Brief Board Game Reviews Part…5ish?

Board in the City opens in two weeks’ time so I’m working my way through all the games we’re going to have in our library. This week I played fifteen, so there’s a lot to get through, although I won’t talk about them all. These are only first impressions. There are so many to get through that I haven’t had a chance to play any of them in depth,  but hopefully once we open I’ll be able to re-visit them and explore the games more. So let’s go!

Dead 0f Winter –

I had been wanting to play this one for ages. This is a semi-cooperative game in which players take control of survivors who have banded together with others to form a colony to try and make it through winter in the zombie apocalypse. There’s a lot to this game but it flows well. The group as a whole has a main objective to win, but each player has a secret objective too, so you’re all working together but you have your own agendas. There’s also the chance that someone is a betrayer, but that didn’t happen in our first game. We actually did win, which I was surprised at because I heard it was a very difficult game, but I’m assuming that we got fortunate with our card draws etc. Even so I enjoyed it a lot and look forward to playing it more.

WWE Superstar Showdown –

I used to love wrestling when I was younger but I haven’t followed it for many years, so of the six wrestlers included in the box I only know of three of them, and not that well. But the game is actually pretty cool. There’s a board upon which you place your wrestler, and then each round players play three cards from their hand, and compare each of them in turn. The game revolves around a rock, paper, scissors mechanic, and if you win the card comparison then you get to take the actions on the card, which could be an attack or a move, so you’re trying to get your wrestler into a position where he can pin your opponent. It’s a fun game and there are variations on the rules so you can have a tag team match, but I haven’t played any of them yet. My first thought though was that it’s a game that could really use expansions, personally I’d love to see some of the classic wrestlers in the game.

Captain’s Wager –

This is a small card game in which players are going on adventures and betting treasure, trying to get the highest card in each round to then win the pool of treasure. It’s okay, this is one of those that seemed more complicated than it needed to be. One of my friends hated it but I didn’t mind it. There are some interesting things because you don’t have many cards in your hand so you’re trying to figure out which cards the other players are going to play, and then make sure that you don’t waste your high-powered cards.

Draco-Magi –

This is a two-player game in which you are playing cards onto battlefields to try and win the jewels that they have. The artwork is cool, and if you like dragons you’ll be in heaven. The gameplay itself is similar to something like Smash Up, and I liked how the cards were used for ranged and melee attacks. It is a quick game though, and I think that if a player gets an early lead there’s not much the other person can do about it.

Tokaido –

A game about a leisurely stroll through Japan, which turns out to be quite tense and even a little cutthroat. There’s a great turn mechanic in which the player furthest behind on the track goes first, so you can leap ahead to a space you really want, but it means that the other players may be able to visit three or four different spaces. I got absolutely trounced in this as everyone kept going where I wanted to go! But it’s fun, and it’s not mean-spirited at all, it’s kind of like that annoyance in worker placement games where you’re planning to go somewhere then someone else takes the spot. It’s also really quick, we knocked out a three player game in about twenty minutes.

Zombicide –

A big box from Cool Mini or Not. We love Arcadia Quest, and Zombicide seems to be fun. We played one scenario and for a while it seemed like we were not going to do well, until we managed to get a molotov cocktail. It’s a co-op game, and unfortunately in the one we played there was only one player who was really able to do anything, the other two of us were basically just there as back up until he could throw the molotov cocktail into the zombie mass. But it has the potential to be very fun, although I think I still prefer Arcadia Quest.

Boss Monster –

Inspired by classic video games, you take on the role of a boss and in the game you build a dungeon, trying to lure heroes in with the promise of treasure and then steal their souls. I like the artwork, but the gameplay is horrible. It’s basically down to the luck of the cards. My opponent was able to get a powerful dungeon, so all the heroes were going to him, leaving me with no chance. I didn’t like it because it seems like a game where you can strategize and build the perfect dungeon, but it comes down to luck.

Kittens in a Blender –

Don’t worry, the artwork is cutesy rather than graphic. On the table there’s a blender and a box. You’re trying to get your opponent’s kittens blended while you want yours saved in the box. During the game you’ll play cards that allow you to move kittens or blend them, or place them down. It’s a really quick game and one that I think will be better with more players. I didn’t think I’d like this one but I did, because sometimes you have to work out whether it’s beneficial to sacrifice some of your own kittens to save more, and it’s really quick.

Conquest of Speros –

This is another card game in which you are competing for control of locations in the middle of the board, by placing meeples on them until you have the majority. This game has potential and I’d like to play it more. My main complaint is that a lot of the cards have abilities that aren’t useful early on, so often we found that we were playing cards and not bothering to use the ability. But there are some interesting decisions as you have to make sure that your hand size doesn’t drop too low, but if you draw cards that means you’re probably going to miss out on placing a meeple. There are some hidden objectives as well, and I always love that.

Carcassonne: Star Wars –

I have a confession to make. I really didn’t like the app version of this. But the physical version is better. And I find the Star Wars setting more interesting than the French land. There’s also the chance to battle in this version. It only happened twice in the game I played so I don’t think it’s completely turning the game on its head, but it adds something different and that’s welcome. The only annoying thing was that I had to put on a load of stickers on the meeples.

Tash-Kalar: Arena of Legends –

This game is really cool. The board is an arena with grids, and you’re placing counters trying to make patterns, which will summon beings that have powerful abilities. Once again there are objectives you’re trying to complete (thematically you’re trying to please the crowd). It’s quite strategic in that you’re trying to think a few moves ahead so you can pull off a good combo, and it’s one of those that I think will only get better the more I play it. Really looking forward to playing this one again and exploring the different factions to see how differently they play.

7 Wonders Duel –

This is a two player version of the popular drafting game. Now, I’ve only played 7 Wonders once and it was a bad teaching experience but this two player version is so much fun. The cards of each age are placed in the middle of the table, some face up and some face down. On your turn you take a card (one that has been flipped up), then either construct it, use it to build a wonder, or discard it for gold. As you build your city you’ll be building towards other things, but there’s also a military track, which, if the marker reaches your side of the track, you’ll have been invaded and lose. If anyone gains six different science symbols they will automatically win as well, otherwise it is whoever has the most points at the end of the game. So you’re still looking at what your opponent is doing with their city and I like the tug of war aspect. Really involved and a lot of fun to play.

 

 

 

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Brief Board Game Reviews #3!

At least I think it’s number three…eh I can always edit it later. Hello! Yes, Board in the City are just a few weeks away from opening and we’re going through the games we have to narrow down the ones we’re going to have in our inventory. First off a bit of business out of the way, we’re going to be having a launch party on the 4th March was it going to run from 730 to 930 in the evening. Tickets are £7.50 per person. You’ll get a free drink, a chance to taste samples of the food that’s going to be on the menu, the opportunity to participate in a murder mystery game and the ability to just check out the venue, meet us and the rest of the volunteers and other gamers who show up! At time of writing I think there are about 70 tickets left so if you’d like to come better get them sooner or later. If you’d like more information about the event then go ahead and check it out on Facebook here.

So here are some of the brief reviews of games I’ve played recently. As a disclaimer my views are my own and not representative of Board in the City as a whole.  Alright then.

First up there’s a game called Freya’s Folly in which the players take control of Dwarven mining guilds aiming to collect jewels to then build into necklaces. The board, at first glance, looks like a maze but actually it’s just a mine that leads to different caverns holding various jewels. On a player’s turn there are a number of actions they can take, which include moving miners into the mines, taking objectives, completing objectives etc. There are a couple of clever mechanics in the game. One of them is a way for the game to end. Each player has a certain number of dwarfs, and when you complete an objective you do so by sending a dwarf off to market, and are unable to use that dwarf for the rest of the game. When a player has used up all their dwarfs the game is going to end. Another way for the game to end is for all the pieces of Bringasemen’s (the rather fetching lady featured on the box) necklace to be finished.

The other mechanism that intrigued me was how movement worked. In the mine the dwarves can move between lanterns, but if there are dwarves in the way you can leapfrog them, so an opponent can actually help you, or you can create a chain effect where your miners are leaping over each other.

The rulebook is pretty clear and it’s only about two pages long, which is always a nice thing to come across (especially when you open Imperial Assault and see four thick rule books aahh!). It’s a pretty straightforward game once you get around to it, and offers some interesting choices, like whether to send all your miners in quickly to get the jewels or hang back a little bit and wait for other players to go into the mine, then use them to leap frog through and steal the jewels! I also like how the closer you get to winning the fewer dwarves you have to choose from. This one is pretty good.

Mercante is a game in the Tempest series (of which I have played none so I didn’t bother reading the flavour text). It’s an auction game where players take on the roles of merchants, trying to fulfil contracts and trade goods for the best price. I’m not usually a fan of economic games because my maths skills are dreadful, but this is fun and has a few cut-throat elements that I enjoy. The scoring is really tight and victory points are a precious commodity, making for a pretty tense game. There are events that can throw things into whack and I really enjoyed the concept of the contracts. When you get them you get paid for them, which can be a big boost, but if you don’t manage to fulfil them they’re going to cost you minus points at the end of the game. It’s good to spot what kind of things the other players are going for to try and drive up the price of goods, and then manipulate the market so they don’t get as much money as they were expecting. Surprised that I enjoyed this one as much ais I did!

Redshirts is a take that game in which players are attempting to get their redshirts killed by going on missions, but other players can make it easier for them to succeed. I don’t like Munchkin or Fluxx and this game combines the worst of them. It took about half an hour to play but it felt like an eternity but I wish that I had been a red shirt and died. I’m a huge trekkie but even the humor wasn’t even to salvage any ounce of enjoyment from the game. To top it all off the symbology on the cards is just a mess. There’s far too much of it and it’s not intuitive so it takes a while to come to terms with what they all mean.

Legendary: Marvel is at this point my favourite game, but I’d never tried the DC Deck-Building game until now. I’d heard much criticism for it not being thematic, and it’s not really given that you can recruit villains and other things to play. It’s also stripped down compared to other deckbuilders as well, considering that there’s only one form of currency in the game. But it’s quick and fast and I like that there’s an element of PvP in it as well. The artwork is really cool, and since each player takes on the role of a hero there’s a bit of variation into how each player plays as well. So yeah, I liked it.

And I think that’s all I’m going to talk about this time, but I have Dead of Winter to play soon and I’m REALLY looking forward to that.

Movie Review – Deadpool (2016)

Director: Tim Miller

Stars: Ryan Reynold, Ed Skrein, Morena Baccarin, T. J. Miller, Gina Carano, Stefan Kapicic, Brianna Hildebrand

Wade Wilson (Reynolds) is a mercenary who is diagnosed with cancer. To try and protect his girlfriend Vanessa (Baccarin) from losing him, he undergoes a dangerous operation to be activate latent mutant genes, only to discover that the procedure is not what he thought. Taking on the moniker Deadpool, and wearing a mask to hide his disfigured face, he tries to track down the man who did this to him.

Deadpool has been subject to much anticipation since the test footage leaked, and after a long marketing campaign that stretched back prior to Christmas the first superhero film of the year is upon us, and although it has garnered a lot of attention it is still a risk since it is far more violent and adult-oriented than other popular comic book properties, and it’s also buried in between all the awards-nominated films. But I think this will actually be to its benefit because, aside from Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, there’s not really anything out like it at the moment and the word of mouth for this film is going to be huge because Deadpool is supremely fun and I don’t think there was anyone that left the cinema unsatisfied.

I’ve already heard chatter online claiming that this is the best comic book movie ever (the typical exuberance of a recently released film). I do not agree with that at all, but it is a superhero movie that feels fresh compared with its brethren. There’s a lot of talk of the superhero bubble and how comic books are taking over Hollywood (which I don’t believe for a second, but that’s a discussion for another time) yet many of the films have followed similar plot beats and a lot of the climaxes to the movies have felt similar (a criticism that has been leveled at Marvel in particular. But from the opening credits it’s clear that Deadpool is not going to be like any other recent comic book film, and that is all down to the humour. It’s a mixture of witty, juvenile, broad, and slapstick. Reynolds completely owns the role and the passion he showed in the build-up to release comes through in the final product. There are so many little touches that bring out howls of laughter and there’s such a sense of fun about it that is infectious.

Colossus plays the straight man, and Negasonic Teenage Warhead makes up the other X-Men contingent (having only two of them is made fun of in the film itself). Breaking the fourth wall works naturally and I loved all the references to the other movies and how Deadpool pokes fun at them. The action is good too, quite bloody and violent in comparison with the Marvel movies.

The main criticism I have is that the actual origin part of the movie takes a little too long and slows the pace down, but other than that it is supremely fun and I can say for sure that it lives up to the hype. There are a couple of end-credits scenes buried at the end of the film, so wait for those if you’re interested. I think that this film is going to be more popular than people initially predicted and I hope that Fox actually learns from its own lessons. The way to make a successful adaptation is to stay true to the spirit of the character, SO DO THE SAME WITH FANTASTIC FOUR!

Movie Review – Dad’s Army (2016)

Director: Oliver Parker

Stars: Toby Jones, Bill Nighy, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Michael Gambon, Blake Harrison, Tom Courtenay, Daniel Mays, Bill Paterson, Felicity Montagu

The Walmington-on-Sea platoon are tasked to deal with the threat of a Nazi spy who is trying to gather information on an army base nearby. Meanwhile, a beautiful journalist (Zeta-Jones) is visiting the town to write a report about the home guard, causing quite the stir among the men and the women who love them.

Dad’s Army is one of my favourite tv shows of all time so when I heard they were making a movie about it I was quite excited, especially when I heard some of the casting news. Then I saw the first couple of trailers and the excitement quickly diminished, but sometimes trailers can be misleading so I went to see it and it’s not as bad as I feared it would be. The plot is admittedly thin, although I am glad they didn’t go the route of simply remaking one of the existing stories, and thankfully the surprise isn’t kept a secret for very long. It also is not an origin story, which I also appreciated. However, I am disappointed that there are so few men shown in the platoon (the main characters plus a few others).

Affection is shown to the original series with a cute nod to the title sequence and appearances by Ian Lavender and Frank Williams, who reprises his role as the Reverend. There are familiar faces but also some new ones as well, for finally Elizabeth Mainwaring appears on screen! I was unsure about this at first because I like the running joke that she never appears (a common trope in sitcoms) but Montagu does manage to live up to expectations and gives a performance completely opposite to her character in I’m Alan Partridge. Through her, the film gives some weight to the efforts of the women in the war as well, which was something not touched upon a great deal in the original show.

The cast is…good and bad. There’s a lack of chemistry between them, especially compared with the original show (although of course that’s to be expected to a degree since it is difficult to reflect bonds forged over years of working together). Toby Jones is excellent as Mainwaring and one of the main reasons why the film is as enjoyable as it is. He perfectly channels Arthur Lowe and shows some good displays of physical comedy. Bill Nighy was okay as Sergeant Wilson, although there were many times where he seemed to basically be playing a toned down version of his character in Love, Actually. Harrison and Gambon were the other standouts as Pike and Godfrey respectively, and I thought they completely nailed the characters. Mays and Paterson, as Walker and Frazer, were decent although I don’t think that Paterson depicted the meanness of Frazer. The biggest disappointment though was Courtenay as Jones. Although the show was an ensemble Jones was always the heart of it, but Courtenay didn’t manage to capture the bumbling good-heartedness of the character. Perhaps that is due to it being a feature film and having to place focus mostly on Rose Winter, Mainwaring, and Wilson, but Courtenay had no screen presence at all and showed nothing of why Jones is such a beloved character.

There are a lot of instances where classic catchphrases are shoehorned in, for example there’s one point at which Jones blurts out ‘They don’t like it up ’em’ and it seems entirely out of context. But I have to admit that I did have a smile on my face when I saw the butcher’s van come onto the screen.

As an exercise in nostalgia Dad’s Army succeeds, mostly to the efforts of Toby Jones who really does a fine portrayal of Mainwaring. But the positives of the film only come from the fact that it echoes the greatness of the show. While it’s fun to see the spirit of the characters brought to life again, it does pale in comparison with the original material and as a whole I don’t think the cast broke out enough as an ensemble to prove that they can sustain a series of films. I don’t imagine that there will be a sequel to this, but there is enjoyment to be had for fans of the original show. I would be interested to see how it is received from people who are unfamiliar with tv series though.

Movie Review – Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016)

Director: Burr Steers

Stars: Lily James, Sam Riley, Bella Heathcote, Douglas Booth, Sally Phillips, Charles Dance, Lena Headey, Jack Huston, Matt Smith

A classic tale of love in 19th Century England, with the characters tangled in relationships as a horde of the undead roam the countryside.

First a disclaimer – I never made it through Pride and Prejudice and I haven’t seen any of the film adaptations of it, so I cannot speak to how well Pride and Prejudice and Zombies adapts the original story or how well it speaks to the themes the story presents. I’m also sure that much of the irony of certain lines or scenes being reinterpreted in this version were lost on me. However, despite not being too familiar with the overall story I still found this film to be very enjoyable.

One thing that annoys me about zombie films is that many of them feel too similar and repetitive, and while the mashing up of these two genres could be seen as a gimmick it actually works. The blending of the two worlds succeeds, and much entertainment follows. Here Liz Bennett (James) and her sisters are shaolin-trained women who are now at the age to be married. Colonel Darcy is a zombie hunter who shows a lack of patience and a cold heart, but the two of them are thrown together as a deadly conspiracy among the undead could spell the end for the country.

I particularly liked the rules of zombies in this film, in that before they gorge too heavily on brains, zombies can actually hold onto their humanity. I also liked the inventions that the 19th century came up with, and the worldbuilding that occurred, with people educating themselves on martial arts in efforts to combat the undead. There were several badass moments throughout the film, most involving James, who provided a magnetic screen presence and shared good chemistry with Riley.

There were some creepy visuals and a few gory moments but nothing too out-of-hand, which honestly I was a little disappointed by. The other thing that disappointed me was a lack of Lena Headey, as we didn’t really see her character in action even after she was billed as the deadliest woman in England. But hopefully that shall be in a sequel, and on that point remember to stay in your seats at the end because shortly after the first batch of credits there is a scene at the end, and if the film proves successful I would love to see a sequel.

The film is very much a horror-comedy, and most of the humour comes from Matt Smith’s simpering character, which I’m sure will delight Doctor Who fans out there. I had a blast watching this. It feels fresh, which for a zombie film is saying something because much of the genre is made up of the same old things, so this is a welcome addition to the catalogue of zombies out there. The title and premise of the movie may sound ridiculous at first but it’s actually a lot of fun and I hope it does well enough to earn a sequel because I feel there’s more material to be mined here.

Movie Review – Spotlight (2016)

Director: Tom McCarthy

Stars: Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Brian D’Arcy James, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery, Stanley Tucci

The Boston Globe has a ‘Spotlight’ team of investigative journalists. When new head of the Globe Marty Baron (Schreiber) comes in he directs the team to investigate allegations of abuse in the Catholic church. What they find is horrific and terrible, and their year-long investigation brings to light certain truths that will shake the foundations of the city – and the world – to its core.

Spotlight deals with some very traumatic issues but it keeps the focus on the reporters rather than the victims or the perpetrators of the crimes. It’s very much a film about the art of reporting and pursuing a good story, getting sources, piecing together different information to get to the whole picture, and their efforts shed light on a systematic  negligence of the Catholic church. It also shows the toll that these stories can take on the reporters, on their friendships and their relationships and on their own conscience as one character actually stops going to church because of what they discover. The cast are all excellent and it’s only really Ruffalo who gets to sink his teeth into one particularly dramatic scene. The rest of the film is very focused and Tom McCarthy lets the story speak for itself.

I think there are some people who will claim that this film is attacking the Catholic church, but I would argue that the film makes it clear that it’s going against the people involved in the system, the ones who were guilty of covering up the crimes. It brings into question the nature of faith and what people actually have faith in. Is it the message or is it the people who are delivering the message?

I found the film to be engaging and was actually surprised when it was over as it didn’t feel like much time had passed at all. There are scenes that simply consist of the reporters searching through books or running through the city to get to a source yet somehow there’s an urgency and emotional weight given to it that actually makes these scenes crucial. The survivors are given voice through a few characters, leading to some very poignant exchanges as they share their experiences. There is also a card at the end that shows where evidence of abuse have been found. The amount of places is staggering and it’s almost impossible to comprehend that such treatment could be so widespread and so ignored for so long.

Spotlight is an excellent film that I feel presents the facts of the story and lets them speak for itself. But I would also recommend that people watch a documentary on Netflix called Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God, which also follows a similar trend of abuse, and gives more information about the worldwide impact of the truth and how it went up all the way to the highest echelons of the church.

Movie Review – Triple 9 (2016)

Director: John Hillcoat

Stars: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Anthony Mackie, Kate Winslet, Aaron Paul, Casey Affleck, Woody Harrelson, Norman Reedus, Clifton Collins Jr., Gal Gadot

A gang made up of criminals and corrupt cops plan on murdering a cop to pull off their biggest heist yet.

And that synopsis really doesn’t do the film justice because it’s about greed and revenge and all the other delightful human emotions. Michael (Ejiofor) is under the thumb of the matriarch of the Russian mafia, Irina (Winslet) who is his sister-in-law, and has his ex-wife and son living in her home. The interplay between the characters is really what drives the film, as they all have power in different fields, but are controlled by outside factors. It’s brutal at times and it’s all about the balance of control.

The direction of the film is pretty slick, with the action set-pieces frantic but also clear, and the character moments allowed to breathe. The settings are varied, from abandoned projects in the city to nightclubs to bare homes to mansions, and it’s interesting to see the settings in which different characters live, and how they each see the world differently. The plot ramps up towards the end as all the chaotic threads come together buuuuuuuut there’s a bit of a problem, and it’s the reason this film isn’t going to get as much buzz as it could have, because the potential was here for greatness, but instead it’s just good.

The problem has to do with tension. You see, there are a lot of twists and turns here, with characters betraying each other or doing things that are unexpected, and yet I was never blown away or caught breathless by anything. Whenever something happens it is abrupt, which is good sometimes, but not all the time. There were so many chances for Hillcoat to bring people to the edge of their seats but he missed them all. There were no moments where I was holding my breath, none where my heart was racing, and this flaw robs the film of what it needed to be great. And it’s a shame because it means that when the film ends it feels like it’s with a whimper, and the pacing just feels off.

Aside from that it’s a good film, it’s just not a great film.

Movie Review – Dirty Grandpa (2016)

Director: Dan Mazer

Stars: Zac Efron, Robert De Niro, Zoey Deutch, Aubrey Plaza, Jason Mantzoukas, Dermot Mulroney, Julianne Hough

After his grandmother died, Jason (Efron) is asked by his grandpa (De Niro) to drive down to Boca for some golf, a week before his wedding. Little does Jason know that his grandpa actually wants to party, but along the way the two of them grow closer together and Jason gains a new perspective on life.

I have to be honest here and say that I really wasn’t looking forward to Dirty Grandpa. I actually only saw it because it was the only film that fit in between the other films I was seeing in my triple bill. It seemed like a stupid, lowbrow comedy that dedicated itself to gross humour and nothing. But faithful readers, I am happy to admit when my preconceptions are wrong. There is gross humour in here, but it’s married to a heartfelt plot that gives the film something more than simple dirtiness.

The main theme of the film is to think for yourself and do what makes you happy rather than let other people decide the course of your life for you. Jason has lost his dreams and is now getting married to a woman who is controlling anything, and it is clear that Jason is basically sleeping through life. Enter his grandpa, who wants to seize his newfound singledom after being married for forty years. It’s not the most original plot ever and the beats of the story are predictable, but Efron and De Niro are quality actors and they elevate the material. Their dynamic is excellent and Efron plays the straight man well, while De Niro seems to revel in letting loose in front of the camera.

And on that point, I have heard some consternation that De Niro is basically tarnishing his legacy by doing films like these, which pale in comparison to some of the stuff he did in his younger days like Raging Bull etc, but I think because of the work he put into those films he’s earned the right to have fun in his later years. I find it difficult to begrudge him this.

There’s eye candy for both sexes here, and Efron gets a chance to bust out his singing voice (which I’m not sure he’s done in a movie since the High School Musical films, although I’m happy to be corrected on that point). And yeah, the humour is pretty broad but that’s something to be expected going in. This isn’t going to be for everyone and I know a lot of people are going to dislike the film greatly, but it was better than I expected and while it’s certainly not original the two main actors make it fun to watch.

Movie Review – Zoolander 2 (2016)

Director: Ben Stiller

Stars: Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Will Ferrell, Penelope Cruz, Kristen Wiig, many celebrity cameos

After a catastrophic acciden, Derek Zoolander (Stiller) became a hermit crab and went into hiding, while Hansel (Wilson) also disappeared from the world after his face was horrible scarred. The world moved on and mostly forgot about them, but after they receive a mysterious message they decide to reclaim their titles as the hottest models in the world. Meanwhile, there’s a nefarious scheme that sees various pop stars being murdered, one that sees them taking selfies as they die with a certain look on their faces, a look that reminds people of Blue Steel.

Zoolander 2 begins with highlights of the intervening years between this movie and the last, with some funny commentary about how people are quick to move on. It does do one thing that I usually dislike in sequels, in that it undercuts the conclusion of the previous film straight away, largely making the ending of that one pointless. But to be honest it’s been years since I’ve seen the first film so I didn’t mind too much. The overall plot is pretty ridiculous, and I think those involved knew it because at the climax there’s basically a scene where characters question some of the developments. It’s fairly by-the-numbers.

But it’s fun to be with the characters again. Most of the scenes I found funny are just when Zoolander is being stupid and getting phrases wrong,  but overall I liked it and while I don’t think there’s enough mileage for another film it was fun to see them on screen again. The other thing I liked is that an antagonist, like Mugatu in the previous film, is named after a character from Star Trek. The celebrity cameos are sometimes entertaining, but also a lot of them are kind of obscure and often the characters need to call the celebrities by name because otherwise we wouldn’t know who they are. So yeah, like a lot of films of this ilk if you enjoyed the first one you’ll enjoy seeing the characters again. I thought it was alright.

Movie Review – The Finest Hours (2016)

Director: Craig Gillespie

Stars: Chris Pine, Casey Affleck, Holliday Grainger, Ben Foster, Eric Bana, Kyle Gallner, Ben Ortiz, John Magaro, Graham McTavish, Michael Raymond-James, Beau Knapp

In February of 1952, one of the worst storms hit the coast of New England, splitting an oil tanker in two. Four men from the coastguard take a treacherous journey out across the waves in the hopes of saving the 30 men, who are facing their own battle of trying to survive on a rapidly sinking ship.

The Finest Hours is a film that focuses on the determination to survive against insurmountable odds. It’s based on a true story (although the film is based on a book about the events), and the efforts of these men are inspiring. The film is largely split into two stories, Bernie Webber (Pine) who takes his crew out on a boat, hoping to not get torn to pieces by the violent waters leading out to sea, and Seabird (Affleck), the engineer who is learning to become a leader while those around him squabble about how to survive. The story on the sinking ship is far more action packed and brutal. Webber’s story is more about a man trying to make up for a similar event the previous year that ended in tragedy. He is a soft-spoken man that follows the book, and doesn’t cut an inspiring figure at all. The parallels between the two characters are interesting as it both shows them trying to convince people to follow them, although Seabird shows more ingenuity and Webber just a strong determination not to let the sea defeat him.

But what would a disaster film be without the anguish of those left at home? Webber has just been dating Miriam (Grainger), a spirited woman who fears for Webber’s life when she finds out that he has gone out in the storm. The rest of the coastguard are worried as well, including the senior officer Daniel Cluff (Bana) who seems inexperienced, and others question his orders.

I like the theme of survival and I enjoyed the direction of this film a great deal. I feel like it’s paced well and there’s a good build-up of tension throughout the film. The visuals of seeing a ship break apart are simply phenomenal, and the atmosphere of dread permeates through the screen, aided by the 3D effects. Some of Webber’s journey does become repetitive but the visceral scenes of the boat being tossed about the water are enthralling so I can forgive it that.

The conflict between characters, on land at least, is mostly subdued. There are people who hold grudges against Webber for his part in the tragedy of the previous year, and there seems to be a lack of respect for Cluff as well. But the film does not spend too long in developing these characters. To be fair it does boast a large cast, but many of the characters are thinly written and it’s a testament to the actors that they are imbued with any personality at all. Miriam is a case in point, most of the film follows her simply worrying about Webber and there’s not much depth to her character other than that she cares about him, but the actress makes it work.

The Finest Hours is a film that is based around the set-pieces rather than the characters, and in this criteria I found it to be an enjoyable film. The visuals are impressive and sometimes shocking, and the tension of the rescue attempt is palpable. I think it’s probably going to get lost in the shuffle of all the Oscar-nominated films, and I don’t think that the romance is strong enough for this to be a Valentine’s Day date, but it’s a solid film and if you like dramatic survival stories then this should be one you check out.