This Week in Wargaming Episode 34 8-9-09

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MINIATURES AND BOARDGAMES

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Privateer Press Announces Preview of “The Next Big Thing” for Warmachine during Gencon

Meeples and Miniatures doing weekly video review of Historical Miniatures Releases

Fantasy Flight Games launches video preview of Warhammer, Chaos in the Old world

Forge World Siege of Vraks 3 available for pre order

Arcane Legions Box Art Previews for Romans and Egyptians

Army Builder 3.2 available

Battlestar Galactica Pegasus Expansion, Rules Posted

Tumbleweed Tank Preview for AE WWII
And the 1936 Popular Science Article it is based on

AE WWII Occult concept art for SS Vampire

COMPUTER GAMES

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Empire Total War

MEDIA

GI JOE—-

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Sorry, but I could not help at least touching on this film as it released this weekend to tepid but not terrible reviews.

The Reviews

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The Dark Knight – Samurai Gunslinger Movie Review

Based on the weekend box office results, most of you have already seen this film by now, but for those who have not I wanted to add my voice to the thunderous clamoring of love for this film. I saw it this weekend, unfortunately not in Imax as it is sold out through next week, so I can’t speak to what difference that makes. I can say that I was fascinated and entertained by the movie as a whole, and frankly in awe of Heath Ledger’s Joker.

 

There should be no question in anyone’s mind that this film is an achievement that takes comic book hero films to a new level in quality and respectability. Ledger, Eckhart, Bale and Oldman each turn in top level performances. Heath Ledger’s turn as the Joker has praised as a tour de force, and rightly so, but I think that it is the rest of the performances that have to shine even more in order not to be totally overshadowed by the dominating presence of the Joker. Eckhart in particular should be mentioned in his brilliant portrayal of Harvey Dent the hero and his tragic transformation into the villain Two-Face.

 

It is a testament to the depth of this film that Christian Bale’s Batman is in many ways a supporting character in a tale of Gotham Cities Struggle with it’s own identity. Even Michael Cain’s Alfred shines in every scene as he fulfils his role as Bruce Wayne’s conscience and confidant.

 

The effects and cinematography are far improved over the first of the Christopher Nolan Batman films. Gotham city, this time filmed in real world Chicago, feels alive and real in contrast to the somewhat fantastical and mythological version of the city used in the first film. I think that is a good example of how everything in this film was done as you consistently feel this is a story that takes place in our world as opposed to the larger than life world of mythology that all the previous Batman incarnations inhabited.

 

If you can forgive the hyperbole, this film is simply a masterpiece. It is the pinnacle of the development of the transition of the comic book hero from child’s diversion, to adult plaything to what it is now, legitimate cinematic triumph of the highest order.

 

As always I have included snippets and links from two major critical reviews. One that agrees with me, and one that does not.

 

The Dark Knight: Rotten Tomatoes Score: 90%

 

Mahnola Dargis of the New York Times says:

Pitched at the divide between art and industry, poetry and entertainment, The Dark Knight goes darker and deeper than any Hollywood movie of its comic-book kind. FULL REVIEW

 

David Denby of The New Yorker says:

This movie is grim and jammed together. The narrative isn’t shaped coherently to bring out contrasts and build toward a satisfying climax. The Dark Knight is constant climax; it’s always in a frenzy, and it goes on forever. FULL REVIEW

 

RELATED POSTS:

 

Iron Man – Samurai Gunslinger Movie Review

The Incredible Hulk – Samurai Gunslinger Movie Review

Hellboy II – Samurai Gunslinger Movie Review

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull – Samurai Gunslinger Movie Review

Thank God for Hellboy! Samurai Gunslinger Movie Review

Hellboy II: The Golden Army – Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 88%

As many of you know I had to attend a funeral in Houston this weekend. These events are always difficult but I also had to deal with a huge number of highly fanatical and evangelistic relatives telling me what a heathen I am for several days. The last thing I need when trying to mourn a loss is to  face person after person trying to convert me.

“You need to move back to Houston with your ‘real familly’, find the lord in your heart and marry yourself a good christian woman.” I heard this refrain over and over again in numerous variations. Thankfully I had my iPhone on and was happily listening to Disturbed as they blasted out one brutal track after another while I smiled and nodded at my well meaning, but highly annoying, kin.

So it was with great relief that I ran, not walked, to the theatre upon my return to civilization. My purpose, to indulge worship at the altar of Guiellrmo Del Toro’s masterful bit of sacrilege, Hellboy II : The Golden Army.

As a huge fan of Mike Mignola’s ground breaking comic series, I also loved the first film. I am also a big fan of Del Toro both as an artist and as a seemingly cool geeky guy who loves his work and his source material. If you have never listened to an unrated directors commentary by him, you are missing something. The commentary track on Blade II was honestly better than the movie itself. With all this in mind it is not a surprise that I really loved Hellboy II.

I think this was, simply put, the perfect summer movie. The action was fun, the characters enjoyable and cool and the visual styling was yet another masterpiece of Del Torro’s artistic vision. Watching this I am even more exited than before to see what he will do with the iconic imagery of The Hobbit.

Ron Perlman once again defines the role with his personality and I always enjoy watching him as Hellboy. His relationship with Liz Sherman, (Selma Blair) is on the rocks and she is hiding a big secret from him. This provides a light and minor subplot used for comic relief throughout the film. Many of the jokes fall flat, but there were several laugh out loud moments for me, and the rest of the audience, that made that portion of the film pay off.

Another comedic addition was the brilliant voice work by Seth Macfarlane of Family Guy fame in the role of Dr Krauss. The character is just odd enough to fit perfectly into the Hellboy franchise and Macfarlane’s performance is masterful.

Perhaps the best performance in the film, however, is delivered by Luke Goss as Prince Nuada, the films villain. Nuada is the heir to the elven throne and seeks to reclaim an ancient artifact that will awaken the invincible golden army to destroy mankind. Goss manages to give us a villain who is motivated by only the best interests of his people and who has legitimate hatred for humanity and their greed and destruction of the natural world. We find ourselves quickly able to understand and empathize with him even as we cheer for Hellboy and the rest of the Bureau of Paranormal Defense and Research to stop his nefarious plans.

In the end Hellboy II is a fun romp through a beautifully visualized fantasy world. The movie gives us another chance to enjoy a group of characters many have come to love and leaves us eager for another trip into their world

Put Simply, Hellboy II is fun, what else more do you need for a summer movie.

As Always I have included links to two reviews from that mainstream press that agree, and disagree with my take.

Peter Hartlaub of the San Fransico Chronicle Says:

 The talented fantasy filmmaker and heir to the Lord of the Rings throne gets the tone right throughout Hellboy 2, and the hip retro charm alone is enough to merit recommendation. FULL REVIEW

Liam Lacy of the Globe and Mail writes:

Hellboy, a sensitive devil with a tough exterior, is an inspired creation but limited as a dramatic protagonist. When you start with a demon hero, you can’t settle for making his adversary a less complex demon. FULL REVIEW

Iron Man(RDJ) trades in his armor for a pair of sixguns!

Leaving his Iron Man armor behind for a  for a different kind of firepower, Robert Downey Jr will try his hands as a western gunslinger in his next project. As reported below from the Hollywood Reporter.

Robert Downey Jr., Tombstone-esque gunfights, and aliens? Sounds like a dream come true. Cowboys & Aliens will force humans to ban together (even though they were in the midst of an all out war) to fight against a common enemy, their alien invaders.

The current writing team on Cowboys, Hawk Ostby and Mark Fergu, also lent their pens to Iron Man. So at least they are aware of the back and forth quip that RDJ is capable of. The movie also has an extensive list of Hollywood names attached as producers including Roberto Orci, Steven Spielberg and Ron Howard.

The graphic novel by Fred Van Lente and Andrew Foley is also available online at Drunk Duck. (And Van Lente is the genius writer behind such awesome works as Action Philosophers (a comic book anthology dramatizing the lives of Socrates and Kant), Supervillain Team-Up and the current Incredible Hercules, which he’s co-writing with Greg Pak.) The movie has high hopes for a 2010 release.

[The Hollywood Reporter]

The Incredible Hulk delivers a smashing fun time!

I did manage to get out to see The Incredible Hulk this weekend. I was going into this film with farily low expectations after the dismal effort turned out by the Ang Lee Directed fim in 2003. The film definitely exceeded my expectations and I enjoyed it quite a bit although the movie did have several flaws that keep it from coming near the rarified air enjoyed by Iron Man, Spiderman 2 and Batman Begins as the best of the superhero genre.

 

The film begins with a tone very much taken from the 70s TV series that starred Bill Bixby as Dr Bruce Banner and Lou Ferigno as the monstrous Hulk itself. Both actors are granted cameos in the film, Bixby through a short snippet of him in a 60 sitcom and Ferigno in a very nice scene with him as a Security Guard who accepts a Large Pizza as a bribe to let Banner into a university research lab. This series of homage’s to the series were very much appreciated by me and put me immediately into the film although I imagine they will go unnoticed by 90% of today’s movie going audience.

 

It is more than just tone that brings the TV series to mind, as the first 20 minutes of the film center around a secretive banner hiding in a Brazilian shanty town desperately trying to find a cure. All the while he works to learn ways to control his anger and avoid the deadly consequences to others that come with it.

 

This leads up to an amazing sequence in a factory when a special forces team tracks Banner down, but find themselves totally unprepared to face the actual Hulk. It is here that Tim Roth and William Hurt first come together with Roth as an aging special forces operative and Hurt as the general who was responsible for creating the Hulk and now wants to take his power so it can be used as a weapon.

 

The interplay between the two, each following his own hunger for power, as they march down the road to destruction together is interesting and entertaining. Neither man is given an opportunity to really show their acting talents to the full degree, but they both turn in good performances.

 

Where the movie is let down however is when it fails to give Edward Norton, as Banner the chance to really explore the story of the fugitive in search of a cure. Instead after the excellent opening in Brazil and the awesome factory sequence the film becomes a standard superhero action flick with multiple action set pieces that get more and more over the top. Not that this is a bad thing, as I found them very enjoyable, but I feel if the film kept to the original pacing it would have been much better.

 

According to rumors, the studios demanded 70 min be cut from the film which angered Norton to the point that he refused to promote it. If that is the case, then a directors cut may be in the pipe at some point which could take this film to the next level.

 

I would recommend the film to any fan of comic book movies in general or the hulk in particular.

It is fun, and nostalgic at the same time with good performances from everyone ( except Liv Tyler who really needs to stick to modeling or something as she is simply horrible and totally unbelievable as Betty. ) involved. If you loved Iron Man, you should at least like The Incredible Hulk.

 

As usual I have included a pair of mainstream reviews for comparison as well as well as the rotten tomatoes score.

 

Rotten Tomatoes: 66%

 

Roger Ebert from the Chicago Sun Times says: It sidesteps the intriguing aspects of Hulkdom and spends way too much time in, dare I say, noisy and mindless action sequences. Full Review

 

Joe Morgenstern from the Wall Street Journal says: This new production, starring Edward Norton as Bruce Banner, looks a lot better — sometimes it looks great — and it’s a thunderously efficient enterprise, with a nice surprise at the very end. Full Review.

 

 

Indiana Jones Returns with a fair showing.

Like most of you I grew up during the time that the Indiana Jones Trilogy was new and amazing. I eagerly looked forward to each new film and saw them all on the first day. Even the sub par Temple of Doom had any number of memorable moments. Thanks to the Sci-Fi channels Indiana Jones Marathon last week I came into Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls with the first movies fresh in my memory and the theme song playing in my head.

Fortunately I had read many of the reviews and heard from several friends not to go in to this one with my expectations too high. I think that is why I enjoyed the movie as much as I did despite the fact that nothing in the film really grabbed me with the kind of intensity of the more memorable scenes in the first films. I wont go into the plot of the film other than to say that it features an older Indy fighting the communists in one last grand adventure to return a crystal skull to its resting place in the legendary city of El Dorado. In typical Indiana Jones fashion this leads to a never ending series of chases and action set pieces culminating in the typical speilbergian special effects extravaganza of a climax.

Harrison Ford is excellent in this film and I think it is his charm and charisma that keeps the rather lackluster script and dialog from dragging this movie into the realms of the purely mediocre. I am not a huge fan of Shia Labouef but was surprised that he did a workmanlike job of playing the unlikably written Mutt Williams. Kate Blanchet was rather underutilized in her role as the soviet psychic torturer and primary villain of the film. At no point was she able to present the kind of powerful presence we have all seen from her in so many other roles.

The action and cinematography of the piece is good but not great and for some reason nearly all of the action scenes left me somehow feeling unsatisfied. Still it was a fun movie and I enjoyed my time in the theatre with Indy and his adventures. I cant say this is a film I would see again or buy on DVD. If it comes on cable some day I’m sure I will watch and enjoy it, but I wont feel that same excitement seeing it on the queue that I do for Raiders, or Last Crusade.

I recommend the film for an afternoons diversion, and a definite must see for Indy fans as Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones is in full form here. However the lack of any compelling characters or plot surrounding him keeps me from giving it enthusiastic praise.

To provide some comparison, I have included portions of and links to two mainstream critical reviews, one positive and one negative to give you a good breadth of opinions to make your own judgment as to if this film is worth your hard earned 10 spot.

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 79%

Stephen Hunter from the Washington post says:

It’s romantic manliness at its purest, almost but not quite schmaltz, ideally calculated to please true believers and ironic snorters at once.

Click here to read his full review.

Joe Morganstern from the Wall Street Journal says:

Sitting through Steven Spielberg’s slog down memory lane means waiting for surprise, waiting for delight, waiting for daylight after turgid trudges through Peruvian caves, and waiting for an abstract story to coalesce.

Click here to read his full review.

Speedracer hurts my eyes, and Warner Bros bottom line!

Yeah I was one of the poor souls who allowed teen aged nostalgia for an admittedly average Anime to drag me into the overpriced theatres for a trip down memory lane courtesy of the visionary directing team known as the Wachowski Brothers. Speed Racer was supposed to be a tour de force that would bring the oddly endearing 80s anime series into the main stream and redefine what movies can do.

The actuality of the film was less revolutionary than revolting. The story itself follows the young Speed Racer from a brief introduction of his childhood dreams of being a racer to his meteoric success. After his first sucessful professional race, speed(portrayed by Emile Hirsch) is recruited by an evil corporate race promoter(Roger Allen) but the pure and perfect heart of Speed Racer can not be corrupted by mere money. The evil corporate exec then spend the rest of the movie trying to destroy Speed’s family owned racing company primarilly through a series of races that are so far over the top that it is simply impossible to describe.

The races do not just require a suspension of disbelief but a suspension of sanity. Harsh oversaturated color pallets and blinding movements assault your senses yet provide no feeling of action or risk. As anything is possible for these vehicles that ignore every possible law of physics without explanation or consistensy, nothing is threatening. It is impossible to feel connected to the races as it the directors give you nothing you can hold on to or count on. No matter how ridiculous the threat, Speed’s Mighty Mach 5(and later the new and improved Mach 6) simply overcomes it with a new reality bending ability that is neither explained or justified.

Watching speed race is like watching a video game played in “god” mode. No matter how awesome the threat, there is no tension as you know it can not hurt you, at all.

Obviouslly I was not a fan of this film, and the box office figures show that most people did not even bother to give it a chance. With barely 20million in total opening weekend box office (compared with Iron Man’s 170 million in its first 10 days) the estimated 220million plus budget (this includes the estimated 100 million marketing budget and 120 million for filming the special effects heavy project) means Speed Racer will go down as one of the biggest financial disasters in recent movie history. Still there were some who loved it, and to provide a balanced perspective I have posted the review of Joe Neumair from the New York Daily News courtesy of Rotten Tomatoes (Speed Racer Rotten Tomatoes Score – 34%).

Speed Racer NY Daily News Review by Joe Neumair

Remember mixing Pop Rocks candy and Coca-Cola to make little volcanoes inside your head? “Speed Racer” is the movie equivalent. In fact, there are so many jacked-up visuals over two-plus hours that its target audience of 12-year-old boys may need to summer in an Amish community to calm down.

Writer-directors Larry and Andy Wachowski, the creators of the “Matrix” films, once again invent stunning visual tricks in this adaptation of the late-’60s Japanese anime. The film’s eye-popping look is a combo of fast-moving video-game imagery, hyperstylized “wipes” (images moving from one side of the screen to the other) and super-bright colors. It’s the big selling point – one that could make many viewers feel like their eyeballs are on fire. Xbox addicts, however, will feel right at home.

In this Day-Glo world, the title hero (Emile Hirsch) is obsessed with racecar driving, which isn’t a problem when tracks the size of cities appear to be everywhere. Speed’s dad, Pops (John Goodman), owns an engine company, and his older brother, Rex (Scott Porter), was a driving legend who reportedly died during a rigged contest.

After Speed rejects an offer by a villainous corporate sponsor to become a sellout and drive an assembly-line roadster, he’s targeted during a round-the-world race but saved more than once by the mysterious Racer X, who may or may not be Rex.

The global chase plays like an arcade racing game with constantly changing scenery, and there’s a final Grand Prix blow-out wheel-burner. Trying to follow the convoluted plot, though, is like reading toy instructions on Christmas morning: Skip it, and just look at the pretty lights.

The cast is generally game for playing cardboard cutouts, with Goodman having the most fun. Hirsch (“Into the Wild”) doesn’t appear to be awake for the first hour, though his laid-back soulfulness adds some dimension. Christina Ricci, meanwhile, lost some weight, and a lot of depth, to play his girlfriend, Trixie. Also along for the ride is Speed’s mischievous little brother (Paulie Litt) and a pet chimp in clothes.

Emotionally, “Speed Racer” stays in the family lane; when cars crash and burn, there are little bubbles called “quick-saves” that transport drivers to safety. The nostalgia factor is slight, and nothing new is added besides the effects. While that’s not enough to make it a classic even among chintzy cartoon-born movies, middle-schoolers will have a blast.

jneumaier@nydailynews.com