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

Jul
03

The Incredibles finally have their sequel, and it feels like the characters have all fallen right back into step even after 14 years. Which is good, because the movie starts off right after the events of the last movie, where the family battles the Underminer.

They really play up the family dynamic again in this second film, which is definitely a strength. The best parts of this movie are watching Bob and the rest of the family try to deal with Jack-Jack’s new powers. And it feels like each character manages to have their own arc, aside from maybe Dash. Violet certainly does though.

I’m not sure there’s as much thematic strength behind this movie as their was the first one, but there is still some meaning behind the plot, and especially with the ways to read into the main villain, Screenslaver, and their powers.

The Incredibles 2 is a lot of fun, as you would expect, and feels like a true sequel to the original. You can definitely tell a difference in the 14 year gap in terms of animation, where there is more detail especially in the faces (which can be off-putting at times, especially around the eyes). There are also some new heroes added in, who feel extraneous and feel more like they are just their for extra flare. But the core family, and Lucius, are who we really care about, and this is a great second outing for them.

8/10

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Jun
09

I’ll be up front and state that I was against the idea of a Han Solo prequel movie. It just seems weird having someone not Harrison Ford play Han at roughly the same age he was in the first movie. It seemed exploitative to me in some way.

That being said, I have to admit that I did enjoy it. I was genuinely entertained throughout and found the story acceptable as a origin for this iconic character. For the most part, this seems like the kind of shenanigans he would have gotten himself into.

And of course, Chewie’s in it!

There were parts of the movie I didn’t care for, parts that felt too un-Star Wars-like,similar to the casino section of Last Jedi, or pretty much the entirely of Rogue One. Perhaps the biggest of these was the L3 droid character. She was unceasingly irritating. There was also a lot of cheap pander points, but I guess that’s to be expected.

*Note: There are some spoilers beyond this point

Speaking of pander points, there were a couple of “originy” things I did appreciate. I liked where the Solo part of his name came from, and I also liked the reason why he was so drawn to the Falcon. And I have to say I liked how Han and Chewie met.

That Darth Maul part though just made… no sense.

So I found it mostly enjoyable, especially considering how adverse I was to the concept itself. I liked the story for the most part, other than the change with the marauders and how we were suddenly supposed to immediately join their side. But otherwise things turned out not exactly the way you’d think they would, but in a way which still felt true to the film.

Not bad. Odds were this wasn’t going to be a good movie. But never tell him the odds.

7/10

Apr
30

The culmination of the last ten years of Marvel movies, the moment that all these interconnected stories have been building up to, satisfyingly delivers.  This is a relief for everyone who has some level of investment in this franchise.  Its the biggest crossover since Cartoon All-stars to the Rescue, and it is quite the spectacle.

Somehow they managed to pack in pretty much every superhero, and a few villains, from the previous 20 or so movies into this one story.  And it works.  Each character gets their moment and few feel too shoehorned in.  Whether its Spider-man and Iron Man jamming out on a spaceship, Captain America visiting Wakanda, or Thor at his most desperate, there is lots going on in this movie.  The stakes are raised right off the bat, and only increase as it goes on.  And oh yeah, the Guardians of the Galaxy finally get to interact with the Avengers, which is pretty great.

Thanos turns out to be the most menacing of the Marvel villains thus far, which adds to the impact of this whole extravaganza.  He’s layered and motivated while also being fundamentally threatening.  After having a bunch of Generic villains like Ronin and Yellowjacket, Thanos is a refreshing foe.

Now I’m going to get into where I feel the film’s weakness lies, but it will get into spoilers, so:

*SPOILERS AHEAD

There are some pretty big moments in Infinity War, including a pretty devastating beginning where Thor’s entire civilization is wiped out, including his brother.  We also get a rather great story-line which brings Gamora and Thanos back together.  But then we get to the very end of the movie, which is reminiscent of The Leftovers.  Now, the stakes have already been raised, but at this point maybe they are too high?  It felt like things got really, really heavy, beyond the bounds set by this franchise.  There’s a small interaction with Spider-Man here which I think exemplifies this.

And there is the additional problem that the ending must clearly be reversible in the next movie.  So the emotional impact of this is undercut by that knowledge, but it also undercuts the impact of the more dramatic moments earlier in the film as well.  I’m pretty sure only the events caused by the Gauntlet itself will be reversed, which means Loki and Gamora’s death will remain, but the power of those lost some impact where its suddenly every other character.

It was a pretty downer ending.  It was affecting though.  And it was able to actually give a rather shocking climactic moment to the biggest superhero spectacle to date.

8.5/10

 

Apr
24

Ooh, I really liked this one. A Quiet Place is a horror flick with the conceit that evil creatures are attracted to loud noises, so keep your mouth shut! There are a lot of cool details that go along with this premise, like sand trails for walking, painted floorboards to show which don’t creek, etc. All of this builds a realistic fabric into the film’s aesthetic.

John Krazinski, who also directed this, is solid as the cornerstone of the family, and Emily Blunt does a great job of showing you everything her character is feeling or thinking with almost no words. The kids, while adding extra danger elements a la’ Jurassic park, also contribute to the emotional family dynamic that roots the whole film.

As for the thrills, they are excellent. Since mos of the film is rooted in silence, every sudden noise is a potential scare. The creatures themselves are interesting and frightening, and while they are shrouded in mystery, we do see a fair amount from them. There are some great scenes of tension that compose this movie, from the dramatic opening to the ticking time-bomb, in form of an upcoming baby, going off.

Lately it seems like every years for the last four years has produced a really great thriller, and A Quiet Place is 2018’s.  Although I will say that being in a theater so quiet, you really become conscious of every little sound you make, even just shifting in your seat!

9/10

Apr
23

X-Wing is a game that thrives on expansions and has become one of those “money pit” games. There is a segment of the gaming population who buys all the new X-Wing ships no matter what. I will state that I am not one of those people, nor am I a hardcore X-wing player. But I do own X-Wing and I do own a few of the ships, the first of which I will talk about briefly here today: the X-wing expansion. For the X-Wing game. It contains an X-Wing.

Additions

1X-Wing model – Alright, lets discuss the Bantha in the room. Yes, the base game already has an X-Wing. And yes, this one is exactly the same. You’ll just have two of them now.

2New cards – Thematically, the big addition is the Wedge card. Luke and Biggs are in the base game, but Wedge is only found here. We also get some other made up pilot and two no-names.


Critique

Best Feature: I suppose its being able to play two ships per player, if you only have the base game and this. Also, Wedge.

What type: I would consider this an extension expansion, or maybe a collection expansion? What would be the better term?

When to use: As a collection expansion, this gets thrown into the whole mix. Can be used every time, as long as a player picks it.

Does it fit?
: No. The base box is far too small and there is no room for more ships. You can add the cards into the deck, but the ship itself must stay outside.

Overall: Well, its weird because the expansion is just taking one third of the base game, and copying it. But this can be useful for two types of players: those who are keeping things simple and not buying all the expansions, where each player can now have two ships, or to big collectors who want multiple copies of the same ships to have lots of variety in fleet building.

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Apr
06

My fourth installment into looking at the highest and lowest episodes of my favourite TV series if finally ready to go after rewatching all 7 seasons of The West Wing.  My previous posts include The Simpsons, The X-Files and Game of Thrones.  The West Wing is the one show I tend to call my favourite most often.  I watched the entire original run and have rewatched the episodes many times, especially the first four seasons.

What I’ve done this time is ranked all 154 episodes from strongest to weakest.  I will be showcasing the top ten and bottom ten, as those are usually the sections people would actually care about.  If you are interested in the full list, let me know.

By the way, if you have never seen The West Wing, I highly recommend you do so.

Top Ten Episodes

10. Mr. Willis of Ohio

Season 1

The West Wing pilot was good at establishing its characters, but not necessarily the tone.  The 3rd episode, Proportional Response, that season did a lot towards helping find it, but this sixth episode  is where I feel the show really found its footing.  Here we get a great story where a congresswoman’s widower is taking over for her, and Toby experiences a temporary politicians without any motives other than making the right choice.  We also get a story where Zoe joins the gang at the bar and trouble ensues.  There is both humour and weight in equal measure, something the show would soon perfect.

9. 18th and Potomac

Season 2

This was the penultimate episode of the second season (probably the show’s best year) which saw the staff dealing with Bartlett’s MS issues after just learning about it.  There was also a side story about Mrs. Landingham getting a new car, which had lots of amusing interactions between her and Charlie as well as her and Jed.  And then at the end that story-line suddenly becomes much more important, pushing the drama of the end of this season even deeper.  Great writing, great performances.

8. Holy Night

Season 4

The West Wing always seemed to put a little more punch into their Christmas episodes, and Season  4’s Holy Night was no exception.  The episode oddly starts with a Jewish mob hit in New York in the 50s.  We end up learning that we are watching the history of Toby’s family, and most of the episode deals with the tumultuous relationship with his father.  There’s some great stuff with Jed and Leo trying to purge their guilt, as well as a heartfelt yet quick scene between Toby and Josh.

7. Institutional Memory

Season 7

The show took a quality dip in season 5 after Sorkin left, but in the second half of season six and into season seven, the momentum really picked up again.  During this time, we saw CJ take on the role of Chief of Staff and grow into it.  By the end of the series she had really earned her spot as one of the most powerful women in the world.

The series finale of West Wing was nice in a nostalgic, conflict-free way, but I much prefer this penultimate episode where CJ faces the end of their term and contemplates what her future is going to look like.  She has great interactions with Danny, Santos, and Toby (in his last scene of the series). I really enjoy this episode, which is probably the strongest of the last three years.

6. Twenty Five

Season 4

I know a lot of people may not like this episode, as it stretches the veil of reality a bit too far, but I really appreciate all the inherent drama involved.  Back in the 6th episode of season 1 (see #10 on the list), Jed created a scenario to scare Zoe into taking her secret service detail seriously.  This is where the scenario happens, and a national crisis ensues.  There are some really tense moments, some really heartfelt moments (especially with Toby’s babies), and a very dramatic moment at the end when Jed steps down and John Goodman takes over.  This was also Sorkin’s last episode, so read into that what you may.

5. 20 Hours in America

Season 4

This was the only double length episode The West Wing ever did, and it acted as the fourth season premiere.  And into these two hours we get a showcase of the best parts of The West Wing, while also going outside its comfort zone a little.  During a campaign tour in the midwest, Toby, Josh and Donna get left behind and go through a series of escapades to make it back to Washington, learning a lot about their country along the way (eventually).  There is a lot of humour to be had in this experience, and we certainly get it.  But there’s also a nice touch where Toby and Josh seems to rediscover why they chose pubic service in the first place.

4. 17 People

Season 2

A big part of the second and third season revolved around the President’s MS, which was hidden from the public but starts to leak out.  Even though it was brought up earlier, this is where the story-line really kicks off as Toby starts to put the pieces together and confronts Leo and the President about it.  What we get is an extended Oval Office showdown between these two minds and ideologies.  West Wing tends to be at its best when Toby and Jed are gong at each other, and this is one of the best examples of that.

3. Take This Sabbath day

Season 1

Capital punishment is the topic du jour of this powerful mid first season episode.  Here we see Jed struggling with the decision of whether or not to stay a notable execution.  We also get Josh meeting Joey Lucas for the first time while hungover.  The episode has comedy, pathos, and a great cameo my Carl Malden.

2. Noel

Season 2

The best West Wing episodes are able to inject humour into serious discussions, and Noel does that brilliantly here as josh gets tricked into a therapy session with Adam Arkin.  They explore Josh’s PTSD after the assassination attempt, and its interesting how its all brought together with a Yo-Yo Ma concert at the end.  Great episode.

1. Two Cathedrals

Season 2

It is hard to find an hour of television so well crafted. This is a powerful episode where Bartlett is faced with the decision of running again in the aftermath of a scandal and the recent death of a dear friend. Everything is brought to a dramatic climax which appears to be a cliffhanger at first glance, but the genius of story tells us that it is not. Television at its finest.

The Bottom Ten Episodes

Let me be clear; The West Wing may very well be my favourite TV show.  Nonetheless, I accept that it is not perfect and has its weaker moments (most of which are in season 5).  Let’s face it, almost no TV show can be perfect; there are simply too many hours worth that eventually there will be some missteps.  But you know what?  Accepting this about your favourite shows is cathartic in a way; its letting go of the idea that a great show has to be great every single episode.  So taht’s why I do the bottom ten in these blog posts.  Its not to feed my cynicism (though it does a little), but more to declare that its okay if even the best shows aren’t always the best.

10. The Stormy President

Season 5

I suppose this one is here because, well, its just sort of boring. And the idea of looking at these former fictional presidents should have been much more interesting than it turned out to be.

9. Disaster Relief

Season 5

Its widely known among West Wing and TV fans that the show dipped in quality in season 5.  The reason for this is that the show’s magnate, Aaron Sorkin, left, leaving a creative void in his wake.  The new showrunners took a while to fill it properly.  but in the meantime they tried more high concept ideas, like the president visiting a disaster site and refusing to leave.  Sometimes they worked, others they didn’t and the absence of the show’s once-clever writing was felt.

8. The Dover Test

Season 6

The Dover Test is an early season 6 episode where they are dealing with the ramifications of sending troops to Israel, and CJ is still getting her feet wet as Chief of Staff.  Its not an overly interesting episode, especially with a whole side story-line of Leo recovering from surgery where…. we takes walks and refuses to eat food.  Yawn.

7. The Women of Qumar

Season 3

I am surprised to see a couple early season episodes on this list, but there are a couple, and this season 3 episode in particular sort of bugs me.  I get the message that its trying to portray in CJ getting angry over an arms deal with a country notoriously oppressive of women, but it feels disingenuous and rather irritating in the way she goes about dealing with it.

6. An Khe

Season 5

Another Season 5 attempt to expand the scope outside the White House, this time by going into flashbacks of Leo’s time in Vietnam.  What we get an episode full of scenes that don’t feel like they are from West Wing.  Occasionally WW is able to stretch outside and try something new, like CJ’s high school reunion (granted a lot of people don’t like that one either), but this is one experiment that simply doesn’t work.

5. In This White House

Season 2

Ainsley Hayes was one of those characters who was introduced, but never became part of the core and faded away.  But I liked the character and thought she added an interesting dynamic.   However, I really didn’t like her first episode.  It felt like a rare dip into poor writing by Sorkin.  Its treated as an outsider’s look into the White House staff, but in reality its just Ainsley wandering around the west wing and being nosy.  Margaret is supposed to escort her out, but apparently it  takes a couple of hours and constant detours.  The whole thing is sloppy.

4. The Debate

Season 7

Also known as the “live episode”, the concept was an interesting one.  These two candidates, whose campaign to replace Bartlett took up the exciting final seventh season, were to meet in a debate that would be broadcast live twice; once on the east coast, once on the west.  However, in execution, we end up with a pretty dull hour where the motivations are pretty transparent.  The biggest problem is that none of the topics or viewpoints discussed are new; they are all recycled from earlier in the season.  Its like they made a summary paragraph for everything that has come before in this campaign, and as such its a pretty dull watch.

3. Ninety Miles Away

Season 6

Ninety Miles Away sees a last ditch effort for Leo and Bartlett to repair relations with Cuba.  What results is an episode that has more flashbacks involving both Leo and Kate.  These turn out to have revelations about the characters that is more suited in an episode of Lost than WW.  Its pretty dumb and very tonally off of what West Wing usually is.

2. Birnam Wood

Season 6

One thing West Wing rarely was, was ugly.  But that’s exactly what this second half tot he season 6 premiere was.  Most of the episode deals with a summit at Camp David between white house staffers, Israeli and Palestinian leaders.  They break off into groups and discuss the issues, but do so in a very basic, surface-level way.  The writing in these sessions feel far below the writing level of the show in general.

Then there’s the ending.  Throughout the episode we see a rift forming between Leo and Bartlett and at the end the rift splits.  This results in Leo having a heart attack in the woods, and seemingly no one cares.  This whole ending is ugly; the way Jed talks to Leo, the way Leo is simply left for dead.  Later of course he is found and recovers, which leads to CJ taking over, but at this point its simply ugly.  I’ve always hated this episode and when it aired I thought the show’s quality was over for good.  Thank goodness the election came to save it.

1. Access

Season 5

Reading my above paragraph, it maybe feels like Birnam Wood should have this last spot, but in reality its Access; the ultimate example of West Wing going outside the box and failing.  This season 5 episode sees CJ as the subject of a documentary crew.  Its filmed in “live tv” frame rate and we only see what the cameras see.  Interesting idea, right?  Nope. Instead this conceit acts as a barrier keeping us at arms length to what makes the West Wing worth watching.  We don’t get the witty dialogue between characters, we get filtered dialogue.  We don’t get intense behind the scenes drama, we get static interviews.  This episode is watered down West Wing, and its ridiculously boring.  Its the least like West Wing that the show has ever been.

Mar
24

Race for the Galaxy is an incredible game which stretches a gamer’s muscles for efficient strategy, tweaks at their imagination, and offers a quick-fire pace. The games has a number of expansions, beginning with three early add-ons, then a long gap, and a return to the well with Alien Artifacts. The expectation is that this expansion is not to be mixed with the others, however having never played the previous three, I cannot speak to any comparison. I will just be looking at this package alone.

Additions

1 New Cards – This expansion comes with about 40 new cards to add to the deck. I love this , as I love adding variety to games in which variety is a big features. Imaginatively its great to include new worlds and technologies into this universe, and as a game its great to be given more option. Some might worry about deck balance, but I think those hardcore enough to worry about that are in the minority

2 The Orb Scenario – The main crux of this expansion is a new scenario in which players play their regular game, but also contribute to an added feature where they explore a mysterious alien orb. The or map is made up of a separate deck of cards which overlap to gradually form a structure. Visually this is quite cool. The scenario does feel tacked on, but its also sort of fun, as it gives you bonuses as you score which you can use in the main game.

3 Fifth Player – This package also includes components to add a 5th player to the game, which is fine. It doesn’t affect things too much having an extra person, though 3 o 4 is still the best way to play. I think one of the earlier expansions also added a 5th player, so unless this is the only expansion you get, this feature may be redundant.

From BGG user squiz

Critique

Best Feature: For me, its having new cars to add to the deck. A lot of the new cards focus on the yellow Alien powers, which are cool, and some neat new genes cards are also in the mix. If you are not playing with the Orb scenario, not all actions on the cards will be relevant to a regular game, which might undervalue those cards a bit, but its not that big a deal, especially in a game where undesired cards can serve other purposes

When to use: As stated above, the new cards I just add to the deck for all games. The Orb scenario is a once-in-a-while expansion for when you’ve been playing the base game a lot and want to try something a little different.

Does it fit?: Yeah, there is lots of room in the base game box. With the other expansions, I’m not sure though. Probably?

What type: It’s a mix of “more of the same”, “different scenario”, and “player extension”. So I suppose it’s a modular… sort of.

Overall: The orb scenario does feel like a tacked on part of the game, just making the turns longer. Because, well, it is. But it works, and provides some cool incentives and rewards. The new cars are great to have and makes the deck more diverse and a little more interesting. I like Alien Artifacts quite a bit and I feel like it strengthens my Race for the Galaxy game a lot.
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Mar
11

I don’t have a whole lot to say about Black Panther, though whenever I say that I seem to have more to say than I would think. What I appreciated most from Black Panther was learning about a new fictional mythology, a new layer to this cinematic world they are building which also holds of well on its own. In fact, this is the most stand-alone a marvel movie has been for a long time.

The characters are likable enough, and I did like the Villain and his backstory in particular. Though it did disappoint me that, although I like the core of who the villain was, they couldn’t resist to make his super-villain form just be a “bad version” of the hero.

I wish the action scenes had of been crafted a little better. They felt rushed and frantic. Why does it seem to rare to get coherently staged and filmed action scenes in our blockbusters lately?

The visuals were neat, as is expected now with a film like this, but I still appreciated them. I have always held reservations about the reckless, deus ex machina use of future technologies in these marvels films, and I still had an inkling of that here, but it was a little different since this is what the story was actually built around. And as much as I liked the story, it was about 20 minutes too long.

It has war rhinos though, and that is not a fact to be overlooked.

8/10

Mar
03

There’s a difference between having a movie full of unlikable characters that you hate watching and a movie with unlikable characters that you are still captivated by. The difference here is obvious: its the writing that keeps them from being flat, the directing to lead them in the right direction, and of course the performances which keeps them interesting and authentic. Three Billboards has these things.

Frances McDormand leads this tale of trying to figure out what justice is in a small town in middle America. She uses local advertising as a way to keep the police focused on her daughter’s case, which causes a lot of stir. The story manages to stay fresh and keep you on your toes, as do the characters in general. The dialogue is unapologetic and can be quite comedic, a lot more than I was expecting.

There are some extraneous parts which probably didn’t need to be there, like the subplot with Peter Dinklige’s character or her ex-husband and his ditzy girlfriend, but I didn’t mind so much.  They mostly just added to the colourful cast of characters that populate the story.

This movie has a lot of things to say, some more muddled than other, and it keeps you engaged as it tries to say them.  I quite enjoyed it.

9/10

Feb
24

Its odd. When a movie is so critically acclaimed, as this one is, even if you like the film you feel the need to defend why you don’t rather love it. I guess there’s always part of us that need to explain our contrarian views, even if they are just slightly askance from the norm.

The Shape of Water mostly works as a modern fairy-tale, mostly, and as an atmospheric, gothic story. But to be honest, I wish the movie leaned into its fairy-tale aspects a little more, as there was too much about it that pulled it out of that realm.

I really liked Sally Hawkins in the lead role as the silent Eliza, and the first act of the film where we come to know her is the best stuff. However, I wasn’t a fan of the two supporting characters, one played by Richard Jenkins, the other by Octavia Spencer. They were the two primary forces that kept dragging this story out of the mythic realm and corrupting the more pure tone if felt like Del Toro wanted. Jenkin’s character of Giles in particular overstayed his welcome and his character’s presence felt more intrusive than anything else.

So… its not a masterpiece, buts its still pretty good, especially the first third or so.

8/10

Feb
09

10. The Shape of Water

Guillermo Del Toro brings himself back in the limelight this year with his modern fairy tale along the lines of Beauty and the Beast.  A Shape of Water combines contemporary storytelling with mythic tendencies, adds in an engrossing lead performance of Sally Hawkins, and Del Toro’s typical production design for an odd tour de force.

9. War for the Planet of the Apes

For some reason, I wasn’t too eager to see this movie in theaters, despite really enjoying the previous two parts of this trilogy.  However, when I did finally catch up with it, I ended up liking it a lot.  This tale of Caesar’s ape revolution, acting as a precursor to the Planet of the Apes story we all love so well, has maintained a solid level of quality throughout.  In this third film, we gt a lot of subtle callbacks to the classic original, as well as some great moments for Caesar and Woody Harrelson playing his human foil.  This movie looked great as well.

8. Molly’s Game

I’m sure many of you know I’m a big Sorkin fan, and he is primarily the reason I enjoyed this movie so much.  This was a pretty interesting story with some good performances by Chastain and Elba, not to mention a great supporting turn by Costner, all tied together with a great script.  There’s humour when there needs to be, drama where there needs to be, danger where there needs to be, all in good measure.

7. It

I’ll quote my dad to sum things up: “You know how the first Indiana Jones movie was non-stop action?  Well this was non-stop horror!”  Pennywise has secured his place among the pantheon of great horror movie villains, but as creepy as he is, he’s not the only reason the film works.  The story of the kids is really what draws you in and actually makes you care before they scare.

6. The Big Sick

There’s something really grounded about a story like this, taken from the lives of the people behind it.  It feels authentic while also relatable to anyone who has lived through the health scare of someone they love.  Kamail Nanjiani is a strong comedic talent right now who also has things to say.  I was the only one in the theater when I saw The Big Sick, which is a shame.  It is a sweet, entertaining movie that deserved more eyes on the screen.

5. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri

An entertaining look into justice, redemption, responsibility, etc.  It has all you would want in a movie of this type: great performances, an interesting story that isn’t predictable, a good mix of humour and pathos.  Frances McDormand will likely win the Oscar, and Sam Rockwell has a good chance too.  I wouldn’t say the characters make the best decisions, but movies don’t have to be morality tales.  They just need to have something to say while keeping the audience engaged, and Three Billboards does a great job at this.

4. Logan

Somehow it feels like comic book movies have come full circle, with the recent trend beginning with Wolverine’s introduction with the X-Men in 2000 and reaching a new level with his swan song.  Logan is not flashy or formulaic, but is instead a movie that is truly interested in exploring what a life as a superhero does to this man after many years.  Throw in the addition of an aged Professor Xavier as his companion, and we get the climax of the X-Men franchise and one hell of a good flick.

3. Get Out

I’m not a big fan of the horror genre, but lately every year there seems to be one horror flick that really grabs me. Last year it was The Witch, two years ago It Follows, this year there were two: It and Get Out.  Get Out has a very disturbing premise which is both incredibly creepy and full of context.  It came out in February and is still talked about a lot here at end-of-the-year awards season, and appears to be the sleeper hit of 2017.

2. Star Wars: The Last Jedi

You’re probably either thinking “What? Why is this here?” or “Wow, this isn’t number 1?”  To answer the first question, screw the negativity! The Last Jedi was a great follow up to Force Awakens.  Rey has come into her own as an iconic movie hero, Kylo Ren deepens his villainy, and Luke is back in all his grumbly, Jedi might. Many complained about Force Awakens playing it too safe, but Last Jedi kept you on your toes throughout, providing us with some great stuff.
To the second question I say…. yeah, I know.  But there are some things that prevent it from being completely great: the casino planet, the new characters, the final shot.  But compared with all the fantastic scenes and dynamics we get, those are only minor irritations.  For the middle of the trilogy, Last Jedi didn’t hold back, and I loved it.

1. Dunkirk

Dunkirk is one hell of a cinematic experience.  The picture, the sound, the pace, all those fundamentals of film-making are here on masterful display so that we can feel the story unfold, rather than just hear and see it.  This movie isn’t concerned with personal stories or informing the audience about the details of the battle; its far more visceral than that.  When I first heard that Nolan was going to make a war film, I wondered how he was going to make his film distinct after so many have tackled the subject before him.  but he did.  Dunkirk was definitely the most powerful movie I saw this year.

Jan
21

A few years ago I did a list on my favourite podcasts, but a lot has changed since then, so I am updating it.  Only one podcast from the original list remains.  If you are interested in any of these topics, I highly recommend these casts.

5. The Secret Cabal Gaming Podcast

It amazes me how many board game podcasts there are, and if you are someone who is not a part of the board gaming hobby it would REALLY surprise you.  But it takes something special to rise above the rest, and the Secret Cabal definitely has that.  So what is it?  Its the charisma and chemistry of the 5 hosts.  These are all guys who are friends in real life who decided to start a podcast which has since become huge.

There format is solid: they spend some time talking about games they’ve played, review a feature game, go through a news segment(with too much miniature games stuff in it, but oh well), and then has a discussion topic which is usually the most compelling part.  It keeps the cast interesting even if it runs 3 hours.  Tony is always the voice of reason, Steve provides the humour, Brian a different perspective, Chris is always distracted by shiny objects, and Jamie keeps everything running like a machine.  At times they get a bit hyperbolic, but what will keep you coming back is how much fun you can tell they are having and how well they know each other.

4. The Legendarium

 

This is a rather new discovery for myself, though its been going for a few years now.  I came upon it while looking for a podcast which discussed the Wheel of Time series.  This is a podcast which started as a Lord of the Rings podcast, but went into fantasy literature of all types, as well as pretty much anything nerdy, like Star Wars and superheroes as well.

The hosts walk just the right line of being geek who are excited about this stuff, without going overboard and being the kind of geek no one likes.  They add interesting perspectives on the books and other works they are discussing, which leads to great conversation.  I have only so far listened to some of their Wheel of Time and LOTR episodes, and some of the Star Wars centric discussions, but I am really excited to delve into their back catalogue.

 

 

 

3. F This Movie

Despite how the title might sound, this is not one of those negative podcasts where they like to bash movies.  In fact, F This movie is at its best when they are elaborating on the reasons why they love the movies that they love.  Hosted by Patrick Bromley and a revolving door of guest hosts, F This Movie brings tons of both humour and insight into their film discussions.

F This Movie covers both old and new films with a strong variety of both, though perhaps leaning too much towards horror flicks.  They have annual traditions and encourage audience participation, such as their scary movie month every October. My favourite podcasts are their end-of-year specials.  So try joining Patrick, Adam, JB and the rest of the gang as they discuss great and not-so-great movies in a more entertaining way than most movie podcasts out there.

 

 

2. Hardcore History

How can a podcast that runs well over 3 hours per show with only one guy speaking be compelling? Well it is, and its one of the best podcasts out there.  Dan Carlin provides an in depth and entertaining look into various eras of history, including WWI and II, Ancient Rome, the Mongol empire, and the Reformation.   Sometimes he will do one episode on one topic, sometimes he will go into a series of podcasts to cover a larger topic.

The reason Carlin’s accounts of these periods are so enthralling is that he explores not just the events, but what it would feel like to be living in that time.  He makes the events and living conditions relatable for us today and humanizes these historical stories.  He is also able to dig up really cool side-stories and details that are great to hear about.  One warning however: it usually takes months for a new episode to come out, but when it does its worth it.

 

1. Film Junk

There’s a lot to be said for history, and that’s why Film Junk, the longest running movie podcast, remains my number one show.  After over 12 years of podcasting, the Film Junk crew has so much history, so many stories, so many inside jokes, that the audience really feels like a part of the crew despite never having met them.  These hosts are friends outside the podcast, and their interaction s make that very obvious.

Sean, Jay and Frank spend three hours discussing movies for us every week, delving into arguments over minutia like no one before.  They have built up their own vocabulary of words and phrases (ex. the COPO, Criterionitis, a feast for thine eyes, etc) that brings regular viewers in and makes them feel included.  They have tons of great stories that keep coming back, like Jay’s trips to the doctor and Frank’s BBQ building escapades.

Film Junk also has a colourful cast or recurring guests, like the excitable Dax, the hilarious Greg (who also used to host), and of course Reed Farrington, who you simply have to hear to believe.  Film Junk is a rich tapestry that has become far more than simply a movie podcast; its a community that can only build after years and years of tradition and providing entertainment without ever compromising themselves.

Jan
13

I know some people hate worst of lists, but I find it cathartic in a way.  Its like saying that the things you love aren’t always perfect, and you are okay with that.  Understanding what doesn’t work helps you to appreciate when it does work more.  That said, I didn’t see a whole lot of really bad movies this year, but here are some that just really didn’t work for me.

5. Life

Such a bland venture that really couldn’t keep my attention.  Its easy to call this an Alien rip-off… but there’s a reason its easy to call it that.

4. Chips

Chips is emblematic of what is wrong with today’s modern comedy film.  Its more of a hollow product with name recognition (in form of an old tv show) that lacks any humourous innovation.  They base everything on a lame plot that ends up devolving into a by-the-numbers action climax.  They throw in a few “funny” set-pieces they think will get audiences talking.   In this case its a scene where one of the leads is carrying the other to a bathtub.  Gone are the days when the jokes came naturally from the situations or from the performances.  Gone are the risks.  There’s a formula now, and the studios are just following it ingredient by ingredient.

3. Kong: Skull Island

Speaking of hollow products….  Kong: Skull Island is such a creation of studio meddling, its ridiculous.  Its like they went into the board room after having looked at the clickbait “How to Hack a Hit Blockbuster” and followed it step-by-step.  They have needless characters added in with actors that will appeal to the overseas market; China, more specifically.  They added a bunch of action scenes and CGI shots, very obvious as a response to Godzilla complaints, but they forgot to make them particularly interesting.  They added in a crazy John C. Reillly so they could inject humour into the trailers. They couldn’t even just name it Skull Island; not enough brand recognition.

2. Okja

A Netflix movie from the director of Snowpiercer and The Host, and while I liked both of those films I really disliked this one.  The idea of these Superpigs (which are more like hippos) to bring about social commentary really didn’t work for me.  Tilda Swinton and Jake Gyllenhaal both turn in very bold performances, but in this case bold is not a good thing.  I couldn’t stand suffering through either of their characters. This film was supposed to be poignant, and perhaps for some it was, but I just thought it was kinda dumb.

1. Underworld: Blood Wars

Now here is a film franchise I do not get.  This doesn’t even seem like a film; it feels more like a CW show.  There are actors who are clearly only there to look pretty.  There is a confusing story-line that feels like you’ve joined it in the middle somewhere, and it never really gets pieced together.  There’s no good scenes, or … really nothing compelling about it at all.  And even the basic techniques don’t work.  Visually its incredibly drab and boring.  The editing feels hyperactive.  Its just not an enjoyable time at the movies.

Jan
03

It wasn’t terrible. Well, okay… it was terrible. But somehow I didn’t hate it.

Lets face facts, this is not a good movie. The script feels cobbled together, the tone is hard to pinpoint, and The Flash as the comic relief falls flat every time. I don’t think I heard anyone in the theater laugh at him once.

A big problem, and missed opportunity, were the character introductions. Here you have a collection of some of the most recognizable superheroes in the world (well, and Cyborg) and the filmmakers make little attempt to introduce them into the film in interesting or powerful ways. And since 3 of the main characters are new to the franchise, this probably should have been a priority. Wonder Woman is the only one who they did this right with.

Along the same lines, it was hard for these characters to have the power they should have when they are dealt with so nonchalantly in the film. For example there is a scene where Batman,Wonder Woman and Flash meet Commish Gordon, and Gordon makes one quip about it and then its business like normal. Felt very inauthentic. There were lots of moments like that.

Yet at the same time I will say the film is very watchable. Its not good, but watchable. I realize this isn’t a standard we want to hold movies to, but at least its something, unlike the dreary pit of Batman vs Superman or the incoherent mess that was Suicide Squad.

The visuals of these iconic characters (and Cyborg) usually works. Wonder Woman, coming off of her own features, is probably the best character and the emotional core. There is also a neat action scene where the Amazons are trying to keep a magic cube away from the bad guy. Its short, but quite inventive.

So I didn’t hate it, even though it really feels like poor-making. If it weren’t so rushed and production so fractured, and had it been allowed to have more focus by the director and screenwriters, it could have really worked.

5.5/10

Dec
23

Star Wars is back, and this time so is Luke Skywalker! And I must say, seeing him as a full-fledged, aging Jedi is simply awesome. He has grown very powerful yet world-weary, and I really think they took him in the right direction.  Mark Hamill sunk right back into the character and took him places that were different but still within the reality of the Luke we know.  In fact that statement is a pretty good generalization for this movie as a whole.

When Force Awakens came out, I was giddy because the new characters worked so well. Its nice to see that it was not just a fluke. Rey has truly grown into a great movie hero. She is interesting, captivating, instantly likable, and yet complex in an empathetic way.  Every time she was on screen the movie worked. Kylo Ren is also a great villain and also grew in his role this time around.  The two of them had great chemistry together and, along with their triumvirate with Luke, built a solid core for this story.

Its great seeing all the Star Wars-isms anew: interesting planet locations, new creatures, space battles, etc. There are certainly motifs from the original trilogy, harking back to Echo Base and the Emperor’s throne room, but the story structure here is definitely its own and went places I expected it to either shy away from or hold back, especially near the end.

The powers of the Jedi and the Force are expanded on in a way that seems like it should have bugged me, but I just went with. I like the idea of the Force expanding beyond what we already knew, especially when you think about how Luke has been working with his powers for the last 30 years.  I can understand the argument of using the Force as a catch all to do what they want, like lots of superhero movies are guilty of lately, but I didn’t feel that was the case here.  These new abilities felt natural to me, and I liked that it went new places.

On a more technical aspect, this movie looked incredible. This film is full of vivid, eye-popping colours, from the red plumes of the salt planet, the rich green’s of Luke’s island, and the already-famous Red Room scene.  There were some really interesting shots and camera effects, including a major one involving a couple of starships.  You can tell this was a movie made by craftsmen and not just studio shills.

Now for my main problem with this new Star Wars chapter which I was otherwise completely taken by.  I didn’t really care for the new characters – Rose, Laura Dern, Benicio- as they seemed too artificial somehow. Rose ends up becoming a pretty big deal, but lets face it, shes not in the same league as Finn, Rey or even Poe.  She felt like she would fit in better in Rogue One.  Laura Dern really didn’t feel like she was in a Star Wars movie, even though I liked what they did with her character, and Benecio’s “scoundrel” was kind of like “who cares?”

As such, I enjoyed their part of the story less than the Jedi plotlines. Which is too bad, because it drags down some of the momentum, and ties up Finn when he could have been doing cooler things.  The casino planet had a little too much “prequel” to it.

I also didn’t like the very last shot. I understand its significance, but the shot right before that was perfect place to end it.  I was ready to start pumping my fist, expecting the trumpets and end credits to blare, but instead got one more tacked on scene, calling back to the one part in the movie I didn’t like, and really killed the end-movie momentum.  Oh well.

On the whole, I am very enthusiastic about The Last Jedi, reservations about new characters aside.  But I mean hey, maybe they’ll grow on me.  I really see this new trilogy as great predecessors to the first three films. They feel like they have taken to story to a natural yet new place, and I am loving it. This had interactions between new and old favourite heroes and villains, lots of truly memorable moments, and another great addition into the Star Wars saga.

9.5/10