Saturday, February 28, 2015

Game of Thrones: Season 1, Episode 1 "Iron from Ice"


Game of Thrones: Season One, Episode One “Iron from Ice”
Publisher: Telltale Games
Players: One
Genre: Graphic Adventure
Distribution: Download

Desperately trying to get my Game of Thrones fix while waiting for the next season on HBO led me to downloading this game. I've enjoyed my time with another Telltale Games offering (The Walking Dead) so figured this would be as good a place as any to assuage my need for something Game of Thrones. The first thing I noticed is that the Telltale Tool, the engine they use to produce the game, is starting to show signs of its age. I know that it is periodically updated to keep up with the times, but it might be time to consider a rebuild from the ground up. Some of the animations lack fluidity, there are a few glitches in the first episode that cause characters to blink out of existence momentarily, and the background has been made to look like a painting in many of the scenes. I don't know if this was a design decision to allow for more detail in the character models or if it was intended to be a style decision only, but there were times that it was distracting.

The voice acting is top notch, as we've come to expect from Telltale titles, with the major characters showing a good range in what they're capable of conveying. One of the dangers of publishing a game this closely linked to a very popular title is getting familiar characters right. While the models seem a little too smooth many of the facial expressions that we've come to expect from Tyrion, Ceresi, and Margaery Tyrell are present in the game, with Ramsay Snow seeming to be a little more generic. The big positive from these characters is that they're voiced by their television counterparts, so they player won't have to get used to someone doing their best impression of those characters.

In the first episode of this game Telltale also does something new with their points of view. Much like the show the player jumps from story to story. There's Garret, a squire of House Forrester who provided most of the action sequences, Ethan the new Lord of House Forrester following the events of the Red Wedding, and Mira Forrester, Ethan's eldest sister and handmaiden of Margaery Tyrell in King's Landing. While Garret provides the action the other two characters are embroiled in diplomacy and politics, striving to ensure the survival of their House. Ethan's scenes were the most fun, as his back and forth with several adults make the player appreciate his situation as a child ruler. Mira's scenes provided the majority of the appearances from familiar characters, and allowed for a change in scenery that was needed after the drab North.

In true Game of Thrones fashion the ending was quite jarring. It reminded me perfectly that while I may be experiencing Game of Thrones on a different platform it's the same world, with the same life and death situations and uncertain life expectancies.

Conclusion: “Iron from Ice” serves as a decent introduction to Telltale's version of Westeros. It's hard to decide this early what the impact of the game will be, but the groundwork has been done to provide a compelling and unpredictable story, which is instrumental to telling a Game of Thrones story. The multiple points of view is a welcome addition to the Telltale formula, and they managed it well.

Rating: 7.5/10

Saturday is Haul Day 32!!


The hardest thing to do when collecting this much stuff is avoiding the tendency to try to one up the week before.  You have to remind yourself that every week you can't come home with more stuff than the week previous.  I reined myself in and kept it under control this week; keep reading to see what I got.

To start us off I'm starting a new series by Richard Kadrey, the first book of which is Sandman Slim.  It's an urban fantasy series, which I'm a sucker for, about a man that returns from Hell with a bunch of devious new tricks at his disposal to exact vengeance on the people that sent him down in the first place.

In the comic-verse several interesting titles came out this week, there's:  Batman #39 by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo, Danny Miki and FCO Plascencia, Darth Vader #2 by Keiron Gillen, Salvador Larroca, and Edgar Delgado, Intersect #4 by Ray Fawkes, S.H.I.E.L.D. #3 by Mark Waid, Alan Davis, Mark Farmer, and Matthew Wilson, Thor Annual #1 featuring three stories from a plethora of folks, Jason Aaron, Timothy, Truman, Frank Martin, Noelle Stevenson, Marguerite Sauvage, Joe Sabino, CM Punk, and Rob Guillory, Tomb Raider #13 by Rhianna Pratchett and Derlis Santacruz, and The Wicked + The Divine #8 by Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, Matthew Wilson and Clayton Cowles.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Arrow: Season 3, Episode 15


Arrow
Episode Title: “Nanda Parbat”
Channel: CW
Director: Gregory Smith
Writers: Erik Oleson and Ben Sokolowski
Genre: Action, Adventure, Crime, Drama, Mystery, Sci-Fi
Runtime: 42 min
Rated: TV-14
Original Air Date: February 25, 2015

Arrow tried to go into a mini-break with the same kind of momentum that it went into the winter break with. The audience was left with a couple of cliffhangers, one of which will prove to be the driving force behind the remainder of the season. Unfortunately a lot of that was set into motion by characters doing stupid stuff.

First of all, after “Nanda Parbat” everyone knows everything. Laurel knows Thea killed Sara, Thea knows Roy killed a cop, Nyssa knows Thea is the one responsible for Sara's death, not Malcolm. The secrets and lies are off the table. This is actually a good thing, as the constant who knows what portions of this season had long since become tiresome. Laurel's not angry with Thea, instead she tries to confront Malcolm over his involvement in the whole mess. This led to a rather entertaining bit of 'action' in which Laurel manages to lose her weapon and fall down a lot. I was against Laurel becoming a vigilante so soon, but at this point her ineptitude is almost painful to watch. It's time to train her up so she isn't flailing about, more a danger to herself than the bad guys. Oliver managed to capture Nyssa during the leagues kidnapping of Malcolm, this serves two purposes. First, she reveals to Oliver where Nanda Parbat is located of her own free will, and it allows Thea to confess to Nyssa that she is the one that actually struck Sara down. Thea frees Nyssa and puts a sword in her hand, and the audience is left with a month of wondering what happens next.

Why did Oliver want to know where Nanda Parbat is, you ask? Well, he's of the opinion that Thea can't handle the stain on her soul that being responsible for her father's death would bring. So he's going to rescue Merlyn. Diggle goes with Ollie on the mission, with Diggle getting some much deserved action scenes. He really needs to be incorporated in the action stuff more, especially with Lyla reminding him that he can't just stop being a soldier. Aside from Oliver he's the most capable fighter they have, it makes little sense to keep him on the sidelines so often. They mow through a bunch of the League's men and make their way to Malcolm, who reveals, big surprise here, it's a trap! Oliver and Dig are captured, leading to a pretty touching moment when Diggle asks Oliver to be his best man. Eventually Oliver is brought before Ra's and it looks like Ra's is going to finish what he started in “The Climb.” Instead Ra's has decided that Oliver would be a good successor to his position in the League. Not sure I get the thinking behind that one, as Oliver has already proven himself not up to the task; but maybe they'll clear that up in the coming episodes.

There were some other things happening that deserve a mention. After Thea tells Roy everything (he knew it anyway) he takes her to the family of the cop he killed and tells her how he's trying to atone for what he did. It was a good moment for the character, and there have been few of those this season, so it was good to see a little time devoted to him. Ray Palmer and Felicity had their own scenes this week, which culminated in a little personal time for the two, after which Ray had a predictable epiphany that allowed him to complete the A.T.O.M. suit. We even got to see it in action, though I hope they reveal some of it's other features very soon, otherwise it's going to come off as an Iron Man clone. The flashbacks this week were relatively sparse, but action packed. Oliver and the Yamashiros are released from custody and told they can go home. They're attacked on the dock on the way to the ship that's to take them back to Japan. After a firefight Oliver and their son, Akio, are separated from Maseo and Tatsu, and Maseo tells them to run for it. I have a feeling we're close to finding out what happened that drove the wedge between the Yamashiros, and drove Maseo to the League.

Conclusion: This week's confrontation with Ra's al Ghul lacked the tension of “The Climb” but still managed to surprise at the end. I just hope they justify Ra's' interest in Oliver, as he doesn't seem like the kind of guy the Demon's Head would look to as an heir. With all the secrets in the open maybe we can see some growth in the relationships between various members of the growing Team Arrow. I was left wanting something more from the first Atom reveal, it felt like that could have been withheld until more time could be devoted to it.

Rating: 7.5/10

Arrow: Season 3, Episode 14


Arrow
Episode Title: “The Return”
Channel: CW
Director: Dermott Downs
Writers: Marc Guggenheim and Erik Oleson
Genre: Action, Adventure, Crime, Drama, Mystery, Sci-Fi
Runtime: 42 min
Rated: TV-14
Original Air Date: February 18, 2015

What a strange week on Arrow. I didn't keep a stopwatch handy, but I'm pretty sure that the flashbacks this week accounted for more of the show's length than the present day stuff. Normally that wouldn't be an issue for me, the flashback components of this season have gotten steadily better as things have gone along. All of this week's flashbacks taking place in Starling City, with the present day story line happening on the island, was a nice juxtaposition. The issue I take with the management of time in “The Return” is that it deprived the audience of some real quality time with Slade Wilson.

I was very excited to see Manu Bennett reprise his role as Wilson. Wilson provided for season two what this season has lacked; a villain that the audience cared about. Unfortunately he's not around very long in “The Return.” There are a couple of face to face meetings with Oliver and Thea, and one good action sequence with a two on one fight; underutilized is the best way to describe his involvement in this one. Aside from the time spent on the island the only other scenes from present day involved Laurel and Det. Lance at Sara's grave. It seems that his acceptance of her admission is not going to go as smoothly as it appeared in “Canaries.” He's turned it into a trust/honesty issue and is threatening to start drinking again over it. Laurel talked him down but it's clear that their relationship is going to remain damaged for the foreseeable future.

The flashbacks this week featured Ollie back in Starling City doing Amanda Waller's bidding, stopping Chien Na Wei's sale of the Omega virus at auction. Although he and Maseo were eventually successful the real highlights of the flashbacks were Ollie's peripheral activities. He spent most of his time running around Starling City stalking his family and friends. It was fun to see Tommy Merlyn alive and breathing again, and Detective Lance in the aftermath of Sara's first death (As a side note, the wig they had on Paul Blackthorne looked much more believable than the one they've been putting on Stephen Amell) as a functional drunk. It seemed a little ridiculous that he also managed to cross paths with Felicity and Diggle, but somehow managed to avoid Moira completely. The one aspect of flashbacks (and prequels) I find irritating are the references to things that the audience knows that the characters don't. This week is was Maseo commenting that the hood Oliver was wearing wouldn't disguise him from anyone, “even if you smeared grease paint all over your face.” It's like all the bald jokes in the last two X-Men movies at Xavier's expense, they don't add much for me and I'd rather see them avoided.

The last thing of note occurred in the present day scenes. Oliver revealed to Thea that she is the one that killed Sara, she is understandably upset and takes it out on Malcolm when they return to Starling City. He genuinely seems hurt that she reacted in the way she did, and he definitely wasn't happy with Oliver for sharing that information. This moment seemed like the catalyst necessary for her sudden about-face regarding Merlyn, as her reaction this week didn't see justified at that point.

Conclusion: The flip flopping of the settings for the present day and flashbacks was a novel touch, but it couldn't mask the feeling that this was a place holder episode. The return of Slade Wilson was underwhelming and the constant glimpses of characters for whom the audience knows what the future holds got a little tiresome. The only things of real substance to occur were Thea's discovery of her role in Sara's death and her subsequent tirade directed at Malcolm and Quentin Lance's anger at the way Laurel had hidden Sara's death from him.

Rating: 6.5/10

Monday, February 23, 2015

Gotham: Season 1, Episode 17


Gotham
Episode Title: “Red Hood”
Channel: Fox
Director: Nathan Hope
Writer: Danny Cannon
Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller
Runtime: 42 min
Rated: TV-14
Original Air Date: February 23, 2015

Luckily this week's episode of Gotham, “Red Hood,” was not what I was expecting from the primary villain(s). Without a Batman in Gotham the Red Hood that we know from the comics is impossible, and instead of finding a contrived way to introduce the audience to Jason Todd the writers went a different direction. Initially I thought it might be a reference to a previous incarnation of the Red Hood, The Joker, especially after the criminal we first see in the hood let loose a rather maniacal cackle. With that idea also apparently discarded we're left with just a gang of bank robbers trying to use the hood as a symbol.

The case this week was pushed to the background by everything else happening in “Red Hood.” On the positive side of things we got to see some quality scenes involving Bruce and Alfred. A military buddy of Alfred's showed up in the night and Bruce offered him refuge in their home. We got a lot more background on Alfred and got to see the inception of Batman's fighting style. It's not always honorable, but he's going to set out to hurt his adversaries with whatever dirty trick or improvised weapon is available. This particular story line concluded with a rather shocking moment; although it lost some of its impact due to our knowledge of how things are going to end up. This only highlights the fact that the writers should break away from the constraints of the comic stories and tell their own tale, in an alternate universe type setting. Surprise me and kill someone I think can't die, that's the only way that the danger in this show will have an impact.

The rest of the episode was spent portraying characters as strange, incompetent, and creepy. Fish Mooney received her audience with the manager of the organ farming ring she's fallen in to. Let's forget about the absurdity of that entire situation; how quickly she gained control of her fellow prisoners and how little time it took for her to convince all those people to be willing to die for her. Instead lets focus on the immediate situation. Her negotiations don't go very well, although she didn't seem to put a lot of effort into it, and in some twisted scheme to deny her eyes to her captors she digs one out with a spoon and stomps on it. How does that even seem like a viable plan? In Fish's former club Penguin is still being painted as an incompetent by the writers. This is a guy who played the two major gang family leaders against each other and now he's forgotten how to scheme. Add to that the strange change in Butch's character, now he's got some sort of pride in the club instead of being brainwashed into following orders, and you've got a mess of a situation with Penguin. One of the better characters on the show is in a downward spiral that I hope they can recover him from.

The last bit of strangeness involved Barbara. She is now living with Selina and Ivy, one would think that she must be lonely or something to tolerate such a strange situation. After creepily harping on how beautiful Selina could be she decides to dress the two girls in her old clothes. She proceeded to give Selina some odd advice about the power of being attractive being akin to wielding a gun or knife, in regards to what you can get with out. The only positive here was that the whole conversation led to a pretty decent burn from Selina about how well that plan has worked out for her.

Conclusion: The case this week itself wasn't bad, if really only background noise for the other things going on. The Bruce and Alfred arc this week was by far the most interesting, with and ending that I wish could carry more impact than it does. Most of the other primary characters featured in “Red Hood” are suffering from varying levels of absurdity, almost sabotage, that make it hard to take anything they're doing seriously.

Rating: 6.25/10

The Flash: Season 1, Episode 14


The Flash
Episode Title: “Fallout”
Channel: CW
Director: Stephen Surjik
Writers: Ben Sokolowski and Keto Shimizu
Genre: Action, Adventure, Drama, Fantasy, Sci-Fi
Runtime: 43 min
Rated: TV-PG
Original Air Date: February 17, 2015

“Fallout” is the second part of an arc detailing Ronnie Raymond and Prof. Stein's struggles with their new found power. While the episode focused primarily on their situation and the way it affected their loved ones we also got some important moments in regards to Barry, even if he did take a back seat this week.

First, the Firestorm stuff. Following the events in “The Nuclear Man” the audience discovers that Ronnie and Stein have been successfully separated. Caitlin's reunion with Ronnie it touching, although we shortly find that everything might not be as blissful as we thought. Ronnie wants to start over somewhere new, but Caitlin has moved on from his death more than even she knew. She has a purpose now, friends and a mission that she's unwilling to leave behind. Stein on the other hand is exhibiting some interesting side effects from his time in Ronnie's body, notably a craving for pizza, a food he previously loathed. These are just the the first of several consequences for their merging as they can often feel what the other is feeling.

General Eiling has returned, still determined to harness the powers of metahumans to enhance the country's military might. He tracks down Ronnie, and when Barry shows up to save the day Eiling reveals that he's ready for the confrontation and knows the Flash's identity. Although Ronnie and Barry get away, Stein is captured by the general, with in assist from Dr. Wells. I'm honestly not sure what Dr. Wells' motivation was at that moment, it seemed like an off the wall decision from him. Barry and Ronnie swoop in to save the day and Ronnie and Stein combine to become Firestorm once again, with much more control over things due to their acceptance of what's happening. Flash and Firestorm lay waste to Eiling's men and speed off to the lab. It was a fun team-up moment with some decent action, although I would have liked to see them complementing each others powers in some way.

Elsewhere in the episode, Joe revealed to Barry what he learned about the night Nora Allen died. Barry went to Prof. Stein to question him about the possibility of time travel, which seemed a little odd since we had the proof staring him in the face. Later on he becomes determined to alter the course of events and save his mother. Which brings us to the highlight of the episode for me. A speedster abducted General Eiling and dragged him into the sewers. After some back and forth Harrison Wells revealed himself to be the man in the yellow suit. While not a surprise it does give the audience some confirmation of what they already thought they knew. The other moment of import revolved around where he brought Eiling, the lair of Gorilla Grodd. We know that Grodd has reason to hate Eiling, and this gave him a chance to show off his telepathic abilities. I was surprised at Grodd's appearance, which given the budget this show must be given to work with surpassed my expectations. The episode ended with Grodd dragging Eiling off into a tunnel. I hope it's not the end of Eiling, even if he is a rather one dimensional villain he does offer a threat that is outside the norm for the series.

Conclusion: A fitting conclusion to this part of the Firestorm saga, and a proper introduction for what must be the main villain going into the home stretch of the season. Everyone's suspicions regarding Wells were confirmed and Barry found the determination he needs to alter the way things have already happened. The lone weak element involved Iris' decision to begin investigating S.T.A.R. Labs, that aspect of the episode needed more time to develop, which it didn't get.

Rating: 8/10

Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Walking Dead: Season 5, Episode 11


The Walking Dead
Episode Title: “The Distance”
Channel: AMC
Director: Larysa Kondracki
Writers: Seth Hoffman
Genre: Drama, Horror, Thriller
Runtime: 44 min
Rated: TV-MA
Original Air Date: February 22, 2015

With the appearance of Aaron last week, comic readers knew what was in store for Rick and the group. He presents an offer of safety and community to everyone and Rick promptly.....punches him in the face. While at first glance it might seem like an overreaction, I understand Rick's initial reaction to an offer that seems to good to be true. His skepticism is a good thing for the group, a group that has been hopeless for so long it's easy to imagine they'd accept this offer without the caution that is warranted. Although it may have been too long-lived his trepidation is important to the character. This is not the same Rick that stumbled into the group two years ago. This is a guy that has lost loved ones and killed many people, not walkers, people. Andrew Lincoln conveyed the idea that Rick's survival instinct has been in the driver's seat for so long that he can barely turn it off. The audience sees that it might never be off completely when he hides a weapon in the wilderness near Alexandria, presumably just in case.

While “The Distance” was primarily the story of Rick accepting the fact that there might be safety out there, it was another episode with the entire group in it. I know that they're hard to manage, and that several survivors will be left with little to do, inevitably even some of the audience's favorites. Despite those problems these are the type of episodes that really remind you that they're not just fighting for themselves, they're fighting for each other, and that's the quality in the group that attracted Aaron's attention. Glenn admits to himself and to Rick that his previous statements of “nothing matters” were wrong, Michonne has completed her transformation into the perpetual optimist. While I like that she's no longer wallowing in her own self-pity I hope they find another way to make her interesting, eternally positive is not a believable way to tackle their situation, no matter how good it seems at present. Abraham and Rosita seem to have reconciled at least partially, which will hopefully bring them back into the main story, as they've been pretty much ignored over the last few episodes.

Aaron has the patience of a saint. There's no way after everything Rick put him through I'd bring him home. It was borderline unbelievable that Aaron would accept the situations Rick continually put him in with a smile on his face. When he finally decided to run off it led to a rather thrilling fight. After plowing through a herd of walkers in a car, the car wouldn't start and Aaron bails to check on his partner. Rick, Michonne, and Glenn proceed to have a rather harrowing gun battle with a bunch of walkers in the woods, covered in patchy fog. The limited visibility kept everything tense, and it gave Aaron a chance to prove that he's on the level.

For a brief moment I thought they might decide to drag the journey to Alexandria out over more than one episode when Abraham noticed a Low Voltage light in the RV they're riding in. Instead it gave Glenn a chance at a brief 'call-back' to a dearly departed character, without delaying the trip. My favorite moment of the episode wasn't the obvious choice, when Rick is holding Judith outside the walls of their new home. Just before that they've stopped and Rick hasn't turned the car off, he's sitting there almost like he's deciding that it might be best to run away. Michonne reached over and grabbed his hand. She more than anyone understands where Rick is now mentally, and in that moment is trying to show him that if she could come back from the brink, so can he. It was just a little thing, but it seemed to mean so much. “The Distance” fades to black with the group awaiting admittance to Alexandria.

Conclusion: Although this was a Rick-centric episode nearly everyone had something going on. “The Distance” definitely marks a new chapter in The Walking Dead and seemed like it should have been a finale of some sort, I'm glad it's not. The action sequence really helped break up the growing monotony of Rick's uncertainty without feeling out of place. Overall this episode left me excited to see what happens next, more so than I've felt in a while regarding this show.

Rating: 8/10

Gotham: Season 1, Episode 16


Gotham
Episode Title: “The Blind Fortune Teller”
Channel: Fox
Director: Jeffrey Hunt
Writer: Bruno Heller
Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller
Runtime: 42 min
Rated: TV-14
Original Air Date: February 16, 2015

I've come to expect a certain level of ridiculousness from this show. Just when you think they've reached the maximum level of absurdity the writers prove you wrong and just keep upping the ante. First the audience is introduced to what must be the world's first bloodhound species of serpent, they just let it go and it leads them straight to a body. Not to be outdone, the case itself is solved from what seemed like a complete lack of evidence. Gordon and Thompkins find the murder weapon and he just knows who did it. Finally, miniscule perhaps but it bothered me, when some side characters show Gordon their engagement ring it's accompanied by a cartoon-y “ting” sound effect straight out of a Disney movie. Gems don't do that, we're now seemingly one step away from the “KaPow!” effects making a reappearance.

The big selling point for “The Blind Fortune Teller” was the introduction of the Joker, and I couldn't be more hopeful for a red herring. It's not that the actor didn't do a decent job, he was fine and did a better job than most of the child actors on Gotham, especially when he flipped the crazy switch. The issue I take with Jerome's introduction is that it results in all of the mystery being taken out of the Joker. Batman's nemesis has no records on file, fingerprints, DNA, birth certificate, none of that. He's effectively a non-entity legally speaking. If Jerome gets booked for murder all of that is on file. Not only that, this wasn't really his origin story. Clearly this kid was already crazy, how he got that way would be the origin story. Instead the audience is forced to sit through some rather boring explanations. His mother didn't love him enough, she whored around she …... sorry I dozed off for a second there.

Do you remember those characters that you just can't stand? Of course you do! The writers won't let them slip away for more than an episode. Mrs. Kapelput pops in for a musical number, no I'm not kidding, the sole purpose for which seemed to be to show how unhinged Penguin is becoming. Gone is the criminal mastermind capable of playing the sides against each other, now he's failing at the relatively simple task of running a club. How does Don Falcone suggest we remedy that situation? By sending Mr. Zsasz with a newly brainwashed, puppet Butch to be Penguin's right hand man. Ugh. Want more characters you can do without? We've got that, as Barbara makes another appearance. She returns home to find Selina and Ivy in her house, and instead of freaking out seems to accept the new roommates with no trouble, even going so far as to ask them for fashion advice for a trip to accost Jim at work. Thankfully that was a non-starter as she manages to glimpse Jim and Leslie kissing and flees. Please let her take an extended vacation so the audience can perhaps forget how irritating she is. Right now the relationship between Gordon and Thompkins is infinitely more interesting than anything they showed us with Barbara in four times the number of episodes.

And finally, Fish Mooney's captivity in what is revealed to be some sort of black market organ harvesting racket. She somehow convinces the others held captive with her that they're family, and they become instantly ready to die for her; not just die in rebellion, but to be killed by each other in some sort of twisted plot to stymie their captors. Just another bit of absurdity here, shoot her and end the threat. Previously timid captives would return to docility if their leader was gunned down. I would have believed this story line a little more if she had set the guy in the suit up to be her spokesperson when meeting with their captors, that way she could be pulling the strings without exposing herself to what is such an obvious solution.

Conclusion: New lows in regards to the absurdity level of this show can be found in “The Blind Fortune Teller.” The one positive thing happening right now is that they're building Gordon and Thompkin's relationship in a believable way. The problem there is that it's destined to fail unless the story is steered dramatically away from what is done in the comics. The teased introduction of the Joker was too obvious, leaving me wondering who the Joker really is, because it can't be Jerome.

Rating: 6/10

Birdman


Birdman (2014)
Producers: Molly Conners, Sarah E. Johnson, Christopher Woodrow, et al.
Director: Alejandro G. Iñárritu
Rated: R for language throughout, some sexual content and brief violence
Runtime: 119 min
Genre: Comedy, Drama

Birdman is the story of a former film superhero's attempt to prove himself as a proper actor. The audience joins the story as final rehearsals are beginning and find that the film's protagonist, Riggan, has spent the last of his money on making his dream project a reality. What follows is a surreal look into the actors' minds, the fight to maintain relevance in a culture that continues to move faster and faster, and the complicated balancing act that raising a family in that world requires.

The direction in this film is amazing and only possible due to the dedication of the cast members. Each scene is composed of multiple pages of script, filmed seamlessly with one camera. Scene breaks only occur at times when they're nearly impossible to notice. This allows the entire movie to feel like one enormous take. Somehow, Alejandro G. Iñárritu managed to keep this from feeling like a gimmick, the audience feels like they're following several different stories; catching the important parts as different characters cross paths. Long shots have always been something I've enjoyed in film, whether its Louis Tully explaining his party in Ghostbusters, Scorcese demonstrating Henry Hill's power and influence in Goodfellas, or John Woo destroying two floors of a hospital in Hard Boiled; these kind of scenes always bring something different to the film they're in. Birdman takes that concept to the next level by flowing through its characters' lives without taking our eyes off what's happening.

The entire cast shines in this movie, but special attention should be paid to Michael Keaton, Edward Norton and Emma Stone. Without Keaton's performance this movie would be a much weaker film. I will admit, Michael Keaton has never struck me as a high caliber actor. He has had brief moments that have jumped out at me, but more often than not those were due to his comedic abilities than his dramatic acting. In Birdman he just IS the character. This may be the result of the similarities between his real-life career arc and his character's; both appeared to be on the fast track for Hollywood immortality following their roles in huge superhero roles, and both suffered enormous career setbacks when they moved on to try something else. Taking one's life experience and translating it into a role would seem to be an important part of the acting process, so those parallels had to be instrumental to his success here. Emma Stone plays Riggan's fresh out of rehab daughter, and while she often faded into the background, according to the other characters something she is accustomed to doing, the moments when she makes her presence known were very powerful. In particular a scene between Keaton's Riggan and Stone's Sam where she perfectly states what his problems apparently are really stood out. Edward Norton also plays a character that could be said to reflect his real world persona, if some reports from various movie sets are to be believed. Here he plays Mike Shiner, a highly talented stage actor that is difficult to work with. He represents the other side of the acting world, never receiving the world wide acclaim that Riggan managed and claiming to be there for the art. In a twist, despite his protestations that he's a real actor to Riggan's phony, given the opportunity to grab the spot light for himself he latches on with both hands.

Throughout most of the film we're led to believe that Riggan may possess actual super powers. There's a fair amount of doubt planted in the audience's mind regarding those powers though, as no one else ever witnesses the things Riggan believes he's capable of doing. It's clear to the audience that we're dealing with a character that's unstable at best, so I had no problem with these sequences. That part of the story is seemingly resolved at one point, only to be cast back into doubt by the end; which brings me to the one major criticism I have of this film. Birdman has two endings. One, the one that I prefer, features Riggan proving his critics wrong, while mocking the way we categorize 'real' actors being the ones that will do anything for a role. At that point I felt satisfied with the movie. Sadly, that wasn't the end, and another ten minute sequence follows that undid what had been accomplished. There are multiple ways to interpret the ending, and in a film that featured so many fantastic elements the viewer could justify nearly any opinion regarding what actually happened. Despite those fantastic elements the film to that point had been rather straight forward, so I'm not inclined to try to infer a lot of secret meanings in the ending. Therefore my interpretation of the finale leaves the film slightly hollow.

Conclusion: Birdman is and amazingly well directed film from Alejandro G. Iñárritu made possible through outstanding performances from nearly every member of the primary cast. I find it hard to say whether the ambiguity of the ending is a good or bad thing when trying to relate it to the rest of the movie, but it can spark interesting conversations, so in that regard it succeeds.

Rating: 8/10

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Saturday is Haul Day 31!!


Following a weather imposed hiatus I'm back at it, this week was a pretty big week, so without further delay.  Here. We. Go.

Birdman directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu and starring Michael Keaton, Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Andrea Riseborough, Amy Ryan, Emma Stone, and Naomi Watts.

When a has-been movie superhero (Keaton) risks everything for Broadway, he faces harsh critics, a deranged alter ego, his estranged daughter (Emma Stone) and a difficult stage star (Edward Norton).

I'm excited to see this movie, not just because of the critical acclaim it's received, because it's shot as if everything happens in one continuous take.  I'm a sucker for that kind of thing, the longer a take the better as far as I'm concerned.  It's like the anti-Boyhood of this award season, and has me very interested.

Game of Thrones:  Season Four also came out this week, and I know what you're saying.  You've seen it, you have HBO and HBOGo, why own the show on disc as well?  First, there's no good way to watch HBOGo on our TV, the PS4 still doesn't have an app for it as far as I've seen.  Second, I like having it, and I like being able to bring it with me to people who haven't seen the show, or loan it out to people who are behind on it.

Shadows Over Camelot is a tabletop game from Days of Wonder, created by Serge Laget and Bruno Cathala.  Obviously it's based on the Arthurian legends, but the most fun part to me is the possibility of a traitor.  For the most part it's a cooperative game, but depending on draws at the beginning of the game there's the chance that one of the knights is actually opposing the other Knights of the Round Table.  It's a great way to bring more excitement to a cooperative game and I can't wait to get a few people into it.

I've heard the mixed reviews for The Order:  1886, it's hard to avoid them if you pay attention to the gaming community at all.  Despite that I've decided to give it a try.  Besides looking absolutely gorgeous, sometimes there's nothing wrong with playing an interactive story.  If there was something wrong with that use of a gaming platform then Tell Tale games would be out of business.  Sure the price tag for The Order is a little steeper, so I'll just have to wait and see if the expense was worth it.

Wrapping things up this week, like always, are the comic books.  This week brought us:  The Kitchen #4 by Ollie Masters, Ming Doyle and Jordie Bellaire, Moon Knight #12 by Brian Wood, Greg Smallwood, and Jordie Bellaire, Rocket Raccoon #8 by Skottie Young, Filipe Andrade and Jean-Francois Beaulieu, and She-Hulk #12 by Charles Soule, Javier Pulido, and Munsta Vincente, which is sadly the final issue of the title.  I also tracked down some Hellblazer back issues.  Issues #25 and #26 by Grant Morrison and David Lloyd, and issues #286-288 by Peter Milligan, Giuseppe Camuncoli, and Stefano Landini.

Monday, February 16, 2015

The Walking Dead: Season 5, Episode 10


The Walking Dead
Episode Title: “Them”
Channel: AMC
Director: Julius Ramsay
Writers: Heather Bellson
Genre: Drama, Horror, Thriller
Runtime: 44 min
Rated: TV-MA
Original Air Date: February 15, 2015

After last week's experiment with artsy The Walking Dead episodes “Them” gets things back to the more typical style. I for one am happy to get back to a familiar format. The only issue here is that it might be a little too familiar. “Them” is perfect ammunition for those that contend that more often than not nothing happens on the show. The group is starving and out of water and they spend the majority of the episode walking down the same stretch of road. The issue I have with that type of mindset is that I saw a lot going on, even if for the most part nothing was happening.

After the losses experienced by the group over the last two episodes there was a dire need to see how certain characters were handling their grief. Beth's demise has caused Maggie to lose all hope in their situation. Why continue when there's only an inevitable, messy death waiting for you? She does take a moment to explain her lack of emotion following Beth's disappearance, though it seemed a little flimsy. Darryl is mourning Beth in his own way; retreating into himself and becoming more of a loner than he has been lately. After some encouragement from Carol he finally finds a way let himself feel his emotions. I think of all the relationships on the show, romantic or otherwise, I enjoy the interactions between those two the most. Sasha on the other hand is deep into the anger phase of her coping process. She has become reckless and angry at everyone, even the others in the group.

Times were so desperate that at one point when they finally get some food, it comes at the expense of a pack of wild dogs. I was a little shocked that the writers took it that far, but I'm glad to see that they did. It really drove home what a bad situation they were in. During their trek a note and gallons of water are left for them in the road. Having learned several hard lessons regarding the 'kindness' of strangers they are, of course, too wary to accept the help. Moments later a storm pops up and after the initial elation at finally having water it is soon apparent that they need to seek shelter. Luckily Darryl had found a barn in his wanderings and they camp there.

In the barn we see a reversal of position from Glenn, in an attempt to snap Maggie out of her funk. At this point it's hard to know which way Glenn actually thinks. Is he the cynical “it doesn't matter” guy that had surfaced recently, or was that only his own way of dealing with the losses they had experienced. Michonne is still stuck on finding somewhere to settle down, contending that they need civilization in their life for it to have meaning. Rick's speech to the group was just what they needed and he seemed to have everyone back on the same page. Shortly afterward, Darryl goes to watch the barn door and sees a herd of walkers outside. One by one the group comes together to hold the doors and keep the walkers at bay, showing the audience they're all finding a reason to keep on keeping on, until a tornado sweeps by the front of the barn. Thus ending the threat that the walkers posed. It was a bit unrealistic for the twister to come within feet of the barn without damaging it, but it was just the thing the group needed to left their spirits, so I guess I'll let it slide.

At the end of the episode Sasha and Maggie go outside to watch the sunrise, while at the same time coming to grips with their loses. To conclude the episode they are approached by a man named Aaron. Readers of the comics will know why he's important and what his probable role will be going forward. Let me just say that I'm excited to see how the group handles the changes that are coming their way. After some stagnation this season it looks like things are going to be picking up soon.

Conclusion: The sense of hopelessness in “Them” was strong, perhaps too well hammered home. Overall we got the episode that several characters needed to move forward. Sasha and Maggie seem to have found their motivation again. With Darryl, who can say? He doesn't seem to be ready to move past the loss of Beth just yet. The introduction of Aaron at the end of the episode should lead to an interesting change in the group's life in the near future.

Rating: 7.25/10

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Satuday is Haul Day 30!!


I've got a lot of stuff to catch up on, so this week I'm sticking to comics.  There are just too many movies, games, and books sitting on my shelves to keep getting more at this point.  The comics this week are:

Constantine #22 by Ray Fawkes, Jeremy Haun and Richard and Tanya Horie, Darth Vader #1 by Keiron Gillen, Salvador Larroca, and Edgar Delgado, The Empty #1 by Jimmie Robinson, Hexed #7 by Michael Alan Nelson, Dan Mora and Gabriel Cassata, Lady Mechanika #0-1 by Joe Benitez and Peter Steigerwald, Rachel Rising #31 by Terry Moore, and Secret Six #2 by Gail Simone, Ken Lashley, Drew Geraci, and Jason Wright.

Constantine: Season 1, Episode 13


Constantine
Episode Title: "Waiting on the Man”
Channel: NBC
Director: David Boyd
Writer: Cameron Welsh
Genre: Fantasy, Horror
Runtime: 43 min
Rated: TV-14
Original Air Date: February 13, 2015

Here's to hoping that this isn't the way this show ends.

Waiting on the Man” featured a satanist with a thing for sacrificing girls. It was all part of some sort of twisted marriage ceremony. The most notable thing about this week's villain is that he was just a man. The Rising Darkness doesn't need demons, ghosts or sorcerers to wreak havoc in the world; its influence is strong enough that it can turn regular people into its own agents of chaos. That's not to say that the episode was lacking in the supernatural department, it's just important to note that even regular joes can perpetrate the types of things that require John's attention.

The team was reunited with Jim Corrigan in New Orleans for their latest adventure. One interesting bit of note occurred following the capture of the bad guy. John talked Corrigan into shooting the Man in cold blood as he “tried to escape.” Corrigan only seemed to give it a moment or two to think it over before following up on John's suggestion. It was a coldly harsh moment for both characters, and while we know that John is willing to almost anything to keep people safe, Corrigan going along with it so easily seemed a little odd. The audience saw through Zed's visions the future that is in store for that character. After a pep talk from Manny, Zed decided to let Jim in on what she knows. Looking back on Manny's scenes with Zed in the last two episodes makes it clear that he's nurturing her trust in him, to use at a later date. Stop reading here to avoid a major spoiler.

Manny's reveal at the end of the episode, that he's the one behind the darkness, was very important to the show going forward. It finally gave the audience a face to attach to all the things we've seen so far. Instead of henchman and phenomena credited to the darkness we've now got a mastermind pulling the strings, right under John's nose. Maybe. My immediate thought upon hearing Manny's admission was that it was a ploy to buy John some safety. Even now though I'm not sure if I believe that or not. I can see it going either way, and it's a good sign when a show can keep you guessing that way.

Manny's confession was delivered to Papa Midnite, who had tried to collect the bounty on Constantine's head. Although he and John didn't have a lot of time together on screen it was good to see Midnite back. He's the kind of villain that you love to see pop up. You know he's going to give John all he can handle, the animosity between them grows with each failed attempt Midnite makes on John's life. At the same time they're always one crisis away from setting aside their differences and working towards a common goal, waiting to stab the other in the back as soon as the newest threat is dealt with. It's the type of arch-nemesis relationship that can make both characters better.

Conclusion: If this is the way Constantine ends the audience is going to be left with a lot of questions. They've set up so many stories; The Spectre, Zed's family, Manny's place in everything, the Rising Darkness, and more, it will be shame if we never find out what's going on. “Waiting on the Man” did a great job of showing us where everything might be headed, now we just have to hope that we get there.

Rating: 8/10

Friday, February 13, 2015

John Wick


John Wick (2014)
Producers: Kevin Scott Franks, Stephen Hamel, Tara Moross, et al.
Director: Chad Stahelski
Rated: R for strong and bloody violence throughout, language and brief drug use
Runtime: 101 min
Genre: Action, Thriller

What John Wick isn't: a thoughtful portrait of a man and how he deals with loss in his life, filled with exemplary dialogue and acting, anchored by a nuanced directorial effort. What John Wick is: a slick and stylish action story featuring plenty of quality firearms work, well photographed stunt work, and just enough humor to make it feel like the action movies of the past.

There's nothing fancy about John Wick. The script takes less than fifteen minutes to plunge the viewer in Keanu Reeves' quest for for revenge. Is it a little silly that the catalyst for the bloodshed happens to be the death of his dog? Maybe, but I'm not going to tell Mr. Wick that. The important thing in a movie like this one is the action, not the 'why' behind the action, and it's in that area that John Wick excels. Reeves, for the most part, looks like he knows what he's doing; I bought into the character being the most accomplished killer in town completely. There is very little wasted motion in the choreography, when a head shot opens up Wick takes it without hesitation, time and time again. Unlike many action movies of the last ten years or so, the camera work is steady and focused. There's never an issue seeing what's going on, the purpose is to highlight how good John is, not to conceal flaws by making it hard to see what's happening

I also enjoyed the brief glimpses the audience got into the contract killing world. It supports its own micro-economy of killers and cleaners, and those that give some structure and a sense of normalcy to what they do. Bars, hotels, and doctors clued in to the way the world works all accept payment not in cash or wire transfers, those are all too easy to fake or trace; they operate under a much older system of commerce, the exchange of gold. The idea that there is a bar/hotel where the elite hitmen of the world can go without fear of reprisal from one of the many enemies they must make was a fun touch.

The dialogue is far from good, there's just enough humor there to separate the action sequences, but it gets the point across. I really enjoyed Michael Nyvqvist's portrayal of Viggo. There was a hint of Peter Stormare in his manner with the crazy toned back just a bit. While I enjoyed the score, it seemed to fit the movie's style very well, there were times that it was just too loud. There are several times throughout the movie that the music or a background noise, such as rain, drowns out what's being said. I found myself leaning in trying to separate the dialogue from the cacophony of other sounds. If you can't hear what's being said you can rest assured that you're not missing Shakespeare, but I like to know what's being said anyway.

Conclusion: If you're sitting around the house with some free time on your hands, and enjoy a carefree bundle of violence without needing a lot of exposition to drag you down, give John Wick a watch. The gun fights and the cinematography that brings them to the table are worth your time. This is the type of movie that benefits from the audience knowing what they're in for. It's brutal and fun, while not trying to be anything else.

Rating: 7.5/10

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Arrow: Season 3, Episode 13


Arrow
Episode Title: “Canaries”
Channel: CW
Director: Michael Schultz
Writers: Jake Coburn and Emilio Ortega Aldrich
Genre: Action, Adventure, Crime, Drama, Mystery, Sci-Fi
Runtime: 42 min
Rated: TV-14
Original Air Date: February 11, 2015

Count Vertigo returns to Starling City! Did he play a huge role in the episode? Well that can be debated. He was the driving force behind Laurel's story this week, but didn't do a whole lot otherwise. It's just good to see Peter Stormare back, the guy does zany, wild-eyed villain better than just about anyone else; it's always fun to see him on screen. While I'm still not entirely sold on the masked vigilante aspect of Laurel's character it's encouraging to see that she's not very good at it yet. If she was just crushing bad guys I'd be more uncomfortable with where her character is now, but I suppose if she's going to jump right into the fight this is the best way to do it. The doses of Vertigo that the Zytle hit her with forced her to confront a nightmare version of her sister; echoing back the insecurities that Laurel feels about her abilities and motivation. It seems like she's finally come to terms with the fact that she can't be Sara, but she can still do some good. The other side effect of her Vertigo-induced visions is that she's finally decided to break the news of Sara's death to her father. Naturally he was devastated and it's too soon to know if there will be repercussions for her hiding the truth for so long, but the sorrow Paul Blackthorne was able to show in that scene deserves a mention.

Oliver also had a big reveal to make in “Canaries,” he finally decided to come clean to Thea about his other life. I had feared that this revelation would result in a schism between them, a way for the writers to add more drama to the situation. I think that would have been one too many things going wrong for Oliver recently and I'm glad they decided to avoid that. Instead she takes it remarkably well, it erased the tension that had sometimes been between them so far in season three. Her abrupt change of heart regarding Malcolm though seemed a bit forced. Not long ago she was talking him out of killing and vowing that they would defend themselves against Ra's al Ghul as a family. She's back to thinking of him as nothing but an evil schemer, but she doesn't really know anything more or less about him than she did; so what's with the sudden change in her view of him?

There was a scene following Laurel's first dose of Vertigo where Ollie started barking orders at Thea to go away. Roy immediately stepped in and stood up to Oliver. I knew a moment like this was coming, but I hadn't expected it so soon. While the team is very happy Oliver isn't dead, they discovered while he was gone that they can operate without him. They had developed their own decision making process, something that was much more democratic. Although we see Ollie come to terms with the new dynamic I would wager that it will create some additional friction in the episodes to come.

The one really weak moment of the episode followed the shouting match mentioned above. Thea fled the club and ran into the DJ that's popped in and out of the season. If you remember it was revealed last week that he's actually an agent of the League of Assassins. I had hoped that the new information would make the character a little more important, and a lot more memorable since in all honesty I had to look up the character's name (Chase). Instead after some physical comfort Thea realizes he has bad intentions and they get into a brief fight. He bests her but before he can finish her off Roy bursts in. Now I'm not a huge Roy fan, most of the time he's just there, but he gets beat up again this week. In short order. I know this Chase fellow is an agent of the League, so it's to be expected that he can handle himself in a fight, but Roy barely lasts fifteen seconds against the guy. This is just the latest in a succession of martial failures for the character. Does anyone remember that it was apparently such a foregone conclusion that Cupid could defeat him that it didn't even happen on camera? Cut the guy some slack and let him win a fight or two! It's a good thing Merlyn showed up to bail him out.

The flashbacks this week centered around the Oliver and the Yamashiro's attempted flight from Hong Kong. Since Oliver still has two years away from Starling to account for we knew that he at least would be unsuccessful. In a surprising turn of events though the next mission that Amanda Waller has for Oliver involves his return to Starling City. We'll just have to wait until next week to see how she manages to keep him under wraps in a city that's presumably pretty used to seeing his face plastered on the tabloids. At the end of the episode Merlyn tells the Queens that the only way they can overcome Ra's is to conquer their fear, which for Ollie means a return to the Island. This will set up an intriguing new format for next week's episode; the present day scenes will occur on the island, and the flashbacks in Starling City.

Conclusion: I've been waiting for Oliver to reveal his secret to Thea, and was pleased with the way it was handled; even if the fallout is a strange reversal of her feeling towards Merlyn. Laurel is growing into the role of the Canary, and maybe if she stops trying to be her sister I'll buy her evolution a little more. The secret of Sara's death is finally out in the open with Detective Lance, and while it doesn't seem to have killed him as Laurel feared it would I'm left wondering if their teary embrace is only the calm before the storm. Finally, we're finally going back to the Island!

Rating: 7.75/10

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Flash: Season 1, Episode 13


The Flash
Episode Title: “The Nuclear Man”
Channel: CW
Director: Glen Winter
Writers: Andrew Kreisberg and Katherine Walczak
Genre: Action, Adventure, Drama, Fantasy, Sci-Fi
Runtime: 43 min
Rated: TV-PG
Original Air Date: February 10, 2015

In “The Nuclear Man” we finally get the long-teased Firestorm-centric episode, and personally I think it was worth the wait. First, Robbie Amell is doing an excellent job portraying the highly complex character he's been asked to play. The bewilderment over his current condition and the traces of insanity that result from it come across well, without being over the top. Firestorm seems like a character that could have easily become a caricature instead of a well thought out character, but so far he and the writers are pulling it off quite well. The scenes when the Martin Stein persona was most lucid were entertaining, the tastes of a refined older man trapped in a young man's body brought a touch of humor to an otherwise grave situation. The apparent failure of the plan concocted by the folks at S.T.A.R. Labs should help to keep things interesting for a while longer. Clancy Brown's return as General Eiling was a pleasant surprise at the end of the episode. If he was interested in Plastique there's no doubt Firestorm is exactly what he's been looking for.

Joe and Cisco returned to the scene of Nora Allen's murder to further investigate the matter. The divorced woman that lives there now has a clear interest in Joe, and honestly with everyone else getting some sort of romantic angle, why not Joe? I'm going to take Cisco's word for it concerning the science behind their investigation, it's no fun to think too hard on that kind of stuff. Their search eventually yields several images of what happened that night and they confirm what had been hinted at; there were two speedsters in the room that night. A little more digging turns up a blood sample that contains two samples of blood, presumably from the speedsters. Joe asked Cisco to test the blood against Harrison Wells, and after some indignation we find out that Cisco did in fact test the blood samples and that one matches up with Barry! It's an intriguing development, although not really unexpected. I find myself thinking that this does not preclude Wells from having been present. I'm starting to really believe that Wells is Barry from his own future.

Barry's new relationship with one of Iris' coworkers hits its first speed bump this week. Aside from the fact that Barry is so busy running around town doing is Flash thing, he must now also contend with Iris' involvement. These are the moments during which it becomes apparent you're still watching a show on the CW, with their prerequisite relationship quandaries. Iris revealed to Linda Park that Barry was, until recently, hung up on someone else. Linda spots the fairly obvious meaning behind Iris' words and deduces that Iris is the girl he's hung up on. When Barry confronts her she gets all teary eyed and claims to be all right with things as they are. I don't think this drama is necessary, but I guess it's really just a way to keep Iris in the picture right now.

Conclusion: Firestorm actually turned out better than I thought he would. The character's instability, conveniently for the writers, allows the character to provide lots of suspense over whether or not he's safe to be around; and to provide humor when the mood needs to be lightened. The developments regarding Nora Allen's murder, while not surprising, give the audience a clearer direction in which things are moving. There are interesting possibilities ahead.

Rating: 7.5/10

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Gotham: Season 1, Episode 15


Gotham
Episode Title: “The Scarecrow”
Channel: Fox
Director: Nick Copus
Writer: Ken Woodruff
Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller
Runtime: 42 min
Rated: TV-14
Original Air Date: February 9, 2015

There was a lot going on in “The Scarecrow,” some of it interesting and some of it unnecessary. The audience gets to see the culmination of Dr. Crane's plan, Gordon being very uncomfortable with his new inter-office romance, Bruce finally dealing with his grief, the Penguin gaining a measure of safety, and Fish Mooney establishing herself in her new setting. Quite frankly it was too much for a single episode, and some of it just didn't need to be there.

The stronger stuff first. The Dr. Crane and Jonathan angle redeemed itself this week. It's actually seeing his plan in action that made it compelling; the previous week featured mainly the killings and didn't differentiate the character from every other murderer we've seen so far. Witnessing the fruits of his labor and his strange obsession with purging his son and himself of all fear caused the characters to be worth watching. The other positive moments of the episodes revolved around Bruce and his desire to complete a hike that he and his father had made a tradition of. At first I anticipated that this hike might result in his encounter with the bats that are so integral to his origin, but it didn't. After the initial disappointment of not seeing the birth of his adult persona I began to appreciate the scenes for what they were. Bruce finally grieved for his parents in a way that makes sense for the child that he is. He also flashed early signs of the determination and sheer stubbornness that will later define his character. He and Alfred also shared some quality moments, with Alfred more than ever taking over the role of Bruce's father.

The rest of the episode ranged from being just all right, to boring, to unbelievable. The Penguin is given control of Fish's club and tasked with opening it as soon as possible. When he arrived at the police department o deliver an invitation to Gordon he and Nygma crossed paths. While the scene was mildly entertaining I'm not sure what the purpose is of having those two characters share scenes at this point in the series. Falcone manages to buy Penguin's life from Maroni with the offer of a judge to do with as Maroni pleases and two hundred thousand dollars. Maroni doesn't seem like the kind of guy to so easily forget a grudge, and he tells Penguin as much when they meet near the end of the episode. Maroni is merely waiting for Falcone to die or lose power so that he might exact his revenge.

Fish Mooney has been taken to some sort of basement dwelling containing dozens of other prisoners. I know that the means by which she's going to survive and return to Gotham are important enough that the viewers need to see them. That doesn't change the fact that Fish's scenes were just boring. Her campy threats against two men looking at her the wrong way were just too campy to be taken seriously. The ease with which she snatched control of the prisoners away from a man named Mace felt cheap and forced to happen too quickly.

Finally, Jim's reluctance to participate in public displays of affection with the department's newest Medical Examiner, Leigh Thompkins, seemed like a way to artificially add tension to the new relationship. Is the audience really supposed to believe that with all that goes on in the department that anyone would care if Gordon and Thompkins were together? I think they're too busy taking bribes, framing suspects, and doing other corrupt things to care what Gordon is doing with his personal life. It might even help him gain some credibility with the other members of Gotham's police force if he was seen to be participating in anything that doesn't conform to the boy scout's morals he generally clings to.

Conclusion: Too much wasted time on stories that could have waited or been dropped all together. The origin of the Scarecrow and Bruce's growth kept the episode from failing completely but couldn't distract me from the weak parts of the episode. I never thought that after the meandering path Fish's grab for power took that I'd be asking for anything to be slowed down, but between her ascension to leadership in the prison she's occupying and the wink wink, nudge nudge moments between future rogues I think “The Scarecrow” could have benefited from a change in pace.

Rating: 6.25/10

Monday, February 9, 2015

The Walking Dead: Season 5, Episode 9


The Walking Dead
Episode Title: “What Happened and What's Going On”
Channel: AMC
Director: Greg Nicotero
Writers: Scott M. Gimple
Genre: Drama, Horror, Thriller
Runtime: 44 min
Rated: TV-MA
Original Air Date: February 8, 2015

Full disclosure, there's going to be spoilers here.

The Walking Dead is back after more than two months away. After the events of “Coda,” speaking of course of Beth's death, I expected this episode to feature some grief. Maybe try to redeem Maggie a bit. Her reaction, or lack thereof, to the disappearance of Beth could have been forgotten by the audience with a solid send off. As “What Happened and What's Going On” opened with a montage of several seemingly unrelated scenes there were a few cuts of dirt being moved. Clearly that's a grave, right? Looks like we're getting the expected Beth send off.

And no. Instead the group decides to take Noah home to Virginia. Well that's going to be quite the trek, right? After all it has seemed like a struggle for this group to get anywhere for seasons now. Ten minutes later, Rick and Co. are cruising through Virginia with Noah telling them it's five miles further down the road. I'm all for a change in scenery, but when a line has to be written for a character commenting on the ease of travel perhaps it should have been handled a little differently. Within fifty or so miles of Atlanta they've encountered: a CDC doctor determined to incinerate them all because life isn't worth living, roving herds of walkers, a tyrannical sociopath that kept his turned daughter as a pet, and cannibals. That's just the major stuff; don't forget fuel, food, injuries, shelter and the plethora of other obstacles the group has encountered. Want to be in Virginia? Boom we're in Virginia.

It's all right though, a change in venue is a good thing. No matter how we got there. The group arrives at Noah's community and it's exactly as we knew it would be. Abandoned and crawling with walkers. Glenn, Michonne, and Rick set off to scrounge up some supplies and Noah drags Tyreese to his home to see the horrible fate of his family. This was the point at which the directing of the episode took an odd turn. It started with the blood of a walker slowly pooling into a crack in the sidewalk, then a shot of Tyreese and Noah looking through the front entry to Noah's home from behind them, only Noah's face is hovering over Tyreese's shoulder in a mirror inside. Those were a bit odd, not quite what we've seen before from the show but it's no big deal, I'll roll with it.

Michonne told Rick and Glenn that they need to find somewhere that they can feel safe and settle down. It seemed a bit unrealistic that she would consider this specific community a possibility. There were multiple streets and a huge amount of area for the group to try to secure. Add to that the obvious fact that these people had been attacked here already and I just couldn't believe that this would be the place she'd feel comfortable settling down in. Glenn on the other hand has continued to become more of the type of person that could survive in this world. He's a bit too nihilistic with his belief that nothing matters very much anymore, but he's finally come to terms with the fact that they live in a them or us type of world. This is in direct contrast to the man Tyreese has become, shunning violence at every turn. Tyreese is no longer equipped to survive in the world they live in.

Back over with Tyreese and Noah, Tyreese is exploring the rest of Noah's former abode when a silent walker attacks him. This was a walker that he'd noticed on the other side of a door in the hallway, a walker that had apparently been in that room since he'd turned and not managed to get out. It then stealthily crept up on him. Tyreese notices it at the last second, and still hesitates to defend himself, ending up bitten in the process. What follows the bite is where the episode, for me, really went off the rails. Tyreese hallucinates friends and enemies from his life, all of whom offer some sort of insight into the character he had become. Those scenes were all odd, but the strangest one was a brief moment featuring the Governor with a couple of quickly projected films on the wall behind him. It all felt very out of place in a The Walking Dead episode. I'm sure some will argue that it was a fun, artsy experiment that provided some insight into Tyreese and who he'd become, but I found it distracting. A mad dash for help ensues, but it's all for naught as Tyreese succumbs to his injuries. Then we find out that the grave from the beginning was not for Beth.

Conclusion: “What Happened and What's Going On” suffered from being too heavily directed and too surreal; so much so that it felt like a different show entirely sometimes. The lack of a depiction of mourning for Beth and the sudden ease of travel both felt like strange decisions from the writers. The moments showing us Michonne's desire for a safer, more normal life, and Glenn's resigned acceptance that decency will get them no where were good character moments overshadowed by the rest of the episode.

Rating: 6.5/10