“Castlevania” Season 3 – An Exploration of Hope Lost

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  Season 3 of “Castlevania” is really good filler. There are a lot of pieces moving and characters are developed, but there isn’t the core driving action that was last season. I still highly recommend checking it out though if you are a fan of the show. There are 10 episodes this season and none of them are wasted. Warren Ellis has truly crafted an amazing story and I’m curious to see where the story goes next.

This season was directed by Sam and Adam Deats and written by Warren Ellis.

The story follows Sypha and Trevor uncovering the mystery behind a town, two twins befriending Alucard in his isolation, Carmilla’s plotting of conquest and Isaac as he creates an army in his quest to get revenge against those who betrayed Dracula.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

Saint Germain – Saint Germain is a fantastic character. He is Lindenfeld seeking a portal in order to get back to his wife. He find allies in Sypha and Trevor and it is wonderful seeing them interact as he sees himself as above everyone but them. In a depressing season he is such a fun character who brings levity and humor to all that happens this season. He also helps save the day by closing the Portal to Hell when the Priory in Lindenfeld is trying to summon Dracula back from Hell.

The Sisters – Carmilla and her 3 sisters make up a Vampire coven in Styria who is planning conquest. In order to conquer they need troops though and this involves her sister Lenore seducing and tricking Hector into being their slave. I thought it was handled well as she showed a soft power approach and diplomacy compared to how blunt most of her other sisters are. Striga is the warrior who loves battle, Morana is the strategist and Carmilla is the spark and planner. They have a fascinating dynamic and I can’t wait to see Isaac, Sypha and Trevor take them on.

Sypha and Trevor – Sypha and Trevor are such a cute couple. In this we get to see how much they enjoy killing monsters and protecting people. Sypha especially revels in combat. They play off each other really well and it is the first time we really see a more happy Trevor…until the end. At the end they discover the Judge of the town they couldn’t save was a serial killer the entire time. Once happy fighting evil they discover the evil in humanity again and they have each other, but that is it. By the end of this season, they feel alone. They really should go back to Alucard.

Isaac – Isaac has a fascinating arc this season. He is driven by Dracula’s goal to exterminate humanity, though he still is willing to give people a chance. We see him spare those who show kindness and his conversations with a merchant, a captain and another Forgemaster make him realize that he should shape his own destiny. It is powerfully done and I can’t wait for him to take on Carmilla and her sisters.

Alucard – Alucard is alone and going mad until two hunters, Sumi and Taka seek him for training. He believes them at first until they try to kill him. This loneliness and betrayal breaks him and he puts their corpses outside the Dracula’s Castle as a warning, beginning to embrace the practices of his father, who also had lost all hope humans. He really needs Sypha and Trevor to bring him back to balance.

Hopeless Humanity – Isaac is attacked by multiple groups who are destroyed, Sypha and Trevor discover the evil in the town they couldn’t save and Sumi and Taka show that even those who appear good can do evil. This was the theme this season and is meant to explore why Dracula was the way he was. It is really well done and a proper way for filler to be handled.

The Cons:

The Twins – Sumi and Taka were slaves of Cho’s court. Cho was one of Dracula’s generals from Japan and we see how in control she was over the populace, even letting hunters in for fun. From this I can see why they don’t trust vampires but Alucard killed Dracula. Them trying to kill Alucard wasn’t fleshed out enough, they needed more development for the turn the story took.

Feels Like Filler – In the end what does bring it down is that it does feel like filler. It is good filler, but knowing a show could be canceled at anytime I tend to see filler as a waste. This was a good use of filler but the problem of it still happens. This was really good but if the show ended here it wouldn’t be a good end to “Castlevania.”

I really enjoyed this season. It is depressing as hell but the character development is well handled. I also love how big this world is. This season was largely setup for the big events that will no doubt play out and I think it handled it well. The only con was really the twins as I get why they existed (to make Alucard more like his father and lose hope in humanity) but their motivations needed much more development. I hope Alucard catches a break soon, he’s one of my favorite characters on the show and it sucks seeing him go through all this. Can’t wait to see how the upcoming wars go.

Final Score: 8.6 / 10 Boosted slightly by the good character work.

“Castlevania” Season 1 – Of Origins and Building the Party

   “Castlevania” is a great video game adaptation. This is a series that explores Dracula’s motivation and really lets us explore and get to know the world before it gets into the action. Without going into spoilers, the only issue is how short it is. The first Season is only 4 episodes long and each of those episodes is only 20 minutes. It could have easily had 8 episodes just off of the characters and the world and I’m really that it has been renewed for future episodes. The fact that this is an adaptation of a video game is all the more amazing given the track record of suck projects as they usually always end up sucking.

The series was written by Warren Ellis and directed by Sam Deats.

The story involves Dracula’s origin and what lead him to turn against humanity (turning it into the depressed hellscape of the games). After the origin we pick up with the last of the Belmonts, Trevor Belmont as he wanders the hellscape, just trying to survive and find purpose.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: Dracula’s Origin – Dracula’s hate is born out of tragedy. It begins with him as an illusive immortal lord who falls in love with a woman who wants to help the people through the medical sciences. Sadly they turn on her and we learn she married Dracula. Out of anger for the loss of his love he raises the army of hell and puts them on the population, leading to the status quo of the games. This is the first time in any of the games where he has actually been explored as a character and I love the character choices they made for why he became a monster.

People are Hell – A major theme of the story is that people are hell. The Church kills Dracula’s wife for being a “witch” and through the story we see murders who joined the church as enforcers and the general apathy of the general populace and our supposed hero Trevor Belmont. This theme is great at giving justification to Dracula and the question of hope even exists in this world.

Hope in Strange Places – Thankfully there is hope, both in the Speakers, travelers like the Roma who pass on stories of old who end up finding another hero, Alucard who is Dracula’s son who wants to stop his father since he knows the monster he’s become is not what his mother would have wanted. In the end Sypha (the speaker who finds Alucard) and Alucard show Trevor their is hope and give him a reason to fight. Also James Callis voices Alucard and Richard Armitage voices Trevor Belmont. Both these were brilliant casting choices and I really wanted more with both of the characters.

Okay: The Church – The Church is the Catholic Church and we only really deal with the corrupt members. One priest helps in the final fight but we never get his name or any of his story. Large organizations should have more complexity or their drive for power better explored…I hope we get both these things in the next season.

The Cons: Length – The show is only 4 episodes long and because of it the Church feels underdeveloped and we only get hints at the demons having their own agenda outside of Dracula. This is a shame as these were interesting ideas that could have been explored so much more. Regardless, I highly recommend this series. The writing is solid, the characters are fascinating and Netflix has once again made a great show.

Final Score: 9 / 10 Solidly great start to a series. Netflix has done it again.

Hell or High Water (2016): An Amazing Modern Personal Western

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   “Hell or High Water” is a fantastic modern western. It is modern in that it takes place in the current era with cars and technology unlike most westerns I’ve seen which usually go back to the Civil War Era and the surrounding time periods…and it works. This is a personal film that gives room for the characters to breathe so their motivations can be fully explored and how complicated each of them are.

   The film was directed by David Mackenzie and written by Taylor Sheridan with the producers being Sidney Kimmel, Peter Berg, Carla Hacken, Julie Yorn, Gigi Pritzker and Rachel Shane.

    The story involves the brothers Toby (Chris Pine) and Tanner Howard (Ben Howard) robbing banks in small town Texas while being hunted by Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) and his partner Alberto Parker (Gil Birningham) as each of their motivations for being in this hunt or robberies is revealed over the course of the film.

SPOILERS ahead

 The Pros: The World – The world is a bunch of small dying towns in Texas. These are all towns that were bigger when the west was first settled but have died to time as so many dead industries litter the landscapes. It is a location of extreme poverty and desperation where everyone is armed…I enjoyed my time in this world because of how relevant and real it is to poverty here in the U.S. today.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful and captures the rugged stretches of land that make up Texas as well as how isolated all our characters are making what connections they have with each other all the more meaningful. Giles Nuttgens did a fantastic job.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack is very much a western and keeps up the dark tone of the film as at the core it is a crime and heist film mixed with a western, as we spend as much time with the Howards and their robberies as we do with the Rangers Marcus and Alberto who are hunting them. Nick Cave and Warren Ellis did a great job capturing the feel of Texas and the tension that pervades the film.

Tanner Howard – Tanner is the brother who got out of prison and had experience robbing before. He also killed his and Toby’s abusive father and from there realized he had nothing to lose. Everything he does is for his brother and his brother’s family and for the thrill of the action. He’s a fascinating character who is bad but not all bad. Ben Foster does a good job giving this guy an edge and empathy.

Alberto Parker – Alberto character is half native and half Mexican and it is through him we get the why to what the Howard’s are doing as he calls out the people their for taking his peoples’ lands and how the cycle has continued with the banks taking there. He is very by the books and even though Marcus inspires him he also critiques Marcus’s obsessions. He is shot by Tanner at the end…Gil Birningham plays him and he is easily my favorite character in this film. I wanted to know more of his story.

Ranger Marcus Hamilton – Jeff Bridges owns every role he plays and he does that once again here as a Ranger who is aging out of the force and sees capturing the thieves as his last great hurrah. He manages to avenge his partner after Tanner shoots and figures out that Toby is the one who set everything in motion and even goes to talk to him. He is filled with so much regret over the loss of Alberto and implies he may be killed or kill Toby later. Like Toby he has no peace after the events, even with retirement and being sung as hero for taking out Tanner.

Toby Howard – Toby lives for his ex-wife and kids and everything he does is to get the money and the rights to the property his mother owned that has oil on it. He succeeds but we see, especially near the end how he regrets letting his brother reek havoc as he now has the blood of innocent people on his hands. This regret is one reason we see him wising for death at the end and that he is only living for his kids, the ones who he went into crime for in the first place to get them out of poverty.

Poverty and Dying Towns – Poverty is rampant throughout the landscape in this film and we get the glimpse of so many people who only have their pride, which can motivate them to different things like the Howard’s crime spree or Hamilton’s obsession. The opportunities are becoming less and their is sadness to everything that even though Toby pulled his family out of it, they screwed over so many others and others will never be able to get out.

Land and Ownership – The theme of land and ownership is huge and starts with Alberto’s speech on how this land all used to belong to his people until like the thieves the settlers and government stole it through war and now the banks are doing the same in this dying region. It is powerful as we see how land ownership is tied to power and power through violence.

The Cons: Too Slow At Times – About halfway through it hit’s a slow part where it takes a while to pick up again before the final big heist where everything goes down. The rest of the film makes up for it, it wouldn’t be in competition for the Top 5 Films of 2016 if that wasn’t the case, but it is still a problem. A bit more action in character relationships or heists would have strengthened the film.

   This was a great film and might end up being one of the Top 5 of the year. It manages to say so much just by showing the state of so many poor Texas towns and from there you see the desperation that lead to the Howard’s taking their path of robbery to get out of it. It is really well done and I loved the levels of history, especially as expressed by Alberto and how the settlers had stolen his peoples’ land and now the banks were stealing theirs. This was a smart film that says a lot and doesn’t have a happy ending. It is a bittersweet western that deserves to be up there with the Westerns that are the greats.

Final Score: 9.7 / 10