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Frisco Del Rosario writes about chess960, women's basketball, minor league baseball, unsupported collectible card games, lettering in comic books, and Golden Age movies

We never thought we’d see Monument Valley 2, but here it is 11/11/2017

screenshot_2017-11-11-04-36-46Despite 5 million paid (and 21 million free) downloads of Monument Valley, its developer — Ustwo — said there would be no more work on its award-winning mobile game.

To me, this meant Monument Valley was another “Firefly” TV show or NetRunner card game or Lone Justice rock band — something that was much better than anything else in its class, but died prematurely and somewhat inexplicably.

While Ustwo worked on its virtual reality game Land’s End, a couple of things occurred. One, the game designers spun off their own company from the graphic design firm; and two, women at Ustwo Games had babies, which inspired talk about a Monument Valley sequel with a mother and daughter exploring the impossible architectures.

So Monument Valley 2 happened, and arrived on Android last week.

It’s prettier than Monument Valley, which is remarkable: Ustwo sells 11×14 prints of Monument Valley images because the game is that lovely. The mother and daughter characters give Monument Valley 2 more feeling than Monument Valley had.

Monument Valley 2 even provides a greater number of puzzles, but the single disappointment about Monument Valley 2 is that the puzzles are easier to solve.

Monument Valley had one puzzle that required correctly timing the movement of a crow before Ida could successfully move herself. The expansion Ida’s Dream had one great puzzle with many red herrings, many false turns.

There are almost no false moves in Monument Valley 2. It seems that the developers intended to put the story and the graphics before the problem-solving.

Chessplayers know that when there are two candidate moves, and one of them leads to disaster, then they don’t have to think about the other. At Monument Valley 2, there weren’t always a fork in the road. The annoying crows are gone, while the friendly totem pole is also limited by the scope — “there’s one move to try with totem, OK, I’ll do that”.

When do we get Monument Valley 3?

If Ustwo Games gave us one new puzzle per week for 99 cents, I’d be among the first to buy a subscription.

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2003 Frisky Awards for Best Animated Feature Among Those Nominated by the MPAA 10/28/2017

The 2003 Friskies

The nominees are “Brother Bear” (Disney), “Finding Nemo” (Pixar), and “The Triplets of Belleville” (Les Armateurs).

Brother Bear

In today’s parlance, I could say about “Brother Bear”: “It’s so Disney. I can’t even.”, and you’d know what I meant.

It’s about a boy whose tribal customs deem him of age, but he doesn’t truly grow into it until he’s been magically transformed into a bear, and goes on a vision quest with a younger bear. While his human brother tracks him for the kill, in the mistaken identity trope that belongs in every body-switching movie.

Throw in some music that kinda reminds one of “The Lion King” — unintentionally, you bet — gorgeous ink-and-paint animation, and a rousing party where everyone’s a talking bear, and it’s so Disney.

It’s pretty good, just a distant third behind 2003’s other nominees.

Finding Nemo

Pixar had hit the jackpot by addressing childhood fears: monsters under the bed, and toys that come to terrifying life.

Then they said: OK, let’s scare the adults by making a movie about a lost child, but it has to be adorable. What, we can’t satisfactorily animate hair until next year’s “The Incredibles”? But we’ve got water down? All right, let’s make them adorable fish. The state-of-the-art underwater graphics, lay it on thick.

And let’s get Ellen DeGeneres to voice the partner in the dad’s rescue party, because she’s awesome.

Pixar used to make fantastically great caper movies. Woody had to rescue Buzz. Albert Brooks the fish has to avoid sharks, while his missing kid and his new friends concoct a scheme to escape an aquarium — a scheme that works with insanely great cartoon logic.

I’m glad I don’t have children. I’d be more overprotective than Albert Brooks.

The Triplets of Belleville

“The Triplets of Belleville” is everything last year’s MPAA award winner, “Spirited Away”, wanted to be: graphically bizarre and grotesquely drawn, but understandably stated.

“Spirited Away” expressed all that an animated film might desire, except for a thread of logic. “Triplets of Belleville” gave us a kindly gnome of an aunt who pursues an ocean liner across the Atlantic in a paddleboat, because the French mafia has kidnapped her bicyclist savant of a nephew for a gambling operation.

Penniless in North America, she finds allies in the Triplets of Belleville, music hall singers in the ’30s, turned improvisational jazz group, playing kitchen items for instruments. They’re so broke that their diet is only frogs that they’ve dynamited out of the lake.

With the aid of the triplets and the faithful family dog Bruno, Aunt Souza uncovers and breaks tne gambling ring. The chase scene at the end can only work if it gives the sense of making fun of every movie chase scene, ever.

With almost zero dialogue

It wouldn’t do the movie justice to say “the story is off-the-charts weird and the animation is outlandish, but I mean that in a good way”. I mean it in a *great* way.

I preferred “The Triplets of Belleville” to “Finding Nemo”, but it surely would not be everyone’s cup of tea. If I had to recommend either to a group — especially one including children — everyone will love “Finding Nemo”. It’s the only tiebreaker I can imagine.

The winner of the 2003 Frisky Award is “Finding Nemo”.

Frisky Awards for Best Animated Feature Among Those Nominated in That MPAA Category

2003 — Finding Nemo
2002 — Lilo and Stitch*
2001 — Shrek

*The Frisky doesn’t correspond with the Academy Award.

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2002 Frisky Awards for Best Animated Feature Among Those Nominated by the MPAA 10/08/2017

The 2002 Friskies

The nominees are “Ice Age” (Blue Sky Studios), “Lilo and Stitch” (Disney), “Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron” (Dreamworks), “Spirited Away” (Studio Ghibli), and “Treasure Planet” (Disney).

Ice Age

“Let’s do a ‘mismatched trio forms a reluctant alliance during a dangerous adventure, and build respect and friendship along the way’, and they’re prehistoric talking animals!”. With luck, none of its sequels was nominated by the MPAA.

Lilo and Stitch

No one ever told me that the Hawaiian kid’s weird-looking pet was a extra-terrestrial death machine on the lam. Disneyfied science fiction for the kids, plus a touching story about building a familyfor the adults. Shockingly good.

Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron

Dreamworks, which successfully kicked Disney’s ass with “Shrek” the year before, tried again by making an animal movie with animals that don’t talk. The horses were supposed to communicate with each other and the audience through horse noises, body language, and soundtrack music, but Dreamworks lost its nerve.

Instead of believing in the idea to the end, the horse body language became ridiculously anthropomorphic, the soundtrack added songs by someone who sounded too much like Bryan Adams (becaue it was Bryan Adams), and a “Wonder Years”-style narration by Matt Damon.

They almost made an interesting slavery allegory in which the US military are the bad guys.

Spirited Away

“Citizen Kane” is said to a landmark, one of the greatest films in history. I can never vouch for that, because I can’t be sure I’ve ever seen the whole thing — it puts me to sleep every time.

And so did “Spirited Away”, the Studio Ghibli production that every film critic in the world freaking raved about. Critics liken “Spirited Away” to “Yellow Submarine” and “The Wizard of Oz” for psychedelic imagery and a far out story, but “Yellow Submarine” had Beatles music.

“Spirited Away” is non-stop creepy moving pictures, but that’s all it is — when something has to happen to progress toward the end, it’s just handwaving. When the three dream characters in “The Wizard of Oz” had to infiltrate the witch’s castle to rescue Dorothy, they cowboyed up (that is, the characters determined to do something and did, whereas in “Spirited Away”, the somethings just happened).

Treasure Planet

Rather than make an animated version of the Robert Louis Stevenson book with 21st-century technology, they made a space opera (so the parrot becomes a shapeshifter — maybe the most amusing character in the movie). Points for Emma Thompson as an animated Honor-Harrington-like feline, Patrick McGoohan’s last credit, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Jim Hawkins, though Gordon-Levitt’s voice always grates me when he’s upset.

The winner of the 2002 Frisky Award is “Lilo and Stitch”.

Frisky Awards for Best Animated Feature Among Those Nominated in That MPAA Category

2002 — Lilo and Stitch*
2001 — Shrek

*The Frisky doesn’t correspond with the Academy Award.

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2001 Frisky Awards for Best Animated Feature Among Those Nominated by the MPAA 10/01/2017

Welcome to the Frisky Awards for Best Animated Feature Among Those Nominated by the MPAA.

We are awarding Friskies because:

1)  It gives me a reason to watch  the Oscar nominees that I haven’t seen.

It’s easy to see all the nominated shorts — they show those together at small houses — but I miss many of the features. Thank heavens for home video and public libraries — even if some MPAA nominees will be handicapped by my having to watch a 13.3-inch MacBook screen.

2) The MPAA sucks.

The Oscars aren’t always given to the deserving artists or films — often they’re premature lifetime achievement awards, or makeup calls.

And when it comes to animated movies, there should be an additional category: Best Animated Feature from a Studio Other Than Pixar and Disney. For instance, “Finding Nemo” (2003), “Inside Out” (2015), and “Zootopia” (2016) aren’t locks to win the Friskies over “The Triplets of Belleville”, “Anomalisa”, and “My Life as a Zucchini”, respectively.

The 2001 Friskies

The nominees are: “Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius” (Nickoledeon), “Monsters, Inc.” (Pixar), and “Shrek” (Dreamworks).

Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius

Impossibly tech-savvy 3rd-grader sends a toaster into space to make alien contact, puts his robot dog in bed while he sneaks out to an amusement park, and the kids wish their parents didn’t exist. What could go wrong?

Wildly imaginative graphics — to save their parents from their alien abductors, the kids pilot a space fleet constructed from amusement park parts — and bonus points for an unknown voice cast. Despite the adult songs on the soundtrack (songs by Kim Wilde and The Go-Go’s), a kids’ movie all the way.

Monsters, Inc.

An early entry from the 10 years in which Pixar had an OPS of 5.000 (in other words, they hit a home run every time). There *are* monsters in the closet, but they’re more scared of children than the children are of them, so hell for monsters breaks loose when a little girl lands on the other side.

State-of-the-art motion (John Goodman’s blue and purple fur bristles) and goofy monsters who are genuinely scary when the story calls for it.

In a priceless bonus for adults, “Monsters, Inc.” reframes the Chuck Jones classic “Feed the Kitty”, right down to the monster fainting with the same facial expression as the bulldog.

Shrek

There are some movies that leave me thinking “That was outstanding. I have to see this again.”, but sometimes I don’t get around to it, which is one reason for The Frisky Awards (I can hardly wait for “The Triplets of Belleville” year).

In adult fashion, “Shrek” skewers Disneyfied fairy tales, while Dreamworks raspberries the Disney facade itself. A Michael-Eisner-sized wannabe king schemes to send an ogre — bargaining to regain his privacy — on a hero’s journey to rescue a princess from a dragon-patrolled tower.

“Shrek” follows the heroic journey tropes so the children can follow along, while brilliantly subverting the details. The princess’ Disney Song and Storybook is far from the reality of “Shrek”. Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, and Cameron Diaz haven’t made a better movie since.

The winner of the 2001 Frisky Award is “Shrek”.

Frisky Awards for Best Animated Feature Among Those Nominated in That MPAA Category

2001 — Shrek

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About the chess scene in Casablanca 09/07/2017

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Screen legend Humphrey Bogart was  a chess enthusiast, once appearing  on the cover of Chess Review magazine with his wife Lauren Bacall.

In 1942, the Warner Brothers film “Casablanca” won the Academy Award as Best Picture, its star Bogart won Best Actor.

Early in “Casablanca”,  Bogart analyzes a chess position while Peter Lorre implores him to hide invaluable travel tickets.

According to Round Up the Usual Suspects: The Making of Casablanca by Aljean Harmetz, it was screenwriter Howard Koch’s idea to include the chessboard, representing the character Rick Blaine as a thinking man.

According to a chess.com forum post  without citation, Bogart’s examining one of his postal games. The Harmetz book says screenwriter told producer Hal B. Wallis that Blaine is supposed to be castling, as a metaphor for keeping himself out of trouble.

During the shooting of “Casablanca”, Bogart maintained a postal game with Irving Kovner from Brooklyn, the brother of a Warner Brothers studio employee. Bogart’s wont was to accompany his moves with a few personal words (“Now I’m in a jam”).

It would have been an extraordinary coincidence for Bogart’s analysis of the Kovner game to include castling precisely in accordance with the script. It’s my reasonable guess that the Kovner position was on the board, and Bogart castled perforce — out of sequence or illegally — then restored the Kovner setup after the take.

Paul Henreid, a “Casablanca” co-star, played chess with Bogart on the set. Round Up the Usual Suspects quotes Henreid as saying Bogart was a “fine chessplayer, very fine”. Like any chessplayer, Henreid said he won all the games for being a little better than his very fine opponent.

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The Last DJs 09/06/2017

I watched a movie in which women aged 80 and 30 — who don’t get along at first because the senior lady is an imperious battleaxe — discover a shared fondness for vinyl, and especially for freeform radio.

The young woman shares the call sign for freeform station in town, and in a beat, the old woman is hauling her record library to the station. There she talks her way into the drivetime DJ job, because she’s got technical experience with radio plus a wide-ranging knowledge of music, and the awareness that DJs used to build blocks of songs that fit together, like a thoughtful mixtape. Naturally in a movie like this, the soundtrack is appropriately diverse. (The only artist I recognized was The Kinks, and it was a song I didn’t know.)

If that were all this movie was about, it might’ve been pretty good, though how do you wring two hours from that — more likely, it’s a “WKRP in Cincinnati” episode in which Bailey meets a disagreeable old woman in a coffee shop, and so forth.

Unfortunately for “The Last Word” — starring Shirley MacLaine as the old and Amanda Seyfried as the young — that excellent 25 minutes was a small portion of two hours that I wager critics hated.

It was built by formula: Disagreeable old lady meets callow young lady meets precocious orphan, no one gets along initially but inevitably form a familial bond.

It was most predictable, because you know the steps in that formula, and the title and the premise give away the ending — the old lady has to die at the end after repairing burned bridges, settling old accounts, and assisting the young woman and the orphaned girl in growing up.

The framework is that Shirley MacLaine gets the idea that she wants Amanda Seyfried, who writes obituaries for the local paper, to write her obit in advance. MacLaine explains that every well-crafted obituary contains some wild card remembrance which made the deceased special (which turns out to be ‘retired advertising executive becomes disc jockey at 81′). Seyfried has trouble writing the boilerplate about MacLaine’s colleagues and loved ones because hated her. You know how it works: the movie gradually makes her less and less hated until Seyfried ultimately delivers a heartfelt, teary-eyed eulogy at the end.\\\

The reason I’m writing about this crappy — just checked; 35% by critics at Rotten Tomatoes — movie that we’ve all seen before in one form or another (probably several times until we’re fed up with the predictability) was the 25 minutes about genuine radio programming by human DJs, not demographic-driven algorithm. The movie has a sincere love for eclectic music broadcast on 500-watt stations.

Before “The Last Word”, the piece of modern popular culture that best addressed the death of good radio was Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ “The Last DJ”, a concept album tied together by Tom’s disillusion with the business. Of course, you don’t hear “The Last DJ” on the radio, which is the whole bloody point.

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Maybe I saw luxury sports automaker Pagani’s most complicated car a month before its introduction at the Geneva Motor Show 02/22/2017

huayra-roadster-ginevra-2017-00000-300x212Years ago, I spotted a student’s father reading Hot Rod magazine during the kid’s chess game. Maybe I looked at the cover weirdly.

“You look confused,” he said.

“I… I’m not a car guy,” I said.

“What? Sure you are. Just not the cars in this magazine.”

He was right. My cars were ’60s Volkswagens with aircooled engines suitable for lawnmowers. I subscribed to VW Trends magazine, and attended Volkswagen conventions, in search of parts and girls.

I’ll always think the Volkswagen Karmann Ghia was the most beautiful car ever designed. It was essentially a Volkswagen Beetle “in a sporty, Italian-designed body,” the ad said.

The ad deserves its own story. The best print ad campaign of the 20th century, according to Ad Age magazine, was the “Think Small” campaign for Volkswagen by Doyle Dane Bernbach. “Think Small” described the Beetle’s economical ways in a charming and straightforward manner, with a clean and minimal page layout — even the advertising said “small and self-deprecating, but inexpensive and awesome”. My father always said that his dark blue ’69 Beetle was the best car he ever owned.

When I learned to drive, it was in a Beetle, with one of my chess club cronies, a Volkswagen restoration mechanic. He re-introduced me to the Karmann Ghia, and it was love at first sight, again. (In my first year of journalism classes, the school newspaper editor drove a Karmann Ghia and dated the prettiest girl on staff.) My first car, naturally, was a half-green-half-primer-gray Karmann Ghia with one orange door.

25 years later, the sight of a clean Karmann Ghia on the road can still make me gasp — the Germans sure knew how to engineer a car, and the Italians sure knew how to design them. They don’t make ’em like that anymore — whether by federal regulation or consumer fashion. For neat Italian automotive styling, the modern winner is the Fiat 500 Abarth.

Today’s Italian sports cars — the Ferrari and Lamborghini, for instance — are designed to shock and awe; I prefer the simple lines and curves of the Karmann Ghia. However, I’ve seen the most shocking and awe-inspiring, elite superpowered Italian sports car: the Pagani Huayra, a car with the aura of a magic carpet.

Pagani’s manufacture of the Huayra in 2012 was such an occasion in the sporting automotive world that the BBC series “Top Gear” devoted to the Huayra the first segment of its Season 19 premiere. “Top Gear” is car porn. If you’ve ever been fascinated by a fast, expensive car, “Top Gear” is the chewiest eye candy. And “Top Gear’s” verdict was to urge anyone in their audience with enough cash ($1.1 million — when you ask what could possibly bring the cost of an automobile up to $1.1 million, consider that Pagani carves its name badges and wheel rims from solid pieces of aluminum.) to do so — the Huayra broke “Top Gear’s” speed record, while its engineering touches blew the hosts away.

“Top Gear” was pleased to say Pagani fills the void that Lamborghini and Ferrari left behind when Lamborghini was sold to Volkswagen-Audi and when Ferrari became a label for lifestyle items — “Top Gear’s” host used the term “innocence” to describe Pagani’s brand name purity, and railed against Ferrari putting its logos on teddy bears while neglecting automotive engineering.

The “Top Gear” segment about the Huayra was made in 2012. Five years in the luxury automobile industry is probably like five years in the software industry — everything has changed, so what was the deal with the shiny new Huayra I saw two weeks ago? According to Wikipedia, Pagani plans to unveil the new Huayra Roadster at the Geneva Motor Show in March. The Huayra Roadster is the “most complicated project we have ever undertaken,” said automaker Horacio Pagani.

1955-74_volkswagen_karmann_ghia_02 think_small

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