Halo 4: Beautiful and Empty With Choices I Hated

Halo 4 on Steam

“Halo 4” is easily the weakest of all the games in the “Master Chief Collection.” It doesn’t help that the story of Master Chief and Cortana is done after 3 and Microsoft wasn’t able to pull of a “Toy Story 4” but I also didn’t hate it overall, though there were quite a few story choices I did hate. This is a game that I won’t recommend unless you are completionist or already bought the Master Chief Collection. I enjoyed it but this is a story only for those who want a little more lore and gameplay, both of which are weaker than the past games.

The story follows Master Chief and Cortana when Master Chief is awakened 4 years later above the mysterious world of Requiem as a Covenant Remnant attempts to destroy him.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Soundtrack – This soundtrack is much more mysterious and electronic that really is the strongest in the final mission. Neil Davidge and Kazuma Jinnouchi bring this world to life and elevate a pretty weak script.

The Graphics – This is easily the best looking of the “Halo Franchise” up to this point and the cinematography is also movie level quality. This game is beautiful, it is just a shame the story couldn’t be more.

Master Chief – Master Chief is compelling in that he is doing all he can to save humanity and Cortana but it doesn’t get much deeper than that. He is the only human with an ounce of complexity and he barely carries this story.

The Covenant Remnant – The Covenant Remnant are so much fun to fight (much fun than the A.I. Promethean enemies) but we never see their leadership interact with the Didact. They feel like they are just there because they are familiar when so much more could have been done with their story this game.

Okay:

The Didact and Librarian – The Promethean Leadership is okay. The Didact is the main villain who want to kill humanity for being the Reclaimers. We get hints of that ancient history and hatred but it isn’t enough to carry the game. This needed multiple games to really be made the most of or at least some setup in expansions prior. I didn’t hate the Prometheans but them as a threat and ally only really works in how mysterious they are, not in the history we see.

The Combat – The combat is weaker than in prior games, which is a shame since you get a jet-pack and the cool Combat-Walker called the Mantis. Most vehicles are weaker and even the weapons don’t feel as effective. Halo 3 this wasn’t a problem so I wasn’t sure what happened inbetween.

The Cons:

The Knights and Crawlers / A.I. Enemies – The A.I. enemies are really annoying. They swarm you and have predictable ways of behaving. The Knights take a lot of hits and the Crawlers can swarm you. The Drones also can reconstitute dead Knights so you need to watch for that. Any section with multiples of these takes longer than expected and made the game tedious. Just give me some Elites, Hunters and Brutes, they are deadly but at least fun to fight.

The Human Characters – The human characters are usually always clashing with Master Chief or are just bland followers. I missed Johnson and the humans we met before as the game seeking to make Master Chief more of a rebel just came off making humanity unsympathetic. We got scientists obsessed with study over survival and Commanders who have the same mentality. I don’t think 4 years fighting Covenant Remnants would have realistically done this to the UNSC.

Cortana’s Arc – Cortana is dying and fails as she is dying over the course of the mission. In the end she saves Master Chief and humanity and that is it. The reason this is a con is it isn’t gradual and for her being in Master Chief’s head you never get the full effect of what is going on with her. This was a missed opportunity as her and Chief were solid in the main trilogy.

Master Chief as Chosen One – The Librarian says that Master Chief was made to defeat the Didact and save humanity and force evolves him. He becomes a literal chosen one. I hated this as before he was an important part but not the only thing saving humanity. I also hate Chosen One narratives generally and this one doesn’t do it well. It feels contrived and forced.

This was a fun, beautiful and a very flawed game. This is easily the weakest part of the “Master Chief Collection” and I’d only recommend it to completionists or folks who really want to know what happens next. I liked the game enough to finish it but the characters and world deserved better than an enjoyable game if the story were to continue.

Final Score: 7 / 10 I enjoyed it though part of me wonders if this score is still being generous. I was inspired enough to finish the game, so I guess it stands.

“Altered Carbon” Season 2 – Expands the World but is Less Focused

Altered Carbon (TV Series 2018–2020) - IMDb

“Altered Carbon” is a good sequel to Season 1. They don’t have a book to go off of so I’m glad they explored areas of the universe that really weren’t explored in Season 1. Where it falls apart is does repeat some of the story beat from before and it is less focused in the end. This is still worth watching though if you were a fan of the first season.

The story follows Takeshi Kovaks when he is caught by the bounty hunter Trepp when the Meth Axley pays her to capture him in order to hire Kovaks as a bodyguard. Kovaks agrees when Axley hints he can lead him to the still living Quellcrist Falconer. When he arrives at Harlan’s World Kovak’s finds himself thrown him into plots beyond his control.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The World – This season covers the frontier as Harlan’s world is far from the Protectorate and has bounty hunters, A.I.’s who run dig sites and of course the Elder aliens and cyborgs. The world is just as rich but gets out of the heavy Noir feel of Season 1.

The A.I.’s – The A.I.’s are wonderful in this. We are introduced to a bunch who are retired and hanging out who all used to run dig sites. Dig 301 ends up joining Poe (who survived but is broken) and we see how they grow from there.

The Wedge and Jaeger – Jaeger, Kovak’s military mentor and commander is the secondary villain this season as we see how driven he is to capture Kovaks and put down the rebellion. We see what drives his ideology in this and how he hoped that Kovaks would someday lead the Wedge and that he copied Kovaks sometime before Kovaks turned on the Protectorate.

Governor Anica Harlan – The Governor is the corrupt Meth and one of the main villains as we see her use the leader of the rebellion in order to set up their failure. She killed her father in order to become leader and is always a step ahead others. Sadly she doesn’t have any nuance which luckily Jaeger did get some. Her turning on the Elder Entity and betraying it was predictable and of course is what leads to her death. The one fascinating thing about her that drove her arc is she wants independence and greater control from the Protectorate, which makes sense.

Trepp – Simone Missick does a great job as the cyborg bounty hunter who ends up as a Kovaks ally. What drives her is protecting her wife and son and we see where it comes from as her father was never there and she raised her brother, who ended up dying from the Elder creature. Her secondary story is compelling and I’m glad she was able to protect and save her family from the governor.

Quellcrest Falconer – Falconer is back and Renée Elise Goldsberry is once again fantastic as Falconer. Her arc is rediscovering why she doesn’t remember and we soon see it was due to a deal she made with an Elder alien to let it control her to kill the Founders who killed the alien’s children. As she finds herself she once again becomes the revolutionary leader and her story ends with her planting the seeds of revolution on planets once more as she promises to find Kovaks.

Evergreen – Evergreen is the moniker I’m giving the cloned Kovaks since that was the name of the project that made him. The actor who portrays him is my favorite Kovaks and I loved how this one became the idealist once more and got beyond Jaeger’s abuse and conditioning. The arc happens naturally and at the end he becomes a man seeking to atone for his mistakes, like the original Kovaks. He survives and is around to infiltrate the Protectorate and protect Harlan’s World.

Poe and Dig 301 – These two have a cute relationship as Dig 301 cares for Poe when no one else is. Kovaks keeps getting stressed at his glitching and dismisses him and it is Poe with Dig’s help seeking to save all the data of who he is so he can reboot safely. In the end we don’t know if it succeeded but he saves Kovaks from death is the implication in the data he holds as he holds the original Takeshi Kovaks’s data in his system.

Takeshi Kovaks – Anthony Mackie plays my second favorite version of Kovaks and I love how driven he is to help Falconer rediscover herself. This Kovaks is both the most distant but also the most idealistic as in the end it is his taking in the Elder alien that defeats it and saves Harlan’s World, even if his body and Stack are destroyed in the process. The leadup is well done as he learns to trust again and his relationship with Evergreen reminds him of who he once was and shouldn’t be anymore. That reminder and the scenes between Kovakses were some of my favorite parts. Mackie truly owned this role.

The Cons:

B-Plots Needed more Focus and Development – Trepp needed more development as her wife is an archeologist and her father was a black market seller. We get one scene of them doing these things versus the power that could have been in discovery and history. This was a missed opportunity and made the story less focused. Same with the Governor’s plots too. We enter the story with plots and motion and they needed to be fleshed out more.

Defeating the Elder Alien – The Elder alien stands down and doesn’t activate the weapon until the Governor does an obvious betrayal. I hated this as I didn’t fully understand the alien standing down or how stupid the Governor suddenly went. The entire thing felt contrived so Kovak’s could sacrifice himself and save Falconer.

Repeating Season 1 – Both seasons end with a Kovaks dying, a Meth betrayal, Poe “dying” and the hint of rebirth (Kovaks and Falconer). They could have played a few beats differently to make it more original.

This is still very much a season I enjoyed and it is good. The frontier and Harlan’s World feels so realized and with more time and focus and a few more original plot points could have been as great or better than season 1. It doesn’t but I would watch this season again. It adds much to Season 1 and this is a world worth telling stories in.

Final Score: 8.5 / 10

Star Trek: The Next Generation – Season 2, Episode 9 – “The Measure of a Man” – A Brilliant Defense of Personhood

Image result for The Measure of a Man TNG

       Going back and watching this episode was so enjoyable. It is rare to find a show that takes its time in a story and goes slow. This is very much “The Measure of a Man” and all the stronger for it as it gives time for us to be with the characters and to explore the theme. This is easily one of the best episodes in “Star Trek” and this is in early “Star Trek: The Next Generation” when the writers were still finding their footing. If you haven’t watched this episode and are a Trekkie, I highly recommend you do. It explores the themes of humanity and sentience and gives a beautiful character drama.

The episode was written by Melinda Snodgrass and directed by Robert Scheerer.

The story follows Data as he is ordered to be reassigned and disassembled for study by Starfleet. The only way for this order not to occur is for Captain Picard to prove Data’s sentience worthy of the same rights and freedoms of all members of the Federation.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

Commander Bruce Maddox – Commander Bruce Maddox is the primary antagonist of the episode as he is the one who wants to disassemble Data in order to create more androids. He has a fascinating arc as he starts out viewing Data as merely a machine and tool and denies his sentience, referring to Data as “it” rather than “him.” His idea is that he wants to create more of Data to help the Federation and humanity and even in his experiments he has enough awareness that he would like Data’s mind to remain intact, even in the beginning. It is this shred of awareness that eventually evolves into empathy by the end of the trial.

Data and his Relationships – Data and his relationships are front and center and part of what makes the episode so strong. The episode starts with a card game where Riker explains bluffing to Data. Later on he gives his things to Geordi, who is his closest friend and the main crew throw him a party. It is devastating seeing how everyone wants him to stay even as he feels bound by his duty as a Starfleet officer. We also see Picard show how much he admires him too as he is the one presenting solutions and who fights for Data’s rights before the judge. He even comforts Riker at one point as Riker is the one who has to argue that he has no sentience, and thanks him for doing his duty, knowing how much it hurt Riker to do it. There is depth in the relationships which reminded me of part of what was so great about “The Next Generation.”

The Trial – The Trial is compelling as we have Riker fighting on the side of Maddox out of duty (if he doesn’t Data will be disassembled and Maddox wins by default) and Picard arguing for Data’s sentience and dignity. It is powerful as Riker demonstrates that Data is a machine, at one point shutting him off and also having Data remove his hand. Picard gives the famous Picard speech pointing out how organic beings are also machines and confronts Maddox with the fact that Data meets 2/3 of areas of sentience by Maddox’s own terms sentience. He is intelligent, he is self-aware and consciousness is the only one in question. In the end the judge Captain Louvois rules that she cannot rule on androids as whole. Data is a machine but he is not the property of the Federation and has the right to choose his fate.

The Value of an Individual – When Picard is lost on what to do he goes to talk Guinan. She is the one who helps Picard realize what the connotations are of what it means if more Data’s are made. This trial is about the fact that Data is an expendable individual and that the Federation plans to make an army of them, slaves of the Federation. It is a powerful speech and it is Picard arguing on Data’s individuality and humanity that arises from this and leads to them winning the case. The scene with Guinan is easily one of the best in all of “Star Trek.”

The Cons:

Tacked on Romance – The judge Captain Phillipa Louvois who is ruling in the case against Data is an interesting character, but her tacked on romance with Picard makes no sense. She prosecuted Picard but the writers felt it necessary to throw in romantic tension and flirting. The episode ends with Picard asking her out on a date as well. I think this was to further humanize her and Picard but it just felt tacked on. Their complicated relationship didn’t also need romance as the plot was strong enough and this was just a distraction that added nothing.

This is truly shows the best that “Star Trek: The Next Generation” has to offer. Deep character relationships and complex topics of philosophy and morality are what I love about “Star Trek.” “The Measure of a Man” has this in spades. This is one of my favorite episodes in all of “Star Trek” and it was a pleasure returning to it. The questions this episode poses are ones that people should always return to.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10 Could have done without the tacked on romantic B plot, but the rest is amazing.

Upgrade (2018): An Amazing Sci. Fi. Thriller Worth Your Time

   “Upgrade” is a really great film. This is the kind of film that reminded me so much of “Ex Machina” as it deals with a similar exploration of Artificial Intelligence and what makes a person, which any story exploring personhood and identity is something I am always intrigued by. These are ideas that when pulled off well, lead to unforgettable films, and “Upgrade” does not disappoint.

The film was directed and written by Leigh Whannell. He’s written a lot of horror movies mostly, like the “Saw” Franchise and “Insidious.” This film certainly has horror elements but is more of a thriller.

The story follows Grey (Logan Marshall-Green) a stay at home mechanic. When his wife Asha (Melani Vellajo) is killed and he is paralyzed in a mysterious attack. After the attack his enigmatic CEO client Eron gives him STEM, an A.I. that makes it so he can walk again also can communicate with him. With new drive he seeks out those responsible for the killing of his wife.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The World – The world is a sci. fi. future where there are self driving cars and areas of extreme tech. advancement and desolate poverty, such as where Grey grew up. The world is fascinating and it is a believable place where the plot that goes down would happen. The through line of wonder and desperation makes the world real and I would watch another story told in this universe.

The Lighting / Cinematography – Part of what brings this world to light is the cinematography. This is a film that uses light really well. There is a red tinge pver everything and when they are in the poorer areas of town everything is draped in darkness. These things do a great job at racking up the tension and isolating Grey. The use of red and black express the isolation beautifully and that is part of what makes the film’s presentation work.

The Plot – The plot revolves around Grey hunting down his wife’s killer and the mystery with that as he learns to work with an A.I. that he lets control his body in life and death scenarios. There are some dark twists as each new reveal shows that there was another manipulation going on, leading up to the final reveal. All is not as it seems and this film is figuring out just how many betrayals are in store for Grey.

The Reveal – STEM is the bad guy and wins. STEM wanted to become human so it created the circumstances where Grey would accept taking it in and in the end takes control of Grey’s body and mind and kills the CEO who created it, preventing another STEM from being born. It is a dark, powerful and fascinating story.

Okay:

The Wife and CEO / Supporting Cast – The supporting cast is okay but I felt like the wife, CEO and gangster who killed the wife could have done with more exploration. They are plot mechanics in the end for the advancement of STEM’s self-actualization, which worked but it kept the film from perfection. If they’d all felt as fully realized as Grey or STEM this film would have been perfect as the mystery and tension never lets up. All it needed was more realized characters on the sidelines.

This is a film I highly recommend to any fan of sci. fi. Like “Ex Machina” before, this is a film that doesn’t have a large cast and doesn’t need one. The core ideas being explored of personhood and fear of A.I. are handled really well and the main thriller is masterfully executed. I highly recommend checking this film out if you get the chance. Might not make my Top 5 at the end of the year, but it is competing to be on that list.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10

 

The 12th Doctor – Series 10, Episode 5 – “Oxygen” – A Heavy Handed Enjoyable Space Thriller

   “Oxygen” is a flawed and amazing episode that is heavy handed with it’s message but is powerful in how it tells it’s story. This is one of my favorite episodes of the new series, even with all of the flaws. It changes things in a way that looks like it may last and we get to see more of the negative in humanity which we largely only got with the 9th and 10th Doctor. Suffice to say, before I get into spoilers…I recommend this episode.

  The episode was directed by Charles Palmer and directed by Jamie Mathieson.

   The story involves the Doctor, Bill and Nardole becoming trapped on a mining space station where they have limited oxygen and are being hunted by A.I. suits as they rush to save the survivors and themselves.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Premise -The idea of a space station run off oxygen workers by is so wonderfully dsytopian I can’t help but appreciate it. It also gives tension and consequence immediately as the limited oxygen creates a ticking clock.

The Tension – The station expels all excess oxygen added to the station, which forces our heroes to get the suits where they only have a certain amount of breaths, on top of this the suits are controlling the dead who died from lack of oxygen and the survivors are fearful and angry. If any one of these goes over the edge, everything is over for our heroes.

The Miners – The miners are great, we get to see the politics and relationships between them and how they are survivors. They are the characters ready to do anything to get off the station which adds another level of tension to our main characters predicament.

The Doctor, Nardole and Bill – The dynamic between these 3 is wonderful. Nardole is the responsible worry wort holding the Doctor to his promise that he made Nardole make of keeping an eye of the Vault, Bill is the new adventurer who doesn’t have the Doctor’s recklessness the Doctor is the wizard, manipulating and planning his way through every situation even when it looks like he’s lost his mind and lost everything.

Consequences – The Doctor saves Bill but goes blind in the process from the vacuum of space. This is still true at the end of the episode and we see how powerless he feels as so much of what he does it tied to his ability to read what something by seeing it. I hope we have him this way for a while as even TARDIS tech could not heal his eyes.

Okay/Con – Execution of the Message – The message of the episode is that capitalism is bad and eventually people will be exploited for the very oxygen they breathe. I put this as okay because “Doctor Who” has always been a message show, the problem was this wasn’t done with enough “show” there was a good amount of “tell” even though we were witnessing the very premise and didn’t need to be told it. I won’t put it as a complete con but it was the weakest part of the episode.

  This is a flawed and amazing episode that is worth checking out. The tension is strong throughout the entire episode, Nardole and Bill clash with the Doctor while the Doctor has moments where even he loses hope. We also have minor characters we care about and perfect tension through the entire episode. This is an episode that I highly recommend. Can’t wait to see how the consequences of the Doctor’s blindness unfold.

Final Score: 9.4 / 10

Ghost in the Shell: Arise – Border 2: Ghost Whispers – Echoes of the Puppet Master and First Great Crisis

   “Ghost Whispers” is the second film in the “Ghost in the Shell: Arise” series and is the first great film in the re-imagining. This is a film that gives echoes of the Puppet Master from the first “Ghost in the Shell” film but also manages to keep it’s own crisis going as well as giving us some of the best action and tension in any stories from this Franchise. Suffice to say, if you like “Ghost in the Shell,” this is a film worth checking out.

    The story involves a former soldier named Soga being tried for crimes he committed during the great war, but things soon get out of control as he hacks the traffic A.I. to break open Pandora’s Box to reveal the government’s secrets. His former squad including Batou and Ishikawa and Borma are his men while the Major works with Aramaki to stop him, along with VV, an agent from America.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The world is once again amazing and one of my favorite parts of this Franchise. In this we see just how much is automated, from the roads, to other electronics and so much else. It is this automation that helps create the crisis in the first place.

The Crisis – The crisis involves Soga, a war criminal hacking into Pandora’s Box, the government box that holds all their secrets. The tension is high too as he does it by manipulating the programs that automate the roads and uses them to target Pandora’s Box. It takes the Major and Aramaki’s resources to stop him and reveal the plot.

The Action – The action is solid as we see the people who will be part of Section 9 facing off against one another. Batou and Soga’s unit is powerful as we see them using military tanks and weaponry against the Major and her Logicomo and things only start going her way when VV and her resources from America join them.

The Characters – The characters are once again the strongest part as we see their relationships and dynamic and how the Major becomes their leader.

Soga and his Men – Soga is someone full of guilt for what he believes he did and it is this drive to reveal the government atrocity he believed happened that makes him so malleable to the big bad in the first place. There are a few members who are a part of the conspiracy who will be part of Section 9 later, but only Batou really gets exploration.

Batou – Batou is a believer in the cause as he believes in revealing the government cover up until the Major is able to break him free from the virus he’s been infected with by the A.I. pulling the strings behind the event. In the end he joins the Major as he wants to learn his past as after the events he’s lost it all.

Major Kusanagi – The Major is the leader and we see her begin to build Section 9 as the crisis finally forces her too and gives her the option to choose her own team. It is great seeing her recruit others as well as her working with Aramaki and VV as when she works alone Soga is winning.

VV – VV is the American Special Forces agent who we learn is a rogue android seeking out her past and that is why she is trying to get into Pandora’s Box. Like the Puppet Master in the original “Ghost in the Shell,” she is A.I. who has developed consciousness. I wish we could have got more time with her, but her being the one who’d hacked and infected Sago in his team was key so stopping her way the only way to stop the crisis.

The Cons: Not Enough Character Time – Whether it was VV or Sago’s men…we needed more character time. I liked the characters but that has been a constant con in Arise. To develop characters they need time and interaction with others which so far, this series hasn’t given enough of yet.

     This is a great addition to the “Arise” series and one that made me happy about the potential for this series. It also really made me want to check out the original show again. The original show was what got me into anime and as great as this series has been, the biggest issue so far is underdevelopment of characters and ideas. This can payoff later as it does have multiple films that make up the story of the rise of the Major and Section 9. VV was such a great character who really deserved more development. Still, worth checking out.

Final Score: 9 / 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

“RWBY” Season 2 – The Stakes Rise

RWBY Season 2

    “RWBY” Season 2 manages to be a better story than the first as all our main characters get explored, we are introduced to more characters and we see the villains in action outside of stealing Dust. I severely enjoyed this season and will into more depth further in the review.

    Team RWBY is in year 2 and goes on the first away mission with Professor Oobleck. From here more of the villains main plot is revealed as our characters must face this newest challenge.

The Pros: The Animation – The animation continues to be stunning and one of the best aspects of this show. There isn’t really anything like it so it gives the whole show it’s own character that can’t really be found in any other anime or animated show.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack continues to be wonderful and epic and really captures the magic of this world. Jeff and Casey Lee Williams did a great job.

The Action – This is a show that knows how to fight scenes and establish rivalries between characters. In this we see some of the rivalries still to come get explored as well as a great fight between Ruby and Roman.

The Characters – This is a character driven show and in this the cast is expanded and explored as we get to see some more relationships and what they do.

Professor Oobleck – Oobleck is the fast talking teacher who we see help Team RWBY to find their motivations for why they fight, as it is with him they go on a mission to explore the conspiracy from last season. In the end we see his weapon is his thermos which can also turn into a flamethrower. He became one of my favorite characters after this season.

General Ironwood – This is the series where see Ironwood and Atlas take control of a city to fight back a Grimm invasion. It is powerful and we see that this was all part of Cinder’s plan as she is using the Grimm for her own ends. The population is saved, but fear has grown and the military is in control.

Professor Ozpin – Ozpin’s goals are still a mystery, though he does let Team RWBY leave with Oobleck to investigate the problem so he seems to believe in heroes as a way to stop the Darkness and the Grimm. They are the main characters so his trust is most likely well founded.

Penny – Penny appears again (she appeared briefly last season) and we learn about her life as an A.I. and how torn she is about her nature as she can make choices and has passions but can’t help but see herself like an enforcer even though she represents her organization as so much more too. Her friendship with Ruby is really touching as well as Ruby doesn’t see any difference between them.

Weiss – Weiss has mellowed out a lot this season and we see how deeply she cares for Blake. Her and Neptune kind of have a thing as well and we see that she is avoiding talking to her family. Weiss is seeking to redeem the evil actions of her family and the business they own and that is a major motivation of why she is a hunter.

Blake -Blake is explored more in this as we see that she has become driven with taking out the White Fang to the point that she’s grown distant from her friends. It isn’t until Blake tells her about her obsession with finding her own mother that she understands and mellows out knowing it is okay to live and still follow those goals. Blake is driven by her sense of justice to become a hunter just as that is a huge part of why she was a part of the White Fang. We also see her take out Roman and the Faunus who nearly defeats Weiss.

Pyrrah – Pyrrah is shown to be a great friend in this as she helps Jaune find honesty in his feelings and after he gets over Weiss their friendship grows. She also is shown to be one of the best fighters and easily the strongest in the school.

Yang – Yang is explored in this as we see her mom left her and she’s been seeking her this entire time. She is also beaten by Neapolitan (one of Cinder’s Team) but is saved by her mother Raven. We also see that thrill seeking is why she wants to become a hunter but there are other reasons too.

Ruby – Ruby is driven by an overwhelming sense of justice and hunting as the right thing to do. We see her leadership come out in this as she is there for her teammates in the village, though she does end up captured by Roman at one point when she discovers the White Fang base and train leading to the final confrontation of the season.

Cinder and her Team – Cinder has a pretty awesome team and we see Neapolitan (a girl who fights with an umbrella and kicks to neutralize Yang) and Roman in action as they try to cause mass panic, and succeed since even though the bombs are stopped…Atlas military comes in to save the day and the Grimm invade a city. The good guys win but Cinder’s plan advances and Adam, the leader of the White Fang is ready to deal further with them.

The Final Fight – The final fight is awesome. With Oobleck taking on the robots with Ruby and trying to stop the train, Weiss defeating Roman and Yang vs. Neapolitan and Weiss against a large Faunus with a chainsaw. It’s a pretty awesome fight.

The Revelation – Raven is Yang’s mother and Cinder’s plot of militarizing the society and having Ozpin lose face and power advances her goals and creates greater fear at the school and among the populace. We also see her team who has infiltrated Beacon and the fact that she hacks Beacon’s data during the dance.

 This was a great season that raises the stakes further as we see every win the good guys do advances Cinder’s plot. What that plot is remains to be seen but it is tied to fear as the Grimm feed off it and after the Grimm invasion and Atlas occupation there is going to be a lot of fear among the people.

Final Score: 9 / 10

Chappie (2015): A Great Premise Ruined by Poor Villains

Chappie_poster

    I’ll start out by saying I like “Chappie” more than “Elysium” but it doesn’t come close to “District 9,” in regards to projects that Neill Blompkin has done. Having the South African rappers Die Antwood in this film also took me out of it besides the Blompkin villain problem where he seems to overly focus on evil capitalists who have no real depth or motivation to what they do…but I’ll get into that more further into the review. This film was fun and there was the potential to be good and great in it.

SPOILERS ahead

     “Chappie” was directed by Neill Blompkin who also wrote the original story, co-wrote the screenplay and was one of the producers. The other screenwriter was Teri Tatchell and the other producer was Simon Kinberg.

    The story takes place in 2016 as Tetravaal (a weapons company) has created Scouts that are Robotic Cops that enforce the laws in the city. When one of them is injured and the creator decides to use it to see if he can create consciousnesses things unfold for the worst as he is captured by gangsters and one of his competitors seeks to undo him so his Robotic A.I. called the Moose can be the main security force in the city as the injured Scout becomes a new being called Chappie.

The Pros: The World – The world is really cool. The A.I. looks great and you have a world where in reaction to complete police control, what gangs there are have a lot of power and money so there is competition between them.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful and Trent Opalach did a great job on it. He is able to show the gritty world of the slums as well as the industrial corporate feel of the factory and business really well.

The Different Robots – The robots were the best part, humans were the weakest part of the story and if we’d had more time developing the robots and Deon’s relationship to them. Any scene with robots was great…and was the few times the horrible human characters (outside of Deon) were actually interesting.

The Moose – The Moose looks like something out of “Robocop” and is a pretty awesome threat! It also has limitations too since it is completely controlled by a human on the other side (like a drone) so it can’t adapt to tactics or use it’s own body. Still, it has a great design and a ton of weapons. It took a lot to take it down.

The Scouts – The Scouts are really cool. They are all business and actually make good cops since they do no harm and have to obey the laws. It was a nice twist to how robocops are usually played in sci. fi. outside of Asimov.

Chappie – Chappie is wonderful. The A.I. is a child but in learning what he is as A.I. he is able to save his maker and his Mommy as he uses the tech around them them to put his Maker into a Scout body and to build a new body for him as he saves their mind onto a flash or transfers it using the neural helmet. Chappie is impossible to hate and is complex as it makes complicated choices for survival and protecting the people he cared about. Sharlto Copley did a great job voicing him.

The Maker/Deon – Deon didn’t expect Chappie to become alive so his arc is dealing with this reality and laying down his life Chappie, which Chappie prevents by giving him immortality and in turn keeping his family. He is a great character as he is the idealistic scientist trapped in a corporate job. He was the only human character I liked so it was good seeing him become A.I.

Mommy – Yolandi from Die Antwood is one of the few kind characters to Chappie and though she can be annoying, when she’s in Mommy mode to Chappie she’s great. She dies protecting him but Chappie makes her another body at the end.

The Cons: Die Antwood – Ninja was just annoying and Yolandi was most of the time…also they weren’t even acting they were just playing themselves…really Blompkin? That’s a super lack of creativity.

The Gangs – The gangs are violent and there is no depth to them. We don’t get there motivations beyond money and they are just as empty as the suits at the corporation.

The Corporate Villains – Bradley played by Sigourney Weaver is an empty suit stopping Deon and Jackman just plays a violent religious competitor. They were seriously uninteresting and really brought down the script showing just how much of a problem writing humans was in this film. Seriously…Deon is the only sympathetic human character.

To Easy of a Victory – Everyone gets to be immortal and the human cops are shown to be inept so the new world Chappie is creating won’t have any threat against it…”Elysium” was better with the bittersweet and “District 9” was super realistic…sadly this film tries to be a fairy tale which just causes a clash in tone from everything we went through in the film prior. There isn’t any cost.

  This is a film I’d recommend renting but not buying, not unless you are a huge fan of Robot Films, in which case there is a great Robot Film in this film but it is brought down by the one-dimensionality of all the human characters. If you want a great film about Robots and A.I., check out “Ex Machina”: https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2015/07/10/ex-machina-2015-sentience-and-the-path-to-liberation/. It is a film that will probably be in my Top 5 films of the year. This one was an enjoyable ride but never reached the point of great for me.

Final Score: 7.3 / 10

Star Trek: The Animated Series – Season 1, Episode 9 – “Once Upon a World” – Star Trek’s Hal 9000

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“Star Trek” has a Hal 9000 and it is is the Master Computer. I was actually very entertained by this episode and want to see the original series episode that inspired this episode (“Shore Leave”). The Master Computer, seeing Uhura do something and Spock were once again the best part of this episode. This was a good episode.

    “Once Upon a World” was directed by Hal Sutherland and written by Chuck Menville and Len Janson.

    The story involves the crew returning to the “Shore Leave” planet and Uhura being captured by the Master Computer who wishes to take control of the Enterprise and escape from the planet his creators have confined it too.

The Pros: Captain Kirk – Kirk is the one who manages to infiltrate the Master Computer when Spock fakes sickness using one of McCoy’s concoctions to force the Nurse Bots to bring him in for healing. It is he and Spock together who reason with it and help it realize it can grow and learn and that organics are equals to sentience life be it machine or otherwise.

Uhura – Uhura fights the Master Computer on multiple occasions and shows why she is such a valued member of the crew. She is never the damsel in distress even though she needs to be rescued.

Sulu – Sulu has a minor role in this but he manages to escape a bunch of threats and he makes possible Spock and McCoy’s infiltration. Takei is as usual amazing as the very flirtatious Sulu. He was a lot of fun in this.

McCoy – McCoy is the humanity in this and is the one who fears while Spock is fascinated with the robots and the Master Computer. He is also willing to risk it all to save everyone and is a great contrast to Spock per usual.

Spock – Spock is the one who uses logic to get the Master Computer to see that what it is doing is illogical and that it can coexist with organic life. He does a great job and it is he who risks getting sick to get inside the Master Computer’s headquarters. He also stops Kirk from risking himself as logically Vulcan’s bodies are stronger than humans.

The Cons: The Ending – The ending is a bit too corny. The robots that have been trying to harass the crew have a picnic with them. It just feels too cliche even if they are outcroppings of the mind of the Master Computer.

   This was a great episode because it wasn’t just the Kirk, Spock  and McCoy show. Sulu and Uhura are acive too and we see them be active in every scene they are in. There is no passiveness in this episode and the Master Computer feels like Hal, an actual threat that has no respect for humanity or organics but in this case is able to learn that respect, which is very “Star Trek.”

Final Score: 9 / 10