Thursday, March 27, 2014

Arrow S02 E17: "Birds of Prey"

In the last episode of "Arrow" we got a peek at a live action version of a comic book phenomenon, the Suicide Squad. This week we get a live action version of another unorthodox comic book super-team, but one we've seen in TV before, and on this particular network.

Made famous by comics writer Gail Simone, Birds of Prey was a team-up guest-star title that revolved around the core characters of former Batgirl then Oracle, Black Canary, and the Huntress. During Simone's run it was probably one of the best series of its time. Riding on the success of "Smallville," the CW then the WB was looking for a companion series and developed Birds as a series.

Put bluntly, it was a bit of a disaster. Set in a Gotham City slightly in the future where Batman and Catwoman had produced a daughter, the Huntress, the Joker had put Batgirl in a wheelchair, and Black Canary had a daughter as well. They threw in weird elements from everywhere, and the big bad was Harley Quinn. It could have been good, but it wasn't. You can see my reviews of the series as the episodes were aired here.

Now that "Arrow" has both a Black Canary and a Huntress, I suppose it's time they met. I'm not fond of the "Arrow" version of the Huntress or the actress who plays her, Jessica DeGouw, so up front I am not thrilled by her return. DeGouw is terrific in "Dracula," but her Huntress does nothing for me. I love the Huntress of the comics, but this psycho ex-girlfriend is not her. Honestly I had hoped the Huntress would have returned to help Arrow against Deathstroke… but alas, not to be…

We open this episode with Quentin Lance prepping a police raid to arrest a criminal named Hugo Mannheim. Hmmm... now this is an intriguing possible DC Comics reference. Usually "Arrow" sticks to the Bat side of the DCU, but could Hugo Mannheim be related to Bruno Mannheim of Metropolis' Intergang, an organization funded by Darkseid? Perhaps this is a hint to one of next season's big bads?

Either way, after some decent Arrow and Canary action, they end up bagging not Mannheim, but surprise surprise, Frank Bertinelli. For those of you don't remember, the Huntress has a bit of a psychotic obsession with vengeance on her father. Yep, Oliver sure can pick them. And it's not just me saying that, the rest of Team Arrow feels the same way. Anyway, with Dad in custody, it's only a matter of time before the Huntress is back in town.

In other news, Laurel is going to AA meetings and Adam has asked her to return to the DA's office, specifically to try Frank Bertinelli. Favors owed under the table took care of any messy disbarment problems. Laurel's been through hell, it's true, but quite honestly with a blonde Lance lady in the Canary costume at Oliver's side and in his bed - I haven't cared. Laurel is almost redundant. If this was a Joss Whedon show she might not be long for this world.

Also, in tracking the Huntress, Roy joins Arrow and Canary in the field. The red hood is nice, but let's face it, he needs a mask, and a codename. Speaking of which, when Arrow feels the Mirakiru boy is about to lose control, he calls him "Speedy," but we learn later he was just trying to remind him of Thea to calm him down. It's a bit lame, but I like it more than the possibility of him taking the name in her memory if she dies.

When Frank Bertinelli is brought in for trial we get a peek at how things are. In the words of Admiral Ackbar, it's a trap. This version of the Huntress is a super-villain, complete with henchmen. They take over the courthouse, and hold Laurel among their hostages. The Canary is also inside, and Oliver is waiting outside for his work clothes. I guess Oliver just can't do that stay in the shadows stealth stuff anymore without his costume, eh?

Regarding the inevitable clash between Canary and the Huntress. I was surprised that someone trained by the League of Assassins could be taken advantage of by someone trained by Oliver. Maybe Canary was holding back for Oliver's sake, as she said. They fight it out a bit more satisfactorily later in the episode however. I do wonder where Canary gets these climbing scarves though.

There are some great lines in this episode, like when Roy tries to break up with Thea and she tells him no. Or when Laurel meets Canary and asks if she's one of the good guys and she also tells her no, "but I'm friends with them." Then there's the Huntress commenting upon meeting Canary that Oliver likes to dress up his girls. Felicity is priceless when she talks about how hard it is to tell who knows whose secret identity. Gold.

In the various wrap ups, Laurel keeps her job through blackmail, and Adam is fired, although it is nice to see Kate (Manhunter) Spenser again. Roy and Thea are broken up. The cliffhanger stinger has Slade picking up Thea... so maybe the Speedy name is going to stick... for all the wrong reasons...

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Arrow S02 E16: "Suicide Squad"

In the original DC Comics, the Suicide Squad was a band of military operatives during and after World War II who took on the jobs that no one else wanted - almost literally a suicide squad, sometimes fighting dinosaurs and metahuman menaces. After Crisis on Infinite Earths and Legends, the concept was rebooted with a Dirty Dozen vibe. Super-villains, against their will and for time off their sentence, would embark on similar missions under the command of Rick Flag and Amanda Waller. While mostly featuring a rotating cast, semi-permanent members included Deadshot, Bronze Tiger, Captain Boomerang, Nightshade, and Enchantress, as well as frequent Green Arrow foe, Count Vertigo.

In the "Arrow" television continuity we've already seen Deadshot, Bronze Tiger, Amanda Waller, and Vertigo. Shrapnel, who we saw recently, even served his time on the team. From all the publicity pics of the Suicide from "Arrow" we see the absurdly thin Amanda Waller fronting Deadshot, Bronze Tiger, Shrapnel, Lyla Michaels, and John Diggle.

Worried over the events of last episode, and the promise of Deathstroke to destroy him and all his family and friends, we open on Oliver reforging his old alliance with Bratva, the Russian mob. When he's taxed to prove himself, he ably shows who's boss. In hindsight, it's a bit scary that such a dangerous man is scared of Deathstroke. That said, "You cannot die until you know complete despair." is a heavy threat.

There's more tough talk between our dysfunctional superhero couple, Sara and Oliver, before we get a really touching scene between Diggle and Felicity. Oliver is making him guard her and she brings him hot cocoa. It is refreshing to see such depth and connection between Diggle and Felicity. They've bonded so well as friends while Oliver, who brought them together, remains stunted. Shame. And Emily Bett Rickards needs to smile more, she lights up the screen.

Diggle leaves for an intimate rendezvous at the Ostrander Hotel with Lyla (Harbinger) Michaels. Did we know before that they were exes? They're both corralled by the painfully thin Amanda Waller and taken to ARGUS. She wants to recruit them for a mission to retrieve a nerve gas. After noting she knows all about Oliver Queen and his Arrow activities, she introduces Task Force X - Deadshot, Shrapnel, and Bronze Tiger. Deadshot calls it the Suicide Squad.

The best part is Diggle's adamant refusal to go along with it - cooperating with murderers. Lyla notes how many bodies there are out there because of his employer Oliver Queen and his girlfriend Sara Lance. It's really not that different. I like that this is coming back to bite Arrow, at least indirectly. The serial killer Arrow of the first season was one of the sticking points that kept me from completely liking this show.

In many ways, Arrow is the anti-Man of Steel. Arrow did need to kill to grow as a character. The evolution of Oliver over the two seasons is proof of that. Superman should not kill however. He should find a way not to - that's what makes him Superman. He finds a way, he is our example, he doesn't learn by example.

The codenames used by Task Force X range from the obvious to the intriguing. There's Deadshot, Shrapnel, and Tiger. Lyla is Harbinger, Diggle is Freelancer, and Waller is Mockingbird. Mockingbird is the secret mystery leader of the old Secret Six, a realistic espionage crew in 1960s DC Comics, and it's newer counterpart, a villain group very similar to the Suicide Squad.

Amanda Waller, despite her petite size, proves that she is every bit as ruthless and devious as her heavyset comics counterpart. And it's nice to see Deadshot in a tux, so similar to his original Golden Age 'costume.' I wish Bronze Tiger had a bit more to do however. This was a waste of Michael Jai White in my opinion. And now that the Squad has a vacancy, perhaps Count Vertigo will come on board?

The Suicide Squad is the A plot here, with Team Arrow taking a back seat. Even Flashback Island reflects this as the flashbacks this week are Diggle's and go back to Afghanistan. I'd like to see more of this. Maybe a Felicity (she did imply she had a past) or Quentin or Sara (or maybe one of the villains) focused episode complete with flashbacks next?

Ostrander Hotel is a nice shout out for this episode, as John Ostrander created the most known super-villain version of the Suicide Squad and wrote most of their exploits. ARGUS, HIVE, Giffen (Keith Giffen was a later Suicide Squad writer/artist), Khandaq, Qurac, and Markovia are also namedropped. This episode is chockful of DCU references, the best of which is Harley Quinn, waiting her turn for a Suicide Squad mission at ARGUS headquarters.

Originally The Flash was meant to be a back door pilot on "Arrow," and we know that the Mirakiru has all the ingredients for the Hourman pilot that's coming. I wonder if perhaps this is the practice run for a Suicide Squad series or pilot. The way the creators of "Arrow" work, a Squad series could certainly give "Marvel's Agents of SHIELD" a run for its money. I'd watch, would you?

I'll leave you with one to think about. This has been bandied about on the internet for a while now. Could Diggle's full name be John Stewart Diggle? Discuss, enjoy, and I'll see you next time.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Muppets Most Wanted on The Make Mine Magic Podcast

This week's episode of The Make Mine Magic Podcast is all about the Muppets, and most specifically about the new movie now out on theaters, Muppets Most Wanted.

All in one handy package you get a review of the film, commentary from not only myself, but also The Bride. Find out our thoughts on individual Muppets, the human stars of the film, our favorite Muppets, the various Muppet shows and movies, a whole bunch of other Muppety topics, as well as shout outs to other Disney podcasts, and tips on using Fandango.

Check out this brand new Muppet-centric episode of The Make Mine Magic Podcast here.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Rue Morgue Twin Peaks Cover

My friend and editor over at Biff Bam Pop!, Andy Burns, has something very cool coming up - the cover story of next month's issue of Rue Morgue magazine.

That's right, my buddy's got the cover in an extensive article on the cult classic TV series "Twin Peaks," with interviews with cast and crew, including the wonderful Sheryl Lee. And, this coming February, look for his book on "Twin Peaks."

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

My Wings Press Conference

I've been a Philadelphia Wings Lacrosse season ticket holder for over two decades. So from their championship years to the present day when they just can't seem to win a game at all - I've been there. And despite the fact that a person off the street can get a ticket in our area for less than we've paid in advance, and that that ticket price is still dwarfed by the cost of parking - I'm still there. I'm not as excited, but I'm still there.

Over the years, I guess to make up for the above, the Wings organization has offered certain premiums. Sometimes it's a towel, or a welcome mat, sometimes a pre-season party like this. There are also the Red Status bonuses, which usually allows ticket holders onto the field when the team is introduced. That's fun a couple times, but once you've done it, you've done it, ya know?

One of the alternatives to going down on the field this year was attending a press conference after a game. Both The Bride and I have semi-journalistic backgrounds so we thought it would be a cool idea. They lost, again, I think it might have been more exciting if they won... as it was the Rochester Knighthawks crushed the Wings 11-7.

The press conference was small and quick, as might be imagined. There were nine people in attendance other than myself and The Bride. They gave out a fact sheet listing penalties and scores, just in case folks weren't watching I suppose.

The head coach came out, stood at the podium, made a brief statement. No apologies, no excuses. He did have a little bit of an attitude, but I guess after so many losses I might have had one as well. Captain Kevin Crowley then came out, obviously just out of the locker room, and spoke briefly. Again, quick and painless.

And that was it. Just as quickly as it began, it was over, and those who showed up scampered away as if they had never been there. They really couldn't wait to pull the Wings logo off that podium. I guess a more winning team was going to have a press conference next.

All in all, I think it was worth attending. It was amazing to imagine what such a meeting might have been like during a championship season. And it was also heartbreaking to think that the days of lacrosse in Philly might be at an end. There are far too many empty seats any more, in the press hallway, and in Wells Fargo Center. Go Wings!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Arrow: Flash and Felicity

We had some time off last week, but that doesn't mean that there wasn't any news in the world of "Arrow." As you can see we had a full reveal of the costume for The Flash from Biff Bam Pop!. I love the look of the costume. Granted, it's not the uniform from the comics, but let's face it, red spandex is no one's friend when it comes to live action.

They have been filling out the cast, including characters from the comics like Singh, Chrye, Mardon, Thawne, and Iris West. There are other names linked to Flash mythos that make the future seem very
interesting. It seems as if we might have folks like Weather Wizard, the Pied Piper, and the Reverse-Flash in that future. The pilot and/or series is a safe bet for the fall despite no date being set as yet.

And if you're looking for more "Arrow" content, the newest writer at Biff Bam Pop!, Leo Craven, has written a terrific piece on Felicity Smoak, as played by Emily Bett Rickards. You can check it out here.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

RIP David Brenner

David Brenner died today in New York City after a long but quiet battle with cancer. He was 78.

While he was chiefly known as a comedian with a record number of appearances on Johnny Carson's "Tonight Show," both as guest and guest host, Brenner was a true renaissance man with a number of talents both in front and behind the camera. He knew how television worked, how film worked, mentored others, and most importantly for those in my locality, he was a Philadelphia legend.

David Brenner was a writer, a producer, an author, a talent scout, and a favorite on talk shows and game shows throughout the seventies and eighties. As a comedian, Brenner opened the door to many of the comics we know and love today. His brand of observational humor became a style copied by generations of other comedians. Brenner was working in stand-up until just this past year. More than anything though, by all reports, he was a hell of a nice guy.

We've lost one of the good ones. Davis Brenner will be missed. Now I'm going to dig up my copy of Soft Pretzels with Mustard and re-read it. I miss the guy already.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Who Remembers Barney Miller?

Regular readers here know I have a fairly serious insomnia problem. When I can't sleep, I frequently turn to my iPhone and the wonderful Netflix and HBO Go apps there. Recently both apps were giving me problems, so I clicked on Crackle, another app, but one I didn't use all that often. There I came upon "Barney Miller."

Now there was a name from the past. "Barney Miller" was one of my favorite sitcoms from the 1970s, and also a fave of my father and brother's. I watched it too for most of its run, except for the season and a half that NBC ran "James at 15" opposite it, but that's a whole other discussion. "Barney Miller" is a gem rarely syndicated these days, and I really don't know why, because it holds up well, not the least bit dated, and I laughed almost at once when I started watching.

The show began life as the pilot "The Life and Times of Captain Barney Miller" in 1974. Only Hal Linden in the title role and Abe Vigoda as Fish were present in this test show, and as much action happened in Barney's house as in the 12th Precinct. When the series, shortened to "Barney Miller," finally appeared in January of '75, it had been slightly retooled. Barney's wife was still a part of several early episodes, and was featured in the opening credits for the first two seasons, but little else. The show had found its rhythm in its ensemble cast and single set.

Set in New York City's mythical 12th Precinct, Barney captained over an ethnically mixed crew of detectives. Every episode was merely a day at work as a myriad of odd victims, witnesses, and suspects (who, along with the detectives, were played by among the best character actors working at the time) paraded through the set, along with the worries and quirks of the detectives, and usually one or two subplots working through each episode.

Regulars on the show included Ron Glass as detective and writer Harris, who the young folks probably know better as Shepherd Book of "Firefly" and Dr. Streiten on "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." The kind hearted but naive Wojo was played by Max Gail, comedian Steve Landesberg was the cool intellectual Dietrich, and Gregory Sierra played Chano the first two seasons. There was also the brown nosing Levitt played by Ron Carey, and James Gregory (from the Matt Helm films) who played Inspector Luger. Jack Soo was Nick Yemana but passed away during the fifth season. Even Linda Lavin of "Alice" fame did a brief turn as Wentworth. Along with Barney, and Fish, who was spun off into his own series, these were the officers of the 12th.

"Barney Miller" was a rare bird in the sitcom world. While still being funny, it was also intelligent and sophisticated, and socially conscious as well. You laughed, but it also made you think without preaching at you - a skill that TV lost some time in the 1980s when it just seemed easier to beat viewers over the head with a point.

Even after all these years, there are episodes that stand out for me. I remember two with the man who thought he was a werewolf. There was also the story involving the gay police officer. I also remember the special fourth wall breaking tribute episode to Jack Soo. Mostly I remember when Barney confronted Harris about his writing, a scene that hit me at my core. Harris was obsessed with pushing his book, "Blood on the Badge," and his assertion that he was a writer first and a cop second. Barney asked him, "What have you written lately?" bringing home the point that a writer writes. It's a mantra that powers me to this day.

And I remember the final episode. This was a time when these things didn't happen that often. After the finale of "The Mary Tyler Moore" but before the end of "M*A*S*H," this one was bittersweet and memorable. Budget cuts were closing the 12th Precinct. As Barney turned out the lights for the last time he remembered each of the detectives under his command. Nice, and classy.

Besides 'airing' on Crackle, "Barney Miller" is also available in a DVD boxed set of the complete series, which also includes the first season of the "Fish" spin-off starring Abe Vigoda. Great television, well worth seeing again, or for the first time.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Quickies 3-13-2014

Transformers: Dark of the Moon ~ The best part of this movie is the premise put forth by the preview - that the reason we stopped going to the moon was that we discovered an alien base there full of evil Decepticons. The problem is of course, you see all that in the preview, why see the movie? The movie is not good, even the special effects are blurry in places. And I still can't tell the good robots from the bad robots. And if I can't tell, how can the characters in the movie? Give this sequel a miss.

Admission ~ I am not really sure what this movie is beside a vehicle for Tina Fey that apparently didn't work. Is it a romantic comedy that isn't funny or touching? Is it a drama that isn't compelling but hollow when it attempts a laugh? Tina is okay in this, but another thing it is, as much as I love her, is proof Tina Fey can't carry a movie alone. Seriously, it is not a good sign when one of the best things in a movie is Lily Tomlin.

Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth ~ Unlike James Toback's documentary, Spike Lee's filmed one man show of Mike Tyson talking about his life, childhood, and career seems rehearsed and practiced. It's almost as if Lee wanted to create a counterpoint to the unintentionally disturbing doc that looked like a couch confession of a sociopath. In the end, while engaging and entertaining, I didn't believe it. Still, worth watching.

Jack Reacher ~ This is the first film, whether it's the last or not is still up in the air, adapting Lee Childs' Jack Reacher character to the big screen. Tom Cruise unfortunately takes on the title role in this film version of the Childs novel "One Shot." His portrayal is wooden, monotone, and quietly robotic. Cruise succeeds in making a enjoyable though one-dimensional character into a laughable cartoon character incapable of interacting with the rest if the serious past. Please no sequel.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox

Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox ~ Flashpoint is both the last storyline of the old DC Comics universe, and the prologue to what's become known as The New 52 DC Comics universe. It's a time travel tale that centers on The Flash, alters his past and sets into motion an entirely new timeline, and not necessarily a good one. In the comics it is the fixing of this time travel tampering that creates The New 52.

I find it really odd that this would be a story the folks at DC would want to make an animated movie of. It's complex, it's confusing for newcomers, and in that the Reverse-Flash murders young Barry Allen's mother as the catalyst, and I'm not even including the bloody war between the Atlanteans and the Amazons - this is not for kids. Why this? I'm not even sure it was all that well received sales wise. Nevertheless, here we are.

The animation has a very anime feel, much like Superman Vs. The Elite, not that I mind it, but let's just say I've been spoiled by the Paul Dini DCAU. It starts with Nora Allen's murder, although we don't see it and moves to present day with a regretful Barry Allen. He's still the Flash and heads over to Flash Museum to fight a handful of Rogues.

I dug this part a lot. It made me wish for a straight Flash animated series. The scarlet speedster takes on Captain Cold, Heatwave, Mirror Master, Captain Boomerang, surprisingly The Top, and of course the original Reverse-Flash. Some of the costumes are tweaked a bit, I hate Mirror Master's chunky suit, but the rest are cool. Look close and have a finger on your pause button and you'll see Inertia. Too bad the Justice League had to show up.

The voice casting is classic, some of it dating back to the Dini days. Kevin Conroy returns as Batman; Hynden Walch, the voice of Harley Quinn, plays Yo-Yo, her new timeline alternate; Dana Delany reprises Lois Lane; and Nathan Fillion plays Hal Jordan again. Also on tap this time are Ron Perlman as Deathstroke, Cary Elwes as Aquaman, Kevin McKidd as 'Batdad,' and C. Thomas Howell as Professor Zoom. Starring as Flash/Barry Allen is Justin Chambers from "Grey's Anatomy."

While it is a bit violent for my tastes and it gets a bit tedious toward the middle (obviously from trying to squeeze in ever detail from the comics), all in all, it's not bad. The beginning in the Flash Museum and the end in the Batcave are my favorite parts. And while it is not said aloud, the Batman and Flash seen at the end are The New 52 versions, which marks the division for later animated movies to come. The New 52 is now the status quo for the DCAU.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Hudson Hawk

Hudson Hawk ~ I have never seen this flick until quite recently. I have never really believed its reputation for being a terrible movie. As someone who loved John Carter, David Hasselhoff's Nick Fury, most recently After Earth, and I even liked Temple of Doom, I thought, hey, how bad could it be?

Reading up a few months back on subgenres of science fiction, I came across the term 'clockpunk' and specifically Hudson Hawk as an example. Clockpunk is posited as steampunk but with its origins more in the Renaissance rather than the Victorian era, along the lines of "Da Vinci's Demons," which I love. So I decided it was time to see the flick. Sadly, this aspect is barely background in the movie.

Bruce Willis plays a just released from prison cat burglar supreme known as the Hudson Hawk who is swept back into business by baddies seeking components of Da Vinci's accidental alchemy device. In this crazy cartoon reality, Willis is David Addison on speed, and unless you're in on the joke from the start, it's hard to catch up. I really want to see if "Moonlighting" holds up after all these years now.

Camp, slapstick, and downright ridiculous, the movie is riddled with bad performances and a plot that barely holds up. James Coburn and his candy bar henchmen are fun though, and I loved heisting to "Swingin' on a Star," but there's little else to recommend here. I think it may really just be as bad as its reputation.

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Arrow S02 E15: "The Promise"

Deathstroke the Terminator. Since before "Arrow" even started, in the earliest publicity shots that featured only his mask, the ones that made fanboys and fangirls want to watch the show even more than the fact it was a show about Green Arrow, Deathstroke has been here. Introduced several episodes in, and expertly played by Manu Bennett of Starz' "Spartacus," he has been hero, friend, and now villain to Oliver Queen, but who is he really?

In the comics, Slade Wilson, better known as Deathstroke the Terminator, was created in 1980 by Marv Wolfman and George Perez in the second issue of the breakout comics series The New Teen Titans. Granted superhuman strength, agility, endurance, and an enhanced healing factor by government military experiments, Slade Wilson became DC's resident mercenary. He would go on to become that revamped team's most dangerous and persistent foe.

In his frequent battles and schemes against the Titans, he became quite popular with fans. Fan favorite status gained him his own series where he went from villain to anti-hero. Marvel Comics even parodied him with much success as Deadpool. He has been included in many of DC's big events as one of the continuity's major villains.

The biggest turning point for the character may have been during Brad Meltzer's Identity Crisis maxi-series when Deathstroke took down the Justice League singlehandedly. In just a few pages, he did what serious JLA foes like Amazo or Darkseid or the Secret Society had been unable to do for decades. It was also in this comic that the vendetta level feud with Green Arrow began. GA didn't defeat Deathstroke, but he hurt him, and a dangerous grudge began, one that bleeds into "Arrow."

On the show, Slade Wilson is still a mercenary, but one that was stranded on what I've been calling Flashback Island with Oliver, and at times Yao Fei, Shado, and Sara. He taught Oliver to survive and to fight, along with the others. While a romance bloomed between Oliver and Shado, Slade loved her silently from afar. When Ivo captured everyone but Slade, Oliver indirectly caused Ivo to kill Shado. In Flashback Island time, the now superhuman (thanks to Mirakuru) Slade is gunning for Ivo, not knowing Oliver's involvement in her death.

In the present, Oliver has mentioned more than once that no one made it off the island alive except him and Sara. So, surprise surprise when Slade not only turns up alive, controlling Brother Blood and other baddies stalking Starling City, but suddenly in Oliver's own home, supposedly making a donation to his mother's mayoral campaign. And that was our cliffhanger last time. We open seconds later in "The Promise."

The first thing I notice is how touchy feely Slade is with Mom. It's more than a little creepy. His conversation is filled with double meaning as he and Oliver both pretend they haven't met before. Of course predictably, it leads to a flashback, this one with the two as friends planning the attack on Ivo's freighter, the Amazo. We're going to learn what happened finally. The shame is we already kinda know... or do we? One of the best things about "Arrow" is the twists and surprises.

There is one thing I liked that I'm not sure if it was planned, or if the writers were covering their asses. Either way, it was done well and seamlessly. Sara makes Oliver promise that if she doesn't make it, he's to tell her family that she died on the Gambit. Continuity hole filled in nicely.

While Oliver deals with Slade's family visit in the present, he is captured by Ivo on the island, and given truth serum. But like most of their plan of attack, it's all diversion, and it's beautiful watching it come together. Best parts? Oliver in his hood and Slade in his mask.

When the moment of truth comes and Oliver confronts Ivo, he breaks down in misdirected guilt and admits he killed Shado, unknowingly in front of Slade. And thus the rift. Slade turns on him. After he kills Ivo, he makes Oliver a promise, matching this episode's title, that he will make him feel complete despair. And that's where we're left in the past - Oliver on the ship now run by Slade, and Sara along with a handful of freed prisoners on the island.

Meanwhile Team Arrow plans an assault on the Queen home to save the family from Slade. Roy shows up, trying outhandshake Slade with his Mirakuru strength, and then Sara. They subtly and threateningly surround him, until Slade says good night. Diggle is outside however waiting to take him out sniper style. Slade knows already and Diggle us disarmed. Slade leaves, swearing to fulfill his promise.

"The Promise" was a fantastic episode, one of the best as friends had been telling me before I'd had a chance to see it. They were right. There are some nagging questions though. Why did Ivo need an eye? What's Slade been doing for five years? Can Moira be more of a bitch? And is that Harley Quinn in the preview for the next episode?? Yeah baby, next: Suicide Squad!

Thursday, March 06, 2014

After Earth

After Earth ~ M. Night Shyamalan has taken a lot of heat in recent years. He's no longer the critics' darling, and a lot of folks have given up on him, but I haven't. Still, I haven't seen his last few efforts in the theaters, waiting for home video to see them. That doesn't mean I still don't enjoy his work. Such was the case with After Earth, which he co-wrote and directed.

The science fiction flick was better known as a father/son vehicle for Will Smith (it was based on a story by him) and Jaden Smith more than anything else. With no credits at the start of the film, many folks didn't even know it was an M. Night movie. It works well for the Smiths, being a two-man acting tour de force, but honestly it wouldn't have been as good without M. Night's touch, at least in my opinion.

One thousand years in the future, a father and son crashland on a mutated, abandoned, and evolved Earth. The father is a genetically altered war hero with no fear who's been crippled and can't move. The son, the only other survivor, has find the beacon to call for help, with the remote guidance of his dad. They have a distant relationship, complicated by a lost sibling and a failure to be a ranger like dad.

Father and son must see eye to eye in a mission of survival and a race against time. The father and son theme is as strong as the boy becoming a man and facing his fears, but at its core, After Earth is a story of survival. I wonder if it was just the science fiction trappings or M. Night's name that kept it from not only being successful, but also this year's Castaway or Life of Pi.

In my opinion, it's another strong film from M. Night, visually stunning, good story, and well worth watching. Check it out.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Early Eurovision 2014 Finalists

The finalists are quickly being named for this year's Eurovision Song Contest in Copenhagen. The main event will take place on May 10, 2014, with two semi-finals in the days before then.

While there's question as to whether Russia and the Ukraine will be participating this year, as with any year in which war looms among the competing nations, there have been several finalists announced (including Ukraine).

Here are some of them:

Israel - "Same Heart" by Mei Finegold

Romania - "Miracle" by Paula Seling and Ovi

Lithuania - "Attention" by Vilija Matačiūnaitė

Some strong competitors here, looks like it's going to be a good contest this year...

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Identity Thief

Identity Thief ~ This is a really funny flick, highlighting the comedic talents of Melissa McCarthy, who stars in "Mike & Molly" and skyrocketed to fame in Bridesmaids.

As I said, it's very funny, but it could have been funnier. This tale of a sociopath (McCarthy) who steals family man Jason Bateman's identity spotlights her outrageous behavior, but unfortunately there is a very real undercurrent that is sooo not funny. The realities of identity theft are all here, and how such criminal acts can destroy the victim's life. As much as one might want to laugh, there is always that underneath.

Where the flick falls apart is that the idea of Bateman confronting McCarthy and dragging her home on a roadtrip to right his life is just not enough apparently. It should have been, and would be, but the filmmakers somehow felt that drug dealers, bounty hunters, and lethal situations were needed in what basically amounts to a madcap comic romp. For me, it ruins it.

Melissa McCarthy is a delight, and saves the movie from being dragged down by bad creative decisions. It could have been better and funnier, had it been much simpler.

Monday, March 03, 2014

The Lego Movie

The Lego Movie ~ Some have derided this flick as one long commercial for Lego, but I would strongly disagree. Lego is merely the medium through which the story is told and the animation is done. I don't think anyone is going to be running out and buying Legos after seeing this unless they are already into Lego. Maybe it worked on me, but I dig Lego, and I also dig this movie a lot too.

In a well organized world, Lord Business runs things with a well sorted attitude. Everything has its place, everyone has their job, and of course, Everything Is Awesome. Then an average guy finds the "Piece of Resistance," meets the girl of his dreams, Wyldstyle, and is swept up in an underground revolution against Business, where his fellow freedom fighters think he is "The Special," a legendary savior.

The voice cast is terrific. There's Morgan Freeman, Elizabeth Banks, Will Farrell, Chris Pratt, Alison Brie, and even Biff Bam Pop!'s own Leiki Veskimets (check out her terrific wrap-up on the Oscars from earlier today). Liam Neeson is great as Bad Cop, and Will Arnett steals the whole movie as Batman. I also loved the bits with Superman and Green Lantern, and the Millennium Falcon.

This movie was a lot of fun, and I can't wait for the sequel coming in 2017. Now, if you excuse me, I'm going to go play with my Legos, especially my Batman...