The Leftovers – “B.J. and the A.C.”

July 21, 2014

Season One, Episode Four

the-leftovers-bj-and-ac

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

the-strain-logo

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

dawn-planet-of-apes

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

The-Leftovers-Two-Boats

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

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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.


Fargo – “The Crocodile’s Dilemma”

July 1, 2014

Season One, Episode One

Fargo-Crocodiles-Dilemma

Grade: A

The series begins the same way that the Coen brothers’ film does, stating that the story to be told is true and while the names have been changed, out of respect to the dead this is exactly what happened. We’re in 2006 Minnesota and the Jerry Lunegaard version of the show is Lester Nygaard, a healthcare salesperson who is a fragile man in a turbulent marriage at best, and one who is constantly being pushed around.

He first bumps into Sam Hess, a former bully in high school. Sam Hess is with his two sons, both who are bigger than Lester already. Sam provokes and taunts Lester until he finally scares him to flinch right into a wall, breaking his nose. In the emergency waiting room, that’s where he meets Lorne Malvo, the man who will change his life. Played by Billy Bob Thornton, Mavlo is your anti-hero, a man with a calm and cool sense of power, and even though he’s a crook and a murderer in every sense he has a code that he lives by. He lends Lester some words of advice and advises him not to be pushed over anymore. This leads to a great scene when Malvo is waiting for Lester to give him a “yes” or “no” answer to kill Sam Hess. He doesn’t give him the okay, but to Malvo he doesn’t tell him not to either.

Lester continues to be pushed around. He visits his younger brother who is enjoying success with his recently installed surround-sound and his heavy duty assault rifle. As the screw up Lester is, he drops and breaks the weapon, causing his brother to admit he sometimes tells people that his older brother is dead. The show cuts to Lester and his wife driving home with his wife asking why he punched his brother. This is the sort of quick pace Fargo displays in its pilot, and one that builds up a scene only to cut away from the action. This sort of tactic is proven very useful later on.

Then we meet a few more important characters. There is Chief Vern Thurman, a handsome and happily married man awaiting his first newborn with his wife, who seems too good to be true. He’s polite and caring towards his wife, never showing any signs of being annoyed when she can’t make up her mind what color to paint the bedroom. His partner is Deputy Molly Solverson, a smart go-getter who Thurman claims will be Chief one day. They investigate a car accident that Mavlo was involved with in the first scene. The Chief is very well-respected and Molly looks up to him dearly. It’s impossible not to compare Thurman to Frances McDormand’s Marge Gunderson because of the kind way they carry out their day, even when it involves murder.

Malvo strikes when he carries out his promise to Lester and kills Sam Hess. As the police investigate the killing, Lester is pushed to the limits after failing to fix the washing machine. His wife pushes his buttons, saying he’s not a man and how she pictures someone else when they’re having sex. She’s not even slightly afraid when Lester picks up a hammer and threatens her with it, and frankly neither was I but Lester proved both of us wrong by sledging her in the head once, and then over and over again. It’s a horrific scene but as we watched the tension build up within Lester, I couldn’t help but hearing Malvo’s voice over and over again to not be bullied and to stand up for yourself. While killing your wife certainly isn’t the correct road to take, Malvo didn’t reprimand Lester for his actions.

And then comes the most shocking moment of the episode. When Thurman drops by Lester’s house to ask him a few questions about his visit to the hospital, he discovers blood on the floor and then Lester’s dead wife in the basement. As he draws his gun and orders Lester to submit, Malvo blows Thurman away with two blasts of a shotgun. Just like that, our purely good character is gone. Molly rushes in a few moments later but Malvo has already escaped and Lester gave himself a concussion to remain innocent.

The world of Fargo has certainly been transferred from the film to the series. With the bright eyes and courtesy of those from Minnesota being mixed together with forces of evil from the outside, we get the black comedy that the Coens showed so well in their 1996 film. The difference here is Malvo, a much more likable character than the kidnappers of the film. Here, Malvo doesn’t seem like he wants to kill whoever for whatever reason, he does so because he feels it’s right. And for those who just are in the wrong place at the wrong time, he gives them an out if it’s possible. Sometimes you don’t always get a second chance, but if it were up to Malvo you would. That’s what he’s given to Lester.


The Leftovers – “Pilot”

June 30, 2014

Season One, Episode One

the-leftovers-pilot

Grade: B+

I can tell already that this show is going to be hit or miss with everyone. I also feel like it’s going to be more miss than hit because it’s simply way too strange to be welcomed by a large audience, but there is a lot of good things apparent in the pilot. But with Damon Lindelof as one of the creators, it’s not surprising that the pilot is pretty weak on plot but incredibly thick on tone and mystery.

On October 14, two percent of the world’s population disappears. The opening scene displays the kind of panic and chaos that a phenomenon like this would have. Mothers screaming for their missing baby. Children crying for their missing parents. Cars crashing from missing drivers. We jump to three years later but I feel cheated that we didn’t see more of the immediate confusion the world would’ve went through. People screaming about the rapture; others searching for answers to no end. The world would erupt in a paranoia that would take years to recover. I guess that’s why we jump to three years later.

The Leftovers concentrates on a suburban town with the Chief (Justin Theroux) as its main character. His name is Kevin Garvey and he’s your typical protagonist, good looking father of two trying to keep order and peace in a chaotic world while wrestling with his own personal demons. But as his daughter’s best friend mentioned, he is trying his best. The rest of the episode surrounds around the three-year memorial service for the “heroes” as they’re coining the disappeared. The Chief urges that the service be called off because he suspects a violent mess between the residents and the the Guilty Remnant, a group of people who dress in white and do not speak, while following and provoking those who lost loved ones.

What I loved about the pilot episode is how The Leftovers is content with taking its time developing the characters dealing with such an odd incident. They try not to admit that the ones who disappeared are dead, but they still feel like they must honor them at a memorial service. All they need is an answer, or at least a body. But there are no answers to where they vanished to, and there are no bodies to bury and therefore no one can move on from the events of October 14.

Then there are other things that happened in the pilot that require a lot more thought, or maybe just a lot more patience. Who are the Guilty Remnant? What do they want? Who is the man that Tom brings the Congressman to? What is up with the dogs? What exactly happened with The Chief on October 14? As all these questions raced through my head, we get two reveals at the conclusion of the pilot. First, that The Chief’s wife didn’t disappear, she left the family to join the Remnant. Second, Meg (Liv Tyler) asks to stay with the cult for a few nights. But like Lindelof’s previous show Lost, these reveals only present more questions.

The Leftovers has to be careful not to let audiences leave the show because the mystery overcomes the plot and characters. The most powerful aspect the show has going for them is the theme of a worldwide tragedy and how everyone is dealing with it together. Also, they’re going to need stronger characters that we can support because other than The Chief, there isn’t anyone else I really care about. Hopefully that will change within the next few episodes and hopefully we’re actually not supposed to like Jill, Kevin Garvey’s teenage daughter, because the last thing I want to see is another rebellious teenager making stupid decisions. But for now I’m going to keep tuning in to find out why the town should stop wasting their breath.


Orphan Black – “By Means Which Have Never Yet Been Tried”

June 22, 2014

Season Two, Episode Ten

OrphanBlack-S2E10

Grade: B+

With Season Two, Orphan Black has tried its best to balance the strange mythology of the series with its more successful aspect, concentrating on the personal engagements of each clone. I’m completely invested if the show concentrates on Allison and Donnie’s suburbia lifestyle, Cosima and Delphine’s steamy science love, Helena’s hard shell with a soft heart on the inside, and Sarah’s motivation to keep Kira safe. But when you throw in the Diyad, the Proletheans, Paul’s military history, Mrs. S’s secrets, Duncan as Rachel’s father, Art and Angie’s involvement, plus a transgender clone, things get muddled real quickly.

That being said, the way Season Two ends is quite a shocker, while not being that much of a shocker. We learn from Marion that Project Castor is a military project of a male line of clones. And guess who’s the clone? None other than the Prolethean Mark, who has just married Gracie. What does this mean? I’m not sure, but I’m somewhat excited and disappointed at the same time. With this, Orphan Black is opening up an entirely new chapter to what the clones mean in this world. At the same time, if this is going to take away from the brilliance of Tatiana Maslany and her multiple personalities, then I’m not on board. This is nothing against Ari Millen, but whenever a show can be as successful as Orphan Black with a leading woman, you want it to continue that way. Will Millen be the Angel to Sarah Michelle Gellar’s Buffy? We’ll have to see.

Anyway, the finale as a whole was very suspenseful, with plenty of action and great scenes. With Sarah turning herself in the beginning and having the doctors poke and prod her, it was uncomfortable to watch but serves as a commentary to how women are scrutinized daily in our society. It was obvious that the whole team would come together to save Sarah and Kira, but while it was predictable it was still very fulfilling. One great scene here was when Cosima was teaching Kira some science by asking her to punch a hole through the paper with her pencil. This cute scene was cut with Cosima and Scott creating a device that will later be used to shoot a sharpened pencil through Rachel eye! Yeah science bitch!

I think everyone’s favorite scene of the finale (and possible the entire second season) was when all the clones, plus Felix, were in the loft. First, it was a sweet and touching moment when the sisters meet Helena and then Kira runs up and hugs her. But after the commercial break, we get all the clones dancing together. What a magical and fantastic scene that was. It was just the thing we needed to break up all of the crazy that the finale packed in. Of course, soon after Helena is kidnapped and looks like she’s being shipped away because of a deal between Mrs. S and Paul.

What was great in the finale was seeing some emotionally driven scenes involving Cosima, who certainly doesn’t have much time left. When Kira tries to wake her up the next morning, my heart stopped thinking that was the last time we would see Cosima. But she does wake up, reads Kira a book, and then reads the Duncan’s notes with wide eyes in his copy of The Island of Doctor Moreau. Cosima hasn’t had much to do during the second season, but these last few episodes who why she just might be the most important clone after all.

So Project Castor is revealed, Duncan poisons himself while muttering to Rachel, “You don’t deserve me anymore,” and Rachel gets a pencil through her left eye. And even though Marion presents herself as a trustworthy person to Sarah, I still don’t trust her. I also want to know why Art isn’t a bigger part of the immediate picture. He seemed like he was going to come in handy when Sarah told him, but this season he was just a babysitter to Helena while the other clones did all the work. Oh, and Cal returned this episode and was a big help to everyone. His reward, a nice smooth on the lips from Sarah before Felix broke them two up. I did love how Cosima and Allison both approved of Cal’s hotness to Sarah. Anyway, the world of Orphan Black is in disarray. Will Marion be able to bring order in Sarah’s life so she can stop running? It’s doubtful. And how is Project Castor going to be played out next season? One can only imagine until next season.


Movie Review: Chef (2014)

June 14, 2014

Chef (2014)
114 minutes
Rated – R
Directed by Jon Favreau
Starring: Jon Favreau, John Leguizamo, Sofia Vergara, Emjay Anthony

chef-poster

Grade: B

Make sure you have a full stomach before watching Chef because if not, your tummy will be growling and your mouth will be salivating at all of the delicious food throughout the film. Jon Favreau stars (and also directed, wrote, and produced) in this family versus career movie that also boasts a great supporting cast and a number of cameos. But what makes Chef a delightful treat for all audiences is its warm, soft heart at the middle.

Chef Casey (Favreau) is being creatively hand-cuffed at a high-end L.A. restaurant by the owner (Dustin Hoffman). When a hot shot food blogger attends the restaurant one night, Casey is forced to serve the traditional menu instead of the daring and unique menu he wants to present. After a bad review and some embarrassing moments for Casey, he quits the restaurant and eventually takes the advice from his ex-wife (Sofia Vergara) to start a food-truck business making Cuban sandwiches.

On top of all the sizzling dishes Casey serves up, including a mouth-watering grilled cheese sandwich, the film revolves around Casey’s family, which is on the brink of falling apart. With the restaurant, Casey rarely had time for his young son Percy. It’s the same old too-busy-because-of-work plot where Casey is late picking Percy up from school and doesn’t involve him with his career-driven situations. But once Casey leaves the restaurant, a lot of time opens up for them and the father-son bonding commences.

Chef is a small film that wets your appetite, leaving you with a satisfying smile at its conclusion, but it never does anything else than provide a traditional, predictable story. There are some great moments between Jon Favreau and his chef buddy John Leguizamo, and there’s a touching moment towards the end that sums up the entirely movie in a minute, but other than that Chef is close to being bland. What it did do well was presenting the generation gap between the technology savvy kids with their old fashioned parents. Casey thinking he’s sending the food blogger a direct text over Twitter is something I’m sure every parent would do, not knowing that their message is public to the world. But even though Chef isn’t memorable, it’s still a perfect snack to getaway from all the explosions from the summer’s blockbusters.


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