Thursday, 27 December 2012

2012 in Media

With 2013 just a few days away, I think it's worth looking back on the year that was. While it may be tempting to do this from the perspective of movies, I think that this was actually a rather disappointing year overall (or, at the very least, underwhelming). I mean, we had more than our fair share of mindless cinematic drivel (Wrath of the Titans, Resident Evil: Retribution, etc), extremely disappointing films (Taken 2, The Amazing Spider-man, etc) and decent films which didn't reach their potential (The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, PrometheusLooper [the 3rd act was horrible in my opinion], The Dark Knight Rises, etc). To top it off, Dredd bombed at the box-office. That said, there were some great films, but aside from Skyfall, The Avengers and Argo, most of the good stuff seemed to be skewed towards the first couple months of the year.

Anyway, I really didn't start writing this to mope about the year in movies. I wrote to say that 2012 was the best years in music I can remember as most of my favourite artists not only released new albums, but they were almost universally amongst the best material in their discographies. Now I'll preface this by saying that while taste in movies tends to be more agreeable, it seems like almost everyone has their own segmented tastes in music. I mean, my tastes are focused largely on various forms of rock/hard rock/Christian rock/metal, but even in that niche then there's a good chance my tastes don't overlap with most people. So while I had an amazing year in music, you might have had a terrible one, or you had an amazing one for completely different reasons. In any case, let me enthusiastically take you through my epic 2012. :)

Beginning the year was the very odd, but nevertheless catchy, Gorillaz/James Murphy/Andre 3000 collaboration, "DoYaThing". The song was completely bonkers, but there is an unusual charm to it that grows on you with subsequent listenings (sort of like Gorillaz's previous Plastic Beach amendment, "Doncamatic"). It wasn't amazing, but I'd give the song a 6.5/10.

Next up was a busy April, which had 3 releases: True Defiance by Demon Hunter, which released the same day as Fighter by Manafest, and then the Chemicals E.P. by Love & Death at the end of the month. I was never much of a fan of Demon Hunter, but one of my friends recommended that I check them out again, and I'm glad that I did. True Defiance was a good album, amongst my favourites of the year. True Defiance opens with a bang with "Crucifix", an amazingly intense headbanger of a song. The album is just strong throughout, carrying through to the melodic closer, "Dead Flowers". If you love metal, then this is definitely worth checking out, even if you aren't a Christian. I'd give it an 8/10.

As for Fighter, I admittedly have been a bit more cautious of Manafest since Citizens Activ came out. He is now 3 albums removed from his amazing Glory, but hasn't recaptured the (ahem) spirit of that epic release. Fighter doesn't really inspire any renewed confidence that he will be doing so anytime soon, and really feels like Manafest is just coasting off of his past success. The album sounds a lot like The Chase did. While it sounds like I really didn't like the album, this isn't really the case. It certainly is decent to listen to and has some catchy songs, but it's nothing new. It's a 6.5/10 for me.

Rounding off the month of April was Love & Death's Chemicals E.P. I first started listening to Brian "Head" Welch about a year or 2 ago, and was blown away by Save Me From Myself. Naturally, I awaited his next album with bated breath. While the Chemicals E.P. isn't as good as his previous album, it's a decent interlude while we see how things shape up. I give it a 6.5/10.

After the packed month of April, May was where the trifecta of awesomeness began with Sabaton's Carolus Rex. Some friends of mine introduced me to Sabaton a couple years ago, and while I liked a few of their songs, most of their albums were very weak... well, until I listened to The Art of War and Coat of Arms anyway. Each of these albums had built upon the others and produced some legitimately good music as a result. Of course, I wondered if Sabaton would continue this evolution, or if they would fall back into formulaic war-songs again. Luckily for all of us, they unleashed Carolus Rex, easily their best album, bar none. The album features a host of amazing tracks, including "The Lion From the North", "A Lifetime of War", "The Carolean's Prayer" (their best song imho), "Carolus Rex" and "Long Live the King". Hell, even the album's b-sides are amazing, as I constantly find myself blasting their covers of "Twilight of the Thunder God" and "Feuer Frei". All-in-all, Carolus Rex is a freaking landmark for Sabaton, firmly establishing themselves as a legitimately awesome metal band and giving themselves a major challenge to overcome next time they release an album. A 9/10, easily.

The 2nd entry in the trifecta of awesomeness was one which I had awaited for years, P.O.D.'s Murdered Love. P.O.D. has been my favourite band for over a decade now, through ups and downs. When I heard they were going to be returning to their hard rock/rap/reggae roots, I was stoked and the end product did not disappoint. Murdered Love is the best P.O.D. album since Satellite (which happens to be my favourite album, period... questionable taste maybe, but refer back to the 2nd paragraph please). The album features some great tracks, especially "Murdered Love", "Lost in Forever" and especially "Babylon the Murderer", while the other tracks are mostly solid. The only two which are questionable are "Bad Boy" (which is stupid but enjoyable) and "Panic and Run" (which I found "meh"), but they hardly sink the album. Also, the album spawned a fair bit of controversy for the song "I Am", but that's a matter for a later date. All-in-all, Murdered Love sated my P.O.D. appetite, and hopefully is a portent of greater things in the future. I give it a totally biased 8.5/10.

Rounding off the trifecta of awesomeness was Project 86's Kickstarter-funded album, Wait for the Siren. Project 86 are an unfortunately under-appreciated hard rock band, but they have never had a bad album in their 15+ years as a band. Wait for the Siren doesn't disappoint in this respect, delivering a characteristically strong and very heavy war-call to the masses. P86 are also known for changing up their sound on each album, and this one sees them experimenting with unorthodox instruments (mandolin, glockenspiel, etc), in addition to flowing between different tones and degrees of heaviness. The album opens on a very strong note with "Fall, Goliath, Fall", and doesn't let up once. I also quite enjoy "The Crossfire Gambit" (if only because it features Brian "Head" Welch) and "Take the Hill" (my favourite on the album). Wait for the Siren just goes to show that Andrew Schwab knows what he's doing, crafting another excellent album and cementing P86's legacy as a force to be reckoned with. 8.5/10.

With summer nearly done, August was rounded out by tobyMac's newest release, Eye on It. tobyMac was actually one of the first Christian artists I heard and liked, and I count myself as a fan to this day. Welcome to Diverse City is one of my favourite Christian albums, period. Almost every song on it was a hit, and Portable Sounds basically carried on the same unique sound. I was worred that tobyMac was going to become stale, but lo-and-behold, he reinvented himself with a more modern sound in Tonight, making me believe he had the future in hand. However, when I found out that he was releasing his new album, Eye on It, a mere 2 years later, I was a bit worried (he typically runs on a 3-year rotation). Furthermore, toby was now taking inspiration from... dubstep artists. Blehhhhhhh. The finished product confirmed my suspicions: tobyMac had finally screwed up. Eye on It, put simply, sucked. I can honestly say I did not like any of the songs on the album (that's not to say they were awful, but they failed to break the level of mediocrity). This was a combination of the dubsteb editing ruining the songs, the fact that most of them feel incredibly uninspired, or just plain stupid lyrics. Formerly, stupid tracks like "Whoopsi-Daisy" were forgivable because they were insanely catchy, but somehow toby seems to have lost that magic. Even the songs which are obviously being pruned to be singles ("Me Without You" and "Eye on It") fail to differentiate themselves. Eye on It was a massive disappointment, and (thankfully) the only album this year which I can honestly say I hated. I'd give it a 4/10.

After the disappointment that was Eye on It, I was a little more cautious about the remaining releases of 2012 (of which there were still plenty). One of these I eyed most suspiciously was Showbread's Cancer. I like Showbread, but they have always been an odd band and I am always apprehensive of their newest release. However, I really liked Who Can Know It?, and so decided to back their Kickstarter campaign. Thankfully, I wasn't disappointed by the end result: Cancer was very good, sort of like a cross-section of Showbread's past. The message is similar to Who Can Know It?, with the instrumentation of The Fear of God and Age of Reptiles (a little bit of ...No Sir, Nihilism is Not Practical too) with frequent tonal shifts, leading to a very diverse album. It tooks a couple listen-throughs to come to a final decision, but from the start I knew I enjoyed Cancer. It's a very strong album, probably their most solid since Age of Reptiles. 7.5/10.

Rounding out 2012 was another duo of albums released on the same day, Anberlin's Vital and Dethklok's Dethalbum III (was there ever a more paradoxical pairing?). Anberlin have been gaining mainstream momentum the past few years and are quite prolific, putting out a ton of quality work despite quick turn-around times. The latest result of this is Vital, which certainly lives up to its name. Cities was a fantastic album (and "(*Fin)" is amongst my all-time favourite songs), and Vital stops just short of surpassing it. The songs are all strong, with particular highlights being "Self-Starter", "Other Side" and "God, Drugs & Sex" (which is hypnotic and really kicks into overdrive when the duet begins). Vital is another feather in Anberlin's cap without a doubt. 8/10.

Finally, Dethalbum III by Dethklok finished off 2012 in "brutal" fashion. I am a fan of Metalocalypse, and while The Dethalbum featured some fun songs, it was largely a light-hearted affair and clearly not meant to be taken to seriously. However, Dethalbum II reversed this trend, delivering an epic metal album which could easily be taken on its own merits. Dethalbum III follows in this pattern, although it's not quite as strong as the previous album was. However, there are some very good songs on display which are instantly recognizable from the show, particularly "I Ejaculate Fire", "Crush the Industry" and "Impeach God". 7/10.

All-in-all, 2012 was a great year for me in music as you can see. It was almost better though, but unfortunately Love & Death's first full-length album was delayed to January 2013! Damn... well, hopefully that's just the start of another epic year - Love & Death and RED are both confirmed to be putting out new material, and with any luck we'll see a new album from Disturbed (please get off hiatus!), Guns N' Roses (lol), Art of Dying, Gorillaz and Mastodon!

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Quick Fix: Merry Christmas Everyone!

Hey, quick post today. Have a great Christmas (or whatever you are [not?] celebrating this season), I know I am. In response to political correctness and the "war on Christmas", I offer my (humble, as usual) opinion. I have no problem with "Happy Holidays" or any other non-committal season's greetings - if someone doesn't want to list out every bloody holiday being celebrated in December, then that's fine by me. Similarly, no one should be chastised for saying "Merry Christmas" or any other religious greeting. I met a guy at my work who was greeting people with "Merry Christmas" and was actually told a few days ago by a customer to stop saying that because they did not celebrate Christmas. I obviously wouldn't say this to their face, but my honest opinion to this is "I'm sorry that you are offended so easily by my beliefs". I don't care that you don't celebrate Christmas, suck it up and stop being so self-entitled. It seems to me that instituted secularization is causing this sort of entitlement among people, and it's honestly laughable. Similarly, I do not like corporate/federally-instituted secularization, on a personal level anyway. I can understand if the government or a company wishes to remain neutral, but if they are telling their employees or politicians how to speak or what to believe, then that is just wrong.

Anyway, that aside, I know I'm going to be enjoying my Christmas. I hope you enjoy your holiday season too! :)

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Quick Fix: So tomorrow's the end of the world...

Sorry for the crappy quality, but I know you've seen that before anyway. I for one have come to grips with the inevitable ape uprising and will be pledging my support to our simian masters. ;) In all seriousness, hopefully over the course of the next 4 weeks, the 2012 Doomsday bullshit will finally come to an end. I got really sick of it 3 years ago back when it started. In fact, I recall writing an email on a time capsule website which will be sent to me tomorrow... should be interesting too see it!

Also, I have another follow-up to the Connecticut shooting to address in regards to video games. Obviously, they're getting blamed on this shooting as usual. Fox News in particular seems to blame the recent rash of shootings in the States on GTA (which had a mall-shooting level) and Call of Duty (which it humourously calls a "military simulator"... ArmA is a military shooter, but it has a much smaller user-base, not that Fox would know that). Anyway, while video games have not been conclusively linked to real-world violent acts, but I do think that if we're asking gun nuts to make compromises then we should as well. ESRB ratings need to be better enforced so kids aren't getting ahold of Mature-rated games. This should help to pacify senators,  keep kids off of their bloody headsets online and might finally dethrone Call of Duty. I jest, but I do hope that changes don't turn violence in video games into obscenity.

Of course, since I live in Canada these won't have a direct result on me outside of residual effects on the industry (less M-rated, mass-market games perhaps?). And it's not like it matters anyway since we're all going to die a flaming death come tomorrow.

Have a happy apocalypse!

Monday, 17 December 2012

Movie Review: Judge Dredd (1995)

One of my favourite movies of 2012 is the criminally under-performing, modern-cult-classic, Dredd (which I will review as well when I get my Blu-Ray/DVD copy). I honestly didn't have any interest in the 2000AD universe before I saw Dredd, but the film completely sold me on it (I'm currently eyeing some Block War minis and Dredd/Anderson omnibuses). However, after seeing it I knew I now had to see the original, oft-derided Stallone vehicle, Judge Dredd. Obviously I had heard the fan complaints ("he takes off his helmet? OMGWTF!?!"), but as an extremely casual fan of the universe I will review Judge Dredd with a bit less of a bias. Also, note that there are some spoilers in this review.

First off, despite its lack of authenticity in terms of character and tone, the Judge Dredd Megacity One strikes me as more faithful to the source material than the Dark Knight-esque, reality-grounded city that appears in Dredd. In fact, the first 5 minutes alone are dedicated to establishing the world, which was a great idea. That said, as an adaptation, the movie comes across exceptionally cheesy and tacky. I guess that's a side-effect of the pre-Nolan era of comic book movies, but the sets and costumes all looks really plastic and are hard to take seriously in any way. The costumes are straight out of the comics, but just don't make sense... the Judges are supposed to be fighting crime, so they choose to do so with a giant eagle on their shoulder and spandex? It may look cool in a comic, but this just doesn't traslate well into movies at all.

Another good thing I can say is that Stallone certainly looks the part of the gruff and grizzled Dredd... sure, as soon as he opens his mouth he isn't exactly convincing, but in terms of physicality, he's a good fit for the role. Of course, Stallone completely overwhelms the role, supplanting Dredd as a character and replacing him with your typical Stallone action-vehicle, but we'll get into that soon. As for the other cast members, Armand Assante as Rico was very enjoyable as the hammy villain-type and seemed to be having a blast. Diane Lane was also serviceable as Judge Hershey. Rob Shneider's Fergee is the one that is derided most though, and rightly so. He is one of the most absolutely useless characters I have ever seen in a movie, and it boggles my mind why they ever chose to include him in the film at all. He literally does nothing, and just serves as an irritating tag-along and mouth-piece... I guess he disables a robot near the end, but it's not like Dredd couldn't do that himself (and in much more spectacular fashion too). Shneider alone screws his movie A LOT.

The entire plot just becomes a way to service yet another Stallone actioner, and one of the cheesy 90s ones at that. It feels a lot like Demolition Man, and while a lot of people like that movie (I'm not among them), it's not even as fun as that movie was. The plot's pretty typical: Dredd, the upstanding lawbringer, is arrested for murder... and then proceeds to fight this charge with a hell of a lot more murder, resisting arrest, etc. Obviously, this is completely against character and unintentionally turns him into a massive hypocrite. If there were some sort of irony to this it would make more sense, but the film doesn't suggest that at all. In fact, it serves to glorify the justice system, rather than satirize it like the comics do. The ending, where Dredd drives down the street with his motorcycle to the cheers of the assembled crowd was just too ridiculously/senselessly patriotic to fathom... also why does the base start to blow up at the end? Maybe I wasn't paying attention, but it seems to me that it literally just self-destructed for no reason.

In all honesty, I'm making it sound like I hated Judge Dredd, but I didn't really. I've seen way worse movies than this within the same week. In fact, it wasn't bad for the first half of the film (in part because Rob Schneider was sidelined), but it was the second half where I really started to dislike it, and where the negative points I have mentioned creeped in. There were some good lines too, such as:
Fergee: 5 years? No! No! I had no choice! They were killing each other in there!
Judge Dredd: You could have gone out the window.
Fergee: 40 floors? It would have been suicide!
Judge Dredd: Maybe, but it's legal.
However, these funny bits are juxtaposed with some absolutely abyssmal lines, which are further brought down by horrible delivery, such as:
Judge Dredd: There is a way in. 10 years ago, 2 refugees figured it out, through the city's incinerator, there's a flame burst twice a minute, that means they have only 30 seconds to run through before it flames again.
Seriously, who wrote that? Don't tell me that was actually in the script? Was Stallone even awake when he said that? In any case, guess which half of the movie those 2 bits of script were from. Shouldn't be too hard.


Bottom-line: Judge Dredd was just a bad movie, even for a casual movie-goer. For a full-blown Judge Dredd fan, it must have been torture. As far as cheesy actioners go, you could probably do worse, but if you're that easy to please then you probably don't even read reviews anyway.


Sunday, 16 December 2012

Re: Gun Control

A friend I've known online for years, Samantha, recently made a post in response to the gun control debates in the states. I was quite impressed by it and decided to repost it here for others to appreciate. If you want, you can read the original debate here. As a preface, I should say that I don't 100% agree with her (in particular, I think points 3 and 4 are excessive), but it is a very good gun control argument.

Gun control is something I've always felt strong about. I posted most of this on my facebook on Friday, and some of you may have seen it, but oh well.

For the past two days at work, I've been inundated with people saying "guns don't kill people, people kill people." Which is true. Guns aren't sentient. Except in rare instances where the gun is faulty, it's not going to randomly go off and kill someone. But guns make it a THOUSAND more times easier to kill people. Scott already posted a link to the knife attack in China where not a single person was killed. The facts are that if someone wants to kill a bunch of people, a gun or two is going to be the go-to method. Bombs are difficult to construct, which is why they aren't used nearly as often. 

For the simple fact that guns make it easier for people to hurt other people, there NEEDS to be a complete revamp to gun policies in the states. Can anyone think of anything else people are allowed - and even encouraged - to buy or have that has the potential to hurt others like guns do? Because I sure as hell can't.

The second amendment was added because founding citizens were concerned with not only the British coming back, but of the fledgling new government turning tyrannical, and the founding fathers felt that it was best to include a clause that allowed people to arm themselves. Keep in mind that this was in the 1700s when when firing a normal musket meant that you had to reload after every shot. I'm not sure if anyone knows what it's like to reload a musket - the closest we have today is probably black powder guns. There is a very specific and precise way you have to load the gun that takes time. It can be kept preloaded for a shot (I would have to ask my father to verify how many shots it can do, but I believe it's only one at a time), and then the person shooting it would have to take the 30 seconds to reload it. That's the kind of firearms people had readily available to them in the 1700s. The drafters of the Constitution could have NO possible way to foresee that method changing as it was the norm to them. And in fact, the first machine gun wasn't available until a hundred years later. Shooting multiple people with a single shot musket would have been nearly impossible - which is why I'm sure the founding fathers felt comfortable adding it to the Constitution.

However, it's been over 200 years since the US has felt any kind of threat from another country invading. The government is well established now. At this point in time, there is zero threat to everyone's personal liberties, at least coming from a government aspect. Because of personal beliefs some people might feel their rights are being stepped on because of homosexuals being allowed to marry, but that's a whole different ballpark. So why is it that Americans still feel the need to own a gun? We have a fully functioning military to protect from outside threats, and a fully developed internal police system that is 3 cell phone buttons away. Because of GPS locators, you don't even have to tell 911 of your location. This is how far our technology has come. 

Now, I'm not suggesting that guns are useless. I fully believe in and support hunters because it's been shown that the animals that are culled during hunting season drastically help the entire animal population. If deer populations get out of control, then they're more likely to spread diseases, which hurts more deer in the long run. And people do have to eat, and I completely understand the economic reasons someone wouldn't want to buy all their meat from a store - it's expensive. And I'm not suggesting that we stop that tradition. But handguns are pretty useless to anyone doing anything legitimate except for police officers. Hunting with a handgun is impractical. And ok, I guess if people want to show their accuracy or something they might want to shoot a handgun. But is that very necessary? Think of all of the gun crimes committed in the states, and then see how many of them use handguns as their weapon of choice. Hell, the shooter on Friday had two semi-automatic (which is a whole other terrible idea) handguns on him. The usefulness of handguns lie in that they are compact and discreet - which are two attributes someone looking to do harm absolutely love. So why are they necessary?

Oh, self defense, you say. I need my handgun to protect my home and family from intruders. That is an absolute load of bullshit. And here's why. 

Unless you are practicing weekly with your handgun, you are not likely going to be prepared to defend yourself with it properly if the situation arises. In fact, it's even more likely to cause problems. Sure, as a scare tactic, a gun works occasionally. But you know what else works? A black airsoft gun that can't kill anyone. They look exactly the same, and if you're trying to frighten someone that's a good method to go. But do you know what guns do? They escalate situations. 

Let's think for a minute that you're sleeping in your home, and are awoken by a loud noise of a window breaking. Someone's breaking in. You grab your pistol from beside your bed, still a little groggy, and start to make your way downstairs. You yell "stop I have a gun." The intruder is in your living room, trying to steal your television. He had intended to only get in, take the TV, and leave. But now that he hears you're armed, he gets nervous and pull out his weapon. You now have 2 loaded weapons in an enclosed space, with both people wielding them on edge. That situation could end, very, very badly with either the home owner or the thief getting shot. Adrenaline does not make for a very steady hand. Take that and couple it with a shooter who doesn't practice regularly, and maybe the shot they meant as a warning takes someone's head off. There are VERY FEW people who should be using guns as a means of self defense, and those people are the ones that have been trained to use weapons for that exact purpose. Normal Joe Schmo who bought the pistol and fired it once and then sleeps with it near his bed "just in case" is not likely to be very accurate with it at all.

And wouldn't the above situation - which had the potential to escalate very quickly - have been better handled by shouting "I just called the police, they're on their way"? That way the intruder knows that more people are already coming and that he should probably leave. He benefits nothing by pulling his weapon, because the authorities have already been notified. What's really mind boggling is the fact that people feel like they have to defend their stuff, like a physical belonging is that important. Home insurance would cover the damages anyways. So is it worth risking your life or the life of the intruder? No.

Don't you dare say something about "well what if the intruder had the intent to hurt you anyways?" That situation is EXTREMELY less likely, and then I'd like to refer you back to gun-proponents favorite argument - that if someone wants to kill you bad enough, they'll find a way. Maybe they're a crazy psycho killer breaking into your home armed with just a knife, and you're a regular 'Murrican with guns stashed around your house. Congratulations, not only are you dead, but you've armed a psychopath with a gun! Great fucking job. 

The fact of the matter is that most Americans will not experience a situation where they have to defend themselves in their own home. And if there were stricter gun control laws, the amount of incidences of anyone having to defend themselves in public would dramatically decrease. We have a seriously stupid logic when it comes to guns. There's an incident of gun violence? Then every citizen should arm themselves. But that's just a never fucking ending cycle of stupidity.

Gun violence --> more guns in the general population --> more gun violence because the weapons are more available --> people buying more guns. When does it stop? When is enough enough?

This is what, at least in my opinion, needs to be done:

1. Handguns should be limited to those in law enforcement/military situations only. Special circumstances can be made for security officers and bodyguards provided that there is reasonable proof for the necessity of them, and that each individual guard is able to pass a federally approved psych test and background check. All handguns should be relinquished by anyone using them in a professional way at the end of their jobs (ie when an officer retires). Handguns for personal use should be abolished. Handgun production should be limited ONLY to the supply required for police and military usage. Anyone requesting a handgun for bodyguard purposes would have to go through their local police department and would essentially be renting them. Any decorative handgun should be made unusable before being returned to the owner. Any person found possessing a handgun illegally (be it selling them or just carrying them) should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. I'm not talking a slap on the wrist community service stint or a couple months. Years in federal prison. This would deter people from seeking handguns out, and make it more risky for criminals to carry them. Any handgun that is confiscated by law enforcement should be destroyed. This is the only way to cut down on the number of handguns already available.

2. Automatic and semi-automatic weapons should not be available to anyone who is not in a military setting or in certain police related instances. There is absolutely ZERO need for any regular person to have them. Anyone found possessing them should be arrested immediately and detained under terrorist laws. Sorry folks, but if you own an automatic weapon, it should be assumed that you're going to do harm with it. 

3. Hunting weapons such as shotguns and rifles should not be sold in easily accessible stores. They should be limited to 1 store per county, and the price should be set in some way by the government to prevent the inevitable price gouging that would occur. It would be best if hunting guns could be sold by the state troopers or something. The amount of guns a person owns for hunting purposes should be limited - if they decide they would like a new gun, one of their old ones should be traded in for it. This will help cut down on the amount of unnecessary weapons hanging around people's homes. The procedure to purchase a hunting weapon should be extremely strict - they must go through a background check, agree to be fingerprinted and put in a gun-owner database that can be accessed whenever there is a gun crime (however it should be accessed for other reasons - kind of like how there is a separate database for all the kid's fingerprints they take while you're in school and only used if you get kidnapped. The gun database should not be used to connect you with any other crime you may commit but a gun crime), and then have a face to face meeting with a certified member of government to discuss why they want to own a gun. Each gun should be registered to a specific person, and if it's found in the possession of another person, the original person should be questioned about why they do not have it. Every hunting weapon sold should come automatically with a gun lock so that it can be kept trigger locked while not in use.

4. Ammo for hunting weapons should also be regulated - you can only buy ammo if you have a gun registered to you. 

I realize that this isn't going to happen. Gun ownership in the states is still thought of as a right when really it should be a privilege. The Constitutional necessity for gun ownership has long passed, but sadly the idea that all Americans should have a gun is much too ingrained for it to change any time soon. But there are a few simple tweaks that can be made to gun law now that would help cut back on violent gun crimes. Like, if doing anything illegal while carrying a gun around other people - even if it's never produced - was charged as attempted murder. And if the penalty for having an illegal weapon that is not registered to you was doubled, and there was no option for community service. Or even if all states do what New York does with it's handguns and requires that you have a face to face sit down with a trooper before you're issued a permit. If people have to jump through hoops to get a gun, and then the penalty for having an illegal one is increased, then they're less likely to do it. 

And for people who say that limiting the number of guns available in the US will just cause guns to come to the states from other countries, I'd like to point out that the US is the number one arms exporter, followed by Russia. We are WAY down on the list of importers, because there are so many guns that are made in the states that we don't need to bring them in from other countries. If gun manufacturing was limited in the states, then the number of guns in the states would decrease. Simple as that.

Sorry this is long, it's just really frustrating to me that people are so selfish.

Samantha also added the following:

This is a whole other topic that deserves some discussion, I think.

I was reading today about the mental health system in Massachusetts, and I know a little bit about how it works in NY since I work in a pharmacy here. I can honestly say it's complete shit. If someone has a problem, and ends up in the hospital because they've threatened their own lives or another person, their insurance company gets to dictate how long they are allowed to stay. Their insurance company gets to decide if they want to pay for them to go to a facility where they can receive long term care, or if it's not in their contract and they just go home. There are thousands of people who just slip through the cracks and don't get the help they deserve because an outside company just looking for money is telling them what kind of care they need. Doctors can fight it, but only to a certain point. And private run homes where they can get the health they need are very pricey.

I'll give an example from my job. There's a single mother in her 30s that comes in a few times a month to get meds for her daughter, who is 9. We'll call the mother D and the daughter M. M has oppositional defiance disorder among a slew of other diagnoses. Also living in the home is D's elderly mother who is diabetic and needs to be on a medication schedule. D works full time, and the grandmother often watches M when she's not in school. M has been on quite a few drugs since I started there 2 years ago. They've pretty much settled on Zyprexa as being her go-to drug (which D's insurance puts her copay at $80 for the brand and $40 for the fairly new generic). D sometimes doesn't have the money, and we try to help by loaning pills, but there are sporadic days when M will go without her meds.

This 9 year old girl is terrifying. She was molested as a young child by her father, and has extreme attachment issues with him. For a short stint he moved back in to help, and when D kicked him out, M had a break down at our counter, ripping our posters off the wall and kicking her mother who couldn't get a hold on her. M can be very sweet if she wants something (the other day she told me that she hopes Santa brings me lots of money), but then she can be vicious. D didn't want to buy something for her, so trying to be helpful I took the item and hid it and M started screaming at me how she wanted to stab me and that I was terrible. She's 9 and much smaller than I am so I'm not really in any harm, but the way she looked at me then was haunting. 

A few months ago, D was telling us how the cops had to be called on M 5 nights in a row because she was being violent towards the grandmother. The grandmother is frail, but she's still capable of getting around by herself. She just can't live on her own.

D said at that point that she was looking to put M in a home. The next week she came back and cried at our counter because her insurance would not approve M to be committed somewhere, stating that she hadn't been in the hospital enough times for self harm to justify it. I repeat: M is 9 years old. I've heard her say that she wants to kill herself, and I've heard her threaten others. She just doesn't know HOW to do it yet, which is why it hasn't happened. D even said that M's psychologists recommended it, but the insurance wouldn't budge because it was their policy.

So, the grandmother had to go into a nursing home. She's doing well there, and her care is paid for because it's for medical (not mental) reasons. Poor D is stuck with M and is trying to cope, but it's so easy to see that it's difficult for her.

This is what a lot of families who have children with mental illness go through. My adopted cousin is schizophrenic, and my aunt and uncle have a terrible time getting him help. He was covered under medicaid, but now he's 18 and I honestly don't know how they're affording it. 

There needs to be a change in the system to stop this all from happening. The latest articles I read said the shooter had a personality disorder, possibly Asbergers (which does not have violent tendencies, so I don't know why they'd suggest that), and also that he wasn't receiving help for it. 

I don't really know what I'm ranting about. It's all so frustrating. 

This article was a good read about the plight of a family with a mentally disturbed kid.

Also, the police response time where I am is very quick, maybe 5 minutes max. And even back in my hometown when I lived on a dirt road, the only time we ever had to call the cops, troopers showed up within 10 minutes.

Friday, 14 December 2012

Opinion: Connecticut Shootings

Obviously everyone's heard about the shootings in Connecticut by now. Words can't really do justice to the crime that was committed or the lives that have been devastated by one psychopath's actions. Offering my condolences is just a drop amongst tens of millions doing the same though, and I'm not going to pretend that I'm anything special for doing so.

Moments after this shooting happened, I think pretty much everyone knew that this shooting would be the catalyst for gun control debates. Hell, pretty much every public shooting for years has instantly renewed gun control debates (which, of course, went nowhere as we have seen). As a Canadian, the end result of this debate doesn't really affect me, but every time I see this sort of crap in the news it makes me smack my head at American politics.

Simply put: why the hell do Americans need guns so badly!? Yes, "guns don't kill people" and all that bullshit, but access to guns makes it a hell of a lot easier. I'm all for people being allowed to have guns, but there needs to be a freaking limit: no automatics, no handguns, no weapons in public, etc. I think these are pretty damn reasonable in a civilized society. And for those who say "if everyone had a gun we'd all be safe!!!"... you're a tool. If there's a shooter and someone else pulls out a gun to shoot them, then no one's going to differentiate between the "savior" and the "shooter", and there's a good chance you're going to cause collateral damage. Bottom line: less access to guns = less public shootings.

Also, it's totally low-hanging fruit, but I'd like to address Conservapedia's response to the shootings. In their news ticker, they wrote that:

"Liberal claptrap for gun control begins within hours of today's tragic murders, which would not have happened if laws banning guns for self defense in public school were repealed."

Well no shit Sherlock. For one thing, you're disparaging them for politicizing an event by politicizing it in your favour (bias by Conservapedia? NEVER). For another, guns in schools are a terrible idea. Period. Maybe for teachers, but even then I somehow doubt that the tragic murders "would not have happened" if they had weapons. There's also escalation to take into account - if they go on a school shooting and know there will be guns to worry about, I get the feeling they'll start packing body armour (another relatively easy thing to get ahold of in the States)... I'm surprised they didn't bitch about how Connecticut is a "liberal" state...

Also posted on Conservapedia's front page:

"Will authorities admit whether this young mass murderer was addicted to violent video games?
Earlier this week, the Oregon shooting by video game player mimicked Grand Theft Auto game
That game features 'mall rampages' whereby a player shoots randomly inside a mall."

Again, politicizing the event (but God forbid that the liberals do the same!), but in a rather hypocritical way. They will defend their guns to the death, but it's video games that need to have laws set against them. Not to mention that video games haven't been linked to actual acts of violence (they may cause aggression in some, but that does not constitute violence itself... in any case, the studies have been inconclusive). Video games are so common in society now that it's pretty unlikely that someone who went on a school shooting would not play them. That said, I think some parents should stop being morons and keep inappropriate games out of their kids' hands until their old enough, but I don't think they're going to turn into psychopaths if they don't... if they're psychotic, then they would be whether they played Call of DutyGrand Theft Auto, etc or not. Blaming video games is really old now. Start blaming... I dunno... Smart Phones, they're the new media now. Radio waves are frying our childrens' brains! Burn Steve Jobs' corpse for witchcraft!

In conclusion, the Connecticut shootings are a huge tragedy, but I can't honestly say anything consoling about them. I hope it doesn't happen again? Haha, yeah right, with the current gun laws and the number of weapons spread across the country, it's not a matter of "if", but "when" the next shooting occurs. Even if you're a gun nut, you have to admit this. America, if you want this sort of thing to ever stop, or at least slow down, then you have to cut back on your gun fetish. Make some small concessions and in the long-term you'll all be a lot safer.

Sigh... as much as I love Charlton Heston, he was totally crazy when it came to gun control...

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Top 10 Basic Tips for Battlefield 3 Players

I've been playing Battlefield 3 since release, and while I'm not amazing by any means (currently a 1.41 K/D ratio), I am consistently one of the top players in the server when I play. That said, I've seen some absolutely brutal players out there (who, more often than not, are rocking headsets and acting like they're uber-l33t). With that in mind, here are 10 basic tips for people playing Battlefield 3 (although some are pretty general so you can apply these to any shooter/paintball/airsoft):

10) Flank
Is the enemy holed up in one area? Are you able to get around behind them? Watch this video and see the value of the opening this gives you:
A successful flank like the one above can disrupt or break an enemy's defense line and allow your teammates to advance much easier. You might not survive, but you should bring down a few of them with you.

9) Know When to Fold 'Em
In any shooter, when you're facing off against an opponent it's incredibly easy to get tunnel vision. You feel like you have to kill that guy, or die trying. However, if they have the upper-hand (you're at >50% health, low on ammo, sniper vs shotgun, etc) and you have enough cover to make a safe getaway, it might be a good idea to get your ass out of there. After that, you can set up an ambush if they choose to pursue, get some reinforcements, or at the very least heal yourself. No sense in dying needlessly.

8) Use Cover
In the above point, I mentioned that you should only fall back if you have cover. The reasons for this should be obvious - cover keeps you alive. If you're in cover and your opponent isn't, you have a much smaller profile and are at a massive advantage. Inversely, if your opponent is using cover, then you can beat this in a couple different ways. Either flank them, flush them out with explosives or blow it up (if possible).

7) Stay Mobile
Another common-sense tip, but one that is woefully under-used in almost every shooter... the existence of the word "camper" pretty much attests to this. Admittedly, camping a section of the board can be a good idea, but if you're doing it it should be to help the team. If you're just running off, camping on top of a hill and then staring down your scope for 10 minutes, I can guarantee you I am going to come after you and rape your corpse. It'll be much more infuriating if you kill a couple people in a 30 second period, and then move. If the enemy does not know where you are, then you have the advantage.

6) Spawn Intelligently
The first BF3-centric entry in this list. Yes, it really sucks spawning far away from the frontlines, but sometimes this is your only real option. If your allies are under fire, overextended, or just in trouble generally, it's best just to spawn elsewhere. Otherwise you're going to have to respawn in 15 seconds anyway. If you're not sure how things are going to go down, then watch them on the spawn screen and wait for an opening.

5) Watch Your Mini-Map
Not sure where the enemy is? Check out your mini-map. If they fire their weapon, you should be moving to flank them ASAP. Especially if you're a sniper, since the scope is cutting down your field of vision exponentially. Otherwise, this will happen (skip to 1:00):
Now this is a good idea if you don't have a target already won't work for all opponents, but you can get around it by putting a suppressor on your gun. Some people aren't so worried about this, but I know that I always put a suppressor on my weapon.

4) Situational Awareness
This applies to infantry and other vehicles as well, but in this case, I'm going to refer to tanks in particular. Tanks rock in BF3, but they have some major vulnerabilities. Among these, C4 and anti-tank mines are probably the most common. Anti-tank mines are rarer than they were in Battlefield: Bad Company 2 but they can still wreck a tank in 1 shot. The easiest way to avoid these is to use your spot button to minesweep and/or keep an eye out for mines. Or just avoid well-traveled paths.
When I was a tank-noob, for every vehicle or javelin attack that took me out, there was at least 1 other time when I got attacked by someone with C4. As a result, it's a bad idea to charge into confined areas - guys with C4 can hide in these areas easily and kill you before you even know there was someone there. You can counter this with a proximity scanner, but you'll have to make sure you watch the mini-map frequently. However, I prefer Zoom Optics personally. Instead when I play tanks, I treat them like artillery: sit back, fire off the main gun and bombard the enemy from afar. Then, if the enemy could be hiding in the area where I advance, I switch to 3rd-person view frequently and keep an eye out. If they're putting C4 on me, I jump out and shoot 'em up before they have a chance to react.
Bottom-line: don't rush in, use third-person view, kill noobs.

3) Use Your Class-Specific Equipment
Again, you'd think these would be obvious... but if I had a nickel for every useless medic or support class I've seen in a game I'd be a bloody millionaire. If you're a medic, throw down health kits and revive people (don't get yourself killed in the process though). If you're a support gunner, throw down ammo kits (especially if someone's yelling "I NEED SOME AMMO!!!!" at you). If you're recon, throw down spawn points. If you're an engineer, repair vehicles. Again, this should be obvious, but the sheer number of people who do dick-all to help out their team in this game are staggering...

2) Spot Enemies
Seriously, the Spot function should be second-nature as soon as you see an enemy. Hell, even if you don't see an enemy, press the Spot button to see if there's anyone there. Spot has gotten me so many kills that I'd be much worse at this game without it. Even if you don't get the kill yourself, you're basically designating that enemy for your entire team to bring their wrath down upon.

This whole list was inspired by a recent game which illustrated this point very well. One of my squad-mates was on his headset and talking about how he was bored of defending the objective and wanted to charge the enemy head-on. Predictably, he died soon after, but the whole team started abandoning the objectives in favour of charging like morons. As a result, the enemy snuck past them and nearly took our objectives, if it wasn't for the 2 of us that were still defending the base.
Battlefield is a largely objective-based game, and if you want to be a good teammate, then play the f-ing objective. This doesn't mean you have to camp right on top of it, but remain in the general area where you can defend/attack the thing through covering fire, direct attacks, etc. If you're dicking around in the middle of nowhere because you're afraid of dying, you're not helping anyone.
Also, in something like Team Deathmatch, your objective should be to maximize your K/D ratio. Generally, it's a good idea to stick to the fringes of the map, or to places with wide lines of sight and good cover. Narrow corridors are generally where the action gets funneled, but these are death traps.

Hopefully these tips help you out!

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Movie Review - Paintball (2009)

Hey readers, part of my intention of starting this blog is that I want to get a career by writing. Obviously, something like this is a great way to exercise that desire... and who knows, if this thing gets a decent following it can be a good thing to put on a resume. With that in mind, I've come up with a great way to make me post often on this blog: movie reviews!

This first review combines 2 of my interests - horror/action cinema and paintball in the 2009 film, Paintball. I first heard about this movie from a friend of mine who had seen it. He was telling me stuff about acid-filled paintballs, psychotic mercenaries and people battling it out to the death... he said it wasn't that great, but honestly, it sounded pretty awesome to me! However, while the movie has some decent ideas, they're wasted for the most part. It's like Predator, minus everything that makes that movie good. Be warned, spoilers below... not that there's really that much to spoil.

First off, for a movie called Paintball, there is very little actual paintballing going on. The whole idea is dropped pretty quickly once the bodies start piling up. However, I really question how much anyone involved knew about the sport. In some ways it seems like they're enthusiasts (one of the plot points makes me think that the production process went something along the lines of "hey guys, I just got a RAP4 Grenade Launcher, let's make a movie about it!"), but in some very key ways the movie represents paintball horrendously. Case-in-point: the film is supposedly starring professional scenario paintballers, but literally less than a minute into the game they're all taking off their masks. The #1 rule of paintball is always keep your freaking mask on!!! I think the intention is that it's supposed to help you know which character is which instead of them being covered by a mask, but the fact that the movie gives us no real attachment doesn't help this notion at all. Furthermore, some of the characters are wearing goggles instead of full-on masks, so why not just give them all goggles if you're trying not to cover their faces? Or how about different mask designs per character to differentiate them? Not that hard people, and honestly that's one of the main ways I differentiate people when I'm playing the damn game itself...

Anyway, paintballing gripes aside, the characters are just plain badly presented. We're given a very brief intro to them, but I honestly couldn't tell you anything defining about any of them. One was called "Fred" I think, but I only remember that because his brains get bashed out and they start screaming his name when it happens. It doesn't help that the sound editing was horrendous, I seriously could not understand what the characters were saying half the time, especially outside the heat of combat. As a result, the movie devolves into a bunch of screaming people running around and getting killed off one-by-one.

Honestly, I could have forgiven some bad characters if the film had had some other redeeming elements. However, Paintball can't do much right. When it's on-screen, the violence is pretty brutal, but not really all that satisfying. Most of the deaths are filmed with a thermal vision camera, which is rather cool at times, but it is used too often. The plot doesn't make a whole lot of sense either. For example... at the start, there's clearly about a dozen people opening fire on the characters (judging by the amount of paint flying at them). However, the movie later reveals that there's only 1 mercenary out there killing people. So... who was doing the shooting? The movie does seem to imply that there's another team running around out there, but we never really see this for certain (and it wouldn't make a lot of sense for them to be doing the shooting since they were being hunted before the others).

Another major complaint about the movie - it's just boring. Seriously, even with the frequent brutal deaths, I wanted to turn it off after about 30 minutes. We're given no investment in the characters and no pay-off when they finally get offed. As much of a piece of crap The Final Destination was (a movie series I will likely go into at some point in the future), at least that movie got the payoff right. Paintball can't even do this right. Throughout the movie they're getting the parts to build "something". At the end we realize it's a paintball grenade launcher loaded with acid-filled paintballs. Epic, I've sat through 70 minutes of this crap, at least I'll get to see someone killed with that thing... haha. You wish. When she goes to fire it, the gun literally does not fire. Seriously, what the hell?! What kind of screenwriter hypes a weapon like that and then does not use it once? Hell, the characters don't even use the acid-filled paintballs... which, y'know, might be handy when you're being stalked by a psychopath who has killed everyone else in your group.

On the positive side, I've gotta hand it to the director, Daniel Benmayor - the movie looks fairly slick. He has an obvious love for faux long-takes and an interesting style. With some reining in (long-takes are good, but they're excessive in this), a good script and a bit of a budget, he could actually make something pretty good. Unfortunately, while Benmayor can view it as a learning experience, to us it's nothing but a piece of crap. Bottom-line - this movie sucked.

Final Score: 3/10

Friday, 7 December 2012

FPS's and Innovation

I have a couple ideas for blog posts on a backlog. I've been planning on posting them for the last couple days, but I want to give them a better time commitment than I plan to for this one. So I came up with a short rant about the current console gaming landscape so this blog doesn't whither and die like all my others have, haha.

It's no secret that console gaming is pretty much dominated by First (and some Third) Person Shooters at the moment, specifically Call of Duty. At present, many people have been complaining that the market is flooded with shooters with no innovation, and the two biggest targets of this diatribe are Call of Duty and Battlefield.

This is where my little rant comes in. I can definitely understand the bitching in regards to Call of Duty: the series has had at least one new release every year for the past 9 years. Of these, the last 6 have been running  on the same engine with little in the way of differentiation between games. Admittedly I was quite a fan of the series up until around Black Ops when it started to get boring. The story mode was fun, as was 4-player split-screen, but the online multiplayer was never really my thing - give me Metal Gear Online any day of the week (speaking of which, can't wait to play MGO3 when Ground Zeroes comes out). Furthermore, I had always played COD for the story modes - I remember having my socks blown off by the Russian campaign in COD: Finest Hour, and COD4 was absolutely brilliant. However, by the time that MW3 rolled around, the story was... predictable. Every single bloody level ends with a massive moment, whether it be something getting blown up or a main character dies for no other reason than because they needed to fill their body-count quota.

However, I do not understand why Battlefield gets tacked on with Call of Duty when people deride the current gaming landscape. Is it because it is setting itself up to dethrone Call of Duty? Is it because they're both shooters? Is it because they're popular? Is it because it's not art either? Hell, I wouldn't mind if they were bashing the modern Medal of Honor games since they pretty much are Call of Duty (cue enraged fanboys). Battlefield has only had 3 main releases in 10 years (not counting spin-offs). You might be able to make this argument when Battlefield 4 comes out because it looks like EA is giving BF a semi-annual rotation to coincide with MOH, but that's not the current state of gaming, that's the future.

Admittedly, I am currently a Battlefield fanboy. Bad Company 2 was like a revelation after so many stale hours spent playing COD online, and quickly became my multiplayer title of choice. BF3 has been in and out of my PS3 regularly for well over a year now. While I could give less than half a shit about the single-player, the multiplayer is where it's at. It's a far more team-based and wide-open game than COD, and suits my style more as a result. So when people compare the two games... is it because they both have guns? Because if you have more of an interest in shooters than simply dismissing them, you'd see that they play quite differently.

That said, I'd like to see the gaming landscape open up a bit, but considering how expensive it is becoming to make a AAA game these days (especially since the next-gen is a year or 2 away), I can't see that happening soon. But then again, people are always bitching about how the end of ______ is near, and it's no different with the shooter market. People need to nut up or shut up...

Wow. This ended up being longer than planned... eh oh well. Don't turn the comments section into a flame war.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

James Bond + Race (First post!)

Hey, welcome to my blog. I don't really have any pretensions about this thing becoming anything more than a place for me to ramble about things that I find interesting (or that are pissing me off), but we'll see how it goes.

Anyway, before you go on any further, I must warn you that there are Skyfall spoilers below, so proceed only if you have seen it or don't care about having plot details revealed.

So I've have an idea mulling about recently regarding everyone's favourite secret agent, James Bond (which caused me to make this blog consequently). Over the past couple years there has been a growing movement which has been calling for the next actor who plays James Bond to be black. It's an interesting idea, and one I'm certainly not opposed to (especially since they're going to have to do something totally different to follow up Daniel Craig), but I'm not entirely sure I want Eon to do this. From a totally intellectual level, it'd be amazing to see a person of a different race headlining the world's biggest action franchise. Doubly-so if it's the rumoured Idris Elba, who would probably hit it out of the park.

I had already been thinking over this when I went and saw Skyfall this evening (yes, I haven't seen it yet, stop judging me). More than any other past Bond flick, this one delves into his past and defines him well as a person. Now, before Skyfall it would have been easy to replace Bond with basically anyone - all that needs to be maintained are the mannerisms, iconic elements, Britain, commercialism, etc and you've got yourself another successor to the James Bond mantle. This was especially possible since there had been little to suggest that the different James Bonds were actually the same person. Since James Bond is defined more by what he does than who he is, a black James Bond would fit in very smoothly.

However, by delving into his past and defining him more clearly, the case for a black (or whatever race for that matter) James Bond has been muddled, not to mention my lovely code-name fan theory. The non-white James Bond camp has always had to contend with the anti-PC crowd, and now it seems like they have a better argument against them. The question in this debate has always been "what defines who James Bond is?", and it seems that "white" is a (more) definite element of his character now too.

Another interesting thing that Skyfall opened up was that James Bond might be bi-sexual. I think this was more meant to be a joke, but it certainly opened up another door, so to speak. Now, call me a homophobe or whatever, but this is something I hope they don't latch on to in the future... and not only because I don't want to have to listen to the diatribe my parents and the anti-PC crowd would have haha. James Bond has always been defined by his interactions with women, and suddenly shoehorning in a different sexuality for him doesn't sound like a particularly great idea.

Unless the Bond franchise re-establishes the code-name theory somehow, I think that a non-white, non-heterosexual James Bond has been pretty much rendered against character. Even if it is though, I would still love to see a different spy film with a black man Idris Elba as the star. And how funny would a James Bond spoof starring a gay/bi-sexual secret agent be? Obviously they won't have the same high-profile that a movie like James Bond does, but it doesn't mean we can't see these sorts of things grace the screen at all.

POST-SCRIPT: Initially I put up the spoiler tag because I meant to say that they could make the next M black, but I forgot to in the initial post. I suppose he could be gay though still, so there's that.