Tuesday, January 31, 2012


I wasn't sure what to expect from tonight's Michael Jackson-centric episode of Glee. Glee has done episodes before that were dedicated to a single artist, and I've generally been uncertain about those efforts too. They usually feature powerful vocal performances... but too many of them, to the exclusion of plot. And what little plot there is is usually painfully contorted to fit the available catalog of music.

Sure enough, the episode was stuffed to the rafters with music -- nine songs in total, which I think might be the record for a non-competition episode of Glee. And sure enough, some of the song choices were a stretch. (I know "Ben" is the perfect vocal match for Chris Colfer as Kurt, but is he really going to sing a love song about a rat to his injured boyfriend?)

But the thing is, this time the cocktail really came out well. The focus on the kids' futures -- particularly Rachel and Kurt -- made for a strong throughline in the episode. It was interesting to see Rachel act rashly and out of panic in accepting Finn's proposal (just as he did the same in making it). As always, it was great to see Burt deliver another "TV Father of the Year" speech to his son. And there were other good moments too, like Artie's impassioned rant early in the episode, and Quinn's much needed frank advice to Rachel.

And on top of all that was the constant that's been true of all the Glee "tribute episodes" -- the vocal performances were top notch. Kevin McHale proved last season his fit for Michael Jackson with his vocals on "Thriller" and "P.Y.T.", and he got to take lead parts in three songs tonight. And one of them, "Scream," was also our first chance since season one to put Artie in a fantasy sequence. Once again, it allowed us to see that one of the best dancers on the show is playing a character confined to a wheelchair.

The a cappella take on "Bad," the cello rendition of "Smooth Criminal" (complete with the actual cellists that made it a YouTube sensation last year)... the episode was full of great performances.

All that, and they even crammed in writing Blaine out for a short span so that Darren Criss could go star in "How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying" on Broadway for a few weeks. With only minor missteps, this was one of the better Glee episodes in a long time. I give it an A-.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Cal Sweeney

Tonight's new Alcatraz kept the show on a steady and interesting course. What struck me particularly in this episode was how the mysteries of the characters themselves are of at least as much interest and importance as the mystery of Alcatraz.

For example, there was the tantalizing throwaway line revealing that Soto hasn't driven a car since he was 11. (Some connection to the childhood abduction revealed last week seems implied.) Or take the appearance of Dr. Banerjee in the 1960 flashback, discussing her work at rehabilitating prisoners. I found these details more compelling than the also admittedly interesting "glowing door with secret keys (from the future?)" revealed at episode's end.

I mentioned last week that I felt the convicts' easy adaptation to modern life was an issue that would need to be addressed. The writers gave that a shot this week, in having Madsen get the drop on Sweeney because of his lack of ingrained instinct to put on a seat belt. And yet, at the same time, he found his way around bank robberies (including modern security cameras) with such ease up to that point, it felt like they were trying to have it both ways. I'll keep hoping for better development on this front.

Still, the case and criminal were once again intriguing. The balance of character and plot was good. The show continues to deliver on the things I've liked so far. I'll still be watching next week.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

State of the Art

This afternoon, I went to see the film that most odds makers are backing for this years Oscar-winning Best Picture, The Artist. A silent film, shot in black-and-white and in the old style aspect ratio; a story commenting on the history of cinema and the downfall of silent movies? Sounds like just the sort of pretentious thing Oscar viewers would go for, doesn't it?

But the thing is, it turned out to be a movie I think could be enjoyed by a much wider audience. Get over the obvious barriers to the film, and you'll find it's actually quite entertaining. Within the stylish framework, the movie actually has interesting characters and an emotional story to tell. It's the story of a silent movie actor who is unwilling to sell out his sense of the art and convert to "talkies" as silent filmmaking is on its way out in the early 1930s.

The two lead performers, Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo, aren't ones you'll likely know, but both carry the film wonderfully. They play within the silent conceit, heightening their acting just enough to push through without seeming hammy. And they're supported by a great cast including John Goodman, James Cromwell, Penelope Ann Miller, and a scene-stealing trained dog. There are also brief cameo-style appearances by Malcolm McDowell and Missi Pyle.

I liked the movie well enough that it will slide into the #7 slot on my list of 2011's Best movies. There are movies I liked better, but they aren't in the Oscar running, so I suppose this means that so far, The Artist is not only the likely winner, but my choice as well. As for my grade, I give it a B+. I'd hope for an Oscar winner I could give a higher mark to, but then again, there are many past Oscar winners I've thought a whole lot less of.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Respect Your Elder

I've been playing The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim for about a month now. I just this week completed the "main quests," the most prominent storyline in the game. I figure it's about time for me to give my official review of the game.

I miss epic, open-world games like this. The Ultima series (specifically, Ultimas IV through VII -- parts 1 and 2) were my very favorite games as a teenager, and I feel like today, games of this type are too few and far between. They've been crowded out in the modern market by MMORPGs, which in my view nail the MMO part and tend to fail miserably at the RPG part.

Skyrim (like its predecessors) is a grand return to a world where it's all about you, the player, and the character you create. You save the freaking world. You rise to leadership of guilds. Yes, you do occasionally get tasked with menial MMO-type mini-quests to "collect 20 of this thing," but these are quite rare compared to epic, big story quests.

The environments are wonderful. Different cities have distinct looks. Prominent battles take place in beautiful settings. There's a satisfying and diverse array of enemies to fight (including dragons, yes plenty of dragons). The scale, scope, and arc of the story deliver everything I want from one of these games.

I've spent over 100 hours playing Skyrim so far, and despite completing the main storyline, I suspect I'll be playing it at least another 20 before it finally fades out and gives way to some other game. So needless to say, yes, I liked it. Loved it. Obsessed about it, starting at least 1/3 of my conversations with friends with "so this one time... in Skyrim..." It's a great game.

But I do have to mention a few quibbles.

First, the game doesn't do nearly as good a job with character as it does with story and environment. There are a few memorable characters in the game, and the designers certainly knew which ones they wanted them to be, because they're voiced by the likes of Michael Hogan (Colonel Tigh from Battlestar Galactica) and soon-to-be-Oscar-winner Christopher Plummer. But the vast majority of the characters in the game have bland personalities and forgettable names. (Though there is an internal consistency to the way they're named, at least.) Basically, the game goes with breadth and not depth in the character department.

Second, the actual climax of the main storyline is a bit disappointing. Without spoiling much for people who want to experience the story themselves, I'll simply say that the final confrontation feels very similar to a confrontation that occurs roughly two-thirds through the main story. The finale did not feel like "the most epic fight I had in the game." Not even in the top 5, really. I'm not equating "difficult" with "climatic" here, but I was hoping for "distinct." Other confrontations I had in the game felt more memorable to me.

Third, the well-documented bugs plaguing the PS3 version of the game are a sticking point with me. I received the game for Christmas, and the first thing I had to do was exchange it for the Xbox 360 version before I opened it -- I didn't want to face the problem I'd heard about: "you'll play it fine for a while, but after enough hours of gameplay, your frame rate will be crippled to unplayable." It's unacceptable to ship a game on a platform and not truly support that platform. It would have been better to simply cancel the PS3 version altogether and just release the game on PC and Xbox 360 than to ship what was ultimately an unplayable game. Rumor is that the patch soon to be released may finally fix the problem, though this claim has been made with previous failed patches. Selling an unplayable game to people for nearly three months seems unacceptable to me in any case.

Those complaints may sound strong (particularly the last one), but I'm going to ultimately grade the game an A-. And that right there should tell you just how much I've enjoyed everything else about Skyrim. It's been a bulldozer pushing out of the way almost everything else that normally fills my free time.

And I haven't minded one bit.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Touch Type

Last night, the premiere of a new series aired on FOX -- Touch. It's the latest from series creator Tim Kring, and stars Kiefer Sutherland. It felt like an attempt by both to step away from their last, well-known television efforts, and I'm not sure it was a resounding success for either of them.

Touch is a multi-faceted story primarily featuring the single father of a young boy who has never spoken in his life, and who may (or may not) be autistic. For certain, the boy is able to perceive complex patterns in the world, of how people's lives are supposed to intersect. He tries to convey these visions through seemingly random series of numbers, which his father tries to interpret in time to manipulate events for some better outcome. Quantum Leap for the new century?

Creator Tim Kring is the man who made Heroes, a show I abandoned early on, but which many people I know followed bravely through what were widely considered four ever-declining seasons. Here, it feels as though he was trying to create a less "mythology" driven show, more episodic in nature and with less of a convoluted, ongoing storyline. But if this pilot is any indication, each episode is going to have its own labyrinthine series of interlocking gears -- Heroes compressed into a single episode each week.

Kiefer Sutherland is trying to embody a gentler, more fragile hero than 24's Jack Bauer. But Bauer is one of the most indelible characters of modern television. When Sutherland screams "dammit" in this pilot episode (not once, but twice), I wanted to take the customary 24 drinking game swig. When his character Martin Bohm gets beaten up during the episode (again, not once, but twice), it's hard to accept that he doesn't fight back -- indeed, seems incapable of doing so. Sutherland may simply be too typecast for a role like this now.

The pilot did have a few interesting "aha!" moments, but I think the premise is going to be incredibly challenging to sustain as a weekly series. Every episode seems to promise a wheels-within-wheels puzzle that will all reconcile by hour's end. But we the audience know that this is what's going to happen, and so we're going to be looking to solve that puzzle before the answer is revealed. It seems to me the series will be audience-vs.-writers, in a war to see who can outthink the other.

I suppose you could say that every mystery story ever written, in any medium, has the same problem going. But here I think the ante is upped given the type of audience likely to buy into a rather science fiction-like premise. And I feel like the results will be typical of how this first episode ended. Yes, there was a fun moment or two. And a few moments you could see coming a mile off. And a few other moments that were simply too trite to be clever.

Throw in a few frustrating characters -- a bristling and unsympathetic social worker, and a nonsense-spouting "expert" on autism played by Danny Glover -- and I'm just not seeing the right ingredients in this soup. It definitely wasn't "bad" television, but it also seems to me it's going to need a lot of improvement.

But this was just a special preview of the series, and it isn't starting up on a weekly basis until mid-March. So whether or not I give it another chance is probably going to depend entirely on how busy I find myself six weeks from now. If most other shows are in re-runs, I might give another episode or two a chance. If the schedule is crowded, well then, tonight will probably be my first and last episode.

Only an autistic, pattern-seeing child could see the future and tell you the answer.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Chew On This

I didn't have time tonight to write the post I'd been planning, so instead, you get this absolutely disgusting story about a man who rolled nearly 100,000 pieces of chewed nicotine gum into a vile ball.

On second thought, maybe I did have time to write the post I'd intended. I'm pretty sure I'm not sleeping well tonight, thinking of that.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

And the Nominees Are...

This year's Oscar nominations were announced this morning, and gave me a full realization of just how far behind I am in watching movies right now. Usually, by the time the nominees are announced, I've seen at least half of the Best Picture candidates.

This year, I've seen only one out of nine: Midnight in Paris. And I've only seen a sprinkling of the nominated Actor and Actress performances.

But I still found a few things interesting about the nominees. First of all, there was the fact that Hugo received the most nominations -- 11. More often than not, the film most nominated is the one to beat for Best Picture. If true, then this year's race may be a bit more fluid than some of the critics have predicted. Most have been pointing to The Artist, with those who can't believe a silent movie will win in this day and age pointing at The Descendants instead. Could we really have a three horse race now?

I believe for the first time since the Best Animated Feature category was created, Pixar had an eligible film that didn't make the cut. And "deservedly" so there, since Cars 2 was absolutely feet and ankles below the rest of their catalog. (By the way, do you buy "feet and ankles below" as an opposite of "head and shoulders above?" I wasn't quite sure how to put that.)

A real flaw in this whole "let's nominate more than five films" thing they've been trying over the last few years is that it's really easy to just look at the five Best Director nominees and know which of the Best Picture contenders are the "also rans." Interesting that Steven Spielberg's omission this year puts War Horse in that category.

There are only two nominees in the Best Original Song category this year. It seems to me that all Oscar categories should expand or contract in a given year to incorporate worthy nominees -- or a lack thereof.

Looks like I have some serious catching up to do if I want to have anything remotely like an informed opinion next month.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Kit Nelson

The new show Alcatraz returned with another episode tonight, and I think took a nice baby step in the right direction.

The show held strong on all the qualities that made the first two hours intriguing. The case and the criminal were unsettling. The tiny hints of the larger mystery were tantalizing without being overwhelming. The mood was dark without being relentlessly oppressive.

But at the same time, the writing worked just a bit more on developing character. In the spotlight this week was Jorge Garcia's character, Diego Soto. We saw him become much more emotionally invested in this week's case, and by the end of the hour, we got a taste of why. Again, just enough not to frustrate, but not enough to give the game away. Abducted as a child? It should be interesting to learn more about that.

But while I did find this episode more compelling overall, and I definitely plan to keep with the show, there are two aspects I think the writing is going to have to address in the relatively near future.

First, how is it that these criminals freshly transported from 1963 are so easily "acclimatizing" to 2012? In tonight's episode, the criminal-of-the-week confronted our heroine, Detective Madsen, and after instructing her to throw her gun away, told her to throw her phone away. And then later, he easily located an abandoned bomb shelter despite a complete alteration of the terrain in the intervening decades. I think I'd like to see some of the criminals struggling some to come to grips with their new environment.

Second, I think they'll have to develop some new textures to play in the 1960 scenes. So far, the format seems to be "watch the warden find a clever way to torture the criminal-of-the-week." It actually reminds me just a little bit of the 1990s one season wonder American Gothic, in which an evil sheriff (played wonderfully by Gary Cole) tormented and controlled everyone who came into his sphere of influence. It totally worked on that show. And there's no question, we're dealing almost exclusively with some truly bad people here, so we don't mind seeing someone (the warden or anyone else) getting the best of them. But might it get old if the warden remains a mustache-twirling villain?

It's understandably a higher priority to flesh out the main characters in the present day, though. If the show flourishes and grows to a point where it needs to flesh out the evil warden, then I suppose it will be a hit and have plenty of time to address such things. I think I'm looking forward to that.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Over Under

I saw my first new movie of the year this afternoon -- Underworld: Awakening. It probably wouldn't have been my first choice, but I was game enough to try to check my brain at the door and roll with it. I hadn't seen any of the Underworld movies since the first one, but I figured I probably wasn't going to be too out of the loop, story-wise.

Unfortunately, I was more right on that count than I'd even imagined. Underworld is stuffed to bursting with many things, but story isn't among them. What is there is a simplistic scaffolding built to hold a procession of action pieces.

Take any one action scene in the movie on its own, individually, and it's not half bad. The problem is watching them all back to back. The amplifier is cranked to 11 from the very beginning, and stays there for the entire film. There's really no ebb and flow to the movie. Every scene is the most spine-breaking, blood-letting, eardrum-rupturing set piece the writers and directors could conceive. Everything is outrageous, and so before long, it feels like nothing is outrageous. It's all just over the top.

There's some good, pulse-pounding music, and a fun (but too brief) appearance by Charles Dance, who last made a splash as Tywin Lannister on Game of Thrones. Plus of course, if it floats your boat, Kate Beckinsale looking great in skin-tight leather-vinyl -- amazing for someone approaching 40 years old, actually.

But ultimately, I need just a bit less "dumb" in my "big dumb action move." I give Underworld: Awakening a D+.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Dialogue from S--[CENSORED]

Skyrim has just a sprinkling of PG language. (They earn their M rating with violence.) But these videos will make you think otherwise:

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Thankful All Over Again

This past weekend, I got to take part in a fun new holiday-esque tradition, the second annual... well... name pending.

For two years running now, my boyfriend has bought an ultra-cheap turkey in the aftermath of Thanksgiving, and kept it frozen in his "could hold several bodies" freezer in the garage, waiting for January to roll around. You've heard of Christmas in July? Well, meet Thanksgiving in January.

Friends came over to his place, everyone bringing a Thanksgiving dish -- some traditional, some a little different (appropriate, considering the occasion). One brought along what turned out to be the best turkey recipe ever: Turkey with Herbes de Provence and Citrus.

Seriously, go bookmark that link or print it out, and hang onto it for the next time you have to cook a turkey. Unbelievable!

Just like Thanksgiving, the cooking was an all-day affair, but with fun activities throughout. Good food, good company.

Though we're still looking for the perfect name. Gobble-a-go-go was in the mix. Thankuary seemed decent. Janksgiving was right out. But in any case, it's a tradition sure to be repeated again next year, so we are going to have to work that name out.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Internet Uprising

Today, Wikipedia, Google, and other online web sites (both large and small) were staging protests against two bills before the U.S. Congress: SOPA and PIPA. The bills are meant to attack piracy, but do so in such a draconian manner as to risk compromising core principles of the internet.

I was going to join several of my co-workers and write my own commentary on the issue. I felt myself in an interesting place as an employee of a company that provides entertainment that could be pirated, but that also relies on the internet for distribution. Thoeretically, I could have sympathies for both sides of the issue -- and I knew with every fiber of my being that the proposed legislation was wrong, wrong, wrong. I was going to use my time and space to implore people to take actions against the bills as recommended by Wikipedia: contact your local congressman.

But the day is waning, and some funny things have happened before I could get to writing this post. In a nutshell, the protests worked. Apparently, the sponsors of the bill were absolutely deluged with complaints today, as one by one, they all announced a withdrawal of support for their own measures. So, crisis... well, perhaps not "averted," but certainly "forestalled." It may well still be worth contacting your congressman to tell them they'd better fly right on this issue in the future, but it's not "all hands on deck" aboard the Good Ship Cyberspace.

So instead, a few random thoughts on the fact that the protest did apparently work.

Much has been made in recent years of how much money has infested American politics, how beholden politicians are to the rich people (and now, the corporations -- thank you Citizens United and the Supreme Court!) whose vast wealth gets them into office. And fundamentally, that hasn't really changed overall. But right up until literally yesterday, the sponsors of this bill had been unwavering in their message about SOPA and PIPA. They believed that any opposition to their measure was coming from an insignificant minority, from the very pirates they thought the bill would stop, and they were dismissing this opposition as anything from malicious to stupid. The money of Hollywood movie studios, most concerned about piracy at the moment, was ringing louder in the Congressional ears.

And yet, today, phone calls and e-mails from actual citizens made a difference. That's something that many people thought couldn't possibly happen anymore, and I was turning into one more than I care to admit. So, score one for representative democracy.

...I guess. Not a big score. After all, the desired outcome here was for Congress to "do nothing," and gridlock is really what they excel at.

I just wish there were some other important issues that people would get as worked up about as the internet. Maybe then some real improvements could happen.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


Glee is back for the new year, and delivered a mostly good episode. But there were some minor misfires along the way.

The opening presentation of "Summer Dreams" was undeniably perfect for the situation, though the song choice from Grease did probably put Glee in damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don't territory. The staging was straight out of the movie, and I can't decide if that was the boring way to do it, or the only way to do it.

Helen Mirren cameos as the internal monologue of Becky? How awesome is that?!

Emma gets to sing again after a long time since her last number, and the staging of it was solid too! Okay, now we're rolling!

...except then came a lukewarm Glee mashup. The idea of putting "Moves Like Jagger" with a Rollings Stone song is an undeniably clever idea, but the actual orchestration of it was the epitome of "will you just pick a song and go with it?" to me. Still, Kevin McHale has one of the best voices on the show, and doesn't get nearly enough solos. So I guess between that and the good dance staging, I'll call this one a net positive.

But I'll have to call Will asking Finn to be his best man to be a net negative. Not so much for the awkwardness of a teacher asking a current student to do that, but just that I didn't buy any of the things Will was saying about how stalwart a person Finn has been. I've been watching the show the whole time, you see. (P.S. -- The background music in this scene was really odd. At one point, I swear they were about to start singing "Eminence Front" by The Who... though I couldn't figure out what possible connection to the story that would have had.)

If a downhill slide began there, though, it was completely stopped by the best musical number of the hour, the girls' performance of "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face." The montage that went with it, and the emotions plain on the faces of the singers, really made it a moving and powerful performance.

...which was then totally undermined by Will going to Emma's parents for permission to marry. The writers just had to get last more bump in the road in the Will/Emma relationship, I guess. I just couldn't fathom any other reason why Will would go to seek the approval of people he expressly told Emma should not be pursued for approval the last time we saw them. And they were even more horrible parents in this episode than they were the last time around. It sort of makes the prickliness of Mike Chang's father in this season's earlier storyline seem tame by comparison.

Next came the bombshell about Finn's dad -- not a war hero, but a failure. I wasn't sure at the time why this was being tossed into this episode (though it did turn out to be building somewhere). But it did provide the setting for another great performance by Kurt's father... and an equally good one from Finn's mother.

It all worked its way to that incredibly odd swimming pool proposal. I'm not quite sure why it felt like "Emma" to Sam or Will. It just felt like the writers expressing a need to unleash their inner Busby Berkeley. But at least the proposal itself went off without a hitch.

A tender moment between Becky and Sue (a rare human one for Sue), and now we're heading toward a happy endi---

Stop the presses! Finn sits Rachel down for a speech, and from the moment he tells her to wait for quietly to finish, you know where it's going... and watch it like a car wreck in slow motion. And despite the fact that it was all just horribly awkward, I think it was meant that way, and is an interesting thing for the show to do. I do wish they'd laid the track for Finn's impulsiveness over maybe another episode or two -- perhaps suggesting the army one week, finding out the truth of his father in another, then tailspinning into the proposal in a third.

Then again, I probably wouldn't have wanted to see that much screen time devoted to Finn anyway.

Despite the fact that I noted a lot of bumps in the road above, I would say overall that the highs of the episode peaked higher than the lows dipped low. The story between Becky and Artie was interesting and felt honest. The groundwork for future material with Sam and Mercedes was promising. Sue being a rather normal human being was absolutely a step in the right direction.

All told, I'd call the episode a B+.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Rock On

Tonight was the debut of the new TV series Alcatraz. It has been billed as the latest from J.J. Abrams, though that's really stretching the facts. It's actually the brainchild of some former writers on Lost (including one who has already left Alcatraz over creative differences), and produced by Abrams' production company, Bad Robot.

That's not the only Lost connection here, of course. Actor Jorge Garcia (who played Hurley) is one of the co-stars. Abrams' "resident composer," Michael Giacchino, provided the music for the pilot episode. And yes, if you want to get completely superficial, it's a show about mysterious things happening on an island.

If you're not up on the premise, it's actually quite simple. The fact that Alcatraz prison was closed in 1963 due to budget cutbacks is "revealed" to be a fabrication. Instead, every single person on the island -- inmate and guard -- simply vanished without a trace one night. And now, nearly 50 years later, the missing prisoners are reappearing -- not having aged a day -- and resuming their criminal activities.

In its first two hours, Alcatraz managed to set forth its own identity and clearly lay out the picture of what it's going to be as a show. And it's a pretty damn interesting one, I think. In a nutshell, I'd say this show is going to deliver on the promise and potential that I thought Person of Interest would have this season. Alcatraz is ultimately a procedural crime show. Every week seems set up to be about our heroes catching the criminal of the week. It is an ongoing mystery just how these people have been moved through time, and what the motivation for such an event might be. A tantalizing backdrop, I'd say, but it's clearly not meant to dominate the proceedings.

The cast seems quite good, based on the first two hours. Jorge Garcia is playing a goofy and instantly lovable characters that on some levels is very much like Hurley, though he's also a much more knowledgeable and intellectual character. Veteran actor Sam Neill is the secretive head of the operation to track down the criminals, and has a history with Alcatraz himself. His character seems perhaps too much a cold-blooded cipher at the moment, though I imagine he will be fleshed out into less of a caricature if the show catches on. As for the rest of cast, there aren't any faces I'm familiar with, though they do seem well matched to their roles.

Of course, there's one more "star" of the show -- the prison itself. Having just been to the real Alcatraz myself only months ago, I can say that from what I saw, the prison has been recreated in very impressive detail. Yes, the pilot, with a larger budget, clearly filmed some exterior scenes on the real island itself. But the interiors are definitely on a stage, as Alcatraz is depicted in both the 1960s and in present day. And while the show certainly takes some liberties with what they claim is under the prison, the cell block itself, the mess hall, and other key locations, look just like the real thing. Excellent work.

I takes a lot for me to want to bring another crime procedural into my weekly TV schedule; the channels are littered with them. But I found Alcatraz interesting enough to bring on. I looking forward to next week.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

And the Golden Globes Snark Goes To...

Another movie/TV awards ceremony, another chance to sit with my catty, witty friends and comment. (Not that we could really compete with Ricky Gervais.)

"So, where was I?" Awesome opening line.

After playing so many wild characters, Johnny Depp has become a character himself. What is this accent he's doing?

Christopher Plummer... just brush your right sleeve off there. Please? No? Well, you'll get another chance when you win the Oscar for this role in a few weeks.

Laura Dern's dress does work, even though it has a bit of a "bottom of the aquarium" thing going on.

Liquid gooooooooooold!

Standing next to Julianne Moore, Rob Lowe looks like George Hamilton. Seriously, you could just hand him out as an award statue -- he's gold enough.

The top of Kate Winslet's dress is a mess. It looks like she's Hulking out of it.

Jeremy Irons seems to be trying to win a Golden Globe. He's totally feeling up the woman from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association.

I guess Homeland wasn't expected to win. They couldn't have been seated farther from the stage.

I would certainly think the score for the silent movie would win Best Score. (Though I've heard there was some controversy about him lifting material from other films?)

Madonna is wearing chain mail, garbage bags, and a weight lifting glove?

Seth Rogen has practically stopped the show.

Is Michelle Williams going to go work out after the show? What's with the leopard print and the headband?

Peter Dinklage makes up for his oversight at the Emmys last year and starts by thanking George R.R. Martin. Good. I guess Tyrion gets to survive now.

I see George Clooney and Brad Pitt worked out a mutual admiration society meeting... "you introduce my movie, I'll introduce yours."

Though everyone in my group likes Nicole Kidman's dress, it invited comments such as: 1) she looks like a steampunk superhero; 2) sandworms are eating her boobs; and 3) her dress is playing Pac-man.

Applause to Felicity Huffman and William H. Macy's musical introduction.

Jessica Lange came dressed crazier than her character on American Horror Story.

Julianna Margulies' hair is pulled so tight, it seems to actually be stretching her eyes.

Matt LeBlanc wins an award... meanwhile, Courtney Cox can't even get a nomination. Injustice.

Bradley Cooper came as Errol Flynn.

Wind tunnel hair is in this year.

I did not know that Morgan Freeman loves to take a bath in a casket.

Is Ben Kingsley getting a hand job during the show???!!!???

Angelina Jolie has come dressed for a Robert Palmer music video.

Salma Hayek has come as the robot from Metropolis.

Modern Family would have been my pick for Best TV Comedy too. And they gave an acceptance speech worthy of it.

The side of Michelle Pfeiffer's dress ended up in the front.

David Bowie was nominated for Best Actress? (Oh wait, it's Tilda Swinton.)

Why won't David Fincher just go up there and give Meryl Streep her glasses? Is this retribution for Rooney Mara not winning?

I suppose Jane Fonda of all people is allowed to look like she's in a workout outfit.

Did Natalie Portman forget to take the hanger out of her dress?

The Descendants??? Whaaaaaaat? Cue the critics babbling about how the HFPA is just weird, and that this doesn't mess up their Oscar predictions at all.

"We've been told to hurry up." So I'm going to speak as slowly aaaas poooosible.

Friday, January 13, 2012

A Third Trip to Paradise

I've written before about the documentary series Paradise Lost, whose two films cover the "West Memphis Three," three men convicted of the murder of three 8-year-old boys in the 1990s. (And, if you watch the films and/or do any reading on the case, you'll become convinced they were wrongfully convicted.) The series now continues with a third installment, Paradise Lost: Purgatory, which premiered on HBO this week.

This new documentary basically brings two main elements to the table to differentiate it from the prior two films: expanded coverage of the original case itself, and new evidence in the case that was formally publicized in 2007.

In that first area, examination of the original case, this documentary is easily the most unsettling of the three. After two films and some outside reading, I thought I'd seen most everything there was to see on the case. What I hadn't seen were crime scene photos. And I'm not sure I needed to. But this third film presents actual photos and video footage from the original crime scene, of the bound and mutilated victims. It's horrific. And though I'm not sure it was really necessary for the filmmakers to "go there," it does drive one important point home: though the focus of these documentaries has been around the innocence of the convicted three, the terrible crime itself was the first injustice here, and not to be forgotten.

The bulk of this third film brings viewers up to date on new DNA and forensic evidence, and new and more qualified experts who have interpreted both the new material and the original material of the case. It all stacks up in a powerful way. No longer is it just a matter of the three men being convicted on circumstantial evidence with no proof; now we see that there is compelling proof of their innocence.

The aggravating third act of the documentary then tracks the attempts of lawyers trying to present this new evidence to free the West Memphis Three. Orwellian blockages are thrown up in their paths, most significantly that every appeal in the case is heard by the same biased judge who presided over the original trials. A tragic mistake is compounded again and again.

It all culminates in an epilogue that had to be assembled by the documentary makers after they'd wrapped their originally intended film. Having finally made headway with the Arkansas Supreme Court, and with an appeal to schedule a new trial pending, the courts suddenly decided to instead accept "Alford plea" from the three men. This inexplicable nonsense within the justice system allows the three to maintain their innocence, but simultaneously requires them to plead guilty and agree to "time served." Basically, it forestalls the possible of a civil lawsuit against the state for wrongful imprisonment. It's an agreement the trio was willing to make, to avoid prolonging nearly two decades of incarceration through the process of another trial. (And with one of the three on death row, there was extra incentive not to roll the dice on a new trial.)

This may not be the last Paradise Lost film. It's definitely not the last documentary on the West Memphis Three, as filmmaker Peter Jackson is unveiling his own separate documentary on the subject in the near future. But it is another worthy (and enraging) entry in this compelling series. I'd rate it a B+.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Fictional Equality

The full review of Skyrim I intend to do is still forthcoming. But I do have a Skyrim story to share today.

Among the many, many, many things you can do in the game, your character can get married. And as a few game writers and bloggers have noted, you can actually get married to someone of the same sex. It's not legal in most U.S. states, but it's legal in Skyrim.

In fact, it's pretty much a non-issue in Skyrim, and much of what has been written on the subject is praising software developer Bethesda for their simple, matter-of-fact stance on this in their game. The thinking seems to be (for both game makers and critics commenting on it) that if it's just a simple, non-momentous matter of course in the game, that's one stride closer to changing real world attitudes to make it just a matter of course in real life. And setting aside the fact that most people in the "need their minds opened" demographic are not likely to be in the "playing Skyrim" demographic, I think I agree.

But, I actually did have my character enter into a gay marriage in Skyrim. And having gone through the process, I do have some quibbles with how the game handles it.

Without going into elaborate details, the way it works is that a certain pool of around 60 characters in the world are "marriage eligible." And regardless of whether you are playing a male or female character, all of these chararacters will accept your wedding proposal (provided you do enough to woo them).

While I applaud Bethsda's "it's just not a big deal" approach, the fact that these characters all just swing either way feels to me like a subtle reinforcement of the mistaken belief that sexual preference is a voluntary choice. All these characters could choose to be in a "traditional" marriage; they're "choosing" to be in a same-sex marriage with your character, if that's your desire as a player. Which, as far as the real world goes, is total crap. The authentic approach would be that of the pool of 60 or so marriage candidates, some small percentage of them would be open to the possibility of a same-sex marriage (and not to an opposite-sex marriage, save perhaps one or two truly bisexual characters).

Now, since we're talking realism here, let's be realistic. The most likely scenario is that the game designers just wanted players to have as many marriage options as possible, and subdividing the total pool would just make things tougher -- for programmers, for players, for everyone. I don't think it's likely that the game makers were intentionally making a bad statement here.

I mean, if they were really trying to make a statement, then I think they'd have put a few other same-sex married couples in the game. (Not that I've seen every character in the game -- has anyone? -- but from what I've seen, if you and your spouse are the same sex, you're the only such couple in the entire world.) But gays and lesbians are hardly the only underrepresented demographic in the game. For example, where are all the overweight people in Skyrim?

Let's not forget, Bethesda was ultimately making a "slay dragons and save the world" fantasy game, not a "role play marriage" game. So no, I'm not really upset with the game designers over these points I'm making.

I'm just saying, let's put this supposed "statement" they were making about same-sex marriage in a more complete context.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

My Top 100 Movies -- 95-91

Continuing through my top 100 movies...

95. GoldenEye. This is the best of the James Bond movies. Remington Steele deprived us of getting Pierce Brosnan as Bond years earlier (and also inflicted Timothy Dalton on us), but this was worth the wait. Sean Bean is a wonderful foil. Famke Janssen devours the scenery as a killer henchman in the model of classic thugs like Oddjob and Jaws. Even Alan Cumming and Joe Don Baker are fun (and watch for a before-she-was-famous Minnie Driver). The action moments are among the best of the series, the plot is just sensible enough to work, but just non-sensical enough to be fun. It's a tragedy that Brosnan's subsequent three Bond films were all among the most terrible in the series, because his tenure in the role started out so great. And Tina Turner's performance of the fantastic title song, over one of the better Bond credit sequences, is icing on the cake.

94. The History of the World, Part 1. Many of you will disagree with me... but many of you won't: this is Mel Brooks' best movie. Blazing Saddles and Spaceballs are good too, but I think Mel Brooks has the sensibilities of a sketch comedy writer, and this movie showcases that. Set up a funny premise, let it play as long as it's funny, then move on. So it is we get a hilarious opening parody of 2001, one of the funniest musical numbers ever put on film ("The Inquisition"), yet another "laugh-til-you-can't-breathe" performance from Madeline Kahn (in the Roman segment), and more. And it's all capped with even more sketch-style jokes in the form of what a mythical sequel movie would look like. Many great comedians (and too many no longer with us) show up to put in a few minutes in this fantastic treat.

93. Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. Michael Caine can perform both comedy and drama with what seems like no effort at all. And here, he almost gets to do both, playing an oh-so-serious character in an oh-so-ridiculous competition against the always funny Steve Martin. This con man comedy is made more than it could have ever been on the page by the wonderful interplay between these two actors. Countless quotable lines, wonderful twists in the plot, and the perfect balance between lightheartedness and mean spirits. And Ruprecht the Monkey Boy.

92. Clerks II. I never thought this movie would end up rated as high on my list as it is. But this is the one Kevin Smith film that I think has actual meat on the bone. Sure, the patter of his dialogue is usually fun, and I laugh as hard as anyone at geek humor like the "Star Wars vs. Lord of the Rings" debate, or the crassness of the donkey show. But what sets this film above Smith's others -- and gets it into my top 100 -- is that it has an actual message about doing what you love in life, that what others might see as "settling" or even "failure" might be the very thing that makes you truly happy. And the big scene in which this message is driven home is surprisingly heartfelt, given the rest of the movie. Which, as a bonus, is hilarious.

91. U-571. I'll get grief for picking this movie above so many more well-known and/or well-respected naval films. Even I have to acknowledge, I simply should not like this more than, say, Das Boot or The Hunt for Red October. But there's a magic cocktail in the performances here. Bill Paxton is a truly talented actor, and Harvey Keitel can build a memorable secondary character like few others. And while it feels ridiculous to praise Matthew McConaughey too highly, throwing him into this sort of heroic role is making perfect use of him. The story is more tense than Red October, more fast paced than Das Boot. It would probably be ranked even higher if it weren't for the blatant Americanization of a real-life story (as I noted in an earlier review of the film.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Some May Call This Junk, I Call It a Treasure

Some of my friends have acknowledged that they're so obsessed with Skyrim, it sometimes invades the way they look at things in their daily lives.

That probably looks something like this:

Monday, January 09, 2012

15 -- Things I Hate About You

As I expected, my football screed from yesterday attracted a few comments. (Though on Facebook, perhaps a few more supporters than I might have originally guessed.) It also attracted a few people who pointed out that Tim Tebow himself is a quite self-depracating individual who does not make his religion half as big a deal as the sportscasters looking to fill time. Granted. And the people who wrote this said it in the nicest way. It was nothing like a fire.

And yet, I'm going to go and probably pour some gasoline on it anyway.

Let me try to explain what I really meant when it comes to Tebow and religion -- and what I'm about to say applies to many people; Tebow is simply a prominent example right now.

I agree, in the handful of interviews I have seen, Tim Tebow tries his best to deflate his own aura of prestige, acknowledging his team's efforts. He doesn't present himself with arrogance; he presents himself with humility (that doesn't seem false). But to pray over the outcome of a football game in the first place is tacit arrogance.

Pray for your continued health, or for the health of an ailing loved one. Pray that you'll reach whatever afterlife you believe in. These prayers, if granted, probably don't come at the expense of anyone else, and a higher power could answer those prayers and still be objectively considered benevolent.

Do not pray for things in a zero-sum equation. Don't pray that you'll get that job you're interviewing for. If you get the job, that means everyone else who interviewed for it didn't.

But at least if you're praying for the job, you're probably praying for something you really need. Praying to win an athletic competition? That's selfish both in "ecology" and in scale. And I do not like it.

Whether Tebow takes the credit himself, gives thanks to his teammates, or gives thanks to his God, the fact is, he sits there and openly prays for God to pick him over others. I don't believe a truly benevolent God would do that, not even to favor someone who prays a lot over someone who doesn't. I believe a worthy God would be above that kind of favoritism and ego stroking.

Even if the person praying is "just praying," not explicitly asking to be given anything, I find the timing of it to be disingenuous and suspect. Why pick that moment to tell God you think he's so great if not to implicitly seek a little quid pro quo?

No, Tebow is not the only person in professional sports who does this. But one way or another, he's become a poster child for it. And for me, that makes him the poster child of the thing I think I hate most about professional sports.

So I stand by my comment that Tim Tebow is an arrogant person. But yes, in a passive, relatively benign way that seems to be widely accepted in our society. A way that I personally reject.

That's more than you probably wanted to know about my thoughts on the matter. But hey, it's one day where you don't have to read "yet another movie review."

Sunday, January 08, 2012

The Perspective of a Football Non-Fan

I'm not a football fan. Not even a little. Ordinarily, I don't begrudge the enthusiasm of those who are. But with Tebow-mania as a factor, I have to confess that a growing part of me was starting to root against the Denver Broncos. I just wanted the whole thing to be over and done with.

Then, this afternoon, I suddenly found myself actually rooting for the Denver Broncos. No, I didn't get caught up in any wave of fandom. I didn't even watch the game. Actually, I went out to run errands around town during the game. And that's when it hit me:

The roads were almost empty. The stores were virtual ghost towns. Everyone was at home, watching the game on television. So I got around and did everything I needed to do with a minimum of hassle.

What if the Broncos could keep it rolling another week? I'd get another opportunity to go out next weekend and do things unimpeded! How cool would that be?

And sure enough, Tebow apparently Tebowed hard enough, and the Broncos pulled out a win. I still don't like the guy, and the arrogance of believing in a God that would see fit to intercede in something as mundane as a professional sports game as opposed to some other, more worthy cause. And that He would do it on your behalf because you're somehow more deserving than the other team.

But it looks like I do get another easy shopping trip. I'd better start planning what I need to do.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

My Top 100 Movies -- 100-96

For a long, long time now, I've been talking about how I was pulling my top 100 movie list back together. I had always intended to do that, and then talk about my choices here on the blog. But there was always "just one more movie" I wanted to watch again, just to be sure I'd placed it just right in the order.

I've now realized that I'll really never be done with this project. Well, obviously... even if I watched every one of the "check it out again" movies on my list, the top 100 list would still be open to changing any time I saw something new that was worthy.

So, I've decided to stop waiting, and go ahead and roll out the list. I figure I'll do five a day -- not consecutively, I suspect, but occupying 20 days' worth of blog posts over the next couple months. It'll be a snapshot of what my 100 favorite movies are now, and we'll leave it at that.

Of course, if you're linked with me on Flickchart, you could jump right to the "last page" and see my whole list. But here on the blog, I intend to say a few words about my choices. Comments welcome, of course.

Enough fanfare. Let's get on with it!

100. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. This is the first of the Harry Potter movies to truly venture into darker territory. It also was the first not to be directed by Chris Columbus, and Alfonso Cuarón definitely brought a more adult, sinister slant to the proceedings. In the original books, I'd say that Harry Potter didn't quite make the turn to "less kiddie books" until book 4, but movie 3 marks that turning point. The three central children all step up their acting game, and new cast members Gary Oldman and David Thewlis add great work to the mix as well. It's also John Williams' last work as composer on the series. The time-turner sequence at the end is just great fun, and the climax when Harry conjures his performance is dramatic and moving. Great film.

99. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2. It was not my plan to have two Harry Potter films end up back to back here at the bottom of my list, but that's how it worked out. Rather than go on again about the movie, I'll point you to my original review.

98. Chicken Run. Aardman Animations is awesome. And while this film wasn't quite as hilarious as the Wallace and Gromit shorts I saw first, I still loved it. I laughed at the jokes, I gawked at the painstaking animation in the elaborate finale. The voice talent, including Miranda Richardson, Timothy Spall, Imelda Staunton, and yes, Mel Gibson, all work to make the characters come to life, and the talented animators complete the wonderful performances. A great movie.

97. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. Though I loved The Hobbit when I read it as a child, I never had much of a connection to the trilogy that followed it. I'd tried to read it several times over the years, getting a few chapters farther each time, but ultimately abandoning it for boredom. In short, I wasn't waiting on pins and needles for this film. But the adaptation for this film was excellent, cutting off so much of the unneeded chaff. Peter Jackson spearheaded the most amazing designers ever assembled and created a fully fleshed out and credible world, and the cast is simply perfect. Composer Howard Shore does the best work of his career. Really, the only things that undermine this film in any way is the knowledge of where the story goes afterward -- Gandalf's death would mean more here if it were indeed final, for example. Still, a wonderful film.

96. Shakespeare in Love. It's become fashionable to complain that this film was not the most deserving of its year, to say that Saving Private Ryan should have won Best Picture. (And yes, it should have.) But say that in praise of the other film, not in dismissal of this one. Gwyneth Paltrow and Joseph Fiennes are a compelling romantic couple, and the supporting cast of Geoffrey Rush, Judi Dench, Imelda Staunton, and Ben Affleck are all wonderful too. A touchingly sweet and clever story.

That's it until next time...

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Running Out of Timeline

The other night, I got to try out a very simple little card game: Timeline. And I found it enjoyable... but with the caveat that it has an inherently limited shelf life.

Timeline is a deck of double-sided cards depicting inventions and discoveries throughout history. Everything from fire to black powder to the printing press to barbed wire fences to compact discs -- and everything in between -- is in there, in a deck of a couple hundred cards.

Each player is dealt a hand of five cards, which sit face-up on the table. In the center of the table is the timeline. Your turn is simple: choose one of your cards, and insert it into what you believe to be the correct position in the ever-growing timeline. Once you've made your choice, you flip the card over to reveal the actual correct date on the back. If you're right, the card remains in place, expanding the timeline and making things trickier for the player after you. If you're wrong, you have to discard your card and draw another to replace it. The first player to go out wins.

Some items are obscure. Others come one right on top of another, making precise placement tricky. But it's definitely interesting to play. Educational, obviously, but also fun enough.

But I think you can see the inherent problem here with liking the game too much. It's only a matter of time (ha!) before you memorize every card in the deck and know exactly where it should be placed. And then you don't have a game anymore. Unless, of course, you buy one or more of the multiple expansions available for the game. You could shuffle them all together for a massive draw deck and a much extended life of the game. (Though this won't be easy. They saved on costs by making the cards tiny, meaning they're also not easy to shuffle.) In any case, this is still one game you can't play too often, no matter how much you like it, because you're "wearing out" the game with each play.

I suppose this same problem exists for any game with a limited deck of "clue cards," a Taboo, Time's Up, Telestrations, or other game. (Hell, some of these games don't even start with the letter "T.") But the candle feels like it'll burn faster here. By the conclusion of two games, we'd seen at least half of the available cards we had. And while I'm not claiming all the players will have a perfect memory of what we saw, we're not amnesiacs either.

So, on the plus side -- it's simple to explain, and very quick to play. Perfect for those windows when your game group is waiting for more people to arrive. And perhaps if you use it only as a filler game like that, it will last a while.

I think you'll have to make your own call on this.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Down With the Sickness

I am apparently starting off my new year with a full-blown, head in a fog cold. Water eyes, runny nose, sneezing, aching, even a bit of a cough. Basically, almost every symptom they mention in a Nyquil ad. It sucks, but it's a lot better than the "holiday tradition" my family had for about five Christmases running a while back -- at least half of us would catch some stomach flu from somewhere and be vomiting and wiped out on the couch through the big day. Blech.

Anyway, I say this not in a bid for sympathy (though if you want to offer it, thanks) but to explain that after a day at the computer at work, I just don't have anything left in me for the blog tonight. But I plan to kick it soon, and will be back here as soon as I do.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Viva la Resistance!

One of the games I played the most in the last year was The Resistance, a simple little 15 minute card game intended for a large group. Up to 10 players can play, and it's really a "the more, the merrier" kind of thing.

Each player secretly draws a card identifying himself as either a saboteur, or a member of The Resistance. Players close their eyes for a moment so the saboteurs can learn each others' identities. The players then have 5 rounds to work as a group to identify the saboteurs.

Players take turns being "team leader," identifying a sub-group of players (of changing numbers each round) to go out on a mission. All players then vote openly whether they approve of the selected team -- whether they believe the mission will be successful. If the mission is approved by the majority, each player on that team secretly selects whether to support the mission or sabotage it. True Resistance players will, of course, always choose to support the mission, while saboteurs may elect to sabotage it. The secretly selected cards are shuffled and revealed, and any number of sabotage cards ruins the mission. The Resistance wins if they succeed in 3 out of 5 missions. The saboteurs win if 3 out of 5 missions fail.

The game is quite clever, and has some welcome extra wrinkles that similar "group trust" games (such as Werewolf) don't have. But unfortunately, the game doesn't really seem quite fair, either. In short, it seems virtually impossible for the Resistance players to actually win, and far too easy for the saboteurs to triumph. I have yet to see a game that wasn't won by the saboteurs.

The game does come with an expansion, which my group initially chose to ignore for the sake of simplicity. But reading through some of the special cards in the expansion, we speculated that they might go a long way toward balancing the equation -- we simply haven't had a chance to try the expansion out yet.

So, bottom line for now: for a cheap little card game, this may be a good buy if you can reliably field a group of at least six players. But you might end up needing to come up with some sort of house rule to make it more fair (and therefore, in the long term, more fun). Perhaps 4 missions out of 7 for victory, to give the Resistance more time to gather intel?

If I get to try out that expansion, I'll be sure to report back.

Monday, January 02, 2012

2011 in Review -- Games

I had a lot of fun in 2011. But apparently, not much of it was over a game board. After playing over 300 games in both 2009 and 2010, my total this year plummeted to only half that: I played only 147 board games last year.

It's easily explained. My weekly game night with friends has morphed this year to a once every two or three weeks game night instead; we've picked back up with an older routine of bar trivia night. It's fun either way, but it does mean that I haven't been able to do much more than sample some of the great new games released this year.

Here's how the total broke down:

1 7 Wonders
2 Agricola
1 Alea Iacta Est
1 Amun-Re
11 Apples to Apples
1 Asteroyds
1 Carcassonne: The City
1 Cartagena
1 A Castle for All Seasons
1 The Castles of Burgundy
2 Coloretto
1 The Downfall of Pompeji
1 Detroit/Cleveland Grand Prix
2 Dice Town
1 Dominion
1 Eminent Domain
1 Fluxx
1 Food Fight
5 For Sale
1 Founding Fathers
1 Grass
6 Guillotine
1 Hansa Teutonica
1 Le Havre
2 Luna
1 Metro
1 Midgard
1 Mission Red Planet
2 Mr. Jack Pocket
1 No Merci
3 Notre Dame
1 Palazzo
3 Pandemic
2 Pillars of the Earth
1 Pokemon TCG
8 Poker
4 Puerto Rico
1 Reef Encounter
8 The Resistance
3 Ricochet Robot
1 Robo Rally
1 Saboteur
1 Scrabble Upwords
4 Set
1 Settlers of Catan
2 Skip-Bo
2 Sleuth
3 Sneaks and Snitches
1 Sobek
1 Sorry Revenge Card Game
1 Stone Age
4 Telestrations
3 The Speicherstadt
1 Thurn and Taxis - Power and Glory
3 Ticket to Ride
2 Ticket to Ride Europe
1 Ticket to Ride - Marklin
3 Ticket to Ride - Switzerland
2 Time's Up
3 Time's Up Title Recall
2 Timeline
2 Tobago
2 Too Many Cooks
2 Tower of Babel
1 TransAmerica
1 Vasco de Gama
1 Witch's Brew
4 Wits and Wagers
1 World Without End
1 Yspahan
2 Zombie Fluxx

This year's Most Played? Apples to Apples. It's not my favorite, not even among group party games, but it does always provide laughs. It's also quick to play, so perhaps it is a worthy #1 game in terms of fun-per-minute.

I love Agricola way more than its mere 2 plays would indicate. But let's face it, it's a real brain burner for some people. In my group, if you play it, that's probably the only thing you're playing that night.

What a good year Stefan Feld had as a designer. I've tried both Luna and The Castles of Burgundy, and I'd love to play both again as soon as possible.

Poor Hansa Teutonica. I got it last year for Christmas. And so did another of my friends. Yet with two copies in the group, it was only played once. And it wasn't bad, either. It just got chased off the hill by new games arriving.

Perhaps 2012 will see a few more games? Less would be just sad.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

2011 in Review -- Movies

In 2011, I saw many more movies than I imagine the average person does in a year. Still, it was a downward trending year for me: 126 movies this year, compared to 162 in 2010. I got out to the theater just about as much, though -- 25 of those movies were on the big screen.

There are a handful of 2011 movies still on my "to see" list, and several of those are among the "award bait." But for the moment, here are my picks for the 10 best of the year. I've included links to the original reviews I wrote on them, though my letter grades might not line up in perfect order as I've listed the films here. (My mid-year discovery of Flickchart, combined with some time to further reflect on what I saw, made me retool my grading just a bit.)

1. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2
2. Win Win
3. The Muppets
4. Rise of the Planet of the Apes
5. A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas
6. Horrible Bosses
6. Paul
7. Rango
8. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
10. The Green Hornet

As you can see, it's not the strongest list overall. I'd call the top 5 solid contenders, but the other 5 are just charitably occupying spots that really should become unavailable as soon as I see more movies.

I mean, come on, Green Hornet in the top 10? (Even if it is poised to get knocked off as soon as I see something else decent.) Note also that there's really nothing in the way of a serious drama on the list. (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, maybe?) Lots of comedies, a couple whiz-bang action movies... so I'm still waiting for the moving tearjerker that should wind up somewhere in my picks.

Any recommendations for helping to shape up this list?