Thursday, April 30, 2015

Burn Notice, Season 7, Episode 8

This is where, not only I, but other members of the cast start to question just how deeply James has got his hooks into Michael's mind. He looks and acts like he always has, and he seems to do the right things, but James pushes certain buttons that Michael can't deny are attractive to him.

This time he offers Michael the opportunity to go after a Dominican drug lord. Michael and Sam go in, get the guy and deliver him to James, who will serve up his own brand of justice. The only reason the guy is still operating is because he's an MI6 asset.

This is Michael's dream. Taking people like this out of the picture was what he was all about when he first started white knighting. Only he was always under resourced and couldn't move up the food chain as high as he wanted. James provides him with weapons, funds, travel, everything.

Sam's concerned about how much Michael seems to be buying into this. The drug lord was an interesting character. Played by Peter Mensah (Onemaus in Spartacus) he had the British accent that made his Eton educated drug lord believable, and he's a scary guy. Shame it's only a once off.

The only indication that Michael has genuine doubts about James comes after they deliver the drug lord to him. Rather than take he and Sam on the boat with him, where I have little doubt they're going to feed the drug lord to the sharks on the way, he gives them fake id and tickets back to Miami.

In Miami, Fiona is reluctantly working with Strong, because she has no option, but both Carlos and Madeline are concerned about what it's doing to her. Carlos actually doesn't even know she's doing it and when Maddy finds out she counsels Fiona to be careful and tells her that she'd probably be better off with Carlos than Michael in the long run. I really wish they'd been able to recast Sharon Gless as a CIA commander, she'd be really good at it.

Fiona and Jesse along with Strong and his team are going after a long term mental patient, who was also a Delta Force team member, and means something to James. Jesse manages to get him to give up a name; James Kendrick.

In an interview with Michael he tells him that Kendrick was his friend and his commander, until something snapped in Mogadishu and he killed his entire team, with one exception and he had him committed. Michael agrees that James is possibly the most dangerous and possibly insane person he's encountered. I personally think Simon, Anson and Card may disagree, even Larry. Fullerton could run rings around James.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Richmond V Melbourne 24/04/2015 (MCG)

It was a special night being Anzac Eve, and there was a special tribute to the soldiers before the game, with a torch being carried around the ground by an escort of light horsemen. Then former Melbourne champion, Ron Barrassi (whose father was a casualty of WW 2) lit the eternal flame at the ground to kick the round off.

I don't think it really stirred the players that much, although it was received respectfully by the crowd. I think it's a good initiative and I hope they keep doing it. There is talk of making the match a regular thing, similar to the way that Collingwood and Essendon square up on Anzac Day.

I'm not really going to talk much about the game. Richmond started off well with a goal to Ben Griffiths in fairly short order, but that was about as good as it got. The Demons led at every change and after the rain came early in the 3rd quarter the Richmond players seemed to give up. Admittedly they had 2 on the bench by that stage. Debutant Drummond had done his knee and was facing a year out. Ben Griffiths picked up an injury that meant he couldn't play on and Cameron Hunt was playing with a foot injury, which affected his game. Very disappointing. 

I knew this post was coming. I hoped it wouldn't be this early in the season, but it has. Richmond do this on a regular basis. Lose games that they're expected to win. It wasn't a case of them turning up thinking they'd win. It was a case of them losing on every front. The bad players continued to play poorly, and even the good players, with the exception of Shane Edwards, didn't play well. Melbourne's good players stood up, and even some of their ordinary ones played above themselves. Damien Hardwick was completely outcoached by Paul Roos and that's happening far too often.

I can't say much more other than that I've got a feeling of deja vu.

Seeing too much of this.

And this.

I said it on the night and I'll say it again now. Not good enough Tigers.

Burn Notice, Season 7. Episode 7

Michael's slept with Sonya and they both survive the experience, so now he's worthy to take his induction into the organisation that she works for a step further.

This is kind of like applying for an executive position with added torture thrown in. Michael is taken to an undisclosed location, although I don't think he was in a head bag (he really hates that), then set up in a room where he is interviewed/interrogated by a older looking hippy dude. The hippy does turn out to be the organisation's leader, and the audience are intended to believe that he is, but he could be a professional interrogator. Sonya could even be the boss for all we know.

In between being grilled on all his previous experience and life as a spy, Michael is drugged, kept awake and locked in a featureless room with loud noises piped in. Understandably he becomes disoriented and hallucinates. One hallucination is Fiona dressed in a red dress, telling him that he has to give up and tell his questioner everything, he has to fail them all.

Other regular hallucinations feature Larry and Frank. There seems to be a correlation made between the two. They were both father figures and they were both abusive, they both forced Michael into doing things that he didn't want to do, and they both made him into something he never wanted to be. He does finally break down under the questioning and admit that Larry pushed him into blowing up a factory to get a target, but he also took out innocents. It's this incident that plays on his mind ever since he did it and that he's tried to make up for, but perversely it's also what made him a legend and a desirable asset.

Sam, Jesse and Fiona go on the hunt for Michael and track him down to a private island. They can't drive in, but they can watch it from the water and use Elsa's speedboat to do it, they may even be able to attempt a rescue.

Sonya comes to Michael's cell, asking him what he told the interrogator. He's drugged and disoriented, exhausted mentally and physically and he can't remember. She says they have to get out, and helps him out of the house and onto the beach.

With Sam, Jesse and Fiona watching, Michael does not know this, though, he breaks away from Sonya and effectively gives himself up to the armed men following them.

Back in the room he was interrogated in, the hippy pulls a gun and points it at Michael. Michael seems lucid again and he said that he's given him everything and he won't kill him now, because he came back, if he wasn't part of whatever they're selling he wouldn't have done that.

The gun is unloaded, the hippy introduced as James, Michael is welcomed to The Family, and it's smiles all around.

James has this whole charismatic cult leader thing happening and I wonder if the name is from Jim Jones, the leader of a religious cult and responsible for the Jonestown mass suicide, the origin of the comment to 'drink the kool-aid' comment to indicate someone who has been brainwashed by a radical ideology. Then there's the name The Family, which makes me think of death cult leader Charles Manson, who referred to his followers as Family.

Michael winds up sleeping on the couch at Madeline's, with his friends trying to work out what he's gotten himself into. Apparently James bulldozed a $10,000,000 mansion just so that he couldn't be tracked down by anyone.

Then there's Michael himself. Does he really believe what James sold him? Was he faking that? He's mentally strong, but what they did to him could break anyone. He's so good at false facing and done it so often, does he really know what he believes or stands for anymore? Is Michael the Big Bad of Season 7?

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Burn Notice, Season 7, Episode 6

 Now that Michael's mission has moved back to Miami, Michael has in many ways returned to his old life. Even down to moving back into the loft and tucking Sonya away there. When they were on the run last season I thought that they torched the loft, I even saw them set it on fire. However it didn't actually get burned to the ground, it just looks a little bit charred from the outside. Michael tells Fiona that a few of her snow globes survived if she wants them, when she comes around to face him down and let him know that she's been forced into working with him. She also sees Sonya there and sparks fly. The two ladies don't come to blows, but they clearly don't like each other, and the reason is Michael Westen. I actually find it a little churlish of Fiona to feel this way toward Sonya. She's repeatedly rejected Michael and made it quite clear that she wants as little to do with him as possible, she's flaunted her relationship with Carlos in front of him, so why shouldn't he take up with Sonya? Not that he has at this point. Fiona's behaviour smacks of I don't want you, but I don't want anyone else to have you. It's not only disrespectful towards Michael and Sonya, it's also an insult to Carlos.

The plan is to go after the hackers that outed Sonya. Exactly how this helps the mission I don't really understand, although I think it may prove to Sonya that Michael is really on her side and get him to take him into the organisation that she's part of.

To get into the hackers group they need the assistance of someone else and that someone else is Barry. I had been wondering about Barry. However Barry is not all that disposed to helping Michael, because his association with the former spy had him locked up for 4 months, during which time he lost his girlfriend, his house and played havoc with his client list. The hackers also have a certain reputation for taking down anyone who crosses them and they've stolen some of his clients. Sam and Jesse can't do much about his house or his business, but they can at least help him track down his girlfriend. Because Barry really does like Michael and his friends he agrees to let that stand as payment, besides if Michael performs his usual bang up job on the hackers that will remove them from the board.

So, we had two stories running again. One is the take down of the hackers, which mainly utilises Michael and Fiona masquerading as a pair of hackers, with Sonya running outside interference for them. The other was Sam and Jesse helping Barry with his relationship issues.

The second of those was a little sad. They managed to find the girlfriend because of a bright orange Lamborghini that turned up at a dodgy car dealership (an orange Lamborghini, that is so Barry). Unfortunately she'd moved on and had another boyfriend. She liked Barry, but his lifestyle bothered her and she wasn't heartbroken to have an out.

Michael and Fiona establish themselves as the real deal with help from the rest of the group outside. The hackers were an interesting bunch. They ran the operation like a corporation, with the hackers sitting in an office, working away and being closely monitored by one of the guys behind it. Even going out for a smoke break seemed to be a major issue, admittedly Michael was doing it so that he could get on the roof, abseil down the side of the building and drill through the wall.

The whole operation was overseen by a menacing moustached character wearing a sharp suit. This was Frakes, played by Charles Mesure. The accent was rather like an English one mixed with Australan. This makes sense as Mesure was born in England, but grew up in Australia. I remember him from V, and he does play a heavy quite well, which is what he does here. Fiona and Michael throw his underling under the bus, and then the whole operation gets broken up by the authorities. As a bonus Barry gets the information that they stole from him back.

Back in the loft Michael convinces Sonya that she and her operation is all he has left. He's convincing, because in many ways he is telling the truth. He has lost Fiona, but he does still have his mother and the friendship of Sam and Jesse, which he makes her believe is not the case. I found it interesting that he said his relationship with Maddy was irreparably damaged due to what happened to Nate, because while she doesn't give a lot of outward signs that she still blames him for the death, he may think that.

Michael and Sonya sleep together and he knows he's in. Again this was interesting and an idea of how far Michael has turned. He's come to the point of having to do something in the course of his work on a few occasions, such as kill an innocent or sleep with someone other than Fiona, and he's always found a way out at the 11th hour, but this time he went through with it, and I don't think he cares for Sonya overall, she's just a means to an end. Michael could be on a very slippery slope here.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Burn Notice, Season 7, Episode 5

The last episode ended with Michael, Sam and Jesse stuck on an island, and with the very dangerous Sonya running about after having knocked out Jesse.

Michael works out that Sonya is trying to lay a false trail for them and tries to double back on her. She's smart enough to work that out and gets the drop on Michael instead. Unfortunately Alona Tal was forced to use a rather dodgy sounding Russian accent for this part. Maybe the accent wasn't that bad, but as I'm used to seeing Alona Tal playing all Americans (the actress herself was born and raised in Israel) the accent sounds kind of jarring.

She knows her stuff, she knows who Michael is, but because she's been in custody for a while hadn't heard that he apparently switched sides and was discovered drinking himself to death by Bourke. Usually I buy Jeffrey Donovan when he lies, but I couldn't here, yet Sonya fell for it and agreed to work with he and his team to get them all out of Cuba safely.

Back in Miami, Fiona finds Strong in her house. He wants her to help Michael with the mission. She refuses. He then tells her why Michael accepted the job and what the failure of it means for her and everyone else connected. I'm actually getting rather tired of that. It's become very tedious, and I can't work out how people who have worked with the CIA (for and against) can't figure out why Michael is doing what he's doing and why he made the deal he did. I think Fiona was the last that needed to have  it spelled out to her, so hopefully they've explained that to everyone now.

Strong then proceeds to make it next to impossible for Fiona to continue her life to force her to agree to help. This puts a major kink in her relationship with Carlos. I kind of like Carlos, for all that I'm probably not supposed to because he affects the show's OTP of Michael and Fiona. The problem I have with Carlos is that he just appeared, Fiona may have known him before, but the audience didn't and that makes it hard to accept that she's madly in love with him, and he's replaced Michael just like that.

In Cuba, the quartet are not only being chased by the local police, they also have a Russian agent called Oksana on their tail. She's basically a Russian version of Riley, although I felt Marina Benedict made an absolute dogs breakfast of the role. The accent was very obviously fake and for a hardass agent she was very jittery, not all that bright and she folded very easily. 

The scenes between Michael and Sonya were interesting. Apparently young Russian agents study him now. She took note of his low body count and while most felt that this was because of his meticulous planning and helped him spread his own legend, she thought that it may also be due to the fact that he didn't like unnecessary death and was therefore a little softhearted. She's closer to the mark than she realises, but I do wonder if that's true, and it does appear to be, why would the amoral Larry ever think Michael could be a kindred spirit? She also clearly worked from the Michael Westen playbook when they arranged their audacious escape.

Once on American soil in Miami, Sonya is still running the show and the gang are going to go after the Miami based hackers who betrayed her in the first place.

Favourite Fantasy Authors and Books A - Z (K)

And so we come to the K's. I actually thought I'd have a few K authors. It's not as unusual for authors to have names starting with K as it is with I and J, but when I thought about it, I only came up with 2. One is very well known and the other less so. There's Katharine Kerr, Guy Gavriel Kay, Ellen Kushner and even Katherine Kurtz. I've read works by three of them, but they're not favourites, although Ellen Kushner's Swordpoint came close. So here are the K's.

This is the less well known one. That's Garry Kilworth. He's been a full time writer since 1981, and he writes across a broad spectrum. His works cover fantasy, science fiction and historical fiction. He also collaborated with his long time friend, fellow author Robert Holdstock (Mythago Wood, recommended, very haunting).

Garry Kilworth is probably best known for his books featuring anthropomorphic animals. I must have a fondness for these type of books, because he's not the first author, nor will he be the last, who writes that sort of thing, to make this list. The Welkin Weasels series seems to be the most popular, and it was largely written for and aimed at a younger audience. It took the unusual and brave step of making the weasels the heroes (sort of subverting what Grahame did with The Wind in the Willows), it's similar in concept to Brian Jacques' Redwall series, but seems to be set in a later time period. 

Kilworth has also written a number of standalone books about animals as they are in the wild, similar to Richard Adams.

His most recently published work was a short story collection in 2013, and his most recent novel came out in 2012, although that was published under the pen name of Richard Argent.

The Ragthorn which he co-wrote with Robert Holdstock was nominated for the World Fantasy Award in 1992. He's still quite active and has a presence on the internet at

Most people just look at me funny when I mention House of Tribes. In fact I doubt many people have ever even heard of it. As the title suggests it's about mice. The best way to describe is as 'Watership Down with mice'. That probably doesn't totally do it justice. It does feature mice and they do behave largely as they do in the wild and they're seeking a new place to live, but it has significant differences. The mice are house mice, not field mice. They live entirely in a large country house. They've separated into tribes delineated by virtue of what part of the house they occupy. The most powerful and influential mice live in or near the kitchen, because that's where the food is. One of the least powerful tribes are the ones that live in the library and supplement their diet with paper from the books. These particular mice are not just more intelligent, they've also formed a quasi religious order, it seems to be based on medieval monks. They have to move out of the house, because the people that live there are leaving, and they use the previously feared pet mouse that was kept by the young boy living in the house. Early on he's kind of like Joffrey from A Song of Ice and Fire, if Joffrey was a mouse, but he settles down and uses his intellect and knowledge to help his fellow mice establish a new settlement outside the house.

Another thing that set the book apart from plenty of similar material was what the author did with language. He also borrowed this from Adams. Adams has a tendency to use dialects for characters. It's a gimmick I'm not all that fond of, and it often makes the characters hard to understand, but Kilworth did it very cleverly. The mice are English, they speak English. All cats are French, they speak either in French or accented English. All dogs are Japanese, they seem to follow a sort of samurai code. The mice in the house are the avowed enemies of the cats, but they get along okay with dogs, the house only has one and he's quite old and senile, which is probably why he and the mice have a better relationship. Knowing how dogs speak comes in useful outside the house when they encounter a fox, who also speaks Japanese. It was a very cute and clever idea and made the book far more memorable. Highly recommended and well worth reading, especially if you did like Adams or other similar authors.

Further and related reading: Garry Kilworth has an enormous catalogue to choose from, and as I said it spans a number of genres. He also wrote other standalones about animals: Hunter's Moon (foxes), Frost Dancers (hares), I'm also sure he did wolves and owls, may have even done one on eagles, too. He collaborated with Robert Holdstock, but Holdstock was better recognised as a mythic fantasy author, Mythago Wood is highly recommended. I've mentioned Richard Adams a few times, Gary Horwood and his Duncton Wood novels about moles are also in that vein, as is Lalini Paull's The Bees. If you preferred things like The Welkin Weasels, then Brian Jacques' Redwall and Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows are what you're looking for. A. R Lloyd also used weasels as the focus of his book Kine, but that was more like Adams than Jacques.

This is the better known author. Even if you don't recognise him as an author, you may have seen him guesting in the occasional TV show, because he does like to do that. Very often they've been based on his work. The chap above is of course Stephen King, one of the world's most successful authors. King is better known as an author of horror, although his The Dark Tower series is epic fantasy in a rather dystopian, grim dark vein. I personally see a lot of what he's written that is classified as horror as dark fantasy in the same way that Clive Barker's Weaveworld and Imajica are as much dark fantasy as they are horror.

In a career spanning nearly 50 years Stephen King has published over 50 novels (some under the pseudonym Richard Bachman) and over 200 short stories. His books have sold in excess of 350 million copies worldwide and many of them, as well as short stories have been adapted into film and/or TV projects. As well as writing Stephen King likes to act, and occasionally pops up in small cameo roles. Most recently he was a diner patron in an episode of Under the Dome, a TV series based on his book of the same name. I believe he also had involvement with the script for that episode. He also played a recurring character in the TV show Sons of Anarchy.

He's remained prolific and active throughout his career, even during a long time addiction to drugs and alcohol (in fact later stated that it was so bad during the 1980's that he can't even remember writing Cujo), and following a serious car accident, which prompted him to reassess his life and his work and prompted him to finish The Dark Tower series, which he had been working on for many years.

He has a presence on the internet at and also tweets using the handle @StephenKing.

Now when you say you're picking a Stephen King fantasy novel, everyone expects The Dark Tower series or one of the books in it, not me. I know It is classified as horror, but it's every bit as much fantasy as it is horror. Both the book and the film based on it are responsible for giving an entire generation coulorophobia (a fear of clowns). The story takes place in a small town in Maine (doesn't nearly every Stephen King book?) in the 1950's, and also in the 1980's, when the threat that a group of young friends first saw as Pennywise the clown manifests again, as it does nearly every 20 - 30 years in the town. Most of the book is horror, or even urban fantasy, but it goes full on fantasy in the latter stages. I find that a bit with King, he's a free writer, and more than once I've seen him write himself into a corner and have to rely on a completely fantastical ending, which doesn't have a lot of connection with the rest of the book. The sequences where the main group of heroes are kids in the 1950's fighting off bullies are among some of the most effective in the entire book, and you get the sense that King based them on things he either saw or experienced. It is a big book, many of King's are, but well worth the time to read it, and you will never look at clowns quite the same way again.

Further and related reading: King doesn't generally do sequels, and It is no exception there, but there are 54 novels to choose from. They run a gamut of genres. Many of them are set in small town east coast, usually Maine, it's where Stephen King comes from and where he lives. They're quite often nostalgic and present a rather idealistic view of small town life in days gone by. It's hard to go wrong with him and if you do, you can generally find something else by him to satisfy you. King himself was influenced by Richard Matheson, Ray Bradbury (Needful Things is so much like Something Wicked This Way Comes that I wondered if a lawsuit was pending), H.P Lovecraft and Bram Stoker, among others. I felt Raymond E. Feist's Faerie Tale was very Kingish, and Clive Barker is another dark fantasy author. There's also been a recent author by the name of Joe Hill, whose work evokes feelings of King, and that may be because Joe Hill is the pen name of Joseph Hillstrom King, the son of Stephen King.

Join me next week when I do the L's.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Burn Notice, Season 7, Episode 4

It begins with Michael. He's in what looks like a jungle setting at night, heavily armed and wearing night vision goggles. It crosses to Burke, who is questioning Serrano about a female prisoner held by the Russians. Serrano says he can't tell Burke where she is, the Russians will kill him. Burke shows him vision of Michael standing over a sleeping little girl, gun aimed at her head. It's Serrano's daughter. Serrano cracks and gives Burke the location. He says that now the Russians will come after his family. Burke tells him that they won't if he's already dead, he puts a pistol and a bullet on the table and leaves the room. Michael's monologue ends the scene, as a spy you sometimes have to do bad things, but you hope you won't have to. If Serrano hadn't cracked, would Michael have killed his daughter? He intimates that he wouldn't have, but his recent actions have said that he may have. Michael is as close at this point as he ever has been, of turning back into what he was before he was burned.

We see Michael again, he's back in his digs in the Dominican Republic and Sam and Jesse are still there. He has orders from Strong to do whatever it takes and he's been given permission to keep using Sam and Jesse as his team. Burke's also happy to continue to work with them.

Now they know where the girl; Sonya, that Burke wants is, they have to get her. The name Alona Tal appeared in the credits, and even if I hadn't seen Sonya's picture I would have worked out that was who Alona Tal played. I quite like Alona Tal as an actress, my wife and I refer to her as Jo/Meg, after the first names of her two best known roles in Supernatural and Veronica Mars.

The problem is that she's being held by the Russians, 3 guys, 4 if you count Burke, can't just storm the building and hope to get out alive and to bust someone out at the same time. Michael has the idea of getting them to move her, he can go to the Russians and tell them that a CIA strike is coming. Sam points out that because of his past, the Russians hate him more than anyone else, and will shoot him on sight. Jesse comes up with the idea of using a Russian former spy he knows of in Miami to help Michael sell his story.

Only they're going to be in Cuba (that's where Sonya is being held), and their guy is in Miami. They place a call to Fi. She tells Michael over the phone that she'll do this, but she can't keep doing it. She says that he lied to her about getting out, which I don't buy, but the reality of it is that she's highly unlikely to ever be able to carry on a normal life with Michael. There are just far too many skeletons in his closet.

Once he knows Fiona is on the job Michael goes to the place in Cuba. We know it's Cuba due to the proliferation of vintage 1950's and '60's American cars. They're initially sceptical, but he gives them the story about the GRU operative in Miami. They check it out.

Fiona has taken Maddy with her. Maddy asks why not Carlos. Fiona said that she can't tell Carlos she's still doing jobs for Michael. Michael and Carlos do not get along well, although I don't think they'd ever met prior to Michael's recent trip back to Miami. Fiona and Maddy work well, though.

The Russian tries to escape by asking Maddy for water, she helps Fiona recapture him by hitting him with the van, and then pouring out the water on the street. They cut this nicely, as the water starts to fall, we see Michael being waterboarded by the Russians, and that's when they get the information Fi and Maddy have set Ivan (the Miami based GRU guy) to take the fall for.

Sam and Jesse make the scene the Russians are directed to look like a CIA sting, and only manage to escape the Russian's agents by jumping out the window and landing on a bus. The Russians still aren't totally buying Michael's story and he's had to tell them that there's a mole inside. This forces Burke to tell Sam and Jesse to capture one of the agents and make it tally up with Michael's story.

To make matters worse the Russian commander finds out that a submarine is in Cuban waters, and they don't need to leave the car repair shop they've holed up in. Left with no other choice, Burke goes in, pretending to be a disgruntled CIA agent, with a laptop full of top secret information. He asks to see Michael, and tells him that no matter what happens he has to get the girl out. She's the answer to everything. He then blows himself and the Russians up with the 'laptop' which is really an explosive device. Michael runs out with the unconscious Sonya over his shoulder and piles into the waiting car with Sam and Jesse after a brief firefight with a couple of Russians. They'll have a boat waiting to get them out.

Back in Miami, Fiona and Maddy have been fed a sob story from Ivan about his girlfriend who he's trying to put through nursing school, so that's why he was stealing money from the Russians. Unusually enough for Burn Notice, the story is actually true. Ivan's life is forfeit due to Fiona and Madeline's actions. The two of them are far too soft to be spies, and they obtain fake id's for Ivan and his girlfriend and tell him to start a new life somewhere else. Odd, how they got these so easily, when it was such a hassle last season to get new ids for themselves.

Sonya wakes up while Sam and Michael are checking for the boat, she knocks Jesse out and takes off. So now they're all stuck on Cuba, Burke's dead and the girl they got out has taken off, believing them to be a threat to her.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Burn Notice, Season 7, Episode 3

After his sojourn in Miami, Michael is back in the Dominican Republic, under Strong's thumb, as he tries to bring Burke down. Noticing that his likeness had made the local news after the job he pulled before going back to Miami, Michael shaves off his beard. Thank goodness! Some people can pull a beard off, Jeffrey Donovan is not one of them. It also showed his grey hair, which made him look older. Burke comes to him and wants to pull a truck job. Michael says that he has a couple of people in Miami (Sam and Jesse) that he can use. Burke says he has his own people lined up. The leader of that gang starts making unreasonable demands and then threatens Burke with his knowledge. I said at that point that he had just killed himself. Burke let it go, but before long he had buried the guy's own knife in his gut. So Sam and Jesse are on the job.

At a meeting at a market with Strong, he proposes using trained operatives. Michael points out that no matter how good they are, they don't have the shared history that Michael has with Sam and Jesse, and that could wind up getting everyone killed and Strong still doesn't have Burke. He caves. I find it interesting that Michael, who has never learned Spanish, can stay successfully underground in the Dominican Republic.

Sam and Jesse make plans to head south to help Michael out. The problem with this is that it leaves Maddy exposed. She's in a park watching Charlie play and getting good news about her battle to be granted full custody of the boy. A pair approach her, one is sleazy and dressed in a sharp suit, the other is large and menacing, tattoos can be seen snaking down the powerfully muscled arms in the tight black t-shirt.

The 'suit' was Nate's bookie. After Nate's death his wife continued to make payments on his debts, but now she's in rehab and he can't hold Charlie's health and well being over her head, that's stopped. He's owed $80,000 and he wants it now, or something very bad could happen to Charlie. From the time these guys turn up you know who Maddy will call. Sure enough Fiona Glenanne arrives at the house.

I actually thought that they'd use Carlos as well, but Fiona elects to run this one on her own with some help from Maddy. The bookie talks big, and he probably is connected, but Madeline Westen isn't your average Florida retiree. She has connections of her own. Fiona reasons that this guy has things he doesn't want to be known and he probably hides them in a safe somewhere. She has Maddy give him some money, and some jewellery, including a locket with a tracker in it. Once they know where his safe is, they blow a hole in the wall and break into it. Maddy seems to quite enjoy herself helping Fiona lay the charges. She's learned all sorts of interesting new skills since Michael got burned and dumped in Miami.

She then approaches the bookie, tells him that he won't be getting anymore money from her, she has his contacts and if anything happens to Charlie, then that information becomes public and he'll be dumped in a swamp somewhere to feed the alligators. The moral of the story is do not fuck with Madeline Westen.

Meanwhile in the Dominican Republic, Sam and Jesse have teamed up with Burke, and have concerns which they voice privately to Michael, in that Burke expects them to kill if that's what the job calls for. Michael finally lays it on the table for them. The price for their freedom is to get Burke. If he doesn't carry that out, then they all go to prison forever. How Jesse and Sam, both who have had their own dealings with the CIA, didn't understand this before having Michael spell it out, I do not know.

The truck contains equipment that Burke plans to give to Rafael Serrano, a terrorist behind a number of high profile bombings. Strong thinks that they can get two birds with the one stone; Serrano and Burke.

Burke starts to switch things up at the meet. Michael is in a warehouse with Burke, who is now working off script, and Serrano. Burke kills Serrano's bodyguard, and also reveals that he's not running the show, he's working for someone else. This is something that Strong, despite having had Burke under heavy surveillance for a number of years, was not aware of. He becomes paranoid when snipers are noticed outside, and starts to question Michael. Fortunately Sam and the CIA team can hear Michael and Sam realises that Michael is running a manoeuvre, he takes a sniper rifle and starts shooting at Michael. This gets him off the hook, why would snipers he positioned shoot at him? Now Burke thinks they're Serrano's and knocks him out. They get into an arriving helicopter and blow the building.

Michael has earned Burke's trust and the terrorist thinks that they're best buddies, but it also looks on his own, going into a very dangerous situation.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Burn Notice, Season 7, Episode 2

The news that the man she told Michael was working for the CIA actually wanted to do him harm sends Maddy into a tizz, and what makes it worse is that no one will give her any answers about whether or not her son is alive or dead.

Sam and Jesse both caution her to let the authorities deal with Dexter Gamble (that's Nick E. Tarabay's character name. It doesn't sound right to me. The Gamble maybe, but he's not a Dexter). However Hurricane Maddy is a force to be reckoned with and leaving Charlie with a friend, off to the federal building she goes.

Things happen in the carpark that just don't seem right and panic her. Initially her fears seem unfounded, but then when the elevator jolts and starts going up instead of down she freaks out. She's got the gun she carries in her bag out, and pointed when the doors open and standing in front of her is a rather scruffy looking Michael Westen.

Her inquiries are putting him and his mission in jeopardy, so this is a courtesy to get her to back off. She's not happy about it, but she knows Michael and once he sets down a course, he follows it through to the end. It's actually a very good and measured performance from Sharon Gless. I never really watched Cagney & Lacey, because Tyne Daly's performance grated on me, but I think Sharon Gless has done some of the best work of her career in Burn Notice.

Michael is actually spying on his friends, because they're after Gamble, and the CIA is counting on them to lead them right to him. Before Michael can continue his mission of taking down Burke and his terrorist cell, they need to remove Gamble from the picture. Spying on Fiona leads Michael to flashback to Dublin when he first met Fiona, working undercover as Michael McBride.

While it's nice to see how the story of Michael and Fiona started, we do have to endure Jeffrey Donovan's dreadful Irish accent. The accent always hurts the show's credibility, because no genuine Irishman would ever accept Michael's cover story that he's a born and bred Irishman.

As Sam, Jesse, Carlos and Fiona close in on Gamble, with Michael taking up a sniper position to shoot Gamble, once his friends flush him out, Gamble stays a step ahead and actually kidnaps Fiona.

For some reason he seems to believe that Fiona knows where Michael is. She does know he's working for the CIA, although she refuses to admit that to Gamble. She is however telling the truth when she says that she hasn't seen him in nearly a year and doesn't know if he's alive or dead. Gamble refuses to accept it.

Sam, Jesse and Carlos get ready to go in with all guns blazing and Michael disobeys his handler, stopping them before they can get themselves killed. The expected recriminations follow about how he should have at least let them know that he was still alive. I find this rather tedious. Michael was deep undercover, if he let his friends and family know where he was that puts him and them at risk. Even just breaking cover to let them know he was alive, could do that. I think what Gamble did to Fiona actually illustrates that. Having worked covert ops in the past, both Sam and Jesse should be aware of this and understand it, however much they may not like it.

Strong (Michael's handler) is all for sending a tactical team to storm the building Gamble is in. Michael knows that at the very least that action will get Fiona killed, so he can't let it happen. He stresses to Strong that doing this will also lose him agents and he doesn't want to do that if can be prevented. A famous Michael Westen seat of the pants plan is coming.

Michael rings Gamble and speaks to he and Fiona. When he was with Fiona she told him about a code she had with her father. When he said 'Time to be brave, little angel' it meant get down and lay there until the shooting passes. Michael signs off with that comment, in his Irish accent. Fiona knows what it means and hits the dirt. At the same time, army snipers with machine guns start pouring fire into the building. The clueless Gamble is hit multiple times and dies. When Fiona comes out of the building, she goes straight to Carlo's arms.

Michael intercepts her when she's being attended to by one of the medics called to the site. Before leaving she kisses his cheek and tells him to take care. Michael's mind goes back to the Dublin bar the first night he saw Fiona Glenanne. The bartender tells him to give her a wide berth, she's taken. Michael watches her kiss her boyfriend on the cheek, laughs and tells the barman that's a goodbye kiss. In the present that's the same kiss she just gave him.

This was the show's 100th episode and it was fitting that we went back and forth from Michael and Fiona's past to their fractured present.

Burn Notice, Season 7, Episode 1

This is it. The final season. Once this one is done there's no more Burn Notice.

As it always has it begins with Michael. 9 months has passed since the scene in the CIA facility. The opening scenes flick between Michael's now, which is in the Dominican Republic and Michael is posing as an alcoholic ex spy, who performs criminal acts and puts himself in no holds barred illegal bar fights to make ends meet and keep himself in alcohol. It kind of reminds me of the early scenes in Skyfall, where Bond hangs out on an island, drinking and playing dangerous games with live scorpions. The then is Michael being offered a deal by the CIA. Work for them or condemn his girlfriend, his two best friends and his mother to an existence in a featureless concrete cell. What he's doing is trying to make contact with a former operative and friend by the name of Burke (played by Heroes Adrian Pasdar), who is now believed to be highly placed in a terrorist cell.

The action then crosses back to the US and covers what happened after Michael's deal freed the rest of the gang. Sam is living the high life in Elsa's money, working on his tan by the pool. Jesse's taken a 9 - 5, which is probably some sort of private security gig. Fiona is working as a bounty hunter and has commenced a romantic relationship with her partner, Carlos. Maddy is in the process of trying to get custody of Charlie, as his mother has fallen off the wagon (I never knew she had a problem before) and has been judged an unfit mother.

Both Sam and Jesse are approached by an unsavoury character who wants information about Michael. This is Nick E. Tarabay (best remembered for his role in the Starz version of Spartacus). He presents as a Surete agent to Sam and an Australian diamond merchant to Jesse. The one thing that is consistent is that he's interested in Michael and is dangerous. Sam and Jesse contact Fiona, she's moved on and doesn't want anything to do with Michael, but agrees to keep an eye on Maddy, her she still cares about.

Bourke gets Michael off the booze, he was never really on it in the first place, but that's his cover and puts him to work for him. He and one of Burke's people break into things for reasons that are never specified, other than Burke wants them done. Of course it also proves Michael is loyal to the cause and gets him closer to Burke which is what the CIA want.

Tarabay's character convinces Maddy that he's with the child protective services department and needs her to tell him about Michael before he can start pleading her case for custody of Charlie. Maddy truthfully tells him that she doesn't know anything about Michael's current whereabouts other than he's working for the CIA. This is then relayed to his contact in South America, and Michael is forced to kill his co worker, but clearly Burke wasn't privy to the information, so there's games within games at work here.

Sam and Jesse tried to investigate the shady character asking about Michael and the address leads to a rather down at heel concrete box. It had also been secured with a claymore mine behind the back door. It nearly blows up Sam and the great chemistry between Coby Bell and Bruce Campbell leads to some comedy to lighten up the tension a little.

Michael's handler says that he needs to go to Miami to sort some things out which could jeopardise the operation and he's taking Michael with him, so Michael Westen is going back home again.

A great season opener, which recalls the strong opening to the series and signals that it's going out with a bang and not a whimper.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Rd 3 Brisbane V Richmond 18/04/2015 (Gabba)

A Brisbane player lines up for goal at the Gabba on Saturday night.

After the deflating loss to the Bulldogs, plenty of Richmond supporters were worried about the match against Brisbane. It is true that a loss would see microwaving of membership tickets and truckloads of chicken poo dumped outside the ME Bank Centre on Punt Rd, and even a narrow win against the struggling Lions wouldn't really soothe battered Tiger egos that much, but I have to admit that I didn't really entertain the idea of losing to the Brisbane side.

Being a Tiger supporter all my life has taught me to never expect a win against anyone, but I don't sweat Brisbane these days. Even despite losing in a disappointing fashion to the Bulldogs, I couldn't envisage a loss to Brisbane. To put it in the context of this season, the Bulldogs are a lot better than the inexperienced Brisbane outfit. In the first 2 rounds of the season Brisbane had been overrun by Collingwood at home, who aren't anybody's idea of a threat this year, and were then thumped by more than 80 points by North Melbourne.

To give my nonchalance a longer term view, the only side in the AFL that is Richmond's bunny is the Brisbane Lions. In the last 10 games, the Tigers have won 9 of them (the 10th was a draw). For whatever reason they have an absolute hold on the Lions. It will be broken one day, all hoodoos are, but I didn't think Saturday night was going to be the night. To add to their woes Brisbane had also lost captain Tom Rockliff to injury.

In contrast while Richmond had also been hit by injury - Ricky Petterd, Kane Lambert and Dylan Grimes were all out - they gained two regular players back: Shane Edwards and David Astbury (it's highly likely that even if he weren't injured, Grimes would have had to go to make way for Astbury) and Chris Knights was going to make his comeback after more than a season out with significant leg injuries.

Despite a very lopsided free kick count (it seemed that giving a Brisbane player a stern look would earn one), Richmond were a far better team from the outset. Ben Griffiths marked and goaled early. Kamdyn McIntosh continued his good form. Shane Edwards looked dangerous and immediately added a new dimension to the forward line, something that had been severely lacking in the game against the Bulldogs. Chris Knights was also a problem for Brisbane.

Annoyingly the Tigers set up a 15 point lead, but then coughed up a goal late in the first quarter, that cut it to single figures. They do this a lot and have done it for years, opposition teams are nearly always a chance against Richmond if they keep them in touch. They lack a genuine killer instinct, and they are renowned as being mentally fragile.

The second quarter was a bit of an arm wrestle. Brisbane got to within a point, before Richmond put their foot back down and extended their own lead. If Brisbane were a better side and had more experience, the lead wouldn't have been insurmountable, it was only a few goals, but there had already been signs that the mountain was a little too high for the young Lions to climb.

The Jack Riewoldt show rolled into town in the 3rd quarter, and while a 7 goal lead isn't that much in modern football, the contest was over by 3 quarter time. Players like Dustin Martin had also gotten off the chain and even whipping boy Shaun Grigg was well on top of his opponent. The stats seemed to suggest that Lion Stefan Martin was winning his contest with Ivan Maric in the ruck, but stats don't tell the entire story, and Ivan had been well on top of his opponent since quarter time. The hope from the commentators was that Brisbane wouldn't let a 40 point margin blow out to a 60 or 70 point one in the last quarter.

Obviously Richmond didn't listen to the commentators, because they weren't in a charitable mood, and proceeded to grind their young opponents into the ground, piling on goals and misery in equal amounts. I don't know if Trent Cotchin even had an opponent, helping himself to 37 possessions for the game, and it looked like Bachar Houli had brought his own ball, he ran it out of the Lions attacking zone so easily and so often.

Trent Cotchin leads his victorious Tigers off the field.

Heads bowed, the defeated Lions trudge off for some soul searching.

It was a 79 point win to the Tigers and put their season back on track. It's no great feat to beat up on a side like Brisbane, but you can only beat who you've been drawn to play and Richmond don't often hammer sides like that, so that was pleasing and tells me that they were stung by what happened against the Bulldogs. I just hope Hardwick has his coaching hat on against the Paul Roos coached Melbourne on ANZAC Eve, because Roos is one of the wiliest old buggers in the game.

The only sour note for the Tigers was what looked like a serious hamstring injury to Chris Knights. No idea what this guy did, but he's earned more bad luck than anyone should rightfully have to deal with.

I hope we can win against Melbourne, because we owe them for crashing our party last year in the Tommy Hafey Memorial Game.

Favourite Fantasy Authors and Books A - Z (J)

I had more luck with J, than with I. Interestingly enough when I thought about it, all my selections were female and all best known as authors of books for children or young adults. It's a fun list, at least I think so.

Tove Jansson - August 9, 1914 - June 27, 2001. I think the picture above is just so Tove Jansson that I fell in love with it. That just screams I am the mother of the Moomins! Tove Jansson came from an artistic and liberal Swedish speaking family in Finland. Her father was a sculptor and her mother a graphic designer, her siblings became artists. Tove herself was as much artist as she was author. She illustrated her own books and did a Moomin comic strip. Her most famous creation of the Moomins, a cuddly sort of troll, began life as something she drew to amuse and possibly frighten her younger siblings, later on it morphed into a trademark that she used to identify her work.

In 1945 inspired by the depression of WW 2 she wrote something that was whimsical, naive and innocent. It was The Moomins and the Great Flood (although it was the first Moomin book written it was among the last to be translated into languages other than Finnish, and was largely unnoticed. Many regard Comet in Moominland as the first book of the series).

Comet in Moominland (1948) started the popularity. Jansson went on to write 6 more Moomin books and became Finland's most widely read author outside her homeland. She won the biennial Hans Christian Andersen award in 1966 for her contribution to children's literature.

She continued to write for the rest of her life, but ventured outside of the world of the Moomins after 1970. She wrote a number of novels and short story collections, as well as continuing to create art and comic strips. A number of documentaries about her life on the island of Klovharu and her travels with her lifelong partner Tuulikki Pietila (the inspiration for the character of Too-Ticky in Moominland Midwinter), were also shot by Pietila.

She passed away in 2001 from lung cancer (Jansson was a lifelong smoker) at the age of 86.

I love all the Moomin books (although there are only 7 of them, including The Moomins and the Great Flood, it feels like there are so many more. They're only slim, but they pack a lot into the pages), so it was a hard thing to pick just one. For a long time I had a liking for Moominsummer Madness, but I'd have to revise that to Finn Family Moomintroll now. Finn Family Moomintroll is the 3rd of the books, and it was the first one I read. My mother bought a copy for me when I was 8 years old, it introduced me to the Moomins, and I made it a mission to track down and read the others. Finn Family Moomintroll just has a feel about it that I don't think the others quite matched. Moominsummer Madness probably came close. Finn Family Moomintroll probably has the most complete cast with Moomintroll himself, his parents Moominmamma and Moominpappa, Sniff and Snufkin, the Muskrat, the Hemulen, the Hattifatteners, Moomintroll's girlfriend the Snork Maiden and her brother the Snork, as well as the Hobgoblin and his magical hat, that can turn eggshells into clouds and a handful of weeds into a jungle. It also featured the terrifying Groke for the first time and is the only book to feature the verbally dyslexic Thingummy and Bob. It's one of those books that crosses generational boundaries and can be read by children and adults alike, each finding something different to appreciate in its pages.

Further and related reading: there are 6 other Moomin books: The Moomins and the Great Flood, Comet in Moominland, The Exploits of Moominpappa, Moominsummer Madness, Moominland Midwinter, Moominpappa at Sea and Moominvalley in November. Following Moominsummer Madness the books became more reflective and examined feelings more closely than they had previously. Moominvalley in November is more of a series of stories about characters who have interacted with the Moomins, and does not feature the family themselves (during it they are in fact either en route or on the island featured in Moominpappa at Sea). She also wrote a short story collection about her creation: Tales from Moominvalley, and there were a number of picture books: The Book about Moomin, Mumble and Little My, Who Will Comfort Toffle? Dangerous Journey, An Unwanted Guest and a song book: Songs from Moominvalley. There are also collections of the Moomin comic strips written and drawn by Jansson.

There have been plenty of books since that try to capture the same feeling as the Moomin books, but I don't think anyone really succeeded until I saw Catherynne M. Valente's Fairyland series. It's the closest I can think of that has come to creating that same feeling or the sort of concepts that Jansson dealt with. These are things that shouldn't work, but somehow do. They also have that same sort of cross generational appeal and that feel that there is nothing in the books that could ever be considered offensive or harmful.

I'll be surprised if many people reading this have ever heard of Catherine Jinks. She's an Australian author who grew up in Papua New Guinea and now lives in the Blue Mountains in New South Wales. Despite her relative anonymity she's written 41 books. Her first book Wrong Way Out came out in 1991 and she has steadily written since then. Most of her work is aimed at the YA market (although she has written for both adults and younger children) and covers a wide spectrum from vampire/werewolf fiction (The Reformed Vampire Support Group and The Abused Werewolf Rescue Group), the Genius science fiction series, historical fiction with The Pagan Chronicles and many other genres. Unlike plenty of other authors out there, from Australia and outside, she sets a lot of her work within the country, generally in and around Sydney.

She has a presence on the web at:, which has a brief bio and details about all her books across the spectrum.

This is why she made the list and how I first found out about her. I loved the above cover (strangely enough it's since been replaced by something much less inspiring and misleading. It looks like every other YA vampire book out there, and that's not what it is). I actually call The Reformed Vampire Support Group, the anti-Twilight book. It covers the trials and tribulations of a group of vampires in Sydney, who don't actually want to be vampires. They were turned against their will, and they don't particularly want to kill people and drink their blood ,or never go out during the day. They run the gamut of ages, and the central character; Nina Harrison, was turned when she was 15 years old. As far as Nina is concerned being eternally 15 isn't all that modern fiction has cracked it up to be. She won't ever age, she can't go out during the day, all of her former friends have aged and left her behind, she still lives at her mother's house and writes fiction about a teenage vampire hunter to make some money and not be a financial drain on her ageing mother. The fun really starts when someone begins killing members of her support group. In the course of the investigation and trying to save themselves they also meet up with werewolves who have their own problems and that springboarded into the sequel. I think the book has been criminally underrecognised in this Twilight obsessed age, where teen vampires are all the go.

Further and related reading: there's all of Catherine Jinks' other work, but as it's all different from this, unless you read The Abused Werewolf Rescue Group, you'd probably be disappointed, although fans of Eoin Colfer's Artemis Fowl would probably enjoy the Genius series.

In terms of vampire fiction aimed at teen audiences that's almost a genre unto itself with the success of Twilight. I'd recommend Rachel Caine's Morganville Vampires, in which the twist is most of the cast actually don't want to be vampires and one only becomes one because otherwise he'll cease to exist. There's also Richelle Mead's Vampire Academy, which had a half decent film made out of it.  Moving into the adult book sphere you're getting into Paranormal Romance territory which can include Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake series, Kim Harrison's The Hollows series and even Charlaine Harris Sookie Stackhouse books, although they all take things much more seriously than Catherine Jinks irreverent take on it.

Diana Wynne Jones - August 16, 1934 - March 26, 2011. It was a sad day when Diana Wynne Jones departed this earth. She was a giant of children's and YA fantasy literature, and had that knack of holding readers from childhood to adulthood.

She began writing in the 60's when her youngest of her three sons was two years old, and she said that she did it mostly to keep her sanity.

That first book was Changeover and from that point on she wrote full time. She ranged across the gamut. Best known for the Chrestomanci series, which is an odd sort of portal fantasy, she also achieved success with the quasi historical Dalemark quartet, and the Derkholm series, which was born out of The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, which poked fun at every fantasy cliche ever from dark lords to stew. Outside of Chrestomanci, she achieved lasting fame with the Howl's Moving Castle series, which was turned into a financial and critically successful film by Japan's Studio Ghibli.

She was still working at the time of her death, and her sister Ursula finished The Islands of Chaldea and it was published posthumously in 2014.

I chose The Tough Guide to Fantasyland as my favourite DWJ book over things like the other two Derkholm books, Howl's Moving Castle and the Chrestomanci series, because while I liked them I couldn't say I loved them. I did with The Tough Guide to Fantasyland. The book is written like a tourist guide for someone visiting the generic pseudo medieval fantasy setting. It's written alphabetically. The first entry is Adept and the final one is Zombies. Each entry has a suitably amusing and often 'factual' description. It makes aspiring writers like myself squirm with how neatly it skewers cliches and tropes and I wince every time I see one of my own depictions so perfectly laughed at. The book served as inspiration for the Derkholm series, with the author going on to write about a fantasy world being used as a tourist attraction by an unscrupulous off world tour operator. The world of fantasy owes the book a great debt for pointing out some of it's failings in such a delightful way.

Further and related reading: there's all of Diana Wynne Jones' wonderful work, especially the Derkholm series. There are in excess of 40 novels, including the various series, and I haven't even gone into short story collections or picture books. A few people have copied The Tough Guide to Fantasyland format, but no one has done it quite so successfully. The closest I can think of are some of Terry Pratchett's 'non fiction' about his own fantasy creation of Discworld. A number of other authors parody the genre; Craig Shaw Gardner, Robert Asprin, Tom Holt, but no one did it quite like Diana Wynne Jones, they are however worth a read, especially Terry Pratchett. In some ways this type of fiction does owe a small debt to the Harold Shea stories by L. Sprague De Camp and Fletcher Pratt.

Honourable mention: I haven't done this before, but I felt in this case that I should explain the omission and include something about the man and his work.

People may be wondering why I didn't include Robert Jordan and The Wheel of Time. I am aware of them and did like the series to a point, and I did include inferior work like Brooks' Shannara and Eddings' Belgariad. I think it's largely because after the first 4 or 5 Wheel of Time books I started to wonder when, and if, this thing was ever going to end. I gave up after about 3 books filled with nothing but the minutiae of the world Robert Jordan had created. The final straw was The Crossroads of Twilight, which includes about 30 pages worth of plot development in it's 700+ page total. One critic summed the entire thing up as 'drivel'.  I did go back later and read The Knife of Dreams, which was a little better, but I've never been able to bring myself to read the final three books written by Brandon Sanderson from Robert Jordan's notes. It was an idea that largely collapsed under it's own weight. The genre owes Robert Jordan a debt for proving that immense sprawling multi book epics like The Wheel of Time could work, but it just missed out on making my favourite's list for some of it's own failings.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Rd 2 Richmond V Western Bulldogs MCG 11/04/2015

It's taken me a few days to get my head around the game and write it in some sort of rational fashion.

I'll get this out of the way first, we lost, and although it was only by 19 points, it was disappointing. I'll go into why later.

I seem to see a lot of Western Bulldogs games, I think that's because one of my friends was a Western Bulldogs supporter, he lived just down the road from Whitten Oval, and I used to go to the games with him. My Dad really should have barracked for the Dogs, he went to school with Teddy Whitten after all. Of course there's also a strong argument that he should have supported South Melbourne. Two of his friends played for them, one of them; Fred 'Cracker' Goldsmith, won the Brownlow Medal.

Because of my association with my friend Sam, I've seen a couple of very interesting games for various reasons. I was there the day Tony Liberatore king hit Matthew Knights at the start of the game and gave the media a reason to build up a rivalry (it's a fake one, nothing like the very real one between Richmond and Carlton or Collingwood). We lost the fight and the game, although we did win the return bout later that year, and proved our then coach Danny Frawley had been right after the match when he said 'every dog has it's day'. I was also there the day Richo kicked 10. I was in the crowd salaaming him and chanting 'we want ten!' when he lined up for double figures. I think I've probably seen more success than disappointment, but Saturday was the latter.

I think I need to isolate the round 1 results to explain my own feelings to an extent.

Richmond beat Carlton by 27 points, it's not a huge win and to be honest Carlton are crap. I'm not just saying that because of personal feelings, I'm saying that because this year, they are. They followed up the loss to us, by going over to WA and being hammered by in excess of 10 goals. The Eagles have developed a recent history of being flat track bullies on their own patch when it comes to playing poorly performed sides, but if we think beating Carlton by 27 points is covering ourselves in glory, then we need to have a good hard look at ourselves, because it isn't. However when I look at what worked against Carlton, I wondered why we didn't try to replicate that against the Dogs. In some cases because they didn't let us, but in most cases it was because we didn't try to do it.

The Dogs won their first round match as well. This was a bit of surprise to many. After all the club had two of it's premier midfielders, one of them the captain, walk during the off season. They sacked their coach and appointed a new one, who is in coaching terms, a neophyte. On the pluses they signed emerging forward and top draft pick Tom Boyd to a big money long term deal (personally I don't think he's worth it, and it will ultimately wind up being a very expensive mistake, but that's neither here nor there, really). However to balance that out, they also lost young midfielder Tom Liberatore (son of Tony, but nowhere near as dirty a player) to a season ending knee injury in the pre season. Interestingly enough that injury was incurred against Richmond in a pre season game.

The way the club were pumped up by the media during the week I had to actually check and see if they smashed reigning Premiers and hot Grand Final tip Hawthorn. That would have explained the hysteria around them. I did check and no, they didn't play or beat Hawthorn. They had a modest (10 points) victory against the Eagles in Victoria at the Dogs favoured ground of Etihad Stadium. This is a side hard hit by injury and who have not travelled well for a few years now, and even then they only won by 10 points. It's not dissimilar to Richmond's victory against Carlton, yet we weren't met with that sort of fanfare.

I thought the attention may have worked in our favour, but it didn't. I got a sinking feeling when I saw that Shane Edwards was out with injury. Not so much that Shane was joining Brett Deledio on the sidelines, if we can't cover two players, good as they are, then we're in trouble, but more who was chosen to replace him. Ricky Petterd. We picked up Ricky from Melbourne as a rookie a few years ago. He did okay, although if I'd been making list decisions I would have kept him on the rookie list, but no we elevated him into the team and gave him a two year contract. Ricky tries his guts out, but he's a limited footballer. Again if I had anything to do with it I would only play Ricky if the only other option was going in a man short, and even then I'd have to think about it hard. However he seems beloved by the selection committee and they pick him every chance they get. Neither myself, other supports or neutral media commentators, can actually see what Ricky brings to the table.

If you just went by the stats and didn't look at the scoreboard, you could think Richmond won the game. We either beat the Bulldogs or broke even on nearly every recorded stat. We had significant advantages in disposals and free kicks. They beat us convincingly on tackles (for some reason most of our players are tackle shy. I really don't know why) and of course on the scoreboard which gave them the victory by 19 points.

What really frustrated me was the silly turnovers, dumb play and latitude we gave them. I lost count of the amount of turnovers that were gifted to them and if they were really the world beaters they're being built up as then they would have beaten us by considerably more. I do have to admit that on the day they had a 19th player on the field by the name of Bounce. I can't ever remember seeing a game where bizarre bounces of the ball favoured one team over the other so much, other than that we lost the game by letting them win and playing into their hands.

A Dogs player doing it easy against his clueless Richmond opponent.

I have to question the coaching of Damien Hardwick. I don't want to, because what he's done by inheriting the list that Terry Wallace tried his level best to destroy and developing them into a competitive unit that has made consecutive finals series, is herculean, but he does react slowly on match day, and he seems locked into a game style that stifles his players creativity and weakens the natural game of many. Then there's the selection of players like Ricky Petterd, Chris Newman, Steve Morris, Shaun Grigg and others, when there are talented and mostly young, hungry players who are being starved of opportunity. The reluctance to select Anthony Miles last year when he was tearing it up week after week in the VFL is indicative of that. When Miles finally debuted he starred, and is now a lock for the 22. Why did it take so long?

Against Carlton Jack Riewoldt was fantastic. He played as a mobile forward, which enabled him to get rid of his opponent, confuse their defence and he kicked 4 goals. He spent all summer getting his body ready for that role. So when we play a game against the Bulldogs, when the same game could have netted a similar result, he was chained in the forward line, returned lesser numbers, and appeared to be frustrated. It also affected Ben Griffith's game because it crowded him and that did little for his confidence. So he won't stick with moves that work, yet persists with Steve Morris in the forward line, where he brings very little to the table, and has been most effective as a small defender. Morris was eventually moved from the forward line to defence in the last quarter, where he did more than he had up forward in the previous 3 quarters. Just because it worked with Jake King does not mean it will work with Steve Morris. They are completely different players.

The 'Trossman' in flight

I have to praise Alex Rance. His defensive work was extraordinary. He was All Australian last year, and he's stepped it up a notch this season. The most athletic attacking defender I have seen at Richmond in many a long year, possibly ever. If we can't get him to sign a new deal and lose him to free agency at the end of the season, we may as well consider shutting the doors, because that will be a clear sign that we're never ever going to succeed long term.

We'll probably beat Brisbane at the Gabba this week. They're our bunnies and they're not much chop. If we lose it will be catastrophic, but even if we win it doesn't prove much. I very much fear the game against the Bulldogs is the rule, not the exception. Many changes regarding on and off field personnel need to be made before we can even think of calling ourselves good.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Burn Notice, Season 6, Episodes 17 & 18

I'm doing the final 2 episodes of the season together, because they really are just one big episode, split into 2 for the convenience of network TV. There's no to be continued at the end of Episode 17, but considering that one major character's life hangs in the balance as the credits roll, it probably should have.

After receiving that cryptic message at his brother's grave, Michael decides to follow up on it. He leaves Schmidt's house (Schmidt himself has already left the country, but did say that they could stay there for a while until they too departed Dodge) in the dead of the night. He finds himself at an out of the way all night diner. Seated at the counter is one solitary customer. Jason Bly, former CIA operative and now with CSS.

Bly offers Michael a deal of sorts. He's been tasked with CSS' investigation into Card's death, and he's worked out that Card wasn't the 'white knight' everyone thought he was. Riley's not much better, she will burn any and everyone if that's what it takes to get Michael. Bly can't do a whole lot for Michael, he killed a high ranking CIA officer, but he can maybe save his friends and family. Riley has already had Sugar thrown in a whole for his previous association with Michael and worse could await everyone else.

Michael tells Fiona about the offer and she rejects it immediately, and counsels continuing with their plan to get out.

Michael, Sam and Jesse go to a dock to arrange transport. The contact is acting suspiciously. By the time they work out that they've been made, the CIA are all over it. Jesse tries to run and gets caught. Sam is shot, Michael takes out the shooter and throws him into his car, and then gets out safely.

Back at Schmidt's, Sam was lying about being 'grazed'. It's a gut shot, and the bullet is still in him. They can't risk a hospital or even a doctor, so Fiona brings in her ex boyfriend, the EMT Campbell.

Sam's injury is one problem. The other is Jesse. They're confident that Jesse won't rat them out, but they also don't want to leave him to Riley's tender mercies. The CIA guy they took at the docks is a hardcase and won't crack.

Jesse knows all about interrogation. He used to work counter intelligence and he's been with Michael for a few years now. He initially gives them a long convoluted and dishonest story. That's when Riley lets one of her muscle men rough him up, but she knows she can't take it too far and Jesse still won't give them a damn thing. She offers him a deal. She'll clean his record and let him go free if he'll roll over. He won't. Jesse is the wrong person for them to have. He has no family and no real friends outside of the team. Eventually Riley offers him the classified file on the police informant that killed his mother, something that Jesse has been trying to get his eyes on since he was 9 years old. He still won't talk, but he's getting closer.

Back at the house, Campbell is unable to do a lot for Sam, although he has stopped the bleeding. Dean isn't talking. Michael lets him free himself and when he tries to make the inevitable call to Riley, traces it and gets a location. Dean tries to escape, takes Fiona out of the fight and has a gun on Michael, when Sam puts a gun on him and he stands down.

Michael uses one of his usual tricks to gas the building where Jesse is being held. Waits until everyone is out and then goes in for Jesse. Just before they leave, Jesse grabs the file and opens it. It's full of blank sheets of paper. Riley was trying to play him.

Bly contacts Michael and urges him to cooperate, because Riley will be madder than ever after his last stunt. Michael hangs up. If they can't get Sam proper medical attention he's going to die. Fiona says she knows a dirty doctor who may help. They all get into the car and drive. As the credits are about to roll, Sam loses consciousness.

Unsurprisingly Episode 18 opens with Fiona and Michael forcing Fiona's illegal doctor to operate on Sam. He can't exactly do the greatest job given the circumstances and lack of equipment, but he does give him a blood transfusion of Michael's blood (lucky that they were compatible) and gets the bullet out. Sam's not out of the woods and really should have proper hospitalisation, but at least now death is not imminent.

Michael and Maddie have a late night conversation about dealing with bad situations and what a picnic living with Frank Westen was. That's when she mentions that at least now the neighbour's dog has stopped barking so they can sleep. That triggers Michael's 'spider sense' and sure enough an assassination team is about to invade the house.

They fight off and take out the intruders. In the encounter, Michael sees a drug cartel tattoo on one of them. The logical conclusion is that drive by hatred and desperation Riley has done a deal with a drug cartel to take Michael out. It's a cartel that Michael went after for the CIA.

So they run to a hotel. They need to get a tracker on Riley to find out who she's working with in the cartel and see if Bly can trap her in it. They take Sam to the hospital and Michael creates a distraction. He actually rides a motorbike through the hospital, with Riley and her team in pursuit, while Jesse and Fiona break into Riley's car and bug it.

Riley shows her true colours by interrogating Sam and when he refuses to give her anything, shutting off his pain medication. I had some issues with this, not just because Riley is horrible. I already knew that. I can't believe that any doctor would allow this to happen. Hopefully I'm never hospitalised in Miami.

Bly and Michael trace Riley to a marina, where despite Bly's lack of belief that Riley is that off the rails, she's meeting with the drug cartel. He gets audio and vision of her, that will put her away. Then they encounter a marina guard who is with the cartel. They shoot him, but he throws a grenade into the car. Michael gets out, but Bly doesn't, the explosion kills him and destroys all the evidence.

Michael tells Fiona and Jesse to get the guards attention and then he dives into the water and swims for the boat. The drug lord and Riley are surprised when the boat starts heading into open water and go to investigate. The wheelhouse appears to be deserted, but the boat is underway and the coast guard are approaching. Michael takes out the drug lord, then he and Riley pull guns on each other.

Michael wants Riley to confess, if she doesn't he's willing to let the coast guard open fire and destroy the boat. Yes, it will kill him, but it will also killed Riley and it will mean that nothing more will happen to Maddie, Fiona, Sam and Jesse. There were things that Riley didn't know about Michael Westen. He's rarely ever out of a plan. He has nerves of steel. He is willing to die if it means his friends and family are okay. He doesn't have a lot to lose. Finally, he's more than a little crazy. Riley cracks.

When senior CIA members die and are found to be corrupt, and I haven't even mentioned Bly's involvement in it all, investigations have to be held and wheels have to turn. Everyone finds themselves in government custody. After 3 weeks, Fiona is taken from her cell to a helicopter deck. She sees Michael dressed in a suit and giving orders, with a nod of his head the guard releases Fiona, and lets her go to him. He made a deal. If he works as the CIA's puppet they leave everyone else alone.

Because Michael had said in Panama after Card went down and they were through all of this, he was out, Fiona accuses him of getting what he wanted and lying to her. She knows this is unfair. Michael had no other option.

It's a pretty good ending and a nice springboard into the 7th and final season. Season 6 had a rocky start, while it tried to finish off Season 5, but once Nate was killed the show kicked into overdrive, and some of the high points of the entire show were in Season 6, especially when they were being chased by Riley. Had they had to end the show in this season, they could have tweaked the ending a bit and had Michael and Fiona walking off into the sunset. As it is they got a shortened 7th season to actually end it properly.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Burn Notice, Season 6, Episode 16

This episode starts where 15 left off. Maddie has moved into Schmidt's house with the rest of the gang and they're burning her licence and other forms of identification in the sink. The realisation of what she is doing comes when Michael also insists that they have to destroy her old address book. Up until this point I don't think she really knew what sort of a step they were taking. She finally acknowledged the existence of Charlie and how she doesn't want him to grow up without a family (other than his mother). However as Michael and Fiona point out, they don't have an option.

Schmidt has arranged for Jesse and Sam to meet with a shady character called Vanek (played with relish by Pirates of the Caribbean's Kevin McNally). He has the computer chips they need for the passports. Because he doesn't like Schmidt he jacks the price up and treats Sam and Jesse like something he found on the bottom of his shoe.

When they meet in a carpark to see computer hacker extraordinaire, Dixon, and test the passports, Schmidt is jumpy and nervous (even more than usual and he's twitchy at the best of times). The reason soon becomes obvious. He ratted Vanek out to the FBI and the competitor is coming for him. Everyone, except for Dixon, who followed his best weasel instincts and got out while he still could, piles into the van and takes off.

Vanek and his goon squad chase them into an abandoned factory. Well, there was no one there, but everything still worked, so maybe it was just shut down for the weekend or something. While Vanek is looking for a way in, they're looking for a way out. Michael calls Jesse and asks him to meet them there with a vehicle that can handle being shot at.

Jesse can't leave Maddie on her own, and she won't let him anyway, so he takes her. They con a construction worker out of his dump truck (Michael did say bulletproof) and take it to the address Michael gave them.

Sam, Fiona, Michael and Schmidt, do manage to get out before Vanek gets in, but he's still got their access to their ride blocked. If they give him Schmidt he'll let them go. Everyone else, especially Schmidt, is against this plan of action. Although I think Fiona was considering it. Michael, against everyone else's wishes, and I could definitely understand Sam's point here, you don't leave people behind, takes Schmidt out to Vanek. At the last minute he shoots a transformer, causes an explosion and they make their escape in the truck.

It's later, while Schmidt is calming his nerves with alcohol (the smuggling business must pay well, because Macallan is not cheap), he speaks to Michael about the great escape. He contends that Michael had no way of actually knowing the transformer was there. Michael says that he's right, but if it hadn't been, something else would have. He never says it, but both the audience and Schmidt know that if push really came to shove he would have given Schmidt up to save the rest. There's an edge that Michael has never had before, or maybe he always had it, but has kept it hidden until now.

They're almost ready to go into hiding when Maddie goes missing. Michael knows where she is, and he finds her at Nate's grave. She says that she's sorry, but she couldn't go without saying goodbye. Michael says that he understands, and that if a CIA team were watching them or going to grab them they would have done it by now. Maddie leaves the grave and Michael picks up a small bunch of flowers that Maddie thought were left there by one of Nate's friends.

Michael didn't know many of Nate's friends, but those he did know weren't the type to leave flowers at the grave. He extracts the card in them and turns it over. The writing on the back reads I Would Like to Chat, with a number, and is signed A Friend.

They're not leaving Miami, but who is A Friend. Pretty much anyone that we know of who could or would do something like that is either dead or out of the picture somehow or other.