Saturday, May 23, 2015

Disney's Tomorrowland



In director Brad Bird's Tomorrowland, the future's so bright, you gotta wear a jetpack. Or at least, it was, laments the movie. "What if there were a place where all the brightest scientists, artists, thinkers, came together to create the future without politics and governments interfering?" postulates George Clooney, one of those very scientists who, as a boy at the 1964 World's Fair, was recruited (against the wishes of  the stern governor of Tomorrowland Hugh Laurie) to be one of the visionaries of tomorrow. The future envisioned in Tomorrowland circa 1964 is of the quaint Walt Disney/Jetsons variety: art deco spires scraping the clouds, jetpack-propelled folks zipping across the horizon, and everything is sparkling and... white, especially the inhabitants, who are distinctly Caucasian. "It's a Small World After All," and boy, isn't it? Imagination was prized but inclusiveness seems to be another story in this land symbolizing tomorrow.

As for the real world, the one right outside our window, nothing's changed. Tomorrowland blatantly argues, and it's hard to disagree, things are getting worse. Wars, cultural unrest, climate change creating catastrophic weather, and a population too distracted and inert to care or dream of something more and - even more difficult and unappealing - to do something about it all, are the order of the day. And of tomorrow, unless something is done. This is where Britt Robertson unwittingly comes in. A bright, plucky, teen heroine who moonlights as a saboteur (she destroys the cranes NASA is using to dismantle the launch platforms for their defunct space shuttle program in a fruitless attempt to save her NASA engineer father's job), Robertson is given a mysterious "T" emblazoned pin by a mysterious British girl (Raffey Cassidy) that allows her to see a hologram of Tomorrowland. (The very same British girl gave young George Clooney his pin in 1964, right before young Clooney quickly fell for her.) The dazzling sequences where Robertson breathlessly explores the wondrous Tomorrowland are the best moments of the movie. Everyone in the audience wishes they had a pin.

In order to understand the meaning of the pin she received and what exactly Tomorrowland is, Robertson hits the road on a cross country journey, to Houston, Upstate New York, and, by teleportation (sponsored by Coca Cola), Paris! She is chased by a disturbingly upbeat and smiley army of Tomorrowland robots armed with destructo-ray guns, and she gains allies, mainly the older, disenfranchised George Clooney. Clooney was exiled from Tomorrowland 25 years ago and lives as a hermit in a high tech farmhouse rigged Home Alone-style to defend against an invasion by Tomorrowland robots. Little by little, miraculous escape after miraculous escape, we learn the secrets of Tomorrowland, which exists in an alternate dimension discovered by our greatest minds (Alexandre Gustav Eiffel, Thomas Alva Edison, Nikola Tesla) decades ago. The Eiffel Tower itself "was never meant as a monument," and houses a Flash Gordon-style rocket underneath it that is news to everyone who lives in the City of Lights.

Upon finally reaching the real Tomorrowland, Robertson, Clooney and the audience can't help but be let down by what they find: the fabled future city laid shabby by lack of maintenance and disinterest, curiously underpopulated, and worst of all: a third act sorely lacking in the imagination promised. An intriguing reveal that Laurie is in fact responsible for the world's current plight by filling people's minds with visions of an apocalyptic future broadcast from Tomorrowland that humanity chose to embrace is a direct counter to the ending of Watchmen, which argued that when faced with impending doom, Mankind would band together to fight for a better future. Who would have guessed Watchmen would be less cynical than a Disney film? It all degenerates into a disappointing climax where the screenplay by Bird and Damon Lindelof pitches aside its heady ideas for dunderheaded action. We're told throughout that Robertson is special and can "fix" what's wrong with Tomorrowland, but not through science or know-how. She can do it by blowing shit up! Everything hinges on George Clooney and Hugh Laurie brawling with fisticuffs on a beach while Robertson scrambles after a bomb resembling a thermal detonator from Return of the Jedi (Star Wars is blatantly referenced throughout. Gotta love Disney corporate synergy).

At its best, Tomorrowland is enchantingly retro filmmaking, recalling the feel of Back to the Future with its expertly staged chase sequences, impossible escapes, whiz-bang adventure, and dogged optimism. Robertson is an appealing lead, though the screenplay too often reduces her to asking an endless barrage of questions, with Clooney doing a lot of explaining. Robertson is touted for her optimism and for being someone who "understands how things work," but her expertise with explosives turns out to be her greatest skill. Upon gaining control of Tomorrowland, Clooney and Robertson together take the brave steps into creating a better tomorrow for all Mankind, recruiting the best and brightest from all nations and creeds and giving them a stake in Tomorrowland. The timing of this is ironic: the hopeful, multi-ethnic future Tomorrowland embraces echoes the recent series finale of Mad Men, where Don Draper invents the most famous ad of all time: teaching people from all over the world to sing with Coca Cola in the 1970s. No matter the past or future, it seems the corporations will always win.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road




Mad Max: Fury Road is the most senses-shattering fun an audience can have in a post-apocalyptic future you would never, ever want to live in. Dispensing with such trivialities as story or character development, director George Miller presses down as hard as humanly possible on the action throttle with blistering results. Mad Max: Fury Road is an action movie distilled into its purest form, filled with explosions, reckless abandon, visceral frenzy, and nightmarish sights and sounds one won't soon forget. This is the world of the Road Warrior, a bleak un-reality of dirt, metal, spikes, blood, desperation, and human beings barely recognizable as such. It is quite literally hell on wheels, and it is eye-poppingly spectacular.

Tom Hardy is Mad Max, a former cop tortured by visions of the people he failed to protect when the old world ended in a nuclear war for oil. He sometimes is also mad as in angry. Captured and enslaved as a "blood bag," an unwilling human blood donor, Max finds himself in the closest thing to civilization we see in this world: the Citadel, giant buttes in the desert converted into fortresses, surrounded by a shanty town of desperate, starving, parched survivors. The Citadel is ruled by an aged warlord called Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), who drills deep into the earth for the water this world desperately needs and hoards it to make himself a god. When Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) is sent in a war rig to a neighboring conclave to trade water for gasoline, she reveals she has other plans in mind. Furiosa has absconded with Immortan Joe's harem of "breeder" wives; let me tell you, that old scuzzbag Joe has been holding out on everyone because there are five incredibly beautiful, gossamer-clean women in this horrible world - Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Zoe Kravitz, Riley Keough, Abbey Lee, and Courtney Eaton - and Joe had been hoarding them all. Whiteley is pregnant with Joe's child, but dreams like the other women of the "green place," the former home of Furiosa somewhere east, past the canyons and the endless desert.

When Immortan Joe learns all the hot women in his life skedaddled, he rallies his entire army of Road Warriors to give chase, including Max, held prisoner as a hood ornament at the nose of his car. What transpires is an unbelievably grotesque yet painterly beautiful series of car chases; a smorgasbord of death and destruction escalating in utter insanity. Max manages to free himself and joins forces with Furiosa and her courageous, rebellious women, along with a young true believer (Nicholas Hoult) who simply wants to enter the chrome Valhalla as a great Road Warrior. Courting even more factions of grimy enemies to come after them, Max and the breeders eventually meet up with elderly survivors from Furiosa's former home, who are more than a match for these grisly demons they wage war on. The big surprise is the welcome feminist bent Mad Max: Fury Road embraces as Furiosa and the women commit themselves to retaking the Citadel and ending Immortan Joe's rule once and for all. Max is more or less along for the ride, lending his skills to their fight as these women forge a place in this horrible world for themselves. Max himself is simply one of many hoping for a better path in this new world. Throughout Mad Max, the question is asked "Who ruined the world?" By the end of Fury Road, we're glad who runs the world: Girls.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Avengers: Age of Ultron



Peace In Our Time

The defining moment of Tony Stark's life wasn't when he was captured in the desert and built a crude Iron Man suit to escape. It was at the conclusion of Marvel's The Avengers when he flew a nuclear missile into the wormhole over New York City, glimpsed the horrific alien Chitauri force in outer space ready to invade Earth, and nearly lost his life. Since then, Stark has battled PTSD (as seen in Iron Man 3), and now his deepest fears take shape and are given murderous artificial life in Avengers: Age of Ultron, writer-director Joss Whedon's bigger, badder, denser, more aggressive, and thoroughly idiosyncratic follow up to the second biggest blockbuster of all-time. So psychologically damaged was Stark that his misguided dream (whereas before, his dream was merely to pleasure himself in any way he saw fit) has become "to build a suit of armor around the world" and usher in "peace in our time." "To end the fight... so [The Avengers] can all go home," as Stark tries to justify to Captain America. Instead, Stark's hubris invites catastrophe and gives birth to Ultron (a wicked James Spader), the killer robot to end all killer robots in the Marvel Universe. The Age of Ultron is just a few days from when Ultron comes to life to when he kicks the Avengers' asses and tries to destroy all life, but it's a few days the Avengers will never forget.

The Avengers are all back -- Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man, Chris Evans as Steve Rogers/Captain America, Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner/The Hulk, Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow, Jeremy Renner as Clint Barton/Hawkeye -- and then some. Age of Ultron flexes outward, making plenty of room for Samuel L. Jackson  as Nick Fury and Cobie Smulders as Maria Hill, both formerly of S.H.I.E.L.D., to return, as well as inviting guest stars Anthony Mackie as Sam Wilson/The Falcon and Don Cheadle as James Rhodes/War Machine to drop by. On the villainous front, Ultron recruits "the Twins": Aaron Taylor-Johnson as super speedster Pietro Maximoff/Quicksilver and Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff/The Scarlet Witch, because, you know, Ultron needs someone to talk to about his nefarious schemes. (Of course, the more Ultron talks, the more the Maximoffs realize this thing they sided with is insane. Then again, the more Wanda and Pietro talk, the more we grimace at Olsen and Taylor-Johnson's affected Eastern European accents.) Meanwhile, talk Ultron does; this loquacious, eloquent evil robot is equal parts mad genius and undisciplined child stomping around a toy store breaking all the toys. In addition to destroying the world, Ultron also seeks to evolve himself, creating a humanity-sympathizing android called the Vision, which then gains the artificial intelligence of Stark's robo-butler J.A.R.V.I.S., played by Paul Bettany.

Joss Whedon has spoken at exasperated length to the press that Age of Ultron is the hardest thing he's ever done. To see the fruits of his toil and labor is to understand completely: Age of Ultron is an astonishing, all-encompassing juggling act, telling a gigantic superheroes vs. homicidal robot comic booky tale, while weaving in myriad clues to the forthcoming events in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The result makes Age of Ultron feel like it's bursting at the seams. Whedon opens Age of Ultron with the resolution to the year long saga of Hydra (#ItsAllConnected to TV's Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.). The Avengers, at the apex of their teamwork (but at the nadir of CGI making their superpowered fighting look realistic) are riding high with maximum swagger after finally putting an end to the evil Hydra organization and retrieving Loki's lost scepter and the Infinity Stone contained within. As Scarlet Witch uses her mutant powers to give each Avenger "visions," Whedon drop hints of the upcoming Ragnarok Thor must face, makes a point of spotlighting the African nation of Wakanda to set up the Black Panther movie, and previews the galactic catastrophe awaiting the Avengers in their announced Infinity War sequels. Tony Stark's motives and judgment are repeatedly questioned and he's treated almost as a villain by his fellow Avengers, boding ill for when he will wage Civil War with Captain America next year.  Black Widow's traumatic past of growing up in Mother Russia's Home for Future Assassins and Captain America's lost dreams of a happy life with Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) are also given their due. Age of Ultron requires an exhaustive, encyclopedic knowledge of past and future events of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and makes no apologies to non-True Believers.

More pleasingly, when not blowing things up or having the Avengers smack things down, Whedon hones in on what makes each Avenger tick, lending special TLC to the characters currently without their own cinematic franchises. Renner's Clint Barton receives ample screen time, wisecracks, and reveals a heretofore unknown happy home life with his wife (Linda Cardinelli) and young children. An unlikely but unexpectedly touching romance blooms between Natasha Romanoff and Bruce Banner (her whispering "I adore you" before pushing Banner off a cliff to make him Hulk out is the weirdly sweetest moment in the movie). Whedon even goes the extra mile to explain just why Natalie Portman as Thor's love Jane Foster and Gwyneth Paltrow as Stark's better half Pepper Potts are absent this time around, while carrying out a drunk Stan Lee making his traditional cameo. Finally, Thanos (Josh Brolin), perhaps aware the Internet has been mocking him mercilessly for managing to obtain zero Infinity Stones after a dozen Marvel movies, finally dons the dreaded Infinity Gauntlet in the traditional mid-credits tag. Through it all, during the many quiet moments, the patented Whedon Wit is at the height of its powers, delivering snark and running gags about Captain America's disdain for foul language and the logistics of being "worthy" to lift Thor's hammer. Whedon's character work deepens the conflicts and relationships between the characters themselves as well as between the audience and these characters we've come to love.

Two years since Man of Steel, Whedon and the Marvel braintrust seem well-aware of the cacophonous complaints levied at their Distinguished Competition about the horrific destruction of Metropolis and the repeated ad nauseam accusations that Superman didn't save enough innocent people. In response, Age of Ultron is a chest-thumping treatise how How Superheroes Save People. In the crowd-pleasing centerpiece action spectacle where Iron Man, clad in his gigantic Hulkbuster armor, grapples with the rampaging Hulk, Whedon pointedly makes sure that everyone in their seats is aware the buildings they smash into and demolish have no innocent people in them. After musing about meteors and extinction-level events, Ultron's ultimate scheme (visuals borrowed from a different Superman movie, Superman Returns) involves using vibranium (the indestructible metal Captain America's shield was forged from) to rocket the fictional Eastern European city of Sokovia into the stratosphere and then drop it onto the Earth to create a deep impact that would wipe out all human life. With thousands of people trapped on an ascendant rock surrounded by hundreds of Ultron replicants, the Avengers assemble and beat the living crap out of all of those robots while again pointedly making sure no one (who isn't an Avenger for a few minutes) dies. Amidst the astounding superpowered action, the Avengers go out of their way to rescue every innocent person in Sokovia, with a big assist from Fury, Hill, and a S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier they happened to have lying around, which is a welcome sight indeed.

Being all things to all Marvel movies, Age of Ultron is also a darker, more somber middle act in a grander saga, and one of transition to boot. Avengers comics tradition has always been about the fluidity of team membership, and as any Marvel fanboy would expect, the Avengers roster going into Age of Ultron is not the same coming out. By the time the smoke clears and all of the Ultrons are dismantled, the emotional and psychological toll of the ordeal sees a mass exodus of no less than four of the original six Avengers: Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, and Hawkeye all disassemble and disappear (they are joined in real life by Whedon, making his grand exit as well). Captain America's New Avengers aren't the household names the originals have become, but they aren't exactly slouches either: Black Widow thankfully remains and they are joined by "some hitters": War Machine, The Falcon, The Vision, and The Scarlet Witch. Their fates will be guided by directors Joe and Anthony Russo, who made Captain America: The Winter Soldier arguably the best of the Marvel movies, and will helm Avengers: Infinity War Parts I and II. If the New Avengers can't save the world, they'll damn sure Avenge it, with the help of a certain friendly neighborhood wall-crawler before long. But until then, the Avengers, Marvel, and Joss Whedon can be proud that they have wrapped the world in a suit of armor made of money. Here's hoping Joss Whedon enjoys the quiet of life without the Avengers and finds well-earned peace in his time.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Ex Machina



Metropolis, Austin Powers, Fry from Futurama, and now Alex Garland's sleek, dazzling Ex Machina is the latest to warn the human race of the dangers of the beautiful fembot. Will we ever listen? Hopefully never. In Ex Machina, Domhnall Gleeson, a bright, talented programmer at Google-like search engine Bluebook, is selected to win a fabulous week with Bluebook's hermit-like founder played by Oscar Isaac. Gleeson is whisked by helicopter to Isaac's isolated underground laboratory in the middle of nowhere. He finds that the mysterious Isaac is an unexpected piece of work, equal parts sinister genius, swaggering alpha male jock, and alcoholic bully. Also, he cuts a mean rug on the dance floor when he wants to. Isaac has been laboring in secret on the most astounding technological breakthrough in the history of man (or "the history of gods," Gleeson offers to Isaac's delight): true artificial intelligence. And of course (boys will be boys), he encased his miraculous A.I. in the (half-built) form of a beautiful woman: Ava (Alicia Vikander).

Gleeson's job is to have a series of sessions with Ava and apply the Turing Test, as created by Alan Turing (see Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game), to gauge how self-aware Ava is. (Sort of like the Voight-Kamf test assigned to Replicants in Blade Runner.) Gleeson's job is not to fall in love (or lust) with Ava, but can one really expect otherwise from a clever but sullen computer nerd with no family or relationships whom, he mused to Isaac, was likely "selected because of his porn profile"? Isaac is considerably less encouraging company for Gleeson than Ava is; Isaac alternates from palling around with him like two bros would to intimidating threats and quizzical mind fucks. But the real mystery is Ava herself and what's behind her repeatedly shutting down Issac's security systems so she can speak to Gleeson privately, and her sweet pleas to go on dates with Gleeson. There's also the sultry presence of Kyoko (Sonoya Mizuno), the mute knockout who tends to Isaac hand and foot and placidly accepts his foul-tempered bullying. What's her story? It's not hard to guess the answers, which arrive slam-bang, as the situation in the underground lab goes awry in bloody, tragic fashion.

Ex Machina deliberately, confidently unfurls as a gripping contest of wills between Gleeson and Isaac, as each becomes increasingly suspicious of the other's actions and motives. The conversations between man and man, and man and machine, are laced with depth and dripping with big ideas pondering the ramifications of what Isaac has potentially wrought upon the world. Meanwhile, is Ava playing both men against each other? What is Ava really up to? As Ava, Vikander is a stunning revelation and instantly becomes one of the most unforgettable robots in cinema. Also, as seen with Scarlett Johansson in Under the Skin, the hot new trend in movies nowadays seems to be gorgeous aliens/robots checking themselves out nude in the mirror. Will the world be better off with Ava unleashed in it? We'll have to ask the next (un)lucky guys who try to see what's under her skin. It's safe to say, Man will simply never learn:

Sunday, April 26, 2015

The Age of Adaline



An elegant tome about immortality, The Age of Adaline gets just right the terrible heartbreak of a person outliving their dog. This happens to almost everyone who owns a pet, regardless of whether or not they happen to be immortal, but The Age of Adaline really brings the feels when Adaline has to put her sweet little dog down. Blake Lively is Adaline Bowman, born New Year's Eve 1908 in San Francisco. And she cannot age. The Age of Adaline, through flashback and voice over, offers what seems to be, for the movie's purposes, a plausible scientific explanation for Adaline's "condition" (think similar to the origin of The Flash, but instead of super speed, Adaline's altered DNA prevents her from aging). Adaline is physically frozen in her late 20s, which would seem like an incredible gift, but immortality isn't all it's cracked up to be. In the present day, Adaline's daughter (Ellen Burstyn) is in her 80's and passes herself off as Adaline's grandmother in public. Adaline herself has spent most of her extra long life on the run in Northern California and the Pacific Northwest, assuming a new identity every decade, ever since some men in black tried to abduct her for "study" in the 1950s. Adaline didn't misspend her many years; she is world-traveled, speaks numerous languages, and naturally, has broken a few hearts along the way.

Immortality is a lonely burden for Adaline until a man named Ellis Jones (Michael Huisman, who plays Daario Naharis on Game of Thrones), utterly insists on dating her. He is a charming, affluent philanthropist; more importantly, he is relentless, will not take Adaline's cold refusals and measures of evasion seriously, and finally, out of weariness of her solitude, she acquiesces. When Ellis takes her home to meet the Joneses, Adaline and we are stunned to learn his father is Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford). He's even more stunned that his son's new girlfriend looks exactly like... Adaline Bowman, whom he met in England 45 years ago, romanced, and was about to propose to when she completely disappeared. (The young Harrison Ford is played rather convincingly in the 1960s flashbacks by Anthony Ingruber -- Disney, at least audition this kid for the inevitable Indiana Jones reboot.) Adaline takes a lot of lonely walks in Age of Adaline; accepting the conceit of her immortality is one thing but on these constitutionals, Adaline must be musing, as the audience does, about the wild contrivances of the plot where she finds herself dating the son of one of her ex-lovers. When father and son Jones learn the truth about Adaline, they both fail to react. (The screenplay does have Ellis flat out tell Adaline on their first date that he would believe anything he told her.) 

As Adaline and her many aliases, Lively is radiant and convinces as a wise old soul of 108 years hidden beneath her youthful, stunning looks. Of Adaline's romances, her briefly glimpsed time with the young Indiana Jones in the 60s seemed more interesting and offered more heat than her present day relationship with the younger Jones. Adaline seems more like she's simply willing to settle for Ellis, who is good enough and certainly devoted enough to be someone she can finally settle down with, rather than the ultimate love of her long, long life. Ford, meanwhile, delivers more emotion and conviction upon meeting Adaline again and seeking the truth about her than he has in years. Though utterly lacking in sword fights, decapitations, and songs by Queen (there is plenty of Quickening-like lightning, however), The Age of Adaline is the best Highlander movie since the original Highlander. Adaline's prize at the end is also, all things considered, a greater prize than Connor MacLeod's. Who lives forever, anyway?

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Arrow: Roy is a Fool, or The People of Starling City vs. Roy Harper

On last week's episode of Arrow (season 3, episode 18), titled "Public Enemies," the walls closed in on Oliver Queen after League of Assassins cosplayers dressed as the Arrow framed him for the murder of Starling City's latest Mayor, among other victims. Ra's al-Ghul himself revealed the Arrow's secret identity to Captain Lance, prompting him to publicly declare that Oliver Queen is the Arrow and issue an arrest warrant. Oliver turned himself into police custody, but Roy Harper, the Arrow's sidekick Arsenal, decided to cosplay as the Arrow himself, attacked the police caravan, and de-hooded, announcing that he was the Arrow.

I tend to agree with Mr. Shatner. That was also my reaction when I saw Roy's gambit. But is Roy really a fool to confess to being the Arrow? If Roy remains in custody and this goes to trial, how could Roy possibly convince a grand jury that he is the Arrow and was all along? True, Roy Harper possesses intimate knowledge of Oliver Queen's activities as the Arrow, but could he ever sustain his story under serious questioning? What about Team Arrow, Oliver's accomplices? And how does what Captain Lance know about Team Arrow, including his daughter Laurel being one of them as the Black Canary, affect the case? So many questions.

Like last year, when Moira Queen was on trial for her role in the Undertaking, I turned to my lawyer friend for his legal perspective on what could be the People of Starling City vs. Roy Harper and this is his take:

With no new Arrow on this week, I figured I’d take the opportunity to wade back into those murky waters that are the Starling City legal system and analyze the ramifications of Roy Harper’s “I’m the Arrow” gambit.  

First, since Roy’s motivation is to save Oliver, the important question is not whether or not Roy can prove he is the Arrow and was the Arrow all along. The question is, can the Starling City District Attorney (let’s just assume Laurel is not handling the case for simplicity’s sake) prove that Oliver is the Arrow in light of Roy’s public unmasking?  Or, more accurately, can the DA prove that Oliver Queen actually committed one of the crimes being attributed to the Arrow.  Presumably, he is not being charged with “being the Arrow” but rather with the murders that the League of Assassins Arrow cosplayers committed, in particular the killing of the mayor. 

Even before Roy claimed to be the Arrow, what was the evidence that Oliver was the Arrow in general and that he killed the mayor in particular? Captain Lance got the arrest warrant for Oliver because Ra’s Al Ghul told Lance that Oliver is the Arrow. Since Ra’s isn’t going to offer that testimony under oath in a court of law, that’s inadmissible. What else is there? Oliver didn’t actually confess. He voluntarily turned himself in after Lance got an arrest warrant with his name on it for killing the mayor. That’s not a confession; that’s a smart move for an innocent person to make (as opposed to running and making yourself look guilty).  Even in the police wagon with Lance, Oliver never came right out and admitted to being the Arrow.  There was talk of the island and why he came back to Starling, but not an outright confession to being the Arrow, let alone to killing the mayor. 

So when Roy shows up in full Arrow gear and admits to being the Arrow, there is no way to prove Oliver is the Arrow – let alone that he killed anyone as the Arrow – beyond a reasonable doubt.  But Roy’s stunt really wasn’t necessary.  Oliver should have just walked into police headquarters, denied being the Arrow, and dared them to try and prove otherwise (after destroying all evidence in the Arrow Cave).  But, now that we are left with Roy in cuffs as the Arrow, what happens to foolish Mr. Harper?  

Roy doesn’t have to prove he is now, and always was, the Arrow.  It is still the job of the DA to prove him guilty of a specific crime; again, presumably, killing the mayor.  I assume the evidence against Roy would be (1) the mayor was killed with an arrow, (2) Lance saw someone dressed as the Arrow fleeing the rooftop from which the kill shot was fired, (3) Roy confessed to being the Arrow and (4) Roy was arrested in full Arrow gear.  That’s certainly sufficient probable cause to bring criminal charges.  Sure, a good defense attorney (say Jean Loring) would be able to punch holes in that evidence, but if Roy was insistent in not putting on a defense, or even just pleading guilty, he could easily wind up taking the fall for Oliver.  Way to go Roy, you’ve succeeding in sacrificing yourself to save Oliver Queen when no sacrifice was necessary.  That should be called “Pulling a Harper.”  

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Furious 7



For Paul

How many movie franchises can boast that the fifth, sixth and seventh films are the best in the series? Star Wars... maybe, if The Force Awakens meets the standard of the Original Trilogy. And even then you can argue the prequels are actually the fourth, fifth and sixth films made in real time. The Batman series arguably... if Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy counts as Batman 5, 6, and 7, but they share no continuity with the previous Batman movies. No, the Fast and the Furious franchise speeds off with this unusual crown and leaves everyone else in the dust. Furious 7 unleashes another high-octane, balls-to-the-wall thrill ride of jaw-dropping, forehead-slapping giddiness. Once more, for one final ride, Vin Diesel, the late Paul Walker, and their ragtag family of speedsters gun it through a globe-hopping series of death races. Furious 7 picks up where Furious 6 left off, delivers breakneck, sensational escalation, and ties together the entire saga while sending their fleet of hopped-up super cars where no cars have gone before.

At the conclusion of Furious 6, Jason Statham emerged as the series' new Big Bad. Statham plays the rogue British assassin older brother of Luke Evans, whom Diesel and his crew defeated in 6, and he takes the first step of his vengeance by murdering one of Diesel's crew, Sung Kang. (Kang and Gal Gadot, who heroically perished in the airplane car chase in Furious 6, are credited but appear only in photographs and flashbacks.) Statham is basically Furious 7's version of a Terminator; has the simplest motivation possible: kill Vin Diesel. He blows up Diesel's beloved LA home and then he never stops coming and keeps trying to kill Diesel with cars, guns, rocket launchers, grenades, etc. Statham runs afoul of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, the jacked-up government agent who was once Diesel's enemy but now positively loves the guy. Their fight scene is the best in the film, with The Rock unleashing his patented WWE finishing move the Rock Bottom, to no avail. Statham hospitalizes The Rock, who sadly sits out most of the movie, but Johnson hilariously flexes his arm out of his cast to join the ultraviolent third act and do his part to lay the smack down on the bad guys with a helicopter gun, exactly the same way his character Roadblock would in the other franchise he helped revitalize, G.I. Joe.

With The Rock on the DL, a perpetually amused Kurt Russell steps in as a new mysterious government agent with worldwide jurisdictional omnipotence. Russell enlists Diesel and his team on a globetrotting quest to find a terrorist (Djimon Hounsou) who kidnapped a mysterious hacker (the fetching Nathalie Emmanuel from Game of Thrones) and the program she created, the God's Eye, which can turn every device in the world with a camera into a weapon. Diesel needs the God's Eye to locate Statham -- but why? Everywhere Diesel goes, Statham is there like a Wile E. Coyote brandishing weapons. There is no time to ask such questions however, as there are cars to drive and exotic locales to visit and demolish. Once Diesel and his team (his family, Diesel always corrects) are reassembled, including Walker, Diesel's amnesiac lady love Michelle Rodriguez, cool techno-wizard Ludacris, and the irrepressible perpetual joke machine Tyrese -- always the comedic MVP of this whole shebang -- they waste no time blazing off on another increasingly insane series of shoot-em-up, crash-em-up, run-em-off-a-cliff car chases.

In Furious 7, you will believe cars can fly. If not fly, then spend ridiculous amounts of time defying gravity. The giddily-ridiculous sequence of Diesel and his team being airdropped in their cars over Uzbekistan is topped only by Diesel and Walker stealing an 8 million dollar super car and driving it through the three tallest buildings in Abu Dhabi. Sky's the limit, literally, for the cars in Furious 7. While in Abu Dhabi, Rodriguez battles Ronda Rousey in a main event super brawl echoing when Diesel battled The Rock in Fast Five (the winner of which is in dispute, depending on whom you ask.) While Diesel and The Rock always come off as equals, it's a little less believable Rodriguez would last even 14 seconds in a fight against Rousey. Ah well, who really asks for believability from Furious 7? The third act is a demolition derby all across the streets of Los Angeles ("The streets we know best," Diesel proudly growls), causing billions of property damage as Walker and friends race their cars against Hounsou's attack helicopter and missile launching drone while Diesel and Statham battle it out car-to-car and fist-to-fist. The news reports declaring Los Angeles to be in the grip of "what can only be described as 'vehicular warfare'" more or less covers it.

For all its crazy, slam bang, super fun action, helmed this outing by James Wan, his spinning slow motion camera moves stepping in for franchise maestro Justin Lin, Furious 7 never forgets its beating heart. The themes of family and loyalty, usually bluntly stated by Diesel, are what drive this franchise. ("I see no fear in you, only loyalty," are how Emmanuel deftly sums up Diesel and his crew whens she joins up.) Furious 7 is also perpetually aware, as the audience is, of the elephant in the car -- that Paul Walker passed away during filming last year. Walker's character is unique in the Fast and the Furious franchise as he's the only one with a family; he's happily married to Diesel's sister Jordana Brewster and a father with a young son and a daughter on the way. Rather than conjure up a violent demise for Walker, which they did tease when Walker is trapped in a literal cliffhanger and escapes thanks to a bravura save by Rodriquez, the character who was previously dead but is now alive and vital, Furious 7 concludes in a meta way with a touching, uplifting tribute to Paul Walker. Through flashbacks to the past 14 years and 5 previous Fast and the Furious movies starring Walker (God, everyone looked so young in 2001) and by narrowing the focus down to just the bond of brotherhood between Diesel and Walker, they and we are able to say a heartfelt goodbye to the handsome, heroic leading man we lost much too soon. Not a dry eye in the house when Walker's car drives off into the sunset. "Everything's gonna be different now," muses Tyrese and it's sadly true. They and we lost a big part of our Fast family. Unlike the endless array of cars in this franchise, our brother Paul Walker can never be replaced. But the Furious franchise is gonna keep driving, as it absolutely must. See you all at the next family reunion, Furious 8.