Thursday, April 23, 2015

TV Rundown: April 10 - 15 | Part 2: Death Strikes "Reign" as Ragnar Makes a Bold Move on "Vikings"

Reign | In the fallout of Francis’ illness, Mary seized power to congeal Scotland in fear that if Francis were to die, Catherine would stop the flow of French troops to Scotland or that if Francis lived he would put a stop to it out of revenge for her betrayal. Mary’s guilt was present though diverted by her desire to secure her country. While Conde quickly absolved them of any wrong doing, Catherine dressed Mary down in royal fashion, admonishing her for her culpability in Francis’ illness. There was little in the way of redemptive damage control for the young queen.

Although she showed signs of remorse and by episode’s end seemed determined to not further her betrayal, she refused to take sole accountability for the destruction of her marriage. She even went so far as to say that she wished they could both undo the harm they’d caused each other. What it is she believes Francis is guilty of in any of this, is quite frankly bewildering. Whatever role he played in the events that led to her assault, were completely unintentional. All of the hurt she has caused him has been deliberate. The injured party is apparent and it’s a party of one.  

Side Notes/Burning Questions: Francis lives but for how much longer? It was disturbing that Bash so easily extinguished the life of poor Clarissa, whose fate was horrifyingly tragic. Even creepier was the nurse’s calm demeanor as it happened. “Reign” dug into its supernatural treasure chest and conjured up two saves, can you say episode MVP? Will Claude ever grow up? How does Mary live with herself? Francis keeping his word to protect Scotland further solidified that he is the better person.

Vikings | As has been evidenced over three seasons, the Vikings have a lot of traits that make them ferocious warriors and one of those attributes is persistence. After failing in their first attempt to conquer Paris, they were at again and met with more success than last time. However, they still didn’t manage to defeat the Parisian forces. The battle sequences were incredibly well done; intense, brutal and gripping. Back at base camp, Ragnar was still attempting to overcome his battle injuries and during that struggle, became “born again”. The symbology heavily alluded to Ragnar’s closing request, though it was still quite surprising.

Whether Ragnar’s conversion to Christianity is his ultimate revenge on Floki or a genuine way to stay with his friend in the afterlife remains to be seen. Why Rags would rather spend eternity with his best friend, instead of his already departed daughter and the family members destined to join them is strange. The aftermath of his decision will have repercussions for seasons to come (if he sticks to it). How it is handled in the season finale will be incredibly compelling to watch play out.  

Side Notes/Burning Questions: Where has the wanderer guy who’s been collecting all of this intelligence on different cultures been this whole time? Certainly Ragnar would have been utilizing him similarly. Hopefully he sticks around. He’d be a very interesting character to explore further.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Movie Review | Laggies (2014)

Much has been made about the state of Millennials – the current crop of twenty/thirty-somethings inhabiting the world. For anyone who has decried the Peter Pan generation for their lack of maturity and overall sense of entitlement, “Laggies” does them no favors by furthering the label with a lead character who lives down to the reputation. Megan (Keira Knightley) is a sullen college grad who lives with her boyfriend (Mark Webber), works for her dad (Jeff Garlin) and hangs out with the same group of friends she has had since high school. At first glance, none of these behaviors point to a mean person or one who is particularly struggling. However, she is judged by her peers for her lack of personal and professional progress and has gradually disengaged from everyone around her.

Abruptly forced to face adulthood when her boyfriend proposes and her perspective on her dad is unceremoniously fractured, she makes a break for it. Having arrived at a grocery store, she agrees to buy a case of beer for a group of teenagers and then heads out with them to imbibe and forget her troubles for the evening. This short jaunt back into adolescence proves to be, not so short lived. After returning home and solidifying plans to marry her boyfriend, she lies about taking a last minute self-help retreat before eloping. In reality, she winds up bunking with Annika (Chloe Grace Moretz) the teenage girl she befriended the night before and the girl’s single dad.

Cue a very awkward coming of adulthood dramedy. In a blind helping the blind scenario, Megan becomes a de facto quasi-mentor to the rebellious “older than her years” Annika. As a role model, young Annika couldn’t do much worse. Megan is a compulsive liar who hasn’t matured past the juvenile antics of a 13 year old. Instead of the film scoffing at her behavior, it celebrates it. Other characters are smitten with her lack of integrity and her contribution to the delinquency of a youth. Even Annika’s put upon single father (a wasted Sam Rockwell) is quickly cast under her spell. A rushed and hard to swallow romance with Megan ensues and despite the film’s best attempt to get one to invest in their burgeoning relationship, it is all presented taking place within about three scenes and most of that “bonding” occurs when they’re inebriated, so all things considered their connection is staggeringly shallow.

When she begins the film, Megan’s conduct is a victimless affront. As the story develops that takes a turn, when it becomes clear she is doing all the wrong things for all the wrong reasons. At some point, you wonder if her lies will ever catch up with her and whether they’re will be any consequences. She aids and abets Annika and her friends drinking underage, which the movie winks at and encourages Annika to deceive her father, actively undermining their relationship. As much as the film wants to be a comedy, none of this behavior is funny. While comedies are often set around a comedy of errors, “Laggies” never acts like its characters have done anything wrong; glorifying a woman-child whose motives are solely founded in self-interest. As a result, it lacks the redemptive quality of Lynn Shelton’s charming “My Sister’s Sister”, in which characters make poor decisions and face the music for them. A key component “Laggies” misses entirely.

Keira Knightley gives a natural performance, punctuating it with a relatable sensibility. Co-star Chloe Grace Moretz pulls off one of her best performances to date, coming across far more animated than in recent roles. Kaitlyn Dever, who wowed in the 2013 indie drama “Short Term 12”, proves to be a scene stealer as Annika’s perky best friend. Why someone with her talent is still playing best friend roles is anyone’s guess.

Sharing a story structure heavily akin to a Hallmark Chanel movie, “Laggies” doesn’t deliver the likable characters the crown network often does. However, the core formula remains the same. The lead character is headed down one track with their introductory love interest, when they meet the real love they’ve been looking for. With 10 minutes of the movie left, a deception is revealed that threatens to ruin everything, leaving the viewers to fret over whether it will all work out. In the case of “Laggies”, caring what becomes of these vapid souls isn’t worth the anxiety. Rating: 5/10

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

TV Rundown: April 10 - 15 | Part 1: Felicity & Ray Visit "The Flash", "Arrow" Says a Goodbye & Chaos Ravages "Bates Motel"

The Flash | Felicity and Ray headed over to Central City for an “Arrow” crossover and to get some help with the A.T.O.M. suit from the geniuses at Star Labs and the results were pretty stellar. Ray and Cisco hit it off, as hilarious double entendres and brainy banter abounded. Ray, like Felicity, gels incredibly well with the energy of “The Flash”, which is a more lighthearted, upbeat and enthusiastic series. If the A.T.O.M. spin-off doesn’t get picked up, the CW might be better served crossing Ray Palmer over to “The Flash” full-time as opposed to having him return to “Arrow”. The same could be said of Felicity. “All Star Team Up” as a whole was engaging, well paced and comical in all of the right areas.

On the romantic front, Iris and Eddie continued to struggle amid his newly kept secret. Eddie is apparently very transparent because Iris has zoned right in on the fact that he’s hiding something from her, while she cannot sense that her father or Barry is. The ultimatum that she laid down at the end of the episode might soon spell the e-n-d for the once nascent duo. Meanwhile, the awkward 5-way dinner was Barry’s breaking point as the stress of knowing Dr. Wells true self, proved torturous.  

Side Notes/Burning Questions: Ray and Cisco were TV’s best new buds, last week. How can Cisco remember Dr. Wells’ killing him, if it did not happen in the current timeline? His mind should be just as wiped as everyone else’s. When did this episode take place in terms of the “Arrow” timeline? When we left off with Felicity and Ray prior to the hiatus, their relationship seemed to be in limbo and all hell was breaking loose in Starling City. They wouldn’t jet off at a time like that.

Arrow | Team Arrow said goodbye to one of their own; Roy Harper. The resulting farewell played out with a few surprising twists and turns, though the result remained the same. Personally speaking, Roy never really fit in with the team. No matter how many attempts were made to reboot the character, whether he was the cocky street kid, the heart of gold rascal, the drugged up superhero or the kick-ass normal guy; none of it really worked. Similar to Laurel, finding a definitive characterization for Roy has been a difficulty the series has had since his introduction. With the door closed on him for now, his absence should give Team Arrow some much needed breathing room and allow the writers to focus more on the characters on the canvas who do work. 

Now to the episode’s big cliffhanger, Thea was left for dead after a brutal altercation with Ra’s Al Ghul. According to the previews, it appears that a Lazarus pool might be what brings her back from the underworld. “Arrow” has always been a show heavily based in the gritty “real world”, so its fling into the supernatural seems a bit out of character. Obviously the show has hinted that Ra’s is a never aging, immortal and the only way that would be feasible is if he’s a supernatural entity or the product of one’s interference. Any hope that the show will side on a scientific explanation are dimming exponentially.  

Side Notes/Burning Questions: Oliver couldn’t even give Roy a goodbye hug? How emotionally crippled is he? Why can’t Thea know that Roy’s alive? Why is Felicity still giving Oliver longing looks? If she breaks Ray’s heart, that will be a tough thing for her to come back from.

Bates Motel | For the past 3 weeks "Bates Motel" has been delivering the most riveting television of the year and they didn't let up on the streak with last week's installment, "Norma Louise". As the title suggests, the episode centered on Norma and the aftermath of her having left town, attempting to shake off her identity. In light of her absence there was a giant vacuum on the home front and Norman came unglued over his mother's departure. Dylan and Emma worked together in their attempt to manage the situation as Norman plunged to the utter depths of his illness. Meanwhile, Sheriff Romero was shot and after a confrontation with his rival, managed to rally out of his hospital bed and dispatch of his nemesis.

As Norma headed back home, she stopped off at the residence of the hipster professor who's been pursuing her. After sharing her dire fears for Norman's mental health, they shared a tryst and Norma explained she was headed back to her sons. In a wildly accurate monologue to explain her decision, she used the story of the giving tree as a metaphor for parenthood, offering the best quote of the week: "Parents do not have needs. You ever read the book "The Giving Tree"? It's about a tree, and this kid keeps coming and taking stuff from it his whole life, until there's nothing left but a stump. And then the kid sits on the stump. That's being a parent.”

Surprising her sons with her return, she agreed to fulfill their wishes and meet with her brother. Their reunion would be the most powerful scene of the episode. A hyped up Norma pounding on her estranged brother's bus doors until Caleb answered. The flash in Vera Farmiga and Kenny Johnson’s eyes conveyed it all. All of the history, the hurt, the pain, the heartache; melted away with only this sad connection left between them. It was a moment two seasons in the making and Farmiga and Johnson made it a remarkable one. Another episode packed to the gills with action, drama, slight comedy, brilliant monologues and phenomenal performances.  

Side Notes: Sheriff Romero's first call after regaining consciousness was to Norma. Can you say soul mates? Dylan and Emma bonded and it seemed as though Emma might be figuring out that she's been falling for the wrong Bates brother.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Movie Review | Whiplash (2014)

Blood, sweat and tears punctuate a dizzying tale of ambitious pursuit amidst enduring turmoil. Andrew Neimann (Miles Teller) is an aspiring jazz drummer at a New York music conservatory, when he converges with caustic instructor, Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons). Neimann is an eager pupil ready to be the greatest and Fletcher is determined to whip him into shape or so it might appear at first glance.

From the film’s opening moments, director Damien Chazelle hones in on the two figures who will come to dominate the screen for the nearly two hours to come. While their demeanors couldn’t be more strikingly dissimilar, a closer glimpse reveals a shared strand of traits. They’re both perfectionists with loads of confidence, unwavering ego and relentless ambition. Some could argue they’re different sides of the same coin, only separated by a generation gap.

Chazelle makes it clear from the outset that this isn’t a heartwarming tale of the young hot shot softening the heart of the hardnosed teacher. At times played as a cat-and-mouse thriller and other times a laser-focused meditation on what drives people to seek fame or more to the point, infamy; “Whiplash” is a character study first and foremost. Is it Neimann’s abandonment by his mother that has elicited his desire to be a great or was it the catalyst to an already latent desire that had existed within him from inception? That is one of the lesser explored questions explored here.

As nuanced and natural as the film appears, it pushes credulity at times. The idea that a tyrannical teacher as abusive as Fletcher would be left to his own devices within a music school, borders on preposterous, especially given the era it takes place. In the 2010’s a perturbed student could easily use his cell phone as a recording device and put Fletcher out of business within the time it takes to press “send”.

In the second act, Chazzelle veers the film readily off course with a melodramatic plot twist that exaggerates the proceedings past believability. It’s so heavy handed that it shatters the realism Chazzelle had worked so hard to produce leading up to it. In the realm of the dramatic student/teacher genre, “Whiplash” shares a lot in common with its predecessors. The obsessive nature of the protagonist in “Shine”, the determined student and plot denouement of “Center Stage” and the acidic dynamic between master and pupil in “Paper Chase”. While this genre is prone to the same formulaic trappings that any other genre faces, “Whiplash” diverges from the typical heroic student trope to deliver a lead character that is not all that likable. Andrew is cavalier; insensitive to the feelings of others, solely focused on his own goals and not concerned with how his vision affects others. One could make a strong case that he is afflicted with Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

Stars Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons lead this intense two-hander with masterful depth. Teller makes Neimann watchable, a task that in lesser hands would’ve been impossible. He puts his charm and bravado to good use, bringing a dimension to Andrew that elevates him past a one-note Millennial music snob with an ego problem. Teller plays Neimann’s drive with a vulnerable go-for-broke sincerity that makes one feel for him, even when Neimann hasn’t earned the empathy. 

J.K. Simmons is spellbinding yet again as the blistering Terence Fletcher, a character very similar to his breakout role as J. Jonah Jameson in the “Spider-Man” franchise. As Fletcher, Simmons is electric; a human scorpion stinging and eviscerating anyone who gets in his way. Simmons brings a subtle humanity to the role that makes Fletcher breath with plausibility, an impressive feat. Simmons is one of the best supporting actors to ever grace the screen and his awards wins for his work here, were well deserved. 

While Paul Reiser is given little to do, he sells what he is given and the underdeveloped father/son bond could’ve used a little more focus. There seems to be an entire film nestled in their dynamic alone. Superb direction from Damien Chazzelle charges the film with a kinetic energy as his whip pans create a third person narrative on an otherwise claustrophobic, first person account. Entertaining, it moves at a brisk pace that hits the crucial notes along the away. Jazz music with its lingering tempo serves the film with its non-stop momentum. At the core, it is the stellar performances and riveting direction that pushes “Whiplash” to levels of greatness. Rating: 7.5/10

Thursday, April 16, 2015

TV Rundown: Special Edition: Hiatus Refresher | The Blacklist

Major Episode Developments: Red recruited Vanessa Cruz (the misunderstood villain-of-the-week) for his personal Suicide Squad-type initiative, Tom revealed to Liz that he was hired by Red to infiltrate her life and in an amazing save; Dembe pulled a wounded Red to safety and retrieved “The Fulcrum” at the same time. 

The Cliffhanger: Red was gravely wounded by a sniper, just as Liz had given him “The Fulcrum” and swore him off again.

The Rundown: Why didn’t Liz want to know Red’s motives for hiring Tom before she blew him off? Her questions surrounding her estranged husband have been the ones plaguing her the most and Red seemed willing to explain. Instead she furiously dismissed him. Unlike what had been teased in the promo for the episode, the Tom vs. Red showdown hardly took place. Their standoff lasted .5 seconds in Liz’s doorway and Tom left without incident. It was a disappointing resolution to a highly anticipated face off between the two. Liz’s complicated feelings for the two duplicitous men in her life has been an essential ingredient to the series and having Tom back on the show has livened up the season’s energy exponentially. However just as things seemed to be making progress on that front, he seemed poised for an indefinite exit. 

Exploring the man behind the fa├žade and learning whether any of his feelings for Liz were genuine has been fun terrain to get into. Quite frankly, the show hasn’t been as good without him on it. Liz’s depression is directly linked to the lack of Tom and this audience member feels her pain. Exploring whether Liz can love him for who he really is, would be a highly compelling central story arc moving forward.

The Potential Outcome: There’s zero doubt Red will survive his injuries. He is the main character of the show. The effect it has on Liz and whether or not he’ll finally come clean about the origin of their relationship is the only game changer, possibly on the horizon. Should he require a medical intervention that only a blood relative could provide, Liz might finally get the answers she (and viewers) have been waiting for.

Photo: (Twitter/"The Blacklist" Official Page)

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

TV Rundown: Special Edition: Hiatus Refresher | Reign

Major Episode Developments: Mary sealed her betrayal of Francis by sleeping with Conde, Catherine learned of her daughter-in-law’s affair, Francis’ emotional turmoil manifested in a physical ailment, Bash was brutally injured and Leith worked to have Greer’s marriage annulled so they could wed.

The Cliffhanger: Francis collapsed, bleeding from his ears, as was foreseen in Nostradamus’ lethal prophecy. 

The Rundown: Mary’s character has been taken to the bounds of redemption. When she cheated on Francis she murmured about this being her “choice”. Wasn’t it her choice when she chose to be with Francis? How is being with Conde a sign of independent strength? Her behavior has become so flagrantly irrational that it speaks to an unsound mind, along the lines of Catherine’s spell earlier in the season. If the thought of Francis’ impending doom isn’t enough to jolt her to reality and she doesn’t so much as offer him an apology for her betrayal, her remaining virtue will be in tatters. If Francis dies she played a role in exacerbating the condition that led to his demise. Her root-ability factor has already been severely damaged and without a strong show of remorse, her place as a heroine will have a dark shadow cast over it, from here out.

The Potential Outcome: “Reign” is in a bind when it comes to the fate of Francis. As a historical drama, they are bound to a certain level of accuracy, though they’ve played rather liberally with the historical record so far. In real life, Francis died at the age of 16 (an age he’s already well surpassed on the series). As a result of his untimely death; he was only king for a year. In the series’ mythos they’ve been dangling his fate as a part of the integral prophecy plot during the first season. 

The chances of the series going through with his death at this particular juncture are iffy. Francis and his portrayer Toby Regbo are fan favorites to the nth degree. Parting with him sooner than is necessary could throw a series that is already juggling a potential shake-up, into premature fan upheaval. There seems to be two schools of thought coming into Thursday’s episode. The first is that Francis will parish in the upcoming episode and the other is that he will die in the season finale. Unfortunately, history dictates an inevitably sad end for the king will have to play out at some point. The latter timetable would grant “Reign” the time necessary for a believable Frary reunion, thus rehabbing a lead heroine in desperate need of redemption and give fans a little longer with a very popular tent pole of the series.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

TV Rundown: Special Edition: Hiatus Refresher | Arrow

Major Episode Developments: The Arrow was “unmasked”, Ray took an arrow for Felicity, Mama Smoak returned, Roy made a sacrifice and Captain Lance was on the warpath.

The Cliffhanger: In a “Tale of Two Cities” switch-up, Roy claimed that he was the vigilante, not Oliver. In the romantic suspense portion of the series, Ray proclaimed his love to a non-reciprocating Felicity, who confided to her mom that she was still in love with her former employer and jaded arrow slinger, Oliver.

The Rundown: It is the highly debated love triangle that has served as the romantic backbone of the season. Will Felicity choose Ray; the funny, emotionally available and sophisticated genius who runs an international tech conglomerate or Oliver; the angsty crime fighter trying to save his city? Based on the aforementioned breakdown, you might be able to tell which way I’m leaning. As a huge Olicity fan in the past, their romantic arc has felt a bit rushed this year. After their relationship was sent into overdrive at the beginning of the season, the breaks came on just as fast and Oliver's feelings for Felicity seemed to develop overnight after a long period of him acting rather ambivalent towards her. 

The sudsy push and pull aside, there’s no substantive reason that Felicity should prefer Oliver over Ray. It’s not just the fact she has more in common with Ray, it’s that he took a speeding arrow for her. He proved he’s a bonafide hero; willing to lose his life to save hers. What more does a girl need to know? While Oliver has saved her many times, he hasn’t directly laid his life in front of hers to do so and suffered the consequences (that I can remember). Ray didn’t need big theatrics or an armoured costume to perform a simple gesture that spoke volumes - he loves her.

The Potential Outcome: It seems likely that Roy taking the fall for Oliver could stick. He’s been riddled with guilt over killing a police officer in last season's finale and he’s looking to atone. As a character, Roy has brought little to the table and with him leaving the canvas alive, it would serve to reason that he could once again resurface down the line. It’s a way for the already crowded Team Arrow to get some breathing room and a chance for the team to suffer some repercussions that could ignite future story. Whether it dulls down Captain Lance’s ridiculous grudge against Oliver for Sara’s death could prove a collateral upside. Though one would hope he actually comes to realize how off track he is, without needing a false scapegoat.