Saturday, July 30, 2011

Review: Captain America: The First Avenger

Non Spoiler Review:
Following on the heels of Thor, Chris Evans is the latest to take over an iconic Marvel role with Captain America. Like Thor, which had to balance the presence of the supernatural in the greater Marvel universe, this one has its own set of challenges—integrating a World War II era hero into the franchise and making what is effectively a period film.

The movie begins in the present day with a discovery in the Arctic Circle, but immediately flashes back to 1942, where we meet young Steve Rogers facing an insurmountable obstacle trying to serve his country despite a litany of physical problems that prevent him from enlisting. At the Stark Exhibition (featuring Iron Man's own pop, Howard Stark), Steve finds an opportunity of a lifetime to participate in a secret super-soldier experiment.

In Germany, Hitler's scientific division, Hydra, under the command of Johann Schmidt, is up to its own shenanigans, when Schmidt manages to secure none other than the cosmic cube in Norway (last seen in the end credits of Thor). With an unlimited energy source to power his futuristic weaponry, he plans to conquer the world.

Captain America has a lot on its plate—introducing what could easily turn into a jingoistic caricature of a super-hero, bring off a war story, and manage to tie it all in nicely with the future Avengers movie, and hopefully its own set of sequels. Like Thor, Captain America is a fun ride that manages to deliver on all fronts.

I found this to be one of the more character rich Marvel films, and Chris Evans owns the role. He succeeds wholeheartedly in presenting a Captain America that isn't a farce of any kind, but someone worthy of being a hero. He also transcends the whole America angle in his simple ideal that he doesn't like bullies. In fact, Stanley Tucci, as German scientist and developer of the super-serum, Abraham Erskine, provides a satisfying explanation why Rogers was chosen among so many others to be part of the experiment.

Hugo Weaving (Matrix, Lord of the Rings) really pulled off the Red Skull (despite an accent that was quite reminiscent of Arnold Schwarzenegger at times). Hayley Atwell (Pillars of the Earth) as Peggy Carter and Tommy Lee Jones as Colonel Phillips were equally effective in supporting roles. An eclectic bunch for Rogers' squad of commandos rounded out the cast. But it was Dominic Cooper as Howard Stark who made a great homage to his future son, providing a nice contrast between Iron Man 2's Stark Expo and this one.

The movie takes several interesting diversions, including the newly created super-soldier being relegated to USO tours (complete with a fantastic musical number, which should never have worked in a super-hero movie). There were some nice touches and surprises, including the original Captain America costume making an appearance.

Captain America also presents the first real Marvel take on its alternate history, with WWII super weapons, a very futuristic looking New York City, and vast technological differences (which at times might have been stretching things a bit—including levitating cars). Another surprise was how much Thor's influence had over the story, including a very surprising scene towards the climax of the film—definitely ensure you've seen Thor before hitting this one.

One thing very noticeable was the lack of Nazis. The Hydra organization completely overshadowed everything, with barely a glimpse of the Third Reich at all. It was a curious, and somewhat odd choice, given the character's roots.

The only real problem comes with the challenge of working WWII and the modern era into the story. Captain America needs to fight through the course of the war, but of course this film can't show that aside from some montages. So that leaves a big gap in his history (which writers undoubtedly will want to flash back to in future movies). The result is somewhat of a glazing over of those events to get to the epic battle with Red Skull, leaving Cap's war years as a choppy bunch of scenes.

I can't really say this was the best of Marvel's shared universe, given they are all so very different, but they did succeed in hitting the ball out of the park with Captain America in casting, story and visual style. There's ample room for World War II flashbacks in future movies given the time jumps presented here, and Cap is firmly brought forward to the current era to explore his reintegration into society. What could have been a sappy or overly patriotic story came off as very genuine, with a lot of heart. And I'm anxiously looking forward to seeing Chris Evans interact with Chris Hemsworth and Robert Downey Jr. in the upcoming Avengers.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Review: True Blood "Me and the Devil"

Non Spoiler Review:
Sookie's efforts to help Eric finally begin to backfire, while Jesus and Lafayette head to Mexico to get some help from Jesus' evil grandfather we saw in last season's flashbacks. Bill steps up his game against the witches. Tommy and Sam are thrown together again after his family reunion goes awry. Jason is on the mend. Evil baby gets an exorcism.

Carrying on the fun from last week, we get some more King Bill awesomeness, and further details about the bad witch stuff that happened in Spain. We also get to meet the rest of his sheriffs. The direction of the storyline is beginning to crystallize, tying in to Jesus' visions from last year. And similarly with Sam and Tommy, it's a sure thing now who will be the next skinwalker. Jason, now back in the world, has to come to terms with what happened to him (and the infusion of Jessica's blood) as well as an impending full moon. The problem remains with Arlene and Terry's D storyline which just isn't gripping me at all. Best of all, though, Sookie's lies start to come back to bite her in the ass, despite the growth of her relationship with Eric. 

Spoilers Now!
Tommy plays dead to get a leg up on Joe Lee, which prompts a huge brawl between the three of them. He kills his father, and also, by accident, his mother who leaps to Joe Lee's defence. That leads him to show up at Sam's in a panic, with both corpses in his van (!)

After Pam's abrupt departure, Marnie explains the spirit returned and saved them again, but Lafayette is not impressed they've pissed off another vampire, and so leaves with Tara and Jesus. They all decide it's best to put as much distance between them and the coven as possible.

Eric is visited by Godric when he comes to look in on a sleeping Sookie. Eric doesn't know who he is, though Godric tells him he's damned and incapable of love. He drinks from her at his urging, but is roused from his dream. He goes upstairs to look in on her and she wakes up this time. 

Eric explains the nightmare and how it upset him. He wants to know if he's evil. She admits Godric would be happy to see him as he is now, as his maker was the most human vampire she'd ever met. She lets him stay with her until sunrise.

Hoyt and Jessica put Jason to bed. Hoyt's grateful she saved the life of his best friend. She's tired from giving blood and acting strange, so leaves him to stay with Jason. But Hoyt seems equally pensive for some reason.

Portia goes to see Bill, though he insists their relationship remain professional. Despite her arguments in favor of incest (!), he opts for the easy out and manages to glamor her to run away at the sight of him. She runs out of the house screaming.

Pam then shows up sporting her best funeral attire and veil to cover her rotting face, and wants permission to destroy the witches. His hands are tied (that no killing humans thing from Nan), though he doesn't plan to ignore it and is well aware how dangerous the witches are.

Lafayette and Jesus head off to Mexico to see Jesus' shaman grandfather for help, while Tara plans on returning to New Orleans. The last time Jesus saw his grandfather was his ninth birthday, when he forced him to kill a goat as a sacrifice. He felt power then, but his mother took him away before his grandfather could take him further. But they need that power now (nothing could possibly go wrong with that plan).

Sam and Tommy drive off in the van to deal with the bodies, but Andy ends up following them for speeding. Sam gets Tommy to get in the back. Andy does some V and wants to get into the back after seeing blood on the door. After a tense moment (including drawing his weapon) Andy gets Sam to open the door and finds Tommy's transformed into an alligator. Sam says he found the gator and was taking him back to the swamp. A shaken Andy leaves. Sam throws the bodies in the swamp and tries to put Tommy's mind at ease by saying it was self-defense. He admits to killing the two people who stole from him (we saw in last season's flashback), so he assures his upset brother he's not going to go to hell for killing his parents.

At work, Sookie asks Holly how her group is going, and inquires about the vampire attack. Holly doesn't really want to talk about that given her association with vampires. Sookie reads her mind, though, and learns about the wiccan store where they meet. So she goes to see Marnie and asks for a reading.

Marnie is quite distracted, but agrees to it, then picks up on Sookie's grandmother. Gran wants to ensure she looks after her brother. She also warns her not to give her heart to her new man. It isn't going to last. Oh, and Marnie poses great danger, so Gran tells Sookie to run. Sookie quickly departs, leaving a confused Marnie.

Jason tells Hoyt what happened with the werepanthers, and thinks everything bad that's happened to him is because of sex. But when he learns there will be a full moon the following night, he gets nervous. Later that night, Jason has a sex dream about Jessica which quickly turns bizarre and involves Hoyt.

Arlene believes RenĂ©'s spirit is haunting the baby, so Terry suggests an exorcism—which brings Reverend Daniels and his new wife, Tara's mom, to perform a whacky cleanse on the house. But Arlene seems to think it's worked. Unfortunately, when they sleep, a pack of matches manages to ignite itself.

Bill's undercover agent, Katie, goes to see Marnie and asks about the latest vampire incident that has her worried. Marnie assures her they're being protected. And that's when Bill's security take her.

Tara phones her girlfriend to tell her she's coming back, but she gets asked who Tara Thornton is, as she's found some of her mail and isn't too happy about the lies.  So she heads over to Sookie's to eat ice cream and commiserate, revealing that she had been lying about who she was after she left Bon Temps. Sookie never knew she was into girls, either. Tara admits her girlfriend will likely break up with her now that she knows the truth. Sookie advises her to fight for her, but as the sun begins to set she gets nervous that Eric will come out. And Tara wants to stay over.

That's when Eric comes up and Tara freaks out. Sookie admits Eric is living there, but he's different now. Tara goes through the litany of things Eric's done to her, and leaves. Eric asks Sookie why she's letting him stay with her if he's done all those horrible things. She knew in her heart he can change and likes the new Eric. They kiss.

Alcide gets a visit from Marcus Bozeman, pack master. Alcide hasn't registered with the local pack yet since moving there. He sends him on his way, but it's very clear Marcus isn't going to take no for an answer.

In her cell, Marnie gets another vision of her spirit protector. This time, back when she was in prison awaiting her execution. She and her fellow witches are visited in their cell by priests, who turn out to be vampires that begin to feed on them. 

Bill assures Marnie no harm will come to her if she cooperates. She explains Eric left and she has no idea where he's gone. They were using a protection incantation. He wants her to reverse the rotting spell on Pam, but Marnie says she has no idea how to do that, either. To be sure she's telling the truth he pays a visit to her cell and glamors her. He asks her what her intentions are and Marnie confesses they just want to practice their religion. She doesn't know how to reverse any of the spells.

Bill next summons the four other Louisiana sheriffs to advise them of the situation. One of them mocks the idea that this coven is dangerous, so an angry Bill explains that in 1610 a witch named Antonia was being burned at the stake. Before her death she used necromancy to summon all vampires within 20 miles into the daylight. All of them were burned, and it amounted to a revelation to anyone who was witness that vampires were hiding among them as nuns and priests of the church. At the time they had found it advantageous to infiltrate the Catholic Church. Sheriff Luis survived only because he was out of range, and then glamored or killed the rest of the witnesses to keep their existence secret. That's how dangerous witches are, Bill says.

Pam is frustrated that they can't do anything and inadvertently blurts out that the witches erased Eric's memories. Furious, Bill demands to know how she knows that and where he is. She's forced to reveal he's at Sookie's. He takes off.

The Verdict:
True Blood's winning vampire/witch combo continues this week, made more interesting by the history lesson from Bill and Luis. It's great to see the vampires have such a worthy adversary in the witches, Pam's frustration, and their utter vulnerability to magic. Though I found it a bit of a stretch to think Luis single-handedly covered up the entire revelation four hundred years before.

I'm happy to see Sookie begin to suffer the fallout from all her lies to protect Eric, especially from Tara, given her character has been resurrected from its season three doldrums. The appearance of Gran was also nice bit, and too bad we actually didn't get to see a vision of her.

Eric's new attitude has also managed to grow on me, too. While not a fan of the Sookie/Eric combo, I actually don't mind how it's unfolding now, but there definitely has to be a sacrifice and consequences to how she's treated everyone.

Holly has been drifting in the background so far this season, so her little scene was welcome. I hope she has more to do now to justify her as an ongoing character, now that Marnie's completely taken over the story.

Tommy's on his way to becoming a skinwalker with the death of his mother. So much for my Sam theories. And so much for Maxine's natural gas rights when he finds out he can take the form of other people. The shifters seem to have convenient limits and abilities when necessary—why couldn't Tommy shift out of the chains?

Now that we have another witch in the form of Jesus' grandfather, my expectations are high. Will Jesus be turned to the dark side when he gets a taste of power again, or will his plan actually work? Maybe the course of the season is moving towards a full on vampire/witch war.

We got the usual short scenes updating the other characters—Alcide's happy home life looks about to be turned on its head. I'm not exactly sure what Hoyt's problem was this week either, or if he assumes that Jessica and Jason are going to be drawn together now. What is Portia's role going to be, or was she just a minor diversion for Bill? Surely the family tree angle has to come back at some point to have some relevance.

We got the usual annoying bits—while supplying some humor, at least, the baby exorcism was just another bit of filler compared to the more intriguing storylines going on around them. Unless—and I will recant if they should go there—it somehow ties into the greater witch arc. But right now the doll/baby just seems tacked on to the show for comic relief. And what to say about Jason? At least he's not tied to a bed. But that matured, focused and rejuvenated character we saw in the first episode is threatening to revert back to his old self. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II

Non Spoiler Review:
The Harry Potter series comes to a fitting conclusion with the final installment and second part of the Deathly Hallows. Picking up right where the last film left us (escaping the Malfoy mansion and the death of Dobby), Harry, Hermione and Ron get right into the action with a daring raid on Gringotts to find the next of Valdemort's Horcruxes on their list. Meanwhile, the dark lord has the Elder Wand. From there, the pace doesn't let up at all, building to the inevitable, epic battle at Hogwarts.

There's really little to critique in this culmination of so many years of build up. As an action film, Deathly Hallows delivers in spades. In fact, this film is a stark contrast to the slower, more intimate first half which was so devoted to character. As a result, this one may have suffered a little given the focus on spectacle, though the previous movie more than made up for that.

And that's not to say that there still weren't great character bits. But with so much to jam into this film, some very dramatic moments sometimes lacked the moments to really show the affects on some of the players. Given I haven't read the books also didn't help in this respect, making it easy to miss key bits of dialogue in the commotion (especially regarding Draco).

I've remained relatively unspoiled regarding the conclusion, so I found the revelations (and the redemption of a few characters) to be quite rewarding. The thick amount of continuity continually referenced certainly requires a rewatch of the entire series within days of viewing this film in order to fully appreciate it. But that's what DVD boxed sets are for. What I may have missed in trying to remember the number of Horcruxes and various names thrown about was quickly forgotten in the greater excitement of the story.

Visually, the Battle of Hogwarts was amazing, carrying greater impact given its been the setting for all these movies. To see it brought to ruin was as powerful as watching any character die.

It's sad to see the end of the franchise, but few series have been allowed to complete themselves in such a full and indulgent way, with the added benefit of the pivotal roles remaining unchanged. It's hard to imagine the levity and innocence of the early movies when compared to the gradual, organic way each film carried the series further towards the darkness and adulthood. I walked away quite pleased with the resolution and not at all disappointed. This franchise has taken up a good part of my movie going life, but I'm very happy to see it completed so well. 

Monday, July 25, 2011

Review: True Blood "I'm Alive and On Fire"

Non Spoiler Review:
This week saw a lot of shirtless running around with Sookie tagging along uttering one-liners. Eric suffers the after effects of his fairy blood bender, prompting Sookie to do a lot more lying for him and calling in Alcide to help. Bill's relationship with Portia takes an odd twist. Tommy goes home to visit his mother. Sam pursues Luna but gets more than he bargained for. Lafayette, Tara and Jesus race to get a solution to the vampire/witch feud. And then there are the hillbilly werepanthers (sigh).

There's nothing really new to say that I haven't said last week—the witch storyline rocks. The werepanthers suck. But at least here that little bit gets some movement at last. Most important, Alcide is thrown back into the mix.

There was a sense a lot of pieces were being set up for big developments—Tommy, Sam, Marnie, Debbie, and so on. But the episode struck a good mix of action, intrigue and a lot of funny bits. The season so far is showing it's as good as ever.

Spoilers Now!
Sookie tries to get Eric back into the house, but he's tripping on a fairy blood bender and runs off at super speed.

Bill goes to Fangtasia to find out where Eric is, but Pam assures him she isn't lying (and all his subjects are aware how ruthless he is). In fact, she thought he sent Eric to the witches to kill him. Before leaving, Bill demands she let him know the moment she finds out anything. She comments that he likes the feel of the crown.

Jason is enduring sex with all the werepanther women. He manages to reason with one of the younger girls to cut him loose, then escapes. Filton finds out and heads off in a rage. Jason leaves his shirt to divert them from his scent, then hides in a tree where he proceeds to whittle a spear—all while delirious. When Filton-panther shows up, Jason somehow manages to impale him. Crystal arrives, happy that Filton is dead and she's the head of the pack now. But Jason has had more than enough of her and warns her off or he'll kill her. For a moment, it looks like we just might be rid of Crystal, too, but he runs off. She shouts that she'll be waiting for him at the full moon.

Bill gets raked over the coals by Nan for sending Eric after wiccans. He makes mention of a Spanish witch that caused them problems four hundred years before, and knows they can be dangerous. But Nan isn't convinced. They don't make necromancers like they used to, and suggests he's being paranoid. She wants him to clean it up, but no dead humans!

Marnie has a vision of a woman burned as a witch (in Spain?) much to the glee of the priests watching her. The woman chants something to her and Marnie awakes. Jesus, Tara and Lafayette come to see her to warn her about Eric again. It wasn't her spell, she says. She makes an attempt to summon the spirit responsible, but fails.

Alcide comes to see Sookie after she asks for his help in finding Eric. He changes to a wolf to catch his scent. They find him in the swamp swimming, given he can walk in the daylight with Claudine's blood. He's about to fight Alcide when the effect wears off and he begins to burn, so Sookie wraps him up and gets him back home. Alcide thinks it's crazy keeping Eric in her house, but she fires back it's no different than trusting Debbie. But they assure one another they're still friends and he leaves her with him. 

Maxine tears a strip off Sam because Tommy hasn't come home. Tommy's actually gone to see his mother after she called him to let him know she left Joe Lee. He brings her up to speed on Sam shooting him and is happy that she's finally rid of her husband. She's pretty impressed he's learned to read. Tommy's mother confesses Joe Lee threw her back in the ring and nearly died. That's when he appears and ropes Tommy with a chain. It was all a ruse to get him back into the dog fights.

Meanwhile, Sam goes to see Luna, but she's not very happy he didn't call first before coming. She has a kid, so invites him in. Later, she confesses she has to be careful, as her ex is a werewolf who is a bit of a bad ass. He still watches her and is very jealous. But Sam is a hit with her daughter.

Portia invites Bill to meet her grandmother, Caroline. That was his wife's name, Bill says. Andy is there, as he's her grandson too, but gets antsy and takes off after awhile. Caroline thinks he's drinking again. While they look through the family bible, Bill comes across the name Elizabeth Harris, which freaks out Caroline and she has to retire after asking Bill to keep the secret. Bill leaves, telling Portia they can't see one another any more. She won't let the matter drop, so he reveals Elizabeth Harris was the daughter of Sarah Compton, his daughter. So Portia is his great-great-great granddaughter.

After an evening trying to find the correct spell, Marnie's about to give up when one book falls off the shelf. It opens to a page showing how to cure one who's suffered a spell of forgetting. 

Alcide comes home to Debbie, but she can smell that he shifted. He confesses Sookie called for his help. Debbie's pleased that he told her the truth.

Terry is looking after Mike while the rest of the family sleeps. When he leaves to get clothes out of the dryer, the kid apparently has written baby not yours on the wall in marker. 

Eric is depressed about seeing the sun, and asks Sookie for a kiss. But they're interrupted when someone comes to the door. It's Bill. He and Sookie talk on the porch, and she lies (again) about not knowing Eric's whereabouts, explaining he said she could stay in the house before leaving. Bill says they've searched everywhere, and her house is the last of his property they haven't searched. She forbids him, but Bill is insistent. So she steps in front of him and demands to know why he doesn't trust her given she's never lied to him. He admits she's right, so says goodnight. 

Jason is stumbling along the road and passes out. Jessica and Hoyt drive by just in time, and she gives him her blood to heal him. 

Pam oversees Marnie's ritual in the woods, while Tara keeps a gun trained on her. Marnie performs the spell, but Pam continues to interrupt and make threats. That brings the spirit back into Marnie, and another round of Latin that makes Pam's face begin to rot. She flees in terror. Marnie collapses.

The Verdict:
I liked. Though I've had my fill of Jason stumbling through the woods with panthers in hot pursuit, yet still managing to take some time to whittle a stake, leap from a tree, and make short work of Filton. I really wished he'd followed through and killed Crystal, too. The Jason rape scenes were just too much, even for True Blood. This is one storyline they could have dropped.

At least Jessica and Hoyt are there to save the day, though I'm unsure what the angelic Jessica look was meant to imply. Is Jason now going to be drawn to her by blood? Jason's bloodline also needs to be addressed—is he part fairy? Will that have any affect on the panther curse?

Eric and Alcide's verbal sparring match and near fight made the episode, and Sookie's casual manner of going along with the absurdity of it all. But all funny bits aside, she has really crossed the line now that she's overtly lied to Bill for Eric. That's pretty much everyone she knows now. There better start to be some repercussions for all this deception on her part.

I'm not sure where Bill and Portia's storyline is going, but it was all a matter of time before the Compton family got dug up again. But he continues to rock as king—absolutely the best thing that could have happened to his character. Now, it would be really cool to see him and Pam hook up, because she's just as awesome right now, but I'm sure there's no chance of that happening.

Tara, Lafayette and Jesus make a great team, too. She's another character that's been successfully resurrected. They've managed to pull off the magic angle with the witches so much better than they did the fairies. I'm happy they've dropped that bit for the moment. 

Review: The Walking Dead 87

Non Spoiler Review:
Work on fortifying the community continues as Rick does some soul searching. This month gives more focus to Abraham, Rosita and Holly's triangle. But new issues also arise, including some dissent among the townspeople over the new regime, Maggie wanting to protect Glen from future excursions, and Rick and Andrea continue their chit chat.

Very much in line with last month's issue, 87 carries forward the character focus, but does end on an interesting development. A new person is introduced to provide future conflict, no doubt. And some other matters present themselves. While another thoughtful issue, it's time the plot moves more towards the action side of things again.

Spoilers Now!
As Rick and Andrea continue their walk through town, Abraham has a run in with Rosita, who makes a point of rubbing his nose in it that she's moved in with Eugene. When he goes home to Holly he admits that he feels sad for Rosita and it doesn't seem right that he should be happy with Holly now. 

Denise tells Rick that she's hopeful for Carl, but she's done all she can. He could remain in his coma indefinitely. Andrea invites him over for dinner. Later, he goes to Jessie and Ron's graves to confess his guilt for making so many wrong decisions. He then reluctantly talks to Lori on the phone and is told how she wishes it was him who got shot in the head. She never wants to talk to him again.

The next day some of the townspeople are on trench digging duty, and new character Nicholas thinks it's ridiculous they're taking orders from Rick and his crazy group, given everything was just fine before they got there. Heath rakes him over the coals for conveniently forgetting how weak they were before Rick arrived. But he's angry that they've handed the keys to the town over to them without a fight.

Olivia tells Rick their food supplies are starting to run low, so he starts organizing a plan to stock up. Maggie asks him to keep Glen home, so he assures her he will find something for him to do in town. Then Denise runs to get him, as Carl has woken up. Rick races over as Carl opens his eyes and asks where his mother is.

The Verdict:
Another leisurely issue notable for Carl's return, which overshadowed much of what transpired earlier. Whether this amnesia twist is actually true, or just a red herring, it's good that we're not stuck waiting for him to wake up for any more issues.

Kirkman has spent the last few months setting up a lot of new relationship dynamics. Rick and Andrea's dinner plans got me further wondering if she's decided to put the moves on him. Then again, she's well aware of how erratic he is, so it's likely just friendliness. But I'll throw down and say they're going to hook up. Hopefully Abraham's relationship problems don't explode into a whole load of violence. He's been acting a bit edgy of late with all that's gone on. Nicholas gets an introduction as a potential rabble-rouser who could be stirring up trouble.

The food problem is another potential crisis. But that should get some of them out of town and on the road again. I'm ready to move on to the next big storyline and see what's going on outside of their community.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Review: Falling Skies "Silent Kill"

Non Spoiler Review:
Silent Kill was a great episode from start to finish. Several storylines come to a head, as the mission to grab the harnessed kids figures prominently, while the captive alien catches everyone off guard. The Scitters managed to grow increasingly creepier through one particularly effective scene. Hal and Anne both got a chance to really shine here and she proved she's no lightweight. Maggie's also begun to show her value to the group.

Falling Skies appears to have reached a mini-climax with this particular storyline, as the first few episodes have been driving towards this moment. Now that the cast is getting firmly established, I'm looking forward to an exciting second half of the season.

Spoilers Now!
Maggie and Hal return from their drug excursion with oodles of percocet and even heroin, thanks to Maggie knowing where some old drug dealers kept their stash. She won't give up how she knows that, though.

Anne's happy to get it all prepped, but warns Tom that the harness removal isn't an exact science, and he should be prepared if something goes wrong if they should manage to get Ben. Tom refuses to go talk to Harris directly about it, preferring to trust Anne instead.

Tom briefs Weaver on his strategy to get the kids out of the hospital, but it's Hal who has the smarter plan for one man to go in alone with less chance of being discovered.

Meanwhile, in the civilian camp, one whiny pregnant girl, Sarah, complains to Maggie about the military keeping a Scitter in the school. Lourdes decides to keep herself busy by helping to organize a baby shower for her, and invites Maggie.

Scott has determined the Scitters are communicating via radio waves, but they've not found a way to apply it to any tactical advantage. Scott found some records, one of which sparks too many memories for Weaver, so he takes it. Scott takes Anne aside and urges that she put something up for Sam on the missing children bulletin board, but she won't take part. Later on, Tom suggests she do the same thing.

Harris gets a little too close to the Scitter and is killed (!). Anne wants to continue to study it, but manages to get 24 hours to learn what she can before Weaver executes it.

Hal goes to see Rick, who's sitting by himself missing his harness and all the togetherness with the other kids. He tries to get some tactical information on the hospital but Rick says they'll kill them all. Hal gets the idea he can put on a harness and get in among the kids and no one will notice. Tom isn't happy with that, but Weaver agrees it's their best shot.

The main problem is figuring out how to kill the Scitters without making any noise. It falls to Anne to figure it out, and she mentions the soft palette Mike discovered when he knocked it out last episode. Anne decides to prove the theory, so tazes the Scitter, then stabs it in the mouth with a knife and kills it (go, Anne!). Angry and a little traumatized, she goes to the bulletin board and says they all want her to put a picture up, but she doesn't have any. So she puts a bloody hand print there instead.

On the mission, things initially go as planned, with Hal getting into the hospital and joining up with a group of kids walking into a room with a Scitter. The kids all get down into a pile to sleep, and then the Scitter crawls over top and gently pets their heads, including Hal, who has to lie there and be quiet. The Scitter eventually goes to sleep.

Hal's overdue, so Tom goes in to check on him. Hal slowly makes an attempt to get in position to stab it, but sees Ben looking at him. The Scitter wakes up and the two of them struggle while Tom and Maggie arrive. Tom fires his crossbow and Hal finishes it off. They grab all the kids and make a break for it out the window.

At the school, Tom and his crew arrive, and Anne makes ready to remove the harnesses one after the other. After a tense marathon of pulling the implants off, Anne only loses one patient. She's still devastated, but Tom is grateful she saved Ben and four others.

Hal asks Maggie how she knows so many secret ways to the hospital so she admits she was there because she had cancer. It was 50/50, but she made it. One of the doctors told her to smoke pot for the nausea so that's how she knew the drug dealer.

Sarah gets her baby shower. Anne shows up and lets her hear the baby with the stethoscope.

Tom congratulates Hal for getting Ben back. The two of them, plus Matt, look after Ben in recovery. Weaver nods in approval, then goes and puts the record on the school speaker to play throughout the camp. Anne returns to clean up the operating room while Tom thanks her again. Then Ben wakes up.

The Verdict:
Go Anne! This was a pretty enjoyable episode, which was really made by two things—Anne taking out the alien prisoner, and the extremely creepy head-petting scene with the Scitter and the kids. Falling Skies has managed to make their villain continually mysterious and eerie, and I'm really enjoying how it's unfolding.

Harris' death came a little more quickly than I would have guessed, but I'm glad he's gone. Things seemed to take a big leap ahead, and Anne had her chance to shine to save (most) of the kids in an effectively tense scene. Hal also gained some points with his level-headed planning, which is a contrast to the usual hot-headed teen we see on other shows.

Maggie's growing on me, but she seems to be a Karen replacement (who can't be gone forever). Her cancer reveal was a little odd, and seemed like a device to add some sympathy to her character, but we'll see if it comes up again.

The only thing that wasn't working for me was the overtly sentimental stuff with Weaver and the record, as well as the baby shower. I really didn't need to hear some preggers civilian bitching about the military keeping an alien prisoner. I can see why Weaver hates having to put up with some of them. All the thank yous and hugs at the end slowed down the pace.

Now that the kids are back, I'm hoping we move away from the weekly missions and get into a more focused arc. I can't help but wonder how big Acton is, given the aliens would likely conduct a thorough survey of the town to find those responsible for the hospital raid. If they bomb things so willy-nilly, wouldn't Weaver want to move the population out of there, given they're conducting operations in the very same town they're hiding in?

And again, I would like to see some flashbacks pre-invasion (or during) to flesh things out a bit more and provide a contrast with the current status quo. On a positive note, at this point TNT has renewed Falling Skies for a second season.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Review: True Blood "If You Love Me, Why Am I Dyin'?"

Non Spoiler Review:
After last week's strong showing, If You Love Me, Why Am I Dyin' loses the momentum in a few ways, getting bogged down in Sookie's attempts to help Eric at the expense of pretty much all her friends. That tainted the episode, despite all the fun dealing with Eric's mind wipe. A second endurance test was Jason's slow and tedious captivity with the hillbilly werepanthers, spending the entire episode tied to the bed. Two episodes tied to a bed is two too many for any character.

But on to the positive—the fallout from Eric's memory loss provides the main focus, with Lafayette, Tara and Jesus attempting to make peace with him, while Marnie opts to act on her own. Sookie seeks out Alcide, and gets a bit of a surprise. Bill catches up with Jessica, who also deals with Hoyt in her own way, and we see some of Bill's management style as king. Sam and Tommy come into conflict—again (surprise!). 

The witch angle continues to be the strength of the season so far, along with the reinvigorated Tara (who would have thought!), and nice scenes with Bill/Jessica and Pam. True Blood runs the risk of isolating its heroine—while she can still deliver the snappy one-liners, Sookie's go-it-alone behaviour isn't making her a particularly sympathetic character right now.

Spoilers Now!
Sookie drives off when it looks like Eric might chow down on her, but he catches up and she's forced to run off through the woods. She punches him in the face which seems to shake him out of his fugue...he knows what he is, but not who he is. He remembers the chanting and the coven, but everything he was has been taken from him. Sookie says she'll help, but lays down some ground rules—no touching or biting.

Marnie's resting, and the group agrees they all hate Eric. Tara isn't impressed she came back to town and was already attacked by a vampire. Lafayette warns them it's Eric Northman they're dealing with who's 1000 years old and starts wondering if he can try to make peace with him. Holly wants to retaliate and Marnie agrees they were provoked, but she has no idea what she did to make him leave.

Bill has to punish one of his subjects captured on a video feeding on a human—meaning the true death. Bill tells him he's being punished for being stupid, and he's dragged away. Russell ruined it for everyone, it seems. Jessica later pays a visit, looking for Advil, given she needs some for Hoyt.

It's been months since she visited and she confesses she fed on someone. Bill's afraid she was photographed, which would mean even he couldn't protect her. But she's not stupid and just feeling guilty. He urges her to explain things to Hoyt, regretting his own past actions with Sookie.

Sookie brings Eric home and invites him in, given he can't remember he owns the place, then calls Pam to fill her in. She arrives in a flash, and seems to know the witches are behind this. Sookie threatens to tell Bill, and Pam threatens back, getting thrown across the room by Eric. Rattled, she believes Bill set up Eric by sending him into the coven, so pleads with Sookie not to go to Bill. He has to stay there with Sookie and no one can know. Sookie agrees, but wants payment for all the inconvenience.

Hoyt is watching the news as Jessica returns (Reverend Newland has apparently been missing for six months). He's found the creepy doll again in the bed (the doll from season three's finale), which they've apparently been trying to get rid of before (throwing it in the lake, the dump, etc.), so someone appears to be playing games with them. But Jessica brushes that off rather quickly and admits to drinking from someone at Fangtasia. When he gets too angry, she glamors him to make him forget it ever happened. Later, Jessica gives the ratty old demon doll to Arlene's son, who seems to like it. Problem solved (?).

Andy's trying to find Jason, but continues to use V and provokes a heated argument with Sam which nearly comes to blows (and a drawn gun) when Sam suggests Andy might be drinking. Andy drives off in a rage.

Sookie shows up at Alcide's house, getting the customary hugs and I thought your were dead! out of the way. She wants him to take care of Eric, but is shocked when Debbie (V-less) walks in. She's been clean and sober for a year, and hopes to win back Sookie's trust. Sookie seems more annoyed that Alcide is back with her, especially given Debbie is sweet as pie now, and leaves relatively quickly. He apologies for not letting her know they were back together. He thinks he can put Eric up in one of his unfinished homes, but Sookie says she'll find a different solution.

At Merlotte's, Tara asks Sookie to talk to Eric about forgiving Lafayette—she explains the witches circle and the spell, which fills in some blanks for Sookie. She tells Tara Pam said he's gone missing so Lafayette shouldn't have anything to worry about.

Sam is pleased to see Tara again and the two reminisce. Since he told her he was a shifter, she left town, but Tara assures him she just wanted to start a new life. She confesses she's seeing someone. And so is he, he says. But Lafayette takes off to see Eric, prompting Tara and Jesus to run off after him.

Bill is trying to get a hold of Eric, too, and commands him to call him back. He's joined for dinner by Portia, who propositions him to take their professional relationship to a personal level. He lets her know he can never love her, but she can accept that and they go home to have sex.

Tommy intercepts a salesman who wants to buy Maxine's natural gas rights. So he goes to Sam and lets him know Maxine's house might be sitting on some money. He thinks the two of them could buy the house from her and keep her in the dark. Sam won't let him do that and tells him to let Maxine know, or he will. Tommy says he hates him and leaves.

Pam has thrown Lafayette in the dungeon at Fangtasia, but Jesus and Tara break in and she pulls a gun (with silver bullets) on Pam. Jesus suggests they might have a chance of reversing the spell if she cooperates. Pam gives them 24 hours to deliver Marnie to them or she'll come after them all.

Meanwhile, Marnie conducts a spell in private to summon the spirit that gives her her power. After a round of cutting, a woman appears in her mirror (the woman from the spell that erased Eric's memory).

Jason is a chewed up mess but Filton and Luther think it's working and he'll change. He later wakes up in a fever with Crystal having sex with him. She calls him ghost-daddy, after the stories of the father of their werepanther race. The other girls in the family all wait their turn at the door.

Sookie comes home to find Eric gone. Claudine pays a visit and wants to take her back with the promise to keep her safe. Sookie isn't too impressed with her lack of help, but Claudine reveals the night she met Bill Compton, she was there helping her—providing the energy to control the chain that strangled her attacker. Claudine gets tough and orders her to come with her. That's when Eric jumps her and feeds on her. Claudine attempts to fight back but changes back to her true form, then dissolves. "You just killed my fairy godmother!" Sookie chides.

The Verdict:
As mentioned, Sookie is the weak link in the storyline. While she's not responsible for her one year absence, her lies are disrespecting the solid relationships with everyone around her, including quietly judging them for moving on in her absence.

Pam really stole the show with some great scenes, trying to balance out the new reality of having to serve Bill, but save Eric. Bill continues to be much more interesting, though I'm not sure where his fling with Portia will go, as I imagine there's more to her than meets the eye.

Alcide's brief introduction was more of a cameo, so I hope his storyline kicks into gear soon. While Debbie's turnaround is kind of nice to see on a show where all the characters go through such turmoil, I somehow doubt it will last.

As for the weaker elements—the doll plot line just leaped out of nowhere. It almost seems as though the writers cut a lot of Jessica and Hoyt's scenes after last season, so we get a bunch of exposition about Maxine trying to shoot her and the attempts to ditch the doll (which I can barely remember from last year). That leads into more of Arlene's wide-eyed crazy baby stare. 

Well, it took less than an episode to get Tommy and Sam fighting again. There's really no growth to his character at all, and I'm still thinking he's just going to be cannon fodder for Sam to become a skinwalker. But get it over with, please.

I'll throw the werepanther storyline one bone—that it's totally creepy with all the hillbilly girls lining up to get impregnated by Jason. We also get a confusing hillbilly tale about the origin of the panthers. It's just gone on and on, and I really hope his fairy blood nixes the transformation and we can move on from this.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Recommendation: 28 Days Later Graphic Novel

Non Spoiler Review:
Usually graphic novel adaptations based on successful movies really suck. The art is thrown together and little effort is put into the storyline except to cash in on the brand name. I cracked open 28 Days Later with the same attitude, but was quite impressed with what I found.

The story focuses on Selena, who is at a Norwegian refugee camp following the events of the first film. She's contacted by Clint Harris, a journalist who wants to get passed the British quarantine to break the story on the infection. Much like Ripley in Aliens, she's convinced to go back into the horror of Britain serving as their guide. With an assortment of supporting characters they set about getting into Scotland and down to London, facing off against NATO forces barring entry, dangerous survivors and, of course, the infected.

Written by Michael Alan Nelson and produced by Boom!, 28 Days Later is a very good read just on its own merits as the story tracks Selena and her party's journey. The art is steadily above par for this sort of adaptation and rendered in a style suitable to the theme and content. Declan Shalvey and Alejandro Aragon handle the bulk of the issues, with a few fill ins here and there. 

Several storylines play out over the course of the series, and for the most part, they are all fairly well done (with the exception of a rather odd revenge plot tied to the first film that just doesn't come off as very plausible, given the circumstances of the infection). Selena, the only holdover from the movies, is portrayed true to her established character, and more insights into her background are provided to flesh her out. The other secondary players (many serving as cannon-fodder) all get a moment to shine and grew on me as the story progressed.

Without giving too many details away, things do not go smoothly, or as planned, and the storyline eventually begins to run parallel with events from 28 Weeks Later, with some cameos from the films here and there. It all culminates in issue 24, with a creative and suitable resolution to the story as a whole.

If 28 Days Later is a favorite film, or if you're looking for a decent tale from the zombie genre, check out this series, which has recently wrapped up and available in trade or hardcover.

Review: The Adjustment Bureau

Non Spoiler Review:
The Adjustment Bureau is an intriguing and interesting looking movie (at least from the trailer) featuring Matt Damon as a wunderkind senatorial candidate named David Norris, whose penchant for recklessness often puts his political ambitions into jeopardy. A chance meeting with dancer Elise (Emily Blunt), brings in higher powers, specifically John Slattery (Mad Men) as Richardson, and Anthony Mackie as Harry to interfere in events that bring them together. David is presented with a revelation about reality that sets him against the forces of destiny that are determined to keep him from Elise.

Directed by George Nolfi (The Bourne Ultimatum, Ocean's Twelve), the film presents an interesting cosmology and centers on themes of free will versus predestination. It just goes far enough to explain some of the main ideas without really opening up how this universe works, with throwaway remarks about a chairman, and various rules and limitations to provide at least some sense that Norris isn't hopelessly outclassed by these near omnipotent beings. Are they angels? Aliens? It could really be anything, as the writer doesn't want to explain too much.

The Adjustment Bureau is a bit hard to define. It doesn't throw itself completely into the sci fi genre, but the romance angle isn't strong enough to be a big love story either. There are two big time jumps involved that dislocate these star-crossed lovers, but the focus is squarely on David Norris, and Emily Blunt is just along for the ride, sometimes being literally pulled around by the hand (see movie poster). They make a very nice couple, but their story is overshadowed by the banter and shenanigans of Slattery, and later on, Terence Stamp.

It's kind of a cop out that The Adjustment Bureau plays things so conservatively without getting into a more epic story. Like David, we only get to see bits and pieces behind the scenes and begin to ask a lot of questions that are never going to get answered.

The actors provide satisfactory portrayals, but there's nothing spectacular that will leave you talking. Slattery (complete with Mad Men hat) is channelling Roger Sterling. Terence Stamp is vintage Terence Stamp. 

Most important, The Adjustment Bureau falls victim to the storyline traps that arise whenever a seemingly omnipotent adversary is thrown into the plot—how to deal with the conclusion and actually give the protagonist a chance to succeed (especially in a movie where the notion of chance is up in the air). The climax of the film builds up to an inevitable let down, raising the audiences' expectations to a level that cannot possibly be satisfied when events lead to a peak behind the curtain. What arises is a typical Hollywood ending, when a darker twist might have fared better to give the movie some punch.

The Adjustment Bureau plays out like an extended Twilight Zone episode, and doesn't offer enough to warrant a two hour movie. The visual style and characters aren't sufficient to carry it alone, either (compared to Dark City, for example). It plays it safe and doesn't offer anything new and exciting to the ideas it presents. It's relatively entertaining if you go in with low expectations, and Stamp and Slattery are always fun, so for that reason I recommend it as a cheap renter (or better yet, wait for it on the movie channel).

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Review: Falling Skies "Grace"

Non Spoiler Review:
Attempts at communication with the Scitter prisoner and how it influences the harnessed children provide the focus this week, while Tom's mission is to secure motorbikes for faster reconnaissance. Anne, Scott and Mike get some additional screen time as they try to decipher what's going on with the aliens.

The series is doing a good job fleshing out its characters. Weaver continues to grow more likable, with Anne and Scott as easy favorites so far. However, Lourdes and her constant prayers come across quite annoying, and unfortunately for Harris, he's managing to be even more arrogant and dismissive this episode. The whole communication angle remains the most compelling plotline, with attempts to learn what the aliens want and why they've invaded, and the additional creepiness of the harnessed children always lingering in the background.

Grace started out strong, but as the hour progressed the story seemed to slowly dwindle out, ending on a rather quiet note. While not the best episode, it wasn't a failure either. I'll attribute my boredom to Lourdes' scenes.

Spoilers Now!
Weaver orders Tom to go looking for motorbikes (on Pope's intel). Tom seems to see the logic in that—it will be easier to grab kids if they have more bikes. Pope wants to go, given he knows the area, so Weaver decides to send him along, despite Tom's opinion to the contrary.

Anne is surprised how healthy Rick's lungs are and suggests to his father that his cystic fibrosis has been cured by the harness. Tom asks how he's doing, and Anne assures him the surgery isn't bad as long as they have enough drugs to counteract the harness' effects once it's removed. She's noticed how Harris is acting around him, though, so Tom explains about his wife dying.

Maggie has been on reconnaissance and says the hospital is still being used as a base for the kids. She's noticed Weaver's had his men keeping tabs on her, though, and she points out she's the reason Tom got away from Pope's men, so she should get some points for that. She suggests taking Pope on the mission is a big mistake.

On the way to the bike shop, Pope manages some aggravating racial innuendo with Anthony. Hal wants Matt to learn how to handle a gun, but Tom's insisting he have some modicum of a normal childhood. Hal's still upset about Karen's disappearance.

They arrive at a bridge and find four sleeping Scitters hanging upside-down. They also find Mechs in sleep mode. Tom wants to move on, given the Mechs will activate if they fire on the aliens, so they leave them alone, despite Pope wanting to take them out.

Anne attempts communication with the caged Scitter, showing it photos of Earth. Harris gently mocks her for trying. She thinks it's scared, so offers it water, but Harris prefers a more heavy-handed approach and shows up with a gurney carrying the dead alien they retrieved from Pope's hideout. The Scitter freaks.

Scott shows Weaver a crank radio he's made. He's also been put in charge of making explosives. Scott suggests Matt be given something to do by monitoring the radio for broadcasts of other resistance cells. Matt hears some unusual static just as the Scitter in the other room is acting up.

Tom's crew find a number of bikes they prep for travel. But Pope gets his bike going first and rides off with a gas can to take out the sleeping Scitters at the bridge. They hear the explosion back at the store.

Back in Acton, Anne is resistant to Harris dissecting the Scitter. She wants to figure out what it wants and learn about their enemy, reminding him Porter wants to attempt communication. Harris manages to insult her and won't be second-guessed by a pediatrician. 

Rick wakes up, but doesn't recognize his father. Mike (continuing his trend of bad decisions) goes over to the Scitter's cage to talk to it. Given the harness cured his son, he wants it to talk to him and explain itself. When it does nothing in response, Mike brings out his gun. When he still doesn't get a response, he shoves the gun in its mouth and it abruptly collapses.

Anne goes to hang out with Scott and Matt, angry with Harris. Just then the radio starts picking up another short burst (at the same time as the Scitter acts up again). 

Later, Harris thinks Mike hit a pressure point in its skull that caused it to have a concussion. Harris cuts open the dead Scitter to see if they can find an organ responsible. They begin to put two and two together that the radio signals are being caused by the Scitter's reactions, though Harris mocks that theory. The corpse proves too old to be of any use in proving it.

Rick gets up and grabs the harness, replacing it on his back. The needles reconnect and he goes over to the Scitter cage. The radio acts up again so Mike runs back to the lab as his son tries to release the Scitter. Harris asks Rick what he wants. Rick, in zombie mode, replies they want to hurt him and to let him go. The child is one of theirs. Mike rushes over and rips the harness off and the Scitter screams. He needs to know why Rick would put the harness back on.

Harnessed kids, armed with machine guns, begin to surround the bike shop and begin firing on their position. Dai gets shot. Tom refuses to shoot kids, so they need to find the Scitter controlling them. They make a break for it in the bikes, with Tom taking Dai with him. That's when the Scitter arrives and they manage to kill it and make their escape.

Weaver can't understand why the Scitters are arming the children, but Tom assumes it's a method of psychological warfare. But he's given the go ahead to go searching for more drugs and later on, to grab as many of the kids as they possibly can.

Anne updates Tom on the Scitter radio signals, which apparently aren't that strong, as they haven't alerted nearby aliens. Maggie lets Tom knows all the pharmacies nearby have been picked clean, but there may be another option. Given Pope has apparently deserted them, the group sits down to a dinner and joins their hands together in a prayer of thanks, courtesy of Lourdes.

The Verdict:
Grace lost some its momentum three quarters through and fizzled out. Pope's absence was casually brushed off, and, as mentioned, Lourdes got two too many scenes in which she got to talk about her faith. The flight from the bike shop was done rather quick and effortlessly, including taking care of the Scitter that made its sudden appearance as they were leaving.

Harris is playing too much as a cliche and source of conflict again. If and when he gets killed (and I'm betting he does) it would have been nice to have his character illicit a little sympathy here and there.

On the plus side, Weaver continues to grow more human and it's refreshing to see him cooperating more with Tom and losing his edginess. Also nice to see was Matt getting something to do, and further development for Scott. I enjoy Anne already, however she could easily slide into the overly humane doctor type who doesn't want to harm the Scitters, versus Harris' hard line approach. 

While the series is still finding its legs and setting up plot, I see the necessity of these mission-of-the-week stories, but I do hope this doesn't become the blueprint for the remaining episodes. Otherwise the series could get repetitive (someone screws up the mission, Tom offers some sage advice, Hal has angst, etc.).

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Review: True Blood "You Smell Like Dinner"

Non Spoiler Review:
True Blood returns to form with the second episode of the season that focuses a lot on Bill and his rise to power, with some cool flashbacks to the 80s and the missing year gap. Tara returns to Bon Temps, Sam gets a new flame, Jessica gets a wandering eye, Crystal (ugh) returns to Jason, and Eric is charged with dealing with the witches. Another jam-packed hour of plot and character.

The witches continue to be the highlight and show a lot of promise for the season. Bill's new kingship really works well for his character, providing some welcome focus post-Sookie. What doesn't work is the whole werepanther plot line, and Terry and Arlene's ongoing evil baby problems. These parts just slow down the whole show.

Sookie was actually the least interesting character, wandering from Bon Temps to Fangtasia with her hopelessly inadequate I was away on vampire business shtick that's already grown quite thin. It also looks like we'll be getting another dump of new characters given Sam's shifter friends and the introduction of the coven members.

While it's not clear yet what the overall arc of the season will be, a mystery begins to unfold with Eric after a fantastic scene with him and the witches. A very good episode, which could only have been made better with werewolves.

Spoilers Now!
Jason wakes up tied to a bed with Timbo licking the gash on his head. He convinces him to untie him, but Filton comes in and shoes them off. Guess what—Crystal is back, and they're going to get her pregnant.

Sookie tries to get away from Eric, but given he's the new owner of the house, any power she had over him is gone. Apparently he just wants to talk, though, and offers her some advice. Other vampires will find out how sweet her blood is, and he can provide her the protection she needs. He bought the house because he cares. He asks her to be his. He knows she'll come around and leaves, promising to fix the front door.

Sookie walks over to Bill's house, and is stunned to see it's also gotten a facelift—renovated back to its former glory. But she's abruptly surrounded by armed men who demand to know what she wants. No one sees the king unless they're on the manifest, but when they guess it's Sookie, Bill has left instructions she can pass. 

Bill has been filled in on the witches' coven by his human agent, Katrina, whom he proceeds to drink from and have sex with. Sookie comes right up to their old bedroom to find them post-coitally freshly dressed. She notices the bite marks on Katrina's neck.

Sookie didn't want to come there but she's scared of Eric. Even though he's king, Bill says Eric has friends in high places, but he'll see what he can do. It will take time, so he suggests she seek shelter in another human's home. She begins to ask how he became king, then decides it's best she doesn't know and manages to insult him before she leaves.

Bill has a flashback to Britain 1982, when he had an outrageous Cockney accent. Before Tru Blood, he drank from humans, but left them alive, glamoring them to forget their encounter and sending them on their way with some nutritional advice. That brings him to cross paths with Nan, who is a forward thinking vampire suggesting that they might soon reveal themselves—their scientists (including Louis Pasteur) are close to synthesizing a blood substitute, and she needs like-minded people to infiltrate the monarchies in order to progress their agenda and plant the seeds of discord.

That leads to a flashback of Bill's encounter with Sophie that ended last season. He gets thrown across the room pretty easily but has help—human agents armed with wood/silver bullets. They zero in on Sophie, who realizes she's doomed, and kill her. Nan arrives to congratulate Bill for fulfilling his part of things, and declares him king of Louisiana. She wonders what the fuss was about Sookie, but he assures her that was all a dead end. With a warning not to ever lie to her, Nan leaves him with his new position.

Fangtasia is being picketed by human protesters. Pam comes out with Jessica and Hoyt, who gets insulted by one of the men. Hoyt defends Jessica's honor. Pam sends them both home to avoid a ruckus, but Hoyt gets into a fight with the guy anyway and is beat up by the men as the others film it, preventing Pam from getting involved. In the post-Russell world, the vampires must behave themselves to avoid further media scandal.

Sam and Luna have a nighttime chat after their run, but when he flirts and wants to know more about her, she runs off. In the morning, Sookie apologizes to him for leaving, and promises him that when it's safe, she'll reveal the truth what really happened over the past year. 

Arlene and Terry come in with the baby to introduce to her. Arlene freaks out at the suggestion the baby is an old soul. Later on, she stares into the baby's black eyes and breaks a blood vessel in her own eye. She's certain her son is evil.

Andy shows up at the hillbilly farm, so Filton sends Timbo out to deal with him. Andy says he's sure they're dealing V again and has a warrant to search the place. Filton can see he's going through withdraw from V, so gives his uncle Luther a vial to give to Andy and just walk away. Andy accepts the evidence, and leaves with his new fix.

At home, SookieSookie feeds her the vampire business excuse again. They go inside and Sookie finds a new door and new microwave from Eric, and brings Tara up to date on her situation with Bill and him. She also finds a wardrobe which conceals a crypt for Eric to sleep under the house, to further infuriate her.

Tara then goes to see Lafayette just as he and Jesus are going to their wiccan thing, so she comes along. Jesus is still in awe of the resurrected bird, but Lafayette suggests it could be black magic. Jesus doesn't believe in such things. However, Marnie announces she wants to try their trick on a human, and everyone there, including Lafayette and Tara, have a big problem with that.

Jessica comes up at night to find Hoyt nursing his bruises. She offers to heal him but he doesn't want her to, which prompts another argument, so she drives into town to get him some Advil, but instead goes to Fangtasia where she picks up a guy. 

Sookie goes to Fangtasia, as well, to plead for Pam's help to convince Eric to let her go. But Pam won't side against her maker and urges her to take him up on his offer for protection. Sookie then overhears Jessica feeding in the bathroom and asks what she's doing there. Jessica doesn't want to be judged, considering how Sookie broke Bill's heart and sends her on her way.

Eric is summoned by Bill, who wants to convince him to sell the house back to Sookie. But he won't. Bill advises him there's a new coven in town—and they're necromancers. If they control the dead, they can control vampires, so he puts Eric on the case.

Luna has a change of heart and apologizes to Sam for brushing him off, so wants to try again with him. Later, as Sam's anger management group are commiserating in the woods, Luna admits she shifted into her mother's form, who died in childbirth. She's Navajo, and they believe that shifters, or skinwalkers, are evil. They gain their powers only from killing a shifter of their own family—like a mother dying in childbirth. Apparently regular shifters can't do that.

They suddenly sense another shifter nearby. Sam realizes it's Tommy and takes off in pursuit. He catches up and realizes Tommy has been faking his limp all this time. Tommy followed him so they could be brothers and start over again. They agree to start slow, given it won't be easy to regain all the trust they lost.

Tara phones her girlfriend from outside the coven, just as Eric makes an appearance inside. He wants to talk to Marnie. He says this is the last time their coven convenes. Lafayette advises her to listen. Tara walks in. Marnie refuses the terms, so Eric sets upon her. Holly steps forward and tries a spell, as they all join hands, and Tara makes an attempt to stake him. Eric brings her down. 

Then Marnie seems to feel what Tara's feeling and the lights go out. She rises and speaks in Latin and scares the hell out of Eric as her face seems to shift to another woman's. Eric flees, much to everyone's shock, and Marnie doesn't seem to remember what happened.

Crystal is going to make a baby with Jason, which somehow means an animal threesome with Filton. Jason has to be made a panther first, so both she and Filton transform and begin chowing down on him.

On the drive home, Sookie finds a shirtless Eric walking in a daze. He doesn't seem to know her, but he asks why she smells so good.

The Verdict:
I really enjoyed all the Bill background material and his associations with Nan. It's a fantastic new dynamic to introduce to the series, especially now that Eric is his sheriff and he's Sookie-less. His mansion looks amazing, too—the flashbacks offering a great contrast to its new appearance.

The witch plot line is equally compelling. Marnie's character continues to grow on me and create new questions, as well as the mystery of who and what she was channelling that managed to freak out and confound Eric so much. However, Holly needs some more focus, as right now she seems to be there just to be the bridge between the regulars and the witches.

The new and improved bad ass Tara was a pleasant surprise, given how her character has been treated last season. Her new confidence and take-action attitude made for some nice scenes. She seems to have no compunction about killing any vampire at this point. But were we to read anything into Sookie seeing Tara first as a fairy attack—and later on at the coven the weird transfer that seemed to go on between her and Marnie? Is Tara going to exhibit some supernatural tie?

Luna is undoubtedly harboring more sinister secrets if her tale of skinwalkers is any indication—plus the added element that she can shift into other people. Is she really who she seems? Another round of reconciliation with Sam and Tommy could prove tiring, though, so I hope it sticks this time. Then again, if a skinwalker is created when a shifter kills one of their family, could Sam take out Tommy once and for all and gain some new abilities?

Sookie was one of the least interesting people in light of all that was going on around her. I have a real problem with her vampire business routine and how easily she seems to brush off her friends' questions. She doesn't really have a sense that a year has passed for everyone else, and it's starting to come off as pretty insulting to them all. 

Terry and Arlene's baby is just plain boring, it makes me cringe watching it. But even that doesn't compare to the horrible werepanther storyline. I really hope this doesn't consume a lot of screen time this season. Hopefully the next thing on Bill's agenda is to cull the werepanther community so we can get to what really matters—werewolves.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Review: The Walking Dead 86

Non Spoiler Review:
Issue 86 is a quiet story spent on reflection, dealing primarily with  Rick, Michonne and Andrea. Now that the battles are finished for the immediate future, the community has time to pause and regain its footing as winter settles in.

Walking Dead is still unwinding from the No Way Out storyline, so this month focuses on character and positions a couple of backgrounders for greater focus in issues to come. Nothing exciting happened here, but there were some good conversations dealing with Rick's new outlook.

Spoilers Now!
Carl's movement appears to be a normal part of his coma, and indicates no change at all, according to Denise, who insists Rick get some rest. He finally agrees and finds Michonne at Morgan's grave. 

She's wishing she hadn't been so mean to him, and he regrets he didn't have a chance to say good-bye after all the man did for him in the early days of the outbreak. Michonne confesses she was growing closer to him and had harboured some hope of a life together. But she quickly realizes that was foolish and can't believe she allowed herself to think that given their circumstances.

Rosita shows up on Eugene's doorstep, given he's the only one left from their original group whom she's known the longest. He's surprised to find her wanting to move in with him.

Rick begins implementing some of his grand plans—moving cars in a maze around the community and planning for trenches and reinforcing the walls. Andrea is teaching some of the townspeople to shoot, and they walk together, musing on how far she's come since they first met.

She wonders what Shane might think of her if he could see her now, prompting Rick to reflect on his friend for the first time in a long time. He hasn't allowed himself to think about him, or even Lori, given how difficult it is. Shane remains his best friend, despite all that he did. 

He admits he hasn't really been there for Andrea, despite that they're so close. It was his error in putting Carl first above the community, when the larger group actually provides the best support for his son. He wants to build something to last, so that Carl will still live there when he's thirty. He looks out over the town with her, seeing the potential.

The Verdict:
It could be some time before we get a sense of Carl's condition—last issue was just another tease, which could start to wear thin. Rick's behaviour continues to evolve from maintaining a bedside vigil to focusing on the community at large and seeing his inspiration come to fruition. At least it will give him something to do rather than sit with his son every month.

With this new pause in the danger, everyone seems to be reflecting on their lives, and we get a nice chat about Shane, which was quite effective. Andrea and Rick share the longest history and both have lost their loves. I'm still wondering if they will be thrown together at some point. I'm not sure if Andrea believes everything he says (given a couple of looks she gives him in the panels as they walk). In contrast to his optimism, we get his conversation with Michonne, who is angry with herself for being distracted with the possibility of a life with Morgan beyond day to day survival.

We also get to see some other townspeople for a change, so more characters appear to be in the cards. Eugene finally gets some attention since his deception was revealed. He likely has lots of ideas to offer the group, so it's welcome to see him be brought back into the story.

The questions remains where the next storyline will be driven from—whether from without or within. It would still be nice to see what's going on elsewhere in the country, but if the series remains embedded behind the walls of the town, everything will have to come to them.
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