Tuesday, May 5, 2020

April 2020 - Media Binge

Word APRIL. Vector decorative zentangle object
In April of 2020, I played the following:

Love Letter (card game) - Wikipedia

Love Letter - Honorable Mention
This is an excellent game for any collection. It has had several reprints with different themes over the years (e.g., Batman, The Lord of the Rings, Adventure Time, etc.). Love Letter is a very clever game with only 18 cards and a handful of tokens that are awarded to winners of each round. This is also an extremely easy game to teach quickly and I have found great success with teaching this game to students at the elementary and middle school levels. Everyone gets a single card from the deck. On a player's turn, they simply draw a 2nd card and then choose 1 to play face-up onto the table. Each card has a single sentence explaining what the card does. The goal of the game is to be the last player with a card; or, have the highest # card at the point in which the deck runs out (which happens pretty quickly with only 18 cards or less at the start of the game). Not sure if you're sold on a copy? Just grab a deck of cards, count out the number of cards needed for each type in the game (e.g., four aces and a joker for the 5 guards, two #2's for the priests, two #3's for the barons, etc.), and print off reference charts from the game's Wiki page HERE for players to use when choosing a card to play. 
Alhambra | Board Game | BoardGameGeek

Alhambra - 3rd Place
This is a game that has been around for 17 years! However, we only just acquired the game in the last year or so as part of a massive Kickstarter campaign that included 24 expansion modules that add extra flavor to the game! Wow! This game is fantastic and may even beat out a long-running favorite of mine called Carcassonne. The rules of this game are extremely simple to learn; however, following them is a different story entirely. In our first play, I managed to break the rules twice! As you are purchasing tiles to extend your palace, you must take care to ensure that no palace walls hinder the placement of future tiles. These walls aren't all bad though as you end up scoring points for every segment of wall in the longest constructed sequence of walls around your palace. This is another game that will likely never leave our collection, especially since we have so many expansions to try out!
The Castles of Burgundy | Board Game | BoardGameGeek

The Castles of Burgundy - 2nd Place
This is one of the most universally loved games among board game hobbyists that I have found. It offers a ton of strategy but at the cost of being a bit too complicated for inexperienced board gamers. The Castles of Burgundy is also not one of the prettiest games, featuring horribly-bland colors and components. However, its visual drawbacks only further highlight the excellence of its design when you consider just how many people have played or own this game. If you're not afraid of a game that requires a bit of rulebook referencing until you know what all the graphics mean, this game is amazing and will likely be in our collection forever!
The 7th Continent | Board Game | BoardGameGeek
7th Continent - 1st Place
This game is an incredible achievement in game design. Within this game, you'll find an entire continent in the form of over 1000 fully-illustrated playing cards that piece together like a puzzle. These cards contain hidden information and symbols that prove relevant to the story told by the backs of each card (e.g., hidden card numbers, new species of plants, animal tracks, etc.). This game is fully cooperative, meaning that players work together to collect supplies/materials, craft weapons and tools, hunt for food, defend against strange and dangerous animals as you seek to lift one of several curses that form the various scenarios in the game. This game can be played solo and, unfortunately for me, this is likely going to be the way in which I enjoy this game moving forward. My wife has decided that she does not enjoy the stressful nature of this survival game and would rather not spend several hours at one time playing this one. Having said that, if you want an excellent way to kill some time during the ongoing pandemic, pick this game up immediately!

In April of 2020, I watched the following:

Arizona Poster
My wife and I started this film without knowing much about it other than the fact that it starred Danny McBride. I think it was described as a dark comedy and they weren't kidding! This movie has quite a bit of violence and gore, treating accidental deaths and intentional murders with a healthy dose of humor. Danny McBride and Rosemarie DeWitt shine in this film. I was surprised to see a few other familiar faces in this indie film, including: Seth Rogen, Luke Wilson, David Alan Grier, and Kaitlin Olson! There's not much to say about this cat and mouse film. The setting makes me never want to visit Arizona. Despite its sprawling desert surroundings, the setting of this film feels claustrophobic with its gated community seemingly dropped in the middle of nowhere. This was not an excellent film but I can recommend it to anyone who enjoys a bit of joyful mayhem, similar to that seen in Tucker and Dale vs Evil.
Yesterday Poster
My wife started this film while I was reading in bed and I found myself peeking over my book to watch the screen too many times to concentrate. I was familiar with the premise of the movie: A struggling musician suffers a traffic accident following a mass blackout, only to wake up in a world where The Beatles never existed, leaving him with an opportunity to present their work as his own. Given the whole traffic accident angle, I had my own predictions as far as how the movie was going to pan out. I was very wrong. This film was much better than I expected despite the minor frustration I felt at the end of the film for its lack of explanation regarding the how/why of it all. You discover that The Beatles is not the only thing that has seemingly disappeared from history. This left me wondering if there were details I had overlooked in the first few scenes of the film that might provide clues as to why very specific things had disappeared. If there is no deeper meaning, that'd be fine... I guess. I just want this film to mean more than it might. Overall, Himesh Patel does an excellent job making these songs his own. Lily James is lovely; however, I will never accept the plausibility of a Lily James who spends her life waiting for someone to realize they love her; she was Cinderella for crying out loud!
Through My Father's Eyes Poster
Through the Eyes of My Father
My wife and I have been a fan of Ronda Rousey since we first watched her season as a coach on The Ultimate Fighter. In fact, her fights are the only we've ever paid to see on TV. We were bummed to see her rapid decline after a few rough defeats and even more disappointed to find out that she had left the UFC to pursue a career in professional wrestling. While this documentary was very informative, I had hoped it would shed some light on her thoughts leading up to the big career shift; however, it seemed to focus more on her childhood and early rise to fame in MMA. This was still an enjoyable watch with some great interviews and some really touching moments concerning the personal tragedies Ronda has endured over her lifetime.
Vivarium Poster
I have not been to a movie theater in over a month so this was the first film I've paid for in some time. I paid $6.99 to watch this film... this highly praised film for its unique and inventive premise... I want my money back. Vivarium stars Jesse Eisenberg as Tom (a.k.a. every Jesse Eisenberg character you've ever seen) and Imogen Poots as Gemma (whom I really enjoyed in an exceptional horror film called Green Room). If you've seen the trailer, you've seen 85% of this film. A couple are taken on a tour of a house the closely resembles small scale model homes you'd expect to find in the office of an architect or realtor only to discover that they've been lured into a labyrinth of identical housing development streets and cul-de-sacs from which they may never escape. This film feels more like a bloated Twilight Zone episode than a feature-length film. You aren't given a ton of explanation regarding what is going on but the film wasn't interesting enough to even warrant any outrage over that. I simply don't care because this film ultimately felt like an idea written on a post-it note that was finally pulled down from someone's brainstorming board and was given a $4 million budget to shoot this pile. Watch Green Room instead.
Big Time Adolescence Poster
Big Time Adolescence
I have to be honest... I thought this was a Hulu series when I started watching it. In fact, it was not until the credits rolled and there was no second episode that I realized this was a film. The run time is just over 90 minutes and the story was so basic that I think that's why I expected a continuation after the credits. This is a film about a boy named Monroe and his sister's ex-boyfriend, a drug dealing "life of the party" kinda guy named Zeke, portrayed by Pete Davidson (SNL). Monroe sells drugs and alcohol for Zeke in an attempt to gain favor in his own social circles only to find that Zeke has put him in a compromising position. I have no connection to Pete Davidson's prior work but can't really say I was impressed with his work in this film. The most likable part of his performance is a short montage scene early in the film that is narrated by Monroe. When it comes time for Davidson's Zeke to start speaking... it's not pretty. I think this film's climax was poorly executed with no real indication that anyone has grown by the end. I mean... I guess the previously unemployed Zeke gets a job at a fast food restaurant and Monroe starts spending evenings at home with his parents. Is that the big revelation? What was this movie about? I can't recommend this bloated D.A.R.E. campaign video to anyone. Sorry!
Servant Poster
I don't have a ton to say about the show at the moment other than the performances are excellent and I am very interested to see where Season 2 takes the story. This is a show that does an excellent job of keeping the audience in the dark about the nature of its characters. I have no idea if this show actually involves elements of the supernatural or if they've just done a great job of misleading the audience with plausible explanations for very strange occurrences. 
In April of 2020, I read the following...

Amazon.com: Dissolving Classroom (9781942993858): Ito, Junji: Books
Dissolving Classroom
This was my first dive into the work of Junji Ito. I did not realize that this was essentially a collection of short stories following a brother and sister as they move from town to town, preying on people they encounter along the way. I am a big fan of all things horror-related and Junji Ito's work was recommended in a video I watched a few months ago concerning the best horror-related comics. As these siblings visit a new town, the brother begins apologizing repeatedly to everyone he encounters. This results in the melting of recipients' brains before the sister steps in to devour the human goo off of the floor. This continues in each short story with minor variations in the sequence of events. While I enjoyed the body horror involved, I found the storytelling to be basic and bland. I'm hoping that this is not an accurate representation of Junji Ito's work as a whole.
The Dark Tower: The Long Road Home - Wikipedia
The Dark Tower: The Long Road Home
This is the second book in The Dark Tower graphic novel series. I picked the first two books up from Ollie's Bargain Outlet for under $5 each! After reading the first book, I knew I needed to have them all. I've acquired something like 10 of these collected volumes and continue to look for more. From what I understand, these first few books summarize elements from the original literary work, serving as a prequel for The Dark Tower with Roland Deschain's ascension to the status of Gunslinger. I am really enjoying the vast world-building that is taking place in these books. There are several nods to Stephen King's other works and even if some things aren't direct references, they share enough similarities that I am constantly reminded of characters or concepts presented in other books and movies. These hardcover collected editions are excellent and I must own them all! If you are a fan of Stephen King and don't mind a bit of treasure hunting online, check them out!
Tomie: Complete Deluxe Edition
This is my 2nd and final Junji Ito review. I received Tomie as a gift and, despite my initial disappointment with his Dissolving Classroom, I decided to give Tomie a shot. Similar to Dissolving Classroom, this deluxe collected edition of Tomie is a series of loosely connected stories centering around a young woman named Tomie.  As stated on the book, Tomie is continuously murdered but always returns in, at times, pretty inventive and memorable ways. However, the motives behind her various murders aren't always coherent or even interesting. In fact, these acts of violence sometimes feel like they are rushed just so that we can get to the next reincarnation of Tomie. These reincarnations are interesting at first until you notice they just recycle the same few ideas over and over again.
Aliens Omnibus, Vol. 1: Verheiden, Mark, Nelson, Mark ...
Aliens Omnibus - Volume 1
My wonderful wife bought this book as a gift for my birthday. Receiving this book sparked a sudden interest in collecting the entire series which was... difficulty to achieve since these books are over a decade out of print! However, I have finally obtained all 6 volumes! This first omnibus continues 3 major stories and 2 smaller additions that were very cool!
Outbreak - This story follows 2 characters initially intended to be older versions of Hicks and Newt from the Aliens film. This story involves these characters revisiting the alien home planet where we get a good look at a space jockey. This story also featured a religious group that viewed xenomorphs as their God. Pretty horrifying acts of self-sacrifice that left me shaking me head... nope! 
Nightmare Asylum - This story involves a military general determined to weaponize captured xenomorphs and use them to eradicate those xenomorphs that have overrun Earth. As anyone can imagine... this doesn't go well. The coolest part of this story is the reintroduction of Ripley in the last few panels!
Female War - Ripley helps a team prepare a trap to capture a queen xenomorph to use as bait so that they can detonate a mass bomb network on the xenomorphs that have infested Earth. The trap created was a pretty interesting idea, including hundreds of xenomorph heads fused together in a sphere to ensure that the container could withstand xeno blood. We are introduced to giant drone xenomorphs (aka queen bodyguards). I really liked the idea that the space jockey had manipulated Ripley and her team into eradicated Earth's xeno infestation so that it could step in to terraform the planet to its own liking.
Theory of Alien Propagation - This additional feature explains a bit about xenomorphs behavior, including their tendency to cannibalize each other for organic materials needed to construct new hives for a queen.
The Alien - This focused on humans' efforts to make negotiations with the space jockey concerning who would inhabit the earth. This reminded me of David's scene with the engineer in the film Prometheus as the space jockey dismembers androids posing as humans. I hope to learn more about this race in future issues!

Thursday, April 9, 2020

March 2020 - Media Binge

Word MARCH. Vector decorative zentangle object
In March of 2020, I played the following:

Board Game: Eternas
Eternas (4)
Board Game: Carcassonne Big Box 5
Board Game: Quodd Heroes
Board Game: Sushi Go!
Sushi Go! (3)
Board Game: Coral Islands
Board Game: Gentes: Deluxified Edition
Gentes (2)
Board Game: Love Letter Premium
Board Game: The Taverns of Tiefenthal
Board Game: 5-Minute Marvel
Board Game: 7 Wonders Duel
Board Game: Dungeon Lords
Board Game: Escape Room: The Game – Jumanji
Board Game: Imagine
Imagine (1)
Board Game: Ishtar: Gardens of Babylon
Board Game: KLASK
Board Game: Love Letter
Board Game: Otys
Otys (1)
Board Game: Yahtzee
Yahtzee (1)

This Month's Winners

Z-Man edition

Carcassonne - Honorable Mention
This is one of the evergreen games in our collection and probably my wife's favorite. It is simple to teach, infinitely expandable, and can create some very memorable moments of intense conflict despite being such a pleasant and peaceful theme. I listed this as an honorable mention this month because it is a game we play quite often so I wanted to give other games a chance to shine! I highly recommend Carcassonne to anyone, especially families!

Final English Cover

The Taverns of Tiefenthal - 3rd Place
I picked up this game from a shop while we were visiting my sister-in-law in Virginia. I wasn't sure what to make of this game initially as we started to set it up. Every player gets their own board w/ several pieces that snap into place like a jigsaw puzzle. As the game progresses, you can "upgrade" these various pieces by spending resources to flip the pieces over, providing you with better rewards or action improvements. This quickly became my favorite part of the game because you have to balance your spending of resources on better cards for points and upgrading your player board. This game comes with a few optional mini-expansions that can be mixed in for added flavor and I look forward to trying them all! 

The Deluxified Gentes box!

Gentes - 2nd Place
Gentes is an excellent medium-weight game that proves easy to teach and offers a surprising amount of strategy. The simplicity of Gentes' core mechanisms ensures that turns move quickly and that the game does not overstay its welcome. As is, Gentes is a game that would benefit considerably from the release of additional expansions. Our deluxified copy was accompanied by a variety of new city tiles that improve the game's replay value. There are some interesting design ideas at play here and I look forward to seeing how this game ages overtime. 

Quodd Heroes, Wonderment Games, 2017 — front cover (image provided by the publisher)
Quodd Heroes - 1st Place
This game has been on my shelf for over a year without being played. The box contains so many bits and pieces that it was a bit overwhelming to sort when it first arrived. We have a variety of spatial-puzzle games but this has to be my absolute favorite. The artwork and component quality are amazing. Each player has their own character, represented by a large cube-shaped miniature. As players move around the board, they tip over their character (i.e. "tumble") in any valid direction before activating a special movement action assigned to the top face of the cube visible after tipping it over. These special actions are assigned by the player and can be modified at various points in the game. The object of the game depends on the scenario selected (e.g. Capture the Flag, Race to Checkpoints, etc.). This is the type of game you could play solo, sitting at the table for 20-minutes while you try to plan out 12 turns in advance. This type of game isn't for everyone but with its numerous interesting design ideas and beautifully executed production, I recommend this game for anyone who enjoys a great mental challenge!

In March of 2020, I watched the following:

The Invisible Man Poster
The Invisible Man
The first film I saw this month may very well be the best film I see this month! The Invisible Man is an EXCELLENT film. The trailer for this film featured a key scene that I think spoiled this film's chance at flirting with the possibility that Elisabeth Moss was just suffering with severe PTSD; however, they show you pretty early on that this is not the case so I was not too disappointed. The manner in which this film portrays someone being invisible is just excellent. At times, he director utilizes very subtle scenes in which things move without a sound or the camera lingers on an empty corner of a room as if to suggest you're looking at someone who cannot be seen. From what I've read, the use of green suits allowed Elisabeth Moss to physically interact with a real person to ensure that the fight scenes felt authentic. You never really get to know the character tormenting her beyond her vague descriptions of the hell through which she lived before escaping his grasp. You don't even really get a good look at him before she slips away in the middle of the night. However, I think this was a smart decision. If we knew too much about the antagonist, it would be too easy to humanize the shapeless entity that stalks her throughout the film. There is one scene in a restaurant that has stuck with me because it elicited several emotions at once. I felt surprised, afraid, and saddened by the implications of this scene that happens so quickly, I couldn't help but think on it long afterwards. Elisabeth Moss is incredibly talented and this film is a testament to that. I would highly recommend this movie as well as one of her smaller indie films, The One I Love, which I can only describe as a dark romantic comedy with fantasy elements in which a struggling couple who fall for each other all over again while staying at an unfamiliar vacation home. 

All the Bright Places Poster
All the Bright Places
Despite my usual selection of films, this was one I asked that my wife not watch without me! I have followed Elle Fanning's career ever since I saw her in Super 8. My wife described Justice Smith as "the screaming guy from Paper Towns." Justice Smith has been in more notable films since Paper Towns (e.g., Jurassic World, Detective Pikachu, etc.) but, my god, his scream in Paper Towns is worth watching HERE. Anyways, back to the film. In many ways, this movie follows the tried and true formula of many teenage romantic dramas. However, it also explores a variety of mental health issues that I wasn't expecting. Elle Fanning does an excellent job gradually opening up to Justice Smith's character in a way that felt earned and not convenient for the sake of moving the plot forward. There are subtle hints to the challenges Justice's Finch is experiencing that become more apparent as his character develops in the 2nd act of the film. All in all, there some very touching moments in this film, if I didn't hate the ending so much I would highly recommend it to anyone who has experienced loss or has dealt with mental illness. Unfortunately, the last act felt forced. As if the writer of the script knew how they wanted the film to end but didn't know how to get there from the strong foundation they built up in the first 2 acts. Maybe I just wanted a happy ending for everyone in the film. But I did not feel the ending had the weight it was intended to have, missing the mark and leaving me rolling my eyes at the cliche voice-over narration that closes out the film. This film was better than last months Five Feet Apart but similar enough that I wouldn't recommend either if you're over films like The Fault in Our Stars

I Trapped the Devil Poster

I Trapped the Devil
This film has a great premise. A man named Steve struggles to convince his brother and sister-in-law that he has trapped the devil behind a door in his basement. Early in the film, you're unsure about the Steve's mental state as the prisoner, voiced by Chris Sullivan (This Is Us, Stranger Things, and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2), pleads to be set free. The mystery surrounding this situation is quickly discarded as the prisoner demonstrates his knowledge of things about the characters he could not possibly know unless he were some sort of evil entity. The rest of the film felt slow and unimaginative. The film is also criminally dark, making it hard to see what little set design there was (as this entire film takes place in a house). I had a hard time sustaining attention to this film once I realized that the plot was paper thin. This was disappointing because I was excited to find a new film starring AJ Bowen; he tends to pop up in indie thriller or horror films that I enjoy (e.g. The GuestYou're NextThe Sacrament, etc.). I would highly recommend those films over this one.
The Platform Poster
The Platform
This Spanish thriller had a lot of buzz from online reviewers whom I follow. It was compared to another film franchise I quite enjoy called Cube. The Platform follows a man, Goreng, who volunteers to participate in an unknown research study with plans to use his experience as the basis for a novel. When Goreng awakens, he finds himself on a platform with another, older gentleman by the name of Trimagasi. The platform contains no more amenities than a prison cell and features a giant opening in the center through which a platform floats each day, bringing them leftover food from those who ate before them in the higher level platforms. This presents a serious issue for those on the lower-level platforms as those above them gorge themselves  each day. With the current real-world pandemic and lack of resources for those in need, this film could not have been released at a more relevant time. Overall, I enjoyed this film but wasn't crazy about the ending. Similar to my thoughts on the film I Trapped the Devil, The Platform suffers from an excellent premise and a weak conclusion.  
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World Poster
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
I was very excited to see this film for a number of reasons: 1) it stars Michael Cera just a few years after my initial introduction to him with Superbad, 2) it focuses on a group of 20-somethings playing in a band, and 3) the action is wacky and excellent at the same time.  special effects are fantastic and the tone of the entire film is just hilarious. One thing I forgot about this film is just how many actors are featured in the film! Chris Evans, Mae Whitman, Anna Kendrick, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jason Schwartzman, Aubrey Plaza, Bill Hader, Brie Larson, and the list just keeps on going! You don't have to know anything about the Scott Pilgrim intellectual property to appreciate just how fun and visually stimulating this film can be. I highly recommend this film ton anyone who likes loud music, video games, or martial arts!
Letterkenny Poster
Letterkenny: Seasons 1-8
This show was recommended to me by a coworker. After the first episode, I wasn't sure how much I would continued watching. The dialogue was rapid-fire and hard to follow because of the strange, Canadian-slang that is often used. However, my wife and I fell hard for Letterkenny. This is show that definitely rewards repeat views due to the vast number of inside jokes that are carried over between episodes. Additionally, there are so many excellent quotes from this show. If you enjoy a bit of low-brow humor, Canadian redneck sub-culture, or drinking... this show is just what you need to get through this quarantine!
The Handmaid's Tale Poster
The Handmaid's Tale: Seasons 1-3
This was my second attempt to watch this show, having tried a few episodes a year or so ago. My wife and I ended up binging all 3 seasons in a few weeks. This show is intense! It is relentlessly uncomfortable in its portrayal of a nation divided, allowing for the enslavement of fertile women as surrogate parents for high-profile couples incapable of conceiving on their own. While I am excited for the 4th season, I worry that the writers are running out of steam. The last season took a dive in quality as the main character's focus seemed to deviate from escaping with her daughter to a personal mission to help save the lives of others. As noble as that sounds, the last season seemed to feel like it was running aimlessly in multiple directions. I can only hope that we learn more about some of the other newly zoned US territories beyond the show's primary focus (i.e. Republic of Gilead).
Ozark Poster
Ozark: Season 3
Ozark is an excellent show with a rich cast of characters and story lines. Similar to Breaking Bad, this show follows a family that has been thrown into a world of criminal activity. I feel that the first two seasons were much stronger than the third because of some very strong cast members that were... eliminated. I highly recommend this show to anyone who enjoys tense, dramatic shows.
Fighting with My Family Poster
Fighting with My Family
I was a HUGE wrestling fan in my youth. I remember watching Monday Night Raw with the volume turned down and a blanket over the TV to try and conceal the light from the screen so that I was not caught staying up past my bedtime! This movie follows Saraya, portrayed by Florence Pugh (Midsommar), as she fights for an opportunity to become a WWE Diva. The film depicts the world of indie wrestling in a fairly positive light, especially when compared to the more depressing side of it that can be seen in films like The Wrestler. I found this movie to be quite enjoyable with cameos from various wrestlers popular at a time when I was still invested in the sport. You don't have to be a past or present fan of wrestling to enjoy this movie but it certainly helps. Florence Pugh is a joy to watch and the supporting cast; including Dwayne Johnson, Lena Headey, Vince Vaughn, and Nick Frost; are excellent!

In March of 2020, I read... nothing. Whoops!

April 2020 - Media Binge

In April of 2020, I played the following: 7 Wonders  (7) Love Letter  (4) Apotheca  (3) Dice Forge...