Thursday November 15

Definitive Rankr: A Tribute to Stan Lee

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by JD Phillips

 

By JD Phillips


Social media right now is filled with people mourning Marvel comics’ late Godfather, Stan Lee. While that love is amazing, the best way to honor a legendary writer is to read the stories that made him a legend in the first place. Here are my picks for the best comics runs Stan Lee and the equally amazing Jack Kirby ever wrote.

5. “Incredible Hulk” (1-6)

While the initial Hulk run wasn’t the runaway success you might guess it was considering how popular the character is now, Lee’s take on the character was experimental and powerful. His tale of Bruce Banner’s unfortunate transformations into the giant monstrosity was one part Jekyll and Hyde and one part creature feature. Lee and Kirby’s most famous monster would eventually become a mainstay of the early Marvel days. In fact, a Marvel superhero hadn’t truly been christened by the company until they’d had their own fight with the green-skinned meanie.

4. “Uncanny X-men” (1-66)

The X-men as you know them probably came from Chris Claremont’s genre-redefining run on the superhero team, but the original run set the tone for the intense, politically charged themes the series is known for. Modern readers who complain about political commentary in their comics should take a look at this run that retooled the civil rights movement to the company’s mostly white readers. Professor X was the peace-loving Martin Luther King Jr. and the violent but passionate Magneto was a dark mirror of Malcolm X. The teen team were normal kids stuck in a bad situation they didn’t choose. To this day, it’s probably the most successful political allegory comics have ever produced.

3. “The Silver Surfer” (1-18)

Silver Surfer was one of the most bizarrely successful characters from “Fantastic Four”. This run on the character not only capitalized on that success but added some amazing pathos to the long-suffering cosmic hero. Many writers have taken on the character since, but no run is quite as iconic as the first one that saw Norrin Radd trapped on Earth and thrown into conflicts with characters like Thor and Mephisto.

2. “Fantastic Four” (1-100)

Marvel’s first family is the rock that the church of Lee and Kirby was built on. The series is just as known for the supporting characters it created as the main heroes themselves. The Inhumans, The Silver Surfer, Black Panther, Galactus, Doctor Doom, Adam Warlock and more were all birthed from this amazing character incubator. It was the ultimate comic book springboard that led to a universe that was able to compete with the wildly successful but out of date DC comics of the 1960’s.

1. “Amazing Spider-Man” (1-100)

Most comic book legends didn’t come into the picture as the fully formed icons they would eventually become. Powers, origins, and costumes get retooled for years until they are perfect. Then there’s Spider-Man. What started as a one-shot character for “Amazing Fantasy” became a runaway success. Unlike Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, or so many others, Spidey burst from the page with the powers, costume, and philosophy the character is known for today. The original run of Spider-Man features his first battles with characters like Doc Ock, Green Goblin, The Kingpin and most of his rogues' gallery. It also features several of the character’s most iconic moments like Spidey giving up his superhero mantle, getting trapped under rubble while Aunt May’s life hangs in the balance, and his first go with the legendary Sinister Six. Stan Lee is most often associated with Spider-Man for a reason. It is without question his best work as a writer and you should read it immediately.


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Wednesday November 14

Casual Gamr Reviews Red Dead Redemption II

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by JD Phillips

 

By JD Phillips


I really wanted to wait until I finished the game to post a review, but after a week of getting distracted fishing and playing poker with my fellow gang members, it’s clear that it will be a long time before I will finish this game. It also proves that I don’t need to. “Red Dead Redemption 2” is nothing short of a triumph.

I loved the first game in the series. It was actually the first game I got on my Xbox 360 in college. I spent many hours roaming around its expansive map murdering every unfortunate npc that came my way. I’ve been eagerly anticipating the sequel ever since. Boy does it not disappoint.

Red Dead Redemption 2 John Marston


It should be said that this is not a game for people who aren’t into story-centric single player games. The opening hours of this game are very slow paced and narrative focused. There are dozens of other moments where the game slows in order to focus on character conversations and development. If you’re looking to jump right into violence, you might be better served with a first-person shooter.

That’s not to say that this doesn’t have amazing sequences of high octane western violence. The sequel ups the ante in every way with an improved dead eye system, enhanced gun controls, and lots more blood (it was a special moment when someone tried to rob me and I realized I could decapitate someone with my sawed-off shotgun).


The game also features lots of amazing minigames and side activities. There’s fishing, poker, dominos, hunting, blackjack, hotels, saloons, bounties, chores, stranger requests, and lots of places to rob. It takes “Grand Theft Auto V”’s philosophy of immersive activities and dials it up to eleven.


Where this game overcomes its Rockstar predecessors is its amazing story. Most Rockstar games treat their source material with a strong satirical slant but RD2 goes all in to make a movie worthy storyline. It’s amazing how invested I’ve become in Arthur’s fellow gang members and their attempts to escape the ever approaching forces of the law.


It’s these story elements that really make the game one of the most immersive in the open world genre. GTA V had just as much to do, but I didn’t really care about anyone in Michael, Trevor, or Franklin’s lives. The missions in that game were often afterthoughts while I cruised around the expansive map, causing mayhem. In RD2, I hardly ever stray from the path to commit random murders. The life of Arthur Morgan is so interesting that I am barely ever tempted to break that immersion by flat-out shooting some annoying douche in town. It’s hard to make a story that is more fun than heaps of wild west anarchy, but this game manages to.


Red Dead Redemption II, Arthur Morgan


This immersive quality isn’t always a plus though. You end up spending a lot of your time riding across the giant map or slowly walking through camp. There are a few fast travel options but not nearly enough. The graphics and the map are absolutely stunning, but not as much when you are galloping along for fifteen minutes to get between missions.


If “Red Dead Redemption” is “The Godfather” of the western game genre, “Red Dead Redemption 2” is easily “The Godfather Part 2”. It’s another masterpiece in Rockstar’s increasingly impressive repertoire.


9.8


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Wednesday November 14

Binge Watchr Reviews Star Trek Discovery, Short Treks

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by JD Phillips

 

"Calypso"

By JD Phillips


Honestly, I wasn’t a fan of the first episode of “Short Treks”. It’s always nice to see more Tilly but the story was pretty unimpressive. It made me think that this entire venture was going to be nothing more than several rather disposable filler stories. “Calypso” proved me wrong. It’s a beautiful piece of sci-fi and one of the best Star Trek stories in years.

Star Trek Discovery Calypso


It starts with a simple enough premise, a lost space traveler taken in by the Discovery. But it becomes much more interesting as it goes on. For starters, the ship has been abandoned for over a thousand years (What the what?!) and the only thing left on the ship is the computer which has become tragically sentient.


What unfolds is essentially an anti “2001: A Space Odyssey”. (In fact, it takes just as much revisionist inspiration from “The Odyssey” as it does its sci-fi counterpart) Instead of the pyscho AI that tries to prevent the hero from accomplishing his goal, this computer falls head over heels in love with the protagonist and he does a little too.


It’s an excellent sci-fi love story that culminates in a gorgeously rendered sci-fi dance sequence that ends with rejection and tears. Then the show continues to defy expectations by having the scorned AI then help her only friend abandon her so that he can be happy.

It’s a beautiful and heartbreaking love story that easily could’ve been a big budget movie. (It’s like “Passengers” but not f***ing horrifying) It sets a gold standard for these shorts that I hope becomes a precedent.

9.5


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Wednesday November 14

Binge Watchr: Doctor Who: Demons of the Punjab

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by JD Phillips

 

By JD Phillips

It would appear that this series has become two totally different shows. There’s the ho-hum, generic sci-fi DW like the last two weeks. Then there are the unbelievably powerful historical episodes like “Rosa” and this week’s amazing “Demons of the Punjab”. The latter, however, more successfully integrates the sci-fi elements and character drama.


I’ll start this with the obligatory praise of the core cast. I’m sounding like a broken record now but Jodie Whittaker is outstanding as the Doctor this week and the companions once again prove themselves to be the heart of the show.


While I could go on about the ensemble in general, I think this week it would be more important to talk about Yaz in particular. I’ve always been a huge fan of character-centric episodes of television. Ensembles are great but sometimes it's nice to shine the spotlight on one character to make that one shine. They really do a great job of this with Yaz this week. She wants to know more about the sweet life of her grandmother and ends up with much more than she bargained for.

Doctor Who:  Demons of the Punjab


In the end, she winds up sharing her grandmother’s pain as well as her love. She also has to live with the cruel fact that she only exists because the love of her grandmother’s life was cruelly taken by his own countrymen. The story is beautifully heartbreaking and excellently framed around the broken watch. That frozen moment in time when they were happy and married. The only moment where that was true.

The show once again proves that history itself can be just as terrifying a monster as any Dalek or creepy statue. Once again our heroes are stuck in a situation where they cannot save anyone without permanently damaging the timeline. The difference in this episode though, is that the scifi macguffin works much better.


The Thijarians are the best aliens created by this season, so far. They were an instantly frightening presence that took a surprisingly beautiful turn. The master assassins turned witnesses for the dead was a really powerful idea and a very successful red herring. I didn’t figure out that Manish killed the holy man until the Doctor did. It was a great twist that should not have been as surprising as it was. I really hope that the Thijarians return in later episodes. (There has to be a Thijarian present at the 13th’s inevitable regeneration.)

The setting for this episode is one of the best the show has ever done. While the 50’s Americana setting was big, they went small for 1947 Pakistan/India. By showing only a small farm they were able to frame the conflict more closely around character rather than setting. All four of our guest stars were given lots of inner life and reasons for their actions and opinions. Even the traitorous Manish avoided straw man status by only following what he truly believed to be right, however misguided.

Doctor Who:  Demons of the Punjab


Unlike “Rosa” though, none of these conflicts were resolved in any way. There was no justice for Prem. No scene with a Bill Clinton medal at the end. This leaves it to weigh on the audience. It’s a beautifully tragic moment only made the more heartbreaking when the Thijarians add his face to the thousands of others who also died just as needlessly as he did. That moment was a wonderful example of how sci-fi elements can really drive home the underlying themes of an episode of television. Hopefully, the show can learn from itself when it goes back to another harder science fiction episode. I would’ve liked more of that in the last couple of weeks.

“Doctor Who” delivered its most powerful episode since Peter Capaldi spent an eternity punching a hole in a glass block this week. It was not only a great example of what this show and this season can be but it will undeniably go down as one of Jodie Whittaker’s finest episodes. This may very well end up being her “Vincent and the Doctor”.


Full credit to writer Vinay Patel for giving us such a beautiful, tragic, and sadly educational hour of television.

9.8


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Thursday November 08

Red Dead Redemption 2: A Master Stroke

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by JD Phillips

 

By Steve Harrell


The purpose of any review is to give you the knowledge of whether a game is worthy of your hard earned money. In today's age, you have options available to wait a short time and get a discount on the game or pay a premium for the game today. This article will try and help you make up your mind on the Game of the Year contender Red Dead Redemption 2.

Not going into the point that the publisher Rockstar took eight years to create the sequel (or prequel actually) to Red Dead Redemption and couldn't give it a more legendary name. This is actually the third game in the series following 2004's Red Dead Revolver. I think Rockstar could have gone with another Red Dead something else and been fine without having to simply stick the 2 on the end.


The game is a masterstroke in beautiful landscapes and adventures. Once you get a couple of hours into the story the world opens up and you can spend hours doing the mini-games and quests available to you. And when I say hours, I mean hours. The few problems that you will find in the game are all time-related. The fast travel system is seriously limited and one way only. And the gorgeous open world setting is huge. Going from one end to the other will take a while and there are no shortcuts if you are not in your camp.


Read Dead Redemption 2


The game is as in-depth as any I have ever seen. Don't eat, you die quicker. Don't sleep, you die quicker. Don't feed your horse or show it any attention, it won’t come when you whistle. Don’t wear warm clothes in the mountains you will die. Wear too many clothes in the swamp and you will overheat. You get the picture.


This is a game that will drag you into it and then let you roam the world hunting and fishing and robbing to your heart's content, but you should be able to be patient while roaming the world or this game could get tedious. Do not expect a lot of instant gratification but it is still the best video game I have ever played and I highly recommend it.

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9.8
 

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Wednesday November 07

Binge Watchr Reviews: Doctor Who, The Tsuranga Condundrum

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by JD Phillips

 

By JD Phillips


Uh oh.

I was really hoping that last week’s subpar “monster of the week” episode was just a fluke but it appears like this is going to be a trend. That’s very worrying. The monsters on “Doctor Who” are the lifeblood of the show. They can be magically bizarre like the Daleks, Cybermen, or Autons.

They can be terrifying like the Weeping Angels, The Silence, or the brilliantly simple Midnight Entity. They can even be so terrible that they become iconic in their own right like the personified fat aliens, the Adipose. (I used to work retail and the Adipose stuffed dolls were some of the best selling “Doctor Who” toys.)

What the monsters should never be is forgettable. The Pting is one of the most forgettable aliens the show has ever had. The Doctor basically fought Disney’s Stitch this week, but not as memorable. Had the alien been self effacingly horrible like the aforementioned Adipose, it could’ve been pretty fun. (Like the actual Stitch.)

Instead, they played their bizarre killer frog monster straight. At no point in the show was I actually afraid of it. It didn’t even succeed in eating the sonic screwdriver.

Doctor Who's Pting


That’s really unfortunate because a good monster could’ve really elevated this episode. It had an icon from the future, a hospital spaceship designed by Apple, and a pregnant man. Those are the bones for a pretty good “Alien” rip off. That’s this show’s bread and butter. Instead, the monster sucked all of the energy out of the episode, making the male birthing scene the highest point of tension.

This is becoming the show’s biggest problem. Out of the first five episodes, only one has had a decent villain/monster. That’s pretty bad. Clearly, either the writers don’t take the monster concepts seriously or they are already out of ideas before they’ve begun. If the show wanted to make a name for itself without Daleks or any of the other iconic baddies, this is about the worst way to go about that. This show could really use some Daleks right about now.

The saddest part about the entire situation is that the rest of the show is going better than it has in years. Jodie Whittaker is still effortlessly perfect as the Doctor, the companions keep getting better, and the effects are excellent. The core team hasn’t felt this strong since the Amy/Rory days.

This is not the time for “Doctor Who” to lean on its formula. This is the time for the show to be bold and reinvent itself. Jodie Whittaker and the cast are clearly up for it. The plots are just not giving them the material they need to shine properly. The cast, the show, and the audience really deserve better.

The eleventh season hit more bumps this week as it unveiled another underwhelming monster-of-the-week. Hopefully, the show regains some of its “Rosa” energy next week as it goes into a racially charged historical setting. If not, if might be a sign of rough waters for the new Doctor.

4.5

 

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Monday November 05

Binge Watchr Reviews “The Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina” Part One

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by JD Phillips

 

By JD Phillips

As any child of the nineties with an older sister, I watched a lot of “Sabrina The Teenage Witch” as a kid. It was never my thing but as a fan of the CW’s dark Archie reinvention “Riverdale”, I was excited to see Sabrina get the same treatment. The result is a mixed bag that is truly chilling when it wants to be but doesn’t always work when it isn’t focusing on its satanic delights.

I thought it was weird that Netflix picked this show up instead of the CW. Then I saw the first episode and it made perfect sense. This show isn’t playing around with its witchy source material. While the original series was more “teenage witch barbie”, this show is straight up “bride of Satan”. It features dream demons, exorcisms, curses, cannibalism, and the literal effing devil. It does not shirk away from its horror roots at all. In fact, it may be Netflix’s second scariest show besides “The Haunting Of Hill House”.

Sabrina Ceremony


The non-horror elements of the show don’t work nearly as well though. Like its sister series, “Riverdale”, this show frequently deals with politically charged issues like bullying, hazing, and feminism. While it works on the former show, it feels extremely forced in this series. Riverdale and Riverdale High both feel fully fleshed out. They are full of eclectic characters and locations that make the political commentary feel very natural as it pertains to such a small community.

Greendale and Baxter High don’t feel fleshed out at all. The bullies and bastards in the show are all poorly written straw man characters who are only designed to drive home the point the episode is trying to make. There’s no reason given why the principal is such a sexist dick, he just is because they want a sexist dick to play against.

Plotlines like protesting the banned books in the library seem very trite and after-school special compared to Sabrina’s challenge to outsmart the literal lord of darkness himself.

There are a few moments where these plotlines do shine through. Sabrina punishing bullies with evil spells or attacking her principal with a horde of spiders has such a delightfully twisted “Heathers” feel to it.


Part of what made those moments shine is how excellent Kiernan Shipka is in the role. She certainly isn’t Don Draper’s daughter anymore! (Though I really wish Jon Hamm could be Sabrina’s dad). She plays the role with the perfect balance of innocence, 21st-century feminist power, and dark mischief.

Kiernan Shipka as Sabrina


The rest of the cast is a pretty mixed bag. The Spellman clan is all pretty pitch perfect. Lucy Davis, Miranda Otto, and Chance Perdomo are all pretty perfect in their roles. The show gets better the more it leans on their talents. The other witch players are hit or miss though. Michelle Gomez (“Doctor Who”’s Missy!) and Tati Gabrielle are both wickedly awesome scene stealers but Richard Coyle and Gavin Leatherwood are pretty ho-hum in their roles.

The mortal actors also get the short end of the stick, but that’s not really their fault. Harvey, Susie, and Rosalind’s stories all get better as the show goes on, but there’s no denying that the episodes lose a lot of their adrenaline when they pivot to focus on their storylines and away from witchy hijinks. From the way the show is going though, this may not always be the case. They all get a few really good moments of supernatural drama and they may end up just as interesting as the A-plots eventually.

The plots themselves also skew wildly in quality. It’s like “Doctor Who” in a way. Episodes that feature nightmare demons, Sabrina’s dark baptism, or Harvey’s tragically zombified brother are truly amazing. Conversely, the episodes about Sabrina being hazed at witch school, her cliched witch trial, or the show’s not-so-veiled critique of Thanksgiving are often eye-rollingly mundane and predictable (although the latter does feature a fantastically ghoulish scene of cannibalistic frenzy.)

The show should be praised for how boldly it jumps from big plot to big plot as it seeks to find itself. Hopefully, the years to come will feature more chilling adventures and less of the cliched adventures.


“The Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina” is a fun and scary Netflix series that doesn’t shy away at all from its satanically inspired themes but doesn’t always knock it out of the park with its political commentary and side characters. Ultimately though, it is a fantastic follow up to “Sabrina The Teenage Witch” and “Riverdale” that may very well surpass both.

 

 7.8 

Who do I talk to about starting a petition for the show to have a dream sequence episode that is told entirely like its 90’s sitcom predecessor? Nick Bakay needs to reprise his role as Salem at least once!

 


 

 

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