Somewhat like old home week, the gang is finally all back together.  Skye has returned and with Ward’s inclusion last week our original cast of characters is now all together back on the boat … one thing that needs to be said though is that WOW have they changed.  Skye once a bit of a loner is now truly at home with her teammates, Fitz and Simmons with their on again / off again relationship/friendship (who knows what ship) are still just as confused – perhaps even more so and May … once the mother of the group to Coulson‘s dad is now possibly considering a divorce!

The elephant though … well that’s Ward really isn’t it?  Who he has become and what he’s done to those he considered his friends … this was his opportunity to really apologize and perhaps start working towards that redemption he seems to so desperately need.  The team (including us) would never give it to him – his actions go definitely beyond the pail, but unfortunately Ward’s apology really shows a lack of maturity and a true understanding of the pain and anguish that he has caused his supposed friends.

When Mack apologized to Hunter – it was meaningful … you could see the tears in his eyes (I know this was acting, but it was believable) but perhaps most importantly he said the right words:

I still believe in what I do, but I never meant for you to get hurt and I’m sorry for that and I’ll try to make it up to you in any way that I can.

Ward by contrast however blames all of his actions on how he was brought up, the abuses he suffered at the hands of his family etc… he refuses to take any ownership for his actions and his sociopathic tendencies and while it seems he’s trying to do the right thing by Kara (Agent 33) he’s unable to translate these actions into the necessary changes he’d need to make in himself.  While Ward seems to desperately want to be a hero again – he cannot redeem himself, truly redeem himself until he acknowledges and atones for his previous actions and shows true remorse.  Right now his only regrets seem to be that he and the team had “good times”

Whereas Captain America: The Winter Soldier had S.H.I.E.L.D being impacted greatly by the events of that movie and us literally being caught blindsided, this time S.H.I.E.L.D is providing us with some foreshadowing by way of Raina and her gifts and while I personally wasn’t that impressed with this (I’ll explain more later) it was to be expected.

Episode Recap

OK lets get down to the nitty gritty as there was quite a bit of stuff that happened in this episode including a tie in for the the upcoming Avengers Movie also (as previously mentioned).

*** Spoilers below ***

With the return of Cal and Skye to the Afterlife, Cal literally explodes (verbally) and lets the cat out of the bag in regards to Skye’s parentage.  If you recall from a previous episode Jianying wanted to keep this secret so I’m sure this is going to come back and bite her quite badly.  Skye wants to immediately attempt a rescue of Lincoln, but when Gordon initially attempts to do so himself he is accosted by Hydra agents and almost captured.  With Raina’s “influence” based on her visions, Skye has herself teleported to the bus prior to Coulson and the rest of the gang initiating their rescue attempt.

Coulson as just mentioned has managed to persuade Gonzales of the value of conducting a rescue operation to recover Mike Peterson (Deathlok) and also the unnamed powered individual (Lincoln) that H.Y.D.R.A is experimenting on.  While his apparent surrender to Gonzales at the end of the previous episode might have put him into Gonzales’ “power” it is quite apparent that Coulson can literally run circles around him.  His comments to Hill that Gonzales has a committee that actually vote on decisions shows the true derision that he feels for Gonzales.  The sad fact is that a leader is someone willing to make those difficult decisions and deal with the consequences of them both positive and negative and unfortunately as much as I like the Edward James Olmos – Gonzales is not a leader.  He is not the director of S.H.I.E.L.D.  OK, I’ll get off my soapbox now and get back to the recap! 🙂

Coulson gathers together the rest of the gang and with Skye’s return to the bus thanks to Gordon, they set off on an apparent suicide mission to infiltrate the H.Y.D.R.A base.  When H.Y.D.R.A detects the bus even thought is cloaked and fires two missiles apparently destroying it … our thoughts immediately go to the team … well, no, not really – we all knew they were fine didn’t we?  Anyways, it turns out that they were in a quinjet inside the bus and they actually used the wreckage of the bus as camouflage to sneak down.  Bakshi it seems has continued to keep them informed and they well knew the capabilities of the base prior to planning their assault.  Once they are able to obtain ingress to the base they actually meet up with Bakshi and split up into three separate teams with Skye/Ward and Bakshi on the rescue team.  While Skye initially uses her powers (which she seems to be gaining control of exponentially) to disable some H.Y.D.R.A agents, she really kicks ass in an action sequence that is up there with the May vs. May fight from Face my Enemy.  Kevin Tancharoen has directed several episodes this season, and once again he really raised the bar for action on this series when he staged an intricate sequence showing what Skye is capable of not just with a weapon but also with her body and the surroundings.  I can’t really speak highly enough if this sequence and I definitely want to see more of Skye kicking butt not just with her powers, but also good old fashioned hand-to-hand as this episode shows she’s definitely got the goods and the abilities to allow her to hold her own.

Coulson meanwhile leads Fitz and May on a separate mission to disable the anti-aircraft defenses that H.Y.D.R.A has in place so that S.H.I.E.L.D can send in some jets to destroy the base.  While Fitz is hacking the defenses however, Coulson seems to have another reason for being there – rescuing Deathlok and Lincoln it seems is simply a cover and a way for him to access the base.  In a similar sequence to what we saw with the Widow and the Captain from Winter Soldier, Coulson manages to obtain access to some information while May holds of the attacking H.Y.D.R.A agents.  May however is less than pleased at learning of this subterfuge and continues to push Coulson to come clean with her on all of the different secrets he’s holding very close to his chest.

Simmons similarly however had her own reasons for deciding to join the rescue attempt and while her attempt on Wards life fails she does kill Bakshi.  While I can understand Simmons’ need to avenge herself on Ward, I really feel that she is becoming more and more unhinged herself and if she’s not careful could end up just as damaged as he is!  Jemma is not a killer. I think she’s falling apart so quickly she doesn’t know how to stop it. So much hurt, pain… She can’t deal with it alone. That’s why I really hope she confesses everything to Fitz (including Bankshi’s death and I’m afraid of how is he going to react).

Returning to the base, Coulson hands over the cube but not before letting slip that Fury is still alive.  While Gonzales’ might think Coulson isn’t the Director, a phone call from Agent Hill demonstrates quite clearly that there are many others who believe the opposite.  While speaking to Hill, Coulson provides her with the information that he’d stolen from H.Y.D.R.A – the location of Loki’s scepter – and also informs her that they need to call the Avengers again.

Review

From the point of view of tying up a bunch of loose ends this episode absolutely delivered and I know I’m probably in the minority in my one gripe, but since this is my post I can state it anyways!  While I absolutely was expecting the fact that they’d somehow allude to the upcoming movie in S.H.I.E.L.D I hate the fact that they had to do it.  I know that they (the MCU) are all interconnected and I loved what changed in S.H.I.E.L.D after the events of Winter Soldier, but this “plug” for Age of Ultron felt like nothing more than that … an attempt to get more bums in seats.  Winter Soldier took me by surprise and the whole S.H.I.E.L.D v.s. H.Y.D.R.A impact along with the changes to some beloved characters … that was good storytelling.  This – well we’ve all seen the trailers for weeks if not months with Ultron … we know that these are the metal men that Raina is referring to and unfortunately as much as I enjoy Raina’s character and her thorny new look, her clairvoyance feels too much like a convenient plot device to put certain pieces in place.  The impact just isn’t there for these pronouncements which is really sad as the last 5 minutes of the episode removed some of the awesomeness that I felt in the rest of the episode.  I absolutely know and realize that the whole MCU is interconnected – I honestly do get that – maybe its just Raina.  It’s probably just me. 🙂

Coulson has kept the secret of the Theta Protocol close to the vest as the director of S.H.I.E.L.D., refusing to reveal what it means even to Agent Melinda May (Ming Na Wen). In “The Dirty Half Dozen” Coulson finally lets slip what this protocol entails while speaking to Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders): the Avengers as mentioned below and while I wasn’t too keen on how this was tied into the show, I am very curious to see what happens next week post Ultron and how that impacts S.H.I.E.L.D and the team.  While Ward is absolutely not redeemed (thankfully), the question is of course is his actions on/for Kara as genuine as he is making them out to be, or is he still playing another con, this time with her inside S.H.I.E.L.D?

By this point you’ve probably already seen the trailers for the upcoming Avengers: Age of Ultron.  If not you can find one of them at this link.  Something else that might interest you however is an overall cinematic for the MCU as presented in the video below.  I found it quite interesting and hopefully you will too!

Stargate … at one point, it seemed to be on all the time with reruns of SG1 and live episodes of Atlantis appearing regularly on TV it seemed to be the logical inheritor of the Star Trek mantle and it did it with flair (by the way have I mentioned that there seems to be a StarGate on the M6 on the way to the Lake District in the UK?). Then it all ended and there was no SciFi show on TV for almost 1-2 yrs … bit of a withdrawal to be honest for me. Battle Star Galactica came on and things were right with the world again … then Stargate Universe was announced and my “cup runneth over!”

 

Stargate Universe was supposed to be a “dark” version of Stargate, similar to BSG in an attempt to revive the franchise (which I must admit was slightly flagging for me also near the end of Stargate Atlantis) … however while it started out with a “bang” (literally in fact as the way in which the team transferred to the Destiny was via an exploding planet!) it really flagged in the middle and only started to pick up near the end of the season. To some extent, Stargate Universe followed the same model as previous versions – a small team that was in the middle of most stories, consisting of military (Lieutenant Scott – a young soldier, Sergeant Greer, Colonel Young – the head of the operation) and civilians (Dr. Rush – the scientist in charge, Eli – a genius kid, Chloe – a senator’s daughter & Camile Wray – a member of the International Oversight Committee), the sense of camaraderie is definitely not there as conflict abounds between the two groups that are forced together in such close proximity.

You would think that this conflict would be interesting … but unfortunately it really isn’t. Personally I would much prefer if the two groups would realize that they are alone – literally millions and billions of miles away from the rest of the human race and it would just make sense to work together! Throughout the show, the characters are trying to survive daily life on the ship, figure out where it’s going, find a way back home, and fight off the occasional bad guys …so its really not rocket science to realize that success is best achieved by working together …

A brief recap of the season is basically as follows:

Episodes 1- 4 or 5 … try to figure out where they are and how the ship works (by the way, the communication stones – really dumb – being able to communicate from literally one end of the Universe to another is stupid. The team on the Destiny should have been left to fend for themselves versus being able to “call home” … while the point is obviously to try to show the characters as they deal with their home lives, it only takes away from the real story which is the situation on the ship).

 

Instead of dealing with the actual issue though, the standard formula is too often followed where the show too often simply puts them in threatening scenarios, tries to convince the viewer that there’s no way they’ll escape, and eventually finds some way to get them out relatively unharmed. Some of the episodes that perpetrated this too a very great degree are “Water”, “Space” and “Lost” … to really give you a feeling of how frustrating this is/was … in Lost, some of the crew are trapped on a planet and while rushing to get back to the Destiny they just miss it before it makes its jump out of the galaxy and out of reach. In “Sabotage” – the next episode in the series, the Destiny suffers a malfunction and the stranded crew members are able to gate back on board just before it makes its jump. One other major complaint that I have is while Stargate Universe introduces a new alien race:

  • They are still bipedal … there have to be other forms of life out there that aren’t symmetrical … I’d love to see them!
  • Even worse though … they don’t really do anything! While they managed to capture several members of the crew (Rush and Chloe), both are able to escape without too much trouble (in fact, in Rush’s case, it is his way back to the ship after being stranded by Colonel Young!) and they seem to be pretty much useless for anything else!

In fact the “villains” in Stargate Universe after being all the way on the other end of the universe … are … humans! Come on, this was the perfect chance to introduce some sort of new super race. I mean in the beginning of Atlantis the Wraith were actually villains worth the name! Here’s hoping that when Stargate Universe returns for its next season it actually has learned from its mistakes and while it left several members of its crew in jeopardy … unfortunately, chances are good that they will all survive!Enhanced by Zemanta

It’s been a while since I’ve had the opportunity of visiting our friends in Storybrooke, but I’ll try to catch you all quickly over the coming months so that we’re reasonably up to date by the next season.  If you’ve never seen this show before, allow me to give you a (very brief) recap of what’s going on.  You could also read my previous posts which give  you quite a bit more detail at these links – (EP1) Pilot, (EP2) The Thing you love most, (EP3) Snow Falls.  Once Upon a Time is an episodic television show where we are generally introduced to new characters and story’s each week – the twist with this show however is that these characters story’s are told from the point of view of where they are now in Storybrooke, Maine AND ALSO who they were before in a fairytale world.  You see an Evil Queen (the Mayor of Storybrooke) has taken all of our favorite story book characters to a new land without magic… Storybrooke, Maine!  Here all of our hero’s and villains live a normal life with no memory of who they were or where they came from.  Into this land comes Emma Swan as the Savior.  The hero that will defeat the Evil Queen and return these characters of legend to the land they truly call home.

In the fourth episode we’re introduced to another “throwaway” character.  Unfortunately as I’ve mentioned earlier most episodes so far introduce new characters and story’s but as you can imagine this would quickly get unwieldy with hundreds of different characters running around so quite often the characters that a story is based around are seen only once – they do still serve a purpose in helping to drive the underlying story (Emma as the savior) forward and while some episodes do feel like “filler” episodes, there are generally 1 or 2 different things that are definitely worth noting.  In The Price of Gold, we’re introduced to a young pregnant woman (Jessy Schram) in Storybrooke.  It seems that her paramour and the father of her child left her when he found out that she was pregnant leaving her to have and look after the child on her own.  Emma meets her while doing her laundry and helps her realize that she shouldn’t feel sorry for herself and that giving up the child would be a mistake.  She explains a similar mistake that she herself made – with Henry – and the constant regret that this caused her.  In the Enchanted Forest, Cinderella (“Ella”) is about to receive a wish from her fairy godmother, but the godmother is killed first by Rumpelstiltskin (Robert Carlyle) and robbed of her wand. He grants Ella (Jessy Schram) her wish to escape her home, but in return requires her to sign a contract. Rumpelstiltskin transforms Ella into an elegant woman complete with glass slippers, warning her that all magic has a price.  One thing you will learn is that Rumple is a constant in the show and while he’s meant to be one of the baddies – he is simply too delightful as a character to really despise and he really is awesome and amazing!

As the story progresses we learn that in Storybrooke, the girl (Ashley) had offered her baby up to Gold (Rumplestiltskin).  After Emma’s speech to her however she realizes that doing this would be a significant mistake and breaks into Gold’s office to steal the contract that she signed with him.  Gold however catches her in the act and while she’s able to knock him out and escape, he knows that she’s taken the contract and enlists Emma’s help to find “an item of value”.  Similarly in the Enchanted Forest, Rumplestiltskin approaches Ella (Cinderlla) at her gala wedding ball.  He tells her that the price of  his help is that she needs to give him her firstborn child.  When Ella tells Thomas (her husband) about this deal, they enlist the help of Charming, Grumpy and the Blue Fairy to trick Rumple by offering him a “new deal”.  The new deal would be for Ella’s twin children in exchange for Rumple also helping improve the crops and wealth of the kingdom. A skeptical Rumpelstiltskin agrees, but as he signs the contract, he is rendered powerless due to a special red quill pen, that was created by The Blue Fairy. He is captured, but Thomas disappears soon after. Ella demands that Rumpelstiltskin tell her what has happened, but he claims not to have done anything. He reminds her that all magic has a price, and that until her debt is paid she will never see Thomas again.

Back in Storybrooke, Emma finds out that Ashley’s boyfriend – Sean – actually didn’t even know he was going to be a father and in fact it was his father that had negotiated the deal with Gold in the first place.  Sean’s father didn’t think that Ashley was suitable for his son and has forced him not to get involved with her.  Unable to persuade Sean to help her, Emma realizes that Ashley has stolen Ruby’s car and is attempting to escape Storybrooke.  However as we learned in an earlier episode, if any of the characters from the Enchanted Forest attempt to leave they will die – fortunately near the town lines, Emma and Henry find Ashley’s car crashed, with Ashley about to deliver the baby.

Emma gets Ashley to the hospital in time for her to give birth to a beautiful baby girl.  As Gold tries to take the child away Emma makes him realize that no court would authorize a contract for sale of a child and Gold could be in severe legal trouble.  Mr. Gold then offers a deal for Emma in which he’ll give up his questionable claim to the child and in return, Emma will owe him a favor. Emma agrees. After she leaves, Sean shows up to see his child, and they name the girl Alexandra. The episode ends with Emma agreeing to become Graham’s deputy.

Review

I guess as mentioned at the start, this episode is one of the throw away ones … while Ella and Thomas do appear a couple more times they actually aren’t really key characters in the story and aren’t ones that you’re really going to become too invested in.  Perhaps the most interesting part of this episode is the magic ink that can incapacitate Gold/Rumplestiltskin … this will play a factor in future episodes and is worth remembering.

 

I went into the fourth installment in the Transformers movie franchise, “Transformers: Age Of Extinction” (AOS) as a Michael Bay Transformers movie veteran. Gone was the awe and childlike wonder of seeing the heroes of my youth recreated on screen in all of their majestic, high-definition glory. Long gone was the hope of experiencing a transcendent sci-fi movie that could do for this toy franchise what “Guardians Of The Galaxy” did for Marvel’s D-list group of space adventurers. As I apathetically strolled into the movie with my expectations set lower than an ants scrotum, I found Transformers: AOS to be a decent, if unspectacular experience.

“AOS” takes place five years after the previous film (Transformers: Dark of the Moon). In the aftermath from the destruction of Chicago, the American government has taken up a zero tolerance stance against both Autobots and Decepticons, driving each side into hiding. Much like the previous films, the emotional core of the movie centers around a group of human characters whose lives get thrown into disarray with the arrival of the Autobots. The leader of this film’s unlucky band of schmoes is Cade Yaeger (Mark Wahlberg). Cade is a down on his luck engineer whose creations always seem to be one Lannister twin shy of an incestuous hook up. Cade spends his days and nights tinkering away in his barn/ ramshackle lab so that his sheltered teen-age daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz) can have a life free of the mistakes that ensnared him in his youth. Cade’s latest endeavour involves him unknowingly bringing home a dilapidated autobot fugitive (Optimus Prime), in turn attracting the wrath of a covert government agency which is in cahoots with a tech company that is reverse engineering fallen Transformers to be used as military weapons. Chaos ensues.

AOE begins to feel less like its own movie and more like a 2 and a half hour, Transformers greatest hits montage. Bay seems to be playing it safe when he resorts back to his old tricks such as throwing in an actor who common sense would say should be too good to star in this movie (formerly John Malkovich, insert Stanley Tucci), a dreamy rebel with zero personality (formerly Josh Duhamel, insert Shane Dyson) and some low brow humor that’s probably going to fly over the heads of the movies target audience (formerly Sam’s parents discussing masturbation, insert jokes about Cade’s jailbait daughter). To be fair, at this point I was not going into Michael Bay’s Transformers movies seeking deep characterizations, witty banter and possibly the meaning of life (42). We go to Michael Bay Transformers movies to see him blow shit up, because he blows shit up REAL GOOD.

The  visual effects and attention to detail on display in AOE is far ahead of the previous films. In earlier movies, AutoBots and Decpticons entwined in battle were almost indecipherable. In AOE, as the Transformers plow their hulking frames through traffic, you can make out tiny flailing humans, ejected from their cars and hurtling through the air amidst the carnage. With so much going on all over the screen I found myself suffering from adrenal fatigue long before the movie reached its climax. By the time an evil alien spaceship’s death magnet launched into its vicious assault by lifting cars, boats, buses and even giant robot dinosaur Transformers (WTF?) and violently plunging them back down toward the earth, the only observation that my shell-shocked mind could muster was, “well that’s certainly cool”. At 165-minutes, this film may demand a little too much focusing on one thing for today’s ADHD generation to handle.

I suspect that in order to find acceptance, one of the most difficult hurdles this film must conquer is viewer expectation. In 2014, the movie-going public is more savvy than ever, and a Hollywood blockbuster film with “4” in the title definitely screams cash grab. We know going in that Transformers 5 is already in pre-production. Perceptive fans are blissfully aware that producers had Sue Yueming (Bingbing Li) written into the film just so that they can slap her image on the foreign movie posters in order to sell more tickets in China. Knowing that the third act of the film takes place in China because the Chinese are Hollywood’s largest foreign market makes the audience feel as though this film is not even pretending to do anything but grab our hard-earned cash. None of us wants to step right up and be the poor rube suckered in by the Carney’s promises of the times of our lives. Once the audience begins to understand the techniques that the greedy studios use to get their hands into their pockets it becomes difficult for them to see certain films as having a single iota of artistic merit. The thing is that making movies is arduous, problematic and expensive. It takes teams of extremely talented people, busting their asses for thousands of hours to get a film through all the stages of production. There are so many points in which the process can so easily go wrong and when it does go wrong, the results are often horrible. Big budget summer blockbuster, set piece laden cinema is an art form and one of Michael Bay’s worst offence’s is making it look easy.

Given the option of going to the theatre to experience a “romantic dramedy”or alien car robots punching each other in the face, I’ll take the extraterrestrial fisticuffs every time. AOE never disappointed me, not because it was great but because my expectations were set pessimistically low and that is not necessarily a bad mindset to use to approach certain types of movies. Some days, I need a movie to make me laugh, some days I need a movie to make me question the world around me and then some days, seeing a movie featuring live-action versions of the toys from my youth engaging in well-choreographed nonsense is Exactly what I need.

The world has been covered with forest overnight. In London, Clara and Danny are babysitting a Coal Hill ‘Gifted and Talented’ student sleepover at The Zoological Museum. One of the students, Maebh, gets separated from the group and finds her way to the TARDIS parked in a leafy Trafalgar Square. The Doctor and Clara talk by phone and she and Danny take the children to the TARDIS, by which time Maebh has wandered off. On finding out Maebh has been medicated after her sister went missing, The Doctor deduces that the voices in her head were trees communicating with her.

The Doctor, Clara, Danny and the Coal Hill kids, nicknamed ‘Gifted and Talented’ as a euphemism for behavioural difficulties, follow Maebh’s gingerbread trail of personal items, encountering COBRA burning through the trees and escaped zoo animals. Upon finding Maebh and using her to communicate with miniscule bug-like creatures in the air, The Doctor concludes that the earth will be hit by a solar flare. Clara lets The Doctor leave but he returns, realising trees are protecting the earth from the flare, and sends global text messages to stop humans harming them. The trees save the earth and Maebh’s sister returns.

The Doctor Who debut of Slumdog Millionaire author Frank Cottrell Boyce was awaited with some anticipation (more than Neil Gaiman by those not as devoted to fantasy) and, at least on a conceptual level, he didn’t disappoint. The spectacle of a forest growing over London, not unlike the transformation of England into a green and pleasant land in the 2012 Olympics opening written by Boyce, is certainly breath-taking. However, the fairytale origin story has been worked over so many times in Doctor Who since Moffat took over, even Boyce’s notable intervention begins to feel like it’s flogging a dead unicorn.

Of all the Coal Hill episodes, however, ‘In the Forest of the Night’ is the only one that looks at each of the students individually and might actually have some educational value for children who are watching. As you would expect from Boyce, the episode is very sharply written with a dry sarcasm that prevents this family-friendly modern-day fairytale from becoming too cutesy. For a programme with such a strong international appeal, it’s good to see an episode that is unapologetically British in its tone, references and imagery. That said, some of the science-fiction elements are handled a little sketchily.

What this episode has that others in this season do not is a use for Danny. He’s seamlessly integrated into the story and plays a crucial part in the action. However, the revelation that Danny will not travel in the TARDIS seems like being different for difference’s sake. The writing clutches at straws to call-back to previous episodes such as ‘Time Heist’ and ‘Robot of Sherwood’ but these allusions seem tacked on, apart from The Doctor’s absenteeism in ‘Kill The Moon’. We see Missy watching via tablet once again, but with the same imbalance of tease to information as before.

At last, we start to get somewhere with the triangle of mistrust involving The Doctor, Clara and Danny. Boyce called upon his experience as a soap opera writer to find a way for Danny to discover Clara’s secret about travelling with The Doctor (via dated exercise books) and put a rather laboured story point to bed. We get more of the tension between The Doctor and Danny, and a nice inversion of The Doctor’s usual Superman act as Clara saves him from saving the earth. Peter Capaldi’s fustiness with the children is a marked contrast with Matt Smith’s infantile empathy.

I wouldn’t want ‘In the Forest of the Night’ to be forgotten like the earth-saving trees, but it seems a highly unnecessary addition to the litany of fairytale-themed Doctor Who episodes that Moffat has made his speciality since becoming showrunner. Many of the same ideas were explored in ‘Robot of Sherwood’ only 7 episodes previously. Perhaps Moffat needs to instigate the spreadsheets that Rod Serling used on The Twilight Zone to make sure there weren’t too many of the same genre of episode each season. It is, however, a much-needed vindication of Danny’s relevance to the series and the decision to set much of this season at Coal Hill School. It would help if Boyce returned to write another episode that wasn’t so overdone nor so indebted to the cultural patriotism of the London Olympics. It remains one of the quaintest visions of a post-apocalyptic society that you’ll ever see.

This year’s Eisner award nominees were announced earlier this week which got me thinking.if you’re unfamiliar with what the Eisner awards are, think of them as the comic book version of the Oscars. Named after the great Will Eisner who famously wrote The Spirit for several years.  Here is this year’s full list of nominees if you’re curious click here.

 

One thing I noticed is how much more quality comics material there is out there and how much more scarce it is to find A DC or Marvel comic among the major categories I guess, much like the Oscars, these awards are meant to honor lesser known books. I do remember a time when the Eisner awards were chock full of DC & Marvel representation. So I figured that this is a prime opportunity to list some of my favorite non Dc/Marvel stories so that you may seek them out. I will be listing several Vertigo books that I realize are owned by DC but I’m not counting them as DC. Let’s kick off with part one!

100 Bullets ( Vertigo) By Brian Azzarello & Eduardo Risso.

Winner of thee Eisner awards including Best ongoing series, Best Artist & Best Serialized Story.Instantly hooky and addictive. It’s crime noir meets Twilight Zone with a dash of government conspiracy in it. The premise is simple. What if you had the power to take your life back and get revenge on the person or persons who ruined your life, consequence free?  Would you do it? What if a man showed up and knew your entire life’s story and gave you a suitcase with an unregistered gun and 100 untraceable bullets? How about then? That is how every new story begins. Intriguing isn’t it? That mysterious man is Agent Graves and the less you know about him the better. Brian Azzarello made his name with this project and eventually got to write in the DC and Marvel sandbox. Eduardo Risso was the primary artist and you might call him the modern day Alex Toth. The series ran, fittingly enough, for 100 issues.

Pride Of Baghdad ( Vertigo) By Brian K. Vaughn & Niko Henrichon

Gut wrenching and beautiful is how I would describe this one. Brian K . Vaughn is no stranger to the Eisner’s , having won multiple times for other things but I find that this tale often gets overlooked. It serves as a fictionalized account of a true story about a pride of Lions escaping a  zoo in Baghdad. After a major bombing they must deal with their new surroundings and fight for their lives. It has wonderful character moments and it doesn’t shy away from the harsh realities. You can basically treat them as  anthropomorphic animals who share their thoughts and feelings like any human would. Niko Henrichon exquisitely illustrates the hell out of this one. A real page turned that is impossible to put down once you start. Not for the faint of heart but a must read nonetheless.

The Maxx ( Image) By Sam Kieth & William Messner-Loebs

If you’re looking for something a little out there, then step right up to the Maxx. Weird is the appropriate word, but it’s the kind of weird you can’t help but be intrigued by. You want to know more and you constantly seek to try and comprehend this chaotic world. in a nutshell it’s a tale of two characters and two realities. The real world and the unconscious world known as The Outback. The Maxx and Julie are the two characters that share a link into both those worlds. I’m not quite sure “what” Maxx really is. They refer to him as a man but he doesn’t exactly share the traits of a typical man or human for that matter. It’s an intriguing book that looks wonderfully dark thanks to Sam Kieth’s unique art style. The subject matter can be intense at times dealing with things like rape trauma and repressed memories. A real head scratcher at times but well worth the journey. IDW is the current comic company reprinting these classic tales so you’re in luck!

Robocop – Revolution ( Dynamite) By Rob Williams & Fabiano Neves

If you’re looking for something more familiar, then look no further than this underrated gem. If you watched the cult classic film and loved it, you’ll like this. This story is the only version of any medium that does the original Robocop justice, as far as I’m concerned. It takes place directly after the end of the first film and it actually adds layers to the original story. Don’t worry, It keeps the satire and violence that made the film what it was as well,It reads very well and the art is thoughtfully done which begs the question as to why more people didn’t embrace this story more? Then again a lot of critcs and fans didn’t embrace Blade Runner when it dame out either. Robocop ran for only seven issues but it deserved much more. The great thing is that you can enjoy it without having to be a huge Robocop fan. Nevertheless,if you are looking for something that harkens back to the original then check this out.

Astro City ( Image) By Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson & Alex Ross

Astro City started out at Image then bounced over to Wildstrom and now has resurrected in a new series for Vertigo. An Eisner Awards titan winning 12 awards including best writer, best cover artist, best new series, best ongoing series, best single issue story, & best serialized story. It’s also nominated this year for best single issue story. Clearly well respected in the industry. The unique thing about it is that it still exists in the superhero world and it relishes it. Busiek really sought out to explore other dimensions within that world and make the best out of it. It’s really about life around and among superheroes. The focus at first was on establishing the world and the characters in a single issue format. Eventually they had longer arcs which were fantastic as well. Busiek and Ross created what were essentially parodies of many of the most recognizable heroes we know. The Samaritan is essentially Superman, The Confessor being Batman and Winged Victory serving as a kind of Wonder Woman. That’s only the Trinity. We have several more. The first issue is a wonderful story that is simply about The Samaritan having the same dream every night where he is flying. Sure he flys all the time, but he does so in moments of extreme pressure and danger. He never really gets to enjoy this fantastical feat. Another great issue deals with a super villain pulling off the greatest heist ever but not receiving the credit for it. On top of great story telling we are treated with the lush beautiful covers of Alex Ross! I urge you to stop by Asto City and enjoy your stay.

This concludes part one. Stay tuned for part two!

I’ve read most everything that Brandon Sanderson has published now including the two newest Wheel of Time books (reviews here & here), his Mistborn series (reviewed here), his newest Magnum Opus – The Way of Kings (reviewed here) and finally most recently Warbreaker. Eventually I will get to the Elantris series also and will post my thoughts on that one too.

Below I’ll describe the story a little bit as well as the magic system in use in this land/world but simply put … I like Sanderson’s writing. It appeals to me and is easy to read and enjoy. You like his characters and empathize with them in the story which I think is essential for any good author and as we’ve seen in some of Sanderson’s works, he’s not just good … “he’s great!” (as you can tell I’ve had my Frosted Flakes this morning so I’m just channeling my inner Tony the Tiger!).

Basic Story

Warbreaker is basically the story of a land riven in twain by a brutal war fought generations ago. During the course of that war magic was used to animate the undead themselves and it was only through the work of one man that the war was averted.

Instructing the priests of that time that they needed to retain his power for his use in a future time, he departed taking his army with him and was never heard from again. However the land that remained behind was not as it was earlier and the ruling class were exiled to another land.

The Kings and Queens in exile settled in the land of Idris and here they developed and grew a stringent culture, with the emphasis that the magic that had deposed them was not to be used by their people.

The people and priests of Hallendren however went a different way. In combination with the magic that people are able to utilize (explained further below), “people” were returned after their death to this world. The people of Hallendren worshiped these “returnees” as gods and fed them breath (explained below) to sustain them and give them power in exchange for their visions and knowledge of what was on the other side of the veil. Basically as per the mythology the returnees have come back because the saw “something” on the other side and they need to help/prevent whatever will happen. A whole pantheon of gods were thus “born” and maintained in comfort and splendor in Hallendren. The leader of this pantheon was a God King who received 2 breaths every week – 1 to sustain and one to further empower him. These God Kings had also bequethed their abundance of breath to each of their decendants over the years leaving the current God King with a monsterous amount of power.

Conflict is a brewing however between the peoples of Idris and Hallendren. The people of Idris feel themselves to be the deposed rightful rules of the land, whereas the Hallendren think of them as simple rebels needing to be deposed of. Our story starts with the travel to Hallendren from Idris of a royal princess, fated to marry the God King by treaty in an effort to avert the war that all know is inevitable.

The People

Warbreaker actually has quite a large cast of characters involved in the story, however there are a couple of “main” characters that really drive the story along.

Siri –

A princess of Idris, Siri is the youngest daughter of the King of that land. As per the treaty between Idris and Hallendren, a daughter of the royal line is required to go to hallendren to marry the God King and thereby legitamize the changes in rulership since the Manywar. Siri was actually not the princess that was meant to go, rather it was her older sister Vivenna that was to be God Kings bride, however the King of Idris could not bear to part with Vivenna and thought that he could finagle the contract between the realms by sending Siri instead. Siri is a very flighty young girl at the beginning of th book but she gradually grows up and learns that not everything in Hallendren is what it seems.

Vivenna –

Siri’s older sister, Vivenna was trained since birth to be the God Kings wife and to represent the interests of Idris in the land of Hallendren. However as it grew close to the time of her departure, her father realized that he could not bear to part with her and sent Siri in her stead. Vivenna deprived of her lifelong purpose set off in pursuit of Siri with the intent of rescuing her from Hallendren and returning her to her home and safety.

Lightsong –

One of the returned Gods, Lightsong is a god that does not believe in his own divinity and is constantly challenging his priests. Lightsong has visions of an epic battle and deaths amongst the Gods themselves and while he is known as Lightsong the Brave, he has neither the skill or inclination to prove this bravery in any way. Lightsong is one of 4 Gods granted the power to control the army of Lifeless that hallendren control.

Denth –

A mysterious character, Denth is a mercenary in the city of Hallendren. Vivenna utilizes his skills and contacts in order to forment rebellion amongst the local Idris people living in the slums of Hallendren. Denth is extremely well skilled with a sword and very knowledable about the power of Awakening, its use and limitations.

Vasher –

Probably one of the most interesting characters of the story, Vasher unfortunately gets limited page time, however when he shows up, generally all hell breaks lose! Vasher carries with him a magical sword – Nightblood – that definitely seems to have a mind of its own and he is opposed to Denth and whatever it is Denth is doing. Vasher is extremely well skilled in the use of Breath and Awakening and some of the commands he is able to utilze seem to be impossible.

The Science of the Magic

Breath literally is life in this world – the Returned Gods need a new breath each week simply to survive and as regular humans acquire breath their power expands also. A person can “trade” their breath to another and while it needs to be voluntary for those with little or no other options, sometimes this is the only option to survive.

When you give up your breath to another, you become a “drab” and everything in the world around you seems just a little bit more dull and lifeless, however for those who acquire breath the opposite is true – such as perfect pitch, perfect color recognition, perfect life recognition, and agelessness – and the more that you acquire the more you can do. Once you have enough breath in fact you can use it “awaken” objects and by giving them simple commands use these objects to assist you, however the simple act of awakening something reduces the amount of breath remaining for other tasks and in fact those with Breath can be identified by the aura they give of.

In this world, the magic system is called BioChromancy as it is not just breath that gives power but color also. When something is awakened the color is drawn from other items around that awakened object to help power it. The less colorful an object is, the harder it is to use BicoChromancy on it.

Just as in Mistborn and The Age of Kings, Brandon Sanderson has developed another magical system that has its own rules and laws and they just work. Nothing is too far fetched in relatio to the storyline and it all flows really well.

Overall Rating

As stated earlier, Warbreaker is a good book. The writing is fun and easy to get into, not stilted in any way. The humour (and there is lots of it) sprinkled throughout the book suits the characters and their motivations – including Nightblood who is AWESOME! – and how the story progresses including the ulitimate resolution is really well handled. I have to be honest, most TV shows, books and Movies I can see the twist coming well before the end, but with Warbreaker I was honestly surprised at who the villian really was and how they were handled, created and conceived.

I liked the characters, the story and the magic – really i can’t find anything significant to fault with this book aside from the fact that is a stand alone tome and I don’t get to read more about what happens to my favorite characters!

I’d give this book 4.5 stars out of 5. Get a copy in your local bookshop and give it a read – if you like fantasy and intrigue you won’t be disappointed!

The long awaited … wait a second, that’s actually not really true is it?  I know that there was some mystery about why May has/was (been) called the CAVALRY, but in reality it didn’t really matter (at least not in my opinion).  While some mysteries NEED to be answered, others can stay as mysteries as they add a little something to the character.  Now I’d like to think that the writers had planned the whole reveal out, right from the beginning where May’s “origins” are linked back to Skye but unfortunately that almost seemed forced. I know that the MCU cannot utilize mutants to explain away powered individuals but by tying this episode into the current Inhuman story arc, they have taken away from all of the others that have been shown to have powers in earlier episodes.  Last year at about this time, the show completely transformed itself with Captain America: The Winter Soldier and the grand reveal of H.Y.D.R.A – conversely this year, while the show has been enjoyable, its also been dragging a little bit as they seem to be doing too much talking and not enough growing.  Unfortunately this weeks episode was really nothing more than a long and extended flash back to May which is a real pity as having a two year mystery about someone’s origins is not really interesting.

One could assume that the upcoming release of Avengers: Age of Ultron will have another bombshell to drop on our favorite team of unpowered (well not counting Skye) crime fighters – perhaps the return of our favorite patch-eyed Director to command of S.H.I.E.L.D?  Would this be how the underlying story between Gonzalez and Coulson gets resolved perhaps?

S.H.I.E.L.D.’s second season has been much more consistent than its first in terms of quality, and it’s done a relatively fine job of introducing secrets and paying them off in quick fashion (for example: Skye already knows that Jiaying is her mother), but it’s hard to ignore the feeling something is missing.  I’ve complained several times already about the (too soon) removal of H.Y.D.R.A and the take over by the “Real” S.H.I.E.L.D was also very anticlimactic considering the buildup.  While Gonzalez is being portrayed as nothing more than a patriot we love Coulson and while it is shocking to find out that he’s got another operation on the go – something called Theta Protocol – I‘m sure you continue to trust him as do I and this will all be explained away in a positive manner.  With Ward and his role in H.Y.D.R.A – well that was a shock I’ve still not gotten over … it truly was a genuine surprise.  Coulson though … he’s a goodie!

The opening sequence featured Blair Underwood as May’s husband, which was a nice surprise. I mentioned in my review of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 2 Episode 13, that he was the best part of that episode. Ming-Na did a wonderful job of portraying a pre-Bahrain Agent May. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad we learned what damaged her, but did it have to take so damn long?  Her separation from Blair Underwood was somewhat explained – I know perhaps I’m a bit insensitive, but he is a psychologist so you’d think that he’d be able to explain to her and make her see that the problem wasn’t with her?  After all, if you think about it, Fury did when he had her spy on Coulson while pretending to join her team.  Unfortunately I really think that while they emphasized May’s fighting skills the actual storyline and interaction between May and the “transformed” child + mother was nothing more than a way to tie her storyline into the underlying Inhuman storyline.  It felt forced.  You could see that May was traumatized – this was played out extremely well however so I do need to give her absolute credit for this.  Perhaps her distress at the title was in how inapt it really is as the only reason she was able to disable so many others was because of the use the little girl (Katya) put them to as she was literally dropping them right and left.

The more interesting stuff took place at “Afterlife” between Skye and her mother. Jiaying put a positive spin on Skye’s power and made her move mountains, literally, which was kind of fun. Perhaps even cooler however was her more subtle manipulation of the glasses to literally get them to sing.

While it was absolutely expected it was still nice to hear that she had made an “exception” to train Skye and her explanation on why it needed to be kept a secret made sense (Jiaying fears that some folks might draw parallels between Skye and Katya, therefore she can’t have people knowing the real nature of her relationship to Skye) – it didn’t however have to be tied into May’s role as the “Cavalry” as I feel like S.H.I.E.L.D. is diminishing the importance of that day in May’s life by also making it about Skye.  Is it too much to ask that May’s backstory be about May?

Lincoln: You know it’s really impressive for Jiaying to take anyone under her wing.
Skye: Yeah?
Lincoln: Yeah.
Skye: I like her. I just… I can’t… What’s her role here?
Lincoln: Her role is, in charge. So really she must like you.
Skye: If she’s in charge, how often does she train people?
Lincoln: Since I’ve been here… let me see… never.

Continuing with our Inhuman friends though we do learn one other key thing that will definitely play out in the future … Raina’s power – or at least one of them – is prophecy.  While we all know that the Inhumans story arc is a long one with S.H.I.E.L.D (after all the movie is years away) this gift is sure to be a very important direction for the show and I’m really glad that they are moving Raina’s character forward.  I’ve never really liked her – she’s always been too amoral and only in it for herself, but her transformation to Porcupine girl was also really cruel and I know I started to feel somewhat sorry for her!  The family dinner where Lincoln realized Raina was actually seeing the future was awkward, but Skye behaved herself and everyone enjoyed the moment. Kyle MacLachlan was wonderful as always as Cal, and it was nice to see him smile, although I’m sure you were also expecting the other shoe to drop just like I was?  One thing I do have to wonder though … if the secret of Skye’s parentage must be kept … should Lincoln have been allowed to see them?

The episode concluded with our neophyte James bond wannabe, Fitz hiding in a bathroom after opening Fury’s toolbox.  Always the genius he’s managed to get it working and has figured out a way to contact Coulson and Hunter – yay – the gang is getting back together!

Fortunately for the Geeky among you Christmas has been a great time for Movie viewing.  Over the past couple of years the focus has obviously been on the Fantasy front with the following films getting some major screen time.

However with the Hobbit now over I was quite distraught as I didn’t know what I was going to be spending my time on this Christmas.  This problem has now been resolved – and hopefully in a positive manner as I’ll really be disappointed if Jar-Jar shows up again! – with the release of the newest STAR WARS: The Force Awakens film (episode VII for those keeping track).

Just that opening shot with the half-buried Imperial Star Destroyer and what looks like a crashed X-wing? That opening alone sells me on this movie. It sells me on the visuals. It sells me on the direction. Why? I can’t really say or explain it, but I just love that shot. The whole panoramic thing is impressive in the extreme and I think that it instantly sets the context of what Star Wars has always been about: the struggle between the good and the bad, the struggle between the Empire and the Rebellion (later the New Republic). It also tells you that the story is yet another take on the old Goliath versus David tale. After all, it was a single X-wing that destroyed the first Death Star. It was a farm-boy from a remote world who destroyed the Emperor and set Darth Vader free. It was an X-wing and a beat-up old freighter that took down the second Death Star. This is a story about the long odds, the impossible fights.

By the way – if you get a chance watch this also … If you’ve seen Interstellar you’ll love it and its perfectly filmed!

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away … oops, sorry … I’m getting my genres all mixed up!  Let’s try that again shall we?!

Once upon a time in a fairy tale land, a wicked witch casts an epic curse and the land is encased in darkness.  The only way that the good can triumph is if a hero can save the people and defeat the evil witch.

Sounds fairly normal – for a fairy tale – doesn’t it?  Well this show is anything but!  Once Upon A Time while still a fairy tale, is one that has been reimaged for our generation and while many of our favorite characters are there – they are changed in weird and wonderful ways.

The first episode of Once Upon A Time introduces us to each of the main characters of the show:

There are a host of other characters and we’ll be discussing them in future posts as Once Upon A Time does a great job of focusing on the story of one individual and using that story to drive the underlying mythology of the show forward.

Format of the reviews … Once Upon A Time is going to be somewhat different to most of my other reviews I suspect simply because of the two completely different yet related storylines running simultaneously throughout each episode.  It probably makes sense to cover the Storybrooke elements as one piece and the Fairy Tale elements as another vs. jumping back and forth between them, but lets see how it goes!

Pilot

We are first introduced to Emma in present day Boston as she meets a man in a restaurant for what we think is a blind date.  In reality Emma Swan is a tough as nails bail bondsman and bounty hunter and her date is a bale hopper that she is set on pursuing.  Quickly capturing her prey while lecturing him on the importance of family, Emma returns to her single, lonely apartment where she pulls out a birthday cupcake for herself.  Making a wish while blowing out the candle, Emma is surprised to hear a knock at her door.

Henry – Emma’s long lost son – has it seems managed to track her down and once he is able to persuade Emma that he is in fact who he claims to be, Emma agrees to take him … back to Storybrooke, Maine. Along the way, Henry shows her a large book of fairy tales he has, insisting that all of the stories in it are real.  Emma – of course – like all good Mom’s simply rolls her eyes!

Arriving in Storybrooke, Henry further informs her, that not only are all the stories in the book real, but in fact all the people in the town are characters in this book and they have all been cursed by an evil witch and have no memory of who they really are.  Coincidentally just when Emma is thinking Henry must be a complete and utter lunatic, she meets Henry’s therapist – Archie Hopper.  Archie gives Emma the directions to Henry’s home so that she can deliver him to his step mother and as he walks away, Henry lets Emma know that Archie is actually Jiminy Cricket!  Henry claims that time is frozen (see below) in Storybrooke and the people are unable to leave, but that the curse will be broken by Emma.

Emma manages to get Henry back to his home where he meets his stepmother … who just happens to be the Mayor of Storybrooke and she is definitely not happy to see Emma and is also quite upset with Henry for running off.  Regina (who happens to be the Evil Queen/Witch) gives Emma some apple cider (remember the story of Snow White?) which causes Emma to have an accident when she tries to leave Storybrooke.  Emma is arrested by the town Sheriff and taken to the town jail, but when Henry runs away from home again, she makes a deal with the Sheriff and Mayor to have her released so that she can help find Henry.

She manages to track Henry down and after speaking to him, agrees to stay on in Storybrooke – at least temporarily – until she is sure that Henry is safe as while she still thinks he’s nuts, she has started to care about him and about having someone in her lonely life.

Emma books a room for herself at Granny’s Bed & Breakfast where she witnesses Granny & Ruby (both from Little Red Riding Hood) having a dispute.  Getting a key to a room – we see here that Granny has not had many other visitors by the looks of the cobwebs on the keys, so how is she staying in business?  Is there truth to Henry’s fantasy? – she bumps into Mr. Gold … Mr. Gold (Rumpelstiltskin) owns Storybrooke and by the look on Granny & Ruby’s faces, he is much feared.

Emma’s decision to stay in Storybrooke causes the hands of the town clock, previously frozen at 8:15, to begin moving again.

In the land of make believe

Prince Charming rides to rescue Snow White who is in a crystal coffin after eating a poisoned apple given to her by the Evil Queen.  Breaking the curse by giving Snow White a kiss (true love – see how this is handled in Maleficent) Snow White and Charming are married in a magnificent ceremony.

On the day of the wedding however, the Evil Queen arrives and threatens the whole kingdom with a powerful curse that she will release upon the land.  Stating that they should enjoy this time now, as the future will be terrible for all she escapes into mist as Charming throws his sword at her.

After what is assumed, many happy months, Snow White and Charming are expecting their first child.  Worried now about the threat from the Queen, Snow White visits Rumplestiltskin who informs her that the curse is real and that the only chance they all have is Snow White’s unborn daughter.  Rumplestiltskin states that Emma will return when she is 28 years old (see the previous note about Emma blowing out her birthday cupcake and the clock) to save them all.

On the day that Snow White gives birth to Emma, the Queen’s prophecy comes true and Charming is only able to save Emma by placing her in a magic wardrobe that removes her from Storybrooke, but in doing so he gives up his own life.  The Queen stands triumphantly over Snow White and Prince Charming, as the Curse takes them “somewhere horrible.”