Board Game Resource – The Collectionary

Image

 

The Board Games Collectionary is a site that my attention was drawn to and it seems to be an informative resource for people interested in the board gaming hobby. It lists a number of board games, many of them vintage ones, and they’re all sorted into different categories. There’s a wealth of games already and the number will only grow. Each game has a picture and then some basic information, like when it was published, what ages it’s for and also a price range, and if you sign up you can mark that you want a game. It’s a good way to discover new games that are similar to ones you already own and enjoy playing, so if you’re a board game lover you should check it out! 

Advertisements

Book Review – Superman: The Unauthorized Biography by Glen Weldon

Image

 

In this book Glen Weldon takes a look at Superman’s history and how he went from a comic book character to a cultural icon. Superman: The Unauthorized Biography shows how the Man of Steel has changed through the years and how different generations have interpreted him, and how the character has endured despite some questionable creative decisions. 

I’m a huge comic book fan in general and Superman is one of my favourite heroes. I also love behind-the-scenes stuff like this, and this book is awesome. There’s a lot of detail about how the origins of the character and how Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster first developed the idea, and Weldon goes through the last 75 years, ending the book before the release of Man of Steel. I liked how the book defined the core tenets of Superman’s character, and shows why he has resonated with readers throughout the best part of a century. It also shows how things were changed and added to the mythos, noting the first appearances of characters like Perry White, Jimmy Olsen etc, and when when Kryptonite was first introduced. 

Superman of course is not just a comic book character and has branched out into film, television and radio, to varying degrees of critical and commercial success. These different forays are given attention as well, although being a general biography some readers may be disappointed that he doesn’t go into more detail on certain films or shows, but the book isn’t about those shows it’s about the character, and Weldon does a good job of saying what he thinks the adaptations got right and where they may have missed the mark. But Superman is a comic book character first and foremost, and with hundreds (possibly thousands?) of issues published over the years there is a lot of history to sift through but Weldon does a great job of touching upon the main milestones and goes into detail over some of the major events that have happened. 

While the book is reverential of Superman it is also quite critical of some of the creative decisions, but it never feels like a fanboy ranting, rather, Weldon delivers some acerbic put downs with a dry wit that I found quite amusing, and he details just why he, and many other fans, were critical of how Superman was portrayed in certain ways. I’m only sorry that the book was released before Man of Steel came out, because I would have loved to see what the author thought of it (given what I gleaned from the book I don’t think he would have been complimentary). It does touch on the legal issues surrounding the character as well, but it doesn’t go too in-depth and prefers to leave that to other books. It also gives an idea of how DC has changed through the years but only insofar as it is relevant to Superman, so a lot of the behind-the-scenes politics of the whole company aren’t explored, so hopefully someone will do a book similar to Marvel Comics: The Untold Story but about DC. 

The book had a great layout too, with many sub-chapters so it’s broken down and is very easy to pick up and put down. I found it very easy to read and read it in about three days. I really hope that more books like this are written for other comic book characters because this is incredibly well-researched and manages to give a history of the character and also shows how the world has changed around him as well. It’s a book that I would say is worthy of Superman and I would recommend it to anyone who considers themselves a fan of the Man of Tomorrow. 

Movie Review – Heartbeats (2010)

Heartbeats, also known as Les Amours Imaginaires, is a French film about two friends, straight woman Marie and gay man Francis, who fall in love with the same man, Nicolas. It’s not quite like any romantic film I’ve seen before, it’s beautifully directed and is quite interesting. On with the review! 

So the film is very light to watch and it feels quite breezy, and I think this si too reflect the feelings of the main two characters. Marie and Francis are two attractive, stable people who meet Nicolas and both fall for him. We see how their friendship turns into a rivalry and their relationship soon turns bitter as they both believe that the other seeks to undermine their own pursuit of Nicolas. Nicolas himself never seems to prefer one over the other and on a first viewing you may think that he’s quite cruel to both of them, but on reflection, actually, the problem may be with Marie and Francis. 

The thing that’s great about this film is that it leads us to mainly see things from Marie and Francis’ point of view, so when Nicolas seems to be distant and non-committal we feel the rejection just as they would feel it, and that leads us to empathize with them. However, when we actually think about it we see that the two of them projected their own feelings on to Nicolas, and although at first it’s Nicolas who seems to be selfish and only using them for amusement, it’s actually they who are narcissistic because they want him to be the object of their desire, and when he doesn’t reciprocate they become angry, and both blame the other when really there’s nothing they could have done about it. 

I’m not sure that Nicolas was ever aware how the two of them felt about him, but there comes a point in the film where he sees how they’re acting and it prompts a feeling of revulsion. I’m certain that on some level he knew, and eventually he just tired of it. But the ‘love’ that Marie and Francis felt for him was a very selfish type of love and it was the sort of love where they only saw the qualities that were attractive to them and didn’t actually see him as a real person. They also tried to change themselves, for example Marie adapted a style that she thought he would like, but they were both motivated by jealousy. 

The film was interrupted by a number of interview segments where people talked about deception in love and the pain of investing yourself in someone when they’re not as invested with you. The people in these segments aren’t involved in the main plot of the film, and sometimes they could be seen as taking you away from the main story but they also serve to add depth to the film and in the context I think they work. There are also some moments when the scene is bathed in red and blue and green lights, and everything slows to a crawl. These were very artistic and all the slow-motion helped to allow us to fall into the moment as much as the characters did. 

I think the love in this film is a very shallow kind of love, and it’s a very human kind of love. It’s not a typical rom-com because there are it’s an awkward, sometimes ugly situation that feels all too real. No-one particularly covers themselves in glory but by the end of the film I think you realize that Marie and Francis aren’t necessarily the blameless victims that they feel themselves to be. It’s a mature look at the notion of love and I think a lot of people see love as something that happens to them, rather than something that is shared with someone else. But this doesn’t really occur to you as you’re watching the film, because it seems so light and breezy that watching it is effortless. It’s only when it finishes and you start thinking about it that you realize it actually works on a deep level. 

I also want to talk about the music as well because it was amazing. The actual score was really nice but the songs used were brilliant, and they helped to provide an extra layer of context to the story. I really liked this film, I think it’s a good look at how people approach love and attraction and it will linger after you have watched it. 

Movie Review – Piggy (2012)

In this British film Joe, a mild-mannered average guy, is living a routine, boring life. One day his group of friends gets into an altercation with a group of other men and his brother gets stabbed. Joe feels powerless and guilty, then a childhood friend of his brother’s, Piggy, comes along and urges to Joe to avenge his brother’s death. 

The themes of revenge and vigilantism are things that I enjoy exploring in films and literature. Piggy had some very brutal moments, some which will be uncomfortable viewing for some people but it wasn’t gratuitous violence and it was interspersed with a lot of character work. Martin Compston, who played Joe, carried the film well and I thought he showed a good portrayal of someone who on the outside appeared normal but inside had a lot of rage and guilt swirling around. Piggy, played by Paul Anderson, was a volatile presence and he constantly pushes Joe to the edges of sanity. 

I thought the film was decent and I enjoyed the gradual transformation of Joe, but towards the end I thought it escalated too quickly. It felt rushed and the climax of the film felt like it was glossed over. The rest of the film moves at a good pace but I think it tries to be smarter than it is. There aren’t really any moral dilemmas presented and I think sometimes it’s quite lazy in how Joe & Piggy manage to track down some of the people they hunt. 

So I think it’s a decent film and if you enjoy revenge flicks then it’s probably one you should check out at some point, but the ending is rushed and I think it wants to be a heavier, more philosophical film than it actually merits. I certainly don’t find myself reflecting on it that much.

Movie Review – Ill Manors (2012)

Ill Manors is a film by Ben Drew, also known as Plan B, who is primarily a rapper. It shows the grim life of drug dealers and prostitutes that all live in or around a council estate in London. Each character has their own story but they all come together at various points throughout the film. 

Ill Manors is AMAZING. Seriously. You have to go and watch this now. I was gripped from start to finish. It was harrowing and stark and depressing, because you know these kinds of things do happen yet it’s engrossing and you still have the hope that the characters will be able to break out of the vicious circle. 

I first want to talk about the structure and style of the film. It’s an incredible debut by Plan B who showed that he has an eye for a good shot. The film is well-paced and dynamic, and it juggled the large cast superbly. I never felt lost or confused and there are a lot of different plots going on. There are a few subtle things to take note of as well, and I thought the director showed a good attention to detail. He also appeared in the film himself (aside from a small cameo at the end) as a narrator, but the narration was done in rap, which I thought was an interesting choice and helped to give the film a unique identity because I haven’t experienced that in a movie before. These narrations introduce the new major characters and their history as the focus shifts to their story and it’s married to flashback montages. It was an interesting and ingenious way to do things, and the beat of the rap meant that the flashbacks didn’t slow the film down at all. 

As for the story itself, well, the characters were all well-drawn and complex. They came across as very human and they weren’t totally condemned, but they also weren’t portrayed as total victims either. I think all of them were shown to have had either abusive parents or no parents at all, and perhaps that’s a reason for their behaviour, but the film also shows that these people made certain decisions, and those decisions have consequences. So while it shows that there are reasons for their behaviour it doesn’t totally excuse it either, and I thought this was a mature and thoughtful way to handle things. 

Speaking of mature, there are a lot of dark moments in this film that some viewers may find incredibly hard to watch. It’s very brutal and it honestly made me feel horrible because I wanted to help these people but they’re living in this seemingly hopeless world where everything flies around in this vicious circle of survival. There were some scenes that, if you had come into the film at that moment, would have given you the idea that it was a film about survival in a post-apocalyptic world. 

The film isn’t entirely devoid of hope though, as one character, Aaron, seeks to find a way out. There are also funny moments as well so it’s not a relentless two hours of doom. 

The one negative I will say is that I think it creates this atmosphere by only showing this side of the estate. I think that there are well-adjusted people who also populate these areas and have stable family lives, but the film doesn’t explore this. I understand why, because these moments don’t fit with the tone of the film and it’s not setting out to make a documentary, but I think it’s important to remember that although some people do go through these things, not everyone does, and they don’t go through these things just because they live on a council estate, there are other factors as well. 

Ill Manors is a film filled with complex characters and dramatic moments. There’s plenty of tension and suspense, and it’s completely engrossing. It’s also stylishly directed and I can’t recommend it highly enough. I was actually surprised at how much I enjoyed this film. 

Movie Review – Rising Sun (1993)

There is a house in New Orleans….

In this incredibly convoluted film Wesley Snipes plays a cop, Webster Smith, who is partnered with an expert on Japanese culture played by Sean Connery. (Sean Connery’s character is called John Conner, now there’s an idea for the next Terminator film. Hello $$). There’s some business dealings going on in L.A. and then there’s a murder at the location of the business party and then…honestly I’m not even sure.

Smith and Connor work their way through the cultural barriers to try and find out what’s really going on. There’s betrayal, suspicion and mistrust everywhere. I found it best to just sit back and let the film happen, and I actually quite enjoyed it. Sean Connery actually doesn’t just play himself; there’s an actual character there. I thought he and Snipes had good chemistry and the whole mystery of the film was fairly intriguing. I liked learning about Japanese culture too, and the action was one well. The film was well-paced as well and I can’t fault it on that aspect. That said, some of the scene transitions and hairstyle/fashion choices do date the film. 

When the ending comes it appears that everything has been wrapped up but it actually leaves you with a lot of questions, and those aren’t just because there’s so much going on. I liked that and I think this would actually benefit from a re-watch because there are things we learn later in the film that we should perhaps have paid more attention to. Unfortunately I didn’t enjoy this film enough to re-watch it any time soon, but I think if you did re-watch it you’d be rewarded. But just sit back, watch Snipes and Connery put on a good show and try and just let the movie happen. If you do that you’ll probably enjoy it. 

Movie Review – El Dorado (1966)

In this Western ‘The Duke’ John Wayne plays a veteran gunslinger who teams up with his old friend, an aging sheriff played by Robert Mitchum, a young knife-thrower (James Caan) and the sheriff’s deputy to mediate a ranch war in El Dorado. The film is directed by Howard Hawks. He and John Wayne teamed to film the excellent Rio Bravo a few years previously, and you can tell because El Dorado bears many similarities. 

That isn’t necessarily a bad thing though. Rio Bravo is one of my favourite Westerns and while this one doesn’t have as much tension it’s still enjoyable. John Wayne is great and so are his co-stars, Robert Mitchum especially. Some of the dialogue between the three main characters was really sharp and snappy. At the beginning the timeline jumps around a little bit. It’s necessary to get the story points in place but it does feel somewhat unwieldy. There are moments of true drama throughout the film, although I thought the final battle was lacking some suspense. There were two things that I really didn’t like though. One was the effect used when Mississippi (James Caan) jumps under some horses. I know it’s an old film and I usually give some lee-way to old films when it comes to effects, but this reminded of when in Scooby-Doo cartoons there was one part of the room shaded a different colour so you knew that was the bit that was the trap door. The other bit was casual racism which again involves Mississippi. He impersonates a Chinese person and it’s just awful, I mean, I can’t believe there was ever a time when such laziness was acceptable. He’s a blonde cowboy and his idea of an impersonation is to hunch his shoulders and squint his eyes. Come on. 

Anyway, aside from those couple of things I liked the film a great deal. It lacked the tension of Rio Bravo but the characters and the interplay between them were great, there was some gorgeous scenery used and it’s a good, solid Western. 

Movie Review – The Last Tycoon (1976)

Legendary director Elia Kazan directs this Harold Pinter-scripted adaptation of an unfinished F. Scott Fitzgerald novel about a Hollywood producer Monroe Stahr (played by Robert De Niro) working himself to death. 

I haven’t read the book but it would have been interesting to see how closely the film matches what F. Scott Fitzgerald intended. As it is, I liked it quite a bit, although I felt it lacked some energy. De Niro is fine in the leading role but he lacks some intensity with which he’s approached some of his earlier roles, although he still shows the journey to oblivion that the main character faces. There’s a lot going on around Monroe Stahr and we’re left to infer a lot of things about the world he inhabits just by observation. Everything is expertly staged and I especially liked the shots where he was walking through different sets (although this did lead to the problem of conversations flowing improperly, for example in one instance he was walking with a writer through one set, then it’s another landscape but the conversation is at the same point). 

It actually deals with a lot of facets of human behaviour, there’s the fall from grace, obsession, unrequited love, hubris, succombing to one’s own ego and much more. I think that you’ll get out of this what you put in, and it’s one those films that will provoke different reactions depending upon how you view the world. At its most basic level it’s a film about the business of making films and it shows how it really is a business, and kind of dispels the magical aura that Hollywood is so eager to promote. 

I already mentioned De Niro. Ingrid Boulting played his love interest but she was a wispy presence and played the character as if she were constantly in a daze. The only thing she offers when we’re first introduced to her is mystery but once that mystery is solved you wonder what he actually sees in her. The other main female presence was provided by Theresa Russell who was a much more dynamic and interesting character, and I wish the film had spent more time with her. The rest of the cast was rounded out by some famous names like Robert Mitchum, Tony Curtis and Jack Nicholson. 

The fact that the source material is an unfinished novel shows because there are places where you feel more things could have been explored, but despite that the finale is quite satisfying, although you feel it does lack an epic punch. I think had this been finished it would have been a long, grandiose epic, but it’s impossible to say whether it would have hit the mark or whether it would have been a bloated mess. As it is, The Last Tycoon is film that works on many levels and while it’s not one of De Niro’s most intense performances it does offer a lot of substance. 

Movie Review – Big Miracle (2012)

In this film a family of Whales are trapped under the ice so the crew of the Enterprise (albeit in a Klingon bird of prey) slingshot around the Sun and travel back in time so they can rescue the Whales and take them back to the future so the Whales can communicate with an alien probe and prevent it from destroying Earth. 

No, wait, I got my Whale movies mixed up there. 

Big Miracle is based on true events that happened in the 80s where a family of Grey Whales become trapped under a growing ice circle in Alaska. There’s only a small hole which they use to come up for air, but the baby Whale is injured and if they don’t find a way out in time they will die. A bunch of people including reporter John Krasinski and environmentalist Drew Barrymore come together to help the Whales and their plight soon becomes a global affair. 

You should be aware going in that Big Miracle is there to be uplifting and it’s actually pretty good for the soul. It’s very sweet and it actually shows the best of human nature; that we can put aside our differences and work together in order to achieve a common goal. It may strike people as being too straightforward and positive but, y’know, sometimes it’s nice to take a breather and be reminded that sometimes good things do happen in the world. 

I used the word straightforward and I think that’s an apt description because there’s not really an antagonist in the film. There are people who have different agendas and seem to be quite selfish and manipulative, but the conflict doesn’t last and everyone is swept up by the beauty of the Whales (who are named Fred, Wilma and Bamm-Bamm, and yes, there is a reason that the child Whale is called Bam-Bam and not Pebbles (but then I don’t know why they didn’t just call the parents Barney and Betty)). There are a lot of different ‘factions’ with different agendas but eventually they realize what’s important and work together. The actual sight of the Whales is actually really cool. Some of the film is spent underwater and we get to see them in all their glory. I thought it was well done and they had the requisite grandeur. 

The cast was not made up of stellar names but it was a good cast, with the main two stars being joined by Ted Danson, Kristen Bell, Dermot Mulroney to give the audience a few familiar faces with which to identify. It moved at quite a brisk pace, there were moments of real tension and I became quite caught up in the fate of the Whales. There is one thing that I’m wondering though, the Inuit population admitted that they hunted Whales because they needed them to live in a ‘Circle of Life’ thing, so I’m wondering if they changed their opinion about it after taking part in this rescue attempt. It’s never addressed and it seems like they could spend all this time helping these Whales and then turn around and kill another one the following day. 

Still, aside from that complaint I enjoyed the film. It’s definitely one to watch if you need a bit of cheering up and want to regain faith in the human spirit. I’m glad they kept the political agendas in the background somewhat because that would have made it more of a preaching film rather than an entertaining one. I also liked the touch at the end where the showed footage from the actual events, it was a nice reminder to show that this actually happened and to see the real people involved. 

Movie Review – The Messenger (2009)

The basic synopsis given for this when I looked at it on my tv provider was something along the lines of “A solider returns home and becomes involved with the wife of a fallen officer.” I thought that sounded okay, but in actual fact it’s a misleading synopsis because the romance isn’t at the forefront of the story. The film is about much more than the synopsis suggests. It stars Ben Foster and Woody Harrelson, and it’s really good. 

Upon returning to America Ben Foster’s character is assigned to the Casualty Notification Team, the duty of which is to go around and tell people that their beloved have died. Woody Harrelson plays the senior officer who shows him the proper procedure and it’s a really grim, powerful story of the effects of war and how devastatingly it can affect people. We follow them as they go around and tell people, and everyone reacts differently. It’s hard not to be affected by it yourself and you wonder how the actual members of the CNT in real life handle their responsibilities. It must be incredibly hard for their soul and the two actors here do a fine job at showing the internal conflict, for their have to maintain a distance and carry out their duty but it must almost be impossible not to reach out and comfort a crying widow. And after having to give so much sorrowful news it must wreak havoc with their own feelings of empathy and loss. The rookie is more obviously affected by having to give so much bad news and it’s like he’s teetering on a precipice, trying to reconcile his professionalism with his humanity. 

In contrast his superior has long passed that point and has had to develop a strict set of rules so he can keep out the relentless tide of tragedy. It’s really more of a character piece than a story-driven film, and it works brilliantly. The pace is slow in some places but it can be mostly forgiven, although I thought there were a couple of scenes (mostly to do with the advertised romance) that could have been trimmed. I liked the directing style because it was unobtrusive and allowed the story to unfold and the characters to exist naturally. 

Despite the gloomy nature of the film there are still some moments of light-heartedness, but mostly it’s a powerful, emotional story. It’s almost a war film about what happens after the war. I was actually a little surprised that I enjoyed it as much as I did, so if you come across it I strongly urge you to check it out.