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Black Mirror: Nosedive (2016)
This is the first episode of this anthology series I've watched and hopefully, the rest of the series isn't this bad! Was I supposed to sympathize with Bryce Dallas Howard's character? She was incredibly annoying throughout the entire episode, a fake nice person BEFORE she got wind of the fact that this faux society she lived in was a mirage full of phony, self-involved, self-congratulatory people. And why did she sound like a whiny teenager? She's pushing 40 in real life! LOL Her acting was laughably bad. I couldn't sympathize with her character for a second.
In fact, the speech patterns of virtually all the characters were annoying. This is supposed to be the representation of a "perfect" world, and the people that talk and act like this in the actual world (yeah, they exist unfortunately) makes me want to plug up my ears. Thank goodness for headphones! And I guess the lesson is that Lacie (Howard's character name, yeesh) is going to end up like that old lady trucker she picked up, but that lady was actually NICE and COOL. There's no way Lacie will end up as genuine as her. The ending made it seem so (by the way, what was that?) but I think she'll just be one of those people that are mean to everyone minus any warmth or wisdom.
The future look with the bright colors, pristine landscape, electric cars was actually nice. It's actual believable such a society could exist. And it wasn't the WHOLE society. You still had the gritty underbelly with the trucker lady, a dirt bike riding teen, the jerkish gas station attendant. The truck lady was the ONLY likable character in this and the only actor who brought it. Every other character reeked of awfulness, both in presentation and performance.
Cabin Fever (2016)
Full disclosure, horror is my favorite movie genre (save for the sub-genre of "found footage" flicks, not paying money to watch a movie that follows people around with a shaky cam for 90 minutes). But I'm a sucker for the "cabin in the woods' trope. CABIN FEVER (2016) had all the elements I was looking for, 5 college aged/ young adult characters, the main couple Karen and Paul (Gage Golightly and Samuel Davis), the secondary "sex" couple Marcy and Jeff (Nadine Crocker and Matthew Daddario), and the finally the nerdy loner Bert (Dustin Ingram), all heading for a weekend retreat at a remote cabin by a lake, replete with oddball locals and shrouded in mystery. What could go wrong? EVERYTHING!
This movie was horrible from the start. Every single character was annoying and stupid. Some weird local kid inexplicably bites into Paul's arm, then the kid's Dad scolds him for it while Paul attacks the DAD. And the Dad actor was literally smiling during his entire "performance", although there was nothing humorous about the situation. When they get to the cabin, Bert wanders around with a loaded assault rifle and almost shoots Paul and actually shoots some random local with a weird flesh-eating disease (the plot of the movie). Then instead of trying to get help, Bert IGNORES the incident and goes back to the cabin as if nothing happened. Flesh-eating dude shows up at the group's door, then in a Keystone Cops style scene, the group goes from trying to help the poor man to burning him alive, along the way allowing him to get inside and mess up their vehicle (dummies left it unlocked even though they were in for the night) spitting up blood all over the interior, while Bert (idiot shoots out a tire) and Paul (breaks all the windows) end up damaging the outside in attempts to kill the man, but he gets away burning alive. Exactly how long does it take for this "fast acting" virus to do a person in?
Next morning, going for help, Marcy takes a canoe across the lake while in the time it takes her to get across, Bert and Jeff have covered that distance by foot, encountered an odd local, obscenity-spewing obese woman gutting a pig and had time to have a blood-spattered glass of water, then ended up at the same spot as Marcy. Did I mention that they left the cabin AT THE SAME TIME?! Meanwhile some bleach-blonde bimbo deputy sheriff lady, who looks like one of Charlie's Angels, and is supposed to be funny, yet I was laughing at how bad the actress' acting was the whole time, hits on Paul at the cabin while Karen basically just sits in the cabin doing nothing.
Speaking of acting, the 5 main actors were not good, but had the excuse of an awful script and horrendous direction. Apparently, they were told to play it serious, while every single other character they encountered was played for laughs. Then I found out this movie was actually a remake of a movie made a mere 14 years earlier that WAS a legitimate comedy-horror vehicle and is regarded as a cult classic. First, why remake a movie that is not that old? Second, why change the tone so that half the cast thinks they are in a drama while the other thinks they are in a comedy? Why not change it to be a serious horror flick? It was like watching 2 completely different tonal movies mashed together into this odd, awkward presentation.
Did I mention that every character was stupid? Thought I'd re-visit that important detail. You are in the woods with a flesh-eating virus that's eating your girlfriend away, so what do you do? Go to town to get a doctor? Radio for help? Well, you have sex with your friend's incredibly hot partner that hasn't yet been infected by the disease because she's there strictly for viewer titillation purposes. You've got an assault rifle in a backwoods location with wild animals and crazy locals and what do you do? Save the ammo when needed? No, you waste every single round randomly shooting throughout the woods and when you really NEED it, of course it runs out of ammo. A guy is completely covered in blood shows up at your camp while word has spread there's some flesh-eating virus infecting everyone and he is viciously coming at you while you are pointing your gun at him and warning him off. What do you do? Shoot him? Shoot warning shots? No, you cave into his angry demands to lower your weapon and let him walk away to possibly infect some innocent person. Did I mention that the idiot that willingly let him get away was the DEPUTY SHERIFF? Sworn to protect and serve my ass.
I've seen some bad horror movies in my day, but this movie makes a few of the stinkers I've seen seem like competent films by comparison. This is easily one of the worst movies that I'm supposed to take seriously that I've sat through in a while. And it's not even one of those "so bad it's good" horror movies, just a "so bad it's terrible" movie. Skip this joke of a film.
Alien: Covenant (2017)
Second best Alien movie!
As someone who really hated Ridley Scott's "Prometheus" prequel and think James Cameron's "Aliens" sequel is painfully overrated, I did not have high hopes for Scott's second prequel ALIEN:COVENANT (2017), but thankfully my reservations were unfounded. I really love this movie! Alien:Covenant is easily, in my opinion, the 2nd best Alien film right behind Ridley Scott's 1979 sci-fi horror masterpiece "Alien". Covenant succeeds where Prometheus failed. Prometheus was too pretentious where virtually character, except perhaps David and Shaw (the irony), were inconsequential and oddly performed. Very thankfully, the only 2 good and decent characters from Prometheus were the ones to survive and salvaged for the sequels.
The plot of the film is that the Earth-originated ship The Covenant, carrying over 2000 colonists and over 1000 embryos, is on a permanent deep space mission to a faraway planetary system named Origae-6. While the colonists, including a 14-member crew, are in cryosleep, the ship is monitored by it's assigned synthetic being, the android Walter (superbly played by Michael Fassbender, who also played the android David in 'Prometheus'). Walter is a more advanced, less emotional version of David. During sleep, the ship is damaged by a solar flare, which forces Walter to awaken the crew, upon which the Captain (James Franco in a very brief cameo role) is burned alive when his cryotube catches fire.
Rounding out the crew are a strong cast of characters led by actors Billy Crudup (Oram), Katherine Waterston (Daniels), Danny McBride (Tennessee), Carmen Ejogo (Karine), Demian Bichir (Lope), Amy Siemetz (Faris), Callie Hernandez (Upworth), Jussie Smollett (Ricks), and Tess Haubrich (Rosenthal). In particular, Crudup, Waterston, and McBride shine as the mission leaders that everyone looks to guidance and support. But in general I enjoyed the believable chemistry of these characters as a real crew who had each others' backs. More laid back and less internal animosity than the original Alien crew, the Covenant crew is focused on settling down and finding a permanent home.
The mission is sidetracked by a transmission on a nearby planet and the Covenant crew proceeds to investigate as well as scout the location as a contingency for a permanent home to colonize. As they investigate, they find a crash-landed ship, the one that David and Shaw escaped from LV-223 with. A couple of crew members also accidentally ingest alien spores, wreaking incredible havoc and putting the entire mission at risk. They also run into David himself, as he recounts exactly what happened to both him and Shaw upon escaping LV-223.
Alien:Covenant is a very spare film, cutting to the chase immediately. There are no wasted moments or scenes. The running time feels just about right. The acting very convincing, whether it's during the routine, mundane moments or during the more exciting action sequences. The characters are refreshingly normal, identifiable and easy to root for. Fassbender is exceptional in the dual roles of Walter and David and the staging of the scenes when they play off each other is amazingly shot. Even with the ties to the Alien franchise, Covenant is very much an entertaining movie-watching experience in it's own right. Is it as great as Alien? Of course not, no film in the franchise is or ever will be. But this film feels like the first one that truly follows up the original film and pays tribute to it's brilliance.
Rogue One (2016)
Good movie, but far from perfect
Interestingly, while the trailers for 2015's highly anticipated "Star Wars:The Force Awakens" failed to impress me, I loved that film when I saw it, while the trailers for ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY (2016) had me pumped up and excited and I left the theater somewhat disappointed and underwhelmed. Don't get me wrong, there are several positives to this new offering to the Star Wars franchise, but there are several noticeable flaws.
R1 is a direct prequel to the 1977 classic "Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope", telling the story of the band of rebels who actually stole the Death Star plans that we saw Princess Leia upload into R2-D2 in the first movie. The central character of R1 is Jyn Erso (earnestly played by Felicity Jones), whose father Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen of 'Casino Royale' and the TV series 'Hannibal' fame) is the principal scientist/architect involved in the creation of the planet-killing superweapon Death Star. In the film's opening sequence (no crawl in this one), the elder Erso is compelled to come out of self-imposed exile with his wife and young daughter to return to construction of the superweapon by the Empire's high-ranking Director Krennic (passionately played by Ben Mendelsohn).
After the opening scene, flash forward 15 years to the time period of the film, where Jyn, now a young woman and a prisoner of the Empire, is rescued by the rebels and taken to the secret Rebel headquarters on the planet Yavin. Jyn is briefed by Alliance Leader Mon Mothma (well played by Genevieve O'Reilly) and Rebel spy Captain Cassian Andor (solidly played by Diego Luna) that they need her on a mission to the planet Jedha to find a rogue rebel Saw Gerrera (played by Forest Whitaker), who has made contact with Galen through a defecting Imperial pilot Bodhi (played by Riz Ahmed). Accompanying Jyn and Cassian on the mission is Andor's co-pilot K-2SO (played in scene-stealing fashion by Alan Tudyk), a re-programmed Imperial droid that now serves the Rebellion. The trio find Saw, who has a message from Galen on a flaw in the design of the superweapon. Along the way, they pick up Bodhi as well as a couple of stray Jedha warriors in Chirrut and Baze (humorously played by Donnie Yen and Wen Jiang).
The ragtag band of 6 rebels Jyn, Cassian, K2SO, Bodhi, Chirrut and Baze eventually gather help from a band of rebel soldiers and the team in the exciting climax execute a sneak attack on the planet Scarif, the location of the archive that houses the plans to the Death Star.
My general issues with this film are:
1) The characters are generally very bland and monotone. Ironically, the only character of substance was the droid K-2SO. Not one main human character really stood out. Forest Whitaker was utterly useless and a waste of screen time. Bodhi was a defector, but we never knew why. Jyn too easily fell for the cause, but the events of the film contradict that she should feel this way. And everyone just followed Jyn's lead for no apparent reason.
2) The Erso subplot felt almost like a retcon. The filmmaker made the entire key to destroying the Death Star a manipulative family melodrama instead of just having the rebels steal the plans so that the Alliance could examine them for any flaws, as was implied in the original '77 film. Basically, according to R1, EVERYONE in the Rebellion knew about the flaw prior to the events of the '77 movie. It almost makes the mission seem futile.
3) The casting of Jyn Erso feels too much like fan pandering. Don't get me wrong, I loved Rey in "The Force Awakens", but her story felt more genuine and like the filmmakers wanted to jumpstart the new trilogy with not just a strong female character, but a strong character. With Jyn, it feels like the filmmakers are saying "screw it, we're casting a female as the lead and there's no other option". I think this sentiment to only cast a female as lead devolves into dangerous territory where it begins to feel like shoehorned, disingenuous melodrama as was the case with Jyn and the Erso family in this. And Jyn being the main character failed to engage me or leave any kind of impression. She was just there, a nominal lead to say the least.
4) The film was actually too short, at about 2 hours, 15 minutes running time. It would have been better served to have fleshed out the main characters more and tossing the Jyn Erso-nominal lead in favor of a true ensemble dynamic. Speaking of the Erso subplot, the Krennic-Galen dynamic was a fail. I guess they were supposed to be old friends who ended up with different loyalties, but the director never expanded on it. Plus, Krennic's character was too much of a non-imposing villain, albeit Mendelsohn did the best he could with a vigorous performance.
I've already mentioned a few pros, such as the great K-2SO droid character, a few good human characters such as Krennic, Mothma, and Andor, as well as the great finale. A couple other pros as the inclusion of some of the characters from the original film, especially the iconic villain Darth Vader. There's a scene near the end that is genuinely scary and horrific, the scariest presentation of the character ever. It's really the Easter Egg moments like this that make the movie more watchable than most of the other stuff, which at times doesn't have the feel of a Star Wars movie.
Director Gareth Edwards did an admirable job and infused the film with noticeable elements of the original movie, as he kind of had to, but the overall story of R1 feels somewhat disjointed from the Star Wars mythology. Still, an entertaining movie overall nonetheless.
A League of Their Own (1992)
Tom Hanks steals the show!
Well-directed by the reliable Penny Marshall, A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN (1992) is an entertaining, fun baseball movie about WOMEN'S baseball! Based on a true story of a women's league formed to keep the sport going while Major League ball was suspended during WWII, this nifty period piece does a solid job of evoking a time and place. And, yes, even though the film is populated by and stars mostly female characters, it is really a MALE character that owns this movie! The great Tom Hanks plays alcoholic, down-on-his-luck, former baseball player Jimmy Dugan who is tasked to manage the film's central baseball team, the Rockford Peaches, led by the team's best player catcher Dottie Hinson (well played by Geena Davis) and her fiery younger sister pitcher Kit Keller (wonderfully played by Lori Petty). Dottie is a war wife as her husband (played by the reliable Bill Pullman) is off to war and living on her parents' farm with little sis Kit.
The film's opening sequence shows the modern-day older Peaches reminiscing about their 1940s escapades. Then it flashes back to Dottie and Kit on the farm approached by a recruiter (played by a scene-stealing Jon Lovitz) to the newly formed women's league. Along the way, they pick up another recruit, the homely slugging phenom Marla Hooch (hilariously played by Megan Cavanagh). Upon arrival at the baseball camp in Chicago, the trio meet up with the future teammates third-baseman Doris (played with the typical comic bravado by Rosie O'Donnell) and her best friend center-fielder Mae (played by Madonna, who is just kind of there). Rounding out the engaging cast of Peaches are first baseman Helen Haley (played by the funny Anne Ramsay), outfielders Betty 'Spaghetti' (played by feisty Tracy Reiner), Shirley Baker (strongly played by Ann Cusack), and the hilarious Evelyn Gardner (played by another scene-stealer Bitty Schram), who has her precocious son Stilwell (scene-stealing lad Justin Scheller), who lives to aggravate Jimmy! LOL Other notable cast members are Garry Marshall (Penny's brother) playing the de facto commissioner of the women's league, and his right hand man, played earnestly by David Strathairn, who push to market the league and get it going.
The over-arching storyline of the movie is a bit too predictable and sentimental for my taste. The Dottie-Kit rivalry is at the forefront, but really pales to all of the hilarious scene-stealing turns by most of the supporting cast. Other than Hanks' iconic performance as Jimmy Dugan with his famous 'no crying in baseball' speech, the best characters are really played by the unknown/lesser known actors: Marla, Evelyn, Stilwell, in particular, as well as the other no-name cast members. Davis, while professional, is a bit too mannered in her role, and gets upstaged by at least half the cast! Petty, while playing the more lively role, is a bit too abrasive at times. Their sibling rivalry kind of takes a backseat to the scene-stealing supporting cast. O'Donnell is actually pretty good, but ironically not the comic standout in this movie. And, as previously mentioned, I have no idea what Madonna is doing in this! Easily the most useless role.
Even though Davis is the nominal star, it is really Hanks who owns this movie! I know everyone fawns over Hanks' first Oscar-winning role in 'Philadelphia', but in my opinion, Mr. Hanks first Oscar should have been for this movie! Ironically, Hanks has top billing over Davis, but I would think he would have been nominated Best Supporting Actor. He didn't even get nominated! Even though he has 2 Oscar wins on his resume and several other nods, I still think this was a great oversight by the Academy. So, remember folks, 'Philadelphia' didn't put Hanks in the big leagues in terms of acting, 'A League of Their Own' did! And it didn't take overly emotional crying scenes of sentimentality to be a great performance!
The Swimmer (1968)
Burt Lancaster's GREATEST film role?
I've always thought that the 1960s overall wasn't a great decade in film, although ironically the film that I think to be the best film of all time, 2001:A space Odyssey, came in the 60s and in the same year of this film, THE SWIMMER (1968), that I'm reviewing. "The Swimmer", a hidden gem of a masterpiece starring one of the most iconic star-actors in all of film history, the great Burt Lancaster, features arguably his greatest accomplishment as an actor. Probably no surprise that Lancaster didn't garner a Best Actor nod for this as it's an extremely surreal, odd, unsettling film experience that doesn't shout for awards.
Lancaster brilliantly essays the complex role of Ned Merrill, an athletic, successful family man, who through the course of the film, taking place on a summer day in a sizable suburban Connecticut community, swims from pool to pool of different neighbors trying to make his way home to his wife and 2 daughters. The boastful, middle-aged Ned begins the film talking of his "perfect" life, great job, loving family, but as the film progresses, layers of both Ned's character and personal life get methodically revealed that shed away his confident demeanor piece by piece.
Along his journey, Ned runs into his neighbors who, through stimulating and involving conversations, each helps to piece together the puzzle of Ned's life while revealing their own true natures. Ned slowly sees the hypocrisy and phoniness in the middle-class world he's been living in and that he has no real friends that he can count on when the chips are down. Ned becomes more disoriented and confused as he progressively gets treated with more vitriol and contempt from people in the community as the day wanes on. By the time Ned finds his way home, a devastating revelation lays in wait for both Ned and the viewer.
What makes "The Swimmer" so challenging is that it can be interpreted as either 1) a literal happening of Ned swimming across the community and running into old "friends", OR 2) an allegory of the trajectory of the downfall of Ned's life, told in surrealistic fashion using the pool journey as the storyteller. A third interpretation is that it could simply be the thoughts of Ned in his dying moments, his life flashing before his eyes close for the last time. I love movies like this with both ambiguity AND depth of character! Burt Lancaster's pitch perfect performance, along with the beautiful photography and setting and surreal atmosphere, makes the film one of the most interesting pieces of cinema in both the 1960s as well as in film history!
Secrets and Lies (2015)
Very involving, entertaining summer series!
I think that SECRETS AND LIES (2015-?) had very low expectations going in. I certainly wasn't sure about it. Thankfully, my reservations were alleviated almost immediately! Ironically, my main reservation going into ended up being completely unfounded and that was the casting of Ryan Phillippe in the lead, central role of Ben Crawford. Never one of my favorite actors, I was pleasantly surprised at Phillippe's exceptional, gripping performance in Season 1 of this series! I dare say that it was Phillipe's persuasive portrayal of Ben that kept me tuning in each week.
In counter to Phillippe, I was ironically not as engaged by Juliette Lewis as Det. Andrea Cornell, at least not until the end of Season 1 when she was less one-dimensional and the writers gave shades of humanity to her character. In retrospect Lewis was really playing a cold, relentless, emotionless person, and she certainly pulled it off. My only issue was that why for so long into the season did she think that Ben was the ONLY reasonable suspect!
'Secrets and Lies' tells the tale of Ben Crawford (a superb Phillippe), who is the prime suspect in the murder of 5-year old Tom Murphy, the son of Ben's neighbor Jess Murphy (alluring Natalie Martinez). In the opening scene of the series, Ben finds Tom's dead body in the woods during his morning run. Immediately contacting the police, the lead detective on the case is Det. Andrea Cornell (an incredibly stoic Lewis). Cornell pretty much sizes Ben up within minutes and figures him for the killer. Most of the series involves Ben trying to clear his name to counter Cornell continuing to gather mounting evidence against him.
Other key characters include Ben's wife Christy (excellently played by Kadee Strickland), Ben's 2 daughters Natalie and Abby (very well played by Indiana Evans and Belle Shouse), and Ben's best friend Dave (played in scene-stealing comic fashion by Dan Fogler). It's really Ben's part of the story that kept me engaged, especially his tumultuous relationship with Christy and his funny BFF relationship with Dave. Also Ben's relationships with his respective daughters was involving, with the older Natalie being more rebellious and the younger Abby clinging to Ben as "Daddy's little girl".
Each episode involved Ben, who has no memory of the events of the night of the murder, trying to piece together clues that could simultaneously jog his memory and clear him of Tom's murder. Subplots involve the various neighbors of Ben, including Jess, all who have their own "secrets and lies" and how they could be suspects since they all live in the same neighborhood as Ben.
Juliette Lewis' contribution shouldn't go ignored either. Like I said, I just wish we had more shades of her character earlier rather than later, but when the writers really dug into her character's past, that's when I think Cornell became very interesting. And it looks like Season 2 will focus more on Cornell and her personal life, which I'm definitely looking forward to! Again, Phillippe's performance is the real surprise in all of this. He really made me root for Ben and hope that he wasn't the killer in the end. He did a great job of carrying Season 1. This is easily my favorite thing he's ever done and, in my opinion, the best performance of his career. Highly recommended!
American Crime (2015)
Brilliant series...an all timer!
American CRIME (2015-?) will rightfully go down as one of the best, most brilliant series of the 21st century. Already nearing the end of Season 2, I think it's the best series, with the possible exception of "Six Feet Under", of the century so far. "American Crime" is an anthology series, where each season, some of the same actors play completely different characters in a different setting and plot.
Season 1 featured some brilliant acting that garnered Emmy nominations: Timothy Hutton (as Russ) nominated Lead Actor in a Limited Series, Felicity Huffman (as Barb) nominated Lead Actress in a Limited Series, Regina King (as Aaliyah) won Supporting Actress in a Limited Series. Also, Elvis Novalso (as Carter) nominated Supporting Actor by the Critics Choice Awards. The show itself should have gotten much more recognition and should have won the Emmy in it's category for Best Series. The acting on the series in Season 1 was nothing short of phenomenal. Other superb work was done by Richard Cabral (as Hector), Caitlin Gerard (as Aubry), Penelope Ann Miller (as Eve), W. Earl Brown (as Tom), and Benito Martinez (as Alonzo).
Season 1 AC told the complicated tale of a shooting in a suburban home in Modesto, California. The shooting resulted in the death of Matt Skokie and his wife Gwen ended up in a coma. Matt's parents are divorcees Russ and Barb (superbly essayed by the aforementioned Hutton and Huffman) and Gwen's are still married Tom and Eve (Miller and Brown in strong roles). The respective sets of in-laws try to come together to see that justice is served for their kids. The prime suspects in the crime are drug addict lovers Carter and Aubry (Novalsco and Gerard in excruciatingly honest portrayals).
Race plays a factor as Carter is black and Aubry white and Barb, closet racist, is pushing it as a hate crime so that Carter gets the death penalty, while Aubry's uppercrust family make deals with the DA to get her a lesser sentence. In Carter's corner enters his Muslim sister Aaliyah (powerfully played by King), who uses her organization to publicize that Carter is getting unjustly crucified due solely to his race. Allegedly, there are 2 other suspects, both Hispanic, low- level criminal Hector (the superb Cabral) and teenager Tony (well played by Johnny Ortiz). Tony, Alonzo's son, rented the car from his Dad's repair shop to Hector, who in turn loaned it to Carter and Aubry, which was witnessed getting away at the scene of the crime.
Contrasting all of the crime details are how this tragedy affects the different families. While Barb is all about getting vengeance for her son, Russ faces his failures and being a Deadbeat Dad, while Eve and Tom are more focused on Gwen's recovery and the true details of Matt and Gwen's shaky marriage prior to the tragedy. As Tony is charged as an accessory and sent to juvenile detention, Alonzo struggles financially to get him legal representation and Tony's sister Jenny (good work by Gleendilyas Inoa) gets trouble at school for her brother's involvement in the high-profile crime. Hector (perfectly played by Cabral), a key witness to the case, is also wanted for a crime back in Mexico and is set to be deported, but he tries to cut a deal to keep him in the U.S., as he is in danger of being executed once back in Mexico and has a daughter by his girlfriend, both of whom he is trying to get out for.
The shooting style of American Crime is of extreme character close- ups that linger unedited for several minutes, allowing the viewer to focus on their every reaction to the dialog being spoken in the scene. This way of shooting really delves into the character psyche, but the filmmakers do it in a way that never diverges into pretense. Just an honest, raw, real way of dealing with character. The closeups tend to be on the character that is the scene's focus, with the opposing character either never been seen (only heard), or shown in a limited fashion. The experiment works.
Season 2 is outstanding as well, but I think Season 1 is better. The overarching story of Season 2 is of an alleged rape that occurred at a high school party, with the victim being Taylor (played by Connor Jessup), who is being raised by his mother Anne (wonderfully performed by Lili Taylor, who had a smaller role in Seaosn 1). Also, Huffman, Hutton, and King return as different characters in Season 2. Huffman plays the headmaster of the school and Hutton the basketball coach of the team that hosted the party where the alleged rape occurred. King plays the mother of the player who hosted the party. These actors completely make you forget about their Season 1 counterparts, immersing themselves into their new characters. This formula really seems to work, and I look forward to what's in store for Season 3!
Wayward Pines (2015)
Superb "limited" series...among best of 2015
WAYWARD PINES (2015-?) immediately intrigued me. The promos and previews gave off a "Twin Peaks meets The Prisoner meets The Twilight Zone" vibe, and upon viewing of the Pilot episode, my predictions were in general correct. The general premise of a federal agent arriving in a very strange town of oddly-acting inhabitants (Twin Peaks) whose arrival in and of itself is a complete mystery and is not allowed to leave (The Prisoner), with several town set pieces and scenes reminiscent of the Twilight Zone, in particular a scene late in the Pilot seemed to be extracted from one of the TZ episodes. But WP is more a surface amalgamation of these predecessor shows, while being it's own entity in the long run, as it is adapted from a 3-book series, the author of which admits that he was a huge fan of Twin Peaks.
The federal agent is Ethan Burke (excellently played by film vet Matt Dillon), the central character and star of the series. Ethan is an FBI agent sent to the mysterious town of Wayward Pines, Idaho, to investigate the disappearance of two of his fellow agents, including Kate Hewson (superbly performed by Carla Gugino in my favorite thing she's ever done). Ethan, along with the other agent who was his tag- along, get in a bad car crash upon arrival in Wayward Pines, and then Ethan wakes up in the town hospital to the sight of the mercurial Nurse Pam (Melissa Leo in a juicy, scene-stealing turn), a "Nurse Ratched" type who compels Ethan to "play by the rules" or suffer the consequences. During his time at the hospital, Ethan meets the mysterious Dr. Jenkins (Toby Jones in a brilliant performance), a prominent member of the WP community.
Ethan immediately investigates and finds that Kate has been living "happily" in WP and apparently doesn't want to leave. Ethan also stumbles across Beverly (Juliette Lewis in a refreshing and persuasive performance), who actually seems to be the only town member willing to aid Ethan in his quest for the truth. But Ethan has an immediate enemy in the form of WP Sheriff Pope (wonderfully played by Terrence Howard), a power-mad leader who will protect the town at all costs. While Ethan is in WP, back home awaits his wife Theresa (well-played by Shannyn Sossamon) and son Ben (solidly played by Charlie Tahan), who are worried about Ethan's assignment as he's been gone for a while and they are unable to make contact.
In addition to the aforementioned cast members, Reed Diamond (as the likable town toy shop owner Harold), Hope Davis (as martinet schoolteacher Mrs. Fisher), Sarah Jeffery (as effervescent teenager Amy), and Siobhan Fallon Hogan (as Pope's quirky secretary Arlene), round out the superb ensemble. The cast chemistry really make this show work.
Wayward Pines plays like a puzzle and each episode puts the pieces together nicely, culminating in a thrilling Season 1 finale. In fact, for a limited series, I probably like this series much better than Twin Peaks because the oddities and quirks are more palatable and people are not just odd for odd's sake! And unlike the legendary Prisoner series from the 1960s, WP doesn't leave the viewer hanging. In addition to Peaks, Prisoner, and Zone, there were elements either borrowed from and/or reminiscent of other series and films (Lost, Children of the Corn, The Outer Limits, etc) with supernatural/sci-fi/religious undertones.
Although the series is credited with M Night Shyamalan's name behind it and has the unsettling, creepy vibe of the typical MNS output, it also seems more accessible and entertaining than I find many of his works and I think, similar to Michael Bay on 'The Last Ship', MNS has very little input into the final product that is Wayward Pines (he's actually credited with directing only 1 out of the 10 episodes in Season 1). The MNS name was probably used to draw viewers in, and I'm grateful for that.
Easily the best summer series and one of the best TV experiences of 2015!
Exhilarating return to form!
Let me preface my review by saying that I went into STAR WARS:THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015) 100% KNOWING that it would surpass George Lucas' generally poor prequel trilogy! Sorry, but those movies overall were very lacking in every department: character, dialogue, acting, and even the effects which were over-infested with CGI making them come across as phony. Having seen the original trilogy many times over and this new film TFA a couple of times, it saddens me that the prequels were so empty-headed and empty-hearted. There were a VERY FEW positives in the prequels, but overall they were just plain BAD!
With J.J. Abrams taking over the helm of Episode 7, TFA, Star Wars feels like it's old self again! TFA introduces a new set of heroes and villains for fans to attach themselves to and, surprisingly, I already like ALL of the new main characters: Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega), Poe (Oscar Isaacs), and Kylo (Adam Driver). Hmmm, let me see, I seem to recall a little summer sci-fi spectacle from 1977 that starred 3 relative unknowns (at the time) Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, and Harrison Ford that went onto become one of the biggest movie experiences in all of history! It just goes to show you that if you cast the right actors, anything is possible. Ridley, Boyega, Isaacs, and Driver are all excellent in their respective roles, bringing an energy and depth of character that was completely lacking in the prequels.
In addition to the 4 newcomers, iconic Harrison Ford has an integral role in TFA as the infamous Han Solo. I've never been the biggest Ford fan and he was never even my favorite Star Wars character, but MAN did Ford bring his all to his reprising of Han Solo in this film! I honestly think Ford in this single movie trumped everything he did as Han Solo in all of the original 3 films combined! He was that engaging, charming, funny, and powerful in his performance. I might need to rethink my belief that Ford has never been that great of an actor and re-visit some of his old work! LOL
In addition to the human roles, there are a couple of non-human scene-stealers in the form of newcomer battle droid BB8 (who manages to carry the robot load that usually goes to R2D2 and C3PO in the earlier films) and old faithful Chewbacca (played again by Peter Mayhew) who, similar to Han, somehow trumps everything he did in the original movies. Also, Carrie Fisher successfully fits snugly back into her role as the wise, tough, resilient, but her more world- weary Leia Organa. I was so happy that every actor brought it to this movie. The uniformly great performances astounded me and made me proud!
Abrams injected this excellent offering into the Star Wars collection with a lot of humorous dialogue, just the right doses of seriousness, great action sequences, and an energy that rivaled the '77 classic. I would note that the main reason I'm not giving it 10 stars is because the villains Snoke, General Hux, and Phasma were a bit too cliché and 1-dimensional. I'm hoping that will improve in the sequels, which I can't wait for!
The general plot of TFA follows the adventures of Finn (Boyega in an energetic, hilarious performance), a disgruntled Stormtrooper who runs into a captive Resistance pilot Poe Dameron (Isaacs making the most of his limited screen time) on the "Death Star" like Starkiller base. Poe has been taken captive by the mysterious Sith Lord Kylo Ren (Driver in a subtle, complex performance), who is trying to procure a map of the star system (which Poe hid in his battle droid BB8) that will lead to the location of the legendary Jedi Knight Luke Skywalker, who has gone missing. Upon escape, Finn and Poe crash land on the desert planet Jakku, where they get separated and Finn meets inhabitant Rey (Ridley in a superb, persuasive, engaging performance), who has already made contact with BB8, and the 2 work together to try to get the droid to the Resistance.
Rey is in essence the film's main character as she takes over the "Luke Skywalker" role of the movie, the young, starry-eyed girl lusting for a life of adventure, but feeling held back by ties to her home planet, with Jakku is being very reminiscent of Luke's home world of Tatooine. Ridley is utterly fantastic in this role and I loved her character throughout. Luke's journey in the original films was the main draw for me, so I'm glad that Rey is going to be the hero(ine) that I can root for and follow in the new films. Ridley and Boyega have terrific chemistry, as do Boyega and Isaacs. These actors have already got me hooked on the "awakening" of the Force!
Abrams, similar to what he did with the Star Trek reboots, brings an energy and humor to the film that was much needed to get the franchise back to it's popular roots. The action sequences are exhilarating and the characterizations are provocative. NOTHING will replace or approach the movie-going magic of the original trilogy, but The Force Awakens is definitely a step (back) to the right direction!