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

Feb
13

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An enjoyable sequel to an enjoyable action flick. John Wick 2 continues almost immediately where the first film leaves off.  John is brought back into the fray when an old debt is called in and he has no choice but to honour it, including a little jog over to Rome.  There’s lots of inventive set pieces here, like starting out with 7 bullets and needing to keep stealing guns, trying to shoot his opponent in secret in a subway station, etc.

There’s also lots more world building in this installment, expanding on the assassin’s only hotel chain and underground. There’s a great triple-cut scene where Wick is preparing for a job at three different locations.  I am a big fan of world-building in general, and that was clearly a goal of this second film.

Also, how great is Keanu? He really brings a lot to this role, always speaking and responding in a way which is always just slightly off of what you expect.  When you look at the actors around him in this movie, he really seems a step above all of them.Its easy to appreciate what he does here and the character he creates.

8/10

Feb
02

Tomorrow Never Dies

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Now for what may be the most generic of all the Bond movie titles…

Tomorrow Never Dies opens well, as Bond has to fly a nuclear missile out of a terrorist mountain camp before the whole place explodes.  it injects adrenaline into the movie as it is meant to.  I also liked the plot set up where a secret organization is trying to start a war between China and Britain, even though this gives us quite the stretch with no Bond.

However, I found that this set up was mostly disappointing.  They keep hinting throughout the movie that China and the West are tat the brink of war, but that tension is never really felt at all.  We only get a couple headlines here and there.  I also didn’t like Jonathon Price’s villain, playing a sinister William Randolph Hearst.  It felt like the filmmakers here wanted to say something clever about media mogulism, but it wasn’t very compelling.

But here’s my biggest problem with the movie (which is my same problem with the title): its generic.  There’s really nothing special or interesting about this particular Bond installment.  Action scenes are scattered throughout, but they’re pretty plain Jane.  There is a motorcycle/car/helicopter chase which is very run-of-the-mill.  There’s a part where the movie oddly turns into a kung fu movie for about 3 minutes.  Then there is the climax on the stealth boat with is just more of the same: James shooting guns while running as things around him explode.

TND is not incompetent, but there is absolutely nothing special.  Except maybe that part where he pretends to give a guy a light and instead punches him in the face.

5/10

The World is Not Enough

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I was expecting World is Not Enough to be truly awful. I guess I just associated the non-Goldeneye Brosnan films as being trash. This wasn’t that. It also wasn’t entirely compelling either.

The movie is about someone stealing a nuke to put on their sub and blow up Istanbul, or something. As far as evil schemes go, its not quite destroying the gold in Fort Knox. But its really just an excuse for some set pieces involving odd vehicles, such as spy boats, weird parachuting skidoos, a hot air balloon, and some sort of pipeline sled?

I guess the biggest problem I had with TWINE is that its pretty dull and uninteresting. Maybe its because Brosnan’s Bond is pretty much a cardboard cut out with some cheesy lines here and there (“See you at the lodge!”). i did like Sophie Marceau but the twist with her character wasn’t exactly mind-bending. Denise Richards as Lara Croft: Nuclear Scientist was good for a chuckle. But this is very much in the category of forgettable action movies.

5/10

Only one more left!

Die Another Day

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Well, I’ve now seen all of the Bond movies.  And what a masterpiece to cap it off with.  Die Another Day is really ridiculous.  Really ridiculous.  Though to its credit, its not as boring as its two preceding films.  I’m not cutting it any slack for that however.

Where to start?  Perhaps with one of the worst title songs in the series, and probably THE worst opening credits sequence.  Then there’s the “cool vehicle” concepts that reach new levels of ludicrousness with the surfing boards (serious, how far out did they start surfing in from??) to the ice roadster to those weird skydiving plane board thingies.    oh wait, I almost forgot the invisible car!

Speaking of ludicrous, the less said about “DNA transplants” the better.

I thought this movie was really poorly directed.  So many awkward pace and tone shifts.  Like when Bond was remembering his captivity: are we supposed to feel like that’s deep? Kinda hard to do in a movie which has a massive sun-death ray able to target people from space, or actually uses the idea of transplanting someone’s DNA (oh damn, I already forgot… less said…)  Meanwhile, we get these random slow-motion shots in the action scenes.  And we get “London Calling” playing over the scene of someone skydiving into Buckingham Palace.  Yup…

Halle Berry.  Okay, its clear she was trying for something unique, but wow did she ever feel like she was in a completely different movie than everyone else.  Wow.  Also, wasn’t the dialogue in this film just terrible?  The sexual innuendo was so ridiculously broad.  “Is he showing you his Big Bang Theory?” “I think I get the thrust of it.”  Subtle ladies, subtle.

Oh and hey, how about those virtual reality goggles?

3/10

Jan
21

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This was a big surprise for me. I really didn’t know what I was expecting with this movie, but what I got was a sometimes hilarious, sometimes touching story about a man and a foster child reluctantly forming a bond. Meanwhile, everyone else thinks the boy was kidnapped and are on the hunt. What we get is a mixture of comedy, great characters with interesting dynamics, and a look at the New Zealand wilderness.

The kid, Ricky, was quite funny and had lots of great lines, like “Are you gonna manslaughter him?”, which had me laughing out loud on a number of occasions. Sam Neill meanwhile is great is subtly providing us with a character we sympathize with and can cheer for.  Their chemistry works really well also and the way they come to understand each other really works.

The only issues I had with this film are a tonally off cameo by Rhys Darby and the way the story concluded.  I’m not sure how else they cold have ended it, but I think they could have made some different choices with Ricky’s decisions. But otherwise it was movie that really had me emotionally invested. And it has a really funny lord of the rings reference.
9/10

Dec
28

5. Black Mirror

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I was just introduced to this recently, but I’ve already burned through the entire series.  Netflix released season 3 after a hiatus of a couple years, releasing some very interesting sci-fi stories.  We start  off with an interesting take on social media, where everyone actually gets to rate everyone else (yes, Community did this already, but whatever).  Then there’s one about VR games which isn’t so great, and another solider one which isn’t so great, but the rest were really interesting.  The episode where two women meet in an 80s club called San Junipero is very interesting; I highly recommend checking it out.

4. Westworld

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I don’t think Westworld is going to be the replacement for Game of Thrones that HBO hopes it will be, but it was a very interesting series.  It doesn’t really go any further than interesting, but as far as contemplative sci-fi goes its a pretty great watch.  The production values are great as are many of the performances.  Some of the story decisions make me wonder about this shoe’s longevity mind you.

3. House of Cards
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The third season of Netflix’s political drama was a big disappointment, but season 4 brought things right back into favour.  We start by dealing with the fallout between Frank and Claire’s split, but just as that storyline is becoming old and tired, they shift gears again and get into some really interesting geopolitics.  And of course the finale, especially the final monologue, really gets us excited for season 5.

2. Stranger Things

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The breakout TV hit of the summer; of the year, most likely.  Its goal was to invoke the Spielberg/King films of the 80s, and it exceeded.  But that alone would never have been enough, so luckily they had characters that you are able to latch onto involved in a mystery that was engaging.  Interested to see where they go from here.

1. Game of Thrones
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I almost didn’t watch season 6.  I considered putting the tv show on hold until I had read the novels, but I ultimately decided that was a silly decision.  I was glad I did.  Season six had a slow build but eventually came out swinging.  It game us perhaps the series’s most emotionally devastating moment in The Door, then gave us their ultimate battle-centric episode with Battle of the Bastards, and finally capped things off with a finale that kept giving us shock after shock.  The turned out to be in the running for Game of Throne’s best years to date.

Dec
27

5. Independence Day Resurgence

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I am a big Independence Day fan, but I could not get on board with the  20-years-after sequel.  It was loud and obnoxious and lacked any sort of tension.  The destruction of cities just turned into a white noise of debris which was not remotely interesting.  And the final showdown at the end was laughable.

4. Batman v Superman: Dawn of a Franchise

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What a joyless, boring outing with a premise that should have been exciting.  I mean, these are the two biggest superheroes in the world!  But they did such a poor job making us care for Superman that it was all for naught.  The dark colour palate, confusing dream sequences whose only purpose is to connect it to the larger cinematic universe, and bad contrivance by the villain all worked against this movie, so much so that the ending, which should have been a big deal, fell flat.

3. Gods of Egypt
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Okay, I don’t actually hate this movie.  Objectively I have to admit its pretty terrible.  Its nothing more than a CGI-fest deriving from the Transformers School of Blockbusters.  There are some really poor performances and some really tired action sequences.  But I don’t have the same level of distaste for this movie as I do the others on this list.  I did find some of the design ideas interesting, and I like Mythology stories even when they are poorly told (which is usually the case).  But lets face it, I can’t overlook the fact that this is a bad movie, just not one that gets my ire up. Unlike the next two…

2. Suicide Squad

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I’m sorry, I really don’t mean to pick on DC, but a bad movie is a bad movie.  The biggest problem with Suicide Squad is the pacing and editing.  It was too frantic, jumping straight into the backstories of all these characters without really letting us get to know any of them(other than maybe Deadshot).  Another huge problem is the overall threat of the film, which seems very out of place for a movie like this and seems to fit more in an Indiana Jones movie or something.  Also, its pretty generic.  Not only that, but because of the poor editing, it seems like it comes out of no where are really has no effect whatsoever.  This was such a disaster.

1. Sausage Party
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An R-rated animated film; how hilarious, right??  I agree, I was interested in that gimmick…. until I watched it.  Its vulgar for the sake of being vulgar, without any level of cleverness to it when there was a lot of opportunity to be.  I saw glimpses of the wit that could have derived from an ‘adult Pixar” cartoon about anthropomorphized food; the Saving Private Ryan spoof was an example, but most of the time they just reverted to saying fuck a lot and making some sort of broad sex joke.  Now, to be far they did have something to say outside their foulness; they were making a commentary on religion that I admit many people could get something out of.  But not me; I hated this movie.  I was hoping for something a lot more interesting and a lot… well… funnier.  But crudeness doesn’t equal funny for me, so that is why this failed.

Dec
21

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Okay, here we go.

I’m a big Star Wars fan, and if you are a regular reader on my site (if I even have any of those) you will likely know this.  Last year I fell in love with The Force Awakens as it recaptured the magic of Star Wars.  This year we got the first of the Star Wars stand-alone spin-offs with Rogue One.  Now in full disclosure, I haven’t been 100% on board with the idea of these spin-off films, so I wasn’t as excited about Rogue One as many others.  Nonetheless…  boy, was I disappointed with this movie.

The best way I can encapsulate my feelings about why I ultimately didn’t like this movie that it seems I should have loved, is because it just seemed to me to be nothing more than imitation Star Wars.   From the music which seemed like b-side tracks of John Williams, to the half-hearted portrayal of the rebel alliance, to the poor decisions of CGI Tarkin and a bunch of other ridiculous cameos, this felt like glorified fan fiction.  (They even tried to retcon the idea of the thermal exhaust port as the weakness of the death star, since many have come to think its ridiculous after 40 years of reflection. )  But most of all, it didn’t “feel” like Star Wars.

The Force Awakens felt like Star Wars.  The sense of adventure was there, the tone was just right, the characters were easy to latch on to.  Rogue One is supposed to be something different, I get that, but it should still be Star Wars.  Otherwise, why bother?  Just make a different movie.    I worry that all these stand-alones are going to have the same sort of identity crisis.  I just really hope it doesn’t seem into the saga proper with Eps 8 & 9.

The characters were a big part of why this movie didn’t work.  There really weren’t any characters that had the same appeal as Finn and Rey.  Jyn was promised to be some great, rebellious heroine, but instead she didn’t really have a whole lot going on.  She was haphazardly thrown in with a group of characters so unmemorable I don’t know many of their names and just refer to them as ‘the blind guy, ‘the blind guy’s friend” and “that imperial guy they rescued”.  And the less said about Forrest Whitaker’s Sol Gurerra character the better.

There were some interesting images in this movie and some strong moments.  The production value is meticulously crafted.  The scene I’m sure everyone is chatting bout is the Vader scene at the end.  Yes, it was pretty awesome.  It was also less than one minute of the film.

Throughout most of the movie I was either baffled at the tonal choices made, rolling my eyes the obvious fan pandering being thrown in (“I’m with the Force, the Force is with me? cmon!), or simply bored with what was going on.  it picked up near the end, but it was hard to garner tensions from me as I knew the plans would get away alright.    But I’m obviously in the minority.  My friends started praising the film as we walked out of the theater, so I just stayed silent about it.  I’m glad its working for so many Star Wars fans out there, I just wish it worked for me as well.  Now I’m pinning my hopes of Episode 8.

I hate giving this rating but… 5/10

Dec
16

Time for the first of my end-of-the-year lists, the likes of which are dotting movie blogs all over the net I am sure.  We start with the movies I am most looking forward to in 2017.  Granted, most are going to be the big budget/superhero movies because those are the ones we usually know about ahead of time.  Whether they live up to expectations we have yet to see.  So here are the ones I am excited for as of this moment.

5. Thor Ragnarok

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Thor 2 didn’t thrill me much, but I am still looking forward to this third installment nonetheless, mostly because I have heard rumours that the Hulk will show up.  Also, the prophetic title is intriguing.

4. Dunkirk

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Dunkirk looks like it may very well be another WWII film in the vein of Saving Private Ryan and may not have much new to add to the war film landscape.  But Nolan as the director has me interested to see if we may just get more than the usual.

3. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

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I really enjoy Guardians of the Galaxy and I feel Marvel did a great job of giving us a separate piece of their universe that feels unique and exciting, with some great characters to boot.  I’m eager to see those characters interacting once again and to see this wacky space world expanded upon.

2. Logan

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To be honest, I didn’t know much of anything about this movie until the trailer dropped about a month ago.  But once I saw that trailer, damn I was hooked.  This looks like a very interesting take on the X-Men franchise, and the fact that it involves Wolverine and Professor X on a road trip together makes it seem that much better.

1.Star Wars Episode 8

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Was there any doubt?  After being blown away by Force Awakens, I am all on board with the new Star Wars trilogy and cannot wait to jump back into hyperspace and join these characters again.  The fact that we get to visit Luke once more is a thrilling prospect, and of course seeing where our new heroes Rey and Finn end up should be quite the adventure.

Nov
26

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*NOTE: This is a full spoiler review

It seems like there has been a lot of these serious sci-fi movies lately which have dominated the theaters over the last few years: Gravity, Interstellar, The Martian, Oblivion, Ex Machina, Edge of Tomorrow, etc.  And so I sort of find myself excited about them, yet resisting them, not wanting to pigeonhole myself into always liking the same type of movie.  But then again, why not just embrace it?  After all, the next offering, Arrival, is the best film I’ve seen so far this year.

Arrival is a story about aliens arriving on earth yet again, but this one focuses on the struggle to communicate with them.  Granted, the humans are doing most of the heavy lifting in the translating.  It follows Amy Adams as a linguist who proves to be quite cunning.  There is an emotional core to this film as we learn early on that she has lost a daughter.  And though you may think “Oh, just like Gravity”, yes, but its treated differently a little more existentially here.

The first thing that jumped out at me was how the film was able to capture the terror involved in entering the spaceship and confronting the aliens for the first time.  Great, great scene.

What we learn when we finally see the aliens is that they are actually a lot like Kang and Kodos, to be honest.  And we also learn that their language centers around coffee stains.  And while I’m being flippant with these descriptions (yet accurate), I actually enjoyed their design quite a bit.  It was unique, to be sure.

The film ends up going into some more cerebral areas near the end, as Amy Adams begins living the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis of language mentioned earlier in the film; that embracing a new language enough actually affects the way you think and perceive.  As such, she is able to see her life in an entirely new way, which puts a twist on most of what we had seen up to that point.  It works.  I don’t know exactly what it means thematically yet, but as far as scientific fiction, its certainly interesting.

9/10

Nov
21

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Pixar movies are usually about more than they are about. A movie about a fish that gets lost? Whatever. A story about how that fish represents those who live with various disabilities, and about how parents cope with their children having disabilities? More interesting. So there is certainly a lot of value in a movie like Finding Dory. But its not exactly another Pixar masterpiece, and certainly not on the same tier as its predecessor.

Dory has a strong message and involves the same interesting characters as Finding Nemo, but it doesn’t feel quite as polished. I did enjoy the theme for the most part, especially the flashback where Dory sees her parents crying and worrying about her, but I don’t feel it was as infused into the whole film like previous Pixar efforts usually are. I also felt like the flashbacks she uses to initiate her journey and propel her forward at certain points was rather contrived and didn’t flow very naturally with the story. Oh she’s stuck. Time for a random flashback which will trigger something for her! I guess I don’t know how else they could do it, but I didn’t quite feel like this fit the theme. The way she overcame her disability was by her temporarily not having that disability?

Another reason I didn’t like Dory as much as Nemo was because while Dory works as a supporting character, she gets sort of fatiguing as a main character. Its nice that Marlin and Nemo as still a big part, but sometimes their dialogue doesn’t quite work. Some of the new characters were very enjoyable, like Hank the octopus (except for one aspect which I will get to), the crazy duck, and the seals. I didn’t really like Bailey though.

Another thing that bugged me, and I know I’m not alone because I’ve heard many other complaints about this, is how liberal they get with how the fish are able to move around on land. Hank being an octopus allows them to put Dory into coffee pots, bottles, whatever so that she can move round the park. Heck, there’s even a point where the octopus is driving a truck! Granted this is a cartoon but… it really feels like they are stretching the bounds of plausibility. Finding Nemo established certain rules about how real and how cartoony this world was supposed to be, and it was very clear that the sea creatures, while sentient, were still sea creatures, limited by their natures. That goes right out the window here.

Okay, now that all of that is out of my system, this i why this is still a worthwhile movie: it still has authentic emotion at its core.  Everything with Dory and her parents genuinely works, and the scene where she follows the shells was really touching.

And the parts where the theme is felt made me appreciate this movie quite a bit.  Oh, also its gorgeous, as you would expect.
7/10

Nov
19

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You will often hear generalizations about how movies are “nothing but mindless action and special effects these days”.  If you are wondering what kinds of movies those people are talking about, Gods of Egypt is a great example.  Gods of Egypt is set in the background of Egyptian Mythology (just in case the title didn’t already tell you that much).  It tells the story of how Horus had to win back the kingdom from his father–killing uncle Claudius- i mean, Seth.  Along the way he is helped by a mortal named Bek because Bek is… good at stealing things?

I really wish that one day a filmmaker will come along and make a really great movie based on ancient mythology.  But instead all I ever seen to get are movies like Clash of the Titans, Immortals, and this.  Its as though collective Hollywood has decided a mythology movie can’t be anything other than cheesy and outlandish.  We someone to do for mythology what Peter Jackson did for fantasy.

But because I like myth stories so much, I was still able to find something here amidst what really isn’t that great a movie.  Some of the design choices I felt were really interesting, like a chariot carried by giant beetles and how Ra moves the sun to fend off Chaos.  They do dive into quite a few aspects including the gifts of the gods and exploring the underworld.

A big problem with this movie however is much of the acting.  Gerard Bulter is fine as the villain and Jaime Lannister works as the hero; he has a lot of gravitas to him in fact.  But the main character Bek is not a very strong actor, nor is his girl Xia, though they make sure her cleavage plays a prominent role throughout.  As such, its hard to really buy the “friendship connection” made between Horus and Bek.

Visually this film can be desc4rbed as a pure CGI fest.  None of the sets feel real at all, because they very likely weren’t.  Like I said, some of the design is quite compelling , but its just too much.  Its a computer-fabricated overload.   There’s a scene where they are walking through an Oasis landscape and I thought “this would be really cool it some part f this location were actually real”.  But it wasn’t and it felt like it wasn’t.

A big issue I had with the special effects were the action scenes.  When we start getting into the fast-paced action sequences, the digital animated was very apparent.  The images in the background did not flow smoothly and everything in the frame didn’t seem to be all existing in the same place together.  There are points where the gods turn into their animal forms and start fighting, which looks like two animated designs fighting.

So ultimately I cannot declare Gods of Egypt to be a very good movie at all.  I was sort of hoping I would find a guilty pleasure gem, but alas, my ancient mythology grail film still waits to be made.

3/10

 

Nov
11

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Marvel has gone all in on embracing their weirder side, hey? Imagine if this movie came out 15 years ago, as the superhero craze was just starting. It would have been a laughing stock. But this is what a successful movie franchise allows and Marvel keeps seeing how far into their oddities they can go.

This is the story of Dr. house learning magical powers. I have to say I like it quite a bit. I believed in Strange’s hero journey, from asshole to martyr. I also appreciated Cumberbatch’s portrayal of a character who I really don’t know much about. The cast around him was also quite solid. Mads Mickleson s the villain was rather bland however, but they set up the next villain quite well, who I think will be much more interesting.

What I was most skeptical about going into Dr. Strange was the abundance of supernatural powers and how those would be portrayed. Superhero films are at their best when the heroes’ powers are well-defined and are used within their constraints. The early X-Men films are good examples of this; how Nightcrawler is able to and not able to teleport, how Magneto finds interesting ways to manipulate metal, etc. However, when powers of the heroes or villains are undefined and ultra-powerful, it becomes a lot less interesting and numbing. The latest X-men movie, where Apocalypse could basically do or make whatever he wanted, illustrated this. Looking at the previews and knowing Dr. Strange wa set in a world of “magic”, I was very concerned this would be the case.

However, what I discovered is that they were able to set the rules and boundaries of this world quite well. It was clear that this wasn’t necessarily a free-for-all; the characters had to work within certain limits, even though they could do some outlandish things. (I’m not sure why they needed a double-fingered ring in order to do it though, but whatever…) Dr. Strange had to make an effort in order to travel through portals, they could manipulate their surroundings but it was only an illusion, they could make phantom weapons (which I didn’t like so much, that was a little more in the “do whatever they want category”), and he could manipulate time but only with knowledge and, again, effort. I didn’t really like is magical cape however, that seems like it was pulled straight from a children’s film.

All of this allows for some rather inventive action scenes, the highlight of which is a fight where the antagonist and protagonist battle while everything around them moves backwards in time. There’s also a scene where Strange gets “phantom stabbed” and rushes to a modern hospital to get fixed, which I liked quite a bit.

Dr. Strange was a lot better than I was expecting, and hopefully this character and his movies can restrain themselves from getting too outlandish in the future.
8/10

Oct
11

Earlier this year I rewatched the entire series of The X-Files on Blu-ray.  This was my favourite show in high school(my fandom was embarrassing to look back on) and viewing it again many years later was an interesting experience.  And as we went through the whole X-Files story, my categorical mind wasn’t able to rest and I decided to try to rank all 207 episodes in order of preference.  And I did.

I was planning on making a series of posts where I gradually go through my entire list.  However not only did that seem incredibly daunting, but I also realized that the majority of readers are really only going to care about the top 10 and bottom 10.  So that is what I will showcase here: the ten best and ten worst episodes of The X-files according to me.

I do have the entire list in order as well, so if you do want to see it et me know and I can post it in some capacity or other.

The Top Ten Episodes

10. Tithonus

Season 6

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I didn’t really take notice of this episode when it aired.  I just saw it as another stand-alone story and didn’t give it much thought aftewards.  But rewatching it I found it to be a well-constructed, interesting, and surprisingly touching hour.  The photographer who captures death on film seems to be one thing, but turns out to be something completely different; a character we sympathize with once we understand his story.  And Suclly sympathizes as well, giving her a great in-episode arc.  Tithonus has a lot to say about the nature of death and existence.  Its a great episode and perhaps the best from the back half of the show’s run.

9. One Breath

Season 2

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One Breath is a really interesting episode in that it is entirely about Mulder and Scully with no case to tie them to a narrative.  Scully is found after an absence of a few months (I think?) and is in a coma.  Mulder struggles with ho to deal with it, including raging against the powers that be, fighting her family on living-will conditions, and facing the fear of losing her.  On Scully’s end, we get some really interesting dream imagery, even though Scully herself is really just siting or lying down.  This was an emotionally integral episode which would lay the foundation and stakes for these two characters for the rest of the series.

8. Redux II

Season 5

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You’ll find with this list that I am a big fan of the mythology arc episodes, and Redux II, the third part in the season 4/season 5 cliffhanger trilogy, is one of my favourites.  I’m not even entirely sure why.  I think it may have to do with how high the stakes are with Scully’s cancer taking full effect and the temptation of Mulder by the Cigarette Smoking Man.  I found this an exiting episode which packed a lot of mythology elements into it.

7. 731

Season 3

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Another conspiracy episode, but a damn exciting one.  This is the second half to Nisei where Mulder jumps on a train he believes holds an actual alien.  Thrills ensue when he finds himself locked in a train car with an NSA assassin which also has a bomb that’s been armed.  Its thrilling stuff with a pretty cool conclusion.

6. Pilot

Season 1

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Usually pilot episodes of TV shows are clunky messes when you look back on them, but not so with The X-Files.  It did a great job of setting the groundwork for what this show was going to be and did an equally great job establishing these two characters which would end up becoming a part of the cultural lexicon.  The story here is a simple premise (as far as x-files stories go) as kids in a small town are being abducted, but its told in such a way that it feels grounded and authentic.  Still remains one of my favourites.

5. Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose

Season 3

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Objectively, this might be The X-Files’ best episode.  Its hilarious, thought-provoking, deep, well-written and well-acted.  Its about a psychic who can see how people are going to die, but its really about much more than that.  Its about fate, free will, and existence itself.  Peter Boyle gives the best guest performance  in the series’ run.  I like Clyde Bruckman’s more each time I watch it.

4. Ice

Season 1

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This episode is where X-Files reached early greatness.  It was a play on John Carpenter’s The Thing and it worked brilliantly.  Mulder and Scully join a small expedition to research the murder suicide at an arctic research station, only to discover an alien parasite that makes you violent and unpredictable.  It becomes a tense whodunnit/whogonnadoit which even pits Mulder and Scully against each other (“you may not be who you are”).  A fantastic hour of television.

3. Anasazi

Season 2

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This season 2 finale marked part one of the show’s first three-parter which I consider the height of the series.  In this episode, Mulder gets his hands on the fabled MJ-12 documents and suddenly finds himself under constant surveillance and attack.  In this episode we get his father’s death scene, leading to that great showdown with Krycek (that really defines Mulder’s relationship with him for the whole series), and Mulder discovering the bunker of alien bodies in the New Mexico desert.  But apart from just what happened, the tone and atmosphere of the episode is really what makes it stand out; this sense of dread and impending doom is felt throughout.  More on this three-parter later…

2. Jose Chung’s From Outer Space

Season 3

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Darin Morgan only wrote 5 episodes of The X-Files but they are considered some of the best stuff from the show: Humbug, Clyde Bruckman, War of the Coprophage’s, and the recent Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster.  But Jose Chung is still my favourite from him.  It was just so wacky and out there that it can’t help but stand apart as a highlight of the entire catalogue of X-files episodes.  The framing device of this author conducting interviews is excellent.  The oddities of cigarette-smoking aliens, the two B-list celebrity Men in Black, and of course Lord Kimbo are just so intriguing and funny.  And of course, as with most of Morgan’s writing, it is about much more than the surface; it is about how we perceive the truth and how can be uncomfortable even within our own reality.

1. Paper Clip

Season 3

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Like I said above, I love the mythology episodes of the series.  And the Anasazi/Blessing Way/Paper Clip 3-parter is the best of the best.  The stakes are very high, the intrigue and mystery behind the conspiracy is very thick, and this final episode is just jam-packed with great stuff.  It has the adventure elements of Mulder and Scully finding the medical records in the abandoned warehouse and encountering a UFO.  You have the historical elements that deepen the show’s myth arc, with the Nazi scientist and Mulder confronting his mom.  You have great character moments like when Krycek realizes he is a hunted man, or when Skinner triumphs over CSM with an ancient tradition.  And of course it has the emotional impact of Mulder and Scully both dealing with the deaths of family members and facing their own reasons why they are on this quest.  For all those reasons, this is my favourite episode of The X-files.

So there’s the best the show has to offer but what about the worst?  The X-Files ran for 9 years, which is a long time for a television show.  It definitely had a weak last couple of years, after Duchovney noncommittally left the show, but even earlier with a 24 episode order each year, there were bound to be some rotten apples.  And sometimes its good for fans to recognize this; by analyzing the bad we can further appreciate the good.  So here we go.

The Bottom Ten Episodes

10. Surekill

Season 8

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They actually made an episode about a man with x-ray eyes.  I guess in theory they could make a story work with that concept, but this was not that story.  Instead we get some lame plot where some guy who reminds you of Lenny from Mice and Men is killing people for his brother and some girl he has a thing for.  He shoots them through walls, even though he could probably must shoot them normally, nothing requires him to actually use his x-ray vision. Its not very good.

9. Excelsius Dei

Season 2

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As season two strengthened the quality and reputation of the show, it still had some lame episodes and Excelsius Dei was the worst of them.  This is the ghost rape episode, if that rings a bell.  At least I think its ghosts, either that or senior citizens who can leave their body using magical mushrooms.  The writing is never clear on which is happening when.  Oh, there is also a scene where water floods out a room which contains Mulder, for some reason.

8. Daemonicus

Season 9

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Season 9 wasn’t the strongest season, but some episodes I really disliked.  Including this one where there is an uncomfortabley long vomit scene in a jail cell.  I hate gross out stuff like that.

7. The Sixth Extinction II: Amor Fati

Season 7

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As you can tell from the previous list, I like the mythology episodes a lot.  I was lways very excited when one of them was airing and I followed the arc and its players closely.  Not so with Amor Fati.  This is the third in a trilogy which began with the season 6 finale and extended across the first two season 7 episodes, in which Mulder is driven crazy by some sort of ancient writings found in Africa.

Why are they affecting him so much, and why only him?  After a summer of wondering we…. don’t get an answer.  It remains nonsensical.  They will later use this incident to drive his storyline later when he is abducted and reutrned from a death like state in season 8, but the leap to this point is completely contrived.  Its very disappointing.

Not to mention that most of the episode is Mulder once again being tempted by CSM, but this time in some sort of weird dream state.  We see Deep Throat again, which normally I would have been psyched about but not in this context.  Its all really dumb.  And the Christianity metaphors they make are uncomfortable.

I love almost every mythology episode of the X-Files.  This is the only one that I actively dislike.

6. Audrey Pauley

Season 9

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Oh yay, a whole episode about Agent Reyes.  She was fine as a recurring character, but I dont know that they should have made her a regular.  Either way, this episode where she is stuck in some weird coma world doesn’t work.  Its quite boring, and it has a returning guest actress that I am not a fan off (you will read more below).  Season 9 isn’t a great season in the first place, but this one is just bad.

5. Oubliette

Season 3

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This will seem an odd choice, as I don’t think many other fans dislike this episode as much as I do.  The X-Files Files podcast actually praised it for being a strong story which focused on the victims rather than the kidnapper, and I agree that that idea is rare and commendable.  But I really don’t like this episode, and most of it comes down to how grating i find the performance of the actress who plays Tracy is.  Again, I know I’m in the minority with this, but I found her acting transparent and rather annoying, and I felt like Mulder’s emotional connection to her was unearned, which wouldn’t have been that big a problem if they didn’t play it up tot he levels that they do here.

4. The Field Where I Died

Season 4

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Back in the day, I used to love this episode.  But after my current series rewatch, I have done a complete 180 and I sort of hate it now.  First, it invokes themes of suicide cults in a rather uncomfortable way.  Second, it deals with multiple personalities and past lives, which simply don’t play well on screen.  Watching the main guest actress here go through all her “roles” is sort of eye rolling as it just screams “look at me, I’m acting!”.  I don’t think I’m ever seen multiple personalities played well.  It always seems juvenile.  Add to that the awful scene where Mulder goes through regression therapy, and this is one cringe-worthy episode.

3. Space

Season 1

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It is commonly agreed upon that Space is the worst episode of the early years.  Even the people involved with the show have admitted that it simply doesn’t work.  The premise is that a space ghost inhabits a NASA employee and sabotages a space mission.  Its a stupid premise and its poorly executed.  Its pretty boring, Mulder and Scully don’t have much to do, and the visuals are lame.

Now we move into some truly awful episodes…

2. First Person Shooter

Season 7

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The X-Files was usually pretty good at branching out with odd episodes now and then, but First Person Shooter was not an example of that.  It was a plain dumb idea from the start, and even dumber when put into action.  Mulder and Scully enter a virtual reality video game where a rogue program is killing people.  Yes, really.  It is completely illogical.  There is a scene where Mulder uses a sword and fights bikini-clad gunslingers.  At one point he disappears into the program itself, which is so far outside the realm of possibility even for X-Files.  This one is dumb, dumb, dumb.

But its still not the worst.

1. Fight Club

Season 7

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This episode is terrible in pretty much every aspect.  The story is about two twins (or dopplegangers or… something) who don’t know about each other but cause chaos when they come near each other.  Not really an interesting idea and certainly not something you’d expect Mulder and Scully to bother with.  The music in this episode is atrocious.  The directing is equally atrocious.  The climax in the wrestling ring is beyond awful.  And it guest stars Kathy Griffin, perhaps the most annoying comedy personality of the 90s.  And the humour is so off-base that you stare at the screen and wonder how they thought this would be funny.  The X-Files can do funny; Bad Blood, Small Potatoes, etc prove that.  But when they try funny and fail miserably, you shake your head and wonder how this episode made it through.

And there you have it: the top and bottom ten as ranked by me after a full series rewatch.  If you want the full list, let me know and I can display it (sans commentary).  I am planning to do this with a couple other series; Game of Thrones and The Simpsons currently in the works right now.  Thanks for reading, and please leave a comment!

Oct
02

THE JUNGLE BOOK - (L-R) MOWGLI and BAGHEERA. ©2016 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

I’ll be honest, I didn’t expect much from the new version of Jungle Book, but I was pleasantly surprised. Visually, I was concerned that this would be a CGI overload in which the visuals are so in your face that they become essentially meaningless, but I found they worked quite well. The realism of the animals wasn’t exactly consistent; some certainly looked better than others. But the central animal characters – Baloo, Bagira, Sher Khan, the wolf mom – really looked great. The background animals were a little further down the valley, but we are talking about minor differences; the animation on display here overall an impressive feat.

I also found myself really getting wrapped up in the story-line and especially the characters. Granted, a big part of getting caught up in the story probably has to do with the fact that its been many, many years since I last saw the animated Jungle Book. I remember the characters of course, but not having seen it since I was a kid I didn’t actually remember any of the story beats. So it felt like I was experiencing it again for the first time.

The characters really came to life, which is surprising since they are all computer-generated animals. Bill Murray does a great job as the voice of Baloo, the carefree bear who becomes a great friend of Mowgli. I also really liked Bagira as Mowgli’s disciplinarian, who works well as an anchor for the story. And of course Sher Khan is one great, menacing villain.

Now of course the movie isn’t all sunshine and rainbows, there are some flaws. First off, the King Louie sequence didn’t work for me. I’m talking about the song in particular. The movie had such a palpable flow of tension at that point in the movie, which stops dead once Christopher Walken’s Louie breaks into tune. I didn’t mind hearing the Bear Necessities song earlier in the film; it made sense within the context of where they were in the film at that point. But the King Louie song just didn’t work.

Another issue was the acting of the kid who plays Mowgli. I really don’t care that much mind you; I don’t really like complaining about child actors, cause, well, they are child actors. All I will say it I was reminded a lot of little kid Anakin. Also, I have to confess that I was disappointed with the ending. One thing I definitely do remember from the Disney film was the ending and why Mowgli rejoins the humans, and I was anticipating that to happen here, but it didn’t. It felt like they robbed Mowgli of his final acceptance of wanting to embrace his human nature in order to maybe have a sequel at some point.

So there were things that bugged me about The Jungle Book, but when I look at the overall gestalt of how I felt about this film, I have to admit that I enjoyed it a lot. I liked seeing this jungle come to life both visually and narratively, and it excites me to think about what else is possible to tell in this style now.
8/10

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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

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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