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Thursday, January 30, 2014

Arrow 2x12 - "Tremors"

"Tremors" does indeed create major, no-turning-back-now upheavals in the Arrow universe. As promised, the Arrow took on the Mirakuru-powered Roy Harper as his student and protege. It didn't go as well as he'd hoped. They say there's no such thing as a bad student, only bad teacher. Wait, who said that? I think it was Mr. Miyagi. In this case, both applies. Roy is a terrible student; he's impatient, angry, ungrateful. A lot like Daniel LaRusso was, except Roy can punch through a wall, a talent the Arrow would sorely need by episode's end. On the other hand, while Miyagi cleverly used Daniel and his karate training to get some household chores done, the Arrow didn't delve into metaphor or impart much in the way of sage wisdom when assigning Roy tasks like slapping water. He just droned on about learning control in his droning, modulated voice. So one can understand Roy's frustration. Also, there are drugs in his system driving him crazy. It just seems like Oliver didn't think this whole project through - what he was mainly thinking about was the guilt he feels over Slade Wilson five years ago.

"Who's Slade Wilson?" Diggle and Felicity ask. Funny they don't know that story. We, the audience, have watched it unfold every week for a season and a half, but Oliver's never mentioned his old buddy Slade to his trusted confidantes until now. Oliver launched into an Obi-Wan Kenobi-like quasi-explanation that Slade once suffered from the same Mirakuru poisoning Roy now has, and that he tried to help Slade, but it all ended up with him putting an arrow in Slade's eye. Five years ago, on Lian Yu, Sara and Oliver tracked Slade from the plane to the cave to Fyers' rocket launcher, after skipping the hatch, the three-toed statue, and the Black Rock. The Mirakuru-crazed Slade decided to use these leftover rockets to blow up the freighter and kill Ivo and his men once and for all as revenge for killing Shado. Oliver would like very much to tell Slade that Shado was killed because he was forced by Ivo to choose between Sara and Shado, but Sara talked him out of mentioning that to his insane, gun-pointing-in-Oliver's-face buddy. Point is, Oliver Queen, you have failed Slade Wilson (according to your finely sharpened guilt complex), and Oliver can't fail Roy Harper in the same way. Plus there's Thea to think about.

Ah, Thea. The heartbeat of all subplots. The common thread woven into ancillary character's motivations. Thea doesn't do much these days beside run Verdant, worry about Roy, and give her mom attagirls, but she's so very important to everyone. Moira was asked out to dinner by the very welcome-whenever-he-appears Walter Steele and laughed when Walter and his political partner were very serious in pitching Moira to run for Mayor against Sebastian Blood. What a race that would be: Who do you go for, Starling City? Blood or Queen? Moira can't fathom how someone just tried and acquitted for her role in an Undertaking that destroyed part of the city and killed 503 people could run for Mayor of that very city, but Thea, a newly registered voter, sold her mom on the idea of redemption. There are, apparently, many in Starling (43% - just shy of Mitt Romney's 2012 estimates) who think Moira was merely protecting her family from crazed, murderous billionaire Malcolm Merlyn. And the Queen name is still the most visible in Starling. Mayor Moira Queen, eh? It's not as unlikely as Kansas State Senator Martha Kent on Smallville.

Meanwhile, Oliver needs his new protege Roy's help in fighting an new/old foe, Benjamin Turner, the Bronze Tiger, newly liberated from Iron Heights prison. Cue Felicity scoffing at Turner's codename because "tigers aren't bronze." No, but see, then we get into how casually racist comic book creators were for decades where many African-American characters had to have a qualifier in their name like "Black Panther" or "Black Lightning" to help remind the reader that the character was black, but that's neither here nor there. The Bronze Tiger was hired for ten million American dollars by someone named Armitage to break into Malcolm Merlyn's mansion to steal -- a prototype earthquake machine! Malcolm had another one! Armitage plans to sell it to a buyer in Markovia, a DC Universe Eastern European nation famous for spawning Geo-Force of the Outsiders and the traitorous Terra of the New Teen Titans. (Incidentally, Dr. Brion Markov - the alias of Geo-Force - was the name of the scientist who invented the Unidac earthquake machine. Malcolm Merlyn murdered him last season.) "Do you have one of your hoodies?" is the Arrow's call to action. "You're kidding, right?" responded Roy. And so the Arrow and his boy wonder blundered into Stately Merlyn Mansion, past a framed photo of dearly departed Tommy Merlyn, and battled the Bronze Tiger, but were unable to stop Turner and his men from stealing the Unidac device because the Arrow had to stop #RoydRage from beating a henchman to death.

Thanks to Felicity's sleuthing skills, Team Arrow learned where the exchange for the Unidac would be made, and the Arrow brought Roy yet again. This was after #RoydRage expressed his displeasure at the Arrow's coaching style by hurling him across the room and through a table. Not even Obi-Wan Kenobi put up with that kind of abuse from his padawan Anakin. Well, except when Anakin went full on dark side and they lightsaber dueled for what seemed like forever on the volcano planet. Out of ideas for ways to motivate the crazy strong, crazy angry, crazy Roy, the Arrow name drops Thea - Roy's beloved girlfriend whose arm he almost broke during #RoydRage when she refused to follow his instructions to leave town for no particular reason. Together, the Arrow and Roy again get the drop on Bronze Tiger and Armitage, foiling the sale of the Unidac.

When the Arrow's explosive tip arrows aren't enough to penetrate the crate the newly activated Unidac machine is in, the Arrow realized he has only one recourse and he unmasks! (Later, Oliver admitted to Diggle and Felicity he wasn't really thinking of the consequences. No kidding.) The unmasking of the Arrow literally stopped #RoydRage from beating Bronze Tiger to death via his patented move: mount a man and then punch him in the face over and over. Roy might as well have echoed Felicity's famous words when she saw the true face of the Arrow: "Oliver. Suddenly, everything about you is incredibly clear." You see, all Roy really wanted was the Arrow's trust in him, and now that he knows the Vigilante is the hero he worshiped who saved his life and later shot him with an arrow ("Forgiven, by the way.") is also the older brother of his girlfriend, this knowledge curbed Roy's #RoydRage. But at the moment, Oliver really needs Roy to channel that #RoydRage for the greatest good, and punch that crate! Punch it, Roy does, and another explosive arrow put an end to the threat of a second earthquake machine. Unless, you know, Malcolm has another one stashed somewhere. Finally, Roy Harper is welcomed into the warm bosom of the "Secret Society" called Team Arrow - "We don't call it that," says Oliver. "I do, sometimes!" retorts Felicity.  "How many people know your identity?" Roy wonders. "Too many." says Oliver. Yep, those numbers add up. Roy meets the two most important ones, Felicity and Diggle, and gets a season pass to the ultra exclusive Arrow Cave, right below where Roy works. Convenient. And now, #RoydRage is as much Diggle and Felicity's problem as Oliver's.

Speaking of problems, Laurel doesn't have one. Why does everyone keep insisting she does? Now unemployed, Laurel's father Quentin tried to trick Laurel into an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, but Laurel quickly took way more than twelve steps in the opposite direction. However, Laurel does have a problem: she's unhireable, pending disciplanary action from the bar. Laurel could be legally disbarred. So, she heads straight to the hottest bar in town, Verdant, you know, the one run by her ex-boyfriend's eighteen year old little sister who was herself a drunk and substance abuser. I have to admit, Drunk Laurel is my favorite Laurel, dropping truth bombs on the disapproving Queens on either side of her. Plus Laurel said the cleverest thing she's ever said: "Sure, bar me from your bar. That's today's theme, right? Disbarment." Her wordplay is really witty when she's smashed. Give that girl some olives. Oliver sees as much of this as he can stand and since he doesn't need to ask Laurel this week if she's okay, he puts a mysterious phone call in. Later, when Laurel stumbles him to her apartment - the scene of numerous home invasions and at least two of her kidnappings - to collapse next to her couch, she's visited by a ghost. But it's not a ghost - it's Sara! The Canary came home!

Finally, someone else gets a mysterious visitor back in Iron Heights when the clickety clacking of five inch heels brings the highly-classified Amanda Waller to the cell of Benjamin Turner. She's here to recruit him for a Squad. (A Suicide Squad, she doesn't say, because that's a horrible pitch. But that's what it is.) 

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Short Term 12



The stunning, remarkable Short Term 12 stars a radiant Brie Larson as the supervisor of a residential treatment facility for homeless and abused teens. She was once one of these kids; Larson is tight lipped about her past involving her imprisoned father soon to be released on parole, and she's also hiding her pregnancy from her co-worker and boyfriend John Gallagher, Jr (almost unrecognizable from The Newsroom). Though the eyes of their uncertain new colleague Rami Malek, we experience first hand what life is like for these children living in Short Term 12, each nursing deep emotional and psychological wounds, each prone to lash out and hurt themselves or each other at a moment's notice, and what a difficult toll it takes on Larson, Gallagher, Malek, and their colleague Stephanie Beatriz (playing completely opposite from Detective Rosa Mendez in Brooklyn Nine-Nine) to be their supervisors. Though the rules are Larson and her team are "not their parents, not their therapists," and are only there "to provide a safe environment," Larson's ability to be impartial is put to the test when Kaitlyn Dever arrives in Short Term 12. A sullen artist who was emotionally and physically abused by her alcoholic father, Larson sees a mirror image of herself in Dever, which forces her to confront her own lifelong trauma. Short Term 12 is a rare gem where the characters feel thoroughly real; they speak, relate to each other, and feel genuine hurt and pain and palpable joys. The moments where one of the most troubled of the teens, Keith Stanfield, expresses his sorrow in a rap, and Devers explains her lifetime of abuse to Larson vis a self-penned children's story are incredibly moving. Short Term 12 is a fantastic achievement by writer-director Dusten Cretton, honest, real, and raw. As for Brie Larson, she would have Jennifer Lawrence's career if Jennifer Lawrence didn't exist, but Brie Larson's career is pretty great. Short Term 12 is kind of like The Hunger Games, if the traumatized Tributes of Panem were housed in a group home overseen by Gale and Katniss Everdeen.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Arrow 2x11 - "Blind Spot"

Oh Laurel. What are we gonna do with you? Discredit you, fire you, make your life a living hell. Done, done, and done. "Blind Spot" slammed the door - hard - on (now former) Assistant District Attorney Laurel Lance's attempts to uncover the nefarious truth about Alderman Sebastian Blood, the future Mayor of Starling City. Laurel really got knocked around; for the second time this season she was abducted by a villainous lunatic, this time as bait for the Arrow by the Man in the Skull Mask. When Sebastian got wind that Laurel visited his crazy mother/aunt Maya Resik (sort of like Oscar Bluth was Buster Bluth's father/uncle on Arrested Development) at Saint Walker's, Sebastian dropped by one last time before the Man in the Skull Mask put Maya out of her misery. The rest of "Blind Spot" was a chess game between the real brains behind Blood, Slade Wilson, and the unwitting Laurel, who got checkmated big time.

Thing is, Laurel was actually pretty awesome for most of the episode until Slade outwitted her. "Blind Spot" is some of Katie Cassidy's finest work on the series. Finding things for Laurel to do was a challenge for Arrow's writing team last season, but her recent crusade to get to the truth about Sebastian Blood thrust her right into the thick of the action. Neither Laurel nor Oliver were aware they were hunting the same man, and they both got bamboozled at the same time by Slade by the end. With no legal recourse or political incentive from the District Attorney's office to investigate "Starling's Favorite Son" Sebastian Blood, Laurel turned to the Arrow, like a Lance would, for help. She can be very persuasive standing on a rooftop announcing with conviction that Sebastian Blood killed his own mother and is a lying liar and bad, bad man. (She did sneak in a funny line calling Roy Harper the Arrow's "groupie.") The Arrow never made the mental leap to to connect Blood with his own quest to find the Man in the Skull Mask, but it's Laurel asking for help, something Oliver Queen simply cannot ignore. Maybe Oliver should have listened to Diggle after all; Diggle was quite contrary to everything Oliver wanted to do this episode, poking holes of reason in all of Oliver's assumptions and crossing his arms and frowning as Oliver ignored him repeatedly.

Of course, there's a secret file on Blood that could prove Laurel's theory correct. Of course, it is a hard copy hidden in a Hall of Records, and of course the Arrow has to break in and find a proverbial needle in a haystack. Laurel and Arrow (they could be an old timey vaudeville duo) break into the room and it looks almost like the warehouse at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. A shocking twist would have been Laurel and Arrow finding the Ark of the Covenant. When the police quickly realize the Starling City Vigilante is in there and send a SWAT Team, Arrow and Laurel pull off one of those cool superhero through-the-window escapes, only to find the Blood file is blank. D'oh! From there, Slade Wilson, who bullies Sebastian Blood a lot more than Max Schreck did when he was masterminding Oswald Cobblepot's Mayoral run in Batman Returns, really put the screws to Laurel. They enlist their loyal acolyte Officer Daily to break into Laurel's apartment and arrest her for possession of a controlled substance. (This means DA Adam Donner was injected with Vertigo on television and now ADA Lance is also a drug addict. Looks real bad for the DA's office.) Laurel pleads with her father to believe her about Blood, but Quentin's a Blood booster and thinks he's a nice guy, and he can't see past Laurel having a problem with addiction that runs in the family.

Oliver gets Laurel home, presumably by being rich enough to post her bail, and somehow, shockingly, manages not to ask her if she's okay. He does manage to get knocked out by the Man in the Skull Mask and when he comes to, sitting up Undertaker style, he finds Laurel has been abducted. Luckily, the Man in the Skull Mask was thoughtful enough to leave graffiti on Laurel's wall telling the Arrow where to find her. And again, credit Laurel for being much tougher than expected and facing down the Man in the Skull Mask until the Arrow arrives to rescue her. Thus begins an awesome superhero vs. super villain smackdown: The Arrow vs. Brother Blood in The Battle of the Voice Modulators. And Brother Blood would have killed the Arrow, too, if Laurel didn't go Dirty Harry on the Man in the Skull Mask, shooting him in the back and emptying the clip! That was amazing. When they relieve the Man of his Skull Mask they find it isn't Sebastian Blood at all! It's Officer Daily! (You might call him the Daily Double if this were Jeopardy!) Oliver can't call it a win, despite Felicity's urging, because a part of him knows it's B.S. But Oliver is too caught up with feeling like a fool for believing Laurel, noting he has a blind spot when it comes to her. But he feels differently now that she is a known drug addict who has been officially shit canned from her job.

Not to put too fine a point to it, but Slade puts the fine point of his sword to Sebastian's men while wearing his full Deathstroke the Terminator costume to tell the audience that yes, indeed, Officer Daily was the Daily Double and not the real Man in the Skull Mask. There's only one Brother Blood, and that's Sebastian Blood, the guy cowering from fear of Slade. Slade is a scary dude.

Since Slade's scenes this week were all in present day Starling, he was noticeably absent from the Island five years ago, having absconded with the Mirakuru to go off and kill Ivo. Oliver and Sara return to the plane to regroup as Sara seriously considers Ivo's offer to turn over Slade and the Mirakuru in exchange for their freedom. Oliver's steadfastly against it because if there's one thing the Island taught him, it's the same lesson Stone Cold Steve Austin holds dear: D.T.A.: Don't Trust Anybody. Sara makes contact with Ivo and we explore the extent of her Stockholm Syndrome as Ivo tries to sweet talk her into coming back and giving him the Mirakuru. But Quentin Lance didn't raise his daughters to be dummies and when Sara calls back to reject Ivo's offer, Ivo turns on her and says only slightly less nice things to her than Walter White did when he called Skyler right before he left for New Hampshire towards the end of Breaking Bad. Well, that tears it, Sara and Oliver are going to find Slade, who might be only slightly less mean to them, what with the Mirakuru making him crazy and all.

Perhaps the most intriguing development of "Blind Spot" is what's going on with Roy Harper, or, as he might be dubbed, MiROYkuru. Roy's always been a sullen, secretive, moody asshole, but he's getting even worse, according to Thea. Oliver even visited him in an alley to check up on him and found him quick to run away from a conversation. Roy does recruit Sin's help, revealing his new Mirakuru-injected super strength to her. When she urges him to tell Thea, he scoffs that it could lead to her getting hurt. Sin correctly chastises him that he doesn't care if she gets hurt, however. Why do people hang out with Roy? Anyway, Roy wants to use his new superpowers to fight crime. Conveniently, there's a serial killer running around, a lawyer who kidnaps prostitutes and carves them up. Roy asks Thea to loan Sin something "slutty" to wear so she can dress like a prostitute, and Thea was hilariously all over it. Soon, Sin is walking the streets and finds herself in the serial killer's car. He takes her to an empty parking garage, showing that whoever wrote this has picked up a prostitute or two in Grand Theft Auto and probably killed her with a samurai sword to get his money back afterwards. But in seconds, Roy is on the scene to savagely toss the lawyer around and beat him to a pulp, smacking Sin in the face inadvertently for good measure. MirROYkuru rears his ugly head. The lawyer is hospitalized and Thea is aghast at what Roy did, so Roy does what he normally does: He tells Thea to "drop it," runs away, and cries. All of this is disturbing enough for Oliver to finally take action: the Arrow visits Roy in their special place, an alley, and makes MiROYkuru an offer he can't refuse: the Arrow will train him.

"When do we start?" asks Roy. How's next week sound? Yes? Great!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Justice League: War



War is Bad

Justice League for Dummies might as well be what Justice League: War is titled, though perhaps Justice League as Dummies is even more appropriate. Justice League: War launches the rebooted New 52 era of DC Animation, as Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, et al meet each other for the first time and band together to fight off an alien invasion. Adapted from the best selling comic book series "Origin," by Geoff Johns and Jim Lee, itself no bastion of sophisticated storytelling, War follows the mandate of making the Justice League younger and raw, as prone to fighting amongst themselves as they are battling the Parademon hordes of the evil Darkseid. They're the World's Greatest Superheroes in potential only; Batman is the sole hero presented as competent as ever, the only relative adult in the group. Everyone else seems like they fell off the back of the short bus.

Justice League: War follows the basic plot of the comic book: Batman (voiced by Jason O'Mara) and the staggeringly arrogant and idiotic Green Lantern (Justin Kirk) hunt down a Parademon in Gotham City, quickly determining it's an alien invader, which leads them to Metropolis and the most famous alien in the world, Superman (Alan Tudyk). More following the tradition of Marvel Comics where the superheroes first fight and then team up (the overall story is similar to the final act of Marvel's The Avengers, though "Origins'" publication does predate the Joss Whedon blockbuster), the Justice Leaguers gradually come together as Darkseid launches his full invasion of Earth. Wonder Woman (Michelle Monaghan), the Flash (Christopher Gorham), Shazam (Sean Astin), and Cyborg (Shemar Moore) join the fray in short order, bickering with each other as they rip Parademons to shreds and combine their powers to battle Darkseid (Steve Blum).

The screenplay is embarrassing, with its dubious efforts to make the Justice League "edgy" and "cool." Within seconds of introducing Wonder Woman, a character says she dresses like "a whore." When she confronts her accuser, her Lasso of Truth reveals he secretly cross dresses like Wonder Woman because it's empowering. Wonder Woman agrees that her uniform is indeed empowering. The very next scene Wonder Woman appears, someone hollers at her calling her a "bimbo." Not that Wonder Woman is depicted as particularly admirable; in War, she is a sword-swinging, bloodthirsty simpleton who has never tried ice cream before. Cyborg is a self-pitying whiner with serious daddy issues. Superman is hardly an inspirational champion of inherent goodness; he's a Heat Vision-first, punch-second bruiser with no brains who tries to carve Batman in half with his laser beams the first time they meet. (Superman also chokes Desaad to death later in the movie in a forehead-slapping ode to Man of Steel.) Shazam is probably the worst of them all; his childish alter ego Billy Batson is a lying, obnoxious thief, and when he magically transforms into The World's Mightiest Mortal, he sounds and acts like a drunken college kid at the local sports tavern. But no, Green Lantern is still the bottom of the barrel, by far the most insipid and infuriating of these "heroes," hardly worthy of the responsibility of being a police man who "protects the entire universe."

Action is the viewer's reward for wading through the extent of Justice League: War. With countless Parademons Boom Tubing their way to Earth, there are ample opponents for the Justice Leaguers to tear asunder, incinerate and eviscerate. The full range of the superheroes' superpowers are on display, and when Darkseid (grotesquely redesigned and sporting a Mohawk that makes him resemble a stone-faced Mr. T) arrives on Earth to do battle with the League, no one holds back in the savagery department. The Justice League's master plan to defeat Darkseid is, I shit you not, poke his eyes out with Wonder Woman's sword so he can't shoot Omega beams from his eyes anymore. When the Justice League stops talking, i.e. behaving like 8 year olds playing with their action figures, and starts fighting (like 8 year olds playing with their action figures), the action has entertaining moments. (Though for a more satisfying fight on all levels against Darkseid, see his smackdown with Superman and Supergirl in 2010's Superman/Batman: Apocalypse.) Watching the Justice League fight is the only passable enjoyment gleaned from Justice League: War. Best to watch the Justice League wage war with the sound off.

Zack Snyder, David Goyer, and Warner Bros. Pictures, whatever you do when you make your Justice League feature film, please don't do this.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

The Wolf of Wall Street



"Sell me this pen."

How courageous of Martin Scorsese to more or less remake Caligula and turn it into an Oscar caliber blockbuster called The Wolf of Wall Street. Based on the memoir by Jordan Belfort, Leonardo DiCaprio portrays Belfort in a bravura performance tracking Belfort's real-life rise to riches as a stockbroker in the late 1980s and early 1990s, his rampant hedonism from sex and drug addiction, and his ultimate fall and imprisonment for his criminal activities and utter foolishness. The depravity Scorsese depicts - and some say glorifies gleefully - throughout the three hour running time of The Wolf of Wall Street is appalling. As they get wealthier by selling pink chip stocks to blue chip investors, DiCaprio and his sleazy friends, fellow stockbrokers he recruited from his childhood connections including an odious Jonah Hill and a street thug slimeball Jon Bernthal, engage in constant pill popping, orgies with prostitutes, snorting cocaine off various bodily orifices, and my favorite, using midgets as cannonballs in the office. This is the stuff people think Tony Stark does but he actually doesn't do. (Or maybe he used to before he became Iron Man.) 

As he gets richer and more brazen, DiCaprio predictably eschews his patient wife for a gorgeous new trophy wife, Margot Robbie, but, constantly high as he is, DiCaprio is no wizard between the sheets like he is in the stock market. DiCaprio goes all out as Jordan Belfort; in particular, a sequence where he suffers the "cerebral palsy phase" of doing quaaludes, crawls to his Lamborghini, and crashes it is spectacular. But ultimately, what is the point of The Wolf of Wall Street? To what grand purpose does Scorsese apply his peerless filmmaking powers? What do we learn after three hours of watching DiCaprio and his buddies making complete asses of themselves? Do we care one iota about Jordan Belfort? What the fuck is the point of all of this? Belfort's company predictably falls under federal investigation, and DiCaprio is ultimately arrested and imprisoned. We could all see that coming a mile away, even if DiCaprio and his repugnant friends are too stupid, arrogant, and high to. Though a gifted salesman and motivator, Jordan Belfort's life is smoke and mirrors, the mirrors being a convenient surface to cut and snort blow from. One thing's a solid bet, Jordan Belfort would have called Jay Gatsby a fucking pussy.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Arrow 2x10 - "Blast Radius"

"Blast Radius," a busy affair delving into the history, real and fabricated, of one Alderman Sebastian Blood, feels like more of a season one offering of Arrow. Coming off the shocking, seemingly game-changing reveal of Slade Wilson in Starling City of present day, "Blast Radius" disappointingly offers no follow up on that bombshell. It's been a long five weeks for us and for Oliver Queen since Oliver was visited by "Three Ghosts." Since his fateful meeting with the "Man in the Skull Mask," the artist he is unaware is known as Brother Blood, the newly masked Arrow has been spending his dark nights on a rampage in the Crescent Circle section of Starling City. And yet no matter how many dirty perps he busts and leaves for Starling City's finest, no one will talk about the Man in the Skull Mask.

Little does the Arrow know that Laurel has been conducting her own investigation into the very same man, also unaware Mayoral candidate Sebastian Blood is that very same Man in the Skull Mask. Laurel's pill popping seems to have turned her into a pretty good detective; it's through her Lois Lane-like snooping in Blood's office that she finds the name "Maya Resik," a mental patient in Saint Walker's (DC Comics reference to a member of the Blue Lantern Corps) whom Blood pays the medical bills for. Even her father Officer Quentin Lance (call designation DC-52, nice DC Comics reference) thinks Blood would make a fine boyfriend for Laurel (District Attorney Adam Donner, back on the mend from his Vertigo poisoning would disagree). And yet, her Laurel Sense won't stop tingling about Blood. Turns out her Laurel Sense was right: Maya Resik isn't Blood's crazy aunt like he told her - that psycho is his mother!

So who is Sebastian Blood, if that is his real name? (And if it isn't, why would he choose the surname "Blood" and then go into public service? Does he just like a challenge?) Blood's public cover story, which he's proud to tell anyone at his Queen sponsored fundraisers, is that he's an orphan child of the city. The wild yarn he spun to Laurel was that his mother shot and killed his alcoholic father and disappeared. Blood claims Cyrus Gold, the killer hopped up on Mirakuru, was a preacher he'd known since he was a child after his father's murder. Laurel is a lot of things, ask the viewers who just don't like her, but she's not stupid. Blood's story just sounds like a load of B.S. But Oliver is firmly on his side, and after the events of "Blast Radius," when the Arrow saves his life yet again, Blood is now on handshake terms with the Starling City Vigilante himself. Blood's in good with both sides of Oliver Queen.

The person on Oliver's bad side is Felicity. Felicity has been away in Starling City looking after Barry Allen, whom we learn has been in a coma since he was struck by lightning at the end of "Three Ghosts." Diggle's been filling in, but he's no Felicity when it comes to dancing the keystrokes on the Microsoft Surface in the Arrow Cave. Oliver's more of a dick than usual, or at least it seems that way since he's being a dick to Felicity. Oliver's desperate to find the Man in the Skull Mask, fearing how unstoppable an army of Mirakuru super soldiers would be. When Felicity does return to her duties in the Arrow Cave, Oliver accuses her of being distracted by Barry and not having her head in the game, although she did almost send him careening on his Arrow Cycle into a speeding bus. It's uncomfortable watching Oliver and Felicity bark at each other instead of exchanging goofy cute entendres, just ask Diggle, caught in the middle. Later, all's well between Oliver and Felicity when Oliver, lo and behold, apologizes and admits how much he relies on Felicity as his partner. Aww. Give her a raise.

This week's DC super villain guest star is Shrapnel, who understandably but unfortunately does not look like this on Arrow. Portrayed by Firefly's Sean Maher (who was Summer Glau's brother on Firefly - hope these two somehow meet on Arrow), Shrapnel is merely a mad bomber destroying buildings in Starling City as a political statement. (Shrapnel is a message board member of The Movement, a reference to this DC Comic.) Though he targets Sebastian Blood's Unity Rally specifically, Shrapnel doesn't seem mad at Blood, per se. His agenda just seems to be a general hatred of Starling City politics. And though he blows up buildings via a mastery of cellular network signals that confounds Felicity, Shrapnel isn't quite the menace say, Count Vertigo or Malcolm Merlyn is. Shrapnel falls more in line with the lower rung Dodger level of baddie. Not too much of a threat to the Arrow, clever boobytraps aside. But then, tell that to Diggle, who took a bullet in the shoulder from Shrapnel. Still, even Felicity notes the Arrow didn't kill Shrapnel, or anyone this week. In fact, unless there were people in the buildings Shrapnel exploded, no one died this whole episode!

Meanwhile, Thea has been noticing some really weird things about her handsome, broody boyfriend Roy Harper. What's weirder, that he's showing up for work on time, that he suddenly wants to have stock room sex with Thea, or that he seems to shrug off a shard of glass impaling itself in his forearm? "I heal fast" is Roy's meager explanation before running off in an angry huff. But is Roy really acting weirder than usual? Roy's always been that evasive, and apparently he's been avoiding strange men in dark alleys lately. Well, there is the matter of how Roy saved Moira by letting a falling lighting scaffold land on his back during Shrapnel's attack on the Unity Rally. Roy was totally fine, chalking it up to "adrenaline." Boy, there sure is something odd going on with MirakuRoy.

Speaking of odd things happening because of Mirakuru, five years ago on the Island saw Oliver, Sara and Slade burying Shado, with Slade passing the green hood to Oliver because, having seen him and Shado bumping uglies in the woods, Slade knows Shado liked Oliver more than Slade. Slade would like to go and murder Ivo and everyone on Amazo, but Sara doesn't think that's the best idea. Except that Slade has Mirakuru in his veins, which has healed his burned face, given him super strength, and made him super paranoid. The Mirakuru more or less turned Slade into the Island version of Macho Man Randy Savage, and he'd like to snap into it, 'it' being Ivo's neck. Though for a moment there, Slade snapping Oliver's Slim Jim of a neck almost happened. Perhaps sensing the potential risk of Mirakuru Slade coming for him, Ivo radioed Sara and Oliver with a generous offer of bringing the Mirakuru in their possession to him in exchange for safe passage to Shanghai. Or else Ivo will unleash his "scientific curiosity" on them, whatever creepy implication that is. But the joke's on Ivo because Slade is coming for all their hides. One thing's for sure, when all of this is over, just about everyone on the Island and in the present will rue the day they ever heard the word "Mirakuru."

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 1x12 - "Seeds"

This week, on Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., we learn it only takes one bad seed to start a Blizzard. Or something. The second major (well, minor, but for this show, major) Marvel supervillain debuted on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. in the form of Donnie Gill, who in Marvel Comics goes by the nom de crime Blizzard. In Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Donnie Gill is a sullen, ostracized, teenage scientific genius matriculating at the S.H.I.E.L.D. science academy, dreaming one day of being assigned to The Sandbox. We meet him and his fellow academy schoolchums when they sneak into the S.H.I.E.L.D. swimming pool at night for some sexy time swimming and promptly find themselves in a pool frozen in ice. An incident like that is just slightly weird and inconsequential enough to the security of the world to bring Coulson's crack team to the academy on the case. Well, not, all of them. Coulson and May drop the kids off with Ward in charge while they zoom off to Mexico City on a hush hush mission of their own. Ward's gotta hang with a school full of S.H.I.E.L.D. science nerds who think Fitz is the coolest thing since gamma rays.

A few weeks back, Skye made a crack that she never attended "S.H.I.E.L.D. Hogwarts." It turns out S.H.I.E.L.D.'s academies are actually a lot like Hogwarts; they are divided into different "Houses," like Operations, where Ward learned his secret agent killing skills, and Science, where Fitz-Simmons were the youngest graduates and now return like rock stars to their old stomping grounds. S.H.I.E.L.D. Hogwarts is even run by a British lady, Agent Weaver, who acts like a school marm and not the administrator of a facility that trains adult future spies dabbling in dangerous, sometimes alien, technology. Ward makes a point to show Skye the famed Wall of Valor present in every S.H.I.E.L.D. academy, honoring the names of graduates who fell in the line of duty. Skye immediately finds "Bucky Barnes," which is a cool shout out to Captain America's World War II sidekick. Wait, Bucky came from the science academy? That doesn't make sense. Double wait, Fitz-Simmons pointed out S.H.I.E.L.D. was founded after World War II and Bucky was dead by then, so how is he an Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. and why would he be on this Wall of Valor? Perhaps Captain America: The Winter Soldier will provide some answers?

Fitz-Simmons dropped some other cool Marvel references in their speech to the academy, mentioning Hydra, Centipede, and A.I.M. But their presentation (and the pictures they promised) was interrupted when Donnie Gill suddenly found himself frozen in a block of ice. Fitz-Simmons and Ward spring to action and free him from the ice after Ward cleverly stomps on the ice device. Fitz then decides to befriend Gill, since he can relate to being a brilliant loner in this school, while Simmons shows Ward and Skye the Boiler Room (of Requirement), the secret place all the students go to hang out in, which has a bar and a pool table. It looked a lot like the Comic Con after party I attended last year, minus the guys in Optimus Prime cosplay dueling with lightsabers while dancing to Nintendo theme songs. It doesn't take long for Fitz-Simmons to figure out Donnie Gill and his school chum Seth Dormer staged the swimming pool incident to lure Fitz-Simmons back to the school, specifically so Fitz could befriend Gill and help him fix his ice making device. A fiendish plan that worked to perfection! With a larger, more powerful ice device now completed thanks to Fitz's unwitting help, Gill and Dormer KO Fitz and abscond with the ice device, intending to sell it to the odious Ian Quinn, last seen offering Skye a job in "The Asset," which introduced Graviton into Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.  So Ian Quinn's always around when the Marvel comic book villains pop up in the show?

The cool, cruel Donnie Gill and Seth Dormer attempt to complete their sale of their super villain ice device to Ian Quinn, but the heat was on and Quinn backed out. Like dummies, Gill and Dormer turn on the ice device anyway, creating a super storm that forces everyone at S.H.I.E.L.D. academy to pause and gaze up at wonder at the inclement clouds in the sky and ice balls raining down from above. The device explodes and Dormer is injured, but May pilots the Bus through the eye of the storm so they can rescue Dormer, while Gill gets away, now newly ice powered and still in league with Quinn. A Blizzard is coming.  Coulson personally calls Quinn and makes with the threats, but Quinn replies that he's buddies with The Clairvoyant, so Quinn is in like Flynn with Centipede. 

Meanwhile, in "Mexico City, Mexico," so that we're all clear where "Mexico City" is, May and Coulson are hot on the trail of a former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent who was the partner of the dead lady agent who dropped baby Skye off at the orphanage. With Coulson in a perpetual Quiet Mode, still brooding over the surgeries S.H.I.E.L.D. performed that brought him back to life - especially that gross thing the medical droids did to his brain - Melinda May becomes Chatty Cathy, trying to blab Coulson back into talkitude and reaffirm his faith in S.H.I.E.L.D.anity. Coulson, now not a big fan of secrets, pretends he doesn't hear when May reveals she and Ward have been bumping uglies on and off The Bus, but their target was in sight so Coulson and May spring into action, even letting Lola take flight.

Soon, they've captured their former colleague, who spins a yarn that 24 years ago, his team of S.H.I.E.L.D. Agents tracked an 0-8-4 and got massacred. The 0-8-4 was the baby who would later name herself Skye, and after Agent Avery, who dropped Skye off at the orphanage was killed, Agent Scaredycat got scared and hid for 24 years, but not before instituting a protocol so that Skye would always be under S.H.I.E.L.D. protection by being cycled to different orphanages and foster homes as she grew up. So the tragic past Skye hated where she felt like none of the foster families ever wanted her was really all for her protection from whomever wanted to kill her. That's pretty cool. Now that she knows that S.H.I.E.L.D. has actually been protecting her all her life, plus she got to hang out at Hogwarts, it only reaffirmed Skye's desire to become part of S.H.I.E.L.D. As Ward watched Skye gaze once more at the Wall of Valor and the names of the Agents who protected her as an infant, one half expected for Skye to start singing "Part of that World," like Ariel in The Little Mermaid.  Later,  Coulson explained what makes Skye such a special person to May in a speech so hackneyed, it would make Stan Lee blush. Thereby truly making Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. as Marvel as it gets.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 1x11 - "The Magical Place"

If the mid-season finale, "The Bridge," was Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s The Empire Strikes Back, the follow up episode is indeed the Return of the Coulson. "The Magical Place" picks up 36 hours after Coulson is abducted by Centipede and Mike Peterson's brief tenure as an Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. Trainee ended with a bang. Or a boom, more accurately. Saffron Burrow's cool, by the book (that is to say, personality-lacking) hardass Victoria Hand has taken command of The Bus and filled it with more even more Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., to Fitz-Simmons' chagrin. More alarmingly for Coulson's dream team, Hand seems much more intent on finding Centipede than rescuing Coulson. Meaning Hand is actually doing what a bigwig in a spy operation is supposed to be doing; going after the opposing organization and not committing resources to find one missing Agent. "No one Agent is that important," Hand declares, to which Ward retorts, "Coulson is." And Ward doesn't even know the half of it.

About the half of it is what we finally learn about Coulson's experiences in "the magical place" of "Tahiti." The villainous Edison Po is intently probing Coulson's memories of "Tahiti" via some sort of Centipede mind-reading CAT scan machine to discover the secret of just how and why Coulson is back from the dead. Everyone, Centipede and S.H.I.E.L.D., is certain about one thing: Coulson did die when Loki sceptered him through the heart in The Avengers. Centipede's mysterious, allegedly psychic leader, the Clairvoyant, can't seem to read Coulson and determine how he is alive. The point of Centipede abducting AC is to learn and then replicate how to solve the problem of their Extremis super soldiers dying. And after all, if they can master the problem of death, they can stay on this show forever, or at least until it's canceled. The joke's on Po, though, as the Clairvoyant suddenly decides to kill him, leaving Raina, the silky voiced Girl in the Flower Dress, in charge of sweet talking Coulson into getting back in that mind reading CAT scan machine, pretty please. Raina's play on Coulson (and the audience's!) desire for answers woos Phil back into the machine and we get the answers we sought, kind of.

What we really get that stands out are the following: a guest spot by Joss Whedon alumnus Ron Glass, who played Shepherd Book in Firefly/Serenity, as one of the S.H.I.E.L.D. doctors who operated on Coulson, and a gnarly visual reminiscent of the surgery on Anakin Skywalker at the end of Revenge of the Sith of medical droids performing laser surgery on Coulson's brain. All the while Coulson screamed "Please let me die!" But S.H.I.E.L.D. wouldn't, at the mysterious insistence of Director Nick Fury (a shot of Samuel L. Jackson in a flashback montage makes for his second cameo in this series). Doctor Ron Glass later confessed to Coulson that he was indeed dead for days but doesn't shed specific details on the hows and whys of his resurrection. All we learn for sure is that Coulson endured at least seven operations and that he was never in Tahiti; those are memories the medical droids implanted in his brain to restore his original personality, lest he become "that thing," whatever that is. A zombie? A Marvel Zombie? Something specific, like the words "Life Model Decoy," would have been really great to hear, but apparently, Coulson is indeed the original model somehow brought back to life and not a machine of any kind. But did we see a glimpse of the Infinity Formula which is the source of comic book (white) Nick Fury's long life? Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. doesn't say.

Back on The Bus, Hand doesn't take too kindly to Skye hacking into S.H.I.E.L.D.'s systems during her debriefing. Hand decides S.H.I.E.L.D. no longer requires Skye's services as a consultant and has her dismissed. Ward stands up for Skye's usefulness but when her opinion is sought, May decides to throw Skye under The Bus. This was all a brilliant scheme, of course, by May to let Skye run amok on the outside so that she can use her numerous skills to find Coulson without S.H.I.E.L.D. breathing down her neck. And run amok Skye does, throwing out the S.H.I.E.L.D. playbook and making up a crazy ass scheme as she went along involving cosplaying as Melinda May and blackmailing a snotty billionaire (Rob Huebel) in his home to access his offshore accounts so Skye can follow the money Woodward and Bernstein-style and figure out where Centipede is hiding Coulson. Luckily for Skye, Coulson is no more than a stolen Lamborghini ride away from LA. Dolla bills, y'all.

While Skye is single handedly pulling every wacky spy stunt from every spy movie she's ever seen, the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. still on The Bus are en route to Australia to take down Centipede, but then do a total 180 when Skye calls them to tell them where Coulson is. This involves a neat visual of The Bus actually doing a 180 in mid-air. When Skye and the rest of the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. arrive in an abandoned desert ghost town once used for nuclear testing, Skye should have also found Indiana Jones hiding in a refrigerator. I mean, it's all Disney after all, isn't it? Instead, the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. find a few Centipede Extremis soldiers Ward and May easily dispatch while Skye personally punches Raina right in her smooth-talking yap and rescues Coulson. All that training from her S.O. Ward finally paid off for Skye. Raina is taken into S.H.I.E.L.D. custody to possibly one day die in a Helicarrier explosion, we learn Hand and S.H.I.E.L.D. did take down Centipede (off screen, how exciting), and Hand relinquishes command of The Bus back to Coulson. And everything's back to normal, especially Skye's wrist, at long last free of the traitor bracelet she's worn for several weeks, her reward for rescuing her beloved AC. We assume she kept her Melinda May cosplay costume for future S.H.I.E.L.D. Cons. Skye looks great as Melinda May.

Meanwhile, we are surprised to learn that Mike Peterson is alive. Or we would have been surprised if J. August Richards' name as a guest star didn't appear in the opening credits. Great job, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. editors. But poor Mike Peterson can't catch a break. Instead of letting him die, instead he's been horribly burned, he's lost one of his legs, and Centipede implanted one of their Eye Spy eye cams in his head. Poor Mike. He's now literally a one legged man in an asskicking contest.

Thanks to Ming-Na Wen for the retweet!
Cosplay Question: Skye was homeless and broke when S.H.I.E.L.D. took her in. Since she could afford a leather Melinda May cosplay costume, how much does Skye get paid? (Dolla bills, y'all.)