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Review Mafia III (PS4): An improvement on Mafia II although still plagued with some flaws!

genre: action /  adventure
year release: 2017

Mafia II was hyped up to be one of the best games ever. And sure the demo made me look forward to playing the game. But soon certain flaws became real apparent. The open world for example was completely pointless. All you got to do was collect some items and then drive from A to B. No side missions or anything else to make it worth your while. To top it off the story was a rehash of any gangster flick made in the world. If you have seen enough of them not a single thing in Mafia II will impress you. Well, Mafia III is not perfect but at least has made an attempt to flesh out the game by giving you more to do. 

Next to the main missions you have side missions consisting of loyalty missions and optional missions that will increase your kickback. There also are race missions but I never bothered with those. I recommend doing enough of these optional missions because they help you upgrade your weapons and items. One problem however is that these fetch missions are very repetitive. And more often than not you basically are replaying the same mission over and over again. I wished they had given us more variety. Still the fact that you do have some freedom to accomplish these missions the way you want makes the repetition acceptable. I was very happy with the introduction of stealth in this game since it sure made the game a whole lot interesting. You even get the option to unlock and buy silenced guns. Too bad though that they do less damage and that you can't buy silenced sniper rifles. Would have made it even more fun. While it wasn't a big issue for me I do think they should have given you the option to finish and play the loyalty missions after you have unlocked them whenever you feel like it. This isn't possible due to a restriction. You are required to assign a district to a character of choice in order to play two of the loyalty missions. When you are given the option to assign districts you have to give it some thought since favouring a character over another will end up in mutiny. I chose to balance out things so that I could play all of the loyalty missions. But if ignore to do so you will be getting different endings. The final main mission also gives you options for multiple endings. So it does seem that Mafia III has tried hard to make the game replayable at least story wise.

The main missions and the story is a huge improvement on it's predecessor. First off the main character is a black Vietnam veteran  (Lincoln Clay) who gets betrayed and is out for revenge. Apart from being exceptionally skilled he is also intelligent and persuasive. He manages to build bridges between natural enemies. The racial element is done well and I thought far more convincing than the way it was handled in Bioshock Infinite. Apart from the usual insults you would also get confronted with some more subtle examples you might not have been aware of otherwise. It was very refreshing to see a story from this angle and how black criminal organizations operate. But the story also features the main character of Mafia II and manages to give you better closure to his story than previously. I like how his story was intertwined with that of Clay and at the same time still felt like it's own game instead of a continuation. The main story missions unfortunately are also a little repetitive as you are required to accomplish certain tasks for each main mission. The idea is to cause enough damage to attract the attention of the boss of the district you are targeting. Again I wished they had given us more variety mission wise. It can be very daunting to do the same missions again and again. However I remedied this by taking my time and only played the game when I was in the mood for it. This way I prevented myself from getting bored or frustrated.  

A lot of reviews had experienced bad visuals and many other bugs. But apart from a few minor ones the game did not give me any issues. Naturally this is because most of the early bugs have been patched, I got this game new on sale for only 6 euro's and for that money I got a very pleasant gaming experience. This game is superior to Mafia II and is an example of how it is possible to do more with story based open world games. I do think it's a shame you aren't given the option to gather all the collectables after ending the main story. Then again there are too many of those and I don't have the patience to collect them all so it's not that big of a deal. In my opinion this game is a little underrated as it does show promise for future games in the franchise. Provided there are plans to make more games. 

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Review Tom yum goong a.k.a. The Protector a.k.a. Honour of the Dragon a.k.a. Warrior King (2005): A martial arts extravaganza!

genre: martial arts, action

Elephants are one of the most graceful and majestic creatures on this planet. And in some parts of the world they are also very important culturally. Especially in Thailand. But like always there are people who don't respect or care for such things and feel entitled to use or rather abuse these creatures for their own disgusting purposes. Tom yum goong tells a tale of such people and their actions towards Kham's brothers, two Thai elephants. A bunch of thugs kidnap these magnificent creatures and Kham played by Tony Jaa does whatever it takes to get them back.  BTW Tom yum goong is Thai shrimp soup but also the name of a huge restaurant featured in the film.

Above is the whole story and it's all you need since right from the start you will be rooting for Kham and his quest. Tom yum goong is almost non stop action. Very rarely do things slow down or do you have scenes with dialogue. Just enough to intensify the action. The villains in this story are reprehensible and evil. The main villain is Madame Rose played by Jin Xing who is a trans woman. Not that it matters that much but they do briefly show that it's something frowned upon in the crime syndicate Madame Rose is part of. But like in most martial arts films they have goons to spare and all want a piece of Kham. Of course Kham is more than they bargained for. It's a real feast to see Tony Jaa do the things he does. Very reminiscent of a younger Jackie Chan where amazing stunt work is interchanged with incredible fighting skills. Tony Jaa mostly uses Muay Thai but in this he uses his own variation called  Muay Kotchasan (elephant boxing). In the film he is facing multiple opponents. The usual generic ones and the extraordinary ones who are specialised in different fighting styles. Like Lateef Crowder as Capoeira Fighter and Jon Foo as Wushu Fighter. Then you have some giants like Nathan Jones who is bigger than The Mountain from Game of Thrones. You may recognize Tom Smoorenburg as one of the many henchmen from his part in the end fight with Jackie Chan in Who Am I? (1998). Apparently he has been able to build up quite a resume playing thugs and henchmen. I saw him in an interview once on Dutch television and he seemed quite arrogant. But seems like he has changed his tune considerably as you can read in this interview.

All of the action is of super high quality. It is easily superior to The Raid for example and yet that one gets more praise. The camera work is outstanding especially in the restaurant scene which basically is one long take without edits. In my opinion a real martial arts classic.

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Review Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith (2005): An incredible dramatic and epic conclusion to the prequel trilogy!

genre: action, adventure, science fiction

Revenge of the Sith starts with business as usual where comrades and brothers Obi-Wan and Anakin fight the last threat to the republic. However underneath the surface a whole lot of darkness is brooding and growing to jeopardize everything good.

Anakin is struggling since he is heavily manipulated and plagued by visions of Padmé's death. The thought of losing her drives him insane. Palpatine is very aware of his fear and convinces him that there is a way to save Padme if he is willing to side with him. Anakin does sense that his feelings and fears aren't right but he is too blinded to see what really is going on and has clouded his judgement completely. I really think Hayden Christensen did a good job of showing this struggle. But George Lucas also demonstrates that had the Jedi Council be more forthcoming and trusting of Anakin he might not have felt so lost. Still that doesn't excuse Anakin from the evil deeds he has committed shortly after he chose to side with Palpatine.

The birth of Darth Vader is a very dark and emotional journey because we all know it's inevitable but we don't want it to happen. Especially since it goes together with the destruction of the Jedi's, democracy and freedom. The way it happens is devastating and heartbreaking. Betrayal of this magnitude will get to you. If it doesn't then you simply aren't human. George Lucas very successfully conveyed feelings of hopelessness and loss. This is how democracies turn into totalitarian regimes. Padmé rightfully remarks that people very happily gave up on their liberty. Because most are blinded and can't see the real danger. Anakin is so far gone that he has become the thing he was supposed to vanquish. Seeing him transform into the iconic Darth Vader is nothing short of impressive. 

George Lucas went all out in this conclusion of the prequel trilogy. It's dramatic, action packed and thought provoking. It definitely is the best of the prequels and arguably on par with the original trilogy. While the prequels may have been flawed they excelled in world building, character development and creativity. Far superior to any of the Disney produced Star Wars films. 

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Review Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones (2002): Flawed but with many redeeming qualities!

genre: action, adventure, science fiction

In some comments and reviews on this film there were people complaining about Yoda and his fight. If you are one of those people let me ask you. Are you out of your mind? One of the coolest events in cinematic history and you have the nerve to dislike it? Pray you'll never meet me in person. I will hurt you. I saw this in the cinema and when Yoda was about to take out his lightsaber the audience (in completely packed theater) gasped for air. Not a single person made a noise as they probably were overwhelmed by the epicness that was to come. Yoda jumps around striking Dooku and the crowd went nuts. Me included. We didn't expect it. All this time we had heard Yoda was the greatest but never got to truly witness it until now. It was amazing. Anyone who claims otherwise wouldn't know what good is even if it would hit them in the head. 

And to my own astonishment I saw something in my latest viewing I somehow had overlooked previously. A lot of attention is paid to Anakin's struggle. Perhaps I wanted something more obvious but now I realized the subtle approach was the right choice. While Anakin obviously is too ambitious for his own good he does mean well. His youth and lack of experience and wisdom often cloud his judgement. He loves too much. Such a strong contrast to his Darth Vader persona. And yet also that one element that opts him to save his son in Return of the Jedi. The scene between him and his mother is very emotional. When she dies in his arms you understand his anger. His hate. It's so strong that Yoda senses it from a far. 

The romance between Padmé and Anakin feels a little forced and is very clumsily constructed. But for all it's flaws I did buy Anakin being in love with Padmé and that it took some time for her to realize. She still saw him as the little Ani and probably saw him more as a little brother or son. The dialogue between them is awkward for sure. But most dialogue in Star Wars is very theatrical. You can't fault Hayden Christensen for that.  He might not be the best actor he did a fine job. 

There are many funny and comedic moments between characters and droids but never to the extent that it's intrusive or annoying. Most if it was natural and logical. Attack of the Clones also deepens the plot where we get introduced to the clones and how they are put to use. We barely see Palpatine but you just know he has his hands on everything. It's deeply disturbing how he is able to manipulate and act out his plans without the Jedi sensing it. The action and spectacle might be smaller scaled it for the most part is solid to exciting. I mean you do get to see multiple Jedi knights fighting side by side. 

The ending also feels bittersweet. The Jedi and clones might have been victorious against Dooku and other separatists, Yoda is very aware that something ominous has been set in motion. The secret wedding between Anakin and Padme does give you something to cheer for especially when C3PO taps his comrade R2D2 on his head to applaud this bond.

Attack of the Clones is incredibly underrated and certainly not the worst in the franchise. That honour goes to The Last Jedi. But it's also superior to The Force Awakens because again George Lucas expands on the world and the characters. He shows us things we never seen before. For that he should be commended not reprimanded.

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Review The Snowman (2017): How not to do an adaptation of a best selling crime novel!

genre: crime, drama, thriller

The Snowman is a best selling novel written by Jo Nesbø. It's one of many in a book series featuring main character Harry Hole in this film played by Michael Fassbender. He is a brilliant detective in the same vein as Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot. Why I mention this? Since the trailer gives you the wrong idea of what to expect. It makes it seem like this is a fast paced on the edge of your seat thriller while in truth it's slow burning crime drama with very little surprises.

Now I don't mind crime drama's. Actually I like the majority of British style ones where the story is more about the characters and their motivations than the thrills and action. However most of them do maintain a level of suspense to keep you interested whereas The Snowman lost me after thirty minutes or so. You get to meet a lot of characters and I am assuming they are there to serve as red herrings. Except not a whole lot is done to make it plausible. Especially since you don't get to know the characters well. Even Harry Hole remains a mystery. Why is he an alcoholic? What are his demons? And for someone who is supposed to be brilliant it sure takes him a long time to figure out certain things. For the most part he is like a zombie who is waiting for a case to fall in his lap. And when it does he instantly dismisses it as just a regular missing persons case. This is after he told his best friend he would do better if he could sink his teeth in a murder case. You would think that he at least would do some more investigating before he would go back to being a zombie. I like Michael Fassbender but seriously it's boring to watch a man do nothing. It would be different if he was shown to be thinking and deducing. At least that would indicate a little better that he cared.

There is nothing interesting about the murderer and his motivations. I have seen enough episodes of Criminal Minds that have done more in half the time. In the end The Snowman is a pretty predictable affair with very little to no impact.

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Review Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi (2017): What is wrong with you people, this is not good by any means!

genre: action, adventure, science fiction

Before I share my thoughts with you I have to state that I am a huge film fan. I have been watching and loving films for a very long time now. Very very very long time. I have learned to appreciate films in all shapes and forms. In general I want films to be entertaining or at least offer me food for thought. This means I always try to look for the good elements first before I dig into the bad ones. But if I am unable to find good elements then there is only one truth. The film is awful. The Last Jedi is one of those films. It has very little to no redeeming qualities. It's so bad that I am completely baffled and stunned. How any one can think this is a good film is beyond me. The Force Awakens already was disappointing for me but it at least was entertaining. The Last Jedi can't even be bothered to give me that.

Where to begin? Story. What story? There barely is one. The resistance are trying to flee from the First Order and Rey is seeking training and guidance from Luke Skywalker. That is it. That's the whole story. No attempt is made to answer the few questions raised in The Force Awakens. Actually director Rian Johnson deliberately destroyed story elements and characters so that he could surprise us. If that was his aim then I most likely would have accepted that since I do love me some good twists and turns. Especially if they are real dark and daring. However Rian Johnson barely takes risks. Instead he opts to mock everything decent about Star Wars. No world building, no character development, And too many ridiculous moments that made it seem like I was watching Spaceballs. Although let be clear I love Spaceballs. It was sharp, funny and very respectful of it's source material. The Last Jedi is not respectful in the slightest. Johnson claims to be a big Star Wars fan. It' s so obvious he isn't. The way he treats the characters, old and new, is despicable. If you want me to buy the actions of the characters you have to sell it to me. Give good motivations story wise to make it believable. Here things just happen because it's convenient for the plot.

But what is even worse that The Last Jedi is not entertaining in the slightest. The spectacle was underwhelming. Nice visuals for sure but what is the point of those if you don't make them interesting. There are some scenes that clearly were set up to be dramatic. But I didn't care. I wanted to, I really did. But I didn't. I was never made to care. Things just happen without giving you an emotional component to get invested in. For every serious line uttered a joke is forced in to detract from that serious moment. Why? Not even parodies do that. None of the action was exciting. It easily could have been. Especially at the end. But like I said Rian Johnson preferred mocking everything Star Wars instead us giving us something original,deep or plain fun. You want some cool and lightsaber battles? Forget about it. Proper use of the Force? Come on, you want Rian Johnson to follow established rules? You want more Luke Skywalker? Gotcha! But the whole film lacked suspense and thrills. There wasn't a single scene where I was put on the edge in fear of characters dying since we hardly know them or like I said aren't made to care about them. Then what is the point.

As you might have noticed I avoided spoilers and normally I always do my best to avoid them but if I feel warranted I do go into those. Now I simply did not feel like talking about them since there are so many things wrong with The Last Jedi I would need pages to describe the mistakes and my anger concerning those mistakes. I would literally put more thought and effort into this film than Rian Johnson and co who got paid big amounts of money for doing so. Excluding the technical people though. They obviously put a lot of work into it. I don't know about you but I am not going to waste my precious time in listing all that is wrong with this film. It's just not worth it.

The Last Jedi is easily the worst Star Wars film ever made. It's not even a good film if you overlook and forget it's a Star Wars film. So do yourself a favour and avoid this like the plague. Don't believe the good reviews. They aren't sincere or true.  I don't know what those reviewers and critics think they will gain by selling out their soul like that especially for a film this awful. But I can assure you that they have been lying to you. The Last Jedi has no heart and it lacks magic. And it's no fun at all apart from a few real funny moments provided by BB-8. Perhaps even that one scene where the Porgs emotionally blackmail Chewbacca from eating his dinner. Granted he had roasted one of them still it's not like he could have revived it. There is no hope of this franchise ever becoming good again. 

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