Batman: The Telltale Series Episode 3 Review

As with all Telltale episodic games Batman focuses on a building story throughout the “season.” Start of course with episode 1.

 

batmanep3

 

The significant choices from previous episodes are reflected in the opening story summary and the first new scene heavily depends on the major choice made in Children of Arkham. In general this series seems to have the most significant and meaningful choices of all telltale games I’ve played, but I won’t know for certain until/unless I play through again changing some things. A lot of them (and a lot of the dialog choices) seem to have “right” answers though, as Bruce’s responses and actions can generally be kind or bitter.

The plot proceeds with interesting parallel developments and threats on multiple fronts. Some of things are a bit heavy handed, but they fit the growing narrative all the same. Like the previous two episodes New World Order has a good balance of investigating aspects, story, and action.

Pretty big surprise to end here, providing a pretty good payoff to one of the main mysteries. I can imagine a fair amount of backlash, but it fit with the story they’ve been telling and raises interesting possibilities for the rest of season 1. Halfway through and this remains a compelling play, albeit with a plot and some characters majorly at odds with normal Batman canon which may bother some people. It still feels like a Batman story though, and it’s a good one so far, which is what matters most to me.

Batman: The Telltale Series Episode 2 Review

 

batmanep2

 

Children of Arkham jumps right in to deal with the bombshell unleashed at the end of (episode 1 – see my review of that for general gameplay information). It’s an unexpected direction for a Batman story, and the implications are  quite interesting. Telltale is providing extremely different takes on some familiar characters, which gives the story a lot of freedom. But they’re also doing a great job of preserving core elements so the mythos and overall atmosphere still feel like a true Batman story. The focus continues to be split between the Batman and Wayne personas, making the plot nicely character driven.

At first the previous choices didn’t seem to be having much effect, but there are some huge ones in this episode that seem like they could have far reaching consequences. Very curious to see if that potential’s followed through on in later episodes. There are a fair number of shocks and twists here too, including an event that comic fans have been expecting, and I really like the way all the intrigue and mysteries are building. Wayne has significant ethical and moral dilemmas to deal with in addition to physical and societal dangers.

There are a few spots where I feel the quick time events are a little too unforgiving (specifically the ones where the right thumbstick and a target are involved), but they’re doable and the resulting instant deaths don’t rewind things too much.

The graphical environment continue to impress, particularly in the attention to details like the light marks from Catwoman’s swipe to Bruce’s chin from last episode staying visible on the character model. Little consistencies like that improve immersion greatly.

There’s a good amount of story and things to do in each episode to feel like a solid installment while building the overarching plot in a logical manner and providing clues and cliffhangers to keep anticipation high going forward. Really enjoying this series so far.

 

NYAFF 2017: Mrs. K Review

Last year at New York Asian Film Festival I went to a screening of the wonderful anime film Miss Hokusai. This year’s NYAFF is winding down and yesterday I saw the Malaysian action movie Mrs. K.

 

Note: I general try to keep reviews relatively spoiler free, but I will be addressing some general trends and developments in the plot here.

 

mrsk

 

Although admittedly previously unfamiliar with star actress Kara Wai, it’s easy to immediately recognize the experience and skill she possesses once she takes the screen. Her portrayal of the titular housewife with a secret past is nicely nuanced and shines in the early portions of the film when she’s confidently displaying a dangerous edge lurking below cheerful, comedic moments. If this is indeed her last action role, in a lot of ways is an appropriate one to go out on. Particularly affecting are the downright BRUTAL fight scenes, loaded with hatred and really feeling like the characters are trying to kill each other instead of the dance like choreography sometimes used that would have been horribly out of place in this film. They’re uncomfortable to watch in parts, but perfect for the story and extremely well done.

The acting is excellent in general, with the supporting cast matching Wai’s level in their portrayals of both friend and foe. I’d like to give special mention to young actress Siow Li Xuan, portraying Mrs. K’s daughter in a role that required a delicate balance of determination and fear. She’s does an incredible job and seems like a big star in the making. Her perilous situations and the accompanying danger is one part of the tense atmosphere the movie generates and maintains with intimidating villains, slow building dread, and harsh confrontations.

The plot is where I think the previously mentioned excellent elements are let down. Specifically in the lead role. The idea seemed to be a return to her old ways for the titular Mrs. K when her past comes back to haunt her. Several descriptions of the movie talk about “a woman who will do anything to protect her husband and daughter.” The problem is she’s entirely reactive in her efforts to deal with the threat (which she initially underestimates, somewhat causing the problem in the first place), and largely ineffective in what she does attempt. In a lot of ways she’s as much a victim as her kidnapped daughter. Yes, she puts up a hell of a fight at every turn and shows great devotion to trying to set things right, but her daughter is a hundred times more proactive in trying to get away than her mother is in trying to rescue her and the biggest hero moments of the film are given to Mrs. K’s husband (a gynecologist who’s only previous familiarity with guns or violence came from being taught by his wife).

I’ll stop there to avoid even more explicit plot details, but the story progression seemed off overall and changes to either a few of the resolutions or more explanation of why characters acted as they did would have done wonders. There were also few instances of the antagonists’ actions not making a whole lot of sense, seemingly for the sake of having a cool scene, and the pacing felt uneven to the point of distraction in places.

It’s a bit of a shame, as again things like the daughter’s personal arc, the visceral, brutal fights, and imaginative, striking visuals are excellent. And Wai’s performance as Mrs. K’s is fantastic. I just can’t help but think of how much better this could have been with some tweaks to give her more to work with and make the main character’s story and struggle as strong as the actress playing her.

 

Japan Cuts 2017: Tokyo Idols and The Tokyo Night Sky is Always the Densest Shade of Blue Review

Japan Society’s annual Japan Cuts Film Festival for 2017 started on July 13th and is running through July 23rd. My thoughts on 2015’s festival can be read starting here, on last year’s starting here, and on the opening film Mumon: The Land of Stealth here.

 

Tokyo Idols

 

tokyoidols

 

“This isn’t a fad. It’s a religion.”

Man, there’s a lot to unpack with this one, and a good deal of it is unsettling. Kyoko Miyake’s documentary of Japan’s idol culture provides a stark examination that is as fascinating as it is thought provoking.

Miyake’s camera and even handed approach isn’t judgmental when dealing with individuals and their stories, giving them room to share their views and answer questions as they see fit. But she’s more than willing to put subjects on the spot with pointed questions, and the general structure and flow of the movie provide a critical viewpoint.  She knows there are troubling aspects and issues to explore and lets a matter of fact approach to documenting her subjects bring them to light.

One of the most interesting things about the movie is how much there is to it. It continued past several seemingly natural stopping points to present numerous new layers for consideration. Using one idol’s story as an anchor throughout the movie while interspersing looks at other groups and fandoms gives her film excellent scope and structure . The narrative form is fantastic, with extremely powerful points often made in simple manners such as by translating select portions of the lyrics the idols are singing to their fans.

From an outsider’s perspective some of the scenes we’re extremely uncomfortable, even though things are set up to be safe for the performers. I’m tending towards the apparent tilt of the movie that there’s more negative than positive, but it presents a lot to think about on both sides. Comments from stars, their families, and fans as to the culture and what they think the positives are interweave nicely with societal experts’ comments about the negative effect they think it’s having on Japan’s society and gender dynamics. The careful tightrope Miyake walks along with her excellent sense of how to put everything together makes this a real gem.

 

The Tokyo Night Sky is Always the Densest Shade of Blue

 

nightsky

 

The Tokyo Night Sky is Always the Densest Shade of Blue, a story of two eccentric loners stumbling into each others spheres of existence was interesting but odd. The filmmaking is front and center in a way that often calls attention to itself. Characters’ points of view and emotional states are reflected with an often blurring camera, extreme close ups of object and unusually cut off frames, and even some sections of animation. Some of it works really well and adds a lot to the movie, and some of it doesn’t and simply breaks any building immersion.

The two leads (Sosuke Ikematsu and Shizuka Ishibashi) were excellent and their acting raised this above the interesting but uneven execution. They imbued their characters with something extremely endearing, major flaws and all. This wasn’t a favorite of mine, but I think I liked it overall.

Mae Young Classic Predictions

As a longtime fan of women’s wrestling I’ve been hopeful and excited with some of the developments over the last few years. Another potentially huge breakthrough is the currently taping Mae Young Classic tournament in the vein of last year’s Cruiserweight Classic. The participants represent a wonderful variety of styles, countries, and experience levels. The assembled level of talent is incredible.

I’m familiar with a majority of the field, and nearly half of them have previously wrestled in Shimmer (a fantastic Chicago based women’s wrestling promotion – find more information here).

The participants were not fully revealed until just before the first round was taped. As such there were no matchups to consider nor brackets to analyze until now, when half the competitors have been eliminated. Based on results from that first round there are now apparent brackets, and I’d like to take a shot at predicting how it will all turn out for fun. Given the circumstances however doing so will contain spoilers for last night’s round 1 matches. Here’s the place to stop reading to avoid them.

 

maeyoungclassic

I’ll be trying to predict what I think they’ll do, not necessarily my preferred results (although there really are no bad choices here).

——–

Edit 7/15/17: I’m not going to get into later round spoilers, but I will say the apparent brackets were not correct, so in retrospect this post is largely fantasy booking. Still interesting to see what I expected vs what came about though, so I’m leaving this up.

——–

Round 2:

1) Princesa Sugehit vs. Serena Deeb

This is a really interesting matchup, with an international veteran against a former WWE superstar coming out of retirement for the tourney. Either one is a solid pick to make someone look strong later by putting them over. I’m expecting a mini Brian Kendrick in the CWC story for Deeb, so will go with her.

Prediction: Deeb

 

2) Shayna Baszler vs. Piper Niven

The conversion Baszler’s made from MMA to pro wrestling has been incredible (as I’ve talked about here), and she has a great opponent here in the perhaps underrated Niven (who I know as Viper). The former’s MMA skills against the latter power and size should be a lot of fun. Seems too early for the MMA star to exit, so I expect Niven will come up short after a solid showing.

Prediction: Baszler

 

3) Mia Yim vs. Mercedes Martinez

This indie main event is perhaps the hardest to call. Both are excellent, experienced competitors, with Mercedes in the business longer and really on a roll lately but Yim also putting on the performances of her career and having perhaps a slightly higher profile due to her extensive time in TNA. It’s a coin flip really, so I’ll go with my personal preference.

Prediction: Yim

 

4) Rhea Ripley vs. Abbey Laith

I was originally thinking this would be an easy call in the former Kimber Lee’s favor, but as I research the newcomer Ripley she seems like exactly the kind of underdog that could go far (especially with Dobson and Kay Lee Ray gone already). And the solid Laith is destined to make someone else look good on her way out at some point…

Prediction: Ripley

 

5) Toni Storm vs. Dakota Kai

The former Evie is under contract and could really make a splash with a win here, but Toni’s a big enough name that her taking this one and putting Candice over in a big way and into the semis next would be a big deal. There’ll be time to build Kai (and get a match between her and Sane) later.

Prediction: Storm
6) Candice LeRae vs. Rachel Evers

Another tough call here. Evers is regularly in NXT and the daughter of Paul Ellering (although they’ve obviously chosen not to play that up much given the name change), while Candice is an indy darling and seems to be the Cinderella story outsider pick. I think there’s more upside to continuing Candice’s run.

Prediction: LeRae

 

7) Bianca Belair vs. Lacey Evans

Honestly no idea. Both are under contract, I’m not familiar with either, and whoever wins is fodder for Sane in the next round either way. I’ve heard slightly more buzz about Evans, so will go with her. This is a case where I think the opportunity and spotlight on both will matter more than the result.

Prediction: Evans
8) Nicole Savoy vs. Kairi Sane

This was one of my dream matches for the tournament, particularly after seeing Savoy wrestle a variety of Joshi talent in Shimmer. Savoy is another wrestler I’ve written about as a rising star and the sky’s the limit for her. But Kairi’s already there and there’s no way she goes out in round 2. The match should be incredible.

Prediction: Sane

 

Quarter Finals:

So these matches are of course all theoretical based on my predictions above.

 

1) Serena Deeb vs Shayna Baszler

Deeb will eventually make someone look like a world beater, and I think it’s Baszler right here.

Prediction: Baszler

 

2) Mia Yim vs Rhea Ripley

My gut and preference says the indie veteran should go over, but I think the upsets continue and Ripley shocks her way into the semis.

Prediction: Ripley

 

3) Toni Storm vs Candice LeRae

I think this is about Candice overcoming the odds and advancing to face Sane.

Prediction: LeRae

 

4) Lacey Evans vs  Kairi Sane

Kairi’s run won’t end before the semis at the absolute earliest.

Prediction: Sane

 

Semi Finals:

1) Shayna Baszler vs Rhea Ripley

The overachievement ends here, as Ripley fights valiantly but falls to Baszler’s ground game.

Prediction: Baszler

 

2) Candice LaRae vs Kairi Sane

The first match it feels like Kairi could realistically lose, but she won’t. To the finals she goes.

Prediction: Sane

 

Final

Baszler vs Sane

This is the match it seems the brackets are set up to give us, and it would be an appropriately fantastic end to the tourney. Either would make a great inaugural winner. As much as I’d love to see Kairi take it, I think like with TJP in the CWC WWE will go with someone signed during / as a result of the tournament, with the already contracted Sane coming up just short (which honestly won’t hurt her at all).

Prediction: Baszler

 

It’ll be fun to watch the result roll in and see how incredibly wrong I end up being. Hope every one enjoys the tourney!

Japan Cuts 2017: Mumon: The Land of Stealth Review

“I know everyone is expecting to see cool ninjas. These are not those ninjas.”

Japan Society’s annual Japan Cuts Film Festival for 2017 started on July 13th and is running through July 23rd. My thoughts on 2015’s festival can be read starting here, and on last year’s starting here.

Mumon’s home of Iga is a territory of mercenary ninjas who care little of anything but practice and pay, and certainly not about each other. Mumon’s among the best and greediest (in attempts to impress and satisfy his bride), and sees little value in anything outside his immediate sphere. But an ambitious warlord’s son’s hopes to complete domination of the countryside will have repercussions for everyone.

 

mumon

 

Not being previously familiar with the director nor the star, I came into Japan Cuts 2017’s opening movie without any framework or preconceptions. It’s an engrossing tale that both embraces and subverts the conventions of being a period piece and ingeniously blends a variety of tones, themes, and genres. It develops at a excellent pace, keeping things moving with humor and action while deeper themes and schemes are slowly formed and revealed.

The balance is pitch perfect throughout and the juxtaposition of intense, visceral scenes of drama and violence and a light touch of comedic moments. I was really impressed with how it all came together and with the heavy themes of money, duty, and what’s really important that were expertly woven within the overlaying war conflict plot and often over the top (and amusing) battles. Even some individual conflicts  turn on a dime from humor to poignant, unsettling drama seamlessly and effectively.

One of the key successes of the movie is that both sides of the conflict have characters with complex motivations and goals that change throughout as said personal considerations come into conflict and new points of view and information are presented to each of them. It’s wonderfully acted, with a handful of key people on each side anchoring the story and providing logical progression for each film’s major changes in direction.

Director Yoshihiro Nakamura introduced the film (including the wonderful quote I opened with), participated in a Q&A afterwards, and met with fans during the after party. He was friendly and approachable, and seemed genuinely excited to be there. His answers during the Q&A were quite interesting and gave some nice further insight into the film.

Really enjoyed this one overall. Great start to the festival.

 

Update: There is a Japanese translation of this review. Thanks to Junko Czerny!

Stonemaier Games’ Realistic Resources

In addition to an incredible library of games (Viticulture, Euphoria, Between Two Cities, and Scythe) with incredible production values, Stonemaier Games has produced a series of “realistic” resource tokens with the same high standards of quality applied.

 

Stomaiertokens

 

These can be used in place of standard pieces included in a variety of games to “upgrade” the gaming experience. These are high quality sculpted accessories, so while an extremely good value for what they are they are not inexpensive. They are also very well made and look and feel wonderful.

 

 

At this point there are a great number of tokens available of impressive variety. The original Treasure Chest contained realistic style pieces to represent common gaming resources in the form of gems ore, bricks, gold, stone, and wood.

 

 

Starting with the second wave of three sets the tokens got more diverse, and each had a general theme. Food Crate contained grain, meat, corn, bread, crates, and coffee beans. Resource Vault provided sacks, cloth bundles, barrels, yarn balls, steel, and water pails. Energy Box had oil drums, coal, trash, campfires, gas canisters, and uranium.

 

 

The next batch was available together in a slipcase and called the “Token Trilogy.” It was made up of the individual themed sets Adventure Atlas (treasure chests, potions, single and double edged axes, two types of scrolls, sleeping bags to represent fatigue, furs, and bucklers),  Gadget Guide (wrenches, ammo cases, energy crystals, med kits, tech tablets, and deflector shields), and Terror Tome (magnifying glasses, hearts, blood vials, cleavers, brains, skulls, and books). The details on these collections were particularly incredible, including traces of blood on only one side of the metallic bladed weapons, intricate seals on the scrolls, vein coloring on the brains, etc.

 

StonemaierAnimals

 

The most recent “set” is a group of animal tokens (sheep, horse, dog, pig, cow, fish), offered for purchase separately rather than boxed together as with previous tokens.

There are also pumpkin resource tokens now available for Stonemaier’s upcoming game Charterstone.

 

 

So far I’ve used pieces from the Token Trilogy the most, in games like Tragedy Looper, Scythe, and T.I.M.E Stories. That’s really one of the most appealing aspects of these: Stonemaier Games has gone to great lengths to ensure most of these are useful for a variety of games, so whatever’s in your collection you can likely find some that will get a fair bit of use. Top Shelf Gamer also offers sets of tokens grouped for specific games, such as a bundle of 20 each of wood, food, metal, and oil tokens for use with Scythe.

 

Overall these tokens are great accessories for board game enthusiasts and another series of extremely high quality products from Stonemaier Games.