Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990)

If you grew up or were born in the 80s, that chances are you watched the Teenage Mutant Nina Turtles at some point. Me and my brother, we were huge fans out mum even made a turtle costume for us to play turtles with. Here’s the photo to prove it.  little me

In the UK they were called Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles, just incase kids were corrupted by ancient martial arts and nunchucks or something like that. The reasons are a little hazy.

I haven’t seen this since I was a young kid, and I remember it being… Not great, but then what did I know, I thought  . When it was my turn to choose the movie for  my regular bucket o’ chicken night with my friend I had a hankering for some nostalgia, and I wanted to wipe the Michael Bay effort from my mind.

So, the movie starts out with various news outlets reporting about a spate of break ins and gang activity in New York, which has been linked to a Foot Clan, which originated in Japan.

A plucky young reporter by the name of April O’Neil comes under attack in the Subway after some super sleuthing  led her to talk about the Foot Clan on television. After she gets knocked unconscious a mysterious turtle like figure comes to the rescue and takes her back to his sewer.

turtlesHere April meets the rest of the Turtles, Leonardo, Donatello, and Michelangelo (Raphael being the one who rescued her), as well as their master, Splinter.

At this point it’s worth mentioning that the characterisations are spot on. Even through those strange rubber suits, they’re all just as I remember them from the show. Raph is the wise-ass, Mikey’s the party dude, Donatello’s the techy guy and Leonardo is the natural leader of the gang. Even dear old splinter is full of Eastern wisdom and serenity just like the old days. Most important of all, they’re still obsessed with pizza!

april oneillThe best character, though is April. She goes out there and follows her heart even though she could get in trouble or lose her job. The truth is what is important to her. Best of all, she has not been overly sexualised. She’s just a regular woman trying to do her job well. She’s not some glamazon, she’s not doing it for revenge or some convoluted reasons about her dad. She’s trying to be a good reporter who is accountable for her own actions. Though sometimes she’s a little left out of the action sequences she still kicks ass in her own way.  

After the introductions it becomes clear that a Foot Soldier has followed Raph back to the turtle lair, after some (intentionally) comedic fighting they all manage to escape, apart from Splinter who gets kidnapped and taken back to meet the leader of the Foot Clan, the evil Shredder.

shredderShredder doesn’t really have that much to do in the film, apart from skulk about and make threats. He also has a hat that looks like a bicycle helmet with bits stuck on and wears a top that looks like he stole it from Prince’s wardrobe, but he does a good job of skulking about.

The turtles and April team up with Casey Jones and start to prepare to take on the foot clan, and ultimately Shredder to take back the city, and their Master from the evil scourge.

I was really expecting this to be really, really terrible. Like Mortal Kombat or Street Fighter terrible. Actually, it wasn’t nearly half as bad as I remember it.

Yes, it was pretty cheesy, but so was the cartoon. If you just go with it you’ll love it. There’s plenty of bad puns and dad jokes to give you a good groan, with a secret ‘that was pretty funny’ smile. As well as some great slapstick moments.

Speaking of which, the choreography is done pretty well. When you consider they were four guys in rubber turtle suits it’s actually kind of impressive. The fight scenes are al interesting and provide a good mix of cheesy puns and actual fighting, which is never too violent as this is a PG.

splinter gif.gifThe puppetry works well even if they couldn’t quite get the hang of lip synching and Donatello has this weird thing where his lip keeps going up at the end of every sentence. Though it has to be said, the scene with a pre-mutated Splinter practising ninja moves whilst watching his own Master, Yoshi. It truly is something to behold.

 

Something else I really loved about this is that it really encapsulates the feeling of New York in the late 80s/early 90s when the city was still years away from becoming the relatively safe tourist destination it is today. It feels grimy and dirty, even though it has that PG rating it feels like there is danger in the air every time it ventures into the street of New York.

Even though it has been watered down and made acceptable for children it’s also a great showcase for how gangs operate by finding vulnerable people and giving them a place and people to call their own, a substitute family.

turtle wax

Overall this is a bit cheesy, and maybe a bit naff in parts. Sometimes the story becomes a little confused, but you still get the jist of what’s going on. It might not make a greatest ever movie list, but for what it is, it is great. A piece of nostalgia you can let wash over you like snuggling up to a favourite childhood blankie.

 

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Fantastic Four Review

spoiler alert

There are spoilers in here, so proceed with caution if you care about spoilers.

 

The Fantastic Four do not have a great history when it comes to big screen adaptations.

1994
For some reason it didn’t do well

There was the 1994 adaptation that no one really remembers, though I’m not sure how anyone could forget that Thing costume. He looks like one of the Goombas from the Mario Bros movie.

Then Marvel waited eleven years and released a reboot, after all comic book movies were farting out money by this time. It was like they couldn’t fail. Yet the 2005 movie managed to do just that. It left both critics and fans pretty cold, though it must have made some money because Marvel decided a sequel was well worth the effort.

Rise of the silver Surfer was the only Fantastic Four movie I had seen, and it was… Not good to say the least, with an incoherent plot and a lot of questions about the relationships between the characters, it was pretty excruciating to watch.

2015
Look at how dark it is. Must  be really gritty and realistic.

After so many failures I was quite surprised to hear they were doing another reboot. Naturally I approached this new reboot with some trepidation, worried that it’d be full of weird costumes and quips that just aren’t funny. My caution was well deserved.

The films starts with a young Reed Williams (Miles Teller) who gets picked on for inventing a teleport at the age of 12. He recruits the help of one Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell) and the become BFFs, awww.

The science teacher declare his science project unscientific (for some reason, I suspect it was supposed to be out of fear) and declares them disqualified from the science fair. Luckily Professor Storm just so happens to be there and recruits Reed to help him and his kids Sue (Kate Mara) and Johnny (Michael. B Jordan) on a project to build a ‘quantum gate’. Which is not so much a gate, but like a pod… Thing.


After them doing some sciencey type stuff Reed, Ben, Johnny and a guy called Victor Von Doom (I bet you can’t guess what happens to that guy) go into the quantum gate on a mission for science, leaving Sue Storm back at the office to look after the computers and stuff.

green planet

Stuff goes wrong on the alternative planet they find themselves on after stabing the ground and angering it. Reed, Johnny and Ben manage to get back to the gate (though not before getting a dose of radiation) and Sue gets electrocuted from her computer or something. It was hard to tell exactly what happened with her.

Unfortunately they couldn’t save Victor Von Doom from, well, his doom and he gets left behind

After spending a few months of being hooked up to various beeping machines Reed escapes and finds his friends have been turned into a talking pile of rubble (The Thing), a fireman (The Human Torch) and an invisible lady (The Invisible Woman). He feels really guilty about this, so he escapes leaving them in the hands of the government for a year.

In the last 20 mins of the film they go back into the quantum gate for some reason and find Victor still alive, though after spending a year on a radioactive planet has left him looking kinda like a big lump of coal. After dragging him back to Earth it turns out he’s a little bitter about the whole being left on a violent glowing, radioactive planet for a year and starts to destroy the world.

doom

And here you will find the best line in the film. They’re trying to reason with Victor only to be told ‘There is no Victor, only Doom’. I can’t figure out with that was an intentional reference to Ghostbusters or if they were all in the writing room feeling very pleased with themselves for coming up with such an awesome line. I like to think it’s the latter. 

Finally the heroes get together to fight the big evil and become the Fantastic Four.

OK, so the main thing that’s wrong with this film is that It takes far, far too long to get to the good stuff, which is super heroes with some awesome powers fighting a bad guy with equally awesome (but evil) powers. This though, gets all bogged down in it’s own history. As if the audience is going to be sitting there not believing what they are seeing because they don’t know every precise detail of why that guy can light himself on fire. He’s a super hero, it’s the sort of shit they do! 

I feel it would have actually worked a lot better if they had just left the origin story thing for now and just let them have an adventure with mild references to their origins. Thus setting it up for another movie and which could concentrate on just one or two of them.

mr fantastic
It’s actual cannibal Miles Teller

Miles Teller always has a bit of a gormless look on his face and somehow manages to come across as an even less charismatic Shia laBeouf, making Mr Fantastic (as he is known once he becomes stretchy) just, meh. He’s there and he’s smart, there is nothing else to say about him. The others were just as bland. Personally I found there to be little chemistry between the main four actors. With the exception of Reed and Ben they just felt like four work colleagues who didn’t really like each other. So it felt a little forced when they come together at the end to fight the sudden appearance of Doom.

The special effects are pretty awesome and they’ve really made the characters look great and realistic once they do get their powers. It just takes so long to get to that point and the characters themselves are so bland that you simply don’t care. It’s like at Christmas when you came downstairs all excited at the presents nestled under the tree with their bright wrapping, inviting wrapping paper. Only when you tear it off it’s a roll of sellotape and a pair of black socks, not even novelty ones.

The story is just all over the place and you just don’t care about anything that happens, there’s no one strong character to route for or care about. They’re all just floundering  about with nothing to do. 

Marvel clearly really love The Fantastic Four. They keep resurrecting them every few years despite it being a major stink bomb each time. Maybe they love them too much and need to take a step back and look at it objectively. Stop dragging these poor guys through the mud, Marvel!

I’ve never read the comics, but they’ve been going for years, surely there’s an interesting story in amongst the hundreds of issues for them to draw on instead of yet another origin story?

joss whedon
He even comes with his own hat

Come on Marvel, just draught in Joss Whedon again and let him have a go next time. It is not good when your movie earns five Golden Raspberries (though Worst Picture was tied with 50 Shades of Grey… Yeah, that’s right, this is 50 Shades bad!).

 

 

If you’re a really big fan of the comics there might be something in here for you to enjoy, though I would recommend giving this a miss.

★★☆☆☆

 

My Top 5 Animated Movie Villains

We all love a good hero, but they cannot exist without a great villain to hate.Without  a villain a hero is just some jerk beating people up over nothing. So, we have villains to fight against and to teach us that greed and being evil is bad.

Although I firmly believe that not all animation is for kids, for the purpose of this list I have decided to concentrate of kids’ animation, so I can hark back to all those times I pooped my pants in the living room watching a movie (sorry Mum, you washed those knickers like a pro!)

I’ll warn you now, there are spoilers contained within!

5) Ursula – The Little Mermaid

UrsulaTheLittleMermaidShe was probably the first real villain that I ever encountered as a little whippersnapper. The Little Mermaid was my first ever VHS and I watched it all the time.

Ursula just looks evil from the start. As soon as Ariel drops on by to sell her voice and change her species so Prince Eric will fall in love with her (seriously though ladies, don’t change who are just for some man, Prince of not) we can sense Ursula’s evility. She’s all in black, she’s got some kind of weird thing going on with her hair, she has, quite frankly an amazing bosom. She lives in a sea cave thing full of withered twiglet looking things with eyes. Have you heard her laugh? It’s the most typical evil laugh you’ve ever heard!

I have to admit I don’t really remember being scared of Ursula, but I do remember being mesmerised by her and the way she used to slither about with her wayward tentacles. Even when watching it as an adult the grand finale with the gazillion foot tall Ursula is pretty disturbing, especially when she laughs as though she’s a vinyl recording of a creeping seaside laughing man played at the slowest possible speed.

4) Dr Facilier – The Princess and the Frog

dr facilierYou could be forgiven for not having a clue who Dr Facilier is, even if you’ve seen The Princess and the Frog. No one calls him by his name in the movie.

This guy is so scary the townspeople of New Orleans don’t even use his name, either that or they don’t think he’s interesting enough to bother learning his name. They refer to him as The Shadow Man or sometimes The Voodoo Man.

Dr Facilier uses his shadow friends from ‘the other side’ to hatch a plan to take over the whole of New Orleans to… Harvest their souls, or something.

This guy is both awesome and a total scumbag in equal measures. He has one of the most impressive musical sequences in modern Disney memory with the Friends on the Other Side song, where he makes himself look like a total badass with all the magic he needs right at his fingertips. He’s whispering green stuff here and there, he even appears to turn into a sugar skull at one point

He put on this big show so everyone knows how hard he is only to later on show himself to be a snivelling snot weasel worse than that kids in school who hung out with the bullies, but only had the guts to agree with what the head bully had to say.

 

3) Judge Doom – Who Framed Roger Rabbit

judge doomYou remember this guy, he broke your heart when he dissolved the squeaky shoe in that green goopy stuff. Never have I had such emotional attachment to a bright yellow and red clown shoe. *wipes a single tear from eye*

This guy was creepy as hell. As the human Mayor of ToonTown he reigns with fear thanks to his disgust for Toons and their whimsical nature. With a cool and collected demeanor He delights in torturing any Toon that dares to break any of his stringent rules with ‘The Dip’ (the aforementioned green goopy stuff).

judge doom toonHowever, after getting steam rollered during the finale, he reveals himself to be Toon, the very thing he hates the most. As a Toon he switches from the cold and calculated psychopath type to more of a maniac killer profile. He starts spouting daggers from his eyes, he develops springs in his feet. Most disconcerting of all his voice ascends to a shrill squeak as he admits to the murder of Bob Hoskins’ brother.

Whichever Judge Doom you get, Human or Toon, it ain’t gonna be pretty.

 

4) The Raptors in the Kitchen – Jurassic Park

raptorsI know what you’re thinking, they don’t count, they were interacting with live actors, in a live action setting. They were designed to look as realistic as possible. Technically, they were animated, so they totally count.

 

You’ve got to be careful who you say raptors in the kitchen to. If they’re in their late 20s you might just trigger a latent case of PTSD. Those demon dinos struck fear into children of all ages in the early 90s and most have still never gotten over the ordeal.

Unlike the onslaught of might and power from the T-Rex, the raptors are sneaky and were willing to play the softly softly catchy monkey game, they even learnt how to open doors to get at their prey. Doors! I bet a T-Rex couldn’t do that with it’s comically small arms.  

The great camera work from Spielberg really puts you in the action. It makes you feel like you are in the kitchen with those two annoying twerps trying to avoid not only a violent and wild creature, but a clever one. Giving thousands of children nightmares for years to come in the process.

 

1) The Other Mother – Coraline


other mother goodThe Other Mother, for me, is one of the creepiest little mo’fo’s out there. The others on this list have been evil from the start, their intentions were clear. You knew Ursula and Dr Facilier were not really concerned with helping poor unfortunate souls. You knew dinosaurs were only out to eat what they can.

The Other Mother though, although she might look a little weird with those button eyes, she starts out as being the ever loving matriarch. She provides Coraline with a caring environment filled with all the delights her heart desires including delicious food, a colourful garden and attentive parenting.

One day The Other Mother offers Coraline the chance to stay in the alternative realm forever on the condition Coraline sews buttons onto her eyes. Coraline senses something is afoot and declines, angering the other mother and revealing her true colours.

the other motherGradually The Other Mother morphs into her real form and the magical house reveals itself to be a prison for the ghosts of other children who were more willing to have buttons sewn onto their eyes.

Why is The Other Mother the worst? She pretends to love you, she lures you in with delights and kindness only to pull the rug from under you as she delights in stealing your life essence. Always beware of something that seems too good to be true.

If you can think of any other great animated villains, from a kids movie or not, leave a comment.

 

 

Why Inside Out Should Have Been Nominated for the Best Picture Oscar

Every year the best of the best and glitteriest of the glittery follow their natural homing instincts and gather for the annual Academy Awards ceremony.

oscarThe Academy has long been considered the most prestigious award one can get for making a great movie. Some chase after Oscars for years, desperately starring in anything that they think will get them the coveted gold covered statuette of a naked man.

Some will chase to boost ticket and DVD sales. Some like the respect winning can get you. Others probably enjoy the higher wages one can demand when you’re a big star.

 

One of the most sought after awards is that of the Best Picture, just a nomination can boost sales by up to 60%.

Despite this, The Best Picture Oscar has been very hit and miss over the years, and has often overlooked some amazing films in favour of something that might be a little more mainstream.

carl upAnimation in particular has had to fight to be recognised in it’s own right. The Best Animated Feature award was only introduced in  2001, and animated films have only been nominated for Best Picture three times (Beauty and the Beast in 1992, Up! In 2009 and Toy Story in 2010).

At one point Inside Out was tipped to join the other three and get a nomination for Best Picture. Unfortunately it missed out.

I have only seen two and a half of the Best Picture nominated films, so I’m not going to tell you why they shouldn’t have been nominated, but instead this is an argument as to why Inside Out should have received a nomination.

I’m pretty sure it’s been mentioned before that I love Disney Pixar. Their beloved characters, involving stories and innovative animation techniques make them some of the very best kids movies around.

inside-out-1024x640I think it is this mind set that has often made it difficult for animated films to be taken seriously by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (we’ll call it The Academy for short), they’re often seen as ‘for kids’. For some reason entertainment that is aimed at children is seen a being of a lesser quality, a lesser art form as that for adults.

It’s this perception that really needs to go. Yes it is true that a lot of drivel is pumped out at an exponential rate aimed at capturing children’s attention, and (more importantly, to the makers) their parent’s money. This does not mean that every TV show, book, or movie that is aimed at children is somehow inferior to adult entertainment. This is even before I start on the argument that not all animation is for children and is an art form in it’s own right. 

Inside Out is an exploration of emotions, what they truly mean and how they interact with each other. Emotions are not something that only children experience, they are a universal human experience. So I find it somewhat unfair that The Academy could have perhaps snubbed it for being animated and aimed at children, as it is a very solid piece of cinema that has a lesson we can all learn from.

rileyThe story is about an 11 year old girl named Riley (Kaitlyn Dias), who, along with her family, moves from Minnesota to San Francisco in California. Though initially she seems excited about the new house and a new start. When the new house is a bit of a let down, still no moving truck and her father keeps having heated telephone discussions about his business the dream turns sour.

As she struggles to keep herself together she tries not to let her parents know that she is finding it difficult to adjust and keeps on smiling and not talking about her feelings.

Inside her head we can see those emotions as they all tussle to be in charge on the console. As Joy (a wonderfully chirpy Amy Poehler) struggles to keep Sadness (a wonderfully morose Phyllis smith) at bay. When Sadness keeps making all of Riley’s happy memories sad Joy tries to prise them away from her, in the tussle they both end up getting sucked through a memory recall tube and get lost in the Long Term Memory. Leaving Anger (Lewis Smith), Disgust (Mindy Kaling) and Fear (Bill Hader) in charge of keeping Riley happy and Joy and Sadness desperately trying to find their way back to help Riley.

 

INSIDE OUT

On the journey home Joy constantly tries to keep everything light and jovial, even when getting back to head quarters seems hopeless, she tries to remain upbeat in the face of adversity. With the help of her companion she has to learn that it’s OK to feel sad when you need to, and to talk to the people you love and trust about being sad, and it is these simple actions that can get you the help you need to bring back the feeling of happiness.

There are also themes of moving on and being able to let go from the past as we can see from the imagination land area of Riley’s brain, which is going over a dramatic makeover from Riley the child to Riley the adult. As well with the character Bing Bong, Rileys’s imaginary friend from when she was little who no longer gets played with but still lingers in her long term memory in the hope that one day he will be remembered.

bing bongThe script is just lovely, for a film about the importance of sadness it’s a pretty funny film, as well as being deeply touching at times. Like the very best Pixar films it makes you cry at more than one point and makes you feel all of the emotions all at once. It manages this all whilst being accessible to everyone, from a young child to an elderly person.

Amy Poehler does a great job of bringing Joy to life, she’s like an animated version of Leslie Knope, her character from Park and Recreation. Though when Joy realises that Sadness was right all along Poehler is able to bring a humility to the performance.

With a solid script (It did get nominated for Best Script at the Oscars) stellar performances and a moving storyline Inside Out should have been in the running for Best Picture, but it missed out.

riley familyWe can’t say for certain why, the nominations are voted for by the members of The Academy, maybe it’s because most of the Academy members are old men, and they are perhaps less inclined to vote for a film about an 11 year old girl over a film about a newspaper investigating paedophilia within the church.

 

Maybe they just didn’t think it was worth it was because it was aimed at children.

Maybe it was simply because it was animated. Who knows?

What I do know, is that this a moving and delightful film for anyone of any age. It helps us all to look at our own emotions and how they can all play a part in making us who we are and contribute to making us happy (even sadness) and that it was deserving of at least a nomination of Best Picture.

 

My Life in Film: Why I Love Movies

Ever since I was a kid I loved movies. When I was really young I loved Disney movies. The delightful animation and catchy songs with a dollop of lovable characters captured (along with a whole host of pre-schoolers) my imagination. I remember proudly proclaiming that ‘Ariel had turned into a fewman’ when I was about 3 years old. Though I would say that Alice in Wonderland was my ultimate favourite.

alice in wonderlandThe story of a girl who is not interested in what the grown ups want her to do, who retreats into her own fantasy world populated by white rabbits, dodos, smoking caterpillars, and ruddy faced queens spoke to me. I wanted to retreat into that world and away from the one where I was constantly told what to do, and how to behave. I found it hard to understand the world in which I lived, and so Wonderland with it’s bright colours and nonsensical ways made much more sense to me. It was a world where anything could happen and was not constrained by convention, something I never really got along with.

As the years progressed so did my knowledge and taste in movies. I bawled my eyes out when Littlefoot thinks his mother’s returned, only to find out it was his shadow all along. As I grew up in the 90s there was a lot of classics from the times, Cool Runnings was always popular. I think my grandmother can still recite the entire scripts of Home Alone II, Look Who’s Talking 2, Three Men and a Little Lady and Sister Act II: Back in the Habit from them being on repeat whenever my brother and I were at her house. I used to make her watch Mr Nanny with the brilliant acting skills of Hulk Hogan, right until the end when I would get scared and make her turn it off. I think she’s still annoyed about that.

During this time my parents were getting a divorce, and as would become a pattern in my life during tough times it was to films that I turned for comfort and support.

mrs-doubtfire-1993Mrs Doubtfire was timed just right for this maelstrom in my life. Like everybody else I was entertained by the antics of Robin Williams drag act, the scene where he has to seamlessly switch between himself and Mrs Doubtfire for an inspection from the comically dour Mrs Selna in particularly entertaining and a great example of the physical performance Robin Williams became famous for.

Seeing a story about other kids going through the same heartbreak that I was brought a great comfort in the sadness that I was feeling in that time. At a time when I felt along in the world with no one to turn to, Robin Williams, Sally Field, and Mara Wilson were there for me to let me know that I wasn’t alone and there are others out there who have experienced similar emotions.

As the 90s gave way to the 00s and adolescence started rearing it’s head the movies I was watching also started to mature a little. Along with the usual teen fare of the time like American Pie, She’s All That, and Mean Girls. It was at this time however that my tastes starting diverting away from the mainstream. I had an old television in my room, so I was able to easily sneak up late at night and watch all manner of movies I was far too young to be watching. I saw Stand by Me at 11 and cried like the little girl I was. It was these late night television sessions that I credit with really helping to shape my view of the world. I was able to explore the worlds of the weirdos, the strangers, the eccentrics. People like me.

On the night of my 13th birthday Channel 4 screened Trainspotting, the second feature film from Danny Boyle who would go on to be an Oscar winner for Slumdog Millionaire.

This was the first ‘grown up’ film I really, truly loved. I watched it at least once a week for at least a year.

As I have previously mentioned on this blog, Trainspotting is a story of outsiders, not just that, but outsiders who don’t care about and actively reject the mainstream ‘ I chose not to choose life: I chose something else. And the reasons? There are no reasons. Who need reasons when you’ve got heroin?’. As a teenager who from a young age had struggled to fit into the tiny town where I was raised this spoke to me. I’m not saying that I rushed out and tried heroin (to this day I have never stuck a needle in my arm, that bit seemed kinda yucky) but it was here that I learnt that it was OK to go against the grain and choose your own life with it’s own rules.

trainspotting

When I was eighteen I packed up my bindle and waved goodbye to my mother as I set off to find my fortune in Sunderland. After quickly finding out this is not possible in Sunderland I settled on plan B and decided to study media production. Though I watched many new movies, studied them and was even a member of the film soc. I began to feel my love of movies wane a little. I still watched as many as possible, but I found that they were being used for as a distraction or something to have on in the background as I did work or looked at cat pictures on the internet (this was the naughties, it was still funny back then). This movie slump lasted through graduation and taking my first tentative steps in full time employment. I thought my movie spark was gone.

Then one night, when I was in my mid 20s I decided to watch Tommy, the rock opera penned by The Who about a deaf dumb and blind kid, who can sure play a mean pinball.

I don’t know what it was, it could have been the blindingly brilliant visual feast, it could have been the wonderful songs, it could have been any number of things. Whatever it was something clicked inside of me and my love of cinema came back with avengeance.

I had seen Tommy before as a teenager, and though I always enjoyed it, it was not until the viewing on this fateful night that I well and truly understood what I was looking at. It was genius in movie form.

Thus began a renaissance  for my love of movies, I was able to enjoy movies even more than I had when I was younger and on a much deeper level.

tommy

As well as being amazing for so many reasons Tommy will always have a special place in my heart for reigniting my passion for movies. Before I was very selective about what I would watch, and would randomly take against certain genres but now I’ll watch and (mostly) enjoy everything and anything.

So, why do I love movies? I love them because they’ve brought me worlds I can get lost in, they’ve brought me characters that have helped me through tough times. They have helped me to bring more of an understanding of our world through the stories they bring. We all have that one form of art that speaks to us, that we can turn to when we need it. It can be used to express yourself in ways you never thought possible. For some this is artworks, for others music. For me, it’s movies.

Board Game: Scoville

Ages 13+ 2-6 Players 60-90 mins.

I have lost days to farming games. I love building my little town and growing my crops. It makes me feel at one with my pastoral upbringing without having to actually get muddy or smell the general aura of animal muck that comes with the country.

When I heard about Scoville I clapped my little hands with glee and did a little on the spot dance. Farming AND a board game. It was looking like my life was going to get that bit hotter.

So I toddled down to my local board game shop paid my money, bought bandages for my singed fingers from handling the hottest game in town and took it home to drink in all the beautiful elements and wonderful rules.

It even has a little back story. The residents of a small town loved Wilbur Scoville (who invented the Scoville scale, the hotness scale for peppers) they named their town after him and have an annual pepper festival where the hottest peppers are the most prized possessions.

scoville contents
So many pretty components

What you get in the box

  • 1 Game Board
  • 65 Auction Cards
  • 48 Market cards
  • 12 Award Cards
  • A load of coins
  • 18 Bonus Action Tiles
  • 4 Breeding Charts
  • 6 Player Screens
  • 6 Farmers/Player Discs
  • Many, Many, Many Peppers

 

I just want to take this moment to talk about the pieces you get. They are so well made. From the little coins (which are super tiny) to the board, which is super clear and has an area for all the cards you’ll be using. You even get little pepper meeples. Pepereeples! You don’t feel like the manufacturers skimped on anything during production.

farmer meepleIn fact, this was a kickstarter originally and some of the stretch goals were to upgrade from coloured cubes to actual peppers, and to have the hottest of the hot peppers become plastic see through sparkly phantom peppers. They also upgraded the farmer tokens to little farmer meeples for the harvesting phase.

 

It’s so bright and colourful you’ll feel like John Travolta in Pulp Fiction opening the briefcase of fun. Only this time you’ll get to see the hot stuff inside. 

How to play

scoville set up

Each player chooses their colour, and gets a player board for hiding your hoard of peppers and points cards. You also get a counter for the turn order track and a farmer meeple for harvesting the crops.

The aim of the game is to get the most points, points are represented by a number within a flame and can be found on some of the market cards, the recipe cards and your bonus action tiles.

Scoville is played in rounds, and there are three phases to each round.

The round starts with a silent auction, you place how many coins you want to bid, you all reveal at the same time, whoever bids the highest gets to choose where they go in the turn order, the second highest goes next and so on.

track order.jpg
Turn order track

It is here that we come to one of the first great things about Scoville. You see, in this game choosing your turn order can be very difficult. In the second phase (planting) whoever is in the number one slot goes first, two goes second etc. In the second phase (harvesting) whoever was last during planting goes first to harvest. Then for the third phase, (fulfilment) back to number one going first. It’s the hardest decision you have to make sometimes for reasons that will become clear.

Once the turn order has been established it’s onto the first phase of the round. Planting. Ooooo, I hear you collectively say.

farmers scoville
Peppers in the field

The player going first chooses which pepper they would like from the auction areas of the board and puts it in their inventory. They then choose any pepper from their inventory to place onto the board. You can place it wherever you like so long as it’s horizontally or vertically adjacent to a pepper already in the field.

After the last person has planted it’s time to harvest your glorious produce. This is the really juicy part of the game for me. It’s where all your plans from the first phase come to fruition, and can be worth going last to plant to go first to harvest.

scoville chart
Breeding chart

You grab the farmer meeple of the appropriate colour and start off in the little star in the middle. you get to move up to three steps, always going forwards. Every time you land between two peppers, you consult your breeding chart, see what colour they make and you get that colour pepper in your inventory. So for example if you land between a purple and a green, it would make a white that you get to place in your inventory. Wherever you land on your last step you stay until the next harvesting phase.

Once you have quite a few peppers on the board you can really start to plan out your route, and you plan what peppers you want to plant to get the combo you want for the colour you need. The other really great thing about this is the player interaction. This mechanic allows you to block your opponents from getting to certain peppers, you can’t go through another player’s farmer and you cannot occupy the same space, so if you choose to land between two colours that make a hot, hot, hot pepper, nobody else will be able to swoop in and take it. Likewise it means that you can spend a few turns building up a great route full of brilliant combos to get the peppers you want, can be usurped by another player, if you’re not first to harvest that is.

recipe cards
Some of the recipe cards you’ll be vying for

When we’re all grinning with glee or frowning in frustration at not getting the peppers we wanted we can move onto the fulfilment phase. This is when you can exchange your peppers for chili recipe cards, market cards, or you can just sell up to five peppers for coins. Remember, the turn order goes back to number one going first, so someone else might be able to get in before you and swipe that recipe card worth 24 points from under your nose. 

See why it’s so hard choose your turn order? You need to go first to make sure you get that red hot recipe card, but at the same time, if you go last you’re more likely to get the peppers needed to get the card.

 

I love this game. I’ve played it many times since I bought it last year, and it has been a big hit with everyone I’ve played with.

The theme is just… Lovely, it makes you smile with it’s colours and the farming aspect. Everything looks and feels like a lot of love went into it. It feels like a local village fete. All it’s missing is a WI tea and jam tent.

The game play is simple, yet complex enough to create a beautiful puzzle for you to solve. This ticks a lot of my boxes for the game play. There’s not much, but just enough player interaction, you can plan out your moves way in advance, but can still have it all scuppered by another player’s plans so you have to re-calibrate.

bonus action tilles

The bonus action tiles can be really useful for planning a massive pepper harvest, they get you the ability to go back on yourself once, move one extra step or to plant one extra pepper. You can use more than one during a turn so you can really have a pepper blast! If you decide not to use the tiles, they are worth 4 points each at the end of the game.

You have to make simple, but tough decisions.

The little player screen makes for an exciting finish. The main aim of the screens is to keep the winner a secret until the end. You keep all your pepper stock and any cards you pick up along the way behind there and then tote up the scores at the end. Which is great because you realise you’ve been doing better than you thought. Someone who you thought was definitely going to win might have been bluffing and will come last. It’s the games last hurrah.

A great advantage of Scoville is that it plays up to 6, a lot of other games of a similar calibre tend to be 4 or 5. So the extra player space can be pretty neat if there are a lot of you.

My main criticism for Scoville would be that once you find a strategy you tend to stick with it, there’s not too much scope for trying out new techniques. Which can limit the re-playability a little. The recipe cards start to get a little dull after a while and you start to learn which ones are the best and what is needed to obtain them.

scoville labsThankfully, an expansion has just been kick-started, called Scoville Labs. I received mine a couple of weeks ago. The expansion doesn’t change the main rules, but it does bring up the heat a little more. As it allows you to plant a pepper (after planting on the main board) in your very own little lab. You reap the benefits of any combos made immediately, but after that they just take up more space in your lab. This helps to combat some of those ‘he stole my planned pepper route’ situations and allows you to be a little more selfish with the pepper hoarding. Included are also more recipe cards and market cards that also helps to refresh the game a little.

I liked Scoville labs, I think I’ll need to play it a few more times to really get the scope for what it can do, but it does work well, and I really liked being able to quickly get some of the peppers that I needed without worrying that one of my fellow farmers was going to steal my prize.

scoville by night

I wholeheartedly recommend this game. As part of the Scoville Labs Kickstarter you could get the base game too as one of the rewards. This was to measure the amount of interest in it for a new print run. So, it might be hard to get at the moment, but hopefully it will be winging it’s way to your local board game shop soon!

 

All you need yo do now is ask yourself. Are you ready to feel the burn?

 

My Top 5 Musicals (for people who don’t like musicals)

I have a little confession to make.

I love musicals.

I love the stories, the romance, the songs! I love learning the songs and singing along, much to the annoyance of my housemates and neighbours (they dread Christmas and my annual Nightmare Before Christmas sing along), they’re quite often a bit of good old fashioned, campy fun.

Which is why I never understand it when people tell me they don’t like musicals, how can you not love escapist cinema in it’s purest form. For a couple of hours you’re going to get some great songs, a bit of a love story and a rolicking good time!

So, to try and spread the joy and my love of musicals to as many people as possible, I present to you a list of musicals that have often been accompanied by the phrase ‘I don’t like musicals, but I loved that!’.

5) The Wiz (1978, 127mins, U, Dir: Sidney Lumet)

the wiz poster

The Wiz, a Motown production, presents an alternative look at the The Wizard of Oz. Goodbye cute little Munchkins from the Lollypop guild, and hello urban wall dwelling graffiti munchkins!

I’m sure you’re familiar with the original story, Dorothy (here played by Diana Ross) ends up in Munchkinland and kills the Wicked Witch. The only way she can get home is by visiting the Wizard in the Emerald City, with Dorothy making friends with some unlikely heroes along the way.

As much as The Wiz sticks with the original plot it makes up for it with it’s wonderfully original design. It transports Oz from being a twee cute world into one of urban vibrancy. It celebrates African American culture, when it was first performed on broadway it was lauded for it’s roots in African American culture.

the wiz michael jackson

This celebration is most present in the soundtrack. The songs are all wonderful and full of soul, the title of the original broadway musical is The Wiz: The Super Soul Musical “Wonderful Wizard of Oz”. As soon as they hit wonderland you’re taken back to that great era of soul, the mid seventies. 

Should see this film, it’s for a Sunday afternoon. Just look at Michael Jackson as the scarecrow there! Look at his little face, you wouldn’t to disappoint him, would you? Go watch it!

4) South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut (1999, 78mins. 15, Dir: Trey Parker)

south park poster

Those of us of a certain age are sure to have watched this at some point. Due to its excellent story and writing, the fact it’s a musical often gets forgotten.

It’s rude, crude and sometimes kinda lewd.

All our favourite foul mouthed 8 year olds are here, and they have to go on an adventure to liberate their comedy heroes Terrance and Phillip who are to be executed for farting on TV.

Yeah, it’s as daft and as bitingly satirical as you could hope for from a big screen outing of one of the smartest shows on television.

The songs are wonderfully written and composed, especially with the Oscar Nominated ‘Blame Canada’. It’s here that we really see the influences of classic musicals such as Les Miserable.

If you want a bit of biting satire with your spontaneous music sequences then this is the one for you!

 

3) Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975, 96mins, 15, Dir: Jim sharman)

rocky horror jpeg.jpg

One of the original Midnight Movies, Rocky Horror has delighted audiences for 40 years.

It was first recognised for being terrible, audiences would start dressing up and talking or responding to the dialogue on screen, giving the film it’s cult classic status.

Brad (Barry Bostwick) and Janet (Susan Sandon) find themselves with a flat tyre, so they knock at the door of the nearest mansion to use the phone (remember kids, people in the 70s didn’t have mobiles), where they find themselves in a musical house of horrors.

This is the film that gave us the Time Warp, a staple of school discos everywhere. It’s got Meatloaf riding a motorcycle through a wall, it has half naked men running about the place, and best of all it has Dr Frank ‘N’ Furter (played wonderfully by Tim Curry) the ultimate transvestite party boy who creates his own human toy.

I Rocky Horror is truly a beacon for the lost generation, for those that march to the beat of their own drummer, it’s united those of us who enjoy and revel in the non-mainstream, the freaks, the weirdos. Watch this if you have ever felt ‘out of place’, you may just fit in.

 

2) Pitch Perfect (2012, 112mins, 12, Dir: Jason Moore)

pitch perfect

The most recent film on my list; Pitch Perfect has the perfect mix of irreverent comedy and brilliant songs. Unlike the other films this one relies mostly on cover versions, making Pitch Perfect feel like the edgier, more grown up,  cousin of Glee.

The story follows Becca (Anna Kendrick) as she tries to make friends with the Barden Bellas, her college’s only all female acapella group. The Bella’s are fighting their way to get to the national championships and come up against some stiff competition.

The premise sounds kinda lame, but I promise that I have yet to meet anyone who has not been swept along with it’s amazing cheeriness, brilliant covers of some inspired songs, and fantastic humour (with just the right hint of a bit of gross out). A shout out goes to Rebel Wilson who mostly improvised her lines.

 

1) Little Shop of Horrors (1986, 91mins, PG, Dir: Frank Oz)

little shop poster

And so we make it to the final curtain. Little Shop of Horrors is with Rocky Horror in the cult classic camp. Like many great films that have reached the hearts of the people this didn’t do too well at the box office and really found it’s home in, well, the home. It’s release on VHS and Betamax really gave this it’s cult status.

Seymore (the always lovable Rick Moranis) was out buying plants one day (for the flower shop he works in) and came across an unusual looking plant. He simply has to buy it, and then name it Audrey II after his crush. The delightfully high pitched Audrey who goes out with a scoundrel dentist played by Steve Martin. However, it turns out the plant only eats human blood… Dum dun duuuuuunnnnnn.

audrey 2

There is nothing not to like here, it’s got bright, lovely and somewhat intimate songs (see Audrey singing ‘Somewhere That’s Green’ and not cry, I dare you!) to great scary moments. There’s thrills, there’s spills, there are moments where you’ll laugh, cry, and maybe wet your pants, if you’re into that kind of thing.

The puppetry was all the work of the Jim Henson Co. and it is astounding. There are stories I could tell about how they had to shoot certain scenes at super slow speeds and speed it up later so it syncs up with lyrics.

See this film! There is really no reason not to, the musical numbers are just fab and very original, there’s a mix of genres, the design is scrungy yet beautiful, the characters are just adorable and lovely. I would recommend the Blu-Ray version as you can opt to play it with the original ending. I won’t spoil anything, but it’s very different from the theatrical version.