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Clayton Lin: Weighing In

Loot-boxes and Gambling: The Legalities

Andrew Ryan

SHINY.

SHINY.

Yes and no. No one can agree whether buying digital lootboxes constitutes a form of gambling and should be treated and possibly prosecuted as such.

What is a lootbox?- A lootbox are in-game items that you purchase (with real money) in video games, usually games that involve multiplayer, where it contains x amount of random digital objects, which range from cosmetic skins all the way to in-game abilities, and consequently an edge over those with not as much disposable income. Sometimes these objects are assorted in the order of rarity in which you get one ‘rare’ item guaranteed.

The purchases of lootboxes and other digital items- are collectively referred to as microtransactions- and they add up to quite a fistful of dollars.

The most egregious examples of lootboxes would be the recent game Star Wars: Battlefront 2, where the lootboxes contain items that give you an absurd edge in multiplayer games. Another game that is known to have lootboxes is the popular Overwatch, though the contents of said boxes are only purely cosmetic. Lootboxes could, with some technicality and a pinch of chutzpah, also be applied to online card games like Hearthstone or Gwent, with their booster packs as well their analogue equivalents for (children’s) card games such as Magic, Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh.

Whilst in itself, a product, the psychology of the lootbox, and the act of opening one is very similar to the behavioural patterns often associated with pokies and slot machines- the brief, high-pitched sounds and bright sounds that are often played as you open these, induces a certain stimuli in the brain that induces you to keep repeating it, and the ever-advanced innovation to keep the cycle going- or to put it less politely- chase the next high. There are plenty of unboxing videos out there on YT. There are enough stories (salt ought to be taken) of aggrieved parents wondering what happened the next time they checked their bank balances, because their children sneakily ‘borrowed’ their credit card.

Legality (Australian context)- in the context of Australia, Gambling laws vary from state to state. Queensland’s gambling regulator- the Office of Liquor and Gambling Regulations, have stated that loot-boxes don’t constitute as a gaming machine under their Gaming Machine Act 1991 (a hefty 566-page document) Victoria, or rather the Victoria Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation (VCGLR), on the other hand, seems to have a different mind- that whilst lootboxes constitute gambling, under the context of adding gambling functionality to non-gambling games- the VCGLR can’t actually prosecute the game developers, since they are a non-Victoria based entity but however the Victorian laws could be enforced if say, the game decided to market a specific lootbox deal towards Victorian-based players.

The Western Australian counterpart, the Department of Racing, Gaming, Liquor, has their equivalent regulation the Gaming and Wager Commission Act 1987/88- in the form of the Gaming. Examining the relevant clause- under Division 5- section 84, which covers on our government’s definition of what constitutes a gaming machine-

a) constructed, adapted for used for playing a game of chance by means of that gaming machine

b) a player pays (except where he has an opportunity to play without payment as the result of having previously played successfully)

      i) by inserting money or money's worth in the form of a token, ii) by in some other way

c) by the chances inherent in the action of the machine, determines the outcome of the game.

Considering this, my hunch is that lootboxes don’t particularly constitute gambling under the eyes of the law, using the QLD’s Gaming Machine Act 1991 and the regulator’s opinion.

But then again, I’m not a lawyer here.

***

Wordy legal-ese are aside, I do find the timing of the debate about lootboxes a little late and much of the language is couched in moralistic terms (which brings back memories of the early 2000s about violent movies and games). Lootboxes and pay to win have been quietly operating in the background for quite some time but are now in the spotlight.

That said lootboxes, and the way its pushed out, is in itself predatory. But in the end it comes down to players making the decision whether they want to buy or not buy. That’s where the law stands as far as it goes- the law doesn’t quite cover whether that the buyer in question is vulnerable to this subtle psychological manipulation- such as children and young adults (and you could say the same about the lonely and elderly when it comes down to slot machines and roulette).

To be able to stamp out lootboxes as part of the gaming experience would require new legislation, as the state of Hawaii in the United States, worded precisely against the sale of lootboxes to minors, as well prohibiting the mechanisms that encourage gambling. Further abroad- re-interpretations of the law could apply, as per the case in Belgium, where if you are paying real money with no clear idea of what you are getting, it could therefore be ruled as… gambling.

Say hypothetically lootboxes are in the gunsights, what about the analogue counterparts- you’d have to target them as well, as laws, by nature indiscriminatory and context-free. To use a familiar example- Magic: The Gathering has a format called Draft, and a format called Sealed, which are reliant on blind boosters to create gameplay. The gavel comes down and you’ve just wiped out two of the ways people can enjoy Magic.

The key takeaway point is that laws can never quite (and never will) match the speed in which technology evolves, as well as the social adaptation to the technological evolution; along with the fact that humans sometimes enjoy rolling dice or punting on horses; and that services that cater to this need are going to keep expanding, innovating and skirt the boundaries of any legislation.

In the end it’s all about self-control and being conscious and alert on how you spend that money, and keeping the impulse in check. Or a lesson for the young, with some reflection, to learn the value of saving money and delayed gratification after having wasted it on digital items.

 

*this read is not intended as a detailed and exhaustive analysis on the topic. For that it is worth checking on other sources on the mysterious thing that is called the internet.

Crusader Kings 2: Jade Dragon

Andrew Ryan

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From atop the porch of your keep, you survey the lands that you have claimed. The Silk Road, is indeed a dangerous place to be- Turkic raiders to the north, the settled Sogdian princes to the south, and to the east, the armies of the Heavenly Kingdom stand at the border, and you have done well to carve a small slice of it, and live to tell the tale.

Ruling is hard and age has begun to weary you- you hope that your physician’s treatments are working, and that your brother hasn’t slipped a few silvers in his purse. A cool breeze is fine weather to enjoy a much-needed rest.

The sound of heavy, rushing footsteps breaks you out of your reverie. His panting and the look on his face indicates that it is urgent, so you wake up, take a deep breath and follow your servant. At your court, which is thronged with various relations and other obsequious courtiers.

A man stands before you, in fine green, gilded silk, depicting dragons and other exotic, mysterious wonders and his hat is quite ostentatious. Behind him are men dressed in much plainer robes and donning. He bows in a way that you are not familiar with, but you let that go. One of his entourage hands him a scroll, and this emissary begins to announce extremely loudly in your mother tongue, in an accent that you find annoying, and wishing you could just put this insolent fellow to death.

The Emperor wishes for you to come to the Capital and demonstrate your subservience under Heaven. It would be wise for you to attend, and we will give our utmost hospitality.” he announces and then bows.

You are quietly fuming, putting your mind to imaginative ways of punishing this weasel. But your right-hand man, a man of low birth but loyal and honourable, soothes your temper.

I would advise it. From what I hear, the Emperor of that country does not hold insult lightly. Besides, I hear it is a beautiful and wondrous land.”

Ultimately you relent, and begin to think of how to enjoy a vacation to this foreign, strange land that you’ve only heard tales of, and bow to this mysterious sovereign. Ruling is hard, and perhaps you could use a good rest.

***

Crusader Kings 2: Jade Dragon is the latest expansion pack to the sweeping (a)historical epic that is Crusader Kings 2. The expansion adds the presence of the Heavenly Kingdom into the game and players may interact with China in many advantageous ways, or conversely China may interact with you in many disadvantageous ways should you somehow to contrive to wake the dragon.

Forging a good relationship with China is bound to bring benefits- measured by Grace, which you can acquire through the sending of gifts such as concubines, eunuchs (China’s a very good place for that annoying brother of yours who plots to take over your throne everyday) or your family’s precious heirloom handed down for seven generations. In return for such fine gifts, you can petition the Emperor for a boon, which can come in the form of weddings, or highly skilled leaders that can turn the tide of a battle, or scholars and governors that endeavour to enrich your realm for generations- or if you are feeling particularly devious, politely ask for an invasion on a nearby kingdom that’s about to gobble yours. However friendship is just an option. If so you choose, you may raid the Middle Kingdom for fun and profit, or to declare a real war against China to place one of your brothers (or other relations) on the Dragon throne, which will pit the might of your entire realm against theirs in a true clash of titans.

The addition of Jade Dragon makes playing the game outside of the bread and butter of Medieval Europe a more interesting experience, but not all realms can send letters to the Emperor. But for the meat-eaters and the bread-dipped-in-gravy types, war is a much easier affair as you no longer need to forge dubious documents to claim so-and-so’s lands; dispense the formalities and just march in with your men (historically- this is legally invoked as the ‘right of conquest’), though important people across the known world might not be so keen on adding you to the invite list for their next banquet after this- who cares about some feast when you got a nice, new tract of land?

Gameplay aside, aesthetic touches in the form of portraits to depict Chinese and Tibetan characters as well as some additional Oriental inspired musical tracks (that seems to have been inspired by wuxia epics), and the map got an overhaul, with the addition of Tibet as a playable region (I wonder what the modern Chinese would think) and the Orient being a much bigger and more dangerous playground for the budding horse lord or Silk Road prince. Jade Dragon is a wonderful addition if you’re a die-hard Crusader Kings fan (like me).

***

Historical Context: The Silk Road

The Silk Road has a long history that dates back for over at least a millennia. Kingdoms and empires come and go but the road keeps winding nonetheless.

The Silk Road dates back to around 317 BC, during the time of Alexander The Great’s conquests. Contact between West and East tentatively began at this point. Major expansion and boom occurred under the Han Empire in 130 BC, with routes being opened across the Tarim Basin and the Fergana Valley after defeating off barbarians in the region. With the expansion of the trade routes, merchants began to trade with the kingdoms and principalities of the area. Goods such as glass, horses were exchanged. Evidence was uncovered that Roman pottery could be found as afar as the Korean peninsula.

A second boom in trade occurred when the Roman Empire had taken over where the Greeks left off, around 30 BC, after the conquest of Egypt. Amongst the citizenry of Rome, there was high demand for Chinese goods, silk in particular (this is where the origin of the name would come from). As Rome fell, it was the Byzantines that followed. Contact between the Byzantine and Tang dynasty was common, if sporadic. The Silk Route would also come to contact with the Islamic world, exchanging cultural ideas along with coinage.

The Silk Road would reach its apogee at the height of Mongol rule (1207-1360). Safe within the largest Empire (by landmass) in the known world, trade flourished extremely as the Mongols valued the skills and arts of the settled peoples, despite being from a traditionally nomadic culture. It is around this time that Marco Polo would make his travels into China (though there is significant debate that he lied about all of this).

A French fresco dating back to 1380 depicting a caravan on the Silk Road.

A French fresco dating back to 1380 depicting a caravan on the Silk Road.

The decline of the Silk Road coincided with the decline of the Mongol rule, as the routes began to be separated by the warlords that the Mongols previously put down, and the powers of the area being culturally cut off from the rest of the world. Whilst the rise of the Ottoman Empire and the Persian Safavids salvaged some of its former splendor, it would never reach the heights of its past. A final death would occur in 1720 as Safavid Persia fell.

Even if the actual Silk Road as it existed died off, the cultural legacy of this long and winding route remained at large within the modern mind. The Eurasian Land Bridge- a railway that stretches from China to Russia via Kazakhstan and Mongolia is often referred to as the ‘New Silk Road’. There are currenly economic agreements between various nations to open a new overland railroad between Eastern Europe all the way to Asia. As of 2017, services are extended all the way to London, Paris and Milan.

Let The Right One In @ State Theatre Centre 14/11

Andrew Ryan

Sophia Forrest as Eli having a rare dinner. (Photo Credit: Daniel J Grant)

Sophia Forrest as Eli having a rare dinner. (Photo Credit: Daniel J Grant)

Director: Clare Watson

Original Story by: John Ajvide Lindqvist

Cast: Ian Michael, Sophia Forrest, Stuart Halusz, Rory O’Keeffe, Clarence Ryan

 

Let The Right One In has once been described as Romeo and Juliet… with fangs.

After all, two movies and a novel, and a TV series that didn’t pass the pilot stage can’t entirely be wrong. Now, it is told once again, on the stage.

For those who aren’t familiar with the source material, the year is 1981, and somewhere in the suburb of Blackeberg (though in this instance inha, a serial killer is loose, leaving a trail of cold bodies in the wake. Everyone is terrified, including Oskar, a shy 12- year old (played by a very much adult Ian Michael) who is constantly tormented at school by bullies. One night he has a chance meeting with a young girl named Eli (played by a very much adult Sophia Forrest, and they begin to grow incredibly close to one another.

The staging is unique, with the performance taking across 9 mini-stages designed to look like an apartment block, which is a nice, aesthetic touch. The apartment block stage also doubles up as a screen for the performance’s audio-visual elements, so the economist in me really appreciates it. The performances are decent at best- functional, if unremarkable. The on-stage violence did elicit more laughter than it did a sense of terror, although this may have nothing to do with the performance entirely. The play’s limited use of lighting grounded the scene with a sense of tension simmering throughout.

Why certain plays insist on having dance sequences to loud blaring 80s soundtrack eludes me, but the number of these in between scenes is very detracting to the foreboding mood that the play spends most of its runtime setting up (I know it needs to establish a 1980s setting, but I don’t think specific time and dates are necessary for this story- as the American adaptation attests)- and also would save some time. That said for the rest of the moments where effects are used are well done, and elicited some gasps of approval, such as the underwater scene.

Is it right to Let The Right One In into your heart and savour the theatre like it was pure, clean blood? It really depends on how hungry you are for theatre. The meal may sate, but may also not fill, so it’s worth thinking before you tuck in.

 

Oriental Treasures: The Promised Neverland

Andrew Ryan

Clayton web.jpg

It’s not often that I enjoy Japanese manga (oddly for someone who grew up with an Eastern persuasion- the things I enjoy from that part of the world can be counted on my digits). But when I do, I burn through page after page, from start to the latest chapter (or to the finish), usually in the space of half a day.

The Promised Neverland is one of those rare few. This series largely features on the weekly magazine Shonen Jump (marketed towards the 13-15 range in Japan), and is a breakout success for its writer Kaiu Shirai and artist Posuka Demizu- this series has been picked up for an English language release by Viz Media (who exists to bring the best of Japan’s cultural exports to the West).

The series follows the tale of Emma, Ray and Norman, three children amongst the many who live happily in an orphanage, until one day, their curiosity gets the better of them and witnesses something that shakes the core of their idyllic existence- that they are simply bred as premium quality, (free-range) food for demons that live outside. With that grim knowledge in mind, the three plan to break out from a place that has always been their home, and brave the unknown.

The most intriguing part of this simple premise (that could have been squandered by YA authors) is that the story is allowed to go at a very slow pace and the reader gets insight into the mind of the various protagonists, and even the side characters, as they set our their plans and counter-plans- there’s a whole Great Escape vibe that goes on, planned and led by pint-sized Steve Mcqueens. The suspense and word-building builds up slowly, as the reader (and the protagonists) find out about the strange and eerie setting, and any twists and turns the story takes are logical rather than left-field.

The Promised Neverland isn’t light on the philosophical themes- the story and pages are heavy on the concepts of existentialism- about what it means to be ‘living’ than merely existing, the battle between one’s idealism, pragmatism, and reality. All of this philosophy is often in the background to be unpicked by the reader and meditated on, rather than explicitly obvious.

The series itself is still ongoing, having only started August of 2016, but I'm liking the direction that the story is going, so I'll leave it here.

Where to read- Mangafox- a nice little portal for fans of the medium to enjoy works that aren't available in the West, translated by enthusiasts. Alternatively, an English release is expected in December 2017.

I Am My Own Wife @ State Theatre Centre 13/10

Andrew Ryan

Brendan Hanson in I Am On My Wife- photo credit: Daniel J Grant

Brendan Hanson in I Am On My Wife- photo credit: Daniel J Grant

Director: Joe Lui

Original Screenplay: Doug Wright

Cast: Brendan Hanson


I Am My Own Wife is a captivating and entertaining larger than life story about Charlotte Von Mahlsdorf, born Lothar Berfelde, who, as a transvestite, lived under two of history’s most brutal regimes- Nazi Germany and the communist German Democratic Republic (East Germany), and manage to survive it all through to the 21st century, long after the country’s reunification.

On its own, it’s already amazing, and that’s the essence of the tale that holds the whole thing together, regardless of how you may feel about gender politics- which whilst of some import, but doesn't entirely focus around it. Brendan Hanson does an impressive 36 different characters, from the eponymous subject, to that of the playwright, and of other minor roles, switching from one (mildly exaggerated) accent to another without catching a breath- whether or not you like that form of theatre- there’s no denying effort and talent here.

The staging of the play is rather economical, using a single stage to reproduce the feeling of different places, but the overall mood is intimate, fitting with the subject matter, and really engaging the audience with the core story. Narrative wise, everything feels compact, no loose and superfluous ends left hanging, and ultimately presents the eponymous person as a human being with all their virtues and flaws, and the more unsavoury parts of von Mahlsdorf’s history are highlighted. Whilst it’s a good play and well presented, it just meets about the bar of good, not anything special or particularly memorable- with the exception of Brendan’s performance.

On a tangential note, the play also serves as a nice ‘101’ class to modern German history, from the Third Reich to the days of the communist GDR and a glimpse of the tumultuous, uncertain years after the reunification- it offers a decent enough summary, putting in relevant details and leaving out ones that aren’t. It does rely on a bit of the audience’s knowledge of life under both regimes to fully appreciate the tale though.

Nonetheless if you’re looking for a warm, uplifting, inspiring story, on a night out in the city with not much else to do, than I Am My Own Wife will be right up the alley.

I Am My Own Wife runs until Sunday 29 October.

Blade Runner 2049

Andrew Ryan

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Director: Dennis Villeneuve

Starring: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana De Armas, Jared Leto, Sylvia Hoek

 

How do you talk about movie like Blade Runner 2049, a film that exists in the shadow of a classic?

Rave critical reviews and modest box office returns aside for a film of its ambition and grandeur, aside- Blade Runner 2049 is a great film that sets its own slow-burning pace. Whether it is cerebral or extremely pretentious can be entirely up to you.

Blade Runner 2049 is set 29 years after the original film (when Harrison Ford was in his prime), in which the world of the BR universe has changed greatly, but still very much the cold and bleak urban jungle which influenced the cyberpunk genre irrevocably, with works such as Ghost In The Shell, Cyberpunk 2020 among others.

Replicants have now been integrated into society, though they still suffer from discrimination by humanity at large, as a result of past history and conflict. KD-6 (Ryan Gosling) is a replicant who works for the LAPD’s Blade Runner division, tracking down those like himself and forcibly retiring them. A chance discovery on a routine case unlocks something buried deep in his memories, sending him on a personal mission to get to the bottom of it, and deep into a revelation that could possibly shatter the fragile co-existence between humans and replicants.

Regardless of whatever you might think of the film’s somewhat compact plot in which not really all that much goes on- but its presentation (both visually and aurally) alone is worth the cinema ticket- every scene and shot is painstakingly composed down to the tiniest edge, using lots of dark lighting and chiaroscuro, and in some instances flashes of extreme brightness. The music, by Hans Zimmer, spiritually harks back to that of Vangelis’ work in the original. The 180 minute runtime may be an issue to some viewers though, as is the pace. Gosling and De Armas provide their strongest performances, especially in scenes where both are present. Gosling’s portrayal of KD-6 humanizes 'him'- we get a sense of him as an individual who experiences the lonelness and alienation of his world. 

Blade Runner’s presentation of the future is always what makes it stand out from other works of science fiction- this is a city that feels lived in and yet at the same is dreadful to live in- and one that looks like it could be plausible in real life. The product placement that appears in every major film is made seamlessly part of the scenery, presented in all its neon glory in contrast to the grimy surroundings- and tiny details in worldbuilding, delivered in both picture and syllables is what sets it apart from tons of other universes. And as an echo to the first film, a scene in which KD-6 enjoys some rice in a poorly lit eatery (for those who’ve never seen Blade Runner- it’s the scene in which Harrison Ford’s character goes and eats some ramen). 

Blade Runner 2049 is a great film, if however not as ahead of its time and ground-breaking as it is the predecessor. You may want to watch the original film first in order to better fully understand the second though.

 

 

Kingsman: The Golden Circle

Andrew Ryan

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Director: Matthew Vaughn

Cast: Taron Egerton, Colin Firth, Julianne Moore, Pedro Pascual, Jeff Bridges, Channing Tatum

Runtime: 141 minutes

 

Normally, you would shake a tequila, not stir it.

The Kingsman franchise takes that martini and spins it multiple times like a fire poi wielder, and then serves it.

Mixogical adjectives aside, The Kingsman franchise riffs on the much more well known 007 / James Bond franchise, and does so with style and swagger, but a lot less serious than its counterpart, and the world the Kingsman resides in is more entertaining, colourful and larger than life.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle is very similar in the vein of Kingsman: The Secret Service, with an equally high-flying plot- Gary “Eggsy” Unwin (Taron Egerton), callsign Galahad, is once again called upon to save the world from the charming yet utterly ruthless drug baroness-cum-1950s housewife Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore), who leads a secret organization called the Golden Circle that has a monopoly on the world’s recreational drug trade. To make matters more difficult, the Kingsman organization is eliminated violently, forcing the remnants of the Kingsman to team up with their American counterparts, The Statesman (who by day brews the best goddamn whisk(e)y in Kentucky) in order to stop the Golden Circle’s diabolical plot.

Half of the fun of the Kingsman is the extremely over-the-top flavour that favours the rule of cool and this film is never short of the outlandish; from the crisp gentlemanly suits and the fanciful gadgets that Kingsman go to action in (and likewise for the statesman with all their cowboy paraphernalia). The performances are serviceably entertaining, with Pedro Pascual (who you may have seen as Oberyn Martell) is a whipper-snapping cowboy doing his best Southern Drawl. Julianne Moore plays a very weird kind of villain that switches between an extremely ruthless supervillain and then into a housewife persona at the drop of a hat (or sometimes in the same breath). Channing Tatum and Jeff Bridges on the other hand feel barely used at all. The plot is delivered in a reasonably paced, easy to follow manner, and it stays at the same pace pretty much all the way, and to top it off, there are plenty of explosions and decent sequences (though not memorable in any sense of the imagination).

The film’s soundtrack is a non-stop jumble of hits, some of which are by Elton John (who himself features in the film as a fictionalized caricature of himself), and usually out of place in more serious spy films.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle is a film you’ll enjoy, but it’s a decent fun caper at best, nothing special even within its genre. You’ll get your money’s worth, but exactly just that. No more, no less.

 

 

 

 

 

Adventures in Cardboard: Clayton Doesn’t Quite Win A Tournament But Comes Rather Close.

Andrew Ryan

The professionals to the left. The first-timers to this journey down the rabbit hole on your right.

The professionals to the left. The first-timers to this journey down the rabbit hole on your right.

To battle through all the way to the end and then fall at the last hurdle must be the most cruel, no matter what the endeavour.

Even if this endeavour is a card game that sometimes gets taken a little too seriously for its own good.

Prior to this tournament, I had to play a separate qualifying event, racking up just enough to wins to merely sneak in to be able to play.

Fast forward a fortnight, that seemed quite agonizingly slow- in truth I just wanted to get it over and done with, expecting to be torn to shreds, and leave me to enjoy a break from Magic: The Gathering.

Elsewhere, 3,000 kilometres away, two Aussie rules football teams battle one another for the Grand Final. But then I care very little for that kind of football anyway (The round one, on the other hand, sign me up!).

To start the day off, I got paired against Ciaran, decked in an Eagles guernsey ready to do battle with a Red/Green/Blue Energy deck that has become all too common in the tournament metagame. The first round was a tight battle but eventually he was able to stick a couple of a Bristling Hydra and a Glorybringer dragon that I knew I had no answer for, so I immediately packed up all my cards and moved on to the second game, opting to sideboard aggressively. In the event, I played my things, and my opponent got stuck on a two lands for a very long time and I won in short order. In the third, decisive game, I had to keep a hand full of lands and my own Glorybringer, and was punished for it and I wasn’t able to draw anything that could help me win the game.

To begin the day with a loss meant I had an uphill battle for the rest of the day. Fortunately I was given a bye round, which meant a longer time to get lunch. At any given Magic tournament, nutrition is the no.1 key to success- and the best kind of meal is anything packed with proteins, either in healthy forms (please let me know what these are), or more often than not, in unhealthy ones. Two pizza breads from the nearby Baker’s Delight, and I’m ready for round number three.

In the third round, I was paired against Ben, who doesn’t play the Standard format much, and it showed as I ran my Vehicles deck into a highly favourable matchup against a control deck. He draws nothing important and was forced to tap out for a board wipe the one creature in my field out of desperation. I win two back to back in the space of five minutes.

The fourth round was against another Energy deck, piloted by Michael, nearly the same as the first match, with some differences in technology (in this context technology means specific card choices that line up well against the other decks in the metagame). The very first game, I come rushing out of the gates and put such a fast pressure, with flying planes to keep pushing damage past. In the second game, siding into a much more slower, controlling gameplan, my opponent floods out and I eventually grind him out the game with overwhelming board presence.

After the fourth round, everyone took a look at the standings. Usually what happens here is that the top players look at the standings and do a little mental calculation if they could all just intentionally draw their games together to freeze out. However in this case, everyone had to play, since I and another were unwilling to risk losing out on being the top 4.

So the final, decisive, intense fell down to a match between Red/White/Black Vehicles vs Mono-Red Eldrazi, piloted by Armayne, who in his spare time alters cards (Card altering is where you superimpose a new image, or paint over the existing card), a matchup that I had in no way expected to be playing against, and was utterly dreading knowing that its faster little brother, Mono-Red Aggro, was the one deck I could lose to. I play out the first game, bringing Armayne down to 3, but then my opponent launched a massive counterattack that brought me down in 2 turns. I go aggressive on the second game, and this time I was just fast enough to bring it to a third game. The pressure is on for both me and my opponent, and the audience behind me got treated to a spectacle of a duel between a Chandra, Torch of Defiance planeswalker on both ends of the table. In the event I won the duel decisively and barely just making it through, putting me in the top 4 at the expense of my opponent, who had played well despite the outcome.

The finest magicians of the North- (L-R): Josh, Ciaran, Logan, some random nobody.

The finest magicians of the North- (L-R): Josh, Ciaran, Logan, some random nobody.

There was a brief moment of respite and celebration was given to the top 4 players- we got the official Good Games Magic Championship 2017 playmat (painted by frequent MTG artist Ryan Yee), and the right to represent the North in heading South at Cannington, in a winner-takes-all event.

The first elimination round was against Josh, who was once again on Energy. The first match ended in a typical victory I got to sequence perfectly. The second match however dragged on as both of us drew land after land after land, meanwhile an earlier Doomfall spell allowed me to know the entire contents of his hand, and had to bait out one of his counterspells in order to resolve a Gideon / Chandra (tournament was a weekend ago, exact details are sketchy) I had in hand, but in the event, it was Josh who made a play mistake as he removed one of my creautres instead of stealing it, and would’ve had a way to clear my Gideon. Not aware that he had made such a mistake, I cleared his last blocker and turned the Gideon sideways for lethal. Tense.

The pre-fight promotional photo.

The pre-fight promotional photo.

Before the final match, both me and Ciaran took a deep breath (and in his case, a durry), and played out the last round- to determine who wins a year of getting to play at the local shop for free. The first two rounds went exactly the way it did in the morning, but at the last hurdle it was a neck and a neck battle, and it came down to me missing crucial triggers (no-takebacks!), and poor decision making.

I block a small attacker with Archangel Avacyn.

Then Ciaran dropped a Skysovereign, Consul Flagship to destroy the angel, and from there all hope was lost as I proceeded to draw Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, on the turn I needed a boardwipe of my own.

At least he won a final of his own, unlike hos footy team.

At least he won a final of his own, unlike hos footy team.

Ciaran got to put his name as the store’s first Magic: The Gathering champion (the narcissist in me wanted my name on that plaque). I had to settle for second-place prizes and it was a bit of a tough pill to swallow.

In three weeks time, I’ll have to make the journey down to Cannington and play for the one big prize (whilst possibly being livestreamed)- to be flown to Melbourne to compete against the other State Champions at PAX Australia (the biggest gaming/technology conventions this side of the hemisphere), on the October 27-29.

If I do make it there, I’d like to hopefully flown in a week or two earlier to visit Melbourne’s vaunted cultural hotspots before I go into the arena.

Adventures in Cardboard: Magic: The Gathering: Ixalan

Andrew Ryan

All that glistens is... sometimes gold.  (Treasure Cove- Cliff Childs)

All that glistens is... sometimes gold.  (Treasure Cove- Cliff Childs)

Dinosaurs. Pirates. Battleships. Vampire conquistadors. Fish people. Zombies. Robots. Dinosaurs piloting Battleships / Skyships that pilot other Battleships / Skyships. Maybe a Zombie Robot Pirate Dinosaur. Or just a Pirate Dinoasur.

Yarrr, the possibilities are endless.

This is what the Standard environment will look like as soon as Magic: The Gathering: Ixalan drops. This set, the first of the second in this Meso-American inspired block adds a whopping 274 cards (no Masterpieces) to the existing metagame, introducing new types, and new rulings, new and returning mechanics- The new flagship mechanic is Enrage, where you get a generic evergreen effect if a creature with this keyword is dealt damage, and a returning mechanic in the form of Raid, where you get a generic effect if you attacked with a creature, regardless if it was successful or not.

Magic: The Gathering: Ixalan, Standard Format, probably.

Magic: The Gathering: Ixalan, Standard Format, probably.

Compared to Hour of Devastation (the previous set, which was by and large a disappointment), I’m wildly excited for this one, as it also marks the end of four sets’ life in the Standard format- Battle for Zendikar (the set in which I started my journey down this rabbit hole), Oath of the Gatewatch, Shadows Over Innistrad and Eldritch Moon. Sure I will miss slamming Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, a wildly busted Planeswalker ever since it was printed, but to be fair, I was getting bored of windmill slamming that on the table. Eventually all good things must come to pass, so the saying goes- the format at the tournament tables is a Wild West right now and hands are on holsters.

The story here seems to be set in a fantastical take on the Age of Exploration- so think fantasy Columbus, Pizzaro, Cortez, Blackbeard, and Francis Drake on an equally fantastical Aztec Empire where its people have apparently developed metalworking and the use of cavalry (unlike their historical counterparts). In this verdant jungle world the set’s actual storyline revolves around the planeswalker Jace (the stand-in for the typical M:TG player) who finds himself lost and unable to planeswalk away back home, due to something interfering with the magic.

As for the actual cardboard (let’s be honest- most don’t care too much about the story), the amount of spicy reprints is worth their weight in (metaphorical) gold. Opt and Spell Pierce provide new cheap spells that can be played on your opponent’s turn, whilst Lightning Strike can finish off your opponent who thought he was safe. Duress is a cheap and efficient way to look at your opponent’s hand and possibly strip away a vital piece in their plans- and that’s some of them. The new stuff is full of support for new types of decks that mainly focus on creatures that share an occupation or species- between pirates, dinosaurs, and merfolk, time will tell which one actually becomes competitive. And for those with already existing collections, the new stuff fits like a glove to a hand.

But between now and the release of this treasure trove of a set, I still have one more tournament to play, and then I may do a pre-release, or not, as I’ve been playing non-stop for more than is healthy.

Time to reel up the anchor and set sail!

Magic: The Gathering Ixalan will be pre-released on the 23rd- 24th September, before general release on the 29th.

Switzerland @ State Theatre Centre 22/8

Andrew Ryan

Photo credit: Phillip Gostelow

Photo credit: Phillip Gostelow

Playwright: Joanna Murray-Smith

Directed by: Lawrie Cullen-Tait

Starring: Jenny Davis & Giuseppe Rotondella


Switzerland is theatre at its most simplest and refined, eschewing all the bells and whistles in favour of good writing and drama.

The story of Switzerland imagines an alternate version of the real Patricia Highsmith, living in self-imposed exile in the titular country, nestled away in a retreat the mountains, whilst the world passes her by, no longer actively writing novels. Edward Ridgeway, a fan of Highsmith’s novels who works for a publishing company, travels all the way to convince Highsmith to write one final Tom Ripley novel, but gets more than he bargained for when he meets the real author, and finds himself in a battle of wits.

Switzerland is constructed as a simple two-hander, but within this structure, the twists and turns are genuinely engaging, as each character tries to break down and dissect the other. The build-up to the play’s surprising Shaymalan-esque conclusion is the bread and butter (and I suppose, wine?), even though the actual delivery of the final part of the play felt abrupt and out of sync with the beginning and middle parts of the story- a real, rushed let-down to be quite honest. The staging of the play itself is fancy, and luxurious, with every nook, cranny and thread taken account for. Overall, the entire vibe of the ensemble exudes class.

Special mention must be given to the quality of the language used throughout the play. The delivery of each word, and turn of phrase is what makes the entire ensemble very much worth watching. Hell I’d probably want to read the script alone. And with all ears on the words, there are very few aural cues and other sound pieces to distract the audience’s attention, allowing us to focus on every word spoken.

Switzerland is a fine piece of theatre. The sort of theatre that assures you of its future in the current era.

Switzerland runs until September 3.

Adventures In Plastic & Cardboard: Double Tournament Bender

Andrew Ryan

The attacking Space Marines find themselves attacked instead by the evil, treacherous Dark Eldar. Just one of the many action scenes happening at Objective Secured @ South Perth Community Hall on Sunday. (Photo credit: Mine)

The attacking Space Marines find themselves attacked instead by the evil, treacherous Dark Eldar. Just one of the many action scenes happening at Objective Secured @ South Perth Community Hall on Sunday. (Photo credit: Mine)

It was a bender alright. By the time I was finished with it all, I was extremely exhausted, having clocked about 16 hours of gaming.

First off the list was a Game Day for Magic: The Gathering: Hour of Devastation at my local card shop. The event had snuck up on me, being a week earlier than I had normally expected it to be, but nonetheless I spent a lot of time finding the best combination for my own deck specifically, the same one that I took to victory. However I come on to this event expecting a slightly more hostile metagame than the one I rode to success with- in a particular an aggressive deck that is faster than my own, and one that I had some trouble squaring up against- it’s simply a deck that plays one color and whose goal is simply to cobble 20 points of damage.

The proceedings go under not long after noon, opening up my first round against a Green-White deck focused entirely on cute kittens.

These furry friends however could not last against onslaught of jet engines and magical missiles as I finished that match with two back to back wins.

In the second round, came the mirror match against my very own deck. The first game may or may not have happened, as neither me nor my opponent could recall whether it did indeed happen, or things had happened so fast, I managed to steal the second game, and then it came down to a decisive third- and I was already shaking and jittering from having to play extremely cautiously and considering every move not to make a single mistake. In the end, I won the third game on the back of a Chandra, Torch of Defiance that was allowed to simply do its thing and eventually win on her own.

The third round I ran into Mono-Red aggro, my nemesis deck. I won game one by the skin of my teeth, and then my relief was short lived as I simply got run over in the last two. For the fourth round, I ran into a Black-Green counters deck, winning the first round with an extremely busted aggressive draw, and then switching over to my famed planeswalker-based control sideboard strategy, which worked for a very long time but my opponent countered with a similar idea, knocking out all three that I had deployed. In the end I simply lost by miscounting the amount of damage I did, whereas I would have won if I held on for one more turn. To cap off a pretty bad run, the final round was against a control deck, losing the first due to having too many lands on board and no threats, winning the second with an aggressive draw, and losing the third due to a combination of play mistakes and lack of aggressive threats.

In the end, all I had to show was a rather middling record and missing out on the cut to top 4.

With cardboard business done, it was time for the plastic business one. My friend Brian gave me a lift all the way up north of the river to the south to his place. I got in some practice of Warhammer 40k 8th edition, as a warm-up for the Objective Secured mixed doubles event that was being held at South Perth Community Hall on Sunday, and then spent the rest of the night touching up some models to have them in at least a respectable state by Sunday, whilst tuning in to the Overwatch World Cup.

I opened the day commanding a joint force of Space Marines supported by a blob of Imperial Guard infantry (think the doughboys in those World War I movies) against Dark Eldar, in a mission where me and my friend’s forces were on the attack. Well ostensibly we were on the attack, but as it played out, it was the Dark Eldar who surged forward and charged into the ranks of poor, bloody infantry. The tenacity of the infantrymen, with a little help from the mighty Space Marines, drove the Dark Eldar offensive back, but we went to the time, and so it was Dark Eldar who triumphed.

The second round has the alliance laying an ambush for another army of Space Marines with some Dark Eldar ‘friends’. Their objective was simply escaping through the blockade, whereas mine was ensuring that they did not. My plan to win this round was simply to shoot down the fast moving transports the enemy was in, nothing else mattered. A preliminary bombardment before the beginning of the game, helped remove a small infantry squad who happened to find themselves dead center of the blast, followed by an opening salvo from my long ranged artillery that knocked down several Dark Eldar vessels (or as they are often referred to amongst the boots on the ground as ‘cardboard boxes’). The plan was executed well, if not cleanly, and the enemy was slaughtered to a man as they attempted to escape the encirclement, though with many dead on my end as well.

The third round was a scuffle between Space Marines and another group of Space Marines and an Adeptus Arbites army (think Judge Dredd), and the scenario had both armies field only a small patrol from the get go, with the rest coming to join the fight. It was really unlucky for the opponent, a team going by the name Double Doug (both players are obviously named Doug) that my side got all its reserves in on the 2nd turn onward, whereas a full half of their army failed to show up, presumably enjoying too much Imperial-sanctioned adult entertainment. That and some sabotage on one of their flying gunships to ensure it would arrive too late to turn the tide. The brief moments of local superiority was all that was necessary for my alliance to triumph.

The final round’s mission was a classic trench run. A classic Pickett’s Charge against a well fortified Space Marine force, commanded by highly experienced generals packing heavy artillery, whilst a flanking force would slow us down. Initially my plan was simply to move towards the enemy’s deployment zone, running as fast as a leopard, but somewhere amidst the carnage, the plan was abandoned, and the enemy’s counter attack pretty much ended all hopes of victory.

Nonethelss I didn’t too bad for my first competitive event of Warhammer 40,000. My rather boisterous enthusiasm did not go unnoticed as my team was often picked for sportsmanship nominations. In any case, I was busting to get home and get some real sleep.

Coma Land @ State Theatre Centre 21/7

Andrew Ryan

Morgan Owen as Penguin and Kirsty Marillier as Boon in Coma Land. Photo: Phillip Gostelow

Morgan Owen as Penguin and Kirsty Marillier as Boon in Coma Land. Photo: Phillip Gostelow

Director: Will O’Mahony

Cast: Kirsty Marillier, Humphrey Bower, Morgan Owen, Ben Sutton, Amy Matthews


Coma Land is a refreshing break from all those serious, gloomy plays that try to be profound (and then go nowhere near it). Instead Coma Land, is joyous, frivolous, and everyone on both stage and audience gets to embrace their inner child.

The concept of Coma Land relies on a suspension of disbelief- in which people who are in a state of unconsciousness, whether induced or otherwise, enter a whimsical, colourful world which reminds one of early childhood memories (at least as we can understand in an Occidental socio-cultural context- my own childhood primarily consisted of Age of Empires II, Starcraft and Warhammer 40,000 as far as I’m aware of), and in order to return to the real world, they must dig through the snow and find their thing.

The protagonist of this play is Boon (Marillier), as in a synonym for gift, benefit- who is a child prodigy who could master the various masterpieces of famous composers at a very young age, finds herself in Coma Land after an attempted suicide in the real world. Not long after landing in this mysterious place, she meets Penguin (Morgan Owen), a very young cheery, bubbly girl who yearns to fly- and joining this motley crew is Jinny, an overly-motherly party planner and Cola (Ben Sutton), a panda who is undergoing a sperm donor operation who wants to be a human and do normal things like sorting out taxes, and in the middle of all this, is Penguin’s over protective Dad (Bower), who somehow never wants to leave Coma Land.

The pacing of the play is very fast and feels rather short, and not a lot actually goes on narrative wise- no sweeping profound stories rich with drama to be found here. It is rather humble and concise rather than ambitious, which shows the writer’s ability to understand his scope and work within that narrow area. Neither does it try to be anything deep and meaningful, whilst cleverly working Malcolm Gladwell’s philosophy of 10,000 hours in a funny, informative way that doesn’t feel forced. And on a whole, everyone from stage to audience seems to have had fun with the concept.

Whether Coma Land is your thing or not, depends on how far you’re willing, or not, to dig for it.

Coma Land runs until 6 August.

Dangerous Perth

Andrew Ryan

It is official. Perth is a dangerous city. It is as dangerous as Raqqa, where the Islamic State reigns supreme. It is as dangerous as Caracas, where riots between pro-government demonstrators and anti-government ones explode into violence. It is as dangerous as Kiev, where a civil war is still occurring. It is as dangerous as St. Louis, where gangs would settle scores with 9mm and 5.56x45 rounds. It is as dangerous as Mogadishu, where the concept of government as we know it does not exist.

We are apparently dangerous due to our rising methamphetamine problem- a scourge that they say fills hospital wards, destroys families, makes our city streets extremely unsafe- all of which is true, and should be addressed seriously (a very difficult problem with a concrete solution being nigh-on impossible). But the kind of tone reminds me of this mock ad from the Gruen Transfer where they were pitching on how to dissuade tourists from coming to Australia- and the ad was advertising how great the Outback is for hiding a dead body- hinting at well known murder cases in rural parts of the country)- no wonder this notion is met with laughter and ridicule, although in traditional Perth behaviour, we seem to have equally embraced it with jokes and pop-cultural quibbles.

All according to that objective, factual newspaper that is The Sun.

Perth is as safe as any place in the first world, though unofficially the proud owner of that label would be your average Japanese city, where it is said that one could clock off work, full suit, gold Rolex and briefcase all, head off to a karaoke bar, get extremely drunk, pass out in the middle of downtown and wake up with your clothes and belongings intact (anecdotal, but there’s a kernel of truth in any anecdote). Now that said, there’s still parts of this city that is dodgy, whether it’s actually true, or just driven by baseless rumours and a little parochialism, but by and large if I can walk home from the train station in Clarkson (one such suburb rated as pretty dodge) at close to midnight, in total darkness, with absolutely no one around- though once I was stopped by a cop- they were looking for someone else of a similar description who was apparently screaming and shouting in front of a property, and I was walking home alone at 1 in the morning in a black hoodie.

As daft as the Sun is, but maybe they express a correct point, if albeit with an altogether different intent.

Perth can be dangerous in a way- in the sense that it’s comfortable, boring and certainly content with finding contentment and mediocrity, and it kind of seeps into you. This is more telling if you harbour artistic ambitions (or some other lofty goal)- and the inevitable of one’s exodus to the promised land of Melbourne (or in some cases, Sydney), and sometimes the homecoming, like the prodigal son. This belies the platitudes that have been heaped over the city for years- from being mocked as a Dullsville a couple of years ago to being the amongst the most liveable cities on the planet (and way above Melbourne and Sydney), but the platitudes disguise some old habits. Its much vaunted isolation that helps foster a tight-knit creative scene that punches well above its weight and becoming an extremely valued export commodity where bands like Tame Impala and Tired Lion are just killing it overseas, but the city on a whole also seems to never be moving forward, always playing catch-up, and now that’s a dangerous place to be at.

And I say this because I think this city of ours has much more potential and be damned the nay-sayers.

But there’s an inescapable feeling about this all- hard to put in the words. In the sense that you look at the grimy parts of the inner city, and seeing things that used to be there, closing, one by one, and I’m not even sure if that space will get used again, or whether I’ll be still here in the near future.

Revelation Film Festival Picks: Top Knot Detective & Free Fire

Andrew Ryan

Top Knot Detective- featuring NINJAS!

Top Knot Detective- featuring NINJAS!

Top Knot Detective

Directed by Dominic Pearce

Starring: Toshi Okuzaki, Masa Yamaguchi, Mayu Iwasaki.

 

 

To be fair, on the day, I didn’t even check the programme. I had originally intended to go out into the city to pick up something the day before from a shop, and then catch Becoming Bond after. Well got the time mixed up, stayed home instead, and do it tomorrow.

Well after doing said errand, I decided I’d want to at least see something on the Revelation Film Festival on an actual silver screen.

What I didn’t know was that I was tumbling straight into the big, opening launch, of a locally made feature that just somehow spun out of control, and found its way at festivals around the world.

This is Top Knot Detective fever, and my deductive reasoning skills were not the most sharp that night. Top Knot Detective is a mockumentary, although when Australia’s foremost resident expert in obscure cult films (Andrew Riewoldt, who flew in from Brisbane just to do the formal introduction) was fooled for a good ten minutes before realizing it, then it may as well have been real.

The film, made by Dominic Pearce and Aaron McCann, explores the explosive, scandalous and tantalizing story behind the scenes of a once-big show in Japan- Ronin Suirei Tantei (trans. Deductive Reasoning Ronin / Detective Detective Ronin), which became popular in the West, enrapturing, a small hardcore fanbase, including well-known names like cult movie expert Des Mangan (from SBS), and Travis Johnson (FilmInk), as well as a cameo from Lee Lin Chin amongst others. The central concept behind this film-within-a-film is that a wandering ronin, named Detective Sheimasu, goes on adventures across the land solving cases, whilst attempting to one day defeat his rival Kurosaki, who murdered Sheimasu’s master. These adventures has the titular hero fight phallic monsters, tentacle monsters, giant mecha robots, resisting the temptations of luscious maidens as well as shilling poor quality consumer products for the (fictitious) company that funds it.

Top Knot Detective peers back into a realm of nostalgia, where objectively bad films with poor dubbing and massive continuity errors are simply edited away- the old adage is of it’s so bad that it’s good comes to mind, whilst telling a coherent story about a larger than life character’s spectacular rise to stardom, and his equally spectacular fall.

First thing first, if you are taking this movie seriously, this isn’t the movie for you- nothing here makes any logical sense, neither is it meant to be, and a lot of comedy relies on a basic working of knowledge of obscure, cult cinema (it gets better if you’re even more familiar with shows like Monkey Magic or Shogun Assassin that inspired the making of this mockumentary) and Japanese pop culture and media, especially the tokusatsu (tv shows with lots of special effects, often featuring big giant monsters and/or giant mecha) and the jidaigeki genre (historical period dramas depicting samurai usually revolving around themes of honour, love and revenge). But it’s really fine if you don’t as this film functions as a crash course into that weird, wonderful world.

 

Armie Hammer, Brie Larson and Cillian Murphy do that cool walk before everything spirals out of control.

Armie Hammer, Brie Larson and Cillian Murphy do that cool walk before everything spirals out of control.

Free Fire

Director: Ben Wheatley (Screen play by Amy Jump)

Starring: Brie Larson, Sharlto Copley, Cillian Murphy, Armie Hammer, Noah Taylor, Sam Riley (and others)

 

To cap of a night of popcorn movies, I decided to stick around and catch Free Fire, which is a title that shoots straight at what the film. Free Fire follows two groups of scoundrels trying to sort out an arms deal- one across the pond needing to buy guns for the Irish Republican cause, and the other being arms dealers- the deal goes extremely bad when two criminals from each side get into a fight over a completely unrelated issue, and soon enough someone fires the first shot- and all bets are off.

Free Fire is 75 minutes worth of non-stop gunfighting- such a movie will only have a truly limited appeal, but for those who love dumb action movies- this is as dumb as it gets. Much of the film’s plot is driven forward by each combatants jockeying for position, and sudden new developments in an already chaotic situation. Most of the dialogue in this film is the characters delivering insults to one another whilst shooting at each other, and there’s plenty to be had in laughs here. The film is unique in that it barely uses any musical cues- nearly 100 per cent of the sounds is gunshots, the ricochet of gunshots, and the thundering echo of aforementioned shooting. The choice of setting the movie in the 1970s, is entirely seeming like an aesthetic excuse to put in some extremely garish suits, spiffy haircuts and outrageous accents which adds to the comic absurdity.

Free Fire is fun, but not as much as you would expect from a movie that expends a lot of ammunition from start to finish, but let’s be honest- if you’re watching this movie, you aren’t exactly looking to learn about existentialism at that moment.

Revelation Film Festival Picks: Tower

Andrew Ryan

Director: Keith Maitland

 

On 1 August, 1966, in Austin, Texas, a man with a high powered air rifle is shooting at everyone within the vicinity of the clock tower of the University of Texas. Residents are warned to stay away from the area.

It was America's first ever gun massacre that shocked the entire land. Sadly it would not be the last.

Tower is a dcoumentary that attempts to re-tell the chaos of that one summer day from those who found themselves caught up in the circumstances of the events, from the students who were enjoying the prime of their lives, and each recount those events from their perspectives, five decades later.

Tower is rendered in an animated, roto-scoping style, in the vein of that of Waltz with Bashir (the art style in that is often confused with rotoscoping), and Persepolis. Tower however doesn’t go all in on the animation, choosing to blend archival footage of the time alongisde the animated parts, and then also featuring the interviewees themselves in the present day. This style can be quite effective and sometimes produces a visual look that can be memorable- Tower will certainly be remembered for this part at least.

The delivery of the film is almost therapeutic (and some of the interviewees did it themselves for therapeutic reasons amongst others)- aside from a few gun shot sounds, the movie exudes silence for the most part. In a gives us the environment to ponder about the events that took place, and to simply listen to someone’s story. The documentary’s narrative is more about trying to recapture that chaos, but its presented in a linear chronology- and that it’s a both drama of the situation, and an examination into people who are caught up in a life or death situation.

Aside from being an account about the incident itself- Tower is as much about the tiny little slices of everyday America, that makes up the much larger fabric of that idea- which is presented in a colourful, almost nostalgic manner as we know through a collective cultural lens- so think white picket fences and paper boys doing delivery runs in the suburbs on their bicycles. There are equally as many hints of the nascent Sixties’ counter-culture that was in full swing at the time.

Tower is a rare kind of film. It will not make you happy or outraged. But it will only merely leave you pondering about things beyond ourselves, and things beyond our control.

(Sessions for Tower: Sat 8th 12:45 pm, Sat 18th, 8:30 pm @ Luna Leederville)

Revelation Film Festival Picks: Watch The Sunset

Andrew Ryan

Tristan Barr & Chelsea Zeller in Watch The Sunset

Tristan Barr & Chelsea Zeller in Watch The Sunset

Director: Tristan Barr & Michael Gosden (Damien Lipp as Dir. Of Photography)

Cast: Tristan Barr, Michael Gosden, Chelsea Zeller, Annabelle Williamson

Running Time: 115 mins.

 

Watch The Sunset should be shown to every budding filmmaker about to embark on their first feature film- as a guideline of how to make an impressive debut.

Watch The Sunset is shot entirely in one take. Remember one must appreciate how difficult this gimmick is to shoot in practice. It takes a lot of takes to get the one take that makes the final cut. The entire script must be worked within the possibility of that one shot. Ever since the success of Alexander Sokurov’s Russian Ark (2002- but the movie feels timeless) there have been an upsurge in movies utilizing this style- Victoria and Lost In London (where Woody Harrelson made his directorial debut), with mixed success.

Watch The Sunset is set in the midst of the ice epidemic that ravaged small town Victoria, and follows one dramatic day in the life of ex-bikie Danny (Tristan Barr, who doubles up as director), who at the spur of moment consciously decides to wash his off hands of the gang lifestyle and hopes to get his estranged family out of the way. However events take a dark turn when his daughter Joey (Annabelle Williamson) is kidnapped by the bikers.

Watch The Sunset lives and dies on its pacing and photography- and on this aspect it does wonderfully- with the dark, bleak lighting reflective of the mood of the film, and its location. On the narrative- the opening half is solid and gripping, but then it loses its momentum as it whimpers to its rather anti-climatic ending. The performances are kinetic, channeling a sense of authenticity as they alternate between screaming at each other and then consoling and reassuring each other. The score by Richard Labrooy is haunting and perfectly enhances the tone of the proceedings.

Damien Lipp and Tristen Barr have delivered a solid piece, if not exactly a tour de force. But it’s worth considering that it’s a perfectly fine movie by filmmakers still on their journey.

 

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.