Weekly Round-Up for 4 Jan 2015

These days I’m focusing on getting the Nefertiti Overdrive Kickstarter ready (13 January . . . and don’t you forget it!), so Sword’s Edge is going to be quiet for a while.

Not that much of a difference, I know.

But, on to the round up!

Pirates: I can’t really review this movie because I saw it in Korean. While I used to watch Korean TV and movies when I lived there (without subtitles, I mean), it’s been almost 15 years since I moved back to Canada, so I really couldn’t understand anything that was said. The basics of the movie were still pretty clear, and while Korean movies seem to still have a problem with Female action leads (hint: they still need a man!), this has a pretty tough, capable female captain chasing a royal seal (the one for marking documents, not the one that eats fish) from China (maybe?) which had been swallowed by a whale. Lots of swashbuckling and derring-do, so I am definitely going to seek this out with subtitles if it ever hits these shores or appears on Netflix.

King of New York: This was a gift from Accidental Chris’ daughter to my eldest, but it was really a gift from one family to the other. It is a fantastic game, and while it says 10+, my five year-old (turning six in a month) has no problem following the game (though she sometimes need the cards explained to her). What could be more fun than playing monsters leveling New York? Especially when Kong appears to be some kind of rock star, commie, giant ape. So cool.

Zipfy Freestyle Luge: We sucked up the freezing rain so we could take advantage of the snow that fell last night. This was the first snow since Christmas, and the girls got these cool little sleds/luges as gifts, so we wanted to try them out. The girls loved them. Turns out, these are for adults as well, but I thought they were children’s luges. My wife is small enough, so she felt okay to ride one, and she was howling with laughter. These things are great little rides, and a nice alternative to your average sled/toboggan.

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Kundo: Age of the Rampant

Kundo: Age of the Rampant is set in the late Choson period of Korea. It’s an interesting time, historically, as Korea descended into corruption and decay, and as court politics befouled any well-meaning king’s attempt at reform. This is all made clear in what I consider an unnecessary voice-over narration.

The thing is, I liked this movie, but I think it could have been much more awesome. There was too much telling instead of showing, especially when the showing did all that was required. The appalling conditions in which the common folk lived are illustrated again and again. The corruption and venality of the bureaucracy and nobility are the crux of the movie. We don’t need to know the details, and knowing them does nothing to improve the movie.

Indeed, along with some fantastic action sequences, this movie could be an allegorical warning against widening income inequality. This was Korea’s “gilded age,” in which the rich continued to get richer by exploiting the poor. The problem was – and maybe is? – that once you leave a person with nothing, that person has nothing left to lose.

And so it is for the bandit commune in which the main character finds himself. These are Robin Hoods, stealing from the rich to re-distribute among the poor. And tellingly, they are not sharing coins or jewelry, they are sharing rice. The people are starving, and the bandits redistribute the food coerced out of the locals by their noble, who uses it as leverage over them as they starve.

Perhaps this makes the movie sound too heavy It’s not. At its heart, it is an action movie with good action scenes. It is also a Korean movie, and as with so many, it is soaked in Han – something I tend to describe as deep, cultural melancholy, but which is so much more complex. What this means is that you do not get a happy ending. The ending is happy-esque, but I don’t think this would have survived a Hollywood test screening.

The biggest problem I had with the movie as that it needed more action. The action that it had, it did well, but there just wasn’t enough of it. I was thinking at one point we were going to go into 13 Assassins territory and have 30 or 40 minutes of just straight up killing. That didn’t happen. I’m not saying that ruined the movie, but I think the movie really could have used more action.

I also believe the great actors were mostly wasted. Yes, this is a good actioner with a social conscience, and what that led to was a lot of rumination and repetition – rumination on what makes a good man and repetition of how bad the baddies were. We didn’t need this reinforced. That time could have been used on some retribution.

But I think this is one of the things I need to accept about Korean movies. Along with the melodrama, a lot of times there’s got to be suffering. Lots of suffering. For me, the suffering served to provide information. The antagonist? He’s a bad dude. Boom! Done for me. But for Koreans – and I think this might get back to Han – could the suffering have a different purpose? Could it be introspection of a historical sort? This is part of their history. Suffering is part of their identity, the foundation of Han. It serves as something more than a message. Maybe it’s catharsis?

That’s getting too deep for me. In the end, I just wanted more action. Or even more character development. I needed something more to push it from a good movie to a great movie. As it stands, I enjoyed it. While not stunningly original, it was strong. While not having enough action, the action it had entertained.

I recommend Kundo: Age of the Rampant to movie lovers who don’t mind subtitles, and I give it 4 akimbo meat cleavers out of 5.

You can find out more about Kundo: Age of the Rampant at Wikipedia and IMDB.

You can find out more about Han here.

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Weekly Round-Up for 28 Dec 2014

Call of Juarez – Bound in Blood: I gotta tell you, this western FPS is pretty much the definition of railroading. Granted, so are all of the episodes in the Call of Duty series, and I enjoy those. And I do enjoy Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood. The graphics are dated (it’s a 2009 game), and it took me less than 8 hours to complete my first run-through, but I love using guns like (according to IMFDB) the Winchester 1892 Saddle Ring Carbine, the Jennings .41 Volcanic Repeater, and especially the Colt 1848 Dragoon. I kind of suck at the gunfights, but I’m learning, and I actually enjoy the story. It’s got a lot of hardboiled in its spaghetti western, and I love those flavours. I’m picking up Cartel and Gunslinger, which are pretty cheap on Steam right now.

Commitment: Another fantastic South Korean action movie about North Koreans. This time, the hero is a very young North Korean agent, recruited from a camp for political prisoners (there are really more like colonies, with numbers in the thousands and tens of thousands), and offered freedom for himself and his sister if he does this one job. Oddly enough, part of this movie is a high school drama. It’s very entertaining with some great action.

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Late Weekly Roundup for 21 Dec 2014

This one’s a little late and a little light as it’s the holidays and my social calendar is filling up, however I’ve got a couple of things to mention.

Innes & Gunn Rare Oak Pale Ale: I was finally able to try this and I really like it. It’s not hoppy, which I usually like, but it’s got plenty of character with a hint of flavour I took for bourbon, even though the barrels in which it is aged are not whisky barrels. While a strong beer, this is by no means as strong as Innes & Gunn’s usual offerings. I’m a fan, though Rum Finish remains my favourite.

Rage: This is my new computer game addiction. I got through Metro 2033 and Metro: Last Light, and this is another post-apocalyptic shooter that was on sale on Steam. It is kind of like Borderlands meets Call of Duty in Fallout‘s post-apocalyptic world. It’s on rails, like Call of Duty, with fast past shooting like Borderlands. It’s got the shattered Earth of Fallout, except Rage‘s setting has hi-tech buried beneath the waste. The setting is not as inspiring as Fallout or Metro 2033, and it’s not as fun or open as Borderlands, but it’s got me hooked.

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1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed

I really dig the idea of gaming in the time of the Trojan War and the Greek myths. Can you think of a better time for heroics than the period of Odysseus and Jason’s quest for the Golden Fleece? Even historically, the era seems ripe for heroic fiction or RPG-ing because we know so little about it, and much of what we “know” can be overturned with a new discovery or even chronology.

And then there was the Apocalypse.

I had often read snippets about a period in time when all the major civilizations collapsed. The time when the Mycenean Greece collapsed into the Greek Dark Ages, to remain quiet until the flourishing of the Archaic period many centuries later. The idea of an ancient apocalypse intrigued me.

I remain intrigued and better informed after reading Eric H. Cline’s 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed. 1177 B.C. does a great job of explaining what happened, some theories of why it might have happened, and why we should care. For me, this book was just about the prefect mixture of information and inspiration.

So the Apocalypse was not exactly what I imagined, though there is a period in which multiple civilizations either fell or underwent extreme hardships. And it is possible that there was some kind of huge disaster that cost millions of lives. We don’t really seem to know.

What was even more fascinating for me was Cline’s explanation of how “globalized” the preceding period had become. We might call this “known globalized,” because the networks encompassed the world known to the Egyptians – whose empire did go into decline, but which most certainly did not disappear. Trade was brisk and merchants travelled extensively. This was very much a period of cultural pollination.

Which makes the following period even more fertile for RPGs. Considering the general idea in something like D&D is that the world has points of safety and civilization, but is generally dangerous and that the world lays atop the ruins of an older, more advanced world. That’s kind of the post-1177 B.C. “known globe.” Those empires that did not disappear went into decline, and the points of light style campaign would work great there.

I highly recommend this book for anyone looking for an overview of the coming of the ancient dark ages. While the book is well-referenced – allowing a reader to quickly find a book or article Dr. Cline considers authoritative – it is also highly readable. This is much more a popular history than a scholarly work, and so is very accessible.

I give 1177 B.C. 4.5 amphorae of wine transported from Knossos out of 5.

You can learn more about 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed here.

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Metro 2033 Redux

I picked up the Metro 2033 and Metro: Last Light Redux versions on Steam. I had both of the original games and had not even made it through Metro 2033 due to lack of gasmask filters. The Redux version has a Spartan mode which is more fight-y and less survival-y, and while I’m still struggling because I am just not a very good player (poor reflexes, which can be a problem because – as Jack Burton always says – it’s all in the reflexes), I have high hopes that while the monsters will continue to regularly kill me, my way forward won’t be blocked due to asphyxiation.

Metro 2033 is a really atmospheric game with an amazing setting. It has inspired me to pick up the e-book of the novel by Dmitry Glukhovsky on which the game is based. I’m a little bit concerned because I strongly suspect that while the setting might be cool, the story won’t meet the very high expectations I’ve built from playing the game. Still, I hope Mr. Glukhovsky gets something from that e-book sale because he deserved it for the setting alone.

You can learn more about Metro 2033 here.

You can learn more about Metro 2033 Redux on Steam here.

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Weekly Roundup for 14 Dec 2014

Mercenaries, Hybrid Armies and National Security by Dr. Caroline Varin: Almost all the reading I’ve been doing recently has been non-fiction, and I just finished this book last week. I really liked it. While it included a lot of theory, the history and analysis of the French Foreign Legion, Executive Outcomes, and US Government contractors during the Iraq War was informative and quite interesting. I have to say that I learned some stuff, and the author was refreshingly open-minded about what might motivate “mercenaries.” If you dig this kind of stuff, I would recommend this book for a scholarly consideration of the practice of hiring out violence.

Mercenaries, Pirates, Bandits, and Empires – Private Violence in Historical Context edited by Dr. Alejandro Colas and Dr. Bryan Mabee: This book is a collection of essays on a topic not dissimilar to the above book, unfortunately it was so enmeshed in international relations theory and so full of axe-grinding, I didn’t enjoy it at all, and can’t really say that I learned anything. Too much of the discussion was about theories put forward by other scholars that were obviously wrong and let me tell you why, but not with any level of clarity. If you are in a post-graduate international relations program, maybe you’ll get something out of this, but if you are and if you read it, the lesson I’d like for you to take away is: don’t write this way.

Gunfight at the O.K. Corral: This is the 1957 movies directed by John Sturges and starring Burt Lancaster as Wyatt Earp and Kirk Douglas as Doc Holliday. Now, Tombstone is one of my favourite movies, and I’m sorry, but not even the legendary Kirk Douglas can hold a candle to Val Kilmer’s version however this is a really enjoyable movie. The approach is more of developing the characters of Earp and Holliday as they become friends and slowly draws us into the conflict in Tombstone. Do yourself and favour – if you like Westerns and haven’t seen this, check it out.

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