Monthly Archives: November 2013

TV Round-Up: Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD — F.Z.Z.T.”

IAIN DE CAESTECKER, ELIZABETH HENSTRIDGE

My first thought after viewing this week’s Agents of SHIELD was that I’ve really got to stop watching the “coming next week” trailers for this show.    What the trailer promised and what the episode actually was were two very different things.

But even beyond the disappointment that the episode wasn’t necessarily what was advertised, I still came away from the latest installment feeling an overall feeling of disappointment.

For those of you who missed the trailer, it made this episode appear to be our crew facing a truly scary, horrifying threat that would test the team to their limits.  And going in with that kind of bias and the way the early portions of the episode were playing out, I found myself expected something along the lines of “The Naked Time” from classic Star Trek or “Ice” from The X-Files.  Namely that you’ve got some kind of catalyst (virus, alien parasite, etc) that makes our regular characters act in ways they normally can’t or won’t  but yet reveal something about the character that we may or may not have known previously.   And I have to admit I was really looking forward to seeing that and hoping it might lead to some interesting insights about who these characters are and why we should have a greater investment in them — even after just six episodes.

I also have to admit part of me was intrigued by the notion that SHIELD would kill off a main character in the sixth episode and for the potential that decision could have on the series going forward.  Certainly, there is precedence for a Joss Whedon show killing off a regular in the first half of the first season (Angel).  And while I didn’t necessarily want to see Simmons be the one who had to be sacrificed,  for a commercial break I was pondering just how the show could and would explore her death and its impact on everyone on the team.

Then, a magic cure is found and Ward is able to save the day in the span of two minutes and I come away feeling like this one was a missed opportunity.

Again, part of that could be my own bias and expectations.  And I think part of it is that SHIELD is maybe a bit too willing to play it safe.

I found myself casting my mind back to Iron Man 3 and the chances it was willing to take with Tony Stark and the Marvel movie universe.  It would have been easy to find a reset button that kept Tony in the suit, but instead the movie took a different turn with Stark deciding to walk away and leaving me wondering what was next for the universe and the character.   So far, SHIELD has offered some hints about this, but it’s always pulled back a bit and left me curious, but not hungering for more in the same way that Iron Man 3 or The Avengers did.

The biggest culprit in this is Coulson.   I may need to dust off the Blu-Rays of the first set of Marvel movies and watch the Coulson scenes again because, right now, I’m not really feeling how the character is significantly different than the one we saw in the movies.   I find myself getting frustrated at various characters telling us that Coulson has changed but we’re not being shown how he’s changed.  I really feel like a flashback episode of Coulson leading a team or being an agent pre-Avengers might help at this point.  Or maybe if we had some kind of indication of where the writing staff may be going with how he’s come back after dying in The Avengers.  We’ve had a lot of vague hints, but nothing really concrete.

I will say that I do like the fact that Coulson feels something is up and is beginning to look into things himself.   The idea that he “feels” different but can’t put his finger on why or how is a good starting point.  If and when the explanation arrives, hopefully we’ll look back and see seeds being sewn in this episode.  I still have faith in Whedon to put things out there that don’t seem important on first glance but which pay dividends down the line.  (Best example is the way in which “When She Was Bad” foreshadows every single dramatic beat of season two of Buffy…if you’ve seen season two and know what to watch for).

I also like the fact that Ward realizes he’s the butt of a lot of joke and that he’s willing to go along with it.  The impressions of Ward by Fitz and Simmons were great as was Ward’s own impression of himself.  I still feel like this character has a long way to go, but they’re making some positive steps in the right direction.

What I’m also unsure about is the depth of the relationship between Fitz and Simmons and between Coulson and Mae.   And, I’m not necessarily referring to something romantic (though some scenes this week did hint at sexual tension between each “couple”).  Again, this is something the series can and should explore….maybe a flashback episode would be in order.

So while this wasn’t my favorite episode of SHIELD, it certainly wasn’t the strongest.  I feel like it was a bit of a stumble as the series attempts to find its stride.  I hope it gets back on track next week.

I can’t say what it’s about though…because I’ve decided to try and avoid the previews.  (Odds are, the preview will find its way to me though since the Tennessee football game is on ESPN Saturday…)

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Doctor Who: “The Three Doctors”

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To celebrate fifty years of Doctor Who, I’m taking a look back at how the series celebrated its anniversary in the past.   First up is the four part opening to season ten, “The Three Doctors.”

Threedoctors_title“We’re the same Time Lord.”

During the Jon Pertwee era, producer Barry Letts and script editor Terrance Dicks felt that each season of Doctor Who should get off to a raising and easy-to-publicize start.   This was easy to do in the first year of Pertwee’s tenure since a new Doctor was coming on board and the show was being made in color for the first time.  The next two years saw the introduction of a new adversary for the good Doctor and then the long-awaited return of the Daleks (after a multi-year absence from screens).

For the tenth anniversary season, Letts and Dicks decided to kick things off with a story that saw the Doctor joining forces with his previous selves.    In the DVD extras, Letts claims that fans had been asking for a multi-Doctor story since he took the reigns as producer in season seven.   After three seasons of punting on a multi-Doctor story, Letts and Dicks finally decided it was time to pull the trigger and bring everyone back for a celebration of ten years of the Doctor.

And so it was that “The Three Doctors” was born.

Written by Bob Baker and Dave Martin, “The Three Doctors” is less a celebration of the show’s first decade and more of a fairly standard Pertwee era story with the first two Doctors thrown in as glorified sidekicks.   It helps that one of those sidekicks is Patrick Troughton, who (as he does in all multi-Doctor stories) steals the show right out from under Jon Pertwee and the rest of the regular cast.    William Harntell’s role is even more limited, largely due to his decline in health.  Hartnell was in a stage of his life that he had good days and bad days.  It was on a good day that Letts spoke to him and the actor agreed to reprise the role.  His failing health led to large portions of the script having to be hastily rewritten (there had already been a publicity photo shoot with all three actors that was hanging over the heads of the creative team…so you couldn’t cut Hartnell out completely).  Instead, the actor appeared in pre-filmed shots that could be looped into the studio on the TARDIS viewing screen.

Overall, the story isn’t one of the greatest of the third Doctor era, nor is it necessarily one of the worst.  In my mind, the Pertwee years breaks down into two distinct halves.  The first twelve stories of the era are more hit than miss with a lot of the stories hitting the mark of being a classic or near classic status.  There are some standout stories like “Inferno,” “Mind of Evil” and “The Daemons” in there and the duds (“Claws of Axos” and “Colony in Space”) still have enough to recommend about them to make them worth visiting again.  It’s once you get past “The Sea Devils” that things take a turn and you get more duds thrown into the mix.

“The Three Doctors” isn’t necessarily a dud, but it’s not necessarily a classic era.  It’s a more middle of the road story from the anniversary season.

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Review: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay

A recent study indicates that reading literary fiction can help improve your social skills and help you be a better conversationalist.

As I pondered that and glanced over at my (ever-growing) pile of books I want to read, Michael Chabon’s The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay began to call to me. So, I decided I’d pick up the book, read a chapter or two and dazzle friends, family and myself with my improved conversational tone.

Whether or not reading this novel has made me a better conversationalist remains to be seen.

But I will say that I’m glad the study serves as a catalyst and finally got me to crack the cover of this book.

Simply put, this is an outstanding novel and one that I wish I’d read before now.

It’s the story of the creative team of Joe Kavalier and Sammy Clay, Jewish immigrants who create a wide array of comic books and superheroes during the Golden Age of comic books. Early sections of the novel detail how the team comes together and looks at some of the characters they create, including their most popular and enduring creation The Escapist. The book unfolds into something deeper as you turn the pages, detailing Joe’s increased frustration that is fame and fortune can’t help him get his family out of Nazi occupied Europe and Clay’s frustration with his own sexual identity.

The novel delves into how two men who appear to have everything they could want are fundamentally unsatisfied because they each can’t have the one thing they most desire. The entire novel is a fascinating, compelling character study of these two men and the various people who come into their circle of influence.

That’s not to say that the novel is dry or without humor. Chabon creates some nice asides and witty observations during the close to six hundred pages the novel runs. One running thread involves Joe’s on-going and ever escalating feud with a group of anti-Semetics, all leading up to a cartoon bomb being planted in the headquarters of Empire Comics and Joe chained to a desk in his refusal to leave. (You may have to read it in order to fully understand and enjoy the implications of it).

Kavalier and Clay weighs in at close to six-hundred pages, but it’s one of those books that is so absorbing and utterly readable that it feels like it’s over far too soon. Yes, the novel is satisfying in every sense of the word and it’s one that has struck with me in my thoughts long after the final page was turned. But it still felt like it had ended far too soon and I found myself wondering if and how the next book I picked up could live up to the high bar this one had set.

If you’re like me and this one is languishing on the TBR pile, pick it up and start reading.

And for the record — people who ask me for a recommendation of something good to read will be hearing this novel mentioned a lot for a long time to come. Highly recommended.

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Review: Star Trek Volume 6: After Darkness

Star Trek Volume 6: After Darkness

The latest collection of IDW’s re-imagining of classic Star Trek episodes in the rebooted universe picks up right after this summer’s Star Trek Into Darkness left off and finds Captain Kirk and the crew of the starship Enterprise finally heading out for their historic five year mission.

I’ve read several of the previous collections from IDW and found the results of adapting original series episodes into the rebooted universe to be hit or miss. Occasionally the series does something interesting or different with these familiar (at least to me) stories. For the latest four-issue collection, Mike Johnson goes after two of the bigger episodes from the original series run “Arena” and “Amok Time.”

Given that these two episodes are among my favorite from not only the original 79 but also the Trek franchise as a whole, my expectation level was high for them.

Which may be why I found the stories to be rather disappointing.

The “Amok Time” adaptation starts out well enough and puts some intriguing questions on the table, including the notion that with Vulcan gone, there are going to be complications for some under the influence of pon-farr. The concept that the blood fever and the urge to return home and procreate could drive certain Vulcan’s mad when they can’t return to their home world is a fascinating one and also one without an easy solution. Or at least that’s what you’d hope would be the case.

However, instead of really delving into this issue in an intriguing or creative way, the writing team takes the deux ex machina route out, turning to the trasnporter as the solution to just about any solution. (It slice, it dices, it makes fries!) The concept of Spock being driven mad by the blood fever and possibly being off the ship for an issue or two was intriguing enough. Also of frustration is how Spock’s need to return home to find T’Pring to help “cure” his blood fever and just how it doesn’t really have a huge impact on Uhura and their relationship beyond this three-issue storyline. I’m hoping future issues may delve into this a bit and examine some of the consequences of this.

Also included in this collection is a one-issue storyline that borrows elements from “Arena.” It’s nice to see the Gorn updated for the modern page, but the story honestly feels like a throw-away more than anything else. And that’s a shame given how good “Arena” was and some of the philosophical issues that episode raised. Little of that depth is on display in this installment. I will cut this one a bit of slack since it feels like this installment is picking up on a previous issue that I probably missed.

As for the artwork, I found the depiction of all the series regulars to be faithful and easy to identify. Given that one of my big complaints about the recent TNG/Doctor Who cross-over was (what I felt) was sub-par artwork, I’m glad to see that style isn’t crossing over to the rest of IDW’s Trek line.

All of this made me come away from this latest collection feeling a bit disappointed.

In the interest of full-disclosure, I was given an ARC digital copy of this collection via NetGalley.

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November is SciFi Month!

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Thanks to a fellow book blogger, I discovered that November is SciFi Month hosted by Rinn Reads.  If you’ve got a few moments, surf over and marvel at the incredible wealth of events and activities set up for the coming month.

I’m a big fan of sci-fi and I hope to participate with the month-long event.  Of course, I’ll be geeking out on November 23 when the greatest television show in the history of the universe celebrates its fiftieth anniversary.

First up is a recommended getting to know you post.  So, here we go.

1. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

My name is Michael.  I’m a 40 year old bibliophile who adds more books to his to be read pile than he subtracts.  I’ve always enjoyed a wide variety of books and popular entertainment, including the sci-fi and fantasy genre.   I’m a college grade who regrets that I never took an overview of sci-fi and fantasy while in school (none was offered, but I wish it had been).   I’m married with no kids and two cats.   We’re both bibliophiles though we do try and keep each other from overloading the bookshelves and to be read piles.  So far, it’s only a minor success.

2. How long have you been a fan of sci-fi?

Since about 1977 when this little movie called Star Wars hit theaters.    I remember my grandfather and mother taking me to see it during its initial theatrical run and I loved it.   It got me hooked on science-fiction and I’ve slowly discovered the great range that is available since that time.  I will say my interest in published science-fiction has picked up a bit in the last twenty or so years.  Part of that is due to joining various real-world science-fiction and fantasy book groups and part of it is the Internet and on-line groups for fans.   When I first came to the genre, the sheer number of choices could make it a bit overwhelming and it seemed as if every cover blurb declared this novel the greatest ever written.  Hard to filer out what I might like or prefer based on that.  Thankfully, meeting others and interacting with those with similar and different tastes has helped me target certain authors, try new ones and learn others that I might want to avoid or knock down a few steps in the infamous TBR pile.

3. Why do you like sci-fi, and what is your favourite thing about it?

On the pop culture side, I love anything that capture that feeling I had at a young age of discovering Star Wars and all the awe and wonder that goes with it.   The other thing I like about sci-fi is that it can offer up things to ponder, different ideas and social commentary in a way that might seem heavy-handed if done in any other genre.    I enjoy things that make me think…but I also enjoy bubble-gum stuff with lots of explosions, space battles and little socially redeeming value other than–hey, at least I’m reading.

4. Favourite books/games/films/TV shows in the genre?

BooksEnder’s Game and Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card, Issac Asimov’s early output, Ian M. Banks, John Scalzi, George R.R. Martin, Lois McMaster Bujold, Robert J. Sawyer and Richard Matheson just to name a few.

Films Blade Runner, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Gattica, Inception, Planet of the Apes (the original), Star Wars, Empire Strikes Back, The Black Hole. 

TV ShowsDoctor Who, Star Trek, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Blake’s Seven, Battlestar Galactica, Firefly, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Farscape, Babylon Five, The X-Files. 

5. What are your plans for Sci-Fi Month?

I hope to read a couple of genre novels and watch a whole bunch of genre shows and movie.  I may even post about them here.  I’ve got a broken toe right now and that’s limited my movement so I’ve had time the past few weeks to catch up with some old friends like The X-Files.  Of course, I plan to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of Doctor Who.   SciFi Month may be the impetus I need to do a series of posts on the previous anniversary celebrations for the good Doctor.    I also plan to visit some of Renn’s celebrations and hopefully meet some fellow fans and get some new recommendations.  I’m looking forward to it!

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Movie Review: Ender’s Game

enders_game_2013_movie-wideOrson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game is an entry point for many to the realm of science-fiction.   The acclaimed novel won the Hugo award when it was published in 1985 and many fans wondered for years when and if we’d ever get a movie version.

It took close to thirty years, but Hollywood has finally found a way to adapt Ender’s Game for the silver screen.

Part of the wait was allowing technology to catch up with Card’s imagination (and that of his readers) to fully render the universe of Ender Wiggin on the silver screen.  Another part was finding young actors who could help bring the characters to life on the silver screen.

That day has finally arrived as Ender’s Game hits theater this week.  And to answer the biggest burning question in many fans’ minds – yes, the movie was worth the wait.

Director and script writer Gavin Hood distills the novel down to its essential narrative points and hits all the high (and necessary) points.

Fifty years after humanity drove back a potential invasion at the hands of the Formics, Earth is still living in fear that the aliens may return for a second attempt.  The military is training children in the hopes of finding and grooming the ultimate tactician who can not only fend off another attack but also prevent any future invasion attempts.  Enter Ender Wiggin, the third child born into his family (population restrictions only allow for two) who just may be the long-awaited hope for Earth.

At least that’s what Colonel Hyrum Graff hopes when Ender is enlisted to the orbiting Battle School.  Young recruits are immersed in the history of the epic battle as well as put through intense competition in the Battle Room.  Ender is moved from team to team within the school, winning various battles and showing off his tactical skills as a leader and strategist.

The cast for the film is well chosen, from Harrison Ford’s work as Hyram Graff to Asa Butterfield’s work as Ender. Butterfield ably carries the film as Ender and proves to be an ideal choice for the iconic role.  Of course, it’s helped that he has an Oscar-nominated young actress in Hailee Stanfield as Petra to work with.  The rest of the young cast rises to the occasion as well and does solid work in the film.

Hill’s script wisely distills down a lot of what happens in the book into its essential narrative points.  The film charts Ender’s rise through the school as well as introducing us to most of the supporting character who will help Ender is his quest to defeat the Formics.   Fan favorites (and later expanded into their own novels) Petra and Bean are well served by the script, with Petra getting a solid amount of screen time and development.    (Bean isn’t so fortunate).

Visually stunning, Ender’s Game is one of those movies that demands to be seen on the big screen with a Dolby surround system backing it.   For the preview, the film was shown on an IMAX screen with the state-of-the-art sound system rumbling and enhancing every epic space battle and moments to its fullest, making you feel like you were immersed in the universe of Ender Wiggin.

And while there are a lot of epic battles and superbly rendered effects sequences, the film doesn’t forget some of the philosophical core of the original source material.  The film isn’t afraid to address some of the bigger questions raised by the original source material (I won’t say more because it would ruin several of the twists from the final hour or so of the film).  However, the movie does diminish the roles of Ender’s siblings Valentine and Peter a good deal as well as removing an entire subplot featuring these two characters.   (Maybe that’s something for the special features on the inevitable DVD and Blu-Ray release).

As a fan of the original source novel, I was pleased to see how well the big-screen version of Ender’s Game worked.  The film is not a perfect one, but it does a solid job of translating the main plotline of the novel to the screen.  My hope is that movie-goers seeing the movie may be intriguing enough to pick and up read the original source material and then want to move on to the (even better) sequel, Speaker for the Dead.

It took close to thirty years to get Ender’s Game on our screens.  And this adaptation proves to have been worth the wait.

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