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

Apr
25

There are some themes that board game designers are drawn to far more than others: medieval times, fantasy adventures, war simulations. Trains is definitely one of those themes, one which countless games have been made for and which has been an important part in our current board game history.
Steam is a product of this board gaming history. Train games allow for literal network building in board games, which has lead to the crayon rails series as well as the much more complex 18xx series. Out of this sprang Age of Steam, a harsh game which managed to be a little more mainstream than its 18xx cousins. After this, simpler games like Ticket to Ride sprang up, leading to a further distillation of the genre, turning age of steam into the Steam you see before you.
Let’s take a look.

Components

The components for Steam leaves something to be desired, but its not as though we are playing with pen and paper here. Its all high quality, just a little on the bland side, although that doesn’t bother me nearly as much as it bothers others. The train track hexes come in a variety of track directions and look good for what they are. The player pieces that go on the tracks are simply wooden discs. Wooden trains would have probably made more sense, especially when they tease us with a single wooden train used as the turn marker.
The game comes with a double-sided board; one side showing New England, the other Germany. The map isn’t flashy, but it shouldn’t be. It shows the landscape nicely while still being functional. It fits the game quite well. The various tracks around it could be overwhelming for first timers, but it all makes sense once you know what’s going on.
The goods are wooden cubes of various colours, which is fine. They don’t need to be fancy. However, it would be nice if they were designated as something; steel, or wool, or whatever. It just would have helped with picturing the theme a little more.

Gameplay

The core of the gameplay is straight forward: you are building track and then moving goods across those tracks to cities to score. The interesting thing about the scoring is that you get to decide whether to use the points you get as actual points or as income. Therefore, there is a watershed point at which you must decide your economy is running well enough to start scoring.
What makes the game complicated are all the aspects surrounding this central idea. The banking mechanism, for example, isn’t very intuitive and can take some time to get your head around. Once you do its quite neat though. Even the scoring itself can be confusing, as it all depends how far away you are from the city you are delivering, and hos tracks you use to get there.
Another big part of this game are the jobs that are chosen each turn. Each job allows a player to do something the other players can’t, like be the first to build track even if you aren’t first in order, increase your locomotive abilities for cheap, or even build a whole new city. These tiles can either be chosen in order or can be bid for in an auction. Deciding what job is best for you at what time is where a lot of the strategy come into this game, but its not easy.

Conclusion

Steam is a difficult game; there’s no getting around this. It is hard and unforgiving and it constantly feels like a struggle to get anything going. Therefore, this is not necessarily a game for casual gamers, and serious gamers will need a few plays under their belt to feel confident.
As such, there can be a lot of frustration that comes with Steam as its hard to have a feeling of accomplishment when you are barely getting anything done. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, as some people will love tackling that challenge. Others however may be completely turned off by it.
I’ve heard that the other child of Age of Steam, Railways of the World, is a little more user friendly, but I don’t have experience with it myself. I have tried Days of Steam which is a simpler version, but not as strong a design. But for gamers who want a challenge without the length and intricacies of Age of Steam or 18XX, Steam may be for you.

Apr
08

Sorry, I’m quite late to the party on this one.  First, let’s face facts: 2016 was a disappointing year.  There are probably 5 or 6 films from 2015 I would put over any of the movies this year.  But nonetheless there were still some solid movies to entertain us.  Lets take a look.

10. Star Trek Beyond

I suppose this is my summer blockbuster/franchise pick for the year.  I wasn’t even overly impressed with it off the bat, but this third of the new Star Trek’s grew on me.  I really appreciate how they have decided to focus on the relationships of the charactrs more, which is where the strength of this series lies.

9. Zootopia

And now for my animation representation.  I really enjoyed Zootopia.  I don’t love it like I loved Inside Out last year, but I found it interesting and fun to look at.  To be honest, in other years, neither of the first two movies would probably had made this list.

8. Everybody Wants Some

Again, an enjoyable picture.  I don’t know how memorable of a film its going to be, but when I watched it I had a fun experience spending a weekend in the lives of these college students.  Its really just hanging out with a group of friends for a couple hours, and that’s just fine.  It reminds me of classic films in a similar vein, like MASH and American Graffiti.  Its not on the same level as those, obviously, but still quite good.

7. Green Room

I didn’t really know what to expect with this movie, but what I got was a tense thriller with lots of shocking moments and tons of tension.  We see our main characters get themselves into a bad situation and do their best to deal with it and get out.  Its very engaging.

6. The Witch

The Witch is an effective creepfest, helping to further the return of quality horror to our theaters.  I love that it is set in colonial times and that it feels like its time period.  It plays on much deeper fears than just scary surprises and actually has soething to say.  This is a solid movie.

5. Hacksaw Ridge

Not a lot of my fellow cinephiles are with me on Hacksaw Ridge, but I really latched on to this story of a man who refused to hold a weapon but still wanted to serve his country.  We see his struggles with his unit during training, and though reactions were predictable they still worked for me.  Then we get his heroic deeds in battle which were very moving.  I know not a lot of people are on board with me, but I really enjoyed Mel Gibson’s return to the director’s chair.

4. Hunt for the Wilderpeople

From the director of What We Do in the Shadows, we get a comedic film which is both adventurous, heart-felt and hilarious.  Its the whole package.  I was recommending this to everyone after I saw it, but I really think that almost anybody could get on board with Ricky and Hec and their adventures.  “Are you gonna manslaughter him??”

3. Arrival

Arrival turned out to be a very popular and very acclaimed film, and for good reason.  It has a pretty mainstream movie premise, aliens visiting earth, but it deals with it in such a unique way.  The effort is in communication rather than conflict, and personal connections rather than large scale action.  And it all comes together really well.

2. Manchester by the Sea

Now whereas I felt comfortable recommending Wilderpeople to anyone, I did not feel the same about Manchester by the Sea.  Its a superbly directed and acted film about dealing with loss, but it doesn’t necessarily have the beats that most people expect a drama like this to have.  This will frustrate some, but be very refreshing for others.  Its worth it to watch for the performances by Afflect, Williams and Chandler.  A naturally gripping movie.

1. The Nice Guys

So I thought about what my movie of the year should be for a while.  Manchester is a really moving drama, and Arrival is a great sci-fi with a deeper meaning, but when it comes down to it, what is the movie I am the most excited about revisiting?  Which movie really made me feel a connection to what was happening on screen while being very entertaining?  The answer is The Nice Guys.  Its hilarious with great characters, great set pieces, and interesting story to tie it together.  Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe work brilliantly together.  This may be the only 2016 movie I actually bother buying on bluray, and as such it gets my top spot.

Mar
23

A while back I ranked every episode of The X-Files and posted by top ten and bottom ten.  After giving the Game of Thrones series a full rewatch, I thought I would do the same.  Now this is only up to and including season 6, as this post is being written before the release of season 7.  I suppose I will likely edit this once the series is completed.

Now when we get to the worst episodes, keep in mind that this term is relative to other Game of Thrones episodes.  They’re still pretty good.  But some of the bottom ones do have some very questionable material, to be sure.

As far as the top ten, picking the ten was actually quite easy, but ordering them was pretty difficult.  Its possible they will shuffle in the future.  But anyways, here we go!  There may be spoilers.

The Top Ten Episodes

10. Winter is Coming

Season 1

As a big fan of Martin’s book series, I was cautiously optimistic about the TV show.  But the pilot episode soon put my fears to rest as it was quickly apparently they were going to do this story justice.  This was such a fantastic first episode; they established the major players, solidified the Stark family and their values, introduced the politics of the world and the looming threats.

One thing they do so well is to establish the Starks as a family. If you think about it, that is the only episode where they are together as a family. But they do such a great job establishing the bonds between them and showing them as a unit, that it reverberates with us throughout six full seasons.  It also creates the impression of the vast, rich history without feeling the need to go into lengthy explanations.

9.  Hardhome

Season 5

Usually the second to last episodes in the seasons are the big, spectacular episodes, and while in season 5 it appeared it would be the same with Danaerys’ scene in the fighting pits, it turned out that the ep before it was the big one.  Hardhome saw Jon and the Night’s Watch sail north to rescue stranded wildlings, only to come face to face with The Others.  And it was great.  There were two moments of terrific tension and foreboding; the first when we first see the white walkers on the cliffs, then when all the dead stand up at once.  This is great television directing.

8. The Door

Season 6

Game of Thrones more than often proves to be thrilling and intriguing, but every once in a while t can also be emotionally devastating.  By Season Six the show had pushed past the books and was now on their own, which means myself as a viewer didn’t know what was coming.  So when The Door happened I was taken completely by surprise.  They managed to take the beloved background character of Hodor and built a moment around him that proved to be one of the most moving moments I’ve had for a television show.  It wasn’t just his death that wrecked us; it was the realization that his entire live and identity had been sacrificed because of this moment, and that it was all Bran’s doing.  And even the title of this episode, which seemed pretty ordinary at frist, is suddenly imbued with meaning now.

7. Blackwater

Season 2

Season 2 was certainly a dip in quality from the show’s freshman year, but they sure got the battle of Blackwater right.  This was the first time GoT focused an entire episode on one location, and that was the right decision to allow us to invest in the characters wrapped up in this battle and to build the ever growing tension throughout.  We got some great visuals, great acting, great moments, and great suspense.  Blackwater is the shining jewel in an otherwise lackluster season (for Game of Thrones at least).

6. The Rains of Castamere

Season 3

The episode that is more commonly known as “The Red Wedding” was a major turning point in the show, but I never really considered it to be one of the great episodes apart from being shocking.  However, as I was going through my series rewatch, I realized just how fantastic of an hour of TV this really is, depressing as it may be.

The episode if infamous for the Robb and Catelyn story at The Twins of course, but we often forget that there is also a fantastic side story in the north where Jon’s time with the wildlings reaches its climax and he and Bran come very close to finding each other again.  Meanwhile, back at The Twins, the tension is played up so beautifully that I almost wonder what would have been the best way to experience this: knowing what was coming, or being taken by surprise.

5. Baelor

Season 1

This episode probably has the best claim out of all of them for being responsible for the popularity of this show.  Baelor is a very strong episode in which all of the conflicts that the season has built up to reach their peak.  We get Robb’s victory at the whispering woods, Tyrion preparing for his battle, Dany tries something desperate to save Drogo’s life, and of course Ned meets his fate.

The very ending of this episode was quite the shocker for show-only viewers, and as it should be.  To kill off your main character after only one year is a bold move.  In retrospect we see that it had to happen in order to set the rest of the Stark stories in motion, but at the time people couldn’t believe they just saw what they saw.  Quite the game changer.

4. Watchers on the Wall

Season 4

Season 4 saw what they did with Blackwater and took it to the next level as the wildlings finally attacked The Wall.  In this action packed episode we once again stay at one location and get a thrilling battle, including giants and massive scythes.  We also get the emotional payoff of the Jon-Ygritte story, and some other moving moments as well (Grenn!).  This is television at its most epic.  Well, until they do it again in a couple years…

3. The Winds of Winter

Season 6

After the powerhouse penultimate episode of season 6, we expected the season finale to be another wrap-up episode like they usually are.  But instead what we got was a roller coaster ride of plot twists, taking us by surprise at each step.  There were some epic moments in the latest hour of Game of Thrones to date, including Cersei’s wildfire plot, Tommen’s fateful decision, and of course the Arya reveal.  And we also have Jon’s parentage revealed, and though book fans who have been paying attention already knew this, they way it was done was excellent.

2. Battle of the Bastards

Season 6

So a couple spots ago when I said it was television at its most epic?  Well then Battle of the Bastards came out and GOT topped themselves once again.  Not only do we see Dany’s dragons at their fiercest, we also see The North at its bloodiest.  The showdown between Jon Snow and Ramsey Bolton that had been building up all season paid off… big time.   What we get is a Braveheart-level build up to a Punic War style battle, culminating in a face off between the series’ most prominent hero and most hated villain.  But the film-making here is something to really be in awe of, with the small details in cinematography and editing which make us hold our breath throughout.  This was damn near #1.

1.  The Children

Season 4

While most people would choose Battle of the Bastards or one of the other high concept episodes as their favourite, I keep finding myself drawn to the season 4 finale.  There’s a lot of great moments in this episode: Stannis saving the Knight’s Watch, The Hound fighting Brienne, Bran reaching the one-eyed raven, and of course Tyrion’s final meeting with his father Tywin.  And all these stories are told with quality writing and directing.  There’s great action, deep emotion, and a  lot of catharsis.  This is Game of Thrones at its best.

There’s the best, now to the not so good.  Now remember, when we are talking worst episodes here, it is relative compared to the rest of the series, not necessarily the rest of television in general.  Game of Throne is a solid show, and even the bottom of the barrel has a lot of quality.

The Bottom Ten Episodes

10. The House of Black and White

Season 5

I guess the biggest crime with this episode is that its just sort of boring.  arya arriving in Braavos isnt that big of a deal, since we already saw Davos and Stannis there earlier.  Jon’s election didn’t have the intrigue it had in the book, and then we get unrest in Meereen.  More unrest in Meereen.  And it won’t be the last time…

9. Walk of Punishment

Season 3

Not much to say about this one.  Other than a pretty shocking ending, the episode is rather bland.

8. Mhysa

Season 3

I usually enjoy the season finales of Game of Thrones quite a bit, but the exception was the capper of season three.  After such an intense hour where most of the Stark’s hopes were literally stabbed to death, the fallout wasn’t nearly as interesting as it should have been.  And the very end where the slaves leave the city and embrace Daenerys as their queen was kinda dumb.  Considering we ended the previous seasons with her emerging from fire with dragons, and seeing an army of undead emerge from a blizzard, this was a bit of a letdown.

7. The Night Lands

Season 2

So what do we get in this episode?  We are introduced to the ironborn bravado, which gets to be a bit much.  We get Dany and her minions traipsing through the red waste.  And we get Arya running away.  Nothing overly exciting.

6. Valar Dohaeris

Season 3

I realize that most of the shots taken against these episodes so far is that they’re just kind of boring, which isn;t really that bad.  And this is another episode in that vein.  We do get to met Mance for the first time, which is cool, but otherwise its Tyrion realizing he’s been shafted out of power, Dany arrives at Astapor, and Stannis licking his wounds.

5. Blood of my Blood

Season 6

Now we get into episodes with some really poor decisions or bad storytelling, and the latter is the problem with this one.  They way they bring Dany back with Drogon is one of the shows worst moments of writing.  It was so… awkward.  It was like ‘hey guys, I’m gonna head off over there a sec and…. bam! I have a dragon!”  A very unearned moment played like it was supposed to be something special.

4. Breaker of Chains

Season 4

The Hound is mean to peasants, rape controversy, and an uninteresting raid on Mole’s Town, this is the weakest episode in what is perhaps the show’s strongest season.  And then at the end they shoot collars at the city. Yup.

3.  A Man Without Honour

Season 2

Jaime is one of the most intriguing characters on this show, but did they ever do a disservice to him here  They have him make a failed escape attempt by killing his cousin for seemingly no reason.  It was stupid.

2. The Garden of Bones

Season 2

So now we are getting to parts I really hated about the show.  This episode is full of torture, which I don’t particularity find compelling to watch.  We get pretty nasty torture at Harrenhal, but then we get one of GoT’s worst moment when Joffrey gets really sadistic on two prostitutes.  We really didn’t need that, we already knew he was horrible.  It was just gratuitous nastiness.

1.  Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken

Season 5

Okay, so now we get to the worst episode in an otherwise awesome series, and I think most fans would agree with me on this one.  First, we get the climax of the very disappointing Dorne story-line from season 5 with some terrible fight choreography more fitting for Xena: Warrior Princess.  We get a cringe-worthy scenes with the Tyrells on trial.  But then we have Sansa being married off to Ramsey and once again being made a victim, even worse than before.  But… she already went through being a victim, it really doesn’t do anything for her character arc to have to go through it again.  But that’s what happens, and it made everyone very uncomfortable.

 

Mar
06

This is about as serious a comic book superhero movie as anyone is going to make. And because of the history we have with these characters, it works. Its an interesting question to ask how well it would work if we had never encountered Wolverine or Prof X before, but regardless, that’s not the case here.

In this third wolverine movie, Logan is now old and his powers are waning. And to be honest, that is a really interesting idea after watching this character be able to hack and slash through people without any real consequence. We also see Xavier as a broken old man grabbing for any sort of happiness; also interesting. This movie also has Dr. Carter from ER. Interesting.

So anyway, what we get is a pretty hard-edged X-men film which really hints at notes of deep sorrow, defeatism, and even nihilism. But it still remains a superhero movie. So its still fun to watch, but its also not at the same time somehow.

As far as the ending, all I will say is that they could have went two different ways, and I think either one would have suited. They had to choose one way, but I can’t help but think if I would have preferred the other. Still, a very strong last effort for Jackman in these X-Men films. What a great wolverine he turned out to be.

9/10

Mar
04

hacksawridge_d33-15411-edit_crop

Mel does it again. What an excellent addition to the WWII film canon. Hacksaw tells the story of a conscientious objector who serves in the military without even holding a gun. And since they made a movie about him, you can imagine that there are some heroics involved.

Andrew Garfield plays Desmond in a manner which is very “shucks, golly”, but I will admit it grew on me. The first half of the movie he has to deal with everyone around him thinking he’s a coward without them realizing his courage come from standing up for his convictions. Of course we know that they will make that realization eventually, yet its still damn satisfying when they do anyway.

It actually takes half the movie before they reach war, as Gibson spends that time establishing Desmond’s life with his family, including an awesome performance by Hugo Weaving as his father, and his budding romance with Dorothy, played charmingly by Teresa Palmer. We also see the legal battles he faced inside the military.

I’ve heard lots of complaints about how slow the first half is or how schmaltzy or stereotypical it is, but I didn’t feel that way. I was engaged the whole time. In the second half when they reach Okinawa things get really intense and Desmond’s story comes full circle. The battle sequences are impressive, but its his story at the center of it which really made it special.

9/10

Feb
26

hq720

Lego Batman is a much more juvenile outing than The Lego Movie of three years ago. The Lego Movie worked on a thematic level that was surprising, but don’t expect this Batman spin-ff to be in the same ballpark.

Nonetheless, I can’t say I didn’t enjoy it. There was enough here that kept my interest, though to be honest most of it was pop culture references and the like. Will Arnett’s commentary over the opening logos was a funny way to start things off, and the various moments where they look back into the history of Batman were cool as well.

There was also a sort of funny relationship here between Batman and the Joker where Joker is trying to get Batman to admit that they are arch-enemies. That worked. There’s also some good relationship stuff with Robin and Alfred, though its pretty standard family movie fare.

Lego Batman also doesn’t look as good visually as The Lego Movie, which seemed more refined, but there is enough eye candy to satisfy.

7/10

Feb
13

john-wick-2-poster-main

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

newego_large_t_77761_289117

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

the-world-is-not-enough-1429

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

die-another-day-bond-girl-fur-coat

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

1200

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

black-mirror

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

westworld-logo

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
house-of-cards-season-4-premiere-date

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

stranger-things-title-card

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
tumblr_oa7aosndpf1vyl4abo1_1280

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

independence-day-resurgence-movie-wallpaper-04

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

BATMAN v SUPERMAN

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
1456319460_gods-egypt-upcoming-american-fantasy-film-featuring-ancient-egyptian-deities-directed-by-alex

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

u05mu5-hc

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
gfhfghfgh

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

rogue-one-new-image-7-600x247

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

nep4duxb6kmtsv_2_b

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

dunkirk-main-story

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

guardians-galaxy-vol-2-new-logo

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

logan-film-header-desktop-p-front-main-stage

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

dd2136507ee67d7a5e6494796e514f1b73f89d4ed7f861ffd5f1d4fe04d78a27

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

arrival-20160289

*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

finding-dory-squid

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