More money than most game shops make.
On the Table
I’m lazy this week so it’s another installment of There Will Be Games HD, #2: Money is Not Our God. I have reviews in the pipeline for Quarantine and Pax Porfiriana and I finally got that copy of Triassic Terror from Eagle. Plastic dinosaurs, hooray. It looks fun, despite some VERY dodgy visuals. I mean, come on. Dinosaurs. If there’s one theme I’ll likely never tire of, it’s dinosaurs. I love dinosaurs. Dinosaurs dinosaurs.
I just put in a request for the Spartacus expansion, which I hope will blow my mind. It adds two more players, which it definitely needed, and multiparticipant combat…which the ENTIRE WORLD needed. I can’t wait, I hope it doesn’t cause it to run too long though, which is definitely a possibility.
Tammany Hall arrived from a trade…man, that is a really good game. It had the #1 feature I love most about games right now…that I opened the rulebook and said “wow, that’s it?” It’s EXTREMELY simple, but there are intricacies…the theme is a grand slam, of course, and there is some VERY nice interaction with an elected mayor doling out titles (and abilities) to players each turn. You’ve really got to unhook your enlightened, politically correct mentality, however, and be willing to harangue other players about topics such as the “Irish problem” in order to get the full effect. I’ve just played once but I liked it quite a lot…maybe even Imperial-liked it. It could have legs…simpler and more direct than something like El Grande and with some real sand.
On the Consoles
Pitched a tent in the PS4 camp, traded in a bunch of clutter and came out with a preorder. We’ll see how it goes.
On a lark, I downloaded a neglected review code we had at NHS for Guacamelee, a luchador-themed Metroidvania. It turns out that the game is really good! The whole ironic luchador thing is pretty tiresome, but the developers freshened it up a bit by creating a Mexican fantasy world around it that’s charming and funny. The art style is great, the combat is surprisingly dynamic with throws and combos, and there are some devilish platforming puzzles. Such a pleasant surprise after not expecting much from it.
I tried the demo for State of Decay…I really like what they’re trying to do with it and there are some brilliant concepts (like creating a sense of community building and developing leadership in a crisis situation), but the game itself is janky and not very interesting. Between “open world” and “zombies”, I don’t know how much less interested I could be. But there is definitely something to look at here, even if ZombiU remains a much more interesting, compelling zombie title.
WHQ is a bottomless hole, it seems.
I got a review code for Agricola…I’m doing a full review, but it seems very, very, very good so far. If you don’t think this game is as thematic as any given “Ameritrash” game, you’re out of your mind. I haven’t played the game in a long time, I forgot that I actually really like it quite a lot. The IOS implementation makes it very easy to get back into, although at first I was totally lost.
Hey, did you ever think “I wish there was a simple, two-button game for IOS that somehow managed to feel like the combat in Dark Souls?” Deep Dark Dungeons. Get it. It’s free, and it’s kind of awesome. It’s just a simple observation/timing/pattern thing with two static characters fighting. But there’s surprising depth and skill involved. It’s also ruthlessly hard. It looks great and it’s the kind of game that you think is really dumb until you realize that you’re played it for an hour. Quite a nice surprise. The IAPs are kind of pointless unless you just want more levels including an endless one.
On the Comics Rack
Slender week for comics reading, really. Made it through a few more JSA books, including a really cool one where Mr. Terrific and Dr. Midnight have to perform an extremely complex surgery on a supervillain’s granddad or else he’ll kill all of these kids he’s psychically linked to. Captain Marvel steps in and saves the day in an unconventional and oddly moving way.
I started reading Sandman “A Game of You”…wow, that is really freaking dated. I don’t think I ever actually read this story back when I was semi-following the issues. Maybe I just don’t remember it.
On the Screen
OK, Gangs of New York.
There is about 75% of this film that I think is absolutely a masterpiece, and a very weird and non-mainstream masterpiece at that. It’s by far Scorcese’s strangest and most over-the-top film. It feels at times as much influenced by the Warriors as it does by historical epics, and there is a very baroque sense of combining veracity and accuracy with “almost” fantasized, tall-tale like elements…from what I understand, the book it’s based on is like this, describing guys that are like 10 feet tall with hands the size of hams and whatnot. It’s hyper-stylized, and I love how vague some of it is in terms of whether it’s fact-based or not- even the particular vernacular used seems like a mix of history and stylization.
I also think it’s brilliant how much of a sense of community- New York community- that the film conveys. There’s a very specific sense of time, place, and population and it’s really kind of amazing that it was all shot on sets. I love that the theme reflects how modern American democracy was achieved through a process of working out these very tribal, old world differences, and I love how this is expressed in such exaggerated terms. Bloody streetfights, themed gangs, and unbelievable costume design.
The story is great, the arc is compelling and it’s a fine revenge story with some real heft. Daniel Day Lewis carries the film- I think he really understood the almost cartoonish, extreme characterization the part required to sell the tone of the film. DiCaprio wasn’t quite ready to carry a film like this- you still get a sense that he’s a teen heart throb out of his league.
Unfortunately, the remaining 25% ranges from awkward to boring to just plain bad. Almost uniformly, there is one cause for all of this, and that’s that there is a distinct sense that concessions were made to more mainstream expectations regarding historical epic pictures like this, mostly informed by a decade of films like Braveheart, Gladiator, and so forth. This movie never should have been considered in the same breath as films like that, but I get a sense that some of the behind-the-scenes squabbles Marty had with Miramax have to do with exactly that- grooming this film to be one of those big Oscar bait historical dramas with something for everybody- including a throwaway romance story that threatens to sink the entire picture by stealing its momentum and redirecting the viewer to much less interesting story areas.
Any scene with Cameron Diaz in it is a non-starter. She threatens to ruin the entire film not only with a weak performance, but also a badly written and poorly conceived character that exists almost solely as the typical love interest for DiCaprio. Her role feels completely artificial, tangential to the story, and literally pasted in to the screenplay. She is the Jar Jar Binks of Gangs of New York.
There are other issues too- the opening brawl is literally the worst filmed, worst choreographed, worst edited action scene I think I’ve ever seen in an A-list film and probably down through the B-list as well. Then there’s a Peter Gabriel song from nowhere- what? The tone doesn’t always work, and sometimes it’s too obscure for its own good- raise your hands if you know what The Black Joke is. There are concessions made to accessibility, regardless of that fact…like how DiCaprio is hardly “rendered unrecognizable” by Bill after he finds out who he is. Some of the subtext is almost laughably blunt, like Bill draped in an American flag issuing forth with his Nativist agenda. Length is an issue, but that goes back to the padding and the romance subplot. But it still feels like the film is in tatters, with a much larger story to tell and a broader tapestry of characters with more detail if only it had more time to do so. He claims that this is the “director’s cut”, so I guess it is what it is.
The lump sum is that this is an utterly fascinating, sometimes staggeringly great film that fumbles and fails due to bad directorial choices, studio dictates, or a combination of both. I had only seen it once- in the theater- before I bought the $5 Blu-Ray two weeks ago…I’ve watched it like five times in the past week. I have a much greater _appreciation_ for the film, even though I think it’s ultimately something of a debacle taken as a whole.
But man, when it’s good…it’s really freaking good.
I’ll probably watch Upstream Color this week.
F:ATtie Faceknives mentioned grebo and Pop Will Eat Itself last week, so I thought it would be ironic fun to go back and listen to a couple of PWEI albums for old time’s sake. Funny enough, “This is the Day, This is the Hour, This is This” was kind of the soundtrack for our D&D group, summer of ’89 or ’90. But I think the last I heard of them was “Ich Bin Ein Auslander” some years ago.
Almost unbelievably...and I am shocked to say this…but their first two records really hold up! I completely did not expect to get into them again, assuming that whole late 80s samplist thing would sound quaintly dated and silly. But the production (Flood) is awesome, there’s some great arrangements, and it does the whole rock/rap thing based more on things like Run DMC, LL Cool J, Eric B. and Rakim, and other old school NYC hip hop than anything that came after. It’s not quite credible white rap- back then, the Beasties were still the last word in that. Sorry UK friends, you guys had the beats, but not the rhymes.
I really liked listening to the first two records again, after “Cure for Sanity” things get a little ickier even though their biggest hit is from that period…THEN things start to sound dated and badly so.
I mean, how can you not like a band that references The Terminator, the Fall, and Alan Moore in one line? “Terminator, Hit the North! Alan Moore knows the score!” And then goes on to reference Bruce Lee, Spinderella, Marvel _and_ DC, Optimus Prime, and the Good, the Bad and the Ugly. This was nerdcore before it existed.
So yeah, I guess I like PWEI again…never saw that coming.
Started listening to the new Rick Rubin-produced Black Sabbath record…it’s…actually kind of good. Also on cue, the new Deafheaven record that people are apparently flipping out over…both because it’s supposed to be a great USBM record and also because it has a pink cover.