Tuesday, December 16, 2014

It Came From The Cineplex: Dumb And Dumber To

Dumb And Dumber To was written by Sean Anders, John Morris, Bennett Yellin, Mike Cerrone and Peter and Bobby Farrelly (Jesus, it took six people to write this thing?). It was also directed by the Farrelly brothers.

The original Dumb And Dumber launched the careers of the Farrellys as both directors and writers. It also sealed Jim Carrey's status as a comedy superstar, coming on the heels of Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and The Mask, which were released earlier the same year.

Premiering twenty years after the original film, Dumb And Dumber To hits theaters about eighteen years too late. It's nearly always a mistake to make a sequel more than five years after the original, as audience tastes and film styles change too much in the intervening years. If the sequel is too much like the original, it's labeled a carbon copy. If it deviates too far from the source material, then audiences will shun it. It's a losing proposition.

Dumb And Dumber To is a prime example of this. Its plot is pretty much identical the first, sending Harry and Lloyd on yet another cross country road trip, with hijinx ensuing along the way. Numerous fan-favorite lines and sight gags are even dusted off and trotted out again. In a January 2013 interview, Peter Farrelly said, "I love the script. It's exactly like the first one." Well, I certainly can't argue with him there.

It's not a terrible film, but it's not particularly good, either. There are a few genuine laughs but for the most part it's just kind of there. I think the biggest problem is that the Farrelly's patented brand of gross-out humor has lost its shock value over the decades, and isn't anywhere near as funny as it once was. 
Die hard fans will likely be pleased to see the characters going through their familiar motions again, while viewers who never saw the original will probably wonder what all the fuss was about.

The film had a difficult time making it to the screen (which was no doubt a sign from the gods). The Farrellys confirmed in 2011 that they were filming a sequel. Then in 2012 Jim Carrey dropped out of the project due to squabbles with Warner Bros. Jeff Daniels then threatened to quit if Carrey wasn't involved. Warner ultimately decided not to back the film, but allowed other studios to pick it up. Independent studio Red Granite financed the film's $35 million dollar budget, and it was released by Universal. 

Wow, somebody really, really wanted this film to be made. I have a feeling the ones most interested were the Farrellys, as they desperately try to recapture their former comedic glory. Jim Carrey hasn't exactly been setting the box office on fire lately either, so I'm betting he hoped that going back to his roots would help boost his career a bit as well.


The Plot:
The film picks up twenty years after the first, with Lloyd Christmas (Jim Carrey) committed to a mental institution after his breakup with Mary Swanson. His best friend Harry Dunne (Jeff Daniels) has been dutifully visiting and changing his diapers (isn't that something the hospital staff should be doing?) every week for the past two decades. When Harry says he can't visit anymore, Lloyd yells "Gotcha!," revealing that he had himself committed as a joke and has been faking insanity all these years.

Harry admits that he needs a kidney transplant but can't find a suitable donor, which seems like kind of a dark direction to go in a screwball comedy, but what do I know? He then discovers he once conceived a daughter with his old girlfriend Fraida Felcher, but she was given up for adoption and now lives in El Paso. 

Harry and Lloyd then set out on yet another cross country road trip (just like in the first film) in an effort to find Harry's daughter and talk her into donating a kidney, which is a perfectly normal think to ask a child you've never met. They disrupt the lives of numerous people and events along the way as hilarity ensues. 

That's pretty much the plot.

• Based on the level of spelling I see splashed all over the internet, I wonder how many people in the audience got the joke in the title?

• Not really a mistake, but an observation: Harry believes he has a daughter who was born in 1991. That means she was born before the first film came out in 1994.

• Part of me thinks Jim Carey and Jeff Daniels are too old to still be yucking it up like this (at age 52 and 59 respectively), but they're in good company. The Marx Brothers, Laurel and Hardy, the Three Stooges, Abbot and Costello and many other comedy teams were still plugging away well after they should have retired.

Mind you I still don't think it's a good idea, but it's not like they're the first to do so.

• Brady Bluhm reprises his role as the blind, wheelchair-bound Billy in 4C. In the original film, Lloyd sold the unsuspecting Billy a dead parakeet to raise some cash. In this sequel he inadvertently kills Billy's beloved collection of exotic birds. Com-O-Dee!

• Bill Murray has an uncredited cameo in the film as Icepick, Harry's meth-cooking roommate. He just gets weirder with each passing year.

• Harry tracks down his old flame Fraida Felcher, who's played by Kathleen Turner. It's a little uncomfortable when Harry and Lloyd both comment on her mannish looks and abundant jowls. Of course it's true she's changed radically since her Body Heat days, but I don't think it was necessary to point it out.

Kudos to Turner for being game enough to endure all the harsh insults slung her way. 

• The Mutt Cutts dog car makes a triumphant return— for all of thirty seconds. Seriously, it appears for less than a minute, then breaks down and is whisked back offscreen. Its presence has absolutely nothing to do with the plot and seems to have been included only for the sake of nostalgia, so fans and causal viewers alike can exclaim, "Hey, I remember that car!"

• Harry's daughter Penny was adopted by a Professor Pinchelow, a wealthy scientist (!) who's supposedly developed an invention that will benefit the entire world. 

Pinchelow's wife Adele is secretly scheming to kill him so that she and Travis, the handyman, can inherit his vast fortune.

Something about this seemed awfully familiar to me. I finally realized that the Farrelly's used the exact same subplot in 2012's The Three Stooges. In that film, a wealthy businessman's wife (Sofia Vergara) is secretly scheming to kill him so that she and Mac (Craig Bierko), her lover, can inherit his vast fortune.

The Farrelly's didn't just copy elements from the original Dumb And Dumber here, they also cribbed ideas from their other movies. Recycling!

• Robb Riggle plays both Travis and his twin brother Captain Lippencott.

As Travis, Riggle wears what may be the worst looking wig in the history of cinema. I've seen plastic Beatle wigs that looked more realistic than that throw rug. Surely can't be that hard to find a realistic looking wig in Hollywood, the hairpiece capital of the world.

• Captain Lippencott is an ex-marine or Navy Seal or something, and is a master of camouflage. Several times in the film he paints his entire body to blend in perfectly with the background. It's a pretty cool effect and I was astonished that I didn't see him until he started moving.

I figured they did the camo effect with a green bodysuit and cgi, but amazingly it was shot live in-camera! Riggle actually stood in front of various walls and vending machines while makeup artists painted his body to blend in with the background, a process that took up to seven hours. Color me impressed!

• After seeing a photo of Harry's daughter, Lloyd begins lusting after her, despite the fact that she's less than half his age (ew). He daydreams about picking her up for the prom at Harry's run-down mobile home. In this fantasy, Harry's wife is played by Mama June Shannon, of Here Comes The End Of Civilization, er, I mean Here Comes Honey Boo Boo fame.

I wonder if the Farrelly's regret their bone-headed decision to include Mama June in the film, especially after she's been accused of shacking up with her daughter's alleged molester? 

The Farelly's seem overly enamored with these reality show "stars" and love including them in their films. For example The Jersey Shore goons made a cameo appearance in the aforementioned Three Stooges movie. The problem with including these minor celebrities is that nothing ages faster than today's hot trend. These cameos date the film before it's even been released.

• After the credits, there's a title screen that reads Dumb And Dumber For, Coming In 2034.

That's just the movie trying to be cute. I wouldn't hold my breath waiting on another sequel, unless Carrey and Daniels film it when they're in their 70s!

A belated and unnecessary sequel, Dumb And Dumber To tries to recapture the spirit of the original by copying it to the letter. I give it a C+.

This Week In Misleading DVD Covers

This week in This Week In Misleading DVD Covers, we take a look at the recently released complete series of Wings

Pretend you've never seen the show before, which probably isn't hard to do. Based on this cover alone, what do you think the series is about?

A. A group of misfit guardian angels who've all been assigned to the same person, and try to make his life better in order to earn their heavenly wings.

B. A band of disparate passengers who died in a plane crash and are struggling to adjust to life after death.

C. The lives of the wacky employees of a small Nantucket airport.

If you picked either A or B, you have a rational and ordered mind. You're also dead wrong. It's C. Yep, Wings is pretty much Cheers in an airport. But not as funny.

I guess the designer was trying for some kind of aerial theme here, showing the cast among the clouds. Unfortunately he failed miserably and it just looks like they're all dead and looking down at us from Heaven.

The "All 8 Hilarious Seasons" tagline is  misleading as well.

This "heavenly host" theme has also infected Season 4 of Barney Miller. If I didn't know that Barn and the gang were policemen in New York's 12th Precinct, I'd be inclined to think they were some sort of angels as well, smiling beatifically down on the Big Apple while decked out in ultra-wide 1970s ties instead of halos.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Marvel's Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 2, Episode 10: What They Become

It's the dreaded Fall Finale of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.! And what a finale it was, too! I can't believe how much this show's improved in its second season. I hope everyone who gave up on it last year is giving it a second look.

I also can't believe it's not coming back until March. They've built up a really good momentum in the past ten episodes, and now they're pissing it all away. I know these mid season breaks are the norm these days, but I think they're a bad idea


The Plot:
Picking up where we left off last week, Evil Ward's just left with Skye and Raina, and the S.H.I.E.L.D. Bus is surrounded by HYDRA quinjets, weapons loaded. May demonstrates some fancy flying maneuvers to escape.

Whitehall and his HYDRA goons have tracked down the location of the Inhumans City in San Juan. Yes, it's an Inhuman City. The show is still being coy about it, but that's obviously what it is. It lies underneath an old theater, so they set up a headquarters there and use a plasma drill to dig their own entrance into the city. 

Coulson wants to plant bombs inside the City to keep HYDRA from entering, but he's afraid anyone else who enters will be changed into a Sentry like Mac. FitzSimmons theorize that if they wear hazmat suits, they could safely enter without being transformed. Their plan works, and they begin planting the bombs.

Then at long last, Evil Ward presents Skye to her father. Her father tells her that his name is Cal, sending ripples throughout Marvel fandom. He also tells her about her apparently immortal mother, and how Whitehall butchered her to learn the secrets of her longevity. And he tells Skye that her real name is Daisy (more ripples) and that she's special and has a destiny to fulfill. 

Whitehall enters incapacitates Evil Ward and Cal. He then orders Skye to pick up the Obelisk/Diviner. She does so, and is unharmed by it. She tries to escape by jamming it in a guard's face, which turns him to ash and was pretty darned cool. Whitehall doesn't take kindly to this and tells Skye he's going to enjoy dissecting her as he did her mother. 

Just then Coulson and his rescue team enter, and he shoots Whitehall dead. This enrages Cal, who was looking forward to taking out his revenge on Whitehall. Evil Ward frees himself and promises to get Skye to safety. As his back is turned, she picks up a fallen guard's gun and shoots him several times, which I have to admit was pretty darned satisfying. 

Skye saves Coulson from her dad, who she tells to get lost. He says he will for now, but she'll need him after she transforms, because no one else will understand. Inhumans!

Skye then goes after Raina, who's taken the Diviner down into the City with the intent to use it. Meanwhile, FitzSimmons and Trip have finished planting the bombs in the City and have climbed back to the surface. When they find out Skye's still inside, Trip jumps back down the hole to diffuse the bombs.

Skye follows Raina to a small room with a pedestal in the center. She tries to talk Raina out of placing the Diviner on the pedestal. Before she can do so, the Dviner floats out of Raina's hand and lands gently in the middle of the pedestal. The room seals itself, but not before Trip squeezes in to try and rescue Skye. The Diviner releases a blast of energy, which covers Skye and Raina with a crunchy outer coating, and turns poor Trip to ash. 

Their rocky coatings begin to crumble, and we see a brief glimpse of Raina, who's been physically transformed. Skye bursts from her "cocoon" as the ground begins to shake. 

In the tag scene, a man takes a glowing Diviner out of a wooden box and calls a woman and says, "Are you seeing this?" We then pan up and see he has no eyes. Inhumans!

It's more than obvious at this point that we're talking about Inhumans here, but the show still just cannot bring itself to say it. THEY'RE INHUMANS, AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.! JUST SAY THE DAMN WORD ALREADY!


• I noticed that Fitz's aphasia or whatever he has didn't seem as bad this week. Maybe that's a sign that he's getting better. Or maybe they had a lot of story to get through, and didn't have time for Ian De Caestecker to stand around stammering for ten minutes.

• Looks like the show's getting its money's worth out of their field trip to Puerto Rico again this week. I know it's probably expensive to do so, but it's worth it. You can see the difference onscreen when they actually go to the place they say they're going, instead of filming on the back lot or in LA somewhere.

• After May's fancy flying saves the day, there's a shot of the Bus zooming past the camera while cloaked. Its glowing engines and wing contrails are clearly visible.

What good is a cloaking device if it doesn't hide the engine exhaust?

• Although they don't come right out and say it, it's pretty much a given that Cal is Calvin Zabo, aka Mister Hyde. In the comics Mister Hyde was a shady doctor who experimented on himself and became a massive, super strong rage monster similar to the Hulk.

Whether we end up seeing Kyle Maclachlan Hulk-out on TV will no doubt depend on the budget. I wouldn't hold my breath.

• It's also a given at this point that Skye is really Daisy Johnson, aka Quake. In the comics she's the first super powered S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, with the ability to generate earthquakes by vibrating her body. She's the daughter of Mister Hyde in the comics as well.

They've been hinting that Skye is special and had potential super powers way back in the first season. It'll be interesting to see where they go with this. If Coulson takes full advantage of Skye's powers, they'll no longer have to infiltrate a HYDRA base, she can just collapse the building with an earthquake.

A lot of fans correctly predicted that Skye and her dad would turn out to be these two characters. I have to confess I was not one of them, as I wasn't really familiar with either one.

• Cal tells Skye she comes from a line of people with gifts, and that there's a transformation that she has to go through. If that doesn't confirm that she's an Inhuman, I don't know what does.

In the comics the Inhumans start out looking like normal folk, but at a certain age each goes through a ceremony in which they're exposed to the Terrigen Mist, which transforms them and gives each a super power.

I'm puzzled as to why they're being so evasive about the fact that they're dealing with Inhumans, and always stop short of saying the word. Are they waiting until the Inhumans movie comes out to finally say it? I hope not, because it's not due in theaters until 2018!

• During his conversation with Skye, Cal hums Daisy Bell, which is not only her name, but the song playing in the background in the dream Skye had last week. 

So I guess she's not having psychic dreams, but probably just has dim memories of her parents singing the song to her when she was a baby.

• Why is Cal always so sweaty? Is it because he's trying so hard to contain his rage?

• As Mockingbird is going through Mac's things, she finds a thumb drive and palms it as Hunter walks in. Obviously she and Mac have some kind of secret, but what it could be I have no idea at this point.

• When Trip asks one of Sam Koenig where his brother Billy is, he says all the excitement overloaded his circuits and he had to go recharge or something. Then he tells Trip he's just kidding. 

Obviously the producers know most of us believe the Koenigs are Life Model Decoys, and they're just playing with us here.

• Welp, so much for Whitehall. I was surprised to see him die so soon. Maybe he'll show up on the Agent Carter show, since he was alive in WWII?

Actually I wouldn't count him out yet on this show. It's tough to keep a good villain down. Plus there's the whole immortality thing. I'm betting he'll get better.

• It was extremely gratifying to see Skye finally get the chance to put several bullets into Evil Ward. Unfortunately she shoots him in the side instead of the head like a normal human would have done.

This is TV though after all, so the bad guy has to live to fight another day.

• Last week Agent 33's voice was glitchy and robotic. This week it either got better or the sound guys forgot to distort it.

• Speaking of Agent 33, once Whitehall is dead she becomes confused and directionless. Evil Ward talks her into coming with him and they run out of the episode together.

Interesting. Last season Ward and May had a brief but intense fling. Agent 33 is still wearing May's face. Well, sort of. Looks like Evil Ward has found a way to have his own personal version of May again, one that can be easily bend to his will.

• All this season, Raina has been slinking around like a cat, purring about the Diviner and the Inhumans City and how Skye's special and there's going to be a transformation.

I'm at a loss to understand how she knows all that. Was this info part of the stories her grandmother used to tell her? Did the Diviner pass on this knowledge to her when she picked it up? Or did she just read the script?

• When Skye escapes, she sees the hole that Hydra drilled down into the City and assumes Raina went down it with the Obelisk. Later Coulson spots the same hole and somehow knows that both Skye and Raina went down it. How he knows this, I have no idea. I guess he read the script as well.

• FitzSimmons theorize that the Inhumans City turned Mac into a Sentry because it scanned him and determined he wasn't worthy. They feel they'll be able to avoid that fate if they wear hazmat suits inside the City, which will prevent it from scanning them.

Their plan works and the suits indeed protect them from becoming Sentries. Then Trip goes back into the city to diffuse the bombs without a suit and is just fine. Coulson also enters the City without a protective suit.

What the hell? Do they need to wear the suits or not?

• Coulson enters the City and encounters Sentry Mac. After Raina sets off the Diviner, Mac falls to the ground and appears to be back to normal.

So Mac recovers, but Trip ends up dying. I hate to see Trip go, but honestly he hasn't had much to do this season since they expanded the cast, spending most of every episode standing in the background and looking worried.

I've read a lot of online chatter from fans who are outraged that they had the gall to kill off one of the black characters on the show. Sigh... excuse me while I go lie down in the street.

• The limits of the show's budget become evident in the Transformation Chamber set. It's a plain circular room that can't be more than twenty feet across, not unlike the kind of cheap sets you'd see on Classic Doctor Who.

If this had been a Marvel film, the chamber would have been a vast expanse festooned with detailed wall carvings and swirling lightning. Apparently this is the economy Transformation Chamber.

• After the Diviner's pulse washes over them, Raina appears to have turned into some kind of porcupine woman, complete with quills. Is she now based on someone from the comics? I stopped reading them years ago, so I have no idea. 

• The show won't be back until March! Jesus, I HATE these stupid ass months-long breaks between episodes. But until I become the head of ABC, there's precious little I can do about it. On the bright side, we'll have the Agent Carter series to tide us over until the show resume.

Friday, December 12, 2014

For Your Consideration

HAW HAW! Wow. Somebody over at Paramount Studios has apparently lost their damned mind. This week the studio took out an ad in the Hollywood trade papers, demanding that the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts And Sciences-- the people who hand out the Oscars-- consider giving the Best Picture nod to Transformers: Age Of Extinction.

Let's let that concept sink in for a minute, shall we?

The mind boggles at the astronomical amount of chutzpah it takes to suggest such a thing. Surely this is some sort of long con the studio is playing on the Academy and the  public at large? I refuse to believe anyone of sound mind could genuinely think this film is Oscar worthy. The cocaine must be flowing very freely over there at Paramount. Either that or there's a major gas leak. Just think, someone actually paid thousands of dollars to run this ad.

These "For Your Consideration" ads are nothing new. Studios routinely run them at year end, in a futile attempt to sway the Academy voters. They generally tend to promote good movies though, not cinematic cesspools such as this.

The Transformer movies are all awful, awful wastes of film, time and effort, but Age Of Extinction may be the worst of the lot. A film doesn't have to be high art, but it does need to be entertaining. Transformers: Age Of Extinction was neither of these.

This is the film that nearly broke me. I almost didn't make it to the end. Halfway through it I just wanted to get up and leave. But I decided I wasn't going to let a stupid movie beat me, so I stuck it out. 

It was a painful grueling chore. The 165 minute run time seemed more like twelve hours. Hours that I'll never get back. In the 1990s I participated in a bike ride across my home state-- 160 miles in one day. At the end of that punishing ride I bet the expression on my face was the same one I had at the end of this movie.

The other films listed in the ad are an interesting lot as well. Noah was generally panned by critics, and Hercules was only in theaters for a week around here. Men, Women And Children is an Adam Sandler "comedy" for Thor's sake. Interstellar is probably the best film on the list, but hardly Oscar material. Same deal with Top Five

Oddly enough, The Gambler and Selma haven't even been released yet (as of today). Jumping the gun a bit, aren't we? Asking the Academy to nominate films for Best Picture before they even come out?

Next time you're having a bad day at work and need a laugh, don't reach for those kitten videos! Just take a look at this Transformers: Age Of Extinction For Best Picture ad and you'll be guffawing and slapping your knee in no time!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Flash Season 1, Episode 9: The Man In The Yellow Suit

It's the Fall Finale (even though we're closer to winter) of The Flash, as the series puts on the brakes until sometime next year. Not a fan of these forced interruptions, but unless I become the president of The CW, which I don't anticipate happening, there's precious little I can do about it.

There's quite a bit going on in this jam-packed episode. Maybe a little too much. We finally get a look at the Reverse Flash (the mysterious figure who's been haunting Barry his whole life), Firestorm finally makes his heavily-foreshadowed appearance, and at long last Barry tells Iris how he feels. We even get a visit from another familiar face from the 1990s Flash series!

I've been enjoying the series quite a bit, but I'm starting to think maybe they're moving a little too fast (heh). Save some storylines for the last half of the season, guys!


The Plot:
It's Xmas, so Barry and Iris exchange gifts. Barry gives Iris a replica of her mother's wedding band that she lost years ago. When Eddie finds out, he's a bit put off that Barry gave Iris a ring of any kind. He tells Iris he thinks Barry sees her as more than a friend, which she laughingly denies. Eddie gives Iris a key to his apartment and invites her to move in with him.

Across town at the never before seen Mercury Labs, a blurry yellow figure appears, killing a couple of security guards as it searches for something. When Joe and Barry investigate the crime, they realize the blurry figure was the Reverse Flash.

Meanwhile, Caitlin is Xmas shopping and sees a mysterious figure in the parking garage. She follows and discovers it's her late fiancé Ronnie Raymond. He bursts into flame, which is something he never did when they were dating, and tells her to leave him alone.

Dr. Wells says that Mercury Labs is run by Dr. Tina McGee, who's working on tachyon research. He theorizes that if the Reverse Flash gets ahold of her tachyon tech, he could move at the speed of light. Dr. Wells says if they had the device, they could set a trap for the Reverse Flash. Barry and Joe visit Dr. McGee and blackmail her into giving them her tachyon device.

Later as Barry's thinking back to the night of his mother's murder, he spots the Reverse Flash across the street. He takes off after him and the two engage in a high speed battle. Reverse Flash tells Barry that he's someone he knows, and they've been playing cat and mouse for a long time. That sounds... time travelly. He then beats Barry senseless and runs off.

Barry goes to visit his dad in prison. His dad tells him it's high time he forgot about solving his mother's murder and started living his life. Barry immediately goes to Iris and tells her he's in love with her. This somehow comes as a complete shock to her, despite the fact that everyone around her has known it for years.

Back at STAR Labs, Dr. Wells sets the trap for the Reverse Flash. He takes the tachyon bait and is caught inside an impenetrable force field. Joe tries to interrogate him, but is ignored. Reverse Flash then zips out of the force field, grabs Dr. Wells and zips back in, where he proceeds to beat the living crap out of him. Hmm.

Joe shuts down the force field, and the Reverse Flash dispatches all the other cops except for Eddie. He's about to go after Joe when Barry arrives. Reverse Flash grabs the tachyon device and runs off. Barry follows and they battle again. Once more Barry gets his ass handed to him by his superior opponent. Luckily for him Ronnie, er, Firestorm arrives and drives the Reverse Flash away with a burst of flame.

Later Dr. Wells enters his secret room and opens a door to an even secreter room inside it. Within this room we see the yellow Reverse Flash costume. Wells attaches the tachyon device to it, which seems to charge it with energy (faster than light energy, no doubt). He can barely suppress an evil laugh as he wished the costume (?) a Merry Xmas.

• When Joe and Barry investigate the murders at Mercury Labs, they realize the suspect had super speed. Joe finally tells Barry about seeing the man in the yellow suit a few episodes ago. 

You'd think Joe would have told him that a long time ago, as it would be important information for him to have. Yes, Joe was trying to protect Iris, but maybe he could have slipped Barry an anonymous note or something.

• Iris gives Barry a microscope for Xmas, because she noticed the one he's currently using at work is old and beat up.

First of all, I don't know if it's an homage or just a coincidence, but in the very first Spider-Man story (in Amazing Fantasy 15), Uncle Ben and Aunt May give Peter Parker a microscope as a gift. This particular version of Barry Allen is very Parker-like.

Second, wouldn't the Central City Police Department provide their own lab equipment? Are they on some kind of austerity program? Do officers and CSIs have to buy their own stuff?

• When Caitlin sees her late fiance, he growls. "I'm not Ronnie!" and bursts into flame.

I don't think he's suffering from amnesia here. I'm betting he really isn't Ronnie at that point. In the comics, Firestorm was actually made up of two men-- Ronnie Raymond and his teacher Dr. Martin Stein. I'm betting Stein is the one in control when Caitlin sees him.

• Barry and Joe ask Dr. Tina McGee, the head of Mercury Labs, for help.

Tina McGee was a character on the 1990 Flash TV series, where she fulfilled pretty much the same function as Caitlin and Cisco on this one. She was played by actress Amanda Pays. The Tina McGee in this episode is also played by Amanda Pays.

So is this the same Tina McGee from the 1990 series? Eh, I don't see how. If she was, then that would mean both series take place in the same universe, and that's clearly not the case. Everyone acts as if this Barry Allen is one of the first metahumans to ever appear. If the two shows were set in the same world, then Barry would be the second person with his name to gain super speed from a lab accident and become the Flash. That would just be too massive a coincidence.

This Tina McGee has to be a completely different person. I'm guessing the producers just gave her that name for the purpose of fan service. Confusing! Giving Amanda Pays a guest shot was a fun idea, especially for fans of the old series, but they really should have given her character a different name to avoid all this puzzlement.

That's what they did with actor John Wesley Shipp. He played the Flash on the 1990s show, and he's back on this one, but as a completely different character.

• When Dr. Wells says Dr. McGee is working with tachyons, Joe says "Of course." Then he asks what tachyons are. I don't know why, but that struck me as funny.

• When Dr. McGee refuses to loan her tachyon device to the CCPD, Barry blackmails her into doing so. She seethes and tells him that he's very much like Dr. Wells, as they're both excellent manipulators.

There's a fan theory out there that Dr. Wells is really a future version of Barry who's stuck here in the past, so I'm betting the writers threw in that line just to play with everyone's heads.

• In the photo above, the Reverse Flash is on the left, while the Forwards Flash is on the right. Why does the Flash, who wears a red suit, leave a trail of yellow lightning, while the Reverse Flash, who dresses in yellow, leave a red one? Shouldn't it be the other way around? More confusion!

• Just when I was starting to think Firestorm's flaming head and hands shtick was getting old, he flew off into the sky, leaving a blazing trail behind him. I gotta admit that was pretty awesome!

• When Reverse Flash is trapped in the force field, Dr. Wells tries to interrogate him.  He tells Wells, "I'm not like the Flash. Some would say I'm him in reverse."

If he's the reverse of the Flash, then wouldn't he be super slow? Maybe he just means he's evil instead of good.

• When the Reverse Flash escapes the trap set by STAR Labs, he kills all the Anti-Flash Task Force cops except for Eddie Thawne. He gives Eddie a long, meaningful look before zooming away. Later Eddie talks to Joe, and wonders why Reverse Flash didn't kill him as well.

Obviously the writers are having a great time screwing with us here. In the comics, the Reverse Flash has a long and twisted history and was at one point the alter ego of Eobard Thawne.

It's looking more and more like Dr. Wells is the Reverse Flash, but who knows? Maybe that's why Reverse Flash gave Eddie a long hard look-- he was fascinated by his past self.

• Cisco wears a rock, paper, scissors, lizard, Spock t-shirt for most of the episode. Has he been raiding Sheldon Cooper's closet?

• Iris accepts Eddie's offer to move in with him. I'm very surprised that Joe didn't have anything to say about that. I guess the episode was full enough without an epic rant from him.

•  At the West's Xmas party, Cisco tells Joe that when the Flash was fighting the Reverse Flash, he saw both red and yellow lightning streaks. He then reminds Joe that Barry swears he saw his mother surrounded by red and yellow streaks right before she died. Cisco theorizes that there must have been two super speedsters there that night. 

I'd say that's pretty much a confirmation that at some point Barry is going to travel back in time and try to prevent his mother's death.

• During the Xmas party, they play a slow jazzy version of Have Yourself A Merry Little Xmas. Oy. My all time least favorite Xmas carol.

• At the very end of the episode, it seems pretty evident that that we're supposed to think Dr. Wells is really the Reverse Flash. I don't know though... I'm not a hundred percent convinced.

For one thing, the Reverse Flash attacked Wells at STAR Labs, beating him severely. Why would he beat himself up like that? I guess he could have done it as a red herring, but it seems unlikely, as well as dangerous. One punch too many and he could have accidentally killed himself in the past, which would no doubt be detrimental to his future health.

Secondly, all through the episode Reverse Flash brutally attacks Barry. But Dr. Wells is always going on about how important the Flash is, and doing everything in his power to nurture him and make sure he realizes his full potential. Why would Wells ever attack him then?

Dr. Wells wears a ring that contains the yellow Reverse Flash suit (just like the one the Flash has in the comic!), which I admit is pretty compelling evidence. On the other hand, we never actually see Wells in the suit. He just stares at it and chortles to himself.

I'm betting that this is all a big misdirection on the part of the writers to make us think Wells is the Reverse Flash. I think he'll turn out to be Eddie after all, especially since this episode laid the groundwork for some animosity between him and Barry.

We'll find out if I'm right when the show resumes in eighteen months. OK, it's coming back in a month or so, but man, I hate these mid season breaks!

What Are People Outraged About This Week?

Welcome to a brand new feature here on Bob Canada's BlogWorld called What Are People Outraged About This Week? Each week we'll take a look at various so-called atrocities that are vexing the general public and causing them to overreact.

So what are people outraged about this week?

On December 4th, Northridge, California resident Cheryl Shapiro was shopping for Hanukkah wrapping paper at her local Walgreens. She spied a roll of silver and blue decorative paper, when something caught her eye. Shapiro claims there's a swastika prominently featured in the design of the wrapping paper.

"It blew me away," Shapiro told ABC News. "What the hell was that doing on there? I want it out of the store, but I wanted this to go national. I want this out of the stores nationally."

Sigh. Here we go again. Yet another professionally offended American expressing mock outrage over nothing. OK, fine. Let's have a look at this so-called "outrageous" wrappi-

Holy crap! Yep, those are swastikas.

OK, for once somebody has a point. I think Mrs. Shapiro's outrage is justified in this case.

In Walgreen's slight defense, if you step back from the wrapping paper the symbols aren't quite as evident. You've really got to be looking for them to find them in the pattern, and I'm betting it was an accident. As a graphic designer I know that sometimes stuff happens, especially when you're facing a tight deadline.

On the other hand, when you're dealing with swastikas and the Holocaust, it's better to err on the side of caution.

Walgreen's has agreed to pull the offending wrapping paper, along with several other items that have generated complaints, such as their Teenage Mutant Ninja Savior Nativity Set and the Charles Manson's Now That's What I Call Christmas, Man Vol. 3 CD.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Walking Dead Rewound

WARNING! The following post contains major Walking Dead spoilers! If you're not caught up on the show, proceed no further! You have been warned!

Last chance to turn back!

This week angry Walking Dead fans have launched a petition to undo the death of popular character Beth Greene, who was killed in this year's shocking Fall Finale.

Minutes after the death scene, appalled fans flocked to change.org and created a Bring Beth Back! petition. So far the petition has around 40,000 signatures.

The organizer of the petition said, "Beth's death was far too soon and the writers threw away the potential of a perfectly good character. Her story wasn’t over.” 

Yeah, well it seems pretty much over to me, what with all the shooting and the fragments and the hurting.

Look, people, I know Beth was a symbol of hope and her death was unexpected and hard to take, but that's just the nature of the show. Major characters die all the time on The Walking Dead. Sometimes several in the same episode. It's all part of the world in which the characters live.

If you can't handle the death of a fictional character, then maybe you'd be better off watching reruns of Here's Lucy.

It's unlikely that the petition will have any affect, especially since shooting on Season 5 has already wrapped. Even if it did somehow sway the producers, I'm at a loss as to how they could bring Beth back. She was shot clean through the head, so she couldn't even come back as a friendly zombie.

I suppose she could always return in flashbacks, or as a hallucination, ala Ghost Lori.

I know! Maybe they could have Victoria Principal wake up and hear someone in the shower, and when she pulls back the curtain she sees Beth inside! 

Monday, December 8, 2014

It Came From The Cineplex: Interstellar

Interstellar was written by Jonathan and Christopher Nolan, and directed by Christopher Nolan.

I was very much looking forward to this film, as the trailer promised a compelling, hard sci-fi story, rather than the typical explosion-packed science fantasies that litter the cineplex. Something along the lines of 2001: A Space Odyssey and Contact. It delivers on that promise for the most part until the third act, when it unfortunately becomes bogged down with new age mumbo jumbo and outright magic to resolve the plot. Just like 2001: A Space Odyssey and Contact.

Like most of Nolan's work, the plot is convoluted and sometimes vague, demanding multiple viewings to sort it all out. He reminds me of British pop band Duran Duran. Way back in the 1980s, they pumped out a series of perplexing and baffling music videos. When asked about the meaning of them, the band said they purposely made them enigmatic to encourage viewers to watch them over and over. I'm convinced Nolan does the exact same thing in his films (I'm lookin' at you, The Prestige and Inception). Sometimes I wonder if even he can unravel his tangled plots.

I'm generally terrible at solving mysteries and foreseeing plot twists in books and movies. Not so in Interstellar. Half an hour into it I correctly predicted every upcoming twist. You could see them all coming down the street from blocks away, like a parade. In fact I even called the "Cooper stays young while his daughter Murphy ages back on Earth" reveal just from seeing the trailer.


The Plot:
Sometime in the near future, humanity is slowly dying out as a crop blight wipes out the world's food supply. Cooper (played by Matthew McConaughey) is a former NASA pilot turned farmer who apparently can't afford a first name. He's raising his teenaged son Tom and ten year old daughter Murphy. Murphy believes there's a ghost in her room that's trying to communicate with her, in what is possibly the most obvious bit of foreshadowing I've ever seen.

Using gravity and morse code (don't ask), the "ghost" sends a series of coordinates to Cooper and Murphy, which they follow to a secret NASA base headed by Professor Brand (Michael Caine, who's apparently contractually obligated to appear in all Christopher Nolan films). 

Brand has discovered an artificial wormhole near Saturn that opens into a distant galaxy. Ten years ago his team sent several explorers on one-way trips through the wormhole, and they've identified three potentially habitable worlds on the other side. Brand wants to send a larger crew through to discover which planet is the best choice, so the rest of humanity can follow shortly after in a giant space ark. Yep, a space ark. 

Brand wants Cooper to pilot this exploratory ship, but he's reluctant to leave his children, knowing he'll potentially be gone for years, even decades. He eventually decides that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, and agrees to go.

Cooper and a team of astronauts, including Dr. Brand's daughter Amelia (played by Ann Hathaway) fly through the wormhole and investigate a planet orbiting an enormous black hole called Gargantua. The planet turns out to be uninhabitable, due to its charming thousand foot tidal waves. Because of science, when they get back to the ship they find that although just three hours passed for them, over twenty years have passed on Earth. Murphy is now a grown woman working with Professor Brand.

They try another planet and meet Matt Damon, but his planet's no good and he's crazy. He damages their ship and Cooper sends Amelia to the third planet, while he's captured by the massive gravity of Gargantua and falls into the black hole.

Because of science, he's not crushed by the hole's immense gravitational forces, and finds himself floating in some kind of weird Inception-style tesseract world. He figures out that inside this world he can see into the past, and— you guessed it— he begins communicating with ten year old Murphy. Yep, he was the ghost all along, in a plot twist that I'm betting Nolan thought would blow the audiences' collective mind, but which everyone figured out in the first ten minutes of the 169 minute run time.

Apparently pretty much everything in the film has been orchestrated by advanced humans in the far future, who've discovered how to manipulate time and gravity and everything else to make sure the species survives.

Cooper somehow uses Morse code to communicate the equation that will allow humanity to launch its giant space ark. Amazingly he then wakes up on the ark station near Saturn and sees that Murphy is now an old woman on her death bed. He says "Sorry about that whole missing your entire life thing," and goes off into space to find Amelia.

• I'm suspicious of some of the science presented in the film, but Nolan worked closely with theoretical physicist Kip Thorne, who insisted on as much accuracy as possible. Since he probably knows more about science than I do, I'll have to give him the benefit of the doubt. Thorne was also a scientific consultant on 1997's Contact.

• Kudos to Nolan for setting the film in an unspecified future year. One of my pet peeves is when a sci-fi film features incredibly advanced technology, but is set only fifteen or twenty years from now, which instantly dates it.

Keep the year of your futuristic film vague, directors.

• When Cooper's driving his kids to school, he spots an unmanned drone flying through the sky and takes off after it. He drives off the road and through his own fields in pursuit of the errant drone, completely destroying thousands and thousands of corn stalks.

First of all, he covets this thing so badly because he says its solar cells could power an entire farm. That seems unlikely, as we see there are about four feet of solar cells on each of the drone's wings. Doesn't seem like they'd be able to generate all that much power.

Secondly, this is a world on the brink of starvation. We're told that corn is one of the few crops that will still grow. So it only makes sense that Cooper would flatten several acres of this precious commodity just so he can get his hands on the drone. "Sorry we won't have enough to eat for the winter, kids, but hey, look at this bitchin' drone I found!"

• Tom teases Murphy about her name, and she tearfully asked Cooper why he named her after something bad. Cooper tells her that Murphy's Law doesn't mean that something bad will happen, but that "whatever can happen, will happen."

NOPE! Sorry Cooper, but you're full of crap. The official definition of Murphy's Law is indeed "anything that can go wrong will go wrong."

It's possible that Cooper knows this and he's just trying to make Murphy feel better, so I'm willing to give them this one.

• Professor Brand's headquarters also doubles as a giant space ark that will save humanity, provided he can solve the "gravity problem." He plans to load the ark with people and lift it up into space, abandoning our dying planet.

Oddly enough this ark looks more like the interior of a mall instead of a space ship, complete with giant concrete support columns. Do they really make space ships out of cement? I'm guessing no. No they do not.

• This space ark is a massive undertaking and no doubt requires a vast amount of manpower, resources and energy. 

Early in the film Cooper mentions that if they still had MRI machines, his wife's illness would have been diagnosed sooner and she'd still be alive. From his statement it's obvious that technology and resources are stretched thin. So how in the name of sanity would a society on the brink of starvation be able to engineer and construct such a station? It would be like the Irish putting a man on the moon during the Great Potato Famine.

• The Endurance spaceship consists of twelve modules on a ring, and looks a lot like a clock. I wonder if that was intentional, given the importance of time in the story?

• Kudos to Nolan for insisting on using practical special effects and using as little cgi as possible. All the scenes of the Endurance and the Ranger spacecraft were filmed with models, which is pretty rare these days.

• I really liked TARS and CASE, the robots in the film. Their design was very simple— they're basically just four black rectangles stuck together— but they were amazingly emotive.

For most of the scenes the robots were large puppets, manipulated by the voice actors, who were digitally removed from the scenes in post.

• Once the Endurance has lifted off from Earth, the crew beds down in their cryosleep chambers in order to doze away the two years it'll take to reach the wormhole next to Saturn.

Hmm. If you travelled at the speed of light you could get from the Earth to Saturn in about 75 minutes. The Endurance must be traveling very, very slowly.

• Once they go through the wormhole, the Endurance crew decides that Miller's Planet is their best shot, because they've been receiving  telemetry "pings" from it for years. When they get there, they discover that due to the time dilation effect, the first exploratory ship was torn apart by massive waves just a few hours ago. The "years" of transmissions were actually just a few minutes' worth of data. 

Wait a minute... OK, this is complicated, so bear with me. I get all the relativity stuff, and how an hour on Miller's Planet equals seven years to the rest of the universe. But Professor Brand said that because communication through the wormhole is problematic, each explorer was to send out a thumbs up or thumbs down signal from their respective planet on a yearly basis. Apparently they've been receiving an annual ping from Miller's for the past ten years.

I can't figure out how that's possible. First of all I don't see why Miller would send out a thumbs up in the first place— her planet was ravaged every few minutes by thousand foot tidal waves. But even if she did send out one the second she landed... she didn't live there for a year. She died an hour or so after landing. So how was NASA receiving pings from her for the past ten years?

Did they receive her one and only ping, and the black hole distorted it so it was one ten year long ppppiiinnnggg?

Maybe I'm missing something or I'm not as smart as I like to think, but it seems like a pretty serious error on the part of the crew. Not to mention the screenwriters.

• When the giant wave hits the Ranger on Miller's Planet, one of the Endurance scientists (Doyle) is washed away. His death was very poorly filmed. In fact I wasn't even sure he'd died for a good five minutes or so after the wave hit.

• Professor Brand says the initial expeditions can only send rudimentary data (amounting to the aforementioned annual "ping") through the wormhole. Yet Cooper receives several moderately high definition videos from his rapidly aging kids. Do transmissions through the wormhole only work one way?

• As stated before, Professor Brand is feverishly trying to solve the gravity equation so that if and when Endurance finds a suitable planet, the population of Earth can colonize it.

Does it seem odd that the survival of the entire human race is dependent on one old man? Every time we see him he's sitting alone in his office staring at his scribblings on the blackboard. All it would take is one slip in the shower and humanity is doomed.

Sure, later on Murphy begins helping him, but why isn't there a huge team of scientists and mathematicians helping him solve his equation?

• Murphy comes off as a very schizophrenic character in the film. When Cooper tells her he's going on the mission, she angrily snubs him, which is what a real ten year old girl would most likely do. 

The next time we see her she's in her thirties, and she sends a withering message to Cooper (her first ever). Believe it or not, she still resents her father for leaving her. You know, her father, the guy had the gall to leave her in order to save the whole goddamned human race. Child Murph could get away with acting like that, but it makes Adult Murph look like a bit of a dick.

After Asshole Murph sends the message to Cooper, we see that she's now working for Professor Brand, helping him solve his gravity equation. This is Noble Murph, and she's incredibly chummy with Brand, possibly even seeing him as the father she never had. It's obvious from these scenes that the movie now expects us to unconditionally like her. Nice try, movie.

Later when Professor Brand dies, she finds out his work was all a sham, and turns into Asshole Murph again. Then she figures out the messages that Cooper sent to her in the past, and suddenly she's Noble Murph again. 

It's almost like there are two versions of her, each coming to the forefront depending on the whims of the script.

• After the disastrous Miller expedition, the crew decides to visit Mann's Planet. They touch down on the icy world and find Dr. Mann is alive and well and in cyrostasis. They thaw him out and lo and behold, he's played by Matt Damon!

Kudos to the production team for keeping Damon's presence in the film a secret. He's not in the trailer or any of the promotional materials, and I was honestly surprised when he showed up. In these days of the internet and spoiler sites, keeping such a secret is a minor miracle.

• When Dr. Mann is brought out of stasis, why is his fluid-filled cyro-chamber steaming? Isn't it supposed to freeze him? Or does it instantly switch from cold to hot when you push the "thaw" button?

• I could have done without all the new age bushwah at the end of the film. Ameila posits that "love" is a quantifiable force like gravity, that transcends time and dimension. Um, no. I'm betting Kip Thorne didn't come up with that particular bit of "science."

• I was with the movie right up to the point in which Cooper falls into the black hole and then finds himself in a weird Escher universe in which he can communicate with Murphy in the past. At that point all the hard science flew right out the window, to be replaced by outright magic pulled straight out of Christopher Nolan's ass.

• It turns out that Cooper was the "ghost" that communicated with Murphy in the past, knocking books off her shelf in binary patterns and signaling her with a watch, whose second hand tapped out morse code.

We're told that super-evolved humans from the far future constructed this artificial universe for Cooper, for the express purpose of allowing him to communicate with his daughter in the past and save the human race.

If the super humans have that much power, why not just give Cooper a microphone or something so he can tell Murph exactly what to do? Why screw around with binary and morse code? What if she wasn't able to figure out such a convoluted message? Why risk the future of the race on such a long shot?

• Near the end of the film Cooper wakes up inside Cooper's station, named after his daughter. It appears to be an O'Neil cylinder, which is a real thing. Well, not a real thing, but a real idea for a space colony. Basically it's a large hollow tube with living space on the inner surface. The cylinder spins to simulate gravity.

As Cooper walks around inside the station, he sees lush green foliage and vegetation. That's odd. I thought the Blight had destroyed every crop on Earth except for corn. Moving off Earth wouldn't end the Blight if the seeds were already infected. I guess NASA must have squirreled away some un-Blighted seeds for safe keeping?

• Just as I predicted the first time I saw the trailer, at the end Cooper is finally reunited with Murph, who's now over a hundred years old.

Old Murph is played by Ellen Burstyn. Apologies to Ms. Burstyn, but I was honestly shocked when I saw how old she is now. I didn't realize she's 82! Seems like just yesterday I saw her in The Exorcist.

• Right before the credits roll, Cooper and a repaired TARS steal a Ranger spaceship and fly off to rescue Amelia. 

Are there cryo units in those little Rangers? I hope so, because if not, Cooper's going to be sitting in his little chair for two years while they make their way to the Saturn wormhole. His butt's going to be more tired than mine was at the end of this overlong film.

A typical convoluted Christopher Nolan tale, Interstellar starts out as a well made hard sci-fi story before degenerating into outright magic in the third act. I give it a B.
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