Monday, 22 August 2016

Movie Review: All the Boys Love Mandy Lane (2006)

There few experiences more baffling in enjoying movies than coming across a movie which is incredibly flawed, but that you love regardless. It's exactly how I feel about the absolutely brilliant, but fundamentally hamstrung Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, and it seems like a lot of people have been feeling this about Suicide Squad as well. Recently, I rewatched another film which I felt was brilliant but flawed, the 2006 slasher film All the Boys Love Mandy Lane... and dammit, I just cannot stop thinking about it. The film is way deeper than it might appear at first glance, or even more than pretty much any slasher film I can think of for that matter, and yet it feels like the film was totally passed over and in need of a revisiting.

Good God that is a gorgeous poster, largely thanks to the equally-gorgeous Amber Heard. Fantastic tagline too, this poster basically single-handedly sold me on the film years ago when I first saw it.

Oh, and be warned - I'm going to attempt to dig deep into this film's themes, so expect spoilers galore. Got it? Good.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Will Metal Gear "Survive" Without Kojima?

I'll be honest, I've been lazy about updating the blog lately. I've got about a half dozen posts half-written, but nothing managed to push through and materialize... until now. What could have possibly pushed me out of my lethargy? Trump? Some theoretical voting structure? Theology?
Nope, Konami and Metal Gear of course.

To open the year 2016, I wrote up a series of lengthy posts reviewing each of the main series games in the Metal Gear franchise. I spent a solid month and a half doing my "research" for those articles, so you know that this franchise means quite a lot to me. However, with series creator Hideo Kojima leaving Konami and the series on rocky terms, I've basically come to terms with the idea that the series is effectively dead. As exciting as another Kojima Metal Gear could be, I'm totally fine with 25 years of absolutely rock solid games which are amongst the absolute best in the industry. I'm willing to let the series go, for there to be a concrete end.

Naturally, Konami doesn't see it that way and are ready to milk the franchise until it's a decayed husk. We've already seen the Fox Engine used to "remake" the series' best game, Snake Eater, into a freaking Pachinko machine, and now Konami has revealed their first original console entry: Metal Gear Survive... and it's not doing much to get me back on board.

First of all, the premise sounds like it was thought up by someone who didn't understand Metal Gear, just thought it was weird, and then ratcheted that weirdness up significantly. The basic idea is that you're a soldier of Militaire Sans Frontieres who, when Mother Base is destroyed in Ground Zeroes, gets sucked into a freaking portal and now has to fight crystal zombies to get home in 4-player survival co-op. What the feth...?

Well first of all, it has to be said that this is a ballsy as hell move, because I'm pretty sure no one wanted Metal Gear Solid: Operation Raccoon City. As much as some people want to dismiss the portals and zombies in this game as being "typical Metal Gear", I can't really get on board that. Sure, there were portals in The Phantom Pain, but they were always a silly gameplay mechanic which was clearly intended to be more of a bit of player convenience rather than something which is meant to be canon, in-game technology. There's a lot of tongue-in-cheek stuff in Metal Gear, so it can be hard to parse exactly what is real or not, but the portals never struck me for even a second as a thing which is real in its world. Plus, these elements were always on the edges of the game, not the central conceit of the game. Sure, we had to fight "zombie-like" enemies during a handful of boss battles in The Phantom Pain, but I can't imagine a whole game with them. Again, it feels like someone saw these weird elements in other games in the series and thought that they were central to the experience, rather than in-jokes on the fringes.

I can't help but feel like Konami is just chasing trends with the entire concept of the game. Open world 4 player co-op is clearly a "desired feature" these days, with games like Ghost Recon: Wildlands really pushing that as "the future" (although Wildlands actually looks like it will be very fun). Furthermore, zombie enemies and survival elements are the game's other 2 big features, which are 2 of the most oversaturated buzzwords in all of gaming these days. What about this game is supposed to be selling it to me? Aside from the bonkers premise, this game just looks generic and boring, with its only potential selling point being the Metal Gear name.

Making the game even less interesting for someone like me, is there going to be any sort of story to this? And even if there is, is it going to transcend the usual, generic video game zombie survival tropes? Metal Gear is renowned for their rich (and usually insane) stories. Even The Phantom Pain, which was arguably the weakest narrative in the main series, had some pretty fascinating themes at its core - enough so that I somehow managed to spend more time dissecting it than I did for any other game in the franchise. Based on what we see here (4 nameless nobodies killing zombies), I have a hard time picturing anything other than the most shallow story. It's not exactly the incredible Ground Zeroes reveal trailer, now is it?

I'm not pissed off about this game - like I said in the intro, the Metal Gear franchise is dead as far as I'm concerned, and with the very clear split between pre- and post-Kojima exit, this game is hardly going to ruin its legacy. It doesn't even look terrible, but there's absolutely nothing about this trailer that gets me excited in the slightest. Konami is just doing a poor job of trying to win us back after the shit they dragged their fans through. If they want to win us back, this wasn't the way to do it. Do you know how they could get us back in good graces? Well first of all, finish Chapter 51 of The Phantom Pain and then release it as free DLC. It was already partially completed, so that is not going to be a ton of work, actually finishing the game will boost its legacy and earn you some major goodwill. Then, to ratchet up the workload a bit, take that Snake Eater pachinko machine and actually announce that you're remaking the game in the Fox Engine for consoles. This gives you a template to work off of and, if you can pull it off, prove that you can make a solid Metal Gear game without Kojima's oversight. After that, maybe do an original set-story. Hell, Survive might even work at that point if you've earned enough goodwill to do your own thing. After that, if you've proven that Metal Gear is in good hands, then you could probably get away with Metal Gear Solid 6 and beyond.

That's really the crux of the issue with Survive though - we straight up do not trust Konami to deliver a worthy experience. The game looks generic already, but I can't trust that Konami won't screw it up fundamentally either. You can certainly continue Metal Gear without Kojima, but Konami is going to have to earn our goodwill through blood, sweat and many, many tears.

Sunday, 3 July 2016

Video Game Review: Dead or Alive Xtreme 3 - Venus (2016)

This happens to be my 200th post on I Choose to Stand, and I've put together something special... After all the shit-talking I've done about Dead or Alive Xtreme 3, I thought that it was pretty unfair of me to just dismiss it off-hand. As a result, I picked up a copy of the PS Vita version (like hell I was going to get caught playing this on my TV) and set about writing this review. Is it as bad as I had predicted? Read on to find out...

Note that the game is very careful to highlight that you can use the touch controls to manually jiggle the girls' boobs. Stay classy Tecmo, stay classy...

DOAX3 is a... umm... well, it's pretty hard to place it within a genre really. The most succinct way to describe it is that it's a minigame collection based around a voyeuristic appreciation of sexiness, with some very basic happiness-management and dating sim elements layered over it. The first thing that really struck me about DOAX3 was just how similar it felt to previous DOAX games - I had previously played a little Dead or Alive: Paradise, but even that cursory glance was enough to notice that DOAX3 has basically the exact same menu-based user interface and layout. Hell, even the locations are the basically the same, and the thumbnails look very similar too (the Sports Shop in particular looked almost identical to me). The game is also clearly carrying over a number of art assets from Dead or Alive 5: Last Round - the characters themselves appear to be updated, but the swimsuits and even some of the environments have been very clearly shared between the two releases (and the bulk of the "new" swimsuits are just palette-swaps).

Perhaps most egregiously, I also noticed that a very significant portion of the game's gravure videos are lifted from previous games in the franchise, reusing the exact same animations and even camera angles. I didn't do a comprehensive count, but when cross-referencing Hitomi's scenes in Dead or Alive: Paradise, I noticed that quite a few were reused wholesale, such as her riding on inflatable orca in the pool, her very cute improvised dance session, eating an ice cream cone and going for a bike ride. They also directly lifted Hitomi's Private Paradise scene from Dead or Alive 5: Ultimate's DLC. I'm sure there are more of Hitomi's scenes reused that I just haven't encountered in DOAX3 yet, and the fact that I've found this much recycling for just a single character is kind of a demonstration of how little effort seems to have gone into differentiating DOAX3 from previous games in the franchise. I don't want to accuse Team Ninja of being lazy, but the sheer amount of recycled content makes me feel like they basically just put in a minimal amount of effort on this release - hell, they couldn't even expand the cast past 9 girls, possibly because this would have required them to add in more items for the dating sim elements.

Controversially, DOAX3 also removed some features from previous DOAX games - in particular, the Marine Race (aka, Jet Skiing) and Water Slide have been removed entirely, presumably because the marina has been excised from the game (for no apparent reason other than lack of effort). The cast of characters is also kind of disappointing. Series mainstays, such as Christie, Tina and Lei Fang have been replaced with DLC characters from DOA5. I know that they put this up to a popular vote, but the fact that some of the main characters of the series have been excluded and have been replaced with people that we don't have any sort of story context for makes the game feel significantly less true to the DOA name (naturally, the two highest-voted new characters in the poll were the two biggest fetish bait - the lolita schoolgirl, Marie Rose, and the biggest tits and ass in the franchise, Honoka).

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Voter Ignorance, Part 2

These are truly abundant times for us amateur political bloggers. Case in point: this article was originally conceived from Trump's reaction to the recent mass shooting in Orlando. I was skimming the news when I came across a very fitting quote regarding the situation that the US faces in the current election: "What Obama can't say is [that] the presumptive Republican nominee is an embarrassment to his own party, and the ultimate IQ test for the American electorate, come November." That alone was enough to trigger another round of speculation on the eligibility of the existing electorate... but then Brexit happened. Holy shit, if there was ever a time to make voter restrictions a public topic, this is the time.

Commenter #1: Maybe if there's segregation/zero integration, but by the second generation I think you'd see a high percentage of immigrant children assimilating into our culture.
Commenter #2: Good thing we came in and civilized the shit out of them!

In general, I don't believe that we should place important decisions in the hands of the uninformed (or misinformed) public, and Brexit was a clear example of how this can go spectacularly wrong. With the British pound being devalued to historic lows, the elderly swinging the vote in favour of their rose-tinted childhoods, and the realization that this referendum is not exactly going to bring about any immediate net gains (if any), it's little wonder that many "Leave" voters have changed sides and admitted they didn't know what they were voting for. In fact, a good portion of the "Leave" vote was just trying to "stick it to the man" rather than actually thinking about the impact that this will have on them - after all, they might be trying to screw over the "elites", but they'll weather any economic uncertainty far better than the average citizens who end up suffering from a devalued currency, shrinking job market and the scores of other issues that Brexit is going to bring about. It was also worth noting that "the Leave camp won support across a diverse subsection of voters, both politically and economically. The clearest factor seemed to be education: those with a university degree voted overwhelmingly to remain, while those without one did the opposite, according to the Guardian newspaper."

Saturday, 11 June 2016

In All Thy Sons Command

So it's looking very likely that the (English) Canadian national anthem is going to be changed to be "gender neutral", much to the consternation of seemingly everyone willing to put their opinions out there. For those unversed, the English variation of the Canadian national anthem goes as follows:
O Canada!
Our home and native land!
True patriot love in all thy sons command.
With glowing hearts we see thee rise,
The True North strong and free!
From far and wide,
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.
God keep our land glorious and free!
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.
The proposed bill, put forth by a Liberal party MP dying of ALS (presumably as his final wish to improve his country), wishes to change "in all thy sons command" to "in all of us command". As one could expect, this proposal has unleashed a shitstorm of fury from people calling the proposal a shame to every soldier who has died fighting under that anthem and that it's just the "political correctness police" forcing us to change over nothing. Naturally, the dishonouring veterans argument is a common tactic amongst so-called "patriots" in any sort of national debate like this, although it isn't particularly effective since the proposed changes are closer to the original lyrics (pre-1914) and "O Canada" didn't even become our official anthem until 1980 (with the only major non-peace-keeping operation since that point being the Afghan War). On the other side, we have people claiming that those who don't want the anthem changed are supporting sexism, which just reeks of attempting to shame people out of arguing with them*.

Saturday, 28 May 2016

Conjuring Your Perception

So recently I have been rocking out to "Termination" by Book of Black Earth on a pretty regular basis. I think my favourite part of the song though is the last minute or so, which closes with a rather intriguing sample from an interview panel featuring a Christian and a Satanist. As you would probably expect from this sort of setup, the Christian interviewee gets trounced in the debate:
Christian Dude: "To suggest that you can create your own reality, my goodness, that's what they did in Tiananmen Square. That's what they did in Germany in 1933. [...] These are examples of people who created their own reality."
Satanist Dude: "Everyone creates their own reality, the thing is, you speak for a consensus of reality that is acceptable. We speak for one which, at this point in history, is not acceptable."
Christian Dude: "Oh, so it's a question of who manipulates the media, who has the most money to put their reality forth? But would you pardon me for saying that I find the world where your ability to conjure your own reality that you perceive as being a very frightening world for people like me. Because you see, I am guided by some codified rules that tell me what is right and wrong. In your world, I'm not so sure I'd feel very safe."
Satanist Dude: "Well that's your problem. [...] In the Satanic world of the future, Christian churches will be allowed to continue, because they pose no threats to us. We don't need Christianity, Christianity needs us."*
The Christian interviewee's obliviousness to the fact that everyone is conjuring their own reality to at least some degree is just the first of many events that have occurred to me recently which have gotten me thinking about perception and reality. As the old saying goes, "seeing is believing", but it seems pretty clear that our perception is not necessarily truth. Maybe this is a pretty obvious statement when you really think about it, but it seems like many people just aren't confronted face-first with this idea, even though it plays a major role in much of human conflict (both on the large and small scale).

Monday, 2 May 2016

Vengeance Is Mine

So I finally got around to seeing The Revenant last night. I enjoyed it, maybe not quite as much as Birdman though (that said, it was clearly intended to be more of a crowd-pleaser than Alejandro G. Iñárritu's big Oscar winner). As I often do when I see an interesting film, I decided to Google it to see what sort of conversation was still on-going around it. The first entry on Google's news feed really caught my eye though: The Revenant Calls for Critical Christian Response.

Having just watched the film, I find the notion of Christian critics considering The Revenant to be a very good film for Christian audiences to be a baffling notion. It's about as pure an example of the revenge narrative as you can get, a concept which (while very popular amongst storytellers and audiences) is very much at odds with the Christian philosophy of radical enemy-love and "turning the other cheek". The article agrees with me on this response, and also lists 10 films which are typically considered very "Christian" within the popular critical consensus:

  1. The Matrix
  2. The Tree of Life
  3. O Brother, Where Art Thou?
  4. American Beauty
  5. Fight Club
  6. The Lord of the Rings
  7. The Shawshank Redemption
  8. Magnolia
  9. Braveheart
  10. Saving Private Ryan
Now, aside from The Matrix, The Tree of Life and The Lord of the Rings, which are all bursting with Christian themes, many of these films seem like a stretch to me. I mean, The Shawshank Redemption is all about hope, but that's hardly a theme that really resonates with damn near everyone (hence why it has been IMDb's top rated film for close to a decade now). Saving Private Ryan is arguably a Christ metaphor if you twist it into a pretzel, but if for example I was asked to mark a paper based on this argument I'd have a hard time accepting the premise. And what the literal hell is Fight Club doing on this list? As much as I loved that film, it is far easier to argue that it is a Marxist film and/or satire of modern macho-masculinity than a Christian film. I have no idea where they even start that argument. I'm sure there are other films on there which are just as baffling (unfortunately, I haven't seen (enough of) American Beauty, Magnolia or Braveheart to comment on them, but I have a hard time seeing Braveheart in particular as being a Christian narrative.