X-Men First Class trailer surprisingly good
Friday, February 11, 2011 | Author: Mad Typist
I am forced to concede that the new trailer for X-men: First Class is pretty freaking great. While I'm often guilty of being a bit of a purist, in terms of wanting origin stories in movies to track as close as possible to the source material of the comic book, I must admit that a lot of the suggested plot threads in this trailer look awesome.

Two reasons I'm cautiously optimistic about this movie: one, it's directed by Matthew Vaughn, who did the movie adaptation of Kick-Ass, which was amazing. Vaughn has proven in interviews and in his work on Kick-Ass that he is someone who understands and respects comic books and their fans. So, that's a good sign. The second reason is that the script is based off of work by Bryan Singer, who did a masterful job with X-men 1 and 2, before Brett Ratner came along and screwed up the whole franchise.

In any case, here's the trailer. Marvel at how sexy Michael Fassbender looks.

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Fringe recap: Ep 3.11 "Reciprocity"`
Monday, January 31, 2011 | Author: Mad Typist

Two administrative points: One, while I've been calling Earth-2's Olivia "Alt-livia", the show has decided to dub her Fauxlivia (as in "fake" Olivia, which actually to me isn't exactly correct -she's a real Olivia, just not the Earth-1 version, versus a shapeshifter who would in fact be "fake", but whatever....). In any case, from here on out, I'll roll with the show and call Earth-2's Olivia Fauxlivia. Point two, if you haven't watched this week's Fringe, definitely don't read this recap, since *SPOILER ALERT* you will want to be surprised for the big twist. *SPOILER ALERT*

Now that you've been sufficiently warned....

On this week's Fringe, the Fringe team has finally cracked the encryption on Fauxlivia's hard drive, and it's a treasure trove of intel, with lists of contacts, location data, observations on the Earth-1 Fringe team and a diary of her nights of passion and betrayal (probably with "Mrs. Peter Bishop" scrawled all over the margins). Most importantly, the hard drive contains a list of all the shapeshifter agents in play on Earth-1, which is what drives the plot of the evening - someone has gotten access to that list, and is murdering them one by one.

But before we get back to that subplot, the show opens up with a night time scene at an isolated airplane hanger, which invokes memories of some great episodes from Fringe's spiritual predecessor The X-Files. Remember the giant Peter-powered Universe Destroying Device (PUDD) that was designed to possibly rip apart our dimension and kill every living thing? Yeah, well, Nina Sharp and the Massive Dynamic gang of merry scientists have re-assembled it and are running a series of tests on it. That seems like a great idea and I cannot imagine that anything could possibly go wrong with this scenario.

The Massive Dynamic scientists are frustrated that their attempts to provoke the PUDD have thus far produced nothing. However, the minute Peter walks near the device, his nose starts to bleed and the machine grumbles into life, making a whirring sound that sounds something like, "You look delicious, Peter Bishop. Get in me now. Nom nom nom." Everyone looks surprised and a little worried about this.

Meanwhile, Broyles has other concerns on his mind. Fauxlivia's files are apparently quite saucy in certain places, and Broyles is worried that it will upset both Olivia and Peter if they read what's in there. So, having no one else to really task with this, he's forced to bring Astrid up to the big leagues, where she will actually get to lead a task for once, versus her normal "helper" role (which seems to entail mostly passing Walter tools off the operating tray and fetching strawberry milkshakes). I'm happy that Jasika Nicole finally has something to do other than look bemused at John Noble.

In what should be a giant red flag for viewers who are paying attention, we see Peter creeping back into the house he shares with Walter, carrying a duffel bag. While the front door doesn't seem to wake Walter, the sounds of Peter making a sandwich do. It's sort of like when my cats are nowhere to be found, but the minute I even touch the can of cat food, they materialize seemingly out of thin air. Peter totally lies to Walter about where he's been (red flag #2), but does offer to make him a sandwich. I'd point out the role reversal here, with the way Walter asks, "Can I have one too?" like a child, but really, isn't that how it has always seemed with these two? Peter has always played the role of provider and comforter to Walter. Now he must once again take on the parent role and remind Walter of a valuable life lesson: that you can't always protect the ones you love and sometimes you just need to let people deal with things on their own. This is a small scene, but it's superbly acted.

In any case, dead shapeshifters start popping up, and Broyles suspects that someone is cleaning up before the FBI can use Fauxlivia's files to hunt down the remaining agents. The team quickly realizes that this all started once they put Fauxlivia's files on the FBI mainframe. For some reason they seemed surprised that they might have a mole. Um... didn't you deal with a shapeshifter posing as Charlie Francis for weeks, and then Fauxlivia herself running amok for several months? Why is this a surprise, exactly? And you think they would have put measures in place earlier than now to deal with potential double agents. Shapeshifters can easily be detected with a blood test (since they have mercury blood), and those key figures who are known to having living dopplegangers on Earth-2 simply need to have a safety word installed with trusted people. Jeez, Fringe team....

Olivia offers to help process Fauxlivia's files, even though she knows it may be difficult to read all the juicy details of Fauxlivia's romance with Peter. Peter explains that his problem with that plan isn't just about him wanting to spare her feelings. Rather, as a former con man, he knows exactly how someone like that likely respects (or rather, doesn't respect at all) the marks they are fooling. He's embarrassed and also can't stand Olivia seeing him in that light. Again, this is another small scene, but it's just so well done - it's nice to see characters actually talking about their problems in an honest way, versus the standard TV trope of leaving these kinds of things unsaid.

The investigation turns up more dead shapeshifters - including the lead Massive Dynamic scientist working on the PUDD (whoops!) - and the Fringe team deduces that a human mole must be involved in the killings, thanks to some DNA left behind at one of the crime scenes. Olivia finally realizes that she needs to man up and just read Fauxlivia's files already, because she has unique insight into the woman's brain that no one else has, and it's time to stop letting her girly romantic feelings derail this investigation. This perseverance pays off, not only because Fauxlivia describes Peter in the same way that Olivia would have (thus reminding her why she fell for him in the first place, and inching her closer back to him), but also because she is able to crack the code detailing who the next shapeshifter is on the list of seemingly random names. She and Astrid race off to find the next victim before he can be murdered.

They're too late, however, and it might be the best thing for everyone, because they barely miss the man's murderer - Peter Bishop. Dun dun dun! Both we the audience and Walter learned earlier that Peter was behind it all, but it's still pretty shocking to see Peter execute the man right in front of Walter. Peter coldly explains that he isn't doing anything wrong, since the shapeshifters are 1) soldiers, and therefore ready to die for their mission and 2) technically not human. Walter is horrified and his voice breaks as he points out to Peter that people who truly believe they aren't doing anything wrong don't tend to lie to their friends and families about what they're up to. The Bishops flee the crime scene just in time before Olivia and the rest of the team show up.

Later, Olivia debriefs the Bishops on the details of the case, which of course they already know. Walter makes all these crazy guilty faces at Peter, but luckily Olivia is used to Walter acting squirrely and doesn't seem to notice anything is amiss. It seems for now Walter is going to keep Peter's secret for him. After Olivia leaves, Walter tells Peter that he may know why Peter is acting so strangely lately. Much as the machine is affected by Peter, so too is Peter affected by the machine. In other words, the PUDD is turning Peter into a weapon. And weapons are really only good for one thing (and it isn't dispensing hugs). And with that ominous note, yet another Fringe episode comes to an end.

Well, this makes two great episodes in a row now for Fringe since returning from the break. The show has managed to both move Olivia and Peter closer together, by showing Olivia gradually thawing to Peter's advances, while at the same time adding new compelling (and most importantly, logical) reasons for them to be pushed apart. This latest revelation about Peter is just another lie that will probably come between them, so it'll be exciting to see where the show goes with this plot line. The idea that you cannot affect something without being affected by it in return is something the show has unintentionally shown in many forms already - we see how Fauxlivia has changed Peter, Olivia and all the other people she came in contact with, and the contents of her diary suggest that those same people had unintended affects on her as well (it seems she grew fond of both Bishops despite herself). The same can be said for all the character pairings on the show.

Summary: when writing up your mission logs, do your best not to sound like a giggly, love-struck seventh grader, because you never know who's going to read them.
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My Totally Random Oscar Picks
Monday, January 24, 2011 | Author: Mad Typist
Just for fun, here's my totally random guess at this year's Oscars.

** = will win
(j) = who I wish would win

Best Picture:
The Social Network **
Black Swan (j)
True Grit
The King's Speech
Toy Story 3
Winter's Bone
The Kids Are Alright
The Fighter
127 Hours

Best Actor:
Colin Firth **
Jeff Bridges
Jesse Eisenberg
James Franco
Paul Giamatti

Best Actress:
Natalie Portman ** (j)
Annette Bening
Jennifer Lawrence
Julianne Moore
Halle Berry

Best Supporting Actor:
Christian Bale **
Andrew Garfield
Geoffrey Rush
Jeremy Renner
Mark Ruffalo

Best Supporting Actress:
Amy Adams
Mila Kunis
Melissa Leo **
Helena Bonham Carter
Hallie Stansfield (j)

Best Director:
Lisa Cholodenko
Darren Aronofsky (j)
Christopher Nolan
Tom Hooper
David Fincher **
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Fringe recap: Ep 3.10 "The Firefly"
Sunday, January 23, 2011 | Author: Mad Typist

When it was announced the Fringe was moving to Friday night, many had fretted that this was the first step toward eventual cancellation. Coupled with the fact that the show would be off the air for weeks due to the holidays, there was a good chance that many people would simply forget to tune in. So it was absolutely imperative that Fringe come out of the gate strong, both in terms of ratings and quality.

Well I'm happy to report that if the rest of the season is as strong as "The Firefly", there's a good chance the show will continue to retain both fans and critical acclaim. This week's episode features the return of our favorite bald albino non-human, The Observer, as well as a great guest spot from Christopher "Doc Brown" Lloyd, who takes over the mantle of "wackiest dude in the room" from John Noble for this week.

The "previously on" sequence reminds us that even before the Earth-2 myth arc really started taking form, the show had a rich backstory built up around the mysterious Observers, a race of pale bald possibly-aliens who have a knack for showing up just as Pattern events or other major catastrophes are about to occur. More importantly, the main Observer (first name apparently "The") has a history with the Bishops boys, saving Peter and Walter's life when they fell through the ice after returning from Earth-2. By doing so, The Observer played a part in altering the future and was warned by his fellow Observers that he would have to help correct the balance he threw off when he saved Walter and Peter.

The show opens at an old folks' home, where one Roscoe Joyce, former rock and roll star, is wandering the halls at night. The on-duty nurse watches on the monitors, and spots Roscoe chatting with a young man who has appeared out of nowhere. When the nurse catches up to Roscoe, he tells her that he was chatting with his son Bobby. Only one problem: Bobby died in 1985 (probably in a tragic accident involving Libyan terrorists). We quickly learn that Bobby was dispatched to speak to his father by The Observer.

Meanwhile, Walter is busy brewing up some kind of crazy potion in an attempt to restore the parts of his brain that William Bell removed. He tells Peter that he needs to be at the same mental capacity as Walternate, in order to truly determine what his counterpart is up to. Peter reminds Walter that he willingly underwent the partial lobotomy, precisely because he was afraid that he'd be more like Walternate - mad with power, willing to use his intellect for evil. Walter is too busy dancing around to "Ma-nah-ma-nah" and getting the drug-induced munchies to listen though.

While Peter and Walter's relationship is now good, things between Olivia and Peter remain awkward, particularly since Olivia has just received a gift in the mail that Peter intended for Alt-livia. There's no time to dwell on this punch to the gut though, since Olivia and the team have to deal with the Roscoe Joyce situation.

Walter and Roscoe have an instant connection. Not only is Walter a Roscoe Joyce superfan, but both men know the pain of losing a son prematurely, as well as the joy at getting an unexpected second chance to see that son again. Their connection goes even deeper than that, but more on that later. Walter takes advantage of the situation to have some more one-on-one time with his musical idol by requesting that he be able to take Roscoe back to the lab to try to help jar his memory loose.

The scene changes and we see The Observer foiling a robbery in process, as he single-handedly wrecks the robbers. He then saves the poor saleswoman who is bound and gagged and suffering from an asthma attack. You know, for a guy who goes by the name "The Observer" he sure gets involved a lot. Maybe we should change his name to The Participant. Just sayin'....

Walter attempts to help Roscoe remember his conversation with Bobby through the tried and true method of deep hypnosis. While that's going on, Peter attempts to explain the gift (a book, "If You See The Buddha On The Side Of The Road" by Sheldon Kopp) to Olivia. While he was inspired to purchase it after Alt-livia asked him what his favorite book was, the sentiment behind the gift - wanting her to understand him better - was always directed at the true Olivia, the woman he had spent two years with. It's all very sweet, but Olivia's all, "Yeah, I get the intention there, but it doesn't change the fact that you slept with my doppleganger and this book just reminds me of that, so... yeah, not really feelin' this gift right now." This incredibly awkward moment is broken up by Astrid, delivering the news that Roscoe's therapy is yielding results.

Roscoe jams out on the piano, as Walter looks on in delight. He's just about to spill the beans on what Bobby told him, when Olivia's phone rings loudly, interrupting the vibe of the moment. Olivia looks mortified as Walter glares at her, and excuses herself and Peter to go deal with the subject of the phone call: The Observer's latest hijinks. Luckily, after the Drama Twins leave the scene, Roscoe starts back up with his ramblings and reveals that Bobby told him that Roscoe would someday meet Walter Bishop and that he would help him somehow. Everyone is unclear what that means exactly. Fortunately, The Observer pops in to help clarify.

Walter and The Observer take a stroll around Harvard Yard. The Observer again reminds Walter how they altered the future when he stole Peter and then The Observer chose to save their lives. He then gives Walter a mini-lecture about the Butterfly Effect type of consequences - those that you cannot possibly predict, because they're based on such small, seemingly random things. In this case, the Butterfly Effect scenario he lays out for Walter begins with a firefly (titular reference!) that Peter captured, thus denying another child the chance to capture that same firefly, which then leads to a convulted series of events that culminates with the girl's father losing control of his truck and killing a pedestrian in Harvard Yard. Viewers even half awake at this time can guess exactly where this one is going. In any case, The Observer leaves Walter with a final cryptic instruction to "Give him the keys and save the girl." Walter is hysterical at this point, as he suspects that following that instruction will somehow lead to him losing Peter.

Meanwhile, if you guessed that the pedestrian killed in the scenario just described was Bobby Joyce, son of Roscoe, then give yourself a gold star. Walter is devastated as he listens to Roscoe describe how the death of his son destroyed him and lead directly to the breakup of the band that Walter so loved. And so we see that the help Roscoe is intended to provide is not one of action, but rather illustration: a concrete example of the unforeseen consequences of Walter's actions in 1985.

The Observer sets the final part of his plan in motion, as he chats with a fellow Observer about whether Walter has changed. The entire series of events that occurs during this episode is all an elaborate test to see if Walter is still the same man who carelessly changed the fate of two universes. It's unclear who is betting on which outcome here.

It's a little complicated, so I'll cut to the chase here: The Observer intentionally crashes into the police car carrying the woman from the robbery in Act 1, leading all the major players to converge on the scene, where Walter is forced to decide whether he will obey The Observer and turn over his car keys to Peter so he can chase after The Observer while Walter works to save the girl's life. Walter is near tears as he realizes that somehow he's being forced to choose whether or not to fight fate with regards to Peter's life. He finally gives in, and hands over the keys.

Peter and Olivia chase The Observer down, and while it seems for a moment that The Observer may have shot Peter to death, it turns out that Peter is only bruised from the magical airgun blast. Walter is relieved, but confused, at what exactly the purpose of the whole encounter was. And he's right - the test isn't over quite yet. It turns out that the whole point of the exercise was to set up the scenario where Peter, feeling the pain from his injury, takes an aspirin and washes it down with the most handy liquid available to him - in this case, a bottle of milk laced with one of Walter's latest concoctions that he carelessly left in the lab fridge because he was distracted by dealing with Roscoe. Peter nearly dies, though Olivia is on hand to help save him.

Later, as Walter tends to Peter, he realizes that if he had drank the milk as planned he would have died. So, in a way, The Observer saved his life AND illustrated yet again the moral of the story: that you can't predict every single future consequence of your actions, no matter how hard you try. As the episode ends, we see The Observer and the other Observer from before, discussing how Walter HAS changed, because he was willing to take a chance at sacrificing Peter's life. It's all very ominous, for it seems that the endgame the Observers have in mind involves Peter's death somehow.

This was just a great episode that really expanded on themes laid out in other episodes this season. The idea that the universe has a balance echoes in the way that Walter selfishly saved his son, causing another to lose his son - one way or the other, the universe was taking a son away from a brilliant man. It was like Walter simply transferred his pain to another. This episode also echoes back to Episode 3.3 "The Plateau" which also touched on the way that unrelated events can come together in unexpected ways to change people's lives. There's also the notion of sacrifice - whether Walter would be willing to let Peter go in the interest of what we can only hope is the greater good.

It also bears note that The Observer was literally willing to kill Walter if he didn't follow through on his instructions, since he set up a situation where Walter would have ended up drinking the poisoned milk himself if he failed The Observer's test.

Finally, the Peter and Olivia exchange has another purpose, other than slowly moving them back into each other's romantic orbits. The book Peter loves stresses finding the answers within versus from other people, and it also stresses ideas such as accepting that sometimes the only way to have things is to let them go, that you can't control anything, that the universe is random and only has meaning based on what you bring to it. These are obviously major themes the show has explored, given poignant form in the stories of both the Joyce and Bishop families.

The moral imparted here is that you can't fight fate, that on some level you need to accept what the universe has in store for you, because you can't see all the things that come out of your current moment of unhappiness. If you were religious, you might say this has a lot in common with the oft-repeated notion that God has a plan for everyone, even if it isn't obvious. But even if you're not religious, there's a certain zen to the message the show puts forth here. Good meaty stuff to chew on, complimented perfectly by the writing and performance this week. Bravo and welcome back, show.

Summary: When bald time-traveling aliens come dispensing advice, it's best to listen.
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