A Look at Fargo- Season 1, Episode 7: “Who Shaves the Barber?”

Last week’s explosive ending left us with many questions: what would become of Deputy Solverson’s fate?  Would Lester successfully set Chaz up for murder?  How would Malvo react to almost being caught?  This episode had the task of answering those questions, but also progress the storyline without dwelling too much on last week’s episode.  What we got was a solid episode that, above all things, showed the further evolution of Lester’s character as he slips into madness.  Additionally, Malvo’s thirst for revenge has no bounds and Solverson slowly realizes she may be one of the few rational and sane police officers in maybe the entire state.

The episode begins in a hospital as Gus Grimly awaits the news of Molly Solverson’s fate.

Juxtaposed against this are Chaz, Kitty and Gordo having breakfast.  Before heading off to school, Gordo grabs his backpack, unaware of what’s inside.

Who Shaves the Barber- Gun falls out of Gordo's backpack at school

When Gordo arrives at school, two of his classmates roughhouse and knock over Gordo’s backpack.  A gun slides out from the backpack and across the floor.  That’s not how show-and-tell works, Gordo.

Back at the Nygaard residence, a knock at the door interrupts Kitty’s vacuuming.  Bill and other officers arrive with a search warrant.  Kitty calls Chaz at his job with the news that Gordo’s been arrested and that cops are searching their home.

Chaz arrives just in time to find Bill opening his gun stash and find the damning evidence that implicates him for the murder of Pearl Nygaard.

Who Shaves the Barber- Lester tells his own version of what happened on the night Pearl was killed

So let’s go to the other Nygaard brother for a moment.  Lester sits in holding until Bill arrives.  Bill, not Molly.  Lester wonders why she isn’t present- hey, if she’s on your case, consider this a blessing, Lester- but since she was, you know, shot, she’s unable to be present for this.  Lester puts on his best performance and is completely and utterly shocked to know about the items found in Chaz’s home.

Bill sympathizes with him, he really does.  He knows that Lester has pined for Pearl since their school days.  But Lester is just distraught at this news.  As he tells Bill, what happened is that he knew that Pearl and Chaz were having an affair, but he loved her too much to do anything about it.  On that fateful night, he heard Pearl tell Chaz that he’s not even half the man his brother is.  Lester wanted to say something, but he was just so doggone afraid.  Bill lets Lester know that if Chaz is guilty, he’ll have the book thrown at him.

As Lester leaves, Chaz watches and rages at his brother from his cell.  Lester just smiles in silent triumph.

Who Shaves the Barber- Molly in snowstorm flashback

We then flash back to last week’s snowstorm.  Molly navigates through the blizzard and comes face to face with Lorne Malvo for a split second before something else grabs her attention.  She fires two shots and downs someone, but then someone downs her.

Who Shaves the Barber- Gus with Molly in her hospital room

Solverson awakens to find Greta in her face.  Sheesh, Greta, personal space, much?  Gus has his daughter leave the room before he fills Molly in: Malvo escaped and the assault rifle-wielding man she shot is in intensive care.  He then admits to shooting Molly by accident in the middle of a blinding snowstorm.  Oh, and she’s down a spleen, so there’s that unfortunate news, too.  Gus suspects there will be an inquiry later, meaning that he’ll lose his badge after confessing to shooting a fellow officer.  Molly doesn’t take it too hard.  After all, she could just as easily have shot Gus.  Hell, she probably would have been a better shot, too.

Lester returns to his residence and calls a cleaning service about tidying up his home.  He gets far enough to mention that there’s blood in the home before the cleaning provider hangs up the phone.

Who Shaves the Barber- Mr. Rundle in swimming pool class

In Reno, Nevada, we revisit Mr. Rundle, played by Brian Jensen, as he heads to Rundle Realty.  He’s unable to sit in his office chair, though.

Who Shaves the Barber- Malvo in Mr. Rundle's chair

It’s a bit occupied.  Lorne Malvo would like to know why Rundle has a pin in every state except for Georgia.  Well, Rundle had a Korean wife who spit on him during sex.  Not sure what that has to do with Georgia, but we’ll just accept that for now.  Malvo then inquires as to how someone managed to find him.  Rundle denies any involvement.  He’s also not about to get involved with someone’s private affairs, and if someone is coming after Lorne Malvo, then it’s personal.

So Malvo leaves Rundle with two options: between the two of them sit two phones.  One calls an ambulance and the other calls a hearse.

We don’t know what Rundle chose, but we do hear a woman scream as Malvo leaves Rundle Realty.

Who Shaves the Barber- Molly pays a visit to Mr. Wrench

Back at the hospital, Molly meets with the man she shot, who turns out to be Mr. Wrench. Of course, since he’s deaf and doesn’t have Mr. Numbers to translate for him, their conversation doesn’t go very far.  Despite the possibility of jail time, Mr. Wrench won’t cough up any information that Molly may need.

Who Shaves the Barber- Lester hears about Gina Hess' claim being denied

While Chaz is transferred to county jail until the trial or he makes bail, the happier Nygaard brother heads back to work and is ready to start anew.  Unfortunately, there’s bad news: Gina Hess’ claim is being denied because Sam Hess stopped paying the premiums on their policy.  While saying this over the phone would be safer, Lester offers to do it in person.  How thoughtful.

Who Shaves the Barber- Molly's crime web

Gus arrives at Solverson’s room with flowers, only to find her drawing a literal crime web that connects everything that’s happened in the past few days.  Granted, all of this is based on hunches, but Molly figures that Hess’ company was tied to organize crime.  When he was killed, someone in Fargo sent Mr. Numbers and Mr. Wrench to find out who killed him.  And if Lester had been bullied by Hess and then met up with Malvo, there’s a possibility that Lester hired Malvo to kill Hess.  But to cover up his tracks, Lester then sent Numbers and Wrench after Malvo, which would mean Lester knew that Malvo was in Duluth.  Bit of a stretch.  Lou arrives to take Molly home, but Molly tells Gus to keep his chin up.  After all, they’re winning.

Who Shaves the Barber- Federal Agents Bill Budge and Webb Pepper, played, respectively, by Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key

We then cut to Fargo, North Dakota and are introduced to Federal Agents Bill Budge and Webb Pepper, played, respectively, by Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key.  And if I didn’t know any better, I’d think this was a sketch from Key & Peele, because they are, right now, probably the worst federal agents ever, as they discuss sandwiches and random experiments instead of maintaining their focus on the Fargo mob they’re monitoring.

Who Shaves the Barber- Lorne Malvo walks past federal agents with machine gun

They also don’t notice Lorne Malvo walk pass them, in plain sight, with a machine gun in tow and enter a building where he massacres everyone in sight.  All right, one ends up through a window and onto the pavement.

And only then do Agents Budge and Pepper pay attention.  When local police arrive on the scene, they try to explain the scene, but Malvo is able to make his escape.

Who Shaves the Barber- Lester and Gina Hess drink

Lester heads to the Hess household, where Gina awaits him.  She’s home alone, as her sons are at a game she couldn’t be bothered to attend.  She drinks to her incoming fortune, but Lester tells her that there are a few more things to work out.  He tries to warm up to Gina and avoid explaining the reality of the situation.

So yeah, they screw and Lester gets the ultimate payback on Sam Hess.

Who Shaves the Barber- Molly learns that Chaz Nygaard, not Lester, has been arrested

Lou drives Molly to the police department and she comes in to talk to Bill, but he’s not there.  The woman there lets her know that the case is close to being open and shut: Chaz Nygaard has been arrested for the murders.

Solverson heads out and snow starts to fall as a mix of anger and sadness wash across her face.  I can’t help but wonder if she realizes she’s surrounded by idiots.

How do I sum up the general trend of this episode?  Maybe descending into madness works due to the losses characters face.  Fargo has shown us that it only takes a moment to turn the mundane into crazy.  Malvo has been able to bring out the crazy, darker sides in people that had been buried within them all their lives, sort of like the alien symbiote from the Spider-Man series.  The episode also focused on how good characters like Gus and Molly strive to maintain their humanity when coming up against a force they don’t fully understand- a man who believes in a world without rules.  This belief clashes against the police force, which is obligated to its core to abide by rules.  So much so that Bill is just happy that the gun Gordo brought to school wasn’t loaded.

We want to assume the best in people and believe that they are, at their core, good, but Malvo’s mere existence challenges this notion not just through his actions, but bringing out the worst of those around him.  Much like the shotgun pellet in Lester’s hand, Malvo has infected those with good intentions to commit horrible actions and driven them to desperate acts.  Or, in the case of Chaz, they’re dragged into situations they wanted no part in.

Who Shaves the Barber- Lester leaves Chaz in jail

Lester is becoming what Malvo drove him to and he’s becoming a man who lives by no rules.  As of now, he believes that he’s escaped justice by painting himself as the victim through his strong sob story.  His entire ‘confession’ was well acted by both Martin Freeman, but also Bob Odenkirk as the cop who just wants to believe the good in Lester, but also have someone validate his drifter theory.

Chaz said last week that Lester isn’t right in the world, and he’s probably right, so Lester is removing himself from the world by believing he’s a man who can’t be caught.  He believes what he’s doing is perfectly fine.  Sure, there’s something to be said about a man who frames his brother for the murder of his wife and then goes to have sex with the wife of the bully who tormented him.  However, that’d be putting things in our idea of a civilized world.  Lester doesn’t see the world we do anymore.  But rather than be super crafty about it, he’s digging his way out of one situation and into another while still making careless mistakes, as I’m sure Gordo remembers his brief run-in with Lester and Chaz knows that Lester wasn’t kidding when he talked about being abducted.  Oh, and punching a police officer just to get yourself arrested wasn’t exactly smart, either.

Who Shaves the Barber- Lester giving it to Gina Hess

In his own world, Lester is untouchable, but I can’t help but wonder if he feels he deserves the reward of having sex with Gina Hess or, for now, escaping justice.  He’s the happiest he’s been in a long time, so he’s reaping the benefits of being slimy and underhanded.  And the picture frame of Sam and Gina Hess falling from the wall was a nicely added visual punch.  At this point, even if it’s pity sex, Lester sees himself as the victor and nothing can stop him.

Who Shaves the Barber- Molly tells Gus that they're winning

And nothing can stop Molly Solverson, either.  I’ve never lost a spleen, but I can’t help but wonder if everyone who ever did made as quick of a recovery as Solverson did.  However, she was a bit sluggish both in her movement and words.  Despite that, her spirit remained undeterred.  She’s the polar moral opposite of Lorne Malvo and Lester Nygaard in that she believes in a world with rules.  Hell, maybe that’s how she got this far in her police career without having to shoot someone- she just went by the book.

Again, though, I feel she pieced together the entire matter a bit too fast for my taste since she’s relying on guesses.  They’re smart guesses and she’s not far off, but I still find it too convenient for her to get it all right that quickly.  She has great detective skills, no doubt, so I must wonder how she hasn’t moved higher up the police food chain yet.  I would just want to know where she picked up her detective instincts, given how this feels like a small town with little to no crime.

Who Shaves the Barber- Everyone's duped by Solverson

But even after she believes she’s pieced the matter together, Lester is still one step ahead of her.  Tolman’s performance in that final scene was great, as she shows a blend of barely contained rage, sorrow and anguish all at once.  She actually can’t believe that Lester fooled the other officers that easily.  Chances are she is the only competent cop around.

Who Shaves the Barber- Gus Grimly in the hospital

Gus certainly isn’t feeling all that competent this week.  He wants to do the right thing, but he’s so doggone inept.  That’s not on purpose, but he’s trying to do too much on his own.  He and Molly plunged blindly into a snowstorm with no idea of what to find, which led to Grimly’s mistake.  He shows clear remorse for his actions and I did like the direction during the open scene where Grimly sitting in the hospital is played in reverse, as if he wants to undo the past.

Since Gus hasn’t had his gun or badge taken away, I assume Molly is the only one who knows that he shot her.  That should change, as I hope the two don’t just try to brush that aside.  This is probably the best chemistry I’ve seen between Allison Tolman and Colin Hanks, by the way, particularly when Molly tells Gus to keep his chin up.  They’re two of the few good people in a world filled with evil and they can’t help but show the occasional optimism.

Who Shaves the Barber- Lorne demands to know who from Fargo hired the ambush

Then there’s Lorne Malvo, the doer.  Thornton is ruthless in his portrayal of this cold killer.  He’s not unstoppable, as we saw last week, but he’s pretty damn durable.  We know what he wants because, like his conversation with Mr. Rundle proves, he just flat out says it and doesn’t make threats.  He promises.

Who Shaves the Barber- Lorne Malvo's massacre

We’ve seen Malvo murder already that if we didn’t see it actually happen, we could still get the full effect.  It’s what made the machine gun massacre feel more memorable.  Things like the woman screaming or the gun clicking instead of firing told us everything that we needed to know as everyone inside the building was helpless to Malvo’s machine gun.  But I don’t think his troubles are over now that he’s murdered the folks who sent Numbers and Wrench after him.

The only minor qualm I have with the episode is how Don Chumph’s execution isn’t mentioned.  Sure, it wouldn’t have added anything, but given the way he went out, I’m surprised no one in the police department even references it.

Who Shaves the Barber- Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key as Federal agents Bill Budge and Webb Pepper

As for Key and Peele, I do want to know how useful they’ll be at this point in the series’ run, given how there are only about three more episodes.  I’m sure they’ll be funny, no doubt, but I’m interested about their involvement.  Great start for them, but I’m looking forward to more.

“Who Shaves the Barber?” was a good follow up to “Buridan’s Ass.”  Lester demoralizing himself to cover his tracks and Malvo killing to survive and stay ahead shows how these two operate through their own subverted morals.  Justice has been slightly sidetracked, but like Molly told Gus, the good guys are winning.  We’ll see.

A Look at X-Men: Days of Future Past

After being teased about it midway through the credits of The Wolverine, we arrive at the next installment in the X-Men film franchise.  Remember?  When Logan returned to America, he received an unexpected visit from both Magneto and Professor Xavier.  The two warned him about a severe threat to mutant-kind.  Thus, we have X-Men: Days of Future Past.

X-Men Days of Future Past- Comic cover

The film itself is adapted from the 1981 comic-book storyline of the same name, written by Chris Claremont and John Byrne.  It serves as both a sequel to X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men: First Class, but isn’t a film made just to cram as many mutants and famous faces into it as possible.  For my money, Days of Future Past is probably the most ambitious X-Men film to date.  The focus here is less on the mutant question and more on the mutant solution in a time where Sentinels have wiped out most of human and mutant-kind alike.

X-Men Days of Future Past- Kitty Pryde with Bishop

The film begins in the year 2525, if man is still alive.  All right, we start in the apocalyptic future of 2025, but close enough.  Mutants and their human allies live on the brink of extinction.  In Moscow, Sentinels are dispatched from pods into the area to contend with the mutants.  Some are familiar faces: Colossus, Bobby and Kitty Pryde.  The new mutants include: Bishop, played by Omar Sy, Blink, played by Fan Bingbing, Warpath, played by Booboo Stewart, and Sunspot, played by Adam Canto.  Kitty and Bishop rush ahead to a vault, where Kitty links with his consciousness.  The others put up a decent fight, but they can only endure as the Sentinels adapt to their powers and eventually overwhelm them.  Before the Sentinels can also kill Bishop and Kitty, the two vanish.

X-Men Days of Future Past- Xavier and company in China

We then cut to China and see the familiar X-Jet board.  Offloading are Professor Xavier, Magneto, Storm and Logan, who has gotten himself a spiffy new suit and new adamantium claws since the last time we saw him.  They meet with Kitty and the other mutants, all alive at a monastery.  Through film exposition, Kitty explains some of the new mutants’ abilities, as well as her newfound ability to link with a mutant’s consciousness and send it to their younger self days before, as she did with Bishop, to warn them about the incoming Sentinels.

This plays perfectly into Erik and Charles’ idea to stop all of this: travel back in time to stop the Sentinels, product of Dr. Bolivar Trask, played by Peter Dinklage.  Trask began experimenting on mutants by using their DNA.  This did not please the young Mystique, who assassinated Trask.  She was soon captured, but Trask’s death persuaded the government to continue with the Sentinel program.  However, Mystique’s DNA became useful in that it gave the Sentinels the ability to adapt to mutant powers.

X-Men Days of Future Past- Logan about to be sent back in time

The plan is to send Professor Xavier back in time, but Kitty’s powers could cause almost anyone sent back to be ripped apart due to the instability of time travel, they need someone who can be broken, but easily fixed in no time.  Hence, Logan is the only realistic choice.  His consciousness will be sent into his younger body.  After that, he’s to recruit not just Xavier, but Erik as well.   Erik and Mystique are already on dark paths, so they may need a bit extra persuasion.

So in the past, Trask lobbies the Sentinel program to Congress, but the Senators believe it would be of no use since, at the time, mutants consist of such a small percentage of the population.  Trask is convinced that such a small number will grow in no time.  Despite this, the Senators do not advance the project.

Meanwhile, after an incident involving a lava lamp, a water bed and a naked woman, Logan heads to a near empty and uninviting looking X-Mansion.  Answering the door is Hank, who tells Logan to go away.  Logan forces his way in and lets Hank know that, in the future, the two of them are good friends.  So when Logan heads upstairs to see the Professor for himself, Hank transforms and the two fight until Charles Xavier walks down the stairs.  Walks.

Logan informs Xavier of his mission, but Charles is in no mood to help, so he tells Logan to fuck off.  Technically, Charles, Logan told you and Erik to go fuck yourself, but I’m not a stenographer.

When Logan asks how Xavier is able to walk, Hank explains that he developed a serum that allows him to walk, but at the expense of losing his mutant powers.  Charles just got tired of all of the voices.  That, coupled with losing Erik and Raven, and his students being drafted into the Vietnam War- which led to the school’s closure- has led to the downtrodden Charles Xavier that we have before us right now.  However, in no time at all, Charles reconsiders.

Though they’ll need Erik’s help, it turns out that Erik is being held in a maximum security cell in the Pentagon for assassinating John F. Kennedy by curving the bullet.  Now there’s a conspiracy theory you hadn’t heard before!  But without Charles’ powers, Cerebro can’t be used to help locate Erik.  Logan knows a guy who can help them break into the Pentagon, but with no Cerebro and no internet, the three must rely on the ancient piece of technology known as a phone book.

Time to reunite the band!

Like First Class, Days of Future Past works well as a period piece, though this one is less of a period piece since some time is devoted to the future X-Men.  Additionally, the film gives us a glimpse of who these characters were before becoming their well known selves from X-Men and onward.  It continues to show how important it is for Xavier to show mutantkind that there is a better way to coexist alongside humans that doesn’t involve violence.

X-Men Days of Future Past- Erik, Peter and Charles

Charles’ case is made more important because the catalyst that set off the chain of events leading to Logan’s future is also his greatest failure: Raven.  He couldn’t convince her to see things his way because it meant having to hide who she really was from humanity.  Contrast this with Erik’s point of view, which allowed Raven to embrace her true skin.  As always, the conflict comes from Erik and Charles’ eternal struggle over how to live amongst humans.

X-Men Days of Future Past- Coming back to Cerebro

Bryan Singer’s direction really stands out, both in the fight scenes, but the dialogue as well.  As much as I enjoy the sleek direction Matthew Vaughn gave First Class, Singer’s direction, particularly with the action scenes, reminded me a lot of X-2: X-Men United.  The man knows these characters and clearly has a lot of respect for the source material, and that shows through how he directed this film.  For example, during some fight scenes in the past, battles are shown through the point of view of people with handheld cameras, giving the fights an almost documentary-like feel to them.

Given the apocalyptic future the older X-Men live in, it’s no surprise how bleak and unpleasant the film’s tone can be at times.  The future hinges on Logan succeeding, but while he’s in the past, the mutants still have to contend with incoming Sentinels, which are pretty damn durable, given how they can adapt certain mutant abilities to survive almost anything the X-Men throw at them.  The Sentinels are ruthless and there are some surprisingly graphic death scenes, but I won’t spoil them for you.

X-Men Days of Future Past- Sentinels attack

X-Men Days of Future Past- Sentinel blasts Wolverine

Side-note, as a comic book fan, yes, I still would have preferred to see the giant mutant hunting robot Sentinels I remember from the comics and especially the animated series, but these Sentinels are still brutal and stop at nothing to hunt down mutants, so at least that part about them is right.

X-Men Days of Future Past- Sentinels

Though if Sentinels look like this in the future, I guess that means the Sentinel head we saw in X-Men: The Last Stand was just there for fan-service and not a prototype.

????????????

The overarching theme deals with hope.  As old Charles tells his younger self: “Just because someone stumbles and loses their way, it doesn’t mean they’re lost forever. Sometimes we need a little help.”  And Charles is right- everyone needs help, even if from an unlikely source.  Logan needs both Charles and Erik, who both hate each other, but acknowledge that they’re both necessary if they want to ensure a good future.

X-Men Days of Future Past- Young, broken Charles

James McAvoy does a great showing us a downtrodden and defeated Xavier.  From his facial expression and the flippant way he dismisses Logan’s cause, we’re seeing a man who went from giving lost mutant hope to not having any hope for even himself.  He’s broken because he couldn’t handle all of the voices in his head or losing Raven.  By giving the ultimate sacrifice, his mutant powers, he acknowledged that he failed, so he has nothing left to do but mope in his huge mansion with his trusted companion.

Dark Knight Rises- Bruce and Alfred

Wait…

X-Men Days of Future Past- Erik about to attack

Though Charles is shown as a shell of his former self, Erik’s solution to the human problem could not be hardened any further.  Michael Fassbender is also great in expressing Erik’s rage, not just at humanity, but Charles for being too idealistic to think that humanity would accept them.  As we saw in First Class, Charles and Erik don’t want the same thing, but neither of them is completely right, either.  We may side with Charles because, you know, his method of living alongside humanity doesn’t involve murder, but Erik isn’t in the wrong because he knows that there will always be a segment of humans who hate and fear mutants simply because they’re different.  It’s a battle over ideas that has no end and, like in First Class, I like how desperate Erik is to have Charles see things from his point of view.

He has a great scene, that’s partially used to explain the fates of other mutants from First Class,   where he lashes out at Charles and basically calls him a coward for not protecting the very mutants he sought to teach and embolden.  I have to wonder if Erik partially blames himself for this as well.  After all, he was the one who nudged Mystique to show her true colors instead of hiding herself from the world.  Erik may have some good intentions, but he’s still a murderer who would prefer if the world had no humans in it at all.  Like McKellen’s performance, I was wrapped up in the words of a man who would prefer to see me dead.

X-Men Days of Future Past- Charles and Erik

Speaking of, while Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen don’t get nearly the amount of screen time that they did in the previous X-Men films, I did enjoy seeing them reflect on the wasted years fighting each other.  These are the weary, battle-fatigued mutants who have seen the worst of what mankind can produce, but who also see how failing to find common ground on an issue that affects them both has ultimately driven them together in the face of certain death.  I still relish every bit of dialogue the two share.

X-Men Days of Future Past- Mystique prepared to assassinate Trask

Ultimately, though, I would say this is more Mystique’s chance to shine than anyone else’s.  Here, we see her developing into the strong leader that walks her own path instead of blindly following Erik and his Brotherhood of Mutants.  She’s fleshed out and given a purpose to exact revenge against humanity: humans murdered those she once considered friends just to experiment on them.  In her mind, she has justifiable cause to murder Trask.  However, Mystique is neither Charles’ nor Erik’s protégé at this point.  She doesn’t buy into Charles’ optimistic vision that human and mutantkind can coexist peacefully, but she also isn’t out to exterminate humans and create a world for mutants alone, as Erik would have it.  She’s her own mutant and won’t be defined by someone else’s ideology.  That’s the confident leader that I know!

X-Men Days of Future Past- Erik and Raven in booth

And is there really anything else to say about Jennifer Lawrence’s performance that hasn’t already been said?  She gives Mystique such dimension and the character herself works better on her own, I think, as opposed to being on a team.  We see a lot more of Raven as a human than I expected.  It’s not a problem, but I did notice it.  Best guess is now that Jennifer Lawrence is an Academy Award winning actress, we’re going to see more of her instead of just Mystique in her transformed state, and I’m fine with that.

X-Men Days of Future Past- Evan Peters as Quicksilver

The standout performance, as many have already said, has to go to Evan Peters as Quicksilver.  My goodness, so much controversy over this guy just based on his appearance.  I personally don’t have an issue with it.  Yes, his jacket looks like it’s made of tin foil and the goggles may be a bit much, but…he’s rocking a Pink Floyd shirt.  Pink Floyd!  I think he fits the look of the decade, but more than that, I think he’s got Quicksilver’s personality down.  Quicksilver is only here to help bust Magneto out of the Pentagon and has, for my money, one of the film’s most memorable moments, if not the most memorable.

On that same note, for a film that’s so dark, there’s plenty of humor.  Most of it comes through Hugh Jackman’s performance as Logan and how he adapts to existing in 1973.  He has one of my favorite moments when he walks through a metal detector and has a confused look on his face because, as he only has bone claws, he doesn’t set off the alarm.  Also, his reaction upon learning that there are only three television networks and PBS is hilarious.

And, as always with many Marvel based films, there are plenty of nods and winks for comic fans, such as Quicksilver saying that his mother knows someone who can move metal.

X-Men Days of Future Past- Quicksilver's sister

Though I’m pretty sure she isn’t the Scarlet Witch.

There’s so much to say about this movie, and I’m sure I’ll have more once I see the film again, but I just want to get some nitpicks out of the way.

X-Men Days of Future Past- Bolivar Trask, played by Peter Dinklage, with a young William Stryker

As much as I like Peter Dinklage as an actor, I don’t think he was used as much as he could have been here.  He mostly exists to discuss the Sentinel program and get the ball rolling, but we don’t get into his head the way we do with Stryker in X-2.  Speaking of Stryker, by the way, Trask has a great moment where he tells a young William Stryker that he doesn’t hate mutants, but sees them as allies alongside humans in fighting their common enemy: extinction.  I wish we got to see more of that or at least some scenes of him experimenting on mutants.  We know he’s done it based on the autopsy reports that Mystique finds, but I didn’t find Trask to be as menacing or that much of a threat as Stryker was in X-2.

You’re asking for trouble when you introduce the concept of time travel, especially in an already established universe that’s stumbling over its own plot holes.  First Class introduced its own set of continuity errors, but Days of Future Past had me wondering at times about certain glaring errors that pop up because we’re dealing with time travel.  For example, before Logan goes back through time, Charles tells him that he and Erik could not have been further apart at that point.  So why didn’t Kitty just send Logan back in time a bit further?  It just felt like a reason to give Logan a conflict he needed to resolve.

X-Men Days of Future Past- Comic Kitty Pryde talks with Storm and Professor Xavier

Oh, on that: so Kitty can phase people through time now?  I mean, it works as a nod to the comic since Kitty was the one who was sent back in time.  However, since Kitty is still relatively young in this universe and Ellen Page doesn’t look a day older than she did in X-Men: The Last Stand, sending her back in time wouldn’t work.  I know, I really shouldn’t question mutant evolution in a series that all about mutants being the next stage of human evolution, but it just stood out to me.

Magneto has metal rip through Logan

Speaking of nods to the comic books, there’s a particular moment when Magneto does…something, I won’t say what it is, but I couldn’t help but think of this image.

Anyway, back to time travel and continuity issues: with this and First Class, are we officially ignoring X-Men Origins: Wolverine?  In First Class, Emma Frost is older than she’ll look in Origins, which, chronologically, takes place First Class.  Whenever we go through Logan’s mind and see glimpses of his future, we only see the X-2 version of Stryker, played by Brian Cox, never Danny Huston, who played Stryker in Origins.  So…is Origins a distant memory?  If so, that’s fine by me.  And since Senator Robert Kelly was already introduced in this universe, guess we can’t try to assassinate him anymore.

I thought Charles and Hank bought Logan’s time travel story a bit too easily.  Again, in a world populated by mutants, time travel isn’t exactly a stretch, but since Charles has already met Logan in his time, I have to wonder why he accepted so quickly that the same man he’d met before was now from the future.

X-Men Days of Future Past- Warpath and Sunspot

Also, we don’t get to learn much about the new mutants, though I understand the writers not wanting to just overload the movie with random mutants who get little screen time.  Unlike The Last Stand, the new mutants do serve a purpose when battling the Sentinels.  Bishop, Blink and Warpath’s abilities in particular just pop with vibrant color in the middle of a dreary future.  I can’t recall if they’re all actually named in the film, but better that they serve a purpose instead of just showing up for fan-service.

X-Men Days of Future Past- Havok

The same can’t be said for others.  For example, Havok is only in one scene to be freed by Mystique, but other than that, he doesn’t return to help out Charles and Hank.  At least he can control his powers and doesn’t shoot his energy beams like they’re hula hoops.

X-Men Days of Future Past- Rogue

And I’m even more confused as to why there was such confusion on whether to keep Rogue in the movie.  At the end of the day, I have to wonder why she was even included if she’s not integral to the plot?  I mean, Anna Paquin does show up, but she’s there for maybe five seconds.  Blink and you’ll miss her.

X-Men Days of Future Past- Bishop in animated series

However, I did like the inclusion of Bishop, if only for the nod to the animated series Days of Future Past adaptation where Bishop was sent back in time.

Days of Future Past is a very thought provoking entry into the X-Men film franchise filled with tense moments that leave you wondering about the mutant’s fate.  Singer takes the characters and source material very seriously and has crafted probably the most serious X-Men film so far.  Days of Future Past asks whether we choose to accept help just because we stumble.  Do we accept it or walk our own path?

Is the future predetermined or can we fight to secure a world worth living in?  The film is fast and entertaining to watch, but it knows when to slow down and let viewers soak in the gravity of the situation both mutant and humankind find or will find themselves in.  It brings the cast of both the original trilogy and First Class together to create a well-made film.  The time travel does raise a lot of questions about both the past and future of the film franchise, but nothing deterred me from enjoying an excellent movie.

And by all means, stay during the credits.

 

A Look at Californication- Season 7, Episode 7: “Smile”

Last week ended with Hank reminding Charlie that, no matter what they’ve been through, they find a way to weather the gloomy storms that come their way.  “Smile” has them weathering smaller storms this week, but preparing for larger ones that are forming as a result of their actions.

Smile- Hank walks in on Chris working on Karen's back

The episode begins with Hank walking in on a man bending Karen over and giving it right to her.  Actually, Chris is just working on Karen’s back, but Hank is still none too pleased.  He shares the news of Julia’s reaction, but also brings by his first paycheck for his writing gig.  He figured Karen could use the financial support, despite the fact that she has a house and he doesn’t.  Karen tears the check, telling Hank that he cannot buy her forgiveness.

She wants him out, but Hank won’t.  So when Chris insists, Hank responds by kicking Chris, who responds with what looks like a painful sucker punch to the face.  Hank resorts to the only tactic he has left: pouring hot coffee all over Chris.  Take that!

The bad day is just starting.  The Santa Monica Cop staff is a bit thin: Levon called off and Rath is eating in his office, which he doesn’t do unless he’s super-pissed.

Smile- Staff meeting on Hank's script

And in pops a pissed Rath, ready for the page one rewrite of Hank’s script.  While he’s still pissed, he won’t allow his anger to influence the table read.  While Hank’s writing is fine- if not a bit smart-alecky, some changes can still be made.  Also, Rath just got off the phone with Julia.  She doesn’t want the part anymore, but there’s no time to recast the role.  Hence, everyone needs to cancel their plans for the night because they’re staying in!

Smile- Hank pays Julia a visit at the dentist's office

So Hank heads to the dentist’s office, where Julia is hard at work with a patient.  Hank tries to talk her back into the role, but Julia doesn’t regret her decision.  In fact, she wants to minimize her anger by not being around the likes of Hank, Rath and Hashtag.

Smile- Hank speaks with Dr. Daniel Allen, DDS, played by Dan Bakkedahl

The discussion is interrupted by the arrival of Dr. Daniel Allen, DDS, played by Dan Bakkedahl, who brings Hank into his office.  Dr. Allen makes it clear that he won’t allow a valuable employee like Julia to be turned down the wrong road by the likes of Hank.  The actual reason is that Dr. Allen has a thing for Julia.  He never wanted to be an astronaut or play for the Yankees.  He just wanted to marry a busty, blonde hygienist.

Very specific desires you have there, sir.  Julia doesn’t know this, but Allen thinks he’s in a good position already since he and Julia get along.  After all, a relationship should be about teamwork.  Well, according to Hank’s grandmother, a relationship is about laughter, hot sex and the occasional Dutch oven, which sounds much more interesting, I will admit.  Point is- Allen doesn’t want Hank to get Julia’s hopes up about acting.  Also, stay away from the office.

Smile- Krull at the bar with Charlie, talking about his potential rock and roll butler memoir

Charlie drinks his lunch for the day when who should show up behind the bar but Krull.  Yup, rather than continue touring with Atticus, Krull decided to stay put after bringing back Hank.  Since the love of Krull’s life is dead, his focus will go to working on motorbikes and potential memoirs as a rock and roll butler.  When you roll with the likes of Atticus, Bowie, Rolling Stones, Bad Company, Hendrix, McCartney, Ringo, Fleetwood Mac, Eagles, the Pistols, Motorhead, Motley Crue, Clapton, Black Sabbath and Ozzy, I imagine you’ve got to have at least one interesting story.  Krull has some things written up, but he doesn’t fancy himself as a writer.  Nonetheless, a now excited Charlie would love to see what Krull has to offer.

Smile- Levon and Hank blaze

Hank meets up with Levon, who decides to spend his day off by blazing.  Not a bad idea, but he could better manage his time.  Anyway, Levon lets Hank know that Julia wants to move back to New York and thinks her son has lost his morals.  Please, Julia.  Levon liked to whip out his cock and you thought he had morals?  But Julia finds show business corrupt and fucked up, which it is, so she shouldn’t be too surprised.

Levon shares Hank’s dislike of Dr. Allen, whom he refers to as Dr. Dick.  Heh.  The two conspire to deal with Allen.  It all starts with Levon’s supposed and very well-timed toothache.

Smile- Marcy hears Stu's $1 million proposal

Marcy meets with Stu and demands to know why he would turn to prostitution.  Stu isn’t exactly having fun with the women.  Their blowjobs are rough and toothy, not silky like Marcy’s.  Additionally, the orgasms are as painful as coming into a broken beer bottle.  I cannot un-see that sort of visual.  But hey, Stu’s gotta get the toxins out of him somehow after Marcy broke his heart…when he cheated on her.

But Stu asks what drew Marcy there.  After talking with Charlie, she had planned to ask him for a loan, but turns out that Stu doesn’t do loans.  He would pay her, and he brings up the same offer he made to Charlie: $1 million for one more night.  And hey, she’s a high value target, so consider your options wisely, Marcy.

Smile- Hank and Levon arrive at the dentist's office to speak with Julia

Hank and Levon head to the dentist’s office, and do a poor job of hiding the fact that they’ve been blazing.  Julia’s at least understanding, though she still thinks Hank is an amoral prick.  Hank insists his heart is in the right place, and tells Julia that she shouldn’t be surprised that she works in places where people want to fuck her.  Yeah, seriously, lady, you’re Heather Graham!  Men will want to fuck you no matter what.

Smile- Dr. Daniel Allen proposes to Julia

Including Dr. Allen, who owns up to his desires when Hank calls him out on it.  He pulls out a ring, even though he and Julia have never been on a single date.  Despite that, he promises to be a positive male role model for Levon, who responds by swiftly kneeing Allen in the crotch.  Hank follows that up with a punch to the face that ends up knocking out one of Allen’s teeth.  Father-son bonding!

Smile- Hank tells Rath that Levon would like to audition for a role on Santa Monica Cop

And so it was, Hank returned Julia to Santa Monica Cop, where she tells Rath that she’s on board.  Rath is excited, though less thrilled when Levon lets him know that he wants to audition for a small part.  Rath’s still pissed about Levon having sex in his pool, but it turned out to be on his bucket list.  How high on the list was it?

Smile- Marcy and Charlie discuss Stu's proposal

At House Runkle, Charlie reads some of Krull’s work when Marcy enters.  She takes Charlie to their room to discuss Stu’s proposal, the proposal that Charlie already knew about, but never told Marcy because, you know, they’re supposed to be good people.  Marcy insists that if a client gets an offer, you bring it to the patient, but Charlie is insulted that Marcy would insinuate that her husband is also her pimp.  Sure, Marcy was pissed about the offer, but she took some time to think about it.

Charlie is just concerned that Marcy would enjoy the sex, but she confesses that she never loved Stu.  She may have loved his monster cock, but not the man.  And if she’s been fucked by him before, what’s the big deal?

Well, the big deal is that all this talk of illicit sex is making Charlie quite the randy man, so Marcy presents herself and the two screw.  When they’re both done, they both agree that this is one fucked-up situation, but sort of hot.

Smile- Krull watches Charlie and Marcy bone

Krull also agrees.

Hank, Levon and Julia enjoy a monster movie while blazing.  Well, Levon doesn’t get to since Mom’s around, but he heads to bed anyway.  When Levon leaves, Julia thanks Hank for, again, not taking ‘no’ for an answer.

Smile- Hank and Julia after whiskey and weed

Though Hank is ready to leave, he’s got enough whiskey and weed in him to stun a horse, so Julia insists that he stay.  In their moment together, Julia tells Hank that she was never afraid of acting, but that she would develop feelings for Hank all over again.  Seeing Levon happy has made her happy.

The two look deep into each other’s eyes and…have another tickle fight!

Just kidding, that doesn’t last long.  Yeah, they kiss, and despite once agreeing that going down this path was a bad idea, they continue.

“Smile” was another example of our lovable characters going against the grain.  I’m reminded of a line by Jason Stackhouse on True Blood: “Sometimes the right thing is to do is to do the wrong thing.”  Indeed, there are very few right choices on Californication that don’t come with some type of repercussion.  Like last week, we see the consequences of bad decisions.  More than that, we see how uncertain these people are about their futures.  Their vision of a happy life falls apart due to their own decisions, particularly with the likes of Krull, Dr. Allen, and even Charlie and Marcy.

Smile- Charlie and Marcy head to Fucky Town

In fact, I’ll start with the Runkles.  We get a good idea of where Charlie and Marcy’s morals stand when it comes to their financial security.  While I’m sure most people would be offended at the idea of offering their significant other up as a sex object in exchange for a great amount of money, Charlie and Marcy are in a desperate situation.  They want a secure future, but lack the funds.  Of course, both express disgust at Stu for the idea and they know it’s wrong, but to them, $1 million is probably the most amount of money they’d expect to see in quite some time.

Smile- Charlie tells Marcy that he's not her fucking pimp

And I enjoyed just how angry Charlie was for a second when Marcy was upset at him for not discussing Stu’s offer to her first.  We see just how much Charlie loves Marcy.  He wants to keep her…well, pure isn’t the word, but at least with some dignity.  But the whole idea of sticking to your morals gets turned on its side not just when Marcy considers Stu’s suggestion, but when it leads to Charlie getting a stiffy.  They both acknowledge that this is a completely screwy situation, but the humor of this show has always come from characters trying to get out of morally irresponsible situations that they put themselves in.

Smile- Krull enjoys what he sees

I’m also glad to see Krull back, as his involvement ties directly to the events of the previous season for some more continuity.  And given the laundry list of stars he’s traveled with, I’m also interested in his memoir.

Smile- Hank and Levon discuss Dr. Allen

Hank’s heart is in the right place, yes, but he has some misguided actions, such as, you know, getting a prostitute to deflower his virgin son or giving money to Karen.  We know he wants to do the right thing, and in his own way, he is.  Hank doesn’t typically listen to reason, which is why Julia thanked him for not listening to her instructions.  Again, I like the growing bond Hank has with Levon, even if their bonding does involve smoking weed and getting into a fight with the dentist.  Gotta start someplace, I guess.

Trying to control Hank is damn near impossible.  He’s going to do and say the uncomfortable things that people don’t like, such as when he tells Julia about the nature of the entertainment industry.  She’s a beautiful woman and Heather Graham- men are going to want to do very strange things to her, so she needs to accept that.  Doesn’t mean she shouldn’t put up a fight.

Smile- Karen rips Hank's paycheck

But Karen is that one woman who won’t just fall head over heels for Hank’s antics.  She knows how he thinks and won’t make it easy or beat around the bush when it comes to his crap, which is what makes Hank trying to win back her affection all the more important.

Smile- Hank and Julia about to kiss

Also, given how Hank and Julia acknowledged before that kissing was a bad idea, they’re sliding backwards at the end of the episode.  Maybe it’s all the whiskey and weed, but it’s still a bad decision.

There are smiles to be had with this episode, but also time to stop and consider the future.  Whether it’s potentially offering your wife up for sex or having an affair with the woman who you just learned had a son you didn’t know about, Californication doesn’t give characters easy options.  You hope they learn from their errors and do the right, but if they did, the show wouldn’t be as fun or interesting to watch.

A Look at The Amazing Spider-Man 2

Maybe it’s me, but looking at a work that’s inspired by a comic series where I’m heavily familiar with the source material, as is currently the case with AMC’s The Walking Dead, or in this case, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, I find myself looking at this from two viewpoints: as a comic book fan and a guy who is aspiring to be an aspiring critic.  Or just a guy with an opinion on film, really.

I don’t think I’ve seen such polarizing opinions on a Spider-Man film since Spider-Man 3, but man, people are divided on this film.  Some believe it’s a great film, some call it their favorite Spider-Man or even Marvel film, and some call it the best superhero film of the year so far.  Given how barren the field is so far this year, that’s not saying much.  On the opposite spectrum, some hate the film for reasons such as a shoddy script and weak character motivations.

For me, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, at times, is a fun film with plenty of emotional drama, laughs and the pain that is living out a normal double life in New York City.  Such is the life of Peter Parker.  Like most sequels, the world established in the previous film feels bigger.  In this case, there’s a lot of setup for future films and villains.  The movie takes what the reboot established and builds on the complexities of interpersonal relationships, with mixed results.  As is always the case with Peter Parker, his inability to let go of people he loves clouds his judgment.  This all comes at a price of some awkward storytelling and, I’ll admit, some not too interesting or well thought out character motivations.  The movie has some great action set pieces and emphasizes how one person can put on a suit to inspire people.  This is what makes Spider-Man who he is and how he’s seen as a symbol of hope.

Let’s dive right in.  The film begins in the past, where Richard Parker makes a video that explains his disappearance and what people will say about him when he’s gone.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2- Richard Parker fights with pilot

On a plane ride later, Richard and Mary are ambushed by a man sent to assassinate Richard.  A fight breaks out and Mary is shot and killed in the process.  Though Richard gets to upload his video before more disaster can strike, no one is safe when the pilot is killed and the plane prepares for a crash landing.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2- Paul Giamatti as Aleksei Sytsevich

We then cut to the present, where Spider-Man does what a Spider-Man does best: chase after a stolen Oscorp truck filled with plutonium.  The hijacker himself is Aleksei Sytsevich, played by…Paul Giamatti of all people.  Really, Giamatti?  You had nothing else to do?

The Amazing Spider-Man 2- Spidey saves Max Dillon, played by Jamie Foxx

During the chase, meek scientist Max Dillon, played by Jamie Foxx, is almost injured, but he’s saved by Spidey.  Hence forth, Dillon is Spidey’s eyes and ears.  What a perfect present.

Except Peter has somewhere else to be, like his own graduation.  Valedictorian Gwen Stacy delivers her address of living in the moment to the graduates.  Luckily, Peter shows up just in time, but the ghost of Denis Leary- I mean, Captain Stacy- haunts Peter, reminding him of his promise to leave Gwen alone.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2- Peter and Gwen break up

Peter tells Gwen about how hard it is for him to stay away from the girl he promised that he’d stay away from.  He’d want nothing more than to be with her, but he can’t because he doesn’t want something terrible to come her way.  We call that foreshadowing.  Gwen still loves Peter, but he won’t break his promise to Ghost Stacy, so the two break up.  For now, anyway.

After Aunt May reminds Peter that they don’t have a chimney, Peter finds his father’s briefcase, but tosses it instead of doing anything with it for the time being.  Plant that scene in the back of your mind.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2- Max Dillon's shrine to Spider-Man

Max Dillon, enthralled that he’s been saved by the one and only Spider Man, creates a shrine to the wall crawler.  So did Dillon just already have these photos of Spider-Man around or did he do some major clipping in a short amount of time?

On his way to work at Oscorp, the bumbling Dillon is ignored by almost everyone but Gwen Stacy, who must now lend her ears when Dillon expresses his admiration for Spider-Man.  Heck, at this point, Dillon’s just glad that Gwen remembered his name.  Max is very difficult to remember, don’t you know?

The Amazing Spider-Man 2- Harry talks to a dying Norman Osborn

Elsewhere, a dying Norman Osborn, played by Chris Cooper, gets a visit from his son, Harry, played by Dane DeHaan.  They…don’t get along at all and the feeling is mutual all the way.  Norman insists that Harry threw away hiss potential, but it doesn’t help that he sent Harry to boarding school at the ripe age of 11.  What a dick.  Norman doesn’t expect Harry to forgive him, but to see the bigger picture: Harry’s childhood was sacrificed for something much greater.

At this point, Harry notices a twitching sensation in his hand.  He has the same genetic disease that’s currently killing Norman.  Norman does leave his son with a flash drive full of his life’s work.  Hey, any consolation prize will do.

Soon after, Norman Osborn passes.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2- Max Dillon about to tempt fate

Back at Oscorn, there’s a circuitry issue, but the technical operations employee can’t shut off the power.  Therefore, Max Dillon tries to reconnect the cords himself.  He does, but rather than something happening immediately after, it happens a few seconds after.  Dillon, for lack of better words, gets a shock and falls into a vat of eels.

Harry, now head of Oscorp, learns from the other higher-ups that because of Curt Connors’ incident, Oscorp is under heavy scrutiny- scrutiny that may fall onto Harry even though he’s unfamiliar with all of the details at this point.  Harry does know that he probably can’t trust any of his father’s workers, save for one, a young assistant named Felicia, played by Felicity Jones.  I don’t believe she’s given a last name in the film, but if it happens to be Hardy, I will be one very happy boy.  And I guess that means everyone in the world works at Oscorp

The Amazing Spider-Man 2- Harry and Peter reconnect

Anyway, Harry leaves the meeting when he receives word that Peter Parker has arrived.  Indeed, Peter came to see how Harry was coping after Norman’s death.  Their talk is a bit awkward, given how it’s been eight years since they last met, but in no time at all, they’re talking like old friends and reconnect.  The two talk of their current situations: Peter is in a complicated situation with a girl, while Harry tried to forget everything about New York when he was sent away.

Dillon, meanwhile, springs back to life and leaves Oscorp.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2- Gwen and Peter try to be friends

Having spent his time with Harry, Peter meets up with Gwen, who has recently received a phone call from the scholars program at Oxford.  The two accept that they probably can’t be together, so they try to be friends instead.  Peter admits that he’s been following her when he patrols the city, as he can’t stand not being with her.  We call that stalking, Peter.  However, the two newly minted friends don’t get much time to reconnect, as Peter senses something amiss in the distance.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2- Max Dillon's transformation

Dillon makes his way through New York, trying to remain as incognito as possible while also setting off car alarms by his presence alone.  He eventually heads to Times Square and feeds off of the electricity, causing lights to go haywire.  Dillon’s now blue, Dr. Manhattan face appears all over nearby screens- he’s finally received the attention he craved.

He even attracts Spider-Man’s attention, though Spidey isn’t quick to remember who he assigned to be his eyes and ears.  Spidey tries to rationalize with Dillon, as he knows Dillon isn’t out to bring anyone harm.  However, when police officers open fire, Dillon lashes back in a rage, eventually short circuiting all of Times Square.  A battle ensues that ends with Spider-Man spraying Dillon with a hose.

After the battle, a fatigued Peter heads home and tosses his costume atop his father’s briefcase.  Then, for some strange reason, he decides to open it up and do some research on Roosevelt Station.  Why?  We’ll think about that later.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2- Irritation on Harry's neck

Harry, meanwhile, notices a growing irritation on his neck.  As he goes to scratch it, he drops Norman’s USB drive, which opens to reveal Easter eggs for future film installments-I mean information regarding Oscorp’s projects, including a video featuring both Richard Parker and Norman Osborn.

With his equipment mangled after the Times Square battle, Peter sets to work on fixing his web shooters.  In fact, he spends a good while repairing them when, the next day, he receives a phone call from Harry, who has also been up all night.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2- Harry tells Peter that he needs Spider-Man's blood

Harry is dying, but feels that Peter can save his life.  The spider blood that Richard and Norman worked on?  There’s a possibility that it could help cure diseases.  Granted, Richard and Norman never made it to human trials, but if the spider that bit the man who became Spider-Man worked wonders, there’s a chance that it could do the same for Harry.  He needs Spider-Man’s blood.  And Peter, being the man who takes pictures of Spider-Man, is just the guy who can help bring Spidey to Harry.  Will he?

Well, see the film and find out for yourself, because that’s where we’ll stop with the plot.

Again, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is very ambitious with what it wants to do.  The film has some substance and good character moments, primarily helped, again, through great performances by Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone.  The production and tone of the film are a lot more vibrant and New York feels livelier than the previous movie, as if we’re getting a glimpse of what the city is like with Spider-Man around to give people hope.  Peter’s life is busier than before and while the score does help portray that busyness, I personally don’t find the score as memorable as Danny Elfman’s work.  That’s not to say the score in this film is bad, but I certainly can’t recall any memorable pieces of music.

Peter’s character arc builds on where he ended up at the end of the first film, promising Captain Stacy that he would leave Gwen out of his life to ensure her safety.  While I wish the film had picked a better way to portray this instead of coming across as heavy handed, I did like seeing Peter frustrated with the fact that he couldn’t be with the woman he loved.  He resists being with her at first, yet he’s always watching her from afar, which shows his inability to remove himself from her life.  He wants her away because horrible things could happen to her, because Peter Parker’s friends and family end up paying the price for being associated with him, whether in the comics, films, television shows or any other medium.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2- Aunt May and Peter at graduation

I enjoyed Peter’s relationship with Aunt May.  I like Sally Field as an actress, but, and I hate that I’m constantly comparing this to the Raimi series, but I think Rosemary Harris had the more memorable performance.  Field doesn’t do a bad job.  In fact, she’s playing an Aunt May that’s close to her Ultimate counterpart, whereas Harris’ Aunt May was more traditional.  She’s given some great banter moments with Peter, like when she tells Peter that they don’t have a chimney that he just cleaned or when Peter calls her the Laundry Sheriff when she won’t let him do his laundry at that particular time.  I understand May’s reasoning for withholding information from Peter: she’s his boy now and only his.  She’s overprotective because she cares.  I just wish the information she kept from him was more interesting, but I’ll get into that later.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2- Max Dillon in elevator with Gwen Stacy

Jamie Foxx does a good job with some of the material he’s given, though I can’t sympathize with him as a character.  He wants to be recognized in a world that treats him as invisible and he idolizes the man who he’ll soon come to hate.

Jim Carrey as Edward Nygma

All the reviews I’ve read and seen that compared this version of Max Dillon to Jim Carrey’s Edward Nygma from Batman Forever aren’t too far off.

Batman Forever- Riddler's Lair

Hell, Dillon’s shrine to Spider-Man is even similar looking to Nygma’s lair.  But I personally don’t sympathize with a character just because they’re an introvert that craves attention.  Also, he goes from wanting attention to wanting a world without Spider-Man just because Spidey didn’t remember his name?  Kind of a lame motivator, Dillon.

I’m also not a fan of the contrived way Dillon ends up in the vat of eels.  It felt too reminiscent of the accident that turned Victor Fries into Mr. Freeze in Batman and Robin. Luckily, the only cornball line I could remember is when Dillon talked about wanting to light his candles.  I do wish the writers had a better way for Dillon to land on the name “Electro,” but it’s not a major problem since the name isn’t used all that often after that.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2- Electro in suit

Foxx plays it straight despite the goofiness of the role and looks great when he becomes Electro, butI just wish I had a better understanding of his motivation.  He thinks Spider-Man lied to him and intentionally forgot his name, but just before that, he was willing to listen to reason and talk things out.  I suppose his anger is justified if it’s directed at the people at Ravencroft trying to control him, but his anger goes beyond that because, again, he wants a world without Spider-Man.  Dillon had the potential to be a larger threat, but the film demanded more than that.  As such, he goes from becoming the main threat to a mid level boss that exists as Harry’s flunkie.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2- Dane DeHaan as Harry Osborn

And this is where I segue onto Harry Osborn himself.  Dane DeHaan himself also gives a fine performance.  It shares some similarities with what James Franco did with the role, in that he still has issues with a negligent father.  Harry’s motivation is desperation: he’s dying and will do anything to survive.  When Harry speaks to Norman about his lost childhood, it felt like he Norman threw him under the bus for his own purposes.

I’m not a giant fan of the fact that we as an audience should just accept that Harry and Peter have been friends for a long time, even though Harry, I believe, was not referenced at all in the last film.  Yet I find their friendship believable.  They reminisce about old times like they really have been separated for years.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2- Harry at secret projects zone

Harry’s desperation clouds his judgment.  When he chooses to use the spider venom on himself, he’s taking his life in his own hands, damn the consequences.  Not a smart choice, but hey, I give him points for trying.  Harry’s problem is that he has few people on his side: aside from Felicia, he can’t trust almost anyone at Oscorp and if the company’s secrets got out, he’d be blamed since he’s the face of Oscrop.  And now that he and Peter know each other’s identities, that sets them up for clashes down the road if Harry is still able to transform, but I’ll get into that later.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2- Peter and Gwen hide in closet

The almost universal positive I’ve heard about this film involves the performances by the leads, and I can’t argue against that.  From the ways they look at each other to pointing out each other’s little ticks, or how they agree that hiding in a closet is cliché, Peter and Gwen are as charming together as they were in the first film.  Sure, being a real life couple could play a part in that, but Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone just come off as genuine through their performances, almost as if they aren’t acting, but being a couple.  Their chemistry really is the strongest part of this film.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2- Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy

Peter and Gwen’s desire to be together is their undoing.  Gwen took a chance to leave Peter’s life by accepting the offer at Oxford, but she’s blinded by her love for Peter.  That’s not out of character, but it’s indicative of how these two don’t grasp how dangerous their lives will be as long as they are together.  They choose each other, but troubles will also choose the two of them.

Spider-Man 2- Peter tells Mary Jane that he doesn't love her

I’m reminded of the café scene in Spider-Man 2 where Peter told Mary Jane that he didn’t love her.  He lied, but he did it to keep her safe.  In the end, Mary Jane chose to be with him despite the consequences.  Gwen Stacy does the same here because she can’t live that kind of ‘will they, won’t they’ life.  Thank the heavens, because the audience can only stomach that for so long.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2- Valedictorian Gwen Stacy

I liked seeing Gwen grow from the previous film to this one, such as her being selected to attend Oxford.  Emma Stone gives Gwen Stacy a great personality: she’s confident and intelligent, but she’s also there when Peter needs emotional support.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2- Crispy Peter Parker

Then there’s Peter, who is charming both in and out of the costume.  Andrew Garfield has really grown into the role and feels very comfortable as Spider-Man.  He’s jokey and making more quips during battle.  Not a lot, but it’s a small step up from the last film.  Not at the level of, say, Spectacular Spider-Man yet.  One example: after Electro proclaims he’ll be a god, Peter replies “A god named Sparkles?”  I had as much fun watching Spider-Man swing through the city as I did with Tobey Maguire in the Raimi films.  Spider-Man is seen as a real hero to the people because he gives them hope.  More than that, this is a Peter Parker who feels more involved than the previous one.

The key word is proactive.  One criticism I’ve had with the Raimi films, and I know I’m not alone on this, is how Peter Parker didn’t do a lot of investigation when looking into his foes.  I get that Spider-Man isn’t Batman, but some effort goes into being a superhero.  You can’t just expect the villains to come to you.  The scripts for the Raimi films didn’t make Peter all that hands-on, but that’s not Tobey Maguire’s fault.

But the writers here have a clear grasp of how to make Peter Parker proactive.  We see him doing things like working on his web shooters, researching Roosevelt Station and actually meeting Harry Osborn in costume to warn him about the spider-venom.  He gets involved because he knows his enemies will come after him.  Like in Spider-Man 2, we see how hectic his life has become.  Well, not really.  We hear of it, but I’ll address that later, as this film more about Peter’s interpersonal relationships than it is about trying to maintain a balance between hero and student.  But the little things, like rescuing a bullied school student and hearing how divided the public is on Spider-Man shows that, despite the backlash he receives, he’s still able to inspire hope.

So now I’ll get into my issues with the film, and this is where we delve into spoiler territory.  First off, the matter of Peter’s parents: the flashback we get at the beginning of the film and Aunt May telling Peter about how people planned to slander Richard’s name, those scenes I have no issue with.  It’s Peter’s lack of motivation for doing research on his parents that I take issue with.  Why does he?  For the longest time he pushes Richard’s briefcase about in lieu of other matters, but all of a sudden, after his first battle with Electro, for no reason whatsoever, Peter starts looking into the mystery of his parents.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2- Peter in secret lab in Roosevelt Station

Furthermore, Richard Parker’s video, uploaded to Oscorp’s own server, just happened to go unnoticed all this time?  Given the lengths Oscorp went to wipe out Max Dillon’s existence to save its own butt, I find it difficult to swallow the idea that they somehow missed the video that Richard Parker made about Oscorp’s secrets.  And how did Oscorp forget about Roosevelt Station?  They built the damn hidden facility, but forgot about it?  No explanation given for that one.  And Oscorp is always very meticulous when it comes to safeguarding its secrets, so I can’t just chalk this one up to an oversight.  And most of what we learn isn’t all that revealing except for what happened with Parker’s blood.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2- Harry as Green Goblin

I personally don’t have as big of an issue as some do with Harry becoming the Green Goblin before his father, but it does really feel like an afterthought.  Harry literally swoops in at the last moment after Electro’s defeat.  I mean, I understand if you wanted to have the Goblin to carry out Gwen’s symbolic death, but I just felt it was a bit too early.  Have Harry established in this film and still show he’s dying, but then leave the door open for him to become the Green Goblin later.  I do wonder if Norman’s really dead, though.  I mean, the venom did do something for Harry, and I don’t think Norman would just sit around and let himself expire without doing something to save himself.  Plus, we saw funerals for both Captain and Gwen Stacy, but nothing for Norman.  I could be speculating, but we’ll see in the next film how this plays out.

During the battle with Electro, Gwen aids Peter because she knows about the grid.  All right, what the actual hell?  I get that Gwen is valedictorian-level smart and works at Oscorp, but how would she possibly know that?  She’s just a student.  I imagine there are probably some folks at Oscorp who probably don’t even know that.  It felt like a way just to get Gwen to Peter to set up their final moment.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2- Emma Stone wearing same outfit that Gwen died in

And then we’ve got the big moment.  Coming into this film, it was clear that Gwen Stacy was on her way out.  This is one of Peter’s main problems in any medium: he makes the wrong decisions at the wrong times, so someone he loves will suffer for it.  However, the film gave no indication that it would be a direct translation of Amazing Spider-Man #121, so you’re left wondering how this would play out.  However, the fact that Emma Stone in the movie is wearing pretty much the same outfit that Gwen wore when she died in the comics hinted that her end was near.

As Gwen is on her way out, she sees that Peter has webbed “I Love You” on the bridge and makes her way back to him.  After his promise to Captain Stacy, Peter could just not leave well enough alone and let Gwen leave his life.  His love for her proves to lead to her downfall.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2- Harry arrives between Peter and Gwen

So after Electro is beaten, Peter and Gwen reunite, but in comes Harry.  One look at the two and Goblin has it all figured out.  So, he takes Gwen, but it still looks like Peter could still save Gwen.  She’s falling through the clock tower that reminded me too much of Tick Tock Clock from Super Mario 64.  So she’s falling, falling, Peter sends webs after her, and the moment the gear spins one more time and we enter slow motion, we know that we’re about to experience The Night Gwen Stacy Died.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2- Gwen hanging onto webbing

And when Gwen’s body hits the ground and you hear that ‘thud,’ you know it’s over.  And outside, the clock reads 1:21.  Nice touch.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2- Peter at Gwen's grave

Peter standing outside Gwen’s grave for days at a time was a great image.  Like the death of Uncle Ben, Gwen Stacy’s death in the comics was a big deal because, at the time, it was unheard of to kill off such a key character, especially the main character’s love interest.  Here, Peter’s special lady died because, even though Captain Stacy told him not to, he wanted to keep Gwen in his life, despite the dangers.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2- Hall of Secret Projects

Then there’s this moment, where the mystery man walks through the hall of Easter eggs-I mean, hall of secret projects.  Here’s a difference between Marvel films like Spider-Man, X-Men and Fantastic Four compared to Marvel Studios’ films, from Iron Man to Captain America: The Winter Soldier.  Spider-Man exists in his own universe, so the only winks and nods can be related to this particular franchise, as far as I know.  It’s harder to surprise anyone compared to the Marvel Studios’ films since they can grab from different properties that are a part of their shared universe.

Sinister Six

This is from a marketing point of view, but I feel this scene shouldn’t have been in the trailer or shown at all during the actual film.  Set-up for a Sinister Six film, showing things like Vulture’s wings or Doctor Octopus’ arms, those are the things best kept secret.  Don’t show that in the trailer and make it part of the film.  Keep it hidden as a post-credits scene.  Give viewers an incentive to stick around instead of giving us an unnecessary teaser of X-Men: Days of Future Past, especially since, at least when I saw the film, we already got a trailer for Days of Future Past.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2- Gwen Stacy Falls

All of this setup comes at a price of a somewhat clunky story.  We know Peter is a college student, but we don’t see him in class.  Peter works for the Daily Bugle, but we never see him there.  We know J. Jonah Jameson at least exists, so there’s that.  Also, we know that Shailene Woodley was originally cast to appear in this film as Mary Jane, but was cut from the film, so there’s a lot of missing bits.

Again, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is an ambitious film.  There are some great action scenes and the movie has a better sense of who Peter Parker is.  The biggest strength comes from the performances by Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone- they had me believe in their characters and the love they had for each other.  We see how Spider-Man gives people hope and, like previous installments, how he comes to terms with the fact that his decision making will ultimately doom the people he loves.  What the film does right, it does very well.  Where it stumbles is in some shoddy storytelling, uninspired and unexplained motivations and trying to set up too much instead of focusing on what we had with this film.  Looking at this as a comic book and Spider-Man fan, there’s much to enjoy.  Looking at this as a film, however, there are story issues that I can’t help but point out.  A good film, but not great.  Should you see it, you’ll be in for a fun, but sometimes frustrating time.

 

 

A Look at Fargo- Season 1, Episode 6: “Buridan’s Ass”

The phrase “winter is coming” seems almost too easy to describe the oncoming danger that took place during this week’s episode, entitled “Buridan’s Ass.”  But we do get some good action moments and twists that make for a very interesting episode and character moments.

Buridan's Ass- Mob that hired Mr. Numbers and Mr. Wrench discusses Sam Hess' death

The episode begins in a restaurant, where a group of fancy elite types discuss every topic under the sun until one mentions Sam Hess.  A man next to him brings up Mr. Numbers and Mr. Wrench, who were assigned to get Hess’ killer, but he discusses possible motives: extramarital affair?  Whatever reason, they’re not interested in who is responsible so much as that they’re killed.

Buridan's Ass- Lorne Malvo and Don Chumph discuss Stavros Milos' and the ransom money

Don Chumph awakens to the sound of a drill before light enters the pantry.  Malvo has come to set him loose, though Chumph believes that trust has been broken.  He’s had time to think about how to divide the money and wants a 60-40 split in his favor, but Malvo pays him no mind until he hands Chumph a ransom note and the voice scrambler he needs to call Stavros Milos.

Milos receives the call and the mystery caller tells a tale about a boy who hungered for so much while others had what he would give to have even a scrap of.  Milos must meet at the parking garage at high noon.  With his job done, Chumph goes to grab the nearby duffel bag when Malvo knocks him out.

Buridan's Ass- Gus and Molly discuss Ziskind's encounter with Malvo

While heading to meet with Gus Grimly, Molly overhears on the radio that the incoming blizzard may be one of the worst in Minnesota history.  How foreboding, right?  When she arrives, Greta is not there- she’s at a friend’s place, as Gus figured that would be safer.  Gus shares details about Ziskind’s encounter with Malvo.  Gus didn’t call it in because he’s not exactly seen as the most trustworthy source after the department believes he arrested the wrong man.  However, Ziskind did get a view of the license plate on Malvo’s SUV, which, as it turns out, is linked to Phoenix Farms.

Buridan's Ass- Chaz talks with Lester about the murders

At the hospital, Lester is all ready to go, but the orderly lets him know that only the police officer sitting outside his room can give him permission to leave.  Why’s he there?  It’s not for the orderly to say.  When the orderly leaves, Lester tries to escape through the window, but to no avail.

When he heads back into bed, he gets an unexpected visit from Chaz, who demands to know what the hell is going on.  Lester tries to talk his way through the situation, but Chaz isn’t buying it and knows that Lester is lying.  He even brings up the kidnapping phone call as evidence that something is off about Lester’s behavior.  More than usual, I mean.  Lester tries to appeal to his brother and is adamant that he’s innocent.  Chaz shoots down his appeal and lays into him: if Lester walks to walk away a free man, someone has to be given up.  Lester’s been a burden on Chaz’s life for years.  Despite bringing Lester into his home after such a traumatic episode, Chaz still feels that Lester isn’t right in this world.

After Chaz leaves, Lester contemplates his situation and makes his move: his bandaged roommate who can only speak in muffles becomes the foil for his plan.  Lester switches beds with the roommate, who is slated for an operation, and wraps his own face in gauze.  When the orderly returns, Lester is wheeled out.

Once the coast is clear, Lester gets dressed and heads for the staff locker room.  He retrieves his car keys and heads to his car.  After entering, he lets out a sigh of relief, glad that he’s finally out.

Buridan's Ass- Stavros Milos leaves the parking garage

Milos heads to the meeting point at the parking garage, but has a sudden change of heart.  He also decides he’s not going to pay the fee that he needs to for even entering the garage, but he’s on a mission from God and demands the man in the toll both open the gate.  His Lord demands it!

Buridan's Ass- Gus and Molly at Phoenix Farms Shopping Mart

Gus and Molly, meanwhile, discuss Lester’s shotgun pellet wound before heading to the Phoenix Farms Shopping Mart.  The clerks are…not very helpful at all.  One calls for a manager, and after a long enough wait, Gus and Molly leave.  Well, that accomplished nothing.

Gus tries to keep up his optimism when he tells Molly that people should and know better than they are instead of being liars and two faced.  However, Molly’s certain that it’s hard to live in this world if you believe that.

Buridan's Ass- Don Chumph tries to shoot Lorne Malvo

Don Chumph awakens to find himself bound and gagged with his hands taped to a gun.  Malvo wasn’t a fan of the 60-40 deal and has two things to say:  Chumph is bound in the event that Milos calls the cops, they’ll already be too busy.  The second:  Turkish Delight is disgusting.  Chumph, with every fiber of his being, pulls the trigger!

Of course, the gun doesn’t fire, but Malvo would be insulted if Chumph didn’t at least try.  Malvo sets up with a sniper rifle and begins taking random shots outside.  The police are alerted, as Malvo learns through the police scanner, so he leaves.

Buridan's Ass- Lester retries gun from behind poster

Lester heads back home and heads to the basement.  Noticing that the washer has been moved, he pulls back the poster and sticks his hand through a hole in the wall.  To his relief, the hammer is still there.  He grabs it, along with some photos of Pearl and a pair of her panties before leaving.

Buridan's Ass- Lester setting up Chaz

He heads to Chaz’s place and opens the cabinet containing his gun collection.  He then pulls back a compartment and plants the hammer, photos and panties in the collection.  After a brief detour upstairs, Lester’s chance to escape is interrupted by the return of Kitty and her son, Gordo, played by Spencer Drever.  Kitty leaves, but Gordo turns around and spots Lester just as he’s about to leave.  The two exchange no words whatsoever and Lester is allowed to leave.

Buridan's Ass- Gus and Molly talk about Hoffstead and jobs

Gus tells Molly the story about Jeremy Hoffstead, which prompts Molly to ask why he didn’t just go work for a charity.  Good question.  They soon talk jobs, or how they landed up in them.  Gus’ dream is to work for the post office.  You know, see the same people every day and be a part of the community.  Turns out that Gus never even wanted to be a cop.  In fact, when younger, he tried applying for the post office, but it was on a hiring freeze.  At the advice of a friend, he signed up for the local police department.  Only reason he tried at all was because Greta’s mother, who brought home the paychecks, died, so someone had to bring in the money.

Their talk is interrupted by speeding cruisers that pass them by.

Buridan's Ass- Officers preparing to advance on home

As the storm intensifies, officers fire into the home where an unsuspecting Don Chumph still sits.  When the officers advance, one hits a tripwire.  Gunfire emerges from the home, causing the officer to fire in retaliation.

They come closer and toss in a flash grenade.  When it detonates, the officers enter and just find a man waiting with a gun.  Obvious threat.

Buridan's Ass- Don Chumph shot to death

And that was the story of Don Chumph.

Buridan's Ass- Mr. Numbers and Mr. Wrench ambush Lorne Malvo

As Malvo makes his getaway in a new vehicle, surprise surprise, he’s ambushed by Mr. Numbers and Mr. Wrench.  Another shootout, this one alerting the attention of Gus and Molly, ensues, but because of the thick snow making it hard to see, Malvo is able to escape.

Buridan's Ass- Malvo about to kill Mr. Numbers

In a clever move that I can’t help but admire, Malvo cuts the top of his wrist to create a bloody trail that leads to a nearby door.  When Mr. Numbers approaches, Malvo surprises him from behind.  By getting the jump on him, Malvo ends Mr. Numbers’ life by slitting his throat.  With one threat out of his way, he takes Numbers’ gun and heads deeper into the storm.

Buridan's Ass- Grimly finds Molly's body in the snow

Not too far behind, Gus and Molly find the body.  As Molly heads further into the snow, shots ring out.  Gus, unable to make out what has happened, fires his gun.  As he approaches, he finds Molly face down in the snow.

Buridan's Ass- Stavros Milos returns to bury the money

The storm still raging, Stavros Milos returns to the spot where Carl originally buried the suitcase of money and reburies both it and plants the red scraper in the snow.  Feeling absolved of his wrongdoing, Milos heads back to his truck.

Buridan's Ass- Fish rain from the sky

At the same time, Wally and Dmitri drive through the snow when the unspeakable happens: fish begin to rain from the heavens.

Buridan's Ass- Stavros finds Wally's body

Later, Stavros drives along and feels some bumps along the road.  He stops the truck and finds the terrain littered with fish.  He exits his vehicle and takes a few steps forward before finding Wally’s body.

A few steps later, he finds Dmitri’s body, still inside the wrecked car.

Buridan's Ass- Lester smiles

Back at the hospital, Lester Nygaard sits back in his hospital bed and the episode draws to a close as a slow, satisfactory grin curls across his face.

That’s fine!  That was fine!  A mighty fine episode of Fargo this was, filled with both dread and tension about the fate of certain characters.  The episode wasn’t without its humor, though, and for a show that can be very morbid, the episode had time to make me laugh, whether through watching Lester trying to outfox a hospital orderly or Molly asking why Hoffstead didn’t just go work for a charity instead of killing himself.  And I still smile when Chumph tries out his Darth Vader impression on the voice scrambler, followed by Malvo swiftly smacking the scrambler away.

Buridan's Ass- Stavros mourns the loss of his son

The episode continued its use of religious imagery and symbolism when it came to mentally torturing Stavros Milos.  I honestly have no idea how Lorne Malvo orchestrated to have fish rain from the sky, if it was even part of his plan.  I mean, I assume it was only because he’s masterminded every single incident that’s sidetracked Stavros Milos’ life.  If not, it’s not impossible that a higher authority chose to rain down vengeance upon Stavros to hurt him in one of the worst ways possible.

Buridan's Ass- Stavros finds Dmitri's body still inside car

The loss of Milos’ first son, the various plagues, Stavros saying that he’s on a mission from God: Malvo has used Milos’ faith as a way to get to him.  As we see through the flashbacks Stavros has, the guilt of taking the money is eating away at him, even more so when you consider the fact that his fame and wealth have been built upon sin.  When he has a chance to repent and do the right thing, he does just that, but perhaps it wasn’t soon enough.  When he doesn’t go through with meeting at the parking garage and when he chooses to bury the money, we see shades of a man clearly bothered by his sins and this is his way of atoning for his wrongdoing.

Side-note, clever nod to the film: the parking garage itself is named Gustafson, after Wade Gustafson, the man who Carl killed in the movie.  I like that sort of nod- simple instead of overblown; something this show has managed to avoid doing when referring back to the film.

Buridan's Ass- Malvo escapes shootout, about to be ambushed

Malvo is one sly man and I can’t talk enough about Billy Bob Thornton’s performance.  He’s crafty and is a man of few words.  To borrow from Big Dan Teague on O Brother Where Art Thou, Malvo doesn’t say much, but when he does, it’s to the point.  Malvo has existed as a man who awakens desires within people, desire they otherwise never would have unearthed because they lacked the willpower and drive, as we see through Lester and Don.

For the most part, Malvo has been able to stay ahead of those tracking him because he’s able to formulate distractions that will take up their time, such as stuffing Chumph in the house while he made an almost clean getaway.

Buridan's Ass- Don Chumph about to do his Darth Vader impression

And yes, it does upset me that Chumph is gone, partially because this means that Dennis will have no plans to bring the gang up to Minnesota for a scheme.  But onto this universe, however, it’s clear that Chumph was on his way out the moment that Malvo locked him in the closet last week.  He had such a desire to pursue his Turkish bath dream, but had he not gotten wrapped up in the blackmailing and become intertwined with Malvo, he may still be alive.  Glenn Howerton played the part well, showing Chumph as a naïve man with good intentions who just happened to get wrapped up with the wrong man.  And what a bloody way to go out, too.

Buridan's Ass- Gus and Molly driving and discussing good and evil

Gus and Molly do make for a good team and complement each other well.  Gus is optimistic, while Molly is more realistic and I get the feeling that is all strictly professional without any hint of there being a romantic connection.  Gus clearly isn’t suited for the police force, as we learn that he didn’t even intend to be a part of it.  Gus wants to live a simple life, but he’s become caught up in this ongoing murder investigation, so he’ll have to put aside any fears and, as he hinted to Ziskind last week, do what he can to solve problems.  Is it possible that Gus accidentally shot Molly or was it someone else?  It’s hard to tell, given the thickness of the snow and Gus’ indecision.  Great way to keep viewers interested, as it leaves Solverson’s fate up in the air and ensures people will stick around to find out whether she lives.

Buridan's Ass- Gordo spots Lester

I think Lester is just going through the motions.  He’s clearly thought out some moves, as we see when he moved the hammer from behind the washer to behind the poster.  For a split second, he thought he’d been figured out, but he escaped justice once again.  While his plans aren’t exactly crafty or even all that clever, they do show the lengths Lester will go to save his own skin, even if it means potentially selling out his own brother.  As Chaz said, Lester isn’t right in this world.  He’s not completely wrong, and I’m sure Lester knows this.  Ever since he first met Malvo, Lester has been trying to accept the idea that the world has no rules.  This doesn’t give him free reign to do as he pleases, but if he wants to cover his tracks, as Malvo does, he could at least be smarter about it.  I did like the little grin he had at the end of the episode, as he felt satisfied that he’d evaded capture or detection.  But then, we’ll see whether Gordo will be tempted to tell anyone that he saw Lester in his house.

Side-note, I do have to question what kind of hospital procedure allows a potential suspect in an ongoing murder investigation to share the same room with someone else.  Sure, Lester has not been charged or convicted of anything at this moment, but he’s still suspected of being involved, so I would think officers would keep him isolated from anyone else.

The only other gripe I have involves the ambush on Malvo.  I have to wonder how Mr. Numbers and Mr. Wrench knew how to find Malvo, given he’d just acquired this new car.  Not to mention the huge snowstorm.  How in the world did Numbers and Wrench find Malvo in the first place?

Those are small nitpicks, but I thought I’d at least mention them.  They didn’t detract from an otherwise great episode that focused on the long term consequences of our actions.  Production and writing wise, I loved the snowstorm not just for atmosphere, but for how it varied from your typical shootout.  It reminded me a lot of The Walking Dead episode “Alone” where Bob, Sasha and Maggie deal with walkers in a thick layer of fog.  A lot was set up in this episode: Deputy Solverson’s fate, the mob at the very beginning that we learned is responsible for hiring Numbers and Wrench, how Wrench will cope without Numbers, Lester’s plan to frame Chaz, so much to guarantee interest for next week’s episode.

Any questions, comments, concerns, issues or general feedback? Would love to hear it if you have any.

A Look at The Walking Dead #127: “A New Beginning”

The Walking Dead #127 Cover

So Robert Kirkman has taken us two years past the events of “All Out War” and shown us what life is like for the folks in Alexandria.  The end result is a full-fledged, progressive community that shows signs of civilization coming back from extinction for the moment.  As is always the case with The Walking Dead, peace comes before danger.  However, I welcome the time skip because it allows us to see how these people can manage in a zombie apocalypse through hard work and commitment- exactly what Rick told Negan that the people would do.  Despite taking place so long after the previous issue, it’s tied directly to the events of “All Out War” both by the world that the people have created and the ending scene with Carl.

Now that they have a community, they have the opportunity to make it thrive, to achieve some semblance of what their lives were like before the world went to hell.  Obviously roamers are still a threat, but given how quickly Jesus and Heath were able to lure them away, it’s clear that, for the time being, roamers are becoming less of an issue.

The Walking Dead #127- Rick meets Magna and survivors

To awkwardly segue onto the newcomers, I’m interested in how well they’ll be integrated into the group.  They have every reason to be suspicious as to why their weapons are confiscated, just as much as the Alexandria folks have every reason to withhold details about their location.  Any tidbit of information is valuable and can easily be turned against you when you don’t know who you’re dealing with.  You take weapons away from strangers because you don’t know them.  You don’t give away your location because you don’t want the possibility that they’ll try to overrun and take it over for themselves.  However, the fact that Magna and the rest of her team are willing to prove themselves by staying shows that they don’t distrust strangers just because their weapons have been taken away.

The Walking Dead #127- Welcome to Alexandria

This leads me to Rick, who has really matured into a seasoned leader even though, as he states, he was uncomfortable with the position.  His leg hasn’t fully healed since his fight with Negan and he now has a prosthetic for his right hand.  Despite his handicaps, Rick maintains the commanding presence he’s had throughout the comic’s run.  He comes off as wiser in two years time in that he’s willing to have a civil conversation with the survivors rather than just turning them away outright.  He tells them that taking their weapons was non-negotiable, and given everything that Rick and company have been through, before and after meeting Negan and The Saviors, they have every reason to be on their guard.

The Walking Dead #127- Rick and Carl have a talk

But Rick at least has time to still be a father, though he’ll have to play a more active role now that Carl has grown up.  He’s a teenager now, but he still looks younger than his TV counterpart.  As such, Carl’s slowly maturing into a man and wants to take responsibility by taking up a trade.  Admirable, but obviously Rick would want to keep his son around.  Since Rick left behind the phone he used to speak to Lori, he’s left that part of his life behind him.  He wouldn’t want his son to suddenly leave with the possibility of never returning, even though he knows that Carl is capable of handling himself.

The Walking Dead #127- Eugene reports back to Rick

I like how Eugene is slowly being greater importance.  He started off as a liar, but now he’s becoming vital to the group’s survival, as we see when Rick stresses that Eugene cannot go out anymore.  I guess if he sticks around, we’ll eventually find out what the issue is between him and Rosita.

As for the ending conversation, I’m surprised how Negan didn’t drop a single swear during his talk with Carl.  From how the two converse, I get the impression that Carl’s been coming down to talk with Negan for quite a while.  Makes sense.  I’m sure there are things Carl just can’t talk about with Rick or Andrea, not to mention anyone else in the area.  Negan is imprisoned and not the same man he was before, and he did try to have a heart to heart with Carl during “All Out War,” so I sort of understand why Carl would confide in him.  Though since Carl still wants to kill Negan, it’s clear that he hasn’t forgotten about what led to Negan’s current imprisonment.

“A New Beginning” was a nice change of pace that advanced the storyline and put these characters on the path toward rebuilding civilization.  Sure, there are things that we haven’t seen yet: Michonne and Ezekiel are not here or mentioned at all and we don’t know whatever became of The Saviors.  Also, neither Maggie nor her baby that I assume she’s had by now are here, but it is mentioned that Maggie is still at the Hilltop.  However, trying to cram every single storyline into the first issue of a time skip would be unnecessary.  The new status quo has been established and now we just watch how everyone pulls their own weight and works toward bringing back the civilization they once knew.

 

A Look at Veep- Season 3, Episode 7: “Special Relationship”

Even in another country, Vice President Selina Meyer has troubles all around her.  Learning that your campaign manager pimped you out is probably the biggest way to ruin your trip to London, even more so when you didn’t make any money out of it.  “Special Relationship” takes Team Selina to London, where they’re to meet with the Deputy Prime Minister.  Dan continues his work as campaign manager, but when he’s speaking quickly and downing Red Bulls to fuel himself, you know he’s headed for a crash.

The episode begins in London, where Super Campaign Manager Dan relays information to the team in D.C. about Selina’s upcoming visit to a pub.  Did I say super?  I meant on edge, as Dan is talking more frantically than before and downing Red Bull to give him a boost.

Special Relationship- Ben informs Selina about why the President couldn't come to London

At the Deputy Prime Minister’s Reception, Selina receives an update from Ben on the President’s status: he would have attended, but he had to remain in the states in order to close a deal with China.

Special Relationship- Meeting the Deputy Prime Minister

When Selina meets with the Deputy Prime Minister, he asks her about the accusations that the United States has been spying on them.  Huh.  That’s something I never read about in the Snowden leaks.  But no, Selina says, the United States doesn’t spy on other nations- they collect data.  There’s a difference.

Special Relationship- Mike and Amy not at the party

Mike and Amy don’t get to attend, though.  Mike’s preparing a speech for Selina and Amy is…well, Amy.

Special Relationship- Ray tries to learn a new word each day

Oh, and Ray’s not doing the team any favors, either.

Special Relationship- Jonah in London

Jonah’s also in London because Jonah wills it, I guess.  But actually, he’s there spying for Maddox.  Kent, who is also in London, reports back to the team.

Special Relationship- Selina and crew at pub, about to drink up

During the pub visit, Selina manages to hold onto her liquor longer than the Deputy Prime Minister, which is great, but it’s not so great when Selina repeats “Daniwah” over and over after hearing the crowd cheer it.  It’s actually “Down and one,” according to Amy, but whose keeping track, really?

Of course, with the speed at which news moves, the term trends on Twitter in no time.

The main event is Selina giving a speech to commemorate fallen World War I soldiers.  Gary chooses a relatively small hat, but Ray also isn’t a fan of that or Mike’s speech, which he feels is too wordy and could be simplified.

Amy, meanwhile, slips off to make a call to the German Chancellor, when she actually calls Jonah.  I’m not sure why she or anyone else on Team Selina would have or keep his phone number, but anyway, in a faux British accent, Amy tells Jonah that she has juicy details about a damaging story regarding Selina Meyer.

Special Relationship- Selina's goofy hat

So when Selina gives her speech, not only is it overly simple in its style, but the hat Ray chose for her is anything but.

Special Relationship- Jonah tells security guard that he's there to meet a man

Jonah, thinking he’s walked into All the President’s Men, waits in a parking garage for his informant.  A man waiting in a dark garage for another man is already questionable by itself, as indicated by the look the nearby security guard gives Jonah.  When Jonah gets a call, he doesn’t help himself out by saying the words “Deep Throat” over the phone.

Special Relationship- Jonah meets with journalist to discuss Ray's blog

So he meets a journalist from The Daily Mirror at a coffee shop, even though the journalist insisted on a pub, and wasn’t keen on meeting in a garage.  Jonah mentions that before Ray was brought onboard Team Selina, he had a blog that has since been deleted.  Through Jonah’s expert research, meaning that he went on Google, he found screen grabs from the site: among the many things Ray wrote about, one of them was that obesity was a punishment.  Well, that could be a problem.  Jonah believes that the site could really hurt Selina and though the journalist isn’t originally interested in the story- you know, he has actual journalistic standards- he eventually jumps on board.

Special Relationship- Mike, Ben and Deputy Prime Minister spot Selina's hat

The Deputy Prime Minister congratulates Mike and Gary on Selina’s speech, though the Vice President is nowhere to be found.  He suspects that Selina is going to meet with the German Chancellor at a nearby chapel, and is proven correct when he can see the silhouette of Selina’s hideous hat through a window.  Hey, if Mike and Gary can’t see it, then the hat’s not there.

Special Relationship- Selina and Deputy Prime Minister at press conference

During a press conference, Ray’s blog is the main topic and Selina is unable to avoid it.  Hell, she’s forced to admit to the press that she was once a fat child.  Unlikely, but sure, let’s try and sympathize with Meyer for a moment.  That sympathy goes away when she learns that Ray wrote about obese children being possessed by devils.

In the middle of all of this, Ben is called back to D.C. and Dan falls into a nervous breakdown.  That’s our campaign manager.  While the others take Dan to a hospital, Mike is in charge.  Mike is in charge.  Mike is in charge.  He’s got this.

Special Relationship- Kent fires Ray

Kent fires Ray, and that gets no argument from Selina when she returns.  She’s not too concerned about the fat remarks.  Fat people don’t even vote, right?  Even though Selina had already planned to drop Ray, she soon makes another big decision when Gary tells her that Dan only hired Ray as a sex slave for Selina.  Yup.  The Veep just got pimped out and everyone knew about it.

Special Relationship- Amy and Dan at hospital

At the hospital, Amy consoles Dan, just like a true friend would.  When she learns that Dan has been fired, however, she’s on her way out and Jonah’s on his way in, like a true friend would.

At the United States Ambassador’s residence, the team learns of tragic news: the first lady tried to commit suicide through a combination of vodka and overdosing on sleeping pills.  Kind of makes your problems seem not so big, huh?

Oh, and Amy’s the new campaign manager.  I guess that’s something.

Not even abroad can Selina Meyer ever catch a break.  This was another fun episode that, in Veep fashion, shows just how freaking hard it is to be Selina Meyer.  Anything, and I do mean anything, that could go wrong does go wrong.  Trouble follows her everywhere she goes, and finding out that Dan hired Ray as a sex slave was the final straw as far as whether Selina needed Dan as campaign manager anymore.  You get the feeling that she’s really fed up with her team.  Maybe it’s time she took Ericsson’s advice and got rid of her crew.  Keep valuables like Ben, Kent and Sue along since they actually get things done.

The only people who really come out on top this week are Amy and Jonah, but that happiness probably won’t last long.

Special Relationship- Selina tells Mike she doesn't want to talk about horses

“Special Relationship” took a break from the fast paced world of American politics to the slower paced world of British politics.  With this came a lot of poking fun at American misconceptions about another culture, such as Selina debating with the pub owner about football and soccer.  There was some great real life humor as well, such as the revelation that the United States had been spying on other nations.  Because how could a superpower as noble as us do something like spy on others?  We’re completely transparent!  Just when we’re not.  I did also get a laugh when Selina said that the crew needed to drive back to the airport at Diana speed, but a little more careful.

Though the episode had its fair share of comedy, it wasn’t without its developments, as we see with Selina dropping Ray, dumping Dan for Amy, and learning of the First Lady’s condition.  For all the terrible things that happen with Team Selina, it is nice that they took a moment to reflect after learning about the First Lady’s condition.  They’re not completely selfish and out to satisfy their own needs and vanity.  Not completely, I said.

Special Relationship- Ray and Kent

If this is the last we’ll see of Ray, I am glad Christopher Meloni brought some energy to the show.  Much more animated and light hearted compared to the gruff, more serious performance we’d seen him give on Law and Order: SVU.  Given how Ray was brought on to distract Selina from Andrew, does this mean Andrew will eventually be reappearing?  I mean, Selina did say she wanted him on board, but neither he nor Catherine appeared this week.

Special Relationship- Selina learns that Mike is in charge

Dreyfus herself turns in another strong performance, showing a great range of emotions to absolute dismay when she learns Mike is temporarily in charge, to imitation sorrow when she talks about being fat, to cruelty when she talks about fat people not voting.  That’s our Vice President!

Special Relationship- Dan tells Amy that she's a true friend

As for Dan, I guess the pressure just got to be too much for him.  He was already frantic last week, but the stress of the job collapsed under him.  Hiring a sex slave for Selina didn’t help, but his self-destruction was fun to watch.  Hell, his overreaction during the abortion debate telegraphed that someone like this would happen.  Hopefully he bounces back, but judging by the preview for next week’s episode, he appears to have mellowed out.

Special Relationship- Amy

So, will Amy, ultimately, be any better of a campaign manager than Dan?  Maybe, but I doubt it.  I mean, I like Amy and I’m sure that, buried beneath all that self-centeredness she shares alongside the other characters, there’s some semblance of a hard worker, but hey, now it’s her turn.  I think she may last longer than Dan, but I’m just waiting for her implosion.  Hopefully that won’t also involve Jonah showing up to rub it in, as he did with Dan.  Her celebratory dance may be one of the last happy moments she has once her job as campaign manager kicks in.

The beauty of Veep is showing how such a group of clearly talented individuals all fall apart when they’re put together.  The turbulent world of politics just turns their days upside down even quicker.  Nothing ever goes according to plan, there’s always someone with a camera or recorder nearby, ready to record your every single moment, and you just can’t catch a break.  But Veep makes it so much fun to watch these characters implode and crumble that you put aside your politics and just enjoy the ride.