‘Legends of Tomorrow’ S1E8: Tyrants Make the Best Tuna Casserole

by Agent Nur Hussein (a.k.a. The Robot Whisperer)

Spoilers ahead!

In a small town called Harmony Falls in 1958, four teenagers race their hot rods down a deserted forest road, as 1950s teens are wont to do, at least according to pop culture. After one of their cars crash, they happen to come across a mysterious glowing meteor; and Vandal Savage right beside it!

And, thus, we join our team of plucky heroes, now without Mick Rory, arriving in 1958. We aren’t shown Rory’s fate from the previous episode, we are meant to think Snart killed him, so the team is somewhat upset by this. However, their goal is finding Savage, whom their intel predicts is in the neighborhood. They put together an undercover team, consisting of a pretend-married couple of Ray and Kendra, who actually have a budding relationship going on.

Ray and Kendra rent a house in town, and their (fake) marriage front starts offending the bigoted small town residents who don’t like the idea of an interracial couple. As a cover, it’s pretty terrible; they draw attention to themselves and Savage would recognize Kendra the minute he saw her, so I’m not sure who thought that would be a good idea. And, by sheer coincidence, Savage lives just across the road from their new rented home, and even brings a housewarming gift of tuna casserole. Awkward. Does Savage recognize Kendra? He isn’t really letting on, and they continue their little charades.

Meanwhile, Jax, Stein, and Sara go about town to investigate the murders and disapperances of locals. Stein and Sara go undercover in a mental hospital as a doctor and a nurse, while Jax plays a new kid in town. Before long, in another totally unconvincing coincidence, they happen across one of the racing teens from the cold open. She is the girlfriend of the boy whose car crashed. Jax decides to flirt with her, a white girl, and raises more eyebrows in the small town.

Snart and Hunter also go undercover in town, dressed as government spooks, asking local law enforcement for the case files on local missing people. Their efforts all lead to Vandal Savage; he works at the mental hospital Stein and Sara had infiltrated, performing experiments on the inmates in a mysterious wing. The experiments turn out to be people who have been turned into bird monsters, using the power of the meteorite. The monsters are genuinely creepy, and this part of the episode plays out very well, thanks in part to this installment being directed by Joe Dante of Gremlins fame.

It all leads to yet another failed showdown with Savage in the end, since you can’t kill the big bad without ending the series. Throughout the episode, we are presented with ’50s small town America through the eyes of our heroes, who have 2016 sensibilities. There is a small subplot of Sara and one of the female nurses in the hospital falling for each other, and this was a no-no back in 1958. The episode often not-too-subtly addresses the sexism, racism, and homophobia of the era, providing a commentary on how far we’ve come (and yet, these problems still persist today).

Although they fail to kill Savage, our heroes did learn a thing or two about teamwork and about themselves. That cliffhanger at the end though, will half the team be stranded in 1958? We await next week’s episode to find out!

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‘Damien’ Premiere: The Road to the Beast

by Agent Alicia Glass (a.k.a. Pandora the Punctuation Horror)

Most of us remember the Omen films from the ’80s, the remakes and other attempts at telling a similar, now familiar story: A boy is born to the world, destined to become the Antichrist, the Devil’s only begotten son, to bring about the End of Days. In the Omen films, he is adopted and named Damien Thorne, and everyone either tries to worship him in the worst ways possible, or tries to kill him while he’s still in the single-digit age range. This new show from the channel that graced us with the creepy likes of Bates Motel, presents us with a devilish offering of Damien, about what’s now happening to that little boy now that he’s all grown up!

So, Damien Thorne is a war photographer journalist, which seems a little odd until you start paying attention to the story. Refugees and insurgents are still having issues in Damascus, and this is where we find Damien and some of his fellow shutterbug friends, taking pictures of the war-torn country and people as they flee on the road. Suddenly, Damien is accosted by an old woman who, inevitably, does the white-eye vision stance and starts quoting Latin and bad childhood memories at him. Completely unsurprisingly after that, the journalists all get forcibly deported and Damien can’t find the old woman again, so he has to reach out to friends and get those researching balls rolling.

We are treated to a delightfully creepy meeting between Damien and Anne Rutledge, a woman who claims to have known Damien’s father and the boy himself, and she hints that she’s been continuing to watch as he grew. Barbara Hershey, who plays Rutledge, is no stranger to insidious roles, having been in Once Upon a Time as Mother Cora, Black Swan, and both Insidious films, to name only a few. Her performance, while brief, promises to take the cabal of Antichrist worshippers angle to a whole new dark level.

Right. So, where were we? The show carefully spells it out for us, that Damien was effectively baptized in blood, on his thirtieth birthday, using the same words purportedly said at Christ’s baptism, while on the road to Damascus and Israel. Not a thing about that is coincidental anymore, and Damien seems to realize it, because he tells his pretty little former flame Kelly to get away from him.  While struggling to hold in his true feelings, because he’s beginning to remember how his “dark cloud” ripple-affected people when he was little. Her nasty, inevitable, if not entirely impossible, death actually leads Damien to a church, to demand of a crucified Christ statue why.

It looks as though the show is trying to make an interesting combination of the nature vs. nurture child question, and a religious-oriented murder mystery Da Vinci Code-like job. There are plenty of dark cabals, religious and political and potentially even worse, who’d love nothing more than to use the Antichrist for their own purposes, and we get to watch and see if Damien chooses to avoid or embrace these possibilities. Bradley James as Damien Thorne is an interesting choice, as we’ve already seen him struggling with the forces of Good and Evil on things like Merlin. I’m forced to ponder, and hope the show approaches the question, that if your powers come from the Devil as your father, are they still evil, regardless of what you’re doing with them?

Watch Damien grapple on the A&E channel, Mondays @ 10/9c!

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‘Agent Carter’ Season Two Finale: Is it Better to Go out With a Big Bang?

by Agent Alicia Glass (a.k.a. Pandora the Punctuation Horror)

So, we all remember Agent Carter and her wonderful Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. prequel show, right? Peggy runs around as an Agent of the SSR post-war intelligence, aided by Howard Stark, his butler Jarvis, and various and sundry other characters in a 1940’s-style wardrobe with enough moxie to out-do every single one of these men! This season, Agent Carter was sent to Los Angeles and finds herself embroiled in strange miraculous scientific doings, dark cabal murder plots, internal agency corruption and yet there’s still time for some epic slices of romance!

Originally Agent Carter, after showing up all her male counterparts right smartly as she often does in the New York SSR branch, went to L.A. in theory for some enforced vacation time. It turns out Agent Sousa, a kind of love interest from season one, is now Captain of the L.A. offices of the SSR, and of course, Peggy has to go visit him and find out what’s hopping here in California. Unsurprisingly, smart Stark butler and Jarvis of all trades, Edwin Jarvis (James D’Arcy), is out in L.A. keeping Howard Stark’s (Dominic Cooper) ridiculous house with his wife while Howard concerns himself with making movies. Peggy meets very smart scientist Jason Wilkes (Reggie Austin) while hot on the trail of murderers and something scientifically out of this world, called Zero Matter. Secret genius and sultry starlet Whitney Frost gets involved with the Zero Matter too, causing all sorts of ripples in the secret society world of her politician husband Calvin Chadwick (Currie Graham), and thug underworld boyfriend Joseph Manfredi (Ken Marino), too.

So, how does it all stack up against some of the admittedly best ever television series about superheroes, on-going right now? I adore you, Peggy Carter, I really do, but it just  doesn’t seem like enough. The expected popularity of the series was based on two things: the badassery of Agent Carter herself, and the prequel setting-up of S.H.I.E.L.D. back during the original Captain America times. And while Peggy is forever the epitome of togetherness with her smart dresses, perfect makeup and hair, always ready with a witty comeback whenever she’s slighted by her male coworkers, season two of Agent Carter proves, once again, that she simply cannot do it alone. Having Jarvis as a walking, talking helper (as opposed to the dis-embodied voice Tony Stark uses), like Watson to her Sherlock, is always a treat, and does provide a backward continuity of sorts. Jack Thompson (Chad Michael Murray), sent by various good and bad guys from New York to L.A. to keep an eye on whatever the hell Peggy’s up to, plays a good double agent, we’re never quite sure what he’ll respond with. As Ward clearly demonstrated on Agents of SHIELD, just because I help you once, that does not make me an actual good guy. And Daniel Sousa (Enver Gjokaj), well, he tried to make a life out here in the sun, with a pretty little nurse fiancé even, which went all to Hades just as soon as Peggy showed up.

So Whitney Frost is, aside from being your typical diva starlet, a super-secret scientific genius, and as soon as she learns about Zero Matter, oh, she is hot to trot for it and anything, and anyone, else connected to it! Dr. Wilkes manages to get himself infected with Zero Matter during a tussle, too, and now has a bit of a seriously lacking-weight problem. He also has a bit of a troubling attraction to Peggy, who does seem to reciprocate his interest, at least somewhat, but this introduces the unfortunate eggshells part of the show. To “walk on eggshells” basically implies tiptoeing very carefully around mentioning anything that could offend, entice, or otherwise anger other people, right? Well, the fact that Dr. Jason Wilkes is a handsome, intelligent scientist and a black man in 1940s America means his choices for employment are extremely limited, and he’s actually generally considered lower on any totem pole than even Peggy herself. But approaching that unpleasant truth in a superhero show would be tantamount to suicide, so Agent Carter touches this fact lightly, and only once or twice, nor does Peggy for even a moment consider his race a factor in her attraction to him.

And, it does have to be mentioned, they brought back perhaps the best villainess from the first season: Dottie Underwood! Rotting away in prison with her no-longer peroxide-blonde hair, our Peggy comes to spring Dottie because, well, she’s got a snatch-and-grab job that needs help and Dottie (Bridget Regan) is the perfect foil to Peggy’s armor!

The sets used are perfectly serviceable, standard Marvel tropes as far as fighting in abandoned tenement buildings or warehouses, and the show went to great pains to have age-appropriate cars and window shading. Season two even had a 1940s musical number featuring — what else — men, and some women too, fighting over Agent Carter! But it’s the costumes themselves, given to us by designer Gigi Ottobre-Melton, that really truly make Agent Carter seem like it sashayed out of the 1940s. The men’s suits are cut from the finest broadcloth, and the women’s dresses, patterns, and even colors are just to die for. No one wears it better than Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter herself, and the sharp, bold coloring of what she wears makes her stand out nicely against the lighter and occasionally deliberate sepia tones of the surrounding show. Visually, the show is an absolute treat, there’s no question about that.

So will Agent Carter be saving the day, yet again, in season three? What will happen to Jarvis and Stark and company, now that they’ve opened (and hopefully closed) a dimensional portal on a movie studio lot? Will Peggy and Dottie finally sit down and have a Ladies’ Night that doesn’t involve fisticuffs together? What about that epic kiss that Peggy finally planted on Sousa? We’ll just have to hope for the best, but don’t forget to raise your voice and be heard in the desire to bring back Peggy’s iconic red fedora for a third round of epic feminine badassery!

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‘Legends of Tomorrow’ S1E7: What the Hell Is a Time Pirate?

by Agent Alicia Glass (a.k.a. Pandora the Punctuation Horror)

Here we are, a-floatin’ through space, trying to figure out when to go after Vandal Savage next, but needing a serious software update to the shipboard A.I., Gideon, in order to manage that. Captain Hunter is torturing himself with holographic visions of his past, while our Legends are going stir crazy. Rory and Snart are still sniping at each other over the events of the previous episode, Ray and Kendra are tippy-toeing around romantic entanglement, and everyone else is just really bored. Then comes a distress call from Captain Baxter of the Timeship Acheron, and our Legends are off to save the day!

We have to remember that Professor Stein is the manchild nerd for the sci-fi geek in all of us, and really, the Waverider hasn’t really gone through space yet: Only timestreams. So, while Stein waxes poetic about the stars and his time as a Space Ranger when he was a wee boy, we’re treated to further memories of Rip Hunter’s time at the Timemasters academy, where he trains with a love interest and fellow student, Miranda Koburn. It’s so cute how Rip responds to being overshadowed in the training simulation by his female counterpart with something like, “You beat me – that’s so hot,” and a makeout session that sadly, gets them into trouble. Timemaster romance of any kind is rather harshly discouraged, and young Rip and his Lady are about to be the equivalent of court-martialed.

Meanwhile back in the really-real world, the boarding party that went to check out the Acheron has been overrun with — say it with me — space pirates! Or rather, as Captain Hunter calls them, Time Pirates, led by Captain Valler (Callum Keith Rennie). Many of us did wonder, as we were watching the episode, how does a pirate plunder time? Are there tachyons to be stolen? Well, anyway, our Legends are here in space being harried by Time Pirates, which inevitably opens the cargo bay doors for every single last classic Sci-fi reference you can think of! Star Wars, of course, Jax probably got the best line for that one; Ray as Captain Palmer is so much better as a Sulu reference rather than trying to Shatner his way through Star Trek; the green lighting on the Acheron makes us think of the excellent atmosphere in Ridley Scott’s original Alien; Stein talked about being a Space Ranger when he was a kid, DC just broke the fourth wall; there’s even a cry of “Great Scott!” and we all know what beloved time travel epic that’s from! The commands, “Imperiex,” and “Kanjar Ro” are also names of space-based DC comics villains, just FYI. And it has to be included, Captain Hunter running around fighting time pirates in that coat reminded me very much of Captain Jack Harkness, doing his epic thing in Torchwood!

Much emphasis is placed on the deteriorating relationship between Rory and Snart, especially when Rory decides he’s had enough and attempts to make a deal with the Time Pirates. Snart has a few beautiful moments with Sara, first while they play cards to alleviate boredom and she has some almost-sympathy for the dwindling brotherhood, and then later when they’re both freezing to death (because nature’s vacuum runs on irony) and they exchange what death is really like and how Mick and Leonard met. The assassin and the thief, we adore them both and the show seems to have them swimming towards true friendship, if not an actual romance. I’m voting for a romance, even if it’s brief, because just imagine the shockwave reverberations through all the Legends once it’s over!

Eventually — we knew it was coming — our Legends overcame the Time Pirates, repaired both the Acheron and the Waverider, cleared Captain Hunter’s name as far as the snooty Timemasters reputation fuckery goes, and now we have to deal with internal issues. Our resident firebug, Heatwave, has just gone too far into the darkness, and our Legends meet around the table to discuss what to do now. Snart says he will handle it, and even makes an actual go at it, but can he really take out the sundered other half of his soul? As much emphasis as the show placed on love no matter what, I kind of doubt it. The preview for next week’s episode shows a few of our Legends off chasing Vandal Savage in 1950s Oregon and Kendra in an actual poodle skirt, so let’s pray for visions of a greaser Heatwave, or at least a Rory on ice for now!

Catch DC’s Legends of Tomorrow Thursdays on the CW at 8:00 p.m./7:00 p.m., Central!

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‘Ju-On: The Final Curse’ – Just Reincarnate Already

by Agent Alicia Glass (a.k.a. Pandora the Punctuation Horror)

So in true Ju-On fashion, the film is divided up into named vignettes and given a Memento-like sequence of events to try to follow through an already convoluted storyline. Or is it? How hard can it be to understand the rage of a wrongly executed little boy, his cat, and his mother by a crazed father? Turns out, if you’ve been following the updated backstory of Ju-On from new director Masayuki Ochiai, there is quite a bit more behind the Curse than most previously thought. But first we’re going to try to explain the vignettes, how they relate to each-other, and hopefully shed some light on a very dark film series.

First up is Mai Shono, sister of Yui, who went missing after the events of the previous film, Ju-On: The Beginning of the End. Her boyfriend, Sota, is a train station guard and he, of course, is now being ripple-affected by Mai’s splinter curse, because Mai (Airi Taira)  just can’t let the strange disappearance of her elementary school teacher sister go. Mai works as a chambermaid in a hotel, which affords plenty of opportunities for Kayako and Toshio Saeki to come haunt her in every darkened corner. Mai pores through Yui’s schoolbooks and Kayako’s old journal of madness, which certainly gets Kayako’s attention.

Next vignette is titled “Reo,” and she is the cousin of the little boy Toshio, who comes to live with Reo and her mother after both Toshio’s parents die. Reo (Nonoka Ono) is your common schoolgirl type and, boy, does she try to interact with the mute, sad little Toshio when he is taken to their home. Reo’s mother tells her that Toshio’s mother died under some odd circumstances, but not any more than that, and let’s face it, if she knew any more than that, she really should have said so. The movie kind of implies that Reo’s mother knew Toshio’s father killed his mother, the real-life horror part of it, but not anything about the supernatural counterparts or the curse itself. That Curse, which of course Toshio brought with him in the form of his poltergeisting mother, now has a new house to inhabit and a new pool of people to ripple-affect.

The next name on the list is Ena, and her vignette connects to the rest in the most disturbing way: Ena is a little girl in a hospital right across the way from the house Toshio, and his mother, now inhabit. Ena sees Toshio, and more to the point sees the nasty white spirit inhabiting that poor little boy, all through the irrefutable magic of her cameraphone, which is actually quite terrifying and relates to the Japanese fascination with spirit photography.

The next named vignette is “Madoka” (Miyabi Matsuura); she is a friend of Reo’s from school whom Reo mistakenly invites over for a sleepover, along with another friend Midori, while her mother is gone. Both school friends end up meeting Toshio, sort of, when he just poofs into the room and responds with his name in flat odd tones. It’s apparently hard for an evil spirit to act in the really-real world. Meanwhile, elsewhere, Mai and Sota are beginning to unravel from their various hauntings.

Finally, having waited with baited breath for this one, we’re served up the vignette titled “Toshio.” Assuming our audience has seen the previous Ju-On film, we are reminded of the events that led to poor Toshio’s death: the child-desiring madness of his mother, to the point where she actually voluntarily invited in an evil spirit that could give her one. That led to her telling Toshio’s father that he isn’t actually the father of her child, which led to a microwaved cat (Ehw!) and the attempted murder of a little boy who had seriously done nothing wrong. Whew! This reminder slice actually shows the evil spirit that inhabits poor little Toshio (Kai Kobayashi), who will now be referred to as Onryo-Toshio, coming out and going absolutely poltergeist-y, bugshit nuts on the psycho father, Saeki, when he tries to take a knife to his not-son. Here, I actually had to pause and reflect on the sheer beautiful insanity of this entire situation, and how all these ripple-effects of pure evil just keep going on and on, which is the whole point.

The vignette titled “Midori,” who was one of the friends Reo introduced to Toshio, as we recall, is next and the first half basically showcases the ironic haunted deaths of both Midori (Yurina Yanagi) and Madoka, poor things. Then, we focus in for a showdown when Reo goes to confront the boy Toshio, and finds Onryo-Toshio haunting his place, forever ready to shriek cat-death-evil and call in his mother, Kayako. Reo’s own mother tries to get into the fight with the nasty spirits, though why she thought a dresser in front of a door would stop ghosts, I never understood. Reo’s mother comes to the final thought and act that killing the boy Toshio will stop this whole thing, and is rather forcefully prevented from doing that by Kayako. Reo herself, the poor, friendly cousin who had done zero to deserve being involved in this mess other than being blood-related to father Saeki, tries to finish what her mother began and is literally bent into not doing that either.

We’re not done yet, because the vignette titled “Sota” (Ren Kiriyama) is next. He went to check on Toshio himself and discovered Ena watching from across the street, so of course he goes to speak with the dying girl and makes the mistake of touching her, causing explanatory visions to erupt. Onryo-Toshio apparently came, in his ghostly white form no less, cradling his dead cat, to speak with Ena. Here is the one, very brief, moment we see Onryo-Toshio be something less than total evil, as he/it speaks almost gently with the dying girl in a hospital. Though, of course, his reasons for doing so, it turns out, are completely selfish and actually pretty evil, when they’re finally explained in the last vignette. But Sota still needs his haunting to be complete, and while visions of him stalk Mai in her hotel job, Kayako isn’t going to let a little thing like a closed door and a mail slot stop her! Mai is most definitely too late to save Sota and this vignette ends with a traumatized Mai Shono staring at Kayako’s stubbornly unburnt journal, muttering about Ju-on being reincarnated, and so this will not end.

And lastly, the attempt at the wrap-up vignette, titled “Kayako” (Misaki Saisho). The queen of prehensile hair and that creepy door-closing noise herself. Mai has at long last found what happened to her sister Yui, and what became of poor defenseless Ena, too. Mai begs the ghostly shroud of Yui to just reincarnate already, to which Kayako, wearing Yui’s skin, replies, “Ju-on (hatred) will not end,” and does her final spirit of death shriek on her last victim.

The introduction of the thought of the curse itself reincarnating certainly works as a storyline that is both an end and a new beginning, but I have one issue. Never before in the entire Ju-On series has reincarnation been approached, and to just toss it in in the last two vignettes before what is supposed to be the last film in the series ends, well, it seems haphazard at best. Story has been sacrificed for traditional Ju-On ghostly jump scares, and while they are still quite fine for the scare factor, I still wished there had been time for more. But then, as the movie series states quite clearly, the curse of Ju-On never actually dies, so perhaps some other visionary director can reincarnate the series somewhere down the line.

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