Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A Demand For More Epic Board Game Movies

When I was growing up, I went through a minor phase where I thought the board game Battleship was the coolest thing ever. The gameplay, for those of you who haven't tried it out, involves a pair of players guessing the coordinates on an opponents' board and trying to hit the five ships of a fleet set out there. It involves a bit of luck and a bit of strategy, as players have to guess where the vessels are most likely to be. More often than not, it gets a little tedious as most games wind up sinking everything but the two-space destroyer and players spend turn after turn trying to hunt it down.

So it's a rudimentary naval warfare simulation where the main action is players sending white and red pegs into their opponent's board and tiny plastic ship models. It's good enough for a time passer, I guess, but basing a major motion picture around it doesn't seem like it would work. Hollywood must have plenty of good ideas floating around, after all, and-


Oh. Um...

Well maybe I'm jumping to conclusions. Battleships were long ago mustered out of navies anyway as fleets transitioned more to aircraft carriers and support vessels, so making a movie about a battleship could be a good look back at the days when these powerful dreadnaughts ruled the sea. Maybe it will unearth one of the incredible stories of naval engagements. Maybe it can do a modern version of the classic Battleship Potemkin. It could even just be a good documentary. Perhaps-

What. The fuck. Was that?

It kind of looks like Michael Bay got out of bed one morning and said, "Wow, my Transformers trilogy sure is a magnum opus of modern kin-a-ma. If only I could work in more battleships like I did in Pearl Harbor. OH I'VE GOT IT. I'VE GOT IT I'M A GENIUS..."

Except that's not what happened. Michael Bay might be kicking himself for not having this brainstorm, but Battleship is the project of director Peter Berg as well as writers Jon and Erich Hoeber. I feel a little bad about ragging on Berg, since he went to Macalester College (my alma mater) and because his filmography as a director and actor has a few decent things. The Hoebers have have written a grand total of three other movies, of which Red has done the best with a 7/10 rating on both Rotten Tomatoes and IMDB user ratings.

But even if this team has a few satisfactory credits under their collective belts, the trailers for Battleship still suggest it's one of those movies Hollywood makes every now and then to whet the all-American appetite for explosions. Even so, it's pointing the industry back to board games as an inspiration for movies, something I don't think has really been done since Clue. So with that in mind, here are my suggestions for more epic movies based on board games. I expect full credit and remuneration for any movies that result from these wonderful ideas.


An epic comparable in scope only to the Lord of the Rings trilogy, this tale might well have to be broken up into three films as well. Follow a couple of kids who get sucked into a magical land of tooth-rotting goodness to discover a world in peril. Civil war threatens the land, and King Kandy and Queen Frostine must stand fast against the growing army of Lord Licorice and Gloppy the Molasses Monster. Depending on the box office, there may well be room for a sequel hook in which the triumphant forces of good must face the terrible forces of Emperor Nutrition and his bombardment of fresh fruit and whole grains.


And you're going to have to take my word for it when I say I wrote all that before I read this article saying that they're making a movie and that's totally what they're trying to do.

Settlers of Catan

Stupid trash can shutting down my brickyard... (

A tense political drama, this movie would look at the tensions inherent among a group of colonists on the habitable moon of a gas giant. Things build to the boiling point when one group sends forces to occupy a rich ore-producing region in response to another group's efforts to build a longer road and corner the market on space sheep. Can the situation be defused, or will the corporate backers of the enterprise upset the entire thing in frustration?


In the not-too-distant future, mankind is caught off-guard when the entire planet is suddenly occupied by a mechanical army known as R.I.S.K., or Robotic International Sexy Killbots. It consists entirely of androids played by Summer Glau. Mankind must rally to take back Earth, striking where the Glau-troops are most thin, making risky journeys such as a transatlantic invasion of Brazil from Africa, turning Australia into a fortress, and resisting the urge to fight a land war in Asia until we are ready to do so. The movie will emulate Risk by having a running time as long as the average game, or approximately ten hours.

Pictured: the gist of approximately nine hours of the movie (


All right, I'm not even going to touch this one because there's a group that's already done an excellent job with a fake movie trailer. Though it does make me think about opening up a strip club called The Community Chest.


A drama in the vein of The Towering Inferno, the story would follow a skyscraper company trying to be the tallest building in the world. In their struggle to meet the challenge on budget, they start cannibalizing the lower floors to add onto the upper floors. During a party to celebrate the opening of the building, the unstable structure starts to fall apart and it becomes a race to rescue the people inside.

"Now get me O.J. Simpson to play a security guard" (


A hair-raising thriller about a crack police unit that tracks pictorial clues at crime scenes (because if TV shows are right there are plenty of more ridiculous teams on the law enforcement payroll). The prowess and mettle of the team is put to the test when a serial killer strikes, leaving sketchy pictures about his next destination and granting only a single minute of call time after the discovery of each clue to grant more clues about where he'll hit next. Much of the movie will be taken up by the killer shouting things like, "You already guessed panda bear! Three times! It's not a goddamn panda bear." And at the start of another call: "It was square dancing! How did you not get that?!"

The killer can't believe you didn't get "Lewiston, Idaho" (


An offshoot of My Dinner with Andre, this movie would be a two-hour shoot of two old men playing checkers in a park. Their conversation touches on numerous topics, like "What do the kids see in that darn rap music" and "Did you hear how the City Council wants to buy a new snowplow? They're out of control!"

Canadians get a little wild (

Friday, January 6, 2012

Double Feature Review: Rififi and Super 8


Synopsis: A thief, recently released from prison, joins a pair of comrades in an attempt to pull one last heist.

The bad news first: In my personal experience, there's an odd flaw that happens in just about every heist movie. It's always interesting to see the way people put the scheme together, but once they actually start carrying out the heist the pace somehow slows down. It's especially the case in Rififi, where the theft is carried out in near-total silence with some aspects occurring in real time. It doesn't really detract from the story, and it isn't a bad scene (it's what many reviews praise the most about the film). But the meatiest parts of the movie are certainly the sections on either end of the heist sequence.

The other is more of a nitpick. Aside from providing one of the characters with a lounge singer girlfriend, the introduction of the "Rififi" song does little more than offer a musical interlude to the first act.

The good stuff: This isn't too well-known a movie. If it were, it would probably be more widely regarded as a classic piece of French cinema. As it stands, it's already regarded as a classic of the heist genre, with such an effective heist plan that the movie was initially banned in some countries since it was such an effective primer for how to pull off a robbery.

The real strength of the movie comes from the characters. A great deal of information comes from a few decisive pieces of dialogue or the way a shot is framed, and throughout the movie some more layers are added to each person. It makes the film all the more powerful on an emotional level in the second half, when everyone has to handle the aftermath of the heist.

It might be better to pop this in without reading the description on the Netflix envelope, at least if the one on the envelope I received is any indication. It essentially gave away the entire story up until the last 10 minutes or so. It's a testament to the story that it's still fascinating even when you watch it like this. I'll just say that it's a masterfully done plot where the heist is a focal point but not the conclusion of the film as is so often the case.

Verdict: If you're a fan of heist movies and haven't seen this, it's a can't miss. Even if you aren't, this should be a story that will fascinate you.

Super 8

A group of teenage filmmakers witnesses a military train wreck and strange things soon start happening in their town.

The bad news first: There's always a bit of a risk putting a bunch of young actors together, and some are more capable than others. Even for a sci-fi movie, there are places where a suspension of disbelief is required. The spectacular train wreck in the beginning breaks pretty much every rule of physics, and the driver of the truck that collides head-on with it somehow survives.

Another minor gripe is that there are a few parts of the story that seem kind of vestigial, such as the introduction of a love triangle that goes absolutely nowhere. There are also times when the exposition can be a little clunky, including a film reel that unravels much of the mystery in one go. And without spoiling too much, the mysterious creature in this seemed to be a bit too much of a throwback to Cloverfield. They probably could have come up with more of an original design.

The good stuff: This was promoted and largely reviewed as a bit of a throwback to the classic alien movies of the 80s, a la E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. At its best, Super 8 succeeds in doing this. Some reviews I've seen complain that the movie tries to emulate Steven Spielberg to such an extent that it loses its originality. This might be true at certain points, but it also has much darker elements than the Spielberg classics. Overall, parceling out the story is very good. In both the human stories and sci-fi element, most things are revealed at a pretty good pace, keeping you wondering about things that are introduced from the beginning.

Even if the characters are sometimes painted with a pretty broad brush, they're still pretty memorable. The narrative makes it clear that there aren't really any heroes or villains, just people doing what they think is right or needed. It certainly doesn't play out like the more cuddly alien dramas of yesteryear, but that lends the story some more realism.

Verdict: If you only have time to choose between this or a Spielberg classic, go with Spielberg. Otherwise, this is a fun sci-fi flick to check out.