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

May
03

Avengers Age of Ultron

Marvel has been very successful in creating a movie franchise universe for its comic book heroes, and ever expanding that universe across almost a dozen films. But in their second Avengers movie the whole franchise seems to have evolved to a whole new step. The Marvel movie universe has now managed to completely immerse itself into the same world as the comics from which they came.

What do I mean by that? What I mean is that Age of Ultron really feels like one of those crazy cross-over comic events with tons of characters showing up all over the place, each contributing to a central story where its taken for granted that we know who these characters are and where they come from. Some people will hate this most likely, but I thought it was impressive.

We get right into the action as we see the Avengers hunting down the last stronghold of Hydra. This isn’t a great action scene as the CGI is very apparent, but dont worry; much better action scenes are to follow, like the Iron Man vs. Hulk fight. The main story however sees Tony Stark create an evil AI called Ultron in an attempt to develop an automated security system for the world. And of course Ultron is out for destruction.

The biggest problem of the movie is that they don’t do a great job of establishing the origin of Ultron. Its rather rushed and feels awkward. But after that the story runs pretty smoothly (which the exception of some sort of dream cave Thor goes into?? Wha??) and Ultron is a pretty cool villain, and quite daunting since he can transport himself to any other robot if he’s defeated.

What I really liked was just the smorgasbord of characters thrown into this thing. (I mean, Vision?? I did not expect a character like him to show up.) I know that doesn’t seem like it should be a good thing, but personally I love huge casts of characters all interlocking, and as I said before it is necessary for that evolution of the franchise to truly feel like a Marvel comic come to life. Yeah, its a little clunky in places, but there are a lot of balls to juggle here and I liked how most of them stayed balanced in the air pretty well. I loved the craziness of this movie.
8/10

Apr
26

FOXCATCHER

Foxcatcher tells the story of two wrestling brothers who allow themselves to be taken under the wing of an eccentric millionaire as their coach.  Its based off of a true story, but whether that gives it more or less power is up to how you feel about it I suppose.  It’s is a competently made film.  The cinematography is fine, the editing is fine, and so on.  The main problem is that its entirely devoid of any type of charisma.

This lack of charisma extends into the performances of both Channing Tatum, whose almost Neanderthal like as Mark, and Steve Carrell as John Du Pont who is essentially an unfunny Michael Scott, filtered so that only the awkwardness is left.   They aren’t bad performances, but with the dialogue they lack spark.    Mark Ruffalo’s David is the only one who really gives you some personality to latch on to.

So what results is a somewhat interesting, somewhat boring story.  It was hard to see what made this particular story remarkable enough to make a movie about it, which I found out at thee end.  But even then, the ending of the film just kind of happens.  There’s not a lot of build up to it, follow up from it, or any real power behind it.

6/10

Apr
03

A Blend That’s Great, Even with Eight

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Vivajava is my hidden gem story. I ordered the game without really knowing how it worked. I just liked that it was about producing coffee. But low and behold, what I ended up with was a fantastic game that quickly became a hit among my group of friends.
Vivajava is a rare breed. It’s a eurostyle production game which works for up to eight people and involves tons of interactivity among players. In short, its awesome. It fills an interesting Niche, as most games involving that many players tend to be party games or secret role games like The Resistance or Werewolf. Having the option for an actual strategy game with that many people is great.

Gameplay

The goal of the game is to make the best-selling coffee blends and earn points based on how long they stay in the market. Coffee blends are made using a basic poker system, but with coloured beans pulled randomly from roaster bags instead of playing cards. This is a brilliant idea as it’s something most people can relate to an latch on to. The best blends get the best places on the market.
Vivajava also has a number of other great mechanics including a research track which gives you special abilities. It also has the added strategy of trying to maintain an efficient roaster filled with any number of coloured beans in order to make the best blends. There’s a lot for gamers to sink their teeth into here.
But where this game really comes out strong is the actual blending process. Why is that? Because in order to blend, you must do so as a team with one or two other players. Therefore, you are making temporary alliances every turn in order to team up and make the best blend possible between you both. This makes the game very interactive and dynamic and gives it its spark.

Components

Like a great cup of coffee, the artwork and components of Vivajava are soothing and comforting. There is a stack of blend slates, each with interesting art. The colour schemes of the main board work very well to create a consistency. And the fact that the game actually comes with little wooden coffee beans is just awesome.
There may be slight confusion between the red and brown beans if the lighting isn’t quite right, but that’s really just a nitpickers problem and not that big a deal. Otherwise, the components are top notch. The roaster bags are good quality, the graphic design works well, everything is great.

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Conclusion

I expected this game to be a game I bought because I liked the idea of a coffee-centric game, but one that would just sit on my shelf as an oddity. I underestimated how fun it would actually be. Now I get plenty of requests for “the coffee game”, and it’s easy to see why.
Vivajava promotes interactive gameplay and can accommodate groups as large as eight, which is a rare thing. And it also does all this without sacrificing genuine eurogame economic strategy, which is even rarer. Vivajava is a great game that fills in interesting niche, and one which I highly recommend.

Apr
02

A while back I posted my top ten most wanted blu-rays here.  A lot has changed since then, and eight of the ten have come to fruition.  Time to take a new look at the blu-rays I’d love to see.

10. The Wire

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Alright, this is kind of a cheat, since HBO is releasing The Wire complete series on blu-ray June 6th.  But what I would like to see is the individual seasons, jsut cause I’m weird like that. (All my other shows are broken into season sets, so…)

But if this is a cheat, then put Roman Holiday in this spot.

9. The Marx Brothers

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Someone needs to put out a set of Marx Brothers films on bluray.  The one I am specifically interested in is Duck Soup, but honestly they all should be.  The Marx Bros were a massively important part of film history, and really should be preserved on blu-ray high def.  i’m honestly really surprised this hasn’t happened yet.  Its a shame.

8. Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

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This is one of the few from AFI’s top 100 movies list that has yet to get a blu-ray release.  It should have one.  I mean, that whole list should have one, really.

7.Spartacus (Remastered)

Yes, Universal already has a blu-ray of Spartacus released.  But from everything I’ve read about it, the transfer is an atrocity.  Digital noise reduction appears to have taken all of the detain out of the images.  This post will tell you why.  The great thing is that it sounds like this may happen, according to Digital Bits.

 

6. Before Sunrise

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Rumour has it that Criterion is planning a trilogy release of Linklater’s Before series.  The only one on blu right now is the third one.  I adored the first one, and would love to add it to my menagerie of films.  The only thing I ask is that they don’t make it a box set, or if they do they make each of the three individual discs and literally put them in a box.

5. The X-Files

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This was my favourite show as a teenager, and it still sticks with me even though the show dropped off considerable in the last four seasons.  But it is certainly a show I would  love to include in my collection.  There are rumours that this has been coming for a while, and with the new announcement of the series returning for a stint on TV again, chances for a Blu-ray release are high.

4. Prince of Egypt

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I really have no idea why this isn’t out yet.  Its a pretty well-respected animated film from Dreamworks that I would think is well worthy of a release.  I sort of expected it to come out when Exodus was released in theaters, but no such luck.

3. The West Wing

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TV on Blu-ray was a tricky thing.   I had to wonder if it was even worth getting into, since I knew so many shows just wouldn’t bother with the upgrade.  But then Game of Thrones came out, and so I began my TV collection.  I know I wont get all my shows on blu, but there are some I’m really hoping for.  West Wing is one of my all-time favourites, and I really hope that it comes to HD in the near future.

2. Bringing Up Baby

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This is one of my all-time favourite comedies, yet it is one of the few AFI Top 100 list movies not on blu yet. Whats up with that? Get it out there!.

1. The Original Star Wars Trilogy

My most wanted blu-ray remains the same.  I will repost what I wrote last time:

I decided to put the least likely to happen at the top of this list.  What I am talking about here is the original, unadulterated trilogy with no CGI Ronto’s added, no extra scenes, and no ridiculous song-and-dance numbers in Jabba’s palace.  I want the three movies released with beautiful new transfers without any of Lucas’ obsessive tinkering.  The driving force behind blu-ray has become film preservation; allowing films to be released in their pure form as they were meant to be seen.  So why not Star Wars too?

Mar
29

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Okay, lets talk.  We need to chat about book adaptations.  I confess there was a time when being faithful to the source material was important to me.  I remember having a number of nitpicks when the Lord of the Rings trilogy came out, for example.  But over time, the movie fan in me has grown to realize that adaptations should not be about capturing the source material as closely as possible, they should be about making a good movie, period.  The books are there to provide a proven story and a source of inspiration.  The movie should try to capture the overall tone of the material yes, but changes are usually very necessary.  For example, changing the ending of Watchman was a big improvement in making the whole film more complete and well-rounded.  Leaving out Tom Bombadil from Fellowship of the Ring was a necessity, since it would have disrupted the pace and flow of the film.  The point is, making a great movie should be priority one, accuracy to the source is secondary.

The reason for this rant is because the process of adapting is where I think the latest Hunger Games movie has problems.  Its clear that they want to make book fans happy and really try to get lots of little details and stuff in from the book.  But what ends up happening is that lots about this movie feels very contrived,  There are very small examples of this that add up, and there is one glaringly large example of this.

The small examples are things like Katniss having a nickname for her sister (little dove or something?), which is clearly only there because its in the book and reader’s expect it.  But it sounds eye-rollingly unnatural whenever its said, and very transparent to why its there.  These little book details keep popping up and feeling out of place with the movie presented.

But the biggest example of this is the relationship between Katniss and Peeta.  They keep trying to jam this thing down our throats, but its not at all convincing.  Which is problematic since her thinly-constructed motivations for why she’s dong things centers around her “love” for Peeta and her wish to help him.  But there is absolutely no chemistry between these characters and it ll feels like a false note.  And its clear it is being force-fed directly from the books.

Now, I did mostly enjoy this movie.  I liked seeing the revolution take hold and enjoyed a lot of aspects about how that worked.  But it does feel like a lot of the underlying problems of this film franchise are starting to break through.

6/10

 

Mar
21

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Under the Skin is a weird movie to be sure.  Its also an oddly compelling one.    The premise is pretty much like Species; an alien under disguise as a female human seduces victims.  But that doesn’t at all prepare you for what kind of movie this is.  What we actually get is a more contemplative look at a view of the human race from a visitor’s perspective.  This movie is more about mood and atmosphere, which are meticulously  crafted.

This movie is not for everyone.  It sounds like a thriller, and though there are thrilling aspects when she lures her victims, its not really.  There’s little dialogue as well, which may frustrate some.  And there’s not much of an explanation as to her purpose (though in the second half of the movie, her personal motivations become apparent).  We assume she’s an alien creature of some kind, but to be honest when I saw her in her fur coat, within the background of the Scottish isles, my mind went to the mythological Selkies.  And upon further research on imdb after the movie, it appears that selkies were indeed an influence.

Somehow, I didn’t feel frustrated by Under the Skin, though I should of.  But the movie ended up luring me in, much like one of her victims.  The tone was haunting and evoked a compulsion to keep watching. There’s a scene where we see inside her pool of mystery which is particularly disturbing.  The photography was great, especially when mixed with the oddly mixed sound production.  We would have long shots of her walking through a Scottish town hearing nothing but her footsteps a lot of the time.

Scarlett Johanssen is great in the lead role, managing to hit just the right notes of someone pretending to be human, but not having the emotional pitfalls of humanity.  For example, when she lures in a man with a deformed face, she doesn’t even notice he is different than any of the others at any point.  She also captures the curiosity of a stranger to our planet very well.

If you are okay with slower paced movies whose themes are “under the skin” so to speak, than this is certainly an interesting watch.

8/10

Mar
15
A Renewable Resource of Great Gaming
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In the fast-moving popularity contest which exists within this hobby, it doesn’t take many years for a game to have lasted to be called a classic. In the case of Power Grid, which just had its 10th anniversary, it is a status that is well-earned, whether or not you agree that ten years is enough time to make such a declaration. Because lets face it, the attention of a lot of gamers is fickle and fleeting in the “cult of the new” obsessed hobby. But a game like Power Grid has enough prestige and depth to endure. Lets find out why.

Gameplay

Power Grid is an economic game where the goal is to supply power to as many cities as possible. To do this you need a network reaching those cities, power plants to provide power to them, and fuel to run your power plants (either coal, oil, garbage, uranium, or wind).
These three aspects also dictate the three main areas of gameplay: an auction to buy bigger and better power plants, a supply and demand economic system to buy fuel, and a cost-calculating map phase where you are buying into different cities. These different phases all work together really well despite seeming like fragmented pieces, and all are important to your overall goal.
Power Grid has a reputation of being a number-crunching game, and I suppose that is true. When you are calculating your routes and how much fuel to buy, there is a low margin of error, but I think that is to the acclaim of the design. This is a eurogame after all, and decisions need to be tight. But I also don’t believe that it is completely automated either as market prices depend so much on what other players do as well.
Power Grid has a very interesting aspect to it which is the battle for turn order. More so than any other game I’ve played, turn order is very important in this game. Because so much depends on player decisions (networks, markets, power plant bidding), being able to go first is a great advantage. However, to do so you have to be behind in the number of cities you power, which means you are also behind financially as well. So that creates a very interesting balance struggle.

Components

Power Grid is famous for having one of the most boring box covers ever. And I’m perfectly fine with it. Inside the box, we get a board with some unique aesthetics and a great layout, including the economic and turn tracks set up with ease. The power plant cards are awesome, and the wooden components for the power stations and resources are just as nice to have as wooden components always are.

The game comes with paper money.  Good.  Everyone complains so much about paper money, and I just dont know what the problem is.  Is it more rebellion against monopoly?  I’m not sure, but paper money is modern currency, and it makes sense with a modern market such as this one.  So paper money: good stuff.
So lets face it, there’s nothing overly interesting about the power grid components. But I still like them. I like wooden components, even though we just have the same houses as Catan. I like the artwork as well, its different than you usually encounter. I also kind of like the bland box cover; it doesn’t try to dress up the rather bland theme. Power Grid doesn’t need to be fancy or flashy for anyone, and I respect that.

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Conclusion

Power Grid seems like a dry game with a dry theme. Buts its far more dynamic than it looks, and is a really great economic game. It can be unforgiving, so be aware of that. If you lose your turn order spot at the wrong time, for example, you can really be cut out of the loop (not that I’m speaking from experience or anything…). But this is a great economic game that can give a different experience than most other games being played today. So if you don’t mind mathy games and tough decisions, best to dim the lights on this one. If you like an interactive and dynamic challenge, then crank up the voltage on Power Grid.

Feb
28

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This turned out to be a much better movie than I expected, and I can see now why it won the Oscar. That puffy robot just killed me, I think I laughed at almost everything he said or did. “I am not fast.”  Or when the kid told him to kick the door down. Great stuff.

The setting is interesting though confusing.  So why is it now San Fransokyo?  Or does it not matter?  I guess not.  The story is pretty solid, with a core emotional backdrop. The biggest flaw I would say is that the secondary friend characters are very “cartoony”, in that really annoying way. Like how the tall skinny girl speaks so fast and loud, etc, or how goofy Fred is. It probably works really well for kids though.

But the robot is the reason to see this movie.

8/10

Feb
22

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Another year, another Oscars.  Neil Patrick Harris made me laugh a few times, but he seemed to be falling flat a lot at the theater.  Oh well.  I also thought how it was interesting how there was a mini-rebellion against the play-off music.  Which is good.  The people who win these awards work hard for them and deserve their moment, and shouldn’t be played off immediately just because they aren’t shown on Entertainment Tonight.

Also, this was a very soapboxy Oscars, did anyone else notice that?

Last year I only had a 58% prediction rate.  Lets see if I did better this year.

BEST PICTURE:

Winner: Birdman

My Pick: Birdman

Boyhood still had a chance, but as expected Birdman came out ahead.


DIRECTING:

Winner: Alejandro Iñárritu – Birdman

My Pick: Alejandro Iñárritu – Birdman

They went the last two years with a split, so I really didn’t think it was gonna happen again this year, though I would have liked to see Linklater get it.  But this was the right pick I think.


ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE:

Winner:  Eddie Redmayne – The Theory of Everything

My Pick: Michael Keaton – Birdman

I know I was going against the front runner, but I really thought they’d give it to Keaton.  I forgot that the academy likes disabilities and impersonations of famous people, and this was both.  I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I’d imagine it was a very hard performance to pull off and was likely well deserved.


ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE:

Winner: Julianne Moore – Still Alice

My Pick: Julianne Moore – Still Alice

I was just going with the front runner here.


ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE:

Winner: J.K. Simmons – Whiplash

My Pick: J.K. Simmons – Whiplash

This was the first award of the night, so at this point I was batting 1000.

Lots of great actors in this category.  Must have been tough to vote.


ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE:

Winner:  Patricia Arquette – Boyhood

My Pick: Patricia Arquette – Boyhood

I would have liked to have seen Emma Stone win, I like her.



ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY:

Winner: Birdman

My Pick: Birdman

Called it!


ADAPTED  SCREENPLAY:

Winner: The Imitation Game

My Pick: The Theory of Everything

I picked the wrong scientist movie.


FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM:

Winner: Ida

My Pick: Ida

When in doubt, choose the film you’ve actually heard something about.  It usually doesn’t work, but this time I did.

I like that the guy refused to leave despite the music.


ANIMATED FEATURE FILM:

Winner: Big Hero 6

My Pick: How to Train Your Dragon 2

More like Big Upset 6.


PRODUCTION DESIGN:

Winner: Grand Budapest Hotel

My Pick: Grand Budapest Hotel

Called it!  Imitation Game would have been a good pick too

CINEMATOGRAPHY:

Winner: Birdman

My Pick: Birdman

After watching the film today I realize how important the camera work was for this movie.   Two for Luzbeski.

COSTUME DESIGN:

Winner: Grand Budapest Hotel

My Pick: Mr. Turner

Cool.

FILM EDITING:

Winner: Whiplash

My Pick: Boyhood

This is very surprising.  I thought for sure it would be Boyhood, a 12 year effort cut into on film. But Whiplash has done well tonight.

DOCUMENTARY FEATURE:

Winner: Citizen4

My Pick: Virunga

I knew I should have went with the more popular film.

MAKEUP & HAIRSTYLING:

Winner: Grand Budapest Hotel

My Pick: Guardians of the Galaxy

Looks like the academy was willing to back up all the nominations they gave Grand Budapest with a couple of awards as well.

ORIGINAL SCORE:

Winner: Grand Budapest Hotel

My Pick: Imitation Game

Well I picked the right guy, wrong movie. Do I get half a point?

ORIGINAL SONG:

Winner: Glory – Selma

My Pick: Glory – Selma

Last year I didn’t go with the exceedingly obvious choice of Let it Go.  I wasn’t going to make the same mistake twice.

SOUND MIXING:

Winner:  Whiplash

My Pick: American Sniper

I should have thought about this one more.  A movie about drumming and other musical instruments? Yeah, of course it was going to go to Whiplash.

SOUND EDITING:

Winner: American Sniper

My Pick: American Sniper

If you are a sound editor and want an Oscar, do a war film.

VISUAL EFFECTS:

Winner: Interstellar

My Pick: Interstellar

I was hoping this would win but was doubting it would.  Glad it did.

DOCUMENTARY SHORT:

Winner: Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1

My Pick: Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1

Its the hot topic issue this year apparently.

ANIMATED SHORT FILM:

Winner: Feast

My Pick: Feast

Looks cute.

LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM:

Winner: The Phone Call

My Pick: The Butter Lamp

Again, its the hot topic issue this year.

MY SCORE: 14/24 = 58%

The same as last year.

Feb
22

Birdman-3

Birdman has a lot of stuff going on, that’s for sure. Some things I got, others I didn’t. But regardless its clear that everything that is in this manic movie mayhem is there for a reason. For example, I don’t know why he imagines himself having telekinetic powers, but I’m sure there’s a reason (a statement on hi ego seems obvious, but there must be something else to it as well). There’s lots that is commented on here, like the nature of criticism and art vs. commercialism in theater, but what the comment is isn’t as easy to pick out. Maybe there is no straight comment and these ideas are just thrown out as food for thought.

Regardless of the themes behind the film, the technical stuff is pretty energetic as well. The acting is top notch, especially the scene where Keaton and Norton have their first rehearsal. Its gotta be tough to act acting, if you know what I mean. Keaton goes through a lot of ranges in this movie and is convincing throughout. Norton is also quite excellent, as is Emma Stone as Keaton’s daughter who is a character in her own right.

The cinematography and editing meld together in this film to make what appears to be one long, continuous shot that covers a series of days in the theater. The way it is done is pretty ingenious in that many locations are actually used, both interior and exterior so that the audience doesn’t feel stifled. Although for myself, I felt a little exhausted going through the whole movie without a ‘break” as it were, and you realize the power that editing out a second or two can actually have. Not everyone will feel the same restlessness I’m sure, but I did for some reason.

Its hard to say how Birdman is going to hold up over the coming years. It may increase in value as there are more and more tidbits of theme to grab and piece together within the bustling scenes. Or its pretentiousness may shine through more on repeat viewings. Its probably going to be the former. As far as the ending goes, not sure how smoothly it went. But again, maybe I’m missing something and not putting the proper metaphor’s in place even though I recognize them (the flying, the mask, etc.).

8/10

Feb
16

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I liked the story but hated the style. That’s the Coles Notes version of my review. The Kingsmen, a spy action movie about a London punk who is recruited into a spy organization, suffers from an identity crisis.

Its hard to tell who this movie was made for exactly. At the core, it is a goofy spy story that doesn’t take itself very seriously, which was evident from the moment there was a car chase in reverse. I mean, there’s a character who has swords for feet even. So this indicates that it was made for younger audiences. It has a familiar plot for those teenager adventures as films like Percy Jackson. But then the filmmakers counter that by loving to say “fuck” a lot and having really graphic violence. It doesn’t mesh.

Its too bad, because there were elements that gave this the potential to be a fun and likable movie. I rather liked all of the training segments where these young 20-somethings are competing for a position in the organization. I also liked quite a few of the characters. Even the basic premise of the secret organization was well conceived, as was the villain’s plot (sort of).

However, the movie is ruined by the director’s need to inject a lot of unnecessary gore and other questionable material into the film. I mean, the action films which were shot in a frenetic style were showing gunshots, people getting impaled on spears, ll kinds of nasty stuff. They would have worked just fine without that and would have fit the tone of the movie far better. But instead they feel like they were made by some hyper 17-year old who plays too many video games. There’s a scene set in a church which really goes overboard and had me hating the movie for a while. There’s also a ridiculous scene which involves exploding heads, even the president’s.

The sad thing is is that when the credits came up at the end and I saw that this was directed by Matthew Vaughn, everything made sense. He was the director of the despicable and tonally f’ed Kick Ass. And while this movie actually had some likable elements, its clear that the director couldn’t resist standing in his own way. I usually don’t care about ratings nor do I like it when decisions about a movie are made to fit certain rating parameters. However, this is one film I feel would have benefited from being PG-13.

5/10

Feb
15

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A while back, Days of Wonders decided to start the Ticket to Ride map collection, providing new map experiences without requiring players to purchase entirely separate games, like they did previously with Europe, Nordic Countries, etc. Their first offering ventured into the exotic continent of Asia.
The Asia Expansion includes a double-sided board with two new versions of the popular game. The first is Team Asia where, you guessed it… its set in Asia. Oh yeah, and also you play as teams. The second is called Legendary Asia and is a slightly different map where you are back to being your own team. Lets take a look.

Additions

1 Team Rules – Honestly, I didn’t expect to like the Team Asia variant at all. The idea of playing in teams always seemed king of lame to me. However, I found that this game as teams is actually quite fun. The rules work well, where you cooperate just enough, but because you can’t discuss strategy, there’s a lot of tension remaining since you don’t really know what your partner is up to.
I don’t think that Ticket to Ride was meant to be played as teams and always should be. But to switch things up every once in a while, when you have the right situations and right group of people, it can be a fun twist. Just don’t be partnered with someone who’s mean to you.

2 Legendary Asia Map – The second map is a slightly different map of Asia, which extends out further both east and west. There’s an interesting network of routes on here which is a lot of fun as a switch up from the North America and Europe maps. There’s a good mix of routes of all sizes, without those stretches of lots of longer tracks, like California or across northern Europe.

3 Mountain Routes – Asia includes new types of routes which simulate dangerous mountain tracks. When they claim these, they lose a trains “off the cliff”, but still get points for it. This can be used as a speed up mechanic to end the game faster, but… I don’t know that I like that. I also feel that getting points for the discarded train tracks makes it less risk and makes me ask what the point is, but maybe they had to for balance reasons. But it still doesn’t seem worthwhile to me.

4 Wooden Card Holders – This package also comes with wooden card holders, made for the team play but doesn’t have to be limited to that. We have found ourselves using them often no matter which version of TtR we are playing. They’re really cool.

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Critique

Best Feature: I think just having a different map to play. I like the Legendary map, even though I’m not a fan of the mountain routes.

When to use
: The team play is a really fun variant to switch things up every once in a while. Of course, you can only do this with 4 or 6 players and you don’t want to do it every time you head out on the tracks, but it’s worthwhile trying it out with friends now and then.

Does it fit?
: No, the map won’t fit in the original box, even if you disclude the other map expansions.

What type
: Asia could be considered a “different scenario” expansion. It has new layouts and that team variant. Therefore its not something you always play with, but only to change tracks once in a while.

Overall
: Asia is pretty cool. Team Asia is much more fun than I expected and Legendary Asia is a nice alternative. thumbsupthumbsup

Feb
08
Boardgaming Evolved

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For a long time there was a divide in the board gaming hobby between Eurogames with their economic designs and dry themes and American games with their more militaristic, aggressive nature. But every once in a while, a game with bring the two crashing together like a force of nature. Dominant Species is one of these cataclysmic games.
Dominant Species brings the worker placement idea from games like Caylus, Agricola, and Stone Age, but uses it in a core game where players get to be downright nasty to each other. After all, this is a survival of the fittest, and that sentiment is felt throughout the design and play of this extraordinary game.

Gameplay

In the game, players control one group of animals (mammals, birds, insects, etc.) at the beginning of the last ice age and fight to have the most populous and most well-adapted species on the earth. Each cube you have is a different species of that type which spread throughout the globe on hexagonal terrain tiles.
The bulk of the gameplay is selecting which three out of a series of actions you will choose to do each round. I wont go into what each actions do, but the main ideas here are helping your animals adapt better, getting more species on the board, moving species to different tiles and exploring more tiles, and causing an ice age which more or less wipes out a tile.
What you are trying to do is become either the most populous on a give tile, which gives you points, or to be the most dominant in terms of evolutionary suitability, which gives you your pick of available bonus cards which can usually be pretty awesome to have. Most of your actions revolve around trying to stay in control of the best and/or most places on the board.
To be honest, there is a lot to this game. It is very meaty. But once you get a handle on it, everything seems to work together in a way which makes sense. The most interesting yet hard to grasp idea is that of dominance, where you are competing with players to have the most matching adaptations to the available resources on each tile, which has nothing to do with population. But once you understand it, a lot of the fun strategy requires trying to maintain this dominance. Its quite unique and very cool.

Components

Like a thundering mammoth, Dominant Species has a lot of bulk. It’s a very heavy box loaded with components. The main features is the heavy board, which doesn’t look like anything fancy but is very functional, with the tile placements on one side and the action spaces on the other. Everything is clearly laid out.
The action cards are awesome, with great artwork of various animal species matching the action of the cards (for example, Fertile has ants swarming all over the card, the Ice Age card is shaded icy blue to stand out, etc.). The lad tiles also look great, with deep colours and just enough artwork to get a visual picture of the landscape. The sea, desert, jungle, etc. tiles all look exactly how they should.
The player bits consist of cubes for the species, cylinders for the action pawns, and cones to indicate dominance on each tile. I don’t see cones in games too often, so right away they’re interesting. The cubes may seem boring, but with how often they are spread out and taken on and off it works well. The colours of the components are more subdued, but this gives the game an interesting looks. The bits here may not be overly excited, but it makes everything easy to visualize.

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Conclusion

Dominant Species is a very meaty game, and the theme of evolution is ever-present in the game play. You truly do feel like you are constantly struggling for survival and adapting to constantly changing circumstances, whether it be the creeping glaciation, the lack of resources, or invasion of your territory by other creatures.
There is a lot going on in Species, with a lot of rules to pay attention to. But this is a good thing, for those patient enough for a long and complicated game such as this. The wide selection of actions creates very interesting strategic dynamics in the game. There are a lot of interesting and varied ways to get what you want or to take away what others have. There are sneaky ways, like destroying available resources, more direct ways like competing for space or mass migrations, and combinations with the cards that can cause all types of events.
Dominant Species is long, around 4 hours long. Its heavy, both physically and in its rules set. It’s also incredible, unique, and very satisfying. It shows how far you can take a Eurogame into the war game realm, all while having an interesting theme that you can actually feel. A game for the ice ages!

Feb
06

Now I finish my predictions with the “big 6″: the acting categories, director and of course Best Picture.

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BEST PICTURE:
American Sniper (Warner Bros. Pictures)
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
Boyhood (IFC Films)
The Grand Budapest Hotel (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
The Imitation Game (The Weinstein Company)
Selma (Paramount Pictures)
The Theory of Everything (Focus Features)
Whiplash (Sony Pictures Classics)

For a long time, I thought Boyhood had this wrapped up.  But lately the momentum is with Birdman, so I’m going with the flow this year.

Prediction: Birdman

DIRECTING:
Alejandro G. Iñárritu – Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Richard Linklater – Boyhood
Bennett Miller – Foxcatcher
Wes Anderson – The Grand Budapest Hotel
Morten Tyldum – The Imitation Game

The last two years there has been a split, which is really rare.  Is this the start of a trend? Will we see another with Linklater taking the directing home while Birdman takes home BP?  …. Maybe, but I dont think so. I’ll go with Inarritu.

Prediction: Birdman

ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE:
Steve Carell – Foxcatcher
Bradley Cooper – American Sniper
Benedict Cumberbatch – The Imitation Game
Michael Keaton – Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Eddie Redmayne – The Theory of Everything

This might be the toughest category to choose for me this year.  On one hand, Eddie Redmayne won the SAG, and has that whole “impersonating someone famous” that the voters love so much.  On the other hand, Birdman has Michael Keaton, a veteran actor overdue for an award, which the voters love so much.  I really don’t know… Most people are choosing Redmayne, I’m going out on the other limb and choosing Keaton.

Prediction: Birdman

ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE:
Marion Cotillard – Two Days, One Night
Felicity Jones – The Theory of Everything
Julianne Moore – Still Alice
Rosamund Pike – Gone Girl
Reese Witherspoon – Wild

Witherspoon has gotten a lot of buzz for Wild, and same with newcomer Felicity Jones.  But many are saying Julianne more in a movie no one saw, so I suppose I’ll stick with the grain.

Prediction: Still Alice

ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE:
Robert Duvall – The Judge
Ethan Hawke – Boyhood
Edward Norton – Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Mark Ruffalo – Foxcatcher
J.K. Simmons – Whiplash

I really liked Ethan Hawke in Boyhood, but I’m heard great things about Simmons , J. Jonah Jameson himself, in Whiplash.

Prediction: Whiplash

ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE:
Patricia Arquette – Boyhood
Laura Dern – Wild
Keira Knightley – The Imitation Game
Emma Stone – Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Meryl Streep – Into the Woods

This is another tough one to choose.  First off, I’ll repeat what many others are saying; Streep being nominated is straight up ridiculous.  They just give her the nomination for anything now apparently.  Anyway, I think its between Emma Stone and Patricia Arquette.  Since Arquette won the SAG, it’ll likely be her.

Prediction: Boyhood

Feb
05

The third part of the predictions involves the storytelling through screenplays, editing, and then I threw in cinematography and the music categories just so they fit somewhere. Lets take a look!

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ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY:
Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), Written by Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Alexander Dinelaris, Nicolas Giacobone, Armando Bo
Boyhood, Written by Richard Linklater
Foxcatcher, Written by Dan Futterman and E. Max Frye
The Grand Budapest Hotel, Written by Wes Anderson
Nightcrawler, Written by Dan Gilroy

A strong category, but I think I’m going with the frontrunner, Birdman.  Its about showbiz, they’ll love it.

Prediction: Birdman

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY:
American Sniper, Written by Jason Hall
The Imitation Game, Written by Graham Moore
Inherent Vice, Written by Paul Thomas Anderson
The Theory of Everything, Written by Anthony McCarten
Whiplash, Written by Damien Chazelle

I don’t think American Sniper’s strength is in writing (or in few other things).  Meanwhile, Theory of Everything appears to be pure Oscar bait, and with juicy bait like that dangling, they have to bite at some point.

Prediction: The Theory of Everything

CINEMATOGRAPHY:
Emmanuel Lubezki – Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Robert Yeoman – The Grand Budapest Hotel
Lukasz Zal and Ryszard Lenczewski – Ida
Dick Pope – Mr. Turner
Roger Deakins – Unbroken

At some point they’ve gotta throw Deakins a bone, right? But not with Unbroken, alas.  It’ll likely be Birdman.  Lubezki rules.

Prediction: Birdman

FILM EDITING:
Joel Cox and Gary D. Roach – American Sniper
Sandra Adair – Boyhood
Barney Pilling – The Grand Budapest Hotel
William Goldenberg – The Imitation Game
Tom Cross – Whiplash

Boyhood was filmed over 12 years and had all of their character naturally age over the course of the film.  This is a massive achievement that the Academy has to recognize, especially with the challenge of editing.

Prediction: Boyhood

ORIGINAL SCORE:
Alexandre Desplat – The Grand Budapest Hotel
Alexandre Desplat – The Imitation Game
Hans Zimmer – Interstellar
Gary Yershon – Mr. Turner
Jóhann Jóhannsson – The Theory of Everything

Well, it seems like Desplat has the better odds of winning, and it will likely be for the more serious of his two films.

Prediction: The Imitation Game

ORIGINAL SONG:
“Everything Is Awesome” from The LEGO Movie
Music and Lyric by Shawn Patterson
“Glory” from Selma
Music and Lyric by John Stephens and Lonnie Lynn
“Grateful” from Beyond the Lights
Music and Lyric by Diane Warren
“I’m Not Gonna Miss You” from Glen Campbell…I’ll Be Me
Music and Lyric by Glen Campbell and Julian Raymond
“Lost Stars” from Begin Again
Music and Lyric by Gregg Alexander and Danielle Brisebois

Okay, I would love, love, love LEGO to win this category.  I think the song is catchy and actually quite important to the theme of the film.  But lets face it, its not going to.  I do think that the Selma song has the best chance.

Prediction: Selma