Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Movie Reviews: Wonder Woman, Logan, Personal Shopper, Pirates of the Caribbean 5, Jane Eyre BBC (2006)

Wonder Woman:  Gal Gadot stars as Wonder Woman (aka Diana aka Diana Prince) in the first good DCEU movie. Unlike the last DCEU movies that were filled with grim, grit, and sadness, this film mixes the grimness with as much high popping fun, action, and even a little introspection about the good guys.

The movie is lovingly shot and detailed, with great settings and a large cast of background characters, at least some of whom sport two dimensional characters instead of the usual one dimensional. There are some assorted tokens of various races, but they are not caricatured. WW is not just a cardboard cutout of every other hero with a simple quirk of personality. She is another being altogether.

The plot: WW is created out of clay but somehow also the daughter of Zeus. She is raised on a secret island paradise of Amazon warriors and eventually trains to be the best, not only because some of her guardians believe that Ares will return to eradicate mankind and kill her, but because she has special powers that she keeps uncovering by accident.

Outside the island it is WW1 (a departure from the original mythos). Enter Steve Trevor in a downed plane, a British spy who stole a German cookbook for poison gas, followed by nasty Germans. The Amazons experience some real losses, but rather than do anything about it (um, wasn't that their entire purpose??) they waffle, so Diana rescues Steve, convinced that Ares has returned and it is up to her to stop him. Cue a lot of fish out of water scenes, as well as badass fearless and fearsome fighting woman scenes, as Steve rallies a cast of misfits to try to attack the German gas manufacturing base.

Gal owns the character of Wonder Woman, and in fact just about everyone does a fine acting job. The shooting and directing are lovely. There is time for some actual character moments between fighting - not a great amount, but some - and even some of the fighting is original - although a lot isn't. The breaths of sunshine and exuberant camaraderie enabled me to endure and even appreciate some of the longer fighting scenes.

Wonder Woman succeeds in something that Thor and Loki in the Marvel movies never did: she actually comes off looking like a demigod, rather than a petulant clumsy tough guy who is hard to hurt. And that's something new and refreshing.

But there are a few problems, at least for me. The movie's characters are still pretty lightweight, because the script is afraid to go into too much depth without another action scene. The movie's message seems to be that we are all equally evil or good or a mix, and tries not to take sides in WW1. Really? I think, just sometimes, you can take sides. Simultaneously and paradoxically, WW kicks the crap out of - and kills - German soldiers like they are meaningless video game characters, which contradicts her character and the previous problem. This story is a bit of a disservice to the veterans of WW1 who were not simply fighting Germany because they - or the Germans - were under mind control. And, when the war was over, we didn't all suddenly realize how much we all loved each other. So it is morally wishy-washy, not to mention possibly going to leave children pretty confused about what actually happened in WW1.

And, if WW1 was so bad, where was WW during WW2? Went back to her island to take a nap?

Anyway, you can try to suspend these problems and enjoy the movie. It's about on par with Iron Man in my mind, which is a good, solid comic book movie. Not on par with the great movies, such as The Dark Night or Terminator 2, but solid and enjoyable. Actually makes me want to see Justice League.

Logan: This is the second of the new R-rated Marvel movies, the other one being the shallow, violent, and insipid Deadpool. I'm well aware that Deadpool is loved and was a box office success. It had wall-to-wall juvenile humor, lots of cursing, on screen blood, explosions, punching, big things crashing and falling apart, and some sexy. Whatever.

This movie also has lots of cursing, and has even more on screen blood, stabbing, and limb severing. Worse, the stabbing and severing, as in Kick-Ass, is often performed by a young girl. It is also nearly wall to wall misery and humorlessness.

Logan (Hugh Jackman) is Wolverine, who has lived for a long time and has wanted to die in the past, but who is theoretically immortal since his body automatically heals (aging is cell damage, after all). He also has an adamantite skeleton that was inserted in place of his bones, a process that was uniquely able to be done on him due to his super-regenerative abilities. These include adamantite claws that protrude or retract into his hands and can be used to slice and dice enemies.

Now the adamantite appears to be slowly poisoning him, and now his regenerative properties are beginning to fade; he may actually soon die. In the meantime, he is caring for Professor X, the mutant with massive telepathic abilities who must be sedated since he, too, is suffering from old age: a degenerative mental condition which makes him a danger to anyone in a wide radius when not drugged up. A third mutant is some kind of albino that can track people at a distance but suffers massive skin burns when exposed to sunlight. And apparently they are three of the last mutants alive. It's not entirely clear what happened to all of them, but it is eventually revealed that Professor X killed some of them when his mental disorder first began.

The movie is basically a road trip. Logan is tasked with taking the young girl mutant, Laura, across the US to a supposed safe haven, which may not actually exist. In the meantime, Laura is being hunted. Lots of mayhem ensues.

Logen is not a great movie, but it is far better than Deadpool. For the first three fifths of the movie, the screenwriter simply makes everyone miserable, on the false assumption that misery conveys character and engenders empathy. Unfortunately, it doesn't. It's just misery; it didn't work for the first three DC Comics movies, and there is no reason, other than misplaced loyalty by Marvel fans, that one should believe that it works here. Still, I'll take misery over repulsive juvenile plastic immorality and sick/ugly jokes any day. At least it tried.

The cinematography was well done, and the acting was very good. Dafne Keen does a good job as Laura; I constantly reminded of Millie Bobby Brown from Stranger Things.

The movie picks up just a bit in the last two fifths, where we finally begin to show a budding relationship between Logan and his young charge. Just flashes of a relationship, which is enough to finally engage the sympathy of the viewer. Not quite enough to bring the movie up from its first acts, because the movie ends and the relationship is severed before any real sympathy kicks in, which is quite a shame. If the relationship-building scenes had come earlier in the movie, and were followed by many more, the movie really would have been something.

As it is, the strong language adds nothing to the movie; in fact, most of it seems as awkward and out of place as Spock's use of bad language in Star Trek IV. The violence is more bloody and more up close, some of it so brutal that I turned my head away and waited for the sounds of scraping metal and punctured flesh to subside before I looked back again. More visceral violence also didn't add anything to the movie; I'm sure people raised on bloody video games thought nothing of it, but for me, pornographic violence deadens my soul. I don't enjoy seeing people hurt, and don't take pleasure out of seeing them die in various ways. Sorry. These scenes were supposed to be entertaining, I guess, but I kept wanting to get back to (or start) the actual story.

So meh. Not going into my re-watch list.

Personal Shopper: After making the lovely Clouds of Sils Maria, the director Olivier Assayas kept Kristen Stewart around for another movie. Unfortunately, this one isn't that one. It's not a bad movie, and I must disclose that it is also a genre of movie that doesn't really interest me.

In this one, Kristen is waiting around in France to make contact with the spirit of her recently dead brother. Both of them believed in the spirit world, him more than her, and she wants to be sure that he has had enough time to make contact before moving on with her life. In the meantime, she is the personal shopper for a fabulously wealthy but obnoxiously oblivious and unapproachable celebrity of some kind. Some kinds of contact with the spirit world are made, or maybe not, and then other random things happen, some spooky, some violent. But these are few and far between the wanderings around of the protagonist.

In CoSM, there was a definitive, progressing story-line with interesting characters interacting and evolving, supported by an overarching metaphor and some lovely scenery and acting. The acting in this movie is good, but the plot is disjointed, the characters kind of wander around in a screenplay that seems to be cobbled together from a few interesting moments and a lot of stereotypical French cinematic cliches (shots of motorcycles and traffic, smoking, turtlenecks, and pointless conversations). I wasn't impressed.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales: Not much to say about this except that it bored me and I couldn't finish it. Johnny Depp provides the only on-screen character and charisma. Everyone else is just a one-dimensional cardboard figure; as a result, the action scenes were like watching building fall down with no characters in them. The plots and action sequences are convoluted and entirely uninteresting, since we've seen them all before, or just about. And there is nothing else there. It's possible I could make another go of it, since it's not bad, exactly, it was just boring.

Jane Eyre (BBC): I don't know if the link is to the full 4-part miniseries, but that's the one you should watch. This is the best version I've yet seen, and possibly the most faithful.

Like all versions, it glosses over Helen's Christian moralizing, so important to the story but absent from any film version. Still, nearly everything else I remember is included, although not always in the right order. The other film versions drastically shorten the initial conversations between Jane and Rochester; this one leaves enough in to not ruin it. The movie doesn't seem like it hurries to get to the action scenes. But it is never dull.

It is all finely acted and produced. Jane really holds herself to be plain, so that you almost believe it. A greatly entertaining visit to the world of Jane Eyre, when you don't have the book about you.

Monday, June 05, 2017

The Period Game: Finally A Board Game About Menstruation?

In 2006 I lamented that there were no board games about menstruation. In 2010, I reported on two very limited games by public health services on the topic.

Now two designers, Daniela Gilsanz and Ryan Murphy, have produced a nifty-looking prototype for a game they call The Period Game: Bleed to Succeed. While the game looks pretty and has received a fair amount of press, the web site indicates that they are still looking for a publisher to bring the game to the masses.


On your turn, twist an ovary and one of four marbles comes out: three are clear and one is red. Clear means move one space and maybe collect a tampon or pad to protect you from a period space; red means jump to the next period space. You also get to read informational material in the small booklets that come with the game.

Hamas Has a Board Game: Reaching Jerusalem

Via MEMRI: The board of the "Reaching Jerusalem" game (image: Facebook.com/MaAmriti, April 4, 2017)
According to MEMRI (Middle East Media Research Institute), Hamas has published a board game called "Reaching Jerusalem". The game is based on Snakes and Ladders. Snakes are Israeli military equipment, ladders are secret tunnels and Hamas rockets.

According to the designer, who works at the Hamas Interior Ministry, the game is aimed at "strengthening children's military culture and love of jihad."

MEMRI got the information from a Facebook site which does not appear to be accessible, at least not by me.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Made in Ferenze would like you to look at their chess sets again (with 10% off)

I listed one of Italfama's chess sets sold by Made in Firenze among my top ten most expensive board games post, which is now ten years old (and woefully out of date).

Good lord, have I been blogging for that long?

Anyway, you can get 10% off from Made in Firenze until the end of 2017 by entering the code JERGAMES2017. The discount is for anything on the site, not just the chess sets. Some of their sets cost less than 42,540.98€, which is what you would pay for the below one (less 10%).


Monday, April 24, 2017

Monday, April 03, 2017

Movie Reviews: Ghost in the Shell (2017), Beauty and the Beast (2017), Deadpool

Ghost in the Shell (2017): The graphic novel series Scott Pilgrim was 100 times better than the movie Scott Pilgrim, but I still thought that the movie Scott Pilgrim was the best movie I saw in 2010. It probably helped that I never saw the source material; I read the graphic novels after seeing the movie. the movie was so good that it made me want to read them. The movie was quixotic, quirky, energetic, fun, interesting, well-acted and paced, and entertaining. It had obvious but interesting central metaphors, about new relationships, and about dealing with the world as a video game, which made the movie a cut better than other young adult movies. So what if the comic was so much richer and deeper?

Lucky for me it has been fifteen years since I saw the original Ghost in the Shell movie and I never read the manga. I was able to enjoy this movie, starring Scarlett Johansson. I remembered some parts of the original movie, enough to know that some of the scenes in this movie are track for track copies from the original and that the original was 100 times better - richer, and deeper - than this one. But I still think this is one of the better action/sci-fi movies, ten times richer and deeper than the crud Marvel keeps foisting on us. Not quite as good as Arrival; not quite as good as Blade Runner; possibly as good as Interstellar.

First of all, it is one of the most beautiful and visually arresting movies from the last several years, an absolute treasure trove of stunning shots in a world reminiscent of Blade Runner. Acting, directing, and cinematography are top notch. There are many high-profile scenes of violence, about as many as a Marvel movie, and they are just as cool, but they aren't the only thing cool about the movie. While a Marvel movie fills the rest of the movie with snarky quips and a shallow, stupid excuse to set up the next combat sequence - and that's it - this movie wraps a cyberhacking chase plot around a search for the nature of what it means to be human. Okay, the search isn't very deep, the questions are not all answered, and the material was dumbed down from its source. Whatever. This movie's story is different from the original one, which makes this more of a reboot than a remake. At least there is something there, there. At least I have a reason to care for the characters and a reason to care about who is fighting and why. I can ask questions that the movie doesn't explore in depth, because at least these conflicts are shown. And did I mention that the visuals and acting are beautiful and cool?

As for the casting of a white person in a role that was previously played by a cartoon Asian, get a life. No one in Japan is bothered by this, and it's not like she is pretending to be an Asian; she's just a fine actress. She looks awesome. And that's that.

Beauty and the Beast (2017): Yet another Disney remake. Unlike Ghost in the Shell, this movie is really just a remake of the original classic and not a reboot. For what it's worth, this movie, starring Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, and the always wonderful Emma Watson, adds a few extra scenes to buttress Beauty's backstory. They neither add to, nor hurt, the movie, although the talk about her mother dying of plague turns the movie into a PG one.

Like the recent Cinderella and The Jungle Book, the movie doesn't seem to have any reason to exist other than to show that Disney has the technical means of creating live action versions of their beloved animations. All of these movies are worse than the originals. Whatever is good about them was good or better in the originals. And it's not like the originals are hard to find or inaccessible. This is a cash grab from a studio that has run out of original ideas.

I liked it more than I expected to. It was closer to the quality of the original than the other two I mentioned. On the other hand, Beauty was a little colder in this version, and the Stockholm Syndrome seemed worse than I remembered from the original. Really, if they were anyway going to change things up in this movie, that would have been the thing to change.

Deadpool: I finally succumbed to boredom one evening and watched this, and I wish I hadn't. About the worst of the Marvel movies, this is dead, and soulless, with nothing but quips and violence the entire way through. The paint-thin character tragedy of Deadpool is supposed to inspire sympathy, but it didn't inspire anything but revulsion. The central conflict is that he thinks he's no longer attractive enough. Torture and kill many people. Blood. Kick. Boom.

Come on. I guess I was supposed to laugh at the funny parts, but I really couldn't be bothered to.