On the Table
Another pile of Small Box Games has hit the streets in limited quantities- Shadow of the Sun, Valkyrie Incident, and Stone & Relic. By now, you should know what to expect from John Clowdus- great playing, unique card games with better-than-average illustrations and some fairly idiosyncratic design concepts jumping off from Battleline, Dominion, and Magic. These games certainly don’t disappoint- in fact, I think Valkyrie Incident is up there with the best of his work- but there is definitely a sense of redundancy in the same way that some of Knizia’s games have a feeling that he’s recycling mechanical ideas. It’s not a bad thing, per se, but it’s hard to not notice. Review is up at No High Scores, and for the whole disclaimer thing, John gave me these games in person, we hung out, drank, and he forced me to eat sausage in that bizarre health game from Poland that we played at Frank’s. My general policy has always been that I will review games from friends, but not if I’ve played early pre-publication versions or had any kind of hand in offering advice, edits, revisions, or any kind of playtesting.
Why yes, of course I got the new X-Wing stuff. I haven’t really dug into it much, but I did set up a solo Han versus Fett thing. I _had_ to, right? I used one of the new scenarios, which has the Rebels with a double-point bounty ship (the Falcon) on the run from the Slave-1. The Falcon had an escort of two A-Wings, Boba called in a favor with the Empire and brought along two TIE Interceptors. Long story short, the A-Wings looped back and blasted the shit out of the interceptors, making the most of the new boost action which provides a marked increase in agility. Fett stupidly tried to use the new heavy Ion cannon, which was really a mistake since large ships need two Ion tokens to get disabled. The Falcon’s 360 degree turret for its primary weapon is really nice, despite the ship’s lack of maneuverability it makes for a nice brawler. Wade in and start shootin’.
One thing that is going to take some getting used to is that the card creep is kind of tough…having two or three upgrade cards is one thing, but having six or seven is another. Lots of “wait, hang on…yeah, this card does X, I didn’t see that” is going to happen at least until everyone is used to them.
Miniatures are freaking outstanding. They are pretty big, the Falcon is as big as my hand.
I also got in the new Mage Wars expansion, which I’m very excited to try.
On the Consoles
After getting Pinball FX2’ed out, I suddenly got really, really into it again. Mostly thanks to the new Star Wars tables, which are pretty great. The Empire table is awesome, and the Boba Fett table is a welcome return to their harder, more challenging fare like Blade or Rome. It is kind of weird how chatty Fett is. I think he says 100 times more lines than he does in the films. The Clone Wars table is OK, but Yoda’s voice gets old- and there’s some weird, very not Star Wars sound effects. Like, carnival ride sound effects. It has the ugly characters from the CGI show, so that’s a demerit. Apparently there’s going to be ten tables, so probably A New Hope and Jedi tables are forthcoming. I’d really like to see a Dagobah one, maybe an Ewok thing. Yes, I want to see an Ewok pinball table. Whaddya want from me?
I had the Hitman HD collection from Gamefly, I’ve never played any of them. It lasted about 15 minutes in the Xbox. Just not interested in those at all, in any way.
I think I want to play Age of Wonders again, after getting back into HOMM3. It’s been a long time.
I didn’t like Pinball FX2 on the pad or phone at first, but now I do. Actually, I’m probably playing it more on the pad than on the console. Sucks that the leaderboards aren’t as robust. Doesn’t suck that Space Ghost and Repoman aren’t there to crap all over them with their ridiculous scores.
On the Comics Rack
Devil Dinosaur! One of the first comics I ever read was a Devil Dinosaur, I think my parents got it for me when I was like four or five since I liked dinosaurs so much. I’ve got the full 9 issue run of the original Kirby books, his last major work, really. What a great book. The writing is just as overwrought and overheated as ever, the artwork is just outrageous. It’s SO freaking colorful. There’s these giant spreads of psychedelic dinosaur mayhem. Plenty of panels of dudes with square-ass jaws thrusting a giant hand in face. Dino-on-spider action. Random missives from the King about the book that kind of don’t really make sense. Lots of exclamation points! Love it.
Do not like Invincible at all. Kind of hate it, really. I got the first two HCs from Casey in the math trade, I am just not into it at all- art, story, none of it. I really, really hate it when comics writers go out of the way to make the reader say “har har, that “Dark Wing” character is supposed to be Batman!” Oh, ha ha, I get it…those guys are the bridge crew from ST:TNG. Jeez. The whole “normal family with superheroes” thing is done much better in Animal Man. Anybody want to buy/trade for these books?
The first storyline of Uncanny Avengers wrapped and I have to say that I loved it. It was total trash. But it was weird, goofy trash. When you start with Red Skull grafting Charles Xavier’s brain to his own and then he goes out basically just delivering speeches about how terrible mutants are in the streets of New York, you’re in for something ridiculous. There is a great part where he gets to Cap- he shows him a scene that is obviously supposed to be a parking lot of a Wal-Mart and he more or less says “this is the America you want to save, these rednecks?”
The new Guardians of the Galaxy book was pretty good, worth a look. Bendis is being strangely not terrible lately.
Batman Incorporated this week was spoiled horribly, but it was pretty awesome. I won’t spoil it.
On the Screen
I was actually out in California last week, so being 2000 miles away from home meant that I could actually go see a movie. A co-worker of mine offered to drive me out to a remote theater in the mountains outside of Orange County, so we went to go see Django Unchained.
Now, I loved Inglourious Basterds and I love that Quentin Tarantino far more than the one that made Pulp Fiction and even Kill Bill. He’s become a much more mature, interesting filmmaker but he hasn’t given up on keeping the whole exploitation thing alive.
So I had no idea that the homage to the original 1966 film went as deep has having the original freaking song in the credits. Mind blown from the get-go. And “with the friendly participation of Franco Nero”- wonderful. Not to mention the use of the amazing theme song from “They Called Him King”. And there’s some very direct references to The Great Silence, but nothing so overt as the way he’s referenced films in the past. Except for maybe that “mandingo wrestling” thing.
But god damn, what a film. It was hands down the most racist mainstream movie I’ve ever seen (at least made in the last 30 years or so), but all of the racial stereotypes were directed squarely at white people. The white people in the film are just awful, apart from the one European liberal. I loved that it was very much about how slavery in the south was this brutal, barbaric practice essentially enabling this very ritualized, very formal and genteel culture of wealth and affluence.
QT was right though- this is a Southern, not a Western. It’s very Southern, and I really appreciated that…he’s a Tennessee boy, and I think he really wrote in a lot of the peculiarities of Southern culture. The manners, the “done things” that people do…you really see this in Candie’s sister. Ever smiling, ever polite and accommodating…but when that façade is broken, there’s something else there darker.Then there’s also that unavoidable taint of slavery, and it doesn’t flinch from being very upfront about it being brutish and evil without ever getting maudlin, sentimental, or going full-on white guilt about it. I loved that it was fictionalized, exaggerated, and frank. It was irreverent, but it was also fearless and probably about as open a film has ever been about slavery. It didn’t try to hide behind a veneer of Oscar-grasping social responsibility or po-faced seriousness. The irony is that Spike Lee spoke out against the movie, saying that what his ancestors went through was not a spaghetti western. Yet this film was more on the level about race issues than anything he’s done since Do the Right Thing.
Jamie Foxx, WTF. When did this guy learn to be such a badass actor? His performance was _awesome_. Honest, tender, and full of both rage and sadness. There was a thing he did throughout, where when people would talk to him you’d see him glance down slightly…because he’s been so conditioned to do so. I found that really powerful. Christoph Walz was awesome, again. Don Johnson, another WTF…small role, but he was terrific. I thought Sam Jackson’s character was probably the most challenging- he’s very specifically drawn as an Uncle Tom/Uncle Ben (as in rice) caricature, but he was such a dangerous operator, obviously playing a character to his advantage. And that made him a genuine villain.
So many great moments- Django picking out the Blue Boy outfit, which totally makes sense for someone coming out of having nothing and seeking to emulate the kind of wealth they’ve witnessed from afar. The horrifying scene with D’artagnan. The ride through Candyland. The incredible tension of the dialogue scenes. The hilarious Klan debacle. There was one scene, no spoilers, that actually made me cry. If you’ve seen the film, it’s what happens when she spills the water. Such a tender, sweet scene. Honest, emotional, and such a great payoff.
I think it is definitely QT’s best film overall, and I think it really kind of sums up what he’s been trying to do for his entire career- to make big budget, arthouse exploitation movies that look, feel, and sound like the great renegade, lowbrow cinema that he grew up on.
I mean, how do you make a Jim Croce song so bad ass other than in a film that is a floor-to-ceiling masterpiece?
Well duh, the Django Unchained soundtrack.