons for Smith's tearing down the wall are pretty apparent, especially considering that he now considers Carleton an "unsafe space" since CUSA changed its abortion stance to "neutral". However, I think that Smith really overstepped his bounds on this one. In fact, the only overt references to sexuality on the wall were pro-gay. As a result, Smith is putting his own opinion ahead of not only those he disagrees with, but of other gays who support free speech as well. Honestly, it's a hypocritical and one which I really cannot say was justified at all in this case.


Smith will argue that free speech will inevitably lead to hate speech and that society has created inequality. My response to this is two-fold. For one thing, hate speech is an unfortunate trade-off of free speech, but it is also balanced by many, many positives in the other direction. On the other hand society, the thing that Smith is so abjectly against, ensures that hate speech is mitigated as much as possible. Furthermore, society is a social construction - we cannot expect our sole opinion to govern the process, and we honestly shouldn't expect it to. Competition of ideas generally leads to a more neutral ground which will please a larger number of people... after all, we're living in a nation built up of the opinions of tens of millions. Put simply, free speech is one of the best things about this society that we live in because it allows our ideas to get out there and for us to decide for ourselves what we will think... I think your activist predecessors would have much reverence for the notion.

Anyway... I think people put too much effort into university politics. In closing, I'll leave a link to another person's thoughts on the matter which I found quite interesting... except for the part about Sun News Network being a great, unbiased source of news. Seriously, wtf?

Friday, 8 February 2013

Movie Review: The Postman (1997)

My good friend over at The M recently called me up and said that we had to see a movie he had just bought called The Postman. He just told me that it was a post-apocalyptic film, it starred Kevin Costner and that it would probably suck. With little else to go on, I decided to take him up on the offer and see how it went... little did I know I was heading into a multiple-Razzie winner. Read on for my thoughts...


Something that becomes very apparent about The Postman quite quickly is that its editing is a bit of a jumble. Early on there's a scene of the Postman in a ransacked store, and then suddenly he's in a town performing Shakespeare for kids. I thought "oh, this must be a pre-apocalypse flashback" since he'd had a couple quick flashbacks already... but no, a couple minutes later the party gets interrupted by a bunch of raiders and it becomes clear that this is in the present. Well then, that raises more questions... like where did his gun go? How did he find the town? Honestly, moments like this happen throughout the entire movie.


Even worse, the entire opening 50 minutes of the film are completely unnecessary. The film seems to be setting up something important, but it literally all gets thrown away all of a sudden... even all the secondary characters and one of the villains get killed too. To make matters worse, this ruins any sort of mystery that they could have derived from the premise. How much more interesting would it be if we were wondering if The Postman was telling the truth or not? If they played with our own sense of optimism for the reestablished US Government then it would be far more interesting than a completely unnecessary opening act that spells out everything for us.

My main issue with the opening however, is that it adds 50 minutes to an already overlong film. People bitch that The Hobbit is overlong. While they are right about that it doesn't feel unnecessarily so (well, most of the time anyway). However, The Postman has no excuse to be a 3 hour "epic" whatsoever, and could do with some serious trimming of the fat. As it is, the film is excessive, bloated and boring half the time - cutting out the opening would have made it a hell of a lot more bearable.

In terms of acting, none of the leads are particularly awful. Most of the characters are serviceable, it's only the younger actors which dip into sub-par level. The only one I found that really stood out was Will Patton's Bethlehem, the charmingly psychotic villain. It's always fun when he's around and he really chews up the screen, sort of like an evil Chuck Norris.


The plot is... strenuous. Here's the premise of the film: society has collapsed because of some sort of apocalyptic event and most of the towns in Oregon have become subdued under the heel of the Khan-esque General Bethlehem. In the middle of this, a deserter from the clan cons people into giving him food and shelter by claiming to be a member of the reconstituted US postal service, acting on behalf of the new President. As a result, he (and the new postal service) inspires people to rise up against the clan and TAKE. BACK. THEIR. FREEDOMMMMMMM!!! If that sounds a little far-fetched, then you don't know the half of it. The film has, quite simply, a pretty ridiculous plot which is way too strung out. It also has an air of pretension that it frankly does not earn. Say what you will about The Tree of Life, but it is deservingly pretentious. This movie is more like Rubber, in that it's trying to look smart, but is probably stupider than most of the people in the room.

On a related note, I expected the film to basically be a distillation of this song from Team America, but luckily it avoided that... except when it didn't. Confused? Well what I mean is that the film largely avoids being American propaganda, but occasionally it will suddenly pull out an "America: F--K YEAH!" moment out of nowhere. This generally happens when the Postman arrives in a town and causes the citizens to feel hope that the clan won't be ruling much longer. This inevitably causes them to stand up to the clan soldiers and basically flip them off... FOR AMERICA. I'm pretty sure that this is supposed to make us feel proud to be American, but it just made me think "You people are idiots". Seriously, if these people understood the notion of subtlety, then an entire town wouldn't have been killed. America, you can be proud of your country, but be smart about it. Maybe consider assassinating the leaders of the clan when they come into town next time, rather than tell them they're not gonna boss you around anymore when you have literally nothing to back up that statement. Honestly, the "patriotism" in this movie results in a lot of civilians getting killed due to sheer idiocy (doubly-so on the part of Ford Lincoln Mercury, who's basically a budding terrorist cell leader). Don't be kind of like one of these dumbasses.


Is there anything good I can say about The Postman? Well to be honest, yes I can. The best thing I can say is that there's some great production values - there's basically no CGI that I could see, and the sheer number of extras that appear in some shots are unbelievable. Some of the sets are absolutely massive as well, I have a tough time believing that these were just miniatures - I think they were the real deal. Also, despite all the harping I've done on the story, I eventually found myself genuinely interested to see where things were going to go. I honestly believe there is a good movie hidden inside of The Postman somewhere, but it's buried beneath shoddy editing, a weak story and excessive self-indulgence which basically make it a slog to sit through.

All-in-all, The Postman is an extremely flawed film. It's bad, but not in a "so bad it's good" manner. It's just not the sort of movie I could recommend that someone sit down and watch for any good reason.

4.5/10

Sunday, 3 February 2013

5 Reasons to Prepare for the Inevitable Ape Apocalypse

So 2012 has come and gone and it looks like we dodged a close one in regards to the destruction of human civilization. However, I would like to argue that an even more sinister demise is inevitably approaching: that's right, The Planet of the Apes isn't (just) one of the best movies ever made, but it and its sequels are also prophetic texts! Need convincing? Well then, check out the evidence and then prepare to bow down to your ape overlords...

5) They Know How to Talk

Did anyone think that it was odd that Maurice (the Orangutan in Rise of the Planet of the Apes) knew how to sign? I mean, we saw Caesar learn how to do this as he grew up, but why would a circus Orangutan know that? Well it's because, quite simply, this isn't that uncommon. Here's a documentary from 1978 of a gorilla, Koko, that has been taught to use ASL, which I believe also inspired the 1980 Michael Crichton novel, Congo. While the legitimacy of Koko's case is somewhat disputed, there's others which seem pretty clear-cut to me, such as Kanzi. Need more examples? I've found at least 6 high-profile cases.

So what does this mean for humanity? Well I think we should all know the implications. After decolonization, the formerly disparate peoples of Africa and the Caribbean were able to now communicate using a shared tongue (and no, I'm not implying that black people are apes you horrible bastards). A common language means that groups which were separated by geography and culture can now communicate with one another. And what better for subjugated apes talk about but the impending demise of human kind? While it's (currently) physically impossible for apes to vocalize, honestly they're only a couple steps away from an Aldo/Caesar situation where one of them decides that enough is enough and he's had enough of these motherf---ing humans on this motherf---ing planet and goes "NOOOOOO!!!!!"

No word on whether they can sing yet too, but it's only a matter of time...

4) They Have Political Systems and Culture

What's that? Did you think that only intelligent beings like humans could come up with something as labyrinthine and bureaucratic as politics? Well hold onto your butts and check out this very cool video:



Granted, that's a tad less "civilized" than our current representational system, with its checks, balances, attack ads, unilateral lobbying, political parties flinging poo at each other... where was I again? Well to be fair, The Planet of the Apes did show that the apes' society was somewhat more primitive than ours, although it's all a matter of progression. And honestly they're not that far behind us, because anthropologists have found that apes have distinct cultures. It's interesting that the article focuses on Orangutans as well... that's right, Dr. Zaius is already real.

"Well," I can hear you saying, "that's all fine and dandy, but that hardly means the end is nigh." Did I neglect to mention that apes totally go to war too? General Ursus from Beneath the Planet of the Apes doesn't have a monopoly on the whole business, because apes do this sort of thing all the time. Apes also understand the concept of fairness, which probably explains why they will be performing medical experiments on us in a couple centuries when we're all living out in the forests or in caves.


So let me just sort out the facts - apes are not only capable of organizing, but they're also willing to go to war as well? It sounds to me like they're just asking to put their stinkin' paws on us...

3) We're Using Them As Pets

On to a high-profile current event in the countdown to the end of days, I'm sure most contemporary readers have heard of Dawin, the "Ikea Monkey":


Aww just look at the little guy, doesn't he look cute in his little fluffy coat, with his beady little eyes and cuddly looking face? Don't you wish you had a little monkey of your own for a pet?

No, you don't. That's what the apes want you to think.

Haven't you ever seen Conquest of the Planet of the Apes? Here's a quick rundown - people start making apes into household pets. They then realize that they can use these apes as menial labourers for cheap. The apes then get pissed off and conquer the world. Clearly, the laws banning apes from being pets in most countries are not in the interest of public safety or animal cruelty - they're in place to save the future of humankind. The court case deciding the fate of Darwin, the Ikea Monkey, could hold the fate of humankind in the balance - if Yasmin Nakhuda gets Darwin back, then everyone will be getting apes for pets, and then clearly civilization as we know it will crumble. So thanks a lot for being selfish Yasmin, way to destroy the world because you love your pet... but rest assured, your pet does not love you. Darwin is watching... and waiting. Better keep an eye on your cutlery, because you never know when they'll turn on you...

2) Caesar Already Existed

Did you hear about the apes movie that came out in 2011 about a chimpanzee who was separated from his mother and raised from birth to be treated like a human being and taught ASL to communicate? No, not Rise of the Planet of the Apes, I'm talking about Project Nim, which was about a real ape from back in the 70s whose story sounds eerily similar to that of Caesar. In fact, I have difficulty believing that it was a mere coincidence - I believe that Caesar's story is probably at least partially based on that of Nim. How has the world not ended already? Well luckily for us, Nim died of a heart attack in the year 2000 (he must have seen Tim Burton's remake coming)... but then again, that's exactly how they thought Caesar died as well, and look where that got 'em!


1) They're Armed

Ok, so the apes are organized, they're willing to go to war, and they have their revolutionary figure already. Big deal, we still have guns. I mean, this is the biggest argument that people had about Rise of the Planet of the Apes - how are they supposed to compete with human armies without the untimely arrival of a super-virus? It's not like apes have weapons or anything like that...

Actually, they totally do.


It's exactly like that scene in Rise of the Planet of the Apes where they tear apart the fences to make spears. I knew most of the stuff about apes in this article prior to writing this, and even I didn't know that apes had built spears already. Well at least they don't have guns yet, thank God...


NO! YOU MANIACS! YOU BLEW IT UP! DAMN YOU! GOD DAMN YOU ALL TO HELL!!!


Note that this article is a piece of satire. It is not meant to be taken seriously, unlike this nutcase here.