John Wick (2014): An Amazing Action Flick That Shows Just How Great Keanu Reeves Can Be

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     “John Wick” is one of the best action movies I have ever watched. This is a movie that has an intriguing world, fascinating characters, amazing action and a narrative that flows. If you like action films. These are my brief spoiler free thoughts before I get into the main narrative and the details of the film, but truly, this film is worth your time.

    The film was directed by Chad Stahelski, written by Derek Kolstad and produced by Basil Iwanyk, David Leitch, Eva Longoria, Michael Witherill and James McTeigue.

    The story involves retired assassin John Wick (Keanu Reeves) being pulled back into the world of assassins after the son Losef (Alfie Allen) of the Russian Crime Syndicate steals his car and kills his dog leading him to go on a killing spree against the Syndicate as he finds himself pulled into the world he left.

The Pros: The idea – The idea of an assassin pulled out of retirement to go against people he used to work for is intriguing. It gives the personal touch and motivation that can easily be lost in a studio made version of this.

The World – The world is amazing! You’ve got an assassin run neutral zone that is a hotel, through which all the different organizations have a way to interact without murder…and Wick is the best of this group as of what we learn from this film.

The Soundtrack – The music is by Tyler Bates and Joel Richard and it is good at getting under your skin. You feel Wick’s conflict as well as how amazing some themes are as they are good at showing the dulled senses of a club combined with the hyper focus of an assassin on a particularity memorable sequence.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is dark but uses colors to illustrate mood and tension. Red is used a lot in the club scene and we see light used when he is with his wife and has peace living with his dog. It is truly wonderful.

The Characters – The characters are one of the strongest parts of this world and the fact that they chose great actors shows as much.

Aurelio – John Leguizamo plays the car repairmen for the different gangs and is friends with John Wick. He’s a great character as he is the first to show Losef he is in over his head and that he barked up the wrong tree and even confronts Viggo without breaking a sweat. It is a minor but fantastic role. Also I’ve always been a fan of Leguizamo.

Viggo – Viggo is in charge of the Russian Crime Syndicate and is a great overall villain as we see his respect for Wick but also his ego come into play. Wick lets him go free once and he lets it all go because he wants revenge for his bastard of a son. His death means something because of it because he tries to live honorably but gives it up for personal revenge.

 Winston – Ian McShane plays the owner of “The Hotel” and is a fascinating character as he gives protections to those who live in death and promotes it as a neutral zone. When it all goes to hell he honors that too and lets Wick know Viggo’s location and kills Ms. Perkins for killing the staff and targeting Vick. I want to learn more about this place.

Marcus – Willem Dafoe is Wick’s friend and protector in this as he joins Viggo to protect Wick and he saves Wick multiple times. IT is a great relationship and I wish we’d gotten more history as Marcus like Wick is an assassin capable of empathy.

John Wick – This is the best Keanu Reeves performance I have seen since “The Matrix” and I love that we get to see him emote and have anger, passion and the everything else this underrated star is capable of. The movie would be worth it just for Reeves. His arc involves losing everything but finding peace after revenge, which you rarely find in movies of this type where the broken person is the theme. Wick healed and we get his prime motivation in the end is justice.

The Ending – John Wick is at a Vet and rescues a dog and uses some of the medicine to heal his wounds fighting the Russian Crime Syndicate. He picks a Pit Bull and we see that even if that world of killers pulled him back in, he will always be outside of it. The dog that his wife gave him was his peace and it is once again at the end.

The Cons: Ms. Perkins – She wants to kill for money and knows John Wick? I didn’t know if they wanted to go ex-relationship route but she is a character is purely a plot device. We don’t learn about her relationship to Wick or much else, which is a shame and makes her a con.

Losef – Losef is a 2-D villain, he never grows up, shows complexity or regret…and just brings the film down. Alfie Allen is good but his character is awful. He deserved to have someone more than a plot device to up the anti for Viggo against Wick.

    The only things that really keep this film from being perfect are Losef being a nothing character who is just a coward and bully and Ms. Perkins having no motivation for wanting to take out Wick beyond money. This brings down what could have enriched the story further as she is the secondary main villain and we never learn why. Besides these two characters this film has tight writing and was beautifully filmed with some of the best action sequences I’ve seen in any film. This film is a beautiful work of art that is well worth checking out. Suffice to say, I can’t wait to watch “John Wick: Chapter Two.”

Final Score: 9.5 / 10

Split (2017): Dropped Arcs and an Unfocused Theme Bring This Film Down

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   “Split” is a film that could have been good, hell it even could have been great if it hadn’t missused and jumbled up it’s themes and characters it would have been as the acting in this is steller and the dialogue works. There is no reason either of these things should be he case given M. Night Shyamalan’s track record as of late.

    I haven’t watched a Shyamalan film in theaters since “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” if you’ve been reading the blog you’ve probably seen some of my reviews of that show. It is one of my favorites and what Shyamalan did to it was an insult to the show and art. I never knew someone could miss the point of the source material so bad that it would make Michael Bay’s “Transformers” look good by comparison…but Shyamalan succeeded and up until last night I would not watch his films in theaters.

     M. Night Shyamalan wrote and directed this film and was one of the producers along with Marc Bienstock and Jason Blum.

    The story involves Kevin (James McAvoy) kidnapping three girls as a sacrifice for his 24th personality called “The Beast.” It is up to Claire (Haley Lu Richardson), Marcia (Jessica Sula) and Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy) to find a way out as at the same time Dr. Fletcher (Betty Buckley), Kevin’s psychologist seeks to find what Kevin is hiding from her.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Idea – The idea of a character who holds multiple personalities that interact with another and worship a stronger mysterious one is compelling as is the teenagers escaping from a threat and having to face the monster.

The Writing – The writing is actually really good. When things are told to you they are in the context of Dr. Fletcher speaking before a classroom so show is on display. The same goes for the different personalities. We are shown rather than told who they are.

The Characters – The characters are the strongest part of the film and keep it from being bad. It is really the dropped arcs that ruin them not the characters themselves.

Dr. Fletcher – Dr. Fletcher is a great character! She is helping Kevin find balance among the personalities and interact with people normally, but she isn’t stupid either. When she is getting red flags from him she writes down how to fight him before he kills her.

Claire and Marcia – Claire and Marcia are initially presented as “mean girls” but over the course of the film you see their courage and empathy, both with one another and with Casey. That should have been rewarded as it is the relationship that develops between the three of them that shows beautiful solidarity and shows different facets of who they are.

Casey – Casey is the heroine of the story whose arc it seems at the beginning is facing her Uncle who raped her when she was a child and is to the point of the story taking place. Kevin capturing them is a claiming of her agency as we see her fight back when she wasn’t able to before. Sadly we don’t see her get justice against her uncle and she doesn’t kill Kevin (he escapes and lets her go). God, she deserved justice and that seems to be what the story is setting up but fails to deliver.

Kevin and the Identities – Kevin and his multiple personalities are intriguing. Some are more sympathetic than others like Hedwig who is a scared 9 year old but than you have ones like Dennis and Patricia who worship the beasts and still power from the other personalities. They are called “The Horde.” They eventually win out and become dominant as “The Beast” who arose out of time around the animals in the zoo where Kevin works chose to protect them. The ending has them on the loose. James McAvoy is an amazing actor and this film truly displays his range.

The Cons: The Cinematography – The cinematography looks cheap and awful. It looks like a syfy film in how the colors are off or over-saturated.

Exploitation of Rape and Trauma – Casey’s rape and trauma are exploited in this film as she doesn’t get justice for either and Kevin praises the fact that she’s broken from it. There is nothing good about that as it misses just how evil these things are.

Dropped Character Arcs – The sisterhood arc with the girls is dropped as two of them get eaten, Casey never gets justice against her Uncle or Kevin and Kevin just gets controlled by the bad personalities…what a waste. No ones arc is complete.

Exploiting Dissociate Identity Disorder – This is a real thing that people go through where what is presented in the film is more like science fiction. If you want to know more about it read and research, don’t take this film in any way as reality as it is just exploiting a disorder that is not known very well.

     This was a film that could have dealt with healing and Casey finally having justice done against her Uncle after she defeats Kevin who has kidnapped them and wants to eat them. Instead Kevin is turned into somewhat of a hero and the fact that he was traumatized is presented as a con? That is some serious messed up crap. He is not someone who should be sympathized with, he hate two girls. The best writing and acting can’t save this film because it misses the point. Casey is never allowed to heal and or have justice when it seems to be setting it up to be the case and the sisterhood that is forming between her friends is for not. This isn’t a bad film but I can’t really recommend it either. This is a film with missed potential that could have been so much more.

Final Score: 6.3 / 10

“A Series of Unfortunate Events” Season 1 – A Good Adaptation and What Should Have Been Done in the First Place

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     Netflix continues to create gold and we finally get the adaptation of this series we’ve been waiting for since “The End.” “A Series of Unfortunate Events” by Lemony Snicket was one of my favorite books growing up. I read it through Middle School and High School and truly enjoyed how it never pretended to have a happy ending while being a brilliant satire of society and how easily it is that people are selfish or allow their flaws to overcome their better natures or ignorance. I won’t give anymore away but you truly should read the series, it is a fast read and brilliant Gothic Fiction.

      How the show does it is it breaks the books in to two episodes so I’m going to review each Book and give the final score based on how each of the individual books stood all together when their scores are measured against one another.

      This series was created by Mark Hudis and Barry Sonnenfield. I’m surprised this came through given the flop that was the original film, but I’m grateful it did.

     The premise is the Baudelaire orphans Violet, Klaus and Sunny are given to Count Olaf, an evil actor who wants to steal their fortune and will go to any means to do so after their parents are killed in a horrible fire.

SPOILERS ahead

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Book 1 – The Bad Beginning

  The first 2 parts feel just like the book. The dark tone is fully captured, you have the ally in the Judge played by Joan Cusack and we are introduced to Count Olaf (Neil Patrick Harris) and his troup and Patrick Warburton’s Lemony Snicket. The story is the darkest of the four this season except maybe “The Miserable Mill.” This is how these stories should be and solid acting on the part of the child stars who play the Baudelaires make this a solid episode as like in the book each of them have their chance to shine with Violet inventing, Klause’s knowledge saving her from having to marry Count Olaf. The only confusing bit are the bits with the Quigley Parents who early on seem to be implied to be the Baudelaire parents and nothing is done to show the audience this isn’t the case.

Final Score: 8 / 10 Solidly good. True to the book and doesn’t drag.

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Book 2 – The Reptile Room

   Aasif Mandvi is wonderful as Uncle Monty, and this is the first episode the really incorporate the Spy World in. The first story doesn’t but this one makes it relevant and gives us pieces for the Baudelaire’s to put together the mystery…be it from the connection to Peru, Monty’s spyglass and his connection to their parents. Olaf is threatening in this when he has his full squad and for the fact that he kills Uncle Monty, but sometimes the comedy is played a bit too hard and that keeps it from being a perfect episode as it makes the tone of the episode a little all over the place when Olaf and his troupe are in play. Olaf’s character of Stephano is pretty weak too and didn’t feel inhabited at all. The purposeful bad acting really came out in this character.

Final Score: 9 / 10

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Book 3 – The Wide Window

   “The Wide Window” is the story that drags the most, both in comparison to these four stories and in the show as well. Aunt Josephine is never given the chance to do much, though Alfre Woodward is a favorite actress (Mariah from “Luke Cage”) so it is a shame the adaptation didn’t do more with her character. She introduces the Baudelaire’s to code like in the books and like the books is overwhelmed by fear. Count Olaf’s Captain Sham is fantastic and the threat and charm of his character never goes away (unlike the zero of both that were in Stephano). He is the strongest part of this episode besides the Baudelaire’s taking their agency into their own hands and seeking to solve the riddles as well as running away from Poe at the end so they can learn what happened to their parents and how they connect to Lucky-Smells Lumber Mill.

Final Score: 7 / 10 Neil Patrick Harris carries this episode.

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Book 4 – The Miserable Mill

      Up to this point, Shirley is the most threatening character of Count Olaf’s, largely because he has help from Dr. Orwell (Catherine O’Hara) who controls the workers by hypnotizing them. This creates an aura of threat around the mill as all of them are prisoners and Count Olaf is friends with the one with all the power and Klaus being controlled by Orwell and Olaf. Sir is just greedy and only cares about money and lets the corruption occur as he profits from the control of his workers and the Baudelaires. Thankfully he is chased away by his workers when the hypnotic trance is broken, which gives his partner Charles to give the children the article that shows that their parents saved the Mill and the town from being entirely burned down. This was the darkest episode besides the first story and returns to that same charm. I really enjoyed Count Olaf’s Shirley as a character too, as well as Count Olaf’s jealousy of Orwell for succeeding in villainy while he is still only striving to fully succeed. This is where we see the Parents reveal of them not being the Baudelaire’s or in the same time and place showing that all our heroes have to count on, is one another. This is where the Baudelaire’s courage finally pays off and luckily the next season sets up them meeting allies at the boarding school that Mr. Poe leaves them at at the end.

Final Score: 9 / 10

     This is a series that should have never been done as a film. There is far too much material to cover and it is hard to slim it down while still honoring the source material. The original film did not and though I liked some things about it, it was not like this. This is a perfect adaptation and the only flaws it has are those that exist in the source material itself. Excited for Season 2 and am looking forward to “The Penultimate Peril” and “The End,” as this is one of those series that has one of the endings I was greatly impressed with growing up. Lemony Snicket giving us his thoughts as narrator is powerful too and Warburton gives us a powerful, comedic and somber performance through the narrative. The side characters were cast extremely well as are the three actors who play the orphans. The only thing that really brings the series down is the tone sometimes has extreme shifts and the source material really didn’t give us much to go off originally and this is true to that source material so is bound by those same limitations. We get tiny answers but most of it is mystery and grey….which has potential depending on how they handle the mystery and reveals. Suffice to say, I highly recommend this series to any lover of the books as I am or if you are just looking for another amazing Netflix series.

Final Score: 8.6 / 10

Mass Effect 2 – Amazing Character Development, Combat and Final Leads to This Being One of the Best RPGs I’ve played

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    “Mass Effect 2” is one of my favorite RPGs of all time. This is a game that manages to capture the best of story, combat and character to the point that I stayed in this world as long as I could before doing the final/suicide mission with my squad, which was hands down one of the best gaming experiences I’ve ever had. There is a lot to cover in this game that I’ll get into deeper in the review.

    This was when EA bought Bioware so even though Bioware made the game it was EA who published it.

   Here is my review of the first game in case you need a catch up on the story or need a comparison to how much this game improved.:

 https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2017/01/23/mass-effect-an-amazing-space-opera-with-some-narrative-and-cinematic-choppiness/

SPOILERS if you haven’t played the first game.

     The story involves the Normandy being attacked by the mysterious species known as the Collectors, leading to the death of Shepard. 2 years later you wake up, having been resurrected by the Illusive Man and Cerberus. From here you must recruit your team to take on the Collectors and end their threat to the Galaxy.

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The Pros:

The Universe – The Universe is really one of the best parts of this series and Bioware is a gaming company with fantastic world builders. The amount of aliens introduced grows as we have Vorcha, Batarians and Collectors and a ton of organizations that you work for or against, as well as the old ones too. There are some pretty amazing locations too! From Omega, Illium, The Collector Base and countless other planets you discover.

The Action – The game is finally a good shooter! In the original game the shooting was kind of janky but it flows here and there are stakes, even on casual you might die a few times if you are new FPSs. It was this action gameplay and the world and story that helped keep in and to explore every star system.

The Stakes – The stakes are higher in this game, the Collectors have already killed you once and you are working for an organization that is all about human supremacy and experiments on their own people. You are in a rock and a hard place and it makes the choices you make with characters so much higher, especially since the Reaper threat is hanging in the background.

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The Characters – The characters have always been the strongest part of Bioware games and in this game we get new characters and get to know past characters from the first game more. I did all the options I could when it came to exploring characters and I loved my squad’s loyalty missions.

Captain Bailey – Bailey is voiced by Michael Hogan (Colonel Tigh from “BSG”) and he is great. He is a rough beat cop who grows over the course of the series as Shepard helps him see the depth of certain situations. He is a great character and I’m glad he survives this game.

The Illusive Man – The Illusive Man is obviously evil, he brings you back to life but there is never any question that his intentions are to use you as a weapon for power. You see some of the things he’s done over the course of the series and he has the gall to ask you to save the Collector Base. Telling him to screw himself was really rewarding.

Aria – Aria is the Asari leader of Omega, a gang planet where she is the one pulling all the strings. She is a really cool leader, she even owns a Krogan Warlord she has called Patriarch mockingly. As Shepard you hurt and help her operations about equally given the Mercs are people who use Omega but they are also targeting Patriarch and her other assets…so she pretty much gives you free reign. She is one of the few characters unafraid when she meets you.

The Flotilla Admirals – The Flotilla Admirals are a fascinating group. There is the family friend, a soldier who served with Tali’s dad, an Admiral who wants to control the Geth and one who wants to make peace. There are reasons for each on why they think the way they do and in the end Tali was just a political pawn so calling them out on their crap frees Tali from being exiled.

Kelly Chambers – Kelly is the ship psychologist who lets you know what characters are interested in you and why and explores your relationships. She was the one I told that I didn’t have feelings for Ashley and found out that Tali liked me.

Wrex – Wrex is amazing! Since I saved him last game he is now working on uniting all the Krogan clans. He is such a fun character, he is a bit overwhelmed by his new leadership responsibilities but he helps you with Grunt’s coming of age and it is fun to talk to him about his life and the past memories.

Joker – Joker manages to survive the Collector’s destruction of the first Normandy. He is the first person you meet on the new Cerberus Normandy and his relationship with the Ship’s AI EDI is the main drama on the ship. He also is the first to let you know whenever two of your shipmates are at odds for you to resolve it. He is the heart of the ship with EDI and they rescue it before the Suicide Mission.

EDI – EDI is an AI who is pretty fantastic. She jokes and is good at giving you assessments of different situations and is always a help. She is an AI that makes choices and has drive and I’m curious to see how she develops in “Mass Effect 3.”

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Your Squad – The Squad, minus Zaeed is one of the best parts of this game. I loved their loyalty missions, and each of the characters is complex and compelling in their different ways. You are the crew of “Firefly” or “Farscape” aka a bunch of misfits who are great at your certain tasks.

Garrus – Garrus goes Batman in this game and has become a vigilante targeting the leaders of all the Merc Groups. He is going under the name of Archangel and it is up to you to rescue him. His loyalty mission involves him hunting down the member of his team who betrayed him and you can let him make the kill or forgive his former friend. It is powerful and Garrus is really the best friend of Shepard.

Miranda – Miranda is the one who brings you back to life. She is cruel to a lot of the crew, especially Jack but I initially pursued her for saving my life. That changed when she was cruel to Jack and I chose Jack over her to remain friends with both (Tali was my romance option) since I didn’t have any patience for Miranda’s crap towards others. You get why she is cruel though as she has an abusive controlling father and your loyalty mission with her is rescuing her sister.

Jacob – Jacob is the human soldier cut from the same vein as Kaidan, as in he is super serious and he only chills with you after the loyalty mission and even than doesn’t talk much. I liked the guy when he wasn’t being a racist though. The moment he talked down to Tali I was done with him as his Cerberus was showing. He gets better (they all do) but it gave me Ashley vibes and I hated her Speciesism.

Jack – Jack is the PTSD super biotic created by Cerberus. She is an awesome character who you help get revenge on Cerberus by destroying the station. She also meets another person there too who was just as scarred as she was. She was my backup Biotic and her flavor text is a lot of fun. She really does not care.

Grunt – Grunt is a test tube Krogan made to be a Super Krogan by the Warlord you are attempting to recruit. He is unstable but a lot of fun as you help him find balance and go through his coming of age as you can make history with him, making a killing that only Wrex had made prior.

Thane – Thane is Drell assassin who you help by rescuing his son. Captain Bailey even helps you out too and makes an easy way for Thane’s son to have a new start. It is from Thane you also learn the one time he didn’t kill was when his wife tried to save his quarry. It is powerful and seeing him recount memories as exact is powerful, as his philosophy of mind and body being separate entities.

Kasumi – Kasumi is DLC and her DLC is awesome! You go undercover to steal the Grey Box from a rich crook. Over the course of the DLC you help her hack and get revenge and after I said she could keep the Box if that is what she wanted. I really liked Kasumi, there was a reason she was my backup tech. after Tali.

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Legion – Legion is a fascinating character. It is Geth as in their are multiple programs that make him up. His arc is saving the Geth from the Reapers as he uploads a virus to combat Reaper control and integrates the other Geth into him. His sole goal is the survival of the Geth but he can see beyond that as he and Tali do become friends. He is a great character and I really enjoyed his loyalty mission.

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Mordin – Mordin is a Salarian Mad Scientist and is one of my favorite characters. He helped improve the Genophage and his arc is dealing with his past actions and his opinion changing about the Krogan. I really enjoyed this character, especially learning how he was a singer and the scene he gives you were he sings Gilbert and Sullivan. He was my early main squad until I did Tali’s mission.

Samara – Samara was my go to Biotic. Her story is powerful and sad as she is an Asari Judicator seeking out her daughter who kills with sex. You make the choice to choose her or her daughter for your team and I obviously chose her. I’m Paragon and Samara is Paragon incarnate. She is old and you learn a lot from her over the course of the game. I missed having Liara on the main team but Samara was so cool I wasn’t too sad.

Tali – Tali was my love interest this game and now I just want to survive through 3 with her and end things with Ashley from 1. She meets you early on when you are with Cerberus and sees right through Cerberus. It was great planning to fight Cerberus with her and helping her when she is put on trial as a Pawn for the Admirals plans against the Geth. Her story is tragic as we learn her father was doing experiments on the Geth that lead to his team getting killed. I chose to not reveal what we found so she wouldn’t be exiled and after the romance took off. Tali is my favorite character in the game at this point. I really want to end “Mass Effect 3” with her and survive the game.

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The Major DLC – The Major DLC as in Kasumi, Lair of the Shadow Broker and Overlord were a lot of fun and really enriched the game…I just wish they’d come with the game already given Liara’s role is too important to be DLC.

Overlord – Overlord involves you rescuing a Savant who has been turned into a rogue AI by Cerberus. It is a sad mission and listening to Tali and Samara’s dialogue made it all the more powerful. We all felt for the guy and it was great rescuing him from his brother and getting him help.

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Lair of the Shadow Broker – This was my favorite mission in the game besides the Suicide Mission. The Lair of the Shadow Broker involves you teaming up with Liara and following a bread crumb trail back to the Shadow Broker’s lair where a final showdown goes down and you take out the current Shadow Broker, leading to Liara’s ascension as the current Shadow Broker. After you can invite Liara to the ship and have wine with her. It was such a fun mission with high rewards, easily one of the best parts of the game.

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Loyalty Missions – Loyalty missions are part of what made this game great. You not only have someone on your squad automatically…you have to earn their loyalty and your choices during the game change that status. The missions themselves are usually a lot of fun with Tali, Legion, Grunt, Mordin and Kasumi being my most favorite loyalty missions.

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The Collectors – The Collectors are the main threat and are established as dangerous early on (they do kill you). Over the course of the missions you learn they are being controlled by the Reaper Harbringer and that they were once Protheans. Each level where you face them is a challenge as they have some pretty powerful weapons and enemies which makes defeating them at the end, all the more rewarding.

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Tali Romance / Romance – Initially I pursued Miranda for saving my life but changed my mind after she was being cruel to Jack and ended it. After Kelly Chambers told me Tali liked me and I pursued her. It was great helping her and Legion come together and she is such a cool character. I loved her relationship with her people and her father and the whole romance scene is beautiful. She takes some things to strengthen her immune system since when Quarrians have sex they are at risk due to their suits keeping all germs and things away, since in space they had to keep everything sterile. After the game I just want to survive Mass Effect 3 with her and end the Ashley Romance that apparently I made happen in 1, that I thought I’d ended at the end of that game.

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The Suicide Mission – The Suicide Mission is powerful and hard. The first time I played it I lost Legion so went back to last save and chose the right people in order for everyone to survive. The stakes are high and I ended it with my main squad of Tali and Samara. Fighting the Human Reaper was so much fun as well as the Collector Harbringer possessed who kept giving us trouble. This mission was easily one of the best experiences I’ve had in gaming.

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My Main Squad – My main squad was Tali as my tech. and Samara as my Biotic. I took these two on the most missions throughout the game. I always play Soldier and it was great having a squad similar to the Tali and Liara main group I used in the first game. My backup tech was Kasumi and after her Mordin and back up Biotic was Jack.

Okay: Zaeed – Zaeed is a rough around the edges creator of the Blue Suns mercenary organization. His loyalty mission is taking out the other leader of the Blue Suns and rescuing the people he endangers. I really didn’t like this guy. He contributes nothing to the crew besides being an extra body for the Suicide Mission.

Too Many Mercs – There are the Blue Suns, Eclipse, Blood Pack, etc. Mercenaries are mostly what you fight and I think that was a missed opportunity. There should be more than mercs controlling the underbelly of the Galaxy.

Overpriced DLC – Zaeed, Kasumi, the Hammerhead, Lair of the Shadow Broker and Overlord. First the 2 new characters should have come free as should have Lair of the Shadow Broker. I enjoyed the DLC but it was expensive. Bioware Credits are a stupid idea that forces you to spend more money than the DLC is actually worth. I still enjoyed the DLC but screw EA and Bioware for not releasing most of it with the game.

The Path I Chose – I chose the path of Paragon, Tali as my romance option and to destroy the Collector Base. On every loyalty mission I did the Paragon options and I chose Samara over Morinth. I really hope these choices matter in “Mass Effect 3.” I don’t want any of my squad to die.

    This is a game I’d highly recommend, and you don’t have to play the first game to do it (though it is more rewarding if you do). This is a Universe on par with “Star Trek” and “Star Wars” in regards to lore and characters I care about. I know I’m probably in for at least some disappoint with “Mass Effect 3” but the first 2 games has made the risk worth it. I care about the world and the characters and want the best outcome for all of them. God, I really have become a Paragon.

Final Score: 9.5 / 10 Would be perfect if not for too many Mercs that you fight, overpriced DLC and Zaeed being a waste of a character.

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“Voltron: Legendary Defender” Season 2 – Fantastic Rising Action and Climax With a Few Missed Opportunities

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     “Voltron” is an amazing show and the level of quality continues in Season 2. Dreamworks and Netflix have really created something rather amazing with this show and with Season 2  they get deeper into the world and characters, though there are some missed opportunities that keep it from being the perfect show.

  SPOILERS if you haven’t watched the first season.

The story picks up with the Paladins seperated leading to them finding each other again while Emperor Zarkin hunts them across the Galaxy as they build a team and seek out allies to fight back.

The Pros: The World – The world is amazing! We meet new planets, species and get the history behind the Black Lion. Each episode enriches this world further and it is the world that has me the most excited for future seasons.

The Animation – The animation is beautiful. Dreamworks really has a fantastic animation team and I love the anime aspects to how they’ve designed the heroes and villains. The forming of Voltron is great too, I really like how it has it’s own animation sequence of the Lions coming together.

The Action – The action is fantastic, especially with the last battle as the Lions and Castle assault Zarkon and his fleet directly. There are great challenges too with some challenging Beasts that Haggar creates.

The Blade of Marmora – The Blade of Marmora is a secret Galra organization that is fighting against Emperor Zarkon. They are so cool and really force the Paladins, specifically Keith to earn their help.

The Characters – The characters drive the story and most of them continue to grow over the course of this season. It is only a few who really don’t have an arc of any kind.

Coran – Coran is annoying sometimes as they overplay his loud personality a few times, but he gets better…especially when we see him in action as a soldier and his intelligence comes into play for helping them.

Emperor Zarkon – Zarkon is obsessed this season and it is because of this fact that he becomes vulnerable. If he had listened to Witch Haggar he wouldn’t have ended up on life support. His obsession was his downfall and after how unstoppable he was last season it was great to see his flaws. He also has an awesome Mech that is a giant version of himself.

Witch Haggar- Haggar is Altean (same race as Allura) and is the anti-Allura as we see her obsession with dark and control and willingness to do anything for the Empire makes her the greatest threat. It is after Zarkon’s fall that she calls for his son, she is down but not out and is the real power behind the throne. I wonder why she betrayed her people…

Hunk – Hunk is comedic relief for a lot of it but still manages to grow, such as his mini-arc with Keith where he gets over his prejudice towards the Galra. In this we find out he is a great cook and is the glue of the team.

Pidge – Pidge has a predictable arc and discovers her power…she can control vines and roots and finds that nature and tech are connected. She is also the one who helps the Paladins find one another. The arc with the vines I thought was fine but it was her finding the Team and her skills as a tech that really make her invaluable.

Shiro – Shiro is the leader and advocate for finding allies among the Galra as it was a Galra who rescued him and tells him about the Blade of Marmora. He is the calm and collected to Allura’s anger and together they are pretty much the parents of the team. His arc is breaking Zarkon’s connection to the Black Lion and learning about the past when the Altean’s and Galra were at peace and Zarkon was friend’s with Allura’s father. It is powerful and I’m really curious how he went missing.

Keith – Keith has a fantastic arc as he learns that he is half-Galra and must get over his self-hatred and earn his place among his people in the trials of the Blade with the Blade he inherited. He steps up to be the leader this season as even Shiro knows his time is coming.

Princess Allura – Allura continues to be a fantastic character as we get to see her fight in the final fight and risk all of herself to save them from the Galra fleet that is pursuing them. Her arc is getting over her prejudice towards the Galra as the Blade of Marmora show that good Galra exist as well as her feelings for Keith, who she learns is half-Galra.

Okay: Lance – Lance is horny and a jokester and contributes nothing beyond being a body part on the Lion. I’m not putting him as a con…yet, as he wasn’t totally awful.

The Point of the Final Fight – Shiro goes missing and Zarkon is on life support and the Capital Ship of the Galra seems to be fine. It feels unfinished.

Tonal Shifts – Coran is the most guilty of this but some of the creatures the Paladins find are also overly cute and it takes away the threat of the Galra whenever there are too many of them.

This was another great season for a great show that you should really go and check out if you like animes or animated shows. This season really showed that the different species are more complicated, which I am always a fan of. Most places go black and white and make simple good and bad like Elves and Orcs of Middle Earth. This show is so much more than that and gives us wonderfully complicated characters who have to grow as they overcome their prejudices. Once more, this show is well worth checking out.

Final Score: 9 / 10

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“Dark Matter” Season 2 – Better Characters and Great Character Development But Ending Has Problems

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    The fact that “Dark Matter” is based off a comic book really showed this season. From a few plots that didn’t end up going anywhere to the cliffhanger ending, and how each character gets an episode where they are explored. Essentially it captured the pros and cons of any comic that is an ongoing series. This series is still great, but before I get into spoiler thoughts on this season this was something that stood out to me.

   This season kicks off with Two, Three and Four trapped in a prison after Six’s betrayal. While One and Five are on the outside. They soon realize they aren’t safe as the Multi-Corps target them, forcing Six to make a choice as the crew find allies to help escape the Prison.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The world is once again amazing and we get introduced to more factions and other factions get more depth and exploration.

The Action – The action is better than last season, with the Prison Break being one of the best scenes from the show thus far as it had so many elements and characters in play and pulled it all off.

The Factions – The factions are wonderful in this and I can’t wait to see where they go next season. We have more enemies and frenemies primarily and no allies for the crew.

The Seers – The Seers are a group of cultists who use people to see and predict the future and events. They are sick and twisted and who Nyx escaped from. In the end her brother kills himself rather than by used by them and Zairon turns on them (after they had an alliance) when Ryo takes control.

The Multi-Corps – The Multi-Corps are more allies in this as they have worked with the crew before and want to keep the status quo going and aren’t driven by a fanatic like the Galactic Authority. The Mikkei Combine helps rescue them from prison though and is the closest thing the crew has to an ally.

The Galactic Authority – The Authority is given a face in an agent named Kyle Kierken. He nearly captures them all on quite a few occasions and his obsession leads to his possible death at the end with the Zairon takeover.

Zairon – Zairon goes from being a Nation in a civil war being played by factions, to one allied with the Seers to a nation that wipes out the Multi-Corps. Ryo is more dangerous than any who have come before and his Empire is going to be the main threat this season.

The Crew – The crew is the strongest as always, though two new additions are completely wasted.

The Android – The Android has the chance to better become human when a group of rebel androids give her an emotion chip. It is really cool seeing her undercover and in action and we see her love for the crew drives all her actions.

Two – Two is one of the best characters in the show and is the core. She is the captain and she seeks out revenge for the death of One and is the final say on whether one of the new characters becomes a member of the crew fully. She’s my favorite character on the show at this point.

Three – Marcus grows a lot this season as we learn his tragic backstory and see him rise to the challenge, from protecting Five and becoming a source of stablity for the crew. It takes a lot for him to accept Five back into the crew, but he does come around and to him the crew aren’t a means to an, unlike Four and some others.

Four / Ryo Tetsuda – Ryo becomes the main threat and in a way ceases to be Four. This happens when he integrates his memories from before he was Four and this makes him the sociopathic warlord. He is willing to kill his old shipmates for the glory of the Zairon, this after he killed his brother who wanted him to be rule and the loss of all his forces. He truly is a great threat.

Five – Five has more backstory revealed in this and is the moral of the crew. She keeps the crew empathetic with one another and is the reason Six rejoins the crew and sees their rebellion as just. She’s super perspective too and helps an Android really not all humans are bad and saves the Station from a bomb, though Zairon’s plan ruins that saving.

Six – Six’s arc is realizing that the Galactic Authority is bad and upholds a corrupt system and rejoining the crew. He is seeking redemption and nearly dies multiple times because of it. He grew from his past (though he never integrates the old memories) so he still has Six dominating, unlike Four who becomes Ryo.

Nyx – Nyx is the strongest new addition to the crew. She is a strong fighter, survivor and is able to heal from it and to help others heal as well. She’s drawn to survivors like her too and Ryo and her are in a relationship at one point until his betrayal, which is where she chooses the crew. She is a true member of the crew, I can’t wait to see more of her character.

Dimension Hopping – The crew get a Drive that make it possible to jump anywhere nearly instantly. This starts out with them jumping through dimensions and times. It is really cool seeing their hardened selves and the original crew of “The Raza.” Each new area has changed characters we know and it lead to some great character moments when they met their past selves or seeing them interact with characters who they are close with in their own reality.

Okay: The Ending – The ending is another cliffhanger as Zairon destroys the Station the crew and the Multi-corps are gone or nearly gone. I hope we don’t lose a lot of the main characters…I really hope the writers know what they are doing. This is ending was okay but the writers can’t keep doing this. A show needs a concrete end, a complete season is a story…if it become all about the cliffhanger, it just becomes repetitive.

The Cons: One’s Death – One could have been explored so much more, instead he is never allowed to grow or resist, he just dies. It was a wasted opportunity.

Devon – Druggie doctor full of regret. This character annoyed me a lot more than Arax, and the best thing that happened to him was him being killed by the Seers. His character served no purpose.

Arax – Arax is serving one of the Multi-Corps and never stops being a villain towards the crew. He had so much potential to be more but is nothing more than someone only out for himself.

    This season was great for developing characters but also introduced a lot of dead weight. Arax and Devon were wasted cliche characters but thakfully they don’t hang around too long. It is the death of One that is really wasted, though I like that it motivated the crew for revenge and helped them come together. The core cast still carries the show though and making Ryo / Four into the main villain was smart too as even as a villain he never stops being someone you can respect, which makes him all the more frightening as an antagonist. Hated the cliffhanger but can’t wait to see where they take the story from here!

Final Score: 8.5 / 10

Mass Effect – An Amazing Space Opera With Some Narrative and Cinematic Choppiness

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     I am a huge fan of science fiction. That has most likely been made pretty obvious though, given the amount of times a sci. fi. film has made my “Top 5 Films” of the year, the videogames I’ve reviewed thus far and my favorite shows (which also tend to be sci. fi.). “Mass Effect” is an amazing Space Opera that before I upgraded my computer, I’d only played bits and pieces at friends’ houses. Doing a run through on my own, gave me an even greater appreciation for this game and also made the flaws it have more apparent too.

    The series was created by Bioware and easily their best game since “Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic.” Another Western RPG that this game develops in play style and types of choices further.

   So without further ado I’ll get into the review, first with a basic overview of the story:

       It is the future and thanks to ancient Prothean technology called Mass Relays, The Alliance (humanity) has joined the Galactic World at the Citadel. There is lots of tension though as the First Contact War of Humans against Turians (one of the council races) wasn’t that long ago leading to mistrust on both sides. Commander Shepard is the first to discover an ancient threat though as the rogue Specter Saren is using the robotic Geth to track down Prothean technology and to destroy humanity.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

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The World – The world is the best part of this series. This is a rich universe full of different factions from the Citadel, The Alliance, Cerberus, the Quarians, the Protheans, The Geth and the Reapers to name a few. Each as a unique drive that drives the story and Shepard’s relationship with them.

The Species – There are a ton of Species but I’m going to focus on the big ones. You have the ancient Asari who are biotics (telepaths) the Turians who are the militaristic reptilians, the Salarians who are the brains, the Quarians who are the survivors and travelers who were kicked out by their creations…the Geth. There are also the Krogans who were used by the Citadel to fight a greater threat known as the Rachni but eventually the Citadel Races put the Krogans down to stop them from becoming the next big threat.

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The Lore – The lore is beautiful and amazing! We get to learn how the Prothean’s were wiped out by the Reapers (Who have returned again via Soveriegn to continue the cycle of destruction of organic life) and within the lore we have reason to care because of the characters we meet.

The Characters – The characters are the driving factor, just as they were in “KOTOR,” Bioware knows characters. Most of the villains were sympathetic and the heroes were all given their own levels of complexity. An RPG is the art of interactive storytelling and this game put me in the world and got me to care about these characters.

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Saren – Saren is the overall villain who makes a deal with Sovereign in order to save organics from the Reapers as he sees their survival in their subjugation. I felt bad for the guy as you get why he hates people (most are racist in this Universe and the First Contact War was against his people). He is still receptive though and I was able to save him even though Sovereign resurrected his body for the final fight.

Matriarch Benezia – Marina Sirtis (Troi on Star Trek: The Next Generation) plays the Matriarch who originally worked with Sovereign to influence him but soon found that he and the ship were controlling her as all they have her do blows up in her face. She is tragic in this way as she is a strong character who became so broken by the Reapers. She is an Asari.

Captain Kirrahe – This guy is one of my favorite minor characters! He’s part of an infiltration team and helps you take out Saren’s Krogan army. He has an epic war speech and trusts you. I had nothing but respect for this character.

Captain Anderson – Anderson is fantastic and is the smart military man who is anti-politics. He is your Captain until you are promoted and get the Normandy (your ship). He is a constant ally as the council and Alliance Ambassador are always trying to control you (more so Udina the Ambassador rather than the Council…until the end).

Joker – Joker is a lot of fun. He is the anti-authority pilot who has trouble walking and has a major chip on his shoulder but comes around to liking you when you show how much you care. He was a great character and a memorable pilot.

Wrex – Wrex is a Krogan mercenary who is a lot of fun! He’s a tank and he and Tali were my mains until I finally did the quest that gave me Liara. After that she was my Biotic support and I became the tank. Wrex is cynical and fun and really cares deeply about his people. He is also blunt too and it makes his interactions with the other characters fun. There was no way  I was going to let Ashley kill this guy.

Garrus – Garrus is so much fun! He’s a C-Sec beat cop who doesn’t like the rules. You help him take out a serial killing mad scientist and it is great seeing him get revenge. He was the guy I enjoyed talking to the most. He is a Turian.

Tali – Tali is the tech. and Quarian and was the one person who stayed on my squad the entire time. She’s super expressive and brilliant and it was fascinating seeing how her pilgrimage and proving herself to her father (one of the fleet Admirals on the Flotilla) was a main drive. She was one of my favorite characters.

Liara – Liara is Benezia’s daughter and a scholar who studies the Protheans. She is socially awkward and it is wonderful. She like Tali is one of my favorite characters and her melds with you help you understand the Reaper threat.

Alien Relations – The relation between the different species is handled really well…from the Council distrusting humans, to the tension between Turians and humans, and the other species and the Krogans. This is a world that feels lived in and real.

Okay: Kaiden – Kaidan is a jerk until he opens up that he was a biotic experiment. He still isn’t the easiest to get to know but it was still a hard choice to save him or Ashley. He was a fellow soldier and in the game I did everything I could to try and save both before I had to make the choice for good.

Ashley – Ashley had a rough life and is a bit of a racist against aliens. I liked her openness on her family life but a relationship wasn’t going to happen, even though the game seemed to really want to make it happen. She was still a good friend just one that had a lot of growing up to do and thankfully we do see her learn over the course of the game.

Paragon v Renegade  – You act like a Paladin or Jerk and there isn’t really a middle ground. Bioware tends to do this and I’m not the biggest fan. I like the grey choices and this game didn’t have many of those.

The Cons: Ambassador Udina – Udina is a jerk and it was an easy choice putting Anderson on the Council over him. Udina turns on you the moment he gets power from the Council and is a complete tool. There is nothing likeable about him.

Choppy Cinematics – There are a few choppy cinematics…especially in early appearances of Saren, it feels unfinished in that way though the final fight with the fleet destroying Sovereign is fantastic.

The Mako – The Mako sucks as a vehicle. I got adept at using it eventually but it still was so hard to control and the worst gameplay. Some vehicle sections go on a bit too long as well.

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 The Path I Took With Kengin Smith – Kengin is the name I tend to choose in RPGs or as a gamer tag. It was inspired by a fictional character I created in a series I’m working on so of course I chose that name this time. I chose soldier as my starting type since I tend to choose soldier or Paladin in RPGs. Overall I played as a Paragon, with only a few times going Renegade, I saved the Rachni Queen, saved Wrex and talked him down from going against us to save the Krogans, I let Kaidan die to save Ashley and turned down a relationship with her when I realized it was turning into a relationship and just wanted to stay friends. I chose Anderson for the Council and saved the Council too. For a first playthrough I did zero of the romance options. Curious to see how these choices play out further down the line…they were fun choices to make.

      This is a game that is well worth your time if you are a fan of Western RPGs and Science Fiction. The creators in Bioware clearly cared about the subject matter and it was so much fun. I hadn’t binged a game for some time and this game had me pulled in enough that I couldn’t stop playing. I like the fact that I can transfer over the choices I made into the future games and I can’t wait to return to this world again, as I have already payed some of “Mass Effect 2” and “Mass Effect 3” in the past (though only parts, haven’t played from beginning to end). I do wish Shepard could be more than just a human as the different species are a lot more interesting than humanity in any sci. fi. that has more than humans in it. Still, “Andromeda” will get that chance.

Final Score: 8.2 / 10

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