Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Dave Arneson Memorial Gameday in NYC

More information here:

Last month Dave Arneson, co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons and the originator of the first fantasy campaign, passed away. On Saturday, May 9th the Complete Strategist will host an afternoon of gaming as a tribute to his memory. Dave's work has inspired three decades of roleplaying, from the original D&D to its 4th Edition, and from noon until 5 pm, we'll play games using both of these rules systems as well as some created just for the occasion. The common denominators will be fun, imagination, and heroic adventure!

I'll be running an Old-School D&D-style dungeon crawl:

- Game Name: The Fane of St. Toad
- Run By: Jon Hastings
- Maximum Players: 8
- Brief Blurb: We're going to try to answer the question of what kind of person would trek across a dismal swamp to loot an abandoned temple that was once dedicated to the worship of a sanity-shattering Toad god from beyond the stars. The Fane of St. Toad is a scenario written by Michael Curtis for the "Original Edition" of D&D. We'll be using the three "Little Brown Books" along with Supplement II: Blackmoor ('natch) (but no experience with that or any other particular version of D&D is necessary).
- Recommended For: Brave souls interested in dungeon crawling, problem solving, and traditional, non-nerfed adventure gaming.

Screening Log: March/April 2009

Ride Lonesome (Budd Boetticher, 1959) (v) (r) **** - Great opening shot - a landscape that turns into an extreme longshot of our hero that takes a surprise right turn into a potential ambush - and a great closing shot - poetic and devastating. Lots of good stuff in the middle, too.

Play Dirty (Andre De Toth, 1968) (v) **** - There's a focus on process here - with process: using a pulley system to get a truck up a too steep hill, changing tires, infiltrating a fuel depot, setting up an ambush - that makes this movie work very differently from movies with a similar set-up (The Dirty Dozen), not to mention other Andre De Toth movies. From today's p.o.v., these sequences seem like they're coming out of an "art" movie. And, in that way, reminiscent of both Rififi and The Wages of Fear.

American Violet (Tim Disney, 2008) (v)

The Night Stalker (John Llewellyn Moxey, 1972) (v) * - Not all that good, but I dig the grubbiness - maybe because it's a nice change from today's too-slick dumb mystery shows (Castle, Fringe, etc.).

Journey to the Center of the Earth (Eric Brevig, 2008) (v) * - Just a thrill ride, but a fun one and goofily old-fashioned in a lot of ways.

Dragonslayer (Matthew Robbins, 1981) (v) (r) *** - Not quite the gold standard of post-Harryhausen fantasy movies (that would be Excalibur), but pretty damn close.There's a lot of subtlety and nuance here - much more than I expected or remembered. (My favorite moment: the Dragon's grief on discovering its sluaghtered hatchlings). It's also probably the movie that comes closest to capturing the kind of fantasy in Lloyd Alexander's Prydian novels.

Tokyo Chorus (Yasujiro Ozu, 1931) (v) ****

The Virgin Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors (Hong Sang-soo, 2000) (v) ***** - One of those movie-watching experiences - like seeing The Mother and the Whore for the first time - where the movie's initial, superficial resemblance to other movies (at first I was getting a real Jim Jarmusch vibe) is eventually overwhelmed by its strong, idiosyncratic identity.

White Dog (Samuel Fuller, 1982) (v) **** - There are definitely rough edges here, but it's a fascinating and powerful movie, nonetheless. I think it would make a great double-bill with De Palma's The Fury.

Shoot 'Em Up (Michael Davis, 2007) (v) - Thinking back on it, I'm not quite sure why I gave Crank one star and this no stars. I guess I like that Crank more thoroughly embraces the unpleasant bits and pieces of the male adolescent fantasy it indulges in. Clive Owen is too much "the good bad guy", whereas Jason Statham is a bad ass, straight up.

Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist (Peter Sollett, 2008) (v) - Too much Hollywood coincidence and bullshit to work as a Richard Linklater-like look at a specific kind of adolescent trapped in a specific scene. But too sloppily put together to work as a "clever", teen romantic comedy (like 10 Things I Hate About You or some other enjoyable-enough product).

The Fast and the Furious (Rob Cohen, 2001) (v) (r) ** - Pales in comparison to genuine exploitation flicks, but refreshingly modest when compared to contemporary prestige/event action movies.

The Da Vinci Code (Ron Howard, 2006) (v) ** - This reminds me a bit of tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow: the story itself is a bit dumb, but the real show comes from how the directors' choices and techniques draw attention to how storytelling - and specifically telling mystery stories - works.

The Ruins (Carter Smith, 2008) (v) * - Effective enough, with some good moments, but it never really brings the A-game and fails to do justice to the book (which is the best 1980s Stephen King-style novel since Stephen King was writing novels in the 1980s). My "gut feeling" is that because the book spends so much time on the "inner life" of the characters, the movie should have done just the opposite: approached the story completely from the outside, with as little hand-holding as possible. But that's just me.

Watchmen (Zack Snyder, 2009) ** - As Sean points out, this is not The Godfather of super-hero movies. It's more like an "adult" version of the Spider-Man movies and, probably not coincidentally, falls as far short of the Moore/Gibbons graphic novel as Raimi's Spider-Man movies fall short of the original Ditko/Lee and Lee/Romita runs on The Amazing Spider-Man.


(v) = Seen on home video (dvd, dvr, etc.).
(r) = Not my first viewing.
(s) = Short film.

Star system ("borrowed" from the Chicago Reader)

No stars = Not recommended
* = Redeeming feature(s)
** = Recommended
*** = Highly recommended
**** = "Masterpiece"
***** = A place in my personal pantheon

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Five Underappreciated Hollywood Filmmakers

1. Andre De Toth - Day of the Outlaw alone means he belongs in the company of Mann, Boetticher, and Peckinpah.

2. Joe Dante - It's criminal that he doesn't make more movies. He should be the guy directing Transformers.

3. Allan Dwan-Made great (or at least very, very good) movies in five consecutive decades. Plus - that filmography! 423 director credits!

4. Blake Edwards - Arguably the greatest living American popular filmmaker. Unfortunately, not the greatest working popular filmmaker.

5. Philip Kaufman - Still underrated! Invasion of the Body Snatchers is The Grand Illusion of sci-fi/horror flicks.