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Saturday, March 29, 2014




God said to Noah, there's gonna be a floody floody

As the torrent of rain floods the world in the third act of Darren Aronofsky's Noah, Noah himself sits with his family in their massive wooden ark and regales them with the First Story, the Creation: how God created the Heavens and the Earth, and all life in seven days, and the tale of Adam and Eve and the Original Sin that lead to banishment from Eden and all the misery Man inflicted on himself and the world that follows. What's remarkable about Noah are the visuals accompanying Noah's narration: From a Big Bang, God (addressed exclusively as "The Creator" in Noah) started creating life from single celled organisms, rapidly evolving them into every creature that swims in the seas, soars through the skies, or walks on two legs or more on the land. One would think we were actually watching an episode of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson. It's as powerful signal as any that this isn't your (devout evangelical) father's story of Noah. Well, that and the rock monsters that used to be angels.

Noah is an aggressive, bombastic, yet delicately even-handed attempt to tell the story of the Great Flood of the Bible. An epic that's part Old Testament and part Lord of the Rings, Noah literally starts at The Beginning, detailing how Noah (Russell Crowe) was descended from Seth, the third son of Adam and Eve. After Cain murdered Abel, Cain and his descendants established a corrupt, vainglorious, greedy population of mankind who "ruined" the world. Seth's descendants were not so prolific or destructive, with their single unbroken line of progeny that counts Methuselah (a decrepit-looking but cunning Anthony Hopkins) as Noah's grandfather. Wandering the Earth with his family, including wife Jennifer Connelly, their three sons including Logan Lerman from the Percy Jackson movies, and Harry Potter's Emma Watson, a dying girl they adopted who is "barren" from injuries she suffered as a child, the purpose of Noah's life becomes clear when The Creator sends him dreams of a great Flood. 

"He's going to destroy the world," Noah realizes. Not if Ray Winstone, as Tubal-Cain, the descendant of the original Cain, has anything to say about it. (He doesn't, as far as The Creator cares.) Winstone is the vile leader of men, who eats meat ("because they think it gives them strength," says Noah the vegetarian) and threatens to take the ark Noah built. Aronofsky tackles the logical issues of how Noah could have built a vessel the size of a city block by inventing a forest bloomed for him by The Creator from a seed from Eden, the original garden. This provides more than enough wood for the Watchers, the misshapen rock monsters who are fallen angels condemned by The Creator and betrayed by Man, to do the dirty work of actually constructing the ark. (If this were a Transformers movie, the Watchers would be Rockticons.) Later, the Watchers form a chain to defend the ark from Tubal-Cain's invaders, swatting hordes of men away and earning ascension back into Heaven as beings of light. As for the animals, two of every creature that will repopulate the Earth, The Creator sends them in CGI waves, hordes of snakes, birds, and massive predators magically assembling on the ark, very politely waiting to be placed to sleep by Noah's magic incense.

As Noah, Crowe segues from wise, determined savior to God's right hand madman, ready and willing to stab a baby in the eye. His sons were promised wives, but when Noah takes a field trip and sees the debased Wolf of Wall Street-like party Tubal-Cain's people were having in their makeshift city, he is consumed by fear of the corruption of all men, including himself, and determines that The Creator wants all men to die, including himself and his family. Noah's family took that news as well as you'd expect, but there's no time to argue as the Flood waters rise and Man is washed away (gruesomely, with much wailing and suffering) by Old Testament God's no-negotiations, take no prisoners wrath. 

When Connelly asked Hopkins to use his magic Methuselah powers to allow Watson to bear children, he acquiesces and Watson immediately jumps Noah's oldest son's bones. Soon she is with child, and Noah completely loses his shit at his family's direct violation of what he believes The Creator wants. Shame on Noah's family for wanting to live. Soon, Noah turns into a demented Biblical version of Jack Nicholson in The Shining, stalking around the Ark with crazy eyes plotting to "strike down" Watson's infant upon birth if it's a girl. (If it's a boy, he gets to live until old age and be the last man to die.) 

Yet in the apparent year or more they were living in the ark, Noah never once noticed Tubal-Cain had managed to stow away on the ark. There Tubal-Cain was, lurking in the dark corners, thoughtlessly eating the sleeping animals (thereby decimating an untold number of the animal population -- Noah never noticed?), like Homer Simpson would. Tubal-Cain also whispered sweet nothings of revenge in Lerman's ear because Noah let his girlfriend get trampled by the invading hordes instead of save her. In some ways, Tubal-Cain was making some sense: Noah was a complete lunatic, hellbent on doing what he thinks The Creator wants from him. But when Noah and Tubal-Cain came to blows, Lerman did the right thing and chose family over the scumbag who symbolizes why there was a Flood that wiped out Mankind in the first place. Still, when Noah finds out Watson birthed twin girls, he was right there, knife in hand, ready to shiv some babies. But he couldn't shiv. He chose love. Which is heartwarming, although he spent a year putting the fear of God in his family, so...

And so it goes the ark found land, the waters receded, and Noah's family set off to start anew and repopulate the Earth. How, exactly, is the question? Let's look at who's left in the world: Lerman leaves to wander off by himself, presumably to live and die alone in the East, having never known a woman's touch. Noah and Jennifer Connelly die of old age. Watson has the oldest son, and there are the twin girls. Who are they to mate with? Noah's youngest son. Their uncle is going to get busy, one supposes. But then, the same questions can be asked of who exactly the original Cain and Seth mated with to begin with? The story has some holes, is the point. The most amusing part of Noah was after the Flood was over and Noah turned into a Biblical Nick Nolte; separated from his family, living in a cave, getting drunk on berry wine, and passing out naked on the beach. We see that Noah is fat. How does a prehistoric vegetarian who was living in a floating wooden box for a year get so chunky? These are questions that will be pondered and debated until the end of time.

Someone MIA from Noah: the Devil. The snake that tempted Eve appears in dream sequences and flashbacks, but where was Satan during the Flood? He must have sat this one out. Frankly, with all the crazy shit going on between Noah, Tubal-Cain, and God Himself, the Devil must have felt redundant.

Friday, March 21, 2014




In Divergent, a sixteen year old girl just wanted to learn parkour and ended up in the middle of a civil war. A hundred years after a nuclear apocalypse, Chicago is a walled city of relic skyscrapers criss crossed by ziplines on the banks of a dried up Lake Michigan. No one knows much about the world beyond the wall, but within, Chicago's society voluntarily divided themselves into a series of rigid factions. Let's see: there's Dauntless, the black leather-clad parkour fanatics who protect the city. Erudite, the business suit-wearing smarty pants. Candor, who talk too much. Amity, where there's a great white shark that eats tourists. And Abnegation, the drab Salvation Army hand-me-down-wearing do gooders who run the government but are afraid of mirrors.

Shailene Woodley plays Tris, born into Abnegation. She doesn't feel good about doing endless do goodery and knows from the 2.1 seconds she's allowed to look in a mirror every day that she's a lot better looking than her faction allows her to be. Woodley admires Dauntless for their cool black outfits and their irrational capacity to climb up buildings and leap off of trains. All teenagers in Divergent Chicago must take a test where they get jabbed with a needle in the neck and hallucinate. This will reveal which faction they are destined for. But they can also choose a different faction if they want. It's kind of confusing, and confused is what Woodley is, especially when the lady who administers her test, Maggie Q, freaks out about her "inconclusive" results. You see, and it takes Woodley a while to realize this, Woodley is Divergent - meaning she has a lot going on upstairs and could belong to more than one faction. This makes her a threat to society, mostly because she's not great at doing what she's told.

In a Harry Potter-like sorting ceremony where instead of a talking hat, the kids cut their hands on the same knife (unhygienic) and bleed into white bowls, Woodley rejects her crappy faction and chooses Dauntless, to the chagrin of her loving parents Ashley Judd and Tony Goldwyn (Fitz from Scandal, who looks like he's just as dismayed at being married to Ashley Judd and would rather live in Vermont with Olivia Pope.) After being welcomed into Dauntless, Woodley is immediately jumping off a train and learns she runs like a girl. But she's brave enough to jump into what looks like a bottomless chasm first, and that's what's important to the parkour devotees. Woodley is glad to shed her grey Abnegation rags for cool Dauntless black leather and she makes friends, including Zoe Kravitz. Oddly, there are three guys in her class of initiates who look alike, one of whom is Miles Teller, her love interest co-star in The Spectacular Now, but here Woodley and Teller hate each other. 

Dauntless live in a rock quarry and hold fight clubs day and night. Woodley is hazed by Dauntless' sadistic leader Jai Courtney. To be hazed in Dauntless means becoming target practice for knife throwing and occasionally being the victim of attempted murder. Also, Woodley quickly learns she's lousy at fight club. She learns this by repeatedly getting punched in the face and ending up in the hospital, but she's never so injured that her good looks are threatened. There is no quit in Woodley, though, which impresses Theo James, her handsome Ken doll Dauntless instructor. They have the requisite hots for each other, and there's no prize for guessing that he is also Divergent. Takes one to know one, I suppose. James has tattoos of all of the factions on his back because he "doesn't want to be just one thing." He wants to be brave, selfless, smart, etc. By the way he plants one on Woodley, we know he's also horny.

Woodley becomes mired in the dirty politics of her city, which center around who gets to call the shots in Divergent Chicago. The leader of Erudite is Kate Winslet, sporting her American accent. Winslet believes strongly that Erudite should run Chicago, and of course they should, because they wear business suits. Winslet plots to overthrow Abnegation and she also wants to kill all the Divergents because Divergents be trouble, yo. Winslet's plan is deviously clever: as soon as Dauntless finalized their freshman class of initiates, she uses mind control to turn all the Dauntless into killbots and sics them on the Abnegation shanty town. The third act of Divergent is a rather shocking bloodbath. Within ten minutes, Woodley is orphaned. She watches her mother Judd get murdered as they attempt to flee and has an emotional breakdown. Not long after, her father gets gunned down, but Woodley barely shrugs. Then again, she's got a war to win, and win it she does.

As the centerpiece of Divergent, Woodley is very charming, with a winning natural charisma about her. When Woodley proudly snarls "I'm Divergent!" at Winslet right before she jabs her in the neck with mind control serum, she's super cute. She may be Divergent and can throw a mean knife, but even by the end, Woodley is no Ronda Rousey in the hand to hand combat department. Woodley loses three straight fights, including one to a mind controlled James, but her pleas of "I love you!" snaps him right out from beating her to death. There's a fun running gag where whenever Woodley points a gun at someone, no one ever believes she'll shoot. "Why does everyone keep saying that?" Woodley pouts before opening fire. Probably the best moment in Divergent is when Woodley is strapped to a zipline and thrillingly soars across the Chicago skyline. Ziplining totally beats parkour, unless you crash headfirst into a wall. Thankfully, Woodley did not smash her pretty face into a wall and will return in the sequel, the next movie titled after a word many will need to look up in a dictionary: Insurgent.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Arrow 2x16 - "Suicide Squad"

One day, while guarding Felicity's body from the potential threat of Slade Wilson snapping her neck, John Diggle receives a booty call from his ex-wife/current girlfriend Lyla. Next thing he knows, Diggle is plunged into an international incident of murder and deceit alongside some of DC Comics and Arrow's shadiest super criminals. Diggle becomes a member of the Suicide Squad. The Suicide Squad is a hell of an idea: force incarcerated super villains to do black ops for the government. If they die in the process, cool. If they attempt to escape, cool -- an implant in their head detonates and kills them. If they succeed, that's good too. For the Squad's overseer and A.R.G.U.S. bigwig Amanda Waller, DC Comics' premiere super spy and super bitch, it's a win-win-win concept. Well, until Diggle gets involved. That Diggle, so "rigid" (according to Lyla) and determined to see the world in black and white (not a race thing). You can't take Dig anywhere.

Diggle's foray with the Suicide Squad begins, as many of James Bond's do, post-coital. Waller was nice enough to let Diggle and Lyla wrap up in the Ostrander Hotel suite (named for comic book writer John Ostrander - he must be very proud to have his name coined as a sex room. I know I would be) that all A.R.G.U.S. agents use for secret sexy time. Waller brings both Lyla and Diggle back to A.R.G.U.S. HQ to brief them on a terrible chemical agent in the hands of a terrorist named Gholem Qadir, an old acquaintance of Lyla and Diggle's. You see, six years ago while Oliver Queen was trapped on a hellish Island, Lyla and Diggle were serving in Afghanistan getting shot at while herding refugees. Diggle saved Qadir's life; Qadir later became a high value informer for the US Government and went free. Now Qadir has this chemical agent and Waller wants it, as she explains while checking off countries that exists in the DC Universe: Khandaq, Qurac, and Markovia. Qadir was actually the mysterious buyer of Malcolm Merlyn's earthquake machine a few episodes ago.

Unfortunately, being strong armed into the Suicide Squad means Diggle has to work alongside guys he and the Arrow have fought in the past: Shrapnel, Bronze Tiger, and the one that really pisses him off, Deadshot, his arch enemy and the man who killed his brother. Worse, Diggle gets the lamest codename: Freelancer (Black Driver is better). Lyla meanwhile is Harbinger, her character's classic comic book name from the Crisis. No clue why Waller is Mockingbird and not The Wall. Though he hates Deadshot and isn't all that fond of the Suicide Squad, at least Diggle doesn't have that bomb in his head rigged to explode. If there's one thing that would really piss James Bond off about the Suicide Squad, they all have the irritating habit of touching their ear when speaking on comm -- the most obvious dead giveaway that they're spies.

Once in Markovia, Diggle makes contact with Qadir all-friendly like, and is the target of a fake assassination attempt by Deadshot. For no reason whatsoever, Shrapnel panics and bolts out of the mission, and out of the series as Waller explodes the device in his head. So long Shrapnel, and thanks for joining the Arrow universe, Sean Maher. That was weird and pointless, except to show off how Waller killing a Squad member works. Later, in a gala ball in a mansion owned by Qadir, Deadshot sneaks his way into the secret sub basement and discovers the chemical agent he's supposedly able to "pocket" is actually a room full of tanks of the stuff. Waller's been lying to them! Plus she sent a drone to blow the whole mansion up.

For some reason, Diggle decides he has to save Deadshot, who's not interested in skedaddling back to the rally point. Diggle, who got to know Deadshot a little bit and knows he does merc work to provide for his young daughter named Zoe he never sees, invokes Zoe to get Deadshot to not commit suicide. In that moment, Diggle explains to Lyla, the man he hates most in the world showed more character than Amanda Waller, who's charged with guarding the world. Funny how that works. Turns out Amanda Waller runs the Homicide Squad along with the Suicide Squad. Also, Bronze Tiger was there too and killed Qadir. And the drone tried to murder the Suicide Squad until Lyla and Diggle tricked it and blew the drone up, It was really kind of a slapdash op, this whole Suicide Squad business. Waller concludes this messy affair by giving Diggle a dressing down and sending him back to the waiting arms of Oliver Queen, who may not have noticed Diggle was AWOL and went off to Eastern Europe for a few days.

Oliver's quivering in fear. He says he's not and he's full of surly, grim-faced bravado, but he is totally terrified of Slade Wilson and what Slade can do to his family and friends. Haunted by nightmares of bloody Shado in his bed calling him a murderer, Oliver irrationally starts burning bridges. He asks the Russian Bratva to find Slade, refuses to do them a favor in return, and earns their emnity. What's Russian for "he's acting like more of a jerk than usual?"Oliver shuts Sara out while he stomps around Verdant above ground and below ground. Felicity has to chide him that they are still crime fighters and sends him off to stop a burglary at Giffen Street (named for comic book writer Keith Giffen), where he's unaware Slade is stalking him in full Deathstroke armor until Oliver finds the present Slade left for him: his old Deathstroke mask with an arrow through the eye. Later, when the Bratva comes through for Oliver with Slade's address, Oliver invades Slade's lair to find the Bratva's leader dead with an arrow in the eye and a home movie of Shado playing on the wall. This freaks Oliver out.

Luckily, Laurel and Sara are there for him. The Lance sisters are getting along again and Laurel is sober, downing virgin cocktails Sara whips up from behind the bar. Laurel actually was able to talk some sense into Oliver, who scoffs at her assertion that she knows him better than anyone. Then Sara, who he tried to break up with as if Slade would suddenly not attack Sara if he hears they're no longer together, finally reaches him and gets him to admit he's afraid and doesn't know how to beat Slade. No more tough talk from Oliver. Sara and the Canary are standing by Oliver and the Arrow. But Oliver has another idea and goes to see "an old friend": lo and behold, Oliver Queen drops by A.R.G.U.S. because he personally knows (and hates) Amanda Waller. And Waller has intel to share, about a mercenary who's cut a swath of death and destruction around the world and into Starling City: a man they're calling Deathstroke!

However, the single most important takeaway from "Suicide Squad" is the prisoner in one of the cells who claims she's a trained therapist. Harley Quinn exists in the Arrow universe! And she was voiced by Tara Strong, who plays Harley in the Batman Animated Series. This way well be Arrow's best easter egg ever, puddin'.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. #Uprising 2x15 - "Yes Men"

The following recap of Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. will be decidedly pro-Lorelei. Lorelei! Isn't she wonderful? Yes, she is. Beautiful, dangerous, seductive -- did I mention incredible? Wow. I'd follow her on the Bifrost across the Nine Realms into the Dark World and back again. Or at least to that penthouse in Vegas Ward took her to. Oh, and Sif was here too. She's cool. Pretty cool. A little stiff, that Sif. A bit too rigid about being a good soldier and following orders, which is why she gets along with S.H.I.E.L.D. so well and can be taunted about never getting any quality hammer time with Thor. Sif is great, but I'm afraid she is no Lorelei. Lorelei! Where for art thou, Lorelei?

"Yes Men" brought the hottest Asgardians who aren't the blond-haired, hammer swinging Odinson to Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and they all got to play nicely together. But mostly not nicely. Making the most of guest stars Jaimie Alexander from the Thor movies as Lady Sif and Elena Satine of Smallville and Magic City as Lorelei (LORELEI!), "Yes Men" put the gorgeous ladies of Asgard front and center in a smashing episode. And as Asgardians are wont to do, they left quite a bit of destruction in their wake, physically for Coulson's airplane and emotionally for Coulson's team.

Sif was surprised but pleased to find the Son of Coul alive after Thor reported his heroic death before the battle of New York two years ago. For Coulson's part, he's seen Sif in action in New Mexico and was glad to have a heavy hitter from the Marvel movies swinging her double sided sword for the good guys. Plus, it's a big bonus that she can work Fitz's holo table. Coulson wasted no time grilling her about any blue aliens she might be aware of (the Kree get the most significant shout out) but Sif assures Coulson no blue aliens have visited Earth. Coulson knows better, though, and the blood of blue aliens is foremost on his mind, as it's also coursing through his veins as well as Skye's.

According to Lady Sif, Lorelei is a terrible threat to Earth. She was imprisoned on Asgard for 600 years, with a golden collar preventing her from speaking and thus controlling the hearts and minds of men. But after the events of Thor: The Dark World, Lorelei broke free and escaped to Earth. And I for one welcome our gorgeous would-be queen. As soon as Lorelei arrived, a guy who was on his honeymoon and then a swarthy biker gang fell under her thrall. Though a newcomer to this realm, Lorelei quickly grew aware she was scraping the bottom of the barrel for lackeys, but the answer to her prayers (not that she prays) arrived in the form of Agent Ward. Ward arrived with Sif and the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to apprehend Lorelei. All it took was some cooing and her sweet gentle touch for Ward to quickly turn, steal a Harley and abscond with Lorelei to a place much for fitting for a woman of Lorelei's stature: Vegas, baby! A penthouse in Caesar's Palace, no less. Probably the Mike Tyson Tiger suite in The Hangover. But the only tiger in this suite was Lorelei, who jumped Ward's bones and showed him her dark world. That Ward, luckiest guy on Midgard.

It didn't take long for Ward to come up with a plan to go on the offensive against his S.H.I.E.L.D. mates. Before Coulson, Sif, and May knew what was happening, Ward and Lorelei had taken the plane, with cheerful help from an amusingly enthralled Fitz. They tried blowing Sif out of their prison cage, but she's really good at not dying and instead hanging on to the outside of airplanes. Meanwhile, Lorelei slapped May around and taunted her that Ward is now hers and confessed that the one he secretly loves isn't the Cavalry he has sex with. Soon, with help from Simmons and by punching out Fitz (Simmons: "Poor thing. He's always getting knocked out, isn't he?") Coulson saves Sif. Sif and Lorelei can have an Asgardian lady smackdown while Ward and May tear the plane apart working out their issues. Sadly, Sif bests Lorelei in physical combat and slaps on the collar that stole Lorelei's sweet voice away. Her spell is broken and Ward and Fitz are back to normal. Though it all came at the cost of May and Ward are now done being not so secret groin buddies. But I must ask, what crime did Lorelei commit that she must be punished so severely? All she did was get some bikers and some cops to fight off S.H.I.E.L.D. and Sif for her. Sure, he broke up a marriage, but so what? That suite in Vegas? Ward paid for it. Why, it was Sif who kicked the door down and damaged Caesar's Palace private property! It's simply unfair Lorelei was taken away from us so soon.

The good news is Skye is alive and, if not well, because as Simmons points out, she was shot twice, her stomach perforated, and was only saved by a mysterious serum made from blue alien blood, she's at least acting normally. Simmons constantly takes samples of her blood but can't determine it's properties, going so far as to yell at Coulson about his stonewalling her ability to report her findings (or lack thereof) to S.H.I.E.L.D. But Coulson has his reasons ("Tahiti sucks") and it's this: He wants answers and S.H.I.E.L.D. is not the place to get them. Rather, they'll do whatever they can to stop him. Coulson needs to know just what the hell Nick Fury knows and why he went to such lengths to bring Coulson back to life, and so do we. Finally, Coulson explains everything to Skye about the blue alien blood that kept them both from meeting their maker, and Skye is pretty non-plussed about it all, simply grateful to be alive. Now, Coulson lays out the endgame for season one, that he and Skye will do whatever it takes to get to the secret of Tahiti and the blue alien -- only for This Week's Shocking Reveal to drop that May has been spying on them the whole time!

"Coulson knows," May reports. Coulson Knows is the new Coulson Lives.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

300: Rise of an Empire



300: Rise of an Empire is a perfect Zack Snyder facsimile. Frame for frame matching and, via 3D, even eclipsing the virtuoso comic book panels on steroids, and bloodletting galore of 300 way back in 2007, you'd never know it's director Noam Murro and not Snyder astride the director's chair. Once more, the ancient world is depicted as a viscera-soaked decathelon of sweaty abs and pecs grunting, leaping, thrashing, and killing. Ancient Greeks and Persian monsters are so hot blooded, when you chop any part off with a sword, spear or arrow, blood bursts forth like geysers. Rise of an Empire is also a misnomer; while it briefly explains the origin of the golden briefs-wearing, golden god-king Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro), it's really more of a companion piece to 300, primarily depicting events happening during King Leonidas' valiant sacrifice against the Persian Army at Thermopylae in 480 B.C. and the aftermath. Not a traditional sequel and containing only a smidge of prequel; the studio might as well have called it During 300, While 300 Was Going On, or maybe 300: The Poseidon Adventure.

Narrated throughout by the returning Queen Golgo (Lena Headey), who doles out all of the necessary exposition as she essentially talks herself into taking up arms and leading the Spartans into the war to avenge her fallen husband Leonidas, Rise is mostly concerned with naval battles and a clash of wills (and loins) between the Athenian general Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton) and the Persian warrior woman Artemisia (Eva Green). Artemisia is Greek born but suffered horrible tragedy at the hands of Greek soldiers. She was saved and trained by the Persians to be a lethal warrior and rose to become a confidant of the late king Darius and now Xerxes. Turns out Artemisia is the most pivotal person of this time period of ancient history; it was she who manipulated events and murdered her way to enable Xerxes' ascension to become the god-king of Persia. And, like the movie itself, Artemisia is quick to ignore Xerxes and leave him to the sidelines to do whatever she wants. 300: Rise of an Empire is based on the Frank Miller graphic novel "Xerxes," but Xerxes is barely in the movie. And rightly so. You can't make a whole movie about Xerxes because that preening peacock isn't remotely interesting.

As Themistokles, Stapleton is a far less rousing replacement for Gerard Butler's Leonidas. Stapleton looks the part fine, but lacks the lion's roar and the glint of noble madness in his eyes. His Athenian warriors - all of whom have never heard of a shirt, much less a toga - love him all the same, though. Themistokles proves a brilliant naval strategist, masterminding novel ways to sink the endless fleet of Persia. For her part, Green commands like Zapp Brannigan of Futurama, slinking around her royal barge and sending wave after wave of her ships and slaves to their watery doom before growing annoyed and deciding using her feminine wiles and other ample body parts are the answer to the Greek problem. In Rise's best scene, a night of aggressive negotiations between Artemisia and Themistokles turns into a sexy smackdown of eight pack vs. 36Cs. And yet, no peace would come between these warring powers. Themistokles is too proud and devoted to his Greek freedom and democracy, or something, to submit to be the consort of the sexiest siren of the Aegean seas. 

Unlike its predecessor, Rise of the Empire doesn't end so much as pause in the middle of battle, setting up a third 300 to continue the franchise. Rise is more unwieldy and lacks the lyricism of 300 (I can't believe I just used the word 'lyricism' to describe 300.) Rise does helpfully explain the difference between Spartans and Athenians: the Athenians wear blue capes and skirts, while the Spartans wear red capes and leather briefs. Mostly, Rise of the Empire is, happily, the Eva Green Show, a primal showcase for her talents. Artemisia is far and away the most (and only) interesting person in the movie. Green constantly remarks on how bored she is by the lickspittle Persian minions she's surrounded by. Unfortunately, the Athenians are no more compelling as characters or conversationalists. But boy, can they fight. "You fight better than you fuck," is Artemisia's assessment of her arch rival. That's what Themistokles' T-shirt would say, if he ever wore one.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Arrow 2x15 - "The Promise"

Have you ever had someone come over to your home and behave so abhorrently, you were completely ashamed, yet were unable to break decorum and ask him to leave? In "The Promise," that someone was Oliver, who in Moira's eyes, couldn't have behaved worse towards her new campaign investor and business partner Slade Wilson if he whipped it out and gave Slade a golden shower. The whole time, Oliver wanted to whip something out, all right, and let loose from his shaft, but he just didn't have his bow and arrows handy. Nonetheless, Slade was in Stately Queen Manor to merely talk and make thinly veiled threats that went over Moira's head but were picked up by Oliver loud and clear. In Oliver's eyes, Slade was there to kill him, his mother and his sister Thea, who conveniently arrived and happily gave Slade a tour of the late Robert Queen's art collection (including a rare "Curtis Swan" - shout out to legendary Superman artist Curt Swan). But Slade was up to something else entirely. For a man gruesomely missing an eye, which Arrow chose to show us in grim detail, by the end of "The Promise," all of Slade's eyes are now on Stately Queen Manor.

Most of "The Promise" is a flashback episode to five years ago on Lian Yu, where Oliver, Sara and Slade made their fateful assault on Anthony Ivo's freighter Amazo. Sara and Oliver would occasionally head off into the woods to discuss what to do with the Mirakuru Ivo is desperately after (burn it), which Slade overhears, while Slade somehow isn't present for their other discussion of why Oliver can never tell Slade he chose Sara over Shado, hence Ivo murdering Shado. For his part, Slade was off recovering a bottle of "authentic Australian rum," Reuther Rum, that he and his old Deathstroke mask-wearing mate Billy Wintergreen hid in the plane wreckage for a rainy day. Oliver has a nightmare of Shado blaming him and stabbing him to death for choosing to let her die; five years ago dream Shado is pretty bitter compared to how helpful and encouraging ghost Shado was in "Three Ghosts."  Soon, Oliver dons the green hood of Yao Fei and Slade dons the dual colored mask of Deathstroke, marking the first time these future adversaries would accept the mantle of their dead friends and mentors. I believe "The Promise" is the first Arrow episode where Oliver doesn't actually wear the green hood in the present day timeline, but he wears it plenty on the Island.

In the few days at most Oliver, Slade, and Sara had to plan how they were taking the freighter, Oliver put himself through intense training exercises including pull ups and archery that drastically accelerated his abilities. Almost all of a sudden, Oliver is a capable warrior. He asks Sara to promise to tell his family he's not the same callow idiot he was when he got on the Queen's Gambit if he doesn't survive their mission, and Sara in turns asks him to tell her family she died on the Gambit if vice versa. As we learned last week, Sara has formidable bio chemistry knowledge after her year with Ivo and she whips up an antidote to Ivo's favorite sodium pentothal. Sure enough, as planned, Oliver is captured by Ivo's men and tortured on the freighter by Ivo, feeding Ivo true information (his full name is Oliver Jonas Queen) and false information (lies about Slade and Sara's position on the freighter), while faking being stoned under the duress of Ivo's truth serum. Soon, Sara and Slade parachute onto the freighter, join up with Oliver, and the battle is on. Sara frees the many captives in Amazo's bowels, including Oliver's future Russian Bravta brother Anatoli Knyazev, and a strange new character not from DC Comics named Reverend Thomas Flynn. They and a bunch of others are able to escape the Amazo and swim to the Island, but Oliver is unable to join when when Slade catches him by the foot and tosses Oliver back onto the deck in a physics-defying feat of strength.

For you see, secrets don't get kept long on Arrow. Oliver not only couldn't kill Ivo in cold blood, but he was careless enough to let Slade overhear Ivo's double talk about "oh sure, I pulled the trigger, but it was you, Oliver, who aimed my gun at Shado" nonsense, and that was all she wrote to turn Slade completely psychotic. Slade murders Ivo's captain replacement for the previous captain and commandeers Amazo. Then he makes Ivo confess to murdering Shado and slices off the hand that pulled the trigger like in patented Skywalker fashion. Poor Ivo, it turns out he was doing all this for his beloved wife Jessica, who is back home suffering from dementia. (Or maybe it's MacGregor's Syndrome?) Things don't look promising for Oliver with Slade in charge of Amazo.

In present day, things looked a lot more promising for Oliver when he was clever enough to call Felicity's cell so Team Arrow in the Arrow Cave, including archery novice Roy Harper (whose initiation into Team Arrow made it into the "My name is Oliver Queen..." opening montage), could overhear Slade's pontificating about Robert Queen's art. Sara recognized Slade's gruff Australian voice right away and looked right into the camera to announce Slade Wilson is back. Then, in a fanboy wet dream, Sara as Canary took command of Team Arrow, barking orders at Roy and Diggle, asking for "the biggest gun" Diggle has. It was pretty big. With Diggle positioned outside Stately Queen Manor ready to take a headshot at Slade, Sara and Roy joined the Queen-Wilson Art Tour, making a tense situation even more full of tightened jaws, clinched fists, and intense laser stares. Slade probably could have killed them all anyway if he wanted to, but instead discretion was the greater part of super villainy. Slade opted to leave in his ridiculously swank Lamborghini to murder Queens another day, walking out with Oliver and promising to pay "the promise" he made five years ago to destroy everything Oliver holds dear. Oh, and Diggle was taken out before he could take out Slade -- probably by Amanda Waller's people so he could get shanghaied into the Suicide Squad.

So what was Slade really doing in Stately Queen Manor? Turns out he was planting mini cameras all over the house, so he could now watch all the comings, goings, and doings transpiring in the house of Queen. Why, Slade can just sit back in the Stroke Cave and watch Thea shower if he wants. That dastardly devil!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. #Uprising 2x14 - "T.A.H.I.T.I."

In the new sequence of episodes Disney marketing has hashtagged Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. #Uprising, "You can't take the Skye from me," is the driving motivation behind Coulson and his Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. This week, the team goes all out in their quest to save a dying Skye, even if it involves disobeying direct orders to release the incarcerated Ian Quinn to S.H.I.E.L.D. custody. Indeed, Coulson is so determined to keep Skye in the land of the living, he finally reveals what he knows of the secret behind his own resurrection to Fitz-Simmons. "It's illegal for us to even read this," Fitz warns, but nothing is off-limits when it comes to saving one of their own. So the secret's out, or at least, the 70% of the secret Fitz-Simmons could understand of how and what methods were utilized to bring Coulson back from the dead after New York. What would Skye want?" Simmons muses for a moment, paying lip service to the ethics of whether it's worth going to such extremes to bring Skye back, but no one really embraces that counter argument. Skye would of course prefer to remain on the show. Let's make it happen!

As Fitz-Simmons' investigation into Coulson's resurrection reveals a non-S.H.I.E.L.D. facility called the Guest House where his operations took place, The Bus welcomes a couple of visitors and a Special Guest Star: Agent John Garrett (Bill Paxton), who brought along his specialist Agent Triplett (B.J. Britt). Tripplet is Garrett's replacement for Ward when Ward decided to join up with Coulson's TV crew. Paxton has been chasing Quinn himself for months and lost some Agents of his own in the process. They're not above threatening to throw Quinn off the plane, even after a furious May delivers a mighty violent beatdown on Quinn that bloodies up that pretty face of his. Quinn claims the Clairvoyant told him to shoot Skye as part of his elaborate plan to discover the one thing he can't see: how Coulson was brought back to life. The Clairvoyant's gamble was that Coulson would attempt to save Skye by finding the same methods he himself was resurrected, which is correct.

Upon locating the Guest House, Coulson, Ward, Garrett, and Fitz encounter heavily armed resistance guarding the place, but it doesn't take long for them to hack and then blam blammy shoot their way in, precisely in that order. Fitz is able to locate the mysterious drug that saved Coulson - GH-325 - and they go on to explode the Guest House in the best James Bond fashion. However, Coulson can't quite leave when he discovers the room marked "T.A.H.I.T.I." He's drawn into the magical place, which is really an operating chamber of mysterious tubes mining chemicals and fluids. When Coulson opens the chamber the tubes originate from, he finds... what the hell is that? Is it a Life Model Decoy? Is it an alien? It's something, or half of some humanoid, and the GH-325 chemical is coming from it. Naturally, this freaks Coulson out, enough where he screams the GH-325 not be used on a convulsing Skye, but what the hell, they didn't come all this way to not use the mysterious drug to save their dying consultant.

Whaddaya know, it worked! Skye doesn't die. She's not out of the woods yet, but the GH-325 is keeping Skye alive and slowly healing her. While Coulson and Garrett lead their away team in the Guest House, Triplett got to bond a bit with Simmons (this is after a very brief, very Marvel-esque, brawl with Ward -- in the Marvel Universe you fight your future ally when you first meet before you Marvel Team Up. It's tradition). Triplett gets the hots for Simmons, and we are also allowed a moment to consider just how invaluable (and attractive) Simmons is to this team, and how it's Simmons (and Elizabeth Henstridge) who may actually be the breakout star of Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. when season one is done. It seems odd for Garrett to bring in another field capable Agent and then the episode leaves both Garrett and May out of the action scenes in the Guest House, but whatever. Garrett is quick to note and tell Coulson his man Trip has the hots for Phil's biotech girl. This is after they really lay into Quinn what a failure he is, how they have him nailed for confessing to shooting a 24 year old girl twice in the gut, and haul him into S.H.I.E.L.D. custody. Maybe Quinn and The Girl in the Flower Dress can both die together in an inevitable future Helicarrier accident. For his part, Coulson doesn't confess to May about whatever he saw in the Guest House. But whatever it is, its fluids are pumping in both Coulson and Skye's bodies.

So, all's well that ends well, sort of, as Skye hasn't woken up yet. But new problems are afoot in Death Valley, California as the Rainbow Bridge from Asgard brings forth something sexy, which Asgard is wont to do: Lorelei (Elena Satine) has come to wreck marriages and enslave Midgard, apparently in that order. To foil her next week, Asgard will send not Thor but someone equally sexy...

Asgard, you're just so good to us.

Sunday, March 2, 2014




"I hate flying!"

Non-Stop is the funniest airplane movie since Airplane! All it's missing is a jive talkin' granny and one of the pilots asking a young boy if he likes movies about gladiators. There is a young girl on the flight, but no one asks her if she's ever been to a Turkish prison. The latest output from the reliably prolific Liam Neeson Action-Thriller Factory, Non-Stop stars Neeson as a CIA agent US Air Marshal trying to stop a kidnapper terrorist from selling his daughter into sex slavery blowing up a trans-Atlantic airliner. An alcoholic loose cannon, Neeson receives a series of text messages mid-flight from a mysterious antagonist threatening to murder a passenger every twenty minutes if a hundred fifty million dollars isn't wired into an account opened in Neeson's name. In his zeal to discover who the villain is, Neeson ends up murdering the first victim for him in the lavatory. Oops. Soon, more bodies pile up from being mysteriously poisoned. Maybe they ate the fish.

Who is the real culprit on this ill-fated flight to London? It could be any of a half dozen shady characters Neeson encounters before the plane took off, including Julianne Moore, who is suspiciously hell bent on acquiring a window seat. Or it could be fellow Marshal Anson Mount, who just comes off like a smarmy creeper. Or it could be the black guy carelessly yakking on his cell phone, or that rat-like guy in the glasses bumming a smoke who claims he's on his way to Amsterdam. According to the Law of Economy of Characters, yes, it's definitely one of them. Neeson only trusts a couple of people on this Flight of Suspicion, one of whom is comely flight attendant Michelle Dockery (Lady Mary from Downton Abbey). Dockery unfortunately has little to do besides grow increasingly appalled as Neeson's actions grow increasingly ridiculous; he holds everyone on the flight hostage and hilariously smacks every suspect around headfirst into bulkheads, counters and seat backs. Neeson's superiors on the ground accuse him of being the one hijacking the plane, plastering his face on every newscast and sending air force fighter jets to shoot the airliner down.

All of Non-Stop is staged with grim solemnity. Neeson gets, at most, two moments to illegally smoke in the lavatory as a release from the relentless pressure of carrying the fate of 150 passengers on his weary Irish shoulders. When the real terrorists finally reveal themselves, Neeson practically has to lead the audience to resist rolling their eyes at the villains' hackneyed explanation tying this act of terrorism to 9/11 and condemning the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The real lesson Non-Stop offers is that maximum enjoyment of Liam Neeson action-thrillers is directly proportional to the number of bad guys Neeson efficiently murders. Non-Stop disappointingly isn't about Neeson killing terrorists non-stop like the first Taken was, but still, one would still rather have Liam Neeson creating chaos on your flight than a bunch of motherfuckin' snakes on your motherfuckin' plane.