September 24, 2014 § Leave a comment
The new season of TV is upon us and here is my review of Monday night’s offerings! The 8PM slot in my viewing block was filled by FOX’s comic book adaptation of “Batman.” I’m not a comic book reader, per se, so I am approaching this show from what I know from being in close proximity to them via my academic association with popular culture and film. Gotham centers on James Gordon as a freshly minted detective who has caught the murder of the Waynes. Gordon makes young Bruce a promise to catch the culprit, which doesn’t go too well. Along the way we meet a pre-teen Cat Woman, who witnesses the murder and begins her fixation with young Bruce, a very young Poison Ivy, a Riddler who works forensics for the police, and the character I think is the best re-invention of these DC staples: the Penguin.
The Penguin is a low-level figure in the city’s organized crime syndicates who is ambitious despite his lack of obvious physical strength or even being smarter than his boss. He is an orphan raised by the syndicate and the viewers see how he gets his characteristic limp. His slimy charm and ruthlessness are going to make for watching this sociopath worth tuning in to see. Gotham , from this first episode it feels like a Law and Order series, except that the who is who to provide the law and order is blurred to an extreme degree. I will be watching, especially since it leads off Sleepy Hollow.
Also on FOX, this combo of Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle starts its second season with the obligatory cleaning up of last season’s cliffhanger. The stand-off until apocalypse is maintained with the bad guys getting another Horseman to pick up the slack of the Headless one, who seems too busy wooing his old girlfriend to actually go and cut heads. Missing from this episode was the excellent Orlando Bloom, whose presence as the police captain was an excellent role, one whose name, Frank Irving, is an homage to Washington Irving. This episode seemed like it was probably John Cho’s last appearance as well, which is a shame as well. Despite what I think was a slow start for a show I really enjoyed last season, I have hopes it will pick up the intensity going forward.
For my 10PM viewing I move to NBC for The Black List, which I think is one of the best, if not the best thriller on TV right now. James Spader, as usual, rocks the role of Red with a performance that should win him an Emmy, in my opinion. This season’s addition of Mary-Louise Parker as Red’s ex-wife is going to be interesting, tragic, and bloody. The show finds interesting ways to continually twist without becoming formulaic.
This week’s twist: (SPOILERS) A terrorist who really IS an evil twin without the hokum and a twist that is terrifying when you really think about the ramifications if it were real.
Monday nights are going to be great, I only regret that CBS moved NCIS: LA to Monday to face The Black List. I will stay with Red and watch LL and Chris when I can.
November 3, 2013 § Leave a comment
AMC’s The Walking Dead series evolves every season. Season one introduced the new world of the Walkers as the audience followed Rick’s awaking from the sleep of a coma into a living nightmare. Season one is base, pure, survival: learning how to cope with the undead.
Season two is what I have dubbed in previous articles as “the politics of the Apocalypse.” The group forms internal factions, reacts and is reacted to by Herschel’s family unit, eventually melding into a cohesive group after events forced a reckoning to “join or die.” This was all at the cost of Dale, the voice of reason’s death, as well as fights to the death between Rick and Shane for the leadership of the group, and its code of ethics, with father-ship of Laurie’s baby as a “prize.”
Season three I would classify as the war of the paranoid doppelgangers. Rick as a leader is mirrored by the Governor, both of which are struggling with loss that leads to questionable actions by both, with Rick being less murderous. Of special note is the redemption of Merle, who finds the “light,” aka human decency, as his brother had, via Merle’s own mirror in Micchone
Season four, a few episodes in, The Walking Dead’s world is what I’d dub “post-Walker” in that a semblance of normalcy is trying to take root. The prison has become a home for the Woodbury survivors along with many who have been brought in to the fold by Darryl. This is stark contrast to the previous season where Rick’s group had left a lone survivor to die on the road, only to take his bloodied belongings on the return trip..
The viewers are given a tableaux of this world in the first episode. The prison is a burgeoning civil community, with pluralistic rule, schooling of children (in a post-walker manner, thanks to Carol), everyone with a purpose, and a civil atmosphere that even has helped roll back some of the sociopathic pall that was engulfing Carl. Now in full blossom since his redemption of Merle, Darryl has become the new adulated hero, though not without Carol reminding him, “I liked you first,” despite Darryl and Merle’s obvious status as outlaws and racists, in the pre-walker world (Nazi SS icons on their motorcycles, for example), and their previous sin of plotting to rob the core group during the events of season one, as well.
Rick has relinquished his leadership duties to a council, along with carrying his signature .44 Magnum, which as one of the most powerful handguns displayed in the series, is a symbol of power and leadership. Rick has turned to the civil role of provider, tending garden, livestock, and collecting game from traps.
The story so far introduces post-walker problems. Like the real Dark Ages, the post-walker world does not benefit from modern amenities chief of which are modern medicine. The council informs Rick he must re-arm, in essence take larger responsibility again, and is immediately tested by having to sacrifice his pigs, symbols of his domestic civility, for security.
Next Rick, is called upon to utilize his police skills from the pre-walker world to investigate the murders of the flu victims. He succeeds, but is now faced with the consequences of how law and justice now should work in a post-Walker world.
With just a few episodes into the new season, The Walking Dead’s evolution continues to hold the interest of this viewer and I look forward to the next episode. The exploration of this world promises to be a tense reflection into how tough life is without the systems we take for granted everyday.
June 9, 2013 § Leave a comment
A year has past since Holder and Linden have spoken. It is unclear from the first episode if that was from when Linden walks away from Holder in the season two finale or not. Linden now is working minimum wage at a ferry, while Holder has exchanged his hoodie for a suit, tie and a new partner, Reddick, played by the ever excellent Gregg Henry.
Holder and Reddick catch a body of a young street hustler/prostitute in a locale very similar to Linden’s going away “body” (blow-up doll) in the first season. Reddick fearing their arrest record will be tarnished on a Jane Doe with no leads tries, successfully, to pawn the case off on another detective.
However, Holder is bothered by the similarity of the MO of this killing to a case that Linden closed prior to his working with her. (Ala the creepy child’s drawing used to represent Linden’s insecurities/sanity in the first two seasons.) Holden visits Linden, kids her about the youth of her boyfriend, and leaves the case file.
Despite Linden’s obvious aversion to the previous case she tries to forget and leaves the file where it lays. Meanwhile, Holder trolls the Jungle of Seattle, depicting it in such a way that I will still call “a rain drenched circle of hell.” The show’s creators have done the city no favors or pulled any punches.
Viewers learn more about the street youths glimpsed in the very beginning of the show, surprisingly (at least for me) that, Bullet, is in fact a very butch teen girl. Bullet is a really fresh, compelling, character for this genre and a oozes gritty realism that is a fact for many girls like her. Newcomer Bex Taylor-Klause hits it out of the park with this role.
In addition to the new case, the man convicted in Linden’s traumatic case, Seward, is introduced on his transfer to Death Row. He has mailed requests to both Linden and her former partner Skinner (played by Elias Koteas) that they attend his execution. Linden visits Skinner about the new case, if they got the wrong guy, and the request. After the visit, in a ominously dramatic moment, Skinner’s wife tells Linden she never wants to see her again.
The two-hour premier was jam packed with setup for a what seems like a terrific season.
Bullet’s friend goes missing and viewers are given the impression that the same killer has taken her. Linden tries to shake off the case, trying to clear her mind with a long jog, but she happens upon a bizarre scene of cattle skeletons and a lone suffering bovine. Returning home Linden is confronted by her boyfriend when he finds the crime scene photos. She doesn’t reply, simply gathering her gun and returns to the cow in order to put it out of its misery.
The episode wraps up in such a way that perhaps the show should be renamed “The Killings.” Linden, while visiting the adoptive home of the Seward’s son, obtains a new version of the creepy drawing. This rendition has some new features missing from the original. With recognizable landmarks in the back drop, Linden locates the area depicted, along with something dreadful, foreshadowed by what Linden discovered earlier on her jog.
If you missed the first two seasons, it should not preclude a fan of crime dramas from jumping in on season three. I am so glad AMC decided to bring Holder and Linden back.
September 4, 2012 § 1 Comment
So, I finally saw The Descendants and I have to say, for an Oscar-nominated best picture, it sure is a decent Lifetime made-for-TV movie.
The only reason I could justify watching it on the big screen would be the gorgeous Hawaiian vistas. It’s a great travel brochure writ large. Beyond those landscape shots, it’s really just a well-choreographed family melodrama.
George Clooney’s performance is pretty much like many other “Clooney being serious” performances. The woman who plays his cheating comatose wife really has a harder acting job in her role.
August 18, 2012 § Leave a comment
A&E’s season finale of Longmire ended in a what I’d call an “uh, oh” rather than a cliff-hanger. However, this state of affairs does nothing to take away the ride this season has given its audience. The excellent “modern Western” series features incremental character development which culminated in cell-phone hating Walt Longmire’s long-eluded to secret becoming known during the season finale.
Along the way the familial and work-place feuding heats up. Vic confronts Walt’s would-be girlfriend, Lizzie, and instead of giving a warning, got some perspective on her own feelings. Branch’s sheriff’s campaign and workplace rivalry with Walt boils over into a brawl when Walt, rightly stops Branch from half-cocked police work. Most gut-wrenching is the Walt/Cady father-daughter turmoil spirals into a dark place with verbal kicks to each others’ guts. Above it all is the outstanding Lou Diamond Phillips’ Henry as the amazingly down-to-earth voice of reason and soul of the entire show.
“Unfinished Business” also had two notable guest-stars. Charles S. Dutton stars as a Denver Detective who has been trying to pin down Walt. Also, Q’Orianka Kilcher, best known for her turn as Pocahontas in Malick’s The New World, plays a mentally-challenged rape victim, Ayasha Roundstone. Both performances add to the already great acting ensemble on the show.
Will I be excited to see the next season? You bet!
August 4, 2012 § 1 Comment
Readers of this blog probably know we love The Walking Dead. So without further ado here is the video game adaptation review.
Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead is a great example of what can happen if a developer revives one of video games’ long neglected genre: the adventure game. My own PC gaming history begins with Sierra Online’s catalog of adventure that included favorites such as King’s Quest, Space Quest, Police Quest, Hero’s Quest, Phantasmagoria, and who can forget Leisure Suit Larry.
Different from what would become more traditional RPGs where the player creates the details of their avatar, adventure games set the back-story and characters that the player would guide through the story. Some may argue that it diminishes player experience, but it gives designers the ability to craft a more intimate story tied to the characters. To this end, there have even been some attempts to root a specific common back-story to “custom” player avatars in recent games such as Dragon Age and Fallout 3.
The Walking Dead has players taking the role of Lee Everett, a UGA professor convicted of murdering a politician that was sleeping with his wife. The murder may or may not have been in self-defense. In a twist of fate, Lee is given a second chance on life by the outbreak of Walkers.
Almost immediately the player meets the little girl Clementine, who by circumstances becomes Lee’s ward. She becomes the moral compass by which most of Lee’s actions are judged by the game’s systems. Along the way, Lee meets with Hershel and Glenn who are also featured in the excellent AMC storyline. (I have not read the graphic novels so won’t assume they are from there.)
There are some hard decisions the player will have to make for Lee and sometimes there are no “right” answers. The game’s aesthetic is similar to the comic book, yet animated, and comes off very well. The “zones” or as they used to be called “screens” in old-school adventure games, remind me very much of the classic adventure games. There are features to manipulate and examine, not all of which are immediately useful, or have any apparent use. I must have had Lee look a newspaper clipping six or seven times before I determined they were just for “flavor.” One other interesting feature of the game is the stat tracker telling you what percentage of players choose certain paths compared to your choices.
So far Telltale has released two episodes of the game and I burned through both very quickly, even for me, the game is THAT intriguing. I think it will appeal to those who may not necessarily be fans of the zombie genre or old-timer adventure games enthusiasts like me simply because it is a well-made game.
August 2, 2012 § Leave a comment
Here’s the secret to why I left The Secret World behind: Apparently, I need levels more than I need achievements, crafting, innovative quest designs, and an intriguing over-arching storyline.
Really, it’s just that simple. For an old curmudgeon like me, levels provide an easy measure and a ready goal for me to pursue. In a single-player game, strangely enough, I’m drawn back for story. But in an MMO, for whatever reason, I need that sense that I’m rising through the ranks.
I hear a lot of praise for the art direction on TSW. Perhaps my graphics card (NVIDIA GeForce GTX 560) is far too antiquated, but the style actually reminded me a lot of Fallen Earth‘s – a little post-apocalyptic game that Josh Peery and I helped build back in the good old days of 2006-2009. I didn’t dislike TSW’s graphics, although the character customization options were far too limited for my liking. In fact, the game’s visual similarity to FE actually helped draw me in.
But, no levels.
They had the Illuminati, who were so much like my beloved Travelers from Fallen Earth that I had to join their faction without hesitation.
But, but, no levels.
Look, they’ve got loads of achievements. They’ve even got location-based lore discovery nodes, similar to what we implemented on FE with the tourist telescopes. You must know, if you do not already, that I love achievements. But, uh, yeah, no levels.
They’ve got a crafting system that reminds me of a combination of FE’s resource management and Minecraft’s “put stuff in this kind of order until the craft grid spews out a new toy” approach. However, during the time I played, I didn’t see much that was craftable that would outshine whatever I got from dungeons or reward vendors.
But. No. Levels.
The quests, even though they’re mostly just chains of use object, kill X critters and kill named critters, actually have some very novel moments – from the mission that has you following a musical tune across the countryside to the one that has you unlocking computer files based on knowledge of classical composers. Scope and depth of story reminds me a lot of that favorite post-apocalyptic MMO of mine.
Still, no levels.
I need that motivation to keep going back. But if you want a game with great ambiance, engaging stories, oodles of achievements, and no levels: The Secret World is for you.