Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Arrow: Season 3, Episode 4


Arrow
Episode Title: “The Magician”
Channel: CW
Director: John Behring
Writers: Marc Guggenheim and Wendy Mericle
Genre: Action, Adventure, Crime, Drama, Mystery, Sci-Fi
Runtime: 45 min
Rated: TV-14
Original Air Date: October 29, 2014

Malcolm Merlyn was pretty famous in Starling City, right? How can he walk around all over the city without someone raising a fuss and the news outlets being all over it? It's writing like this that sometimes makes Starling City seem more like a playground for Oliver, his associates and his enemies; rather than a teeming metropolitan area with millions of inhabitants. It would have taken less than a minute to establish a way by which Merlyn could come and go without being recognized for the mass murderer that he is.

OK, got that off my chest. Overall, this “The Magician” was a decent episode. I enjoyed Katrina Law's performance as Nyssa, especially at the end. She reports what's happened to Ra's al Ghul, and conveys her anger, and her doubt very well. The seeds of suspicion that Malcolm planted in her thinking can be seen to take hold during that scene. Speaking of that scene; Matt Nable sounded great, his accent and inflection sounded like the leader of a group of assassins, I'm just not sure he has the look to back it up. I hope they can convince me going forward that he's as scary a man as we've been led to believe, but that first glimpse didn't match at all what I had imagined. Seeing him in action, and near other characters to give a sense of his physical presence, will play a large part in my feelings towards the character.

The three-way battle between the Arrow, Nyssa and Merlyn was very well done, the action was furious and each got to show off in parts. This sequence also served to wash the foul taste out of my mouth from Nyssa's encounter with Roy. There was a lot wrong with that scene. First, they appeared to be in a parking lot, so where was Nyssa's extra long silk scarf tied off? Second, and most importantly, what the heck was Roy thinking? That silly flip off of the hood of a vehicle, just ridiculous. The only saving grace was that Nyssa took it as seriously as the audience must have and contemptuously took him out of action without missing a beat.

I find it funny that Oliver and Thea have told each other that there will be no more lies, and their every conversation consists of almost exclusively lies and omissions. It will make for an interesting confrontation when one discovers the truth. How much indignation could one of them feign while being guilty of the exact same thing? Knowing the Queen family it will be quite a bit. The most interesting story arc so far this season involves Thea and Malcolm Merlyn, they obviously have something planned, but it's not apparent to me what their game is, and I enjoy not knowing

Conclusion: “The Magician” sets up a lot of what must be the overall plot for this season. We're introduced to Ra's al Ghul, who seems unlikely to take the ultimatum Oliver delivered very well, and we know that there's more going on with Merlyn than they're letting on. If the writers can avoid some of the nonsensical things we saw in this episode they may yet recapture the excitement of season two.

Rating: 7.25/10

The Flash: Season 1, Episode 4



The Flash
Episode Title: “Going Rogue”
Channel: CW
Director: Glen Winter
Writers: Geoff Johns and Kai Yu Wu
Genre: Action, Adventure, Drama, Fantasy, Sci-Fi
Runtime: 45min
Rated: TV-PG
Original Air Date: October 28, 2014

I have mixed feelings about this episode. It wasn't bad really, it just tried to do more than should have been crammed into one episode. One aspect of “Going Rogue” focused on the numerous relationships that have been depicted so far, and there are a lot of them. The issue here is that only a couple of them actually change as a result of all the screen time spent on them. Joe has seemingly come to accept Eddie and Iris, and Barry and his team have overcome adversity to better understand each other. Every other relationship is just as it was at the beginning of the episode, it's just been confirmed that things are as the audience already knew they were. The dynamic between Cisco and Barry was interesting, as the consequences of their actions caused Barry to face his first real failure. Wells behaved very oddly in this episode, concerned over the exact time something had happened, making me think that at least some of the events were orchestrated by him.

This week also marked the introduction of a major villain from the Flash comics, Captain Cold. I don't know much of anything about the comics, so personality and methodology of the villain in the show compared to the comic won't be found here. What I will say is that I felt Wentworth Miller's performance to be rather spotty. There were times when I'm sure he was going for cold and detached, but he instead sounded bored. I hope to see him grow into the role over his next several appearances, and will reserve judgment until he's a more complete character. It was good to see him get away, and begin the process of recruiting allies to help him deal with Barry.

The Flash's effects have been a bright spot in the show's short history. The train sequence during Captain Cold's getaway was well done for a television show, as was Barry's interference with the initial heist. That's why the ice effect near the end of the episode that held Barry to the ground was so disappointing, especially when it broke. That was the first time the effects have really bothered me in the series, it looked bad.

Emily Bett Rickards guest appearance was nice to see, but didn't really serve to do much but confirm what we already knew about the love lives of everyone involved. Even Barry and Felicity know they're right for each other, so they're going to continue pining over other people. Oh, and how fortuitous it was that Felicity was there the one time they've needed something speed-hacked. If there's not an actual meaningful reason for a character to be in a scene, they shouldn't be there; that's better than throwing them a bone so transparently.

Conclusion: A lot of relationship stuff jammed into an episode that should have been dedicated to showing off and developing the first villain the writers have seen fit to let hang around. With luck Miller will feel more natural the next time we see him. Besides the villain the event of most significance was the revelation to Barry and his team that he won't always come out on top.

Rating: 7/10

Monday, October 27, 2014

Gotham: Season 1, Episode 6


Gotham
Episode Title: “Spirit of the Goat”
Channel: Fox
Director: T.J. Scott
Writer: Ben Edlund
Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller
Runtime: 45 min
Rated: TV-14
Original Air Date: October 27, 2014

I enjoyed this episode of Gotham more than any to date. This could be problematic as it was perhaps the least Gotham-y of the episodes we've seen thus far. Yeah, there were a couple of scenes thrown in there to remind everyone that it was still Gotham, for instance the bit where Selina sneaks into Wayne Manor and steals something. I'm sure whatever she took will be important to Bruce, thereby sparking some part of their story going forward, but it really didn't need to be in this episode. They're also still bludgeoning the audience over the head with Nygma, I don't think we really needed to see him with a question mark coffee mug, we get it already.

Other than those short scenes, “Spirit of the Goat” provided us with a competent police procedural. The villain was more campy than what those you normally see from the genre, keeping a little of the comic book flavor, but overall this was a standard cop show episode. Harvey Bullock is one of the better characters on the show, and I had fun seeing an episode focus on him. We saw that at one point he was a lot like Gordon, now we're left wondering what could possibly have turned him into the guy we know now. That's how you make a character interesting, and it's what has been sadly lacking in the characters so far.

The writing at times is still questionable. The medical examiner missed a stitched surgical incision on a victim's scalp? Harvey's prior knowledge could have been shared in such a way that it didn't make a peripheral character seem like an incompetent idiot. On the positive side of things, it seemed like Bullock and Gordon had finally bonded, building the type of relationship that would be necessary between partners. The Major Crimes Unit makes their big play and Gordon is in hot water, and then the big reveal. It was the best moment of the episode, and it ended perfectly with Bullock charging at Gordon, all those good feeling immediately thrown aside.

Conclusion: They broke from their standard episode construction, and the episode was better because of it. Building the backstory for all of these characters is important, and “Spirit of the Goat” shows that when they decide to devote some time to it the characters become much more enjoyable. I question why instead of making The Riddler a riddle, they've decided to beat the audience over the head with it, and really hope they tone it down going forward.

Rating: 7.25/10

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Walking Dead: Season 5, Episode 3


The Walking Dead
Episode Title: “Four Walls and a Roof”
Channel: AMC
Director: Jeffrey F. January
Writers: Angela Kang and Corey Reed
Genre: Drama, Horror, Thriller
Runtime: 44 min
Rated: TV-14
Original Air Date: October 25, 2014

Lots of things going on in this episode. It looks like my fears regarding Gabriel were unfounded, he's just a coward, nothing nefarious going on there. Bob quickly divulges a major complication to Gareth and his followers, but it looks like we still won't know if bitten meat is dangerous meat. Most of the episode flowed pretty well, and that is with the enormous group Rick has assembled. This fact had me excited for the prospect of keeping the survivors together for a while, and not fracturing this season into a bunch of episodes focusing on three or four of them at a time. Unfortunately the ending ruined that for me.

Speaking of the ending, it dawned on me after this episode that Maggie is a horrible sister. I can't recall much of a fuss she's made over Beth going missing. It seems like lackluster writing to have a character so completely ignore their sole surviving blood relative, and at the end of “Four Walls and a Roof” Maggie and Glenn leave with Abraham's group, seemingly writing Beth off as dead without the smallest bit of emotion.

Rick is awesome right now. Gareth falls into Rick's trap perfectly, and finally they handle things the way they need to be handled. Rick, Sasha and Abraham go to town on the cannibals, Rick keeping his promise as to how he would kill Gareth was a nice moment. There were brief looks of horror on Maggie, Glen and Rosita's faces, but no “how could you?” recriminations asserted themselves and it seems like they believed that what was done was necessary.

Conclusion: Rick and Co. finally handle a deadly threat with an equal amount of force. I'm glad to see the cannibal arc finished and to be moving on to the next big thing. Bad writing of the Maggie character has ruined the sympathy that the end of season four had engendered in me, she now seems entirely unrealistic and impossible to relate too. I hope the splitting up of the group is handled differently this time around, because I didn't find the two episodes per group formula at the end of season four to be very satisfying.

Rating: 7.75/10

Sunday is Haul Day 15?!


All right, so I'm a day late this week.  Saturday was a day too busy with Halloween Party prep and the subsequent party to put together a proper Haul post.  Here's the belated Haul for this week.

Starting things off there's Tongues of Serpents and Crucible of Gold by Naomi Novik, books six and seven of her Temeraire series.  Next is Bong Joon Ho's Snowpiercer, which is supposed to be one of the best science fiction movies to come out this year.

On the comic's front theres: She-Hulk #9 by Charles Soule, Javier Pulido, and Munsta Vincente, Starlight #6 by Mark Millar and Goran Parlov, Tomb Raider #9 by Rhianna Pratchett, Gail Simone and Derlis Santacruz, and The Wicked + The Divine #5 by Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, Matthew Wilson and Clayton Cowles.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Constantine: Season 1, Episode 1


Constantine
Episode Title: "Non Est Asylum"
Channel: NBC
Director: Neil Marshall
Writer: Daniel Cerone
Genre: Fantasy, Horror
Runtime: 45 min
Rated: TV-14
Original Air Date: October 24, 2014

I didn't hate the Keanu Reeves Constantine of 2005, as a matter of fact, I enjoyed it. It was a decent supernatural thriller that kept some of the elements from the comics that I liked, and changed a lot along the way. I wasn't thrilled with an American John Constantine, but when Reeves was cast I was glad he didn't attempt an accent. Watch Francis Ford Coppola's Dracula from 1992 to hear what an abomination Reeves' English accent is. When the television show was announced I was excited to see how a new adaptation could improve upon the only other screen rendition of the character.

Constantine is a broken man. He makes decisions that have far reaching and devastating consequences as a regular part of his day. We meet the man in a mental hospital, trying to forget the last bit of nasty he witnessed, but a creepy confrontation draws him back into the world on a quest to save the daughter of a dead friend. I was immediately struck by what an improvement Matt Ryan is over Keanu Reeves. He exudes this rakish charm that causes the viewer to understand how people can put their lives in his hands in the face of things they don't understand.

The effects were pretty good for a television show and the possessed people were genuinely creepy. There's a particular scene with a body on the hood of an ambulance, the head and neck bend at an impossible angle that was disturbing, in an amazing way. Cerone and Marshall nailed the tone, and most of the supporting cast was at least good enough to not distract the viewer from what was going on.

A couple of issues did stand out though. The first of which was the scene where Ritchie is driving Liv away from the scene of the final confrontation. I get the sense that this was filmed at a different time as the rest of the episode, as Davies seems to forget entirely the heavy southern accent he had affected for his introduction. The other negative I noticed was a matter of pacing. A lot of information was thrown at the viewers in this episode; magic, scrying, exorcisms, wandering souls, demons and angels. It's a lot to take in for the casual viewer. The viewer doesn't have time to be properly creeped out, because the next thing is happening almost before you register what you're seeing, or hearing as the case might be. One most remember that this was a pilot, and most likely this is an issue that has already been addressed, I hope.

Conclusion: The good far outweighs the bad here. This was an improvement over the movie in just about every way. With the introduction of the map of 'hotspots' I'm a little worried that this will turn into a Supernatural clone, but there is so much preexisting material the writers should be able to avoid that pitfall and deliver an entertaining show.

Rating: 7.75/10

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Arrow: Season 3, Episode 3


Arrow
Episode Title: “Corto Maltese”
Channel: CW
Director: Stephen Surjik
Writers: Erik Oleson and Beth Schwarz
Genre: Action, Adventure, Crime, Drama, Mystery, Sci-Fi
Runtime: 45 min
Rated: TV-14
Original Air Date: October 22, 2014

Oliver wants to bring Thea back to Star(ling) City so he, Roy and Diggle run off to Corto Maltese to do their thing. Diggle has a side mission for A.R.G.U.S. while he's there, and it goes about how we expected it to go. It seems like an odd time for this mission and it's fallout to be written in, I find it hard to believe that the audience has forgotten that A.R.G.U.S. is bad news. They implant explosives in bad guys and send them on suicide missions, I'm not sure it was necessary at this time to remind us that they're bad people.

We get a break from the Hong Kong flashbacks, which haven't held the same charm as the island scenes, in favor of seeing Thea's training at the hands of Malcolm Merlyn. I know this is a comic book world, but I'm not ready to believe that after six months of training Thea is some kind of skilled combatant. The flashbacks were fun though, Mr. Barrowman has a presence that they should utilize as often as possible. After initial attempts to convince Thea to come home fail, Oliver resolves to tell her the whole truth, and then promptly does no such thing. We find by the end that what he told her was apparently enough, but I find myself thinking that everything is going exactly as Malcolm planned.

Felicity starts her new job and, surprise, she's not a cog in the machine! She has an office and an executive assistant. She sets about recovering some information that was lost when Team Arrow took out the applied sciences division of Queen Consolidated at Ray Palmer's request. There's a pretty funny scene where Palmer is in her office and both Diggle and Laurel call her for help, leading to him witnessing a rather awkward side of her conversations. Speaking of Laurel, ugh, after doing something remarkably stupid she appeals to Oliver for training, he refuses so she sets about getting training elsewhere, and the local boxing gym is what makes sense to her. Her trainer is to be Ted Grant, whom comic readers will recognize as the alter-ego of Wildcat, the trainer of many of DC's heroes, but I still question the decision to so quickly push the Canary angle with Laruel.

Two other little tidbits from the episode. Ray Palmer is very interested in the weapons that Queen Consolidated has worked on in the past. He gets an almost villainous gleam in his eye when the schematics are revealed, which would be a major departure for the character. The other thing is a surprise return that everyone was waiting for, but no one was quite sure how it would go, my guess is poorly!

Conclusion: More of a set-up episode than a resolution episode, even with Oliver and company successfully getting Thea home and completing Diggle's mission. There are plenty of options available to the characters right now, and I'm very interested in seeing which way the various arcs go.

Rating: 7/10

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Flash: Season 1, Episode 3


The Flash
Episode Title: “Things You Can't Outrun”
Channel: CW
Director: Jesse Warn
Writers: Alison Schapker and Grainne Godfree
Genre: Action, Adventure, Drama, Fantasy, Sci-Fi
Runtime: 45min
Rated: TV-PG
Original Air Date: October 21, 2014

This week on The Flash we finally get some background on Caitlin. It's important to the show to establish the secondary characters as people that had lives before Barry showed up doing what he can do. It's clearly going to be important going forward, so I'm glad they got something established now instead of later. As irritating as Cisco's 'comic' relief can be sometimes, it's also good to see that he is suffering from loss and guilt as well, he just handles it in a different way, no need to have too many mopey characters running around.

On the villain front it's a mixed bag. The good news is that they didn't kill the villain this time around, but S.T.A.R. Labs is going to need to increase their employee count if the current plan is expected to go on for very long. The bad news; the audience is subjected to another villain with little in the way of personality or backstory. Really just the bare bones of his history are revealed to the audience, making sure that we know he's a bad guy without telling us much about him. The writers will need to introduce a metahuman or two that aren't psychotic and evil soon, or it's going to seem like the explosion struck a statistically unlikely number of scumbags. The rope-a-dope nature of the showdown at the end was a bit anticlimactic, I was hoping Barry would discover a new way to use his powers. Instead we got, go really fast, get the guy tired and knock him down, a little too much like the solution last week for my taste.

Both Grant Gustin and Jesse L. Martin had emotional scenes at Iron Heights with John Wesley Shipp, and those were well acted. The rest of the cast varied from average to pretty bad. Here the villain let's the viewers down again, he wasn't given much to work with to begin with, but the lines he did have a chance to deliver were stilted and empty feeling. Going forward the show runners need to find someone to embrace one of the villains' roles and go for something iconic.

Conclusion: If it fell off from the previous episodes, it didn't do it by much. What The Flash needs right now is a villain to grab the audience and really deliver. Any other quibbles with the course of the show thus far are easily remedied with a few tweaks that we could see in the coming weeks.

Rating: 7/10

Gotham: Season 1, Episode 5


Gotham
Episode Title: “Viper”
Channel: Fox
Director: Tim Hunter
Writer: Rebecca Perry Cutter
Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller
Runtime: 45 min
Rated: TV-14
Original Air Date: October 20, 2014

Gotham still suffers from a lack of identity. Is it a police procedural? Is it a superhero show? The writers don't seem to know the answer. Is it possible to be both, of course it is, but that requires a balancing act that thus far they have been unable to maintain. Due to this both aspects of the show suffer.

That is not to say that everything in “Viper” was bad. This was the first time I felt the plots in motion, or being put into motion, actually have some weight. Before this episode the audience was just told; Fish has this plan, Maroni is doing this, etc. We've now seen how some of those plans are going to progress, and the impact they might have week to week. The newest wrinkle, an apparent sympathy towards criminals is festering inside Wayne Enterprises, allows Bruce to have an intermediate goal on the way to finding his parents' murderer. The continuing stories are the reason viewers tune in every week and I'm happy with this new addition.

The mention of 'Venom' was a nice wink to the comic reading audience, and the show managed to lift a technique right out of the comics. Sure, on the surface it looks as though they killed another of their week to week villains, but we never saw the body. This leaves the door open for Stan Potolsky to make a reappearance, yes I know that the effects of Viper on everyone else would seem to keep this from happening. Here you're talking about it's creator, it wouldn't be terribly difficult to concoct circumstances under which he survived. I hold out hope that we might have finally met a villain of the week that we'll see again.

The writing in certain scenes was a bit curious. One moment that stuck out in particular was the scene in the station where Gordon and Bullock decide on a suspect. What immediately followed could have been handled in any number of ways. As filmed, Gordon and Bullock get up to leave and the acting and dialogue make it seem as though Gordon forgot to order and APB. They could have had Bullock mention it at once, excited to finally have a lead. They might have had Gordon order the APB as the next logical step to finding their suspect. One would think that Gordon didn't just jump straight to homicide detective, so he should be familiar with the steps he needs to take. Instead, to me, he seemed to be a bit scatterbrained and rookie like, not the image of Gotham's best cop I expected to see.

Conclusion: The overall arc for this season comes much more clearly into focus during this episode. Some clunky writing kept “Viper” from being a better episode, but it served it's purpose better than some of the previous episodes have. The growing relationship between Bruce and Alfred took huge steps forward as well.

Rating: 7/10

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Walking Dead: Season 5, Episode 2


The Walking Dead
Episode Title: “Strangers
Channel: AMC
Director: David Boyd
Writer: Robert Kirkman
Genre: Drama, Horror, Thriller
Runtime: 44 min
Rated: TV-14
Original Air Date: October 18, 2014

It was going to be hard to follow a high quality premiere episode like “No Sanctuary,” but Robert Kirkman delivered an episode that kept the tension at a high level, with a fair amount of action, without relying on another hour long shoot out. The opening shots, with the group moving down the road in slow motion highlighted to me how big the group has gotten. They also triggered a sense of foreboding, because with a group that size, we all know that they're not all going to make it. From a pure production/writing side of things; giving that many people something important to do is tough. Realistically, keeping track of that many people while on the move would be a full time job, so I found myself going from face to face, wondering which ones the writers will decide to take away from us. I've got my guesses, and I'd love to see yours in the comments section.

Cries for help interrupt our merry band's romp through the woods, and it's interesting to see the reaction to the cries from the group. Rick and Carl have passed each other going opposite directions on the 'lets help people' highway, but Carl's insistence draws the group into an encounter with a new face, Gabriel. There is something immediately 'off' about the man, and Rick knows it. His story just doesn't fit with what it would take to have survived this long. After an interrogation and a lot of distrust Gabriel does put them on the path to some supplies, and to a really well done action sequence.

The water-logged walkers are an impressive achievement in practical makeup effects, for any medium but especially a television show. After some furious fighting the group makes off with a couple of cartloads of supplies. There's more suspicious stuff out of Gabriel, and some circumstantial evidence that might justify Rick's apprehension. Later on Rick agrees to Abraham's D.C. proposal. I have to wonder why Eugene's supposed plan doesn't sound as ridiculous to the group as it does to the audience. Does anybody really believe what's coming out of his mouth?

Near the end of the episode we see something that might push the group back around to Rick's more pragmatic view of things, and most likely the first of the group's fat to be trimmed. That is why you never leave enemies behind you!

Conclusion: This was a good episode, it moved the story forward enough without resorting to long-winded exposition or crazy decision making. One has to wonder if this is the final straw for the group, will they adopt a scorched earth policy concerning their enemies, or continue to turn around and hope for the best?

Rating: 8/10

Doctor Who: Season 8, Episode 9


Doctor Who
Episode: “Flatline”
Channel: BBC
Director: Douglas Mackinnon
Writer: Jamie Mathieson
Genre: Adventure, Drama, Fantasy, Sci-Fi
Runtime: 45 min
Rated: TV-PG
Original Air Date: October 18, 2014

The trouble so far with this season of Doctor Who for me has been a question of momentum. The writers have made only the barest attempts to introduce an overarching plot to the season, combine that with the scarcity of high quality episodes and the season has seemed to plod along without much sense of focus. The best episodes of the season have been one-off monster of the week type episodes, and the momentum that these episodes have provided has quickly dissipated with less than stellar follow ups. Season eight, thus far, has been composed more like a sitcom from the 90s than like the current trend intelevision to have a major plot unfolding each week. The tenuous links that have been attempted to bring the episodes together have felt more like like Dr. Claw at the end of an episode of Inspector Gadget than anything the audience can bring themselves to care about.

Flatline does not buck this trend. Instead we have an odd type of Doctor-lite episode, sure the Doctor is there, but he's rendered mostly powerless, allowing Clara to take over another episode. There are a couple of entertaining moments when she tries out a piece of Doctor schtick for herself, but overall it just fell flat for me. The setup was creepy, and I thought we might have a good episode on our hands. Like “Kill the Moon” before it, the problems with “Flatline” keep it from living up to the promise shown in the first few minutes.

Capaldi does give a good speech at the end, when the TARDIS is restored. The strange thing about that sequence is the ease with which he dispenses with the Boneless. After an episode spent running from them, the resolution felt unsatisfying. Oh, and a graffiti artist can paint a lifelike recreation of a door with just a handful of cans of spray paint just left lying about.

Conclusion: This was an episode of Clara Who I could have done without. There are three episodes remaining in this season, and the audience is no closer to understanding what 'heaven' is or what's going on with that Missy character. I'm really hoping that we're not subjected to an exposition dumping montage showing how she was involved in some contrived way every step of the way throughout the season in the finale.

Rating: 5.5/10

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Saturday is Haul Day 14!!


This week brings a collection of goodness into the house!  First there's X-Men:  Days of Future Past, which is the best X-Men movie to date.  You can also see the first Revival trade paperback, which contains issues #1-5, by Tim Seeley and Mike Norton.  Victory of Eagles by Naomi Novik rounds out the top row, book five of the Temeraire series.

Comics are next:  Chilling Adventures of Sabrina #1 by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Robert Hack, Supreme Blue Rose #4 by Warren Ellis and Tula Latoy, Trees #6 by Warren Ellis and Jason Howard, and finally The Wicked + The Divine #1 and #2 by Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, Matthew Wilson and Clayton Cowles.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Empire of Ivory by Naomi Novik


Empire of Ivory
Temeraire – Book 4
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group as Del Ray (2006)
Author: Naomi Novik
Genre: Fantasy, Historical Fiction
Pages: 404
Price: $7.99

Tragedy has struck His Majesty’s Aerial Corps, whose magnificent fleet of fighting dragons and their human captains valiantly defend England’s shores against the encroaching armies of Napoleon Bonaparte. An epidemic of unknown origin and no known cure is decimating the noble dragons’ ranks–forcing the hopelessly stricken into quarantine. Now only Temeraire and a pack of newly recruited dragons remain uninfected–and stand as the only means of an airborne defense against France’s ever bolder sorties.
Bonaparte’s dragons are already harrowing Britain’s ships at sea. Only one recourse remains: Temeraire and his captain, Will Laurence, must take wing to Africa, whose shores may hold the cure to the mysterious and deadly contagion. On this mission there is no time to waste, and no telling what lies in store beyond the horizon or for those left behind to wait, hope, and hold the line.

There are a lot of things I liked about this book. One of the main things though is that Naomi Novik has taken a time period with very complicated social standards and values and made the reader understand those standards and how they differ from our time. While slavery is the most evident example, and the easiest one for us to look on with a more progressive view, there are many others present as well. Laurence is a man of his times, and as such he has a clearly delineated view of socio-economic class and the place of women in society. He doesn't hold the views that he does because he's a bad person, more a product of his upbringing and the times. His desire to help those with less than him is easy to understand. Also his interactions with the women of the aerial corps are very fascinating, his initial skepticism has moved through acceptance of their ability to do their jobs, and now he even takes orders from a female Admiral, all while expressing his progressive, for the time, thoughts on the matters. I feel like Laurence's willingness to learn and accept these things is one of the things that has turned him from a slightly irritating character into one I actually like.

The plot of this story is much stronger than the previous book. It felt much tighter and focused with a clear dilemma and solution, something that other books in the series have lacked at times. I very much enjoyed seeing how yet another culture's relationship with their dragons had evolved, and differed from the one that Laurence has the most experience with. I hope to see more of that going forward, especially from the oft-mentioned Inca, for some reason every mention of them has me hoping to read about them in the next book. This is mainly due to the fact that dragon's must play a very large role in their society, since in reality the Inca Empire died out almost 250 years before the events of these books. How did their dragons help maintain their dominance? I need to know!

Laurence is growing as a character, most notably shown in his reaction to the Admiralty's latest plan regarding the war efforts. The Laurence we met in book one would not have made the decision that he does in Empire of Ivory, and he's a better person for it. It has landed him in very hot water though, and given us the first cliffhanger ending of the series. One complaint that I do have is that Laurence, and thus the reader, has been forced to flee battle again. The aerial combat in His Majesty's Dragon was perhaps my favorite part of the book, and it has been absent since. I know the whole thing can't be a bloodbath, but I think the series would benefit from a climactic battle, and not the fighting withdrawls that we've been seeing.

Conclusion: A definite improvement over the previous two books, Empire of Ivory brings a more focused tale to the reader. Laurence is serving well as our proxy in a time when values and beliefs were very different from our own. His willingness to see the necessity for change and acceptance has caused me to reevaluate how I feel about the character, in a good way.

Rating: 8/10

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Arrow: Season 3, Episode 2


Arrow
Episode Title: “Sara
Channel: CW
Director: Wendy Stanzler
Writers: Keto Shimizu and Jake Coburn
Genre: Action, Adventure, Crime, Drama, Mystery, Sci-Fi
Runtime: 45 min
Rated: TV-14
Original Air Date: October 15, 2014

It's impossible to talk about this episode as if the reader hasn't seen “The Calm.” With that in mind, if you haven't watched this season at all yet, and are just looking for my impressions of the episode, it's best you skip what follows, be prepared for major spoilers otherwise.




Sara” is about the immediate aftermath of Sara's death. Between the emotions flying around, and the frenzy to find her killer there is a lot going on. The dialogue and acting in the scenes between the action are the definite high point of the episode. Everyone does a great job portraying what their characters would be feeling at that point. Obviously Oliver and Laurel are very hard hit, Roy basically takes a step back and lets the ones that knew Sara better share their grief. At first I was a little perplexed at the depth of emotion shown by Felicity, and to a lesser extent Diggle, but upon thinking on it more I understand what the script was going for. In Sara's death they seem to have realized that their adventures will most likely end in only one way, their grief was only in part for Sara, but also for Oliver and by extension themselves. Particularly there is a very powerful scene between Felicity and Oliver that really drove this fact home, wonderfully acted by both Amell and Rickards. There was an odd decision from Diggle to name Layla and his baby Sara, but I saw this less as a way for him to grieve and more of a way to tell Oliver and Laurel that he considers them family, without coming out and saying it.

There are some above average action scenes as well, including an exciting bow duel while riding motorcycles and a foiled assassination attempt. Here we see that the writers have increased the Arrow's abilities, as he's effortless jumping out windows and swinging from rope arrows in pursuit of his quarry. In an awesomely comic book moment Oliver catches and arrow fired at him, and immediately fires it back. I'm encouraged by the bump in his skills, as I see it as a way for them to put more super in the superhero aspects of the show.

Near the end of the episode we do see a couple of things that cause me to become a little skeptical of the direction some of the characters are taking. Clearly Laurel is going to decide to take up the Canary persona and continue Sara's vigilante work. This must be handled very carefully, as she does not have the benefit of five years of training from the most accomplished killers the world has ever known. If Laurel puts on the costume and becomes half the fighter Sara was, without a really, really good explanation as to how, I'll be sorely disappointed. My other concern comes from the last scenes of the episode, when we see a figure successfully defeating two armed, and one would assume trained assailants. The figure is revealed to be Thea Queen (Merlyn?) who then proceeds to call Malcolm dad. This seems like an amazing transformation, both in ability and frame of mind, for such a short period of time passing. I really hope the writers manage to find a way to get me to accept this without resorting to something unbelievable. My only other complaint would be in the usage of Lacroix, aka Komodo. He seemed like someone that could rival Oliver's skills in the first half of the episode, and then was beaten fairly handily in the second half. At least Komodo was a villain that they allowed to survive the episode, so maybe we'll learn more about him in the future. As it stands it seemed like a waste of a known commodity, when they could have had any throwaway thug accomplish the same things.

Conclusion: “Sara” hit mostly the right notes. The emotional scenes, when thought about a little bit made sense in the context of the situation. A lot of the action was of a higher octane than we've seen in the past. There were some questionable decisions made by the writers in the last ten minutes that I hope they've thought out really well, otherwise those paths will be hard to buy for the viewers.

Rating: 7.5/10


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Flash: Season 1, Episode 2


The Flash
Episode Title: “Fastest Man Alive
Channel: CW
Director: David Nutter
Writers: Andrew Kreisberg and Geoff Johns
Genre: Action, Adventure, Drama, Fantasy, Sci-Fi
Runtime: 45min
Rated: TV-PG
Original Air Date: October 14, 2014

The best part of this week's episode of The Flash were my many father/son interactions that we saw. Barry and Joe have what would have to be a complicated relationship, and the audience is exposed to many of the different facets of it. There's all the aspects of it you'd expect, the trouble of raising a child not your own and the rebellion that can bring, the love that grows between a father and son in everything but genetics, and the pain and hurt all of that can impart upon them. Gustin and Jesse L. Martin are both remarkable in those scenes, bring a real depth of emotion that you can see in their faces.

In Arrow, we see a support structure built around the hero of people that are already competent and confident in their abilities. Conversely, we are seeing in The Flash that Barry's support system is learning along with him, sometimes reluctantly. Cisco and Caitlin are still a little too cookie-cutter for me, they don't seem to be much more than the two stereotypical sidekick oddballs; both intelligent but one with a zany side and one always by the book. I hope to see a little more out of them going forward, but it's not a big issue at this point, the audience is still meeting The Flash at this point, no need to delve too deeply into the side characters yet.

The same can not be said for the villains though. I feel like I should know a little more about them before they're defeated. Stagg especially seemed like a villain that could hang around for a bit, not quite The Flash's Lex Luthor, but someone approaching that status. Of course, without Stagg, as is, we wouldn't have gotten that ending, and what an ending it was. After last week, I thought I had a good idea where things were going to go with Dr. Wells, now I'm not so sure. That mystery will be one of the things that keep me tuning in

Conclusion: This was a solid follow up to “City of Heroes.” I do feel like the audience needs to see that everyone that was affected by the particle accelerator disaster didn't turn into a homicidal madman, but other than that I had few issues with the episode, and what minor ones I did have can be attributed to how early in Barry's story we are, the audience has to understand him pretty well before we can starting caring about side characters and villains too.

Rating: 7.75/10

Monday, October 13, 2014

Gotham: Season 1, Episode 4


Gotham
Episode Title: “Arkham”
Channel: Fox
Director: T.J. Scott
Writer: Ken Woodruff
Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller
Runtime: 45 min
Rated: TV-14
Original Air Date: October 13, 2014

Here we go again, and it's even more obvious than it has been previously. The audience should have seen the work the Waynes were doing leading up to their deaths. Endless anecdotes about what the Waynes were striving for will never replace the power that those scenes would've held for the audience had they been part of the first season. It would also have made their deaths mean something to audience, beyond the fact that a boy lost his parents. Even there though, all we've seen is this obsessed and depressed young man delving into his parents' plans and murder, I would have preferred to see a Bruce full of hope and love for his parents, and the way that the murders changed him, that would have been an opportunity to actually develop his character more. As much as this production decision bothers me, I think this will be the last time I mention it, I've simply got to accept where they began the story and sit through the clunkier storytelling that is a result.

Robin Lord Taylor was again a high point for the episode, Cobblepot is at times endearing, ruthless and deeply cunning. It has already been fun to see the evolution of the character, and I'm looking forward to seeing it continue. Nygma popped up again, but in a way that made much more sense in regards to his role as a forensics specialist. They also managed to keep him away from misplaced riddles this time around. Hopefully this means the audience won't be continually hit over the head with winks and nods to what is coming. The scenes with Fish Mooney seemed mostly wasted this time around; I know what she's planning is important to the show going forward, but the auditions scenes felt like something that could have happened in the background.

Barbara keeps being Barbara. There seems to be a struggle for the writers to devise something important for her to do, so she's quite unreasonably grilling Gordon over aspects of his job that he can't discuss, and finally she delivers an ultimatum. Maybe if they take a break from her for a few episodes they can find something worthwhile for her to do, so far she hasn't added much to the narrative and only serves to annoy the audience, which is no way to endear her to us, or get us to take her side.

The story itself was all right, nothing we haven't seen before. Gordon and Bullock manage to stop the hitman before he kills his final target, but things don't go as expected and now the only people happy are the criminals. The set up was different, but it's not too different from the plot of the previous episode, just more politically motivated than pure vigilantism. There was one whacky bit of editing that I had to laugh at. Gordon watched the first part of the mayor's press conference at Arkham from the station, and the last part of it with Bruce Wayne at Wayne Manor, oops.

Conclusion: Taylor is again excellent, but the rest of the episode feels like a rehash of things we've seen already. That is a feeling that the audience shouldn't be experiencing so early in the series' run. There needs to be more variety in the events of Gotham for it to be very interesting going forward.

Rating: 6.5/10

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Walking Dead: Season 5, Episode 1


The Walking Dead
Episode Title: “No Sanctuary”
Channel: AMC
Director: Greg Nicotero
Writer: Scott M. Gimple
Genre: Drama, Horror, Thriller
Runtime: 44 min
Rated: TV-14
Original Air Date: October 12, 2014

Wow, that was an action packed season opener! It just felt like it started and never even slowed down. Gareth and company are, I think, the scariest villains we've run into so far on The Walking Dead. What they're doing is clearly evil and heartless, but they do it so dispassionately that it makes their heinous action seem like another day at the office. The trough scene highlights this perfectly, encompassing outright butchery and book keeping all at once.

Carol's reunion with the rest of the group is amazing as she single-handedly causes more destruction and chaos than any character on the show has thus far without the benefit of a tank. The emotional rollercoaster reaches a new high as the reunions at the end of the episode should leave everyone feeling at least a little misty. I'm not sure I like the flashback scenes that almost seem to be trying to evoke some sort of sympathy for the citizens of Terminus. Their side of the story was told to the audience already, let us decide how reliable their version is.

My one major problem with this episode is that I don't believe the group's reaction to Rick's suggestion at the end. The survivors that have been with Rick for a while have seen what happens when you hurt an enemy and don't finish them off. They lick their wounds and then they come after you. How could they think it's a good idea to leave any possibility of pursuit from those calculating killers? They've been burned before, and without some serious discussion among them about a course of action I can't believe they'd willingly leave the proverbial knife to their back.

Conclusion: Other than the one issue I took, this was a great opener. I'm glad to see that after the second half of season four, where every episode seemed like it followed a different set of two or three survivors, we seem to have gained some cohesion for the time being. The only thing this episode didn't do is delineate a clear path for the season to take, but that isn't always necessary, especially when you begin with such a bang.

Rating: 8.5/10

Sidenote: After the show, there was the typical, “scenes from the next...” followed by a short little teaser, featuring a character that we haven't seen in a very long time. My first thought was of a return, but I'm not sure if, distance-wise, that's feasible. I'm not sure how far into production the spin-off series is, but what if that was what we saw there? That would allow the fans to continue the story of one of the early series favorites, without trying to find a contrived way to reintroduce them to the main arc. I don't know that that's how it's going to go, but I'd be happy if it did.

Doctor Who: Season 8, Episode 8


Doctor Who
Episode: “Mummy on the Orient Express”
Channel: BBC
Director: Paul Wilmshurst
Writer: Jamie Mathieson
Genre: Adventure, Drama, Fantasy, Sci-Fi
Runtime: 45 min
Rated: TV-PG
Original Air Date: October 11, 2014

That's the way all one-off Who episodes should be. I'll be honest, the previews for this week's episode did not excite me, in fact I may have actually groaned during the TV spot. Just as last week's disappointing “Kill the Moon” showed that good previews can lead to bad episodes, “Mummy on the Orient Express” shows the audience that horrible previews do not a bad episode make.

It didn't start out on the highest of notes, but by the first commercial break I was actually invested in the episode. The twist it takes halfway through sold me completely, it's not just another monster of the week episode, there's some devious workings going on in the background that have been pushing the Doctor into this moment for quite some time. It's always fun when tidbits from the past are lined up and the audience gets to discover the implications along with our heroes. While connections are mentioned nothing is explicitly spelled out for us yet, meaning we get to look forward to at least a week of speculation. Since it's actually something I look forward to thinking more on I'd say the episode did it's job in a way that many of this season's have not.

In addition to hinting at some previous dots to connect this was a great episode for the Doctor and Clara. The Doctor states more clearly than he has in the past what it takes to make the decisions that he makes, and Clara seems to understand that his sometimes cold detachment is the only way he can make those decisions. It's something that they perhaps should have come to sooner, but at least it's out now and we can hopefully skip any more 'break-up' drama. They also meet an entertaining side character in Mr. Perkins, he had just the right amount of snark and intelligence to hang with the Doctor for a while, and I hope he'll be back.

Conclusion: “Mummy on the Orient Express” is one of my favorite episodes from the eighth season of Doctor Who. Between the understanding reached by the leads, a surprisingly solid story and some memorable co-stars it was a very enjoyable episode. For the first time in three or four episodes I was into the episode enough to forget all the nagging questions I've had about the mystery woman in 'heaven.'

Rating: 7.5/10

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Saturday is Haul Day 13!!


All right, this week brings us Minecraft on the PS4 by Mojang and 4J Studios.  It really doesn't need any more introduction than that.  It's an indie sandbox game that struck gold, selling millions of copies over the past five years on a multitude of platforms.  It's also the cause of countless lost hours in many a gamers' lives, mine included.

There's also Batman #35 by Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo, Danny Miki and FCO Plascencia, Constantine #18 by Ray Fawkes, Jeremy Haun and Richard and Tanya Horie, Hexed #3 by Michael Alan Nelson and Dan Mora, Rocket Raccoon #4 by Skottie Young and Jean-Francois Beaulieu and finally Wytches #1 by Scott Snyder, Jock and Matt Hollingsworth

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Changes by Jim Butcher


Changes
Book Twelve of the Dresden Files
Publisher: Penguin Books USA as Roc (2010)
Author: Jim Butcher
Genre: Fantasy, Urban
Pages: 546
Price: $9.99

Long ago, Susan Rodriguez was Harry Dresden's lover—until she was attacked by his enemies, leaving her torn between her own humanity and the bloodlust of the vampiric Red Court. Susan then disappeared to South America, where she could fight both her savage gift and those who cursed her with it.

Now Arianna Ortega, Duchess of the Red Court, has discovered a secret Susan has long kept, and she plans to use it—against Harry. To prevail this time, he may have no choice but to embrace the raging fury of his own untapped dark power. Because Harry's not fighting to save the world...

He's fighting to save his
child.

Changes is right. This book ratchets up the sheer unpredictability of Harry Dresden's life. There is no possible way that life as he knows it will remain the same after the events in this book. Dresden is forced to make many tough decisions in this one. Unlike previous books it's hard to read through this one and know that Harry will be okay. He cuts a deal with a power far greater than himself, and is forced to use a horrible weapon that was aimed at him on his enemies, making a huge sacrifice along the way.

Due to the heavier subject matter than usual some of the trademark humor of the series is absent in this book. While it makes sense, I missed some of the laugh out loud moments that have been present throughout the series. One thing Changes has in common with the past books is the sheer number of characters. Jim Butcher does a great job of balancing his attention between a huge cast, giving everyone their own moments to shine. We also learn more about one of the major mysteries of the series, Margaret LaFay, Harry's mother.

It's hard to talk much about this book without revealing major spoilers, suffice to say that it might be my favorite Dresden book to date. The scope of the problem and it's solution, along with the things Harry must do to realize that solution point to big things on the horizon. Another notable thing about this book is that it lacks aftermath portion of the story. Generally the readers of a Dresden Files book can count on ten to twenty pages detailing the ramifications of the story at the end. In Changes we are left instead of with a heart stopping cliffhanger that will leave you begging for the next book.

Conclusion: Changes lives up to its name. By the end it is apparent that nothing will be the same for Harry Dresden ever again. He's made deals and made sacrifices in the past, but never like this before. The ending is infuriating at first, we've never had a Dresden book end that way before, but it does serve to make you want the next one even more.

Rating: 9/10

Arrow: Season 3, Episode 1


Arrow
Episode Title: “The Calm”
Channel: CW
Director: Glen Winter
Writers: Marc Guggenheim and Jake Coburn
Genre: Action, Adventure, Crime, Drama, Mystery, Sci-Fi
Runtime: 45 min
Rated: TV-14
Original Air Date: October 8, 2014

I was very excited to have Arrow back on television. The quality of the second season had me anticipating fireworks with the premiere of season three. Perhaps the non-stop action of the second season worked against the premiere a bit, but I found it a little underwhelming.

The drama felt forced. The burgeoning relationship between Ollie and Felicity, and the consequences of their date, are transparent as another attempt to have Ollie forsake his friends and then learn that he really needs them. Must we really retread the same ground again? I also find it a little hard that Ollie is manifesting these reservations now. After the personal tragedy and general destruction that has surrounded him up to this point, why would he suffer from this crisis of identity now?

The newcomers to the cast were a couple of the brighter spots. Peter Stormare as the new Count Vertigo was a good bit of casting, I've always enjoyed his work, and look forward to him being more than a one-shot villain. Brandon Routh as Ray Palmer the smooth talking charmer was excellent. I think he's going to make a big positive impact on the show. Most of the returning cast are all fitting into their familiar roles, aside from Roy Harper, who seemed to have been written into the episode with out much in the way of direction. He seemed an afterthought with little to say or do of interest.

They did manage to set up the rest of the season by the end of the episode, some of the plots will be interesting, some of them not so much. Captain Lance's health problems seem to be an unneeded aside that could take time away from more important arcs. There's a mystery appearance at the end that really makes an entrance, I just hope that the next step takes more time to evolve than I suspect. It is a chance to the show that if hurried can only detract from the story telling.

Conclusion: While not the bang I was hoping for, with the revisiting of past themes, “The Calm” does manage to give clear direction to the rest of the season. With a few tweaks to the existing characters, and the proper usage of the new additions the new season shows some promise, despite the premiere misstep.

Rating: 6.5/10

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Flash: Season 1, Episode 1


The Flash
Episode Title: “City of Heroes”
Channel: CW
Director: David Nutter
Writers: Greg Berlanti, Geoff Johns and Andrew Kreisberg
Genre: Action, Adventure, Drama, Fantasy, Sci-Fi
Runtime: 45min
Rated: TV-PG
Original Air Date: October 7, 2014

The Flash is a spin-off of the popular CW show Arrow. They share some of the same writers and showrunners, and it shows. Although this is still based on a comic book, and as such will always feature some corny dialogue, it's no where near as painful as some of the dialogue written for the first season of Arrow; Kreisberg and crew have learned a lesson there it seems. Also, while the mission and action are important, what keeps viewers tuning in every week is the relationships between the hero and those around them, good and evil. Smiting a monster a week is all well and good, but in a long running show the characters are important, and the writers seem to realize that already.

When Grant Gustin did his guest stint on Arrow I wasn't a huge fan, I didn't hate the guy, but there wasn't much there to make me excited to see him playing the Flash. In “City of Heroes” he did a great job, I believed and bought into just about every emotion they were trying to evoke from the audience. Aside from the overdone hand on the glass in the scene with his father at the end, that was a pretty impressively acted moment.

The villain in this one was hopefully a throw away that we don't see again. Not that the power isn't interesting, controlling the weather could be used in all sorts of nefarious ways, but the actor playing him was just about as one-note as they come. Also, maybe it's just me and admittedly I don't know a lot about Barry Allen, his backstory or his personality, but it seemed to me that he might be just a little too Peter Parker. I hope going forward that they can show us how this lovable geek it different from the other comic lovable geek we've already come to know.

One last note. I'm very excited about how hopeful this show seems. Barry is idealistic and ready to really make a difference. With the other comic related fair I watch on television the situation is already dark and covered in grime, and the hero is just trying to clean it up in one spot after another. The Flash has me believing that Central City is no where near the cesspool that some of its contemporary cities are, and Barry stands a chance to keep it from becoming so.

Conclusion: This was actually a really good pilot. I felt like just enough time was spent setting up and origin and introductions, leaving enough time for Barry to take out a low level baddie and spread some feel good vibes. The tone of the show is so different from Arrow and Gotham that it's a breath of fresh air, every comic book city doesn't have to be a dark and dirty sinkhole of corruption.

Rating: 7.5/10