Monday, January 16, 2017

Life With Max Update: The Dog Bed

Late last year I babysat my friend's dog Max for three weeks. You can read about his adventures at my house here.

Max is back at his own house now. Here's a shot of him sitting in his little sister Rosie's tiny bed.

There's not much around him for scale in that photo, so you really can't tell just how big he is. Rosie's bed is probably fifteen inches or so across. About the size of a medium pizza. Max is probably two and a half feet long. Somehow he squeezed and contorted himself until he fit into that bed.

I guess cats aren't the only ones who think, "If I fits, I sits."

For the record, here's Max's sister Rosie. Yes, that's a dachshund wearing pajamas. She's not the least bit spoiled.

And here's Rosie draping herself across Max. Fortunately they get along pretty well.

How Do You Solve A Problem Like My Leia?

This week Disney and Lucasfilm officials met in secret to try and decide how to proceed with the upcoming Star Wars films, in the wake of the untimely death of actress Carrie Fisher.

Possible Mild Spoilers Ahead...

Princess General Leia had a relatively small part in The Force Awakens, but her role was reportedly going to expand significantly in the subsequent films. Plot details are still sketchy at this time, but it's assumed Leia would reunite with her brother Luke at the end of Episode VIII, and have an epic confrontation with her evil son Kylo Ren in Episode IX. Sadly, Fisher's death kind of throws a monkey wrench into those plans.

So what's Disney supposed to do now? There are three main choices: 1. Replace Fisher with a CGI version (ala Grandma Tarkin in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, 2. Simply recast the part of Leia with another actress, or 3. Rewrite the script to reflect Fisher's death. 

None of those options sound particularly appealing. 

A day or two ago Lucasfilm released a statement confirming there absolutely will not be a CGI Leia in the upcoming films. Thank the Maker for that. The CGI Tarkin and Young Leia in Rogue One were stiff, distracting and unconvincing. It was a valiant effort on Industrial Light & Magic's part, but the technology to seamlessly recreate an actual person just isn't quite ready yet.

Lucasfilm didn't confirm exactly what they're going to do yet, but it sounds like they're leaning toward the rewrite route, and will have Leia somehow die the upcoming films. Ugh.

Filming on Episode XIII wrapped last summer, meaning all of Fisher's scenes were filmed before her death. One would think the film would be exempt from rewriting and tinkering, but that's not necessarily the case. It's likely that the film was supposed to end with a climactic reunion between Leia and her twin brother Luke. 

If that's true, then this ending may be scrapped, since Fisher's unable to complete Leia's storyline in Episode IX. This would require major retooling and rewriting of both films, most likely by killing Leia in some sort of offscreen accident (!).

For some reason many Star Wars fans are onboard with this option, as they believe it's the best way to honor Fisher's memory. Please explain to me how killing a major character without even giving her a proper onscreen death somehow honors the actress playing her.

I'm assuming the overall plot of this new trilogy of films was outlined long before The Force Awakens was even filmed. I want to see the movies AS PLANNED, not with a hastily and clumsily written explanation for her absence. I don't want them to go the Hunger Games/Philip Seymour Hoffman route, and have Luke awkwardly read a letter from Leia to Kylo Ren, scolding him for getting involved in all this dark side of the Force business.

I vote that they just recast Leia with another actress. Yes, it'll take a while to get used to a Leia with a new face, but I'd much prefer that to a lame offscreen death that torpedoes the plot.

I don't understand the current stigma against recasting. I get that continuity is important to the geek community, but hey, sh*t happens. Sometimes actors die, and it's necessary to either recast them or call off the whole project.

Other franchises have already recast major roles with no ill effects. Michael Gambon replaced Richard Harris as Dumbledore in the Harry Potter films, and the world didn't implode. In fact I'd say that bit of recasting was for the better!

We got a second Rhodey in the Marvel movies, and that worked out just fine. And the rebooted Star Trek films recast Kirk, Spock and the entire crew, with no ill effects (in fact I'd go so far as to say the casting was the best thing about those movies). So why all the resistance (heh) to recasting Leia?

The Force Awakens has already recast a few roles. There was a new actor in the Chewbacca suit in the action scenes, and Rogue One featured a brand new actor as Vader. Granted, these characters were all masked or had their faces covered, so it wasn't that big a deal. The point is, we're fast approaching the day when recasting is going to become a necessity in the Star Wars Universe.

I bet if we could ask Carrie Fisher what she thought Disney should do, she'd say, "Hell, yes, get Meryl Streep to play me! Don't rewrite the damned movies and ruin them on my account!" Except she'd say it with more cursing.

To me it seems like the best way to honor her is to allow her character to continue in the films as planned, instead of saying Leia died from Space Flu between movies.

#recastleia!

Sunday, January 15, 2017

It Came From The Cineplex: Underworld: Blood Wars

Hey guys, it's that time of year again! The January/February Film Dumping Ground! Yes, it's that magical time of the year when the major studios burn off all the celluloid bombs they didn't dare release during the all-important Summer and Xmas blockbuster seasons! Awesome! Brace yourselves for two solid months of watered-down PG-13 horror films, lesser CGI kid's movies and fart comedies. It's a fantastic time to be a film fan!

Underworld: Blood Wars was written by Cory Goodman and directed by Anna Foerster.

Goodman previously wrote Priest and The Last Witch Hunter, which is one hell of a resume. Foerster has worked exclusively in TV up to now, directing episodes of Criminal Minds, Army Wives and Outlander. Underworld: Blood Wars is her first theatrical directing gig.

Much has been made in the press about the fact that this is the first film of the series to be directed by a woman. Awesome! You go, ladies! Show that old world that you can direct terrible movies just as well as any old man!


Believe it or not, this is the FIFTH film in the Underworld franchise. Seriously, there've been five of these things. That seems like about four to five too many.

The original plan was for this fifth film to be a reboot of the series called Underworld: Next Generation (say... that title sounds familiar for some reason), to be released in 2015. Later it was announced that the film would be a sequel after all, with actress Kate Beckinsale returning as Death-Dealing Vampire Selene.

The movie was retitled to Underworld: Blood Wars, and scheduled for an October 2016 release. It was then pushed back to January 2017 for some reason, which is ALWAYS a bad, bad sign.

I have an odd relationship with this film series. I've dutifully sat and watched ALL five of them in the theater now, despite the fact that I'm not a fan and don't particularly care for them all that much. I don't actively hate them either, mind you. They're just sort of... there.

Despite the fact that I've seen them all, I couldn't tell you what happens in any of them if my life depended on it. They're what I call "In One Ear Movies"
—  films that start to evaporate from my mine by the time I'm walking through the theater parking lot to my car. As near as I can recall they're all about some busty vampire gal in fetish gear who hunts werewolves. That's all I got! Beyond that, I don't remember a single thing.

So why do I keep paying to see these spectacularly unmemorable movies if I don't like 'em? I honestly don't know! I wish I had an answer.

Apparently I'm not the only one who's indifferent toward the series. Underworld, the first film in the franchise, was a surprise hit back in 2003, grossing $95 million against its $22 million budget. The subsequent entries have all grossed progressively less (although they still make a modest profit).

So why do they keep making them? Why continue pumping them out if no one's watching?

That's easy! Len Wiseman produced four of the films in the series: Underworld: Evolution, Underworld: Rise Of The Lycans, Underworld: Awakening and this newest one, Underworld: Blood Wars (he also directed the first two). Wiseman just happens to be married to  you guessed it  actress Kate Beckinsale, the star of the series.

Len Wiseman's the one (literally!) who wants this series to go on and on and on. His wife Kate reportedly earned a whopping $8 million for Underworld: Awakening (no word on how much she made for the newest one, but I'd bet it's at least the same or more), so he wants to make sure she keeps bringing home those sweet, sweet paychecks every three years or so (Wiseman no doubt made a hefty fee for his role as producer as well).

Sadly, Beckinsale and Wiseman divorced in late 2016. Bad for them, but it could be good news for the movie-going public, as their split could very well mean NO MORE UNDERWORLD MOVIES!

Note: Len Wiseman recently stated a sixth film is in development, with Kate Beckinsale starring. Crap. Maybe since she probably earns more than he does, he wants to keep the series going so she has to pay him alimony?

By the way, the Underworld situation is echoed exactly with Mila Jovavich and the Resident Evil film series. She's married to Paul W.S. Anderson, who wrote and produced every movie in that series (and directed four of them). The Resident Evil films have all outperformed the Underworld series (and then some), but it's apparent that the only reason Anderson keeps making the things is to keep his wife employed.

It's very obvious that something catastrophic happened during the filming of Underworld: Blood Wars  something that required some major retooling. I cannot emphasize this enough the movie doesn't end, so much as it just STOPS. It's almost like the studio forgot to deliver the last reel of the film to the cineplex.

There's a big setpiece battle between the Vampires and the Lycans in the third act, which goes on for fifteen minutes or so. Suddenly Kate Beckinsale starts narrating, and she wraps up the story in about thirty seconds! We then see what appears to be a very brief deleted scene or an outtake of her staring at her daughter, and then the credits roll. At my showing, the entire audience sort of looked around at one another for a few seconds, unsure if that really just happened, and then slowly shuffled out with confused looks on their faces.

It reminded me a lot of Poochie going back to his home planet. 

What the hell happened? Why did the movie suddenly hightail it off the screen, like it just remembered it left the iron on? Did they run out of money before they were finished, and couldn't afford to film the end of the movie? Did it get poor feedback from test audiences, and they didn't have the time or cash to reshoot a new ending, so they cobbled one together in editing? 

I'm leaning toward the "fix it in editing" theory. The middle of the film takes place at the Nordic Coven, which is located in an arctic wasteland. The characters go back to the Eastern Coven, which is in... Europe maybe? Or America? I have no idea, but some sort of temperate climate. Then the very last shot of the film, in which Selene sees her daughter Eve step out of the fog, takes place in an arctic wilderness again. There's absolutely no reason for Selene to go back there, so that shot has to be a deleted scene or outtake. 

I have no idea what really went on behind the scenes, but something big definitely happened to this movie to make it stop dead in its tracks the way it did.

Lastly, this movie is supposedly the first new film to premiere in 2017. If that's true, then we're in for a long and miserable year.

SPOILERS, I GUESS!

The Plot:
Previously on Underworld... we begin with a brief recap of the series so far, and bless whoever came up with that idea, as I didn't remember a single thing about any of the previous films.

Selena the Vampire (played by Kate Beckinsale) is a "Death Dealer." For the past thousand years she's been killing werewolves in the Vampires' war agains the Lycans. At some point in the series she was betrayed by Vampire elder Viktor (played by Bill Nighy, who sadly isn't in this film). She also had a forbidden relationship with Michael Corvin, her Lycan enemy who somehow became the first vampire/werewolf hybrid. Selene and Michael had a daughter named Eve (OH, I GET IT! SUBTLE!) who's the first "pureblood hybrid," which seems like a contradiction in terms to me. Selene was forced to hide Eve to keep her safe from both sides, while she went off to search for Michael. Selene is now on the run from both Vampires and Lycans. Confused? I know I am.

OK, on with the actual movie. Selene is being chased by a gang of Lycans, who knock her off her motorcycle. They morph into their wolf forms and are about to kill her, when David (played by Theo James, of the aborted Divergent series) arrives to rescue her. He and Selene wipe out the Lycan gang, but not before he's shot (don't worry, he gets better after Selene removes the bullet).

Meanwhile, David's father Thomas (played by Charles Dance) arrives at the Eastern Vampire Coven. He meets with Semira, a high-ranking and ambitious Vampire. Thomas tells her that Marius, the new and powerful leader of the Lycans, recently destroyed the Western Coven and is planning a full scale attack.

Semira's main concern is replacing Viktor, a member of the Vampire Elders, who was killed by Selene. Semira and Cassius (another Vampire Elder) want to prosecute Selene for killing one of her own kind.

Are you getting all this?

Marius meets with his fellow Lycans to discuss their plan to wipe out the Eastern Vampire Coven. Why do these two sides hate each other so much? Has that ever been addressed in the series? It seems like there's room enough in the world for both species of monster. Right now it looks like the only reason for their mutual hatred is "because the script says so." Anyway, Marius also wants to find Selene's daughter Eve, as her blood will somehow grant him superpowers or something.

Thomas appears before the Vampire Elders and convinces them they're in danger. He gets them to drop the charges against Selene, so she can train an army of young Vampires in the ways of Death Dealing (shouldn't Vampires already be pretty good at killing, what with the fangs and super strength and all?). The Elders agree, and two vampires are sent to escort Selene (and David) to the Coven.

Selene begins teaching the Vampire recruits how to kill Lycans. Semira isn't happy to have her back, and plots to get rid of her. She insists that Selene have an exhibition bout with Varga, her bodyguard and secret lover. Varga cheats and cuts Selene with a knife smeared with deadly nightshade, which paralyzes her. He then shoots all the Vampire recruits with ultraviolet bullets (?), which causes them to burst into flame and die. Or, I guess, be more dead than they already are.

Selene and Varga then frame Selene for the murders. Thomas shows her and David a secret way out of the castle. As they're leaving, Semira kills Thomas in front of them, just to make a point, I guess (which sucks, because he's the best thing about the movie). Selene and David flee. Oh yeah  I forgot to mention that Selene and David are both special Vampires who are somehow unaffected by sunlight. I'm assuming this was probably explained in one of the other movies I've completely forgotten about.

Semira sends a young Vampire named Alexia after Selene. Alexia meets with Marius, her secret lover. You know, for all the alleged hatred between these two races, they sure seem to hook up a lot. Alexia tells Marius that Selene's escaped and that Semira plans to attack his clan.

Selene and David head for the Nordic Vampire Coven, the only other one left. They're welcomed there by Vidar and his daughter 
Daenerys Targaryen Lena, who has luxurious snow white hair. Vidar gives David a sword made of pure silver (which is deadly to Lycans) and says it was his father Thomas' greatest weapon. He also tells David that his mother was a powerful Vampire Elder named Amelia (so David's dad never told him any of this?). 

David doesn't believe any of this, so Vidar gives him a ring containing some of Amelia's blood. David drinks the blood, which apparently contains his mother's memories, and realizes it's all true. So what's the point of all this? It means that David is next in line to become a Vampire Elder, not Semira.

Just then, the Lycans attack the Nordic Coven. Um... how'd they get there so fast? And why are they attacking this remote Coven instead of the Eastern one, which seems like more of a threat to them? Because the script sez so, I guess. Selene and David help the Coven fight the Lycans, which is damned big of them, since they pretty much led them there. 


Selene squares off with Marius on the ice outside the castle. Marius gets the upper hand and stabs Selene with a sword. He demands to know where her daughter Eve is, and for the millionth time, Selene says she doesn't know. Alexia licks Selene's blood from the sword (a Vampire's blood contains their memories, remember) and says she's telling the truth. Selene then deliberately slips beneath the ice to escape. And by escape I mean drown. Or whatever Vampires do. Do they need to breathe? Can they really "drown" if they're undead Later, Daenerys Lena recovers Selene's body and begins a mystical process to revive her.

Alexia takes some of Selene's blood back to the Eastern Coven (I think). Semira drinks it in order to gain Selene's superpowers. She then tells Alexia she knows about her little Lycan affair, and slits her throat. Um... so slitting a Vampire's throat will kill them? Again, aren't they already undead?

David travels back to the Eastern Coven as well, and confronts Semira and the Council, telling them that he's the son of Amelia and next in line to be an Elder or something. Semira scoffs at his claim, so he gives Cassius and the other Elders the vial containing his mother's blood. They drink the blood and gain Amelia's memories, and realize he's telling the truth  David is the last pureblood vampire. Semira orders her bodyguard/lover Varga to kill David, but he says he only takes orders from "those in charge." Burn!

Marius and his Lycan army arrive at the Eastern Coven (dayum, these monsters sure get around!) and attack. There's a big bloody setpiece battle between the two sides. The Lycans start shooting holes in the windows (cough  From Dusk Till Dawn  cough), which destroys a ton of Vampires. Lena and an army of Nordic Vampires arrive to join the battle (again, these monsters can travel!). They bring a secret weapon with them  the now revived, new and improved Selene (now sporting partially bleached hair). Apparently after Selene "drowned," she visited the Sacred World, a mystical realm that's never adequately explained or shown, and Lena brought her back from it.

Selene faces off against Marius, while David battles Semira. Because she drank some of Selene's blood, Semira is now immune to sunlight. David says, "Whatever" and stabs her in the head with his silver sword. Marius morphs into a Super Lycan form and fights Selene. During the battle, a drop of Marius' blood flies through the air and lands on Selene's lips. She sees his memories, including the fact that he killed her Lycan lover Michael. She rips out his spine in revenge. Ouch!

David holds up Marius' severed head, which causes the Lycans to stop fighting and bugger off. The movie then can't wait to hurry up and end, as Selene rushes through a closing narration that wraps up everything in thirty seconds. She tells us that she, David and Lena became the new Vampire Elders and everything's cool now. We then get a very brief shot of Selene, back at the Nordic Coven for some reason, as her daughter Eve appears out of the fog. Smash cut to the credits!

Thoughts:
• 
If nothing else, this a fairly short film (since it doesn't have an ending), so you'll be in and out of the cineplex in no time. The official run time is listed as ninety one minutes, but if felt a LOT shorter than that to me.

• Humans have appeared sporadically throughout this series (especially in the third film), but for some reason this one is completely devoid of them. Literally EVERYONE we see is either a Vampire or a Lycan. Not a normal human to be found, not even in the background. Did the two sides wipe out humanity in one of the previous films?

• Literally EVERY scene in the film features the same dreary, desaturated blue and black color palette. Whoever color graded this movie must have racked up a record amount of overtime, and collapsed the minute they were done. After a while it becomes dull and bland.

Even the blood is bluish black instead of red! Why the hell would they do that? It's rated R, for corn's sake, so they didn't have to worry about rules regarding the depiction of blood. Just think how cool it would have looked if they'd made the blood bright red, to contrast with all the bluish tones.

It's also a very dark movie— not dark in tone, but dark as in "I can see what the hell's going on." I don't know if that was a deliberate choice like all the blue color grading, or if my local cineplex turned down the brightness to try and conserve the projection bulb (something they've done in the past, the rat bastards).

You know, now that I think about it, maybe the blue tones and all the darkness was an attempt to hide the awful CGI werewolf effects. Seriously, I've seen better virtual characters on the various The CW superhero shows.

• These days it's standard practice for most films to re-record (or "loop") virtually every word of dialogue, to eliminate background noise or fix a flat line delivery. I bet the looping on Underworld: Blood Wars served double duty. All the actors playing Vampires wear prominent prosthetic fangs, and it would not surprise me if these false choppers distorted their speech something awful. I guarantee you the Vampires all had to loop their dialogue sans fangs.

• Charles Dance plays Thomas the Vampire, and the movie perks up considerably whenever he's onscreen. Dance is a wonderful actor and a true professional, and has the ability to elevate the most mundane material (like Underworld: Blood Wars). Naturally, since Dance was the best thing about the film, he's killed off twenty minutes in. Idiots.

Every time he appeared, all I could think was, "Gee, Charles Dance would have made a great live action Grandma Tarkin in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

With a hairpiece and a bit of makeup to make his cheeks look more sunken, he'd have been a dead ringer (no pun intended) for Peter Cushing. He even sounds like Cushing! He definitely would have been less distracting than the CGI Tarkin abomination they used in the film.

 By the way, when I saw that Charles Dance and Theo James were in this movie, my first thought was, "Ah, I bet they're in this movie because of the popularity of Game Of Thrones and the Divergent movies."

Little did I realize that they were both in the previous film, Underworld: Awakening, and were reprising their roles here. See, I told you I don't remember anything about these films! 

 After David's shot, Selene takes him to her hideout. She x-rays him and discovers a special high-tech Lycan bullet lodged in his gut. The bullet has a motorized drill head, and is burrowing straight for his heart. She manages to clumsily (and no doubt painfully) dig it out and save him.
They spend an inordinate amount of time on this bullet (more than they did on the ending!), which made me think it was setup for something that would pay off somehow in the third act. Nope! Once she fishes the cool driller bullet out, it's completely forgotten about and never mentioned again. Talk about pointless!
I wonder... was this entire scene was just an excuse to get Theo James' shirt off, and give us a good look at his impressive abs?

 At one point Semira introduces David to a group of Vampire Elders by saying, "This is David, son of Thomas." So... do Vampires not have last names? Is there only one vampire named Thomas in the entire world? Do they not even get descriptive verbs after their names, like Thomas the Slayer or something like that?

 Varga wounds and poisons Selene with deadly nightshade. David revives her by cutting open his wrist and letting her feed on his blood.

Um... so a Vampire can get nourishment from another Vampire's blood? How the heck does that work? I thought they fed on human blood because we're alive. How would undead Vampire blood do Selene any good?

I'm starting to realize the creatures in this movie have very little to do with traditional Vampires (That was, I say, that was a joke, son. The creatures in these films have ALWAYS been Vampires in name only).

• Speaking of blood: Marius, the leader of the Lycans, is all het up to find Selene's daughter Eve. Why? Because he believes her blood will give him some sort of special powers. Exactly why he thinks this is apparently none of our business, because it's never explained.

 After Selene's framed for Vampire murder (?), she and David head for the secret Nordic Coven. We see a shot of them approaching the icy outpost on horseback.

Oddly enough, their horses seem totally cool with the fact they're being ridden by Vampires. You'd think they'd be spooked (heh) by having undead monsters riding on their backs.

By the way, I sat in the theater thinking about this for a good two or three minutes after the scene played out, instead of paying attention to anything that was happening on the screen. Such is the awesome attention-commanding power of Underworld: Blood Wars. Hey, I had to occupy my mind somehow!

 All the Vampires in the Nordic Coven have obviously fake white wigs pure white hair, in a patently obvious attempt to look like Daenerys Targaryen of Game Of Thrones fame. Seriously, Lena the Vampire looks so much like Daenerys that any minute I expected her to start screaming about her damned dragons.

 Inside the Nordic Coven, Selene enters a room filled with gauze-covered, comatose Vampires. Lena tells her that these subjects have entered the Sacred World, whatever the hell that is. Apparently it's another realm or dimension or something, and going there will grant a Vampire additional powers and abilities.

After being beaten by Marius at the Nordic Coven, Selene slips through a crack in the ice and drowns herself, because "the water shows the way" to the Sacred World.

During the big Vampire/Lycan battle at the end of the movie, Selene dramatically reappears as the music swells and the god rays illuminate her form. She's now sporting a fur coat for some reason (I'm betting it's so it can swirl impressively around her as she spins and fights), and the tips of her hair are now platinum blonde like Lena's. I'm assuming this is to indicate she went through some sort of arduous trials in the Sacred World, and emerged victorious and more powerful than ever before.

Note that this is all MY interpretation of the events, as the movie doesn't bother itself with spelling out ANY of this.

So what's the Sacred World supposed to be? Is it some kind of Vampire heaven or hell? Is it another dimension? Was it filled with tortures that Selene had to endure and escape? Did she have to battle through armies of ghoulish demons? Once again, it's apparently none of our business, as we never bothers with an explanation.

Why bring up the Sacred World at all then if they're not going to explain it? It plays a pretty significant role in the film, as it resurrects and transforms the main character. You'd think something that important would warrant at least a line or two of explanation. It's not fair to just TELL us that Selene went somewhere that changed her. This is a movie. You've got to SHOW us. It's Screenwriting 101.

I wonder if whatever disaster caused the movie's truncated ending affected the Sacred World scenes as well? Did they originally plan to show Selene battling her way out of the Sacred World, but ran out of money and had to settle for just telling us about it? 

Or was this all just setup for a future movie? Your guess is as good as mine.

• I couldn't find a good shot of it, but during the big third act battle scene, Selene jumps from a great height and sticks the Superhero Landing (much like the gals of Sucker Punch, as seen above). You know, when a character lands on one knee, with the other one raised, and one hand on the ground and the other thrust out jauntily behind them.

One would think that after Deadpool, no self respecting director would ever use that trope again, but one would be wrong.

• I think my favorite part of the film occurred during the big Vampire/Lycan battle in the third act. David and Marius run screaming toward one another, their faces contorted into exaggerated grimaces as they fire away with their automatic weapons. They then stop and empty their machine guns into one another's bodies, and I swear to Thor they're standing about five feet apart!

There's no way to watch that scene without thinking of the shootout in The Naked Gun.

Even better, once their guns are empty, they both strain and grunt as if they're taking a mighty but resistant dump, and all the bullets pop out of their rapidly healing bodies and land on the floor beneath them. It literally looks like they're both sh*tting bullets! Bravo, Ms. Director!

• At the Nordic Coven, Vidar gives David a large, ornate ring (don't worry, they're not engaged or anything). When David opens the ring, there's a tiny thimble-sized container inside containing just a few drops of his mother's blood. He drinks it down and immediately gains his mother's memories. 

Later at the Eastern Coven, David needs to prove to the Vampire Elders that he's next in line of succession or something. He then gives some more of his mother's blood to Cassius and four or five other Elders, so they can drink it, experience her memories and gain the truth. Thing is, it now looks like David has a whole vial of blood, not the dinky little thimble that was inside the ring. So where'd THAT come from?

Underworld: Blood Wars is yet another (literally) forgettable entry in this interminable series. Like all the others it's filled with leather-clad people trying to kill one another in between bouts of droning on and on about bloodlines and rights of succession. It's also incredibly dark and murky, most likely to hide the subpar CGI werewolves. Worst of all, the movie doesn't end so much as it just stops, which feels odd and jarring, as if something bad happened behind the scenes. For die hard fans of the series only I advise everyone else to skip it. I give it a C-.

This Week In The World's Greatest Police Sketches

This week the Toronto Police Service is searching for two suspects a man and a woman who robbed an area Home Depot. The suspects allegedly left the store with several stolen items, got into a scuffle with a security guard and drove away. The guard was reportedly injured while trying to hold onto their speeding getaway vehicle.

The Toronto authorities have released a police sketch of the male suspect in the robbery. He's around forty five years of age, and witnesses described him as "a real blockhead." He was last scene wearing a comically oversized baseball hat, a yellow t-shirt with a thick black jagged line on the bottom third and black shorts. He may have also been accompanied by a white beagle with black ears.

Eyewitnesses say that after the robbery, the suspect was apparently wracked with guilt, as he stopped by a homemade wooden stand labeled "Psychiatric Help," which was set up on the sidewalk and manned by a young, black-haired girl.

Shortly afterward, the suspect and the little girl moved to an empty field. The girl then place a football on the ground, holding it upright with one outstretched finger. She then encouraged the suspect to kick the ball to release his pent-up emotions. The suspect reportedly ran full force at the football and attempted to kick it, but the girl pulled it out of the way at the last second, causing him to fly through the air and land on his back with a sickening and audible thud.

Angered by the incident, the suspect reportedly parted company with the girl and decided to fly a kite, but unfortunately the string became inextricably entangled in a nearby tree. The suspect himself then somehow became interwoven in the string and tightly bound to the tree itself. He was then quickly apprehended and arrested, and is currently awaiting arraignment in the Toronto City Jail.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Marvel's Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 4, Episode 9: Broken Promises

Hey, Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is back!

I didn't expect the show to be back so soon, and would have missed it if I hadn't accidentally seen a mention of it online the day it aired. There's usually a two to three month gap between the halves of the seasons, but this time it was only about thirty days. I guess now that Agent Carter is kaput, ABC needs something to air, so they shortened the series' hiatus.

Whatever the reason, I'm glad the show's back. Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. became my favorite show in the first half of Season 4, mainly because of the addition of Ghost Rider. He seems to have ridden off into the sunset for now, so I hope this new "Life Model Decoy" storyline is as good.

Speaking of Life Model Decoys, as I said last month, I'm sure the fact that Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.  is doing an ultra realistic android plotline in the back half of the season has absolutely nothing to do with the phenomenal success of HBO's Westworld series. Nope, totally a coincidence!

Last month I also said that making AIDA turn evil was too obvious, and had already been done in Avengers: Age Of Ultron. I had a different theory for AIDA's motives. I said that Radcliffe programmed her to protect S.H.I.E.L.D. agents at all costs, so they wouldn't have to risk their lives in the field. What if she's systematically abducting the various agents, and replacing them with Life Model Decoys to protect them. Just like the well-meaning, but terrifying robots in the 1947 Jack Williamson sci-fi story With Folded HandsThen the imprisoned agents will eventually have to rebel against her to get their lives back. 

Welp, that was an interesting theory on my part, but as we saw in this episode, completely erroneous. Ah well. Better luck to me next time.

SPOILERS!

The Plot:
Picking up right where we left off in The Laws Of Inferno Dynamics, AIDA changes out of her bloodstained clothes after killing Agent Nathanson. She then pokes her head into her closet, where she's holding Agent May. AIDA tells her she'll make her more comfortable as soon as the Life Model Decoy of her has served its purpose.

Back at S.H.I.E.L.D. Headquarters, Director Mace meets with the team (including LMD May, who's secretly replaced the real thing). He tells Coulson to give the Darkhold to an agent who specializes in getting rid of mystical objects (?). He then orders Fitz and Radcliffe to wipe AIDA's hard drive (ouch), to remove her knowledge of the ancient and forbidden book. Simmons discovers that the Inhuman she helped treat in Deals With Our Devils was Vijay Nadeer, brother of the evil Senator Ellen Nadeer.

Daisy meets with Mace, who apologizes for threatening to have her arrested a few episodes ago. He welcomes her back to the team and tells her he wants to make a fresh start with her. He then recruits her and Simmons to go on a mission with him to rescue Vijay for some reason (I think because Senator Nadeer vehemently hates Inhumans, and Mace is afraid she'll do something to Vijay).

Meanwhile, Radcliffe takes Fitz and two grunts to his house to erase AIDA's memory. Radcliffe uses a remote to shut down AIDA (!), but she reactivates herself. She says she's upgraded her system and is now autonomous, and can no longer feel pain. She knocks out Radcliffe, kills the grunts and throws Fitz through a glass door, where he sees Nathonson's dead body (see The Laws Of Inferno Dynamics). Funny how she always seems to kill everyone except the main cast, eh?

Simmons goes undercover as a lobbyist to try and find Vijay's location from Senator Nadeer. The Senator's not in of course, and her aide recognizes Simmons and attacks. Simmons knocks him out and grabs his phone, which she can use to find Nadeer.

Vijay dreams about his mother, who died when the Chitauri attacked New York in The Avengers. He wakes up and has breakfast with his sister, Senator Nadeer. She asks him if he remembers being in the Terrigenesis cocoon for seven years. He says he kept hearing her telling him to fight, and he didn't let the cocoon change him. He tells her that Simmons saved him.

Senator Nadeer takes Vijay for a walk around the grounds, which is the secret signal for a group of Watchdogs, hired by her. They move in to kill Vijay, as Nadeer apologizes to him. She reminds him that when their mother was killed by aliens, they vowed to "do the right thing" if either one of them ever became infected by otherworldly forces. Vijay pleads with her, insisting that he resisted Terrigenesis and isn't an Inhuman. Nadeer believes him and calls off the Watchdogs.

Back at S.H.I.E.L.D., AIDA hacks into the system and addresses Coulson and the others. She tells them she wants the Darkhold or else. She then shuts off the power to the entire base. Fitz says he and Simmons set up a special "non-internet" server to power the Headquarters in cases like this. He and Radcliffe rush to start it up. Coulson tells Mack to go round up Yo-yo, while he and LMD May try to keep AIDA from entering the base. As they patrol the halls, they run into AIDA, who knocks them both out and throws them into a cell.

Mace, Daisy and Simmons arrive at Senator Nadeer's home, and demand she hand over Vijay. She refuses and orders them to leave. The Watchdogs arrive and attack Vijay, He easily dodges their attacks, as he appears to be an Inhuman after all, having developed some kind of superspeed while he was in his Terrigenesis husk. Mace, Daisy and Simmons hear the commotion and return. Daisy takes out the Watchdogs, and Simmons pleads with Vijay to come with them. He refuses and goes with Nadeer. Simmons tries to stop him, but Mace says to let him go, as he's made his choice.

Back at S.H.I.E.L.D., Fitz and Radcliffe debate what happened to AIDA, and if she's actually become human or not. Mack arrives with Yo-yo, and they're pinned down when AIDA takes control of a Quinjet and uses it to fire on them. Coulson and LMD May wake up in their cell. Coulson knocks out the cameras and tells LMD May where he hid the Darkhold in a drawer in Mace's office, disguised by a holographic generator. Unknown to Coulson, AIDA is monitoring everything LMD May sees and hears. She heads to Mace's office, finds the book and takes it.

Fitz restores the power, and he and Radcliffe confront AIDA in a corridor. AIDA tries to hack into the main door to open it, but Fitz says he locked her out of the system. Just then Mack appears and cuts off AIDA's head with his axe gun. Well, that was anticlimactic.

Nadeer and Vijay get into a waiting chopper and take off. Once in the air, she kills her brother, and tells one of the Watchdogs to dispose of his body.

At Radcliffe's home, we see him talking to a second AIDA model. He's disappointed that AIDA 1.0 failed to steal the Darkhold, but praises her "Crazy Robot Becoming Human" act. He tells AIDA 2.0 that the brief glimpse he got of the book filled his head with all sorts of knowledge and ideas, and he believes he could use it to live forever. He says his only chance is for LMD May to steal the book for him. He checks on real May, and adjusts her sedatives.

Vijay's body is thrown from the helicopter into the ocean. It sinks to the bottom, where his body forms another Terrigenesis cocoon around itself.

Thoughts:

• During the briefing at the beginning of the episode, Coulson says, "We'll transfer the Darkhold to an agent who specializes in making items like this disappear."

At first I assumed he was namedropping Doctor Strange, but surely he's not a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent. So I'm not sure who Coulson's talking about here. At the end of the episode we see the Darkhold's hidden by a hologram inside Mace's office. I doubt this is what Coulson was talking about when he said "make it disappear." They were probably just storing it in the office temporarily, until they could take it to the mystery person.


• Although Life Model Decoys are new to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, they've been around in the comics forever. They first appeared in the first ever S.H.I.E.L.D. story in Strange Tales #135, in 1965. In that issue, S.H.I.E.L.D. made several LMDS of Nick Fury (who was white back then) to act as decoys, to protect him from HYDRA.

• Back in 2012's The Avengers, Iron Man dismisses a call from Agent Coulson by saying, "You have reached the Life Model Decoy of Tony Stark, please leave a message." But this season of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. strongly implies that LMDs are a recent creation. How could Tony Stark joke about LMDs five years ago if Dr. Radcliffe just invented them?

The Marvel Cinematic Universe Wiki practically bends over backwards as it struggles valiantly to explain this. According to it, S.H.I.E.L.D. dabbled with LMDs some time ago, but abandoned the technology. Apparently five years or so ago Tony Stark must have hacked into the S.H.I.E.L.D. computers and read about LMDs. Then Dr. Radcliffe became an honorary  member of S.H.I.E.L.D., discovered the rejected project and revived it, genuinely intending to use it to protect field agents.

Eh, not a bad save, I guess. I'm willing to give 'em this one.

• Simmons has a really good eye for faces. In Deals With Our Devils she was taken to a secret location and told to remove a mysterious subject from his Terrigenesis cocoon. After running some tests on the cocoon, she peeled a bit of it away with her hands, revealing a very small portion of the face of the man inside. 

Somehow from that brief glimpse she was able to provide such a detailed description of the man's face to Daisy that she positively I.D.ed him as Vijay Nadeer. Amazing!

• I expected LMD May to be a spy for AIDA, and sneak around the base knocking out other agents and replacing them with androids. But from what we saw 
in this episode, LMD May is apparently unaware that she's an android, and thinks she's the real thing. Interesting.

LMD May was getting all flirty with Coulson I guess that means Real May feels the same?

• In this episode, I naturally assumed that AIDA had been corrupted by reading the Darkhold, and had become an evil, sentient robot. Apparently that wasn't the case, and it doesn't look like the book affected her at all. 

Radcliffe mentions AIDA's "Oscar™ winning performance," which implies that she was just acting like a crazy evil robot, in order to steal the Darkhold for him.

• When the base is locked down, LMD May asks Coulson, "Where we headed?" Coulson replies, "Emergency staircase to the base's Bar Entrance. We need to lock that down manually."

So there's a secret entrance to S.H.I.E.L.D. in a bar somewhere? Since when? Unless I'm completely forgetting something, I'm pretty sure this is the first time that's ever been mentioned.

• Simmons can do a pretty good southern accent when she has to.

• Looks like Senator Nadeer's mom was killed during the Chitauri invasion of New York back in The Avengers. Man, they're still milking that event, aren't they?

• Senator Nadeer mentioned someone called "The Superior" several times in the episode. I have no idea who she could be talking about.

• Did Yo-yo forget she's a speedster? At one point AIDA hacks into the Quinjet and causes it to fire on her and Mack. Yo-yo just hides behind some conveniently placed cargo containers and occasionally fires a gun at the attacking plane.

Yes, I heard Mace mention that Yo-yo's still recovering from her injuries, but she looked pretty spry in the episode to me. Surely she could have zipped Mack and the other agents out of harm's way in between bullet hits.

• Apparently the producers must have told Henry Simmons, aka Mack, that he was getting paid by the robot movie reference in this episode. Literally every line Mack uttered in this episode was a shoutout to a 1980s sci-fi action film involving killer robots. It was kind of funny the first eighty seven times he did it, but after that it got a bit old.


For the record, here are all his robot references:

Mack: "This isn't some Johnny 5 we're talking about. This is a bloodthirsty murder-bot on the loose. This thing really killed Nathanson?"
Coulson: "Yeah. Question is why."
Mack: "If we catch her, I'm sure we'll get some crazy-ass Roy Batty explanation."

(We get a twofer here, as he calls out both Short Circuit and Blade Runner)

Mack: (to Radcliffe) "Looks like your creepiness finally works in our favor. Shouldn't be too hard to find your beautiful Weird Science sex-bot."

Mack: (when AIDA causes everyone's cell phones to ring at the same time) "This right here... it's exactly how The Lawnmower Man ends."

Mack: "Someone needs to make Radcliffe watch all the Terminator movies."
Yo-yo: "Even Salvation?"
Mack: "He brought this onto himself."

(OK, that was kind of funny, but there's no way in hell Salvation is worse than the cinematic turd that is Terminator: Genisys!)

Mack: (as AIDA causes the Quinjet to attack) "She did not just go all Maximum Overdrive on us!"

(Maximum Overdrive featured a comet whose weird radiation causes mechanical objects to come to life and kill humans)

Yo-yo: (quizzing Mack on 1980s robot movies) "Okay, here's another one. Have you ever watched Chopping Mall?"

Mack: "Eight teenagers trapped in a shopping mall while three deadly security robots hunt them down. Of course I've seen Chopping Mall. Come on, now, you got to do better than that."
(As annoying as all these references are, kudos to them for bringing up Chopping Mall, a fairly obscure little 80s film and one of my favorites)

Mack: "How's Radcliffe holding up?"

Fitz: "He's taking it pretty hard, actually. AIDA was his life's work. She was kind of like a child."
Mack: Small wonder.
(Arrgh! He did it again, managing to reference the awful 1980s sitcom about a robotic little girl)

• At the end of the episode we learn that Radcliffe is really the one who wanted the Darkhold, as the tiny glimpse he got of it a few episodes ago have already corrupted him, fueling unhealthy ideas in his head. So he concocted the entire elaborate plan to send AIDA to S.H.I.E.L.D. to retrieve it.

But was any of this really necessary? Does he really need the book? AIDA already read the entire thing, right? Surely the contents of the book is still there in her memory. Couldn't she just plug herself into a printer and print out a copy for him? Or is there some dark magic that prevents the book from being copied?
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