This Week in Geek (16-22/03/15)


Bought a bunch of games this week: In the role-playing category, two Savage Worlds books, The Day After Ragnarok and Nemezis. And in the tabletop category, Tokaido's Crossroads expansion, Smash up, and Geek Out!


DVDs: Put a small dent in my i-MUST-CheckMovies marathon (all those movies everyone's seen but me) with a couple films, starting with the universally loved Big Fish, I think justly regarded as Tim Burton's last truly great film. It's one I've always confused in my head with Finding Neverland (no doubt the Johnny Depp connection, though he's not in this), and while I appreciate it greatly as a meditation on imagination and on the power of stories, it didn't QUITE come into focus for me as I would have liked. The tall tales (and in French, those are called - translated - "fishing stories") can seem haphazard, especially early on, though they're beautifully created and do, with accumulation, take on a certain resonance. I didn't dislike the film at all, I just wasn't touched by it the way others were. I'll nevertheless concede to loving the ambiguity of Bonham-Carter's story, and the way the old man dies, and what that all says about stories. All stories are true, especially the fictional ones. Oh, and holy crap does Alison Lohman look like Jessica Lange - I'd remarked on it when I saw Drag Me to Hell, but never realized she'd actually been cast as Young Lange in this!

#15 on my list to watch was Casablanca... Now HERE'S a film that's entirely deserving of its reputation. On the first viewing, what struck me was the crisp dialog, so quotable a lot of it has already passed into the American lexicon. Reviewing through it again, it's the visual story telling that grabbed me, a play of shadows and light, perfect compositions, and meaningful camera moves and angles. Oh and of course, there's the tragic love story set against an exotic backdrop that heralded an Allied victory over Axis forces long before anyone knew WWII could be won. Both Bogart and Bergman offer layered performances, and the latter couldn't be more beautifully shot, though Claude Rains' perfect comic timing as the collaborator Captain Louis Renault is one of my personal highlights, as is the German-French "battle of the bands". This is the kind of film that you don't have to have seen to know all its beats because it's become part of popular culture, but it still managed to surprise me, and it somehow gets better with each successive viewing. The DVD package on this thing is pretty awesome: Two expert commentary tracks, the better one by Roger Ebert, the other by film historian Rudy Behlmer with all the studio documents on hand; a 30-minute documentary on the making of which is a little redundant after those commentaries, and promotes urban legends the commentaries debunk, but still solid; another 30-minute documentary on director Michael Curtiz, which only made me want to watch more of his films; an introduction by Lauren Bacall; and theatrical trailers. I've got to say, after digesting that package, I've got "As Time Goes By" stuck in my head in a loop.

If you were following along last week, you already know what I thought of the Alien Nation TV movies that followed the short-lived 90s SF series. They can be found in the Alien Nation: Ultimate Movie Collection product, well... almost. See, while each movie is presented with an enthusiastic director/showrunner commentary track, a 20-minute behind the scenes montage with extra commentary, and sometimes a gag reel, the set has a TERRIBLE misprint. The 2nd and 3rd movies are on the same disc, one to each side (as for the 4th and 5th), except they aren't. Body and Soul is nowhere to be found, and Millennium is on BOTH sides of its disc. There's a whole movie missing! This misprint isn't exclusive to my copy, but appears to be a problem with the product. Probably why these sets are sold at discount prices, but it'd be nice if sellers like Amazon mentioned it in bold. At least the movies are all on You-Tube in glorious blurry-vision. Instead of a behind the scenes montage, the last film/disc has a cast reunion, 10 years on, in someone's living room, where they share recollections. So it's a fun package, with one large, perhaps unforgivable, flaw.

RPGs: One of my tasks working for a university student union is help in the creation of intramural competitions between various student groups, and one of the annual events is usually some kind of gaming Olympiad. Often, it's just video games. Sometimes it's board games. This year, we decided to create a competition that featured all different TYPES of games. Teams had to split up to play in four key challenges, featuring a video game, a board game, a game of chance, and, for the first time ever (because how do we DO this?), a role-playing game. Obviously, this was to be my task. I had four complete or relative n00bs at my table, with pregenerated characters (I nevertheless had them bid for their favorites), and about 80 minutes to work with. So I went with a game that had very simple rules, was easy to explain, had a point-scoring (XP) system, could sustain a short one-shot, and had a scenario I'd used before. Three times before, in fact. The game: Dream Park. The scenario: The included Big Zombie Pirate Game, which I shortened further. How it worked, I'm not sure, because the players quickly went on a tangent, going to the island too early, and wasting time setting traps for the pirates who were 6 hours away and red herrings anyway. But somehow, this allowed them to uncover information on voodoo practices which they then used in the closing moments of the game to protect themselves from the zombie creatures infesting the waters, while their traps successfully took care of the enemies they thought they had to deal with. We maybe got through half of the scenario I'd prepared and never got close to the real climax of the thing, and yet, a satisfying resolution was reached. I love to improvise, so it didn't feel like a retread for me at all! Two of the players wanted this to become a more regular activity (made me realize how long it's been since I'd gamed) and one of these promptly ordered Dream Park on eBay (it's been out of print since the early 90s, after all) so he could play with his friends. Well... mission accomplished, right?

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
V.ii. Duel and Deaths - A Midwinter's Tale


Anonymous said...

I've heard that the only complaint a person might level against "Casablanca" is that the Germans don't act like they are in charge, but just in case you were mulling that over: it's one thing for the Germans to nominally be in charge, it's quite another for them to actually back it up with maybe only two dozen soldiers in a remote city. If the Germans aren't very careful with how they handle the locals and the informal power structure, they're going to end up in Kraut-sized holes in the desert nearby.

About "Big Fish": the thing that impressed me the most is the father's humility. Oh he loved to tell wild tales about himself, but they were all very tongue-in-cheek, for entertainment purposes only. The real life he led -- helping people in need, making a difference -- was the truly remarkable tale, and also the one he had no particular desire to tell. Why talk about how you selflessly saved a town when you've got a perfectly good story about a werewolf ringmaster?

Siskoid said...

Or you can be cynical as some people have been, and say Bonham-Carter's character is telling her own tall tale to spare his son, a fantasy that's better than finding out he was unfaithful.

I don't take the cynical tack, personally, but I acknowledge the ambiguity.

Anonymous said...

The affair is ambiguous, but I take the saving of Spectre as a fact -- to be sure, Edward was tremendously respected by the townspeople of Spectre if the funeral is any indication.

... I've changed my mind: Edward was gigolo who slept with every man, woman, and animal of Spectre. It's more fun that way.


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