Saturday, November 18, 2017

The Flash Season 4, Episode 6: When Harry Met Harry...

The lightheartedness continues on this week's The Flash!

Several months back, the producers of The Flash promised that this season would have a lighter, less serious tone than the previous one, hearkening back to the early days of the series.

Well, they've certainly made good on that promise. And how! In fact, I'm starting to think they may be going a bit too far in the opposite direction! When Harry Met Harry... was one of the goofier episodes they've aired in quite a while, as the humor went way over the top— especially the scenes with the "Council of Wells." 

Don't get me wrong, I don't like constant doom and gloom, and I'm all for having humor in my superhero shows. Unfortunately the antics on display here weren't nearly as funny as the producers thought they were.

The aforementioned Council of Wells scenes might have worked a bit better if the various versions of Harry hadn't been so... blatantly cartoonish. The whole thing seemed like just an excuse for actor Tom Cavanagh to ham it up in funny wigs and outrageous accents. Much like every part Johnny Depp plays these days!

I did enjoy Ralph's character arc this week, even if it was predictable and you could see exactly where it was going. Still, it was nice to see him actually start to resemble the comic book character he's based on.

This week's Villain Of The, er, Week was Black Bison, a character from the comics who's of course virtually unrecognizable here. Her appearance was mostly wasted, but the writers did attempt to give her some motivation for her actions. Trouble was, she turned out to be more sympathetic than the heroes!

See, Black Bison didn't rob banks or jewelry stores, she stole ancient Indian artifacts from museums, which she believed rightfully belonged to her tribe. I actually found myself siding with her, even though her methods were wrong. Her people should get their artifacts back!

Note to The Flash writers— there's nothing wrong with a villain who has a bit of depth to them. It's probably not a good idea though for the audience to root for the bad guy.

And now a small rant: At the end of the episode, Ralph takes the Indian artifacts and secrets sends them back to the Sioux people. While researching this episode online, I saw that quite a few people were upset with that little denouement.

Apparently a lot of people are complaining that Ralph's actions were a nefarious example of the White Savior trope. The poor, ignorant Injuns were too dumb and stupid to get their own artifacts back, and it took a White Man (one of the most vile creatures in existence) to return it to them.


Jesus Jetskiing Christ! You idiotic, easily-triggered SJWs know goddamned good and well that was NOT the intent here! The incident was meant to simply tie a nice little bow on Ralph's redemption arc, plain and simple. It was completely innocent, and the only "tone deaf" elements present were the ones you brought in with you.

Every little thing that happens in the world is NOT offensive. Go back to your dormrooms and finish your latest stack of protest posters.

And if anyone's offended by any of this, good! Get the hell out and stop reading my blog. We don't need your kind here!

Rant over.


The Plot:
In The Thinker's secret lair, The Mechanic worries that Team Flash is getting close to discovering his secret identity. He assures her that everything's going according to his plan, which is of course too complex for her to understand.

At STAR Labs, the gang's still trying to find out who DeVoe (aka The Thinker) could be. They're not having much luck though, as he apparently has no social media presence. Harry says they need more brain power to solve the mystery, and he's going to ask his "friends" for help. The others are shocked that Harry has any acquaintances outside STAR Labs.

Barry then says they should concentrate on finding the other eight metahumans who were exposed to dark matter on the Central City bus. They asks Ralph, who was on the bus in question, if he remembers anything about the other passengers. When he says no, Caitlin suggests hypnotizing him.

Cut to Barry and Iris taking Ralph to their couples' therapist, Dr. Finkle. Ralph assures the Doc he can't be hypnotized, and of course she puts him under in a second. Com-O-Dee! How many times has that joke been used? Anyway, Ralph says under hypnosis that he saw an image of a bison on the bus.

Meanwhile, an art dealer walks out to his car, unaware he's being watched by a woman with a large bison decoration on her jacket. Hey, I wonder if there's a connection? She sees a stone statue of a panther nearby and gestures at it. The panther comes to life and tears the dealer to bits (offscreen, of course!).

The next day Barry and Joe visit the crime scene. There's nothing there but the panther statue. On a hunch, Barry swabs its mouth and finds the victim's blood inside. He and Joe realize they're dealing with a new bus meta.

Back at STAR, Cisco finds out what Harry meant by working with "friends." He's somehow contacted three other versions of himself from various worlds within the multiverse: Herr Harrison Wolfgang Wells from Earth-12, H. Lothario Wells from Earth-47 and Wells 2.0, a cyborg from Earth-22. He dubs the group the Council of Wells. Cisco's appalled.

Cisco then presents Ralph with his very own superhero costume, which will stretch along with his pliable body. Unfortunately it's the butt-ugliest thing ever made, as it's just a plain grey bodysuit.

Meanwhile, a Native American woman meets with another antiques collector named Christoph Banks. He shows her an ancient peace pipe from his collection and she flips her lid, claiming it's a sacred relic and he's defiled it by touching it with his mouth. She announces her name is Black Bison, and animates a suit of armor in his study. The armor lumbers forward and chokes Banks, while Black Bison retrieves the artifact.

Just then Barry and Ralph enter. The animated armor throws Ralph across the room, momentarily stunning him. Barry chooses to save Banks by phasing into the armor and vibrating it apart from the inside. In the confusion, Black Bison gets away. Ralph is shocked, saying Barry could easily have destroyed the armor AND caught the meta. He's got a point. Barry tells him safety's more important than catching criminals.

Back at STAR they identify Black Bison as Nina Chatya, a former anthropology professor who gained superpowers in the bus incident. She's apparently collecting three pieces of an ancient Indian artifact, so she can return it to the Sioux people or something. Meanwhile, the Council of Wells falls apart, as the four members begin fighting with one another and Harry shuts down the whole thing.

Black Bison then targets an armored car that's transporting museum exhibits, including another Sioux/Lakota artifact. She animates a caveman statue (?) which overpowers the guards and steals the item. Barry and Ralph show up again, and the Caveman attacks them. Black Bison hops in her car and peels out, but Ralph grabs her bumper and keeps her from getting away. Somehow the slow moving Caveman manages to punch the super-fast Barry, knocking him hard into a utility pole. The pole tilts, threatening to fall on a family of innocent bystanders.

Barry yells to Ralph to let Bison go and save the family. He refuses, and just then Bison guns her engine and breaks free. Fortunately for justice, she loses control and crashes into a building, knocking her out. Just then the pole falls over and lands on a little girl, pinning her leg. Whoops!

Cut to the hospital, where a doctor tells Barry and Ralph the little girl will be OK, after a lengthy series of expensive operations that'll bankrupt her family (OK, I may have made up that last part). Ralph is finally contrite, as he realizes Barry was right about people coming first. Barry gives him a 
Patented The CW Pep Talk®, telling him he'll eventually get the hang of superheroing.

Meanwhile, Cisco gives Harry a Pep Talk as well (Jesus, two in the same episode!) telling him he didn't get along with the other Wellseses because he hates himself. He says Harry needs to like himself if he wants others to like him. Oy, what is this, Mister Rogers? Anyway, this inspires Harry to contact his other selves again and kiss up to them. Miraculously they all agree to work together this time and find out who DeVoe is.

At the CCPD, Black Bison's cooling her heels in jail. Elsewhere a police captain meets with his fellow cops, showing off a mannequin outfitted in the latest high tech law enforcement gear. Suddenly the mannequin comes to life, knocks out the cops with "onion gas" and breaks Bison out of her cell.

For some reason, Black Bison then goes to the Central City Museum to assemble the pieces she's collected into an amulet. Barry and Ralph show up to stop her. Bison animates a T-rex skeleton and runs off. The T-rex attacks Ralph, who's able to wrap his elastic body around its mouth. Barry runs after Bison and manages to cuff her.

Back at STAR, Barry tells Ralph that "someone" mailed the Indian amulet back to the Sioux nation. Ralph acts like he doesn't know what he's talking about. Ralph then says he can't stick around to chat, as he has to go meet a girl. We then see him visiting the injured little girl in the hospital. He's happy to see she's OK, and uses his powers to make "balloon animals" out of his hands for her, which is a truly disturbing spectacle.

Harry announces that with the help of the Council of Wells, he's discovered DeVoe's first name is Clifford, and he lives right under their noses in Central City. Barry and Joe pay a visit to his house. The Mechanic, disguised as a suburban housewife, answers the door. They ask to see her husband, and are a bit taken aback when Clifford DeVoe rolls into view, sitting in an ordinary wheelchair.

• When the mugger confronts Barry and Ralph, he ends up accidentally shooting himself twice. Barry— who's in his street clothes— picks up the man and runs him to the hospital. Sigh... congratulations, Barry! You just revealed your secret identity to yet another person in Central City!

• When the mugger shoots Ralph, the bullet goes harmlessly through his body, stretching his elastic skin forward for a couple of feet. His skin then snaps back, flinging the bullet at the mugger.

Fortunately for the show's TV-PG rating, the mugger shoots Ralph in the chest, not in the crotch.

• This week's villain is Black Bison, a Sioux/Lakota metahuman woman with the power to bring inanimate objects to life.

Since this is the Arrowverse, this version of the character looks nothing like the one in the comics, and is Black Bison in name only. In the comics, Black Bison was a male supervillain named John Ravenhair, who often clashed with Firestorm. He carried a staff that gave him a variety of mystical powers, including telekinesis and weather manipulation.

The Arrowverse version of Black Bison actually looks more like Silver Deer, another Firestorm villain (geez, what'd he have against Native Americans?). She was an acquaintance of Black Bison, and had the power to take the form of anyone, or turn herself into any animal. She also had the power of flight, telekinesis and superspeed.

Note that neither comic character had the ability to control inanimate objects as the TV version does.

• Cisco spouts an amazing bit of technobabble in this episode. When Barry asks him why he doesn't just use his vibe powers to find the identity of the bus metas (echoing what the audience is thinking). Cisco claims he can't, saying, "I tried, but, you know, the the dark matter we released was such a massive space-time event that my energy just reflected back and I ended up vibing myself. I'm pretty sure I relived my own birth."

Wow. Bravo, writers! You deserve a day off for coming up with that cockamamie excuse!

• Inside STAR Labs, Ralph sits on a console and accidentally presses a button which initiates an "Oxygen Purge" countdown. 

So... it's possible to evacuate all the oxygen inside STAR Labs? That seems like a really bad idea.

• Team Flash comes up with the bright idea to hypnotize Ralph so he can see his fellow bus passengers, who were all transformed into metas. To that end, Barry and Iris have their couples' therapist Dr. Finkle hypnotize him.

Funny how no one at STAR Labs could do it themselves. Didn't they just hypnotize Julian last season, when he was being possessed by Savitar? Seems like the whole scene was just an excuse to bring back Donna Prescow as Dr. Finkle.

• Ralph finally gets a costume this week, and it's a doozy— a plain, bluish-grey unitard that's the butt-ugliest thing anyone's ever seen. I'm hoping this is just a prototype introduced for laughs, and he eventually gets a suit that looks more like his comic book costume.

• This week's B-plot involves Barry trying to teach Ralph that saving people is always Priority #1, even if it means letting a bad guy get away.

When Barry saves Banks instead of catching Black Bison, an exasperated Ralph says, "You're the Flash! You could have save him AND caught her!"

I have to go with Ralph on this one. If Barry's fast enough to calmly reach over and pluck a goddamned bullet out of the air, then there's no reason he couldn't deal with two poke-ass people in between blinks. 

As usual, his speed fluctuates wildly depending on the needs of the script.

• In this episode we meet denizens from Earth-12, Earth-22 and Earth-47. I hope someone on The Flash staff is keeping track of all these Earths, so they don't accidentally reuse a number!

• In order to help discover DeVoe's identity, Harry contacts three versions of himself from the multiverse to help. 

I really wanted to like this scene more than I did, but I thought it was way, way too goofy, and gave new meaning to the phrase "over the top." 

I'm sure actor Tom Cavanagh had a blast putting on wigs and speaking in funny accents, but he played the scene much too broadly, to the point of burlesque. His Herr Harrison Wolfgang Wells was a thinly disguised Dieter clone from SNL, H. Lothario Wells was a very poor man's Matthew McConaughey and Wells 2.0 was a shoutout to Mel Gibson as Mad Max.

And we won't even mention "Wells The Grey."

It didn't help that the Wellseses' costumes looked... cheap, for want of a better word. Like something you'd see in a high school play. Seriously, I've seen better quality cosplay costumes at conventions.

• Speaking of the Council Of Wells— was that a not-so-subtle a Rick & Morty reference?

The episode Close Rick-Counters Of The Rick Kind introduced us to The Council Of Ricks. It's a governing body made up of Ricks from all over the multiverse. It was formed to protect all Ricks from their enemies, and they met in a secret HQ called the Citadel of Ricks.

• The Flash loves to name Central City's streets and buildings after famous DC Comics creators. We're given two different addresses in this episode— the first is Brookfield Heights, where the Central City Museum is transporting a priceless Sioux artifact. I checked around the interwebs, but couldn't find anyone involved with the flash comic by that name.

The second address is 43 Hibbard Lane, the home of Clifford DeVoe, aka The Thinker. I had a bit more luck with that one, as there was an artist named Everett E. Hibbard who drew many a Flash cover back in the 1940s.

• Ladies and gentlemen, I present the Flash! The superhero who's so fast he's able to literally run backwards in time, yet can somehow still be captured and pummeled by a lumbering animated caveman statue.

• A couple weeks ago in Elongated Journey Into Night, Ralph used his powers to grab a fleeing helicopter, and keep it from flying off. I noted that he must have superstrength as well as stretching powers if he was able to hold a chopper in place without being lifted into the air.

Cut to this week, where Ralph grabs onto Black Bison's bumper with one hand, and braces himself by holding onto an armored car with the other— exactly as he should. 

The producers are reading my blog...

• After Ralph inadvertently causes a little girl to be hurt, he returns to his detective agency and mopes.

I can't believe I didn't notice this before— why does Ralph's office look exactly like that of a 1940s-era film noir private eye? Sam Spade and Mike Hammer both would look right at home here!

• In the third act, Barry and Ralph confront Black Bison at the Central City Museum. She gets away by animating a T-rex skeleton that attacks them.

Quick question: How the hell does a fossilized T-rex skeleton roar?

• Near the end of the episode, Barry says Black Bison's locked up tight in Iron Heights Prison, away from any kind of objects she could possibly animate.

Wait a minute... she was sitting in a CCPD jail cell when she animated the police mannequin that was in a completely different part of the building. She was controlling it without even being able to see it. So why couldn't she do the same from her prison cell? Whoops!

• Once Black Bison's captured, Ralph stands vigil over the young girl he accidentally injured. When she wakes up and sees him, the two have a nice little chat. Oddly enough she doesn't ask who the strange, weird man in her room who the hell he is and why he was watching her sleep! She was unconscious when Ralph and Barry brought her to the hospital, so there's no way she could recognize him.

Ralph then entertains the girl by forming balloon animals out of his hand. Disturbing, unsettling, fleshy balloon animals. The little girl's so horrified by this nightmarish display that her screams of terror catch in her throat, and she can only stare in abject revulsion as Ralph's quivering, misshapen appendage.

• So far, every time we've seen The Thinker he's been sitting in his floating, high tech Laz-E-Boy chair. That makes me wonder can The Thinker walk? Or is he so smart he's figured out a way to never have to move again?

Based on the tag scene in which we see Clifford DeVoe roll up in a wheelchair I'm guessing he can't walk for some reason.

• When Barry and Joe go to confront The Thinker, they're taken aback when the frail, paraplegic Clifford DeVoe answers the door.

The way the scene plays out, it looks like the two immediately come to the conclusion that DeVoe doesn't pose a threat, simply because he's in a wheelchair. I hope that's not the case, because if it is, the writers have forgotten their own show's history. Back in Season 1 Harrison Wells was in a wheelchair, and he definitely wan't harmless, as he turned out to be the Reverse Flash.

• This Week's Best Lines:
Ralph: "Owe you for the java, rookie. Can't believe I left my wallet at home."
Barry: "Don't worry about it. It could happen to anyone five times in a row."

Barry: "And could you please stop calling me rookie?"
Ralph: "Sorry, uh, old habit from when I was your superior officer. You know, before you got me fired. Ruined my career. Destroyed my life. Crushed my spirit. Left me alone, without a friend in the world."
Barry: "Don't forget how I turned you into an amorphous, stretchy blob."

Barry: "No, a superhero's first job is to protect people."
Ralph: "Oh, God. What's the second job? Long-winded lectures before noon?"

Ralph: "So I see you didn't go to Harvard."
Dr. Finkle: "No. Did you?"
Ralph: "I see what you did there."

Cisco: (to Harry) "So, remember when I said 'make friends?' I didn't mean with yourself!"

Wells 2.0:  (to Cisco) "We had a Cisco on my Earth once. He was delicious."

Cisco: (to Ralph, who's not happy with his new suit) "Dibny needs to wear the prototype Cisco so lovingly made for him. Either that, or you fight crime naked!"
(Ralph starts to comment on this) 
Cisco: "Nope! Don't fight crime naked!"

Harry: (to the Council Of Wells) "Guys, guys! All right gentlemen! Clearly, this isn't working. And by the way, it's not me, it's you."

Harry: (seeing the T-rex skeleton) "Don't. Move. Their vision. Is based. On movement."

(T-rex lunges at Ralph and Barry)
Ralph: (running) "That movie is filled with lies!"

Ralph: (after being thrown across the room by the T-rex skeleton) "We have a T-rex."

(this is of course the exact same thing that John Hammond says to an incredulous Dr. Grant in Jurassic Park)

What Are Americans Outraged About This Week: Swastika Shirts

Over the past decade or so, our country's become filled with an entire generation of easily-triggered SJWs who routinely troll the internet, just looking for something to offend them. They're seemingly not happy unless they're outraged about some trivial matter.

It truly is a dark time.

So let's see What Americans Are Outraged About This Week, shall we?

This week, customers were appalled by an Airwalk brand shirt that showed up in a Ross Dress For Less store in Florida. The shirt, priced at a very reasonable $12.99, featured what appeared to be a pattern of tiny white dots.

Except they're not dots. According to the easily triggered and overwrought Ross patrons, the shirt was actually covered with swastikas!

Sigh... Here we go again. Yet another professionally offended American expressing mock outrage over nothing. OK, fine. Let's get this over with and take a closer look at this so called "Swastika Sh

Holy Crap, those are swastikas! Jesus Christ!

Once again, I have to ask how something like this happens. I work in a marketing department, and whenever I make even the smallest of ads, it has to be approved by at least twelve to fifteen people before it goes out.

I would assume the same holds true for shirt manufacturers as well. Are you telling me no one noticed this shirt was filled to the brim with freaking swastikas?

A spokesman for the Airwalk company said that the "swastikas" were supposed to be tiny versions of the company's "Ollie Man" logo, seen here. Apparently at some point in the production process, the cartoonish running man came out looking more like the symbol for the Nazi Party.

Yeah, nice try, Airwalk. Nobody's buying that load of fish oil.

One possible explanation for the goof up: the shirts were supposedly manufactured in India, where the icon is seen as a symbol of peace, not of hate. I can almost buy that, as the symbol existed for hundreds, possibly even thousands of years before the Nazis glommed onto it.

That still doesn't explain how something like this fell through the cracks and made it all the way to the sales floor though.

This kind of thing seems to pop up at least once a year or so. A while back Walgreens found themselves in hot water for selling blue Hanukkah (!) wrapping paper festooned with accidental Nazi symbols! Yikes!

Shortly after that, Spanish retailer Zara sold a children's shirt that looked remarkably like those worn by prisoners in Nazi concentration camps in WWII— right down to the Star Of David-like design on the left breast!

Thursday, November 16, 2017

It Came From The Cineplex: The Snowman

Once again I'm woefully behind on my movie reviews, so I'm doing my best to catch up.

At long, long last, it's FINALLY here! The most eagerly anticipated, best reviewed and highest grossing movie of the Fall season! Prepare yourself, comic book fans, for the most visually spectacular action comedy of the decade! It's...

... Oh. It's The Snowman.

(Cue falling slide whistle)

The Snowman was written by Peter Staughan, Hossein Amini and Soren Svelstrup. Yep, that's right— somehow it took a whopping three people to write a screenplay that feels like it was run through Google Translate a couple dozen times. It was directed by Tomas Alfredson.

Straughan previously wrote Sixty Six, Mrs. Ratcliffe's Revolution, How To Lose Friends & Alienate People, The Men Who Stare At Goats, The Debt, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Frank and Our Brand Is Crisis.

Amini previously wrote Jude, The Wings Of The Dove, The Four Feathers, Killshot, Shanghai, Drive, Snow White And The Hunstman, 47 Ronin, The Two Faces Of January and Our Kind Of Traitor

Svelstrup has written extensively for various TV series such as The Killing. He also wrote the theatrical film The Day Will Come.

Alfredson is a Swedish writer, actor and director. He previously directed Bert: The Last Virgin, Kontorstid, Four Shades Of Brown, Let The Right One In and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

As you can see, this isn't some collection of amateurs or hacks. They're quite a talented team, who've written and directed some decent films in the past. Hell, Martin Scorsese even produced the film. Martin Freakin' Scorsese! So what the f*ck happened here? 

The Snowman should have been a taut, compelling and disturbing police procedural along the lines of Seven or The Silence Of The Lambs. Instead it's a muddled and bewildering mess of a murder mystery. It's filled with forgettable characters, incomprehensible editing and an impenetrable plot. Worst of all, it's just plain deadly dull.

It's almost fascinating to see how a major motion picture can go so wrong in every measurable sense.

The film's based on the 2007 book of the same name by Norwegian author Jo Nesbo. Oddly enough, The Snowman is actually the seventh book in a series, which details the adventures of police detective Harry Hole, who operates out of Oslo.

Why the filmmakers chose to start with the seventh book instead of the first, I have absolutely no idea. Based on the box office results and the way this film turned out, I wouldn't count on seeing the further cinematic adventures of Harry Hole.

You don't have to be a film scholar to realize there's something very, very wrong with The Snowman. Characters appear and disappear from the film with no explanation. Subplots are introduced, and go absolutely nowhere as they have zero effect on the plot. The plot lurches from one setpiece to the next with no connecting scenes in between. There's no cat-and-mouse games between the killer and the police. Main character Harry Hole makes incredibly intuitive deductions seemingly without examining any clues. Worst of all, the killer's identity is a huge letdown, as it makes little sense and is revealed in the least interesting way possible. 

It's like entire swathes of the film are missing. This isn't just my imagination, either. In an interview with the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation, director Tomas Alfredson said the reason The Snowman seems so choppy is because ten to fifteen percent of the screenplay was never filmed! 

According to Alfredson, "Our shoot time in Norway was way too short, we didn’t get the whole story with us and when we started cutting we discovered that a lot was missing. It’s like when you’re making a big jigsaw puzzle and a few pieces are missing so you don’t see the whole picture."

Alfredson said this lack of scenes made it necessary to try and plug the story holes in editing. Sorry Tomas, but it didn't work. Your movie makes no goddamned sense and is a steaming pile of deadly dull crap.

Hell, even the actors seem bored with the film. They slowly shuffle through the film as if they've all been drugged, or there was possibly a gas leak on the set. Even Michael Fassbender seems disinterested in his own starring vehicle. He plays the part of jaded detective Harry Hole as if he's constantly on the verge of falling asleep. Apparently Fassbender mistook the phrase "world weary" for "comatose," and acted the part accordingly.

I honestly don't know if words can describe just how bored I was during this movie. Ordinarily I despise people who diddle with their phones in the theater. While watching The Snowman though, it was all I could do to stop myself from playing a game on my own phone, rules be damned. 

So far The Snowman is a huge box office flop, as it's only managed to gross a paltry $6.6 million here in the States, against its $35 million budget. Yikes! It's done a bit better overseas, where it's made $29 million, for a worldwide total of just $36 million. That pretty much guarantees this will be the one and only cinematic outing for Harry Hole.


The Plot:
Sigh... this isn't gonna be a very comprehensive plot summary, because this film's so muddled and convoluted that I'm honestly not sure what the hell happened in it.

We begin in a remote cabin somewhere in Norway, where a Mother lives with her teenage Son. The local Sheriff arrives, bringing the two much needed supplies. He stays for dinner, and gets into a fight with the Mother. The Mother angrily threatens to tell everyone that the Sheriff is secretly her Son's father. He says if she does, that's the end of all his free food and help. He leaves in a huff.

The Mother becomes despondent, and one day she and her Son go for drive. Suddenly she veers off the road and drives out onto a frozen lake. The Boy hears the ice start to crack, and jumps out of their SUV. He tries to get his Mother to exit as well, but she locks the doors and sits motionless in the in car. 

The ice cracks and the SUV sinks. The distraught Son runs home, and for some reason builds a misshapen snowman. We realize we've just witnessed the origin of the Norway's very first serial killer.

Cut to present day Oslo, Norway. A Mrs. Becker leaves work, and as she gets in her car, she has the uneasy feeling she's being watched. She's then unknowingly followed home by a strange car. She comes home and is greeted by her loving young daughter. Her husband enters the room and angrily asks why she's so late. They argue for a while and he walks out.

Later that night the woman hears a noise outside. She goes outside to investigate and is abducted by the person who followed her. The only clue is a misshapen snowman in the front yard.

We're then introduced to our main character, Harry Hole (hee hee!), a detective for Norway's "Crime Squad," which sounds like a fake police organization you'd see in a comedy film. As we join Hole (who's played by a very disinterested Michael Fassbender), he's busy sleeping off a bender inside a children's playhouse in a park. He staggers into work, where he's confronted by his Boss (everyone has difficult to remember Norwegian names, so I'm not even gonna try), who's upset that his drinking is causing him to miss work. He gives Hole the Becker case, hoping it'll distract him from drinking.

The Boss also saddles Hole with a new partner— a bright young rookie named Katrine Bratt. Hole's mortified, but drags her along on his investigation. They question Mr. Becker, who's a suspect in the disappearance of his wife, but his motive checks out. Hole also speaks with the Becker's daughter, who opens up to him, as the movie tries to convince us he's not a bad guy after all. 

Hole visits his ex-girlfriend Rakel Fauke, and confides in her. Rakel's dating a man named Gunnar Hagen (I think?), a prominent physician or psychiatrist or something. Gunnar seems suspicious of Hole, but Rakel assures him there's nothing going on between them. When Hole mentions he can't sleep, Gunnar prescribes him some pills to help (PLOT POINT!). 

Just then The Snowman strikes again. Hole and Katrine investigate, and find a woman's head perched atop a misshapen snowman. 

We're then introduced to a host of suspect, including Arve Stop, a wealthy businessman who's trying to bring the Olympic Games to Oslo, and a Creepy Doctor who... does something I can't remember. Hole and Katrine waste a lot of screen time investigating them, but determine neither is The Snowman.

There's a whole subplot involving Rakel's rebellious teen son Oleg, and Hole's attempts to bond with him. Basically Hole promises to accompany Oleg on a school trip, then gets blackout drunk and forgets. It doesn't affect the plot in any way, so don't worry about it. 

There's also a couple of bizarre and inexplicable sequences involving a detective named Gert Rafto, who's played by a ghastly looking Val Kilmer. Apparently these scenes are flashbacks? I'm honestly not quite sure. I think it's also revealed that Rafto is somehow Katrine's father, but again, I just don't know.

Hole and Katrine do some more boring investigating, eliminating suspects in the dullest, most routine way possible. Near the end of the film, Hole tries to contact Rakel for some reason. When he can't find her or Oleg anywhere, he becomes suspicious. He thinks back to a few days earlier when Rakel's boyfriend Gunnar prescribed medicine to him, and somehow comes to the conclusion that he's The Snowman.

Hole races to the remote cabin we saw at the beginning of the movie. He sneaks inside and sees Gunnar has Rakel and Oleg tied up, and is preparing to kill them. Yep, that's right— the Sheriff's Son from the prologue grew up to become Gunnar, who's really The Snowman. Um... that's shocking, I guess?

Apparently after his mother killed herself, Gunnar was forced into an orphanage, where he lost his mind. He became a doctor, and now targets young married women who have children from a previous relationship. What a bizarrely specific fetish! 

Hole tries to save Rakel from being dismembered, but Gunnar easily knocks him across the room. Hole struggles to his feet and the two grapple for several minutes. Eventually their fight takes them out onto the ice, where— you guessed it— Gunnar falls through and freezes to death. How... ironic, I suppose.

Afterward Hole tells Katrine she'll make a good detective someday or something. I'd long stopped paying attention by that point.

• I really don't have a lot of thoughts about this "film," so I'm not gonna spend a lot of time deconstructing it.

• Wow, who knew that everyone in Norway speaks English with a British accent?

This is an old, old Hollywood technique that's been used in thousands of films over the years. It's supposed to indicate to the audience that the characters are all speaking in their native tongue, without the need for subtitles. 

They did this a lot in old school Biblical epics like Ben Hur and The Greatest Story Ever Told. Instead of forcing all the actors to learn Aramaic or Hebrew, they just had 'em speak with British accents. That way the audience subliminally realizes the characters are speaking differently, and don't have to read two hours of subtitles. Problem solved!

• At the beginning of the movie, the Mother drives onto a frozen lake and sits in her SUV as it slowly sinks into the ice. Her Son frantically bangs on the window, trying to save her. Somehow the car crashes through the ice while he doesn't.

Nope! The kid was standing less than a foot away from the car when it sank! The only possible way this could have happened is if the car created a perfect SUV-shaped hole in the ice, like in a cartoon.

• Since The Snowman was first announced, I've been giggling at the name of main character "Harry Hole." Who the hell thought that was a good idea for their hero's name?

Actually it's not as bad as it sounds. In Norway (where the film's set) the name "Hole" is pronounced as "Hoo-leh." That's fine and all for Norwegian speakers, but doesn't much help the rest of the world. Maybe author Jo Nesbo should have picked a less... provocative name. 

• Because movies are a visual medium, they're supposed to show, not tell. Apparently none of the three screenwriters of The Snowman are familiar with this rule. 

We're told over and over that Harry Hole is the Crime Squad's greatest detective, and possesses a brilliant deductive mind. Unfortunately we never actually see any evidence of this, as he spends the movie in an alcoholic stupor, occasionally blundering into an obvious clue.

Same goes for his partner Katrine Bratt. Hole's boss pairs him with her, explaining that she's an up and coming young go-getter with a nose for crime-solving. Again, we never actually see any proof of this.

• The Snowman Killer sends a note to Harry Hole, which reads, "Mister Police. You could have saved her. I gave you all the clues." 

Naturally this made me think the murderer would operate similarly to Jack The Ripper or the Zodiac Killer, playing "catch me if you can" by sending taunting notes to the police. Nope! The killer sends exactly one note to Hole, and that's it! And even then, the one and only note didn't include any actual clues! Jesus, they couldn't even get that right!

• The movie's killer leaves his trademark at the scene of all his crimes— a small snowman. Apparently he never learned how to make a proper one as a child. Instead of the traditional three sphere physique (head, middle and bottom), he consistently makes snowmen with only two parts, that look not unlike BB-8.

• The film introduces a series of suspects, then matter-of-factly eliminates them from suspicion until there's literally only one left. There's no real mystery, and it doesn't take any deductive skills on the part of the audience to figure out who's the killer, as the film pretty much just says, "Yup, it's this guy."

• Usually when I'm bored with a film I can amuse myself by admiring the cinematography or staring at the scenery. Jesus, I couldn't even do that in this dismal film! The Snowman's set in the dreary, brutal and desolate landscape of Oslo, where, if this film's to be believed, no colors except black, white and grey exist. Somehow I doubt this movie's going to do much for Norway's vacation industry.

The Snowman is a dull, dismal and joyless murder mystery filled with unlikable characters, choppy editing and an incomprehensible plot. Worst of all, it's just plain dull. It was written and directed by a talented group of folks who've done good work in the past, which makes their failure here all the more puzzling. What should have been a tense psychological thriller like Seven ended up being a deadly dull snooze fest. Do yourself a favor and give it a miss. I hated it so much I'm giving it a well deserved D+.

The Walking Dead Season 8, Episode 4: Some Guy

This week's The Walking Dead was the best episode of the season so far, which I admit comes close to damning it with faint praise.

Some guy focused on King Ezekiel, the outlandish ruler, eloquent and overly confident ruler of the Kingdom and its people. I like the character quite a bit, 
but even I have to admit he's been begging to be taken down a notch or twelve the past few weeks. His endless "And Yet I Smile" speeches and his bold assurances that the Kingdom wouldn't lose a single soldier in the upcoming war, it was inevitable that the gods would eventually slap him down. And boy, did they!

Khary Payton did an incredible job as Ezekiel, 
playing a man who realizes his subjects bought into his ridiculous Ren Faire act so completely they were literally willing to die for him. And just as the guilt of that realization sinks in, he's confronted with the fact that his people are STILL following him, even in death! It wasn't exactly subtle, but it was a damned cool scene.

My favorite part of the episode were the scenes between Ezekiel and his loyal subject Jerry. After his epic humbling, Ezekiel tearfully admits he's a fraud to Jerry. Of course Jerry knows Ezekiel's not an actual king, but it's a lie he needs to believe, in order to go on. It's a nice little moment between the two men.

Hopefully this tearing down of Ezekiel and his Kingdom will make him emerge as an even stronger leader later on.

There was a bit of a B-plot this week, as Carol, Rick and Daryl desperately tried to keep a shipment of weapons (including a very deadly Gatling gun) from being returned to Negan. For some insane reason, this is the first time all season that the audience has been informed of Rick's plan. The first three episodes were filled with fragmented, poorly-filmed shootouts with no apparent goal in mind. Hell, we had no idea where Rick's various groups were even located until this episode! 

Think how much better the season would have played out so far if, in the premiere episode, Rick had spelled out the plan to his people, and by proxy the audience. Just think how much better it would have been if we'd known WHY the Alexandrians were attacking the Savior outpost, and why they were risking their lives to do so. 

Without any such context, these battles are confusing and meaningless, and lack any urgency or tension. 


The Plot:
Since this is The Walking Dead, we begin with a flashback sequence. We see Ezekiel getting ready in the morning, as he literally puts on his kingly persona. Subtle!

We then see a montage of Kingdom soldiers getting ready for the upcoming battle with the Saviors, as they say goodbye to their loved ones. Ezekiel gives them all his rousing "And Yet I Smile" speech, promising them they'll defeat the Saviors and win the day with no casualties. Uh-oh. The Kingdomites all cheer their beloved "king."

Smash cut to the aftermath of the battle at the Savior outpost we saw last week, in which a Savior sniper cut down the Kingdom army with a Gatling gun (or something very much like one). Ezekiel's people sacrificed themselves to save him by piling on top of their King. After a few minutes Ezekiel craws from underneath the pile of lifeless and dismembered bodies (luckily the sniper got bored and left). He's horrified as he sees the remains of his people strewn over the field.

Suddenly the Kingdom corpses start to stir as they reanimate. Ezekiel realizes he needs to get away fast, but he's been shot in the leg and can't stand. He's forced to crawl away (the ultimate indignity for a king) as his own people start shambling toward him. He grabs weapons from nearby corpses, but unfortunately they're all empty. Just as one of the walkers is about to attack Ezekiel, it's shot in the head. A lone surviving Kingdomite named Alvaro appears, and helps Ezekiel get away.

Inside the outpost, the Saviors pack up the Gatling gun and other weapons. Carol, who somehow survived the attack, sneaks around the outpost. She crawls into the ceiling and shoots down, killing several of the Saviors. Unfortunately two survive and begin firing back at her. She runs off, and the Saviors finish loading up the guns to take back to the Sanctuary.

Meanwhile, Alvaro and Ezekiel hobble to safety. Ezekiel asks where Shiva is, but Alvaro says he hasn't seen her. Suddenly Alvaro's shot through the chest and dies, as Ezekiel topples to the ground. A creepy Savior named Gunther appears and takes Ezekiel hostage.

Gunther tells Ezekiel he's taking him to the Sanctuary to present him to Negan. He takes Ezekiel's sword and mocks him, telling him he's nothing but a con man who bamboozled his people into thinking he's an actual king. He points to the pursuing walkers and notes that Ezekiel's people are still blindly following him, even in death. Harsh!

Outside the outpost, Carol sees the Saviors loading the guns into a truck. She fires at them, but for plot reasons can't seem to hit a single one of them. The Saviors fire back, and there's another lengthy gun battle, as thousands more rounds of ammo are spent.

Gunther and Ezekiel come to a fence with a locked gate. Gunther tries to unlock it as the walkers loom closer. Ezekiel asks for his sword back so he can fight off the walkers. Gunther refuses, and then makes a decision. He was under orders to bring Ezekiel to Negan intact, but he says his head will do just fine. Just as Gunther's about to decapitate Ezekiel, he's split clean in two (!) by Jerry, Ezekiel's right hand man. Just how such a large, hulking target managed to survive the Gatling gun attack and sneak up behind Gunther is left to our imaginations.

Carol's still pinned down, so she tries a new tactic. She yells to the Saviors that she's out of ammo, and offers to tell where her people are if they let her live. One of the Saviors approaches her, and she grabs him and holds a knife to his throat, threatening to kill him. The Saviors apparently don't care, as they fire THROUGH their man at her (!). Carol dives to the ground and activates an electric gate, letting hundreds of walkers into the outpost courtyard. The Saviors forget about her as they try (and fail) to fight off the walkers.

Jerry tries to open the gate with his axe, but it breaks. With their backs against the fence, he and Ezekiel have no choice but to fight the approaching walkers.

Carol sees there're only two Saviors left in the courtyard, and says she's not letting them take the guns. Just then she looks over and notices Ezekiel and Jerry fighting for their lives against the fence, as we realize everyone's in the same place. Carol makes a decision and heads toward the fence.

She opens fire on the walkers, cutting down most, but not all of them. She then unlocks the fence and rescues Ezekiel and Jerry. Just then the two Saviors drive off with all the guns. Ezekiel's crushed, as this means his people died for nothing, and the Sanctuary will get the guns back. Just then Carol hears a motorcycle and says, "Don't be too sure."

Cut to Daryl on his bike, and Rick in a jeep as they follow the Savior truck. Never mind where they've been or how they got here, I guess. The Saviors see Daryl and fire at him, causing him to swerve and run off the road. Rick floors it and catches up to the truck. Suddenly one of the Saviors jumps in the back and fires the Gatling gun at him. Rick swerves, revealing Daryl behind him. Apparently we're not supposed to wonder how he got back on his bike so quickly and caught up. Anyhow, Daryl shoots the Gatling Savior.

Rick then pulls up next to the truck and does his best Indiana Jones impression, jumping into the passenger seat. He stabs the driver and jumps out of the truck. It swerves and flies down a steep cliff. Yay, they got the guns!

Meanwhile, Carol, Ezekiel and Jerry are still on the run from the Kingdomite walker herd. Ezekiel does the old, "I'm slowing you down, leave me behind" shtick, but they refuse to listen. The come to a deep ravine, filled with leaking barrels of toxic waste. The ravine's full of really gross walkers whose skin's been partially dissolved by the caustic sludge. Carol and the others are forced to splash through the ravine. Carol clambers up the other side, and Jerry struggles to lift Ezekiel, as the acid walkers close in. Jerry says he's sorry he failed "his Majesty."

Ezekiel breaks down and yells, "I'm not your king! I'm not your Majesty! I ain't no king. I am nothing. I'm just some guy." Houston, we have a title! Jerry of course knows this, but also realizes that the Kingdom needs its ruler now more than ever. He refuses to give up, and continues trying to lift Ezekiel up to Carol.

Just then Shiva appears, and tears into the acid zombies, sacrificing her life for Ezekiel and giving him a chance to escape. Jerry and Ezekiel finally climb out of the gully to safety. Ezekiel's devastated by the loss of his pet.

Sometime later, Ezekiel, Carol and Jerry stumble back into the Kingdom. The Kingdomites rush to them, shocked and stunned to see only three of their soldiers survived. A beaten and broken Ezekiel silently shuffles off to his chambers. He's no longer smiling.

The Walking Dead continues to be the most subtle show on TV, as the episode begins with a shot of King Ezekiel going through his morning routine and dressing for his role as leader. See? He's literally putting on his kingly persona the way one puts on a costume! Get it?

• Some day I hope to watch an episode of The Walking Dead that unfolds in real time, without any flashbacks, flash forwards or scenes edited out of order. It's becoming increasing obvious that these constant time shifts are just a ploy to distract the audience from the fact that there's no actual story. At this point it's like a lame and overused magic trick.

• I think the scariest and most disturbing part of this week's episode was this.

That's right— an onscreen credit for Pollyanna McIntosh. She's the weirdo who plays Jadis, the leader of the Gargage Pail Kids who were introduced last season. If she's still gettin' a credit, then you know what that means— she and her ridiculous clan are gonna be back on the show at some point this season. Shudder.

• As his soldiers reanimate and shamble toward him, the hobbled Ezekiel can only crawl away. He grabs a couple of discarded guns, but unfortunately they're all empty. D'oh! 

Funny how in the past few weeks everyone on both sides has seemingly had infinite ammo, but then when someone REALLY needs a gun— suddenly they're all empty.

• Noooooo!!! Not, er, Red Headed Kingdom Soldier! Why, God, why? He had so much to live for! Say it ain't so!!!

I think maybe this Kingdomite's name was Daniel? Maybe? He's been popping up in the background for two seasons now, so we should definitely know his name at this point. This show's absolutely terrible when it comes to identifying characters for the audience. I shouldn't have to go to the Walking Dead wiki page to find out what the hell a character's name is.

• I dunno where they found the guy who played Gunther, but he was creepy as hell. He looked like the unholy offspring between David Koresh and Jeffery Dahmer. There was something... unwholesome and disturbing about him. He looks like someone who spends his spare time torturing small animals.

Gunther was played by actor Whitmer Thomas, who fortunately doesn't look anywhere near as unpleasant in real life.

• Gunther realizes there's no way he's going to be able to drag an intact Ezekiel all the way back to the Sanctuary, but soon realizes that's impossible. He says, "Negan was hoping to have your ass chained to the Sanctuary fence. You, the Widow, Rick. But your head on a pike will do just fine."

COMIC BOOK SPOILER AHEAD! Highlight to reveal: ——— This is likely an ominous bit of foreshadowing at King Ezekiel's fate in the comic. After the Negan storyline plays out, the three "good" colonies encounter the Whisperers, a group of bizarre weirdoes who wear walker skins so they can walk freely among zombies. The Whisperers launch a secret attack against the colonies, beheading various citizens and placing their heads on pikes as a warning to stay out of their territory. Sadly, Ezekiel's head is one of them that ends up on a spike.———

Whether this will eventually happen on the show or not remains to be seen.

• It was a truly awesome moment when Jerry appeared and cleaved Gunther in two with his mighty axe. But was it really necessary for Jerry to rage chop him a second time? Surely Gunther wasn't gonna reanimate after being bisected down the middle!

• I was very happy to see Jerry somehow survived the Gatling gun attack, as he's just a cool character. I was terrified though that they'd spared him just so they could turn around and kill him while we watched. Luckily that didn't happen. At least not this week.

• There're a lot of really obvious CGI bullet strikes when the Saviors shoot at the truck Carol hides behind.

By the way, I know next to nothing about guns, but even I've noticed that no matter what kind of weapon the characters fire, there never seems to be any recoil. Funny how that works out, eh?

• Oh, the perils of jumbling your series' timelines.

This week we see Ezekiel giving his troops his patented "And Yet I Smile" speech right before they go into battle. Fine. But then we get a flashback that takes place before this moment, in which Ezekiel and Carol are walking along, and he gives her the same exact speech. 

Then last week in Monsters, Ezekiel and Carol were walking along on their way to wipe out a Savior stronghold. She asks him why he's smiling, and he gives her the speech again! 

If you untangle all the scenes and put them in proper order, they go like this:

— Ezekiel and Carol are talking sometime before the Savior battle, and he gives her his "And Yet I Smile" speech.

— Ezekiel inspires his troops with the "And Yet I Smile" speech before they leave the Kingdom and go to battle.

— Ezekiel and Carol are walking to the Savior battle, and he gives her the "And Yet I Smile" speech, as if she's not heard it twice already.

The writers would have probably realized this screwup if they'd stop with the goddamned flashbacks and twisted timelines, and just show us what's happening in linear time.

• As Carol, Ezekiel and Jerry try to run from the pursuing walker herd, they struggle over a railroad track. I'd think after the events of Season 5, Carol would steer as far away from train tracks as possible!

• I guess in all the fear and confusion, no one ever thought to simply have the hulking Jerry carry Ezekiel on his back, rather than making the poor man limp along at one mile per hour.

• During the big car chase, the Saviors fire their Gatling gun at the pursuing Rick. Oddly enough, the gun does relatively little damage to his jeep— about all it does is poke a small hole in the radiator. This is surprising, since it literally tore the Savior soldiers limb from limb.

• Apparently Rick is now Indiana Jones, as he leaps from his jeep into a moving transport truck and stabs the driver. The only thing missing is the Ark Of The Covenant in the back of the truck!

• A couple weeks ago in The Damned, I pointed out that in the opening credits, the images that appear behind an actor's name usually (but not always) have something to do with their character. For example, a photo of Rick's trusty police revolver appears behind Andrew Lincoln's name, while Michonne's samurai sword appears behind Danai Gurira's.

I also noted that this season Seth Gilliam, aka Father Gabriel, had been promoted to the opening credits. For some reason, an image of a large sewer drain appears behind Gilliam's name. I said I couldn't figure out what, if anything, that had to do with the character.

Welp, I still don't know what the image has to do with him, but at least now we know where it comes from. It's the sewer drain that dumped toxic waste into the gulley and created the sludge walkers.

• Back in The Damned, the Kingdomites ran into a walker that looked like it'd been partially dissolved. Ezekiel saw it and wondered, "What befell this creature?" Well, now we know! There's a whole pocket of walkers in the gully that've been eaten away by caustic waste leaking from several barrels.

I couldn't find a really good image of them from this episode, as the camera was constantly moving across them. This is about the best I could do.

Here's a pretty good behind the scenes production photo of one of them, in all its disgusting glory. Remind you of anything?

According to Walking Dead producer/director/makeup artist Greg Nicotero, the Sludge Walkers were an homage to Emil Antonowski's gruesome fate from the original RobocopCool!

• R.I.P. Shiva. You will be missed.

I knew she this was gonna be Shiva's last episode a
s soon as Ezekiel started infodumping her backstory to Carol (which he already explained to her once last season). It's traditional on The Walkind Dead that any time a character suddenly starts telling their life story to someone, they'll end up dead before the episode's over. Shiva couldn't tell anyone her story herself, so Ezekiel did it for her.

I think this is supposed to give the character's demise some added emotion. Instead it's like a big 'ol warning buzzer, telling the audience a death's coming.

Her death didn't really come as much of a surprise. Shiva died in the comic around this time, so it was inevitable that it would happen on the show as well. 

Not to mention the fact that CGI is notoriously expensive, so I'm sure the producers were more than happy to be shed of her.

Regardless of why they offed her, it probably says something about the writing on this show when the saddest death so far this season was that of a CGI tiger.

• I dunno, I'd like to think a full-grown tiger could escape from a mob of wriggling, partially-dissolved dead bodies. Seems like she could have easily torn them all to shreds and leaped out of the gully to fight another day.
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