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Jimmy's Hall (2015)
Jimmy's Hall (2015)
2015 | Drama
8
8.0 (1 Ratings)
Movie Rating
It’s not to often that we folks in America have the opportunity to catch any movies from Ireland.

The few that do come along almost certainly rate high on the scale of exceptional movies that one would want to see. I myself can’t remember a ‘bad’ Irish film. Perhaps one of the reasons for that is the fact that this country has a solid history of countless Irish immigrants coming here and helping to build the foundations for America. Well, today’s film for your consideration doesn’t go back THAT far. It doesn’t even take place in America. However, the history of Irish immigrants (specifically one immigrant) does play a role. Only it involves an Irish immigrant how came to America and then several years later returned to Ireland only to be forcibly deported back to America. I know I know. That explanation makes it sound like a comedy and although the film has many lighthearted moments, I can assure you it’s NOT a comedy. In fact, it deals with an influential figure in one of the more politically turbulent periods in Ireland’s history just before the beginning of the Second World War.

 

‘Jimmy’s Hall’ is a 2014 Irish-British drama directed by English television and film director Kenneth ‘Ken’ Loach. The film focuses on the events leading up to the deportation from Ireland of Jimmy Gralton, who led a precursor to Ireland’s communist party in the county Leitrim.

 

Starring Barry Ward, Simone Kirby, and Irish character actor Jim Norton, the film opens in 1932. Jimmy (Ward) has just returned to his home to help his mother tend the family farm after spending 10 years in the United States in the midst of the Great Depression coinciding with the establishment of a new government in the aftermath of the Civil War between pro-British and anti-British forces.

 

Reluctant to anger his old enemies, the church and the landowners who forced him to leave Ireland, but eager to meet the needs of the people of Leitrim, Jimmy (Ward) decides to reopen the ‘Hall’, a center for young people where they can meet to study, talk, dance, play music, learn to read, debate issues of the day. Free to all and open to anyone who wishes to learn while respecting the views and opinions of others, the ‘Hall’ is an immediate success. Not everyone is pleased to see Jimmy resuming his old activities. In particular the church and local priest (Norton) who see Gralton as not only a ‘bad influence’, but also as a follower of Stalin who as history knows sent countless millions (including religious leaders) to their deaths.

 

Despite the complaints and at times violent reactions on the part of the supporters of the church and the landowners, Gralton tries desperately to make them realize he has absolutely no connection to Stalin and has no desire to bring down the church. Only to better the situation for everyone. Jimmy even invites the local priest to take a leadership role in the Hall’s committee. In the end though, the fears of the church and the state go unchanged. Jimmy is a communist and although he has no connection Stalin the church and the government see them as one in the same. The police take Jimmy into custody at his family’s farm and forcibly deport him back to America even so much as denying him on last chance to see his ailing mother.

 

In education systems there are books and films which are considered ‘required reading’ or in this case ‘required viewing’. This film should be required viewing. It is not just an excellent film about a historical Irish political figure or as I mentioned earlier a film about a turbulent point in Irish history. It’s an example of the greater ‘world conflict’ between what became the western bloc and the eastern bloc. Both sides in that grater conflict saw each other the same way the two sides in the Irish countryside of the 1930s saw each other. The ones that meant well and only wanted to better the situation for everyone including themselves inspired fear in those who had power and those who had the power inspired fear in those who meant well. This movie showed that not all political figures are evil … nor are all religious figures. It’s the individual or several individuals within those groups that are reluctant to change.

 

I would highly recommend this film. Regardless of the content it’s an excellent film. If this film is as good as most films made in Ireland, they definitely need to start exporting them on a grander scale. I’d give this film 4 out of 5 stars.

 

This is your friendly neighborhood photographer ‘The CameraMan’ and on behalf of my fellows at ‘Skewed & Reviewed’ I’d like to say thanks for reading and we’ll see you at the movies
  
The Gunman (2015)
The Gunman (2015)
2015 | Action
6
5.8 (5 Ratings)
Movie Rating
Today, we have an action film on deck for you and ‘no’ it doesn’t star Matt Damon or Jason Statham. This latest film ‘The Gunman’ stars none other than Sean Penn?! Yes, Sean Penn has decided to step into the action genre in his latest film.

Starring Sean Penn, Javier Bardem, Idris Elba, Jasmine Trinca, Ray Winstone, Peter Franzén, Mark Rylance, and based upon the 1981 book ‘The Prone Gunman’ by Jean-Patrick Manchette
‘The Gunman’ is set in the chaos that is modern Africa where civil unrest and war are day-to-day occurrences and western countries and multi-national conglomerates fight for control of the continent’s vital resources. Within this backdrop we find the character of Jim “Twink” Terrier (Penn). A corporate mercenary AKA security contractor on his last ‘assignment’ forced to leave
behind the woman he loves after going into hiding once his final assignment is complete. Now, years later after he has returned in secret to Africa he is forced go on the hunt again after nearly being killed and confront his former boss Felix (Bardem) who may or may not hold the key to finding those responsible. As in the world of espionage however, no one can be trusted. With corporate interests, international law enforcement, and his deteriorating health Terrier is racing against the clock to ensure that the world knows the whole story and perhaps find his long lost love before it’s too late.

Penn is obviously known for his dramatic roles. To say he is ‘legendary’ is pretty accurate.
After seeing this movie, I think it’s safe to say it’s likely we could see him in more action movies. The movie was a bit rough around the edges and perhaps 15 to 20 minutes longer than it needed to be. I felt like Bardem’s presence in the film was ‘wasted’. His character was quiet, spoke very little, and when they did give the character significant time in front of the camera he was drunk for most of it. Bardem has become legendary in his own right and I was hoping for a lot more for his character. The movie was NOT terrible though. One thing that impressed me was the fact that the filmmakers and the writers had the ‘guts’ to include mention of the type of thing that’s going on in Africa right now with corporations fighting for the continents resources and using the civil unrest to their advantage as part of the storyline.

All in all, I’d give the film 3 out of 5 stars. Catch the matinee or order it online. It’s not much when you compare it to something from the ‘Bourne’ or ‘Bond’ franchises. What you see in ‘The Gunman’ is the kind of action film that’s not outside the realm of possibility in real life.

On behalf of my fellows at ‘Skewed & Reviewed’ this is ‘The CameraMan’ saying thanks for reading … and we’ll see you at the movies.

Second Review by Jennifer Fiduccia

The Gunman, stars Sean Penn as James Terrier, Javier Bardem as Felix, Idris Elba as Barnes, Ray Winstone as Stanley, Mark Rylance as Cox and Jasmine Trinca as Annie.

The movie starts out by showing the men all working together as guards for a humanitarian effort in Congo but we are quickly led to believe that they might also be ‘up to something’

Annie is Jims’ fiancé, but it is overly obvious that Felix is jealous and wishes she were his.

Our beliefs become justified when we see the group of guys get orders to assassinate the Minister of Mining, and its a sort of blind draw as to who has to do the actual shooting. Whoever gets picked must then leave the country. It is revealed that that is how Felix wants it to be.

Terrier draws the short straw so to speak, and must carry out the assassination, and then flee the country.

The movie then skips ahead to 8 years later, and sees Jim once again helping a humanitarian effort in Africa, digging wells.
As he works, his group is suddenly attacked by a group of mercenaries, and Jim manages to fight them off and kill them.

He then begins to hunt down his old team mates in an attempt to try and figure out who tried to kill him and why.

The action in the movie is good, and fast paced, the stunts were well done. None of the stunts seemed ‘unbelievable’ given the circumstances they were put in.

The relationships between the characters could have been better fleshed out, and I was confused most of the way through the movie as to who was after Jim and why, but I guess that was intended in the plot.

Overall, if you are looking for a decent action film with a bunch of shooting and car chases, this will fit the bill.

I’d give the movie 3 out of 5 stars, specifically in the category of ‘action films’.
  
Pixie (2020)
Pixie (2020)
2020 | Comedy, Thriller
8
7.0 (4 Ratings)
Movie Rating
Olivia Cooke - utterly enchanting (1 more)
Just the right balance of black humour and Tarantino-esque violence
Some of the dialogue is hard to catch (0 more)
Once upon a Time in the West... of Ireland
You know sometimes when you see a trailer you think "oh yeah - this is a must see"! The trailer for "Pixie" (see below) was one such moment for me. A spaghetti western set in Sligo? With Alec Baldwin as a "deadly gangster priest"? Yes, yes, yes!

In a remote Irish church, two Irish priests and two "visiting Afghan Catholic priests" are gunned down by a couple of losers in animal masks - Fergus (Fra Fee) and Colin (Rory Fleck Byrne) - over a stash of MDMA worth a million Euros. This reignites a simmering gang war between the gangster families of Dermot O'Brien (Colm Meaney) and Father Hector McGrath (Alec Baldwin). Linking everything together is Pixie (Olivia Cooke), O'Brien's daughter, who has a magnetic effect on men. She is somehow subtly the woman controlling everything going on.

Drawn into the mayhem are hapless teens Frank (Ben Hardy) and Harland (Daryl McCormack) - both of who have the hots for Pixie - who embark on a wild and bloody road-trip around southern Ireland.

Key to your belief in the ridiculous story is that the character of Pixie has to have the beauty and charisma to utterly enslave the poor men she crosses paths with: taking a "Kalashnikov to their hearts" as drug dealer Daniel (Chris Walley) puts it. And Olivia Cooke - so good in "Ready Player One" - absolutely and completely nails the role. I'm utterly in love with her after this movie, and she's thirty years too young for me! There's a sparkle and a mischief behind her that reminded me strongly of a young Audrey Hepburn.

Supporting her really well are the "Harry and Ron" to Cooke's Hermione - Ben Hardy (Roger Taylor in "Bohemian Rhapsody") and Daryl McCormack. And the trio make a truly memorable "love triangle". A bedroom scene manages to be both quietly erotic and excruciatingly funny in equal measure.

The direction here is by Barnaby Thompson, who's better known as a producer with the only previous movie directing credits being the St Trinian's reboots in 2007/09. Here he manages to channel some of the quirky camera shots of the likes of Guy Ritchie and Matthew Vaughn and mix them with the black humour and comedic gore of Quentin Tarantino. The taciturn hit-man Seamus (Ned Dennehy) typifies the comedy on offer, using a Land Rover to drag a poor victim round in a figure of eight on a soggy moor to make him talk!

Where I think the movie wimps out a bit is in an ecclesiastical shoot-out finale. Vaughn's "Kingsman: The Secret Service" set the bar here for completely outrageous and out-there church-based violence. Here, the scene is both tame by comparison (not necessarily a bad thing!), but also highly predictable. Given this is supposed to be "a plan", none of it feels to be very well thought-through! As such, belief can only be suspended for so long.

The visuals and music are fab. The cinematography - by veteran John de Borman - makes the west Ireland coast look utterly glorious and the Irish tourist board must have been delighted. There are also some beautifully-framed shots: a boot-eye (US: trunk-eye) perspective is fabulous, and there's a gasp-inducing fade-back to Pixie's face following a flashback. And a shout-out too to the editing by Robbie Morrison, since some of the plot twists are delivered as expert surprises.

The music - by Gerry Diver and David Holmes - is also spectacularly good at propelling the action and maintaining the feel-good theme.

Where I did have issues was with the audio mix. I'm sure there were a bunch of clever one-liners buried in there, but the combination of the accents (and I've worked in Northern Ireland for 20 years and am "tuned in"!) and the sound quality meant I missed a number of them. I will need another watch with subtitles to catch them all.

Thanks to ANOTHER WRETCHED LOCKDOWN in the UK this was my last trip to the cinema for at least a month: I was one of only four viewers in the "Odeon" cinema for this showing. Because it's a great shame that so few people will get to see this (at least for a while), since its the sort of feelgood movie that we all need right now. Slick and utterly entertaining, I'll quietly predict that this one will gain a following as a mini-cult-classic when it gets to streaming services. Recommended.

(For the full graphical review, please check-out the bob the movie man review here - https://bob-the-movie-man.com/2020/11/02/pixie-once-upon-a-time-in-the-west-of-ireland/. Thanks.)
  
Let Him Go (2020)
Let Him Go (2020)
2020 | Crime, Drama, Thriller
7
7.8 (4 Ratings)
Movie Rating
Lesley Manville and Diane Lane deliver powerhouse female performances (0 more)
Feud for Thought
After a family tragedy for the Blackledge family, grandparents George (Kevin Costner) and Margaret (Diane Lane) are left to bring up baby Jimmy (Bram and Otto Hornung) with mother/daughter-in-law Lorna (Kayli Carter). But a few years later, Lorna marries bad-un Donnie Weboy (Will Brittain) and disappears back to Donnie's hillbilly extended family in the wilds of North Dakota, led by the fearsome Blanche Weboy (Lesley Manville). Fearing for the child's wellbeing, Margaret drags retired Sheriff George on a dangerous journey to rescue the child.

There are strong similarities in this story with a sub-plot of the excellent "Ozark", where the psychopathic Darlene Snell (Lisa Emery) is intent on having a child to grow up with on her remote ranch. The sense of tension there is recreated here, exacerbated by the movie's extremely slow (read "glacial") pace in its early stages. It's the same sort of rising dread that I felt with "Nocturnal Animals". This reaches its peak at a tense standoff over lamb chops at the Weboy ranch, but we are probably half-way into the film by then.

The slow pace however is broken by a couple of extremely violent scenes that earn the movie its UK-15 certificate. One (no spoilers here!) harks back to another Kevin Costner blockbuster where he was a bit luckier! And the finale turns a slightly sleepy tale of "two old folks" into an 'all guns blazing' action western that's highly unexpected. Although you could argue that this is tonally extremely uneven, it works and makes the movie a lot more memorable than it otherwise would be.

The standout leading performance here is the one from Diane Lane as the mentally tortured Granny pursuing her convictions across the country. Here writer/director Thomas Bezucha gives the character full rein. It's a memorable 'strong female' part, that would have been dominated by the male lead in the writing of films a few years back. Lane delivers a dramatic and rock-solid performance that has Oscar nomination written all over it.

I'm also a big fan of Kevin Costner, not just because he's a solid and reliable actor over many years. I always remember him gamely appearing as "The Postman"/'propeller-guy' in Billy Crystal's hilarious montage opening for the 70th Academy Awards. Anyhow, here he has his meatiest dramatic role in many years, and delivers fully on it. Top job, although I suspect this may not be his year for his elusive Best Actor award.

Finally, rounding out the Oscar hopefuls is the brilliant Lesley Manville as Blanche Weboy. It's a dream of a role for the Brighton-born star, nominated of course for the Best Supporting Actress two years ago for "Phantom Thread". And she is genuinely chilling here, firing on all cylinders like some sort of deranged Bette Davis on speed. She's used sparingly in the movie, but that makes her scenes all the more memorable. Another nomination perhaps? I'd predict so, yes.

I found this to be an uncomfortable watch, since I found myself in a moral quandary with the storyline. It's clear that Margaret is genuinely concerned for the safety of Jimmy (and less so, Lorna). Yet, what she is ultimately prepared to do is consider child abduction, when the law if probably on the side of the other party. Sure, the lifestyle and attitudes of the Weboys are alien to this more traditional "Granny". But although Blanche rules with a Victorian-level of grit, isn't she - at least before any of her more vicious tendencies emerge - entitled to do that? The film firmly roots itself behind the Blackledge's as "the good guys", but the script cleverly has you questioning that at various points,

Two technical categories in "Let Him Go" are also worthy of note. The cinematography is by Guy Godfree, and the sweeping vistas of Montana and North Dakota (actually Alberta in Canada!) are gloriously delivered. And the music by Michael Giacchino - one of my favourite composers - is cello-heavy and fitting for the sombre storyline. I always assess the quality of a score by whether I annoy the cinema cleaners by sitting until the last of the end credits have rolled, and this is one I did that to.

As the last movie I see before Christmas, "Let Him Go" is not exactly a feelgood festive offering. It's a well-crafted and thoughtful story, but not one to make you feel good inside, for the reasons outlined above. If you are a movie-lover though, then it's an interesting watch, if only for the fine acting performances on offer.

(For the full graphical review, please check out the "Bob the Movie Man" review on the web here - https://bob-the-movie-man.com/2020/12/23/let-him-go-is-not-a-joyous-affair-but-delivers-oscar-worthy-performances/. Thanks.)
  
Hierarchy
Hierarchy
2019 | Abstract Strategy, Card Game
It’s the moment you’ve all been waiting for – the next installment in the Button Shy wallet series is here! *Crowd roar* After my discovery of Button Shy through their Kickstarter for Sprawlopolis, I have actively been on the lookout for their games. When I saw the call for reviewers for their newest card game, I knew I wanted to be involved! So how does Hierarchy hold up compared to their other wildly successful wallet games? Keep reading to find out!

Hierarchy is an abstract strategy game of perfect information for 2 players. Comprised of a mere 14 playing cards (excluding title and reference cards) it is quite the compact game – as is to be expected from the Button Shy crew. In a game of Hierarchy, players take turns playing cards from their open hand (no hidden information here!) on top of the last card played by their opponent, per the placement restrictions. To win, you must be able to play a card on top of which your opponent is unable to play a card – effectively ‘checkmating’ them and claiming victory for yourself!

DISCLAIMER: We were provided a prototype copy of this game for the purposes of this review. As this is a preview copy of the game, I do not know if the final rules or components will be similar or different to what we were provided. -T

Here’s how it works in detail. Each player first receives a Quick Reference Card, and is then dealt half of the deck (7 cards). The cards are double-sided to represent the two player colors – purple and gold – so each player flips their 7 cards to show their chosen color. Since this is a game of perfect information, all cards are laid out on the table, so each player always knows what cards their opponent has available to them. The player who was dealt the ‘Imposter’ card goes first. Each card has a specific number, ranging from 1 to 13, as well as a specific ability. To play a card, its number must be higher than that of the card below it, unless the card’s specific ability says it can be played otherwise. For example, if I play the Queen (#12), Travis could play the King (#13, numerically higher) or the Assassin (#1) since its power allows it to be played atop any card except for the Tower and Leper. Don’t be worried about having to memorize all the card abilities – they are all detailed on the Quick Reference Cards (see photo below). Play continues back and forth until one player is unable to play a card, either because they have no cards left at all or because they have no valid cards left to play. That player loses the game, and the remaining player is the top of the Hierarchy! (Roll credits)

Let’s talk components first. They’re excellent, which is no surprise coming from ButtonShy. Of course, we just have a preview copy of the game, so I can only imagine that the card quality might be up for improvement during the Kickstarter. That being said, the cards we received are nice and sturdy, as is the tell-tale wallet of a ButtonShy game. The text on the cards is a good size, and the font is easy to read. The artwork is fine, but quite honestly not something I looked at in depth until Travis mentioned the style. I think that’s because the cards are all monochrome, the art just didn’t really draw my eye. Not a knock on the game, just something I noticed! Speaking of color, I personally love the player color choices of Purple and Gold – the school colors of my Alma Mater ((the University of Northern Iowa, go Panthers!)(also of the Alma Mater of the rest of us – Western Illinois University – GO NECKS! -T)). Maybe I’m biased, but I think those two colors are a great combination 🙂

And how about the gameplay? I think it’s excellent. For such a compact and ‘light’ game, the strategy required for success keeps the game extremely engaging. You always know the cards your opponent has, and you’ve got to be thinking at least several turns in advance to try to back them into a corner while not letting yourself fall victim to an unnoticed strategic play. Another neat thing about Hierarchy is how quickly it plays – typically in 20 minutes or less. You might have to devote a decent amount of brainpower to outwitting your opponent, but you definitely don’t need to devote hours of time during your game night for this game, and I love that. Gamers who enjoy games like Citadels or Love Letter might enjoy the familiarity of Hierarchy’s gameplay coupled with the intimacy of a strictly 2-player game. The final verdict from me is that Button Shy has another hit on their hands with Hierarchy. I am very much looking forward to following the campaign, and definitely plan to pull this game out many times in my future!
  
Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga (2020)
Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga (2020)
2020 | Comedy, Music, Romance
Rachel McAdams and Dan Stevens steal most of the scenes (1 more)
A real feelgood movie that spoofs the unspoofable pretty well
My lovely farce
Will Ferrell's output over the last few years has been decidedly patchy. I have to go back to "Get Hard" to find one of his movies that really got to my funny bone. But this latest Netflix offering hits the spot for me.

We start with the song recently voted the number one Eurovision song of all time by UK viewers: "Waterloo" by Abba. Young Lars Erickssong (LOL) (Alfie Melia) is transfixed watching the 1974 Eurovision winner with his recently bereaved father and local Lothario Erick (Pierce Brosnan). (Mental note to women: never marry Brosnan on screen... he gets through wives faster than you can murder "S.O.S."). Also present are his friends and young Sigrit ("probably not by sister") Ericksdottir (Sophia-Grace Donnelly). Lars vows to one day stand on that stage and make his father and his remote Icelandic fishing village proud.

Now all grown up, Lars (now Will Ferrell) and Sigrit (now Rachel McAdams) are still pursuing their dream of representing Iceland in the upcoming Eurovision Song Contest. They are, of course, dreadful - - so they should fit right in! But their way is blocked by the immensely talented Katiana (Demi Lovato) and all seems hopeless. Will Sigrit's faith in the power of the Elves see them through?

There's an obvious problem here. The Eurovision Song Contest is in itself so bat-s**t bonkers that it is almost impossible to spoof. (If anyone is not on this wavelength, checkout the genuine Russian entry in this year's (cancelled) contest on Youtube). But the team here (writers Will Ferrell and Andrew Steele and director David "The Judge" Dobkin) do a really great job. I'd love to know what a US audience - who I guess will mostly be unfamiliar with Eurovision - make of this. Since Australia are now honorary Europeans in the contest.... wouldn't it be great if there was a Mexican mariachi band attending and a country and western act from the States? (Brits would love the US to be involved.... as spoofed in the film, there's only one country European's hate more than the UK.... be nice to have someone else to join us in the "nul points" club!)

Wherever you may be on the "Ferrell-funny-or-not-ometer", there's one thing I hope we can all agree on here, and that is that Rachel McAdams continues to shine as a comic lead. She was fantastic in "Game Night" - one of my favourite comedies of recent years - and here she is both gorgeous and hilarious. She knocks it out of the park playing the elf-loving Icelandic pixie with the golden voice. (McAdams "sings" but is significantly "helped" in the mix by Swedish pop star Molly Sandén (aka My Marianne)).

Here she even gets to almost reprise her wonderful "YEESSSSS! Oh no, he died!" line from "Game Night".

Almost matching her in the scene-stealing stakes though is Downton's Dan Stevens as Lemtov: a Russian 'Tom Jones'-like contestant singing "Lion of Love" ("Let's get together; I'm a lion lover; And I hunt for love!"). He's DEFINITELY not gay ("There are no gays in Russia") but are his multi-millions enough to turn Sigrit's head?

For those who love their annual Eurovision parties, there are also an impressive array of nice cameos that will delight.

But where the film-makers really score (no pun intended) is making the music so fitting. Some of the tracks make you think "Yeah, if this was the real content, this might have got my vote". Director Dobkin is quoted as saying "It's okay if it's funny, but it has to be really good music. It has to still be great and just kitschy enough to be Eurovision, because that's part of what's fun about Eurovision" (Source: Vulture). Very true. This success is down to the involvement of pop writer/producer Savan Kotecha on the project: the man behind hits by Katy Petty, Ariana Grande and Ellie Goulding.

A comedy needs to make me laugh, and this one really did - numerous times. It's not just the dialogue. Some of the cut-away scenes are priceless and perfectly executed: jumping whales; a collapsing glacier; a small slamming door!

Sure, it borrows from a number of other sources in its plot: most notably THAT episode of "Father Ted" and the rap-battle scenes from "Pitch Perfect". And sure, some of the outRAGEOUS Icelandic accents sometimes swerve into an alarming mix of Indian, Welsh and Caribbean dialects! But above all, this is movie with real heart. The plot is pretty well signposted, but the finale still packs a (surprisingly) hefty emotional punch, and it leaves you with a really nice afterglow.

As we struggle out of Covid lockdown, it may not be a vaccine, but it is a pretty good medicine for the side-effects. Did I love this? Jaja Ding Dong!

(For the full graphical review, please check out One Mann's Movies here - https://bob-the-movie-man.com/2020/06/27/one-manns-movies-film-review-eurovision-song-contest-the-story-of-fire-saga-2020/ ).
  
Love, Simon (2018)
Love, Simon (2018)
2018 | Comedy, Drama, Romance
Time to Exhale.
I saw this as a Cineworld “Secret Unlimited Screening” event (for non-UK readers, Cineworld is one of the main movie-theater chains), so went in – like the majority of the audience I suspect – predicting early sight of Lara Croft in skin tight shorts! This was a bit different! A secret screening is an interesting concept, and really tests the metal of a film in engaging its audience early. This one failed to some degree, with seven people (I was counting) walking out in the first 10 minutes. (To be fair on those seven, the film’s first 20 minutes are rather laborious; and to be fair on the film, this was a pretty full auditorium so as a percentage drop out it was low).

Teen heartthrob Nick Robinson (the older brother from “Jurassic World“) plays the eponymous hero who has a well-buried secret: he’s gay. Growing up in Pleasantville (I almost expected someone to yell “Cat!” and the fire brigade turn up) he feels unable to come out to either his high-school friends or his loving family (“Apple pie cooling on the window-sill anyone?”). But striking up an email relationship with another closeted male from the same high school – nicknamed “Blue” – allows him to explore his feelings about his sexuality and fall in love all at the same time. But neither coming out or love run terribly smoothly for Simon…

Happy families. From left, Nick Robinson, Talitha Bateman, Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel.
I am forty years adrift from being able to directly relate to the stresses and strains of modern high-school life (though I AM still 17 on the inside people!) But even to me, this film doesn’t feel like it should be set in the present day. While it needs to be for its tweeting and blogging story-line, surely there are few backwaters in either America or Western Europe where gay people have to stay so silent? An 80’s or early 90’s setting would, I think, have worked so much better. (Ironically, its not his gay-ness or otherwise that his friends get upset by, but something far more fundamental in the human condition).

Definitely set in the present day.
That aside, this is a sweet and ultimately quite engaging film that I’m sure will be a big hit with a teenage audience. While for me it didn’t come close to ticking all of the coming-of-age boxes that the inestimable “Lady Bird” did, it does cover old ground in a new and refreshing way, and I’m sure it WILL be very helpful for many gay people in getting the courage to come out. Times are different today, but I still can imagine few things requiring more bravery than declaring you are gay to your parents and closest friends (even though, deep down, they surely already suspect).

So, it’s sweet, but also for me (although far from its target audience) rather flat. As a comedy drama, the moments of comedy are few and far between, with only one or two of the lines making me chuckle rather than smile. A quiet auditorium is not a good sign for a film with “Comedy” in its imdb description. It does however occasionally break through with something memorable: a full on college “La La Land” scene (“Not that gay” – LoL) is a case in point. And all of the scenes featuring comedy actress Natasha Rothwell as drama teacher Ms Allbright add much needed energy and humour to the film.

Someone should tell him… regardless of gender preference, sex is never going to work like this.
Of the teen actors, Robinson is fine but it is Katherine Langford as Simon’s friend Leah who stood out for me. Talitha Eliana Bateman (“The 5th Wave“; looking a whole lot younger than her 16 years!) is also impressive as Simon’s culinary sister Nora. Simon’s parents are played by Jennifer Garner (“Dallas Buyers Club“) and Josh Duhamel (a new one on me… he’s been in the “Transformers” films apparently).

Simon says walk this way. From left, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., Nich Robinson, Alexandra Shipp and Katherine Langford.
The screenplay is by movie virgins Elizabeth Berger and Isaac Aptaker, and is a slightly patchy affair. There are scenes that worked well (a cringe inducing sports stadium scene for example) but other times where it seems to be trying too hard for T-shirt captions…. a line from Ethan (Clark Moore) about hate crime was a “Ye-what?” moment.

Some of the characters really don’t quite work either: Tony Hale (so memorable as the useless PA in “Veep”) plays almost a school-ified version of Stephen Stucker’s Johnny from “Airplane”. Perhaps that would work as some sort of whacky hall monitor guy… but it transpires that he is the headmaster. No, I don’t think so.

A bit OTT. Veep’s Tony Hale as the principal with a surfeit of bonhomie.
So, in summary, after a bit of a bumpy start, its a pleasant watch that culminates in a feel-good ending. Feel good, that is, providing you have liberal views: I can’t see it pleasing many Trump supporters. I also can’t see it getting a cinema release in Gambia or Nigeria, though God only knows they could use one. If I could give half stars I would give this one an extra half as I applaud both the theme its trying to promote and for bringing something fresh to the screen…
  
Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
2017 | Action, Adventure
When I heard the news last year that Spider-Man was going to be rebooted yet again, I was like “are you freaking serious”? After the successful Toby Maguire trilogy (though the less said about “Spider-Man 3” the better) and the mildly successful “Amazing Spider-Man” duo with Andrew Garfield only finishing in 2014, did we REALLY need another reboot? More dramatic spider biting? More Uncle Ben spouting then dying? The same old – same old, rewarmed in a pan with a bit of red wine added just to stop it feeling so dry and tasteless.
And I still feel the same way. I understand that its more to do with rights ownership between Sony, Marvel and Disney that this got made so quickly…. but in the words of Ian Malcolm “they didn’t stop to think if they should”.

But actually, although I still don’t really approve of it, they’ve done a pretty good job in rebooting in a different manner. I commented in my review for “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” that that first reboot was “much less earnest and quirkier than the original Tobey Maguire series, and reveling more in the fun to be had around a superhero’s schooldays.” This latest reboot moves even further along that scale, being very much more of a high-school comedy that a pure superhero flick.
Wearing the suit this time is a far more age-appropriate Tom Holland, winner of last year’s BAFTA Rising Star award. And very personable he is too. The suit in question has been jizzed up by Iron Man (Robert Downey Jnr) – perhaps I could have rephrased that better! Because here the Spider-Man story carries on from the brief cameo in “Captain America: Civil War” that crossed Spidey into the mainstream Marvel timeline.

Within the high-school setting, Peter Parker’s geeky, and almost too deliberately multi-racial, gang includes his pal Ned (Jacob Batalon), very funny with a “chair guy” sequence, the unattainable Liz (Laura Harrier) as the love-interest, Betty (the excellent Angourie Rice who made such a great impression in “The Nice Guys” but didn’t really move the meter for me here I’m afraid), Flash (Tony Revolori) and best of all for me the almost horizontally laconic Michelle (Zendaya, of Shoshone heritage) – uber-cool but harbouring a secret crush on Peter.

Chris Evans pops up for comic relief as Captain America doing motivational high-school videos. And older viewers might want to have fun watching out for Tyne Daly: Lacey in the old cop show “Cagney and Lacey”.
But stealing the show in the acting stakes is Michael Keaton as Adrian Toomes (aka “The Vulture”) who could for all the world be auditioning for “Birdman 2”. The well-judged thing about this villain is that he is no hyper-galactic being with superpowers, or a typical “rule the world” Bond villain, but just an ordinary Joe in search of financial profit to keep his family in the manner to which they are accustomed. I really liked that. The script (an army of people, but led by Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley, who also wrote the story) also nicely counterpoints the thin-line between the “good arms dealer” (Tony Stark) and the “bad arms dealer” (Toomes).

The script also very wisely leaps several months into where the reboot could have started. None of the tedious spider biting. No Uncle Ben – just a sly reference to “what Aunt May’s been through”. Now this might confuse anyone not familiar with the Spider-Man story, but the percentage of people in the Western world in that segment must be less than 2%.
There are however also significant character changes that may annoy Spider-Man devotees. Aunt May herself is no longer the frail old lady of previous depictions, but a hot and attractive middle-aged woman (AILF?) played by Marisa Tomei (who does indeed look ‘Mila Kunis‘).
Many of the action scenes are well done, with a scene at the Washington Monument being particularly exciting. It all gets rather overblown though with a later scene aboard the Avenger’s plane. And this scene sums up my problem with many of these films: the superhero characters are pretty well indestructible. You know they are. So the scenes of peril, that might thrill in an Indiana Jones, an M.I. or a Bond film, lack any sort of tension. Even when the protagonist does have a superhero on the ropes, they don’t carry on kicking the proverbial c**p out of them until they are “dead”…. they lay off so the superhero can recover and kick their ass in a few minutes time!


The director is Jon Watts in only his third directorial outing (with only the much praised “Cop Car” to pretty up his CV). With such a lot on his shoulders he does a good job.
At 133 minutes its a tad over-long (I watched this in a double bill with “War for the Planet of the Apes” so my eyes afterwards were 16:9!). But it’s a fun summer flick that both amuses and entertains. If you have the choice between this and Planet of the Apes though for your Saturday night at the movies, I would personally choose the latter.
By the way, in terms of “monkeys” – yep, it’s a Marvel film, of course there are monkeys! One early on in the credits and another one at the end… which is actually very funny indeed.
  
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Purple Phoenix Games (2266 KP) rated Dice Town in Tabletop Games

Aug 13, 2019 (Updated Jun 24, 2021)  
Dice Town
Dice Town
2009 | American West, Dice Game
Hoo doggie! That’s definitely what we say in the 1800s Wild West! Yeuuuup, it’s time to take over this here town and call it ours. What are you waitin’ fer? If you ain’t helpin’ me, then you ken giiiiiiit out. This here’s mine now, just gotta… convince the people. *whistles at a horse to giddyup*


Dice Town is a rootin’-tootin’ dice chuckin’ game relying heavily on poker and card majority. Each player is trying to gain the most money, gold nuggets, and property cards to beef up their VP totals once the game ends to become the baddest dude in the West.
To setup, place the town board in the middle of the table and populate its different areas with their components: the Gold Mine receives all the gold nuggets, the Bank receives $3 initially, the General Store receives all the cards of its deck with three property cards will be displayed next to Town Hall, and Doc Badluck will receive its deck with two cards displayed. Each player will receive a dice cup, five dice, and $8 to start. The youngest player received the Sheriff badge card and the game may begin!

Turns are taken simultaneously among all players. Players will roll their dice using the dice cup and choose one result to keep. They may keep more dice by paying $1 for each die kept, or they may pay $1 to keep zero dice and try again. Players are attempting to roll the best poker hand during these turns to set themselves up for the next phase of the game – actions.

Once all players are finished keeping dice and building poker hands, they move to the actions phase. Beginning with the Gold Mine and moving left to right, each area of town will be resolved based on the players’ results. The player with the most 9s rolled will take nuggets from the Gold Mine equal to the number of 9s rolled. The player with the most 10s will take the money at the bank. Most Jacks will draw General Store cards (that can mess with other players or help the holder) equal to the number of Jacks rolled and choose one card to keep. The most Queens will summon a lady at the Saloon to help steal any General Store or property card from another player. Most Kings will be the new Sheriff in town and will break all ties (and also can be bribed). Whomever was able to build the best poker hand will be able to claim the property card at the bottom of the display and one additional property for each Ace rolled. Finally, if a player was not able to win anything up to this point, they will be able to claim a card from Doc Badluck which can be very powerful.


Play continues in this fashion until either the supply of gold nuggets has run dry or all of the property cards have been doled out. Players will score VPs for nuggets, certain General Store cards, one VP per $2 cash, $5 from being Sheriff at the game end, and VP printed on property cards owned. Once the winner is determined, that player must now challenge the losing players to a duel at high noon. Or just gloat a lot.
Components. As you can see in the photos, the component quality is excellent, as with most Matagot titles. The dice cups are sturdy plastic, the embossed poker dice are awesome, the gold nuggets are great as well! I like the quirky cartoony art style. What I do not like about Dice Town components are the cards. They are super glossy, and that’s heck for taking photos and I just don’t enjoy the feel of them as much as the nice linen-finishes. It doesn’t break the game for me or make me enjoy playing it less, I just prefer other types of finishes on cards.

I really like Dice Town. I have always had a great time when playing, and I have even acquired it twice now. I sold my first edition copy via a BGG auction (I was addicted to auctions several years back) and missed it, so I was able to grab a second edition copy last year. I haven’t regretted reacquiring it and though I rated it a 4 I don’t see this ever leaving my collection again. I love the American West theme, and I love the way the dice cups feel and sound as players are slamming them on the table. But also I hate the way the dice cups sound as players are slamming them on the table when my children are trying to sleep or without some type of buffer material between the cups and a hard table top.

The second edition printing is definitely the way to go when deciding whether to purchase Dice Town. Everything is upgraded, and the rules have been tweaked a bit for the better. I don’t really know why I like American West in my board games so much because I can’t stand Western style movies or books, but I can’t get enough of them in my games. If you and I share preferences on games and themes and components, try to grab a copy of Dice Town. You will certain like it quite a bit. We do. Purple Phoenix Games give this one a 12 / 18. While that doesn’t seem like a great score, we would rather have access to it than not. And with so many games out there, earning a place on my shelf is a big deal for a game. So enjoy!