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

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

Jason-Bourne2

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

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

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

Aug
11

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

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

Components

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

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

Aug
04

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7/10

Jul
18

Ghostbusters 2016 Movie Trailer Stills 006 Times Square Flashback

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jul
14

Intro

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

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

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Lets move on to The Phantom Menace:

Jar Jar and the Gungans

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

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

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Acting and Dialogue

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

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

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Queen Amidala/ bodyguard decoy

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

Anakin’s Character

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

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

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

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C-3P0

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

Darth Maul

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

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The Senate Story

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

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

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

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Midicholorians

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

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

 

Jul
12

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

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

8/10

Jul
09

The Living Daylights

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

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

6/10

License to Kill

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

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

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

7/10

Goldeneye

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

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

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

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

Goldeneye: one of the better Bonds.
8/10

Jul
06

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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