Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Walking Dead: Season 2, Episode 5

The Walking Dead: Season Two, Episode Five “No Going Back”
Publisher: Telltale Games
Players: One
Genre: Graphic Adventure, Horror
Distribution: Download

This is the finale for The Walking Dead: Season Two. The episode picks up right where we left off, with Clementine and her group in a very sticky situation. Eventually it's resolved and we get on to the meat and potatoes of the story.

The direction in this episode is top notch. There are some very cinematic angles and cuts during the dialogue scenes. One in particular, an overhead shot of Clem and Kenny conversing below an outdoor light fixture, showed me that Telltale seems to have stepped it up in that area. Unfortunately some of the dialogue doesn't seem to be of that same high quality. Some felt repetitive, and as if the characters in question weren't quite remembering the way they should be feeling towards the others. Twenty minutes later they'd mention things as if they'd always been considering past events they had seemingly ignored up until that point.

This episode had a good mix of surprises and events that had been foreshadowed finally coming to fruition. Truth be told though, this season's finale didn't pack the emotional punch of the first season's. This is probably due to the fact that the conclusion of the episode had started to look like the only way for things to end. Yes, there were some unpredictable happenings along the way, but everyone knew what was coming.

Maybe, because the player now knows what to expect out of the series, events that would have been weighty emotionally before just aren't. There is a dream sequence that did pull at the ol' heart strings, but the main narrative just didn't have that same punch.

Conclusion: While suffering from some minor writing issues, and a lack of the kind of oomph packed into the previous season's final, this was still a quality ending to what is one of my favorite video game stories. As with every episode of The Walking Dead it left me anxious for the story to continue.

Rating: 8/10

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Thursday is Haul Day 7?!

I had to pick up the pull list and a couple of other goodies a couple of days early this week, just to fit everything in this weekend.

First there's Switchblade Honey by Warren Ellis and Brandon McKinney, which was apparently spawned by the idea of Ray Winstone captaining the USS Enterprise, a hilarious concept.  The Raid 2 needs no other explanation really, it's supposed to be one of the best action movies released in recent memory.

On the comic book front there's:  The Woods #1-4 by James Tynion IV and Michael  Dialynas, Saga #22 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples, and finally Tomb Raider #7 by Rhianna Pratchett, Gail Simone and Derlis Santacruz.

Dragon Con Here We Come!

Today, I got up earlier than on a normal work day.  We went down to the Sheraton in downtown Atlanta to pick up our Dragon Con badges before the official kick off of the event.  So much better than waiting in line Friday morning in the parking lot.  Seriously, in and out in ten minutes or so.  Last year we were wrapped around the parking lot and into the parking garage.
This is going to be a busy weekend, but I'll try to keep things moving here as well.  Forgive me if you check in and don't see anything new, I promise I'll be back to a more regular schedule after the weekend's festivities.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Saga Volume One

Saga Volume One
Issues #1-6
Publisher: Image Comics, Inc
Story: Brian K. Vaughan
Art: Fiona Staples
Rated: M/Mature
Genre: Fantasy, Sci-Fi
Price: $9.99

The first volume of Saga shows you exactly what you're in for from the very start. It's a melding of fantasy type characters, with a science fiction world around them. Marko and Alana were on opposite sides of a war that has been raging across the galaxy and want no part of it, preferring to start a family. I was immediately struck by how realistically gritty the characters are, they seem to instantly have a back story and a personality that the reader understands.

Brian K. Vaughan pens dialogue that just seems true to the characters, they speak the way people actually speak, which sometimes seems are rarity in the world of comic books. The motivations of the cast are presented in such a way that the reader can relate shortly after to the how and why behind what the character is doing. It also appears that no character is immune to danger in the world, which adds a certain amount of tension to every conflict, as you believe that no one is quite safe.

Fiona Staple's artwork helps keep this otherworldly setting from overwhelming you as you read. Fantastic beasts, and uniquely drawn characters seem to push the limits of what this galaxy has to offer. Just as you accept the horns or wings on an otherwise human looking body you're assailed by another being or creature more outrageous than the last.

Conclusion: An amazing introduction to new world that stuns the reader at every turn. While the language, violence and sex may turn some readers away; those that get engrossed in the story will be highly pleased to have been dropped into a world so full of memorable characters and a realistic seeming world

Rating: 8/10

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Small Favor, Book Ten of the Dresden Files

Small Favor
Book Ten of the Dresden Files
Publisher: Penguin Books USA as Roc (2008)
Author: Jim Butcher
Genre: Fantasy, Urban
Pages: 541
Price: $9.99

Wizard Harry Dresden’s life finally seems to be calming down. The White Council’s war with the vampiric Red Court is easing up, no one’s tried to kill him lately, and his eager apprentice is starting to learn real magic. For once, the future looks fairly bright.

But the past casts one hell of a long shadow.

Mab, monarch of the Winter Court of the Sidhe, calls in an old favor from Harry. Just one small favor he can’t refuse – one that will trap Harry Dresden between a nightmarish foe and an equally deadly ally and strain his skills and loyalties to their very limits.

And everything was going
so well for once...

Intrigue, intrigue and more intrigue! This chapter of the Dresden Files puts Harry at the center of everyone else's plots and watches him navigate his way through, shooting off at the mouth and getting beaten up along the way. He's helping those he's normally loathe to help, and raising suspicion in those who are usually his allies. About halfway through you'll realize he's not exactly acting like himself, and then the hammer drops. What's going on with Harry?

All of the various supernatural factions we've come to know and love make an appearance in Small Favor. Winter and Summer both rear their heads, as well as the Knights of the Cross, the Denarians, Marcone's crime network, another Warden or two, and of course Thomas; all have their parts to play in this intricate story. The overall situation also seems to be getting bigger on a cosmic scale and divine forces are leaving their fingerprints on events, and there is still an unseen puppetmaster manipulating the whole mess.

Harry's world is also rocked in ways he, and the reader, aren't quite accustomed to. We're introduced to a possible love interest, and on the much more somber side, one of Harry's dearest friends suffers mightily at the hands of their enemies.

Jim Butcher's familiar style continues to guide us through Harry's exploits. The blending of humor, anger and sadness that is necessary to tell this story seems to give Mr. Butcher no trouble at all, as the story flows seamlessly. The 'falling action' part of the book is perfect, as they usually are in a Dresden Files book. The ending doesn't drag on for so long that you're begging for it to end, it just tells you exactly how everything that transpired affected those involved, even if in one case you almost don't want to know.

Conclusion: The list of enemies that Harry Dresden has made doesn't necessarily grow in this one, but he's given them even more reason to seek his downfall. The dangers surrounding him have increased, while the list of those capable of helping seems to be dwindling. If something doesn't give, and soon, Harry might just find himself in more trouble than he bargained for.

Rating: 8.5/10

Doctor Who: Season 8, Episode 1

Doctor Who
Episode: “Deep Breath”
Channel: BBC
Director: Ben Wheatley
Writer: Steven Moffat
Genre: Adventure, Drama, Fantasy, Sci-Fi
Runtime: 79 min
Rated: TV-PG
Original Air Date: August 23, 2014

Peter Capaldi is going to be a good Doctor. He exhibited the manic energy that fans have come to love from previous incarnations, and also a serious side that has only been touched on before. This introduction to the new Doctor started off a touch on the silly side, and honestly had my close to frustration, before finding its footing and taking off. There's already a mystery hinted at that I'm very interested in seeing how the pieces fit together.

I do question the decision for a little guest appearance near the end of the episode. In Capaldi's first full episode he shouldn't be sharing the screen in that way. I understand why it was there for the narrative, but it didn't feel quite right to me. It didn't detract from the episode, but it was a little jarring.

If the ending was intended to setup this season's 'big bad' it did a good job. She seems like a down right creepy villain. I'm not a die-hard, seen every episode multiple times, fan; so I'm going to have to go back through the catalog and see if I can place some of the references to previous events.

Conclusion: Peter Capaldi showed what he can bring to the Doctor, and I think it's going to be a success. Aside from a couple of stumbles this was a solid way to begin his tenure. Stephen Moffat dropped various tidbits throughout this episode that will keep me watching from week to week. I think there will be some entertaining debate as to whether or not the Doctor did what he might have done.

Rating: 7/10

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Leftovers: Season 1, Episode 9

The Leftovers
Episode Title: “The Garveys at Their Best”
Channel: HBO
Director: Daniel Sackheim
Writers: Damon Lindelof and Kath Lingenfelter
Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Mystery
Runtime: 60 min
Rated: TV-MA
Original Air Date: August 24, 2014

I'll be honest. I hate it when you're watching a show, and you know that the story is headed into a pivotal moment for all of the characters, and the storyline gets sidetracked by a flashback or one-off story. So within the first five minutes of “The Garveys at Their Best” I was ready to be irritated. While it's still not a feeling that I'll have overcome completely, this week's episode did show me that there is a right way to do this kind of episode.

The only major detail I'll give away is that now we have some insight into the way the characters we've come to know were before the disappearance. Kevin Jr. was unlikable even then, and now maybe more unlikable due to having more of the story. Kevin Jr. and Laurie are both hit with the worst scenarios I could imagine in that situation, giving us insight into why they are like they are today. The Garvey children weren't much like the characters we've gotten to know, and it was kind of refreshing to see that.

I believe the goal of this episode was really to prepare the audience for the Remnant's coming stunt. If they're preparing to do what all the signs are pointing to then the audience definitely needed to see those that were left behind interacting with their departed loved ones. It should make the emotions I imagine the next episode is intended to impart much more vivid.

Conclusion: A well executed episode of a type that I'm usually against. “The Garveys at Their Best” provides what I think will be important information to the audience going into the season finale.

Rating: 7/10

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Strain: Season 1, Episode 7

The Strain
Episode Title: "For Services Rendered"
Channel: FX
Director: Charlotte Sieling
Writers: Bradley Thompson and David Weddle
Genre: Drama, Sci-Fi, Horror
Runtime: 60 min
Rated: TV-MA
Original Air Date: August 24, 2014

This episode had its moments, both good and bad. There are more flashbacks in this episode, limited only to Eichorst and young Setrakian. This helped alleviate the bad acting that was present in the previous flashback, and was much more watchable than before.  Setrakian's connection to the situation is shown to be even deeper than the audience knew. Present day Setrakian unveils his plan for dealing with the infestation and it's fairly predictable, as is the response from his scientist allies.

The direction in this episode felt very basic, there was only one place where some interesting camera angles helped to heighten the tension, and I felt that a certain scene on a subway platform could've been more impactful and frightening had it been handled differently. There was also some very questionable dialogue, specifically between Jim and his wife, Sylvia. I don't know if it was intended to show the pressure getting to her, or if it was just sloppily written, but their interactions didn't feel right.

The final scene is a serious “What the heck is going on?” moment. It looks like we've got more players in the game than we knew. Here's to hoping that this situation isn't handled like the 'victims' vs. 'survivors' scenario and we're given answers during next week's episode.

Conclusion: The final scene, and the conversations between Setrakian, in his various incarnations, and Eichorst were the highlights of this otherwise middle of the road episode. Hopefully it's a bridge between the confusion and indecision of the preceding episodes, and a focused resistance going forward.

Rating: 6.25/10

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (2014)
Producers: Robert Rodriguez, Frank Miller, Bob and Harvey Weinstein, et al.
Directors: Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller
Rated: R for strong brutal stylized violence throughout, sexual content, nudity, and brief drug use
Runtime: 102 min
Genre: Action, Crime, Thriller

I operate under no illusions that the original Sin City was some sort of masterpiece. It entertained me, and brought stories I'd only previously seen on the page to the big screen, it did so in a stylized way that we hadn't really seen before.

Maybe that novelty has worn off. Maybe Frank Miller had more of a hand in directing this iteration of Sin City than he had before. Maybe this is just the product of another Robert Rodriguez stumble, he seems to open series with a bang, and then they languish and putter out as he goes forward. It's hard to put my finger on exactly what caused this film not to work, but it doesn't work. Eva Green, Josh Brolin and Joseph Gordon-Levitt all do decent enough jobs with the roles they're given, but the spectacle around them seems flat and lifeless.

We were told that before this movie came out Frank Miller would be publishing new stories in the Sin City universe, and yet here we are on opening weekend and those stories are no where to be found. After having seen what those stories might've been I'm left wondering if they'd have made better graphic novels, and I think the answer is no. They just weren't very good stories. The A Dame to Kill For section of the movie was the strongest part of the film, but it was bookended by weaker stories, which pulled the whole movie down as a result.

Conclusion: A swing and a miss for this directorial duo. Decent performances can't outweigh this movie's tendency to feel dull and pointless. It's almost as if Rodriguez and Miller got so caught up in ramping up the stylistic side of things so much, they forgot what makes a good story.

Rating: 4.5/10

Saturday is Haul Day 6!!

This week's bag of goodies consists of:  Filth, a film starring James McAvoy and Jamie Bell, is based on a novel by the same man that wrote Trainspotting, so it promises to be something interesting.  Lev Grossman's The Magicians, which I'm excited to get started on next:

Quentin Coldwater is brillant but miserable. He's a senior in high school, and a certifiable genius, but he's still secretly obsessed with a series of fantasy novels he read as a kid, about the adventures of five children in a magical land called Fillory. Compared to that, anything in his real life just seems gray and colorless.

Everything changes when Quentin finds himself unexpectedly admitted to a very secret, very exclusive college of magic in upstate New York, where he receives a thorough and rigorous education in the practice of modern sorcery. He also discovers all the other things people learn in college: friendship, love, sex, booze, and boredom. But something is still missing. Magic doesn't bring Quentin the happiness and adventure he though it would.

Then, after graduation, he and his friends make a stunning discovery: Fillory is real.

There's also A Natural History of Dragons:  A Memoir by Lady Trent by Marie Brennan:

All the world, from Scirland to the farthest reaches of Eriga, know Isabella, Lady Trent, to be the world’s preeminent dragon naturalist. She is the remarkable woman who brought the study of dragons out of the misty shadows of myth and misunderstanding into the clear light of modern science. But before she became the illustrious figure we know today, there was a bookish young woman whose passion for learning, natural history, and, yes, dragons defied the stifling conventions of her day.

Here at last, in her own words, is the true story of a pioneering spirit who risked her reputation, her prospects, and her fragile flesh and bone to satisfy her scientific curiosity; of how she sought true love and happiness despite her lamentable eccentricities; and of her thrilling expedition to the perilous mountains of Vystrana, where she made the first of many historic discoveries that would change the world forever.

Marie Brennan introduces an enchanting new world in A Natural History of Dragons.

Rounding everything out we've got:  Supreme Blue Rose #2 by Warren Ellis and Tula Latoy, Trees #4 by Warren Ellis and Jason Howard and The Wicked + The Divine #3 by Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, Matthew Wilson and Clayton Cowles.

This week brings more choices than the previous couple and I barely know where to start.  So many choices and so little time!  

Friday, August 22, 2014

Rachel Rising: Issues #19-24

Rachel Rising
Issues #19-24
Publisher: Robyn Moore with Abstract Studios
Writer: Terry Moore
Artist: Terry Moore
Genre: Horror
Price: $3.99/issue

All right! Time to resolve that major cliffhanger from the end of issue 18! What?! Colonial America?

We rejoin the story of Rachel Beck with an extreme flashback, to the time when all of the events we've witnessed so far were set into motion. We find out who Rachel really is, and the circumstances that are responsible for her plight in present day. After that the cliffhanger is resolved.

This cycle of books gives us the background that has been missing through the previous entries into the series. Malus, one of the big bads, pulls a classic villain move and reveals what his end-game is going to be. A previous acquaintance of Rachel's turns up and reveals that Rachel's previous life might not be exactly how she remembers it, although it's a little unclear if this is going to have an impact on the story going forward. Its significance will hopefully be revealed going forward. The dialogue between Rachel and her long, lost friend is great.

Aunt Johnny is in a unique situation, and Rachel plans to use her new memories of her past to try to set things right. There are some intrigue machinations in that part of the story, that I'm very interested in seeing how they play out. Whoa, Dr. Sieman ups the creepy quotient by an order of magnitude, leaving me to wonder exactly how far Rachel, and we as the readers can, can trust the guy. Zoe is being groomed for something awful, and it sounds like she won't get much of a choice in the matter, so she does what she's shown she does best

This section of the story ends on what appears to be a high note, it's not quite Return of the Jedi to the last six issues' Empire Strikes Back, but it is far more hopeful seeming than the last cliffhanger. With one foe apparently defeated Rachel can now turn her attention to the next tasks at hand; ending the plight of poor Priscilla the dog, and tracking down the other antagonist of the story.

Conclusion: The answers and action ramped up tremendously in these six issues. As I read through these later issues I'm struck with both excitement to see what happens next, and dread because I'm that much closer to not having any more Rachel Rising to read. Find out what I mean and purchase these issues, or the collection of them in the trade paperback titled “Winter Graves.”

Rating: 9.25/10

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

White Knight, Book Nine of the Dresden Files

White Knight
Book Nine of the Dresden Files
Publisher: Penguin Books USA as Roc (2007)
Author: Jim Butcher
Genre: Fantasy, Urban
Pages: 526
Price: $9.99

In Chicago, someone is targeting magic practitioners--the members of the supernatural underclass who don't possess enough power to become full-fledged wizards. Some have vanished. Others appear to be victims of suicide. But now the culprit has left a calling card at one of the crime scenes--a message for Harry Dresden.

Harry sets out to find the killer, but his investigation turns up evidence pointing to the one suspect he cannot possibly believe guilty: his half brother, Thomas. To clear his brother's name, Harry rushes into a supernatural power struggle that renders him outnumbered, outclassed, and dangerously susceptible to temptation.

And Harry knows that if he screws this one up, people will die--and one of them will be his brother...

Mr. Butcher does a great job of writing an entertaining book. One that builds on existing characters and factions in the Dresden-verse, moves the over-arcing story forward without feeling like an information dump, and brings out several different emotions in the reader. There are times when Harry's life is funny, painful and sad; because when you take out the supernatural elements, it's the life of a regular guy, with regular problems.

Those mundane problems, such as distrust, feelings of inadequacy and wanting something he just can't have, all conspire to make this one of Harry's most challenging cases. One of the challenges is evident when looking at the number of players in the game. The magnitude of the problems that come our hero's way is growing, and with that increase in scale comes an expansion of the involved parties. Besides the usual close friends, Harry must contend with a crimeboss and multiple White Court families, not to mention the unseen puppet master orchestrating some of the recent troubles in Dresden's life.

Sound confusing? It should seem that way, but it's not. Jim Butcher keeps his usual high pace method of story telling, but doles the facts out in such a way that the reader always has time to digest one before being hit with the next. As Dresden further inserts himself in the politics of the supernatural world this will become an important trait, as the revelations look to be increasing in importance and scope.

Conclusion: This is one of my favorite books in the series thus far. The story shows the reader that Harry's decisions are likely to have far-reaching consequences going forward, and leaves us feeling as though Harry's sometimes cavalier attitude is going to land him in a situation he's not ready to handle. And so with dread and excited anticipation the reader awaits the next book, just wondering, is this the time Harry is just a tad too slow, or not quite clever enough to prevail? He can't keep walking that knife's edge forever, can he?

Rating: 8.75/10

Coffin Hill Volume One: Forest of the Night

Coffin Hill Volume One: Forest of the Night
Issues #1-7
Publisher: DC Comics through Vertigo
Story: Caitlin Kittredge
Art: Inaki Miranda
Rated: M/Mature
Genre: Horror
Price: $9.99

This is the beginning of an exciting horror story told in a non-linear fashion. Past events are interspersed with the present day to draw parallels between the stories, and to offer clarification as to what exactly is going on.

The reader is introduced to the story of Eve Coffin, a broken, hero cop that goes home to see that while some things change, many more stay the same. Sins of the past, some hers and some from much farther back in the family line can never really be left behind, and she sets out to finally do something about it.

The town of Coffin Hill is permeated by evil, twisting some of the inhabitants to do horrible things. Through these issues we see several examples of this, and if this is only a sampling it's clear that things are going to get much worse. Eve does her best to help solve an ongoing investigation, using knowledge from her childhood to shed light on some of the ritualistic things happening around town. In doing so she is confronted with an evil that she appears to be responsible for. It is revealed that there are worse things lurking in the Coffin Hill woods than Eve is aware.

There's a bit of a cliffhanger near the end, leaving Eve's condition and official standing up in the air, and then we're treated to a flashback set earlier than any of the previous ones. The message there seems to be that these are events that have been years and years in the making, and the reader can expect everything to come to a boil very soon.

Conclusion: This was a great introduction to a new story and its characters. The dialogue and scenes as written by Caitlin Kittredge feel natural and the story doesn't get too wordy, finding just the right balance of detail and forward movement. The Inaki Miranda's artwork sets the mood for each scene by using light and shadows to build and relieve tension. The scenes inside the woods especially feel claustrophobic and constricting, just as I imagine those haunted woods would feel.

Rating: 7.5/10

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Leftovers: Season 1, Episode 8

The Leftovers
Episode Title: “Cairo”
Channel: HBO
Director: Michelle MacLaren
Writers: Curtis Gwinn and Carlito Rodriguez
Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Mystery
Runtime: 60 min
Rated: TV-MA
Original Air Date: August 17, 2014

Ok, that was a good episode. First, Michelle MacLaren delivered a directorial gem, there were some interesting shots, and the conversations were cut in a way that never distracted from what was being said. This is a good things since a lot of important things were said in “Cairo.” The Evil Dead cabin makes an appearance and is the setting for a sizable chunk of the action. Kevin Garvey is apparently spiraling out of control and leaves the audience wondering how sane or insane he might be.

Jill Garvey has her own set of problems, and she takes it out on everyone around her, before pulling a surprise move that is going to cause tons of friction going down the line. The audience is given some inside knowledge into the Remnant, and the lengths at which they'll go to to disseminate their message. The Remnant is preparing what looks to be their biggest spectacle yet, and while not revealed in this episode it's pretty obvious what that plan is. Going forward it's going to be very interesting to see how the townsfolk respond to their display.

Two weeks in a row now Justin Theroux has managed turn my opinion on the chief. We're finally being allowed to see him as something other than the rage filled, unlikable character that he was in the first half of this season. Between the two Garveys in this episode there are some personal relationships that are sure to change drastically in the near future.

Conclusion: I'm still not completely sold on the decision to present Chief Garvey as this crazy, this early, but at least now it seems to be serving a purpose. Overall though, the forward movement we've seen from the characters over the past two episodes has me more willing to go with the flow that is being set up by the writers. As this season winds down there are going to be big things happening.

Rating: 7.5/10

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Strain: Season 1, Episode 6

The Strain
Episode Title: "Occultation"
Channel: FX
Director: Peter Weller
Writer: Justin Britt-Gibson
Genre: Drama, Sci-Fi, Horror
Runtime: 60 min
Rated: TV-MA
Original Air Date: August 17, 2014

Thomas Eichorst is a nasty, nasty bad guy. Every week he ups the creepy-factor.  If they're using practical effects to get his face to look like that I bet it's frustrating for Richard Sammel to go through that kind of make-up process for what amounts to three minutes of screen time, but to the viewers it's worth it.
Not quite as action packed as last week, this episode of The Strain doesn't do as much to move the story forward as it does show us the strengths and weaknesses of our prospective heroes. It seems that very soon Vasiliy is going to become the main cog in Setrakian's machine. He has the perfect outlook for dealing with the coming crisis. These things are vermin, no different from rats and must be exterminated. He shows us he's up to the task, and then does the same things Eph has tried; warn his family away from the coming disaster.

On to...another character's dysfunctional homelife/family. We still haven't been introduced to a family that doesn't seem like a situation constructed solely for the possible drama, and I think they have plenty of choices already. There's parental disapproval, marital problems, dementia-ridden mothers, cancer-suffering wives, and petty thief brothers; could we please have at least one character that is drama free at home?

Gus and Jim undertake a special mission for Eichorst that left me scratching my head, hopefully there's a reason given for it. In the aftermath of that, Gus is in trouble again, but it seems like things might be breaking down fast enough that he'll be the least of the authority's problems. Speaking of Gus, I could have done without that cartoony punching sequence to the stomach, it was almost laugh out loud bad, I'll try to remember to keep an eye on the writers of episodes a little more closely and see if that kind of campiness is going to be a hallmark of Britt-Gibson's scripts

Conclusion: I know there seem like more gripes here than praise, but overall this episode kept doing most of the things they've gotten right so far. Peter Weller has directed two straight episodes and has done a fine job, although I'm still not sure who is going to end up doing the bulk of the directing work I wouldn't be disappointed with any of the choices presented thus far.

Rating: 6.75/10

Rachel Rising: Issues #13-18

Rachel Rising
Issues #13-18
Publisher: Robyn Moore with Abstract Studios
Writer: Terry Moore
Artist: Terry Moore
Genre: Horror
Price: $3.99/issue

This is the next installment of Rachel Rising. Rachel has saved herself from her prior predicament and is back in the game. Jet has her own things going on (or not, as the story resumes.) This portion of the story gives the reader a lot of insight into the characters, and their own motivations. One set of 'big bads' in particular are escalating their torment of the town of Manson, while the other is seemingly grooming his own avenging angel.

As a plague of biblical proportions descends upon Manson Rachel and her team do their best to find out what's going on. There are a few references to her past, some 300 years ago, that are sure to factor heavily into things going forward. It is more than hinted at that everyone is playing parts that they've been made to play, and have played before; but a lot of that is still shrouded in mystery up until this point.

The last book of this part of the story ends in a tremendous cliffhanger. It is an understandable reaction under the circumstances, but I didn't quite feel that the character that instigates it would've gone to such extremes. Of course, in this situation it's quite possible that even the most rational person would jump to do things that they wouldn't normally, so that small gripe isn't really much of one.

There are some beautifully detailed panels in this installment, sprinkled occasionally throughout, my favorite of which was high angle depiction of Aunt Johnny's study. I did notice though, that with as many female characters running around as there are, I have a little trouble telling one from the other in certain scenes. Really that's a minor issue though, and doesn't detract from what is a masterfully told story thus far.

Conclusion: These issues are collected in a trade paperback titled Cemetary Songs, and it is definitely worth your hard earned cash. What began as an interesting story has become a story that leaves me anxiously awaiting the next issue. I can't recommend it highly enough to everyone I know that has at least a passing interest in comics or horror stories.

Rating: 9.25/10

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Saturday is Haul Day 5!!

A little light this week, here we've got: Starlight #5 by Mark Millar and Goran Parlov, Batman #34 by Scott Snyder, Gerry Duggan, Matteo Scalera and Lee Loughridge, Constantine #17 by Ray Fawkes, Edgar Salazar, Jay Leisten and Richard and Tanya Horie, and finally Rachel Rising #27 by the incomparable Terry Moore.

I'm excited to dig into all of these, why excitement is somewhat tempered though when considering that Rachel Rising is probably winding down.  What am I going to read next!?

Friday, August 15, 2014

Redshirts by John Scalzi

Publisher: Tor Books (2012)
Author: John Scalzi
Genre: Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Comedy
Pages: 317
Price: $14.99

Ensign Andrew Dahl has just been assigned to the Universal Union Capital Ship Intrepid, flagship of the Universal Union since the year 2456. It’s a prestige posting, and Andrew is thrilled all the more to be assigned to the ship’s Xenobiology laboratory.

Life couldn’t be better…until Andrew begins to pick up on the fact that (1) every Away Mission involves some kind of lethal confrontation with alien forces, (2) the ship’s captain, its chief science officer, and the handsome Lieutenant Kerensky always survive these confrontations, and (3) at least one low-ranked crew member is, sadly, always killed.

Not surprisingly, a great deal of energy below decks is expended on avoiding, at all costs, being assigned to an Away Mission. Then Andrew stumbles on information that completely transforms his and his colleagues’ understanding of what the starship
Intrepid really is…and offers them a crazy, high-risk chance to save their own lives.

Redshirts is Philip K. Dick with a Blazing Saddles ending. For the most part it works, the first two-thirds of the story center on the existential dilemma of our main characters, and the ridiculously dangerous situations they find themselves in continuously. As the story moves forward the reader learns that all is not as it seems, there is a far more powerful hand involved in their fates than they could have imagined. The humor is liberally sprinkled throughout to distract from the dire circumstances the characters suffer through. There are some passages that are laugh out loud funny, something that has been missing in some of my recent literary choices.

As the story progresses we are treated to some funny 'fish out of water' scenarios, as the heroes acclimate themselves to a new setting. A plan is devised that should allow them to fix those things wrong in their lives, and do some good along the way. The story even concludes with a “They all lived happily ever after.”

Here to book takes a turn, although that's the end of the story, it is not the end of the book. The reader finds three more sections, written from drastically different points of view, that are seemingly intended to give the reader a 'moral of the story' type feeling by the end. The concern here is two-fold. For me personally, the end of the main story was satisfying. It had been funny and action packed and came to a logical conclusion. The last third or fourth of the book tries to reinforce the positive themes from the rest of the book, but they hardly needed reinforcement.

Conclusion: Redshirts is a fun read that will make you laugh. Although the last part of the book seems to lose focus it doesn't detract from what was overall a pleasant read. The whole thing also offers some interesting commentary on the ways some creators of entertainment take their audience for granted.

Rating: 7.25/10

Wednesday, August 13, 2014


Ghostbusters (1984)
Producers: Columbia Pictures, Black Rhino Productions, Delphi Films (As Delphi Productions)
Director: Ivan Reitman
Writers: Dan Akroyd, Harold Ramis
Rated: PG (mild action and scary images, language and some sensuality)
Runtime: 105 minutes
Genre: Comedy, Fantasy, Sci-Fi

Who ya gonna call? Ghostbusters!

One of my all-time favorite films. Is it the best cinema? Of course not, but it is downright entertaining. Three lovable losers, scientists mocked by everyone for their crazy ideas, set out to start a business banishing ghouls, specters and ghosts. As business booms they add another member and business flourishes as the rate of hauntings increases, building to a showdown with some moldy Babylonian god (“Sumerian, not Babylonian” “Yeah. Big difference.”).

Infinitely quotable and enjoyable, Ghostbusters is the type of film that you could enjoy as a kid because it is so much fun, and as an adult when you start catching some of the more subtle humor you had missed as a youngster. Ernie Hudson's Winston Zeddmore serves perfectly as the audience's sometimes skeptical, sometimes terrified everyman proxy; both lightening the mood and bringing some of the others' crazy antics down to earth for the rest of us. And through it all, things that should seem ridiculous just work, due mostly to the likability of the main characters.

The score is suitably creepy with lots of soft and spooky sounds. The supporting cast is excellent, Sigourney Weaver switches seamlessly from aloof and uninterested in Peter Venkman's advances, to a steamy seductress. Rick Moranis is hilarious as always, taking part in one of my favorite scenes of the movie, his monologue during the party, explaining why he invited clients instead of friends. William Atherton is at his William Atherton-y best (See: Die Hard and Bio-Dome, you'll see what I mean) and you love the jokes made at his expense.

Conclusion: Ghostbusters is a well-crafted and entertaining comedy. The movie is rewatchable and sure to please new viewers and old fans. Most of the effects hold up well in my opinion, especially taking into account that this movie is turning 30 years old this year. That means you're in luck; whether it would be your first time or your hundredth time, Ghostbusters is being rereleased to theaters on August 29th. So keep an eye on your local listings and get ready to make that call.

Rating: 8/10

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Rise of the Tomb Raider -- Xbox One Exclusive

There have been a lot of opinions bandied about since the news broke that the next Tomb Raider game was going to be an Xbox One exclusive title.  Some of it was filled with fanboy-ism from either side, some of it comprised of some misleading statistics (I know! Absolutely shocking that someone might twist the numbers to skew perception!!) and some actually made sense.

Firstly, exclusive titles can influence what the consumer buys.  When I purchased an eighth generation console one of the things I did was look at the exclusive titles that each brought to the table.  I didn't have a predisposition to one console over another, as I hadn't been a true console gamer since the Sega Genesis, so the available and forthcoming games were all that I cared about.  After weighing my options I settled on a Playstation 4.  Truthfully, Tomb Raider didn't even enter into my consideration.  I hadn't played a Tomb Raider title since the original, and didn't really think I had any interest.

At launch the available titles didn't spark much interest in me, and I found myself waiting through a couple of months of last-gen ports and generally lackluster offerings.  Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition was released and I purchased it the week of release, mostly to get some use out of my $400 paperweight.  To say I was blown away would be an overstatement, but I found it to be a high quality game that I enjoyed thoroughly.  I found myself excited for the sequel, and even added the comics that will fill in the gap between games to my pull list.

I was disappointed to hear the news upon its release.  You will see comments on the various articles that covered the news that Tomb Raider sold double the number of copies on the PS4 than on the Xbox One.  This is true, but the number of prospective players on the PS4 side of that equation was much higher at the time, as the Playstation's sales had and continue to, albeit at a slower pace, surpass those of the Xbox.  As that gap narrows, so to will the gap between gamers willing to trade their hard earned dollars for the newest Tomb Raider offering.

I don't know a lot about the development of modern games, but in the past it was always believed that a higher quality game can be produced when a studio focuses on one platform.  They can make the best game possible on THAT machine, without splitting resources or making accommodations to cater to multiple consoles.  If this still holds true, perhaps Crystal Dynamics will be supplying the diehard Tomb Raider fans with the best possible experience.

For me, I don't fit into that diehard category, and this is a decision that I can't get behind.  Tomb Raider was a pleasant surprise for me, a way for me to pass some time until other games that I had earmarked were released.  I would have bought the sequel when it was released for the Playstation, an interesting 15-20 hour diversion.  I will not by an Xbox for one game.

What can we as gamers do?  Probably not much, if money has changed hands and papers have been signed we are stuck with this.  No amount of vitriolic comments will change that.  What we can do is vote with our dollars.  This is a game that struggled to sell enough copies to be profitable, it underperformed by Square Enix's own admission.  It took nine months for the original release of the game to break even and that was with an entire gaming community to purchase their product.  The next game will be catering to, at best, half of the audience that it could be, this is not a recipe for success.  What the gamer can do is be resolute, if you don't have and have no intention of buying an Xbox One, don't.  Speak the only language a corporation can understand, seen in the hieroglyphics of balance sheets and profit and loss reports.  That's the only way we can make a difference.

(PS -- Can we please agree to retire every iteration of a title, in every medium, that begins; The Rise of, The Dawn of, or The Age of...?  Seemingly every other big release is using one or the other and it's getting tiresome.)

The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie

The Blade Itself
The First Law: Book One
Publisher: Prometheus Books, through Pyr Books (2007)
Author: Joe Abercrombie
Genre: Fantasy
Pages: 527
Price: $17.00

Joe Abercrombie's debut novel follows several disparate point-of-view characters through the setup for an epic fantasy adventure. We start off with some 'late-in' action, meaning that something is already going down when the reader joins the story. This is a literary device that sometimes works and sometimes doesn't. At its best it hooks the reader into the story and provides a great starting off point for a story, and at its worst it feels cheap and leaves the reader wondering what entertaining scenario they've missed out on. It works for the most part here, we witness an important, life changing situation for one of our characters. My only gripe is that the first part of the story seems to fill our action quota for a significant portion of the book.

Following the first action packed chapter or two the book slows down dramatically. It's well-written and crafted in such a way that the reader comes to understand the personalities and motivations of our point-of-view characters well. Unfortunately I found myself waiting for something big to happen, I felt rudderless for a while, as the characters went about their everyday lives.

When the story kicks into gear though, it does it with style. The reader is informed of political intrigue, ancient magi, and impending war that the Union will be hard-pressed to win. The high pace of the second half of the book more than makes up for the leisurely stroll of the first half. All of the characters have their moments to shine, even though only one is what I would call a sympathetic character. The rest are so consumed with neurosis and unlikable traits that they are sometimes hard to root for. As the book closed the reader is presented with a revelation or two that changed the way I looked at a certain character, finally bringing out in me the bond that the reader must form with a character in order to be invested in their story.

Conclusion: After the slower pace of the first half of the book, the sheer number of things that are revealed/happen in the second half creates a narrative that's hard to put down. Mr. Abercrombie makes an entry into the world of fantasy that left me ready to jump into the next book.

Rating: 7.5/10

The Leftovers: Season 1, Episode 7

The Leftovers
Episode Title: “Solace for Tired Feet”
Channel: HBO
Director: Mimi Leder
Writers: Jacqueline Hoyt and Damon Lindelof
Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Mystery
Runtime: 60 min
Rated: TV-MA
Original Air Date: August 10, 2014

A lot more intrigue, but it finally seems like the intrigue is leading somewhere. This episode didn't really answer many questions, but it might have put the audience on the path to answers. Kevin Garvey Sr. features prominently in this episode, and Scott Glen gives a very believable performance. We are also given some glimpses into the troubles that plague him and presumably his son. Garvey Sr. is a very troubled man that is, apparently, much more than he seems.

We are also treated to some forward movement by several of the characters, breaking loose of the ruts that the writers seem to have crafted for them. This is a welcome occurrence, as it finally feels like we might be working towards something. That something is still unclear, but after half a season of setting up all the players, and the situation, we seem to be getting to the 'meat and potatoes' of what's going on.

As the title of the episode suggestions, a few of the characters gain a measure of relief from what their lives had become. Whether this will be a lasting reprieve or not is the question. Despite some of the positive things to happen to the younger Kevin Garvey over the passed two episodes it is made quite clear to the viewer that his grasp on the happier aspects of his life is tenuous at best. Where he's progressing in the rest of his personal life he's failing at home, and that seems to be setting up for something major in the coming episodes.

Conclusion: A solid episode. I liked the work that Mimi Leder did as director, there were some interesting shots used during conversations, breaking up the monotony of back and forth close-ups. The story is moving forward finally, and could be going in a coupe of interesting directions.

Rating: 7.25/10

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Strain: Season 1, Episode 5

The Strain
Episode Title: "Runaways"
Channel: FX
Director: Peter Weller
Writer: Gennifer Hutchison
Genre: Drama, Sci-Fi, Horror
Runtime: 60 min
Rated: TV-MA
Original Air Date: August 10, 2014

Finally some answers! This episode was jam packed with story and action, something that can be tough to balance well in a sixty minute episode. The audience finally gets an answer for the question of why there were 'survivors' and 'victims.' We also learn something about the creatures' weaknesses and witness some mayhem perpetrated by both sides. Vasiliy made some discoveries of his own and it looks like the city is going to have a big problem. With reports of an impending eclipse there is a high likelihood of impending disaster.

Eph made several fruitless attempts to get into contact with Nora throughout the show, and we find that her mother is in a home suffering from some level of dementia. I might be naive, but it seems like the main characters have been dealt just horrible hands in their personal life. Divorce, dementia and cancer seem like a glut of subplots, I hope it proves a useful device moving forward. Setrakian's single-mindedness helps the viewer recognize that if the opponents of the Master waver they will fall, it just isn't clear if he'll be able to convince anyone else of that fact.

The weakest parts of this episode were definitely the flashbacks. The acting was stiff, and the accents seemed weak. I recognize that Setrakian's past experiences are important to convey to the audience in some way; but if there's going to be significant time spent in these flashbacks, going forward the showrunners would've been better served by finding either actual Romanian actors or going with a different storytelling method. If the flashbacks are here to stay then hopefully the prominent actors will grow into their roles as the other members of the cast seem to have done.

Conclusion: Another quality episode, “Runaways” answered some of the questions I had been asking and supplied a good balance of exposition and violence. With luck the younger Setrakian will improve, and Nora's family life will either be important or fade into the background. There are enough things going on as it is, I'm not sure it's in the show's best interests to add another subplot.

Rating: 7.25/10

Saturday, August 9, 2014

The Last of Us: Remastered

The Last of Us: Remastered
Developer: Naughty Dog
Players: One
Genre: Action-Adventure, Survival, Horror
Distribution: Blu-ray Disc, Download
Platform: Playstation 4
Release Date: July 29, 2014

(Click Here for my first impressions of The Last of Us: Remastered)

I missed this game its first time around, although I had heard very good things; I wasn't much of a console gamer at the time. On one hand I know I missed out, I could've been gushing over it a year ago, on the other I got to experience it for the first time with eighth-gen hardware behind it. The world of The Last of Us is beautiful, and extremely detailed. The environments are always exactly what they need to be, claustrophobic hiding places and panoramic vista are all gorgeously brought to your screen.

While the entire story isn't the most original of ideas, borrowing from many sources (some parts feel like a playable version of Cormac McCarthy's “The Road,” while others will remind the player of 28 Days Later or The Walking Dead) , the plot is only part of the story. The Last of Us shines particularly in the relationship between our protagonists, Joel and Ellie. What begins as an indifferent pairing between them grows into something realistic, and special in gaming. The amazing thing is that there isn't some jarring point in the game where the player says to themselves, “Okay, now they're friends.” The relationship grows believably, and was one of the most enjoyable parts of the game. Other developers should take note; character development is becoming one of the most important aspects of a game, particularly a single player game, and love interests are not the only way in which to bring two characters together.

The voice work is phenomenal, of course Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson deserve a lot of praise for this, but not all, as many of the peripheral characters also shine in smaller roles. If there is an emotion called for in the scene the voice actors delivered.

The gameplay is what you would expect from a third person adventure game, sprinting, stealth and aiming are all exactly as you have gotten used to. While limited, the crafting system is fairly rewarding, with most things Joel is capable of creating coming in quite handy. Once the player acquires most of the arsenal of weapons the combat does get a little repetitive, as you'll have your favorite way to deal with most situations. One way Naughty Dog tried to alleviate this is to make sure that ammo is limited. If you run and gun your way through every encounter you'll find yourself staring at a lot of red zeros on your weapons wheel. If the player takes their time scavenging through every chapter there are only an instance or two that feel like you're coming to the last of your resources.

Conclusion: The Last of Us is one of the best games I've played. It delivers detailed and dynamic characters that are capable of making a familiar story feel fresh. It seems as though it was a real labor of love from everyone involved in its creation. I'm excited to play it again, and I might even try the smoke bombs this time.

Rating: 9.5/10

Saturday is Haul Day 4!!

A comic book kind of weekend!  Gonna join the masses and read some Rocket Raccoon #1-2 by Skottie Young and Jean-Francois Beaulieu.  There's Supreme Blue Rose #1 by Warren Ellis and Tula Lotay, She-Hulk #7 by Charles Soule, Javier Pulido, and Munsta Vincente.  Green Arrow #34 is present, by Jeff Lemire, Andrea Sorrentino and Marcelo Maiolo, and rounding out today's haul is The Bunker #4-5 by Joshua Hale Fialkov and Joe Infurnari, which was described to me as, "A lot like the creepier episodes of The X-files," yes please, count me in.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Rachel Rising: Issues #7-12

Rachel Rising
Issues #7-12
Publisher: Robyn Moore with Abstract Studios
Writer: Terry Moore
Artist: Terry Moore
Genre: Horror
Price: $3.99/issue

These issues up the ante for the town of Manson and its inhabitants. There are a bunch of strange things happening around town, and no one seems to know what it all means. Rachel gains a friend in death and we're introduced to two of the major players in the storyline. The reader isn't really sure who to root for in that matter because neither seems to have the best interests of the town, it's inhabitants, or the world in mind.

Things for Rachel and her crew rapidly unravel and they're left trying to recuperate, and figure out exactly what's going on. Everything you need in a horror comic is here; the living dead, an evil body-switching entity, a creepy little girl and even creepier side characters. We also learn some of the history of the town of Manson, although the storyteller there is somewhat unreliable, so can we even trust her?

All of this unfolds on the pages with Terry Moore's familiar style. Great dialogue and clean art makes sure that you as the reader know exactly what's going on. Moore's stories are almost always this way, his method tells the story with very little wasted, Rachel Rising is merely continuing that tradition. This cycle of books ends with a glimmer of hope for the good guys, and the reader, although the things set in motion against them seem nigh insurmountable.

Conclusion: Pick up these issues, either singly, or collected in the trade paperback entitled Fear No Malus. The story being told here is only getting more interesting, and if you don't have the next issue you'll be left jonesing to find out what happens next. This story is turning into what could be a staple of horror comics.

Rating: 9/10