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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Noah (2014)

NoahReleased: March 28, 2014. Directed by: Darren Aronofsky. Starring: Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Anthony Hopkins. Runtime: 138 min.

A film cloaked in controversy from the get go, Noah turns out to be a good, unique film. It’s controversial because it’s a largely different take on the biblical story of Noah’s Ark from the Book of Genesis. It keeps the theme of cleansing the earth of its wickedness, but visionary filmmaker Darren Aronofsky furthers the moral battle to the titular Noah, which keeps the film going well past the flood. As a faithful adaptation, it’s not great – but as Aronofsky’s unique vision, it is. It just depends on how the viewer looks at it.

I choose to focus on the more positive aspects, so I look as it more as a fascinating vision of a great director. Major innovations to the story include protectors that are practically stone giants, which might just be the strangest thing about this film. In this world, there are two vastly different communities: one large and one quite small. Noah (Russell Crowe) leads his family who are taking care of duties on the ark, since he is chosen by the world’s leader to build the ark so the world can be rebuilt to cleanse the earth of its wickedness. This group represents good. The other group is a representation of the wickedness of men, led by Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone). The story raises the idea that all persons have the will to sin and give over to temptation.

These ideas make most of the characters have inner conflicts. These can sometimes be frustrating to the viewer. It gets an emotional reaction from the viewer, hatred or not, it works to effect. Amongst the most conflicted is of course Noah. It’s a crazy amount of responsibility, the task he’s been given by the Creator. It seems that this a different world, as if it’s made that we’re to assume this is God they’re talking about – but He’s only referred to as the Creator. That might just add on to the controversy, whether or not the film’s ignoring Him, or if Aronofsky only wants to call him Creator. It never feels like the film-makers have an anti-Christianity mindset. Anyway, Noah’s inner battles with himself are fascinating; as are the contrasts made between him and Tubal-cain. Russell Crowe carries the film well, assisted by the rest of the talented cast. One can begin to understand the character, despite some crazy decisions. Ray Winstone is also good as his character. My only complaint about both of them is that they have a bad habit of whispering dialogue.

It’s cool to see the extreme lengths Aronofsky go to in order to portray the wickedness of man. There’s a repetition of imagery of a Serpent, the Adam and Eve story, and the story of Cain and Abel throughout. This is another symbol of the temptation and sin of man. I also like the way Aronofsky portrays Noah’s visions. Some of his visions make this feel like a big-budget Take Shelter at times. There’s a cool sequence where Noah’s underwater and animals swim to the surface with him two by two. The visuals are magnificent, as is the Iceland scenery. Due to the scenery and variations of animals, the time setting of the film – biblical times or a futuristic setting, in the vein of After Earth – remains open to interpretation. Some visual effects are dizzying when they aren’t dazzling. It’s mostly when the passage of time is shown. The style used is fast-forwarded imagery. The way the story transitions to where the Ark , where two birds fly over several landscapes to get to the Ark, is like a short film in itself.

The film might as well be divided into three chapters: before the flood, when it strikes and during, and after. Seeing how this world works in the first chapter is fascinating. When it strikes, the visuals are phenomenal, and things on the Ark get a bit strange, but sometimes there’s nothing wrong with that. It flows all pretty well. It’s a character and cast-driven film. Jennifer Connelly is very good as Naameh. She captures the anxiety of the situation well. Anthony Hopkins is great as Noah’s great grandfather Methuselah, who craves berries, and gives Noah guidance. Logan Lerman is good as Ham, who is one of the film’s most frustrating character. Douglas Booth as Shem does his job. The youngest child, Japheth, portrayed by newcomer Leo McHugh Carroll, is given nothing to do here. He might have five lines of dialogue. A real impressive star in this film is Emma Watson. She’s believable in almost every way, and the character’s insecurities makes her relateable to audiences. I really can’t wait to see more from her.

It will be interesting to see what Aronofsky tackles next. From what I’ve seen of his, he directs character-driven films, which is an aspect that works well for this. The dark tone and epic scale suit this, as well. Noah might not be what you expect going into the film. Expect a different sort-of cinematic experience. Since the film is so different from the original story that’s extremely tame in comparison; a fair deal of it is unpredictable. Unpredictable means surprises, and this has them in spades.

Score75/100

Brief-ish Recap of 2013’s Movies So Far

2013 has been a decent year for movies, and it’s improving in both quality, and in regards of box office earnings. And I think it can only get better from here, at least in terms of quality. So far, I’ve seen 36 movies that have been released in 2013, and I’ve missed quite a few as well. Here is my post for the best and worst of 2013 so far. There is a top 10 list, and a bottom five list, and I will post my “Most anticipated movies of Second Half of the Year List” sooner than later. Here’s what I thought of what 2013 has had to offer so far…

The Best of the Year So Far

This is the End“, 2013’s Best Movie So Far & 2013’s Best Surprise

First, the top 10. I have listed the title and the original score in brackets. I’ve decided not to include little blurbs from each review, because that just might become tedious to read with so many titles. If you want to read my thoughts, click on the link to my review. (Note: You might notice that some scores are lower than others, but higher on the list – but that’s because they’ve grown on me since I’ve seen them, and are better than other movies in terms of quality.)

1. This is the End (91), 2. Monsters University (90), 3. 42 (90), 4. The Place Beyond the Pines (88), 5. Fast & Furious 6 (90), 6. Mud (86), 7. Evil Dead (88), 8. Pain & Gain (83), 9. Spring Breakers (75), 10. The Croods (83).

Here’s 11-15: 11. Star Trek Into Darkness (83), 12. The Great Gatsby (82), 13. Warm Bodies (80), 14. Now You See Me (80), 15. Iron Man 3 (80).

Here’s the rest of the movies I’ve seen, ranked from best to worst (in blocks of five, so it’s easier on the eyes): The Last Stand (80); World War Z (75)The Heat (75) Mama (78)20. Oz the Great and Powerful (75).

Epic (74)The Incredible Burt Wonderstone (73); Identity Thief (72); Olympus Has Fallen (70); 25. Snitch (71).

Oblivion (67); Gangster Squad (63)The Purge (57); Man of Steel (50)30. Admission (56), Safe Haven (54).

2013's Worst Movie So Far

Scary Movie 5“, 2013’s Worst Movie So Far (But I don’t think there will be a bigger shitfest this year). 

Here’s the List of Shame, the Bottom Five of the year: After Earth (40)Peeples (38); The Hangover Part III (25)Movie 43 (30); 36. Scary Movie 5 (0).

Here was my Top 12 Most Anticipated Movies of the First Half of the Year: 1. Monsters University; 2. The Place Beyond the Pines; 3. Identity Thief 4. Oz the Great and Powerful; 5. Gangster Squad; 6. 42; 7. Now You See Me; 8. Fast & Furious 6; 9. Man of Steel; 10. Oblivion11. The Purge: 12. Mud.

5 of my 12 most anticipated movies made the Top 10, and 6 made my top 15. “Oz the Great and Powerful” was only slightly satisfying. “Identity Thief”, and “Oblivion” were mildly disappointing. “Gangster Squad” was quite disappointing because it could have potentially been an Oscar contender, but it ended up not knowing if it wanted to be serious or just silly. It was a lightly entertaining gangster movie, apparently much like “The Untouchables”. I’d put “The Hangover Part III” in my Top 15 Anticipated of the First Half, so that is the biggest disappointment of the year because it just wasn’t funny. The third biggest disappointment would be “The Purge”, and the second would be “Man of Steel”.

"The Hangover Part III", 2013's Biggest Disappointment So Far

The Hangover Part III“, 2013’s Biggest Disappointment So Far

The best surprise of the year definitely has to be “This is the End”, even if I was quite excited for it. I knew it was going to be good, but not that good, and especially not movie of the year worthy. Out of the films I wasn’t anticipating at all, “World War Z” was probably the nicest surprise.

These are the movies I missed, but will be checking out. I’ve only included the ones I could envision myself either popping into the DVD player, watching online, or going out to the theater and watching: A Good Day to Die Hard, Aftershock, Antiviral, Before Midnight, Berberian Sound Studio, The Bling Ring, Byzantium, The Call, Dark Skies, Dead Man Down, The East, Frances Ha, G.I. Joe: Retaliation, Ginger & Rosa, Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, The Host, The Iceman, The Internship, The Kings of Summer, The Lords of Salem, Maniac, Much Ado About Nothing, Quartet, Room 237, The Sapphires, Side Effects, Song for Marion, Stand Up Guys, Stoker, To the Wonder, Trance, Upside Down, Upstream Color, Violet & Daisy, Welcome to the Punch, White House Down.

And finally, here are some statistics: 

Rotten Tomatoes Audience Average Score: 72.55

My Average Score: 69.22

IMDb Average Score: 66.05

Rotten Tomatoes Critics Average Score: 56.55

So there you have it… What’s your favourite movie of the year so far, and your least favourite? I won’t put a poll because there are just too many titles, so let me know in the comments!

This is the End (2013)

This is the EndRelease Date: June 12, 2013

Directors: Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen

Stars: Seth Rogen, James Franco, Jonah Hill

Runtime: 107 min

Hollywood is obsessed with a lot of things. One of their current obsessions is the apocalypse. Mostly because, if we survived 2012, why not, right? This is the End is summer 2013’s second apocalyptic movie (or first if you don’t really count After Earth), and it’s a comedy that feels completely fresh. It’s based on Jason Stone’s short film entitled “Jay and Seth vs. the Apocalypse”, set on an ordinary night in Los Angeles.

Many celebrities including Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, Michael Cera, and Emma Watson, amongst so many other cameos, are partying it up at James Franco’s mansion. They’re having a good time, drinkin’ beer, abusing cocaine (if Michael Cera doesn’t hog it all), joking around; doing what celebrities do. Soon enough, a huge hole opens up and wah-bam, it’s the end of the world. Half of the celebrities’ cameos end in gory demises, and there’s only a small group left to fend for themselves in Franco’s mansion. They take inventory, and it’s up to Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill, James Franco, Craig Robinson, and the trouble-making Danny McBride to wait out the apocalypse.

The only other possibly comparable movie to this is Tropic Thunder.  That movie’s main satire was of big Hollywood productions and those who make them. The main gag at play here is the actors skewering each others’ public personas, and essentially being hilariously mocked, and doing the mocking. They are playing themselves, but at the same time, they aren’t. They’re playing heightened versions of themselves, where some of these character attributes are similar to their everyday selves, but some aren’t. Who could possibly envision the seemingly sweet and innocent Michael Cera as a drug-abusin’, obnoxious loud-mouth? No one could have, but it makes for a simply hilarious character.

That’s the thing about This is the End: it’s insanely funny. Ridiculous, yes, but a sure blast if there ever was one. Each of these characters poke fun at each other and the fun they’re having really shows. They invite us on the ride, and this viewing is truly fun. They make a sequel or two to their best movies (Pineapple Express), and decide not to make one for Your Highness. It’s all good old-fashioned, self-aware bliss. You’re going to love these guys.

This is one of the most effective comedy/horror sci-fi hybrids in some time. I love the balance of gross-out humour and gross-out horror. The premise is very original, and the humour is silly and immature, but the majority of this content will have you laughing and howling the whole way through. It’s quotable, brilliant, immature, and just plain fun. This is the funniest movie some of these guys have ever been in. They sling one-liners every which way, there are a few great startles and you’ll probably love every minute of this.

Though, the pacing is rough in the middle. One usually can’t expand on the traditional end of the world premise, but the writers know what they’re doing and so they give this superb execution. They run with what they know: comedy. The movie just works incredibly well. For the most part, it’s a thin story, but it is effective and admirably written. About 90% of the jokes hit, and the ones that don’t, are mostly said by Jay Baruchel. He’s from my hometown, but the guy isn’t incredibly funny. He has a few good lines, but they’re limited. This could be because he’s written as the straight man, however. There’s also so much product placement that makes this feel like one big commercial for all things Coca Cola, Milky Way, Nutella, and CT Crunch (I could go on, there’s about as much product placement as memorable quotes). This is easily forgiven because it’s set in a real-life celebrity culture. No one’s going to just own No Name brands, especially not rich people who star in movies.

One would expect that this wouldn’t have a huge emotional core. It does, surprisingly, have a better one than the average comedy. This is a buddy comedy of a bunch of guys making the best of their situation, the relationship between Seth and Jay, and the fact that all of these guys need to learn a thing or two about fate, redemption and – most of all – friendship. It isn’t as undeniably sweet as Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is, but I’d be fibbing if I didn’t at least get a few chills at one of the movie’s most effectively awesome, sort-of emotional- and so, so hilarious – moments near the end.

This just shows that a comedy about hanging out with one’s best buds could be a real gem to the genre. Adam Sandler could take quite a few pointers from this comedy. These characters are so easy to love, even Danny McBride who you’ll love to hate. This is one of the greatest ensembles ever assembled, at least for a critically acclaimed flick. It could be called “Comedians Assemble”. It’s one of the most quotable movies since The Hangover, and you’ll want an encore screening the second it’s over, mostly to just learn more quotes, because there are so many. I love all of the obvious nods to popular movies, as well. This is as absolute blast that combines so many favourite genres – comedy, sci-fi, horror… It’s like Neapolitan ice cream. There are more than a few surprises in this fantastic comedy treat.

91/100

After Earth (2013)

After EarthRelease Date: May 31, 2013

Director: M. Night Shyamalan

Stars: Jaden Smith, Will Smith, Sophie Okonedo

Runtime: 100 min

I’ve only seen two of M. Night Shyamalan’s movies. The Sixth Sense is one of my favourite thrillers. The Happening is not. I’d like to see more of his movies; so I can witness a rise and fall of a famous figure, rather than just hear about one. That being said, I don’t hate the guy as much as many other people do. His new movie, After Earth, is certainly better than The Happening, but not a lot happens.

A crash landing leaves Kitai Raige and his legendary father Cypher stranded on Earth, 1,000 years after events forced humanity’s escape. With Cypher injured, Kitai must embark on a perilous journey to signal for help.

There’s one main plot point that doesn’t make a lick of sense. If humans haven’t been on earth for one thousand years; why do these creatures have a passionate hatred for humans? They cannot evolve to hate and kill humans if they haven’t even seen one during their lifespan. That’s really the only plot point that is truly bothersome and rather stupid. The plot isn’t intriguing in the slightest.

Will Smith’s Cypher sits on the sidelines with two broken legs while his little son (and real life son) goes on a journey fighting off CGI baddies like there’s no tomorrow. He’s a character who is trying to prove his courage, because something happened in the past that he feels is his fault; while he just sat on the sideline and didn’t do anything. Kitai is like Cypher’s little Mario, because he is telling him what to do – except, Kitai makes some decisions for himself that are rather idiotic. This would make Cypher frustrated, as well as the viewer. We’re essentially watching a character control another character, but the one being controlled is a disobedient little shit, who’s trying to be just like his old Pa.

The only part that intrigues me about this movie is the idea of fear; where there are some tips that could help out very anxious people. There’s this phenomena in the movie called ‘ghosting’, where if one has no fear, it hides them from certain creatures. Cypher is the first human to master this technique. There is some depth added to the character of Kitai, because he’s trying to shake cowardice off of himself. The cinematography is very beautiful and it’s a great movie to look at. The CGI is also quite good. There’s a main creature that may or may not be hiding somewhere on Earth; and the idea of whatever it could be is quite terrifying. The actual being? Not so much. It’s, essentially, a hideous CGI-thing that’s a hybrid of cooler creatures from better movies. It made me want to quote Jeff Bridges from that R.I.P.D. trailer, “I don’t know which eyes to shoot you between!”

For an M. Night Shyamalan movie, this is very, very straightforward. There are scenes of intensity and action sequences. They are pretty cool, but nothing memorable. When the action isn’t happening, the movie’s painfully boring. When the action is happening, it’s still pretty freaking boring. It’s the type of movie that makes you want to ask for a pillow and a blanket. This is a new phenomena that will not entertain; but act as the cure for insomnia. For a movie that is only 100 minutes, it feels like it’s over two hours.

The petite cast carries the movie fairly well. Sophie Okonedo is the mother who’s there for one scene. Zoë Kravitz is present throughout the movie; mainly in flashbacks. Birds and crazy apes and jaguars (oh my!) appear throughout. The fourteen-year old Jaden Smith carries the movie well on his shoulders, even if his Atlantic-esque, kind-of British accent is a dagger to my ear. It’s annoying as hell. Jaden Smith captures some good emotions, and he’s a solid little performer; but, if I were the casual moviegoer, he wouldn’t attract me to his movies on opening weekend. Maybe eventually, but I can’t imagine it right now. His character’s decisions are silly; and at some points when he is in mortal danger, I thoughts to myself, “If he dies, the movie will end… Yippee!”

Will Smith just sits back and looks bored and is in pain throughout the movie. When his son cracks a joke, he replies: “That is correct.” Apparently when one isn’t afraid, they also surrender all emotions. He’s really milking the military father approach, but the Fresh Prince is way too serious and dull here. It’s his story, and it isn’t so fresh. Since it’s his story; why the hell does he look so bored? His character falls asleep in some parts, and all I think at that moment is: “I’m with ya, Prince!”

In a nutshell: There’s a good central performance by little Jaden Smith. The cinematography’s beautiful, as is the the setting. It’s just a very basic, straightforward movie that doesn’t have any surprises hiding away. Oblivion isn’t excellent, but at least it’s interesting. This is so slowly paced and boring, that it should come with a warning that reads: This movie may cause extreme drowsiness.

40/100

May 29 – June 2 Box Office Predictions: ‘After Earth’, ‘Now You See Me’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After Earth might do pretty well this weekend, but it also might suffer under the shadows of summer blockbusters. Those who see it will be seeing it for Will Smith, I’d think. No one’s going to say “I’m seeing this for M. Night Shymalan because he’s been on a real hot streak.” The story isn’t intriguing, but the creatures are pretty cool-looking. Oblivion opened to $37.04 million, so I’ll be going with a prediction around that number. Will Smith isn’t quite a big of a star as Cruise right now, mostly because Smith only made his way back to the acting game last year with MIB3 after a four-year hiatus, which he took after 2008’s Seven Pounds. Smith has an average opening of $37.7 million, and this will gross right around there, I’d think. Shyamalan’s average opening gross is $36.68 million. Movies similar to After Earth open at an average $46.97 million, but I think this will earn right around Super 8‘s $35.45 million or Oblivion‘s $37.04 million. My prediction for this is $34.3 million.

Now You See Me looks really, really intriguing, and I’m excited for it. I hope it doesn’t disappoint. (I might have to lower my expectations a little.) The cast is great; it includes Jesse Eisenberg, Morgan Freeman, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher, Dave Franco, Michael Caine, and Mark Ruffalo. I think this won’t gross as much as I’d want it to, but I think it can manage at least $20 million. It might have a hard time battling off with the big titans of the summer, though. It looks like it’ll amaze with its cool showmanship. Jesse Eisenberg’s average opening is at $21.21 million, and I think this will open right around that or a little above it. Morgan Freeman’s average opening gross is $27.25 million, and Woody Harrelson’s is $20.33 million. This makes me think of The Prestige (which grossed $14.8 million in its opening). My prediction is $24.7 million. I think this will stand out as one of summer’s most original features, and, to quote Morgan Freeman from the trailer, I really think this is “going to amaze.”

1. Fast & Furious 6: $39, 169, 000
2. After Earth: $34, 300, 000
3. Now You See Me: $24, 700, 000
4. The Hangover Part III: $23, 920, 000
5. Star Trek Into Darkness: $21, 250, 000
6. Epic: $20, 800, 000
7. Iron Man 3: $11, 350, 000
8. The Great Gatsby: $7, 525, 000
9. Mud: $1, 640, 000
10. 42: $775, 000