Sunday, June 28, 2015

Saturday WAS Haul Day 49!!

Where was I Saturday, you might ask?  Well, I was powering through the last 8 hours or so of the fantastic The Witcher 3:  Wild Hunt.  Why was I pushing through it when I had other things I could have been doing?  Well aside from it being fantastic and worth finishing, I had something new that was going to demand my attention in the near feature; Rocksteady's Batman: Arkham Knight.

I also picked up a couple of other things.  Coup from Indie Boards & Cards, the makers of The Resistance.  It's another game involving a large group of your friends lying to each other at every turn and promises to be just as much fun.

I also picked up a new Funko Pop! figurine; the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man!  Basically I just saw that face and had to bring it home.  Who could say "No"?

It was a really light comics week, with the only new release from my pull list being Tomb Raider #17 by Rhianna Pratchett and Derlis Santacruz.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Saturday is Haul Day 48!!

All right, I know what you're thinking to yourself, "Did Matt really go and buy a puzzle?  Really?"  As a matter of fact, I sure did.  We were walking through the toy section and this little box caught my eye.  It's from White Mountain Puzzles and features a ton of vintage book covers of best sellers.  Once assembled I think it'll be an interesting bit of decoration, now to figure out how to keep it assembled and framed.

This week in the comic world I picked up several interesting things:  Archie vs. Predator #3 of 4 by Alex de Campi, Fernando Ruiz, Rich Koslowski, and Jason Millet, the conclusion to Vertigo's The Kitchen #8 of 8 by Ollie Masters, Ming Doyle and Jordie Bellaire, Moon Knight #16 by Cullen Bunn, German Peralta, and Dan Brown, Secret Six #3 by Gail Simone, Dan Eaglesham, Drew Geraci, and Jason Wright, and Trees #10 by Warren Ellis and Jason Howard.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Saturday is Haul Day 47!!

I know sound like a broken record at this point, but more frequent reviews are definitely in the future.  It's all The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt's fault.  The articles you see claiming there is 200+ hours of content to make your way through are not exaggerating.

The latest collaboration of Matthew Vaughan and Mark Millar, Kingsman: The Secret Service, was released on Blu-Ray this week.  It was so much fun the first time around that I just had to add it to the collection.  I can't wait to dive into the special features and see if there is a behind the scenes look at the insane melee in which Colin Firth takes out dozens of attackers.

This was a great week for comics too.  Batman #41 by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo, Danny Miki and FCO Plascencia, Constantine:  The Hellblazer #1 by Mike Doyle, James Tynion IV, Riley Rossmo and Ivan Plascensia, Rachel Rising #34 by Terry Moore, Saga #29 by Fiona Staples and Brian K. Vaughan, Secret Wars #3 by Jonathan Hickman, Esad Ribic, and Ive Svorcina, and Spider-Gwen #5 by Jason Latour, Robbi Rodriguez, and Rico Renzi all came home with me.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Game of Thrones: Season 5, Episode 9

Game of Thrones
Episode Title: “The Dance of Dragons”
Channel: HBO
Director: David Nutter
Writers: David Benioff and D.B. Weiss
Genre: Action, Drama, Fantasy
Runtime: 55 min
Rated: TV-MA
Original Air Date: June 7, 2015

After last week's superb episode I had high hopes going in to the ninth episode of this season. The ninth episode is typically where the really big stuff happens in a season of Game of Thrones, and if the thrill that was “Hardhome” was too be any indication, “The Dance of Dragons” was going to be a huge episode. Maybe I had placed expectations that were too high on this episode, or maybe it just failed to live up following “Hardhome.” Either way it just wasn't quite what I was looking for.

Let's begin with Jon's return to Castle Black. After the battle with the White Walkers, Jon had managed to bring a few thousand wildlings to the Wall. The audience was teased for a moment with the idea that First Ranger Thorne would refuse to open the gates, leaving the Lord Commander and his guests to rot on the northern side of the Wall. The tense moment passed and the wildlings were allowed to pass through the gate. There were a lot of hateful glares directed Jon's way, but the passage of the wildlings was allowed to occur without violence. This would be the sole appearance of Jon Snow in the episode, highlighting once again a problem I've had with this season. If a character's time in an episode is limited to a handful of minutes and then not to be seen again in the episode; I would prefer they held off on that character's appearance until there was more to see. There was no need for this scene in “The Dance of Dragons,” Jon's arrival at Castle Black and the consequences of his choices could have waited until next week.

Arya set out to complete her first assignment for the Many-Faced God, but was distracted with Lord Tyrell's group arrived in Braavos. She recognized Ser Meryn Trant immediately and abandoned her assassination of the Thin Man in favor of following Trant around town. The writers saw fit to remind us how bad a guy Trant is with a very uncomfortable scene in a brothel. He rejected a couple of the brothel's women before settling on a young girl. Part of the fun of the previous seasons of Game of Thrones has been the ambiguity surrounding the good or evil nature of its characters. Sure some characters acted in such ways as to cause the audience to dislike them, but beneath the schemes and plots you could see how the character(s) in question could consider themselves the good guy. The unquestionably bad guys have previously seemed evil organically, The Mountain was just a murderous behemoth, Armory Lorch was a sadistic sword for hire; neither of them required reminder scenes reinforcing the level of disdain the audience should have for them. Between Bolton, and now Trant, it seems the audience is being bludgeoned about the head with the writers' desire for us to dislike those characters. I don't know if it's a lack of confidence in their own writing, or in the audience, but it has been too blatant for my tastes. Anyway, Arya reported back to Jaqen that the Thin Man wasn't hungry when she passed by, and that she'd try again the next day. It seems obvious that he would know she's lying, so his motivation for allowing things to play out may be interesting.

Dorne wasn't as bad as it has been this week. Doran Martell argeed to allow Myrcella to return with Jaime to King's Landing, on the condition that Trystane Martell would still be allowed to marry her, and that he would take Oberyn's seat on the King's Small Council. Jaime agreed to the terms, and even managed to get Bronn freed from his cell. Ellaria seems to have dropped the grudge she held against the Lannisters, but her surrender seemed too easy. I expect her to renege on her new sworn fealty to Doran at the next possible moment. I don't believe that her tears when Doran forgave her were due to his kindness, most likely she realized that he had become an obstacle in her way.

Stannis' encampment was attacked in the night, with most of their food stores being destroyed. This made a desperate situation worse. Faced with no options that would allow him victory Stannis made a decision I was sure he would never made. I knew things were going to take a turn for the worst when he sent Davos back to Castle Black to beg for supplies. With the only voice of reason among his confidants removed Stannis gave in to his desire for victory. He had a quiet chat with Shireen, during which she professed her willingness to help in any way she could, and then sentenced her to die on a pyre in sacrifice to the Lord of Light. After so much time had been spent making Stannis a more likable character this season it was surprising he decided his own daughter was an acceptable loss on his way to the throne. All of the goodwill Stannis had accrued from the audience died in the fire with Shireen. Here's to hoping that her cries for help and her pained screams haunt his sleep. While she begged for mercy it was Selyse, Stannis' wife and devout follower of the Lord of Light, who was shaken enough to try to help. By that time it was too late.

Finally, in Meereen, Dany was attending the festive reopening of the fighting pits by viewing the spectacle of men killing each other. Daario verbally sparred with the Queen's soon to be husband in what I though was a good character moment for Daario. Jorah made his appearance and after some hairy moments managed to win his fight. During his fight you could see Dany's stance towards him waver every time he was in danger. Upon his victory she seemed relieved, until Jorah took up a fallen spear and threw it in her direction. It wasn't intended for her though, as it struck an approaching Son of the Harpy. Soon there were dozens of Sons making their way towards the Queen, with a small band of defenders struggling to keep them at bay. Tyrion gave a good showing for himself, killing one of the assailants and saving Missandei in the process in the process. Once again the Unsullied were made to look like the Stormtroopers of Westeros as they proved rather ineffectual in protecting the Queen. When all seemed lost Drogon, aka deus ex dragon, entered the battle. After man spears through Drogon's hide, and even more Sons of the Harpy burnt extra crispy, Dany clambered upon his back and took to the skies.

Conclusion: “The Dance of Dragons” faced a tough task this week, and fell short. If not for how good “Hardhome” was I think my reaction to this episode would have been different. None of that is to say this was a bad episode, it just failed to up the ante the way the ninth episodes of seasons had before.

Rating: 8.5/10

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Saturday WAS Haul Day 46!!

OK, so where have I been this week?  The same place I was last week, playing The Witcher 3 during every free moment I could find.  It's a little frustrating because I feel like I'm probably only a quarter of the way through the game; at the same time every game that a person spends $60 on should provide this much entertainment.

This week I noticed that Target had a bunch of classic (and other, does Peter Jackson's King Kong count as a classic? I think not.) movies on the shelf with interesting new cover art and these metallic cases that I really like.  Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho has been missing from my collection for far too long, so it was time to rectify that.

This week was a rebound week in the comics department, with a lot of fun stuff coming out.  The Bunker #11 by Joshua Hale Fialkov and Joe Infurnari, Darth Vader #6 by Keiron Gillen, Salvador Larroca, and Edgar Delgado, The Empty #4 by Jimmie Robinson, Princess Leia #4 by Mark Waid, Terry Dodson, Rachel Dodson and Jordie Bellaire, Star Wars #6 by Jason Aaron, John Cassaday, and Laura Martin, The Wicked + The Divine #11 by Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, Matthew Wilson and Clayton Cowles, and The Woods #13 by James Tynion IV, Michael Dialynas, and Josan Gonzalez.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Game of Thrones: Season 5, Episode 8

Game of Thrones
Episode Title: “Hardhome”
Channel: HBO
Director: Miguel Sapochnik
Writers: David Benioff and D.B. Weiss
Genre: Action, Drama, Fantasy
Runtime: 55 min
Rated: TV-MA
Original Air Date: May 31, 2015

Let's get the smaller things out of the way first. Sansa confronted Theon over his loyalty to Ramsay. It wasn't the best scene of the episode, but it did allow Sansa to discover that Bran and Rickon are still alive. I'm not sure what the point of revealing this fact to Sansa was; it felt more like a reminder to the audience that Bran is still out there. I understand the motivation behind the reveal in that regard, since Bran has not appeared in this season. What is Sansa supposed to do with this information though? I suppose she can draw on it to find strength, or something some other nebulous thing, but it felt a little clumsily handled and transparent. Also in Winterfell, the Boltons were discussing how best to handle the impending threat of Stannis' army. The elder Bolton was content with staying behind their walls and waiting the assault out, Ramsay on the other hand advocated a raid of some sort on the advancing army. He claimed he'd need only twenty men to hurt Stannis, hopefully setting up the character's downfall in the upcoming episode; episode nine when all of the big stuff happens.

Ceresi is still locked away in a dungeon by the Faith. Apparently they're withholding water from her until she confesses her crimes. When she refused she was beaten. Qyburn showed up and gave her an update on recent events in King's Landing. Her uncle Kevan has returned from Casterly Rock and is serving as the Hand to King Tommen. Tommen has locked himself away in his chambers and refuses to eat or see anyone. Qyburn also revealed that the work he has been doing is progressing well, teasing the audience with whatever was under the sheet we saw in his laboratory. If nothing has changed in that regard from the books readers of the series will know what's in store. I feel like it's a reveal that could go either way. If it's not handled well it could come off as cheesy, otherwise it could serve as a chilling remind of what Ceresi will do to maintain her power. After Qyburn's visit the woman that has been interrogating Ceresi returned with another bucket of water and a ladle. Ceresi continued making threats to the woman, who proceeded to dump the water on the dirty floor of Ceresi's cell. The sight of Ceresi greedily slurping water from the dirty stone felt like she was finally reaping what shes sown, although it was pitiful enough that one could almost feel sorry for her.

Arya's journey to become a Faceless Man has progressed. She has come a long way since the days she couldn't sneak a single lie past Jaquen. She has been spending her time cultivating a character to play while she's out in the city, that of a peddler of mollusks. She changed the path she normally walked at Jaquen's request and met a man named only the Thin Man. When she reported back to Jaquen he explained to her that the Thin Man was to be her first assignment; someone who deserves to face judgment at the hands of the Many Faced God. After making only miniscule jumps forward in her story this season the last two episodes have made me care what's going on with her again.

There was a brief check in with Sam and Gilly at Castle Black. This was another segment of the episode that felt unnecessary. Sam and Gilly briefly discussed how safe they may be in Castle Black before Jon's steward walked in. Their conversation gave Sam a few minutes to assure the audience that Jon knows what he's doing, we just have to trust him. The quick scenes with characters who are doing next to nothing otherwise that have been so prevalent this season are interrupting the flow of the episodes they appear in. Nearly every one of them have been for the audience's benefit and not the story's.

Tyrion and Dany finally had their sit down moment. Tyrion successfully convinced her to spare Jorah's life, but didn't save him from banishment. Once Tyrion and Daenerys got into a one on one setting things really picked up. He tried to convince her of the futility of her return to Westeros, claiming that no one would side with her. She retorted by explaining that she didn't want the support of the ruling families in Westeros, she wants to completely break the system of governance and remake it in a way that's more fair to the common folk. It'll be interesting to see if Tyrion can convince her that her goals are unrealistic, or if he'll come around to her way of thinking. Tyrion seems too pragmatic a man to think that the leading families of his homeland would be so easily overthrown.

Nearly the entire last half of the episode deal with Jon's mission to Hardhome to convince has many of the free folk has possible to travel south and seek refuge on the southern side of the Wall. He and Tormund arrived to a chilly reception, but managed to convince some of the clan elders to come with them. They began loading noncombatants on to boats to take back to the waiting ships. Before the evacuation could be completed the earth began to shake and clouds of ice and snow began pouring down the surrounding mountainsides. I was sure that this was where we'd leave the story for this week, leaving the threat to make its actual appearance in next week's episode. You know, the episode that we've grown so accustomed to looking at for all of the action.

Alas, I was pleasantly surprised. What followed was an all out attack by the forces of the White Walkers, reanimated corpses that move much faster than the last time we saw them. I'm going to assume that their new found speed stems from the Walkers' power growing. Jon, the men of the Night's Watch that accompanied him on the journey, and the fighters of the wildlings fought desperately to allow as many people to flee as possible. After attempting to reacquire the pouch of dragonglass he'd brought to the meeting Jon met one of the Walkers in single combat. He won the fight and managed to escape on the last boat leaving Hardhome. He and the apparent leader of the White Walkers engaged in a staring battle, during which the Walker raised all of the dead that had been left behind. With the numbers of the dead army increased following the battle things look bleak for those south of the Wall.

Conclusion: The writers surprised us with an epic battle in the eighth episode of the season. The story lines that received the bulk of the time were all served well by “Hardhome.” Although they weren't as distracting as they have been, the one off scenes following characters doing very little at the time were still present, and still obviously there only to remind the audience of things they might've forgotten. I chuckled a bit when the animated skeletons of the dead army reminded me of the stop-motion skeletons in Army of Darkness.

Rating: 9/10