Monday, November 30, 2015

Fantastic News!

As you're no doubt aware, this past summer 20th Century Fox released a steaming cinematic turd titled Fantastic 4 (or Fant4stic, as the poster claimed) into cineplexes around the country. 

The film was a spectacular failure in every measurable sense, as audiences stayed away in droves, the director underwent a public meltdown and disowned it, and even the actors themselves admitted it was crap (!).

Fantastic 4 was a colossal bomb, raking in about as much in its entire run as the previous two films grossed on each of their opening days. It grossed just $56 million in America (against its $120 million budget). 

As a fan of the Fantastic 4 comic book, all I have to say about the films failure is this.

Fox did their best to damage control the situation, ignoring the film's epically poor reception. Against all logic and reason they announced they were scheduling a sequel that would premiere in 2017! Fandom and Hollywood reacted with wonder and disbelief at this news. Who did Fox think they were kidding? Who would make a sequel to a film that lost a hundred million dollars?

Well, no one, that's who. Last week Fox quietly and without fanfare discreetly removed Fantastic 4 Part 2 (or whatever they planned to call it) from their schedule, desperately hoping no one would notice.

There may be a god after all.

Now all we have to do is get Fox to hand the rights to the Fantastic 4 back to Marvel where it belongs. If that happens, and it needs to, the world will be a better place. Think positive thoughts, readers!

A Slap In The Face!

Last year here at Bob Canada's BlogWorld I commented on the poster for the Christian disaster movie (in more ways than one) Left Behind. Specifically how the poster features a very bewildered-looking Nicolas Cage staring straight at the viewer.

His befuddled expression makes it look like for all the world like someone ran up and unexpectedly snapped his photo while he was waiting in line at the bank.

If you've ever wondered what someone would look like if you slapped them in the face with a fish, look no further than his expression right here.

Welp, looks like the Fish Slapping Bandit has struck again! 

I was in my local video store last night, and saw this DVD cover for Pay The Ghost. Note that our pal Nic is striking a nearly identical half-turned pose, just like he did for Left BehindBest of all, he's still got the same puzzled "fish-slapped" expression on his face! Awesome!

He's sort of doing the half turn thing here on the Frozen Ground cover, while the floating double of his head assumes a less extreme, but still perplexed expression.

He's finally turned to face us here on the cover of The Runner, but... he still looks fish-slaapped!

So what's the deal with this expression? Does Nic not like having his photo taken, so the publicity people have to sneak up on him? Or does he simply not know he's in these movies? Did he refuse to participate in them, so the director's surreptitiously filming him Bowfinger-style?

Wake Me When It's Over!

First we had that shrine to vulgar capitalism, Black Friday.

Next we move from the physical to the virtual world, with Cyber Monday.

Personally I'm very much looking forward to Plain Old Ordinary Tuesday.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Doctor Who Season 9, Episode 11: Heaven Sent

This week's episode is an unusual departure for Doctor Who, as it's basically a one man show, and another tour-de-force for actor Peter Capaldi.

It's probably tough to come up with ways to keep a show fresh, especially one that's been around for fifty years (give or take) like this one. So I don't mind when the series occasionally tries something different and breaks from the traditional formula.

That said, I am not a fan of so-called "one man shows." No matter how well such shows are written, no matter how good the actor may be, they're always the same-- a guy in a room talking to himself for an hour or so, with little or no action. I find such one man shows dull and sleep-inducing. The actor usually senses this, and starts chewing the scenery with gusto in order to keep the audience awake.

For the record I didn't fall asleep during this episode, but it was definitely talky, there was no action, and the scenery was well-digested by the end.

I've been very critical of showrunner Steven Moffat the past couple of years, and with good reason. His scripts are usually overly complicated and convoluted to the point of incoherence. It's almost like he comes up with three of four "cool" scenes first, and then tries to think of a way to string them together. 

Not so with this episode. It's tightly written, and actually makes a certain amount of sense as it methodically doles out information, allowing the audience to slowly realize what's going on. Kudos where kudos are due.

There's a very troubling revelation at the end, and I really hope Moffat isn't heading where I think he's heading. I guess we'll find out next week in the season finale.


The Plot:
Picking up where we left off last week (in Face The Raven), the Doctor materializes in a teleportation chamber, located inside Hogwarts, er, I mean a castle whose rooms are constantly shifting. The castle's located in the middle of a vast sea, making escape impossible. Scattered throughout the castle are large video monitors, showing the point of view of a large, shambling creature the Doctor names "The Veil." It slowly but relentlessly pursues him throughout the castle.

At one point the Doctor is cornered by The Veil, and just as it's about to grab his face in its clawed hands, he confesses that he's afraid to die. This causes the creature to freeze. Hogwarts then reconfigures itself, and the Doctor escapes. He's cornered again and this time dives out a window, landing in the ocean far below. He notices the ocean floor is littered with millions of skulls from the previous victims of the creature (this is our first big clue as to what's going on).

The Doctor returns to the castle and finds a courtyard with a fresh grave and a spade nearby. He digs up the grave and finds a stone with the message "I AM IN 12" chiseled into it. The sun sets and the Doctor tries to work out where he is by the position of the stars. However the constellations don't match any location within the teleporter's range. The Veil appears again, and the Doctor stops it by confessing he didn't leave Gallifrey because he was bored, but because he was scared. He realizes that the purpose of the castle is to force confessions from him.

The Doctor notices that whenever he reenters a room, it's been reset to its original state, and any changes he made are gone, Groundhog Day-style (clue!). He finally finds the door to Room 12, but when he opens it, it's blocked by a brick wall. He returns to the teleport room where he first arrived. He sees a skull lying on the floor, along with the word "bird" written in the dirt (more clues!). He walks to the top of the castle (carrying the skull) and looks at the stars. He notes that their positions are 7,000 years off, even though he's sure he hasn't time traveled. He places the skull on the edge of the castle wall, where if falls into the sea far below (BIG clue!).

The Veil appears again, and the Doctor confesses he knows what the Hybrid is (the mysterious figure prophesied by the Time Lords) and where to find it. This freezes The Veil and reconfigures the castle, The Doctor can now get into Room 12. Inside he sees the way out, but it's barred by a wall of Azbantium (a material four hundred times harder than diamond) that's twenty feet thick. He realizes that the "bird" written in the dirt is a reference to The Shepherd Boy story (more on that below).

The Doctor begins punching at the Azbantium wall, until The Veil catches up with him. It grabs his face, severely burning him (which curiously doesn't cause him to regenerate). Mortally injured, he crawls back to the teleport room. He hooks the teleporter up to his head so his body's energy will power it. He then scrawls the word "bird" into the dirt and pulls the lever. His body is disintegrated (except, for some reason, his skull) as it powers the teleporter. A brand new copy of the Doctor appears inside the teleporter, fresh from his adventure in Face The Raven, and starts the whole cycle all over again.

The Doctor goes through the cycle for billions of years, slowly chipping away at the Azbantium wall (which oddly enough does NOT reset itself each time he starts over) until he breaks through. He exits onto his home planet of Gallifrey, and sees the castle shrink into his Confession Dial, which plops to the ground. He realizes the Time Lords were behind his billion year torture. He tells a passing boy to tell the Time Lords that he's returned. He says to himself (and us) that the Hybrid prophesied to destroy Gallifrey "is ME!"

 So it looks like the Doctor is this mysterious Hybrid we've been hearing about all season. The Hybrid's halves are supposed to be made of two warrior races, presumably the Daleks and the Time Lords. The Doctor says that's impossible, as the Daleks would never allow a hybrid anything. So what exactly is his other half supposed to be?

Way back in the 1996 TV movie, the Eighth Doctor told his companion Grace Holloway that he was "half human on his mother's side." This was news to fans who'd been watching the show for years, and was met with much anger and derision. By the time the series started up again in 2005, this bone-headed notion had been swept under the rug, and rightly so

Unfortunately the end of this episode makes it seem like Moffat's planning on resurrecting the half human concept. There've been a lot of misfires in Doctor Who's fifty plus year history, but this is one of the biggest. I cannot emphasize enough what a bad idea the half human thing is.

In fact, it's so stupid that if it's true I'm going to have to sit down and evaluate whether I want to keep watching this show or not.

If Moffat really is dredging up this half human malarkey, we all need to show up at his mansion with torches and pitchforks. Better yet, toss him into a castle maze for two billion years.

 Last week the Doctor pretty much visited Diagon Alley. This week he visits Hogwarts, complete with rooms and corridors that rearrange themselves at random. Somebody on this show really, really likes Harry Potter.

 The Veil, the monster that relentlessly stalks the Doctor, is modeled on one of his nightmares. Specifically one in which he saw an old dead woman covered in veils, surrounded by flies.

So apparently they have flies on Gallifrey too. Interesting.

 As the Doctor tries to escape The Veil, he's trapped by a locked door. He then initiates a psychic link with the cranky door and sweet talks it to get it to unlock for him. Shades of Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy!

If he's always had this ability, why hasn't he ever used it before now?

 The Doctor says every time he exits a room it "resets" itself to its original state. Flowers with their petals plucked will be intact, holes dug will be filled, words written in the sand and rubbed away will reappear.

It's a good thing that rule didn't apply to the Azbantium wall though, eh? No matter how many cycles the Doctor lives through, the hole he punches in the wall over the eons always retains his progress. Funny how everything else in the castle resets itself except that.

 The first time the Doctor sees the stars he says they're all wrong, as if their positions are off by 7,000 years. However it appears he's only been in the castle for a couple of days. So how to explain this vast discrepancy?

Obviously there's some fancy editing going on. Even though this is the first time WE in the audience have seen him stare at the stars, it's not the first time HE'S done so. He must have gone through the cycle hundreds of thousands of times by this point. There's no way 7m999 years passed before his first "reset."

 Every time the Doctor was "reset," he apparently performed the EXACT same actions in the EXACT same order in the EXACT same amount of time, over and over for two billion years. What a coincidence!

It shouldn't work like that. Phil Connors, the hero of Groundhog Day (which Moffat is clearly referencing here) relived the same day over and over. But once he figured out what was happening, he was able to alter his routine and do something different each time through his loop.

Not so here though. It's like the Doctor's caught in a time loop rather than being reborn every couple of days. I suppose it's possible there were some cycles in which he did things a bit differently, and due to that fancy editing we just never saw those.

 The Doctor figures out that he can calculate his location in the galaxy by noting the position of the stars. When he sees them though, he says they're off by 7,000 years. 

Um... if the Doctor knows the stars are 7,000 years off, shouldn't his giant Time Lord brain be able to figure out how they'd have looked that long ago, and tell him exactly where he is? Whoops!

 The Doctor eventually discovers the castle's exit is in room 12. I'm assuming that's because he's the Twelfth Doctor.

 When the Doctor dives into the ocean, he sees the bottom is lined with hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions of skulls. The reveal that the field of skulls were all his own was quite eerie and shocking.

 During one of the Doctor's confessions he admits that he didn't leave Gallifrey because he was bored, but because he was scared.

Was the "bored" bit ever a thing on the show? I certainly don't remember it ever being established. I always thought he stole a TARDIS and left Gallifrey because the Time Lords refused to get involved in the affairs of other planets, and he wanted to get out there and help. Is the bored thing a retcon?

 Supposedly the horror of the Doctor's torture is the fact that he endures it for over two billion years. But every time he enters Room 12 and dies, his body and his mind are reconstituted and reset to their original factory settings. He steps out of the teleportation chamber with no knowledge of the castle or what's gone on inside it. In essence, every time out of the chamber is the first for him, not the millionth or the billionth. 

What kind of torment is that? If you were a sick bastard who wanted to torture someone for two billion years, wouldn't you want to make sure they had to endure every single second of it for all that time? Not just experience it for a couple of days?

I suppose when the Doctor looks up at the stars and sees their positions are billions of years off, that might be a crushing revelation, but hardly as bad as living through the entire period.

 This happened last year in the episode Into The Dalek, but it bears repeating-- why does the Doctor appear to have fillings in his teeth? 

Despite the fact that he looks like a fifty year old human, this particular body is only two years old. Why would a newly-regenerated body already have cavities that needed filling?

 During one of the cycles, the Doctor looks at the stars and says it's like he's "twelve hundred thousand" years in the future. Wha...? 

I know the British version of a million is different from ours. Is 1,200 thousand the British way of saying one million, two hundred thousand?

 I get that the Doctor was busy dying as he wrote in the dirt, but... couldn't he have come up with a less cryptic clue than "bird?" Maybe "eternity," or "cycle" or something?

 When the Doctor uses himself to power the transporter, his entire body burns away to nothing. Except for his skull, that is.  Why doesn't it disintegrate along with the rest of him? To provide him with a clue? To fill the ocean floor with copies of it?

 As always, there were some well-written lines in this episode.

The Doctor: "I'm not scared of Hell. It's just Heaven for bad people."

The Doctor again: "It's funny. The day you lose someone isn't the worst. At least then you've got something to do. It's all the days they stay dead.

 When the Veil finally grabs the Doctor's face, it severely burns him, leaving him nearly dead. So why he didn't regenerate? 

Actually there may be a precedent for this. Several years ago in Turn Left, the Doctor was killed so quickly he didn't have time to regenerate. Maybe that's what's going on here.

 After the Doctor's mortally injured, he retreats to the "TARDIS in his mind." There his memory of Clara encourages him and tells him to get off his ass and win.

It was a nice little moment I guess, but I don't think it should have been included. This is supposed to be a one man show. Clara poking her head in kind of ruins that conceit.

 As the Doctor slowly chips away at the Azbantium wall over the millennia, he recites the story of The Shepherd Boy. It's a real story that's been around for hundreds of years, and has been attributed to many different people, including Jesuit author Jeremias Drexel, James Joyce, and even the Brothers Grimm.

In the story, a king asks a lowly shepherd boy to define eternity. The boy thinks and says, "There’s this mountain of pure diamond. It takes an hour to climb it and an hour to go around it, and every hundred years a little bird comes and sharpens its beak on the diamond mountain. And when the entire mountain is chiseled away, the first second of eternity will have passed."

The Doctor then adds his own little flourish, saying, "You may think that’s a hell of a long time. Personally, I think that’s a hell of a bird.” A particularly apt addition, given the Doctor's perseverance in this episode.

 The Hybrid is prophesied to be half Dalek, half Time Lord. At the end of the episode the Doctor says that's impossible, because, "Nothing is half-Dalek."

Apparently the Doctor (and Steven Moffat) forgot about Dalek Sec, from Daleks In Manhattan.

 When the Doctor finally escapes the torture chamber, he finds himself on Gallifrey. He speaks aloud to the Time Lords who imprisoned him, saying, "You've got the prophecy wrong. The Hybrid is not half Dalek. Nothing is half Dalek. The Daleks would never allow that. The Hybrid destined to conquer Gallifrey and stand in its ruins... is me."

Earlier in the season in The Woman Who Lived, Ashildr says she's lived for so many centuries she's forgotten her name, and simply calls herself "Me." Coincidence, or connection?

 As the Doctor escapes, the castle shrinks into his Confession Dial, which falls to the ground. He then picks it up. So... is this a copy of his Dial? He gave the original to Ashildr last week before he was teleported.

 Next week: The season finale! Hopefully we'll get to the bottom of the whole Hybrid thing, and hopefully it won't involve the Doctor being half human. Let's all think good thoughts.

Hi-Def Revelations: Star Trek: First Contact

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: Most people think the shark in Jaws was just an unconvincing fiberglass robot, but it was actually real! Who knew? At least it looked real in hi-def on my set. Maybe I need to adjust some settings. Never mind.

Anyway, on to tonight's Hi-Def Revelation. I recently rewatched Star Trek: First Contact, aka The One With The Borg, aka The One Good Next Generation Movie.

In the film, the cybernetic Borg invade the Alpha Quadrant and head toward Earth. The Federation throws everything it has at them, as dozens of ships battle the attacking Borg cube.

Among those ships is the Defiant, the Borg attack ship assigned to Deep Space Nine. First Contact premiered during the fifth season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, so I'm sure the Defiant's appearance was an early attempt at franchise synergy as it tried to tie the movies and the TV series into a coherent whole.

The Defiant is commanded by Lieutenant Commander Worf, the only Klingon serving in Starfleet.

Take a close look at the Defiant's nameless conn officer here, who's having a really bad day courtesy of the Borg.

That's a very young Adam Scott, aka Ben Wyatt from Parks & Recreation! Wow! Good old super-nerd Ben, who wrote Star Trek fan fiction for fun, was actually in a Star Trek movie nineteen years ago! Who knew?

Next on Hi-Def Revelations: I rewatch Star Wars, because I'm starting to suspect it wasn't actually shot on location in outer space.

Friday, November 27, 2015

It Came From The Cineplex: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2

The Hunger Games 3 Part 2, also known as The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2, was written by Peter Craig and Danny Strong, and directed by Francis Lawrence.

Craig and Strong wrote the previous film, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1. Peter Craig previously wrote The Town. Danny Strong is primarily an actor, having starred as Jonathan in Buffy The Vampire Slayer, among many other roles. He also wrote the screenplay for Lee Daniels' The Butler, which of course makes him the perfect choice to write a post-apocalyptic scifi epic.

Francis Lawrence previously directed The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1.

Long before shooting began on Part 1, Lionsgate Studio said they were splitting the Mockingjay book into two films "because the story was just too big to fit it all into one." To that I respectfully reply, "Bullsh*t."  Lionsgate made two films so they could rake in a cool two billion dollars instead of one billion, pure and simple. There's nothing anyone could ever possibly say to make me believe otherwise.

It was a good business decision, but artistically, not so much. Part 1 was slow, talky and short on action, as the characters seemingly stood around waiting for the second film to commence. Part 2 is chock full of action, but short on actual substance and story. They really did a disservice to the material by splitting it up. With a bit of trimming and editing, these two halves would make a really great three hour film.

So what exactly is the message of these movies anyway? Apparently it's "If you don't like your government, then by all means violently overthrow it!" Got it.

OK, I'm being a wiseacre here, but that's basically what it's saying. And it's a message worth hearing. We forget that our government is meant to serve the people, not the other way around. Our government should never forget that, and do its best to do right by us all, lest we revolt and throw the bums out.

It's too bad the vast majority of American citizens are too busy lying on their couches eating fist-fulls of Cheetos while watching the latest antics of the Kardashians to remember they have the power-- make that the responsibility-- to induct a competent government and replace it if it fails.

Whether you agree with this or not, at least The Hunger Games have a message worth discussing. Unlike a certain other Young Adult book and film series whose message appears to be, "Your life's meaningless unless you have a hot, undead boyfriend."

There was a bit of controversy when poster seen above was rejected in Israel, and replaced by one with a fiery Mockingjay symbol. Apparently in Jerusalem, public posters featuring women are seen as offensive and often torn down. Progressive!

I've only read the first book in the series, so some of the questions I have below may have been addressed in the subsequent volumes. Doesn't matter! This is the movie we're talking about. If I have to do homework and read the books to understand what's happening in the films, then the director has failed.

The Hunger Games franchise has been a huge financial boon for Lionsgate Studios, grossing over $2.5 BILLION dollars worldwide. So you know what that means! Yep, Lionsgate is reluctant to put their cash cow out to pasture, so there's been ominous talk of either a prequel or sequel to the series.

Whether author Suzanne Collins would be involved, and where the story could possibly go after the events of this movie, I have no idea.


The Plot:
Picking up right where we left off (an entire year ago!), Katniss Everdeen (played by Jennifer Lawrence) is recovering after nearly being throttled by a brainwashed Peeta (played by Josh Hutcherson). Once she recovers, Katniss visits Rebellion President Coin (played by Julianne Moore) and volunteers to kill President Snow (played by Donald Sutherland), the leader of the Capitol. Coin denies her request, saying Katniss is more valuable as an inspirational symbol of the Rebellion (which was thoroughly covered in the previous film and didn't need rehashed here).

Katniss then sneaks aboard a supply plane bound for District 2, where Commander Paylor is planning a massive assault on the Capitol. Katniss is assigned to Squad 451, which will trail the real invasion force and serve as propaganda for the Rebellion. Peeta is assigned to the squad, in an effort to show the Capitol that he's siding with the rebels. Katniss' pal Gale (played by Liam Hemsworth) isn't happy about Peeta's presence, as he sees him as a rival for Katniss' affections.

Snow has lined the streets of the Capitol with deadly booby traps, designed by the Gamemakers of the Hunger Games. After triggering a couple of traps, Boggs, the leader of the squad, is mortally wounded. Before he dies, he tells Katniss to watch out for Coin, who sees her as a threat to her power. He then transfers his command to Katniss.

Since they can't make it through the Capitol to President Snow's mansion, they decide to go under it, and travel through the sewers. Amazingly, Snow didn't think of that, and hastily orders a group of "mutts" (genetically engineered creatures) into the sewers. Katniss loses several members of her squad before they escape to the surface.

Snow announces that the rebels are now inside the Capitol and orders citizens into his mansion, promising them food and shelter, not to mention forming a human shield around himself.

Katniss and Gale sneak into the Captiol in disguise. Just then the rebels arrive and attack, as the Capitol's Peacekeepers return fire. A Capitol airship flies overhead, dropping silver parachutes (similar to the ones dropped to help participants in the Hunger Games a few movies back) onto the crowd. The parachutes explode, killing hundreds in the crowd. A team of rebel medics, including Katniss' sister Prim, rush in to help the injured. A second round of explosions kills Prim and knocks Katniss unconscious.

When she wakes up, Katniss is informed that the Capitol has been defeated and Snow captured. She confronts Snow, who's being held in his rose garden. He tells Katniss that the bombings were Coin's idea, not his, and were designed to turn the Capitol citizens against him. She realizes that the second round of bombs, which were designed to kill the medics, was Gale's idea. When she asks Gale about this, he doesn't deny his involvement. She tells him to beat it, neatly eliminating their tired little love triangle.

Coin has now appointed herself Interim President of the Capitol. She comes up with the bright idea to have one final edition of the Hunger Games, this time consisting of children of Capitol leaders as revenge. Katniss realizes Coin is just taking Snow's place, and has no plans to change the system of government. She votes in favor ot the Hunger Games idea, on the condition that she get to execute Snow in the opening ceremony. Coin agrees.

At the ceremony, Coin stands upon a high platform, with Snow tied to a post far below. Katniss draws her bow and shoots Coin in the chest, killing her instantly. Snow laughs as an angry mob tears him apart.

Katniss is imprisoned, but later pardoned for her crime by Commander Paylor, who's elected the new President of Panem. Katniss is sent back to District 12 to live. There she reunites with the recovered Peeta.

Years later, in one of the film's many butt-numbing endings, we see Katniss and Peeta playing with their two children, enjoying the new-found peace.

• Unless you're a rabid fan of this series, you might want to re-watch Part 1 before seeing this installment. It picks up right where the last one left off, with no recap, prologue or anything. If you've not seen the previous film (or forgot what the hell happened after an entire year, like me), you're probably going to be lost for the first few minutes.

• I said this last year about Part 1, but it still applies-- a
t the end of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, the Rebellion really had its work cut out for it. The various Districts had what appeared to be 1930s Dustbowl-era technology, while the Capitol was filled with slick, futuristic vehicles and weaponry. The odds were incredibly uneven and the Rebels didn't stand a chance against such a foe.

Author Suzanne Collins obviously realized this as well, which is why she pulled the amazingly advanced District 13 right out of her ass. 

Despite the fact that we were told the Capitol wiped out District 13 long ago, it still somehow exists as a super secret underground military base packed to the rafters with highly trained soldiers, high tech weapons and tons of ammo. It's a match for the Capitol's forces in every measurable sense. 

It's a good thing the Rebels have District 13, or they'd be going up against the Capitol with clubs and pitchforks. Funny how that just happened to work out, eh?

 Gwendoline Christie, who plays Brienne Of Tarth on Game Of Thrones, has a blink-and-you'll-miss-it cameo as Commander Lyme. Her entire appearance lasts under a minute.

I'm sure she was cast because she's popular and in demand right now, but why go to the trouble of casting a prominent actress just so she could say three or four lines? Was her part originally larger and then drastically cut down?

• President Coin's turn to the dark side seemed to come out of nowhere. The only slight bit or warning we ever get is when Commander Boggs lays dying and tells Katniss that Coin sees her as a threat to her power.

Then the next time we see Coin she pulls a Senator Palpatine and installs herself as permanent President, as bad or even worse than Snow!

That's got to be the quickest turn to evil in the history of cinema. It made her rapid about-face less of a shocking twist and more of a "what the hell?" moment.

Some additional buildup and foreshadowing was definitely needed here.

• Why do some of the characters have surnames and others don't? Everyone from Katniss Everdeen's District 12 seems to have two names, but others-- like Cressida, Castor and Pollux-- are stuck with just one. It doesn't seem to be just a choice on the part of these single-named characters, because even their wanted posters only list their given names.

Is this something that's addressed in the books? Do some Districts use two names and some don't?

• Once inside the Capitol, Katniss and her crew take refuge inside a dress shop run by a woman named Tigress, who's covered in feline tattoos, piercings and implants. I wondered if her tigerish look was prosthetic makeup, or if she was one of those people who do this kind of thing to themselves for real. For the record, it's all makeup.

When Katniss first sees Tigris, she stares intently for a few seconds, then says, "Say, I recognize you. You were on my style team when I was first in the Hunger Games!"

The way Katniss says all this strikes me as funny. It's like she's met quite a few tiger-faced women in her time, and wasn't sure at first which one this was.

• When Katniss and her crew realize they'll never make it through the booby-trapped streets of the Capitol, they come up with the brilliant idea of going under them.

Apparently President Snow-- who always seems to be several steps ahead of everyone else-- never thought of this possibility. This is a grievous tactical error on his part, and quite honestly makes him look like an idiot. 

Of course if he did think to booby trap the sewers as well, it would have been a very short movie and the Rebellion would have been over before it started.

• Once Snow figures out that Katniss and her team are sneaking around in the sewers, he has his Gamemakers flood the underground tunnels with hundreds of mutts-- some sort of blind, deadly mutated humanoids.

I'm a bit fuzzy as to what the mutts are actually supposed to be. Are they mutated humans? Are they some sort of artificially created life form that can be cooked up in minutes? Are they robots? Solid holograms? Apparently it's none of the audience's concern, as their nature is never addressed.

If they are some sort of artificial beings, that's pretty impressive. That means the Capitol has the technology to create life itself!

This vagueness about the nature of the traps and how they're created has plagued all the movies. During the Hunger Games in the previous films, the Gamemakers were able to whip up all kinds of threats to the participants seemingly on the fly. Katniss is hiding in the bushes? Fine, we'll somehow create a giant firestorm to force her out into the open. Another Tribute is getting too close to the wall? We'll instantly create a pack of ravenous wolf-like things to tear 'em apart.

This issue has bugged me for three movies now, and they finally had a chance to address it in this fourth and final one, but nope.

 The defeat of the Capitol reminded me more than a little bit of the ending of The Hobbit. In the book, the Battle Of Five Armies starts up, and Bilbo's almost immediately knocked unconscious. When he finally wakes up, the battle's over and the good guys won.

The exact same thing thing happens here. Katniss is fighting her way to Snow's mansion when a massive explosion knocks her out. 
When she comes to, Snow's been captured, the Capitol's been defeated and the Rebels have won.

I didn't like that plot conceit in The Hobbit, and I liked it even less here. It feels like a cheat, like the filmmakers couldn't be bothered to show us the one event we've sat through four movies to see. Annoying, to say the least.

• Speaking of Tolkien, this film had almost as many endings as The Return Of The King. Sometime around the third or fourth ending my butt's "Excessive Movie Runtime" alarm went off, and I was hoping they'd hurry and wrap things up soon.

• In one of the film's many endings, Katniss goes back to live in District 12, her former home. Um... didn't Snow bomb the living hell out of District 12 in the previous film? Luckily for her, her winner's mansion appears untouched. But what's she going to do about food, water and heat? In one brief scene we see her hunt and kill a duck or goose. Are she and Peeta going to live on ducks until they can get some crops to grow again?

• As everyone knows by now, actor Philip Seymour Hoffman killed himself prior to the completion of the film. At the time of his death he'd finished all his scenes for Part 1, and had a week to go on Part 2.

Rather than try and cobble together a CGI abomination of Hoffman, the director wisely rewrote the remaining scenes to work around his absence.

Nowhere is that more evident than at the end of the film, in which Haymich visits Katniss and reads her a letter written by Plutarch. It was a bit awkward having another actor read lines obviously meant for Hoffman, but all things considered I think it was the best way to go. A CGI version of Hoffman would have no doubt looked terrible and done a disservice to everyone involved.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 is a reasonably competent finale to a mostly decent franchise. It's just too bad Lionsgate got greedy and split the final film in half, as it would have made a much better single movie. I give it a B.

Star Trek Into The Clearance Bin

I lost my mind today and braved the savage Black Friday crowds, battling my way into my local Best Buy store. As I dodged uppercuts and rained blows upon my fellow shoppers, I noticed this.

Yep, that's a DVD of the JJ Abrams-directed film Star Trek Into Darkness, selling for an unbelievably low one dollar and ninety nine cents.

Meh, it's still overpriced. ZING!!!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Walking Dead Season 6, Episode 7: Heads Up

This week's Walking Dead was yet another "pause before the storm" episode. That makes four in a row now. Thank Christ next week is the fall finale so we can finally get the main plot (you remember, the horde of zombies heading toward unprepared Alexandria?) back on track.

Of course the big news this week is the fact that Glenn's still alive. Told you so! His fate came as no surprise to most viewers, who figured out the twist several weeks ago in the episode Thank You. The way he survived played out exactly as we all predicted, and was frankly a bit anticlimactic. I'm glad Glenn's not dead, but the whole thing seems like a huge cheat. This series already has more than enough real deaths— teasing us with fake ones feels cheap and unnecessary.

Plus one of these days Glenn's going to die for real, and the event will be lessened by this little stunt.

This episode set up all the various pieces for next week's bloodbath. I have a feeling the cast is going to be significantly smaller as we go into the winter hiatus. I predict most of the Alexandrians won't survive the hour, including Deanna and Spencer. And I have a feeling the Ron/Carl showdown will end badly, with Carl marked for life, just as he was in the comic.


The Plot:
This week we rewind yet again to the early hours of the terrible, horrible, no good very bad day. We pick up with Glenn and Nicholas trapped on top of the dumpster, as seen in Thank You. Nicholas shoots himself, and his dead body knocks Glenn off the dumpster into a sea of hungry walkers.

But wait! It seems Glenn's not quite dead yet! As the walkers snack on Nicholas' entrails, Glenn slides underneath the dumpster (good thing he's skinny!). He kills a few walkers that grab for him, which forms an undead shield around him. After a few hours the walkers get bored and wander off. He cautiously crawls out from under the dumpster and encounters Enid, who tosses him some water. Enid wants to go off on her own, but Glenn convinces her to come back with him.

Back at Alexandria, Rick criticizes Morgan for letting the Wolves go during their attack (mostly because after they escaped they almost killed Rick). Morgan defends his actions, saying he's convinced not killing is the right thing to do. The writers finally remember Rosita's on the show, and have her teach the Alexandrians how to use machetes.

Rick teaches Ron how to shoot a gun (bad), but refuses to give him any bullets (good). Ron breaks into the armory and steals some (bad again). Deanna gives Rick and Michonne her fanciful and unrealistic expansion plans for Alexandria. Morgan talks Dr. Cloyd into treating the Wolf leader he's secretly holding in the jail. Carol sees this and confronts Morgan. Spencer tries to sneak out of Alexandria to draw the walkers away, but is almost eaten.

Meanwhile, Glenn and Enid find the signal balloons Rick was using for the walker parade. They reach Alexandria and see its surrounded by zombies. Glenn releases the balloons to signal he's still alive. Ron begins stalking Carl with his newly-loaded gun.

Just then the church tower, which was damaged in the Wolf attack a few weeks back, collapses and tears a hole in Alexandria's wall. Uh-oh!

• I was sure this week's episode would be another flashback, showing us how Rick escaped the RV and how Michonne managed to get Scott and Heath back home. Apparently not, and those events are being left to our imaginations.

• Now that we know Glenn's alive, Steven Yeun's name has reappeared in its rightful place in the opening credits. I told you they were trolling us the past few weeks by showing the watch but leaving his name off.

• Once the walkers got bored with trying to eat Glenn, they wandered away and cleared out. Boy did they! In Thank You there were several hundred of them crammed into Glenn's dead end alley, but in this episode the entire town is mysteriously void of even a single walker. Where the hell did they all go?

• Glenn happens upon the zombified David, the guy who couldn't wait to get back to his wife in Thank You. If you'll remember, he was with Michonne's group and couldn't make it over the fence before being swarmed by walkers.

The way that scene played out, one would think David would have been torn limb from limb. And yet here he was sitting in front of the fence, pretty much intact. How the heck did that happen? Did the walkers just take a few polite bites from him and then move on? His horrific screams in Thank You would indicate not.

• I assumed Enid was a Wolf spy, who fed intel about Alexandria to her group. Apparently not! This episode implies she's just a sullen loner who left the town to be on her own.

It's possible she was a Wolf, but fears reprisal if she goes back after telling them the Alexandrians would be easy pickings. Or maybe the Wolves were all wiped out in their attack, and there's no group to go back to.

Another possibility— maybe she's not with the Wolves, but the even more dangerous Saviors?

• Speaking of Enid, Glenn forces her to come back to Alexandria with him. If she doesn't want to go, I honestly don't see how it's any of Glenn's business. And his reason for forcing her— because Maggie would want him to save her— is pretty weak. It felt like these two characters were paired up just because the writers needed to eat up twenty minutes of runtime.

• Hey, we finally see Carol this week! I was beginning to wonder if she'd barricaded herself in her house, furiously baking casseroles.

• Rick holds an impromptu little tribunal to judge Morgan for letting the group of Wolves go free instead of killing them.

Um... Rick does know that there were five Wolves surrounding Morgan, right? And at least one of them was armed? Did he really expect Morgan to kill all five with a damned stick?

• Father Gabriel made a rare appearance in this episode, putting up ads for a prayer service. Rick then appears, tearing down the signs as he walks by.

What the heck was up with that? I get that Rick has no love for Gabriel after all he's done, but tearing down a preacher's signs just made him look like an asshole.

• What happened to Heath? He's a major character in the comics, so I was glad to see him finally show up on the series. Then after appearing in what, two episodes, he's suddenly become MIA. Surely they didn't kill him already, and offscreen yet?

• As I suspected, Rick teaching Ron how to shoot is a very bad idea. After just one shooting lesson he's already got a bullet with Carl's name on it.

As for Carl, he was quite the smug little douche this week. During Ron's shooting lesson, every word out of Carl's self-satisfied, priggish little mouth seemed designed to irritate. Was that on purpose? Do the writers want us to side with Ron?

Also, Carl still needs a haircut. He looks ridiculous with his Mary Tyler Moore flip. Don't worry, if things happen like I think they will, he'll get a haircut next week, and more.

• Ron distracts Olivia (in the oldest and most obvious way possible) so he can sneak into the armory and steal a handful of bullets. Um... why the hell isn't this room locked? Other than to give Ron easy access to it, of course.

I can see the dimwitted and ill-prepared Alexandrians not thinking to lock up their guns, but there's no way in hell Rick would allow such an idiotic system to stand.

• Deanna presents Rick and Michonne with her wildly fanciful expansion plans, that look like they were drawn by a ten year old. 

This scene had the feel of character development about it, so you know what that means on this show. Yep, Deanna's a goner.

• I'm still flabbergasted by Dr. Cloyd's lack of basic medical knowledge. Does she really need a mnemonic device to recognize signs of infection?

I realize she's a psychiatrist and only had a year of medical training, but infections seem pretty basic.

• Sometimes cold hard reality intrudes into the world of TV production. Like when an actress becomes pregnant, but her character isn't supposed to be. When this happens, producers have to scramble to hide the actress' rapidly expanding belly. They usually do this by shooting them from the chest up, dressing them in layers of bulky clothing, or filming them standing behind couches and such.

Or it you're The Walking Dead, you have your actress straddle a bar stool and hold the backrest in front of her gut. Yep, that's Tara, played by Alana Masterson, who was pregnant during the filming of this season.

You can also place a hastily erected and ridiculously obvious plank of wood in front of your "expecting" actress.

I have to admit Tara's "salute" to Rick was one of the few times I've ever laughed while watching The Walking Dead.

• Spencer tries to crawl above a mosh pit of walkers with what appears to be a Batarang. It goes about as well as you'd expect. This seemed like an idiotic stunt even for Spencer, and seemed like it was wedged into the episode just to give it a few much-needed seconds of walker action.

• Last week actor Norman Reedus (who plays Daryl) said that the mysterious cry for help we heard on the radio was not Glenn. I assumed he was lying in order to prevent spoilers, but it looks like he was telling the truth!

So just who was it that we heard? I have no idea. There've been so many flashbacks and episodes airing seemingly out of order that it's impossible to sort out the timeline. For all we know, Daryl might have been hearing the last survivor of Alexandria after next week's attack!
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