Review: True Blood S5E10 “Gone Gone Gone”

Before I talk about tonight’s episode of True Blood, I have to offer up an apology to you, my wonderful readers.  I’m running a bit behind on writing this review because, as a result of bad weather in my area of the world, I did not get to see tonight’s episode when it was first broadcast.  Instead, I had to wait for the second showing and now, I find myself rushing a bit as I attempt to write up my thoughts on “Gone Gone Gone”

My initial response to “Gone Gone Gone” was one of very genuine surprise.  As a character, Hoyt’s been pretty annoying as of late.  Over the course of this season, he’s managed to establish himself as such an irredeemable dumbass that even Andy has started to look better by comparison.  I mean, seriously — how much sympathy can you have for someone who nearly gets everyone killed just because he somehow managed to accidentally join up with a bunch of murderous rednecks?

And yet, the best moments of tonight’s episode all centered around Hoyt.  Having finally figured out that there’s nothing left for him in Bon Temps (which, incidentally, mirrors the fact that showrunner Alan Ball has probably figured out that there wasn’t really anything left to do with Hoyt as a character), Hoyt announced his intention to move to Alaska and get a job working with a drilling crew.  However, before he left, he had a final meeting with Jessica and Ryan and, in a scene that was surprisingly moving, Jessica erased Hoyt’s memory and finally granted him the peace that he’s spent this season so desperately searching for.

As powerful as that scene was, it was nothing compared to Hoyt’s final appearance in the episode (and, I assume, the series as a whole).  When Jason pulled the oblivious Hoyt over for speeding, Hoyt greeted him by asking if he was related to Sookie.  Despite the fact that Hoyt no longer remembered him or their friendship, Jason still got a chance to say goodbye to his former best friend before going back to his cruiser and sobbing as Hoyt drove off.  This scene was especially well-played by Ryan Kwanten, who has really come into his own as an actor this season.  More and more, it’s hard not to feel that Jason has become the show’s moral center and who would have guessed that when season 5 first started?

In other Jason news, he and Sookie discovered a parchment that was hidden under the floorboards in Sookie’s bedroom.  After several attempts to get the odd writing on the parchment translated, they took it to the faeries who informed them that the parchment was a contract that essentially promised the first-born Stackhouse of fairy origin to someone named Warlow (who, I’m assuming, is the same vampire who killed Sookie’s parents).

The rest of tonight’s episode was pretty much centered around the vampires.  Because of the “terrorist” bombings of the True Blood factories, vampires are starting to feed on human beings.  (Among the unfortunate human victims is the county coroner who, after he turns into a vampire, ends up attacking Sookie and, in a funny if implausible twist, gets staked by a pair of chopsticks.)  Elijah, the greasy-haired sheriff who showed up at the end of last week’s episode, made the mistake of attempting to bully both Tara and Pam.  Tara reacted by killing him and for that, I say, “Yay, Tara!” because Elijah was seriously not a character that I was looking forward to spending too much more time with.  

Meanwhile, Rev. Newlin and Russell are continuing their creepy little courtship and Newlin is still keeping wolf puppy Emma as his personal pet.  Fortunately, Sam and Luna shifted into two of the most adorable white mice that I’ve ever seen and, as tonight’s episode concluded, they had managed to infiltrate the Authority’s underground bunker.

Bill, meanwhile, appears to have truly gone over to the other side as, during tonight’s episode, he continued to drink Lillith’s blood and even “arranged” for Eric to have a vision of Lillith killing Godric, a vision that apparently convinced Eric to come over to the Authority’s side.  As I’ve stated before, I’m not a huge fan of born again Bill and I’m still holding on to my ever dwindling hope that all of this is just some elaborate scheme of his.  On the plus side, Eric didn’t seem all that sincere about his conversion.

If there is something that might keep Bill from totally going over to the “dark side,” it’s that Russell is obsessed with drinking faerie blood and being able to walk around in daylight.  Russell is so obsessed with this idea that he gets into a violent brawl with Salome when Salome says that it’s not Lillith’s plan for them to walk in the daylight.  Denis O’Hare has always been so wonderfully decadent and evil as Russell but tonight featured some of his best moments since the third season.

After a few episodes the bordered on almost being frantic with activity and intrigue, “Gone Gone Gone” was nice change of pace with scenes (and characters) being allowed to naturally develop and the show’s signature melodrama a bit muted to make room for reflection.  The result was a surprisingly moving episode that will be remembered as one of the best of season 5.

Random Thoughts and Observation:

  • Tonight’s unofficial scene count: 32
  • They killed off my favorite minor supporting character tonight.  Molly, the wonderfully sarcastic techie vampire, was staked and wow, didn’t Rev. Newlin just go so excited by it all?  I really hope somebody stakes Rev. Newlin before the end of this season.  He’s a putzhead.
  • How neat was it when Lafayette and Sam were both taking care of those rednecks in the bar?  I like it when Sam gets to be all manly and stuff.  Not as much as I like it when Alcide does it but, unfortunately, Alcide is apparently still hanging out in that trailer with his drunk dad.
  • There’s an art to acting confused and Ryan Kwanten has mastered it.  Seriously, his performance of Jason has been one of the season’s highlights.
  • Only two (count ’em) more episode left this season!

First Impression: Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead: Episode 2 “Starved For Help”

Telltale Games released the first episode in their adventure game The Walking Dead months ago. Due to some of their past titles not panning out despite hype from the studio this time around it seems like Telltale may have finally found their groove with this game set in the zombie apocalypse world created by critically-acclaimed comic book author Robert Kirkman. With the first episode, A New Day, the company was able to capture the chaos and danger of the early days that was only hinted at in the comic book and in the AMC tv series.

That first episode introduced gamers to the two main characters that would be the focus of this horror-adventure title. Lee Everett and Clementine were characters rare in licensed video games in that they’re original to the title and also one of the better written and realized fictional characters in gaming. The first episode did a great job in setting up these two characters and the world that some thought the problems that has plagued Telltale Games with their episodic titles would pop up once more: great beginnings that would fizzle out with each new episode.

I’m happy to say that episode 2, Starved For Help, doesn’t fall in Telltale Games’ past pattern. In fact, this latest episode in the game actually builds on the strength of the first episode and improves upon what made it fun and very good while minimizing some of the flaws with that initial episode. We find Lee, Clementine and the survivors of the first episode (how a player made their decisions on who lives or dies in the first episode will determine the roster for episode 2) still at the motel complex from the first episode. They’ve been largely kept safe at their makeshift haven but the prospect of dwindling supplies has forced Lee and the group to venture out into the surrounding forest to forage for food. It’s during one such foraging mission that the group comes across another group that would kick-off the story for Starved For Help.

Telltale Games doesn’t try to recap too much of the first episode in this follow-up, but does let the dialogue between Lee and others remind gamers about their decisions in the first episode and how it has affected the situation Lee and his group has itself in. The addition of some new members to the group doesn’t feel forced but actually feel quite welcome as it helps keep the growing rift between two factions in the group from becoming too static. In fact, this episode actually makes some of the decisions made by characters we initially found to be on our side to be counter-productive and dangerous while those who came off as too rigid and confrontational end up being more sympathetic.

It’s during these dialogue sequences where players once again have a timed-limit to make their dialogue choices and decisions that The Waling Deadcontinue to impress. Once again players must make their dialogue-choices from four choices that doesn’t really come off as evil, good, indifferent, etc. It’s up to the player to determine just exactly which dialogue answer best fit the sort of game they’re playing. I’ve played through both episodes trying out myriad of choices available to me and with each and every different choices the game plays out much differently, but still continues to straddle the grey area. There’s no good or bad decision and it’s what makes this game’s dialogue-mechanic so much better than most games that use something similar.

The action part of the episode has some tweaks to QTE (quick time event) combat mechanic that makes targeting a tad better than what was available in the first episode, but this part of the game still remains the weakest link in what has so far been a stellar game. After just two episode I wouldn’t be surprised if most fans of the title just wish for the QTE’s to go away and let actions in future episode be determined by dialogue choices. It would definitely help keep the gamer’s from being pulled out of the narrative immersion they find themselves in.

Starved For Help is a great example of how a studio can learn from it’s past mistakes and improve on the template they’ve decided on from the beginning. Even the story that unfolds in episode 2 is a huge improvement from the first episode that was very good to begin with. We see Telltale Games handle the themes of survival vs living, moral grey areas in an apocalyptic world and survival at the cost of others with deft hands that best exemplifies what has been great about the comic book series. There’s been times when the narrative in the game actually comes off as more subtle and less exposition-heay than Kirkman’s own writing which for some is an improvement in itself.

With two episode now released it’s going to be interesting if Telltale Games can continue their new found groove of keeping things consistently good to great which their past games didn’t seem to have. Now three episodes remain and from the ending of episode 2 the group has found a new reprieve from their dire problem of low supplies, but at a cost that may come back to haunt Lee, Clementine and others.

Episode 1: A New Day

Quick Review: The Bourne Legacy (dir. by Tony Gilroy)

After completing The Bourne Ultimatum, Director Paul Greengrass and Actor Matt Damon were probably asked if they’d ever come back to do another. When you look at the overall story, Bourne’s journey was pretty complete, and Damon voiced that he’d only consider doing another if Greengrass did. After Greengrass bowed out, the notion of another chapter in the Bourne saga was dead in the water.

Universal had other ideas, deciding on moving forward and having the trilogy’s screenwriter, Tony Gilroy direct The Bourne Legacy. No stranger to making films, Gilroy is more known for making “slow burn” features like Duplicity and one of my favorites, Michael Clayton. If he were working on a remake to “All the President’s Men”, I’d be certain it was a perfect fit. For Bourne, however, we get something of a different result. Not a terrible one, but possibly not the one that everyone was hoping for. This almost makes sense, considering that even the Bourne novels themselves were taken over by Eric Van Lustbader after Robert Ludlum’s death.

The Bourne Legacy takes place during the same time period as The Bourne Ultimatum. The story expands not on what happened to Bourne post Ultimatum, but what happened to the programs in place in the aftermath of Bourne’s visit to New York. We find Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner), part of a separate program that goes beyond Treadstone and Blackbriar, making his way through a snowy Alaskan wilderness. The new breed of agents (assets, as they’re referred to in the Bourne Universe) are genetically augmented by way of meds they call “Chems”. The Chems give the assets the edge they need to do what they do.

This bothered me a little, because Jason Bourne got by with none of that for years, but I chalk that part of the storyline to the notion that Gilroy has this thing for Pharmaceuticals and Chemicals. Michael Clayton’s antagonist worked for a Chemical Company. Duplicity’s spies were trying to steal secrets from a pair of what seemed like pharmaceutical companies. The reasoning behind Cross’ need for the Chems is made clear through the story, but it was a strange angle to go on, I felt.

During the course of Aaron’s trip, the Powers That Be, played by, Stacy Keach, Donna Murphy and an underused Edward Norton decide that Bourne’s actions (along with Joan Allen’s Pamela Landy) are going to cause all of their programs some serious trouble and decide to wipe the slate clean. Cross needs to both escape this while still finding a way to get a hold of the Chems he needs to stay at peak performance. That’s the idea behind the Bourne Legacy in a nutshell.

On a casting level, The Bourne Legacy is actually very good. Both Renner and Rachel Weisz handle their parts well, I thought (for what they were given). A few of the cast members return from the previous Bourne films, but their appearances are so brief that it may leave you feeling as if they were just a piece of leftover film from the Original Trilogy. If there’s anyone who feels out of place, it would have to be Edward Norton. He comes across in this movie like he wasn’t sure what he wanted to take on and decided to just do this to pass the time.

The action in the Bourne Legacy is on par with the other films, but this being Gilroy, there’s more of a distance between the action and the drama.  When I really think about it, there’s about the same amount of it as there was in The Bourne Identity or Supremacy – neither one of those were die hard action films – but the potential to wish for more is greater with Legacy. This is especially true with the way it was advertised. Just about every action scene in the film is in the trailer. That said, Gilroy has gotten better at being able to handle these scenes. A few more films like this and he should do really well in the future.

Just like Michael Clayton, however, the movie ends so abruptly that you may blink a few times in protest. Gilroy needs to work on that part.

So overall, The Bourne Legacy wasn’t a story that was needed, nor does it really add too much more to the Bourne Universe over all, but it’s nice to return to the espionage that surrounds it. Here’s hoping that this could give something more for Renner, Gilroy and the rest of the team.

VGM Entry 14: Konami in ’86

VGM Entry 14: Konami in ’86
(Thanks to Tish at FFShrine for the banner)

I never actually got into the Castlevania series until Symphony of the Night came out in 1997. It was conspiratorially taken off my radar. My parents weren’t about to have any of that demonic, Satan-worshiping trash in OUR household. Here’s some change, go pick up that new one I heard about in Reader’s Digest. M.C. Kids was it? (We actually owned a copy of the infamous unlicensed Bible Adventures.)

But I digress.

What drew me to Symphony of the Night in the first place was Michiru Yamane’s outstanding soundtrack. Her classical compositions drove the game, defining the setting and mood in a way that graphics alone could never accomplish. What I hadn’t known at the time was that this was a series tradition dating all the way back to the 1986 original. Even some of the tracks remained. Vampire Killer, arguably the most iconic song of the series (its rival, Bloody Tears, first appeared on Simon’s Quest in 1987), was in place from the get-go.

Konami is an especially difficult company to sort out soundtrack credits for. Kinuyo Yamashita has acknowledged that she composed most of the soundtrack, but refrained from disclosing which tracks specifically were her work. Her official biography confirms Wicked Child and Heart of Fire. The rest is anyone’s guess. The classical influences in both of these songs, which so appropriately set the mood for the entire game series, may well have been a part of her conceptual contribution.

Of course the entire soundtrack isn’t this great. Vampire Killer, Wicked Child, and Heart of Fire stand pretty far above the rest. The music varies from excellent to merely sufficient, though much to its credit it never devolves further. Kinuyo Yamashita still struggled I suppose, as did most of her contemporaries, to make do with the highly limited sound selections technology made available. But if some of the tracks sink a bit into mediocrity, they at least never dip below it. The classical influences maintain the work’s consistency and provide the requisite spooky haunt of a vampire game. She never tries to get too experimental about creating a sinister sound (as opposed to say, Hirokazu Tanaka on Metroid, which was just a little more hit-or-miss than people care to remember), and the decision pays off.

(Ganbare Goemon! Karakuri Dōchū)

Another significant Konami series launched in 1986 is Ganbare Goemon, familiar to western audiences as Legend of the Mystical Ninja. Konami never made a real go at marketing this series in North America. The SNES title Ganbare Goemon: Yukihime Kyuushutsu Emaki, appearing in North America as The Legend of the Mystical Ninja in 1992, was our first of very few ported installments. In fact, Wikipedia lists a whopping 35 Ganbare Goemon titles, of which only five were ever ported. At least up through the SNES era they all featured the Asian folk style you are currently hearing.

The first was Mr. Goemon, a 1986 arcade game, but Ganbare Goemon! Karakuri Dōchū followed that same year for the Famicom and was not a port. Satoko Miyawaki is occasionally credited with the composition of the latter, however I could not confirm this, nor whether he had any involvement in the arcade version. This musical style, similar to that of Yie Ar Kung-Fu, was and remains relatively unique for video games. Konami’s musicians would continue to improve upon it over the years, making it a staple feature of all of the early Ganbare Goemon games.