Thursday, February 26, 2015

Limerick Review: Arrow S3E15, Nanda Parbat

Team Arrow prepares for a blow
From a massively better-trained foe,
And the rest of the run
Is just everyone
Being told things we already know.

But Ra's' League is still in play,
And they really want someone to pay
For Sarah's demise,
So to no one's surprise,
The League just takes Merlyn away.

But Ollie, perhaps 'cause he's high,
Decides he can't let Merlyn die.
But through all the surprising-
-ly weak moralizing,
He won't give a good reason why.

Ray marches to the heroic drum,
And though his suit looks kind of dumb,
When we first see him try,
He manages to fly,
And Felicity finally gets some.

So Ollie and Diggle soon dare
To break right into the League's lair.
They soon lose their cover,
But, as we discover,
Ra's really wants Ollie as heir.

The ep sure is one snappy dresser,
But Ollie's dumb choice makes it lesser.
But it takes that hit,
'Cause I'll say this for it,
It's better than its predecessor.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Limerick Review: Agent Carter S1E8, Valediction

With theatre-goers en masse
Killed off before much time can pass,
The truth will soon out,
But Sousa the scout
Gets dosed with the angry gas.

Howard shows up, fashion'bly late,
To set the record vaguely straight,
And to prove he's an ace,
He helps out with the case,
And offers himself up as bait

But he falls into the baddies' snare,
And gets hypnotized at their lair.
Things start getting grim
As they hypnotize him
Into almost gassing Times Square.

But Peggy to action is spurred,
And the evil plot is deterred.
And she beats the toughs,
Not through fisticuffs,
But simply through well-applied words.

Throughout the tale we see conclude,
It kept us consistently glued.
And that had better please,
'Cause from the ending tease,
It looks like it's getting renewed.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

On Planting and Paying Off in The Avengers

A lot of making your story structure feel complete and crystalline is the successful implementation of plant-and-payoff. There are some writers like James Cameron, Joss Whedon, and Christopher Nolan who are very good at this plant-and-payoff pattern. Then there are the other writers and stories - and let's just use the example of the Tim Burton Alice in Wonderland, which is just riddled with instances where it tries to manufacture plant and pay off by just repeating more or less random bits of dialogue from earlier and hoping that it will have acquired some sort of significance in the interim. 

But as far as this goes, one of the things about this that people often get wrong is you have to set it up properly. There was a Cinema Sins video on The Avengers that didn't get this. 

Cinema Sins is a video series that consistently manages to list every problem that doesn't matter, every little niggle that does not actually affect the dramatic impact of the movie. In this case, for some reason, it pointed out that Captain America had made good on a bet that he had never explicitly agreed to, and when it said that I wanted to rend my hair from my head, because that's the f***ing point you moron. Of course they didn't agree on it because that would be telegraphing the plant, that would have told the audience that this is going to get paid off at some point, leaving us counting the seconds until the payoff finally arrives

That was actually one of the best examples of plant-and-payoff in the movie, because it establishes the plant in such a way that when it does get paid off, everyone remembers the setup but at the time no one would have known if and how that first line might come up again.That is more or less an ideal execution of plant-and-payoff. The setup is a good and quippy enough line that it stands on its own, but at the same time memorable enough that when we see the callback some half hour later, we all get it.

The other extreme, as I mentioned, is Alice in Wonderland - the Tim Burton version - which tries to turn Why is a Raven Like a Writing Desk into a plant-and-payoff, which doesn't work because the phrase has no relevance to story, theme, or character. Lewis Carroll originally included it precisely because it was a non sequitur. The movie does this a lot, and it just doesn't work because they are basically just picking out random lines of dialogue and hoping that the audience will find something of staggering brilliance in the phrase that was not immediately apparent the first time. But whatever.

I admit you have to walk a bit of a tightrope to make this work, not being so overt that the audience makes you immediately, but not using just any old line either. The latter is important not only because getting it wrong devalues any future use of the technique elsewhere in the film, but more significantly because at its best, plant-and-payoff speaks to some larger theme or arc in the film. 

The Captain America plant-and-payoff reinforces Cap's character as scrupulously honorable, but also serves to underline the grandeur of the spectacle by showing us that Captain America is as amazed by the reveal of the helicarrier as we are. In James Cameron's Avatar, we are very clumsily invited to marvel at the scenery. Michelle Rodriguez says "You should see your faces" as the cast stare dumbly at a green screen. The Cap example is all the more resonant for its silence. All the talking was done in the plant, so the payoff doesn't need dialogue. Gold star.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Limerick Review: Arrow S3E14, The Return

Fearing execution for treason,
Ollie and Thea take a season
To train for a while,
So they go to the isle,
And have to train there for some reason.

To give Oliver back his drive,
Merlyn found Slade still alive,
Let him out for a thrill
To force Ollie to kill,
Which is interesting, if contrived.

But the rain of flashbacks is torrential,
And, as ever, inconsequential,
But as onward they plow,
They still manage somehow
To be more than usually tangential.

It's not like Oliver et al
Have that many plot points to corral,
So all this past action
Is just a distraction
From Slade's little Battle Royale.

There are big reveals to mull,
But of stuff we know, so it's null,
And somehow, in spite
Of flashed-back-to fights,
It just ends up terribly dull.

Limerick Review: Agent Carter S1E7, Snafu

Now, Peggy's got reason to frown,
As her own friends take her downtown,
They press and they press
To get her to confess.
But she ends up dressing them down.

Jarvis comes, a story to tell,
And to get Carter out of her cell,
He goes off-book
To get her off the hook,
But it only lasts for a spell.

They quickly find the real mole,
And try to suss out what he stole,
But that's blown asunder
When the chief falls under
The doctor's hypnotic control.

But the enemy's very precise,
And give our heroes the slip twice,
There's happy delusion,
And widespread confusion,
And one heroic sacrifice.

The villains have one last hurrah,
That Kingsman has made a bit blah,
And their final jest
Turns out to be to test
A gas bomb in a cinema.

As we start to wrap up every thread,
And the villains turn out to be Red,
To solve all our queries,
It seems that the series
At last is coming to a head.

Limerick Review: The Flash S1E14, Fallout

Now the nuclear man has blown,
The atomic gauntlet has been thrown.
And explosive events
Get the constituents
Back to bodies of their very own.

But this event proves too beguiling
For one man with milit'ry styling.
And this great dissension
Has drawn the attention
Of the villainous General Eiling.

Meanwhile, something has Barry graveled,
As one case starts to be unraveled,
And though it seems queer,
It quickly becomes clear
That Barry's already time-traveled.

Stein soon gets caught in the snare,
Though Wells betrayed him, to be fair.
But it's all for nought,
As the Flash takes his shot,
Beats Eiling, and rescues the pair.

The emotional beats get due deference,
Though action is this ep's clear preference.
We get the side case,
And somehow there's still space
For a slightly odd Game of Thrones reference.


Comic book fans will be awed
At this episode's final nod,
As Wells in long johns
Tells Eiling to come on, And basically feeds him to Grodd.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Limerick Review: Contantine S1E13, Waiting For The Man

On the Louisiana side,
Where all kinds of mischief reside,
It seems that some ragin'
Occult rapist Cajun's
Gonna take a new child bride.

Leaving the casework to Zed,
Someone's put a price on John's head,
So Papa Midnight
Books the first flight
To go and make Constantine dead.

So we go from the pedophile's house
To Midnight's game of cat and mouse,
But one's just a fetter
For its clear better,
And some of the fire just gets doused.

That's not to say it's all half-assed,
The Midnight scenes are just a blast.
Zed is conflicted
On what she's predicted,
And Manny is badass at last.

So when it's all over and done,
This is the lesson to run:
Creepy Cajun dude
Can establish the mood,
But Papa Midnight's just more fun.

Limerick Review: Arrow S3E13, Canaries

Since Oliver's team won't enlist her,
Laurel's mind's just one big twister,
Afflicted by lows
Where she has on-the-nose
Nightmares about her dead sister.

Then, Ollie and Malcolm consult
To bring Thea into the cult.
They open her eyes,
And to my surprise,
She takes the news like an adult.

But just as I sink into bliss,
Oliver takes time to reminisce
And so they unpack
Yet another flashback.
I had hoped we were well over this.

Before she again comes apart,
Laurel goes to see someone who's smart,
And who does she see
But Felicity!
So the girls have a nice heart-to-heart.

Laurel joins the fight and wins,
But meanwhile is dosed, for her sins,
With vertigo type b,
Which is just basically
The fear toxin from Batman Begins.

So Laurel makes the police blotter,
And finally starts to tread water,
And works up the nads
To confess to her dad
Just what happened to his other daughter.

I had feared that this ep would get caught
In all of the baggage it brought,
Though it can be erratic
And melodramatic,
It actually moves up the plot.

Limerick Review: Constantine S1E12, Angels and Ministers of Grace

It seems that the cosmic Il Duce

Long ago came upon the excuse
To send down a canny
Young angel named Manny
Who's always needlessly obtuse.

John, with his distaste for the gaudy,
Thinks this divine scheme's rather shoddy,
And he's so nonplussed
That he gets Manny trussed
Up inside an earthbound mortal body.

So John and the Angel move out
For some misadventures throughout,
And there's evil to thwart,
In the form of some sort
Of heroin monster about.

Turns out, a doc wants to get at
Those who turned down second chances flat,
A new iteration
Of Saw's motivation,
And it's just as bullshit as in that.

All that, and it turns out that Zed
Has a tumor clinging to her head,
But future damage incurred
Can just be deferred,
So the show kind of loses that thread.

The episode won't disappoint,
But the season arc's thrown out of joint.
While it's fine that the louts
All get fleshing out,
I wish we'd just get to the point.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Limerick Review: Agent Carter S1E6, A Sin To Err

Carter and Jarvis get the names
Of several suspected dames
Who might have stolen the spec
To a bunch of Starktech,
So they have to find Howard's old flames.

While Carter takes her time to think,
The S.S.R. search for a link.
And none of them knows
He's right under their nose
And it's the creepy Russian shrink.

Then, after a witness confessed,
And they match a birthmark she possessed,
They think Carter's the spy,
So it all goes awry,
And they place Peggy under arrest.

While the roommate B-plot is fun,
Peg spends most of her time on the run,
But, since at end-of-day
She's captured anyway,
There's not much achieved when it's done.

And yet, let it be understood,
The ep does no less than it should.
What it's really about
Is to leave us no doubt
That Carter is just that damn good.

Limerick Review: The Flash S1E13, The Nuclear Man

While Barry and co. look around
For where Firestorm's gone to ground,
Cisco and Joe
Review what they know
About where the Reverse-Flash is bound.

Now, Barry is set to begin
Dating Linda, to Iris' chagrin.
And though by no means
Are these the best scenes,
They're not as painful as they could have been.

But romance is placed under strain
As duty pulls back on the rein.
Firestorm comes to light,
And then he and Flash fight
For reasons the show won't explain.

The team find a fix to deter
Firestorm from going nuclear.
And we'll find out next week
If that small techno-tweak
Stops more damage than it might incur.

Overall, the ep deftly eludes
Soap-operaesque tantrums or moods.
People don't hurl insults,
They just act like adults,
And we'll see how that story concludes.

Limerick Review: Arrow S3E12, Uprising

Now, wrapping up all of Brick's feats,
We cling to the edge of our seats,
As our ragtag crew
And Malcom Merlyn, too,
Mass for a battle in the streets.

In this ep, Malcom's past is a factor.
He melts down like a nuclear reactor,
Rememb'ring how mommy
Was taken from Tommy,
Portrayed by a dreadful child actor.

Now I've said that flashbacks unfurlin'
Have done little but send me hurlin'
But it's clear as we breeze
Through Malcom's memories,
That we've just traded Ollie's for Merlyn's.

We see his wife's death was the kick,
And how he became such a dick,
Eventually brought
Back to the main plot
By a hasty retcon about Brick.

Oliver, once his injuries free him,
Returns to have the baddies flee him,
And while he's still no fun,
I must say, I for one
Never thought I'd be so glad to see him.

The dialogue tries to throw winks
As it runs through all these hijinks,
But it's mostly just staid,
Frequently cliched,
And never as smart as it thinks.

But the climax is done with such style,
And the last speech brings on such a smile,
How often it halts,
And whatever its faults,
The brawl makes the whole thing worthwhile.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Limerick Review: Jupiter Ascending

Mila Kunis as Jupiter Jones
Learns she is the latest of clones
Of a wealthy space-queen
With resources to glean
From a number of planet'ry zones.

She swiftly gets caught in the plan
Of a Borgia-esque Jovian clan.
So she goes on the run
Helped by a hired gun
Who is made up of half-wolf, half-man.

She meets with a jaded Sean Bean,
Who says how it all was foreseen.
Then she's nearly enslaved
And thus has to be saved
Just about every alternate scene.

She travels to planets and then
Meets the resident women and men.
Each one on her route
Starts to get fleshing-out,
But then we never see them again.

For some reason, she becomes smitten
With the wolf, and hopes she'll not be bitten,
She gets rescued, coerced,
And it's all interspersed
With some of the worst jokes ever written.

We run through the Campbell inventory,
A hero blessed with unsung glory.
It sets in for the haul,
But refusing the call
Takes up about half the damn story.

The rest is just different degrees
And various flavors of cheese,
It sets us all snoozing
As the movie starts musing
On the noble nature of bees.
Author's note: yes, there is a lengthy monologue in the movie about how honest and astute bees are. I did not just make that up for the rhyme. I honestly sort of wish I had.

Eddie Redmayne's the villain to thwart
As he strives to betray and extort,
But every expression
Is just an impression
Of Ralph Fiennes as Voldemort.

The structure's all over the place,
As Jupe travels all around space
Meeting each cosmic power
For a fourth of an hour,
Then abruptly rejoining the chase.

The action scenes are hardly brief,
And add little to the story's beef,
Though given the sum
Of the film's tedium,
The dogfights are a welcome relief.

But for all its Star-Warsian pretense,
The movie is not deep, just dense.
You can say that the prequels
Were never quite equals,
But even Episode I made more sense.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Hit Song Limericks, Week of 2/14/15

#1 - Uptown Funk by Mark Ronson ft. Bruno Mars

As far as can be from a botch,
Bruno's belt now has a new notch.
The haters can hate,
This song is just great.
You don't believe me? Just watch.

#2 - Thinking Out Loud by Ed Sheeran

He'd improved his musical scoring
Until his songs left spirits soaring.
With all that at hand,
I just don't understand
Why he would want to be this boring.

#3 - Take Me To Church by Hozier

Though for some it might be a yawn,
Any track that sounds like Elton John,
Is sonically rich
And makes shout-outs to Hitch
Will have me not just going, but gone.

#4 - Blank Space by Taylor Swift

The beat isn't sweet to the ears,
But it shows her own foibles and fears.
It isn't upbeat,
Or made for dancing feet,
But it might be her best song in years.

#5 - Sugar by Maroon 5


So, Maroon 5's latest endeavor
Turned out neither catchy nor clever.
Neither Adam Levine,
Nor his obnoxious whine
Hold any appeal whatsoever.

#6 - Lips Are Movin by Meghan Trainor

A song that's retro 50s slick,
With more rapping from a white chick.
Well, to be direct,
One must start to suspect
That this pony knows only one trick.

#7 - I'm Not The Only One by Sam Smith

Some retro soul stylings run through it,
But no pizzazz comes to renew it.
And with the reprise,
You come to realize
There really is not much else to it.

#8 - Jealous by Nick Jonas


From bright-eyed Disney Channel blusher
To wannabe R&B gusher,
It does start to cloy
To hear some white boy
Trying quite so hard to be Usher.

#9 - Blank Space by Taylor Swift

A few lightyears from self-aware,
TSwift trashes haters with flair,
And it's entertaining
Just how hard she's straining
To convince us that she doesn't care.

#10 - Centuries by Fall Out Boy


Though they're far above merely moronic,
Fall Out Boy's problems seem to be chronic.
Here they try to expand
The range of the band,
But it's overblown and histrionic.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Limerick Review: Agent Carter S1E5, The Iron Ceiling

Though by no means was this show flopping,
It needed one more tasty topping:
For what's a spy show,
I'd like dearly to know,
Without any proper globe-hopping?

Russia thinks that its chance of winning
Is improved by kids fighting and spinning,
So they built a camp
To train each deadly scamp,
And we see the Black Widow's beginning.

Our heroes to Russia embark
To get some tech stolen from Stark.
They run into trouble,
'midst rubles and rubble,
But ultimately find their mark.

Dear earnest Sousa, meanwhile,
Has been sifting through Peggy's file,
Her work on the sly
Makes him think she's a spy,
And he starts acting strangely hostile.

But the real Russian agent's at home,
In the building from which Peggy roamed,
She invades Carter's room
While our girl's in gloom
And picks through it with a fine-toothed comb.

Reprising roles from World War II,
The Howling Commandos come through,
And those who might wanna
See Neal McDonough
With mustache again will thank you.

There are clever touches, alright,
Like some backstory given in flight,
Or that the kid slaves
Are taught how to behave
By reciting out lines from Snow White.

With little enough to regret,
This might be the best episode yet.
And each devotee
Will return next to see
How she deals with a domestic threat.