My Movies-to-Watch List for 2015

A year ago I decided to tackle my aversion to movies by creating a list of ten movies I would watch before the end of the year. I sort of failed at that because I only got through six of them, but on the other hand I saw six movies I may not have ordinarily seen, all of which I enjoyed. So that’s a net success! Ergo, I’ve decided to do it again.

I asked for recommendations and even though it’s a pretty broad mandate, that’s fine. What I was looking for were movies where, if someone told you he hadn’t seen it, you’d say, “Dude, you have to see that!” I got a lot of good suggestions and pared them down to ten. And here it is, The Movies To Watch List for 2015

A Night At The Opera (1935)
Night Of The Hunter (1955)
The Killing (1956)
Once Upon A Time In The West (1968)
Jaws (1975)
Five Deadly Venoms (1978)
Buckaroo Banzai (1984)
Secret Honor (1984)
Blue Velvet (1986)
Barton Fink (1991)

That list is a mix of classics I’ve not seen, things I’m curious about, genres I don’t know too well, and stuff I’d never heard of that sounded interesting.

This time I didn’t include recent things I’m interested in, like Selma or Edge of Tomorrow or Inherent Vice because I’ll probably end up seeing them anyway, list or no.

Now, I have not abandoned the four (now three) movies I didn’t get to for 2014. Those are still in the queue. I’ll keep you posted on how this goes.

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The Fallen Canon of Boardgames

This is something I’ve been thinking about and I’m finding it hard to articulate without it just sounding like old man griping (which it may well be). It’s pretty inside baseball stuff, so if you’re not heavily into boardgames, here’s a Vine of Cappy catching snowballs.

We’re coming up on my 10 year anniversary at BGG. I got into boardgaming about a year or so before that but I registered for BGG on 9-11-2005 (never forget).

At the time, there was a sort of established “pantheon” of classics. You had your holy trinity (Settlers, TTR, Carc) and you also had things like T&E, Puerto Rico, Princes of Florence, El Grande, Wallenstein, Power Grid, Samurai, Through the Desert, and a few others. These were titles that it was assumed pretty much everyone was familiar with. If you did the kind of geeklist where you said something or joked about different games, you’d probably have a lot of these as examples. There were new games coming out, and things got hyped, but in general it seemed that these games were on one tier and everything else was on another.

The first two games I really remember challenging this were Pillars of the Earth and Caylus. Caylus came in like a juggernaut, and it was declared a new classic almost immediately. Pillars didn’t have that much momentum, but I remember feeling like it was being given more “legitimacy” than it deserved.

When I compare that to the current climate, things seem really different. Not just that there are different games in the Top 10, but this sense of a tier of “the canon” is completely gone. Part of this is because a lot of those games are currently out of print, but in addition there doesn’t seem to be much of a communal memory past the previous three years or so. There doesn’t seem to be any desire to have one, either. The majority of gamers seem to fall in one of two categories: those who are only into whatever the newest thing out is, and those who are “collectors” and are just looking for sheer numbers, regardless of quality.

Having been around for 10 years now, I’ve seen things come and go. I know that some of these old classics just aren’t that great; Samurai is just okay, Princes of Florence is dull, Carc feels pretty played out, and the less said about Caylus, the better. Maybe it’s just me, but I still have this sense of there being a “canon” and a newer game entering it (like Agricola or Dominion) should be rare, and a big deal. But I think I’m in a definite minority in feeling that way.

I know I’m falling for a nostalgia trap. Looking at the dates for some of those “classic” games in 2005, most of them were also about 3 years old at the time. But a lot of them stuck around. Some, like Trias and Clans have more or less been forgotten, but a big chunk of them are still there. The announced reprint of El Grande has surprised some folks who weren’t even aware it was criminally OOP, as I think it just seemed like an evergreen title.

I played 100 new-to-me games last year and so many of them were mediocre chaff that didn’t seem to aspire to be anything BUT mediocre chaff. I got very little sense of anyone really swinging for the fences and trying to do anything but entertain some gamers for a couple months. I played Istanbul the other night and it’s not terrible, but no one will be thinking about this in 6 months. So often I see something being hyped and just think, “You want me to get excited about THAT? That sort of thing drew yawns 6 years ago.” To unfairly pick on Istanbul some more, it’s a game that won a major award for having merchants run a wheelbarrow around an old-timey town collecting fruit and cloth to sell at the market. This is from the guy who did Traders of Genoa! Tell me he couldn’t have done this in his sleep years ago.

I know that a lot of this is my own hangups. Like, I don’t see the point of spending $60 million to make a movie whose only goal is to make $70 million and then be forgotten. That seems stupid to me. Likewise, I don’t see the point of putting out another cloth-on-a-boat game just to have something on the shelves, with no goal except to make the rent. I get that not every design is going to be T&E but again, I’d rather play something that aimed high and missed than something that successfully covered its bottom line and a little more.

That’s enough. Feel free to shred it and make “get off my lawn” jokes, I just wanted to get that out.

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Doctor Who Season Eight, Part One

Last year saw the first season of Doctor Who featuring Peter Capaldi in the title role. I didn’t see it, though. After the abysmal 2013 episode that said goodbye to Matt Smith I cried “Uncle!” I couldn’t take the heartbreak anymore and decided I’d wait and see if season 8 was worth my time before signing on.

The general consensus was that, while still no great shakes, the excesses of seasons 6 and 7 had been rolled back and there was a return to just straight up stories with little overarching plot. So I went ahead and started checking it out.

I like Capaldi, but I didn’t think I wouldn’t. He’s a type of Doctor I’m glad we have, and he’s an actor that can pull it off. While certainly more “dark” than the previous two, he’s also not leaning into that “Oncoming Storm” thing that got so tedious. I like that he’s back at arm’s reach; the Doctor is not your friend and not your dad.

It took me a while to figure out how I feel about Clara, but I think I finally figured it out. I like her when she’s with the Doctor. She’s a fairly run-of-the-mill companion in those cases and does the job about as well as any of them. When she’s on her own, though, my brain just starts to shut down. She’s worse than dull, I find her actively annoying as a schoolteacher or girlfriend to Danny Pink, who I also find pretty uninteresting. There’s no chemistry to them, alone or separately. I have no idea why either would be interested in the other.

On the other hand, Courtney is great.

So here are my thoughts on the first seven episodes of this season. There will probably be spoilers but this stuff is a year old, so who cares.

Deep Breath – A deep breath is what I had to take because I knew we started out with Vastra, Jenny, and Strax, the trio of characters everyone except me seems to adore. Sure enough they did their usual thing, while the Doctor did his usual post-regeneration thing. The mystery was just kind of there, but that’s par for the course on a Doctor’s first episode. This one really felt like a throwback to one of the Awful Seasons with not only the Paternoster Gang but things like the dinosaur that serves no purpose, an unnecessary retread of a former Moffat episode, and a lot of unsolved mysteries to go “ooh” over and wonder what that’s going to turn out to be even though we know the answer is usually “not much”. Missy makes her first appearance here and while she was already spoiled for me, I was also glad to find out she wouldn’t be popping up regularly like a certain eyepatch woman we all know and ultimately forgot about. The episode wasn’t terrible but it was one I knew I just had to get out of the way.

Into the Dalek – As pal Dave T. pointed out, yes, a lot of this was a repeat of 2005’s “Dalek” but then again 2005 was nine years ago so maybe that’s not a bad thing. Despite the sort of hokey premise (why exactly do they have to be teeny-tiny? Can’t Daleks be opened for repairs?) I actually liked the way it played out. I loved the Doctor’s dialog that showed he only half pays attention to what he’s being told, though I thought the handling of “hating soldiers” being this Doctor’s Thing was a bit heavy handed. All in all I liked this one.

“So you escaped from Castrovalva…”

Robot of Sherwood – I loved this episode. It was so much fun; absolutely dumb but having a great time anyway. Even the golden arrow was charming and endearing. I was actually astonished that they managed to get James Stoker to play the Sheriff of Nottingham. In fact, it seemed to me like there were a ton of Fifth Doctor references, with nods to “The Visitation” (the setting, the androids), “Kinda” (the circle of mirrors), “Enlightenment” (the Doctor flat out says the prize he wants is “enlightenment”), and the aforementioned “The King’s Demons”. I thought this one was a hoot, and it’s more of what I’d like to see in the show.

Listen – Does Doctor Who finally have its own “Darmok”, an episode which seems to be rich with meaning until you think about it for more than twenty seconds? I’m overstating it, possibly, but boy did I dislike this episode, and it wasn’t helped by the suspicion that it was praised to the heavens after it aired. It starts out with the Doctor postulating a life form that has perfected hiding. Well that’s a good start, though we already have a term — camouflage — and several examples of this to work from. Then there’s a bit where we go visit young Danny Pink and there might be something in his bed. We don’t know! But we can’t look at it! We leave that and go into the future where we see Old Man Pink (I know, it’s not him but a descendent) who is the last living being in the universe except what if there’s something outside! And then the Doctor was a fraidy cat when he was a wee babby. And that’s the end. So was there a creature or not? I’m okay if there wasn’t, but was there? What kind of “ultimate hider” shows up wearing sheets and rattling chains the moment someone suspects it’s there? What was the point of seeing Li’l Doctor? What was the point of any of this? “Listen” used the same elements as “Blink” (monster affected by looking at it) and “Midnight” (an unknown invisible entity) without being anywhere as good as either of them. A lot of faff and nonsense.

Time Heist – I’ve mentioned how everyone loves a good heist story, so I was really looking forward to this one and it turned out to be…well…just not very good. It’s basically a situation that would normally be a breeze for the Doctor, what with owning a TARDIS and all, but which he decided to overcomplicate for himself. An argument could be made that he’s putting on a show for Clara, but even so he still comes up with a lousy heist. It’s tough to sell me on an impregnable bank if you have air vents you can literally kick out and crawl through. When we got to the end I did like what the ultimate goal of the heist was and how the Doctor got involved with it, but that still didn’t make the rest of it fall together any better. This just seemed like it should have been better than it was.

Do not operate a motor vehicle while looking at this picture, as drowsiness may occur.

The Caretaker – I always like episodes when the Doctor has to pretend to be a perfectly normal human. It’s a somewhat tired gag for the show, but it always makes me laugh. And I liked the interactions with Clara here just because it brought something interesting into her non-Doctor life, even if that interesting thing was the Doctor. The plot takes a backseat to more Clara and Danny stuff and it turns out they zzzzzzzzz, When I wake up, Courtney is introduced and the Doctor talks to her and I’m happy.

Kill the Moon – After hearing my reactions to the previous two episodes, Pal Dave T. suspected that I’d really hate “Kill the Moon”. On the contrary, I liked it. Is the main premise of it a little dumb? It is. Is the resolution of it a lot dumb? It very much is. But the way they commit to it and ride it out was really well done. It was finally a decent moment for Clara, telling off the Doctor for his handling (or non-handling) of the situation, and it was a kind of Doctor-companion conflict we haven’t really seen. Also, there was Courtney. I can’t really explain how I was able to get past the goofy nature of this story and not others. I guess it’s because goofy qua goofy isn’t really a problem, except when there’s not much else to go along with it. And was there Danny Pink in this? I think there wasn’t, and that was also a plus. Oh, and did I mention Courtney?

Courtney love.

So far, somewhat tepid, though some nice moments. Sadly, there isn’t much truly memorable here. I’m reminded of season five when, ignoring the stupid season arc, the individual episodes just seemed flat and undercooked. Capaldi is an actor that can rip meat off the bone with his teeth; give him something to work with here.

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I Had That! #49: Blip and Digital Diamond

The digital revolution provided by Atari and the arcades caught some toy manufacturers off guard. While Mattel flourished in the new market with its “Mattel Electronics” games and Parker Brothers had some nice offerings, Tomy kind of lagged behind, aiming for a visually competitive yet mechanically cheaper alternative.

Its most famous game was Blip, more well known for its ubiquitous earworm ad than its gameplay.

Blip was electronic but scarcely digital. The required batteries did nothing except provide power to the LED. The game play itself required winding it up to get that LED moving. Everything else was mechanical, as a series of gears moved the arm with the light on it in a non-random yet complex pattern back and forth. (At one point I realized the movement wasn’t random and had to repeat eventually and I tried to figure it out by brute force. I remember writing down where the “ball” went but not ever figuring out the pattern.) Even the scoring was mechanical; you had to manually turn the scoring dial yourself.

I also had another of Tomy’s games, Digital Diamond. Again, this wasn’t even a little bit digital apart from some lights. The rest of the gameplay was purely mechanical. Pulling down the lever on the left “wound up” the ball, The pitcher player, I think could choose basically to throw a normal pitch or a ball, which moved to the side. The batter pressed the button to bat, and then the “readout” at the top (actually just a drum with a light behind it) would show the results of the hit. The humans were required to note strikes, balls, outs, what bases were occupied, and keep score.

I have to hand it to Tomy, these games weren’t bad, even given their limitations, and were actually much more clever in the ways they feigned computer games without being them. Even though I was never into baseball, I got more mileage out of that one. Blip was noisy (the plastic gears made an awful buzzing racket) and kind of boring.

When did I get it? Both debuted in 1977 and 1978. I guess I got them around then?

Do I still have it? Neither one.

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Let’s All Appreciate Tanya Donelly!

Monday morning Becky was listening to the first Belly CD, Star. Belly was Tanya Donelly’s band after she left Throwing Muses. It’s a great album (as is their second album, King) and before long I was under a Belly spell. My This Is My Jam for Monday was “Dusted” from that album.

It’s such a great song, and it inspired me to thank Ms. Donelly for the music she’s made, and we saw how that turned out.

After printing out that tweet and framing it, I declared a Tanya Donelly theme week on TIMJ, and here are the results.

Tuesday was “Pretty Deep” from Tanya’s 1997 solo album, Lovesongs for Underdogs.

This is a live take. The official video is here.

Wednesday’s track was “Hellbound” from Pod, the first album by The Breeders. Tanya was a member of The Breeders originally and co-wrote this song.

Several of my Twitter pals suggested Throwing Muses Thursday, so that’s exactly what I delivered. Here is “Not Too Soon” from The Real Ramona:

For Friday, I wasn’t sure where to go. I had a Throwing Muses track, a Belly track, a Breeders track, a solo track…what else should I include? Then pal Andrew reminded me of this gem:

That’s from the Saturday Morning Cartoons’ Greatest Hits compilation from 1995, and it’s incredible.

So: Tanya Donelly, everyone. This theme week may be over now, but my motto is to live every week like it’s Tanya Donelly week.

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The Movies-To-Watch List: Apocalypse Now (1979)

“It’s impossible for words to describe what is necessary to those who do not know what horror means. Horror.” That line, sampled at the beginning of a remix of Shriekback’s “Nemesis”, was much of all I knew of Apocalypse Now. (Well, that and “the smell of napalm in the morning”.) I’d been curious about it but never seen it. I’m not interested in war or war movies, even ones that purport to show the brutality and absurdity of war. The ones I’ve seen, such as Platoon, The Big Red One, and The Hurt Locker, all seem to echo that saying of Truffaut’s, that you can’t really make an anti-war movie because you still end up ennobling war. Even if you’re presenting the participants as hapless innocents slaughtering and being slaughtered for no valid purpose, there’s still a hint of dulce et decorum involved. And that’s even before you add in the current climate’s beatification of soldiers. Generally I felt that no matter how good Apocalypse Now may be, I’m on board. I don’t need to be shown the horrors of war. American teenagers killing Vietnamese rice farmers because the US and USSR are swinging their dicks and you think you’re going to enlighten me on the banality of it?

The other issue I had with seeing it was that I came of movie-going age in the 80s, under Reagan. And I was too young and dumb to remember Vietnam or understand much of the 70s, but I understood that Platoon and Rambo were basically ball-grabbing attempts to declare that America was still the best country on Earth an no, we didn’t lose in Vietnam, Vietnam gave up on us, man! It was the fault of sergeants gone wrong or inept politicians or liberal faggots or whatever. I lumped Apocalypse Now in with that group, thinking it was yet more hand-wringing over how Vietnam was a problem simply because it caused people to doubt the strength and spirit of America, not because we learned nothing from it and would happily do it again.

But as time went on and the other 80s-era Vietnam memorials faded and seemed quaint, Apocalypse Now stayed, still looming. It became clear to me that this went beyond that conflict, or armed conflict in general, and I steeled myself for it.

And now I’m sorry I waited so long.

It’s an incredible movie. It’s not perfect, but even its imperfections are amazing. It starts out with the protagonist essentially in Purgatory and then pushes him deeper and deeper into Hell, with each episodic circle presenting a whole new batch of sinners. When I mentioned to someone that we’d started it late and stopped right past the last bridge, he remarked that that was a good stopping point, because it all goes to hell after that. Considering the scene we’d just been through, I couldn’t imagine, but he wasn’t wrong.

Impossible for words to describe, yes. I can’t articulate the feelings this dredged up. The movie is paternalistic — the natives are only barely human and that its their actions which trigger Kurtz’ break is telling — and it’s not subtle — “Colonel Kilgore”, indeed — but every instrument in it is used with precision. It does indeed glorify war and honor the dumb dead soldier, despite the attempt to condemn the purpose and execution of the conflict. But it gets under your skin. There’s more here than just “war is bad”, and despite the onslaught of horrific images it’s almost subliminal in its effect.

There’s a reason the jingoistic foolishness of the 80s is forgotten but this one stays on. Apocalypse Now, with its references to T.S. Eliot (and of course, Heart of Darkness) attempts to move beyond “the tragedy of the Vietnam War with regard to American feelings” and go further, much further down the river.

Posted in Movies | Tagged ,

Lego Detective’s Office

Ever since they first came out, I have loved the Lego modular buildings — the official ones and the original ones in that style I’ve seen on Flickr. They’re pricey, though, so I’ve generally had to make do with my own EPIC takes on the Cafe Corner and the Green Grocer sets. But that all changed recently.

Thanks to my buddy Dan, I was able to get hold of the newest modular building, the Detective’s Office, at a discount rate since it fell off the back of a truck. This weekend I enjoyed putting together my first really for real building set. Here it is!

And the back:

The set is full of great details. There’s a pool hall downstairs:

A barber shop with some great lettering done in a very cool way (and check out the minifig scissors!):

And, of course, the Detective’s Office itself:

(I imagine “Brickman” is like “Smith” or “Jones” in this world.)

And here are the insides:

There are some really great building techniques here. You can’t really tell, but a lot of the walls use a half-stud offset to bring the windows in. The way the half-stud is accounted for and attached to the rest is really quite clever. As usual with official sets I’m always excited by situations where as I’m following instructions I can’t really see why something weird is going on until the moment when you realize what it’s doing and how nice the result is. It’s one of these things, like a really nice mathematical proof, that you can’t really explain to someone who doesn’t already get it.

There are six minifigs in the set. Ace Brickman, the dame, two pool players, a barber, and a cop.

But wait! The cop comes with lady hair!

The set does have some play elements. The fire escape drops down, the doors open and such, and there are odd secret passages that I couldn’t figure out until I looked at the back of the box. It turns out there are some shady dealings going on regarding cookies and the pool hall gang.

I don’t quite follow this noir tale, but I guess someone is buying cookies from their dealer, then hiding them in a barrel. The guy then sneaks into the back of the barber shop and stows the contraband underneath the stairs, where it can be accessed by another secret panel in the pool hall. I haven’t the heart to tell them that cookies are perfectly legal and cost much less than $100.

Oh and the back of the box also lets you know you can pretend the dame has to go potty.

I don’t mean to raise any alarms here at home, but now that I have a somewhat cheaper source for these, this may not be the last one I get.

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i/we am/are a/some being/s of pure light now/always

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