Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Review: True Blood "Whatever I Am, You Made Me"

Non Spoiler Review:
Bill and Eric get their marching orders from the Authority while Roman makes it clear he will not tolerate any challenge to his mainstreaming agenda. Tara seeks out help, Pam has more flashbacks, Jason meets an old friend, and Jessica has an odd encounter while shopping. A lot more happened, as well, which is one of the problems this week—way too many plotlines to service.

Like the premiere, True Blood delivers plenty of short scenes and jumps around without settling on a single plot for any good length of time. Coming off of last week's interesting Authority and vampire mythology bits, I found my mind wandering waiting for this one to be over.

It's wasn't entirely bad—in fact Tara's story was one of the compelling elements. But Sookie is already starting to get annoying with her treatment of her friends (and didn't we have enough of that the last couple of years)? Lots and lots of set up, so that implies good episodes will be on their way. Hopefully sooner rather than later.

Spoilers Now!
In the woods, Tara's wounds heal and she begins to perceive things with her vampire eyes. She comes upon a woman changing a tire by the road and attacks her, but quickly comes to her senses when she sees herself in the window and runs off.

The Authority is outraged that Russell is alive and debate what to do. Roman and Salome remain to talk with Bill and Eric. Edgington is the figurehead for the sanguinistas, he says, so Bill and Eric volunteer to bring him in. Roman decides to allow it. When they're gone Roman summons the new Nan  Flannigan—Reverend Newlin.

He was recruited because of his Fellowship of the Sun connection, but he annoys the guardian when he disses humans. Roman respects humans as their ancestors and sees the need for vampires to evolve. If they can't bring Russell in quietly he will need Newlin's trustworthy face to work the public in order to ensure mainstreaming succeeds, because the humans are still strong enough to destroy them if they put their minds to it.

Sookie comes to Fangtasia to plead for Pam's help, who is still searching for Eric. Pam wants nothing to do with her problems, so pushes her away which prompts Sookie to throw her across the room with a fairy blast and walk out.

A hungry Tara shows up at Sam's begging him to help. He gets her all the TruBlood she can drink, and  then she collapses. Sam puts her in the cooler at Merlotte's.

Debbie's parents show up at the sheriff station to talk to Andy about their missing daughter, then go to see Alcide. He explains he caught her back on the blood and ended it for good. They're certain something bad has happened to her.

Jason runs into a former teacher who apparently seduced him when he was in school, so he has coffee at her house. He ultimately pushes to have sex with her again, but afterwards feels wrong about it and leaves.

While shopping and trying on clothes, Jessica overhears a man at the counter and confronts him about how awesome he smells. She takes off in pursuit when he flees and he disappears in the woods. Jessica heads over to Jason's telling him about her experience and how it's made her super horny. Jason realizes sex isn't working for him anymore and doesn't know how to be friends with a girl. She snaps out of her fugue and says she is his friend and will just listen to him tell her his problems.

Sookie finds Sam at Merlotte's and asks about Tara, but he says no. She reads his mind and finds out he has her in the freezer. He understands she tried to give Tara another chance, but it's up to her now what she wants to do with it.

Pam reminisces about her first meeting with Eric. He came to see her at her brothel after saving her from her attacker. When Pam checks in on her other girl, she's with Bill and Lorena and Pam sees them feeding on her. Eric then bursts in and throws Lorena off the prostitute. Bill tries to kill him, and Eric introduces himself to the petulant young vampire. Lorena pleads that Bill is new and doesn't understand. Eric decides he has potential but berates Lorena for being so reckless. She wasn't aware it was Eric's territory. Pam is watching from the doorway and she wants $500 for every girl they drained. When they leave, Pam tells Eric they have a debt to settle, so he kisses her.

Andy grills Sookie if she's seen Debbie. In one of the more mundane plotlines, Holly's sons have posted a butt shot of Andy on Facebook, making him the laughing stock of town. But he still wants to continue seeing her.

Bill and Eric are outfitted with devices to kill them if they try to escape or try anything outside their mission. Salome then chats with Bill. She's the genuine Salome from the Bible. She likes him and is impressed with his career, which leads to sex. Next she summons Eric and discusses Nora, who she brought into the authority. He asks her to help save Nora and Salome proceeds to seduce him too. Afterwards, as they head down in the elevator Bill and Eric realize Salome visited them both and wonder what she wants from them. The doors open to a room full of guards.

Nora, meanwhile, is being tortured and confesses to being a sanguinista.

Hoyt comes to Fangtasia looking for trouble. Pam tells him they'll eat him alive, but that's what he's looking for. She flashes back to sleeping with Eric and asking him to make her a vampire. But it's too great a responsibility being a maker, he muses. So she gets up and cuts her wrists, telling him to make her a vampire or watch her die. Eric concedes.

Roman comes to see Salome and she's certain neither Bill and Eric are sanguinista and can be trusted. But Roman isn't sure, given Nora confessed. Salome suggests he might want to consider changing his course given how the mainstreaming has split the vampires and she fears for his safety. 

Terry tells Arlene he's going away for awhile with no explanation whatsoever, making her a bitch for the rest of the episode. Lafayette wakes Tara up, but she wants nothing to do with him. Alcide warns Sookie that Debbie's missing and might be gunning for her. He wants to know what she's not telling him. They run into the kitchen and find Lafayette on the floor and Tara steps out, shocking everyone, including Arlene. She tells them all she doesn't need any of their help and to stay away. Arlene thinks Lafayatte is a monster for turning his own flesh and blood. Alone, Lafayette pours bleach into the soup and sees his reflection in the mirror—it's the demon he and Jesus summoned to fight the witches. Horrified, he dumps out the stew.

Sookie admits to Alcide she killed Debbie, which does not go over well with him at all. Then she has the nerve to ask him if he's going to press charges.

Tara breaks into a tanning salon and lies down in a bed, intent on suicide as she turns it on and screams. Pam senses Tara from Fangtasia and mutteres, "Stupid bitch."

The Verdict:
Coming off of the mythology heavy episode last week, I found this one somewhat dull with my mind wandering throughout a lot of it. The Tara moments were much stronger, though, and, of course, Pam. And anytime Alcide tears a strip off Sookie  can't be all bad either. But the Authority bits with Salome, though intriguing in many ways, just lacked the action—lots of scenes of people being pissy with one another.

True Blood suffers, as always, from too many characters to be serviced—namely Hoyt, Arlene, Terry, Andy and Holly, now with the addition of the Pelts, along with Luna and Emma...sigh. With so much big stuff going on, whenever their mundane stories get attention it slows things down quite a bit.

But enough with the bad. We got the first Bill/Eric meeting and Pam's interesting way to get Eric to make her a vampire, which leaves me wondering if he's never gotten over this with her. Then Hoyt's arrival at Fangtasia makes me hope those two are going to have more time together.

So Nora was a sanguinista and it's pretty evident that Salome appears to hold the same feelings, which isn't very surprising at all, given Roman looks like he's being set up for a betrayal. Didn't Jason already go through his my life is meaningless and I'm using sex to fill the void thing already? One of the most tedious plots this week, though it was nice to see Annie pop up from Mad Men, though. Did Jessica encounter a fairy, or is this some new weird and wonderful creature to add to the True Blood menagerie? This show is best when it gives its characters some meaty scenes to chew on and not these short and quick plot driven moments.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Review: The Walking Dead 99

Non Spoiler Review:
The community mourns Abraham's death, forcing many to examine their lives. Andrea and Rick grow closer, while Glen and Maggie come to a decision about their future. Rick struggles to figure out how to deal with Negan.

As Walking Dead approaches its milestone anniversary, pieces are being set into place for what is sure to be an exciting 100th issue. It's good to see how Abraham's death is affecting so many of the characters. A sense of grave danger is heavy over the series now as the reader seems to be the only one who knows how serious the situation is for Alexandria.

Spoilers Now!
Rick is feeling lost at what to do against Negan, and the loss of Abraham. Andrea asks to stay the night, which doesn't go unnoticed by Carl. Glen announces to Maggie he wants them to move to the Hilltop. She doesn't want to leave their friends, but says she'll go wherever he wants them to go. Eugene and Rosita both mourn for Abraham and the good man he was.

At Aaron's behest, Rick finally calls a meeting to discuss the situation. Rick wants to return to the Hilltop to get some assistance and figure out what they're really up against. Andrea isn't so sure it's wise to leave. Rick continues to believe Negan's numbers are small enough that they've dealt them a blow. Michonne also disagrees. But Glen announces they're moving to the Hilltop.

As they go to bed, Carl asks his father to stop treating him like a kid and to take him with them whenever he goes somewhere from now on. Rick promises. As Andrea stays over, Rick asks her to remain, given she's the one person who can defend the town.

Come morning, Glen and Maggie are packed up and join Rick and Michonne in the van, saying their good-byes. Andrea watches them go. Outside form the rooftops Negan's men send a message to their leader that they attack at dawn.

The Verdict:
I'm feeling a little nervous about some major characters given the 100th issue is bound to bring significant carnage, if not the destruction of Alexandria. I have a sense that Rick has grossly underestimated Negan's numbers and could return to complete devastation, especially given how the character situation has split itself up this issue.

Rick's foolishness is a bit much at this point. It's taken Abraham's death to at least make him consider he's underestimating Negan, but at the same time he remains confident the enemy lacks the numbers to assemble a sufficient assault. Yet there's no logic for this. The rest just seem to let him away with it. All except for Glen, who is worried enough to get Maggie out of there.

So I'm anxiously awaiting this 100th issue to see if the setting moves more permanently to the Hilltop and a broader war between communities. And which of our favorites gets killed this time.

Review: Falling Skies "Shall We Gather At the River"

Non Spoiler Review:
The aliens have the 2nd Mass pinned against a river, forcing Weaver to try to find a way to cross before they're attacked. Tom fears he has been compromised during his time on the ship, especially given his chunks of missing time. Meanwhile, Hal, Ben and Matt all struggle with their father's return.

This second part to the premiere was a tense and really well-constructed episode. It's quite evident how the series has matured, carrying forward the previous hour's sense of urgency. There was also quite a horrifying operation scene that ranks right up there in the leagues of Prometheus for a cringeworthy moment.

I'm eager to see where the series goes this season. If these two episodes are indication, they've worked out quite a few of the bugs of the first year.

Spoilers Now!
Tom has a nightmare of the red-eyed skitter from the ship. Anne gives him an examination and he seems normal, despite Tom worrying that the aliens have turned him into a sleeper agent. He's still suffering guilt from abandoning his boys, but Anne informs him they've lost a lot of good people when he was gone—including Scott and Rick. While Ben's fitness is unusual, until she can get her hands on a working X-ray machine, she has no idea what's happening to him internally.

Jimmy, Matt, Hal and Maggie are scouting out a bridge. Dai manages to shoot down an incoming scout ship (with their armor piercing bullets) but it damages the bridge in the process.

Weaver fills Tom in on what's happened—since attacking the structure they've been hounded relentlessly and were surrounded until Ben found a soft spot in their lines that allowed them to punch through. They lost more than a hundred people. Now they're being pinned against the river. Weaver is thankful for Hal and Ben, but he needs Tom back as his XO. Tom doesn't trust himself and warns him not to either. 

The resistance debates ways to get across the gap in the bridge—rebuilding it would draw alien attention. Jamil suggests patching it long enough for them to get across. The aliens can now beat their jamming signals, too, so that's nolonger an option. Hal and Maggie volunteer to check out what lies beyond the river but Ben points out he can swim it faster. Weaver tells him to take Jimmy.

Tom admits to Hal that there are gaps in his memory with the aliens, and needs him to promise to keep an eye on him. If he does anything to endanger them he wants Hal to stop him by any means necessary. Matt overhears. Then his eye starts bleeding and he goes into convulsions.

Anne finds some sort of cyst in his eye and realizes it's moving. Tom freaks out and wants it removed. Anne gets the wormlike creature out and puts it in a jar. Tom is even more paranoid, asking they restrain him. Though the device has been removed and seems inert, Weaver obliges.

Ben crosses the river and explores the forest, which is full of the debris from the shot down ship. He gets a headache as he approaches the crash site. He takes a picture of some kind of organic device, then destroys it. He finds an alien tower with scout ships and mechs moving around it. 

Pope informs Weaver they won't be taking Tom across the river, and refuses to obey orders, forcing Weaver, Hal and Anthony to draw their weapons on him. Weaver sends him away. 

Ben visits his father after returning from the river. Tom is handcuffed to a pole in the bus. He tells his father to use hate to help him maintain control, and shows him his back where the harness was, because he hates the skitters for turning him into a freak. Tom explains it was his love for his boys that kept him going, not hate. 

Jamil wants to grab as much of the wreckage from the crashed beamer as they can so they can learn about their propulsion systems, given there appeared to be no pilots. Weaver says once they get across the river he can take what he wants. If they're drones they must be getting commands from the base Ben saw. Weaver plans to blow it up to keep the beamers off them before they cross the bridge. 

Jamil and Lourdes seem to be hitting it off, as does Hal and Maggie. Matt is scared of his father after seeing what came out of his eye. With no one noticing, Tom's parasite unfurls and breaks out of the jar, climbing onto Lourdes' jacket and flying out of the bus.

Hal, Maggie, Dai and Ben take the boat across the river while the resistance waits at the bridge. Jamil has repaired the break enough to cross. The attack group watches the mech and beamers depart so Dai goes in closer to take out of the station. Dai fires and scores a hit. Ben can sense that the signal has stopped, so they take off.

Pope arrives to alert Weaver skitters and mechs are on their tail. Anne takes the bus over but gets stuck. The resistance tries to hold off the mechs and give them enough time to free the bus.

Tom tells Matt to cut him loose. Anne refuses to leave the wounded. Tom runs out into the battle and takes over the gun. Matt grabs a gun to help, too. Weaver gets the bus free and it crosses, and he calls for Tom to leave the guns and get to their side before they blow the bridge. Tom makes a run for it but Pope grabs the detonator and blows the bridge before the mechs can reach them. Weaver orders everone to move out. 

Weaver assures Hal they'll go back with a search party. They've lost six people, three vehicles and a food truck, but they made it across. Maggie has scouted ahead and found an airport to serve as their new base. 

Matt's feeling guilty for staying away from Tom. Hal punches out Pope for blowing the bridge, but his father emerges from the river, while Lourdes finds the jar empty. While Tom enjoys his reunion, the red-eyed skitter watches the convoy from the woods as the parasite lands and crawls into its eye.

The Verdict:
An even stronger episode, Falling Skies doesn't get bogged down in a lot of what's transpired, bringing the audience up to speed on their losses and tactical moves along with Tom. They've also certainly beefed up the tension with a very creepy operation scene. Is Tom a sleeper agent? And how is he connected to the red-eyed skitter? I'm pleased they addressed the obvious concerns about his loyalty rather than string it out for very long.

Shall We Gather At the River brought some nice action to balance out the more character driven first part, with lots of shots of beamers flying around and mechs and skitters to lend a sense of the alien occupation. It's also interesting that they so casually mentioned the skitters have adapted to their jamming technique used last season. I like the fact that the aliens would (logically) figure out a solution, but just a little surprised how they dropped that plotline so quickly. And is Ben growing skitter skin despite having his harness removed? I wasn't entirely clear if he was bearing the scars of the harness or if he was, in fact, still changing.

Several relationships are blooming—Jamil and Lourdes, as well as Hal and Maggie (which will certainly have to deal with Karen at some point. None of them seem forced simply to add some romance to the story, which is good. All the characters are familiar with each other enough that such things can evolve naturally with the series.

We get a mention of the invaders nuking cities, and reasons why the aliens are choosing not to just eradicate their problem. That raises the question of radiation in general given the initial attack involved nuking many cities worldwide. Has there been any discussion about possible radioactivity from Washington and New York (which I think was destroyed, as well)? Just a thought as the resistance moves across country.

So two strong episodes to kickstart season two. I'm hoping the extra special effects we caught this week is a growing trend, and not just a special case of blowing the effects budget.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Review: True Blood "Authority Always Wins"

Non Spoiler Review:
Sookie and Lafayette deal with the Tara that emerges from the ground. Alcide has words with Martha, who also confronts Luna about her granddaughter. Reverend Steve makes an offer to Jessica. Terry continues to struggle with memories from Iraq. Bill, Eric and Nora are taken to the Authority.

Authority Always Wins was a much stronger and more concise episode than the premiere, providing better focus on storylines without a lot of the fluff that plagued last week. It was the introduction of the ubiquitous and mysterious Authority that overshadowed everything, including Christopher Meloni as the guardian, Roman, and a whole lot of vampire lore that really made this one a success for me. While Tara's storyline is dragging a bit, Pam is more than making up for that, plus we're getting a flashback to her first meeting with Eric.

What has emerged, though, is that there are storylines with clear interest for me—vampires, Tara and werewolves, and plots I care absolutely nothing about which drag the show down—Luna, Terry, Andy, Jason's sex travails, etc. So I hope it all evens out.

Spoilers Now!
Pam is amused as Tara runs amuck, but when she bites into Sookie she pulls her off. Pam commands Tara not to bite them and wishes them luck. Tara tears through the house, but they manage to silver her in order to get her into Eric's cubby before sunrise. 

Alcide doesn't partake in consuming Marcus. Martha tells him he's the new packmaster and has an obligation to eat, but Alcide doesn't care about their laws. Luna takes Sam home, and Martha follows and wants to see her granddaughter. Luna demands she leave, but Martha suggests Emma will need her pack when she turns (into a werewolf). Luna disputes that she is one and not a shifter. After she goes Luna tells Sam her daughter is none of his business, so he either has her back or he can get out. He (like us) thinks Luna is being a bitch and takes off. Later Luna finds Emma has turned into a puppy. 

Pam returns to Fangtasia to find Eric has yet to return. She has a flashback to San Fransciso 1905, where she once ran a brothel. She checks in on one of her girls only to find her dead. Then she's followed on the walk home and is about to me murdered when Eric appears and kills the man, noting she's not afraid of him. Eric pays her for the blood on her dress and leaves. 

Bill, Eric and Nora are brought to Salome at an underground installation where all three are imprisoned. Bill tries to keep Nora in the clear by saying she was their prisoner, but the Authority doesn't believe she's innocent in the matter and torture them with UV light.

With the sun up, Sookie goes shopping for weapons at a local vampire defense shop, to fend off Russell should he attack. Reverend Steve is on the television having come out as a vampire. He nolonger associates with the Fellowship of the Sun and believes vampires are not the enemy. Sookie purchases a silver mister for the doorway. When she gets home she find Lafayette about to stake Tara, but talks him out of it, promising it will take time for the Tara they know to come out.

Andy and Jason investigate an abandoned car which turns out to belong to Debbie. Andy finds a vial of V and turns it over to Jason. Later at the station, Andy tells his deputy to expunge Ronnie's ticket.

Bill is interrogated. The Authority is alarmed Nora would betray them to help Bill and Eric. The vampire bible states that before Adam and Eve was Lilith, who was vampire like God. Adam and Eve's true purpose was to nourish the vampires. Bill doesn't believe in the literal interpretation of the text, unlike the sanguinistas, who are the current threat to the mainstreaming movement. Nora does believe it, however. And the Authority has tried to make coexistence a lasting reality, despite the forces aligning against it. 

Meanwhile, Salome interrogates Eric at the same time, telling him Nora met the true death for her betrayal. Both attempt to get Eric and Bill to betray one another while torturing them with a silver IV.

While having another party, Jessica is visited by Reverend Steve. In private, Steve wants to offer her $10,000 for Jason. She doesn't sell her friends, she tells him, so he gets violent. He reveals Bill isn't the king anymore, but she throws him out of the house. Angry, she sends all the party goers home.

Arlene wakes up to Terry sleepwalking and telling her they're all going to die. She slaps him to wake him up. So she finally goes to see Patrick to get answers, but he won't talk about what happened in Iraq. Terry shows up with information the soldier Patrick is looking for is alive, so suggests they pay him a visit.

Jason comes to visit Hoyt at his mother's, but gets told they're over as friends. But his mother tells him in confidence she's elated he broke up Hoyt and his vampire.

By nightfall Tara emerges to confront Lafayette and Sookie, telling them she'll never forgive either of them. She runs out the door, only to get sprayed in the face with the silver mister, and disappears into the night.

Bill, Eric and Nora are brought to meet the Authority leadership, including the guardian, Roman, who extracts some of his blood and dispenses it to his chancellors. Following the mass, Roman addresses Nora for her betrayal and has her taken away. Nan was no prize, but she was Authority, and that is the point. They are the Authority. I am the Authority, he tells them.

He accuses them of being members of the sanguinista movement, though they don't know what it is. Roman will not have fundamentalism in the Authority. The chancellors are in disagreement about whether to kill them or not. 

Bill offers him an exchange. Their lives in return for Russell Edgington. The rest believe Russell is dead, but Bill confesses to what really happened and that he has now broken free. Russell wants anarchy, Bill explains, but desires Bill and Eric dead too. After what he did they felt the true death was too good for Russell. Roman is furious they disobeyed the Authority yet again, but realizes there are more important things than his personal desires to see them dead. Bill suggests Russell will stop at nothing to find him and Eric, so Bill expects to meet the true death whether they succeed or not. So it's a good offer for Roman.

Meanwhile, Russell Edgington is slowly recovering with a healthy supply of homeless victims.

The Verdict:
A definite improvement from the hodge-podge of last week, I was particularly impressed with the fleshed out history of the vampires and the news that there is a fundamentalist sect determined to interpret their bible literally. While Bill and Eric's opportunity to survive the Authority's death sentence could be seen a mile away, the storyline holds a lot of interest.

Sookie isn't endearing herself to me again this year with how she's treating her friends. Granted she wants to save Tara, but lying about Debbie's death is sure to come to no good at all. Not a good way for the series to handle its heroine. And on the subject of bitches, Luna's behaviour was no less wonky either and seemed to come out of nowhere.

Arlene and Terry, Andy and Holly and even Hoyt just can't hold a candle to all the rest of the stuff going on, unfortunately. Jason has never recovered his storylines since the panther fiasco, as well. It might ultimately be best for them to be drawn back into the main plots rather than try to carry their own individual arcs.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Review: Falling Skies "Worlds Apart"

Non Spoiler Review:
Three months after leaving with Karen and the aliens, Tom turns up during a firefight, prompting questions as to his whereabouts and what he did to escape. Hal, Ben and Matt have continued the fight in his absence, and the 2nd Mass has suffered significant losses as the aliens stepped up their attack after Boston.

Worlds Apart was a compelling return for Falling Skies, especially the great flashback scenes of Tom with the aliens. It was quite well done. The look of the show really seems a lot more gritty and dirty, and the 2nd Mass feels like it's been put through the wringer. 

The first episode back was a strong one, and it didn't suffer any of the weaknesses from last season—overly heavy messages or mushy scenes. Tom's return and his time with the aliens was not diminished at all with any quick explanations or fixes. I'm excited for the season.

Spoilers Now!
Three months after Tom's abduction, Pope leads a couple of mechs into an ambush by Weaver, taking them and a bunch of skitters out. Ben is a little too zealous in killing them, jumping out to stab a wounded alien. He spies another skitter, shoots it, and sees Tom behind it. His father collapses, shot. The aliens begin bombing the site as Ben and Maggie rendezvous with the rest, bringing Tom with them.

Returning to the civilian camp, Anne meets the party and gets to work on the wounded Tom. Ben is distraught at shooting him.

As Anne operates, Tom flashes back to his time with the aliens, waking up in a prison and tortured by skitters before Karen arrives to apologize for his treatment. She explains they've won and are allowing the resistance an opportunity to surrender. They've become an inconvenience, and they're offering him a chance to have a real life. 

She leads him into a command room where one of the tall aliens awaits. It speaks through Karen, explaining they've studied him in detail to make an appropriate proposal—a sanctuary to relocate the human survivors to live out their lives. Tom declares they'll never stop fighting. The alien counters they shouldn't expect any better treatment from them than they do from their fellow humans. He's told he will lead his people to the neutral zone. Tom says no, and warns him about drawing too many lessons from the past. He grabs a weapon from a nearby skitter and fires it at the tall alien before being knocked out.

Next he finds himself in daylight as the ship opens up to release him and a bunch of other prisoners, including some from other militias who were also instructed to lead their people to the sanctuaries. The ship closes and takes off with just a skitter and mech behind. The humans run off as they're fired upon, and everyone is killed except for Tom, and it's obvious they let him live. They leave him alone on the meadow.

Tom begins to make his way back to the 2nd Mass in Boston. After weeks on foot, he comes across a man about to shoot a girl, so gets his gun and chases him away. The girl is distraught and wants to be left alone with her dead mother, but he convinces her to let him take her bike and come with him.  

They reach Boston but he figures the 2nd Mass is long gone. The girl explains she and her mother were going into the mountains to hide. They get into the city at night, hearing the gunfire from the 2nd Mass. The girl wants to leave for the mountains so takes off on the bike. Tom hears Weaver's voice and runs over, seeing Ben shoot the skitter. He attacks another alien but catches the bullet from Ben in the process.

Anne gets the bullet out. Weaver wants Hal to keep an eye on his brother given his reckless behaviour. Their ambush was a holding action until they receive new orders, but the've not heard anything from the outside since the attack on Boston.

Hal reminds Ben of the chain of command as the resistance goes out on another ambush. They barely manage to take cover as a ship flies over and blows up their vehicle. They walk back to camp, wondering why they've suddenly begun to target their transportation. Weaver thinks the aliens have recalibrated their sensors to pick up heat from the vehicles. They need to find a way to mask the heat long enough to put some distance between them and the patrols. 

Ben teaches Matt how to shoot, which raises Hal's ire. He suggests they let their father make that decision. Ben counters that he doesn't want Ben taken away like they took him—or Karen. Hal lunges at him but Ben easily holds him off and walks away.

Anne reports Tom is weak but can be moved. Weaver offers her some scotch he found and suggests they not waste it. He wonders if it's a sign of hope with Tom coming back. He would have warned them they were pushing their luck in their attacks. Anne disagrees. Their strategy is worth it and Tom would be proud. Jamil show up with a solution to the heat problem—fibre glass to wrap the engines and temporarily conceal them from the alien sensors.

Tom starts bleeding again. Hal reports a mech convoy is on its way. Weaver realizes they can't move the med bus, so sends the rest ahead 20 miles out. Anne and Lourdes continue to operate while Hal, Ben, Maggie and Dai keep watch. Anne gets out the fragment and the convoy seems to pass them by. The bus meets up with Weaver.

Tom wakes up to Anne. He's relieved to hear the boys are fine, but tells her she's another reason he came back. Ben offers his apology for shooting him. Tom walks out to a warm welcome from Weaver and the 2nd Mass, but Pope suggests Weaver might want to consider how he got away from the aliens.

The Verdict:
As I said, the look of Falling Skies feels just a wee bit different—everything's dirtier and messier and worn down a little more since last we left the 2nd Mass. The main plot of dealing with Tom's mysterious return was handled well, especially addressing the main question—is Tom a sleeper agent of some kind.

The scenes on the alien ship were especially well done, and having the alien speak through Karen was a great way to keep things believable and mysterious. I also enjoyed how the invaders threw some of Tom's historical anecdotes back at him by citing concentration camps from Earth's own history.

Hal, Ben and Matt continue to be developed well, which is an achievement handling so many young people in a science fiction series. So often they could descend into annoying characters but they've all managed to avoid those cliches. Weaver and Anne's scene together was a pleasant surprise, too. Who would have thought Weaver would grow into such an endearing character?

So a solid start for Falling Skies. I'm looking forward to see how dark things will get this season.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Review: Mad Men "The Phantom"

Non Spoiler Review:
Season five comes to an end as Easter approaches, and SCDP deals with the lingering fallout of Lane's death. But Don's renewed boldness seems to have brought oodles of money into the firm and they stand on the precipice of hitting the big leagues. Pete sees Beth against his better judgement, while Megan asks Don for a big favor.

The Phantom was a very nice note to end the season. While Lane's shadow continues to fall across SCDP, no one at all commented on Peggy's absence, which seems rather odd. However, she isn't gone from the show, so that's a relief.

SCDP ends up at an interesting point by the end of this season, in stark contrast to last years' ending. But so does Don, and the fade out for this year leaves us with a lot of questions for what season six might bring for him.

Spoilers Now!
It's Easter. Don's got a toothache. Megan's mother is back for a visit. Howard is travelling with Beth on the train when they find Pete. She's off to stay with her sister. Harry hits up Joan on information if they're buying more space in the building.

Don thinks he sees Adam (his dead brother—who also hung himself) get into the elevator. Later Michael's pitch to Topaz falls flat, so Ken summons Don to answer questions. The client is annoyed as they want a girl's opinion, which he used to take as a given around there. Don berates Stan and Michael for not doing their research.

Joan informs the partners they are in their best quarter ever. Bert wants an office. Joan is meeting with the building manager to discuss space. Lane's seat is noticeably vacant, and she feels she needs to voice some of the negatives of buying more space.

Pete gets a phone call from Beth who wants to meet him at the hotel where she stood him up. It could be his last chance, she says. He hangs up on her. But of course he goes to meet her and learns Howard checked her into the hospital that morning for depression and she needs electro-shock treatment. She wanted to see him  one last time because it will be different after. She's had it before. Pete can't deny her.

Megan is getting a heavy breather on the phone, who calls while she's entertaining Emily from class. Megan's paid for an audition reel but has had a series of rejection letters that has her depressed. Emily asks a favor, as her agent put her up for a part for a commercial for Butler Shoes, a SCDP account. She wonders if knowing Don will help her get an audition. Megan doesn't know how much help that will be given Don won't be in control of who they hire, but she'll see what she can do.

When Don comes home, Megan brings up the commercial, but instead pitches herself as perfect for the role. All she wants is Don to put her name in a file (even if Stan and Michael will recognize her). He finds it interesting she wants to do a commercial given her attitude about advertising. She tells him to forget it. He adds that it's for the best, as she wants to be someone's discovery, not someone's wife. Megan takes a bath before dinner, and breaks down in the bathroom. She stays in bed in a funk, and her mother is less than helpful, telling her to be happy with her rich husband and abandon her foolish dreams.

In the morning, Joan meets with Don about the office space issue and confesses more money is flowing into the company than they know what to do with. The death benefit from the company insurance policy is $175,000, and she wonders why Lane would do that. She wants to know what she could have done differently (she thinks he killed himself because she spurned him), but Don assures her it had nothing to do with her. Don tells her to cut a cheque for his wife after they pay back the Lucky Strike collateral.

Don suffers an uncomfortable visit with Lane's wife. She had declined their offer to have a memorial. He gives her the cheque which she takes without a word. She tells him he had no right to fill a man like Lane with ambition. She also found the picture of the girl in Lane's wallet (from the wallet he found in A Little Kiss), and doesn't know who it is. She tells him to go.

Roger calls posing as Marie's husband to get her on the phone. He wants her to come over, and admits he hung up on Megan about a dozen times that day to get a hold of her. She agrees but has no guarantees on what may happen between the two of them. When they meet up Roger is still thinking about Lane's suicide. He wants her to do LSD with him so he can find some sort of enlightenment, but she refuses, opting for sex instead.

Don comes home to drunk Megan. She challenges him that he has everything he wants—her waiting for him at home. Marie comes home, so he asks where she was given Megan was drunk out of her mind. That's his job, she points out. It's what happens when you have the artistic temperament and are not an artist.

Don's toothache is still getting the best of him so he acquiesces to go to the dentist. While he's put under he has a vision of Adam telling him he's in bad shape. It's not his tooth that's rotten. Don doesn't want him to leave but wakes up with the dentist telling him to take it easy the rest of the day. He sees his extracted rotten tooth.

Pete comes home to Trudy, who is planning on building a swimming pool. He's not impressed and sparks another fight. The next day he shows up at the mental hospital posing as Beth's brother to see her. He quickly realizes she has no memory of him, but she asks him to keep her company. He explains he's there to see a friend who got involved with another man's wife. He realized the life he had with his family was only a temporary bandage on a permanent wound.

Don goes to the theatre and finds Peggy there. They share a hug and sit together. She's there knocking out the cobwebs, but her job is going well. Ted has given her  Philip Morris' top secret lady cigarette as her new account. That also includes a tour of the factory in Richmond. He tells her he's proud of her, but he didn't know she would move on without him. The lights dim and she suggest they all get together sometime.

On the train home Howard wakes up Pete. He wants to go out and get into some trouble given he's on his own. Pete is disgusted with him, and what he did to his wife, which makes Howard realize it's him who is the other man, and says Beth always goes for the first chump she finds. They get into a fight and are pulled apart by the conductor. Pete refuses to apologize so gets punched in the face and thrown off at the next stop. He comes home and tells Trudy he was in a car accident (but the car is fine). Trudy tells him she can't live like this, wondering what condition he'll come home in. He was right, and needs an apartment in the city.

Don reviews Megan's screen test video and is enamoured by the woman he sees. Joan takes the partners to their new offices on a higher floor and they look out on their view. Pete points out he and Don will share the same view.

Don pulls some strings to get Megan the commercial. She's elated and tells him she loves him. He leaves the set as they prepare to film and goes to a bar to drink alone. Pete relaxes at home to music. Roger, on LSD, looks out over the city. A content Peggy has her hotel room in Richmond and sits down with a drink. An attractive woman asks Don for a light and inquires if he's alone. He turns to her.

The Verdict:
The Phantom takes Mad Men out on a high note, ending a season that has been as much about who Don Draper is now amid the generation gap and the increasing chaos of the 60s. The final scene was such a beautiful shot of Don leaving the stunning set into the darkness, and emerging into the bar scene where he orders up an old-fashioned. It could have been season one again, and we're left wondering if he'll accept the woman's proposition. Given his conversation with Peggy, he seems to think that helping Megan will set her on her own path away from him. So will he take her up on her offer?

I'm glad Don and Peggy got such a nice scene of closure, and that Peggy is happy in her new job, fulfilled that she gets to travel, even if it is to Richmond. But I would have hoped we would get some mention of her from her coworkers. She's one of the few characters who is actually getting what she wants out of life.

Pete has gotten beat up a lot this season, but it's ultimately brought him just what he wants—his Manhattan apartment. He survived the season, which is something early on I thought was highly in doubt. But he had such a profound statement about his marriage being a temporary bandage on a deeper wound. Even with his downtown digs and spectacular office view, I think Pete will still be struggling to find happiness.

Marie is quite the mother, and now that Megan has her big break, will it take her away from Don as he suspects? Or is it just a self-fulfilling prophecy on his part? I'd forgotten Adam had hung himself, and so Lane's death would have all the more impact on him. The rotten tooth image was anything but subtle (as has most of the themes this season).

We leave SCDP on the verge of great success. It seems to have happened overnight, so the prestige of a car account has come to pass. It's been a season of big changes, and as we enter the final years of the 60s I'm excited for what season six will bring.

Review: Prometheus

One of the most anticipated returns to a film franchise is Ridley Scott's revisiting of the Alien universe. Prometheus has been hyped as something of a prequel to the original film, set some 30 years before Ripley and the Nostromo answered the distress call from L-426. Prometheus details the first deep space mission sent by the ubiquitous Weyland (sans Yutani) Corporation, after scientists have discovered extra-terrestrial intervention in Earth's past, and what appears to be a map (and invitation) to where they originated from.

Scott has assembled a great cast—Michael Fassbender (X-Men: First Class), Charlize Theron (fresh out of Snow White and the Huntsman), Guy Pearce, and Idris Elba, with Noomi Rapace (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) and Logan Marshall-Green (Across the Universe) as the two scientific visionaries that kickstart the mission. It's also written by Damon Lindelof (Lost), and depending how you view the end of Lost will have a bearing how excited you are to have him writing Prometheus.

The main cast is pretty decent overall, though it's Fassbender's performance that rises above the rest, playing the original Weyland android and his struggles to search for meaning in his own creation just as Elizabeth Shaw does for humanity's genesis. Charlize Theron has a tough act to follow as the cold and calculating CEO of the mission. Idris Elba is workmanlike as the captain.

Noomi Rapace is the heart of the movie, with her near religious zeal to discover why the alien engineers influenced humanity. Boyfriend Charlie is a little less the fanatic, but the two of them represent the sense of wonder and discovery amid the more corporate elements on the ship. The other characters are the least of the film's strengths, as many in the crew aren't given any development whatsoever, and don't seem like they would measure up to the selection process in the real world. We're told there's a crew of 17, so many of them only show up at pivotal moments. 

Visually, Prometheus succeeds in creating a spectacle—the sets, the environments and the ship itself are stunning and leap off the screen in vivid detail (especially in the IMAX). I rank it up there with 2001 for a memorable take on future space flight. In fact, seeing the Prometheus sitting on the vast alien plain made me think of a similar image from Forbidden Planet. It's quite a contrast to the claustrophobic Alien. Here we get whole worlds rendered beautifully, and vast catacombs and caverns filled with wonders (and a ton of Alien references).

I've noticed a lot of criticisms about Scott's so-called message or theology infusing the movie. I don't get that at all. Sure some characters have their viewpoints, but I don't get a sense that there's a specific message about religion or, as some have said, anti-science. On the contrary, it's all about technology. Equally strong is David's storyline and all the themes that go along with creating artificial life. So there are, in fact, two threads to the story—the alien engineers and David's, both of which deal with creations/creators and all the questions that go along with it.

It's been awhile since I've seen as many spoilery trailers and TV spots for a film like we have with Prometheus. I felt I had a sense of the entire plot, and this is my major criticism (hello, spaceship collision, I'm talking to you). And I was initially concerned the movie wouldn't have the chills, but by the time the crazy starts, there are some really effective scares and disturbing scenes, including one in a surgical pod that should have you on the edge of your seat.

Prometheus doesn't provide any easy answers. It leaves a lot up to the audience to interpret a plethora of clues and elements to piece together the motivations of the engineers. In that sense, Scott was right all along—it's not so much a prequel as a precursor to Alien, and it can take off on its own set of sequels (I hope). As far as flaws, there will likely be enormous criticism about the ending and just what (and what does not) tie in with Alien, a source of debate on the ride home, that's for certain. I believe all the elements are there to tie the movies together and hypothesize just what led to the events in Alien

There were also a bunch of sloppy moments where I just shook my head at some of the stupid things the characters were doing. I don't need any training to know I'd be keeping my damn space helmet on inside an alien temple, breathable air or not. And the idea that some members of a mission would actually try to touch an obviously threatening alien lifeform? Seriously.

Prometheus is something to experience just for the style and visuals, but the story is there, as well. It may not rank up there as a ground breaker, genre-changing film like Alien, but it is certainly a smart sci fi entry that warrants multiple viewings, especially for Alien fans. And perhaps even better for those with no Alien baggage whatsoever.

Spoilery Musings:
So, it's obvious the moon in Prometheus is not L-426. Not only is the name detailed, but atmosphere is different. The space jockey at the end dies in the life pod, not the pilot seat. Ripley's crew never saw a bunch of human bodies in the spacecraft, and there was no distress signal initiated here. So that leaves another ship to crash on L-426 (and from the fossilized sample over 2000 years old we get here, it's likely already long crashed by the time of the film). 

The xenomorph which appears to develop during the credits isn't anything new at all, given we see a carving of it on the temple, and the L-426 eggs are presumably already in existence. Does the black goo naturally bring out the classic xenomorph over successive generations?

Other lingering questions—why did the aliens leave cave paintings pointing to their weapons installation moon? Why give those details at all? Who was the alien at the beginning, and was it Earth? Given the goo destroys him, I assumed he might have been infecting the life on that planet to exterminate it as they had wanted to do with Earth.

Using the canisters of the black goo to wipe a planet clean of life is undoubtedly effective. But what a mess to clean up after! Do the aliens plan on terraforming these worlds again? How do they get rid of all the weird ass killer organisms running amok? And why opt to destroy Earth 2000 years ago? Does it have anything to do with the rise of Christianity? Prior to that the cave paintings and artwork suggests they were getting along fine with their creations.

Lots to consider. I'm relieved it honored what went before with Alien, answered a few questions and offered some possible solutions to others, while raising a host of other mysteries. Not a perfect film, by any means, but far smarter than a lot of what passes for summer entertainment.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Review: True Blood "Turn! Turn! Turn!"

Non Spoiler Review:
Turn! Turn! Turn! kicks of season five of True Blood, catching us up with Sookie and Lafayette's struggle to deal with Tara's apparent death. But Bill and Eric are faced with an imminent strike from the Authority after they dispatched with Nan. Sam suffers the wrath of Marcus' pack. 

There was a lot to deal with in this episode, primarily the future of Tara, which bookends the story. Like every premiere, there's several new character introductions and new storylines kicked off—particularly the Authority and the werewolf situation look to figure prominently.

It's tough to gauge True Blood premiere's just because it has so much to catch up on. In fact, it was so packed, I completely forgot Russell Edgington was on the loose. Some worked. Some didn't. Terry and Arlene and Andy's stories are the least interesting when overshadowed with Bill and Eric's travails. So it remains to be seen how everyone's arcs will unfold. But it was good to be back in the swing of things, and this episode had no fairies whatsoever, so that was a big plus!

Spoilers Now!
Bill leaves a voicemail for Jessica that he has to go away for awhile and the house is hers. Meanwhile Eric vampire-cleans up the mess (that being Nan) of his office. They abruptly sense Sookie's danger, sparking from Eric a "Fuck Sookie! She rejected us both." So they agree to ignore it (yay!). Unfortunately as they leave the mansion the Authorty has already arrived and imprison Bill and Eric in silver netting, stuff them in a trunk and drive off.

Lafayette comes downstairs to find Sookie cradling Tara, just as Pam (conveniently) shows up looking for Eric. Sookie begs her to leave, but Pam wants her to tell Eric she's sorry. Lafayette asks her to turn Tara into a vampire, but Pam suggests even if she were do such a thing, her wounds are pretty damn serious and she could rise up damaged. With little choice, Sookie agrees she'll owe her one. Pam would therefore like Sookie to fix her problems with Eric. 

Reverend Steve is at Jason's doorstep, and swears he's not there to hurt him. He hasn't been taught anything about being a vampire, as he was turned as a punishment and woke up in a hole in the ground with a strange woman who ran off. But Steve does know a thing or two, and manages to glamor Jason to invite him in, ties him and gags him, and glamors him to remember asking him to put the tape over his mouth. Steve then confesses he didn't care Jason slept with Sarah so much as she got to sleep with him. Yes, Steve is a gay vampire, and he admits he's in love with Jason.

Jason is flattered, but doesn't swing that way, and that enrages Steve who is about to attack if not for Jessica arriving (conveniently), claiming Jason is hers. He lets Jason go or he'll suffer the true death. Jason then takes back his invitation and sends Steve on his way.

Sam is surrounded by wolves looking for Marcus, but shifts into a hawk and flies away. He goes to warn Luna and Emma that the werewolves will soon be after them. Despite Alcide killing Marcus, Sam refuses to sell him out given he helped with his brother. The wolves have followed them, and faced with threats against Luna and Emma, Sam admits to killing Marcus and goes willingly.

Sookie and Lafayette lay Tara out with Pam in a grave. Pam (arrayed in Wal-Mart yellow sweat suit) admits she's made someone before, but it didn't end up so well. They bury them together and wait to see what happens.

In the trunk Bill and Eric conspire to escape by puncturing the gas tank and end up blowing up the car.  Bill is injured but Eric insists on leaving with him. When it looks like the driver will shoot them, his partner, Nora, turns on him and kills him. Eric recognizes her, and after a long kiss explains she's his sister. But not that kind—Godric was their maker.

Nora is a high ranking member of the Authority and took the opportunity to save Eric when she learned they were being captured. Plus, she knows Bill saved them from the necromancers, so the Authority is out of step with everyone in punishing them. She had already arranged for the car to be ambushed prior to their stunt. They go to ground in a shipping container on the docks to await escape the next day.

Sookie cleans up Debbie's body. Lafayette suggests she just call the police and say it was self defense. But Sookie confesses it wasn't. She knew she didn't have to shoot Debbie but she did anyway. Next Sookie and Lafayette go to clean up Jesus' body. But the body is gone from his living room.

Sookie showers up and reminisces about her friendship with Tara, then gets a visit from Alcide. He explains Russell Edgington is on the loose, even though she thought he was dead. He wants her to stay with him because Russell will be coming after her. Sookie explains she can't, and he won't want her to once she tells him why. She starts to come clean about Debbie but Lafayette comes down the stairs and tells Alcide to leave, given they don't need his protection.

Holly's kids, Wade and Rocky, walk in on her and Andy in bed together. He decides it's time to leave so heads off to Merlotte's for lunch with Jason. Jason goes over to try to make peace with Hoyt, but all he gets is more grief. Meanwhile, Judge Clements comes over to speak with Andy. His son Ronnie got a speeding ticket and asks for a favor to get it lifted. Andy acquiesces. Clements pays for lunch.

Terry's friend Patrick has breakfast with Arlene and the kids. Terry is edgy having him in the house and talking about how Terry used to be in Iraq. When the subject of the fire comes up, it piques Patrick's interest, and he later confronts Terry about it. All the men in their platoon suffered from unexpected fires, too. It's about what happened in Iraq. Terry grabs his throat. He realizes Terry isn't the one who's doing all this, but wants to know if he'll help find out what's going on by locating another member of their group. Terry doesn't know where he is, so Patrick leaves.

Jessica has a college party at Bill's when Jason abruptly shows up. But both are clear that all this business about him being hers was just for the reverend's benefit, and they're still in their open relationship. Yet both get jealous when each flirt with someone else. Jason ends up leaving and driving his girl home, realizing he has feelings for Jessica. 

The werewolves are torturing Sam for information. Martha explains when their pack master dies there are things they have to do. They need his body in order to honor Marcus. She promises no harm will come to Luna or Emma if he gives it to them. Martha and her wolves dig up the spot Sam has indicated and uncover Marcus. Alcide shows up with Luna, who told him what happened. Alcide admits to killing Marcus. Martha is Marcus' mother as it turns out, and transforms and begins eating the body, as do the rest of the pack.

Eric and Nora have sex before they part while Bill awaits outside. But Eric still has his phone and it's Alcide informing him about Russell. Nora, Bill and Eric rendezvous with her friends, who give them their new papers—Bill and Eric will now be Marcelus Clark and Ike Applebaum. Eric says goodbye to Nora but gunfire kills everyone around them. The Authority has arrived.

In some unknown location a victim is dragged down a hallway and tossed into a chamber to be consumed by (what is certainly) Russell Edgington.

Lafayette and Sookie wait at the gravesite at nightfall. Pam rises first, unsure if it worked. Sookie digs out Tara, but sees she appears dead. Sookie breaks down, but Tara rises and comes after her. She screams.

The Verdict:
A Bill and Eric team up in which they reconcile their differences this season is especially appealing, so I'm excited to see where this Authority storyline goes. Undoubtedly they will let the two go after Russell and somehow get absolved of Nan's death. It was also refreshing to see both unwilling to leap to Sookie's aid this time around.

Tara as a vampire was completely expected, so the jury will be out on how they pull this one off because she can swing wildly between awesome and annoying as hell. However, it meant more Pam, so that's a good thing, and the idea that she's her maker should lead to some great exchanges. And Pam really did steal the show with her yellow Wal-Mart sweat suit.

Martha looks like an interesting addition, and I'm anxious to see more of the werewolf culture this season, especially with what it will mean for Alcide killing the pack leader. Does he automatically take charge now? I hope they don't stretch out the truth about Debbie for too long.

Jason's exchange with Reverend Steve seems just a throwaway scene, if only to set up more drama between him and Jessica. Though her party at Bill's mansion was another fun moment. Another subplot completely off the radar is Terry's Iraq backstory, as is Andy's dilemma with local politics, but who knows, it could all spring into something down the road. 

So a good start to the season, if not a tad thick with subplots. Hopefully next week will be more focused on the Authority and werewolves.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Review: Snow White and the Huntsman"

Non Spoiler Review:
One film that has garnered a lot of early hype from some pretty snazzy trailers is Snow White and the Huntsman. Charlize Theron has gotten plenty of screentime this spring, due in equal measures to a multitude of clips and trailers from this, as well as Prometheus. Her portrayal of the evil queen figured prominently in the movie's marketing, a bit unusual given it's about Snow White. 

Snow White and the Huntsman is a surprisingly epic and dark take on the classic fairytale. Young Snow White's place is usurped by the arrival of evil Ravenna who takes advantage of the king's despair over the loss of his wife and quickly kills him and takes over the realm. She imprisons Snow White in a tower for years and years (in which she doesn't look worse for the wear at all) until she learns that it's Snow's very heart that will secure her immortality. A timely escape takes Snow White into the dark forest, requiring Ravenna to enlist the aid of a huntsman to track her down.

Snow White and the Huntsman is directed by Rupert Sanders. It, of course, stars the stunning Charlize Theron (Prometheus, Young Adult) who seriously devotes herself to the role without a hint of irony. Chris Hemsworth (Thor) is the huntsman, and Snow White is played by the ever lazy Kristen Stewart (Twilight). The cast is further rounded out by some great co-stars, including Bob Hoskins, Ian McShane and Toby Jones.

The unique aspect of this interpretation is that everyone gets a backstory—the queen, the huntsman, even the dwarfs. The movie can't be faulted at all for dropping character in favor of action. In fact, I found myself quite sympathetic to Ravenna by the end (though that's in part due to my lack of appreciation for Stewart in general). 

I would say the movie felt a tad long, but in hindsight, how often do we get such an epic and indulgently dark take on a fairy tale? I was surprised at the directions it was charting as the story progressed with the portrayal of Snow White as this sort of messianic queen (a fairy tale Joan of Arc) to rescue the land from the darkness. But it all worked. I don't know how classic this film will become, but it was certainly a feast for the eyes. The costumes (especially Ravenna's) were astounding, while a healthy dose of world building went into the sets and the backstory.

Kristen Stewart didn't ruin the film with her laxidasical and uninspired Snow White, though she's still quite stunning (however Charlize is the fairest, hands down). That is all I shall say about her. Chris Hemsworth is always likeable even with an accent that grew a bit annoying by the end of two hours. I appreciated the relationship that developed between the two in contrast to the customary handsome prince, who is also in there too.

I was most pleased at how this take on the story avoided common clich├ęs. Is Snow White really meant to wed the prince? How can anyone not find a bit of sympathy for Ravenna given her backstory? The notion of a warrior princess, too, breaks convention.

There are the usual critiques that come with a fantasy film. Ravenna's magic levels are always in question, given she can apparently recoup her abilities and youth by sucking dry the life force of any nearby girl. Snow White seems to go on an odyssey for days through both the dark and relatively happy forests, while only a few hours away from the castle when necessary. But there's nothing story crippling here (unless one considers Ravenna should probably have killed Snow White the moment she took over the kingdom). An easy fix. Sadly, no villain has secured me as their advisor (I'm available).

The movie will appeal to hardcore fans of fantasy and not for anyone who might be looking for some more lighthearted stuff (that's not to say there aren't fairies and birds and rabbits frollicking about at one point). It might stretch on too long for most, but for me I was pretty engaged with the portrayals of Ravenna, the huntsman, even the dwarves, together with the rich visuals. In most ways it lived up to the hype of the trailer, and even surpassed it with some surprises. I'll catch it on Blu-ray again so I can better appreciate the eye candy and Theron's entertaining performance.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Review: Game of Thrones "Valar Morghulis"

Non Spoiler Review:
The season finale of Game of Thrones is an exhausting hour, leaving the state of Westeros even more dire than it was in season one. Coming off of last week's sole focus, Valar Morghulis plays catch up with the rest of the characters and storylines.

Theon's reckoning finally arrives as Ramsay Snow lays siege to Winterfell, but the end result is likely not what Robb anticipated. Daenerys enters the House of the Undying to find her dragons, but she sees a lot more of what might lie ahead. North of the Wall, Jon makes a fateful decision, but there's more going on than even Mance Rayder might be aware of. House Lannister is firmly in control of King's Landing, but that does not bode well for Tyrion as the political situation gets a serious shake up.

Several characters are offered a choice to escape the bad times ahead, yet chose not too. This was quite a gloomy episode, and despite all the jumping around to bring us up to date on everyone, it really kept a healthy pace and furthered the sense of impending doom over this entire continent. The season has brought an epic clash of families which appears to be only just beginning, and it will be a long year's wait for season three.

Spoilers Now!
A bandaged Tyrion awakes to a pleased Pycelle standing over him. He calls for Pod, who rushes in to the tiny quarters where he's convalescing. Tyrion instructs him to alert Varys and Bronn he's very much alive. Pycelle explains Stannis suffered a stunning defeat at the hands of Tywin, and he's no longer Hand of the King now that his father is back. Pycelle tosses him a coin for his trouble.

Tywin marches his horse into the throne room as Joffrey declares him the savior of the city and Hand of the King. His grandfather thanks him and rides his horse out. Baelish is called forth next and rewarded for uniting Houses Lannister and Tyrell, and is granted Harrenhal. Joffrey gives Loras a wish, who asks that he find Margaery a husband to join their houses. Margaery steps forward to tell the king she's come to love him from afar. Joffrey says it will be an honor to return her love but he's promised to another. Cersei steps in to explain that for the good of the realm his councillors beg him to set Sansa aside given her brother is raised in rebellion against him. Joffrey protests (for the audience) that he took a holy vow, so Pycelle details that Robert made the pact before the Starks revealed their treachery, and the priests say he is free of any promise in the sight of the gods. Joffrey says he will gladly wed Margaery.

Sansa witnesses all that from the gallery, then walks away and begins to smile. However, Baelish comes upon her and dampens her joy by telling her Joffrey will still enjoy making her his toy in other ways, as well. He won't be letting her go home. But Baelish sees her mother in her, and for her sake he will help get her home. Sansa replies coldly that King's Landing is her home now. Baelish tells her he's a better liar than her.

Ros is covering up a black eye as she receives a visitor. It's Varys, and she realizes who he is. He asks if working for Baelish has been all she hoped it would be. Her true talents are wasted on men, but he would protect those who work for him, unlike Baelish. Her employer is a dangerous man, but he still has weaknesses.

Brienne and Jaime come ashore as he continues to taunt her lack of femininity. They spy three hanging women who served the Lannisters and were killed by northerners. She insists on burying them, but the men abruptly return. They gloat that they killed the women quickly, except one of them. Jaime poses as a simple thief. She explains she's taking him to Riverrun to be dealt with by the Tullys. One of the men recognizes Jaime, and Brienne realizes their lie is caught so she kills all three in seconds, except for the last which she kills slowly. Jaime reminds her those were Stark men and she counters she serves Lady Catelyn and will take him to King's Landing as she promised. Then she resumes taking down the bodies of the women to give them a proper burial.

At Robb's camp Catelyn advises her son Frey is a dangerous man to cross if he should love Talisa. Catelyn explains she hardly knew his father when they married. Love was built slowly over the years. Treat his oaths recklessly and his people will do the same, she warns. But he retorts that she has no right to call anyone reckless. Later on, he marries Talisa.

A bitter Stannis tells Melisandre her god lied about his victory and he led his men to death for nothing. He moves to strangle her, daring her to show him if she really knows how to fight given she advised him so much in battle. Her god is inside him, she replies. He lets her go. He's slowly coming to terms with the realization he murdered his brother. They did it together, she says, and the war is just beginning. It will last for years. He will betray the men serving him, his family and everything he once held dear, and it will all be worth it. Because he is the son of fire. Melisandre has him look into the fire, and after a moment he admits he does see his future.

Winterfell is surrounded. The horns blowing from the northerners are driving Theon crazy, and he has received no word from his father. He's killed all the ravens anyway, so can't send out any messages. He muses to Luwin that the first time he saw Winterfell it looked as though it was eternal. They've always loved reminding him how well he was treated, how much he owed them.

Luwin is bound by oath to serve him and he counsels him to run. He has 20 men against 500 northmen. But there's nowhere to run, and he would be a coward in his father's eyes if he made it home. Luwin suggests he join the Night's Watch where he will be beyond reach of the law. Luwin says there are hidden passageways that could help his escape. It would be dangerous but with luck he would make it. An opportunity to make amends. Luwin tells him he's not the man he's pretending to be yet. Theon replies he's gone too far to pretend to be anything else.

Theon later addresses his men to spur them to battle against the northerners, despite it meaning certain death. They will sing about the battle of Winterfell, he yells, and he seems to encourage the soldiers. Dagmer waits until he's finished and knocks him out, then pulls a sack over his head to secure their own release from the northerners. Luwin comes out to stop them and is speared.

Varys visits Tyrion explaining he won't be seeing him for some time given Joffrey has won and is consolidating his power. It was Cersei who had Joffrey's guard attempt to kill him. Bronn is no longer head of the city guard and his Hill Tribesmen are gone. But Varys promises he will not forget that he was responsible for saving the city. He leaves Shae with him. She wants to look beneath his bandages at his scars. Shae suggests they leave King's Landing for Pentos, given he's terrible at fighting wars. He wants to go but can't. He belongs there and he likes playing the game because he's good at it, but suggests she leave given he's now a monster as well as a dwarf. Shae doesn't let him feel sorry for himself and affirms her love for him.

Daenerys, Jorah and Kovarro arrive at the tower of the House of the Undying, but there doesn't appear to be an entrance. The moment she's out of sight he finds she's disappeared. Daenerys finds herself inside and hears her dragons. She enters a circular chamber and goes through a door to  a version of the ruined palace where it's snowing. The Iron Throne is empty and she pauses before she touches it and instead follows the cries of her dragons, stepping out through another door, which becomes the gate at the Wall. She sees a fire in the distance coming from a tent. Inside it becomes Drogo's tent and he's holding their child. They share a bittersweet reunion, wondering if it's all a dream or if she's dead, as well. She sits with them until her dragons call for her again.

She leaves her dead husband and walks back into the circular room. All three dragons are chained to the rock in the center. Pyat tells her they miss her. When her dragons were born their magic was born again, and it is strongest in their presence, as they are strongest in hers. She will be with them until time comes to an end. Then she finds herself chained to the walls too. Daenerys utters the word dracarys, and the first dragon breathes a puff of fire that sets Pyat's arm aflame. The others join in and burn him alive. When he's dead their chains dissolve.

Arya, Hot Pie and Gendry find Jaqen on the trail waiting for them. She wants to know how to kill like he does, but she must come with him across the Narrow Sea (where her dancing master was from) to the city of Braavos. She has many names on her lips and she could offer them all to the red god then. Arya wants to go but realizes she must first find her family. So they must part, given he has his own duties, and he offers her a coin of great value. He instructs her if the day comes when she must find him, give the coin to any man from Braavos and say Valar Morghulis. Jaqen is dead, he explains and tells her to say it again. She does. And when he turns his face back it's someone else. He says farewell.

In Winterfell, Osha and Hodor sneak outside to find the castle has been sacked and burned. The wolves lead them to the godswood where Luwin is lying, and Rickon rushes to him. He's still alive. They have to go north because they may come back, he says. Osha protests it's the wrong way. Luwin tells them to go to the Wall where Jon will see they are safe. They leave him, but he pleads with Osha to protect the children. She's the only one who can, and she may have to do it against her own kind. He asks her to put him out of his misery quickly, so she draws her dagger. They leave Winterfell as it burns in the distance.

North of the Wall Jon is being led to Mance Rayder's camp. Jon taunts Ygritte and Qhorin manages to get his sword free, lunging after him while declaring him a traitor. Rattleshirt lets them fight. Jon disarms Qhorin and runs him through with this sword. Qhorin whispers we are the watchers on the wall and falls dead. Ygritte says they can tell Mance Jon's the man who killed the infamous Qhorin Halfhand. Rattleshirt unties him and instructs them to burn the body, given Jon won't want that one coming back for him. Ygritte leads him to a ridge where they look over a vast army camp. Time to meet the king beyond the wall.

Xaro lies in bed with Doreah as Daenerys and her followers arrive to wake him. Jorah takes the key to the vault and they open it. It's empty. But she thanks Xaro for teaching her this lesson, and has both him and Doreah sealed in the vault. They set about taking what valuables they find. They're going to have to buy a ship, Daenerys tells Jorah, and she walks off with her dragons as her followers gather their treasure.

Grenn, Edd and Sam hear horns blowing, which should be a sign Qhorin is returned. However, there are three blasts, which signals White Walkers. They run and leave Sam behind who can't catch up. In the snow he sees figures approaching so he takes cover behind a rock. He watches the undead move passed him, including a dead horse with a White Walker who looks right at him. It appears to ignore him and signals its army to march forward.

The Verdict:
The fall of Winterfell was a surprise (no doubt to Robb when he finds out, as well). I find it hard to believe Dagmer and his 20 men could have done it, so I'm assuming they turned Theon over to Ramsay Snow, and it was Roose's bastard that attacked the city? But for what purpose, because it would certainly bring down Robb's wrath when he finds out. Unless it was Roose Bolton himself who has been conspiring against Robb all this time. And where is the bulk of the population of Winterfell? They can't all be dead. 

So many characters were offered a chance to flee—Theon, Tyrion and Arya, but all of them decided to remain where they were and give up a hope of a more peaceful life. Even Daenerys turned down the temptation of the Iron Throne and her family with Drogo to find her children. And in the copious amount of danger and despair there were some glimmers of hope—Shae and Tyrion, Talisa and Robb, and Daenerys' triumph.

Daenerys' storyline, while never the strongest of them this season, did advance her arc towards getting to Westeros, but it also gave us a clearer insight into the growth of her strength as a future queen. If there was any doubt that she might possibly rule, it's been dispelled with the way she's taken her subjects out of the Red Wastes and achieved her goals. Though I have to say that Pyat's death was just a tad quick and easy. One would think someone of his power could dodge that first fireball.

The return of magic to the realm also got some needed explanation. Since we first saw the comet, it was apparent the return of the dragons was heralding something momentous—the House of the Undying finding their own magics growing, and quite possibly Melisandre, as well. Does it all tie in with the White Walkers too?

Baelish's grand scheme bore its fruit with Margaery becoming Joffrey's new betrothed (something I'm sure will not be as compelling for her now that she has it), and the alliance with House Tyrell. Does this mean Tywin can now strike against Robb in force? How strong is this family alliance, given Loras was firmly supporting Renly's claim to the thrown, and Tywin seems to want revenge on their family at some point? Why did Tywin remove Tyrion as Hand of the King, unless he's firmly in Cersei's opinion to be rid of his son. There certainly needs to me a scene to address this next year because Tywin has recognized the value of his son's intellect and it's unusual that he would cast it aside now for Joffrey's unstable rule.

Jon's story unfolded as expected, but it all came off rather easy to get him in the Wildings' good books with Qhorin sacrificing himself. It wasn't so unbelievable that Qhorin would act in the greater good, but the fact that Rattleshirt was so easily convinced to let them fight and then let Jon free did stretch credibility a bit.

Finally, the zombie army looks to be closing in on the Night's Watch, but who blew the three horns? Was it the Night's Watch scouts who already spotted them? Does Mance Rayder know that there's an additional army of the undead moving through the north?

Perhaps the most chilling scene was Daenerys walking among the gutted palace and the snow covered Iron Throne. Is this a premonition of what will eventually befall Westeros? There are simply way too many questions to ramble on and on about, but at least we're guaranteed another season which promises to be even more epic than this one. Even if some events appeared contrived, there's little to critique given the enormous success in bringing such a rich series of novels to the screen on a limited budget. Thankfully the ratings continue to break records for HBO and ensure its continued faith in the series.
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