Hemlock Grove: Episode 2, “The Angel”

Hemlock Grove2This show keeps turning into more and more of a horror soap opera. It’s very moody, and everyone has a lot of secrets. Though, it does have great music and a strong score. In this episode, Peter’s kindness to Roman’s sister Shelley gives the two a reason to bond. They also meet each other after the previous episode’s cliff-hanger ending. They bond by smoking and driving around, but their chemistry is pretty good. It’s an unlikely little friendship. They even pass notes in class like eighth graders.

 

We learn that the Godfrey’s have made a name for themselves in experimentation, and making people as normal as they could be. Roman’s cousin Letha (Penelope Mitchell) gets a lot of development this time around, as she believes she is impregnated by, get this, an angel! This show just gets crazier and crazier! Sounds like this episode should be titled Touched by an Angel. This also exposes a further obsession of serpents.

Throughout the episode Roman looks for a guy to interrogate to ask if he slept with his cousin. Roman gets some new abilities and Peter also shows a new side to himself. It’s a show that, essentially, seems to be about the darkness in everyone and that many people wear masks, and one’s true monster is in their eyes. But we have Dexter for that already, so we do we need this? It just adds a horror aspect to it all. And one part is equal parts bat-shit crazy and disturbing.

 

Christina gets further development, and she’s shaping to be one of my favourite characters. Freya Tingley is a 19-year-old portraying a 14-year-old, which isn’t so believable, but with the character’s maturity I would have initially had put her at sixteen or seventeen years old. Either way, I think she’s quite lovely. One thing that indicates her bookworm-like features is the fact that she knows the symbol of evolution (in episode 3) but does not know the quote “You don’t put baby in the corner.” The show is a bit boring so Tina is a welcome addition.

Score50/100

 

 

 

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Hemlock Grove, Episodes 1, Season 1

Hemlock GroveI thought I’d try my hand at reviewing TV shows. I’m starting off with the first season of Hemlock Grove. I reviewed the first two episodes in a more traditional way, but the rest will be my more uncensored commentary because this show really peeved me off in points (it is SO weird). Some of my commentary/recaps are pretty funny. Anyway, here’s the first review! Mild spoilers follow, and big spoilers and more laughs will come with the upcoming episode recaps.

Episode 1, “Jellyfish in the Sky”

Hemlock Grove starts as a “Whodunnit?” after the murder of a young woman (Brooke Bluebell). It’s a bit different, though; it has loads of gore, werewolves (so it’s great for fans of those two things), gypsies, guys obsessed with blood, bad dialogue (A main character at one point says “This is a strange town, you can feel it in your balls,”) and bad British accents. It also has people staring intently while holding an ice cream cone. (Oh, and this first episode is directed by Eli Roth, so that’s pretty sweet.) It starts promisingly enough and gets into it within the first ten minutes. Soon enough, there’s even a rumoured suspect: Peter Rumancek (Landon Liboiron). He’s a gypsy who is new to town. His uncle Vince must have not been very popular with the townspeople. Peter isn’t a bad character, he just gets some awful dialogue in the first episode. 

The first person he meets in town is a young girl named Christina Wendall, a curious girl and one that seems to be a symbol of innocence. Her curiosity stems from being an aspiring novelist and it’s important for her to understand people’s motivations (as she reminds us repeatedly throughout the season). It seems that she reads a lot because she notices that Peter’s middle and index fingers are the same length, which is an indication of being a lycanthrope in mythology. I think her curiosity is funny. The chemistry between Liboiron and Freya Tingley (the actress portraying Tina) is strong, if off-kilter when in public. Perhaps that’s because he’s suspected in the murder case, and Tina just feels awkward being seen with him. (He’s only suspected by some, because there’s actually no physical evidence to make him a strong suspect yet.) Liboiron is an okay actor, and he’s only noticeably bad when he’s being overly polite. The only other thing about Peter’s arc in this episode is that the storytelling is so poor that we’re just supposed to know what a Upyr is when characters mention it. 

Also in the town of Hemlock Grove, Pennsylvania, is a rich family named the Godfrey’s, who run the Godfrey Institute (which seems like a major medical building), which has basically put the town on the map. The son is named Roman (portrayed by Bill Skarsgård) who doesn’t do too much in this episode, and one thing that isn’t so clear if it’s a part of the character or not is that sometimes Skar has a hint of a Swedish accent. Famke Janssen plays the matriarch, Olivia, with an intensely annoying fake British accent (to complement the fact that she is one of the most fake characters you’ll ever see) that I can’t decide if it’s more like the one she used in Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters or if it’s the one Will Smith and son used in After Earth. Her husband, JR, killed himself in a weird flashback scene to add some back-story. The husband thought he’d off himself before she destroyed his family any further. At the time his brother was also having an affair with his wife. Olivia’s daughter, and Roman’s brother, Shelley, is also revealed to be a deformed sort-of cyborg with a mechanic whose head literally lights up like a night light. It seems like she’s going to receive a Frankenstein arc. She has a decent chemistry with her brother even though she doesn’t do much at all.

Norman is JR’s brother, and he’s a clinical psychiatrist who has a bone to pick with this creepy and ingenuine doctor named Pryce who is a leading specialist at the Godfrey institute. He has robotic mannerisms and half the things he says doesn’t make much sense. This show feels contrived and one can tell that the narrative is trying to form a creepy atmosphere, but it’s hit and miss, because it’s usually either creepy or moody. It’s a type of show that you keep watching to find out what happens, no matter how weird it is, because it’s a decent set-up for the series and it ends on a strong enough cliff-hanger.

Score: 60/100

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Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014)

Transformers 3Released: June 27, 2014. Directed by: Michael Bay. Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Nicola Peltz, Jack Reynor. Runtime: 165 min.

In an attempt to freshen up the Transformers franchise, director Michael Bay brings in a brand new cast and characters. The first mistake was trying to re-invent the franchise, when it should have just ended. Cade Yaeger (Mark Wahlberg) and his family are thrown into the Autobots’ war when Cade finds a trashed up truck (Optimus Prime from all of his battle wounds from something called the Battle of Chicago) on one of his rides looking for things to fix and sell. He’s a mechanic fixing stuff for friends, and doing what he can do to make ends meet.

It isn’t exactly enough to put his daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz) through college. So when the truck reveals himself as Optimus Prime – the leader of the Autobots – Cade thinks about turning him in to get money to be a successful inventor, and put his daughter through college. When he has a change of heart of turning him in, it doesn’t really matter, because his assistant Lucas (an only mildly funny T.J. Miller) only sees dollar signs, which gets the government, and a lackluster bounty hunter from another world, on their tail. 

He’s a lackluster follow-up to Megatron, who got old after being the main villain after three films. His name’s not even worthy enough to remember. The main human villain (including a forgettable Kelsey Grammer) of the film is mainly the government, as there’s a company trying to wipe out the Autobots for whatever reason. It’s all in the aspiration of America to make everything better than it is already. Since this is mostly just a narrative sparked by human ignorance, it’s not compelling in the slightest, and it all lacks logic. Sure, it would be clever if this film was meta in the way that human ignorance might be the cause of humans’ eventual extinction, but this never feels to be the case.

Most of the characters are fine, if a bit boring to a fault. The most amusing characters are Bumble Bee (he and Optimus are the only returning characters) and Stanley Tucci as his character Josh Joyce. Joyce is an owner of a robotics company, and he gets more to do as the film moves along. I like Mark Wahlberg as the new main character, even though the character himself isn’t great. He’s over-protective of his daughter to a point of annoyance. He’s like a big kid so the daughter, Tessa, has to take care of him a bit. Nicola Peltz (TV’s Bates Motel) is pretty good as Tessa. 

It’s refreshing that she gets more to do than Megan Fox as Mikayla in the first two films, and she’s in the action more, even though she doesn’t do much to get herself out of stupid situations, just like Fox. Tessa adds some appeal to female audiences because she’s more of a character that’s easy for girls with overprotective fathers to relate to, than the sex appeal Fox or Rosie Huntington-Whitely were in their films. The father-daughter relationship gives the film some bland heart. Also in the Yeager group is Tessa’s extremely boring racer boyfriend Shane. He’s portrayed by Irishman Jack Reynor, who doesn’t seem boring in his own right.

Two of the new Autobots are memorable. One is named Drift, voiced by Ken Watanabe, and he’s a samurai Autobot – and it’s definitely a character to complement the portion of the film taking place in China. John Goodman is also enjoyable as an autobot named Hound, who mostly seems like a replacement for the quick-to-violence Ironhyde. This film is just forgettable, with only a few noteworthy action sequences and some awesome dino-bots. Their presence gets no explanation at all, so they’re random, but they’re no less fun in an otherwise exhausting experience. Everyone going in knows this won’t be a smart blockbuster, so why does it have to be the length of an LOTR movie? The story never finds much coherence in the first place, and when a new artifact gets introduced, Bay goes back to the “Find the artifact before the Decepticons” roots of the franchise. Skip this one, because it still feels familiar. 

Score: 40/100

 

 

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Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011)

Transformers 3Released: June 29, 2011. Directed by: Michael Bay. Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Rosie Huntington-Whitely, Tyrese Gibson. Runtime: 154 min. 

A fault for me for the Transformers films is the fact that they can work as stand-alone films because Optimus Prime gives a little narration at the beginning of each film, which also introduces a new artifact where the Autobots will have to find this thing before the Decepticons do. Essentially, these films are exactly the same. But some of them are kind-of fun. This one improves on the first sequel by giving a stronger narrative, but its length is still exhausting. The Autobots, this time around, have to find the pillars that was on a spacecraft piloted by Centennial Prime that crash-landed on the moon (a creative spin for the reason the members of Apollo 11 went to the moon) in the war of Cybotron. The Autobots have to get there before the Decepticons to save the world. They harbour a powerful enough energy to cause that Chernobyl mishap, which is a kind-of creative reason to describe it, too. I like those blockbuster twists on past events to add alternative causes. 

Shia LaBeouf is back as Sam Witwicky, who gets a bit of an annoying characterization since he wants to matter again, and he flaunts his Hero’s Medal to anyone he meets. It’s a a funny difference from his reluctance to initially help in the previous film. He really wants recognition and it gets to the point of being whiny. The only one who hasn’t been too impressed by the medal was Megan Fox’s Mikayla, because now Sam has a new hottie named Carly (a meh Rosie Huntington-Whitely, a super model turned actress), who is a personal assistant to a billionaire, Dylan, portrayed by Patrick Dempsey. (He must be some sort-of entrepreneur because he collects a lot of cars.) The chemistry shared between LaBeouf and Huntington-Whitely is nothing special. Ms. H-Whitely doesn’t do much, except just look dirty and somehow manages to survive during action sequences. The ending of the finale is a bit lazy, and if it were any other movie I’d be mad at its laziness, but since it drags on so long it was welcome. Villains who still opt to help the Decepticons when they don’t really have to anymore is uninspired and it just prolongs the flick. 

In terms of ambition, some action sequences are pretty spectacular, but too long, and they’re reminiscent of several other sequences we’ve seen so far in the franchise. There a few characters who make this something fun. Tom Kenny is still very funny as Wheely, a Decepticon turned Autobot. John Malkovich shows up as Witwicky’s boss in a funny role. John Turturro is also good, but he gets outshone this time around by his sidekick Dutch, who is portrayed by a very funny Alan Tudyk. They are some redeeming aspects of an otherwise stupid film where there’s a Decepticon that reminded me of the huge worm from Men in Black 3, and where a character quotes Spock as a reason for attempting to take over the world.

Score: 50/100

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Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009)

Transformers 2Released: June 24, 2009. Directed by: Michael Bay. Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, Josh Duhamel. Runtime: 150 min.

The Autobots’ relationship with the humans has strengthened. They’re even helping them wipe out the remaining decepticons who may have stuck around after the first film, after Jon Voight thought everyone would believe nothing happened if they wiped out all the evidence and placed Megatron at the bottom of the ocean. After a seriously weird opening sequence taking place in 17, 000 BC where a Davy Jones-looking Decepticon fights off against humans. The Davy Jones looking-guy is called the Fallen, who wants to regain power on Earth – even though he just sits on a weird satellite throne and doesn’t do anything for most of the film. (But you can tell he’s a villain when he addresses the nation in one of them “I’m a terrorist” videos). Shit, I didn’t even realize his name was Fallen, because what type of name is that?

The film gets its footing back after a stupid opening sequence, but what is getting stupider is the humans’ reasoning to cancel relations with the Autobots after something just happens to go wrong. Also worse than the first one: The chemistry between stars Shia LaBeouf and Megan Fox. Mikayla (Fox) really wants Sam to tell her that he loves her, and this weird opening dialogue shared between the two of “I’m breaking up with you, Sam” as a joke is weird because it seems like they’re having issues. It just adds too much excessive filler to the film in an already exhausting effort. 

And Bay’s preference to round and round shots during kissing scenes doesn’t add much depth to anything. Their chemistry gets a bit boring at times. Adding to their complications in their relationship is a woman at Sam’s college named Alice (Isabel Lucas) who has a thing for Sam and nice cars. This allows Bumble Bee to show his personality with his funny song choices. Also interfering with Sam’s mental processes is the fact that he’s seeing futuristic algorithms in his head which lead to a few mental breakdowns that might or might not be purposefully comedic, but it’s believable if the objective is to look like he suffers from premature ejaculation. Just sayin’. 

It’s the same story as the first one, where the Autobots have to find some newly introduced artifact before the Decepticons. The problem with these films is a finale that feels like it goes on forever, no help from the extraneous slow motion sequence. Technically speaking, the film’s special effects are pretty good, even though the quick edits of dizzying action sequences don’t let us see them well enough. This film largely arrives on comic relief characters to make the film go a bit quicker. Two Autobots that remind me of the twins from Fast Five are present, and they get a few laughs. The voice of Spongebob Squarepants, Tom Kenny, goes a lot PG-13 as a shit-disturbing Decepticon called Wheely, whose car version of himself is one of those remote-control cars. He’s easily the film’s biggest source of enjoyment for me. 

There’s one character named Leo (Ramon Rodriguez), a theorist on all things Transformers, who is funny at first and only advances the story as a mutual contact for Sam and Mikayla. Thereafter, and even at times before that, he becomes something of an utter annoyance. It feels like he does more than Megan Fox gets to do as Mikayla in this movie, but even Sam’s Mom is more memorable than her presence this time around. The only fundamental difference between this film and the first is a weaker chemistry between stars Fox and LaBeouf, and a change of scenery for the finale – from the city to an Egyptian desert. Although, since there was some time spent in Qatar in the first one, even the scenery of the finale feels too “been there, done that.” 

Score: 50/100

 

 

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Transformers (2007)

TranssformersReleased: July 2, 2007. Directed by: Michael Bay. Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, Josh Duhamel. Runtime: 144 min. 

Michael Bay (who utilizes many low-to-the-ground looking up camera angles and a lot of slow-motion) takes on the Hasbro toys: the Transformers. They are an intelligent mechanical race from the planet Cybotron, where the main battle is between the Autobots, the good guys led by Optimus Prime (voiced by Peter Cullen), and the evil Decepticons, led by Megatron (voiced by Hugo Weaving). They come to Earth in search for a cube called the All Spark, which, if put in the hands of the Decepticons, could endanger the human race by perfecting human technology to do so. 

I think Michael Bay is the director for a film like this because it’s loud and often dumb, but it also has a nice sense of humour. Bay is able to add some depth to the action sequences with the dynamic camera angles. The film also has a lot of nice cars, so those and Megan Fox will please the guys. There’s not much for the women here besides Shia LaBeouf, who brings some good comic delivery to the feature. (There is also humour found elsewhere in the screenplay.) 

He plays an average guy character, Sam Witwicky, placed in a crazy, larger-than-life situation. He’s relatable in this way, and he believes in some sacrifice to achieve victory. The reason he gets embroiled in this is because he is a great great grandson of one of the first explorers to set foot in the Arctic Circle, and who discovered Megatron in the ground way back when. Also, his new car is an autobot called Bumble Bee – a Ford Camaro with the colour scheme of a Bumble Bee, and he easily has the most personality of the Autobots. He communicates with his car radio because of a vocal chord injury in battle. He also is very good at picking songs for various situations. There’s also some amusing fish-out-of-water humour when the Autobots are hanging around at Sam’s house. Ratchet (the medical autobot) and Jazz seem to be the most generic autobots in this feature. 

The battles between the Autobots and the Decepticons is pretty awesome. For anyone who don’t know cars so well, sometimes it’s difficult to see who the bad guys and the good guys are because of a sometimes too generic robot design for both sides. That fault seems to lie with both the Hasbro character designs, and the filmmaker’s choices to feature which action figures. Sure, it’s easy to see which ones are good and bad as to whoever loses the battle, and it’s easier to see when they’re in huge robot killer form – but most of the decepticons are black, and two of the protagonists are black (Ironhyde and Ratchet, and maybe Jazz too, I believe) so it’s hard to tell who’s who at some points. I think the story is a pretty effective and simplistic story, featuring some fine chemistry between stars Fox and LaBeouf. I also like Tyrese Gibson on an army team that doesn’t really feel like they actually belong to the story as something other than just an army until the third act. The decepticons that attack them in Qatar throughout the film feels random at times and interrupts the flow of the film; it worked as an opening action sequence after the opening background info sequence that is sometimes necessary for a new franchise. Also on the army squad (of about seven, as they’re survivors of an attack at the beginning of the film, where decepticons were trying to extract information) is Josh Duhamel, whose character is boring. 

These attacks do give the film some dynamic scenery and enable Bay to direct some nifty action sequences. At times the cinematography is dizzying, and the edits a bit too quick, but the special effects are consistently good, which seems like the most important aspect in a film like this. Because really and truly, these films are just visually pleasing and just a decent way to pass a few hours.

Score: 70/100

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The Fault in Our Stars (2014)

The Fault in Our StarsReleased: June 6, 2014. Directed by: Josh Boone. Starring: Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Nat Wolff. Runtime: 125 min.

Even if you aren’t the target audience of The Fault in Our Stars, you’ll be able to enjoy it for its stunning realism, which warrants its occasional corniness. Josh Boone directs John Green’s novel with finesse, and stars Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort to an extraordinary chemistry. The story follows Hazel Grace Lancaster (Shailene Woodley), a girl who has had a form of leukaemia since the age of 13. She’s trying hard to cope with her sickness, even though she has depression. Her mother (Laura Dern) wants her to make new friends, and she thinks a cancer support group will be good for her. There, she meets Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort), a young man who lost his leg because of cancer, but he survived. He also shares her love for the unconventional. He also wants to put his mark on this world before his time is up.

The film raises themes of cherishing every moment, and making a star-crossed love infinite. One never knows how long they have on this world, but you just have to make the best of it. It raises these ideas beautifully with its main characters. Ansel Elgort is good as Augustus, someone who’s a bit strange at first as he just stares at Hazel for their first encounter. What blossoms from there is a stunning romance. I like a metaphor he uses: Putting a cigarette in his teeth, but he never lights it so death doesn’t have the power to kill him.

It’s sweet how he always wants to make Hazel happy, even when she’s trying her hardest to push him away – because she describes herself as a grenade, and when she sets off she could destroy and hurt everyone in her wake. She doesn’t want to add any casualties to the mix. Her vulnerability as a character is sweet. She likes the simple, unconventional things in life – and it brings some great humour to the film. I really cared about the character, and Woodley’s performance as her makes it even better. She’s hard of breathing, and I felt terror for her in even the most simple of moments like climbing a steep set of stairs. It makes it even more effective.

Hazel has a great adopted philosophy from her favourite novel, and much of the plot revolves around her wanting to know what happens to the main characters’ loved ones after she dies. The authour, portrayed by an effective Willem Dafoe, is someone you’ll sympathize with only maybe for a second. Josh Boone isn’t able to direct the character to anything that stands out. Laura Dern is good as Hazel’s mother, even if she’s sidelined for much of the film, as she is often called to panic whenever Hazel calls her name. Hazel’s Dad (True Blood’s Sam Trammel) is sidelined a lot more. Nat Wolff brings a lot of humour to his role as Isaac, Gus’s best friend. His character’s girlfriend is representative of a person who cannot take the death of a loved one.

Anyway, anyone who’s seen this film or read the novel (which I’ll surely seek out because of John Green’s evidently realistic writing style) will tell you it’s a sad story. You’ve just found the new “I haven’t cried this hard since…” film of the decade thus far. This is The Notebook for a new generation. It’s effectively heartbreaking and it’ll leave quite an impression on its viewers, and it’ll make you now think of Anne Frank’s attic as a romantic area. I loved every minute of this film, and just got swept in its realistic look at life and romance.

Score: 88/100

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