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The Hobbit: The Second time

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As much of the purpose of this blog is as an archive, I feel it is important to note that I did go see the Hobbit a second time.  This is that note.  My impression is much the same as it was in the first review.

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The X Files: I Want to Believe

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The second X Files movie is a travesty.  This is a very bad action/thriller, and has virtually nothing to do with the X Files.  The first movie, though wandering and given to cliche, was nonetheless exciting.  This one never develops any tension, as the plot is never clearly explained.  Also, the last two seasons of the X Files seem to mostly not have existed, which is an obvious pander to the earlier fanbase that (mistakenly, in Robert Patton's case) doesn't like to think of the last shows as existing.

Even for X Files fans, this is a miss.  See it only if you're a diehard completist.

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Young Adult

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Diablo Cody wrote a screenplay set mostly in a Minnesota small town.  It's quite good.  The writing is strong, the setting is moody and withdrawn in a way that matches the script, and the characters are mostly believable.  Charlize Theron's young adult author is so overly hung up on her past and such a gigantic asshole to everybody she encounters that it is truly funny.  It's black comedy at its best.

The screenplay is forthright about its viewpoints.  This is not a subtle movie.  Small towns are depicted as provincial, backwards places, but the city ain't so great either.  This is definitely about what it means to be female and to go home, and how to leave the past behind.  It's a really solid screenplay, and for all it's lack of subtlety, it still works.

Not something to rush out and go see, but definitely worth watching.

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Sherlock: Series 2

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Lost nothing in the transition from first to second series.  The acting is still top-notch, the writing and plot is still perfect.  I could watch these for a long, long time.  They're almost enough to make me a Sherlock Holmes fan.  Almost.

Nearly everything I have to say about the series is encapsulated in my review of the first season, but the last episode deserves a bit more discussion.  Spoilers ahead, for those of you who care about such things.

The "deaths" of Sherlock and Moriarty in the last episode are satisfying somehow in a literary way, but extremely unsatisying from a story perspective.  It makes sense for the last Sherlock for an inderterminate amount of time to see the main protagoist and antagonist exit the stage, but I, at least, was not ready for the series to end, and certainly not like that.

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The Hobbit

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The first installment of Peter Jackson's long awaited follow up trilogy is finally here.  And although it's not the caliber of the original, it's definitely a worthy follow-up.

The things that made the first trilogy so successful are here again.  Great makeup and effects, gorgeous vistas, simplistic-yet-sweeping plot -- everything you remember is back.  The movie even liberally sprinkles in cameos from the first series, with Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett, Elijah Wood, and Ian Holm back for short scenes.  Peter Jackson, as a longtime fan of Tolkein, has fully grasped the value of small amounts of consistency, and has in turn, served up treats for his fanbase.

The new additions are mixed.  Martin Freeman plays the kindhearted but overwhelmed Bilbo as well as could be asked for.  This isn't exactly news, as we've seen this same idea from him in Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and the BBC version of Sherlock.  Richard Armitage as Thorin is bad.  Thorin's unchanging expression in inappropriately comic at times, and any subtlety in the role is completely lost in the acting.  I'm not sure what Jackson expected out of an actor involved with the awful BBC adaptation of Robin Hood, but there's no significant step up here.

The reviews for this movie have mostly savaged it, which is a puzzle to me.  Many complaints center around the increased framerate and unnecessary 3D.  We intentionally opted for 2D, after reading the reviews, and it could be that ours was also lacking the increased frame rate that drew so many complaints.  But for the remaining complaints, those that disliked the movie, or didn't like it in relation to the book, I am completely baffled.  This is the same stuff that worked in Lord of the Rings, just with a much more lighthearted feel that is a well-done tone translation that follows the book.  Though the decision to make this into three (Three!) movies is a bit questionable and leads to some dragging in places, this is still a pretty damn good movie.  You liked it last time, so what changed now?

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Star Trek: The Next Generation - Season 1

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This was a blast from the past.  Somewhere around middle school, I discovered Star Trek: TNG on syndication, airing at 9:00 every night.  I recorded or watched every episode until it looped back around to the episode I had begun on.  For a while, I was a bona fide trekkie, and loved it earnestly and without guile.

Fastforward to college, where I hear a bit more guarded criticism of the series, and actually watch a handful of episodes.  They have not all aged well.  There's hokiness where I didn't notice it, overacting, and just so little perspective.  I see a bit more of the "Aesop in space" criticism.

And now I'm rediscovering it once again.  I've barrelled through the first season, despite the fact that it is frequently cheesy and overacted.  The show is supposed to get better as it ages, and I hope so.  The first season is inconsistent.  Though episodes like the one introducing Picard as Dixon Hill or the one with Data's long lost brother Lore are great episodes, there are others that brutally bad, such as when Tasha Yar dies for no discernable reason, or the planet with the insultingly simplistic gender roles that is so gaga for gender equality that it actually espouses bad gender politics.

Enjoyable series, turning out to be a pleasant surprise on rewatching.

Oh, and I'm already bored of Troi and Riker, both individually and as a couple.

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The X-Files: Season 9

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My recollection of the final season of The X-Files when it was airing was that there was a lot of sentiment of "Well, it's probably time for this."  After all, David Duchovny sort of left, then Gillian Anderson sort of left, then David Duchovny left for real, and there was a sentiment that it was time to put the poor show out of its misery.

Season 9 is far better than that recollection makes it seem. Robert Patrick as John Doggett continues to be a strong character, and the writing, though diminished in quality from its Season 6 peak, is still adequate.  The budget is also clearly higher.  All-in-all, I didn't feel that it jived with the "inevitable decline in quality" narrative that I recalled.

The ending, though, is not exactly satisfying.  It's better than some, worse than others.  It's rushed and mostly inconclusive, more befitting a show that got canceled halfway through Season 2 than one that ran to the full conclusion of 9 seasons.  Chris Carter could have done better about getting to a stopping point. Still, no matter how long you've run, it's difficult to wrap up a series when you haven't been preparing to do so, and Carter apparently believed that the show still had another 10 years in it.

In retrospect, the decision to cancel was a probably a good idea.  The quality of the show was slowly declining, and the hypothesis of massive government conspiracy just didn't fit with the culture of the nation at that point.  9-11 had just happened, and the last thing people wanted to hear was that our government had a hidden agenda.  We had our new enemy, now, and we no longer had any use for an internal enemy that replaced the one we lost at the end of the Cold War.  For better or worse, we were now united as a nation.

If you've made it this far in the X Files, it's worth continuing on to Season 9, but there's nothing here to hold out for.  Classic case of "watch it only if inertia compels you."

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This really deserves the hype.  I can't believe I'm saying this about a Spielberg movie with Daniel Day-Lewis as the main character, but this really is a brilliant movie.

The movie is richly nuanced, a rarity for a Spielberg movie.  This movie is obviously a fan of Lincoln, but even he doesn't come away perfect.  Rather, you see that he is often a bit distracted, motivated by politics, and sometimes willing to abuse executive powers in wartime for the good of the country.  In short, this is a spot-on representation of Lincoln the president.

Day-Lewis' performance as Lincoln is also ridiculously good.  I wasn't a big fan of Day-Lewis in the other movies I've seen him in, Gangs of New York and There Will Be Blood, but his reedy Lincoln is a huge difference from his gravelly man's man in those other two movies.  He brings a  wonderful physical style, and a vocal whimsy that keeps the movie from being heavy-handed.

Perhaps most impressive about this movie is that it is amazingly accessible.  This shouldn't be the case, as you have a script that is densely packed with 19th century speech patterns and a plot that revolves around the tiniest political realities of the civil war era.  Yet, due to strong acting all around, the plot comes through.  There were very few moments I was confused, and I was enraptured during all of the critical moments, even those when Spielberg couldn't quite help himself and brings his usual emotionally overexposed style.  That is truly amazing.

See this movie.  It's definitely going to be on my list of best movies I saw this year.

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Going Cardboard

Going Cardboard is a documentary about board games, and as such, I needed to see it.  This is a great idea, and the fact that Lorien Greene was willing to track down industry luminaries, drag a camera to mostly camera non-friendly events, perform interviews, and edit the resulting footage into a feature-length documentary as a personal project is a great service to the hobby.  Going Cardboard won't be remembered as a watershed moment in boardgaming, but it is not for lack of effort or passion on the part of the creator.  I am extremely happy that such a documentary exists.


This is a small release film by a single person, with all the usual things that means.  It's difficult to find a copy, the film/audio quality is sometimes inferior, and the creator is often a bit too close to the trees to see the forest.

The goal is to present an overview of modern hobby boardgaming, though I never found the thesis clearly stated.  The movie is part love letter to a small hobby, and part proselytizing.  This is somewhat problematic, as the movie seems to be trying to find a place with both the hardcore gaming crowd and the uninitiated.  In trying to serve both audiences, it mostly misses on both counts.

As a hardcore gamer, I found that a lot of the interviews seemed to push the conventional wisdom of the greater boardgaming hivemind.  If Alan Moon or Derk or Jay Tummelson says it, it lends it a bit more gravitas, but it doesn't change the fact that it's well-understood in hobby circles.

It is instructive to compare King of Kong, the granddaddy of small-hobby documentaries.  KoK is clearly made by outsiders looking in, allowing them to knowingly elbow the audience, and say "Can you believe these guys?" Going Cardboard mostly lacks that context.  Many times the movie sounds like an echo chamber for hobby gamers to pat themselves on the back.

And entire parts of the hobby are glossed over or omitted entirely.  There's very little discussion of wargames or Ameritrash, and only the briefest, uninstructive discussion of BoardGameGeek.  In some ways, this feels like boardgaming circa 2002 -- Euros dominate everything, the web is a mere shadow in the boardgaming world, and the Spiel des Jahres reigns supreme as the unquestioned jewel in the crown for boardgaming.

So that means that, presumably, this documentary is supposed to be for the uninitiated boardgamer, the friend or relative who doesn't understand modern boardgaming.  The problem is, I wouldn't give this documentary to a friend who wants to understand hobby games -- I'd just play a game with them, or failing that, just give them a copy of Settlers of Catan.  Boardgaming, for all its faults, doesn't suffer from a way to bring people into the hobby.  There's very little prior knowledge required to play on of our games, just a willingness to learn rules.

All that said, I am very glad I bought this, because the special features do everything that the feature film fails to do.  Alan Moon discusses his time at Avalon Hill for some much needed context for the hobby.  Corey Konieczka discusses the licensing and development process at Fantasy Flight.  Derk fleshes out the history of BoardGameGeek (though I still would like a bit more discussion of its impact on the boardgaming hobby).  Best of all, perhaps, Christoph Boelinger shows off the film footage that went into the Dungeon Twister promotional video.  The special features run at least as long as the movie, and nearly every one is a fascinating story.  They don't have the narrative flow of the feature, but they work well in assembling a whole out of pieces.  This is where the hobby is truly brought to life.

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I was spoiled by Casino Royale, I will admit it.  Casino Royale was the Bond movie that broke Bond movies, the one that mostly eschewed camp in favor of actual surprises.  Bond is vulnerable, believable, and human.  All of these things broke with convention of the series, and the movie was better for it.

But James Bond still has to be James Bond, I suppose.  Otherwise the massive fandom will be Not Pleased.  So we get the conclusion of this trilogy of Bond films, and it comes some sort of bizarre full circle to another origin story for Bond.  Instead of becoming what he is because of the complicated factors shown in Casino Royale, now it turns out that he is who he is because of an old guy in a mansion in Scotland.

It doesn't make much sense in the movie either.

On the plus side, it is not hyperbole to say that Javier Bardem as Raoul Silva is the best Bond villain I've seen.  For all of Bond's flatness, Silva has much more conflict, much more reason in his actions.  It's a nice contrast to the revival of Bond as the Freudian Penis of Uncompromising Direction.

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