Monday, May 8, 2017

Ranking the Marvel movies

Vox has ranked all the Marvel movies, and since I don't agree, I want to do my own ranking. This will be a quick one.


1. The Avengers
About as close to perfection as you can come with an ensemble action movie.
2. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
I just love this movie and I think it's crisp and brillant in what it does.
3. Captain America: Civil War
That one was a blast, too. Really, the top three spots could be arranged in any order and I'll sign on.
4. Iron Man
Really good first and second acts, but the third act struggles because the villain doesn't connect at all and the final fight is...meh.
5. Guardians of the Galaxy 2
Ok, now I'm cheating, haven't seen this one yet, so I'll take Vox at their word.
6. Avengers 2: Age of Ultron
Better than its reputation, this movie really wins out because of the relentless focus on the human cost and ethical issues.
7. Guardians of the Galaxy
This movie was a fun-fest from start to finish.
8. Iron Man 3
I like the Manadrin-reveal more than many people, and the middle part of the movie is exceptionally strong. The finale suffers, once again.
9. Captain America: First Avenger
Once again, strong first and second act, but villain and third act are real doozies and the supporting cast is dropped like a hot potato.
10. Thor
The scenes in Asgard are great, but the stuff in the little town in the desert is too corny for my tastes and and the giant robot thing is just yawn-inducing.

11. The Incredible Hulk
This movie also suffers from a bland end-game baddie. As long as the guy is a soldier, he's interesting enough, but the monster fight doesn't catch on at all, and the casting is off as well, with little chemistry between the main leads.
12. Iron Man 2
Yeah, well, that's one a structural mess. Marvel's first baby-steps at building the MCU, and it shows.
13. Thor 2
This is also all over the place, and they didn't seem to have known what to do with the characters other than "we need a second Thor with Loki in it".
14. Ant-Man
The first Marvel movie to really leave me cold. Not a bad movie, but I was bored.
15. Doctor Strange
The first Marvel movie I actually disliked. I found the writing atrocious, the story forced, and the tricks didn't sell me enough on the small screen to overlook all these issues.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Rebels Season 3 finale review

I suck at my job.
So, a few thoughts on the Star Wars Rebels Season 3 finale (spoilers, duh). In my mind, it was very splashy, but also a bit of a mess. The two biggest problems were Sabine and Thrawn. Both don't really work in this episode. Sabine first. Her arc, while consistent, saw her totally sidelined in the latter part of the season, which makes bringing her back a bit difficult, especially without any foreshadowing of this move. Thus, when with great sacrifices the Ghost made contact, I wasn't engaged.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Boiled Leather Audio Hour #61

The Boiled Leather Children’s Hour

BLAH is for the children! In this episode, Sean and Stefan take a look at two issues uniquely relevant to the younger characters of A Song of Ice and Fire: bullying and education. Inspired by our recent re-reads of A Game of Thrones, our conversation touches on the pervasiveness of verbal and physical bullying, the degree to which it is or isn’t encouraged by adults, and how the ideas passed on to children by their parents and teachers through the official education system (for nobles, anyway) impact those receiving them. It’s a topic close to our hearts, and to our understanding of what the whole series is really about. Enjoy!

DOWNLOAD EPISODE 61

And remember, if you like what you hear, subscribe to our Patreon to hear more of it via our subscriber-exclusive Boiled Leather Audio Moment mini-podcast!
Additional links:

BLAH 09: Our episode on violence against children.
BLAH 11: Our episode on sexualized violence and violence against women (with Alyssa Rosenberg).
The latest BLAM mini-episode (click to subscribe).
Our Patreon page at patreon.com/boiledleatheraudiohour.
Our PayPal donation page (also accessible via boiledleather.com).
The Kickstarter for Sean’s new book, MIRROR MIRROR II.
Our iTunes page.
Mirror.
Previous episodes.
Podcast RSS feed.
Sean’s blog.
Stefan’s blog.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Review: The Geeknson Henry table

The table in all its glory in my room
You can buy things that are necessities. You can buy things that make your live comfortable. And you can buy absolute luxury items. This review is about the latter category. As you may know, I'm an avid boardgamer and also a sucker for cool consumer articles, so when I heard that there were tables made specifically for boardgaming, my interest was peaded. These things have a vault in which you play that you can over up with boards, so you can cover the game to eat, for example, or simply for storage until nex gaming season. They also have a ton of other extras. 

Table with the boards removed. You can see the rim.
They're also pretty expensive, so I started saving up, you know, just in case. Last year I started shopping around in earnest to find a manufacturer I wanted to trust with the job. While I first heard about these monsters from Geekchic, their location in the US basically ruled them out, so I was settled with the two European manufacturers (there are also some others producing simpler and cheaper versions, but only two getting you want I will talk about): Geeknson (UK) and Rathskellers (Greece). I finally settled for Geeknson, mainly for reasons of price and because I didn't get a good argument on why to spend 1000€ more on Rathskellers. So, on to it: what does this thing do? And does it work? 

The case against killing player characters

It's kind of a truism that practically every gamesession of roleplaying involves combat at one point or another. That combat has, via reduction of health points and the suffering of wounds, the general possibility of death for everyone involved. Usually, a lot of NPC are getting killed, but the rules do allow for the same fate to befall the player characters as well. 93,6% of roleplayers think this is a good idea, according to a study I totally didn't make up right now. 
And it makes kind of intuitive sense. The threat of dying infuses suspense into the combat, it sharpens the senses, it gives the exhilarating feeling of having escaped death in the last possible moment. For gamemasters as well as players, it also offers a kind of insurance against dumb player actions. You insist on summersaulting that Goblin? Congratulations. He stabs you. Critical Hit. And you had a botch trying to acrobatically land, suffering damage, ooooh, crit. You're dead. Drama! After all, doesn't combat derive its suspense from the danger of stuff like this happening? 

Not at all. 

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Boiled Leather Audio Hour #57

A Long Time Ago: The Star Wars Prequel Trilogy

This New Year’s Eve, ring in the coming year the old-fashioned way: Listen to Sean and Stefan talk about George Lucas’s Star Wars prequel trilogy for 80 minutes! For the final BLAH of 2016, we’re tackling one of our most frequently requested topics and going long on Episodes I, II, and III of the blockbuster franchise: 1999’s The Phantom Menace, 2002’s Attack of the Clones, and 2005’s Revenge of the Sith. An all but universally accepted punching bag for much of the decade since it brought the curtain down on the early adventures of Obi-Wan Kenobi, Anakin Skywalker et al, the prequel trilogy has seen something of a change of critical fortune at since dawn of the Disney era and its crowd-pleasing kick-off The Force Awakens. With another prequel, Rogue One, now in theaters (though Stefan hasn’t seen it, so shhhhh no spoilers), we thought it would be the perfect time to discuss Lucas’s uneven but ambitious auteurist prequel saga in depth, movie by movie. Are they the Fall of the Republic–level disasters they’re made out to be, or do they have an artistic Force worth reckoning with? Listen in and find out!

DOWNLOAD EPISODE 57

PLUS! With this episode of BLAH, our 14th this year, we’re pleased to announce the start of a new series of subscriber-only mini-episodes beginning this January! For the low low price of a monthly $1 contribution to the Boiled Leather Audio Hour Patreon, you’ll receive exclusive monthly podcasts focused squarely on A Song of Ice and Fire (with a bit of Game of Thrones mixed in, we suspect, but mostly the books) and derived from listener questions. It’s our way of saying thank you to those of you who’ve subscribed this year and thus made recording these so much easier for us—and, we hope, a tempting offer for those of you who haven’t yet taken the plunge. Visit our Patreon page, pitch in, and get in on the ground floor! And now back to your regularly scheduled BLAH. Happy Holidays!
Additional links:

Jesse Hassenger’s essay on the prequels for the AV Club.
Roderick Heath’s essay on the prequels for Ferdy on Films.
Sean’s list of the 57 Greatest Star Wars Moments for Vulture (warning: Rogue One spoilers).
Sean’s list of Carrie Fisher’s 10 Greatest ‘Star Wars’ Moments for Rolling Stone (warning: Rogue One spoilers).
Our BLAH episode on The Force Awakens.
Our Patreon page at patreon.com/boiledleatheraudiohour.
Our PayPal donation page (also accessible via boiledleather.com).
Our iTunes page.
Mirror.
Previous episodes.
Podcast RSS feed.
Sean’s blog.
Stefan’s blog.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Supreme Court of Westeros, ruling 149

Thursday is court day!
Welcome to the Supreme Court of Westeros! Every week, three pressing questions from the community will be answered by the esteemed judges Stefan (from your very own Nerdstream Era) and Amin (from A Podcast of Ice and Fire). The rules are simple: we take three questions, and one of us writes a measured analysis. The other one writes a shorter opinion, either concurring or dissenting. The catch is that every week a third judge from the fandom will join us and also write a dissenting or concurring opinion. So if you think you're up to the task - write us an email to stefan_sasse@gmx.de, leave a comment in the post, ask in the APOIAF-forum or contact Amin at his tumblr. Discussion is by no means limited to the court itself, though - feel free to discuss our rulings in the commentary section and ask your own questions through the channels above.
One word on spoilers: we assume that you read all the books, including the Hedge Knight short stories, and watched the current TV episodes. We don't include the spoiler chapters from various sources in the discussion, with the notable exception of Theon I, which was supposed to be in "A Dance with Dragons" anyway.
Please note that our new ebook is up and available on Amazon, collecting the first 60 rulings and the best comments in one place. It's only 5,99$, so what are you waiting for? 
And now, up to ruling 149! Our guest judge this week is Jeff Meehan. Originally from Northern Virginia, Jeff Meehan is a lifelong history buff and political junkie living in New Orleans where he works as an antiques restorer. His pastimes include following DC sports, cooking, and being obnoxious on Twitter where his twitter handle is Duncan Royce or @AtlasRoyce. He is still overly proud of getting GRRM on the record as to who was the influence for Stannis Baratheon. Email address is molskine.grit@gmail.com.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Rogue One review

By Marcus A. Roberts

The metaphor almost comes too easily: the Galactic Empire that is Disney determined to crush the life and creativity out of a small band of Rebel filmmakers . But it is truth, for Rogue One is nothing if not a struggle for supremacy between studio and director, industry and artistry. 

At Tuesday night's special IMAX screening you didn't even need to wait for the movie to start for the laserfire and lightsabre slashes - the director and studio boss on stage in the pre-movie Q&A were locked in verbal conflict from the outset. 

The road ahead

As you may have noticed, posting has become a bit infrequent on the blog these days. That's due to some real life concerns on my part that take up too much of my spare time right now to regularily write about Nerdstream topics, and a general exhaustion on part of me and Amin with the Supreme Court of Westeros. Therefore, I have to anounce two changes to the blogs.

First, the Flight of Links section will not be continued for the moment. I simply can't find the time anymore. I might take this up again at a later date.

Second, we will pause the Supreme Court of Westeros with issue 150 until "The Winds of Winter" comes out. To give it a proper farewell, we thought that it would be nice to answer seven questions with seven judges in one mega-ruling. So, if you have any questions worthy of such an undertaking that elicit different responses from seven different judges (which is certainly not true of all questions), then please submit them to us via the usual channels.

Supreme Court of Westeros, ruling 148

Thursday is court day!
Welcome to the Supreme Court of Westeros! Every week, three pressing questions from the community will be answered by the esteemed judges Stefan (from your very own Nerdstream Era) and Amin (from A Podcast of Ice and Fire). The rules are simple: we take three questions, and one of us writes a measured analysis. The other one writes a shorter opinion, either concurring or dissenting. The catch is that every week a third judge from the fandom will join us and also write a dissenting or concurring opinion. So if you think you're up to the task - write us an email to stefan_sasse@gmx.de, leave a comment in the post, ask in the APOIAF-forum or contact Amin at his tumblr. Discussion is by no means limited to the court itself, though - feel free to discuss our rulings in the commentary section and ask your own questions through the channels above.
One word on spoilers: we assume that you read all the books, including the Hedge Knight short stories, and watched the current TV episodes. We don't include the spoiler chapters from various sources in the discussion, with the notable exception of Theon I, which was supposed to be in "A Dance with Dragons" anyway.
Please note that our new ebook is up and available on Amazon, collecting the first 60 rulings and the best comments in one place. It's only 5,99$, so what are you waiting for? 
And now, up to ruling 148 ! Our guest judge this week is Daniel Huigsloot, a member of the community.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

How "The Banner Saga" conveyes a sense of doom

It's really hard to tell stories of downfall and doom in a video game, since so many games revolve around fulfilling power fantasies, at best creating a sense of ludo-narrative dissonance when trying to reach for that feat. It's even harder to tell a story by gameplay mechanics as well as written dialogue. If all this succeeds, you get a product like "The Banner Saga", the first part of (currently) two tactical roleplaying games. 

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Boiled Leather Audio Hour #55

We’ve tackled the North and the lands of Essos. Now our popular series of podcasts predicting the events of The Winds of Winter returns with a look at what Northern partisans such as ourselves would call “the South” — aka the rest(eros) of Westeros! With our usual emphasis on thematic and narrative resonance — and our usual caveat that this is all just fun speculation — we’re offering our theories on the fates of every major player and region. What does Book Six hold in store for our POV characters Sansa Stark, Cersei Lannister, Jon Connington, Arianne Martell, Brienne of Tarth, Jaime Lannister, Areo Hotah (hey, blame George), Samwell Tarly, and Aeron “the Damphair” Greyjoy? What about key supporting cast members like Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish, the Tyrells, the Faith Militant, Doran Martell, the Sand Snakes, (f)Aegon Targaryen, Varys, Catelyn “Lady Stoneheart” Stark, Brynden “the Blackfish” Tully, Tommen and Myrcella Lannister, Walder Frey, and so on? What fates will befall King’s Landing, Oldtown, Highgarden, Storm’s End, Sunspear, and Casterly Rock? And of course, where and when will the Others and the dragons strike first? We’re taking our best guesses. See what you think!

DOWNLOAD EPISODE 55

Additional links:
Forecasting The Winds of Winter, Part 1: The North
Forecasting The Winds of Winter, Part 2: Essos
Our Patreon page at patreon.com/boiledleatheraudiohour.
Our PayPal donation page (also accessible via boiledleather.com).
Our iTunes page.
Mirror.
Previous episodes.
Podcast RSS feed.
Sean’s blog.
Stefan’s blog.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Supreme Court of Westeros, ruling 147

Thursday is court day!
Welcome to the Supreme Court of Westeros! Every week, three pressing questions from the community will be answered by the esteemed judges Stefan (from your very own Nerdstream Era) and Amin (from A Podcast of Ice and Fire). The rules are simple: we take three questions, and one of us writes a measured analysis. The other one writes a shorter opinion, either concurring or dissenting. The catch is that every week a third judge from the fandom will join us and also write a dissenting or concurring opinion. So if you think you're up to the task - write us an email to stefan_sasse@gmx.de, leave a comment in the post, ask in the APOIAF-forum or contact Amin at his tumblr. Discussion is by no means limited to the court itself, though - feel free to discuss our rulings in the commentary section and ask your own questions through the channels above.
One word on spoilers: we assume that you read all the books, including the Hedge Knight short stories, and watched the current TV episodes. We don't include the spoiler chapters from various sources in the discussion, with the notable exception of Theon I, which was supposed to be in "A Dance with Dragons" anyway.
Please note that our new ebook is up and available on Amazon, collecting the first 60 rulings and the best comments in one place. It's only 5,99$, so what are you waiting for? 
And now, up to ruling 147! Our guest judge this week is Rick Davids, a student of Linguistics from Berlin who currrently resides in Bielefeld. He's been a fan of the books for well over a decade now. He's honored to make his second appearance on the court.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Why I don't like Grimdark

On his tumblr, Steven Attewell was asked what he thought of Grimdark. His answer deserves being quoted in full: 
Let me just say at the outset, I used to LOVE grimdark. Huge fan of Warhammer (both 40k and Fantasy), read all of the “groundbreaking, adult” graphic novels of the late 80s/90s, bought as many of White Wolf’s RPG books as I could, even if I almost never got to play them, and so on and so forth. But, and I don’t mean this at all in a condescending way, I matured out of it. This stuff that had spoke to me when I was a teenager was less appealing now that I’m in my early 30s.
A lot of this of this comes from the way that my personality works. I’m fundamentally an academic and a policy wonk and a reformer, which means when I see a bad situation either in real life or in media, my mind immediately goes to how it could be fixed, how it can be improved - I look at Westeros and start thinking about economic development plans, after all. Grimdark, however, requires stasis in order to maintain mood and atmosphere and setting:
“Forget the power of technology and science, for so much has been forgotten, never to be re-learned.  Forget the promise of progress and understanding, for in the grim dark future there is only war.”
You can see the contradiction there. 
Another big part of this is my realization, after a while, that grimdark is ultimately just as as sterile and fomulaic and predictable as its opposite. If the universe is always doomed, if the bad guys are always going to win, then there’s no dramatic tension, no possibility of surprise or innovation beyond a point. 
One of the truths I feel I’ve stumbled across over the years is that the essence of good storytelling isn’t found in extremes, but in variation. No matter whether it’s grimdark or its opposite, too much of the same thing leads to habituation and a decrease in effectiveness. The result is either apathy or a constant arms-race of intensity that eventually becomes ridiculous.