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

Jan
13

I know some people hate worst of lists, but I find it cathartic in a way.  Its like saying that the things you love aren’t always perfect, and you are okay with that.  Understanding what doesn’t work helps you to appreciate when it does work more.  That said, I didn’t see a whole lot of really bad movies this year, but here are some that just really didn’t work for me.

5. Life

Such a bland venture that really couldn’t keep my attention.  Its easy to call this an Alien rip-off… but there’s a reason its easy to call it that.

4. Chips

Chips is emblematic of what is wrong with today’s modern comedy film.  Its more of a hollow product with name recognition (in form of an old tv show) that lacks any humourous innovation.  They base everything on a lame plot that ends up devolving into a by-the-numbers action climax.  They throw in a few “funny” set-pieces they think will get audiences talking.   In this case its a scene where one of the leads is carrying the other to a bathtub.  Gone are the days when the jokes came naturally from the situations or from the performances.  Gone are the risks.  There’s a formula now, and the studios are just following it ingredient by ingredient.

3. Kong: Skull Island

Speaking of hollow products….  Kong: Skull Island is such a creation of studio meddling, its ridiculous.  Its like they went into the board room after having looked at the clickbait “How to Hack a Hit Blockbuster” and followed it step-by-step.  They have needless characters added in with actors that will appeal to the overseas market; China, more specifically.  They added a bunch of action scenes and CGI shots, very obvious as a response to Godzilla complaints, but they forgot to make them particularly interesting.  They added in a crazy John C. Reillly so they could inject humour into the trailers. They couldn’t even just name it Skull Island; not enough brand recognition.

2. Okja

A Netflix movie from the director of Snowpiercer and The Host, and while I liked both of those films I really disliked this one.  The idea of these Superpigs (which are more like hippos) to bring about social commentary really didn’t work for me.  Tilda Swinton and Jake Gyllenhaal both turn in very bold performances, but in this case bold is not a good thing.  I couldn’t stand suffering through either of their characters. This film was supposed to be poignant, and perhaps for some it was, but I just thought it was kinda dumb.

1. Underworld: Blood Wars

Now here is a film franchise I do not get.  This doesn’t even seem like a film; it feels more like a CW show.  There are actors who are clearly only there to look pretty.  There is a confusing story-line that feels like you’ve joined it in the middle somewhere, and it never really gets pieced together.  There’s no good scenes, or … really nothing compelling about it at all.  And even the basic techniques don’t work.  Visually its incredibly drab and boring.  The editing feels hyperactive.  Its just not an enjoyable time at the movies.

Advertisements
Jan
03

It wasn’t terrible. Well, okay… it was terrible. But somehow I didn’t hate it.

Lets face facts, this is not a good movie. The script feels cobbled together, the tone is hard to pinpoint, and The Flash as the comic relief falls flat every time. I don’t think I heard anyone in the theater laugh at him once.

A big problem, and missed opportunity, were the character introductions. Here you have a collection of some of the most recognizable superheroes in the world (well, and Cyborg) and the filmmakers make little attempt to introduce them into the film in interesting or powerful ways. And since 3 of the main characters are new to the franchise, this probably should have been a priority. Wonder Woman is the only one who they did this right with.

Along the same lines, it was hard for these characters to have the power they should have when they are dealt with so nonchalantly in the film. For example there is a scene where Batman,Wonder Woman and Flash meet Commish Gordon, and Gordon makes one quip about it and then its business like normal. Felt very inauthentic. There were lots of moments like that.

Yet at the same time I will say the film is very watchable. Its not good, but watchable. I realize this isn’t a standard we want to hold movies to, but at least its something, unlike the dreary pit of Batman vs Superman or the incoherent mess that was Suicide Squad.

The visuals of these iconic characters (and Cyborg) usually works. Wonder Woman, coming off of her own features, is probably the best character and the emotional core. There is also a neat action scene where the Amazons are trying to keep a magic cube away from the bad guy. Its short, but quite inventive.

So I didn’t hate it, even though it really feels like poor-making. If it weren’t so rushed and production so fractured, and had it been allowed to have more focus by the director and screenwriters, it could have really worked.

5.5/10

Dec
23

Star Wars is back, and this time so is Luke Skywalker! And I must say, seeing him as a full-fledged, aging Jedi is simply awesome. He has grown very powerful yet world-weary, and I really think they took him in the right direction.  Mark Hamill sunk right back into the character and took him places that were different but still within the reality of the Luke we know.  In fact that statement is a pretty good generalization for this movie as a whole.

When Force Awakens came out, I was giddy because the new characters worked so well. Its nice to see that it was not just a fluke. Rey has truly grown into a great movie hero. She is interesting, captivating, instantly likable, and yet complex in an empathetic way.  Every time she was on screen the movie worked. Kylo Ren is also a great villain and also grew in his role this time around.  The two of them had great chemistry together and, along with their triumvirate with Luke, built a solid core for this story.

Its great seeing all the Star Wars-isms anew: interesting planet locations, new creatures, space battles, etc. There are certainly motifs from the original trilogy, harking back to Echo Base and the Emperor’s throne room, but the story structure here is definitely its own and went places I expected it to either shy away from or hold back, especially near the end.

The powers of the Jedi and the Force are expanded on in a way that seems like it should have bugged me, but I just went with. I like the idea of the Force expanding beyond what we already knew, especially when you think about how Luke has been working with his powers for the last 30 years.  I can understand the argument of using the Force as a catch all to do what they want, like lots of superhero movies are guilty of lately, but I didn’t feel that was the case here.  These new abilities felt natural to me, and I liked that it went new places.

On a more technical aspect, this movie looked incredible. This film is full of vivid, eye-popping colours, from the red plumes of the salt planet, the rich green’s of Luke’s island, and the already-famous Red Room scene.  There were some really interesting shots and camera effects, including a major one involving a couple of starships.  You can tell this was a movie made by craftsmen and not just studio shills.

Now for my main problem with this new Star Wars chapter which I was otherwise completely taken by.  I didn’t really care for the new characters – Rose, Laura Dern, Benicio- as they seemed too artificial somehow. Rose ends up becoming a pretty big deal, but lets face it, shes not in the same league as Finn, Rey or even Poe.  She felt like she would fit in better in Rogue One.  Laura Dern really didn’t feel like she was in a Star Wars movie, even though I liked what they did with her character, and Benecio’s “scoundrel” was kind of like “who cares?”

As such, I enjoyed their part of the story less than the Jedi plotlines. Which is too bad, because it drags down some of the momentum, and ties up Finn when he could have been doing cooler things.  The casino planet had a little too much “prequel” to it.

I also didn’t like the very last shot. I understand its significance, but the shot right before that was perfect place to end it.  I was ready to start pumping my fist, expecting the trumpets and end credits to blare, but instead got one more tacked on scene, calling back to the one part in the movie I didn’t like, and really killed the end-movie momentum.  Oh well.

On the whole, I am very enthusiastic about The Last Jedi, reservations about new characters aside.  But I mean hey, maybe they’ll grow on me.  I really see this new trilogy as great predecessors to the first three films. They feel like they have taken to story to a natural yet new place, and I am loving it. This had interactions between new and old favourite heroes and villains, lots of truly memorable moments, and another great addition into the Star Wars saga.

9.5/10

 

Dec
19

Star Wars is, you know, slightly popular. And in this day and age, in our culture, popular things get the crap marketed out of them, Star Wars most of all. You could argue that this franchise started the whole marketing craze. And part of that marketing usually involves board games: Star Wars Monopoly was a staple of my teenage years, but you could also find SW trivial pursuit, risk, and whatever else really.
But a few years ago, a game came along called X-Wing, which really changed the way we viewed Star Wars board games, and board games from licensed products in general. Sure, there have been great games made in this capacity before, such as A Game of Thrones or Knizia’s Lord of the Rings, but there was something about X-Wing which really set things in motion.
There is probably some discussion to be made about whether X-Wing is included in the broad spectrum we refer to as “board games”, or whether it is a “miniatures games’, and whether or not the two mix. I really don’t care about all that, I am just giving my perspective as a board gamer on what this unique and interesting Star Wars game is like.

Gameplay

X-Wing is a 2 player game, but can also be played in teams of two (which I prefer). One team plays the rebels, the other the empire. In the base game the rebels get a lone x-wing against the Empire’s two tie fighters. With expansions, of course, ships can be added and swapped. The goal is simply to take down all of the other player’s ships. It’s a simple goal, which I appreciate a lot.
So how do you destroy other ships? Each turn has two main phases. In the move phase, each player uses secret dials to determine how they move, then reveal their moves one by one. The direction and distance of the moves are determined by segments sticks that you use on the table to show where your ship ends up. Some are straight, some are curved. It’s a neat system that makes things really easy.
Then you attack. And how well you can attack is again calculated by a stick, seeing how far in range your enemy ships are. The combat is then determined with a dice system that I a little convoluted, but once you get the hang of it, it works well. And so these systems allow for an interesting cat-and-mouse-and-mouse-and-cat game where you are simultaneously trying to get out of range of their fighters while getting your fighters in a position to attack.

Components

I mean, what can be said about the components other than simply awesome? Of course, I am referring to the ship models when I say that. The game comes with three models: two Imperial Tie Fighters and one iconic X-Wing. These ships are so great in their detail that it adds a lot to immersing yourself into the Star Wars universe. They are the reason for the instant appeal fans had towards the game and, honestly, are more than likely the reason the game has hit the popularity eights it has.
As for other components, we have the measuring sticks that function very well in making the gameplay smooth, we have the range stick which barely fits in the box and only underneath the insert which is infuriating, and we have a bunch of cards and cardboard chits.
I didn’t get into the cards and tokens used in the game because, well, this is a review and not a rules explanation. But basically, the cards add either add-ons or characters to your ships, which give them new stats (attack power, shield defense, etc.) or one-time abilities. They add a lot to making each session unique, and provide for more story by attaching characters to each ship.

Conclusion

X-Wing simulates the space combat of the Star Wars films and as such provides a fun experience for fans. Does the game encapsulate all that the Star Wars trilogy is? No, for that you would want to look towards something like Star Wars Rebellion. Here, the makers of this game have taken that one piece of the famous films and blown it up into focus.
The game is not perfect however, and probably the biggest setback is the mispairing of the speed of the game and the theme behind it. You are supposed to be involved in an intense space battle, which should be fast and chaotic. But lets face it, with all the measuring, looking up rules and reading cards, and turn-taking its really hard to simulate the flow of the fight. Perhaps if players play this a lot, know their rules inside out, and make an effort to speed up, but I doubt that happens.
That’s a hard criticism to make, but its there. I don’t know what the alternative is though, and I do think it works a best as it can in that regard. I will say that some of the minor rules, like using focus and targeting icons, assist in this slowing down of the action. In fact, the rules could maybe stand to be a little simpler; there always seem to be small things you have to be familiar with that make this game kind of fiddly.
X-Wing is not a game I play often, to be honest. And its one of those games where most people are not going to just by the base game; the new ship expansions will enhance the experience. And for Star Wars fans, its not the complete Star Wars experience as a board game, but it definitely does feel like that famous galaxy far, far away.

Dec
17

Murder on the Orient express is a remake of the classic film based on the classic Agatha Christie novel.  And they do a good job of making it feel old-fashioned.  There’s a certain, nebulous “murder mystery” feel that this new film is able to capture, and because of that I enjoyed it quite a lot.  The fact that the movie is almost entirely set on a train really adds to this nostalgic idea it has.  Trains are cool; characters are in a closed location which has enough geography to allow for privacy and publicity in equal measure when needed.  They are effective movie locations.

As such, we have a large cast of characters stuck on this train, each one of them a murder suspect for the titular crime.  This allows for a lot of fun performances, like Michelle Pfieffer playing a desperate for love divorcee, Daisy Ridley looking cute, Judy Dench playing a mean, old princess, and the snowman from Frozen.  And then of course there is Kenneth Branaugh as the lead, Hercule Poirot.  His character is a lot of fun, and he has clearly made a bold challenge towards Mr. Tom Selleck.

Now, having said that this movie feels old-fashioned, that’s not always the case.  In fact, I would say that one of the film’s biggest flaws is when it tries to modernize the story which a few shoehorned action sequences.  None of them are particularly interesting as action scenes, and they were clearly added to satiate “modern audiences”.

Having seen the original, I was hoping they would change the ending to this film so that there would still be a mystery there for me.  Of course they weren’t going to do that; I am sure most people who go see this will not have seen or not remember the 1970’s version.  But looking back, the ending they have is really the only one that works.  An enjoyable mainstream movie that offers general audiences something different than the current blockbuster fare.

8/10

Nov
19

The Thor Trilogy takes a tonal shift with its third installment as the Marvel film magnates have decided they want to pull people in by making it more like the smash hit Guardians of the Galaxy.  The result is a conclusion of the somewhat mythological story of Asgard mashed with humour-filled, cosmic wackiness.  As it turns out, this proves to be quite entertaining.

Let’s not fool ourselves; Thor Ragnarok is certainly entertaining, but that’s really all it is.  There’s not much here other than a good time at the theater, but it is very successful at providing that good time.  Chris Hemsworth has really dug into his role as Marvel’s resident god of thunder, touching on the more playful aspects of Thor that we saw bits and pieces of in his first film.    He is joined again my Loki, who is really only in the movie because he’s a fan favourite, Hela his unknown sister, the villain who is only notable because she is played by Cate Blanchet, and eventually a new sidekick named Valkyrie.  Oh, and the Hulk, which would have been a great surprise if it weren’t for this hype-obsessed movie culture we now occupy.

The movie is full of laughs and wacky situations.  Thor ends up on a junkyard planet ruled by Jeff Goldblum.  How is Jeff Goldblum in this movie, you ask?  My response is to chuckle at you and say “He’s Jeff Goldblum. What more do you need to know?”  On this planet he is captured and turned into a gladiator, where he runs into our long lost Hulk.  Turns out Hulk has been there for two years without ever turning into Bruce Banner.  This gives us a lot of Hulk-Thor interactions, which a lot of people were clamoring far (though I didn’t like as much).  We also get a rock monster with a New Zealand accent.

Now while this humour provides for a good time, it also undercuts a lot of the dramatic moments in the story.  There is a strong example of this at the end where something very major happens which should have been given a reflective moment by Thor and others. Instead it was used as some throw away jokes by Kiwi Rock Monster, and therefore the moment had absolutely no emotion behind it, essentially rendering the entire three-movie arc void somehow.  This kind of stuff happened a lot; the filmmakers felt they couldn’t just let moments exist without a joke.  This was the same problem Guardians 2 had earlier this year.

I also really feel like the Marvel tie-ins are getting to the point where they are detracting from the movie, where they used to be fun easter eggs.  The scene where they arrive at Earth and have an encounter with someone is a strong example of this.  It really felt out of place, and only there because that’s just what they do now.

Another problem I have is how Thor’s power, and the power of other characters, is really undefined.  What exactly are Thor’s superpowers?  he’s really strong and has an awesome hammer, but otherwise this movie just gives him whatever powers are necessary for the situation.  Either that or is DOESN’T give him powers for the situation, like how he can’t escape a seemingly  petty electronic zapper to keep him captive.  Hela just seems to be ridiculously destructive with undefined powers, which isn’t interesting either.  Superheroes work best when they work within constraints, and Marvel is really losing sight of that.

Wow, this review is getting really long. Sorry about that.  But I have one more thing to mention.  Thor 3 really made me pontificate on the state of special effects in movies today.  We are now past the point when anything is possible to do with CGI, including gladiatorial matches with the Hulk, a planet full of junk towers and wormholes, and giant flame monsters destroying cities.  But we are also at the point where its so much it is just numbing.  The spectacle is so abundant and excessive that it has actually disappeared.   We are not wowed anymore.  That just saddens me a bit.  I know I made similar comments after seeing Guardians of the Galaxy, but its something that this movie made very apparent to me as well.

Wow, I really seem to be talking down my rating.  I was going to give it an 8, but I am going to drop that to a 7, and not sure that it wont dip over time when the neon sheen has worn off.

Oct
27

Its odd; I really enjoyed both Rise and Dawn, but I never felt a lot of excitement towards the concluding chapter in this new Planet of the Apes trilogy.  I can’t really say why, I just wasn’t.  I didn’t bother to see it in theaters, and only now caught it on video.  There’s really no reason for my disinterest, and after watching it I realize that it was totally unearned.  This was an excellent movie, capping off a really strong modern movie trilogy.

The third film sees Caesar’s tribe trying to find a way out of their forest where they are being hunted by a military group bent on wiping them out.  After a series of events, Caesar and a small band go on a mission to take out the human’s leader, predictably played by Woody Harrelson.  Along the way, we get some interesting story points to keep you invested throughout.

The foundation of these films is the character of Caesar and how a CGI chimp is able to become a fully realized and respectable character.  Its easy to see why he becomes a legend in this universe and he is truly a character to cheer for and empathize with.  He goes through a lot in this movie.

War of the Apes is solid action movie film-making.  It looks great, with some neat locations (such as an abandoned ski hill), characters you really care about, and genuine tension.   And as a Planet of the Apes fan, there are a lot of cool callbacks to the original without being too hokey about it, with varying degrees of subtly.  There’s also one major plot twist in particular that has a direct connection to the original.

In the end I highly recommend War of the Apes, as well as its two predecessors (and the original 1968 film of course, but that should go without saying).  Each of the three movies are strongly connected yet unique, and together they make a great storytelling saga in this time of Hollywood blockbuster madness.

9/10

Oct
22

At this point, Days of Wonder have fully committed to the Map Expansion idea for expanding their most popular game, and the third such package takes us to Africa, the fourth continent to be visited by these coloured plastic trains.
Unlike the previous two map packs, this is not a double board. As such, it needs to offer something quite unique in the game experience to make it stand out. It does add a slightly different game mechanism to contribute, but how successful is it to adding to your Ticket to Ride journey?

Additions

1Africa Map – This map doesn’t cover all of Africa, but only the southern half of the continent. It does have ferries to Madagascar . The regions, such as desert, savannah, jungle, are indicated by the colour of routes available in that areas, which is quite neat and not something we’ve seen in a TtR map before. Also, the scoring numbers have animal skin backgrounds, which is awesome.

2Terrain Cards – The unique experience I mentioned before comes in the form of terrain cards. Remember how I said the map was divided into geographical regions based on route colour? This is how it comes into play. Terrain cards are now available. You can use them to double route scoring in that area, so long as he has the most of that type of terrain. This causes a constant race to happen between the players for card majority, similar to the Catan largest army or the stocks in Acquire.



Critique


Best Feature:
Well, the terrain cards I suppose. Its really the only new feature. I enjoy the race aspect of trying to have the most of any given card. I also like how the cards are tied to the map.

When to use: This is not an expansion you will always play Ticket to Ride with. It is one of those scenarios you only play once in a while to switch things up or to give the game a little extra complexity. Don’t use it with new players. It does muddy the basic gameplay a little bit.

Does it fit?:
No, you have to keep the expansion in its own box. The board is the real problem here.

What type: It’s a “different scenario” expansion. It adds a new map and a new major rule, but the rule only works on this map.

Overall: It’s a neat little experiment on the Ticket to Ride system. Not something I would play too often, and doesn’t improve on the base game. Some may find the terrain cards a distraction to the simpler collecting cards and claiming routes aspect. But it’s a good expansion to have for variety’s sake.
thumbsup

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.
thumbsupthumbsdown

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