Reel Ripe & Reel Rotten: Introduction

This podcast takes a look at the highs and lows of your favorite Hollywood artists! Each month, Wes and Clay will use Rotten Tomatoes to determine the best and worst film in one individuals filmography. Then you can listen along as they try to figure out what went right and what went wrong!

In this episode, Wes introduces the podcast, explains the gimmick, and reveals who the first month will cover (hint: he’s the best Star Trek captain).

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Castlevania: A Review of the Netflix Series

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This is a review of the first season of the Netflix Castlevania series, and will container small spoilers.

I’m not a fan of the Castlevania video game series. I’ve tried to play Symphony of the Night a few times, but it seems I’m not mentally capable of playing Metroidvania games. Something about the backtracking. I’ve flirted with a few of the other games in the series, but I’m not immersed in the lore or storyline beyond knowing that that, in this universe, Dracula exists and the Belmonts are a family of vampire hunters who are trying to destroy him.

I mostly started watching the Netflix Castlevania series as a reaction to not wanting to start watching a full, 13 episode run of a new show. The first season of Castlevania consists of only four half hour episodes, so it’s a brisk watch. And I think that might be the best thing about it.

Castlevania is an animated series that details how, after his wife is burned at the stake for being a witch, Dracula seeks vengeance against those responsible. Unleashing demonic monsters upon the country of Wallachia, Dracula seeks to make every citizen pay with their lives. Trevor Belmont, a vampire hunter from a disgraced family of the nobility, works to find a way to defeat Dracula while also restoring his own sense of honor.

It’s a decent set up, one ripped right from the storyline of the games. For positives, I found the animation to be interesting, particularly when scenes became gory and blood filled. The lighting is particularly well done, with a lot of scenes beautifully lit: golden sunlight or red hellfire conveying the mood and atmosphere quite well.

That’s about it for positives, in my opinion.

On the negative side, the pacing is problematic. Going into the series, I had expected the 2 hours of total run time to come across like a movie. I went in expecting, if not complete resolution, a story that would feel complete and satisfying by the end of the season. Unfortunately, the 4 episodes seem to only cover the first act of a much larger story, and they end with a turn of events that changes the direction of the story and implies a much longer adventure. In terms of storytelling, this makes the overall pace of the series feel like it drags, because you spend a lot of time only getting to a point that should happen in the first 20 minutes of a feature length film. This is likely a very personal problem, and if the show has grabbed a hold of you it might not matter as much, but I found it to be very frustrating.

On a character level, Dracula is the clichéd avatar of evil, but he’s hardly in the series at all. The main focus is on Trevor Belmont, who comes across like the dramatic anti-hero of recent TV series, except that he doesn’t have the depth to support his shitty attitude. In internet terms, Trevor could be described as an “edgelord”: he’s moody, difficult to deal with, and mopes about for much of the series, blaming the fall of his family on the people he’s trying to save. He’s also an alcoholic, because why not?

There’s also not much theme, if any at all. The standard plot line of restoring a family’s honor is paid lip service as Trevor realizes his calling in life and gives up the bottle to fight monsters. The church, which runs the country like the mob, is unoriginal and evil to the point of being silly. The Speakers, a movement of magic users, act as foils to the church and provide motivation for Trevor to change his ways.

After the four episodes finish up, a final fight scene (which is quite good) reveals the secret identity of another mysterious character, and our heroes join forces to go after Dracula.

All in all, Castlevania didn’t really deliver what I expected, which was a mature take on an old video game series. It might be the best adaptation of a video game ever produced, but that isn’t saying much about its competition. It’s a by the numbers vampire story that relies on gory animation to make its impact.

Episode VII: The Force Awakens

Lucas sold his franchise to Disney, and Disney brought into renowned franchise caretaker J.J. Abrams to fix things. Largely ignoring the prequels, Abrams created a whole new cast and rebooted the aging franchise. So, what do we think?

In this episode, we discuss the pros and cons of the new characters, movie franchises that act like TV shows, and the upside of making the Death Star a planet.

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Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

The final prequel movie features a lot of bad times for the Jedi, and a lot of good times for the viewers who don’t need to watch anymore of these movies!

In this episode we discuss Obi-Wan drawing first, fighting in a volcano, and the benefits of standing above someone.

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Episode II: Attack of the Clones

The middle part of the prequel trilogy is widely regarded as the weakest of those three movies? Is it?

Let’s talk about the downside of sand, the characterization of Dooku, and losing an arm!

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Episode I: The Phantom Menace

So, how did we come to the events of the original trilogy? By watching the prequels!

In Episode I: The Phantom Menace, we meet a young Anakin Skywalker, a Gungan named Jar Jar, and we learn a whole lot of information about trade in galaxies far, far away.

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Episode VI: Return of the Jedi

The original trilogy comes to an end with Return of the Jedi! What do we think of Jabba’s Palace, the Emperor, and the Ewoks?

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Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

In Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, the series takes a darker turn as our heroes are defeated(?) and things are not looking good for the Rebellion!

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Episode IV: A New Hope


Join Wes, Clay, Jim and Dave as they begin their retrospective review of the Star Wars franchise!

We begin with Episode IV: A New Hope, which introduces us to Luke Skywalker, the Force, and Darth Vader. Does the film hold up to modern standards? The guys discuss lightsaber fights, interminable flight sequences, and  how it all started!

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5 Tips for Twilight Struggle

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In this video, I detail 5 tips that I’d recommend for playing Twilight Struggle.

Trigger the Marshall Plan event as the US

Especially in the Early War, when US ops points are at their most precious, it can be tempting for the Americans to play this 4 op card for influence or a coup. However, it’s my opinion that the US should trigger the Marshall Plan event as soon as possible, ideally as a Turn 1 headline.

The Marshall Plan event gives the US a head start in spreading influence in western Europe. In particular, it gets Canada and the three 2-op countries to within 1 influence point of being under US control. Canada is nice for the US to control in order to gain the NORAD benefit, but it’s my opinion that controlling Europe goes to whichever side can seize the 2 op non battlegrounds along the Mediterranean. Even if the US loses France to De Gaulle, their control of these 2 op countries makes it extremely difficult, and prohibitively expensive, for the USSR to achieve domination in Europe. If I was playing as the USSR, I would consider Europe a lost cause after a Marshall Plan headline and would simply work to get a stalemate in the region until the Reformer comes around in the Late War.

A US headline of Marshall Plan allows the US to focus its efforts on the Middle East and Asia during the Early War. Because the US has a difficult starting position in Twilight Struggle, it’s in the US players best interest to limit the areas where they need to add influence. Asia scoring can be more important than Europe scoring over an entire game, so it’s best to have the US make as strong an attempt as possible to get a foothold in western Asia. This can’t be done as effectively if they’re also scrambling to protect Europe.

Thailand is possibly the most important battleground in the game

Asia tends to produce bigger point swings than Europe or the Middle East, so it’s a vital region to gain influence in the Early War. The USSR starts the game with the advantage of possessing the China Card, so it’s an uphill battle for the US.

Out of all the Asian battlegrounds, Thailand tends to be the most important. Typically, the US will hold onto South Korea and Japan, while the USSR will control North Korea, Pakistan, and India. It can be devastating for the USSR if the US can seize control of the western Asia battlegrounds, but it’s more common for the USSR to be there after a first turn coup of Iran or 1 influence placement into Afghanistan.

This leaves Thailand as the make or break battleground. If the US controls it the region is deadlocked, but if the USSR takes it they’ll likely dominate.

The US starts off in nearby Australia, but they can’t move into Malaysia until DEFCON drops to 3. The best case scenario for the USSR is to play an early Vietnam Revolts or Decolonization, but they’re in a similarly problematic position if DEFCON is still above 3.

For either side, getting into Thailand gives you a strong position in both Asia and Southeast Asia. If possible, the side in control of Thailand should work to control the SE Asia countries adjacent to Thailand, for both SE Asia scoring and to protect Thailand from enemy influence placement. This is slightly easier for the USSR if they can play Vietnam Revolts, as they’ll have an extra op point for any card played completely in SE Asia.

The China Card Battleground Flip

Players must be aware of the fact that the China Card can completely flip control of a 2 op country in Asia due to the fact that it provides 5 ops in that region.

Players who control either Pakistan or Thailand, but do NOT hold the China Card, must be sure that those countries are either not bordered by a country with enemy influence or they need to have a 3 influence advantage to prevent the flip.

This can be expensive for the US in the Early War, but the USSR gets a bit of help from Decolonization (where I usually put 1 op into Thailand and the rest into Africa). A battleground flip completely changes the scoring of a region, so it’s very important to be able to prevent that from happening due to a single influence placing card play.

Destalinize into South America.

Short of discarding Destalinization after the Turn 3 reshuffle, the next best thing the US player can do to get around this powerful card is to play it early enough where the USSR player might be limited in what influence they can move around, or to have them be at a point where they might consider it more important to play Destal into the Early War regions.

In my opinion, the vast majority of Destalinization plays should have the USSR putting 1 influence into Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina and Chile. Of course, this is most ideal when DEFCON is 2, but you might be able to do it at a higher DEFCON against a weaker US player who mistakenly considers other priorities.

Although the US will get Mid War cards that allow the US to freely place influence into South America, an early USSR presence can make this a non-threat, one easily corrected with cheap influence placement. The most dangerous situation for the USSR would be to not build influence into South America, only to have a Voice of America pop up and wipe out everything.

After an effective Destalinization play, the USSR will be in a position to score control, and the US will either have to waste ops points going for control of more countries in the region or hoping to get lucky with Voice of America, Brush War, Junta and cards that allow coups.

If the USSR controls South America during a game where the South American scoring card pops up twice it can easily turn into a 20 VP win.

Small Advantages Win the Game

Twilight Struggle is a game about creating and maintaining several slight advantages. Newer players can be drawn into a mentality where they try to rack up points in a region that they already dominate, which ends up being counter productive. A good strategy throughout the game is to try to maintain very small but significant leads in as many regions as possible, with a priority on the higher scoring areas like Asia.

It can sometimes be a more strategic option to play a deadlocked scoring card during the headline phase, or to simply score a region immediately after gaining dominance or a battleground advantage. It is a mistake to pour an entire turns worth of ops into a region that you already have the advantage, as the amount of ops points being put in will not give you a suitably appropriate outcome in increased scoring.

It can be said that it is more important to understand how to play scoring cards that have you at a disadvantage than it is to be able to maximize scoring in a single region. Over the course of a game, the winner will likely be the person who played defense for the majority of the game by protecting their small advantages across the map.