Mission BriefingAfter murdering Agent Koenig, Ward has absconded with Skye, hoping to finally get the encrypted S.H.I.E.L.D. information off of the hard drive. Coulson and the team move to find Ward and rescue Skye, but Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) shows up to providence with the U.S. government, hoping to convince Coulson to stand down, since S.H.I.E.L.D. doesn't rightly exist anymore.
The AgentsEveryone's on deck this week, but not necessarily playing for the same side. Ward has essentially kidnapped Skye so she can decrypt the hard drive while Coulson, Fitz, Simmons, and Triplett are following the breadcrumbs left behind by Skye. Meanwhile, May is stirring things up behind the scenes, and Maria Hill provides some much-needed backup in a special guest appearance by Cobie Smulders.
Mission FalloutMay gets into contact with Maria Hill, who is pursuing work in the private sector after the dismantling of S.H.I.E.L.D. May wants the know the identity of the person behind the T.A.H.I.T.I. project, hoping it might finally give Coulson the answers he’s been seeking, but all Maria has to offer is a cryptic riddle left by Nick Fury (Director Fury is apparently a poet in his off hours).
Meanwhile, Coulson and his team are wondering what happened to the Bus and their missing agents. Surveillance shows May leaving Providence a little while after her fight with Coulson. Fitz wanders around the base and discovers a secret message scrawled onto one of Keonig’s Faux windows: “Ward is HYDRA,” just as Gemma is discovering Koenig’s body stashed in the supply closet. Simmons examines Koenig and determines that Ward was the only one who was capable of killing him. Fitz freaks out, as he’s wont to do, and the team works on figuring out how to save Skye. Luckily, they discover that Bus is in Los Angeles, but not before Providence comes under attack. Maria Hill shows up with Colonel Talbot and U.S. military in tow. She urges Coulson to stop working under S.H.I.E.L.D. and accept that the agency doesn’t exist any more. She suggests that the agent allow his staff to walk away from S.H.I.E.L.D. and join the private sector. Coulson informs Maria about the Ward situation, and the agent helps the team escape so they can go after Ward and rescue Skye.
Elswhere, Skye tells Ward that the location needed to decrypt the drive is the same diner where she first met Mike Peterson in the pilot episode. Ward rushes Skye to decrypt the drive, but she expertly stalls for time, giving the HYDRA turncoat enough jabbering Technobabble to keep him satisfied. Skye needles into Ward about his allegiance to S.H.I.E.L.D., and reveals that she knows he’s really a member of HYDRA. She calls the police to the diner, but Ward quickly subdues them. Skye almost escapes, but is soon re-captured by Deathlok. Deathlok, always the pragmatist, tells Ward he has only five minutes to get Skye to decrypt the drive. Ward confesses that his feelings for Skye have always been genuine and the he was just “following orders,” but Skye his revolted by Ward’s true colors. Deathlok stops Ward’s heart and forces Skye to tell him the encryption site before starting it again. The agent reveals that the drive needs to be 35,000 feet in the air before it can be unlocked.
Before Ward can get the Bus in the air, he finds himself locked in a standoff with Maria Hill, who's piloting another Jet. The two exchage verbarl barbs which gives Coulson enough time to sneak aboard the Bus. Coulson locates Skye and escapes the Bus mid flight in Lola, Coulson’s flying corvette, but not before the drive is unlocked.
The team shacks up at a skeezy motel, having lost not only their agency but their home. May surprises Coulson in his motel room. She reveals that the lead behind the T.A.H.I.T.I. project was Coulson himself. In a message sent to Fury before his death in The Avengers, Coulson reveals that the T.A.H.I.T.I. project was created to revive a mortally wounded avenger, but that the project should be shelved due to it’s horrific side-effects. Coulson learns that he was, in fact, searching for himself this whole time. How exestential.
Most Valuable Agent This Week’s MVA goes to Skye for managing to outwit and outgame Ward at his own game. Not bad for a new recruit.
Mission Highlights- Adrian Pasdar is back as the burly, no-nonsense, fake-mustache wearing Colonel Talbot. Let's hope he sticks around a while.- I love Ward’s insistence that he’s definitely not a Nazi. Evil terrorist? Sure, you’ve got me pegged, but a Nazi?! Whoa buddy, let’s not jump to conclusions.- “If I come out, will you shoot me? Cause then I wont come out."- Chloe Bennet gives some of her best acting yet in this episode.
Mission BriefingS.H.I.E.L.D. is still in pieces after the recent attacks from embedded HYDRA agents, and the U.S. governement is threatening to blow up the organization into even smaller pieces when S.H.I.E.L.D. is labeled a terrorist organization. With a dwindling number of options, Coulson decides to take a risk when he recieves a mysterious set of coordinates by way of his S.H.I.E.L.D. badge. Does salvation lie at the end of the coordinates, or is Coulson leading his team right into a Hydra trap?
Mission FalloutThe ragged remains of S.H.I.E.L.D. are barely holding themselves together after the events of The Winter Soldier. Coulson and his team are lying low at the Hub, one of the few remaining S.H.I.E.L.D. bases still intact and under genuine S.H.I.E.L.D. control. Things get even worse when Coulson gets a call from a Colonel Glenn Talbot, who threatens to send peace keeping troops to the Hub. Coulson bets that there will be less peace keeping and more bunker busting from the hard-edged Colonel and decides to cut and run, even though the Bus is in no kind of shape for a long journey. The team takes off with limited food, fuel, and supplies (but good Internet), and decide to go completely off the grid.
Meanwhile, the double crossing Agent Ward frees Raina from a S.H.I.E.L.D. prison and introduces her to Garett, Whom she is disappointed to learn isn't really clairvoyant, but simply in possession of a high S.H.I.E.L.D. clearance. Ward and Garrett decide to raid the Fridge, the secret location where S.H.I.E.L.D. keeps its most dangerous acquisitions. Ward reveals to Raina that all of his actions since first meeting Coulson and joining his team were calculated moves to gain everyone's trust. He does reveal that he cares for Coulson, but not as much as he cares for Garrett. The duo infiltrates the Fridge and steals a load of S.H.I.E.L.D. weaponry, but can't crack the encryption on Skye's hard drive, which is full of S.H.I.E.L.D. secrets. Garrett tells Ward to get the password from her and kill the rest of the team in the next 24 hours.
While flying away from the Hub, Coulson receives mysterious coordinates on his badge, which he believes to be a message from Agent Fury. The rest of the team doubts the coordinates, believing them to be a HYDRA trap. Coulson decides to head to the coordinates anyway, which leads them to a snowy wilderness. With the validity of the coordinates seeming less likely by the second, The team finally reaches the location of the coordinates, only to find nothing. Everyone except Fitz begins to doubt Coulson even more, especially after learning the he used the Bus' last bit of fuel flying to the coordinates. Coulson gives an impassioned speech about still believing in S.H.I.E.L.D. before inadvertently setting off a defense mechanism. It turns out that the coordinates belonged to a secret S.H.I.E.L.D. base set up by Director Fury and manned by Agent Eric Koenig (Patton Oswalt). Koenig reveals to Coulson that Fury is alive, but prevents him from telling the rest of his team the good news. Skye informs Ward about the secret base, and the agent arrives, ready to do whatever it takes to get the password for the hard drive.
Most Valuable Agent AwardThis weeks honor might go to Coulson if he weren't being so irrational the entire episode. Of course he ended up being right, this being his show and all, but shouldn't he be just a little more wary about following mysterious coordinates? Especially after HYDRA has eaten its way through his entire organization? No, this week's award goes to new recruit Agent Koenig for fitting in some primo Call of Duty hours while being locked away in the secret S.H.I.E.L.D. base.
Mission Highlights and Other Observations - Looks like Coulson and his team should be expecting a visit from the supervillain Graviton pretty soon, now that Garrett has gotten his hands on the gravitonium from episode 3. - Agent Grant Ward has become infinitely more interesting after revealing his true colors. All of a sudden he's all rugged and roguish. Why couldn't he be this cool before?- It looks like the show is positioning Triplett to be a Ward's replacement on the team. No complaints here.
David Mitchell's novel Cloud Atlas consists of six stories set in various periods between 1850 and a time far into Earth's post-apocalyptic future. Each segment lives on its own the previous first person account picked up and read by a character in its successor creating connective tissue between each moment in time. The various stories remain intact for Tom Tykwer's (Run Lola Run) Lana Wachowski's and Andy Wachowski's (The Matrix) film adaptation which debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival. The massive change comes from the interweaving of the book's parts into one three-hour saga — a move that elevates the material and transforms Cloud Atlas in to a work of epic proportions.
Don't be turned off by the runtime — Cloud Atlas moves at lightning pace as it cuts back and forth between its various threads: an American notary sailing the Pacific; a budding musician tasked with transcribing the hummings of an accomplished 1930's composer; a '70s-era investigatory journalist who uncovers a nefarious plot tied to the local nuclear power plant; a book publisher in 2012 who goes on the run from gangsters only to be incarcerated in a nursing home; Sonmi~451 a clone in Neo Seoul who takes on the oppressive government that enslaves her; and a primitive human from the future who teams with one of the few remaining technologically-advanced Earthlings in order to survive. Dense but so was the unfamiliar world of The Matrix. Cloud Atlas has more moving parts than the Wachowskis' seminal sci-fi flick but with additional ambition to boot. Every second is a sight to behold.
The members of the directing trio are known for their visual prowess but Cloud Atlas is a movie about juxtaposition. The art of editing is normally a seamless one — unless someone is really into the craft the cutting of a film is rarely a post-viewing talking point — but Cloud Atlas turns the editor into one of the cast members an obvious player who ties the film together with brilliant cross-cutting and overlapping dialogue. Timothy Cavendish the elderly publisher could be musing on his need to escape and the film will wander to the events of Sonmi~451 or the tortured music apprentice Robert Frobisher also feeling the impulse to run. The details of each world seep into one another but the real joy comes from watching each carefully selected scene fall into place. You never feel lost in Cloud Atlas even when Tykwer and the Wachowskis have infused three action sequences — a gritty car chase in the '70s a kinetic chase through Neo Seoul and a foot race through the forests of future millennia — into one extended set piece. This is a unified film with distinct parts echoing the themes of human interconnectivity.
The biggest treat is watching Cloud Atlas' ensemble tackle the diverse array of characters sprinkled into the stories. No film in recent memory has afforded a cast this type of opportunity yet another form of juxtaposition that wows. Within a few seconds Tom Hanks will go from near-neanderthal to British gangster to wily 19th century doctor. Halle Berry Hugh Grant Jim Sturgess Jim Broadbent Ben Whishaw Hugo Weaving and Susan Sarandon play the same game taking on roles of different sexes races and the like. (Weaving as an evil nurse returning to his Priscilla Queen of the Desert cross-dressing roots is mind-blowing.) The cast's dedication to inhabiting their roles on every level helps us quickly understand the worlds. We know it's Halle Berry behind the fair skinned wife of the lunatic composer but she's never playing Halle Berry. Even when the actors are playing variations on themselves they're glowing with the film's overall epic feel. Jim Broadbent's wickedly funny modern segment a Tykwer creation that packs a particularly German sense of humor is on a smaller scale than the rest of the film but the actor never dials it down. Every story character and scene in Cloud Atlas commits to a style. That diversity keeps the swirling maelstrom of a movie in check.
Cloud Atlas poses big questions without losing track of its human element the characters at the heart of each story. A slower moment or two may have helped the Wachowskis' and Tykwer's film to hit a powerful emotional chord but the finished product still proves mainstream movies can ask questions while laying over explosive action scenes. This year there won't be a bigger movie in terms of scope in terms of ideas and in terms of heart than Cloud Atlas.
Theatrics slapstick and cheer are cinematic qualities you rarely find outside the realm of animation. Disney perfected it with their pantheon of cartoon classics mixing music humor spectacle and light-hearted drama that swept up children while still capturing the imaginations and hearts of their parents. But these days even reinterpretations of fairy tales get the gritty make-over leaving little room for silliness and unfiltered glee. Emerging through that dark cloud is Mirror Mirror a film that achieves every bit of imagination crafted by its two-dimensional predecessors and then some. Under the eye of master visualist Tarsem Singh (The Fall Immortals) Mirror Mirror's heightened realism imbues it with the power to pull off anything — and the movie never skimps on the anything.
Like its animated counterparts Mirror Mirror stays faithful to its source material but twists it just enough to feel unique. When Snow White (Lily Collins) was a little girl her father the King ventured into a nearby dark forest to do battle with an evil creature and was never seen or heard from again. The kingdom was inherited by The Queen (Julia Roberts) Snow's evil stepmother and the fair-skinned beauty lived locked up in the castle until her 18th birthday. Grown up and tired of her wicked parental substitute White sneaks out of the castle to the village for the first time. There she witnesses the economic horrors The Queen has imposed upon the people of her land all to fuel her expensive beautification. Along the way Snow also meets Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer) who is suffering from his own money troubles — mainly being robbed by a band of stilt-wearing dwarves. When the Queen catches wind of the secret excursion she casts Snow out of the castle to be murdered by her assistant Brighton (Nathan Lane).
Fairy tales take flack for rejecting the idea of women being capable but even with its flighty presentation and dedication to the old school Disney method Mirror Mirror empowers its Snow White in a genuine way thanks to Collins' snappy charming performance. After being set free by Brighton Snow crosses paths with the thieving dwarves and quickly takes a role on their pilfering team (which she helps turn in to a Robin Hooding business). Tarsem wisely mines a spectrum of personalities out of the seven dwarves instead of simply playing them for one note comedy. Sure there's plenty of slapstick and pun humor (purposefully and wonderfully corny) but each member of the septet stands out as a warm compassionate companion to Snow even in the fantasy world.
Mirror Mirror is richly designed and executed in true Tarsem-fashion with breathtaking costumes (everything from ball gowns to the dwarf expando-stilts to ridiculous pirate ship hats with working canons) whimsical sets and a pitch-perfect score by Disney-mainstay Alan Menken. The world is a storybook and even its monsters look like illustrations rather than photo-real creations. But what makes it all click is the actors. Collins holds her own against the legendary Julia Roberts who relishes in the fun she's having playing someone despicable. She delivers every word with playful bite and her rapport with Lane is off-the-wall fun. Armie Hammer riffs on his own Prince Charming physique as Alcott. The only real misgiving of the film is the undercooked relationship between him and Snow. We know they'll get together but the journey's half the fun and Mirror Mirror serves that portion undercooked.
Children will swoon for Mirror Mirror but there's plenty here for adults — dialogue peppered with sharp wisecracks and a visual style ripped from an elegant tapestry. The movie wears its heart on its sleeve and rarely do we get a picture where both the heart and the sleeve feel truly magical.
In a post-Harry Potter Avatar and Lord of the Rings world the descriptors "sci-fi" and "fantasy" conjure up particular imagery and ideas. The Hunger Games abolishes those expectations rooting its alternate universe in a familiar reality filled with human characters tangible environments and terrifying consequences. Computer graphics are a rarity in writer/director Gary Ross' slow-burn thriller wisely setting aside effects and big action to focus on star Jennifer Lawrence's character's emotional struggle as she embarks on the unthinkable: a 24-person death match on display for the entire nation's viewing pleasure. The final product is a gut-wrenching mature young adult fiction adaptation diffused by occasional meandering but with enough unexpected choices to keep audiences on their toes.
Panem a reconfigured post-apocalyptic America is sectioned off into 12 unique districts and ruled under an iron thumb by the oppressive leaders of The Capitol. To keep the districts producing their specific resources and prevent them from rebelling The Capitol created The Hunger Games an annual competition pitting two 18-or-under "tributes" from each district in a battle to the death. During the ritual tribute "Reaping " teenage Katniss (Lawrence) watches as her 12-year-old sister Primrose is chosen for battle—and quickly jumps to her aid becoming the first District 12 citizen to volunteer for the games. Joined by Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) a meek baker's son and the second tribute Effie the resident designer and Haymitch a former Hunger Games winner-turned-alcoholic-turned-mentor Katniss rides off to The Capitol to train and compete in the 74th Annual Hunger Games.
The greatest triumph of The Hunger Games is Ross' rich realization of the book's many worlds: District 12 is painted as a reminiscent Southern mining town haunting and vibrant; The Capitol is a utopian metropolis obsessed with design and flair; and The Hunger Games battleground is a sprawling forest peppered with Truman Show-esque additions that remind you it's all being controlled by overseers. The small-scale production value adds to the character-first approach and even when the story segues to larger arenas like a tickertape parade in The Capitol's grand Avenue of Tributes hall it's all about Katniss.
For fans the script hits every beat a nearly note-for-note interpretation of author Suzanne Collins' original novel—but those unfamiliar shouldn't worry about missing anything. Ross knows his way around a sharp screenplay (he's the writer of Big Pleasantville and Seabiscuit) and he's comfortable dropping us right into the action. His characters are equally as colorful as Panem Harrelson sticking out as the former tribute enlivened by the chance to coach winners. He's funny he's discreet he's shaded—a quality all the cast members share. As a director Ross employs a distinct often-grating perspective. His shaky cam style emphasizes the reality of the story but in fight scenarios—and even simple establishing shots of District 12's goings-on—the details are lost in motion blur.
But the dread of the scenario is enough to make Hunger Games an engrossing blockbuster. The lead-up to the actual competition is an uncomfortable and biting satire of reality television sports and everything that commands an audience in modern society. Katniss' brooding friend Gale tells her before she departs "What if nobody watched?" speculating that carnage might end if people could turn away. Unfortunately they can't—forcing Katniss and Peeta to become "stars" of the Hunger Games. The duo are pushed to gussy themselves up put on a show and play up their romance for better ratings. Lawrence channels her reserved Academy Award-nominated Winter's Bone character to inhabit Katniss' frustration with the system. She's great at hunting but she doesn't want to kill. She's compassionate and considerate but has no interest in bowing down to the system. She's a leader but she knows full well she's playing The Capitol's game. Even with 23 other contestants vying for the top spot—like American Idol with machetes complete with Ryan Seacrest stand-in Caesar Flickerman (the dazzling Stanley Tucci)—Katniss' greatest hurdle is internal. A brave move for a movie aimed at a young audience.
By the time the actual Games roll around (the movie clocks in at two and a half hours) there's a need to amp up the pace that never comes and The Hunger Games loses footing. Katniss' goal is to avoid the action hiding in trees and caves waiting patiently for the other tributes to off themselves—but the tactic isn't all that thrilling for those watching. Luckily Lawrence Hutcherson and the ensemble of young actors still deliver when they cross paths and particular beats pack all the punch an all-out deathwatch should. PG-13 be damned the film doesn't skimp on the bloodshed even when it comes to killing off children. The Hunger Games bites off a lot for the first film of a franchise and does so bravely and boldly. It may not make it to the end alive but it doesn't go down without a fight.
After being cursed by delays The Wolfman Hollywood’s latest spin on the popular werewolf myth finally bares its ugly fangs in theaters this week. Predictably the film is a train wreck of a debacle -- one would expect nothing less from a notoriously troubled production that saw its original director Mark Romanek abandon ship just two weeks before the start of shooting -- but The Wolfman’s problems stem less from the late-game addition of helmer Joe Johnston who at the very least delivered a terrific looking film (its gorgeously eerie Victorian aesthetic evoking a palpable exquisite sense of dread is by far its best feature) than from the misguided efforts of its producer and star Benicio Del Toro.
The Wolfman is the brainchild of Del Toro an ardent horror fan who conceived the film as an homage of sorts to the low-budget “monster movies” from the ‘30s and ‘40s that he loved dearly as a child. It’s fashioned as a loose remake of 1941’s The Wolf Man a film that both established Lon Chaney Jr.’s performance as the definitive take on the character and introduced aspects of the werewolf legend now considered sacrosanct. The notion that a werewolf can be felled by an item made from silver for example owes its origin to The Wolf Man.
But Del Toro feels all wrong in the role of Lawrence Talbot the prodigal son of a 19th-century English aristocrat whose fateful encounter with a bloodthirsty lycan the same creature that brutally murdered his brother just days prior triggers his unwitting initiation into the accursed tribe of feral man-beasts. Del Toro's resume of low-key understated performances marked by a muttering often imperceptible delivery in films like Traffic and The Usual Suspects suggests a skill set better suited to playing another famous movie monster one significantly less loquacious than his character in this movie. Seriously -- the guy should have remade Frankenstein instead.
Playing an American-bred (but English-born we’re told) character in an 1890 setting looking uncomfortable in period attire surrounded by such “proper” British actors as Sir Anthony Hopkins and Emily Blunt and fully annunciating all of his line readings for the first time that I can recall Del Toro appears hopelessly out of place in The Wolfman.
Things only get worse unfortunately when Del Toro’s character transforms into the dreaded werewolf. Each time the moon is full the film transitions with increasing ridiculousness from a somber Victorian drama into a hard-core horror flick replete with grisly shots of torn flesh exposed spines and severed limbs. The first overly gruesome attack triggers a kind of nervous laugh more from the shock than anything else. The second invites an amused uneasy chuckle which soon snowballs into an outright belly laugh. And the effect soon spreads to the dialogue the outrageous gore rendering the film's mannered melodrama strangely hysterical.
Of all the Wolfman players only Hopkins seems to get the joke reveling in his manipulative mischief as Talbot's inappropriately glib stoutly aloof father. If only he'd let his castmates in on it.