Sunday, June 21, 2015

Stephen King obviously doesn't need my help

The great and mighty Stephen King obviously doesn't need any of my help selling any books - his author book-jacket blurb flatly states "the author of more than fifty books, all of them worldwide bestsellers" but I recently got the opportunity to knock two more of my all-time-King list: Revival (published in November 2014) and Mr. Mercedes (published in June 2014).  (How does he do that?  Publish two complete novels in the same year?)  I'm not going to count either of these as my favorites but I almost always enjoy a new King read.

Revival follows the life of Jamie Morton, and his connection with the at first charismatic, and later sinister, Reverent Charles Jacobs.  Reverend Jacobs is at first an electricity hobbyist but after a horrific family tragedy, becomes more and more obsessed with the power coursing through the earth and its sky.  Jamie's path keeps crossing with Jacobs; they are inexplicably intertwined, right up to the sharp swerve into The Dark Tower/Lovecraftian ending of the book.

Mr. Mercedes has no supernatural elements and is a straight-up cop thriller.  In an unnamed Midwestern city, a terrible mass murder case has gone unsolved after a masked man driving a tank of a Mercedes plows into a crowd of applicants at a jobs fair.  Retired detective Bill Hodges can't let the case go and, when he receives a letter purporting to be from the driver of that Mercedes, Bill is compelled to solve the case.  Told from twin points of view - Bill's and the killer's - the point of this novel is not to figure out whodunnit (you know who by page 42), but to see whether the good guys will be able to catch the very clever but all too human bad guy.

I liked Mr. Mercedes well enough (certainly moreso than Revival) and was interested to learn that King's latest, Finders Keepers, is a related book, revisiting with some of the characters but following a different plot line entirely.  I prefer my Stephen King on the spooky side but I'm always up to see what he's got for us next.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Movie review: Return to OZ

Disney's Return to OZ, the 1985 sequel to the beloved classic, The Wizard of Oz (1939), is a slightly disturbing return to the land of L. Frank Baum's imagination.  I'm not sure how well it did upon its release - I don't remember it coming out in theaters at all - but if it wasn't well-received, I can believe it.  This sequel is scary (this coming from someone who is still disturbed by the original's flying monkeys).

When the movie opens, we learn that Dorothy (a nine year old Fairuza Balk) has been unable to sleep since the tornado that destroyed the Gales' home and whisked her away to the land of Oz.  her aunt and uncle are at their wits' end and decide to take her to a mental asylum where she will be subjected to electroshock therapy in an attempt to cure her of her Oz-ish delusions.  The asylum is frightening, with unseen patients' shrieks and cries echoing through the halls.  The head nurse is brusque to the point of meanness; the head doctor seems far too excited at the prospect of zapping people with his electricity machine.  As poor Dorothy is strapped to a table and connected to the electroshock machine, a wild thunderstorm rages outside, knocking out the facility's generator.  In the confusion, a mysterious blonde girl frees Dorothy and runs outside with her.  The head nurse gives chase and the girls fall into a raging river, the blonde disappearing under the surface and Dorothy clinging to a battered, floating chicken coop.

In the morning, Dorothy of course finds herself in Oz, accompanied by a (now-) talking hen from back home, Billina (which begs the question, why wasn't Toto able to talk when he was in Oz?).  Looking for Dorothy's old friends, they journey to the Emerald City, only to discover the city in ruins due to the machinations of the Nome King.  Dorothy and Billina are menaced by nasty Wheelers (people with wheels for hands and feet who are fully as terrifying as the flying monkeys) and a very scary witch who switches heads on a whim, but gain some new companions - Tik-Tok, a clockworks soldier; Jack Pumpkinhead; and the Gump - before confronting the Nome King.

Return to OZ is pretty intense.  There are quite a few scary characters - even good, simple Jack is a teensy bit creepy - and the sets are not as candy-colorful as TWoO.  The animation is awkward and has not aged well but Fairuza Balk does a great job as Dorothy, who has been de-aged from TWoO to align more closely with the original books.  What I enjoyed the most about RtO, actually, was how much came back to me from the books, which I adored when I was younger.  Even though it has been literally decades since I've read any of the OZ books, I remembered Billina, the lunch-pail trees, Mombi the witch, the Gump and the Wheelers.  Watching Return to OZ has actually inspired me to revisit the books - you can scarcely ask more of a movie than that.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Mini book review: Midnight Riot by Ben Aaronovitch

Finally a book that has enticed me enough to go after subsequent volumes in the series: Midnight Riot by Ben Aaronovitch!  Peter Grant is a probationary constable with London's Metropolitan Police.  After learning to his dismay that his supervisors plan to put him into an all-paperwork job - Peter is perhaps a little too easily distractable for the Murder Unit - he just happens to speak to a ghost who is an eyewitness to a very strange and violent crime.  Peter learns that the Met actually has a supernatural investigations division, headed by the mysterious Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale.  Nightingale gets him transferred and soon Peter is learning magic, talking with river spirits and going through cellphones faster than you can say "Piccadilly Circus" as they try to discover, with help of Constable Leslie May and terrier Toby, who is behind a string of escalating murders.

Midnight Riot is an excellent entry in the mashed-up British detective/urban fantasy genre.  Written in the first person, with Peter Grant as the sarcastic, interested and sometimes baffled narrator, it is a real page turner with plot advancements coming fast and furiously amid gently pointed and contemporary observations about London's traffic, tourists, police, weather and spicy West Indian food.  I was charmed by Peter Grant and his magical, modern London and I will definitely be picking up the second book in the series, Moon Over Soho, in the near future.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Movie review: Mad Max: Fury Road

Just go see it.

Mad Max: Fury Road is quite possibly the best action movie I've ever seen.  There is nothing extraneous in it; it is taut, linear and exposition-free.  The mostly practical stunts are incredible - Cirque du Soleil performers were apparently hired to fling themselves around on long, bendy poles whilst attached to battle-cars careening through the desert.  Tom Hardy, as the new Max, is good and has a complete character arc even though he has scarcely any dialogue.  Charlize Theron, on the other hand, is incredible and a complete bad ass.  I want her on my side when the apocalypse comes.  The non-headlining characters are amazingly well-rounded; the Wives refuse to be victims and Nicholas Hoult, as warboy Nux, is both hilarious and heartbreaking.  The two hour movie is nearly non-stop action; when the theater lights came up, I was completely exhausted and yet, if I'd been given the option, I would have watched again, right then, immediately.  The worst part of the whole thing was having to get into my meek, poky little Subaru Forester afterwards and then drive calmly home, obeying all the traffic lights.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Mini book reviews: Alanna: The First Adventure and Sabriel

I think I picked these books out of an NPR Book Review page, probably something listing a bunch of young adult/science fiction and fantasy titles - I can't think where else I would have found them.  They aren't new books - Alanna is from 1983; and Sabriel is from 1995.

Alanna: The First Adventure - by Tamora Pierce.  When their father decides to send them off for training, eleven year old twin, Alanna and Thom, hatch a plan: tomboy Alanna, who wants to be a knight, will disguise herself as a boy and go off to learn sword-fighting, horsemanship, chivalry and the lot, while her brother Thom, who has a facility for magic, will go to school to learn to be a sorcerer.  Young "Alan" makes friends - and enemies - quickly at the castle, and throws herself into learning how to be a knight, showing remarkable skill with a sword; she is also unable to entirely distance herself from magic, and once she saves the prince's life, she becomes entangled in palace intrigue.  As the title suggests, the book follows Alanna's exploits, only barely checking in on Thom, following her through the first couple of years of her training.  This Alanna book, the first in a quartet, is written for very young adults, or better yet children.  The writing is not particularly sophisticated, the characters are not well developed and the plot seems written in rather broad strokes.  I've read children's fantasy that are clever, intriguing, well-written and intricately plotted - this is not one of them.

Sabriel by Garth Nix.  Sabriel is a particular kind of sorcerer, an estranged native of the Old Kingdom and daughter of the Abhorsen, trained to go into Death, ushering lost souls into the light and keeping Death's more gruesome denizens from overrunning the earth.  On her eighteenth birthday, she was supposed to meet with her father; he never shows up, instead sending a messenger to her with his enchanted tools and bells for safekeeping.  Sabriel enters the Old Kingdom, on a quest to look for him.  Along the way she makes some strange acquaintances and good comrades, and ends up wading deeper into Death than she ever has before.  I liked Sabriel more than I did Alanna, but again, this book seems lightweight (despite all the death and destruction and scary scenes) somehow.  It switches point-of-view oddly a couple of times, which was distracting enough to pull me out of the story, and the characters are pretty thin.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Daredeviling

POSSIBLE LIGHT SPOILERS FOR THOSE WHO HAVEN'T WATCHED YET.  IF THERE ARE ANY OF THOSE LEFT.

I know, I'm supposed to be finishing up Ultraviolet but I have gotten completely sidetracked with Netflix's Daredevil. I haven't been totally binge-watching it - limiting myself to two or three episodes a night because (1) it lasts longer that way and (2) I fall asleep if I try to stay up longer than that.  I feel not binge-watching it probably is a good thing too: I just love it but it is extremely violent and quite often graphic.  I'm talking on-purpose self-impalement through the eye and pulpy decapitation via repeated car door slams, in particular.  I don't think these two instances were necessarily gratuitous because in the first example, it showed how scary the Kingpin is that a minion would rather off himself gruesomely than deal with the aftermath of betraying the boss; and in the second, the character doing the decapitating has, up until this point, been remarkably smooth and controlled and the sudden switch is all the more terrifying.

I think Daredevil is very well cast.  It's grim and dark (both literally and emotionally/figuratively) and yet still human and funny.  Some of the action/fight scenes are simply amazing, including this one spectacular one-take shot with Matt Murdock vs. many, many Russians in a long corridor.  I've seen up through E8 and am hoping to get through the rest of the season this weekend.  Avengers ... Ultron is just going to have to wait.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Meanwhile ...

I'm currently girding my loins at the prospect of beginning the recaps for True Blood Season 6 - I know that's my usual summer go-to but ohdearlord I just can't face it, not yet.  Television-wise I'm sort of saturated with comic book shows (Arrow, The Flash, iZombie, Gotham, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) and am almost done with Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, which I do like but am finding uneven.  I'm holding off on starting Daredevil (which is getting very good reviews) until I finish Kimmy but I have also succumbed to the DVD temptations of Ultraviolet: it's only six episodes and how can you NOT love a dark and stylish, late 1990s British vampire show where they don't ever say "vampire" and also a young Idris Elba?  It's like that show was made for me.

I have also cracked a book or two, including:

The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson.  A lightweight, YA urban fantasy with a first person narrator (naturally).  Set in modern day London, American teenager Rory Deveaux starts her new boarding school just as a Jack the Ripper copycat begins menacing the city. Rory becomes entangled in the intrigue as she starts seeing people that none of her new friends can see.  Highlights include boarding school traditions, field hockey, a little bit of romance and secret ghost hunters.  It's the first book in the series, Shades of London.

Also, and which I liked much better:

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman.  Again with a first person narrator, this is YA high fantasy and much, much more complicated plot-wise; this one has dragons, court intrigue, musical theory, secrets and lies.  Seraphina Dombegh is the court's assistant music mistress, talented beyond her years but not quite comfortable around all the lords and ladies.  When Prince Rufus gets murdered, it seems like a dragon may have done it, which could derail the forty years of peace between humans and dragons.  Seraphina is caught in the middle because she has a secret: she is half dragon herself, an abomination whose dragon mother died and whose human father seems to want nothing to do with her.  She gets drawn into things as her musical student, Princess Grisselda, and the Princess's cousin/fiance, Prince Lucian Kiggs, begin to dig deeper into the mystery surrounding the murder as the tension between humans and dragons builds in the kingdom.  Seraphina is an interesting character: stubborn, smart, lonely, talented, brave and conflicted about her dragon heritage.  There's a twisty plot; the characters are interesting and have arcs, becoming deeper as the story goes on.  I will definitely read the next one, Shadow Scale, to see what comes next for Seraphina, 'Selda and Kiggs.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Walking Dead S5E16 "Conquer" 3/29/15

Season 5 finale time!  After all the rampant speculation on the interwebs - Glen's gonna die! Carol's gonna die! Norman Reedus is selling his Georgia home so Daryl's gonna die! - everyone was pretty wound up and nervous about what was going to go down.  Despite some very, very gnarly zombie effects, the last episode of S5 would turn out much less carnage-y than I feared it would be.  Plus, Carol?  Total BAMF.  As if we didn't already know that.

Morgan!!! It's Morgan, hunkered down for a nap in a derelict car somewhere in the woods.  He gets up and boils some water for soup or oatmeal.  Before he can partake, however, a sketchy looking dude walks out of the underbrush, pointing a gun at him.  They talk a little, calmly, almost pleasantly.  Morgan asks what the W carved into the guy's head is for.  The guy explains about how all the wolves in the area were killed by the settlers.  But the Wolves are back now.  Things get a bit tenser when the Wolf stops Morgan from sipping his soup/oatmeal, saying that he's going to take everything that Morgan has and he's going to kill Morgan to boot.  Morgan shrugs and puts the mug down.  After a little more talking, a second Wolf comes out of the woods behind Morgan.  Not to worry, though: Morgan has traded his former feral-craziness for some badass quarterstaff moves and he proceeds to clobber the crap out of the two Wolves.  When they are unconscious, he stuffs them in the car he'd been sleeping in and honks the horn a little to draw any local walkers in.  I have a feeling he probably should have killed them - I'm afraid his mercy will come back to bite him (or someone else).

Daryl and Aaron.  The recruiting team parks their chopper and car, respectively, and heads into the woods on foot.  They're following someone's trail.  Aaron says that when they get close enough, they'll set up a microphone and listen until they're sure whether the potential recruit is worthy.  A bit later, they spot the guy they've been trailing.  He's wearing a red rain poncho and rubbing some wild leeks over his face and hands.  Daryl grunts, impressed that Red Poncho Guy knows such natural mosquito repellent.

Rick.  Rick wakes up, woozy and heavily bandaged, in a room that isn't his.  Michonne is there, watching him.  She asks him WTF he's doing and why didn't he tell her what was going on.  Glen, Carol and Abraham show up and Carol immediately pounces on Rick: "Where'd you get the gun?  You took it from the armory, didn't you? Stupid."  Rick catches on quickly to her ruse and agrees.  Glen says that there's going to be a meeting tonight to discuss what to do.  Carol tells Rick what to say - Pete, abuser, etc. - and finishes with, "Just tell the story that they want to hear. It's what I've been doing since we got here."  Michonne, baffled: "Why?"  Carol: "Because these people are children and children like stories."  Damn.  Carol is stone-cold.  Abraham wonders what happens after all the talking, when they still want to kick Rick out.  They come up with a plan to use their knives (the armory is now guarded), grab Deanna and other key people, and force the Alexandrians to surrender to them.  Glen wants to know if Rick planned all this.  Rick says no, he just hit his limit and screwed up, and now they have to deal with the fall-out.

Maggie.  Maggie is with Deanna and Reg (Deanna's husband).  Deanna says that tonight's meeting is just for people to talk and then she'll make the decision about Rick.  Maggie pleads his case a bit, citing all the things Rick (and by extension, the rest of the group) has been through but Deanna is all, I'll do as I see fit.  Maggie takes her leave and Reg chases after her.  He is on her side and tells her that he'll tell his wife that Alexandria needs Rick and his group - that's what he's going to tell everyone.  Maggie feels a little bit better about that at least.

Sasha.  Outside the community's walls, Sasha has dug a pit.  She collects all the walkers she killed from the clocktower and dumps them in.  Then, she stares into the pit and climbs into it, lying down on top of the dead zombies.  It's a cool visual but her character is so thinly drawn that I just don't care about all this PTSD/depression/what-have-you she's going through.

Rick.  Carol comes back after the rest have gone.  She hands him another gun, saying she didn't tell the others about the guns she took because she's just not sure where they stand.  Rick sighs, saying he doesn't want to lie anymore.  Carol: "You said you don't want to take this place.  And you don't want to lie?  Oh, sunshine, you don't get both."  Later, Rick leaves wherever it was he'd been put, walking down the street without challenge.  Deanna watches him go by, a scowl on her face.  He heads home, where Carl is waiting with Judith.  He warns the boy that he may have to hurt or kill some townspeople to keep from being exiled.  Carl shakes his head, saying all Rick needs to do is tell the Alexandrians just what it is like outside their walls.

Glen and Maggie.  Maggie fills Glen in on the deal with Deanna, saying that she's going to spend the rest of the day talking to people and campaigning for Rick.  She heads off and he sits, lost in thought until he sees Nicholas scaling the walls.  Curious and/or pissed off, Glen follows him.

Gabriel.  Father Gabriel, wearing nothing but a white shirt and not carrying any weapons, leaves Alexandria via the front gate.  Deanna's remaining son Spencer questions the wisdom of going out unarmed but Gabriel says he's just going out for a short walk.

Daryl and Aaron.  Outside a fenced cannery/warehouse, Aaron shrugs: they've lost the trail of Red Poncho Guy but they're found this place - they need more food and this is a potential gold mine.  Daryl seems a little fashed at giving up on chasing their recruit but ultimately agrees.  They quickly kill the few zombies wandering around in the fence and head inside.  Four or five semi trucks are backed into the loading dock, doors closed.  Daryl opens one of the trailers - which trips a wire and suddenly ALL of the trailer doors fly open.  And the trailers are FULL of walkers.  The zombies swarm out and they are everywhere.  Daryl and Aaron take cover under a trailer, just to regroup, but they can't stay there and scramble out again.  Daryl snatches up a length of chain and when he's out from under the trailer AWESOMELY DECAPITATES THREE ZOMBIES with one lashing of that chain.  Best. Zombie. Death. Ever.  They try to make a run for it but there are way too many zombies and there's no way to get clear.  They make their way to a small station wagon, left parked behind the trailers.  They jump inside - Aaron crushes a walker's skull trying to get the door closed - and are safe for the moment.  For the moment.  There are so many zombies, all looking at them through the glass.  They look for something to block the windows, hoping the zombies will get disinterested, but there's nothing there but a scrawled note on a scrap of paper: "TRAP BAD PEOPLE COMING DON'T STAY."  Well, duh.

Carol.  Carol has brought a casserole over to Pete, who is sitting in a house in the dark, telling him that he needs to go check on Tara (remember Tara?  Massive head wound?).  He is not well-pleased to see her.  When he starts to get belligerent, Carol calmly unbuttons her cardigan and pulls out a hunting knife.  "I could kill you right now," she says, almost conversationally.  "I could.  I will.  And then, who is going to believe I did it because I didn't like you? No one.  They'll believe you tried to hurt me."  Pete laughs nervously, leaning in at her, and she pushes the point of the blade right up under his chin.  That stops him.  She tells him that the way things have played out, he has a chance - him here, Jessie over there.  "You're a small, weak nothing.  And with the world how it is, you're even weaker.  Play your cards right maybe you don't have to die."  She shoves the casserole dish into his hands, snarling that she wants her dish back - clean - when he's done.  When Carol leaves, Pete throws the casserole to the floor and stomps into another room, breaking things and shouting, "This isn't my house!"  Carol, you goddamn glorious puppet-master.

Glen.  Out in the woods, Glen hears Nicholas moving off but has lost sight of him.  Bad move, Glen.  Because Nicholas can see him and wastes no time shooting him with the gun of Rick's he pilfered an episode or so ago.  The bullet hits Glen in the shoulder and knocks him over, backwards down a ravine.  When Nicholas runs up to check, Glen is nowhere to be seen.

Rick.  Because Rick can't stop being a fairly creepy stalker, he swings by Jessie's house where she is halfheartedly picking up broken glass from the window Rick and Pete crashed through.  She tells him that he shouldn't be here, that they shouldn't be seen talking, but he insists that he just wants to know if she's okay.  He also says he's not sorry he did it, not matter what happens or what he ends up having to do.  As he turns to go, she tells him that he was right.  And across the street, a glowering Pete watches Rick walk away from his house and his wife.

Daryl and Aaron.  The guys are realizing that there's really no way out of this for them.  But Daryl laughs a little, saying that back at Alexandria, inside houses, he felt all closed up, but out here - even trapped in this little car - he feels more like himself.  "Pretty messed up, huh?"  But Aaron understands.  He says that the moment he knew he needed to bring Rick's group back to the community was when he watched Daryl lead his group to safety in the barn during that storm.  That was when he was sure they - and Daryl - were good people.  Daryl thinks about this for a couple of seconds and lights a cigarette.  And then he says, "I'll go.  I'll lead 'em out and you make a break for the fence. Just let me finish my smoke first."  And at that moment, thousands and thousands and thousands of Daryl fans screamed in horror at their televisions.  But Aaron's like, "No, no way.  We do it together - whether we make it or not - we have to."  Daryl nods in agreement and they decide to make a run for it, count of three.  One, two ... and a zombie's head splatters all over the window.  The guys are shocked.  It's Morgan!!!  And the guys realize not to look a gift horse in the mouth.  They rush out of the car as Morgan lays waste to enough walkers for them to get clear.  All three of them run for the fence and dash through the gate, slamming it closed behind them.  They introduce themselves and Aaron gasps out a thank you.  Daryl wants to know why.  Morgan: "Because now all life is precious."  Aaron starts his Alexandria sales pitch, noting that whoever set that trap is likely on their way.  Morgan says he has his own destination, but he's lost and could they maybe point out where they are on his map.  He hands his map to Daryl and it's the one he found with Abraham's note to Rick on it.  Daryl looks at the map and then looks intently at Morgan.

Gabriel.  Gabriel whistles as he walks, approaching a feeding walker.  He's decided to commit suicide by zombie and spreads his arms wide, whispering, "I'm ready" as the monster lurches closer.  But as the walker gets within biting distance, Gabriel can't go through with it.  He struggles with the zombie and manages to pull its head off.  Crying, he smashes the still-growling head with a handy rock and then walks over to the still-twitching victim and smashes his head too.  Then he crumples into a fetal position in the middle of the road and sobs.  You know, this guy is a good enough actor but I just don't care.

Abraham.  Abraham brings some flowers for Tara.  Rosita is keeping watch over her and Eugene is there too, asleep in a chair.  Abraham makes to leave when he sees Eugene, since they still have unresolved issues, but Rosita waves him in, then knocks a metal pan off the counter.  The racket wakes Eugene, forcing Abraham to deal with him.  They talk, both awkwardly, each apologizing to the other - for lying about Washington D.C.; for trying to kill Eugene over the lie - and also Eugene thanking Abraham for saving his life countless times.

Gabriel.  After his crying jag, Gabriel returns to Alexandria and Spencer opens the gate for him.  As the preacher walks back inside, Spencer leaves the gate open for Gabriel to close, in what is CLEARLY a plot device, saying that he wants to sneak off to the meeting.  The kid was like five feet away and he couldn't close the gate?  That's bullshit and even a flaky guard would never have done that.  Weak writing, especially since the meeting won't actually get going until after dark.  Regardless, Spencer runs off and Gabriel, who is in a daze of self pity, doesn't close the gate.

Glen.  Nicholas heads back towards Alexandria through the woods.  When a zombie approaches, he draws his knife and tries to be brave enough to put it down without shooting it.  But he isn't brave enough and shoots it instead, and that's when Glen comes charging out of the underbrush at him.  They fight, kicking, screaming, punching, clawing, stomping on knees, gouging fingers into gunshot wounds, and the ruckus they make draws several zombies.  Nicholas rolls away and a zombie falls on Glen.  He's weakened from being shot and I actually get a little nervous - because we're an hour in and no one has died yet.  Will it be Glen?

Rick.  Before the meeting, Michonne goes to check on Rick, asking if he's ready for the meeting.  He tells her that he, Carol and Daryl stole guns from the armory, working it out together.  He says he's been lying to Michonne because he wasn't sure how she'd take it and he hands over the gun Carol brought him.  Michonne:  "You think I'd try and stop you?"  Rick, with a bit of humor: "Well, you did hit me over the head."  Michonne is not joking around, however, and tells him that she did it for him, not the Alexandrians.  She says she thinks they can find a way to live here without their weapons ... but if they can't, she's still with him.  "Something's gonna happen.  Just don't make something happen."  And then she gives him his gun back and heads out to the meeting, telling him not to be too long.  As he gets ready to go, he looks out the window and immediately goes tense.  Next shot: Rick running down the street towards the open gate.  He slams the gate closed, noting a trail of blood drops heading into town.  Oops.  Something is loose in Alexandria.

Sasha and Gabriel.  But before we can get to the excitement of possible zombies roaming the town, we have to pause to go to the chapel.  Sasha is already there when Gabriel gets back.  She is lost, she says, and asks for his help.  And Gabriel decides to try suicide by Sasha instead, telling her no, he can't help her, she doesn't belong her because of what she did, beating those people to death back in his church.  He knows all the right buttons to push, invoking Bob and Tyrese, and she gets more and more distraught, finally struggling with him, getting him on the floor and shoving her rifle in his face.  "Do it," he whispers.

The meeting.  Deanna has gathered everyone (and there really don't seem to be very many Alexandrians - I wonder what the community's population is/is supposed to be) to talk about Rick and what he did and what he said.  Maggie and Michonne protest that Rick and Glen aren't here yet; Carol, with a sweet smile on her face, says that she's sure Rick will be here and she's sure they can work all this out.  But Deanna forges ahead.  Many of Rick's people - Maggie, Michonne, Carol (doing her best manipulative Stepford-talk) speak up on his behalf but Abraham is the best and I'll quote it in full:  "Simply put, there is a vast ocean of shit that you people don't know shit about.  Rick knows every fine grain of said shit.  And then some."  After that, Deanna tells the group the shortened version of what Gabriel told her about Rick and his group.  Jessie speaks up, saying since Gabriel isn't at the meeting, what Deanna is providing is just hearsay.  Maggie takes this opportunity to sneak away to look for Rick and/or Glen and/or Gabriel.

Not in the meeting.  Nicholas tiptoes through the woods, limping.  And then Glen, who is apparently unkillable, walks up behind him and clobbers him on the back of his head, dropping him.  Rick runs through the streets of Alexandria, looking for whatever got in.  He finds what he's looking for when he hears a dog barking.  It's four or five zombies.  He puts several down easily, knife through the skull, but the last one manages to get him on the ground.  Rick can't reach his weapons and so instead, squeezes and squeezes and squeezes until the zombie's head pops, splattering goo and rot and nasty liquid all over Rick's face.  SO GROSS.  Back out in the woods, Glen sits on Nicholas's chest, punching him for a while and then pulling out a gun.  Shaking, spitting, near hysterical, Glen pushes the barrel of the gun into the other man's forehead.  Nicholas begs for his life, shrieking, cowardly.  Glen comes very close to pulling the trigger ... but because he's still a good guy, he doesn't do it and even ends up helping Nicholas stagger back to Alexandria.  Meanwhile, back at the cannery, those two Wolves that Morgan didn't kill have caught Red Poncho Guy.  They slit his throat and then, using a remote, turn on flashing lights and loud music which are emanating from the trailers.  The zombies follow the distractions back into the trailers and the Wolves reset their trap.

Also not in the meeting.  Maggie enters the chapel before Sasha can pull the trigger and gently takes the gun away.  Sasha is crying.  Gabriel starts crying too, saying "They all died because of me."  Maggie takes his hand in hers, agreeing, "They did."  And then the three of them sit and quietly pray together.  Because faith in God has been so helpful thus far.

The meeting.  Some Alexandrian speaks up, saying that all he wants to do is protect his family and if that means exiling some or all of the newcomers ... well, he doesn't get to finish that thought because a gore-drenched Rick has finally arrived at the meeting.  And he's brought a visual aid: the corpse of one of the zombies he just killed.  He throws the corpse down and all the Alexandrians recoil.  (None of Rick's people even flinch.)  He says there wasn't a guard and the gate was open - he didn't bring the zombie in, it got inside on its own.  (Deanna glares at Spencer and he scampers off, back to his post.)  "They always will [get inside], the dead and the living.  Because we're in here.  They'll hunt us and find us and try to use us, try to kill us.  But we'll survive.  I'll show you how."  He says that he'd been thinking of how many Alexandrians he'd have to kill to save their lives - but now he thinks he doesn't have to [kill anyone].  He knows they'll change.  "Luck runs out."  And on top of those sage words, a drunken Pete staggers into the meeting, waving Michonne's sword wildly and raving, "You're not one of us! You're not one of us!"  Reg goes up to calm the doctor down.  Rick puts his hand on his gun and gives Carol a glance.  She shakes her head, hissing, "Not now" because she knew her confrontation with Pete would set him off OMG Carol you manipulative genius.  But Pete will not calm down and keeps waving that sword until he inadvertently slashes poor Reg's throat.  Reg goes down, choking and splashing blood everywhere as Deanna wails and cries.  Abraham pounces on Pete, knocking him to the ground and holding him there.  Reg bleeds out quickly.  Wild with grief, Deanna looks up at Rick, her constable, and snarls, "Rick.  Do it."  And without hesitation, Rick pulls his gun and shoots Pete in the head.  And just then Daryl and Aaron and Morgan walk up.  Morgan, Mister "Life is Precious," looks at dead Pete and looks at his old acquaintance, and says, shocked, "Rick!"

Post credits.  Michonne goes to the mantel to hang her sword back up.  She pauses, jams the sword back in its scabbard and slings it across her back.  It goes well with her constable's uniform, I think.  And back at that cannery, as Red Poncho Zombie lurches around the fenced-in yard, we see a message graffitied onto a derelict car: WOLVES NOT FAR.  That can't be good.

So, as I said, not very carnage-y.  Carol, Daryl and Glen all survived - all our gang survived, surprisingly.  As much as I am relieved that none of my favorites got killed off, this season finale seemed a bit anti-climatic, like it's just setting us up for the Wolves in S6.  I guess we'll find out.

Previously on The Walking Dead / next time on The Walking Dead

Friday, March 27, 2015

The Walking Dead S5E15 "Try" 3/22/15

Deanna, her husband and her remaining son sit around the house, mourning Aiden and listening to one of his "Run Mix" CDs.  You know, because Nine Inch Nails is such excellent bereavement music.  Elsewhere: Carol makes a casserole and writes a sympathy card; Sasha, looking more and more unstable, takes up her post in the watchtower and takes out a zombie.  Her aim is still good as ever.  After a knock on the door, Deanna finds Carol's casserole, left on the doorstep.  She picks up the card and goes back inside, leaving the casserole there, then takes the card to a candle and burns it, unread.  Also, outside the walls, Daryl and Aaron see the flicker of a campfire out in the distance.  There's someone else out there.

Deanna watches the tape she made of her interview with Nicholas after the disastrous run from last episode.  This interview is intercut with shots of Glen (talking to Rick).  Nicholas blatantly lies about what went down, claiming that Glen left Aiden to die and was actively trying to push him out the revolving door and into the waiting zombies.  Nicholas: "They did this! It was them ... these people have to go - they are not like us."  But Glen, he tells the truth, sadly, exhaustedly, tells the truth about Nicholas's cowardice and Noah's death.  He speaks earnestly when Rick mutters that [Rick's group] doesn't have to abide by the Alexandrian rules.  "We have to make this work!" - Noah wanted it that way.

That night, as she and Rick watch Jessie and her sons from across the way, Carol asks if he's thought about what to do about Pete.  She says that Sam told her that his mom put a bolt on the inside of his closet and told him to hide in there when the fighting gets bad.  Carol: "If walkers hadn't gotten Ed, I wouldn't be standing here right now."  Some time later, Pete comes up to Rick, who is standing in a small park, revolver in hand, staring into the middle distance. Pete is looking a little drunk and a little clueless and Rick growls at him to "keep walking."  A befuddled Pete stammers and then moves on.

In the morning, Michonne gets up, looks at her new constable uniform and sighs.  Rosita comes in and tells her that she thinks Sasha spent the night in the watch tower (Abraham is up there now) but then didn't come back home.  They grab up some weapons (a handgun for Michonne, a big knife for Rosita) and go outside the walls, looking for their friend.  It's the first time either of them has gone outside the walls since they got to Alexandria and Michonne thinks it already feels different - she says she feels like she was asleep in there.  They start finding a trail of dead zombies, all shot in the back of the head.  Michonne: She's hunting them.

Rick finds Deanna at some new grave sites.  He says that there's a problem with Pete; she says that she'd hoped it would get better.  Rick is incredulous that she knew about the situation and did nothing about it, but she points out that Pete is a surgeon and has saved lives.  Rick: "He's beating his wife."  He suggests separating Jessie and Pete but Deanna is like, what if he doesn't agree to that, decides to ignore it.  Rick's all, I kill him - you obey the rules or you die, that's civilization now.  Deanna is NOT having any of that: at worst they'll exile Pete.  Rick says you can't throw him out because he'll just come back and attack Alexandria.  She is adamant - they don't kill people here.

Everyone is out in the woods today, even the teenagers!  Enid calls out that she knows Carl is following her ("You're very loud.").  He thinks they should go back but she doesn't want to.  She likes being out in the world,  she feels like it's where she belongs, running through the woods, and as he chases her with a grin, Carl realizes he likes being out there too.  They come across a sole walker.  Enid has a trick: she winds up an egg timer and throws it near the zombie.  The ticking, and then the ringing, distracts the monster.  They run off to safety and sit down on a log to talk.  Except she won't talk about what happened to her before she got to Alexandria.  Then they hear a herd of walkers approaching and have to hide in a convenient hollow tree.  The herd moves past, unwitting; Carl touches Enid's hand and they almost kiss.  Some of the walkers that lurch past, they have the W carved in their foreheads.

Glen finds Nicholas washing out the van.  He says that the four people he and Aiden left behind, and Noah, are on him - Nicholas must carry those deaths.  Glen tells him that he had better not go outside the walls anymore.  He's not threatening Nicholas, "[he's] saving [him]."  Nicholas isn't having any of that shit, of course, and later goes outside the walls to collect that gun that Rick hid away in the jar before coming to Alexandria - that gun that was missing when Rick tried to retrieve it an episode or so ago.

Michonne and Rosita finally find Sasha - "I'm tired of playing defensive," she snarls - just a sizable herd of walkers comes up.  As Sasha starts taking them down, shot after shot, Michonne has some flashbacks to when she was still out on the road, wielding that sword, slaughtering zombies.  She raises her own gun and when Sasha complains that she doesn't need any help, Michonne tells her, "This isn't for you."  And then the zombie-carnage begins in earnest, Rosita stabbing skulls, Michonne and Sasha efficiently taking shots.  Sasha pauses to reload and a zombie knocks her down; as she reaches for her knife, Michonne takes the walker out.  Sasha shoves the body off her, slaps Michonne's outreached hand away and cries out, "I don't want your help! You can't help me- nobody ..."  She trails off, tears shining in her eyes, then stalks off into the woods.  After a brief pause, Michonne and Rosita follow her.

Somewhere further out, Daryl and Aaron track a trail of zombie parts strewn on the ground.  Daryl notes that whoever did this seems to be taking parts with them - and it happened not very long ago.  A little ways on, they find a naked dead woman tied to a tree.  She had been tied there, alive, and left for the zombies to tear apart.  Again, Daryl notes that this just happened not long ago.  Daryl grabs the body by the hair, lifting the dead woman's hair.  There's a W carved in her forehead.  And then she opens her eyes as a zombie.  Without flinching, Daryl punches his knife into her skull.

Oh fabulous: back in Alexandria, Rick finds Jessie working in her garage and confronts her about Pete beating her.  She says that she can "fix it."  Rick's like, no, but I can.  She protests and says that Rick will only make things worse.  Rick points out that anything "worse" means Pete kills her.  She asks him why he cares, why is this so important to him.  "I'm married," she reminds him, saying that she can take care of herself.  Then she goes inside, closing the garage door on him.  Rick walks away, stopping in the middle of the street.  He looks vaguely unhinged, like he's just barely holding himself together as he watches the Alexandrians go about their business, walking dogs, chatting on porches.  Then he whirls and goes back to Jessie's house.  He tells her about Sam asking for a gun to protect her.  Now she's in tears.  And, for some reason, she starts acting like she likes him too, asking, "Would you do this for someone else? Would you do this for anyone else?"  And when he says no, she whispers that yes, she wants him to take care of her.

And then Pete comes in, disheveled and drunk.  He is not pleased to see Rick there, so close to his wife.  He tells Rick to leave and Jessie stands up to him, telling her husband that he's the one who needs to leave.  Pete starts shouting and Rick tries to get him to leave with him.  Pete gets more riled up and the punches start flying - and a grappling Rick and Pete fly through the front window, bounce off the porch and crash into the street.

This is an ugly, brutal fight: attempted eye-gauging, throttling, smashing of heads on asphalt.  Everyone comes running, sprinting - Glen, Carol, Nicholas, Rosita.  Rick and Pete are like animals.  Jessie tries to pull Pete off Rick and he shoves her away; Carl tries to pull his dad off Pete and gets shoved away as well for his trouble.  Finally, Deanna runs up and screams at the two men to stop.  Rick staggers away, pulling his illicit pistol out.  Everyone backs up a few steps.  [Note: while all this is going on, a herd of walkers swarm part of the walls and Sasha, back up in the tower, methodically takes them out.]  Rick, blood-soaked and sounding like a lunatic, rails at the Alexandrians, saying that they don't know how to deal with the reality of their situation, that they pretend like they know what's out there but they don't.  He says, if you want this place to stay standing - starting right now, they have to control who lives in Alexandria.  Deanne, tensely:  "That's never been more clear to me than right now."  Rick all but giggles, "Me? Me?  You mean me?"  My god, this man is teetering on the edge of insanity, isn't he?  He keeps ranting and raving ... until a uniformed Michonne comes up behind him, unseen, and clobbers him over the head, knocking him unconscious.  Good lord, woman, what took you so long?

Some of my friends are floating theories on what's going to happen on Sunday's 90 minute finale.  Their consensus is CARNAGE.  The internet has been thinking Glen's going to bite it - in which case they ought to just kill Maggie off too, because she'll have lost a fiance, sister and father in short order, not to mention all the rest of her family back in S2, plus she's hardly ever onscreen anymore - but my friends are thinking it'll be Carol.  I hope it's not Carol: she and Daryl (and Michonne and sometimes Glen) are my favorites.  And if they kill Daryl off, I will quit this stupid show.  The comics apparently have Carl losing an eye at some point around now, and some horrible outside people (the Wolves? the Wolverines? I dunno, I gave up on the comics because they were just way more gory and horrific than I could handle) kill Glen quite gruesomely.  I truly have no idea what's going to happen, other than what little was shown in the "next time" tag.  I don't suppose they'll kill off Rick - I wouldn't really have an issue if they did.

Previously on The Walking Dead / next time on The Walking Dead

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Book review: Perdido Street Station by China Mieville

I struggle a bit with how to describe Perdido Street Station by China Mieville:  steampunk-science fantasy?  It's self-proclaimed "New Weird," I guess, complex and realistic world-building that jumps off into both science fiction and fantasy realms.  One thing it isn't supposed to be is comfortable and in that regard, Perdido Street Station is very successful.

A half human/half bird creature (a garuda) comes to fringe scientist Isaac in the scruffy city of New Crobuzon, asking for his help.  As Isaac researches the solution to the garuda's problem, he comes across a biologic specimen that is strange and beautiful and, once it reaches adulthood, wreaks a kind of havoc never before seen in New Crobuzon.  Isaac, his lab partners, his part-insectile artist lover, the criminal underworld, the city's municipal government and even more fantastical New Crobuzon denizens are drawn into the terror.

That all sounds pretty good ... except for that Mieville seems to be much more interested in his world-building than in constructing the narrative.  Perdido Street Station is plot-light but description-heavy, going on and on about the neighborhoods and architecture and subversive politics and the xenian inhabitants of the rotting city (cactus people! human/machine hybrids! Alien face-hugger-shaped parasites that show up for a couple of chapters and then disappear!).  It's very difficult to connect and relate to the novel's protagonists when the author keeps such distance from them.

Perdido Street Station is also not a fun or happy book.  There is very little levity to break the bleakness and things end badly for pretty much everyone.  I'm not a Pollyanna, I don't need all the books/movies I consume to be happily ever after.  But unremitting rot, horror and squalor for 700+ pages is rough - even the grimmest of Stephen King's book have some light bits.  I'm glad I read it, I wanted to finish it, and I'm intrigued by the premise behind another of Mieville's books, The City and the City; I just can't wholeheartedly embrace this one.