Tuesday, June 30, 2015

From MadCap's Couch - "Sliders: The Good, The Bad, and the Wealthy"

"...to a world of dung" Arturo predicts the later seasons of the show.
Growing up in America as I have, I'm familiar with the romanticized image that television and movies have given of the Old West. A time of heroic cowboys riding into town and getting into epic gunfights that would save a town from a government official who wants to buy up all the land once a newly-constructed railroad is built through it.

...or that may just be the plot of Blazing Saddles (at least that's what came to mind for me).

Of course, I'm not really a Western fan but I know enough of the genre to know some of the tropes and one of those, as I mentioned, is gunfights. You have to admit, a legal system built around this concept would be a hell of a lot speedier than most. No complicated court proceedings or hours upon hours of research followed by hours upon hours of legal jargon. Got a hostile takeover? Just point and shoot, easy.

At least that's how I imagine the pitch for this episode went, because that's what we ended up getting.

We begin with what looks like an Old West town with the San Francisco skyline bluescreened in the background. A somber harmonica plays as we focus on a young man in a cowboy outfit practicing with toy guys at a poster of a man in a suit and hat. As he shoots, a wind picks up and he is witness to the opening of a vortex just before Quinn, Arturo, Rembrandt, and Wade fall from it. On the fly, Quinn bluffs that they are traveling magicians and the boy buys it. Arturo puts on a hilarious psuedo-Texan accent and inquires about food, the boy only too happy to direct them on their way to the "Wall Street Saloon".

I was gonna do a Monty Python Spam joke, but this is basically Heaven...
The Sliders head off, scoping out the world around them. It seems like the Old West, but there are modern automobiles being driven around - and again, San Francisco bluescreened into the background. Rembrandt theorizes that this is some sort of Old West theme park, but sadly there are no Yul Brynner cameos in our future. Checking out a sign, they find out they're in San Francisco, Texas, which prompts Arturo to go looking for bookshop to perhaps find out about the world they've landed on.

In the Saloon, Marty McFly is facing down Mad Dog Tannen while Quinn, Rembrandt, and Wade see some famous figures from Texas history in pictures on a wall - George Bush, LBJ, and Sam Houston. It's noted that there's a stock ticker above the bar, which strikes them as odd. We focus suddenly on a group of men playing poker. One takes exception to another winning and kicks him out of his chair, ruining the festivities. As a woman comes up to defuse the situation, Quinn comes to the aid of the fallen man and helps him to his feet.

The other man tries to take Wade hostage before challenging Quinn to a gunfight. When it's noted that he's unarmed, another man throws a gun to Quinn. The Saloon clears as the pair square off. At the count of three, draws are made and...Quinn shoots the man, killing him instantly. And Quinn, as you can expect, is absolutely horrified by this.

After the title sequence, Quinn is filled with shame but the people of the Saloon seem to approve which just fills him with more shame. The fuzz quickly arrives and Quinn is apparently arrested for helping the man and taken in...in spite of Wade and Rembrandt's insistence that it was self-defense, and Quinn is taken away. The woman who spoke up before watching all the while. Arturo returns just in time for us to have a funny bit where he laments that they're arrest in trouble.

Meanwhile, the Sheriff decides to go Law & Order on Quinn's butt. Apparently, Quinn not having a law degree makes it confusing that he knows how to shoot so well. However, a Billy Ray arrives working for a Mr. Bullock and informs the Sheriff that Mr. Bullock would like to see Quinn. Through some heavily implied corruption, Quinn's released into Billy Ray's custody.

Shots! Ha! Get it? It's funny because we all have guns...
Back with the other sliders, Arturo gives exposition. On this world, in 1836, Sam Houston became the President of the Republic of Texas as on their world. When the Civil War broke out, with the North and South busy fighting, the Republic expanded west and took most of the lands there, including California. There also apparently are no lawyers here, only 'negotiators' as they find in the Phone Book. On this world, corporate gunslingers are literally gunslingers.

As Arturo heads into the hotel, we get a small aside with the boy from earlier - Jamie - and the woman from earlier, his mother. The boy likens Quinn's arrival to the 'Mighty Morphin' Texas Rangers' (which, given Power Rangers actually had a Wild West episode, makes this even more hilarious), but his mother won't have any of it and shoos him off while he insists that they're not on the level.

Billy Ray brings Quinn to the corporate offices of Drexel-Bullock Corporation. Apparently, the man himself wants Quinn to be his new hotshot negotiator, seeing as he killed the previous one who was thought to be nigh-undefeatable. Because Highlander rules. It is, of course, abundantly clear that this man is not remotely on the level - if the scene of Billy Ray "convincing" the police to let Quinn go was any indication.

Then we get a scene at a karaoke Western bar (try to wrap your head around that one) where Billy Ray gets Quinn drunk. There's also a minor incident with another gunslinger named Lonnie who apparently is none too happy about Quinn getting the sudden fast track to success. Unlike the previous meeting in a bar, Quinn doesn't shoot. Billy Ray, on the other hand, is quick enough on the draw to put Lonnie down before he can even begin pulling his own gun. He tells Quinn not to worry about it, and just goes back to drinking like nothing happened. As you can expect, Quinn is horrified. Therefore, the writers found it in their infinite wisdom to have a scene of him completely plastered coming into the hotel room where the others are waiting.

We get a brief scene where Priscilla, the woman from earlier, is speaking to her broker - Cliff - and the writers have her force some exposition with all the subtlety of an oversized plumber's wrench in the face. She's apparently sitting on a computer chip that could change the face of the PC market, but can't get in without a one million dollar buy in to a trade show. In addition, her late husband worked too hard for her to declare bankruptcy.

Really, that's almost word for word what she says. There's really no attempt to weave it into dialogue that's remotely realistic-sounding. The reason that I'm not dinging it is because it has almost no relevance to the plot at all. What does have some relevance is Cliff's suggestion that she takes the money she has left to defend against a corporate takeover from Bullock's company.

The next morning, poor Quinn is hung to the over and horrified about how he ended a man's life. While Rembrandt and Arturo do their best to console him, Quinn doesn't really care about whether or not anyone cares about it - the fact is that a man is dead, and he killed him.

Wade, meanwhile, has an aside with Jaimie where she tries to convince him that Quinn is not a gunslinger. Priscilla arrives and once more tells him to shove off before she asks to see Quinn - apparently quite interested to learn that he's not a gunslinger. Wade brings her to the hotel, and she pulls Quinn aside to try and explain the situation...and the fact that Quinn didn't actually kill anyone. She killed him. Apparently autopsy isn't a thing on this world, given she was on the stairs in the scene where Quinn "shot" the man and was almost coming from a completely opposite direction, but what the hey, I'm just some guy on the internet who knows nothing about physics.

Yeah, no joke here. Just enjoy the screenshot of a yak.
Apparently, the same lawyer killed her husband in cold blood...on orders from Bullock. With that revealed, Billy Ray arrives to take Quinn out to the shooting range and Priscilla tells Quinn not to reveal anything he's heard to him or to Bullock. At the range, Quinn and Billy Ray talk after Quinn demonstrates that he's not remotely a crack marksman as they think. Billy Ray nonetheless tries to sell him the pitch and Quinn is still on the fence. He also tells Quinn that Bullock plans to bury Priscilla.

Meanwhile, the others are with Priscilla at the poker/stock exchange and Cliff has not shown up much to Priscilla's irritation. If there's not a body in his chair soon, he'll forfeit his seat and Priscilla's company will be ruined. Rembrandt ends up sitting in, apparently knowing "every form of poker known to man", and she, Arturo, and Wade head off to go find Cliff. When he doesn't answer the door to his room they break and find him hanging around...by his neck. It seems that he's hung himself...or that someone hanged him and wanted it to look like an accident...

Back on the floor, Rembrandt's not doing so hot. Wade relays the news to him. Rembrandt continues to hold the fort and Wade heads off to see the Sheriff...who is apparently going to do nothing. No investigation, no nothing. Wade berates him for this and calls him out as being afraid of Bullock. He kicks her out, and Wade stands on a soapbox with her moral correctness and is all too happy to call the Sheriff a coward while ignoring the fact that, while she gets to leave this world at the end of the episode he actually has to live there and deal with the consequences of things.

He doesn't. Everything gets pretty nicely resolved by the end of the episode (spoiler alert), but that's not the point.

Back at the gunslinging officers of Wolfram & Hart, Bullock gets Quinn and Billy Ray into his office. Apparently, words going around that Quinn is set to defend Priscilla against a corporate takeover. It seems he's out and he manages to bluff his way out of the room with his 'reputation' as the Waco Kid. Because Bullock and his cronies have a very low Sense Motive bonus, this works and Quinn's able to leave without resembling Swiss cheese.

Also, poor Billy Ray also gets the boot, though he's not threatened with gun violence.

Back at the poker table, the Crying Man has rolled up his sleeves and is cleaning house like a boss. Quinn returns and the group cashes-in to go hole up until the Slide. Outside, he runs into Priscilla just as she's being told that Bullock is doing a hostile takeover of her company and he's apparently hired Billy the Kid to come and do it for him. Apparently he was supposed to have worked for her, but Bullock offered more. Jamie is overly confident that Quinn save the company, but when his mother insists that he isn't Jamie is called a coward and isn't immediately punched in his smug mouth. But soon Quinn is delivered a letter of intent as the Chief Council for Priscilla's company.

Priscilla resolves to give up the company despite Quinn's protests, but the matter is quickly thrown to the wayside when Wade notices Quinn's gun is missing...and so is Jamie. Immediately they know where he's going and pursue him to Bullock's office. He's having a shot of whiskey with two of his employees, including...wait, Groosalugg?! Billy the Kid is Groosalugg?!

...oh, poor Quinn is so screwed. This guy is Pylea's greatest warrior!

"Hello..my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my pa. Prepare to die..."
Jamie strolls on in, gun drawn right on Bullock for an Inigo Montoya moment. And because security is more of a vague notion than an actuality, Quinn arrives and promises to see that he pays for what he did, managing to finally talk him down. The Sheriff arrives and Bullock sets Quinn in to have to duel Groo.

So tomorrow, it will be a case of kill or be killed, whether Quinn wants it or not.

Back on the broker's floor, Wade spouts off her quips about gun control and the need for it, and the anvicilious hope that they might land on a world where guns had never been invented. Nevertheless, Quinn is getting ready for the duel and Rembrandt has won somewhere between three and four hundred thousand so the company will be alright in the event that he wins - which he plans to. So, before the court house, the duel is set. A crowd gathers and parts to watch the show. In one corner, in jet black, a trail of terrible monsters left dead in his wake - the mighty Groosalugg, the Brave and Undefeated! In the other...Quinn.

...yeah, not really as impressive, is it?

The air is tense until the clock strikes high noon..and Quinn takes off his belt and drops it on the ground, telling him to just shoot him if he's going to. However, Groo doesn't because of...honor or something...and Quinn gets to do his Fortune Cookie summation of the moral of the story. He also tells the Sheriff to nut up and do the right thing. Though Bullock orders him to kill him, Groo ultimately will not shoot an unarmed man and Bullock gets his own gun to do it himself in spite of the Sheriff's protests. Billy Ray comes out of the crowd and stands before Quinn, telling Bullock that he'll have to shoot him first. Then Priscilla and Jamie come out of the crowd, then others for a big ol' "I am Spartacus!" moment.

To diffuse the situation, Arturo opens the vortex and everyone is utterly mystified and amazed. The Sheriff arrests Bullock and Quinn gets some parting words to Jamie - it takes a stronger man to put a gun down than to fire one in anger - and tells him to remember them before he jumps into the portal, leaving Jamie confused as to where he went.

I'll be honest, it may just be the piles of pretentious or nonsensical crap that came to us in season one, but I'm really surprised that two episodes in a row have been to my liking. Besides Priscilla deserving an award for the worst exposition ever delivered by dialogue and then Wade's short and quick dropping of an anvil on our heads about gun control at the end, this is a very solid episode. While it certainly doesn't use all the potential given the genre that it's homaging, it definitely makes a good - and I hesitate to use the word, but - "modernization" of the western. A hero riding into town to have a gunfight against some evil force for the greater good, except this time Quinn is able to solve the problem not through violence but through words and actions - inspiring others to do better as he did in "Prince of Wails" and "Gillian of the Spirits".

And while I do (and likely still will) give Quinn garbage for the Fortune Cookie speeches, I'll be completely honest that Jerry O'Connell almost always sells it. More so here than in "Prince of Wails" since his speech isn't a bunch of Presidential quotes and he actually has something to tell the others. Few have the skill to pull it off in a way that isn't eye rolling, and he does it very well here.

Whether or not you agree with gun control, we can all pretty much agree with Quinn's closing message - it takes a stronger person to put a gun down than to fire one in anger. Again, another moment where the Doctor is somewhere smiling and he doesn't know why. Because, when written properly, Quinn is absolutely awesome. As is the show. I supposed we should enjoy it while it lasts. It's going to change very quickly soon enough...and going to hurt about as much as a bullet between the eyes...dragged out over three seasons...

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

From MadCap's Couch - "Sliders: Gillian of the Spirits"

I know Wade said she could see through men, but this is ridiculous!
I made a joke last time about Quinn's subplot being relegated to some fluff for the last half of the show. Well, it seems the writers took that to heart and made that concept the basis of yet another show...except it instead actually has to do with the plot this time.

We begin with the Sliders making their way through a forest as a torrential storm rages overheard. Decked out in their rain slicks, they're keeping on the move until the Slide comes. When it does, Quinn is the last one through just before a bolt of lightning strikes the vortex. Wade, Arturo, and Rembrandt all emerge on a beach that is considerably less rainy than the world they just left, apparently having felt some kind of jolt on the Slide over.

Quinn, too, has emerged on the beach but it quickly becomes clear that none of his fellow Sliders can hear, see, or feel him - all three points illustrated when Wade literally walks through him as he tries to get their attention.

Apparently Quinn having near-death experiences is going to be a recurring theme this season.

The others are confused and more than a little worried that Quinn might have missed the Slide, but Arturo puts them on track to fix the timer - which has been on the fritz repeatedly throughout this season and the last and has apparently been short circuited by the lightning before the slide. Without the timer, they have no idea when the next wormhole will open and they could miss the gateway.

They head into a nearby town, finding it to be very much akin to a 1950s small town in America (and yet "Mr. Sandman" isn't playing as they enter. Damn, missed a perfect opportunity.) The technology level seems to be back as well, vacuum tubes still being advertised as transistors appear to have not been invented yet...and apparently electronic wrist watches are a piece of forbidden technology. Upon stopping a policeman to ask for a payphone, the man notices Arturo's wristwatch and immediately grills him about where he got it.

Before he can be arrested, however, Quinn manages to spook a horse even in ghostie form that's tied up nearby and get it to run off, forcing the officer to pursue and allowing them to escape. They make their way to the Dominion Hotel, where Arturo confirms more that this world is apparently highly anti-technology - there are no listings for electronics or television in the phone book. This, complete with the receptionist at the Hotel using a switchboard phone, pretty much confirms that they are pilgrims in a Luddite land. In getting the key to their suite, they also learn of the "Bureau of Anti-Technology".

Spiraling on from this, Rembrandt reasons that if there's a government organization going around putting a tight clamp on all technology, then there must be people around who are actually creating and using said technology. He also comes up with the idea to consult with a priest, reasoning that only they and a lawyer can be trusted with a secret - and a priest doesn't charge them. As Wade lights a candle and says a little prayer for Quinn, Quinn finds he can apparently interact with a young woman named Gillian. It would seem she's had some experience in hearing voices before, and wants nothing to do with him once he realizes she can see him, fleeing the church in protest with him in hot pursuit.

"Get his autograph! He kicks ass for the Lord!"
Outside, Quinn convinces her to give them a note, promising to never bother her again once she does so. Back at the church, the more solid Sliders comment on the priest being swarmed by the people and Gillian arrives to give them Quinn's note, after which they chase her back into the church and bombard her with questions. Gillian validates the story by retelling a misadventure of Quinn and Wade's where Arturo caught them necking in a basement. Gillian's mother arrives and proves to be the stern type, taking her to her job at the coffee shop and leaving the others confused and making their own theories to explain it.

Rembrandt, being the everyman that he is, gets the Astral Plane explained for him and the audience in simple terms - basically, if they can get the timer fixed up, they might be able to save Quinn with the slide to the next world. But until they can get it fixed, the point is moot, so Rembrandt goes to confession and in the next cut he has told him everything. While the priest has some reservations about the entire matter, he points him in the direction of a man named Michael who has "dabbled in the forbidden sciences". We also get some exposition about why this world is stuck with 1950s technology - apparently the world took notice of the atomic bomb at Hiroshima and it was decided (at least in America) that technology needed to be stopped from advancing for fear of causing more devastation. While there have been advancements over time, it has been incredibly slow.

Given the card, the group makes there way to the address given and discover that the man living there is none other than the Michael Mallory of this Earth, Quinn's father. We also learn that Quinn on this Earth is dead (and later learn it was because of polio, for which no vaccine was developed on this Earth). He's about to kick them to the curb when Arturo mentions that the priest sent them and he invites them in, taking them to the basement.

He explains that the Quinn of this Earth also had theories of travel to parallel dimensions, but with technology so simple in their world it was considered completely unworkable. Arturo says some kind words about their Quinn and the group makes an excuse for why he's not visibly with them. They manage to enlist Michael's help as he reveals his hidden workshop and Arturo gets to work on repairing the timer with SCIENCE!

Wade and Rembrandt have a little side discussion about what she and Quinn were up to in that basement, Rembrandt teasing her a bit as we get a bit more build up on the Quinn and Wade relationship that I'm entirely certain is going to end in a happily ever after for both parties involved.

"Give me your purse! A ghost told me you were stealing!"
David Peckinpah can eat my pasty white ass.

Moving right along, Arturo has some trouble with the timer, namely he forgot to reverse the polarity (ha!) before testing it, which Quinn tries to warn him about but can't for obvious reasons.

At the diner, Gillian is getting heckled by a girl when Quinn appears to her to ask for help once again. As she tries to get him to go away, the owner of the diner suddenly comes over to ask why the register is empty. She begins to berate her but Quinn, not being a total idiot, heads over to the girl who was heckling Gillian earlier and phases through her purse to find the money there.

She gets caught and the owner of the diner is none too happy about the theft, taking her out back while Gillian agrees to run off Quinn to aid his friends in understanding him.

Back at the Casa di Mallory, Arturo is once more hard at work on the timer. Thanks to his frustration, he ends up lashing out at Rembrandt and Wade and attempts to leave..only for Michael to be pushed down the stairs by two men in suits - two members of the Bureau of Anti-Technology as they introduce themselves. They confiscate the timer, and Michael plays it off as his own invention so that the others will be spared, so they take him away in handcuffs with Quinn and Gillian arriving just in time to see them head off.

Instead of meeting with the group and formulating a plan, Quinn and Gillian take a taxi and follow them to a power plant. There's an outright hilarious Taxi Driver reference as Quinn and Gillian talk for a bit before he goes in and discovers the terrible truth - not only are these men not from the Bureau of Anti-Technology, not only are they working for a Power Company, but Michael Mallory is a collaborator!

Oh, the horror! Though to the episode's credit, it's a twist I actually didn't see coming, so point to them there.

But it seems that the entire set up is one big scam - the power company collects advanced technologies as they come out and quiets the creators so that, when Congress repeals the Anti-Technology laws (as they're apparently set to do soon), they will have a leg up on their competition. Quinn is obviously appalled that his father would be involved in this. Regardless, the guys at the Power Company are planning to take out the Sliders to protect any patents they might get from the technology they could provide. Y'know, because the 90s were all about being anti-establishment, these people are the bad guys. Remember that!
"We don't serve you Federation scum here..."
Back at the Dominion Hotel, Arturo is lamenting that he's unable to repair the timer with the technology of this Earth. That's when Gillian arrives and catches the group up on the plot. And since Arturo doesn't have a better idea, the group begins to plan a daring raid on the power company to retrieve the timer and hopefully the technology they will need to slide away.

That night, Arturo and Rembrandt skulk through the dark around the Plant. Through the cunning use of flashlights and science, Arturo rigs the fire alarm to go off and clears the building. With the workers and security out, they head in. Arturo channels Gimli in order to break open the door to where the technology is being kept and they conveniently find the timer. Arturo quickly tries to put it back together, but security arrives and they are forced to flee with whatever they can get their hands on.
"Man, we just wanted to find the nuclear wessels!!!"

After the break, we get a scene at the "Lamplighter Pub" between Quinn and Gillian. She asks about the timer and what will happen if they can't get it fixed in time, and offers to be there to help him talk to his friends in the event they should be stuck there. She goes on to talk about how lucky he has to have friends and talks about how she has none. In a scene that would make the Doctor proud, Quinn gives her a pep talk about how people fear what they don't understand and she should be proud of her gifts, they're a miracle.

It's a short scene, but it really shows just what an awesome person that Quinn is, simply being a very kind and caring individual to people he barely knows. One of the overall strengths of the character.

At the hotel, Quinn, Wade, and Gillian are there when Rembrandt and Arturo return. However, they don't bring good news - Arturo doesn't have everything he needs to fix the timer. With the power station no longer being an option, they must go back to Michael Mallory's house. Though Wade gives her an out, Gillian reinforces the notion that she wants to help even if it's dangerous. Thus determined, they head out...and run right into Gillian's mother.

Apparently she knew where Gillian was because...psychic?

Or she read the script and knew she needed to be here. Either way, she's here and not exactly happy about her daughter hanging out with a bunch of weirdos. Arturo tries his natural British charm, but this strangely doesn't help the situation. Gillian comes out swinging with words about Quinn being trapped on the astral plane and emotionally blackmails her mother into agreeing with the crazy, though it's clear that she's not remotely comfortable.

They break into Mallory's basement and Arturo gets to work with Gillian giving Quinn's instructions. In a show that she's somewhat accepting of her daughter's supposed crazy, Gillian's mother offers her brooch pin when Arturo needs a substitute component. With luck, however, Arturo does succeed and the timer is re-activated! ...with only seventeen seconds to go before the Slide.

...what a remarkable coincidence!

But alas, with five minutes to go (in the episode), Michael Mallory arrives with gun in hand, deciding to put a stop to all these multiverse shenanigans! Arturo berates him for siding with people like the power company, but Michael refutes that he has no choice - the company got him out of jail early. Nevertheless, Arturo opens the vortex and all in attendance marvel at it. He offers for Michael to travel with them, but he's having none of it and is about to shoot him until Quinn appears in the gate - apparently, the energy from the Vortex makes him visible!

...insert coincidence joke here.

Quinn manages to talk Michael down and all seems well...until Quinn reveals that he can't slide. The vortex isn't active on the Astral Plane, the others will have to slide without him. And here we have a genuinely heart-wrenching moment. They all say their goodbyes, each of his fellow sliders getting their own moment with him - Rembrandt telling Quinn he loves him and the sentiment being returned, Arturo promising to find way to free him, and Wade not wanting to leave and having to be convinced to go - before they go through and the vortex seals behind them. And it seems that Quinn Mallory is forever trapped on a world where he can be neither seen nor heard except by a single individual that will...yeah, I'm just yanking your chain.  And so is the episode.

An orange vortex as opposed to the traditional silver-blue one suddenly opens and on the same plane as Quinn is the boot. For some reason, without a shred of evidence, he thinks he can slide. And while he can, this is a bit of a jump. Regardless, it means that Quinn will go on. Gillian thanks him and he tells her to tell Michael that he'll always love him before he slides...and he's gone.

Elsewhere, the other Sliders are walking down the sidewalk of a suburb rather somberly over the loss of Quinn. However, there's a-something hidden in a bush - Quinn! Once more, he's visible, audible, and solid much to their relief. They share in a brief, joyful reunion before Rembrandt asks if they've come home at last. We get a shot of a mailman suspiciously lacking in a uniform delivering male to a naked woman who is strategically censored by her front door, and Quinn noting that their mailmen generally wear clothes...and they share a laugh as the credits roll.

I won't lie, I really like this episode. Not only because it's a pretty good episode on it's own, but because it makes us face a rather harsh reality - the fact that, one day, one or maybe several of the Sliders could be left behind. Sure, we've had other episodes where the group has the Sword of Damocles over their heads, but they've always managed to either escape at the last minute or were otherwise alright.

This is the first real episode where we have the vortex actually close on one of the Sliders with no possibility of opening another outside of the deus ex machina. While the episode does have the deus ex machima in opening the vortex on the Astral Plane, for a short time when the vortex closes there's a feeling of finality. Despite Arturo's claims, you get the sinking feeling that Quinn will be trapped there with only Gillian to really talk to or interact with. And then after she passes away...it's not a happy thought, regardless.

Apart from that - which only helps it considrably - the episode stands well on its own. The pacing was actually fairly good - probably helped by the fact that we didn't know how long the Sliders were on the world for. The explanation for why this world is different is pretty good too - considering how the explosions of the atomic bomb at Hiroshima would have likely had very different reactions from different people. Some of those different people get into power and BOOM!, anti-technology world. Given how the governments of the world are able to control people through a climate of fear anyway, it wouldn't be hard to see the logical jump.

Throw in some good character moments with Quinn, a bit more development of Quinn and Wade's relationship, and a tearful goodbye from the others Sliders to Quinn before his sudden return to them make this one of the best episodes yet.

Next time...the Sliders enter the world of "Law and Order: Smith & Wesson".

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.

Monday, June 22, 2015

MadCap's Reel Thoughts - "Stay Alive" (2006)

Oh, for God's sake. You lot really should appreciate what I go through for you to bring you these spewings from my mouth-hole onto this wonderful thing we call the information super highway. I figured that a horror movie about video games would be a no-brainer for me.  I mean, I sat through FDR: American Badass for the Flying Spaghetti Monster's sake! I figured if I could get through that I could get through anything. But this movie...it's just...so...so...so dumb.

While not quite Mazes and Monsters dumb, it's really close. I mean, close enough that this film could pop down the street and ask Mazes and Monsters for a cup of sugar.

The film begins with Peter from Heroes (Milo Ventimiglia) playing a video game that is too spoopy for me and gets himself killed by a pale woman in a red dress. He is naturally freaked out, but even more so when he dies in the exact same manner that he did within the game!!! Ooooh!

...spooky? Right? It's spooky.

At his funeral, his best friend Hutch (Jon Foster) meets totally not love interest girl Abigail (Samaire Armstrong) who gives him some of Peter's things including the disc of the game. So he decides to get together with her, his girlfriend October (Sophia Bush), her brother, Hutch's boss from work, and another guy (Frankie Muniz, who is introduced interestingly enough by jump scare).

Because they're all gamers, but they have never played any Dungeons & Dragons, they immediately speak the mystic chant when the game "Stay Alive" opens. Because reading the mystic chant curse of vaguely evil death is always a good idea and anyone who tells you differently clearly doesn't want you to be possessed by Cthulhu. What an idiot they must be, am I right?

Nevertheless, their chanting gets them all hooked into the game and when you die in the game...you die for real, simple as that. However, it's not remotely that simple. Apparently, the game is possessed by the vicious spirit of Elizabeth Bathory (Maria Kalinina) - who wants to kill them all because...um...evil. She also, in this universe, established a finishing school for girls in Louisiana in the 1800s where she killed several of them using her historical MO.

Kind of amazing considering that's a little over two centuries after she died...and on the completely opposite hemisphere where she was known to traffic. I mean, there's stretching the truth to make your story work and then there's not even bothering to try. It was 2006! You had the internet, screenwriters! This was not a difficult thing to research and go "wait, we need to fix this!"

I wish that critical research failure was the absolute worst thing about this film...okay, it is, but it's not the only thing I can complain about. Besides the usual horror film problems of hokey acting and people just seeming not to give a crap about even trying to take anything seriously, you have the unrealistic and often just plain outright wrong portrayal of how video games work. For example, rumble pack technology is treated as a new thing...on a PS2 controller...when that's been a thing since the Nintendo 64...in 1998...eight years before this movie came out!

Also, voice responsive software. Which had been a thing in gaming since the Konami LaserScope in 1990. Granted, it was less commonplace, but it did exist and was hardly "next-gen", even as it is still a rarely used thing today outside of handhelds. The overall point with what is admittedly nitpicking is that fact that they could have done some research into it and actually bothered to bring some reality into it.  Then again, these are the same people who tried to pass off the hilariously bad idea that Elizabeth Bathory opened a boarding school in the late 1800s, so that might be asking for a bit too much.

And on top of already having most of the problems a modern horror movie has - characters we don't care about, piecemeal character development for them, cheap jump scares used in place of any actual horror - it's also a PG-13 horror movie released under Disney's Hollywood Pictures production company - which ironically became defunct a year later. So, minimal actual bloodshed - and for a movie where Elizabeth "the Blood Countess" Bathory is involved, that's sad - minimal swearing, and no real nudity to speak of. Not that I'm a fan of the buckets of blood and nude virgins running around getting hacked apart by chainsaws, but at least in there I'm not bored to death by a bunch of twenty-somethings who can barely say "damn it" without the Sensor Board giving them dirty looks.

The movie is also plenty happy to ignore or outright lie about its own rules when the plot serves. It's established early on that Elizabeth Bathory cannot kill anyone until they die in the game, so the game eventually just decides to start playing itself, because oooooh, spooky! Roses are brought up as one of the only ways to protect oneself from her, but their frequency of effectiveness is all over the place, sometimes working so little that its pointless to carry one around and (in an instance later in the film) working so well as to completely break the rules that it itself has sent. And later on there's the always weird part of bringing things into the game world from the real world and vice versa.

On a related note, our hero Hutch goes from mourning the loss of his girlfriend October to hooking up with Abigail in the space of less than afternoon tea. And he's supposed to be the hero, folks!

This is really only a movie you can get enjoyment out of if you get together with some friends and laugh at how utterly dumb it is. I don't even  know who its intended for otherwise. Video game fans? No. Horror movie fans? No. History buffs? Definitely not. It's something I'd almost be tempted to say would make a good Sci-Fi (or Syfy) Original Movie. Just dumb, lacking in any depth or substance, only memorable because of how utterly it failed in what it was trying to do. At least Mazes and Monsters - for all it's sensationalist nonsense - actually tried to vaguely get something right...

...alright, no, they didn't. But they didn't come so (potentially) close and then fail so very, very miserably in pretty much every regard. It's got a very neat concept and admittedly Elizabeth Bathory is really rather uncomfortably chilling, but that does not a good movie make and this one has just way, way too many problems that should have been addressed.

Stay Alive is now available from Hollywood Pictures, Spyglass Entertainment, and Endgame Entertainment on DVD.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.

Friday, June 19, 2015

MadCap's Game Reviews - "Dragon Ball Xenoverse - Resurrection of F"

Ooooh, another week of Xenoverse! Can I do nothing outside the realms of Dragon Ball anymore? I can, but as the things keep coming out, I'm gonna keep reviewing them so nobody can accuse me of not being current - after all, my only other options are a TV show from the 90s and the occasional summer blockbuster whenever I get the determination to actually go to the movies - and thus we are brought to the meal today, Xenovverse's brand new "Resurrection of F" pack.

It seems that the Dragon Ball universe's resurge in popularity that began with TeamFourStar beginning Dragon Ball Z Abridged that seemingly culminated in the release of the full length feature "Battle of the Gods" is ready for a Second Coming with the release of the new movie - "Resurrection F". Who's revived? You already know, everyone's favorite shapeshifting space tyrant. Freeza is back and is none too happy about having been on Namek when it asploded after five minutes and then sliced and diced by Future Trunks.

Also, while in Hell, he learned a new mode he can transform into - A "Golden Freeza" mode. To combat him and save the Earth, Goku and Vegeta must unlock the power of the blue haired "Super Saiyan God Super Saiyan", and without it - the Earth is doomed!

Of course, that's an accurate summation of the movie as far as American audiences know, not the DLC pack we've come to hear about. And it's...kind of underwhelming, really. You unlock the playable characters of Goku and Vegeta as their Blue-per Saiyan modes, Freeza as the Golden Child, and another character called "Jaco" - a space patrolman who is apparently Akira Toriyama's favorite character ever. One can also pick up the Old Kai and Jaco himself as Masters, some new Parallel Quests, and some new moves, as well as some outfit and accessory fluff. So, basically, the same as we got for the GT Pack, just with one minor difference...


Yeah, that was kind of a shock for me, given how big a deal the new movie seems to be. I'm all up for protecting people from spoilers, but the only people who really play Xenoverse anyway are the hardcore DBZ fans and they've already downloaded the movie illegally months ago (no, NSA, get away from my external hard drives!), so there's really no reason to put a spoiler cap on things and not bother.  The fluff alone isn't gonna do it, seeing as you didn't bother adding enough content to justify ten bucks from Xbox Live for download. Don't get lazy like other devs would, Dimps! Give us some more meat.
Bluper Saiyan Vegeta paying Freeza back for a life of torment and pain.

That being said, the parallel quests are nice, but some of them have the air of padding about them - particularly the one against Freeza in all of his forms simply to work up to defeating Golden Freeza, I mean really. As if the first Bardock level was not punishment enough in terms of grinding, you throw more of it at the player. It's not challenging, it's just irritating.

That being said, I'm also disappointed that Super Saiyan 3, Super Saiyan God, and the new Super Saiyan mode (no, I'm not using the full name for it, it's really dumb) aren't available to the player. Yes, I know we have to do our best to balance the playable races (except we don't), but setting the player up as an unstoppable badass on the level of Goku himself and then not giving us the goodies to back it up is a little depressing.  There are very easy ways to balance things out.

Super Namekian mode for Namekians...give us Transformation Levels for Majins...and so on...

...but not Humans. Nobody plays humans.

...it's Dragon Ball. Why would you?

Dragon Ball: Xenoverse is now available from Dimps and Bandi Namco for Playstation 4, Xbox One, Playstation 3, Xbox 360, Microsoft Windows, and Steam.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

MadCap at the Movies - "Jurassic World"

If I haven't said it before - which I likely have and just have a bad memory about it - I used to love dinosaurs when I was a kid. This was largely due to the early to mid 1990s being the absolute best time in the last sixty-five million years for the great beastly lizards who had once conquered the Earth. Jurassic Park, an adaptation of the Michael Crichton novel of the same name, had a lot to do with that. I remember seeing the first movie in my youth, if it doesn't qualify as my first fandom then I don't know what does.  The thought of seeing these ancient creatures brought back to life fascinated me...and terrified me, as the movie intended.

And, of course, it spawned a sequel in 1995 - The Lost World: Jurassic Park - and another in 2001 - Jurassic Park III.  They both sucked.  A lot. So for fourteen years, the franchise laid dormant after Dr. Alan Grant escaped from Isla Sorna and it seemed that we would thankfully never have another disappointing sequel to the great film from 1993.

...and as of 2015, this still holds true because the latest sequel and the one I'm here to talk about now, Jurassic World, makes up for the previous two films by kicking all the asses! It ignores Lost World and Jurassic Park III - which wins it so many awesome points to begin with - but it also takes the themes of the original film and cranks them right up to eleven. It's a popcorn movie, sure, but it gives an important message (that is, "quit screwing around with nature, you stupid humans!") without feeling like it has to ram in into our eye sockets in the way that Lost World did.

We pick up some two decades after the first movie - skillfully avoiding any references to the previous two films (you really have no idea how much I love that) - to show that Isla Nublar is home to John Hammond's vision realized. Multimillionaire Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan) has opened the brand new Jurassic World which he owns and has run by Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard). With attendance in the park dropping, she and the investors at the park have made a potentially risky move - creating a brand new dinosaur out of existing DNA.

Now, you might be calling this mad science...and it is, though I do have to wonder if they actually meant to rip off Doctor Connors's experiments from The Amazing Spider-Man...which Irrfan Khan was also in...oh, damn...

MadCap Crossed The Streams: 2

Back to the point, however, a new dinosaur has been concocted in the labs of the Masrani Corporation - the "Indominus Rex". It's a creature with the basic form of a T-Rex and a bunch of other dinosaur and animal genes to give it special abilities as the plot requires because...of course! Don't you know anything about science? Thankfully, this never goes over the top with the Indominus getting nonsensical powers out of nowhere that make it completely untouchable by the main characters.

And of course, the biggest draw to this movie - besides the dinosaurs - is Owen Grady (Chris Pratt). Owen is a former resident of Pawnee, Indiana who...sorry, he's a former space pirate who becomes a Guardian of the Gal...no, sorry, a former Navy office who is also a Velociraptor expert, and thus trains the raptors on the island at the behest of InGen, studying their intelligence. Pratt's Grady serves, rather predictably, as a combination of both Dr. Grant and Ian Malcolm's characters from the original film, though putting Chris Pratt in a film and not giving him snarky dialogue is just a waste of his talents.

Nevertheless, in the moments where he has to be serious it really comes across. He is the one character saying pretty much what the audience is thinking, including rather blatantly bringing up the fact that making a new dinosaur from the genes of others was probably not a good idea. He also shows off his badass action hero stripes he more than earned in Guardians, in both his interactions with humans (particularly Vincent D'Onofrio as an InGen crony) and with dinosaurs.

Bryce Dallas Howard as Claire is a neurotic, micro-manager who has been put in charge of Jurassic World and has been running it without a hitch for years. A workaholic, she has made no time to see her sister or her family, particularly her two nephews (Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins) who she has not seen in around seven years. She also apparently has some romantic history with Owen, having gone on one date with him in the past. She made an itinerary, he wore board shorts. Whacky romantic hijinks!

Rounding out the main cast are Claire's nephews, Zack (Nick Robinson) and Gray (Ty Simpkins), who are sent to the island for a perfectly innocent vacation and not for their parents to get them out of the way while they deal with a nasty divorce that's brewing behind the scenes. I really enjoy the brothers and their scenes together, such as one where they repair an old park jeep and riding around in the Great Glass Hamster Ball. It's a pity they aren't developed more, but what we do get is very nice and - let's face it - being trapped on an island running for your lives from man-eating dinosaurs is an exercise that would bond just about anyone.

As for the plot itself, it quickly goes from Jurassic Park to Aliens with Vincent D'Onofrio and only returning character from any previous film Dr. Henry Wu (BD Wong) wanting to put Grady's raptors and other dinosaurs to military applications, despite the fact Grady does not have remotely the amount of control over the raptors that the trailers had us believing. It's a thin rope by which Grady controls the raptors, the D'Onofrio only sees a way that he could be a real kingpin of innovation in how the Army conducts warfare.

...huh, where did that come from?

While I have made reference to the previous two films, this film is not one that's afraid of worshiping the one film that was good - loads of merchandise from the original park, a character that's only in the film to tell us how good the film is, and the original Visitor Center getting a cameo from where it's been swallowed from the original film. Though, really - for the most part - it's not done so much that you get sick of it. Just some wonderful homages and references to the previous movie that is now the only other movie in the franchise, because continuity...did I mention how much I love typing that?

The CGI is actually consistently pretty good throughout and we don't get many, if any, of those weird moments that Lost World and III gave us with the hokey-looking dinosaurs. Even the Indominus, when it finally does show up (the filmmakers wisely taking the road of building up suspense), it looks pretty damn good. Far better than the other Jurassic Park IV pitch that leaked some years ago about the U.S. Military trying to creature human/dino hybrids.

...seriously, I'm not kidding, look it up.

There is admittedly more than a little sequel baiting in the last act, but the entire film is brought to a conclusion that makes it where it can very well stand on its own. You could call it the passage of time or my own nostalgia about the first film, but as I was sitting in the theater, I was feeling like a kid again when we saw the first shots of Isla Nublar and the dinosaur attractions therein.  Hearing the original John Williams score over some of the most majestic creatures of the land before time, I found myself in a place that - watching them as an adult - The Lost World and Jurassic Park III never really took me too.  It was that sense of wide-eyed wonder coming back as it was almost as though I was looking upon all of this for the very first time as a six year old.

If that doesn't make this an absolutely awesome movie, then I don't know what does.

Jurassic World is now in theaters from Amblin Entertainment, Legendary Pictures, and Universal.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.

From Madcap's Couch - "Sliders: Love Gods"

Carried off by a bunch of women without saying a word, now that is Crying Man style!
Well, I actually did the math - something oddly uncharacteristic for me - and discovered that you can, in fact stuff the severed remains of exactly four standard sized prostitutes into the back of U-Haul and bury them in the back of a lumberya-oh, sorry, didn't see you there. Sexuality is a major part of humanity. It's a basic biological function that allows the human race to have continuity. Stories in fiction have often set up scenarios where the future of the human race has been decimated by war, disease, or other outside forces and there is struggle to merely survive.

And out of all of those tales of escapist fiction...this is one of them.

We begin on a fisherman's wharf where the Sliders come through their wormhole with some banter. Wade checks the timer and discovers they're there for three days, six hours. Quinn notes that the air smells far better than a fisherman's wharf on their world, and Rembrandt (like the true Lothario he is) notes the amount of fine looking ladies roaming about. They pass a sign for the "Brooks Sisters" and Wade notes that it seems they've landed on an Earth where women have broken through the glass ceiling.

...which we already had last season.

...and it was a terrible, anvilicious episode that failed to paint literally anyone in a good light.

A little girl leaving a shop notices Rembrandt and is shocked for a moment before running off. Arturo, meanwhile, has taken to examining the children's toys with the reasoning that one can learn a lot about a culture by how the children are entertained. The display is shown with no guns or war toys (though apparently Johnny Cage from Mortal Kombat is part of a tea party set). They're distracted from any further thought on this, however, by a crowd of women who had gathered and are all gawking at them.

The Sliders attempt to flee as the group of women charges after them, but they are soon swarmed with the group taking special notice of Rembrandt, Quinn, and Arturo and trying to carry them off as the all-female police call for backup to deal with the situation. Taken in by the cops as "escaped breeders", Arturo theorizing due to seeing no men in the police station besides the three Sliders themselves that they could have landed on a world of no men. They are pulled aside by a detective who puts all three of them in an interrogation room.

Apparently, the police believe them to have escaped from "the Virus". The three joke around about this, which leaves the detective just not amused at all. Before she can interrogate further, a Doctor Morris enters and puts the whole matter to bed. She orders a transport to the "Center" and then promptly storms out, leaving the three male Sliders confused.

On the ride over, Morris explains that she's from the "Bureau of Repopulation". At the gates of the Center they deal with reporters while the camera pans over to reveal a woman in a sedan not far off speaking on an early 90s cell phone and telling someone "they've got three more". Apparently, she's working with the detective from earlier, who has traced Wade to the Dominion Hotel.

At the Hotel, Wade finds out there are no available rooms thanks to the Repopulation Center taking samples, and so she gathers at the Almighty Television of Exposition to get some of the good stuff and gets caught up with where Quinn, Arturo, and Rembrandt are in the plot, leaving as the women fawn over their images on the TV screen.

Back at the ranch, Quinn goes through a physical and is told he'll be put in "five times in the first week" and they'll see how he does. Morris also tells him when he brings up that the group will be leaving in a few days that he'd best change his plans - they're going to be here for a while.

Arturo heads into the gym to find a "Breeder of the Month" board and the current Breeder of the Month, Trevor Grant, slapping people's asses with a towel because...establishing antagonist moment? Apparently, he's has 215 confirmed pregnancies for the month of February alone.

What the hell are they feeding the breeders in this center? Meth?!

Arturo rightly calls the man an idiot, but Rembrandt and Quinn show up and they decided to work off some steam by taking a steam. Also, Quinn gets the opportunity to drop some exposition. On this world, the Iraqi Army dropped a viral agent that attacked the Y Chromosome. As Arturo puts it, however, some will always survive the infection and thus there are still men, but they are in short supply. The men are all captive here and forced to repopulate the species.

...oh, no. They're all kept in one place and only have to have sex. What an utter travesty.

If you couldn't tell by my biting sarcasm, I have little sympathy. However, Quinn notes that they only have fifty nine hours before the Slide (because there's better than saying two days and some change, I guess) and that they need to get a message to Wade...and find a way out of here. One of their fellow steam room dwellers confides in them about the security, a bit of history (another world where Australia is at war with the U.S. - what is with this obsession?), and the fact that his wife and sister are planning on breaking him out. He offers them a place in the escape attempt, and they take it.

Thus, they make a Shawshank Redemption. There is an admittedly tense moment where they're nearly caught by a patrol, but soon all the guards are distracted when a blonde woman makes her way through the security checkpoint and distracts them all. The group and their new friend have some difficulty getting over the wall surrounding the facility, but eventually make it to the friend's wife's car and she drives them off...but not before the taillights are spotted by one guard who calls it in...

The next morning, the group is hiding out at the house of the new friend, named David rather suddenly because the writers failed to actually say his name before. His wife, Diana, apparently had her application rejected on the basis that she was neither young or pretty enough by the Center and they've been planning a jailbreak ever since.

So apparently, the Eugenics Wars are bound to happen on this world due to the government apparently caring more about creating the master race than saving humanity from extinction. Just Godwin this episode right up, writers!

They plan to make a run for Mexico later on, though Quinn politely declines the offer of going with them and asks Diana if she can locate a friend for them - obviously Wade. Wade, who is still at the Dominion and is being pursued by the woman from way earlier. The woman from the sedan earlier comes up and speaks to her about the injustices that the breeders suffer, hinting that she works with others who want to help them and would like to get a message to them...before Wade gets interrupted by a phone call. She listens in as Wade speaks to one of her fellow sliders.

Back in the hiding place, Rembrandt makes a commentary on TV on this world (referencing several shows that are far better than this one), and Quinn has a scene with Diana where she questions him about Wade and tells him the risk is very high so she clearly must be worth the effort they're putting into getting back to her. Before Quinn can answer, however, David runs in and forwards the plot concerning a waystation they'll travel to.

In a short aside, Arturo reveals through his reading that this world apparently knows nothing of alternative breeding methods such as in-vitro fertilization or donor eggs. Interesting to note and it does explain quite a lot. Before we can muse further on that, Quinn decides to go out after Wade in spite of the fact this is a really, really stupid idea...which Arturo and Rembrandt are only too happy to call him out on. They also point out that, if the government has Wade, they also have the timer and they could very well be stuck on that world.

Wade, however, has not been caught and is sneaking her way to the address in question. However, Wade doesn't have the timer, thinking that the others had it. They call her out on it and she reveals that she was only joking. Introductions are made, but then the fuzz arrives because Wade - in spite of fearing that she was being followed - led them straight to the place instead of trying to shake them off. The group decides to pull an Anne Frank and hide in the cellar,  The cops rush up and there is, again, admittedly some real tension as the cop even finds the wardrobe where they're all hiding...but doesn't find them.

Downstairs, Diana puts on a brave face as the cops tell her they have a search warrant - which makes me wonder how they got a search warrant so quickly for an address they didn't know they were going to - and all seems like the cops are about to leave empty handed...until the most terrible of all crimes that a man could possibly commit is discovered.


With this information in hand. the cops renew their search and arrest Diana just as Quinn discovers that the attic has a roof access. Doctor Morris also arrives on the scene to interrogate Diana. Apparently, in the short cut, the Sliders and David managed to escape from a house that was completely surrounded by police. No small feat, considering I've been in a similar position and let me tell you cops are not that easy to do-I mean, the group resolves to run to the hills and meet at the park the next day at three o'clock for the slide.

However, the group is attacked by a force sent to bring the men back. Quinn has bad luck for the second time with his shoulder and gets hit by a tranquilizer dart. Arturo stays behind to help him escape, and he gets hit more effectively for his trouble and knocked out while the others make tracks. While Rembrandt, David, and Wade have gone one way, however, Quinn goes another and is nearly run over by a woman in a compact who tells him to get in before driving away.

The next morning, he wakes in the woman's mountain retreat. She introduces herself as Jane Hills, apparently she's a very prominent baker even on Quinn's world as he mentioned his mother loved her coffee cake. Apparently, the Virus killed her husband and left her alone. However, Quinn suddenly remembers that Arturo got captured and resolves to leave. Jane offers to help him out, letting him know that none of his friends were recaptured. When Quinn says he can't pay her back for her help, she hints that he...can...

We cut away to somewhere else in San Francisco, however, where the group is gathered around the TV. They discuss just who might have taken Quinn and Arturo, David bringing up the Australian M7 as a potential candidate for their attackers. Wade questions about where they might have been taken, and so the target becomes the Australian Consulate.

A man dressed in women's clothing. San Francisco's the same on any world.
At the Consulate, Arturo is treated to Vegemite and a snarky woman before being treated to an Australian soldier who can't seem to resist a little of that old English charm.

Back at...wherever the others ended up, Rembrandt is thrown into a dress for the sake of a disguise (and comedy), but refuses to shave his mustache so Wade puts a shawl over his head to cover it. After Rembrandt learns to walk like a woman, they say their goodbyes to David as we now go into the "last ten minutes of the episode" mode. They get to the Consulate and Wade rolls a successful Bluff check to get Rembrandt in, but Arturo screws the pooch by banging on his window and not having the common sense to realize that a rescue attempt is going on - since the Idiot Ball missed being used.

The woman from earlier who spoke of helping the breeders makes an appearance here, apparently an Australian national. Pressed for time, Wade demands to see Arturo and Quinn or they'll get none of Rembrandt...only to be told they have no idea who Quinn is. They are taken by the Aussies and told they'll be shipped off to the Pacific. Wade, instead, bluffs and claims she can get them Trevor Grant, America's most beloved breeder - Oh, so that's why he was established as a character nearly thirty minutes ago and then never showed up onscreen after that. Got it.

Man, Chekov's Gun is getting some distance! Woo!

But the Australians listen in, curious as to Wade's plan so they listen in instead of shoving her into the car. Back in the Thomas Kincade painting that Quinn's been tossed into, he learns from Jane (who he has apparently not had sex with yet) that no one has heard anything. She offers him a place to stay, but he refuses. She's also adamant about having a child, even if he's not in the picture as he won't be because of the Slide.

Wade, in the meantime, has returned to David and has told him the plan. He's skeptical, but Wade eventually gets his help. Wade also then meets with Dr. Morris and the Detective, telling them about the deal with the Australians - Trevor Grant and Diana for the others. She gets refused, and then Wade brings up that Trevor could be put on the Disabled List. Unable to call the bluff, they seemingly agree to the terms.

It seems that Wade has screwed over both the Australians and the Americans, however, rigging their exchange to take place under a specific bridge. According to Arturo, the slide will occur in six minutes. They are ushered away by their respective parties, but it seems that Wade has a plan as David whispers to Diana for her to wait for his signal. When the Detective and Dr. Morris are distracted by bad radio connection, they dart for the van that Rembrandt and Arturo have been forced into and it takes off.

Wade is driving. When Rembrandt brings up the fact that Quinn is still not among them, Wade just tells him to believe in miracles. No doubt the same advice the writer of this episode took while trying to reinsert Quinn into the plot.

Somehow, Quinn and Jane have made their way to the park and to the statue where they are to meet the others. With just over a minute to go before the episode ends, Wade opens the vortex and drives the van right into it. Quinn gives a wordless goodbye to Jane and leaps through himself, leaving both the Detective and Doctor Morris utterly confused.

Though we do not see where the Sliders plus David and Diana and an entire van ended up, we do get a last scene of Jane looking fondly at a picture of Quinn with what I assume to be a heartwarming tune playing over it.

This episode is a real mess, the pacing is what kills it, though not for the usual reason. Going back over the episode again, I kept in mind the mention of how much time the group has on this world as I often do whenever it's actually brought up in dialogue. In the beginning, they mention they have a little over three days. Going back through the scenes, I found that the pacing was off but not in the usual way for the show. Instead of cramming too much into too few scenes, they stretched it out quite a bit and it feels more like a week or possibly even longer instead of just three days.

And the reason I say this is that, like it did in other episodes, the lighting changes rather sporadically from scene to scene. Such as one scene that clearly takes place during the day and then another in the dead of night on what should be the third day, meaning they would have likely missed the Slide and been stuck on this work for twenty-nine years until the next gate opened.

What also bothers me in this is Quinn's subplot with Jane. Beyond the implications of Quinn impregnating her and leaving a child behind (which it's left ambiguous as to whether or not he actually did), it feels hilariously tacked on and serves to do nothing except keep him out of the main plot until literally the last minute of the episode, for reasons I can't quite figure out. And these are really the only two things that drag the episode down, but beyond them it's not all bad.

The Sliders, again, are showing some thinking that involves more than two brain cells and for once the plot isn't haranguing a message down our throats, so I'm inclined to be kind to it even if it could have used a few more rewrites.

It's not really good, not really bad. Just a rather middle of the road story to fill the time from cradle to grave. A "meh" seal of apathy from me for it.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.

Friday, June 12, 2015

MadCap's Game Reviews - "Dragonball: Xenoverse GT DLC Pack 1 and 2"

'I'm flying because my little feet hurt...from kicking so much ass!"
Oooh, more Xenoverse goodies! And they've been out long enough that I figured I better get to it before the third one hits the market (that is to say, I had it written and edited before the release of DLC Pack 3) - though anyone who follows my blog knows I have absolutely no illusions about trying to be remotely "current".  Regardless, Dragon Ball: Xenoverse was a game I took great pains to review not too long after it came out, mostly because my interest in the series had been reignited due to the "Battle of the Gods" being out, and the announcement of "The Revival of F" coming later this year.

Oh, and Dragonball Super.  Because we needed a little more crack to go with our crack, Japan.

But regardless of Toriyama giving me an itch that I must now violently and ritualistically scratch, there is one section of the Dragon Ball Saga that receives outright loathing.  Maybe it's because of the sudden tone shift from where Z was, maybe it's because of the fact that Dragon Ball's creator Akira Toriyama had nothing to do with it beyond some character designs. Whatever the case may be, it's reviled by most of the Dragon Ball fandom.  Indeed, so much as saying the two little letters at the end of the beloved manga and anime is enough to turn even the most placid and well-adjusted anime fan into a crazed, bloodthirsty monster narrowly focused upon vengeance.

The last time this happened...well, you all may be too young to remember the Great Purge. The bodies piling up in the streets, homes and businesses burned and looted, the very fabric of scoiety itself was ripped into as the innocent and guilty alike could naught but scream in agony as the flesh sizzled from their bones and...

...okay, yeah, it's GT. The joke is Dragonball GT.

Xenoverse, having to do with time, does what it can to keep the purists off its back about including this section - it's another of several alternate timelines that were created accidentally by Trunks because of the time he was time travelling before God invented time machines that don't create alternate timeline (and, no, that explanation has gotten no less stupid).

"Hey! You're not Trunks! Where is the real Trunks?!"
But after talking with a robot buddy that the Time Patrol has quite a few of, the Future Warrior - in my particular case, the Saiyan warrior Butarega - learns from Trunks that there are distortions in a timeline that should not have been to begin with, but was because of wibbley wobbley timey wimey. So, given a scroll once more, the Warrior must go on two different mission paths. One to cover the Baby and Super 17 sagas, and one to cover the Shadow Dragons and Omega Shenron, ending with a grand old fight - the Future Warrior and Super Saiyan 4 Gogeta vs. Baby, Super 17, and Omega Shenron.

And granted, it's all very epic and grand in scale, but the lack of storyline content just shows how little they had to work with.  The entire arc in the beginning with Goku, Pan, and Trunks going across space to try and find the Black Star Dragon Balls is completely glossed over...and rightly so. But without that, there's really not that much of GT to use.  Mind you, they make up for that in the new Parallel Quests, so hush my mouth I guess.

The new DLC also allows a bunch of tasty new costumes and moves...most of which have to be unlocked via the Parallel Quests which are no less stingy in handing out items. Okay, Dimps, I'm gonna level with you here: 1) Increase the rate of item drops, at least a little.  2) Remove Gotenks from the game You need to work on the AI of our allies. A lot.  Actually, the AI in general can use some work, and the enemies just a wee bit of nerfing.

And no, I'm not referring to the boss characters. I'm referring to the fact that Butarega can go Super Saiyan 2 and shouldn't be able to be knocked around by Appule of all people like a rubber ball.

Also, the sections of just slogs of enemies, come to think of it.  This was a problem in the Legendary Super Saiyan Saga during the Bardock mission and it's a problem here.  Giving us a slew of enemies to fight that are infinitely respawning not only A) tells me how little thought you put into enemy selection, but also B) shows me that you cared more about padding out the game instead of actually making it difficult.

In addition to all the tasty gameplay content, you also unlock a few new masters such as Yamcha and Pan. Though since I didn't want to learn to die more times than Krillin, I've foregone said training with them.

But I will say, for the first two gameplay packs they definitely wanted to see that people got their money's worth and I think they most certainly did. I haven't even completed the entire thing and, much like the vanilla game, I would definitely say I don't feel cheated in terms of bang for my buck. If you're a particularly diehard fan, check it out. If not, then you won't miss too much by not picking it up.

I'm honestly just waiting until we can get the Super Saiyan 3 power up. I'm sure they'll do it eventually.

Dragon Ball: Xenoverse is now available from Dimps and Bandi Namco for Playstation 4, Xbox One, Playstation 3, Xbox 360, Microsoft Windows, and Steam.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

From MadCap's Couch - "Sliders: Into the Mystic"

"I'm getting better!" "No, you're not! You'll be stone dead in a moment!"
Science vs. magic. It's the one argument that keeps Star Trek nerds and Lord of the Rings nerds from getting along...and Star Wars nerds laughing at both of them. In all seriousness, pop culture has fused with the passing of time so much on the subjects of science fiction and fantasy that both concepts have almost become even more homogeneous. Which is good, there's nothing to say that magic and science can't exist in the same fiction universe and they often do. Indeed, even one of author Arthur C. Clarke's three laws states that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

Of course, I go for magic over science. What's the fun in having all the answers down to facts and figures? But if they do co-exist, I prefer to have Clarke's law as the guideline for it with the added corollary to it being that any magic that is sufficiently advanced technology will not be fully understood. Hence, we preserve a little of the mystery, and hence we do a lead in for the first episode of season two of Sliders - "Into the Mystic".

As you may remember from my last review, we ended "Luck of the Draw" and season one on Wade eating all the ham in the pantry as she protested the death of Quinn by someone throwing a jam jar on his back.

Here, we open on the shot that I've so helpfully screencapped here. Things clearly have not improved for the better for young Mr. Mallory. And indeed it has not as the others are not actually mourning his death, Billy from "Luck of the Draw" making comments likening Quinn to Icarus (read a book) and sucking face with Wade, and everyone deciding they have much better things to do. However, from the grave, we heard Quinn crying out in protest and a pair of hands burst from the soil.

When there's no more room in Hell, Quinn Mallory...shall be subjected to a dream sequence by the writers.

Yes, it seems Quinn was only dreaming. He's alive, and apparently no worse for wear in spite of having a bullet lodged in his shoulder, which Billy Zane removed. Though he asked Wade to stay with him on this new world, she refused and he buggered off because he was no longer important to the plot. And so, four sliders once more, they slide from the world they stopped on at the end of last season. Before he jumps through, however, Quinn sees a man working the yards who looks exactly like a gentleman from his dream...who similarly tips his hat to him and laughs in an unnerving manner.

Reaaaally creepy...
They land in a rainy street and Quinn is apparently still not doing well from his injury. The group resolves to get him to a doctor. Rembrandt checks the White Pages and they're off to a...Shaolin temple? No, apparently, this is actually a doctor's office. Apparently, the forbidden bastard child of Bill Nighy and Grima Wormtongue - as he reveals himself to be - is a trained medical professional on this world. More to the point, as Arturo looks over the man's diplomas hung nicely on the wall, he comes to the conclusion that they've just given Quinn over to a witch doctor!

However, while the man has been able to help with Quinn's headache...he doesn't do shoulders. Though the nurse suggests they could try and speak to the "Sorcerer", who the doctor immediately dismisses as being a complete charlatan. But as Wade fights off the man's advances, he gives the bill for his services as well - over two hundred dollars for getting rid of a headache. Facing this and not believing for a second that this witch doctor is anything but an outrageous quack, Arturo presents a solution to the problem that the Sliders run with...literally.

They flee as the witch doctor swears to bring a thousands curses upon their heads.

"Safely" away, they get to the Dominion Hotel and Wade tries to work the pain out of Quinn's shoulder while they gather around the Almighty Television of Exposition. From this "scoping out" of culture - as Remmy puts it - they pretty much confirm what we've come to know by now, this is a culture heavily seeped in magic and sorcery. We also learn more of the "Sorcerer", namely that he's a brand name and sells quite a few different products such as a miracle salve and steak sauce.

We also learn that Rembrandt has a skeleton in his closet - literally!

That night, they try to settle in and are aroused from sleep by something coming down the hall. It knocks four times, but is surprisingly not the Master. Instead, it's the Grim Reaper! Apparently, death has been rendered so obsolete that Death had to pick up a day job serving summons. Quinn's being sued by the witch doctor. After consulting with a lawyer, they learn that since Quinn defaulted on the bill, the witch doctor can pick a body part from him for his studies. And within the fine print, he's apparently chosen Quinn's brain.

The lawyer says he'll try to talk to the doctor's people, but warns Quinn to keep off the streets for fear of demon bounty hunters. He does say, however, that the group could be helped by the Sorcerer - who nobody ever sees.

Mecha mecha hi mecha hiney ho!
While they're walking along afterwards, Arturo gets to be the bastion of logic and reason that we've come to know him as being, refuting everything in this world as explainable by natural law. Quinn realizes they're being followed by two men in black hats and suits and they are pulled into a tent nearby at the behest of a seer. At her request, as apparently she's been expecting them, the Sliders take seats around her table.

She gives them a tarot reading, claiming that they are all in great danger and should stick together. Arturo refutes it as being general and scammy, but she refutes it by pinpointing several very specific statements about him - namely that he feels unappreciated in his field and that he somewhat resents Quinn because of how easily it all comes to him. Then she reaffirms that the Sorcerer is there only hope, and they must reach him before he next goes sliding. Yes, on this world, the Sorcerer has the power to slide and the seer tells them that he has the power to send them home at last.

Reinvigorated by this, the group heads out to find the Sorcerer. Wade and Arturo debate more on magic versus science and it gets about as far as you'd expect - that is to say, not at all - before they find the cabbie who's a cabbie in every universe and he takes them to the home of the Sorcerer, which is not an Emerald City but instead a big black castle on the other side of the Golden Gargoyle Gate Bridge.

Apparently, the Sorcerer has his castle very much in the Dracula-style of things, meaning that even the area outside the castle screams "Go away, you morons!" But the Sliders are just morons enough for this not to work (also, the plot needs to happen), and they press on into the Forest of Obvious Danger. Lions, and tigers, and bears aside (Arturo trying to explain every such noise they hear as something rational), they eventually reach and begin crossing the Golden Gargoyle Gate bridge. Halfway across, however, we learn that the bridge seems to stop in mid-air.

Quinn quickly recognizes it as an illusion - a literal trick of the moonlight as the bridge is still there, just invisible to the eye. He proves this by throwing his jacket out ahead of them and it thuds solidly against the nothingness. Then, it's off once more to see the Sorcerer. The Scintillating Sorcerer of...whatever this world is called. They arrive at the castle and gain entry, waiting in the lobby for a time before the Sorcerer's Executive Assistant arrives to speak with them.

"I am...Dracu-I mean, the Sorcerer! Yeah...the Sorcerer.
He tells them that they cannot see the Sorcerer and are about to escorted out...until Quinn mentions that they're Sliders. A booming voice thunders through the room and orders them to be brought to him...after which they are taken to a large chamber and a projection of a man in a totally not Dracula get up is seen. This is apparently the Sorcerer, who hams it up as he says he must determine if they are friend or foe and will reward them for the courage of their journey by getting them home...if they do something for him.

Though he doesn't say it onscreen, a later scene has Wade wondering why the Sorcerer would want some blueprints owned by the witch doctor who treated Quinn in the beginning. Because they apparently said, "yes" to this deal, they're going back to kick the hornet's nest that they already kicked once before. They could, of course, simply wait around near the Sorcerer's place for the next slide - in fact, Arturo even suggests this.

But then we'd have no plot.

Also, Quinn being held at gunpoint by a midget bounty hunter kind of ruins any chance of that happening. Quinn's taken back to the witch doctor and strapped down for his lobotomy. The other sliders rush in and Wade tries to put her feminine wiles to use in saving him...which distracts the witch doctor just enough for Rembrandt to snatch the bounty hunter's shotgun from him and declare that he's had enough with all these motherfuckin' sorcerers on this motherfuckin' plane. The bounty hunter GTFOs at Remmy's suggestion and Quinn gets the blueprints from one of the rooms off of the main office. Whereupon Rembrandt takes out the witch doctor's pet snake, because he's had enough of...

...no, I already did that joke.

After butting the witch doctor in the head with the shotgun, the group heads out to meet the Sorcerer once again. The assistant tries to stop them, but Quinn tackles his way through and up the stairs to find...himself.

Times the Sliders Have Run into Parallel Versions of Themselves: 7

Yes, it seems that the Sorcerer of this world is Quinn Mallory. Upon seeing the blueprints, he realizes that his Executive Assistant got the plans to the witch doctor and has him thrown out of the castle. It seems that the Sorcerer is not a bad guy, very much as Prime Quinn is, just kept behind his staff that apparently wish to preserve the mystique of his moniker.

As Wade later puts it, he's become a prisoner of his own success. Not originally from this world, he worked with his former business partner to bring supplies in from other worlds to sell in this one - muscling out all the shamans and other magically inclined types who had dominated the market before. Hence why the witch doctor wanted the Slide machine in the first place.

And, true to his word, Sorcerer Quinn promises to try and get them home. Our Quinn and Arturo do some technobabble which basically translates to the Sorcerer basically taking the "Reality is a giant roulette wheel" idea Quinn had and simply stopping the wheel on the appropriate slot. The portal is opened and, after some goodbyes, they all slide through, appearing in San Francisco during the day time and in front of a strikingly familiar house...

Quivering with anticipation, they realize that the next slide is in less than a minute. So to test if this is their Earth, Quinn heads over to his front gate. If you remember from "Pilot", the gate squeaks when opened, something that had been the case since Quinn was twelve. He opens the gate...but to his dismay, it doesn't squeak. Not their Earth once again. All discouraged, they open the portal at the appropriate time and slide through...only for Quinn's mother and the family gardener to come out as soon as the portal closes.
As it turns out, they were on their Earth...the gardener just fixed the gate. Mrs. Mallory is still quite saddened by the disappearance of her son, though the gardener tries to comfort her that Quinn will be back some day...some day...

It may just be because I had so many of the gripes I did about season one, but I really like this episode. I explained my view on the whole "magic vs. science" debate at the beginning, and the writers apparently were thinking somewhat similarly with their writing. Though the world is apparently as much science-based as our own, enough people have been selling mysticism for it to still be the coin of the realm. Until the end, we don't really know if anything is really magical or not.

In the ending, Sorcerer Quinn outright states that the shamans and witch doctors are all crackpots who had been controlling people through superstition. Mind you, that doesn't explain how the seer was able to so accurately predict the plight of the Sliders - which is not followed up on, by the way. But that's one minor niggle in what is otherwise a very solid episode. The Sliders actually show some logical thinking, such as Arturo bringing up that these should just take to hiding out for a few days until the slide when faced with having to deal with the witch doctor again.

The whole thing has a very Wizard of Oz feel to it, and not just because it completely rips off the plot of that film more or less - at least the final act. But really, the entire show has had that vibe. Consider in "Pilot", when the group is forced to make a slide to avoid the ice-nado. What is it that sends Dorothy to Oz from Kansas? A tornado. And who does she go to see in order to try and get back home? The wizard. Or, in the case of the Sliders, the Sorcerer - a rather nice, if somewhat shy man hiding behind a persona of absolute power and authority.

I'm inclined to be nicer to this episode since the Pilot did technically set up that feeling and it's an intentional homage (I strongly believe) rather than some of the utterly shameless rip-offs that we'll be getting in later episodes. It's a good episode on its own and a great start to the season. Let's hope that trend continues when we return next time, where the most dangerous (and wanted) game is man...literally...

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.