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American Horror Story: Orphans (2014)
From Out Of Left-Field, A Monumental Episode!
I was a bit concerned viewing the 1st episode for "Freak Show". Not because I didn't love it, but because it was so phenomenal that I wondered if they could keep it up! Lange, Bates, and Paulson(s!) gave so much depth in that episode and it almost seemed to be bringing too much "WOW" to the table much too quickly.
Which I even admired, but wondered about the "too much, too soon" HOOK-EM QUICK charade. Then Lange so tragically/beautifully performed Bowie's "Life On Mars" near the end. I was in complete awe & in that moment I somehow just knew that "Freak Show" was going to redeem "Coven". (A fan of previous seasons, though "Coven" had it's issues"). "Life On Mars", accompanied by her fascinating "monsters" was so haunting and well-designed/produced. It was during that song on that 1st episode that I was in that rare "mouth-open/this could be truly special" mode! Then as more musical numbers came rolling in following weeks, I wondered if it was only playing off the success of "Asylum"s pristine "Name Game" montage (Or even more scarier, a version of AHS: Glee!")
I worry about overkill with Ryan Murphy. Examples: "Glee", "Nip/Tick", and sadly last year's "AHS: COVEN" which began beautifully then lost itself somewhere in mid-season, becoming: "Who's the Most Annoying, Evil Bitch" by the finale episodes, spiced up with a moment or two of awkwardly-staged (bless her heart)-- Stevie Nicks cameos that seemed like music videos to me. It's good we had Kathy Bates' delicious role with a few other cast members to keep it afloat during those "red flag moments". By the finale I literally was just rooting for Lange to just keep it going as Grand Supreme. I could almost not have cared any less. Not intending to reminisce on the pilot and "Coven" so much, but Twisty the clown was gimmicky to me. YET--it still brilliantly worked due to it's timely manner...and because of the actor's incomprehensibly expressive performance using almost entirely only his eyes to act. Dingy, dirty,blood-stained, deformed clowns are terrifying enough in any case. But a murderous clown in a public park, on a lovely summer's day doing such dastardly things to his victims is indeed fresher & more visceral.
I was already sick of hearing about the new season and the scary damned clown...too gimmicky for such a smart show. But no sooner was I getting a bit irritated (merely because it deserves to be remembered as more than the "Eerie Clown" season), when Finn Wittrock (Dandy) was tousled in. That made Twisty seem less awful as the season has progressed (Wittrock is an AMAZING actor; very fun to watch).
So this one tonight was the "PEPPER" episode that loyal fans have been salivating over! And it was worth the wait. I have noted how carefully they have had Pepper shuffling around in the background this season, but doing nothing to progress the plot. This episode was her moment to shine, even more so than she was able to in "Asylum".
I refuse to spoil anything here, but Naomi Grossman takes every opportunity to show us who Pepper was and she does it convincingly with heartbreaking results. If Pepper had been a bigger part I am sure she'd be looking at award nominations for this.
This episode also provided the opportunity to bring back two "AHS" alumni: Mere Winningham as Pepper's sister, and the "oh-so-missed" Lily Rabe...if you haven't heard...reprising her "pre-possessed" Sister Mary Eunice character from "Asylum"!
Without ruining the episode, I'd like to state that it was the most lovely, poignant episode of the season thus far. It really shifted gears! Lange & Grossman have scenes that almost brought me to tears. It also showed yet another layer of Elsa for us to decipher...this time a sincere, compassionate, maternal side to stuff in the proverbial "Elsa Box".
It was a pleasure to see so much of Grossman acting her ass off; great to see Lange unveil yet another facet of her complex character; bravo to Lily Rabe's Mary Eunice return (albeit too brief); and there were some big developments for Angela Bassett finally. With Ethyl gone, it seems she's taking the reigns and the troupe seem to be in good hands.
Not much going on with Jimmy, Dandy, or others this week, but Pepper deserved and received a complete episode!
--Does anybody else feel like Michael Chikilis (Dale) has done fine, but now just seems to be walking around with bottles all the time? They completely wasted the talents of Evan Peters in "Coven". It killed me to watch him grunt around all season.
FYI--A SURPRISE ENDING THIS WEEK! I AM TAKEN BY SURPRISE**
**ONE NAGGING QUESTION--Wouldn't Pepper (who is far from an idiot) notice in the following years as Sister Jude (Elsa), Kit (Jimmy), and Dot/Bette (Lana) entered the asylum? Minus 2 wooden legs, one head, and webbed-hands, they don't appear any differently between seasons. I like the connection of seasons idea (if they don't overdo it), but does anybody else sense the implausibility here? No matter, it's been an appetizing, most welcome season thus far...(now praying: "Don't ruin the finale episodes, Ryan Murphy! When you're good, you're SO GOOD).
Les Misérables (2012)
A dream cast & director make a modern day masterpiece
After much anticipation, Tom Hooper's "Les Miserables" is finally here. And let me say, it's the best musical adaptation since 2002's Best Picture winner "Chicago".
To call "Les Miserables" brutal is an understatement. It actually makes me feel grateful to have not lived in such a filthy time full of disease, prostitution, ruthless war, and utter disgust. To find true glory, hope, and heart amongst this backdrop is miraculous, but it is one of the most uplifting films you will ever see.
Having seen the stage production several times, I decided going in that I would not compare the two, and I did not. They stand alone as two fantastic labors of love. One thing I truly admired about this film is that the singing was not prerecorded & lip-synced. What you hear in the film is the actors actually singing in real time and it added so much more depth and emotion to the songs. I found it to be a bold & brave move by director Tom Hooper (who won the Best Director Oscar for "The King's Speech"). "Les Miserables" actually tops his former film with passion & artistry.
Most are familiar with the story but it tells the story of Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman), a paroled prisoner in the 1800s that over the course of decades, attempts to find redemption while a police inspector Javert (Russell Crowe) pursues him relentlessly.
As for the cast, all I can say is I was astonished. They could not have found a better John Valjean than Hugh Jackman. His acting is top-notch & his vocal range is magnificent & surprising. Anne Hathaway steals the first quarter of the movie in her mesmerizing portrayal of Fantine. Her rendition of the song "I Dreamed A Dream" is anguishing,heartbreaking,& desperate. She lost nearly 15-pounds for the role,cut her hair off, and vocally prepared for weeks. Hathaway doesn't just act like Fantine; she becomes her, with blood, sweat, tears, talent,voice, and art. It's her best turn since "Rachel Getting Married" (2008).I'm sure both Jackman & Hathaway will receive Oscar nominations if not wins (for Hathaway in particular).
The Thenardier's are fun (played over-the-top by Sasha Baron Cohen & Helena Bonham Carter). Amanda Seyfried was a fantastic choice for Cosette, and the entire cast is a dream, really.
Then there's Marius played by Eddie Redmayne (who I also think is Oscar worthy here). He comes out of nowhere & gives this astonishing performance, singing like a Broadway God. I was blown away. His performance of "Empty Chairs At Empty Tables" is agonizing, and perhaps the best I've ever heard it performed.
The only tiny downfall to the cast is Russell Crowe's Javert. Crowe does not sing quite as well as the rest of the cast. His vocals are not as powerful. Javert is such a powerful character, and it seemed to need a bit of a punch. Still Crowe's acting is great as always & he gives us haunting insight into Javert, who ultimately is as much a victim as anyone else in the story.
This is a massive production. I can't recall such a huge Broadway adaptation since "Evita" in 1996. Some have called it bombastic. I completely disagree. Director Tom Hooper has remained faithful to the Broadway production while somehow making this adaptation his own at the same time. There are many intricacies that could never be noticed on the stage. He has directed his fine team of actors in such a way that through the gritty, raw cruelness of the time we feel uplifted. The movie is incredibly intimate. I can't imagine anyone walking away unaffected.
It's a movie of the heart. It's message of love, hope, giving, & surviving are inspirational & uplifting. Without a doubt, the best movie of 2012. It does not disappoint & is a definite must-see.
I will never go back to Family Tree Restaurant
Family Tree Restaurant in Santaquin, Utah has been in my life since I was a kid (and I am 32 years old). After watching this special, both me & my family agree we will NEVER go back. It evoked evil I had never imagined. I have felt uneasy in there before, but thought it was because of the hundreds of OLD family photos on the wall staring out at me. Patrons have also NEVER been aware of the secret places hidden in the small restaurant (the scary cellar, the old saloon). After seeing the truly terrifying, evil sketch the investigator drew, I was horrified--I have BEEN in that bathroom, in the very SPOT she saw the apparition! And to hear locales say spirits have followed them home! HORRIFYING! Nope, NEVER again. This was a bad move for business on Family Tree's part. I think many will not return.
The Cabin in the Woods (2012)
A Fresh Spin On The Dying Horror Genre!
Are we in the right theater? That was the first fleeting thought that went through my head during the opening few seconds of Drew Goddard's Cabin in the Woods, as Steve and Richard (Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford) two middle-aged, middle-management types engage in banal conversation over a water cooler, in what appears to be a quasi-military scientific facility. Didn't we show up to see attractive young people getting killed creatively in a rustic, natural setting?
But soon enough, we're presented with the good-looking collegians we expected: They're all meeting up at the house of Dana (Kristen Connolly) for a weekend off the grid, packing into an RV to head to a remote mountain retreat. Even before they make their debut, though, it's clear this is the right movie: There's no mistaking the familiar tone of producer and co-writer Joss Whedon's trademark witty banter in that opening scene.
From there, things proceed, on one level, exactly as expected: some quick expository banter in the RV to establish the characters, a stop at a rundown gas station that seems drawn equally from Deliverance and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and eventual arrival at the cabin, shot to evoke the Evil Dead series.
In the basement of the house, during a game of truth or dare (of course), the gang find a collection of creepy trinkets, baubles and assorted ephemera that looks like a horror-movie attic sale: sepia-toned photos of a long-dead family; a diary describing their violent past; blank-eyed porcelain dolls and puzzle boxes. Each one is a portent of bad things about to happen, which only the group's resident stoner conspiracy theorist, Marty (Whedon regular Fran Kranz) seems to realize.
The catch is that as this crew of slightly too-stereotypical archetypes goes through the horror movie motions, their every move is being monitored by Steve and Richard back at that facility, along with an army of supporting staffers and technicians, both observing and working to influence the proceedings. Nothing in this film is quite what it seems.
A horror-movie attic sale is, in essence, exactly what Cabin in the Woods is, an attempt to exorcise the genre of its formulaic possession by stuffing the movie full of its most overused and predictable elements and then dumping them through clever skewering.
It would be unfair to speak in any kind of detail about the precise nature of the interaction between the cabin and the observers, or about some of the crazy images that Goddard manages to put on screen during the chaos of the film's completely insane climax. I will say that I was watching through tears of laughter flowing so freely that I probably didn't even catch the entire parade of the bizarre in that sequence.
But part of the pleasure of this movie one of a great many pleasures, as it's the most entertaining and satisfying horror movie I've seen in a long while is to see how that relationship unfolds, and to be completely surprised by those images. Goddard and Whedon have created a wonderful puzzle of a film that is loving in its appreciation of good horror, even as it takes the genre (and its blood-lusty audience) to task for the unimaginative banality that has been too typical of recent scary movies.
There's a serious and smart critique here, and life-or-death stakes that only come from characters one genuinely cares about a neat trick, given that they're set up to be so generic. But Whedon, the creator of a vampire slayer named Buffy, has always excelled at clever one-liners set against backdrops of unspeakable and ancient evil. Goddard, in his first turn as director, matches the verbal wit with memorable visual set- pieces that are as hilarious as they are horrific.
It's true that the symbolic connections drawn here aren't exactly subtle, but subtlety in subtext has rarely been the prerogative of even the best horror. Neither is the movie particularly scary, but that's not the aim here, either. Whedon and Goddard create a self-contained universe that plays by its own rules to serve its own critical agenda, and does so with smarts and skill.
For all of its intellectual pleasures, though, Cabin in the Woods is a visceral roller coaster of a movie at heart. And like the best thrill rides, when it's over, you just want to get back on and go again.