Did you hear about the guy who carried around the heavy, magical Norse hammer for seven days? He was Thor for a week! Heh. Heh heh. *cough*. Heh.
So how y'all been? Miss me?
After a forced hiatus due to power outages and all other sorts of assorted weather craziness, I'm back! Be sure to spread the word.
The banner is a quickie deal and will probably have someone from the MPAA telling me I'm violating some sort of copyright and endangering the jobs of painters for film sets nationwide. Well, we'll see how long it lasts.
(I'm also accepting submissions for better banners. The prize? Credit and my unending gratitude. You can't put a price on that, folks.)
Today's Soundtrack: Only the worst song you are ever likely to hear. It's like a car wreck you can't look away from. Spring this one on your friends with a dupe link, and thank me later. FRIED EGG, FRIED EGG!!! We SO excited.
So let's dig in, shall we?
I Gather Darkness to Please thee, And I Command You to Kneel
I finally broke my new movie drought and went to see Thor last weekend. Now, of all the announced Marvel films, Thor was certainly the one I had the least amount of expectations for. So much of the modern day comic book film tries to keep things grounded in reality, a la Nolan's Batman movies, so just the notion of seeing a Norse god running around Asgard and shouting out "Verily" every five minutes...well, to be honest I just thought the whole thing was likely to come off stupid. Anyone else remember that 80s made-for-TV Hulk movie with Thor in it? Yeeesh.
Having seen it though, I can safely say they pulled off a good movie. It's no Iron Man and certainly no Dark Knight, but I don't think anyone really expected the latter, and I'm pretty sure Marvel would have settled for the former...with its $318 million domestic gross, Iron Man did etty damned well for itself.
The funny thing is, the parts I didn't think were going to work well--namely the Asgard and fantasy Norse warrior stuff--were the best parts of the movie. In this version of the story the Asgardians aren't really gods but merely beings from another dimension, who sometimes make sojourns into our own realms and are in turn mistakenly worshipped as gods. I think that little bit allows them to otherwise go hog wild, as Asgard is filled with glimmering magic bridges and waterfalls cascading into nowhere and warriors throwing lightning bolts and bursts of energy ("Your ancestors called it magic, but you call it science; I come from a land where they are one and the same," Thor tells Jane Foster in one scene.) Make no mistake, they haven't toned any of that stuff down one bit. You get to see Thor fling his hammer and fly along with it, you see Frost Giants throw magical spears of ice, truly few punches are held in this fantasy realm.
Once the action transplants to earth though, some of those fears about things looking ridiculous do come true. Asgardians in their normal garb wandering the streets looks like something out of a Society of Creative Anachronisms festival, not exactly the look I think anyone was going for. Or at least I hope not.
Chris Hemsworth is freaking genius as Thor. He owns the role almost as much as Robert Downey Jr. owns Tony Stark. He's likeable but boorish, brash but kind, haughty but noble. Fortunately the part isn't played up for buffoon-style laughs, and Hemsworth makes the most out of it. (I spent the entire movie trying to place this guy--I kept thinking, "Star Trek, no wait, that's Chris Pine." Turns out he's George Kirk in the movie.)
"Verily, I have slaughtered many Tusken Raiders. Wouldst thou
now sleepeth with me?"
Other actors make the most of their parts. Anthony Hopkins does well but he's reached the "Nicholson Nadir" where he basically plays himself in every movie, with a different mix of nobility, malice, or both, depending on the part. As Odin, he does come off as a commanding presence, and is an added center of gravity and grounding to the movie's earliest scenes which fling the viewer headlong into Asgard with magical hammers and huge Frost Giants. Natalie Portman, who is a caliber of actor who feels really out of place in a movie like this, doesn't sleepwalk through her role as Jane Foster, though she really isn't given much to do in the grand scheme of things, other than to be one part brainy, one part beauty, and almost inexplicably someone Thor is immediately drawn to.
Loki is (mild spoiler alert) the movie's eventual heavy, and although I've never heard ot Tom Hiddelston before now, I think he did pretty damned well as the Trickster. It's weird in that he's given more development than Thor, and the story does have elements that portray Loki sypmathetically. Villains are at their best when *they* believe they're right, so on that end they did a good job here. He's crafty and obviously conniving but doesn't walk around with a smirk and evil glare all the time--a mistake that waaaay too many movies make. "You mean the guy who's been running around with the furrowed brow and twisted sneer turned out to be the bad guy? SHOCKING~!"
"Is it safe to approach yon monster, Loki?"
"Mmm-hmm. Go pat its belly."
Thor's Warriors Three are just sorta there, with Poor Man's Ogre and Poor Man's Kate Beckinsale mostly just acting as non-descript background noise (their characteristics are glutton, woman, and Asian, respectively. Seriously, that's it.)
I know that a lot of this sounds negative, but honestly the movie does end up being more than the sum of its parts. It's certainly in my opinion the weakest of the Marvelmovies so far, but bear in mind that I really enjoyed The Incredible Hulk and am still pretty pissed they aren't bringing Ed Norton back for The Avengers. It succeeds at establishing Thor and his mythos, making Thor a likeable and charismatic presence, and hooks back in to the overarching Avengers storyline with the presence of S.H.I.E.L.D and quick references to Stark and even a cameo by a pre-Avengers Hawkeye. By now it's probably needless to say "Stay after the credits," but there is a scene there that you'll want to stick around for that further ties this movie into The Avengers.
What's funny is that they treat Stellan Skarsgard's character as a genius scientist, which just reminds you that in a true Marvel reality world, they'd be making a beeline for Reed Richards for this type of stuff, but oops...I think 20th Century Fox still has the rights to make utterly shitty Fantastic Four movies, so Reed won't be around to help this time around.
I was already excited for The Avengers, and Thor is a fun ride that doesn't do anything to dent that excitement. I actually look forward to Hemsworth taking his place alongside the rest of the cast, and seeing Thor and Tony Stark interact for the first time will probably be worth the price of admission alone. Definitely worth seeing for any comic book fan.
Beat Me if You Can...Survive, if I Let You
On the gaming front, I played Survive! (Stronghold Games, 2-4 players, 30-45 min) with the family. I know that I've talked this one up in the forums a bit, but I never really gave this the front page splash it deserved.
The quality of this reprint and the accessibility of its gameplay were both a breath of fresh air. Seriously, this is easily the most gorgeous reprint since Hannibal: Rome v Carthage, with thick (almost comically so) tiles, sturdy wooden bits, and absolutely overproduced to the nines with wooden boats, sharks, sea monsters, just everything is gorgeous. If I had to hand out an award for "Recent Eye Candy", this one would definitely win.
If you haven't played it, you're really depriving yourself here. The game is light on rules but high on screwage. Each player has a group of people that they need to get off a rapidly sinking island, but the waters are filled with hungry sharks, vengeful sea monsters, and monstrous whales that make the flight perilous. It has that classic "Do your stuff, then do some evil stuff", so on your turn you will be alternating moving your people and then activating the beasties on the board to make life miserable for the other would-be escapees. Now of course you get to choose which of theother players that a nearby shark will gobble up and devour, so you get all of your awesome trash-talk, begging, wheeling, and dealing, all in a nice 30-45 minute package.
Not only can you attack other players with the denizens of the sea, but as the island is sinking, a tile must be removed from the island during each player's turn. It starts with the lowest tiles and works its way higher, so the board has this great look of an island truly falling slowly into the sea. At any rate, as you get to choose which of the eligible tiles get removed, that means that oftentimes you'll get the chance to dump folks into the water, laughing and cackling as you do so. Also, each tile has an ability printed on the underside, some immediate and some that can be used to save your bacon later on.
It's exactly the sort of game that should be occupying mass market shelves currently--nice bits, heaps of player interaction, a cool theme, and accessible by just about every group I can imagine. You can play it with your kids (our 10 and 7 year-olds handled it with ease), play it with your family, squeeze in a game with your work buddies, or play it with a die-hard gaming group as you swill beers and watch whales turn your friends' boats into wooden shards. It makes you wonder how a great game like this ended up out of print for so long in the first place, but now it's back for a new generation of gamers to enjoy.
Movie Trailer Pick for the Week:
Even though I'm not a big fan of Ryan Reynolds, and the early trailers were awful, I'm slowly warming to Green Lantern. The latest trailer is up (definitely better than that first "Take off these pants and fly some planes" one), so have a look:
Is Our Secret Safe Tonight, And Are We Out of Sight?
We played The Resistance (Indie Boards and Cards, 5-10 players, 20 minutes) with our lunch group last week, squeezed in three games.
The Resistance is basically a Werewolf-style game, but with actual game rules that help you decipher who the traitors are. In this case, the Resistance are the good guys, an underground group of freedom fighters who are attempting to take down a nefarious all-powerful Evil Empire by going on a series of missions to destroy their bases. The Empire has sent its spies to infiltrate the Resistance, sabotage its missions, and destroy it from the inside. Very much like The Terminator, except instead of killing John Connor's meat squad, the T-800s gossip about the other members and vote at their secret meetings. Or something.
All kidding aside, the game is all about working as a team, but keeping an eye out for suspicious behavior and avoid having the spies muck up important mission attempts.
Very familiar to Werewolf/Battlestar Galactica/Shadows Over Camelot fans, each player receives a card at the start of the game that they keep secret, detailing which side they're on. All players close their eyes, and the spies are allowed to open their eyes and see who their secret team members are. This number varies based on the number of players involved.
Then, a player is assigned Leader, and he makes a suggestion for a team. Each mission has a team size that is keyed off which mission it is and how many are playing. Players then vote to reject or approve this team, majority wins. Should the vote fail, the Leadership role is passed to the left, and the team suggestion and voting repeats. If the Resistance is unable to form a mission after five consecutive tries, the Spies immediately win the game.
Once a team is formed, two cards are handed to each team member. One is to signify the mission succeeds, the other that it fails. These cards are handed to the team leader secretly, so that no one knows exactly what each player put into the pile. The cards are shuffled and revealed. If all cards indicate success, the mission went off without a hitch and the Resistance scores one mission. If one or more failure cards come up, though, the mission fails due to sabotage within, and the spies scores one mission. The side that first reaches three missions is the winner. So at most, you'll have five missions.
The accusations start flying as soon as that first mission fails, as one of the players on that mission is obviously one of the spies. But who? Who can you trust? Choose unwisely, trust the wrong person, and you'll find a dagger in your back at just the wrong moment. Or are YOU the spy, hiding your evil intentions 'til just the right moment?
I like these kinds of games just for the mind games they engender. (Werewolf is the only exception. There's no game there. Just repeatedly saying, "I'm not a werewolf" or dirty tricks like shouting, "Hey, werewolf!" and see who accidentally looks up.) There's always finger-pointing, lying through your teeth, or saying the wrong thing and finding yourself a suspect even when your intentions are noble. It's the best part of Battlestar Galactica, though Battlestar also has a lot of other game elements that muddy those waters and provide other types of tension than just who the traitors are.
The Resistance is Battlestar stripped down to the whole "Are you a Cylon?" thing, and squeezed into a very short playing time. This is both a good and a bad thing. Battlestar is an event game, one that needs five players and about three hours. To have this sort of experience distilled down to a fast-playing game is pretty awesome. However, without all the additional things going on, you're going to find that shorter playing time a bit of a curse. There's really not as much time to digest and observe whose behavior is suspicious, and with only five missions possible, by the time you've figured out who's who--or not--the game is already over.
On top of that, being able to decipher who all are the traitors fluctuates wildly based on group size. With 10, you've got 4 spies and only five missions to work with. Plus, there isn't much time for as many mind games with so little time to work with.
Still, there are some possibilities for mind games. The spies are the only ones with perfect information at the start of the game; they know who is on their side right from the start. That means when they're leader, they can implicate the other players by going along on the mission and then failing it, pointing the fingers at the other players when the smoke clears. And should you give yourself away, you can spread guilt further by carefully choosing who goes on future missions--just the appearance that as a spy you always want certain players to go with you will lead to mistrust and hopefully fighting from within.
All in all, I like it. It's portable, cheap, and plays a large group of people in a short period of time, something that is a real rarity. I've heard people say that it completely replaces Battlestar Galactica, but that's crazy talk, as there just isn't as much richness and opportunity for role deduction. The Resistance is one you'll reach for as a filler or game-night starter, and you'll definitely have plenty of laughs playing it. It's not a homerun, but definitely a standing double. It does give that taste of hidden roles and backstabbing when you don't have time for a full course of it. And for $13 online, you just can't beat that.
Alright folks, it's time to sign off again. Thanks for reading! See ya in seven.