Thursday, July 10, 2014

Game Review: The Doom the Came to Atlantic City

 If you think board games are just for kids, think again.  A booming table-top gaming industry has grown recently, with niche-shops opening in many major cities.  Old favorites like Monopoly are still played, as well as numerous specialty games catering to every interest and geared toward adults.  Game nights bring together friends and enthusiasts who connect in a way that video-games simply don't allow for.  

 I discovered The Doom that Came to Atlantic City while visiting one of these stores with my daughter.  We sat down at a table and played the "demo" set the store made available for just that purpose, and had a blast.  I knew this game would be a hit in my house and with my friends, and ordered my game that same week.

 In The Doom that Came to Atlantic City, you play a Great Old One from the stories written by HP Lovecraft.  The game is set on a board that is a replica of Monopoly, however, instead of buying properties and building them up with houses and hotels, you destroy houses and resorts to destroy a street and create a Gate.  If you can create six Gates, you bring doom to the world and win the game.  

 Game-play is much faster than Monopoly, with a game taking about an hour to play.  In addition to the goal of getting six Gates, you can also win the game by completing a "Doom" mission randomly assigned at the beginning of the game.  The game involves building up power by collecting "Cultists" and destroying houses, each of which are used as currency that you spend to enact powers and "Chants" which change the play of the game.  While you are striving to build your Gates and complete your Doom mission, you must also foil the efforts of other players.  You gain Cultists by completing a circuit of the board and by engaging your fellow players in combat.  Getting around the board is harder than it sounds, as rolling doubles too many times and landing on certain spaces can result in you being "banished" until you have sufficient cultists to re-enter the game.

 The game includes eight amazingly detailed markers representing the Great Old Ones; Azathoth, Shub Niggurath, Hastur, Yog Sothoth, Ithaqua, Tsathoggua, Nyarlathotep, and of course Cthulhu.  Each starts out with a "Providence Trait", a power which modifies the way the marker moves or interacts with the game.  As you play, you can gain additional modifiers and change the modifiers you have (as well as have other players steal or change your modifiers).  Two sets of cards, "Providence" and "Chants", modify game play. Providence cards tend to be lasting effects on the game, while Chants are held by the players until they need to be used and generally have an immediate, one-turn effect.  In addition, destroying street and creating Gates give you additional abilities, with the maximum effect of these abilities being achieved if you manage to destroy an entire "region".  In addition to standard play, several modified versions of the game include additional modifiers like Tome Cards, which give your marker added abilities.  

 The game-play moves fast, with players taking actions to change another players turn and thwarting their efforts.  This makes it difficult to achieve any of the goals of the game; from destroying a region to just making a circuit of the board.  Making things even more interesting are "Event" cards sprinkled throughout both the Chants and Providence card-sets.  Event Cards are played immediately and impact the nature of the game itself.  

 The Doom that Came to Atlantic City is beautifully crafted, including amazing art.  The game rules are simple yet wickedly designed, with the game being as much about thwarting your fellow players as achieving your own goals.  In a word, the game is simply "fun"!  The price-tag is a little on the high-side, with the game going for $60-$75 depending on where you buy it.  The different variants and special cards in the game means it will be a long time before you play the same game twice.  Definitely invite some friends over, order some pizza, and destroy Atlantic City.  The Doom that Came to Atlantic City is a hit.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Movie Review: A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge

 Freddy's Revenge is not bad as a sequel.  This is before the writers just went full-on camp with the Freddy Krueger character.  He has some lines, but not the cheesiness that comes to be Freddy Krueger in later films.  Freddy's Revenge is about the gore, pure-and-simple, and is a nerdy kid's revenge-fantasy come to life.  

 The protagonist, Jesse, is a spazz.  He is just hip enough to be accepted by his classmates, but he has some issues.  He is often sullen, suffers from nightmares, lacks confidence with women, but is generally harmless enough to be likeable.  In other words, he is akin to about 80% of The Nightmare on Elm Street viewing audience.  Ends up that Jesse and his family moved into the Elm Street murder house (dad got a real bargain for it), and Jesse is having some issues as a result.

Let me get that booger for you...
 In the first film, Freddy was frightening not because of the claws or the scars, but because if you went to sleep you were his.  In Revenge, that is taken away from him.  Freddy instead possesses one kid and then goes after than kid's enemies.  Is Freddy using him, or is Jesse using Freddy?  Let's think about this for a second.  Freddy's victims include Jesse's kinky gym teacher who antagonizes him, Jesse's bully and bro-crush, Jesse's snobby frat classmates who looked down on him, and almost Jesse's intimidating love-interest.  Jesse, it seems, isn't killing for Freddy as much as Freddy is killing for Jesse.  

That's why the girls like him!
 Speaking of frat classmates, what is up with Freddy when he attacks the Lisa's pool party?  Did they find the shortest stunt actor in Hollywood to play Freddy?  How intimidating is the diminutive troll that dances around the pool slashing at people?  And, why are the kids running right into him one at a time?  Why not just stay the hell away from him or team-up with the other jock-douchebags and rush him? Freddy is no less pathetic than when he possessed Jesse.  Personally, I blame Jesse.
I know too many girls who find this hot...
 The special effects in this film where good.  The tongue scene, easily done, still haunts my memories.  I could have done without the pool pyrotechnics.  Exploding hotdogs just don't do it for me.  The end scene, meant to make the audience question everything as it did in the first film, just doesn't have the same impact.  Of the series, Revenge is probably the one you could do without. 

Movie Review: Fright Night

 Before From Dusk Til Dawn, Lost Boys, and Vamp, there was Fright NightFright Night defined vampire-cool in the 1980s, with a minimum of whining about being a tortured soul and absolutely no sparkly nonsense.  The vampire, Jerry Dandrige, revels in being a vampire and the power it gives him.  He is a charismatic, charming, brilliant, and truly evil monster.  That is just one of the things that makes this film so great.

 The only real negative about this film is the protagonist, Charley Brewster.  Charley is what I like to call "the King of Betas".  He is a nerdy, whiny kid who can be distracted from his nerdy girlfriend's boobs and willingness to put-out by horror films and his neighbor's strange nocturnal activities.  This kid has some how hit the perfect, non-existent balance between being a horror-nerd yet still being relatively popular at his school.  I mean, look at the car Charley drives!  Such a juxtaposition of trendy cool wrapped around a geek is rare indeed and hard to believe in a horror film.  

And this isn't even my final form!
 Now, while you are rooting for Jerry and hoping that Charley bites it (sorry about the pun) in some pathetic fashion, his friend "Evil" Ed is a piece of work we can all relate to.  Probably a deeper geek than Charley (as demonstrated by his advising Charley on how to deal with vampires), Ed is also less popular than his friend (loathing the "evil" nick name he has been given for his interests) but also seems less concerned about the opinions of his peers.  Ed becomes another character you will want to root for.
Marcy from "Married with Children"

 Amy, Charley's girlfriend and Jerry's love-interest, is your typical victim.

 Unfortunately, this is an atypical vampire film built on a typical vampire-film frame.  That is, the monster must be vanquished and the hero must save his girl.  After an hour-and-a-half of Jerry demonstrating just how cool, powerful, and intelligent he is, he blows it all in the final confrontation with rejects from Mystery Incorporated.  Still, Fright Night is a fun romp, bringing the right mix of sexy and scarey to the vampire portrayal and setting the standard for several vampire films to follow.
Your "heroes".

 The story is well written (minus the few plot-holes I mentioned above) and the dialogue is funny throughout.  Special effects are very well done while remaining old-school; lots of blood and slime to keep gore fans satisfied.  The word that keeps coming to mind is "fun".  Fright Night is fun throughout.  It is truly a classic horror film.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Movie Review: From Dusk Till Dawn 3: The Hangman's Daughter

After how bad From Dusk Till Dawn 2 was, it appears that the production teams learned a few things.  From Dusk Till Dawn 3: The Hangman's Daughter, is an enjoyable film.

 The film begins with this interesting factoid; In 1913, Ambrose Bierce, a famous journalist and war-hero from the late 1800's, went to Mexico to gain first-hand experience of the Mexican Revolution and was never see or heard from again.  The film catches up with Mr. Bierce in a small town in Mexico, where he is awaiting a stage coach to travel south.  At the same time, Johnny Madrid is about to be hung for his crimes.  At the last moment, a bullet from a wanna-be outlaw cuts the rope and Johnny escapes with the Hangman's Daughter, Esmeralda.  A posse is formed to track down Madrid, lead by the hangman, while Bierce, a pastor and the pastor's bride board the coach south.  The outlaws, the posse, and the wayward travelers all eventually find their way to run-down bordello in the middle of the desert, La Tetilla del Diable (The Devil's Nipple).

 From there, things go badly.  

American bad-ass.
 In my opinion, this film has far more depth than the original.  The characters, save possibly Bierce, are all more than they appear.  Bierce is just an old bad-ass, but mixes his contempt and disdain with practical wisdom.  He appears more as an observer of the events as they unfold.  The story is a commentary on fate, and whether it is worthier to embrace your fate or struggle against it.

One bad day after another for this guy.
 The production quality is on-par with the first film, as are the special effects.  The Hangman's Daughter does rely more on CGI, and while not seamless it is subtle enough not to be a distraction (other than the cobra... what's up with that?).  The only problem I found with the film is that the characters are not really that likable.  They are just interesting enough to carry you through the film, but not so much that you root for any one of them.

Better off as a vampire.
 From Dusk Till Dawn 3 is a worthy prequel to From Dusk Till Dawn.  The requisite effort was put into writing a good script, production quality, special effects, and quality players.  The film provides the origins of the vampire Satanico Pandemonium.  Unlike the sequel to From Dusk Till Dawn, The Hangman's Daughter is it's own film, with a different style than the original.  It is a good mix of Spaghetti Western, Mexican Soap Opera, and Vampire Horror film.   

Movie Review: From Dusk Till Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money

 This movie was such a let-down after the first From Dusk Till Dawn.  The producers from the first film are back, as is Danny Trejo who briefly reprises his role from the first film.

 Wait, didn't Razor Eddie die in the first film?  No, that was Razor Charlie, but you wouldn't know that unless you looked the information up as neither are addressed by name in either film.

The film starts out as what appears to be a made-for-tv movie starring Bruce Campbell.  I was surprised to see Mr. Campbell in this film and was about to forgive the poor production quality when that scene ended-up being purely as a means to introduce the actual film.  The intro-scene was merely a film being watched by the protagonist of the actual film. 

 Unfortunately, the production quality did not greatly improve.  In order to describe the difference in production quality between the first From Dusk Till Dawn and this film, it is similar to the differences in quality between El Mariachi and its more famous sequel, Desperado.  Only, in the case of From Dusk Till Dawn, things became worse, not better.  

 The set-up for the story is simple; a bunch of criminals, lead by a recent jail escapee, are going into Mexico in order to rob a bank.  On the way, the ring-leader runs afoul of a couple of vampires on the road and is turned into a vampire himself.  The hero, a con half-heartedly trying to play it straight, must try to save himself and his friends before they are all turned while also robbing a bank and dealing with the Mexican Police and a couple of Texas Rangers.

Not nearly as tough as they look.
 It sounds cool, but it wasn't.

 In addition to the poor quality and weak screen-play, there are other problems.  In the first film, remember the discussion that was had about vampire anatomy?  How they had "soft bodies" that made it easy to stab a stake through their hearts?  In this film, a vampire bat hits the grill of a jeep and destroys the grill instead of being shredded on impact.  I guess the rules didn't move from one film to the next.

Razor Charlie's twin brother?
 Another inconsistency was the state of the Titty Twister Bar.  It seems that some of the neon from the original film was saved or reproduced, but the set was not nearly as grand.  The bar is shown mostly in darkness to hide the obvious use of a smaller, less expensive set.  The interior was also obviously smaller, and none of the dancers were nude. 

 Maybe they are under new management.  

The only girl to get nude in the film, so enjoy it.
 Most of the film is set either at a seedy motel or the bank.  There is an attempt in the script to include the same witty lines, but then few well-paid writers can write like Quentin Tarantino.  The Gecko Brother's escape to Mexico is mentioned in this film, making it a sequel, but that and the brief visit to the Titty Twister are really the only things that connect this film to the first.  The special effects aren't terrible, but they also could only afford to pay for the head-and-neck vampire make-up, much as they could only afford to have one women do a nude scene.  From Dusk Till Dawn 2 is not a worthy predecessor to the original.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Movie Review: From Dusk Till Dawn

 When Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino get together on a project, cool things happen.  

 From Dusk Till Dawn is not an amazing vampire movie.  It does not set a new standard in the genre, and does nothing that hasn't been seen or explored in other films.  From Dusk Till Dawn simply is a great vampire flic, a film with a lot of great lines and great scenes.  It is one of those films where you can tell that everyone loves the project and everyone was having fun.

 Quentin Tarantino lives a charmed life.  He knows people who know how to have a good time making a movie.  This film includes a who's who list of incredibly talented and well-established players; George Clooney, Selma Hayek, Harvey Keitel, Juliette Lewis, Cheech Marin (in three roles!), Danny Trejo, the legendary Tom Savini, Fred Williamson... these people just don't act in films, they shape what comes out of Hollywood.  Partnered with the vision of Robert Rodriguez, this crew could make just about anything and you would HAVE to see it.  

Putting the "fun" in dysfunction.
 The film essentially has four movements; our introduction to the Gecko Brothers is as bombastic and cool as one has come to expect from Mr. Tarantino, our introduction to the Fuller Family whom the Geckos use to get into Mexico and away from the police who are seeking them out, establishing the environment of the Titty Twister Bar, and the vampire massacre.  Of those four movements, the vampire scenes are actually the least interesting (despite being over-the-top and maxing out the old-school special effects bag-of-tricks).  It is the dialogue throughout the first three movements that truly makes the movie.  All the main characters are broken in some way, and must come together in order (for some of them) to survive the monsters they encounter. 

The hotness...
 Thankfully, the vampires are not the hip androgynous dark angels that have become the Hollywood standard.  The vampires in From Dusk Till Dawn are demonic spawn from hell with forms taken directly from some twisted nightmare.  The gory fight-and-kill scenes that follow their reveal will definitely satisfy the blood-and-guts fan.  While I was a little disappointed with the ease that the vampires were dispatched, the vampire scenes were still very well done.

 From Dusk Till Dawn is, in one word, fun.  While I doubt it is anyone's top ten favorites, it is totally worth seeing. 

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Movie Review: Day of the Dead (1985)

WARNING!  I am about to rip on what is considered a classic horror film.  Please try to restrain your horror-nerd rage.

 Day of the Dead is George Romero's third "Dead" film (preceded by Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead).  Like the previous two films, the aim of this story is to re-enforce that we humans are the real monsters, that extreme pressures on us result in either the best or the worst of us coming to the forefront, and that the end is inevitable.  Night of the Living Dead set the standard for this kind of story and is without a doubt a horror film classic.  Dawn of the Dead applied a bigger budget to the same concept with spectacular results.  Day of the Dead... well, kind of falls flat in my opinion.  

I had this professor in college.
 The situation which first arose in Night of the Living Dead is now almost certainly beyond hope.  The dead are coming back to life to cannibalize the living.  In an underground military facility, scientists with the protection of a small military unit are struggling to find a means to reverse the zombie-epidemic, but hope is dwindling.  Only a handful of the original team survives to continue the effort, and the number of dead outside the fence-line is on the rise.  Tensions run high as everyone is at their breaking-point... Blah, blah, blah.

 You've been here before.  You know the heroine is going to find a way to stand against the corrupt soldiers and with her misfit friends somehow make the best of a bad situation.  All the assholes in this film, and the characters are almost all one variation or another on the asshole-theme, will get killed and eaten.  There just isn't a lot of depth to these characters.

Dead on the inside.
 First, I want to focus on the military unit.  The only explanation for these guys; out of shape, beards, long hair, mismatched and poorly worn uniforms, is that they are the worst of the local National Guard or Reserve units that were available.  The CO who made the decision to post these guys in the bunker must have thought it was a scrub-detail, so he sent his worst soldiers.  With the world falling apart around them, a real military unit tightens-up on discipline and takes their job more seriously.  

My first time hearing Slayer, I had the same reaction.
 One of those jobs, for example, is collecting specimens from a pen deep in the underground bunker.  It is a dangerous job requiring at least three people, but if you have more people on hand to do it, what would be the harm in having as many hands on deck?  In fact, would it not make it safer to have a couple of extra bodies with guns ready to drop the zombie if things don't go as they should?  You are beneath a massive concrete slab with no access from above other than a cargo lift that you control, so no one is on guard duty or engaged in other tasks.  

 I know, I know... I am over-thinking it.  The heroine is a bit of a bitch and not really that likeable.  Her strung-out boyfriend is overly pathetic.  The cowboy Captain comes off as a street-tough with his two toadies for good measure.  The Jamaican helicopter pilot is the epitome of cool, the lead scientist is as "mad" as any other... You get the idea.  Everyone here is a caricature of a caricature.
Even he saw this coming.
 The special effects are believable and not overly done.  The zombies are hardly a factor until the films finale, and then it just seems to be a showcase of the special effects artist's skills in making zombies and edible body parts.  

 I know that this is akin to sacrilege to some, but of all the Dead movies to date, this is one by George Romero that you could afford to skip.  Bub is cool and all, but doesn't make-up for what the film lacks.   

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Movie Review: Insidious: Chapter 2

Insidious: Chapter 2 was a bit of a let down. 

 It wasn't terrible, as far as sequels go.  The story was entertaining and there were some creepy scenes.  The problem is that, because it is a sequel, we kind of already know where it is going.  There is an interesting plot-twist or two, but the film isn't as scary as the first one.  Nothing new is really presented.  In fact, the story appears to resolve itself, up to the very last scene of the film.  

 The strange goings-on are under investigation by the Police, and Josh Lambert is the primary suspect in the mysterious death of Medium Elise Rainer.  The family move to Josh's childhood home in order to try to get some normality to their lives, but strange things continue to occur.  Josh's wife, Renai, remains uncertain about her husband and continues to see apparitions.  Josh's behavior becomes ever more abnormal, and the children seem to be menaced by something just beyond their understanding.  Josh's mother Lorraine turns to paranormal investigators Specks and Tucker for help trying to protect her family. 
This chick has issues...

 The special effects were equal to the first film, though far more is reveled visually, which kind of takes away from the edge of the monsters.  The story is much tighter, but it is one of those films that tells all the answers to the questions of the last film that made that film great.  Despite the monsters and the paranormal events, the film comes-off as more of a mystery-drama than a horror film.  

 The one real upshot is at the end.  Again, the film has resolved all the issues of the first film.  But, at the very end, something happens that suggests that things are far from over.  With that in mind, hopefully Chapter 3 will be amazing, or at least on par with the first film.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Movie Review: Manitou

 This movie is bad on so many levels that one might wonder if that was the point.

 The basic premise is this; a woman who cavorts with the psychic community in San Francisco discovers a growth on her neck.  This growth turns out to be a "Manitou", a spirit of a powerful Native American Shaman who is attempting to forcibly re-incarnate.  With each incarnation, this Shaman has grown more powerful, and his return will not only end the woman's life, but also herald the end of the world.  It is up to her psychic friend and another Shaman to stop the Manitou.

 So, let's start with the title, "Manitou".  Manitou is simply a Native American word meaning "spirit", and relates to the concept that everything has a particular quality.  Rocks, trees, and even the wind has a "manitou".  The word does not refer to any one particular type of spirit, and certainly nothing sinister.
Not worth it...

 Next, let us discuss our psychic lead hero.  It seems clear that the character was written as a straight male and that their is some history between the lead and the victim.  However, is anyone watching this convinced that the actor is straight?  There is nothing wrong with being gay, or being flamboyantly gay, but desperately trying to hide the fact that you are gay and failing miserably is just pathetic.  And, that is what seems to be going on here.  I don't know that for certain, but you be the judge.
Lollipop Guild Enforcer

 When the monster finally arrives, well, that scene is pretty cool.  The woman is kind of just this skin-husk that later miraculously is whole again during the ordeal.  Still, casting a dwarf as the monster, even layered with neanderthal make-up, comes off as just silly.  Again, not to offend anyone in the Little Person community, but come on.