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

Feb
09

10. The Shape of Water

Guillermo Del Toro brings himself back in the limelight this year with his modern fairy tale along the lines of Beauty and the Beast.  A Shape of Water combines contemporary storytelling with mythic tendencies, adds in an engrossing lead performance of Sally Hawkins, and Del Toro’s typical production design for an odd tour de force.

9. War for the Planet of the Apes

For some reason, I wasn’t too eager to see this movie in theaters, despite really enjoying the previous two parts of this trilogy.  However, when I did finally catch up with it, I ended up liking it a lot.  This tale of Caesar’s ape revolution, acting as a precursor to the Planet of the Apes story we all love so well, has maintained a solid level of quality throughout.  In this third film, we gt a lot of subtle callbacks to the classic original, as well as some great moments for Caesar and Woody Harrelson playing his human foil.  This movie looked great as well.

8. Molly’s Game

I’m sure many of you know I’m a big Sorkin fan, and he is primarily the reason I enjoyed this movie so much.  This was a pretty interesting story with some good performances by Chastain and Elba, not to mention a great supporting turn by Costner, all tied together with a great script.  There’s humour when there needs to be, drama where there needs to be, danger where there needs to be, all in good measure.

7. It

I’ll quote my dad to sum things up: “You know how the first Indiana Jones movie was non-stop action?  Well this was non-stop horror!”  Pennywise has secured his place among the pantheon of great horror movie villains, but as creepy as he is, he’s not the only reason the film works.  The story of the kids is really what draws you in and actually makes you care before they scare.

6. The Big Sick

There’s something really grounded about a story like this, taken from the lives of the people behind it.  It feels authentic while also relatable to anyone who has lived through the health scare of someone they love.  Kamail Nanjiani is a strong comedic talent right now who also has things to say.  I was the only one in the theater when I saw The Big Sick, which is a shame.  It is a sweet, entertaining movie that deserved more eyes on the screen.

5. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri

An entertaining look into justice, redemption, responsibility, etc.  It has all you would want in a movie of this type: great performances, an interesting story that isn’t predictable, a good mix of humour and pathos.  Frances McDormand will likely win the Oscar, and Sam Rockwell has a good chance too.  I wouldn’t say the characters make the best decisions, but movies don’t have to be morality tales.  They just need to have something to say while keeping the audience engaged, and Three Billboards does a great job at this.

4. Logan

Somehow it feels like comic book movies have come full circle, with the recent trend beginning with Wolverine’s introduction with the X-Men in 2000 and reaching a new level with his swan song.  Logan is not flashy or formulaic, but is instead a movie that is truly interested in exploring what a life as a superhero does to this man after many years.  Throw in the addition of an aged Professor Xavier as his companion, and we get the climax of the X-Men franchise and one hell of a good flick.

3. Get Out

I’m not a big fan of the horror genre, but lately every year there seems to be one horror flick that really grabs me. Last year it was The Witch, two years ago It Follows, this year there were two: It and Get Out.  Get Out has a very disturbing premise which is both incredibly creepy and full of context.  It came out in February and is still talked about a lot here at end-of-the-year awards season, and appears to be the sleeper hit of 2017.

2. Star Wars: The Last Jedi

You’re probably either thinking “What? Why is this here?” or “Wow, this isn’t number 1?”  To answer the first question, screw the negativity! The Last Jedi was a great follow up to Force Awakens.  Rey has come into her own as an iconic movie hero, Kylo Ren deepens his villainy, and Luke is back in all his grumbly, Jedi might. Many complained about Force Awakens playing it too safe, but Last Jedi kept you on your toes throughout, providing us with some great stuff.
To the second question I say…. yeah, I know.  But there are some things that prevent it from being completely great: the casino planet, the new characters, the final shot.  But compared with all the fantastic scenes and dynamics we get, those are only minor irritations.  For the middle of the trilogy, Last Jedi didn’t hold back, and I loved it.

1. Dunkirk

Dunkirk is one hell of a cinematic experience.  The picture, the sound, the pace, all those fundamentals of film-making are here on masterful display so that we can feel the story unfold, rather than just hear and see it.  This movie isn’t concerned with personal stories or informing the audience about the details of the battle; its far more visceral than that.  When I first heard that Nolan was going to make a war film, I wondered how he was going to make his film distinct after so many have tackled the subject before him.  but he did.  Dunkirk was definitely the most powerful movie I saw this year.

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Jan
21

A few years ago I did a list on my favourite podcasts, but a lot has changed since then, so I am updating it.  Only one podcast from the original list remains.  If you are interested in any of these topics, I highly recommend these casts.

5. The Secret Cabal Gaming Podcast

It amazes me how many board game podcasts there are, and if you are someone who is not a part of the board gaming hobby it would REALLY surprise you.  But it takes something special to rise above the rest, and the Secret Cabal definitely has that.  So what is it?  Its the charisma and chemistry of the 5 hosts.  These are all guys who are friends in real life who decided to start a podcast which has since become huge.

There format is solid: they spend some time talking about games they’ve played, review a feature game, go through a news segment(with too much miniature games stuff in it, but oh well), and then has a discussion topic which is usually the most compelling part.  It keeps the cast interesting even if it runs 3 hours.  Tony is always the voice of reason, Steve provides the humour, Brian a different perspective, Chris is always distracted by shiny objects, and Jamie keeps everything running like a machine.  At times they get a bit hyperbolic, but what will keep you coming back is how much fun you can tell they are having and how well they know each other.

4. The Legendarium

 

This is a rather new discovery for myself, though its been going for a few years now.  I came upon it while looking for a podcast which discussed the Wheel of Time series.  This is a podcast which started as a Lord of the Rings podcast, but went into fantasy literature of all types, as well as pretty much anything nerdy, like Star Wars and superheroes as well.

The hosts walk just the right line of being geek who are excited about this stuff, without going overboard and being the kind of geek no one likes.  They add interesting perspectives on the books and other works they are discussing, which leads to great conversation.  I have only so far listened to some of their Wheel of Time and LOTR episodes, and some of the Star Wars centric discussions, but I am really excited to delve into their back catalogue.

 

 

 

3. F This Movie

Despite how the title might sound, this is not one of those negative podcasts where they like to bash movies.  In fact, F This movie is at its best when they are elaborating on the reasons why they love the movies that they love.  Hosted by Patrick Bromley and a revolving door of guest hosts, F This Movie brings tons of both humour and insight into their film discussions.

F This Movie covers both old and new films with a strong variety of both, though perhaps leaning too much towards horror flicks.  They have annual traditions and encourage audience participation, such as their scary movie month every October. My favourite podcasts are their end-of-year specials.  So try joining Patrick, Adam, JB and the rest of the gang as they discuss great and not-so-great movies in a more entertaining way than most movie podcasts out there.

 

 

2. Hardcore History

How can a podcast that runs well over 3 hours per show with only one guy speaking be compelling? Well it is, and its one of the best podcasts out there.  Dan Carlin provides an in depth and entertaining look into various eras of history, including WWI and II, Ancient Rome, the Mongol empire, and the Reformation.   Sometimes he will do one episode on one topic, sometimes he will go into a series of podcasts to cover a larger topic.

The reason Carlin’s accounts of these periods are so enthralling is that he explores not just the events, but what it would feel like to be living in that time.  He makes the events and living conditions relatable for us today and humanizes these historical stories.  He is also able to dig up really cool side-stories and details that are great to hear about.  One warning however: it usually takes months for a new episode to come out, but when it does its worth it.

 

1. Film Junk

There’s a lot to be said for history, and that’s why Film Junk, the longest running movie podcast, remains my number one show.  After over 12 years of podcasting, the Film Junk crew has so much history, so many stories, so many inside jokes, that the audience really feels like a part of the crew despite never having met them.  These hosts are friends outside the podcast, and their interaction s make that very obvious.

Sean, Jay and Frank spend three hours discussing movies for us every week, delving into arguments over minutia like no one before.  They have built up their own vocabulary of words and phrases (ex. the COPO, Criterionitis, a feast for thine eyes, etc) that brings regular viewers in and makes them feel included.  They have tons of great stories that keep coming back, like Jay’s trips to the doctor and Frank’s BBQ building escapades.

Film Junk also has a colourful cast or recurring guests, like the excitable Dax, the hilarious Greg (who also used to host), and of course Reed Farrington, who you simply have to hear to believe.  Film Junk is a rich tapestry that has become far more than simply a movie podcast; its a community that can only build after years and years of tradition and providing entertainment without ever compromising themselves.

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.

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.
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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