Saturday, February 13, 2016

Return Of Chronos: "White Knights" Sets Up And Continues Remarkably Well!

The Good: Fast-paced, Performances, Moments of character
The Bad: Plot-heavy, Details
The Basics: Legends Of Tomorrow returns to form with "White Knights," as the team moves on to 1986 in its quest to stop Vandal Savage.

The fear an audience has when they start a new program, rightly so, is that the show might start incredible and then go downhill. Fans of Legends Of Tomorrow might have had that concern after the show's third episode and had trepidations about "White Knights," the fourth episode of the first season. Fortunately, "White Knights" does a lot to alleviate those concerns by making for an exciting, quip-filled, hour of action-adventure television.

"White Knights" picks up directly after the climax of "Blood Ties" (reviewed here!) with the Waverider zipping off to follow its next lead on Vandal Savage. Chasing the villain through time brings the crew to 1986 and the setting takes a backseat to the characters, the performances, and some pretty cool moments of reversals. The episode continues the group dynamic of the show, though it finally gives Jefferson Jackson a few moments to shine as a character.

Arriving in 1986, the crew of the Waverider goes in search of the original file of a heavily-redacted U.S. Defense Department document with information about Vandal Savage and his whereabouts. The mission into the Pentagon starts initially well, but during the exit, Firestorm is electrocuted, Saunders is taken over by Hawkgirl and Rory flips out on some enlisted men at the Pentagon. The recovered document indicates that Savage is in the U.S.S.R., having enlisted Valentina Vostok to work on a secret project. On the trip to the U.S.S.R., the Waverider is attacked by Chronos and Hunter uses the Soviet Air Force to (apparently) dispatch of the temporal bounty hunter.

While Sara and Kendra train and Palmer and Snart attempt to make contact with Vostok, Gideon detects a temporal anomaly. Hunter and Rory investigate the anomaly and find Time Master Druce, who claims Chronos is dead. Rory tells Hunter that Druce is trying to have them all killed and that causes Hunter to rethink the entire mission. After Snart lifts the keycard to the Soviet facility at which Vostok works, Hunter returns to decline Druce's offer. Chronos, as it turns out, is very much alive. In the resulting conflict, Jackson is wounded and the team of the Waverider finds itself torn apart. Learning that Vandal Savage is attempting to create his own Firestorm, Dr. Stein infiltrates Vostok's laboratory. In the lab, Stein discovers Vostok's prototype core and Snart has to make a difficult choice when the entire mission goes south.

First off, Wentworth Miller is undeniably cool in "White Knights." From the first pocket pick to the on-screen chemistry with Stephanie Corneliussen (Valentina Vostok), Miller is an awesome actor. While Dominic Purcell might have gotten the most fun quips for the episode in, Miller plays consistently and cool throughout "White Knights" in a way that is incredibly watchable. Victor Garber is predictably wonderful in delivering his emotional monologues in "White Knights" and Arthur Darvill continues to impress and make viewers forget about his iconic Doctor Who role.

Franz Drameh is given his first real chance to shine as Jefferson Jackson and Firestorm in "White Knights." Jackson is irked by how Dr. Stein orders him around and Drameh is given the difficult task of expressing Jackson's frustration without simply coming across as a whiny twenty-something. Drameh succeeds, though his key scene is overshadowed by Garber's response scene (between Garber and Routh). Regardless, Legends Of Tomorrow is a pleasant surprise for the caliber of its acting and "White Knights" reinforces the idea that Victor Garber can act the hell out of any material he is given!

Despite the impressive force of Drameh's performance, the key scene he is given is a bit tough to stomach on a character and plot front. Chronos's weapon was so powerful, it violently split Jackson and Stein. Jackson is wounded such that he is bleeding from his stomach pretty badly, but he stops to give a vocally forceful speech to Stein (which, no doubt, required the use of much of his diaphragm strength!). Director Antonio Negret gets some other details slightly wrong, like Dr. Stein immediately speaking Russian when he takes the vocal translator pill (in its introduction, it had to be turned on before the user would speak in the language it was programmed for).

"White Knights" is cool, even if it is a bit predictable and very much a set-up episode. The episode is fast-paced and engaging, but it is not especially deep. In fact, the episode's most significant character moments that are not specific to the Legends Of Tomorrow plot come in a c-plot involving White Canary and Hawkgirl training each other. The rest of the plot-intensive episode is a pretty typical science fiction action adventure episode. It is not bad, but it is not superlative.

For other works with Martin Donovan, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Inherent Vice
Boss - Season 1


For other television season and episode reviews, please visit my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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OscarsSoWhite Is A Waste Of A Social Movement

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The Basics: The anger among Americans over the lack of black nominees for the Academy Awards is a ridiculous waste of activism.

The best answer I ever heard to a terrible question asked at Star Trek convention came from actor Robert Picardo. Picardo, back in the day, was asked by a Trekker what he thought of Arnold Schwarzenegger's bid to be Governor of California. Picardo, who had no clear political credentials to give an authoritative response to the question like a political pundit would, very coolly replied with an incredibly articulate answer. Picardo said that his hope was that, if Schwarzenegger were elected Governor, he would remember the studio system that created him and work to bring opportunities back to California to revitalize Hollywood. It was a smart idea and, alas, Picardo's hope for Schwarzenegger remembering his roots clearly failed, as the latest Star Trek film was shot - like so many projects these days - in Vancouver.

The demise of Hollywood has been long-coming and it is currently getting a weird twist in the OscarsSoWhite protests. Activists within the black community were outraged that, yet again, the Academy Of Motion Pictures Arts And Sciences nominated incredibly few ethnic minorities for major awards for the 2016 Oscars. This prompted the Twitter hashtag #OscarsSoWhite and pledges from prominent blacks in the entertainment industry to boycott the 2016 Oscars.

The problem is that the "protesters" who are objecting to the whiteness of the Oscar Award nominees are absolutely missing the legitimate target of their grievance. Complaining that the Oscar nominees are mostly white is like bitching about the color of the shoes of the officer who is giving you a speeding ticket or blaming your waitress for the quality of your food at a restaurant. It takes little common sense to observe that the person at fault is the person speeding (not the cop giving you a ticket) and that servers have no control over what the cooks prepare. In a similar fashion, blaming the members of the Academy Of Motion Pictures Arts And Sciences for the bulk of their nominees being white is completely misdiagnosing the problem.

The Academy Of Motion Pictures Arts And Sciences Is Just A Clique

First, the Academy Of Motion Pictures Arts And Sciences is hardly indicative of society at large. While I would never make the argument that popular films and high-grossing films could have a relationship with quality movies, the Academy Of Motion Pictures Arts And Sciences seldom nominates films that the population at large knows or actually likes. The films that get nominated for the Oscars are usually films that are art house movies, as opposed to anything remotely resembling a blockbuster film. Similarly, the nominees do not even have to be in wide release to qualify for the nomination; they have to have been released in Los Angeles and New York City. The point here is that the Oscars seldom reflect any sense of widespread appreciation of films.

Second, the Academy Of Motion Pictures Arts And Sciences seldom leaves its own comfort zone. For sure, Meryl Streep and Jennifer Lawrence are wonderful actresses and Robert De Niro and Christian Bale are amazing in pretty much anything they are put in, but does that mean if they show up for a movie, they deserve to get nominated for an Oscar? Probably not; but people like Steven Spielberg and Clint Eastwood release a film and certain actors show up and they are virtually guaranteed to get nominated for an Oscar.

Third, the members of the Academy Of Motion Pictures Arts And Sciences are somewhat idiotic. Seriously, the voters for the Oscars are either so busy, so self-absorbed and/or so so stupid that they cannot remember greatness for the better part of a year. When I started my Best Picture Project (check it out here!), I found it troubling how the nominees came mostly from October through December of the year (every now and then, there is an obvious bit of Oscarbait that is released early, like The Help, which was an August release). As the years have gone on, the vast majority of nominees for the Oscars have come from December. The voters seem only to recall the last great movie they saw and they vote for that.

The Oscars Merely Reflect The Industry

Regardless of the deficiencies of the members of the Academy Of Motion Pictures Arts And Sciences, the Oscar nominees come from a body of work that is based on business models, not artistic integrity. Hollywood studios are not looking for the next Aaron Sorkin or Francis Ford Coppola; when they want to make a movie, they hire Martin Scorsese, Spike Jonze or Tim Burton - they are not looking for the next generation of talent, they go with the established talent and moneymakers. So, any attack on the Academy for the lack of diversity in its nominees is as misguided as Occupy Wall Street protesters trying to get big business to bring about economic reform (as opposed to Congress!). The Oscar nominees come from the body of work and crop of talent working in the field for the year.

And what does that body look like today? If you're black and an actor, there are remarkably few roles being offered to you. Let's see, there's historic Civil Rights Activist, there's slave in a period piece and there's authoritative role that involves some sense of racebaiting (i.e. "We'll make Morgan Freeman god or the President . . . what a statement!") OR there's Tyler Perry's latest flick. The most prominent, highest-grossing producer of works with black entertainers is Tyler Perry and, let's face it, these are not enduring, timeless, high-quality films. Expecting a Tyler Perry film to get loads of Oscar nominations is as ridiculous as wondering why Jim Carrey's 1990s comedies did not net him Best Actor nominations or Oscars. If Twitter had existed in the 1970s, #OscarsSoWhite would never have been a trending topic; blacksploitation films of the '70s made a marketable product to a demographic with money to spend on it, but they weren't - by and large - great films.

For sure, there are roles being offered to amazing actors that have nothing to do with the ethnicity of the actors involved. Will Smith's breakout role as a pilot in Independence Day or Idris Elba's amazing, understated role in Prometheus in no way capitalized or called attention to the ethnicity of the actors. But such roles have every black actor competing against every other actor - white, black, Latino, Asian, etc. - in the world to get. And, as a lifelong fan of genre works will note, such roles almost never get nominated for Oscars. Science Fiction and Fantasy are the genre equivalents to non-white actors as far as the Oscars are concerned.

The point here is pretty simple; if black performers want to get noticed by the Academy Of Motion Pictures Arts And Sciences for roles that aren't cerebral, obvious, race- and Oscarbait roles, they have to stop taking the roles that hinge on ethnicity and rock the world out of the roles that trade on the "actor" part of the "black actor" resume. For sure, I could stand to watch Don Cheadle in Crash all the time, but if War Machine was written better, Cheadle could absolutely carry a super hero film of his own, as opposed to being relegated to the role of a sidekick in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The solution to OscarsSoWhite is to offer nonwhite actors better roles, not to kvetch about the lack of nominations for nonwhite actors for mediocre roles or terrible movies. And - welcome to the club, indie films have been waiting for you! - the fundamental problem black performers and producers are going to experience is that the Industry is dominated by business models, not artistic vision or integrity. Until major studios find profitability in non-Tyler Perry films involving predominantly black casts and create works of quality within that profit motive, the Oscars are going to include nominees from a pool of performers and producers that meet the business model that works for them. If Academy Of Motion Pictures Arts And Sciences is given better works to nominate from, the diversity presented to them should be reflected in the nominees. But right now, Hollywood producers and performers are overwhelmingly white and the Academy's nominees reflect that.

There Are Vastly More Important Issues

At a time when gun crime in the United States is on the rise, public school budgets are gutted while big businesses are granted tax breaks, and the disparity between those with wealth and those who live in poverty continues to grow, complaining about the ethnicity of Oscar nominees is an absolute waste of activism and attention. I've argued that there are years the Academy should not even nominate a film for Best Picture, because the movies that year have almost homogeneously sucked. As a friend of labor, I have a lot of empathy for professional actors, especially television actors. Actors have been getting absolutely screwed on promised royalties for their projects from streaming services and DVD/Blu-Ray sales. I've had enough contact with enough celebrities to know that there is a pretty sizable population of performers who live in fear for their careers; they know they are being denied their contractually-obligated royalties for their work, but they refuse to fight for them because they cannot risk being blacklisted and not work again. That's wrong and the studios should be forced to pay their contractually-agreed-upon royalties to their performers and producers. But, until high-level celebrities stand up for actors throughout the industry - i.e. Tom Hanks, Jennifer Lawrence, and Kelsey Grammer risk little by standing up for all the struggling or mid-valued performers (like supporting actors on television shows) - and force them to pay out, the industry has no reason to change.

My point here is that, even within the industry, there are vastly more important issues facing actors, actresses, producers, directors, and studio heads than how a cliquish group of people suffering from a lack of imagination and seriously short-term memories vote on an award that the majority of them will never even be nominated for. And, for those not in the industry, there are real issues that the majority of the population could use the help of those who have resources with. So, the next time a celebrity complains about OscarsSoWhite and threatens to protest one of the most lavish parties of the year, forward this article to them and challenge them to fight for real, substantive, change in the industry.

For other articles, please check out:
The Worship Fallacy
I Share My Existential Crisis
Facebook Is Not What You Think It Is

For other reviews, please check out my Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Tease The Fans: Why "Welcome To Earth-2" Is So Successful For Fans Of The Flash!

The Good: Awesome acting, Great character moments, Engaging plot
The Bad: Some bad editing/direction, Minutia
The Basics: "Welcome To Earth-2" puts Cisco and Barry Allen on Earth-2 in a distracted attempt to rescue Jesse Wells from Zoom.

As a fan of the graphic novels for The Flash, there are a number of things that have come up on the television series The Flash that I have not yet known. To wit, last year when the DC Comics Super-Villains trading cards (reviewed here!), I had to look up information on the prominently appearing character of Killer Frost. Killer Frost is a villainess from the Firestorm books and because Firestorm has appeared in The Flash, it was quickly spoiled for me that the character of Dr. Caitlin Snow in the television show had the potential to go that way. Caitlin Snow, in the books, is one of the incarnations of Killer Frost and knowing that, there are a TON of clues throughout The Flash. For example, Dr. Snow is usually seen wearing white and blue, at least throughout the second season! White and blue are Killer Frost's colors. When Harrison Wells outed Cisco in "The Darkness And The Light" (reviewed here!), his metahuman detector did not indicate Snow was a metahuman (but still, Wells sneered at Snow, which implied he knew she was Killer Frost and they had some personal history on Earth-2!). So, like most fans, I've waited for Killer Frost to appear and I managed to keep the secret of Snow/Killer Frost from my wife, who has fallen in love with the television show for the past eight months! With "Welcome To Earth-2," we are rewarded with seeing Killer Frost and Earth-2 and the payoffs are a lot of fun.

"Welcome To Earth-2" is essentially "Mirror, Mirror" (reviewed here!) for The Flash and the episode, reasonably, pays homage to the classic Star Trek episode. "Welcome To Earth-2" follows on the heels of "Fast Lane" (reviewed here!) with just enough time for Barry Allen to have supper with his family before he makes the leap through the looking glass. Interestingly, the only truly direct tie-in to "Fast Lane" is the character explanation for why Barry Allen is willing to make the trip. Allen now considers Harrison Wells a member of their team and he is willing to forgive Wells for betraying him and stop Zoom, as opposed to sending Wells back to Earth-2 and letting him fend for himself.

Opening with Barry sealing up all of the rifts to the Multiverse around Central City, save the one in the basement of S.T.A.R. Labs, Barry has a going away meal with Iris and Joe. Iris expresses her concerns to Barry, but shortly thereafter, Cisco, Allen and Wells go through the final breach to Earth-2. The device that allows them to make the leap malfunctions, leaving Dr. Snow and Garrick to work desperately to fix it. On Earth-2, Barry Allen discovers things are just a bit off from how he remembers them and Harrison Wells is troubled by how Zoom attacks have escalated in his absence. Knocking out his Earth-2 counterpart, Barry Allen replaces Bartholomew Allen to try to get information on Zoom's location. Unfortunately, Barry gets sidetracked with his counterpart's life with Iris and the fact that his mother is still alive.

While Barry and Iris are out, they are attacked by Killer Frost and Deathstorm. On Earth-1, a new metahuman, Geomancer, pops up to wreak havoc on Central City, taking advantage of the perceived absence of the Flash. Jay Garrick is unwilling to take Velocity-6 again to attempt to save Central City, which prompts him to be honest with Dr. Snow about his medical condition. On Earth-2, the attack from Killer Frost and Deathstorm leaves Barry shaken and it puts his team in a position to learn about the true hierarchy of Zoom's organization. When Cisco encounters his doppelganger and Zoom appears to capture Barry, all appears lost.

"Welcome To Earth-2" risks, but manages not to fall into the trap of, becoming a kitsch episode that plays on the spectacle of the constant reversals of the primary Earth-2 characters. Intermixed with Jay Garrick being honest about his issues with Velocity-6 blends with Joseph West sternly deriding Barry Allen at Jitterbug's. The serious character moments play as substantive against the gleeful shock value of seeing Killer Frost, Deathstorm, and Reverb. The Earth-1 plotline with Geomancer feels more like filler (and potentially a set-up for a somewhat ridiculous climax in the second part) than a truly legitimate and developed plotline.

The character elements in "Welcome To Earth-2" keep the show engaging. While reversals with people like Deadshot (Floyd Lawton) are amusing, Barry Allen's sudden obsession with avenging Joseph West illustrates well the depth of his love for his father. The mission to Earth-2 is initially focused, but Barry Allen quickly derails it unintentionally and that is fascinating to watch. Also impressive is the late-in-the-episode appearance of Reverb and his interactions with Cisco.

The acting in "Welcome To Earth-2" is some of the series's best. While Jesse L. Martin is predictably fabulous, as always, the episode finally allows Danielle Panabaker to illustrate her exceptional range. Panabaker plays both Dr. Snow and Killer Frost and the roles require her to not just look completely different, but to perform at opposite ends of the emotive spectrum. Panabaker delivers for The Flash like she never has before in "Welcome To Earth-2!" Similarly, Carlos Valdes acting opposite himself makes for one of the most memorable episodes of the entire series thus far!

The details in "Welcome To Earth-2" are slightly off. Jay Garrick immediately leaps to a probable conclusion as to why the cannon blows out after the team travels through it to Earth-2. Given that the team is made up of scientists and Garrick realizes so quickly what happened, it seems odd that the group did not discuss and anticipate the possibility and shore up the device to prevent it from stranding the team on Earth-2. Similarly, while fans might absolutely geek out over Hal, Diana and Bruce appearing on Bartholomew Allen's speed dial, one has to question how Zoom could rise to and retain power over Central City if Allen could just call in such powerful members of the Justice League at a moment's notice!

Similarly, the editing in "Welcome To Earth-2" is noticeably off. The way the episode is cut, it seems like Deathstorm is as fast as The Flash and their race around Central City is problematically truncated. Similarly, the sudden appearance of The Flash's helmet on a statue is somewhat ridiculously placed (statues seldom are molded with such detachable parts!). The timeframe for Dr. Snow developing Velocity-7, which apparently happens in a single afternoon(!), is only accomplished by denying the weird time-compression that comes from editing.

For other works with alternate universes, please read my reviews of:
"Parallels" - Star Trek: The Next Generation
"Rise Of The Cybermen" - Doctor Who


For other television season and episode reviews, please visit my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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The Worship Fallacy

The Basics: If god exists as an entity, there is no productive reason to continue to worship it.

In recent years, people of faith have gotten a bad name and yet, they have managed to rally around their least positive traits to form a community and power block that holds much of the United States and its public policy hostage. The most extreme evangelical movements have become the loudest voices of the faithful and their disdain for scientific literacy is both astonishing and, as a matter of legislation and governance, destructive to the United States. While heralding the awesomeness of a divine power, people of faith have reduced sophisticated arguments to unfortunate sound bytes: when faced with reason and logic, the explanation of "I have faith" it treated as a legitimate and convincing counterargument. Faith, alas, does not create truth.

The Evangelical Christian movement and the Muslim extremist have much in common and their belief in an supreme diety is chief among them. It is the rare person of faith who questions god's most basic tactic for insuring its godhood: the Biblical god declares itself to be the most powerful, the one and only god . . . despite there being other gods in The Bible. Indeed, people in the Bible worship other gods and the Biblical god uses its followers to wipe them out and all those followers have to go on is faith that their god is telling the truth. The mistake such followers make is in believing - in having unlimited faith - and in neglecting the reality of their situation: if their god was all-powerful, it would not need the followers to do its bidding. Instead, the biblical god became powerful because the followers put it in power. In other words, it was good spin that god declared itself to be the one and only and the most powerful, then had followers who would go out and eliminate the competition. In modern politics, the same tactic is used today: when you want your candidate to seem inevitable, you use your spin staff to start referring to them in the role you want them to have. So, for example, when questions of electibility come up, you'll hear answers like "As President, Trump would have the authority to . . ." or "(emphasis on title) President Trump would not treat World Leader X with kid gloves."

Despite the illogic of reducing everything to matters of faith, faith in the Judeo-Christian-Muslim god is based on three very logical principles. The reason people of faith believe in their particular god are:
1. God is good.
2. God is all-powerful.
and 3. God is interventionist.

These principles might seem reductive, but they are at the core of the faith that leads people to tithe, spend time praying and act as activists to promote a public policy that is destructive to anyone outside their narrow vision of faith. And, if true, those principles would not be bad. Belief that god is good is a decent one; people of faith want to believe they are following someone's teachings that are moral and right, as opposed to destructive. Belief that God is all-powerful is important because it allows believers to cling to ideas and answer the tough questions of existence - the answer is never "I don't know," it's "God did it." And the idea that god gets involved is essential; people of faith believe that god and its minions work among humanity to influence everything from daily events to social movements. The principles of faith underlie all of the major institutions of faith and they are the reason those institutions have managed to grow and seize ever more power in the world.

They are also demonstrably false.

People of faith cling to the three bedrock beliefs of their god, despite all logic and intelligence. The greatest extremists will fall back upon the tired chestnut of "it's all part of god's inscrutable plan." The problem that people of faith will encounter with even minimal scrutiny is that the fallbacks of "god's plan" and "faith justifies itself" are that they work contrary to the three fundamental beliefs, not in concert with them. The institutions that prey upon faith use their followers to gain and maintain power, not to actually illustrate or celebrate their beliefs. People who pray to the Judeo-Christian-Muslim god and work to raise its influence on Earth are doing so because they deny that the three bedrock, logical, beliefs that are the cornerstones of their faith are demonstrably false. To wit:

1. God is not good. In The Bible, God's first, most important commandment is one that insures its own power. Put god above all others. This is a commitment to servitude and it is placed in the pantheon of god's rules as more important even than "love thy neighbor." Sure, love is important, but more important than that is god's all-powerful nature and your subservience to it. It's the same thing abusive parents say to their children to maintain dominance and control. A god that is good would not create rules, then ask its followers to break them. "Thou shalt not kill" is a pretty important commandment, yet Evangelicals happily find loopholes. While some of that can be reduced to human error - Pope Urban X declared that what god meant was Christians shouldn't kill other Christians in order to raise a military to fight the Crusades - any god that demands fealty and murder above acceptance, love, and following the rules that allow believers to define the divine as "good" is not good. Fringe religions that practice things like child sacrifice, bloodletting, and openly declare they are not good have more honesty to their god than one who says it is good, but then breaks its own rules to insure power over its believers. And, in even simpler terms, if god had a plan and suffering exists in the world, where even god's devout believers are challenged, harmed and/or diminished, god's plan is not good. "Good things might come to those who wait," but if god is inherently good, there is no real virtue in forcing people to wait for evidence of that goodness. What merit is there in starvation, fear and the existence of child molesters from a god that is good? [As an aside, people of faith need to consider the following about their myths - the concept of heaven (delayed gratification) is an entirely relative one. If you believe that this life is a predecessor to a realm where you will have eternal bliss if only you believe in god and follow his commandments, consider how relative bliss is. Your idea of heaven might be one where you are reunited with all of your dead loved ones, where you are free to roam in the sunlight and bask in god's love for eternity; for a child molester, heaven would be unlimited access to minors to fondle and rape without fear, judgement or repercussions for the same eternity. According to Judeo-Christian-Muslim institutions fealty to god and devout following of god's rules would net both you and the child molester your versions of heaven - does that truly sound like a good god?]

2. God is not all-powerful. Tied very closely to the existence of evil in the world is the idea that god is not all-powerful. If god is inherently good, then an all-powerful being would have no problem eliminating or regulating any being under its dominion. So, for those who fall back on "evil exists in the world because the devil brought it" can only believe that because the devil is either on par with god's power or god lets the devil get away with it. If "the devil made me do it," it was because god either did not or could not intervene. For people of faith who believe in free will, the idea of an all-powerful god is even more problematic. An all-powerful god has the ability to eliminate temptation, stop the bullet from killing you and stop the devil from whispering in your ear. An all-powerful god has the ability to right your biochemistry so your schizophrenia goes away (what merit is there in mental illness for a benevolent, all-powerful god?), stop the flood from washing away your house and make the rain fall on the seeds in the desert to raise crops to feed people. God does not do these things and people suffer, natural disasters occur and warlords rise up to enslave populations.

3. God is not an interventionist. Let's presume, for a moment, that my arguments are wrong. People of faith bristle and deny that their god is not good and not all-powerful. They can even trot out the old trope, "how do you know, have you met him?" And therein lies the problem. Let's say everything on Earth was created by an all-powerful, benevolent deity who loved humanity above all else. Where is that god now? The deists - who are basically atheists who have yet to commit - believe that god created the Earth and then moved on to bigger and better things. The net result is the same, though. If god is good and all-powerful, there is no virtue to that god if it does not exercise that power to advance its goodness. I can say that I am doing a good thing by robbing a bank and shooting anyone in my way, but the actions would seem to indicate the opposite to the majority of people witnessing them. Proof of god's benevolence and omnipotence is lacking in the world today. Evil exists, those with power dominate vast populations and suffering is rampant. If god is good and all-powerful, it sees no reason to actively fix the problems of the world it created. A god that does not intervene to save its followers from harm is not demonstrably good or all-powerful. If god wanted to save its follower from getting shot, but could not because it was distracted elsewhere, it is not all-powerful. If god let a child die from torture to teach a lesson to its followers, it is not inherently good. But if the world exists without god actively influencing key elements, the net result is the same.

It is pointless to waste time, energy, and faith on worship, prayer, or advocacy for the Judeo-Christian-Muslim god. God is not coming to save you, your house, your small business, or any of the things you care about; there are billions of people and god either does not care, is not good or is powerless to save them all or influence the world to fix its problems. Faith in god will not save us or our world; actions of kindness and advocacy toward a better future will. If the next time a person of faith was inclined to pray, they instead found someone who was suffering and committed to help them through their tough time, the results would be more immediately evident than what comes after the faithful spend time on their knees.

For other social or political articles, please check out:
Why Bernie Sanders Will Be The Next President Of The United States Of America
Why We Should Stop The Search For The "Gay Gene"
Parents, It's Not The World You Remember! (But It Is The One You Helped To Create!)

For other reviews, please check out my Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Friday, February 5, 2016

The Atom's Fantastic Voyage Is Interrupted By Temporal Inefficiency In Legends Of Tomorrow's "Blood Ties!"

The Good: Performances, Most of the special effects
The Bad: Plot, Glossed-over character moments, Mysticism and missing elements
The Basics: Legends Of Tomorrow tries to service its various characters and fails to give most of them deep moments while poorly advancing its plot in "Blood Ties."

After only two episodes - or, more accurately, the double-long pilot episode, which was broken into two parts - Legends Of Tomorrow is in serious trouble. The show, which follows Rip Hunter and his assembled team of eight would-be heroes in their quest to thwart Vandal by using time travel and two people who resurrect in conjunction with Savage, has some serious conceptual issues to it. By the end of the second part of the pilot, Vandal Savage's weakness has been exposed and Hawkgirl has been defined as the only known person who can kill him. Attentive viewers - which those who follow time-travel adventure stories are noted to be - have already figured out that the time travel storyline in Legends Of Tomorrow is now bordering on the preposterous; the characters come from 2016 and in 2015 most of them encountered and defeated Vandal Savage. From that point, he regenerated and the resurrection aspect of Savage makes the solution to his eventual rise to power remarkably simple; the least amount of temporal impact to both the characters involved and the eventual timeline is to hunt down Savage after his last defeat - where the heroes know his remains are! - and stop him from fully regenerating. The characters can then resume their temporally normal lives with minimal disruption and minimal risk of screwing things up by going back and forth in time. Having attentive viewers that understand that by the beginning of the second or third episode makes them very wary of where the show might then go. Thus, I was understandably wary at the beginning of "Blood Ties."

And after "Blood Ties," I am, sadly, underwhelmed and disappointed. "Blood Ties" picks up in the day after the events of "Pilot Part II" (reviewed here!) and continues the adventures of Rip Hunter and his team in 1975 Europe. It, unfortunately, continues to neglect several key elements and the issues now are building to a point where one has to wonder about the writers and executive producers. DC Comics and DC Entertainment has been playing catch up with Marvel for years and "Blood Ties" has the feel that Legends Of Tomorrow was created more out of profit motive than a truly great story. Because of how the events of "Pilot Part II" reverberate in "Blood Ties," it is impossible to discuss the episode without revealing some of how the prior episode ended.

"Blood Ties" begins to make attentive viewers consider all that is missing from the narrative instead of what is actually there. For example, "Blood Ties" belabors the death of Carter Hall at the climax of the past episode, which is good and right. What has not at all been mentioned or explored is the 1975 incarnation of Hawkman and Hawkgirl. To be clear; Professor Boardman's parents were killed decades prior and Kendra Saunders is in her young twenties. That leaves two iterations of the resurrecting pair between Boardman's parents and Carter and Kendra. In simpler terms, in 1975, there is a different version of the now-dead Carter Hall who will be killed and whose death will enhance Vandal Savage's powers. That no one has even mentioned this, even if the idea of approaching him is dismissed, is troubling.

"Blood Ties" continues the narrative trend in Legends Of Tomorrow that calls into question whether or not the past and future can actually be changed. The episode works to enhance the characters of Sara Lance and Leonard Snart, with radically divergent results. While the a and b plots are related, the c-plot involves Dr. Stein motivating Ray Palmer in a plotline that is much more "look at this, it's character development!" than an organic-feeling plot that develops character implicitly.

Opening in 1700 B.C. in Egypt, Rip Hunter makes an attempt on Vandal Savage's life. In 1975 Germany, the crew of the Waverider is stuck dealing with the effects of Carter Hall's murder. Jefferson Jackson is tasked with repairing the damaged ship, while Sara Lance pitches the idea of eroding Savage's fortune in 1975. Drs. Stein and Palmer work to save Kendra Saunders's life, as fragments from Savage's dagger remain in her body and are moving toward killing her. Lance and Hunter head to the Brumberg Bank, but there Lance recognizes that Savage's people are all throughout the bank and they attack the pair.

Snart and Rory steal an emerald in Central City as Snart clumsily attempts to prevent his father from going to prison as part of his botched attempt to steal that emerald two days later. Using one of Savage's disciples, Lance and Hunter learn that Carter Hall's body is being kept by Savage for a ritual and Hunter becomes determined to reclaim the body. But just as Snart's mission goes south, so does Hunter's and the team must come together to prevent any further casualties.

The idea that Rip Hunter made an attempt on Vandal Savage's life in the distant past makes a great deal of sense. However, it seems like a temporally problematic attempt given that it would create a huge temporal paradox - wiping out Savage, Hawkman and Hawkgirl and all their influences for more than forty-two hundred years. But once one has committed to the potential consequences of erasing so much history from ever happening, it seems ridiculous that the time traveler would not make more attempts. Killing Savage before he becomes immortal is a terrible plan from a temporal influence standpoint, but once one has committed to it, there is no negative consequence to using the team to continue to make such attempts. In other words, if Rip Hunter was willing to try killing Vandal Savage alone in 1700 B.C. , there is no sensible reason why he wouldn't take his entire team back to, say, ten minutes after he failed with that attempt to try again.

While director Dermott Downs seems to want to use Caity Lotz (Sara Lance) simply for strutting in slow motion and looking great in period garb, Lotz manages to make Lance interesting in "Blood Ties." The "buddy cop" mission with Lance and Hunter begins to finally explore White Canary's character. While The Flash has been devoid of mysticism, Legends Of Tomorrow accepts that Lance was resurrected and it is now giving consequences to that action that, apparently, occurred on Arrow. Lance has a blood lust now and fears who she actually is and in the moments "Blood Ties" allows her to articulate that, Lotz lands the deliveries.

While Brandon Routh's Raymond Palmer is supposed to be the big character focused on in the c-plot, Victor Garber's deliveries outshine even the special effects of The Atom. Dominic Purcell continues to be used almost exclusively for comic relief, while Wentworth Miller continues to do some serious dramatic lifting as Snart. Franz Drameh continues to be relegated to a distant supporting role, though Jackson has one good monologue that allows him to be the voice of reason. But Drameh is almost as much of a non-entity in the episode as Ciara Renee, whose Saunders remains unconscious almost the entire episode.

The real winner on the acting front in "Blood Ties" is Arthur Darvill. While Casper Crump makes the viewer wonder if the actor has been thrilled to no longer being forced to play Saddam Hussein (seriously, I was shocked to discover he has never once been cast to play him in the past!), Arthur Darvill continues to make genre viewers forget he was ever a second-tier Companion on Doctor Who. Darvill has presence and he matches the heavy Crump plays with force and emotionalism that works to make a compelling protagonist. Darvill is delightfully smug in the episode's ultimate fight and there are moments when it almost seems like Downs is making an audition reel for Darvill to be James Bond.

Sensitive viewers will note that "Blood Ties" is the episode when they are done with Legends Of Tomorrow. With multiple throat cuttings and blood-drinking, "Blood Ties" and Legends Of Tomorrow is clearly intended for an adult audience that is not squeamish. Unfortunately, such adult fans who can handle Vandal Savage holding his own slit throat closed are also likely to wonder why the hell Rip Hunter wouldn't take Savage's dagger (the only known remaining artifact that Saunders can use to kill the immortal!) with him after the assassination attempt!

Despite moments of being aesthetically pleasing and interesting, "Blood Ties" pushes Legends Of Tomorrow in a disappointing direction.

For other works with Brandon Routh, be sure to check out my reviews of:
"All Star Team Up" - The Flash
Zach And Miri Make A Porno
Superman Returns


For other television season and episode reviews, please visit my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Forced Upgrade: The Playstation 4 Is Good, But Less Initially Impressive Than Its Predecessor.

The Good: Great online speed, Awesome capacity, Incredible graphics processing
The Bad: Overly complicated programming, Large physical footprint, Not backwards compatible for Playstation 3 games
The Basics: The Playstation 4 is a decent video game system, streaming console and Blu-Ray player, despite being more complicated to use than the Playstation 3.

Shortly before Thanksgiving, the disc drive on my Playstation 3 (reviewed here!) kicked out. For years, my wife and I had been using the PS3 as our primary entertainment console, for watching DVDs, Blu-Ray discs, streaming our Netflix shows and only occasionally playing video games. We replaces our PS3 during the holidays with a brand new 500 GB Playstation 4 gaming system! After two months of solid use, I figured it was time to finally review the new system.

Our Playstation 4 came as the Star Wars: Battlefront bundle and I have already played more video games on the Playstation 4 than I ever did on the PS3! It's a cool system, though it is not a flawless one and, from a functioning perspective, it is a step back from the PS3.

Our Playstation 4 was connected to our Sony Bravia HD television (reviewed here!). Despite the age of the television, the Playstation 4 instantly recognized the television and was able to flawlessly transmit HD audio and visual information to the Bravia. The Playstation 4 came with the needed HDMI cable. Set up for the Playstation 4 was incredibly easy. The ports for the High-Definition signal and the hardwire internet cable are clear and instantly recognizable, even to a layperson like me.

As far as programming the Playstation 4 goes, it is mostly intuitive, though it does require one to create a Playstation account to access the system and get the most current operating system update. The system already requires an OS update, so one needs to connect it to the internet immediately to get it to update. That said, the Playstation 4 set itself up when properly connected to both the internet and the television.

The Playstation 4 comes with a single controller and it is predictably expensive. The controller is a simple handheld device designed to be held in two hands and use the thumbs to operate. There are keypads with four controls on each side and little joy-stick controllers in the middle. Most operations involve manipulating the left joy-stick and entering information with the confirmation enter button (bottom button of the right quartet) on the right side. Setting up things like user accounts means navigating an annoying on-screen keyboard where one moves the cursor to each letter or character before entering it, with entirely different on-screen pages being necessary to get things like capital letters and symbols like periods, asterisks, etc.

The moment it comes on line, the Playstation 4 has options for programs, like streaming services - Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon - an internet browser, Spotify, video games that one loads (as opposed to have the discs for), etc. The system does not play a lot of online videos as it does not support Adobe Flash, but it plays video games and discs amazingly well. Unfortunately, it does not play Playstation 3 video games.

The Playstation 4 is intended to be a storage and play device for video games, DVD/Blu-Ray discs, and compact discs as well as other music mediums. One of the big features is share play and I've had the opportunity to try that out on several games now. The share play feature is easy enough to initiate, but it is not intuitive to set up. So, while one may touch a button to start share play with a friend one has invited (the Playstation 4 software is like Facebook where one searches the Playstation network and adds friends to share information and games with), doing things like giving a friend a virtual controller requires someone who knows all the little nooks and crannies of the operating system to navigate. The process is in no way intuitive and it requires an additional subscription fee to actually share play, which is irksome when one owns the game one wants to play over the internet with a friend.

For video games, the Playstation 4 plays only Playstation 4 1 games, though the Playstation Network features previously-released games for some of the prior Playstation platforms. These are stupidly problematic, though. To wit, the Star Wars Battlefront bundle that my Playstation 4 came as included a voucher for four previous Star Wars games. At least two of them were entirely inaccessible, as the first screen in the games requires one "press start" . . . and the Playstation 4 controller no longer has a "Start" button! No combination of button mashing allowed me to access the original files; they all had to be upgraded around the simple problem. That said, the games I have played on the Playstation 4 have had mind-blowingly good graphics and have been fairly playable. It's a leap for me to have the games on the console, like a PC, as opposed to on discs!

Our experience with DVD, Blu-Ray and digital video files has been simple: it flawlessly plays them all. DVDs, Blu-Ray discs, and music compact discs are remarkably easy to play in the Playstation 4. When one puts a disc in, the disc boots up immediately. There has been no type of solid media that has not played and connecting our MP3 player to the Playstation 4 also yielded flawless recognition of the contents. This is, truly, a system that is intuitive to set up and use. That said, there is an annoying issue with the menus on the Playstation 4; when one leaves a program, there are extra steps to shutting down the program. Unlike the PS3, where one simply hits the Playstation button on the remote and they are given options, like "stop program" right there, the Playstation 4 brings one out of the program when one hits the PS button and then they must go through the "Options" menu to find things like the way to turn the program off. This might seem like a minor grievance, but I have a real issue with needlessly complicated things and the extra steps on the Playstation 4 are just annoying and add time to what should be simple processes.

As well, the social aspect of the Playstation 4 is annoying and not immediately fixable. While gaming, I received a "friend" invitation from a fellow gamer, despite my personal privacy settings being the highest I could make them. Now, I get constant inviations from this person I do not know whenever I am on my Playstation 4 . . . which is annoying in the middle of my watching movies and such. Despite changing my notification settings on the Playstation 4, I keep getting updates and invitations and I ultimately resorted to unfriending the otherwise friendly gamer because my Playstation 4 is my primary entertainment console, not just a gaming system.

Like prior Playstation systems, the controller does not have any type of battery that is accessible. Instead, one needs to plug it into the USB port on the Playstation 4's front to recharge it. The Playstation 4 and its controller may be programmed to go into a powersave mode - which I like - after an hour or ten minutes, respectively. This, again, is an easy setting to set that even electronics-ignorant folks may easily avail themselves of. The USB ports on the front of the Playstation 4 also makes it possible to move files to the Playstation 4 or plug in a USB keyboard.

Despite being a little less intuitive to operate, the Playstation 4 is absolutely simple to set up and it remains fairly easy to use, especially after the first day or two. It is a great alternative to those who want something to both watch solid media and stream on. For me, the video gaming is a bonus! If only it played the PS3 games I already had, instead of pressuring me to shell out more money for another monthly service to play them . . .

For other electronic devices, please check out my reviews of:
Netgear WNR1000V3 N150 Wireless Router
Auvio 1201241 Synch/Charge Cable
GE 34205 HDMI Cable


For other electronics reviews, please visit my Electronics Reviews Index Page for an organized listing.

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Thursday, February 4, 2016

Remembering The Breach Problem: "Fast Lane" Effectively Redirects The Flash!

The Good: Wonderful character moments, Engaging plot development, Most of the acting
The Bad: Effects largely negate the coolness of Tar Pit, Some predictability in moving toward the next two big episodes
The Basics: "Fast Lane" introduces one of the more fantastic Flash villains and does an exceptional job tying him into the larger storyline.

Fans of the comic book The Flash have a lot to be apprehensive about with the second season of The Flash on television. After all, the current season is much more fractured than the first season, with huge unresolved plotlines involving dimensional rifts peppered around Central City, the villainous Zoom menacing Barry Allen, the metahumans created by the reactor in the pilot episode and the new additions of Wally West and Jay Garrick to the mix. Usually, before entering a whole alternate universe scenario, the television show would be on firmer ground than The Flash was when it went in that direction. While Geoff Johns did an amazing job with creating a rogue's gallery for The Flash second only to Batman's cast of villains, those villains have not always translated well to the television show. To wit, in the first season episode "The Flash Is Born" (reviewed here!) saw the television show making a terrible rendition of Girder (he appeared in the show as, essentially, a variation of the Marvel Universe's Collosus. So, when "Fast Lane" was teased with the idea that the Johns'-Era villain Tar Pit would make an appearance, fans of the book had a reason to experience trepidation.

Fortunately, fans have a lot to enjoy in "Fast Lane" as the episode gets a lot of Tar Pit right - even is his comic book appearance is only in the show for one brief part of the final scene! "Fast Lane" picks up right after "The Reverse-Flash Returns" (reviewed here!) with Harrison Wells working on Eobard Thawne's technology. The episode effectively blends the serialized elements of the show with a Metahuman Of The Week story.

Opening the night of the reactor accident, two years prior, two goons drop Joey Monteleone in an industrial tub of boiling tar. The reactor accident occurs and Monteleone becomes a metahuman. While Iris tries to get Wally West to stop his drag racing, Joe and Barry investigate the murder of Daniel Burge, at the hands of a new-to-the-scene metahuman. Harrison Wells completes the device needed to sap the Speed Force from Barry to save his daughter. Finding metahuman DNA on Burge's body, Cisco coins the new metahuman Tar Pit and soon his app indicates Tar Pit is active. When Barry encounters Tar Pit, Wells uses his new device to sap some of the Flash's Speed Force.

While Barry Allen investigates Tar Pit, Wells delivers Zoom the Speed Force sample. Cisco and Barry are concerned because The Flash is negligibly slower. While Barry and Wells work together, using our Earth's Wells's research, Wells warns Barry that he will betray Barry and his team to save his daughter. When Iris's reporting brings her to Wally's race, where the man organizing the races is related to the thugs who created Tar Pit, Tar Pit shows up and nearly kills Wally to get to Bronwen. In the process, Iris is wounded and that pushes Wells to tell the truth, which puts Barry in the odd position of defending his quasi-mentor to his friends.

"Fast Lane" is notably light on Dr. Snow (Danielle Panabaker has two big episodes coming up!) and Cisco, whose most significant moment is bringing his metahuman app online (which is what Wells had developed in the alternate universe in his first major flashback for this season!). Jay Garrick is entirely absent from the episode and this actually works in the episode's favor. "Fast Lane" has the feeling of being more focused on the show's core characters and it works nicely in that regard to allow most of them to develop better and have the actors showcase their talents more.

Tom Cavanagh returns in full force to the forefront of his range and ability in "Fast Lane." Harrison Wells is committed to his family and Cavanagh brilliantly presents monologues that illustrate his character's absolute commitment to his family. The raw emotionalism of it plumbs a new depth for Cavanagh on The Flash and it works out brilliantly in the episode.

Cavanagh and Jesse L. Martin's experienced deliveries are balanced by Grant Gustin and Candice Patton. Gustin gives a brilliantly forceful performance opposite Cavanagh. He sets his gaze and gives some vocally strong performances that sell the character's sense of determination and compassion. Patton gives a similar range of performances making Iris tenacious and determined, completely dominating all of her scenes with the guest stars she squares off against. Patton gives one of her most subtle and strong performances in "Fast Lane."

"Fast Lane"'s minutia is a bit weird. Out of all the history of music, Barry Allen cites an Ingrid Michaelson song, which is cool, but somewhat shortsighted. In an immediately adjacent scene, the Wests have Coast City Pizza. In the first season, The Flash ran to Coast City in California to get everyone pizza; how they got it without the Flash seems to bank on the idea that Coast City Pizza had a radical expansion over the past year and got a Central City branch. It's flimsy and someone in the prop department should have caught the problem.

The special effects in "Fast Lane" are incredible. While it might have been cost-prohibitive to replicate Tar Pit's comic book appearance in every shot and that is disappointing, his ultimate appearance is pretty awesome. The effect of the episode, though, is the scene featuring Wally's ultimate race and The Flash trying desperately to rescue Iris.

In fact, one of the big things missing from "Fast Lane" is a scene reconnecting Iris and Barry after she is wounded. That said, the episode does much right and leads into one of the big potentially promising events of the season!

For other works directed by Rachel Talalay, be sure to check out my reviews of:
"Hell Bent" - Doctor Who
"Heaven Sent" - Doctor Who
"Death In Heaven" - Doctor Who
"Dark Water"- Doctor Who


For other television season and episode reviews, please visit my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Sunday, January 31, 2016

January 2016 End Of The Month Report!

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January was a ridiculously slow start to 2016 for the blog and me. I've been playing video games, working on my business and experiencing the joy ofa new kitten! That made me much less excited about partaking of things like the return of Agent Carter, so the blog was dominated by DC Television Universe reviews. As a result, the month was dominated by older reviews getting attention, as opposed to a whole bunch of stellar new reviews; next month will be bigger for the blog.

This month, we picked up five new followers on Twitter - which surprised me given our low productivity - and one new subscribers! We are always trying to get people to become regular readers and subscribe, so if you enjoy what you're reading, please subscribe by clicking on the right side of the blog to get updates with each posting. As well, if you read a review that really affects you, be sure to "share" it! PLEASE share a link to the blog, not the content of the article; this keeps people coming to the site and, hopefully, liking what they find once they are here! We're slowly growing our readership, so sharing and subscribing to the blog is an important way you can help! If you’re subscribing, please tell your friends about the blog!

In January, the index pages were only once. The primary Index Page, is usually updated daily and lets you know what the featured review is and has an up-to-the-day tally of how many reviews have been reviewed in each category! Check it out and feel free to use that as it is a much more useful and organized index to the reviews I've written!

If you enjoy the reviews, please consider clicking on the links in the reviews and purchasing items. We really appreciate all the purchases made through the blog as that keeps us going. As the new year begins, if you're going shopping online, please come through the blog to to it. Thank you so much!

At the end of January 2016, I have reviewed the following:
540 - Book Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Star Trek Books
Graphic Novels
916 - Music (Album and Singles) Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Music Reviews By Rating (Best To Worst)
Music Reviews In Alphabetical Order
2898 - Movie and Television Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Movies By Rating (Best Movie to Worst)
Movies In Alphabetical Order
Best Picture Oscar Winner Film Reviews
Television Reviews
The Star Trek Review Index Page (All Star Trek Reviews In Order)!
The Star Trek Review Index Page (All Star Trek Reviews From The Best Of The Franchise To The Worst!)!
The Doctor Who Review Index Page (All Doctor Who Reviews In Order)!
The Doctor Who Review Index Page (All Doctor Who Reviews From The Best Of The Franchise To The Worst!)!
224 - Trading and Gaming Card Reviews
Gaming Cards Reviews
Star Trek Gaming Cards Reviews
Star Wars Gaming Cards Reviews
The Lord Of The Rings Trading Card Game Reviews
Other Gaming Cards Reviews
Trading Cards Reviews
841 - Toy and Christmas Ornament Reviews
with specialized pages for:
Ornament Reviews
Star Trek Toys
Star Wars Toys
Lord Of The Rings Toys
Buffy The Vampire Slayer/Angel Toys
Comic Book, Movie, Television Toys
Plush and Other Toys
911 - Food, Drink, And Restaurant Reviews
with specialized index pages for:
Cheese and Meats
Ice Cream
Other Food
239 - Pet Product Reviews
Cat Product Reviews
Dog Product Reviews
Rabbit Product Reviews
114 - Travel Reviews
Destinations Reviews
Hotels Reviews
190 - Health And Beauty Product Reviews
192 - Home, Garden, Appliance and Tool Reviews
100 - Electronics, Computers, Computer Games and Software Reviews
50 - Other Product Reviews

The Featured Reviews For The Month of January are my reviews of Blackstar by David Bowie and my article on Why Bernie Sanders Will Be The Next President And His Supporters Need To Adjust Their Tactics!
Check it out!

The month of January was dominated by prior months' reviews! For January, the Top Ten Reviews of the month were:
10. Expelled
9. "The Reverse-Flash Returns" - The Flash
8. "Pilot, Part II" - DC's Legends Of Tomorrow
7. Bound
7. Blackstart - David Bowie
6. Quaker Brown Sugar Oatmeal Squares
5. "The Husbands Of River Song" - Doctor Who
4. Jessica Jones - Season 1
3. "Potential Energy" - The Flash
2. The Top Ten Episodes Of Star Trek: Voyager
1. The Top Ten Episodes Of Frasier

I pride myself on being an exceptionally fair reviewer, but one who is very discriminating. I believe that most reviewers are far too biased toward both what is current and toward unduly praising things. I tend to believe most things actually are average and they ought to follows something around a Bell Curve. Mine is a little lopsided, but not as lopsided as most reviewers I know (who would probably have peak numbers between ten and seven)!

For my reviews, the current count is:
10s - 318 reviews
9s - 472 reviews
8s - 913 reviews
7s - 1013 reviews
6s - 937 reviews
5s - 1200 reviews
4s - 882 reviews
3s - 690 reviews
2s - 326 reviews
1s - 219 reviews
0s - 104 reviews
No rating - 104 articles/postings

While there was a decent amount of movement this month, the all time Top Ten remains unchanged. At the end of January 2016, the most popular reviews/articles continue to be:
10. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
9. Safe Haven
8. Oz The Great And Powerful
7. The Mortal Instruments: City Of Bone
6. Warm Bodies
5. Iron Man 3
4. Now You See Me
3. Tyler Perry's Temptation
2. The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug
1. Man Of Steel

Thank you again, so much, for reading! Please share links to the blog with friends and spread the word!

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Friday, January 29, 2016

Professor Stein Dominates Legends Of Tomorrow "Pilot Part Two!"

The Good: Decent production values, Moments of character, Some wonderful performance moments
The Bad: Erratic acting, Plot is somewhat simplistic.
The Basics: Legends Of Tomorrow finishes its pilot with a focus on Dr. Martin Stein and the first major character death.

If you're going to pay for Victor Garber, you have to give him a decent role. Fans of Victor Garber's work were undoubtedly surprised when he appeared in The Flash as the (secondary) character Dr. Martin Stein. Obviously, executive producer Greg Berlanti had some ideas of things to come and that Stein would be an important player in the DC Television Universe (in the comic books, Dr. Martin Stein frequently appears as a supporting character in Firestorm, both physically and as a disembodied voice. So, when casting for Legends Of Tomorrow was first announced, it is unsurprising that Victor Garber was given top billing and that Dr. Martin Stein would be an integral component of the show (at the time, it was problematically spoiler-iffic as his Firestorm co-star Robbie Amell was not part of those cast lists!). In "Pilot, Part 2" of Legends Of Tomorrow, viewers are shown exactly why a genre series like this would shell out for an actor of Garber's caliber.

"Pilot Part II" completes the first major adventure of Rip Hunter's time traveling team that was begun in "Pilot Part I" (reviewed here!). While my original gripe with Legends Of Tomorrow was that the pilot was presented as two episodes, as opposed to one full movie. But "Pilot Part II" is more focused on Dr. Stein than Rip Hunter and it is completely devoid of the Chronos bounty hunter subplot. Instead, "Pilot, Part II" begins to explore some of the practical ramifications that might result from Rip Hunter's influence and intervention.

Recovering from the death of Dr. Boardman, Rip Hunter's crew follows his journal's lead to a black market arm's dealing in Norway, still in 1975. There, Snart, Rory, Stein and Lance infiltrate the arm's sale where they discover Vandal Savage is the seller of a nuclear weapon. In the process of escaping the sale after Savage recognizes the infiltrators as interlopers, the Atom loses a piece of his suit. Hunter consults Gideon and learns that Savage getting the tech results in 2016 Central City being utterly destroyed. While Stein, Jackson, and Lance head to United States to get the device that can track Palmer's tech in 1975, Snart, Rory and Palmer head to the mansion of a Russian who has bought the dagger that can be used to kill Vandal Savage. Encountering the 25 year-old Stein throws the older Stein and Jackson.

Carter Hall and Kendra Saunders attempt to discover the origin of the dagger and Saunders starts to recall some of her life as Chay-Ara and her time as the priestess in the Temple Of Horus four thousand years prior. Savage gives his minions twenty-four hours to figure out Palmer's technology, which is quickly complicated when "the Russian" turns out to be Vandal Savage and his security system quickly thwarts Snart's team. While Lance is able to recover Palmer's technology, the whole team is soon drawn into a rescue mission that requires them to directly confront Vandal Savage!

"Pilot Part II" is saddled immediately with a narrative issue that neglects its own concept. Vandal Savage begins the chain of events by escaping Hawkman and Hawkgirl by setting a two minute timer on the nuclear bomb. This idea is one that would work in a single-super hero show, but truly flops in Legends Of Tomorrow. As the episode shows, only Firestorm and Atom are needed to defuse the nuclear weapon. That leaves five heroes to attempt to capture Vandal Savage. Yet somehow, ridiculously, he gets away (the concept is predicated on the idea that the arm's buyers would stick around to fight the other five inside the potential blast radius of a nuclear devices, as opposed to having a self-preservation instinct!). But following that, "Pilot Part II" is built on the assumption that the Waverider can navigate through time and space but does not have sensors that can trace Alpha Particles. The episode's FOUR writers hope viewers won't catch either of these details!

Dr. Stein, past and future, is the main focus of "Pilot Part II" on the character front. Stein is a character who encounters his own hubris at both the arm's market and in encountering his younger self. It is his slip of the tongue that clues Savage in to the fact that the group is out of time. Victor Garber completely nails the role, especially with tongue-in-cheek observations about how his comrades fail to guard the door. Stein is also amazingly played by Graeme McComb. McComb gets some of the cadences for Garber as Stein down perfect with his deliveries! Both McComb and Garber get through the technobabble like champs and Garber's big scene for Stein's introspection is well-delivered. It offsets Ciara Renee's less-developed performance as Saunders has her own revelations and memories of Kendra's past lives.

The rest of the ensemble cast is given an opportunity each to play their roles and have a moment each. Wentworth Miller continues to shine as Leonard Snart and Brandon Routh plays off him in an interesting way. Having not watched much of Arrow at all, Routh's portrayal of Dr. Palmer - both the writing and the performance - seems incongruent from the character in the books; he is much edgier and more impulsive in the DC Television Universe. The belaboring of the relationship between Carter and Kendra takes up more time than anything Rip Hunter is given in "Pilot Part II" and it becomes a necessary evil for where the episode goes.

Legends Of Tomorrow borrows from Back To The Future (reviewed here!) with the conceit of Dr. Stein's wedding ring. The future being in flux has physical tells and unlike in the classic science fiction comedy, in "Pilot, Part II" the conceit seems somewhat ridiculous.

The production values in "Pilot, Part II" continue high, though the show continues to have obvious questions that remain unanswered. For a time-travel adventure none of the team members have yet noted that there are photographs that include Vandal Savage in them, so they know several exact times and places he will be and is vulnerable. No one has belabored how Vandal Savage resurrected after the Arrow episode "Legends Of Yesterday" and proposed stopping Merlyn Malcolm from getting his remnants (which would have the least amount of temporal impact, one assumes). That said, young Professor Stein's initial question of "have we met" to his older self holds the potential for a future, earlier, adventure in which he appears.

"Pilot Part II" is not a time-travel adventure, it is an episode that explores cause and effect and consequences. It is also, very much, the beginning of a story that promises to be longer and more complicated. The introduction of Back To The Future conceits leads to the potential that the show might do a Back To The Future, Part II or "Trials And Tribble-ations" (reviewed here!) episode that puts the team in "Legends Of Yesterday" to solve the convoluted potential mess the show could become. It is an obvious solution to all of the problems raised by both parts of the pilot of Legends Of Tomorrow and where this episode ends gives all of the characters the motivation they need to make it entertaining. Whether or not it goes there is yet to be seen, but for a start, "Pilot Part II" solidifies the beginning of the show well.

For other works with Neal McDonough, be sure to check out my reviews of:
"Legends Of Today" - The Flash
"The Iron Ceiling" - Agent Carter
Captain America: The First Avenger
Tin Man
Minority Report
Star Trek: First Contact
"Facing The Fire" - V.R.-5


For other television season and episode reviews, please visit my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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