Films of the Summer 2020

I watched some movies during our quarantine, which luckily didn’t last very long, and after as there was a week or so when I had to the house all to myself and could watch…. bad things. And so, I did.

I do not watch a lot of movies, and have very little interest in drama films because why not just go watch My Dinner with Andre again instead? My taste for films is definitely on the trash side and I think if you don’t enjoy trash films, you are rarely going to find anything worth watching. All of the films on this list are trash except the last one. There’s a vast amount of films that lie between amazing art films and trash that is not worth bothering with. Mission Impossible with Cruise are trash, and they are awesome films. Dredd, trash, totally awesome. John Wick, trash and amazing. I encourage filmmakers to make trash films above all else. In these films, humanity will find their redemption.

Let’s start out with a favorite out of the lot: TROMA’s WAR.

Within minutes I was absolutely hooked on this film. Shitty effects, tits right away, dead bodies, snappy dialog, cliche 80’s characters and then the killing begins and it is amazing. This must have been incredibly fun for Kaufman and crew to make, and they invite you INTO the fun with them. Absolutely highest recommendation and if you watch one movie off this list, this is the one.

Return of the Living Dead

To be perfectly honest, I wanted to watch this again to see the naked dancing part, which effected nearly all teenage boys in a positive way in the 80’s. The outfits and manner of speech seem odd these days, but when I saw it in the theater as a kid, they did not– at all. We can talk at length about Lena Quigly’s naked body and about how she is never fully dressed after that scene, but the rest of the film deserves just as much attention. When I first saw this, I think it was on HBO, I was a little depressed at just how nihilistic it was, but that grows on you, especially through the horror films of the 90’s that all seem to have some sort of happy ending. Just an absolute classic that should be watched every Halloween at least. Red Letter Media did a long retrospective on the movie and I don’t want to repeat them here. Despite it’s humor and that it is a basic zombie horror film, at the end of this you will feel great melancholy.


KUSO
KUSO is a film by Flying Lotus. He set out to make a film by a black writer and director that wasn’t about black folks rising up out of the ghetto in yet another cliche movie on that subject. He wanted to show that a black director could something different and holy shit he did. This is Naked Lunch 2, without anything held back. While this is harsh and quite grotesque, I really enjoyed this movie and I think you should give it a chance, it’s beautifully shot, the acting/casting is excellent, and all the individual parts are carefully directed. The only description of it I can give to try to make sense of it is that after an earthquake in L.A, rifts to different dimensions open up as well as cracks in the earth– letting loose cross-dimensional beings that seem just as lost, benevolent and malevolent as we are. I don’t want to say much more because it’s quite an experience (much like Naked Lunch). Lexington Steele should do more uhh…normal films. His speech cracked me up and he had the best line in the film. This is trash that becomes high art (ala Gummo). “Hello Dispatch.” At the end of this you will feel great melancholy.


LAST AND FIRST MEN
This is a film by Jóhann Jóhannsson, the guy who did the music for Mandy (which you should see as well), Let the Right One In, Sicario and the Arrival. If you like sci fi and Brutalist architecture, this is certainly a film for you. It has only narration by Tilda Swinton and no other actors or characters. Certainly a unique visual experience, interesting story and the music is fantastic. Everything Johannsson did was fantastic and his early death more tragic for it. Don’t do cocaine is a lesson here. The film is based on a book from 1930 by the same name, which now I have to go and read. At the end of this you will feel great melancholy.

More by Johann Johannsson if you’re not convinced yet:

Blood Machines – yep

This is a film of note, not because of story or dialog, but because of visuals, sound and ship design. This has spoilers, which does not matter because it’s the experience of watching what happens rather than what actually happens.

The characters are two guys —some sort of space scavengers (Vascan and Lago), one young, one old, and their ship which is a female AI (Tracy) that that apparently at least one of the guys has sex with. The AI doesn’t always let them do what they want (this doesn’t have a ton of explanation) and there is an admiral or something like that who is on a larger mothership that is giving them their orders.

The ship design is absolutely top drawer.

These scavengers shoot down a space ship that crashes on a planet. They have their ship land on the planet and the young one gets out of the ship to start retrieval and is confronted with some amazonian style women. The old man has a heart problem and is reluctantly saved by the ship’s medical system. The guy on the planet fights the amazons and the women get the drop on him and start some ritual on the destroyed ship that releases a naked woman with a glowing downside cross on her stomach and crotch regions who flies off into space. The scavengers escape the planet after capturing one of the amazons, and they follow the naked woman who flies off into space and heads into a strange warp. This leads to a spaceship grave-yard with some massive space ship/death star thing in the middle of it which the naked lady heads for and goes inside. The scavengers land on the planetoid and the young guy heads inside with the amazonian. He finds a room with the naked lady and the amazonian gets the drop on him in a strange sex scene (the only one in the film and it’s fully clothed the whole time) and kills him. Then a clone of the young guy goes back to the ship and tells the Admiral to come to where they are as soon as possible to capture this entity. This kills the old man member of the crew who has a heart attack after realizing that the young guy is a clone. The clone blows his own head off with a laser weapon. The admiral shows up and the amazonian woman puts on a glowing gas mask and conjures up a PILE of naked women ghosts from ALL the ships in the spaceship graveyard who then attack the admirals ship with pieces of their ships. The admiral’s ship is sucked into the planetoid and the whole mess morphs into, you guessed it, a GIANT NAKED WOMAN. The amazonian goes back to the scavenger’s ship and does something to the old man that died of a heard attack so he wakes up with glowing eyes. The other guy wakes up INSIDE the giant space woman trapped in her flesh. The end.

This film was made for about 100K and while it has issues with plot, dialog, some pacing problems it is undeniably visionary and really one huge horny trip out Flash Gordonesque music video for 50 minutes.

There are a lot of interesting shots and sequences in this film but my favorite one of them is where a ‘sun’ is rising over the ass cheek of the naked ghost girl like the beginning of G-force or any other sci fi film you’ve ever seen. I just laughed outloud at this. 50 minutes, recommended.

2019 – Favorite Stuff

Comics

2019 marks the end of the amazing career of Alan Moore with his final comic in the Tempest series of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. It’s easy to make fun of the comic industry and the thousands of comics that are well produced but absolute dreck each year and in addition to that, what I think Moore was saying with Tempest is that the characters that people create are more real than reality itself and will continue on long after the society that created them has been destroyed. While everyone knows Watchmen, do check out his run in SWAMP THING, which was my first exposure to his work as a kid. Him quitting makes me feel pretty old.

Anyway, League was a very interesting series. I wish he had one more block of comics that were more the straight story (like the first two volumes) rather than getting super crazy (Tempest, Century and Black Dossier) or speeding through stories (Rose of Berlin, etc.). What I love most throughout League are the thousands of literary and comic references in each series. It’s almost too much to try to follow on your own, which is why the comics are fully annotated here. With Moore done, is there a reason to head to the comic store at this point? Not too much at the moment.

Films.

Lighthouse, Godzilla. Pretty much runs the gamut of my tastes right there. Godzilla was campy and awesome and Lighthouse was freak out like A Field in England, Mandy, and Valhalla Rising.

Star Wars 9 was interesting to see how they worked around all the problems handed to them from Episode 8 which, like Song of The South and for the same reasons, Disney should put in the vault. Yet it was not a great film and definitely had the ‘just fucking end it’ feeling. I enjoyed some parts, but it’s not worth watching again. Kylo Ren, the most interesting character played by the best actor in the series, had the weakest arc and stupidest outcome. It’s ok for Jedi, like the samurai and warrior monks that influenced them, to sacrifice themselves in battle! Fucksakes. As mixed as the series was, Adam Driver carried the team all on his own. Anyway, I’m getting pumped for sitting down with the Mandalorian though.

My favorite non-2019 movie this year was the LAST VALLEY. Never heard of it? of course you haven’t, but it’s got Omar Sharif and Michael Caine and set during the 30 years war. Among many excellent scenes, in one they play dice for a woman! 1971 had some awesome films.

I probably should have seen a lot more films this year, but just about everything seemed so boring, it’s more fun watching reviews than the actual films!

Board Games.

Root is my number 1 game for 2019. Played the shit out of it, forced everyone to play (many didn’t need it), ran a tournament at Gamehole con and I’m eagerly awaiting the expansion (though I did the print and play with the moles) which will spark up another frenzy of playing. This has killed so many games in my collection. I know this may sound strange, but it scratches the 40K and WFB itch as well.

Otherwise, my current favorites are the PAX series from Sierra Madre Games. I cannot tell you how much I love Pax Porfiriana– so much so that I haven’t even got around to Pax Pamir. Pax Transhumanity is good, but not compared to the other Pax games that I have (Ren, Pamir, Porf). Right now unfortunately for my gaming group (or fortunately if you also love these games), Pax is what I’m bringing every time.

Boardgames are in a really odd state at this point. There are amazing designs coming out, but there are so many design-by-the-numbers worker placement/engine/point salads games that are really all the same and, in general, super tedious. I don’t want to pick on Stonemier games, but they seem to be the Nickelback of boardgame publishers– just putting out the same thing: “multiplayer” solitaire, puzzle, tableau point salad games with a slapped on theme. I guess this is what people want these days. ZZzzzz…

While I’ve stopped doing boardgame kickstarters for the most part, we’ve had had some good times with Zombicide Invader but not enough to warrant the space it all takes up, so I’m on the fence with that one. My kids seem to prefer Massive Darkness anyway despite the fact that it’s much more complex. I like Invader with the kids because it’s NOT complex and I don’t have to explain tiny details all the time, or we get our ass kicked because they forget everything they have leveled up on their sheets.

I did NOT get in a bunch of games of Hate in 2019, which came out early in the year. I don’t know what to say about that one except that it is an absolute work of art from the rulebooks to the boards and especially the miniatures, which are the best that CMON has come out with by far. Seems like it may be a fun day to do a short campaign with 4-5 people, but hasn’t happened yet.

Video Games.

My game of 2019 goes to Samurai Shodown. I just got it, it came out this Summer and I should have picked it up on day one. My mistake.

The game I spent the most time on this year, which is incredible, was Kingdom Come: Deliverance. Simply an amazing open world game trying to be as historically accurate as possible. I really never expected anything like this to ever be a large, huge budget video game. Play it as soon as you can.

Lastly which is an honorable mention is RAGE 2. While the whole thing didn’t really come together, the shooting parts, as I noted in my review, are SUPERB and it’s a damn fun game with an uninspired story with the most unfortunate part being that the vehicle combat was uninteresting. I had a lot of fun with the game and will probably reinstall when there’s more DLC action.

Music.

Well there wasn’t an Aphex Twin record this year, and that’s OK because last year’s Collapse was all we needed for awhile, plus the live shows he has been doing the whole year have been incredible.

In 2019, I’ve been listening to a lot of Hadyn and some other random stuff, but I don’t think I listened to any new albums this year enough to comment. Nothing from Wisp (Dwallicht), Lord Huron, Squarpusher (he did a modern organ music thing that was pretty interesting but not on his own).

That said, I’m going to say my album of the year is Hadyn’s 64th.

This is from ’78, but also very interesting.

RPGs

Last and probably least are Role Playing Games. This year I pretty much put everything RPG on hold due to other real life stuff. Next year will be better as I’m a community leader in a certain youth paramilitary organization that’s taking up quite a bit of free time but won’t be next Fall. I did get to run DCC and Feng Shui 2 this year and played in a good Call of Cthulhu one shot, but that’s about it. Most of my RPG stuff is gathering dust so I’m probably going to shed a ton of it in 2020. My three favorite RPG’s as of now are Mythras, 13th Age and of course, Dungeon Crawl Classics.

Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 4th edition looks like it will have some awesome adventures coming out, including a redux of the Enemy Within, but after talking to some friends that played it extensively in the last year, the system has a lot of fundamental problems, which is really unfortunate in this day and age and especially after the mess that was 3rd edition by Fantasy Flight.

Remember how bad it is

Now that we are getting painfully close to the next cascade of space-piss called [DISNEY]Star Wars, some of you may have forgotten just how bad the last movie in this series of films is.

Just in case you need a reminder in incredible detail: READ THIS.

Note, I’m not talking about Solo or Rogue one, both anchored by the old plot-lines and characters as they were, and prequels to boot–I’m referring to Disney’s creative failure: the post Return of the Jedi films. This series and it’s financial (wait for it), artistic and narrative failure pretty much assures that Disney will never successfully move FORWARD in time after the Return of the Jedi and will likely cannibalize the past (before the prequels, etc.) from here on out. Hopefully though, Disney will stop making Star Wars films altogether.

“The people sometimes called fanboys, but by the wise called loyal, lifelong, cash-heavy customers with disposable income, did not make undue demands. All they asked was not to be bored, not to have their intelligence insulted, not to have their beloved space fairytale of princesses and star-knights mocked and derided and deconstructed and turned into a political football.

All the filmaker had to do was not suck. That was all.”

More Jung-induced violence

I just got back from seeing Us. Great acting, but I think it will be a confusing film for those that aren’t up on what’s influencing many writers in the indy film scene: Jung’s Red book.

Remember Mandy? I did some research after seeing that film to try to figure out what the very, very end was all about: the final shot with the twin suns over an alien landscape as Red drove off into wherever he was supposed to be going. That through me for a loop, big time (which was the point of it). This led me to read some descriptions of the film and it’s ending and specifically it’s purpose in relation to Jung’s recently released and translated Red book, which is a book about his imaginings later in life that was finally made available to the public in 2009. Specifically this part:

We hauled things up, we built. We placed stone upon stone. Now, you stand upon solid ground…We forged a flashing sword for you, with which you can cut the knot that entangles you…We also place before you the devilish, skillfully twined knot that locks and seals you. Strike, only sharpness will cut through it…Do not hesitate. We need destruction since we ourselves are the entanglement. He who wishes to conquer new land brings down the bridges behind him. Let us not exist anymore. We are the thousand canals in which everything flows back into it’s origin.

The final chapter in the Mandy film is entitled MANDY and yet she is in this portion, nearly the entire last half of the film, barely at all. The Jungian concepts that are brought together in Mandy are the concept of the conscious self and shadow self, and that dealing with trauma, truly dealing with it, is destruction of the current self to be renewed as a new, stronger self that better merges the shadow and normal selves. It’s postulated that the revenge part of Mandy is not a dream, but a trauma-management imagination where Red is the destroyer of the demons that destroyed her old self, or caused it to need to be destroyed, so that she can be reborn (watch the cartoon parts again if this doesn’t make sense). Enigmas of the people that scarred her in her youth enter the house that she and Red live in, to me symbolizing that she brings that same baggage to her and Red’s relationship and it’s causing Red to want to change things (specifically move away from where they live). Later in the film, Red is Mandy, or rather, she imagines herself as him.

But back to Us. About half way in, I realized that Us is another Jung’s Red book-influenced film and I think both this and Mandy will be compared in that way. I don’t want to put spoilers but:

  • The main character is named RED.
  • Certain characters wear red jumpsuits
  • The main weapon is a scissors– cutting threads or… you guessed it: entanglements (which is you yourself).
  • There are shadow and non-shadow selves. Which are the good, which are the bad? When you see the film, what are the ‘bad’ ones doing at the end?

I also noticed that the film tricks the audience to think it’s about racial inequality with some of the statements in the middle of the film. However, the quite well-off family in the film is black, so if you go down the inequality between people with different skin pigmentation, it doesn’t get very far, so I don’t think Us is about that at all.

Us is a solid film, and the acting is superb, though a bit slow in the middle as it slowly peels back the onion. If you look at it as a sci fi-esque slasher-thriller, great– but if you look at it from the Jungian perspective I think there ends up being a lot more meat to it.

Shirigui DEATH FRENZY

I first saw this Anime on netflix years ago, watching only the first episode. We just had a kid and I couldn’t give it the attention it deserved at the time. You can tell from the first episode, it’s going to be a series that rewards close attention.  My first draw was that Shigurui looked like the art style of Ninja Scroll with some of the same animators and, of course, it is, which should tell you something about it’s quality.  For those of us that grew up with Ninja Scroll as the GOLD STANDARD (along with Akira) for Anime,  Shigurui is like Ninja Scroll all fucking grown up.

From the outset, I want to highly recommend this anime with almost zero caveats… maybe just two.  First, it’s very dark and violent along the lines of 13 Assassins but a bit worse. Second it is UNFINISHED.  There is no resolution to the entire story, as that would have taken most of a second season which was never made. You never get to see what happens in the end, which a tough pill as things are set up in the first episode for a climactic battle, yet most of the series is a flashback that never flashes forward again!  How can you get the full story? You have to read the manga. That said, while incomplete, this is a masterpiece of anime.

What’s is Shigurui about? Like the film 13 Assassins, the series takes place during a peaceful era after the ‘warring states’ period in Japan.  And again, like 13 Assassins, a relative of the shogun is a Daimyo of a province and a full bore psychopath, one who dreams of a more violent era, regardless of the fact that he lives in lazy splendor and can kill servants on a whim. At the beginning of the first show we see him getting his head lopped off in a seppuku ceremony– one in which he ONLY touches the fan–he isn’t even given the time to touch the fan to his abdomen as is traditional– the executioner just lopped his head right off!  So he must have done something more than raping and killing peasantry right?  Right.

We then have a first flashback to a one armed man and a blind man about to duel to the death in front of said Daimyo. They prepare to fight and then another flashback occurs when one of the men (the blind one, but no longer blind) steps into a dojo. The other combatant is there and neither have any injuries (yet).  The show moves on to show the rivalry of these two men at the dojo, but then turns into something very different towards the end.

Add to this the fact that the master of the Kogan-Ryuu dojo is  insane, and lies in a state of dementia for most of the show, however, he has massive parts in the series when he is in his right mind and is probably the most dangerous character in terms of ability to apply violence.

The show and manga has everything samurai you can imagine–various fighting styles, ‘magical’ or unlucky swords, western sword styles, rival schools. You know how Game of Thrones very much includes nearly every fantasy trope and most of the ‘fantasy’ races without being like a bad Forgotten Realms based Dungeons and Dragons movie?  Shigurui HAS all the samurai tropes, it just presents them in such a way–again, much like ninja scroll– that helps you forget that you are seeing/reading about the same old tired stuff that showed up during the ninja and samurai craze in the 80’s.

The meat of the show outside of the character development are the various fighting styles.  The fighting styles are extremely well detailed, and will have you thinking quite a bit about it as the learning of the two protagonists increases and they not only learn the secrets from the master, but come up with their own modifications and evolution to the styles.  Having read the manga, I can say that this continues well into the second half of the series and ends spectacularly.

One other thing I really like is that if you look up the series in google and do an image search, you cannot find out what happens in the final duel.  The manga author has many dream sequences and day dreams where BOTH of the main antagonists are show to be killed or terribly wounded during the final fight, so it’s impossible without reading the manga to get spoiled by the internet.  The picture you are looking at with the guy with one arm’s face cut off could be during the final duel, or could be a dream sequence.

The entire series is up on youtube.  The manga is a bit harder to get a hold of.

Gaming

The only mechanical system that would be able to handle Shigurui’s level of combat depth and manner of wounds, is, of course, Mythras.  Most of the sword fights are over in a SINGLE stroke, which is simply not possible with D20 systems that use hit points, nor WFRP, nor 13th Age.  Story games would not effectively simulate the fights without far to heavy narrative control: you may as well just play with action figures at that point rather than roll dice.

In Mythras, both of the protagonists would have over 100% in their relevant sword skills (in the Kogan style), and you would probably need to break out different weapons having different skills (such as the shorter sword, the longer katana’s, and the big honking club thing one of the characters uses, and two swords at once).

One other thing that may be difficult in any RPG, even Mythras, is that the Kogan-Ryuu sword school students NEVER parry.  This means that the swordsman that strikes at the higher strike rank and hits is going to need to score a heavy wound most of the time to not himself be killed, but vs another Kogan swordsman, he will get a special effect straight away since there is no parry.

In order to simulate the sword styles, I would give special traits when characters got to 90 %, 100% and finally 120% skill levels, so every style would have three traits.  These are usually only given once to an entire style in the core game, but it should not break anything to give more, especially at such high skill levels.

I would also recommend using the advanced range and distance rules.  There are a couple of the fights in Shigurui where the range is critical.  In fact the first Kogan style trait I would add at 90% mastery would be that the sword used counts as one level up in terms of weapon length.

Passions can also be very useful in this type of game, as they could boost combat skills in certain situations to god-like levels.  Getting close to 10% chance of a critical is scary– 14-17% is insane.   Anyway, a game with Mythras where on one wears armor and no one parries could be very interesting…

Mythras