Retrospective: Atlas Shrugged Part III – Who Is John Galt? (2014)

Welcome back to the Atlas Shrugged retrospective! Today we’ll be looking at the third and (mercifully) final entry in the franchise, Atlas Shrugged Part III – Who Is John Galt? After the dumpster fires that were the first two films in this series, Aglialoro and company were back with another entirely new cast and a smaller budget than ever! Could they see this series out on a high note? Read on to find out…

Oh, and as with the last 2 entries, be sure to check out my friend Matt’s review at his blog, The M, as we both chose to suffer through this series together!


…I’m not sure if they could have gone with a more boring, non-descript and unrelated poster for this film. After several looks at the poster it appears to be a railroad, which is fair enough, but it would actually fit the first film better as there are barely any scenes on the tracks in this one. I also love how Hank gets to cameo in it in the little airplane in the corner, which unintentionally fits well into his purpose in this film.


PRODUCTION

After Aglialoro and his production team poured even more money and effort into marketing Part II, only to be met with resounding financial and critical failure, it looked questionable whether the final chapter of Atlas Shrugged would ever get off the ground. However, the filmmakers were true believers and were not going to be dissuaded. Aglialoro, along with fellow franchise producer Harmon Kaslow, set about seeing this project through and by late March 2013 it was announced that filming would begin in the fall. They were looking for a director, cast and crew at the time and Aglialoro said that “I don’t care if I’ve got to fire five directors — that’s fine. We’re going to get it right.” So, after a declaration like that, who did they ultimately hire? The answer is James Manera, who literally had one directing credit to his name on IMDb at the time, a single episode of Nash Bridges almost 20 years earlier (although he also had directed a couple small documentaries which don’t appear there). Truly Aglialoro and company had to sort through the cream of the crop to see this film series through! Duncan Scott (who had co-written the screenplay for Part II) and Brian O’Toole (who had also written the screenplays for both previous films) were tapped to return to write the screenplay for Part III. While it was announced that both would be returning to write Part III, neither are credited in the final film. Instead, writing credits go to producers John Aglialoro and Harmon Kaslow, along with director James Manera. I wasn’t able to find an answer regarding if Scott and O’Toole’s original screenplay was heavily rewritten by the producers, or if the producers just wrote their own from scratch for (presumably) budgetary reasons, but the fact that they’re the only ones who are credited in the finished product is rather interesting. Also, a fun tidbit – back before Part I was released, Aglialoro had toyed with the idea of having Part III suddenly be a musical, but this idea never got anywhere near the final product. It’s just funny to see that Aglialoro had ideas that could have made this franchise’s continuity even more baffling.

As for the obligatory recasting, the role of Dagny was filled by Laura Regan, probably best known for a short stint on Mad Men, some minor horror movie roles and a number of guest TV appearances. The esteemed role of John Galt went to Kristoffer Polaha, who was similarly best known for a short stint on Mad Men and a number of guest TV appearances (my first thoughts on seeing him in this film were that he looked like a Hallmark channel love interest and, lo and behold, he’s been in 6 Hallmark channel movies since this film came out). Hank Rearden was played in this film by Rob Morrow, who had earned Golden Globe and Emmy nominations for his roles in Northern Exposure and then had a successful run leading Numb3rs, making him probably the biggest name in the cast. The next biggest name in the cast was veteran character actor Joaquim de Almeida, known for big roles in Clear and Present Danger, Desperado and Fast Five among many, many others. De Almeida was cast to play Francisco D’Anconia. James Taggart was played by Greg Germann, who was probably best known for Ally McBeal, but seems to have been confined to minor roles ever since. Rounding out the notable recast characters was Peter Mackenzie as Head of State Thompson, who was a pretty decent character actor in his own right, but was never going to live up to Ray Wise’s portrayal from the last film. Finally, Part III also introduces us to Ragnar Danneskjöld, played by Eric Allan Kramer, who had some big roles in Robin Hood: Men in Tights and True Romance early in his career but had been confined to character roles and guest appearances ever since. Oh and it’s also worth noting that, like Part II, Part III also features conservative celebrity cameos from the likes of Presidential candidate Ron Paul, along with Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity, all providing the “voice of reason” in the film.



While filming was intended to start in the fall of 2013, it did not actually begin until mid-January 2014. This was likely because the producers’ fundraising came up shorter than they had expected (around $10 million split evenly between the filming and marketing budgets) and so they launched a month-long Kickstarter campaign on September 23, 2013! This Kickstarter makes for a very interesting relic to pour over for a retrospective. $446,907 was raised during the campaign by 3,554 backers… but if you look closer at how the numbers break down, at least $100,000 of this was raised by the 10 highest-donating backers! Another 12 contributed a further $65,000+ and then 65 more contributed another $65,000+, meaning that more than half of the funds were supplied by 87 people – a measly 2% of the total backers! Clearly there were lots of rich people who had nothing better to do with their money than to throw it at this film… and, funnily enough, we actually know who some of these people are because 16 people who donated a staggering $7,500 or more had their names very crudely carved into a piece of wood and appear prominently on screen (it’s jarring and funny to see in the finished film though because these rough carvings are flanking carvings which were clearly done with some professional tools beforehand, so their names just look like they were done by angsty teens).


Of course, this Kickstarter ended up generating a number of justifiably snarky comments about how the filmmakers sure were relying on altruism from their libertarian audience to bring about this film after it failed so spectacularly on the free market. Anticipating this response, the Kickstarter featured not one, but two FAQs about how it was not against Ayn Rand’s philosophy to ask people for money, even going so far as to dedicate a whole other article on this topic on The Atlas Society as well. Having learned more about Objectivism from this retrospectives series, I actually do understand their argument, which is summed up pretty well by the FAQ response:

“Kickstarter is not charity and we do not seek charity. We are offering a voluntary value-for-value exchange. If you see no value in any of the reward levels, you should not back the project. Regarding the idea of charity however, Ayn Rand had no problem with someone giving money to a cause they care about. If someone deems a cause worthy and wants to donate money, they should be free to do it. What Ayn Rand had a problem with is altruism for the sake of altruism as a moral duty, or being compelled, or forced, to ‘give.'”

While I do understand their argument, it comes across as a fairly arbitrary distinction to me – whenever they ask for a handout, they’re exonerated because they will say that it’s a value exchange (although charging $7,500 to get your name crudely carved onto a piece of wood sounds closer to a “scam” to me, especially when the film had already been financed and was going to happen regardless). However, whenever anyone else asks for a handout, they’ll characterize them as moochers and looters. Add in the fact that they ignore that even when they’re “forced” to give, there’s still value being created in having a society that functions properly, which would be even more valuable if they weren’t such crusty bastards who hate the idea of other people living at a reasonable standard. So, yeah, I can see how they can justify this Kickstarter within their own philosophy, but it just feels like another convenience to allow Objectivists to do what they want while looking down on people with less means for doing the same.

Interestingly, Rand devotees and fans of the movie franchise were invited to an event at the Atlas Summit in order to help determine the final edit of the film. I wasn’t able to determine how exactly this event went, how involved it was or how it might have affected the final film, but it’s a really interesting detail which shows how the filmmakers were attempting to get directly involved with the public on this particular film. The film was released on September 12, 2014 to a much smaller opening of 242 screens, grossing a measly $851,690 against its $10 million filming and marketing budget. This means that, if you add together the marketing and production budgets of all three films (including the ~$15 million which was spent on Part I before it went into full production), the Atlas Shrugged franchise lost almost $45 million dollars!!! HOLY SHIT!!! Even if you just factor in the costs which went directly into these three films, that’s still a huge, $30 million dollar loss that could have been prevented if the filmmakers weren’t so proud or dogmatic that they insisted on pushing on, ballooning their losses with each misstep.


Start the video at 16:06, it conveys how this news makes me feel more clearly than my own words could.

PLOT SYNOPSIS

The film opens by recounting the events which caused John Galt to quit the Twentieth Century Motor Company and declare that he would “stop the engine of the world”. It then picks up where the last movie left off, with Galt rescuing Dagny from her plane crash. He then shows her around his hidden valley, where the greatest minds in the country have gone for refuge from the outside world. They have established a secret utopia here, with their own currency and a radical libertarian social structure straight out of the philosophy of Rand. Galt and the locals try to convince Dagny to stay with them, but she refuses to abandon the rest of the world. Over the course of a month, a romance begins to spark between Galt and Dagny, but they are forced to part as he takes her back to the outside world.


When she returns, Dagny finds that James has mismanaged Taggart Transcontinental even worse than before, having negotiated deals which would nationalize the railroad and cut off food supplies to the east coast. The government has also gotten increasingly militaristic, building lethal sonic weapons to enforce martial law. Dagny manages to prevent a disaster on the railroad due to her ingenuity and, when she realizes that John Galt has been watching her do this, the pair’s passion finally boils over into a railroad closet bang-session. Shortly thereafter, the head of state arranges a televised speech, but it is interrupted when Galt intercepts the signal and relays his own speech instead, laying out his philosophy and urging the people to join him in his strike. This act of defiance finally causes the government to go looking for Galt to recruit or eliminate him, and he is found when Dagny inadvertently leads agents to his location. Dagny pretends to have done this intentionally and Galt is brought before Head of State Thompson. Thompson offers Galt the highest position he can, with the ability to set his economic ideals how he sees fit, but Galt refuses, saying that no man should have that kind of power. In response, the government decides to torture him for his defiance. Dagny, along with a few supporters from Galt’s refuge, break in and rescue him and the group fly away as the power grid across America shuts down, signalling the collapse of Thompson’s ineffective rule.


REVIEW

Watching Part III is an experience, to the point where I wasn’t more than 2 seconds in when I had to pause the movie to make my first note. The first frame of the film opens with a title sequence that says “The day after tomorrow…”, which just caused a cascade of thoughts. First of all, it shows that the filmmakers really do believe that everything that happens in this film could happen – the cartoonish characters and insane politics on display in these films aren’t just done for illustrative purposes, they really do think that this is what non-libertarians think, believe and behave like. Secondly, this title inadvertently causes confusion, because it immediately got me thinking about the equally-preposterous Roland Emmerich disaster film The Day After Tomorrow. Both films share similar flaws. Both are just fundamentally dumb – in The Day After Tomorrow‘s case, it’s like a particularly dumb environmentalist’s take on climate change, whereas Atlas Shrugged is like a particularly dumb conservative’s take on economics and politics. Again, we’re not even 10 seconds into this film and the first freaking thing we see is causing me to dunk on this film.

Honestly, actual act of watching Part III took me more than twice the film’s runtime to complete because I was pausing to take notes constantly. There were just so many unbelievably dumb things packed into this movie that I could not stop writing. Compared to the inept passion on display in Part II and even Part I, Part III is a clear step backwards because it is so embarrassingly shoddy. I feel like Aglialoro and Kaslow were devoted enough to Rand’s ideology that they felt like they had to complete the trilogy, but after losing tens of millions of dollars on the project already, it feels like this final film was half-assed it to get it over with because it definitely wasn’t going to earn them any more money back. I mean, sure, the other two films sucked, but they at least felt like the filmmakers believed in them and wanted them to transcend their limited budgets. Part III just feels like they gave up and wrapped up the ending of this trilogy as fast and as cheaply as they could. I mean, look at that plot synopsis – it’s so short! I’m not skipping over huge chunks of the plot either, because most of the shit that happens in this film doesn’t matter, it’s just about preaching to the audience and spinning the wheels until the film ends unceremoniously. I have so much to talk about with this film, so strap in, we’re going to tear this thing apart.


Here’s Francisco looking appropriately drained in response to watching this film.


First off, let’s start with how cheap this film looks. Cheapness pervades the sets throughout the film. Remember how I said that they loved showing off the bigger sets in Part II, as if they were proud of their improved production quality? Part III ignores scale and set dressing as much as possible, filling a scene with the bare minimum of props and, ideally, seems to just shoot on location as much as possible to save cash. This is immediately apparent from the very first scene. We get a flashback to the Twentieth Century Motor Corporation, in which the heads of the company call a meeting about their new salary structure and John Galt’s strike begins. This scene clearly appears to have been filmed in a worn-out high school gym, rather than a factory, complete with sports line markings on the floor and paint peeling on the walls (this can’t even be for thematic reasons either, because up until this point the company has been run under a Randian ideal so it should look pristine). Even the company’s banner isn’t wide enough to fit between a pair of support columns, so it’s awkwardly pinned at a strange angle, like they didn’t take a proper measurement before they got this thing made up and couldn’t afford a replacement. And this is just the first scene! From there we get bland corporate spaces for Taggart Transcontinental and the government’s offices, and Galt’s valley, which is just a bunch of expensive cottages (note: I’m going to call it “the valley” from here on out – no one ever refers to it as “Galt’s Gulch” or anything like that, they just say it’s “the valley” so that’s the term I’m going to go with).


To top off the cheap sets, the lighting in this film is terrible. It’s usually fine during scenes in the valley – these scenes are brightly lit and colourful, but this feels like it’s only the case because they could get natural sunlight in these scenes to avoid having to pay for a full lighting setup. However, every scene outside of the valley is lit like the inside of my ass. Everything is just so poorly lit and desaturated, made duller by colour grading which turns everything to a cold shade of blue. While this may have arisen from a need to cut down on lighting costs, it has clearly been factored in as a stylistic choice to contrast the “real world” against the vibrancy of the valley. I feel like this might have been somewhat effective if they had been more judicious in its usage and/or reined the effect in somewhat, but when half of the movie ends up looking like a bland, muddied mess, it makes it a stylistic choice which was ill-advised.



Oh and speaking of ill-advised stylistic choices, here are a couple other fantastic moments of cheapness in this film. When Dagny arrives in the valley, she’s taken to a party to meet everyone and the road is lined with paper lanterns… which would be cool, but then you notice that they are literally made of paper sandwich bags with a (probably faux) candle inside! Not exactly the sort of product you’d expect from the “greatest minds in the world”, especially considering that they have an enormous holographic dome covering the entire valley, right? Even worse, they cut to close-ups on these sandwich bag lanterns… twice!!! Oh, and take a look at the screenshot above – they couldn’t even line up these lantern bags straight! It’s such a meaningless moment, but they screw pointless shit like this up at such an alarming rate that you can surely see why I was pausing the film so much to laugh and take notes. Another such moment comes late in the film when the much-hyped, nefarious, secret government torture device, Project F, is finally revealed to the audience and… it’s a car battery parrilla device, like what you’ve seen in pretty much any dark and gritty post-9/11 action movie. This is the sort of radical ingenuity which had to be plundered from the greatest minds in the world? The filmmakers clearly just didn’t give a shit and just went with the cheapest, most boring option they possibly could have, which is especially disappointing considering that Part II leaned more into the sci-fi aspect of the story.


The cheapness of this film goes hand-in-hand with its rushed plot and contrived, heavy-handed storytelling. Let’s say you want to open your film in such a way that the audience will view John Galt as not only a revolutionary figure, but also mysterious. So they start the film at a staff meeting for the Twentieth Century Motor Corporation and show Galt’s initial declaration to “stop the engine of the world”, which makes sense… but then, to hammer home their desire to make him “mysterious”, they have some guy ham-fistedly shout “who is that guy!?”, despite the fact that Galt has been working very successfully at this factory for years now, so everyone here should know him. That’s less than 2 minutes into the film, but it’s a bit of narrative convenience so obvious that I had to stop and laugh at it. Honestly, I probably wouldn’t even mention it if this film wasn’t so ham-fisted throughout – for example, later in the film they need to have the government bad guys convey information to the audience: the government is working on something awful called Project F and they’re planning on having a national televised speech. Rather than doing so organically, they literally just have all of the bad guys have a secret meeting about Project F without going into any details and then someone says “we need to make sure the speech is on all the networks” and then the scene literally ends! No information on what Project F might be, no indication about what “the speech” even is about, just conveying the bare minimum of what they want us to know and that’s it. The film has also been setting up that the railroad has become so mismanaged that Taggart bridge will eventually collapse, a prediction that Dagny has said could never happen. Then, right before the film ends, Francisco just comes out of nowhere and then says “Did you hear? The Taggart bridge collapsed!” It’s just so uneventful and matter-of-fact and Dagny’s non-reaction just makes it a hilarious moment.



However, the strangest bit of narrative convenience definitely revolves around Cheryl Taggart. She had basically no purpose in Part II so I assumed that that meant she must do something important in Part III, but nope. We literally find out that she died when a character casually holds a newspaper up in front of the screen!!! I had to do a double-take, it was such a strange way to write a character out unceremoniously. The film then decides that they have to do a flashback to explain all of this, so with a dream filter over the screen they explain that Cheryl found out that her husband was a fraud, which causes her to apologize to Dagny at some undefined time and then… just died. They don’t say how, but the way that they don’t say how suggests that James had her offed. From what I understand of this character’s fate in the books, we’re supposed to realize that she commits suicide in shame, but that doesn’t come across in this film at all. The filmmakers clearly don’t care about her, they just check off this character’s “arc” as fast as possible and then rush to the next plot point.


Another bit of narrative convenience is that the film cuts to voice-over exposition throughout to let the audience know what is going on. These exposition dumps interrupt the film constantly and are so disconnected from the actual events going on on-screen. Even worse, they gloss over events which probably deserved to be given more importance, such as when it is announced that Hank Rearden has “disappeared” and then his factory workers who were left behind were killed by the government strike-breakers, holy shit!!! Were Hank’s workers a bunch of moochers? Why would he leave them behind to literally die!? And why was this told to the audience impassively? I kept thinking that these exposition dumps were going to tie into the ending, where it would reveal that someone would be recounting what happened in the past during these segments, but no, the whole thing gets dropped by the time the third act rolls around. Personally, I think that this awful ham-fisted writing is probably down to John Agalioro’s screenwriting “talents”. He co-wrote the screenplay for Part I, which had similarly bad writing at times, but it was tempered in by Brian Patrick O’Toole. Part II didn’t really suffer in this regard, presumably since Aglialoro didn’t write it (its writing issues were more a problem of wheel-spinning and bad philosophy). However, Part III gaves Aglialoro and Kaslow full writing credits and it’s clear from the final product that neither of them are qualified to write a screenplay. Like… there’s a part in this film where super-genius John Galt outsmarts the bad guys by getting arrested and then using his cell phone during a meeting with Head of State Thompson to call Dagny and let her in on their evil plans!!! Why the hell would they not confiscate his phone!?! That’s Tommy Wiseau-levels of screenwriting talent!



The bad screenwriting leads to all sorts of unintentional hilarity, such as how it makes Galt’s whole movement look like a dangerous cult. Like, a hidden commune in the mountains living by their own set of rules is already sounding pretty Jonestown, so you’d think that they’d do something to avoid coming across that way. Well, moments after crash landing, Dagny is informed by Galt that there are certain rules to living in the valley. He tells her that, most importantly, no one gets a free pass at someone else’s expense. The whole exchange is shot and staged in such a way that it feels like Galt is heavily implying “you’re gonna have to fuck me if you stay here”. Then there are the oaths that everyone in the valley are forced to make in order to stay, the way that this community has been isolated from differing opinions, and how all of Dagny’s old friends plead with her to throw away her life, ideals and very identity to join this lovely little movement. This is best shown in two different scenes. The first is when Dagny’s friends identify that she just wants some acknowledgement for the things she has accomplished and so they give her adulation for a job well done to try to goad her into staying. The second comes when we see that all of Dagny’s friends have carved personalized messages over her bed for her to read when she goes to sleep!!! Read this way, it ultimately turns Part III into a depressing story about how a cult tears away Dagny’s support system until she loses her will to help people and then joins the cult herself. It reminds me of The Endless, and if this film had even an ounce of self-awareness we could have gotten an awesome film about Dagny fighting back against this cult which has been leeching away the stability of the world’s economy.


Of course, Aglialoro and Kaslow can’t even hit the important parts of Atlas Shrugged well. Perhaps most tellingly, the romance between Dagny and Galt feels totally forced and unnatural. Sure, the film tries to tell us that they’re totally into each other from the first time that they lock eyes, but it never feels convincing. Considering that Ayn Rand herself said that Atlas Shrugged was ultimately nothing more than a love story, this is pretty damning criticism. Dagny’s insistence on aiding the world is totally at odds with Galt’s insistence on allowing things to get worse. Maybe if he grew and changed his opinion this could have worked, which seems to be implied when Dagny and Galt have an impromptu fuck-session after Dagny organizes a plan to prevent a rail disaster from occurring (which, by the way, is definitely the funniest scene in the film – they don’t even know if the plan worked or if there are people dying out there, they just need to get their rocks off pronto). However, it turns out that Galt’s values haven’t changed at all, and in fact it’s Dagny’s which are cast away by the end. Other than that, we’re given a bunch of boilerplate Hallmark movie moments where Dagny and Galt sight-see around the valley, which apparently is a shorthand for blossoming romance without having to do any real groundwork to convince us that they actually like each other.


Then there’s Galt’s big speech, which is ~60 pages long in the original text (or over 3 hours if spoken aloud!!!). Like d’Anconia’s “money speech” in Part II, this speech has been pared down considerably, running in at just under 5 minutes. Personally, I feel like it comes across better than d’Anconia’s speech did, but that’s for a couple of unintentional reasons. First of all, it’s significantly less nasty and confrontational than d’Anconia’s speech was. Secondly, the text has been cut down so much that you could interpret it as a call to stand up against exploitative businessmen, rather than just the government, which is probably way more communist than they were intending. It also doesn’t help that this exact same message has been hammered into the audience’s head all through the first half of the film, so by the time it comes it’s just 5 minutes of more-of-the-same rather than a revolutionary statement. The plot also just halts entirely during this 5 minute sequence, so the fact that it’s conveying information we already have been told repeatedly does it no favours. Maybe if they had cut out all the lectures when Dagny was in the valley this could have landed stronger, but coming long after them just feels like more wheel-spinning in a film filled with it.



The dialogue is also just baffling at times, to the point where I don’t know if they’re just lifting lines awkwardly from the text or if they’re using the first take from each shot, mis-remembered lines and all. Like, just look at that line above – I had to rewind the film several times to make sure I wasn’t mishearing or misunderstanding that line, because it sounds like it went through Google translate. What the hell is “It’s like I can’t believe you’re alive” even supposed to mean? I guess that Francisco was under the impression that Dagny was dead based on the news of her disappearance, but wouldn’t he say “I thought you were dead!” instead? “I can’t believe you’re alive” would even be better, if still a really awkward line. “It’s like I can’t believe you’re alive” just makes no sense whatsoever. It’s not the only line like that though. Later, John Galt takes Dagny to the power source for the valley and there is an oath emblazoned above it. He then says “Everyone has taken that oath who lives in this valley.” …what? Again, I don’t know if this is some important line from the book or Aglialoro and Kaslow’s writing, but it just sounds wrong. I had to look up active vs passive voice just to make sure I wasn’t forgetting some grammatical rule, but even that makes this seem totally wrong – the people in the valley should be the subject and the oath is the verb, so shouldn’t this be “Everyone who lives in this valley has taken that oath”? That’s way less awkward and gets the point across more succinctly, in my opinion… but what do I know, I’m not some rich super-genius now am I?


Of course, it’s not just the actual writing which is awful in this film, the editing is also terrible. This wouldn’t be an Atlas Shrugged film without an insane amount of narrative padding, and boy is there ever a lot of wasted time in this film. The first time we see this is when John Galt takes Dagny to his home after her plane crash. This sequence involves a long shot of Galt’s car driving down a road, the car driving to his house, Galt getting out of the car, walking around it to open the door and then pick up Dagny to take her into the house… hell, they even had to show him closing the car door, just so we wouldn’t be left wondering if he did. All told, this whole sequence takes 45 seconds to do something that could have been done in 10-15 by a professional editor. Sure, that’s just one 45 second sequence, but it’s emblematic of the film itself, as it is just loaded with sequences that don’t actually add anything to drive the plot or characters forward. This kind of editing is a trend throughout the film, as there are numerous pointless establishing shots of nature and people travelling to places, almost like something from the Left Behind books. It got to the point where I was laughing at every new nature montage, but by the time I was learning to expect them, they escalate into a sequence which is truly special. When Dagny chooses to leave the valley, John Galt takes her to his plane and starts it up, resulting in a flying nature montage as they leave… then, moments after they land and say their goodbyes, we get another shot of the plane starting up and then leaving, and then we get a train nature montage as Dagny returns to civilization (gotta waste another 2 minutes of this film somehow)! Now, to be fair, these nature shots are probably the best shots in the film due to the inherent beauty of mountains and wilderness, but they’re also completely pointless to the plot, so what does that tell you about the film itself… oh, and there’s also a good chance that most of them are stock footage, so double yikes! It’s like they don’t think we’ll understand how characters get from place-to-place without showing several seconds of unnecessary travel and unimportant nature footage. (EDIT: Actually, I think that the filmmakers might just think that we’re all stupid. I was going back through the film to freshen up on some of the details and noticed a scene transition which is literally a extended shot centered on a wine bottle’s label – this would be notable even if it was just bad product placement, but this was for a fictional vineyard for one of the characters. Then I realized that this shot was from some other footage from this scene, zoomed in significantly to show off the blurry bottle so we know where this scene is supposed to be taking place, and then put into slow motion as well for no discernible reason!!! They didn’t think that this wine bottle, which is present during the entire scene, wouldn’t be enough of a context clue within the scene? Holy shit this film is just a treasure trove that never stops giving back to me!)


While the constant time wasting is probably the most obvious example of bad editing in this film, there are other instances peppered throughout. The next most obvious example would have to be when a railworker calls Eddie to warn him that the rails are so mismanaged that there is going to be an imminent disaster. It’s a classic set-up for a potentially tense scene, reminding me of the train crash from Part II. Will Dagny be able to stop the disaster in time? Hah, just kidding, nothing happens after this phone call. I was really confused at first – weren’t they playing this thing up like people were literally about to die? What happened to the urgency? But then it turns out that the disaster was actually going to happen a few days later (several minutes later in the film), but it makes the urgency of this initial warning so strange. Why did they not just have this worker warn them of the disaster right before it was going to happen instead of doing nothing about it, moving the story forward, and then coming back to it later? It would have made for a much more tense sequence, but instead it just deflates the tension. There’s another editing choice near the end of the film which just left me baffled. I’m not even sure where else to put this because it’s so strange – the bad guys get mad because Project F breaks and then when they’re leaving the room there’s this completely random and pointless slow motion sequence where one of the bad guys yells “We’ll be back, you son of a bitch!” I cannot understand this editing choice at all… Like, it’s random enough that I really hope it was something that was suggested at that Atlas Society meeting I mentioned earlier though, where “the fans” got to provide input on the final cut of the film. I hope that there was just some dude there who yelled “Needs more slow motion!” and they decided that this was the only moment tense enough to work. I need an explanation because this is possibly the most baffling moment in the whole movie!



Then we come to the fact that the filmmakers once again recast all of the characters in this film. Even moreso than Part II, Part III demonstrates why it’s not a good idea to recast after every film. There are so many moments in the early parts of the film which rely on Dagny reuniting with familiar faces that had disappeared, but every time they would introduce them I would go “am I supposed to know you?” Hell, I was even getting characters mixed up because of this; early in the film I kept thinking that Akston was Quentin Daniels from Part II, because characters constantly flit in and out of this series and I didn’t have any visual reference for the character any more (it’s bad enough that I didn’t even remember who Akston was supposed to be until I went back to edit my review of Part I). It’s also a particular issue with the bad guys, because the film then has to pause and waste another 15 seconds telling us who everyone is with freeze frames and pop-up text. It also doesn’t help that characters who were important in the previous two films are shunted aside in this film. Hank Rearden is the most obvious and perplexing example of this. In the previous two films, he was the co-lead and second point-of-view character along with Dagny. He had also had some pretty big character moments in Part II, between his victory in court and being coerced into signing away his patents to Rearden Metal. Clearly they were setting him up to have some sort of big role in the third film, right? Nope, he gets about 10 seconds of screen time, leaves a voicemail and then is unceremoniously dumped from the story! What the hell!?! I can’t help but feel that he had a bigger role in the original story but they didn’t have time or budget for him and so wrote him out. All that said, he’s so absent in this film that I’ve read that he’s involved in the rescue mission to save John Galt at the end of the movie and had no idea – he’s not highlighted, nor have we seen enough of him in this film to even realize that it was him anyway. While not quite as important, Wesley Mouch is another prime example of this shunting issue. In the previous two films, he was arguably the primary antagonist, but in this one he barely shows up and his purpose is replaced almost entirely by Head of State Thompson. It doesn’t help that the actor who was cast to play him is very indistinct and looks very similar to Head of State Thompson, to the point where I cannot remember even seeing him beyond his introductory scene (and even then, only because they literally put text on the screen to say that he was Mouch).


As for the comparisons of the cast, Part III has by far the worst cast of the series. The only actor who might have put in the best performance of his character would be Greg Germann as James Taggart, but that’s just because the character is such a cartoon that I can’t really say that there was a “definitive” take on him. Greg Germann tries to take him in a somewhat more serious route, but there’s only so much you can do with James Taggart. The rest of the cast are just the bottom of the barrel. I don’t know if Laura Regan is a good actress or not, but she is just terrible as Dagny. Her line deliveries are flat and unconvincing throughout and her facial expressions don’t match the tone she’s trying to convey. It’s such a shame, especially after Samantha Mathis made me actually care somewhat about this character in Part II. Oh and speaking of which, Laura Regan is 8 years younger than Mathis, but looks even younger, providing a bit more whiplash about the recasting (especially when her former lover, Francisco, shows up looking like he’s 69 years old now). John Galt wasn’t really much of a presence in the previous films, but he always had some sort of mystery to him. Fully unmasked, Kristoffer Polaha’s Galt is just a Hallmark channel boy hunk, not the genius architect of the revolution that’s crippling society. I never found him particularly convincing, although compared to Laura Regan he was certainly the better of the two leads. In some ways, it’s probably best that Hank Rearden got written out, because the one line Rob Morrow delivers for him is so bad. I miss Grant Bowler’s more charming take on the character. And, as I alluded earlier, Joaquim de Almeida looks waaaay too old to be Francisco d’Anconia – he’s 20 years older than Laura Regan, and considering that she looks younger than she actually is, it suddenly begs the question of when exactly Dagny and Francisco were supposed to be a couple. De Almeida is a good enough actor that he’s fine in general in the role, but he’s clearly not stretching his acting muscles any. As douchey and sinister as he was, Esai Morales’ take on d’Anconia was probably the best, because at least he brought some energy to the role. Lastly, considering that Head of State Thompson only had a cameo appearance in Part II, you’d think that Peter Mackenzie would have an easier time becoming the definitive performance for the role… however, considering that that cameo appearance was portrayed by freaking Ray Wise, Mackenzie was screwed from the start. He’s fine as a scenery-chewing villain, but when you’re competing in that role against Ray Wise, you’re never going to win. The cast is bad across the board, with only a couple performances reaching the level of “fine”.


 

Whew, all of that said, we haven’t even gotten to the philosophy and politics in this film! Aglialoro and The Atlas Society had complained about people saying that John Galt’s strike was just a big temper tantrum, but the fact that they open this film by essentially confirming it feels like a big blunder to me. Seriously, the film opens with the Twentieth Century Motor Corporation announcing that they’ve adopted a wage scale, which causes Galt to freak out. Instead of just quitting, he declares that he is going to destroy the entire world economy, all because his job got restructured in a way that didn’t benefit him directly! I’m sorry, based on how you have portrayed this character, how is that not equivalent to a child throwing a temper tantrum and taking away his toys?

For a story that’s supposed to be extolling the virtue of selfishness, Part III does the worst job of trying to justify this. During what might be the most offensive moment in the entire trilogy, Hugh Akston tries to change Dagny’s view of conventional morality. He claims that believing that you have to help people is wrong because it causes unworthy people to get into positions of power. He claims that, in conventional morality, you are considered virtuous for what you do for others rather than what you achieve. This is a patently false assertion. Just look at people like Oprah, Steve Jobs, Michael Phelps, Daniel Day Lewis, or Stephen Hawking – people who are known and praised for their personal successes. Bill Gates might be the most obvious denial of this whole idea, since he’s a self-made uber-billionare in the Randian mould, except that he’s famous for his personal successes and praised for his altruism. Still, that’s not even the worst part of this scene. Akston claims that, because of this view on conventional morality, the unworthy will forcibly take from “those who have earned their money” in order to help the less fortunate if they will not comply. He then delivers this line:

“You’ve heard them say that people have a right to a living just because they’re human. And that’s not the right to earn a living, that’s the right to a living, which you are required to give to them.”

Woooooow. The filmmakers tried to explain Randian philosophy in the most reasonable-sounding way possible, but it still comes across as fucking evil. Akston straight-up admits that he doesn’t believe that people have a right to a living just because they exist. As far as he’s concerned, if you’re not doing something to “provide value” then you might as well die because you’re doing nothing to deserve your life. The serious ethical concerns of this should be obvious and numerous:

  • What about those who are injured while working? Sure, they were providing value for a time, but might as well let them and all of their dependants starve to death now! Or what about if, due to the negligence or unethical practices of a company, people are injured? Should there not be a legal right to a living for these people, considering that they were robbed of it by the actions of someone trying to enrich themselves?
  • What about the elderly who can’t work anymore, especially if they never had enough means to have any savings for retirement? Better just to set them loose in the woods during the winter.
  • What about freaking kids? When does this philosophy even come into effect anyway? Kids are not only going to be providing no “value” for several years, but they are going to be actively draining their parents’ resources as well, meaning that only those who are very well established will be able to actually afford to have children within this economic framework!
  • What about those who actually are working but still aren’t able to get by? Live in a hovel, you moochers!

Rand was very intentionally going against conventional morality here, because she viewed it as a framework which enabled the “oppression” of the great minds in society. Central to this was that religious principles were nothing more than another tool of the people in power. In order to show this, the filmmakers considered including a scene where Dagny meets a priest. I can already imagine this scene playing out in my head, but the fact that it was cut from the final film is pretty telling. Many of the libertarians who parrot Rand’s talking points are Christian, including the right-wing celebrities who cameo in this film such as Sean Hannity and Ron Paul (and Glenn Beck, who is Mormon). There’s already some significant cognitive dissonance required to call yourself a follower of Christ while also claiming that people who can’t provide value don’t deserve to live, but imagine if the filmmakers had included a scene where they explicitly stated that religion goes against their worldview. Half of this film’s meagre audience would be outraged at their audacity. This whole attempt to redefine morality just pisses me off though, and is by far the worst segment in the entire trilogy. When Akston dismissively states that “their philosophy is based how much you sacrifice to other people, not on what you achieve”, I could not help but think of Jesus’ words about how the rich donate large amounts to show off how generous they are, but the poor widow who donates gave everything she had and was therefore viewed as more generous. Contrast that to Galt and his followers, who are throwing a hissy fit because the government is forcing them to skim some of their wealth in order to help other people? Fuck you all.


Galt’s explanation to this criticism is that “We honour charity and benevolence, but it must be provided on the giver’s terms, voluntarily and not by force.” While I can see some value in the argument that they’re making here, it ignores a couple of things. First of all, Galt and his followers will staunchly refuse to give to any cause, no matter how worthwhile, if there is any force involved or implied. They could merely volunteer to give to a cause that they think is worthy, but we never see anyone actually do this (in Part I, Hank makes a donation to a cause he doesn’t agree with, but this is done out of a feeling of obligation).


Secondly, the actions of the characters contradict any notion that they might care about charity or benevolence. Seconds after Galt makes that statement, Dagny asks “What about what you left behind?”, referring to the rest of the world and all of the people who are suffering under the economic collapse Galt engineered. Galt simply says “We left nothing behind, Dagny. We took with us the only real thing of value. Dagny, this is a strike of our minds.” So clearly they don’t see anything of value in the outside world – everyone there is a moocher and it doesn’t matter to Galt if they suffer or die without them. This is barely even subtext either – it’s not like the people in the valley don’t realize what is happening in the outside world, they just don’t care. Part of the oath that everyone in the valley must take is that they will not “live for someone else”. Galt himself tells Dagny that, because there is no one competent to run the railroads, Taggart bridge will collapse imminently, showing that he doesn’t really care that innocent people are literally dying because of his strike.


Thirdly, there are several moments in the film where characters reveal that they have technology that could revolutionize the world, but have chosen not to for no discernible reason. For example, Dr. Hendricks inspects Dagny’s injuries using a handheld diagnostic device, similar to a handheld x-ray, and says “every doctor should have one”. Well, gee doc, if that’s what you think, what’s stopping you from giving one to every doctor? It’s not like he’s even going and selling them either! He has life-changing technology at his disposal and he’s choosing not to give it to anyone else. Or there’s the fact that Galt has a car in this film. It took me a little bit to realize “wait, no one drives cars in this universe, what the hell?” Considering that gasoline is extremely expensive in Atlas Shrugged and can’t really be being refined in the valley, it’s likely that they have come up with some sort of alternative fuel source… which, one again, they’re just hording here and not providing to all of the people being forced to deal with the increasingly-deadly rail lines. Perhaps the biggest “fuck you” in the whole film though comes when Galt reveals his working motor which has been hyped up in the previous two films. He reveals that it costs virtually nothing to maintain it and it’s so powerful that just one motor held in a space the size of a shed could power the entire West Coast!!! Again, this is so cheap that he could literally give it away – can you imagine unlimited, free, clean power for everyone and the sorts of changes that that would make in society? Hell, he could even sell it at an unrealistic mark-up and still change the world for the better. But, again, John Galt chooses to horde this because all he wants is appreciation and the ability to refuse people who don’t kowtow to his way of thinking. Tell me again about how you value benevolence Galt, because you sure as shit don’t demonstrate it in your actions.



Galt makes the claim that he is not imposing his values on the rest of the world, merely leaving the moochers to go about their own business, but this is also demonstrably false. Crippling the world’s economy in protest and hijacking the airwaves in order to convey your manifesto are hardly unimposing gestures, but what really contradicts this is that Galt is in league with Ragnar Danneskjöld, a literal pirate. Ragnar has been raiding shipping lines, stealing raw goods which (in his view) have been forcibly taken by governments so he’s just stealing them back. It’s one thing to, say, have Ellis Wyatt burn his oil fields and then disappear for good, but it would be another thing entirely if he kept coming back to burn down any reconstruction attempts, which is basically what Ragnar is doing here. Hell, at one point in the film, Dagny laments that there isn’t enough copper wire left to keep the trains running, which prompted me to say “hey, maybe tell your friend Ragnar to lay off then, he’s the one causing this shortage”, especially since it’s literally leading to the starvation of chunks of the population. At what point do these brainwashed Galt cultists think that goods have been acquired fairly? They are clearly trying to hasten the economic collapse, no matter how innocuous and innocent the film wants to portray them to be.


And how about these “greatest minds” that Galt has been taking to his valley? One of the first we’re introduced to is Midas Mulligan, owner of America’s largest bank. This struck me as a particularly odd choice, since isn’t banking largely the manipulation of money which d’Anconia was raging about in the previous film? Apparently it doesn’t count when private citizens do it, because Mulligan gets a whole monologue about how he’s been “wronged”. According to Mulligan, he made his fortune by lending money to people to buy homes and build businesses, saying that “I only loaned to those people I was confident could repay me” (eg, the people who were already rich and well off). However, then the government forced him to make slightly less of a profit by lending to people who couldn’t repay him, so he immediately threw a hissy fit and left for the valley. So… he couldn’t collect years of additional interest payments on the people who couldn’t pay him back? I wonder how many fans of this film also would cite It’s a Wonderful Life as their favourite Christmas movie, because Mulligan sounds exactly like that film’s villain, Mr. Potter. In that film, George Bailey bends over backwards to try to help the poor and disenfranchised in order to give them a chance at a life they otherwise may not have, and most people would indeed say he is virtuous for doing so. Can you imagine someone trying to claim that Mr. Potter was the one who was actually virtuous and that we need to be more like him? That’s basically the message Part III tries to hammer into you during its entire runtime.


One of the other notable “great minds” we get introduced to is Dr. Hendricks, who claims that he got sick of the government telling him how to treat his patients, so he ran off to the valley to treat them using “his own professional judgement”. This immediately got me thinking of Dr. Suchong from Bioshock, along with basically every other mad doctor trope. The film even unintentionally endorses this theory since Hendricks claims that his handheld diagnostic device was only made possible because there was “no red tape” to stop him… which begs the question of just how many people were killed, irradiated and/or sterilized to make this thing possible. Most doctors will tell you that regulations exist for a damn good reason and there’s also a reason why travelling to places with loose regulations is both a punchline and incredibly dangerous. But, just like in Part I, Hendricks is “worthy” so there shouldn’t be any restrictions on him, because he’s always right about everything (besides, if he did kill someone then that would mean that he wasn’t worthy after all).



This film also brushes up against so many issues which could have challenged the cartoonish take on reality that they’ve constructed, but which are just ignored. One such example is that Dagny meets a mother in the valley who is homeschooling her children. This scene feels like it was just thrown in to pander to conservatives who have a boner for homeschooling their kids, but in practice it raises so many more questions: if she’s homeschooling them, then how is she managing to pay her own way in the valley? Or how are the kids creating any value for that matter? Is wanting to homeschool your kids all that it takes to have John Galt invite you to his valley? Who knows! The film just introduces the concept in order to let all those conservative mommies know that they’re doing a Good Thing™ and then moves on without addressing any complications.


Or what about the fact that Dagny is expected to pay for her own medical treatment after the plane crash, revealing that there is (obviously) no healthcare in the valley? How many people have become ill and died in the valley because of this? Why don’t we see any of the people who have become destitute because they can’t pay their medical bills anymore? Oh, right, those don’t exist because Part III exists in a fantasy reality.


Or what about the fact that the valley seems to have a number of menial workers providing everyone with food and labour? We see restaurant workers, a farmer’s market, and a coal mine (amongst other things) while in the valley, but who is actually manning these? Did John Galt convince the greatest minds in the country to come to the valley and then make them start doing coal mining to stay alive? Or was he so comprehensive that he found the best coal miners in the world and then promised them a better life where they can mine even more coal? And if that’s the case, why didn’t they bring Hank Rearden’s factory workers with him when he left (because presumably Hank would have only retained workers who were up to his standards) instead of leaving them to be killed by strikebreakers? That’s the thing that’s being overlooked here – in order to work, the valley can’t just be a collection of the greatest minds in the world, there still has to be a much larger class of menial workers whose labour is being exploited to prop up those “great minds”. Such a reality is completely overlooked by this film though and instead Dagny spends all of her time interacting with the “important people”, much like she would have been doing back in the real world anyway. It makes you wonder why these “greatest minds” never get into positions of power in the “real world” of Rand’s fiction, and instead it’s always the unworthy. That seems to be something that people overlook.



It’s also worth noting the demographics of the people in the valley. I went in figuring that it was probably going to be mostly white men, but I was surprised to see that, in the crowded scenes in the valley, there was almost a 50-50 split between men and women. It only occurred to me during the writing of this retrospective that that might be because these women are mostly the wives of the great minds, but I’ll stick with my charitable first impression and assume that they at least gave women some consideration for their achievements. However, I can’t say that I saw anyone who wasn’t white and am not surprised about that little revelation at all. Can you imagine the filmmakers even thinking to diversify their extras to avoid troubling implications? Funnily enough though, at the very end of the film, the franchise’s only notable minority character, Eddie, is apparently rescued by Galt’s followers. His makes him not only the token black guy of the franchise, but the token black guy of Galt’s movement too, how fortunate! Even funnier is the fact that I found out that Eddie was changed into a black character for Part I and that this change was maintained in each subsequent film. Considering that characters change drastically in the franchise (including other race-swapped characters reverting to their whiteness from the book) and that Eddie’s rescue at the end changes him into someone who is deemed “worthy” to come to the valley, this suggests that Eddie was literally changed in order to make him their token black guy to avoid claims of racism. After all, they couldn’t possibly be racist for implying that only whites are the greatest minds in world and the only people worthy of success, and that therefore all other races have no right to a living unless they earn it! But who knows, maybe I just missed out on deleted scenes where there were a ton of black people in the valley who were off in Akston’s farm picking cotton or something…


 

And so finally we come to the most insane scene in the entire movie. You know how I said that Akston claiming that it’s not moral to say that people have a fundamental right to a living only might be the most offensive moment in the whole series? That’s only a might because this scene may actually be even worse, somehow. It comes when Dagny breaks into the government’s torture facility in order to free John Galt. She comes across a lone guard and corners him with a gun. The guard seems confused about the whole situation so Dagny gives him to the count of three to choose: get out of the way, or die. Instead of just running away like a normal human being, this complete fucking idiot starts going on a panicked rant about how he’s not supposed to make decisions and just stands there!!! Seriously, as Dagny is counting down, he literally says “I’m just an average guy, I’m not supposed to make decisions about my life! I haven’t said I will, I haven’t said I won’t!” And then she fucking shoots him to death!!!!!! HOLY SHIT, MOVIE!!!!!!!!! We’re clearly not meant to sympathize with this cartoonish buffoon of a character, hell we’re meant to give him our outright scorn. The line about being an “average guy” is pretty telling too – this is what the filmmakers believe that most people are like and this is the level of sympathy that “great people” should give to anyone who gets in their way. This is just offensive on so many levels, not least of all that this “character” doesn’t resemble an actual human being in the slightest and that it marks the moment where we’re supposed to congratulate Dagny for finally shedding her notion of conventional morality. Fuck. This. Movie.

Having learned more about Objectivism from watching these movies and researching Rand’s philosophy for these reviews, I must say that it’s a strange ideology to cling to. This story always lifts up the inherently superior “great minds” that apparently push our society forward, but they have little basis in reality. These great minds are always portrayed as being the heads of companies, but that’s rarely the case now is it? Modern companies are governed by complex structures which might steer the direction of the company, but they rarely are the source of innovation, not to mention that it’s questionable whether they deserve to make dozens, if not hundreds, of times more annual salary than the people who actually work on the frontlines of their business. We’ve seen just how alien the world of these three films is and how cartoonishly black and white it has to make the world if it wants Objectivism to make any sort of sense. If anything, in a modern context Galt’s strike sounds like a call for workers to rise up against the bourgeois, a notion which Rand would have considered repugnant. The only real aspect of Objectivism which seems to have any real basis is the desire to not be forced into doing anything, but that’s hardly a strong enough idea to cling a whole ideology off of. If anything, the deregulation that they have wanted so badly just seems to turn their closest analogues of “great minds” into something closer to the manipulators and moochers that they despise so much.


Part III is easily one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen. The politics and philosophy are bad, with some of the most sincerely offensive messages I have ever witnessed in a film (and this is coming from someone who only slept through half of Triumph of the Will). However, for the most part, these elements aren’t significantly worse than they were in the previous two films, just more repetitive and long-winded if anything. What really makes Part III into a trainwreck is the bafflingly shoddy craftsmanship on display from start to finish. It just permeates throughout every element of the movie, turning otherwise-banal moments into comedic bits. It’s almost as if The Room was trying to be a political thriller, that’s the level of ineptitude that this film rises to. As a result, while it is a truly horrendous film, it reaches a level of badness so far beyond the previous two entries in the franchise that it becomes an experience unto itself. Like, I’ve already recommended this film to a few friends who like bad movies, just because it does manage to hit that special level of crap. So, while it fails in pretty much every intended regard, at least Aglialoro finally managed to make a film that someone might actually get some enjoyment out of.

But seriously, fuck this franchise and the people who made it.


1/10


And now that we’re through the Atlas Shrugged retrospective, it’s time to rank the films from best to worst!


1. Atlas Shrugged – Part II – 3/10 (I had a reeeeally hard time picking between this and Part I, but I ultimately gave Part II the edge because at least Dagny comes across as a good character, even if it wasn’t in the way they actually intended.)

2. Atlas Shrugged – Part I – 3/10 (Again, it’s basically a toss-up – do you like your films boring or offensive?)
3. Atlas Shrugged Part III – Who Is John Galt? – 1/10 (While it is by far the worst film in the series, it is also the only one I would actually recommend, because it’s so bad that it’s an experience.)
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Animals in Bands

I was listening to a podcast the other day and someone mentioned off-hand that there was a metal band fronted by dogs. Naturally, this revelation caused me to instantly shoot up in my seat and try to find this band, because it sounded so intriguing. It turns out that there are actually a few bands fronted by animals and the results are certainly… interesting.

Honourable Mention: No Grave But the Sea For Dogs, Alestorm
This one definitely doesn’t count, but it was my original touch-point for animal-fronted music. Basically, it’s Alestorm’s No Grave But the Sea, but with all the vocals replaced by a barking dog sound effect. It’s pretty funny if you’re familiar with the songs and the dog barking is done in the same rhythm as the actual vocal tracks, but it’s not like they had a dog in the studio just barking constantly over each track. Check out the track “Alestorm” here.

Caninus

Kicking this list off with the band which inspired it, we have Caninus, a deathgrind band headed by two pit bulls, Basil and Budgie. The band was the side project of Most Precious Blood guitarist Justin Brannan, which lent the group some musical chops to go along with the vocal gimmick. The band was actually signed to a record label, War Torn records, and had three releases – two split EPs and a full album with the absolutely amazing title of Now the Animals Have Voices. Sadly, the band is now defunct, as Basil had a brain tumour and was euthanized in 2011 and Budgie died in 2016.

As for the music itself, I’m very mixed on it. Like I said, the sound and production are quite polished and coherent than some of the other bands on this list. However, I’m not a fan of the music itself – the songs range from 30 seconds to maybe 3 minutes at most, meaning that Now the Animals Have Voices is over very quickly. I know that this is the whole point, but the music is literally just lots of snarling, growling and some barking set to music. The vocals are appropriate for the heaviness of the music, but it doesn’t amount to something that I’d actually want to listen to. They’re on Spotify though, so feel free to give them a listen for yourself.

Highlights: “Fear of Dog (Religious Myths)”, “New Yorkie Crew (Loyal Like A Stone)”

Hatebeak

After Caninus, Hatebeak is probably the second biggest animal-fronted band out there, based on the research I found for this post. Hatebeak are a death/grindcore metal band fronted by a grey parrot named Waldo. The band is signed to Reptilian Records and is still active today, having released three split EPs (including one with Caninus) and a full-length album in 2015 called The Number of the Beak. Hatebeak really pride themselves on their bird-pun titles, which are equal parts cringe and chuckle-worthy. If nothing else, I’d recommend you at least check out the titles of their songs. I mean, just look at the album art for The Number of the Beak. Hatebeak takes itself much less seriously than Caninus, really leaning into the whole joke of its premise.

Musically, Hatebeak are a mixed bag. The production on The Number of the Beak is very bad, almost demo-quality. For some of their songs, I’d say it would be appropriate to label Hatebeak “noise”, as their music is largely just distorted guitars with some squacks overlaid on it. On such tracks, the parrot vocalist feels like a gimmick. However, there are some tracks where Waldo’s vocals actually resemble grindcore “bree-brees”, such as “Beak of Putrefaction”, “God of Empty Nest” and “Seeds of Destruction”, which isn’t a musical style I’m into, but it’s familiar enough to bring a smile to my face and I can definitely see how someone could be into these tracks. “Roost in Peace” is also a pretty solid death metal track. All-in-all, I actually enjoyed bits of Hatebeak more than Caninus, even if the production is total ass and the first half of the album makes the parrot vocals feel like a gimmick. However, when Hatebeak works, it works pretty well, although it’s pretty clear that the band put more effort into their song titles than they did in the music itself. The Number of the Beak is on Spotify, I’d recommend that you give it a listen.

Highlights: “Roost in Peace”, “Seven Perches”

The Thai Elephant Orchestra

The previous two entries were bands fronted by animals, whereas The Thai Elephant Orchestra are a band made up of animals, performing their own music. The elephants are actually signed to Mulatta Records, which prides itself as “purveyors of the unique and bizarre”, where they have released 4 albums: a self-titled album, Elephonic Rhapsodies, Water Music and Smash Hits. The band’s page on Mulatta Records proudly states that the band is comprised of “Elephants in the Thai jungle playing specially designed musical instruments. The elephants improvise the music themselves. The Thai Elephant Orchestra was co-founded by Richard Lair of the Thai Elephant Conservation Center in Lampang and performer/composer Dave Soldier”.

As you would probably expect from music improvised and performed entirely by animals, The Thai Elephant Orchestra’s music is mostly just noise. There isn’t really much artistry or cohesion to it, although in this case the gimmick of having music created by animals doesn’t diminish the product itself. Elephonic Rhapsodies is on Spotify, so if you’re interested then you might want to check it out.

The Rock Cats

Aaaand here’s where we get more into the gimmicky stuff, if you can believe that after Caninus and Hatebeak. The Rock Cats are an off-shoot of The Acro-Cats, which is essentially a cat circus. Each show ends with a performance by The Rock Cats, which is dubbed “the only cat band in existence”. The sarcastic reviews on the band’s Wikipedia page are incredible:

-“An unpredictable assortment of instrument clanging, and rarely does it sound like the cats are playing the same song, let alone an actual, fully realized piece of music.”
-“Really, really fun way to spend an afternoon”
-A reviewer of a 2013 show in New Orleans was critical of the band’s musicality, and complained that the advertised “seasonal carol selections such as ‘A Cat in a Manger’ and ‘Catnip Roasting on an Open Fire'” never materialized.”
-“What they lacked in technical skill, they certainly made up for in rock ‘n’ roll catitude”.

The band also has a website which is pure 90s Geocities cheese and which apparently isn’t updated with any regularity because it has a listing of the band members, but the front-cat, Tuna, has been dead for a year now (and this despite having a listing for a show that happened a couple days ago as of this writing). The site also has a music video of the cats (and a rooster, and a gopher) playing music which seems to be 100% legit, although edited heavily to make it listenable if the band’s reviews are anything to go by. Unlike the other entries on this list, they do not have any music up on Spotify.

The Jingle Cats

…and of course there’s an entire Christmas-themed band of cats out there. Unlike The Rock Cats, The Jingle Cats merely meow over humans playing Christmas carols in a similar manner to No Grave But the Sea for Dogs. They released three albums, Meowy Christmas, Here Comes Santa Claws and a non-Christmas album, Rhythm and Mews, all three of which are available on Spotify. They also have a website which is somehow even worse than The Rock Cats’ was.

Christmas albums tend to be gimmicky enough as it is, but having cats as the vocalists just adds a whole new dimension of gimmickry to the proceedings. The music itself is very generic holiday fare, almost like something from a karaoke version of the songs, and the cat vocals grow tiresome very quickly, especially when they are arranged in a very high pitch. Also, for some reason, there’s a dog on lots of these songs as well, despite this being a supposedly cat-based band. As painful as the Christmas albums are, Rhythm and Mews is a special kind of insane, featuring cat-based covers of “Secret Agent Man“, “Home on the Range” and the freaking “The Star Spangled Banner“.

I… I’m not sure what else to say beyond that. Maybe we should just stop with these animal bands, or at least the cat-based ones, okay?

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Christian Mingle – The Almighty Cockblocker

Recently my girlfriend was looking for a movie that we could watch on Netflix and, surprisingly, asked if I wanted to watch Christian Mingle. She isn’t a Christian herself, so this was particularly unexpected, but as someone who’s interested in crappy movies, this movie had been on my radar for quite some time and of course I said yes to the offer to watch it. It was basically just a reasonably well-done version of one of those low-budget W-network romantic films, with a religious spin on things to differentiate itself. I’m not really interested in a full review of the film (I’d give it a 4/10), but the film’s religious elements did get me thinking because they were implemented in some strange ways which I feel run counter to the intended message.

First off, Christian Mingle is very much an archetypal low budget romance movie. If you’ve seen one of these before, you know the drill – you’ve got your generic white couple who get drawn together, a manipulative mother, an unbearable romantic rival, a stupid conflict that draws the characters apart and which would have been easily solvable with a little communication and common sense, etc. Perhaps the weirdest thing about all of this though is how Christianity has been shoehorned into this archetype. Usually the central conflict comes because of some nefarious falsehood or because of some sort of scheme on the part of the villain, but in this story that means that the villain is… God, or at least this form of Christianity. It might have actually been interesting if this was intentional, but it definitely does not seem like that is the case here.

Much of the early conflict in Christian Mingle is driven by Gwyn feeling like she isn’t “Christian enough” (she’s a Christmas and Easter Christian, but that still makes her Christian) and Paul overestimating her devotion to God. Gwyn and Paul fall for each other, while Gwyn tries to learn how to be a better Christian. Interestingly, the film’s focus seems to be primarily directed on Christian lingo, rather than on the actions that would set someone apart and in fact seems to be the villainous mother character’s issue as well. She’s trying to set Paul up with goody-goody church girl Kelly, who’s clearly “in” the Christian group but clearly doesn’t have a connection with Paul like Gwyn does. Then, while volunteering together in Mexico*, Paul finds out that Gwyn isn’t Christian enough and decides that they can’t be together anymore, despite both of them clearly being in love. So, what this film is saying is that because Gwyn isn’t at the same faith level as Paul, they can’t be together? I mean, she basically says she wants to be better, she wants to know God the same way he does. Isn’t this every Evangelical boy’s dream, to save his girlfriend’s soul? Apparently not, according to this movie, because they split and he gets matched up with Kelly for a while.

So what does Gwyn do? She starts praying, going to church, reading her Bible, etc. And then she quits her job because she doesn’t feel honest marketing products she doesn’t believe in (as the Common Sense Media overview of the film puts it, “Why does no one ask if there are clinical trials to back up the product’s claims?”) and goes and volunteers full-time in Mexico. As a result, she apparently reaches a point where she’s “Christian enough” and Paul seeks her out on his own accord… and reveals that he loved her all along. So, wait, would he have gotten back together with her if she hadn’t completely changed her life for him? Would he have gotten over his own barriers and accept her in order to make love work? Who knows, because the movie’s story conveniently swerves to avoid having to actually answer this! Hell, it would even have been interesting to me if they had done something to suggest that this was supposed to be a metaphor for God’s love and that he seeks her whether she believes the “right” way or not, but obviously this kind of film doesn’t have any sort of ambition to it.

As I’ve probably hammered home by now, the biggest issue in Christian Mingle is that it really harps on this exclusive form of Christian belief that Gwyn fails to measure up to, although the film never really says what that involves outside of loving God. I’m not sure if this is just Evangelical dog whistling, or if the film just thinks that if it doesn’t take a stance at all then it will be able to reach a wider audience. This makes me wonder why the hell Gwyn’s faith maturity is such a big deal, because she clearly is game to grow. The aforementioned Common Sense Media’s review put it well when they said that “most followers of Jesus tout the claim that God loves everyone, which is a policy of religious inclusiveness, but this plot hangs on the exclusionary position born-again parents take when they fear their son is being wooed by a non-believer”, and not only that but the film seems to reinforce that exclusionary message. Everyone has to begin a journey of faith somewhere, not to mention that spiritual growth develops over a lifetime, so why does everyone expect Gwyn to be fully developed in order for she and Paul to have any sort of relationship? It’s just a baffling message and I can’t understand why it is treated like a given assumption throughout the film, unless it’s just pandering to the mindset of the hardcore Evangelical bubble.

Furthermore, the film really drops the ball on what a Christian life should look like. In addition to making the Christian characters the real villains of the piece and having Christianity and God become the obstacle which is preventing love from being achieved (without any sort of self-consciousness about this message, I may add), God barely seems to have any real positive effect in the lives of the characters in the film. Like, Gwyn says that the Christian characters are all so happy and different, but that doesn’t really seem to be the case. Again, Paul’s mom is uptight, Kelly is clearly a jealous schemer and most of the Christians are portrayed in a manner which I can only describe as “low budget TV romance quirky”. Again, if you’ve seen enough of these films, you’d know what I mean – characters who are supposed to be fountains of humour but whose actions make them feel inhuman. Even Paul himself is quite bland and feels tethered by his faith, rather than liberated, and he is only actually interesting when he’s breaking free of that shell to be with Gwyn. The film also doesn’t help its case when it reveals that practically every other character in Gwyn’s life is secretly Christian, most notably Gwyn’s sassy black friend, Pam. As a result, we don’t really get any unfulfilled non-Christians to compare the faithful to. The result of all of this is that God basically becomes window dressing in a film which is clearly intended to actually be about Him. Everyone’s talking about God, but He has no actual presence in the film, which doesn’t help the resulting perception that Christian Mingle is about “authenticity […] to a specific way of worship”.

Obviously the film has other issues (the fact that it’s basically a paid advertisement using faith as a springboard being most notable), but I felt like these ones here are the most central to the film’s failings. Like I said in the intro, it’s otherwise just a competent made for TV romantic film, if you’re into that kind of thing. However, the one thing that it does to differentiate itself is handled really poorly when you apply any sort of critical thought towards it… y’know, assuming that they were actually trying to make Christianity and God look appealing anyway.

*Or, well, a super cheap cowboy set doubling for Mexico. Seriously, I laughed my ass off at this part.

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Waiting for Superman

I have been thinking about Superman a lot in the past few months. He’s such a ubiquitous character, it wasn’t until I sat down to write this article that I realized just how present he has been throughout my whole life. In spite of this, I’ve never really considered myself a huge fan, or even read his comic adventures (outside of Superman: Red Son). For the longest time, I agreed with the old adage in Batman versus Superman debates – Batman is a more compelling character, because he can actually be related to. However, a decade removed from The Dark Knight, I’m starting to come to the conclusion that Superman has the capacity to be an infinitely more interesting character than Batman – the key word here being “capacity”. There are numerous instances of awful writing throughout Superman’s long history, but within that long history there are also some fantastic stories worth checking out.

Take a guess which category this issue falls into.

Superman’s ubiquity has also helped inspire a number of other stories in all sorts of mediums, which I feel help paint a far more interesting portrait of the character. For example, I have heard people claim that The Iron Giant is one of the best Superman stories ever written, and I’m certainly inclined to agree. The Giant’s arrival on Earth isn’t dissimilar to Superman, and the character is often invoked by Hogarth as the sort of moral pillar which everyone should aspire to be. The moment when (SPOILER ALERT) the giant chooses to sacrifice himself at the end of the film reflects back perfectly on the sort of character who Superman is, a fact which is explicitly noted within the film itself when the Giant thinks of the words Hogarth said to him: “You are who you choose to be,” to which he simply says “Superman”.

Superman has also inspired a number of songs, whether they are actually about his character (“Superman” by Five For Fighting), or whether they’re invoking him as a symbol (“Kryptonite”, 3 Doors Down). I quite like Five For Fighting’s musical take on the character, which suggests that having all the power in the world doesn’t make life any easier – in fact, it just saddles with you with even more responsibility. Lately, I have been listening to The Flaming Lips’ The Soft Bulletin and one of the definite highlights on that album is “Waitin’ for Superman”, which uses the character as a symbol for the burdens of life and how we don’t have a Superman here to help shoulder all our troubles. However, as sorrowful as it may be, it is also quietly optimistic, insisting that we be strong and all try to hold on as long as we can. The song was written about Wayne Coyne’s own struggles in life at the time when his father was dying of cancer. He felt like the burdens of life were heavy, but realized that they would get even worse when his father succumbed and wished that there was someone there would could carry these emotions.

I found a couple quotes about the song which I feel help to illustrate the power that Superman has, and how his absence is felt in our own lives. Killian Good says that “the song’s central symbol is the absence of a real world Superman there to shoulder the burdens of daily life and right wrongs beyond human control. The piece is all at once sorrowful and optimistic. On one hand, the narrator admits there is no visible safety net to guard against man’s fall, yet suggests simultaneously that we all, those waiting for Superman, might find strength and resilience in one another’s arms, that salvation may live in love and understanding.”

Meanwhile, Michael Goldberg at MTV wrote that “when I listen to ‘Waiting for a Superman,’ two stories unfold. The first is about love. And about two people struggling to understand each other and come together and hang together through the good times and the bad times. The second is about death. About being there for a father or mother as life ebbs away.”

Of course, no discussion of Superman and music is complete without mentioning John Williams’ theme song from the 1978 Superman: The Movie. I will occasionally throw this song on just to motivate myself. It’s the perfect musical distillation of who Superman is – it’s powerful, elating and makes you feel like you can do absolutely anything. There’s a reason that this track has become so iconic, to the point where it is still being used in Superman media today. Personally, I feel like the 1978 film is the closest a live-action film has gotten to capturing that perfect essence of what makes Superman such a powerful character, with much of that praise going to Christopher Reeve of course. I enjoy Superman II quite a bit, but it isn’t really on the same level in that regard. However, no other Superman film has really captured that spirit. Superman Returns tried to ape the tone of the classics, but it wasn’t well-received for it. Worse, I feel like the DCEU incarnation of Superman has just gone in the wrong direction entirely. Man of Steel was criminally boring and wasted the strong potential it had to create a different, interesting and more grounded sort of Superman. It pays lip service to establishing Superman’s moral compass, but the films haven’t done much with the character to make us care about him. Hell, making his first antagonist Zod was even worse because then off the bat we’re getting another story about someone just as strong as him and watching them punch each other. This is a trap that poor Superman adaptations always fall into.

So what would I do if I was going to write my own Superman story? First of all, I’d look to perhaps the most famous page in any Superman comic, this sequence from All-Star Superman (click image to enlarge):

I feel like these 5 panels are a perfect expression of where the true power of Superman lies. Saving a life, even by just being there and knowing our hurts, that’s the sort of thing that no other superhero can do. That is the power of Superman as a character. That is what good writing achieves for this character. Like, seriously, reading this page makes me tear up every time. David Fairbanks compares that to what a pulpier take on the character would have attempted: “Superman didn’t catch Regan’s body as it plummeted toward the ground; Regan was saved by Superman simply standing there on the ledge. […] A stranger who cares. It’s that kind of outreach that can be vital to saving lives. And you don’t need to be a superhero to do it, either.” We never get to see this kind of Superman in film – instead, he’s either catching them as they fall or punching someone just as strong as him. This may be exciting, but it’s easy and hardly inspiring.

In my opinion, Superman works best when he isn’t being treated like “just another superhero”. For any other superhero, it’s perfectly fine and reasonable to have the hero using their powers to face off against an equally-powered supervillain. However, because Superman is supposed to be the pinnacle of good, a hero with no limitations, attempting to treat him in the same manner is ineffective at best. Superman II is a fun beat-’em-up, but it’s only as good as it is because of the personal crises that Superman goes through, wishing that he was human. Superman III and IV are awful simply because they revolve around plots to kill Superman which are obviously not going to be able to kill Superman.

The current crop of DCEU Superman films have had much more fundamental issues at their core. Much has been written about how Zack Snyder’s Superman seems to have been coloured by a Randian worldview, altering the character’s moral compass and innate goodness in a negative manner. While I don’t feel like this was necessarily an intentional decision by Snyder to turn Superman into a more selfish character, I do feel like his own personal feelings ended up affecting how this “more mature”, “more grounded” version of the character ended up being portrayed. Snyder and Warner Bros. tried to ape the success of The Dark Knight and force Superman into the same box as more traditional superheroes, and the results were lackluster. And it’s really too bad, I mean just look at the original teaser trailer for Man of Steel:

This was the Superman film I was originally sold on. There’s no sign of a villain, but that teaser is so compelling. That is the kind of Superman film I wanted, one which establishes Superman’s moral compass, his grounded upbringing, his worth to the rest of humanity. Instead, Man of Steel paid lip service to this before jumping into “empty-headed, violent spectacle for teenagers who think that darkness in a superhero story is evidence of serious artistic merit” within 30 minutes of its runtime. Had it stuck with the initial impression left by this teaser, perhaps we would finally have the Superman film to rival the 1978 original (or, hell, even Superman II).

It’s also worth noting how Clark Kent is treated throughout the DCEU films… or, should I say, effectively cast aside. Clark Kent is officially dead as of Batman vs Superman (aka, the 2nd film in this franchise), but he was never really all that important throughout this incarnation of the character anyway. Superman himself gets all the focus and Clark is very much sidelined. Hell, all the characters important to Clark know his true identity anyway, so he’s not even important within the stories that these films are trying to tell – really, it’s no wonder he was jettisoned this way. But losing Clark also loses out on some of the heart which a Superman story can tell and, in my opinion, potentially weakens the character’s depth.

I like to think of Bill’s monologue about Superman in Kill Bill Vol. 2 to get a fascinating glimpse of how Clark can be interpreted. It’s not exactly a definitive, or necessarily even “correct” take on Clark Kent, but it certainly makes you re-evaluate the character in an interesting manner. Bill reiterates the idea I’ve been emphasizing here that Superman is a special kind of superhero who shouldn’t be treated the same way as a more traditional one, such as Spider-Man or Batman:

“Superman didn’t become Superman. Superman was born Superman. When Superman wakes up in the morning, he’s Superman. His alter ego is Clark Kent. His outfit with the big red ‘S’, that’s the blanket he was wrapped in as a baby when the Kents found him. Those are his clothes. What Kent wears – the glasses, the business suit – that’s the costume. That’s the costume Superman wears to blend in with us. Clark Kent is how Superman views us. And what are the characteristics of Clark Kent? He’s weak, he’s unsure of himself, he’s a coward. Clark Kent is Superman’s critique on the whole human race.”

Neglecting the Clark Kent side of Superman is like ignoring his human side entirely. Clark helps keep Superman morally-grounded, but also provides him with a sort of mental escape from the life he leads. Superman II in particular succeeds as far as it does because it puts so much emphasis on Clark Kent – Superman often wishes that he could have a normal life, that he could just be Clark Kent. He loves Lois Lane and wants to be able to be with her, to act on his desires. Beyond that, the responsibilities of the world are just too much to bear at times, but he’s the only one who can carry that weight, so he will do what is right to make that burden easier for others.

And that’s exactly the sort of core I’d work with if I was tasked to write a Superman story.

There are a few directions you could go with a different and interesting Superman story. If you want an origin, maybe go with what Man of Steel‘s marketing suggested and make it about establishing his ironclad moral compass. However, I’m less interested in seeing Superman facing off against a supervillain than I am considering the idea of him grappling with the responsibility of being Superman.

Many Superman films pay lip service to the character being a Christ-metaphor, but this should be leaned into more explicitly in my opinion. Superman can be Jesus without having to die for us – just look at that All-Star Superman panel earlier. Superman saves Regan by loving her and being there for her when she needed someone, much like the role Jesus plays in many peoples’ lives. Superman doesn’t have to be constantly swooping in and dazzling people with his displays of power, although when he does this should be inspiring people to be better. Superman should grapple with his inability to be there to save everyone. If he’s out as Clark Kent and people are hurting somewhere in the meantime, he should feel the pressure from this. When should Superman intervene? Does Superman ever need a break? What sort of mental toll will that take on him? We need to see why he needs Clark Kent, why this human fantasy of his keeps him grounded, and actually make us feel like there’s something between he and Lois Lane.

That’s before we even get into big-picture moral issues. I mean, forget about dramatic trifles such as whether to kill an alien supervillain – what about the implications of Superman interfering with world politics and inequality? Just look at what intervention in Iraq did, disrupting the existing power structures created ISIS (to put it simply). Would Superman force the world to be better? Would he just stand by and let people be downtrodden? Or would he pick people up one at a time? How would world governments respond to him? This sort of thing is totally glossed over in all Superman films so far, but it should be addressed, even if we just have Jor-El teaching Superman that direct intervention only causes more issues and that people will only respond if they’re guided indirectly so that they accept positive change naturally. Regardless, the temptation to act is going to weigh on him.

Basically, if we have another take on Superman, I hope they don’t treat him like any other superhero, running around and punching bad guys. He has way more potential to stand out, because when he’s treated the same, he just seems like a bland Mary Sue. Superman has his limitations, even without resorting to an artificial weakness or by powering up his problems. There are problems that even Superman cannot deal with, but he will try to face them regardless, because he is the only one who can try to bear that weight.

He hasn’t dropped them, forgot them, or anything, it’s just too heavy for Superman to lift.

(Post-script: My friend Matt wrote a response to this post, check it out!)

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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).


On the plus side though, Team Ninja seems to have put most of their effort into the graphics and physics engines, which definitely shows. The PS4 version obviously looks superior, but the PS Vita’s graphics are pretty damn good as well. Aside from a reduced framerate and resolution, the only really noticeable downgrades in the handheld are, for whatever reason, that the girls don’t get suntanned and can’t suffer SFW “wardrobe malfunctions” during some of the minigames – hardly make-or-break issues, but their exclusion is a little odd. The game’s physics engine is also probably the best that the series has ever seen – DOA is notorious for its hilarious (often intentionally-so) boob-physics, but DOAX3 seems to have stepped up its game in a surprisingly-positive way. The boob physics appear to be much more, uh, natural this time around… plus they added butt physics too, because Team Ninja understands priorities. The only really annoying graphical issue is one that has persisted throughout the series – hair physics. The characters’ hair goes crazy all the time, clipping through characters, objects and generally just going bonkers while the physics try to make sense of their programming. Some of the swimsuits have the same sort of issues, particularly the leis (which are apparently glued to the girls’ nipples or something) – the dangle physics don’t seem to have been figured out yet, which is probably why we don’t have any men in the DOAX series yet (BADUM TISH!). Still, for a game based almost entirely around sexiness (and with so much recycled content), the emphasis on the graphics was probably the right call to make, with all of the girls looking even better than they already did in DOA5.

The actual gameplay of DOAX3 takes place over the course of 14 in-game days, each split up into morning, afternoon, evening and night-time segments. The morning, afternoon and evening segments can be used to play minigames, relax or buy new swimsuits, while the night-time segments basically just give you the opportunity to gamble your cash at the casino. There’s about one line of story for each of the girls which explains what they’re doing on the island, but beyond that there’s basically no overarching plot – you’re just on the island and you get to choose how you want to spend your vacation time. The game does present you with missions in order to earn “Zack Dollars”, upgrade your “Owner Level” and increase your girls’ happiness levels, but it’s really just up to you whether you want to accomplish these missions or not. The only real goal is to make the girls happy by the end of your vacation – the happier they are, the higher your final score is.

The bulk of the gameplay in DOAX3 revolves around a series of 6 minigames. Of these, volleyball is by far the funnest and most rewarding. It’s not particularly deep, but there is some actual strategy involved in winning and skill involved as you learn how to defend, set up plays and master better (but more risky) serves. The payouts are also considerably higher than any other minigame, so you’re probably going to spend most of your time playing this unless you’re just hunting missions all of the time. It’s also legitimately quite fun to play, with a reasonable amount of challenge involved.

The second minigame is tug of war, in which you just move the analog stick left to pull, or right to feint, and tap X to regain balance. However, when I’m playing I don’t find that there’s much reason to do anything other than just tug it constantly (heh heh). Easy-level opponents don’t really react quick enough to fight back, so if you just tug then you’re pretty much guaranteed a win. Normal-level opponents require a bit more strategy, but even when I’d open with a feint trying to be strategic, I found that I was losing a lot more. I just ended up tugging it mindlessly again after that (heh heh), and won 3 matches in a row with no effort. Honestly, winning in tug of war seems very shallow and is basically a crapshoot, because feints are unpredictable and can cause you to instantly lose if they pull one off. It can be fun as a diversion, but it gets stale pretty quickly.

The third minigame is butt battle, which feels like the most stripped-down (heh heh) fighting game ever. Basically, press O to bash the other girl in the butt with your own butt, and use the analog stick to dodge or sidestep. However, I have found that there isn’t a lot of reason to do much more than just hammer on O to win most of the time. For normal-level opponents and higher, butt battling feels a little more like a rhythm/timing-based game as you just wait to see if your opponent dodges or not. It’s still pretty shallow and doesn’t really seem to exist for much more reason than to make you laugh and appreciate the butt physics (oh and to show off the wardrobe malfunctions on PS4).

The fourth minigame is beach flags, which is basically just an HD remaster of NES Track and Field. Basically, wait until the game says go, then button mash X as fast as possible and then press O to dive for the flag before the other player does. It literally takes seconds to finish (heh heh) and, if you’re like me and can’t button mash for shit, then winning against hard-level opponents is basically impossible. It’s just not particularly engaging or skill-based, providing little more than an opportunity for quick cash if you don’t want to spend a lot of time on a minigame for whatever reason.

The fifth minigame is pool hopping. It’s sort of like a speed-based QTE game, where you jump to platforms marked with one of the Playstation face buttons on each one. Platforms are spaced apart at different distances, with a tap of any of the face buttons being required to make a small jump and a hold being used to jump over longer distances. In addition, players can use the face button that matches the platform to perform the QTE to gain additional cash. Honestly, I think pool hopping might be my least-favourite minigame, mainly due to the controls – the difference between a button press and a hold is miniscule, making it super easy to accidentally throw yourself into the pool and then scream in frustration at the annoying controls. Plus the game emphasizes speed, so it’s very easy to screw up as you try to stay ahead of your opponent. I find that I can’t even finish it if I’m trying to match the buttons on the platforms, so I usually just focus on whether my next move is a hold or a tap. Pool hopping definitely takes practice, which I guess makes it more interesting than most of the other minigames, but the frustratingly finicky controls take a lot of patience to acclimate to.

The last minigame is rock climbing, which was added in place of Marine Race and Water Slide. It’s literally just 40 seconds of QTEs, making it arguably the most boring minigame in the entire collection. It feels like it’s just an overglorified gravure video with some button prompts overlaid on it, but at least you get Zack Dollars for completing it (which is far more than I expected). Once you’ve finished it once, you’ve seen everything it has to offer.

In addition to the main minigames, the game also features a casino where players can choose to gamble their Zack Dollars with the other girls. The three offerings (blackjack, poker and roulette) are certainly functional but are very basic even in comparison and lack much visual flair to keep them interesting for long periods of time. Roulette seems like the most throwaway since it’s almost 100% luck based whether you make any sort of payout. I spend most of my time in the casino on blackjack and poker (which is using the five-card draw rules rather than Texas hold ’em, sadly), since there’s actually some skill involved. Poker in particular is pretty easy to rake in money with consistently if you know how to play, since you can just bluff opponents off the cards most of the time if they have weak hands (and as long as you don’t just go in with awful hands yourself all the time). A poker session can a pretty fun diversion sometimes, but most nights I just skip going to the casino since it doesn’t really change or give you much reason to keep going back aside from farming for money. Oh, also, for a game that is all about sexiness, I’m also disappointed that Team Ninja still won’t actually put animations of the girls you’re playing against in the casino. Instead, they just show bubbles with the characters’ heads in them acting as an avatar (the same system used in previous DOAX games). It once again smacks of a modicum of effort being applied, and is doubly unsatisfying since this is a game about sexiness – you think they’d play that up shamelessly here. As a consolation, we get images of the girls on all the playing cards, but it’s not much of an effort (especially since the pictures are basically all promotional renders, which might have taken an afternoon of work to apply to all the in-game cards).

Aside from the minigames, the other main feature in vacation mode is the ability to watch the gravure videos of the girls relaxing around the island. While they’re clearly intended to be the game’s main draw, I find that they aren’t particularly well-integrated into the game. You can choose to initiate these videos by visiting parts of the island to relax, but this is where, one of the major failings of all of the DOAX games comes into play – the games are clearly meant to be playing up sexiness, but triggering these scenes uses up a portion of your very finite schedule with no practical gain (as far as I can tell, they don’t even give you satisfaction, which is mind-boggling). Time you spend on relaxing could have easily been spent on volleyball, which is both funner and provides you with currency to buy new swimsuits. It’s like the game’s systems are actively discouraging you from doing the very thing that the game is designed to do, which is frustrating (good thing a quick Youtube search will give you all the DOAX3 gravure videos you could ever want without wasting any of your vacation time or spending a penny). This is my general problem with sexy/porn games – the “game” parts tend to clash with the actual point of the game (and where all the effort was actually directed… in this case, appreciating skimpily-dressed girls). While I’d probably rather be appreciating the gravure videos, I’ve got no practical reason to do so, which just ends up highlighting how unsatisfactory the gameplay itself is. I think it would be more interesting if the game gave you higher satisfaction yields for choosing to relax, while continuing to give you good money and satisfaction yields for completing activities, which would at least give you a strategic reason to pick between the two options.

It’s also worth pointing out that all of the minigames take up the same amount of in-game time, whether you spend 15 seconds playing beach flags (or falling into the pool on the first button prompt in pool hopping), or spend 2 or 3 minutes on a heated game of beach volleyball. It feels kind of strange to me that you can end up completing a whole 14 day vacation in probably 10-15 minutes if you choose to blaze through the shorter games. It might have been a little more interesting if there was more of a time-management risk/reward factor, where you can play volleyball for longer times but with a greater payout if you win, compared to the shorter games which would have lower payouts but smaller time investment, meaning you can play more games. As it is, there doesn’t seem to be much reason to play anything other than volleyball most of the time, since it’s both the funnest activity and the highest paying of them all.

That said, the emphasis on volleyball just highlights how poor the other games are. A glance at the trophy statistics shows that (as of the time of this writing), the percentage of players with 10 wins in each of the minigames is as follows: volleyball (41.3%), rock climbing (32.2%, shockingly), beach flags (27.6%), butt battle (26.9%), tug of war (26.8%) and pool hopping (20.5%). As you can see, the contrast between volleyball and all the other games is pretty stark. With only ~30% of players even hitting Owner Level 10 (about the equivalent of completing 3 vacations), it makes me wonder how many people grew tired of the game’s offerings within a couple hours, or how many spent all of their time on the only really good minigame on offer.

The one big addition to DOAX3 is the new “Owner Mode”, which allows you to play as a caretaker who Zack has entrusted ownership of the island over to. The basic ideas kind of play out similarly to a management game (think like the absolute simplest Football Manager ever). You can start a vacation as the owner if you’d like, or you can switch to it seamlessly at any point in the menus. The point of playing in owner mode is to maximize the happiness of all of the girls on the island as best as you can, which is where the game’s basic dating sim mechanics come into play. Each girl has favourite items, food and colours. While the game doesn’t just go out and say what each girl likes this time (aside from their colours, which makes it basically impossible to give them a bad gift wrapping), a quick Google search makes it easy to figure out what their preferences are. I know that some people enjoy dating sim elements in games, but I have always found them to be an absolute bore at best, and an irritating chore at worst since I’m just following a set of instructions to get the outcome I want. There’s no real strategy to it, you just do what the game expects you to to get the girl to accept your gifts. The only real reason it seems like they’ve thrown this in here is for the bonus sequences where the girls will try on their new swimsuit in front of you (giving you the option to peek, but of course this ends up being both SFW and exceptionally pervy).

Beyond happiness-management, owner mode also gives you a second pool of Zack Dollars which can be acquired by completing missions and gambling in the casino, and which can be spent to gift girls new swimsuits. Owner mode also gives you access to the Owner Shop, where exclusive swimsuits can be purchased. This is where the game’s microtransactions come into play, because of course they do. The microtransaction system (known as “Premium Tickets”) is disgusting – as you would expect, they allow you to buy premium swimsuits from the Owner Shop for real world money. This is egregious for a number of reasons. For one thing, many missions require you to buy a girl some special swimsuit from the Owner Shop. However, most missions don’t tend to have particularly great payouts, so the odds of you having enough Zack Dollars for the better ones have clearly been designed to incentivize the sale of Premium Tickets (unless you get really lucky in the casino). With the more expensive swimsuits running 14+ Premium Tickets, you’re looking at $10 (Canadian) or more just to gain the privilege of dressing your virtual characters in a single swimsuit that’s already in the game… and that’s before factoring Team Ninja’s inevitable future DLC plans (and their demonstrated history of horrifically shitty business practices there). Also, the contents of the Owner Shop at any one time are semi-random meaning that, like the shittiest free-to-play games, they force you to spend money to get the items you want because they might not be there when you can afford them. Microtransactions are just such a shitty thing to include in a full-priced game like this, especially when they have been so obviously manufactured to push players into spending money on them, and doubly-so on a game which seems to have put as little effort into it as this.

The other big feature of owner mode is your Owner Level, which represents how much work you have put into the game. It is also tied into some special swimsuit and item unlocks, but unfortunately the game expects you to put in an absolutely ridiculous amount of grinding (heh heh) to get stuff. Some of this is stuff that should be an absolute necessity for this sort of game, such as the ability to freaking pause gravure videos, which requires you to be a mind-boggling level 80 to unlock (a feature which was available from the start in Dead or Alive 5: Last Round, a game where sexiness and taking photos isn’t even the whole point of the experience). Honestly, the amount of grinding that the game expects out of you is absolutely ridiculous considering how little content or substance is on offer. As much as I want the ability to pause gravure videos, the thought of having to grind to level 80 makes this feel like the game is wasting my time.

Oddly enough, the least-flashy aspect of owner mode might just be the best part since it sticks to the central philosophy of sexiness – the ability to just sit back and watch the girls doing their activities without having to take direct control. This can be pretty relaxing, particularly if you’re enjoying a good volleyball match, and gives you the opportunity to take (inevitably pervy) pictures. The lack of a pause ability right out of the box is even more egregious in this mode because snapping quality photos is very difficult to pull off when you can’t anticipate the girls’ movements. Still, snapping photos is pretty fun and the in-game controls are robust enough that you can get some really great shots if you practice.

Honestly, DOAX3 feels like the sort of game which would have greatly benefited from a next gen design philosophy overhaul. How much cooler would this have been though if New Zack Island had used an open hub world system where you take control of one of the girls and navigate the island, relaxing and performing activities to your heart’s content? If nothing else, this would have been significantly more interesting and exciting than the existing menu-based UI system. The game could also do with some co-op functionality, especially since you spend the entire vacation with a partner anyway. Multiplayer was actually a feature from DOAX2 which was removed in this game, co-op could have been a great step forward. Naturally, I understand that Tecmo-Koei probably doesn’t expect the game to sell very many copies, so they probably figured that they couldn’t justify the sort of work that would be required to rewrite the game from the ground up. However, with Team Ninja’s insistence on recycling content, we’re left effectively playing an early Xbox game, just with shinier graphics than before. This already didn’t cut it when DOAX2 dropped in 2006, and it’s even more noticeable in a world where identically-priced games feature more refinement and meaningful content than ever.

As you can probably tell from everything up to this point, I don’t think that DOAX3 is a particularly good game. However, in spite of all the shittiness on display, I have to admit that I was actually finding it to be somewhat enjoyable in spite of itself. It’s a strangely relaxing change of pace from my usual sort of gaming entertainment, as I get smacked around in Bloodborne, Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest and XCOM 2… and then use Rainbow Six: Siege to cool off. DOAX3 just lets me lean back and enjoy some minimal challenge while basically giving me the ability to do whatever I want to on my 14 day vacation. It’s kind of difficult to review in that sense, because it’s clearly extremely niche, lacking in meaningful content and difficult to quantify. I can kind of understand how it can get reviews as low as a 1.5/10, but I can also see why someone would give it something as high as a 6/10 if they were being very forgiving of its obvious flaws. For my own part, the lack of content, ridiculous insistence on grinding to make up for said lack of content, disconnect between gameplay and sexiness, and Team Ninja’s seeming overwhelming laziness push it into the negative side, but there is some sort of intangible relaxation that the game brings which make me feel like being at least somewhat generous to it. I don’t exactly recommend the game, but it is definitely going to only appeal to a certain kind of niche gamer.

4/10

…Oh, and did you think I’d not bother to mention anything about sexism? I decided to set that aside for my feelings on the game, but honestly I didn’t really have a particularly difficult time doing so. Maybe the shittiest sort of SJW-type would bristle at the very idea of this game existing, but I didn’t really care all that much when I was playing. The voyeuristic aspects of the game can be rather pervy at times and I sometimes have to stifle a laugh at how silly the game is when it’s trying to be sexy, but the game isn’t particularly offensive. It’s also strangely chaste in some ways – while the girls enjoy looking sexy, they seem to have little interest in sex itself (especially since the series’ more sexily-dominant characters, Tina and Christie, didn’t make the cut). Naturally, this has some troubling implications in itself, but at least the girls are all presented as “look, don’t touch” and beyond attainability, rather than just being sex puppets for our gratification.

If DOAX3 had come overseas, I honestly don’t think that there would have been much of a furor. Hell, I was at an EB games just this morning and saw Onechanbara and a bunch of other typical “sexy Japanese” games on sale without giving a shit. Of course, Tecmo-Koei used the controversy that grew from the lack of a Western release to bait even more controversy for sales (the announcement of “Owner Mode” was probably the most obvious example of this), while PlayAsia basically turned it into an art, effectively netting them their intended audience without having to spend a dime on localization. Really though, I think there’s room for this kind of game to exist – as I have emphasized all through my review, DOAX3 is a game all about sexiness, so if it wants to be sexy then fine. My problem is when otherwise-serious games, particularly ones with an exclusively-male-gaze version femininity in them (such as Metal Gear Solid V) come out and end up dominating the market share. We’re at a point where there are enough positive female characters, from Tomb Raider, to Life is Strange, to the upcoming Horizon: Zero Dawn that I think we can afford a cheesy bit of fantasy in the form of DOAX3 without setting women back decades.

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So… What’s the Point?

There’s a recurring argument which seems to occur within my family every couple months. Most recently it was triggered by Rajon Rondo’s anti-gay comments to a gay referee in an NBA game and his two subsequent non-apologies. On one side, the argument was being made that Rondo was being an asshole, but how was this different than player ribbing one another by making comments about their mothers/sisters? There was also the free speech argument being tossed around (even though this is a case where an employee is being punished by his employer because of a positive image that they want to project, not an opinion in the public forum). One particular party was also arguing that people are just too “soft” these days, love to complain about stupid bullshit and need to grow thicker skin (this party, for the record, is only 22 bloody years old). These comments did get me thinking though – when we SJW-types stand up and make a fuss about something, are we just doing so because we’re a bunch of cry babies? Are we doing anything productive? When I write about womens’ representation in pop culture, what am I actually trying to achieve? To put it as simply as possible: what’s the point?

Well let’s make one thing clear – for all of my feminist criticism, I don’t think that any one example of objectification is going to be the tipping point where someone becomes a misogynist. However, I’m not sure if that’s an excuse to go entirely the other way – in one of his videos, TotalBiscuit says that he doesn’t believe that video games cause real-life violence, so it would be hypocritical of him to believe that video games can cause misogyny. In my mind, this is not an equivalent analogy. Violence is something which our society looks down upon, whereas (if you’re a feminist at least) negative attitudes towards women are still quite prevalent – just look at a few of the things I have written here for some examples in “liberal” Hollywood. As a result, it would seem to me that examples of sexism are not the problem, but rather the social perceptions which they help to foster. Actually, Robert Evans put out a very interesting article on the mindsets of mass shooters while I was writing this post which helps illustrate the difference between causation and cultural perception.

Considering that pretty much all of western society has agreed that racism = bad, it’s probably best to demonstrate perception in that area. First of all, getting to the point where we could agree that racism was bad in the first place required a shift in social perception, which we’d all look back on and consider to be a good change, right? People also seem to be fairly familiar with examples of racism within culture: black guys are criminals, love fried chicken and have huge dicks, Asians are all geniuses with tiny dicks (it’s all about the dicks in racism), Muslims are women-hating savages, terrorists and have wild beards, etc. These sorts of things get passed around in our culture, but they are not necessarily true (and even if they are on a person-to-person basis, the fact that they colour our perceptions of a whole race is definitely problematic). I have seen this sort of mindset still persisting on white supremacy forums over this last week. This sort of hateful ideology must be stamped out and the only acceptable way to do so is through proper education and social dialogue.

Perceptions change over time. Islamophobia is not a thing which necessarily “is”, it is based on a perception that has developed based on the narratives put forth by various sources. For a non-SJW example, look at the Ebola panic last year. The American media threw people into a frenzy as they worried about whether this disease would come to America, go airborne and then kill millions of people… even though basically every expert agreed that there was basically no threat of an outbreak in America (not that they gave a shit about helping the 5000-10,000 people who died from the outbreaks in West Africa). Furthermore, before this story hit the news cycle, the public wasn’t worried at all about Ebola or pandemics, at least not since 2009’s Swine Flu “scare” anyway.

So how does all of this relate to blogging about Quiet’s sniper-stripper outfit then, for example? The point is quite simply to change the existing perception. Keeping it in the video game sphere, I have stated numerous times in the past that the status quo for female representation is to objectify, to damsel or to fridge them. By blogging about such representations and drawing attention to them, combined with all of the other feminists who are doing the same, we hope to create a shift in the social perception. The same can be said in other areas where people have been questioning why people even care – from sexual harassment in the military, to Black Lives Matter, to Caitlyn Jenner becoming the face of trans-rights. We are creating a dialogue by questioning the status quo. After all, if we did not speak up about an issue, the issue would never change.

The secondary consideration is that a change in perception will also (hopefully) lead to more diversity. If the status quo is never questioned, then most of our media will never even think to try something different. This is why so many video game protagonists have been white males, especially in the past console generation. Diversity also means that certain “negative” portrayals can also be totally acceptable. For example, in an early post on the blog, I questioned why it was wrong to objectify women, but men were fair game (eg, the Wolfpack in Twilight, Magic Mike, etc). I have come to realize that objectification is not inherently the issue here, but rather that women have been disproportionately objectified for decades. As a result, we need to rein back the objectification and make it more egalitarian. This is also why most SJW-types don’t give a shit about DOAX3 or Pirahna 3D, these are experiences which are really obviously little more than a softcore fantasy with a very limited audience. Conversely, The Phantom Pain‘s Quiet is problematic as she is the sole female character in an otherwise-serious, high-profile release who is dressed very inappropriately for her supposed role.

With all of this in mind, I don’t think my criticisms are going to suddenly turn you into a feminist/progressive Christian/etc either. However, my hope with this blog is that I can help push you in that direction, little by little. After all, that’s how I ended up where I am now in basically every walk of my life. Very few people just radically change in one instance, it took me years to understand why we still needed feminism, that dogmatic evangelicalism was killing my Christian faith and that I should value other people rather than being a self-interested prick. Just remember to keep an open mind and be willing to listen to other peoples’ opinions.

Postscript: I have this article scheduled to post within 2 and a half hours, but even in that time new supplementary material has presented itself which I felt that I must share. The article from To Do Justice on the Patheos network lambastes Christian misogyny, along with our culture’s casual sexism which stems from the perceptions of what is acceptable. Even if you think that binding and gagging women and saying “Peace on Earth” is “just a joke, don’t take it so seriously”, you have to admit that it is both an extremely tired joke and in really poor taste (you bound your freaking little daughters’ mouths as well!?!?!).

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