Monday, 20 August 2018

WatchSeeLookView - Film Style Vol 04 (Cage-A-Thon!)

I enjoy all manner of film. Yes, my tendency is towards sci fi and comedy (with a reasonable dose of foreign cinema as I have delusions of pretentiousness) but I enjoy any well-made films. Sometimes, though, you just want to watch a man riding a bike with his head on fire or driving...angrily, I guess… Yes, it is time to bask in the glory that is Nicolas Cage - a one-time Oscar winning actor who now seems to have decided to just have fun being a Nicolas Cage type character for presumably fairly large sums of money (and fair play to him). I recently binged on several Nicolas Cage flicks (warning - this could be hazardous to your mental health - do no attempt without proper preparation) and here’s what it did to my fragile little mind.

Note:- The term “Any Good?” is used in very specific sense here - generally, “so bad it comes back around and borders on the genius”. You have been warned.

Ghost Rider
In Which:- Yep, Nicolas Cage rides around on a bike with a flaming skull
Any Good? It’s so close to being so bad, it’s good but fumbles it with a hefty dose of stuff that’s just ponderous and boring. It’s a suitably bizarre cast including Peter Fonda and Sam Elliott (who also narrates and, quite frankly, should probably narrate almost every film) and has the occasional stupidly weird moment but doesn’t quite manage to go the whole hog. As such, it’s neither an exciting comic book/superhero film nor a top-notch mental Cage vehicle* and feels like a missed opportunity on either side.

Drive Angry
In Which:- Nicolas Cage escapes Hell in order to save his kidnapped granddaughter.
Any Good? Now this is more like it. A film with an utterly ludicrous premise that knows it and just full-on leans heavily into it. In fact, it’s a film so silly that it features a scene where Nicolas Cage engages in a shootout while smoking a cigar, swigging whiskey and having sex at the same time. This is exactly what I’m talking about it when I mean “so bad it comes back around and borders on genius”. If you’re looking for pulpy action with peak Cage mentalness, this one has to be up there.

Mom And Dad
In Which:- An unspecified zombie-style outbreak causes parents to turn on their children
Any Good? Actually, this is a pretty good horror comedy (in the bleakest of black humour) presenting a fresh spin on the zombie-style horror genre with a bit of a meditation on the loss of youth and the inevitable onset of middle age so it’s not necessarily in the “so bad, it’s good” category but it does feature some prime opportunities for Cage to go fully over the top (as well featuring some flashbacks to non-zombified Cage’s weirdly inappropriate parenting style). Plus it features a kick-ass appearance from Lance Henriksen (Bishop of Aliens fame) so what’s not to love?

I enjoyed my brief descent into the world of insane modern Cage acting (as I said, he once won an Oscar). Would I go all-out Cage and binge my way through a chunk again? Well, there’s always Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance, Season of The Witch and the Wicker Man remake. Hmm, maybe not...

* Aha ha, I said “vehicle” in a review about a bike-riding flame-headed demon. I am most hilarious.

Thursday, 16 August 2018

Fulla Game-y Goodness

It’s summertime and those of you with small younger versions of adult humans (“children” is the preferred term, I believe) may well be looking for ways to divest them from the all-consuming screens of plenty that dominate the modern world. (Or not, those screens do keep them mighty quiet.) Well, here are some physical items that could do just that. Be warned, this may also require interaction from you in that ghastly spectacle known as “quality time” so be prepared.

Burgle Bros
Type:- Tile-based board game
In A Nutshell:- Work together to rob a building and avoid the security guards.
This one’s a co-operative game - there are a lot of these about these days. Basically, you don’t compete against the other players - you work together to defeat the game itself. This one’s good fun although it does take a bit of time to set up. It’s a lovely design though and a great example of economical packaging used to store a surprising amount of tiles, cards and pieces (needs a fair bit of space!)

King Of Tokyo/King Of New York
Type:- Board game
In A Nutshell:- Sort of  Yahtzee with Godzilla-style monsters
There are two versions of this - the New York version has slightly more to it so is perhaps a little more satisfying but they’re much of a muchness. You control a Godzilla-type monster trying to control a city and destroy your fellow monsters, using dice to help you do so. Good smashy fun.

Type:- Card game
In A Nutshell:- Cause and fix time paradoxes to meet your desired goal first
Technically a card game, the cards themselves actually form a board across which you’ll play. From the same company that created Fluxx, this is good fun as there are actually three possible ways for you to win the game which prevents it from going on for too long. Some nice silly descriptions on the item  cards add to the fun with this one.

Bubblee Pop
Type:- Board game
In A Nutshell:- Align the Bubblees to get points and stuff up the other player
I realised that, in trying to describe some games, you don’t really do them justice. Basically, you move coloured circles around to make rows of three and they give you points and a special action to take. Doesn’t sound like much but it’s another simple one that combines a little of bit of strategy with a hefty dose of chance.

This is the bit where the end of the post goes. Yeah, I kind of ran out of steam there. Let’s just assume that I came up with an amusing and pithy way to tie this all together and we can all leave with a sense of satisfaction about the whole thing. Splendid.

Wednesday, 15 August 2018

And So It Begins...

Twenty five years ago, a television show that changed the shape of US drama debuted with a feature length pilot episode. It is, however, largely forgotten and overlooked by the public at large. It’s goal was to prove that a novel for television could be done, with a beginning, a middle and an end, all plotted out at the very start. The name of the series? Babylon 5.

There are some stumbling blocks to getting on board as a new viewer. It was the first series to use exclusively CGI models and effects (there are no practical models at all) and that CGI, twenty five years on, has dated somewhat. It also has a lot of similar-ish looking alien races (although with a bit more variety than the standard Star Trek “different type of bumpy nose and forehead” school of alien design*) and the occasional funny accent which can be off-putting to some viewers. It also suffers from something that used to afflict a lot of US TV shows running 22 to 26 eps per season - First Season Syndrome. It takes a little while to find its feet and work out how it’s going to tell the story it wants to tell with the occasional filler ep to fill out the number needed for the season.

So given all that, is it worth bothering with? Biased answer but absolutely. The overall story and the journeys of the various characters (in particular the arc of Londo and G’Kar) are compelling, sweeping and epic. The impressive level of plotting - not just the main storyline itself but having trapdoors built in to shift the story around in case of actors leaving (some of which are used) - is an achievement in itself. It’s a good epic, cosmic story too. At around the halfway point of the first season, the epic scope becomes clearer. As you go into the second season, it’s becoming stronger and stronger. By the end of the second and beginning of the third, it’s a non-stop ride.

This was the first series to propose the idea of a five-year story arc. Without Babylon 5, you wouldn't have had Lost, Breaking Bad or Game Of Thrones (which, depending on your view of shows like that, is either a good or a bad thing). It proved that audiences had the attention span to follow threads unfolding over a period of years, not just week to week (there are elements form the pilot and first episode that pay off years down the round in Babylon 5), and that you could successfully transfer the novel format to the small screen (so you definitely wouldn't have Game Of Thrones without this).

If you’re looking for epic space opera with overtones of Lord Of The Rings (an acknowledged influence by creator J. Michael Straczynski) and can forgive some creaky early 90s CGI then this is definitely one you should seek out. (It’s been notably absent from any streaming media in the Uk so far but is currently available on Amazon Video.)

Image result for babylon 5

* This isn’t meant as a slight on Star Trek and this post isn’t about playing one franchise off against the other. I love Star Trek too (a lot of it, anyway) and there’s room enough for both. I’ve never really understood a need for a certain element of fandom to be busy trying to knock down other sci fi shows - during the 90s, there was precious little space opera around so give everyone a go!

Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Purposefully Talking Over The Film

It’s a dwindling area in the current days of digital downloads and streaming media but, as an extremely nerdy film fan and one-time wannabe filmmaker, I was also keen on the extra features that came along with a film in the DVD era*. Who wouldn't want to hear filmmakers talk in great depth about how they made the film? That’s a rhetorical question, of course, I realise that’s just largely me and some other nerds but stick with me.

Here are some of the best DVD commentaries from that bygone age of buying (or renting) shiny discs to put in the player under the telly.

Fight Club
The problem with a large number of commentaries is that a lot of directors are either reluctant to talk about or not very articulate when it comes to discussing their work. David Fincher clearly enjoys talking about the process of film-making with genuine enthusiasm and also has a good rapport with Brad Pitt and Edward Norton, one of the highlights being when Brad Pitt pushes Fincher to reveal how many times he made a stuntman fall downstairs (twelve) and then which take he used (the first).

Muppets From Space
Another fun one in which the director is joined by Rizzo and Gonzo and all three are silhouetted at the bottom of the screen as if watching the film in a cinema (al al Mystery Science Theater 3000) with a couple of brief cameos from Kermit. The Muppets always had a slightly meta, breaking-the-fourth-wall sensibility so a commentary with Gonzo and Rizzo feels pretty fitting.

Shaun Of The Dead
Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg are both massive film and TV nerds and old friends/collaborators with an easy rapport so they make for a good fun duo when discussing their film work. Being a massive film geek too, it’s nice to hear the sheer of geeky background details that the two of them have included. They’re also pretty funny too.

This Is Spinal Tap
It’s a great film anyway but what makes the commentary is that the three members of Spinal Tap improvise the whole thing as if they really are the characters and the film was a genuine documentary. It’s good fun and has a nice running gag of them pointing out most of the people in the film as being dead now (and not just the drummers).

Any Kevin Smith film (Clerks, Mallrats, Chasing Amy)
Basically, these boil down to what feel like a group of mates sitting around and taking the piss out of each other and generally having a laugh. Always good fun.  Strange to think nowadays that without Kevin Smith, you wouldn't have the blockbuster careers fo Ben Affleck and Matt Damon (I’ll leave that up to you as to whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing).

So if you like hearing people talking about the films they made and want it to be lively and entertaining, track down old-fashioned physical media, put it into the playing machine using your hands and wait what seems like an age for it to load up...

Image result for shaun of the dead dvd menu

* That’s like an old-timey era now, right? The DVD era. Not quite as old-timey as VHS or just drawing on the corners of a book and flicking the drawings really fast to create the illusion of movement but pretty close.

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

More Actual Physical Non-iPad Based Games

Hey, it’s the summer holidays - a time for those of you with younglings to spend ludicrous amounts of money in order to escape the heat in Britain for the heat in another country but with probably a pool or something and those of you without younglings to look smug about spending less money pn holidays at other times of year while enjoying reduced levels of overcrowding (fewer people in the armpits) on public transport. What better way to enjoy the fiery ball of super-heated plasma punishing our puny meat-based frames than with new-fangled take on the old-fashioned board game? (Probably ice cold booze but stick with it, this is all I have for the intro-y bit.)

Type:- Board game
In A Nutshell:- Stay on the board, you win
That is a simplistic description of the game but there really isn’t much to it in terms of rules. Each player has three tiles with different paths on them - you lay down a tile next to an existing one to move your piece without leading it off the board. Lats person with a piece still on the board wins. A good simple one for everyone top grasp and a quick fun one to play.

Bears Vs Babies
Type:- Card game
In A Nutshell:- Build up your monsters to defeat the armies of babies
Yep, from the people who brought you Exploding Kittens, it’s another silly and slightly inappropriate card game (with a NSFW expansion to make it really super-inappropriate). Basically, you build up monsters with head, torso,, arm and leg cards (ones with bear heads get extra points)  in order to defeat the baby cards in the centre of the table. Person who has defeated the most babies wins. The joy from this one comes in the ludicrously weird monsters everyone builds up as they go along.

Type:- Board game
In A Nutshell:- Compete to see who can build a quilt first
Yes, I realise that the “In A Nutshell” description makes this game sound both tedious and for those who are over 80 but it’s a surprisingly simple and enjoyable game. Basically, you compete for pieces which you use to fill up your board - you get points for the pieces at the end but lose points for empty spaces. One of those games that is not done justice but the concept / description.

There you go, a couple more suggestions to get you to put the electronic device (after you’ve read this, of course - there are limits) and go out and do something more interesting instead. Yes, you’re right, it did go a little bit “Why Don’t You...?” at the end there.

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

WatchSeeLookView - Film Style Vol 03

Yes, you’re right, it has been quiet around here. This is largely due to excessive heat shutting down all mental faculties other than those required to keep me gainfully employed. Still, no real excuse so let’s try and hand crank the heat-addled mass of spongy grey slurry back into action again by channeling some words out of my head through the fingers and into your head via the screen. Here are some things that my hot eyes have blearily stared at:-

Ghost Stories (2017)
Dir. Andy Nyman & Jeremy Dyson

It feels like I have been watching more horror-related films recently but they have been somewhat more inventive than just your standard jump-scare or slasher-stalker fare (The Babadook and A Quiet Place both spring to mind on that). I had high hopes for this one - it’s co-written and directed by the non-acting member of the League Of Gentlemen (who have a well-documented for 70s British horror films) and is an adaptation of the very successful stage version which the pair previously penned. The format follows that of many a 70s British horror film in that you get three separate tales linked by a framing narrative. It’s got a suitably dour, 70s feel to it with some nice stylistic touches and a strong cast including Paul Whitehouse and Martin Freeman. Ultimately, though, I’m not quite sure that the payoff worked for me. I see where it all comes from, being seeded throughout, but I’m not sure it fully worked - it left me feeling somewhat unsatisfied, I have to admit. 

Image result for ghost stories 2018

They Came Back (Les Revenants) (2004)
Dir. Robin Campillo

The original film which spawned a French series of the same name (although translated as The Returned instead) and an American remake series. (Must admit, I haven’t watched the second series of the French TV version - must do so.) From the off, other than the basic premise of the dead suddenly and inexplicably returning to life, it’s a very different beast to the series. The film focuses on a small town’s attempts to deal with the huge influx of dead from the local cemetery and how it impacts both the living and the recently returned. Despite some interesting notions and concepts, I have to say that I found the whole thing somewhat dull and ponderous. The TV version was a vast improvement on this. Intriguing as a compare and contrast exercise but not a film I particularly enjoyed in its own right.

Image result for they came back

There you go, just a couple to get the old brain working again (or brian as my heat-addled sausage fingers originally typed…)