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Saturday, June 30, 2012




In Braveheart, the evil King Longshanks famously mused, "The trouble with Scotland is that it's full of Scots."  Brave would like to correct Longshanks - the trouble with Scotland is that it's full of Scots that turn into bears. There are five bears in Brave! So many bears. I'd love to have sat in on the Pixar story conferences when the idea of "the queen mother turns into a bear" was floated and everyone said, "That's it! Let's see where that goes. But we're gonna need more bears." Seemingly an adventure yarn about a plucky, fiery-haired heroine with bow and arrow, Brave turns out to be a story of about a mother and daughter's relationship, where the plucky, fiery-haired* heroine with bow and arrow, Princess Merida (winningly voiced by Kelly MacDonald), must learn to come to an understanding with her overbearing (pun intended) but good-hearted mother (voiced by Emma Thompson). Carefree and prideful Merida chafes under her mother's instructions on how to be a proper lady who will one day become Queen, and rebels outright when the first born sons of the three other clans in Scotland present themselves for her betrothal. (Merida should be glad no mention is made of prima nocte.) After a terrible row with her mother, Merida is lead by will o'the wisps to a witch in the forest, who gives her a spell to "change her mother". Into a bear, it turns out. And this bear thing has happened before; why their Scottish legends turn out to be riddled with tales of rulers who are turned into bears. A good portion of Brave involves Merida and her mother the Queen Bear bonding in the forest as they try to reverse the spell and prevent the clan war threatening to bear down (I had to) upon the realm. In spite of such a strange turn of events, Brave is charming and witty, with heaping physical comedy provided by the king (voiced by Billy Connelly), who lost his own leg to - you guessed it - fighting off a bear. In the end, after the evil bear possessed by the spirit of a dead prince is killed and the queen and the royal triplet sons are all transformed back from bears to human at their Stonehenge, imagine the utter bewilderment of all of the clansmen. They're Highlanders, by God, but that had to be the strangest gathering they've ever had to bear witness to (sorry).

* The animation of Brave is truly gorgeous, especially the textures and rendering of Merida's red hair. Looking at her hair alone is almost worth the price of admission.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World



A sweet, downbeat romanti-tragi-comedy about the apocalypse, neither Steve Carell nor Keira Knightley were technically seeking a friend for the end of the world, and yet they managed to find each other. In Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, a 70 mile asteroid named Matilda is set to collide with the Earth. Humanity is doomed; we learn via news reports (anchored by Duck from Mad Men) that a last ditch effort to send a space shuttle to destroy Matilda failed with all lives lost. Matilda strikes in 21 days (though a late joke about that ETA earns big laughs) and soon everyone will be dead. Carell plays another of the frowning on the outside, crying on the inside, grin-and-bear-it schlubs so different from Michael Scott he has mastered portraying in his movies, but this might be his finest performance. Carell's wife, played by his real life wife Nancy Carell, literally runs away from him "as fast as a human being possibly can". In the midst of mass riots and drunken, promiscuous "end of the world" parties everyone else is throwing, Carell learns that he is next door neighbors with Knightley, a British free spirit ("I'm an optimist!") who can't return to England to see her family because the apocalypse has permanently grounded all commercial air travel. Their soon-to-end lives thrown together, Carell and Knightley hit the road together, so he might find the missing love of his life and then take her to someone who owns an airplane so she can see her family. Along the way they encounter a plethora of funny people, including Connie Britton, Patton Oswalt, TJ Miller, Gillian Jacobs, Amy Schumer, Rob Corddry, and Martin SheenCarell and Knightley share an unlikely but palpable chemistry as they slowly get to know one another while ticking off the hours until the world ends. Filled to the brim with gallows humor, Seeking a Friend is really about connection and humanity, backed by writer-director Lorene Scafaria's obvious and persuasive love of songs by The Walker Brothers, Wang Chung, PM Dawn and INXS (it's a great soundtrack). Staying honest and true to their characters no matter how dire the world has become, Seeking a Friend earns its touching conclusion to Carell and Knightley's story. I'm glad I got to know those two; their final moments together in the movie are my favorite thing.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Smallville: Season 11 #8 - "Guardian"



It's 4am in Metropolis but who can sleep at this wee hour when Superman is streaking across the skies chased by military helicopters launching missiles at him? I'd totally be on some rooftop watching that fireworks show. You don't see that every day, even in Metropolis.

On the ground, Lois Lane uses all of her considerable clout as reporter for the Daily Pla -- as the daughter of General Sam Lane -- to get her daddy on the phone. The general seems proud of his little girl's pushiness and explains that his people simply want to ask Superman some questions and they're attacking because his men saw Superman's eyes light up with that "laser vision". "Heat Vision," Lois corrects. And this brings up a pet peeve I've had with DC Comics for the last year or so since The New 52 was announced: this penchant for constantly depicting Superman with his eyes lit up red like he's about to fry bears and deer and set forest fires where ever he goes. What's the deal with that? Superman is all about friendliness and approachability. Hence, no mask. His whole M.O., unlike say Batman's, who wants to terrify criminals, is that you don't have to be afraid of him, that you could walk up to Superman (if he happened to be on the ground) and he'd look you in the eye with his big blues and he'd give you the time of day. Now, he's always  shown blazing with the red sun eyes. Anyway, Lois knows Clark better than anyone and defends him that even if his eyes get a little red, he wouldn't just start melting people, even if they're hardcase soldier types.

Up in the sky, Superman receives a phone call from Lois on his blue tooth (she lists Superman in her cell as Tony's Pizza - clever girl) and they have an amusing boyfriend-girlfriend banter while Superman catches missiles and detonates them with his bare hands. Superman is awesome. No one does stuff like him. Well, Supergirl can, but she learned all those tricks from him. Also, Superman isn't the first guy to not like his future father in law: "Your father is a psychopath." Then we get the first of some intriguing dialogue this issue:

Superman: "He said something once." And we get a flashback panel to an episode of Smallville where General Lane confronts Clark in his barn. I forget the episode and what was said - Was it the one where Lucy Lane guest starred for the final time? Anyway, how could Sam Lane possibly know Superman is Clark Kent, besides the fact that the general wasn't exposed to any memory-wiping toxin, isn't blind, and knows that Superman and Clark Kent have the same face?  Neither Lois nor Superman reach that conclusion, but Lois offers the reassuring thought that "If he knew I was engaged to Superman, I'm almost fifty percent sure he wouldn't be shooting at you."

Hey, who has the better couple banter? Lois and Clark or Chloe and Oliver? It's a toss up. They're all written so well by Bryan Q. Miller with easy familiarity and wit.

General Lane gets on the horn and announces that they have Superman surrounded. Not really, sir. Superman can fly in any direction, including straight up or down. Superman asks them to stop fucking shooting at him already (he didn't swear, I did). "There's no need for more property damage. I can have most of this fixed by rush hour." Superman cleans up after himself! Did The Avengers clean up New York City after they and the aliens trashed it in the biggest movie of 2012? Nope. It turns out this is all an exercise; Sam Lane is hesitant to continue with this charade but "the brass wants to see what he's really made of." As Superman yells at Lois to get as far away as she can, the helicopters open fire on Superman. Of course, every bullet bounces off of him but ricochets all over Metropolis, including into the rotors of one of the helicopters. That's some smart soldiering. Lois takes cover under a car but now a helicopter is spiraling out of control and about to land right on top of her. 

Superman saved Lois, of course. It was an interesting tactical choice. I mean, Superman is a romantic and his first thought was to save his girl. However, Superman could have just caught the helicopter instead and prevented a fiery explosion on the streets of Metropolis. But then who's to say the helicopter wasn't going to explode anyway? Well, Superman could have, maybe with freeze breath. But whatever. The soldiers in the helicopter bailed out, the copter went kaboom, and Superman saved Lois Lane as he's wont to do. General Lane is so impressed by Superman saving his daughter that he calls off the attack.

Meanwhile, at the Lexcorp building, Lex Luthor begrudgingly admires Superman's convictions when he gets another visit from his ghostly sister Tess Mercer. Lex asks where she goes when she disappears and whether she can control her comings and goings. Nowhere and no, apparently. And here we get the most interesting exposition-y dialogue of the issue. I'll just let Lex do all the talking here:

Lex concludes: "All of my increased intelligence, my higher brain capacity... it's my way of handling a second consciousness on board." Aha! Aha-ha-ha! Just as I suspected weeks ago! In fact, here's what I said in my recap of issue 4:

"My guess is the neuro-toxin comic bookily contained the consciousness of Tess in nano-form. which allows Tess to share his brain and project herself into his vision - hence Lex's brain functioning at a higher capacity in order to accommodate them both. If I'm right, that's so crazy it's kind of awesome and I wish I thought of it, which I sort of just did."

Man, I'm good. I bet I'm right Master Chief lady is Lana too. 

Tess isn't that crazy about sharing Lex's brain (but maybe if she were as sharp as her bro, she could think, "Hmm, maybe I could access the stuff in his brain and use it against him..."). Lex assures her he is taking steps to remedy the situation, but he "just needs someone to test the procedure on first".

Cut to STAR Labs and the slowly dying Commander Hank Henshaw on life support. Lex Luthor barges in, overrides Dr. Emil Hamilton's protests by citing his family's old timey, going way back connections to the late Dr. Virgil Swann, and declares to Mrs. Henshaw that "Lexcorp will do everything it can to help Commander Hensaw get back on his feet." And then he offers to purchase one of Dr. Hamilton's robot drones. 

To be continued.

Heh. Note Lex didn't say anything about healing Hank Henshaw. "Mrs. Henshaw, your husband's gonna be a robot! And if this works, and I can put his brain in a robot body, I can do the same to my annoying Casper ghost of a sister!" Plus maybe your husband can destroy Superman. Lex really is a genius.

Wait, wait. So was the Guardian platform space launch thing all a ruse? Was it just a bizarre long range scheme to get a guinea pig in Hank Henshaw in a position to become a vegetable so Lex could perform his brain-to-robot swap, or did Lex just switch to this new plan in mid-stream? Does Lex still want Guardian platforms in orbit shooting at Superman. He probably does, I guess. I'm confused. I mean, I'm pretty intelligent, but who can keep up with the Wile E. Coyote super genius that is Lex Luthor?

Friday, June 15, 2012

Smallville: Season 11 #7 - "Guardian"



Back from a two week break after the second batch of Smallville: Season 11 issues went on sale in print, and business is picking up. This issue also has a lot of really funny dialogue and character interplay, especially among the Queens. To wit:

In Smallville, the crack husband and wife investigating team of Queen and Sullivan-Queen (as labeled in the caption) are tracking the mysterious space craft that landed in the cornfield. It's night time and it's dark out there with the corn so Green Arrow shoots a flare arrow into the sky. Chloe takes the opportunity to have some fun with her touchy, defensive husband and mocks his no doubt intensive R&D into developing a boxing glove arrow.

Oliver, a man who spent two years alone on a desert island before running into pirates and Tess Mercer, seems really creeped out to be in a cornfield with his wife in the middle of the night. But he has good reason to be afraid; Oliver points out that in general, Smallville has not had the best of luck with aliens visiting. Especially Kryptonians like Zod, Brainiac, and Doomsday. Chloe points out that "John Jones and Clark have, with infrequent exceptions, been delightful." I like the qualifier Chloe used; Clark has been under Red Kryptonite influence on quite a few occasions, where he's been a real jerk, though kind of cool in a jerkish way. Oliver would have preferred Superman with them as back up if they do run into more Kryptonians, but they discover whipping out Kryptonite isn't going to be necessary, because...

The ship that crashed is from Queen Industries. Not alien. Chloe: "You'd tell me if you built a spaceship, right?" Oliver: "Yes, but this isn't anything my company's built. We're all wrapped up in helping John get that Watchtower outpost built on the moon." Wait, and how is Oliver explaining that to his shareholders and his board of directors? Oh, I guess it's not that hard to explain: He's publicly the Green Arrow, he's a part of the Justice League, the Earth was invaded by Apokolips six months ago, it could be presented as a necessary measure for planetary defense against hostile alien threats. But how is a Watchtower on the moon profitable for Queen Industries? I'm getting distracted again. What's important here is that, in Scooby Doo style, Chloe spots footprints and determines they are size 5. Small feet. Because our mysterious Master Chief is a lady. (And as I said in my recap a few weeks ago, I'm guessing it's Lana Lang. Kristin Kreuk has little feet - I'm guessing.)

Meanwhile, at STAR Labs, Dr. Emil Hamilton receives a visitor he can't and would never refuse in the form of pushy but super attractive girl reporter Lois Lane. Lois is checking up on Commander Hank Henshaw and his prognosis (or is it diagnosis? Whichever.) is not good: He has suffered severe burns, loss of motor function and he's in a coma. His mind functions but he's trapped in his own body. Like Commander Pike on Star Trek. Emil should build him a special wheelchair with a blinking light - blink one for yes, two for double yes (copyright Zapp Brannigan). Henshaw's distraught wife, let's call her Mrs. Henshaw, blames Superman. Like, completely blames Superman. Why wasn't Superman fast enough to save her husband when he pushed a whole planet out of the way? Good thing Clark didn't hear this or else he'd be really bummed out. Lois tries to come to Superman's defense, but there's no consoling Mrs. Henshaw, who demands to know what Superman's "going to do about it?"

I'll tell you what he's going to do: He's going to pick a fight with Lex Luthor, that's what. In the Lexcorp building, where Lex Luthor has for some reason built an elevator that makes the onomatopoeia "DOOM!" sound when it opens, Lex fixes himself a drink when Superman comes knocking on his window. Then he smashes it and all of the glass around, including the glass in Lex's hand, with a mighty Super clap.* When Superman is feeling polite, he'll ask you to step outside. Not now -- Superman is pissed. Superman accuses Lex of activating the Guardian platform in mid-flight. Lex, a very wealthy man, owns a river in Egypt called Denial (I apologize). Clark - I mean, Superman - starts yelling at Lex with balled fists and looks like he's gonna slug him. But Lex calmly stands his ground as three attack helicopters from General Lane and the US Military order Superman to stand down.

That line, "Never seen a stranger get that mad, that fast", is most intriguing. Either Lex does remember or his super intelligent mind is processing things so quickly, he's on the cusp of remembering everything, like how he used to love hugging Superman when he was a teenage boy. Lex plays his hand: Superman was present when the Russian space station exploded. Superman was there when Guardian exploded. Now Superman is at Lexcorp looking to smack around its CEO. It doesn't take Commissioner Gordon holding a Batarang** in a baggie to point out this evidence is purely circumstantial, but Clark isn't thinking straight. The US Military orders Superman to turn himself in for questioning. Superman refuses. Lex: "I think this is the part where you run."

Great. Now Superman is public enemy number one, like Dillinger. I wonder if the Russians will cancel that Superman statue? To be continued next week...

* Strangely, my digital copy of this issue had these pages in reverse. In my issue, Superman claps and smashes the glass, then in the next page he knocks on Lex's window. It was very confusing.

** This is my clever way of shouting out the big news about the Big Guest Star coming soon to Smallville.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Superman Vs. The Elite



Is Superman still relevant? What? Of course he is. Get out of here. What kind of stupid question is that? In Superman Vs. The Elite, new sheriffs in town in the form of a quartet of super beings (not super heroes) dubbing themselves The Elite arrive to directly question Superman's methodology. Specifically, his unwillingness to kill his enemies and use his powers to be judge, jury and executioner. The Elite target Superman as the first, greatest, and brightest of all superheroes, though this beef could easily be taken up with all of Superman's pals, first and foremost Batman

At first, The Elite, led by raffish punk psychic Manchester Black and consisting of a magician named The Hat, a hulking energy blaster named Coldcast, and a winged valkyrie haboring disgusting slugs named... Pam, seem friendly enough and enjoy hanging out fighting bad guys and saving people with Superman. But the more the Man of Steel gets to know them, the creepier and more deranged The Elite reveal themselves to be. The Elite are a can't-miss spin on The Authority, a world saving team of anti-heroes popular when the source material for this movie, a DC Comics story called "What's So Funny About Truth, Justice, and the American Way?" was published over a decade ago. 

Superman Vs. The Elite presents an amusing mini-cartoon within the cartoon pointing out the quaint, hokier tropes of Superman as a square, establishment, milk and cookies kind of superhero. The Elite style themselves as cooler and willing to do what needs to be done, especially when a nasty villain named Atomic Skull rampages through Metropolis killing dozens of innocents. The moment when The Elite cross the line and Manchester Black psychically executes Atomic Skull is powerful stuff. (Superman tried to stop Black but it seems Superman isn't faster than the speed of thought.) Trouble is, The Elite are fascists, or worse, and publicly threaten the entire world into bending to the will of their personally-enforced police state. To intimidate the world into acquiescing, they challenge Superman to a televised fight to the death on the moon. 

The idea that The Elite have the power to kill Superman is a bit questionable. Black, as a psychic, and The Hat as a sorcerer seem to have abilities specifically tailored to circumvent Superman's physical invincibility but the other two don't seem up to a Kryptonian's power levels. And they aren't. The fight itself is largely one sided: The Elite assault Superman and seemingly kill him. But of course, they don't. They completely underestimate him and fall victim into a common misunderstanding about Superman: that he's a sum of his superpowers and not also one of the most intelligent men on Earth. Superman outsmarts them, with help from his battalion of hokey Superman robots, takes them down one by one, and scares the living piss out of Manchester Black. Superman lobotomizing Black with his heat vision and bitch slapping him is immensely satisfying.

Superman Vs. The Elite goes into some intriguing territory where Superman directly involves himself in international affairs, actually bringing down aircraft and missiles to prevent two Middle Eastern nations from going to war. Common people are shown as souring on Superman, with young children complaining about playing as Superman. "You can kill me, but I can't kill you?" The strength of Superman's ideals are ultimately vindicated in straightforward, ham-fisted ways, but the moral and ethical deck was stacked in Superman's favor the minute The Elite revealed they're totalitarian, homicidal maniacs. It was never believable the world could be so enamored with The Elite so quickly, just because they're willing to kill people. I mean, one has to question simply calling yourselves "The Elite" and boasting winged slug woman as one of your ranks. 

Sunday, June 10, 2012




For months, Prometheus played coy about whether or not it is a prequel to Alien. It absolutely is a prequel to Alien. With Prometheus, director Sir Ridley Scott returns to his old outer space stomping grounds. The trappings are familiar, visually stunning and, at its best moments, truly thrilling: a starship in deep space, its crew in cryo-sleep woken by a human-like robot whose behavior they question, a hostile-environment planetoid they land on, a gruesome-looking vessel they explore, and the disgusting, malignant monsters they encounter, which will not stop until they kill them all. Unlike Alien, a horror tale of a locked box of humans trapped with a monster, Prometheus has other ideas, other questions it's looking to address, especially the big one: Who Created Mankind? Prometheus has the hubris to offer a direct answer. 

Prometheus, in the Greek myths, stole fire from the gods and gave it to man. In Prometheus, set a mere 80 years from our present but optimistically positing that corporations have the technology and financial resources to fund deep space expeditions, human explorers led by scientists Noomi Rapace and Logan Marshall-Green (a dead ringer for Tom Hardy) are funded by the Weyland Corporation to travel to a distant world seeking the origins of Man. In 2089, Rapace and Marshall-Green found star maps in archaeological sites around Earth. They believe these point to a planet that promises the answer to Who Created Us? Four years later, the gorgeous, trillion-dollar starship Prometheus and her crew, captained with swagger by Idris Elba and cooly overseen by Charlize Theron, land on the planet LV-223. They, and we, get our answers, and horrors, and deaths, and Aliens.

Rapace calls Man's potential progenitors "The Engineers". We know them as jacked, bald, ivory-skinned giants, one of whom eats an Alien substance that shatters their DNA and turns them to dust at the start of the movie. If these are the guys who made Mankind, they're probably not worth meeting, except to find out what kind of core workout they use to get their eight-pack abs. But Rapace doesn't know that, so she optimistically leads her team into a familiar H.R. Giger-inspired construct on LV-223. Her group includes The Hatchet-Faced British Woman, The Japanese Guy, The Guy Who Actually Wrote Shakespeare's Plays, The American Guy With Glasses, and the Redhead Who Looks Exactly Like WWE Superstar Sheamus. This is about the level we get to know the characters, most of whom we instinctively know are Alien fodder. There are other members of the crew who pop up here and there, mostly hanging around the hangar bay. None of them wear red shirts, but we know what their role is.

The most intriguing character in Prometheus is David, the robot played by Michael Fassbender, no doubt constructed to be well-equipped down there. David, curious about humanity, watches the dreams of the crew in cryo-sleep and adjusts his own effete, British look and manners based on watching Peter O'Toole in Lawrence of Arabia over and over. The intriguing philosophical questions Prometheus would like us to ponder are posed by David, but you can see how saying things like "It must feel like your god has abandoned you" to Rapace irritates the human crew. David is serving a different, sinister agenda, however, and directly feeds an unwitting Marshall-Green a dollop of Alien DNA in his champagne. The old Alien in the champagne trick! Works every time.

The best human characters on Prometheus are Elba as the captain and Theron as Weyland corporation head honcho Meredith Vickers, simply because both convey the clearest and most relatable motivations among the cast. Elba wants this mission to go well, then lift off and go home. Theron would like the same, but with a healthy and prudent distrust of the scientists, the android with them, and the company she works for. Theron, ever fetching and imminently watchable, is in the toughest, most thankless spot, responsible for everyone and everything. Elba can't help but notice how tightly wound she is and a flirtation between them is the sole sexy and funny moment Prometheus offers. Less sexy is a love scene between Rapace and Marshall-Green, as we know by that point he's been infected by an Alien. As soon as Rapace announces she's unable to have children, we know where this is headed. Unprotected sex has horrific consequences, especially in space, and especially in an Alien movie.

Rapace's team are initially presented as a group of intelligent scientists and professionals who are, naturally, wary of why they find themselves billions of miles from Earth - especially after a less than inspiring speech by the ancient Chairman of the Weyland Corporation, which turns out to be Guy Pearce in ghastly, unconvincing old man makeup. The facade of competent professionalism is shattered almost immediately when they're exploring the caves and they all decide to take their helmets off - completely disregarding any protocols about contamination. "Helmets Off" becomes the new protocol, even when they all know their enemy will literally jump down their throats. They see holograms of the "Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi" kind all over the caves and find the decapitated head and body of an Engineer, which is curiously wearing the Dream helmet of Morpheus in The Sandman. So The Engineers are actually Sandman cosplayers! Once Rapace and Hatchet-Face performed forensics on The Engineer's head and it exploded, the practical move would have been to pack up and send Prometheus home. But it is the folly of Man to not leave well enough alone.

Things get worse, much worse. The two biggest fraidy cats on the crew, American With Glasses and Sheamus, are left behind to spend the night in the caves and meet a disgusting Alien eel that they pretend is a cuddly kind of puppy or something. Soon they are dead, burned with acid blood with the alien burrowed in their bodies. Marshall-Green transforms immediately into a mutated Alien that Charlize personally and correctly lights up with a flamethrower. Matters get even worse from there as Rapace discovers she's pregnant with an Alien. Fassbender's bedside manner is hilarious as he delivers the single worst line a pregnant woman can hear: "Of  course, this is not a traditional fetus." Rapace rushing across the ship to get into the surgery pod and have the robot arms literally carve the Alien, with its grasping, screaming tendrils and tentacles, right out of her babymaker and then staple her stomach back together is a horrifically bloody, gonzo sequence that pretty much spelled the beginning of the end for Prometheus as a serious science fiction parable. 

From there we discover two things: old Guy Pearce is alive on the ship and there is an Engineer alive on the planet. The trains shall meet and it shall be a train wreck. In perhaps the most disappointing moment of First Contact since Kirk, Spock and McCoy met "God" and He turned out to be just some alien asshole, David awakens The Engineer, speaks to him, and we hope and wait for something profound, an idea, a transcendent moment... Nope. The Engineer decides to just start punching, ripping them apart, and kill them all. What a dick, and what a letdown. The dying old man Weyland came all the way to LV-223 but didn't get to say, Roy Batty-style, "I want more life, fucker." The Engineer activates his ship and launches for Earth... with a cargo hold full of millions of urns containing Aliens. Why does The Engineer want to annihilate humanity and replace us with Aliens - which by the way, they are terrified of and can kill them as well? Rapace wants to know, but first things first: The Engineer's ship can't be allowed to leave LV-223.

Unfortunately, Prometheus isn't armed with nukes, photon torpedoes, phasers, or anything of the sort. Poor Charlize has to rush into a space suit and launch into an escape pod as Elba makes a damn heroic decision and channels Mr. Worf -- ramming speed! Incidentally, having The Japanese Guy as the pilot of the ship on its kamikazi mission is a bold choice, Sir Ridley. Prometheus successfully destroys itself and brings the alien ship crashing down on the surface of LV-223, right on top of poor Charlize, who undeservedly dies the ignoble death of being squished by a space ship. But The Engineer is not dead, nor is Rapace's Alien baby, both of which chase her into Charlize's escape pod and run into each other. A more familiar-looking Alien (still a comedown from the original H.R. Giger design, but it's a proto-Alien) chest-bursts from their union. 

Meanwhile, Rapace is contacted by a still-functioning David and the two of them, despite him being a decapitated robot and her suffering from numerous injuries - including just giving birth via C-section to an Alien - as well as unreasonable physical and emotional trauma, push believability well past its breaking point when they somehow get another Engineer ship space worthy. Are they going to home to Earth? No, Rapace wants to go to the Engineer homeworld and demand answers. Yeah, ask them why oh why they made Aliens to begin with. Lady, you're insane. Good luck with that. And yet, despite the whole shebang spiraling out of control in a dizzying barrage of illogic, explosions and bewildering behavior, Sir Ridley Scott, like a maestro, shows us things we people wouldn't believe.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Game of Thrones 2x10 - "Valar Morghulis"

Honestly, I don't know if it gets better than that. Better than the book's ending. Unbelievably good. So good, I feel like Game of Thrones had its way with me.

In the wake of the glorious victory by House Lannister against the murderer and traitor Stannis Baratheon, poor Tyrion was cast aside and marginalized. Cercei had Ser Mandon Moore try to kill Tyrion but he only succeeded in slashing up his face. (Still a less ghastly deformity than Tyrion suffers on in the book. Peter Dinklage is still the star of a hit television show, after all.) Tyrion is no longer Hand of the King, as Grand Maester Pycelle was delighted to inform him. Bronn (dearly absent from the episode) is no longer Commander of the City Watch. The Mountains of the Moon men are gone from King's Landing. Tyrion is all alone. Not all alone. Varys is his friend, as much as he can be. He has his loyal squire Podrick Payne. And he has Shae. Tyrion should really go to Pentos like Shae suggested, but what will he do in Pentos? He's the star of Game of Thrones, and the best shit happens in Westeros.

Meanwhile, the celebration in the Iron Throne room is tainted, literally, by a load of horseshit. The one true King, Joffrey, names Tywin Lannister Hand of the King, gives Harrenhal to Littlefinger, absolves House Tyrell of their earlier rebellion with Renly, and Joffrey agrees to cast aside Sansa Stark, the daughter of the traitor Ned Stark he was bethrothed to so he can marry a woman who has always loved him from afar, and he her, Margaery Tyrell. Getting publicly dumped by an evil King she hates should be the happiest day of Sansa's life, and she got like two seconds to celebrate, before Littlefinger burst her bubble and reminded her she'll always be Joffrey's prisoner and he'll still beat her and probably rape her even with his new bride-to-be. Littlefinger promises to get her home.

Home? Sansa doesn't even know she has no home. Theon Greyjoy is betrayed by his Ironborn men, who never liked him to begin with, in exchange for their lives. Theon simply reeks of pathetic, though he gave a hell of a rousing speech to the Ironborn before Cleftjaw bonked him in the noggin and bagged him special delivery for Ramsay Bolton. Whom we never did see in season 2. Cleftjaw speared Maester Luwin for good measure. When Bran, Rickon, Osha, Hodor, and the dire wolves emerged from the Stark crypts, they found Winterfell burned to the ground and Luwin dying by Ned's heart tree. Luwin gave the same advice to Theon he gave to the little lords: go to the Wall, to Jon Snow. Safer there for them than South to find Robb. Oh man, if Maester Luwin only knew what a bad idea that turns out to be.

Speaking of Robb, despite or perhaps in spite of Catelyn's reminders that he swore an oath to Walder Frey, the King in the North willingly chooses to become an oathbreaker and marries his favorite hot nurse Talisa. Just a reminder: being an oathbreaker is the absolute worst thing you can be in Westeros. Even worse than being a kinslayer or a kingslayer.

The kinslayer, Stannis, was able to escape to Dragonstone to lick his wounds after suffering the most humiliating defeat in the history of the Seven Kingdoms. I mean, he lost a war to Joffrey. And he killed his brother. For what? Again, the scorecard reads: Joffrey 1, Stannis 0. Melisandre reminds Stannis that he only lost a battle, not the war itself, and makes him see some vision in her fires where he gets to be King, probably. No news on the fate of Davos Seaworth, the Onion Knight.

The Kingslayer Jaime Lannister and Brienne run afoul of some scummy, rapey Stark men who recognized Jaime. Thus, Brienne had to kill them in quick, impressive fashion. Jaime stopped making fun of her once he got a load of her battle prowess. He was probably even a little turned on. Besides doing his sister, Jaime really likes killing. We don't know how far they are from King's Landing, but they'll get there in season three.

A subplot squeezed into the jam-packed finale is Varys visiting Ros and getting her on his side against Littlefinger. He probably needs a little bird spying for him in Harrenhal.

Escaped from Harrenhal, Arya, Gendry and Hot Pie meet Jaqen for the last time. Jaqen offers to take her to Braavos, where she can learn to be a Faceless One and some day kill all the people whose death she prays for every night, but Arya decides to stay in Westeros to find her brother and mother. And her sister. Right. Her. Still holding a grudge against Sansa. Jaqen gives her a coin which she can cash into anyone she meets from Braavos as long as she says the magic words: Valar Morghulis. "Jaqen is dead", but Jaquen was a lot handsomer than his new face.

Beyond the Wall, Jon Snow and Quorin Halfhand are being taken to see Mance Rayder, the King Beyond the Wall, and Quorin picks a fight with Jon so Jon can kill him and get in good with the Wildlings. Jon is pretty well screwed now; he killed a fellow brother of the Night's Watch. But now he's an invited guest into Wildling City and not merely a prisoner.

In Qarth, the payoff to Daenerys' story that's slow burned all season finally pays off, and it was pretty spectacular and worth it. I honestly have no recollection of how this played out in the books, but the show blew me away. Daenerys enters the House of the Undying and is treated to things she's always wanted but never seen: She sees the throne room of King's Landing and the Iron Throne for the first time. (Note that Daenerys saw the vision of the Iron Throne but chose not to sit. She wouldn't do so unless it was the real thing. I think there's a life lesson there.) Then she is taken to the Wall and beyond, where there's a tent containing The Greatest Surprise: Khal Drogo and Rhaego! This was incredible. It's astounding that considering how it started, Drogo and Daenerys is the greatest love story in Game of Thrones. Daenerys gets to speak to her sun and stars one last time and have the closure she needed. That was awfully nice of the bald magicians to do that for her. But then, their plan was to chain her up for eternity, because their magic returned when her dragons hatched and the magic is strongest when the Mother of Dragons is with her "children". But they don't know who they were fucking with. This is Daenerys Stormborn and with a magic word, she can have dragons burn you to smithereens! How fucking awesome was that?

With her dragons back, Daenerys ties up loose ends and discovers her handmaiden Doreah betrayed her to Xaro Xhoan Daxos and helped him steal the dragons. This bummed me out. Doreah was the hot one. She taught her Khaleesi cowgirl and missionary. Daenerys opens Xaro's vault to find it empty; all his constant, endless stories we all had to listen to about how he came from nothing and is now the richest man in Qarth were all just lies. Daenerys seals Xaro and Doreah in the vault because Daenerys Targaryen is not to be fucked with. Then she gives her Dothraki Khalazar what they wanted since they arrived in Qarth and lets them loot all of Xaro's gold and jewels so they can buy a ship and get the fuck out of there. Fantastic.

Finally, beyond the Wall, three horns means the White Walkers are coming, and Sam gets to meet them first hand. By them, I mean, a lot of them. A whole, whole lot of them. Game of Thrones just threw down the gauntlet to The Walking Dead: You think you have zombies? So do we. WINTER HAS COME.

A fantastic finale. It's going to be a long year until season three.

Valar Morghulis.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Snow White and the Huntsman



Snow White and the Huntsman is as empty as the core of a poison apple. Blending lush, sumptuous production values with a plodding, threadbare story, #SWATH, as is its preferred hashtag on Twitter, is like Game of Thrones for dummies, right down to the seven Imps and the blonde brother and sister strongly implied to be humping. In a fairy tale world closely resembling medieval England, including Snow White uttering Christian prayers, evil Charlize Theron bamboozles the King into marrying her in a day and then stabbed him in their honeymoon bed. Everyone in the castle loyal to the dead King immediately skedaddled once Charlize easily won the game of thrones.

Now Queen, Charlize goes on to do absolutely nothing but frown miserably and fret to her creepy moron brother and her liquid gold magic mirror about how she can stay eternally young. You see, Charlize is a sorceress who can remain immortal, but she has to do things like eat bird hearts and suck in the life force of comely maidens. She's also immune to being stabbed. Charlize doesn't enjoy herself in the slightest as Queen, but we can all agree being a miserable young-ish monarch beats being old and poor. The magic mirror tells her, at least ten years into her reign, that the answer to all her problems is Snow White, the fairest of them all. Charlize has to eat her heart, or something (the mirror was vague), and she'll instantly look like a movie star forever, and not like she did when she won an Oscar for Monster. The mirror does warn that only Snow White can kill Charlize, so that's troublesome.

Kristen Stewart is Princess Snow White, whom Charlize locked in a tower the day she killed her royal daddy. Charlize then apparently forgot all about her. Stewart is still considered the fairest of them all, despite rotting in a dank stone cell uneducated and not shaving her legs for a decade. Yet for some reason, Charlize allowed her leather pants and boots, which come in very handy when Stewart escapes captivity and goes on the lam. Stewart absconds to the Tim Burton Dark Forest, where magic mushrooms shoot psychedelic mist in her face and really trips her out, man. Whoa, does that tree, like, have bat wings?! To track Stewart down, Charlize enlists the help of Chris Hemsworth, the Huntsman of Thunder, a swarthy but honorable drunk who swings the uru ax Mjolnir. Hemsworth takes not very long at all to decide helping Stewart escape to the Duke's castle, the Duke being the only guy loyal to the King but hasn't done anything to rise up against Charlize for a decade, is better than helping that bitch on the throne. 

Thus, Snow White and the Huntsman spend what seems like an eternity wandering across the land Lord of the Rings-style trying to get to the Duke's castle while chased by all the Queen's horses and men. They spend the night in the Fishing Village of Scarfaced Ladies then find their way into Live Action Disney Forest, where they meet the Seven Dwarves. The Dwarves are fine British actors like Ian McShane, Toby Jones, Ray Winstone and Nick Frost, whose heads are computer generated into actual dwarves' bodies. When Stewart wanders off and meets Harry Potter's Patronus, a silver stag, everyone realizes Snow White is magic and decides to help her kill Charlize. Charlize, really stressed out as she grows more and more wizened and crone-like in her castle, goes on a rare field trip. She takes the form of Stewart's childhood boyfriend and feeds her a poisoned apple. Then Snow White dies. The End.

As I was getting ready to leave the theater, I learned to my dismay it wasn't The End. Stewart is merely in a coma, but I say she was faking it like Buster Bluth on Arrested Development. She was faking it so she could get a kiss from teary-eyed Thor. #KissFromThor wakes Stewart up and, once she realizes she isn't a vampire, she gives an earnest but considerably less-than-Braveheart-level speech to get everyone to follow her into war against the Queen. Hemsworth compliments Stewart that she looks "quite fetching in [chain]mail". She does, indeed. Meanwhile, no one gave Hemsworth any armor. No armor for a mere Huntsman? 

And so it was Kristen Stewart led an army in full heraldry to siege her father's castle. With her best "Grrr! Here I come!" face usually reserved for Edward Cullen, Stewart somehow survives flaming catapults, a hail of arrows, boiling oil and a clusterfuck of a battle long enough to make it into the Queen's chambers to confront Charlize. Too bad she didn't train to fight or swing a sword or anything. Hemsworth taught her one basic block-and-stab maneuver in the forest. Sure enough, it's all she needs when an overconfident Charlize got too close as she reached to pluck her heart from her chest. As the magic mirror foretold, only Stewart is (arguably) pretty enough to kill beautiful Charlize. Snow White and the Huntsman finally ends with the curious sight of Kristen Stewart crowned as Queen of what's essentially England, even though she routinely forgets to speak with a British accent throughout the movie. No one at that coronation looks happily ever after.

Smallville: Season 11 #6 - "Guardian"



The sixth chapter in "Guardian" should be called Action Comics because this super puppy is wall-to-wall action. This is Superman at his Superman-iest; perhaps the best recent showcase of Superman being Superman since the first issue of Grant Morrison's Action Comics. It's maybe even better since Superman is being 100% Superman, flying and doing what he does best, saving people the way only Superman can. 

"The unthinkable has happened," reports Angela Chen of Galaxy Broadcasting. The Guardian exploded, but no one was killed - yet. Still, the crew of the Guardian needs a miracle. And a miracle in a red cape, blue tights and a big red and yellow S is what they're about to get. If the six astronauts on Guardian all sang Remy Zero "Save Me" together, they're in luck because this is a job for Superman and he's great at his job.

Superman rockets into action after the rocket and here, Smallville does something so simple yet novel, it's a wonder no one's really done this before: Superman has a bluetooth and communicates with Watchtower throughout the rescue. Usually, Superman just does his thing quietly solo, but Smallville allows its Superman to have the eyes, ears and intel of Chloe Sullivan and her super computers to back him up. It also provides a way for Superman to deliver dialogue and necessary exposition.

Zooming after Guardian, Superman asks Chloe for a rundown. It's a damn good thing that's Chloe Sullivan in Watchtower and not Jim Halpert in The Office, who has no idea what "a rundown" is. Chloe is right on it, informing Superman where to blow his Super Breath to put the fire in the cargo bay out before it hits the fuel tank.  Superman separates the craft from its fuel tank but Chloe's relieved attaboy is premature: Super Vision spots a radiation leak that will kill the astronauts in the Guardian platform even if they reach orbit. Superman contacts Commander Henshaw and informs him he'll rip the cabin door open and start ferrying the crew back to terra firma. Henshaw, while understandably under immense stress, is kind of a dick about it.

Red flag, Clark! Red flag! Henshaw also forebodingly informs our Man of Steel that "there's something [he] need[s] to know..."  No time for that piece of exposition yet, though, as Superman zooms the rest of the astronauts home, and then blazes back into the sky after Henshaw and the Guardian. Pere Perez's artwork is simply stellar, the way he conveys Superman's velocities as he's running out of time to save Henshaw, who starts cooking from the radiation.

The final thing Henshaw sees before he blacks out is the S on Superman's chest (foreshadowing?). But Superman saved the day and Henshaw is placed by paramedics in an ambulance. Superman vetoes getting him to ICU in favor of Dr. Emil Hamilton's care in STAR Labs. He even gets Watchtower to make sure all traffic signals are green for Henshaw's ambulance. (Why not just fly the ambulance to STAR yourself, Clark?) Lois comes running up to Superman to get "a quote for the Daily Planet", and Superman tells her he "spoke to her husband Clark Kent", who won't be home in time for breakfast. Why? Because Commander Henshaw told Superman the explosion on Guardian wasn't a misfire.

As if to point the finger, the scene immediately switches to Lex Luthor, who is currently disinterested by Otis' news that their lab has analyzed the toxin Tess used on him to wipe his memory and he isn't going to like what they found. All things in good time, though, because Lex wants to savor the moment. Otis, much more on the ball than expected, reminds Lex the Guardian explosion could have been a fatal disaster and is a terrible thing for Lexcorp. But Lex says it's quite the opposite, because...

About what? The San Andreas Fault? Beach front property? Otisburg? I guess we'll find out... when Smallville: Season 11 continues, probably in a couple of weeks after this batch of comics goes on sale in print.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Piranha 3DD



"Welcome to Rock Bottom."

Truer words were never spoken. The man who utters them, David Hasselhoff, ends up dominating the latter portion of Piranha 3DD, hogging up the lion's share of screen time while a fish massacre occurs in the water park behind him. To reward him for signing on to play himself, the 1,200 credited producers for Piranha 3DD treated The Hoff like he's Marlon Brando. What terrible disease does Hasselhoff have to pay for that he took this blatant cash grab? Oh right, alcoholism. 

Piranha 3D was lightning in a fish tank. For some reason - that reason being go for broke, utter, gleeful shamelessness - Piranha 3D worked like a charm. The naughty je ne sais quoi of the original is completely missing from this half-baked, bottom-feeding sequel. Although to their credit - is "credit" the right word? No. - the sequel does remember a piranha ate a penis in the first one so they do it again, this time with some John Wayne Bobbit action and with a riff on Alien starring Katrina Bowden from 30 Rock for good measure. You'd think a girl would notice if a day ago, a piranha swam up her vagina. Think again.

A year after the events in the first movie, a water park in Merkin County (heh) called The Big Wet ("3DDs Swim for Free!") owned by sleazeball Todd Packer from The Office is threatened by another swarm of disgusting CGI piranha. Warned by returning piranha scientist Christopher Lloyd, Packer's stepdaughter, "marine biologist" Danielle Panabaker and her charmless, dim bulb friends are all that stand in the way of a much less gory, much less interesting or entertaining repeat of fish-on-man death dealing. Also having a walk on, to an extent, is comeback kid Ving Rhames, who tries to overcome his newfound fear of water and briefly fights off the piranha like Rose McGowan in Planet Terror. This is a movie where a toy plastic trident is the deadliest weapon known to man or piranha.

What results is predicable but no fun. The nudity is upped in quantity but not in quality - nothing here comes close to the underwater skinny dipping ballet performed by Riley Steele and Kelly Brook in Piranha 3D. Elizabeth Shue and Adam Scott, or any remains of him, are nowhere to be found. All that's left is cheapo, amateurish shlock clocking in at a little over an hour plus 10 minutes of bloopers over the credits, mostly starring Hasselhoff. 3DD gives the Piranha franchise a bad name.