Monday, February 29, 2016

February 2016 End Of The Month Report!

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As lead-up to the Oscars, I picked up productivity in the month of February! Readership ticked up as well, as a result of timely reviews of The Flash, Legends Of Tomorrow and Best Picture Oscar nominees!

This month, we picked up two new followers on Twitter, but no 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 February, the index pages were frequently updates. 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 tax returns come in, if you're going shopping online, please come through the blog to to it. Thank you so much!

At the end of February 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
2910 - 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
842 - 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
912 - 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
191 - Health And Beauty Product Reviews
192 - Home, Garden, Appliance and Tool Reviews
101 - Electronics, Computers, Computer Games and Software Reviews
51 - Other Product Reviews

The Featured Reviews For The Month of February, in honor of the Oscars are my reviews of Spotlight and my article on Oscars So White Is A Waste Of A Social Movement!
Check them out!

The month of February was, oddly, dominated by prior months' reviews! For February, the Top Ten Reviews of the month were:
10. "Blood Ties" - DC's Legends Of Tomorrow
9. Quaker Brown Sugar Oatmeal Squares
8. South - Heather Nova
7. Speakerboxxx/The Love Below - Outkast
6. Play: The B-Sides - Moby
5. "Escape From Earth-2" - The Flash
4. "King Shark" - The Flash
3. "Star City 2046" - DC's Legends Of Tomorrow
2. "Welcome To Earth-2" - The Flash
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 - 476 reviews
8s - 915 reviews
7s - 1016 reviews
6s - 940 reviews
5s - 1204 reviews
4s - 884 reviews
3s - 692 reviews
2s - 327 reviews
1s - 219 reviews
0s - 104 reviews
No rating - 108 articles/postings

While there was a decent amount of movement this month, the all time Top Ten remains unchanged. At the end of February 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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Saturday, February 27, 2016

Spotlight Is Another Film Where The Effects Are More Disappointing Than The Movie!

The Good: Pacing, Plot development, Decent performances
The Bad: Light on character development
The Basics: Impressive and worthwhile, Spotlight is difficult to watch more because the viewer will know it did not destroy the Catholic Church as opposed to any flaws within the film!

Today, I'm watching my last Best Picture nominee (I'm foregoing Mad Max: Fury Road because genre films and sequels have virtually no representation in Best Picture Oscar winners and Bridge Of Spies because it seems more like a courtesy nomination to Steven Spielberg than a genuine contender for the big prize): Spotlight. Spotlight is this year's big issue-based controversy nominee, following in the footsteps of movies like Doubt and Selma (reviewed here!). The film has one of the best-nominated casts of the year and it has a simplistic plot (for a film) that follows in the cinematic history of films like All The President's Men (reviewed here!).

Spotlight is based on how the reporters at the Boston Globe did investigative work to expose the conspiracy within the local Catholic Church whereby it silenced complainants from molestation victims. While Spotlight is based upon real and historical events, it is a film. It is important to note that; that when I refer to characters in the film - and judge them - it is only the film's characters I am talking about, not the historic personas upon which the film is based.

Opening in a prison in Boston, Massachussets in 1975, a desk sergeant and a cop discuss a suspect and the complainant they have in a room. The beat cop is outside and surprised when the priest and the bishop walk out and there will be no arraignment. At the Boston Globe in 2001, Walter Robinson meets with the new editor, Marty Baron. Robinson works on the Spotlight team, a special investigative group that breaks controversial stories that take up to a year to investigate and break. At his first writer's meeting, Baron reacts to a column on the "Geoghan case," a three year-old priest molestation case, where it appears that the Cardinal and local Catholic church knew about a Boston priest molested eighty children going back at least fifteen years. Robinson and his team investigate the Church.

Reporter Mike Rezendes interviews lawyer Mitchell Garabedian about the cases (84 of them) involving Catholic priests who molested children. Garabedian is almost paranoid about the Church and the way it has hounded him since he first started representing molestation victims. As the Spotlight team begins to investigate, they discover how much blowback there is from the Church and the community. The team quickly realizes that the pattern that the support group leader told them about might actually be real. After interviewing molestation victims, clergy and lawyers, the team fights to break the story. When an analyst investigating the psychological phenomenon since the 1960s implies that the paper's number of 13 bad priests in Boston should be (statistically) 90, the Spotlight team realizes that they might have a much bigger story.

Spotlight accurately portrays and recreates the effects and stories of molestation victims. It is difficult to hear their stories, but viewers have to acknowledge that it must have been far more difficult to actually be a molestation victim. Spotlight expertly details how the abusive priests act as predators to children of low-income families. When the clues point in the direction of a vastly higher number, the investigative reporting aspect of the story takes priority in the film.

In addition to accurately giving voice to victims of sexual abuse, Spotlight illustrates how a tenacious team of reporters actually works. Much of the magic of the story of Spotlight is that the characters care and they fight to ask the important questions. As the story that the Spotlight team is working on is derailed by the September 11, 2001 attacks, its members become passionate about breaking the story. The characters are tenacious and they ask questions and fight to expose the truth.

Mike Rezendes, Walter Robinson, Sacha Pfeiffer, Matt Carroll, and Marty Baron are not overly complicated characters; they share many of the same traits. Garabedian and Macleish are bound by professional ethics, but still made attempts in their past to break the story - but no one listened to them. Carroll has children he is afraid might encounter one of the priests, Pfeiffer loses her faith and Robinson discovers that his Catholic school had priests who victimized people he knew.

While Spotlight is very much an ensemble piece, Mike Rezendes and Robinson dominate the character aspect of the narrative. Rezendes lost his faith long ago, but he always thought he might go back to church. Rezendes, as played by Mark Ruffalo, presents a level of anger that the audience feels long before he exhibits it. Robinson quickly realizes how the "code of silence" and the mechanisms of keeping people silent worked. The characters are generally focused and intense and their commitment to getting the story right is only momentarily trumped by the desire not to get scooped by another Boston newspaper.

The cast of Spotlight is predictably amazing. If there is any, even minor supporting, role that Stanley Tucci cannot absolutely rock, I don't yet know it. Tucci is amazing is impressive in his conflicted role of Mitchell Garabedian. Liev Schreiber might quietly growl his way through all of his lines in ways that are very familiar for the performer, but he makes the role of Marty Baron magnetic to watch. Brian D'Arcy James, John Slattery, Billy Crudup, Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, and Michael Keaton are all wonderful in their very straightforward roles.

Spotlight is a film based on an issue and an investigation even more than the characters involved in it, so it is a triumph how captivating the film is when its results are already known to almost all viewers. The extent of the sexual abuse problem in the Catholic Church is presented as completely stunning and it is astonishing that the 2002 story the Boston Globe broke did not lead to massive systemic changes. Like The Big Short (reviewed here!), Spotlight explores a massive problem that was exposed and had the potential to change the world . . . but didn't.

Director Tom McCarthy directs Spotlight well, but the story is not a particularly flashy or cinematic one. Spotlight is like a play on screen, but McCarthy and the performers make it work well enough to be an engaging and enduring film.

For other works with Len Cariou, please visit my reviews of:
"Coda" - Star Trek: Voyager
Thirteen Days
About Schmidt


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

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Thursday, February 25, 2016

Juvenille Soap Operas And Alternate Futures Characterize "Star City 2046."

The Good: Adequate performances, Fun cameos
The Bad: Pointless plot, Some ridiculous character arcs
The Basics: "Star City 2034" is a novelty episode of Legends Of Tomorrow that has little appeal to those who are not fans of Arrow!

I have not (yet) gotten into Arrow, so when Legends Of Tomorrow has focused on the character of Sara Lance, I have - admittedly - been a little lost. Lance is a holdover from Arrow and as the show has gone on, Legends Of Tomorrow has wrestled with her resurrection, feelings of alienation, and given her a tether in the form of Star City. That tether is pulled at in "Star City 2046" and the show finally illustrates some of the potential consequences of failure for the time-traveling heroes of Legends Of Tomorrow. Given my lack of investment in Arrow, I came to "Star City 2046" with a greater sense of ambivalence than any prior episode of Legends Of Tomorrow.

"Star City 2046" picks up at the climax of "Fail-Safe" (reviewed here!) and it is impossible to discuss the new episode without revealing how that episode ended. With the Waverider knocked out of time and space, Rip Hunters crew finds itself in the fiery ruins of Star City, in the year 2046. "Star City 2046" replays the final moments of the prior episode with the crew of the Waverider realizing where they are and a very different Green Arrow confronting them.

Green Arrow Connor Hawke gets into a shooting match with the crew of the Waverider and Rip Hunter and his team retreat to the ship for safety. There, Hunter prioritizes fixing the ship and trying to get them out of the tangent future as quickly as possible. Hunter tasks Jax with fixing the ship, which leads Jax, Palmer, Saunders and Stein to work on getting the Waveriders engines up and running. The ship also needs an artificial intelligence component and Lance, Snart and Rory head to Smoak Technologies to steal the prototype that might work as well.

As Jax and Palmer flirt with Saunders, with Stein meddling in the potential relationships, Rory takes over one of the Star City street gangs. But soon, the son of Slade Wilson shows up and demands the head of Green Arrow, which leads Snart and Rory into conflict. When Green Arrow is captured, Hunter argues with Lance about rescuing him, as this future would be undone when Lance and Palmer return to 2016. But Lance rebels and Hunter must decide whether or not to abandon her or support her rescue effort.

It's easy to see why fans of Arrow would like "Star City 2046." The episode presents an alternate future and is well-developed enough to captivate those who are invested in Star City, Oliver Queen, and John Diggle. The Oliver Queen scenes make the episode feel like an episode of Arrow that could not be stretched out into a full-length episode and even as an episode of Legends Of Tomorrow, it is somewhat lacking.

As a result, "Star City 2046" is fleshed out with a somewhat ridiculous and mundane romantic subplot. The Palmer/Saunders/Jax subplot with Stein acting more like a middle school guidance counselor (or the archetypal fishwife) is particularly lame and leaves viewers feeling cheated. While The Flash has approached storylines that could have soap operatic elements, "Star City 2046" feels and sounds like a ridiculous soap opera with the most surface relationships being put into play as potential romantic hook-ups. Fortunately, Kendra Saunders is smart enough to not play into the relationship games. Her emotional maturity is unfortunately balanced by a puritanical streak that is particularly disappointing; Kendra Saunders doesn't want a romantic relationship, but there's no convincing reason she wouldn't express an honest willingness to hook up sexually with Jax and/or Palmer.

"Star City 2046" has very average performances on top of character development that is mostly surface-deep. Mick Rory is given the greatest depth in the episode when he falls in love with the shattered city in the alternate future. Dominic Purcell is good as Heatwave and the episode fleshes out well the idea that the character has desires, goals, and preferences and that Snart's new priorities might well collide with them. There is an interesting tension in the episode between Snart and Rory and it is the only significant aspect of "Star City 2046" that leaves the characters with something to build upon.

Sadly, it is not at all enough to recommend the episode.

For other shows featuring dark, alternate futures, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Fringe - Season 5
"All Good Things" - Star Trek: The Next Generation
"Out Of Time" - The Flash

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Legends Of Tomorrow - The Complete First Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the premiere season of the time traveling hero team here!


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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Misery Loves . . . ? Room Is Another Oppressive Film.

The Good: Most of the performances, The direction is good
The Bad: Oppressive tone, Minimalist plot and characters
The Basics: Another absolutely miserable art house film, Room is unpleasant oscarbait that will easily be forgotten after this year's Best Picture race is over.

When it comes to Best Picture nominees this year, I cannot think of a film I knew less about in advance than Room. In fact, all I knew about the movie was that it was strategically released for Oscar Nomination eligibility. It was exactly the type of Oscarbait that I derided in my article on Oscarsowhite (that's here! Check it out!). In fact, I did not even recall the film's star, Brie Larson, from 21 Jump Street (reviewed here!), which might be the only thing I've seen her in before Room.

Room is adapted from Emma Donoghue's novel, but given that the screenplay was by Donoghue, it is hard to argue that she did not create the story she wanted for the screen. It is, as always, worth noting, that this is a review of the film, not the book. I have not read the book upon which this film was based, so the review is very purely of the movie. Room, as it turns out, is a dismal film about human suffering that once again supports the notion that Oscar voters believe that for a film to win Best Picture it should be both as far from something commercially viable (much less a blockbuster) and as distant from enjoyable as possible.

Jack is a five year-old boy, being raised entirely in isolation, with his mother. Ma takes care of Jack and celebrates his birthday with him, promising him birthday cake and when she delivers, Jack throws a childish outburst about the lack of candles. That night, when Jack is supposed to be sleeping in the wardrobe, Old Nick visits and the boy overhears the man say he would have brought a gift. Ma insists he would not, but later, Old Nick brings a remote control truck, which annoys Ma, given how the room they share is about a ten foot cube. Jack witnesses Old Nick manipulating Ma (which he does not understand) and when Nick falls asleep in Ma's bed one night, Jack crawls out and sees him, which results in Nick beating Ma (based on her waking up and freaking out that Nick might touch Jack).

It does not take long at all into Room before the viewer realizes that Ma and Jack are captives in the tiny shed. When Old Nick cuts power to the shed, Ma tries to explain the world outside the shed to her son. The film follows Ma's determination to prepare Jack for the real world as she prepares to spring herself and Jack after seven years of being imprisoned there. Ma tries to fool Nick with the idea that Jack is sick and then dead in order to escape. Despite the vagueness of the clues and the somewhat botched attempt to escape, Officer Parker figures out a search radius for the shed and soon Jack and Ma are reunited. What follows is Jack's attempts to integrate into the real world, discovering everything that exists outside the room.

Room is an intense film and, truth be told, it managed to hit the heart strings perfectly for the night of Jack's escape. That, however, does not make the film exceptional. Room is almost homogeneously uncomfortable to watch and director Lenny Abrahamson does a decent job of using the camera to tell most of the story from Jack's perspective. The use of noise, perspective and close-up shots help contrast life inside the room with the larger world outside.

Brie Larson is good as Joy (Ma), but the role is somewhat monolithic and the film is very quiet. Because Joy was abducted at such a young age (seventeen), she never truly developed and Larson captures that aspect of the character very well. As well, Larson manages to foreshadow well the direction Joy goes in after the disastrous interview he has. Jacob Tremblay is, appropriately, a child actor and he plays Jack as entirely realistic given that the character is essentially being exposed to things for the first time and embodying that requires surprisingly little from the actor.

William H. Macy steals the very brief scenes he is in, perfectly embodying the difficulty Joy's father has being back in the house he once owned and in seeing Jack.

Room is a simplistic, miserable tone piece and while there might be more to write about it, it is hard to muster up the enthusiasm to do so. Watching Room is a draining experience and when considering the film, I tried to contemplate the merits. What does the story do that other films do not? There is a realism for the specific experience that is certainly analogous to every other type of shellshock, but it is so insular and unpleasant that it makes the viewer sick to watch it. Anyone who possesses empathy enough to appreciate the story would understand the emotions it evokes without witnessing the content of the film.

For other works with Joan Allen, please check out my reviews of:
Death Race
The Notebook
The Mists Of Avalon


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

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Profound Effects Of Earth-2 Follow The Flash When He Is Hunted By "King Shark!"

The Good: Impressive performances, effects, character development
The Bad: A-plot is somewhat simplistic and straightforward
The Basics: "King Shark" is a brilliant character study for the main characters in The Flash mixed with the return of one of the most amazingly rendered metahumans!

When the character of King Shark first appeared on The Flash at the climax of the episode "The Fury Of Firestorm" (reviewed here!), fans of the source material for the show were left both impressed and dismayed. The sense of being blown away absolutely came from seeing the villain rendered so amazingly; the disappointment bloomed when his appearance was exceptionally brief. Fortunately, "King Shark" rectifies the problem by bringing back the character as an antagonist for the episode.

The real story in "King Shark," though, is the effect the prior two-parter had on the main characters. Not since the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Family" (reviewed here!) have the characters of a show so profoundly wrestled with the effects of a two-parter that preceded it. "King Shark" picks up immediately after "Escape From Earth-2" (reviewed here!) and it is impossible to discuss the new episode intelligently without some spoilers to the two-parter that preceded it.

"Escape From Earth-2" climaxed with the apparent death of Jay Garrick at the hand of Zoom as the final breach between Earth-1 and Earth-2 was sealed. The sealing of the breach trapped Harrison and Jesse Wells on Earth-1 and left the Earth-2 Cisco, Ronnie Raymond, and Joseph West dead (and, by implication Killer Frost - after all, Zoom broke out of her influence and he isn't exactly the forgiving type!). That leaves a lot for the protagonists of The Flash - at least Barry and Cisco - to wrestle with.

Having witnessed Jay's death, Caitlin goes into shock and Wells reveals that the breach being sealed means that Earth-2 is on its own in its fight against Zoom. Wells suggests to Cisco and Barry that they not share information with their Earth-1 friends about what they encountered on Earth-2. At a secret A.R.G.U.S. facility, Diggle and his wife Lyla - who has taken over A.R.G.U.S. - King Shark breaks out. While the Wests try to integrate Wally and have him bond with Barry, Cisco becomes concerned over how distant and cold Dr. Snow is acting. Lyla and Diggle arrive at S.T.A.R. Labs to warn the team that King Shark is en route with a murderous rage for The Flash.

Dr. Snow and Ramon visit Dr. Tanya Lamden, the wife of the late Earth-1 counterpart to King Shark. Snow's reactions to Lamden lead Cisco to confront her and express his fears about who she could become. When King Shark attacks Barry at the West's house, he finally breaks down to confess to Joe and Iris what he went through on Earth-2.

"King Shark" makes a number of allusions to Jaws (reviewed here!), which are fun and the truth is there is very little wrong in "King Shark." In fact, the only things that come immediately to mind are the fact that Harrison Wells tells Barry and Cisco not to talk to Caitlin about Earth-2 directly behind her on the assumption she is actually unconscious and the lack of exploration of Jesse's character. In an episode that has an oppressive tone through most of it, it seems odd that no one mentions or explores the emotional ramifications of Jesse Wells being tortured for the prior few months. The episode also references Arrow events that make no sense without context (i.e. those of us who do not watch Arrow have no idea what Felicity Smoak might be going through that Barry obliquely asks Diggle about).

But what the episode is is a brilliant exploration of people dealing with shock and trying to live among those who do not understand their profound sense of loss and horror. Dr. Snow's loss over losing Jay (on top of losing Ronnie twice) is coupled with Cisco's inability to articulate seeing his alternate self killed and working so closely with Killer Frost for the days he was on Earth-2.

"King Shark" blends the predictable action-adventure story one expects from The Flash with a brilliant character study. The actors - both main cast and guest stars - absolutely rise to the occasion. Having last seen Audrey Marie Anderson as a young actress on Once And Again (season two is reviewed here!), the gravitas with which she embodies Lyla Michaels makes her virtually unrecognizable! Anderson takes a supporting role in "King Shark" and makes her electric to watch with her steely facade.

Danielle Panabaker might start the episode like she is still coming down from playing Killer Frost in the prior two episodes, but she turns it around when Dr. Snow delivers her big monologue for the episode opposite Carlos Valdes's Ramon. Panabaker has played Dr. Snow as emotionally distant before and in "King Shark," Snow's reaction is much more aggressive and angry than her prior loss-reactions and it plays better the second time one watches the episode.

Keiynan Lonsdale finally steps into a more significant role as Wally West in "King Shark." Wally West has been a distant supporting character thus far with an exceptionally limited arc; in "King Shark," his motivations and "voice" finally come through. Lonsdale uses his scenes to define Wally and his mood and personality outside his reactions to being obsessed with speed or wrestling with suddenly meeting his father. Lonsdale holds his own opposite Grant Gustin and Jesse L. Martin without coming across as petulant or snotty.

And, in "King Shark," Grant Gustin is a tough actor to compete with! Gustin's range in the episode is profound. He plays angry, repressed, empowered, and broken and the progressions are made to feel entirely organic by Grant Gustin. Martin's subtle force in a single question inspires Gustin's Allen to confess and it feels very real. Gustin's rawness in his key scene is arguably his most powerful moment of the season, if not the entire series to date!

Despite the simplicity of some of the metahuman plot points in "King Shark," the episode is one of the best. The effects for the titular character are jaw-droppingly good - the Sharknado films look utterly amateur by comparison! - and they help balance out an emotionally heavy episode that realistically explores how people deal with shellshock. It is episodes like this that make it an utter shame how narrow the nominees for television awards are and how overlooked genre shows are.

For other works David Hayer has been involved with, please read my reviews of:
X-2: X-Men United


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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Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Slow Death Of The Revenant.

The Good: Scenery, Moments of performance
The Bad: Boring, Light on character development
The Basics: The Revenant is a tiresome survivalist film that belabors the death of yet another of character played by Leonardo DiCaprio.

Perhaps the reason I am not overly excited about this year's Best Picture Oscar race is that some of the nominees are genres that do not overly thrill me. The Revenant is chief among the films that I had no inherent interest in. Man vs. nature films are a tougher sell for me and The Revenant has been analogized to The Grey (reviewed here!), with Leonardo DiCaprio replacing Liam Neeson at the top and a bear as the film's primary antagonist.

In actuality, The Revenant is a period survival piece and it is easy to argue that the film is garnering so much attention this year because it is the latest film by Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu, who wrote and directed Birdman (reviewed here!) last year. The Revenant is beautifully shot, but its nomination for Best Picture does seem like a courtesy nomination based on Birdman's success. The adaptation of the novel by Michael Punke is gruesome and boring.

Hugh Glass is a fur trader in 1820 whose camp is attacked by natives. The hunting party is caught off guard by a tribe that sweeps through and murders almost everyone working there. Hugh and a few of his coworkers manage to escape to the boat. Captain Henry takes Glass's advice and evacuates the men from the boat and they hide the pelts to try to elude the native hunting party. The natives are hunting Powaqa, a woman taken from the village.

When Glass is about to kill a bear cub, the bear's mother comes and tears him apart. Glass manages to kill the mother bear and survive, thanks in part to the hunting party finding him. When carrying Glass's body becomes untenable, Captain Henry wants to put Glass out of his misery, but is unable to. He bribes Fitzgerald, Bridger, and Glass's son, Hawk, to stay with him. Fitzgerald tries to kill Glass and shortly thereafter, the hunters leave Glass for dead. While Glass fights for survival, he stumbles upon Powaqa and as he clings to life, he does what he can to return her to the search party hunting for her.

No doubt, Mark Smith, Punke, and Inarritu would describe The Revenant as their reinvention of Moby Dick with the hunt for Powaqa and the determination to stay alive filling the niches of the white whale and the survival instinct that the famous novel utilizes. But, the truth is, The Revenant is a man-heavy piece that plods along until it finally, mercifully, ends. The journey is not at all pleasant and the characters are not engaging enough to captivate the viewer. Indeed, outside the cache that winning the Best Picture gave Inarritu, it is hard to see how The Revenant even got made. I cannot figure the demographic the film might appeal to; it is long, slow, miserable, and lacks a unique statement or core to drive the viewer to empathy.

That said, Leonardo DiCaprio is fine as Glass and Tom Hardy once again reinvents his entire being to portray the villainous Fitzgerald. Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu makes The Revenant look good, but the spectacle aspect of the film is simplistic and uninteresting; the average nature documentary has equally good cinematography. So, the failure to present a story or interesting characters or performances that one wants to watch for their greatness makes The Revenant two and a half hours of wasted time.

For other works with Will Poulter, please visit my reviews of:
The Maze Runner
We're The Millers
The Chronicles Of Narnia: The Voyage Of The Dawn Treader


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

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Filming Homesickness: Brooklyn Plods To Its End.

The Good: Saoirse Ronan's performance, Dinner table scenes
The Bad: Mediocre characters, Virtually plotless, Oppressive mood
The Basics: Brooklyn slowly develops a single character who is pushed around for almost the entire movie and leaves the viewer mired in her sense of loneliness.

When it comes to films that are nominated for the Best Picture, there are remarkably few this year that I am truly excited about watching (which is probably why it has come down to the week before the awards and I am playing catch-up). Truth be told, however, a few months ago, I saw a preview trailer for Brooklyn - without the sound on - and it intrigued me. I knew nothing about the movie, but it looked beautiful. So, when it was released for Thanksgiving and got nominated for the Best Picture Oscar, I was unsurprised; it was obvious Oscarbait.

Tonight, I sat down to Brooklyn with no expectations and no information about the film, other than that it looked well-shot and it featured Saoirse Ronan. To date, the only role Ronan has truly impressed me in was her part in The Grand Budapest Hotel (reviewed here!) and it was a very minor supporting role. So, if anything, my expectations were low when I watched Brooklyn. And after watching the film, I'm not exactly sure what I feel . . . except like I continue to wait for the movie to become something. It is a rare thing that my wife likes a drama movie more than me, but she enjoyed Brooklyn and, to be fair it kept us both awake and engaged for the entire piece. But while she felt it was like Memoirs Of A Geisha (reviewed here!), save that even less happens, Brooklyn lacked characters to make me invested in the film and its preoccupation with setting over character left me thinking the film was entirely forgettable once it was over.

Set in the early 1950s, Brooklyn is based upon a novel; it is important to note that this review is entirely focused on the film.

Eilis is a young woman living in a small Irish village, working at the local general store for the odious Miss Kelly. Her older sister, Rose, contacts a friendly priest who emigrated to the United States and he sponsors Eilis's immigration to Brooklyn. After the horrid trip to the U.S., on which Eilis is aided by her cabinmate, Eilis arrives at the boarding house where she feels entirely alone. Eilis's loneliness is deepened by her inefficiency at work - she is employed as a shopgirl at a large department store - and the slow speed of the mail and her isolation at the boarding house. She begins taking night classes to become a bookkeeper, with the goal of eventually becoming an accountant like Rose.

As time passes, Eilis begins to come out of her shell. She meets Tony at one of the Irish dances and he confesses to her right away that he is Italian. Tony and Eilis begin to see one another and Eilis seems charmed by the young man. When Rose abruptly dies, Eilis has to return to Ireland to take care of her mother. Once there, virtually everyone in the community conspires to keep Eilis there - a suitor, Jim, begins to express interest in her, Eilis's best friend Nancy gets married delaying her return home, and a local business hires Eilis to replace Rose as their bookkeeper. Eilis finds herself caught between the home she made for herself in the United States and the home she always wanted to have in Ireland.

Brooklyn is one of those films building to a single moment or decision and the problem with the film is that it lacks a protagonist strong enough to make the journey intriguing or enjoyable. Eilis is not very expressive or passionate; the only thing she clearly expresses wanting is to become an accountant eventually. The rest of the time, Eilis is simply buffeted from one person's desires to another without her strongly reacting or expressing herself. So, for example, Tony shows a number of signs of developing into an overbearing, abusive partner who consumes Eilis's identity by overpowering her . . . but it is hard to say that he is pushy when Eilis does not express her own desires very strongly.

Despite the character defects Eilis possesses, Saoirse Ronan is perfectly cast to play her. Indeed, Brooklyn might contain her best performance to date. Ronan has the slow burn for the character; Eilis begins as quiet and monolithically bland. Ronan slowly infuses her with confidence and a few quietly-delivered lines that illustrate she has a biting sense of irony under her neutral facade. Indeed, it is hard to imagine an actress that could more convincingly pull off a character who is basically pushed around the entire time and make her believable as an individual.

What makes Brooklyn at all watchable are a few key scenes and a few witty lines. The characters might not be the most interesting, but the dinner scenes in the boarding house are - each and every one - charmingly funny and distinctive, clearly embodying a very different time and place. And then there are a few random lines, quietly delivered by Saoirse Ronan that imply there is more to Eilis than a sullen, cripplingly lonely character.

That said, the bulk of Brooklyn is a plodding cinematic embodiment of the loneliness of homesickness. The film fails to build to a statement that is bigger than the one character's mediocre journey. Brooklyn is not about the terrible decisions one makes when they are motivated by crippling loneliness or how people with more confidence and the will to abuse others take advantage of people who are so lonely. The failure to be something deeper makes Brooklyn a slow journey nowhere and it's hard to get excited about it, regardless of the awards it is nominated for.

For other works with Domhnall Gleeson, please check out my reviews of:
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
About Time
Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, Part II
True Grit
Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, Part I


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

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Monday, February 22, 2016

First Season Special: The Flash Figures Start With More Than Just Product Placement!

The Good: Good sculpt, Accurate coloring, Amazing articulation
The Bad: Poor balance, Exposed joints, Articulation creates costume issues
The Basics: The first Barry Allen as The Flash figure from DC Collectibles line of figures based on The CW's The Flash is good, but hardly flawless.

While I have become happily immersed in The CW's television show The Flash, I have been openly critical of the product placement within the show. For as much as I love The Flash and I understand - from having spent a year studying the character - the celebrity status that The Flash takes on in Central City, it was pretty insulting to fans that the pre-Christmas episode last year, "Legends Of Today" (reviewed here!) openly and prominently featured the DC Collectibles The Flash figure. This just a few episodes after the figure that was obviously the ReAction figure showed up. We get it; you want to make money off the fans and the DC Collectibles figure of The Flash conveniently hit the marketplace in time for holiday shopping. But, really . . .

That said, my wife picked me up the Barry Allen as The Flash action figure for the holidays and it was a welcome gift. The figure, which is specific to the first season of The CW's The Flash (reviewed here!), is a cool idea and a generally decent execution of the character. However, the figure is one that is clearly not intended to be taken out of the package as its balance is pretty horrible and the articulation is impressive until one moves the joints and the lines of the costume are entirely ruined. The result is a figure that treads more toward average than extraordinary.

It is The Flash in his first season outfit, as identified by the red-backed symbol on his chest, that is the subject of the DC Collectibles action figure of the character.


The Flash figure is a wonderful sculpt of the television character and DC Collectibles manages to cheat the facial sculpt for accuracy and coloring by having The Flash with his hood up to obscure much of the details that would define the character as Grant Gustin's Barry Allen. The inaugural version of the fastest man alive stands 6 3/4" tall to the top of the figure's head. The Flash figure is available from DC Collectibles, though there is a smaller, more overtly crappy version of the figure from ReAction now on the market as well.

On the sculpt front, this version of the Flash looks perfectly like the CW show version of The Flash. This is clearly Barry Allen as The Flash and the texture to the costume is far richer than figures based upon the comic book version of the character. This version of The Flash features gold lightningbolts - which double as The Flash's communications system - molded to the sides of his hood and the figure looks appropriately lanky and thin. Unlike some versions of The Flash, this version of the character is wearing an outfit that is clearly assembled; the shirt is molded with a distinctly different texture than the pants and both have seams mimicking the ones on the costume that clearly imply it was sewn together. The Flash's cowl covers most of his face, but DC Collectibles captured the angles of Grant Gustin's version of Barry Allen for the jaw, nose and eyes to make the figure entirely accurate to the television character! Even the set of Barry Allen's lips make him look determined like he frequently appears on The Flash.

The Flash's costume is a very simple red uniform, making the coloring very simple. Fortunately, DC Collectibles realistically added the black undertones that make it look less clean and more weathered than a pure version of the costume. The coloring is augmented, predictably, by the gold stripes and lightningbolts that appear on the costume and they look accurate and impressive . . . until one adjusts the figure at all for any sort of posing. When one uses the joints, the lines painted onto the costume clearly do not line up and the figure takes on an unfortunately fractured appearance. As well, the coloring details for what little skin is exposed on the face are very light. The lips are not fully colored and the eyes seem slightly small based on the lack of whites (I thought the fact that the figure does not have eyebrows seemed a little off, but it is accurate to the subject of the action figure!). So, the coloring is split between immaculate for the outfit and a little underdetailed for the human aspects.


The Flash, as rendered for the television incarnation, comes with only two (or four, depending on perspective)accessories. Noticeably lacking in a stand upon which to put the figure, The Flash instead comes with two alternate pairs of hands. This version of Barry Allen allows one to pull out the hands it comes with and put in fists or straight (fingers extended for a running look or a full-on slap version!) hands. This is not an incredible accessory or selling point, but the alternate hands do help provide fans with more options for posing and play. Given that the figure comes with no accessories to hold, that The Flash comes with hands that are partially-open so they could hold something feels like the manufacturers are inadvertently calling attention to the fact that there is nothing for the figure to hold (other than alternate hands, which just ends up looking super-creepy!).


The DC Collectibles figures were designed more for display than play and this is good, but not flawless for this figure. As a serious detraction, the Flash has poor balance, except when he is flatfooted in the most neutral position possible. Unfortunately, the moment one articulates the joints, The Flash looks ridiculous and/or falls over. For sure, there is enough articulation to make The Flash appear to be running, but in those poses, the figure does not come close to being able to stand up on its own.

The Flash comes with twenty points of articulation, which is exceptional, though it does seem to be standard for a DC Collectibles figure. The Flash has joints at the ankles, calves, upper and lower knees, thighs, groin socket, bust, shoulders, biceps, elbows, wrists and head. The shoulders, elbows, ankles and wrists are proper ball and socket joints, while the knees are hinge joints. The head is on a ball joint, which allows The Flash to look in virtually any direction! Unfortunately, things like the thigh articulation make the figure look ridiculous as the joint bisects the costume's lightningbolt detailing and cuts the lines of the painted-on stripes.


The Flash is part of the DC Collectibles The Flash Series 1 line which was fairly common, though it was usually only distributed through comic book shops and specialty stores like FYE. The Flash is the first hero in the The Flash line, but DC Collectibles is continuing the quality and style of their Arrow figures with The Flash. So, fans of the CW's DC Television Universe can easily collect across the series's and have their figures match for quality. That said, it would be surprising if the Series 1 Flash figure appreciated significantly in value, especially given that a Season 2 (and beyond) figure is undoubtedly on its way with the altered chestpiece symbol.


The Flash is a cool action figure, but a great example of how the attention to detail with the sculpt can absolutely be undermined by the articulation!

For other action figures from The Flash's corner of the DC Universe, please check out my reviews of:
Flashpoint Zoom
Black Lantern Black Flash
Blue Lantern The Flash


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

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Sunday, February 21, 2016

Rooting For Those Betting Against The Market: How The Big Short Works!

The Good: Engaging story, Decent performances, Direction and pacing
The Bad: Light on character growth/development
The Basics: Smart and worthwhile, The Big Short is more than just Oscarbait.

Over the last year, I have been a bad movie reviewer. The truth is, there have not been a lot of movies I have been excited about seeing and, as a result, I have not bothered with the rest. That said, my commitment to my Best Picture Project (That's Here!) has led me to break out of my apathy and get on seeing some of the Best Picture Oscar nominees in preparation for next week's big ceremony. So far, all I have done for the Oscars is write about the OscarsSoWhite Movement (article here!) and, long before the nominees were announced, see The Martian (reviewed here!). Tonight, I start with the Best Picture nominees with one of the few nominated films I was actually interested in watching: The Big Short.

The Big Short is a film that instantly garnered my interest - even if I did not rush right out to see it - because it was about the housing bubble crisis and it was directed by Adam McKay. My first thought was, "a comedy about the housing crisis?!" Then, I learned that The Big Short was a drama and I thought, "Adam McKay is doing a drama?! How will that work?" As it turns out, it worked out painfully well . . . mostly because McKay smartly blends the most horrific story of mismanagement with some incredibly funny lines.

Opening with the introduction of Lewis Ranieri, who created the mortgage-backed security bond, The Big Short educates and then entertains as it informs people of how the financial crisis of 2008 was precipitated. The film is based on a true story, but it is incredibly important to note that The Big Short is a film and this review is based on the movie, not the historical events it depicts. So, when I talk about characters, it is entirely specific to the film version of The Big Short.

Lewis Ranieri created the mortgage-backed security, a bond that pools the risk and debt for mortgages. In the 1970s, he sought to create money by making a long-term bond based on mortgages. Thirty years later, banker Michael Burry begins to investigate the mortgage-backed securities, based on the notion that the tech bubble burst in 2001, but the housing market in the tech corridor did not appear to be affected. After putting together data, Burry goes to the investment bank Goldman Sachs to create a bond to bet against the housing market. Meanwhile, investment banker Mark Baum - who is shaken by the effects of his brother's suicide - becomes outraged by bank overdraft fees and corruption. Baum learns about Burry's scheme when Jared Vennett's wrong number pitching the trade . . . to bet against the housing market.

Baum's team investigates some of the properties that are part of the mortgage bonds and discover that Burry's and Vennett's theories are likely true. In January 2007, mortgage loan default rate skyrockets and the market fails to adjust, which alarms Burry and Baum. The failure of the bonds created that bet against the housing securities market alerts most of the key players to the institutional fraud or outright stupidity of those at the top of the securities industry. As the truth comes out, the money flows in the direction of the four small groups that were smart and connected enough to bet against the housing market and the effects on the individuals in the groups are profound. Burry outs the mortgage industry to his investors and by April 2007, the housing bubble is collapsing and the entire economy is thrown into free fall by July.

There are few movies that so effectively manage to captivate when the subjects of the film are people profiting off the suffering of others. What The Big Short does so well, in addition to educating viewers to the biggest financial calamity of our generation (and the criminal enterprise that perpetrated it), is humanize those who made obscene amounts of money on it. The banking institutions might be made up of individuals, but the investment bankers who profited from the housing collapse are a much smaller group and The Big Short manages to illustrate well their humanity. While some of the profound effects of profiting from the financial market's collapse are only shown in the closing text montage, both Michael Burry and Mark Baum illustrate their understanding of the human cost of their financial profit.

Steve Carell entirely nails the frustration Mark Baum feels as he does the investigative work that proves Burry's theories are valid. Carell is given the film's deepest performance role and Baum is the film's most tormented and interesting character. Baum's sense of loss and disillusionment sets him up to profit from the investments he is making, while Burry's sense of being an outsider merely makes him determined in a somewhat monolithic way. For sure, Christian Bale is wonderful as Burry, but anyone who has seen Bale as Bruce Wayne has seen him play determined before!

The Big Short breaks the fourth wall to explain important financial terms and concepts. Adam McKay and writers Charles Randolph and Michael Lewis (who wrote the book upon which the film is based) tie the seeming complexity to the financial markets with pop culture in a brilliant way. In that fashion, they illustrate how major institutions bamboozle the populace by getting them to look in an entirely different direction from the calamities that are falling upon them.

Describing The Big Short is like trying to draw out a description of Argo (reviewed here!) - "It's a film about the rescue operation for the Iran hostages." - The Big Short is an explanation of the financial crisis of the mid-2000s . . . and how a few people made a lot of money off it. Of course, both films are deeper than that, but both are explorations of nuance, lines and studies in how the known can be made entertaining. Much of the credit for the power of The Big Short comes from the direction of Adam McKay. McKay has a great sense of timing for the cuts and cutaways and keeps the pace of The Big Short tight and flowing in a way that makes one almost instantly forget that the people who are the subjects of the film are hardly magnanimous.

The Big Short does not browbeat the humor or the humanity of the people who suffered to make the profits of the films protagonists. In fact, the simplicity of seeing one man - who paid his rent on time - evicted when his landlord defaulted on the mortgage makes the human statement that the ironic voiceover at the end glosses over.

As I begin my sojourn down films specifically for my Best Picture Project, it is hard not to imagine that I might have started high and picked the winner right off the bat. The Big Short has a lot of the key elements for a Best Picture, so long as one looks at the somewhat dated and specific systemic problems as an allegory of the larger corruptions of an institution that shows no signs of reforming. The Big Short is smart and complicated, even if it is not the most character-driven story.


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

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Arguably The Best: Bath And Body Works Crisp Apples Anti-Bacterial Hand Gel

The Good: Appears to work, Easy to apply, Great scent
The Bad: Expensive
The Basics: Bath & Body Works Crisp Apples Anti-bacterial Hand Gel is only diminished by its price!

It is somewhat surprising to me, given how many apple-scented products from Bath & Body Works I have reviewed, that I have never reviewed the Crisp Apples Anti-Bacterial Hand Gel. I am a fan of the Bath & Body Works Anti-Bacterial Hand Gels and while there are some that are real winners, none has yet achieved a perfect rating from me. I thought that the Crisp Apples Hand Gel might be the first to earn that distinction, but anti-bacterial hand gels have become incredibly saturated in the marketplace. As a result, price is absolutely a factor and Bath And Body Works might have the widest variety of scents for their hand gels, but they trade more on the company's name and they charge their customers for the name. The result is that no matter how wonderful Crisp Apples anti-bacterial hand gel is, the price is greater than consumers will pay for comparable products.

For those who have not yet checked out the phenomenon, Anti-Bacterial Hand Gels are like liquid soap. You drop a few drops of a gel onto your hands, then rub your hands together and the gel evaporates, killing bacteria on your hands. Also, it has the tendency to clean off mild amounts of dirt. It's a convenient way to clean your hands and keep them sterile while on the run or around a lot of sick people. Or when you're not around water or when you're trying to interact with people you don't want to get sick; there are a ton of times one might want to use these!

Honestly, anti-bacterial hand gels are amazing. The more I learn about the current trend in the spread of communicable diseases, and the ridiculous anti-vaccing movement, the more I want to use them pretty much constantly. I could come up with literally a thousand places and times I've used anti-bacterial hand gels. Anti-bacterial hand gels are essentially biological weapons against bacteria that are convenient, easy to use and basically make living in a first world country great.

Crisp Apples scented anti-bacterial hand gel from Bath & Body Works features a scent that is entirely straightforward. It smells like apples. The apple scent is strong, clean and distinctive. This 1 oz. PocketBac plastic bottle holds a fluid that smells wonderful and is not at all complicated. The light pink fluid does not smell like isopropyl alcohol alone, even though that is a primary ingredient in the gel.

Crisp Apples anti-bacterial hand gel comes in a pocketbac bottle for $1.75, $.99 on sale. The fluid is translucent rose-pink with tiny dark purple flecks in it. The globs don’t seem to do anything.

The bottle is a ovaloid shape that fits in the hand rather easily. The flip-top lid makes it easy to open and close the bottle with one hand. This is especially convenient because if you believe you need to sterilize your hands, odds are you will not want to touch many things until you've done. The ability to manipulate the bottle with one hand while getting the product out is a good selling point.

The bottle recommends a dime-sized drop to sterilize one's hands. That seemed to work for me and when applying this gel.

Crisp Apples anti-bacterial hand gel does not dry out the skin and it leaves the hands smelling like apple. The smell lingers for about thirty minutes after one uses it and it remains clean-smelling and true the entire time. The only drawback is how much Bath & Body Works charges for it.

For other Bath & Body Works anti-bacterial hand gels, please visit my reviews of:
Pumpkin Cupcake Anti-Bacterial Hand Gel
Midnight Pomegranate anti-bacterial hand gel
Stress Relief Eucalyptus Spearmint


For other health and beauty reviews, please check out my Health And Beauty Product Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Friday, February 19, 2016

Simple Plot, Complex Characters: "Fail-Safe" Is Fast-Paced Legends Of Tomorrow!

The Good: Character development and performance, Pacing
The Bad: Simplistic plot
The Basics: "Fail-Safe" challenges most of the Legends Of Tomorrow characters in an otherwise simplistic rescue mission.

This is a big week for the DC Television Universe. Both The Flash and Legends Of Tomorrow ended last week's episodes with cliffhangers, making overt two-part episodes and "Fail-Safe" is the resolution to the Legends Of Tomorrow adventure. The time-travel show has been somewhat erratic - it feels good watching it with its snappy dialogue and interesting characters, but it is fundamentally flawed on a conceptual level. "Fail-Safe" is a fun episode that is generally simplistic and makes up for its remarkably straightforward plot by delving deeper into most of the show's main characters.

"Fail-Safe" is the second part of the episode that began with "White Knights" (reviewed here!) and it is absolutely impossible to discuss without some references to how the first part of the adventure ended. Given that "Fail-Safe" is essentially a rescue mission, understanding the set-up is essential to understanding the new episode. In their attempt to stop Vandal Savage from building his own Firestorm in 1986, Dr. Stein, Heat Wave and Dr. Palmer were captured by Savage's forces in the U.S.S.R.

Opening with Dr. Stein having a hallucination of Cisco Ramon studying his equations at S.T.A.R. Labs. Stein quickly realizes that it is not Ramon he is conversing with and he is not at S.T.A.R. Labs. Valentina Vostok appears to him and Vandal Savage returns to menace Dr. Stein. Hunter, Snart and Lance discover from Gideon that the prison that houses Stein, Palmer and Rory has no known weaknesses. Lance suggests that former prisoners might be able to help them and Hunter and his team approaches the Russian mob to get information on how to save those whom Savage captured.

Lance and Snart infiltrate the gulag, where Snart is determined to recover Palmer and Lance has to try to save Stein or make sure he cannot complete Vostok's work. On the inside, Rory and Palmer adjust to prison life, which Palmer finds difficult to adapt to. Tired of being benched, Jackson and Saunders help devise a new plan to rescue the rest of the team with Rip Hunter. While Vostok finally makes the leap to understand just what she has in Stein, Hunter and Savage are drawn into a direct conflict that has the potential to re-align the timeline!

There are very few flawed premises with "Fail-Safe." In fact, the chief issue with the basic plot of "Fail-Safe" is that Gideon would not have plans for the gulag that the team has to break into. A time-traveling ship loaded with information would seem to have the ability to go back and forth in time to get all information it needs. But, the idea that even in Vandal Savage's future, this particular gulag has remained is not entirely far-fetched. The timeline also is slightly off; the episode begins with Jackson not being able to sleep for the past two nights, presumably because it has been two days since Stein was captured, but Rory and Palmer are being brought into the prison. If they were not at the gulag for the prior two days, where were they?!

"Fail-Safe" gets its name from the White Canary subplot of the episode and her character arc so far continues to be focused on Sara Lance attempting to find her humanity once again. The way she was resurrected (apparently) on Arrow has left her mentally scarred and Rip Hunter taps into her animalistic side in order to try to save the future. Lance, as it turns out, is deeply concerned with the fate of Star City and her desire not to see it fall in 2016 to the Soviet Firestorms. White Canary is tasked with taking out Stein if the mission goes south and that is a smart contingency plan. Lance's struggle throughout the episode with potentially having to kill a member of the team is an interesting character arc and Caity Lotz plays the internal struggle in a way that is engaging to watch.

Dominic Purcell is given his first major role in Legends Of Tomorrow in "Fail-Safe." Mick Rory appeared on The Flash in "Revenge Of The Rogues" (reviewed here!) as, essentially, Snart's sidekick. Purcell has seldom been given the chance to shine and while he and Brandon Routh are paired up well in "Fail-Safe." Purcell plays a good heavy, growling his way through his part as Rory in "Fail-Safe" in a way that allows him to play to his strengths . . . especially the moment Rory has to make a key decision.

While Victor Garber does his usual amazing job as Dr. Stein, in many ways this is Franz Drameh's big chance to shine. Drameh plays Jackson and he plays up the loyalty to Stein and the football injury his character has. Drameh is put in the unenviable role of playing a character where other characters - in this case Saunders - figure him out before he does, but he sells the realization that Jackson's connection to Stein goes both ways. The reference to The Flash episode "Fallout" (reviewed here!) is well-executed and Drameh manages to carry his scenes.

"Fail-Safe" develops well and the final act transition to next week's episode is pretty awesome. The simplistic plot is fleshed out competently with moments of character development and good acting that makes the show feel much shorter than it actually is.

For other second parts featuring rescue missions, be sure to check out my reviews of:
"Chain Of Command, Part II" - Star Trek: The Next Generation
"The Magical Place" - Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
"The Doctor Dances" - Doctor Who

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Legends Of Tomorrow - The Complete First Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the premiere season of the time traveling hero team here!


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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