Category Archives: TV

Why You Should Watch Jack Taylor

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If you’re into the sort of thing, the online providers of mixed media (predominately television shows and films) such as Amazon, Hulu, Netflix, and HBO typically offer some quality entertainment and interesting specimens. One such series that has recently struck a chord somewhere deep within the dark recesses of my sleep deprived and otherwise addled brain is none other than ‘Jack Taylor.’ Allow me to state some of the selling points for the series to begin with, in all of its Netflix glory (although there are at least three new episodes not yet available on the streaming service).

Iain Glen, better known as ‘That Guy’ from the often sub-par Resident Evil films and even better better known as Jorah the Explorah from Game of Thrones (HBO), is featured as the titular character Jack Taylor. The series is predominately set in and around Galway- Ireland for those of you unfamiliar to the lay of the land. So you’ve got your fair share of drinking, smoking, and unsavory thuggish sorts going toe to toe with J.T. and constantly getting outwitted and beaten soundly (typically in the literal sense as well). The show is similar to the popular BBC Sherlock series in that it typically boasts three film-length episodes per series and is based upon novels revolving around the same titular character (written by Ken Bruen). One interesting additional note is that the episodes typically originate on local Irish television channels as well.

It is very much a dark, cynical, and gritty show- so essentially everything I love besides petting unicorns and smelling daffodils while skipping around meadows. Jokes aside, the show features story arcs and characters from the novels themselves and despite following in the same thematic footsteps and potential cliches, it all still works and is directed with such things in mind. Unsurprisingly, Jorah- er Jack, is easily the highlight of each lengthy film, although Garda Noonan (Nora-Jane Noone/Siobhan O’Kelly) is just as witty and well-portrayed. It won’t often throw you for true twists that you don’t see coming, but it’s far from mere pulp fiction or trashy romantic paperbacks that most people spend their time with. Think of it as something along the lines of Lee Child’s ‘Jack Reacher’ series, although not in terms of being made into a feature-length Tom Cruise film.

The gist of what I’m getting at here, without trying to give everything up and give everything away in order to ruin things for you, is that it’s definitely worth a watch. Perhaps the first few episodes get off to a little bit of a rocky start in terms of cliches and stereotypes typically found in thrillers and novels of that sort. But the characters are what really piqued my interest and got me invested and I’ll bet if the series sounds like it’s up your alley, then they’ll probably interest you as well. Iain Glen has long been a favorite of mine in terms of lesser-known on-screen actors who’ve come from great theatrical and producing backdrops. His film roles may be minimal in terms of the limelight (although Mountains of the Moon is pretty amazing) and he may be predominately known for guest roles or his acting slot on Game of Thrones, but he thoroughly sells the Jack Taylor vibe and has quickly become a favorite in that capacity for me as well.

And here’s a quick fun-fact for you as well. Glen starred alongside such notable names as Orlando Bloom, Eva Green, Jeremy Irons, Liam Neeson, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Edward Norton, Ghassan Massoud, Alexander Siddig, Jon Finch, David Thewlis, Brendan Gleeson, Maton Csokas, and Michael Sheen. If those names themselves don’t all ring a bell, look up some of the films and works they’ve been involved in and you’ll get a better picture. Needless to say the most well-known involved include but are not limited to Star Trek, The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Game of Thrones, Penny Dreadful, and so much more.Iain Glen is good. Jack Taylor is good. Well, the show. Try it out.

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For the Love of Spock- A Touching Tribute

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For the Love of Spock is a biographical documentary directed by Adam Nimoy (son of Spock himself, Leonard Nimoy) and released in September of this year. The run-time is just shy of the two hour mark, coming in at roughly 1 hour and 51 minutes total. It is currently available on Netflix and I am almost positive it is more than available on other streaming services as well for those of you interested in the material.

I recently watched the documentary on a whim and was touched by the equal parts tribute and historical glimpse into both the character of Mr. Spock and the character of Leonard Nimoy respectively. It truly is a marvelous work in its own right but is even more important to myself and the millions of Trek fans out there that have appreciated the series and fandom over the years because it not only gives light to previously unknown or relatively unknown details behind the scenes, but also operates as a fully functional tribute to Spoke/Nimoy himself.

Adam Nimoy cleverly pieces together footage and film from a variety of Trek sources and couples that with appearances on-screen and off by fellow actors and directors and friends and family who have worked with Spock/Nimoy over the years and/or otherwise had an influence upon him or he upon them. I cannot tell you how heartening it was to see the origins of the character as well as Leonard Nimoy’s acting career both explained and revisited by both Nimoy himself and his compatriots. Appearances by William Shatner and George Takei are easily some of the highlights but even they pale in direct comparison with the segments moderated or discussed by Leonard Nimoy himself.

Originally, the work was prescribed to be a documentary project telegraphed by the father/son duo themselves and exploring both the history and impact of Spock through the years. While it is still very much so, it has since taken on another purpose and that is choreographing Nimoy’s own chronicles within and without the character due to his death in early February 2015. I think it is a very well-thought out documentary and also one that should be watched and can be appreciated by fans and non-fans alike. It is just as much a tribute to the character and the series as it is a calling for mankind to work together and seek to embody the very values oftentimes dictated and shown by Spock to viewers. While on one hand he is seen as an emotionless and logical half-breed, on the other he is perhaps the most human of us all.

Whether you have watched the series and the films since their inception, came on board with the new era of films under J.J. Abrams, or have never watched a second in your life and don’t quite know what I’m talking about besides a pointy eared man with strange eyebrows and a horrendous bowl cut, you should still watch and absorb the details of the documentary. I think you will find them insightful and helpful even outside the realm of the fandom and Trek universe, even outside of Nimoy’s career and life. In more ways than one, Star Trek is just as much a contributor to the rise of science fiction in mass media in the latter years of the twentieth century and certainly in the beginning of this twenty-first one. Without the writings of esteemed science fiction authors we may not have seen Trek, but without Trek we may never have seen or heard of the films and stories which have since influenced game developers to ply their craft and trade as they have these last several decades.

Science fiction has rapidly grown from a pulp fiction to a cult following in mass media and has spawned numerous flagship franchises such as Star Wars and Alien, not to mention Star Trek as well. Science fiction has extended from television and film and written works to gaming as well and it’s hard not to see the influence in galaxy spanning quests such as Trek in games seeking to do the same or similar things, even outside of games directly related to the Trek franchise itself. So if you don’t feel any sort of investment in the documentary because you can’t call yourself a fan of the series or its material, or you feel at odds with viewing a biographical and non-fiction films because you feel those are “boring,” think instead about where gaming would be without the man who has been a cultural icon and part of one of the most influential and important projects in history.

Some men and women are born leaders or grow to become some of the most influential politicians, leaders, and philosophers of our time. Others, like Leonard Nimoy, make their own mark upon culture and people and trod their own path towards both greatness and influence.

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Ice In My Veins: The X-Files Retrospective Pt. 1/XX

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If you know me at all, then you’ll know that enjoy a wide variety of television shows- virtually any genre is game if it features an interesting story, memorable characters, and overall quirkiness. I enjoy everything from Quantum Leap to Firefly, but the object of my affection for the purpose of this post is The X-Files which debuted in 1993 and has never quite left the scene, fading in and out of existence all the way up until this year.

It is my goal to provide a random blog post here and there with the intent of tackling one of my favorite episodes from each season of the show. I predominately liked the first few seasons, however that’s not to say there aren’t memorable episodes among the latter years as well. The specific episode in question for today’s retrospective look is the eighth episode of the first season, entitled “Ice.” Here’s a little backstory for it for those of you who haven’t seen the show, who have but don’t remember, or for those of you who may be interested. WARNING: Spoilers abound! I won’t ruin every minute detail, but I may come pretty close.

Chris Carpenter- cited with creating the series as we know it and also with the writing and filming of the majority of its episodes, essentially states that this episode was heavily influenced by films such as “The Thing” and novellas such as John W. Campbell’s “Who Goes There?” As with the majority of The X-Files’ episodes, which deal with extraterrestrial or paranormal activity, this episode falls into the former category and deals with a team of deceased scientists inside an arctic research facility. Just where do everyone’s favorite FBI detective duo come in? Sent to investigate the mysterious radio silence of the base, Mulder and Scully (accompanied by several scientists and their pilot) encounter a strange alien organism that has lain dormant in the ice for thousands of years.

For a show rooted in genres and tropes such as the supernatural, horror, modern myths, and conspiracy theories, this particular episode got my blood pumping and my mind thinking. Between the thought of what an organism such as the parasitic worm they encountered could do should it break quarantine, the creeping sensation that anyone in the group could be infected and masquerading as sane, and the moral choices and dilemmas between how best to approach the situation, it is a tense thriller of a forty-five minute episode.

The most obvious inspiration for the episode is John Carpenter’s 1982 rendition of “The Thing” which has since been remade by other cinematic directors to varying success. The X-Files’ take on “the thing” is intriguing in its own narrative and nail-biting, chilling, and overall sensational in my own opinion. It quickly establishes a narrative for the one-off story of the episode and introduces the key characters- three scientists of varying backgrounds such as geology and biology, Mulder and Scully who hardly need an introduction by this point, and the maverick plane pilot crazy enough to fly them to the remote arctic ice core drilling facility.

Sticking to the vein of tense alien horror flicks, the episode goes by but not without killing off a few of its cast for added effect. It helps that the set is one confined location and that the arctic weather outside and the death of pilot “Bear” effectively traps the crew in with the parasite. Knowing next to nothing about the worm-like creature, how it is transferred from hosts, and more importantly how to eradicate its presence in their body, this serves as a tense experience overall. Perhaps the greatest moments of all are when each member of the crew showcases little ticks as lack of sleep and exhaustion get to them, causing viewers to question who, if any of them, may be infected with the parasitic life form.

This culminates into a wonderful scene where Mulder puts Scully’s trust to the test and they square off with guns held on each other, leading the former to be briefly imprisoned on suspicion of infection while the others search for a cure. Later on there is another brilliant scene between them that ratchets up the tension even further when Doctors Hodge and DaSilva ambush Mulder and Scully, seeking to introduce the alien life form into Mulder’s bloodstream in hopes of combating the one they think is already inside. I won’t completely spoil the twist, but needless to say Mulder isn’t the one who is infected and things play out quite differently than expected, blood-curdling screams and all.

As with the best moments of the show, “Ice” embraces the cliches of horror thrillers and tense extraterrestrial encounters, making for an interesting homage and an intriguingly moral episode. To top matters off, when Mulder recommends returning to the base in order to more properly investigate the alien life form found there, he is told that the army has destroyed all trace evidence. As will be a continuing theme for the show, there’s something potentially much larger at stake and in play. Conspiracy theorists abound!

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Retro Review: The Clone Wars S1E12-22

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Continuing with my reviews of the animated series The Clone Wars, and by extension Star Wars Rebels, here is the second half of season one’s episodes. Whether or not the second half of this season will live up to the precedent set by the first half is for you to decide after reading through this review. Now, let’s get onto the subject material shall we?

Episode Twelve- The Gungan General

Where we left off in Episode Eleven, Count Dooku had been captured by some pirates and the Jedi were off to capture the Count for themselves. Continuing the trend in this second episode of that story arc, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker find themselves taken prisoner and sure enough must ironically work with the Count for a time in order to escape from their captors.

Grade: B

Episode Thirteen- Jedi Crash

Not so invincible as he oftentimes seems or rather seems to think, Skywalker is injured after a massive battle and comatose for a short time. Meanwhile Aayla Secura and Ahsoka Tano team up to not only find supplies and help but to find a way off of the seemingly uninhabited planet they’ve crash landed on. Along the way expect the usual problems to arise as they often do in such situations.

Grade: B-

Episode Fourteen- Defenders of Peace

The Jedi find themselves caught in a potentially deadly civilian crossfire between Separatist forces and the pacifist Lurmen when the latter think that not fighting will guarantee their safety against the Separatist forces. Needless to say, the droid army tries to raze the local population regardless of their will to fight or not and the Jedi and clones must intervene. It is an interesting look into oppression and war from a different perspective.

Grade: B+

Episode Fifteen- Trespass

Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker once more team up to visit an icy outpost where clone troops have been recently disappearing and the local forces have taken over control. As it would turn out, a before undiscovered race of Talz on the planet has been attacking the troops for encroaching upon their territories unknowingly. The conflict begins to heat up between the Talz and the allies when a series of misunderstandings leads to one debacle after another. Obviously, peace must be made before more casualties are sustained on either side, as the Separatists are the true enemy to be rallying against.

Grade: A-

Episode Sixteen- The Hidden Enemy

Upon invading and attempting to liberate the planet of Christophsis, Skywalker and Kenobi find evidence of a traitor among their men and seek to discover who it is before it is too late for the invasion. Along the way they run into difficulties with Asaj Ventress while Cody and Rex must hold their own as their base is continually sabotaged by the traitor. In the end, it is a matter of ethics and the questionable freedom of the clones that is philosophically discussed at the end of the day, setting a later stage for their eagerness or not in carrying out Order 66 I would assume.

Grade: A

Episode Seventeen- Blue Shadow Virus

Once again we see an already old trope of Padme and Jar Jar Binks being captured after exploring somewhere they should’ve been more careful. This time, it is a weapons facility on Naboo, hidden deep in the swampy lands far away from any major cities. Instead of developing new weapons of war, it turns out the Separatists have successfully raised a previously eradicated plague from the dead and seek to unleash it upon the unsuspecting galaxy, not just the Republic as a whole.

Grade: A-

Episode Eighteen- Mystery of the Thousand Moons

In the continuation of the Blue Shadow Virus story arc, Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi search for a way to cure the infected of the virus before it is too late. They end up searching the nearby moons for a particular root said to combat the disease and discover more than they bargained for. First they happen upon a massive debris cloud surrounding Iego and then they discover the Separatists have booby-trapped the field with an energy shield preventing anyone from leaving the planet upon landing, lending to the local mythology of a mysterious spirit called Drol, who guards the planet. Upon successfully getting the root they need, with the help of a young mechanic they disable the energy field and successfully return to cure the afflicted.

Grade: A

Episode Nineteen- Storm over Ryloth

The majority of this episode is one of the rare episodes set entirely during and around a space battle in the surrounding space of Ryloth, Separatist controlled homeworld of the Twi’leks. This is also an episode largely used to harp on philosophy and respect, especially after Padawan Learner Tano loses the majority of her men in battle after making several costly mistakes. The fog of war is lifting and lessons must be learned as the Jedi face off against a Separatist general who is blockading the planet.

Grade: A-

Episode Twenty- Innocents of Ryloth

The continuation of the invasion of Ryloth story arc, this episode sees the Jedi landing and attempting to push into town in order to evict the Separatist forces and protect the local population. Things aren’t exactly going as planned, especially since the droid army successfully learns the Jedi battle plans and knows their every move. Even worse, the droids are using Twi’leks as living shields to protect their cannons from Republic bombing.

Grade: A

Episode Twenty-One- Liberty on Ryloth

The conclusion of the Ryloth story arc and a major victory for the Republic all occurs within this episode. Mace Windu joins the fight and attempts to convince a local resistance general to aid the Republic in throwing the Separatist forces off the planet, only if the clones and their forces agree to leave soon thereafter as well. Politics behind the scenes threaten this new proposition as well however.

Grade: A

Episode Twenty-Two- Hostage Crisis

This is the final episode of the season and a standalone story in what will become a bigger part within the beginning of season two as well, introducing Bounty Hunter Cad Bane and his crew as Separatist agents. Bane takes over a wing of the Senate building, striking a ballsy blow against the Republic by forcing them to release a criminal Hutt. Anakin Skywaker does his best to foil their plans with mixed results.

Grade: B+

Trivia:

In Episode 21- Liberty on Ryloth, the resistance general by the name of Cham Syndulla is of close relation to later hero and Star Wars Rebels cast member Hera Syndulla.

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Retro Review: The Clone Wars S1 E1-11

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Seeing as the trailer for Rogue One recently released, I’ve decided to mix things up a little bit and break from reviewing games in favor of going back through the seasons of Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels. While we wait for both Rogue One and for Episode VIII, I see no reason not to enjoy the other developments of the now entirely canon-based Star Wars universe. That having been said, I will be reviewing a couple of episodes at a time, offering pros and cons and an overall grade for each of the episodes.

Episode One- Ambush

Starting off any series, even an animated one, on the right note is crucial in television. Thankfully, Master Yoda is here to ensure that is the case for The Clone Wars. Although the show is known for jumping all about the timeline of the Clone Wars in general, I think this was a welcome stepping off point. Following a tale of Yoda and a few clones pinned down by a droid army ambush, it established the tone of the animated adventures.

Grade: A

Episode Two- Rising Malevolence

The Clone Wars plays to its strengths by visiting other recognizable yet not-so-well known characters of the Star Wars universe. In this instance Master Plo Kloon takes the role Master Yoda took in the first episode. It also features an interesting new Separatist super-weapon, a ship of sorts- not quite on the level of Destiny’s Dreadnought or Star Wars’ Death Star, Starkiller Base, or Galaxy Gun, but something like that. Needless to say, this episode begins an interesting three episode story arc.

Grade: A

Episode Three- Shadow of Malevolence

The second episode of the three episode arc featuring the Separatist warship Malevolence continues with an interesting story integrating yet more classic Star Wars action into the mix. Anakin Skywalker and friends pursue their plans of leading a bombing run on the ship, but suffice it to say things don’t exactly go as planned. The episode also does a great job of fully integrating Skywalker and co into the mix, as well as some modified Y-Wing bombers and General Grievous.

Grade: A-

Episode Four- Destroy Malevolence

In this particular episode we see the first of many times Padme and C-3PO will inevitably be captured and used as hostages to negotiate with the Jedi. Naturally this provides ample opportunity for General Grievous to escape a la Episode III, as will also become commonplace and old at times. The one thing to be said about it however is that it naturally puts the finishing touches on the three episode story arc revolving around the Malevolence.

Grade: B+

Episode Five- Rookies

Enter Officers Cody and Rex. They may not entirely be commanders at this particular time, as they are quite assuredly leading together. However, they are no less formidable or interesting than their Episode II and III big screen counterparts or their Extended Universe compatriots. As the title would suggest, their biggest goal is to train their rookie troops to fight off a droid invasion of their base. It has its dark moments, as far as the animated series is concerned anyway, however as always things end on a relatively upbeat note.

Grade: A

Episode Six- Downfall of a Droid

And thus begins a two episode story arc revolving around R2-D2 being captured and held by the Separatists. As would be the Republic’s luck, R2-D2 is holding onto some sensitive information that could mean bad news if the Separatists got their hands on it after probing through the droid’s memory banks. It’s not quite the plans for the Death Star we’re talking about here, however I’d imagine Jedi military tactics and battle plans in the enemy hands would be a catastrophe indeed.

Grade: A-

Episode Seven- Duel of the Droids

This particular episode finishes up the whole “R2-D2 gets captured” story arc and also manages to somehow make the little astromech droid that much more lovable and enjoyable to watch onscreen, even in animated form. As the title would suggest, the episode has to do with an ironic showdown of sorts between droids at General Grievous’ listening post when Skywalker and Ahsoka go in to rescue their metal friend.

Grade: A

Episode Eight- Bombad Jedi

If you hoped you wouldn’t have to constantly be reminded of The Phantom Menace, keep wishing. Not only does Jar Jar Binks feature prominently in this episode, but Padme and Viceroy Nute Gunray make their appearances as well. It’s essentially a similar theme to The Phantom Menace, centering on saving Padme and subsequently Threepio from the Viceroy, with Binks being the unlikely “hero.” Somehow, it could’ve been worse.

Grade: B-

Episode Nine- Cloak of Darkness

Here we see many familiar faces in Star Wars mythos, all set in an interesting and exciting chapter of season one. Count Dooku, Asaj Ventress, Ahsoka Tano, Master Luminara, and more make appearances. The premise seems simple enough: escort Gunray to trial and successfully place the captured Trade Federation leader under arrest for good. However, whenever Ventress is thrown into the mix, you cannot assume things will go so easily and they of course do not.

Grade: A

Episode Ten- Lair of Grievous

Being that it is an origin story of sorts for the Clone Wars itself, The Clone Wars seeks to feature General Grievous heavily and puts that to good use in this episode. Pursuing Count Dooku, Jedi Master Kit Fisto and his troops chase the Count into the middle of what turns out to be Grievous’ hideout. Needless to say, true to the warlord’s infamous reputation, few survive the ensuing battle. It’s as tense as the show has gotten thus far.

Grade: A

Episode Eleven- Dooku Captured

As we come to the halfway point of season one and the end point for this series of short reviews, I want to remind you that so far everything has been pretty solidly laid at the foundation. Things won’t begin to get too old until you start seeing the same characters getting put in pretty similar situations. As of now, even for an animated series, it is fresh and enjoyable which is always a good thing. The title of this episode should tell you just about all you need to know, however what you may not realize is Count Dooku has in fact been “captured” by pirates, although Skywalker and Kenobi seek to capture the Count themselves as well.

Grade: B+

Trivia:

If you glance a bit into the future, specifically Episode 21- Liberty on Ryloth, you’ll have a chance to see Separatist leader Wat Tambor loading the Ark of the Covenant onto one of his ships at around the thirteen minute mark. Consider this Lucas’ ongoing cosmic joke of sorts. Your welcome.

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millie schmidt writes... with cats

millie schmidt writes...

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