Mother Russia Bleeds: A Wonderfully Dark Beat ‘Em Up

      “Mother Russia Bleeds” might be my favorite Beat ‘Em Up of all time. This is a game full of rich lore, fun gameplay and really brutal and beautiful design. What helped was playing it with my wife and one of my closest friends. Just the experience of us working together to figure out the pattern of the boss fights as we advanced through Russia really was such an amazingly fun experience. Before I get into details about the game itself and spoilers, I definitely recommend checking it out if you are a fan of Beat ‘Em Up style games.

“Mother Russia Bleeds” is an indie game created by the France based studio Le Cartel Studio and was published by Devolver Digital. Frédéric Coispeau designed the game with Alexandre Muttoni being the artist and director. The game itself was released in 2016.

The premise of the game is that you are four Roma who are used in street fights to make money in the slums. After your friend betrays you to the government you find yourself experimented on. After escaping the lab, you seek revenge against all those who wronged you.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Graphics – This is a beautiful 8-bit game. The game is dark and gritty while at the same time giving color where it is appropriate. Whenever you are fighting mafia or are in club, the colors stand out. The game becomes progressively more colorful until you get to the end where red and black are the main contrasts. This is a beautifully brutal game and I love the artistic choices the artists made when designing bosses (military generals, butchers, mad scientists) as you advance through the game as you unravel the conspiracy.

Difficulty – This was a difficult game. I’m glad that I didn’t play this alone. There are a few boss battles and fight sequences where having more than one person helps you figure out and learn the patterns. The greatest example of this is the helicopter attacking through a window as you fight oncoming goons. It is stressful and that was one point where the three of us took a break. Same went for the final boss too. He had 3 phases and each phase was harder than the last. This is a game where the build up in difficulty is progressive and challenging. Suffice to say, I enjoyed it. A game should make you better at it, and that can only come through challenge.

The Gameplay – Beat ‘Em Ups are a fun style of game. In this case it is also a side scroller too, so you can’t go back to where you were before. This provides a good challenge as when you knock enemies off screen you can’t attack them again until they’ve returned to the window of the fight. I really enjoyed the gameplay. You have Nekro which lets you heal up but also powers you up for a super move as well. There are also isn’t healing everywhere and you can only get Nekro from certain enemies you’ve killed at a certain time. This keeps the tension up as you advance through the levels. There is also a great enemy variety. You fight gangsters, zombies, soldiers, mob bosses, masochists in pig masks and quite a few others. The enemies all have different attack styles as well. This is a game that you have to learn. It isn’t easy and that makes all the more amazing. The final boss is another great example of this. The incarnation of Nekro is the punk rock skeleton who has three phases. One phase is fighting copies of yourself and a closing in wall that you throw syringes at, phase two are living syringes and muscle dropping down and the final phase is the boss itself in 2 forms. It is hard and so very rewarding.

The World and Story – The game takes place just before the Russian Revolution. You are Four Roma (Sergei, Ivan, Natasha and Boris) who are betrayed by your friend Mikhail and given to the government to be experimented on. You survive but become addicted to Nekro in the process. From here you are seeking revenge against your former friend and end up helping another friend as the revolution begins. It is a dark, violent and twisted world as you are the lowest rung in society and everyone wants you dead. You end up in some fascinating environments too on your quest for revenge. You fight in a sex club where you fight people in pig masks and battle against a giant butcher at the end, you fight on a train, against military officers and police and finally against a living embodiment of the drug itself. It is in the final fight where my wife and our friend ended up getting the bad ending. If you use the drug to defeat the final boss than you die of an overdose and are remembered by the revolution. If you succeed without using the drug than a statue is made to honor you in how you helped the revolution. We got the bad ending, which I honestly thought was more realistic to the world the story takes places in and was the better story.

As you can tell, I loved this game. This is a Beat ‘Em Up better than “X-Men” or the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” games. I enjoyed both of those games but this one built on the core fun base game they had. The fact that the story has a point gives even more power to it. It is a tragedy about addiction as well as just how costly revolutions are on the people, while also recognizing the importance of fighting corruption. Our protagonists are the lowest within society and them grabbing their own agency lends power to the narrative as they seek revenge against those who wronged them. This was a really fun game and I definitely plan to check out more games from this studio.

Final Score: 10 / 10 This is the perfect Beat ‘Em Up.

 

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How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (2019) – On Growing Up and Letting Go

      “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” is a really good film. It isn’t as good as the first 2 films, but this is a solid end to the franchise. If you’ve come this far I’d say it is worth finishing. The ending is one of the most heart touching things you’ll see this year and the animation and action are the best this series has ever been. Also I am biased in that I am glad this is the ending.  A trilogy is a a great way to end any series and when you go beyond that it is easy for studios to mess up.

The film was directed, produced and written by Dean DeBlois, with Brad Lewis being the other producer.

The story involves Hiccup and his dragon-riders continuing to rescue dragons and bringing them to Berk. This leads to overcrowding leading Hiccup to call upon his dad’s dream of finding the “Hidden World” where dragons and humans can live and peace. All doesn’t go according to plan when an old dragon hunter enters the scene. Grimmel who hunted the Night Fury to near extinction. With the warlords at his back he brings war to Hiccup and Berk.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Action – The action in this film is great. Grimmel (the main baddy) and his Deathgrippers (venom-fire spitting dragons) cause some great action sequences when they are escaping, capturing dragons or fighting against Hiccup. Visually the action sequences are a lot of fun. The fact that Hiccup and his main crew now use dragon armor and Hiccup has a burning swords adds to the visual appeal of it all.

The Animation – The animation is the best it is has ever been. It must have been difficult to animate the Hidden World when they finally reach it. There are such a variety of dragons and mirage of colors that it simply draws you in. Same goes for when Hiccup moves the Vikings to find a new land. The sheer amount of characters and creatures in motion is seamless, as well as the reveal of the new forest island they choose to call home. This is a movie animated on an epic scale and it loves it up to that. Every scene has so much detail to it, while still focusing in on the characters who drive the action.

Astrid and Hiccup – This is the core relationship that drives the series. Astrid and Hiccup are the heroes of the film. Astrid is the one who sees the big picture and sees the people, while everything Hiccup does is to protect the dragons. It is a wonderful dynamic and we see how they compliment one another. Hiccup is the idealist while Astrid is much more down to earth. I do wish Astrid had got more development as so much of her development is tied to Hiccup as chief, but it still shows they are partners. This is really them growing as leaders and in regards to Hiccup, him accepting that the dragons should be free and not domesticated.

Toothless and the Light Fury – This relationship is a relationship between two cats. Like Astrid and Hiccup they compliment one another as the Light Fury shows Toothless that he can lead all dragons and be their guardian. The Light Fury is also being used to her getting revenge is a mini-arc that I appreciated, as well as her coming to trust humans when she saves Hiccup after he frees Toothless from Grimmel’s control. This relationship was adorable and was just as core as the main relationship that drove the film.

The Ending – The ending is a reunion of friends. Astrid and Hiccup take their kids to the Hidden World where the dragons are living and meet the Light Fury and Toothless’s babies. It is really sweet and for any fan of the series you will feel. This gave the series a sense of finality too, which “Kung Fu Panda 3” didn’t give in the same way. This was smart and if the studio does go greedy, they’ll have to be really smart to give this trilogy a worthy epilogue.

Okay:

Grimmel the Grisley – F. Murray Abraham is good at giving us a threatening feeling character in Grimmel. His introduction is killing a dragon without reacting and escaping Burk, even with it being full of dragons. He also has the Light Fury that he uses to bait Toothless, which is clever. Traps are his game and they could have been used so much more. He has a trap that nearly works that should have killed at least one of the characters (Hiccup’s dad was killed last film, raise the stakes). But in the end it doesn’t work. This doesn’t help as from here on in he never feels like a threat. Our heroes beat him without their dragons after Grimmel takes control of them when he captures Toothless, and though we are given good visuals it is nothing more. He needed to truly hurt our heroes or have a real personal reason we saw to want to end all dragons. We don’t get either, which makes him the weakest enemy in the Trilogy. Still a decent villain but he deserved so much more lore and development.

The Cons:

The Villain Warlords – There are 4 warlords who clearly have different looking armor so should have had differing personalities and goals, but they don’t. Instead we have 4 people who hate Berk, want to kill dragons but not use them in anyway we ever see (resources, etc.) and are all just stupid fighters. The only thing that sets them apart is their armor sets and the fact that 3 are men and 1 is a woman. This isn’t good. They should have been in a more adversarial relationship against Grimmel (or split between them in loyalties) or at least have different expressed goals at what they’d do with the killed dragons. They served no purpose beyond paying Grimmel to take on Berk. David Tennant voiced one of the warlords, and I couldn’t even tell. He’s one of my favorite actors so it was such a horrible use of such great talent.

If you’ve come this far, you deserve to finish. The film itself is solidly good with a great ending and it does give a bit more lore. Where it fails is in the minor characters, which is a shame is that is the only thing keeping the film from greatness. I wanted more time with Hiccup’s mom Valka and his Uncle, or any of the Warlords. They deserved better development. I would still recommend to any who love the series and great animation. This film knows that this is the end and it goes all in on the operatic fights and the core relationships. This is a film that knows how to say good-bye.

Final Score: 8.6 / 10

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum (2019) – A Great Sequel Entering Dangerous New Ground

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum IMAX Poster Invites You ...

    “John Wick 3” is a great film. It is also a film that I worry has the potential to be the last great film in this Franchise. This film has action better than the first film but I’d argue the drama still isn’t as strong. The first film didn’t need a sequel, while this one goes all in on Franchising. This for me is the biggest issue, which is why I’ve brought it up twice. I enjoyed the new characters and this world run by assassins with deep lore is why I watched the sequel in the first place. This film grows on that, and it could go further and that is what makes it great, even if the film doesn’t feel like an end.

The film was directed by Chad Stahelski and written by Derek Kolstad, Shay Hatten, Chris Collins and Marc Abrams.

The story follows John Wick (Keanu Reeves) after “John Wick 2” as he loses protection and has all assassins set upon him. The High Table sends a Adjudicator  to punish all those who helped him, including the Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne) and the Continental Hotel leading to a confrontation as John Wick seeks help to clear his name.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful. If you look at the poster that I used to start the review, it has that level of color contrast throughout the film. This is a film that makes the most of the environments the characters find themselves in. At one point we are in a desert, another time fighting in a library and the rainy streets of New York City. Dan Laustsen truly has a masterful eye.

The Action – This is a film that has some beautiful action. We have a gun and knife fight in a museum that has old guns and weapons. We get a fight in a room of mirrors with multiple combatants and a shoot-out in Casablanca. The “John Wick Franchise” has always been great on action and in this it got back to the variety of the first film and in many was better. This film went all in on the set pieces it gave us.

The Characters – The characters get exploration are some of the strongest part of this Franchise and this film delves into characters from 2 and introduces us to some great compelling villains who I can’t wait to learn more about. This is a character driven drama and this film fully embraces that.

Zero – Zero is the man the High Table hires to hunt down John Wick. Mark Dacascos does a wonderful job as the assassin. He is a fan of John Wick and has a sense of honor about him. He only does what is asked and never breaks the rules that are set.

The Adjudicator – Asia Kate Dillon is amazing. I’m so glad she survived this film. The Adjudicator is more threatening than any characters we’ve met so far. I’m including all those at the High Table too. Asia is also a non-binary actor and I’m hoping we see Asia in more things. The Adjudicator is the most compelling character in the series at this point outside of John Wick and I can’t wait to see how their story unfolds.

Sofia – Sofia owns the Continental in Casablanca and only helps John because he helped save her daughter. Their relationship is complicated and you can see the love and hatred within it. They are in a job where favors cost even  Things have to be pretty bad when it involves love. They were at one point clearly friends, but all of Sofia’s help comes from business or revenge. I hope she comes back. Halle Berry did an amazing job. She was one of my favorite characters in this film. I know she isn’t a fan of Wick, but her actions in the film made her an enemy of the High Table.

Berrada – Jerome Flynn (Bronn from “Game of Thrones”) shows up as the Master of Coin of the High Table and even though he helps John Wick (Tells him how to find the Elder, go into the desert and walk until you collapse). He also shoots Sofia’s dog when she refuses to give him it. He manages to survive Wick and Sofia so I have a sneaking suspicion he’ll turn up again. Berrada controls the money and is part of the balance of the High Table.

Winston and Charon – This is the film that shows just how great Winston and Charon are. Charon holds the line against The High Table’s forces with John Wick and is the only survivor outside of him. Winston is the manipulator. He calls a parlet after the battle is one and “kills” John Wick. What is implied is that he knew John Wick would survive and is still an ally even though the Adjudicator doesn’t trust what happened and says that his hotel is now responsible for killing Wick. How this will go remains to be seen. Ian McShane and Lance Reddik continue to be one of the strongest parts of this franchise. Can’t wait to see what their characters have planned next.

The Bowery King – Laurence Fishburne continues to be the core resistance against the High Table. When the Adjudicator shows up, he laughs in their face. This is a character I didn’t expect to survive. Given he did I think there is so much promise. He uses The Tick Tock Man (Jason Mantzoukas) to rescue John after he is shot by Wintson. This is a character who gets the long game and I really hope he gets a great story worthy of surviving the High Table’s revenge. Fishburne’s charisma and the fun he has is the character has been an enjoyment since the last film.

John Wick – John Wick drives the story. This is a man who returns to the family he left behind (The Ruska Roma) only to have them send him to Casablanca and to lose all their protection. From here he proceeds to lose more as when he meets the High Table Elder after injuring a member of the High Table in his quest for the Elder. When John does meet the Elder he gives up his wedding ring and is an assassin who is sent to kill Winston. Instead he joins Winston and protects the New York Continental only to barely survive when Winston parlays with the High Table and leaves him for dead after shooting him. What progress and safety he earned, he gave up and now all he has is the Bowery King and his war against the High Table who controls the world. Keanu Reeves owns this character and I think as worried as I am about this becoming a dead franchise, there is still a story to tell.

The Cons:

Too Long – This was problem the second film had as well. I would have cut the action sequences in half to get more lore. I get this is an action series but the lore is so rich and there are so many relationships that are worth exploring. When action drives everything it can only go so far. I love good action but character is what makes a film.

The Danger of Franchises Never Ending – This film is all about “John Wick 4.” Everything in the setup is sequel bate. How it will do that has me intrigued but that is also a danger. I can’t think of a good 3rd Movie post sequel that made me want a further franchise. It can work for books but films have less time. It could still be great but all it takes is a studio executive or lazy director not caring.

“John Wick 3” is a great film. If you have been along with the Franchise up to this point I’d say go for it. The action is compelling and the world is developed further. We meet the Elder who controls the High Council to some degree and we see Wick betray him. There is so much going on and the twist of the Bowery King surviving his punishment woks. I want more Fishburne as the Bowery King was always mad so we have two mad factions against each other. Order versus chaos. Part of me does wish it had ended here and that the story had continued without Wick, but if you are building Batman, you need Bruce Wayne and this series clearly knows that. I’m mostly worried about this series going “Die Hard 4.” I could be wrong, the writers are clearly intelligent but that will always be a fear with action franchises. If you saw the first 2 films, chances are you will enjoy this as much as I did. Check it out.

Final Score: 9.2 This is a great film and even with the danger of franchise overkill, there is promise in the story ahead.

What We Left Behind – Looking Back on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (2019) – The Perfect “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” Documentary

  “Deep Space Nine” is my favorite of the “Star Trek Series.” This is a series that was willing to explore philosophy, religion war and give the minor characters full arcs. It is no wonder Ronald Moore created the rebooted “Battlestar Galactica” from this show, which is also one of my favorite sci. fi. shows. He was on the writing team while Ira Steven Behr was the showrunner. This is easily the best documentary I’ve ever watched. It has comedy, heart, philosophy, depth and explores the relationships and characters who made up the show. My bias being that “Deep Space Nine” is my favorite of the “Star Trek Franchise” and in Sci. fi. shows as a whole. It certainly has flaws and wasn’t perfect and this is a documentary that honestly explores that.

The documentary was directed by Ira Steven Behr and David Zappone, produced by 455 Films and released by Shout! Studios.

The documentary traces the origins of “Deep Space Nine’s” creation, the actors and their thoughts on the show, gives us a hypothetical new season with many of the original writing team and explores the legacy the show left behind.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Into and Ending – The Into and ending were so corny and perfect. “Deep Space Nine” had Vic Fontaine’s Jazz lounge as a major part of the show and the Documentary paid tribute to that by having Max Grodénchik (Rom) kick it off with a corny song about leaving his heart on “Deep Space Nine.” In the end he is joined by Jeffrey Combs (Grunt and Weyoun on Ds9), Casey Biggs (Damar) and Armin Shimermen (Quark) to finish the song. It had so much heart, even if the lyrics don’t always work. The four of them are also great singers.

The Reaction to the Show – Throughout the documentary the cast reads fans letters as Ira Steven Behr interviews them. These are glimpses of history that show just how much the show was hated by some in it’s initial release. People hated that the show was darker and that it wasn’t daily exploration on a ship. The reactions are nuanced (Ira on making sense of how people saw it as a dark show) to funny when Aron Eisenberg (Nog) reads a reaction from someone who hated it. This was one of the aspects that added character to the documentary.

The Making of the Show – Making the show an episodic story beyond single bottle episodes or two-parters was revolutionary. This was a major part of the film, and beyond that how when most fans talked about the show in interviews it was largely about the Dominion War arc. It was the arc that changed everything outside of the arcs of “Babylon 5.” We also got to see the Writers Room when Behr got together with Ronald Moore and some of the other writers from the show to draft a pilot for a new season. It was really neat seeing that as well as the relationship between the showrunner, directors, actors and crew. They also went into the Evolution of the Dominion and how they evolved into a collection of species versus a single one.

The Actors’ Stories – Part of what makes the story so compelling are getting the stories of the actors and the relationships formed over the course of the show. We learn about how Armin Shimerman (Quark) used to host the other actors who played Ferengi at his home to go over the scripts. “Deep Space Nine” was full of Ferengi episodes and seeing how friendships grew out of it was so wonderful. We also got to see that Alaimo (Dukat) had a crush on Nana Visitor (Kira), and Avery Brooks (Captain Sisko) and how to this day he is friends and mentor to his show son Cirroc Lofton. The actors also talked about their characters and created interludes. Andrew Robinson (Garak) appeared early on and later to talk about how when he first played the character he played him as wanting to have sex with Doctor Bashir and how the character relationships evolved into a deep friendship. It was awesome hearing that first hand as Robinson always played Garak as Bisexual and him voicing that made me happy.  They also touched on Terry Farrell (Jadzia Dax) leaving the show and the disrespect from the directors as well as when Nicole de Boar (Ezri) took over for the last season of the show. Even with all that happened there are still so many friendships among the cast.

Taking Responsibility and Impact in Social Justice – This was a show that tackled the themes of poverty, race, war, philosophy and Behr took responsibility the fact that they didn’t explore gender and sexuality very well. They recognized the existence sexuality and LGTBTQ rights but didn’t advocate. Behr owned it and it made me respect him a lot. “Star Trek” has always been a progressive show and it has dropped the ball on LGBTQ justice all of this time until “Discovery” really.

The New Season Pilot – One of the arcs through the documentary getting what writers he could together to write a new season of the snow. The new season pilot is awesome. It starts with Captain Nog being attacked and a reunion of all the characters returning to “Deep Space Nine.” Kira is a priestess and the station is a religious site, Worf is in line to takeover after Martok to rule the Empire, Julian Bashir is a captain with Ezri serving together on a ship and O’Brien is a professor at Starfleet academy while Jake is a successful author. From here things unfold as it starts out with Nog being attacked by an unscene show before arriving at the station. From we learn of a Bajor / Jem’Hadar plot that Kira is tied to and the return of Sisko as he reaches out to his children. I would watch it and I wish it would get made. Sadly I doubt it will exist beyond the fandom of this documentary though.

What You’ll Get on the DVD – The documentary ended with Nana Visitor talking to Behr about everything that wasn’t covered. Whether it was her failed marriage to Alexander Siddig (Julian Bashir), her having a baby and how they wrote that into the show, “In the Pale Moonlight” and quite a few other things. Behr said they’d all be on the special features of the dvd and that it was cut for time. Hearing that lead me to pre-order the dvd. I can’t wait to see all of the things that didn’t make it and rewatch this perfect documentary again.

If it wasn’t obvious already, “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” is one of my favorite shows of all time. This was the “Star Trek series” I felt was good to great all the way through and explored the themes I love in stories. It gave politics, philosophy, war, identity and history all in deep and respectful ways. If you are a sci. fi. fan I highly recommend this show. This show started so much and any time I have the chance to see these actors and writers if they end up in Portland at a Comic Con, you bet I’ll be there. This was a show funded by the fans and created for them and the time and love put into it made it the perfect documentary and film. I’ll be surprised if any film compares when this year is done.

10 / 10. “Deep Space Nine” is one of my favorite Science Fiction shows of all time and I can’t think of a better way to honor it. The actors in this cast are folks I’d go to comic con for if they make it over my way.

The Man Who Killed Don Quixote (2019): An Exploration of Art and Obsession

         Terry Gilliam is one of the Director’s who has a vision I really respect. He brings magical realism to all his work and brings a tragic undercurrent to every story. His characters are flawed and he gives us worlds without heroes that are relatable and broken. “Fisher King” and “Brazil” are some of my favorite films and this is a great film that deserves to be among them. This was also a film that was hell to make. It was in some form of development for 29 years. It is a success that it finally was made and turned out as great as it is. Before I get into spoilers this is a great film and one I’d recommend to any fan of Gilliam’s work. It has all of his visual strengths and flawed characters and also the flaws of his films as many of the women he writes are more ideas than characters.

Terry Gilliam directed and co-wrote the film with Tony Grisoni.

The story follows Toby (Adam Driver) an advertising director who has returned to Spain to film a commercial about Don Quixote. After stumbling onto his student film where he changed a life of a small town forever with his film. Toby returns to the town and finds that all those involved with the town have come upon misery or death…with the cobbler Javier (Jonathan Pryce) who played Don Quixote, now believing himself to be the figure from the books. From here Toby is pulled into Javier’s adventure as he must own up to his own selfishness and the man he has become.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Cinematography – Nicola Pecorini does a wonderful job bringing Gilliam’s vision to life. From the use of stark colors when they are filming the commercial in the desert, to the final showdown in an old Castle that has been turned into a costume show…his use of color presentation brings each scene to life. It is from this presentation that the dreamlike nature is brought to the film and shows how many of the characters blur the lines between fantasy and reality.

The Soundtrack – Roque Baños López handled the soundtrack well and blends his influences to give us classic Spanish guitar work combined with the more epic operatic feel of the core adventure. He also works tension into every scene with the way he weaves the soundtrack through the film. The final showdown is a great example of this as it emphasizes the nightmarish costume party taking place and the fall of our heroes.

The World – The world that the film takes place is compelling as it mixes the story of “Don Quixote” into the real narrative of a town controlled by a Russian Gangster, sociopathic Hollywood executives and a crew who exploit one another and the people around them. This is a terrible world in regards to most of the characters who make up it, which ends up making sense why Javier became Don Quixote because the cruelty of life where there isn’t justice was too much for him to bare. This world is a beautiful tragedy and I look forward to watching it again. There are so many sad and comedic moments that I found it impossible not to be drawn in.

The Leads – The leads are really what carry the film. Adam Driver’s Toby is an egomaniac who eventually learns to be good but goes mad in the process (becoming Don Quixote after he accidentally kills Javier). Jonathan Pryce’s Javier is a madman who is driven by idealism but by the end of the film finds himself in death and Joana Ribiero’s Angelica is wonderful in how she calls each of them out in different ways while seeking freedom from the Mob.

When Creation and Art Leads to Obsession – The major theme of the film is the creation of art and how it can lead to obsession. The Russian mob boss has everyone dress up so that they can all live in his illusion, Javier once he figures out how the play the role of Don Quixote becomes the character and Toby in his initial obsession is what consumes the town and later himself when he adopts the role of Don Quixote after accidentally killing Javier. Given Gilliam’s own obsession in making this film, this film is most likely true to his life in many ways.

The Cons:

Presentation of Women – The women in this film are not fully realized characters. You have the Producer’s wife who is presented as a sign of temptation and corruption and you have Angelica as the fair maiden to be saved. Thankfully Angelica is shown to be more than this caricature by the end of the film but the Producer’s wife is not so lucky. They are also the only actresses that have any major role in the film so the fact that they are put into these awful roles by the men stands out all the more. This was definitely what brought the film down the most for me. The objectification by the cruel men is never called out. They just end up experiencing a different form of objectification.

I’m grateful this film got made. Gilliam has such a unique vision as a director and I love his magical realism. It isn’t perfect but the magical realism of Gilliam is something that I’ve always enjoyed, it is one of my favorite genres of fiction. There is something to be said for an artist who can so beautifully mix fantasy and reality into his narrative and comment on the nature of that blending in the process. I can see why Gilliam had been trying to make this film for so long. What he created is beautiful and amazing and to any Terry Gilliam fan I highly recommend. I’m planning to check out the documentary “Lost in La Manche” as it goes into the failed attempts to make this film. If you are a fan of Gilliam or this genre too, check it out.

 

Final Score: 9.5 / 10

Avengers: Endgame (2019) – A Good but Deeply Flawed Film

New Avengers: Endgame Poster Reveals the New Team | Collider

        “Avengers: Endgame” is a good but really flawed movie. This is a film that had so many working parts, part of me is surprised it even worked at all. While another part of me really wishes it had focused on cleaning up the plot holes and story issues. Would I recommend this film? If you’ve come this far it is a nice way to finish on “The Avengers” story, even if it doesn’t all work. That is really the best review I can give you on it. It is at times really good but the holes it creates within it’s own lore are problems I think will be discussed long after Disney Plus and other “MCU” related content has sought to answer them.

The film was directed by Anthony and Joe Russo and written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeeley.

The story follows our heroes as they seek to live with what happened after Thanos’s snap at the end of “Infinity War.” They are left trying to deal until Ant-Man arrives, offering them a potential solution for bringing back all those they lost in the snap.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Five Year Jump – I love that our heroes can’t just fix what happened easily. Right after the film we have the wait until Captain Marvel arrives, and than the survivors all go to Thanos in the Garden and kill him, but they can’t change what he did as he used the Infinity Stones to destroy the Infinity Stones. After that our heroes change, Thor goes into a dark depression, Black Widow becomes leader of the Avengers, Iron Man starts a family with Pepper Pots and they have a daughter, Bruce Banner become Professor Hulk, Captain America takes care of the survivors in their grief and Hawkeye becomes a vigilante named Rhonin. The others take care of their countries or are investigating strange occurrences around the universe. This time jump was smart in that showed that the events of “Infinity War” forever changed our characters, and for them there is no going back.

The Personal Moments – There are a lot of personal moments that stand out in “Endgame.” The moments largely come out of the time travel that is done when the Avengers are collecting the Infinity Stones scattered throughout time. We have Black Widow recruit Hawkeye in the lead-up and see how deep their friendship is, Tony talks to his dad Howard about being a Dad, Thor talks to his Mom who was killed in “Thor: The Dark Word,” and Thor and Rocket have a touching moment talking about loss and tragedy. These were the personal moments I loved in the film.

Scott Lang / Ant-Man – Ant-Man is the funniest part of the film and is also the emotional heart too as he is the one who realizes time travel might be the way for them to get the Infinity Stones and bring back those lost in the snap. He has some great jokes and his coming out of the Quantam Realm is powerful too as the world population has been halved so there has been a social breakdown since he’s been gone. When he discovers his daughter survived, it is one of the happiest moments in the film. You get why he’s willing to risk everything to bring back all those who were lost.

Bruce Banner / Hulk – Hulk after the five year jump is a character who has finally found balance and is easily the wisest out of all the Avengers. I wanted to know more about his life before the five year jump but the time we get with him helping with the plan is awesome. He has a sense of humor and because he has the Hulk body he needs help picking up smaller things. One of his big acts is to bring back those who were lost in the Snap, as he knows he is one of the few who can wield the Gauntlet without dying. I also like that this balanced Hulk came about because Hulk  and Bruce both lost to Thanos in “Infinity War.” Neither one could defeat him alone but together they were able to save everyone.

Thor – Thor is a broken character in this film. He’s lost his parents, his brother, his best friend and half his people to Thanos so after the five year jump he is a loner, gamer and drunk in New Asgard letting Valkyrie lead while he tries to escape from his failure. What helps him heal are his conversations with Rocket and when they visit the Asgard of the past to get the Aether (which is one of the “Infinity Stones” out of Jane Foster. Talking to his mother in past helps him deal with her lost that he’d experienced and Rocket helps him focus so that he later ready to fight Thanos once more. What all of this help him realize is that he isn’t fit to rule and has never done that. He’s always been the adventurer to joins the returned “Guardians of the Galaxy.”

Nebula – This is going to get a little confusing as there are 2 Nebulas in this film. The one I’m referring to is the one who was around after the five year jump and isn’t the one still serving Thanos that future Nebula kills (and isn’t canceled out somehow) in the film. This Nebula changes past Gamora and causes past Gamora to turn against Thanos in the final battle. Karen Gilllian truly owns this role and I can’t wait to see what they do with her in the future.

Tony Stark / Iron Man – This is really Tony’s story as after the five year jump he has a family and is raising a daughter with Pepper Pots and it is for them that he comes back to try and bring back all those lost during the snap. From here his arc is making peace with his eventual death as he does everything right, makes peace with Captain America and moves forward having all of them make a promise that they won’t erase what was built in the last five years. He’s the most responsible person in this entire story in regards to Time Travel, and he never loses sight of getting all the Infinity Stones to stop Thanos. His death is powerful too as he uses his snap to turn Thanos and his forces to dust as what was done to his friends before. This causes his death which is how the film is ended.

The Cons:

The Premise – Time travel plots are tough to do right and this one in refusing to lay down rules ends up leaving some very big plot holes with what it tries to do to bring everyone back and to have a character live out his life in the past. I really would have preferred a fight for the Infinity Stones against Thanos and that be the core plan but that is left early when Thanos gets killed off shortly after the snap but they learn he destroyed the Stones leaving Time Travel as really the only option. This was the first way they wrote themselves into a hole, and for me the problems are big enough that they gave me a lot of dislike for this film.

Lack of Thanos Kills -They find a way to bring back Thanos as with time travel past Thanos somehow learns about their plans from hacking future Nebula’s tech. This leads to him somehow pulling his forces to the present the Avengers are in. Well he shows up and he destroys the Avengers Compound. He reveals his full army and forces and says he’ll destroy Earth…and doesn’t kill a single person. For how dangerous he was in “Infinity War,” in this film he is just weak. I hated this. Tt took away from the sacrifices because based on how it was filmed it looked like the Avengers and their Allies would destroy him and his army anyway without anyone dying.

Time Travel Plot Holes – The best thing I can do here is just list them. The excuse I keep hearing is “Alternate Timelines” but what does that mean in regards to the state of the Universe and the fact that the Ancient One tells Hulk that removing the Infinity Stones from their proper place in time will lead to a worse timeline. Time for the plot holes.: Loki escapes with the Tesseract in the timeline of “The Avengers” movie now, Past Thanos was killed but that didn’t erase Future Thanos, Past Gamora is in the future which maybe erases Prime Gamora in the Soul Stone? or a different Soul Stone? Captain America delivers all the Infinity Stones back to where they belonged but stuck around to grow old as Agent Carter’s husband meaning at one point maybe 3 Captain Americas existed at once. As well as others. It is a mess and no emotional core can change how much this bothered me.

Captain America’s Ending – I’m coming back to this because this was the thing that annoyed me the most. At one point it looks as if they’ve set up Captain America’s death as the first death of Past Thanos. This would have been perfect as with the survivors returning his death could inspire everyone and no one else, or just Iron Man dying is more forgivable narratively. Instead he lives as an old man knowing that 2 Captain America’s were running around at one point and than proceeded to let Hydra rise again and countless other evils that happened over the course of the series that he couldn’t do because he was frozen in the ice. I hated this so much. In the end the writer’s gave us Captain America fanservice versus what the man we saw in the Marvel Cinematic Universe would do. This was a character who had duty and the protection of others above all else, and he got rid of it all to be selfish. The only thing I liked was Falcon becoming the new Captain America.

This is a film that I’d recommend to those who have come this far and want to see where the main Avengers end up. There are so many stories to tell in this Universe and I’m curious to see where they lead, though with the writing plot holes I also worry that we’ll see a decrease in quality come with it. An emotional core can only get a film so far. Your plot devices need to work properly and your characters have to make sense. In the end Captain America didn’t work for me and the Time Travel plot kept it from being great. I would have rather had the five year jump and them fight Thanos in the present and force Prime Thanos to rethink his original agenda after they get a hold of an Infinity Stone so Thanos can’t just snap again to fix things. Prime Thanos was compelling and Past Thanos is just nothing. He has a lot of faceless minions and ends up being more of an Ultron, which he wasn’t in “Infinity War.” So, check this film out if you have come this far. I really worry what will come out of the MCU after this. I worry this film may have created more problems than it solved.

Final Score: 8 / 10 Initially it was a higher score but the problems have bothered me more than the things I like, the longer I’ve thought about the film. It is solidly good, but the flaws keep it from greatness.

Halo Wars: Definitive Edition – A Classic “Halo” Game in the Style of an RTS

Halo Wars: Definitive Edition - Free Full Download | CODEX PC Games

        “Halo Wars” is a solid game in the Halo Franchise. It has all the pros (fun combat, beautiful graphics and a basic hero narrative) and the cons (The heroes aren’t very interesting or deep) of the first “Halo: Combat Evolved.” I really enjoyed the game though. Playing through this campaign and owning of “The Definitive Edition” on Steam gave the graphics at their best and revealed how the combat should be played. My first time playing this game was on the XBox 360 and it sucked, controllers are not good for micromanaging units and it made the whole game go slow. Coming back to it years later and playing it on PC, the experience was so much better. This game was truly made for the PC.

     The game was developed by Ensemble Studios and published by 343 Industries and Microsoft Studios.

The basic story follows the UNSC (United Nations Space Command) Ship Spirit of Fire as they investigate Covenant attacks as they reunite their forces and follow the Covenant as the Covenant uncovers Forerunner Artifacts that could change the direction of the war, that is already going terrible for humanity and the UNSC. Within the Halo Franchise timeline, the game takes place before the original “Halo: Combat Evolved.”

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Graphics and Cinematics – “Halo Wars” is a game that looks beautiful. The cinematics are the quality you see in the Franchise after the original and it does a good job of tying it to the present of those games. Each cinematic is like a movie and in “The Definitive Edition” the details of the units and structures look at least on par with “Starcraft II.” The cinematics tie this to the main Halo Franchise by showing the military hierarchy of the UNSC (with a Captain leading things in this case), the use of A.I. (Serena) to guide UNSC forces and introduction of an Arbiter who is under the command of the Prophet of Regret, one of the Covenant leaders.

The Gameplay – The gameplay is a lot of fun. Resource production is fast which allows you to get a variety of units out quickly, and the A.I. is an intelligent foe and will usually use tactics against you. The variety of missions in the campaign was also a plus. It pushes you to explore all aspects of unit creation and a variety of maps that each provide unique challenges. Like “Starcraft” and “Starcraft II” it knows how to make use of the base game and provide a good time.

The Campaign – The campaign is good a mystery on figuring out what the Covenant are up to. It does a great job raising stakes as each time humans are freed from a planet or we discover where the Covenant have moved a new enemy or weapon appears. Getting the Flood of the UNSC was a especially fun mission and having them as an ongoing threat while dealing with the Covenant as an effective threat was truly enjoyable. There end goal is to activate a powerful Forerunner Fleet in a hidden Shield World. At this point everyone knows what it as stake as ships like this would end humanity quickly. This leads to some amazing missions and battles in the final standoff against Covenant and Flood forces as the UNSC seeks to activate the portal and destroy the Shield World and with it the Forerunner Fleet.

Okay:

The Characters – The characters are okay. Cutter has some good conversations with the A.I. Serena and Anders at least makes the game interesting by being so blinded by wanting to explore Forerunner Artifacts in the middle of a war. Forge even works for the role he plays. None of them were good or even complex though and the Covenant characters don’t receive any development at all.

The Cons:

Lack of Complex Characters or Character Relationships – In the Halo Franchise you usually don’t see complex characters in humanity. They are almost always just badass soldiers and scientists fighting an alien foe that wants to end all things. It is very cut and dry. Thankfully the introduction of the Arbiter in “Halo 2” helped make the Covenant complex as he is a complex character who gets a ton of great development and the game also adds Covenant politics, which develops them as an enemy further. The same goes for “The Banished” characters you meet later in “Halo Wars 2.” Sadly this is more true to the first game and human stories. The Arbiter of this story who gets killed off is just following orders to annihilate humanity and all the humans are just in their roles as soldier or scientist with no greater complex motivation. If there had been even one complex character it would have the potential to make this game great. Sadly this is not the case.

Lack of Playable Flood – The Flood should have been playable. There were enough assets in game that they would have been fun to at least play in Multiplayer. They would have been the Zerg to the Covenant who are Protosslike and the UNSC who are obvious Terrans. This was a major missed opportunity to improve the game and give more choice.

I would have loved a Covenant Campaign in “Halo Wars.” This is game takes place when the Covenant is at their height so there is so much potential there to play politics as a Prophet, or learn the backstory of this Arbiter. Sadly we don’t get any of that, but the overall reveal of the Forerunners and their technology is really cool and that alone makes the game good outside of the great gameplay. I also am a fan of RTS games and had wanted to see a Halo game in this form since the original “Halo: Combat Evolved.” I saw so much potential in the variety of units there could be in the UNSC and the Covenant, and on that the game did not disappoint.

Final Score: 8 / 10. Solidly good but not a favorite game. I also would advise to only play it on a PC.