Ian's Movie Reviews
Short Reviews of Movies, Board Games, and Other Stuff

Oct
10

Small World expansions have always excited me, as I love getting new races to add to the variety of the gameplay. It seems limitlessly expandable, so long as you can find new ways to create different abilities within the rules. So when Days of Winder ran a kickstarter for the Small World ipad app, I joined up only because three new expansion races were being given away as a goal. (Of course, now they are available even without the kickstarter). How do they stack up? Are they more great additions, or are they starting to stretch the elasticity of Small World expansions?

Additions

1Fauns – One of the new races are the fauns. Thematically this race works and fits into the rest of the fantasy creatures, and its f[power is mean yet conciliatory. When you conquer a region, you get a new token, but so does your victims. Its pretty neat.

2Shrubmen – Shrubmen are simple yet neat as they are immune to everything while in the forest. I like this because I always like map-based powers, and I think the idea of being immune in certain places Is neat, just so long as they don’t end up having races like this for each terrain.

3Igors – Igors seem very similar to the necromancer from the bonus Necromancer Island scenario, except without all the other game alterations. Its certainly the most complicated of the new powers but can be fun to play.

4Aquatic – This is a new power you can add to your race, and it’s a good one. All your coastal regions are +1 and non-coasts are -1. Sometimes simple is better. But you will realize there are a lot more coastal regions than you may think.

5Fireball – At the end of each turn you collect a fireball, which allows you to use later for +2 on attack only. Its pretty good, and the visual of a hobbit shooting fireballs from their hands Super Mario style is fun.

6 Behemoth – This is certainly a power which feels like ideas are beginning to stretch a little thin. Your race includes two behemoths which grow in tokens every turn. Its sort of annoying to manage, and the extra race tokens are annoying as well. Plus the artwork is horrible: they were going for some sort of giant hippo idea to be cute, including a bow on the head of the female, but it just clashes and doesn’t look good.


Critique

Best Feature: The Aquatic power and the Shrubmen race: sometimes simple is best.

When to use:
There’s no need not to just throw them into every game, like most of these small world new race expansions. They just get mixed up with the rest and add more variety.

Does it fit?: If you have the Spider’s Web expansion that as released after this, then you can fit it all in that storage tray. Granted the storage tray will not fit in the base game box. But otherwise, you can sort of squish it all into the previous tray, but its tight and the tiles have to get mixed up quite a bit.

What type: It’s a “more of the same” expansion, which is just fine for something like Small World.

Overall: Its nice having new races, and these ones are pretty good. Could do without behemoth, and Igors are take it or leave it, but I like the other ones. Still it does feel as though Small World’s idea bank is running low.
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Sep
23

It has really become (oh man, I really hate using this pun) the “it” movie this year.  All the kids are talking about it.  Movies that get talked about like this don’t seem to happen often anymore, especially horror films.  I can see why this was so popular; it was chalk full of creepy moments wrapped around a central “Stand By Me” like story involving a group of mostly likable kids.  Either part of this movie on its own wouldn’t get much buzz, but together its got people excited.

I really liked it. It was creepy, it had a purpose, and the imagery was very engrossing.  There are a couple of scenes that really stick out, including the opening scene with the paper boat and a scene near the middle involving a film projector.  There’s also a moment with a picture frame that was very unsettling.  Overall, I have to say that the horror elements worked well for me.

Part of the reason it worked so well is because of the character of Pennywise as the terrorizer.  Pennywise isn’t just a creepy clown that hangs out in the background Michael Myers-style.  He’s a character that actually interacts with the kids and leaves his mark, and I really thought he elevated the film’s creep factor.

There were other elements of the horror that didn’t work so well, most notably the stuff that felt more “modern”.  These are when we get more generic tropes like sewer zombies or the creepy leper that also just looks like a zombie, or the more cheaply constructed jump scares and blurry motion scares.

I haven’t even talked about the core of the film, which is the story of the kids.  I believe that this is the reason this movie stands out from others of its genre right now; we care very strongly for this group of misfits and buy in to their relationships with each other.  Bev is the character that ties them altogether and is a great character.  The other kids all have there moments as well, and all have their own personal stories to give each one an arc, which is not easy when you’ve got seven of them.  But it all works, and the ending pays it all off.

A movie hasn’t captured the general public’s attention like this for a long time, and there’s a reason it has.  Its creepy and heartfelt, and the two sides are somehow able to mix very well.

8/10

 

Sep
17

As of late, I have been feeling Marvel Movie Fatigue set in.  At some point, all movie fans are going to get there; some have been there for a while, others may have a good couple of years still enjoying these movies.  But Civil War start me on the path of getting burnt out, and as such I wasn’t overly excited for the new Spider-man.  However, I ended up liking this one more than I thought. Its an enjoyable film with a likable lead, as we get to see Spider-man living the teenager experience. Its flashy and fun with some character weight behind it.

I don’t think it has what it takes to be a timeless superhero movie though. It lacks some emotional punch, and there are a lot of small details that I can see getting dated or grating, like Aunt May’s impromptu dance scene or how everyone knows him from Youtube.  It feels like its trying just a little too hard to be hip.  I also wonder what the deeper theme is here, and I suppose its about accepting your place?  Or accepting that there’s always room to learn and grow?  Either way, it didn’t feel THAT strong.

I actually didn’t mind how they fit it in to the larger Marvel universe, for the most part. The Vulture’s main gig, selling weapons from the crashed alien technology, is interesting and explores a smaller consequence of this larger world created. I don’t think I’m a fan of the robo-suit though.  But overall I found Spider-Man v3.0 to be a success.  I liked the lead, I liked the general story overall and I had fun with the action sequences, especially the one in Washington.  Better than expectations.

8/10

Sep
02

Sometimes you just need to beat up on your friends. In board games form I mean. Sometimes you just want to set the strategy engines and efficient gameplay aside for a moment and just attack, attack, attack! And this is why we have games like Kemet.
Kemet, set in a mythological Egyptian setting, takes the battling nature of Risk, ups the aggression, and has more modern aspects of gaming. The result is a back-and-forth fight on the board full of excitement and interesting choices. Each army built up tends to be unique, and the strategic maneuvers to claim victory and often surprising.

Components

The key feature of Kemet are the mythological creature models which look amazing. Nowadays, gaming nerds are obsessed with kickstarters with “cool miniatures”, but back in 2012 Kemet seemed unique because of this. The giant scarab beetle in particular is quite awesome.
The board itself is nothing special to look at, but what is impressive about it is how the layout is designed in such a way that each player is equidistant from the others and the main features. This removes board position as a factor of unfairness.
The other major feature of Kemet components are the power tiles, 12 for each colour, and the awesome dice-like, marbled pyramids that go with them. The artwork on the tiles is very evocative of theme, and the symbology of what the tiles do usually makes sense.

Gameplay

The core of Kemet are the battles between each players armies. Battles in the case are similar to the Game of Thrones board game, in which the strength of each player is calculated by the troops they have the battle, as well as a secretly selected card which adds more strength or defense. It’s a simple yet effective system which compromises between calculatable predictability and the element of surprise.
The rest of the game revolves around what you are fighting for. The goal of the game is to reach a certain number of points, and players do this by winning battles, buying certain power tiles, and controlling temples. The control of these temples is usually what players fight over, though sometimes it just fighting for fighting’s sake. The fact that there are various points to be had throughout the game, and that the game ends when the point threshold Is reached, makes for some very interesting maneuvering and strategy to find the best way to capture the victory.
The best part about Kemet however are the power tiles. Each player has their own city which includes three pyramids: red, blue and white. These pyramids can be raised to different levels which allows you to buy better power tiles. Power tiles can do a variety of things for you, including controlling creatures, strengthening your armies, or giving them special abilities like teleportation. Each colour focuses on a part of the game: red for attacking, blue for defense, and white for wealth.

Conclusions

Kemet is a very interesting game and a great option for those groups who love games with lots of battles and aggressive play styles. The point cut-off for victory, and the various ways to collect points, makes the end game exciting as players are trying to outsmart the other by finding the best way to capture that last point before anyone else. This is a feature it shares with its cousin Cyclades, and while I think I like this feature better in Cyclades, it is well appreciated here.
The power tiles make Kemet special, as each one you buy is unique to you for the entire game. Therefore, if you buy the war elephant, that elephants will be yours and only yours for that whole session. It’s a great way of customizing your army. I also like how the different colours allow you to specialize on the type of player you wish to be that round, our you can generalize if you so wish.
If you like games that encourage players to be aggressive towards each other, and you also like the customization of your own gameplay, Kemet will likely be a great choice.

Aug
27

I love listening to podcasts, and one of the podcasts I’ve listened to is The X-Files Files with Kumail Nanjiani, who always has different guest hosts to discuss episode of The X-Files and whatever topics they digress to. Through this podcast I have also heard quite a bit from his wife Emily, as well as gotten bits and pieces of info about her earlier illness.

So when I saw that they had actually made a movie about their story, I was quite intrigued. And I must say they did an excellent job. Not only did I laugh out loud at many parts, I also got really wrapped up in these characters and their relationships. I believe that was because this was both a very personal story for them to tell, but also because the writing felt very natural and the acting was excellent.

Nanjiani is a very likable comedic presence while the cast around him was also great. Zoe Kazan as Emily is a very engaging personality and the chemistry the two built was palpable. Roy Romano was very well as Emily’s father, bringing both humour and pathos to the role. And Holly Hunter as Emily’s mom was simply excellent, going through all her character’s changes expertly.

I highly recommend The Big Sick. Its emotional, funny, and full of likable and watchable characters. It says a lot about relationships and, more importantly, lets you in to experience those relationships. I was the only one in the theater watching this movie (seriously, the only one), which was really too bad. More people should see this.

9/10

Aug
07

This is the third such post of best and worst TV episodes lists I’ve done, the others being for The X-Files and Game of Thrones.  This time I am applying this ranking to The Simpsons.  However, it is important to note that this is not including the entire run of the longest running animated program.  Heck, that’s well over 600 episodes by now!  I don’t have THAT much free time.

Instead, I’ve decided to limit it to the first eight seasons of the series’s very-long run.  These are what I, and many other Simpsons fans, consider to be the golden years of the show.  During these years, The Simpsons was probably the best show on television.  Afterward, however, it really started going downhill and is so far removed from the quality of its past that its practically a different show now.  Season 9 still has some gems, but its pretty close to 50/50 for great vs. not so great episodes, so I just couldn’t include it.

So what I’ve done is rank all the episodes from these golden years, but what I am presenting here are the top ten and bottom ten for these eight seasons.  If you are interested in the full list, let me know, but otherwise see if you agree with these twenty choices, breaking down the best TV show ever.

The Top Ten Episodes

10. Treehouse of Horror V

Season 6

The Halloween episodes have become a staple of The Simpsons, telling three stand-alone stories usually touching upon well-known fiction.  The best of these came in season 6 in which The Simpsons did their brilliant send up of Kubrick’s The Shining, told a creepy tale of the school staff serving trouble-making kids in the cafeteria, and my favourite of the Halloween shorts, Homer creating a time-traveling toaster.

9. Who Shot Mr. Burns? Part 1

Season 6

Cliffhanger finales were not something The Simpsons ever bothered with…. except once.  This brilliant send-off of the infamous Dallas season finale managed to create an interesting mystery atmosphere in which many different motives for the titular crime were established.  From Burns’ ridiculous plot to block out the sun to Homer’s ridiculous obsession for Burns to know his name, this episode was chock full of great stuff.  Part 2 which followed it up was also great, but didn’t quite meet the same levels of quality.  The summer after this was quite fun, trying to follow the clues and figure out whodunnit.  Ah, good times.

8. The Way We Was

Season 2

The Simpsons has some great flashback episodes under their belt.  One of the show’s most touching moments came from the Maggie flashback episode where its revealed where her baby pictures are.  But the best flashback remains the first one they did, where the story of how Marge and Homer met is retold.  It speaks a lot to who those two characters are and the foundation of their relationship, which is the cornerstone of the entire series if you think about it.

7. You Only Move Twice

Season 8

One of the best one-shot characters The Simpsons ever gave us was Hank Scorpio, Homer’s short-time boss/global supervillain.  There’s some fun stuff going on here with James Bond spoofs, but told from the perspective of a really friendly bad guy.  This episode is pure funny from the moment Hank throws his shoes to when Homer gets the Denver Broncos as a gift.

6. Lisa’s Substitute

Season 2

Seasons 2 and 3 were really great at not only being funny, but having strong emotional cores behind their weekly stories.  The epitome of this was when Lisa made a connection with her substitute teacher Mr. Bergstrom, voiced brilliantly by Dustin Hoffman (back when guest stars actually gave performances and didn’t just speak blandly into the microphone).  This does a lot to explain the relationship between Lisa and Homer, as well as Lisa and herself.  Its an excellent half-hour of television.

5. Last Exit to Springfield

Season 4

“Dental Plan!”

Many have made an argument for this being the best  of all Simpsons episodes, and watching it again its easy to see why.  Its just great comedy from start to end with tons of iconic gags like the dental plan repetition, Homer needing to use the bathroom, and the Grinch parody at the end.  This is a textbook example of why The Simpsons at its peak is the greatest TV show ever.

4. A Streetcar Named Marge

Season 4

Their fourth season was probably The Simpsons at its height.  It had great episodes like Homer the Heretic, The Itchy and Scratchy Movie, the previous pick Last Exit to Springfield, one other big on still to come(…), and this one, where Marge takes part in a community theater production of A Streetcar Named Desire.   While Last Exit to Springfield was chalk full of brilliant comedic writing, Streetcar also has the personal story underlying it.  many episodes have dealt with the relationship of Homer and Marge, some are good, some are bad, and some are great.  This one is the best of them.

3. Homer at the Bat

Season 3

This is definitely more of a personal pick.  I have always had fond feelings for this episode for some reason.  There’s an ethereal feeling to the baseball/wonderbat stuff, but there’s also some damn funny gags involving the cast of ball players that join Mr. Burn’s softball team.  Steve Sax’s run in with the law is probably the best of these.  And of course there is that great song over the end credits.  Masterpiece.

2. Cape Feare

Season 5

Fans’ favourite returning character is of course the dastardly Sideshow Bob, who always has some crazy scheme to get revenge on Bart (who’s only 10 and already has two mortal enemies).  This is by far his best outing and indeed one of the best episodes ever, as almost any Simpson’s expert will agree.  Cape Feare goes beyond simple movie parody and really creates its own entity here.  This episode is chalk full of memorable lines (“Use a pen Sideshow Bob”), gags (Bart, wanna see my new chainsaw and hockey mask!”), and sketches (“Now remember, YOU are Homer Thompson).

And of course the rakes.  Ohhhhhh, the rakes.

1. Marge vs the Monorail

Season 4

I wasn’t really sure when I started ranking these which would end up on top.  There are so many great episodes, and honestly any of the top 5 there would have been excellent candidates for the #1 spot.  But I had to go with the Monorail episode.  This is just comedic gold all the way through.  Every joke lands jut the way it should, it has a great musical number, it has tons of memorable lines (“I call the big one Bitey”), it involves the whole town but still keeps the Simpsons family at the core, and has a great narrative arc which includes tension, relief, and connected plot points.  Its a great half-hour of television anyway you look at it.

Monorail has tons of iconic Simpsons “stuff” in it, like donuts, Homer having a wacky job, celebrity cameos (thank you Mr. Nimoy, even though you didn’t do anything), and a great silly ending.  Its so good.  Again, the best of The Simpsons really only differ by the tiniest of margins, but for this go around I am giving the crown to Marge vs. the Monorail.

The Bottom Ten Episodes

Again, I remind you that these are the bottom episodes for the first eight seasons, otherwise none of them would be here as the last 20 or so years would encapsulate many, many worse episodes than these.  Its also worth noting that I did watch and rank all episodes in these seasons, and even ones that didn’t make the top 100 were still excellent episodes.  There is a LOT of quality here.  But every once in a while, even classic Simpsons had some episodes I wasn’t thrilled with.  Here they are.

10. Homer’s Night Out

Season 1

A lot of people like to get down on the first season of The Simpsons.  I understand why, even if I don’t entirely agree, as the animation is pretty crude and the characters and writers needed some time to find their groove.  But looking back on some, they are sort of just… meh.  And that’s what Homer’s Night Out it: meh.  It sees Homer become a notorious party animal because of a lewd picture taken with him dancing with a stripper at a bachelor party.  Its pretty tame.

9. The Old Man and the Lisa

Season 8

There are a few episodes on this bottom list that are reflective of the show’s later tendencies in the crappier seasons leaking out a bit.  This is certainly one of those.  It feels more like season 10 or after.  I just don’t care for it very much.

8. The Simpsons Spin-Off Showcase

Season 8

This was an interesting idea in theory, but in execution it really isn’t that great.  We get a 3-story structure similar to the Halloween episodes, but in each one this time we get a possible spin-off.  The best of the three is Chief Wiggam in New Orleans, but the Moe show and the variety show are really quite lame.  I mean, I know they are supposed to be, but its just too much.

7. The Simpsons 138th Episode Spectacular

Season 7

As awesome as the title for this episode is, its really just a clip show.  But at least it has Troy McClure introducing the segments.

6. Homerpalooza

Season 8

Some hallmarks of “bad” Simpsons includes trying desperately to capitalize on certain cultural touchstones and having soulless celebrity cameos, differing from the actual guest performances from earlier years that are there to play a character not to just show up for people to recognize them.  Homerpalooza is probably the origin point for these problems.  This is The Simpson’s trying to be hip-and-now, as it does so often these days, instead of creating classic TV comedy.  The cameos really feel like name dropping and checking celebrities off a list.  Its a sign of things to come.

5. Some Enchanted Evening

Season 1

While I actually like most of the first season episodes and don’t really agree with much of the criticism, I do confess that this episode sort of encapsulates or me what all those complaints are.  The animation is really quite bad, the story is beyond lame, that babysitter bandit is awful, and this just doesn’t work.  I don’t like it.

4. Burns baby Burns

Season 8

So this is the third Season 8 episode that is on here because it represents the problems that the later  years would have in abundance.  Burns Baby Burns really feels like it should come from one of the seasons in the teens.  It focuses entirely on a celebrity, makes up a lame plot contrivance like Mr. Burns having a secret child, and sees the beginnings of Homer’s decline as a character.  Homer here is getting into crazy schemes just because, something that he would become famous for later on.  In the good years, Homer gets into schemes for actual story reasons most of the time, and is usually a lot more subdued.  This is the beginning of “wacky” Homer, who frankly just isn’t as good.  And this is very obviously them writing an episode specifically for a celebrity guest star (Rodney Dangerfield in this case) and having them do their shtick, instead of formulating an episode with The Simpson’s and having cameos which make sense.  They made this work with Michael Jackson earlier on, but it really doesn’t work here.

3. So Its Come to This: A Simpsons Clip Show

Season 4

I mean, come on, its a clip show.  At least Bart shaking up the beer in the paint shaker was funny.

2. Another Simpsons Clip Show

Season 6

Same as above really.  The reason the first clip-show is above this one is that the framing device is a little more involved and interesting.

1.  Supercalifragilisticexpiali-d’oh-cious

Season 8

And so we come to the worst of the best.  The Simpson’s has always had a history with musical numbers, most of which are successful like “Who Needs the Kwiki-mart?” or “Monorail”.  But they just took it way too far with this Mary Poppins spoof.  There’s not much I like in this episode.  The story of Marge’s hair falling out is dumb, Sherry Bobbins is annoying and so is the singing.  So while the Simpsons has made over 150 great episodes in their first eight years, not all of them were gold unfortunately.

Still, when all is said and done, The Simpsons seasons 1 to 8, the only ones that really matter (though to be fair season 9 does have some gold), is very likely the best years of any television show I’ve seen.  While there may be some chinks in the armour, there really aren’t many, and they are far outweighed by many, many episodes that are pure comedic genius.  But not only was this the funniest show ever made, at its best it is also top-notch storytelling that defied television expectations.

 

Jul
22

How great are movies? Am I right? They have the ability to thrill us, wow us, and make us feel like we are part of the experience.  Christopher Nolan wants us to feel Dunkirk, not just watch the events unfold, and he has put all his film-making powers towards that goal.  What resulted was me needing to catch my breath and my mom simply staring at the screen for a few moments in silence as the credits rolled.  Dunkirk, as it turns out, is an outstanding cinematic experience.

Nolan chooses an unconventional chronology era, using three different time frames to tell the story (land, air, sea) but syncing up the tension within each so that even though we know they are happening at different moments in time, it still flows.  This was a neat way to balance all of the threads and it works quite well.

Dunkirk is less abut the personal stories involved with Dunkirk (though those are there), and its not about learning about all of the events and military strategies that transpired, its about putting the audience on the beach and making it feel visceral.  Think of the D-Day scene in Saving Private Ryan to understand what I mean here. We are meant to sense the fear when we hear the enemy planes making their way to the beach, we are meant to feel the gunshots when they ring out suddenly, we are meant to understand the vertigo of an open sea dogfight.  It all works so well.

And the sound!  A big part of creating these experiences is the incredible sound design, which is definitely enhanced by a theater viewing.  The bullets ring out, the fighter engines emit doom, the ocean waves sound of desperation.  The visual cues are also great, with little details like all of the rifles lined up along the pier, and the sea foam!  Oh the sea foam.

I don’t give out 10 out of 10’s very often, but this movie deserves it.  I am a big Nolan fan, but to be honest I was skeptical when I heard he was making a war movie, not sure that he would be able to set himself apart from all those other war films out there.  I should have known better.  Dunkirk is its own thing, for sure, and a spectacular way to capture on film such an important moment in history and such a great story of ordinary citizens answering the call of duty.

10/10

Jul
12

Our hobby is filled with games of all sorts, designed for many different situations. And while sometimes its great to have a battle of strategies between a few friends in a deep, complex brain-burner, its also nice to just have a great time with a large group of people. That’s where Mascarade comes in.
Mascarade works with anywhere from 6 to 13 people, proving an interesting group experience. There’s bluffing, deduction, and quite a lot of confusion. Not confusion in the bad sense, but more like the kind that you will easily laugh about at the end of the round. Mascarade is similar to a party game, in that it is more focused on creating an experience than the game itself, though the game elements still matter.

Components

Mascarade is a pretty small box as it really only holds cards and coins. There are thirteen character cards, all wonderfully illustrated. The icons on each card are generally clear on what that card does, but reference sheets are also provided. The coins are, well, coins. There is also a cut-out of a courthouse, where your penalties go if you are caught lying in the game.
The characters are set in an era of decadence that you’d imagine the Vienna court to be like in the times of Mozart, for example. They include the kin and queen, the bishop, the judge, the spy, and other such roles. They are designed with elaborate costumes which are quite impressive.

Gameplay

Mascarade is made up of a deck of character cards, each one doing something different, but the ultimate goal is to make money. The first person to 13 coins wins, so the trick is to use the characters you have to get there.
But which character are you?? This is where the spark of the game comes in. Once the game starts, people’s roles are hidden, and most of the trick is trying to figure out who everyone is, including yourself! You are allowed to do one of two things on your turn: swap roles with someone, use your characters ability, or look at your own character card (though this is certainly the most boring option and I never bother with it).
The reason the role switching works is because when you do so you swap the cards secretly, which means that you may or may not have actually switched with them at all. This casts just enough uncertainly to make it more difficult to predict who everyone is,, which makes it much more enjoyable. However, it is very possible that while mixing up the cards, even you will forget yourself!
Using your ability works because you don’t actually have to be the right character to use their ability, you only need to pretend that you are. The only way you won’t get away with it is if someone else claims to be the same character and proves it. This adds a bluffing element to the game which, tied with the uncertainly to people knowing who they are all the time, can be fun to try.

Conclusion

Mascarade fills a particular niche of gaming experiences, one in which its more about the social interactions, while still providing a game element and goal. It had secret roles, similar to game like The Resistance, but can mix them up and combines it with bluffing. It plays well with a large group, and you can either really try to pay attention to who everyone is, or completely forget about it, and either way you will have a good time.
Its not perfect mind you. Some people may not like the inherent confusion that games with the game if they are not able to just let themselves embrace the chaos of it. I also think that the bluffing part should be emphasized a little bit more, as pulling off a good coup of a character is usually the best part of the game. The start of the game is also a little annoying as the first four players have to switch cards in order to cause some initial disruption, but then the next players moves are also telegraphed or else the first players after that could get to their first turn knowing exactly who they are.
These are ultimately minor squabbles which maybe prevent it from being a master design of a social game, but it is still a really good social game nonetheless. I mean, a game where thirteen people can play is pretty rare, and the game moves fast enough and has enough actions between players and struggles to figure it all out that it makes it fun for everyone, so long as your table Is ready to have some fun.

Jul
03

I liked it. The biggest reason why is probably Gal Gadot, who I thought really nailed this role. Its very clear that she fights out of compassion and a true desire to make things better in the world, and that’s pretty refreshing. She’s really good at creating those little personality moments that casually give her character some depth (far more than her justice league comrades have shown thus far, thats for sure).

The story is pretty basic superhero fare. The setting will remind a lot of people of the first Captain America movie, right down to the “small band of stereotypes”, though even more pronounced this time. That really does weaken the fabric of the film that was built so far. I did like the aspect of the story where a soldier is washed up on Amazon island and introduces Diana to the world.I honestly think the movie would have been stronger if they focused more on her simply entering the fray with him, and took out the goofier aspects like the goofy villains and the Irishman, Egyptian, and Native American walking into a bar.

The movie looks really good, though a little dark at times. I really wish I didn’t see it in 3D, because it made a lot of the action fuzzy. (Stop with the 3D already!!!! ) But the character of Wonder Woman herself it really what makes the movie shine, despite its cliched elements.

8/10

Jun
18

(Honestly, just call it Pirates 5…)

About 10 years ago, George Lucas made a statement that soon the Hollywood blockbuster would be dead.  It appears that the opposite has come true instead.  Blockbusters are sinking their claws into us, so much so that I walked out of this fifth film in a massively overblown series feeling perfectly fine about what is ultimately not a good movie.

Alright, to say its not a good movie is a little unfair.  Its half of a good movie, half of a really bad movie.  The first act had me almost groaning out loud in the theater (I didn’t because I’m not completely an asshole).  It is very clear at this point that Jack Sparrow has become a cheap parody of himself, purely an imitation where his quirks have been extrapolated to the point of ridiculousness.   He’s become the clown version of the character we all fell in love with 14 years ago.  This problem around our main character does dissipate as the movie continues, but boy is it noticeable off the start.

Other glaring problems have to do with both the directing and writing.  In the directing based on a lot of awkward timing of jokes and dialogue.  Again, this is very evident in the first half, like when the kid gets back on the rowboat and for some reason mentions Jack’s name, cause, hey we all know that guy!  The writing is also chock-full of plot contrivances, like how giving up the compass frees the baddies for some reason, among many others.

But here’s the thing; it seems to get better.  Yes it does overstay its welcome, as seems to be par for the course with Pirates films.  But I was much more interested in the last half of the film.  As ridiculous as the storyline is, with the hunt for some magical trident on some secret island, I got caught up in it.  I quite enjoy all that mythological tales of the sea idea.  I also liked the idea of the ghost ship hunting down Jack, though I’m not really sure I liked Bardem’s Salazar character.  There was something annoying about it.

But the reason I left this movie feeling fine, was that the action scenes were getting back to the inventiveness of the first two films.  There’s an over-the-top scene with a bank at the start which was goofy fun.  There was also a really neat sequence later involving a guillotine that excited me quite a bit.  And the location of the final action climax, which I wont give away, is really quite cool, despite it reminding me of a certain animated movie I really like.

And so, in the end, I was able to accept a clumsily made film and embrace its goofier side.  I’m not really a Pirates fan, yet in some weird way, I like the mythology and world building of these movies.  I do admit though that they should probably stop soon before Jack Sparrow degrades to Harry and Lloyd levels.  But the guillotine was really cool.

6/10

 

May
24

*Warning:  This review will have spoilers

Prometheus, this ain’t. While Prometheus had a strong theme about the question of where we come from, Covenant takes that theme and beats it like a rug. I will say it adds a lot to the Alien mythology, but I’m not really sure I like where it is taken. The idea of David behind behind their biology is sort of dumb, and to be honest I think the series works better if the alien race is just a threat that exists out in the galaxy.

I do like that they didn’t ignore Prometheus, but now I sort of understand why some fans were so pissed off at Alien 3 for haphazardly killing off the characters who fought so hard to survive the second film. That happens here as well. I was also quite disappointed at what happened with their contact with the engineer race.

Now lets be clear, this is a competently made thriller in many regards. The film looks great, especially the Alien creatures, with one exception: Billy Crudup’s chest-burster. That looks terrible, and the scene that chaperones it is eye-rolling. Most of the tension works, though I would argue that the second climax here feels really tacked on, even though we all knew it was coming.

I also really didn’t like the end twist.  It feels like its only there for shock value (for the 8% of people who didn’t figure it out already), but will really just piss you off after everything these characters went through.

6/10

May
08

This movie is pulling me in both directions. On the one hand,m there is a lot of stuff that would normally have me hating a movie like this. On the other hand, the stuff that’s good is so good that it pulls be back to somewhere in the middle.

What I didn’t like:
This is likely to be a common complaint, but it really feels like the humour is out of balance this time around. Its like they said “people really liked the funny parts” and so cranked it up past a level where it works (look no further than the guardian’s opening scene). There are jokes constantly, but some are in poorly chosen spots while others are just nonsensical (like most of Peter’s earth references).

This next point is more of a personal preference, but I don’t care for the character of Yondu, and he was a big part of this second film. I felt like all the attention given to him detracted from the other characters I wanted to spend time with more.*SPOILERS* Also, an inordinate amount of focus was spent on his death. They needed to scale that back a bit. *END SPOILERS*

What I liked:
Ultimately, the saving grace of this film are the main characters. The 4 primaries are really a great cast, and their interactions with each other feel earned and special. Rocket remains the bet character in the series, while Peter and Gamora provide a solid central core. Drax is used a little more for comic relief this time, but I was mostly okay with it.

The point is that these characters and their relationships are why I enjoyed the movie, even if it started to lose sight of itself. So I suppose its a pass when all is said and done.

7/10

Apr
29

The Founder is essentially an “absolute power corrupts absolutely” story with the setting of an American fast food franchise.  And not just any American fast food franchise, THE American fast food franchise.  This films tells the tale of how businessman Ray Croc took the revolutionary ideas behind a fast service burger joint and took it national.  But in doing so, he leaves the original owners, the McDonald brothers, in his wake.

There are a lot of interesting tidbits in a movie like this, which shows the origins of something so well known to everyone.  Perhaps the best part of the movie was when the brothers describe how they turned McDonalds into the restaurant it became.  Neat stuff in there.  Ray is fascinated, however the rest of the movie deals with him undercutting them to get the franchise he envisions.  By the end he becomes a complete asshole.

I will admit that there is nothing overly special about The Founder.  Its storyline is rather predictable, and the personal life aspects of Croc’s life isn’t particularity interesting.  But Michael Keaton elevates things with a really good performance, and Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch are sympathetic as the brothers, and the fact that they are dealing with something as familiar as McDonald’s provides some weight, like when Croc describes what the real appeal of the restaurant is.

This movie, and ultimately the story it is based on, has a lot of tragedy.  The brothers really get screwed while power-hungry Croc gets what he wants.  Nice guys finish last seems to be the message, while rich assholes get what they want (just take a look at the current White House occupant for proof of this).  Its not really a feel good message, and while of course movies don’t always have to end in a good place, the way this one was set up really made you pine for some sort of silver lining.

8/10

Apr
25

There are some themes that board game designers are drawn to far more than others: medieval times, fantasy adventures, war simulations. Trains is definitely one of those themes, one which countless games have been made for and which has been an important part in our current board game history.
Steam is a product of this board gaming history. Train games allow for literal network building in board games, which has lead to the crayon rails series as well as the much more complex 18xx series. Out of this sprang Age of Steam, a harsh game which managed to be a little more mainstream than its 18xx cousins. After this, simpler games like Ticket to Ride sprang up, leading to a further distillation of the genre, turning age of steam into the Steam you see before you.
Let’s take a look.

Components

The components for Steam leaves something to be desired, but its not as though we are playing with pen and paper here. Its all high quality, just a little on the bland side, although that doesn’t bother me nearly as much as it bothers others. The train track hexes come in a variety of track directions and look good for what they are. The player pieces that go on the tracks are simply wooden discs. Wooden trains would have probably made more sense, especially when they tease us with a single wooden train used as the turn marker.
The game comes with a double-sided board; one side showing New England, the other Germany. The map isn’t flashy, but it shouldn’t be. It shows the landscape nicely while still being functional. It fits the game quite well. The various tracks around it could be overwhelming for first timers, but it all makes sense once you know what’s going on.
The goods are wooden cubes of various colours, which is fine. They don’t need to be fancy. However, it would be nice if they were designated as something; steel, or wool, or whatever. It just would have helped with picturing the theme a little more.

Gameplay

The core of the gameplay is straight forward: you are building track and then moving goods across those tracks to cities to score. The interesting thing about the scoring is that you get to decide whether to use the points you get as actual points or as income. Therefore, there is a watershed point at which you must decide your economy is running well enough to start scoring.
What makes the game complicated are all the aspects surrounding this central idea. The banking mechanism, for example, isn’t very intuitive and can take some time to get your head around. Once you do its quite neat though. Even the scoring itself can be confusing, as it all depends how far away you are from the city you are delivering, and hos tracks you use to get there.
Another big part of this game are the jobs that are chosen each turn. Each job allows a player to do something the other players can’t, like be the first to build track even if you aren’t first in order, increase your locomotive abilities for cheap, or even build a whole new city. These tiles can either be chosen in order or can be bid for in an auction. Deciding what job is best for you at what time is where a lot of the strategy come into this game, but its not easy.

Conclusion

Steam is a difficult game; there’s no getting around this. It is hard and unforgiving and it constantly feels like a struggle to get anything going. Therefore, this is not necessarily a game for casual gamers, and serious gamers will need a few plays under their belt to feel confident.
As such, there can be a lot of frustration that comes with Steam as its hard to have a feeling of accomplishment when you are barely getting anything done. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, as some people will love tackling that challenge. Others however may be completely turned off by it.
I’ve heard that the other child of Age of Steam, Railways of the World, is a little more user friendly, but I don’t have experience with it myself. I have tried Days of Steam which is a simpler version, but not as strong a design. But for gamers who want a challenge without the length and intricacies of Age of Steam or 18XX, Steam may be for you.

Apr
08

Sorry, I’m quite late to the party on this one.  First, let’s face facts: 2016 was a disappointing year.  There are probably 5 or 6 films from 2015 I would put over any of the movies this year.  But nonetheless there were still some solid movies to entertain us.  Lets take a look.

10. Star Trek Beyond

I suppose this is my summer blockbuster/franchise pick for the year.  I wasn’t even overly impressed with it off the bat, but this third of the new Star Trek’s grew on me.  I really appreciate how they have decided to focus on the relationships of the charactrs more, which is where the strength of this series lies.

9. Zootopia

And now for my animation representation.  I really enjoyed Zootopia.  I don’t love it like I loved Inside Out last year, but I found it interesting and fun to look at.  To be honest, in other years, neither of the first two movies would probably had made this list.

8. Everybody Wants Some

Again, an enjoyable picture.  I don’t know how memorable of a film its going to be, but when I watched it I had a fun experience spending a weekend in the lives of these college students.  Its really just hanging out with a group of friends for a couple hours, and that’s just fine.  It reminds me of classic films in a similar vein, like MASH and American Graffiti.  Its not on the same level as those, obviously, but still quite good.

7. Green Room

I didn’t really know what to expect with this movie, but what I got was a tense thriller with lots of shocking moments and tons of tension.  We see our main characters get themselves into a bad situation and do their best to deal with it and get out.  Its very engaging.

6. The Witch

The Witch is an effective creepfest, helping to further the return of quality horror to our theaters.  I love that it is set in colonial times and that it feels like its time period.  It plays on much deeper fears than just scary surprises and actually has soething to say.  This is a solid movie.

5. Hacksaw Ridge

Not a lot of my fellow cinephiles are with me on Hacksaw Ridge, but I really latched on to this story of a man who refused to hold a weapon but still wanted to serve his country.  We see his struggles with his unit during training, and though reactions were predictable they still worked for me.  Then we get his heroic deeds in battle which were very moving.  I know not a lot of people are on board with me, but I really enjoyed Mel Gibson’s return to the director’s chair.

4. Hunt for the Wilderpeople

From the director of What We Do in the Shadows, we get a comedic film which is both adventurous, heart-felt and hilarious.  Its the whole package.  I was recommending this to everyone after I saw it, but I really think that almost anybody could get on board with Ricky and Hec and their adventures.  “Are you gonna manslaughter him??”

3. Arrival

Arrival turned out to be a very popular and very acclaimed film, and for good reason.  It has a pretty mainstream movie premise, aliens visiting earth, but it deals with it in such a unique way.  The effort is in communication rather than conflict, and personal connections rather than large scale action.  And it all comes together really well.

2. Manchester by the Sea

Now whereas I felt comfortable recommending Wilderpeople to anyone, I did not feel the same about Manchester by the Sea.  Its a superbly directed and acted film about dealing with loss, but it doesn’t necessarily have the beats that most people expect a drama like this to have.  This will frustrate some, but be very refreshing for others.  Its worth it to watch for the performances by Afflect, Williams and Chandler.  A naturally gripping movie.

1. The Nice Guys

So I thought about what my movie of the year should be for a while.  Manchester is a really moving drama, and Arrival is a great sci-fi with a deeper meaning, but when it comes down to it, what is the movie I am the most excited about revisiting?  Which movie really made me feel a connection to what was happening on screen while being very entertaining?  The answer is The Nice Guys.  Its hilarious with great characters, great set pieces, and interesting story to tie it together.  Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe work brilliantly together.  This may be the only 2016 movie I actually bother buying on bluray, and as such it gets my top spot.