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Friday, August 30, 2013

Review: The Walking Dead 113

Non Spoiler Review:
Issue 113 is a short but tense chapter in the ongoing battle with Negan. The face-off in Alexandria spirals out of control as Andrea fights for her life in the church tower and Rick is put back into a similar situation that led to Glen's death. 

This was a quick read, but one of the more effective issues in awhile. Events have moved passed the point of no return and I'm left wondering how (or if) Rick can get all his people out of this one.

Spoilers Now!
Jesus finds Negan's outpost empty, realizing that his men must have gone somewhere.

One of Negan's men finds Andrea in the church tower and proceeds to beat her up. Negan, meanwhile, gloats to Rick that his sniper has been found and is as good as dead, but nearly dies as a bullet clips Lucille but misses him. It's Carl behind the fence and an enraged Negan demands he be thrown over or he'll kill their people. Rick tackles him but is pulled off. Those behind the fence ignore Negan's demands.

Negan manages to calm himself and tells Rick his son has done something inexcusable. Without Carl to punish, he will kill Rick's men first, and then his people will give up the boy, as they won't be able to let him murder Rick. 

Andrea is beaten up and nearly tossed out of the tower. In town Rick tries futilely to negotiate, but he and Negan see a body fall out the window. Rick is horrified while a pleased Negan lines up his captives in preparation to execute them. In the tower Andrea drags herself back up to the window, muttering to herself that she and Rick don't die.

The Verdict:
Issue 113 was a great ride, made even more tense with the question of Andrea's fate given the death of the character on the television series. I was much relieved to see her pull herself up and hope she can grab a gun by next month. Will she manage to kill Negan? Unlikely at this point in the storyline, but a dramatic rescue is needed to get this situation under control.

Hurray for more Carl craziness. Too bad he isn't as good a shot as Andrea. 

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Review: True Blood "Radiation"

Non Spoiler Review:
Radiation brings the season to a close as Warlow's bargain with Sookie comes to a head, forcing Bill and Jason to act. As the immediate threat of Hep V appears to have been overcome, a new danger presents itself.

This was a mediocre finale, falling victim to the usual cliches the writers have been indulging in for several years. Major villains resolved with little effort, major characters in so-called peril, but not really, and change for the sake of change.

Perhaps the threads started at the close of Radiation will lead into an exciting final act for True Blood, but the last few seasons don't lend much promise to that. I'm not really sure if Alan Ball's departure sealed the show's descent, as it was getting pretty bad while he was still in the driver's seat, but it's definitely not been an improvement. Time to put this tired show out to pasture before it really ruins its beloved characters.

Spoilers Now!
Alcide walks with Sookie after the funeral, but they're interrupted by the daylight appearance of Bill's vampire entourage returning to his mansion. Sookie realizes Bill was right about everything, and spies Jason among them. Sookie assures Alcide she's safe and then joins their revelry. She finds Violet feeding on Jason and interrupts.

Violet leaves them alone to catch up. Jason understands how she used to feel with Bill. Elated Pam gives Sookie a big hug, as does Tara, while Bill watches from his window. Sookie leaves them and rejoins Warlow who has been preparing their wedding ceremony. Sookie warns him a lot has changed since she left him and her friends are no longer in danger. She wants a life of eternity to be based on more of a bargain so instead wants to date him. He slaps her across the face and asks her who she thinks she's talking to.

Back at the mansion, Tara realizes Pam is going to go after Eric. She tells her to take care of Willa and flies off. Meanwhile, Bill finds his telekinetic powers have left him and no longer feels like Lilith. He admits to Jessica that the price they paid for the daylight came at a price for Sookie to be made vampire. Jessica tells him he needs to go after her. Bill explains the situation to Jason to enlist his aid. Only Adeline can get them to the fairy plane to rescue them. Bill then frees the True Blood scientist after glamoring him to forget his ordeal, while Jason goes to see Andy to explain they need Adeline to save Sookie. She agrees to help, as does Andy, who stocks up on firepower.

Warlow has no desire to share Sookie with her friends or community. Sookie summons her light and threatens to throw it away, but he stops her, binds her and begins to feed off her.

Andy, Adeline and Jason meet Bill at the cemetery. Adeline can hear Sookie. Bill manages to tutor her to use her abilities to get them across to the fairy plane. Bill attacks Warlow while Jason frees his sister. Bill tells them to leave and impales Warlow. The others vanish. Warlow frees himself and transports both of them back to the real world, then flies off.

Jason gets Sookie home where Violet gives her her blood. Warlow attacks, stopping everyone, including Bill who is about to stake him. Warlow locks them up in the cubby beneath the house, except for Violet, who remains knocked out. Warlow searches for Sookie who is hiding in the bathroom. A portal opens and Niall comes through to grab him. Jason appears and stakes Warlow. He dies. Jason and Sookie manage to pull Niall back into the real world.

Bill wakes up and suddenly glows fae, as does Jessica and James, and in Sweden, Eric is reading in the mountains in the daylight when the magic leaves him too, and he begins to burn.

Six months later (!)—a mutated Hepatitis V (thanks to the supplies stolen in Honolulu) is now an epidemic. Bill has written a bestselling book which exposed all that happened, including his murder of the governor. The governor dreamed up Hep V that has spread into one eighth of the world vampire population. The intent of the book is to end all the secrets between vampires and humans.

Sookie watches the interview with Alcide, who she's now with. Jason is still with Violet but they've yet to have sex. She tells him it will happen in due time.

Sam is now mayor and warns Andy that no one trusts the government anymore and the church is what's keeping the town together. Sookie and Alcide find Jason inside where blood samples are being taken to see who is a carrier for Hep V. 

Reverend Daniels warns of the roving bands of sick vampires and urges they all work together. Sam takes the pulpit to explain the blood tests. Any human can be a carrier for Hep V. He and Bill Compton have a plan. The Bellefleur Bar and Grille (now owned by Arlene) is hosting a social which will have the results of the blood tests for everyone. He asks every non-infected human enter into a monogamous blood sharing arrangement with an uninfected vampire who will provide them protection. 

At the social Alcide and Sookie are both negative. The decide to endure the event for an hour before leaving. Meanwhile, Tara's mother wants to make peace with her daughter. She wants to apologize for how she handled everything her whole life—for forgetting to feed her—so wants to make it right by letting her feed on her now.

Jessica arrives at Andy and Adeline's, asking why they didn't come to the social. She offers protection for both of them, but he thinks she's got a lot of nerve. The only thing she can give them is some kind of peace of mind that the two of them will be safe. Andy closes the door on her.

Sookie and Alcide are about to leave when Bill asks for a moment alone with her. Alcide says Bill can say anything to him. Bill explains Alcide isn't good enough protection for Sookie so he offers to provide that. He says he's changed and can be trusted again. But she could never really trust him, she replies. Alcide suddenly smells something—a large pack of Hep V vampires are approaching the social.

The Verdict:
Radiation brought a ho-hum ending to a similarly toned season. Like previous finales, the first half resolved everything pretty quickly—Warlow was dispatched ridiculously easy (but then so was Russell Edgington), Bill is conveniently free of Lilith (who shall never be mentioned again), and the daywalking is over (no surprise). Once again we get a time jump to shake up the status quo because not enough time actually passes over the course of a season.

Unfortunately these jumps are now a big plot device for the writers who can't (or aren't willing) to develop characters organically and feel the need to force the audience to catch up with all the neat things they think they've thrown at them. The Hep V epidemic looks sort of interesting with its zombie-like vampires, but it feels very apocalyptic with just the microcosm of BonTemps to play out. Such a dramatic worldwide crisis would bring a giant social upheaval, but we've been spared nothing more than a hint of that. Instead the situation is so dire that humans have to pair up with clean vampire protectors?

This has been a season of poor writing which has thrown away good characters in favor of easy replacements—Luna for Nicole, a new love interest for Jason and Jessica, as well as the waste of the only intriguing addition, Warlow. And after so much teasing, viewers now have a shake and bake Alcide/Sookie pairing without seeing any of the drama of its evolution. I won't even start on Alcide's wasted storyline as I've beaten that to death.

I guess I should make a list right now of characters I should remember to care about when next we rejoin True Blood—Violet, who has been wedged into the storyline out of nowhere, Nicole, who is apparently a fixture in Sam's life now, and the little girl who Sookie says hello to in the church (obviously relevant). And not to forget Alcide's new haircut...

Next year is True Blood's final season, which is appropriate given the series feels exhausted in many respects. I'm hopeful the writers strive to wrap up the storylines of these favorite characters in a satisfying manner. True Blood has gone from an anticipated series in summer, to the one that follows the hangover of Game of Thrones. Time to end things on a good note.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Review: The Wolverine

Non Spoiler Review:
Hugh Jackman returns to his iconic role in the sequel to 2009's lacklustre X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Set many years after the events of X-Men 3: The Last Stand, Logan has isolated himself in the wilderness to brood over the death of Jean. His seclusion is ended when an emissary hunts him down, bringing news a man he saved decades before wants to settle an old debt before he dies. Returning to Japan, Logan finds himself wrapped up in a family rivalry as he tries to come to terms with the ghosts of his past.

In addition to Jackman, The Wolverine stars Tao Okamoto as Mariko, Rila Fukushima as Yukio and Svetlana Khodchenkova as Viper. Famke Janssen also returns as Jean Grey for some dream sequences. James Mangold (Walk the Line) directs.

Wolverine remains one of the more popular super-hero characters on screen, but it begs the question if he warrants another standalone film. However, given the dismal and depressing Last Stand, I was pleased to see him back and dealing with the fall out of Jean's death. After all that he's gone through, Logan feels tired, and it works well as the basis for this story. Moving the setting to Japan is a welcome change of pace with some interesting new characters.

As expected, Wolverine's mutant healing ability figures as the main plot point. There's a hefty amount of romance for an action movie, and I found it refreshing here, where a different director could easily have made this just a hodge-podge of elaborate action sequences.

The co-stars played well against Jackman. The villains, however, were nothing unique and their identities and motivations came as no surprise when they finally presented themselves. There were some entertaining fight sequences (with ninjas, of course), while one bullet train sequence stood out for its implausible gravity-defying antics.

Ironically enough, the after credits scene is the high point of the movie, and makes The Wolverine feel like a glorified prequel to what is coming up with the next X-Men film. Logan works best in the company of what will likely be a great ensemble cast.

When all was said and done I was left satisfied at the conclusion of Logan's journey. While it served more as a denouement to X-Men 3 with the presence of Jean Grey's spirit, I really learned nothing more about the tortured Wolverine than I already knew from the other films. Logan just isn't a strong enough character to carry any further sequels on his own now that we've seen both his origin and the ramifications of losing his love. The Wolverine won't be a memorable film, but it's entertaining enough and still fits within the continuity of the established X-Men franchise.

While it isn't worth the price of sitting through in a theatre unless you're a die-hard fan, it's well worth a watch on the movie channel for those casual fans who want to be completest with their X-Men viewing. But by the end you realize it's just a layover on the way to X-Men: Days of Future Past.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Review: True Blood "Life Matters"

Non Spoiler Review:
The internment camp storyline comes to an end as Eric and Bill both converge on the facility. Meanwhile, Sookie returns to the real world as Bon Temps gathers for Terry's funeral.

Life Matters was a decent wrap up to a lot of the season's story, if not particularly surprising in any way. Terry's funeral took up a huge amount of the episode and was quite self-indulgent, but long term fans will definitely enjoy the send off for the character. It wasn't memorable by any means, and everything pretty much flowed as any viewer might predict, leaving the final episode to hopefully rescue a mundane season.

Spoilers Now!
Sookie bites her arm to feed and rejuvenate Warlow while impatient Bill wants to usher him off to save the vampires. Sookie warns him Eric has more of Warlow's blood in him than he does. Warlow tells Sookie to use her powers, so she fires Bill back into the real world. 

Warlow slowly recovers but Sookie wants to get on to Terry's funeral. He asks if she's still prepared to be his, and she vows to honor her promise. He sends her on her way but she wonders if he's okay.

Arlene arrives at Terry's military funeral and Sookie joins them. She's surprised to find Alcide there. Andy delivers one of the eulogies and flashbacks to Terry's troubled times isolating himself in the woods after he returned from Iraq. He brings Sam to meet him and get him a job at Merlotte's. Sookie ends the eulogies by revealing she read Terry's mind the first time he saw Arlene and he always loved her.

Eric arrives at the facility and proceeds to massacre the guards and kills the scientist responsible for the Hep V, then into male general population to set them free. Bill comes upon the trail of carcasses and the ensuing bloodbath as the vampires run rampant and torture the surviving scientists. 

Eric enters the female section and frees them. Jason is left there to Eric's surprise. Jason explains the guards took all the others away. Eric heals him so he can aid in finding his way around the camp. Eric finds the psychiatrist and tells him he forgot to ask him something—how he was going to die. The psychiatrist explains he'll die happy given he had sex with his progeny. Eric rips out his contacts and glamors him to tell the truth, so he explains everything about Pam's deal. Eric brings him with them and finds Ginger along the way.

Sarah has hidden under the bodies and makes her escape to the top of the building to open the sun room door. When it opens it's Bill lying among them, and all of them are feeding on his blood. Newlin gets pushed to the back. Jason and Eric arrive into the adjacent room and watch, and Eric grabs Newlin to have his revenge on him. Sarah stares down at the scene and watches Eric hold him in the sun as he professes his love for Jason. 

Eric is reunited with Pam and tells her the therapist is hers. She kills him. High on the fairy blood, the rest of the vampires bask in the sunlight for the first time. Jason realizes Sarah is still at large. Violet holds Bill in her arms and leaves him on the floor as he sees Lilith appear to him. They tell him his time on earth is over, but Bill says he's not going anywhere. 

Jason runs down Sarah, and as she warns him he'll damn himself he nearly shoots her in the head, but stops because he doesn't want anymore blood on his hands and tells her to leave. She drives off. 

The rest of the vampires destroy the True Blood stockpiles (except for a van in Honolulu which is robbed of its True Blood contents). Jessica hears her maker and she and James return to his side. Bill tells her Lilith is coming for him, so James feeds him. 

James and Jessica emerge with Bill who is hailed as their saviour. Violet finds Jason and tells him he feeds only her. Pam looks for Eric and sees him standing alone. She tells him not to leave her but he flies off.

The Verdict:
A decent wrap up for this storyline, Life Matters didn't bring any surprises. The threat to Bill's mortality was short-lived and brushed off in the final scene as he emerged safe and sound

Terry's funeral was a nice moment for fans, and quite indulgent. The flashback scenes slowed everything down quite a bit, and would have worked better earlier in the series. And here is Alcide, back to square one with his character, as if the entire last two seasons never happened (we wish).

The Honolulu scene shows that the Hep V threat is assured to be around for awhile. While I'm not happy to see Sarah live to fight another day, it was at least satisfying to say good-bye to Newlin's character.

One wonders if Warlow's hybrid blood means permanent daywalking for the vampires? Unlikely, given so many of them are background characters. But that probably means an unsuspecting return to regular darkness hours sometime next week.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Review: True Blood "Dead Meat"

Non Spoiler Review:
Dead Meat resolves Alcide's pack struggles and brings some surprising news for Sam. Arlene prepares for Terry's funeral. Bill attempts to get both Eric and Sookie in line for his plan to save vampire kind.

True Blood is hitting a bit of a stride right now because the last few episodes' quality has remained relatively high. Not the highs of season two by any means, but generally exciting and full of interesting new developments.

The big change is that all the annoying little subplots have been eliminated—Terry, the fairy kids, and now Alcide appears to be rid of his baggage. It wasn't all perfection—Jason seems drawn into an odd side story with new vampire Violet that has come out of nowhere.

Spoilers Now!
An angry Eric challenges Bill he should have known Nora was going to die and accuses him of still being in love with Sookie. Bill insults Godric and orders him out of his house. 

Alcide demands Rikki release the women but she openly challenges his authority. Rikki doubts Alcide can fight her to the death. He accepts the challenge and serves up a beating, but can't bring himself to kill her.

Vampire Violet takes Jason under her protection. He explains he has a history with Sarah. She tells him that he is hers and she'll feed off him as she sees fit.

Sookie returns to Warlow and asks the favor for Bill, promising to ensure his safety. In exchange he wants her to be his forever. She needs some time to consider it, so returns to the real world where Eric watches her depart the cemetery.

James and Jessica enjoy one another's company. The guards finally arrive to take them back to their cells, but Jessica encounters Pam on the way. Back in general population, she watches the guards hand out True Blood. Newlin joins James and introduces himself. James advises him not to drink the supply that's being passed around to all the vampires.

Back at Merlotte's Sam cleans out Terry's locker and runs into Alcide outside. Alcide confesses his pack days are behind him but explains the women are in his trailer after he freed them from Rikki. Sam apologizes to them for what they've been through. When Sam embraces Nicole he smells something on her. He joins Alcide at Merlotte's to share a drink. Alcide says he caught Sam's scent as well on her...that Nicole is carrying his child. 

Tara, Willa and Jessica convince Pam to attempt to get Violet to share Jason, but she refuses. 

With Arlene feeling better, Lafayette explains the life insurance policy he and Sookie found from Terry. Two million dollars worth, and just four days before. Holly's boys take Adeline out for some fun.

Sookie visits Bill's mansion and negotiates the terms for turning over Warlow. Bill wants him to feed all the vampires in the white room his blood, and vows no harm will come to him as he still needs to synthesize it. She explains Warlow wants to turn her and has given her an ultimatum that she agrees to be his vampire bride. Bill doesn't care to listen and thinks it's a fair exchange for what he's doing for them. Sookie storms off.

Sarah arrives at the facility and is advised some vampires are not drinking the True Blood. She grills her exhusband for information and he finally confesses they know it has Hep V in it and gives up James. He and James are brought into the circular room. 

Sam asks Nicole to stay because he loves her so she agrees. Sookie interrupts and confides in him that she could give up her fairy powers if she chose to exhaust them, and her life with vampires would be behind her. Part of her always thought the two of them would wind up together. Sam is exasperated that she suddenly decided to take him up on his desire for her now that Nicole is pregnant. Sookie leaves him alone.

Arlene freaks out on Terry's family for wanting full military honors at his funeral, declaring it's all a lie. Arlene doesn't want to take the money either and thinks she knows who killed Terry. Andy warns her that if she does that the only one who will win is the insurance company.

Sookie's anger at her mother and father solidifies her decision to go through with Warlow's offer rather than spend eternity with her parents.

The True Blood executive arrives at the facility upset and demanding to speak with Burrell. Sarah intercepts her. She demands to know what the facility is being used for and forces her way past her, discovering the contamination of her product. When she tries to call the FDA Sarah tries to kill her. She flees into the experimentation area and Sarah catches up. Above the male prison section, Sarah beats her to death and the men feed on her blood. 

At the cemetery Adeline is messing around with one of Holly's boys when Eric finds them and needs to borrow her. Eric glamors the two boys and then goes after Adeline and feeds off her. 

Pam, Willa, Jessica and Tara are brought into the circular room with Newlin and James. Jessica realizes Bill's vision is about to come to pass.

Andy finds Adeline running down the road. He sees a vampire has fed on her. 

Sookie tries to call Jason to tell him about Terry and wonders where Niall is. She then calls Bill to tell him to pick her up in an hour, gets ready and brings him to the cemetery. She tells him she's not fighting destiny anymore and takes him to Warlow, only to find him drained and still bound to the tree. Bill realizes it was Eric.

The Verdict:
Someone on the writing staff at True Blood doesn't care about werewolves. That whole mess has been a waste of time just to get Alcide back to sitting with Sam and sharing a drink. But at least that happened. I'm surprised Nicole is pregnant, because I was sure she was going to become a werewolf given her wound. I don't have any affection for the character yet, given how quickly Luna was ushered off the show, and for what reason? It was also a nice twist to have Sookie confess her attraction to Sam as her last hope for a normal life (though he is a shifter), before making her decision.

I hope James sticks around and survives this. What I don't get is Violet. The way she was introduced I felt I should know who she is, but she's just come out of nowhere and doesn't fit the situation at all.

Finally, I'm enjoying Bill's aloofness, but I don't think he's going to tolerate Eric's rebellion at all. Is Warlow dead? I hope not! As intriguing as the possibility is, I don't think the show will take Sookie down the vampire path.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Review: Pacific Rim

Non Spoiler Review:
Pacific Rim is Guillermo del Toro's (Mama, Pan's Labyrinth) love letter to the giant monster (or kaiju) genre. It's a big budget, dazzling spectacle that features a near future when a rift beneath the ocean allows incredible city-destroying beasts to ravage the Pacific coasts. In response, humanity has banded together to create equally formidable robots (or jaegers) with human pilots to meet the threat. Just when it looks like the tide might turn, the kaijus up the stakes. 

Charlie Hunnam stars as troubled jaeger pilot Raleigh Becket, Idris Elba (Thor, Prometheus) as the bombastic Marshal Stacker Pentecost, and Rinko Kikuchi as his protegĂ© Mako Mori. I'm a huge fan of Sons of Anarchy, so seeing Charlie Hunnam in another role was a nice change of pace. He's joined by fellow Sons alumnus and fan favorite Ron Perlman as the black marketeer Hannibal Chau. Mori has a great screen presence, as well. Idris Elba is formidable as the marshal, if not a wee bit over the top. And I was surprised to find none other than True Blood's Warlow (Robert Kazinsky) among the cast. However the kaijus and their mechanical rivals are the real stars, all of which have personalities of their own. A lot of love went into their creation, and they bear del Toro's unique creature style. 

Plenty of care went into the world building and back story, with news footage highlighting the history of the kaiju incursions and details such as a black market for kaiju parts, and other side-effects of the attacks like kaiju lice or excrement contaminating neighbourhoods. Of course, with current CGI, the battles are suitably grand. I've read interviews with del Toro that he specifically ensured the streets were people free so as not to distract from the battles themselves. That doesn't mean the movie is devoid of deaths, but the primary focus is on the battling titans.

A story like this could have easily descended into cheesy territory, but Pacific Rim mostly avoids that pitfall. Sure, the characters fit particular genre types and there's nothing new or exciting there, but the humans really aren't the stars—the monsters and robots are—and I realize this was a conscious decision. Once you accept the basic premise offered at the start you can sit back and enjoy the show.

That's not to say Pacific Rim couldn't have been better had it dealt with its subject matter a little more seriously. Plot holes abound—the behaviour of the military and the United Nations representatives make no sense, people continue to live in coastal cities after 20 years of attacks, and the level of constant destruction would have bankrupted nations—but those are del Toro's choices. In that respect he's still made an enjoyable film without taking it to a higher level.

I found the ending reminiscent of Independence Day, but it was executed far more successfully. The film concludes on a satisfying note. Though I've heard rumours del Toro would like to do a sequel, it's really unnecessary and Pacific Rim serves as a nice standalone film if it comes to that.

I got plenty of fluffy enjoyment out of this one. But I'm sure if you're not an avid lover of this particular sci fi niche (with happy memories of Godzilla and Gorgo from childhood) it won't be for you and may come across as silly. It is definitely a feast for the eyes and one of those movies that requires multiple viewings on blu-ray to slow down the action and pick out the level of detail. I'll definitely be revisiting this one a few times.
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