Friday, February 5, 2016

The Flash Season 2, Episode 12: Fast Lane

This week's Flash was all about family, as pretty much all the characters— Barry, the Wests, and even Harry— learned they're not alone and have each other. Awww. Cue the Family Ties theme.

In fact the family theme was so prevalent that the supervillain, er, I mean metahuman subplot almost felt like an afterthought. Tar Pit came off as little more than a throwaway villain, appearing in just a few brief scenes, after what had to be the laziest origin story ever.

Iris also stepped up her game in this episode, as the writers finally remembered she's supposed to be a reporter, and let her actually do something besides stand around in STAR Labs with her arms crossed. 


The Plot:
We begin with yet another flashback to the particle accelerator explosion two years ago. Two stereotypical thugs are dangling Joey Monteleone over a pit of boiling tar in an asphalt company. He tells them what they want to know, but they drop him into the pit anyway. He's burned alive in the pit just as the accelerator explodes, bathing him in cell-altering energy.

Cut to the present day, when Joey emerges from the abandoned company, and discovers he can now turn his body into molten tar. Naturally the first thing he does with this amazing power is seek revenge on those who "killed" him. He tracks down one of the thugs and fries him.

Meanwhile Harry is still being blackmailed into helping Zoom steal Barry's speed. He creates a gadget that will siphon off the speed force from Barry and hides it in his Flash suit. Barry then insists on helping Harry figure out how to close the various breaches into Earth-2. 

Monteleone, now dubbed Tar Pit, attacks the second thug. Barry speeds to the rescue and stops him, but Tar Pit gets away. Harry's device permanently steals two percent of Barry's speed energy. Harry meets with Zoom and gives him the energy. He injects himself with it, and demands the rest. Harry reluctantly agrees.

Joe and Iris are trying to bond with Wally, who's still Fast & Furious racing. Iris tells Joe he needs to stop trying to be Wally's friend and be his father, before he gets himself killed. Iris follows Wally to the street race, and takes a photo of Clark Bronwen, the man behind them. She tracks him to his office and threatens to expose his shady dealings unless he disbands the races. He threatens her family if she does so, but she reveals she's recording their conversation, which I have to admit is pretty gutsy on her part. He throws her out.

Cisco examines the readings from Barry's suit and says he's lost some of his speed. Barry plays it off, saying he's just tired. Harry warns Barry not to get too close to him, because eventually he'll have to choose between the STAR Labs Gang and his daughter (who Zoom is holding captive), and he'll choose her.

Wally enters another street race, and Iris shows up again. Tar Pit suddenly appears to kill Bronwen, who ordered the hit on him two years ago. Tar Pit buckles the road, tossing the cars into the air. Barry arrives and saves Wally seconds before his car crashes and explodes. Debris from the explosion flies toward Iris. Barry's able to stop it all except for one piece, which strikes Iris. He rushes her to the hospital.

The next morning Wally visits Iris in the hospital. Joe's there and finally begins acting like a dad to Wally, ordering him to stay with Iris and stop racing. Cicso invents special grenades that will freeze Tar Pit, but is worried about Barry's loss of speed. He asks Harry if he knows anything about it, and he admits he stole Barry's speed to give to Zoom. Furious, they lock him in the Secret Super Jail.

Barry and Joe draw out Tar Pit. When he appears, he's now completely encased in tar and resembles a large, globular monster. Barry manages to freeze him, and the coating of tar explodes off him. Joe punches out the now normal-looking Tar Pit, and presumably puts him in Super Jail as well.

At STAR Labs, Harry pleads for them to send him back to Earth-2, close all the breaches and let him deal with the problem of Zoom himself. Everyone's all for this idea except for Barry, who defends Harry. He says any of them would have done the same thing if their loved ones were being threatened. They vow to travel to Earth-2 to help Harry save his daughter.

• Harry cobbles together a widget that will siphon and store Barry's speed. He hides the gadget under the chest emblem on Barry's suit.

Um... is there a reason why Harry's secret gadget is covered in blinking blue lights? Other than because it looks kewl. One would think if one wanted to hide something, one would leave the flashing l.e.d.s off it.

• Joe, Iris and Wally enjoy some takeout pizza for dinner. Why does their pizza box say "Coast City" when they all live in Central City? Didn't Barry use his super speed last season to make a Coast City pizza run? So how'd Joe get ahold of one? Did the prop man think no one would notice the label on the pizza box?

• Barry wants to work with Harry to figure out a way to close all the Earth-2 breaches. When Harry tells him he's not smart enough to understand the science involved, Barry simply speed-reads several thick textbooks on the subject, and he's instantly an expert.

If Barry can speed-learn like this, he ought to be the smartest man alive in addition to the fastest.

• Dang, The Flash, you killed Francine West completely offscreen. She didn't even get a tear-jerking death scene. Sure she wasn't a major character and we never got to see much of her, but that's still pretty cold.

• Heavy Foreshadowing Alert! Wally delivers a monologue to Iris about how he's always loved speed, and how his mom would take him on long drives and he'd watch the scenery "flash" by. We get it already, guys! Wally's going to become Kid Flash!

• In order to shame Wally into quitting his racing habit, Iris shows up in a slutty flag girl outfit, complete with purple hair extensions. I'm not sure how I feel about the fact that she can apparently put together an ensemble like this at a moment's notice.

• Harry steals some of Barry's speed to give to Zoom. Cisco notices Barry's slower, saying he clocked him at 1,450 mph instead of his usual 1,500. A couple things here.

I'm still not sure 1,500 mph is fast enough to allow Barry to do all the things he does, like moving faster than the human eye can see, outracing bullets, dashing up the side of skyscrapers without falling off and running across helicopter blades.

Secondly, this confirms the fact that Patty moving to Midway City should be no problem for Barry. I don't know how far Midway is from Central City, but I'm sure it's much less than 1,500 miles. Barry could zip over to see her in minutes.

• When Tar Pit attacks the street racers, he buckles the road, which somehow causes Wally's car to be thrown backwards toward Iris. Barry stops the debris hurtling toward her, but due to his loss of speed, he misses a piece of glass a bit smaller than the average smart phone. It strikes Iris in the shoulder, apparently with enough force to knock her over.

We then see her lying in a hospital bed, on oxygen! Jesus Christ! Iris must be quite the delicate little creature if a small cut to the shoulder lays her up in the hospital for days.

On the other hand, remember that Barry's top speed is 1,450 mph. That means the glass was somehow flying through the air even faster than that! Anyone would be laid up in the hospital if they got hit that fast. 

• Funny how Harry and everyone else from Earth-2 actually call it that. You'd think they'd call their own planet Earth-1, or better yet just plain "Earth." Maybe they politely submit to calling their homeworld Earth-2 when they're visiting Earth-1.

• Joe realizes Iris is right, and he's trying to be a friend to Wally rather than a father. He finally lays down the law at the end of the episode, ordering Wally to sit with his sister in the hospital. Wally instantly backs down and does what his father says.

Wally's immediate 180ยบ reversal of attitude seemed very quick and waaaay too easy. Are we really supposed to believe that one moderately stern lecture from his father is all it takes to straighten up and fly right?

• Kudos to Barry for offering to help out Harry, and call out the STAR Labs Gang's hypocrisy, since most of them have been in his position namely betraying their friends to protect a family member.

• Tar Pit could have been an amazing villain— think about all the ways tar could be used to slow a speedster like the Flash. But once introduced, it seemed as if the episode couldn't wait to be rid of him. 

Tar Pit is actually from the Flash comic. The FX team did a great job with him, as he looks exactly like his comic book namesake. Too bad the episode didn't do more with him. His final form was pretty cool, but must have been expensive as he's onscreen less than a minute. Damn you, The CW budget!

The comic version of Tar Pit had a radically different origin than the one we see here though. There, Joey Monteleone was a drug trafficker who ended up in Iron Heights Prison. While there he began meditating (!) and soon he could project his "astral self" into various inanimate objects and cause them to move. One day his astral self got stuck in a vat of tar, while his original body fell into a coma. He renamed himself Tar Pit and began using his new body to commit crimes.

That origin story makes the one we see in this episode look like Shakespeare!

• Next week, Barry and Cisco visit Earth-2 to rescue Harry's daughter Jesse from Zoom. How much do you want to be they'll end up bringing her to Earth-1, where she'll become Jesse Quick, yet another speedster on the show?

M-O-O-N, That Spells "Let's Call The Whole Thing Off!"

If you're a regular reader of my blog (as millions are), you'll know I'm a big fan of Stephen King's novel The Stand, and have been following the development of the new movie adaptation with a mixture of both fascination and dread.

To get everyone up to speed, here's what's happened so far:

June 2014: Director Josh Boone announces he'll be writing and directing a big budget theatrical adaptation of The Stand. Boone previously directed the teens-with-cancer tearjerker The Fault In Our Stars, so who better to adapt a sprawling epic about good vs. evil in the aftermath of a world-wide plague? 

Boone states he'll somehow whittle the 1,150 page novel down into one three hour movie. Bad idea.

November 2014: Boone changes his mind and says The Stand will now be split into three, possibly four, theatrical movies. Good idea!

June 2015: Boone changed his mind again, saying The Stand will now be an eight part Showtime miniseries. It will then inexplicably lead into a theatrical movie that will conclude the story. Yep, you read right, he wanted to start a TV show that ends in the cineplex. Very, very stupid and bad idea.

So far Boone's attempts to get this film off the ground remind me of this

Ah, but it gets worse! This week Josh Boone announced that he's putting The Stand "temporarily" on hold, and will now be directing a film of Revivalanother Stephen King novel. It's the story of a preacher who loses his wife and child in a car accident, and begins using electricity to become an actual healer.

As they say in all the Star Wars movies, "I have a bad feeling about this." See, in Hollywood, "placing a project on hold" is generally code for "burying it in a cement vault and salting the earth above it." It's a way for a director to save face when his pet project is torpedoed. Like how a restaurant will put up a sign reading "Closed to take care of sick relative" when they really mean "We were shut down by the Board Of Health because our kitchen is so filthy."

There's always a (slight) chance Boone's telling the truth, and he'll eventually get to direct The Stand someday. But his relative inexperience (he's only directed two films) and his inability to settle on a format don't fill me with much confidence. I have a feeling I'll be watching Mother Abigail battle the Dark Man onscreen about the same time that I'm wearing adult diapers and yelling at clouds.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

It Came From The Cineplex: The Revenant

The Revenant was written by Mark L. Smith and Alejandro Inarritu and directed by Alejandro Inarritu.

Smith wrote Vacancy and The Hole, both horror films, which would seem to make him an odd choice to pen a frontier epic. Inarritu previously directed 21 Grams, Babel and Birdman (which he also wrote). Birdman cleaned up at the 2015 Oscars, winning Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and Best Cinematography.

The Revenant has been similarly nominated for Best Picture and Best Director. Star Leonardo DiCaprio was nominated for Best Actor, and Tom Hardy for Best Supporting Actor.

It's a powerful and brutal film that's brilliantly shot and directed. If you like watching actors crawl through the mud and eat raw meat, then this is the picture for you. The film also features top notch performances, especially from Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy and Domhnall Gleeson

That said, I'm not quite sure what The Revenant is about. Revenge? Man vs. Nature? DiCaprio's desperately trying for an Oscar? Who knows? It has plenty of style, but there doesn't seem to be much substance to it. 

The film is also a butt-punishing two hours and thirty six minutes long. It takes its sweet time telling its story in a languid, deliberate style. Normally I'm not opposed to slow-burn movies, but this one definitely could have been trimmed by half an hour without harming it one bit. How many times do we need to see Leo crawl on the ground before we get that he's in a dire situation?

If you've been online at all in the past few years, you're no doubt aware of the many, many "Leo Deserves An Oscar" memes. To hear fans tell it, it's a scandalous social injustice that the former Growing Pains star has never received a Best Actor win. Most feel that 2016 is finally Leo's year, and his role in The Revenant will at long last right this grievous wrong.

DiCaprio himself called the part of main character Hugh Glass the hardest of his career, as he crawled through mud in frigid temperatures, ate a hunk of real raw bison liver, learned to shoot a musket and how to convincingly build a campfire. He even learned to speak a few words of two different Native American languages.

I have no doubt that he did all of that and more, and he's impressive in the role. But he goes a good hour, maybe even longer, without uttering so much as a single word! That's not acting, that's reacting.

Tom Hardy gives a much more powerful performance in the film. He's essentially unrecognizable as he literally becomes John Fitzgerald. In my opinion, which no one asked for, he's far more deserving of an Oscar win than Leo.

The poster for The Revenant contains those dreaded words, "Inspired By True Events." Generally speaking, whenever you see that line in the opening credits of a film you should immediately gather your belongings and exit the theater as quickly as possible. Such films usually have little or nothing to do with the actual story.

The Revenant is based on the life of Hugh Glass, who was an actual fur trapper and explorer in the American frontier in the early 1800s. The film gets the general facts of his ordeal more or less right, but like all biopics, it fudges a lot of details about his personal life to make it more dramatic. More on that below.


The Plot:
In 1823, a group of fur trappers is camped out in what is now South Dakota. Among the trappers is Captain Henry (played by Domhnall Gleeson), their guide Hugh Glass (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) and John Fitzgerald (played by Tom Hardy), a trapper who was partially scalped by hostile Arikara Indians, and Glass' half Native American son Hawk.

The party is suddenly attacked by a tribe of Arikara, and only a small handful of trappers manage to escape by boat. Among them are Captain Henry, Glass, Hawk and Fitzgerald. They regroup downstream and decide to hide their valuable fur pelts (which they'll come back for later) and hightail it to their fort.

While scouting ahead, Glass is savagely attacked by a female grizzly bear. He manages to kill it, but is gravely wounded. The others attempt to carry him back to the fort, but are eventually forced to leave him behind. Fitzgerald says they should do the humane thing and put Glass out of his misery, but Captain Henry can't bring himself do so. He offers extra payment to any men who stay behind until Glass dies, to give him a proper burial.

Fitzgerald volunteers, along with a young man named Jim Bridger. Once Henry and the others leave, Fitzgerald tries to smother Glass to get it over with. Hawk tries to stop him, but Fitzgerald kills him and drags his body away. He then buries Glass in a shallow grave, as Bridger returns from foraging. He convinces Bridger that the Arikara are close by, and if they don't abandon Glass they'll die. Bridger reluctantly agrees, places his canteen on Glass' chest, and follows Fitzgerald.

Against all logic and reason, Glass somehow survives. He crawls from his shallow grave and begins the arduous task of crawling back to the fort. He encounters many more trials and tribulations along the way, including narrowly avoiding capture by the Arikara. Their Chief is searching for his daughter Powaqa, who he believes was kidnapped by Glass' party.

Fitzgerald and Bridger make it back to Fort Kiowa. Captain Henry, who arrived there earlier, pays the men for staying with Glass. Bridger refuses the money. 

Glass discovers a group of French trappers who are holding Powaqa captive and repeatedly raping her. He frees her and steals one of the Frenchmen's horses, accidentally dropping his canteen. He narrowly escapes the Arikara again by riding his horse off a cliff (!). 

Meanwhile a hunter arrives at Fort Kiowa carrying Glass' canteen. Captain Henry organizes a search party. Fitzgerald realizes Glass survived, so he robs the fort's safe and flees. Henry discovers Glass and brings him back. Henry charges Bridger with treason, but Glass defends him, saying he was lied to by Fitzgerald. Henry and a barely-healed Glass then set out to find Fitzgerald.

The two split up and search the mountains. Henry is ambushed by Fitzgerald, who scalps and kills him. Glass finds Henry's body and sets a trap for Fitzgerald. The trap works and the two men grapple in a bloody battle near a river. Glass tells Fitzgerald he only survived so he could have his revenge against him. Fitzgerald says killing him won't bring Hawk back to life.

Glass is about to deliver the killing blow to Fitzgerald, when he sees the band of Arikara watching downstream. He pushes Fitzgerald into the river, and he floats helplessly down to them. They scalp Fitzgerald for real this time and kill him. The Chief, now accompanied by his daughter Powaqa, spares Glass.

Glass tries to make it back to the fort, but collapses. He sees a vision of his Native American wife, who smiles and walks into the woods. His fate is left ambiguous.

• For the record, a "revenant" is a person who comes back from the dead. Considering what happens to Glass in the movie, it's a pretty apt title.

• The film takes place in 1823, probably in what is now South Dakota (at least that's when and where the real Glass was mauled). This would have been helpful information for the movie to have provided to the audience. Would it have killed them to give us a couple of captions laying out the setting?

• Inarritu is quickly becoming the master of the prolonged take. In fact his previous film Birdman was filmed so that it appears to be one continuous shot.

He employs the same technique several times in The Revenant as well. The opening attack by the Arikara is shot as one long camera move lasting ten minutes or so. I assumed they probably used several separate shots and digitally stitched them together, but Inarritu insists it was filmed as a single take. 

It's an impressive piece of filmmaking, especially when you consider the dozens of actors who all had to hit their marks and say their lines at the right moment, as well as the cameraman who had to capture it all precisely. Kudos!

The grizzly bear attack was also one long shot (or at least appeared to be), made all the more horrendous by the fact that the camera refused to look away, forcing us to watch each shocking second.

• On the way back to the fort, Glass scouts ahead to find the best trail. He inadvertently disturbs a mother grizzly bear and her cubs. The grizzly then savagely attacks him, not once but twice, before he finally manages to kill it. 

It's a horrific, jaw dropping scene and an amazing piece of cinema. The bear was CGI of course, as even DiCaprio doesn't want an Oscar badly enough to wrestle a real grizzly. But it's amazing CGI, and it looks for all the world like a real live bear.

That said, ultimately the shot somehow feels fake, if that makes any sense. No matter how good the bear looks, or how authentically it moves, in the back of your mind you know it's not really mauling DiCaprio. I honestly can't think of any way around this problem.

As good as the shot is, I have to ask-- why the hell were the bears out foraging in the middle of a harsh winter in the first place? Don't bears hibernate during the winter months? According to his letters, the real life Hugh Glass was mauled in May of 1823. Apparently Inarritu changed the setting for dramatic purposes.

• Unintentional Humor Alert! After being mauled by the grizzly for several minutes, Glass finally manages to kill it. He rolls down the side of a small ravine and comes to rest on the forest floor. A second later the bear does the same, landing right smack on top of him-- just like a rock falling on top of Wile E. Coyote. It was an unintentionally hilarious coda to the scene and seemed way out of place after the gruesome attack.

• In an interview, Inarritu made a huge deal out of the fact that he shot the entire film in natural light. Because of this, there were only ninety minutes a day in which the crew could film. This resulted in an extra long shoot, and also caused the film to go over budget.

Maybe next time Inarritu might want to think about bringing a few artificial lights with him when he goes on location.

• The film featured subtitles for the various Indians and French trappers. Pity they didn't do the same for Tom Hardy's Fitzgerald character. I would have enjoyed his powerful performance even more if I'd been able to understand what the hell he was saying. I missed at least half his dialogue due to his mealy-mouthed delivery.

• After crawling from his shallow grave, Glass tries to stand but collapses on the ground in pain.

Inarritu makes an interesting cinematography choice in this scene. He pushes the camera closer and closer into Leo's face, until his wheezing breath fogs the camera lens. Weird! Eh, no worries, go ahead and fog up the lens for a few minutes. I'm sure nothing of any importance was happening.

• Once Glass partially recovers from the bear attack, he begins the arduous task of crawling back to the fort. He stops for the night, builds a campfire and manages to catch a fish in a nearby stream. I guess he was either really ravenous or out of his mind with pain, because he devours the fish raw-- even though there's a perfectly good campfire literally ten feet away.

Later Glass encounters a friendly Pawnee Indian named Hikuc, who's eating a bison. Hikuc tosses a big hunk of organ meat to Glass, and he hungrily munches on it. Once again, there are several campfires not three feet away from him. Apparently Glass must prefer the taste of raw meat.

• As a fan of Parks & Recreation, color me surprised to find out that the Pawnee are an actual Native American tribe, and not just the name of a fictional town! Their territory was primarily in Nebraska and Oklahoma though, not Indiana.

• Hikuc and Glass eventually part ways. A few days later Glass finds Hikuc dead, hanging by a rope in a tree. There's a sign on his body that reads, "On est tous des sauvages," indicating he was hanged by the French trappers.

"On est tous des sauvages," is French for "We are all savages."

• After stealing a horse from the French trappers, Glass is pursued again by the horde of Arikara. In a desperate effort to escape them, he rides his horse off the edge of a high cliff. The horse splats to the ground while Glass lands in a convenient pine tree.

Can you really make a horse run right off a cliff like that? It's not a car, it's an animal with a mind of its own. I suppose you could argue that it was spooked by the Indians and arrows whizzing past its head, but still...

• After Glass rides off the cliff, he guts his dead horse and crawls inside it to protect himself from the intense cold.

I defy anyone to watch this scene and not think of The Empire Strikes Back. Any second I expected Glass to pull out a handful of steaming entrails and say, "I thought they smelled bad... on the outside!"

• At the end of the film, Fitzgerald surprises Captain Henry and scalps and kills him. Why the scalping? Was he hoping Glass would find Henry's body, think the Arikara scalped him and run back to the fort?

• There's a 1971 film called Man In The Wilderness, starring Richard Harris and John Huston, that was also based on Hugh Glass' life story. Oddly enough in this film the main character's name is changed to Zachary Bass.

• Like most biopics, this one plays fast and loose with the actual facts. There really was a trapper named Hugh Glass, he was really mauled by a bear and left for dead, and he survived and crawled back to his fort.

Naturally there's much more to the story, and the real Hugh Glass' ordeal was actually much more interesting.

The real Glass was indeed mauled by a bear, but he didn't kill it by himself. The real life Fitzgerald and Bridger helped. The leader of the party, General Ashley (not Captain Henry) was convinced Glass wouldn't survive, and asked for volunteers to stay with him and see he got a proper burial.

Fitzgerald and Bridger stayed behind and began digging Glass' grave. They were interrupted by attacking Arikara, and fled with Glass' rifle and knife. Later they reported that Glass had died.

Glass survived. but had a broken leg and cuts on his back that exposed his ribs. He set his leg, and poured maggots in his wounds to eat the infected, gangrenous flesh (!). He then wrapped himself in a bear skin and crawled the two hundred miles back to the fort (!!). He built a raft and floated downstream part of the way, and was aided by friendly Indians now and then.

When he finally arrived at the fort, he found it abandoned (!!!). Apparently everyone had relocated to a new fort some distance away. When he finally arrived there he met up with Bridger, and forgave him due to his youth.

He eventually managed to track down Fitzgerald, who'd joined the army. Instead of engaging him in an epic battle and killing him in revenge, he simply forgave him too, saying he'd probably have done the same thing in his place. The only thing he wanted from Fitzgerald was his rifle back.

As near as we can tell, Glass was never married, and never had a son, half-breed or otherwise. The movie heavily implies he died after getting his revenge on Fitzgerald, but in reality he lived another ten years after the attack, before being killed in an Arikara attack along the Yellowstone River.

I don't know about anyone else, but that's the movie I wished I'd seen!

The Revenant is an impressive, if overlong piece of filmmaking full of ferocious violence and beautiful cinematography. Leonardo DiCaprio puts in an impressive physical performance, but unfortunately he's easily out-acted by Tom Hardy. Ultimately the film is a case of style over substance, because it doesn't seem to have anything to say. It's worth a look in the theater, but you probably won't want to watch it over and over. I know it's Oscar bait, but I wasn't that impressed. I give it a B.

High-Def Revelations: Mystery Science Theater 3000

Last year I finally joined the early 2000s and retired my twenty year old picture tube TV and bought a hi-def set. Hey, don't judge. I was waiting to see if all this hi-def jazz was just a passing fad or if it was going to catch on. I ain't no early adopter!

Anyway, the past few months I've been rewatching a lot of my favorite movies in glorious 1080p resolution, and it's been, pardon the pun, eye opening. I'm seeing all kinds of things I never noticed before when I watched films in low-def, like a common peasant. 

For example, here's a high-def detail for you: Did you know that in the 1966 movie Fantastic Voyage, the filmmakers actually constructed a tiny submarine, complete with miniature cameras and sent it sailing through an actor's actual bloodstream? Who knew? 
At least that's how they looked on my new set. Maybe I need to adjust some settings. Never mind.

Anyway, onto tonight's Hi-Def Revelation. I was recently watching one of my favorite series on DVD, Mystery Science Theater 3000, and noticed a curious Star Wars connection.

Imagine my surprise when, during this scene on the bridge of the Satellite Of Love, I noticed not one but two two Millennium Falcons glued to the wall, along with a Darth Vader action figure carrying case!

Old news to rabid fans of the show, I'm sure, but it was a revelation to me.

Given the orientation of the Falcon's off-center cockpit, it looks like they split it and glued the top and bottom halves onto the walls.

Here's a good shot of the Vader carrying case. It looks like they turned it upside down to help hide what it is (didn't work) and then spray painted it white.

This episode was from the Siffy Channel era, back when they were still called Sci Fi Channel, so the objects aren't there on the earlier Comedy Central shows.

Given the show's handcrafted design aesthetic, there are probably even more bits of Star Wars memorabilia glued to the walls of the set. Just like inside of a Fuddruckers!

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Legends Of Tomorrow Season 1, Episode 2: Pilot Part 2

This week on Legends Of Tomorrow (why does that sound weird?) we finally get the second half of the pilot episode. I still don't understand why they split it up and just didn't air the whole thing as a two hour special, but I guess I'm not a program director.

Just like last week the story moved along at breakneck speed. There are times when I think it moves a little too fast, as huge events come and go before the audience even has time to process them. Slow down a bit, guys! What's the rush?

Last week I said I enjoyed the first episode for the most part, but had some misgivings about the series' future (heh). This week's episode seemed to address and fix most of my concerns.


After watching the first episode I said I was worried that the show had damaged Professor Stein's character, possibly for good. You remember what he did— basically giving Jackson a roofie and kidnapping him when he didn't want to go on an adventure. 

Believe it or not they managed to make up for that huge misstep this week. Seeing Professor Stein interacting with his younger and even more arrogant self totally made up for last week's blunder.

I hadn't read any spoilers about the episode, so the death of Hawkman was a huge surprise to me. I didn't think they'd kill off any of the Legends this soon, and definitely not him. I figured they'd draw out the "Hawkman loves Hawkgirl but she doesn't remember him" subplot for several more episodes. I'm sure we'll see him pop up again at some point though, what with the whole "resurrected 206 times" thing.

There was a lot of humor on display in this episode, as these horribly mismatched characters, none of whom have anything in common, are forced to work together. It's a welcome change from the dour and depressing DC movies. I really wish the DC TV people were in charge of the theatrical films as well.

This episode only heightened the biggest flaw in the whole series— namely actor Casper Crump (now that's a comic book name) as Vandal Savage. He definitely looks the part, but unfortunately he's not a very good actor, and he has no screen presence or charisma whatsoever. Vandal Savage is a terrifying figure, and should command the audience's attention every second he's onscreen. Crump seems incapable of even summoning up a decent evil laugh.

Neal McDonough had a brief cameo as Arrow villain Damien Dahrk (oy, that spelling), and he practically stole the entire show from Crump, who seemed like a wet washcloth in comparison.

This is a huge problem, especially considering that the entire premise of the series revolves around stopping Vandal Savage. I have no idea how to solve this dilemma, other than to recast the role, and I doubt they're going to do that. Hopefully Crump's game will improve and soon, before he torpedoes the entire show.

The battle scenes in this episode were nothing short of amazing, especially for a TV show. I don't know how they do it on a CW budget, but somehow the series is giving us battles that rival ones seen in the Avengers movies. Kudos to the FX team!

The Plot:
The team is still in 1975, and using Professor Boardman's info, they track Vandal Savage to a terrorist arms auction in Norway. Rip Hunter tries to get them to follow his plan, but the Legends refuse, coming up with their own. Professor Stein, Captain Cold, Heat Wave and White Canary travel to the auction site. When the security guard is suspicious of the group, Stein surprisingly steps up and blusters their way in.

Heat Wave bids in a nuclear warhead and wins, which draws the attention of Vandal Savage. He quickly figures out the group's "not from around here," and orders them killed. A glorious comic book battle breaks out, as each of the Legends does his thing. The Atom flies out of Professor Stein's coat pocket (where he'd been hiding) and joins the fight. Stein merges with Jackson (who luckily had just arrived as backup) and they turn into Firestorm.

In the confusion, Savage activates the nuke and scampers off. Atom tries to diffuse it, but can't. Firestorm flies off with the bomb and absorbs the nuclear blast. No one notices that in the fight, a chunk of Atom's suit breaks off.

When the group returns to the Waverider, Hunter gives them a sarcastic slow clap and congratulates them on their total failure. Savage managed to escape, plus they left future technology in the past. He says that Savage found the Atom's tech and was able to use it to create advanced weaponry, and has now taken over the world a hundred years early, in 2016. Gideon shows the Legends a glimpse of the ruined world they left behind.

The Legends assure Hunter that they'll fix things. Atom says the part from his suit emits alpha waves (whatever those are) and Stein says he just happened to invent an alpha wave detector in 1975. Stein, Jackson and White Canary travel to Ivy College to meet the twenty five year old version of Martin Stein. Jackson and Canary are amused to find the younger version regularly smokes pot. They steal the alpha generator, but Young Stein catches them. Canary knocks him out, and Older Stein places an alarm clock by the unconscious Young Stein's head, so he'll be sure and wake up and go to a college dance, where he's destined to meet his future wife.

The group then tracks Atom's tech to a lab, where they manage to steal it back. They return to the Waverider. They're surprised to see Young Stein has followed them, and is amazed by all the futuristic tech inside the ship. Old Stein is horrified when he sees his wedding ring fade away, and realizes Young Stein didn't go to the dance and never met his wife.

Meanwhile Hunter examines Professor Boardman's notes and reads about an ancient dagger with the power to kill Savage. Atom, Cold and Heat Wave leave to steal the dagger. Hawkman tries to get Hawkgirl to remember her past. After concentrating hard, she finally remembers enough to translate the inscription on the dagger, and how to use it against Savage. Atom, Cold and Heat Wave break into a mansion and steal the dagger. Unfortunately the mansion belongs to Savage, who returns. He captures them and forces them to summon the rest of the team.

Hawkman, Hawkgirl and the others answer the call and show up at Savage's mansion. While the others battle Savage's men, Hawkman grabs the dagger and attacks Savage with it. Savage is able to get the upper hand and stabs Hawkman with the dagger, killing him and absorbing his life force. He tells Hawkgirl that because the dagger belonged to her, only she can use it against him. I guess that part wasn't in the inscription. He injures Hawkgirl, and the team retreats. Savage gets away of course, or the series would be over.

Back on the Waverider, Gideon heals Hawkgirl's injuries. Stein is upset that his past has been altered. Suddenly his wedding ring reappears, and Hunter reveals he met with Young Stein and encouraged him to go to the dance, where he apparently met his future wife after all.

Hawkman didn't die in vain, as his death galvanizes the Legends and they vow to work together to stop Savage.

• The arms dealers bidding on the nuke by firing their guns into the air was a humorous touch. Probably didn't do the buidling's roof any good though.

• So far my favorite characters on the show are Captain Cold and Heat Wave. I've always been a sucker for stories in which the bad guys are forced to team up with the heroes, and Wentworth Miller and Dominic Purcell are obviously having a ball playing these two miscreants.

One ominous sign— rumor has it that Miller and Purcell have supposedly signed on for a revival of their old series Prison Break. I hope that doesn't mean they'll be exiting this show any time soon.

Professor Stein meeting his younger self was hilarious, even if it did echo elements of the Back To The Future movies. I guess when you've got a show about time travel it's inevitable that you're going to tread some familiar ground. 

The part where Stein watched in horror as his wedding ring flickered out was particularly Back To The Future-ey. It's also a bit suspect if Stein never married, would his subsequently different life choices have allowed him to be in the same exact position for Rip Hunter to recruit him in 2016? I doubt it.

Once again we see it's tough to write time travel stories. If Old Stein went back in time to 1975 and met his younger self, shouldn't he remember that event?

Graeme McComb played the younger Stein, and although he didn't look much like him, he definitely had Victor Garber's speech patterns and cadence down pat. Considering the no doubt hectic TV schedule, he probably didn't have much time to practice either. Kudos!

 Why does White Canary always look so,,, greasy and oily? She looks like she hasn't washed her hair for a month. It's a very unappealing look. And why is her costume grey?

 I haven't been keeping up with Arrow (there are only so many hours in the week!) so I'm not sure if the writers have ever explained how the Atom's suit works. If it's anything like Ant-Man's over at Marvel, then it works by compressing the space between the molecules of his body. If that's true, then the Atom has all the same scientific impossibilities as Ant-Man

If he shrinks by compressing his body, his mass won't change, meaning he'll weigh the same at six inches high as he does full size. That means there's no way he could've hidden inside Professor Stein's pocket. Unless the Professor and the material his jacket are really, really strong, that is. I know, it's a comic book.

 During the first battle, a high-tech gizmo falls off of the Atom's suit. Savage finds it and is able to reverse engineer it, allowing him to destroy/rule the world a century earlier. 

We see Savage give the underlings in his lab a scant twenty four hours to figure out how the piece of tech works. He even kills one of them in order to motivate the others.

Sorry Savage— you can kill as many of your techs as you want, but they're still not going to be able to reverse engineer Atom's techs in a day. His technology is no doubt advanced even in 2016, so there's no way in hell someone in 1975 could figure it out, much less replicate it. The material and manufacturing processes just aren't there. Imagine traveling to 1975, handing an iPhone to an engineer and telling him to make one. It couldn't be done!

I agree that Savage having the Atom tech could spark ideas and hurry the development of technology along. But it would still take much longer than a day for any of that to happen.

 The mechanics of the whole Hawkman/Hawkgirl/Vandal Savage triangle are a bit vague (no doubt on purpose). As near as I can tell, the Hawks aren't immortal. They live normal lifespans, but are reincarnated every time they're killed by Savage. He's immortal because every time he kills one of the Hawks, he absorbs their life force, which delays his death a few more years.

So I guess a person's life force is separate from their soul? It would have to be, or else the first time Savage killed the Hawks and sucked up their life force would have been the end of the matter.

Hawkman says he and Hawkgirl have lived 206 previous lives. I kind of wish that wasn't the case, and that after the two were killed in ancient Egypt they weren't reincarnated until the present day. Being killed 206 goddamned times by the same enemy makes the two of them look like the most ineffectual and incompetent heroes possible. Jesus, Arnold Stang is more threatening than these two.

According to the online caption, the Hawks and Savage lived in 1700 BC. That was 3,716 years ago. The Hawks have lived 207 lives. If you divide 3,716 by 207 you get 18. That means the average age at which the Hawks have died over the years is just eighteen. 

That seems pretty young. I suppose there were some years in which they lived longer and others in which they were killed earlier, but it still seems dodgy to me. Maybe the producers should have said they've lived 150 lives. That would up their average death age to twenty four.

So what happens now? Are the Hawks a matched set? Will Hawkman be reincarnated again now, or are they a matched set, and he can't return until Hawkgirl's killed? According to the producers it's the latter. We won't be seeing a new version of Hawkman as long as Hawkgirl's alive.

Of course that doesn't rule out the possibility that she'll run into a previous incarnation of him somewhere in the past... In fact there's probably an incarnation of Hawkman and Hawkgirl running around in 1975!

 It was a lucky break that Hawkgirl finally remembered her past seconds before Hawkman was killed, wasn't it. Why, it's almost like it was written that way.

• Somebody call Cisco Ramon, stat! A few months ago he was dating Kendra Saunders. When Hawkman showed up and told her who she really was, she unceremoniously dumped poor Cisco. Now that Hawkman's out of the picture, he's got a second chance.

• I just realized that Hawkman is the Agent Coulson of this series. His untimely death at the hands of a villain galvanized the team and made them band together, just like the Avengers.

Unfortunately the fact that Hawkman was killed off so quickly made his death into a real non-event. I could tell the producers wanted us to sob bitter tears at his death, but he wasn't a beloved character we grew to love over the years— we barely knew the guy.

That's why the various Legends being so affected by Carter's death rang false as well. How long had they been together when Carter died? A day? Less?
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