The Enduring Appeal of Freaks and Geeks.

There are many TV shows that were cancelled before their time. Some still have a strong cult following, like firefly whose fans still lay in hope that it will come back once again in any form. Others have largely been lost to the mists of time. 

Then, there’s Freaks and Geeks. The 1999 TV show, though short lived is very well loved by its fans. It was where Judd Apatow and Paul Feig first cut their teeth, in fact it was partially based on some of the experiences of Paul Feig during his time in high school. 

From the beginning it is made clear this is not your typical teen drama, following popular kids as they navigate the life of cheerleaders or American football players. This is about the outsiders, the titular freaks and geeks of the world the ones who don’t fit in, and for the most part don’t really care to. The feelings of outsiderness are felt by and identified with almost everyone at one point or another so it’s easy to find at least one character you identify with strongly.

The story follows two siblings, Sam (John Francis Daley)  and Lindsay Weir (Linda Cardillini) as they make their way through the pitfalls of high school, though their storylines tend to stay separate.

Lindsay is an intelligent, well mannered, well performing student and captain of the mathletes. After witnessing the death of her grandmother she begins to question the world around her and she’s not so sure she like what she sees. Lindsay begins hanging out with the ‘freaks’, the kids who mostly hang out, smoke pot and listen to Rush a lot.

james-franxThough the story for the most part is told through the eyes of middle class Lindsay, her co-horts are mostly from a working class background, and are often struggling with issues of poverty and unstable home lives. We first see a glimpse of this in the episode Kim Kelly is my Friend, when Kim (Busy Philipps) invites Lindsay to her house for dinner. Lindsay thinks this is an olive branch for Kim’s hostile behaviour up until now, but it turns out Kim needed someone as an alibi for her late night activities. It is clear that Lindsay was not prepared for the sight of a low income family when she is greeted with a sheet of plastic in place of a wall, fried chicken for dinner, a brother asleep on the couch in the middle of the day and a shouting match over the table.

In another episode we see that the school has given up on Daniel (James Franco), it is also revealed that he has to help in the care of his ailing father as well as trying to be an ordinary eighteen year old kid who wants to escape all the pressures that are put upon him by the adults that are around him. Not many teen dramas of the time would be willing to look at the issues why the ‘burnouts’ became that way, but Freaks and Geeks when there, it wanted to tell the stories of the downtrodden, the given up on and the forgotten about. It was about those society has shunned and would rather not be there.

freaksThis willingness to speak for the often unspoken for combines with it’s subtle and rather gentle humour from the characters. Ken (Seth Rogan) is a great source of humour with his sarcastic quips and total apathy for school and for life, and Nick (Jason Segel) who falls desperately, and a little naively falls in love with Lindsay. This subtle humour allows for other topics such as drugs to be discussed without it being preachy, glamourising or simply ridiculous, which we can see in the episode “Chokin’ and Tokin’” when Lindsay tries weed for the first time after becoming concerned for Nick when his habit starts taking over his life. It’s refreshing to see a portrayal of drugs that does not speak down to it’s audience, it does not sensationalise the level of addiction by showing Nick becoming homeless and destitute, instead it shows us how he just hangs out listening to music and giggles a lot. Though accurate I would not say that it was a positive view of drugs as Lindsay decides she doesn’t want to get high again, but only after trying it for herself and experiencing some of the negative side effects first hand.

mr-rossoAnother great source of humour is the brilliantly played school guidance councillor, Mr Rosso (Dave Gruber). An ageing hippy who likes to dole out life advice based on his own experience, much to the annoyance and disgust of the pupils. He perfectly portrays an adult trying desperately to relate to kids who are at least twenty years his junior, and failing miserably.

 


Sam, Lindsay’s young brother, meanwhile gets things a little easier, his storylines are more the comedy relief, though his is not without his own trials and tribulations. At the bottom of the social pile he is a confirmed geek, with his small frame, clothes picked out by his mother and his Star Wars notebook paper (remember, this is set in 1980, before geeks were cool). Sam has to battle bullies, both literally and figuratively, has to learn to navigate the baffling world of girls, learning to make friends, and trying to make it with the cool kids. sam-and-the-gangHe has to help one of his best friends, Neil (Samm Levine) come to terms with the fact his father is having an affair, and deal with his other best friend almost dying after a bully puts peanuts on the sandwich of Bill (Martin Starr) who has a peanut allergy. All the geeks are lovable in their own way and I just want to hug all of them whenever they’re on screen. You’re with them every step of the way as they learn about the world and becoming teenagers.

Set in 1980, it was ahead of the nostalgia wave that was still only a ripple at the time. Though it might be a little less overt than some of its successors like Stranger Things, which specifically references the films of the time, F&G manages to subtly evoke the time period to before we had the internet and mobile phones, and the only way to play music was on a record player, making us yearn for a simpler time when things weren’t so complicated. Part of the authenticity is the fact all the cast are age appropriate, where many teen films and dramas would use much older actors Freak and Geeks wanted to make it feel more real, and it does, with the young cast giving great performances that feel real. It even helped to launch the careers of some of today’s biggest stars like Seth Rogen, James Franco and Jason Segel.  

Freaks and Geeks only lasted eighteen episodes, but it managed to cover a whole host of different issues affecting teenagers, no matter the era or the social standing, but especially those that have been thrust to the sidelines by those that are deemed more desirable in society. Why has Freaks and Geeks lasted so well for a show that didn’t even make it to the end of its first season, because it’s a voice for the broken, the forgotten, the free thinkers. It manages to capture both the simplicity and the complexity of high school and growing up in a way that no other show has managed to do. It manages all at once to be hilarious and tragic, insightful and kinda dumb.  

 The final episode sees Lindsay blow off the academic summit she had been invited to (something that could have helped her get into an Ivy league school and with future employment) and instead jump in the van with her new hippy friends to follow the Grateful Dead. We’ll never know if she really did spend her summer following the Grateful Dead or if she made it to the summit, but we can all enjoy her adventures of trying to make her way through high school in one piece.

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Matilda Book Review

front-pgeWhen I was a kid I loved reading, I would read all the time. I loved the places and times that they could transport me, an escape from the real world I found myself in. I loved escaping to Faraway Trees, meeting magical insects that lived in a peach, and being scared by saying cheese.

Though I would read anything, by anyone, there was one author that could always be relied upon to bring a smile on my face and really make the real world disappear. Roald Dahl. With his eccentric characters and exquisite turn of phrase Roald Dahl has become a firm favourite with children and their parents for decades.

Since his first book was published in 1943 Mr Dahl has made young children gasp with terror, cheer for their favourite characters and most of all giggle uproariously from the rather gruesome jokes and made up words.

Which brings me to the book I decided to review, Matilda. I first read this when I was nine years old, I didn’t have many friends and I didn’t have much of a home life, either. Matilda, with it’s themes of bullying and loneliness spoke to me immediately. First published in 1988, the year of my birth and only two years before the death of Dahl Matilda has become a much beloved character, with a well loved film released in 1966.

This year is the centenary of Roald Dahl’s birth, and with all the events celebrating this milestone I thought I would revisit an old favourite for the first time in nearly twenty years.

Right from the first sentence it was immediately like a big warm hug welcoming me back to a story and characters that I love so much.

I really think of this book having two halves, the first half revolves around Matilda and her parents. Matilda’s parents are really vile, her father is a dodgy used car salesman and her mother seems to do nothing but play bingo and think she’s pretty. They both seem to hate their own daughter and resent her. The thing is, Matilda has an extraordinary talent, she is incredibly smart. By the age of three she is able to read everything in the house and even takes herself to the library to read as many books as she possibly can.

parentsMatilda uses her smarts to get back at her parents when they are unduly mean to her, she makes her parents and brother think the house is haunted by stuffing a talking bird up the chimney (in its cage, and it was returned to it’s owner, don’t worry no birds were harmed in the writing of this book), she bleaches her dad’s hair and she glues her dad’s hat to his head. This part of the book is a great source of some of that trademark Roald Dahl scrunginess, it’s all about the the kid getting one over on the adults. As kids we all feel that life could be unfair and we all wanted to get our own back on our parents, and Matilda actually does it, and she does it well. And with the reactions of her truly horrible father it provides some great belly laughs.  

miss-honeyLike other children, however, when she turns five she must attend school. This is where the second half kicks in, Matilda Vs The Trunchbull. On her first day at school Matilda make friends for the first time in her life, and she meets Miss Honey, only the second adult in her life to treat her with respect and to recognise her amazing gift. Miss Trunchbull, the headmistress of the school, is just as bad as her parents and tries her best to bring Matilda down and disbelieve her intelligence. The Trunchbull is nothing short of a bully, she holds boys up by their ears, and throws girls by their pigtails as though the she were competing in the hammer throw at the Olympics.

It’s during one of the Trunchbull’s lessons that Matilda learns she has an even more amazing talent than her smarts, she can move things with nothing but her eyes and the power of her mind. She is, essentially, magic. Matilda then devises a plan to bring down the Trunchbull and restore order at the school.

trunchbullMatilda is a beautiful story, and brought back many happy memories of reading it the first time round, Dahl has such a great imagination or small acts of striking out on your own. A common theme with Dahl is kids sticking it to those adults who seems to hate kids. This questioning of authority, that helped to inspire me to think for myself and realise that not all adults are right and should be respected. Even as an adult this rejection of authority really strikes a chord. 

matilda-bookThe illustrations from Quentin Blake are as always a welcome addition and helps to add to the story and fires the imagination.

The structure, I felt was a little episodic, and sometimes it felt like a collection of connected short stories, and I felt that the ending was a little rushed, but honestly, I didn’t really care, the characters and the story and the writing all made up for this in spades. I encourage you to also celebrate the centenary (or, just, you know for fun) to pick up Matilda, or any Roald Dahl book and give it another go, I can guarantee that you won’t be disappointed like that time you decided to re-watch The Super Mario Brother Super Show.

 

Mysterium Review

Grab your Mum’s best white bedsheets and cut little holes in them, it’s time to ghost about in the haunting Mysterium! BooOOOooooOOoooooOooooOoooo

So, you’ve just bought this really spooky looking abandoned mansion, and you’re all excited about all the things you could do with the place, you could turn it into a lovely hotel/spa, make the world’s best Hallowe’en haunted house or just gad about in a top hat and tails all day pretending to be Fred Astaire, if you’re into that kind of thing. There’s one snag, the house is haunted by the ghost of a man-servant, who was violently murdered in the grounds thirty years prior, and this guy is really messing up your plans of recreating the stairs scene from Beauty and the Beast with your best bae. Naturally you want rid of this spectral pest.

bill-pullman
Sadly, there is no Bill Pullman

So far, so plotline of Casper, but, instead of getting the ghost therapist and hot dad Bill Pullman in, you gather six of the world’s most famous mediums to communicate with the ghost to help him pass on to the other realm and stop pestering you.

 

set-upIt is the night all hallow’s eve where Mysterium takes place, the 6 (or however many players you have) mediums have gathered round to communicate with the grisly ghost. As the ghost is very old and forgetful (and apparently very murderable), there are several different possible suspects, locations and murder weapons, one set for each medium. To make things a little harder the decrepit ghost can only communicate via the medium of vague visions, and will send out these visions to each of the mediums, who have to interpret them to guess their suspect, location and weapon. There are cards placed on the table with all the possibilities, once you think you’ve interpreted the vision given to you you plonk your crystal ball on the suspect you think it is, and once everyone has guessed the ghost will reveal who is correct and who was not. If you are correct you keep that card and you move onto guessing your location, and if you are incorrect you go back to guessing the suspect again.

I know what you’re thinking, it’s kind of like a Casper themed Cluedo, meets Dixit (another board game that uses similar vague picture cards you have to interpret), but there’s a little more to it than that. It’s better than cluedo, because you don’t have that ridiculous and frustrating board you have to move around in to find clues and what not. Though I do love Dixit, it’s very cute and endearing there’s not much more to it than looking at nice cards and guessing what the other person means, Mysterium gives that mechanic of interpreting visions and gives it a little more meat, or ectoplasm as the case may be. You are working towards something, you’re making a story about what happened to this poor murdered man. 

One major thing I haven’t yet mentioned is that this is a fully cooperative game, and though it’s an uneven game as the ghost has a very different role, everyone is working together to find the culprit. This means that the mediums can share their visions and ask for help from the group and everyone can work together to figure it out, all whilst the ghost looks on in stoney silence.

claivoyancy-tokensThough information can be shared and debated between the mediums, where you place your coloured crystal ball is your choice. However your fellow ghost whisperers might not agree and think that your vision did not represent the policeman, they might think it represented the maid. If this is the case, they can used these little clairvoyancy tokens, and place a little X token next to your crystal ball. If you were wrong in your guess of the policeman, your friend will get one clairvoyancy point for guessing correctly that you were wrong, likewise if they had put a little tick next to your crystal ball and you were right they would also get a clairvoyancy point. However, if they had put an X next to your crystal ball, but you were correct, they would not get anything. The amount of clairvoyancy points you get can have an effect on what you get to see in the next phase. This is probably the fiddliest part of the game, and can be a little hard to explain in the first instance, but once you demonstrate it and you all get into the swing of things it becomes pretty easy. Though I did find that towards the end of the game we were sometime just chucking them on willy nilly just for the sake of it, in case which I think defeats the point a little.

suspect line up.jpg

So, you’ve all worked super hard, the ghost has been banging out visions left and right and the mediums have been interpreting them like Sherlock Holmes on an all night coke bender. All mediums have guessed their suspects, locations and weapons before the end of the 7th hour. Congratulations! You get to move onto the suspect line up. You all place your sets of cards into the centre, the ghost will give you all a shared vision made up of three cards, one to represent the suspect, one for the place and one for the weapon, they will be placed face down in a random order, then depending on how many clairvoyancy points you got earlier depends on how many shared vision cards you get to see. If you got less than 7 you only see one card, if you got up to 10 you get to see two, and if you get 11 or more you get to see all three.

There is a secret vote, whichever suspect gets the highest vote is the medium’s guess, if they guess correctly, the ghost will pass onto the other realm with peace and tranquillity, if they are wrong the ghost is doomed to wander the mansion for another year until next Hallowe’en.

vision-cardsMysterium is a great party game, it plays up to seven people (six mediums and a ghost) so it’s brilliant when you’ve got a crowd and you’re breaking out the emergency chairs. I love that it’s a co-op game, so you’re all working together, it means that even if you’re still waiting for your vision to appear for that round you can still be thinking about your friends vision and helping them so you’re never just sat there waiting around. As there is a two minute time limit on getting your crystal balls and clairvoayncy tokens once all the visions have been handed out there is a feeling of urgency and rushing as everyone rushes to get their guess out and look at what other people have guessed and if they think their companion was correct.

crowsOn top of it all, this is simply a fun game, the cards are beautiful and so well designed and made, and it can be funny when you get a fruit house or a hot air balloon or a mouse and you need to match it up with the cards on the table, it could be anything on the card, the colour, the main object or a tiny speck in the background that could relate to your card on the table. I love the fact that it brings people together, and unlike other co-op games like Ghost Stories or Pandemic this feels a lot more relaxed, and less pressure to do everything or else you’re going to let everyone down, it’s about gathering round and trying to figure out what on earth the little man and the umbrella are supposed to represent, and this can produce some good times and some good laughs. 

It’s not just the cards that are well designed, the big hidy board the ghost uses to keep all of the visions and what location/suspect/weapon goes with which medium is perfect for keeping track of the game, and it even has a lovely piece of artwork on the front facing the mediums, there’s even a little clock stand for you to assemble to keep track of the rounds.

ghost-view

Playing as the ghost isn’t something I’ve even talked about yet! When you’re the ghost, you are basically in charge of the whole game, you’re responsible for keeping track of which medium needs what cards, and trying to find vision cards you think they can interpret. This can be incredibly fun when you see someone getting something you thought was really tough, or incredibly frustrating if they are not seeing the really obvious clue you gave to them. Sometime you just want to yell out, but you must stay quiet, otherwise the game is kinda ruined. It can be a little less fun than playing as a medium as there is a little pressure on you to keep track of the game and to come up with clues for the mediums to interpret, but it can also be great fun looking through all those cards and sending them out into the ether for analysis. 

Overall this is a great party game, it’s fun, it’s relaxed, it brings people together, it can be just the right amount of frustrating. This is the perfect game to dim the lights, light some candles and play some spooky music to on Hallowe’en.

 

My Top 5 Tim Burton Movies

Tim Burton has been wowing audiences with his distinct visual and story telling style or years, earning him cult and auteur status amongst his biggest fans. His stories of outsider characters trying to fit into society has touched the many people who also feel like they do not belong. He has become a voice for the freaks, the weirdos, the misfits.

I have been a big fan of Tim Burton’s since I was a kid living in a small village. A distinctly round peg, trying to fit in a very square hole, the stories of skellington men, the scissorhanded, and the plain strange were a great comfort to me, as I knew then that I as not alone in the world. Although perhaps some of his more recent films haven’t quite hit the mark (I’m still not sure what Dark Shadows was all about) his earlier work still endures and is as popular today as they ever were.

With Tim Burton’s latest release, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children right around the corner, I thought I would compile my top 5 favourite films of Tim Burton’s for your reading pleasure.

5) Beetlejuice

beetlejuiceIt’s the ghost with the most. Beetlejuice (Michael Keaton), the vile (but let’s face it, hilarious) human exorcist is employed by the ghostly Adam (Alec Baldwin) and Barbara (Geena Davis) Maitland to get rid of the terrible Deetz’s, who have moved into their home and taking over.

One of his earlier works this is full of that typical Burton style, there’s plenty of stripes, dark humour, wonky angles everywhere (especially in the ghostly government offices) a dark twist on suburbia, there’s even an early appearance from Jack Skellington, albeit it’s just his head on top of the merry go round Beetlejuice turns himself into. It’s a rip roaring comedy with some great set pieces and memorable scenes, not to mention a great calypso soundtrack.

 

4) Big Eyes

big-eyesThe most recent of Tim’s movies to make the list, this is based on the true story of Margaret Keane (Amy Adams). Margaret was an artist in the 60s, who met and married fellow artist, Walter (Christoph Waltz). After realising Margaret’s paintings got far more attention during shows he began to pretend the works were his own, keeping the lie going for years, making Margaret work in secret, even from her own daughter from a previous marriage. Eventually the lies and secrets take their toll on Margaret and she plans to break free from her captor.

Although there are many things that might seem like typical Burton themes, the horrors of suburbia being the biggest, though I would say that visually it is very different from a lot of his other films. It’s all about bright colours, and rather than a fantasy like setting Burton keeps it real and simply for his colour palette, costumes and settings. He also explores the theme of domestic abuse, though I felt that this came secondary to the main story and could have been explored more.

 

3) Pee Wee’s Big Adventure

pee-weeFrom the latest, to the first. Burton’s Debut feature from 1985, might seem like a silly film about a strange man child. Really though it’s a masterclass in taking the absurd reality.

Pee Wee (Paul Reubens) has the best bike in town, it’s red, shiney, and really, really cool. One day as he’s shopping for new bike accessories Pee wee’s bike is stolen! Oh no! As you can imagine he is devastated, and sets off on an adventure of a lifetime to get it back. Along his cross country trek he meets many different people who help him to his destination. Every person is weird in their own unique way. They have a dream of some kind that sets them apart, makes them different in some way.

It might not be a film that will teach you about the human condition, or help you to learn about historical figures that lived 1000 years ago. It will, however make you laugh like a 3 year old mainlining sugar, and will provide an excellent way to spend a couple hours of your life.

 

2) Edward Scissorhands

edward-scissorhandsProbably Burton’s biggest criticism of American suburbia. Though set at the time it was made, in the late 80s/early 90s the small community at the centre of the story often feel like they’re stuck in the 1950s, but in style and attitudes.

Edward (Johnny Depp) lives on his own in a big, creepy castle overlooking a pastel coloured community, one day a lovely lady called Peg Boggs (Dianne Wiest) wanders up to the castle, in the hopes that someone will buy her Avon products. Instead of a makeup starved housewife she find Edward, who she decides to bring down to stay with her and her family in their house. Though initially the new and unusual person is accepted by the community, though the tides turn when he does not want to sleep with one of them, and things begin to turn a little more sinister.

It’s a lesson on how suburbanites can often seem like good people, but the attitudes of the community can often be dictated by one person, and if you are not considered favourable by that one person then you do not have a chance in the community. The additional love story between Edward and Peg’s daughter, Kim (Winona Ryder) makes this a true modern fairy tale. This also marks the first collaboration between Burton and Johnny Depp.

 

1) Ed Wood

ed wood.jpgThis is my favourite Tim Burton Movie to date. It tells the tale of movie director Edward. D. Wood Jr, who was voted the worst director of all time in a 1979 poll thanks to movies such as Plan 9 From Outer Space and Bride of the Monster. If you’re not familiar with those titles, but you loved The Room, I suggest you look them up, they are a classic of the ‘so bad they’re good’ genre.

Starring Johnny Depp as the titular character this is very different from a lot of other Burton movies, there’s no campy, twee, yet twisted setting, there’s not even a Danny Elfman score (they had a minor disagreement at the time). It’s even shot in black and white, which gives it more of an arthouse and realistic feel. A large portion of the story is about how Ed is a transvestite, and about his acceptance from the people around him, this is dealt with with sensitivity and unquestioning acceptance. Most of all this is a story about one man’s passion to get his movies made, his movies are his life and without them he is nothing, yet he is always suffering setbacks and ridicule, but he keeps going, he keeps pursuing his passion no matter the cost, and that is why this is the best Burton movie.

My Top 5 Chill Out Games

One of the things I love about games is the mental challenge, they get the gears going as you set about trying to solve the beautiful puzzle before you. They make you stretch your noggin in ways you didn’t know you could by giving you all kinds of different scenarios and configurations to figure out before your opponents to be crowned the winner.

Sometimes, though, you want a change of pace. You just want to chill out. The other thing I love about games is how they can bring people together, you can have a few drinks and a few laughs whilst moving coloured pieces about and not having to worry too much of work too hard at building a long standing strategy in order to claim your victory.

With a chill out game it doesn’t matter who wins, it doesn’t matter too much about strategy, the most important thing is to gather people round and have a bit of a laugh, or just a nice relaxing evening together.

So get into a comfy seat, grab some snacks and your favourite beverage, and don’t forget to invite your friends for the top 5 games for chilling out with.

 

5) Last Will 

last-will-2Welcome to Brewster’s Millions: The Board Game. Your Uncle has died, Hooray! He has left you his fortune, but first you must spend a nominal amount (it changes from game to game) within  eight weeks, to get the rest of the beautiful bullion, because that’s how life works. Right? Right?!

So, you have to set about living the most lavish lifestyle you can, by buying big houses that you leave to depreciate in value, buying dogs and horses to train and feed, having many lady companions who you take to dinner and on boating trips as well as throwing stupendous parties.

It’s a great, card based game that allows you to go down many different routes, and try loads of different ways to get rid of your cash. The Edwardian England setting makes for some oddly amusing scenarios, and it’s always fun to try and spend as much as you can before time runs out.

 

4) Sea of clouds

sea-of-clouds-2Arrggghhh me mateys! Hop aboard my sky pirate ship and we’ll go hunting for sky booty!

In Sea of clouds you all play as captains of flying pirate ships, like you do. You have to work together to plunder the swag, but it also means that you have to share. Another card based game, the booty is three face down cards in the middle, you have a look at booty pile number one, and decide if you want it or not, if you do you keep it and replace it with another face down, if you don’t want it simply put it back and put another card on top, and move onto the next Booty pile. If you go through all three and don’t like anything, then you can opt for a mystery card taken from the top of the deck.

Every few rounds you all board each others boats and have a big fight, with the winner claiming loads of doubloons to add to their pile.

This is a great, quick game, perfect for chilling out to. It’s fairly streamlined without too much extra stuff going on, you’re looking at cards and deciding which ones you want. The artwork is also perfect for a chill out, as there’s lots of dreamy, floaty clouds about with a dusky colour pallette.

 

3) Roll For the Galaxy

roll-for-the-galaxyThere are some who might not think of this as a chill out game, the box boasts of a frantic game of dice rolling and worker assignment. In some respects it is. Though I have found it to be fairly smooth riding, and some of the frantic scrambling is often replaced with careful thought and consideration.

You start off with a few dice with funny symbols on them which correspond to different phases, behind your player board you roll your dice using your special coloured dice rolling cup (which are very cute and a lovely little touch) depending on what symbols they land on depends on where you can assign them and what you can do during the round. You can explore new worlds, you can produce a good on a world you’ve already explored, or you can ship a good you’ve produced (the shipping of the goods is where you win victory points).

It’s lovely space theme, cute coloured dice and little rolling cups make this an unintentionally cute game, at least for me. Recommended for anyone with a love of dice or worker assignment games.

 

2) Sherriff of Nottingham

sheriff-of-nottinghamA little more of a party game, Sheriff of Nottingham plays up to five people. It’s a bluffing game at heart as each player is trying to smuggle contraband with their apples, chickens and cheese into the marketplace to sell on the black market for a pretty penny.

Each player takes turns in playing to deplorable Sheriff, who is represented by neat little standee. You put the cards you want to take into the market in a coloured felt pouch and pass them to the sheriff, declaring what you have in your bag as you pass it (obviously not telling him about any contraband you may have hidden inside). The sheriff has to then decide if you are telling the truth, if he suspects you of lying he can open your pouch and confiscate your contraband. However, if you were telling the truth and the Sheriff opens your pouch, he then has to pay you money for the inconvenience! The winner is the person with the most points at the end of the game.

This is a perfect chill out game, as it’s all about the exchange between the traders and the Sheriff it makes for some excellent funny moments, as everyone gets a shot at being the bully Sheriff it can bring out a part of people’s personalities they might not usually show, it’s about people getting together and having a laugh. For me, this is one game I really do not care about winning, in part thanks to the convoluted scoring system at the end, it’s all about having a good time with my friends.

 

1) Ticket To Ride

ticket-to-rideI choo choo choose you Ticket to Ride!

This is one of the biggest selling games ever, it’s considered a modern classic that is soon to join to the ranks of Monopoly and Cluedo as a game that everyone has in their house for posterity. After winning the Spiel De Jahres back in 2004 it’s gone on to sell millions of copies and managing to draw in a whole carriage load of people who might have otherwise shied away from board games. Even my mother bought a copy of her own accord.

It’s simplicity is one of it’s biggest draws for new players as well as making it a great chill out game for more experienced hands . You lay trains down to claim a route and connect cities on a map of North America, most points wins the game. That’s it, the turns can go quite quickly, so it doesn’t take all night to play a game, it’s perfect for gathering people around, having a few drinks and just… Chilling out!

 

There we have it folks. All the ingredients you need for a chilled evening with some friends! Don’t forget the tasty snacks and drinks (alcoholic or not, it’s your choice!)

 

My Top 5 Studio Ghibli Films

Studio Ghibli has enraptured audiences since it’s inception in 1985. It’s produced some of the world’s most beloved characters that would give Mickey Mouse a run for his money. They have created opulent worlds full of magic, splendor and wonder. Most of all they have influenced and inspired almost everyone who watches.

For many they are the ultimate in Japanese anime, capturing Japanese culture and spreading strong messages about the preservation of nature. There are stories about loss and grief, stories about childhood innocence, about growing up. For myself they have been a big influence. I was immediately drawn in, mostly by the sense of magic that always seems to touch every single film, even those that might have more bleak story to tell, as well as the beautiful animations and captivating stories.

Here I’ve tried my hardest to pick just five of my favourite films that Studio Ghibli has produced.

5) Ponyo

ponyoWhat could be described as “Studio Ghibli does The Little Mermaid”. It’s about a little fish girl who falls in love with a boy. Her father tries his hardest to make her stay in the ocean, but the eponymous Ponyo only wants to be re-united with her friend.

That is really a bare bones description of the whimsy and beauty that lies beneath. Though Ponyo is clearly in love with Sosuke this is always portrayed as an innocent, or even platonic friendship. Compare this to the Disney version and it seems like a breath of fresh air. The characters are all adorable and you fall in love with them all. Especially little Ponyo herself, who’s cries for ham, a newfound favourite you can’t help but fall in love with.

This is a great movie that is a little more lighthearted than some other Ghibli movies, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t pack a punch.

4) Howel’s Moving Castle

howlBased on the novel of the same name by Diana Wynne Jones, Howl’s Moving Castle is filled with Ghibli’s signature magic and visual style.

I found this a very interesting watch. I have read the book, and it is very, quintessentially British, even down to a joke throughout the book about Wales. So I was very pleasantly surprised when I finally got round to seeing Howl’s Moving Castle and found it to be thoroughly Japanese. It manages to take all the great things about the book and put them through a Japanese filter, whilst somehow keeping a lingering sense of British whimsy.

A great film to watch as a family as there is something for everyone in here.

3) Spirited Away

spirited-awayNow we get to the one that broke all the records and really started to get Ghibli’s name out into the wider world. It was the first anime to get a mainstream release outside of Japan, it was the highest grossing film in Japan, beating the record set by Titanic. It even garnered the Oscar for Best Animated Feature.

Chihiro must find work in the magical bath house to save her parents, who were turned into pigs for their greed when finding a food stall full of food. She has to go see the proprietor, Yubaba and make her way through this new world she finds herself in. Echoing Alice in Wonderland, it’s about a little girl who finds herself in a world full of strange, wonderful things and trying to make sense of the world that makes where anything can happen.

This a true cinematic delight, the story of little Chirio constantly battling on and never giving up no matter how hard the task at hand might be will win you over and have you cheering her every step of the way. The animation is stunning, it’s hard to believe that it was all hand drawn in the tradition style, it’ll knock your socks off.

2) My Neighbour Totoro

my-neighbour-totoroTotoro is one of Japan’s well known and well loved characters. To the Japanese he is like Mickey Mouse every young child knows who he is. He has inspired countless pieces of fan art and merchandise around the globe.

It follows the story of two young girls, Satsuki and Mei as they move into a new home to be closer to their mother who is being cared for in a hospital. Whilst exploring they come across the giant nature spirit, Totoro, who is part giant teddy bear, part spirit, all a bundle of love and joy. It’s a tale of innocence and exploring your surroundings. He even calls his catbus to help in the search when Mei goes missing.

A great film for young kids to help capture their imagination and inspire them to connect with nature

1) Laputa: Castle in the Sky

laputaThe first official Ghibli film (Nausicaa was made just before Ghibli was formed, though it is included in their DVD collections). It was part inspired by the flying island mentioned in Gulliver’s Travels.

It’s an epic tale following the trials of a little girl, Sheeta, who is thrust into a predicament she could never have predicted. She is protected by a magical charm passed down through her family from one generation to the next. A charm that is much sought after by sky pirates and the military. She teams up with a young boy, Pazu and together they must unlock the secrets of the amulet while trying to keep clear of those with bad intentions.

It’s a film about friendship, and finding out who you really are and taking your place in the world. It’s a beautiful film and you’ll love the robots that appear towards the end of the film.

The Little Prince Review

One morning, whilst still in my pyjamas I plonked myself on the sofa and had a scroll through Netflix. I came across The Little Prince, and thought an early morning cartoon was just what I needed. Having never read the book it’s based on, I had no idea what to expect.

I was expecting a quaint little film about a prince going about his princely duties. What I got was a film about something every person has in common, childhood and growing up.

Straight away you’re drawn in with the beautiful animation and the perfectly gravelled voice of Jeff Bridges talking about how he was forced to abandon childish pursuits and grow up when only a young boy.

life plan.pngThe beginning of the film is about a little girl (Riley Osborne), being really encouraged by her mother (Rachel McAdams) to succeed academically, there is even a life plan for the Little Girl, planning her every second through the weeks, months and years to make sure she achieves, though exactly what she is to achieve is never really clear.

little girlOne day, at the start of the school holidays, the Little Girl is left to carry out her life plan alone, the next door neighbour (Jeff Bridges) starts his plane, causing the propeller to crash into her house, leaving a great big hole. After receiving a letter in the form of a paper plane later that night with the beginning of a story on it, she is compelled to ditch her studies and visit the old man next door. From there they strike up a friendship that’s a little like About a Boy meets Pixar.

planeThrough all the time that the little girl and the old aviator spend together he keeps telling her the story of when he met The Little Prince (Paul Rudd) and his adventures, and this the best thing about The Little Prince. It’s a story within a story. The story of the novella is neatly bookmarked between the sections about the little girl, who is trapped in her mother’s dream for her. It is through her time spent with the Aviator and hearing the story of The Little Prince that she is able to enjoy being a child and learns to play and have fun. She learns that books and learning are not the only ways to learn and grow.

prince and foxThe film separates the two different stories with different animation styles. The sections with the Little Girl are all in Pixar level CGI, with all the world around the two protagonists very square and uniform. The sections with The Little Prince use the most amazing stop motion, though it is obviously very modern it really harks back to those old 70s and 80s animated short films, and filled me with nostalgia. I’m a big animation fan, stop motion being my favourite and this was just beautiful to look at.

The story keeps you fully engrossed, though I felt it lost it’s way a little towards the end. I thought it just needed a little tightening, and it manages to flit between the two different sections throughout with ease and precision. I also found at times that it seemed to try a little too hard to be like a Pixar film, especially with it’s soundtrack contains little quaint jazzy numbers, and when it really wants to tug at your heartstrings. I would say that I prefered The Little Prince, partly or my love of stop motion and partly for the sense of wonder and magic held within them.

airplan

All the performances work well, which is a good job considering the great cast list. Jeff Bridges is probably my favourite as The Old Aviator, he manages to be just the right balance of childishly wise and childishly silly, it’s like sitting listening to your favourite grandpa tell you tall tales.

Overall this is a beautiful film. It really explores the themes of childhood and how important it is to run and play and be silly, that books aren’t everything, with a little bit of loss, moving on and learning to be yourself in a world that wants you to conform to boot. I’m not sure if young children would sit through it, as it can be a little slow going compared to a lot of recent movies, but it is certainly a treat for adults who love animation, and great stories about childhood.

★★★★☆