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Sunday, March 31, 2013

Game of Thrones 3x1 - "Valar Dohaeris"

Nice touch for the opening credits to make Winterfell a smoking crater. Also, how sad.

Does time pass differently across the Narrow Sea or do the dragons just grow real, real fast? Not fast enough for Daenerys, regardless. Not a lot of time has passed since the season 2 finale, but it seemed like time progressively passed the further south and east the episode took us.

Beyond the Wall, Sam Tarly got his ass saved from a White Walker by Ghost and the rest of the Night's Watch, then he got yelled at for not sending any ravens. Of course, it doesn't matter if they send a million ravens to King's Landing, the Small Council won't send anyone to the Wall anyway. More importantly, Jon Snow got a lot of rocks thrown at him. Also, Jon met the King Beyond the Wall, Mance Rayder, though he mistakenly knelt to Tormund Giantsbane. Speaking of giants, there are giants hanging out with the Free Folk! And not "giants" like Hagrid, either. These guys are taller than a two story building. But they're shy. Also unlike Hagrid.

Robb Stark took the Northern Army to Harrenhaal and found nothing there except ruins and 200 dead Northmen executed by The Mountain Gregor Clegane. If memory serves, Harrenhaal was given to Littlefinger by Joffrey as a reward for cutting the deal for the Tyrells to ally themselves with the Lannisters, which is what won the Battle of Blackwater. Littlefinger probably wouldn't be thrilled to hear one of the cells of his new castle is housing Catelyn Stark, which is her punishment for freeing Jaime Lannister last season. The Greatjohn is still bitter about that. There's no indication that Robb or anyone in the Stark army is aware that Winterfell was burned to the ground. They also have no idea that Arya was once in Harrenhaal as cupbearer to Tywin Lannister. Man, all Arya had to do was stick around and she would have been reunited with her brother and mother. Instead, she's absent from the episode.

Nice meta moment with Cercei telling Tyrion she'd heard he lost his nose, but no, this is a television show, not the books, and Peter Dinklage needs his nose. He's the Emmy-winning star of the show. Bronn is now a Knight and as a Knight he deserves to be paid twice as much for protecting Tyrion. Seems fair. Tyrion finally got some face time with Tywin and asked for his entitlement, which is lordship over Casterly Rock. He might as well have defecated on Tywin's desk. Tywin tore Tyrion a new one complete with name calling, declarations of hatred, and more name calling. But he promised his son a suitable title, lands, and a wife at some point. But not a whore. Tywin hates whores. Unreasonably hates whores.

Maybe Tywin would like whores if he got to know a couple. Whores seem to be some of the most upstanding people in Westeros, in a way. Why, take Ros and Shae, who finally met. Ros scoped Shae out right away with her whore-dar. It takes a whore to know a whore. But Ros is right; the two of them have climbed fairly high in life considering. Meanwhile, Littlefinger let Sansa know that he saw both Catelyn and Arya in Harrenhaal last season and made a vague promise that he could possibly, maybe, most likely, no promises, but yeah, he will smuggle Sansa out of King's Landing at some point in the future, it could happen.

Davos Seaworth survived the Battle of Blackwater and was rescued by his old pirate friend Salladar Saan, who's slightly bitter he didn't get to go to King's Landing and fuck Cercei. Which was their initial agreement in season 2, episode 2, when he agreed to loan Stannis thirty ships. After some arm twisting and stories of appalling things Stannis and Melissandre have been doing in Dragonstone like burning men alive, Davos returns to Dragonstone and points fingers at the Red Woman. Melissandre plays the "Hey Onion Knight, you talked Stannis into leaving me behind and we lost, so it seems to me if anyone's to blame for the Bungle of Blackwater, it's you" card. Stannis has the man who would have been his Hand tossed in a dungeon. Poor Davos.

Margaery Tyrell, King Joffrey's newest betrothed, is already making a name for herself in King's Landing doing something the Lannisters would never do: hang out in Flea Bottom and make friends with all the poor people, promising them food and protection. Cercei's still holding a grudge about how those very poor people tried to rape and kill the Lannisters last season but even if that didn't happen, Cercei would never deign to sit in a room full of filthy orphans. At a dinner with Joffrey, Margaery, and Ser Loras, Cercei is left grasping for control now that Margaery is clearly angling for her future position as Queen and Joffrey has taken to openly calling his mother old and senile. Cercei's probably kicking herself she didn't invite Sansa to that dinner; at least there would have been someone there Cercei could have made to feel like shit.

Meanwhile, on a boat purchased with everything she took from Xaro Xhoan Daxos in Qarth and carrying a bunch of seasick Dothraki, Daenerys and Jorah Mormont are en route to Astapor to buy some Unsullied. (What a weird sentence.) The Unsullied are said to be the greatest warriors known. They're eunuchs who don't need to sleep or eat and give you a thumbs up when you cut off their nipples. The only comedy in the episode that isn't uttered by Tyrion or Bronn is how Daenerys doesn't know the dirtbag who owns the Unsullied, Kraznys mo Nakloz, keeps calling her a Western whore since Missandei, his translator, is too polite to translate word for word. But being Mother of Dragons means everybody wants to rule her dragons and Daenerys survives another assassination attempt, this time by the Warlocks. (Who decided to come at her in the guise of young Cosette from Les Miserables.) Luckily, Daenerys is saved by the man who was once Lord Commander of her father's Kingsguard and was fired by Cercei in season one: Ser Barristan Selmy. Barristan the Bold! That's a big pick up for Team Daenerys.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

G.I. Joe: Retaliation



Don't Hate. Retaliate.

G.I. Joe: Retaliation continues the guns-blazing, forehead-slapping absurdity that is the cinematic tug of war between the heroic G.I. Joe Team and Cobra, the Enemy, a ruthless terrorist organization determined to rule the world. A quick rundown informs us that since "the Nanomite Wars" depicted in the original film, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, the G.I. Joe Team is currently under the command of Duke (Channing Tatum), and now consists of Roadblock (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson), Flint (D.J. Cotrona), and Lady Jaye (Adrianne Palicki). Gone with no explanation are the Joes from the previous film General Hawk (Dennis Quaid), Scarlett (Rachel Nichols), and Ripcord (Marlon Wayans). Duke and Ripcord were bosom buddies in The Rise of Cobra, but by Retaliation, Duke has forgotten all about him and all about his love affair with the Baroness (Sienna Miller, also missing and also missed) which was the crux of the original film. Duke's bromance is now with Roadblock, a helicopter gun-toting gumbo chef and father of two, who turns down all his promotions to be Duke's right hand man. Foreshadowing.

While G.I. Joe was established in the prior film as a global strike force consisting of specialists from various nations, this time around the G.I. Joe Team is firmly an all-American squad of soldiers, taking their marching orders from the White House and the Pentagon. Though Cobra Commander and Destro were imprisoned by G.I. Joe at the conclusion of the previous film, the Cobra master of disguise Zartan had replaced the U.S. President (who is nameless, referred to only as "the President") and was well on his way to fulfilling the Cobra master plan. Step one: destroy the G.I. Joe Team, which, it turns out, is easier done than said. As Cobra's retaliation for their previous defeat, the Joes are handily wiped out by Cobra's saboteur Firefly (Ray Stevenson), who comes armed with swarms of lethal nanobot fireflies. Duke is killed off, effectively demoting (or promoting, depending on how you look at it) Channing Tatum from the franchise he started (though a couple of new scenes with Duke and Roadblock were noticeably added to give Tatum's fans a bit more Magic Mike). Only Roadblock, Flint and Lady Jaye survive the slaughter, and must now find a way to deliver their own retaliation and save the world from Cobra's nefarious schemes.

Meanwhile, there are ninjas happening in G.I. Joe. The saga of Snake Eyes (Ray Park) and Storm Shadow (Byung-hun Lee) takes on a new twist in Retaliation, as new light is shed on their backstory as established in The Rise of Cobra. Joining the G.I. Joe Team is a new female ninja named Jinx (Elodie Yung). As ever, the fact that both the Joes and Cobra need and employ ninjas is really the best thing about G.I. Joe. The ninjas are also helpfully color coded: Snake Eyes is black, Storm Shadow is white and Jinx is red. Snake Eyes and Jinx take their ninja orders from the ninja Blind Master (RZA), who orders them to capture Storm Shadow from a fortress halfway up the Himalayan Mountains that looks like the summer home of R'as Al-Ghul and the League of Shadows. Snake Eyes and Jinx are the kind of ninjas that climb all the way to the top of a mountain just to rappel down to the fortress. Also, Jinx seemed to be aware that the evil ninjas in the mountain are wearing red, so she helpfully switched her color code to yellow just for this mission. The ninja sequence in the mountain - the primary selling point of the 3D conversion that kept Retaliation out of theaters for an extra nine months - is the sheerest delight of Retaliation. The movie is never more fun than when Snake Eyes and Jinx are acrobatically sword fighting the red ninjas while swinging across the mountains and passing around an unconscious Storm Shadow in a white body bag.

Where would Retaliation be without the ninjas? A lot more like a standard action movie, which is what the main plot of Roadblock - The Rock at maximum alpha male swagger - leading the Joes to uncover the truth that Zartan is impersonating the U.S. President plays like. Looking for backup, the Joes seek the aid of the man who G.I. Joe was named for: Joe Colton (Bruce Willis), a legendary and ornery soldier who decides to make a running joke of calling Lady Jaye "Brenda" and arms the surviving Joes from the arsenal he calls his house in the suburbs. Some character backstory on Roadblock's hard luck past before becoming a G.I. Joe and Lady Jaye's backstory of enlisting to someday outrank her soldier father is appreciated. The cartoon's love affair between Flint and Lady Jaye is hinted at but Flint never makes a move, despite how jaw-dropping Lady Jaye looks when she's out of her fatigues and in a red cocktail dress (and also out of the red cocktail dress).

Retaliation feels a lot more like G.I. Joe in action set pieces like when Storm Shadow and Firefly bust Cobra Commander out of a secret German underground prison (leaving Destro high and dry - "You're off the team!") and in the climactic finale at Fort Sumter where the ninjas - with Storm Shadow fighting on G.I. Joe's side - battle Cobra soldiers while Roadblock blasts Cobra HISS Tanks and lays the smackdown on Firefly for possession of the Cobra Nuclear Football. Overall, Retaliation is as enjoyably violent and over-the-top as G.I. Joe should be yet seems less cartoony than The Rise of Cobra. But to me, cartoony is the point. Any time guys and girls in crazy costumes with weird codenames are firing futuristic weapons at each other is when Retaliation successfully invokes the G.I. Joe cartoon any boy who grew up in the 1980s holds near and dear.

While The Rock is front and center as the star of the movie, Retaliation's true MVP is Jonathan Pryce in the dual role of Zartan and the imprisoned, beleaguered U.S. President. With an unknown stand-in portraying Cobra Commander due to the absence of Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Destro (Christopher Eccelston) also not in the movie, Pryce rises to the occasion and makes the most of his expanded screen time. Though Arnold Vosloo, who played Zartan in The Rise of Cobra, gets some face time in Retaliation, Pryce does a smashing job acting as Vosloo playing Zartan playing the President. Pryce is obviously having a ball playing "President Crazy", as his chief of staff calls him, whether water boarding the real President or taking total delight in blackmailing the other world leaders at a nuclear disarmament summit. The biggest laughs in the movie are when Pryce declares "We're at war with you and you and you and you and you and you!" and he watches the other world leaders squirm and panic as America's nuclear weapons are launched at their countries while he plays Angry Birds on his iPhone. Pryce also gets some timely one liners in at North Korea's expense. Thanks to Pryce, President Zartan is the greatest crazy U.S. President since Charles Logan in 24.

The sad part is Cobra came so close. By the third act of Retaliation, Cobra had all the cards. President Zartan had blackmailed the other six nuclear-capable nations of the world into surrendering their arms. The Cobra Commander was freed from his imprisonment and had assumed control of the United States Government, placing a half dozen Zeus satellites in orbit to drop bombs on anyone who challenged Cobra's supremacy. Cobra had also wiped out almost the entire G.I. Joe team and completely annihilated London, one upping how their nanobots destroyed the Eiffel Tower in The Rise of Cobra. Cobra flags even fleetingly flew at the White House. Cobra had it all, and they blew it. They totally, completely blew it. It's a good thing Cobra Commander wears a mirrored mask; he's probably too embarrassed now to show his face.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Arrow 1x18 - "Salvation"


The Glades are now vitally important to Arrow as the future battleground of the fate of Starling City. The issue this week is Helena Bertinelli not being the only person "inspired" by the "example" of the Hood taking "justice" into his own "hands" (wait, "hands" didn't need quotation marks. Well, it did the second time). By the way, "Salvation" is confused about its own timeline. When Diggle took Oliver out to dinner - at Big Belly Burger, natch, because where else would they eat? And where is Diggle's ex-sister in law? She hasn't been seen since they hooked up weeks ago - Diggle said Oliver's been throwing himself into his work as The Hood since McKenna was shot. They established this happening two weeks ago. At the end of the episode, Laurel tells Oliver her mom has been in Starling City "this week", but she arrived in town even before Helena did. Maybe time passes differently for Laurel in the Glades.

So, back to the Glades. A new vigilante has emerged calling himself The Savior. The Savior's crusade is to bring the people who have failed the Glades to justice, and he does so via kidnapping and public executions. The Savior has super awesome tech: he can have his video feed stream live to every smart phone in Starling City somehow (local news handles the TV broadcast), and his tech can even elude Felicity's cyberocity. How does The Savior have access to this kind of technology? Never mind. What's important is who he's kidnapping: slumlords and gang bangers who have made The Glades not such a fine place to live. Oliver fails to stop two executions, no matter how sure Felicity is of The Savior's location and no matter how much parkour Oliver uses to dance across Starling City's rooftops. (Note also, when Diggle asked if Oliver's "gonna Hood up", Oliver replies, "Not during the day!" Never really noticed that The Hood is only a grim, avenging creature of the night before, but that makes sense.)  Poor Felicity took it really hard when she was flummoxed by how The Savior keeps changing his location and evading her cyber-stalking. We also find out she isn't dating anyone. Hmmm.

Meanwhile, Thea is happily discovering Roy Harper's arsenal of make out moves (forced, I know). She also discovers Roy, who totally blew off a decent job Thea arranged for her as a valet at Verdant, is very much a gang banger. She learns this when their liplocking is interrupted by the delivery of a pistol. Roy's planning on a liquor store hold up, but it's okay because "the guy's a jerk". Thea doesn't feel any better or safer when Roy removes the bullets and she vamooses because this guy is trouble. But of course, she likes him, even when Laurel advises her to run away from the bad boy. Little do Thea or Roy know that Roy is The Savior's third target. I mean, Roy Harper must be the most dangerous, violent gang banger in the Glades if The Savior targeted him third of all the bad people who must be in the Glades. Thea gets KO'd on the street as Roy is abducted, and she runs to Verdant to watch Roy's televised execution with Tommy ("Hey, I know that guy!") Oliver grimly promises his sister nothing will happen to Roy Harper, a guy he's never heard of until now, and before Thea can ask the logical question of "how can you possibly promise that?", the Hood is on the case.

Finally, Sharp Ears Diggle and Clever Felicity figure out how The Savior keeps changing locations: He's on a subway car going through the tunnels under the Glades. The Hood heads underground and successfully saves the life of Roy Harper. The Hood's face off with The Savior has some curious dialogue about how The Hood insists he's nothing like him when, well, he kinda is, except for the public executions. The Savior really loses points when he said, "I grew up in the Glades too, but I'M not a criminal!" Uh, what? Whatever, The Savior has still failed the city and takes an arrow through the torso. Roy Harper lives and is reunited with Thea. He also kept one of The Hood's arrows as a souvenir. Foreshadowing.

I liked Oliver's attempts at consoling Felicity the best. She still has trouble justifying Oliver's killing and this Savior case where she had to watch a man die rattled her since she's never seen someone killed before. She can occasionally be distracted by the sight of shirtless, jacked Oliver doing those ridiculous pull ups, but remember how she said she's only part of this operation as far as finding the missing Walter Steele? Seems like everyone's forgotten all about that. Since Felicity lives alone and has no friends who don't work in the Arrow Cave or a significant other, she has no one to talk to about her days. Oliver says, "If you ever need someone to talk to you about your day, you can talk to me." Aww, that's sweet. Except, Oliver, you're the CAUSE of her day.

Another thing I liked was my realization that the green V of the Verdant logo is a green arrow that points right to the Arrow Cave. It's here, everyone! Right here in plain sight!

The Lance family drama came to a head this week. Laurel was simply appalled at the sudden reconciliation of her estranged parents and their united front in trying to find Sarah. Laurel decides it's time she intervenes and proves her sister is dead, so she researches that photograph of "Sarah" wearing a hat on the Island of Salvation, and she learns that it's a totally different person, whom she magically got to appear in her law office soon after finding her. Mrs. Lance didn't take it well, and after some teary drama, she confesses she knew Sarah and Oliver were sleeping around behind Laurel's back and she let her go on that fateful yacht cruise with the Queen men. Then Mrs. Lance catches a plane back to Central City (!), and you know how fast those newfangled airplanes are: She'll be there "in a Flash". Ooof.

Malcolm Merlyn has recovered from his failed assassination attempt and to Moira Queen's chagrin, he's hellbent on finding out who put the hit out on him. Moira is peeing herself and shitting bricks as Malcolm tells her he paid off a member of the Triad to find out who the culprit is. Gulp. Moira's a goner. She meets with her accomplice Frank Chen in an alley and Frank gets two black arrows in the chest. The Dark Archer has struck, and Moira puts it all on Chen as the sole person behind the heinous assassination attempt on our beloved Malcolm Merlyn. Moira dodged a bullet, er, arrow, this week but she seems to be on borrowed time.

Five years ago on the Island, a trade off between Slade (who is short), Oliver and Fyers of the missile launcher circuit board in exchange for a boat off the Island goes south real fast. Fyers brought along Yao Fei and has no intention of providing a boat. Rather, he'll executive Yao Fei's daughter Shado if Oliver doesn't hand over the circuit board. (Which his men stole anyway.) This ends in fisticuffs as Oliver, Slade, Yao Fei, and Shado make short work of Fyers' men. Shado hilariously smacks Fyers around like he was Loki and she was the Hulk too, and it turns out she can speak English and knows Fyers' plan.

Speaking of plans, Team Arrow finally figures out a big clue to whatever the big master plan is involving the Glades: the subway map beneath the Glades matches up to the symbol in the Book that has The List. So what is it? Bombs under the Glades? A nuclear device? Or maybe it's a machine that weaponizes a fear compound so that everyone who breathes it in goes insane and the people of the Glades will destroy themselves and the Glades? Or maybe it's from the plot of a different Batman movie? We'll find out soon, Arrow Heads.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Spring Breakers



"Spring Breaaaak! Spring Breaaaak Foreverrrr!!"

Spring Breakers is everything it advertises itself to be. And more. But also less, if that makes any sense. The promise of nubile young stars 'rebelling' against their Disney Channel and ABC Family restrictions, such as there are, and wantonly flaunting their sexy sexual sexiness is fulfilled. Writer-director Harmony Korine goes for it, as far as his young stars and their management will allow, which is surprisingly pretty far. Spring Breakers spreads the rest of its rather hefty nudity demands all around to the horde of uncredited real spring breakers who binge drink, get naked, and willingly exploit themselves for Korine's camera. It's a Girls Gone Wild video made art-house style. Then Korine shifts gears midway and Spring Breakers becomes a weird, lame-brained pseudo crime film about which gang banger rules the streets of Ass Crack Beach, Florida.

It takes a while to get to spring break, though. First we spend a miserable first act with the four miserable Spring Breakers-to-be: Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens (late of Disney), Ashley Benson (of Pretty Little Liars, and absolutely still one here), and Rachel Korine (wife of the visionary auteur behind the camera). Matriculating, if you can call it that, in a dreary college in a dreary Southern town, they aspire to escape to spring break. They want to change their lives; mainly they want to not be bored. There's not a deep or even interesting thought in any of their heads. The blonde Benson, Hudgens and Korine are practically indistinguishable and are given the basest of traits: Benson seems to have an incurable oral fixation, Hudgens has a thing for protruding her ass all 'sexy-like' and pointing her fingers like a gun, complete with "Ptew! Ptew!" sounds, and Korine seems to be a narcoleptic. Otherwise, they're all pretty much the same character. They even word-for-word tell exact same lies to their mothers when they call home from spring break. The sore thumb is Gomez, raven-haired, Chipmunk-cheeked, and God-fearing, who spends her off-time at Bible classes run by pro wrestler Jeff Jarrett! ("Ha ha, Jesus saves, slap nuts".)

Lacking the money to fund their spring break, Benson, Hudgens and Korine steal a car, rob a diner at gunpoint, and then set the car on fire. "It's like a fucking movie, it's like a fucking video game" is their justification for this and everything they ever do. Gomez is hesitant but she goes along with her friends because spring break is all of their salvation, and to these girls, the ends always justify the means. Once at spring break, the girls never wear anything more than their skimpy bikinis and have the time of their lives, musing about how amazing everything is, how nice everyone is, and how free they all feel in the armpit of Florida. Also, they get drunk. And they get naked. And they do blow off the stomach of a girl on a table. And that gets them arrested. But there's no joy or exhilaration. Korine presents the debauchery of spring break with a jumpy, neon-soaked, psychedelic verve that keeps everything at an ironic distance. Still, the urge to take a shower to wash the putrid off is overwhelming.

The Spring Breakers are set free from the clink by James Franco, the best thing in the movie, or at least the most memorable. Franco plays a skeevy, gold toothed, sometime-rapper/gangbanger named Alien. These four girls suit whatever his purposes are, which mainly require them to be hot and to be impressed with him. In the best scene in the movie, Franco gives a hilarious "Look at my shit!" speech to Benson and Hudgens, boasting about all of his money, guns, and his collection of jorts and baseball caps. Franco is oblivious to how truly pathetic he is, enraptured as he is with himself and his "success" as a self-made survivor of the streets. (When Benson and Hudgens turn the tables on him and make it clear they could kill him if they choose, Franco 'falls in love' with them, or whatever he thinks 'love' is.)  To her credit, Gomez balks at Franco entering and now controlling their lives. She makes the lone rational and intelligent decision anyone in the entire movie makes by getting on a bus and tearfully hightailing it out of spring break.

With Gomez, the only relatively decent person in the movie gone, Spring Breakers becomes a goofy, empty crime saga about Franco and his former best friend's vendetta over who "rules the streets". Benson, Hudgens, and Korine ride along pointlessly with Franco on his crime sprees until reality blasts Korine in the arm with a bullet thanks to a drive-by shooting. Korine also decides she's had enough and gets on the bus back to Dreary University. This leaves Franco with only two interchangeable Spring Breakers left, and a mandate for revenge. It all ends Grand Theft Auto: Vice City-style (and amusingly quickly for Franco), as they mount a guns-blazing assault on their enemy in his mansion. The last thing those gangsters ever saw coming was a couple of chicks in day-glo bikinis and ski masks gunning their whole army down.

Spring Breakers' nouveau cinema plays like low-rent Terrence Malick. Until she gets on the bus back to Bible Town, Gomez's raspy little-girl voiceover narrates the first half of Spring Breakers. Gomez sounds morose even when she's deliriously happy that she's in a motel hot tub being mocked by Hudgens and Benson. Then Franco takes over, with his drugged-out drawl and his simpleton rap lyrics explaining the semblance of a plot and his insipid feelings. "Spring breaaaak! Spring breaaak foreverrrr!!", Franco drones on and on in a perpetual loop. Britney Spears is invoked twice, when the Spring Breakers sing "Baby, One More Time" in a parking lot, and even more depressingly, when her gooey love song "Every Time" plays over a montage of crime, violence and sex. Korine more or less lays the blame for this entire bottom-feeding Spring Breakers generation on Britney's doorstep. By comparison, Franco's rap songs make the lyrics of Spears' pop 'classics' sound like they were written by Shakespeare. All of Spring Breakers is played for detached irony, all of it can be seen as satire. Except satire is supposed to be funny; apparently no one informed Spring Breakers of this. Despite its best art house intentions, in making a film about a subject as inherently empty as spring break, Spring Breakers was inevitably swallowed by that emptiness.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Arrow 1x17 - "The Huntress Returns"

The Huntress is back, all right, and she's smashing. And homicidal. Helena is completely far gone when it comes to sanity. She can pull herself together and act like a normal, rational person long enough to, say, chat with Thea in Stately Queen Manor, but she'll quickly crack like an egg and turn all snarly and "I need to kill my father-y". Helena did leave Starling City for Europe when her father was sent to the hoosegow, but upon learning Mr. Bertinelli cut a deal with the feds to get a new life under witness protection, she came back to Starling to end his old life before he could get a new one. First stop, the strip club, naturally, to shove an arrow in her father's lawyer.

The moral quandry Oliver faces in this episode was succinctly laid out by Diggle: If Helena ("your psycho ex-girlfriend" - Dig's words, not Felicity's) wasn't super hot and former groin buddies with Oliver, if he "looked like me," Diggle conjectures, Oliver would have given her the old "you have failed this city" speech and put an arrow in her by now, as opposed to that night when he put an Arrow in her, heh heh. Later, "I'll put an arrow in you," was Oliver's ultimatum to Helena if she killed anyone (besides her dad), which could be a threat or a come on, but for Helena it's probably both. I think she took it as both. She still has the hots for Oliver, and probably vice versa but they're both head-spinningly confused the whole episode. Crazy and well-armed as she is, Helena knows she's no match for a phalanx of US Marshals, so she decided she needed Oliver's help to find and kill her father. Or else. The "or else" part manifested in Helena blackmailing Oliver by attacking Tommy, and then Felicity, and then shotgunning McKenna. ("How many girlfriends do you have?" Helena asks Oliver when Felicity appeared in the Arrow Cave. Speaking of which.)

Oliver's problem is that Helena knows everything about him being the Vigilante and he can't risk her blabbing his name to the cops. Which she totally did in the best scene of the episode, when Helena blundered her father's murder, fell right into the trap Detective Lance laid for her, and was interrogated about who the Vigilante is. "Oliver Queen!" Helena offered gladly, before trying to ruin his rep with McKenna. Ballsy moments like that are what make Arrow so enjoyable. Detective Lance coined the name "Huntress" and unlike when Malcolm Merlyn tried to dub the Hood "Green Arrow, Helena Bertinelli didn't think it sucked. Unfortunately for Helena, Lance already closed the book on investigating Oliver as the Hood so he didn't buy that, and McKenna has no patience for questioning Oliver's integrity. She's a really good girlfriend. Oliver's also a pretty good ex-boyfriend in his own right when he busted Helena out of police custody, but only to give her a new passport and money to send her packing out of town. But Helena Bertinelli only lives to kill her daddy and she wasn't going to leave until she gave it another whack.

Helena officially became a federal public enemy when she killed at least a half dozen US Marshals while storming through the safe house hunting her father. (It hurt the episode's verisimilitude that they didn't get Jeffrey Nordling back as Frank Berintelli and it was just a stuntman whose face we never saw playing Frank running away from Helena). McKenna was the only cop in the vicinity in the same way the USS Enterprise is routinely the only starship in the system when there's a crisis and found herself in the middle of a shotgun vs. bow and arrow Mexican standoff between the Huntress and the Hood. The coolest thing in the episode was when the Hood finally tried to put an arrow in the Huntress and she totally caught the arrow! Then Huntress and Hood engaged in a sexy acrobatic and leather fight before McKenna got in the way and took a Huntress shotgun blast in the chest. Luckily, this was the one time McKenna decided wearing a kevlar vest was more important than showing her cleavage. McKenna survived, the Huntress got away, hey.

Though the Huntress dominated Oliver's attention for the episode, lots of other stuff was going on in typical hyper-busy Arrow fashion. I counted six subplots:

1) Tommy nursing hurt feelings about Oliver lying to him about being the Hood (and also hurt feelings from when Helena snapped his arm while blackmailing Oliver).

2) Detective Lance resisting the idea that Sarah might be alive and living on one of the islands near the Island after Laurel and her yet unnamed mother present a tourist-snapped photo of a woman who could be Sarah.

3) Tommy acting distant, evasive, secretive, and weird around Laurel because of having to keep Oliver's secret and not "being there" for Laurel as she deals with her family issues. Tommy is quickly understanding the burden of lying to the people you care about to keep such a big secret.

4) Oliver and McKenna's ongoing love affair and their post-McKenna getting shotgunned breakup, which was a really weird breakup. McKenna's femur is shattered and will take a year to rehab. Therefore, she's not only quitting the SCPD but moving to her sister's in Coast City. Oliver correctly pointed out he's a billionaire and can go to Coast City any time, but she says, no we gotta break up because his nightclub and all.

5) Oh yes, Oliver's nightclub, Verdant (subtle), finally opened, with guest DJ Steve Aoki making a cameo. Which also ties in to:

6) Thea trying to give poor old' Roy Harper, the criminal boy in the red hoodie, a leg up. Thea, who now spends her time working in the Glades with Laurel, can't seem to stop running into Roy. Roy keeps dissing her about being rich. Thea actually got Roy a job as a valet at Verdant but Roy blew the job off. He's too good to park cars for rich people. But he's not above acrobatically saving Thea from getting mugged. (Hey, remember their meet-cute? No one mugs Thea Queen but Roy Harper!) Roy got stabbed and ended up in the hospital (I wonder if he's on the same floor as McKenna?). It turns out Roy's afraid of needles so Thea plants one on him to distract him and awwww.

All that stuff happened in the episode and there's still the stuff that happened five years ago on the Island. This time, the dynamic duo of Oliver and Slade found Fyers' missile launchers and decided to kill some thugs and steal the motherboard. Their brilliant plan: to exchange the motherboard for a way off the Island. Congrats to Manu Bennett and Colton Hayes, by the way, for being promoted to series regulars in season 2. Deathstroke and Roy Harper aren't going anywhere.

Lastly, this week's DC Universe reference (besides Coast City) was a headline Diggle was reading that the President of Bialya was assassinated. Cue me immediately saying "Ruman Harjavti?!" This probably means meeting the Queen Bee is in Oliver's future.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

GLOW: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling

GLOW: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling


We're the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling
We're all champions in the ring
We come from the streets, we come from the city
We come from a world where there is no pity

Chances are excellent, if you were watching television from 1986-1990, you remember that jaunty rap. The engaging documentary GLOW: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling turns the clock back to the rollicking, go-go '80s, when the dream of a babyfaced, tuxedoed impressario and lifelong wrestling fan named David McLane vividly came to life. McLane's vision: that there be an all-women wrestling television program. (Sadly, McLane declined participating in this documentary, which is akin to doing Hamlet without Hamlet.) No one had any idea then what an indelible imprint GLOW would make on pop culture, still fondly remembered two decades later.

We meet many of GLOW's biggest stars as they were then and as they are today. Among the GLOW alumni interviewed for the documentary are Mountain Fiji (Emily Dole), Ninotchka (Lorilyn Palmer), Big Bad Mama (Lynn Braxton), Tina Ferrari (Lisa Moretti), Hollywood (Jeanne Basone), Mathilda the Hun (Dee Booher), Americana (Cindy Ferda), Little Egypt (Angelina Altishin), and Godiva (Dawn Rice). The GLOW girls personallly tell their story; about how as fledgling actresses in their late teens and early 20's, they answered a casting call to appear on a television program in LA in 1986 (which said nothing about professional wrestling). They endured "GLOW boot camp" run by wrestling legend Mando Guerrero, who had the unenviable task of turning this gaggle of amateurs into semi-competent performers who wouldn't kill each other or themselves in the ring. The GLOW girls dish on the rigors and joys of performing and living in the famed Rivera Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, how GLOW's meteoric rise turned them into a television phenomenon, its abrupt cancellation in 1990, and what life was like in the after-GLOW.

Revelations in the documentary include director Matt Cimber as the mastermind behind the various characters the GLOW girls portrayed (which pushed the envelope to be as stereotypical as possible to "offend as many groups as possible" for the sake of comedy). Steve Blance, the referee and later "GLOW Commissioner" was actually the head writer of the program and its campy skits and famous rap songs. The infamous Housewives tag team were actually portrayed by the same women who played Chainsaw and Spike. Also, Godiva wasn't actually British! Nor was Ninotchka actually Russian! So many childhood memories shattered. The documentary also reminds us of one of the most famous and excruciating moments of GLOW's history: the moment when Susie Spirit gruesomely broke her arm during a match. Other GLOW girls also suffered accidents in the ring. Outside of the ring, the girls bristled under strict curfews not unlike in the Playboy Mansion: being forced to be in their rooms by 10pm and being penalized with fines for misbehavior. 

The centerpiece of the documentary is the reunion of the GLOW girls, assembled for the first time together over two decades later. (GLOW was cancelled so abruptly, there was never a farewell show or a chance for the girls to say goodbye to each other.) Most of them now in their mid-40s, the GLOW girls gathered at a hotel with members of the old production crew (Cimber attended but not McLane) to reminisce and rap the old GLOW rap once more for old time's sake. Many of the GLOW girls moved on to success in various aspects of film and television. Lisa "Tina Ferrari" Moretti notably continued wrestling and met the greatest success as WWE Diva and Women's Champion Ivory. (Moretti still has the GLOW crown, their version of a World Championship, which she asserts is like the GLOW girls themselves: "a little dented, but it still sparkles.") Sadly but unsurprisingly, the larger GLOW girls like Big Bad Mama and Mathilda the Hun suffer from health related issues, with Mountain Fiji hospitalized from diabetes. The GLOW reunion is unexpectedly sweet and heartwarming, which surprised even some of the GLOW girls who were nervous about participating.

The absence of David McLane leaves a few questions about GLOW unanswered. The documentary asserts GLOW was the first and only all-female wrestling promotion but the latter is incorrect. There have been a number of female promotions since GLOW's demise and McLane himself has launched Powerful Women of Wrestling (POWW) and Women of Wrestling (WOW) in the years since. Though GLOW "was never meant to be successful as it was" and was originally "intended as a tax write-off", the mystery of why GLOW was suddenly cancelled after 100 episodes at the height of its popularity is addressed: it seems the owner of the Rivera hotel and GLOW's main financier was having an affair with one or more of the GLOW girls (the documentary is purposely fuzzy on the details) while he was married to Pia Zadora. Zadora allegedly threatened divorce, thus GLOW was instantly kaput. Who knew Pia Zadora was the greatest heel ("Bad Girl", in the show's vernacular) in the history of GLOW?

Sunday, March 17, 2013

What If Ned Stark Sat Upon The Iron Throne?

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Red Dawn




In Red Dawn, North Korea finally catches the United States with its pants down. It's a normal Saturday morning in Spokane, Washington when thousands of North Korean soldiers suddenly paratroop into town and start shooting and imprisoning everyone. A bunch of high school kids get the hell out of dodge and hole up in the woods, led by brothers Chris Hemsworth and Josh Peck. Hemsworth is a former Marine and Iraq war veteran. Peck has the uncanny ability to look like he's about to burst into tears at any moment. They're joined by a larger, more racially diverse group than the handful of white kids who starred in the original 1984 Red Dawn, including Tom Cruise's son Connor Cruise as Token Black. But as in any movie generation, the rules for Minorities Get Killed First still apply. Taking Lea Thompson and Ally Sheedy's places in this remake are Adrianne Palicki (who has the hots for Hemsworth) and Isabel Lucas, Peck's teen dream girlfriend.

When the North Koreans drag their deputy father out and shoot him, Hemsworth and Peck declare war on the Asian invaders, dubbing their rag tag group of rebels "the Wolverines", and fancying themselves as freedom fighters "like the Minutemen". Like in the original, they train in the woods, steal weapons from the North Koreans, and perform hit and run missions before skulking back to the forests like Robin Hood and his Merry Men. The most famous moment of drinking the blood of a deer is recreated but played for a grossout laugh instead of a solemn moment of rebirth. It takes the Wolverines and the movie a while to glean the larger scope of the North Korean invasion, and the movie makes a point that the North Koreans "couldn't have done this alone" despite owning some sort of EMP super weapon. Turns out they had some help from the Russians.

As with the original, the first half of Red Dawn is more interesting than the latter half as it quickly sinks in that the Wolverines can only do so much against the invaders besides be "a symbol" that "makes a difference". Despite their best intentions, the Wolverines die one by one as they're hunted by the head North Korean played by Will Yun Lee, including a rather shocking and ballsy death of a main character. Red Dawn '12 diverges from '84 as the Wolverines meet up with a trio of Marines lead by Jeffrey Dean Morgan. The sinking feeling of dissatisfaction culminates when it becomes clear the Wolverines' final mission is to attack the North Korean headquarters to steal a briefcase that the North Koreans use as their communication network hub. All this just to steal a briefcase. Red Dawn's message that American teenagers will never bow down to the North Koreans will hopefully get through to Kim Jong-Un when he watches it on Blu-ray.

Live Tweeting the Papal Conclave

Seems like they're doing everything in the Conclave except picking a new Pope...

Friday, March 8, 2013

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part II



For ten or so brief minutes, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part II was one of the best films of 2012. Well, okay, not best, but the most cathartic. (Note definition 2 of 'cathartic.) It had all come down to this: assembled on a snowy field somewhere in the wilds of the Pacific Northwest were two armies. On one side, a battalion of "good" vampires led by the Cullen family and backed by a gathering of their now-good friends the werewolves. On the other, the evil Volturi, who have come to kill Renesmee [sic?] (No, that's actually how it's spelled, if you can believe that.), the half-human, half-vampire daughter of sucky-faced lovers maximus Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) and Bella (Swan) Cullen (Kristen Stewart). 

Renesmee's parents are now both vampires; Bella was turned by Edward as she died giving birth in the wretched and abominable Breaking Dawn Part I, a movie I'd have reviewed had it not broken my brain, my spirit and all my relative good will towards the Twilight Saga. But because she was born before Bella turned bloodsucker, Renesmee's existence as a halfbreed is a loophole that could save her life, if only the Volturi, who think she's a full underage vampire, which are the worst kind of vampires, would listen, and man, is this complicated and weird...

Anyway, the head Volturi (Michael Sheen in full poncy preening mode), seems open to testimony as to what exactly Renesmee is and why she, her parents, her parents' vampire family and friends, and their smelly puppy pals should live. He's not, really. The agenda is to kill them all, but the vampires all came a long way for this vampire prom and they're all keen to admire each other's outfits. Negotiations swiftly break down, vampire violence commences, and all of a sudden Breaking Dawn Part II gets good. Well, again, not good, but cathartic. Vampires fight kind of gay; they like to fling themselves into the air at each other, limbs and teeth and tongues flaring, but this time, they're fighting for keeps. By keeps, I mean heads. 

The vampires start decapitating each other left and right, and the body count is delightful. Beloved members of the Cullen clan like Carlisle (Peter Facinelli) and Jasper (Jackson Rathbone) and big name Volturi like Caius (Jamie Campbell Bower), Jane (Dakota Fanning) and Irina (Maggie Grace) all viciously and hilariously lose their heads. The wolves get in on the action and maul Volturi but also get put down with extreme prejudice. Already super strong and superfast, each vampire also has an extra superpower like mind control or Bella's newfound power to emit force fields. The word for this is overkill. As for Michael Sheen, he gets tag teamed by Bella and Edward, and not in a good way. All of a sudden, all of that misery, all of those deplorable hours of audience punishment known as the previous Twilight movies, had a ballsy, bloodthirsty payoff. And then, after all of that enjoyable slaughter... Breaking Dawn Part II revealed it had no teeth. It was all a dream! It's what could have happened. No, instead, the Volturi say peace out and go back to Italy. Weak! Totally, totally weak. Damn you, Twilight.

Breaking Dawn Part II picks up right on the heels of Part I: Bella is now a vampire like she wanted and plotted for all along. She's also a teen mom with a newborn halfbreed daughter who, in lieu of using an actual infant actor, the filmmakers rendered in creepy CGI. Renesmee somehow is some sort of telepath and grows incredibly rapidly: from 7 minutes old to 7 years old (played by Mackenzie Foy) in the span of a few weeks. In perhaps the grossest of all developments, noble werewolf Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner) "imprinted" on infant Renesmee, "falling in love" with that thing and is now unable to leave her side. To her credit, Bella greeted this development with the appropriate amount of disgust. She also didn't like "Nessie", Jacob's nickname for her: "You named my daughter after the Loch Ness Monster?" Jacob transferred his Bella obsession in all the prior movies to her daughter, his future girlfriend and probably wife, and this is repulsive, let's move on.

The bellyaching in Breaking Dawn Part II revolves around what the Volturi will do when they find out about Renesmee, which happens rather quickly, though the Volturi take their time doing something about it (they must have all spent weeks shopping for fancy new Druid robes for their trip to Forks, Washington). The Cullens fear the Volturi will think Renesmee is a vampire who was made immortal as a child, because those are the worst kind of vampires, who don't age and mature. And yes, we all remember Kirsten Dunst in Interview with a Vampire so fair point, Volturi. The Cullens decide they need "Witnesses" to attest that Renesmee isn't a Dunst, so they set off to get their friends around the world to come down to Forks and fight the Volturi if need be. Straining the red eye contact lens budget, the Cullens recruit some Brazilian vampires, some African vampires, Irish vampires, and even a couple of dudes from Transylvania Jacob nicknamed Dracula 1 and 2. Lee Pace of Pushing Daisies gets to be a vampire. So does the evil nanny serial killer in The Following. This International House of Vampires surprisingly get along just fine with the werewolves. All of that vampire-werewolf muckety-muck is so New Moon, after all. But the United Colors of Vampire Bennaton do agree: they all hate the Italians.

Finally getting to become a vampire is what Kristen Stewart waited four years and four movies for and now we have irrefutable proof K-Stew had been holding back on us. Breaking Dawn Part II is Kristen Stewart Unchained and she runs, growls, leaps, snarls her way into deserving her Razzies for Worst Female Performance without question. Called upon to be angry, proud, feral, maternal, sexy, and heroic as the new nosferatu Bella Cullen, Stewart manages to be none of those things while still occupying the screen as some sort of identifiable matter. Not helping Stewart one bit is the cinematography, which lovingly photographs the wilderness of Washington State as well as all of the other actors, but seems to go out of its way to render Stewart's face as an eyesore. Much mockery has been made of Claire Danes' cry face on Homeland but Stewart's repeated "grrr, vampire angry face" is a meme-worthy sight to Share on social media. Vampire or no, Bella remains a black hole, a suck zone of fun and watchability. Her groan-inducing sex scenes with Edward are treated as a necessary evil the movie depicts and moves on from as quickly as possible.

Edward is no longer the bad boy he once was, completely pussy whipped by this point by his surly vampire bride. He's now the sexy vampire soccer dad of every tween's dreams. "Bella, I've had a bad habit of underestimating you," loverboy Cullen confesses. "Every obstacle that's been in your way, I didn't think you'd overcome." Wow. What a dreamboat. This guy is what the ladies have been fantasizing about all these years? Jacob fares slightly better, except no, he doesn't, because he's sniffing after their Dora the Explorer-watching-aged daughter. The best person in the movie is and always was Bella's father Charlie the Sheriff (Billy Burke), whom Bella lies to continually about her new red eyes and being dead and all. Charlie suspects, but also knows deep down, ah, fuck it. He's got his own show now. Revolution is a hit and on it, he's got another annoying teenage girl to deal with. He's okay not knowing about any of this vampire nonsense. Charlie is especially okay without Jacob stripping in front of him like Magic Mike and then turning into a werewolf in the movie's most hilariously uncomfortable moment.

The marriage between Bella and Edward and all the accoutrements that come with it are shiny, wish-fulfillment BS. The Cullens give Bella and Edward their own multi-million dollar country home deep in the woods, fully-furnished, complete with walk-in closets stocked with designer wardrobe. This is a ridiculous fantasy: two teenagers can get married, be parents, have all this luxury, wealth, and don't have to earn any of it. They have no responsibilities, they never need to work, they stay young and attractive eternally, they have a kid that they don't have to actually parent because it becomes a grown adult in 7 years and already found the doting mate pledged to take care of her and take her off their hands, and they can live happily ever after with superpowers forever. 

Ultimately, it was foolish to fall for Breaking Dawn Part II's okeydoke, to momentarily believe, no matter much you wanted to, that this saga would end with the cast of vampires we've watched for five movies decapitated and burning on an icy tundra. The Twilight Saga is and always was a sugar-in-the-eyes romance; it could only truly end the way it does: with Edward and Bella sitting on a flowery field pledging their eternal love for each other. "I have a present for you," Bella tells Edward, before telepathically showing him clips from the previous four Twilight movies, one last bit of navel-gazing from a couple who are unwilling and incapable of recognizing anything greater or more important in the world than themselves. In the final bit of navel-gazing, Breaking Dawn Part II then ends the Twilight Saga with an extended credits sequence for not just the cast of Part II but for every single person that has ever been in a Twilight movie.

But it's over. And with the conclusion of The Twilight Saga, we, the people of Earth living and still to be born, sincerely hope the unspoken promise of the end of this franchise holds true: No more Twilight movies.


Note: I rented and began watching Breaking Dawn Part II at 8:40pm. About an hour in, I blacked out. Next thing I knew, I woke up and it was 3:30am. Breaking Dawn Part II induced a total system shutdown.

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part II - It's Better than Ambien!