The Strain – “Gone Smooth”

July 29, 2014

Season One, Episode Three

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Grade: B-

I haven’t completely gotten used to The Strain yet. The characters are still one-dimensional with very poorly written dialogue. There are cliches left and right. The pace of the show is being stretch so thin that it’s really not worth 100 percent of my attention. But I must admit that the third episode is the best of the series thus far, so I guess that’s a good thing.

There is a balance that The Strain is trying to keep level between its mythology, its characters, the mystery involved with the vampires and keeping it in the horror genre. That being said, the sequence towards the end of “Gone Smooth” with Eph taking down a patient-turned-vampire was very thrilling. Though I found it strange that Eph, Nora, and Jim seems more freaked out that they killed the patient rather that it turned into a vampire who was trying to kill them. But that’s just something I have to get used to in the world of The Strain. Character actions and reactions aren’t normal.

At least Eph is finally beginning to understand there is some sort of dark magic going on with the plane incident. And Nora was able to track down Setrakian, but isn’t completely sold at what he’s telling her about the infected. Maybe after being attacked by one she’ll follow Setrakian instead of Eph. This makes Nora a much better character than Eph already, especially since we don’t have to struggle through any type of family drama that she might have (but definitely won’t because this is obviously a male-centered world. Have you ever seen a sexier biochemist than Nora?). While this isn’t great news for the show, since Eph is supposed to be carrying the show like most main characters do, I’m at least invested in Nora and Setrakian, which is two more characters than I was invested in after the pilot.

I’m wondering why Setrakian isn’t telling Nora more of what he knows. He says that she isn’t ready, but she did track him down to learn more information so she’s obviously intrigued and somewhat believes he’s a credible source. He says they should’ve burned and destroyed the bodies, but doesn’t say why. Maybe he’s just old, but no one is going to follow instructions from a man carrying around a blade in his cane without good reason. Come on Setrakian, get with it!

As for the plane’s survivors, we see Ansel who has a bunch of reporters outside of his house looking for an interview. He’s going through the transformation and even drinks the excess blood from the steak lying in the fridge. Wouldn’t that be some kind of sign that there’s something seriously wrong with Ansel? Yes, his wife was scared but come on now, he even looks like a vampire! If those red eyes, pale skin, and sharpened teeth didn’t convince her enough yet, then drinking blood like it’s juice sure should! Meanwhile, Gabriel is still living like a rock star even though his hair is falling out and his penis falls off. Yes, the title of “Gone Smooth” hits it right on the nose here. But Gabriel barely gives it any thought. He better be completely turned by now because if he isn’t, then where was his WTF?! reaction to his dick falling off?

I get that The Strain isn’t trying to present itself as a highly intelligent, horror-thriller like I expected. It’s a campy and fun vampire tale bringing back the screams instead of the sex like in Twilight. But there has to be a line drawn that improves on the amount of cheesiness throughout every episode. And please, just minimize the stupid moments as much as possible and The Strain will become more than just bearable. This includes eliminating the family drama with Eph’s family entirely. If only.


Fargo – “Buridan’s Ass”

July 29, 2014

Season One, Episode Six

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Grade: A

As I’m still catching up with episodes of Fargo, I’m doing my best to space them out as much as I can. I’ve never been the type to binge-watch television shows, and for the good ones I never want to. I need to be able to digest every episode and take the time to think about what’s exactly being said and done. With “Buridan’s Ass” I wish I watched this live because I definitely need a whole week to recover from such a great episode.

Up until this point, Malvo has been a great character that you didn’t mind rooting for even though you understand he’s bad. He’s a murderer and he’s darn good at it and rarely walks away from a sticky situation. He continues the blackmail scheme with Chumph and gets Stavros ready to deliver the $1 million. This is the episode when he turns from bad to evil. In a very calculated plan, Malvo stages a shooting from a house where he has taped Chumph up right by the door holding a shotgun. At first I was confused along with Chumph as to what exactly Malvo was staging, but slowly as it all became clear I simply shook my head in disbelief.

In addition to that, I tip my hat to Fargo for being able to turn a goofy character that I knew was going to die and really didn’t care about, to feeling terrible for the way Chumph went out. Those final moments when the police were breaking down the front door and seeing Chumph breaking the tape over his mouth were excruciating. The inevitable did happen and Chumph was shot dozens of times. It was a cruel trick that Malvo played on everyone and at the end of the scene I hung my head. Up until now, I didn’t mind Malvo’s vicious games but now I only want him to be caught.

Which brings us to our heroes, Gus and Molly. The two finally get together despite a nasty blizzard coming into town to share notes and ideas about Malvo. After Malvo is in the clear from the shootout that results in Chumph’s death, Mr. Numbers and Mr. Wrench track him down and engage in their own shootout in the middle of the blizzard. In case you’ve never experienced a snowstorm like this, the snow is so thick that you can’t see ten feet in front of you. After Malvo disposes of Mr. Numbers (through trickery yet again!), Molly and Gus appear at the scene. Molly trudges on after Malvo and Gus is steps behind after confirming Mr. Numbers is dead. With his gun out, Gus is shaking with fear (along with it being freezing cold) but his adrenaline is running high at the opportunity to finally snag Malvo at the scene of a crime. The moment he’s able to make out a body, he shoots. As the viewer, you just know this is going to end horribly, but that didn’t stop me from crossing my fingers that it was Malvo. Unfortunately, the worst occured and it was Molly who Gus shot.

I know! I swear if Molly is dead I’m going to find Malvo myself! But that’s not all! Lester is able to sneak out of his guarded hospital room to frame his brother for the deaths of his wife and the police chief. Now Lester has been a pretty likeable character (like Malvo) up to this point. It’s easy to sympathize with him because he’s always being taken advantage of and no one ever gives him any credit. He’s passing through life without a fighting bone in his body. Well phase one was snapping at his wife, which resulted in her death. Yeah, he over-did it, but it was good to see him break out of his mold. And now he concocted a very thought-out plan by placing the hammer, gun, and photos of his wife in his brother’s gun cabinet. But that’s not it. He also places an empty handgun in his nephew’s book-bag. Right?! Evil!

The perfect moment in this scene is after Lester places everything in his brother’s gun cabinet. He sees a photo of the smiling family hanging on the wall and for those few seconds, we believe he’s had a change of heart and isn’t able to go through with such a conniving plan. But no, the brilliance of Fargo flips that upside down. He stares at the photo because he realizes an additional angle he can frame the family that involves the child. It’s despicable, but I can’t imagine a scenario that his plan doesn’t work out. Oh Lester, you have changed and it’s not for the good.

What I loved about this episode so much is that as the viewer, I felt like I knew what was going on up until this point. I thought I knew that Molly and Gus were the heroes and they wouldn’t be touched; Lester was a pushover who made a mistake but is still a good guy; Malvo has morals and only focuses on people who deserve to get hurt and so on. But the opposite happens. We now have two legitimate villains in Malvo and Lester. Molly’s future is unknown and I don’t know if I have much faith in Gus to get things done by himself. And what was that about with the raining fish?! What a cruel turn of events for Stavros, who stashes away the money where he found it in the snow-pile. He thinks he’s doing what the Lord wants from him, and he’s rewarded by a freak event that ends up killing his son and bodyguard. In the world of Fargo, nothing is going the way it should… and that’s what makes this show so damn good.


The Leftovers – “Gladys”

July 28, 2014

Season One, Episode Five

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Grade: B+

The events of October 14 shook the world in a way that it has never been shook before. Focusing in on the town of Mapleton, NY, we see the way different people are reacting to the loss of loved ones. Particularly, Chief Kevin Garvey is reeling in a downward spiral even when he didn’t lose anyone during October 14. But the events certainly affect everyone, there’s no doubting that.

The Guilty Remnant have been mostly a mystery up to this point. About fifty or so live in the community, chain smoking, wearing all white, and communicating through markers and pads instead of speaking. Why? That remains unclear. What are their purpose? If it isn’t just to piss people off then that also remains unclear. They claim they want to constantly remind everyone of what happened on October 14, and to never forget, but why? Nonetheless, half of the episode revolves around the GR when one of their own is stoned to death.

I understand that it’s hard for us, as the audience, to feel any sympathy for the GR losing Gladys. From the beginning of the episode they’re seen around town painting things white and even walking right past a poor man who falls down on the sidewalk. They don’t seem to care about anyone else other than themselves, so why should we care for them? But that’s part of what I appreciate The Leftovers for so much, that it’s not about whether or not you like these characters. It’s seeing everyone as a human being with flaws and having to deal with the troubled world we all live in. And these people clash against each other time and time again, but for what? What’s the point of this life and why do we all keep trying to hard to fight for something we don’t understand?

Gladys’ death is able to put Kevin and Laurie as the focus for the episode, yet separately. Kevin and his team are on the investigation while trying to keep the town as safe as possible, which is not an easy thing to do. Kevin wants to have a curfew, but the town quickly rallies against him and the vote turns down the proposal. Meanwhile, we get some more of the “is Kevin crazy or not?” when he loses all of his white shirts from his closet. Also, when Gladys’ body is taken by the AFTEC, he has a conversation with an agent there that seems awfully fishy. I’m not ruling out that whole conversation was in Kevin’s head.

The real focus is on Laurie and the GR. Head GR, Patti, takes Laurie on a day off after she has a panic attack. In regular clothes, they both sit at a diner and eat breakfast. It was fascinating to hear Patti talk to Laurie during the diner scene. We get an insight to the GR, what they mean, and the things Patti understands about herself and the members involved. This whole time Laurie has been close to breaking. She left Kevin because she was “broken” and has devoted herself to the cause of the GR, but with the divorce papers and Jill giving her a lighter, Laurie’s faith is dwindling and Patti sees it. She explains to Laurie how it’s certainly not easy doing what they do and sometimes you just need a break. But even when Patti gives Laurie the green light to talk, she doesn’t. She remains strong.

It isn’t until the end when Laurie races out of the house to confront Reverend Jamison who wants to pray for Gladys that we know exactly where Laurie stands. She’s keeping her belief in the GR and shuns off Matt during a prayer. Patti smiles, knowing that she’s back and stronger than ever. Patti also accepts that Meg is now devoted to the cause, as she’s wearing white and smoking without being told to do so. Sometimes in a community that is close to being broken, a tragedy can unite them all to become a much more powerful force. Gladys’ death just might have that effect with the GR.

There are a few emotional moments in the episode. First, when Kevin walks into Jill’s classroom she storms out of class in tears, fearing that her mother has been killed. After telling her it wasn’t so, she commented that Laurie wouldn’t cry for her. It was a powerful, small line from a rebellious teenager going through a lot for her age. Jill, like most of the people on the show, might not be very likeable, but it’s hard not to feel for her. The other emotional scene was at the end when Kevin confesses to Jill that him and Laurie are getting a divorce. She takes it with a stoic face saying, “Okay.” It’s not surprising to her, but that doesn’t make it any less painful for Kevin. In those situations, we always hang onto every last thread hoping that something will turn around for the better. But when you finally get to that breaking point, it’s hard to digest.

So who has it better? The GR who believe in not feeling for anything? If you leave everything behind then you’ll shield yourself from any hurt, right? But as Reverend Jamison put it, in doing so they’re already dead. But is it any better to try and forget what happened and to keep going around in circles constantly mourning tragedies and losses? Is it really normal to build someone up to love only to inevitably let them go down the line? Maybe we can all just go see Wayne and he can fix everything that is broken.


Movie Review: Boyhood

July 28, 2014

Boyhood (2014)
165 minutes
Rated – R
Directed by Richard Linklater
Starring: Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Lorelei Linklater

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Grade: A

Boyhood encapsulates every reason why I love movies. In the midst of summer blockbusters littered with explosions and empty, forgettable characters, Richard Linklater has created such an in-depth film in a daring and historic way. Filming scenes throughout a 12-year period, there was no need for make-up specialists because everyone naturally aged during the process from 2001 to 2013. It’s a fantastic achievement and a perfect blend of great acting, writing, and improvisations.

Beginning with a 6-year-old Mason lying in the grass waiting for his mom to pick him up from school, we enter the world of the small family and everything they go through for the next 12 years. Mason (Coltrane) and his snooty 8-year-old sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater) are normal children, which is certainly refreshing. Mason loves video games and Samantha loves tormenting her younger brother by waking him up singing Britney Spears. Their mother, Olivia (Arquette), is divorced and has the responsibility of being a single mom with dreams of going back to school to be able to support her children. What’s remarkable about Boyhood is that there aren’t any major conflicts or mysteries that need to be revealed. This is simply a portrayal of life unfolding right in front of you.

We go through plenty events right alongside Mason, Samantha and Olivia. From every time the family moves, to every guy Olivia becomes involved with, to the pains and pressure of growing up and making new friends, we’re holding hands with these characters with an incredible insight to a real family. A major character I haven’t touched on yet is the ex-husband, Mason Sr. (Hawke). At first, he seems like he’s the typical, irresponsible ex-husband who can never get his life together to be a full-time father to the family, but as the movie goes on we learn there is a lot more to Mason Sr. than a flashy car with a “cool guy” attitude. That’s something Boyhood does that almost seems inexplicable. After each passing scene I kept marveling at the fact that the audience was becoming more than just an acquaintance with these characters. We became family.

Something that I appreciated throughout was how Boyhood held back from the usual coming-of-age formalities of voice-overs and “two years later” captions. This is just one of the many ways Linklater is able to “show not tell” with his movie. From scene to scene everything gradually changes, and it’s shown with the clothes they wear, the hairstyles, the technology, and the trends. Everything is authentic since they didn’t have to do thorough research to relive the time, and just for that reason alone it’s more authentic than most.

The true movie magic that happens is how seamless everything feels as the time flies by from the beginning to end. Once you spend a few minutes with the current version of the characters, you’ve already forgotten what they looked like and sounded like in the previous scene. So much goes on, yet it’s never dizzying or puzzling. We can all look back at our past and tie in a big event to a certain age. This rings true in Boyhood for the whole family, especially for Olivia who at the end has difficulty foreseeing moments to be excited about after both of her children move out. It’s a genuine feeling for any parent and it’s expressed perfectly towards the movie’s conclusion.

Linklater has always been fascinated by the element of time and how it changes people’s perception of love and life. With his “Before” series, he explores a budding love that transcends and changes over time (with 9 year intervals between each film). In Boyhood, it’s all being uncovered scene by scene in one, captivating movie experience.

Though the film is mainly seen through Mason’s eyes, I feel that the most important character is Olivia. The impact she has on her children from when they can start having memories until the day they pack their things and move out is potent and passionate. Everything that she does doesn’t go without benefiting her children. As she was fighting with her boyfriend in an early scene, she cries out that her children are her everything and as a struggling single mom, she didn’t have time for herself. When the years fly by, her children become more independent and she’s able to pursue more things for herself, but nothing ever surpasses her priorities. It’s always Mason and Samantha who come first, and it always will be.

The performance by Patricia Arquette is highly memorable, starting out as a scared single mom and becoming a proud mother of two strong and gifted children. The whole cast is great and it couldn’t have been an easy process, filming certain days and weeks every year then having to rebuild the chemistry several months later. But everyone, especially Arquette and Hawke, are able to grow with the movie flawlessly.

While there is no message that Linklater hits you over the head time and time again like many coming-of-age films, to me it’s exhibiting how you cannot prepare for what life will bring you. It’s okay to be confused, whether you’re wondering if there are magical elves in the world or if you’re wondering what will come of the next stage of your life. Being confused is part of the process. Just like the photos Mason loves to take, Boyhood is like a series of photographs throughout the 12 years, capturing certain moments forever. The way everyone changes are conveyed right before your eyes, but once you see it, it’s already in the past. That’s why you can never really seize the moment, the moment seizes us.


The Leftovers – “B.J. and the A.C.”

July 21, 2014

Season One, Episode Four

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Grade: B

After an episode that concentrated solely on Reverend Matthew Jamison, we’re back to multiple story-lines that involve the Garvey family. It’s Christmas time and of course when the holiday is supposed to represent peace and happiness, it’s just another reason to mourn the ones who disappeared from the world. In the center of all the action is Kevin, who has plenty on his plate. Someone stole the Baby Jesus from the Nativity scene in town and Mayor Lucy demands that Kevin recover it. And if he can’t find it, then he’s to buy a new one and say he found it. Why? Apparently the mayor believes Kevin needs a public win, which is probably true. But in reality, everyone in town needs a win, not just the chief of police.

Kevin’s reaction to the whole Baby Jesus dilemma is interesting. While he does think of the idea of replacing a doll to be completely ridiculous and a waste of his time, there is a part of him that wants to replace the doll to preserve the small amount of faith that still exists within him. After everything that has happened to him and the rest of the world, there is still faith that remains intact and that Baby Jesus represents exactly that. So that means he’s unable to simply replace the Baby Jesus by buying a new one at the store. He needs to recover the one stolen. It’s going to a public win but more importantly, it’s going to be a moral victory for himself.

We find out that Jill and her friends were the ones who stole the doll, exactly what Kevin suspected. Jill’s still the rebellious teenager, smoking weed and drinking alcohol around a campfire, but even when she’s about to set fire to the Baby Jesus doll (Viking style!), she’s unable to pull the trigger. Honestly, I would’ve liked to see her attempt to shoot the Nerf gun accurate enough because I always let out a small chuckle at how it only takes one try to get it right (though I believe it was in GoT that showed that’s not always the case). Anyway, Jill’s reluctance to set the doll on fire shows how she hasn’t completely lost her faith yet either.

Then there’s Tommy, the other Garvey kid who’s traveling around with Christine and waiting for Wayne’s call to inform him what to do next. He’s babysitting Christine, defending her when people try to choke her, and also brings her to clinics to check on her baby. Tommy certainly has a lot of courage to do all of this for her and Wayne, especially when it was obvious how much he liked her during the first two episodes. But a lot has changed since then and over a month later he hasn’t heard a word from Wayne, nor from that smiley face cell phone he’s grasping so tight. This is where Tommy loses his faith in the cause (whatever that is, your guess is as good as mine at this point). But just as he’s about to break, with the GR watching him a few feet away, the phone rings with an automated message. It wasn’t Wayne, but it was enough to restore Tommy’s belief.

Finally we get back to Kevin. He allows Meg and Laurie in the house when he finds them waiting by the front door. Meg reads him a note on Laurie’s behalf, serving him divorce papers, but Kevin doesn’t accept it. He demands that she say the words herself if she truly wants a divorce. It’s an emotional scene that is topped by Jill walking in and handing her mom a Christmas gift, a lighter with the words “Don’t forget me…” inscribed on it. In front of Meg she throws it down a gutter but at the end she wants so desperately to have it back. This is symbolic to the back-and-forth feeling for what we want and what we have. Even though Kevin knows Laurie is lost and gone, he’s not willing to sign the divorce papers. Even though the kids steal the Baby Jesus doll, it’s replaced by another doll that Matt had. Can memories ever be replaced by new ones? Can loved ones? Because if they can be, then you can throw it out the window like Kevin did with the doll. Or you can continue to keep stretching with all your might, trying to remember the past even if it’s just inches away from your fingertips.

Last but not least:

  • It’s confirmed that Kevin cheated on Laurie during their marriage. With who? And did she disappear? That’s yet to be seen.
  • It was a bit surprising to hear that Tommy is Laurie’s son from another man, not Kevin.
  • Kevin and Nora. I wouldn’t mind them becoming some sort of an item in the near future. Though Kevin admitting to Nora that he cheated on his wife would probably be a deal-breaker for her.
  • I didn’t mention how the GR broke into people’s houses and removed pictures of the departed. It’s no doubt powerful and creepy seeing all those empty picture frames, but I’m sure everyone still has plenty of digital copies on their hard drive somewhere. Now if they wiped out everyone computers…
  • Kevin’s car dies and he has to switch to the truck left for him by the dog-killer. So we’re not completely out of the woods yet with that story-line.
  • The scene with the road littered with white body bags shipping bodies for people to bury was really eerie. But it’s what the crazy guy who attacked Christine mentioned. And Christine seemed surprised and happy, confirming the dream. But seriously, wtf?

The Strain – “Night Zero”

July 15, 2014

Season One, Episode One

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Grade: B-

Based on the novels co-written by Guillermo del Toro, and with Carlton Cuse as the show-runner, The Strain seemed awfully campy. But that’s not particularly a bad thing, I just wasn’t expecting it. This is a vampire tale that eliminates the modern day vampires that we’ve become so accustomed to. In The Strain, they’re ruthless monsters that prey on humans for their blood, not handsome, sparkly men using blood lust as a metaphor for sex.

At the center of the pilot there is a virus outbreak on a commercial aircraft. We briefly see the monster in the beginning scene, but then not again until much later. It’s easy to draw comparisons with zombie stories because of the way the victims are dead, and then come back to life craving human blood. Plus the indication that this might be some kind of virus that’s spreading. If vampirism is a virus in The Strain, that could be an interesting angle to take but at this point there are plenty of questions that need to be answered.

Starting with those creepy guys Eldritch Palmer and Thomas Eichorst, who have knowledge and a plan to extract the vampire and his coffin into the city. They’re obviously powerful and connected somehow, but through the extended pilot episode we never get much from them. Then there’s the actual process of how the undead work. Their bodies have been drained of their blood, yet their organs are functional and they do come back to life after some time. When they do, they act like slow-moving zombies, but with that glimmer in their eye they seem to remember their life; proof from the end when the girl returns to her home. So what is that monster in the coffin?

The main character (and eventual hero?) of the show is Ephraim “Eph” Goodweather. He’s the head of the CDC, is great at his job but the consequence is never being around for his family. Cliche enough for you? Is it also cliche enough that the new boyfriend with his ex-wife is a complete douche? Anyway, he investigates the viral outbreak and makes some progress throughout, but ignores his most important clue that comes in the form of Professor Abraham Setrakian, a New York pawn shop owner who seems like he’s dealt with this before. Classic authority figure ignoring the crazy old man with all the answers. This won’t be the last time they interact with each other.

The pilot certainly brings you into the world of The Strain, and it’s a dark and desperate one. Like what Eph said, he wants answers as much as everyone else does. While the show is rich with tone and mood, my main complaint is that there isn’t one character who is remotely likeable. The closest character we might be able to jump on board with is Abraham, but we didn’t see much of him in the pilot and feeding his blood to a hungry heart in a jar was just too weird. There was a chance I would like Sean Astin’s character, Jim Kent, but he’s being blackmailed by Palmer and Eichorst so there’s something fishy about him.

Is this unlike any vampire story we’ve seen? Possibly, but at the same time it’s not entirely unique and free of stereotypes. There are times when the pilot felt like multiple shows rolled up in one: the virus investigation, the monster movie, the family drama, and the sci-fi evil men plotting the end of the world. Hopefully The Strain becomes more focused on a central story, but this certainly isn’t the worst show I’ve watched this year.


Movie Review: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

July 14, 2014

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)
130 minutes
Rated PG-13
Directed by Matt Reeves
Starring: Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell

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Grade: A-

After Rise of the Planet of the Apes was such a pleasant surprise, its sequel had plenty to live up to and fortunately Dawn delivers another great summer blockbuster. Continuing where Rise left off, Caesar and the community of apes have made a home out of the Muir Woods in San Francisco, near the Golden Gate Bridge. Around the world, the virus that started in the labs spread, killing off hundreds of millions. We focus in on a group of humans who survived the outbreak and are living in San Francisco. It’s a dystopian world now and they’re eager to restore power because they only have two weeks worth of gasoline left. The problem is to restore power, they have to venture into the apes’ community.

Caesar is now a family ape, with a son named Blue Eyes, a wife and a newborn. He’s respected and followed by all the apes, especially his good friend Maurice. They also live by a code that apes still together and that apes will not kill another ape. This all stems from Rise when Caesar explains to Maurice that apes alone are weak, but together they’re strong. It’s a fine theme for the first of the prequels, but in Dawn there is a different theme underneath the imminent war that is approaching.

While Caesar leads the apes side of the story, the human side centers around Malcolm (Jason Clarke) and his small group who attempts to restore power through the hydroelectric dam while staying with the apes. It’s clear that Malcolm is a good man with good intentions, but on every side there is always a few bad eggs. Caesar has a soft spot for good humans since he was raised by one, but some of the other apes aren’t so trusting of Malcolm.

What Dawn does so well is being a traditional summer blockbuster film while packing it with emotion, significance and morals that are relevant to our world. In this way, it transcends what blockbusters should be. It certainly does what The Dark Knight and The Empire Strikes Back did for their franchises, respectively. It continues the dark tone of the Planet of the Apes prequels, adds urgency to the equation of this dystopian universe, and balances the drama and the action very well. This is easily one of the best movies of the summer.

Director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield) has shown he’s able to capture absolute chaos with breathtaking sequences, but I never expected him to put so much effort and care into developing the characters, both ape and human. And I cannot write a review of this film without mentioning the work of Andy Serkis. The way he portrays Caesar is incredible (paired with the special effects), and a crucial part in telling this story. It’s never a doubt in your mind when you see Caesar walking into the scene, which speaks volumes on how he’s able to tweak a regular ape motion while resembling strength and power. Serkis is the man behind the graphics whose talent is so unique it’s a shame that he doesn’t get the recognition he deserves.

The end certainly leaves room for the next sequel (maybe two?) until we’re caught up with the original. This is an exhausting film that feels like an epic at just 130 minutes, but in a good way that keeps your heart beating and mind thinking the way intelligent thrillers do. It’s always impressive when a film can make such rich, non-human characters and Dawn achieves that with aces across the board. I can’t wait until the next chapter of Caesar’s life makes its way to the big screen.


The Leftovers – “Two Boats and a Helicopter”

July 14, 2014

Season One, Episode Three

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Grade: A-

After the first two episodes concentrates mainly on Kevin and the rest of the community driven to grief and confusion a few years after two percent of the world’s population departed, The Leftovers changes gears in the third episode and focuses on Reverend Matthew Jamison. What we know about him before this episode was that he makes a point to alert the community of the wrongdoings certain people who disappeared committed, usually resulting in him getting beat up. Wait, that’s exactly how this episode begins.

From the start of the season I didn’t particularly like Reverend Matthew Jamison. Why would a man of faith preach so loudly about the sins of some of the departed? Wouldn’t someone in his position want to practice peace and understanding, not trying to rile and piss people off? But as we dive into “Two Boats and a Helicopter” (btw, what the heck does that mean?) we learn exactly where he comes from and why he’s doing what he is.

Matthew Jamison isn’t clean of his own sins, and he knows that, but he’s able to convince himself that everything happens for a reason. Why was he diagnosed with leukemia at such a young age? Because he prayed for more attention from his parents after his sister was born. How did the girl who was in a coma suddenly wake up from it? Because he prayed (though she woke up the night before he prayed). So why does he believe people disappeared on October 14? That’s still unclear but he’s trying to gather dirt on everyone he can to prove that the event on October 14 wasn’t The Rapture. As he explains to a security officer, shouldn’t people be able to differentiate the monsters who were taken from the innocent?

Reverend Jamison is faced with raising $135,000 to save the church from being bought. He has only one day to raise that money and just when everything seems hopeless, Matthew is able to do the impossible. This is when he falls into the shady area between what he believes in and what he’ll do to obtain it. He digs up $20,000 that Kevin’s dad left him (hopefully their relationship is clarified in later episodes). He then uses the pigeons he’s been spotting as a sign to bet it all at a roulette table, until he wins $160,000. He grins from ear to ear, believing that God has given him everything he needs to save the church.

But just like how Matthew is trying to tell the world there were good and bad people taken, there are still bad people who exist in the world as well. He’s thrown out of his own car and beaten for the money, but in a fit of rage Matthew bashes the guy’s head on the pavement and drives away with his money. And the most ironic sequence happens next. A car with a punk kid driving by throws a rock and hits one of the Guilty Remnant members in the head, knocking them down bloodied. The Reverend naturally calls 9-1-1 and tends to the injured man, but the kid returns and knocks Matthew out with another rock.

This becomes crucial because he wakes up three days later, misses the deadline to pay the bank to keep the rights to the church, and then has to watch as the Guilty Remnant are removing all the books into trash bags and are painting the walls white.

It’s a cruel world to live in and in the case of The Leftovers, it’s full of suffering and unanswered questions. What better character to examine this theme with than Reverend Jamison? If all suffering happens for a reason, then how does he explain losing the house of worship to the Guilty Remnant? He tells his sister, Nora, that her losing her entire family is testing her faith. She’s clearly lost her faith, like many people have in the community, but Matthew somehow still holds on. The real question that exists here is why were certain people taken and why weren’t others? Why do some people suffer and others just glide through life free of pain? I believe that every person has a breaking point. I’m curious if Matthew has just reached his.

Last but not least:

- The dream/flashback sequence was done very well, from Matthew receiving the news that the leukemia is spreading, to his parents burning in the house, to him possibly having an affair with Laurie.

- I love how Matthew and Nora are related. They couldn’t be any more different, yet are both going through plenty of suffering.

- It’s interesting to point out that Mary didn’t disappear on October 14, but Matthew lost her anyway that day.

- The same goes for Kevin, who we’ve seen had no one disappear, but he has lost his family regardless.

- There’s a fine line between seeing visions and signs while following your faith and simply being insane.


Movie Review: Begin Again (2014)

July 9, 2014

Begin Again (2014)
104 minutes
Rated – R
Directed by John Carney
Starring: Mark Ruffalo, Keira Knightley, Adam Levin, Hailee Steinfeld

begin-again-poster

Grade: C+

John Carney gave us the magical, musical film Once in 2007. Several years later he tries his hand at the romantic-musical flick, but this time it’s set in New York City and boasts a talented cast instead of newcomers. Unfortunately, the result is disappointing.

In the opening scene we hear Greta (Knightley) playing one of her songs at an open mic in an East Village bar. She’s nervous but sings a heart-felt, sweet song while picking the acoustic guitar, which barely makes it over the constant chatter. She’s embarrassed but there was one person who was impressed by her performance, a record label talent scout. This guy is Dan (Ruffalo) who has recently been fired from the label because of his inability to find the next big artist, but he’s not interested in finding a pop star. He wants someone unique and authentic and he feels that Greta is that artist.

The set-up is fine, but the way the film predictably unfolds makes it forgettable. It’s funny how Greta and Dan are in pursuit of breaking musical tradition to maintain their honesty in their songs, but Begin Again is more of the same we’ve seen hundreds of time before. On top of that, the music is okay at best. Knightley doesn’t have much vocal range but does her best with a smile and her sweet-spoken voice. The lyrics are quite elementary, with prose that could litter a high schooler’s notebook.

The main problem is the lack of effective emotion throughout. Dan and Greta both have had terrible heart-breaks in their past, but the film does little to really make us feel their pain. In the first half hour of the film we see how Greta’s rock-star boyfriend (Levine) falls for another girl while on the road. The whole sequence is lackluster, partly due to Levine’s weak performance but also due to the situation. What worked so well in Once is that we didn’t exactly know what happened with its characters’ past. We knew they each had a partner that didn’t work out, but they brought each other back to life. Here in Begin Again, we dive into both Greta and Dan’s past of exes and betrayal, but it all falls flat.

The part of the film that makes Begin Again worthwhile is the idea of live recording Greta’s songs at different locations all over New York City. The montages of the full band playing her songs while Dan runs the show are the true charming moments. Why? Those scenes were the most natural. It felt like these were a group of misfits trying to make a name for themselves in the busy and crowded city where it’s easy to get lost, and they achieve exactly what they set out to do. These scenes are shot beautifully as well, whether they’re playing in the subway, on the roof of a building, under a bridge or in an empty alley.

In the end, everyone finds their way to exactly where they wanted to go, which is quite the opposite compared to Once. The thing is that Dan and Greta don’t seem to share that connection that makes us want them to end up together. Sure, they’re about fifteen years apart, but the lack of affection makes the scenes they share seem less important. The message here is that music can save anyone, no matter where they are or what dilemma they’re in. It’s a great message, but the road to that conclusion needed a lot of work.


The Leftovers – “Penguin One, Us Zero”

July 7, 2014

Season One, Episode Two

leftovers-penguin-one

Grade: B+

I thought I was watching the wrong show during the beginning scene of this Sunday’s episode. In a straight up action-film sequence, two officials are breezing through a case made on Holy Wayne to prove he’s a threat on national security, and soon after we’re following a SWAT team raid the house, killing those who stand in their way of finding Wayne. Tommy and Christine are able to escape the house but the damage has been done. This is a particularly strange scene because we don’t really know what Wayne and his magical hugs are really about, but this certainly raises eyebrows as to how dangerous the authorities consider him.

While the Wayne plot sure is surrounded by mystery, it’s not something I look forward to seeing every week. For a holy healer, Wayne sure is sort of an ass, seemingly using Tommy for his own gain. Maybe he sees something special in Tommy, but he sure has an odd way of showing it. There is just too much unknown about Wayne to really care about him so far. But it looks like we’re about to embark on Tommy and Christine’s road trip to no where.

Meanwhile, Kevin seems to be going crazy, or that’s what a few people close to him feel. After he joined up with the bald man to shoot a pack of dogs, he’s been under a lot of heat from the community because why would anyone shoot dogs?! We saw his point of view and he did have a good reason to bring down the vicious pack that was tearing up a deer. But for the rest of the community, all they know is that the Chief of police is a dog-killer. What becomes interesting as the episode unfolds is how much we (and the Chief himself eventually) begin to doubt that this dog-shooting, dip using bald guy even exists. Kevin doesn’t know his name and when an officer tracks down the guy’s truck, it’s in Kevin’s driveway and it’s unregistered.

This is when a pivotal scene takes center stage: the bagel scene. It might have not seemed like much, but there was so much emphasis on Kevin toasting his bagels while talking to the mayor that I just knew it had to mean something. At the end of the scene, the bagels that he was toasting disappeared. Was he going crazy? Up until that moment he didn’t think he was, but after witnessing the bagels disappear that bit of self-doubt began to creep into his mind. It’s not until when he visits his father in a home when we find out that he’s afraid he’ll end up like his father, mentally unstable and overpowered by the voices in his head. It’s a troubling thought that you’re going to follow your father’s footsteps especially when he’s not doing well. You can see the concern in Kevin’s eyes. His father wasn’t able to control his mental condition. Will he?

And then we see the mystery man right at Kevin’s door holding a pack a beer. Kevin looks surprised because seeing him means that he has to be real, right? So he’s not crazy! Or is this all happening in his mind? But then Jill and Amy walk into the house, taking the beer from the man and seemingly acknowledging him. So he is real right? Not necessarily. Sure, they do look at him and they take the beer right from his hand, but it could’ve been Kevin holding the beer and answering the door as the girls walked in. There was also that strange interaction after the mystery man leaves. Jill swings her head from the other room and asks who that was. Kevin says no one. So he could’ve walked to the door and had the whole conversation with the man in his mind, and when he closes the door, Jill asks who was at the door. And “no one” could actually have been nobody at all. Kevin is definitely a character to keep a close eye on.

We also see more of The Guilty Remnant and Meg’s stay there. She’s still in the staging house where potential members stay until they prove themselves worthy of joining. Meg can still talk, she can’t smoke and she doesn’t have to wear white. Most of this story-line is between Meg and Laurie. Laurie’s babying her to understanding their ways but Meg has shown too much frustration and impatience to make it to the next level. But at the end when they believe that Meg has left the Guilty Remnant for good, she goes back to that tree and keeps on swinging away. Whether it’s supposed to be symbolic or not, Meg seems to have made her choice by sticking with them.

The only point of this episode that directly explores losing someone who disappeared was with Nora Durst, a woman who lost her entire family and now works for an insurance company. She interviews two elderly parents who lost their son who had Down Syndrome. It’s a tough scene to watch but it reminds us that this world that these characters live in is extremely fragile. They’re all living with someone they lost in one way or another. And even though everyone attempts to go on with their daily routines, there is still that emptiness inside of them that is haunted by the events of October 14.

Which brings us back to those bagels. At the end, Kevin goes back to the bagel machine, unscrews the back and reaches his hand in, hoping that his bagels are in there. If they’re not, then he really might be going crazy and on the same path like his father. But thankfully, he does find them. He pulls out the two halves of burnt bagels and lets out a sigh of relief. What’s important here is that there is an explanation to where the bagels went, unlike the disappeared. When something cannot be explained, you’ll keep on searching for answers. You’ll even make up reasons for why the unknown happened until you convince yourself it’s the truth. Like I said during last week’s review, all these people want is an idea why two percent disappeared. They need something to bury, like the dog in the pilot. Here, Kevin finds the missing bagels. It gives him the satisfaction before almost losing his mind. Could this be a foreshadowing that some people might return later on in the season? Is this hinting that Kevin isn’t imagining the mystery man? Okay, I’ll stop rambling now.


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