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.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Batman vs. Robin



The toughest challenge for a costumed billionaire crimefighter isn't so much protecting Gotham City from an endless parade of murderous psychopaths, it's trying to keep his own baby boy from becoming one of those very murderous psychopaths. Batman vs. Robin, a dynamic, triumphant sequel to last year's Son of Batman, continues the coming of age story of the ferocious Damian Wayne (Stuart Allan), 10 year old heir to both the Wayne family fortune and the legacy of Ra's al-Ghul, and the new Robin the Boy Wonder. Since accepting the mantle of Robin, Damian, an arrogant, dangerous, conflicted soul, hasn't had an easy time adapting to his father's brand of justice. "Justice, not vengeance," is the Batman's meme-ready mantra, which he finds drilled in his head and ringing in his ears when he single-handedly uncovers a child kidnapping and mutilation ring and captures a ghastly rouge called the Dollmaker (voiced by Weird Al Yankovic!) Robin stays his hand and his razor sharp batarang from the killing stroke, only to find the Dollmaker sanctioned by a new bird-themed costumed killer in town - the Talon (Jeremy Sisto).

Batman vs. Robin loosely adapts the blockbuster "Court of Owls" storyline from the best selling The New 52 Batman comic series by the dynamic duo of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo. The most intriguing and successful new addition to the Batman mythos, the Court of Owls are a centuries old secret society nested firmly in Gotham comprised of its wealthiest and most prominent citizens, all of whom, men, women and children, wear pallid owl masks, even when dining or conducting cryogenic experiments in their underground labs. The Court are a legend; thought to merely be a nursery rhyme used to scare young children, but they are in fact very real -- and have been secretly controlling Gotham's fate since the city was raised. It seems Bruce Wayne (Jason O'Mara) is the only wealthy son of Gotham who'd been unaware the Court actually existed before now, when the Court kidnaps him and finally offers him a mask of his own, not suspecting Wayne prefers bat masks to bird masks. Wayne plants a tracking device in the mask to later locate the Court's nest, but it really doesn't seem necessary -- if you want to find the Court of Owls, you can start by scoping out the sinister mansion on the outskirts of Gotham with the owl statues all over it. 

Little does Wayne suspect the Talon, one of the Court's private army of assassins, has plans to steal his son Damian away and recruit him as his own sidekick, since, you know, the kid's both an amazing warrior and already dressed like a bird. The Talon sees a lot of himself in Damian; all the best assassins have daddy issues, and the Talon explains he himself was once apprentice to a master thief, his father, whom he didn't see eye to eye with. The Talon also balks at the Court's plan to kill and then cryogenically freeze him, ready to be resurrected at their whim to do their killing. Can't blame Talon there. After Batman is overwhelmed and nearly killed by the Court of Owls and Robin ultimately rejects his offer to become the less catchy team of Talon and Robin, the Talon decides to go on a rampage and massacres the mighty Court himself. This would seem to solve Batman's Owl problems, but Talon unleashes an even bigger one when he releases the dozens of other Talon assassins on an assault on Wayne Manor and the Batcave. This rousing sequence is straight out of the comics (though smaller in scope than the all-out attack on Gotham that utilized the entire Bat family of characters). Batman, Alfred, and Nightwing (Sean Maher) engage in a brutal battle against the Talons where Batman dons a giant suit of Bat armor that would make Tony Stark call his lawyers.

Despite all the owl madness, the focus of Batman vs. Robin is strongly on Damian Wayne and the external and internal battle for his betterment. Damian does fight his father mano e boy wonder-o as the movie's title implies and it's fascinating to see both Damian overcome the Batman and Batman's strategies on how to physically handle someone of Damian's size and capabilities without harming his son. Damian threatens to strike out on his own more than once, but always by keeping the suit and weapons his father gave him. Batman vs. Robin continues the DC Animation push for more adult fare in these animated movies. The violence is ultra - we see Batman and Nightwing repeatedly stabbed bloody, the Court of Owls hacked to bits (even the little children in the Court), and even the Talon's demise is a sai to the throat that would make Elektra from Marvel Comics nod with satisfaction. There's even a little sprinkling of sexual innuendo when Dick Grayson practically pops a boner on the phone with "Kory" (Starfire from the Titans) over which thong she's wearing. The animation is stunning, especially every time the Batmobile is in play, whether roaring through Gotham's streets or being used as a battering ram against the armored Batman. Bruce doesn't really overcome his deficiencies as a father to Damian, who ultimately chooses a path that echoes the one Bruce ventured on to become Batman. Though the boy could save the future of Gotham or be its demise, Batman vs. Robin finds rays of hope for Damian Wayne. He's the Robin we deserve, but maybe not the one we need right now...

I, too, am a member of the Court of Owls.
Seen here with their creator Scott Snyder at San Diego Comic Con 2013

Tuesday, March 10, 2015




We've all had car rides from hell, but Ivan Locke's (Tom Hardy) takes the cake when it comes to someone's life careening out of control while behind the wheel. Locke is a tidy, efficient character piece involving the gimmick of the entire movie taking place inside the car as Tom Hardy drives and takes numerous phone calls. A construction manager making a two hour commute into London, Locke is inundated with calls to and from the following: 1) his bosses and drunken minion at work, fretting over the concrete pour the next morning for the new high rise they're building, 2) a woman Locke slept with once (he emphasizes this happened only once) and doesn't particularly care for who is about to give birth to his illegitimate child, 3) his children expecting him to come home to watch football with them, 4) his wife ( voiced by Ruth Wilson), who just learned the details of item 2.

As Locke's fateful drive commences, he rues the reality that has set in; when he got in his car, he had a wife, a home, a well-paying job, and by the time he reaches London, he has lost all of those things. One almost wishes for Locke to ignore some of those calls and listen to the radio or perhaps an audio book, but his decisions and the domino effect they created would still persist. Locke himself struggles with what kind of person he truly is and nurses resentment towards the father who abandoned him; this serves to explain his dogged determination to present himself as the father to his child being born, even as his family life crumbles miles away and his professional life follows suit. Writer-director Stephen Knight maintains a grim, relentless pace, never letting up on Locke until the final moments where there's nothing left but the glimmer of redemption from his children. Locke is a contained, coiled tour de force for Hardy. He certainly had more fun as Bane driving the Batmobile around Gotham.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Fifty Shades of Grey



"Try to keep an open mind," Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) urges Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) during their many negotiations for her to join him in his Red Room of Pain. By now, nearly everyone has made up their mind about Fifty Shades of Grey, whether or not they watch this glossy blockbuster feature film adaptation by Sam Taylor-Johnson, read the 100-million-selling novels by E.L. James, or refuse to deign to do either. 

In Fifty Shades, recent college graduate Anastasia Steele meets the lust of her loins in billionaire Christian Grey, and vice versa. She's aimless, sexually inexperienced, and bites her lip a lot. He's obscenely wealthy, controlling, and her lip biting really turns him on. Grey would be a charming guy if he had anything resembling charm or a personality; his seduction tactics include stalking her, buying her expensive things, emotional manipulation, and urging her to sign a contract. The contract is really important to him -- Anastasia might acquiesce if the contract were a pre-nup and he intended to marry her, but nope, he needs her to sign in agreement to let him tie her up and whip her to his heart's content. 

Grey is a self-described Dominant, engaged and thriving in a secret BDSM lifestyle since he was turned onto it as a teenager by a friend of his mother's (Marcia Gay Harden). He matter of factly doesn't "do" romance, or genuine intimacy, or much at all resembling comforting human behavior. The more we learn of Christian Grey's past, his poor upbringing, and his bizarre sexual history, the remarkably less interesting he becomes. And he ain't that interesting to begin with. Grey is a dull conversationalist, which is the first thing we learn in their meet cute, when Anastasia arrives to interview him for her college newspaper. But he is "hot," apparently, and wealthy. Imagine Tony Stark without the wit, genius, or innate desire to better himself. Or Bruce Wayne without everything that makes Batman actually admirable.

If anyone is dominant in Fifty Shades of Grey, it's Dakota Johnson. Throwing herself into what's she is determined to be a star-making role, Johnson plays Anastasia with a pleasing mix of skepticism, anticipation, and even savvy humor. Even as she desires Grey (but not at all his wealth), she displays an appropriate amount of weariness and outrage at his methods of turning up uninvited at her work or when she's visiting her mother in Georgia. The best laugh in the movie is when she drunkenly mocks his wild, confusing mood swings over the phone: "Come here! No, stay away! Come closer! I'm not the man for you!" Anastasia gives Christian's lifestyle the ol' college try, but she has "hard limits" (their negotiation about those limits over a business meeting is more crackling than any of the sex they have in his Red Room of Pain). Anastasia is at least fully cognizant of how unfair Christian Grey's behavior is; his agreement to take her on a date once a week and referring to her as his girlfriend to a stranger is akin to a Superbowl victory for her. 

There's really only two ways this story can go: either Anastasia Steele goes all in or she walks out. She takes her sweet time deciding, and samples the plethora of Christian's whips and chains in the process, but the movie's pulse isn't in the orgasm, as it is in the novel, but more about whether this guy is capable of being a decent human being. His sexual proclivities aren't nearly his alarming as his controlling nature. Strip the wealth and male model looks away, and the guy is a creep. There seems to be no bettering Christian Grey; he's perfectly content to be whipping Submissives in his Red Room of Pain until he's old and grey. He'd most prefer that Submissive be Anastasia Steele. Fifty Shades of Grey is a moneymaking machine, like its male protagonist, but also like Christian Grey, the movie is an empty suit, whether or not Christian is wearing one of his bespoke grey suits.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

John Wick



The Best Supporting Puppy Oscar for 2014 goes to John Wick's adorable beagle. Really, every other award is rendered irrelevant. In John Wick, a darker, angrier Keanu Reeves returns to his Matrix action form as the titular character, a retired, recently widowed Russian bratva assassin. His late wife (Bridget Moynahan) gifts John Wick the most incredible little beagle, shining a light in John Wick's mourning heart. Then the spoiled, idiot son (Alfie Allen from Game of Thrones) of his former boss (Michael Nyquist) tries to steal his car and kills his beloved dog, setting off a chain of bloody, ultra violent events as John Wick goes on the warpath. Until John Wick unfolds, you never even knew you wanted to see a vengeful Neo go all out to hunt down and murder Theon Greyjoy. Ramsay Snow would reek of envy.

When John Wick declares war on his former bratva, the movie plunges us into a the shadow world of Russian organized crime in New York City. We move through the places we never knew existed, such as the hotel run by Ian McShane and concierge Lance Reddick from The Wire, which has particularly strict rules about no "business" conducted on its premises. There's also the gloriously decadent nightclub with underground neon pools that John Wick shoots up while trying to shoot up Allen. Meanwhile, Nyquist puts a bounty on John Wick's head, with fellow professionals Willem DaFoe and Adrianne Palicki coming to collect, guns blazing. The slew of terrific actors keep coming; John Leguizamo, Clarke Peters also from The Wire, and even WWE's Kevin Nash pop in to help or hinder John Wick respectively. Through it all, Keanu hits action highs he hasn't achieved in fifteen years, ripping apart the Russian mafia in a brazenly entertaining ballet of gunfire, car chases, and righteous fury. Don't ever, ever harm John Wick's dog is the moral of the story. The Russians learned this lesson the hard way, as the audience watching John Wick giddily go, "Whoa!"

Monday, February 9, 2015

A-Force To Be Reckoned With

Marvel announced on Friday that the upcoming Secret Wars mega event will spell the end of The Avengers. Earth's Mightest Heroes will be replaced by a new super team of Earth's Mightiest Heroines - say hello to the all-female A-Force. And it's a huge team, over a dozen superheroines from She-Hulk to Dazzler to Captain Marvel to Black Widow to Spider-Gwen. And it's X-Men inclusive.

Today, Marvel's Bill Rosemann tweeted his A-Force dream team. I responded with mine.

I love fantasy drafting superteams. Here's why I picked these eight women for my A-Force:

Susan Storm, the Invisible Woman, would lead my A-Force.

As a founder of the Fantastic Four, who has more experience fighting villains and saving the world? Sue Storm gets an A for Experience. Plus, as a mother of two (who is still remarkably youthful and hot), she has the instincts to manage the varied personalities of this A-Force.

Next, I draft Thor.
Originally, I considered Storm but who needs the weather witch when you have the Goddess of Thunder? The mysterious new Thor is a bit of a wildcard, but she brings power, power, and more power to A-Force. The hammer Mjolnir judges her worthy, who am I to argue?

Next, Psylocke.
The X-Men are abundant with telepaths to choose from. Originally, I considered Jean Grey, but maybe it's better not to have a woman who might possibly become Dark Phoenix and murder us all on the team. No, instead, I'm opting for Psylocke, the X-Men's deadly telepath/ninja, and her famed Psychic Knife, the focused totality of her telepathic powers.

A great Marvel team needs a Spider. I pick Spider-Gwen.
The coolest new heroine in the Marvel Universe is the alternate universe Gwen Stacy, who is not only not dead from being thrown off a bridge by Green Goblin, but was the one bitten by a radioactive spider instead of her universe's Peter Parker. Spider-Gwen does whatever a Spider-Man can.

A Marvel team also needs someone of the Marvel mantle. I pick Ms. Marvel.
The other coolest new superheroine in the Marvel universe, Ms. Marvel Kamala Khan not only adds an Inhuman to my A-Force, but she's the plucky young heroine with heart and enthusiasm every super team needs. Ms. Marvel is the moral compass. Putting her likely at odds with...

Black Widow.
My team needs someone who can do what needs to be done, someone with a lot of red on her ledger. Probably the most dangerous woman in the Marvel Universe, Natasha Romanov brings all kinds of skills and intangibles, plus a connection to SHIELD that will come in handy when A-Force needs some back up in the form of Helicarriers.

The team also needs muscle, a tank. A hot Southern mutant tank. Rogue, sugah.
Rogue has been one of the most powerful of the X-Men for decades. She's been through the wringer multiple times, has been an Uncanny Avenger, and she's still an idealist who believes in Charles Xavier's dream. Rogue could toss a tank at you, or a simple touch could drain you of your life force. Plus she can fly. Rogue dated Gambit, but she's aces.

And finally, my A-Force needs brains. Who better than Kitty Pryde?

An X-Man since she was 13 and recently the former headmistress of the Jean Grey School, Kitty Pryde grew up saving the world. With her phasing power, she bests even Invisible Woman as an infiltrator. And she's a genius. Plus, now she dates Star-Lord, so the Guardians of the Galaxy will come running if need be. 

That's my A-Force, if I had anything to say about it. What's yours?