Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Marvel's Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 1, Episode 20: Nothing Personal

Another good episode this week, as the season starts to wind down. Agent Maria Hill comes a' calling, Skye becomes a badass, the producers remember there's a flying car on the show and Coulson finally finds out who was behind his resurrection.


The Plot:
Agent Hill comes to Providence base to convince Coulson and the Team to turn themselves in. They politely decline. The Team discovers that Ward is a HYDRA agent, and that he has Skye with him. They risk everything to rescue Skye, because she's apparently the most important person in the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. May gives Coulson a file that reveals who was in charge of the T.A.H.I.T.I. project that brought him back to life.


• It was nice to see Agent Hill (from The Avengers and Captain America: The Winter Soldier) show up, I suppose. Unfortunately I thought she was dull as dishwater here. Whether that's due to the writing of the character or Cobie Smulders' acting ability, I can't say.

• Another Black Widow shout out! That's three in three weeks. Someone on the writing staff is really in love with Scarlett Johanssen.

• In addition to the Black Widow reference, we also get a mention of Man-Thing, of all characters! Now that I think about it, there was also kind of a convoluted Man-Thing reference in last year's Iron Man 3: Whoops! We Forgot To Put Iron Man In The Movie. Is it possible Marvel's laying the ground work for a Man-Thing film?*

• Agent Hill doesn't act surprised when she sees Coulson up and walking, so she must have known for quite some time that he's alive. She's working for Stark Enterprises now-- will she tell Tony Stark that he's alive? Or will she let him and the other Avengers find that out in The Avengers 2, as I suspect will happen?

• Melinda May must be the world's most efficient gravedigger. After she digs up Coulson's empty coffin, she's got a few strategically placed smudges of dirt on her face and a slight perspiration stain on her shirt.

I have a feeling if I ever dug up a coffin I'd look like I'd just been defeated at mud wrestling.

• A couple of things about that whole grave digging scene. May somehow knew that the file on the top secret Level 10 Clearance T.A.H.I.T.I. Project was buried in Coulson's empty coffin. I'm guessing Nick Fury didn't want Coulson to ever find out the truth, so he stuck the file in a coffin six feet under ground.

If the info was so sensitive, wouldn't it have made more sense and been easier to, oh, I don't know, just destroy the goddamned file? Why the hell would you bury it? Try as I might I can't think of a good reason, other than to provide a dramatic reveal on the show.

Secondly, the whole idea of Coulson having a grave in the first place doesn't make any sense either. I get that Fury was probably trying to sell the idea that Coulson really died in The Avengers, but he's been walking around the halls of S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters and calling up various agents all season. So how's Fury explaining the grave to curious agents?

• I know Coulson is a secret agent and probably trained in all kinds of hand to hand fighting. That said, I had a hard time believing he was able to kick Colonel Talbot's ass so easily. Talbot looks like a pretty capable soldier, while Coulson looks like, well, like a doughy middle management type.

I'm going to tell myself the alien blood in his veins gives him semi-super strength.

• Skye continued to win me over this week, playing Ward like a cheap violin and basically being a badass. Finally.

All season the writers have bent over backwards telling us how awesome she is and expecting us to automatically love her as much as they do. You can't force the audience to love a character, guys. They have to earn the audience's affection. It seems like they've finally realized that, and are taking pains to have Skye actually do something to justify her existence.

Show, don't tell, guys. See, it's not that hard.

• When Skye escaped from Ward at the diner, he ran after her shouting, "Let me explain!" For a horrifying minute I thought for sure they were going to reveal that he wasn't really a H.Y.D.R.A. agent after all, and was part of some extremely deep cover mission. Luckily that turned out not to be the case. 

I think they may be trying to show that Ward's becoming disillusioned with HYDRA (especially after Garrett ordered Deathlok to take him out just to make a point), and that he'll come to realize he's made a mistake. I don't see any way he could ever possibly rejoin the Team at this point though, given his high body count in the past few episodes.

My guess: the writers are setting up Ward for some kind of redemption in the season finale; most likely by having him sacrifice himself to save Skye or turn on Garrett before being killed. Or both.

• Hey, someone finally remembered that Coulson's car Lola can fly! Some of the flying scenes looked better than others, but overall I thought it was a pretty cool scene.

• So Coulson was the one keeping the secret about Project T.A.H.I.T.I. from himself! I gotta admit, I didn't see that one coming.

Also, after this jaw-dropping revelation, the only comment Coulson can summon is a flabbergasted "Huh." I don't know if Joss Whedon had anything to do with that scene, but that line seems a lot like something he would write (see just about any episode of Buffy TheVampire Slayer).

• I'm curious to see how the whole "S.H.I.E.L.D. Is No More" story arc is going to play out. S.H.I.E.L.D. has been a massive part ofthe Marvel Cinematic Universe so far, and I can't imagine them not reviving it at some point. But when? WIll they rebuild the agency on the series, or save that for one of the movies? 

I'm guessing they'll pretty much have to rebuild it on the show (if it gets another season). I don't see how they could have Coulson and the Team as fugitives until S.H.I.E.L.D. gets rebuilt in the next Captain America movie.

*There actually was a made-for-TV or direct-to-DVD or something Man Thing movie a few years ago, but I'm not counting it. Trust me, it's best forgotten. In fact it would be best if it was buried deep underground and the earth above it salted so nothing can ever grow there.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Beaten To The Punch

This week writer/director/actor/TV host/public speaker/internet sensation Kevin Smith announced he'll be directing an upcoming holiday film titled Anti-Claus. The film tells the story of Krampus, the demon-like entity who eats naughty children in Europe during the Xmas season.

Sounds interesting, but I done beat him to the punch way back in 2008!

The legal team here at Bob Canada's BlogWorld will be in touch with you shortly.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Why Do They Call Them Comics: Snuffy Smith

Apparently we're to believe that backwoods hillbilly Snuffy Smith somehow has a working knowledge of the Many Worlds Theory Of Quantum Mechanics, and believes that every action we take causes a parallel world to be formed in the multiverse. Got it.

That's quite impressive for an illiterate scofflaw who by all rights shouldn't even be aware that the Earth revolves around the Sun.

Apparently Sheriff Tate has at least a passing familiarity with cosmic theory as well, since he knowingly brushes aside Smith's elaborately concocted excuse instead of saying, "What in the name of Lil' Abner ripoffs are you talking about, you grotesque, drunken hillbilly?" as one would expect.

Looks like artist/writer John Rose is set on injecting his own likes and interests into this legacy strip no matter how inappropriate the results.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

I'm Not Lovin' It

After a dismal five percent drop in first quarter earnings, this week fast food behemoth McDonald's decided to take drastic steps to boost their sagging bottom line.

So how do they plan to increase sales? By lowering the prices of their menu items? Improving customer service? Using actual edible substances in their food?

Nope, none of that. They plan to shore up their anemic sales by giving spokes-clown Ronald McDonald a makeover.

Ronald, seen here posing in front of the backdrop of every comedy club in the country, has dumped his traditional yellow jumper for a smart new embroidered red blazer. 

The new ensemble was designed by Tony Award-winning theatrical designer Ann Hould-Ward, whoever that is. It's the first wardrobe update for Ronald since 2005.

I must say I'm all for Ronald's snappy new look. Because Lord knows the reason I haven't eaten at a McDonald's in ten years is because of the clothes their goddamned clown is wearing. Their food is sure to be healthier and more palatable now that he's wearing a jacket.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Marvel's Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 1, Episode 19: The Only Light In The Darkness

Another solid episode this week, as we get more of Evil Ward, an actual super villain from the comics, an unexpected death and at long last the appearance of Coulson's ex! Oh, and Skye becomes somewhat likable. Amazing!


The Plot:
After Garrett frees all the prisoners from the Fridge, super powered inmate Marcus Daniels (aka Blackout) travels to Portland to reconnect with his old flame Audrey Nathan. The same Audrey Nathan who just happens to be Coulson's long talked-about old flame. Coulson splits up the Team and takes FitzSimmons and Triplett to Portland to save Audrey from Daniels.

Meanwhile back at the secret Providence Base, Ward kills Agent Koenig, and Skye discovers he's working for HYDRA.

• Dang it! I really liked Agent Koenig! Or I guess I should say I liked Patton Oswalt, as he was pretty much playing himself here. I can't believe they offed him after just two episodes. Surely his voice-over work on The Goldbergs doesn't take up that much of his time.

By the way, Koenig was an obscure character from the comics.

• It looks like there's no question now that Ward is a full-fledged HYDRA agent. A few weeks ago I thought maybe he was being mind controlled, or Nick Fury had given him some top secret deep cover HYDRA infiltration mission, but every dead body he leaves in his wake makes that seem less likely. I don't see any way for him to ever rejoin the Team at this point. 

Do not be surprised if in the season finale he takes a shot at redemption by scarifying himself for Skye or something like that.

By the way, now that we know Ward's an evil killer, we could say he's now Psycho Ward. Eh? Get it? Com-O-Dee!

• Agent Koenig forces everyone on the Team to take a souped-up S.H.I.E.L.D. lie detector test before he'll trust them. The test gave us lots of insight into the various characters. We learn that May was married, and Triplett's grandpaw was one of the Howling Commandos (presumably Gabe Jones). And Simmons is a big Doctor Who fan!

During Skye's test she reveals she her orphanage named her "Mary Sue Poots." Ha! I've been saying all season that Skye's pretty much a Mary Sue (an audience surrogate character who never has to work for their wild success). Was this name the creator's way of admitting they're guilty as charged, or just a coincidence?

• During the lie detector test, Koenig asks everyone if they've ever had contact with Alexander Pierce or heard of Project Insight. Those are both references from Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Pierce was the HYDRA leader played by Robert Redford, and Project Insight was the plan to kill "undesirables" with a fleet of helicarriers.

• Speaking of references, Black Widow gets yet another name drop this week, as does Bruce Banner.

• This week's episode was rife with coincidence, the crutch of the lay writer. Daniels just happens to get released and immediately heads for his ex, who just happens to be Coulson's girlfriend. Ward needs to decrypt the S.H.I.E.L.D. hard drive, and the only person who can do it is his crush Skye. Coulson just happens to split up the Team, leaving Skye and Koenig alone with Evil Ward. And on and on.

• It's cool that we finally got an honest-to-Thor super villain on this show, but...Blackout seemed more like a bad guy who wandered off the Smallville or Supernatural sets. 

I get that it might have been a bit jarring if Blackout showed up wearing his comic book costume, but cheezus… surely they could have done a bit better than a guy in a trench coat.

By the way, there are two Blackouts in the Marvel Universe. The second was a Ghost Rider villain, who was a half-demon albino who could generate a light absorbing field.

• Blackout had a visually interesting power; too bad we didn't get to see him use it very often. I guess there just wasn't enoguh money in the budget for more Darkforce rays. 

The way his powers worked were also a bit vague. In the teaser he kills a guy by… I don't know. Sucking the light out of him? Absorbing his life force? Who knows? Whatever he did, it established him as a very dangerous entity who could kill with but a touch. Yet later in the show he shoots purplish black rays at Coulson and the others, and all it seems to do is knock them on their asses.  

• After Ward kills Koenig, he sets a penny on top of the storage room door as a makeshift intruder alert, so he'll know if Skye's been snooping. After tripping his detector, she's smart enough to replace the penny so Ward doesn't know she's discovered his treachery.

I'll admit it took me a while to figure out what the whole penny thing was all about. Koenig's body was stashed in the ceiling, so for a minute I just thought change was raining from his pockets every time someone opened the door!
• Coulson uses Audrey as bait to capture Daniels, by having her play her cello in an abandoned theater. Do cellists really sit like that when they play? Especially lady cellists? I suppose there's no other way to hold one, but seeing her squatting behind her cello with her legs splayed wide open was the least attractive thing I've seen in quite a while.

• Speaking of Audrey, Coulson's been talking about her ever since The Avengers, and then when we finally get to see her they have absolutely zero interaction. It seems odd that after all this buildup the two don't even get to speak to one another.

• There's no reason I can think of for Coulson to not let Audrey know he's still alive. He gives a weak excuse that she needs more time to heal or something, but it's pretty obvious that they don't want to waste this big revelation on the TV show and are saving it up for The Avengers 2.

It strains credulity though that none of the Avengers know he's really alive. Jeez, Captain America and Black Widow both work for S.H.I.E.L.D.; you'd think at some point during the past two years they'd have passed Coulson in the hall.

• I can't believe I'm saying this, but Skye came perilously close to being likable in this episode. I've been ragging on her character all season, but I'll admit I was actually worried for her safety this week. I know I'm not the only one who actively dislikes the character-- have the writers finally heard our complaints and taken steps to make her less annoying?

Three more episodes to go!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Department Of Unnecessary Redundancy

Welp, this was in my mail today. A political flyer. Didn't we just have an election a couple of years ago? Cheezus, how often do they expect us to go out and vote? I've got TV series to binge watch here. 

Normally whenever I see one of these things it goes right from the mailbox into the trash. But something about this particular one from Ms Wendy McNamara caught my eye. No, not the fact that she doesn't know that when her name is written in all caps, the "c" should still be lower case.

I'm talking about her little campaign slogan there. "Limiting Bureaucracy By Cutting Red Tape." At first glance it seems like a reasonable, if bland, blurb. But wait a minute... bureaucracy and red tape are the same thing! They both mean "excessive government paperwork or procedures." In effect she's saying the same thing twice. 

She might as well say "Making Things Better By Improving Them."

I've got a better slogan idea for her: "Winning The Election By Hiring A Better Copywriter."

The Doctor Will See You Now

Last night I finally got around to watching Skyfall, the most recent James Bond film. You know, the one that came out in 2012. Hey, what can I say, my duties as CEO of Bob Canada's BlogWorld keep me really busy, what with all the pandering to the shareholders and the hostile takeovers and the mass layoffs. I ain't got time to watch every movie that wanders into the cineplex. Sometimes it takes me a while to catch up.

Anyhow, I liked the film OK as Bond movies go, but I really liked the new Q, played by actor Ben Whishaw. It struck me that he'd make a darn good Doctor on Doctor Who, if they ever decide to cast younger again (which I think is inevitable).

Whishaw's got that whole "nerdy yet cool college professor" thing going on, just like previous Doctors David Tennant and Matt Smith. Heck, there were some scenes in Skyfall in which he even acted like the Doctor. The BBC could do a lot worse than to hire him.

Who knows, maybe one of these days after current Doctor Peter Capaldi retires, we'll see Ben Whishaw at the controls of the TARDIS. 

Overheard At Work: Basement

I work in a typical office, surrounded by many other workers in cubicles. Although I'm grateful to have a job I like, sometimes the vocal din from the surrounding coworkers is a bit overwhelming. Not to mention odd. Thank the gods old and new for headphones and Pandora.

The following is a 100% true actual conversation I Overheard At Work:
Woman (with pride): "We just bought a new house. It has three bedrooms, two baths and an underground basement!"
Wow, underground you say. Dang, I'm envious. My stupid old house just has an upstairs basement. We call it an attic.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Marvel's Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 1, Episode 18: Providence

Yeah, I know, the review's late this week. Sometimes these things happen.

Another good episode of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.! There was a time earlier in the season in which I considered dropping this show, but I'm very glad I decided to stick with it. 


The Plot:

After the fall of S.H.I.E.L.D., Coulson and the rest of the Team try to find a safe refuge from HYDRA as well as our own government. Meanwhile, Garrett and Ward free Raina, The Girl In The Flower Dress, from prison. They then infiltrate the Fridge, where they steal a hidden arsenal of advanced weaponry.

• At the beginning of the episode, Garrett and Ward break Raina out of a prison in an undisclosed location. I wonder why Coulson didn't incarcerate her in the Fridge? 

• This episode would seem to reinforce the notion that Ward really is working for HYDRA and not being mind controlled or some sort of triple agent. Good. Evil Ward is much, much more interesting than Good Ward.

Another clue that Ward may not be coming back: It looks like Agent Triplett may be taking his place on the Team (as well as coming between Fitz and Simmons).

• When Raina finally meets Garrett, aka "The Clairvoyant," she's disappointed to find out he doesn't actually have any actual psychic powers. I know how she feels.

Coulson and everyone around him have been saying for weeks that there's no such thing as psychic powers, despite the fact that they live in a world full of superheroes and alien gods. I was sure that this whole Clairvoyant storyline existed just to prove them wrong. I guess not. Too bad. 

• A while back when the Team discovered the GH-325 formula, I remarked that I thought it odd that Fitz only took one vial. Why take just one? What if that wasn't enough to heal Skye?

Now we see that Garrett apparently grabbed a whole handful of GH-325 vials while no one was looking, and wants Raina to figure out how the miracle drug works. Good thinking on Garrett's part. Why couldn't Fitz have thought of that?

• In the previous episode Skye downloaded all the Team's files to a hard drive, wiped the Bus' computers clean, and then gave the drive to Ward for safe keeping. Bad move!

But wait! This week we find out she encrypted the files so they'll erase themselves if anyone besides her tries to decrypt them. Smart move!

But then the first chance she gets she calls Evil Ward and tells him exactly where to find her. He then heads toward her location intent on forcing her to open the files. Bad move again!

• After the government brands all former S.H.I.E.L.D. agents as terrorists, Coulson orders Skye to erase all traces of the Team's identities, even from the internet. Is that even possible? Erasing your records from a bank, maybe. But from the entire internet? Skye must have some awfully powerful passwords.

• Colonel Glenn Talbot of the Army contacts Coulson and says he's sending troops to the Hub to help keep order. Comic fans will recognize Talbot as a long running supporting character in The Incredible Hulk comics.

I guess his appearance here means that the first Hulk movie is not part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, since Talbot died in that film. That's probably a good idea, as that movie was double plus ungood.

• As Garrett changes clothes, we get a glimpse of what appears to be his metal-plated torso.

In the comics, John Garrett is a cyborg. He was injured by an explosion during a mission and rebuilt with cybernetic parts. I'll admit I didn't know that, and had to look it up. Kudos I suppose for being true to the comics, but it came off as a bit confusing here. I thought maybe he was sporting some Deathlok technology like Mike Peterson.

Garrett tells another of his long-winded stories, about the time he transported a criminal named Johnny Horton to the Fridge. No, not the Johnny Horton who sang The Battle Of New Orleans. This one was from the comics and known as the Griffin and sported quite a bizarre appearance. The version in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is apparently a bit more tame, having had lion paws grafted onto his arms.

Black Widow gets a name drop this week. 

Hey Marvel, since you're apparently never going to make a solo Black Widow movie, how about a TV series? Of course it's unlikely they'd be able to get Scarlett Johanssen to star in it, so that wouldn't work. Forget I brought it up.

The Cube gets a shout-out. It's another secret SHIELD facility from the comics.

• This week we finally get to see the Fridge, S.H.I.E.L.D.'s top secret prison facility, which was apparently designed by the people who built the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.

• Speaking of the Fridge, Garrett says it's a hundred stories high (!) and accessible only by the roof. Or, you know, any of the thousands of windows that appear to dot its sides.

By the way... how can a hundred storey building's location be classified? Seems like it would be pretty easy to spot on Google Maps.

• Garrett frees all the prisoners in the Fridge. Is he recruiting them for his HYDRA army, or just letting them loose? If he's just cutting them loose, where are they going to go? We're told the Fridge's location is classified, and it looks like it's in a pretty remote and desolate location.

• So SHIELD wasn't really flinging dangerous weapons and alien artifacts into the sun after all, but storing them in a big Raiders Of The Lost Ark warehouse inside the Fridge.

• The arctic wilderness set might have been a bit more convincing if they could've CGI-ed some frozen breath coming out of the mouths of the Team. I guess there wasn't money in the budget for that, so all the actors had to rub their arms and act like they were cold.

• The big news this week: Patton Oswalt appears, as Agent Koenig. I sensed a disturbance in the Force as millions of geek voices cried out in rapture, and were not silenced.

Oswalt is a self described uber-geek himself, so his appearance in a comic book based series is nothing short of perfect casting.

I'll say one thing for this show, they have some interesting guest stars.

This Week In Signs Of The Apocalypse: Mrs. Doubtfire 2

THAILAND– This week the World Council Of Religious Leaders met in an emergency session to discuss reports of a new threat to the world at large.

The learned group of bishops, rabbis and ministers deliberated behind closed doors for several days, and came to the inescapable conclusion that the recently green lit film Mrs. Doubtfire 2 is one of the signs of the biblical Apocalypse, prophesied in the Book Of Revelations.

Rabbi Schlomo Mendelbaum, spokesman for the Council, held a press conference this week to discuss the dire omen. "I appear before you today with grave news from the world of entertainment," said the Rabbi. "The inexplicably popular original Mrs. Doubtfire, which was little more than an instruction manual for stalking behavior disguised as broad comedy, was apparently just the opening salvo by the forces of darkness against everything that is good and right in the world."

"The Earth barely managed to survive the first film back in 1993," said Rabbi Mendelbaum. "It will not survive a Mrs. Doubtfire 2."

"Seriously, where could they even go with the storyline?" asked the Rabbi. "Will Robin Williams, star of the original movie, mince about in old lady makeup yet again, trying to see his grandchildren this time? Even in an industry that's only concerned with the bottom line, how could anyone possibly think this is a good idea?"

"I must be honest with you, this news has shaken my faith to its very core," said the visibly distraught Rabbi. "What kind of God would allow such a thing to happen?

Indeed, upon hearing the disturbing news, rioting and panic reportedly broke out in several larger metropolitan areas. Rabbi Mendelbaum urged the populace to remain calm. "Though the news is grim, all hope is not lost. This is not the first time the specter of this unholy sequel has reared its ugly head. There've been rumors of a followup film in Variety and other trade publications for the past twenty years."

"If we all unite in prayer, we may be able to delay the film for another twenty," said the Rabbi. "Robin Williams is currently 62 years of age. If we can somehow cause the sequel to be delayed for even another five years, Mr. Williams may decide he's too old to be performing pratfalls in drag and cancel the whole project."

"Of course there's always the possibility of a remake," added the Rabbi ominously.

Note: For the record, this post was written about four months before Robin Williams' untimely death. I thought about pulling a George Lucas and deleting it, but in the end decided to leave it. I stand by my opinion on Mrs. Doubtfire.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

It Came From The Cineplex: Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Captain America: The Winter Soldier was written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely and directed by Anthony and Joe Russo. Apparently it took two people to do anything on this film.

Markus and McFeely wrote Captain America: The First Avenger (the previous movie) as well as Thor: The Dark World and The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe and all its sequels. If it's got a colon in the title, like as not they wrote it.

As for the Russo brothers, who knew the directors of You, Me And Dupree could make such a good film? Actually it should come as no surprise, since they've directed several episodes of the TV series Community, namely A Fistfull Of Paintballs and For A Few Paintballs More. They've reportedly been signed up for Captain America 3, which is good news.

I enjoyed the first Captain America movie quite a bit, and this one's just as good if not better. It's not quite as much fun as the first film, but it's a very well made and action packed political thriller.

The actors played a large part in elevating the material. Once again Chris Evans proves he's the perfect person to play Cap, as he has the wholesome and earnest thing down pat. Scarlett Johansson seems to be having a blast as Black Widow. And Anthony Mackie hits it out of the park as the Falcon, even though he didn't get a lot of screen time. Hopefully he'll turn up again soon somewhere in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And they somehow even got Robert Redford to sign on as Alexander Pierce!

The only real shortcoming? For a movie subtitled The Winter Soldier, there wasn't a lot of the Winter Soldier in it. I have a feeling this was just his introduction though, and he'll be back.


The Plot:
Captain America has a new job working for S.H.I.E.L.D., and soon begins to think all is not right in the super secret spy organization. His suspicions are proved correct when S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Nick Fury is killed by a super powered assassin known as the Winter Soldier. S.H.I.E.L.D. official Alexander Pierce then brands Captain America a traitor.

The Captain and Black Widow seek refuge in a forgotten S.H.I.E.L.D. bunker, where they discover that HYDRA, an enemy agency from WWII, is alive and well in the 21st Century and threatening to take over not only S.H.I.E.L.D., but the world itself.

Captain America, Black Widow, Agent Maria Hill and the Falcon must then band together to defeat HYDRA and save S.H.I.E.L.D.

Oh, and to absolutely no one's surprise, the Winter Soldier turns out to be Cap's childhood friend Bucky Barnes.

• Unfortunately I knew the basic plot of the film a week before I had a chance to see it. The April 8th episode of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. was pretty much a sequel.

By the time I got around to seeing the movie, I already knew that HYDRA was back, S.H.I.E.L.D. was kaput and Nick Fury was kind of dead.

As I've said before, it's cool that the movies and the TV series are part of big happy universe. But this interconnectivity can result in major spoilers.

• S.H.I.E.L.D. has been a huge part of all the Marvel films ever since the first Iron Man film. It's the spine of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The engine that drives them, so to speak. 

It was a very bold move to destroy S.H.I.E.L.D. in this film. Obviously it'll be back at some point, but in the meantime, well done to them for having the guts to actually shake things up a bit!

• I'm not a fan of Cap's dark blue stealth suit, but it looks very much like the one he wears sometimes in the comics, so I guess I can't squawk about it too much. They're being faithful to the source material, even if I don't particularly care for the look.

At least Cap was wearing some kind of costume for the majority of the movie, unlike Tony Stark in Iron Man 3, who spent the majority of that film in civilian clothes.

• Speaking of costumes, why was Nick Fury wearing what appeared to be a Nehru jacket? I much preferred his Avengers ensemble.

By the way, this film marks the first time we've seen what's under Fury's eyepatch.

• It was fun to see Batroc and Arnim Zola, but… it would have been even more fun if they'd actually looked a bit more like their comic book counterparts.

I like the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I really do, but they seem to have trouble cutting loose. It's as if they're afraid to be too weird, lest they scare off the general public, so they play it safe when it comes to the look of certain characters.

Go for it, I say. Which would have been more awesome, the movie version of Arnim Zola who's a boring Matrix-y looking face on a computer monitor, or the comic version who's a freak with a TV camera for a head and his face on a monitor in his stomach? I know which one I'd pick.

Your movie already has a ninety-something year old super soldier who was frozen in the ice for seventy years. Why not take that last step into comic book weirdness? Captain America has a very bizarre looking rogues gallery. Why not take advantage of that?

• Cap uses his shield much more extensively all through this movie, bouncing it off walls to knock out the bad guys, and even using its energy absorbing powers to break his fall. He uses it exactly as he does in the comics. Kudos to the writers for doing their homework!

• It's starting to look like we're never going to get a Black Widow solo movie, which is too bad. Then again, it almost felt like this was her movie, as she was in virtually every scene. I guess as long as she keeps popping up like this in other Marvel films, I can live with the lack of her own movie.

 • At the risk of sounding like some overprotective Soccer Mom, I'm surprised that the filmmakers don't have Steve Rogers wear a helmet when he was tooling around on his motorcycle. He definitely looks cooler without one, but Captain America is a huge role model for kids, so you'd think they'd stick a helmet on his head to send a message to all the kids in the audience. Just because he'd likely survive a helmet-less crash doesn't mean his fans would. 

• Steve Roger's neighbor Sharon (who poses as a nurse) turns out to be a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent who's keeping an eye on him. 

I'm assuming this is Sharon Carter, who in the comics was Cap's sometime girlfriend. And she's the niece of Peggy Carter, his 1940s love interest from the first film.

• I wonder if Tony Stark designed the artificial intelligence in Nick Fury's S.H.I.E.L.D.-issue SUV? Because it sure sounds and acts a LOT like Iron Man's JARVIS system.

• Reading behind the scenes movie info is fun, but can be a down side to it. When Nick Fury was "killed," I knew he wasn't really dead. How'd I know? Am I psychic? A good guesser? Did I read the script? No, I knew he wasn't really dead because this is the sixth movie in Samuel L. Jackson't nine film deal with Marvel. There's no way they're going to kill off his character while he's still got three films left on his contract. They're not going to pay him to sit at home!

• Nick Fury "dies" on the operating table, and of course his doctor wheels in the defibrillator unit and heroically tries to shock him back to life. 

This is an old, old refrain, but one more time: DEFIB UNITS DO NOT WORK LIKE THIS!!! They are not jumper cables for your heart! If your heart has stopped, a defib unit will do absolutely nothing for you. The doctor can shock you for hours until your nose hair ignites, but it absolutely will not restart your heart.

How this particular trope ever got started, I have no idea. It's got staying power though, I'll give it that. It absolutely will not go away.

• When the Winter Soldier appears, we see he's got a red star painted on his bionic arm. A red star is the symbol of Russia. According to the backstory we got, Arnim Zola found the injured Bucky Barnes, rebuilt him and then wiped his mind. He then became a HYRDA assassin. So he worked for the the Russians and HYDRA as well? I don't recall any mention of that, but if so, he's been a busy boy the past seventy years.

• Chris Evans has three films left in his Marvel contract. Most likely he'll star in two more Avengers films and one more Captain America.

Sebastian Stan, who plays the Winter Soldier/Bucky, reportedly just signed a six film deal with Marvel (!). Some have speculated that at some point Steve Rogers will either retire or be killed off, and Bucky will become the new Captain America. 

That exact thing happened in the comics, so it's entirely possible it could happen in the films as well. 

• This is admittedly some extreme nitpicking, but here goes. S.H.I.E.L.D. stands for Strategic Homeland Intervention Enforcement Logistics Division, which is as tortured an acronym as I've ever heard. 

When Cap and Black Widow visit the forgotten S.H.I.E.L.D. bunker in New Jersey, we see the current emblem on the door. The thing is, I don't ever recall hearing anyone say the word "homeland," as in "homeland security," until the late 2000s. This bunker looks like it was abandoned sometime around the 1960s or 1970s.

The exact meaning of S.H.I.E.L.D. has changed many times over the years in the comics. It originally stood for Supreme Headquarters, International Espionage, Law Enforcement Division, and that would have been a more appropriate meaning for a 1960s bunker. But it would have been too confusing if they'd used more than one acronym definition in the film, so I'm willing to give them this one. 

• By the way, in the bunker we see photos of the three founders of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Colonel Chester Philips, Howard Stark and Peggy Carter. All three were in the first Captain America film.

• In the underground bunker, Arnim Zola gives Black Widow's birth year as 1984. Whoops!

She's mentioned several times that she was a former KGB agent, but that organization was dissolved in 1991. Was she really a secret agent when she was seven? She did have a line in The Avengers about starting out young, but sheesh!

• Speaking of Black Widow, all through the film she wears a necklace with a small arrow pendant. I'm assuming from that we're to guess there's something going on between her and Hawkeye?

• Well would you look at that! This movie featured the Falcon, a cool black superhero who was actually black in the comics. They didn't have to take a white character and turn him into a black one, against all reason and logic (I'm lookin' at you, awful upcoming Fantastic Four reboot).

By the way, the Falcon's wings have a Stark Industries logo on them. 

• Agent Sitwell, we hardly knew ye!

It turns out that Sitwell was a secret HYDRA agent all along, which was surprising, as he's been a fixture in the Marvel Cinematic Universe for quite some time. He had bit parts in Thor, The Avengers and several episodes of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. I'll actually miss him.

• Sitwell mentions a list of people that HYDRA considers to be threats, one of which is Steven Strange! Comic fans will recognize that name as the alter ego of Marvel's Doctor Strange! So were they just throwing a bone to the comic fans, or will we be seeing the Sorcerer Supreme in his own film one of these days?

• A bloated Gary Shandling returns as Senator Stern. Stern first appeared in Iron Man 2, trying to coerce Tony Stark into giving up his Iron Man technology.
• Skinny Steve returns! And the effect is just as amazing as it was last time.

• During the big HYDRA attack, Danny Pudi (Abed of Community fame) pops up in a cameo role. Not surprising, given the director's Community link. As much as I like Pudi, I have to admit it was a little jarring. And it occurred to me that he's going to have a lot of trouble shaking his Abed image once Community's done.

• There was a lot of action and awesome fight scenes in the film-- I think. The directors used extensive use of the patented Shaky Cam™ Filming System, rendering much of the action incomprehensible.

I'll never understand why filmmakers do this. Why hire fight coordinators and train your actors and hire stunt people and film your scenes like the camera's sitting on an unbalanced washing machine?

• In the third act, Alexander Pierce welcomes the visiting World Council members to S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters and gives them special all-access security badges. Later he reveals that he's actually a HYDRA agent and can use the badges to burn a hole in the Council Members' chests if they don't cooperate.

Black Widow is posing as one of the Council Members, and surrenders to Pierce when he threatens to detonate her security badge. She must have been really flustered by his treason, because she apparently forgets that she could simply take off her jacket and be rid of the deadly badge.

• At the end of the film, HYDRA Agent Brock Rumlow battles the Falcon, and is engulfed in an explosion when two helicarriers collide.

Later we see Rumlow lying on an operating table, burned almost beyond recognition. The camera lingers an abnormally long time on him, indicating that something's up.

In the comics Rumlow is the alter ego of the villain known as Crossbones. Apparently they're setting him up here for a future appearance.

• The epitaph on Nick Fury's tombstone reads, "The Path Of The Righteous Man. Ezekiel 15:17." That's a Pulp Fiction reference.

• Since this is a Marvel movie, you know what that means-- end credit scenes! The first of them packs quite a bit of info into itself. We're introduced to Baron von Strucker, a high-ranking HYDRA agent from the comics. He's apparently performing experiments on two "miracle" twins, one of which can move at superhuman speeds, and one with telekinetic powers. 

Of course these twins are Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch, who will both be showing up in The Avengers 2: Even Avengier. Awesome!

You might wonder why Strucker calls them "miracles" instead of mutants, which they most definitely are. It boils down to legal reasons. Fox unfortunately owns all the X-Men characters, and apparently even the word "mutant." So Marvel can't use the word in regard to their own superheroes. Weird.

We also see that Strucker is conducting some sort of experiments on Loki's scepter, last seen in The Avengers. It's pretty obvious that the glowing blue stone in the scepter is another of the Infinity Gems. This makes three we know of so far. The other two are the Tesseract (from The Avengers) and the Aether (from Thor: The Dark World).

There are a total of six Infinity Gems, and whoever possesses them all will have the powers of a god. The evil alien Thanos (the purple faced guy from the end of The Avengers) is looking for them all, and when he finds them he'll most likely be the big bad in Avengers 3. Cool!

In the final end credits scene, the brainwashed Bucky goes to the Smithsonian to see the Captain America exhibit, which includes info about himself. He must have sneaked in the rear entrance, or else his bionic arm would have set off the metal detectors!

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a rare sequel that's as good as the original, and brings major changes to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I give it an A-.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

All Characters Must Die!

Hey, how about that latest episode of Game Of Thrones? You know, The Lion And The Rose. The Purple Wedding and all that. You just never know what's gonna happen on this show! Shocking, shocking stuff. Shocking stuff.

You know the most shocking about this particular episode? No, it wasn't who was killed off this week. It's that It was written by none other than George R. R. Martin, author of the novels on which the show is based.

What. The. Hell? Seriously, George R. R.? You're telling me you have absolutely nothing better to do right now that to sit around writing scripts for your TV series? Wouldn't your time be better spent, oh, I don't know, FINISHING THE LAST TWO GODDAMNED NOVELS

It's patently obvious at this point that the Game Of Thrones TV series is going to catch up to the novels, and very soon. Martin has written five books (out of a proposed seven) so far. Season Four just started, and it supposedly adapts the last half of Book Three, along with elements of Books Four and Five. It's safe to say that by the end of Season Five they'll have caught up with the books.

But Martin keeps on smiling and making that "calm down" gesture with both hands, adamantly denying that this will happen. He assures nervous fans that he'll have Book Six done well before the series comes close to catching up. Nice try, George R. R., but I ain't buying it.

Martin's convinced there's no hurry because he's laboring under the delusion that show runners are David Benioff and D.B. Weiss are filming every single word he's written. They are not. As the series progresses they're picking up the pace, dropping subplots and combining characters as they streamline the story.

Even a quick glance at the timeline reveals a grim pattern. He published Book One in 1996, Book Two in 1998 and Book Three in 2000. So far, so good; just two years between each one. But then Book Four didn't come out until 2005. And Book Five, the most recent one, came out in 2011. That's five and six years each, respectively. At his current rate I wouldn't look for Book Six to be on the shelves any time before 2018!

These are massive books too, generally clocking in at around a thousand pages or more. If he's got two more books to go, that's 2,200 pages. He definitely not a speedy author, so even if he manages to write a page a day it'd take him six years to finish them.  

It's not helping matters that instead of actually sitting down and writing, he's popping up everywhere these days, doing interviews, appearing at conventions and schmoozing on every talk show that'll have him. He's become a bonafide celebrity.

Heck, he's so recognizable that he's become a semi-regular character on Saturday Night Live! They can actually spoof him on SNL and people know who the hell they're talking about! How many other authors can the general public recognize on sight? Probably Shakespeare, and... well, that's about it. Shakespeare and George R. R. Martin. 

Listen George, for the sake of your fans and the HBO shareholders, you need to stop gadding about Hollywood, post haste. Grab your suspenders, your Greek fisherman cap and the rest of your GRRM costume, belly up to the goddamned typewriter and start writing for frak's sake! Here, I'll make it easy for you: "Danerys Stormborn, last of the Targaryans, rode her red dragon over King's Landing, burning everything in her path. She killed all the Lannisters and the White Walkers and took her rightful place on the Iron Throne. The End."
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