Audio Review: Hidden Figures & Fences

January 23, 2017

I am currently involved with two podcasting projects, both pop culture related. In the one titled Popcorn and Pop Culture, I review the films Hidden Figures and Fences separately. Instead of writing my review of both films, check them out here:

Hidden Figures Review

Fences Review

Popcorn and Pop Culture site


Movie Review: The Edge of Seventeen

December 3, 2016

The Edge of Seventeen (2016)
104 minutes
Rated – R
Starring: Hailee Steinfeld, Woody Harrelson, Blake Jenner
Directed by Kelly Fremon Craig

edge-of-seventeen

Grade: A-

I’m sure this isn’t the first time I’m writing about this, but I love a high school drama that is done well, and The Edge of Seventeen has officially cracked into my list of favorite high school movies of all time. High school is such a complex and confusing time for every teenager to go through. It is where you truly begin on the treacherous journey to find your identity, and through this process you engage in so many new experiences that your head spins out of control. In a nutshell, this is sort of the direction that The Edge of Seventeen goes.

Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) never had much luck in her life as she always lacked the confidence and the physical appearance that her older brother, Darian (Blake Jenner), had. But through her lonely childhood, she met a friend whom became her best (and only) friend, Krista. Aside from being socially awkward, Nadine’s family had a tragic turn of events when her father suddenly passes away, leaving the family without the glue that kept them all sane. Come present day, Nadine and Krista are juniors in high school and things seem to be the same. One opening scene has Nadine confessing to her favorite teacher (Woody Harrelson) that she’s going to kill herself, only to be mocked with sarcasm that he is also going to commit suicide because of her complaining. This is the type of relationship they have and it’s an important one for Nadine as the plot moves forward.

As if Nadine’s life wasn’t difficult enough, her life crumbles to a pile of rubble when it’s discovered that her best friend Krista and her brother hooked up and are dating. She is disgusted by her brother and feels betrayed by her only friend and sulks in her room, praying that things will turn around for her. As an adult, it’s easy to roll your eyes at how silly this might all sound, but if you have the ability to put yourself in her shoes it’s not that hard to understand how impactful this situation would be for Nadine. With the pressure of doing well in school, being in a relationship, finding your identity, being popular, and dealing with your parents/family, to put it bluntly life is freaking tough for a teenager. Nadine’s case is no different.

With all of my favorite high school films, this coming-of-age tale truly captures the feeling of high school from the awkward conversations to the sexual tension of newly discovered hormones. What I love about The Edge of Seventeen is how it is seen through the perspective of Nadine, and this makes a huge impact on the film. Hailee Steinfeld is remarkable as Nadine, showing off her true acting chops like she did in True Grit, but this time as a more relatable teenager. I applaud movies that take the risk of fleshing out a plot through the unstable eyes of a troubled protagonist, and Nadine sure is going through a lot to be qualified as troubled. And finally, The Edge of Seventeen is very strong with its tone throughout the entire running time. There is a very good blend of serious moments with comedy to take off the edge, and the right amount of feel-good with feel-bad scenes. Nothing is straight-forward when you’re in high school and The Edge of Seventeen makes sure to remind us all of that. Maybe it’s really not the end of the world if you get that pimple on picture day, or if you get dumped the day before the prom, but for a seventeen-year-old, it might as well be.


Movie Review: Arrival

December 2, 2016

Arrival (2016)
116 minutes
Rated – PG-13
Starring: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker
Directed by Denis Villeneuve

arrival-poster

Grade: A

I never like to write any kind of review and say how I cannot completely discuss it because it would spoil the essence and the experience that the film offers, but this is true with Denis Villeneuve’s latest sci-fi flick, Arrival. It starts out like many other alien invasion films. There is heightened panic and confusion when alien ships enter the Earth’s atmosphere and land all over the globe. As the audience, we share a unique perspective from other Hollywood films, which is being in the same shoes as the characters. They’re all scared and they know close to nothing about anything. Will humanity have to bond with one another to overcome the extraterrestrial? Will the foreigners invade and conquer the human race? Who will be the hero to save the day?

What is refreshing about this film is how serious it takes itself, but also remains complex enough to be truly science fiction. This isn’t your popcorn sci-fi film like Independence Day; this is more like Interstellar but with a much more satisfying conclusion. Our protagonist is Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams), a brilliant professor of linguistics that is contacted and brought in to help figure out why the aliens are here and what they want. She pairs up with physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) and together they have the impossible task of deciphering the advanced alien language as time is ticking down to intergalactic warfare.

Arrival is a film that will force you to pay attention, because like those certain lessons in school that were critical tools you need for your future, Arrival throws a lot of information at you and expects you to understand. While a good majority of the film was predictable, it was still done with great precision and suspense from Villeneuve, one of the better directors of this generation. Every scene is full of excitement and mystery and even when nothing is happening, the details are worth talking about. Villeneuve always had this gift from past films like Prisoners and Sicario; he can extract the best from his actors, make a screenplay punch you in the face, and at the same time deliver an entire project that will leave you breathless at the end.

There are so many things that work well in Arrival that it’s a film I cannot wait to view for a second time. I fully expect a second and third viewing of this sci-fi gem to only enhance the experience. While Amy Adams did give a very strong performance, it was overshadowed by the intelligence of the overall movie and how realistic it all felt (a rare occasion with a sci-fi movie). And one thing that you can always anticipate from Villeneuve is that you won’t get an entirely “movie” ending with his films. For those who give Arrival a chance and accept its theories that drive the plot, it will instantly become a science fiction classic.

 


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?

maze-runner-photo


The Big Bang Theory – “The First Pitch Insufficiency”

September 30, 2014

Season Eight, Episode Three

big-bang-theory-s08e03

Grade: B-

After a less than mediocre start to the eighth season, The Big Bang Theory delivers with a funnier, yet stale episode. It’s never terrible when a comedy is funny, but with a ratings blockbuster like The Big Bang Theory, you would expect more. Unfortunately, we haven’t seen it in a long time.

The best moments in the episode revolve around Simon Helberg’s physical comedy. The scene where he’s warming up to throw a baseball while practicing in the gym is great fun. Helberg has taken over most of the series’ jokes since he’s matured from the little, horny geek striking out with every ridiculous pick-up line. Also, Kunal Nayyar gives some great one-liners throughout, plus I loved him jeering Helberg as he’s pitching in a video game.

The B-story was all over the place, with a double date between Leonard, Penny, Sheldon, and Amy. The double date idea is good, and I appreciate the show actually developing the engagement between Leonard and Penny, but the execution of this story-line is poor. As we continue to question why Amy remains loyal by Sheldon’s side, they legitimately believe that they’re a better couple than Leonard and Penny. Which I guess I can see because Leonard and Penny’s past is proof that they’re both a wreck together, though that’s probably more Penny’s fault than Leonard’s. But still, how could Amy, who shows great deal of frustration practically every other episode, believe she’s in a healthy relationship with Sheldon? I’m not buying that.

We at least get an update that they don’t have any imminent plans to set a wedding date, so I guess the show will drag that story-line out. I like how they confront each other about their insecurities being with each other for the long haul, but like every time TBB tries to explore serious relationship issues, they resolve the conflict way too quickly. So while Sheldon and Amy scored an 8.2 on that relationship test, Leonard refused to take it but still gives a sweet remark to Penny that makes Amy jealous. It’s a decent analogy for both of their relationships, but everything else barely hit skin-deep.

While this was an improvement from last week’s back-to-back episodes, it’s far from being a good one. But for a while, TBB has been bumping out stand-alone episodes for syndication without attempting to drive home any kind of story-arc. This is why TBB will get ratings, but will easily be forgotten in the long-run. It’s the reason I see Friends and How I Met Your Mother repeats, and it seems that Two and a Half Men reruns have disappeared.


New Girl – “Dice”

September 26, 2014

Season Four, Episode Two

new-girl-dice

Grade: B+

After a stellar premiere, New Girl continues its new-found single life once again by exploring an app called Dice, which is basically Tinder (you know, that booty call app where you respond whether or not you like what you see and wait for a match). While Schmidt has had much success hooking up with girls on Dice (which is what it’s obviously for), Jess attempts to use it to date potential future husbands. Oh cute Jessica, keep being adorable and naive.

It’s always fun when Jess and Schmidt team up for a story-line because they’re such complete opposites that they’ll always run into hilarious scenarios. It’s also necessary to split apart Jess and Nick as much as possible in the early going of this season. Even though in the show they’re four months from being a couple, it’s still pretty new to us viewers and separating them is a good idea.

What ends up happening is Schmidt giving Jess lessons on how to “date” on Dice. While Jess and Schmidt have different views on dating, Schmidt does drop some useful knowledge and exposes a weak link in Jess’ personality. She’s too damn nice and she’s naive.

“Do you just walk around all day thinking about other people’s feelings? How do you get anything done?” – Schmidt

It’s something Jess knows is happening, yet she can’t help it. When she finds herself on a number of terrible dates, she lingers like the hopeless girl in a dead end relationship because she doesn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. But Schmidt goes the distance to even writing down a number of excuses to get her out of a bad date.

Meanwhile, Winston sulks that none of the cop guys he’s training with likes him (because he doesn’t have a nickname). Also, Coach admits that he’s never been stone before, so Nick and Cece decide to walk him through it as his spirit guide to marijuana. When Winston finally gets an in with his cop buddies and gets invited to a barbeque, yup you guessed it, the stoners tag along. The reaction to the three when they realized they’re surrounded by cops is great. It’s also great because of the turn-around that knowing his friends were stoned, Winston and some other cops pull a prank on them, providing the approval Winston needed to finally receive a nickname, “Toilet.”

In the end, nothing really changes. Jess gives the handsome guy a shot but he turns out to be quite the creepy magician (Too bad we didn’t get to see the hat pulled out of the rabbit), so she’s back to square one. Schmidt opens up to the girl from Dice but gets shot down. As for the rest of the gang, well they claim they’re never going to get stoned again, which is too bad because who wouldn’t want to see them huddled up in a closet? But what’s funnier? Nick when he’s drunk or when he’s stoned?

New Girl Character Ratings:

Jess (A-): She’ll always be that adorable and innocent Jess we all love no matter how many lessons Schmidt gives her. When she sees a handsome guy with beautiful eyes, her reaction is, “Them’s joint bank account eyes.” If she doesn’t find her way to your heart, then I don’t know what will.

Schmidt (A-): Another great episode from Schmidt. Pairing him up with Jess is great because we get to see the true Schmidt. Though I do find it slightly weird that he wouldn’t be more attracted to her. Anyway, here are some highlights: “The point of dating is just… to keep on dating and then never stop, like burning fossil fuels or seeing a therapist” and “If you are for one second suggesting that I don’t know how to open a musical, how dare you!”

Nick (B): Out of the stoners, Nick was clearly the best. If his theories about science weren’t enough, kicking over the grill and running had to have been the peak. I sure want to see Nick stoned more, because after all, “If pot were a piano, Nick would be a 9-year-old Chinese girl.” It’s a bit disappointing that he’s been pushed back to a supporting role so far this season, but he’s still making the most of every scene.

Winston (B-): It’s surprising he actually received a decent story-line, but he was overshadowed by the three stoner amigos. Still, at the end of the day he got what he wished for, a nickname. Good for you, Winston.

Cece (C+): It’s clear that the writers are trying their best to involve Cece in every episode, which is a great thing. But she hasn’t had any impact on this season so far, aside from joining her friends as being single. It’ll be nice to see her as something more than just the other friend outside the loft.

Coach (D): I had high hopes (no pun intended) for Coach in this episode when he was popping his marijuana cherry, but he didn’t have any awesome stoned moments like Nick did. What’s your problem, Coach?


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