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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The Wolverine (2013)

The wolverineReleased: July 26, 2013. Directed by: James Mangold. Starring: Hugh Jackman, Will Yun Lee, Tao Okamoto. Runtime: 126 min.

The Wolverine has a stronger story than Wolverine’s first solo outing in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, but still not a fully compelling one. It just doesn’t seem like a fun film can be made for the most popular character of the X-Men. A problem of this film is that it really doesn’t feel like an X-Men film until it really gets into the story – the story and the Japan location gives it such a different atmosphere than the other films. It opens with Logan having a dream of saving a man from the World War II bombing in Nagasaki. Then, he’s sort-of just a woodsman living his life out in a cave in Canada. He’s still really shaken up about what he had to do Jean in X-Men: The Last Stand. The person whose life Logan saved all those years ago, a man named Yashida, requests Logan’s company to thank him for saving his life and he also wants to give him a gift. Once there, he is embroiled in a conflict involving Japanese mafia, and must confront his own demons. 

Logan is given an extra layer of vulnerability, which is a sometimes nice aspect for other characters – but for such a badass character, he’s just boring with this layer. I think this is a more realistic and grittier attempt than the first Wolverine. At times this feels more like a swordfighting/kung-fu movie with mutants than a true X-Men film. It surely keeps the X-Men franchise on a decent path to keep the general narrative going for the franchise, but sometimes there’s so little going on that this just gets boring. A solid finale and a dazzling bullet train sequence caught my attention, but that was about it. An archer brings some fun to the film, as Mangold directs some nifty set pieces with (and without) the archer. The villain of the film, a woman whose poisonous power of a viper snake reminded me of Poison Ivy. Overall, this is an okay film with prominent themes of greed and it features a strong score. The action’s just a bit too spaced out to be anything truly compelling.

The performances are all pretty okay. I liked Janssen’s brief performance as Jean. Yukio (a well-cast Rila Fukoshima) is a cool character, as she has the power to see how people will die. I think it’s a poignant characterization, since she’ll see how all of her loved ones will die. I liked Jackman’s chemistry with Tao Okamoto as Mariko, Yashida’s granddaughter. The films have some decent aspects, as this surely has stronger visuals than the first Wolverine. 

Score: 60/100

X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)

X-Men Last StandReleased: May 26, 2006. Directed by: Brett Ratner. Starring: Hugh Jackman, Famke Janssen, Halle Berry. Runtime: 104 min. 

I guess all mutants getting along was nice when it lasted. This time Charles Xavier’s (Patrick Stewart) X-Men face off against Magneto’s (Ian McKellen) Brotherhood. Stewart’s limited screen time helps prove that a presence will still be felt throughout the flick. In this film, a cure is introduced for mutants everywhere. Is mutation something that really needs to be cured? Do mutants really need to conform to what everyone else looks like? Is it cowardice if they choose to take the cure? This time, it touches on the idea that some mutants might benefit from the cure. This is basically in Rogue, who might benefit from it because if she holds onto someone too long, she could kill them. I learn that she is contributes a lot more in the comic books, when she’s felt sidelined to me in the films – at least in terms of battle. I think that’s awesomely touched on more intelligently with Mystique’s characterization in 2011’s X-Men: First Class.

This film just doesn’t feel as smart as the first two films. Heck, it’s still fun – but there are a lot of frustrating occurrences, mainly because some are so unnecessary. Something this film is missing is Bryan Singer’s direction. He just brought such an intelligent style to it, and it just feels like it’s lacking. This time Brett Ratner directs the film, and it’s a bit of an odd choice. Prior to this he directed the Rush Hour franchise and the Hannibal Lecter flick Red Dragon. It was a cool attempt, but it’s only successful to some avail. The fighting for freedom just feels a bit too clichèd this time around under Ratner’s eye. 

Like the Rush Hour flicks show, his style of direction just feels a bit familiar, and not quite a memorable style you could recognize a single director for. Though, he does direct a phenomenal prison escape sequence and kudos to the cinematography department during it. The actors bring humour to the film, per usual, it just isn’t as strong because the story gets dark at times. The film handles heartbreaking aspects of characterization well to some degree, just not perfectly like the last two films. It does handle being a blockbuster pretty well, though, because this is all really fun. 

It’s cool how Jean is a new sort-of character this time around, found in her alter-ego Phoenix, who is much more aggressive and angry than the regular Jean. Professor X wants to contain it in a series of psychological barriers, while Magneto wants to let her out of her cage. What happens with that is an intense sequence. Janssen gives her most interesting performance of the franchise thus far. In Wolverine and her relationship, Hugh Jackman brings some power to his performance. 

There are some good other mutants. It seems that the Beast, a political representative for mutants, is replacing the blue good guy (Nightcrawler in the last film) this time around. I love Ben Foster as the Angel, even though I would have loved to see more from the character. Callisto (Dania Ramirez) on the villains side is a really cool villain, because she’s like a walking, talking Cerebro. She can sense when mutants are near, and also know their power level. There’s a sort-of porcupine blowfish villain named Kid Omega who’s kind-of fun. He’s portrayed by Ken Leung, and I think I subconsciously assumed he was a villain when I saw him on TV’s Lost because I recognized him from this villainous role. As a villain, Pyro (Aaron Stanford) is a bit of a bland idiot. I thought he was a lot more fun as an antagonizing hero. 

I think the title indicates that there might be a few losses from all ends. I think there’s a minor problem when the opening simulation fighting sequence is the same amount of fun as the finale, but that might be because it’s lacking a few fun characters who would be helpful. The finale should just stand out in memory more, as far as I’m concerned. Don’t get me wrong, I like the finale and I like the film, but it’s just disappointingly not as character-driven as the previous two films.

Score: 65/100

X2: X-Men United (2003)

X2 ; X-Men UnitedReleased: May 2, 2003. Directed by: Bryan Singer. Starring: Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry. Runtime: 134 min.

Featuring one of the most impressive and compelling opening sequences of the franchise, X2: X-Men United just gets better from there. What a cool way to introduce the Nightcrawler (Alan Cumming), too. It sets up the plot well, as Nightcrawler’s attempted assassination on the President gives William Stryker (Brian Cox) an excuse to infiltrate Xavier’s school to detain and question mutants to get answers. The plot’s smart; and it’s great how Stryker holds a key to Logan’s past. Cerebro, Professor Xavier’s (Patrick Stewart) way to track humans, is introduced as a plot point more-so than the previous installment. This plot device is also a deadly weapon in ways.

William Stryker is an interesting villain played well by Brian Cox. I love the fact that mutants team up to beat Stryker. They set aside differences to unite, thus the title. It’s an enjoyable chemistry with everyone, and I think the characterization for Jean (Famke Janssen’s character) is stronger this time around. I think the relationship with Jean and Logan is great. I like James Mardsen, but some of his reactions near the end are god-awful, in a sort-of hilariously bad way. He’s just a bit over-the-top at the end. 

This film’s visuals are impressive. The cinematography is also beautiful, especially when they’re in the Canadian Rockies. There are a few AWESOME action sequences which make the film really entertaining. The action scenes that are my personal favourites are when the military folks infiltrate Xavier’s school, the opening sequence, and the encounter at Bobby’s house is also awesome. 

I think the third act drags a bit, but it gets back on pace in the great finale. Hugh Jackman has a grounded performance at times, which is nice. I like how this film gives him the first truly raw characterization about his past. Some new mutants are awesome, especially Lady Deathstrike (Kelly Hu), a great opponent for Wolverine. (I really like some poignancy in select moments in their battle.) A mutant named Jason has always creeped me out. His powers and the illusions he can cast give the third act such a dark tone. That’s an aspect of the film that I’ve never been able to bite onto. Still, this is a strong outing that is better than its predecessor.

Score77/100

X-Men (2000)

MV5BMTYxMTEzNTgzM15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMjg1MzAwMQ@@._V1_SY317_CR11,0,214,317_AL_Released: July 14, 2000. Directed by: Bryan Singer. Starring: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen. Runtime: 104 min.

Bryan Singer brings some great direction to the first film in the X-Men franchise. He directs some action scenes with a great intensity. Opening with a great scene for the character of Magneto (the film’s main antagonist), the film grasps attention from the opening frames with some poignant characterization. The film is set in a world full of mutants, humans with superhuman abilities. The mutant gene is the key to our evolution. A prominent theme in the X-Men films is war.

The war is between the humans and the mutants, because mutants will be met with fear, hostility and aggression. Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) believes that humans and mutants can live together in harmony, while the film’s antagonist, Magneto (Ian McKellen) believes that mutants are the future, and not humans. There are very real themes of discrimination brought about in this film, and I think McKellen can take to the character of Magneto (also known as Erik Leshner) so well because he’s a well-known homosexual advocate, and he can channel his love for the minority (mutants in this case) in his performance. The character is also the perfect mindset to portray that humans are scared of what they don’t understand.

A political character in the film, Senator Kelly (Bruce Davis) believes that mutants should have to register, so they can know who they are. He believes that mutants with dangerous abilities could be weapons, which could be unsettling, especially in a school environment. This is a popcorn flick that also has great characterization and a cool, different way that America was supposed to be a land of tolerance, but is not. I think that’s why I enjoy these X-Men films so much, because they bring real world issues and portray them in such a great and unique narrative. I think it’s cool that young mutants can come to Xavier Academy and experience other people other people with powers, and feel like they’re not alone.

Another way this film is strong is that there are memorable action scenes, and this is only sporadically boring. When the action shows up, it’s great – and the finale is memorable. This film sets the tone for the whole franchise, as most deal with the conflict between humans and mutants (excluding Wolverine’s individual outings). Something else that makes this great is the funny banter between characters and the chemistry between them all. Hugh Jackman’s chemistry with Famke Janssen is good this time around, but I really like the chemistry between Jackman (who portrays Wolverine) and Anna Paquin as Rogue.

Wolverine’s powers is a set of retractable claws made of adamantium (which is also what his exoskeleton is made of), and the ability to heal. I like his character, as he is looking for answers about his past, since he has a sort-of amnesia. He has a great introduction. Rogue has an interesting set of powers – whenever she touches someone, she literally takes the life out of them. This mutation is a bit more unfortunate, and it makes her feel even more segregated. She’s the poster child for mutants who want to feel like they belong. She receives great poignancy and development as a character. It makes her someone who is terrified to hurt those who she loves.

Other characters are great, too. Jean is good, even though I like her characterization better in the first sequel. Storm is great, even though her African accent is kind-of annoying – and it’s funny how she doesn’t use it in the second film. As a villain, I think Sabretooth is pretty good. I don’t think Toad is a good villain. He has three lines, and he’s just useless. The mutation is strange, and he’s just silly – especially when he does a little leprechaun dance approaching Storm, and it seems like he’s trying to be menacing but it’s just awful. Mystique, a mutant who can take the shape of anyone she desires, is one of my favourite villains. She’s portrayed by Rebecca Romijn, which adds a lot of sex appeal to the role. She’s great. Whenever she comes on-screen, there’s a cool little tune in the score. The score, great visual effects and funny banter between the cast makes this a memorable super-hero flick.

Score: 70/100

Hide and Seek (2005)

Hide and SeekHide and Seek

Release Date: January 28, 2005

Director: John Polson

Stars: Robert De Niro, Dakota Fanning, Famke Janssen

Runtime: 101 min

Tagline: Come out come out whatever you are

Plot: As a widower tries to piece together his life in the wake of his wife’s suicide, his daughter finds solace — at first — in her imaginary friend.

Hide and Seek is too mediocre to star Robert De Niro, but he and Dakota Fanning make it tolerable. One doesn’t really know if it’s a ghost story or just an eerie stalker story, all we know it’s psychological and it tries very hard to be creepy. The flashback dream sequence that De Niro has often is strange, and the party has a cool production like Titanic and even The Shining. This tries hard to please its audience, so much so it has four alternate endings on its DVD. If you don’t like the original ending, you’ll probably like at least one of the four other ones…

The movie is slightly bland and forgettable and sort of just moves along at a slow pace, and the town-folk are rather strange. Elisabeth Shue’s character doesn’t do much for the story, except make the mysterious imaginary friend called “Charlie” angry, making the little Emily angry, in turn. The movie does get saved by a memorable third act, but everything preceding it, is dark, often creepy, but overall boring. The ending is a good surprise, and the movie keeps you guessing.

There are a few okay scares, especially when lights flash on and off. The performances are just adequate, but the talented actors aren’t utilized well. The thing is, the characters are bland and sort-of uninteresting. They’re so lifeless that they couldn’t even care for a cat they might or might not own. The storytelling doesn’t bother to tell us if the cat is a family pet, if it’s a stray, or if it comes with the house. (I’d rather a pool if anything comes with my new house. I’m allergic to cats.) The cinematography is cool and it’s shot in an interesting fashion. The movie isn’t great and overall, it isn’t memorable; but it is eerie enough to (probably) put me on-edge if I ever play hide-n-go-seek again.

52/100

House on Haunted Hill (1999)

house on haunted hillHouse on Haunted Hill

Release Date: October 29, 1999

Director: William Malone

Stars: Geoffrey Rush, Famke Janssen, Taye Diggs

Runtime: 93 min

Tagline: Evil loves to party

Read this review to the tune of ‘White Christmas’. Enjoy!

I’m dreaming of a good horror movie
Just like the ones I used to know
Where the screenplay shines
and audiences scream in fear
at the scary things on the screen

I’m dreaming of a good horror movie
With at least one released each year (this isn’t it)
May your scares be scary and fresh
And may all your horror movies be fun

I’m dreaming of a good horror movie
With at least one released each year (this isn’t it)
May your scares be scary and fresh
And may all your horror movies be fun

Yeah, so, House on Haunted Hill is a really sloppy remake of an apparently entertaining campy 1959 horror classic. The concept is great, and it really wasted any potential it had. The twists are lame and the dialogue is crappy, and really everything about this isn’t exciting or particularly terrifying. It’s really just strange and irritating. Geoffrey Rush couldn’t even make the best of the rough source material offered to him. In an age where horror movie remakes rule the genre, this isn’t anything special.

40/100