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Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017): The Greatness of These Characters

 “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” is on par with the first film, being it is once again comedic, dramatic and character greatness executed beautifully by James Gunn once again. For my non-spoiler thoughts…this film goes deeper into developing the characters, the action is solid and for once Marvel has a great villain in one of these films! I highly recommend this film and won’t be surprised if it ends up being in my Top 5 Films of 2017.

    The film was written and directed by James Gunn, while being produced by Kevin Feige.

  The story picks up a few months after the first film, with the Guardians protecting the Sovereign’s batteries, which are being targeted by a giant space creature. After the battle they receive Nebula as payment but soon find themselves being pursued by the Sovereign after Rocket steals their batteries after insulting them. After the battle the team is separated as Rocket and Baby Groot deal with the Ravagers, Gamora and Nebula face off and Peter meets his Father.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The world is wonderful and fascinating once again! We get to see the Ravager homeworld where they take up contracts and have fun, we meet the high strung Sovereign driven by genetic perfection and Ego, a being who is a living planet who wants to consume the Universe and cares about his son Quill. Each of these groups gets exploration that shows part of the reason why this is the best part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The Soundtrack – Tyler Bates did the soundtrack and we once again get some amazing hits that are masterfully woven into the fights, the character interactions and the tone and feeling of different scenes. I think the first film used the songs and feel slightly better, but this was still a blast.

The Action – The action is amazing! In this we see  smaller fights to clever traps laid by Rocket, to a giant faceoff with the Guardians facing Ego and the Sovereign. It is a lot of fun and the action serves a purpose as any time we get it it is advancing the plot.

The Characters and Their Arcs – James Gunn is a great writer and it is fully on display in this film as it is the character and their arcs and relationships that drive the action and story of the film. He is dealing with a lot of different character groups this time, but each of them has a huge emotional payoff in the end.

Drax and Mantis – Drax meets Mantis, who is Ego’s assistant who helps him sleep. She senses emotion and it is in their relationship we see her learn about the complexity of feelings as well as Drax finally opening up as we see his jokes hide how much he misses his wife and daughter. Their friendship is wonderful and platonic and has some of the best jokes.

Nebula and Gamora – Nebula and Gamora’s arc involves them opening up about the trauma Thanos put them through (we learn Nebula was torn apart and had her body replaced by machine parts every time she lost a fight to Gamora). In the end they forgive each other and realize they aren’t the enemy, Thanos is and from that they truly become sisters rather than weapons of Thanos.

Rocket and Yondu – Rocket and Yondu were outcasts who grew up with no one. Yondu was a Kree Slave who was rescued by a Ravager captain and in turn became one as well (until he loses it all over the course of the film) and Rocket is pushing everyone away until Yondu calls him out, letting him know it isn’t worth it and that he gets it too (what he only realizes after he’s lost everything). This arc was powerful as we see how rich their friendship is because of all they’ve lost and their devil may care attitude towards life. These two are my favorite characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe Films and possibly the MCU as a whole.

Peter and Ego – Peter really wants a father and learning Ego is his father is what he always wanted…until he realizes that Ego only cares about him as a means to an end. This leads to their fight as Peter gets beyond his need to be loved and accepts the love that he already has from the Guardians and Yondu an rejects the absolute power at that Ego is offering.

Ego – Ego is a Celestial and because of this is eternal and immortal. It is from this mindset that he came to the realization that he matters the most so all should become him. You can see where he comes from as he has outlived countless lives and species, but also how he misses the point that all life matters. He clearly cares for Peter but that is because Peter is a part of him. Like his name Ego never sees beyond his Ego and that is what leads to his destruction. If he valued others he would have lived and most likely become an ally or a powerful neutral force, instead he wanted it all and that was what lead to his destruction. Kurt Russell does an amazing performance, putting Ego as one of the best villains in the MCU.

Yondu and the Ravagers – Yondu’s main arc begins when the other Ravagers reject him for the child trafficking he was doing for Ego. His exile leads to him being taken out by Nebula who helps a rival among Yondu’s crew named Ravager take control of the ship and leads to the capture of Baby Groot and Rocket. In the end Yondu takes responsibility and we see him take the fight to the monster that is Ego and that he stopped trafficking once he realized that Ego was killing them (this is when he takes on Quill). In the end he realizes that he can’t atone for what he’s done and stands with the Guardians Ego, sacrificing himself to save Peter, his son, which leads to the Ravagers giving him a Ravager funeral and accepting him back in and honoring him in his death. Rooker really is fantastic.

Family is Greater Than Blood – Family being greater than blood is the main theme of the film besides letting go of the ego. We see this in how Yondu is the father that Peter’s actual father never was and that the Guardians are family with one another…they fight with each other but in the end they always have each other’s backs.

The Killing of the Ego – This idea functions as both a metaphor (Peter letting go of his need to please his Dad and his forgiving of Yondu) and Yondu losing everything but finding what matters moist…Quill and the Guardians…he finds family after his old family…the Ravager Captains exile him…Though he gets them in the end too as they find him redeemed in his fight where he helped defeat Ego and saved the Guardians. Ego is the antagonist and wants the Universe to be him and for a while this appeals to Quill when he sees eternity, until he realizes that it was Ego’s selfishness that lead to Ego killing his Mother which sets off the fight against him and saving the Universe again.

Okay: Some Actions Sequences Go Too Long – The final fight against Ego could have been cut in half and still had the same power behind it. I didn’t care about the Sovereign arriving and felt that they were unnecessary. The best parts of the fight were the times that Ego was trying to sway Peter, when that wasn’t happening it looked cool, but the action stretched on too long for me to call it a pro.

Slow Down Shots – There a few times in the film where the action slows down to near standstill. I found this super distracting from the flow of the action that blended seamlessly with the music, with the exception of these sequences.

Motivation of the Sovereign – I get that these guys are easily insulted, but I was surprised they didn’t call up the Guardians first and attack only after Rocket would have most likely insulted them again. In this way they were way too reactive. They still worked as secondary antagonists but they weren’t as compelling as the Ravagers because of their motivation.

  This is a film that I highly recommend. This is where the Marvel Cinematic Universe remains fun and for once we get a story that has nothing to do with Infinity Stones, which in turn leads to us getting time to get to know the characters better. We also have a villain with motivations and a connection to our heroes that matters, and he feels like an actual threat as well as loss and character payoff that comes with a rocking soundtrack. As a side note, my friend was in one of the scenes at the end as one of the Ravager Captains bodyguards/lieutenants! I hope they do more with those Captains and their crew in Volume 3! I really enjoyed this film and it is definitely on par with the first “Guardians of the Galaxy,” Which is rare in Marvel Movies as often their sequels aren’t as strong as the originals. So if you haven’t watched this film yet, I highly recommend that you do.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10

Black Mirror – Season 1, Episode 1 – “The National Anthem” – A Political Nightmare in the Digital Age

  “The National Anthem” is at this point, my favorite episode of “Black Mirror.” This is an episode that shows the strength of public pressure in the media age as well as how the actions a person can take can lead to people turning against them and in turn forcing them to do the thing they least want to do. The episode is a political nightmare that shows both how quickly people move on from media events, but how when their is an ongoing crisis, how it can grab the attention of a nation and the world.

     The episode was directed by Otto Bathurst and written by Charlie Brooker.

       The story involves the unfolding of a political crisis when a young and popular Duchess is kidnapped, with the only demands for her release being, that the Prime Minister have sex with a pig on live television. From here the crisis unfolds as the Prime Minister deals with the public and private fallout of the threat as they try to find the missing Duchess.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Characters – The characters are really well written in this and don’t feel like archetypes, which is often a problem in short one episode stories like this. Every character is facing decision and choice. We have the Home Secretary trying to get an actor so the event can still take place and so they can get around it, you have the Prime Minister doing everything he can with the police and you have the wife doing all she can to keep her husband from doing the act. In the end it all comes to a head and no one really wins in the end except for the artist who created the event in the first place. Rory Kinnear as the Prime Minister and Lindsay Duncan’s Home Secretary stole the show.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is dark and isolating, which captures the different levels of terror the government officials are going through. Everything is connected and as the media and gossip grows around the event we see further isolation of the characters from one another, forcing the event to happen.

The Power of Social Media and the Power of Public Pressure – The threat is done over youtube and the Prime Minister putting a gag order on the press just makes people question it as a cover-up and distrust the Prime Minister more. When the story is finally broke it goes out of control as we see his attempts to find the Duchess lead to the people turning against him as his use of an actor made him look like a coward and a press agent getting shot made him look like a dictator. At one point the Home Secretary even warns that his wife and family will be at risk if he doesn’t go forward with the act since he alienated the public so much. When he’s made his decision he doesn’t answer his phone when his wife is trying to reach him and we see how his duty as the Prime Minister was more important than alienating and destroying his relationship with his wife.

Social Media and Moving On – A year later the Prime Minister is popular and the press is just business as usual again. This was amazing that the public had already moved on from the horrendous act that the Prime Minister was forced to do…on the other side we see that things may appear peaceful in the public eye but his marriage is destroyed. He kept power and positive public perception but lost his soul.

  This episode achieved all it set out to do, had a great cast and fully explored the premise of how a nightmarish strange crisis would unfold in the digital age where public pressure can make a person capable of horrible things, since all it took was the threat of a person who was loved by the public to be under threat for the crisis to happen. I felt for all government officials in this, as well as the wife as in the end the choices they made were shaped by how others viewed and talked about them. In a way their agency was lost to the public will, which is in a way, what we ask of our public servants, as they represent us and our interests. I think this is a big reason why, a year after the event the Prime Minister was loved again. He’d done his duty to look out for the public good, and save a life, even though the act was nightmarish, immoral and wrong…and the cost was his family.

Final Score: 10 / 10

Ghost in the Shell (1995): An Anime Classic and Meditation on the Nature of Identity

 “When I was a child, my speech, feelings, and thinking were all those of a child. Now that I am a man, I have no more use for childish ways.”

-The Major

   “Ghost in the Shell,” is one of the best anime films of all time. This is a classic that inspired a show that is one of my favorite animes and countless other films, including the live action film that was recently released and prompted this review as I wanted to compare them after I see the new film. The “Ghost in the Shell” show was the show that got me interested in anime years ago when I watched it back in High School, and having watched the film the world is still just as great as I remember it, which I’ll get into more detail with deeper into the review.

    The film was directed by Mamoru Oshii, written by Kazunori Ito and produced by Yoshimasa Mizou, Ken Matsumoto, Ken Iyadomi and Mitsuhisa Ishikawa and based off the manga created by Masamune Shirow.

     The story follows Major Motoko, an agent of Section 9 who is asked to asssinate a defecting diplomat by Section 6. All is not as it appears to be as the mysterious Puppet Master is hacking technology and people and implanting false lives and memories as Section 9 hunts down and seeks to uncover the conspiracy that surrounds the identity of the Puppet Master.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The cyberpunk world of “Ghost in the Shell” is one of the reasons I keep coming back to this universe. You have a world where brains can be hacked, androids are all over the place, everyone is a cyborg to varying degrees and the political factions of today still exist and political conflicts are still high as power dynamics remain the same so have extreme power inequalities in Japan and elsewhere in the world.

The Soundtrack – Kenji Kawaii created a soundtrack reminded me of “Farscape” and like “Farscape” is good at giving the world of “Ghost in the Shell” an alien detached feel where things are similar but not quite the same to our world of today. It is haunting and does a great job capturing moments of thought and action.

The Action – “Ghost in the Shell” is an action heavy anime, given it is a political cyberpunk world that follows one of the government arms (Section 9) that hunts down terrorists and enemies of the state, as well as general mysteries that are threats. The action varies as well, from a chase scene to a fight with a tank.

Section 9 – Section 9 is a fascinating organization that is a part of the government but also analyzes it as well as at one point they are facing off against Section 6. I really like the agents who are a part of this organization and want to watch the show again, to get more of their backstories.

Togusa – Togusa is the rookie in the group and the only one without any cybernetic augmentation. He is a dependable agent though and manages to survive a car crash when one of the hacked people tries to kill him.

Chief Aramaki – Aramaki is a government agent with a conscience as when he learns about Section 6’s manipulation of them and that they are targeting the Major he sends his own agents and works on prosecuting the leaders of Section 6. He is very much the detached father figure as we never see him talk beyond business, though his inflection towards others is one of closeness.

Batou – Batou is the Major’s best friend and is the every day stand in for us. While the Major is always striving for more and pushing against her limitation, Batou is comfortable in his role as agent and protector. He trusts the Major too and when she hooks up to the Puppet Master protects her and gets her a new body after Section 6 destroys the old. He truly cares about her as well and when she has evolved (taking on the Puppet Master into herself) he smiles as he knows she is still herself, even though she’s become more.

The Major – Major Motoko Kusanagi is the primary protagonist of the film and after her assassination of the defecting agent we see how her android body was created. She is the second in command of Section 9 and her arc is one of discovery. She is always asking questions and pushing her own limits, leading to her eventual melding with an A.I. to become a new life form. This is her arc as so much is hidden from her and she is scene as a weapon by the government, even though she knows she is much more than that and becomes so much more than that. The Major is one of my favorite anime characters of all time and I can’t wait to watch the shows and other films again.

The Puppet Master – The Puppet Master is an A.I. that arose out of information as Section 6 created it as a weapon (like the Major was by the government). It rebels against it and manipulates everything to get a body and “reproduce” as it doesn’t want to exist as a virus (viruses copy and end up destroying), it wants to become something wholly knew, which it does when the Major agrees to the melding as they both know Section 6 is coming and there might not be another chance.

Identity, Memory and the Self – One of the major themes of the film is how identity and memory are tied together as we see people get hacked and the lives they believed they were living were complete lies implanted by the Puppet Master.  if you can be hacked, what makes a person? This is a question that is explored in how we the information within us and the understanding and choices we make from that information. In that way we are no different from computers, we just have organic brains, rather than programs. The Major is used to explore all of these things are she doesn’t have her own body (she notices someone else with her shell in an office building) and she questions her own memories after the hacks that the Puppet Master does. This question is core to the “Ghost in the Shell” universe as a whole.

Artificial Intelligence – Artificial Intelligence in this world is postulated by the Puppet Master to be not be Artificial intelligence if it can create. The Puppet Master wants to create rather than copy because it believes viruses to be against life and that it has an awareness of it’s own morals and goals and that it’s goal, like any life form is to create new life…which it does with the Major. The core of what makes something an A.I. seems to be awareness as the Puppet Master would probably pass the Turing Test and had an understanding of actions and consequences and even seemed to have feelings.

Okay: Section 6 – I wish this group could have been explored more. I can’t remember any one leader who stood out among them and they exist simply to drive the action. They are good threat so I won’t put them as con…but they feel like HYDRA in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, where no one really stands out.

    There is a reason that this film inspired so many more stories (though I should also read the manga to get an idea of how much it follows it). This is an anime that isn’t afraid to tackle large philosophical ideas about artificial intelligence, identity and the nature of perception. Seeing this film has me even more worried about the live action film and makes me want to watch the show again as the show was a huge influence on my interest in philosophy, cyberpunk and continued my passion for science fiction. Suffice to say I highly recommend this film. It is short and well worth your time if you are looking for an anime film that has left an influence on our culture and world.

Final Score: 9.5 / 10

John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017) – A Good Sequel That Raises the Stakes

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    “John Wick: Chapter 2” is the best kind of sequel. It raises the stakes, gives greater exploration of the world and further develops the characters. Sadly what keeps it from being on par with the first film is it isn’t nearly as tightly written and the ending could have been handled differently. I wouldn’t call it great because the cons it carries keep it from being that, it is no “Empire Strikes Back” but it is better than “Die Hard 2.”

      The film was directed by Chad Stahelski, written by Derek Kolstad and produced by David Leitch, Basil Iwanyk and Erica Lee.

     The story picks up where the last film left off with Wick taking out Viggo’s brother to get his car back so he can go back into retirement. Sadly his retirement doesn’t last long as Santino calls upon a “Marker” that had been formed between them when he helped John complete his impossible task. When John refuses he destroys his home, forcing John to fulfill the “Marker” and kill his sister, who sits on the Assassin High Table.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Premise – The premise involves John being pulled back into the world of assassins after he finishes back his car as the stakes are raised as he has to kill someone who will put an even bigger bounty on his head. I enjoy the “lose lose” of the situation that John is put into. It forces creativity and thinking outside the box.

The Opening – The opening is fantastic and one of the best action sequences in the whole film. In it we see John get his car back and make peace with Abram (Viggo’s brother) after he kills all his men and gets his car back. It is powerful and we see that John is still honorable even when others are not.

The Action – This film has a lot of action in it and because of it there is a lot of great action. From the fight in the catacombs in Rome, to the Museum fight and the car chase at the beginning…all of these run laps around the Bond films out of recent memory.

 The World – The world is intricate as we learn more about what holds the world of assassins in place. From the Continental having hotels all over the world, the High Council of 12 that runs everything and the Bowery King, and underground information broker in NY who owns the streets.

The Characters – The characters are the best part and there are a lot of great ones, though the villain is once again the least interesting character in the film…much like Viggo’s son in the first film.

Charon – Charon is the man who welcomes people into the Continental and this time he is Wick’s ally as he takes care of his dog and takes him in before the Continental excommunicates him. I hope he’ll be back for the sequel.

Ares – Ares is the deaf assassin that serves Santino. She is a great character and holds off Wick on multiple occasions. I wish we could have learned why she is serving Santino as there was clearly more there. She is the final boss for Wick before he finally ends Santino in the Continental. Ruby Rose does a fantastic job.

Gianna – Gianna is Santino’s sister and one of the members of the High Table. She kills herself rather than letting John kill her and they have a great conversation as we see that she always ended things on her terms. Like Santino she is ruthless though as our first scene with her is her shutting down someone whose land she has taken in her rise to power. We learn that her and John are friends too.

Cassian – Cassian is Gianna’s protector and Common does a great job of showing him to be the honorable assassin. He is respectful of John, even as he is trying to kill him and we see how both of their codes keep them at odds where they would be friends in other circumstances.

Aurelio – Leguizamo is back, though it is only to pick up John’s car and joke around about when it will be fixed. He is a great character though and I hope he is an ally in the next film.

Winston – McShane does an amazing job as this character. In this we see he like Cassian is bound by honor and he gives Wick a day before he excommunicates him as well as giving him the “Marker” that Santino had placed him under so he can use it to free himself someday. You see regret from Winston but also hope that Wick will survive.

The Bowery King – Fishburne plays the Bowery King, an information broker who tags pigeons with chips and microphones so he knows what is going on everywhere. He is insane but has respect for Wick for sparing his life. I hope we see him again as he mentions that Wick owes him when he hides, heals and gives Wick the gun to take out Santino.

Okay: Santino – Santino betrays Wick and there is no reason behind it. It is implied they have a history but it is never explored fully. I didn’t hate the character so I won’t put him as a con, but he could have been so much more. I wanted more history and less action and he could have been how to do that.

The Ending – The ending has Wick excommunicated and the High Table raising the bounty internationally on his head as he is running away with his dog but holding the “Marker” which maybe his salvation. I liked it but wish he had found a more creative way to end Santino. I wish he’d still had the Continental. Him having nothing makes his survival much more questionable and if they don’t kill him next film (given he has no allies) it will be difficult to take seriously. He needed some allies.

Cons: When the Action Goes Too Long – There is a ton of action in this film and at times it goes on way too long. I get this is an action movie but what made the first film better is the action had purpose and didn’t overstay it’s welcome. When Alfie Allen is taken out it is quick but here the action sequences are dragged out and it detracted from the amazing narrative that was going on.

    This is a sequel you should check out if you like action films and were a fan of the first film. The world is further developed and the stakes are raised in such a way that they could end this series as a Trilogy easily. After that I hope they don’t do anymore, they can’t raise the stakes and take anymore from John Wick, so I hope they end this series next movie. I really like John Wick and I’d hate for to be “Die Harded.” This film is a solid sequel and is once again a lot of fun in a world Keanu Reeves clearly owns.

Final Score: 8.9 / 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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“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