The Movies-To-Watch List: Fast & Furious (2009)

Ok I watched it.
Fine, here’s more. The original Movies To Watch List was put together to fulfill multiple goals, one of which was to broaden my pop culture experiences. As when we watched the Harry Potter, there are things that are entering (or have entered) the lexicon and keeping at least half an eye on them. The “Fast and Furious” series is one of those things, and some folks I know adored them, so I checked out one.

This is actually the fourth movie in the series, but it’s a sort of reboot with the original cast. I was assured that I would have no trouble following it, which was half true. There were certainly references to previous events, which I had to piece together, but it wasn’t like I was assembling a complex timepiece. In fact, the DVD Netflix sent us was badly worn and we had to skip chapter 10 altogether, which explained the final third of the movie and it was no problem.

It’s not that I disliked the movie, it’s just…well, it was pretty much exactly what I expected. The racing was pretty cool (though not as much of it as I’d imagined) and exciting, especially since the movie takes place in a utopian parallel Los Angeles where there are no cops other than FBI, who are solely interested in drug trafficking.

Whenever there wasn’t racing on the screen the movie struggled to hold interest. None of the characters are interesting, none of the things they do are interesting, none of the reasons they’re racing are interesting. Absolutely nothing is gained from watching the non-racing portions. There isn’t even nudity. I imagine that website which tells you when it’s okay to go pee in a movie just says, “if someone is talking” for this movie.

I’m not a movie snob. I like plenty of dumb junk. But this? I was about ready to clock out only 17 minutes in. Boo to this. Boo to Fast and Furious.

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1/31 Not Safe

After hearing a lot about it, I backed the new printing of Omen: A Reign of War on Kickstarter. The designer, John Clowdus, is one I’m familiar with, and as I say, the game got good reviews, so it wasn’t the usual unknown Kickstarter quantity. Clowdus kept us informed of the status, including when they shipped, and sure enough I got a shipping notice several days ago.

All looked set for arrival, but when it didn’t show up, I checked again. This time the tracking number that Clowdus had sent, via, read “January 31, 2015, 13:11, SPRINGFIELD, MA 01108, UNDELIVERABLE AS ADDRESSED”. I was confused by this, as the address Clowdus had for me was correct. I’d been at home all day on January 31, and no one had knocked on the door or anything.

Yesterday I called the USPS and went through their automated system to schedule a redelivery. The package, a 6″ x 10″ bubble envelope, arrived today as I requested. And now I know the rest of the story, as “1/31 not safe” was written on it.

Now, we’ve gotten some snow here, as you may have heard. Not a crazy amount, but a New England in January amount. I now have a snow blower, and have stayed on top of clearing the driveway, front walk, and sidewalks. There’s ice around, because there’s always ice around, but nothing out of the ordinary for this season. What I’m saying is, my walkway was no more unsafe on Saturday than any other home’s on Saturday, or any other day in January.

What’s more, they didn’t actually leave me any indication that they hadn’t delivered the package. I realize that’s a bit of a paradox, since to leave a note they’d have to cross the unsafe frozen wastes of my sidewalk to tell me they weren’t dropping off a package due to the unsafe frozen wastes of my sidewalk. But that’s kind of their problem to solve, not mine. If the shipper hadn’t sent me the tracking number, I would have no way of knowing that the USPS was not delivering my package.

And Monday, when things were actually worse than Saturday because of currently falling snow, I not only got mail, I got a package from overseas. But not that other package. It didn’t arrive until after I called the USPS on Monday and requested they re-deliver on Tuesday, when it arrived.

So what was the plan here? There’s snow, so just, “Nope! Can’t be done!” and then what? Send it back? “Sorry, but after this traveled hundreds of miles there was some snow in the last couple yards so it’s coming back home.” How does that make any sense? Send me a note at some point saying they have the package that was paid to be delivered to me if I want to come pick it up?

I’m a supporter of the US Postal Service and know they normally do a very good job despite the constant harassment they receive, but this…this is about as weak as it gets, folks.

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I Had That! #50: Other Action Figures

The clock is running out on this feature, but I had planned to combine some entries anyway as, on their own, there wasn’t a whole lot to say.

The success of the 3.5″ Star Wars action figures took the toy world by storm. At last, companies had a way to sell dolls to boys, and the only secret was making them smaller and less soft than dolls. Suddenly every movie and TV show that came out had action figures, some better than others.

The Battlestar Galactica line was one of the lower quality lines. Though boasting the same amount of articulation (not much) as the Star Wars figures, they seemed…lumpier…than their competitors. Every single Battlestar Galactica figure looks like a bootleg of a better one but nope, these are the real things. I’m fairly sure I only got one figure in the line, which was Muffit 2, the robot dog. He came in two colors for some reason and while I liked the dark brown one, something happened (I don’t know what) that caused me to have to re-buy him and all they had was the blonde version. I got it but I didn’t like that one as much, even though it was otherwise identical.

On the other end of the spectrum, the Buck Rogers figures were fantastic. They had elbow, waist, and knee articulation and were made with a harder plastic that held details better and took full advantage of this. Although I wasn’t crazy about the TV show, I had a bunch of the figures, with my favorite being Twiki. Who wouldn’t love a robot in a skirt with a pageboy haircut? The unfortunate side to the Buck Rogers figures, other than them being figures of characters from Buck Rogers, was that this harder plastic was also more brittle, and at least two of the ones I owned had their arms broken at the elbow joints. When this happened to Twiki and Krazy Glue failed to save him, I replaced him, but he was the only one saved in this way.

Disney’s run at the science-fiction blockbuster was The Black Hole, a weird mish-mash of kid-friendly, gruesome violence, a stab at Kubrickian mysticism, and Ernest Borgnine. Had I known at the time that this would be my only shot at an Ernest Borgnine action figure, I may have jumped on it. Alas, all I think I got from this was the robot, V.I.N.Cent (voiced by Roddy McDowall, so there you go.) Why always with the robots? Thanks to the Star Wars line, I already had plenty of figures of just plain people. An action figure of Anthony Hopkins in a turtleneck just wasn’t as appealing as a flying robot.

Now here’s a line I went all out on. Look at them; how could I not? Not much detail, slightly out of scale with other figures, weird gummy plastic, and little articulation, but man, that clear plastic was awesome. There were only four in the series and I had them all. (Tron himself, who was purple so as not to be a copy of Flynn, is not in that photo.) The figures look like they might glow in the dark, but they didn’t. Their accessories (identity discs/frisbees for all except the guard, who had a staff) did, at least until you lost them.

I was a little too old for G.I. Joes when they came out, so I never really got into them too much. I watched a bit of the cartoon after school, but not regularly. However, I couldn’t deny that even though I didn’t care much about the army men or ninjas (I was the sole 80s kid who wasn’t enthralled by ninjas) they had some who were super cool, and this B.A.T.S. trooper was the coolest. I had no idea at the time that these were disposable grunts who got mowed down by the dozens, all I knew was he came with four different goddamn hands (and a backpack to carry them around in, as one does.) Naturally I lost the extra hands ASAP and glued the remaining hand (the normal one) on so as to prevent him from being called “Stumpy”. I eventually got a few more Joes, again based solely on their looks and accessories. They went out with the Big Nerd Box, but you can see them here.

Who isn’t here? Some notable lines that I for some reason avoided were Micronauts (no idea how these didn’t captivate me), Masters of the Universe (I was neither young enough nor, from what I’ve heard, gay enough to enjoy this line), Indiana Jones (I only barely remember even seeing these for sale), and any of the various superhero lines. Around this time there were Doctor Who action figures, which aren’t great, but they weren’t easily available in the States; I would much later get my hands on a few of them

When did I get it? Various points in the late 70s and early 80s.

Do I still have it? I don’t have any Muffits, but for a while I had a couple of other Galactica figures I picked up at a tag sale. I think they went out with the nerd box. I still have Twiki. I had V.I.N.Cent for a long time (with the white guns broken off, which seems to be a common ailment of those) but he’s not around now. I have Flynn and the guard from TRON, and I even still somehow have Flynn’s disc! I still have my B.A.T.S., but his internal rubber band disintegrated and I haven’t gotten around to fixing it.

Posted in Toys | Tagged , , ,

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.

Posted in Movies | Tagged

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.

Posted in TV | Tagged

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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