Monday, June 13, 2011

What happened this weekend

Google's version of "But I did watch some movies."  I approve.
This is going to be a shocker: I didn't make any hobby progress this weekend.  In my defense I was still embroiled in making a house over.  It's hard to hold a brush while you're also carrying a couch.  While I didn't get any actual hobbying done, I watched a few movies that have some relevance to the interest of gamers.  Thus I offer to you, the reading public, these few movie reviews instead of anything with minis or paints or dice.  Next time, for really reals, some pictures of miniatures I have built and/or painted, along with words about said miniatures.  Or at least some army lists.  For now I don my reviewer hat and give you the inside skinny on some movies that may peak your interest.  I'll see what I can do in the way of fancy formatting to obscure spoilers for those inclined to remain untainted.

Vin Diesel in an action movie?  Shocker.
First up was a Vin Diesel flick, Babylon AD.  This has been out a couple years and I just got around to it because I wasn't that interested in it to begin with.  Short plot summary: Vin Diesel is hired by a Russian to escort a girl from Russia, or a former Russian country, to the US.  Vin Diesel has a well-documented gaming streak, so there's a  gamer connection, plus the movie itself has a cyberpunk sort of flavor.  On the surface, this sounds like a movie I'd really enjoy.  I like post-apocalyptic/dystopian stories and it looks like it would explore the faith vs. reason conflict that I so enjoy.  It's a nice looking film from a strictly visual angle, and for the most part the story is good.  I'm not a Vin Diesel fan, but he didn't detract from the movie and I never thought of stopping the film because of him (which I can't say about some other actors).  The whole movie is a bit excessive, especially the action sequences, but it holds together well.  At least until the end.  Spoilers:  Turns out the girl being escorted is actually a sort of cyborg, engineered from birth to be part human and part machine.  This manifests suddenly in the last 15-20 minutes and the formerly helpless girl is now a Phoenix-esque unstoppable being, complete with force fields.  The end is abrupt, with Vin Diesel shifting from lone wolf mercenary to father.  It's not a bad ending on its own, but it doesn't really fit with the rest of the film.  Overall this isn't a bad movie, but it does hobble itself in some regrettable ways.  It was both better and worse than I expected.  3/5 stars, losing one for the ending, but gaining one for overall quality.

Emma Stone doesn't hurt the movie.
Next up is Easy A.  I dismissed this movie after seeing some trailers, figuring it was a standard high school movie where a student does something ill-considered, then learns their lesson and mends their ways.  What changed my mind about the movie was the Netflix summary, which pointed to a connection with Hawthorne's The Scarlett Letter.  Hawthorne emerged as a favorite author over a few courses where I read some of his short stories.  He has a style reminiscent of fables and all of his works has many layers of meaning to sink your teeth into.  I had never read The Scarlett Letter, but I remedied that a few months ago, and so the story is still relatively fresh in my mind.  The movie is a loose adaptation of the book and part of the plot involves the students reading The Scarlett Letter, so there are a lot of meta elements.  The writing is tight in the same way that movies from the 40s are with quips and repartee flying fast and thick.  Short summary: Emma Stone lets guys tell their friends they've had some manner of naughty congress with her in exchange for money (in the form of gift cards) while enjoying her new notoriety, until she stops enjoying it.  My initial impressions about the movie were largely correct, but the film was good enough to overcome the trite subject matter.  There isn't much of a gaming connection here, unless you're a literature nerd like I am.  Considering most gamers are also voracious readers, there's a good chance that you are.  Don't try too hard to figure out who connects to who between the book and the movie though as this isn't a direct adaptation, more a movie inspired by the book.  The cast is very pretty, which is always nice, and the performances are solid.  4/5 stars and worth your time.  Minor spoiler:  there's a treasure of a scene where Lisa Kudrow is flipping out and cursing, repeating "goddamn shit" over and over in a clear effort to cram as much profanity in to the scene while still maintaining a PG-13 rating.  Very amusing if you enjoy the finer points of the movie rating system.

I wish I had seen this before the movie.
I followed Easy A up with Gentlemen Broncos.  The summary drew me in again, though I had no foreknowledge of the movie.  Short summary: an aspiring young SF author submits his work for a writing camp competition only the have it stolen by the author he idolizes.  Having writing aspirations of my own, plus a love of SF, I turned this one on to see how it was.  This isn't something I normally do, just turning on a movie on TV at random, but I wanted something to put on in the background that I didn't really have to pay attention to, and this fit the bill well.  This is a quirky movie full of oddball characters and a heavy dose of maudlin wistfulness.  Part of the plot involves an amateur adaptation of the protagonist's story, and it was these parts that finally made me understand the movie's intentions.  These interludes are ridiculous.  One features a cyborg deer with rocket pods that flies.  The intention is that the ridiculousness translates into hilarity at a 1:1 ratio, if not greater.  The result is less than that, far less, and the wacky collection of characters comes across as strange for the sake of being strange.  While collecting links for this very post, I saw the poster on the right and the header on said poster: from the director of Napoleon Dynamite.  This was the final piece of the puzzle for me.  Gentleman Broncos is very much Napoleon Dynamite with a SF flavor.  I didn't like Napoleon Dynamite and I didn't like Gentleman Broncos either.  2/5 stars because it was just bad, not insulting-waste-of-my-time bad.  If you liked Napoleon Dynamite give it a shot, maybe its brand of humor will appeal to you.  The SF parodies hit close to the mark, so there's that at least.

Mmmm, Ellen Page.
The last movie I watched over the weekend was Whip It.  That's not an entirely accurate statement though.  I should say I watched part of Whip It and had to force myself to stop so I could catch it from the beginning later.  Very short summary: small town beauty queen decides to break the mold and become a roller derbyist.  Derbyer.  Whatever.  I turned this one on figuring there might be some rollergirl eye candy. which there is, and I found a decent movie by happenstance.  It also doubles as a rolley derby primer, so if you're like me and don't know anything about the sport/game/show then the movie will educate you as it unfolds.  I can only assume that the information is accurate.  While this is a stereotypical coming of age movie, it's a good one.  I kept telling myself that I should stop watching it and go to bed, yet I kept going and finally shut it off before what I figured was the climax of the movie where spoiler: there's a conflict between the roller derby championship and the big beauty pageant.  Oh no!  Will Ellen Page go to the beauty pageant or the match?  What tension!  I've heard of the connection between roller derby ladies and gaming guys before, though I have yet to see it in action here.  Perhaps it's a regional thing, though the appeal of ladies in fishnets and hotpants combined with hip checks and campy violence must be universal.  Drew Barrymore is in the movie, which is a negative for me, and some of the rest of the cast is unfortunate, but this movie was entertaining enough to keep me watching when I wanted to stop.  4/5 stars on an educated guess.

Classic chess with a side of crazy.
While I didn't watch this movie over the weekend, I did watch it about a week ago and it will bring this post back around to gaming.  What I watched was Bobby Fischer Against the World, a documentary on HBO.  Apparently they do a new one every Monday over the summer.  This will come as a shock considering this is a wargaming blog, but I really like chess.  On the verge of love, but not quite fanatical enough to take that plunge.  I enjoy Searching For Bobby Fischer, so when I saw this new documentary I gave it a shot.  What I expected was the tale of Fischer's chess accomplishments, and I got that.  What I didn't expect was the tale of Fischer's post-chess life.  Going into the movie, I knew he was a recluse who appeared rarely after he won the World Chess Championship.  I learned a few new things from the documentary, which I will spoilerize for those who want to find them out on their own.
  • Bobby Fischer is dead.
  • Bobby Fischer was a lunatic, and not just in a crazy chess guy way.
  • Bobby Fischer never defended his World Championship, so the following champion "won" by default.
  • Bobby Fischer was an outspoken critic of the US, to the point that he was effectively exiled after 9/11.
  • Bobby Fischer was an international nomad and was nearly extradited back to the US before Iceland came to his rescue and made him a citizen.
  • Bobby Fischer crapped all over everyone in Iceland after they pulled his butt out of the fire.
  • Bobby Fischer was a brilliant chess player, but threw himself into the deep end and found new levels of crazy.
  • There is little to be admired in Bobby Fischer outside of his chess accomplishments.
While the film was a rude education about a figure I thought I knew something about, it was entertaining.  Having illusions shattered is never pleasant, but this film accomplished it in a relatively gentle manner.  I expected more chess than I got, but that bit of coverage was well done.  4/5 stars, if only because it was uncomfortable to see what kind of person Fischer turned into.  This probably isn't news for people who follow chess closer than I do, so your mileage will vary.

So how does that movie tie into gaming?  Other than chess being the foundation, and arguably perfection, of wargaming, this movie made me think about how I'd make a mini-based chess set.  Space Marines are so plentiful and iconic that they're my starting point, though I think fantasy armies would work just as well and be more accessible to non-gamers.  I settled on (pre-Heresy) Death Guard for the white side, but I'm on the fence for black.  Raven Guard feel like the best fit, since they're all black, but I'm not satisfied with them.  Ideally the white side would be more aggressive than Death Guard, perhaps White Scars, and the black side would be defensive, like Imperial Fists or Iron Warriors, but those color schemes don't work out so well.  Making the pieces themselves easily identifiable is also a bit of a challenge.  Pawns would be bolter marines, that much is easy.  For rooks I like THSS Terminators, jump troops for Knights, perhaps a Librarian for the Queen and some sort of commander for the King.  Bishops should be Chaplains from a fluff stand point, but they have so much character as models I think they'd draw attention away from the King and Queen, so perhaps Devastators for Bishops.  This would almost require a swap from THSS to Cyclone or Asscan Terminators to keep long-range weapons aligned with the ability to move many squares.  The King and Queen are the biggest hurdles.  The Librarian is powerful enough as a 40k piece to work as the Queen, while something like a Blood Angels Captain is irrelevant enough as a 40k piece to work as the King, though Terminator armor is probably a good idea for thematic purposes.  The problem is making them stand out.  Without the iconic chess shapes, making all those power armored marines look different will take some doing.  Putting those chess shapes on the squad shoulder pad is one solution, and a fairly elegant one, but it doesn't really help with silhouettes.  This is an appealing project for me, but one that will take some noodling to figure out.  Fortunately I have plenty of time to ponder.

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