“The Wolf Among Us” Review — A Crooked Mile (episode 3)

Ashley Hagood:

My review of the latest episode of The Wolf Among Us for Geek Force Network. I played it, I wrote the review, and I published the review all in the same morning because “A Crooked Mile” is just so intense!ep_3_bigby

Originally posted on Geek Force Network:

So this morning I played the third episode of Telltale Games’  The Wolf Among Us, and I’m still recovering. It is by far the best episode of the series yet. Proceed with caution, though — it’s hard to talk about this series without giving away spoilers!

The first episode, “Faith,” has Fabletown Sheriff Bigby Wolf (a.k.a. The Big Bad Wolf of fairytales) joining up with Snow White to investigate the murder of a call girl. It’s a point-and-click mystery adventure, which I reviewed on my blog here. The first episode leaves you with a cliffhanger, and I couldn’t wait for the second episode to begin.

However, after playing the second episode, “Smoke and Mirrors,” I just couldn’t find the inspiration to write a review of it. After how much the first episode sparks, “Smoke and Mirrors” just felt lacklustre to me. The story in episode…

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Continuum: “Minute by Minute” Review (S3, E1)

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Kiera Cameron.

This post is for my fellow Continuum fans! The Syfy show is back, and I feel like I’ve aged 100 years waiting for season three because I love the show so much. So of course I have to review the first episode and talk about what the new season might have in store for us…

Now, before I get into this, please be aware that we are definitely spiraling into die-hard territory, where you better not plunge unless you’ve watched the show from the beginning. It’s not confusing — it’s just extremely complicated, and it’s worth seeing how everything evolves to this point. I won’t recap all of it here. Skip reading this post if you are going to watch it, or at the very least, perhaps skim my summary of the first seasons here.

If we really break down the season 3 premiere “Minute by Minute,” there are two big storylines. The episode switches back and forth between them, but I’m going to separate them here for clarity…

Alec’s Story

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Alec using the time travel device = bright explosions!

We pick up right where we left off, with Alec Sadler using the time travel device to travel back in time and save his girlfriend, Emily, from dying. He goes back one week — but within a few minutes of arriving, he sees himself walking with Emily and realizes there are now two of him.

Jason shows up and agrees to help him in his quest to save Emily, but he leaves when Emily shows up and Alec promptly begins making out with her. Alec invites her to go to Thailand with him, apparently figuring that getting her far away from Vancouver will keep her safe from the bullet that would have killed her, you know, a week from now. Of course she wants to go.

Alec has arrangements to make. He goes back to the lab, where he runs into Kellog and talks about all these things that are going to happen. Of course, he doesn’t tell Kellog he’s from the future, but his attitude and knowledge surprise Kellog. This inspires Kellogg to go talk to Escher. It’s the same art gallery scene we saw last season, but this time, after the conversation is over, someone shoots Escher with a silenced gun, clearly on Kellog’s orders. The shooter is Emily.

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Emily shoots Escher.

Alec also stops by the police station to give Kiera and her (cop) partner, Carlos, some intel. But later, when he’s back at the lab later getting his passport and stuff together, he spots Kiera Cameron, dead on the lab floor with a bullet in her forehead. Alec is upset, blaming his time travel for what happened to her. But…

Kiera’s Story

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When Kiera goes back in time a week, she frees Garza.

Okay, snap back to the beginning of all this. Remember at the end of last season, when the Freelancers had Kiera locked in a cube with a bunch of other time travelers from Liber8? That’s where we pick up with her.

Kiera is taken to meet the head Freelancer, Catherine, who says that the Freelancers are not actually time travelers themselves. Apparently, the discovery of time travel in 2077 inspired all kinds of people to travel back in time for selfish reasons, and it wasn’t good. In fact, a war began 100 years after Kiera was born. Eventually, laws were enacted to prohibit time travel, but one man went back in time 1,000 years to start an organization of people dedicated to keeping the timeline intact. That’s who the Freelancers are. Kiera likens them to a cult.

But what really freaks Kiera out is that there’s someone there she recognizes: Curtis Chen, a member of Liber8 who was killed by Kiera’s own gun when he shot it and it backfired on him. Now he’s alive and well — and a Freelancer. None of this is explained (yet…).

Catherine wants Kiera to go back in time one week and stop this whole Alec mess. By going back in time, Alec has started a new branch of the timeline, which essentially means that the Alec that’s supposed to exist — the one who creates SadTech Industries and all that — isn’t there anymore. He’s left the current timeline, and now there are two of him in a new branch of the timeline that he has sprouted. And who knows what this new branch of the timeline is going to bring about.

At first, Kiera doesn’t want to help the Freelancers. On her way back to her cube, she encounters Garza, and together they knock out the guards and try to escape. Along the way, Garza is shot while distracting the guards for Kiera. And then Kiera is caught again.

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I just love Garza’s face here.

But seriously, this whole sequence was one of my favorite parts, even though it’s basically just the two of them running around damp corridors for 10 minutes. I love it because they’re two women in slightly baggy men’s suits they stole from the guards, and the fight sequences are the best. I forgot how much hand-to-hand combat Continuum shows off; it’s really well-choreographed, and those scenes are surprisingly long.

After being captured again, Kiera agrees to help the Freelancers. Catherine insists that they want the same things, after all: They both want to keep the timeline pure, with no glitches that could change history. For Kiera, this is because she wants the future to remain the same, so her husband and son will be waiting for her when she gets back to 2077. (If she gets back to 2077…)

And so Kiera hops in the Freelancers’ rusty old time travel chair and heads back in time one week. When Catherine and Curtis meet her here, Catherine says something along the lines of, “Have we met?” and Kiera shows off the new tattoos between her fingers that prove she is now a Freelancer. (Apparently those tattoos are codes that Freelancers can scan for authorization, so they recognize each other as legitimate.)

Kiera explains to Catherine why she’s here: There are two Alec Sadlers in this timeline, and it’s now her job to figure out which one of them will bring about the future that she and the Freelancers want. It’s implied that the other Alec will have to die. (And how do you tell the two Alecs apart? Just before traveling back in time, our Alec got grazed by a bullet on the side of his forehead. Great idea.)

And then we have Kiera showing up at the lab where Alec is hovering over dead Kiera — but that’s just dead Kiera from the past. It’s not completely clear what happened to past-Kiera, but this means there’s only one of her to deal with. However, it does bring up questions about who killed her and why…

In any case, it’s intense, guys.

Thoughts. . .

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The time travel device!

I was really impressed by this episode. Although there are still a few questions to resolve this season, so far things are pretty clear. The story may seem confusing if you haven’t been following along (and I had to refresh myself on what happened by reading old posts and forum threads about the show), but already season 3 is setting up a pretty tight story. Kiera has to kill one of the Alecs. That seems to be the major thread — though there are surely going to be lots of other subplots and crazy things happening along the way.

The only slightly silly thing about the episode is how much explaining there is. Catherine goes into great detail about who the Freelancers are, and then Kiera goes into great detail about why she went back in time a week and what her purpose is in chasing down Alec. I mean, I get that you need some explanation when the story is so complex, but it feels a little heavy sometimes — like it’s not what the characters would really say, it’s just dialogue for the viewers so they don’t get confused. Still, I guess it’s better to have things spelled out at the beginning than to be completely lost the entire season.

The main things I’m currently curious about are regarding the very end of season 2. When it seemed Kiera was already locked up in the Freelancers’ prison, we saw two things happen:

Carlos and Betty meet Julian (who is set to become the leader of Liber8).

Dillon, the Vancouver Police Department inspector (and Kiera’s “boss” when she’s in our current time period), is reading up on City Protective Services, the future of the police force. The CPS is what Kiera is a part of in 2077. Sounds like the seeds are being sown for it in our time…

If these two things are happening when Kiera is imprisoned, then this means that when she (and Alec, for that matter) go back in time a week, these things don’t happen. Or at least they haven’t happened yet. Are they integral to shaping the future? Will something that Kiera or Alec does throw these off and cause a different future to develop? Though brief, both moments are so prominently featured at the end of season 2 that I’m sure they are going to come up in some form soon…

I’m also curious how, if there is only one Kiera right now, she used to “remember” being in the Freelancers’ prison. I thought it was her CMR linking with the CMR of another version of her — like there were two of her — but it looks like there will only be one. At least for now.

Also, there are already additional timelines happening, because the future has changed. The biggest event I can think of is Kellog’s grandmother being killed. This means that no matter how long Kellog lives from 2012 on, he will never run into another version of himself, because he won’t be born in this timeline. However, the Catherine pointed out that 1,000 people can die with no effect on history, but one single person (such as Alec Sadler) can change the course of history. If that’s the case, then Kellog must not be important enough to change history. (But if he’s responsible for murdering Escher, then is Escher not important either…?)

Finally, why does Jason want to help Alec save Emily? I wonder how important she will be. It even made me curious about whether she’s Jason’s mother, which would explain why Jason wants to make sure she stays alive.

Really, what I love about Continuum is that in addition to the excellent cast, the writing is smart enough to surprise me on a regular basis. Storylines go in different directions than I expected, and even when the show treads “familiar” territory — like testing out the grandfather paradox with Kellog’s grandmother – it feels fresh. Rather than trying to make a sci-fi spectacle of itself, Continuum thoughtfully explores the nature of time travel in new ways.

– Ashley

“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” Review

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After months of holding my breath for this movie, I’ve finally seen Captain America: The Winter Soldier. The first Cap movie, The First Avenger (2011), was a disappointment for its awful pacing and lack of punch, but that only made seeing Steve Rogers finally get an engaging, kick-ass action movie in The Winter Soldier more exciting. And honesty, the film is even better than I thought it would be. It’s like I have a Captain America hangover this weekend, in a good way.

STORY

❤❤❤

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For the most part, the story successfully strikes that fine balance between feeling epic and also very personal to Steve Rogers, a.k.a. Captain America (played by Chris Evans). That’s the balance I always look for in superhero films.

On the epic side, you have Captain America teaming up with Black Widow Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) to investigate an attempt on S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury’s (Samuel L. Jackson) life. There’s a secret file, connections to HYDRA, and bad guy Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) helping to mastermind something akin to a police state. But according to Cap, what it really amounts to is humanity giving up its freedom in exchange for a proposed safety.

On the personal side, you’ve got Steve making a new friend: Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie). Seeing the origin of their friendship here is rewarding for its realism; there’s instant, relaxed chemistry between the two of them. You also have Fury trying to teach Cap that you can’t trust everyone, which is the underlying theme that resurfaces throughout the film. And who is Steve up against? His best friend from the 1940′s, Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), who has been brainwashed into being a super soldier assassin — the titular Winter Solder — for the enemy. All of this gets kind of emotional.

ACTION

❤❤

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You can always tell a good fight scene by how much you hang on every move, and this film had my gaze tracking every single motion. The fight scenes are well-choreographed and mesmerizing. Camera angles mostly keep you right in the action, with occasional long shots showing what the action would look like if you were, say, outside the building looking in from a distance. It’s all beautifully shot. Honestly, it’s a movie like this that makes me — a story lover and not so much an action lover — appreciate how gorgeous and engaging a good action scene can be.

These scenes also make good use of their settings. You have a fight in a tiny elevator with way too many people inside it. Nick Fury endures a shoot-out in his van. One scene made me afraid of heights, which I will never get over. And I won’t even get into talking about how awesome it is to see the Falcon fighting from the air over D.C.

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CHARACTERS

❤❤

I’ve come to love Chris Evans as Captain America. This is a character who can be an idealist, but Evans also makes him sharp and earnest. He makes up his own mind about things; he’s a leader, not a pushover. He may be learning the tough lesson that things in the 21st century are less black-and-white than they were in the 1940′s, but that whole you-can’t-trust-anyone lesson? Steve dismisses that when he decides trust Natasha. That’s the way Captain America is, and Evans makes him very believable. You don’t laugh at Cap for being naive or old-fashioned; you get behind him because he decides what his moral compass will point, and nobody else has the right to shape his values.

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You know what else I love about this film? There’s no romance. I mean, I like romance in films, but we don’t need it in every superhero movie. Steve and Natasha are friends, and their relationship is one of learning to trust each other. I loved that. In fact, there’s a scene in the film with Steve and Natasha getting cleaned up in a bedroom, and I could hear people in the cinema laughing or gasping and generally getting excited to see the two of them get it on — but that didn’t happen. The scene ended up being a conversation about having each other’s backs, which was so cool.

captain-america-winter-soldier-trailer-image-11Natasha also blossoms in this movie. I liked her character in The Avengers, but she hit a new stride in Winter Soldier. In conversations with Steve, she opens up about how espionage has had an impact on her, saying she can’t tell the difference between truth and fiction anymore. She’s also witty, smart, and physically tough: One minute, she’s spinning a web of charming lies as a distraction while she hacks into a computer file; the next minute she’s flipping enemies onto the floor. This versatility makes her one of the most interesting and intelligent heroes in the Avengers world. At this point, Black Widow really deserves her own movie.

Agent 13, or Sharon Carter (Emily VanCamp), also makes an appearance. In the comic books, she has a much more fleshed-out backstory and is even Steve’s ex-girlfriend, who flirts with him over a drink at one point in The Winter Soldier storyline. I love her character in the comics: tough, blonde, and someone who knows Steve well enough to read him on an emotional level throughout the mission. She’s able to talk sense into him when no one else can.

SharonCarterIn the film, she’s similar — still tough, still blonde — but she not the ex-girlfriend (among other things). Steve just thinks she’s a neighbor, and when he asks her out for coffee, she turns him down. Later, it’s revealed that she’s actually a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent in charge of protecting him. I would say that the film could have used more Agent 13, but that’s just because I love her character so much in the comics. Natasha filled the role of Steve’s partner very well in the film, with Sharon getting an interesting minor role.

The greatest disappointment in the film is that Pierce, as one of the primary villains, doesn’t get more of a backstory. Robert Redford gives him plenty of gravitas, but I would have liked to see a little more of his personal life to understand what makes him tick.

la_ca_0325_captain_americaHowever, the personal villain of this tale is the Winter Soldier, a.k.a. Bucky Barnes. And he’s fantastic. The only mild complaint I have about him is that there’s just not enough of him in this movie. I mean, there isn’t a ton of him in the comics, either; the story focuses on what Steve is going through. But even so, I think the movie would have benefited from expanding his role a bit more. He deserves more than just a handful of lines the entire film, and it would have made for a more compelling showdown if we’d seen more of Bucky’s inner struggle. At least we did get to see him have a flashback to his old life; speaking about Cap, he says, “I knew that man,” and hesitates in his attack. So despite the minimal Barnes, I concede that the story there has major emotional impact.

FINAL IMPRESSION

❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤

I like Captain America: The Winter Soldier as much as The Avengers. Which is really saying something, because not everybody can do what Joss Whedon does. Since Captain America is my favorite superhero, I might be biased, but directors Anthony and Joe Russo and scriptwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely have created something pretty magical in The Winter Soldier.

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– Ashley

Alfonso Cuarón’s “Gravity” and the Inherent Drama of Man in Space

Originally posted on Geek Force Network:

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Here’s the thing about outer space: we’re not supposed to be there. Nothing about it is conducive to life as we know it. There’s no oxygen and very low air pressure. If we tried to enter outer space without the protection of pressurized suits, being in that vacuum would cause our lungs to rupture and oxygen to leave the bloodstream until we lost consciousness and died of hypoxia. Temperatures in space would either burn us up or freeze us. There is no protection from radiation. There’s also no gravity, without which we would eventually suffer from muscle atrophy and bone loss that would become apparent upon returning to any spinning chunk of rock that does have a gravitational pull. There’s also the vertigo to contend with.

Some people daydream about visiting outer space and seeing the curve of our planet from above its atmosphere, but I can’t. I’m way too…

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Playing “Evil” in Video Games

Originally posted on Geek Force Network:

It’s  inFAMOUS weekend, guys! I’ve been excited for  Second Son ‘s release for quite a while, but here’s the thing: I decided to tread the infamous path by being basically evil. And it’s  so hard to do . My heart can barely take it. I won’t give any Second Son  spoilers here, but that first choice you have to make? Ughhhh.

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So many video games these days let players make moral decisions and choose “good” or “bad” routes, and I once wrote on my blog about how much I love playing the hero in games. The thing is, in games like the Mass Effect series, even choosing Renegade options (the “bad” options) won’t prevent you from being a hero in the end. You might be tough on people, you might punch reports in the face, you might hang up the phone on the Council… but you’re still Commander Shepard, hero…

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Who Captain America Really Is

When it comes the least-liked superheroes, it seems like a lot of people pinpoint Captain America. The common arguments are that he’s dull or too perfect… or that he represents a sort of chauvinist patriotism that’s off-putting. But Captain America might be the superhero I love the most, and the more I learn about him, the more I don’t believe any of those arguments against him are true.

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The “Jingoism” Thing

I have to admit that at first glance, Captain America can come across as a little too patriotic sometimes. It’s like he’s supposed to represent the entire United States, and everybody is supposed to love him. But if you’re not American, I can’t imagine the idea of American ideals parading around in tights and abs is going to be appealing. (As an American, I wouldn’t really know, but personally, I would not be particularly drawn to any over-idealized Captain Any-Other-Country.)

Sure, I believe strongly in “American” ideals like liberty, rights, and equality for all. I believe they make great ideals for a superhero, too. But tying those ideals so strictly to the United States via a “Captain America” is potentially alienating to anyone not-American. It comes across like jingoism.

But that’s just at first look; it doesn’t mean that Captain America is fundamentally a jingoistic character. The important distinction in my books is this: While Captain America always stands for American ideals, he believes these ideals can apply to anyone — and he isn’t always on the U.S. government’s side. This is pretty much my favorite moment of his (from Amazing Spider-Man #537, Civil War):

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Captain America’s very first issue (1941)

When Captain America was first created in the 1940′s, the United States was unified against a common enemy. I mean, the very first issue shows Cap punching Adolf Hitler, which is something we can all get behind. But today, America lacks that unity, and the issues that matter to us are very different than they were in the 1940′s.

That’s why modern writers have reshaped him to suit the times. A perfect example is in the Civil War comics, which depict Cap leading a group of superheroes who go underground while the government hunts them down. The U.S. passes a law forcing all heroes to register their real identities and work for them. Tony Stark, already famous as Iron Man, supports superheroes being on the government’s payroll, and Spidey takes off his mask for the first time in support of the act. But Steve Rogers believes in privacy and liberty for superheroes — and that pits him, the American icon, against the American government.

If the definition of jingoism is “the extreme belief that your own country is always best, often shown in enthusiastic support for a war against another country,” Captain America’s actions in Civil War prove that he’s no jingoist.

On a lesser scale, Cap also shows an affection for other countries, especially those that have fought for their ideals the way Americans did in World War II. When he visits Paris in The Winter Soldier arc, he remembers fighting alongside the French soldiers during the Nazi invasion and says that even though France may have surrendered, the French didn’t. On the flip side, he also often expresses frustration with his own countrymen’s views or unfounded prejudices.

Cap is always making these kinds of distinctions. A man is not his country; a man is his ideals. He proves himself by his actions, and that’s the way Steve Rogers lives his life even before he becomes Captain America. His origin story is one of my favorites, because he isn’t born with superpowers, and he doesn’t have a big, tragic story that sparks his interest in fighting crime or saving the world. Instead, he’s just a good man who doesn’t like bullies. He wants to fight for his country during World War II, when the United States is standing up to the Nazis… but as the U.S. changes, his support for the government can change too. I love that he stands firm in his convictions even when it means disobeying the law.

Is Cap Really Too Perfect?

Cap can also be a Gary Stu (Mary Sue) character, and as such he can come across as a little too perfect, a little too always-right. Writers can use him as a way of presenting their idea of what is right in a way which, through the “perfect” Captain America, can come across as self-righteous. Like nobody can argue with it. I mean, when a character has the American stars and stripes on his armor and shield, he better not do something evil or it’s as if America is doing something evil, right? That may let writers get away with preaching, with Captain America as their mouthpiece.

However, I haven’t found this to be a major problem yet. It’s really incumbent on the writers to humanize Cap, and some have done that better than others. In reading Ed Brubaker’s work and the Civil War stories, I see a well-rounded, likable Captain America. Anyone who criticizes Cap as being a dull penny or a pretentious jerk should actually be criticizing the storytelling for that particular arc or novel. I think that’s why so many people hate Cap in Avengers vs. X-Men but love him in Civil War. Put him in the hands of a good writer, and you get something magical.

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Reading Winter Soldier lately, I’ve related to the man who is Captain America, Steve Rogers — the first Cap. He feels displaced and homesick for a completely different time period — his real home — that he can never go back to. He grieves for his best friend and, for a time, even worries that he might be losing his grip on reality. That’s what I want to know more about. I like learning about the human character rather than just the Captain.

That’s why when Cap takes a sweeping action, I believe it more when it has some root in who Steve is. That’s when he nails it. I feel for his personal ideas rather than the general patriotism, and things get more interesting when stories show Cap as more than just a symbol of American freedom. Or maybe as less than that.

CivilWar6-2I don’t buy the argument that Captain America is perfect all the time. Sure, he has a genuine belief in honesty and justice, as well as a resolve that makes him an inspiring leader. But he’s not always sure of himself, and he makes mistakes like any human. Personally, I love it when he loses it a little. While other superheroes can almost come across like bullies if they savagely beat up someone who isn’t fighting back, when it’s Cap, it feels like a character flaw that humanizes him — and you know there’s an awfully good reason for every punch he throws.

It’s for all of these reasons that I don’t find Captain America to be dull or too-perfect or jingoistic. I think he has a clean, simple heroism that makes him worth rooting for, and it doesn’t always have anything to do with America — it’s about standing up for your beliefs no matter what size you are or how big that enemy is.

– Ashley