Star Trek Beyond – Review

Review Format 1 - The Plot Spot

In Star Trek Beyond, the follow up to the J. J. Abrams reboot Star Trek and Star Trek: Into Darkness, Kirk and the crew of the USS Enterprise are three years into their five-year mission, and we get to catch up with the goings on the ship, their interpersonal connections and struggles, and their general daily lives. Kirk in particular struggles to find the meaning and purpose in their mission, and what role he truly wishes to play in Starfleet.

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He is not the only one among his crew pondering their place and role on the Enterprise, but before any of them find resolution, an escape pod emerges from a Nebula close to the star base Yorktown, with an inhabitant calling for help in rescuing her stranded ship.

Having the necessary technology to withstand the Nebula’s harsh environment, the Enterprise is sent on a rescue mission. However things are not as they seem, and the Enterprise and her crew are flying in to danger. What awaits for them in the Nebula? Will they be cunning, able, and united enough to face that danger?

Review Format 2 - Target Audience

Of course fans of the J.J. Abrams reboot will find a lot to love here. This film has the same charismatic cast, the same energy, the same humor, and they all live up to the standard of the previous films very well. This film has a great deal of action, both in space and on the ground. It has great interpersonal drama, character building, and character interaction. It will appeal to fans of the genre, of the franchise, and of action films in general.

Interestingly, I feel that this film will also appeal to fans of the classic Star Trek series perhaps more than the first two did. This film does not have the same wonky elements like red matter from the first film, ridiculously close planets, or magic blood. But more importantly, this film strives to include broader themes and philosophical underpinnings that felt largely absent from the previous films, even though they get a bit of a bad rap in that regard.

Review Format 3 - The Short Take

Star Trek Beyond manages to both avoid the weaknesses of the previous films and continue the good elements that made those two a blast to watch. It is clever, with an excellent script, witty dialogue, and a strong plot that has its own identity and purpose. The same excellent cast returns with some great new additions, and their acting is fantastic across the board, even when particular characters are not given much to do.

The action is thrilling and interesting, both conceptually and visually, and it feels impact full and meaningful. The humor is fun and never detracts from the plot, though, to be fair, one moment goes so over-the-top ridiculous and epic that I could see some killjoys feeling it ruined the seriousness of the scene. Some people just need to learn to have fun.

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What struck me most while watching this film were the intellectual elements that felt missing or muted in the previous two films. That is, this film has themes that apply to our current world situation, even if they are a bit simplistic in their examination. It was a pleasure to think about the ways in which the villain embodies a number of the problems in our current social landscape, and how his problems with the Federation and his conflict with Kirk speak to the rifts in our society. That wasn’t a line of thought that I’d felt compelled into after watching the other two films. It is refreshing.

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While no single moment met the heights of the first Abrams film, and while the villain isn’t as intimidating and powerful as Benedict Cumberbatch’s turn as Khan from the second, Star Trek Beyond has the most consistently good quality across the whole run time, and beyond that, it is the most “Star Trek” of all three. As of right now, Star Trek Beyond is my favorite of the trilogy, and there is no doubt that it is…

4.5-5 Rating - Awesome!

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The BFG – Review

Review Format 1 - The Plot Spot

A young girl named Sophie lives at an orphanage, where she spends her nights dodging the matron so she can read late into the night hours. One night at 3 a.m., which she dubs the “witching hour,” she witnesses a giant in a cloak down the street. The giant sees her looking at him, grabs her, and takes her off to giant country where she finds that this giant isn’t so bad after all. As their friendship grows she learns about his work catching and shaping dreams which he then gives to sleeping humans. She names him the BFG, which is short for “Big Friendly Giant.”

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This pleasant time doesn’t last forever, however, as her presence draws the attention of other, stupider, meaner,  man-eating giants. What’s more, these evil giants have been stealing away children from the human world to eat. Can she and the BFG survive their viciousness? Who can they turn to for help? Can they put an end to these monsters’ murderous ways?

Review Format 2 - Target Audience

The film is very definitely aimed at children. The plot and characters are all structured like an old-fashioned fairy tale. Adults can quite easily find the story cute, and the visuals are very good, but aside from that they will find little to chew on. At the very least, the humor isn’t nearly as offensive as that of movies like “Minions” or the “Ice Age” series.

I am concerned for the film’s success because of how out of step the film is from modern tastes in kids’ films.

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It moves much more slowly, it has much less slapstick humor, and it has far more moments and visuals that build their appeal on wonder and enjoyment of friendship than the chaos that defines current sensibilities. I think many modern kids would be bored, quite frankly, and that’s a shame. In the end, it’s really a film that appeals to those who have a sense of nostalgia for the way children’s stories used to be told, and it doesn’t offer much to anyone else.

Review Format 3 - The Short Take

While I never read this particular book as a child (I wasn’t exposed to much Roald Dahl) it reminds me a great deal of many of the books I did read. Like those books, plot logic doesn’t really matter, and character growth doesn’t really matter, instead, “The BFG” relies on relationships and experiencing the weird or wonderful. In that, it succeeds very well. The relationship between Sophie and the BFG is the heart of the film.

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However, the fact that “The BFG” succeeds in this manner comes with the downsides as well as the upsides of those goals. The plot of the film isn’t very satisfying. The BFG’s reasons for bringing Sophie to giant country at the beginning of the film don’t make much sense and is clearly an excuse for the story to happen the way it does. The protagonists have very little agency throughout the film. Bad things happen to Sophie and the BFG, but their response is mostly to either take it on the chin or find someone else who can solve the problem for them. When the solution comes at the end of the book, it doesn’t feel satisfying or earned. It’s really mostly played for laughs.

“The BFG” is very simply a fairy tale. The audience is meant to take pleasure in the wonder of seeing a giant, or watching the dancing lights of the dreams, or to wonder at the speed and heights that the BFG can go. They are to smile at the sight of a ship in the giant’s house, and wish that they could climb around the nooks and crannies of his workshop. They are meant to chuckle at the strange sounding words that the BFG speaks, and grimace at the disgustingness of the snozzcumbers.

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It’s not particularly important to watch Sophie grow and overcome challenges. It’s not important to put together a complex plot to defeat the giants. It’s far more important to enjoy the times Sophie spends chatting with the BFG. It’s nice, but it’s not for everyone.

If you were thinking about watching “The BFG,” I would say there is no reason not to. “The BFG” is a perfectly pleasant and harmless movie, but it also doesn’t do much for me, personally. While it’s great for kids, and I could easily see reading the book and watching the film with my own future children, right now I’d only buy “The BFG” if I found it in…

3-4 Rating - The Bargain Bin

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Finding Dory – Review

 

Review Format 1 - The Plot Spot

Well before a small clownfish with a stub-fin was lost and found again, Dory was a tiny baby Blue Tang fish suffering from the mental disability of short-term memory loss. Despite her condition, she was well loved by her parents, and had a fairly happy life. However, a terrible accident separated Dory from her parents. Though she tried to find them, she slowly lost her memories of them until they were only vague impressions in the back of her mind.

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The primary events of “Finding Dory” take place one full year after the events of “Finding Nemo,” the previous film in this series by Pixar studios. Dory is living as best she can with Marlin and Nemo, and while the clownfish have affection for her, it’s also clear that everyone also has to tolerate her and her condition. One day, however, an incident sparks memories of her parents and the name of the place they used to live. With this revelation, Dory sets out with a determined Nemo and a reluctant Marlin to find her parents on the far side of the ocean.

On the way, they will run into challenges to overcome. They will see many new faces, as well as a couple cameos from familiar ones. Dory’s memory and determination will be put to the test, as will Marlin and Nemo’s trust in Dory. Will Dory be able to find her parents after all this time?

Review Format 2 - Target Audience

“Finding Dory” comes from the same patented Pixar mix of humor and touching sadness that permeates all of their work. If you are a fan of the first film, “Finding Nemo,” then this film was definitely made for you. The relationships between Dory, Nemo, and Marlin all make more sense when you have the first film in mind, and Dory’s behavior and character is odd even with that background. I’m not certain how a given person’s perspectives on the film would change if that person was a newcomer to the series and they only had this film to get to know Dory. That said, the humor and silliness is actually aimed at a slightly lower aged audience than the first film, so if you’re sensitive to ridiculousness, then this film might be a little less appealing to you than the first.

Review Format 3 - The Short Take

“Finding Dory” is funny, adventurous, and heartfelt. It is visually stunning. Pixar’s artists are masters of their craft. The music flows smoothly with the events of the film, and the voice actors all do a wonderful job of bringing their characters to life.

The plot, though borrowing heavily from the first film, is still enjoyable and easy to follow. The characters are mostly well defined and all have their charms. The dialogue is fairly natural, though it doesn’t have quite the level of wit I hope for from the studio that also made the Toy Story franchise. Most importantly for me, Pixar tends to tackle themes and ideas that are flat-out avoided by most other studios, and Finding Dory is no exception.

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All that said, “Finding Dory” is not a perfect film. It really does borrow too heavily from “Finding Nemo,” and while familiarity doesn’t mean lesser quality, it can mean that there isn’t the same sense of wonder and newness that comes from seeing a brand new world for the first time. The side characters are either interesting, or funny, and sometimes both, but they aren’t given enough time to really shine, and it feels like we only get to know them in passing. For all it is a cartoon, it increased the level of ridiculous action to a point that stretched my suspension of disbelief based off of the previous film. These are nitpicks, but it does mean that this film isn’t quite joining the ranks of the Pixar classics.

Though I think it’s worth noting that it does not reach the same heights as the first film, “Finding Nemo,” much less “Toy Story” or “Inside Out”, “Finding Dory” still has much of Pixar’s typical polish and care. It manages to raise itself head and shoulders above Pixar’s lesser offerings, like “Cars 2.” While it may be a “B” tier film for Pixar, than makes it an “A+” tier from most other animation studios, and because of that, when “Finding Dory” comes out…

4.0-4.5 Rating - I'll Take it!

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Warcraft – Review

 

Review Format 1 - The Plot Spot

The film begins with the orcish horde, a military collection of tribal clans. Within the horde we find Durotan, a young orc chieftain, who is accompanied by his wife and their unborn child. The horde, under the command of the warlock Gul’dan, makes preparations and sacrifices needed to cross through a dark portal to escape the imminent destruction of their home world, Draenor. This portal takes them into the world of the seven kingdoms, where live humans, elves, dwarves and other races, and where peace has reigned for many years.

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The orcs bring war with them. Upon their crossing, upon the orders of Gul’dan, the orcs begin to wage a guerilla campaign against the humans. As they pillage, they capture villagers for sacrifice in order to open the dark portal again and bring the full extent of the clans into Azeroth and claim the world as their own. Durotan, meanwhile, begins to have reservations about the methods and goals of Gul’dan.

All of the forces of Azeroth, the country the orcs first invade, are put to the test to figure out what is happening and how to stop it. In Ironforge, a dwarfish city, commander Lothar is summoned to Stormwind to discuss the strange attacks and plan how to thwart them. A young mage named Khadgar has found signs of “fell” magic, demon magic, in these attacks. Khadgar recommends they seek out the guardian Medivh.

Will they figure out the truth in time? Even if they do, will they have the strength to fight the might of the horde? These two factions, orcs and humans, collide in “Warcraft.”

Review Format 2 - Target Audience

When you have a film filled with orcs and humans wielding weapons in a medieval setting, it’s obvious that anyone who doesn’t enjoy fantasy will be turned off immediately. However, there is an in-genre distinction to make. Even with a serious tone, the colorful and cartoonishly-proportioned characters and armor, as well as the generous use of magic, means this film will only appeal to people who not only like fantasy but can also accept the more outlandish elements of this film’s design and storytelling. As much as it might like to be Lord of the Rings, it’s not. I mean, we are talking about magical floating cities, portals the size of skyscrapers, and orange and green orc warriors – each built like the Hulk – after all.

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Beyond this distinction, fans of Warcraft, especially fans since the original real time strategy title “Warcraft: Orcs and Humans,” will find the most to latch onto here. The film doesn’t shy away from its lore, and it drops names of people and places so fast that many die-hard fans might have a hard time keeping up.

That isn’t to say that people unfamiliar with Warcraft lore can’t enjoy the film. The film takes place near the beginning of the game lore of the Warcraft series, meaning this is as good a jumping on point for someone unfamiliar to Warcraft as any. The question is, how well do the filmmakers accomplish providing a good and clear movie narrative?

Review Format 3 - The Short Take

I’m not going to beat around the bush. This film has a lot of flaws. Pacing issues drag it down, especially near the beginning. While there are maybe two good performances, the rest of the acting varies from just fine to very bad. Some plot elements are vague to a fault. The CGI occasionally looks iffy, and the world doesn’t feel particularly lived-in.

Despite these flaws, there are many good things about the film as well. While the pacing is way off, the plot itself is fairly straightforward and understandable, though there are a few points that could have used some more set-up or payoff. Tragedy can and does strike the characters of the film. Sometimes this happens in unexpected ways, and the story doesn’t shy away from violence and consequences.

Durotan is a great character, and we spend a lot of time with him. While the other characters aren’t as engaging as Durotan, many are at least likeable or interesting in their own ways. Lothar in particular nears Durotan in terms of engagement. Also, Gul’dan makes for an effectively vicious villain.

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The action is generally strong. The fights feel real, in the sense that the sound direction makes every impact feel weighty and painful.The CGI is obvious, but once you get used to it, it’s actually pretty good, and it only ever interferes with immersion once or twice. Even if you’re never emotionally touched, this is a perfectly good popcorn spectacle.

I enjoyed this film quite a bit – more than it deserves, even. While I might personally buy it as soon as it comes out, I can’t deny that “Warcraft” won’t be worthwhile for most people. In the end, it’s just a…

Guilty Pleasure

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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows – Review

Review Format 1 - The Plot Spot

Some time has passed since the turtles last fought Shredder. Vern Fenwick has taken all of the credit for their victory, as they had agreed, in order to preserve the anonymity of the turtles. Shredder remains in custody, and things have largely settled down.

That peace doesn’t last long, however, as the Foot Clan, under the direction of the goofy scientist Baxter Stockman, puts a plan into motion to break Shredder loose. As bad as that is, another force just as sinister but  even more powerful, has intentions of world-domination. This film follows the turtles as they fight to put an end to the machinations of all of these villains, even while coming to terms with conflict between the brothers themselves.

Review Format 2 - Target Audience

You might think that this film is aimed at children because of the whole “mutant turtles” thing. It’s not, really. The characters, dialogue and plot are straight out of a kid’s cartoon. However, the action, while bloodless, is a bit much for little kids. Meagan Fox is highly sexulized in at least one scene. Some of the character designs are meant to be scary in appearance on a level that little kids might find too much. Depending on how any given set of parents decides to raise their child, the language is also more adult than they would expect to see in a kids movie.

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This film is aimed primarily at adults. A very particular kind of adult – one who grew up loving the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. That means adults who love the characters and their relationships and the cool action scenes, but it also means adults who might put up with stereotypes, cliches, cheesy dialogue, and over-the-top plots that barely cling together. This is the only group who will let the rest of the film’s sizeable flaws slide at all.

Review Format 3 - The Short Take

“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows” is a vast improvement on the first film, and it does it mostly by embracing the franchise’s roots as a cartoon. Unfortunately, that same tactic is also a source of the film’s many flaws.

The filmmakers mostly nail characterization, and they put the focus where it should be all along: The turtles. Each of our half-shelled heroes are given time and dialogue to be who fans expect them to be. The new addition, Stephen Amell, has the most non-turtle screen-time as Casey Jones, but Megan Fox and Will Arnett’s characters are mercifully turned into bit-players this time around. Unfortunately, the script didn’t give Amell much to work with, and he just doesn’t come across as the Casey Jones fans remember.

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The best thing about the movie is the action sequences. The early convoy escape and chase was fun and delightfully cartoony with the turtle van sporting some crazy weapon-systems. The fight that begins with the planes in the sky and continues all the way down a raging river is just about perfect and had me grinning the whole way through.  

However, in between the action sequences, the film bogs down. The action resembles the cartoons, but the plot and dialogue both resemble cartoons as well. The script writers didn’t do a good job with the interpersonal relationships, and plot points jump from one to the next haphazardly, making little sense along the way. Exposition is everywhere, and motivations are thin. For every moment I enjoyed, there was a moment of eye-rolling stupidity and childishness.

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The worst thing is, many of the conflicts built throughout the film, like the siblings’ conflict and the ambitions of Shredder, are tossed aside with poor resolutions. Instead we are given a showy but shallow fight in the sky that carries no weight or emotional connection outside of fanboy nostalgia for seeing a villain that has never been on the big screen before. The whole last act is unsatisfying.

If you can completely turn off your brain, there is some enjoyment to be found. However, while this sequel is much better in many regards than it’s predecessor, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows” just goes…

2.5-3 Rating - In and Out

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The Jungle Book (2016) – Movie Review

Review Format 1 - The Plot Spot

Mowgli is a young child, or “man-cub,” orphaned in the jungle as a toddler with the death of his father. He is soon found by the compassionate black panther, Bagheera, who takes him to be raised by the wolf pack under the eye of their leader, Akela. There he grows up alongside the wolf pups with the loving guidance of his surrogate mother Raksha and learns the laws of the jungle, what it means to be a wolf, and how to suppress his human cleverness and his inventions and tools, his “tricks,” as the animals call them.

Drought comes to the jungle, bringing with it the “water truce” wherein no animal must eat another. At the watering hole, Mowgli first meets the intimidating tiger, Shere Khan, who hates humans and threatens to kill the boy the moment the truce ends. When the rains come, Mowgli finds he must flee to the man-village to avoid death by his menacing claws.

What follows is an adventure through the jungle as Mowgli makes friends, faces dangers, and learns who he really is.

Review Format 2 - Target Audience

“The Jungle Book” is full of adventure, wonder and thrills, but it also does an excellent job of building characters and drama. There are valuable themes of identity, responsibility, family, and bravery throughout the film that kids and adults alike can benefit from. This is a film that almost anybody can enjoy unless they have something against talking animals or adventure stories. Beyond that, people who love to see the advancements of CGI technology and artistry would no doubt find the movie fascinating.

However, the movie would probably be scary for very small children. Forget how cheery and lighthearted the animated film from 1967 was. This movie, while still having moments of light-hearted fun, does not pull back from showing just how dangerous and scary the jungle can be. There is at least one jump scare, and the “villain,” Shere Khan, is a real monster. He is not afraid to kill or threaten violence, and proves to be a terrifying threat to all of the characters throughout the film.

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The movie is still made primarily for kids, certainly, but I would put the viewing age-range a couple of years later on than the animated film it shares DNA with. That said, I believe that kids should watch movies that can scare them, and all of the scares in this film are of a good, thrilling sort. It is simply something to keep in mind for those of you with younguns.

Review Format 3 - The Short Take

“The Jungle Book” is a beautiful movie. The CGI work is top notch, and after about five minutes into the movie I never questioned the reality of the creatures talking on the screen, and the jungle itself is vibrant and lush.

The film has much more than simple appearance to speak for it, however, as the voice acting is fantastic with terrific performances in every role across the board. From Ben Kingsley as Bagheera, to Bill Murray as Baloo, to Idris Elba’s Shere Khan, they all inhabit their roles. The young child actor playing Mowgli, Neel Sethi, is not perfect. However, I give him a lot of credit for acting when he is literally the only non-CGI character in the whole cast.

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The plot has many of the same beats as the 1967 animated Disney film of the same name, but tight writing links the events together in a strong narrative that makes every scene carry a weight and importance that simply wasn’t there in the original animation. This film also plays on the nostalgia of the audience for the animated film through the reappearance of a couple of its classic musical numbers, but only one of them really worked with the tone and purpose of the scene it appeared in.

The strong writing of the plot and dialogue comes together with the beautiful CGI and fleshed out characters to create a stellar product with only a few minor flaws. “The Jungle Book” is not only the best live-action remake of a Disney Animated movie so far, it is very possibly the definitive version of this classic tale. “The Jungle Book” is worth buying brand new.

4.0-4.5 Rating - I'll Take it!

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To the Moon: Holiday Special Minisodes 1 & 2 – Game Review

 

Review Format 1 - The Plot Spot

In the first minisode, it’s been a while since the events of “To the Moon,” and it’s Christmas time at Sigmund, the company where Neil and Eva work. They find themselves stuck there due to a large group of protesters outside their building.

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This bottle-episode trope provides some opportunities for various characters to interact with one another, delving a little into the morally and ethically questionable work of the company, as well as build interpersonal relationships while they wait for the protesters to disperse and the snowy weather to let up.

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In the second minisode, the protesters and snow are gone and it’s time for people to find their way home for their own Christmases, but things don’t quite work out as planned. This minisode explores the relationships of the main characters further, but more than that, it drops hints and mysterious sights that tantalize the player for the sequel.  

Review Format 2 - Target Audience

The target audience is pretty straightforward. This is directed at people who have already played “To the Moon” and can’t wait for the sequel. That being the case, they provide the same sorts of experiences that “To the Moon” provided. Players can expect some light humor, mystery and excellent characters built on the foundation of a science fiction premise. If that sounds good to you and you haven’t played “To the Moon” yet, then you should! For more information about that game, check out my review of “To the Moon” HERE.

Review Format 3 - The Short Take

“To the Moon’s” minisodes do a good job at continuing the character building for Neil and Eva that occurred during the first game. These two were not nearly as fleshed out as their patient in that game, and the future of the series will rely on expanding their characters, so this is a good first step in that direction. Not only that, but the hints and foreshadowing of things to come do a great job of whetting the appetite for the sequel without giving any secrets away.

That said, these minisodes truly live up to the “mini” part of their name. I would say that both of them require no more than a half-hour to finish, and neither of them had a real depth of content. There simply isn’t much to do but explore the environment, talk to everyone you can as many times as you can, and observe the short plot as it unfolds. It doesn’t cover much territory, as the events all happen in and around the Sigmund building, and it doesn’t answer any questions whatsoever.

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These minisodes feel like scenes from the beginning of the upcoming sequel that wouldn’t fit into the story well without destroying the pacing, so they split it off and offered it as a goodie for the fans. This not only allows FreeBird to tell this part of the story while upholding the artistry of their future game, but this also keeps fans invested. These story morsels are a nice way to keep “To the Moon” in mind until the sequel, which feels a time and forever away.

Even though the minisodes aren’t very meaty in terms of content, they are free. So, considering that low low price, “To the Moon’s” minisodes 1 & 2 are completely worth their short run-time.

4.0-4.5 Rating - I'll Take it!

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