IanTheCool's Reviews
Short Reviews of Movies, Board Games, and Other Stuff

Aug
24

I will now continue my series where I rewatch the Star Wars prequels and suggest ways in which they could have been better movies.  Not just as movies themselves, but in how it fits in the overall Star Wars universe.  Its really just a cathartic exercise for a fan like myself who is increasingly disappointed by episodes 1-3.  If you are in the same position as me in Star Wars fandom, then I hope you will enjoy this post.

star-wars-attack-of-the-clones-mace-windu-11897688-1600-680

Writing

I’ve brought this up it before with The Phantom Menace, but I need to mention it again; this script needs a complete overhaul.  As a movie, this is the worst of the whole series.  The writing is atrocious, and it leaks into a number of the other problems which I’m about to mention.

There are tons of examples of bad dialogue, such as: “One day I will become the greatest jedi ever!”, “We used to come here for school retreat”, “If Obiwan caught me ding that he’d be very grumpy”, and of course the infamous (among SW people anyway) sand line.

star-wars-dex

Weak Detective Plot

Half of the movie involves Obi-Wan Kenobi in a detective story hunting down clues.  In theory, this is a pretty interesting idea for a Star Wars film, and if it was done better would have been really cool.  However, the actual mystery involved is really lame.  First off, there is a plot to kill Padme.  Why?  Never a good reason really.  She’s only one out of many senators trying to make this peace treaty, or something, go through.  So the fact that there i a mystery at all isn’t even given a satisfying reason.

Then there’s the fact that the entire mystery hinges on identifying a dart that Jango Fett basically hands to them.  And not only that, but this dart can only be identified by some 4-armed diner chef!! What??  Its a good thing that Obi-Wan knows just the right people to go to, including one little kid who figured out that the missing planet was deleted from archives.  Really? That kid is the only one?  Obi, your first thought should have been “hmm, i guess it was deleted.”

The point being that this plot needed to be fleshed out more to actually make it interesting and legitimate, instead of giving the absolute bare bones surface level of a detective story.

Attack_of_the_clones_3

Bad Romance

I’ve already mentioned the bad writing, but it always seemed to dip to new lows during the love story of Anakin and Padme.  This who relationship needed to be scrapped and reimagined, because what we get on screen simply doesn’t work.  A big problem is that Anakin starts off a such a creepy stalker.  I mean, listen to some of those lines. “I’d rather dream of Padme. Just being around her again is intoxicating.” or “Being around you is soothing.”.  Hayden Christensen’s ogling glare he gives her all the time doesn’t help either.

And here’s the thing, Padme is legitimately creeped out by him.  You can tell throughout the first half of the movie.  Until suddenly they are awkwardly sitting near a fireplace and she admits to loving him out of no where.  Nothing before that gives us the sense that she is falling for him.  Then they talk about why they can’t be together, blah blah blah.  Then we get the scene just before they are rolled out to the arena where she is “madly, deeply in love with” him.  Completely unearned moment.

Considering how important their relationship is to the overall story arc, it needed to have a much better foundation.

Screen-Shot-2015-07-27-at-10.47.47-AM

Coruscant Too “Real”

This seems minor, but I don’t really like all the little earth-like details they put into Coruscant, especially at the end of the chase sequence.  When they go into the bar, we see things like robot football, death sticks, etc.  I know that they are trying to get across that this city planet is as diverse as any city would be, but some things just seem like a stretch.

Not to mention the line “Jedi Business. Go back to your drinks” is pretty awful.  Again this one is minor, but something about the fabric of the city bugs me.

1407249591-aotcanakin-o

Anakin on Tatooine

Another small one, but here we go.  The filmmakers need to get Anakin to Tatooine to see his mother die.  So they have him go there…. because he has bad dreams. Really? That’s how they got him there?  What a forced plot contrivance.

I do like the idea of his mother dying and him not being able to stop it, causing him to drift further into anger.  So ultimately its a good character piece, it just needed to be set-up less clumsily.

Also, the scene where he tells Padme about it is just…. just terrible.  He confesses that he murdered a whole village, including the women and children.  At this point, Padme should realize that he’s a homicidal maniac and be getting as far from him as she can.  But she…. understands and comforts him?  And these are the heroes of our story?

attack of the clones14

The Nature of the Jedi

Okay, now we get to the biggest problem of the prequels from the view of a Star Wars fan like myself.  This problem is how the Jedi Order is built and dealt with.   First, lets go back to the wonderful pre-prequel days where the only things we knew about Jedi Knights were Obi-Wan and Yoda and their teachings.  The picture of the Jedi that we get from this are ancient, mystic warriors roaming the universe and defending justice.  We think of the legend of the Samurai or an idyllic medieval knight.

So what happens when we get to the prequels and get to see the Jedi in their prime?  They are simply relegated to another bureaucratic body in the capital, like another branch of the government.  Really? In Phantom Menace we are introduced to the Jedi Council, which is more like a company board room.  Lame.  Remember how awesome Yoda was in Empire?  Well here he’s just a chairperson.

And the Jedi Temple turns out to be really lame as well.  They have a very static library archive system.  They have incredibly lame “classrooms” where kids swing lightsabers like windshield wipers.  It just all feels like Lucas decided to strip away the mysticism of the Jedi Order, and that’s just really sad.

The entire structure of the Jedi Order is too systematic, too organizational.  I honestly dont think they should have a centralized location in Coruscant at all.  If there is a temple, it should be more like Force Awakens, hidden in some solitary location.  The organizational structure should be much looser and not so strict.  It really feels like the whole concept of the Jedi is reduced to some lame cooperate body.

And what about the Jedi knights themselves?  I am reminded of a quote from one of my friends after we saw Attack of Clones in theaters, which has remained a part of our groups lexicon to this day: “Man, Jedi sure die easy.”

That final battle in theory is cool, but when the Jedi arrive in the arena, it really destroys the power that Jedi held for SW fans.  The Jedi, frankly, suck.  They just get picked off left and right by a bunch of roots.  They were pathetic fighters.  Pathetic!  They certainly weren’t legendary warriors like they should have been.

The reputation of the Jedi was just trashed in Attack of the Clones.  If we are looking at how to improve the prequel trilogy, we would need to completely overhaul how the Jedi Order is portrayed.  Decentralize the order, have them be more solitary, with less of a governing code.  have them be better fighters, and reduce the number.

But we don’t have that movie, so we just have to remember the illusion of the Jedi from the first movies and try to keep that in our heads.

 

Aug
16

Jason-Bourne2

Jason Bourne is a Jason Bourne movie alright. Its got everything you would expect from a Bourne film; a juggernaut of frenetic pace and action, a minimal spy plot, and a stoic yet effecting performance from Matt Damon. It takes us to locations like Athens, Berlin, London and Vegas this time around. I particularly enjoyed seeing Vegas as I was just there recently and could recognize all the landmarks (though I think they got their geography wrong at the end of the chase. It seemed like they would have been at the Flamingo, not the Riviera…)

The story kicks off after Nikki hacks into the Blackbriar/Treadstone/whatever-it-is-now files and brings them to Bourne. Because his history is in the files, that makes this a little more of a personal venture than usual. On top of that, we get a revenge subplot to the film involving one of the other former assassins. I’m not sure this vengeance side to the story really fits too well, especially when it ends up going both ways. Somehow it seems beneath the Bourne franchise. I suppose that’s why this film doesn’t quite live up to the first three.

As for the supporting cast, Tommy Lee Jones seems like a good fit as the rough and gruff CIA director, running with the usual role that Brian Cox and David Strathairn had before him.  Alicia Vikander was alright, but seemed more like she was cast because she’s the new it girl rather than because she fit the film.  And it was nice to have Julia Stiles back as our link to the previous trilogy.
If you want a Bourne movie experience, Jason Bourne will give it to you. Its not as good as the others perhaps, but its still solid. I usually have issues with car chase, but the Vegas strip one was enjoyable. I also have issues with gratuitous killing of innocent bystanders in movies, and this one has a lot of that unfortunately. But regardless I still at fun with this latest Bourne flick.
8/10

Aug
11

pic236327

Race for the Galaxy has been around for almost a decade and continues to be loved and played. It takes the core concept of the hit game Puerto Rico, turns it into a card game, and adds a space exploration theme. And it’s brilliant. It has captivated large numbers of gamers, some of whom dedicate themselves to playing it hundreds of times.
However, one common complaint you may hear is the difficult of the iconography on the cards. I urge you not to take these complaints to heart. It’s just something for people to whine about. People like to whine about very popular games to feel like they are against the grain. But in reality the icons are not that big a deal and in fact can become a great asset after only a little experience with the game itself.

Gameplay
Race for the Galaxy is a race because all players are trying to be the first to lay down twelve cards on their “tableau”, which are all the planets and technologies they’ve discovered throughout the game. After that the game ends and the points are calculated. Throughout the game, there are a number of actions players can take to either play their cards or acquire new cards to use into their hands.
The great and interesting thing about this game is that the cards are used for everything: they are used as resources, currency, and the actual planets/tech themselves. It’s easy to keep everything straight but difficult in deciding what cards to try to keep and what cards to throw away in order to pay for the others.
Another cool concept in Race is that players play simultaneously. Each turn starts by players selecting what action they want to take for that turn but the great thing is that everyone gets to do all the actions selected. This is borrowed from Puerto Rico as mentioned before, but still feels like its own thing here. This makes for a smooth-flowing game experience.

Components

Race for the Galaxy consists almost entirely of cards, though there are some victory point tokens which were just regular old tokens really. The cards are cool though. Each one is decorated with cool sci-fi artwork, giving you a sense of the vastness of this galaxy you are exploring. They are also organized in a way which shows what the card will do at what action in the game.
So let’s discuss the icons. At first glance, yes it seems like a foreign language. But all you need to do is suck it up of your first play and after that you’re golden! Because it all does make a lot of sense once you get the hang of it, and to help you get there the game does provide a player guide with a key for what the symbols mean.
Before the first game ends, you should have a pretty good idea that a card in a hand means, guess what, take a card into your hand. Once you look past the vague confusion of the “forest” and actually look at all the symbols as “the trees”, they will make sense. In fact, they enhance the game once you’ve got the basic idea.

pic333273_md

Conclusion
I think I’ve said all I want to say. Race is a game we keep coming back to because it plays pretty quickly, sparks the imagination, and always provides a challenge to create the best federation of planets you can. The simultaneous action selection and multiple uses for your hand of cards are very interesting concepts which keep bringing us back and make this an excellently designed game.
I also love the theme, though I usually steer clear of sci-fi games. This is certainly one of the exceptions. The symbology is unique and helpful and only a barrier to new players if they are completely unwilling to take half a game to figure it out.

Aug
04

star-trek-into-darkness

I think I’ll do a like/dislike analysis for this one.

Likes:
– Interactions between the cast members. The story opened these up a little more this time around, and these characters and their relationships are a big part of why this was an enjoyable watch overall. They especially played up the Bones/Spock team, which I liked.

– The nature of the story, namely how the characters were split up. It allowed them each to have their moments and the story seemed to have a singular purpose. There was some pretty on-the-nose themes, like unity vs struggle, that would have been done more subtly, but oh well.

– I liked the mirror between Kirk’s doubts and the villain’s motives. When the movie started off with Kirk feeling lost, I thought it was an interesting idea to explore. Mind you, it ended up exactly where we all knew it would.

Dislikes:
– Visually, I found this movie very, very dark. Most of the time I couldn’t really tell what was even happening, let alone be able to take in the details of the frame. I’m not sure if it was the 3D, or the projection at my theater (though I’m never had problems there before), but it was really annoying.  Perhaps THIS is the movie that should have been called “Into Darkness”.

– The action was either really bland, or really blurry. Again, could have been 3D, but if they choose to release it in that overstayed-its-welcome format, then the criticism is deserved.

– The Sabotage moment. I’m sure I’m not alone in this.

– The character of Jayla. She was endearing enough that this isn’t that big an issue, but something about her just felt… juvenile, maybe?

This was pretty average. There were other small things that irked me, but overall the likable characters tend to save it.

7/10

Jul
18

Ghostbusters 2016 Movie Trailer Stills 006 Times Square Flashback

For being one of the biggest movies of the summer with a massive pre-release buzz, I actually don’t have a whole lot to say about the 2016 Ghostbusters. I mean, its a remake and those are rarely interesting, but the cast here had a chance to make it interesting. It is clear that there is a lot of love for the original 1984 movie, and this certainly isn’t a remake made as some sort of “ours will be better because it looks modern and slick” like Total Recall or Point Break. Its more a labour of love, and that is apparent and admirable in some way.

But its still just a remake. The updated special effects look quite good, giving the ghosts a modern look while also evoking the original ghost designs. I thought that the final ghost villain was a really cool idea. They also showed the genesis of the proton pack and added new twists to it, like ghost grenades, which gives a “we have to do something cool and different!” vibe I wasn’t into.

But the important aspect of making a Ghostbusters sequel is whether its funny or not. The original film cast was composed of mostly comedians who made one of the funniest genre films of the 80s. This cast was also comprised of comedians and the script was certainly written like a comedy. The only problem was that I simply didn’t laugh, and ultimately that’s where this film fails.

In the 1984 film, much of the comedy emerged naturally out of either the situation that was happening or out of the nature of the characters. Many of Venkman’s quips are a response to something happening and feel in place. Egon’s oddities come more from Ramis’ performance than from script-written jokes. But the new film cannot achieve this type of comedy. The humour seems way, way too forced. Think about the Mike Hat joke, or the Swiss army knife joke(?). It feels almost like they have to pause what is happening in the story in order for the characters to spout off some lines that usually don’t fit their characters too well.

That’s not to say the performances are bad. I quite liked Kate McKinnon’s energetic Holtsmann, even thigh the same rules of forced humour apply to her as well. Leslie Jones provided a good energy for the most part, but again some of her lines felt very out of place (more a fault of the writing). Chris Hemsworth added some levity, but his stupidity again didn’t feel too natural.  Kristen Wiig has no fluidity to her performance at all.

Hmm, I guess I had more to say than I thought. So ultimately, while I was somewhat interested in the Ghostbusting aspects of the story, it has serous shortcomings in the comedy. I maybe laughed twice, which is not a good thing for a big blockbuster comedic romp like this was supposed to be.
5/10

Jul
14

Intro

A little info on what this new blog series is going to be about.  I am a Star Wars fan, and as like any other Star Wars fan, I have had to wrestle with the existence of the prequel trilogy.  Because lets face it, they are not well-made movies.  And even as Star Wars stories they are also extremely defective.  And yet the core of the story isn’t really that bad, and could be worthy of the story that it tries to complete if only some changes were made.

So that’s what these posts will be doing: suggesting changes.  I will be pointing out how I believe these movies could have been fixed to make them more palatable as real entries into the Star Wars canon.  So imagine with me a scenario where these movies get a do-over, where we get to remake them with the advantage of hindsight.   Its a way to vent my frustration as a Star Wars fan, and just a fun exercise.  If you are not a fan of the series, this may not be for you.  If you are, I hope you find it interesting.

6a00e54ee7b6428833016303805f8e970d-500wi

Lets move on to The Phantom Menace:

Jar Jar and the Gungans

Lets get the obvious out of the way first.  Jar Jar is the poster boy for the failings of the prequels, but why?  Because he brings a level of silliness to these films that SW fans are simply not accustomed to.  He steps in crap, gets numb tongue, and speaks so that you cannot understand him.  He also doesn’t really provide much to the story other than introducing the Gungans as a whole, which isn’t really that important.  This character needs to be toned down considerably.   I know many people would like him removed altogether, but he could add an interesting alien aspect to the film if he was just re-imagined a little.  Or… maybe its easier just not to have him at all.

The Gungans have many of the same problems.  I mean, the main guy shakes his head and spits slobber.  Really?  I like the look of the underwater city, and I like the idea of these two races having to join together to defeat a common enemy.  But the Gungans are just so silly…  Now, George Lucas’ defense for Jar Jar and the Gungans is that he says this is a kid’s movies, and that the Star Wars movies have always been for kids. Okay sure, but they’ve never been THIS kind of kid’s movie.  They’ve never been this juvenile, and trying to make it so now just completely clashes with the other films.

phantom-menace-3d-jarjar

Acting and Dialogue

I really don’t understand why Lucas had the actors play so stiffly.  Its really brings the movie down.  The worst offenders are Natalie Portman and Sam Jackson, but Ewan McGregor ain’t too hot either.  The only one who is able to develop his role into an actual character is Liam Neeson.  Everyone else is  a cardboard cut-out.  Lucas needs to just let them own their characters and make them unique, so we as an audience actually feel something for them.

And lets face it, the script needs a total overhaul, preferably by someone who knows how to write naturally flowing dialogue.  Most of these lines are so bloody clumsy my forehead hurts from all the slapping.

natalie-portman-as-queen-padme-amidala-in

Queen Amidala/ bodyguard decoy

This was such a stupid aspect of the plot that needed to be removed entirely.  It added nothing and it just made things unnecessarily confusing.  There was simply no need for it.  Just have Padme join the Tatooine expedition as the queen, its fine.  Or, leave Padme as the handmaiden.  She doesn’t NEED to be the queen just because she’s a central character.

Anakin’s Character

I’m not gonna rag on the kid’s acting, cause… he was a kid.  But I can criticize the way the character was written.  This is Anakin Skywalker, the man who would one day become Darth Vader.  The entire concept of the prequels is centered around this character turn.  But what we get here is a sweet, innocent kid, and they bend over backwards to make him seem altruistic and purely good.  But this kid is gonna be Vader.  There should be SOME seed of something that would one day turn him.  And the mostly likely characteristic to use would be ambition.  Show some of the kid’s ambition which would later lead to his corruption and quest for power.

For example, the way that Qui-Gon finds Anakin is really random happenstance.  Maybe there could be some way that Anakin seeks him out instead.  Another opportunity is during the space battle at the end of the movie.  Instead of going through the ridiculous premise of Anakin being taken to the battle by autopilot, make it his decision to join the fight.  Have him take ownership and show some of the cockiness that would eventually destroy him.

As for him being a slave, that’s fine.  I quite like the idea.  But it could have been handled a little more deftly.  For example, during the dinner scene Qui-Gon says that his mission isn’t to free slaves.  But why not? Doesn’t that seem like exactly the kind of missions the Jedi should be on?

swi_4693

C-3P0

Okay, come on.  Anakin building C-3P0 was a stupid idea.  I’m fine with Anakin being a gifted pilot, clearly that comes from the Force.  But he needs to be some expert builder too, something that never comes up again in any other movie?  Just because he’s a beloved character, it doesn’t mean Threepio needs to have some wacky, shoehorned origin story.  So dumb…

Darth Maul

This movie needs a better villain.  All its got is the Emperor before he was an emperor who is either in hiding or only shown via hologram, and Darth Maul.  And lets face it, Darth Maul as a character is pretty much non-existent.  We know nothing about him, we have no concept of his background or what drives him.  And he’s not menacing in the least.  The only thing frightening about him is his make-up, but otherwise he’s simply not threatening.  Nothing in the way he acts or speaks gives any sense of danger.  He needed a lot of work in order to make him an effective villain, other than the conceptual design of his physical appearance.

4mCFPUW

The Senate Story

A lot of people bitch about how there’s too much politics in episode 1 for a Star Wars story, and especially how much of a bummer the opening scrolls were when we start with a trade dispute.  I’m not one of those people.  I’m okay with seeing the senate that existed before the Empire, and I’m okay with starting small, since this is supposed to be the beginnings of the larger story-line.  Actually, I think the Senate part of the story needed to be focused on more.

I think most people’s issues aren’t with the fact that the senate stuff exists, but that its not interesting.  It would work if they made it interesting and put a little more effort into writing how Palpatine is able to take power over the entire political body.  After all, that, along with the introduction of Anakin, is the only real reason this story exists within the larger scope of the overall story.  Its an important point, so spend more time and storytelling effort.

I also very much dislike the Jedi council, but this is something I will go into in a lot more detail when I review Attack of the Clones.  But an ESP test? Really guys?

Yoda_Episode_I_Canon

Midicholorians

Now we come to what I find to be the most egregious offense committed by this movie.  For some reason Lucas felt it was necessary to introduce midicholorians as some sort of symbiotic bacteria that is responsible for the force.  Seriously? You just took all mystery and power from this concept that was so well-built in the original films.  The force should be some be some inexplicable energy which lets our imagination and wonder define it, not some quantifiable measurement.  Remember that scene where Yoda explains the force to Luke, being between the tree and the rock?  Or when he uses the Force to raise up the X-Wing?  Yeah, this idea just vomits on all of that.  Disgusting.  These need to be erased from the consciousness of all connected to the Star Wars universe.

Well, that’s all I’ve got for The Phantom Menace.  Lets face it, in order to make this movie a worthy entry, it would need a lot of work.  But the kernel of the story is still worth working with.  If only…

 

Jul
12

trumbo-6

Not necessarily an outstanding biopic, but certainly an interesting one. Trumbo delves into the period of Hollywood blacklisting through the character of Dalton Trumbo, a Communist writer. Bryan Cranston gives a compelling performance as we see him try to work the injustice of the congressional hearings and still manage to write despite the ban.

Its a very good movie, with only a few flaws in how some supporting actors basically boil down to celebrity impressions (though not too bad actually).  There’s also some uninteresting “not so great a father” drama that isn’t needed. Otherwise, a good watch.

8/10

Jul
09

The Living Daylights

jamesbond

I’ve made it to the Dalton era!  I must say I like Timothy Dalton as Bond a lot more than Roger Moore.  He’s less smarmy than Moore was.  He’s more suave, though I have to say he does lack some charisma.  I guess that’s why he only lasted two films?

Living Daylights was alright, but its the 15th film in a franchise and it feels like the 15th film in a franchise.  There’s nothing new or fresh anymore.  So its really just about fun spy stories and sequences.  We start with a training sequence going wrong in Gibraltar, move on to helping a defecting general past the iron curtain, and somehow end up in the Afghanistan conflict.  Nothing was exceptional, except maybe the ski car (once again we have an action scene on a ski hill), and the line “he got the boot”.  The Afghan stuff wasn’t too interesting, and I didn’t understand how the girl fit into everything.

6/10

License to Kill

LTK DJ2

Timothy Dalton’s second and final effort as Bond sees him going renegade to catch the man who attacked his friend Felix Leiter.  Leiter has his legs bitten off by a shark.  I mean, that’s pretty insane, especially for a recurring character.  Does he ever come back into the series until the reset with Casino Royale? And if so, does he have prosthetic legs now?

So Bond hunts down international drug cartel leader Sanchez.  My first thought was, a drug dealer, really?  How boring.  But I guess this was the 80’s so they were the in vogue villains at the time.  This movie offers us some interesting stuff, like a very young and skinny Benicio Del Toro and a scene were a guy’s head explodes.  And blackjack.  Love the classic casino scenes.

At first this movie seemed like the same mundane ridiculousness that I had seen from the last 5 or so Bond films, but in the second half it really toned itself down and became a more subdued Bond story.  And if you remember previous ramblings, I prefer the more subdued stuff, so I sunk into this film quite nicely and ended up enjoying it.

7/10

Goldeneye

519

With Goldeneye, Bond producers decided to take a different approach and adapt the popular video game into a film.  And it works, providing a strong first entry for Pierce Brosnan as 007.  Goldeneye is a solid 90’s action movie and works as a new age bond thriller.  I honestly didn’t pay much attention to the plot, but I believe the gist is that former soviets are trying to control a space missile system thanks to, of course, hackers! (It was the 90s after all)

I’m sure the plot is fine.  But what really works here is the tone of the movie.  Its just the right level of seriousness and goofiness, and the action scenes actually kept my interest (most of the time).  The opening scene on the hydro dam feels stealthy.  The car chase with the tank is good because, hey, at least it has a tank.  The climactic fight is…. a problem.  Sigh.  It was pretty much telegraphed how the end would play out.  So bloody cliche and uninteresting, I really wish they could have capped off an overall good action flick with an interesting action climax.  C’est la vie.

A lot of the credit for the tone needs to go to Brosnan himself.  He certainly has a presence as Bond.  The villains are also fun, especially Sean Bean.  I also like how a lot of the Bond staples are there: the secret lair, the casino scenes, a playful race on a cliffside road.  But they are all a little bit modernized so as to be less banal.

I did have to laugh at some terrible movie cliche’s thrown in for good measure, like how Sean Bean wont just shoot Bond, he stands there with the gun pointed at him long enough for Bond to get out of it.  Or how when Bond gives the girl a gun and says do you know how to use this?  Of course she can’t just say yes, she has to answer by reloaded the magazine and resetting the chamber.

Goldeneye: one of the better Bonds.
8/10

Jul
06

big-startfilmru1318408

I have a long history with ID4.  I was 15 when it came out and was big into nerdy stuff like The X-Files and had a number of friends who were as well.  When we saw the preview for this new alien invasion movie, I became instantly excited.  A group of us made a plan to see this opening day (I am pretty sure this was my first opening day movie).  There were so many of us we took up almost a whole row in the theater.  It was an event.

Twenty years later, I saw the new movie alone during a matinee showing since no one else was interested in seeing it.  Times have changed.

But has the movie?  First I will say that the overall tone of the original film remains intact here.  They manage to capture the same balance of humour, fun, and seriousness that the first movie had.  It may lack Will Smith, but Jeff Goldblum is still Goldblumin’ it up.  I will also say that this is certainly an interesting sequel to a movie I love, but not necessarily a well-made one.

The premise of the story I found quite intriguing.  The aliens answer their own distress call and return to earth in full force.  They manage to establish the mythology of this predator race well, explaining a little more how they work.  They also establish how our world is different now that we have access to the aliens and their technology.  The idea of an alien prison is interesting for example.  One aspect that wasn’t so original however was the idea of the aliens having a hive queen.  (Aliens anyone?  Borg perhaps?)

There is another part of the story with a particular white orb which I won’t go into which starts off as instantly fascinating, but when its played out it becomes sort of silly.

But here’s the reason that this movie isn’t very good: the pacing.  The first Independence Day was a massive hit and a well-remembered disaster film because it left an impression in people’s minds.  We all know the explosion of the White House scene, or the Empire State Building.  But the reason that all work so well is because the build up was so meticulously crafted.  The tension was built in just the right ways that we as an audience were able to feel like something big was going to happen, then were paid off when it did.

In Resurgence, big stuff just happens.  Sans build up.  For example, when the aliens arrive, they just arrive.  There’s no Will Smith getting his newspaper to see the clouds on fire.  There’s no subtle shaking of objects on the lunar surface.  When it shows up stuff starts getting ripped up immediately.  And every big action beat after that is much the same.  They are rushing through this movie, getting from set piece to set piece without thought of making those set pieces feel like they have weight.

I was actually surprised to see that Emmerich was behind the helm again, because it felt so rushed.  He usually knows how to pace these disaster films much better.  While I was interested in this movie as a continuation of the overall story, I was disappointed in the actual film-going experience.  It really needed to slow down and let us take in what was happening.
5/10

Jul
04

NE6qjMy1sSmj9a_1_b

I’m surprised more people aren’t talking about this movie, honestly. It has all the ingredients for entertaining summer fare: a well-known character, a strong cast, great visual effects, and a sense of adventure. This is a well-made movie which piques the imagination thrills the senses.

The Legend of Tarzan does not tell the usual Tarzan story we all know, but instead makes the decision to tell the story of him returning to the jungle after years living as an English lord. This was a wise decision. It gives us something different and adds a layer of this man who is trying to put him uncivilized past behind him, but keeps getting pulled back in. we still see the Tarzan origin in flashbacks, but they are well-placed and work for the most part.

I would say that the action scenes leave a lot to be desired, but may sound odd after I just said this is great summer entertainment, but its the truth. The fight scenes are not filmed very spectacularly and verge on the Snyder-style ramp-ups a little too much. The more jungly action, like swinging through the vines and avoiding stampedes are much more thrilling and interesting.

Legend of Tarzan sports an impressive cast, stemming from Alexander Skarsgard as the ape man himself, down to Margot Robbie as a Jane who holds her own, Sam Jackson as the everyman we can relate to, and Christoph Waltz doing his usual, but good, villain bit.

I really enjoyed the sense of adventure provided by this new Tarzan film. It uses its Congo setting well, with lots of animal encounters and historical issues of the time. I also enjoyed watching this legendary man reluctantly re-exploring his fabled past, and there was certainly a more intimate story there.
8/10

Jul
02

THE GOOD DINOSAUR – SEEING THE LIGHT — An Apatosaurus named Arlo makes an unlikely human friend in Disney•Pixar’s “The Good Dinosaur.” Directed by Peter Sohn, “The Good Dinosaur” opens in theaters nationwide Nov. 25, 2015. ©2015 Disney•Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

While Inside Out was released to box office success and acclaimed reviews, The Good Dinosaur released in the holiday season to little fanfare or attention.  It was pretty clear which of Pixar’s 2015 movies was its champion last year.  And sure enough, The Good Dinosaur doesn’t reach the storytelling heights of Inside Out, must does that mean this secondary cartoon has no value of its own?  Of course not, in fact its quite the charming little movie in its own right.

Here we get a rather commonplace story in animation these days, where Arlo the runt of the litter suffers a family tragedy and has to make his own way in the world.  Along the way he meets a human he calls Spot.  They look out for each other along their adventures and create a  heart-warming bond, which of course will pay off emotionally in the end.

The story of Good Dinosaur isn’t that unique.  There are callbacks to classic animation films like The Lion King in one scene, Finding Nemo is the finding family aspect, etc.  And the theme of the movie, which revolves around making your mark in the world, isn’t delved in too deeply and is really just on the surface, like the hoofprints on the stone.  That’s said, the characters of Arlo and Spot and the relationships in the film, especially Arlo and his father, do a good job of filling the story void and making you care.

One more thing I have to mention is that the computer animation here is exceptional, especially the background scenary.  Pay attention to any scene with water in it.  There was one scene with light reflecting in river water that looked entirely real.  The bark on the trees was also outstanding.  And then when they throw in interesting visual cues like a reverse Jaws moment in the clouds, The Good Dinosaur suddenly turns into a visual feast worth watching on that level alone.

7.5/10

Jun
30

hail-caesar-character-profile-th

I was looking forward to Hail Caesar. But now that I’ve seen it, it just kind of came and went. There’s really no lasting effect. The story simply evaporates into nothing, and there’s no payoff with any of the threads. I did like seeing the Coen’s explore 50’s Hollywood and try to recreate it, but that’s really all this movie’s got.

The whole movie feels empty. It seems like it COULD be saying something about various topics. At first it seems like there could be some religious commentary (though I really laughed at the Rabbi’s line “Eh, I have no opinion”), but it doesn’t really go anywhere. It seems like there could be some political musings with the communist angle, but that also dissolves. They could be saying something about the main character trying to choose between jobs, but they only attach any meaning to that at the very end. The movie is really quite vapid at the end of it all.

5.5/10

Jun
20

pic423644_md

This gaming hobby has exploded in the past decade, with hundreds of new games being released yearly in all types of categories. Gamers are obsessed with the newest and shiniest additions to the hobby. But every once in a while when we tear our eyes away from the shiny glare of the “new”, we notice a gem of a game that is over a 100 years old.
Pit is what we today would probably consider a party game: its loud and raucous, it can handle a lot of players at a time, the rules are simple and its very frenetic. If I described it as a game about trading commodities, I wouldn’t be incorrect, but that wouldn’t really capture the spirit of the game. Pit is more a game about trading cards as fast as you can, and yelling. So much yelling.
Let’s take a look at this loudest of games.

Gameplay

Pit is a pretty easy game to grasp. Everyone has a hand of cards, and the goal is to have your entire hand all one type of commodity. Your reward is that you get to ring the bell. Oh, and you get points too.
So how do you get your hand to be all one commodity? You trade. It’s a blind trading system where you can trade 1,2,3, or 4 cards at a time with anyone at the table. The brilliance is that there is no turn-based system or structure of any kind really. You just call out your number, someone agrees, you trade, and keep doing that as fast and as loudly as possible.
And that’s it. After lots of shouting, grabbing, and reaching, someone completes a set, rings a bell, scores points, and then you do it all again.
The only complicated aspect of the rules is when you want to play with the bull and bear cards. Keep in mind these are optional, and the only fiddly thing with them is the exact sets of nine are a little messed up, and people have different sized hands. The bull can act as a wild card, but can also cost you points if you don’t win that hand. And the bear card is also a penalty if you are stuck with it. I don’t like the hand sizes being different when these are added, but I do like the hot potato aspect of the bear.

Components

I mean, its mostly cards. And they get worn out pretty quickly with all the passing around, and scrunching up, and everything. In fact, I am at the point where I’m actually going to have to replace my copy. And the illustrations are just basic wheat, corn, coffee, etc. But that’s all they need to be. But of course there’s also the bell.

pic104_md

Conclusion

Pit is an old parlour game, and it feels like an old parlour game, but in the best possible way. Its not bogged down by modern day rules, or ideas of what a game needs to be. Its structured entirely around an enjoyable experience, while still existing within the limits of an actual game.
Pit rocks. You will have a good time, and anyone within earshot will be able to tell you are having a good time. So ring that bell and pick up Pit for a great party game experience.

Jun
18

zootopia

Animated movies like to take things that are not highly intelligent and suppose that they were: toys in Toy Story, fish in Finding Nemo, video game characters in Wreck It Ralph, and now the animal kingdom in Zootopia. Its a neat premise and there’s quite a bit of fun in exploring it.

Zootopia runs with the conceit that animals have naturally evolved to be anthropomorphic, much like humans (though no mention of humans exists in this movie).  They have built cities and home s and social morals.  Yet because there are so many species, discrimination and stereotyping still exists.  More specifically, there is a definite racial divide between predators and prey.

Anchoring this movie are the protagonists Judy Hops, a bunny who begins her police career, and Nick Wilde, a con artist fox.  They are interesting characters and have good chemistry.  The story involves them solving a crime where animals are turning feral again, causing more racial divides.  Its pretty heavy with the symbolism, but that’s okay, messages dont always have to be subtle, especially in a family movie.  Sometimes I wonder what they are trying to say about discrimination other than its bad.  At times they seem to be going deeper with it, likethe idea of self-fulfilling prophecies (i.e. a fox acts sly because people always think he is anyways), at others its unclear (is it good that animals have their own specific traits, or not?)

But on a more surface level, there’s a lot of fun sequences and lots of visual eye candy.  For example, there’s a chase scene in “rodent town” where all the buildings are tiny, and Judy has try not to crush everything during her pursuit.  And of course the sloths at the DMV is an obvious joke but a good one.  There’s lots of stuff like that that I appreciate.

Zootopia is a world that could easily be explored further, and I have a feeling it will be.  I am looking forward to it.

8/10

Jun
11

the-nice-guys-ryan-gosling-russell-crowe-slice

The Nice Guys is a great piece of entertainment. First of all, its hilarious. And its hilarious in two ways: the script and the performances. The jokes are well-written, but they’re even better when delivered by the likes of Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe. These two leads are great together. They’ve got a strongly comedic chemistry that never fizzles throughout the whole movie.

Completing the trio is Ryan Gosling’s daughter Holly played by newcomer Angourie Rice. She does a great job keeping up with her two superstar co-workers. Her character can verge on annoying every now and them, but overall she is a real asset to the film.

But not only does the movie work as great comedy, its also a pretty cool mystery story. I actually cared about the plot as it continued to unravel, and was always intrigued by the case they were working on. The opening scene for example is both wonderfully bizarre, funny in its own regard, and tantalizing with the mystery it provides.  Also, the 1970’s setting looks great and is well utilized.

Go see Nice Guys. After being bombarded with comic book movies and franchise sequels, its a breath of fresh air. They just don’t make movies like this very much anymore.
9/10