Sunday, May 26, 2013

Shabbaton Gaming: Merkator, Hanabi, etc

My Jerusalem community spent shabbat at the Poriah youth hostel overlooking the Kinneret. The view was beautiful; unfortunately, there was a heatwave all weekend, so I spent all of Friday and shabbat inside. Still, I had a lovely shabbat with a great group of warm, spiritual, supportive people. Can't really do better than that.

Friday evening Nadine and I tried Merkator. First play for both of us. Uwe's rules are getting simpler, but the number of components in the box and the complexity of play remain voluminous. This game comes with 9 little folding boxes in which to place the roughly 400 wooden cubes of 8 colors and some additional tokens (his previous games had just as many pieces but they were just heaped onto or beside the board).

From the box, the game looks like it might be a route delivery game, but it is not. Each turn you pick a destination, take the cubes there (adding bonus cubes if you have any bonus cards for that destination), distribute cubes in other destinations, take or pay some "time tokens", and then fulfill any contracts that you have for that destination and for which you have the cubes. Fulfilling a contract gives you a new higher value contract; you keep the old one but you pay the cubes. A contract is worth its value in points at the end of the game or in money if you sell it during the game. Since you can only have 5 contracts at the beginning of your turn, you are always selling off the smaller ones.

Money is used to buy bonus cards that give you more cubes in certain destinations and "buildings" which are end scoring cards for certain conditions, like X points for a certain number or arrangement of cubes or cards.

There are two more rules, neither of which I particularly like. The first is that, on another player's turn, you can fulfill contracts at the space that he went to by paying some time counters. This means that on your turn you have to be aware of every contract of every other player and calculate not only how much you get from picking a certain place but how much every other player will get if you pick it. The second is that after every three or four time counters taken from the supply, everyone randomly loses 1 or 2 cubes. In our game we always had piles of cubes, so this didn't do much damage. If it had done damage, it would have been worse, since it simply randomly screws one person for little sensible reason.

There are some fiddly rules thrown in that look like the result of balance issues that must have arisen during play-testing. It's over when the last time counter is chosen or the first top-level contract is fulfilled. Everyone gets one more turn.

The game bogged down near the end as we had to evaluate the best net differential in points on our turn. Despite this, the game was interesting and enjoyable. As Nadine noted, there are no (or almost no) negative effects (like starvation in Agricola), which makes everything either a benefit or a bigger benefit. The calculation is very heavy; not mathematically, but cube to cube to point swapping.

As I mentioned, I didn't really like the "joining in" mechanic or the cube loss mechanic. The rule book suggests that you can play without the cube loss. I was also skeptical of the time counter mechanic; I didn't see what this added to the game, although I was always short of them and Nadine always had many of them. I'll see how this goes on the next play.

Overall, not for the squeamish, and not for the AP prone, but rewarding to see your contract levels grow turn by turn.

The next day I played and fairly quickly won a game of Chess against a 9 or 10 year old boy, who lost graciously.

Later on he joined Nadine and me as we played Magic. Nadine has a limited supply of cards for learning purposes. For some reason her decks were each 47 cards. I stripped out 7 unnecessary cards from each deck. We played and then swapped decks and played again. I won both times, but the second time was because she got mana screwed.

Some teenagers joined us and I brought out Hanabi. I had played it once at a BGG.con. This is a cooperative game where you can't see your own cards. Each turn you either give clues to the other players (the team loses a blue chip), discard a card (the team gains a blue chip), or play a card. You have to discard or play when you run out of blue chips (you start with 8). If you play a bad card, you lose a red chip (you start with 3). You win if you play 25 cards correctly. We did our best, trying to remember all the time not to look at our own cards. We totally sucked at the game and lost fairly quickly. I think we all liked it anyway.

Having taught the girls a game, they decided to teach me a game: Pounce. Everyone plays with a complete deck of cards and has 5 piles, once of which is the Pounce pile. Whenever another pile opens up, you can take a card from your Pounce pile and put it into the open spot. You can stack cards like Klondike on your own piles (black 2 on red 3, etc) or place them in ascending order on any pile in the center, like Spit. Every ace can be played to the center, so there may be a dozen or more piles in the center onto which to place cards. A pile is removed when completed with a king. Players cycle through their decks three cards at a time, repeating as required.

Toward the middle of the game, the play gets bogged down until someone manages to find a card to play, which either leads to a trickle or a flood of new cards played. In this way it's a lot like Klondike.

The game is over when someone's Pounce pile is empty for any reason. Your score is the number of cards you played during the game minus the number of cards left in your Pounce pile.

After Pounce, the girls taught me an unnamed card game that they created. It was, astonishingly, not bad; given the number of bad games that I have received to review, that's high praise. I made a suggestion for the starting positions in the game; they had designed this to be random, but I felt that a random start had the potential to be highly unfair. The rest of the game was making piles and placing blocking cards on your opponent's piles, and it worked. I hope they continue to develop it and other games.

I saw another family at the hostel, not from our group, playing Settlers of Catan and went to talk to them about it.

Lastly I played a game of Scrabble with an avid player (right after Nadine finished a game with his wife). It's really a much better experience playing off the computer; I don't like playing where you can't play a word that isn't in the dictionary (the computer won't let you), which allows you to play hundreds of sequences of letters until you happen to find one that the computer will accept. In our game, I got out a good bingo that crossed with a questionable looking word that he challenged. It was an acceptable word (YAR) so I got to go again. This time I played another questionable word that he didn't challenge. It turned out to not be an acceptable word. You can't do things like that online.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

20 More Movie Reviews

I watch too many movies, which is why I'm having trouble making progress on my book. All of the following movies are from 2012 or 2013.


The story of Jackie Robinson, the first black person to play major league baseball since the color line was enacted i.e. for about 60 years. The film is nearly as much about the white team executive who puts him there, Branch Rickley. Unlike the biopic A League of Their Own, there are no side character stories to add color to the main narrative. Jackie's teammates don't display much personality. Jackie (Chadwick Boseman) is told to not react to the hate that will be thrown at him, and he doesn't (for the most part). Mostly he frets. Harrison Ford shines as Branch, as does Ben Chapman in his small role as the Philadelphia Phillies manager who hurls a steady stream of racist epithets at Jackie during a game.

The story runs pretty smoothly, which robs a lot of the tension from it: he plays, people insult him, he succeeds. The story also focuses on the baseball games, which is pretty standard movie material.

Bottom line: An ok movie, not a must see.

Anna Karenina

This exercise in cinematic self-indulgence is supposed to be clever, but it was over-produced, gaudy, and distracting - maybe that was its intention, considering the gaudiness of the Russian aristocracy. The movie is filmed mostly on a single stage in an old theater - like a fanciful play - where the sets are swung back and forth and characters from one scene bustle around in front of or behind another scene. Shots are often framed like garish pictures. The music is loud, the whole thing looks like a carnival (think Moulin Rouge), and the camera focuses more on the way sets and props move than on the plot. Keira Knightly and the others do their scenes, but the overall effect serves to distance you from them, rather than to engage our sympathy.

None of the richness of Tolstoy made it into the movie. From about mid-way I skimmed the rest of the movie. In case you don't know, it's a shame piece about a woman who has an affair and is then shunned by society.

Bottom line: Skip.


The story of six American citizens who escaped from the American embassy in Iran when it was taken over by fundamentalists in 1979. They hid out in the Canadian embassy's residence waiting for the baddies to find them. The CIA and some ballsy Hollywood producers decide to get them out by pretending that the Americans are actually Canadians on location for a movie in Iran doing a scene scope; one of them goes their and hopes to leave with them back to Canada using fake passports.

This was all supposed to be a true story, or close enough to the truth (who did the lion's share of the work in the actual historical event is not necessarily accurately depicted). I kept looking at one of the women characters, trying to place the actress, until it finally hit me that it's Helen Santos from West Wing (played by Teri Polo). Turns out I was wrong; it's Kerry Bishé.

It's dramatic and tense, rife with surprises, and excellently acted. The narration at the beginning puts the story into perspective (explaining - if not justifying - the embassy takeover). Something about it still felt a little small. Maybe it's seeing John Goodman pop up again (he's everywhere, now, isn't he?).

Bottom line: Worth seeing. but just as good on the small screen.


The story of an airplane pilot (Denzel Washington) who saved most of the lives on his malfunctioning plane with a daring landing maneuver, but did it while high on cocaine and alcohol . The story is about his substance abuses; the fact that he is a hero is just an excuse he uses to not deal with his problem.

Beautifully acted and interestingly plotted. It makes drinking look bad, but it seemed to glorify the cocaine. And oh look, it's John Goodman as the drug dealer friend.

Bottom line: Worth seeing, but probably just as good on the small screen.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Part 1 of 3 of what everyone originally assumed would be a single movie. Rather than the children's tale that was the book, Peter Jackson refocuses for a more serious movie based on the same plot, with a global sweep and a whole lot of other scenes from other Tolkein side-notes thrown in for good measure. It all works, except Sarumon is still so ... difficult, it's a wonder that Gandalf ever trusted him.

This is a grand movie that measures up to the original Lord of the Rings trilogy, or nearly enough. Maybe a little slower at the start.

Bottom line: Watch it on the big screen.

Iron Man 3

Part 4 of the Iron Man series (I'm counting The Avengers, which was mostly an Iron Man movie IMHO). A whole lot of people are unhappy with the portrayal of The Mandarin bad guy in this movie compared to how he is portrayed in the comic books. Having not read the comic books, and (even if I had I would still be) not giving a damn about a character's faithfulness to the source, I had no problem with the character in the movie.

What I had a problem with is the plot, in which the god-like powers of Iron Man fail conveniently and specifically when necessary to provide a story. The home of Tony Stark, the world's number one weapon manufacturer, should not be able to be taken out by a few helicopters with missiles. Even if the dozen Iron Men suits that fly around at Stark's beck and call weren't available for some reason (and they are, conveniently, later when the movie draws near its end), the house surely should have a few other defenses that could have been brought to bear.

The Iron Man armor now flies off and on in pieces despite having no visible flying mechanism, and in response to a neck flick from an unarmored Stark who may be thousands of miles away. And the suit, which can withstand a hit from Thor's hammer, falls into pieces when hit by a truck for comic effect.

The entire plot depends on Iron Man being vulnerable so they make him vulnerable so that they can have a plot, and then they resolve the plot by making him not vulnerable again: suddenly remembering all of the weapons and features that are available to him.

Along the way, Tony Stark meets a cute kid who helps him out, and Pepper Potts gets her chance to shine. They give her a tempting love interest in order to create some tension, but I didn't find that part believable.

Bottom line: Skip, believe it or not. It has its moments, but it was nothing like either of the other movies.

Les Misérables

If you like the play, book, or whatever, then you'll like this adaptation. If you have an affinity for musicals where all of the dialog is sung, even when it should just be spoken because it's not really sung with any particular melody, then you'll like this.

I never thought I would ally myself with Philistines, but I am not a Les Mis fan. I like some musicals, but I am not thrilled with plays or movies where every sentence is sung. It's wearying, affecting, and frankly boring. The play itself is rather dreary with miserable and mean characters and situations. The initial songs, in between the singing dialog, were not all that interesting. I quit about half way; some of the more memorable tunes had yet to appear.

Bottom line: you already know if you have to see it; you'll probably buy it, too. If you don't know, you're better off with a lot of other movies.

Life of Pi

I haven't read the book. The story of an Indian boy whose father owns a circus. They pack off to move from India to Canada, but the boat sinks, leaving him with no parents but an assortment of animals on a small raft. The animals die until it is just him and a ferocious tiger. Most of the movie is a disaster/survival movie at sea, where the boy has to stay alive while dealing with the sea, sharks, hunger, thirst, boredom, and a tiger.

This is as well done as it could possibly be. The tiger and other animals are perfectly integrated, and so many shots of the seas, sky, water creatures, glowing lichen in the ocean, etc are stunning. The visuals never interfere with the story, and the story manages to convey the length of the difficulty without actually becoming boring. The scenes where they come across a floating island at sea are particularly beautiful.

Like other stories in this genre, all of his encounters means something metaphorically; in this story, some, but not all, of the metaphors are given a possible interpretation at the end, but not definitively.

Bottom line: A must see, and worth it on the big screen. The film is available in 3D, and it's probably worth it.


Watch Tom Cruise smile, flex, grunt, and cavort around a dystopian landscape destroyed by aliens. That's about all you'll watch, since every other character in the movie - even Morgan Freeman - is a cutout prop for Tom to interact with. Morgan has the same personality you've seen before in every other movie with Morgan Freeman. The two main women characters are hollow shells. The rebel leader could have had a personality, but I suspect it got lost on the cutting room floor (or maybe the floor of the room in which Tom signed his contract).

Tom acts well enough. The effects are ok. The tension works and it moves along. As for the plot and script, it has a certain grandeur, but not quite enough. Moon was a small movie and just the right size for its plot. Oblivion has about the same depth, but more fluff. and the confrontational finale is reminiscent of  Star Treks 1 and 5, which is not good.

Bottom line: Entertaining but shallow. Skip unless there's nothing better around and you can stomach a whole lot of Tom Cruise.

On the Road

I read and loved this book. The movie captures some of the book, and what it captures it captures well, although it emphasizes the sexual. Kristen Stewart is quite good (I actually like her: she is not so wooden when she lets an emotion hit her face, like a smile, a naughty glance, or a tear). Sam Riley and Garret Hedlund work as the dynamic duo, and the supporting characters all do fine jobs.

The story is about the road trips and the search for freedom and insight. You get a lot of the free spirit, free love, and road travel, as well as the poverty - monetary and moral - that the main characters inhabit. The ending is a bit of letdown on the one hand, though suitable on the other.

Bottom line: Worth seeing, but probably just as good on the small screen.

Oz: The Great and Powerful

James Franco is Oz and a bevy of talented (and pretty) women play the other characters in this prequel to the classic movie The Wizard of Oz. The story tells how Oz arrived over the rainbow and how the witches came to be who they are. This one started out a little slowly and I was happily surprised when it picked up. It switches between targeting a younger audience and a general audience, but didn't quite succeed as well as the original movie did at being broadly appealing to both at the same time.

Again, I wasn't expecting much, but it was a rich and satisfying experience with some memorable characters, like the China doll girl. The ending "transformation" by the main character to reform himself was a bit unsubtle; a lot of modern movies fumble this. But you can go with it. Mila Kunis as the formerly neutral witch who turns into the wicked witch is still too pretty when she's wicked. But she cackles well enough.

Bottom line: Though there are a few frightening moments, I recommend this primarily for kids or as a wholesome movie experience.

Pitch Perfect

The 30 second shot of Anna Kendrick doing the cup song was the best part. Otherwise, this movie inhabits the space between Glee and Bring It On. It's about a high school a capella group: its girls, leadership, and quest to become champions. You have sassy girl, sweet girl, sexy girl, and lots of other stereotypes. It's shallow but funny (with the light snarky insults we've come to know modern comedy) and quotable, and you look forward to every time they prefix a word with "a ca-". It's "a ca-ridiculous".

The performance commentators are particularly funny.

Bottom line: Dumb as designed, and worth seeing if you like Glee and Bring It On, on the small screen.

Safety Not Guaranteed

A deliberately quirky movie about a couple of small-time reporters writing a story about a guy who advertises for a companion to go time-traveling with him and that he has only done it once before. The movie plays it straight, so you know that the final scene of the movie is either going to show that he is, in fact, a lunatic, or that he is, in fact, a time traveler. I wasn't really looking forward to either ending, both of which seemed to be rather cliche. I was hoping for something unexpected.

Getting to one of those endings is kind of fun. Aubrey Plaza (channeling Kristen Stewart) plays the main junior reporter who gets to know the guy. Everyone has his or her quirks, which makes it a nice character-driven movie.

Bottom line: Worth seeing on the small screen, or even the big screen since the characters are involving and the scenes mostly take place outdoors.

Silver Lining Playbook

The whole world loves Jennifer Lawrence, and for good reason: she's a sparkling good actress without pretensions and she is good-humored and funny in real life. In this movie, she and Bradley Cooper play Tiffany and Pat, two borderline mental-cases in a blue-collar world who find and eventually need each other (though Pat continued to obsess about reuniting with his ex-wife). Along the way is a lot of small-town neighborhood, football betting, and preparations for, and performance in, a ballroom dance competition.

The movie is borderline quirky and borderline mainstream, with Robert DeNiro playing a major role as Pat's father. Everybody faces down their demons, and none of it is (entirely) formulaic, other than who will end up with whom by the end.

Bottom line: Worth watching.


This acclaimed movie is supposed to be the return of the Bond franchise. And, to its credit, it is sharply shot and packed with action and some humor. However, I almost got ejected from the movie theater after the third or fourth time I burst out laughing at the sheer idiocy of some of the plot.

Perhaps the most egregious plot problem is mid-movie: The bad guy has already been shown to be a master hacker in ways that defy any kind of sanity (by hacking into the MI5 network he can physically BLOWS UP the entire block of offices). MI5 security guru takes the bad guy's laptop and PHYSICALLY PLUGS IT IN to the MI5 unprotected local area network, a network on which, apparently, lies every control to everything in MI5: every piece of information (no encryption), every screen, the controls to every door and light, even doors about which MI5 didn't know existed (and therefore could not have hooked up to the network). He does not  plug the laptop into, say, a physically separated network that can be used to crack possibly dangerous laptops, or even to one separated by some kind of hardware barrier. When they plugged that Ethernet cable into the laptop, I couldn't stop laughing for a minute. For goodness sake, I'm not even allowed to connect my smartphone at work, and I work for company that makes mobile phone software.

Surprise, surprise, a few minutes later the evil guy's laptop has compromised the entire MI5 network. How does the intrepid security expert at MI5 react to this? By pulling out the Ethernet cable, of course! And then saying "Oops".

This type of nonsense happens again and again in this movie. The plot makes no sense, especially the parts that have to do with computers. For a nice overview, see the YouTube takedown video.

Bottom line: If you aren't bothered by the inconvenience of really stupid plot holes and dumb actions from supposedly intelligent professional people, the movie is very entertaining and worth the big screen. Otherwise, skip it.

Snow White and the Huntsman

Kristen Stewart again, in a rousing romp through the Snow White fairy tale, but with a much spunkier Snow White and a dashing Chris Hemsworth (Thor) as the Hunstman turned protector/love interest. You get a little Terminator 2 (the magic mirror morphs into a humanoid), The Hobbit (dwarves), and some Lord of the Rings (battle sequences). Everyone plays their part well and the story works.

This movie is part of the same trend that brought you the TV series Once Upon a Time. On the one hand, Hollywood is obviously low on fresh new stories to bring to us. On the other hand, starting with a famous short story and creating an entirely new one using the same characters is not altogether bad, when done right.

Bottom line: Worth seeing on a big screen (too late for that, though).

The Company You Keep

Robert Redford is Jim/Nick, a former members of the Weather Underground, radical American anti-war and anti-business activist/militant wanted for a killing in the early 70s. Owing to the capture of one of the other members, Jim/Nick wants to find yet another one of the members and convince her to turn herself in and confess to the killing for which he has been erroneously implicated; they won't believe that he wasn't involved unless someone else confesses.

Some of the critics complained that the actors are at least ten years older than they are supposed to be; this didn't bother me. It's acted well, shot well, but paced rather unevenly and I didn't connect with any of the characters to really care what happened to them. A few arguments are made for and against their radical activism, but none are totally convincing and the focus is more on Nick/Jim as a fugitive than it is on anything else.

Bottom line: Ho hum. Skip. If you want to see a great film on roughly the same subject, watch Running on Empty, one of the best films ever made.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

A fantastic movie about a troubled teenage boy Charlie (Logan Lerman) who has had a mysterious problem over the summer, and who has a hard time fitting in to social groups until he meets sympathetic outsiders Sam (Emma Watson) and Patrick (Ezra Miller). They all shine, particularly Emma in her post-Hermione roll. The only thing that really bothered me was that outsiders generally don't have secret reserves of power to face down bullies at just the right moment; Charlie does. Although the movie tried to make it look like it was scary that he could get so violent, it's much less scary than being a helpless victim of bullies; that threw me off for a minute. Otherwise, I was enchanted the whole way through.

Charlie is obviously named after the protagonist of Flowers for Algernon. Very few movies make me want to run out and read the book right away; this one did. The Hunger Games, Scott Pilgrim, The Hours were some others.

Bottom line: Must see movie.

The Sessions

A movie about a paralyzed man Mark (John Hawkes) who lives most of his day in an iron lung who solicits a "sex therapist" Cheryl (Helen Hunt) because he wants to experience sex once before he dies. Inspired by a true story. I didn't realize that sex therapists actually have sex with their patients as therapy; I thought it was all verbal and diagrams.

I love Helen Hunt, and we get to see all of her here (ahem). The story is about as sweet and straightforward as you might imagine. Cheryl has done this many times before, but for some reason this particular time disturbs her husband; if any couple needed open communication, this couple would be the one, but we don't get to see a conversation like that; the movie could have used it. They wanted to portray Cheryl as maybe possibly falling in love with Mark , but we don't get that sense - only that she cares for him. She also doesn't tell Mark that falling in love with your sex therapist is common, and that he should look out for it and deal with it for what it is, but we don't get to see that conversation either.

So the interpersonal tension that is shown in the movie is all due to a lack of communication. The main tension is whether Mark can actually succeed with the act and feel ok about it afterwards, but we already know the answer to that.

Bottom line: Meh. Skip I guess.


Yet another Jennifer Aniston comedy, this one about a couple from the big city who land on a hippie commune for a while. It's a trite fish out of water story, with a side-plot about the commune about to lose its land lease ... so the couple comes to the rescue. Alan Alda plays the old hippie patriarch of the group.

A cliche bunch of misfits and a forgettable lot of comedy. Has Jennifer done anything that was actually good since Friends? I think The Good Girl is pretty much it, and it's not coincidental that TGG is not a comedy (it's about a lot of unlikable, desperate people).

Bottom line: It's got some laughs, but skip.

Movies I still really have to see this year (unfortunately):
Before Midnight
Cloud Atlas
Ender's Game
Frances Ha
The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Friday, May 17, 2013

Star Trek XII (Into Darkness): Review

Star Trek: Into Darkness is the twelfth Star Trek movie, and the second in the modern reboot of the franchise. This reboot, as you may recall, reintroduced the characters from The Original Series, with different actors, and then branched the canon off into an alternate reality. Which is odd, when you think about it, since previous ST reboots always stayed in the same reality but with a different cast of characters (in a different time period, perhaps).

Previous reviews: : 1-3, 4-6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11.

Plot: The Enterprise is engaged in a James Bond like mission on some planet where Kirk breaks the "prime directive" by revealing their presence to a primitive planet's population while swooping in to rescue Spock from immanent death. Spock doesn't understand why he did it, and his report to Star Fleet command gets Kirk kicked out of his captaincy. Major subplot of the movie: Spock tries to figure out what instinct and gratitude are. Uhura continues to pine over Spock in the meantime.

Back to the main plot: Some dude attacks Star Fleet command, stealing some weapon information or something and then heading out to Klingon-ville. Kirk gets the order from Admiral Marcus to go find the dude and assassinate him with a bunch of long range missiles, thus a) receiving an unethical order to meet out drone justice rather than bring the dude in to stand trial (*cough* politics *cough*), and b) fooling around with some unknown highly volatile missiles, which is dangerous, and c) being highly likely to start a Vulcan-Federation war. Maybe that's the intent? Spock, Scotty, and a bunch of other people tell him not to do this, to the point where their harping on it means something is afoot. And of course, something is.

The identity of the dude becomes significant. The motivation of the admiral becomes significant. Kirk, Spock, et al get into lots and lots of fist fights and once again basically destroy the entire Enterprise and hundreds of other expensive space stations and buildings, probably killing thousands upon thousands of people (conveniently ignored, because the effects are cool). Kirk must learn the meaning of discipline and responsibility. Uhuru must learn that Spock isn't a bad guy because he represses his feelings (but he still doesn't want to hanky panky with her). Bones must learn that he's not a torpedo technician; he is, in fact, a tribble gene splicer. Scotty must learn that running around a big dark empty spaceship takes fitness training. Sulu must learn that he wants to be a captain one day. Chekhov must learn that he's a pretty good engineer. And Carol Marcus must learn to wear short skirts and flirt.

Reactions: This movie consciously tried to be Wrath of Khan II, lifting a number of situations from the second movie, either directly or with some kind of twist. I was bored with it for a while, and then it got interesting when Kirk finally learned to rein in his impulsiveness. But then he went right back to being impulsive again, which kind of ruined the lesson. Still, I remained interested for the rest of the movie. Why? Because the acting was good and the characters and some of the funny quips they made were also good.

The movie tried to hammer a message home: good guys don't just strike blindly for revenge. But they do punch and kick a lot, and the prime directive and most other directives are still a constraining waste of time, and if you try to follow them you'll get killed. So don't. But do. Got that?

Me neither. There are too many pieces of debris and fists flying around, Everything is constantly exploding; complex things that look like they take decades to build blow up every few seconds. I'm guessing that it will take the Federation half a century to fix all of it, even supposing that they have the raw materials.

But wait! What am I talking about? Apparently complex electronics the size of many buildings that gets blown to smithereens with guns, lasers, and explosions can be fixed in twenty minutes - and if you're in a hurry, about thirty seconds, but only through the careful and accurate appliance of knowledge from experienced professionals. I'm just kidding! You can fix anything by slamming your fist into a big fat button that says "manual override" or by jumping up and down on it and kicking it repeatedly until it's pointing back the way it was originally.

The upshot is that engineering and sense takes a back seat to humor, stubbornness, fights, explosions, one political lesson, and lots of references to past ST, such as bars of the TOS score thrown in at just the right time. It wasn't my favorite Trek, but it didn't embarrass the series, either.

But I REALLY had no idea why alternate reality Spock made an on-screen visit.

Ranking: 4, 11, 9, 8, 2, 3, 12, 10, 7, 6, (5 and 1 which are both the same and horrid).

Monday, May 06, 2013

Weekend Apples

Not my apple pie, though my guests asked for my recipe, but the game Apples to Apples, which occupied six of us for over an hour after lunch. First play for everyone except for me and Tal. One of the kids, aged 16, either acted - or perhaps was - disturbed by the judge's selection on various turns and threatened to leave the game/throw the judge out of the game. Explicably, he remained in the game nonetheless.

Before lunch I taught four of them how to play No Thanks. Unfortunately, one of them was a Very Young Child whose grasp of the game was just enough to realize that she could take all of the cards if she wanted to. And she did. And she did.