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Ghost Wars (2017)
Good concept with sometimes laughable execution
I had hopes for this show seeing Vincent D'Onofrio in the cast along with a few other recognizable names. Budget restraints don't bother me as long as the writing is strong, and in this case the acting and concept are the only saving graces.
The story centers around Roman Mercer, a small town outcast. You can tell he's an outcast because he wears cut-off denim vests, leather jackets and studded belts and broods a lot! Look at him, being all outcast-y. Roman can also see ghosts and apparently even though he knows everyone thinks he's weird, he just goes right ahead and keeps talking to them in public.
Roman is finally leaving town on the bus when a ghost appears in the road in front of the bus driver. The driver apparently skipped a couple of days in bus driving class, because when a ghost appears in the road in front of them, he jerks the wheel and slams on his brakes, flipping the bus on its side as it careens towards a cliff. This scene was so bad I chuckled a little bit.
Roman was sitting near the back of the bus, so he manages to get out before the bus teeters over the edge and everyone dies. So of course when the police show up on the scene, one of them (whose mother was on the bus) leaps to the only reasonable conclusion and starts yelling at Roman that he should have died instead of his mom. Apparently being a weird skinny guy makes everyone think you're capable of somehow sending a bus over a cliff and escaping. They ain't the sharpest bunch.
When people finally realize that ghosts are attacking the town, a group of them organizes and tries to kill Roman. Poor guy. Thankfully it turns out that he really isn't that much of an outcast because several people in town are sympathetic towards him, including the priest, sheriff and a bartender.
There are a lot of stupid scenes in the first couple of episodes. You're going to see people in dangerous situations just standing around waiting to be killed instead of running. People do completely stupid, unbelievable stuff, and dialogue is often cringe-worthy.
I'm not going to give up on the show yet, and if it gets a lot better I'll come back and change my rating. For now, this is just an okay show hampered by goofy writing and clichéd characters.
Dimension 404 (2017)
I'll start with the good. The FX work on this show is solid coming from the Rocket Jump team. This is what they excel at, and I commend them on rising from viral videos to now having 2 series on Hulu.
The acting is mostly decent, but the actors aren't really given deep roles so it's not like you're going you see any outstanding performances. There are a handful of recognizable faces like Patton Oswalt, Lea Michele, some sitcom actors and narration by Mark Hamill.
None of the episodes were so bad that I had to turn it off, but they weren't really that good either. This show begs for good writers. Each episode follows a very, very basic plot that feels like it never really got past the concept and storyboard stage. Girl is obsessed with a 90s cartoon, the cartoon comes to life, and she has to fight evil. Guy is obsessed with arcade games, an arcade game comes to life, and he has to fight evil. None of these stories are very original or complex.
On top of the airy writing is the curiously bright production. I don't know if they did this deliberately or just didn't know what they were doing, but the look and feel of this thing is similar to a light afternoon kids show. I'm pretty sure there are grittier episodes of Goosebumps and Are You Afraid of the Dark than anything you'll find in Dimension 404.
Watch it if you have nothing better to do or if you need an introduction to sci-fi anthologies. It's certainly not the worst thing on Hulu.
I'm not one to dismiss a show after the pilot episode unless it's absolutely unwatchable. The pilot of Heartbeat wasn't great. Dr. Panettiere is an amalgamation of different TV doctor tropes, particularly 1 part House, 1 part Mindy(including a handsome British doctor), and 2 parts Grey's Anatomy. In the pilot, we see a flashback to our main character's first day on the job at her hospital, where she disguised herself as a different doctor so she could assist in a surgery because she thought the surgeon was dreamy. In the real world, a doctor committing an act of fraud like that would be in a lot of trouble, especially one just starting her career. But since this is a TV show, the handsome British doctor was impressed by her and happened to be wearing a t-shirt with a picture of her ex-husband, who by the way is a famous rock star. And apparently a famous rock star who has nothing better to do than hang around the house all day cooking for her and taking care of their kids. You know, like a typical rock star does.
Anyway, the show clearly has good medical consultants, because that part of the show was well done. So I decided to give Hearbeat a second chance.
And here's what Heartbeat did:
They started the second episode with our lead character getting a fire truck to fake an emergency so she could follow them and drive her Porsche over the speed limit. And when she gets to the hospital, the administrator that she frequently clashes with decides to overlook the gross misuse of emergency workers because she got to look at hunky firefighters. The plot of the episode was even worse. A pair of middle-aged soul-singing conjoined twins come into the hospital and find out one of them has cancer. Did I mention one of the twins is a lesbian and the other is straight?
Two episodes was enough for me. The show isn't funny enough to be a comedy, but it has a light-hearted attitude that keeps it from being a believable drama. Everything gets wrapped up neatly, and no one really has to deal with consequences from their misbehavior aside from briefly hurt feelings. Add in the ridiculous soap opera touches, and it's just a mess of a show that betrays the solid cast they assembled.
The concept isn't terrible, a few of the jokes are decent, and the acting is all over the place. What is really sad is that this show has no ideas. Every week they just get in ridiculous amount of trouble that any normal person would find a way to avoid, and they've already been repeating themselves halfway through the first season.
For example, in the pilot episode, Cooper and his buddies have their TV stolen. They track it down to a house where some sketchy guys live and try to steal it back, but Cooper gets caught and kidnapped. In exchange for getting Cooper back, they have to give the guys an expensive brand new TV.
A few episodes later, Cooper gets his phone stolen. They track it down to a sorority house where a party is going on. Cooper's brother is in his brand-new SUV and encounters the teenagers who stole the phone. They steal his clothes and set his new SUV on fire.
There are some small differences, but these two episodes are almost exactly the same plot. In fact, if you break it down, almost every episode has a similar story arc. You can expect at some point in every episode they're going to tick off a dangerous person and either end up running for their lives or getting punched in the face. In fact, in the episode that's on right now they just ticked off their landlord and he shot a hole in the ceiling.
Reveals the issues with reality "horror" programming
Hellevator is nothing new. Seven years ago a similar game show called "Estate of Panic" ran for six episodes before it was canceled. It was essentially a horror-themed version of Fear Factor which pitted a small group of strangers against each other in various challenges, such as finding hidden objects in a room that was full of water or searching for cash in a spider-filled room as the ceiling slowly came down. As an added twist, the contestants had to find a way out of the room before time expired or they would be trapped in the room and eliminated from the competition. Estate of Panic worked in a weird sort of way thanks in part to a great performance by Steve Valentine as the creepy host and caretaker of the estate and the fact that the show never took itself too seriously.
So along comes Hellevator, which promises us big things with some of the names attached to it. The series has been billed as being from "the producer of Paranormal Activity" Jason Blum. Unfortunately,it appears that Blum's involvement is limited, as the producers listed on the show are all veterans of the game show realm instead of horror movies.
The show is hosted by the Soska Sisters. Most casual viewers may not know that the Soskas are actually horror movie directors known for See No Evil 2 and American Mary. Sadly, it seems that all the twins have been given to do here is provide some occasional off the cuff commentary (which is mostly flat) and push a few buttons to move the scenes along.
Interviews leading up to the premier had the Soskas saying that Hellevator would allow viewers to see what real people would do when placed in scenarios from horror movies. Again, unfortunately it doesn't live up to this billing. For example, one challenge had a contestant pull fake organs out of mutilated corpses and place them on a scale to try to find the correct weight. Another challenge forced a contestant to try to guess which containers to place color- coded lights into while walking on balance beams. If she stepped off the beams and touched the ground, she received a very light electric shock. The challenges are all timed, and the contestants have to make it back to the elevator before time runs out or they'll be left behind. On their way back, they might have an actor jump out at them from around a corner, similar to what you would find in any run of the mill haunted house at Halloween time.
The major issue here is that most viewers are not going to be the least bit scared while watching this. Some of it is gross, but not scary. We know this is a game show, which means we know nothing bad can really happen to them outside of not winning the money. We can laugh at their reactions to the jump scares like we might have when watching the hidden camera show Scare Tactics, but the appeal there is limited.
I would love to see a game show that really pits contestants against classic horror scenarios. Throw some teens out in the woods in the middle of the night and give them six hours to survive without being caught by a masked killer. Put some people in the middle of a fake town and have them try to survive a horde of zombies. Have some contestants try to avoid being killed by a demon as they look for clues about what it is and how to stop it.
But something like that would require a decent budget, some creativity, and most importantly a lot of effort, so that's why we have the fake guts and funhouse scares of Hellevator instead.
The Maze Runner (2014)
Intriguing concept, but terrible writing and execution
My wife wanted to watch this because she liked the Hunger Games and was hoping this would be at least half as good. I had already heard plenty about the book series and even read a few chapters, so my expectations were much lower. What you get here is a series of action sequences strung together with ridiculous exposition and a back story that is so contrived it makes the Hunger Games sound like historical fiction. Not that it really matters - ultimately the film is just these kids in a maze for 105 minutes with some unexpected and convenient stuff happening in the last 10. Any form of metaphor, theme or meaning within this is basic and shallow at best. Don't go in looking for any kind of relevant social commentary.
And a lot of this could be overlooked if there were at least some interesting characters, but instead we're treated to the usual tropes, who go about their duties with little development or charm. They're convincing at least, but bland as a Dodge Avenger.
Anyway, I know a lot of the 14-25 crowd will disagree with my review, but that's okay. They are who this movie was made for. It's a competently made film with enough action to entertain you for a while, but it's not remarkable or exceptional in any facet.
House of Bad (2013)
A horrible, poorly-done, incredibly stupid movie. To go into everything wrong with this film would take more space than I have here. Don't waste your time.
Oh, and as for all those reviews that gush about this movie, they're pretty blatant. One of the reviewers has only reviewed two movies in 11 years. They're both movies directed by Jim Towns. Another one has only reviewed two movies as well. They're both movies starring Sadie Katz. If you guys want to review your own movies, at least have the guts to post your own name so we can see who you really are. Or how about you put out a film that actually deserves praise instead.
An adult's review
I grew up with a lot of great supernatural shows like Goosebumps, Eerie Indiana, Bone Chillers, Round the Twist, Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, and So Weird.
Unfortunately, it seems like there aren't many good shows for kids today that deal with the supernatural. Most of them are really cheesy shows like My Babysitter's a Vampire, Wizards of Waverly, or this new Nickelodeon show Every Witch Way that are more about high school drama than scares and have really bad writing and acting. Then there were the really campy, groan-inducing shows like "The Troop" that played mostly for laughs.
So imagine my surprise when I ran across an episode of Spooksville and actually enjoyed it. The actors in this show are downright believable. They don't ham it up and overact the way all the Disney Channel and Nickelodeon stars do. The characters for the most part are normal kids dealing with supernatural forces, and they dress and look like real kids. They don't dress like rockers or pop stars. You won't see any neon skinny jeans or designer shoes on this show.
And better yet, the writing is above average. This show doesn't insult your intelligence with thin plots and cheap laughs. There is real character development, a good continuous storyline, and some solid standalone episodes.
I can only hope that we see more shows like Spooksville in the future instead of the schlock that is passing for teen entertainment on Disney and Nickelodeon these days.
A sad reflection of our society
I was at home one day and the cable was out, so I happened across this show. All I can say is that it saddens me to see how many ignorant women are buying into Bethenny Frankel's ideas of how they should live. Seriously people! THIS is the woman you want to turn to for advice? A spoiled, elitist rich housewife who's addicted to plastic surgery? No wonder our society continues to become more and more shallow and empty.
This woman is as vapid as they get. She's a failed actress. She's admitted that she has more than one eating disorder, even though she has also tried to market herself as a fitness guru and nutrition expert. She's giving out relationship advice, even though she hasn't spoken to her own mother in more than 10 years and was already estranged from her father. She markets herself as a lifestyle expert, yet she has admitted that before the Real Housewives show took off she had run herself into the ground and could barely afford to pay her rent.
Frankel once told people on the Real Housewives that they should never exploit their children by bringing them into the show. Then she left the show and got a reality show that was all about her AND HER KIDS! She criticized co-stars for their naked pictures, but then it was revealed she did a nude scene in a movie a few years earlier!
And THIS is the woman that stay-at-home moms and housewives across the country are supposed to be looking up to? I think it's bad enough how many people look to Oprah to make all their life decisions for them, but Frankel is even worse. Learn to think for yourselves, folks. You don't need some fake reality trash who could have easily become the next Paris Hilton to tell you how to live.
Acting saves otherwise weak writing
I'll be honest; if this show was on a major network like ABC on a Monday night, it would be just a little bit more fast paced but otherwise considered a typical TV drama. I think some people are pulled in and lightly brainwashed by the "independent" nature and the slow pace of this series.
The acting is certainly the highlight, but the writing is a horrible mess. Everything in this show is a massive stereotype or cliché, and it seems the writers didn't even do a cursory level of research into escorting before coming up with their scripts. In one scene, Blue texts out that her price is $900. I did my own research (don't get any crazy ideas) into escorting for a college class. An escort making $900 for an hour would have to be a famous porn star, not some part-time nobody soccer mom. In the real world, Blue would be lucky to get $400 an hour and would probably have to travel from city to city to keep the cops off her back.
Some of the scenarios just make me laugh. Blue's boss tells her she has a client in the bar downstairs that she's been seeing for 25 years. "He's a famous actor," she says, without a hint of irony. As if any famous actor would stay with the same wife, let alone a middle-aged prostitute for more than a little while (just ask Charlie Sheen).
Of course, Blue is a woman emotionally damaged by an affair with a much older man when she was a child, and one of her clients turns out to be the man's son who she has not seen in years and who just got out of prison after a five-year term. Talk about coincidences, huh? You just get out of jail and the prostitute you hire is the girl you had a huge crush on and lived next door to as a kid, who was actually boinking your father.
And then there's Blue's son, the extremely intelligent but troubled young kid with antisocial behavior issues who calls his mom by her first name. And her mother, the emotionally distant old cougar who likes to voice chat with her daughter from the bathroom of a nightclub while she's on a date with a black man about 20 years younger than her.
The dialogue is a pretentious mess of ham-fisted preachiness. One of her coworkers worries about men not being interested after she loses her body. Another says that men are parasites who suck all the energy out of women. All of the conversations are stilted and forced.
This show is essentially a daytime soap opera/prime-time network drama, but the casting and the production of it make it seem like something more. It's entertaining at least, but it's hard not to laugh at how ridiculous some of it is.
Bad Ink (2013)
...seen them all.
This is another show where a couple of guys in tank tops and fedoras run a tattoo shop. The "twist" is that these guys specialize in covering up embarrassing tattoos. They go visit potential customers or just walk around asking random people if they have tattoos, and then the people tell them their embarrassing tattoo story before going to the tattoo shop to get it covered up. Then you see the finished product and everyone is happy. The end.
The supposedly unique premise of this show really doesn't do much to separate it from the other 500 tattoo-related shows out there. You're probably better off watching Dave Navarro's show, if tattoos are really that interesting to you.
Ben and Kate (2012)
So what they did here is basically find a way to clone New Girl by replacing Zooey Deschanel with a guy. I'm tired of these shows where the characters are so odd that they become essentially unrealistic, yet somehow we're supposed to love them for their oddness.
On New Girl, Jess is written to be so socially awkward that it goes way too over the top. I mean, she started tap dancing in a 5-star restaurant because something upset her. In the real world that would get you institutionalized or medicated at the least.
Enter Ben, who is well into his 30's and likes to walk around wearing hockey and wrestling masks. When he realizes that his ex-girlfriend (who dumped him TWO YEARS AGO)is getting married, he can't stop himself from shouting even though his niece is in the car, so he just starts shouting gibberish words.
When he plans to crash the wedding, no one talks him out of it and tells him to get a life and move on already. In real life, this guy's friends would demand he get therapy. Instead, his friends band together and help him. And even then, he's so out of touch with reality that he can't even rehearse his speech without screwing it up.
I realize that TV would not be interesting if it was completely realistic all the time, but shows like New Girl and Ben and Kate go way too far in trying to make these characters into screw ups (Ben can't even back up and turn his car around for crying out loud!).
God this was stupid.
When I saw this on Chiller and read the description, I thought it would be interesting. Nope.
The show has three really annoying hosts: two Jersey Shore wannabe guys and an awkward girl. After discussing classic horror movie scenarios, they engage in tests to see if they could "survive" these scenarios.
Except that this show was horribly planned and none of the challenges have much of anything to do with surviving.
The challenge to survive a zombie invasion requires the hosts to PUSH a zombie. That's right. Push a zombie. The hosts then take turns wrestling people dressed as zombies. Their goal is to push the zombies out of the circle without getting bitten. The zombies pretty much just stand there doing nothing as the hosts struggle to push them. It was even dumber than it sounds.
Part two has the hosts discussing how to survive attacks from animals such as giant sharks. Then, the hosts face another survival challenge. This time they have to crawl on their hands and knees through a tunnel filled with mice. No, I'm serious.
Another segment deals with being buried alive. For the challenge, one host is put in a coffin and some dirt is thrown on the lid. About one shovelful, to be exact. The host then has to call a series of numbers on his cell phone until he gets the right one. You know, just like real life.
It gets dumber from there. The last challenge has the hosts sticking their heads in tanks filled with things like chopped liver and fava beans, dog food, split-pea soup, and pig's blood.
This is basically a really bad extended episode of Fear Factor, but instead of real contestants you get three paid actors. They are "competing" for the chance to appear in the sequel. Let's hope there isn't one.
Falling Skies (2011)
Bad from the start
I'll admit to being way behind on this series. I thought the previews looked good before season one aired, but I never got the chance to watch it. Now, having finally got around to watching it, I'm glad I didn't have high hopes going in.
The series begins after an alien attack has wiped out the world's militaries and sent all of humanity underground. How they did this is really hard to say, because the aliens seem pretty darn incompetent.
The freedom fighters in this series travel in a large caravan up an open street in broad daylight. The aliens don't see them, apparently. The freedom fighters set up camps in groups of hundreds in the middle of towns that have already been destroyed by the aliens. The aliens don't find them, even though their ships are constantly flying over.
At the beginning of episode two, our small group of heroes sends a dog out onto the lawn of an armory as a decoy. Immediately an alien mech comes out and targets it. The stupid humans rush in and rescue the dog. The mech somehow fails to shoot anyone. The next day the humans decide to return to the armory anyway, so of course they only send 5 or 6 people. They get inside and manage to fire guns and yell at each other, yet it now takes several minutes before the mech shows up. It still fails to kill anyone.
The aliens in this series are convenient. They show up only when they need to, and they rarely ever manage to kill or hurt anyone. Our plucky young band of heroes get themselves into mess after mess and almost always get out of them. It's kind of like Hogan's Heroes with aliens, except Falling Skies is unintentionally funny.
When you add in the fact that every episode has to meet the Spielberg- mandated heartwarming moment quota, it gets pretty old. Dad hugs son, son wishes his mom was still alive, son gets a Rip-It for his birthday and everyone gathers around and watches and smiles as he rides it. The bad acting and sappy sentimentality further damage the already shaky suspension of disbelief problems.
And yet, I'm still giving it a 4 out of 10 for at least being entertaining, in a bad B-movie sort of way.
American Horror Story (2011)
Let's be honest...
This show has few good things going for it. The cast, with the exception of McDermott, give good performances. The cinematography is excellent and there's a lot of atmosphere. And that's about it.
The mood of this show is suffocating, to put it lightly. Each episode is one weird thing after another with no rest. That leads to a lack of real suspense. The camera work is over the top, and the musical cues try way too hard.
Ultimately, though, it's the plot that fails this show. As I said before, there's an endless stream of weird things happening, which means you never get an ounce of suspense or tension. But worse than that, all the weird things that happen are typical horror movie tropes that we've seen a hundred times before in other horror projects.
The following paragraph contains details that some may consider spoilers: The story steals a lot from The Shining and quite a bit from Amityville Horror. The basic concept of a haunted house where all the previous owners were killed is about as stale as you can get. The Simpsons parodied it some ten years ago. To make it worse, they throw in every other cliché they can find. We've got creepy things in the attic and creepy things in the basement. We've got an obsessive ex-girlfriend. There's a man who's been horribly disfigured in a fire who happens to wear a black suit and drive a black sedan, which leads to an incredibly schlocky chase scene. There's a home invasion a la The Strangers or Straw Dogs or any of a million other movies. There's a conniving, evil neighbor and a mentally handicapped girl. There are college students getting stabbed to death by a serial killer and a mad scientist who likes to cut up animals and sew their parts together (not hard to imagine where that's going). About the only things missing are werewolves and vampires.
And the worst part of it all: the show is just barely entertaining. During the Halloween marathon I watched the first three episodes and was so unconcerned with what was going on that I decided to find something else to watch. There's no real mystery and very little about the characters to care about. You are basically just watching things happen to them. I'm usually the sort of person who wants to know how things will end and will watch even a mediocre show to find out. With American Horror Story I found myself not caring how it turns out at all.
Lizard Lick Towing (2011)
Mindless Reality TV Just Became Even More Mindless
The only thing I can imagine that's worse than reality TV is scripted reality TV. Lizard Lick Towing is about a real repo company, but every episode contains scripted reenactments of their exploits. The characters, despite being real people, are completely unbelievable, and most of the situations on the show are clearly over exaggerated. In one episode, the boys try to repossess a man's mustang. The guy jumps into the car, drives it off the hitch, and then drives off. Rather than trying to get away, he circles back to where he started and then drives the car into a pond. In true Ronnie Dobbs fashion, he gets out of the car, stands on top, and flips them a double bird. The boys "trick" the redneck by offering him $250 to wade out into the pond and hook up their chain so they can tow the car out. After he does this, they push him into the pond and take off running. The guy shows up with two friends outside a restaurant later as Ron and his wife are having dinner. Ron calls Bobby, and they confront the man in the parking lot. Bobby decks one of the guy's friends, and then Ron picks the man up and body slams him into the windshield of a car while Bobby takes out the other friend. The three rednecks just lay around in the background doing nothing while Ron argues with his wife and then talks to Bobby. Everything about this episode was so fake that I couldn't believe it was being presented as real. In one of the "All Worked Up" episodes, Bobby actually charges a man holding a rifle. All of the action is inter-cut with Ron saying things like, "I'm as proud of her as a little puppy that's got a new flea." This is a pathetic excuse for entertainment.