TV Series: The Walking Dead S04 – Who will survive

the-walking-dead-season-4-finale-rickLike, what, 15 million other people I enjoyed the season finale of The Walking Dead last week. The second half of S04 had been reminding me of the Starks on Game of Thrones, How long will Team pPrison remain separated from each other? There were a few decent episodes in there (Michonne’s backstory in particular), but some less interesting ones (the creepy Daryl-Beth episode). The finale itself with the perhaps (cannibalistic?) Terminus was pretty good – with Rick once again losing a piece of his humanity and Carl having to grow beyond his years. At least we got a modicum of “who made it” relief even if several characters are still left out in the wild. They certainly left an interesting situation for S05. And Terminus is neither The Kingdom nor The Hilltop so I will give the writers credit there for originality. I think many thought that Glenn would not make it and got a bit annoyed with E15 in that sense to be honest. As for the gruesome neck muscle showdown from Rick, if some sicko was about to rape my kid, I would hope I have the strength to put my life up for his but not sure I would go as far as eating the guys jugular – I think that was up there in the top 1 to 5 heinous scenes in TWD. Overall, this was a good season – probably as good as S03 and a little better than S02. I hope they avoid jumping the shark in S05.

Just now thinking about it, perhaps Abraham and Co will double back and save the crew? Only have a year to wait now until we find out…

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Music: My discovery of instrumental metal – Animals as Leaders and Intervals

Animals_as_Leaders_@_The_Forum,_Tunbridge_Wells_28082011_(16)Thanks to a tiny little post by Metal Wani on Facebook, I learned of the existence of a genre that is officially called prog metal but which I qualify as instrumental metal. The two bands I checked out were both built around a single guitarist and building out a formal 3-4 piece group . I find it to be fun to listen to and even oddly relaxing. Both bands just released their 3rd albums, The Joy of Motion for Animals as Leaders and A Voice Within for Interval.

Animals as Leaders is an American prog metal band featuring the amazing Tosin Abasi as well as Javier Reyes both on guitar. The time signature is rather variable and the style bounces around from Zappa-esque fugues to more Rush-like grace and technicality. There tend to be both jams and slower pieces and so the three albums all feel very carefully crafted and even. If there is one caveat, it is that the three albums feature more or less the same sound – little evolution so far. That is not necessarily a bad thing as I love what it sounds like anyway and the idea of metal without screaming or even singing is just so new. Abasi is one helluva guitarist in any case.

Intervals_1Intervals is a Canadian band built around guitarist Aaron Marshall who actually recorded all the parts of the two EPs leading up to the latest disc which added vocals. When I read that Intervals was adding vocals, I got a little worried because the last two examples I am aware of concerning instrumental music flopping when vocals were added would be albums after the masterpiece Surfing with the Alien where Satch tries to sing (argh!) and the late Michael Hedges with the same story between the masterful Aerial Boundaries to the not-so-great Live on the Double Planet. The two EPs (The Space Between and In Time) are fast and furious, both gorgeous walls of sound. I have just started listening to the new disc, so I have to listen a bit more to see if the tradeoff of losing some guitar pyrotechnics to the vocal treatment . The first single “The Escape” was superior in that regard to the followup, “The Self Surrendered” which IMHO suffers a bit from the choral treatment at the end. That being said, the leadoff track “Ephemeral” sounds like the two original Intervals albums and here the vocals do add a nice texture. It is quite interesting to watch these guys evolve. It would probably be cool to see them live someday.

So, what other Prog / Intrumental Bands am I missing out on? Did you enjoy The Joy of Motion or A Voice Within?

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NSFCCDP Movie Review: Captain America 2 – The Winter Soldier (2014) – Just your average superhero flick

captain-america-2-empire-cover-photo-leadThere have been some terrible superhero flicks of late and there have been a few standout good ones. Cap’n USA 2 is pretty much average. The Winter Soldier (our super villain) looked slightly like Bane with the mouthpiece (or even the kid from Through the Never?) but was not really all that scary. The fact that he is Cap’s old best friend (oops, spoiler) is revealed but was fairly predictable. Yeah, it has all the standard superhero fare: special effects galore, car chases, battles, one-on-one fights. And it has Scarlett (which is what perhaps saves it in the end). Besides Black Widow, the car chase scene with Nick Fury pursued by fake cops was actually a great one. On the not so good side was the predictability of the plot and the stupid “French-Algerian” terrorist with the heavy Quebecois accent. I think you can safely wait for this one on BR.

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TV Series: The Newsroom S02 (2013) – Worth an Emmy? Perhaps but not in 2013

The Newsroom - Season 2 - Character Posters (2)_FULL (1)When I read that Jeff Daniels got the Emmy over Bryan Cranston for his performance in S02 of The Newsroom, it piqued my curiosity so I needed to watch both seasons to form my own opinion. I thought that Bryan’s Walter White was over the top in 2013 with the first half of Season 5. Did Jeff Daniel’s Will McAvoy really beat that?

First off, I agree with most critics that Season 2 was more exciting television than S01. I liked how the Genoa story developed, the fact that for the most part, the office romances took a back seat to news, the Maggie-Africa story – and as ALWAYS – Sloan. The rapid-fire dialogs are always incredibly entertaining (apparently an Aaron Sorkin trademark) and Sam Waterson’s character was wildly and joyfully erratic and fun to watch. I nearly teared up at the ending (no spoilers here though) which I found moving and apt (I mean just how many Sam and Diane scenarios can we stand in one lifetime right? and no, that’s not a spoiler because there are loads of possible combinations there). I thought that the last two episodes about the 2012 election really hit it out of the park in terms of realism and gripping television.

But was Jeff Daniels really better than Bryan Cranston? I am not convinced. Granted, I felt that Jeff was a perfectly credible Will McAvoy and that Will McAvoy was an incredible anchorman, but he didn’t really have the same range of emotions or extremes of emotions to play through as Walter White I didn’t think. You could say that his character was detached and that was what made his acting so great and I’d be inclined to say that that argument didn’t really work for me when Ben Affleck got the Oscar for Argo without changing facial expressions once. Actually I felt Daniels did a much better job than Affleck (who I really found abysmal and undeserving of Hollywood’s greatest prize) but still, not as compelling as Cranston.

All that being said, The Newsroom is an excellent show and maybe more exciting to watch than Season 5 of The Wire – albeit that was about printed media / newspapers rather than network TV.

So, did you watch The Newsroom? Will you be watching the final season this fall?

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Murder Mystery Shows: True Detective vs The Bridge vs Top of the Lake

Screen-Shot-2014-02-10-at-11.48.01-AM-450x300A few weeks now after the finale of True Detective, I am still digesting that particular show (and trying to forget the notion of “making flowers” entirely!) and got to thinking about how it stacks up against two other recent murder mystery / serial killer shows: The Bridge also dealt with a serial killer like TD and Top of the Lake dealt with disappearing kids and sexual deviancy as TD did as well. Of the three, The Bridge was probably the weakest since the reveal of the killer happened as early as E08 and the series dragged on 5 more episodes before it ended. Honestly, I am not sure how they will create a credible story for S02 this fall, but whatever. The Bridge had some good moments (and excellent acting from Diane Kruger), but several weaknesses: the useless side story of the rich bitch grifter and her dumbass boyfriend could easily have been cut, the bad guy seemed pathetic at the very end, the denouement was boring and too drawn out. Overall, pound for pound, True Detective towers over The Bridge.

Perhaps a more challenging comparison is Top of the Lake. The pairing of Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey was as powerful as that of Elizabeth Moss and Holly Hunter (although admittedly not in the same roles). The camerawork was spectacular in both cases – gorgeous shots and panoramas of rural Louisiana and the bayou versus New Zealand’s mountains and lakes, both were breathtaking. I think also that the seasons lengths were just right at 8 and 7 episodes respectively – just enough time to set the atmosphere and horror of the crimes and resolve the mystery without drag or useless side stories. Diving into Robin’s background rape which of course drives her character and into Rust’s past to see how he got to be where he is both were done masterfully and dispassionately and add to the realism and fascination that was so addictive about these characters.

I have to say though, that the standout moments of these shows were still the ones with the most action – and of all of them, the 6 minute un-edited chase through the ghetto in episode 5 of True Detective with Rust dragging the biker dude around was unbelievably amazing. Second runner up would the final episode of Top of the Lake which was a bigger surprise honestly than that of True Detective.

So what do you think is the greatest 6-12 hour murder mystery TV? I guess I’d have to throw up Season 4 of Dexter where John Lithgow’s Trinity was extraordinary too – and the shocker on the final episode was colossal.

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TV Series: The Newsroom S01 (2012) – Great news, frustrating plot

newsroom3I heard about this show a few times but just recently decided to dive in head-first and enjoyed it for at least the journalism part. I liked the analysis and the way that Jeff Daniels presented his faux broadcasts. Watching the team work and build a primetime broadcast was particularly interesting too. What was annoying was the blue balls from all the “I love you but actually I am with someone else” between Maggie, Jim and Dan and the rehashing ad naseum of the McKenzie / Will story. While the rapid-fire banter was fun and exciting and added a bit of realism to the show, I felt that it sometimes got lost and less interesting when the office love triangles and so forth were getting in the way. Well that, and Dan was an idiot not to jump on Sloan’s offer…

As for the news itself, I liked the premise and enjoyed the depth of analysis of the issues. I don’t live in the US anymore so I learned many things about domestic issues of concern in the US in 2010 and 2011 that I knew little or nothing about before – like the trial of that woman that ate up the better part of several episodes. I thought the foreign stuff and the demasking of the Tea Party were all well-done even if they could easily be accused of being grand-standing and showing considerable biais.

As for the actors, Jeff Daniels was excellent here as was the Jane Fonda role as well. I will now watch Season 2 to see if Jeff deserved an Emmy over Aaron Paul or Bryan Cranston.

So, did you guys catch The Newsroom and if so, what did you think?

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TV Series: The Walking Dead S04-Part 2 up to E13 – On the fence

the-walking-dead-alone-darylSo, are you guys enjoying the second half of Season 4 better than the first half? I am a bit on the fence personally. I think that the first part was great up until the last episode which reminded me of the end of season 2 when Herschel’s farm implodes sending everyone off like mice. I mean, I suppose that is a common occurrence in the Zompocalypse but it just doesn’t feel all that original since they already went there. Also, I feel like Team Prison is kind of like the Stark family in Game of Thrones – just like Arya, Bran, Sansa, Jon, Rob, and Catelyn will never see each other again probably – now we have the four or five (?) separate groups groping around. OK, so they found the way to the ominous named Terminus, but the tension around will they make it feels a bit contrived. I guess I am impatient to see how they portray Neegan and Elijah and Jesus – if they do at all.

As for E13 “Alone” last week, I felt uncomfortable with the Daryl-Beth combo – it seemed that she was really too young for him and that we were dangerously close to statutory there. As for her disappearing in the hearse just as Daryl fights off the herd, it was a bit predictable and how that Beth isn’t just a whiny Jewel anymore, it would be kind of hard to see her tortured by some reclusive, OCD psycho and his band. I was happy about the Maggie-Bob-Sasha group but agree with the after buzz podcast crew that Maggie waiting for them by the ice cream truck lying down in a group of walkers was creepy and out of character. I guess we shall see, right?

Three episodes left…so do you think that any major characters are going to bite it? Will everyone make it to Terminus by E16 and will Terminus be The Hilltop or The Kingdom or something else entirely? Will it be a temporary paradise or yet another hell on earth?

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