Friday, October 9, 2015

Marvel's Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 3, Episode 2: Purpose In The Machine

This week's Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. was one of their best yet!

I actually thought I was going to fall off the couch during the harrowing Simmons rescue scene. That said, I think Simmons was rescued much too quickly. Yes, they keep telling us that she's been missing for months, and Fitz has been desperately searching for her all that time. But we only got to see two episodes worth of this. It played out over way too little time for us. The happy FitzSimmons reunion just didn't feel like it was earned yet.

On the other hand, kudos to them for not dragging out this subplot for an entire season, like some shows would have done.


The Plot:
In Gloucester England in 1830, a group of wealthy noblemen meet in secret. For some reason, one of them is chosen to enter a room containing the Monolith. They enter, it liquefies, and they're gone. Just like what happened to Simmons last season!

In the present, Dr. Garner (May's ex) examines Joey the Inhuman and says he's not yet ready to join Daisy's team of "Secret Warriors." Yeah, he said it. Coulson sends Hunter on a mission to kill Evil Ward once and for all.

Fitz tries to activate the Monolith, setting off an alarm. Mockingbird, Mack and Coulson stop him seconds before the Monolith liquefies, opening its portal. Fitz sees a bit of sand on his thumb where he touched the Monolith and examines it. He determines its not from Earth, and is incredibly ancient. Apparently that's all the proof the Team needs to believe that the Monolith abducted Simmons and she's alive and well on another planet.

Coulson recruits Prof. Elliot Randolph, the Asgardian exile we met in Season 1. He agrees to help rescue Simmons, if Coulson promises to destroy the Monolith when they're done.

We see Agent May's been spending the past few months chilling with her dad, (played by James Wong). Hunter shows up at Mr. Wong's house, hoping to recruit May for his mission. She tells Hunter she's through with S.H.I.E.L.D., but eventually changes her mind and joins him.

Speaking of Evil Ward, he's busy recruiting members for his new and improved HYDRA. He kidnaps Werner von Strucker, the son of the late HYDRA leader Wolfgang von Strucker.

Randolph takes the Team to an ancient English castle, where hundreds of years ago he saw a machine that could control the Monolith. Amazingly the machine is still there, and they lower the Monolith into a pit in the center of a special room. Daisy determines that the Monolith is activated by certain sound frequencies. She uses her powers to activate it and open a portal. Fitz shoots a flare through the portal, and as Coulson and the other ready a probe, he unexpectedly jumps through it.

Fitz emerges on a hostile planet, and miraculously finds Simmons, who saw his flare. He's barely able to grab her hand as the Team, back on Earth, reels in his lifeline. The Monolith explodes into a million pieces, but fortunately Fitz AND Simmons crawl from the rubble.

Werner von Strucker enrolls in Dr. Garner's psychology class.

• At the beginning of the episode we see that the monolith existed in Gloucester England back in 1839. So who were those guys in the fancy duds shoving one of their own into it? They reminded me of the Hellfire Club from the comics, but I doubt they could have anything to do with them. They were X-Men villains, and Marvel can't touch them.

• When Dr. Garner's talking to Daisy about assembling her team, he calls them "Secret Warriors." In the comics, the Secret Warriors were a super powered team lead by Nick Fury. Daisy Johnson was one of the members of the team.

As far as I know this is the first time anyone's said the name on the series.

• It was fun to see the Asgardian Prof. Randolph again. We last saw him in the Season 1 episode The Well. I wouldn't mind if he became a regular on the show.

• Fitz shows Professor Randolph the ancient Hebrew scroll he found, that has something to do with the Monolith. Randolph says the scroll reads "Maveth," which is the Hebrew word for death.

• Agent May's back! Well, sort of. Apparently she's been chilling with her dad the past few months in Sun City, AZ (which is a huge retirement community).

Somehow it makes sense that May's dad would be James Hong (aka David Lo Pan!). Hong's played every elderly Chinese man in movies and TV for the past thirty or forty years.

By the way, Hong was sporting some pretty suspicious hair. He's either wearing a wig or pouring a lot of Just For Men on his head. He's 86 now, so it's unlikely his hair is still naturally "absence of all light" black.

As much as I like May, the scenes between her and her dad were the low point of the episode, and a chore to watch. Despite what she says, we all KNOW she's not going to settle down and will eventually return to S.H.I.E.L.D. It's like these scenes exist to pad out the run time and give May something to do before she inevitably returns to the Team.

• May uses a clunky looking flip phone to call Hunter to tell him she's in. Is this some kind of special issue S.H.I.E.L.D. phone, or has she not updated hers in the past fifteen years?

• Evil Ward recruits Werner von Strucker into his new and improved HYDRA. Werner's dad was Baron Wolfgang von Strucker, one of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s main adversaries in the comics for decades. Strucker Sr. got a big buildup last season, only to die a very underwhelming death (offscreen yet!) in Avengers: Age Of Ultron

In the comics, Werner von Strucker became the Swordsman, a sometimes hero, sometimes villain who was a member of the Avengers. I kind of doubt they're going to go that route with him here.

Frankly, Werner doesn't look like much more of a threat than his old man. Is his "Aw, shucks" baby face supposed to be menacing? Jesus, he looks like a human puppy! He makes D.J. Qualls look like Schwarzenegger. Surely they could have found someone a bit more threatening. 

Competent or not, the fact that Strucker Jr. just joined Dr. Garner's psych class doesn't bode well for S.H.I.E.L.D.'s resident psychologist.

• Coulson gets in a meta comment about how silly it was to brand everything with the S.H.I.E.L.D. logo. Maybe, but I'd say it's even worse for HYDRA to do the same thing, since, you know, they're supposed to be a secret organization bent on world domination and all.

• Man, that Simmons rescue was amazing! First we see Fitz miraculously find her on the alien planet. Then he tries to grab Simmons' hand, with great difficulty. Then back on Earth, Coulson orders them to reel in Fitz's lifeline. Back on the alien planet, Fitz looses his grip on Simmons. Then back on Earth the Monolith explodes into a million pieces, causing the audience to soil themselves and wonder "Now what?"

Whoever shot and edited that sequence, well done! You really know how to twist the knife and ratchet up the tension.

• So Simmons has been gone for months, and all that time Fitz has been trying to convince Coulson that she's still alive. When Coulson finally accepts his proof, the Team gets together and BANG! They bring her back home on their very first try.

It's too bad Coulson didn't listen to Fitz the first time he asked for help several months ago. 

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Flash Season 2, Episode 1: The Man Who Saved Central City

The Flash is back! 

I was really looking forward to the return of the show, but now that it's here I'm not quite sure what to make of this episode. I was all set for a thrilling conclusion to last season's cliffhanger, but instead we pick up six months after the singularity incident and see that Barry apparently saved the day. Huh? What kind of way is that to resolve a major plot point?

In a similar vein, the death of a major character gets little or no attention and a huge change for another is disposed of as quickly and clumsily as possible, all to free up air time so Barry can mope and blame himself some more.

So what happened? Is there a new writing team who didn't like the cliffhanger, so they swept the resolution under the rug? Did the writers forget what they wrote last spring? Whatever the reason, it was an underwhelming way to start a season.


The Plot:
For some reason we pick up six months after the season finale and the singularity that was threatening Central City. We find out that Ronnie Raymond apparently died closing up the singularity, and Barry blames himself. He's now working on his own to avoid hurting anyone else. He spends his days working as a CSI again, and his nights rebuilding Central City at super speed. Barry examines a crime scene and identifies a dead man as Al Rothstein.

Meanwhile, Cisco is working with Joe in a new metahuman task force at the Central City Police Force. Caitlin is now working at Mercury Labs with Dr. McGee. Dr. Stein, who's apparently no longer able to transform into Firestorm, hangs around spouting pithy one liners.

A few days later, Central City celebrates the first annual Flash Day, to honor the superhero who saved the town. Barry is reluctant to attend, as he no longer believes he's a hero. He eventually decides to show up. Naturally, just as the Mayor is about to present him with a key to the city, a new metahuman called Atom Smasher attacks and tries to kill the Flash. Atom Smasher is revealed to be Al Rothstein, the man Barry found dead at a crime scene. Atom Smasher grows to twice his height and nearly kills Barry before being driven off.

Barry receives a visit from Dr. Wells' attorney, who gives him a flash drive to watch. The drive contains a video of Wells (aka Eobard Thawne) congratulating Barry for killing him, and confessing to the murder of his mother. Barry uses this confession to free his father from prison at long last.

The STAR Labs gang gets back together and determines that Atom Smasher is feeding on radiation. Dr. Stein uses comic book science to reason that if they feed Smasher too much radiation, it'll overwhelm and defeat him. And that's just what they do. They lure Smasher into a radiation chamber and fry him. Before he dies though, he tells Barry that "Zoom" promised to send him home if he killed him. 

Henry Allen is released from prison after fifteen years, and Barry throws him a welcome home party. Before it's even over, Henry inexplicably says he can't stay and is moving on, leaving Barry— as well as the audience— gasping in disbelief. At STAR Labs, a mysterious man shows up. He says his name is Jay Garrick, and the world is in danger.

• This was a very oddly structured episode. Instead of an rousing and epic ending to the singularity cliffhanger, it was quickly resolved in under a minute. And in a flashback yet!

If I had to guess, I'd say this was due to the show's budget. A black hole hovering above the city and sucking up cars is something you'd see in The Avengers, not on a weekly CW series. I'm betting they couldn't afford twenty minutes of the Flash vs. the Singularity and had to trim those scenes to the bone, leaving just enough for a brief flashback.

• This episode also kills off Ronnie Raymond a second time, in the most off-handed way possible. He didn't even get a proper sendoff, as instead we see him sacrifice himself in the aforementioned flashback. We're obviously supposed to shocked and saddened by his death, but it's hard to feel anything one way or the other when the incident is given so little importance.

• During the flashback we see Barry running around the singularity at super speed, hundreds of feet in the air. How exactly is he doing that? Apparently we're to believe he's running across various pieces of debris flying around in midair. Who's he think he is, Legolas?

• In last season's finale, Barry spent the majority of the episode wringing his hands, worrying that he'd alter time if he killed Eobard Thawne. This was a huge deal, as Barry asked each and every cast member what they thought he should do as he fretted about it. 

Eddie Thawne saved Barry the trouble when he shot and killed himself, which prevented his distant descendant Eobard Thawne from ever being born. If Eobard never existed, then he couldn't have killed Dr. Wells or Barry's mom, Henry Allen would never have gone to prison, the Flash would never have been created, and on and on. Instead, absolutely none ot that happened. Barry's timeline is exactly like it was before Eddie's death.

The possibility that Barry Apparently the writers chose to deal with this paradox by ignoring it completely. I suppose we could say that Firestorm sacrificing himself somehow preserved the original timeline, but... that's a pretty limp explanation.

• According to Barry's mail, his full name is Bartholomew Henry Allen.

• Barry was actually doing his CSI job in this episode. It's been a long time since we've seen him do any real police work.

• Atom Smasher's real name is Al Rothstein. In the comics, Rothstein was actually a superhero, and was part Infinity Inc., a team that lived and operated on Earth 2.

• At the Flash Day celebration, Cisco was wearing a shirt with a lightning bolt pattern.

Mayor Bellows returns in this episode, handing out the key to the city to the Flash. Bellows was last seen in the Season One episode Tricksters.

Bellows is played by Vito D'Ambrosio, who played Officer Tony Bellows on the 1990s Flash TV series.

• Cisco has another of his alternate timeline flashes in this episode. Dr. Wells said this would happen to him last season, in Fast Enough. There he told Cisco, "You'll be able to see through vibrations in the universe. A great and honorable destiny awaits you now." Looks like he was right!

• Cisco referenced the fact that last season ANYONE could apparently just sashay into the STAR Labs Core unchallenged (he must have read by blog!). He says he's taken care of that this season, and has installed some hi-tech automated security. Yeah, we'll see. I have a feeling it's not going to keep anyone out if they have something to say that's relevant to the plot.

• According to Barry, STAR Labs has been shut down and vacant for the past six months. If that's so, what happened to all the metahuman prisoners in Dr. Well's Secret Super Jail?

And if Dr. Wells somehow left STAR Labs to Barry, how's he paying for it? I'd think the property tax alone on such a building would be astronomical. Not to mention the utilities. I know, I know, it's a comic book world.

• Barry's visited by an attorney who works for the firm of Weatherby & Stone. That's a reference to the 2008 TV series Eli Stone, about a lawyer who begins having hallucinations, which he interprets as divine signs.

Eli Stone was created by Greg Berlanti and Mark Guggenheim, the creators of The Flash. The series also starred Victor Garber, who plays Dr. Stein.

• Now that he's been separated from Firestorm, poor Dr. Stein didn't have much to do in this episode except stand around. Expect him to hook up with a new Firestorm partner before the season's over.

Stein did get to name Atom Smasher in this episode, so I guess that's something.

• So the Flash now has a "Flash Signal" he can shine into the sky. Oy. Apparently Cisco invented it, and when Caitlin asks hime where he got the idea, he says, "I don't know. I think I saw it in a comic book." Wa-waaaaaah. 

Looks like this is concrete proof that there's no Batman in The CW-verse.

• When Barry & Co. are trying to stop Atom Smasher, Dr. Stein says to crank up the radiation level all the way. He says Atom Smasher won't be able to absorb it all.

How could he possibly know that? People who absorb radiation and grow to twice their size seems like brand new territory to me.

• As Atom Smasher lay dying, he mentions "Zoom." As fans of the comic already know, that would be Professor Zoom. He has a long and convoluted history in the comics, which I won't even attempt to go into here.

I'm going to go out on a limb and predict that Zoom will somehow turn out to be Eddie Thawne. Remember, last season after Eddie shot himself, his lifeless body was sucked up into the singularity. Who knows what happened to it after that. I wouldn't rule out the possibility that he was somehow resurrected, gained super powers and now holds a grudge against Barry.

• Barry gets a new outfit at the end of the episode. Everyone makes a big deal over it, but it looks a lot like the old one, except it's got a white circle on the chest instead of a red one. 

Last season Barry saw a future version of himself wear this costume, so by making it, Cisco just proved there's no such thing as free will, as he was destined to create it.

• Henry Allen's homecoming should have been the highlight of the episode, if not the series. After all, Barry's devoted fifteen years of his life to proving his dad's innocence, and it's the reason Barry became a CSI.

Instead it was a horribly handled low point. Not one hour after being released from prison, Henry tells Barry he can't stay and has to leave. Are you freakin' kidding me? Whatever bizarre motivation he has for leaving Central City, are you telling me he couldn't even spend a week at home with his son? Jesus Christ, writers. Even the actors looked embarrassed and uncomfortable during this ridiculous scene.

It's like the writers suddenly can't stand the Henry Allen character and want him off the show as fast as humanly possible. Eh, it's just the emotional heart and core of your entire series, guys. No need to give it the proper gravity and attention it deserves.

Did actor John Wesley Shipp piss them off or something? The show's already pretty crowded— witness this episode, with a ton of people standing around the STAR Labs set like they're in a play— so maybe they didn't want Henry rattling around in the background with nothing to do. Or maybe they've got big plans for him, and he'll return during Sweeps Week. Whatever the reason, his exit was horribly and awkwardly handled.

• At the end of the episode, Jay Garrick, the Flash of Earth 2, appears. Note that he's not wearing his signature winged helmet, which somehow flew through the wormhole in last season's finale. I'm guessing Cisco probably kept it and will hand it over to him.

It Came From The Cineplex: The Green Inferno

The Green Inferno was written by Eli Roth and Guillermo Amoedo, and directed by Eli Roth.

Amoedo also wrote the screenplay for the 2012 disaster movie Aftershock, which coincidentally starred Eli Roth. This is the first film Roth's directed since 2007's Hostel Part II.

The film is a throwback to the notorious cannibal films of the late 1970s and early 1980s. If you like blood, gore and seeing people being eaten alive, then this is the genre for you. If not, then you might want to give this one a pass. This definitely would not be a good date movie.

Many of these cannibal films were banned in other countries, due to their shocking and stomach-churning content. The films generally followed the same basic template, as a group of Americans trespass in the Amazon and are captured, tortured and eaten by a tribe of bloodthirsty cannibals. In many of the films, the white characters start things off by raping and killing the natives, who kill and eat them in revenge.

Notable films in the cannibal genre are The Man From Deep River, Cannibal Holocaust, Cannibal Ferox, Eaten Alive!, The Mountain Of The Cannibal God and Last Cannibal World. Many seem to think The Green Inferno is a remake of Cannibal Holocaust, but it's 
actually quite different. Maybe the confusion lies in the fact that the plot of Cannibal Holocaust features a "film within a film" titled The Green Inferno. Confusing!

Roth shot the film in the actual jungles of Peru, and used members of a real indigenous tribe. The tribe was so isolated that not only had they never seen a movie, they had no idea of the concept. In order to help them understand, Roth screened a movie for them. The film he chose? Cannibal Holocaust. That seems like a very, very bad idea.

Supposedly the natives enjoyed the film, and according to Roth, "thought it was the funniest thing they'd ever seen." They then gave permission for filming to commence on their territory.

Despite the jungle setting, this is pretty much a slasher movie. They just substituted cannibalistic natives for a machete-wielding serial killer. There's even a Final Girl, just like in every slasher film ever made.

The film was scheduled to be released in 2013, but was pushed back to September 2014. It was then pulled a month before its intended release, which caused many fans to believe the delays were due to its horrific subject matter (which helped generate interest in the movie). The real reason for the delay was much more mundane— the film's production company, Worldview Entertainment, ran into financial difficulties. It was finally released in September 2015.


The Plot:
A young, idealistic college freshman named Justine (no last names, please) becomes enamored with an older student named Alehandro, the resident campus social activist. He expertly manipulates Justine into joining his cause to save the Amazon rain forest. Alejandro plans to use video cameras and social media to stop a logging company from clear cutting thousands of acres and killing the native tribes.

Justine and several other students join Alejandro's group and fly to Peru. During the flight, Jonah, another of Alejandro's followers, makes a clumsy pass at Justine. The group is met in Peru by a drug dealer named Carlos, who transports them deep into the rain forest. Once there, they chain themselves to the logging equipment and film the crew— and the soldiers who protect them— with their cell phones. They manage to stop the logging operation as their footage goes viral around the world.

On the way back, Alejandro and the others are congratulating themselves on a job well done. Just then their plane conveniently malfunctions and crashes in the middle of the rain forest, killing several of the group. The survivors are then captured by a native tribe, knocked out with tranquilizing blow darts and taken back to their village.

Justine, Alejandro, Lars, Samantha, Daniel, Amy and Jonah awaken a few hours later inside a bamboo cage. The Female Elder of the tribe gives Jonah a drink, which he assumes is some sort of medicine. Suddenly the tribesmen hold Jonah down, as the Female Elder gouges out both his eyes and eats them. Fun! She then cuts out his tongue and eats it as well. A bald tribesmen then hacks off all of Jonah's limbs (while he's still alive yet) in front of the horrified students. Jonah's then decapitated, and several women of the tribe stuff his torso into a stone oven, cooking him.

Justine and the others realize the tribe are cannibals, who think they're part of the logging company that's destroying their jungle. They try to escape, but are blow-darted by an alert guard perched on top of their cage. The female students are examined, and it's determined that Justine is the only virgin, which is apparently a big deal to the tribe. She's given a special marking on her forehead.

Justine manages to make friends with a boy from the tribe, playing a tune for him on the tiny flute charm that hangs from her necklace. Alejandro admits that the whole "saving the tribe thing was a ruse," and he was paid to disrupt the deforestation operation by Carlos, who owns his own competing logging company.

Later Samantha manages to escape the cage. A few days later the tribe gives the captives food, and they realize they're eating the remains of the apparently recaptured Samantha. Yum! Amy is so horrified by this that she smashes her clay bowl and uses an apparently very sharp shard to slit her own throat.

This gives the others an idea. They stuff Amy's body with a bag of marijuana (courtesy of Lars), hoping that when the tribe eats her they'll all get high. Amazingly this ridiculous sitcom-like plan works, and the entire tribe start acting like rejects from Reefer Madness. Justine and Daniel escape and return to the site of the plane crash, but are recaptured. Lars also attempt to flee, but is caught and eaten alive by the members of the tribe, who of course now have the munchies (Really! That's not me making a joke, it really happens).

The tribe then tortures Daniel by staking him over an ant hill. Justine is prepared for a traditional genital mutilation ceremony. Just as she's about to be cut, the tribe hears logging equipment approaching. The Female Elder orders the entire tribe into the jungle to attack the loggers, which is an incredibly lucky break for Justine. The friendly native boy unties her and helps her escape. Alejandro sees Justine escaping and pleads for help. She turns her back on him and leaves him.

Justine flees through the jungle and sees the loggers, armed with machine guns, mowing down the cannibals. She waves a broken cell phone in the air to convince them she's not from the tribe and is rescued.

Back in New York, she tells U.N. representatives that she was the only survivor of the plane crash and that the tribe gave her aid and led her out of the jungle. In a mid-credits scene, Justine is contacted by Alejandro's sister, who thinks he may still be alive.

• Lead actress and Final Girl Lorenza Izo is director Eli Roth's real life wife. They wed a year or so after the film was completed, which means Roth fell for Izo while drenching her in fake blood and gore. I'm sure they'll have many years of happiness together.

• There's some very clumsy foreshadowing near the beginning of the film when Justine attends a lecture on the practice of female genital circumcision in indigenous tribes. Gosh, I'm sure that incongruous bit of info won't become important later on now, will it?

Oddly enough after the professor finishes up the genital mutilation topic, she starts talking about the "ant problem." More ham-handed foreshadowing! By the way, what possible class would ever combine those two topics?

• Daryl Sabara plays Lars, and is likely the only person in this film you've ever heard of. Believe it or not, Sabara played Juni Cortez in the Spy Kids films!

• There's a conspicuous lack of nudity in the film, on the part of the students and natives alike. Even when Justine and the other female students are stripped down and examined by the Tribal Elder, the camera coyly frames their faces only. There are a few very brief flashes of nudity here and there, but the film as a whole is oddly chaste. There's more nudity on display each week on Game Of Thrones.

Such modestly definitely seems odd and out of place in the case of the natives, who you'd think would have no problem prancing around completely nude.

I suppose this is a sign of our strangely skewed times. Dismemberment and beheadings are just fine, but god forbid the audience sees a naked tit.

• For a film about bloodthirsty cannibals, there's really not a lot of blood and gore here. Definitely not as much as I was expecting. Jonah's demise is pretty graphic and grisly, but once we get past that, the film is oddly free of gore. I've seen more shocking carnage on TV on The Walking Dead.

The only reason these cannibal films exist is to shock and sicken the audience, so I expected more from a known gore-meister like Eli Roth. I'm wondering if there's a more graphic unrated cut floating around somewhere?

• Even the most gruesome horror film needs a some comedy to help relieve the tension a bit. Unfortunately this has always been a problem for Eli Roth, as his comedy bits are always horribly integrated and seem like they were spliced in from a completely different movie, which completely destroys the tone. See Roth's Cabin Fever for some particularly egregious examples of this.

Roth includes several of his patented out-of-place comedy scenes in this film as well. As the students are held captive and being eaten one by one, Amy has a massive attack of irritable bowel syndrome and defecates noisily in the corner of their cage. Hilarious! A bit later the other students are horrified when Alejandro begins masturbating in front of them, saying he's "trying to relieve the tension so he can think clearly." Side splitting!

The worst of these comedy bits has to be the "natives getting high" scene. After Amy kills herself, the other students stuff a small bag of pot down her throat, hoping that when the natives cook and eat her, they'll get high. And that's exactly what happens. Somehow this tiny, one ounce bag of pot manages to knock an entire village on their collective asses. This bizarre, cartoonish scene took me right out of the movie.

The natives all begin laughing and whooping it up in an over the top and exaggerated manner, acting the way someone who's never been been high probably thinks it feels.

It was definitely the low point of the film. Maybe Roth should leave the comedy to the comedians, and concentrate on the gore.

• Shortly after they're captured, Justine makes friends with a cannibal boy by showing him the tiny flute charm on her necklace. If you didn't think the boy would end up helping her escape, then you've never seen a movie before.

• At the end of the film, Justine is back in New York, giving a deposition to several U.N. representatives. She says she witnessed no cannibalism and the natives rescued and helped her.

I don't quite understand why she's protecting her captors here. The only explanation I can come up with is that she wanted to save the tribe and make sure her fellow students didn't die in vain. Personally I wouldn't have been as magnanimous. I'd have been leading the charge to firebomb them back to hell.

• The film ends by clumsily setting up a sequel that I doubt will ever happen.

The Green Inferno is a love letter to cannibal genre of the 70s and 80s, but feels restrained and doesn't go nearly as far as those early films did. If you're gonna make a cannibal film, then you need to go all the way. I give it a B-.

Martian, Martian, MARTIAN!

Ridley Scott's new film The Martian is a hit, grossing nearly $60 million dollars in its first week. This is good news for fans of sci-fi, and makes up for Scott's Prometheus train wreck.

The film, which realistically depicts an astronaut's struggle for survival on the red planet, may just be a little too realistic for today's slack-jawed, mouth breathing, smart phone-addicted American. Many people supposedly think The Martian is based on a true story. Despite the fact that, you know, no human being has ever set foot on the planet Mars.

We're very near the end of civilization.

You guys do know that The Lord Of The Rings isn't an historical drama, right?

I'm betting the confusion lies in the fact that the film is based on the 2011 best selling book by Andy Weir. People hear "based on the novel" and interpret it as "based on the harrowing true life tale of astronaut Mark Watney, who, after being stranded on Mars, used his scientific knowledge, training and wits to survive for over four hundred days until a rescue ship arrived." It's an understandable mistake.

The same thing happened in reverse back in 1997, when audiences were stunned to learn that The Titanic was based on a true story and not the brainchild of writer/director James Cameron.

Just for the record, if anyone I know asks me if The Martian is a true story, I can no longer be seen in public with you.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Doctor Who Season 9, Episode 3: Under The Lake

Now this is more like it! 

There was little or nothing new in this week's episode, as this "Base Under Seige" plot has been done many times before in the history of the show. But that was the appeal— this seemed like an old-school Doctor Who episode, complete with scary monsters, multiple parts (although just two instead of the typical four) and even the much-missed cliffhanger ending. More of this, please, Stephen Moffat, and less of your usual convoluted drivel.

Peter Capaldi finally seems to have settled into the role of the Doctor this season. He's still an alien know-it-all, but he's lightening up a bit and finally seems to be having fun with the role. More of this too, please.

Under The Lake was written by Toby Whithouse, who's penned several other pretty good episodes, including School Reunion, which reintroduced ultimate companion Sarah Jane Smith to the Whoniverse! Whithouse also wrote Vampires Of Venice and A Town Called Mercy, and created the British supernatural drama Being Human. You know, I wouldn't mind seeing Whithouse take over Doctor Who as show runner once Steven Moffat is forcibly removed and run out of town on a rail. Oops! Sorry, that's just me fantasizing.


The Plot:
We begin inside the Drum, an underwater mining facility in 2119 Scotland. The Drum was built near a flooded military town (complete with a church), and the crew has made an amazing discovery— an alien spaceship on the underwater floor. 

The crew brings the ship inside the Drum, where it activates itself, killing base leader Moran. Suddenly a strange looking ghostly figure dressed in Victorian garb (complete with top hat) appears. The ghost of Moran materializes then next to him, as the crew does the logical thing and runs for their lives.

A few days later, the Doctor and Clara land inside the Drum and find it seemingly deserted. They're chased by the two ghosts, and take refuge in a protected room with the rest of the crew.

Cass, the new leader, tells the Doctor that the ghosts can't enter the room because it's a Faraday Cage, which somehow keeps them out. The ghosts also can only come out at night, so the crew's safe during the Drum's artificial day cycle.

The Doctor examines the alien ship in the hold and discovers its missing a power cell and a suspended animation chamber. It also contains strange alien writing scrawled on the wall. Another of the base's residents, Pritchard, is killed by the ghosts and joins them.

The Doctor notices the ghosts are all silently mouthing words. He traps the ghosts inside the Faraday Cage so he can safely study them. He uses his Sonic Sunglasses (sigh...) to transmit video of the ghosts to Cass, who's deaf. She reads their lips and says they're saying, "The dark, the sword, the forsaken, the temple" over and over.

The Doctor, using his best 1966 Batman and Robin deduction skills, interprets the message as coordinates. The "dark" is space, the "sword" is the one in the constellation of Orion, which, if viewed from across the galaxy, contains Earth (!), the "forsaken" is the abandoned underwater military town, and the "temple" is the church.

The Doctor goes on to reason that some alien force is transforming people into ghosts to turn them into transmitters and send out a signal to lead something to the church.

The crew uses an unmanned sub to explore the underwater church, and find the spaceship's missing suspended animation pod there. They bring it into the Drum, but the Doctor's unable to open it. Just then the ghosts figure out how to flood the base. The Doctor, Clara and the crew race for the TARDIS. Unfortunately Clara, Cass and Lunn are separated from the Doctor's group, and trapped by rising waters. The Doctor tells Clara he's going to use the TARDIS to go back in time to before the military town was flooded to find answers, and swears he'll be back for her.

The Doctor and the others leave in the TARDIS. Clara looks out a window and sees the ghost of the Doctor floating in the underwater void.

• I've often thought the TARDIS must generate some sort of "Acceptance Field" around the Doctor, since he quite often pops up in places he couldn't possibly be (like space stations or remote Arctic bases) and the people there never question him, and happily defer to his authority.

The same thing happens in this episode. The Doctor and Clara suddenly appear in a sealed underwater base, and none of the residents think anything about it. This time though there's an explanation for their unconditional acceptance. The Doctor says he's from UNIT, and computer expert O'Donnell has actually heard of him, and says she's a big fan. As far as I know, that's never happened before in the series.

By the way, isn't the Doctor's involvement with UNIT supposed to be a tip top secret? How does O'Donnell know about it?

• The TARDIS materializes inside the Drum, deep under water. The Doctor senses the TARDIS is unhappy though, saying, "What's wrong? You're not happy. Why aren't you happy? Why have you brought us here?" He even has to put on the emergency brake to keep it from leaving. 

If it's so scared of the Drum and its resident ghosts, why'd it bring the Doctor there in the first place?

• Why is it so hot inside the underwater base? The Drum crew are all dressed in t-shirts and shorts and they're still sweating. Isn't it generally cold deep under water? Seems like the last thing the base should be is hot.

And if it is really hot inside the base, why aren't the Doctor and Clara affected? Neither of them sweat a drop throughout the episode.

• I liked the Doctor's "empathy cards," that prompt him with the appropriate response and help him relate to humans.

By the way, the card that reads, "It was my fault, I should have known you didn't live in Aberdeen" is a reference to popular companion Sarah Jane Smith. Back in 1976, the Fourth Doctor abruptly stranded Sarah Jane in Aberdeen instead of her home town of Croydon.

• Cass, the deaf/mute leader of the Drum, is played by actress Sophie Stone, who's actually deaf in real life.

• The Doctor wore his horrible shirt again. You know, the one he wore last year, that looks like a car battery exploded and ate holes in it. That thing really needs to be destroyed in a laundry accident.

• This episode was a bit similar to ALIEN, complete with an isolated, claustrophobic space, wandering monsters, grunts just trying to do their job and even a "company man" who cares more about profits than human lives.

• We find out that the ghosts can only come out during the base's artificial night cycle. At one point the ghosts even switch the base to night mode so they can attack. O'Donnell, the resident computer whiz, easily switches it back to day time.

So why didn't O'Donnell just freeze the base in day cycle the minute the crew discovered the ghost's nocturnal preference? That way they wouldn't be able to appear and the crew wouldn't have to hide in terror inside the Faraday Cage every night. Whoops!

• The three ghosts silently mouthing words over and over was very eerie and effective.

• What was up with the odd scene in which the Doctor seemingly scolds Clara, and says "There's room for just one Doctor in the TARDIS." It seemed like that scene was going somewhere and had a point, but then it was dropped, never to be mentioned again. I'm betting a few scenes were cut for time.

• Dear lord, the Doctor's sonic sunglasses are the worst thing to happen to the show in years. They need to go, immediately.

In a recent interview, actor Peter Capaldi addressed the sonic controversy, saying, "The sonic screwdriver hasn't gone. The sonic sunglasses are an adjunct to the sonic screwdriver and have arrived because the Doctor likes Ray-Bans! You press them and they go 'zzzzz' and they do great things."

Let's hope he's right and the screwdriver appears again very, very soon.

• The Doctor recognizes the ghost in the top hat as a Tivolian. We've seen this race before-- Gibbs, in the episode The God Comples, was from Tivoli. Tivolians are famous for being a cowardly race, and proudly refer to their world as "the most invaded planet in the galaxy).

• The Doctor initially doesn't believe the creatures are ghosts, and says they're also not holograms, flesh avatars (first seen in The Rebel Flesh and The Almost People), Autons (seen in Spearhead From Space and Rose) or souls trapped in the Nethersphere (Dark Water and Death In Heaven).

• The Doctor and the Drum crew find a suspended animation chamber that was inside the alien ship, and bring it inside the Drum. The Doctor says it "probably" contains the ship's pilot, but can't get it open.

I'm gonna go out on a limb here and guess that the Doctor's the one in the suspended animation chamber. Why else would they not have been able to open it in Part 1?
Related Posts with Thumbnails
Site Meter