Gloom of Kilforth review


Image by Tristan Hall

Rated: 3/5

Introduction

So after bitching about the censorship of the artwork on one of the cards, and later apologizing for it since it ended up not being censorship at all, finally got a hold of the game and played it, solo. So small controversy aside, how is this “roughly 10 years in the making” big bad mamma jamma of a fantasy board game in the same vein as Mage Knight and Magic Realm? Eh, it’s just ok.

The Visuals and Component Quality

Prior backing this game on Kickstarter nearly a year ago, my impression was that this game had artwork that was better than it, or any board game for that matter, deserved. This isn’t artwork that belongs on playing cards, this is artwork that belongs on posters to hang up on walls, framed, and meant to be gazed at in wonder and fascination; probably even better if you’re doing so while puffing the magic dragon or munching the eddies. The artwork is nothing short of amazing.

That being said, like most games, you tend to forget about how good it looks and look past that to focus on the gameplay. And to make the gameplay better, the component quality needs to be good, with easy to learn/understand icons, pieces that are easy to handle and move around without accidentally knocking something out of its place, etc. In all honesty, I have yet to play a deep fantasy board game that wasn’t fiddly to some extent, and this one is no exception, even more-so if you’re playing with more than 1 player/hero. That being said, it is less fiddly than Mage Knight and Magic Realm (good Lord, what isn’t less fiddly than Magic Realm?). It plays fine without too much fiddliness, assuming you have the room for it.

This will take up some space.

Cards are of decent quality, though when I started sleeving them in clear Dragon Shields (I usually never play one of my own games unless I have sleeved everything first, you know, for preservation), I did notice it ever so slightly chipped away at a small bit of the lower corner of the cards. Not all of them, but some of them. Other than that, the card quality is fine. Sturdy enough and thick enough to be considered standard.

Chipped the card a bit while sleeving.

So aside from the cards, there’s also Zelda hearts for health, black corrupted devil hearts for action points, clouds for obstacles, trees for hiding, sand timers for fate (what, no fate cards from Atmosfear?), Mario coins for gold, and solid sturdy chits for loot and marking enemies.

The Gameplay

So this is where games either excel or fall apart, or somewhere in-between. In the case of this game, it’s in-between. You start out as a hero who seems too weak to beat the game as is. But once you complete the first part of you Saga (a 5 part story that you choose at the start of the game), and you level up, that’s when things start to get rolling. Basically the number of actions you can take is equal to your health at the start of the day. You start with 4 health at the start of the game, so you can take 4 actions. When you level up, you get another health, and thus another action point, allowing you to not only do more stuff each day, but also take more damage in combat.

Requires cards with the Badlands and Forest keywords, plus a card that has the Quest keyword if playing with 1-2 heroes.

In order to level up you need to acquire cards of certain types, whether they be Quests, Titles, Places, Spells, Strangers, Villains, etc., they are all represented by cards. You can only acquire these cards by traveling around and having encounters in various locations, hoping that the card you draw will be the type you want. And then you have to go about getting the card in the same way you do anything in the game that involves acquiring cards, rolling dice.

You see, when you move to a location where one of these cards is at, or if you move to a location with no encounter and one shows up when you move there, they each have a stat to roll against on the left side of the card. Depending on the card type, you can go for a Fight, Study, Sneak, or Influence test. For each test, you roll a number of dice equal to how much of those values you have (ex: if you have 3 Study, you get to roll 3 dice for Study tests), and get a success on a 5-6. Aside from Fight tests which pretty much mean you’ve entered in combat against a stranger or enemy, the other tests you can try multiple times over the course of a single in-game day until you get enough successes to get the card, or fail to get enough by the end of the day in which case all your successes go away and you have to try again the next day, starting from square one (or rectangle one in this case, you know, card shapes).

Gotta go to the Lost Forest in order to get this item that you hold in your hand.

And once you get one of these cards, you can do two things with it (aside from getting either gold or loot): either keep the card in your hand as a Rumor for completing Sagas, or exchange the card for an Item, Title, Spell, or Ally (this depends on the card type you exchange; for example only Places can be exchanged for Titles). It depends on what you need the card for. But of course, it’s not that easy. Once you get a hold of a Item/Title/Spell/Ally via rumor-trade, you still have to visit the location depicted on the card in order to get the ITSA. Because it’s just a rumor you heard at the place you visited, from the individual/monster you killed, from the side Quest you went on, etc (thematically-speaking). On the one hand, Items, Titles, Spells, and Allies can give you ability/power boosts to make your life easier. But on the other hand, you can’t fight the final boss without completing your saga, which requires sacrificing these cards to progress on the saga and level up. Personally, from my experience, it’s better to level up ASAP, for at least the first 2 levels, so you can get stuff done faster. After that, it depends on the situation.

So pretty soon it falls into the same pattern. Move to a location, hope you get the card of the right type, hope you have good enough stats to beat it, otherwise move along and try for something better. Once something shows up, keep rolling dice until you succeed. Once you succeed, rinse and repeat until you get enough cards to get what you want/need, level up, do it all over again until the big bad Ancient One from Arkham Horror, I mean Eldritch Horror, I mean Lovecraft Gloom of Killing Forth demons from hell show up that you need to off by cutting it’s head off with a sword, or blowing it away with a spell (if you’re a good enough Arcane aficionado). And how do you do that? You guessed it, the same way you do in Arkham Horror, rolling a bunch of dice and hoping you get enough successes over the course of a few rounds (or maybe you’ll get lucky and only have to do it for 1 or 2 rounds) to take it out.

And you have to level up fast enough to chuck the maximum amount of dice per combat round before the game ends. And at the end of each day, things slowly get worse, with 1 of the 25 locations you can travel around falling into gloom, threatening to suck a little bit of life out of you if you spend the night there. And with each life you lose, you lose an action point. For each life you get back, you don’t get that action point back until the start of the next day. So the game does plenty to slow down your progress to prevent you from leveling up fast enough so that the game doesn’t become a cakewalk.

And that’s pretty much how the game goes. There are different ways to play it, either solo/co-op with multiple heroes, or competitively against others to see who the first hero to take out the baddie is.

Thoughts

This was the one factor I had my doubts on when backing the game, the dice-chucking. But I was willing to give it a shot (and my money) because it looked like there may be enough theme and immersion to where I could overlook most of that. Plus I kind of had to admire how much time and effort Tristan “ninja dorg (because that’s a cool way of saying dog)” Hall put into this thing. Truly worthy of attention on Kickstarter, unlike those other board game companies who would probably do just fine without it, but still use Kickstarter to fund their board game projects anyway.

Mr. Dorg

In all honesty, there is a good amount of theme to it, enough variability to make each game experience different. But the tactical depth is lacking by my standards. A bit too much luck for my tastes. Getting a hold of some ITSAs can be fun, the feeling you get when your character levels up and can do more is great. And the card draws, while luck-dependent, seem balanced enough to where you’ll eventually find what you want (though I’ve only done 1 playthrough so far). But the dice-chucking, man, especially for the boss battle. It’s basically the same reason why I did away with Arkham Horror years ago. All that exploration, adventuring, analyzing the best routes to take and the best course of action to do each turn/round/day. All for it to lead to a nearly mindless dice battle. Sure there are different bosses to choose from, and they hit you in different way, but it all devolves into the same thing at the end of the day.

I guess you could say it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey. But the thing is, if the destination wasn’t all that great, why would you want to go see it again? Especially when there’s other games in the same genre to fall back on?

Don’t get me wrong, I do intend to play this a couple more times, and with other players, before I decide if I’m going to trade this off or not. Game could be more interesting with player interaction. In fact, that’s what I’m counting on. The whole game boils down to being a race against time, and mitigating luck and planning well enough that you get to the finish line before it all ends. Throw in other players, then it becomes trying to get to the finish line before they do, which can encourage heavier thinking and more optimal planning. Co-op could be interesting (I would only do that solo, but that’s just me), with the way the rules force players to work together, requiring everyone to participate in completing each other’s sagas. But as it is now, too luck-based for long-term enjoyment.

But keep in mind, I’m a very picky gamer. I prefer my games to be light on luck, or entirely absent of it. Or if there is luck, that there be extreme strategic decision making to go with it, or a heavy amount of immersion. The game doesn’t have quite enough immersion or strategy to be a keeper. But it is worth trying out.

Comparisons


This isn’t fair, but neither is life or the outcome of dice. How does it compare to Magic Realm and Mage Knight?

All 3 games are not dungeon crawlers. You travel along landscapes in each of them. It has a Mage Knight feel in that you get stronger the more you do, to where enemies that were difficult before get easier to beat. But Mage Knight has far less luck, and is absent of dice, and has the same working against the clock and optimizing your turns routine, but with deck-building. But in all fairness to Gloom of Kilforth, it handles taking damage and how much that slows you down, and how much time you have to take to recover from it better than Mage Knight. You feel each and every wound you take in Gloom of Kilforth, while in Mage Knight you can tend to shrug them off unless you take a lot of them. It makes you feel more, well, human, more vulnerable. And that’s a good thing, because the last thing you want to feel in a game where the world is at stake is invincible. But on the other hand, Mage Knight is much more tactical with the combat system, giving you much more control and decision-making.

Mage Knight.  Image source.

With Magic Realm, well Gloom of Kilforth is much easier to learn than that game, so that’s a big pro. But despite it’s complexity, Magic Realm stays very abstract with the theme. Sure there’s monsters and treasures and stuff, but they are absent of flavor text. That game is absent of a set fictional world that has a backstory. It leaves it up to the imagination. It leaves much of what you do up to the imagination, which ultimately encourages the immersive feel, getting you to think about what is happening and what is going on, rather than trying to show you. Each character in Magic Realm is far more distinct than the characters in Gloom of Kilforth. Not just in their starting stats, but in their starting abilities. In Gloom, it’s more about your starting stats, encouraging you to focus more on fights, influencing, sneaking, etc. Wherever you have the most numbers and can throw the most dice, that’s optimally what you’ll go for. It’s obvious in it’s approach. In Magic Realm it’s much more subtle, demanding many playthroughs before you can even see what strategies to use for just 1 character.

Magic Realm; yes, you need pencil and paper for this.  Image source.

Pros and cons, Gloom of Kilforth is more accessible than either of those 2 games, but in being more accessible it has less depth. Depending on your group, you may not want depth, you may not want to play something that will take 4+ hours. You may want something like Gloom of Kilforth, which provides the fantasy experience at that level. And that’s the niche the game fits in, a medium level game, as opposed to heavy like Mage Knight, and as opposed to driving university professors mad with Magic Realm.

If there’s one thing I appreciate about this game, it’s that it’s not a dungeon crawler. I’m not a big fan of that genre, at least when it comes to the fantasy genre.

Last Words

So, there’s my thoughts. Take them as you would with any review, with a grain of salt.

PS: Oh yeah, one other thing. It’s extremely refreshing to see a game that uses cardboard standees rather than 3d plastic sculpts.

Update
So I played the game a few more times, once with another player in Competitive mode, too see if the game improves or worsens. Unfortunately, it’s the latter, but there are some nice things I found within the game upon repeated plays.

First it should be mentioned that this game should’ve come with a guide showing the statistics of what is in each region type. It helps with the theme and allows players to formulate strategies.

Badlands: 4 places, 2 strangers, 5 enemies, 8 quests, 2 events.
Forests: 7 places, 6 strangers, 3 enemies, 2 quests, 2 events.
Mountains: 2 places, 2 strangers, 9 enemies, 6 quests, 2 events.
Plains: 6 places, 8 strangers, 1 enemies, 3 quests, 2 events.

So this basically means the Badlands is where one would go in hopes of finding Quests, Forests for finding Places, Mountains for finding Enemies, and Plains for finding Strangers. It’s the most optimal, but the other region types also tend to have a decent number of other encounter types. As I pointed out earlier, “the card draws, while luck-dependent, seem balanced enough to where you’ll eventually find what you want”. It’s not quite THAT luck dependent, as keith hunt pointed out (see comments below). The first 2 or 3 Saga chapters just require places, strangers, enemies, quests, titles, spells, items, and/or allies. However, once you get to Saga Chapter 4, it gets a little more tricky. For instance, some cards require a specific keyword like Arcane, Shadow, Villain, Assist, etc. Those cards are more difficult to track down. However, during the course of the game, from what I’ve played, there’s usually enough instances of cards with those keywords showing up that it’s never unfair. I could be wrong, it may be possible that you could enter into a scenario where every encounter/title/spell/ally/item doesn’t have any of those keywords, but it’s never happened with my playthroughs, so it’s unlikely that will happen.

With competitive play against other players, the only real thing that changes is trying to get encounter cards before others do, though it may not matter that much if other players aren’t interested in some cards that are out there while the others are interested. Plus the map is big enough for players to explore and find what they need. Once you get 3 or more players, those special “keyword” requirements are less of a factor in regards to completing Sagas, because of the number of players and because the competition for getting more cards can become fierce (but it never seemed that fierce to me; then again I’ve only done 2 players tops).

In all honesty, the game seems better as a solo game. It plays shorter, and the playtime increases a pretty good amount with each added player. For a single-player game, if the player knows what he/she is doing, the game tends to run at about the time the box says, 45 minutes, maybe an hour depending. Each player does pretty much add on another 50-60 minutes to the game. And a game like this shouldn’t run more than 2 hours. Just my opinion.

In all the 3 times I’ve played the game, I’ve won 2 of them, including my first playthrough. It’s all really dependent on the type of race and class you choose at the start of the game, but the main difference is how often you play as someone who wants to Fight enemies straight up vs. someone who has more emphasis in study/sneak/influence. Fighting is more dangerous, especially early on in the game. If you lose a battle, you lose your gold and a rumor/asset. This sets you back considerably, and can make things hopeless. This is why I recommend the Advanced Variant for Saga completion, where instead of just spending 5 gold per chapter completion, you spend 2 gold multiplied by the chapter number. It makes the game flow better, and fits thematically for the world becoming more challenging to accompany your increasing strength. I’ve beaten the game using the normal and advanced versions of saga completion. There are ways to increase the difficulty, as provided in the files section of BGG by Tristan himself. But as of now, I don’t feel the need to.

I don’t consider the overall game to be fun enough to be worth going into Challenge mode for (or Ancient/Bloodbath mode, as it’s called). Mainly because despite the nice streamlined gameplay, despite the nice artwork, despite what immersion there is and thematic connections between the cards and race abilities and other things, the game is a glorified dice-chuck-fest. If that is your thing, by all means, go for it, it’s one of the better dice-chuck-fests out there. But for others who want more decision-making when it comes to battles, there’s other adventure board games out there that provide that. For everyone else who wants something accessible and dice-heavy, there’s this game.

Wonder Woman (2017) review

Rated: 3/5

Introduction

Warning, I go off on a tangent right off the bat.

Finally got to see a new movie.  Granted, it wasn’t on opening weekend, but hey, I’ve seen it now.  And it’s basically what I expected.  Just like Captain America: The First Avenger, just like Iron Man, just like The Incredible Hulk, just like Thor, it’s all typical cliched nothing new or interesting superhero stuff.  But that doesn’t mean it’s bad.  All of the above movies may have been typical fluff with no high aspirations, but at least they’re entertaining.  Except Captain America: The First Avenger.  That movie was too bland for my tastes.  I just don’t get why people find that film interesting, at all.  It’s just so by-the-numbers.  The action scenes are typical, the plot is typical, the characters (especially them) are typical, the climax/finale is typical, and Captain America himself is just like fucking Superman, bland as fuck goody-too-shoes without any character flaws.  And I know, I know there’s some exceptions with some stories, but those are rare exceptions.  They’re both fucking boring characters.  Which is why I was surprised as hell that the second Captain America movie, The Winter Soldier, was in every way superior to that film. Great plot, Captain America’s views on the American government and its agencies being challenged and changed, and the action sequences were phenomenal with amazing fight choreography and stuntwork.

So, yeah, I’ve never been too big on the superhero films in general. Sometimes they’re decent popcorn flicks, but they all end up devolving into the same old bullshit. Bunch of action scenes littered throughout. Some (attempt at) character moments which sometimes work, sometimes don’t. And always an action-packed finale where the action overtakes EVERYTHING. I bring this up because that is what ultimately brought down this Wonder Woman film. The finale. That being said, I found it to be in every way superior to Captain America: The First Avenger. Wonder Woman kicks Captain America’s ass!

SAD!

You finally did it post-Nolan DC, you finally made a decent film that most people actually like. Though to be fair, I did like Batman V Superman a tad bit more than the average viewer (though Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luther can suck a bag of dicks).

The Review

So it’s worth mention I went into this after not sleeping for 24 hours, so I was hoping the film would be good enough to keep me awake. Well the opening 5 minutes wasn’t helping. Little Wonder Girl didn’t interest me, but when it transition from Wonder Girl to Wonder Woman (ie when Gal Gadot shows up), finally got more invested, especially since she pretty much shows up in the middle of an action (ie training) scene.

Unlike Superman, she has to make a small effort to avoid taking damage.

And then it turns into a fucking Disney plot. Tell me if this sounds familiar:

Protagonist: I wanna follow my dreams and see the world!

Parental Figure: No, it’s too dangerous and you might get raped or killed. Stay home with me where it’s safe and where you have all that you need, under the sea.

Protagonist: Fuck you! *runs/flies off*

The same goddamn thing that happens in practically every Disney cartoon ever made happens during the first 30 minutes of this! I had to sigh, and was thankfully too tired to do anymore than that.

But anyway, despite that cliche, the film is still entertaining enough, even if it’s basically a glorified rehash of Thor (and Captain America). But in all fairness, I’m pretty sure the comics weren’t all that different either with similar origin stories. Was into Wonder Woman and her “Dundee in New York or LA” gig, and her relationship with Captain Kirk wannabe. And going into a clothing store for a “trying on clothes” montage. Her, I’ll take Gal Gadot over any of those dumb boring bullshit teenage shows with annoying as fuck teenage girls doing that shit.

Oh you Olsen twins.

When the film finally got me hooked was when they went to the WWI trenches, and when Wonder Woman went charging into battle. That whole sequence was fan-fucking-tastic. The emotions amidst her will and determination to fulfill what she considers her purpose. The music that played. The way the action scenes played out, how the other soldiers helped her out from time to time. What drives her to do this. In spite of some spotty CG in some places. That sequence is the main reason to go see this film. It’s the high-point, and nothing else comes close to approaching it, let alone topping it.

When it really goes downhill is when Ares showed up. First of all, why the fuck couldn’t they get some guy who looked like Kratos from God of War? That would’ve been perfect to see her kick Kratos’ ass from her to hell and back again. Second of all, the actor who they picked to play Ares. Third, it just comes off as a tacked on “mandatory superhero film checklist” action sequence when she fight’s Area. Not to mention the dialogue got a little worse as it went on. And 4th, and this is the big one, Wonder Woman goes from being like a Captain America knockoff to a Superman knockoff, going godlike and becoming nearly invincible to everything, while prior to this she could at least get wounded by a bullet which helped provide some tension to the action scenes. Once you become godlike, all that fucking tension is lost! Fuck Superman!

I mean, everything up to when Kratos showed up and did his speech was fine. But after he does his speech and Wonder Woman goes to fight him, it all devolves into the same old shit all over again. Why the fuck do they always end on an action scene? Why can’t the film’s finale be a battle of wills, talking and dialogue, the tension based upon the dialogue and the potential change in character, a character learning of something that affects the plot or his/her character. Some philosophical message to pass onto the audience. Something thought-provoking and/or interesting. About the evils of men, yet also the love they possess, etc.) But nope, just a big dumb action scene.

And then it ends in the present day making the connection with the Batman V Superman movie. Irritating that these films try to link to others so often. Just can’t ever be stand-alone.

Conclusion

So in conclusion, despite my gripes, the film is good enough to be worth seeing in theaters. Now I just need to see Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2.

PS: Yes, I’m well aware that this is a DC film and not a Marvel film. That doesn’t mean I still can’t make the fucking comparisons!

PPS: And the film stirred up some controversy that we really shouldn’t give a shit about.  But if others are going to make a big deal out of it…   Fuck Lebanon.

Fifty Shades Darker, a drunk review


Rated: 1/5

What you’re in for.

Been playing nice for too long. I need a film to piss me off.

Fifty Shades Darker. Guess that means this will be darker than the last film. Kinda wish they named this Fifty Shades of Blue or something, that way it would be easier to make immature sex jokes, like Fifty Shades of Blue Me, as in blow me. If this film doesn’t have people getting blown in it, in the sexual way, I’m going to get pissed and start watching some actual honest-to-God porn. If this film pisses me off enough, I might lose my cool and actually post porn on this blog page.

And there had also be plenty of ass-slapping like in the last film.

Like every drunk review I do, I’ll be typing my responses in real-time while the movie plays, as opposed to pondering the film when it ends and then writing a review. Because honestly, why the fuck would anyone want to ponder a film like this?

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Thelma & Louise review and the feminism contrast

Rated: 3/5

 

Overlong Intro

Man, the trailer for this film. Talk about false-advertising as to what the film really is. Seriously, if you saw the film and haven’t seen the trailer, watch the trailer:

It plays it out like it’s a typical road comedy, trying to hide how serious it gets. That’s like if someone made this the official trailer for David Cronenberg’s The Fly:

Anyway, I’ve been revisiting the 90s (when I get the chance each week) over the past couple of weeks, and this time I’ve revisited a film that generated a bit of controversy at the time of its release (1991), yet that didn’t stop it from being a financial success, a film considered a classic. The main reason for its controversy, and it’s classic status (though granted films can be considered classic is because they’ve stirred controversy) is due to its feminist message. A real bona-fide feminist message, not some half-assed one filled with bodily fluid and private parts jokes and all that bullshit.

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The Dark Crystal review

Rated: 5/5

Some of you may be wondering what my favorite movie of all time is, or if I even have a favorite film. Well I do have a favorite film, and this is it. It beats all the other films I have seen so far in my life, by a mile. Most, if not all, fantasy films wish they had the amount of originality, creativity, philosophical depth, work, effort, and passion put into this film. I have yet to see one that even comes close to this (that includes The Lord of the Rings films).

That glorious opening music. The artwork and practical effects. The epic feel of it all. I find it difficult to comprehend how film-goers can’t hold some kind of admiration for this film, much less enjoyment. The creativity shown on display here is second to none in the history of film-making. This may be a Jim Henson movie, but this is no lighthearted Muppet movie.

What’s it made of?

It begins with some of the best fantasy music you’re ever going to hear in a film. There is not one sequence in this film that isn’t accompanied by a score that feels nothing short of amazing and epic, much less in place. There isn’t one moment that lacks music where one would wish it was playing. For the duration that Jen is exploring the forest, the silence adds to the paranoia of being watched, the fear of what he might find. When Jen and Kira are exploring the caverns beneath the crystal castle, the environment encapsulates the isolation and the dread of being surrounded by menacing darkness. There’s the notes played by the peaceful Mystics are calm and soothing; as is something about their chants, with some power behind it. The festive atmosphere of the pod people. And then just the music of the film itself. Encapsulating the feel of setting out on an epic journey when Jen sets out. The evoking of seeing something grand when we see the planetary movement mechanism in Aughra’s home. The dread further induced when the Gartham show up. The music couldn’t have been done any better.

And who is responsible for this blissful sound that graces our ears? None other than Trevor Jones, whose other major film highlight for containing some of the greatest scores ever put on film is The Last of the Mohicans, another film favorite of mine. In addition, he also composed the music for Labyrinth (of course), Runaway Train, Angel Heart, Excalibur, Dark City, and In the Name of the Father.

Regarding the practical effects, I have to start with the Gartham. Oh man, these are some of the scariest freaky looking creatures I’ve ever seen in my life. These things would make Charles Bronson shit his pants. Crustacean looking creatures that seem part lobster, part shrimp, part crab. One of the greatest creature designs in film history. Designed by Brian Froud, who spent five years working on the costume designs for this film. His only other major works in terms of art design were found in Labyrinth (of course), and Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland (yet another one of my favorite films). And to think that Studio Ghibli almost got a hold of that one. If anyone was to do a remake or modern adaptation of The Dark Crystal, Studio Ghibli would be the best option. Hell, in Japan, The Dark Crystal scored big at the box office (the same can’t be said of America, who was all gooey eyed over E.T. at the time).

The set designs themselves are every bit as outstanding as everything previously mentioned. There aren’t just floors, clothing, and walls to walk beside and thrones to sit on. Oh no, there are small intricate details carved into the floors, into the walls, carved upon the sand, welded into metallic objects worn by several characters. Patterns emerge if one pays attention closely, the triangles and circle within the triangle, and circles within those triangles, and on and on, and how it all connects to the 3 planets for the great conjunction. The moon shaped staffs. The mechanical solar system model in Aughra’s home. The made up letters and language that are embedded in the floors of certain rooms within the structures. The film is deceptively deep with the amount of lore hidden below the surface of the film, something viewers can catch onto if they look close enough. It’s something on par with The Lord of the Rings, though the film isn’t in as grand of scale or length to show as much of this world as Lord of the Rings does with its world. There is much to ponder upon with the things you only glimpse within the film. It’s all in the details, something only a genius like Jim Henson, Frank Oz, and Brian Froud (a dream team come true) could come up with.

And speaking of lore-building, there’s also a brief moment where Kira is sitting on the throne in the ruins, implying that Gelflings used to rule, may have once been a great society, that she feels a small calling to be a queen, like her ancestors were, just as how Jen felt a calling (some music) that led himself into the ruins. A forgotten world, a forgotten time, in the age of wonder.

Plus just about everything was built to scale. The only thing not built to scale in the film (some landscape paintings aside) is the actual crystal castle itself. That in of itself is a major feat.

And then there’s the cinematography itself, done by Oswald Morris, the last film he would ever work on as cinematographer. He worked on The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, The Man Who Would Be King, Fiddler on the Roof, Goodbye Mr. Chips, Lolita, and A Farewell to Arms. This film is arguably his greatest achievement as a cinematographer, so at least he ended his career on a high note. Aside from just about every shot in the movie, the scenes with the mystics journeying through the land stand out in a good way. The vast background paintings add to the fantastic feel of the film.

The tagline for Dune, “A place beyond your dreams.  A movie beyond your imagination.”  Yeah, that should’ve been for this film.

 

What are the themes?

There is an underlying theme of power and control that can be surprisingly relevant to today’s society. The Skekses use the power of the dark crystal to brainwash and mind control the masses, parasitically thriving upon them in their dumbed down state. There are the mystics who don’t use the crystal at all, but rely on nature for control, which gives them wisdom and understanding. Wisdom and knowledge of nature is a power in of itself, as demonstrated when they use those powers to make the fearsome Gartham powerless. The Gartham, which represent the power of the dark crystal. They rely completely on it, and are literally nothing without it. Something born from such a power used for evilness, as strong as it may be (something capable of wiping out species mind you) becomes nothing in the face of those who use the power of nature. So there is a subtle environmentalism theme going on, which is difficult to catch onto because what is normally obvious to the viewer in terms of being a metaphor for technology seems like something that may exist naturally in this world. It’s all part of the mystery of the world.

However, it is shown that relying only on nature, or only on technology, is not the best thing to do. As strong as each power can make each race that only relies on one end of the power spectrum, those races have been slowly dying for the past thousand years (the thousand years being a semblance of Indian religion). Regardless of the good intentions of those who don’t rely on dark technology, it is not enough. By the end of the movie, it is clear that these sides must come together, as they once were. Harmony can be achieved by technology and nature, a good path and come from such a union. There is a way for technology to be used for good if used for the right reasons in the right hands. Should there be discord and disagreement, there with be a violent separation between beings (the population), which will be bad for everyone. An imperial use for technology is not the same, nor as good, as opposed to a humble use.

Duality is something that must also be considered. As stated earlier, the Skekses and Mystics eventually meld together, each individual mystic melding into their Skekse counterpart, to restore their long ago state of godlike beings. Two made one. The evilness, then, of the Skekses and their use of power is not entirely evil in of itself. Evilness is an illusion. Their use of power is one side of the same coin, the other side being the mystics use of power. When two are made one, it is implied that they are capable of having great power and responsibility to use power in each way. Their wisdom shall let them know what the best way to use such power is under specific circumstances. In addition, both races initially had different approaches to death. During the first act, when the Skekse emperor is dying, he remains fearful of death, struggling to stay alive ’till his last breath, having violent spasms in an attempt to reject death’s embrace for as long as possible. But then there are the mystics, who accept that death is the natural order of things, and embrace it, and go through it peacefully. The joining together of the two sends a message that a fusion of the two approaches to death must be considered. Death is a fearful thing, and steps probably should be taken to avoid it. But if it is meant to be, then accept it.

One could consider the other interpretation, an alternative to Dualism. That the Skekses are evil, representing selfishness, genocidal natures, enslavement of the masses, a physical form that indulges in the wants of the body (encapsulated by the dinner scene with the Skekses). The Mystics, on the other hand, are more spiritual by nature, displaying elements of Christianity and Buddhism with their pilgrimage to bring peace back to the world and their habit of creating sand mandalas. Their state of enlightenment contrasts with that of the Skeksies, who also have traits of ignorance, which leads to fear of a race they deem threatening, which leads them to carry out genocide. Sound familiar? Once the mystics arrive, the “spirit” fuses with the “body”, giving form to heaven-like beings who are somewhat transparent and give off a white glow, and eventually ascend to the heavens. A somewhat Christ metaphor, indicating that the spirit must overcome the wills and desires of the body in order for a needed ascension to occur for the greater good.

A key factor in considering both views is the consequences of death between those two species. The Skekses are evil, so they should be killed off, right? Well the film quickly hushes any cheers that would go on when a villain dies, as when a Skekse gets his, so does a Mystic, who disappears in a brief fiery blaze them moment the skeskie counterpart is killed off. When a Garthim is killed, so is a Landstrider. The film never allows for a chance for viewers to cheer at the death of anyone, or anything. Killing is bad, killing is not the answer. The desire to see enemies killed off as encouraged in most films, both for kids and adults, is vanquished in that instant. To have a satisfying resolution, bloodshed isn’t the answer. Peaceful resolution is. The fusion between the two species is a metaphor for resolving large world-shattering problems with peaceful negotiation, with compromise. This further supports dualism theme, an Eastern religious viewpoint.

So if dualism is to be accepted, then that implies that there is a flaw to both sides. It’s obvious what the flaws of the Skekses are, but what about the mystics? Well, they move slow, live largely in an environment absent of greenery (though granted they leave near greenery), and seem unable to accomplish that much. In fact, they even seem like old exhausted creatures, going along with their snail’s pace. Their slow, spiritual, and meditative lives aren’t enough to make changes in the world, even though they are changes that they know must be done. They rely upon those more physically capable than they are for the task to be done.

So in other words they’re hippies.

Another interesting thing about the Mystics vs. the Skeksies. The Mystics all look and act the same, while the Skeksies try to look as different from each other as possible in their voice, mannerisms, clothing, personality, etc. It’s a clash of individualism vs. collectivism, the desire to be together and act as one vs. the desire to be independent. Now, you could easily say that collectivism is portrayed as being the superior morally good choice, but don’t forget that the whole point of dualism is that two sides must be one in order to be complete and fulfilled, and much closer to perfection. In other words, there are pros and cons to both individualism and collectivism, that neither are perfect in of themselves. Yet another layer this movie has to it.

It is also worth noting that the protagonist of the film, Jen, a youthful individual is the one who heals the crystal, allowing the union of the two races to be possible. In essence, this drives forward the idea that it is the young generation, with knowledge granted from their elders, and experiences with their friends, to fix the world, to repair the mistakes made by those in power many years ago, mistakes still be carried out by those in power in his time. There is more going on here beneath the surface of the usual “lone young hero must venture forth and save the world” plot.

The whole duality theme can also be a metaphor for love. The skekses, the mystics, love thy enemy, because they are a part of each other. Similar to how Jen and Kira, while they more or less lived alone without any other gelflings, find that they don’t want to be apart once they learn of each other’s existence. It’s as if they found a piece of themselves that had been missing this entire time.

There’s a perfect moment that encapsulates this division and bringing together all in one perfect shot:

Jen to the left side, Kira on the right, the dark crystal between them both, with the Skeksies below. The crystal acts as a barrier, keeping them apart, much like the the crystal’s current state is what keeps the world broken and in disarray, the mystics being separate from the skeksies. The desire to fill this void, to fix what is broken, the desire to be whole again, is what drives everything to this point, Jen and Kira, the skeksies and the mystics.

And amidst all this there’s the Garthim to consider, empty shells of existence that only exist because of emptiness. How can they live in such a state? By being fueled by an unnatural power. The power that gives them form and a lifeforce, the dark power of the crystal, a metaphor. Being broken creates monsters. Separation, the loss of love, creates destruction and hate. Jen felt this after Kira’s village was destroyed, so he tosses the shard of the crystal in anger. And again at Augra’s home, when the Garthim show up, it’s no coincidence that they destroy the Anvil of Eternity, that machine that shows the movement of the planets in their system. It’s also no coincidence that we see Augra toss a planetary object at them. This emptiness and separation causes nothing but destruction, a universal truth.

Even when Jen restores the crystal, things are destroyed when changes happen. The Garthim are shown to be nothing but shells of emptiness. The castle appears to be falling apart. Kira lies dead. Despite all the change going on, whether it be for better or worse, whether it will mean his and everyone else’s death or not, Jen doesn’t care. All he cares about it that he lost Kira. He is broken, now that he realizes he can’t live without her, further emphasizing the dualism philosophy. Nothing matters if you are alone.

The best thing about all this? These are themes not dealt out heavy-handedly. They are done subtly, without any fancy speeches, and the film can be watched and enjoyed without consciously knowing that such themes are present.

Other Notes

So aside from the theme, production quality and all that, what do I actually think about the moments that are in the film? Well, I’ve already mentioned how badass the Gartham are. But a second runner-up for best creature in the movie would have to be the Landstriders. These giant four-legged creature are awesome, and can kick ass in a fight against the Garthem, but they can’t take on a large group that outnumbers them 4-to-1. And, man, hearing the sounds those Landstriders make when they’re being attacked by the Garthem, it kinda brings me to tears.

Fizgig is great. It’s awesome seeing that Kira has wings, and can communicate with animals which brings up some great moments where animals fight against the Skekses and Garthem. Jen is basically a typical cardboard fantasy character, regardless of his thematic implications. Kira has just a tad more character than him, but not much. The Skekses each felt more distinct and full of character than Jen and Kira.  But honestly though, for a film like this, the characters fit in just fine as plain individuals living out an existence.  Not every character in a film has to have some fantastic trait/personality to them.  That only becomes necessary if it is a character-driven film.  That is not what this is.  The film’s strength and focus is in its world, its details, its philosophy, its lore.

Critters ripped this off.

The amount of original creature designs and number of plants and animals in the forest scene alone puts any 3 fantasy movies combined to shame.

If you find this film enjoyable enough that you want to get more out of it, seek out the unnofficial director’s cut, as well as the book The World of the Dark Crystal, written by the costume/creature designer himself, Brian Froud. That book will take you knee-deep into the lore that the film only touches upon, and let you know just how much work and effort Henson put into the creation of this world.  You will be amazed at how much depth they went into writing out the details of this world, much of left was left outside of the film or only vaguely/fleetingly implied within it.

You will never find me giving a film a higher recommendation than this one.  This is a film that could only have been made during that time period, and nothing like has ever been made prior to it, or after it.

 

Other reviews:
jaysanalysis.com/2011/02/27/the-dark-crystal-%E2%80%93-esoteric-analysis/

www.ruthlessreviews.com/8005/the-dark-crystal/

filmconnoisseur.blogspot.com/2012/06/dark-crystal-1982.html

reflectionsonfilmandtelevision.blogspot.com/2012/03/films-of-1982-dark-crystal.html

Barbarossa review

Rated: 3/5

Introduction (ie addressing some criticisms of the game)

So there are 2 versions of this game. One is the version which has anime chicks in scantily clad outfits doing some implied and ridiculous sexual gesture. The other version is a more historical version with black and white WWII photos. Regarding the latter, where’s the fun in that?

First of all, I own the anime-chick version, not the historical photograph edition. Some would ask why I would buy such a game. I bought it for a simple reason, spite. I despise all you easily offended politically correct gamers with all of my little black perverted heart. Some of which state that no one should play this game because it is vile, perverted, sexist (sexploitation), pro-lolita, pro-nazi, and glorifies horrible people in a horrible war. That revisiting/addressing WWII should be done in a serious/professional matter, and in no other way. And there’s also arguments along the lines of keeping your sexual fetishes in private. Subject matter like this should not be perverted.

“It amazes me that people who fancy a certain fetish can seriously be upset by the aversion displayed by people who don’t share this fetish.”Simon Mueller

I’m starting to think that political correctness is also a fetish.

You know, stuff like that. It’s less controversial to have a game with images of individuals getting their brains/organs blown out by knives/gunfire/bombs/zombies, but more controversial when there’s any amount of skin shown in any fashion, perverted or otherwise. That’s how it works here in America. Doesn’t help that the girls in this game are under-age.

All you SJWs scared off now?  Good.  This review is for everyone else.  Image by jpwrunyan.

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The Maltese Falcon (1941) review

Rated: 4/5

“If you lose a son it’s possible to get another. There is only one Maltese Falcon.”

I’ll tell you what, you’re engagement level better be 5/5 with this movie, or you’re going to miss plot details so important that you will probably get lost with the story. Not since Bullitt, Miller’s Crossing, or Inception have I seen a crime film that demands so much attention from the viewer.

Humphrey Bogart is an absolute slick badass who is every bit as good with his words as he is with his fists. And he knows it, which is why he also plays a scoundrel and an anti-hero who “may” be as corrupt of a detective as the criminals he investigates. I have seen African Queen, and Casablanca (didn’t care much for the former, don’t remember much of the latter), but it’s this film that made me realize why this guy was such a big name during that era of film-making.

So, onto the analysis. The title itself, The Maltese Falcon. Maltese has a two-fold definition, both of which I’m positive are important. Firstly, Maltese refers to someone/something that is a resident of Malta. That’s where the Maltese Falcon statue itself comes from, so that’s self explanatory. The second definition refers to a small breed of dog with a long silky coat. I considered the second definition important once the film brings the viewer to the office of Spade and Archer, two private detectives, Spade being played by Bogart. If you observe the desk of Spade, you will notice that there is a small statue of a falcon and a dog on it. That’s no coincidence, and an obvious use of mise-en-scène (mine as well as keep up the French terms, as noir is also one). After seeing another dog statue in the District Attorney’s office, it’s my theory that the dog represents justice, doing actual police work, a detective’s code of honor, etc. The falcon itself, well, they say it’s “the stuff that dreams are made of.” Put the two together, and it’s like investigating/chasing a dream.

This kind of symbolism can also be found in Gutman’s abode (he’s also named Gutman because he’s fat, hahahah). Above his fireplace are two small horse statues. This represent galloping after or chasing something. Spade has a horse picture at his home, indicating that he is a detective who will chase after leads. The horse picture at home, the dog and falcon statues at his office, indicate he is a detective who his heavily invested in his work, at least during the course of this movie, because his work follows him to his office and home throughout the film. Gutman, obviously, is chasing after the Maltese Falcon itself.

Another thing I thought about in this film is the use of colors on the coats the characters wear. This is where I’m likely stretching things. The darker the coat, the more corrupt or involved with dirty dealings a character is. Gutman, for instance, is always wearing the darkest suits in the film, contested only by Miles Archer’s widow. Gutman’s is always dark because he’s obviously the most corrupt and dirty of all the characters in the film. He’s willing to have people killed and bribe whoever to get what he wants. Mrs. Iva Archer is in black from head to toe the entire course of the film. This is when my thoughts on clothing style could be called into question, as she is a woman in mourning, and isn’t involved in the dirty dealings that Spade is getting involved with. But upon a second viewing, I picked up on the fact that Spade and Iva were once in love with each other, and may have been lovers up until Archer showed up and eventually married her at some point. Others know this, which is why a couple people question Spade and Mrs. Archer’s motives, wondering if they were involved in the death of Miles Archer. Despite her state of mourning, Mrs. Iva Archer asks Spade if he killed Miles because of this. But she is likely asking this question out of hope that he did, so that she can be with him and they can be lovers again. If that’s the case, that would keep my thoughts of use of clothing in this film intact, and would make her not so pure of a woman. Spade even mentions offhand that she probably hates Miles. She once again confirms the fact of her belonging with dirty people when she calls the cops on Spade, because she sees him with another woman, his client Brigid, who originally hired Spade and Archer. She does this out of jealousy, because she believes Spade to be sleeping with this woman instead of her.

And then there’s Brigid herself. When she first appears, she has a distracting black headdress (if that’s what you call it) on her head, indicating that her head is filled with dirtiness. Dirtiness in this case being lies. During the rest of the film, she dresses in more white colors, but by the end of the film is back in the darker set of clothes, now fully stuck in the dark world she tried to dip her hands in but stay out of, but has failed. At certain points she wears all white, but then there are times when she wears white but sits in a dark chair, or has on dark gloves, or dark heels, or has the dark headdress back on her head again. This indicates hypocrisy, which other characters in the film are also guilty of (including Spade himself).

Another interesting bit of symbolism can also be found briefly on Spade’s desk as he burns the address to Brigid’s home after briefly looking it over. The address is burned next to a ridiculously small book (it’s probably a prop used for decoration rather than a book) that is labeled “DEPENDABLE”. I feel this represents the idea that Spade doesn’t have much to depend on in this world, that what he depends on isn’t anything material or outside of himself because that would cause him to be burned (metaphorically). Instead, he has to depend on his own instincts and knowledge, which is kept in his head. He acts accordingly by not trusting anyone, Brigid, Iva, or even the police investigating him. His experience with detective work has taught him to be this way, and he is fully justified in this, as just about everybody tries to deceive him.

One last metaphorical element to the story. The names of Samuel Spade and Miles Archer. Spade says to Archer in a joking manner, “You’ve got brains.” He says this because he knows that Archer has decided to take the case and follow Brigid because he’s not doing so due to his intelligence, but due to his lust. Brigid is a beautiful woman, Iva doesn’t like him (as implied at several points), so Archer figures why not follow her, maybe he’ll get lucky. It’s similar to his heart being hit by Cupid’s arrow, hence the name Archer. Unfortunately, his heart ends up taking a bullet instead. Samuel Spade’s name, I believe, comes into play by him metaphorically burying his partner’s name, but also honoring his memory in his own way. This is discussed directly near the end of the film.

I enjoyed the hell out of this movie. The pace is quick, the dialogue is smart and witty, and Bogart is awesome. He is in constant danger, and so he is consistently using his experience and methods to keep him one step ahead of death, or arrest. He does so when he doesn’t have much of an idea of what situation he has fallen into. At several points I was asking how selfish he really is. Is he doing this just to save himself, or for money, or for something else? There is one moment where his intimidation and badassnes is on full display when Cairo draws a gun on him. As he gets up and walks with Cairo, you can tell from his height, face expression, and figure, that he is in no way intimidated by this man. Once he inevitably gains the upper hand, his smirk says everything, as does the look of dread on Cairo’s face. There are several moments when he just has to smile and laugh despite how much of a pickle he is in, just taking in the fun of the moment to alleviate the stress, as evident by how his hand shakes uncontrollably at one point after confronting Gutman.

Despite how awesome he is, he is also a scoundrel, and a cold-hearted bastard at times. He is more than happy and willing to take money from people, especially Brigid, even when she seems to need it. He talks shit to other detectives and to the district attorney, and he acts care-free about his partner dying and of the widow’s grieving. And despite all that, I still had to root for him, because damnit he’s cool.

If there is any flaw in the film, I can only catch onto one. There is one instance when the editing got distracting. The camera cuts quickly during the scene when Spade is talking with Iva for the second time in the film. It’s just a minor complaint in an otherwise very entertaining film. Easily one of the best oldies I’ve seen.

P.S.: Apparently there is a version of this film made in 1931, titled Dangerous Female, directed by Roy Del Ruth. This intrigued me for one reason, it has a nude bathing scene which it was able to get because it was made during the pre-censorship period that was eventually established by the Catholics. Well, guess I’m dirty too.