25 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS REVIEW: THE FLASH – THE PRESENT

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MAIN CAST

Grant Gustin (Glee)
Candice Patton (Heroes)
Danielle Panabaker (The Crazies)
Carlos Valdes (Vixen)
Keiynan Lonsdale (Insurgent)
Tom Cavanagh (Van Helsing)
Jesse L. Martin (Injustice)

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST CAST

Tom Felton (Harry Potter)
Mark Hamill (Star Wars)
Nicholas Gonzalez (Sleepy Hollow)
Danielle Nicolet (Central Intelligence)
John Wesley Shipp (The Flash 90s)

I’ll definitely say this for “The Present” – it takes a pretty eventful episode to make Mark Hamill reprising his role as the Trickster seem like a footnote. Apparently it’s becoming an annual tradition to celebrate Christmas with another Trickster appearance. This episode certainly shook up the formula by introducing the Earth-3 version of the villain. Hamill really went all-out despite his limited screen time, modeling this Trickster directly after Conrad Veidt’s character Gwynplaine from 1928’s The Man Who Laughs. This was the closest we’ll probably ever get to seeing Hamill playing the Joker in live-action. It was neat seeing him pay homage to Joker’s main inspiration, and neater still to see both Hamill and John Wesley Shipp reviving their rivalry from the 1990 Flash series.

It was frustrating to see so little of the Trickster this week. Hamill is too much fun in the role to On the other hand, how much could the writers feasibly focus on a character who’s clearly out of his pay grade battling two Flashes at once? And if Hamill got the short end of the stick, the same couldn’t be said for Shipp. This might have been the most Shipp-heavy episode of the entire series, regardless of which character he was playing. But that extra focus was certainly justified. Shipp is every bit as perfect for the role of Jay Garrick  as he was Henry Allen in the first two seasons. He was that natural charm and gravitas that befits the elder statesman of the speedster family.

Most importantly, Shipp succeeds in playing Jay as a much different character from Henry. He has the same fundamental decency, perhaps, but there’s a certain aloofness to Jay all the same. There’s a clear awkwardness between Jay and Barry. Barry is turning to Jay for advice almost in spite of himself, seeking fatherly support from a man who isn’t Henry, no matter how much he resembles him. And Jay, for his part, doesn’t seem quite comfortable in this mentor role yet. If there’s one thing this season has accomplished, it’s giving Flash fans the classic Jay Garrick Season 2 denied them.

“The Present” offered quite a bit of progress on the Savitar/Alchemy front, with multiple speedster battles and more insight into what makes both villains tick. The writers were able to retain Julian’s appeal with the reveal that he’s never been in control of his actions as Alchemy. He’s been little more than a pawn preparing the way for the self-proclaimed god of motion to enter this world. And now that Savitar has been exorcised, as it were, Julian seems poised to resume his old role as half friend/half antagonist to Barry. No doubt he’ll still have a major part to play once the Savitar conflict ramps up again, but for now I’m looking forward to seeing his prickly relationship with Barry become the main focus again.
Things are picking up on the Savitar front. The scene where Savitar possessed Julian and spoke to Team Flash was easily the highlight of the entire episode, as well as a reminder that less is often more when it comes to big, monstrous villains. The scene offered much more insight into Savitar’s background and reasons for targeting Barry. He’s not a god, despite his claims, but someone from Barry’s future who feels personally wronged by the Scarlet Speedster. Given his intimate knowledge of everyone in the room, it’s not much of a stretch to suggest that one of them will become Savitar.
Savitar’s cryptic tease about future tragedies awaiting Team Flash was a nice touch. With the Flashpoint conflict receding into the background now, it seems the driving force of the second half of Season 3 will be the question of whether the future is inevitable or if fate can be rewritten. Is Iris fated to be murdered by Savitar? Is Caitlin doomed to become Killer Frost? Actually catching a glimpse of what looks to be a pivotal scene in one of the final episodes of the season certainly lends an extra touch of impending doom to the series. Cisco had a solid subplot of his won this week, with Savitar preying on his grief over Dante’s death and using it to nearly usher in his second coming. Carlos Valdes is so often the designated comic relief on this show, so it’s been a refreshing change of pace seeing him explore Cisco’s mourning process and his rift with Barry over the past couple months.

And with all the doom and gloom this week, it was nice to see the writers take some time at the end of the episode to celebrate the holiday season and wrap up 2016 on a more upbeat note. The West family Christmas party was a fun, sentimental way to cap off the episode. We got to see HR get drunk on Grandma Esther’s eggnog, Julian get into the holiday spirit and Caitlin ensure everyone got to enjoy a white Christmas. Plus, Barry gave Iris a very romantic Christmas present. A great Mid-Season finale that keeps us waiting and wondering whats to come in 2017.

 

25 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS REVIEW: THE FLASH – RUNNING TO STAND STILL

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RUNNING TO STAND STILL
MAIN CAST
Grant Gustin (Glee)
Candice Patton (Heroes)
Danielle Panabaker (The Crazies)
Carlos Valdes (Vixen)
Tom Cavanagh (Scrubs)
Jesse L. Martin (Law & Order)
Keiynan Lonsdale (Insurgent)
GUEST CAST
Mark Hamill (Star Wars)
Wentworth Miller (Prison Break)
Teddy Sears (American Horror Story)
Shantel VanSanten (Beauty and The BVeast 2012)
Patrick Sabongui (Stargate: Atlantis)
Violett Beane (The Leftovers)
Liam McIntyre (Spartacus)
Tony Todd (Candyman)
It seems we can always rely on The Flash to deliver a great mid-season finale that’s not just a brilliant instalment of the show, but also an unashamed Christmas episode with presents, Turkey and festive soul-searching for our viewing pleasure. I’d even be tempted to say that this, Running To Stand Still, was one of the strongest episodes the show has delivered so far this season, what with the effortless mix of great villains, attention given to the relationships between characters and some nice forward momentum for the Zoom story thread. We begin with Zoom running Wells down before wishing him a particularly threatening ‘Merry Christmas’, setting the tone for the rest of the episode before we flit back to our main gang. It wasn’t much of a secret that Mark Hamill would be returning as the Trickster, but pairing him up with the Weather Wizard was a stroke of genius. The Trickster is threatening enough in his madness but, combined with the guy who actually managed to win last year makes it more than just the run-of-the-mill meta-threat. It also makes for some terrific punning, excused just this one time entirely because it’s the season and all that. Captain Cold isn’t even around for most of it, making a feeble attempt to help Barry out by filling him in on his cohort’s dastardly plans before running for the hills. This is obviously all in service of his role on Legends, which is dangerously close now to actually being on our tellys now.
Because this is a mid-season finale, much of the episode is dedicated to parental angst. Chiefly, Iris finally tells Barry about the existence of Wally West in what was actually a very sweet scene between the two, and they later decide it’s probably best to present a united front to Joe. I worried when we heard about another West sibling that the show would muddle the relationship between Barry and the family, but this episode did a lot to allay those fears. Joe gives Barry his own father’s watch even after he finds out about Wally, for instance, and it highlights the nice place that part of the show is in now that the Barry/Iris romance is done (or at least on pause). But Joe’s understandably upset to discover that he has a son he never knew about, and we’ll have to wait until January to find out how that particular family reunion goes. We’re fairly sure that he’s going to become some kind of speedster, entirely because of his name, but it’ll just be interesting on its own to see how he slots into the show’s existing dynamic. It’ll also presumably give Iris something to do at last.
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My highlight of the episode, though, was the fleshing out of Patty’s character, giving her layers beyond the cute Felicity-esque girlfriend for Barry she’s been so far. We already knew that her father had been killed by a metahuman, but here we discovered that metahuman was in fact the Weather Wizard. It’s slightly frustrating when there are two adjacent relationships going on – that between Barry and Patty and between The Flash and Patty, because while we know what’s going on, Patty has no clue that she’s opened up quite that far with her boyfriend yet. Her lack of Flash knowledge hasn’t been actively annoying yet, but it’s getting there. I’d like her to become a bigger part of the show and, to do that, she needs all the facts. We’re left on a cliffhanger that’s simultaneously very similar yet very different from last season’s – Wells is going to help Zoom take down Barry in exchange for his daughter. He doesn’t want to do it because, unlike Thawne, he’s fundamentally a good person, but it’s still his love for his child that drives him. I’ve been so impressed by how The Flash has slotted Wells back into things, all coming to a head in that scene between Barry and an unwitting Harry. It’s the equivalent of his through-glass talks with Henry while he’s off fishing , but it was done so beautifully. Barry has been struggling with what happened last season all year, and maybe this is his way of finally moving on.
All in all, the first half of season two has proven that the show is more than capable of measuring up to its first, with a inordinate amount of intricate pieces in place for an even better string of episodes once we come back.

REVIEW: THE DIVERGENT SERIES: ALLEGIANT

CAST

Shailene Woodley (The Fault In Our Stars)
Theo James (Underworld 4)
Jeff Daniels (The Martian)
Naomi Watts (Birdman)
Octavia Spencer (Mom)
Zoe Kravitz (Mad Max: Road Fury)
Ansel Elgort (Baby Driver)
Miles Teller (Fantastic Four)
Keiynan Lonsdale (The Flash)
Daniel Dae Kim (Lost)
Bill Skarsgard (Hemlock Grove)
Jonny Weston (Project Almanac)
Ray Stevenson (Punisher: Warzone)
Mekhi Phifer (Lie To Me)
Ashley Judd (High Crimes)
Xander Berkeley (Poison Ivy 2)
Maggie Q (Designated Survivor)
Andy Bean (Swamp Thing)
Joseph David-Jones (Arrow)
Ben Levin (Legacies)
Janet McTeer (Jessica Jones)

Many Chicago citizens run towards the wall, but soldiers under Evelyn (Naomi Watts) are told to shut down the perimeter, and thus, no one is allowed through. Evelyn directs Jack Kang (Daniel Dae Kim) of Candor to hold trials for the Erudite and Dauntless conspirators, in which a number of them becoming executions, starting with Max (Mekhi Phifer). Evelyn and Johanna (Octavia Spencer) attempt to pressure Tris (Shailene Woodley) and Four (Theo James) into taking leadership positions in the new coalition, but both refuse. After seeing that the hostile situation within the city is only going to get worse, Tris escapes with Four, Caleb (Ansel Elgort), Christina (Zoë Kravitz), Tori (Maggie Q), and Peter (Miles Teller) to journey beyond the wall that encloses Chicago. However, Tori is killed by Edgar (Jonny Weston) in the attempt.  The group is ambushed by Edgar, who is later disabled by an armed group of individuals and airships. The soldiers take the group to the Bureau of Genetic Welfare, a highly advanced city where they learn that years ago the government believed that society’s problems were caused by “damaged genes”. In an attempt to create a better society, they began to modify people’s genes, with disastrous results. The government set up “experiments” in an attempt to repair this mistake, establishing isolated cities across the remains of the United States. The hope is to raise enough genetically pure Divergent individuals to fix the “genetic damage” left in the wake of the Purity War.

Tris and Four are tested by Matthew (Bill Skarsgård) and Nita (Nadia Hilker) to verify and study their Divergence. Tris is shown to be truly Divergent, but Four’s genetic structure indicates that his genes are still “damaged”. Caleb and Peter are assigned to surveillance teams that monitor Chicago. Matthew then brings Tris to the leader of the Bureau, David (Jeff Daniels). David gives Tris a device that allows her to view her mother’s memories, and sees that her mother was rescued and adopted by the Bureau before volunteering to join the Chicago experiment out of dedication to the project. In return for his help in restoring peace to Chicago, Tris agrees to help David, who claims that only the council he reports to has the power to intervene.

Meanwhile, Four and Christina train with Nita and joins the Bureau’s military force. They join the military on a rescue mission to a nearby wasteland village, though Four becomes mistrusting of the Bureau’s intentions after realizing that they are going there to kidnap and forcefully integrate children into the Bureau’s populace. Upon their return, Four discreetly petitions Caleb to keep an eye on the situation in Chicago. Four also attempts to warn Tris of the Bureau’s intentions, but she rejects his ideas.

Caleb warns Four of a rapidly escalating conflict back in Chicago between Johanna’s group of Allegiants and Evelyn’s factionless, with open war becoming an imminent threat. Four appeals to Tris for her to return to Chicago with him to end the bloodshed, but she decides to go with David to Providence to meet with the council. David agrees to reinsert Four back in Chicago, escorted by Matthew and some Bureau soldiers. Once in the air, Matthew quietly reveals to Four that the flight is a trap and he is meant to be killed. A skirmish breaks out and Four defeats all of the soldiers, though the airship crashes as a result. Matthew betrays David by helping Four get through the cloak wall. Four proceeds to Chicago while Matthew remains behind to be rescued by the Bureau and warn Tris.MV5BM2Y1MTNjODYtZGNkNi00NzhjLTliNTAtYmViOGRiNWM1NmJhXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjUyNDk2ODc@._V1_Meanwhile, Tris and David meet with the council. Tris disagrees with the council’s objectives and criticizes how they have done nothing to stop the violence in Chicago. The council responds that David had the power to intervene whenever he desires, revealing that he has lied to her from the beginning. During the return flight to the Bureau, Tris ends their partnership. Upon her return, she gathers Caleb and Christina in David’s airship to return to Chicago, and Nita helps them escape. Four is captured by the factionless and confronts Evelyn to end the violence although she shows no intention of standing down. Tris, Caleb, and Christina arrive to find the city tearing itself apart at the opening stage of a full assault by the Allegiant. David makes a deal with Peter in exchange for Peter’s promotion and inserts him into Chicago to convince Evelyn to deploy a hidden Bureau stockpile of gas to wipe the memories of the attackers and force a peace in her favor, to which she reluctantly agrees. Peter takes her to a vault where she can deploy the gas across the city but remain safe herself, making her the only individual in Chicago who will remember any of those events.

Tris and Christina fight through the factionless and arrive at the vault, having rescued Four along the way. At the vault door, Four convinces Evelyn to stop the gas attack, as he wouldn’t remember who she was if she carried it out. She folds and stops the release, and is shot by a frustrated Peter. Peter gloats in his victory until the same gas starts releasing inside the vault as well. Realizing David has betrayed him, Peter opens the vault so Tris and Four can stop the gas release and flees back towards the cloak wall, as Four says he will make him pay for badly wounding his mother.

Caleb arrives and aids Tris in destroying the gas dispersion hub, stopping the release. The main characters gather atop the Erudite building as they watch the stolen shuttle fly back towards the Bureau, heavily laden with explosives. Tris transmits a message to the whole city, revealing to them the existence of the Bureau and that Chicago was an experiment of the Pure. Her message to the Bureau is that Chicago is no longer their experiment, but the home of its citizens. Caleb detonates the explosives at the end of the message, tearing a massive hole through the cloak wall and revealing the two cities to each other. The film ends with the Chicago characters gazing at the Bureau in the distance, with David standing behind Tris via his machine, glaring at her.I really enjoyed this film.I love Tobias and Tris’ relationship, the challenges they face and the way they overcome this with the help of other characters. I think this movie, more than the previous two, really cemented the personalities of some of the other significant characters so we can become more invested in them and I really appreciated this touch. The movie is also shot beautifully. The only downside to the film is that its only the first half of the book we have to wait till next year for the final part.

REVIEW: THE DIVERGENT SERIES: INSURGENT

CAST

Shailene Woodley (The Fault In Our Stars)
Theo James (Underworld 4)
Kate Winslet (Quills)
Naomi Watts (Birdman)
Ansel Elgort (Baby Driver)
Mekhi Phifer (Lie To Me)
Zoe Kravitz (Mad Max: Road Fury)
Jai Courtney (Terminator Genysis)
Miles Teller (Fantastic Four)
Octavia Spencer (Mom)
Maggie Q (The King of Fighters)
Tony Goldwyn (Ghost)
Ray Stevenson (Punisher: Warzone)
Keiynan Lonsdale (The Flash)
Ashley Judd (High Crimes)
Justin Leak (Powers)
Daniel Dae Kim (Lost)
Jonny Weston (Project Almanac)
Suki Waterhouse (Pride and Predjudice and Zombies)
Emjay Anthony (Chef)
Rosa Salazar (Alita: Battle Angel)
Janet McTeer (Me Before You)

Five days after the assault on the Abnegation faction by Erudite leader Jeanine (Kate Winslet) and her mind-controlled Dauntless soldiers, Jeanine has declared martial law and that the Divergents – those with the qualities of multiple factions – and those allied with them are the enemy. Among the Abnegation wreckage, Dauntless leader Eric (Jai Courtney) and his platoon recover a five-sided box: each side has a faction symbol. Jeanine presumes it contains data from the city’s founders and the means to end the Divergence problem. As only a Divergent is capable of opening the box, she orders the capture of all Divergents.
Tris (Shailene Woodley), Four (Theo James), Peter (Miles Teller), and Caleb (Ansel Elgort) hide within the Amity compound. Soon after, Eric and his fleet arrive to test all the occupants for Divergence. Peter gives up the group’s location as Tris, Four, and Caleb escape and board a train headed into Factionless territory. After fights with the Factionless aboard, Four reveals his name–Tobias Eaton–which prompts the Factionless to stand down and reply that they have been searching for him.
Four, Tris and Caleb are given amnesty at Factionless. There, Tris and Caleb discover that the Factionless leader is Four’s mother, Evelyn (Naomi Watts). She suggests that Dauntless and Factionless should ally against Erudite, but Four declines. The next morning, the three leave Factionless for Candor to meet up with the remaining Dauntless; during the trek, Caleb tells his sister Tris that he cannot continue with them and goes in a different direction. Upon arrival, Tris and Four are arrested and brought before Candor leader Jack Kang (Daniel Dae Kim), who intends to deliver them to Jeanine. However, Four pleads for Jack to conduct a trial in Candor with the use of truth serum. During the trial, Four communicates his motives and is absolved. Tris tearfully admits her guilt in shooting and killing Will, which angers Christina.
Candor is attacked by the Dauntless who have sided with Eric, and many people are shot with pellets of new simulation serum. Tris is captured by Eric who learns she has a Divergence reading of 100%, making her the perfect subject to open the box. Eric arrests Tris, but Four and the Factionless allies arrive to save her. After a brief exchange, Four shoots Eric in the head for the murder of hundreds of people. Back at Erudite, Jeanine, frustrated that none of the Divergent subjects have survived the simulation trials required to open the box, is approached by Peter, who pledges his loyalty to Erudite, and suggests the best way to get Tris to surrender is by exploiting her humanity.
Back at the Factionless base, Four reluctantly agrees with Evelyn that war is inevitable and that they need to prepare. Jeanine activates the pellets, causing Christina, Marlene and Hector to repeatedly chant that Tris must turn herself in or more death will follow, as they step closer and closer to the edge of a tall structure. Tris and Tori then climb the sides of the roof as Tris rescues Christina and Tori, Hector. However, Marlene plunges to her death. Overcome by guilt, Tris decides to turn herself in. That night, she and Four sleep together, and then she quietly slips away.
Upon arrival at the Erudite headquarters, Tris is immediately arrested. She agrees to undergo the trials provided that the suicides cease. Tris overcomes four of the trials, however, when her vitals drop, Jeanine reluctantly halts the simulation so that Tris can rest. Tris then discovers that they have captured Four. She fails the final trial and her vital signs cease. Her body is wheeled over to Four’s cell so the latter can mourn, but when she awakens, Peter assists Four in overpowering the guards, revealing that he had faked her death by injecting her with a sleep serum. Tris is determined to open the box and find the truth about its message; she and Four head to the simulation room, while Peter returns to the control room to secretly grant them security access.
Overcoming the final trial, Tris successfully opens the box. A woman explains that the walled city and faction system is actually an experiment they devised, that the Divergents are actually the success of the experiment, and that the world is waiting outside for them to return to humanity. Realizing she has lost all her power, Jeanine orders that the box be buried and that Four and Tris be executed. However, the Factionless army breaks into the simulation room to rescue Tris and Four. Jeanine and Caleb are arrested. The message from the box is broadcast to the entire city. Tris is hailed as a hero by the masses, eager to explore the world beyond the wall. As Jeanine looks out from her cell, she states that after 200 years since the city was enclosed, there is no telling what awaits them beyond it. Evelyn tells her that she will never find out and kills her.Insurgent is a fantastic follow up to Divergent, however I would recommend watching one after the other. Everyone was awesome in their roles, once again Kate and Shailene shone. But I also loved Octavia as she really showed what a true Amity leader would be like. I also loved when they went into Candor where Tris and Four were on trial. Props to Robert Schwentke for a perfect sequel that (like its predecessor) has you craving more.