Movie Review – The Big Short (2016)

Director: Adam McKay

Stars: Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt, Rafe Spall, Hamish Linklater, Jeremy Strong, Marisa Tomei, John Magaro, Finn Wittrock

The Big Short tells three separate stories of people who saw the housing crisis coming, and bet against the housing markets and the bank. When the economy crashed these men made money, but at what cost to the conscious?

It must have been a little tricky to market this film. After all, while it condemns the people who drove the economy down and basically wrecked people’s lives, many of whom have yet to recover, it does focus on people who came out of the crisis as winners, who bet against the housing market. It must be raw for some people who were directly for it, and I would find it hard to believe that they’d be able to root for the protagonists in the film. That being said, the acting is great, especially from Carell, and I think there’s enough heart shown that it just about manages to stay on the side of the people. There is one exchange which highlights this perfectly, where Brad Pitt’s character turns to two others and basically tells them not to celebrate because it just means that people are going to lose jobs, lose homes, and lose lives.

It’s still a recent crises but despite this the film maintains a sense of dark humor and pokes fun at itself. It acknowledges that all the financial jargon can be bamboozling, but don’t worry, Margot Robbie is on hand to explain things while she’s sitting in a bath tub! (I’ll be honest here, had the whole film been Margot Robbie explaining how the economy crashed while sitting in a bubble bath I would still be giving this a positive review). I’m not someone who finds it easy to understand financial terms so I appreciated that they held the audience’s hand through it. The three stories don’t really come together but each of them are entertaining in their own right, and the film has an energy about it that almost serves to distract from the dark plight, then drops an emotional bomb at just the right moment. It also doesn’t shy away from showing the effect it had on the average person, but it doesn’t make it the focus of the film.

It ends on a sorely depressing note as well and it makes you wonder about the state of the world because people are making the same mistakes as before, and the fact that everything that happened basically got ignored and the people responsible didn’t see any consequences from it is sickening. There is some irony in the fact that a Hollywood movie has been made criticizing the corrupt financial world, because Hollywood isn’t exactly a land of virtue itself, but I think The Big Short is able to raise people’s hackles by reminding them about what happened, and then direct the ire at Wall Street rather than at itself.

The casting was spot on, even the supporting roles, and I really liked the energy and humour it had about it, aside from the bleak ending that really just serves to show how short-sighted we can be.

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Movie Review – Room (2016)

Director: Lenny Abrahamson

Stars: Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Sean Bridgers, Joan Allen, William H. Macy, Tom McCamus

Room is about the relationship between a mother (Larson) and her 5 year old son Jack (Tremblay). The two of them live in one room, with a skylight their only view of the outside world. Ma has tried to nurture her son and give him a fulfilling life, but as he grows older the room gets smaller and smaller, and she reaches a breaking point, knowing that for the sake of her son she is going to have to try and exact a daring escape.

Room almost feels like two different films stitched together, but both halves are captivating and enthralling. During the beginning portion I was trying to figure out why they were in the room, and my natural inclination was to think of a post-apocalyptic scenario and perhaps they were the last survivors, or that there would be some twist like that, but then I found out the actual reason and…wow that’s dark (I’m trying to keep this review as spoiler-free as possible). Once I knew the reason I thought back to the earlier parts of the film and saw more nuance in Larson’s performance, and I know some will label this role as Oscar-bait because there’s a lot of screaming and crying, but there are a lot of contemplative moments as well, and I think Larson did a great job of showing a woman who is trying to hold herself together for the sake of her son, but it always at the very edge of her breaking point. Much of the praise of the film, however, will be directed at Tremblay, and suitably so. This young actor gives a stellar performance filled with a range of emotions, and it’s astounding that he could give such a performance when he doesn’t have the experience to tap into.

What the two of them go through is harrowing and sadly there have been real life occurrences that have been similar to this film. Despite the film changing tones somewhat, it is anchored in the relationship between Ma and Jack, and I found it interesting how their relationship adapted to the changing circumstances.

I haven’t read the book, but apparently it is told completely from Jack’s perspective. The film does have some shots from his point of view, and there are some instances in which the camera is focused on him but there are conversations happening around him, but I do feel there could have been more of this. I also think there were a couple of moments when the tension could have been drawn out to have an even bigger impact. This is a film where there is much left unsaid and much for the audience to interpret, which some may not like. I did however, and I felt that it was clear enough from the looks on the faces of the actors, or the body language.

The themes of the film come through strongly, and it did bring out my emotions, and I imagine that a lot of tears will be shed over Room. I still think there are a couple of points where it could have been improved upon, but Larson and Tremblay are so great that I can forgive the flaws in the film. Their relationship rings so true that I was practically immediately invested in them, and was moved by them.

 

Movie Review – Goosebumps (2016)

Director: Rob Letterman

Stars: Jack Black, Dylan Minnette, Odeya Rush, Ryan Lee, Amy Ryan, Jillian Bell

After moving to the middle of nowhere, Madison, Delaware, Zach (Minnette) finds that he lives next door to a mysterious man (Black) and an enchanting daughter (Rush). After hearing screams, Zach and his new friend Champ (Lee) go to investigate, only to find that the man in question is the author of the Goosebumps books, R. L. Stine, and the monsters from his pages are escaping and running rampant through the town!

I used to love the Goosebumps books back when I was a kid, and I almost wish that I could have re-read them before seeing the movie because my memory is hazy and I only remembered a few things here and there from all the old stories, but Goosebumps is still a fun watch even if you don’t catch all the references. Black is one of those actors that people seem to either love or loathe, and I happen to enjoy him and I think he was good as Stine, (although I can’t speak to how accurate a portrayal it is of the real man). The film isn’t that original and a lot of the plot beats are predictable, but it’s quite cool to see all the monsters from the book come to life and terrorise the town.

The film moves along at a quick pace and the actors do a good job, forming a nice dynamic. Champ had the potential to become very annoying very quickly but I feel that they reined him in enough, and his exchanges with Stine were humorous. There were some good-natured pokes at Stephen King and for a comedy-horror you could do a lot worse.

I don’t think it’s going to scare the pants off anyone (although maybe for kids it might be a lot to take in!) but it’s a good nostalgia trip for those who enjoyed the books, and it’s actually a ‘scary’ film that the whole family could enjoy.

Movie Review – Trophy Kids (2013)

Director: Chris Bell

Trophy Kids is a documentary that takes a look at a few parents who drive their kids hard to be a success in various sports. The film focuses on two kids on a basketball team, a football player, two tennis twins, and a very young golfer.

I’d be interested in seeing what the parents thought after seeing this documentary because the lack of self-awareness displayed here is astounding. Let’s take all the segments in turn. So the basketball kids, the dads basically say that these kids are a vehicle for their own dreams and they’re always on the touchline, yelling out advice and abuse. One of the dads actually disappears from the film for a while because he gets banned from attending the matches. The other dad is frustrated that his son keeps getting benched and not utilized properly, so he actually leads a revolt against the coach and goes to the school board telling them that the coach is bullying the kids on the team and isn’t nurturing them! Then,  he has the gall to say “It was like the holocaust, it’s like we just got rid of Hitler.” I mean, wow, just wow, and all the while he son was standing behind him, evidently uncomfortable and scared, which you can tell by the look on his face.

If you think that was bad then wait until the football player. Oh man, the dad is basically raising him as ‘a man’ after the kid’s mom raised him in ‘the feminine way’ from a baby up. Now the dad is pushing him  hard and it’s painfully clear that this kid isn’t enjoying football and that his dad is trying to relive his own glories through his son. Perhaps the most awkward part of the film is when they’re in the car and the father lambasts the son for daring to have a girlfriend at 15, saying that it’s pointless because she’ll only break up with him, and then has a massive rant when the son dares to say that it makes him uncomfortable talking about it. Driven to tears, the film crew have to actually remove him from the situation and take him for pancakes while the father remains in the car, claiming that it’s all for his son’s own good and it’s all to build up his confidence.

The tennis twins are trained by their mother who says that she likes keeping fit and motivated by training them. She tries to claim that she’s only putting this much time in because it’s their dream but it seems that she’s fed them that line. She is also very religious and gets them to thank God for their achievements, and doesn’t really want to focus on winning so much as having fun (at least that’s what she said). Again though the kids didn’t really seem to be that excited when they were on the court, and I think it’s always churlish to thank God for things you’ve done yourself. But she certainly didn’t rule through fear like the other parents.

Which brings us to the golfer. Now,  the other kids in the documentary are in their teens, I can’t remember her exact age but it was only ten or eleven at the most. Anyway, the father has all these books about raising a champion and basically wants his daughter to be like Tiger Woods, but he rules by fear an anger, coming down hard on every mistake she’s made. The camera follows her around the tournament while he’s caddying for her, and all the time in the background he’s cursing or getting angry, even at one point muttering “You stupid bitch” under his breath! And his philosophy is that he isn’t going to praise her or encourage her until they get to where they want to be. When she yells at him and tells him to stop, in tears, he bats away her complaints as if they mean nothing.

Again, the lack of self-awareness is just ridiculous and it makes this documentary difficult to watch at times, because you really feel for these kids. Most of these parents rule by fear and and they fail to see that their kids are never going to succeed if they drive the love of the sport away from them. I think there’s more going on with the case of the basketball coach, although the documentary does interview him and he comes across as level-headed and reasonable, with great concern for the kids. The film spends less time with the tennis twins than it does with the other kids and I don’t know if this was just because the mother wasn’t as interesting or there was just less drama surrounding them. I would have liked more interviews with the kids as well and actually ask them, you know, if they actually enjoyed taking part in sports. I also would love a follow-up documentary to this in like five or ten years to see what happened to the kids and if any of them actually continued through to make a career out of their sport.

Overall it’s a tough documentary to watch but it shows the dark side of parenting, when the needs of the parents take over from allowing the child to flourish. I felt genuinely sorry for pretty much all of these kids as it didn’t feel like they were allowed to have a life of their own, and a lot of what is depicted in the film is basically abuse.

 

Board Game Review – Legendary: Marvel Secret Wars vol 1 & 2

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I finally got my hands on volume 2 of Secret Wars last week and I’ve played through with all the new content so here’s my review of both the latest sets! For those of you who don’t know, Legendary: Marvel is my favourite game. I’ve done reviews of most of the other expansions and the base game so I’m not going to go into depth about how the game is played, but basically it’s a deck-building game where you’re recruiting heroes into your deck to fight villains and eventually take down the mastermind, who is trying to complete a scheme. There’s so much variety already and these two boxes add new heroes, villains,  henchmen groups, mechanics…just so much stuff! So I’m going to go through the new mechanics and talk about some of my favourite heroes and my overall impressions of the sets.

Now, as the name implies this is based on the Secret Wars storyline which I believe involves the smashing up of loads of worlds. As such there are many characters in here that I have never heard of before and I don’t follow modern comics so I can’t really speak for the storyline. But it means we get characters like Dr. Punisher Soldier Supreme, The Captain and the Devil (Captain America with a T-Rex) and many of the villain groups are alternate versions of characters. There are some long-desired fan favourites as well though, like Black Panther, Black Bolt, Dr. Strange, Captain Marvel, Captain Britain, and Beast! There is one notable exception though, and that’s Dr. Doom. From what I understand he plays a big role in the Secret Wars story but there’s none of him in these boxes, and I think that’s because of the merchandising war going on between Marvel and Fox. It’s a shame that it impacts the game like this because it would be nice to get more Fantastic Four content (and some people have speculated that the reason why Beast isn’t an X-Men hero and that we’re getting a lot of alternate versions of X-Men is because of this secret merchandising war as well). But anyway, let’s get on and start with the new mechanics these boxes introduce!

Multiclass cards –

These cards have two of the classes (strength, instinct, ranged, tech, covert) meaning that they can be used to trigger the class abilities. This is a great addition to the game and many of the new heroes make use of this. It adds a lot of versatility and allows for some great combos to be made, and it also has a nice artistic effect as the colours are blended in around the border. It also adds a little more freedom to the game as the designers can now be less rigid in what they class the heroes as. I like this new mechanic a lot and surely it’s just a matter of time before we see heroes that have multiteam icons?

Villains you Gain as Heroes –

Usually when you fight a villain it goes into your victory pile, but these cards actually get added to your deck and become a hero you can use. Thematically I like it as it refers to the classic trope of heroes fighting each other over a misunderstanding, and then eventually teaming up to fight together against the big bad. It also adds a bit more tactical thinking to who to fight in the city, as, to be honest, some of these cards may not align with the deck you’re going for. Some of them can be pretty useful though, like Wolverine in the X-Men ’92 villain group as one example. This is a cool concept and I like how it can add some more flavour to the game.

Rise of the Living Dead –

Zombies make an appearance! Basically if a cards says Rise of the Living Dead each player checks their victory pile and if it is a villain with a rise of the living dead ability, it re-enters play. Again I like this because it offers more tactical choices about the order in which you do things, and if you rescue bystanders you can basically use them to shield your victory pile. Taking out a living dead means you’ll be freeing up the city, but it also means that you’ll want to take something else out pretty soon after otherwise it’s just going to come back again.

Cross-Dimensional Rampage –

There are a few of these, Hulk, Wolverine, Deadpool, and Colossus so far. Basically when this takes effect each player reveals a hero of that name or type (so with Hulk you could have a Hulk card or an alternate Hulk like Maestro) from their hand or their victory pile, or gains a wound. This one I’m not so hot on. It’s okay, but the first person to do this does tend to screw over the other players because the card you just defeated counts for it as well. Usually it’s pretty easy to defend against as well so it doesn’t have that much impact on the game, so I’m fairly indifferent about it.

Multiple Masterminds –

Now this one I am definitely not indifferent about. I LOVE this concept. Some villains’ escape effects are that they ascend to become masterminds, while some schemes have you add additional masterminds when scheme twists occur. To win the game you have to defeat all the masterminds so it can become incredibly challenging very quickly, and it also affords the opportunity to use some of the weaker masterminds (I’m looking at you Red Skull). I love that feeling in the game where things are completely overwhelming and this makes things insane, especially when a masterstrike takes effect because you have to go through all of them!

Spectrum –

This takes effect when you have at least three classes of hero, and you don’t even have to have played them before you use the Spectrum ability, meaning that they’re quite easy to pull off, especially with the new multiclass cards. They’re usually stuff like draw a card or get a couple of extra recruit points so it can be a nice little boost and it’s always something that makes you think about the type of heroes you are recruiting.

Patrol –

Basically you look at the space the card tells you and if it’s empty something happens, if it’s not then something else happens (so it might be patrol the bank, if its empty get +2 recruit if it’s not then you get +2 attack). Some of the cards will have you patrol the escape pile or your victory pile so I like that it involves the use of different parts of the board, and again it makes you think about the order in which you play things because you have to use a patrol ability when you play the card. Again it’s just a small boost like Spectrum but it’s pretty cool.

Circle of Kung-Fu –

Some villains will have text like “5th Circle of Kung-Fu”. This means that unless you reveal a hero that costs 5 or higher that villain is going to get +5 to its attack cost. If it was “3rd Circle” then you’d have to reveal a hero of 3 or higher or it would get +3 to the attack. This is pretty interesting as the villains can get very powerful unless you have the right cards to deplete the attack.

Fateful Resurrection –

This is kinda similar to Rise of the Living Dead in that it can bring things back from your victory pile. All you do is once you have defeated a villain and completed the fight effects, you reveal the top card of the villain deck. If it’s a scheme twist or a masterstrike then that villain re-enters the city. So again, it can lead to an overwhelming force and you have basically wasted your attack points. It also gives you a sense of what’s coming up in the villain deck so you can plan for the future, and it makes cards that reveal cards in the villain deck very powerful indeed.

Charge –

This is so much fun. A villain may have an ability that says “Charge one space”. This means that after they enter the city they will move forward one space, pushing anything else forward too. Many villains can escape this way and it can lead to a chain reaction, which is especially bad in schemes that end after a certain number of villains escape and it really makes you watch the city. There’s a mastermind, Hyperion, that charges three spaces and it’s always bad when that happens. It adds a new dynamic to the city though and sometimes it means that your plans get thrown into disarray because the villain you were going to fight this turn has now been pushed out!

There are also sidekick cards, where you can recruit them and when you play them you discard them back to their deck and draw two cards, which is really useful.

So those are all the new concepts in the game that I’ve played. I still haven’t been able to try the “One player is the Mastermind” option yet so I can’t comment on that but it looks a lot of fun and I really hope to try that soon. Now, let’s talk about some of the characters. I’m not going to talk about all of them because that would make this an essay and it’s already long enough as it is!

Some of my favourites so far have been Black Panther, Black Bolt (he makes use of cards with no rules text), Ultimate Spider-Man, Magik, Namor, Agent Venom (love cards that have both recruit icons and attack icons), Ruby Summers (her rare costs 8 but gives 10 attack!), and a probably a few more but there are so many that I can’t think right now. I’m also glad to see Old Man Logan in the game because that is a fantastic story.

Some of the characters I’m not so hot on – Thanos. Yeah, he’s a playable character in this and his whole thing revolves around KO’ing bystanders and I kinda feel like if you want to make him work you really have to devote yourself to Thanos. I might try him with the other Cabal members now that I have more from vol. 2 to see if it’s more fun to play with him. Captain Britain I was excited to see because I’m from England, even if I haven’t any real affinity with the character, and I was a little disappointed to see that he’s basically a re-themed Captain America, just using team icons instead of hero icons so that was underwhelming. Elsa Bloodstone…I love her rare but her other cards are just okay, it’s nice to have another powerful hero that has the SHIELD affiliation but other than that she didn’t really do anything for me.

The other cards that come with the game are fun as well although I really do wish that they would come up with some character bystanders (I’d love to see J. Jonah Jameson, Mary-Jane, Aunt May, Foggy Nelson etc to add a bit more thematic flavour to the game) but the content they have provided in these two boxes is incredible. But is one better than the other?

Hmm. I’m not sure. Since I have got vol.  2 more recently that is fresher in my mind but as much as I love the Charge mechanic I think I’d say that vol. 1 just shades it. It has Zombie Green Goblin and Wasteland Hulk as masterminds, who are really fun and tough to beat, and I know/like more of the characters within that first volume. But really I’d just suggest to get them both. You know you want to. You really, really want to. There are some many combinations now that I can’t wait until I get to play this more regularly to try more of them out, and with two more expansions (at least) this year it’s starting to become a behemoth but I absolutely love it. I love how they’re able to still introduce new concepts that actually make the gameplay more varied and interesting rather than just gimmicky things, so I’m obviously going to suggest getting both of them because if you love Legendary then you’ll want them both.

Also, the artwork for Silk is probably my favourite. I think I may go and play a couple of games now…

 

Movie Review – The Hateful Eight (2016)

Director: Quentin Tarantino

Stars: Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Walter Goggins, Bruce Dern, James Parks, Demian Bichir, Channing Tatum

The much-anticipated 8th film from the legendary director Quentin Tarantino. In a snowy blizzard a bounty hunter and his prisoner find shelter in a cabin. Who can be trusted?  Who will be killed?

I’m a massive Tarantino fan and awaited this with much anticipation. It was in my top ten anticipated films of the year and I was really excited to see it.

Then I watched it and my first reaction is that this is my least favourite Tarantino film. It’s basically a one-set stage play that doesn’t require three hours to be told at all, and in fact a tighter running time would have provided more tension and been similar to Reservoir Dogs. The usual ingredients of what makes Tarantino films great are lacking here, and what’s left is a film that feels hollow and devoid of substance, as though it’s just going through the motions. It also has a lack of ambition. There are no big dramatic set-pieces but neither are there edge-of-your-seat moments like the bit in Inglourious Basterds when they’re playing twenty questions in the German bar.

The usual snappy dialogue is replaced by generic, forgettable lines, with a few exceptions. There are some funny moments and a few moments of trademark stylish violence, but aside from that it is a film that meanders along to a conclusion that is ultimately anti-climactic and, dare I say it, boring?

If there was one person who you would have said could make a film set entirely in a barn engaging and tense it would be Tarantino, but in this endeavor he has failed. There is also one big structural decision that I do not understand at all. Towards the last third of the film there’s a massive flashback, which basically only tells us things that we have already learned or inferred so it doesn’t really provide anything of note and only seems a way to stretch out the running time. If this was at the start it would have given a better introduction to what other characters were walking into, and would have increased the tension. Instead I was wondering why it was being shown at all.

Big disappointment from me. I know right now that I’m never going to watch this film again. It lacks that certain spark that has always marked Tarantino films and set them apart as unique and slightly offbeat from the rest of Hollywood.

Movie Review – The Danish Girl (2016)

Director: Tom Hooper

Stars: Eddie Redmayne Alice Vikander, Matthias Schoenaerts, Amber Heard, Ben Whishaw, Sebastian Koch

It’s 1926 in Denmark. Portrait artist Gerda Wegener (Vikander) painted her own husband, Einer (Redmayne) wearing women’s clothing. This opens a door to a new beginning for Einer, who starts to let a burning personality called Lily erupt from within. After an initial struggle, she tries to find a way to fix the fact that she was born in the wrong body.

Okay, so first of all I have to talk about the fact that this movie, while based on actual people and events, strips away all that actually happened to the point where the characters in this film are entirely fictional. It’s a shame because Einer’s struggle and search for gender-reassignment surgery is an important milestone and surely and interesting story in its own right, and I’m well aware that often movies change details but there comes a point where you change too much.

But I enjoyed the movie and I’m almost surprised that Redmayne is getting most of the plaudits because it’s as much  Vikander’s film as it is his, perhaps even more so. I liked how she was depicted as being supportive of Einer and trying to help him, while still struggling with the fact that she was losing her husband to Lily. In fact both performers showed the internal struggles of their characters well, and they had good chemistry which made me invested in their relationship. There were so many small touches early on,  like when Einer showed secret satisfaction in touching a dress, that showed how good Redmayne is at magnifying subtle emotional reactions. The anguish and pain were prevalent but so was the joy in when he was finally able to express himself as Lily (at this point I would like to apologise if I mess up any of the pronouns).

Hooper’s direction is…elegant. The sex scenes were erotic and tender, and showed a delicate intensity. Perhaps the most powerful of these is when Einer goes to a bordello and as he looks through a window at the girl inside they begin to mirror each others’ gestures. This direction and the visual beauty of the movie is excellent.

The film does have a major flaw though, and while I think Redmayne did a fantastic job, I do feel that the transition from Einer being Einer and Einer wanting to be Lily was a little mishandled and felt rushed. For a large part of the film it seems as though being a woman is largely about wearing pretty dresses and flirting with men, and I would have appreciated a bit of a deeper look into her personality and her femininity. But I think the balance of Gerda does help in that regard, and really Vikander was the most impressive part of the film.

So while it has its flaws, the biggest being possibly a disrespect to the actual subject of the film by adapting a version of their life instead of the actual events. But despite that, taken as it is. I enjoyed it, but I don’t think that Redmayne is going to get the Oscar this year, because even in his own film I feel that Vikander is the better performer.

Movie Review – The Revenant (2016)

Director: Alejandro G. Inarritu

Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, Will Poulter

A man’s epic story of survival. Hugh Glass (DiCaprio) is left for dead after being mauled by a bear, and after witnessing his son being killed by Fitzgerald (Hardy) he struggles across the wilderness, fuelled by a malevolent darkness inside called revenge.

For those of you who follow my blog you’ll know that I absolutely hated Birdman and it was near the top of my list of most disliked films from the previous year. so when The Revenant started to get a lot of plaudits and acclaim I was wary, even though DiCaprio and Hardy are two of my favourite actors. I was even unsure of going to see it at all because of the time investment but I went with an open mind and to my surprise I enjoyed it a lot.

The fluid camera technique is brilliant and the film just looks gorgeous. I think it’s definitely one that should be seen on the big screen, and I feel it may suffer from being viewed on a regular-sized television. The cinematography is excellent and visually it just drips with appeal, I felt fully immersed in this world and Inarritu managed to capture the heart of the wilderness, which was no mean feat. The film could easily have gone into pretentious territory but Inarritu kept a strong focus on the story and theme of the film. The opening attack was brutal and savage, reminiscent of the beach landings of Saving Private Ryan. It was hectic and as a viewer I was thrust into this landscape that was teeming with danger, and I felt just as lost and afraid as the characters in the movie. The imagery and foreshadowing worked well, as did the brief flashbacks seen in Glass’ mind, giving us a broad story while not delving into heavy streaks of exposition.

The depiction of injuries was brutal and the bear attack almost seems surreal in its realism. I was wincing and genuinely worried for DiCaprio’s safety, even though I knew rationally that it was a movie, and a film that can have me invested to that level is a special one.

Obviously it’s a long film, and this is going to be a sticking point for people, especially when it comes to re-watching it. There are parts in the middle of the film that drift, but I think this only adds to the experience and despite the length I felt the pacing was good and it managed to hold my attention. While watching the movie I was wondering how it was going to end because, given the length, the resolution of the story had to feel like it was worth all the time invested in it, and it didn’t let the film down at all. Hardy and DiCaprio were probably the two perfect actors to cast in this because they can do so much without speaking; that’s more true for DiCaprio in this instance, and his sheer power carries the movie.

Now, this wasn’t a particularly revelatory film for me and it didn’t touch me deeply on an emotional or personal level, but I was engaged while watching it and I am glad that I set aside my initial misgivings because it is a great achievement on a visual/technical level, and it could so easily have gone wrong.

Brief Board Game Reviews 3

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It’s under 50 days until Board in the City CIC opens a cafe in Southampton, so we’re working hard to play a lot of games so that we know what to have in our collection. Sorry for the low quality pic but here are some of the games I’ve been playing this week (still got a few months to go on Pandemic Legacy so a final review will have to wait for a little while. These are more first impressions than anything because we have so many games to get through that right now we’re just seeing which ones work and which ones don’t, so that we are able to teach them to people when we open, and so that we can write games menu with the information etc.

Galaxy Trucker – This is a frantic game in which players are building ships using tiles. The aim is to get various parts on your ships, like cannons and cabins and engines etc in order to deal with the space journey you’re about to undertake. The twist is that all the tiles are face down and there’s a time limit. If you finish first you’ll get an advantage, but if your ship isn’t built correctly there will be penalties to pay! The game is played over three rounds and the ships get bigger each time.

Some people are going to hate this because it can be stressful trying to get everything just so and all balanced, but I don’t think this is a game you can take seriously. There were a couple of times when I felt satisfied with what I had built only to look at it when they building phase was over, realizing that I only had one cargo pod and not enough batteries. Oops. The adventures are random and can really mess you up. The main difficulty in the game is making sure that your ship is legal, because we had a couple of points during the game when a player realized that they had made a mistake. It’s fun and fast and I enjoyed it, but it’s certainly not going to be for everyone.

Scooby-Doo The Cyber Chase Game –

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This game was either going to be amazing or terrible. I’m a huge fan of Scooby-Doo, it’s my second-favourite cartoon (Road Runner if you’re wondering) and this game was really quick, I’m talking like five minutes. The goal is to collect three snacks and a magnet and then make it around the board to the lab, the first player to do this is the winner. The board is colourful and the player pawns are nicely sculpted versions of the characters. The challenges you have to overcome for each snack are different, and I had fun with it. Much of what you do is out of your control and you’re at the whims of the spinner, but it’s so fast that I didn’t mind this so much, and if you’re like me and love the theme then you can throw yourself into it.

Shafausa –

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Look at all this stuff! Yeah I couldn’t make heads nor tails out of it. There are two versions of this game, a ‘geek’ and a ‘family’ one. The family one said it takes 15 minutes per player so figured that we could get a quick game in before midnight. No such luck. The rules are horrible. I couldn’t figure what anything did or what the point of the game was. There are so many moving parts and it’s difficult to keep track of everything. I mean, the game looks beautiful and it comes with nice ways to store all the cubes, and even a poster of the fictional land! But we didn’t even get one turn in before giving up. It took us about 45 minutes to get to that point and we still weren’t any the wiser. The buildings are on small tiles and it’s difficult to know which buildings do what, the rules don’t make anything clear, and I don’t have time for games like these. And the thing is, from what little I could glean from the rules I don’t think the actual game is worth all the effort it requires.

Once Upon a Time –

Some of you may know this from the first season of Tabletop. It’s a storytelling game in which players are dealt a hand of cards and are given an ending. The goal of the game is to steer the story in a direction so that you can play all the cards in your hand (cards are played when you mention that thing) and are able to say your ending. I wasn’t sure about this at first because even though I am a writer I’m not that good at improvisation, and I was afraid that if you don’t have a creative mind or are bad at improvising then the game will fall flat. But I fell in love with this game and I can only imagine it getting better and better with more plays and more people.

Having the hand of cards allows you to plan ahead and try and form a story that will hit certain beats, and it also enables you to listen to the other players. The best part of the game was handing off the story to each other and seeing what each other comes up with, it’s like a tug of war but also a collaborative effort, and as you tell the story certain themes emerge and in-jokes come out which add to the fun. It’s a wonderful game and I fell completely in love with it after just one play. This one is definitely going to be in the cafe and it’s one that I will get for myself at some point as well.

Lost Legends –

This is a drafting/combat card game in which players take control of an adventurer and go through three levels of a dungeon, trying to be the most legendary. The game is split into three rounds, and these rounds into two phases; drafting and combat. Players equip gear and skills, and then venture into the dungeon to fight. After you kill monsters you level up and get stronger and stronger.

The rulebook for this was pretty bad and it took us a while to get going, but when we did we found that actually it’s a fun game, and it’s not that hard to pick up. There are a few nuances to the rules, and there’s a lot of symbols so it can take a round or two to get used to how everything works together. But while it’s a fun game, it does feel short, and bit bare-bones. I felt like there needed to be more of an arc to the game. For the first couple of dungeons things are progressing slowly, then in the third level you get some really cool equipment…and then the game is over. But I’ve discovered recently that I really like drafting, and my only complaint here is that I wish there was some more variety in equipment as I never felt like I was having to make a really tough decision. I do like, however, how you can either use a card for the equipment or the skill, which will then give you a discount on future cards you purchase.

The artwork is fantastic and there’s a bit of player interaction in that you can pawn monsters off to someone else if they don’t already have a monster in front of them, but it’s not directly PvP. This is one that I think could be better, but as it is it’s a decent game.

Steampunk Rally –

This is another one where we had trouble with the rulebook I mean, seriously, rulebooks should be tools that help you get playing, not a challenge in and of themselves. There should be a regulatory committee for rulebooks or something. Anyway, this game is a Wacky Races-style thing where inventors are building machines to try and win a race. Everything happens simultaneously, although for the first round we played in turn order just to make sure we were doing things correctly. There’s drafting and dice placement, and at first the mechanics can be confusing regarding how you take dice off etc, but this is one I’m definitely going to have to play again because I made the mistake of taking too much damage and exploding early on in the game. I took so much damage that I was only left with my first cabin, and I was never able to build back up and I was just left in the dust. I was Alexander Graham Bell so I just said that it proves you shouldn’t use the telephone whilst driving.

The thing that worries me is that if that happens then you’re basically out of the race and the game is pretty much over for you (obviously on this occasion it was my own fault) but my friends enjoyed it, and I think once you get your head around how the dice work etc it’s pretty fun. I like the theme, and enjoyed learning about the different adventures. I just wish that it had better rules.

So those are the new games I’ve been playing this week. More to come soon!

Book Review – Batman: The Man Who Laughs by Ed Brubaker et al

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I had a fancy dress party for my birthday last weekend and my flatmate went as The Joker, which got me in the moon to read this. The Man Who Laughs is the story of the emergence of The Joker, following on in spirit from Batman: Year One. Also included is a story called Made of Wood, in which Batman teams up with the original Green Lantern, Alan Scott,  but we’ll get to that in a minute.

A theme through The Man Who Laughs is how Gotham is changing, and how Batman needs to adapt to change with it. The narrative follows both the Caped Crusader and Jim Gordon as they seek to protect those who the Joker has threatened. The crimes seem unpredictable and chaotic but Batman feels there is an underlying pattern, and works hard to see if there is a method to Joker’s madness. The artwork is great and quite haunting in the way that it depicts Joker’s victims, and the story does a good job at evoking the unsettling terror that comes with the Joker. It has the same mood as Batman: Year One,  but at the same time it does go over things we know already, so the book isn’t going to subvert your expectations or deliver any great twists. However, it’s a solid story and if you want a quick read to get into the Batman/Joker dynamic then it’s as good as any.

But Made of Wood was a big surprise. While I like the idea of DC’s Golden Age heroes I’ve not read much about them, and I wasn’t aware that Alan Scott actually patrolled Gotham. The story here deals with an unsolved case from  Green Lantern’s days, one that he actually felt responsible for, and it leads to him and Batman teaming up. The relationship between the two of them is written well, and it’s insightful to get Batman’s views on the legend. He admires Green Lantern for being a hero, whereas he feels like he has to become almost a mythic creature in  order to save people through fear, because he’s just a man. The exchanges between the two eminently enjoyable, and they play off each other perfectly. They both  comment on Gotham and how much it has/hasn’t changed, and they both have different philosophies about how to fight crime.

Both stories in this collection are good, but The Man Who Laughs is a familiar story, while Made of Wood offers something that I hadn’t read before, and approached Batman and Gotham from a different angle.