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

Oct
08

Hey all, I’m trying out a new segment.  This is scary movie month, where I summarize all of the Halloween-ish type movies that I watch in October.  But since it seems lame to make this post in November after I’ve watch all the films, I’m going to go back to the films I watch last year during 31 Days of Halloween so that you can read about it during October and possibly influence your own scary movie month choices.

Day first

Amityville Horror

Amityville Horror is odd in that it really feels like old hat. There’s a lot of stuff that’s really familiar and recognizable; some from before it was released, but a lot of it after. There are heavy tones of The Exorcist, The Shining, and Poltergeist, as well as many other popular horror movies. Its a hodgepodge of haunted house, Catholic stuff, crazy father, evil flies and what-have-you. The bleeding walls are really cool though.

7/10

Day this-and-that

Teen Wolf

Never seen Teen Wolf before. Now I have. So yup. Its okay, but it sorta doesn’t follow through on any of its potential conflicts.
And I don’t really like the make-up, or whatever you call it. Kinda grosses me out. But Mikey J. is likable, and its watchable enough.

Best horror/sports movie?

6/10

Day Somewhere near the Middle

Rosemary’s Baby

This is a creepy, effective thriller. There’s always something just not right, and this feeling builds and builds throughout. The pacing is just right. I’m not sure how I feel about the ending, or why she made the decision she did. Is it a mom thing? I dunno, but I didn’t really feel like she would do what she did.

I liked how scrabble was used as a plot device. Go board games!

9/10

Day in the Middle
The Phantom Carriage

Okay, so….. The phantom Carriage is a spooky-ish film from Sweden from the 20s.  Its a silent film, clearly, which I will talk about later.  I really liked the beginning half-hour or so of the film; it did a good job of drawing me in.  It had a spine-tingling atmosphere, and when the carriage itself shows up it provides us with some really cool imagery.

I must say though that once the flashback stories began happening, the momentum was sorta killed for me.  We were set up for this interesting afterlife exploration, but it really just turned into a Scrooge story that I found myself getting continuously bored with.   And as such the spookiness began to subside including the end where SPOILER: he ends up getting a second chance for some reason.

Also, I kind of want to talk about silent films in general for a moment, since I thought about it a lot while watching this.  I just can never seem to find myself loving silent movies and fully embracing them.  I know I’m no where near alone on this, but as someone who tries to be open to experiencing films from all points in history, I have to ask myself why.  Two reasons came to mind, which I’m not sure are valid or not but I thought I’d mention them anyway.

1) The title cards.    I really don’t like title cards.  I’m sure there are many silent films that are more physical, like the Buster Keaton ones for example, but when movies rely on title cards too much I find it really draining.  I mean, I know at that point its just the way it was, but I definitely appreciate how huge a leap for cinema it was when they got sound.

2) The music.  I am a little bit of a purest when it comes to movies, but its hard with silent films because most of the time the music is not original.  The phantom carriage for example had music composed for it in the 90s.  Granted they did a good job making it sound sorta 20’s era ish, but nonetheless it isn’t.  So am i really getting the full effect I should, or is it tainted?  It just kinda bugs me a bit, but the only other way is to watch it completely in silence, but even that doesn’t work, since these films were meant to be accompanied by music.

Day the Blobiest
The Blob (1958)

A group of teenagers in their thirties investigate a giant blob that is attacking people in their town. Its very much a basic monster movie with some strong special effects. The acting ain’t so great (though par for the course for movies in this vein), but I do appreciate how the writers try to make these characters more than just stereotypes. I was disappointed that the ending wasn’t going to deal with the discovery of the creature’s weakness, but then it turned around and did just that.

And also, potential global warning message with last line?

Day Where I Hated the Movies

Texas Chain Saw Massacre

I’ve wanted to see this movie for quite a while, considering it is a horror classic. Long ago, this was never a movie I was interested in. However, the more praise I heard it getting as a fundamental film of the genre, often talked about on the same level as a film like Halloween, the more interested I became. Finally I managed to track it down, but instead of getting a top notch horror movie as I expected, I got something else, more akin to the type of movie I thought it was earlier in my life when I cared not to see it.

This movie is ugly and vile. I hated it. I really have nothing more to say.

Halloween Viewing
Beetlejuice

Okay, lets talk Beetlejuice. So I suppose its fun at parts, but I kinda just don’t get it. Best scene is the banana boat scene for sure. But otherwise…. this is a comedy right? Cause I sure didn’t laugh too much, even though I knew that what was on the screen was supposed to make me laugh. Am I so jaded? Maybe I just don’t jive with Tim Burton’s style.

Michael Keaton puts a lot of energy into the role as Beetlejuice, but wow, for someone who is the title character he’s really not that big a player. Honestly, they could cut Beetlejuice out of the whole thing without missing too much.

What does everyone else think of this movie?

6/10

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Aug
25

When I heard that there would be a print run of 2001 this year during its 50th anniversary, I got very excited.  This was one of those movies I always wanted to see in theater.  But as the summer went on, there was still no word from my local theater that this was going to screen in my city.  I was disappointed, to say the least.

The other day at the pub, I expressed this disappointment to a couple of my buddies.  As we were talking,  my friend Lloyd became curious and looked it up on his phone, only to learn that in fact yes, it was coming to town, and was airing at the IMAX the next day!  My eyes shot open in surprise, followed by the question “You wanna go?”

Seeing this movie on the giant screen with the massive IMAX speakers was outstanding and an experience that, as a cinephile, I’m very appreciative I was able to have.  I felt the rumble in my seat with the timpani beats in the opening title, as the camera panned over the moon to see the earth and the sun.   I had to rub my ears after the monolith screech inside the lunar excavation site.  I stared transfixed as the wacky light-speed images enveloped my view, with those eerie sounds humming through the auditorium.  There was even an intermission during the intermission break!  It was a little too long, but oh well.

In a theater meant for 300, there were only about 20 of us in there, but what else did I expect I suppose?  I could feel the unease of some of the younger audience members during the many very slow shots of various spaceships and crafts landing or docking.  But I kind of just had to say screw it, and enjoy the moment on screen.  Besides, I was just happy to see so much youth at this screening in the first place.

After seeing the movie enough times, I mostly have the main ideas worked out and understand the progression of the plot.  But what really makes this great is the discussions that the ambiguity of the film provides.  A crucial part of this film experience was going out for a drink on the next block with my friend afterwards, where we had a chance to talk about what we saw.  We talked about both the logical plot points as well as the deeper philosophy behind everything.

We discussed whether or not time actually went that fast for Dave in the white room, or whether he lived out the rest of his life there and the progression of looks was just an artistic way to portray that.  Then my friend mentioned the idea that maybe it was all moot, as the point of that was the meaninglessness of time for him once he reached this place.

We then went through the motivations of HAL where we talked about this programmed objective and how he met that. This led into the bigger idea behind his self-awareness being the next step in evolution and how this connected to the apes in the beginning.  We talked about lots of these ideas that the film had.

And that’s one of the strongest reasons 2001 is such a masterpiece.  It may be confusing, it make be crazy and cryptic, but its not nonsense.  Everything is there for a reason.  This is a masterpiece, to be sure; one which I am happy to have finally seen, and heard, on the big screen.

10/10

Aug
06

Soooo… we’ve come a long way from a small band of characters vising an island of dinosaurs and a hiccup in the power. Now we’ve got a volcano threatening to destroy Dino Island, a group of black market mercenaries capturing these creatures, and genetic villainy creating monsters that resemble dinosaurs but are far more menacingly agile?

Sigh, I miss the days when two raptors in a kitchen was enough,

This is not a movie devoid of good ideas; they do have some. As ridiculous a concept as the island exploding is, its an interesting premise to hook the movie onto, and something different than before; should we save the animals or not?

There are also a few set pieces that work quite well, including a dino blood transfusion and an escape from previously mentioned volcano. These action scenes are certainly more outlandish than what came before, but still fun in the moment.

The real problem come with the secondary conflict: black market dino dealers. There is something about this idea that doesn’t seem to fit the Jurassic Park milieu; a group of terrorists essentially who have no regard for human life that the heroes must fight against. There’s even a scene where Chris Pratt fist-punches a bunch of guys with guns as he makes his way across a room.

This whole aspect doesn’t work. It makes everything feel more outlandish and more like a generic action movie. They even try to throw in really dumb stuff like human cloning and even an effigy character of donald trump, which adds unneeded surrealism.

Another issue I had was the ham-fisted wonder and sentiment added it, like a really shoehorned moment where the caravan comes across a brachiosaurus. And the less said about “My Pet Raptor” the better. Also, the ending is sort of frustrating, because as cool as it is, its also just an excuse for the filmmakers to trow in really cool imagery without these images needing to be set up by the story at all.

So though watching dinosaurs on screen remains a thrill on some level, this is a bust. Oh well. We’ll always have raptors in the kitchen.

5/10

Jul
31

M:I 6 has turned out to be one of the best action movies in recent memory. Its the culmination of all that came before it: the intriguing plots, the spy gadgetry, and of course Tom Cruise’s insistence in putting himself in preposterous stunt situations. And its all fantastic.

Remember Howard Hawks’ famous quote that a good movie having three good scenes and no bad ones? Well how about a halo jump into a thunderstorm, a car chase that actually kept me engaged (not easy to do), and a helicopter chase like you’ve never seen? This movie never lets up; it is a patchwork of heart-pounding set ices interspersed with some great spy tricks, interesting plot developments, and a little look into Ethan Hunt’s humanity for good measure.

Fallout has come into a summer full of underwhelming studio offerings and has blown away the competition, reminding us what a great action blockbuster can and should be.  It is very clear that Tom Cruise puts a lot of love into these MI films, and in this one he really seems to go for broke.  Everyone working around him also cares a lot; the director, the script, the rest of the cast, the stunt choreography, they are all working towards a singular goal.  And they hit the mark spectacularly.

Remember when movies had spectacle? When they weren’t just overwhelming you with CGI and mindless, structure-less action but actually caught you up in the moment and took you for a ride? Don’t worry; they’re still here.

9.5/10

Jul
29

I am going to spend a little time here discussing an expansion for the X-Wing miniatures game from the perspective of a casual player. I am not a full-on devotee to the x-wing system, just a board game fan and a Star Wars fan who thought this would be a good fit for me.

The problem with this is that X-Wing is a game that doesn’t really just work on its own: you need expansions to make the experience worthwhile. But since there are approximately 3,720 expansions for this game, what is a casual player to do?

Where I’ve decided to begin and end my x-wing collecting habits is to restrict myself to only ships that feature in the original trilogy of films. I think this is a good rule to follow to prevent going overboard with spending. But no matter what your own personal rule is, there is one expansion all X-Wing players must have: the iconic Millennium Falcon.

Additions

1 Millennium Falcon model – This is one of the first two larger expansions for X-Wing, and it looks incredible! This is a fantastic model of everyone’s favourite ship, fully coloured and detailed. I cannot say enough about how awesome this looks.
As far as how the ship plays, this thing is a tank. Its very hard to take down, and its 270 degree firing range makes it very formidable. In fact, it may be a little too overpowered for the rebels, depending on what the Imperial side is like.

2 New cards – Thematically, this expansion includes Han, Chewie, and Lando as new pilots. That’s pretty huge. It also includes co-pilot cards to add (including Luke, Nien Nunb, and Chewie again) as a new type of upgrade card.
There are also some new types of upgrades like concussion and assault missiles. These are decent and can be nice additions to use on your Falcon, though the Falcon already costs a lot of points in the first place.

Critique

Best Feature: The ship model. I mean, look at it!

What type: This is an extension/collection expansion.

When to use: This could be used any time when playing. The pilots do cost a lot of points (ex. Han Solo is 46 points, almost half of the allotted total), as the ship is quite powerful, so the Rebel player may not always want to use it if they want a larger fleet.

Does it fit?: No. The base box is way to small. The cards can fit with the original game cards, but the ship has to be housed separate.

Overall:
If you are planning on getting into X-Wing, the Millennium Falcon is a must have. But lets face it, if you are any level of Star Wars fan, of course you are going to get the Falcon to add on. Its probably the best of the original ships I’ve played with. Its quite a pain in the ass to take down as the Empire though.

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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

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 going 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 by 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 the 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 that’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 meeting and exploring 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.  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…. he 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 few, 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 is an episode full of scenes that don’t feel like they are from The 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 who 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 of the 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, and 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 West Wing-like 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.
thumbsup

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