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Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Wicked Review



Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: A local legend about a witch that comes to eat you when you break a window of her house turns out to be real.

Review: I've read some really harsh reviews for this film, and, although there is a lot of stupid things going on here, this film is nowhere near as bad as some have said. Have these people never watched or heard of "Howling VII" or "Troll 2?" The funny thing is, those movies are at least shit that is watchable. What about shit so unbearable it cannot even be watched such as "Manos: The Hands of Fate" or virtually any syfy (hate that fucking spelling!) channel movie? This film is nowhere even close to being on that level of garbage. One of my pet peeves is the phrase "worst movie ever" being thrown around casually; there are shitty movies and then there are fucking SHITTY movies! I actually enjoyed this film for what it was. I know it has been pitched as a horror movie, but it's more of a family horror with just a tad too much gore and profanity making it confusing. Think of it as an edgier episode of "Goosebumps" or something along those lines, and you will be less disappointed by what you see. Let's start with the bad so you can understand the complaints people have. The first thing you will notice are the cheap-looking effects and stage designs. Words cannot express how annoying it is to see CGI blood! I mean, seriously? The few other effects regarding the witch and her powers range from adequate to weak, but they aren't as pathetic as the blood and the opening scene. While the characters are outdoors, things are okay, but when they're indoors it's obvious you're watching a filmset and a small one at that. This is especially noticeable when the kids are running around the witch's house, and they pass by the same 3 backgrounds repeatedly. The story is unoriginal, poorly planned out, and felt genre-confused. So there's some little town legend about a witch and throwing rocks at her window or whatever; eh, it's not elaborated on enough considering the witch's goal to regain her youth is the central plot point. Some dumbass kids decide to test this out and become caught up with the witch trying to kill them. It's nothing we haven't seen a million times and done better mind you. There's more to it than this though, because there are so many pointless plot elements thrown into the mix that are either contrivances or lead to nowhere. This is a perfect example of a story that must have been comprised of multiple scripts thrown into a blender: you've got something about a new girl, a dead grandpa who was a magician (that's sound so much dumber when writing it), shenanigans with the police and pranks, a shifty dad who seemed like he would be important, a disappearing car, some irrelevant forest ranger, a convenient ability to fight witches, and random romantic subplots clearly meant to be for a different film. You'd be surprised by how much is going on in this film even though the overall plot is ridiculously simplistic: witch eats people, that mess with her house, to stay young. My last complaints are that the film lacks scares and that some of the acting is bad, but it was much better than I thought it would be. Now, why do I like this film even with all of that? Because the characters and their interactions with each other were great, light horror is so rare that it was refreshing, and the film had a general sense of heart put into the production. The characters were, by far, the highlight of the film for me since it felt like something out of "The Goonies" or "The Monster Squad." I loved the banter between the main brothers, Max and Zach; Zach threatening to put a picture of Max "jacking off" on Facebook was hilarious and felt real. Zach's friend, Carter, saying Zach is only acting tough to impress the new girl, Julie, and Max's friend, Sammy, and the main cop, Karl, giving each other the finger after they beat the witch were such awesome moments among many others. There was a certain level of comradery that made the dialogue feel real or at least entertaining; the film successfully made me care about the characters and want to know more about them. Connected to this notion were the main romantic subplots I mentioned. I liked the development of these relationships even if they felt a bit out of place. I especially enjoyed the relationship between Max and Sammy since it's your typical best friends who love each other thing, but it was dealt with interestingly. Now, I'm not saying these conversations are anything award winning, but if you view it in the context of a family horror it was decent drama. Also, you just knew that witch was going to be a hot chick under all that makeup! Going back to what I said earlier, if you simply toned down the dialogue, removed a few gorier deaths, and took out the token sex scenes (no nudity anyway), this would be kid-friendly and would have worked better as such. I think that may have been a big turnoff for some, because it felt as if the film was written to be childish but later spiced up for effect; it's really difficult to shoehorn more mature themes in at the last second. If this isn't the case, well, then they're just fucking retarded. Finally, there was just this sense of heart to what I was seeing as if the pointless characters and plot elements meant more to the crew than was displayed to the audience. It's hard to explain because this isn't the typical zany antics you'd find in a serious horror film and comes off as merely stupid to casual viewers. Maybe I'm seeing more than there really is? Anyway, this film is far from great, that's for sure, but it surprised me by how much better it was than the reviews out there make it out to be. Like I said, picture it as a more adult episode of "The Haunting Hour" and it's decent enough. Expect this to be a scary and straight horror film and you will be in for a big shock. If this film were polished to be more serious, or toned down to be more family-oriented, I would have rated it higher. As it stands, this is a mildly entertaining film highlighted by interesting characters but deterred by stupidity, bad effects, and no scares. Worth a rental no doubt, but not much beyond that unless you can appreciate the characters.

Notable Moment: Honestly, when Sammy and Max are making out. I wanted more to their story to be developed and maybe even the focus of the film. But I guess that is the total loser in me speaking out.

Final Rating: 5.5/10

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Oz the Great and Powerful Review



Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: A carnival con man is transported to the magical world of Oz where he discovers he is destined to save its people.

Review: I will admit I am not well versed on the many books, and I have no idea how faithful of an adaptation this film was to any of those, but these facts did not stop me from enjoying the movie. I should also note that this is a Disney film so expect a certain formula ripe with their own self-created cliches. The movie begins by homaging the original '39 version of "The Wizard of Oz" with black and white film when in the "real world" while transitioning to color when in the world of Oz. This was a nice touch, and there were even a few shots using old-school tactics, I most certainly appreciate, such as the close-up of a character's eyes lit up while the rest of their face is obscured by no lighting (I'm sure there's a name for this technique). The lead character is also nicknamed Oz, played somewhat awkwardly by James Franco, who is a wannabe magician that even considers himself a con man. While Mr. Franco does an adequate job, there are many moments when he seems confused on how to play the character; I do not blame this on the director since that's Sam Raimi, and I know Mr. Raimi would have a clear vision of how he wanted things judging by his many past films; speaking of which, you know this will lead to obligatory cameos by Ted Raimi and Bruce Campbell! The main problem lies with, what many have criticized about the whole film, a miscast of the actors playing the roles.

Oz only cares about money, is selfish, and is an apparent womanizer as he seems to be involved with multiple women within his traveling sideshow. When one of the boyfriends of these women finds out, they chase Oz until he flees in a hot-air balloon. To Oz's great distress, the balloon is heading directly toward a tornado that immediately pulls him in. Much like Dorothy, Oz then finds himself safe and sound within the world of Oz coming into contact with the witch, Theodora, played by the beautiful Mila Kunis. Again, there is this sense that someone else would have been better suited for the Theodora character than Ms. Kunis, but she did a commendable job trying to fill such an iconic role. The naive Theodora is captivated by Oz because she believes he is the destined wizard that will reign as king and defeat the Wicked Witch terrorizing their land. She is likewise dazzled by Oz's tricks believing they are true magic, and, after he applies his charms on her, Theodora finds herself with a crush and hoping to be Oz's queen. Furthermore, Oz saves a flying monkey, named Finley, who pledges to be Oz's lifelong servant as a means of gratitude; Finley essentially serves as Oz's moral compass throughout the film. After being taken to Emerald City, Oz meets Theodora's sister and fellow witch, Evanora, played by Rachel Weisz, who is weary that Oz is the actual wizard foretold about. Seeing the mountain of gold he will receive, and swimming in it Scrooge McDuck-style, Oz works up the nerve to go after the Wicked Witch with Finley at his side. While they follow the classic yellow-brick road, they come across a village, full of creatures made of china, that was destroyed by the flying baboons with one lone survivor dubbed China Girl. After Oz uses some glue to repair her legs, China Girl decides to join Oz and Finley after some coercion. The group finally runs into the so-called Wicked Witch who turns out to be Glinda the Good Witch, played by Michelle Williams doing her best to fill in yet another famous role. Glinda informs the group that Evanora is the actual Wicked Witch and that she killed Glinda's father, the former king. The group then narrowly escapes the flying baboons as Evanora had been watching the group through a crystal ball and ordered her minions to attack. Sensing some resistance from her powerful sister, Evanora manipulates Theodora into believing Oz was tricking her and that he was only nice to her for personal gain. Theodora becomes heartbroken and Evanora offers her a magic apple that she promises will make her pain subside but actually unleashes the evil within turning her into the classic green-skinned Wicked Witch. Two things: from here we see Theodora become a cartoonish villain with no reconciliation of who she was; I would have preferred there was more of a romantic storyline with Oz trying to bring back Theodora. The other thing is that Ms. Kunis made the witch sexy! The original film had her looking more like an archetypal witch, but here she came off attractive. Or maybe I'm just a weirdo? Anyway, Glinda brings Oz to the majority of the land's people in an attempt to rally them to retake the Emerald City. There is a funny part where Oz tells the Munchkins to please not sing! Knowing Oz is not a real wizard, Glinda nd Oz plot a means to trick the Wicked Witches into believing he does indeed possess great powers; using all of the citizen's skills, they devise an elaborate plan to infiltrate and assault Emerald City. The first phase of their plan involves using scarecrows to trick the flying baboons into entering the infamous poppy fields that make you sleep "forever;" however, Glinda is still captured by a few baboons. Then Oz allows himself to be spotted raiding the treasure room and once again fleeing in his balloon that is shot down by Theodora. With this, they use a projector-like device that Finley and Oz snuck into the heart of the city to make it appear as though Oz is a giant, ethereal head using fireworks as if they are blasts of energy. Feeling outmatched, Evanora runs away where she is later confronted and defeated by Glinda thus turning her into an old woman, but she escapes with aid from the flying baboons. Theodora flies away on her broom after Oz says she is still welcomed in the Emerald City if she should ever choose to change her ways. Why couldn't they have played up this angle more?! With the Wicked Witches gone, Oz and his crew design the throne room to play his projection and maintain the illusion he's immortal. For their assistance, Oz gives gifts to those that helped the most much as he did in "The Wizard of Oz." This part was heartfelt and even felt more meaningful than the '39 film. The films ends with Oz and Glinda getting together although I would have preferred Oz and Theodora...or me and Theodora green or not!

I don't understand why the reviews have been so harsh for this film because it is a solid family-adventure while paying tribute to the '39 film. For example, we see the lion, we saw scarecrows, we see the Tin Man's creator, and even meet who is implied to be Dorothy's mom, just to name a few. The acting is shaky from time to time, probably because of the miscast debate I already mentioned, but for the most part things still work. The story probably won't be as beloved as the original, but it doesn't deter from the fact that it stands well on its own. It could have used more depth especially in regards to Theodora and more background on Evanora's motives. While I don't think this is a run out to the theater right now situation, this is most certainly worth a rental or buy. If you see this, go in with an open mind and don't expect it to be like the '39 film since this was meant more to be a reboot than a true prequel.

Notable Moment: When you first see Theodora fully transformed into the Wicked Witch. I was curious as to how they would handle the makeup, but they managed to pull it off excellently.

Final Rating: 7/10

She's working it! Ms. Kunis is quite attractive regardless!

Alone Review



Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: After her mother has a stroke, a woman returns to her childhood home in Thailand where she comes face to face with the ghost of her dead twin.

Review: Let me first say that this shouldn't be confused with a Korean movie also made in 2007 called "The Evil Twin" because the two do bear a resemblance. From the writer and director duo of my favorite horror film, "Shutter," is this followup attempt that does a decent job at maintaining the same level of scares. Unfortunately, it is nowhere near the level of awesomeness despite becoming a bigger financial success. The main faults reside within the story as it follows the same approach and most of the same themes as "Shutter" but in a significantly weaker manner. The plot is straightforward as a couple living in Korea, named Pim and Wee, are informed that Pim's mother had a stroke which leads to the couple returning to Thailand to resolve various issues. The drama comes from the fact that Pim has not spoken to her mother since the death of her twin sister, Ploy. Pim and Ploy had been born conjoined twins, and so there is a lot of emphasis on their strong bond to each other; however something happened between the two leading to surgical separation and resulting in Ploy's mysterious death. You will notice early on that the story is presented through various flashbacks building up to the surgery, and whatever happened to Ploy, while strategically building tension in the present. The flashbacks do provide an interesting way to hype the mystery as you know Pim is holding back the worst memories as well as the truth. I should note that the many twin actresses, especially the one playing the ghost, and the lead, played by Marsha Wattanapanich, do a fantastic job presenting the many stages of Pim and Ploy's life together while successfully engaging the audience in their relationship. Speaking of said ghost, she does look pretty damn scary with strong makeup effects worthy of rivaling "Shutter." But while I understand they wanted to provide a different look, this ghost is not as scary as Natre, nor as relentless, with her appearances much more limited. Regardless, the ghost is most certainly the highlight and strongest aspect to the film. Anyway, it is established that Pim is essentially the good one and Ploy was the bad one with typical reasons for her behavior like jealousy, false sense of betrayal, etc. I would have preferred more complexity to the dynamics of their relationship, but I understand the necessity to keep it simple. In the present, Pim begins to see Ploy haunting her while falling apart mentally from obvious guilt. Wee thinks that it is just her bottled up emotions coming out since it has been so long since she was home and decides to call up a psychiatrist friend. At first Pim is reluctant, but after accidentally running over their dog and seeing more of Ploy, she reconsiders. At this point we learn that Wee was the wedge that drove the two sisters apart because he liked Pim and obviously Ploy was jealous because she also liked Wee. The closer Pim and Wee became, the more enraged Ploy became trying to sabotage their efforts to be together. The final event to divide the two was a picture Wee drew of Pim "alone." I'll be honest, some of Wee's actions seem messed up considering he knew how jealous Ploy was, but they were just teens with a crush at the time so I can forgive his idiocy; likewise, Wee does feel guilty he drove the two apart since he was apparently oblivious to the turmoil in the girls' relationship. At this point, Pim is starting to go off the deep-end at the exact moment the mother awakens long enough to tell Wee a little revelation. Okay, this twist is not surprising in the least, you could see it coming a million miles away, and there are way too many clues given in the film that I find it hard to imagine someone would not figure this out: Pim is actually Ploy, and Ploy took Pim's identity to have Wee for herself. After Ploy went crazy and strangled Pim, the two had the surgery to remove Pim's dead body which led to her moving away, and later meeting up with Wee, all the while the mom refused to ever speak with Ploy. This level of predictability really hurt the film for me because it's as if they're beating you over the head with it all film long. Every time the ghost appears it is on Pim's side when they were conjoined, "Pim" is holding back the truth but what could she possibly be hiding other than this, she replaces the dog with the exact same dog breed and gives it the same name, her crazy tendencies aren't like the Pim we see in flashbacks, and just everything begs the audience to figure this out too early. Now that Wee knows this, Ploy plans to kill him because he won't accept her as his girlfriend/wife (it's never clear) any longer. Amidst this chaos, the house is lit on fire and the two take quite a beating until Ploy gains the upper hand which leads to Pim's ghost intervening and scaring Ploy. Wee drops a large cabinet on top of Ploy trapping her as he escapes and Pim's ghost holds her in place until she burns. The film ends with the two reunited in death at the same grave playing Ploy's favorite song. There are a lot of strong points to this film because it is scary and there are some creative scares even when subtle like "Pim" walking on the beach with a second set of footprints beside her. There is a nice flow to the pacing and the flashbacks do provide an interesting presentation to the mystery. The acting is strong and the relationship of the characters felt tragic and invests the audience. But the ending and twist were predictable to the point that it was detrimental to the film as a whole; I honestly would have rated this much higher had it been more original or less obvious at least. At the same time, it follows "Shutter's" formula too closely with the same focus on 3 characters: the oblivious spouse, the liar, and a rightfully vengeful spirit, among many other similar aspects. I hate to compare it to "Shutter" so much because that's not entirely fair, but it's necessary to address the high expectations one would have after seeing "Shutter." This is most certainly worth a view or more because it's a solid horror film with some great scenes, but be weary of the predictable twist.

Notable Moment: At the end when the twins reunite so to speak. That look on ghost Pim's face is priceless in the most disturbing way.

Final Rating: 6.5/10

Blood Night: The Legend of Mary Hatchet Review


Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: With the death of a murderous woman, a local holiday arises as a time for mischief and parties. But is the woman truly dead?

Review: I probably liked this film much more than I should, but despite the cliched nature to most of the story, it's fairly entertaining. Also, it stars one of my lifelong crushes, the lovely Danielle Harris, whom I have mentioned several times since she's one of the few "scream queens" still out there. Rest assured, I plan to get to many more of Ms. Harris' work at some point, but many of her films are near impossible to get ahold of. I'd like to add she is definitely not wasted, and I could not imagine a better use for her in a low budget film such as this. Even though it's never really expressed, there's definitely this '80s slasher vibe to the whole experience, perhaps even unintentional. So, there's some menstrual disorder that can make women crazy (aren't they all anyway?! Thanks, I'll be here all night!), which I cannot remember the name because the movie only mentioned it once written on a file, which makes some girl go berserk, out of the blue, and murder her family. This is a real disorder although it obviously doesn't make you a serial killer...as far as we know. So she is locked up in a mental institution like everyone seems to be; doesn't anyone ever simply go to prison for their crimes? After being raped by some guard, she becomes pregnant, which, for some reason, the staff allows her to keep, and the guard is only mentioned once more in passing (wtf? Nice to know this place has integrity). After giving birth, they inform the woman that the baby died which leads her to start another massacre of the staff as she escapes only to be gunned down by police. Although, is it standard procedure to shoot a naked, unarmed woman? Well, to be fair, she was carrying a decapitated head. In response to the massacre, over the next 20 years, the town starts their own makeshift holiday called, you guessed it, blood night, and the woman is renamed Mary Hatchet since that was her weapon of choice. Pretty much think of this event as similar to mischief night (October 30th) in the USA, for those familiar with that, except more emphasis on blood. I really liked this concept since it opened up many possibilities for the story, and, even though this isn't original, it hasn't been done in a while. So we're then introduced to a slew of one-dimensional characters that will obviously be used as fodder later; they are annoying, but thankfully only the level of annoying that you want them to die, but not so annoying you want to turn the movie off. A smaller group of the fodder first goes to the graveyard where Mary's grave resides to hold a pathetic excuse for a seance. This leads to one hilarious homage character, named Graveyard Gus, played interestingly by horror alumni Bill Moseley. His clothes, and much of his demeanor are an obvious tribute to Crazy Ralph from "Friday the 13th" which I'm not touching that franchise until the next actual Friday the 13th. Now, at first you might think this film is going the supernatural route, but not quite, although this graveyard scene could hold significance by the end. Eventually all of the fodder gather at someone's house which leads to the introduction of the final character, Alissa, played by the previously mentioned Ms. Harris. After what would appear to be a few hours of partying, we finally see our pool of idiots begin to dwindle with the killer jumping into action. Most get cut up decently, but they could have amped up the mayhem and gore for a movie like this. I'd like to say that the movie keeps you guessing, but it's painfully obvious that the killer is none other than our dear Ms. Harris; by the way, I was loving the sexy schoolgirl getup she had going on. But before the idiots figure this out, they attempt to run away conveniently running into Graveyard Gus again. Easily convinced that someone is killing their friends, and believing it's the ghost of Mary, Gus wants to go to the mental institute and reunite the body of the baby with the body of Mary. They quickly realize that the baby is not there and try to find the hospital's (institute, whatever the fuck!) records to gain some insight. For exposition purposes, the files tell the audience virtually everything, including things that most certainly would not be there, revealing that Alissa was, in fact, Mary's daughter. It's at this moment that Alissa shows up ready to dispatch of what's left of the idiots. While I don't mind Alissa being the killer, let's face it, Ms. Harris is just under 5 feet tall and not intimidating at all. No one tries to fight her until the very end even though they're a group and most are men! When it is down to the final two people, that's when the last guy does finally try to fight her, and, it shouldn't come as a shock, he easily kills her because she is a petite woman! So, it's over, right? Happy ending? Of course not! The ghost of Mary pops up and kills the surviving idiots! Now before you or I knock how stupid and nonsensical that ending is, it might actually be explainable with support from the film. Gus mentions that there were people allegedly killed by the ghost of Mary, the seance did have some weird shit happen, there were a few moments when there had to have been a second person helping Allisa, and then there's why Alissa even went crazy to begin with since her friend in the film mentions that she was always normal. Her motive is that she has the same menstrual disorder, but why would this afflict her now since she's supposed to be 19 or 20 at this point. Well it may have been because they stirred up the ghost in the first place or maybe even some kind of possession. Regardless, this is too much analyzation for this kind of a film! Overall, there's some seriously bad acting, weak characters, mostly tame deaths, and a questionable ending, story, and killer's motive. On the other hand, the makeup effects were good on ghost Mary, decent homages and a retro feel, having a female killer is always welcomed, and stars Danielle Harris as said killer. There are most certainly some great ideas here even if they aren't applied properly. This is worth a view for sure especially if you're a fan of Ms. Harris, as she quite easily steals the show. Or, give this a watch if enjoy these kind of cheap, low budget horror films, but, once again, don't go in expecting much.

Notable Moment: When Alissa is coming at the remaining kids with a pickaxe and they run away rather than trying to stop her as a group! Pure shenanigans.

Final Rating: 5.5/10

The ever endearing Ms. Harris:

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

616: Paranormal Incident Review



Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: A group of idiotic FBI agents investigate some hospital/prison/mental institution/whatever the fuck that is supposedly haunted.

Review: You will often notice my leniency for movies that are so bad they're good. Unfortunately, this sorry excuse for a film is not one of those. To say that this film is terrible is far too generous...I have honestly watched better home movies than this. This is on par with a movie my sisters and I made when we were little kids which was edited by means of the pause/play button! Bad writing and story. Check. Bad acting. Check. Bad direction, production, characters, pacing, and dialogue. Bet your sweet ass that's a check. But you think it stops there? Oh no, not this piece of shit. They had to take this out of the realm of bad movie and into pure shit territory after all! Let's add horrendous audio whereby you can barely hear half the dialogue. Add a dash of ridiculously blinding shit lighting for good measure. Now round out this recipe for disaster with a predictable and senseless ending! Can you taste that? Yum, tastes like shit! Now, is it the worst movie ever? No, but that's only because they weren't trying hard enough. You see, the absolute worst pieces of shit were trying which makes them so legendary. This was merely an instance of idiots trying to gain more credits on their resume or something, because I can't imagine much of a market for this level of incompetence. To begin, this film is in found-footage style which they probably hoped would mask many of the technical flaws like the lighting and audio issues. It's so pointless too, because even though we are supposedly seeing events through the eyes of the cameras they're using, we have multiple shots that are coming from cameras that are clearly not theirs! Anyway, the story is that there is allegedly some aspect of the FBI that investigates paranormal incidents as some kind of makeshift task force. Imagine a cross between the "X-Files" and the video game "F.E.A.R." You know what, better yet, imagine asking a ten year old to write a script about the government fighting supernatural creatures and they'd probably come up with something like this. This task force or whatever is a complete joke. They are unprofessional, dressed like Han Solo, stupid, and inconsistent in every regard; one minute they're not scared of anything, the next they're screaming like giddy schoolgirls. Not to mention, they seemed completely unprepared to fight anything. Hell, I could take these idiots in a fight that's for sure. I take back what I said in my review for "The Collection," this group is significantly dumber and less capable. So the retarded task force finds some woman lying around and lock her up. For some reason, they believe she is connected to other paranormal incidents throughout history involving the number 616. While this is an obvious ripoff of a thousand movies, I didn't mind it since it was pretty much the only interesting aspect of the film. Big fucking shock, the woman claims to be the devil which is funny because apparently a line a salt can keep the devil at bay! Throughout the film the team is slowly picked off while they investigate...wait, you know, what the fuck were they even investigating?! They have the woman so why are they still roaming around alone even once members of the team start to die? What are they hoping to find at this point? UGH it's sooooo fucking stupid! Eventually the leader of the task force shows up with some flunkies as they attempt to extract the woman permanently. This leads to the woman escaping and killing the rest of the team in the most pathetic of fight scenes. The only survivor is the third in command, I guess, and he is somehow blamed for the deaths even though he clearly has physical evidence he didn't do it? Uh, okay. So the film ends with some random lady (his wife/girlfriend/lover/prostitute/random dumb fuck), which, let me say, has one of biggest mouths I have ever seen, receiving the footage for whatever reason and then the woman/devil shows up for no apparent reason. And that's the movie ladies and gentlemen! Fuck, this movie sucks! Virtually everything about it sucks! It fails on every front imaginable. Even though I hate it more, I think I'd rather watch "Howling VII" over this and that is certainly saying something! Okay, maybe I'm going a little overboard on that one. The ONLY redeeming qualities to this film are some okay looking girls, the 616 connection was okay, and the makeup effects were surprisingly decent; whoever did the makeup effects for this shit, you are leagues ahead of these idiots in talent! I think this is supposed to be like an ongoing plot of some sort for the crew because there's another movie called "Paranormal Incident" with a few of the same characters and actors, while other films from the same crew have the characters and actors in cameos. Eh, whatever. Don't anticipate me watching those pieces of shit anytime soon. Whatever you do, do not waste money on this movie! If you feel compelled to see this shit because you're a masochist, just know it is the boring kind of shitty movie and not the entertaining shit like "The Room." Grr...you've been warned.

Notable Moment: There's too many idiotic moments, but I suppose the absolute worst is when the supposed head of the task force is arguing with one of his goons over who has the keys to the hummer. I mean, seriously?!

Final Rating: 2.5/10

Monday, March 18, 2013

Sadako 3D Review


Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: Some bitch boy tries to resurrect the vengeful spirit of Sadako in order to exact revenge of some sort.

Review: I have never fully understood the shenanigans going on in the "Ringu" franchise outside of the more straightforward first entry. Well, if you were as confused as I was about what it was all supposed to mean, why was there more than one Sadako, what films were canon, where the fuck did Sadako actually come from, or just a general wonder about what the hell is going on, don't worry, because this film pretty much ignores all of that! This is technically the fifth entry in the franchise but third chronologically, thus, I suppose, the point of making it 3-D. Or did Japan simply want to capitalize on the annoying trend to make a film in 3-D? Regardless, the 3-D sucks ass. Not only is it far too spread out, but it's pretty much one of the same three shots: either Sadako's hand coming out of something, someone falling in slow motion, or glass flying also in slow motion. "But how is the movie, Ryan?!" Well, it sucks almost as much ass as the 3-D! Say what you will about the shitty sequels, but they were at least trying something with each of those; this was a pure cash-in. You know it's a bad sign when the plot is paper thin. Remember all those ripoffs of "Ringu" over the years? Well, this movie essentially just ripped off the ripoffs. Yeah, let that one sink in for a second. So some little bitch boy is mad because people made fun of his shitty art (aww boo fucking hoo). In response, he somehow figures out who Sadako was, and her backstory, and kind of just makes up his own way of resurrecting her in order to let her loose upon the world. So now instead of a video tape, Sadako's spirit is trapped within a video file of the emo bitch boy committing suicide. Hmm, suicide by Sadako...interesting. The movie keeps playing up this bitch boy as if he will somehow become relevant to the plot, but he never does. What we get is some loose understanding that Sadako wants an actual body to possess. Conveniently enough, our lead, Akane, has psychic powers similar to Sadako when she was alive. Akane is played by the lovely Satomi Ishihara who you may remember me mentioning in my review of "The Incite Mill." There is a meager attempt to contrast Sadako's turn to evil from her powers to Akane who uses her powers to help people, but it's fundamentally wasted. All the scenes that were meant to be dramatic, or give us depth on the characters, feel so shallow, boring, and/or flat out stupid. For example, Akane as a teen was planning on committing suicide because everyone hated her, but her boyfriend stopped her by pretty much just saying stop. And that's all it took! While all this is going on, two bumbling detectives are trying to uncover whatever dumb mystery there is to solve. This leads to one of the most ridiculous directions to a plot I have ever watched. After her boyfriend gets captured, somehow, by Sadako, Akane is convinced by the one detective to go to the well that Sadako was thrown in and stop her spirit. As soon as they get there, Sadako kills the detective and Akane takes off. Fuck, I mean what the hell was the point then?! So this is the great plan: show up, someone dies, then run away?! From here, Sadako multiplies into many grasshopper-esque monsters that look pifitul with shitty CGI. Plus, since when was Sadako an actual monster per se? She's supposed to be a ghost. Well whatever, after briefly delving into an action film as Akane fights her way through the horde, Sadako finally shows herself in her true form to try and merge with Akane. Amidst this nonsense, Akane's boyfriend breaks free and destroys the camera phone that is, presumably, containing Sadako's spirit. With this, Akane is freed and Sadako goes back to hell or Sadako-world or wherever. The end. Good lord this movie fails monumentally. There are virtually no scares; if you aren't scared of Sadako's hand coming out of a screen every ten minutes, then you have nothing to be afraid of. The story moves slowly despite more emphasis on action and leaves you feeling as if finishing the film is a chore. They pretty much did everything wrong you could do while still managing to alienate fans of the franchise. On the other hand, the film borders that sensitive line of so-bad-it's-good territory which is why I didn't rate this lower. I was laughing a lot during this shit, and I'd imagine many others would as well. In the end, it was entertaining enough to label mediocre and call it a night. You don't need to know almost anything about the other films to enjoy this entry, so there's that. But, I could not possibly recommend this film unless you have time to kill or are an actual fan of the franchise.

Notable Moment: When you see the ridiculously cheap-looking, CGI Sadakos running around. Did no one think this was a bad idea?

Final Rating: 5/10

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Video Game Review: The Mass Effect Trilogy

Introduction: I have taken a break from movies yet again to go back and replay the entire Mass Effect trilogy from beginning to end with all DLCs to experience the story in its absolute entirety. I should note that I have beaten all three games 5 or more times each! Not only is the first ME one of my top 10 favorite games of all time (yes I will get to that at some point), but the trilogy as a whole is an amazing glimpse into great storytelling and a rich universe full of fantastic lore and compelling characters. If you have no clue about this franchise, I would highly suggest you look into it or just go out and start playing the games. Things are kind of complicated, but if you read on I will make things much easier for you. Yes, I played these games on the X-box so let's get that out of the way, and, suffice to say, massive spoilers lie ahead!



The Story: Let me start of by giving some background information: ME is a role-playing game whereby you play as a guy/girl named "Commander Shepard" and you essentially live the journey as you traverse the galaxy in an effort to save galactic civilization from impending doom. You can customize the character to look as closely to yourself as you wish or do what you will. You can choose to be a good guy referred to as a "paragon" or you can choose to be a little punkass referred to as a "renegade." There is also the ability to find love (or sex) with multiple characters as romance options. Personally, I always craft a character that looks as closely to the real me as possible, usually play as paragon, and always romance the asari, Liara. Gotta have love for my blue goddess!

Anyway, in 2148 humanity uncovered alien artifacts on Mars that led to the discovery of huge devices used for travel around the galaxy called mass relays. Through these mass relays, spaceships can travel the galaxy at unbelievable speeds which led to humans slowly becoming members of an intergalactic community comprised of many unique alien species and cultures. The heart of this society resides on a giant space station called the Citadel. The story begins in 2183 as Commander Shepard (aka you) finds himself/herself investigating a mysterious beacon left from a long extinct alien race called the Protheans. These Protheans are believed to be the creators of the mass relays and the Citadel, but they vanished suddenly so any artifacts are highly valuable since they may answer the mystery or contain advanced technology. Shepard is being overseen by a Spectre, a super elite soldier, handpicked by the Citadel's council to represent their interests as well as to monitor you for possible entry into the ranks of the Spectres. Before the mission to retrieve the beacon even begins, the planet suddenly becomes under attack by a giant spaceship and robotic aliens, known as the geth, whom no one has seen for decades. Amidst the chaos to find the beacon, you stumble upon humans transformed by the geth into cyborg-esque zombies as well as the murder of the Spectre overseer by another Spectre called Saren. As you eventually interact with the beacon, you realize Saren is working with the geth in order to unleash a race of advanced machines known as the Reapers. It would seem these Reapers killed the Protheans and then vanished into darkspace at the edge of the galaxy for some unspecified reason. You eventually return to the Citadel in an attempt to warn the council of what is coming, but they refuse to believe it, only acknowledging that Saren has gone rogue after much prodding; in turn they make you the first human Spectre in history. This leads to you building up a crew and being put in charge of your own ship, the Normandy.

From here there are only 6 major story related missions, albeit long ones, with additional sidequests of their own. What I like to do before playing all those missions is to first knock out all the sidequests in the game since you are able to access any number of solar systems and planets that you can land. Trust me, the game keeps you busy enough. But I like that they offer you a straight path as well if you so choose to skip the extras. However, you will most certainly be rewarded for exploration and you will gain much more experience and levels through this. Toward the end of the game you find yourself on a former Prothean world, Illos, that was once meant to be home to a cryogenics facility. You learn that every 50,000 years the Reapers appear to "harvest" all life in the galaxy and that this current cycle is coming to an end. The Protheans did not actually build the Citadel or the mass relays, and that was, in fact, the work of the Reapers too. Saren's huge spaceship is in fact a Reaper itself, and it is attempting to use the Citadel to unlock a huge mass relay to unleash all the other Reapers to harvest this current cycle. The geth are just mindless followers believing the Reapers are gods and Saren himself is simply under a form of brainwashing, known as indoctrination, whereby your thoughts become that of the Reaper's goals. Shepard and crew make it back to the Citadel as it has come under attack by geth forces, the Reaper spaceship, called Sovereign, and Saren has infiltrated the council chambers. After fighting your way through hundreds of geth you either kill Saren or convince him to kill himself after realizing he's being controlled. Unfortunately, Saren's body comes under control of Sovereign and you must fight him again even more powerful. With Saren's second defeat, Sovereign is momentarily crippled allowing the alien fleets to take him out. With all this done, you have saved the galaxy...for now. The Reapers are still out there and the time to prepare has come! The ending feels quite satisfying and epic.

The Characters: By far, the strongest parts of ME are it's story and, of course, the characters that help build that story. Let me start off with my main love interest, Liara, who is an asari: a race of all blue women who can "meld minds." I'd say they are two parts vulcan and one part every man's fantasy! They can live for a 1000 years or more and go through 3 phases of life as they reach a sense of enlightenment and great biotic powers. Liara is an archeologist who was studying the ruins of Protheans when you recruit her, because she is the daughter of Saren's main lacky, Benezia. In the first game, she is more of an innocent scientist that is a bit of an outsider, but she becomes impressed with Shepard's remarkable willpower and determination. To be fair, the love interests are a little weaker in the first game, but the overall love interest of Liara is epic by the end of the trilogy. I can't recommend choosing her enough even if you're female as well. Now for my best friend in the trilogy, the turian, Garrus. Turians I'd say are closest to humans' personality, but they focus a lot on military efforts. Garrus starts off a bit naive and too cynical of the galactic system yet still manages to be too idealistic. Garrus is a complicated guy, but if anyone has your back throughout the trilogy, he is your man. Trying to give Garrus a run for his money in the cool department is the krogan, Wrex. Krogans are like the badasses of the galaxy as they are big, bulky, and have a temper. They were a somewhat primitive race given too much technology too soon which led to them trying to take over the galaxy with their superior numbers and strength. In response, the galactic community introduced a genetic modifier, called the genophage, to reduce their numbers permanently. Wrex isn't all that bothered by this at first because he believes krogans need to reclaim a proper place in the galaxy again without so much fighting. Wrex has some interesting stories to tell as well as some of the best lines in the game. You have an option to kill him at some point, but I would seriously recommend you reconsider such a decision! Speaking of life and death decisions, you're initial crew are Kaiden and Ashley since they are both human soldiers you gain on the first mission. Kaiden is a biotic which is like a telepathic warrior and Ashley is just a straight up fighter. At some point you will have to sacrifice one to complete a mission, but it's a tough decision of which to choose because both can be really boring or annoying depending on your outlook. Kaiden is laid back but there isn't much depth to him outside of him being forced into becoming a biotic rather than it coming naturally. Ashley always rubbed me the wrong way because she hates aliens and whines too much about her family. But since I prefer her strength in battle, I usually choose to keep her alive. Next is Tali, who is basically just a teenage quarian, on a rite of passage for her culture that attempts to search the galaxy for something useful to bring back to her fleet. The quarians built the geth centuries ago, but they rebelled and kicked the quarians off their own homeworld. Now they roam the galaxy aimlessly in spaceships trying to slowly build strength to fight back against the geth. Also, due to their weak immune systems, they live inside suits to protect them from diseases. Tali is fun, but her young age prevents her as a romance option. She is always so amazed by everything and it is interesting hearing what she has to say. Rounding out this team is Joker, although not playable, who is the human pilot of the Normandy. Let's just say he earns his nickname many times in the franchise as he offers much comedic relief. There are many great supporting characters like your mentor, Anderson, but it is the core cast that makes the game so excellent. Later you will gain further insight on the characters and see how awesome building up the relationships can be when they carry over from game to game.

My main squeeze, Liara!


The Highlights: Obviously, as I mentioned, the characters are so rich and fun. But besides them and the great story, the gameplay is fun and feels rewarding as you get increased skills and better weapons and armor. I loved the genuine progression in strength to that final badass state by games end. This is especially entertaining when you factor in the new game plus mode; the other entries never left me feeling powerful which sucked. The music is incredible and arguably the best in the trilogy. This is probably as close as we may get to a free roam game in space, but it could use some refinement, because there isn't much to see on the planets and going on foot is not recommended at all. While the renegade/paragon gimmick is reminiscent to other games (even from Bioware themselves), I liked that the choices you make in game make a lasting impression of how the story progresses. Even your gender can open up different dialogue options. These choices make the replayability through the roof! Lastly, the ending to this game felt the best and most satisfying; the story felt complete but that there was a long war ahead of ourselves. The other two games couldn't give me that sense of closure while also exciting me about the next entry.

The Downside: That fucking Mako! It controls like shit and does nothing but annoy the living fuck out of you! Honestly, if that were removed from the game and we were given the Hammerhead or just something with solid controls, this would be a perfect game. Sure there were some design flaws, with repeated landscapes and areas, along with a shoddy cover system, but I can forgive those things since that was not uncommon at the time in games while it was also forerunning the franchise as a whole.

The DLC: There were only 2 DLCs for the first game, but they are notably cheaper than the rest in the franchise; only $5 a piece. Also, I believe the "Bring Down the Sky" mission is free with the game of the year edition anyway. Even though these DLCs aren't all that great, considering you can probably get one for free, and both are 10 bucks tops combined, I'd recommend just getting them. Neither are all that critical to the later games though so if the carry over effect is what you want most then don't bother especially if you're on a tight budget.

Final Rating: 9.5/10 with or without DLC


The Story: Picking up a few months after ME, Shepard finds himself under attack by a new, mysterious enemy as the Normandy is not only destroyed, but you along with it! Over the next 2 years, your body is reconstructed by a seedy organization, called Cerberus, through the use of advanced technology. If you played enough sidequests in ME, you should have run into the organization and their exploits of illegal scientific experiments and just flat out evil exploits. This time they are trying to paint themselves more as a group just trying to work for the betterment of humanity at all costs even if the results sometimes appear horrific. At the helm of Cerberus is an equally shady leader only referred to as the Illusive Man. Rightfully so, Shepard does not trust them, but after learning human colonies in the galaxy are disappearing, with no one in the Citadel council giving a damn, you decide to work with Cerberus in order to uncover the mystery. It is revealed that those believed responsible for abducting human colonists are a rare alien race, called the collectors, whom have connections to the Reapers. To your surprise, Cerberus has also constructed a new Normandy for your command along with Joker returning as your pilot. You are then tasked with assembling a new team that can better combat this new threat and hopefully prevent whatever nefarious plan is underway.

The cool thing is that you can assemble the team in pretty much any order you desire, but you are required to  add a scientist called Mordin to help repel tiny insects the collectors use to immobilize humans. Other than Mordin, there are only a handful of characters you must recruit in order to trigger the next phases of the game. But unlike the first game, there are only 4 main story missions. To balance out how you play the game, the order of most missions do not matter at all and can actually be played after you complete the main story missions. This is a nice touch, because it puts more control in the hands of the player. So maybe you want to play just the bare bones or you want to save certain missions until after the main story, you have that option. Since you come to realize that the collectors are hiding in some system beyond, what is called, the Omega mass relay, your goal eventually turns into tracking them to that location. The only problem with this is that no one who has ever gone through the Omega relay has come back. This eventually is dubbed the "suicide mission" and, as such, your team members desire certain aspects of their lives resolved before they go on this mission they will probably not return from. This is further confirmed when you learn that the Omega relay leads to the center of the galaxy with nothing but black holes and supernovas. Somehow the collectors have constructed a base there with aid from the Reapers.

Your team is much larger and more varied than it was in the first game which is certainly a good thing! Like the first game, the cast is impressive with pretty much all really likable allies. Even though you don't have to, I prefer to play every sidequest, recruit every ally, and do everything there is to do before completing the main story since it feels more concise this way. Anyway, things become quite urgent because the collectors eventually abduct the crew of the Normandy once they realize all the trouble your giving them throughout the game. After successfully going through the Omega relay, you battle your way through collectors employing your team's skills to outsmart and outfight the collectors at each turn. By your journey's end you learn that the collectors are the ones that destroyed Shepard and the first Normandy, because the Reapers, led by the main Reaper, Harbinger, feel as though Shepard is a threat to ending this cycle. The reason for abducting the colonists is to melt them down and convert them into a new Reaper in the form of a human. The collectors themselves are unwitting pawns since they are genetically modified slaves of what was left of the original Protheans. As you attempt to blow the base up, you must then contend with what was created thus far of the human Reaper. With its defeat, the Illusive Man advises against destroying the collector's base since it could help them win the war against the Reapers, but I always chose to blow that bad boy up! This also serves as your resignation from Cerberus to boot. So with the defeat of the collectors, surviving the suicide mission (assuming you and your team survived), and assembling a loyal team, you then turn to preparing for the biggest fight of all: the Reapers themselves are coming! Needless to say, the action is awesome and the final fight feels epic. The ending leaves you anxious for more because you know you've only won one small battle in the war that lies ahead!

The Characters: Since the team is much larger, I will try to break things up more rather than just a giant wall of text (even though this whole thing is a wall!). There was also an increased emphasis on building relationships in this entry probably more than even ME3.

Miranda: She is a "Cerberus cheerleader" as some characters refer to her. She's a human hotty modeled after real life beauty, Yvonne Strahovski, who also serves as the voice actress. Miranda was the lead scientist working on resurrecting Shepard for the Illusive Man. She was constructed herself, so to speak, through genetic manipulation to be perfect by her controlling father. You will be reminded of this fact many, many times through perpetual closeups of her ass (not that I mind). While she comes off as a bitch, you eventually convert her to your way of thinking as she realizes that, even with perfect genes, Shepard has surpassed her and that his/her spark was forged rather than given. She also has a soft spot for her twin sister who she keeps hidden from her father and you must rescue.



Jacob: Often criticized as the most boring character of ME2, Jacob is another human lacky of Cerberus. He's an ex-Alliance soldier who desires to make some kind of difference since he knows things go on behind the galactic scenes that need to be taken care of. His issue is that his father seemingly died a decade ago but turns up alive and as a total douchebag. He's not hard to sway to Shepard's side because he knows a thing or two about the tough choices. While I think Jacob is a decent character, he is by far the worst love interest if you're playing female because he seriously screws you over in ME3.

Mordin: He's a salarian which are gecko-looking aliens. Salarians are notorious for their immense intelligence and rational thinking. Although they lack physical prowess, they are expert strategists, infiltrators, and scientists. Mordin had a hand in modifying the genophage that inflicts the krogans and there is some pent up resentment or guilt. Helping him resolve some of this guilt allows him to trust Shepard revealing his softer side like his singing. Mordin is another complicated character, but definitely an enjoyable one. He's also the most necessary to the team since he figures out a way you can fight the collectors.

Jack: She's a human and perhaps the most powerful biotic you run into throughout the franchise. With her immense power, she has plundered all over the galaxy wreaking havoc until she was put in a high-tech prison. As a child she was held captive and experimented on by Cerberus so needless to say she does not trust easily. She also comes off as a total bitch and extremely unstable and insane. But underneath the tough-girl attitude she is broken, with a little girl mentality, and quite sensitive, unable to trust anyone around her. She makes for an interesting romance, but I could never get past the shaved head! She eventually trusts Shepard after making her realize what really happened at the facility she was kept at and resolving her fears of the past.

Thane: He is a drell and a master assassin. Drell are like lizard/fish aliens that are small in number due to over-polluting their home world years ago. They came to live on the planet of another alien race called the hanar which are big jellyfish. As a small child, Thane was trained to be an assassin by the hanar as a part of an agreement the two species have. Through his philosophies and doctrines, he trained his mind to be separate from his body as he sees himself more of a tool than a person when he kills. Drell have amazing memories and so it was necessary to create the separation. But when his wife was killed by those seeking revenge against him, he finally murdered people without being told. This has led him to seek forgiveness accompanied by the fact he is dying. To gain his trust you must stop his son from following in his footsteps. Thane is most definitely an interesting guy since his outlook on life is new and refreshing.

Samara: She is another asari but much older than Liara. She's what is known as a Justicar, which is like a Jedi for the asari, as she travels the galaxy righting any wrongs. There is an elaborate code which she has memorized which helps guide her morality even if it involves killing anyone who gets in her way. The code appears strict, but it was meant to keep the universe in a black/white mentality. Due to the severity of the lifestyle, the Justicars only number in the hundreds. Her loyalty is easy to gain especially if you're playing as a paragon, because you two will share a mutual respect. But she requires you help her with a little matter of killing one of her daughters! Her daughter, Morinth, is an asari anomaly, called an ardat-yakshi, which drives one to kill anyone they come into contact with through the mind meld. Interestingly enough, you have the option to kill Samara and add Morinth to your team, but I would recommend against that.

Legion: Surprisingly, especially considering the first game, Legion is a geth. Displaying signs of true artificial intelligence and individuality, he attempts to help you stop the Reapers, because he says they are the ones that corrupted the geth in the first place. He has a weird fascination with you which turns out to be a great respect for Shepard even though you have killed many geth. Through your help, you attempt to convert geth back to the normal way of thinking and no longer see the Reapers as machine gods, and, in turn, gain Legion's loyalty. Legion is quite the interesting character since you never run into a geth like him, and he is much more human-like than he cares to admit.

Grunt: Unlike a regular krogan, Grunt was sort of a test tube baby grown to embody all the best of krogan DNA. He's basically like a little kid with hints at an early teenager. He sort of just wants to have fun, but at the same time seeks to understand his purpose and place in the universe. To gain his loyalty you simply have to bring him to the krogan home world, fight along his side in a rite of passage, and give him a place in a krogan clan. To my great delight, that clan just happens to be Wrex's!

Zaeed: He is yet another human and another assassin but more of a mercenary really. He seems to only care about money and to gain his loyalty you must help him try to kill his old partner; apparently the two originally started one of the largest mercenaries gangs in the galaxy, but Zaeed was betrayed. There's not too much to this guy since he was a DLC and mostly tacked on at the end.

Kasumi: She is another human, despite dressing much like a quarian, and a master thief. She likes to stay invisible as much as possible and lacks a bit of depth like Zaeed due to her being a DLC character. To gain her loyalty you must help her steal back a sort of memory box that belonged to her old partner, mentor, and lover. The only problem is that it's in the hands of a powerful crime lord.

Everyone Else: If this weren't enough, you also get Garrus and Tali back as squadmates as your learn more about them. Garrus has become a sort of Robin Hood hero much to the aggravation of criminals. To later regain his loyalty you must help he seek revenge or get over the deaths of the team he assembled to fight crime. Let's just say it's great to have Garrus back covering your butt in a fight! As for Tali, she is back with the quarians trying to figure out what is happening with the geth messing with stars since it could be a dangerous weapon. She is more grownup now if you seek to romance her, and to gain her loyalty you must represent her at a trial for treason and figure out what happened to her father who you learn died experimenting on geth. Unfortunately, you do not get to play with Liara, Wrex, or Ashley/Kaiden. Liara can have her romance furthered through DLC since she is out for revenge against the powerful information broker, the Shadowbroker. She is so determined because she was the one that got your remains back after the Shadowbroker acquired it; this is all the more touching if you romanced her. Wrex has merely settled down trying to unite the krogan clans under his banner. He has some good ideas, but I really wish he could have come with us on our journey! Ashley/Kaiden only appears once on a collector mission in which they disclose they no longer feel they can trust you since you're working with Cerberus. Beyond that, there isn't much interaction even if you romanced one of them. Besides these characters, the supporting cast is further strengthened as you get to know them better as well as lots of new people. Also, your interactions and relationships continue to develop and carry over from the last game as well as leading into the next game. Obviously building these relationships is a top priority in enjoying the story to its truest potential.

The Highlights: Again, the story and characters are by far the best part of any ME game since that is really the main reason anyone should be playing these games. But more to it than that, the "loyalty missions" for each character were an awesome idea that helped you choose to gain more depth to a character. There is a lot more to do here than the previous game outside of just bullshitting with the Mako. There are many, many sidequests even if most are just self-contained missions with little relevance. Despite this, I can see the experimentation with how to present the missions, and I appreciate that. Furthermore, the fact that many of your crew can die, because you didn't help bring out their best, makes things feel more rewarding when you work to play the game at its most optimal state. You also see the fruits of your labor first hand as you gain the necessary supplies to take on the collectors. One thing I truly appreciated was that most hidden items highlighted when entering a room which made it easier to track things down. Last, replayability is even more refined this time around since now you can go back to ME and mess with choices to see how they will reflect in ME2. We're talking endless play time practically.

The Downside: The most compelling downgrade was in the RPG elements. There is virtually no customization to your gear, weapons, and team. Your allies can no longer be customized in the same way you are except with mere costume color changes you need to unlock. This is all connected to the other big problem in that the gameplay focuses more on combat than the previous entry and plays more closely to a shooter. The cover system is improved, but still needed some work. You also never feel like you're getting that much stronger which sucked. Self-contained missions can feel weird at first especially when ME was essentially free roam to a certain degree.

The DLC: There are a shitload of DLC for this entry, but some are free unless you got a used copy I believe. There are 2 extra characters with their accompanying missions which I feel are crucial: those being Zaeed and Kasumi. The only others I felt that were as crucial were "Lair of the Shadowbroker" and the "Arrival." But if you can't afford to pay significantly more for the combined DLC than the game itself, then the single most important DLC is "Lair of the Shadowbroker." This is the longest and most thorough of the downloads while also bringing more Liara action and the most connected to ME3. The rest don't really contribute that much to ME3 and can easily be missed if money is an issue. But it is worth noting that the "Arrival" leads into ME3 so epically that you will feel satisfied.

Final Rating: 9/10. With DLC: 9.5/10


The Story: Whether you play the "Arrival" DLC or not, the events of that story set up the beginning of ME3 as you are awaiting trial on earth for the deaths accrued from destroying a mass relay a few months ago. Your team has been disbanded and the Normandy has been seized and refitted to be an Alliance ship. However, Earth is receiving strange transmissions that the Alliance is worried may be the Reapers. While talking to the Alliance leaders, the Reapers arrive on Earth and start blasting away at anything in sight. It's on baby! The Reapers are here and they are ready to kill everyone in this cycle; attacks and invasions begin immediately as the Reapers use the relay network to reach the major worlds throughout the galaxy and everything in between. Knowing you're the only one who can save the day, Anderson helps you flee Earth in the hope you will assemble the combined forces of all the aliens in the galaxy to take back Earth and defeat the Reapers. The Normandy thankfully comes to your rescue right when the Reapers are closing in. First order of business, "get your ass to Mars" because Liara has discovered plans for a Prothean super weapon among the artifacts located there.

On Mars you discover that Cerberus is just as evil as you believed they were in ME as they are more concerned with controlling the Reapers rather than destroying them. This leads to them attempting to sabotage Shepard at every chance they get. However, the plans for the super weapon, called the Crucible, seem to be straightforward despite the fact that the Protheans never managed to complete it in their cycle. In order to gain the resources to build the Crucible, as well as the forces to secure its implementation, you must set out to unite the many aliens species. This is no easy task because many of the problems between the cultures spans hundreds or thousands of years. The first peace to broker is between the turians and the krogans since the krogans demand a cure to the genophage to procure their aid. To the dismay of the salarians, you manage to create a cure or fake a cure depending on how you want to play this. Then with distribution of the cure, and the added defeat of a Reaper, the krogan pledge support and you gain support from the turians to help with Earth. The next order of business is ending the newest war between the quarians and the geth. Because the quarians struck first, the geth once again ally themselves with the Reapers, however, this opens the opportunity to turn the geth into a true AI. By helping the geth become true individuals, destroying yet another Reaper, and deterring the quarians from battle, the two come back together for mutual benefits, and, in turn, both pledge support to you. Or you can just screw everyone over and pretty much all involved die. Along the way you obviously can do sidequests to help bolster your forces while running into you old squadmates and rekindling relationships. Despite a sense of urgency, you are definitely rewarded for exploration.

With the Crucible all but built, and virtually all aliens on board, you realize you are missing one crucial piece to the puzzle which is the power source of the Crucible referred to as the Catalyst. It is believed that the answer to this riddle is with the asari on their home world. You come to learn that the asari had a Prothean artifact that knew what the Catalyst was, but before you find out, Cerberus' main lacky, a bitch boy named Kai Leng, intercepts and takes the Prothean artifact, called a VI. This leads to you finally discovering Cerberus' base of operations, and with great effort, finally destroying it and that bitch boy Kai Leng. Unfortunately, the Illusive Man was nowhere to be found and believes he has the final key to controlling the Reapers. You then learn that the Catalyst is, in fact, the Citadel itself since it will be used to deploy the power of the Crucible. But apparently the Illusive Man alerted the Reapers of this fact and they have secured the Citadel while moving it to Earth's space.

With no more preparations left, you bring everything the galaxy has to the fight for Earth in a final battle to attach the Crucible to the Citadel. There is an entry point in London that will get people aboard the Citadel, but it's obviously guarded and can only be reached on foot. So while the combined forces of the galaxy wage battle in space, you and your crew begin the final ground assault. It's at this time you say your final goodbyes, and it is truly touching. At this final hour is when it all hits home how much you went through between all three games to get to this point. Everything is on the line and you cannot fail! After defeating another Reaper, the only thing that stands between ending this war is a classic trench run to the Citadel protected by Harbinger itself. Unfortunately, everyone pretty much dies and you cling to life as apparently the last survivor. Staggering to your feet, you fight through a few minions, including the infamous "Marauder Shields," as you make it to the Citadel. Somehow, Anderson has also made it up and you meet at the control panel to the Citadel as the Illusive Man shows up, completely indoctrinated by the Reapers. You can either kill him or convince him he's indoctrinated, much like Saren, and he will kill himself. Now with the Crucible attached, nothing appears to be happening and you pass out.

Before I go on, I will save my rage for the ending until the end since it deserves its own attention! Anyway, you run into some little bitch, dubbed the starbrat, that claims to be the mind, so to speak, of the Reapers, and that it is the actual Catalyst. After some bullshit about how they have to kill everyone to protect them from destroying themselves, it is revealed that the Crucible, in conjunction with the Catalyst, can either destroy the reapers, make Shepard the mind of the reapers and you will control them, or you can merge all life in the galaxy as one big freak show hybrid of organic and synthetic life through synthesis. The DLC gives a forth option whereby you reject the choices, lose the war, and then the next cycle used the crucible and won anyway. LAME! Obviously I chose destroy since that is the logical conclusion and what I worked for many damn hours to do! In the end, you get one of your options and the war is over with no resolution to your characters. You then see some stupid old man and kid talking about "the Shepard" and some apparent setup for another game while then being prompted to buy fucking DLC! If you get the "Extended Cut" DLC you do get a little bit of resolution for your characters through goddamn slideshows! But, you still never get a good sense of what became of Shepard except in the control ending. And that, ladies and gentleman, is Mass Effect!

The Characters: I'd like to say the cast grows even larger with the final installment, but instead we focus more on bringing closure to past relationships. It's not to say that we don't meet new people, but for now I will focus on the newbies.

James: You may recall back to my review of "Mass Effect: Paragon Lost" where I addressed the annoyance that is James Vega. Well, he's actually much more tolerable in that film than he is in game. This guy is a cocky bastard who thinks just because he does a few fucking chin-ups he can match up to Shepard. Shepard has saved the galaxy twice and is attempting to save it for a third time and your bitch ass thinks you can equal that why, mother fucker?! He does have a few decent moments, but other than being a dumb meathead, there isn't much going on here. People have said Jacob is like the worst character, but I reserve that spot for this bitch boy. And to think how many great characters are not playable in favor of this idiotic poser!

EDI: Now while EDI was in ME2 (technically was in ME we learn) as the Normandy's AI, she becomes an actual playable character this time around and we develop her character far beyond the interactions we got in the last game. She manages to gain control of a mechanical body from one of Cerberus' agents that was used for infiltration. She spends the majority of the game learning more about being human through understanding higher concepts like altruism and love since you have the option to push her to romance Joker. She's not too bad, but I would still preferred to have someone like Wrex in her place.

Javik: He's the last Prothean and was discovered in cryogenic sleep during his DLC mission. You'd think a character that important to the lore would have been a top priority over the likes of idiots like James, right? Regardless, Javik is pretty simplistic as he looks down on all the aliens as inferiors; think of it as if you woke up and now dogs and cats rule the planet and they aren't even as advanced as you. Furthermore, he is single-minded in his ruthless approach to doing and killing whatever in an effort to stop the Reapers. Now while he may come off as a douchebag at first, he starts to grow on you through all the funny things he says. One especially notable moment in passing dialogue is when he proves just how stupid James is. Gotta love that shit!

Traynor: While she's not playable, Traynor is a human and she's essentially your secretary. You had a similar character in ME2, but there is more emphasis on Traynor since she contributes much more to the main story. Also, she is the gay romance option for females other than asari because many did not see them as truly gay since they don't mate traditionally and don't see themselves as women per se. Traynor isn't too bad as she is really inexperienced but proves her worth through finding constant intel.

Cortez: Another human, Cortez is the pilot of your dropship that takes you into each battle. While you've always had something like this in each game, only here is the interaction with the pilot truly explored. He also serves as the gay romance option for men. He lost his husband in a battle with the collectors, and you can chose to help comfort him through the loss and possibly romance him if you so desire. He's actually a really good guy and brings up some poignant facts about how Shepard may be a badass in battle but would be nothing if he just gets shot down while going into the battle. I really liked how grateful Cortez appears when you help him move on like a good friend.

Everyone Else: Unlike ME2, a significant amount of action did not happen with the other characters with the time between games. The other playable characters are Liara, Garrus, Tali, and Ashley/Kaiden. Liara spent her time uncovering the Crucible schematics on Mars. Garrus was merely making preparations for the turian military for when the Reapers come. Tali was sadly dragged into the quarian/geth war now that she had been promoted to admiral rank. And Ashley/Kaiden has just been spending time with the Alliance apparently making a reputation strong enough to warrant promotion to Spectre by the middle of the game. Sadly the ME2 squad members are pretty much only present in single missions dedicated to reuniting with them. However, everyone makes a cameo or two and you feel the interactions strongly. The DLC greatly relieves this weaker spot to the story, but as it is, you still gain some degree of resolution with each character and more so with others. The supporting cast also receives a lot of love, but it could have been better since some are reduced to mere letters sent to Shepard telling about what has become of them. Overall, I felt satisfied by how all the characters and relationships were handled. My love with Liara is epic, and I felt like she was keeping me going. There's definitely sad moments as I lost some crew members, but we eventually avenged everyone.

The Highlights: For the final time, the best part of the ME trilogy is the amazing story and beloved characters that you come to cherish. I was honestly sad when some died, and I really do love Liara! Speaking of which, the relationship building is much more vast especially with the DLC factored in. You gain your final insights on the characters and see them grow to their conclusions even if I wish we could keep going. Seriously improved combat as things feel more fluid and the cover system works significantly better. There is a big improvement to the RPG aspects compared to ME2 as guns are more varied, more customization to the armor and perks, and exploration is more necessary than it was in the previous game. For better or worse, the addition of multiplayer does add more life to the game, but I still think of how much more complete this game would have felt had those resources been put toward the story! But, multiplayer is fun and adds even more customization than single player. Furthermore, you have the ability to play as the other species and truly craft your dream character.

The Downside: The fucking ending obviously! But I'll spare you my rant until last. Almost as bad as the ending is the reduction in playable characters. Why did they feel they would shrink it so much while filling in multiple slots with new people?! Still not as much RPG elements as the first game, but it was a vast improvement over ME2 especially in terms of the weapons. People have criticized the increased emphasis on combat, but I did not feel it was all that different. If anything, I would say it became further refined and more fluid. It did feel a lot like "Gears of War" but I don't see that as a bad thing by any means. There is this sense that things were rushed (which they were) and some missions feel like something is missing or incomplete. Sidequests need a major overhaul, but I don't mind it that much. And with ME2 not allowing you to properly customize your allies, it was further annoying they did not add that for ME3; adding some color changes is pointless especially when it adds no skill bonuses. Finally, tons of buildup to a fight against Harbinger and no delivery whatsoever.

The DLC: Let me begin by saying I do not count the multiplayer DLCs since they do not contribute to the story, and they're all free anyway. Don't even get me started on the "Extended Cut" though. However, I would highly recommend coughing out the money for all the DLCs this time around. Ugh, but be aware that they will set you back a whopping $50 for all 4 story downloads; this is especially painful considering you can easily get the trilogy itself for roughly $60 or less. The "Javik" DLC is practically mandatory since, seriously, it should have been in the game to begin with. The "Leviathan" mission should have been a part of the game as well since this gives us the origin of the damn reapers themselves! The "Omega" DLC is the one least needed since it contributes so little to the story, but, like the others, it should have been included from the beginning since it was hyped but never delivered. People have compared it to "Lair of the Shadowbroker" but nice try; LotS could have been in ME3 for all we knew at the time, so adding it as DLC did not feel as forced. "Omega" was forced because we all know it wasn't going to be saved for ME4! Finally, the "Citadel" DLC is probably the single best download of the whole franchise. Not only does it add the most extra play time, but it was as if the fans themselves wrote it. So many great moments and it felt like a satisfying conclusion to one of the best storylines ever. I just pretend it came after the credits in my mind! I should note that the armors you win from the arcade can only be 1 a playthrough and there's 3 sets so that's a decent incentive to play through 2 more times after the first!

Final Rating: 8.5/10. With DLC: 9.5/10

The (damn) Ending Rant: Grr! Let me say I was an ardent (and still am) supporter of the "indoctrination theory" since I feel it would have been one of the greatest endings to any form of storytelling flat out...not just to a video game. There's a whole documentary laying out the evidence on youtube if you somehow haven't heard of it. Instead, what we got was "artistic integrity" and "space magic" as fans have humorously quoted. I don't want to go into a giant tirade since the subject has been discussed to hell and back at this point, but, let's face it, a happily ever after was needed here! Screw that, just making damn sense was needed here! The reality is we all know now that the game was rushed and the ending suffered most from this. What makes me most mad about the ending is not even the stupidity, but the lying, misrepresentation, and false advertisement by many of the creators claiming the ending would be just the opposite of what we got! And for those so-called fans that chose "control" or "synthesis" you are not true fans at all! No one who followed the story of all 3 games would EVER accept those decisions! You fought through all 3 games to DESTROY the reapers and you tell yourself it's okay to give in at the very moment when it all matters?! Fuck, 2 seconds ago you had the option to make the Illusive Man kill himself because he's indoctrinated trying to control the reapers and then you just do it yourself?! Ahhh it's counterintuitive to everything we've fought for! AHHH! Fuck "artistic integrity" you pretentious douchebags! Okay, I'm calming down. Eh, I wasn't all that bothered by the endings really as much as I simply realize the game was rushed and as such it became a bi-product of the shitty gaming industry we have nowaday. It's just so depressing to see one of my favorite games go down with such disappointment when it could have been legendary. I guess I won't be able to make up my mind entirely until we see what direction ME4 truly goes in. Oh, and one more thing, that slap in the face 4th ending added when you shoot starbitch is a disgrace!

The majority of the main characters in the franchise as a whole:

Final Conclusion: Despite my dislike for the ending since it leaves a bad taste in your mouth, the overall feel of the franchise is extraordinary! Honestly, this is one of the greatest video game experiences out there to date. It's one of the best storytelling experiences there are flat out! There's so much room for crafting your own tale while developing rich relationships with many characters. You grow to love them so dearly that they feel real and they touch you deeply and emotionally. This is one of the most successful aspects of storytelling, and when you accomplish this feat you've done something remarkable. You can easily go back and relive the story through different angles making different choices and seeing the outcomes. No other game franchise involves the player this way with meaningful decisions while having the ability to make different friendships and romances. Over the years since ME came out, I have become so fascinated with the lore that I wish it had a greater impact on society in a way "Star Wars" does. Hopefully as the franchise continues they will try to do things better and not drop the ball at the last minute. But I look forward optimistically to ME4 or whatever comes next. Even if nothing can ever live up to this trilogy, the story that has already been weaved is more than epic enough. I can not recommend playing this franchise enough no matter what kind of gamer you are or even if you don't play video games. This is more of an interactive book than anything. Seriously, stop whatever you're doing and play these games...you will not regret it at all!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Project A-ko Review


Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: Two super-powered girls fight for the friendship of a third girl amidst an alien invasion.

Review: Now this is a film that taps deeply into my adolescent nostalgia as I remember watching "Project A-ko" for the first time in the early '90s. Right around this period is when anime was starting to gain a cult following in the USA and animated movies aired at like 3 A.M. each Saturday on the old, and superior, Sci-fi Channel. My best friend and I would usually have sleepovers where we'd play video games, toys, and watch movies all night long; the animes were definitely a highlight of this time period with this film being one of the first we watched and one of the most memorable. While we enjoyed the movie greatly, it wasn't until we became introduced to more anime series' that we fully appreciated how awesome and funny this movie can be if you understand all the references and parodies. Essentially, this is a light-hearted shot at many of the more popular anime that existed leading up to the mid-80s like "Fist of the North Star," Gundam, Harlock, and a major influence from Macross (Robotech to the English audience) just to name a few. If you're not familiar with these franchises, you probably aren't going to understand this movie or even like it for that matter. Despite much of the chaos that occurs, the story is mostly simplistic following the titular character, A-ko, as she and her best friend, C-ko, transfer to a new high school in which B-ko is the major bully. Apparently, the three girls used to go to kindergarten together where B-ko claims she was friends with C-ko and planned to fight A-ko, but she moved away before this could occur. Now, B-ko wants C-ko back and is more than willing to kill A-ko if need be. Ironically, it is implied that A-ko is the daughter of Superman and Wonder Woman, and as such has tremendous strength. But that's okay because B-ko has a group of cronies to fight her battles and an endless array of mechs, robots, and weapons to help her challenge A-ko. After having her legions defeated day after day, B-ko finally reveals a sexy power-suit designed to specifically make her more powerful than A-ko. With the stage set for their final showdown, it is at this time that an alien race shows up to reclaim their lost princess and kill anyone who gets in their way. Throughout the film you are given glimpses of these aliens slowly approaching Earth as it is revealed C-ko is actually this princess the aliens desire. The dogfights against the aliens are really great, but it's a shame this wasn't applied to a more serious film or series; oddly enough, the aliens are all female even though a few definitely look like men. Anyway, with all the destruction A-ko and B-ko create while fighting, many don't even realize aliens are invading; even A-ko and B-ko are oblivious as they demolish their school and any part of the nearby city they come into contact with. Eventually the aliens capture C-ko which leads to A-ko and B-ko momentarily teaming up to deal with this outside threat. Both girls end up finding different ways onto the alien's mothership, and, from within, fight their way through the minions, the captain, and blow the whole ship up crashing right back at school where they began. The film ends with the girls trying to get back to their normal lives as B-ko waits to possibly continue the fight all over again. I have to say, they don't make 'em like they used to. The music is, obviously, amazing since it has that natural '80s coolness as well as decent pop songs specifically written to be in English. The animation is beautiful to say the least. I know many will find it outdated, but this is how I prefer anime to look! Not this cheap ass shit you see in most anime nowaday save for the likes of "Death Note" and others like it. Also, there is this heavily detailed approach that makes everything look so futuristic and as if it were crafted with great care; it's further emphasized in contrast because you know they would cheap out on that level of detail in modern times. Speaking of the animation, A-ko and B-ko are especially sexy as there is a lot of fan service to be had. I think this may have been one of this first anime to display it in such a degree, and as a 12 year old boy this definitely caught my attention! Overall, this is a must-see for anime fans out there particularly if you're into the classics as I am. The little things like pepsi-can missiles, A-ko being scared of a movie with a killer Colonel Sanders, etc. show how over the top this film could get while still being creative and original. It's not perfect by any means as jokes fall flat, the story can appear either awesome or stupid depending on the outlook, and some may feel it did not age well (although they would be wrong!). Check this one out, but if you are not into anime or have not watched any of the older shows, you may want to pass this up.

Notable Moment: So hard to choose since I have been quoting this film for close to twenty years now, but the standout moment is when B-ko dons her sexy power-suit. My my my!

Final Rating: 8/10

Friday, March 1, 2013

Cyborg Girl (aka Cyborg She) Review


Check out my updated review! http://thevagrantrises.blogspot.com/2016/02/updated-review-11-cyborg-girl-aka.html

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: At the end of his life, a man sends his cyborg companion back in time to his younger self in the hope he will teach her how to be more human.

Review:  Okay, now, at first, with a title like that we both know this sounds like this will be a porno or something, right?! Wait, you weren't thinking that?! Oh well. Let me clarify that the genre for this film is a romantic-sci-fi-comedy-action-drama (in that order). Yeah, wrap your mind around that one. The story is kind of complicated but to simplify things: the main character, Jiro, played by Keisuke Keide, meets a girl he immediately fell in love with. After waiting to meet her the following year, since they share the same birthday, he is shot by a gunman which leads to him creating a cyborg version of the girl as his companion. He's able to do this since he conveniently won the lottery and can dedicate the next 65 years to making her. Since he's too old and crippled to help her learn to be human, he sends her back in time to his past self to be that Jiro's companion and to change the past. We then follow their little adventures and the romance between the two as the cyborg and Jiro bond. Remember how in the reviews for "The Incite Mill" and "Ichi" I kept mentioning the incredibly beautiful and deliciously, voluptuous Haruka Ayase? Well, she's back and we finally get a good look at those curves! But more than that, she does a fantastic job here and brings a lot of heart to the character of the cyborg. Actually, it's really annoying they did not give the cyborg a name, so, for practical reasons, I will refer to the cyborg as "Haruka" from here on out. Ms. Ayase is so cute and likable I couldn't help but also fall in love with her by the end of the film! Even though she is supposed to be an emotionless cyborg, you can't help but see her personality slowly forming. And that smile she gives is priceless. At the same time, she provides a lot of the comedy and does that quite well. Many of her antics are truly funny, and I found myself laughing aloud many times. I honestly could not give her enough praise since she does such a wonderful job while looking so devastatingly beautiful in the process! At the other end of the spectrum is Mr. Koide, who also does a great job with Jiro, bringing out the chemistry between the couple (lucky bastard!). I mean, Ms. Ayase is amazing, but this was never going to work if someone wasn't able to match her equally and Mr. Koide does this excellently. Jiro can be annoying quite often because he's too emotional, but at the same time when you understand all that he seeks to accomplish, you realize he really cares about people even though he has no real friends or family. It's never really explained why he seems so lonely and has only acquaintances for peers, but we do learn a bit about the fate of his family and how saddened he is by their loss. In many ways, Jiro is endearing due to his compassion, and since he is always respectful of Haruka even though she technically has to do everything he asks; although don't think he doesn't try to cop a feel here and there! But of course, there has to be some lame drama to bring them apart for awhile since Jiro grows tired that Haruka is not becoming more human. We later learn Haruka was feeling things, but holding back for whatever reasons. Unfortunately, Haruka ends up being destroyed during a giant earthquake (this was an eerie premonition of reality) as she attempts to save Jiro. Don't fret however, because the future Haruka that the cyborg was based on eventually makes her way back and everything works out happily ever after. I know it won't make a lot of sense since the ending is really confusing given the unusual way time works in this film. If you want my analysis, just skip to the bottom, and I'll do my best to interpret it! The confusion regarding the ending is one of the few things I don't like. The only other things that hurt the film are some jokes that fall flat, some cheap effects, and the "love" between Jiro and Haruka could be interpreted as not real depending on how you want to perceive their relationship. None of these things really hurt the film in my eyes, but I keep them in consideration. The movie is surprisingly 2 hours, but you never even feel it which is a great credit to the writing and pacing. I personally felt the love story was good and appeared genuine enough without being overly dramatic. The characters were strong and made me want to see their journey continue although I am still a bit jealous of Jiro! The music was good, the acting and chemistry works believably, the action and comedy are balanced well along with the other genres, there was a bit of originality in the presentation, and, of course, Ms. Ayase is the single best thing about this film! I know I mostly review horror movies, but if you are looking for a break or a date movie, I highly recommend this one. Or if you just want to drool over Ms. Ayase for 120 minutes, that works too!

Notable Moment: When the cyborg is first trying to act more human by mimicking what she sees. There's specifically a part where she sees some dumb girl jumping all over her boyfriend and the cyborg tries to do the same. It's so subtle but so funny.

Final Rating: 7.5/10

Ms. Ayase looking as beautiful as ever!

My rant on explaining the ending and the timeline of events:
Let me try to explain it the best I can in a way that I understand their flow of events plus some speculation of how all of this could come into existence. Since the film shows us that time can be altered we can infer (and the film supports this) that different time lines are being created. So to speak, each change creates a new series of events that don't necessarily reflect the future we're being told about. For example, the future where Jiro was shot in the back is now altered. Likewise, since time is altered the same scenes can layer on top of each other from the different versions of time. Anyway, there must have first been some future where Jiro attracted the time traveling Haruka. Since we know Jiro had money and tried to live a life of good deeds, perhaps his actions made Haruka want to see the real man himself. This would have led to the first series of events whereby she sees Jiro, goes home, but Jiro waits for her the following year only to be shot. So that Jiro creates a cyborg based off the girl of his dreams but she just doesn't have the personality of the same girl so he's still unhappy. So he sends the cyborg back in time hoping young Jiro will make her more human while also programming her to fix all the bad things that made Jiro feel sad and powerless. Since Haruka is altering time left and right, this leads to the main story we see unfold in the film. By the end, we see another alternate future where Jiro finally recreates Haruka toward his death. The future Haruka sees her cyborg version, downloads her memories and falls in love with Jiro. That's why things are different at the end because now future Haruka truly knows Jiro unlike the first time. Now she is so in love she is willing to stay with him for good which is yet another alternate future which the film ends on. So we are talking at least 5 alternate universes with the possibility for many more leading into the film's opening. Hopefully you can make sense of that because in my head it does!