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Thursday, February 27, 2014

Arrow 2x14 - "Time of Death"

"Time of Death" happily states for the record that Sara Lance is here to stay, and yay! Well, yay unless you're the two other female leads on this show - Felicity and Laurel - who suddenly feel very marginalized that not only is Sara firmly established as part of Team Arrow, but she's also rocking the Queen bed once more. Laurel pieced that together at a terribly awkward Lance family dinner (+ Oliver) that saw her mother Dinah tell giddy as a schoolboy Quentin to talk to the hand when it came to them resuming their six year-dormant marital bliss. Before Quentin could throw a tantrum at his romantic hopes dashed, Laurel went nuclear over Sara and Oliver shafting arrows ("You've been back, what, a week?" Actually, it's more like months) and stormed out of her own apartment. Oliver and Laurel had their most heated conversation yet where Laurel tore into Oliver for being such a stand up guy, always asking if she's okay while bonking her now-back-from-the-dead sister. In retaliation, Oliver flat out called Laurel a drunk and a drug addict. "I'm done," he seethed, pushing all of Laurel's abandonment issue buttons.

Meanwhile, Felicity is even more threatened by the new hen in the rooster's nest (do roosters nest? This analogy has gotten away from me). Blonde, ass kicking Sara seems to be an upgrade to Felicity, plus Sara keeps calling her "cute," like she's a puppy. Oh, and Sara has a working knowledge of biochemistry and "knows her way around a microscope." Not to mention Sara, Oliver and Diggle have all these sexy battle scars all over their bodies, comparing them in a scene reminiscent of Mel Gibson and Rene Russo in Lethal Weapon 3. Making matters worse, Felicity's one area of dominance, technology, is upended by Team Arrow's new adversary, William Tockman, the Clock King. Tockman, a former technologist at Kord Enterprises (DC Universe reference to the second Blue Beetle), can hack into Team Arrow's network and he even went ahead and fried all the tech in the Arrow Cave. And the one time Felicity donned spandex and decided to work out, Oliver didn't even register it as hot. "What are you wearing?" was the best compliment he could muster.

The Clock King (Robert Knepper) isn't out to ruin Starling City or anything; he's pulling crimes for the money. Some detective work gleaned that William Tockman is dying of McGregor's Syndrome (the very same disease Nora Fries and Alfred were dying of in Batman and Robin) and he's trying to pay for the treatment of his sister, who has cystic fibrosis. That's a bummer, but still, he's stealing from billionaires, and as a billionaire himself, Oliver must stop him. The Clock King penetrated Kord Industries and absconded with a Skeleton Key, a device that can hack into any network and, for example, open bank vaults. But the Clock King will kill if he has to, and managed to foil both Arrow and Canary for a while. Oliver decided to bait Tockman with 800,000 shares from Starling National Bank, and Felicity took it upon herself to run point on the trap. Of course, Felicity needed rescuing, but as it turns out, it was Felicity who ended up taking a bullet for Sara and saving the Canary's life. Plus Felicity out-tech-smarted the Clock King and got him good. This lead to a delightful scene of Felicity high on oxycodone excited that she now has a scar like the rest of Team Arrow. Oliver sweetly told Felicity "You'll always be my girl."

Also, if anyone should feel marginalized and insecure, it's Diggle. The more ladies keep popping up in the Arrow Cave, the less Black Driver seems to have to do. But you never hear Dig complain; he's all man.

Lance Family Matters came to a head this week after Laurel blew off a Welcome Home party for Sara at Stately Queen Manor. But just as well as Oliver, Sara, and Quentin all ran off from the party to deal with the Clock King. (By the way, Quentin is not a stupid man. He knows Sara is the Canary and he knows Oliver and Sara are back together; as a detective and a man with working eyes, he must see that the Arrow standing with his leather-clad, masked superhero daughter is also Oliver. That hood and mask hide nothing. If Quentin does, and he must, he's being awfully cool to keep it to himself.)  Sara, afraid of Laurel's seeming hatred of her, exacerbates it by bringing Oliver to the Lance reunion dinner, which set Laurel off. But in the end, Laurel did some soul searching and came to Verdant - where Sara now works as Thea's bartender (Sara used to bartend at Oblivion, a DC Comics bar that was home base of the Shadowpact) - to apologize to her long lost sister. It was a remarkable apology; on one hand Laurel was pleading forgiveness to Sara but in a meta way, the Laurel character was apologizing to the Arrow audience who hates her, asking them to give her another chance.

Five years ago on the Island, Sara, Oliver, and Slade muse about how exactly they're going to get onboard the Amazo freighter to kill Anthony Ivo when a plane explodes high above. They hustle to rescue the dying pilot but he's too injured to save. Instead, he tells Sara of his orphaned twelve year old daughter in Starling City, whom Sara promises to look after one day. And all of a sudden, we have the Secret Origin of Sin, Sara and Roy's sidekick. And the Island Trio have parachutes salvaged from the plane: the means now to get onboard the Amazo.

The cold war between Oliver and Moira hasn't escaped Thea's attention, as Oliver works overtime to lie to her that he's very busy being a CEO and nothing's the matter between him and their mother. Oliver is kind of ridiculous, as Moira points out when he's angered she's at his welcome home party for Sara which, Moira reminds, Oliver decided to host at her house. Oliver is doing all this lying to Thea to protect Sara from the truth of who her true father is, or so he says, but he's really just mad at his mommy for doing all the things he does himself. But he does all his lying in the cause of justice and protecting his family, so it's justified. (Moira could make the exact same claims.) Maybe if Oliver did pay more attention to his mother, he'd be aware of her business dealings with Mr. Slade Wilson(!!), who's right there in the Stately Queen Manor living room!

Guess who's coming to dinner...

Some Tweets to wrap this  up:

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Robocop (2014)

ROBOCOP (2014)


The new Robocop arrives as several things at once: a remake, a reboot, re-imagining, a throwback, a systems upgrade, but, overall, a success. Walking in the heavy footsteps of Paul Verhoven's 1987 genre-defining original, highly-regarded for its ultraviolence and its biting social commentary, director Jose Padilla's entertaining 2014 Robocop tells a familiar tale: Detroit police detective Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) is mortally wounded by criminals and is transformed into a crime fighting cyborg by an evil multinational corporation. While sporting a PG-13 rating and holding back on the blood and gore that so delighted the previous generation, Robocop (2014) remains plenty violent -- an ED 209 drone opening fire on an Iranian boy essentially opens the picture. Robocop also heroically stacks the deck in geek cred: Surrounding Kinnaman (from The Killing) as the new Robocop are Batman (Michael Keaton), Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman), Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley), one of the girls from Sucker Punch (Abie Cornish), The Sorcerer's Apprentice (Jay Baruchel), and Omar from The Wire (Michael K. Williams). The hordes at Comic Con would bow down to this cast if they assembled at Hall H.

Keaton is the odious head of Omnicorp, which earns billions manufacturing robots and drones to the Pentagon. Omnicorp robots have replaced human soldiers as the primary weapons of war overseas. Politics prevent Keaton from deploying his robots on United States soil, despite the mad dog urging of television carnival barker Sam Jackson. Robocop is ultimately just a pawn in a political game for Keaton to get a bill banning his robots in the US repealed by the Senate. When Kinnaman's Alex Murphy is nearly killed by criminals he's hunting in Detroit, Keaton sees his opening to put a man in a machine as a PR stunt to woo public support to his robots being on every American street corner. Thanks to the cybernetics of Gary Oldman (a much more kindly creator to Robocop than Miguel Ferrar was in 1987), Kinnaman survives and is transformed into Robocop. Unlike in 1987, where Peter Weller's Alex Murphy turns his back on his previous life and concentrates on being a police officer, Kinnaman's Murphy holds onto his humanity much tighter, trying his best to reunite with his hot loving wife, Cornish, and their traumatized son. Kinnaman is a more human Robocop, at least until Oldman is forced to override his humanity and let the machine take over. This launches Robocop's one cyborg war on crime as he zips around Detroit on his Robocycle and solves the mystery of his own murder. In battle, Murphy's programming essentially turns him into the greatest Call of Duty player there ever was.

The story of Robocop has always been about Robocop biting the hand that feeds him. Like in the original, Robocop is eventually pitted against his very creators, but mostly because they tried to kill him and threatened his family. In every incarnation of Robocop, Omnicorp (OCP in the original) is a heartless conglomerate using Robocop to further its own nefarious ends. Though Keaton's Omnicorp is more profit-driven and less outright diabolical than old school OCP; Keaton nevertheless isn't above lying right to Robocop's wife's face and shooting her if he has to. Keaton certainly has no issue terminating Murphy when Robocop ceases to be useful to Omnicorp's bottom line. Robocop battles ED 209 drones once more, but despite the improved CGI, the battle is merely more manic and less memorable than in 1987. The Detroit of the new Robocop isn't depicted as the apocalyptic urban wasteland Verhoven had nasty fun with in the original, and the criminals Robocop hunts aren't nearly as venal as Clarence Boddicker, the merciless heavy Kurtwood Smith portrayed in 1987. On the other hand, the new Robocop, painted in "tactical" black, can do things Weller's human tank could never do, like run and leap great distances. We also spend copious amounts of time seeing Alex Murphy without his Robocop shell; all that's left of the man is a severed head like in Futurama, his right hand, and his lungs attached in bags. (It's never addressed in the movie why Oldman saw fit to let Murphy keep his right hand.) Perhaps the clearest reflection of our times is that the new Robocop, which cost billions, was outsourced by Omnicorp. Somewhere in his shell must be the stamp "Made in China."

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Arrow 2x13 - "Heir to the Demon"

The heroic, slam-bang, sensational "Heir to the Demon" brings prodigal daughter Sara Lance back to modern day Starling City, and she didn't come alone. (Double entendre.) Hot on Sara's heels is a major player, not just as a DC Universe import but to this series and its grander game -- the daughter of Ra's al-Ghul, the titular "heir to the Demon," Nyssa al-Ghul (Katrina Law)! Sara had left Starling to keep her family out of the League of Assassins' cross hairs, but the League has manipulated events to bring Sara home so that she can be reunited with her... as it turns out, beloved! As the Arrow observed from the shadows like a silent guardian, a watchful protector, Nyssa al-Ghul sexily somersaulted from above in the same manner the Canary did in "Broken Dolls" to confront Sara and instead of killing her -- they locked lips! Whoa. Whoa whoa whoa. Who saw that coming?! Suddenly, millions of arrows stood up in their quivers when Nyssa and Sara reunited. Hey, this show just got interesting!

All right, enough of that. The stunning reveal that Sara and Nyssa were lovers further tangles the web for the heroes of Arrow. (Quentin's reaction was the most rewarding, swallowing his surprise and glad that someone loved his daughter and cared for her during those terrible years she spent away. Father of the Year.) During Laurel's amusing little bender last week, a League member spiked her booze with poisonous snake blood, correctly suspecting that concern over her sister's life would lure Sara back to Starling. (Oliver was quick to lay blame on the League though it was Oliver himself who personally called Sara to alert her to Laurel's plight.) Nyssa has come to Starling ostensibly to bring Sara back to the League, but truly to confront her lover who ran away from her. Nyssa even has a little Arabic pet name for her: Ta-er Sah-fer. Why did Sara quit the League? Because she couldn't take all of the killing she was forced to do by her sworn oath to the League. By quitting the League, or trying to, Sara also quit Nyssa, who says she found Sara starving and helpless. Nyssa saved Sara's life and taught her to be the super cool, super awesome superhero she is today. This is much more compelling than it seemed at first when it was just a superhero being chased by the villains who trained her. Though she loved Nyssa, in her heart Sara is not a killer, echoing Oliver's evolution in his time under the hood. Sara begs Nyssa to ask her father to release her from her vow; Ra's has only ever released one from the League - Malcolm Merlyn - and look what happened there.

(Incidentally, there has long been a discrepancy as to how to pronounce 'Ra's al-Ghul'. Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy pronounced it as 'raahs', and that's how Oliver says it. And I as well. Nyssa, with her Arabian-like accent, pronounces it 'raysh' like in Batman: The Animated Series. Arrow has it both ways, successfully.)

And yet, Nyssa cannot take "no, go home to Nanda Parbat" for an answer, so she goes into the League of Assassins playbook and kidnaps Sara's mother Dinah, who has also returned to Starling to care for her ailing daughter Laurel. This leads to a tremendous The Dark Knight-like chase where the Arrow and Canary race Nyssa's truck on the Arrow Cycle, with Canary busting out her Canary Cry sonic device before leaping onto the truck. Canary realizes the kidnap victim is her mother but Nyssa punches her right in the face and sends her onto the asphalt. The Arrow then decides to quit the chase entirely -- this may have been the first superhero high speed chase ever that ended because the heroes were somehow aware there was an act break. Nyssa's devious plan is a simple trade of Dinah for Sara, but Sara would literally rather die than return to a life of murdering others at the behest of an immortal madman. Sara poisons herself with the snake venom, but the Arrow arrives with the antidote and saves Sara after taking on and defeating Nyssa one on one. In the end, a heartbroken Nyssa incredibly releases Sara from her vow to the League of Assassins. Sara is back for good in Starling and free to perform ridiculously painful looking athletic training in the Arrow Cave and fight crime as Canary alongside the Arrow. To celebrate their new arrangement, Oliver of course jumps at the chance to bring Sara back to the land of heterosexual sex. All's well that ends well.

Well, not really. The saga of Sara Lance's return to Starling has major ramifications for Arrow and for the Lance family. For the first time, Arrow eschews flashbacks to the Island, taking us back instead over six years to the happy days in the Lance household the night before Sara secretly sailed off with Oliver on the Queen's Gambit. We see Quentin and Dinah happily married and a young, optimistic Laurel getting ready to apply for law school while planning to share an apartment with her "frat boy" boyfriend Oliver. Sara returns home from college to surprise her family, but is really planning to meet that shameless cad Oliver on the Queen's Gambit. Later, we see it was Moira Queen herself who came to the Lances' door to share the terrible news that Sara was on the Queen's Gambit when it sank. When Laurel at long last sees her little sister alive, all the pieces fit for her that Sara is - and Laurel is correct about this - the lone cause of all of the tragedy that has befallen her family. Sara's deceit by sleeping with Oliver and her presumed death shattered their parents' marriage and drove their father to alcoholism. Sara spent six years never attempting to contact her family. Dinah was abducted and held ransom while Laurel was literally poisoned, all as pawns to bring Sara back to Starling. And now Sara gets a pass because she's home, and Sara not only gets to be a superhero but unbeknownst to Laurel, she's also seemingly back with Oliver. Is Laurel wrong to resent or even hate her sister? To see Sara from Laurel's point of view, Sara is kind of horrible, even if no one else will share Laurel's opinion.

Meanwhile, the campaign is underway to make Moira Starling's new Mayor, a development neither Slade Wilson nor Sebastian Blood welcome. Everyone's positioning themselves for war and making threats. Caught in the middle is Felicity, who did her usual sleuthing into Moira's finances and discovered the truth about Thea's parentage -- that Malcolm Merlyn is Thea's actual father. Moira immediately goes into defensive mode and preys on Felicity's insecurities, promising that Oliver would hate her if she ever revealed the secret that would rip her family asunder. But Moira really doesn't know her son at all; when Felicity suddenly reveals some long-withheld details about her home life growing up and tells Oliver the truth about his own family, Oliver doesn't take it well. He does manage to grit his teeth through a questionable-sounding introduction of his mother at her first campaign rally, but later, Oliver really tears into Moira for all her lies, ending his relationship with his mother and forever turning his back on being the mommy's boy he was. Never mind that Oliver lies by omission every minute of every day by pretending he's not the green hooded vigilante archer who is the scorn of crime and savior of Starling City, but he just can't take his mother's lies any longer. Pot, kettle, green, Queens.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 2x13 - "T.R.A.C.K.S."

With "T.R.A.C.K.S.", Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. finally flexes its muscles and shows us what their little show about secret agents set in the Marvel cinematic universe can really do. Easily the best episode of the series thus far, "T.R.A.C.K.S." plays like a riddle wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a train. It's a propulsive thrill ride told from multiple perspectives, almost like Rashomon except every piece fills in the puzzle rather than contradicts, and it all ends with a bang. Two bangs, actually. One would have sufficed, but the second was just cruel for the sake of cruel. By the end of the episode, arguably the most important member of the series and also the least qualified to be a field agent placing herself in harm's way, Skye, is knockin' on heaven's door while another, Mike Peterson, is revealed to be a bona-fide Marvel Comics character: Deathlok.

Coulson has been hot on the trail of the odious Ian Quinn ever since their one and only phone conversation went sour. Coulson's S.H.I.E.L.D. team sets up an elaborate undercover op on a train traveling through the Italian countryside where Cybertek, Inc., "a small firm that deals with advanced technology and research" that isn't Centipede or A.I.M., is transporting a mysterious package Quinn purchased for ten million dollars. Follow the money, or the package the money bought, and it leads S.H.I.E.L.D. right to Quinn. "If everything goes as planned," Coulson muses, "Cybertek won't even know we're there." Of course, Cybertek knew they were there all along, thanks to a traitor in the Italian authorities, but also probably because Coulson and his team are the poorest, most obvious, attract-as-much-attention-to-themselves-as-possible undercover team in the history of the spy genre. There's hiding in plain sight and then there's causing loud ruckuses on trains, which seems to be the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s specialty.

On the other hand, the character work was delightful. Paired as a father and daughter, Simmons took it as an opportunity for over-preparation. To Coulson's chagrin, she crafted an elaborate backstory of herself as Coulson's estranged daughter traveling with the ashes of her late mother, furious at her absentee dad for his dalliances with prostitutes. (Plural, extra funny for a Disney family show.) Who was this ruse supposed to bamboozle, the Italian train conductor? Yes. And of course, the ashes of her mum spill all over said conductor. Real subtle undercover work. Meanwhile, Skye and Fitz pose as young American lovers, settled after Skye attempts a Scottish accent. The two of them decide to really sell themselves as Americans by being as loud and boorish as possible, babbling on about their six month anniversary to the Italian conductor. (Fitz playing American and asking where there would be a restaurant "with big portions" was inspired.) Eventually, Fitz and his (latest) "pretend girlfriend" set up in the baggage car to handle communications. Ward and May are the only ones who act reasonably spy-like in their cover, yet once behind close doors it's all relationship drama between them when May reveals she's told Coulson about the MayWard Knocking Boots Situation before flinging herself out of the window and onto the roof of the train.

Of course, it all goes sideways, and cleverly, from multiple perspectives. Coulson and Ward are made by Cybertek's mercenary security team and are forced to jump off the train while a grenade detonates purple mist around them. May is attacked on the roof of the train and parachutes off, finding Coulson and Ward frozen by the purple mist, and then is kidnapped by their Italian police traitor and tortured. Well, tortured for like a minute, before she Mays Up and murderizes everyone. Meanwhile, hiding in the baggage car, Fitz-Simmons and Skye are attacked by a merc; Simmons ends up frozen by the purple mist, which turns out uses the same compound as Fitz's Night Night Gun but stronger. When the train switches rails and stops so Cybertek can make delivery of the package to Ian Quinn, Skye and Fitz fling themselves into imminent danger by following. While all that is going on, Coulson and Ward, via a truck they don't know May hotwired, return to The Bus to play catch up. We learn that neither top S.H.I.E.L.D. agent knows how to operate Fitz's holo table, and Ward decides it's an opportune time to address the MayWard situation with Coulson. "Really? You wanna do this now?" Coulson scolds before threatening to send Ward to Alaska to oversee Blonsky's (The Abomination from The Incredible Hulk!) prison cell if he ever jeopardizes a mission because of a little thing called "sex." Then May showed up, murderized the Italian traitor, and took a shower.

While their S.H.I.E.L.D. mates locate the train and try to determine where Ian Quinn is, Skye and Fitz track Cybertek right to the lovely Italian villa where the trade goes down. Throwing caution to the wind, Skye, perhaps emboldened by her ridiculous success the last time she improvised a field op by herself, penetrates the villa armed with a Night Night Gun. She makes it all the way to the basement, where she discovers a hyperberic chamber containing Mike Peterson! Oh, Mike, you look terrible, all scarred up and missing a leg. Being tight with the Clairvoyant, Quinn knew Skye was coming and couldn't wait to show her what ten million dollars bought him: a new robot leg for Mike Peterson. Mike, part man, part machine, refused to kill Skye and instead was ordered by the Clairvoyant to kill the Cybertek mercs for leading S.H.I.E.L.D. right to them. But that didn't stop Quinn from shooting Skye right in the babymaker! And a second time because he's a bad, bad man!

In the end, Peterson escapes as Coulson's Agents arrive, finally capturing Quinn. They find a bloody Skye at death's door. And there was a copious amount of blood for a Disney family show. Bravo! Thinking quickly, Simmons has Skye placed in the hyperberic chamber to save her life. But S.H.I.E.L.D. can't call this a victory. S.H.I.E.L.D. does have Quinn in custody, yet Skye, who may be an 0-8-4, is very close to being D.O.A. Nor is S.H.I.E.L.D. aware of poor Mike Peterson, wandering out there alone under the thrall of the Clairvoyant, unaware of his new designation. Some guys write their name on their underpants, Mike Peterson has his new name written right on his robot knee: Deathlok.

More episodes like this, please, Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 

Also, from now on, please use this at the top of every episode with the Marvel logo.