Review: True Blood S5E3 — Whatever I am, You Made Me

Last week on True Blood

After being captured and tortured by the Authority, Bill (Stephen Moyer) and Eric (Alexader Skarsgard) were on the verge of being executed by Roman (Chris Meloni) until Bill revealed that not only was Russell (Denis O’Hare) not killed but that he was now missing.  Meanwhile, in Bon Temps, a newly vampiric Tara (Rutina Wesley) fled into the dark night while Sookie (Anna Paquin) and Lafayette (Nelsan Ellis) watched helplessly. 

This week on True Blood

The majority of tonight’s episode was dominated by Tara and Rutina Wesley’s wonderfully angry performance.  We opened with Tara wandering through the night, searching for blood and nearly sucking it out of the first unfortuante stranded motorist that she comes across.  (“I got no problem with vampires!” the poor motorist protests.)  Eventually, Tara ends up locked up in Sam’s walk-in freezer where she has dreams about attacking Arlene.  (Like a lot of people, I went: “Oh.  My. God” at this scene until it became apparent that Tara was just having a dream.)  Eventually, Tara manages to get out of the freezer and, quite cleverly, breaks into a tanning salon so that she can expose herself to some UV rays.  I guess that’s one way to express your self-loathing.

The main reason that Tara’s having a hard time adjusting is because she’s been abandoned by her maker, Pam (Kristen Bauer Von Straten, who brings such life to the undead), who refuses to have anything to do with Tara.  For me, the highlight of tonight’s episode was seeing the continuation of the flashbacks to Pam’s origin.  In this episode we got to see how, in 1905 San Francisco, Pam went to rather extreme lengths to convince Eric to turn her.  Even better, we also got to see how Eric and Bill first met in Pam’s brothel. 

Speaking of Eric and Bill, they’re still being housed over at the Authority headquarters.  They’ve convinced Roman to release them so that they can track down Russell but Nora (Lucy Griffiths) is still being held prisoner and, while being tortured, she admits to being opposed to “mainstreaming.”  Both Bill and Eric are seduced by Salome and there’s a great scene towards the end of this episode where they compare notes in an elevator.  (Seriously, the vampire bromance between these two is always fun to watch and Moyer and Skarsgard always appear to be having fun acting opposite each other.)  Of course, it turns out that Salome’s apparently working for Roman and was testing Bill and Eric’s loyalty.

Or was she?  To be honest, I have a feeling that Salome has an agenda of her own…

The Rev. Newlin (Michael McMillan) also shows up in this episode.  Apparently, the reason he’s been on TV so much is because he’s groomed by Roman to be the new face of vampire-human coexistence.  Showrunner Alan Ball has been very open about the political subtext of True Blood in general and season 5 in particular and that subtext was pretty obvious in Meloni and McMillan’s scenes tonight. 

Usually, I’m not a huge fan of obvious subtext for the simple reason that it’s often … well, way too obvious.  In the past, I have to admit, I’ve felt that Ball — like most writers — is at his weakest when he’s hammering home a point.  (That’s why I’m wary of this season’s subplot about Terry’s service in Iraq.)  However, tonight, I thought that Meloni and McMillan both saved what could have been a rather heavy-handed scene.  Both of them brought just enough of a hint of perversity to their lines to keep the scene interesting.  Between Meloni’s barely suppressed rage and McMillan’s nervously insincere smile, their conversation was a lot of fun to watch.

But that’s not all that happened tonight!

Sookie finally confessed to Alcide that she killed Debbie.  Lafayette was briefly tempted to serve poisoned gumbo and it appears that he might be posessed.  And Jason met a woman in the super market which, of course, meant that he ended up getting laid.  That woman, incidentally, was a former teacher and lover of Jason’s and promptly after re-seducing her, Jason apparently had such a change of heart that he was even able to resist Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll) when she came calling later on that night.

To be honest, I wasn’t as big a fan of this episode as I was of Turn! Turn! Turn! and Authority Always Wins.  Don’t get me wrong.  Whatever I am, You Made Me had plenty of good moments and the script was full of the type of snarky one-liners that I’ll be repeating for weeks to come.  Overall, however, tonight’s episode felt a little bit off, just a tad bit uneven.  The final fourth of the show was genuinely exciting but the scenes leading up to it often seemed to alternate between playing out either too slowly or too quickly.  I’m looking forward to next week’s episode and I can’t wait to see how season 5 plays out but tonight’s episode was just okay for me. 

Random Thoughts and Observations:

  • Whenever I watch a new episode of True Blood, I always grab a notebook and I jot down what happened in each scene.  I did this even before I started reviewing the show because 1) it was often the only way that I could actually keep track of what was going on and 2) I’m an obsessive list maker.  Anyway, by my very unofficial count, tonight’s episode had a total of 33 separate scenes.
  • For scene number 6, I simply wrote down “Skarsgard shirtless.”  Just in case there was any doubt where my mind usually is while watching True Blood
  • How cool is it that Salome is the actual Salome?
  • I thought the scenes at the beginning of this episode, where Tara was on the prowl, were very well-directed and did a good job at capturing the disorienting nature of Tara’s new existence.
  • Much like last week, I continued to be impressed with the set design of the Authority’s headquarters and the contrast between the baroque upper level and the rather shabby lower levels.  If nothing else, it provided a perfect reminder of the corruption that often lurks behind the benevolent facade of most authorities (including, it would appear, the Authority).
  • Most effective “Oh my God!” moment: Lafayette pouring bleach into the gumbo.  I have to admit that, after watching Arachnoquake last night, I was hoping Lafayette would shout out, “Now that’s how you make jambalaya!”
  • After last week’s rather grim outing, this episode featured several laugh-out-loud lines:
  • “Can I hug you without you thinking about my boobs?”  This was my favorite line in this episode, if just because I’ve often been tempted to say the same thing.
  • “And right now, I’m fuck buddies with the love of my best friend’s life.  Who’s a teenage vampire.”
  • “These beans are as cold as titties in a brass bra.”
  • “My dick starts shouting, ‘Just shut up and fuck her!'” At least Jason is honest.
  • “Go back to dry humping each other and buying my overpriced drinks or get the fuck out!”

Finally, I’ll close with a quick prediction: By the end of this season, Salome will try to engineer a coup in order to take out Roman and install either Bill or Eric in his place.

Quick Review: Brave (dir. by Mark Andrews & Brenda Chapman)

Brave already has a great review by Lisa Marie, check it out to get another insight into the film. One of the great things about the Shattered Lens is that even if a movie’s been reviewed once, another review can create a review as well.

Before Brave starts, Pixar presents their Oscar Nominated short film, La Luna, directed by Enrico Casarosa. La Luna is a simple piece about a little boy (Bambino) on a tiny boat who is taking on the Family Business. Sitting with his father and grandfather, they watch as a full moon rises high in the sky above them. Setting up a ladder, Bambino heads up to the moon, to find it littered with tiny glowing stars. The trio act as cleaners of the Moon. It’s a cute little story that for me, anyway, makes me smile when I look up at the Moon. I’m hoping Pixar maybe considers making a best of video with all their mini stories.

Brave is the story of Merida (brilliantly voiced by Boardwalk Empire’s Kelly MacDonald), a young princess in what appears to be Scotland, who is due to be married off to one of the children of her area’s neighboring lands. Granted, this isn’t something she’s looking forward to, as the wedding plans are being set up by her mother. Honestly, in watching Brave, I got the feeling that Merida really wasn’t into any of the Princess things she was supposed to be following (“No weapons on the table.”, “A princess is proper”, etc.), she seemed to just enjoy her freedom of being a young woman, of just living her life.

Brave marks the second film that wasn’t directed by one of the Pixar Majors (Pete Doctor of Monsters Inc., John Lassiter of Toy Story and Cars, Andrew Stanton of Wall-E, Finding Nemo and John Carter, and newcomer Brad Bird  of Ratatouille and The Incredibles), the first being Toy Story 3. With all of the staff that Pixar has, it makes sense that eventually, the Pixar Babies would have to step up and try their hand at feature films – even if this means that Pixar breaks their streak of great animation and filmmaking.

If Brave is any indication, Pixar is in very good hands. Directors Brenda Chapman and Mark Andrews carry Chapman’s story far better than Lassiter did with Cars 2. It’s the story of a daughter, her mother and the connection between them. It’s of wanting to follow your own path vs. the paths that others want us to follow, and it manages to do all of this effortlessly. Like Tangled, our heroine takes charge of her own path, even if it means stumbling here and there. What makes Brave even better (and what my Mom would personally enjoy) is that Merida, much like Drew Barrymore’s character in Ever After, doesn’t need any guys rescuing her from her situation, save for perhaps one key moment that doesn’t count only because it’s family oriented anyway. There’s a great sense of strength in the character.

When Merida decides to fight for herself in an Archery test to ward off the would be suitors,  she gets into a huge argument with her mother (Emma Thompson), that ends up with some harsh things being said. Merida eventually finds her way to a witch who lets her change her fate. Like Disney’s Brother Bear, the change in question is that her mother is turned into a bear. With Merida’s father (voiced by The Boondock Saints’ Billy Connolly) swearing vengeance against the black bear that took of his leg, Merida and her mother have to both keep away from him as well as fix the relationship between them or else the mother will stay a bear, forever.

This is where Brave shines. Between the communications between the Mama Bear and Merida and the gravity of their situation, Chapman creates some great emotional opportunities for them. An added touch was the notion that the longer the mother stays a bear, the more she loses her humanity and becomes a real bear. I took this to be similar to someone suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s in a way, and that was where Pixar really got me on this one.

If there’s anything about Brave that I would change, it would be that there could have been a bit more back story on the legend that the mother told Merida (on the villain). I would have liked to know more about all of that, but in hindsight, the movie tells you all you really need to know, because the focus is still just on Merida and her Mother. There’s also just a hint of nudity, nothing terrible at all, but it’s a different route than other Pixar films have went. Additionally, kids may also find that the bear attack sequences may be a little too scary (at least the younger viewers might).

Overall, Brave’s a wonderful film and I’m ready to pick up the Blu-Ray the moment it comes out.

What Lisa Marie Watched Last Night: Arachnoquake (dir. by Griff Furst)

(Spoilers below.)

Last night, I watched yet another “original” movie on the SyFy network.  This one was called Arachnoquake.

Why Was I Watching It?

First off, how do you not watch something called Arachnoquake?  The title itself is just pure genius in that it not only tells you that the film is about spiders and earthquakes but it also lets you know ahead of time that this is a movie to have fun with. 

Also, I was watching because I still have good memories of watching Jersey Shore Shark Attack earlier this month.

What’s It About?

So basically, there’s an earthquake in New Orleans and a bunch of gigantic, extremely venomous albino spiders are released out into the city and the bayou. However, these aren’t just your typical giant albino spiders.  No, these are giant albino spiders that can breathe fire and walk on water.  It’s kinda like Treme, just with more spiders and less Steve Zahn. 

In fact, there’s no Steve Zahn in this film at all!  However, there is Edward Furlong, playing a greasy-haired guy who is stuck driving a school bus with a bunch of female softball players on it.  Meanwhile, Furlong’s asthmatic wife (Tracey Gold) is stuck on a trolley that’s being driven by a guy played by Bug Hall.  And, best of all, there’s also a really badly tempered old guy named Gramps on the trolley as well.  Gramps, sad to say, doesn’t stick around for too long but for the first 30 minutes of the film, he was all that we could talk about on twitter…

What Worked?

Listen, if you’re going to bitch and whine about narrative logic, cheap special effects, and silly dialogue while watching a movie like Arachnoquake, you’re kinda missing the whole point of the film.  This is a movie that was made to inspire people to talk back to the TV.  Arachnoquake doesn’t take itself all that seriously and neither should you.  I mean, yes, the spiders looked faintly ludicrous when they showed up in the bayou, chasing after a motorboat.  But I suspect that was kind of the point. 

Arachnoquake is a film that was made to be viewed as part of a communal experience.  I understand that they actually had viewing parties down in New Orleans and I would have loved to have been at one of them!  (And I think I could have gotten all sorts of beads tossed at me as well…)  However, I settled for live tweeting the film on twitter and that was so much fun!  I got to talk to other people who were watching and enjoying the film and even better, the film’s director and some of the performers (especially Megan Adelle) joined in on the live tweet and actually responded to those of us who were talking about their film.  Not all of the comments were positive (at one point, director Griff Furst responded to one online critic with, “Blow me.”) but it was still a lot of fun and, if anything, it showed that the filmmakers knew and appreciated their audience.  Both the film and the whole communal viewing experience were a lot of fun!

Finally, I think just about everyone on twitter agreed that the highlight of the film was the character of Gramps (played by Grant James).  SyFy films are full of cantankerous old men but few are quite as cantankerous as Gramps.  We were all a little bit sad to see Gramps die about 30 minutes into the film.  Personally, I’m hoping that he returns in a sequel and gets to utter the line, “When you get to Hell, tell ’em Gramps sent you…”

I also hope that the sequel is set during Mardi Gras.

What Did Not Work?

(Spoiler Alert.  Seriously, no joke — massive spoiler ahead)

The character played by Tracy Gold spend almost the entire film having an asthma attack and, finally, during the final 15 minutes of the film, she dies as a result.  I have to admit that bothered me a lot, both because I actually have asthma but also, and more importantly, because it just felt jarringly out-of-place in what had been, up to that point, a really fun B-movie.

Don’t get me wrong — it wouldn’t have bothered me if Gold had been killed as the result of being wrapped up in a spider web or something.  That would have worked well with the tone of the rest of the film.  But having her die as a result of not having her inhaler — it just hit too close to home for me and it was just so different in tone from the rest of the film that it briefly made it difficult for me to get back into the right B-movie mindset that’s necessary to truly enjoy a film like Arachnoquake

OH MY GOD!  Just like me!” Moments

Well, obviously, I related to poor Tracey Gold and her asthma attack.  But, beyond that, I could also relate to all the characters in the film because I hate the thought of being in an earthquake and I don’t care much for spider.  Especially gigantic albino ones that breathe fire…

Lessons Learned

I will always double-check to make sure I have my inhaler before I leave the house.  Also, if  I ever find myself stranded in the country with a gigantic albino spider coming towards me, I hope some greasy-haired guy is there to beat it to death with a softball bat while screaming, “Now that’s how you make jambalaya!”

Song of the Day: Escape from New York – Main Theme (by John Carpenter)

Just got back from watching what one would call a revisionist historical film (though I would also call it a speculative fiction) called Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Such fiction have always caught my interest. Maybe it’s the use of historical fact as the backdrop for fantastical fiction (horror, sci-fi, fantasy, etc…) that makes them fun to read and/or watch. Most tend to be average to awful, but once in awhile something great happens to come along. My latest “Song of the Day” comes from one of the great speculative fiction there is and also one of my favorite films ever: John Carpenter’s Escape from New York.

The “Main Theme” to this cult-classic is considered one of the most iconic piece of film score for a sci-fi/action film there is. The moment the synthesizer-based notes begin to play into the thumping bass line intro people know exactly what film it belongs to. It’s a testament to the creative genius that is John Carpenter that we have such a great piece of music. He didn’t just write and direct the film. He also composed the film’s score (with help from Alan Howarth) which contains the trademark synthesizer-heavy music Carpenter has made his trademark style for most of the films he’s worked on.