“Frontier” Season 1 – A Good Start to the Trade and Political Drama of the 1700s

“Frontier” is  a show whose premise I loved and whose story has a lot of potential to be extremely great. There are a few things that keep it from being great though and those are the cliffhanger ending and the main protagonist and villain just aren’t all that complex and because the focus is on them and not the more interesting characters it brings the story down and keeps it from a great Season 1.

The story of “Frontier” takes place in Canada as the Kree, Americans, French, Scottish and English Hudson Bay Company vay for control of the Fur Trade in the area. Beneath of all this the story follows Michael Smyth (Landon Laboiron) an Irishman from England who is blackmailed by Lord Benton (Alun Armstrong) into becoming a spy against Declan Harp (Jason Mamoa), a half-Kree warrior seeking revenge against Benton and the Hudson Bay Company.

Slight SPOILERS

The Pros: The Factions – There are a lot of factions in this show and that is what makes it so interesting. You have Kree who want trade and those who want war, you have the brothers and one of the brother’s wives representing the Scots, you have Lord Benton and the Hudson Bay Company and his Captain Chesterfield who is his protector and enforcer and Grace and her Ale House which she uses to broker information and work her way into the fur trade as well, while helping Declan Harp on his revenge quest as well as an American faction causing chaos and trying to gain control over the area too.

The Ale House – The Ale House is one of the most interesting places on the show as here secrets are revealed and we see it as the only true women run faction in the area after the Kree leader is overthrown by her son. Seeing them navigate a world where women are treated like dirt is fascinating and Grace is a way more compelling character than Michael or Lord Benton as she leans good but is ruthless and shows how she has survived and thrived.

Declan Harp – Jason Mamoa’s Declan Harp is amazing! This is a man who lost everything to Lord Benton when his family was murdered by him after he joined the Kree and looked out for Native interests (his mother’s side of his family) and from this we see why he is so lost in revenge. This arc is still open though as in the end he escapes death (he does this a few times) but as far as we know, Lord Benton is still alive after the chaos.

Okay: The Protagonist and main Villain – Michael and Lord Benton are acted well but written flatly. Benton is just a misogynistic, racist, greedy man and Michael is just the idealist boy wanting to save his girlfriend who finds a higher calling in Declan’s cause. Both of them could have been given so much more complexity.

The Cons: Cliffhanger Ending – The Cliffhanger ending is really what brings the story down the most. The writer’s didn’t know if they’d get a Season 2 (Which they did thankfully) so leaving it open ended just made it so all the work and loss and fighting meant nothing. The factions are still aligned and though some maybe battered, we haven’t seen anything really change. We aren’t shown any solid change outside of Michael joining Declan over his girlfriend and even within that Lord Benton was implied to be still alive. For all the setup over the 6 episodes, there needed to be solid payoff.

This is a good start to a series that has so much potential. I love the fact that we see the different reasons that different factions have for wanting to join or fight the Hudson Bay Company and how complicated the politics get as each of the faction’s leaders vay for control of the trade even as other aspects of the war blind them to that or do things that hurt their own factions cause. I’m glad this show got renewed for a Season 2, this like “Dark Matter” is another good show coming out of Canada and one I highly recommend.

Final Score: 8.3 / 10 Cliffhanger and predictable protagonist brought it down but still a good start to what could become an unforgettable series.

 

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“Iron Fist” Season 1 – The Side Characters are the Best Part and “The Hand” Finally Works Though the Show has Other Issues

     Marvel’s “Iron Fist” is a flawed show. It isn’t great but I also enjoyed the journey that the story put me through, though the problems are one that are big within Marvel and just compounded with the story and presentation of Danny Rand. This is a character who is so many played out tropes, billionare orphan goes to Asia and becomes a Ninja/Seer, etc. Playing into exoticizing Japan, China, South Korea, etc. I’ll get into examples deeper into the review but this lazy writing really kept the show from being great, even though I did still find it base good.

 The show was created by Scott Buck.

    The story involves Danny Rand (Finn Jones) returning from the monastery K’un Lun in order to get back his fortune and take on the enemy the monastery has trained him for, The Hand. All is not as it appears to be in regards to who his real enemies and friends are and his role as the Iron Fist.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The world of the Defenders gets even richer in this show as we learn more aspects of the world, especially in regards to “The Hand” who are insidious for the first time (never bought them as a threat in Season 2).

The Action – There are some great martial arts battles this season, so that is one thing that this season has going for it. I enjoyed all the action and it showed what can be accomplished with a limited budget but strong martial arts can carry scenes.

The Support Characters – The support characters are the strongest part and for the most part, I can’t wait to see what further exploration they receive. Madam Gao is back! (my second favorite MCU villain) as are some of the other great minor characters from the other “Defenders” Shows. These were the characters that brought me back to the show.

The Meachums – The Meachums are the family friends of the Rands and Harold was Danny’s Father’s partner of Rand Enterprises. He’s around as the primary villain outside the Hand and his children complicate things for our heroes.

Joy – Joy is the character who may have had a relationship with Danny before but has moved on from it. She is a powerhouse in Rand Enterprises and is the sibling with her act most together. This leads to her father, who was brought back to life using her after his son tries to kill him for all his abuse. She never gets to see just how insane her father has become but she ends up blaming Danny for how all she knows goes up in flames, making her a possible villain going into the Defenders.

Harold – Harold is the Meachum who killed Danny’s father and tries to frame and kill Danny at the end of the Season. He is an immortal thanks to the Hand (as long as he has his body with his head attached, he can come back). He is a sociopath but has moments of caring. He is clearly bad but he is vulnerable even when he’s taken over…though he is once again another evil MCU Corporate Boss with Hammer, Monger, Yellow Jacket, etc. He’s a played out trope but David Wenham gives what depth he can to the role and makes him a lot of fun.

Ward – Ward looks like “American Psycho” meets Donald Trump Jr. as in a sleezy tool looking character who is only out for himself. We learn that he was abused by his father and in turn abused Danny. His turn around is after his drug addiction breaks him and he kills his father, only for his father to get revenge on him. After it is chess match between him and his father with Danny as the Knight. Ward wins and is left to look back on all the evil things he’s done. He’s won and gained his soul that he had never had before. He also kills his dad and burns the body finally ending Harold’s reign.

Bakuto – Bakuto is Colleen Wing’s Sensei and a leader in the Hand. He is very much a Ra’s al Ghul type figure who wants to destroy all power structures leaving only the Hand and what he believes to be true justice with all a part of the Hand or serving it in some way in a Utopia. He is a fun character and was a great villain until he is defeated by Colleen after he betrays her trust and ends up being killed by one of the K’un Lun Monks Davos.

Davos – Davos is Danny’s childhood friend who wanted to be the Iron Fist. He is a fanatic for the cause and in the end it corrupts him. He is along the lines of Mordo in “Doctor Strange” as in the end his inability to change leads to him believing that peace can only be achieved by ending the Iron Fist since the Iron Fist won’t kill the Hand. He isn’t wrong since Danny doesn’t kill, so it gives an interesting dilemma going forward.

Hogarth – Hogarth is back! She is a great ally through the series to Danny and helps him in his war against the Meachums. It was great seeing her again, though I wish she’d gotten more exploration. She is there as support but not much else.

Claire Temple – Claire is back and plays a big role in this as we see her take on vigilante qualities too as she learns to fight from Colleen Wing in her dojo and working with Danny and Colleen whether they are fighting the Meachums or the Hand. She is as much a Defender as any of the others and is much more interesting than Danny Rand. Rosario Dawson is once again fantastic and plays my favorite Defender hero.

Madam Gao – Madam Gao is my second favorite villain the MCU (https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2016/11/20/top-5-villains-of-the-marvel-cinematic-universe/). In this we get to see just how old she is, as she references facing other Iron Fists and is able to predict things because of how long she’s been around and how well she knows people. She is a major leader in the Hand and in the end her faction wins out over Bakuto’s faction as she manipulates Joy and Davos to take out Danny Rand. She is playing a long game and is the only character always winning. I really enjoy this character and can’t wait to where her story goes.

Colleen Wing – Jessica Henwick is fantastic! I wanted this show to be about her (she deserved it, her story isn’t as played out as Danny’s for one thing). This is a character who has to prove herself time and time again both in the arena and against what she considered family (She is a Hand agent until they betray her when she won’t betray Danny). I felt for her character the entire time and can’t wait to see where her story goes. She is a lot more interesting than Danny.

Okay: Danny Rand – Finn Jones annoyed me for the first half of this season. He looks perpetually bored and isn’t very good at emoting. He grew me on me over time but he is not this show’s pro. This is a character that because he is a played out trope (rich white billionaire orphan becomes ninja/monk, etc. – Doctor Strange, Batman and related Wolverine, Daredevil, Elektra, etc.). His story is orphan becomes master of his craft and reclaims his fortune…I enjoyed it for simplicity but I was annoyed too. This was a story that could have done with change, starting with Danny Rand.

The Cons: Asian-American Representation in the Marvelverse – Name a Marvel hero in the MCU who isn’t on Agents of SHIELD who is Asian? Outside of Wong (another great support character) in Doctor Strange there isn’t one. Colleen Wing is almost made Danny’s partner at times in this in who they face and the choices they make but she is still just a supporting character. Given this lack of representation and the pulling from the different Martial Arts from Asia to tell Danny Rand’s story, why not give Danny some level of history? He could have been from Hong Kong and been new money and from there more layers with the Meachum and the history of discrimination towards Asians in the United States through laws. You wouldn’t have to change too much but any change like this or similar could have added more layers. The Defenders have always been a show tackling important issues from racism (Luke Cage) to rape and sexual assault (Jessica Jones). Danny Rand is much weaker than Daredevil which at least tackles philosophy at times. Representation could have let them do that, taking a risk with Danny Rand.

Playing it “Safe” and the Lack of Risks – Danny Rand on Netflix is a complete lack of risk. He is played out tropes from the orphan billionaire trope in comics, to becoming a ninja in Asia and reclaiming his fortune. If any of these things had been changed it would have been a risk that would have made the show potentially great.

   Whether you should watch this show or not really depends on how much you like the Defenders project and journey as a whole. I liked it but I don’t think it’s necessary, you’ll get the core elements and characters in “The Defenders” first season and even though some of the problems of The Hand are fixed, new ones are brought up in this version of Danny Rand. This actor is okay but he needed to great and had to be written a lot better for this to work and be great. This was a show that if it had taken more risks, could have made it great. If in the end you don’t take risks you will never achieve greatness in your story, especially if all you do is pulled on tropes that have been done before.

Final Score: 7.5 / 10. Enjoyable but Danny is the weakest Defender by far. This is a show worth watching for the supporting cast.

“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

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

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

  SPOILERS if you haven’t watched the first season.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Score: 9 / 10

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Top 5 Villains of the Marvel Cinematic Universe

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     I’ve always been drawn to the villains in films and shows, and comics are a host to some of the best rogues galleries in fiction. Whether it is Batman and also his villains who are some level of crazy or Spider-Man and his foes ranging from alien parasites to hunters…each group of rogues brings something different to the table. Now, when it comes to the Marvel and Disney Marvel Cinematic Universe the villains have usually been the weakest part, with the exception of those within “The Defenders” Universe on Netflix. It is here where I draw from a lot of my Top 5 as the people they kill don’t come back to life and there are consequences. Not all the characters are from Netflix, but there are enough of them that it shows. This review will also contain minor spoilers though I will aim not to reveal too much in case you haven’t watched the series yet and will stick with the vague.

     This is also my second Top 5 like in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the other being my Top 5 Favorite MCU Films list that I did last year, which I plan to update with another after “The Infinity War.”.: https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2015/08/18/top-5-films-of-the-marvel-cinematic-universe/

   So without further ado, here are my Top 5 Villains in the MCU.:

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5th) Kilgrave 

      Fifth place was difficult. I was honestly torn between Zemo and Kilgrave (Mordo may replace both of them after he has the chance to do stuff) but chose Kilgrave because of the creepy factor (he’s probably the most unsettling villain on this list) and his kill count. This is a character who is winning up until the end and even when he loses is able to manipulate himself out of almost any situation due to his ability. To go with the power of controlling with voice though he doesn’t pull a Joker and try to cause anarchy, his theme is obsession and abuse and like any toxic relationship he can’t let go and defeating him is defeating and continuing the process of healing from trauma and abuse. Jessica’s fight against him is rewarding and he proves to worthy a foe time and time again, though his final showdown was underwhelming and he should have done more with his power, those are the big things that keep him from being higher on this list. David Tennant really did a great job and I hope we see this character again.

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4th) Cottonmouth 

  Cottonmouth is the most tragic character on this list for many reasons. Born Cornell Stokes all he wanted to be was a musician but due to the corrupt Harlem Gangsters who raised him turned him into a killer. Now he only lives for experience and power. The man has an aura of threat about him that never leaves him, even when he’s losing and his ability to laugh at anything gives him a charm that Luke Cage doesn’t have. Without giving that much away, he isn’t the primary antagonist on the show so he doesn’t stick around all the way through, which was a shame as he is much more compelling than Diamondback and a better foil than the ones who take his place. This is a character who really should have been Luke Cage’s foil all the way through as he is everything Luke Cage is not but has just as much if not more complexity than Luke Cage. Mahershala Ali is great in everything I’ve seen him in and “Luke Cage” is no exception.

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3rd) Madam Gao

      Madam Gao is the greatest mystery in the “Daredevil” series as so much of her past is unknown, yet she knows so much and isn’t above working with the heroes if it will serve her ends. She is the one character who is unafraid of the Kingpin and easily takes out Daredevil when Daredevil attempts to capture her. She also is able to make a win out of any situation, whether it is a Kingpin implosion or the rise of her competitor the Blacksmith…she plays her cards to come out on top and I can’t wait to see how her game plays out. She is a character who is an antagonist but has shown she is more than just a villain. Wai Ching Ho is amazing in this role and she’s one of the best parts of the “Daredevil” series.

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2nd) Loki 

      Marvel Cinematic Universe Movie villains really haven’t been all that memorable. Yeah, they fill in all the boxes of having a decent motivation a lot of the time or are sufficently hammy to make things interesting…but compelling? Outside of Loki none of them stood out and there was a reason none of them are on my Top 5. Even Zemo was unable to kill an Avenger, but that goes for all the others too. Loki kills a major lore character if you discount “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” though and he is easily the most complex. Hiddleson and the writers created a character who is out for power but for often times what seem good ends. In “Thor” he manipulates his biological father the Frost Giant King in order to kill him and end the threat of his people against Asgard, in “Avengers” it could be argued he’s trying to stave the worse coming storm of Thanos by being a benevolent dictator and “Thor 2” he shows he’s not above sacrificing for his brother Thor. Loki is one of the best parts of the MCU and I look forward to seeing him once more in “Thor: Ragnorak.”

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1st) Kingpin 

      The Kingpin…the Marvel Cinematic Universe has yet create a more complex or effective villain. This is a man who over the course of his series manages to take out most of his rivals and those who could reveal his corruption to Hell’s Kitchen. He’s one step ahead of our protagonists and even when it looks like he is out, Season 2 shows that you don’t mess with the Kingpin as whatever world he is in, he rises to the top of and plots his agenda further from there. He is the only one on this list who truly loves another as well…Vanessa is a character who challenges and forces him to reveal his darker self and also his idealism as all his destruction is for the greater good of bringing about stability and cleaning out the corruption and abuse that so scarred him as a child. Vincent D’Onofrio truly owns this role and whatever moves the writers have him do next it is going to have ripples through the Defenders Universe and possibly the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe as a whole. Kingpin is truly number 1.

“Voltron: Legendary Defender” Season 1 – An Amazing Space Fantasy Full of Humor and Drama

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   “Voltron: Legendary Defender,” is one of the best animated shows I have seen. It is one of those like “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” that manages to have both innocent humor and a deeper message beyond the simple fantasy that the story entails. There is philosophy worth exploring in this story and it makes me want to see the original (Beast King GoLion and Voltron: Defender of the Universe) that inspired this new take on it.

    The series is a Korean-American animated show that was produced by Dreamworks with Netflix.

    The premise involves our main characters discovering the Lions that are made to form Voltron and the Castle where Princess Allura and Coran have in hibernation. Their leader is Shiro who escaped from the Galra Empire as together the five soldiers create Voltron to liberate the Galaxy from the evil Galra Empire.

This review contains SPOILERS, so be warned.

The Pros: The World – The world it takes place in is wonderful! The Galra Empire has created civilizations of refugees (Coran and Princess Allura) and even those who aren’t refugees are civilizations that are caught in the crossfire or enslaved to their power. This gives a powerful reason for Voltron that the story uses to full degree.

The Soundtrack – Brad Breeck created an amazing electronic 80′ style soundtrack that is able to capture tension and the wonder of Voltron magically. I seriously can’t wait to play games to this soundtrack.

The Animation – Studio Mir did an amazing job on their animation! It reminds me of old 80’s anime mixed with the much clearer colors and lines of modern anime making it very much something that has no comparison.

The Comedy – The comedy is innocent and wonderful…Hunk is used for comedic relief but there is also great stuff done with Coran’s larger than life personality and the rivalry between Keith and Lance.

The Civilizations – The civilizations are great! They have unique ways of speaking and looks and history that you really have to see for yourself. They aren’t just aliens of the week, they are people in their own right.

The Characters –  The characters are the strongest part, they are simple archetypes given depth and made memorable in the process.

Commander Sendak – Sendak is one of the greatest commanders of Emperor Zarkon and we see why when he nearly captures the Castle and manages to drive Shiro into a trauma filled rage. What happened to him is still up in the air but I’d like to see him again. His robotic arm is pretty amazing too and I like his bat-like design.

Coran – Coran is the comedic relief for a lot of it but we see that he is a good mentor too as he helps the soldiers grow up and we see that what keeps him going is his love for Allura and following her and guiding the main crew. He is a character who in lesser hands would have only remained comedic relief but rose beyond it.

Princess Allura – Allura is amazing! She is a healer (she heals an entire planet) a warrior (She rescues Shiro) and a well rounded character who mourns her family and her father but has to let them go in order to save them all. She is probably my favorite character in this series. She is an amazing space elf (look at her design and her place within this universe, her and her people are space elves).

Witch Haggar – Haggar is a better vilain than Zarkon…her creatures cause the most damage on planets and she is the one who destroys Allura’s wormhole that leads to the crew getting separated at the end of the season.

Emperor Zarkon – Zarkon was once the Black Paladin (Shiro’s role) which makes sense why he wants to claim Voltron. This fact alone gives him so much depth, he is Sargeras, Morgoth and every other fallen Paladin in fiction and he’s been winning for a while. At this point our heroes have only liberated 2 world and injured his capital. He’s fine and a great threat for future seasons.

Pidge – Pidge lost her father in the war against the Galra (he was captured) and her story is a girl going undercover to become a soldier to find and rescue her dad. She is amazing and it the tech and hacker whose arc is realizing that others have lost their dad’s too and dedicating herself fully to the Paladin Cause.

Hunk – Hunk is the comedic relief who is a coward until he discovers why they fight when helps liberate a world, from here we seee him become a leader and find his confidence. He is still the Bolan/Sokka of the group but he grows up.

Lance – Lance is the guy who thinks he is everything and his arc is being knocked down pegs and finding humility. He was explored the least this season, so I’m curious where his arc goes. What arc he does have is getting over his hatred of Keith.

Keith – Keith is amazing! He takes on Emperor Zarkon on his own which gives Shiro time to free Allura and get back into his lion. His arc is getting over his rivalry with Keith and learning when to fight as he is the angriest of the group and always ready to fight.

Shiro – Shiro is the leader whose arc is facing his trauma and helping the rest come to believe in the cause. He is the oldest and has a mech arm from experiments that were done by the Druids. He is pretty amazing and his arc is still going to be taking control of the Galra tech as it has been used against him a few times now.

Voltron – Five multi-colored Lions that care about the Paladins in them and become a giant mecha-Knight. This creature is amazing and I can see why they give time to have the sequence where it is created, cause it is really cool.

Facing Trauma – Another theme is the facing of trauma, whether it is Allura facing the death of her father and people and letting go, Shiro healing from his torture and the crew facing the fact that they are soldiers unprepared for the war. This theme of trauma is faced on a individual and civilizational level.

Justice – The theme of justice is one that pervades the film. Pidge decides to stay rather than look for her dad, Hunk discovers courage and Allura faces the loss of her family…in all cases the need for justice against the Galra Empire helps our characters to grow.

Okay: The Ending – The ending leaves things open for future seasons, which at this point I don’t like as much due to “Firefly.” Unless you know that you are going to get another season don’t have a cliffhanger ending. Assuming that nothing bad will happen and we get a Season 2, I liked the fact that the Lions and crew are now all separated throughout the galaxy.

  This is a show I’d highly recommend. Netflix has been putting out gold and chances are you will see me reviewing many of Netflix shows. This was a show that had solid base and managed to give depth to a simple premise and characters and in the process create a memorable story that I can’t wait to see unfold. Whether you like animated shows or animes or don’t…this is a show that is worth checking out.

Final Score: 9.3 / 10

Voltron Legendary Defender

“Stranger Things” Season 1 – A Powerful Sci. Fi. Coming of Age Story Reminiscent of the Best of the 80’s Sci. Fi. Films

Stranger Things Poster

   “Stranger Things” is a show born out of love and appreciation for so many great films during the 80’s. You can see elements of Stephen King, “John Carpenter’s The Thing,” “E.T.” “Goonies” and countless others that were clearly inspiration for a show that in the end isn’t any of them and clearly stands on it’s own as a drama and show. Non-spoiler thoughts, if you like any of the things I listed above you should watch this show. Netflix has once again created gold and if you are looking for a timeless and classic story, this is the show for you.

Their will be some SPOILERS coming up.

     The series was created by the Duffer Brothers for Netflix and produced by Shawn Levy.

     The story involves the mysterious disappearance of Will Byers in a small town in Indiana and what his family (his mother and brother) and friends do to find him as a mysterious entity is on the lose and government agents hunt a young girl with superpowers named Eleven, who joins Will’s friends Mike, Lucas and Dustin to find and rescue Will.

The Pros: The World – The world has the small town feel with the greater mystery as we have a small town where everyone knows everyone yet the threat from both El, the State and the alien entity making the small town threatening beyond the bullies who already inhabit the town.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful and captures both the fun of Dungeons and Dragons when the boys are playing it, to the alien nature of the Upside Down where the alien entity comes from and is breaking through into our world.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack is awesome and has wonderful 80’s songs littered through the entire show with a haunting 80’s synth for the opening. It is a film level soundtrack. Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein did a great job on it.

The Writing – The writing feels real…the characters don’t speak contrived dialogue and the kids sounds like kids, teens like teens and adults sound like adults. It is surprising how rare this is in shows and films but this series doesn’t have that problem.

The Alien – The alien looks like a misshapen grey human from the back with long arms and am mouth like a Venus fly trip. It is terrifying in that you hardly ever see it fully. It is also deadly too as it kills Nancy’s friend Barb and has pumped Will full of it’s possible young even after he is rescued and it is defeated.

The Characters – The characters drive the story and each of them are more compelling than their stereotype or trope they represent in 80’s film.

Nancy Wheeler – Nancy is the nerd who joins the popular kids but after sees they are bullies leaves them. This is her trope that she goes beyond by building a relationship with Jonathan after both of them lose people to the alien and they take the fight to it. She becomes a leader and shows that she is awesome with a gun.

Jonathan Byers – Jonathan is the awkward creeper outsider who we learn is actually sensitive and respectful. That is his trope and how he goes beyond it is building a relationship with his mom when he learns she was telling the truth of talking to Will through the lights and seeing the alien. He’s also a cool older brother to Will and introduces him to great rock.

Chief Jim Hopper – Jim Hopper is the alcoholic divorced Police Chief who lost his daughter and never recovered from it. He changes in that he is the first to back Joyce when he discovers the State base and the area where the alien has made it’s home and the government wipes his memory. He is a dealmaker who doesn’t want to lose people and makes a deal for the State to get El back if he can save Will since he doesn’t want Joyce to lose a child too. For the bitter Police Chief he has a lot of compassion and empathy, and is quite good at his job.

Joyce Byers – Joyce is the main character besides Will’s friends. She is the one who is seen as crazy and in many ways did crack after Will went missing. She is also the one who sees the unknown and takes the risks and discovers the alien entity first. She is great in that she is someone who is doing the best she can with so much working against her. When she helps rescue Will we also see her begin to heal from her past abusive relationship and now having good relationships with her sons. Winona Ryder is wonderful in this role.

Dustin – Dustin is the guy who perceives a lot. He guessed the lunch lady was hiding the chocolate pudding, he knew when the State was coming and to get away and in the end it hints that he knows greater threats are on the horizon too. He is also the one who helps Lucas and Mike resolve their issues and brings the group back together. He is a pretty awesome kid with a lisp.

Lucas – Lucas is the member of Will’s friends who is the most driven and connected to those in the group. He distrusts El when they meet her partially out of fear of losing Mike but also because he wants to protect his friends. In the end he comes around though and even after he and Mike fight he warns and protects them and Eleven from the State as he sees who the real threat is.

Eleven – El is a character with superpowers who was taken from her mother in a government experiment and was being used to spy on the Russians during the Cold War before she escapes after she ends up opening the portal to the world the alien comes from. She is an amazing character who is learning how to control her powers and discovers what having friends is actually like and what it means. In the end she uses her power to hold away the entity and to keep it from our world after she and Mike basically admit love for one another. It is powerful and sad and we get the idea she is still out there fighting the entity.

Mike Wheeler – Mike is the main character and his arc is healing his relationship with his friends, his love for El and saving Will. He is a cool character and we see him willing to risk his life to protect those he cares about. He is also the DM for the boys’ Dungeons and Dragons game.

Coming of Age and Loss – This is the town’s coming of age and Nancy has sex for the first time and discovers her sexuality, Will discovers attraction, El discovers her own beauty and wants for the first time and Joyce and Jim confront their grief and loss and in it come together to heal as they try to save Will. It is powerful and these themes are always their below the surface in the many events and confrontations that take place through the show.

The Cons: The State and Their Motivations and Execution – I get they are fighting the Russians during the Cold War but beyond a faceless entity there was no depth to them at all. Even El’s “Papa” was just a monster who had no depth. This was a major con as every good show needs a good villain.

Leaving the Ending Open – The series could have ended and even though I want to see more I’m putting it as a con since they could have easily wrapped everything up and had the perfect show.

  This was a series that could have ended amazing with just 1 season and not setting up future seasons. I like that there will be more of this show, but like any story that keeps going, especially with television…I fear how it could bring around the overall quality of the show if it isn’t handled well. After defeating the alien things could have ended and it would have been perfect. Leaving it open brought it down a little for me. This is a world well worth your time though and the acting and writing is absolutely amazing. I have yet to have a bad experience with Netflix shows and this one is easily one of their best.

Final Score: 9.4 / 10