Wednesday, November 19, 2014

This Week In Ill-Advised Program Icons

So I'm watching The Flash on the CW last night, and I notice that whenever they run an in-house promo for one of their shows, they put these little icons in the corner of the screen.

They look like little squares with a letter inside, reminiscent of the Adobe icons on your computer.

For example, the icon for Arrow is a square with a stylized A, the cross section of which looks like a little bow. Clever, huh?

They use an S for Supernatural, a stylized J for Jane The Virgin, the number 100 for The 100, and then they mix it up a bit and use a lightning bolt for The Flash.

That's all well and good until we get to the icon for The Vampire Diaries. Yow... that... that's not good. That's not good at all. Those two letters should never be placed together, especially in a TV promo.

And the way the V is dripping. I know it's supposed to be blood, but with those two letters and the white color... it just looks like some sort of unpleasant discharge.

Hey, The CW. You use a lightning bolt in the icon for The Flash. How about for the Vampire diaries you use one with pointy teeth? Or a bat? Something, anything, besides VD.

The Flash Season 1, Episode 6: The Flash Is Born

This week on The Flash we get an obscure (to me anyway) supervillain, Iris keeps blogging, the STAR Labs Gang gets more character development and the real identity of Dr. Wells becomes even murkier.

By the way, I just want to say that despite my often snarky attitude in these reviews, this is fast becoming my new favorite show.


The Plot:
Barry encounters a new metahuman called Girder, who somehow beats the crap out of him, despite not having super speed. Girder turns out to be Barry's childhood nemesis, who regularly administered beatings to him in school. This time it's personal!

After several more beatdowns, the STAR Labs Gang figures out a way for Barry to defeat Girder-- by the incredibly sophisticated act of running real fast and punching him at supersonic speed. He finally defeats Girder, and they lock him up in the super jail inside STAR Labs, which can't possibly be legal.

Meanwhile Iris continues to blog about the Flash, while he continues to try and talk her out of it.

And Det. West, investigating the murder of Barry's mom, thinks that the highly suspicious and creepy Dr. Wells might have something to do with it. Wells denies any involvement, but then ten minutes later West is visited by the Reverse Flash, who tells him to knock it off. Hmm...


• This episode is titled The Flash Is Born. I could have sworn everyone has been calling him that since the pilot.

I guess it's just the STAR Labs Gang that's been calling him that, and Iris-- and the general public-- has been referring to him as the laughable "The Streak."

• This is some hard core nitpicking, but what the heck. In the weekly prologue, Barry says that everyone thinks he's a normal forensic scientist. He says this while holding a test tube in his hand and vibrating it at super speed. I don't think normal forensic scientists can do that.

• I thought I knew all the Flash villains, so when Girder appeared I assumed he was either from another comic (Firestorm, no doubt) or created just for the show. Turns out he's from the Flash comic after all. He's a newer character who came along after I stopped buying comics.

In the comic Girder is made of living iron, but here it's steel. Did they change his substance so they could make a "Man Of Steel" joke?

Unfortunately Girder comes off as a low-rent Colossus here. He's got a cool power, but Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. already did the metal man schtick a couple of months ago with Absorbing Man.

• At the beginning of the episode Girder is fleeing the police in a stolen yellow Hummer. A few things here.

First of all, Eddie Thawne and several other cops set up a roadblock to stop Girder. As his Hummer approaches, they all begin firing at it-- while several police cars are following closely behind. Is that a good idea? They're basically shooting at their own men here.

Secondly, as Eddie fires wildly at the approaching Girder, he gets off a lucky shot that hits him in the face. Girder's face instantly turns to steel and deflects the bullet. Somehow Eddie is able to see this and realize that Girder is a metahuman. Yep, he sees a man's face momentarily turn to steel as he's approaching at 90 mph, in the dark. Eddie must have good eyes indeed.

Lastly, why in the name of Henry Ford did Girder steal a Hummer? They stopped making them over four years ago, in May of 2010! Does Girder just have a thing for discontinued behemoths that get poor gas mileage, or did he grab the first thing he could steal?

• Girder used to work at the Keystone Ironworks in Keystone City, which is apparently fairly close to Central City. In the comics, Keystone City is where Jay Garrick, the original Flash lived. Which of course raises the question-- will we be seeing the Jay Garrick Flash on the show? I hope so, as that would be awesome.

• This has nothing to do with the episode, but the bas-relief mural in the Central City Police Department is actually a big Easter egg. The figures featured in it are all based on members of the Justice League! Pretty cool!

According to the designer of the mural, the figures are all Greco-Roman gods masquerading as superheroes. Zeus is Superman, Hades is Batman, Hera is Wonder Woman, Mercury is the Flash (natch), Apollo is Green Arrow, Poseidon is Aquaman and Vulcan is Green Lantern.

• For several weeks now Barry's been trying to get Iris to understand that her blog is putting her in danger. This week Girder proves his point. Girder doesn't seem like the sharpest tool in the shed, but even he can figure out that if Iris is writing about the Flash, then she must know him, and he comes a'runnin' for her.

If a dim bulb like him can manage to put the pieces together, a more intelligent supervillain out to have no trouble doing the same. Iris should realize that and stop blogging immediately, instead of hitting send without proofreading and smugly staring at her hit count.

• When Iris is talking to the Flash, she mentions other metahumans popping up all over the country, including a burning man who's literally on fire. I'm assuming that's yet another reference to Firestorm.

• Eddie Thawne tells Barry that he was jealous of him at first, but is now glad that he's such good friends with Iris.

I liked these bonding scenes between Barry and Eddie quite a bit. As most of us know, Eddie Thawne is the alter ego of the Reverse Flash in the comics. Whether that's the case here remains to be seen. I'm betting the writers are doing everything they can to make Eddie seem like a nice guy, so that when he does finally become a supervillain it'll be all the more shocking.

• The STAR Labs Gang calculates that Barry will need to run 830 mph in order to defeat girder. Cisco says that's faster than the speed of sound. That's sort of true. Mach speed is not a constant, and can vary wildly depending on atmospheric pressure and temperature. It's all very complicated.

At normal sea level Mach 1, otherwise known as the speed of sound, is 761 mph. So Barry will most likely be running faster than the speed of sound.

• Cisco also tells Barry that in order to get up to 830 mph, he'll need a 5.3 mile running start. During his final battle with Girder, Barry takes off running in the opposite direction and stops exactly 5.3 miles away. Does he have an odometer built into his suit?

• OK, I get that Barry lacks the strength to harm Girder's steel hide, but how does he keep getting his ass handed to him every time they grapple? Barry can literally move faster than the human eye can see. Unless Girder has super speed as well, I don't understand how he's able to grab him so easily and toss him around.

• Barry's supersonic punch was pretty cool. Like a panel from the comic come to life.

That said, I'm a bit fuzzy as to how Girder's powers work. Is his body made of some kind of organic steel that he can make look normal? Or is he made of flesh and blood and can somehow cover himself with steel? I'm guessing it's the latter, especially if Iris was able to take him out with one punch to the jaw (after Barry softened him up, of course).

• After Girder is defeated, he's locked up in the Super Jail inside STAR Labs.

This can't possibly be legal. Sure, Girder's a criminal, but he still has the right to due process. The STAR gang can't just lock him up without a trial in their own little version of Gitmo. Or did they just not take the time to show us the part where he got a jury trial?

Does Det. West know about this? Surely not, because I can't imagine he'd be OK with private citizens building a prison and incarcerating criminals indefinitely.

I know this is a comic book world, but this is a pretty serious issue they're blurring over here. Jailing suspects without a trial would never happen in the real worl.... oh, wait.

• As Girder is ranting and pounding on the hopefully unbreakable glass of his cell, Barry just can't help himself and reveals his identity to him. I get that Barry wanted to finally best his nemesis, but that seemed like a pretty bad idea. I'm sure that won't ever come back to bite him in the ass come Sweeps week.

• Det. West is determined to find out who really killed Barry's mom, Nora Allen. He questions Dr. Wells, who arrived in Central City only a month before the murder. Dr. Wells he came to Central City shortly after his wife Tess Morgan was killed in a car accident.

Like so many other major and minor characters on this show, I figured Tess Morgan was from the comics. As near as I can tell she's not.

• Shortly after Det. West questions Dr. Wells, he's in his home looking over the Nora Allen case files. Suddenly the room is filled with red lightning and a blurry yellow figure appears before his eyes. When the lightning dies down, the files are gone and there's a photo of Iris stuck to the wall with a knife, the words "STOP OR ELSE" scrawled on it.

Obviously this was the work of the Reverse Flash. But who is he? As I mentioned above, in the comics he's Eddie Thawne. But here he appears just moments after Det. West's meeting with Dr. Wells. That would seem to point to Wells being the Reverse Flash rather than Eddie. Unless Wells somehow controls Eddie? Or they're working together.

The writers are just messing with us here. They know we're expecting Eddie to be the Reverse Flash, so they're obviously muddying the waters so we have no idea who the hell's the real villain.

If Wells does turn out to really be the Reverse Flash, it wasn't very smart of him to put on his little show for Det. West just minutes after their tense little meeting. There aren't a lot of other people West could suspect.

This Week In Derivative DVD Covers

This is the cover for the soon to be released complete series box set of Sliders.

If you'll recall, Sliders was a 1990s TV series that told the story of a group of reluctant explorers who jumped from one parallel Earth to another, trying to get back home.Each week they'd travel through a dimensional vortex to an Earth that was different from ours in significant ways. They might encounter an Earth in which the Russians won the Cold War, or one inhabited by tribes of cannibals, or one in which women are socially dominant and men considered inferior.

It most definitely has nothing whatsoever to do with the Portal video game series. So why's the designer of the Sliders cover bending over backwards to make it look like it's Portal 3?

Didn't think I'd notice, did you, Sliders designers? Well I noticed. I noticed.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Walking Dead Season 5, Episode 6: Consumed

Not a lot happens in this week's episode. It's long on mood and short on plot and dialog, as it fills in the missing piece of the puzzle started when the characters split up at the church in Four Walls And A Roof.

It was nice though to see some of the characters exploring an urban setting. Let's face it, they've been killing walkers in the woods for a long, long, long time, so it was nice to see them kill walkers in the big city for a change. I'm guessing we don't get to see ruined cities very often because they're expensive to simulate. Walking around in the woods is cheap, if not free.

That said, it's a big disappointing to me that this episode takes us right back where we started. In the exact same spot, in fact, that Rick explored way back in the very first episode. Hard to believe that after five seasons the characters have only managed to travel twenty miles or so from Atlanta.

The promos for next week say there're only two more episodes this year. Groooaaaan. Does that mean they're taking another months-long break mid-season? I hate when they split seasons in half like that.


The Plot:

This week we follow badass super couple Daryl and Carol as they travel to Atlanta in search of Beth. They wander the post apocalyptic urban landscape for most of the episode, looking for clues as to her location. 

They're robbed of their weapons by Noah, the young orderly who escaped from Grady Memorial Hospital, where Beth is still being held against her will. They catch up with Noah later on and get their weapons back. When they threaten him, he tells them where they can find Beth. Carol runs toward the hospital but is hit by one of the ambulances. The Grady cops get out, put her on a stretcher and speed off toward the hospital. 

Daryl and Noah steal a truck and presumably head back to the church for reinforcements.

Thoughts:• I'm not sure, but I think I might have picked up a possible fire/burning metaphor in this episode. Carol has several flashbacks in which she sees smoke in the distance (from the prison and later Terminus). We see her burning the infected bodies of Karen and the other guy in the prison. She tells Daryl that both her old and new selves have been "burned away." Daryl tells her that they're not ashes. Subtle! 

• In a flashback we see Carol shortly after Rick banished her from the group. After driving around aimlessly for a while, she spends the night in a law firm.

A law firm? Personally I might have gone for a grocery or convenience store, or maybe even a private residence. 

On the other hand, perhaps she has the right idea after all. Maybe she figured no one in their right mind would think to hide in a law firm and therefore it would be clear of walkers.

• Daryl and Carol make their way into downtown Atlanta in search of Beth. The shot of the post-apocalyptic city is virtually identical to the one in the first episode, in which Rick rode a horse down the deserted highway. The abandoned cars and trains are even in the same places!
• Books also play a big part in this episode. Daryl and Carol hole up for the night in a woman's shelter. It's the very same shelter in which Carol and Sophia stayed before the Fall.

On a desk in their room we see a book titled Treating Survivors Of Childhood Abuse. This is significant for both characters, as Carol was a battered wife, and Daryl's admitted that as a child his father regularly beat him.

Later we get a very fleeting glimpse of a copy of The Adventures Of Tom Sawyer stuffed inside Carol's duffel bag. Sharp-eyed viewers will remember that Hershel gave this book to Mika and Lizzie back in the prison.

Another possible significance: In the book, Tom Sawyer is presumed dead by the townsfolk and appears at his own funeral.
•  Inside the shelter, Daryl and Carol lay side by side on the bottom half of a bunk bed. Nothing happens though, as they simply lie there and talk.

There is a sizable group of fans out there that desperately want to see these two characters hook up. I bet their collective heads were exploding during this scene.
• It's pretty obvious that Carol used to live in Atlanta, or at least one of its suburbs. So why doesn't she sound like it? Where's the Southern drawl, like the one Rick has? Apparently she was born elsewhere and moved to the Big Peach later.

• Daryl takes a pack of Morley cigarettes from Noah and smokes one.

Morley is a fake brand of smokes used in many, many movies and TV series. The Cigarette Smoking Man from The X-FIles smoked Morleys as well. Maybe The Walking Dead takes place in the same universe! They need to get to DC after all! I bet Mulder could figure out what caused the zombie plague!

• As Daryl and Carol make their way through the streets of Atlanta, they pass an abandoned tank. This is almost certainly meant to be the same tank that Rick hid inside, way back in the very first episode.

• Welcome to Coincidence Theater! A few episodes ago Beth met Noah at Grady Memorial Hospital. Noah managed to escape, while Beth was recaptured. Daryl and Carol make their way to Atlanta, somehow hoping to find Beth in the middle of the vast city. They just so happen to run into Noah, who robs them of their weapons. Later they run into Noah again, and get their weapons back. Next thing you know Carol's hit by one of the cars from the hospital and taken there for treatment.

I get that they've got to keep the story moving along, but I think the Coince-O-Meter just exploded!

• Daryl and Carol spot a van with a cross painted on its back window, hanging halfway off an elevated highway. They investigate it, hoping to find clues to Beth's whereabouts.

This entire sequence is a goldmine of stupid actions and unlikely occurrences.

First of all, Daryl climbs inside the van, which is perched precariously on the overpass. A few seconds later Carol decides it would make sense for her to enter as well, as they both tromp around inside. Fortunately it doesn't tip over the edge.

They're then surrounded by walkers. Weaponless and trapped, they come to the conclusion that their only hope is to strap themselves in as the van is pushed off the overpass. We see it plummet nose down, then a second later we cut to it somehow landing hard on all four tires. How that particular bit of physics-defying acrobatics was achieved is left to our imaginations.
This is all just slightly less ridiculous than some of Indiana Jones' escapes.

About thirty seconds after the van crashes, walkers start raining down on the roof from above. It seems like that should have happened instantly. They were pushing the van over the edge, right? So they should have followed it down immediately. Surely they don't have the brain power to hesitate before a yawning abyss?

A nice touch: Daryl uses his arrows very sparingly, and retrieves them whenever possible. After Noah steals his crossbow, Daryl finds a walker pinned to a wall by one of his arrows. Obviously Noah's been through the area, and being an inexperienced zombie hunter, he's carelessly wasting his arrows.

After Carol is hit by the Gradies, they stuff her in their ambulance and speed away to the hospital. This neatly explains why she appeared at the end of the Slabtown episode a couple of weeks ago. I thought maybe she was faking her injury to gain access to the hospital like a post-apocalyptic Trojan horse, but apparently not.

And it's pretty much a certainty now that Noah is Daryl's mystery companion from the end of Four Walls And A Roof. Did not see that coming. I assumed it was Morgan, who we last saw following Rick's group in No Sanctuary.
Lastly, this has nothing to do with the plot or anything, but for the third week in a row The Walking Dead has trounced Sunday Night Football in the ratings. As a NON sports fan, this makes me very happy.

Monday, November 17, 2014

This Week In Dubious Ad Slogans

So I'm watching TV last night and I see this commercial for Always Discreet Underwear.

It's thirty seconds of scenes of various women, all presumably with bladder control issues, dancing and whooping it up with confidence because they know whatever the activity, their protective undergarments will keep them dry.

So what, I hear you asking? Well, wait till you hear the tag line. At the end, a woman's voice says, "Now bladder leaks can feel like no big deal. Because, hey, pee happens."

Did they just say "pee happens" in a commercial on network television? Yes. Yes they did.

For the record I'm not collapsing on my fainting couch like some jittery soccer mom over this, but it does surprise me. After all, this is very obviously a play on "Sh*t happens," right? So apparently we now live in a world in which Always Discreet Underwear is referencing an R-rated slang term to sell their pee pants.

What I wouldn't give to have sat in on that ad meeting! 

It sounds for all the world like something a disgruntled writer would come up with. A writer who was passed over for a promotion or a raise or something, so when it came time to come up with slogan ideas, he submitted this one as a big F-U to managment. 

Ad Executive: OK then, does anyone have any slogan ideas for our new line of discreet undergarments? Something to do with staying dry with confidence, that sort of thing? 

(The copy writers look down at their note pads, saying nothing)

Ad Executive: Anyone? Come on, people? Why am I paying you?

Jenkins (smirking): How about, "Pee happens?"

(Audible gasps from the other copy writers)

Ad Executive: Wait a minute... wait just a minute.

(The other copy writers look tensely at one another, waiting for the inevitable explosion)

Ad Executive: That's not bad! I think you may have something there!

(Jenkins looks shocked)

Ad Executive: Yes, I like this! I think we can use this! KMart got a lot of positive press with that 'Ship my pants" thing they did a couple years ago, and this has that same edginess the kids all like. Jenkins, you're a genius!"

That's how I imagine this happened, and no one's going to tell me otherwise.

And in case you think I'm making up the whole thing, here's the ad in question. Stay tuned till the end!

It Came From The Cineplex: Fury

Fury was written and directed by David Ayer, who also wrote U-571, Training Day, The Fast And The Furious, S.W.A.T. and End Of Watch. 

I don't have a lot to say about this film. It's reasonably well-written and competently made and tells its story concisely and economically. It's most definitely a modern war film, the kind that loves to show us the horrors of war rather than paint it as a noble pursuit. It's a far cry from the old fashioned John Wayne films that glorified war. Which is as it should be.

Controversial actor Shia LeBeouf reportedly pulled his own tooth, sliced up his face and refused to shower for several weeks in order to "understand what his character would have gone through." Yeah, you could do that, I suppose. Or maybe you could, I don't know... ACT like you're tired and miserable.


The Plot:
It's the final days of WWII, and the Allies are making a final push deep into Nazi Germany. Battle-scarred veteran Sergeant Don "Wardaddy" Collier (Brad Pitt) commands a Sherman tank in the 66th Armored Regiment. His crew consists of "Bible" Swan (Shia LeBeouf), "Gordo" Garcia (Michael Pena) and the charmingly nicknamed "Coon-Ass" Travis (Jon Berbthal). When their original gunner is killed, his replacement is Norman Ellison, a meek and innocent clerk/typist who's never been in a tank before, much less seen any kind of battle.

Norman reluctance to kill causes the deaths of a fellow tank crew, which leads to resentment by his own tank-mates. Wardaddy forces Norman to kill a German prisoner in an effort to toughen him up.

Wardaddy is chosen to lead a dangerous mission to keep a vital crossroads from a German tank regiment. After the fierce battle, Wardaddy's tank is the only one that remains.

The tank is immobilized by a landmine, and the crew decide to stay with the tank and make their last stand in a desperate attempt to hold the crossroads from an approaching plattoon of German soldiers. It ends exactly as you'd expect.

• Director Ayer was obviously going for a gritty realism when it came to the characters, but I think he went a bit overboard. With the exception of Wardaddy and Norman, the rest of the tank crew are coarse, unpleasant and downright repellant. I wouldn't want to be in the same county as them, much less cooped up in the same tank.

That definitely seems like a misfire. This is a war movie, and you know what that means-- lots of death. The movie expects us to grieve whenever a character meets an untimely end, but it's hard to work up any tears for such loathsome creatures.

 • Newly recruited tank gunner Norman Ellison serves as the film's audience surrogate, so the characters explain the intricacies of tank warfare to him and the audience as well.

As you would expect in a film like this, Norman goes from wide-eyed innocent clerk/typist to battle-hardened veteran over the course of the story. What you might not expect though is that his transformation appears to occur in the space of one day. That seems a bit rushed.

Not only is war hell, but it apparently moves very quickly as well.

• Jon Bernthal plays his "Coon-Ass" character pretty much the same as Shane from The Walking Dead. 

Whether that's what the director wanted, or if that's just the range of Bernthal's acting isn't clear. He needs to try and branch out though, or he's going to be stuck playing short-tempered rednecks his entire career.

• Jesus, Brad Pitt's 51 years old and he's still in better shape than I'll ever be.

• There's a lengthy interlude in the middle of the film that drags on forever and grinds the story to a dead stop.

After the Americans take over a small German town, Wardaddy invites Norman to come with him. They barge into the apartment of a couple of young German women. Wardaddy takes advantage of their hospitality, cleaning himself up and getting them to fix his first home-cooked dinner in months. Norman experiences German hospitality of a different kind as one of the women takes him into her bedroom and closes the door.

Later when they're enjoying a nice dinner with the ladies, the rest of the tank crew barges in. Gordo, Bible and Coon-Ass are drunk and disorderly and quickly turn the dinner into a tense and awkward affair

They taunt the German women as they paw at them of course, but they also belittle and openly criticize Wardaddy for not inviting them to the party. You know, Wardaddy, their flippin' commanding officer. For some reason he just sits there fuming, seemingly powerless to stop them.

For the life of me I can't understand the point of this scene. I guess it's to show that Wardaddy isn't perfect, and playing favorites with Norman while shutting out the rest of the crew was a mistake on his part? Honestly I'm really not sure what was going on.

I do know that letting his crew walk all over him doesn't make Wardaddy sympathetic, it makes him seem weak and incompetent. 

This entire scene could be excised from the movie and not harm it a bit.  

• Credit where credit's due: the tank battles were harrowing and very well done.

• Near the end of the film the tank runs over a landline in the road and loses a tread. Wardaddy tells Norman to run up the road to a distant tree line and keep watch for enemy troops. Norman dutifully jogs up the center of the road. The road that is most likely riddled with more land mines. Luckee!

• Norman sees a battalion of three hundred SS troops approaching. Wardaddy decides to make his last stand at the crossroads to prevent the Germans from advancing. The rest of the crew agree to stay with him and fight.

As the Nazi column advances, the tank crew begins firing. They take out an impressive number of soldiers and machinery before they run out of ammo. Wardaddy then says, "Welp, there's more ammo hanging off the sides of the tank. Let's go get it!"

They then crawl outside the tank to retrieve the extra ammo, in the middle of an intense, all-out firefight.

Why the hell didn't they think of that before they started the battle? Surely there was room for a few extra ammo cases inside the tank? If not, I'd have made room.

• With the battle lost, Wardaddy orders Norman to exit the escape hatch in the bottom of the tank. He does so, and hides in the crater left by the land mine. 

A few minutes later a young SS officer shines his flashlight under the tank and sees Norman hiding. They stare at each other for a moment, and the SS officer moves on.

It's a nice little scene, but... I ain't buying it for a minute. A regular German officer might have let Norman go. But an SS officer? Doubtful.

Fury is a grim and bloody reminder that war is hell. It features some top notch battle scenes, but its repulsive characters prevent us from getting too attached to anyone. I give it a B.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Plane Truth

Takes a good look at this poster for Disney's Planes: Fire & Rescue.

Let's say we accept the conceit that these aircraft are living, breathing creatures, and their windshields, props and engine cowlings combine to form a simplified face on each. 

That said, take a look at the plane in the lower left corner. If it's really a living organism, then what orifice would that fire suppression foam be emerging from?

Yep, I'm twelve years old.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Marvel's Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 2, Episode 7: The Writing On The Wall

This week Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. continues to move things right along as they resolve a plot point that I thought would be dragged out until the end of the season. I for one welcome these accelerated plot lines, and hope the trend continues.


The Plot:
Coulson's compulsion to carve alien symbols into his wall increases, to the point where he's no longer able to sleep. As he searches for an answer, the Team finds a woman who's been killed and mutilated by the Carver, the man we were introduced to last episode, whose body is covered in tattoos of the alien symbols. Coulson recognizes the woman as an ex-S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, which leads him to believe there's more going on here than anyone suspects. This prompts Coulson to use the memory machine confiscated from Raina last year, to hopefully unlock the secrets in his mind.

Once hooked up to the machine, Coulson discovers he wasn't the only patient of the T.A.H.I.T.I. project. There were six other S.H.I.E.L.D. agents who were dying of various ailments and given the alien GH-323 formula, which cured them. Unfortunately, shortly after their recovery they all became unstable and obsessed with the alien writing. This prompted S.H.I.E.L.D. to give them all new identities and false memories.

Coulson figures out that the Carver was one of these T.A.H.I.T.I. subjects, and is systematically killing the rest of them as he searches for answers. He intercepts the Carver just as he's about to kill former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Cameron Klein, aka Hank Thompson. Klein has been building a model railroad layout that when seen from above, looks like the alien writing. Coulson and the Carver then realize that the symbols aren't a map or circuitry, they're a 3D representation of a city that absolutely isn't Attilan.

Meanwhile, the rest of the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, including Hunter and Mockingbird, try to capture the escaped Evil Ward. They fail spectacularly, due to his cunning. At the end of the episode Evil Ward cleans up real good in preparation for a meeting with his brother Christian.

• The Carver kills art teacher Janice Robbins by slicing the alien symbols into her forehead. Later on it's revealed that she was really a former Level 6 S.H.I.E.L.D. agent named Rebecca Stevens. As you would expect by now on this show, Agent Stevens was actually a character in the comics. Not an important or well known character, but it's still a nice touch.

Similarly, Hank Thompson, owner of Thompson Welding & Electric, is also a mind-wiped former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, by the name of Cameron Klein, and he's from the comics as well.

• Worried about Coulson's alien writing obsession, Skye sends out a call for help to her hacker pals. She gets a tip from a friend called Micro.

I'm assuming Micro is short for Microchip, who's the tech support guru for the Punisher. Microchip provided the Punisher with various weaponry, vehicles and electronic devices. Sort of like Whistler in the Blade movies.

• Coulson refers his alien uncontrollable urge to carve the alien symbols as hypergraphia. Believe it or not, that's a real thing. It's the overwhelming compulsion to write. People who suffer from it often spend hours each day recording their every thought and action.

• When Coulson and Skye sneak into Janice Robbins' apartment to examine the crime scene, Skye comments that they're breaking about a dozen laws.

It's nice to hear a character acknowledge this for once. In virtually every action or suspense story, the main character will solve the crime, but he'll break numerous and sundry laws in the process. "Yeah, you solved Crime A, but you committed Crimes B, C, and D through H to do so!"

• Evil Ward leads the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents on a merry chase as he outwits and avoids them at every turn. I'm really glad he became Evil Ward. He's a hundred times more interesting now than he was last season.

• Evil Ward makes his way to a bus terminal where he has a stash of clothing, money and weapons inside a locker, squirreled away for just such an occurrence.

A smart move on his part, but I have to wonder-- does the bus station ever clean out the lockers, say once a year or so? Is it really possible to leave something undisturbed inside one for years at a time?

• At the bus station, Evil Ward knows he's being tailed by S.H.I.E.L.D., so he approaches a young mother and her son. He offers to carry their bags, knowing the agents won't risk a shootout while he's with a couple of innocents.

Again, a brilliant move on Evil Ward's part, but I thought the mother was a bit too quick to accept his help out of the blue like that. He's not that charming.

• As Coulson subjects himself to the memory machine to help him remember, Fitz tells Mack that the brain doesn't ever delete anything, it just forgets the connections. He says the brain makes backups of its memories. 

That was some pretty heavy-handed foreshadowing if ever I've seen any, and no doubt how Fitz will end up getting his groove back.

• Coulson intercepts the Carver at Hank Thompson's house and they begin fighting. During the battle, the Carver says to Coulson, "It's what lies beneath."

Obviously he's referring to the meaning of the alien symbols here, but I wonder if it's also a shout out to the 2000 Robert Zemeckis thriller What Lies Beneath? Believe it or not, Clark Gregg, our own Agent Coulson, wrote the screenplay to that movie! Who knew?

• During the big fight, the Carver throws a knife at Hank Thompson. His S.H.I.E.L.D. training subconsciously kicks in and he catches it with both hands, inches from his face. His look of total surprise, as he wonders how the hell he could do such a thing, was a nice little touch.

• Evil Ward captures Daniel Whitehall's lackey Backshi, and gives him to Coulson as a twisted peace offering.

How the hell do you pronounce Bakshi's name? Skye calls him "Back-shee," which is how I would pronounce it, but Coulson says "BUCK-shee." Take your pick, I guess.

• With the help of Hank Thompson's train set, Coulson discovers that the symbols aren't alien circuitry or a map, but a 3D layout of a city. But which one? There are numerous alien and lost cities in the Marvel Universe.

Could it be Attilan, the city where the Inhumans live?

It's entirely possible. In Marvel lore, the alien Kree race visited Earth in the distant past and experimented on mankind, creating the Inhumans. The Kree abandoned the experiment, and the Inhumans built a secret society in the Himalayas, and eventually relocated to the Moon.

This would fit in handily with many events on the show. S.H.I.E.L.D. derived the GH-323 formula from a blue alien that is almost certainly a Kree. And Skye was discovered in a village in the Hunan province in China.

Plus Marvel has already announced plans for an Inhumans movie for 2018, supposedly hoping to use them as a substitute for the X-Men. It's a bit odd that they'd be setting up the group this far in advance, but... maybe they really do have a master plan. And if that's what they are doing, how cool is it that they're using the TV show to set up a film!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Quoth The Plasma Rifle: Nevermore!

This week toy company Project TriForce released this new prop: the Anniversary Edition Plasma Rifle Full Scale Replica from the Halo 2 video game.

The Plasma Rifle replica is 24.5" inches in length, weighs 15 pounds and features working LED lighting effects.

Well, maybe it's a plasma rifle and maybe it isn't. When I look at it, all I can see is a robotic raven staring at its own reflection in the water.

And now that you've seen it too, you won't be able to unsee it!

The Flash Season 1, Episode 5: Plastique

The Flash is back after taking last week off for election day. See, pretty much every TV show was a rerun last week, because the networks believed that people would be demand to see their local election returns instead of watching televised dancing and competitive cooking. Hoo hoo, ho haw! Sheeeoo! Election returns! Hoo boy! The general public actually caring what happens in their local government! Ha har... mercy, I'm having trouble breathing. Elections. Can you imagine such a thing? Hoo hoo!

Welp, another week, another Firestorm character who makes an appearance on The Flash. Somebody on the staff really has a thing for Firestorm and his villains. 


The Plot:

Barry has a run-in with Plastique, a meta-human with the ability to cause objects to explode by touching them. She was a former soldier who's being hunted by General Wade Eiling. Dr. Wells once worked with Eiling until they had a falling out. 

Barry brings Plastique to Star Labs to see if they can help her. Unfortunately her condition is beyond their scope. Dr. Wells secretly convinces Plastique to kill General Eiling. The plan backfires and Eiling shoots Plastique, killing her.

After she dies, her body begins to glow, and Barry realizes she's becoming a giant bomb. He  picks up her lifeless body and runs across the water, disposing of it far from Central City where the explosion will do no harm.

Meanwhile Detective West wants Barry to get Iris to stop writing her blog, Barry tries, she says no, and this drives a wedge between them. Drama!

• During a night out with the gang, Barry sadly announces that due to his souped-up metabolism, alcohol no longer has an effect on him. I hope the writers remember this little fact, because that's a detail that could end up biting them in the ass somewhere down the line.

• Plastique causes an explosion in the upper floors of a skyscraper– at night. This explosion endangers the life of a window washer who's working hundreds of feet above ground.

Do window washers really crawl around the sides of building after dark? I'm going to bet no.

Oddly enough, the day after this episode aired, a window washer's scaffolding collapsed on the side of the brand new World Trade Center building here in the real world. Where's the Flash when you need him (don't worry, he was rescued)?

• Barry discovers three new powers in this episode: the ability to run vertically up the side of a building, running on water, and vibrating his vocal chords to disguise his voice.

A couple things here. Barry calls the Star Labs gang and asks them how fast he'd need to run in order to dash up a building and across the ocean. Both times, Caitlin and Cisco formulate equations to come up with an answer (!). 

The actors sell this bit pretty well, so it takes you a few seconds to realize that there is no answer. He'd have to run zero miles an hour, because it doesn't matter how fast he's going (especially over water) because eventually gravity's going to win. But nice try, episode.

Also, when Cisco tells Barry he needs to run 600 mph or whatever, he nods as if that actually means something to him. Does Barry have an internal speedometer in his brain? Is there any possible way he can tell when he's running 600 or 800 mph? I know, it's a comic book.

When Barry demonstrates his vocal disguising power, Detective West reacts with a rare burst of laughter. Obviously they electronically processed Grant Gustin's voice in the scene, but Jesse L. Martin's reaction was so natural and spontaneous I almost believed it was really happening.

By the way, in the comic, the Flash regularly ran up the sides of buildings and across water. He also vibrated his face at super speed to hide his identity. Not sure about the voice thing though.

• Plastique is yet another in the seemingly endless stream of Firestorm characters parading thorugh this show. I don't mind it, but this seems very odd to me. I could see trying to set up a spinoff in Season 3 or 4, but we're only five episodes into Season 1. How about we set up the Flash's world first?

Plastique first appeared in Fury Of Firestorm #7, way back in 1982. She wore a purple costume in the comics, and it looks like they paid very slight homage to that here by giving her a purple shirt. I'm still hoping they'll start using actual supervillain costumes some day on this show.

Plastique's name is Bette San Souci in the comic. Someone on this show's really doing their homework. She had a different origin in the comics though. There she was a Quebecois terrorist trying to force Quebec to secede from Canada. She originally wore a costume covered with plastic explosives, but later gained the power to cause objects to explode simply by touching them. 

A different version of the character appeared in Season 8 of Smallville, which is set in a completely different universe than The Flash, so you don't need to worry about it.

I noticed that Plastique made Barry's Flash suit explode by touching it, but when she touches her own clothing (as she's doing above) nothing happens. She puts on gloves at one point, presumably to control her power. Shouldn't the gloves them explode as well?

Can she consciously turn her power on and off? If so, then what's the problem? Just be sure and keep it in the off position all the time.

• General Eiling, played here by the always great Clancy Brown, first appeared in Captain Atom #1 back in the late 1980s. He popped up in many DC comics over the years.

• Detective West says, "So. A human bomb. Must be Tuesday in Central City."

Was that a little meta-comment about the CW's primetime lineup?

There was actually a DC character called the Human Bomb, who was a member of the Freedom Fighters.

• Once again Barry brings someone into STAR Labs and makes them privy to his secret. By now the only person on the show who doesn't know he's the Flash is Iris. And maybe Eddie Thawne.

• Caitlin scans Plastique and determines how she got her powers. She was a demolition expert in the army, and was injured when a bomb exploded, riddling her body with shrapnel. She was in Central City the night Dr. Wells' particle accelerator explodes, and the dark matter wave reacted with the shrapnel inside her body, giving her the power to cause objects to explode.

Makes perfect sense to me. If that's not comic book science, I don't know what is!

• When Plastique asks if the STAR Labs gang can cure her, Dr. Wells says, "The technology necessary hasn't been invented yet."

Yet. We get it, Dr. Wells. You're from the future.

I'm wondering if Dr. Wells could possibly be some version of Abra Kadabra? In the comic, Kadabra was (Is? Will be?) from the 64th Century, and time traveled back to the 20th Century, where he used his advanced futuristic science to commit crimes and pester the Flash.

Obviously Dr. Wells probably isn't going to turn into some kind of futuristic stage magician, but he's obviously not from our time, so I'm betting he'll end up being some form of the character.

• Joe disapproves of Iris' new blog, in which she writes in detail about "The Streak," and asks Barry to get her to stop. 

Barry gives Iris a bunch of lame reasons for shutting down her blog, but he skips the most obvious one– that blogging about meta-humans is going to get her killed. Maybe he just didn't want to scare her, but I think once the limp excuses didn't work, it was time to bring out the big guns.

I could have done without this whole little subplot. Obviously it was there just to give Iris something to do, because let's face it, if she's not going to be with Barry, then there's not much reason for her to be on the show. I also didn't get why the blog was worth Barry cooling their relationship. It was all a bunch of unnecessary drama, and a bit too CW.

• Dr. Wells convinces Plastique to kill General Eiling. Honestly, for someone who says she's not really a criminal and just wants to live a normal life, it doesn't seem to take much arm twisting to get her to go after Eiling.

And lucky for Dr. Wells that she died before she could tell Barry about him being evil and all.

• All through the episode Cisco is crushing on Plastique. After she's killed, Catilin consoles Barry, who saw her only as an acquaintance, and completely ignores Cisco. I guess he and his feelings can just go screw themselves.

• At the end of the episode, Barry races across the water with Plastique's body, to prevent it from detonating near Central City.

I'd have enjoyed this scene a lot more if it wasn't practically identical to the end of The Dark Knight Rises. Anything that reminds me of that dreary movie is double plus ungood in my book.

So given what we saw here, it appears Central City is near the ocean? I kind of figured it was the middle of the country. You know, what with the "central" in the name and all.

• In the tag scene, Caitlin gives Barry a special super potent shot of alcohol that will hopefully be too much for his hyper metabolism to counteract, allowing him to get drunk. She tells him it's basically 500 proof. 
Um... that's not possible. 200 proof is the highest the scale goes, and indicates 100% alcohol. You can't have something that's more than 100%.

She does say that it's "basically" 500 proof, so it's possible she knows that and this is her little attempt at humor. It's hard to tell though with her chilly and distant personality (where's Felicity Smoak when you need her?).

• During this bar scene there's a slow, soulful rendition of A Flock Of Seagulls' I Ran (So Far Away) playing in the background. Appropriate!

I can see this becoming a running (!) theme on the show. I can't wait to hear slow, jazzy versions of Band On The Run, Born To Run, Long Distance Runaround, Nowhere To Run, Da Do Run Run, and Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer. Oh, and The Streak by Ray Stevens.

• In this episode's obligatory How Is Dr. Wells Being Evil This Week scene, we see that five years ago he was actually working with General Eiling, but ended their partnership over the treatment of a patient.

The name of the patient? Grodd. As in Gorilla Grodd, another longtime Flash villain. In the comic Grodd was a super intelligent ape with abnormal strength and psychic powers. He lived in Gorilla City, an advanced community populated by talking apes, hidden deep in the jungles of Africa.

You have no idea how much I'm looking forward to seeing the Flash fight a talking gorilla.

I wonder if they'll really have him talk, or if the characters will just "hear" his telepathic voice inside their heads? I'm assuming they probably won't have a live gorilla on the set and Grodd will be a CGI creation, so it probably wouldn't be that much more difficult to make his lips move. We'll find out soon!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Jesus Is Just Alright

I saw this in a used book store over the weekend.

Wow, that is quite the image of Jesus there. Just look at those chisled cheekbones. Those tousled brown locks. The impossibly wide, toothy grin. The manly, lumberjack beard. The oddly asymmetrical eyes. It's all quite a departure from the standard depiction of Jesus.

In fact with those male model looks he seems like he'd be more at home on a package of Brawny paper towels than he does the Son Of Man. 

Fortunately I don't believe in hell, so I don't fear being sent there for my blasphemy.

By the way, regarding the title of this post-- what's up with that Jesus Is Just Alright song by the Doobie Brothers? Jesus is just "alright?" Alright as in "satisfactory or acceptable?" If they're really that into him and wanting to show it in song, shouldn't they be saying, "Jesus is super colossal awesome?"

OK, starting to get a little more scared of hell now.
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