Posts Tagged ‘Netflix’

 

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critical-role-castI’m only 65 episodes behind the curve, but I’m a fast learner when it comes to the fun, entertaining, and surprisingly heartfelt Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) web series, Critical Role. A live broadcast and weekly peek into a world beset with ancient dragons, barbarian hoards, and some rather unconventional gnomes, Critical Role follows the exploits of Vox Machina, a group of mostly heroic adventurers as they traverse the fictional land of Tal’Dorei. The intrepid band of misfits, however, are brought to life by an equally, and mostly, heroic group of dice-slinging voice actors, all of whom have been playing their characters for three years; two on the live stream and one year prior to the inception of the show. The characters and their actors are as follows:

  • Vax’ildan “Vax” (Liam O’Brien) – a half-elf rogue/paladin and twin brother to Vex’ahlia
  • Vex’ahlia “Vex” (Laura Bailey) – a half-elf ranger/rogue and twin sister to Vax’ildan who also has a pet bear named Trinket
  • Grog Strongjaw (Travis Willingham) – a goliath barbarian
  • Keyleth (Marisha Ray) – a half-elf druid
  • Percival de Rolo “Percy” (Taliesin Jaffe) – also known as Percival Fredrickstein Von Musel Klossowski de Rolo III, a human gunslinger
  • Scanlan Shorthalt (Sam Riegel) – a gnome bard
  • Pike Trickfoot (Ashley Johnson) – a gnome cleric

And guiding our heroes in their exploits is the world-building powerhouse of a Dungeon Master (DM) that is Matthew Mercer. Pulling some impressive double-duty, Mercer not only crafts the realm of Tal’Dorei but he also effortlessly voices all of the non-playable characters (NPC), running the gamut of high-born ladies, lowly orcs, and a thoroughly confused bear.

I’ve only played D&D, and some other tabletop games, a few times in my life with varying degrees of DM and party performance, but I can say wholeheartedly that this is the first time in a long time that I’ve ever wanted to get back into gaming. Hell, this is the first time in a long time I’ve wanted to join somebody else’s game just to experience the energy and absolute fun they have for roughly three hours every Thursday night. The camaraderie of the players and the DM is infectious because they’re just as invested in the welfare of their characters, just as shocked when a plot twist occurs, and just as devastated when events go horribly, horribly wrong. To put it another way, they love their characters and it shows to the point where even a husk of human emotions like myself can get a little teary-eyed.

So, really, this is just an overblown, non-ranked list of reasons why I’m now obsessed with Critical Role. Trust me, it doesn’t disappoint.

Oh, and SPOILERS for the series. Just in case.

 

The Gameplay

 

This seems like a no-brainer, but a significant portion of what makes Critical Role such a success comes from how the players, and by extension the characters, interact with their fictional environment. Setting aside the little character moments and exploratory missions (we’ll get to them in a bit), when Mercer tells the party to roll initiative to battle some greater foe, they’re in it. No one slouches, everyone pulls their weight to support the success of the group in destroying beasts and baddies alike. The physicality of the players speaks louder and louder as the battle rages: eyes wide, mouths agape, everyone fidgeting with nervous energy at each role of the die. Full sessions have been devoted to taking down one enemy (to be fair, it was a dragon) until Mercer asks, “How do you wanna do this?” and the whole group explodes with excitement knowing that the killing blow is just moments away. I’d be lying if I said my own erratic movements didn’t mimic theirs. Even smaller, more desperate, moments are rife with tension as the characters struggle against mind control or frantically try to resurrect one of their own.reaction

There are a couple of episodes that stand out in particular regarding moments of triumph and potential tragedy. In the case of the former, I’d recommend episode 52, “The Kill Box,” wherein Grog, unable to defeat his uncle, leader of the barbarian herd, in single combat, calls upon his friends for help. There are plenty of moments where each character shines but the best bit of teamwork comes when Vex flies in on her broom (long story) and sucks a badly beaten Grog into her necklace (just go with it) to get him somewhat out of harms way. She then releases Grog from high up in the air, giving him the advantage needed to deliver the deathblow to his uncle. It’s definitely an engaging three hours of fictionalized combat and by the end even the players look exhausted. In the case of the latter, it would have to be episode 44, “The Sunken Tomb,” that finds the party searching for enchanted armor beneath the city of Vasselheim. Neglectful in the wake of defeating a Beholder, Percy accidentally sets off a trap that kills Vex, but the party, joined by some guest adventurers, springs into action to bring her back. It’s really more about Laura Bailey’s reactions as well as the other players. The second she realizes what negative hit points means there’s this gutted look on her face as the others search for spells to resurrect Vex. Everyone’s practically in tears until Mercer informs them that she’s alive again.

 

Character Moments

 

It would either be awfully dull or too stressful to watch a group in a constant state of combat. Luckily, the players are actors and they act the shit out of these characters. While some episodes are combat heavy, there are others where the most action that happens is the group goes shopping and some epic haggling ensues. The breathers are needed, though. It gives the party time to rest and recuperate and it gives us, the audience, a few moments alone (so to speak) with the characters, all of whom have their own little story arcs, wants and desires, that tend to overlap with the main story. There are too many character moments to name, and all of them have landed some fantastic one-liners or shared some tears, so here are a few favorites:tumblr_nl9tzk10pe1r201t0o2_1280

  • Vex and Vax – pretty much every episode has a nice moment or two between the twins, Episode 40 has a brutally emotional scene as Vax pleads with Vex not to stray too far from his side in the wake of a dragon attack, but one of my favorites involves some boots, ghostly servants, water and flour, and some brother/sister heckling (Episode 56, “Hope”).
  • Grog and Pike – after Grog purchases a new, badass hat, Pike decides to try it on and takes it for a run (Episode 57, “Duskmeadow”).
  • Keyleth – I’m pretty partial to the druid princess’s awkward high fives after some kind of emotional admission (Episode 44, “The Sunken Tomb,” and Episode 65, “The Streets of Ank’Harel”)
  • Scanlan – any time Scanlan sings to inspire. Anytime (All episodes) Also…Spice? You spice? (Episode 65)
  • Percy – there are a lot of very sweet moments where Percy waxes poetic or wallows a bit, but it’s really when he’s acting like a spoiled rich kid that he shines. His attempt to get Scanlan’s daughter out of prison is a particular favorite (Episode 39, “Omens”)
  • Group Effort – that time opening a wooden door was a nearly impossible task (Episode 29, “Whispers”)

 

Matthew Mercer is Amazing!

 

This can’t be effectively described in words. You have to see and experience just how great of a DM Mercer is. Just know that his character work, as well as his world-building, is phenomenal.

Charity

 

The cast and crew of Critical Role have been supporters of the charity 826LA since the beginning, encouraging fans to donate during the broadcast on Geek & Sundry and thanking those who do on air. However, due to the overwhelming generosity and creativity of their fans that made for some sweet Critmas day unwrapping, the players each chose a charity for fans to support in lieu of the money going to smaller items like dice bags or gigantic bear statues that take up space and are hard to store.

D&D For The Good of All

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We’ve definitely come a long way from the days of Mazes and Monsters, but there are still certain stigmas associated with gaming and gamers that keep people who might find RPGs to be a pleasant experience. Currently, we’re in a bit of a cultural upswing in regards to D&D-style role-playing. I don’t know what, if any, influence Critical Role has had where the bigger picture is concerned, but it’s certainly at the forefront of the pro-gaming change to the status quo. Not only do we have Critical Role, but Matt Mercer and Ashley Johnson are part of the Force Grey filmed RPG show for Nerdist. There’s also Dan Harmon’s Harmon Quest on Seeso that mixes live role-playing with animation and one of the best shows on Netflix, Stranger Things, features the main characters playing D&D as bookends to the series. Small steps, yes, but important nonetheless.

So those are the reasons why I’m currently obsessed with Critical Role. Maybe this encouraged you to check it out or maybe you’re already a fan. Either way, what are your thoughts on the show? What are your favorite moments? Characters? I’m eager to know.

Oh, and…Is it Thursday yet?

It should come as no surprise that I, like many other devoted nerds, spent the weekend binge-watching Marvel’s latest Netflix series, Jessica Jones. Thirteen hours of my life gone, but they were still thirteen hours well spent on what I feel is Marvel’s most fully realized character to date. And yet I’ve come away from Jessica Jones with a sense of unease. Maybe it’s the aftereffects of nearly two days spent diving back into the world of Hell’s Kitchen, but unlikeJessica-Jones-1-1200x674 the mostly triumphant victory of Matt Murdock by the end of Daredevil, Jessica Jones maintains a bittersweet tone from the opening theme right up to the closing shot of the series.

If you need a brief plot synopsis: Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter) is hired by the Schlottmans to find their daughter Hope (Erin Moriarty) after a dramatic change in behavior and disappearance. While investigating Hope’s case, Jessica learns that Kilgrave (David Tennant), the man responsible for her abduction, trauma, and PTSD, is still alive and using Hope as a pawn in a horrific plot to reunite with the one plaything that got away. Though her first instinct is to flee, Jessica is convinced by her foster-sister, Trish Walker (Rachael Taylor), to save Hope and fight back.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to spoil this one for you. This article isn’t really a review so much as it’s me needing an outlet to process how I feel about the series. I’ve seen a lot of people commenting on how “dark” the series is, which isn’t untrue, though the dry wit and sarcasm shouldn’t be overlooked. But what struck me after the first few episodes, what continues to linger in my thoughts days after viewing the show, is how real it felt. This series doesn’t have the flashiness of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, nor does it have the action-heavy prowess of Daredevil. What Jessica Jones has is authenticity. It’s raw and it doesn’t shy away from showing you the ugly side of the little corner of the Marvel Universe Jessica inhabits. By the end, you feel like you’ve been raked over the coals of Jessica’s complicated, messed-up life, but in seeing her for who she is, warts and all, and what she’s overcome, you have a better appreciation of what showrunner Melissa Rosenberg and the Jessica Jones cast and crew have accomplished. The series is unapologetic in its depiction of a flawed female character who just happens to have superpowers, but it uses the genre and the series format to talk Schermata-2015-10-23-alle-21.00.36about the far more relevant topics of rape, abuse, and recovery.

Part and parcel to this character portrait is the story from which it was adapted. Based on Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos’s comic book series Alias, Jessica Jones is a former superhero turned private investigator after her enslavement under the thrall of Kilgrave (aka The Purple Man) – a powerful mind controller – leaves her traumatized and suffering from PTSD. In putting her life back together, she finds herself uniquely qualified to handle cases involving Marvel’s mightiest heroes though she still seeks her peace at the bottom of a bottle. The Netflix series, however, takes the Purple Man story and removes the greater Marvel Universe in order to frame Jessica within the reality of a post-Avengers world. Gone are her first forays into the superhero game as Jewel, though the series does a clever nod to her comic book past, and what we’re left with is a woman struggling to pay the bills and keep the demons at bay only to find that the Devil has come back into her life.

I can’t say enough how impressed I am at the show’s very deft handling of rape and abuse as part of the narrative. Jessica’s arc throughout the series is that of a woman in recovery. She’s been violated in both mind and body because of Kilgrave and the series treats his mind control abilities as just that, a violation. In trying to track down Kilgrave, Jessica inadvertently creates a support group for other people he’s controlled, including her neighbor Malcolm (Eka Darville). The way the group share their experiences, the language they use, reads exactly like a support group for people who have experienced sexual assault or abuse. Jessica and Kilgrave both act as metaphorical representations of silent victims and rape culture, respectively. Because of her abilities Jessica continues to blame purple manherself for not being stronger, for not fighting back. What’s the point of having these abilities, being able to punch a guy through a brick wall or leap from the sidewalk to the rooftops in seconds, if you can’t stop someone as psychotic as Kilgrave from harming you? It’s why Kilgrave’s power, and the consistent disbelief in that power, is essential to the story.

In the Marvel Cinematic and television universes thus far most, if not all, of the “gifts” displayed by heroes and villains have been clearly visual. Everything they do has some element of spectacle to it, but Kilgrave’s power isn’t easily observable. It’s a suggestion or an order that you’re compelled to carry out and it doesn’t matter to him how you feel afterwards. He’s an infection and his presence lingers long after he’s done with you. The fear that Jessica shows at the idea of Kilgrave still being alive is the same fear people experience after being attacked and the assailant isn’t caught or gets released. Every street corner becomes a potential point of attack, every person a possible threat. Your trust in the world, in people, has completely crumbled because, even if you survive, the person that did this to you is still out there and they still have power over you. Unfortunately, prosecuting something that has to be experienced to believe is rather difficult and that’s only if you can get someone to believe that it actually happened. It isn’t until Jessica fights back (literally, in the show’s case) that she understands Kilgrave has no power over her. That’s not to say that everything ends up being sunshine and lollipops, because it doesn’t, but there is a valiant effort being made on the part of the Jessica Jones team to treat this type of story with the respect it deserves. Also a huge round of applause goes to Rosenberg and company for taking the Mad Max: Fury Road route and not showing Jessica being raped by Kilgrave. It would have been exploitative and unnecessary had they gone through with it. The writing in the series, however, is so strong and the character of Kilgrave set up so well that all we need is to hear Jessica give voice to her pain for us to believe her.

luke cageIf you feel as though I’m focusing too much on one aspect of the series, then guess what, you’re in my head. What a lovely place, right? But, yes, there’s so much more to Jessica Jones worth exploring. Like I said, Jessica is the most fleshed out, multi-dimensional character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. From the get-go we understand that Jessica is a hard-drinking, shit-talking, hot-headed asshole of a person (she fully admits to it!) and the series never shies away from showing those aspects of her personality. She’s also tempered by her fierce loyalty and the love she has not just for her friends and family, but for people in general. And in keeping with the show’s unapologetic nature, she’s a sexually active woman who likes having sex and isn’t looked down on by other characters for it. Probably because the supporting cast features characters of varying personalities who have their own hangups to deal with instead of getting all up in Jessica’s business. Well, some of them at least. Looking at you, Robyn!

This is also a gender balanced cast, which gives the creative team ample room to explore their characters, specifically the women in the cast. With four female leads and several more supporting members, Jessica Jones manages to shine a much needed spotlight on women as complex people capable of doing right, wrong, and everything else in between. Carrie-Anne Moss, in my opinion, gives the second greatest performance in the show as Jeri Hogarth, a lawyer with a moral compass practically smashed to hell. There are very few redeeming qualities about Jeri, but Moss finds a way to make this manipulative, stuck-up, shark of a human being somewhat sympathetic. It’s an understated performance, to say the least, but my God does Moss get a lot of mileage out of an icy stare. The confidence the show has in its audience to invest in some awful characters is tremendous. None of these people are pure of heart and mind – but, then again, who is really?

Another piece of the show’s excellent writing and storytelling is in the ethical dilemmas it places Jessica in as she decides how to confront and bring Kilgrave to justice. The eighth episode, “AKA WWJD”, addresses the issue head on, taking its time to really put Jessica in a moral quandary about Kilgrave and his abilities. If someone can control minds, is there a way to harness that power for good? What if considering morality and justice didn’t occur to this person? Would you sacrifice your personal happiness and devote the rest of your days to keeping a sociopath on the straight and narrow? Even if that sociopath is the source of your greatest pain? Are you obligated to at least try? It’s a brilliant way of exploring what it means to be a hero and the entire series is peppered with these decisions that actually have consequences for Jessica and the people around her. It also helps to set the show apart not just from the other Marvel movies but also from its predecessor, Daredevil.

For obvious reasons, Jessica Jones isn’t Matt Murdock, but what’s really fascinating is where the two differ on a philosophical level. Despite his vigilante leanings, Matt still believes in the necessity of justice even if one needs to go outside the law to achieve one’s goal. His personal struggle throughout Daredevil surrounds whether or not he can fight the monsters of Hell’s Kitchen and still remain the good guy. The show rewards Matt for his efforts, finding an optimistic outlook in the emergence of Daredevil. Jessica, however, doesn’t share Matt’s idealism. Her world is, more than anything, about survival. There are no grand visions of saving the world, or Hell’s Kitchen, as far as she’s concerned. Instead, her primary focus is on getting paid so she can pay her bills and use the leftover cash on a cheap bottle of whiskey. Her job makes her a voyeur into the sordid lives of others, which doesn’t leave you with the rosiest outlook on humanity even on the best days.

daredevil-season-2-news-jessica-jones-crossovers-the-defenders-release-more-netflix-545795And yet, for all of Jessica’s cynicism, she still aspires to be heroic. When we first meet Jessica, she’s a broken person struggling to get through the day without suffering another panic attack or flashback. She certainly doesn’t see herself as a hero. But when she chooses not to run and commits to saving Hope from Kilgrave that’s when we get our first real look at the Jessica who almost donned a spandex jumpsuit and called herself Jewel in order to help others. Unfortunately, she never got the chance to prove herself before Kilgrave showed up, but in taking back control of her life, Jessica finally starts to believe in her own ability to be the hero. It’s another element of her character that separates her from other heroes in the MCU. Most of the Avengers emerged fully formed in who they wanted to be and how they would apply their abilities with little hesitation. Jessica questions herself constantly, but the voice of opposition comes from people like Trish and Malcolm, people who see her for the hero that she is and do their best to foster that confidence in Jessica as well.

Jessica Jones is definitely worth your time. Don’t worry about binge-watching it either because I’m certain the conversation surrounding the show is in no danger of dying off any time soon. While I didn’t really touch on the humor of the series, trust me when I say that there are some choice comedic moments that keep the show from completely going down the grimdark path. I especially love Jessica and Trish commenting on Kilgrave’s choice of name for himself. “I mean, Kilgrave? Was Murder Corpse too subtle?” And even though David Tennant is playing a character who is just the worst, he still manages to bring his quippy charm to Kilgrave, which does its job of making you question your own moral compass.

So, go! Go watch Jessica Jones and get excited for the Luke Cage series! And Daredevil season two! And Iron Fist! And the Defenders! Just be excited!

 

Sam is joined by her friends JP and Jerry to talk about the Netflix Daredevil series. Spoilers!

You should also check out JP’s review of the Daredevil series!

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daredevil-posterFull disclosure this was not supposed to be my introductory piece to the Maniacal Geek. No, actually when I reached out to Sam a week ago and told her that I was itching to write something again I had pitched two completely different ideas. The first a wonderful piece about Flash and its importance to the DC television universe, and second a prediction on the fate of the Jedi Order sans George Lucas. I may very well end up finishing those two stories but something happened in the last few days that changed the game and I feel compelled to write about.

When Marvel and Netflix announced their partnership I admittedly did not think much of it. I have read Daredevil comics, and I know of all the other characters and parts that were suggested, but to be honest I have never been much of a fan and I feared that budgetary and production limitations would make these properties as second class to the MCU as they have often found themselves in the comics. So when Friday rolled around, and I sat working from home, I found that my excitement to watch Daredevil had more to do with the lack of anything compelling on Hulu than a real need to see how it turned out. Bottom line if you stop reading now know this… Daredevil is 13 compelling episodes of cinema with a grit and reality that hide its flaws and highlights the fact that film and TV can now match the world building of comic books. I will not give you a play by play of the series, for that you will need to watch yourself, but here are my reasons why Daredevil just moved to the top of my “television” superhero properties.

1. Cinema Not Television

The first thing I realized as I started to watch Daredevil is that my concerns about budget and production where needless. Daredevil and Hell’s Kitchen are as real and as well defined as any television series about a guy with superpowers has ever come close to being. Showrunner Stephen S. DeKnight has been on record as calling the Wire a source of influence and Wilson Fisk himself Vincent D’Onofrio said that it felt like making a movie, well they are both right. Daredevil exhibits a focus in its storytelling and character development that I would expect from a 2 hour film rather than a 13 episode series. Additionally the fight sequences are beautifully done not only highlighting the individual styles and attitudes of the characters, but walking a line of violence that puts my parent radar on alert while keeping me on the edge of my seat. MARVEL'S DAREDEVIL

While I have binged watched shows before, I have never begun one that was intended to be binged watched. You feel it with Daredevil and it works. The story is meant to be told in large chunks and even the progression of time in the episodes reflects this approach. Events are compacted to help you feel like you are living the predicament of the characters and this is reinforced with the acting. The pacing for some of the B stories is not always perfect, but tell me one film where they always are? Most importantly, even with its radically different tone and storytelling, it still belongs in the MCU. Daredevil never feels misguided or second class and its characters are as compelling as everything we have seen in phase 1 and 2 so far.

2. Genuine Not Gritty

As a DC fan I hate when I hear that they are trying to be more “gritty.” That word makes my skin crawl as I feel it has become synonymous with overacting and gratuitous violence. Daredevil has neither, in fact it has a genuine feel to it that had me thinking more about Breaking Bad than Arrow. Both hero and villain find themselves fighting for the same thing, and walking similar lines. The faint difference that puts them on opposite sides is their willingness to kill another human being. Note that this is important as one finds his willingness forced upon him as a child while the other faces an active choice that he is constantly on the edge of making. This compiled with what I feel is an Emmy worthy performance by D’Onofrio, makes Fisk often the most compelling character on screen. Charlie Cox as Matt Murdock does a great job, though he suffers by comparison to the powerful acting around him. Murdock’s often thin relationship with his faith and questions of his own sanity and worth easily run the risk of being too much and too direct with the “Devil” aspect. But Cox’s conversations with Peter McRobbie’s Father Lantom are well written and well performed, and that is where Cox really shines. Matt_and_Father_Lantom

Along with D’Onofrio, every time Vondie Curtis-Hall (Ben Urich) is on screen I am immediately drawn in. Rosario Dawson (Claire Temple a.k.a. Night Nurse) and Toby Leonard Moore (James Wesley) are limited by either screen time or role respectively, but you do not notice it. Both of their performances are spot on and Wesley’s one liners are timely and well delivered. I can go on and on about the cast but I will wrap it up with the three show regulars: Charlie Cox is a compelling Matt Murdock, though his Daredevil persona suffers from the lack of personality that comes from a darker story. That is not to say it is good, but while Daredevil holds up to most of the other parts of the MCU, this is the one place where a moodier story makes for a slightly less dynamic hero. Deborah Ann Woll has already proven to make the most out of a limited role with her time on True Blood, but her take on the innocent victim with a dark past of Karen Page is not only well executed, but actually has me excited to watch her fall from grace as the story continues. Lastly, I will admit I was concerned about how Elden Henson as Foggy Nelson would do. Would his natural ease and nerdy charm stand up to the dark undertones and rest of the grizzled cast. Not only does he have his own serious moments, but he somehow finds a way to maintain his likeability while never becoming the comic relief.

3. World Building

Daredevil is not the Avengers and it is certainly not Guardians of the Galaxy. It does not have time for any of that light hearted fair or banter. Its characters can rarely be described as heroes, and are more what we would deem heroic everyday folks. Hell it is not even remotely recognizable to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, but in all of that the MCU just become so much richer than it has been until this point. Don’t get me wrong, I have loved the MCU so far (I think I have seen Guardian’s going on 15 times), but nothing has described the impact and everyday lives of the people in this world like Daredevil does. Daredevil reminds us that when Hulk throws someone into a building there are repercussions. There are people and children that have now grown up in this MCU and heroes and villains are just a fact of life. How would that change how we function as a society? What would our lives look like in this new era?Matt _Murdock

Most importantly even though it brings color to the MCU picture, it also holds its own. Being the gateway to an entire new world of storytelling that the Netflix productions will be charged with. Sure there is a part of me that now wants to see the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen throw it down with Spider-Man and Captain America, but if it never happens I will be completely OK. Daredevil does not need it nor does the rest of the MCU. Daredevil’s sole responsibility to the MCU is to open the door for characters and heroes that are not the Avengers. That do not play whims to galactic trans-dimensional villains, or to alien hoards, or super science. It is to show that even in a world where a guy with a hammer can call lightning at will and SHIELD spends money like it’s going out of style, people still have to struggle to keep the lights on and have clean running water. I only hope that as we get into the more super-natural story telling of Iron Fist, and ultimately the Defenders, that the realism and grounded nature of Daredevil does not get lost. If Marvel has earned anything so far it is my confidence that it will be just fine.

Marvel and Netflix have yet to confirm a second season, but I have no fear (see what I did there) that it will happen. I expect these Netflix series will be a little more Doctor Who in frequency than most shows, but that is   . Mainly because if they keep being this good, I will just watch them over and over again until the new stuff finally hits the internet.

Let me know your thoughts and predictions below and as always thanks for reading. JP