Wednesday, May 31, 2017

It Came From The Cineplex: Free Fire

I've gotten a bit behind on movie reviews here at Bob Canada's BlogWorld, so I'm gonna try and get caught up in the next few days. I saw this movie several weeks ago and it's long gone from theaters, but I sat through the goddamned thing so you're all gonna share my pain!

Free Fire was written by Amy Jump and Ben Wheatley, and directed by Ben Wheatley.

Jump previously wrote High-Rise, while Wheatley wrote Down Terrace. The two of them collaborated on Kill List and A Field In England.

Wheatley previously directed Down Terrace, Kill List, Sightseers, A Field In England and High-Rise. He also directed two episodes of Doctor Who: Deep Breath and Into The Dalek.

Free Fire asks the cinematic question, "Is It Possible To Film A Movie That's Basically A Ninety Minute-Long Shootout?" The answer is yes. Yes it is. Although I'm not sure just why anyone would want to.

Actually I'm exaggerating a bit here. The film clocks in at ninety minutes, but the action doesn't begin until the twenty eight minute mark, so the shootout lasts for sixty two minutes. The action plays out pretty much in real time, in a single location.

Take the violence of Reservoir Dogs, toss in characters from a Guy Ritchie film and cross it all with a Looney Tunes cartoon and you'll have an idea what this film's like. If the idea of  unrepentant thugs shooting one another for comedic effects piques your interest, then this is the movie for you. Otherwise you're gonna have a rough time.

It's an interesting experiment, but unfortunately there's little or no substance. The ten main characters are painted in the broadest strokes possible, as we learn little about them other than their names. The closest we get to an actual character is Vernon, but even in his case all we know is that he's a hot-headed, foul-mouthed, misogynist jerk.

Additionally, the characters are ALL remorseless assholes, giving the audience no one to root for. As a result of this, it's impossible to care about any of the characters when they're killed off, making the whole film nothing more than a cold, clinical lab experiment.

Free Fire reportedly had a budget of $7 million, which seems awfully high for a film like this. If that figure's true, most of it must have gone to the actors, with the rest being used to buy bullet squibs and fake blood.

After a month in theaters, the film could only manage to rack up an embarrassing $1.8 million dollars. Ouch! It was in 1,070 theaters too, so it's not like it only played on the indie circuit. Blame this on the film's non-existent marketing campaign. I never saw a single trailer for the film and didn't even know it was playing until the day I saw it.


The Plot:
I'm gonna try something a bit different here there're a ton of characters in this movie and they all just have common, everyday first names. This makes it virtually impossible to remember who everyone is and which side they're on. So I'm gonna color code the names to try and make it easier to remember who's on what team.

Boston, the late 1970s. Two low level thugs, Stevo and Bernie, are driving to a meeting at an abandoned warehouse. Bernie notices that Stevo's face is bruised and battered, and asks what happened. He says he was beaten the night before by the cousin of a woman he propositioned. They arrive at the warehouse, where they meet their cousins Chris (played by Cillian Murphy) and Frank, two IRA members who are looking to buy weapons and take them back to Ireland.

The group is approached by Justine (played by Brie Larson), who'll serve as the intermediary between the groups, and Ord (played by Armie Hammer) who I guess set up the meeting. 
Ord takes the group inside, where they meet with Vernon (played by Sharlto Copley) and his associates, Martin, Harry and Gordon. See, I told you there's a lot of names to keep track of.

Vernon unveils the weapons, and Chris complains they're not the ones they agreed on. Tensions rise until Justine calms everyone down. Chris agrees to buy the guns, and orders his group to load the cases of weapons into his van. He hands a briefcase of money to Vernon, who hands it to Martin to count.

Stevo notes that Harry (one of Vernon's men) is the one who beat him the night before, and tries to act inconspicuous. Harry notices him, and reveals that Stevo didn't "proposition" his cousin as he said, but beat her so severely she was hospitalized. Harry lashes out at him, raising tensions between the groups again. Vernon demands that Stevo apologize, and Chris orders him to do so. Stevo apologizes, but Harry doesn't think it sounds sincere. Stevo then begins bragging about what he did, and Harry shoots him in the shoulder.

All hell then breaks loose, as the two sides split up and start firing wildly inside the confines of the warehouse. Ord crouches calmly behind the van, staying out of it. EVERY member of the cast is shot at least once as they all scramble for cover. Martin, who was holding the briefcase, is shot in the head and collapses. Vernon sees the case lying in the open, and tries to force one of his men to crawl out and get it.

Bernie's shot in the back by Harry, and dies. Suddenly shots ring out from the rafters, as two snipers fire on both groups. Ord kills one of the snipers and wounds the other. He recognizes the wounded sniper as Howie, a man he knows. Howie says he was hired by someone to kill everyone in the warehouse and take the money. Just as he's about to reveal who hired him, he's shot dead by someone from Chris' group.

Chris, who flirted with Justine earlier, yells to Vernon to let her leave unharmed. He agrees, as Gordon crawls along the floor after her. More gun play erupts, as pretty much everyone is shot in the arm. leg or shoulder a few more times (!).

Suddenly everyone hears a phone ringing in an upstairs office, and they all realize they can call for backup. Chris sends Frank to the office, and Vernon crawls after him. Gordon catches up to Justine, but she manages to kill him. Another fire fight breaks out, as everyone's shot a few more times. Vernon crawls upstairs as well. Frank pours gasoline under a door and lights it, engulfing Vernon in flames. As he tries to put himself out, Frank reaches the phone and answers it, but finds it's just a recorded message saying he's won a lifetime supply of something. Vernon then kills Frank.

Martin, who was shot in the head, suddenly regains consciousness. He's out of his head though (literally!) and begins firing wildly, shooting at his own group. He yells that the snipers were working for him as he picks up the briefcase. He then keels over and dies for good this time.

Chris sneaks past Ord and Harry and crawls up to the office, where he kills Vernon. He grabs the phone to call for backup, but Ord cuts the line. Justine takes a rifle from one of the dead snipers.

Harry takes the briefcase and painfully crawls into the van, attempting to get away. Stevo sees him and begins firing at the van. Harry's hit several more times, but manages to run over Stevo's head before he dies. The fire causes the sprinklers to come on. Ord and Chris run out of ammo and call a truce, agreeing to wait for the police to arrive.

Suddenly Justine appears and shoots Ord in the head, accidentally hitting Chris as well. As he lays dying, he tells her he's sorry they didn't get to know one another and go out for a drink. Justine limps toward the exit with the money, but stops as she hears police sirens outside...

 As I said above, I blame the A24 Marketing Department for this film's dismal box office performance. Apparently they couldn't afford to promote it much, and on the rare occasion when they did, they obviously didn't know how to sell it. This resulted in a horribly schizophrenic ad campaign. Is it an action movie? A dark comedy? A Guy Ritchie-esque gangster film? A Reservoir Dogs wannabe?

The trailer apparently thinks it's a zany comedy about bad people who constantly argue and comically shoot one another to make a point, and sells that concept hard. Unfortunately while there are humorous elements to the movie, it's nowhere near as wacky as the trailer suggests.

Even the poster's confused. If it wasn't for the fact that they're all pointing guns at one another, this could be a poster for a goddamned Disney movie!

 Kudos to director Ben Wheatley, who somehow figured out a way to keep a sixty two minute gunfight interesting. Wheatley expertly choreographs the shootout, alternating the frenetic action with strategically placed lulls. 

Wheatley also makes excellent use of the movie's space. Ninety eight percent of the film takes place inside an abandoned warehouse, which could have gotten old really quickly. Fortunately this doesn't happen, as the characters crawl from location to location, trying to kill one another without being hit themselves.

 The action is very cartoonish at first, as each of the characters is shot for comic effect. As the gunfight drags on though, things slowly become more realistic, as the characters have to resort to crawling, and pass out due to blood loss.

 Since the film is basically one long gunfight, I kept a running tally of how many times each character was shot before they died.

Stevo: 3
Bernie: 3
Frank: 4, possibly 5
Chris: 3

Vernon: 4 (along with many other non-ballistic injuries, including being set on fire)
Harry: 4
Gordon: 2

Ord: 3
Justine: 3
Martin: 1

I may be off by a shot or two, as it's often hard to tell if certain characters were actually hit by a bullet or just shrapnel.

 When Frank finally answers the ringing office phone, it's a recording saying he's won a lifetime supply of something (it's hard to hear what's actually being said). Did they have telemarketing calls like that in the late 1970s? Seems to me like that didn't happen until much later, but I can't remember for sure.

 After being shot a couple of times, Vernon worries that he'll bleed to death. Ord says, "Relax. It didn't even hit an artery. You're fine. You got at least an hour and a half." Vernon replies, "Eh?" and Ord says, "The Golden Hour And A Half. It's a rule."

Welp, Ord's almost right. There's no such thing as a Golden Hour And A Half, but there is a Golden Hour. It's the period of time following a traumatic injury, during which medical treatment will have the highest rate of success and prevent death.

I'm assuming the movie stretched the Golden Hour a bit here, to explain why the characters can still be functioning (well, sort of) by the end of the ninety minute run time.

 Vernon is by far the most cartoonish character in the entire film, as he racks up injury after injury like a South African Wile E. Coyote. In addition to being shot four times, he cuts his hand on broken glass, gets tossed around by the gas explosion, is hit on the head numerous times by falling debris, and is finally set on fire! 

About the only thing that doesn't happen to him is falling off a cliff and making a small poof of dust far below...

 Martin gets shot in the head early on in the shootout, and seemingly dies. Later he suddenly springs back to life, shooting wildly at both sides as he hallucinates. He finally falls down again, for good this time.

Harry then tells everyone to stop shooting for a minute (!) so he can check to make sure Martin's really dead this time.

This "time out" scene was identical to the way kids playing "War" will call a temporary truce in order to gather more ammo. It was particularly funny seeing dangerous thugs do the same thing.

 When Harry crawls into the van and tries to escape, the 8-track player starts up, playing You Fill Up My Senses. Stevo tries to stop the van by shooting it, until Harry slowly runs over his head and bursts it like a ripe melon.

After seeing that scene, you'll never listen to John Denver the same way again!

 When the characters first enter the abandoned factory, they wonder what kind of company it was. This becomes kind of a running joke, as it's mentioned two or three times throughout the film. 

In the final minutes of the movie, the fire in the upstairs office causes the sprinklers to come on. The dying Chris then slumps against a wall, leaning against a large painted sign that ironically reads, "Watson's Umbrellas." Eh? EH? It's raining inside an umbrella factory! Get it?

Is there really such a thing as an umbrella factory? That seems like an odd product to devote an entire business to manufacturing, but what do I know?

Actually the factory space inexplicably contains carts full of broken concrete, numerous flammable gas tanks and lots of broken glass. It seems more like a machine shop or mill than a place that makes something delicate like umbrellas.

The factory contains lots of broken rock, flammable gas tanks and broken glass. It looks more like a foundry than a place that makes umbrellas.

Free Fire is a violent action movie/dark comedy, who's sole selling point is its sixty two minute gunfight that plays out in real time. Other than that there's little to the film, as its characters are all unlikable ciphers, giving the audience no one to root for. I give it a C.

Eyes Of The Tiger

Whoops! Looks like celebrity golfer Tiger Woods had another little brush with the law yesterday, as he was found asleep at the wheel of his Mercedes, which inexplicably had two flat tires. Hey, we've all been there, right?

Anyhoo, after seeing Tiger's newest mugshot, it struck me that he looks very much like a character I would draw! Same world-weary expression and soulless dead eyes and everything!

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Doctor Who Season 10, Episode 7: The Pyramid At The End Of The World

The Monks return this week on Doctor Who, in the second part of a three episode story arc.

I didn't much care for Extremis (the first part of this arc), as it was basically just setup for Parts 2 and 3. In fact, with just the smallest of tweaks, they could have easily started the arc with this episode, and eliminated Part 1 altogether. I'm assuming they wrote it the way they did to pad out the season a bit.

If the desert setting and alien threat in this episode feels a bit familiar, that's because it was written by Peter Harness and showrunner Steven Moffat, who gave us Season 9's The Zygon Invasion and The Zygon Inversion. Those episodes even took place in Turmezistan, the same fictional Middle Eastern nation featured in this episode!

Amazingly, Peter Harness was also the culprit responsible for "writing" Season 8's Kill The Moon (aka The One Where The Moon Is A Giant Space Dragon Egg) which will go down in TV history as the all-time WORST episode ever of Doctor Who. An episode so monumentally bad that I (and other fans as well) have chosen to pretend it doesn't even exist!

It's probably too early to tell yet, but the preview for next week's episode looks very similar to The Sound Of Drums/Last Of The Time Lords, which featured a world which was ruled by the Master. We'll see.

Lastly, a few days before this episode aired there was a horrific terrorist attack at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England, in which twenty two fans sadly died. Supposedly the BBC made a small edit to this episode, excising a line in which Bill says the word "terrorism."

Whew! Crisis averted! The BBC came thissss close to broadcasting an unpleasant word over the airwaves!

Jesus Jetskiing Christ! Look, my heart goes out to the friends and families of the victims of this attack. But does anyone really think that hearing the word "terrorism" on TV could possibly make them feel any worse than they already do? 

I thought it was just America that lived in a politically-correct Hellscape full of jittery, delicate snowflakes that collapse on their fainting couches when they're triggered by mean old words, but apparently the phenomenon has spread into Britain as well.


The Plot:
Bill goes on a date with Penny, the woman she met in the virtual world last week. She recklessly tells Penny everything about the Doctor, including the fact that he's an alien. Bill also tells Penny about their simulated date, which was interrupted by the Pope. Just then their real date is interrupted by armed soldiers, as the Secretary-General Of The United Nations bursts in. Penny realizes everything Bill said was true and politely excuses herself.

The Secretary informs Bill that the Doctor's the President Of Earth in times of planetary crisis, and they need her help to contact him.

Cut to a plane, where the Secretary explains to Bill that a five thousand year old pyramid suddenly appeared overnight in the fictional country of Turmezistan, an area disputed by American, Russian and Chinese forces. The Secretary's afraid that if something's not done soon, World War III could break out.

Meanwhile, the Doctor soliloquizes inside the TARDIS. Bill tries to enter, but the door's locked. She yells through the door to the Doctor that the UN urgently needs him in Turmezistan. The Doctor says nothing doing, and Bill says they won't take no for an answer.

The Doctor (who's still blind, but can sort of see with the help of his sonic sunglasses) pokes his head out the door of the TARDIS and "sees" it's inside the Secretary's plane. Somehow the army removed the door of his office and transported the TARDIS into the plane without the Doctor noticing.

Cut to Agrofuel Research Operations, in a seemingly unrelated subplot. Two employees, Erica and Douglas, are working on some kind of genetically modified crops or growth potion or something. Erica broke her glasses earlier that morning, and asks Douglas to conduct the day's experiment. Because he's a drunken idiot, he types "118.9" instead of "11.89," and injects too much of a dangerous enzyme into the experiment. This creates a deadly bacterium or something that liquefies all organic matter. Nice to know the fate of the world depends on a single decimal place.

The Doctor and Co. land in Turmezistan. They gape in awe at the pyramid, which the Doctor assumes is alien in origin. He walks up to it and a door opens, as one of the red-robed Monks from the simulation appears. The Doctor asks what the Monks want, and it states that they intend to conquer the planet and its people. The Doctor says he'll stop them, but the Monk says they'll be "invited," and will be asked to rule. It scuttles back into the pyramid.

Suddenly everyone's watches and phones flash 11: 57. The Doctor notes that this is a signal from the Monks— it's the Doomsday Clock, and the closer it gets to midnight, the bigger the threat of global catastrophe.

The Doctor then uses the TARDIS to kidnap the leaders of the Russian and Chinese armies. He brings them onboard his plane so they, along with the American Colonel, can work together to defeat the Monks. Amazingly, the Doctor suggests they combine their forces and attack the pyramid. Bill's surprised at the Doctor's violent solution, but he says the Monks didn't come in peace, and they need to strike back while they can.

An American bomber flies toward the pyramid, but the Monks catch it in a tractor beam and lower it to the ground, along with a Russian sub (I guess China sat out the attack?). Everyone's clocks move to 11:58.

The Doctor, Bill, Nardole and the Colonels then enter the pyramid to meet with the Monks. They find them in a chamber, "weaving" Earth's future by twisting glowing tendrils hanging from a machine. The Head Monk says they're "modeling the future," whatever that means, and they detect that a catastrophe is coming. The Monk says they can save the Earth, but they have to be asked.

The Monks invites everyone to take hold of a glowing strand to see what's coming. As they do, they see a vision of a dead, lifeless Earth. The Doctor wonders why the Monks have to be asked when they could just save the Earth themselves. Everyone's phones move to 11:59. The Doctor asks again why the Monks have to be invited, and they reply that they must be wanted and loved, as ruling through fear is "inefficient."

The Doctor warns the others against giving consent, as there will surely be conditions and consequences. The Secretary's so rattled by the future vision that he doesn't listen, and gives his consent. The Monk places his hand on the Secretary and disintegrates him into dust, saying he gave consent out of fear instead of love. Everyone runs the hell out of the pyramid.

Back in the plane, the Doctor realizes the pyramid is a decoy, to focus their attention away from something else. He has the others search the internet for biological threats. Nardole finds several labs that are performing bacterial experiments, and the Doctor narrows it down by finding out which one the Monks are watching. It's Agrofuel.

The Doctor and Nardole travel to Agrofuel in the TARDIS, surprising Erica. She and the Doctor discover that Douglas' mistake has created a deadly bacterium capable of liquefying all life (including Douglas!). Erica says that the building's automatic systems will vent the bacterium into the air in twenty minutes, which will cause the catastrophe the Monks foresaw (Yeah, no. That's not how labs work). Erica's safe from the strain, as she's wearing a hazmat suit, and the Doctor's confident he's immune. He tells Nardole, who's not wearing any kind of protection to get back to the TARDIS, unaware that he's already infected.

Meanwhile the Colonels go against the Doctor's orders and head toward the pyramid to surrender to the Monks. Once again the Monks disintegrate them, as they gave their consent out of strategy instead of love.

Back in the lab, the Doctor cobbles together a makeshift bomb to incinerate the bacteria before it can be released into the air. He sets the timer and tries to exit the lab, but finds the airlock door is, um, locked. Erica gives him the combination for the weirdo cylinder lock to the door, but unfortunately he can't see it, being blind and all. He tries to sonic the lock, but since it's a plot-convenient device, it doesn't work on the door. He calls Nardole, but he's passed out inside the TARDIS.

He contacts Bill and finally admits to her that he's blind. When Bill hears this she says she's making an "Executive Decision" and goes to the Monks. She tells them she'll give consent, on the condition they restore the Doctor's sight. They see that her consent comes from love, and agree. 

The Doctor suddenly regains his sight, enters the combination and escapes the labs a second before it explodes. The Monks then tell the Doctor, "Enjoy your sight. Now see OUR world!"

• Last week the simulated Doctor and Bill found themselves in the virtual world's Oval Office.

While there, Bill saw a man slumped dead in a chair and asked if he was the President. I noted that the man clearly had a head of jet black hair, and said I was jealous that the America in the Whoniverse didn't have an petulant orange buffoon for a leader like we do here in the real world.

This week the Secretary-General Of The UN arrives in Bill's flat and says he needs her help contacting the President. Bill thinks he means the U.S. President, and says, "How would I know the President? I wouldn't even have voted for him, he's orange!"

This implies that Donald Trump is indeed the president in the Whoniverse. So who the hell was the dead guy in the chair last week?

• The Doctor was unanimously elected "President Of Earth" back in 2014's Death in Heaven.

• The Doctor exits the TARDIS and sees it's inside the Secretary's plane.

Apparently the UN had to tear out the entire side of the Doctor's university office to remove the TARDIS. Then they SOMEHOW managed to fit it inside a cramped airliner, even though it appears to be taller than the plane's ceiling. Got it.

And how the hell did the Doctor not feel the TARDIS being picked up and transported into the plane? We've seen many times before that outside forces can rock the interior. I guess he was really deep in meditation and didn't notice?

• The interior of the Secretary's command plane has an unusual feature: gigantic air vents that are almost big enough to crawl through! Is that really a thing? I'm gonna bet not.

• Since the Doctor's still blind, he's wearing his sonic sunglasses, which give him rudimentary vision. They also provide him with basic stats of the people around him, such as gender and age.

It's hard to see here, but according to the glasses, Nardole (who's represented by the green box at left) is two hundred thirty seven years old!

• The pyramid plops itself down in the fictional country of Turmezistan. If that location sounds familiar to you, it's because it's appeared on the show before, in 2015's The Zygon Invasion. Maybe the show's trying to be consistent with its fake nations?

• After arriving in Turmezistan, the Doctor's introduced to the leaders of the three armies disputing the area— Colonel Brabbit of America, General Ilya of Russia and General Xiaolian of China. 

Note that Xiaolian is female. Yeah, no. I'm pretty sure the Chinese government would never put a woman in charge of their military.

I don't have a problem with diversity— I really don't. But I can't stand diversity for diversity's sake. It needs to make sense, and not be tossed in just to appease the SJWs in the audience.

• What happened to UNIT? Why aren't they present at this crisis? Isn't protecting Earth from alien invasion kind of their charter?

• After the Doctor speaks with the Monks, everyone's phones and watches flash "11:57." The Doctor notes this is the Doomsday Clock, which he says was created by atomic scientists in 1947 to monitor how close the planet is to global catastrophe.

And he's exactly right! It was started by members of The Bulletin Of The Atomic Scientist's Science And Security Board in 1947. Well done, writers!

• Eh, I dunno... somehow the Monks don't look quite as creepy in the cold light of day. Keep 'em in the shadows, guys!

• The Blue Laser Stabbing Up Into The Sky has been popping up in a LOT of superhero movies and TV shows lately. So it's always nice to see its lesser known cousin, the Yellow Laser Stabbing Up Into The Sky, get a bit of work.

• Apparently the budget must have been a bit stretched this week. We see an American Air Force bomber try to attack the Monk's pyramid, only to be captured by a tractor beam and slowly lowered to the ground.

A few seconds later the Monks capture a Russian sub and plop it into the sand as well. However, instead of actually seeing this happen, we just get a shot of all the characters WATCHING this happen. Those CGI effects ain't cheap!

• Apparently the Monks are big fans of Avatar, and reeeeeally liked the Tree Of Souls in that film.

• I'm a bit fuzzy on the Monks' plan here. Obviously they want to rule a living world and not a dead one, or else they'd just sit back and wait for the bacterium to wipe out the planet. But they won't save our world unless we ask them nicely, because a race that consents to subjugation is less likely to rebel than one that's conquered.

OK, that makes sense I guess. 

The problem I have with their plan is the whole "consent" thing. What if no one gave consent. Would the Monks then stand by and watch while the world they studied for so long just up and died? Would they really not lift a finger to save us if we didn't ask?

• When we first meet Erica, she props open the door to her flat with her purse so she won't be locked out while carrying in bags of groceries. This causes the door to smash her glasses inside her purse, which starts a chain of events resulting in the end of all life on Earth (!).

Um... why the hell does Erica prop open the door in the first place? She's clearly holding her keys in her hand as she walks out to her car. If the door closes, so what? She can't be locked out, as she's got the keys with her. Set the bags down, unlock the door and go on with her life.

• It's amazing how one misplaced decimal point (118.9 instead of 11.89) could potentially destroy the entire world. Too bad Agrofuel didn't spring for some kind of override system to prevent an obvious and fatal error like this. You'd think they'd at least have a "Are You Sure You Want To Inject This Amount?" screen pop up.

• The Agrofuel scenes in this episode are a goldmine of stupidity and unrealism. The "scientists" do everything wrong at every possible juncture, just so the bacterium can escape and the plot can happen.

The Agrofuel experiments are contained behind two airlock doors, which is good. But then Erica says the lab automatically vents the air from the lab into the atmosphere without sterilizing it first! And if that wasn't enough, it's an automatic process that can't be shut down! WRONG! If there's no way to neutralize outgoing air, then they might as well not bother with the airlocks in the first place!

Douglas also removes the hood of his biohazard suit inside the lab (!), because he didn't want to throw up in it. Yeah, no one would ever do that either, no matter how sick they were. Is it any wonder he was liquefied?

Erica's not much better, as she grabs a sample of the bacterium and takes it through the first airlock to examine it. This contaminates the area between the first and second airlocks, which ain't good. Later the Doctor and Nardole go through the second airlock and enter the lab with Erica, sans hazmat suits. Nardole then goes back to the TARDIS without decontaminating himself, meaning he just released the bacterium into the air! Thanks a lot, Nardole!

• By the way, someone did their homework in this episode. It's hard to see, but in the image above, the canister on the right is labeled "R. planticola." 

That's actually a real bacterial substance! Back in the 1990s, Raoutella planticola was the subject of a genetic engineering experiment, to try and find a substance that could break down plant matter into ethanol. When tested inside a lab, it was discovered that R. planticola caused mass plant death from excessive ethanol production 

Some scientists speculated that if the bacterium had escaped the lab, it could have caused worldwide plant death!

So the writers didn't just pull a fictionathreat out of their asses, they based the episode on actual science. Well done!

• So the Doctor is President Of Earth, but the three army leaders willfully ignore his orders and do whatever the hell they want, including surrendering the planet to the Monks. Does that sound right?

• If Agrofuel had used a lock with a normal, everyday keypad like a normal, everyday human company, then the Doctor would have been able to operate it by touch, and Bill wouldn't have had to make a deal with the devil, er, Monks and subjugate Earth.

Instead they used this clunky, cartoonish prop from The Price Is Right to secure their doors and ensure the Doctor wouldn't be able to operate it.

This is what's called a "plot contrivance," kids!

• At the end of the episode, Bill gives consent to the Monks to save the Doctor. She's not atomized because her consent "comes from love."

The Monks clearly state earlier in the episode that they must be loved before they'll save the planet. Her love is obviously for the Doctor here, not them. So why do they give her a pass and not disintegrate her?

• The Monks have run numerous simulations in their perfect replica of our world, and presumably know every possible outcome. So why the hell would they give the Doctor his sight back, and make it easier for him to defeat them?

This Week's Best Lines:
Secretary: (to Bill) "I have flown here today to speak to the President. I am told you might be able to help."
Bill: "I don't know the President. How would I know the President? I wouldn't even have voted for him, he's orange!"

The Doctor: (discovering his TARDIS is now in the Secretary's plane) "How did they get it out of my office? The windows aren't big enough."
Colonel: "Oh... they are now."

The Doctor: "Last I heard, you were on a date with Penny. What happened?"

Bill: "The United Nations Secretary-General."
The Doctor: "Awesome."
Bill: "No, that wasn't a metaphor."
The Doctor: "Good, because I really wasn't following it."

The Doctor: "So what it's doing, Colonel, is sending us a message."
Colonel: "What message?"

The Doctor: "Bring it."
(Is this a reference to George W. Bush's 2003 taunt to Iraqi insurgents, in which he famously said, "Bring it on?")

Monk: "We know you."
The Doctor: "Then you'll know that there is a line in the sand, and I'm the man on the other side of it. You want to keep me that way."

Monk: "We will take this planet and its people."
The Doctor: "You will be prevented. You will be fought."
Monk: "We will be invited. We will take this world. We will rule its people. But only when we're asked. We will talk again."

The Doctor: "When?"
Monk: "At the end of the Earth."

The Doctor: (after kidnapping the Russian General) "Now, this is the Secretary-General of the UN. I am the President of the world. And this is Xiaolian, she's in charge of the Chinese army. Say hi to each other. Now, we've been having a bit of chat. The thing is, World War Three what do you think? Basically, we're against it."
(That is definitely the Fourth Doctor speaking right there! I can just hear that line being said by Tom Baker!)

Bill: "I mean, this is a trap, right?"

The Doctor: "Possibly. Probably."
Bill: "And we're just walking into it."
The Doctor: "Well, every trap you walk into is a chance to learn about your enemies."

Monk: "We can detect when a catastrophe is about to occur."
The Doctor: "And?"

Monk: "Stop it from occurring."
Colonel: "You don't look much like guardian angels."
Monk: "We have chosen this form to look like you."
Colonel: "You look like corpses."
Monk: "You are corpses to us. Your world is ending."

The Doctor: (to the Monks) "Planet Earth does not consent to your help, your presence, or your conquest. Thank you for playing the big pyramid game, bye-bye, see you again next week, hopefully not."

Monk: "Without our help, Planet Earth is doomed."
The Doctor: "Yes, well, it's been doomed before. Guess what happened? Me!"

Erica: "Oh, my God!"

The Doctor: "No, I'm the Doctor, but it's an easy mistake to make. The eyebrows."

The Doctor: "Back to the TARDIS, this place is toxic."
Nardole: "I'm not human."
The Doctor: "You're human enough. I got your lungs cheap."

He Has The Kevorka!

I was in Target last night and saw this:

Attention all Seinfeld cosplayers! Target is now selling Official Cosmo Kramer™ jackets, just like the one Michael Richards wore throughout the series' run!

Hurry on over to Target now and pick up your Kramer jacket for Halloween, or if you just want to be as successful with the ladies as Cosmo!

I'll be scanning Target in the coming months, anxiously awaiting the arrival of the Puffy Shirt, the Beltless Raincoat, the Urban Sombrero and the Cashmere Sweater With A Dot on it!

Friday, May 26, 2017

The Flash Season 3, Episode 23: Finish Line

It's the Season Finale of The Flash!




Overall this wasn't a great season of The Flash, but it had its moments.

The whole "Flashpoint" storyline turned out to be a dud, mostly because it only lasted a single episode. Think how much they could have done with the "alternate reality" concept if they'd given it four or five episodes and let it breath a bit, ala The Framework arc over on Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.

We also got not just one but TWO "Villain With A Shocking Secret Identity" storylines this year, which was at least one too many. The first, the Alchemy arc, was muddled and mishandled as he turned out to be Julian, the most obvious candidate possible. In fact I was convinced he had to be anyone but Julian, because he was such a glaringly blatant choice. 

The "Who Is Savitar?" storyline was similarly botched, as it dragged on for months and months. He first appeared in Episode 6 for Thor's sake, and his identity wasn't revealed until Episode 20! Fifteen episodes was WAYYYYY too long to drag out that mystery, as most of the audience (myself included) stopped caring weeks earlier. And when Savitar was finally revealed to be a future time remnant of Barry Allen, it required some heavy duty and convoluted time travel shenanigans in order to make it work.

Thankfully the season wasn't all bad though. The big Invasion! crossover episode with all the other Arrowverse shows was a highlight, as well as the two part return of Gorilla Grodd.

And the season actually started picking up near the end, once the mystery of Savitar's identity was finally resolved. It was a bit too little, too late though. Three or four good episodes do not a season make.

In a perfect world, The Flash showrunners would adopt Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s "story pod" system, and give us three or four shorter arcs per season. They sort of tried that this year with Flashpoint, Alchemy and Savitar, but if was clunky and much less elegant than the way S.H.I.E.L.D. effortlessly does it.

This week's episode was a bit of a mixed bag. There were a couple of cool developments, a head-scratching, puzzling sequence, and a terrible ending pulled straight out of the writers' asses. 

Last week I totally called the fact that HR used his transmogrifier to impersonate Iris, and that Savitar actually killed him instead. And that's exactly what happened, right down to the stage directions I described. Boo-yah!

I was also very surprised that the writers decided to have Killer Frost reject her cure, and remain a quasi-supervillain. Conflicted, anti-hero Killer Frost is much more interesting than meek, vanilla Caitlin any day.

On the down side, I didn't for one second buy the scene in which Barry and the Gang try to reach Savitar, and he actually accepts their offer of help. He tried to murder them all season long, and we're supposed to believe he does a complete 180ยบ turn after just one pep talk? Doubtful.

The worst part of the episode though was the ending, in which Barry enters the Speed Force as penance for his time travel shenanigans. It came completely out of the blue and gave new meaning to the phrase "tacked-on." It feels like the only reason this ending exists is because the writers realized they hadn't come up with a cliffhanger yet, and cobbled one together in five minutes.

Lastly, The Flash executive producer and co-showrunner Aaron Helbing announced he won't be returning for Season 4. His brother, co-showrunner Todd Helbing, will remain with the show. I don't know whether this is good news or bad.


The Plot:
The season finale picks up right where we left off last week— with Barry cradling the dead form of his fiance Iris, who's just been murdered by Savitar. Tracy Brand looks on in disbelief, while up on a nearby rooftop, Joe collapses with grief.

But wait! Iris isn't quite dead after all. And she isn't quite Iris either! She pulls out the facial transmogrifier and instantly transforms into HR, just as I predicted last week!

See, shortly after HR said his weirdly stilted goodbye to Cisco in the previous episode, he used the shard of Savitar's blade to find out where he was holding Iris. He then used the transmogrifier to make himself look like her, and vice versa (which we didn't know it could do, but whatever). Iris protests, but HR convinces her to go along with the ruse.

HR and Tracy share a brief goodbye, as he tells her he loves her. HR then gives Barry a special message for Cisco and promptly dies. Joe points out that Savitar took the Speed Force Bazooka with him after he killed "Iris."

Meanwhile, Cisco and Killer Frost are facing off in the forest. Savitar appears and tells her not to kill Cisco, as he needs him for a special project. Savitar then doubles over, saying something's not right. He realizes— as new memories from Barry form— that Iris is somehow still alive.

Back at STAR Labs, Joe says that since Iris wasn't killed, Savitar will never be created and should vanish from reality. Barry says this is technically true, but it could take several hours to happen. Julian tells the group that he worked with Caitlin's mom (remember her?) and came up with a cure for her Killer Frost-ism.

In Savitar's lair, he orders Cisco to alter the Speed Force Bazooka so it will shatter him and spread his fragments throughout time, so he'll exist simultaneously in the past, present and future. He says this will make him immune to the paradox that wants to erase him from history. Cisco of course refuses to help. Savitar threatens to kill, er, Killer Frost if he doesn't, and Cisco reluctantly gives in.

Barry, Iris and Joe enter the Time Room and see that the holographic newspaper now once again has Iris' byline on the front page, indicating things are back to normal. Iris asks Barry what he's going to do next, and he says "the last thing that Savitar expects!"

Barry goes to an abandoned (of course) warehouse and a few minutes later Savitar meets him (I guess he remembered this happening in the past?). He pleads with Savitar to let the STAR Labs Gang help him, dredging up memories of past fun times. Amazingly, this half-assed attempt at psychology somehow works on Savitar, seemingly reversing centuries of anger and hatred in just a few minutes.

Barry brings Savitar to STAR Labs, and asks the Gang (or what's left of it) to help him. Despite the fact that Savitar tried to kill Iris and ruined the past year of her life, she's willing to give it a go and forgives him. Tracy's not so generous, refusing to help the man who "took away her future." Iris tells Barry she knows someone who can convince Tracy to help. Savitar says it was a mistake to come to STAR and zooms off.

Tracy sits in her lab, brooding. Suddenly she sees what she thinks is HR's reflection, and spins around. Turns out it's actually Harry, who the Gang somehow transported from Earth-2 without Cisco's help. She's disappointed of course that he's not the HR she knew, and says she's not helping Savitar. Harry gives her a Patented The CW Pep Talk™, telling her not to be such a Gloomy Gus and that it's what HR would have wanted.

Suddenly an alarm sounds, and Barry sees that Savitar somehow left the Philosopher's Stone in a lab and it's "rigged to go off," whatever that means. He and Wally zip everyone out of the building seconds before a comically cliched giant blue laser shoots through the roof and high into the sky.

Back at Savitar's lair, Cisco says he's done modifying the Speed Force Bazooka. To no one's surprise, Savitar then orders Killer Frost to kill Cisco. She fires a barrage of deadly icicles at him, but he's saved by the timely appearance of Gypsy, who tackles him and vibes him to safety.

Savitar and Killer Frost then take a trip to a park, where he zooms around in a circle and opens up a Speed Force portal (which is different from an Earth-2 portal) so he can begin his ascension into godhood. He says the Speed Force doesn't like it when speedsters mess with time, and right on cue, the Black Flash exits the portal and zooms toward Savitar. Killer Frost nonchalantly freezes Black Flash solid and he shatters.

Savitar then stands in front of the portal, as Killer Frost shoots him with the modified Speed Force Bazooka to fragment him across time. It begins to work, until suddenly Savitar's knocked over by a superfast figure. It turns out to be Jay Garrick, the Flash of Earth-3, who's now been freed from his "prison" inside the Speed Force.

Just then Barry, Wally, Cisco and Gypsy show up to take on Savitar and Killer Frost. Savitar zooms away, with the speedsters (including Jay) in hot pursuit. Cisco and Gypsy battle Killer Frost. They manage to defeat her, and Cisco tosses her the serum that will turn her back into Caitlin Snow (Um... where'd he get that?).

Savitar outmaneuvers the others and returns to the park. He picks up Cisco and is about to kill him, when he's blasted by Killer Frost, who I guess has decided not to be semi evil. 

Barry returns to the park well, and Savitar tells him he's going to kill Joe, Iris (for real this time) and Wally. Barry then leaps at Savitar, phasing into his armor and throwing him out of it, which I have to admit was pretty darned cool. For some reason the Savitar armor turns red with Barry inside it.

Barry extends a blade and looks like he's about to execute Future Barry, who hisses at him to just do it already. Barry begins vibrating and shatters the Savitar suit from the inside, and walks away from the now-beaten Future Barry. Suddenly Future Barry screams and runs toward Present Barry, intending to kill him. A gunshot rings out...

Future Barry falls dead to the ground, as we see Iris was the one who shot him. That was easy! She says that for months Barry tried to save her, but in the end she saved him.

Cut to the Gang at HR's funeral, as they all say a few words over his grave. Barry tells Cisco what HR told him as he died: "Tell Cisco this took strength, and he gave it to me." Barry sees Killer Frost lurking behind a tree, watching the funeral. He, Cisco and Julian approach her. She gives them back the serum, saying she's not going to take it. She says she's no longer Killer Frost, but she's not Caitlin either, and needs time to figure out just who and what she is.

After the funeral, Barry and Iris relax at their place, discussing their wedding plans. Suddenly a series of tremors strike, as violent lightning stabs down at Central City. They return to the ruins of STAR Labs, and determine that the disturbance is being caused by the Speed Force. It requires a speedster to maintain its balance, and once Jay exited, it became unstable.

A Speed Force portal opens in the center of town, and what appears to be Barry's mother walks out of it. She tells Barry to come with her. He tells the others it's time for him to pay for altering time and creating Flashpoint. He says goodbye to everyone and walks into the portal. It disappears and the lightning stops.


• The past few weeks I've commented on how difficult it is to write a logical time travel episode, one that's not riddled with inconsistencies, paradoxes and plot holes.

This episode is no different, but credit where credit's due— at least its blunders are consistent with what's gone before. 

When HR saves Iris by switching places with her, this prevents Savitar from ever being created. Instead of Savitar simply winking out of existence like you'd expect though, it takes a while for the paradox to catch up to him. 

This is the same way we've seen time travel work over on Legends Of Tomorrow. There, Rip Hunter tells his teammates that they have a bit of latitude when trying to change the past or future, because the timeline "takes a while to harden."

So while Savitar sticking around for a while after being "uncreated" doesn't make any sense, at least it's consistent with what's gone before.

• The first time we saw HR's transmogrifier in action, it simply altered his face. Last week when Barry borrowed it, it transformed his entire body to make him resemble Lyla Michaels of ARGUS. Now this week we find out it can somehow cause two people to swap appearances, even when only one of them is actually holding the device.

BOO! Bad form, writers! You can't keep adding new functions to sci-fi tech like this every week as the script demands! How are we ever supposed to know what a device is capable of if you keep changing its rules? It's as bad as the sonic screwdriver on Doctor Who!

• Future Barry actually calls his headquarters his "lair!"

• I guess speedsters really do heal faster than a normal person. Last week Savitar gave Wally a severe beatdown, even appearing to break his leg. Poor Wally was even bedridden at the end of the episode.

In this week's episode (which takes place immediately after the previous one), he's up and around with nary a bruise to be seen!

• I wasn't a fan of the scene in which Barry tries to redeem Future Barry as it came out of nowhere and seemed completely unrealistic. He's been an evil, unrepentant bastard all season, and then suddenly after one heartfelt chat with Barry he's willing to try to be good? Feh!

The only reason this scene existed is because they needed to pad out the runtime a bit.

• Seems like the writers momentarily forgot that Savitar automatically remembers ANYTHING that Present Barry thinks or does.

At one point Barry and Iris sit in the Time Room and ponder what to do about Savitar. Iris asks Barry what he's going to do. Barry says, "The last thing he'd expect."

Cut to an abandoned warehouse, where Barry waits. Suddenly Savitar shows up. Barry says, "I wasn't sure you'd come... so you remember coming here."

Um... why is Barry so surprised that Savitar remembers meeting him in the warehouse? Does he really think that "doing the last thing he'd expect" could possibly work? It doesn't matter what Barry does. He can zig instead of zagging all he wants, but it's all ancient history to Savitar. Do the writers not understand this?

Then a bit later Barry brings Savitar to STAR Labs to "help" him somehow. Savitar's very uncomfortable, and really does seem like this is something he didn't expect the Gang to do. Again, this is not possible. From Savitar's point of view, ANYTHING Barry or the others do has already happened. There cannot be any surprises.

• Is murder not a crime in the Arrowverse? When the Gang tries to talk him into being good, he says he murdered people. Iris says, "And you are going to have to live with that. But we won't give up on you, okay? That is not what we do." 

Really? That's it? Just living with it? What about, oh, I don't know, throwing his ass in prison for first degree murder?

• I don't think I've mentioned Future Barry's makeup since he first appeared. Um... yeah. It ain't good.

Maybe they didn't wanna get too graphic in prime time, but his scar looks reeeeeally cartoonish. It's much more Freddie Krueger than what a real burn scar looks like.

Early in the episode Cisco mocks Future Barry, saying his face looks like a thin crust pizza. That's a pretty apt comparison, as it actually does look more like a pizza than damaged skin. The milky contact lens is a nice touch, but the overall look is one big fail.

By the way, did they ever explain how Future Barry got his facial scar? A couple weeks ago in I Know Who You Are, Tracy mentioned that Savitar's armor protected him from the massive heat generated when he ran at super-superspeed. 

Is that what happened to him? Did he run so incredibly fast he literally burned his face?

• In Cause And Effect, Barry discovers that Savitar is a future time remnant of himself. They then have the following chat:

Savitar: "God feels no pain. All I had to do was become one. And I only need two more things— for Iris to die so that you are driven so far into the dark that I can be born."
Barry: "And the other?"
Savitar: "It may sound ironic given who I'm talking to, but I'll keep that one to myself."

Um... so what was the mysterious other thing Savitar was keeping to himself? Was it the Speed Force Bazooka, that he meant to use to fragment himself across time? Or was it something else and the writers just forgot about it?

• Somehow the Gang brings Harry to Earth-1 without Cisco's help to open a breach.

OK, I honestly can't remember any more— can Barry open breaches to other Earths by himself? I thought only Cisco could do that?

• Glad to see the return of Harry this week. He's been the best version of Wells so far, and I hope he sticks around next season. Why not? Now that Jesse's living on Earth-3 he's got nothing to keep him on Earth-2.

By the way, here's how great an actor Tom Cavanaugh is. After HR was killed I thought, "Gosh, that's too bad that the actor who plays him just lost his job!" It took me a minute or so to remember that Cavanaugh's still on the show, playing Harry! He really did make HR seem like a completely different person.

• Speaking of HR, remember earlier in the season when there were multiple occasions where his actions seemed borderline sinister? We'd see him lurking in the shadows, or eavesdropping on conversations with an ominous look on his face. For a while it honestly thought like he had some sort of dark secret, and could turn on the Gang any second.

So what the hell was that all about? Was it a red herring to make us think he might be Savitar? Or was there going to be an Evil HR subplot and the writers ended up abandoning it?

• Everyone who didn't foresee Cisco double-crossing Savitar by futzing with the Speed Force Bazooka, stand on their head.

• When Killer Frost attacks Cisco, why does he need Gypsy to save him by vibing him away? Other than to give Gypsy and excuse to appear on the show again, that is. Couldn't he have escaped by opening a portal by himself?

I think maybe he needs his special glasses to do that, and Savitar took 'em away from him? I swear I've seen him vibe without them though, so who knows?

• Nice to see our old friend the Blue Laser getting work!

So is STAR Labs destroyed for good? The outside looked OK, but the Cortex was definitely trashed. Will the Gang have to find a new HQ next season? 

• When Savitar opens a portal to the Speed Force, the Black Flash emerges and makes a beeline for him. Killer Frost freezes him and he shatters into a million pieces. 

Well that was certainly easy! Eobard Thawne spent most of Season 2 of Legends Of Tomorrow running from the Black Flash, implying he was an inexorable and unstoppable force of nature. And then Killer Frost dispatches him without breaking a sweat. Too bad Thawne didn't have her number!

• After Cisco defeats Killer Frost, he tosses her Julian's serum and says it'll cure her. 

Where the heck did Cisco get that? Julian unveiled it at STAR Labs AFTER Cisco was captured by Savitar. I guess maybe Barry took the serum with him to the park and handed it to Cisco while we weren't looking?

• The scene in which Barry phases into Savitar's armor and shove him out of it was pretty darned awesome!

As were the scenes in which Barry was then wearing it (Barritar?)

Was there any reason though why Barry turned the armor red? Other than because it looked cool, and to differentiate it from Savitar?

• At one point Cisco calls Savitar "Two-Face." How does Cisco know that name? Does that mean Batman exists somewhere in the Arrowverse? Or are do they just have Batman movies there?

• I guess after they inscribed the Mark Twain quote on HR's sleek, ultramodern tombstone, they didn't have room for his birth and death dates?

• Late in the episode, Cisco actually says, "Hey, Wally, can you reverse the polarity on the neutron flow?"

This is of course a shoutout to Doctor Who. For some reason the technobabble phrase has become associated with the Third Doctor, even though he only said it twice during his tenure on the show! He said it once in 1972's The Sea Devils, and again in 1983's The Five Doctors, which was the 20th Anniversary Special.

The Third Doctor would often use a shortened version of the phrase, saying, "Reverse the polarity," so maybe that's how the whole thing started.

• After Savitar's defeated, Barry and Iris relax at home. Suddenly their apartment is struck by a powerful quake. Iris is gobsmacked, declaring, "There's never been an earthquake in Central City!"

Sorry, Iris. According to the U.S. Geological Survey's Earthquake Information Center, EVERY state in the U.S. has experienced an earthquake of some magnitude at one point or another. The USGU does list Florida and North Dakota as the two states with the fewest earthquakes though.

Once again, I am not a seismic geologist. I found this out with literally fifteen seconds of googling.

• When the crazy lightning appears over Central City, the Gang gathers back in the ruins of STAR Labs. Cisco manages to get some their equipment up and running to analyze what's going on. He spots a large portal in the center of town, and says, "Holy plutonium! What even emits that many kilojoules?"

Sigh... Again with the joules!

A couple weeks ago in Cause And Effect, Tracy unveiled the Speed Force Bazooka, and said it needed 3.86 terajoules of energy to function. This greatly impressed Cisco, who said, "That's more energy than in the sun!" That statement was woefully wrong, but never mind that now.A joule is described as "the work required to produce one watt of power for one second." A terajoule is equal to ONE TRILLION joules. A kilojoule however, is equal to one thousand joules.

Why is Cisco so impressed by something that's literally a million times LESS than a terajoule?

• At the end of the episode the Gang discovers the Speed Force is unbalanced, and needs a speedster inside it to restore order.

For a brief second I honestly expected Jay to volunteer to return to the Speed Force instead of Barry.

• I guess as of this episode Savitar's prophecy is now complete. Way back in The Present, Savitar (through Julian) said, “I know your destinies. One shall betray you. One shall fall. One will suffer a fate far worse than death. This is the knowledge I have for you about your everlasting damnation.”

So how'd he do? Caitlin is obviously the one who betrayed the Gang. HR was the one who fell. And based on the end of this episode, Barry's the one who suffered a fate far worse than death, as he became trapped in the Speed Force.

• This Week's Best Lines:
Savitar: "Fix this."
Cisco: "Fix what? The Speed Force bazooka? Hey, I didn't name it. If I didn't name it, I didn't make it. And if I didn't make it, I don't know how it works."
Savitar: "Oh, you know enough about it to alter what it does."
Cisco: "Oh, I see. You want me to alter it. Well, what do you want me to alter it into? Like, a hair dryer? Or a waffle maker? Oh, I know. Maybe something that's gonna fix that thin-crust pizza you call a face?"

Savitar: "Get to work, Francesco."
Cisco: "How about I sit on my ass and let you obliterate permanently from existence? How's that sound?"

Barry: "Are you still planning on becoming a god?"
(I included this line because it makes me laugh)

Savitar: "So how's this gonna work? Where will I live?"
Barry: "What do you mean?"
Savitar: "Are Wally and I gonna be bunk-mates? Am I supposed to just rejoin Team Flash, fight some Rogues? What kind of life were you thinking I'd lead?"
Barry: "I hadn't gotten that far yet."

Iris: "He wasn't a genius, and he didn't have super speed. But when we needed him the most, he was our hero. He was my hero."
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