28 December 2014

The Rambling Geeks Podcast - Episode 4: Gift X-change and Christmas Specials!

Tom's gift X-change!
'Tis the season, and the Rambling Geeks celebrate it with a gift exchange of nerdy proportions, and segue into the main topic of discussion - Christmas specials! With the likes of Supernatural, Doctor Who, Power Rangers, Batman, Smallville, and the infamous and quite banned Star Wars Holiday Special under discussed, the Rambling Geeks embrace the Christmas season!

As always, comments and feedback are welcome! Voice your opinions below! See you in 2015 where another guest caster will stop by to go over 2014 in  cinema, and the geeks give a fond and critical look back at the wave-maker series The Legend of Korra.

Merry Christmas everyone, and thanks for listening!

18 December 2014

The Rambling Geeks Podcast - Episode 3: Midseason Finales & 2014 Superhero Retrospective!

Podcasters Tom (left), Andy (middle), and Dave (right)

The Geeks are back! Join co-hosts Andy and Tom as they're joined by special guest Dave (from the Four Geeks and a Microphone podcast) as they discuss the first nine episodes of THE FLASH and ARROW, and delve deep into the analytical well as they discuss the 2014 helpings of superhero goodness, CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER, THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2, X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST, and GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY.

Some quick notes:
  • This was the most fun of the podcasts to record thus far, and we'll definitely have Mr. Dave come back for an encore. Look for a potential scene-by-scene analysis of DARK KNIGHT RISES in the near future!
  • At the hour and 40ish minute mark, there is some brilliant hilarity. 
  • I made two blunders in the podcast: (1) I mistakenly thought AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 was the first superhero movie of 2014, that error is realized in the podcast, and (2) there has been, in fact, one Godzilla movie that exceeded a $10 million budget, and that was GODZILLA: FINAL WARS with $19 million.
And that concludes my notes. Enjoy and comment below!

06 September 2014

Doctor Who 802. Into the Dalek

Doctor Who
802. Into the Dalek

Written by Phil Ford and Steven Moffat

It's a good, solid Dalek story, reminding viewers that these creatures are, in fact, a formidable threat. And it's one of the better second New Doctor stories in a while. There's still a couple of nooks and crannies that could use improvement, but overall, "Into the Dalek" is a well crafted story that shows early promise for the direction Series 8 is heading.

What if a Dalek got so topsy turvy that it actually became good? And out of sheer luck, The Doctor is brought face to face with one - his new patient. The thing still doesn't have a clue who The Doctor is, insofar as the past these two species share, so the heavy drama comes from the seemingly perpetually cross Doctor, who's sickened by the things very existence, but reluctantly intrigued by what this development could mean.

Look, the Daleks are ridiculously overused. 2012's "Asylum of the Daleks" was terrific, it honestly, properly was. Some gorgeous set design and CG work. It didn't necessarily make the villains scary again, but it did make them interesting for the first time in ages. Then they popped up again in both 2013 specials, one for the dramatization of the Time War (plus, how does one have a 50th Anniversary year without the Daleks, eh?) and the other to ensure The Doctor's death on the fields of Trenzalore in "The Time of the Doctor". So, they've been used sparingly in the last year, but for some reason it still feels like Dalek overload. Yet, admittedly, the Daleks work.

Don't get me wrong, this episode still didn't really educate me on Dalek anatomy (same way as "Journey to the Center of the TARDIS" failed to really illuminate the labyrinth that is The Doctor's time capsule) and hearing the Daleks shout "Exterminate!" every second and a half like they had to say it to work a Dark Arts spell was nails-on-chalkboard irritating, but the Daleks were powerful for the first time in ages. For me, they will never invoke fear like they did for children back in the sixties, watching them for the first time on Skaro (which got a name drop this episode! woot!), but "Into the Dalek" and "Dalek" are really the only two times the viewer gets the sense that these guys are serious trouble, and could, in fact, be badass enough to defeat the Time Lords.

Now, the bigger question of "Into the Dalek" was: did Peter Capaldi improve on his performance as The Doctor, and is there a better sense as to who this character is? For the most part, yes. Capaldi's darker, less tolerant Doctor is established pretty much immediately with a wonderful scene between Journey Blue, the girl he saved, and himself, as he badgers her about the appropriate way of asking to be brought back to someone's ship. It's a great scene - hell, if this episode did anything right, it was setting up who this Doctor was better than last week, and I suppose that's the point. Have "Deep Breath" question this new man, and have the Doctor's greatest foe validate him as the universe's greatest hero and greatest weapon.

The Twelfth Doctor, the stern and ruthless calculator who capitalizes on people's imminent deaths to accomplish a goal ("I was saving us, he was dead already!"), who gauges his morality with a question to Clara ("Am I a good man?"), and who is complimented by the Rogue Dalek as the personification of a "good Dalek." I can dig this. This works. Capaldi's performance still has areas of wavering and not quite selling the character instead of the performance, but overall, his work took a giant leap forward with this episode.

Clara continues to be the real strength of the series, completely owning the two 2013 Specials and these last two episodes. Her attitude towards the Doctor and her fun flirtatious side with the newly introduced Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson) presents her as someone with spunk and charm. Oh hell, enough yabbering, she was terrific, and although Danny's introduction did seem a bit melodramatic in some aspects (predominantly the bits where his past as a soldier is brought up), there were enough comedic beats to make it fun. 

Just throwing this out there, although it'd be too obvious - Journey Blue is a descendent of Danny and Clara's children. I think it'd be kinda cool to have a Companion meet their future lineage, but again, might be too obvious. Why would Ford and Moffat have a character comment on "Blue" and "Pink"? Either throwaway gag, or deeper meaning.

Now that's just a flippin' cool shot. So is this:

Overall, good episode with amazing pacing. It felt like a whole story was told without feeling rushed. A strong introduction to Danny Pink, and a strong characterization of the Twelfth Doctor that was mostly captured by a wavering Peter Capaldi. "Into the Dalek" is one of the better, more interesting Dalek stories around - although it woulda been nice if the Dalek interiors had something a little more original and captivating - but I'd be more than happy not to encounter the Daleks for another year.

Notes & Thoughts
  • There is something absolutely ridiculously satisfying in watching Daleks get blown to bits in this episode, right? We get to see (at least) five Daleks explode in camera with practical effects. Oh, it's beautiful. It really is.
  • Amusing observation (at least for myself): in both Matt Smith's second episode and Peter Capaldi's second episode as The Doctor, they (and their companions) are forced down a tunnel and into a big pile of sludge, both inside a creature of some kind. Interesting, no?
  • Also about prior plot points making their way into this text, I did like The Doctor's aversion to military characters being incorporated here. The Doctor has never had a real like for people with guns - a tolerance, sure, but never a real fan - and that's reinforced here with his dismissive affront to Journey Blue's request to join him. I dig the continuity of character.
  • Speaking of which, quote time: "I think you're probably nice. Underneath it all I think you're kind and you're definitely brave. I just wish you hadn't been a soldier."
  • Although this now makes me sad, realizing that even if Lorna Bucket had survived the Battle of Demon's Run in A Good Man Goes to War, The Doctor wouldn't have picked her up for journeys inside the TARDIS. Bugger.
  • I could go another year without hearing a Dalek belch "Exterminate!" Oh my god, there was way too much of that this episode. Anyone else feel the same?
  • Interesting note: the original script included a sequence where the One Dalek Killing Machine boarded the Dalek mothership and initiated its self destruct, destroying the Dalek ship in a vicotrious explosion. I was looking forward to seeing that. Pity it was excised, although I haven't the foggiest why - budgetary purposes, perhaps?
  • So Missy the Heavenly Gatekeeper makes another appearance this week (this series' Eye Patch Lady?), and the main consistency between both appearances is that it's connected to The Doctor - victims of the Doctor's actions. So, whoever dies directly by choices of the Doctor. 'least, that's my working theory. But, for what purpose?
  • Next week is Mark Gatiss taking a swing at Robin Hood. Not the hugest Gatiss fan, but this looks like a fun romp at least. Plus, this shot from the Next Time trailer, love it:

26 August 2014

24: Live Another Day

 24: Live Another Day

12-episode miniseries, FOX, 2014

Reviews are a comprehensive analysis of the entire aired season. Therefore, if
you haven't watched the entirety of 24: Live Another Day, read no further. 

Four years ago, I wrote extensively about the great, the terrible, and the bad of 24's eighth and then final season. 24 was a series I wholeheartedly loved from Senator David Palmer to President Allison Taylor, from Nina Meyers' betrayal to Jack Bauer's rampage of revenge and near assassination of an ex-President. It was with a heavy heart that I said goodbye to the series, but with such a whirlwind of a generally bad season in Day 8, that miraculously - and thankfully - concluded on one hell of a stellar high note, it seemed there was no better time to call quits, and what better way to end it. 

And then 24: Live Another Day was announced. With a killer premise - Jack Bauer in London! - and the promise of everyone's favorite non-superhero superhuman who isn't Batman returning from exile, man, I was stoked. A 12-episode miniseries, touted out as a "event" in every bit of press around . . . excitement was building! The potential awesomeness of this compact season could be. No filler, no loose ends going nowhere, no ridiculous melodrama, and best of all, the writers would be rejuvenated with creative ideas and renewed enthusiasm!

Ultimately, what 24: Live Another Day became was more or less the same of what we've seen before.

Typically, that's not a bad thing, but with all the pre-launch press, the sameness can't help but be a bit underwhelming. There is plenty of pleasure to be taken from that, to be sure - Jack Bauer's new rogue status allows him room to do things that he otherwise wouldn't necessarily be able to under government control, and that becomes highly, highly riveting drama. But the hope was that whatever was planned for these 12 episodes would justify the return, and, in a way, spoil the spectacularly appropriate and fulfilling ending Day 8 concluded on.

Things get off with a rocky start as the opening chapter, "11:00AM - 12:00PM", fails to really capture tension. Jack is back, indeed, badass-ly maneuvering a prison escape for himself and Chloe O'Brien that is thrilling, but the build-up, not so much. Aided by a Bad Guy in the form of Margot al-Harazi who has a vendetta against President Heller (last seen in the closing minutes of Day 6 in a brutal verbal sparring exchange with Jack) and commandeers U.S. military drones to exact her revenge against him and the UK. And there's this super awesome kickass agent Kate Morgan (Yvonne Strahovski) who's on Jack's trail, but soon becomes an ally. With Strahovski, who already has street cred as the spectacularly brutal Sarah Walker in NBC's late and great comedy series Chuck, it was a sure bet that her presence would add another layer of awesome to the proceedings. Overall, sounds pretty cool, right?

Unfortunately, those pesky subplots that was hopefully to be eliminated rear their ugly head. A mole inside CTU that propels the second subplot in a new direction! A President with a problem they're trying to keep hidden! A cool character with a sad history that's mentioned at least once per episode! The President's aid scheming behind his back! The bad guy is batshit crazy, and acts batshit crazy to their subordinates! Coupled together, these are all grievances that detract from making Live Another Day a solid installment in the series' overall pretty damn great history.  These are annoying problems that could easily have been avoided, or, at least, handled with a more delicate care.

What does work is Jack and when he's allowed to be Jack. With such a short time span to deal with, Jack's status as fugitive of the United States is dealt with a rather welcome speed, and soon becomes President Heller's only real line of defense against Margot. Making Heller President seemed like a contrivance at the beginning - and for the most part, the whole idea rather is a contrivance - but the benefits reaped by having this character in a position of power, especially one with a civilian history with Jack, is more than worth it. The early scenes between these characters as they become reacquainted are deeply rich, nuanced and compelling (as are Jack's interactions with Audrey, which is bursting with electricity and restraint). As the day progresses and a genuine feeling of trust - dare one mention it, friendship - is fostered, that's when the series really shines. Particularly "6:00PM - 7:00PM", where Heller makes a decision regarding Al-Harazi that he entrusts only Jack in executing. It's a brilliant hour of television, and portrays the Jack/Heller dynamic beautifully. 

And best of all, it results in one of the series' best lines, spoken by Heller to the CTU head, regarding Jack needing Kate Morgan's assistance in a mission:

"Jack wants her, Jack needs her, Jack gets her."

That also leads to the following hour, "7:00PM - 8:00PM", where that Rogue Jack status really gets to shine. Throughout the season, Jack's patience level has evaporated entirely, smarting off against anyone in his way, and refusing to take gruff from anyone he doesn't have to (namely, the President). It's also allowed him certain liberties, like dealing with problems any way he sees fit, as he does with Margot in one hell of a cold and amazing sequence involving large heights. The season finale, "10:00PM - 11:00AM" also features such a moment between Jack and Cheng Zei, who makes a wonderful return to the 24 after the largely misguided Day 6, to tie up another series-long storyline. The ultimate resolution between these characters didn't entirely reach the epoch of emotional intensity as it should have, given everything that's transpired between the two men, but regardless, having these two scarred characters face off again was a delight.

Chloe O'Brien's arc was less than interesting, as she removed herself from government employ and turned cyberhacker against her country, exploiting government secrets and working with a underground UK cyber operation. Her return works both as a emotional thread for Jack to hold onto, but also helps for plot purposes, as she helps solve Jack's problems all easy peasy and helps move the last subplots into place in the final episodes. Overall, however, it was probably one of the better uses of Chloe in the last handful of years, but like many things this season, failed to really resonate.

There are lots of pros and cons with this miniseries event, with more or the same, less of the new being a problem, but there were also amazing moments, like Jack's confrontations with Margot and Cheng, or Morgan's handcuffed murder of her torturer in episode 6, or the Jack-drone attack in the streets of London. Ultimately, it was an average season of 24.

In the end, the question becomes: what's the point? 24: Live Another Day didn't push as many boundaries as it should have, nor did it offer anything really fresh or exciting to really make the adventure worth it. Yes, it was beyond gratifying to have Jack Bauer back onscreen again doing his thing, but the way he came back - despite a real riveting episode or reveal here or there - just didn't reach the levels of excellence it should have.

The note the series ends on has is a frustrating one. Day 8 ended on such a poignant, beautiful note, so perfect for the character of Jack Bauer, that this new potential series ender just doesn't quite ring the same tone. Jack sacrificing his freedom for his only true friend is completely within the character of Jack Bauer, and in that sense, it's an appropriate ending, sure, but subjectively, Day 8 concluded with more resonance and power.

Screencaps from Screencapped.net.

24 August 2014

Doctor Who 801. Deep Breath

Doctor Who 
801. Deep Breath

Written by Steven Moffat

It's been a long eight months since the Eleventh Doctor took a last stand on Trenzalore and untethered his bow tie in the TARDIS for the climatic and ridiculously dramatic "The Time of the Doctor." And now here we are again, ushering in a new Doctor (the fourth in the modern 2005 onwards era), and it's kinda nerve-wreaking. Time and time again, the creative team behind Doctor Who has proven themselves with their decisions, with David Tennant being a star-studded successor to Christopher Eccelston, and the super young Matt Smith owning the role of The Doctor in mere moments of screentime, easily making his way into being many a fan's favorite Doctor (it's always a battle between Tennant, Smith, and Tom Baker, it seems). A year ago, on a live television event, venerable actor Peter Capaldi was announced as the Twelfth Doctor, and now, today, his tenure as The Doctor began . . .

"Deep Breath" is the least arresting debut for a Doctor since the series' resurrection. It lacks the clarity of voice of "The Eleventh Hour", the Doctor-ishness of "Rose", and the energy and skill of "The Christmas Invasion." It's a bit of a mess, really, with few highlights and Jenna Coleman's Clara Oswald stealing the spotlight from the ever-befuddled Doctor. 

Victorian London is, once again, the backdrop for this story (frankly, I could go a whole series without Victorian London used again, and, for that matter, the Paternoster gang) as The Doctor and Clara crash land out a time traveled dinosaur. A confused and brain addled Doctor tries to sort through his post-regeneration haze and forming identity while investigating a series of murders. Big Bad's are revealed, ongoing mysteries are reopened, a new arc is hinted, and the Paternoster gang continue to pander as comic foil and play philosophy of the Doctor games. 

The main prerogative of these New Doctor stories is setting up the new actor and new incarnation, and to that extent, "Deep Breath" didn't work quite that well, both from a scripting and acting standpoint. The script seems too stuck in the Matt Smith era of blurting out words and loosely forming them into what could be considered sentences of thought, not allowing this Doctor to have any real standout features until well into the second act. That dark, cold and calculating Doctor that's been mentioned in interviews finally cracks the surface ever so slightly, with his seemingly abandonment of Clara to the machine villains and potential dispatching via impalement of the main bad guy. But there's not enough, not enough to really sell the viewer - at least this one - into really being compelled by this Doctor's journey, not yet. The closing minutes, however, where the Doctor is closer to his new persona than before, hint just well enough at what's to come that I'm quite intrigued.

Capaldi, ultimately, is the least successful sell of the episode. His movements and delivery are stiff, neither invoking characterization or drama into his role or lines. Perhaps this was the first episode filmed and Capaldi was still grappling with how to handle the character, but even in a regeneration haze, Capaldi seems incapable of handling it well. The first thirty minutes - the worst part of an episode you want to not work - are the most difficult, as Capaldi's line delivery fails to land repeatedly. The rest of "Deep Breath" works mostly because Coleman sells the Doctor so completely with her fears, doubts and, in one instance, faith in this man she's grown to know. It's still only episode one, and there's eleven more that have the potential to really solidify Peter Capaldi as The Doctor, but for now, Capaldi is just Capaldi being paid to be The Doctor. It hasn't clicked yet.

The real star is Jenna Coleman. Clara is magnificent in this episode. Her verbal joust with Madame Vastra about judgement, her lunch scene with The Doctor, her 'don't breath' scene in the villain's lair, and the 'do it, then' face off with the Half-Face Man - all extremely, extremely excellent material and performance. In Series 7B, Coleman's Clara barely had the chance to define herself outside her mystery as the Impossible Girl, and now, since "The Name of the Doctor", she has proven time and time again to be the most resourceful and intelligent Companion who can pack as much bark into her bite as The Doctor. Really, really impressive work from Coleman in this episode, and hopefully this is indicative to a strong Clara-centric season. 

All this to say, it was a so-so season opener that had some strong points and several weak points. Capaldi's debut as The Doctor didn't hit it out of the park as I was hoping, and, to me, at least, he hasn't solidified himself as The Doctor as Tennant and Smith so quickly did. Still, the notion of an older and darker Doctor is exciting, and hopefully everything will start to click into place quickly. Until next time, "Into the Dalek" . . .

Notes & Thoughts

  • Awesome quote from Clara: "I'm not sure who you think you're talking to right now, Madame Vastra, but I have never had the slightest interest in pretty young men. And for the record, if there was anybody who could flirt with a mountain range, she 's probably standing in front of you right now! Just because my pretty face has turned your head, do not assume that I am so easily distracted."
  • Perhaps I'm alone in thinking this, but director Ben Wheatly's work wasn't particularly engaging. It reminded me of Game of Thrones' Alan Taylor, a guy who doesn't really bring any flare or substance to his work, just more or less the same average shots.  
  • The new arc of the season - Paradise/Heaven. Could be a very interesting idea to explore, where do the monsters go when they die? However, the woman the Half-Face Man meets in Paradise doesn't quite get me as excited. Her "boyfriend", she says, in reference to The Doctor. Oh boy . . .
  • The Woman in the Shop mystery from "The Bells of St. John" resurfaces (much to my delight, believing it a dropped mystery), and The Doctor's belief in seeing his new face before (as Capaldi has twice appeared in the Whoverse) both seem to be subplots that will continue to anchor the season. And it's all right by me. Seems potentially very interesting. It'd be way too obvious for the Woman in the Shop to be River.
  • Oh, that cameo at the end. Heard a rumor about it, but didn't believe it. When she got the phone call, I couldn't help but scream "Yes!" Awesome, awesome moment that worked quite well. But didn't help in making me grow for Capaldi, just made me yearn for Matt more . . .
  • The Vastra/Jenny posing/painting/crime spread beat was excellent. 
  • The new title sequence. Yeah, I like the idea, but execution, and music . . . erm, not sure if it works. 
  • Also, seriously, why couldn't Strax, Vastra, Jenny and Clara (with a sonic) destroy all the machine bad guys in the underground alien craft? Could have that situation resolved in forty fairly effortless seconds. 

05 May 2014

The Amazing Spider-Man 2

The Amazing Spider-Man 2

Two years ago, I really, really, really dug The Amazing Spider-Man. From a character standpoint, I thought it was brilliant, pitch-perfect even. The blossoming relationship of Peter and Gwen, the relationship between Peter and his Aunt May, Peter's struggle dealing with unanswered questions from the past, a thirst for vengeance instead of justice, and a moving climax about secrets, promises, and what's right. In the two years since, it appears I am a member of a very, very small minority who wholeheartedly love The Amazing Spider-Man and don't find it as "gritty" and "grab" as the criticizers commonly label it, although I won't comment on the effectiveness/cartoonishness of Curt Connors. I don't watch these movies for the villains, I watch them for the characters, and Amazing Spider-Man delivered on character in magnificent glowing spades.

So naturally, mega amount of excitement and enthusiasm for Amazing Spider-Man 2. But then they started casting, and the likes of Shailene Woodley, Paul Giamatti, and Jamie Foxx coming out of nowhere to do roles that seem shoehorned in? Yeah, I got worried. And then production ended ahead of schedule, Woodley's Mary Jane arc was cut entirely from the finished product, and trailers started making the rounds. Visually, the film looked pleasing. Story-wise? Oi vey, looked like shit was about to hit the fan, where story and character were to be sacrificed for world-building, bad comedy sketches, and villains. Lots and lots of villains!

The good news is, there's plenty to like/love about The Amazing Spider-Man 2, but there's also a helluva lot to bitch about, and, I feel, rightly so. But before that, can I just say . . .

I need to see every big-budget epic blockbuster in IMAX 3-D. No if or but about it, this is my new preferred way of watching these types of films. There's something so spectacular in being immersed in the film, as this giant screen literally takes over your vision and you're just in the middle of every little detail and story beat. Moreso in the awesome category, watching Amazing Spider-Man 2 in IMAX 3-D was the first time I really felt the merits of 3-D, especially the opening Spidey-flying-around-Manhattan shots, where were just gobsmacking in their level of detail and dimension. It would be a bit boisterous to say I was flying along the New York skyscrapers with Spider-Man, but I sure as hell felt the dimensionality of his actions. Naturally, the 3-D effect didn't sustain all that well during the more intimate talking heads stuff, but when the film switches gears into a full on CG-frenzy of explosive action, the 3-D was just mind blowing.

Even further in the 'cool' category, this super nifty IMAX exclusive poster, designed by British artist Matt Taylor, was available for free at the concession stand. Can you say 'gorgeous?!', and a perfect representation of one of the key amazing shots in the films opening minutes. Anyway, all this to say, the environment for the film was just all kinds of awesome, and this flick really opened my eyes to the benefits of 3-D when utilized correctly. As of right now, I've decided, through Hell or some magical Minnesota return to winter, I will watch Godzilla on IMAX 3-D. I just gotta.

Anyway, onto the quasi-review. Oh, and SPOILERS!

21 February 2014

The Filmography Podcast: January 2014

The new year has begun!

Co-host Schuyler and I sit down to (sorta, kinda) discuss the big and small releases of January. Honestly, we spent more time talking about other, better movies that were on our mind (hello, Frozen). Two years ago, I was blown away by The Grey, which ended up being my favorite movie of 2012. Will history repeat itself with any of these offerings?

The analytical discussions you all love is still there, but lately we've just been havin' a blast crackin' jokes and having fun, and with titles like I, Frankenstein and The Legend of Hercules, how could we not?

Listen at The MSU Reporter website!

As always, feedback & suggestions are welcome!

27 January 2014

TV Week in Review: 1/19/14 - 1/25/14

TV Week in Review: 1/19/14 - 1/25/14

Shameless (US) 402. "My Oldest Daughter" - This episode immediately fell into my 'I love it!' because the immensely beautiful Alison Haislip guest starred in the opening bit with the Gallagher family visiting the doctor. She brought her fantastic sass, and it was great to see her. Another great moment in Fiona getting into a vehicle altercation on the road, and the revelation that Frank has another daughter (although this really shouldn't be news). The rest of the episode was rather meager. Lip's fish-out-of-water feeling at college, where his smooth words and charismatic charm isn't going to win him anything, and Veronica and Kevin hear some surprising news that could either be dramatically fun, ridiculously cartoonish, or a omen for bad stories to come. It's great to have Shameless back, and best of all, showing how these characters change, their situations change, and thus, the stories change.

Girls 303. "She Says OK" - After two episodes of Girls that really made me re-evaluate my rather negative opinion about the series thanks to a sense of charm and comedy that was rare in its first two years, "She Says OK" was one of those episodes that just left me puzzled about why it exists, or more specifically, what was the point of all this? Adam's sister, this absolutely deranged, messy-haired chick, Caroline, arrives on the eve of Hannah's 25th birthday party, and she's just bizarre. It simply solidifies that Adam isn't the only frakked up person in the family. Hannah's party itself wasn't all too well interesting, either, save a brutally honest and relatable conversation between Ray and Shoshanna, but outside of that, definitely an episode I could do without, and gravitates more towards Girls' bad impulses.

The Blacklist 112."The Alchemist (No. 101)" - Episodes nine through eleven were extraordinarily excellent for The Blacklist, and ultimately, this episode goes back to basics. There's nothing particularly interesting in the episode itself, although the notion of the Alchemist is enormously frightening and rife with dramatic possibilities that aren't really explored here. The dynamic of Red and Agent Keen seems more at home in the first handful of episodes instead of this half season mark, where much has changed between them. Ultimately, an episode that was too Case of the Week for my taste, especially after a phenomenal set of episodes that pushed Agent Keen to her dramatic/action limits thus far, and gave James Spader the meatiest, most chilling performances yet.

Being Human 402. "That Time of Month" - In three seasons, the U.S. adaptation of Being Human has accomplished so much, that it boggles the mind it can still surprise with such a narrow concept. The big creative idea of season four has been what happened to Josh, who is now roaming around as a wolf for most of the month, and a human for only a couple hours. The slow ripping away of Josh's humanity, and the strain that it's putting on Aiden and Nora is definitely a cool idea, and now that a prematurely executed spell has brought Josh back into human form, but with some potential hiccups, it's exciting to see werewolves enter a new type of story that isn't a retread of what's come before. Sally's newfound abilities will inevitably come with a cost, and I'm not sure if I'm all that interested to see what that cost is. To the shows credit, they've been able to do amazingly cool things with a ghost character that few other shows have the ingenuity to accomplish. But then there's Aiden and his past wife. One of the things of a series coming into old age is that one starts reaching for storylines. This feels like one of them. Of course I'll give the series the benefit of the doubt, but this does feel like a tacked on idea, and unless there's something deep to this development - and the return of Aiden's prodigy next week - Aiden's doesn't seem like he'll be enjoying that great of a fourth season.

Supernatural 911. "First Born" - At this point, Supernatural's ninth season feels like it's walking in circles, and this episode, where Sam and Dean are on the outs and doing their own things, isn't all too different, but it does have something quite interesting about it that makes it stand out above the rest - the introduction of Cain, from Cain and Abel. To play Cain, the show hired Timothy Omundson, and my geek radar went into giddy gear as I was particularly affected by his performance as Eli in Xena: Warrior Princess over a decade ago, so to have him in such a powerful role demanding gravitas and stern eyes, man was it satisfying. And tying Cain's story with that of Lucifer was a genius move, and, in a fantasy world, would be a foreshadowing to Lucifer's return. Honestly, I just want Lucifer back into the show, although I know the storytelling logic behind his return would exceed credulity. Overall, a fun episode, with Dean showing off his fighting skills in deadly fashion and the reassembling of the Cain story to suit Supernatural mythology (which this series does extremely well). Sadly, Sam and Castiel's story held little weight, which is even more unfortunate when I've become more invested in Sam's story than Dean's. Oh well. Now that we've reached the halfway point of season 9, and a lot of this Angel mumbo jumbo has found a level of resolution, I'm intrigued where the show will go from here, and how long it'll stretch out story arcs that need to be closed - I'm looking at you, Crowley.

Justified 503. "Good Intentions" - It's normal for Justified to start off with what appears to be loosely connected narratives, but mostly just fun Case of the Week type eps to allow Timothy Olyphant to be his badass, wise-crackin' Raylan Givens self. "Good Intentions" is one of those cases where Raylan's story more or less isn't all that important - outside of a severe case of bad timing - but it's ridiculously fun, from beginning to end, culminating in Wynn Duffy's trailer in trademark Justified dialogue exchanges of witticism. The Boyd plot has yet to fully titillate my interest, as has been the case for years, and with Boyd and Ava not seeing eye to eye, there's just not much to fully engage me. Boyd has, in my opinion, always been a character not particularly written well. Who he is as a person isn't clear, and for season five, Boyd has been reduced to a gangster who needs to keep his business runnin', so he makes some unsavory deals. The Dewey Clan also doesn't show lots of promise, but the Raylan stuff is strong enough to make this another solid episode of television. Just, coming off such a strong fourth year, it'll be interesting to see how this one evolves. Additionally, with Art slowly becoming privy to Raylan's less lawful actions, where will Justified take Raylan Givens in its sixth and final season? Will this be another Shield-esque type situation? Oh, the possibilities.

Arrow 211. "Blind Spot" - Since its return, Arrow's storytelling has slowed down considerably, the writers allowing more time for the Sebastian Blood/Laurel drug addiction/Roy superpowers plots to develop. This isn't, in theory, a horrible thing, but after nine episodes where each one ended with a jaw-dropping cliffhanger or dramatic change, this shift in pace and tone is a bit jarring. What we got here though is Laurel and the Arrow working together, and that's lovely to see after the so-so antagonistic relationship from earlier this season. It is unfortunate, however, that Diggle remains sidelined, coming in to argue with Oliver or divulge wisdom. 

Community 505. "Geothermal Escapism" - Community has been on fire this season, and now Greendale is literally on fire in this sensational Goodbye Troy episode. It's laugh-out-loud funny, doing what Community does well: throwing in some absolutely absurdest front to tell a poignant story, this time of moving on and becoming an adult. Of course Troy was going to leave Greendale in spectacular fashion, and this new iteration of a Greendale-wide war game is inspired and brilliant, giving us the magnificent Jeff vs. Britta stick/knock-knock fight/joke, Troy and Abed saying "Troy and Abed in a bubble!", and the best final Troy lines in the credits gag with LeVar Burton ["Why don't you call it PLANET TREK? You never go to a star. Not one episode."]. Hilarious. Community's fifth season is five for five thus far. With Pierce's surprisingly integral death and now Troy's departure, it'll be interesting to see how the show reformats itself. But with Dan Harmon at the helm, it's sure to be bloody magnificent. Goodbye, Donald Glover. Your comedy timing was impeccable, and you were always an episode highlight.

12 January 2014

Good and Bad of 2013: Epiode One - What I Loved

2013: What I Loved

In what is probably the oddest assortment of favorites I've had yet on this irregularly updated blog, 2013 seemed destined to be a year of "meh" movies, ones that didn't particularly move me one way or another, especially after 2011 and 2012 had clear standout productions. My worries were maximized as anxious flicks like Iron Man 3 and Star Trek Into Darkness failed to resonate with me all that much. But this was really the year of surprises, as I'll explain below.

At the time of this writing, there's still some films I would like to have seen that remain unseen, thanks to Mankato's unfailing repertoire of not playing anything that isn't a big budget wide release. The likes of the  Inside Llewyn Davis and Blue Jasmine, for example, have yet to hit around here, and I've been quite interested in Lake Bell's In a World (which at least hits DVD soon). So below remains mostly unfinished, but for now, it's as complete as it could be.

One honorable mention I want to bring attention to is Blue is the Warmest Color. It's one of the most raw and real portrayals of young and adult love that I've ever witnessed, and boasts scenes (e.g., the emotional whirlwind of a diner scene) that won't leave the mind anytime soon. But for all its exceptional character building and accomplished realism, it simply didn't grab me in a wholly positive note. Without hesitation, I'd recommend it to any interested party, but the film left me, regrettably, indifferent.

The below list is in no numerical, ranking order. They are simply the movies that I cherished in 2013, with small explanations why. Some of these will be on many lists released for the year, while others, not so much. Enjoy!

The Way, Way Back

I am a sucker for coming-of-age stories, I absolutely am, and The Way, Way Back, written by the guys behind The Descendants, is one of the better releases in this subgenre I've seen in a while. 2013's much celebrated The Spectacular Now failed to make much of an impact on me, compared to this work. Perhaps it's the different approaches each film took. Spectacular Now aimed for gritty realism, and The Way, Way Back favored a whimsical, cheeky (but still noticeably dark) tone that made it a more fun enterprise to watch. The main lead may not have been able to match the wit of the script, in the films only real drawback, but the phenomenal work of Sam Rockwell and the shockingly layered turn of Steve Carrel definitely catapults this flick to a real favorite. Watching Duncan pushed into situations he's uncomfortable with, and eventually growing into his own and even displaying confidence, it's a fun journey, and with a script full of witticisms, it's hard not to constantly blurt this title out as a recommendation.

Evil Dead

Defying all logic of the trend that 'remakes suck', here's a remake that is simply phenomenal. My ideal horror setup is nothing like that of The Conjuring and Insidious - I want to see normal people fighting against an indestructible, impossibly imposing monster or demon of chaos, and I want to see how they react and survive this harbinger of doom. This Evil Dead, accompanied by a good atmosphere of dread, accomplishes that. It's harsh, it's brutal, it's bloody, and there's an unpredictability and intense horror to everything that unfolds onscreen. What's more, it delivers a climax that is thrilling and utterly engrossing. I recall being in the theater and completely immersed in Mia's plight as the blood rain started to drip, and when the truck got turned over to its side - I was overcome with anxiety and dread of what was about to happen. This is my type of horror movie - real, intense, and chaotic. I don't mind the excessive gallons of blood - it works here, I think. The characters are defined well enough for purposes of caring about them, all save The Girlfriend, who possesses not even a blimp of a personality, but it's a small complaint to lodge towards an otherwise phenomenal production.

Man of Steel

They made Superman cool again, and that right there is an accomplishment that deserves Top 10 placement even if the flick sucked. Luckily, it doesn't, and the reason it doesn't can be attributed to three men - producer Christopher Nolan, writer David S. Goyer, and director Zack Snyder. It was Goyer's brilliant approach to presenting Superman in a post-Dark Knight trilogy age that got the project off the ground and made everything interesting, and it was Snyder who visualized the script into a living, breathing world of alien planets and realistic soaring-through-the-sky sequences. There are some drawbacks - I would have appreciated more of Kal's Becoming Superman arc, which I feel wasn't fleshed out well enough, and the fan inside me still squirms at the resolution to General Zod, although the writer in me completely understands and can justify why it happened and the great material they can juice from that subplot in the sequel. There's just a lot to love and respect from this film. The visuals are stunning, no doubt about that; the score is perfect, with a Superman theme that fits the character to a T; the reality-based world makes it all the more thrilling and relatable (guys, stop giving the movie a hard time for the IHOP and Sears stuff - there's an in-context reason for it all). So, so good.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Wasn't overly crazy about the first Hunger Games, but lo and behold, I look at Catching Fire as a near flawless production, and easily my favorite hero-figure related movie of the year. I sing praises to every aspect of this film, with perhaps the minor exception of the unremarkable music. What I will say is that I became so emotionally enthralled in this film it stunned me. Katniss' confessional in District 11 was the most heartfelt thing I listened to/watched all year. The character beats that occupied the first hour and thirty minutes of its runtime was pitch perfect. Sure, the Arena battles are what brings in the guys (and the unanimous agreement of Jennifer Lawrence's gorgeousness), but it's the emotional and character moments that stick with me to this day, three times and two months after first seeing it. A tremendously good movie, and when it hits Blu-Ray, I will be rewatching it. A lot.

The Wolf of Wall Street

A genuine surprise. Despite its bloated running time, there's not a single thing I could fathom cutting from this. Every scene ties directly into story or, at the very least, character development. From the ambitious upbringings to his drug-induced cerebral palsy, Leo's Jordan Belfort is a magnificent character, and a equally magnificent performance from a guy who, to me, just seems like he's doing the same variation of the same character in each flick he's in. What I didn't quite expect was the level of humor the film offered, and that, complimented with one of the most tremendously written scripts of the year, easily made this an unforgettable film that damn well deserved Best Of consideration. Yes, it's three hours, but it's three hours of storytelling I'd like to sit through again and again.

Short Term 12

There was a tweet I loved that said something along the lines of "best actress: Brie Larson (Short Term 12), Brie Larson (Don Jon), Brie Larson (The Spectacular Now)", and frankly, I'd be hard pressed to argue with that in the slightest. Brie Larson is utterly superb in this emotionally gut-wrenching film, nearly upstaged by the young Kaitlyn Dever (who already impressed me with her stint on Justified's second season), as Grace and Jayden, respectively. Hell, the entire cast is superb. You know a movie has grabbed you when there's certain moments, scenes, or lines of dialogue that stick with you long after seeing the movie. Short Term 12 is just like that. From the opening and closing stories told by the lovable John Gallagher, Jr. to the cathartic heart to heart and subsequent car decimation, Short Term 12 is extraordinarily moving and compelling.

The World's End

Biased. On my death bed, one of the last five movies I watch will be Hot Fuzz. My love for The World's End is not as high as Fuzz, but the more I watch this film, the conclusion of the Cornetto Trilogy (or Three Flavors, however you want to call it), the more the layers of complexity and ingenuity and sheer brilliance become evident and the jokes become funnier. It's one of those flicks that gain with repeat viewings. A story of being stuck in the past, a Invasion of the Body Snatchers-esque A plot, loads of sci-fi elements and callbacks, smart, crisp dialogue, and Edgar Wright's amazingly creative and animated directing style, The World's End is extraordinarily complex and endlessly fun.

The Wolverine

More than any film on this list, The Wolverine had the most to prove. After the disastrous, abysmal, preposterous, ridiculous, asinine X-Men Origins: Wolverine, suffice to say, I was skeptical. Lo and behold, with the exception of a third act that seems borrowed from another movie entirely, this was amazingly good. A deeply character driven story where the setting reflected the character, and a arc that was both moving and compelling. Logan's lost everyone he's ever cared about, and has left whatever remained of the X-Men, where is he to go, what is he to do? Finding purpose and reclaiming his life is what this movie is about, and for an hour and thirty minutes of its two hour running time, it was about as near perfect as I could ever have hoped. This is what happens when there's an emphasis on character instead of how many mutants can fit into a movie, and it is extraordinary.

The Family 

Pacing issues aside, there's something so interesting about this movie that I can't fully explain, but I blame the really quite clever script for my lingering affection for The Family. And this coming from a guy who isn't a fan of anything mobsters. The thing that works with this flick is that this family really works as a unit, as a whole who respect and don't undermine each other. They're all ridiculously intelligent and driven characters with their own personalities and agendas. It could easily have unraveled into this obnoxious teens-rebel-against-evil-father shtick, but instead opted for something smarter and more entertaining. With such strong characters and a script that brings humor out of the way these characters interact with a world outside their own reality, The Family isn't necessarily one of 2013's best, but it's definitely a bright spot in a year of otherwise so-so endeavors.


Amazing. Absolutely amazing. Two strong female characters take front and center while the cliched handsome love interests are sidelined, exceptionally witty and intelligent writing, loads of memorable songs one can't help but want to burst out singing after watching, intricately detailed and beautiful animation - Frozen is everything Brave and Tangled should have been. Long had I denied any interest in watching Frozen, and I couldn't be happier giving in. Elsa and Anna are so richly defined as individuals, it's maddening why more characters aren't written like them. Olaf the snowman is hilarious with nearly every line. The digital animation with the ice and snow is just as meticulously detailed as Sully's fur in Monsters Inc. With the small exception of the opening song and maybe one or two other songs, Frozen is about as flawless as they come. The ending does tie up in a neat little bow a bit too easily, but it's a small complaint in what was one of the most enjoyable flicks of 2013.


Yes, the visuals are gorgeous, and Steven Price's music will haunt me for months to come, but what I loved about Gravity was the story, the character arc of Ryan Stone (Sanda Bullock). A woman who suffered a lost and doesn't really have too much enthusiasm to live, what's there to live for? Everything that transpires up there in space is this one giant resurrection. She needs to go through Hell to live again, to find that drive, to feel something other than emptiness. And those last fifteen minutes - riveting, intense, heart-poundingly intense. This movie shouldn't exist. It didn't look commercial, it's inventive and original, and it takes risks in so many departments, yet it's here, it's real, and it's mind-boggling good. I sincerely, mega-ly love this movie.

Machete Kills

I'm allowed to have a fun movie on this list, right? Well here it is. The first Machete was gutted with political mumbo jumbo taking precedence over the absurdity, which is where this series' strength lies. Machete Kills remedies that and course corrects. Gone are any political agendas, instead, what we have here is a fun action flick that adheres to no logical rules that exist in this world, and instead does anything and goes anywhere writer/director Robert Rodriguez's imagination can muster, and it's a ridiculously fantastic time because of that.

Side Effects

I saw this back in January or February, and it hasn't left me since. Originally thinking this was to be some boring 'anti-drugs' film, it slowly evolved into a mystery, and then transformed into a thriller, and then transformed into some psychotic what-the-hell-is-going-on? type of film, and I love it for that. Unpredictability. Being daring and unexpected. And there's some phenomenal performances here. After being so-so as Lisbeth Salander, Rooney Mara really showed her acting chops here, and Jude Law and Catherine Zeta Jones were flawless. Even Channing Tatum wasn't horrible in his minor role. Side Effects held my attention from the opening scenes and maintained that momentum for two hours. Moody, layered, frightening, Side Effects is one unnervingly good film.