Thursday, January 22, 2015

Doctor Who Team-Up Infographic Redesign

A few years ago I made a Doctor Who Team-Up Infographic. It was OK, but it didn't come out the way it looked in my head and I never really liked the design.

So I finally took the time to redesign it, and add the additional team-up episode that aired in 2013 (timely I know, but hey, I'm busy).

It's tall, so prepare to scroll. If you want to read the text, you'll have to go to this link:

Apparently the large dimensions of the infographic are discombobulating the impeccably designed Blogger glitch-fest, er, I mean interface, and it insists on displaying this much-too-small image, no matter what I do to embiggen it.

The old infographic was 12" x 18." I knew I'd never fit all the additional info onto that size, so I decided not to worry about it, and just let the material dictate the dimensions.

For non-fans of the show, those circular symbols in the background are Gallifreyan words.

There was a lot of moving around of elements and rewriting of text to get everything just right. I'm a lot happier with this version.

As fun as these team-up episodes are, historically there's always been some sort of problem with each one, making them less than perfect. For example, in The Three Doctors, actor William Hartnell (who played the First Doctor) was in poor health and was only able to interact with the other Doctors via view screen, so it was really just two Doctors running around. Pity.

Then in The Five Doctors, Hartnell had sadly passed away and was replaced by actor Richard Hurndall. He did a good job, but naturally it just wasn't the same. Tom Baker, who played the Fourth Doctor, declined to participate, and appears for a few seconds through the magic of stock footage. Baker has recently said he regrets his decision.

In The Two Doctors, actor Patrick Troughton had aged visibly since his tenure on the series, and his hair had gone almost completely gray. This was distracting to say the least, since he was supposed to be the same age as the last time we saw him. This would have been such an easy fix— all they had to do was dye his hair black. Does hair dye not exist in England?

The Day Of The Doctor is marred by problems as well— namely the absence of the Ninth Doctor. In the episode, The Moment brings the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors back in time to show the War Doctor the massive guilt he'll experience if he destroys Gallifrey. 

But Ten and Eleven don't seem all that guilt-ridden or damaged, seeing as how they spend a good amount of screen time joking around with one another. The Ninth Doctor was the one who closest to the tragedy and had an air of sadness and tragedy about him. He'd have been a great example for The Moment to have used. So why wasn't he in the episode?

Unfortunately for the fans, actor Christopher Eccleston, who played the Ninth Doctor, has some sort of beef with the BBC and refuses to reprise the role. That's his business of course, but you'd think he could set aside his differences for the sake of the fans. Story-wise it makes no sense for him to not be in the episode, and hurts it overall.

I knew that show runner Stephen Moffat's plots were overly convoluted and needlessly complicated, but nowhere was that more evident than when I started writing up the synopsis for The Day Of The Doctor. I was able to distill the other episodes down to a few short paragraphs. It took many times that many to try and explain Day, even after leaving out a ton of stuff.

I kept whittling away at it and slashing elements until I got it down to a manageable size. You may notice that the Zygon subplot, that takes up a good amount of the run time, is barely mentioned in my synopsis. That's because I realized it's completely superfluous. It has absolutely nothing to do with the overall War Doctor plot line and could be edited out of the show completely without harming the episode one bit. Such are Stephen Moffat's scripts.

Hopefully there won't be any more team-ups for a while, so I won't have to update it again.

Drawn and designed all in InDesign.

The Flash Season 1, Episode 10: Revenge Of The Rogues

The Flash is back from Xmas vacation! Huzzah! I am not a fan of these mid-season breaks, but at least this show was only off for a month. Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. won't be back until freakin' March, and Doctor Who is gone until late fall (!). 

There's a lot going on this week, as the general public finally gets its first real look at the Flash, Iris moves in with Eddie, and we get our first super villain team up as Captain Cold joins forces with his pal Heat Wave. 


The Plot:
Still smarting from his defeat by the Reverse Flash, Barry trains to improve his speed. Captain Cold, aka Leonard Snart, returns to Central City with his partner Heat Wave, aka Mick Rory. They fake a robbery in order to set a trap for the Flash, but he's too busy training to show.

Dr. Wells tells Barry that if he ignores Captain Cold, he'll get bored and go away. Seems like sound advice to me! Barry tells Joe that he's going to concentrate on his speed, so he and the police force will have to deal with Cold themselves. This makes Joe unhappy. Cisco comes up with a special art deco shield to help protect the police.

Meanwhile in non-Flash related subplots,  and Iris moves out and into Eddie's apartment, much to Joe's chagrin. Caitlin talks to a colleague of her late fiancé Ronnie. She discovers that "Firestorm," the last thing Ronnie said to her, is not a name, but an acronym for the transmutation project he was working on with a Dr. Martin Stein.

Cold and Heat Wave kidnap Caitlin to draw out the Flash. Dr. Wells and Cisco theorize that if Barry can get the Rogues's respective guns to cross streams, they'll cancel each other out. And by cancel out, they mean "create a big-ass explosion." Dr. Wells admits this is just like Ghostbusters.

Joe and Cisco rescue Caitlin, while Barry battles Cold and Heat Wave in full view of the Central City police force. He eventually gets them to cross the streams, they blow up, and the public now knows the Flash is real and not an urban legend.

After Iris moves out of Joe's house, Barry decides to move back in. As the Rogues are being transported to prison, their van is hijacked by Snart's sister, who's most likely Golden Glider. 

• Barry's opening narration is changed this week, as he says, "My name is Barry Allen, and I'm NOT the fastest man alive," reflecting his run-in (HA!) with the Reverse Flash.

• The STAR Labs Gang helps Barry train by chasing him with flying drones. Drones that are equipped with live ammo, by the way, including missiles! Yikes! Hopefully Barry doesn't ever trip!

• As one of the training missiles bears down on Barry, Dr. Wells comes this close to jumping out of his wheelchair and revealing himself for the fraud he is. Fortunately for him (I guess), Barry rallies and saves himself, and Dr. Wells sits back down.

• I believe this episode set the record for the most times the name "Snart" has ever been said in a single televised hour. I have to admit I snicker a little every time I hear the name "Snart." Do the writers really think that moniker is any less silly than saying Captain Cold?

• By the way, did you notice that Captain Cold has a calm, icy demeanor while Heat Wave is a raging hothead? Subtle!

• The Rathaways, the wealthiest family in Central City, buys a valuable painting for a cool $25 million. The Rogues show up and steal it from them.

A few things about this little interlude. First of all, the painting is called Fire And Ice. It's an abstract work; one side is white, while the other side is red because of course it is.

Second, as he exits his private jet, Mr. Rathaway hands his driver the painting and tells him to be careful with it. Amazingly this $25 million dollar painting isn't inside a crate or any kind of protective packaging! The fragile canvas is totally exposed to the elements, spilled drinks and sharp corners. They didn't even bother to throw a tarp over it! "Yass, DO be careful Jeeves, and don't put your foot through my priceless painting!"

In their super secret villain lair, Heat Wave accuses Cold of being obsessed with killing the Flash and says they should just sell the painting and enjoy their newfound wealth. Um... where exactly do you sell a painting? Especially one that the whole art world knows is stolen? At the local pawn shop? They bicker for a bit and Heat Wave eventually comes around to Cold's point of view, agreeing to kill the Flash. He then torches the painting, just for kicks.

Well, that was all certainly meaningless! What the hell was the point of this whole "painting theft" scene, other than to eat up a few minutes of the run time?

• When Caitlin is discussing Ronnie with Barry, she says the last time she saw him, he muttered "Firestorm" and then flew away. She then says, "My dead fiance can fly. Haven't broken that to my parents yet." HA!

The two of them then figure out that "Firestorm" isn't a name or word, but an acronym for a project that Ronnie and his colleague Jason Rusch were working on. It stands for Fusion, Ignition, Research Experiment and Science of Transmutation Originating Rna and Molecular Structures. Phew! To paraphrase Grant Ward over on Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., "Somebody really wanted that to spell 'Firestorm."

This is significant, because in the comics Firestorm could not only fly, but had the power to transmute objects. That's a relief, because I was afraid they were going to turn him into a lame Human Torch clone.

By the way, in the comics, Jason Rusch is a rebooted, alternate version of Firestorm. I doubt he's going to turn into a superhero; I'm betting they just threw him in to make the fanboys swoon.

• Caitlin finds Ronnie's F.I.R.E.S.T.O.R.M. paper online, but balks at reading it because it's 800 pages long. Barry reads it in just a few seconds.

Apparently Barry's cognitive abilities also have super speed, if he's able to comprehend such a massive amount of info so quickly. This actually makes sense. The ability to run 500 miles an hour would be useless if you couldn't see an object in your path and be able to avoid it in time.

• Cisco whips up some special heated art deco shields for the police. They use them when Captain Cold attacks, and whaddya know, they actually work. Unfortunately for the cops though, the shields leave their legs exposed. Fortunately for the cops it never occurs to Cold to aim below the shields.

• The Rogues kidnap Caitlin in an effort to draw out the Flash. In their secret super villain lair, Heat Wave ties her to a booby-trapped chair with an incendiary device attached to a trip wire. As a finishing touch he places a gag in her mouth so she can't warn anyone who rushes in to rescue her.

Here's a fun little experiment. Take a handkerchief and place it across your open mouth. Now pull it as tight as you can around your face. Have you done so yet? OK, now try to speak. Can you still talk? Of course you can! Sure, your voice is a little muffled, but you can still speak at least as clearly as the average ventriloquist!

I can't really blame The Flash writers too much for this idiocy. This "mouth gag" er, gag has been going on since the earliest day of cinema.

• The Rogues then send a "ransom message" to the Flash over the TV airwaves. Despite the fact that it's playing on a hi-def TV, the video is very low res and has visible scan lines. Funny how we still use have to use these scan lines to indicate we're watching a video, despite the fact that TVs no longer display them.

• Dr. Wells, Cisco and Barry discuss how to neutralize Cold and Heat Wave's guns. Apparently Cold's gun fires an absolute zero ray— absolute zero being the coldest anything can possibly be. It's around −459ºF. That's pretty darned cold. 

Heat Wave's gun emits an absolute hot beam. I'd never heard this term before, and assumed it was just comic book science made up for the show. Apparently it's a real thing. It's the highest attainable temperature of matter, called the Planck temperature. It's 1.416 x 10(32)K. I have no idea what that means, but it's got like thirty two zeros in it and sounds really, really hot. Hot enough to melt not only Barry's suit, but probably the entire city as well.

• The entire time Barry's zipping up and down the street trying to get the Rogues to cross their streams, the police stand motionless like statues, seemingly powerless to do anything but gape at them. I guess the Central City Police Force doesn't have any snipers who could have picked off the villains from a rooftop? Maybe they all had the night off.

The only one who moves a muscle to help is Eddie, and even then he doesn't fire his weapon, but covers the Flash with a heat shield.

• By the way, I defy anyone on the audience to watch Captain Cold and Heat Wave firing their weapons and not thing of these two.

• As Iris is packing, she finds Barry's old backpack from his high school days. Of course it's red and yellow.

• Now that the entire police force has seen the Flash in person and knows he's real, does that mean Iris can shut down her stupid blog? Please?

• Biggest laugh of the night: As Iris is moving out, Joe is visibly upset. Eddie tells him he's welcome to visit anytime, but to give them "a few minutes notice." Joe doesn't find this amusing. Ha!

• At the end of the episode, Captain Cold and Heat Wave are being transported to Iron Heights Prison, when their convoy is attacked. They're freed by Cold's unseen sister. So... do you think this would this count as a... prison break? Eh? Get it? 

Wentworth Miller and Dominic Purcell both starred in Prison Break a few seasons ago.

• In the comics, Cold's sister is Golden Glider. I assume the same applies here. She has a pair of hi-tech skates that allow her to "glide" on any surface, and even through the air.

• For everyone who watched the episode live, how about that Subaru commerical with the dogs driving the car? Did you catch the disclaimer that said, "Dramatization. Professional driver on closed course. Do not attempt. Always secure your pets."

Seriously? I'm assuming that disclaimer was a joke, right? Please tell me it was a joke, and the general public doesn't really believe dogs can drive. Please?

Large Champion Part Six

Lately people have been coming up to me in the street (that's what I get for leaving the house) and asking me, "Bob! When are you going to stop reviewing all these mediocre PG-13 horror films? Would it kill you to review some Oscar® caliber movies? Big Hero 6 was just nominated for Best Animated Feature Film. Why don't you review that?"

"Ha!" I say to those people! There's no way I'm going to waste my money paying to see Big Hero 6! I haven't even seen the first five films yet! I'd have no idea what was happening or who the character are! It'd be like walking in during the middle of a movie!

Maybe when the bigwigs at Disney get of their asses and finally releases Big Hero 1 through 5 on videotape (I'm not jumping on this flash-in-the-pan DVD fad, nosiree!), then and only then will I go see Part 6.

It Came From The Cineplex: American Sniper

American Sniper was written by Jason Hall and directed by Clint Eastwood. 

It's the story of Chris Kyle, a real-life Navy Seal sniper who was the deadliest marksman in US military history, with 160 officially confirmed kills during his four tours of duty in Iraq.

The film excels at depicting the horrors of modern warfare and Kyle's harrowing military experience. By filming much of the action through the point of view of Kyle's sniper scope, the audience effectively becomes him, watching every single kill shot unflinchingly. It's an incredibly visceral and effective technique.

The film is less successful when it shows us Kyle back home, struggling to adjust to civilian life. The movie zooms right through these scenes like it's got somewhere else to be. This does a great disservice to the men and women who deal with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder on a daily basis. If Eastwood couldn't be bothered to devote the proper amount of attention to these scenes, then it would have been better if he hadn't included them at all.

Bradley Cooper turns in an incredible performance as Kyle, completely submerging himself in the role-- physically as well as mentally. But much like a sniper, the movie aims its narrow focus solely on Kyle, to the exclusion of everyone else. We learn little or nothing about any of the other characters, particularly his wife Taya (played by Sienna Miller).

Some have questioned the accuracy of the film, accusing it of painting Chris Kyle in a glowing light and leaving out some major and disturbing facts. This is nothing new, as no bio-pic has ever been 100% accurate. Always remember to treat such films as pieces of cinema rather than historical fact. That's easier said than done though.


The Plot:
Chris Kyle is a Texas rodeo cowboy who decides to enlist in the Navy after witnessing US embassy bombings on TV. A life-long hunter and marksman, he becomes a Navy Seal sniper.

Kyle marries a woman named Taya and is deployed to Iraq shortly after 9/11. His very first kills there are an Iraqi mother and her young son who attack a Marine convoy with a grenade. Afterwards Kyle is visibly upset by the experience. As he racks up kill after kill, he earns the nickname "Legend" from the soldiers whose lives he saved.

Kyle returns home to his wife and newborn son. He's distracted by his wartime experiences though, and signs up for a second tour of duty. Each time he returns home he's more visibly distraught as he ignores his growing family, and ends up returning to Iraq. He eventually serves four tours of duty there.

Kyle returns home for good after the disastrous fourth tour. He has trouble adjusting to civilian life though, saying he's "haunted by all the guys he couldn't save." He begins seeing a psychiatrist, who encourages him to visit his local VA hospital. He does so, and begins working with fellow veterans, teaching them how to shoot on a target range. This gives his life a new purpose, and he finally begins opening up to his family.

On February 2, 2013, Kyle goes to a target range to help a troubled fellow veteran, who shoots and kills him.

• The movie very viscerally depicts Kyle's wartime experiences, but doesn't bother to examine the morality of his actions. The closest we get is when Kyle says he kills bad guys to save good guys. 

It's a smart move on Eastwood's part— by neatly avoiding any moralizing, it makes the movie all inclusive. Liberals can watch and be appalled by Kyle's body count, while conservatives will see it as a jingoistic tale of a true patriot and hero.

• One thing the film does very well is to paint everything in broad, black and white strokes. The Americans are all uniformly good, while the Iraqis are all automatically inhuman, evil "savages."

This does a grave disservice to the many Iraqis who've worked alongside the American forces for years, as well as the thousands of innocent civilians who lost their lives in the crossfire.

• During Kyle's first day as a sniper in Iraq, he's forced to kill a mother and her young son. Later he appears before his superior officers, who question his actions and demand an explanation. Kyle bellows that he was just doing his job and he considers the case closed. He storms out of the office as his superiors sit and fume, seemingly powerless to stop him.

I have a feeling that this scene, if it happened at all, played out a lot differently in real life.

• After Kyle returns from his first tour of duty, he has trouble adjusting to home life. He tells his wife that people are dying every day in Iraq, while he's going shopping at the mall.

I have to admit that same thought has occurred to me before. The US has been at war for years now, but you'd never know it looking around here.

• During his time in Iraq, Kyle develops a rivalry with Mustafa, a Syrian born sniper who was a former Olympic sharpshooter. The two play a deadly game of cat and mouse throughout the film until Kyle ultimately pulls off a truly impossible shot and kills Mustafa.

The whole Mustafa subplot is ridiculous and cartoonish, and feels like it's spliced in from some over-the-top action film. I assume Eastwood included these scenes in order to give the film a tangible villain for the audience to boo, but it wasn't necessary.

It's also completely fabricated. Although there was a real Mustapha, Kyle himself states in his autobiography that they had absolutely zero interactions.

• When Taya calls Chris to tell him that they're having a boy, it's daytime in Texas. It's also daylight in Iraq when he receives the call. It's iffy as to whether this would be possible. The only way it could work is if it was early, early morning in Texas, like 5 or 6 am, and just before sundown in Iraq. Geography!

• Kyle walks into the barracks and sees a fellow soldier reading a Punisher comic book. When Kyle makes fun of his reading material, his friend smugly informs him that it's a graphic novel, not a comic, and there's a big difference. Unfortunately he's clearly reading a thin comic book in the scene.

• All biopics play fast and loose with the truth, and this one is no exception. Although Chris Kyle undoubtably saved the lives of hundreds of American soldiers, the real deal doesn't quite live up to the version depicted here. The film paints Kyle as a heroic figure who was troubled by his actions. That's not quite true. In reality he described killing as "fun," and said in his autobiography that he "couldn't give a flying f*ck about the Iraqis."

Movie Kyle is modest and uncomfortable with his "legend" status. The real Kyle reportedly enjoyed the attention and even contributed to it. He also lied a lot, saying he once killed two carjackers, shot looters during Hurricane Katrina, and even punch former Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura. Ventura claimed this never happened, sued Kyle and won.

Eastwood chooses to deal with these disturbing discrepancies by ignoring them altogether.

• During Kyle's last tour of duty, his squad is hurriedly searching a building before a sandstorm hits the city. Kyle, perched on the rooftop, sees a chance to finally kill his nemesis Mustafa. His superior officer orders him to stand down, as a shot would reveal their position to the enemy. Kyle defies orders, takes the shot and kills Mustafa, and his squad is immediately surrounded by Iraqis. Several of his fellow soldiers are killed or wounded, and Kyle himself barely escapes with his life.

First of all, once again this scene seems more like action movie embellishment rather than fact. Secondly, true or not, nothing is ever said about the fact that Kyle defied orders and endangered own men, which seems unlikely.

• After Kyle is honorably discharged and comes home for good, he has trouble adjusting. An army psychiatrist suggests he visit wounded soldiers in the local VA. 

He does so, and begins working with the shattered veterans, taking them out to the target range and teaching them to shoot.

One of the veterans Kyle works with is a young triple amputee. He's played by real life veteran Bryan Anderson, who lost an arm and both legs from a roadside bomb in Iraq. His story, while probably not as flashy as Kyle's, would no doubt make just as interesting a film.

• At the end of the film Kyle is seemingly back to normal as he goes off to take another veteran to the shooting range. The movie abruptly ends with a title card saying he was shot and killed by the troubled vet he was trying to help.

His death is neatly avoided as well, happening completely offscreen. This seems odd, as up to this point the film hasn't shied away from murder and bloodshed.

American Sniper very ably shows us the horrors of war, but stumbles when trying to show the fallout back home. It might have been better if it'd just stuck with the war half. I give it a B.

Friday, January 16, 2015

What's Giving Christianity A Black Eye This Week?

The religious world is reeling this week over the news that the book The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven is not a true, firsthand account of a child visiting the afterlife, but is actually a work of fiction.

The book, co-written in 2010 by then six year old Alex Malarkey and his father, told the story of Alex's miraculous experience after being injured in a horrific car crash. Alex was left paralyzed and in a coma for two months. When he finally woke, he spun a fantastic tale of angels taking him through the gates of Heaven itself, where he met and talked with Jesus. According to young Alex, the afterlife is filled with zero calorie ranch dressing rivers, blankets with sleeves and chimps who wear vests and won't bite off your face (OK, I made up that last part myself).

Alex, now sixteen, recanted his claims this week, stating, "I did not die. I did not go to Heaven. I said I went to Heaven because I thought it would get me attention."

Christian bookstores across the country, stunned and demoralized, immediately pulled the book from their shelves after hearing the shocking admission.

I don't blame Alex for lying-- that's what kids do. They lie. All day, every day. He was just doing what came naturally. My scorn is reserved for his father, who saw a way to parlay the tragedy into a gold mine.

You'd think people would have been a little more skeptical of his claims based on his name alone. Malarkey? Are you fraking kidding me? Man, the jokes are writin' themselves today.

I'm keeping my eye on you too, kid. You and your poorly Photoshopped head.

And Burpo? Can you only pretend you went to Heaven if you have a bizarre last name?

Then in Florida (of course), the Pinellas County Sheriff's Department made headlines when they discovered that their new rugs, prominently emblazoned with their logo, actually said "In Dog We Trust" rather than the traditional "In God We Trust." The rugs were in place for two months before the error was noticed. Good eye, Sheriff!

American Floor Mats, who manufactured the rugs, has agreed to replace the faulty floor coverings. 

I'm wondering if this was a simple typo, or if someone at American Floor Mats is of the atheist faith. "In Dog We Trust" is often used by non-believers as a secular epithet. Methinks someone in the printing department was having a larf, wondering how long it'd take the faithful to notice. Apparently the answer is two months.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Coming This Fall On ABC: Sergeant Carter!

Hot on the heels of Marvel's new smash-hit series Agent Carter comes this brand new spin-off: Sergeant Carter!

Watch each week as the volatile Sergeant Carter hunts down the villainous Leviathan with the help of the bumbling Agent Pyle and the womanizing Agent Slater. You'll be SUR-PRIZED, SUR-PRIZED, SUR-PRIZED by what you're willing to watch when there's nothing else on!

Starring Jim Nabors, Ronny Schell and the hologram of the late Frank Sutton. Sergeant Carter airs Tuesdays at 8, 7 Central this fall on ABC!

Why Do They Call The Comics: B.C., The Wizard Of Id and Nancy

If you've ever stood in the secret armory behind the fake wall in your basement, oiling your .357 Magnum while staring up at your autographed photo of Senator Ted Cruz and pondering to yourself, "I wonder where the creators of the B.C. comic strip stand on gun control," then this is your lucky day.

I'm aware of the fact that many of my blog posts tend to be pedantic, and try to tone it down as much as my over-analytical mind will allow. That said, I feel compelled to point out that there's absolutely nothing about this strip makes a lick of sense.

Spook the Prisoner is trying to tunnel out of his dungeon, as Turnkey catches him and sentences him to solitary confinement. But what kind of holding cell would afford a prisoner the privacy he'd need to dig an escape route? Some sort of solitary, confining cubicle, perhaps?

He's then hustled from solitary to Double Secret Solitary, which we see is already occupied by an incarcerated street walker. I get the joke— prison overcrowding is hilarious! But the disconnect between the art and the dialog doesn't even make sense in an absurdist way.

I kind of wonder if this is some old strip that's been repurposed with new text, which didn't quite work out the way Parker intended.

Nancy has never been known for being on the cutting edge of popular culture, but Jesus Christ! John Mellancamp dropped the "Cougar" from his name in 1983. Thirty two years ago. Timely!

Even as an "old people are weird" reference, this one is well past its expiration date.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Marvel's Agent Carter Season 1, Episode 3: Time And Tide

Last week I said I was impressed with how the Agent Carter pilot didn't waste any time and hit the ground running. There was little or no filler as it quickly efficiently set up the world and its characters. It was an effective piece of writing and a good lesson in how to begin a series.

That all went out the window this week. Time And Tide moves much more slowly and features generous amounts of padding and wheel-spinning, especially for a series that's only eight episodes long. Seems like they ought to be moving things along a bit faster.

We do learn a few choice tidbits about Edwin Jarvis, Peggy makes Howard Stark's situation worse and a supporting character dies, but by and large it's more about character than plot this week.


The Plot:
As the episode opens, Peggy searches a book of symbols trying to discover the meaning of the heart symbol that Leet Brannis drew in the sand last week. Mrs. Fry, headmistress of her boarding house, introduces her to a new tenant named Dottie, who I'm sure won't turn out to be some sort of enemy agent.

Meanwhile the SSR boys keep busy by investigating last week's dead Leviathan agent's hotel room, where they discover his cool two-way typewriter. They also discover than in addition to having his voice box removed, the agent supposedly died two years ago, which is brought up and then promptly dropped. And they discover Howard Stark's license plate in the wreckage of the imploded Roxxon refinery that blew up real good last week.

SSR Agent Thompson believes that Jarvis had something to do with the implosion, or at least knows something about it. He arrests Jarvis and interrogates him, going so far as to brand him a traitor and threaten to deport him and his wife. He's saved at the last second by Peggy, who sacrifices what little credibility she had around the office to spring him.

Later she and Jarvis investigate Stark's mansion, specifically the giant hole that Leviathan agents drilled in the floor when they stole the nitramene bombs last week. They discover the hole leads into the sewers and out into a bay, where they see a ship branded with Leet Brannis' heart symbol. Peggy asks Jarvis about the treason charge. He tells her he fell in love with a jewish woman during the war and forged documents to get her out of Budapest, which lead to criminal charges. Howard Stark used his influence to clear the charges, hence all the loyalty to him.

They investigate the boat and find crates of Stark tech inside, specifically a glowing green "back massager" that has the unfortunate side effect of contorting limbs and breaking bones. Hmm... I'm sure those won't become useful later in the episode. Peggy wants to turn the tech over to the SSR, which will clear Stark's name. Jarvis talks her out of it though, rightly pointing out that she'd never be able to explain how she found the stolen goods in the first place, or why she's trying to help Stark.

Jarvis calls it in to the SSR anonymously, while Peggy's attacked by a Leviathan thug. She gives him a patented Agent Carter beat down, and even uses the glowy massager on him to incapacitate him, which we all saw coming.

The SSR boys arrive and confiscate the Stark tech. The oafish Agent Krzeminski is transporting the thug back to headquarters when he's waylaid by a mysterious assassin and they're both killed. The next day the entire office mourns Krzeminski, and Agent Dooley blames Stark for the murders. Peggy realizes she's just made everything much worse— she got an Agent killed, and Stark is in more trouble than he was before.

• I liked Peggy's "I'm Agent Carter" voiceover at the beginning of the episode, explaining what happened last week. Apparently ABC is taking a page from the CW and their various series, which all begin with the main character stating "My name is ___________."

• Part of the wheel-spinning this week— a man climbs the side of Peggy's all-woman boarding house for a late-night rendezvous with her neighbor Molly. The next morning Mrs. Fry, head of the house, throws Molly out for violating the rules by trying to sneak in a man. She boasts that the boarding house is "impregnable."

This gets Peggy to thinking, and she comes to the conclusion that "no house is impregnable." She then and only then decides to see how thieves broke into Howard Stark's mansion and stole all his tech.

The whole "sneaking into the boarding house" sequence apparently only existed to give Peggy a nudge. Couldn't she have thought to do that on her own, without all the fluff? Filler!

• More wheel-spinning: Jarvis' interrogation. It went on way longer than necessary, and seems like it was included just to eat up screen time. First he gets questioned at Stark Manor, then he has to take a ride downtown, then he's grilled repeatedly at SSR headquarters before Peggy finally intervenes. If nothing else they could have cut out the steps leading to the interrogation.

We did find out some interesting things about him though, like his treason charge, so it wasn't totally a wash.

• By the way, I really felt for Peggy when she had to play "airhead" to scuttle Agent Thompson's interrogation and save Jarvis. Any amount of credibility she had among her male coworkers flew right out the window as she derailed the questioning, and you could see it in her face.

• Jarvis looked amazingly like Benedict Cumberbatch in certain scenes this week. I wonder if they hired him for that resemblance.

• Last week I said there were probably a lot of anachronisms in the series, but that I didn't spot any. Well, I've spotted one now— a big one. No one smokes on this show! 

Everyone and their dog smoked back in the 1940s. Constantly. They smoked at work, they smoked in their cars, they even smoked as they ate dinner. Heck, advertisements even touted the health benefits of smoking, if you can believe such a thing.

But that was in the past. You can't show people smoking on TV these days, laws no. Especially not on a show that kids might watch, because as everyone knows, if you see someone smoking, you'll instantly take up the habit yourself.

• Mrs. Fry, the head of the boarding house, spends an inordinate amount of time introducing her new tenant Dottie to Peggy and Angie. I'm betting Dottie will turn out to be significant somehow. A HYDRA or Leviathan agent, perhaps? There's got to be something going on with her, else why spend so much time on her introduction?

By the way, Mrs. Fry, the owner of Peggy's boarding house, is played by Meagen Fay. If you're a fan of Roseanne, you'll no doubt remember her as neighbor Kathy Bowman in a handful of memorable appearances.

• After Stark's "massager" was introduced, did anyone in the audience NOT think Peggy would end up using it on the thug?

• Lastly, it's a breath of fresh air to see a hero who makes mistakes and isn't always right. Her presence at Roxxon last week almost get Jarvis deported. She jumps the gun and wants to turn in the Stark tech before Jarvis convinces her that would only lead to more trouble. She inadvertently gets Agent Krzeminski killed, which makes Stark's situation worse. She even lets the Leviathan thug see her, and he'd have blown her cover if he hadn't been killed first.

It's nice to see a super hero who isn't perfect and is capable of having a bad day.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

One Corp To Rule Them All

(Reuters) - This week international conglomerate Shire announced it has agreed to buy U.S. group NPS Pharmaceuticals Inc for $5.2 billion. This is the corporation's biggest acquisition to date as it seeks to strengthen its position in the field of conventional, non-Elven medicine.

The news comes on the heels of Shire's takeover of Buckland LLC and Bree Industries late last year. Shire beat out several other top firms vying for the company, including Moria Mining, Inc., The Rohan Group, Gondor Venture Capital and Rivendell R & D.

Shire CEO Bilbo Baggins could not be reached for comment. All calls to his office were met with a message consisting of "No thank you! We don't want any more reporters, industry insiders or distant shareholders!"

A spokesman for the company, one Gandalf T. White, Esq. (formerly Gandalf T. Grey), was scheduled to comment on the sale, but was reportedly late to the press conference. When White finally arrived, he furrowed his brow and stated in a raspy voice, "A spokesman is never late, nor is he early. He arrives precisely when he means to!" 

Baggins did attend a recent shareholder's meeting, in which he took the stage before the assembled guests and said, "My dear CEOs and CFOs, Presidents and Vice Presidents, Directors, Managers, Supervisors, Accountants, Shareholders and Reporters! I don't know half of your companies half as well as I should like, and I like less than half of your companies half as well as they deserve."

As the audience murmured in confusion and demanded answers, Baggins seemed distracted and confused as he mumbled, "I've put this off for far too long. I regret to announce... this is The End." Baggins then reportedly appeared to vanish into thin air, greatly startling everyone in attendance.

Witnesses say the crowd then rose to their feet and began to storm the stage. White, who was also in attendance, seemed to grow in stature as the auditorium darkened and shook, and he bellowed in a menacing voice, "Ash nazg durbatuluk, ash nazg gimbatul, ash nazg thrakatuluk agh burzum-ishi krimpatul!"

Despite the chaotic meeting, analysts predict the deal could boost Shire's earnings per share by at least twelve percent. Shares in Shire edged slightly lower in the opening trades on Monday, however, as many industry insiders believe Baggins to be "cracked."

Investors shouldn't celebrate under the Party Tree just yet, as rumors of Baggins' pending retirement refuse to die. Word on the street suggests he may soon hand over the reins to the corporation to his nephew Frodo Baggins, a move that could send shockwaves through the industry and send the stock plummeting.

There are more dark clouds on the horizon, in the form of competition. The recent merger between Mordor Holdings and Isengard Enterprises (MordorCorp) has resulted in a conglomeration that could be a powerful enemy for Shire.

Indeed, Smeagol, a spokesman for MordorCorp, released a statement saying, "Baggins! We hates it forever!"

It Came From The Cineplex: Tak3n (Taken 3)

"It Ends Here?" If only...
Tak3n (or Takthreen, as I like to call it) was written by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen. It was directed by Olivier Megaton.

Besson and Kamen also wrote the first two films, and Megaton directed the previous outing, Taken 2. You're probably squinting while stroking your beard and thinking, "I bet Megaton's not his real name." If so, you're correct. He was born Olivier Fontana.

I enjoyed the original Taken quite a bit— it took the box office by surprise back in 2008, and gave Liam Neeson a new career as an action hero. His Bryan Mills character was an uncompromising badass who shot first and didn't even bother with the questions later as he searched the globe for his kidnapped daughter.

Unfortunately the second film was a pale imitation of the original. Everything that made the first one good was sorely lacking in the second. Sadly, the same thing is true in this third outing. 

They do try to change things up a bit this time by skipping the kidnapping angle and making Neeson the one who's hunted, in what amounts to a weak remake of The Fugitive. Ultimately it's just more of the same. A copy of a copy, that gets worse with every succeeding generation. It's high time this franchise was put out of its misery.


The Plot:
As we all know by now, Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson), is an ex-CIA agent and all around badass. He's visited by his ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen), who says her marriage to shady businessman Stuart St. John is on the rocks and confesses she still has feelings for Bryan. Stuart warns Bryan to stay away from Lenore. 

The next day Lenore texts Bryan and asks to meet him. He agrees and goes out to get a bag of her favorite bagels. When he returns to his apartment, he finds Lenore's lifeless body in his bedroom. Right on cue the police enter, accusing him of her murder. He escapes and sets out to prove his innocence and find out who murdered Lenore.

LAPD Inspector Dotzler (Forest Whitaker) is assigned to the case. There's lots of running around, car crashes and explosions as Bryan manages to stay one step ahead of Dotzler.

Bryan eventually discovers that Stuart owed a huge debt to an ex-KGB operative (there's a lot of exes in this movie) named Oleg Malankov. Stuart says Malankov was the one who murdered Lenore.

Bryan infiltrates Malankov's heavily guarded penthouse and after much shooting and blowing up of things, mortally wounds him. Malankov tells Bryan that they're both patsies— Stuart played them against one another. Stuart took out a twelve million dollar life insurance policy on Lenore, knowing that Malankov would kill her when he didn't pay his debt, and that Bryan would kill Malankov in revenge, conveniently disposing of that loose end.

Stuart kidnaps Bryan's daughter Kim and attempts to flee the country. Bryan manages to disable the plane in the knick of time (with a car, yet!) and beats Stuart into submission, telling him he'll be waiting for him when he gets out of prison.

In the requisite happy denouement, Kim and her boyfriend Jimmy tell Bryan he's going to be a grandpaw. Bryan somehow restrains himself and doesn't snap Jimmy's neck.

• I am not a fan of the cutesy "Tak3n" version of the title. I blame the Jackson 5ive for starting the whole "numbers as letters" trend way back in the 1970s.

• The first two Taken films had an expansive worldwide scope, as Bryan Mills scoured the globe searching for his family members.

All that goes right out the window in this installment. The entire film seems to take place within several square miles of Bryan's apartment. We even get to visit exotic locations such as Kim's community college! Breathtaking!

• Stuart St. John is played by actor Dougray Scott. I kind of feel sorry for Scott, as he's lost out on some really choice roles over the years. In 2000 he was all set to play Wolverine in the first X-Men film, but had to drop out when Mission: Impossible, which he was starring in, went over schedule. 

He was then on the short list to replace Pierce Brosnan as James Bond before the role ultimately went to Daniel Craig. There were even rumors he was being considered to play the Joker in The Dark Knight

Poor Dougray Scott. Always a bridesmaid and never a bride.

• Liam Neeson is sixty three years old. A very fit sixty three, but sixty three nonetheless. 

When Bryan is first cornered by a couple of policemen, he escapes and leads them on a merry chase through his neighborhood, effortlessly outrunning a cop at least half his age. A cop who looks not unlike Oscar de la Hoya in build and fitness level. 

Bryan dashes down alleys, scales fences and even parkours from rooftop to rooftop as he evades the police. I'm honestly surprised he didn't parkour up the side of a building or stop for an impromptu breakdance.

Yes, earlier in the film they show Bryan jogging in a weak attempt to show us he stays fit, but I still ain't buying it.

• In addition to Bryan's amazing fitness level and his tactical and spy knowledge, he's also equipped with a wide array of magic, er, I mean hi-tech gizmos that let him download GPS info from cars and data from cell phones. He even has a tiny computer that copies the entire LA Police Department database in a few seconds (!). He might as well have had a sonic screwdriver— it wouldn't have seemed out of place.

Spy gadgets are nothing new; James Bond films have used them for decades. Those movies are spy fantasies though— the Taken movies are supposedly a bit more grounded. It's a bit jarring when Bryan has what is essentially a magic wand.

It's hard to build up any tension in a film when the main character can literally do anything he needs to, whenever he needs to do it. 

• Agent Dotzler is a quirky cop, who carries around a chess piece and wears a rubber band around his hand, that he snaps himself with when he makes a mistake. I'm sure was supposed to be some kind of unspoken look into his psyche, but it just comes off as odd.

• Bryan wants to speak to his daughter Kim, who's under heavy police surveillance. To that end, he poisons the yogurt drink that we're told she buys every day from a particular shop on campus. When she begins feeling nauseous, she dashes to a bathroom stall where Bryan just happens to be hiding.

How'd he know someone else wouldn't buy the yogurt drink before she did? Yes, we're told she always buys the fourth one back, but what if there was a run on that flavor that particular day? And how'd he know which stall she'd be in? What did he do if someone tried to use the stall he was hiding in before Kim got there? Did he say, "Sorry, occupied!" in a high-pitched voice?

Maybe he could have just, oh, I don't know, called her cell phone or sent her a text message, and used one of his magic doodads to block his location?

Oh, and don't worry— after he tells her he poisoned her he gives her an antidote that instantly neutralizes the substance. Ka-zam!

• Just like in Taken 2, this film makes extensive use of Shakey-Cam™ in all the fight and car chase scenes. Because why just use one cut to show Bryan punching a bad guy when you can use seventeen?

I couldn't tell what the hell was happening in any of the fight scenes, and had to wait until they were over to see who won. Surprise, it was Bryan every time.

• After Stuart is apprehended, we see Bryan in Dotzler's office, where he explains everything to the Detective's satisfaction. Dotzler says he could charge Bryan for resisting arrest, but that all is forgive and tells him he's free to go.

Um... what about Bryan's little jaunt along the busy LA freeway? His getaway stunt caused hundreds of collisions, injuries and probably even a few deaths. Shouldn't he be liable for all that?

And what about all of Malankov's men that he killed when he infiltrated his penthouse? Sure, they were all seedy underworld thugs, but killing them was still outright murder.

That's one of my biggest pet peeves about action movies like this— there are never any consequences for the hero's actions. Yes, Bryan proved his innocence and brought the real killer of his wife to justice, but he broke forty or fifty other laws to do so. 

• At the end of the movie Kim and her boyfriend "Jimmy" tell Bryan that they're having a baby, and will name it after Lenore if it's a girl.

Welp, there's your plot for Taken 4 (or most likely T4ken) right there— Bryan's granddaughter will be Taken, and he'll have to travel the globe to get her back.

Taken 3 tries to change the direction of the franchise, but can't capture the raw intensity of the first film. It's way past time for this series to end. I give it a C+.
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