The Walking Dead – “Strangers”

October 21, 2014

Season Five, Episode Two

walking-dead-strangers

Grade: B

I was surprised about the way The Walking Dead finished the Terminus story-line so quickly, but that seems to be the show’s new M.O., evident with the conclusion of “Strangers” showing the leftovers from Terminus who have kidnapped Bob from the group and are feasting on his left leg, because that’s what cannibals do. The old TWD would’ve waited a handful of episodes until revisiting these villains, but in season five, we’re getting fast-paced action and danger around every corner.

So what’s to make of this? Our group knew they were being watched and now we know by who. While I feel bad for Bob, it’s not like we shouldn’t have expected it. Him and Sasha have been getting way too close for comfort in a post-apocalyptic show, and the way we keep on seeing them showing PDI constantly should’ve been a red flag. Honestly, I thought he was bit by the zombie that popped out of the water, but this is much worse (actually I don’t know. You can debate which is worse). The only couple who has lasted has been Glen and Maggie, and even those two have taken a serious back seat early on this season. Sorry Bob, don’t you know the rules of horror? Never fall in love.

In “Strangers” we meet a new character when the group hears his screams for help. Gabriel is a man of the Bible, dresses like a priest and says he’s been living inside his church until now when he’s out of food. Rick doesn’t trust him and after following these characters for so long, he has plenty of right not to trust anyone. As we spend more time with Gabriel, it’s clear he’s hiding something and he seems to have reason to keep it a secret. But what’s more disturbing? The handwritten Bible? The creepy drawings? The threat scratched onto the side of the church? The speeding hearse? Pick your poison.

I don’t know how quickly TWD will disposs of Gabriel, but I wish they would give him at least a few more episodes because I’ve really enjoyed the religion theme during “Strangers.” It’s something that practically all of our survivors have dismissed. How could there be a God in a world overrun by zombies? But Gabriel surprisingly still has faith. He called for help, and they arrived. Is that enough proof for you?

How long until they realize Bob’s missing? And what is Gabriel really about? TWD is doing a great job at the moment by providing us with a cliffhanger without too much mystery. Come on, didn’t you all think that Bob was just tied up and they were going to have another cheesy close-death call before Bob was saved? I give TWD props for doing what they’re doing in such a whirlwind sort of way. Let’s see if they can keep going at this pace, or we’ll get a long story-arc on the road towards Washington D.C.


Homeland – “Iron in the Fire”

October 21, 2014

Season Four, Episode Four

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Grade: B+

It seems pretty clear what the writers of the show are trying to do, showing Carrie as some kind of monster as she slowly comes back to being human as the season progresses. Right now, there isn’t a viewer in the world who should like Carrie. You could somewhat sympathize with her I guess, but at this early point in the fourth season, she has attempted to drown her baby, abandoned her baby and her family, ordered the drone strike that massacred a wedding, and now she has seduced a young man with empty promises and sex. That’s quite a laundry list of reasons why I should hate Carrie Mathison.

Despite how much of a jerk Carrie can be, this was still a very solid episode for Homeland. Let’s start with the aspect of the show that has always been done incredibly well: spying. Whether it’s Quinn breaking into the ISI agent’s apartment to bug his phone, or if it’s Fara and Max trailing Aayan, Homeland is always able to keep us at the edge of our seat during these suspenseful sequences. I particularly enjoyed Fara going on foot in pursuit of Aayan when he gives a young medical woman money in exchange for what we can only assume are the drugs that he lost. But the kicker throughout this chase is that his uncle, the main man Carrie and Sandy were targeting during the drone strike, is still alive!

Things are becoming clearer now. We also finally see Sandy’s source as Professor Dennis Boyd. How has he been able to leak sensitive, classified information? He’s married to Ambassador Martha Boyd, but now that Sandy is dead Dennis is the direct target. He gets blackmailed by a Pakistani agent (did they really need her to be so damn good looking? Everyone on the show is too pretty, imo) who promises him that if he goes through one more mission, he’ll finally be free. If not, he’ll be exposed to treason that will also bring down his wife. Oh the drama!

What Carrie and Quinn are able to figure out is that since Haqqani is still alive, the whole thing was a setup to kill Sandy. But why? That’s the main question that Carrie and team will be facing. Meanwhile, it seems like Saul might be sticking around for a little longer, which is always a good thing. And it will be interesting to follow Dennis as he might be playing the Brody role as sneaking around offices and obeying orders from wherever this Pakistani woman comes from. Needless to say, it doesn’t look good for Dennis.

During all of what’s happening, it’s important to address what Carrie is doing to Aayan. She seems to have no concern at all that she’s lying to him about getting into medical school in London. She continues to feed him lies just so he can open up to her, and even though it’s working, it’s simply not working fast enough for Carrie and that’s why she seduces him. The scene before when she looks at herself in the mirror was brilliant. You know what’s about to happen, yet there is still that beating heart inside of Carrie that insists she isn’t a bad person. That voice inside of her is begging to break out, but she’s too ruthless to allow that conscious to take over. All I’m interested in right now is Quinn’s reaction when he finds out that Carrie and Aayan got hot and heavy. I hope he breaks someone else’s cheek bone in a diner (or whatever the equivalent is in Islamabad).


Oscar Talk 2014: Predicting Before Viewing

October 16, 2014

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As someone who loves to keep up with the Oscar race every year, there is something that I have to deal with not being someone who receives advance screeners and someone who cannot attend the major film festivals throughout the year. That’s making predictions before actually seeing some films. While I usually end up seeing every film before The Academy Awards, the road leading up to the telecast is always full of holes and assumptions since it’s nearly impossible for me to see everything.

That being said, I still feel that there’s a way to make educated guesses without seeing certain films come awards season. Knowing the game, the people involved, and certain statistics can definitely give you an edge (or sometimes a better chance) when you haven’t seen the films yet. Why did I say it might give you a better chance? Because it’s not uncommon for your emotions to get in the way of making accurate predictions. Last year, I absolutely loved Life of Pi and was tempted to predict the upset to pair up with Ang Lee’s Best Director victory, but everyone knew that Argo was going to take Best Picture. The main thing to remember is “Who do you think The Academy will pick” not “Who do you think deserves the award.”

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So as we prepare to enter this year’s awards season, I’ve only seen one contender thus far: Boyhood. It was a phenomenal film and easily the best film I’ve seen this year, but how is it going to rank against other serious contenders? More importantly, should I rank it as my #1 since it’s the only film I’ve seen, or can I legitimately rank films I’ve yet to see above it? Now I’m not saying I’m an expert with these predictions, but I do have a method to my madness. First and foremost, do I think Boyhood can win Best Picture? My short answer is: Yes, but not likely. Why? By all means it’s a fantastic film and Linklater’s passion project that spans over years to make. But it’s a lengthy, heavy film that some people could interpret as a string of Hollywood home videos instead of an Oscar-winning movie.

Is Boyhood at the top of my predictions so far? No, it’s not. But I do believe it’ll definitely receive a nomination for Best Picture. The film that I currently have as the best chance to win Best Picture is The Imitation Game. It received great praise when it was screened at the TIFF, plus it’s backed by Harvey Weinstein himself (which always gives a movie an edge). It has just enough power and drama for a film to win plenty of Oscars. I think, at least right now, it has a great chance to win, but then again, I haven’t seen it yet.

I know I’m not the only one who does the same, predicting films without seeing them, but the scary thing is that this is something Academy members do too. I don’t know how many, but there are certainly plenty of members who will vote for Best Picture films without seeing a handful of the nominees. To me, that defeats the whole purpose to voting for the most prestigious award in the film industry, but then again there really isn’t any way of confirming members have seen the films. So then the question of “Who do you think The Academy will vote for” becomes a lot more challenging when a percentage of them haven’t even seen the nominees. But this is all a guessing game and for what it’s worth, it’s a lot of fun.


The Mindy Project – “The Devil Wears Lands’ End”

October 15, 2014

Season Three, Episode Five

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Grade: A-

While no one believes that The Mindy Project is a great show, the fact that the show itself understands that is why it has survived thus far. Working through its many flaws, once in a while the show can capitalize on some solid, stand-alone episodes such as this one. Sure, the Mindy-Danny relationship is a rocky roller coaster that I cannot believe is still working (but it is because this is a sitcom), but they’re good together for the show. The Jeremy-Peter rivalry has been an ongoing plot for a handful of episodes and this time around we see them team up together. This is as good as The Mindy Project gets.

So there’s a new hospital administrator (Niecy Nash) and the gang are off to a terrible start when they arrive at her meeting late, plus it didn’t help that Mindy’s cell phone (Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy”) goes off, interrupting everything. The result, their practice is scheduled to work the graveyard shift and everyone is blaming Mindy. Naturally, Mindy feels like she can save the day by taking Jean out on the town. While they do have a great time together, Jean leans in and kisses Mindy on the lips, something unexpected but also something Mindy doesn’t reject. Now Mindy’s in a whole new conflict: they were taken off the graveyard shift but now Jean is making moves on Mindy. What’s a girl to do?!

Then there’s the B-story, which being a beer pong enthusiast myself, enjoyed probably a bit too much. What really works in the B-story is that something emotionally real actually happens. Peter and Jeremy have been feuding the past few weeks, but this was their first opportunity to team up. And team up they did at the Dartmouth beer pong tournament! Note: The scene where Morgan is trying out to be Peter’s partner is hilarious as he can’t even throw a ping pong ball into a bucket.

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We get the frat house vibe at the beer pong tournament, a vibe we’ve become accustomed to with Peter’s character. But Jeremy soon realizes that Peter is bothered by the group calling him by his nickname “Lefty.” Why “Lefty”? Because throughout college his girlfriends have always left him for other friends. Oof, that hurts especially because Jeremy is right there next to him, but Barf makes it his goal to have Peter win the beer pong championship, which he does! So Peter gets to pick his own nickname, “Diarrhea.” Okay, it’s not the best name to pop into Peter’s head, but you actually feel like something important was accomplished in this story-line.

Now back to Mindy’s girl problems, we learn that Jean has a wife who are on the verge of breaking up because of Mindy’s kiss. I guess that somewhat makes sense, even though it’s a bit weird that Jean came onto Mindy in the first place. The only way to fix this problem is for Danny to pretend he’s going to commit suicide because of this (not so) huge problem! Yes, you can always depend on Mindy to be dramatic and to over-react to every situation she’s in. But just like the beginning where Mindy cries herself out of a speeding ticket, Danny does his best impersonation of Mindy and lies his way out of their predicament. Mindy couldn’t be any prouder.

While a lot of this episode was silly, it was enjoyable and funny throughout, which is more than I can say about last night’s New Girl episode. I wonder how many whacky situations the writers have up their sleeves when it comes to Mindy and Danny’s relationship. And though Morgan was terribly missed for most of the episode (his Iggy Azalea ring-tone joke was great), it was important for Peter and Jeremy to be back on the same page. Will Jean be a reoccurring character? Probably not, but The Mindy Project certainly doesn’t have a shortage of cameos.


Homeland – “Shalwar Kameez”

October 14, 2014

Season Four, Episode Three

homeland-shalwar

Grade: B

I feel like this was a very polarizing episode, for good reasons, so let me start out with why this was a very solid episode of Homeland. First off, Homeland was always at its best when it dealt with the trauma of being in the CIA and the military and how it can affect your personal life. We’ve seen how it affected Carrie, Brody, Saul, etc. and now we’re seeing it affect Quinn. Plain and simple, Quinn has had enough. Everyone has a breaking point and he’s no different, but it’s not so easy to quit the CIA. And while the show obviously couldn’t allow Quinn to walk away from all the action, his story-line is what gives Homeland its depth and a character audiences can really support (because Carrie is too much of an asshole).

But then there’s the bad, which involves the writers of the show penning in some kind of Quinn/Carrie romance. I don’t know if this was a call from the producers, the writers, or some high executive at Showtime, but how could anyone think a Quinn/Carrie romance would be good for the show? Was there any person in the world who tuned into Homeland week-after-week for the Carrie/Brody romance? I was actually enjoying the way Carrie was looking at younger, handsome guys for a fix to keep her mind off of the job for at least a portion of her night. But Quinn? Is that really a story-line we want to see for the whole season?

Now I’m not saying that it’s completely unimaginable that Quinn could have a crush on Carrie, but it could’ve been done more subtlety and not so soon in this new reboot of a season. But back to the action, Carrie is in Islamabad because she hates her child and needs to boss people around. Her team doesn’t particularly like her yet (and they probably never will), especially the man who was supposed to replace Sandy until Carrie stole it. But there’s good news: Max and Fara are back! They use Fara to try and get to Aayan and even though the set-up fails, she immediately recognizes that something has spooked Aayan. The big guns come in (Carrie) and she gives him an offer: Tell them his story for a safe passage to America to continue medical school. It’s quite the offer, but I’m pretty sure he’ll need a bit more convincing.

Since the first episode, Homeland has certainly toned down its action and suspense. Saul comes back to make sure the transition between Carrie and her new boss runs smoothly (and so they have something to talk about: Saul and Boyd used to be engaged), and if Saul does indeed leave Islamabad I’ll be a bit sad because the chemistry between Claire Danes and Mandy Patinkin is spectacular. But we have two things happening thus far. First, the romantic link between Carrie and Quinn, which I assume won’t end well for Quinn (just saying). Then there’s the result from the drone strike and the repercussions within the country and the involvement from the CIA. Tensions are still high and a lot of people are trying to save their asses.

I can’t imagine Homeland toning down the story-line between Carrie and Quinn. If the past was any indication, they kept on pursuing terrible story-lines no matter how loudly I yelled at my television screen (I’m looking at you Dana Brody)! But for what it’s worth, it’ll be great to have Carrie and Quinn working together again, even if that means we won’t see Quinn and his building manager hanging out by the pool anymore. So long building manager. You were too good for Quinn, even though he did defend you by breaking a guy’s cheekbone at the diner.


The Walking Dead – “No Sanctuary”

October 13, 2014

Season Five, Episode One

walking-dead-no-sanctuary

Grade: A-

Last season provided us with a cliffhanger unlike any other we’ve experienced with The Walking Dead. That’s mainly good, since the last few seasons of this wildly popular show has been mediocre at best. So after Rick and company seek out Terminus as a sanctuary, they realize it’s everything they feared. So the final moments of season four had our characters locked in a train car at Terminus, but we all know that our heroes are going to break out of it somehow, right?

First and foremost, the most surprising thing about the season premiere is how quickly Rick and company are able to escape Terminus. This is coming from a show that dedicated way too much time to Woodbury and particularly The Governor. I expected this story-line to be dragged out for at least half a season, but instead we witness the fall of Terminus in what felt like a blink of an eye.

While the sequences were quite engaging, it still had the Walking Dead tactics I’m getting tired of. Like when the two men are killing off people from the train car and we see our main characters at the end of the line. As each man falls we get closer and closer to Glen’s turn to be knocked out by a baseball bat and then cut open (which arguably is The Walking Dead’s most violent scene ever). But mid-windup, there is always another distraction that keeps Glen’s head intact. Come on now, even if someone was talking to them they could’ve kept slaughtering the group.

There’s an explosion, and we take a step back to follow Carol, Tyreese, and Baby Judith as they’re the only ones from the group who aren’t trapped in Terminus. They bump into a Terminus citizen, tie him up, and receive information that his people have at least some of their friends captive. Carol goes camouflage style with a herd of zombies and sees the horror of Rick, Daryl, Bob, and Glen tied up and dragged away. For a while now, Carol has been as cool as a cucumber in tough situations. She took it among herself to eliminate the spreading disease. She barely flinched when Rick sent her off on her own. And now Cool Carol caused the explosion that had the citizens of Terminus running right into the herd of zombies. Carol rules!

So as expected, everyone gets out of the hell hole that was Terminus (and without a single death!). They meet up in the woods to an emotional reunion with Carol. Daryl and Carol forever! They make their way back to Tyreese and Baby Judith (Tyreese ends up killing the guy captive) and there’s another emotional reunion with Judith, Rick and Carl. Hooray for the good guys! But what’s next? That’s what we’ll have an entire season to discover.

In a way, I’m slightly disappointed we didn’t get more development from the people who were a part of Terminus. If it really was once a sanctuary but then turned into a slaughter-house, that’s a story I would’ve liked to know more about. But this does put the show where it’s most comfortable, on the road with all sort of unknown dangers lurking around every corner. And the whole gang (minus Beth) are back, assuming they’re headed to Washington D.C. so the scientist can spill his knowledge on the zombie-virus that everyone’s infected with. It’s just episode one into the new season, but I’m already excited for things to come.


Movie Review: The Maze Runner

October 10, 2014

The Maze Runner (2014)
113 minutes
Rated PG-13
Directed by Wes Ball
Starring: Dylan O’Brien, Kaya Scodelario, Will Poulter

maze-runner-poster

Grade: B-

Fox Films hopes that The Maze Runner will become the next teen hit on the big screen, and though it won’t ever reach the popularity of Harry Potter or The Hunger Games, it’s still pretty good. The novels were written by James Dashner and throws you right in the middle of the events that make this film so compelling.

Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) wakes up in an industrial elevator without a clue how he got there. In fact, he can’t remember anything, not even his own name but soon learns that’s not out of the ordinary. When he reaches the surface, he’s greeted by a few dozen teenage boys including Alby, the leader of the group. There are a few things he explains to Thomas: They live in a simple society called the Glade, everyone has to pull their own weight, and no one except for the Runners are allowed to cross the walls.

More about those walls, it’s revealed that the group of boys are stuck in the middle of a gigantic maze with huge walls confining them. Night time is when it’s the most dangerous for the boys. At dark, the walls close up confining them in the middle. This is also when the layout of the maze shifts and when the Grivers come out (giant spider-like robotic creatures). While the rest of the boys are doing well, Thomas doesn’t buy into feeling content like most of them. He’s different. He shows tenacity, courage, and most importantly he’s curious. This gets him in trouble with the bully of the society, Gally, who blames every incident on Thomas and the way he constantly breaks their rules. But Alby and a handful other boys see the one thing that Thomas has brought them: hope.

Visually, the film is superb, which shouldn’t come as a surprise with Wes Ball in the director’s chair. The massive walls that enclose the teenagers are as intimidating as they sound, and the deeper they explore into the maze the more thrilling. Most of the film is a fun, suspenseful ride with plenty of action and surprises along the way. But the major flaw of the film comes towards its conclusion when we’re finally given the reason for why these events are happening. It’s not nearly as convincing as you would hope for, and it’s a shame because it really does ruin the film from being top-notch entertainment. I’m not even sure if I want to catch the sequel, knowing how this one ended. Can I ignore the main reason why these teenagers are fighting for their lives to survive a giant, dangerous maze? Isn’t that the whole point?

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