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Clayton Lin: Weighing In

Revelation 2017 Launch & Revelation Sneak Peek: Dave Made A Maze @ Luna Leederville- 10/6

Andrew Ryan

The Revelation Film Festival, for its 20th anniversary of its existence and has revealed (sorry) their largest ever program at the Luna Leederville on a fine Saturday morning, with the help of some of the city’s film-loving buffs (me including), who chipped some of their hard-earned fistful of dollars (and other currencies).

Some of the movies to watch for- Watch The Sunset- a locally made (if Victoria can be counted as local) thriller that focuses on the story of an ex-bikie trying to mend his ways after a life of crime, only for his past to catch up to him in one brutal day. For those looking for something more grim- The Girl With All The Gifts will give you just that- in which a group of survivors must trust an intelligent flesh-eating half-zombie, in a world infested with, whilst for something more uplifting- Patti Cake$ takes it- a story about a white working class woman who finds a talent in hip hop as a way to escape her bleak existence of meeting the rent and keeping the family home from being foreclosed. Another one to look out is Free Fire- a film that is firmly camp and action-packed in which two gangs engage in battle after a deal goes extremely badly.

In addition, the festival will feature several films from outside the anglosphere, including Farewell Analog (think Salaam Cinema except as a stand-alone story) and Brick And The Mirror representing Iran, whose filmmakers continue to produce thought provoking cinema whilst being at odds with their authorities

But the real (reel?) highlight of the program is the documentaries.

If music documentaries strike a chord within you- then you’re just in luck- with offerings such as Descent Into The Maelstrom (dibs for band name), which chronicles the adventures of Radio Birdman, a very ancient rock band. Like something that will warm your heart on a cold, cold night- Baxter and Me is for the dog lovers out there. For something more cerebral, perhaps you like to ponder the implications of man’s ability for destruction in The Bomb?

The Revelation programme officially opens on the 6th of July with the documentary Becoming Bond, which tells the story of George Lazenby- the only Australian ever to portray the famous spy James Bond on the silver screen. The well-known and well-travelled Travis Johnson will be hosting a Q&A session with the man himself on the 8th and 9th of July.

The festival itself ends on the 19th of July- so cinephiles, get your tickets!

Director: Bill Watterson

Starring: Meera Rohit Kumbhani, Nick Thune, Adam Busch

 

The people invited for the launch were treated to Dave Made A Maze, a very indie film from budget to aesthetic, and the by-word for a cool idea executed well.

Dave Made A Maze, is exactly what it says on the tin- the eponymous protagonist Dave (Nick Thune) is a 30 something slacker artist who has never finished anything he started, until he decides one day build a labyrinth, which he contrives to get trapped inside. Dave’s girlfriend Anna (Meera Robit Kumbhani) comes home to see the cardboard maze encompassing the entire living room, and gathers a rescue team involving Dave’s equally slacker best friend Gordon (Adam Busch), and filmmaker ‘buddy’ Lenard, who brings an entire film crew, with the intent on making a documentary out of Dave’s predicament.

A re-telling of a certain Greek myth, infused with the smorgasbord of 80’s movie references (including none other than The Labyrinth), Dave Made A Maze is a whole lot of fun from start to finish, regardless of age, and the video-game like nature of the plot is reasonably paced well. For those who’ve worked on a film set, the gags involving the film crew will provoke some laughs. Despite the quirky nature of the material, it isn’t entirely shallow either, with the adventure being more of a backdrop to exploring about relationships and self-actuation in a way Millennials would picture it.

The visual design of the film is its main draw, invoking that almost child-like aesthetic that is very colourful. There are a small number of scenes where it is entirely animated in felt and cardboard.

Dave Made A Maze is a fun little flick that can be enjoyed by all ages.

Screenings For Dave Made A Maze are on 14th and 19th July.

Adventures in Plastic: Warhammer 40,000- 8th Edition

Andrew Ryan

The Flesh Tearers (Space Marines) engage in melee against Tyranids.

The Flesh Tearers (Space Marines) engage in melee against Tyranids.

In the grim darkness of the far future, there is only war.

The Imperium of Man is beset on all sides by the mutant, the alien, and the heretic. Warp storms threaten to destroy thousands of worlds and billions of humans. The hordes of those who serve Chaos gods- traitor and daemon, threaten to descend and consume all of mankind. The Orks launch more WAAGHs!!! than they've ever done. The fey and arrogant Aeldari, watch ever closely, whilst their darker cousins, the Drukhari, launch swift and deadly raids on unprotected planets that enslave millions of all species and leave as fast as they arrive. The dynasties of Necrons are rising from their quiet slumber threatening to drown all under a tide of living metal.

In response, Roboute Gulliman, the Primarch of the Ultramarines has declared the Indomitus Crusade, with the aim of repulsing all the threats to humanity to once and for all destroy Chaos wherever it may lurk. Alongside his mighty countenance, are legions of Space Marines, those already in the front lines, and fresh reinforcements in the form of Primaris Marines. Alongside the Space Marines, are the Astra Militarum (Imperial Guard), who are the ordinary human soldiers facing the horrors of the galaxy with only ordinary courage. The agents of the Imperium help, in their mysterious ways, combating their foes in the shadows.

The long war has just begun.

For those who don’t know what Warhammer 40,000 is- it’s the grand daddy of tabletop wargames, by far Games Workshop’s most popular and best-selling product, on and off the tabletop. It’s iconic 'face'- the Space Marine (by the way, it’s trademarked, as a children’s book author found to her peril not long ago), is an eight foot tall encased entirely in armour, and armed with what is equivalent to a miniaturized rocket launcher, in the service of an intensely draconian regime that protects humanity from the others. To put in our frame of reference, imagine if we responded to today’s terrorism, not with hashtags and prayers but retaliation and pogroms.

The story of this brutal unremitting universe is told by 32mm models (which you can paint), dice, a big book of rules, and on the pages of its many, many novels, which have increased in quality (in terms of literature) to the point where the Horus Heresy novels (set ten thousand years before) could often be seen in the hands of 9-5 workers on the Joondalup line (and presumably other lines).

I used to, and still do, have a small collection of Warhammer 40k lying around- of Chaos Space Marines, which I thought were cool at the time, but as I learned more about game mechanics, they clearly weren’t the army for me- as I remember the experience of my poor deployment obstructing my entire army’s movement (and subsequently butchered piecemeal and wholesale). Edition after edition added more and more rules (and the books it came in) that were poorly worded and open to exploitation, and my interest in the game itself slowly faded, but I still bloody love this cruel, cruel universe.

But then 8th edition of Warhammer 40,000 dropped, with the accompanied gnashing of teeth amongst some long-time collectors. The Games Workshop company itself had a change in CEO in response to seeing plenty of red in their account statements due to competition against other tabletop games of its ilk, such as the extremely popular Star Wars: X-Wing (Fantasy Flight), and Warmachine / Hordes (Privateer Press), whose clear (and free) rules and streamlined gameplay basically stole the target market away. Warhammer had to respond to the competition, by firing the nuclear option, they blew up their existing games (Warhammer Fantasy Battles became Age of Sigmar, the success of which laid the template for 8th edition) and then rebuild the rules from the ground up.

The core rules of the game are now simpler (reduction from 60-70 pages to 12), with some significant changes. Firstly everything now uses the universal profile- stats like Movement, Strength, Wounds, Attacks for example, from the poor bloody infantry, to battle tanks and big giant monsters. When vehicles take more wounds, they become less capable, to represent targeting systems and engines failing, which replaced the old damage chart and armor system, which was very binary- either the vehicle dies the first time it gets shot at or it comes out of a full barrage with just a scratch- and can be confusing as it operates on a different angle. The game also made other tiny little changes that made more common sense (in context)- such as your units dropping in from the air arriving delivering death from above in close combat can be done on the turn they arrive, rather than taking a short coffee break first before getting to work. In addition, the rest of the rules are free and accessible online on the day of release, which is handy for the wallet (considering our state is pretty high up there on unemployment charts).

To put it in short, things kill faster and die just as fast, as this universe is meant to be.

The contents of Dark Imperium. Paint sold separately.

The contents of Dark Imperium. Paint sold separately.

With the new edition, comes the big introductory box set, titled Dark Imperium, at about $220, containing two pre-built starter armies- Primaris Marines- Space marines that are harder, faster, better, stronger, and the Death Guard, the bad Chaos Space Marines who spread disease wherever they go, complete with the full and proper rulebook that you can buy separately, as well rulers and dice. $130 is for the models, which are jaw-droppingly crisp, which I got to look at whilst at Games Workshop in Carillon City on Saturday (when the box could be pre-ordered). Previous starter boxes had fewer models and a trimmed down paperback rulebook, so this is a step up. Not that I’m getting a box because neither force interests me.

I ran a test game with my brother, playing at 1,000 points levels. He took his Space Marines and I borrowed his Tau- and whilst I got blown to smithereens thanks to a daring if poorly thought out gambit, the game finished in one and a half hour (including delays for checking rules etc.), rather than nearly two and a half the last time we played using 7th edition rules.

That said, the new edition has given me a real compulsion to pick up some fresh plastic and pick up the paintbrush, and I haven’t done that for a decade.

Warhammer 40,000: Dark Imperium is released on the 17th of June.

Endgame @ State Theatre Centre

Andrew Ryan

Kelton Pell (right), and Geoff Kelso (left), stars in Andrew Ross' adaptation of Samuel Beckett's Endgame. Photo: Daniel James Grant

Kelton Pell (right), and Geoff Kelso (left), stars in Andrew Ross' adaptation of Samuel Beckett's Endgame. Photo: Daniel James Grant

Director: Andrew Ross

Presented by: Black Swan Theatre Company

Starring: George Shevtsov, Geoff Kelso, Kelton Pell, Caroline McKenzie

 

“Do not go gentle in that good night, old age should burn and rave at close of day. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

If anything sums up what Endgame is about, it is the above quote by Dylan Thomas, which one does not get to use too often. Existentialism and the absurdity of existence are common themes that run in Samuel Beckett’s work- one of Ireland’s great cultural exports other than a certain type of drink at the bar. From the man who brought us Waiting For Godot, something like Endgame would have been somewhere down the line.

Endgame is set in a world that is apparently depopulated, and all that is left is the four inside a refuge- Hamm, our main character, who is blind and extremely rude and ill-tempered. Clou (pronounced clough) is Hamm’s ever loyal servant, who also tends to Hamm’s parents- Nell and Nagg, who are extremely infirm, and therefore live inside a nearby dustbin. And Hamm feels that death is closing in on him, and rages and curses as his light fades.

For a generation used to a certain level of speed, the plodding, almost round-about and circular pacing of the play can be a major turn off for today’s audiences- this interpretation and presentation is intensely slow, even by the standards of a theatre, and it can certainly feel like it takes forever for the story to move, especially when the events on stage are particularly vague and requires lots of effort to keep up with. Andrew Ross’ Endgame doesn’t rely on the bells and whistles that are often present in today’s theatre, and instead rests entirely on the strong, if somewhat abrasive and exaggerated performances of a veteran cast- their antics delighted the younger audience at the back of the crowd, whilst the older audience seemed to have looked bored out of their minds. Consequentially, the visual and aural elements are kept to a very bare minimum.

Endgame is a solid piece of abstract, absurdist theatre, if you can keep up with the play’s pace or lack thereof, and the theme of mortality behind it. I guess the stark reminder of it can be a little terrifying, and consequently, rich food for thought.

Endgame runs until 11th of June.

Adventures in Cardboard: Magic: The Gathering- Game Day Amonkhet

Andrew Ryan

Between four sets of this cardboard based addiction, helping a player win two such events, I finally got to earn one. Goodbye blue Leela Patel Netrunner playmat, you have served me well. Hello, you Deem Worthy Ultra-Pro playmat.

I had been on a hot streak when it came to playing competitive level Magic. The week before, I was playing at a Premilinary Pro Tour Qualifier for Pro Tour Ixalan. In that room, I went red-hot, taking my own personal brew of a popular tournament deck called Mardu Vehicles, but in reality its less of a deck that revolves around Vehicles (of which there is only Heart of Kiran, of which I run 4 copies), than it is around just playing the best threats in my colour pie at every stage of the game. I made to top 8 of that event, and my prize packs very loaded with the best rares, mythics (I now have 3 copies of Gideon of the Trials) and one of those rare masterpiece cards.

The general gist is my strategy is that Toolcraft Exemplar, Heart of Kiran and Scrapheap Scrounger begin the early aggression, setting up a fast clock on my opponent and pressuring them into finding answers or play defensively. However the above creatures are very flimsy and easy to answer as the game goes on, so to further press the advantage, I run Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and Chandra, Torch of Defiance planeswalkers which are difficult to deal with, and often finish off the opponent, and a pair of Archangel Avacyns to turn an otherwise deadly attack into a brutal counterattack on my end. Where it gets interesting is after the first game, where my 15-card sideboard, where I can choose to remain aggressive, or transform into a very different deck against other aggressive matchups. In essence, I am armed with a cardboard equivalent of a Swiss army knife.

So with this weapon in hand, a friend gave me a lift to the local game store. Good Games Joondalup is casual central, unlike its sister store down in Cannington, which is usually the byword for competitive. However on this particular occasion, everyone brought highly tournament-level goods. The challenge was on.

My first round paired me against Neil, who brought a four-colour control deck with all the good stuff, such as Torrential Gearhulk (the lynchpin of every control deck in this format), and other bells and whistles. The first game dragged on for ages, with both of us dropping threats and losing them not long afterward, before both of us simply drawing land turn after turn. He eventually dropped two Dynavolt Towers which generated enough energy every time he cast an instant spell (and a control deck is packed with nothing but instants), so I recurred my Scrapheap Scrounger, and then I had to kill my own creature with a Cut, and then passed the turn, and then went for the hail Mary and cast the backside of Cut- Ribbons, which makes your opponent lose life, depending on how much you paid. I tapped out for everything and hoped that he did not have a counter spell. He did not. Game 1 took 35 minutes, so I only had 15 minutes to win this one, and I was on the draw. Fortunately, I managed to curve out into multiple creatures that survived for multiple turns and finished the rout with 4 minutes to spare.

Second round, I was up against Michael, who brought a Red-Green Gods deck, which featured two of the gods from Amonkhet as the lynchpin. In game 1, it was a neck-in-neck battle that ended with me stabilizing with Archangel Avacyn and then Michael topdecking a Glorybringer to win it for him. Game 2, I kept a range of 3 mana spells. For 5 turns I was desperately looking for a third land, and I looked at board state and simply called it quits.

Third round pairing, I was up against Dan, who brought a Blue-White Control deck, once again featuring Torrential Gearhulk. The first game, Dan was able to answer everything, then pulled ahead with a massive card draw spell in Pull From Tomorrow. I tried to fight back, but he had cards in hand, and I was top decking, and a single Gearhulk on his end beat me for multiple turns. In game 2, I did the usual beatdown and won in short order, whilst in the deciding match, my opponent made a couple of slip ups with his cards, and on one very fateful occasion decided to lean over and inspected my side of the board, unaware that cards were still in his hand, and I could see every single one of them. Now armed with that knowledge, I simply rushed through and go for the jugular for the win, though I had won long before that with a resolved Nahiri, Harbinger on board that could just invalidate Dan’s enchantment based removal spells, as Nahiri can simply remove enchantments on demand.

Fourth round I was against Rowan, who I knew, was a lover of Torrential Gearhulk decks. In game 1 Rowan, casted a total of 7 card draw spells and I couldn’t keep up with that. The second game was just a simply stomp for me as he never found his countermagic or sweepers. The third game was a bit closer, but between a resolved Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and a Chandra, Torch of Defiance teamed up together to create an insurmountable advantage.

the best 8 planeswalkers on that day. All laughing for some reason or another. Or no reason at all.

the best 8 planeswalkers on that day. All laughing for some reason or another. Or no reason at all.

With 3 wins and a loss, it was safe enough to just agree to a draw with my fifth round opponent. We joked about how intense and close fought that game was.

Down to the elimination rounds, and I was up against Dylan, who brought a Temur (Red-Green-Blue) Aetherworks deck. This was the matchup I feared most, and the matchup I geared my deck for the most. All Aetherworks decks are the same (as is all control decks really), in that their game plan is to cheat a big indestructible creature that ends the game on the spot on turn 4. In the first game, my opponent couldn’t muster the 6 energy needed, so I won virtually by default. In the second game, my opponent managed to cheat in big stuff not via Aetherworks, but by a Champion of Rhonas putting in it from his hand (less damaging but still enough to win) an Ulamog, Ceaseless Hunger which I topdecked non-destruction removal for, and a Void Winnower (which screws over decks relying on even numbered mana costs such as 0s, 2s and 4s) which did win the game for him. In the third game, he didn’t find the wheel, but did survive long enough to play a Nissa’s Renewal, tapping out for Void Winnower the following turn. I had to sit back, calm down, do a little math, and then realized I had lethal, by blowing up his Winnower with an Unlicensed Disintegration (it is a 3 mana spell thankfully), and swung with the team.

The next round was another Gearhulk deck, and I was kind of sick of it by that point. Game 1 he found removal, sweepers and countermagic and I couldn’t resolve a thing. Games 2 and 3 went the other way round.

To win the game, I got to play Rowan again, who had beaten his friend’s Mono-Black Zombie deck (one that I wanted to face, even though my own online testing proved that it was a favourable one for me). This time I didn’t even have to lose a game as Rowan lost to his own deck on both occasions; the first he had to reluctantly mulligan to 5 (which means I’ve already won), and in the second, couldn’t find red mana, which meant he had no way to remove already resolved threats. Combined with Gideon and Chandra again, Rowan extends the hand and the playmat is mine.

In addition for that prize, I took an Amonkhet bundle for free instead of $60 store credit. Note to self: Always take the store credit. With no big events down the track. Time to kick back and do a little detox- as this game can get unhealthy 

Look at this nerd with his big grin. This is why I hate photos of me.

Look at this nerd with his big grin. This is why I hate photos of me.

Clayton Lin’s Eurovision 2017 Impressions.

Andrew Ryan

Croatia's Jacque Houdek doing a duet with himself- some of the outlandish stuff that makes Eurovision what it is.

Croatia's Jacque Houdek doing a duet with himself- some of the outlandish stuff that makes Eurovision what it is.

Every year I partake in this ritual of kitsch, extremely bland and over-produced pop music, to largely get over the fact that living in Perth means you are quite privileged to listen to high quality music, so I watch this and sum it up so you don’t have to. Our fellows across the ocean are not so lucky when it comes to good music. But at least they do have fun- without further ado: in no particular order.

 

Australia: Strictly average. Strictly spartan bland. Winning the Eurovision don’t come easy.

Moldova: Epic. Sax. Guy.

Portugal: What should have been the wrong concert for the song, but yet took it down anyway.

Italy: Song has apparently intelligent lyrics lost in translation. Instead- look- man in ape suit dancing!

Norway: A budget version of Daft Punk.

Spain: Easily the worst. Both in music and fashion.

Azeribaijan: Lorde of the Caucasus. Chalk’s first appearance in a song contest.

Belarus: Hey-ho!

Bulgaria: Troye Sivan of the Balkans.

Denmark: Somehow Australians have a habit of being strictly average, no matter where.

Armenia: Beyonce of the Caucasus.

Israel: Gym junkie by day, overly energetic pop star by night.

Netherlands: A white bread version of Destiny’s Child.

United Kingdom: An example of why Britain shouldn’t automatically be in the final.

Ukraine: Eastern Europe does New Order.

Hungary: I want that hussar jacket.

Romania: Yodel + Hip Hop + Rock + Pop- this is peak Eurovision right here.

Croatia: Definitely a gentle giant.

Sweden: When you need to do a little work out mid-performance.

Greece: She’s pretty, but also pretty meh.

Austria: Cloudy, with a chance of meatballs.

Belgium: Don’t know what’s in the Flemish water, but they’re always good. Plus it’s pretty scary to be on the big stage when you’re seventeen. Props.

Cyprus: Isaac Newton does his head in.

Germany: Not quite the perfect piece.

France: Meh.

Poland: Has Poland got anything beyond women in white dresses singing love ballads?

 

That’s all 26. Remember Eurovision is mostly for fun, and much needed levity as that continent is having deep, deep issues of their own. As for us Australians, who aren’t even supposed to be there in the first place but got there because some of us love it (too much).

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Andrew Ryan

Seriously, someone needs to credit the artist here- couldn't find it.

Seriously, someone needs to credit the artist here- couldn't find it.

Director: James Gunn

Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Kurt Russell, Pom Klementieff

 

The Star-Lord and his crew, the Guardians of the Galaxy embark on another galactic adventure and raise blazing hell all across the universe.

Picking up where the first film left off, the second immediately goes straight into the action, where the Star Lord and his crew are hired to battle an inter-dimensional monster whilst hits from the 80s and the credits roll in the foreground (which form the basis of the film’s soundtrack more on that later) and Baby Groot (Vin Diesel). An action by one of their crew, Rocket Racoon, causes the military force of the planet to chase them instead, and inadvertently crash-landing on an empty planet where Peter Qull (Partt), the Star-Lord, meets his biological father (portrayed by none other than the Kurt Russell), who turns out to be none other than the lord and master of the entire universe.

Mind you this is a movie that doesn’t take itself too seriously, while still retaining an emotional core around themes of family (biological and otherwise) and fatherhood (themes that are somehow sneaking into all my favourite franchises these days- see also Mass Effect: Andromeda). It is first and foremost, a Marvel Studios popcorn film, with the twice the explosions and the amount of ships chasing the main characters, and as many running gags, cameos, and off-the-wall humour as it can pack within the 130min runtime.

That said on this note, it is a very entertaining movie, and if you liked the first, the second is more of the same, volume-wise. If you didn’t enjoy the first, the likelihood of you finding something valuable of the second is astronomical. The second film however digs deeper into the characters personalities’, most of whom in the first film seemed like cut outs of certain common archetypes, and a bit more slower, more plodding, than the adrenaline charged affair and less straight forward than that of its predecessor, but the action set-pieces remain epic to boot.

Visually, it’s a feast if a little on the bright and garish side of the aisle, and the effort and detail is lush for some of the worlds we see only briefly- that there’s a sense of imagination and wonder in its presentation of otherwise fantastical worlds, and the 80s hits soundtrack lend an air of levity to the proceedings. But ultimately you’re only watching this if you’re a real Marvel geek, or enjoyed the first movie (and often both reside in the same person), because at the end of the day, it’s very much feels like a throw-away movie (which to be honest, most are).

Oh and do stay for the credits.

Adventures in Cardboard: Magic: The Gathering: Amonkhet- The Limited Experience

Andrew Ryan

Round one- I'm the one standing. 

Round one- I'm the one standing. 

In the end, I decided to do a pre-release session of the new set, only because a friend offered a lift to the local card shop.

This is the one time where everything went right, and this time finally deciding to be satisfied with one session instead of getting greedy.

At 1:30 in the afternoon, on a sunny Perth saturday, I got to duly open the pre-release box, a little finicky to open than the ones made for Aether Revolt (and certainly not as thick). Inside, six packs for the new set, and a foil promotional card with the date stamped on it (22nd Saturday).

That promotional card ended up being Harsh Mentor, a card that was useful if your opponent activated lots of abilities, but in this format, it often ended just as a creature on the field that did next to nothing, and except sometimes swing. However outside this environment, it has lots of theoretical uses, especially in formats where activated abilities form the core of top level Magic decks.

I opened the rest of my packs, paying attention to the rares. One was a green card named Prowling Serpopard, which is a cross between a cat and snake (and is not merely a creation of nerds of the 21st century- it is actually a creation of nerds back in the actual Ancient Egyptian era), and then followed by a Mouth // Feed- a card with the Aftermath mechanic, which provided a hungry, hungry hippo when cast the first time, and when cast for the second, drew me a bunch of cards dependent on how many big animals I had on the field. All I needed was a second colour to go with it.

The all-star cast.

The all-star cast.

With that forming the centre of my strategy, I was lucky to have some big animals of my own, in the form of Desert Cerodons, Greater Sandwurms and Colossapedes. These were key to ending games in my favour by being simply too big to be killed in combat, forcing my opponents to hold back from attacking. Of course however to give me time to unleash the hounds on to unsuspecting rivals, I needed some early soldiers- as soon as I saw Khenra Charioteer, which was both red and green, an early enough drop that gave all my other units on the field to ability to trample through defenses, I settled on a red as a secondary colour, filling the rest of my team with warriors, be they human or jackals who provided the early aggression. To give me an edge in tight board states, I had two Magma Sprays to kill their weaker creatures and a Synchronized Strike, which turned up at crucial moments to save my warriors and even once improving one of my troops just enough to deal the lethal blow.

My pool was solid, but it was nothing fancy. The kids near the table where I was pulled all the stuff I wanted, as usual. The $50 Gideon of the Trials that I really wanted at the time (further testing in my own tournament deck proved that the acquisition was no longer necessary)

With the deck arrayed, it was time for me to start crushing opponents, or so I thought, when was I given a bye round. So I had the privilege of watching everyone else play.

Excuse the handwriting.

Excuse the handwriting.

After three rounds (best of threes) of extremely casual Magic, all the games I played ended in the same manner. My opponents could not do anything as I turned creatures after creatures sideways, first they were hit hard by the early attacks, and were forced to hold back in order to just buy additional time, and then simply finished off. The slaughter was indeed ruthless- with the score card on my nerd pad to prove it. I only took a total of 4 damage that day.

Adventures in Cardboard: Magic: The Gathering: Amonkhet

Andrew Ryan

Plains // Titus Lunter. The landscape this world is dominated by its ruler's horns as a monument to his power.

Plains // Titus Lunter.

The landscape this world is dominated by its ruler's horns as a monument to his power.

There’s a lately been a bit of a resurgence in Egyptian-themed media, from that really bad Alex Proyas film starring Jaime Lannister, or the upcoming remake of The Mummy with the ever-present American action-hero/really short guy Tom Cruise. Magic: The Gathering is ready to pile on the budding Egyptologists out there, with a set that smells like the Nile.

Amonkhet contains 264 cards to add to the ever expanding pool of the Magic: The Gathering’s metagame. It is the first set in that block, to be later followed by Hour of Devastation. Also included are the first 30 of the 54 extremely rare Masterpiece cards, titled Amonkhet Invocations, inspired by Egyptian hieroglyphics, which have been mocked widely for its unreadability and its garish colouring.

The story continues approximately 5 minutes after the end of the previous set’s storyline, in which the Gatewatch head over to this new plane, ruled by their arch-enemy, a powerful dragon lord named Nicol Bolas. These plucky rabble rousers end up starting a revolution in this world, as they did in the last world they set foot in.

Sacred Cat // Zezhou Chen This adorable kitten has has two lives with the Embalm mechanic.

Sacred Cat // Zezhou Chen

This adorable kitten has has two lives with the Embalm mechanic.

The set introduces to 2 new major mechanics, with 2 new minor mechanics, Embalm and Exert, both of which fit the flavour of the set. Embalm turns any of your creatures in the graveyard, either through death or discard into additional tokens (in all its mummified glory) that are exact copies of the original, complete with their abilities and keywords. On the tabletop, this means every creature with the keyword, is effectively 2 cards, and therefore quite conducive to long grindy strategies when the game goes down to drawing cards off top of the deck. On the other hand, the tokens are tokens, so if they get bounced back to hand they are effectively removed, and are susceptible to being pushed off a ledge by a Fatal Push, which was printed in Aether Revolt. Having two for ones is always valued in any competitive environment, and I wouldn't be surprised if some cards made it to established decks, or form a new archetype all by itself.

Glorybringer // Gregorz Rutkowski-  Glorybringer is one such with creature with the Exert mechanic, roasting another non-Dragon as it swoops in.

Glorybringer // Gregorz Rutkowski- 

Glorybringer is one such with creature with the Exert mechanic, roasting another non-Dragon as it swoops in.

Exert is the other key mechanic, and in a world where you are encouraged to compete to be noticed and be found worthy by this world’s five gods, each warrior ought to just try a little harder. Exert allows your creature’s attack to have an extra effect in exchange for not untapping the next turn. The extra effect ranges from situational, to generally useful, to game-winning- most of the generic card effects tend to be stapled to this mechanic. Exert is best abused with another keyword, Vigilance, which allows your creatures to not tap when they attack, allowing you to exert turn after turn, stacking all those tiny incremental advantages to a winning position. Whether the payoff is good enough at a competitive level remains to be seen.

Two other minor mechanics are also attached- Cycling, Aftermath and -1/-1 counters. Cycling is a returning mechanic and is very simple, but at the same time very relevant- you pay a certain amount of mana to discard a card and draw its replacement. You would use for example if the card in question isn’t relevant at the time, or the window of opportunity to use it is long passed. Aftermath is a mechanic stapled to the set’s split cards. You cast the top half of the card from your hand, but when it is cast from your graveyard, either by itself or through other means, the effect on the bottom half takes place- so it’s effectively two cards and I’m always happy to play it when I can. The -1/-1 counters mechanic weakens your opponent's creatures over time, until they wither away into the aether, but some of your own creatures also come in weakened by this mechanic itself.

What stands out most is the quality of the cards that answer threats on the field. For cheap removal you have a reprint of Magma Spray, that coincidentally removes the thing you hit it for good, which is the perfect answer to those annoying gits that come back from the dead. The addition of some quality countermagic in the form of Censor and Essence Scatter gives much benighted control players some extra tools in their fight against aggressive decks. Manglehorn, Dissenter’s Deliverance and By Force to hate out artifact-based strategies.

Rhonas the Indomitable // Chase Stone This guy is one of the gods, and hits really hard, whilst helping your other dudes hit harder.

Rhonas the Indomitable // Chase Stone

This guy is one of the gods, and hits really hard, whilst helping your other dudes hit harder.

Just because the answers are good, doesn’t mean the threats aren’t bad either. Gideon of the Trials is an adequate tag along for Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, whilst costing 1 mana less than his bigger counterpart. The world’s five gods- Rhonas (snake god), Oketra (cat god), Kefnet (bird god), Hazoret (dog god), Bontu (croc god), array themselves for battle and can do a lot of damage whilst being impervious to all mortal weaponry, but only if you meet their onerous conditions before they’ll pitch in, and each of them have an ability that helps achieving their condition. However give them a Vehicle and they’re happy to drive it for you in the meantime.

Initially when the set was spoiled, it looked unexciting, and largely this set isn’t as impactful as Aether Revolt, or Kaladesh, but then that was just a really good block altogether that produced enough cards that saw play in older formats like Modern and Legacy, which have an incredible card pool and where games are decided in the first two or three turns, so it's more of a syndrome of having too high of an expectation.

I might just play a pre-release to see how it all plays out.

Magic: The Gathering: Amonkhet is officially released on 28th April, but however pre-release is on the 22nd / 23rd of April.

 

Once In Royal David’s City @ State Theatre Centre

Andrew Ryan

Photo Credit: Phillip Gostelow

Photo Credit: Phillip Gostelow

Director: Sam Strong

Playwright: Michael Gow

Produced by: Black Swan State Theatre Company & Queensland Theatre Company

Cast: Jason Klarwein, Adam Booth, Penny Everingham et al.

 

The title is a hell of a tongue twister and a reference to an obscure Christmas carol that one may have never encountered in childhood, but don’t let that detract from a what is a very good piece of performance theatre.

Once In Royal David’s City is a story about Will Drummond (Jason Klarwein), an idealistic and at times pretentious theatre director trying to make sense of his life and his place in the world when he has to come to terms with the impending death of his mother, not long after he had lost his own father- and it is also Christmas time. To cope with these turn of events Will muses on the writings of German playwright Bertolt Brecht and Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto, and his faith in Christianity.

The play owes a lot to Brecht himself, to a point of homage, utilizing his style of staging- the ‘alienation effect’ often referenced throughout- where the actors would move props into the blank stage as the scene transitions, and frequently breaking the fourth wall to lecture directly to the audience. Whether the motifs of religion, Christmas and Marxism come too strongly is a matter of personal taste, though arguably one could point out that it is in character at the very least. There are also many moments of joy and levity that break up the heavy and somber themes that anchor the play.

The production aspects of the play looks and feels like money and effort has been put into it- even when one considers the style of the play’s staging. The aural aspects aren’t really utilized, aside from the background Christmas carol cheer (for the purposes of setting) and the pre-recorded choir tracks, but it doesn’t need to. The performances are excellent, and don’t miss a beat, given that each actor plays multiple roles (standard in contemporary theatre practice).

Once In David’s Royal City is a play with genuine, well-crafted, touching scenes, and ponders on the human condition, whilst not delivering it in a way that feels forced. Whilst to a good portion of the audience, the high art references may fly over heads, or find an introductory lesson in Marxism 101 a bit cringeworthy, it’s still worth the time to see the talent on stage.

(Once in David's Royal City runs until 9th of April)

Mass Effect: Andromeda

Andrew Ryan

Platform: PC, Xbox One, PS4

Developer: Bioware (Montreal branch)

Publisher: EA Games

 

At the start of the year, Mass Effect: Andromeda was highly anticipated and a lot of gamers were excited for. A couple of controversies (on a technical level, coupled with the hiring practices of the developer (a topic that will not be discussed here), knocked a little out of that wind. Now that it’s out there, its time to give it a spin.

For those not familiar with the original trilogy that inspired this title- the Mass Effect series, which consisted of a trilogy of games that told the story of John/Jane Shepard, humanity’s first Spectre (think Daniel Craig’s 007 in space), and eventual hero in the galaxy’s war against the Reapers, a terrifying, genocidal enemy. Mass Effect: Andromeda answers a what-if question: What if the series had gone in the vein of the first game (which had a more exploratory feel to it), rather than the eventual Battlestar Galactica + Star Wars mash up that it finished in.

ME:A is set in the Andromeda Galaxy, 2.5 million years away from our own Milky Way (in our timeline, we haven’t found Prothean artifacts or encountered/declared war on Turians), and focuses on the story of humanity’s quest for a new home in a new galaxy, 600 years after the events of the original trilogy. You play as one of the Ryder twins, Scott and Sara, accompanying your dad Alec, a Pathfinder (which you will eventually become) to this final frontier of the human experience as part of the Andromeda Initiative, a privately funded, Elon Musk-esque inter-species effort to scout, settle and colonize this new galaxy.

For all its faults (more on that later), ME:A is visually stunning, especially the alien environments it is trying to depict. From our first planetfall (and what an epic, kick-ass planetfall it was) we are treated to a skyline cascade of floating rocks (someone must have taken took a look at Magic: The Gathering’s Battle for Zendikar art book, and said we should have that). The combat is a massive improvement over the original, and is actually fun. For starters, you get a true 3d space to move around in, a la the developer’s previous title, Dragon Age: Inquisition. Secondly, they’ve finally done away with the arbitrary, strait-jacket, military specialization system, in favour of a supermarket, pick-and-mix approach to character builds to suit each player’s play style. I’m going to be a biotic god that will sweep like a great wind, and there’s nothing the game can’t do to stop me.

My own Ryder ready for duty. Somehow this one looks good, except under unflattering lighting. Also note racial diversity. 

My own Ryder ready for duty. Somehow this one looks good, except under unflattering lighting. Also note racial diversity. 

It’s faults- and they are stark, and immediately noticeable. Nearly 75% and upward is on all on a technical level. Facial animations- the subject of internet gamer culture controversy (and plus an unfair, detestable Gamergater rant), as well as shitpostery and .gif memes- are way off for a title of this magnitude. One could spend a hour taking one of the absurdly ugly face presets, salvage it and make it presentable, and then have it ruined the moment your character moves a muscle. Following on that, the game suffers from some pretty poor optimization issues across the board- for comparison The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt looks far better and run at a constant 60 frame rate per second, at extremely high graphical settings. And this is compounded by some quality of life issues- for example, the game’s ‘combat profile’ system comes to mind, which lets you save to 4 different configurations, with 3 powers each, and switching from one to the other as the ebb and flow of battle dictates. You know what would be better in a life-or-death firefight? Having access to all of it at once- I get that its extremely lore friendly, technically fluid and easier for the console peasants out there. Oh, and dear Galaxy Map, taking 15-20 seconds to travel from planet to planet in any given system, adds up to a lot of waiting.

The Mass Effect series has always thrilled, excited and inspired sound and score aficionados, and Andromeda is no different. The most iconic soundtrack from the entire trilogy is not anything from all the game’s most dramatic moments, but the humble track when you are exploring on the Galaxy Map. This track, from its first iteration to slightly refined and more harmonic layers as technology improves, remains an inspiration to electronic musicians across the world.

Though it may have tried to go where no game has gone before, and did not find its destination in safe harbor, Mass Effect: Andromeda is still a great, epic adventure and worth your money if you can bear with its faults.

Adventures in Cardboard: Magic: The Gathering: Preliminary Pro Tour Qualifier @ Stratagem- 12/3

Andrew Ryan

Two weeks of preparation, acquiring cards, frantically borrowing the last pieces on the day. Then watching livestreams of Grand Prix Barcelona and New Jersey, inspecting for any innovation at the very last minute. Turns out there were none, and there were only two decks on screen largely duelling for the honour of being the best deck in the tournament format.

I pictured myself winning the event, then flying to Sydney and Singapore, then top 8 that one, and then compete at the actual thing the tournament was meant to qualify for- the privilege to play against the world’s best Magic players in Kyoto.

This is what high-level Magic is like- fun, exhilarating, deep, yet incredibly frustrating.

I chose a very typical internet deck- sacrificing every ounce of creativity and originality in favour of proven efficiency- enter Red/White/Black vehicles. I’m still very much in the love with the colour archetype (on a purely aesthetic level), but now strictly about going for the dome, except the deck is also very capable of playing the long game and grinding them out with incremental advantage- the deck does everything. The deck is built around a solid core of low drops, backed up with four copies of what is arguably the best card the game has seen- Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. It makes creatures, it can do damage as a creature himself (which cannot be destroyed by conventional strategies). And when you really need to, give a shout out to the entire team, by making them all more hyped.

Coming in to this tournament, I had acquired a small reputation, on the back of winning a small tourney, a Grand Prix Trial (for Grand Prix Brisbane), a few weeks prior (Laneway was on that given Sunday- had I got media tickets, I would have been down there instead- though from what I’ve heard from friends who were there, the line-up was pretty low key). The prize for winning that was two byes for an event I couldn’t even attend- on account of not having the deck for it, neither being able to afford the airfare. No matter.

The store the tourney was also in some high stakes of its own. It needed more than 50 people to show up to be allowed to host tournaments like these. 60 showed up, and it got to keep its status. Also the Red Bull Wings team also happened to be there, handing out free Red Bull.

To begin the day, I had the privilege of facing the mirror match, against Adam (last names retracted for privacy’s sake). The first game was decided on me mis-sequencing a line of play, resulting in the loss of my own Gideon, and with that him winning the game. The second game was a bit unfair- I got to do my thing, all land drops turning up on time, whilst he got stuck at a critical part of the game (the first two turns), and there was nothing he could do. The third game was a tit for tat battle, but eventually I dropped a threat on the end of his turn, to which he did not have an answer to. 1-0

Round 2- I'm the one in the really bright red shirt, mercilessly destroying the guy seated across me.

Round 2- I'm the one in the really bright red shirt, mercilessly destroying the guy seated across me.

The second round was against a red/green/blue Dynavolt Tower deck, piloted by Brandon B, although at the time it didn’t look like it because Brandon never saw the namesake card. The first round was a run of the mill affair where I got to pressure his life total down to 0 without much resistance. The second round I sideboarded as if he was playing a control type deck, but dropping a creature that could go big and was resistant to any removal I played- my only response was to look at my card, look at my paltry board state, and just scooped and moved. The third game was a repeat of game 1. He saw red mana very late in the game, and he did not see countermagic at all, to counter one of my planeswalker cards from winning the game. 2-0

The third was against Luke, who is both a very good competitive player as well as a small business owner (that unsurprisingly involves selling cards), piloting the other top tier deck- Four-Color Saheeli. The deck simply plays things that generate value upon entry, and couldn’t give two shits if half the stuff died over several rounds of mortal combat, and would win by assembling a two card combo that would go infinite if the opponent could not cut it off or somehow disrupt it (in theory there’s like 10-20 cards that could, but most of them are also bad). I won the first, applying just enough damage before he could assemble the pieces together. Game 2, he didn’t need the combo, as he just beat me down with a swarm (the plan B made the deck from merely average to tournament winning). Game 3, Luke simply grinded me out of resources and eventually assembled the two-card combo. Also it was a bit unnerving to have about five to six bystanders crowding on my side of the table. 2-1

For the fourth round, it was the mirror once again- and against Connor, an opponent I’ve faced many times before (the record stands somewhere like 3 wins to me, 1 to him). Connor stole back the first game from me, with a Walking Ballista paired with Archangel Avacyn combo wiping out my board (Ballista has an ability where it can remove itself and deal damage to anyone, and Avacyn would flip if one of his creatures he died), then me being unable to answer it. I took down the second game by curving out perfectly- early rush of creatures, then playing a Gideon and having him finish the charge. The third game was both of us exchanging resources, until it came down to my live Gideon and his lone Thalia, Heretical Cathar- all she had to do was survive that turn. Unfortunately my hand was the most savage one I ever saw on that day. I dropped a Skysovereign, Consul Flagship, which is like one of those Starcraft battlecruisers, and splatted Connor’s Thalia out of existence (he lost to me recently in a eeriely similar manner).

The fifth round I had to win in order to remain in contention for the Top 8 cut- and it was against Tom, on red/green/blue Dynavolt Tower. Unfortunately I choked, with the dramatic moments of the last game still on my mind, at which point I had finally cracked under the pressure. For game 1 I kept a very loose, risky hand, which unfortunately did not payoff at all, as he assembled the namesake Tower and countered all my stuff. Game 2 I made another misplay that costed me the game as my opponent had the opportunity to stabilize. 3-2

The final round was a fight for the consolation prize, and I didn’t even get the privilege of the consolation prize. It was against Ben, who was on Green-Black Energy- a deck built around a card called Winding Constrictor, and the rest of the deck was small creatures and anything that could add +1/+1 counters which. In game 1 my opponent got to do his thing, and I couldn’t put any lasting board presence. In game 2, I won eventually when I dropped an Archangel Avacyn when he was on 4 life (which was the exact amount the angel would do). Game 3 was where I made the punt of the century, misplaying one of my key removal spells and chose the wrong target. The rest was cardboard history. 3-3.

At the end of the day, I felt really bad about the punt, and finishing 22nd out of 60. The only positive take-aways was my ability to win against my own deck in the mirror matches. I made the wrong call on the local metagame in regards to my choice of cards, and was rightly punished for it. Some cards in the sideboard, are now promoted to the main. Secondly my choice of beverages to bring for the day should have been tea rather than coffee. Red Bull also turns out to just clip wings when playing cerebral games. 60 people in a small space also made for a very noisy environment, surprisingly more so than an actual gig at The Bird.

one of the door prizes- the bundle of booster packs alongside this was already opened. I wouldn't have wanted to travel to Kuala Lumpur for that Grand Prix as my deck wasn't done yet.

one of the door prizes- the bundle of booster packs alongside this was already opened. I wouldn't have wanted to travel to Kuala Lumpur for that Grand Prix as my deck wasn't done yet.

As for what Perth’s card wizards brought, 16 were on the Red/White/Black Vehicles deck, spilt evenly between versions running Walking Ballista and versions that don’t. 7 players were on the 4c Saheeli deck, because infinite cats is a legitimate winning strategy, and a surprising 5 were taking Red/Blue/Green Tower, which was something I half expected to show up, but not in the numbers that turned up. 6 were on the Black/Green Snake decks, because it turns out a balance of power and affordability will always have its fans. And about 20 players brought decks other than the major archetypes, because we’re in Perth, and like our music scene, there’s always going to be players who go against the grain regardless of what the world tells them to play (the similarities between the Magic scene and the Arts' scene overlap, and sometimes in the same person).

And thus, for now, the dream is over. Alas. At the very least I was lucky (enough) to win a door prize.

PIAF: Mosquito Coast, Frankie Cosmos & Margaret Glaspy- 2/3

Andrew Ryan

As PIAF winds down, and the onset of a wet summer looms (the most dreaded of all summers). If it wasn’t for the fact that I was in area where free-flowing public availability of moonshine and overpriced street food, the sheer humidity would have convinced me that I was at a pasar malam in a nicer part of downtown Jakarta.

After establishing the fact that I was in fact not somewhere in South East Asia, and I was in fact still in Perth, I arrived at the Gardens just as Timothy Nelson and his motley crew were serenading the early birds that had gathered there (along with the airborne mosquitoes that enjoy basking in the warm, wet environs). Timothy Nelson is, to say, a very well known local personality for those who don’t know, and can be spotted a mile away with his big fluffy, bright red afro, and he sings songs that remind of you our windswept, sunburnt plains.

Warming up the main stage (which was probably already as hot af with all the lights and electronics) was local act Mosquito Coast (trivia- there’s a 1986 film of the same name starring a very young and strapping Harrison Ford). My first instinct was something along the lines of “please-not-another-West-Australian-shoegaze-band”, and as soon as they started, they sure were that, with the psychedelic rhythms, upbeat light hearted vibe, combined with the musings of the youthful and the innocent. Derivative as they were, at the very least their pop was decently catching to that I ended up unconsciously grooving (slightly) to, though some of the younger audience- a mistake I shall endeavour not to quite do again. Mosquito Coast are the perfect stage-warmers for any act.

Frankie Cosmos, may not be exactly my kind of jam, but with her irreverent, highly relatable witticisms combined with her lo-fi indie sounds that you would normally associate with that housemate of yours who has his own bedroom project- it’s not hard to see why she’s a lot of people’s favourite spread. New Yorkers do love our weather, and having to take off their winterwear on stage elicited one of those typical male responses (which is probably more friendly, lusty ribbing). Frankie Cosmos and band also used a little of performative dance during their set, which was slightly interesting so to say.

(Margaret Glaspy- Photo Credit: Rachael Barrett)

(Margaret Glaspy- Photo Credit: Rachael Barrett)

Margaret Glaspy came on to finish the night, and it was probably the longest and yet aurally rewarding set I’ve gone to, even the sweat was starting to really stick and the humidity was starting to make me fall a little asleep. Regardless of whether or not you like her brand of wispy, soulful rock, in the vein of St. Vincent and the National, there’s no denying absolute talent here, as if it was an actual quantifiable thing, and not a subjective opinion. Her set was just good in a very sublime way, that sounds and feels just perfect. Glaspy’s vocals carried the entire set on her own, running through some of the best hits of her discography, along with some covers of other artists, that were quite personal to her. It was a very intimate set (if somewhat overly long) for those who stuck all the way to the end.

After the end, I began my long sojourn home catching the train from the Elizabeth Quay (formerly the Esplanade), I somehow managed to get into conversation with one of the punters who was there. Both of us agreed that Glaspy was brilliant, and it turns out that this guy used the Cool Perth Nights gig app to service his weekend needs, and he in turn to got to meet the human face of one its writers.

PIAF: Jambinai & Gold Class - 23/2

Andrew Ryan

An evening of post-rock. Of grizzling rhythms, and the quiet, simmering anger, under a cold night sky. All sound, thunder and fury.

Gold Class was the first to warm up the stage. Think of the English band Sleaford Mods, except cross out Nottingham for Melbourne, and lose the grim, sardonic humour that only life in the British hinterlands could produce, in favour of something more dour, more serious. Gold Class isn’t mould breaking by any stretch of the imagination, but in their niche, they do it particularly well. It’s got the obligatory, angry vocals, and the low droning rhythms that always inevitably draws Joy Division comparisons (who remembers other Joy Division songs, let’s be honest?), though their drummer seemed to be performing at his peak. Their set wasn’t anything special to remember, but at least the lead singer came down to be amongst his fans. Other than that, Gold Class’ set was at best deserving of a silver medal- good enough, but not quite one to remember either.

Jambinai, a strange band, from a strange country better known for its pop bands, is on the other hand something special. From the moment of the geomungo and the haegum was struck, everyone knew they were going to be in for a real, spicy treat. The fusion between the traditional folkloric instruments of the East with the familiar technological stalwarts of the West isn’t just for show. It’s the heartbeat that which Jambinai pulses through. Each song passed from one to the next, in the manner of a stream of consciousness, but the feeling is that akin to an ocean drowning out all your senses (think of the ‘fear is the mind killer’ quote from Frank Herbert for a great visual imagery). The melodies build up from slow and finish to a haunting crescendo, with really rich layers beneath forming the soundscape. Unlike most acts from the West, no one in particularly really took centre stage- and not sure if its an artistic or a cultural thing, but rather the entire band kind of performed as a single unit, with the efficiency and unison of an E-Sports team (naturally the country’s other main export), and their ‘lead’ singer’s banter game was a bit stilted, but more due to the language barrier than being awkward, but with the few words that he did manage to communicate, let us know how lovely the Perth audience that came down, which we deep down appreciate (evidenced by the crowd cheering in reaction) . The end result is a product that one could headbang to- proving that post-rock truly swims across cultural oceans- whether East, or West, or a bit of both, they share a lot of similarities.

By the end of the night, my leg was pretty sore.

(Photo Credit: Daniel Craig)

PIAF: Forgiving Night For Day / Kishi Bashi + Teeth and Tongue- 17/2

Andrew Ryan

It’s not often I have to run from one end to the city to bask in the sea of culture that Perth International Arts Festival drowns the city in, but it’s usually well worth the trouble. It's the kind of deep body of water that it's fine to submerge in, and not swim back up (Though we must at the end of the day). 

The first thing I made a stop to was to check out the opening of Forgiving Night For Day at the Perth Institute of Contemporary Art. I haven’t been to an opening at PICA for a while (due to just not being in the city on any given Friday for the most part), and I’ve always liked the aesthetic of Capone’s work- from a previous Hatched exhibition, the exact title escapes me. The titular exhibition, is a poetic art work, delivered in separate videos across several screens, revolving around the Portuguese word ‘saudade’, which is a profound longing for an absent something or someone, usually with the knowledge that the object of affection will never return (Thanks Wikipedia!)

Contemporary art has received a sledging of its reputation recently, some of it warranted- at its mildest, its usually criticism of aesthetic merit or lack thereof. Such an accusation cannot be levelled at Capone. The installations themselves are beautifully arranged in the main gallery, with the lights off for effect. The videos depict fado singers (Portuguese folkloric music) in Lisbon, singing a poem that had Jacobus had written specifically for the work itself, as the sun rises and the day begins. The backdrop of the city itself, with its heritage-listed limestone buildings (and the modern panorama out of the picture), harking old-fashioned Occidental perceptions of Iberian culture, is simply picturesque (that said, I am a bit of a Europhile). I couldn’t hear the recitation itself, being the opening night and all, so that I would have to come in and check out another day when the place is nice and quiet.

Also there was cheese. I took one rather large slice, and it was rather salty, which is exactly how I like my cheese.

(Photo: Jacobus Capone- Forgiving Night For Day)

After that, it was a time to go all the way other end, bypassing through London Court, down to Elizabeth Quay (it’s actually the first time i’ve been down there) and hit up the Chevron Festival Gardens. Not that it look much like a garden, and it did feel a bit… tiny, but if at the very least it was festive.

Kishi-Bashi, the main act, came up first, which is not the usual run of things. The Japanese-American kicked it off with a few upbeat numbers from his latest album. At the heart of his set is the lovely sounds of his violin (which Kishi-Bashi played with great finesse), and that of his partner on his electrified banjo. Somewhere halfway during the set, the banjo player went on an electrifying solo that was immensely memorable. Then the band was given a break and it was all just Kishi Bashi, a violin and his keyboard, and belted out one of his more intimate tracks “Can’t Let Go, Juno”, to which the crowded sounded their appreciation of this part of the set, by correctly not making any noise at all. After this, it went almost 180, switching to an extra-noisy, high tempo beat reminiscent of J-Pop hits, complete with the seizure inducing light show. Near the front, there was a lot of stomping and dancing followed with literal shaking of the floor (the surface of the amphitheater was rather soft and prone to bouncing. This also caused some of the crowd to just straight out head for the exits. For those that remained, Kishi-Bashi asked the crowd what they would like him to play, with various answers, though Manchester seemed the loudest, and finished the set with that.

Melbourne party starters Teeth And Tongue came up to cap off the night, but the crowd already whittled down to the few stalwarts who chose to party on. It was a shame, though they were the perfect band for a crowded moshpit that never was, though Kishi-Bashi did enjoin himself amongst the crowd. From the get go, it was a non-stop avalanche of frenetic, pulsating dance beats fit for a rave. Jess Cornelius took a commanding presence, calling all the shots, though her banter game was a bit forced and awkward. Each song seemed like it flowed from one to the next, and overall, it was a great, fun vibe.

(Photo- Rachel Barrett- Kishi Bashi / Teeth & Tongue)

Lucidity

Andrew Ryan

Director: Michael Abercromby

Starring: Andreas Lohmeyer, Charlotte Davenport, Alex Malone, Shaynee Bradshaw

Lucidity is wacky, rambunctious, dishevelled, and that’s about all I’ll say.

It is a play about a very successful man, Alex, whose success is all about selling the ability to control one’s dreaming through a company of his own, the eponymous Lucidity, trying to come to terms with the loss of his beloved, and coping with it by dreaming his life away. Basic enough stuff. It mixes slapstick, and high-flying concepts into at least a coherent and consistent package, occasionally funny, occasionally serious, and nothing in between the two. The vibe that I got very much screamed like it was a “Fischer Price’s Baby’s First Fringe World Production”.

The staging is rather basic, and very sparse, it involves a lot of coffee cups, and mattresses and quilts, and not much more than that. The sound aspects of the production were largely ignored and under. The script and structure of the play is almost very light, and the pacing of the narrative is either going really slowly, or a hundred miles an hour. The performances are very energetic from each performer. The play could have done away with some of the dance routines, as it felt unnecessary and out of step with the rest of the story. The themes that the story touches on, are however, well-delivered without being too ham-fisted in.

Lucidity’s execution is at least decent- it’s not trying too hard to be unique, neither is it breaking new ground, instead choosing to tread familiar ground, and do the best it can. It’s the exact bar that one should use to measure any performance at any given fringe festival. Lucidity, in this case, is the bar.

Silence

Andrew Ryan

Director: Martin Scorsese

Starring: Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Liam Neeson, Ciaran Hinds, Tadanobu Asano, Issey Ogata, Yosuke Kubozuka

Silence is not for the faint of heart.

Silence tells the story of two Jesuit priests, Fr. Sebastiao Rodrigues (Garfield), and Fr. Francisco Garrupe (Driver) in their search for the whereabouts of their mentor Fr. Cristovao Ferreira (Neeson), who was last heard of doing the Lord’s work in Japan and the disturbing rumours of his apostasy (recantation of faith). The two arrive secretly into the country at the height of the extremely violent persecution of the Christians in the country, personified in the form of the local governor of the region, a high-ranking samurai Masashige Inoue (Ogata), who uses creative methods in order to break the will of the Christians.

This is a very deep and thought-provoking film, but it asks for our effort- for the most part the context maybe lost to a largely secular audience- and explores the moral ambiguities of spiritual faith and evangelic martyrdom (as my good friend Lyndon puts it- it can be odd to watch Qui-Gon Jinn, Spiderman, Kylo Ren and the King of the Free Folk debate on the topic). Scenes are sublime, yet brutal, and can be distressing at times, with scenes depicting extreme suffering, without any glory or honour.

The cinematography is beautiful, capturing the essence of the Land of the Thousand Autumns (The ‘Rising Sun’ moniker wasn’t used until the late 19th century) at its most picturesque, and at its grimmest, whether it is the rolling green landscapes or the festive atmosphere of Edo-period market towns. The score and the sound design are muted, and sparingly used, to give the film a meditative feel to the proceedings, but the strongest moments of the film, are the parts where all is silence, save for the sounds of crashing waves of the buzzing of native fauna. The subject matter is treated with a lot of respect, lacking in the moralizing tone that many other films would have been tempted to do- the amount of detail is staggering- from the scripture, to the set dressing, everything feels on point.

The only part I found grating was the heavily exaggerated Japanese accents, but with such a quality film on the screen, this was the least of my cinephilic concerns.

Silence is a truly beautiful film, that only asks you for your time and effort, and that emotional effort is worth it.

 

**

 

Historical context behind the film:

 

The history of Christianity in Japan began approximately in the early 16th century, with the arrival of Francis Xavier, a Spanish missionary belonging to the Society of Jesus (Por. : Societas Iesu- or otherwise known as the Jesuits). He initially sought permission from the Emperor of Japan to openly preach the Catholic faith, unaware that during the time, the Emperor was only a figure head and that the real rulers were the local daimyo (literal translation- great names) who ruled parts of Japan at the time, and constantly warred against another for the position of Shogun- the nominal, true power of all Japan. Francis Xavier never got his permission, as he was barred from entry to Kyoto, the capital. He found welcome however in the western parts of Honshu (the big island)

Whilst Xavier got the credit for opening up the possibility of proselyting and missonary work in Japan, it was someone else who would make a far bigger impact. Fernao Mendes Pinto, a merchant from Portugal, crash-landed his vessel in Tanegashima (in modern day Satsuma prefecture), Kyushu in 1543, and inadvertently introduced to the locals the arquebus, the grand-daddy of all firearms, when they got curious about the contents of his now wrecked vessel. The local daimyo were impressed by this new weapon, and got to work acquiring and producing as many copies of it.

Christianity and musketry were thus very closely linked, and often many a daimyo would choose to take up the religion of the foreigners (and to an extent techniques in metallurgy and armorsmithing) in order to secure more favourable trade agreements that invariably involved a regular supply of guns, bullets, and the saltpetre in order to make gunpowder. Many notable samurai of the late 16th century and early 17th century became Christians- the most eminent being the Konishi and Arima families, whose descendents could now be found in Brazil and the Phillippines. Once the local daimyo converted, it was also beneficial for the local populace to follow suit, creating a new generation of people relatively divorced from the native Shinto and Buddhist religions.

Guns transformed the Japanese battlefield almost immediately, proving their capability by mercilessly destroying the traditionally-minded Samurai still clutching tightly to their swords and bows, dying in the mud after being shot off their horse.

The persecution of Christianity began as the civil wars and struggles among daimyo waned, and the advent of the unification of the country itself under one ruler. Hideyoshi Toyotomi, was the second of these unifiers, banned the Catholic religion on the rumours that the foreigners were enslaving Japanese (the foreigners did indeed enslave Japanese, but not to an extent they inflicted in Africa and South-East Asia), and the policy was enacted legally later down the track by Tokugawa Ieyasu, who was the ultimate victor of the civil war, becoming virtually Shogun by winning the decisive battle at Sekigahara in the year 1600.

Christians were rooted out in many forms, with methods ranging from the relatively merciful fumi-e (in which Christians must trample on the image of Christ, and denounce their faith), to the extremely brutal crucifixions, and a method known as anazuri- hung upside down inside a pit and slowly bleeding to death- all of which are recreated in the movie.

From this point on, the only foreigners allowed to enter Japan were the Dutch, whose Protestant creed was less of a moral threat to the regime, and even then they were limited to a small port named Dejima, within the vicinity of Nagasaki. The order of things was only ended in 1854 when Commodore Perry of the United States arrived with an armada behind him.

Fringe-views: Grounded

Andrew Ryan

grounded.jpg

Grounded soars high amongst many a Fringe World stage performance.

Red Ryder Production fuses George Brant’s award-winning play, fusing contemporary practice common in the realm of today’s theatre.

Grounded focuses on the controversial topic of drone warfare, from the perspective of an unnamed female fighter pilot (Van Reeken), who is re-assigned away from the sky and onto terra firma, piloting drones, waging war that is 70,000 miles away from home, and yet 1.2 seconds away from it, without the threat of death (and the adrenalin that comes with it) hanging overhead for the members of the ‘chair force’, all whilst maintaining the suburban middle-class life with her husband and daughter.

By keeping the perspective on the topic from the point of view of one anonymous character, and not delving into the politics, it keeps the direction of the play grounded (sorry), and asks the audience to consider the implications that drone warfare has on the individual soul, and imagining the life of a person usually far removed from our own circles, yet not entirely out of the ordinary- the main character’s schedule of dropping a child off to daycare and then going to work (killing foreign men of military age) would be familiar to most.

The entire performance is delivered simply as a monologue, and constructed to be simply delivered by one person, as it was meant to be, by all accounts of other adaptations. The verse is simply sublime, and poetic, with plenty of religious and spiritual motifs recurring throughout, like the use of words like ‘angels’, divine wrath and other such cultural touchstones. Van Reeken carried the entire show all on herself, and did so convincingly, especially in scenes where she was piloting, with the deadpan, emotionless expression that characterizes a certain perspective of the topic.

The sound design was probably its weakest part- not that it wasn’t bad by any stretch of imagination, and noting some obvious creative choices- but on this aspect, it wasn’t inspired either. That said, the lack of extraneous sound effects helps keep focus on the quality of the verse, and the silence. The staging is rather simple, minimalist and effective.

All in all, Grounded is simply a very polished piece regardless of who is adapting the work- it asks our audience on a topic that is usually far and away from our own lives, into the realm of abstract moral philosophy, a refreshing change from the arts being about the here and now.

Fringe-views: Sophie Joske: Household Name

Andrew Ryan

A Sophie Joske comedy show is not your usual stand-up show.

Sophie Joske is a relatively new name on the scene, and yet, a relative veteran of the Fringe World circuit, having previously produced her breakout show How To Become A Functional Adult In 45 minutes, which was honestly laugh out loud funny, and very relatable to its audience.

Playing out to a packed audience, albeit, in all honesty, a small room converted out of a TAFE classroom.

The show’s basic premise is about Sophie Joske lampooning the typical mainstream comedians, and her desire to be a typical mainstream comedian (rich enough to not have to worry about living expenses), and on this note, it makes some hits, and yet makes some misses- I didn’t feel like there was enough of that part (or at the very least, in a way reasonably communicable to the audience), but it’s more than made up for it with the raucous, typical Sophie moments.

The jokes were rip-roaring good, delivered with the typical self-deprecation and self-awareness that is the trademark of Sophie Joske’s oeuvre, and then it falls slightly when she plays the ‘typical stand-up comedian’ aspect, which is more likely than not deliberate. Adam Peter Scott, the show’s director, also makes an appearance, being a part of the performance as much as he is the actual director, and the stereotypical show director that he lampoons on stage. From there on everything devolves into chaos, with shouts, curses and tantrums being thrown on stage.

The rather small stage, and the fact that its a TAFE room, did however detract a little bit from the atmosphere, and the staging very much looked like an average stand-up show, which again, may be a deliberate comedic choice.

Sophie Joske: Household Name is fun, and not meant to be taken seriously, and you have trouble trying to choose a Fringe show, at least with this one, you’re going to guarantee (some of your) money’s worth. It’s not as good, and as well presented as her previous show, which if you did miss it, was definitely shame on your part.

Sophie Joske: Household Name runs until 6th of February.

*I’m not the best when it comes to analyzing and critiquing stand-up comedy. Comedy’s not my best (spread of) jam.

Cardboard Crack: Magic: The Gathering: Aether Revolt: The Limited Experience

Andrew Ryan

So I decided to be greedy and bought two pre-release packs.

And it doesn’t pay off.

My first pool of the day started with me opening relatively shit cards from my 6 booster packs, 4 of which are of the new set, with a foil promo card, that was of course outside the two best colours that was in my pool. I initially tried three, but the likelihood of hitting Having to build around a Blue and White flying list is always a crap feeling, especially when the win condition- an Aethersquall Ancient (which I have a habit of somehow pulling), a big giant flyer but, are on the blue side, and are really slow. So I started out game 1 against a Black-White shell which I won relatively easily, albeit with a lot of luck on my end.

Then I moved into the second game and got slaughtered in less than 5 minutes, because my opponent has a Solemn Recruit that just ticks up and up (Revolt triggers are revolting) and nothing but drawing lands and other irrelevant cards in the face of a double strike beater that gets stronger and stronger. I scoop, then sat down, decide to look at the rest of my pool, particularly the Red cards in my pool, with a new strategy of going for a fast kill using cheap low-cost cards like Frontline Rebel, and my foil promo Kari Zev, Skyship Raider (which swings in combat with a pet monkey), and just simply playing a linear, straight forward battle. This strategy paid off in the 3rd round where I was able to rush down an opponent on a Blue-Red deck built around artifacts to rush out Maverick Thopterists, (it generates 3 bodies in the form of itself and two tokens, and has the Improvise keyword) and win by the barest of margins. And then I lost the fourth round to a Black-White deck because the other guy simply had Heart of Kiran, the most valuable (in monetary terms) card of the set (outside of the Masterpieces itself), and had better creatures than I had in my entire pack (my opponent’s pulls were just incredible), so it wasn’t an entirely fair fight.

Not satisfied with a mere 2-2 record, I decided to go for another one. A decision that I sort of regret.

Moving into the 2nd box, and opening my packs, and opened two mythics, both relatively rubbish, whilst everyone else once again pulls everything that I want (note that this was completely the other way round when I did Kaladesh pre-release, where I pulled good stuff all day). Once again not only was I in blue, the cardboard gods seem fit to give me another Aethersquall Ancient, so I built a Green-Blue deck, with a mix of quality creatures, and some spells that bounced cards back into the opponent’s hand, at the expense of speed. I lost the first two games, first one to play mistake and a second one due to also a play mistake. So once again, I said to myself, that I’d cut all the blue in exchange for the rather functional if mediocre red cards that I had in my pool, and went with that. That didn’t help me in the third game, against a Blue-White deck that had Exquisite Archangel (where if they would lose the game, they would get their life totals reset) as a win condition which turned up in both games- and my opponent had only been playing the game for one week (based on the quality of his play, and remembering triggers or lack thereof).

I managed to win at least one game, at the very last round, so 1-3.

At the end of the day, it’s simply variance, and I fell on the bad end of it.

(Pictured: First draft of my pool. Note also the wrong playmat for the wrong game)

Cardboard Crack: Magic: The Gathering: Aether Revolt

Andrew Ryan

The city of Ghirapur, in the plane of Kaladesh, is in uproar. The Inventor’s Fair was nothing more than a grand ruse for the Consulate, its oppressive and tyrannical government, to forcibly seize the fruits of the labor of the city’s best and brightest minds. In this volatile political climate, the Gatewatch, a group of planeswalkers of legendary power decides to throw their lot amongst the crowd and declare a popular revolt. Plowshares will be turned to swords as the now pissed-off inventors of the city turn their skills towards violent ends.

For it is time to take the power back.

Aether Revolt is the newest set in the extremely popular collectible trading card game Magic: The Gathering, adding 184 cards to the existing metagame, and adding 54 extremely rare Masterpiece cards. It is an expansion to Kaladesh and is meant to be used to finish off the entire cycle.

The set introduces two new mechanics. Improvise and Revolt. Improvise is a straight forward that allows you to tap any cards with the Artifact type to cast cards with the Improvise keyword, bringing powerful cards into play far earlier than expected. Revolt is a mechanic that improves the power of spells (with the keyword) providing you lose a permanent (usually a creature you control) on the turn you cast it. This mechanic is interesting in how it incentivises good sequencing of play in order to make the most of cards with the keyword, or knowing sometimes its better off to send your creatures to their doom for the greater good.

This new set, however drops on the day that the entire Standard format that the community had known for the last couple of months, would be obliterated with a new banlist that would be effective as of Aether Revolt’s release. Standard doesn’t usually see cards banned (the last banning being six years ago), which was a tacitly accepted part of the bargain for players who bought into the format, and reaction amongst the global playerbase is akin to a literal revolt, with those in favour and those against, each with arguments supporting their side.

Three cards were banned- Reflector Mage, who could bounce an opponent’s creature and then keep it in their hands (He had won me many many games int the past), which was understandably frustrating. I was about to get myself four copies of Smuggler’s Copter, which found itself home in practically every deck that wanted to attack head on, and then dig through their library and throwing out lands and other irrelevant cards to keep the aggression flowing. I was thankful for the money saved. Emrakul, The Promised End proved to be too much, with a flying monster that killed the opponent in more than one way (by taking control of their turn), there was no reason not to play any other big monster than this bowl of spaghetti bolognese. Wizards of the Coast did this in the hopes it would introduce more diversity in decks that are running around, which may or may not be anymore likely (my money’s on the latter).

So Aether Revolt’s impact on the tournament scene will be judged on how it operates in the new wild, wild West-like environment, and how the bans achieve the objective of seeing less frustration among players with the format itself.

I’ll be either getting down to a pre-release, or just picking up individual cards later down the track. Either way I am cautiously excited to play in this strange new format.