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The Flash: Null and Annoyed (2018)
Season 4, Episode 17
Borish and uneventful
24 May 2018
Warning: Spoilers
The title says it all... This is most definitely a filler episode that does little to nothing to drive the plot of the season.

Barry and Ralph bicker over how to be a hero, but ultimately figure out it doesn't matter so long as the job gets done. Personally, I don't find Ralph to be endearing or funny, and am with Barry on there being a time and a place.

The subplot with Breacher (Danny Trejo) returning to ask Cisco for help to figure out why he can't vibe feels disjointed and awkward for so many reasons. There is no explanation why he is suddenly on his best behavior with Cisco, and it just feels contrived, the constant reference to Cisco's forlorn love who's effectively nonexistent was annoying and repetitive, as if we'd forget his motivation in 3 minutes or less.

And to add insult to injury, once Caitlin tells Cisco the real reason for his loss of power, the decision to keep it from Breacher is out of character and ultimately pointless, only leading to a horribly bad green-screen sequence of poor Danny "acting" even sillier attempting to use his no-longer-existent powers-it was truly painful to watch. We only learn the true reason for this drawn-out charade when Breacher returns one last time to inform Cisco of his retirement and that he'd like him to take his place, which would give him more time with Gypsy... Talk about a Catch-22...

The final fight with Ralph having to save the day with his giant whoopie-cushion antics would only be humorous to a 3-year-old. Overall, this episode was just fluff filling in a gap in the timeline. 5.5/10.0
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Blindspot: Clamorous Night (2018)
Season 3, Episode 18
Original and dynamic, a long anticipated return to the fray...
22 April 2018
Warning: Spoilers
Clamorous Night - Reviewed 4/21/2018

I will preface this by stating this episode was very much highly anticipated since originally 18 was to be the last of the season. I've been tracking ratings data, afraid it will be yet another casualty of inaccurate ratings' reporting since Nielsen does NOT count our streaming service viewings in their numbers reporting to networks, anxious to find out if they'll renew on of my favorite shows for another season. The jury is still out on whether or not adding four more episodes bodes well for the show, or was a last ditch effort by the creator/writers to push enough content to bump ratings up. Only time will tell...

The first frame captures you by focusing on Jane's eyes, then panning back to show the full frame. The director did a superb job structuring the scenes for what would otherwise be a fairly clunky episode, where the story elected for character development as opposed to action.

The script took a bold move, allowing the audience to experience each character's varying perspectives. I was a bit miffed with the idea that Jane would be the only one who didn't stave off her attackers, however she was double-teamed and electrocuted from behind, so she gets a pass. True to character, she takes some time to evaluate the situation and talk to Roman before deciding on her plan of attack. One of the things we love the most about her is her ability to find her way out of any seemingly impossible situation.

I'm not sure what Rich's ulterior motive is for trying to interfere in each of their lives at this moment in time, but it seems he has a larger scheme in mind. Reed's time with Milicent is equal parts awkward and uncomfortable, which is by design. Tasha's speech at the memorial was heartfelt and emotional. The new insight into her character was a nice arc. Patterson's date was horribly awkward and disastrous. I think we all are relieved she quickly discovered they are not a good fit and called it quits. I find myself relating to her more and more, even though I love Jane.

It was nice to see a little progress with Tasha and Patterson, however it feels a bit unnatural for Patterson to still be giving Tasha the cold shoulder, especially after their near-death experience should offer her some fresh perspective. I understand she's hurt, but the punishment isn't fitting the crime at this point. Patterson is more mature than to continue to hold a grudge when she knows she's ultimately going to give her another chance and work on their friendship again.

Now, all that being said, I can't help but feel the show is losing it's way a bit, and losing some of the core audience, by departing from tattoo cases. I'm all for a show growing and evolving much like its characters, however that is the formula that works, and most episodes had a great dynamic and were well-balanced with dramatic character development and intense action.

I was happy that they gave us another sweet Jeller moment, something that has unfortunately been absent through the majority of the last half of this season. Personally, I believe that's another reason why the ratings have suffered. The writers got their audience hooked on the relationship of their two core characters, and then left them to suffer after a major breakdown of trust. While it is smart to explore having to rebuild their trust, considering the situation and with her knowing him, I think they drew too hard of a line for the sake of exposition.

At any rate, I sincerely hope we get a Season 4, because this show and the actors have too much potential to give up now. They are by far one of my favorite teams on television, and the writing of the cases and characters is too dynamic to allow to fizzle away into Nothing But Cancellations aresenal. PLEASE keep this show alive. It's so frustrating that networks aren't taking into account ratings from streaming data like HULU. My DVR continues to not cooperate, so I can't play it from there to ensure the rating is counted, but I'm a die-hard fan from the Pilot on, and this show is FAR more deserving than most others renewed this year.

8.0 out of 10.0
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Fear the Walking Dead: So Close, Yet So Far (2015)
Season 1, Episode 2
An improvement
12 October 2015
Warning: Spoilers
With the garish childishness and b-rated horror antics of the Pilot, I didn't have much hope, however this episode provided some much-needed tension. The music was still poorly selected and the characters underdeveloped, but it's beginning to feel as though it's moving forward.

Sadly, I still don't know half of the characters names. I enjoyed the mother having her first real encounter, having to step up to the plate to protect a student. The teen stereotypes continue, but hopefully they'll evolve. I also found the beginning of the riots/police en force an interesting perspective, with most of the population unaware of the real threat. I'm hopeful things will pick up once they get out of the city and meet others along the way.
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The Walking Dead: First Time Again (2015)
Season 6, Episode 1
Uneventful and drawn out, the writers really over-thought this one...
12 October 2015
Warning: Spoilers
Inspiration or not, the screenplay was a waste of an hour and a half episode. The black and white noir representing the past feels like a slap in the face to long-time fans, masquerading as artistic creativity when really it's a cheap attempt to establish past from present.

Not only did they completely avoid explaining the aftermath of where we last left our beloved characters, but the episode is devoid of any and all character development. There is no tension nor suspense until the last two minutes. The picturesque location is ruined by excessive and unnecessary CGI, as well as the effort put into creating those zombies, as the wide payouts masked most of that.

This episode just struck me as trying overly hard to detach from the tried and true formula that works for the show. The new characters continue to not be fleshed out, while our group sort of sits stagnant. I fear there is a level of complacency they have developed, and I just keep waiting for them to move on, it was nice while it lasted, but it doesn't work for them. They are a team and a family or nothing, and we need to get back to that--the heart of the show as it were. I was really looking forward to Rick and Morgan relearning each other, and can't help but feel gipped. I also quite enjoyed the underpinnings of respect and loyalty between Rick and Michonne and hoped they would explore that. Carl's girlfriend needs to die already, along with most of the Alexandrians. They just don't get it, but I digress...

There were a few comical comments with Daryl as the Pied Piper of the zombie horde and Carol continuing her act, but that's about the end of this episode's redeeming qualities.

I actively try to refrain from being negative, however this was easily the least interesting season premiere in the show to date. I cannot figure out whose bright idea it was to waste time like this. Half of the scenes from the past were completely unnecessary. Here's hoping we go back to normal in episode two.

6.0 of 10.0
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The Walking Dead: Killer Within (2012)
Season 3, Episode 4
An emotional ride from start to finish
11 October 2015
Warning: Spoilers
Talk about a whirlwind... This episode feels like experiencing a tornado while on a roller coaster--what a thrill ride!

It fascinates me that the Governor keeps lying to Michonne like she's buying what he's selling. It was nice seeing Merle have a genuine moment when Andrea helps him map out where last she saw Daryl.

"Aw man, can't we have just one good day?" Talk about foreshadowing. T-Dog did his due diligence protecting the group. Clearly there's a rat among them. The running theme of trust is explored, very eloquently illustrating that the call needs to be based on the behavior of the person and not their past.

T-Dog's sacrifice for Carol was tragic. Maggie and Carl having to go to bat for Lori... That whole scene was beyond words. The turmoil and emotions swirling, especially with Rick's desperation. The scene where Maggie and Carl have to pull together for Lori.. Her words to Carl. I am kind of angry at Maggie for making Carl do that. Rick's speech to Carl, the flashback... Just no words.

I enjoyed that this ep blends both worlds: the prison and Woodbury. The effect is a poignant juxtaposition of the illusion of safety versus the gritty, raw reality of the world they live in. Sometimes real safety lies in knowing exactly where you stand. Lies only beget a vulnerability that leaves you anywhere but safe.

The end. No score... No words
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The Walking Dead: Walk with Me (2012)
Season 3, Episode 3
Too good to be true...
11 October 2015
Warning: Spoilers
The beginning certainly sets up a different feel to this ep. Danai is an amazing, communicating so much with just her eyes. It truly is a tragedy hoe much don't know how to read body language and eye movement anymore. In a lot of ways it says more than words ever could--perhaps one of the many reasons I love the show so much.

I thought it smart of Andrea to play the game, trying to appease Merle. And then the introduction of the Governor... It's kind of terrifying how tempting too good to be true is, but I love that Michonne is always watchful, discerning, wary. I absolutely love the subtle yet not so subtle way she closed the door. I love Michonne's eyes thought the entire ep.

The episode is beautifully written, showing two sides to every story. For example how it could appear he was putting two guys out of their misery and saving the pilot, as opposed to only saving one man to gather Intel, not to mention the pilot would be the most beneficial.

I enjoyed the analysis of Michonne's walkers, offering a more scientific explanation for their docile behavior, and asking the question on all of our minds--who exactly were they?

Was it just me, or did they seem inexperienced for military personnel? So trusting because they knew the pilot? Did it never occur to him he could've tortured the pilot to get the info? And they all just stand around getting ambushed? Okay... And the Governor puts his bullet in his mouth. "Never waste a bullet son..." Some sound advice after shooting a guy in the shoulder... Gov'na. Then he returns home to the fort for a poignant speech to obfuscate the truth, installing just the right amount of fear to make them stay.

I also think it says a lot about him that he 'never tells' his real name. If you haven't learned to not trust that guy, you deserve what you have coming to you. And in typical Walking Dead fashion, we end on a bombshell (or perhaps I should say in typical Top Gear fashion). The Governor is a psychopath. End episode.
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The Walking Dead: Sick (2012)
Season 3, Episode 2
Machete kills... Or Rick's machete to be more accurate
11 October 2015
Warning: Spoilers
The episode starts off running, trying desperately to save Herschel. What an amazing scene. The emotion on everyone's faces when they see is indescribable. You really feel the shock and desperation when Rick and Daryl have to tell the inmates the world as they knew it has ended.

Wow. Don't have a pissing contest with Rick--you will lose! That was probably one of the best scenes in the series, simply oozing with tension. Something as simple as Daryl telling the white inmate he's sorry about his friends really shows his character and how perhaps he's the one still the most in touch with humanity juxtaposed to Rick who seems to have adopted the policy 'the end justifies the means'.

So much palpable tension in this ep as they have to secure Herschel just in case. I loved seeing the growth of Carol's character, deciding what needs to be done and finding a way. I would say that Herschel's injury was the catalyst she needed to see she has to adopt a stronger role for the group, perhaps redefining her place. It gets even more tense when you see someone is watching them from afar.

It is supremely clear by the end Rick still needs Herschel--the moral center, his conscious. Some definite foreshadowing in the end as Rick continues to avoid the elephant in the room.
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The Walking Dead: Seed (2012)
Season 3, Episode 1
Wonderfully balanced with equal parts tension, hard-fought wins, and suspense
11 October 2015
Warning: Spoilers
I loved the opening sequence, portraying a great snapshot of what their life is like, and how they work cohesively as a team. I loved the way they took the prison. Once inside, the score does a superb job building the tension. They accomplished a lot as a team.

It was beautiful to see them finally get a win, have a relaxing night under the stars. I loved the moment between Daryl and Carol when she brought him some food--her teasing and him telling her to stop it. And then we're back to tension the next day. It's very accurate how in tune they are, noticing everything (who let the walkers out?)

The last scene--the inevitable surprise and Rick doing what he had to do... And what a way to introduce themselves to the locals... So poetic! One of my favorite episodes, and a great way to open the season!

10.0 of 10.0
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A bit less tension with a bit more melancholy
9 October 2015
Warning: Spoilers
The present scenes certainly have you on edge, and then the core of the episode falters. Annalise defends a woman who runs an anonymous sex party scheme after one of her clients dies of a heart attack while with her. The plot becomes a little ridiculous as the team discussed and explores their own sexuality... It's pretty boring in my opinion. The ep picks up again at the end where we're enthralled by why they're skulking around in the woods and now 'the cop' found then. I'm slightly irritated by the fact that the title of the episode is so non-sequitur, having little to do with the plot other than being mentioned. Still a decent ep, but it did strike me as slower than most.
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Scandal: Paris Is Burning (2015)
Season 5, Episode 3
8 October 2015
Warning: Spoilers
An intense episode that works to redraw the lines in established relationships. As always, the teleplay succeeds in taking the audience on a riveting roller coaster of emotions. Every time you think they come to an agreement, the script flips. I enjoyed seeing Liv happy for about two seconds, and love the way Fitz (the leader of the free world) matches to the beat of her drum every time. If only people could exhibit that kind of respect more in real life.

Liv gets a moment with Mellie, and for as much as I loathe the woman, she certainly put things into perspective. They continuously ask the hard questions: what have you sacrificed? Do you understand why I'm giving up? I actually felt sympathy for Nellie, which was a feat unto itself.

Abby finally calls Liv out, and I loved the way they wordlessly understand each other. Cyrus finds a way to be genuine for half a second, and Fitz was much colder than I expected. I anticipate based on the timber of the music that more atrocious things will be coming from his direction shortly. That scene was so well-acted, I thought he was going to go to the roof and jump off as they filmed the interview. Well done for not being predictable.

I didn't really follow the last bit where Jake visits Rowan... Couldn't make out what he said in the end, but it's obviously important.
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Ant-Man (2015)
Entertaining and yet underwhelming with a side of predictability
6 September 2015
Warning: Spoilers
Ant-Man (2015) Reviewed August 15th, 2015 - 1st viewing (IMAX 3D) Marvel Studios / Disney - Directed by: Peyton Reed

Entertaining and yet underwhelming with a side of predictability

From the beginning, I was thrown off kilter by the uncharacteristic opening, lacking the Marvel theme with the logo. It opens with a comedy of sorts which kind of felt like they were trying to blend the humor and wit of Guardians with the seriousness of the Cap films, but it fell flat for me. The slow beginning served to take me out of the film, wondering when it would pick up. It all felt like it'd been done before to a point, and a lot of the humor was lost due to scenes being present in the trailer.

For months I have been trying to figure out how Paul Rudd got cast, but now I see the character he plays is in line with his usual roles. Despite wanting to like the film, he was just lacking in charisma. Michael Douglas and Evangeline Lilly were captivating, and stole the show in my opinion. I was more interested in their dynamic than anything going on with Scott. I mean, let's face it—the wayward father who wants to make his little girl proud has been done before. I know they were trying to make it feel modern, but it falls short. The villain is you can call him that was so two-dimensional, predictable, and boring. I can't help but feel the writers hoped to rely on the comedic relief to carry the film over the plot hurdles instead of developing the character more.

Although I appreciated the Discovery Channel-style dialogue regarding different species of ants, Scott learning how to use the Ant-Man suit and work with the ants felt a bit rushed. The scene with Hank and his daughter Hope was moving, but lacked the degree of emotional depth required to truly draw us in and feel what they felt. (I didn't even tear up even though I wanted to). To be fair, it did evoke some emotion from me in that I laughed in places, but I just couldn't help feeling as though the writers did not take the time to polish this one out enough. It is also largely lacking in dynamic locations and a dramatic score, instead opting for more contemporary songs. This model can of course work as in Guardians, however everything in this film is entirely too disjointed to feel like the well-oiled machine it was intended to be.

You're left with a sneaking suspicion that the writers and The First Avenger and Guardians attempted to collaborate ideas for the direction of the film, and had to agree to disagree. It seems very disjointed at times, floating between you being expected to take it with a grain of salt to imploring deep emotion from you that just seems altogether forced. I expected the 'revelation' for what became of her mother—you could see it from a mile away, as well as the post-credits scene, but at least with Red Wasp, we'll have a more dynamic character to look forward to.

So while the film does leave you feeling entertained, it fails to provide the power, emotion, and scale we've seen in previous Marvel productions. (This marks the first Marvel film I only saw once in theaters.)

FINAL VERDICT: Humorous and entertaining, albeit a bit predictable and forced. Even though it was still a decent film with its own moments, in my estimation, it is the least memorable from Marvel Studios to date.

6.5 of 10.0

Rant: Falcon in the trailer! Come on Marvel! Talk about a cheap shot to try to gain box office numbers. I will not be tolerating any of that nonsense for Civil War. That is a reveal that should've only been earned by the fans who went to see it Advance/Opening Day.
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Maggie (I) (2015)
A dark and desolate film that fails to connect the audience with the characters
6 September 2015
Warning: Spoilers
Maggie (2015) Reviewed July 26th, 2015 - 1st viewing (Blu-ray rental) LionsGate Films - Directed by: Henry Hobson

A dark and desolate film that fails to connect the audience with the characters

There was so much in this film that I didn't understand, so much potential wasted. The audio is unnaturally loud, and serves to startle you more than intended. The direction and cinematography are good, however wasted on cheap equipment. The motion and blurring on almost all but the focal point are distracting to say the least.

You are thrust into the film almost immediately, feeling as though you are starting in the middle of the film with no clear idea as to what's going on. It feels sort of disjointed all the way through, and it is only in the end that you truly feel a connection with the characters. Schwarzenegger does an impressive job in his first dramatic role, encompassing the doting, concerned father quite well.

While the style of the film firmly establishes the bleak and desolate atmosphere, the severity and number of plot holes in conjunction with the lack of emotional depth and believability leave the film faltering in murky waters. The production team went to great effort to make the film appear as though it were happening in the late 1970s/early 1980s, and then threw a cell phone into the mix. It almost seemed as though the director and screenwriter were at odds with one another.

Overall, despite wanting to like this departure from your average zombie film, it fails to successfully immerse the audience in the gravity of the situation, completely devoid of the emotional depth and gravitas necessary in a character-driven post-apocalyptic film.

FINAL VERDICT: Regrettably lacking despite enormous potential for an original look at a worldwide pandemic. If you're looking for a good zombie film, check out The Crazies (2010) or "The Walking Dead" for that matter.

5.0 of 10.0

Blu-ray Notes: The MPEG-4 video was hard to gage as the shaky and low-end cameras made it difficult. The 5.1 DTS-HD audio was a bit high on the bass but robust overall.
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Southpaw (2015)
A dark, gritty, emotional journey that captivates and inspires
6 September 2015
Warning: Spoilers
Reviewed July 26th, 2015 after 1st viewing (Theatrical 2D) Escape Artists / Fuqua Films - Directed by: Antoine Fuqua

Antoine Fuqua does it again! This dark and gritty story is a prime example of how you must sometimes necessarily fall to rise. Southpaw (2015) is the tale of a young boxer by the name of Billy Hope (Jake Gyllenhaal) who along with his lovely wife Maureen (Rachel McAdams) came up in the system together.

Rachel McAdams as his wife and Oona Lawrence as his daughter do a fantastic job pulling on your heartstrings. They really worked as a believable family dynamic, with Maureen always being responsible for running their daily activities and his career. Your heart is truly broken by the end of the first act. I cannot speak highly enough of Oona's performance—I was truly captivated by her.

After losing it all, he seeks the help of a local trainer (Forest Whitaker) trying to make a difference in affected youths' lives. Hope must learn how to set aside his vanity and pride for the sake of his daughter, and embarks on a life-changing journey to reconnect with his daughter. I really found his daughter's displacement to be equally heart-wrenching and believable.

Gyllenhaal's portrayal of Hope is nothing short of impressive, choosing to train extensively not only for the physicality of the role, but for the emotional depth as well. Fuqua's direction serves to convey the realism and grittiness of their lives, truly captivating the audience from the beginning. The interplay between the score and soundtrack surprisingly works well. The pace is just right, never slowing down enough to cause you to lose interest. I was truly surprised at how emotionally invested I was early on, which I attribute largely to the acting talent.

Even though it is a bit formulaic, it winds up being irrelevant, as you are on this ride with Hope the entire way, rooting for him all-the-while knowing he will get there with his determination. The film actually works on a number of levels, drawing and maintaining your interest whether you for the boxing and the soundtrack or the human interest story, it was masterfully rolled into one dynamic.

FINAL VERDICT: I was truly amazed at not only how the film captured my interest, but my heart—even when I knew what would happen in the first act. All of the elements came together beautifully, and I wound up loving what I expected to be a mediocre boxing film. There's so much more than meets the eye here.

8.0 of 10.0
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Mission: Realism (with a flat affect)
6 September 2015
Warning: Spoilers
Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015) Reviewed July 31st, 2015 after 1st viewing (IMAX) Paramount Studios - Directed by: Christopher McQuarrie

Mission: Realism (with a flat affect)

From the beginning, I was impressed by the pace and flow of the film. The director (Christopher McQuarrie) took the ballsy move to develop the angst, making the action sequences all the sweeter. The decision to promote the film using primarily the airbus sequence, which is the pivotal opening sequence with the desired (and successful) effect of gaining the audience's interest, was a smart one. This enabled us to sit back and enjoy the rest of the film without anticipating certain scenes. I also loved that the title sequence remained in true MI form, not pandering to the current stylistic and contemporary designs. The combined use of practical effects and Tom's commitment to his craft by doing as many of the stunts as possible lend a realistic quality to an otherwise outlandish film.

This time around, Ethan (Tom Cruise) must work to prove the existence of The Syndicate after the Senate shuts down the IMF, with Benji (Simon Pegg) and Brandt (Jeremy Renner) left to help surreptitiously. I enjoyed the reintroduction of Luther (Ving Rhames) and newcomer Rebecca Ferguson as Ilsa Faust, who managed to quite successfully portray a new archetype than previously seen in a MI film—more independent and honest, which allowed for us to see her as more of a real, complex individual as opposed to yet another seductive female stereotype.

The plot flowed well enough, slowing down just enough to allow the tension to build without leaving us with too much down time to contemplate the plethora of possibilities for who the real villain might be. There are just enough twists to keep you distracted while they implement their own slight of hand, always keeping you guessing. Renner as Brandt was enjoyable to watch, opting for a less-is-more approach that felt organic in its own right. I appreciated that there was not an overabundance of action for the sake of action, and instead the filmmakers opted to slowly build the suspense, effectively making us work for it—a very bold tactic that you do not see much in action films these days. To me, it spoke of their confidence in the material and allowed me to appreciate it all the more.

It did get a bit predictable toward the end, however the improvised plan was original enough, entailing a degree of entrapment I hadn't previously seen done before. One of my favorite moments toward the end was that for once, Ethan's relationship with his female counterpart was grounded in mutual interest and respect, not lust and sexual attraction. The writers have gone with the times and finally represented a strong female lead that doesn't have to be inserted merely as eye candy, and I greatly appreciate the mature treatment. As much as I am a fan of the MI series, that has been one of my biggest irritations in the previous films, so kudos to the writers and Tom!

FINAL VERDICT: A worthy successor to Ghost Protocol, the action sequences and original script successfully breathed new life into the film, however the decision to be more realistic left the film feeling flatter than its predecessor.

8.0 out of 10.0

IMAX NOTE: There is a unique opening countdown sequence I've never seen IMAX do before. It was a great way to get us excited before the opening sequence even began (despite the fact that it was not filmed in IMAX, it showed quite well).
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Inside Out (I) (2015)
A fresh and provocative look at how our emotions affect our daily lives
6 September 2015
Warning: Spoilers
Inside Out (2015) Reviewed August 15th, 2015 after 1st viewing (Theatrical 2D) Disney / Pixar - Directed by: Pete Docter

A fresh and provocative look at how our emotions affect our daily lives

I will admit that while I was hesitant to see this due to the unimpressive trailer, I was pleasantly surprised that it was deeper than I expected.

Pete Docter succeeds in drawing you in from the beginning, introducing the characters as they are introduced to Riley as an infant. It was thoroughly engrossing to learn of the core personality elements and the artistic way they were visualized conceptually, making for a thrilling watch. There are of course some flaws here, namely that I feel the dissolution of her core personality traits happened altogether too fast, not to mention I don't ascribe to the belief that these core elements can be lost altogether, but I'll digress here. And, I love that she was a girl who enjoyed hockey—well done on that point Disney.

I found the incorporation of her long-lost imaginary friend to be a welcome surprise. As we journey deeper into her mind, the film takes an underwhelming turn, making it wholly unbelievable each of the islands would be collapsing so quickly, and that they'd be so difficult to get to, as if the writers weren't sure how to sustain the second act. I found myself a little displaced here, quickly losing interest as it seemed a bit too predictable. I do feel as though they did not do the other emotions justice, speaking from personal experience that learning to appropriately deal with anger and fear and just as important.

The third act picked up considerably; I enjoyed the void of forgotten memories, the wagon, and the weight of the decision that Bing Bong has to make. I also thoroughly enjoyed the exploration of the purpose of sadness, teaching kids and adults alike that not only is it okay to be sad, but that it can be therapeutic and allow new bridges to be built and bonds to be made.

Overall, I found it enjoyable with an important message, but I can't help but feel they could have explored personality more, and the differences between each individual as opposed to a quick montage at the end that did incorporate some stereotypical elements. It is a tad frustrating that I was left feeling like some material was intentionally not covered to leave room for a sequel, detracting from my overall enjoyment.

FINAL VERDICT: While I appreciate the originality and boldness of the idea behind the film, I do think they could've explored other traits and the other emotions a bit more. Not to mention that now that I've heard the message, there is little rewatch value here. Ironically, it is lacking any memorable moments in deference to the subject matter. I appreciated the concept more than enjoyed the film itself, but I do greatly respect the effort that went into presenting such provocative material in a way children can understand and relate to.

7.5 of 10.0

NOTE: The short "Lava" at the beginning of the film was AMAZING—I actually felt the weight and emotion of that more than most of the film—I was crying a minute and a half into the short.
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Mildly entertaining, amateurish family film that has its moments
6 September 2015
Warning: Spoilers
Reviewed September 6th, 2015 - 1st viewing (Premium HD) Deciding to watch this film solely because Scarlett Johansson is in it, I did not expect much, and despite its fundamental flaws and childish script, it does have its moments.

The plot is simple enough, with a 15-year-old Scarlett playing Kathy, the older sister to her annoying brother George. Scarlett does a great job fleshing her out as the bratty teen sister instigating her brother to get into trouble. When their parents go to France for a vacation, the nanny Matilda is left to babysit Kathy and George. It is never really made clear as to why Kathy is so resentful of their nanny (played by Eva Mendes) other than the fact that she's happy all the time.

The score is garish with loud, overpowering pieces that will make you plug your ears or fast forward. The screenplay seems to be written half by a child, and half by an underwhelmed adult, fluctuating between predictable and cheesy. There is a heart at its core, and it does have its moments of lucidity. Freud (Alex D. Linz), George's best friend, adds some levity to the idiosyncrasies. While lacking in development, you are shown briefly that Kathy is an outcast, ostracized by classmates with little to no friends, so her brother's antics would only serve to fuel her anger more.

When Matilda's crystals turn George into a pig and they have to go on a road trip to visit Matilda's aunt in Mexico, Kathy has an outburst that made me cringe (well done by a young Scarlett—you really believe she's that venomous). However as she explores the town to get away and befriends two young Mexican girls who idolize her, it's refreshing to see her open up when she feels accepted and highly regarded.

She comes back to center and saves the day in time with the ridiculous antagonist of a local butcher chasing them after they have to free George from his stable. If possible, the end gets a little more ridiculous with them getting home in time to wash the car when they were only about 2 minutes ahead of their parents. The film certainly could have done a much better job exploring Kathy's feelings of inadequacy and isolation, instead pandering to a younger audience.

FINAL VERDICT: Despite the silly premise, it did have its moments, particularly allowing Scarlett to shine in some scenes. However overall a missed opportunity to explore the older sibling's struggle to redefine their role in the family and maintain a healthy relationship with their parents.

4.0 of 10.0
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Ghost World (2001)
A fascinating character study that explores human nature and the consequences of our actions
6 September 2015
Warning: Spoilers
Reviewed September 6th, 2015 - 1st viewing (IFC HD)

Based on the comic book by Daniel Clowes, the film centers around two teen outcasts struggling to find their place in the world after they graduate high school. Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson) has plans to get a job and an apartment, however Enid (Thora Birch) is decidedly less motivated, having spent her whole life just skating by. She must inevitably learn that there are very real consequences for her actions—even in indifference.

The film makes for a very interesting social commentary about the difficulty of maintaining relationships and our struggle to find our place in the world, the quintessential tug-of-war to find the balance between being true to ourselves and hiding pieces of us to fit into society's accepted norms. It makes a provocative statement about how society and media make us feel we have to choose between acceptance and being who we are. The word normal is constantly thrown around, particularly by her best friend Rebecca, serving to illustrate the fundamental differences between the two girls, with Enid spending most of her life seeing what she wanted to see, only to discover her and Rebecca were not as alike as she thought.

Enid's boredom leads her to play a practical joke on a lonely man searching for a woman he met in a personal ad. After the two girls observe his melancholy and follow him to his home, Enid discovers he collects and sells records. They hit it off and she starts to see that he's not so different than her. Believing she's found a kindred spirit in a man twice her age, she takes an interest and starts spending time with him, promising to find him a date.

Her journey is an illustration of how we can get so caught up in our own lives that we fail to see that we are neglecting those important to us—our relationships—the very thing we rely on for emotional support. And when someone we care about fails us, we either internalize it or lash out. Enid's required art class poignantly illustrated that artistic license cannot so easily be acquired, but instead of working to cultivate her own creativity, she chose to use an old art piece borrowed from Seymour. This unfortunately would also prove to have dire consequences.

Seymour finally got that call from the girl he'd been looking for in the ad and Enid encouraged him to meet her. After they hit it off, he sadly became self-involved and blew Enid off, never giving thought to the fact that she had genuinely cared for him. And so with that disappointment causing her to only think of herself, frustrated that he was settling for a woman he had little in common with to be 'taken care of', Enid recoiled back into her comfort zone—Rebecca. Unfortunately, she failed to see that while she was caught up with her infatuation with Seymour, she wasn't being a friend to Rebecca.

Naturally, it hurt her when Enid only wanted to hang out with her because Seymour blew her off. Rebecca did not lie to be malicious, but to protect herself, as she was beginning to see for the first time that perhaps their 'friendship' was based more on convenience than true affection. I can relate on this point, as people continually undervalue the importance of balance in their lives in terms of their relationships as a whole. If you only focus on one, the others will suffer, and you can't play people like fiddles and expect them to still be around when the fog clears. Part of discovering how to be happy is figuring out how to balance all the elements within it, instead of ascribing to the misguided belief that you can hand pick a few and that will be enough.

The story seemed to stretch a little beyond its reach as Rebecca grew increasingly frustrated with Enid's attitude. Instead of Enid simply admitting she didn't feel she could be honest with her, she insulted her, causing Rebecca to lash out. This hurt Enid, penetrating the walls she thought she had in place, and her pain sent her fleeing to Seymour for comfort, succeeding in getting out of him what she wanted only to turn on her heels and run. She practically begged Rebecca to let her move in with her, only to disappoint her by not keeping her promise. I found it odd the two girls never hugged despite supposedly being best friends since childhood, and I was a little miffed by Rebecca's disregard for Seymour's feelings, coming off as more malicious than jealous, which seemed wholly unjustified.

The title represents Enid feeling as though she's a ghost in a world filled with people. She feels invisible and inconsequential, something I think we can all relate to. She struggled through the whole film to figure out what she wanted instead of settling on complacency. Once she realized her only dream was to disappear, she had to find the courage to take that final step.

Throughout the whole ordeal, Enid didn't seem to understand that her irresponsibility and feigned indifference had real consequences, and that her actions were hurting people. The end felt a little disjointed to me, as if they were trying to wrap everything up in a bow so we knew where we left each of the characters with little statement on the friendship she had taken for granted, which is what I found more interesting, especially considering the comic focuses more on both girls which I would've found to be more intriguing.

FINAL VERDICT: More interesting that it appears, the in-depth look at what lies just beneath the surface of our lives and the intricacies of our relationships made for a profound watch, if only left feeling a little bewildered by the end.

6.5 of 10.0
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Fantastic Failure
5 September 2015
Warning: Spoilers
Reviewed August 8th, 2015 - 1st viewing (Theatrical 2D)

Fantastic Failure

From the moment I saw the age bracket of the actors cast in the lead roles, I was skeptical at best. Then when I read how they'd butchered the origin story/plot to accommodate, I was even less enthused, and with an announced 1 hr 40 minute run time and no iconic actor playing even a minor role, which in point-of-fact is a first in the history of Marvel films, I had little hope. However, I tried to remain positive, much to my chagrin.

Arguably the worst part of this movie is their audacity to lull you into thinking it's going to be decent with the opening sequence with Reed and Ben as kids. It served to show us the characters in a light we'd never seen and made it a bit more intriguing—who doesn't like a good origin story? That being said, I have no clue if any of that is referenced in the comics, so I digress.

From there, it all goes south. The characters were neither dynamic nor well-fleshed out, serving to act as stand-in cardboard cutouts. Clichés abound… Reed Richards as a child-prodigy inventor whose parents don't understand him, Ben Grimm as the son of junkyard owner (because otherwise you'd never know who was to be the muscle), Johnny Storm as the 'bad egg' whose walking the wrong path (by racing his Toyota AE86 and sliding into a pole? Really?), Sue who just fades into the background as the adopted daughter of the great Dr. Storm, and Viktor von Doom, a wayward student who thinks he's too good for his britches… And of course Johnny is angry with his father for caring about him, which serves to set up the inevitable father-son moment after he is mortally wounded... Didn't see THAT one coming. Then they attempt to explain that Sue's brother and father are black because she was adopted from Kosovo, which only serves to leave you rolling your eyes instead of feeling informed.

As usual, the main characters are treated as idiotic teens with hormones where their brains should be, choosing to use the machine after hours to cross to another dimension, mind you with absolutely no one at the helm to call them back, but eh—minor details, right? The not-so-fantastic three plus Doom wind up in another dimension and decide that with their vast scientific training at the ripe age of 18 that they're going to explore said planet with NO equipment to extrapolate any data or collect any samples, and then anger the planet by poking it until it consumes one of them, and yet the rest make it back by osmosis. They further insult us by sending the four without Sue, who just so happens to get blasted on the return journey.

We find the 'three' now confined in individual rooms and being tested on. Then, when Reed hears Ben calling, he goes from barely being able to move his hand to completely unstretching and escaping, crawling naked no less through an air vent to promise his best friend he will save him and then disappear for an entire year?! It's as if the writer's had no idea how to create the necessary angst and that was the best they could come up with. They have The Thing running around in nothing but rocks, which just seems wrong, doing the government's dirty work as if he never had a brain to begin with.

The pace of the film is inconsistent, varying from slow to fast forwarding, leaving the audience feeling as if they've experienced whiplash by the end. The score is mediocre at best, neither serving to drive the plot nor enhance your emotional experience. The computer graphics were laughable, looking like something out of a late 1990s video game. Everything comes off feeling unnatural and forced like you're watching a bad comedy play out that thinks it's a drama.

The climax (if you can call it that) left something to be desired, providing no explanation whatsoever for how the life force of the planet now suddenly only existed within Doom, or how he magically manifested a black hood on the barren planet—I guess that's one of his powers? The writers spend twenty minutes trying to establish how impossible it is to kill him because of his strength, and then they just magically do it and come home in a force field bubble? Somebody help me out here…

There is nothing left to do but hand the reigns over to Marvel—this train has been off the tracks since it was conceived. Much like the epic failure of the Not-So-Amazing Spider-man, a third reboot will now be required to undo the catastrophic damage done here. In all seriousness, it would have been better if they'd kept the original cast and had Chris Evans as Cap by day and the Human Torch by night—THAT would have been more believable…

I wish I could get the hour and forty minutes of my life back… There is nothing left to say except… THIS FILM IS NOT WORTHY!

FINAL VERDICT: Not even worth your time. Go see Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation a second time so that you can spend your hard-earned money on something worthwhile.

1.0 of 10.0

NOTE: The first films weren't that bad—you have to keep in mind they were out when only X-Men and Spider-man led them, and they were designed to be more comedic. I laughed out loud, cried, and rooted for them, so they are a success in my opinion. Go back and watch them with an open mind—they are better than you think, and I don't only mean if you compare them to this atrocity.
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American Propaganda
5 September 2015
Warning: Spoilers
Reviewed August 22, 2015 - 1st viewing (Blu-ray 2D)

American Propaganda

I would like to preface this by stating the obvious: The true story is a tragedy to be sure, however the film unsuccessfully conveys any real emotion or depth. In general I find true stories are harder to adapt, however it is ultimately the director's responsibility to find ways to present the material in such a way that the audience can connect to it, and in this way, it is a failure.

From the beginning, I felt like it was abundant clichés about the American soldier, from hunting to a domineering father to the child with a bomb, the latter of which I'm almost certain I've seen in another film. The facts and events of his life are piece mealed together as if you're skipping three pages for every one you see in a photo album. The plot unfolds as if the screenwriters expect you to know many of the important details assuming you'd read the memoir.

Chris Kyle, a native Texan aspiring to be a rodeo cowboy, decides to join the military after 9/11. Somewhere his brother gets forgotten until his wife mentions he got deployed to Iraq, where Chris is no less, and yet he doesn't seek him out until one random day he seems him boarding a hilo. Then towards the end they vaguely reference that he was killed and Chris comments that it was his own fault… I still didn't understand whether the funeral was for Chris' fallen comrades or his brother. There is such an overwhelming lack of emotional connect, even with Bradley Cooper's amazing performance—a testament to the lack of good writing and direction.

The score doesn't fair much better, barely making an appearance other than some numbers with drums during the war scenes as if they accelerate the action. The action sequences (if you can call them that) were quite formulaic and predictable. And the moral of the story certainly does not make an appearance here—I don't understand how Kyle could be so seemingly affected by the kills and yet not have an issue with the killing, never implementing any degree of self-examination or questioning his own personal value system.

Then you have plot devices that just don't make sense. After the kid picked up the rocket launcher, couldn't he have settled for shooting him in the shoulder or leg? Why would you set up your sniper on a moving object? Would all the militants in the greater area known your exactly location from one sniper shot echoing off a building where he's laying under cover? If you can't see two feet in front of you in a sandstorm, how can you make a getaway in a Humvee in it? And what's with the supposed air support coming in at the last possible minute? Not to mention the Punisher logo on everything, from the machine gun shield to their clips to their bulletproof vests. Is that really wise in an active war zone—leaving identifiers plastered on everything in sight? They may as well have painted targets on their backs—oh wait! They already did! And let's not forget the American propaganda lurking behind every corner. So all Americans join the military to serve their country and come home numb of the killing with their only regret being they couldn't kill more 'savages' (we're still calling them that?), with no questions whatsoever about the point and purpose, or tactics used on anyone they cross paths with, including civilians? No concern over morality, no qualms with conduct.

Eastwood is attempting to be minimalistic, but it just falls flat. He has a visual eye, but forgets the aspects that connect the audience to the material. The camera movement was interesting, however there is no attention to the details surrounding the characters, like who they are and what they represent. I can't help but feel like he's trying too hard in all the wrong places.

The most emotional scene was when Chris visited the psychiatrist. I appreciate the fact that they do touch on the importance of veterans being able to seek help and share their experiences with fellow veterans, as I do not feel this is brought out into the light as much as it should be. That being said, in the end he was killed by the veteran he was trying to help. I understand the director finds irony in this, however isn't it completely defeating the purpose of former soldiers not being afraid to seek the help they so desperately need? I mean, that is the end note, so is the moral of the story don't seek help? This is my frustration with films developed from true stories—it isn't enough to just tell the story—the point is supposed to be to find the meaning behind it, how we an make good come of bad.

Ultimately, the film did not bring anything new to the war genre, supplanting originality and depth for clichés and propaganda--both of which abound in truckloads. The gravity of how detached and underwhelmed I felt is staggering. The only explanation for the high IMDb rating is that it is based on the concept, not the film or content, the implication being if you don't like this film, you're not proud to be an American.

FINAL VERDICT: I'm so glad I went with my gut and did NOT see this in theaters… The film itself is a tragedy in that it fails to celebrate the man's life, instead settling for propaganda and the ironies of life. If you're looking for a great war film, I suggest Saving Private Ryan or Fury—the depth and emotion conveyed in those films leave you feeling more like you took something important from them and less like you just watched a good man's legacy die before your very eyes…

3.0 of 10.0
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The Island (2005)
Intense, stylistic action ride with a weighty, emotional undercurrent
5 September 2015
Warning: Spoilers
Reviewed September 5th, 2015 - 4th viewing (Blu-ray 2D-1st)

Rich and brilliantly shot, you are immediately captivated by the dystopian premise and artistic set pieces. Questions of science, progress, and ethics enthrall the viewer from the start, and the chemistry between the leads, Lincoln Six-Echo (Ewan McGregor) and Jordan Two-Delta (Scarlett Johansson) is immediately apparent. You embark on a ride with the two of them, equally enamored with the world they live in and the science behind the fiction. I love films that not only allow us to question the established societal norms, but to convey the importance of thinking for ourselves, never allowing ourselves to trust merely for the sake of it. Even authority figures or educated professionals can be wrong, and we must always look to our own intuition and trust our instincts to drive our own lives.

The supporting cast is amazing as well, adding both gravity and levity driving the plot along. My fascination with the potential for automation and medical advances was coupled with the weight of seeing how some of our own basic human rights were deprived, serving to establish a firm attachment to our characters. Scarlett does a superb job transitioning from naïve and helpless to driven and self-reliant, propelled by her trust and faith in her best friend Lincoln, who she comes to realize through the journey they inevitably find themselves on means so much more. I also enjoyed the foresight regarding the fight simulation sequence as to lend more credibility to her character's rapid development. I can't help but think her performance in this film drove Marvel to see her potential as the iconic Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff—I could not be more impressed with her growth.

Normally I cringe at the prospect of the same actor playing two different people, but Ewan's performances were so well done you never gave it a second thought. Between the accent and his affection and protective instincts for Jordan, he sold that scene—truly impressive. The locations lent a certain gravitas and believability to the stark differences between their simulated world and the real one. I thoroughly enjoyed the snake scene, as they would of course be like children in regard to danger with animals and scenarios they've never been exposed to—another feat accomplished by their stellar acting.

The film poses a number of provocative questions about humanity and ethics, and whether or not something created from your own DNA could be classified as property. This is an interesting topic as currently, the law views pets (living creatures) as property, and as such, for example in the event of an untimely death, the owner is only entitled for the purchase price of their beloved pet. At any rate, I find the entire premise an interesting lesson in ethics as we are currently standing on the precipice of progress in that this "science fiction" could be on the verge of reality as we speak. As far as the argument that this would never be allowed to come to pass given government regulation, these people do not understand that money drives the world, and for the salary these people are given and the fact that they work in an old military bunker deep underground, there is little motivation or opportunity to speak out if they want to live.

While some of the action sequences are improbable, they are so spectacularly done, it is hard to care. Sure, the truck driver would've pulled over after the first metal dumbbell fell onto an oncoming car, and the highly trained mercenaries probably wouldn't have shot the sign down, but in reality, people do dumb things, so I'm not sure how much weight that argument carries. And I personally found the mercenary Albert's change of heart as he came to know the truth behind the job was another superb representation of choosing humanity above all else, which was in essence the theme of the film. The decision was completely in character based on what his family suffered, and I did not find this predictable in the least.

Other than the intense action scenes, you could hardly tell this was a Michael Bay film—it was so rich and stylized and genuine. Sure, it still contained his trademark explosions and pizazz, but it held a powerful message locked inside a beating heart, and I truly was left feeling satisfied in a way I cannot quite explain. It fires on all cylinders, providing something for all caches, both realized and unrealized: the intelligent thinker, the brooding romantic, the skeptical believer, and the adrenaline junkie. It is his best work by far, and I can only hope this will not be the last of its kind. I'm not sure why others choose to fault Bay for his directorial style and wide-sweeping low angle shots when they serve to convey the emotion behind the sequence. The man is great at what he does, so give credit where credit is due. By the end of the film, I felt as though I had lived through the events with them, and that is nothing short of a marvelous accomplishment in my book. My only real complaint would be product placement, but few action movies are devoid of it, so it hardly seems a noteworthy point.

I was so incredibly stupefied and sated, I was ready to watch it again the very next day, seeking out the thrill ride and emotional weight that left me feeling so elated by the end. That very rarely happens to me with the volume of films I watch and am amazed I have not given it more viewings to date. I cannot recommend this film enough!

FINAL VERDICT: A mind-blowing thrill ride sitting atop a large-scale, stylistic set piece supported by some of the very best acting talent with an intelligence and emotional depth that few films achieve, this movie WILL NOT DISAPPOINT.

9.0 of 10.0
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Snowpiercer (2013)
Piercing, poignant, and provocative
26 July 2015
Warning: Spoilers
Piercing, poignant, and provocative, this movie does not fail to disappoint. It primarily examines classicism and how we define humanity in a dystopian society in a post-apocalyptic world, and while that seems repugnant and boring on the cuff, Joon-ho Bong's direction and the well-adapted screenplay in combination with the riveting performances breathe life into a seemingly stale premise. This feat is all the more impressive considering this is Bong's first English film.

Based on the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige, written by Jean-Marc Rochette, the premise is simple enough on the surface… The Rattling Arc bears humanity's last survivors after the government attempted to counteract global warming by dispersing a chemical agent into the atmosphere in 2031. We pick up on the Wilford train some 17 years later.

Curtis (Evans), albeit reluctantly, leads the revolution of the upper class at the behest of the train's elder to guide the group. He briefly references earlier in the film the fact that he doesn't deem himself worthy 'with two arms'. In a later retelling of how he met the elder in what is easily the most moving scene in the film, we finally understand the gravity of the burden he bears, which lends credibility to his actions in the end. It is truly heart-wrenching to watch as he describes the atrocity, and Evans does not fail to turn in an emotional performance. The production team does a wonderful job making him look more weathered and sleep-deprived as time progresses, and by the end, you can see and feel his anguish and frustration.

The characters are thoroughly fleshed out, each serving a clear purpose. The attention to detail is apparent right from the start. The credit sequence is artistic, appearing as if trains are passing in front of the titles with faint snow falling behind. The cinematography provides a very palpable aesthetic, the dark and gritty tone truly engrossing the audience as if we are but another occupant of the endless train. The score and imagery were beautiful, always lending a touch of tension and mild claustrophobia.

I found the allegory between the train and the world particularly poignant. The film submits an interesting look at what it means to be human—how we're defined by the choices we make, and that even when options are limited and the odds seem impossible, there is always a choice. Curtis is faced with two pivotal choices at certain arcs in the film, the first between the life of a friend and the cause, and the other ironically between the endless train and humanity. We are presented with an interesting dichotomy in which despite the fact that you feel as though you know him, it was still never clear which path he would choose, succeeding in keeping you on the edge of your seat until the bitter end.

The most provocative theme explored is that even balance can be the wrong choice, cold and inhumane in the darkest sense. Survival can never be the only cause, and so you watch the inevitable downfall of society when balance when unjust leads to imbalance and consequentially demise. My only criticism would be who survives in the end and perhaps a clearer path toward the possibility of recovering some of the old world. That being said, I am thoroughly impressed with the screenplay and the acting, particularly from Chris Evans and Octavia Spencer. I found myself captivated, enjoying the journey every step of the way despite the weight of the hard choices that befell them that we all secretly hope we will never face. The scene in the end when he finally faces Wilford who reveals the elder was complicit in the scheme serves as a poignant reminder to never follow blindly—never be afraid to question and evaluate, and trust your instincts more than the words of others.

Don't get me wrong—the film is not perfect by any means. It still falls victim to plot holes and underdevelopment. For starters, why did they have to revert to cannibalism in the beginning, only to be given protein bars later? Were they content to allow the lower class kill each other as another means of population control? And to that end, if Curtis had to eat babies, why would he be so disgusted with the idea of an insectoid protein bar? Second, planned riots seem an ineffective and unpredictable way to control the masses, despite the fact that the incidence of quelled riots would seemingly prevent future ones. Third, it seems highly improbably that there has never been a situation to stop the train or mend the rail in such a harsh climate in 18 years. And lastly, did we really need the henchman to come back from the dead to add more antagonism to the end? Not so much.

Like most things in this film, they are open to interpretation—I think that's the point. The filmmakers are asking us to think outside of the box, to expand our minds beyond what seems obvious or simple, because it is rarely so. I do believe there are causes to some of the issues other users have brought up. To quote another user (ole-kris-Ian), what does the engine run on—hopes and dreams? We can see it and are in awe of the engineering marvel, but are never told how it can run incessantly, although I personally think this omission is intentional. The themes in the film are to be the focus, not the mechanics of the train, rendering the answer itself irrelevant.

FINAL VERDICT: Overall, Snowpiercer is a beautiful cinematic piece representing a microcosm of society, asking us to define humanity and balance, and reminding us we must always think for ourselves, never allowing us to become pawns in someone else's game. The artistic style and fluid pace open you up to go on a journey you don't quite expect, finding yourself pleasantly surprised once you reach your final destination. Well done.

8.0 of 10.0
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Chappie (2015)
A brilliantly convoluted rip-off of I, Robot (2004) meets Robocop (1987)
26 July 2015
Warning: Spoilers
Reviewed July 26th, 2015, 1st viewing (BR rental)

The film presents a novel concept that we have seen done before in such variations as I, Robot and Robocop, and only remains 'unique' on one particular front. It is misleading in both its 'original' premise and exceptional cast, only serving to fail where it promised to lead. Most everything professed to be unique and innovative is quite overtly copied or modified from a prior sci-fi film in the same vein, namely Robocop (1987) and I, Robot (2004), a feat particularly distressing coming from Neill Blomkamp (writer/director) after producing such original pieces as District 9 (2009) and Elysium (2013). The worst part is that the filmmakers did so with little evidence of shame or remorse for their indiscretion.

I am a bit perplexed as to the exact purpose of such character writing, with none of them following hard-fast archetypes—a choice that can be both good and bad. Deon Wilson (played by Dev Patel) is the Lead Researcher at Tetravaal, the company supplying the local police force with the new drone robots, referred to as Scouts. In addition to this breakthrough, he is working to create artificial intelligence. His rival, Vincent (Hugh Jackman), an ex-military type with a much-larger military-grade robot operated by a helmet, is so hell-bent on seeing his creation lead the police force, he somehow has clearance to access the program that runs the Scouts even though its an entirely different project that he neither possesses the expertise or prior experience to deal with. He effectively sabotages the Scouts, and requests the CEO (Sigourney Weaver) initiate his program as a countermeasure.

The proverbial 'baddies' in the film are broken off into two factions, both not-so-coincidentally resembling early 90s-era cyberpunks akin to that of (you guessed it!)—Robocop (1987). The first is comprised of Ninja, Yolandi, and Amerika, and the second is an entire gang led by Hippo, some razor-cut guy punk whose English sounds more like gibberish, so much so that it has to be captioned (another feigned attempt at humor I suppose?).

Ninja's group decide the only way they can get out from under Hippo's boot is to kidnap Deon and force him to shut down all the Scouts with a 'remote' they in all their wisdom decide he must have since all technology works with remotes… When Deon informs them it's not possible, the only thing that saves him is their discovery of his rejected robot in the van. When pressed, he decides to reveal to these thugs who were two seconds from murdering him all the intel they need to know regarding what he needs to do to test the A.I. program and the only way the drones can have their software modified. See anything wrong with this picture??

Naturally, the plot holes abound, unraveling from start to finish. Tetravaal's unique unhackable design implemented for the Scouts is a nothing more than ONE unique key USB drive kept under 'lock-and-key' that apparently most members of the staff have access to? Furthermore, all common sense and logic beg the question—why exactly would an artificial intelligence be created as a 'blank slate' that had to be taught everything including language? Doesn't that defeat the purpose of artificial INTELLIGENCE? And then we're supposed to believe that he's taught language, how to drive, combat skills, et al, in the course of a few days?

To add insult to injury, this revolutionary company that has created the world's most advanced robots and is on the verge of discovering sentient life apparently has the worst security protocols in history, allowing employees to come and go with their advanced tech and weapons as they please. And then when they find out Deon ran off the with USB key, he merely gets a phone call from security advising him to return it by night's end?! It's no wonder the company wound up in the tank. To add insult to injury, later on when they discover someone disabled all the Scouts remotely IN HOUSE, the police enter Tetravaal en force, and instead of locking the place down to interrogate anyone on the premises at that time of night, they just let Vincent walk right on by. I found myself struggling to wrap my brain around how criminals that had evaded a robotic police force could be so stupid, allowing their kidnap victim to leave after almost murdering him and stealing tech. On top of that, we're to believe that the man who just successfully created artificial intelligence would leave his 'newborn' creation in the hands of those thugs to teach it??

The script itself seemed to pander to a certain core audience, leaving the majority of us with functional brains to feel belittled and under-appreciated. Despite the plethora of issues, the film brilliantly succeeded in some regard, allowing the audience to feel for Chappie as he was literally thrown into the cruel world. Both the practical and special effects were amazing, allowing you to view Chappie as a living being. The score was instrumental in lending gravity to the emotional scenes, however they were quickly forgotten by the horrid techno-punk tracks thrown into the mix at random, again feeling like a cheap ploy to market to the 16-25 age bracket.

I cannot quite fathom how the brilliant mind that produced District 9 (2009) and Elysium (2013) could have concocted such a conglomeration of an artistic failure. I am wholly convinced this film's rating/positive reviews have been sustained by fans of the director, turning a blind eye to the obvious issues in remembrance of his previous work. Another user correctly described this as 'beautifully stupid'. Surely nonsensical and disappointment do not begin to cover it.

My only conclusion is that the people who rated this 8/9/10s have already had their consciousness uploaded to their Chevy Volts and left their toasters to do the thinking…

3.5 out of 10.0
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The Mummy half-digested and regurgitated in China…
13 February 2014
Warning: Spoilers
The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (2011) Reviewed February 8, 2014 after 1st viewing (Blu-ray) Universal – Directed by: Rob Cohen

The Mummy half-digested and regurgitated in China…

Disappointing to say the least… Mildly entertaining to say the most. I am a huge fan of the first two films in this series, however once I found out that they were proceeding with this movie without the lovely and talented Rachel Weisz, I knew it was doomed for failure. That is one of my cardinal rules for sequels beyond a credible, well-written plot—You MUST retain your original core cast members to have a CHANCE of success with certain exceptions of 4th installments that are set further in the future and revamp the series for a new audience (i.e. Terminator Salvation, Scream 4, etc.) The second biggest mistake is to switch directors mid- franchise, particularly when the originals were written and directed by the same person. No one will ever treat your creative genius the way you do, as seen in JP III for example.

It starts off well enough, with an engaging back story shot on location for the classic grand scale effect. Cut to Rick attempting to find new, inventive things to do with his time, and we watch a refreshingly humorous show of his true nature. We then see the same mansion we saw from TMR, a nice bit of nostalgia. Then we find the O'Connell's in their home—and it happens. We see Maria Bello with her dyed hair and what can only be one of the worst English accents in cinematic history, which comes and goes as the movie drags on by the way.

When we meet Alex, Rick and Evey's son, he looks more like Rick's blond younger brother. I still don't understand why they couldn't have set the time of the film for him to be an older teen. Nonetheless, from this point forward, it's just a convoluted mess of resurrecting the same plot elements from the first two films set in China. The story jumps around quite a bit and we meet two new characters, neither of which are that interesting. Same 'ol, same 'ol about immortality.

And on that note, apparently mummies are not the only creatures that are fair game in this one. It becomes a free-for-all with Yeti's, shape-shifters, stone horses, and the like. There is no cohesiveness nor connection to the audience; it just all seems so incredible and far- fetched, and as much as I loved the first two films, I just found myself not caring about the journey because I knew what would happen in the end. Sad to say, but there is absolutely nothing original in this film. The director just chose to runaway with his imagination and budget, not caring about the quality or substance of the story the way Stephen Sommers did.

There is just no chemistry between Fraser and Bello whatsoever, and that's saying something. I find it interesting that they have romantic scenes hardly ever, as if the director knew they had no chemistry and tried to avoid it as much as possible. In one of the pivotal plot points, they think they're changing it up by switching which character nobly sacrifices their own well- being for that of another. And the predictability continues.

In conclusion, this movie was maddeningly mediocre and formulaic, but that's what you should expect when the creator abandons his creation. I do not lament in the least not seeing this one in the theater, but it pains me that we will never see what could've been a worthy conclusion to a wonderful trilogy. They waited seven years—they could've waited a few more for a better script, Sommers to direct, and Weisz to return. Heartbreaking.

4.5 out of 10.0
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Cloud Atlas (2012)
Jumbled conglomeration of The Matrix intertwined with Amistad and Apocalypto that piggybacks on abolition to succeed in driving its message home
6 February 2014
Warning: Spoilers
Cloud Atlas (2012)

Reviewed February 6, 2014 after 1st viewing (Free HBO HD) - Warner Bros (boo) – Directed by: Tom Tykwer, Andy & Lana Wachowski

Jumbled conglomeration of The Matrix intertwined with Amistad and Apocalypto that piggybacks on abolition to succeed in driving its message home

I don't even know where to start… I will preface this by saying that I am an open-minded, intelligent, empathetic person who generally enjoys films of this genre. That being said, I spent the first half of this movie just trying to separate the plot lines and characters. The incoherent pacing jumped story lines so much, the use of the same actors for each made it all the more confusing. The undesired effect was to distance the audience from the characters to such a degree that you felt little if anything for their plights. The score tries so hard to draw you in and evoke emotion, but I had stopped caring at the halfway mark.

The direction and cinematography were great but altogether not that astounding. The make- up and prosthetics were divisive and distracting to say the least. Alas, the Neo/Trinity parody was so obvious, by the time abolition and genocide enters the picture and you're just starting to feel something for the characters, you're too distracted by the blatant use of elements from other successful films. To me, it was nothing more than a collage of other movies, which is clearly more on the screenwriter's and director's side, being that this is based on a book and had every opportunity to hold its own. This film is so complex and convoluted it actually makes The Matrix read like Green Eggs and Ham.

Furthermore, there are so many plot elements and dialog that does not make sense. We're supposed to believe the Prussian (Halle Berry) is a higher being, but her accent is Southern?! That was easily the *most* distracting element of the story. By the end, I still didn't understand how each part intertwined to make a whole. This is a classic example of too many hands in the pot, with the multiple writers, directors, production companies— Incoherent and incredibly frustrating.

Believe me, I went in wanting to like this movie, especially with some of my favorite actors and minds behind it, but I can't help but find it to be an epic fail. In three, long, excruciating hours, it fails to establish interest or connection with the audience, and in my opinion, if you can't manage these simple elements, none of the rest of the piece matters.

5.0 out of 10.0
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Warm Bodies (2013)
A refreshing take on the age-old zombie tale with a bleeding heart at its center
29 November 2013
Warning: Spoilers

A refreshing take on the age-old zombie tale with a bleeding heart at its center

Preface: Some of you reviewers are not using your own mind. Complaining about this not being a conventional Zombie tale is like complaining about someone having a better idea than you… If this was written just like Dawn of the Dead but with teens, you'd be complaining just the same. Take this film for what it is—a unique interpretation of an old cult classic. And really? Another remake of Romeo and Juliet meets zombies? Did you even READ the play? The ONLY similarity is that their names begin with the same letters. Grow a brain!

The film has a provocative introduction with R. jumping right into his view of life as a zombie, and we are pulled not pushed immediately into this post-apocalyptic world. The subtle satire is more than amusing, and his interest in Julie and desire to protect her start us off in a new direction.

I personally love the idea of some zombies still being closer to their humanity than being a zombie, and it is ignorant to declare that this is so out of the realm of possibility when we see in our own world today how isolation and alienation can lead to these same undead-like traits in very much living, breathing human beings, who begin committing inhumane acts such as rape and murder, and thus become degenerates of society, rejected and abhorred by all. I personally feel killing someone and eating their brain to provide sustenance to oneself is certainly more HUMANE than rape, torture, and murder, but I digress.

Julie continues to try to leave as R. must subsequently protect her, which does not fall into the overused damsel-in-distress motif that other reviewers indicated was so offensive. We are talking about ZOMBIES here, so it would stand to reason that if we're not going with the guns a-blazing, shoot 'em all in the head approach, a zombie would be the only one who could protect her. This is in no way anti-feminist, but believable for the story.

R. narrates a bit about zombies and himself, illustrating the ways in which he feels different than the rest, and also serving as a means of clarification to the audience that through the film, not just he, but all the zombies (with the exclusion of 'Bonies') are changing.

The story moves along well until the pivotal plot point where R. must do the honest thing and tell Julie that it was he who killed her ex. She utilizes a classic defense mechanism, stating she had been mentally preparing for such an event, however disappears the following morning to return to her father. Meanwhile, R. finds his zombie friends were run off by the 'Bonies' who wish to quell this newfound hope beginning to run rampant amongst their zombie counterparts who are meant to become them. This is all quite believable until this point, as we are to believe that the 'Bonies' became just that because they lost hope and therefore do not think, however it is just that that the story leads into.

I do find it quite surprising that John Malkovich comes off very two-dimensional and lacking the charisma and wit we are used to seeing from him, however one could leave this to bad writing and/or direction. I did find the pace to retain my interest and was fascinated more by R. than any other character.

Overall, the film is quite entertaining with a refreshingly original look at a tried-and-true plot line. Nicholas Hoult and Teresa Palmer excelled in their respective parts where the others just kind of faded into the background. I really would've liked to have seen more from Dave Franco, as I think he is fresh, up-and-coming talent. Good storytelling with some minor plot holes, and respectable direction that holds the audience's interest throughout. I for one appreciate the author as well as the screenwriter's intention on making a film that steps outside of the box and asks us to not just think differently, but to explore a psychological perspective in a situation that would make this otherwise impossible. Kudos to the filmmakers!

7.0 out of 10.0

-H. Martin
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