Friday, August 22, 2008

The Dark Knight: not so much superheroics as crimefighting with added latex

Andy asked me to expand on my comments about The Dark Knight, so here's what I'd written up when I decided I was going to see the movie a 2nd time before rounding off my review.

I'm a big fan of Frank Miller's original 1986 masterpiece Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, the comic that recast the iconograhpic caped crusader for the harsher times which became the comics Iron Age. Back then, Miller was a major new artist at the height of his powers being given opportunities to push the boundaries of mainstream US comics just that little bit further. The Dark Knight Returns is the finest product of this period, and is surely the work for which Miller will be most remembered. It is certainly one of the most gripping comics I've ever read, a truly memorable experience unique to serial publishing which goes beyond the simple reading to the obsessive return to existing issues as the anticipation of each next one becomes ever more unbearable.

Against this original 3-month geekgasm The Dark Knight- part 2 of just another movie franchise- could only ever've been an also-ran. Unfortunately The Dark Knight is equally an also-ran as a Batman movie- Batman Begins already gave us Miller's quintessential modern Batman; as a true comicbook movie- that honour still belongs to Spiderman; and even as silverscreen '4-colour' adventures thematically embracing the darker sides of heroism, by Doctor Who, naturally enough.

Those were heavy odds against the movie last night, odds which could only've been bucked by a truly brilliant story, the Batman done as The Wire meets Doctor Who without all the cosmic stuff, say. In the event, 2 key edits in the adaption- leaving out Superman and not killing the Joker- rendered everything else academic by stripping Miller's original story of the genre-transcending features which make it an exemplar of the first rank of all that was great in anglophone comics of the early/mid-80's. 'Genre-transcendence' is simply that quality, shown by great genre writers such as Block, Chandler, or le Carré, to turn the cliches of genre hackwork into something enduringly illuminating, a feature I believe Miller's The Dark Knight Returns enjoys in spades.
I'd suggest it is those 2 missing elements which gut Miller's original story by turning it into cops and robbers instead of superheros. More on this later I'm sure. ;)

The Dark Knight entertains but underwhelms...

Feeling a bit better today. Sleep and self-care indicators have evened out a bit. Some weak late summer sunshine is no doubt helping, but a trip to the cinema with Donald last night was most important. We went to see The Dark Knight, the undoubted box-office-busting smash-hit of this year's summer blockbuster season. As far as I know, the geeks loved it and the 'mainstream' critics were more mixed. I can't be 100% sure because I'm no more interested in reviews of the pale gruel of Hollywood action franchises than I'd be in culinary appreciations of McDonalds' burgers- my expectations of both are similarly low, and they rarely surprise me.

Readers'll've guessed by now that The Dark Knight didn't blow me away as it has so many others. I tried the obvious doublethink, that I'm feeling bitter and twisted because I'm depressed, but that didn't work. I know from experience that really good stuff, stuff like Doctor Who or The Wire, this can always work its magic on me. It's just that, well, The Dark Knight wasn't magic. It was alright really, even if not worth the hype for this cinema-goer. Readers who know me might realise that this is more than just damning by faint praise. Far from the more familiar resentment at Hollywood's time-wasting vapidity I actually enjoyed myself, even if I was ultimately underwhelmed.

No one should be surprised by that I guess. But going back again next week anyway? I'm a bit taken aback, but that's what setting out to blog this movie did to me! More on this another time I suspect. ;)

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

A short weekend's gaming and other stuff

Still feeling ropey. Sleep cycle and key self-care indicators (medication, feeding and oral hygiene) are all in the red zone. And I've been back incommunicado, which has made getting this post up feel like getting teeth pulled.

Martin found time for his already announced short weekend visit, so that Saturday night and Sunday were occupied with gaming:
  • 3 games of Combat Commander (naturally enough!) took us into Sunday's wee small hours and early afternoon.
  • We found time for a couple of games of Settlers cards before Sunday dinner.
  • Then we rounded off the session with a quick 3 bouts of Ivanhoe.
I cooked too, of course, first doing a delia with sausages braised in red wine sauce (from my mum's old copy of Delia's Complete Illustrated Cookery Course, but you can find a whole lot of Delia's variants on this basic recipie here). This dish had everything I needed as a cook and host that night:
  • A comfortingly short list of ingredients entailing the simplest of shopping trips.
  • The easiest of cooking methods giving me the most flexibility on the night.
  • All the qualities of good comfort food.
I was also pleased to get a chance to use the butcher's Italian sausages which have become my staple when I just can't resist a proper banger!

I've made up the scenario images for the games Martin and I played, so I might post again with more detail. And Badger's due round for another short weekend's gaming with the bank holiday, so there'll no doubt be more Combat Commander to report on soon enough. ;)

Friday, August 15, 2008

DiceConWest 2008

I still made it to this year's DiceConWest, where I took these pictures.
Ivanhoe. Here's Donald, Natasha and Andy in the heat of our medieval tournament.
Wings of War. And here we are at peril in our flying tinderboxes over the trenches...
Dakka! Dakka! Dakka! Complete with Andy's nifty WoW planes.

A family at war! Donald next decided to introduce Natasha to Memoir'44, a game where she'd've felt quite at home (she did, in fact, win, I seem to recall).

Here are some other sights from the day.
Ellis and Gordon at play.

Pandemic. A new release, this game (@BGG) seemed to be something of a favourite on the day.

A game of Battlelore under way.

A DoW Ticket to Ride game.

Twilight Struggle. This card-driven game of Cold War conflict was an unexpected hit for GMT back in 2005. It had long since sold out its first print run by the time that the positive buzz across the web had brought it to my attention. I made sure to look out for the reprint, which meant that I was also looking out for a game at DiceConWest. In the end Alan Poulter, webmaster over at Web-Grognards, was pleased to show me the ropes.

I'm not going properly to review Twilight Struggle here, but that long and painful first game with Alan was certainly a highlight of my DiceConWest 2008. I'm no stranger to long game sessions at all; and Descent means that I'm not unfamiliar with long games either these days; but that game of TI reintroduced me to a brain-burning intensity I'd quite forgotten. I lost of course, going down to an instant victory on VP in the very last turn, but such fun it was!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Settlers: no game for lily-livers!

Tony and Di came round last night to play some Settlers. Still in the first flush of my new cooking enthusiasm I laid on a proper curry spread. I really did sweat and slave over that dinner!

Last night's session reminded me that gamers bored of Settlers are bored of life, or just aren't playing this landmark modern classic with the essential ruthless spirit, namely, "Pick on the person in front!"

Last night's 4 games were notable among other things for my finally finding a good reason to break this, my ironclad strategy of the robber and the soldier in Settlers. I don't know how many games it's been, many dozens over some few years at the very least, but: sitting with no sheep production, and seeing Tony holding 2 resource cards, 1 of which I knew was the only sheep in play, I hit Tony 3 times with the robber looking for that pesky sheep before Diana finally got in on the act and stole it for herself. How we laughed! I wonder how long it'll be before an exception to that rule turns up like that again?

Having watched Di make a brisk march to victory with a 6/6 Ore/Grain city-generator in play, I wasn't going to miss out on a chance to play the same thing on a larger scale in the following game. Di was pipped at the post in that game when my own city-generator delivered me a 2nd 2 cities' worth of resources, I ducked that last seven on my own resource roll, and I sprinted in from 8 VP.

In the 4th and final game a stupid mistake setting up my 2nd settlement left with no lumber production and no immediate access to any either. I had a bad feeling about that. An early investment in a development card came up trumps though, netting me the Monopoly card I used to grab all that lumber which recent resource rolls had churned out in plenty. I husbanded that haul carefully, and although depleted by larceny and the robbers, it still proved enough to overcome the handicap of having no lumber production in that opening phase of road and settlement building typical of Settlers.

The endgame went into top gear when Di pulled out all the stops to generate enough roads from her of endless lumber, which, traded at giveaway rates, enabled Tony in his turn to steal my longest road, which prevented me, in my turn, from winning with a new settlement. The game evened up leaving us all looking for those last couple of points. I enjoyed a stroke of luck when a development card turned up Road Building and, a fortunate resource roll and some off-board trading later, I sprinted in again from 8 VP with 3 very unexepected builds snatching me back my longest road.

Me. 3
Di. 1
Tony. 0

Grins ;)

Di insisted that the last game was the best, and Tony agreed. I can't argue with that, pleased as I was to win a game where I had no lumber production at all in the opening and mid games. Heh. Mwah, ha, etc. ;)


Regular readers will know that 2 months incommunicado can only mean depression. This was unexpected, confounding, as it did, the seasonal cycle my mood swings follow at their most stable. But then, this year's upswing had hit 3 months earlier than in 2007, and the premature downswing was similarly early. I had feared that it'd be downhill all the way until next spring (9 months!). Fortunately I've pulled out of the most disabling depression 2 months after I falling in, just like last year's regular cycle again.

In the end it was cooking that pulled me out of it. I made up a shopping list for a few of my favourite recipies and dragged myself out to make a big trip round the local shops. The immediate result of this was that my arms felt they'd been pulled out at their sockets, but a plateful of my variation on Pan-fried calf's liver with bacon, lemon and cavalo nero made it all worthwhile. (I use chicken liver because I can't find calves' liver; and I've substituted ordinary white cabbage for cavalo nero.) This modern variant on liver and bacon meets bubble and squeak was an immediate favourite. Liver's not for everyone, but chicken liver's melting, almost creamy meats mean that it's the cabbage which gives the dish its toothsome bite. For the sauce, creme fraiche brings a fresh note to the classically rich butter and wine sauce, this little lift then made a kick with the addition of lemon juice.