Archive for category Reviews
For a long time, especially throughout the sixties and seventies, westerns ruled the roost in the cineplexes. But as the blockbuster slowly took over and science fiction finally found a strong footing in people’s wallets, the western eroded into a forgotten medium that occasionally rears its head to peek in on what’s happening around them, sometimes to great critical acclaim (Tombstone, Unforgiven, Open Range), other times in blink-and-you’ll-miss-it fashion (The Quick and the Dead, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Cowboys and Aliens) and tepid remakes (3:10 To Yuma, True Grit, The Magnificent Seven).
In that time, the western also evolved; it was no longer just your typical men on horseback in the dusty old west anymore. We now had what’s known as the modern western, which took the style and themes of the old and paired them in an era full of cars and modern technology (Hell or High Water). Two films went wide this week that convey both sides of the western coin: The Sisters Brothers, reveling in the harsh realities of a time when uncivilized gunslingers are starting to fade into the civility of the modern world; and The Old Man and the Gun, meditating on a modern bank robber who reminisces of days gone by, but is just as happy with the respect he provides his victims. Read Full Review
Earlier this year, Hotel Artemis, a film with a big name cast gathering inside a hotel for various reasons, was released. It didn’t last long in theaters, and it’s not hard to understand why: the film couldn’t figure out what it wanted to be as the majority of the cast sailed through their usual schtick without much passion behind it. None of the characters were all that likable, mostly because, aside from the Doctor (Jodie Foster), we never really got to know any of them outside of their overt personalities, so their choices didn’t give us anything to identify with or hold onto. Fast forward a few months to Bad Times at the El Royale, another film with an all-star cast about a group of strangers coming together at a hotel for their own nefarious purposes. The similarities end there, as El Royale turns out to be what Hotel Artemis was hoping to be. Read Full Review
For a long time, I never thought of Lady Gaga as anything but an act. By this I mean, she was all gimmick, no substance, more focused on the persona she presented than with the music she performed. Although her music was fine, her shtick so far overwhelmed it, I always felt she was covering for a lack of vocal talent. Then in 2015, she appeared completely stripped down (no weird outfits or heavy makeup) at the Oscars to sing a beautiful rendition of “The Sound of Music.” It was clear she was an extremely talented vocalist, and it made me wonder why she’d spent so much time hiding behind a mask. A Star Is Born, the newest remake of the film made famous by Barbara Streisand (which itself was a remake), in some ways mirror’s Lady Gaga’s rise to fame and how she may have felt when she herself was coming up in an industry obsessed with appearance. Read Full Review
Pixar has dominated the animation stage for so long now, sometimes we forget there are other animation studios that have delivered some exceptional animated films as well (though the majority of them do tend to run their brands into the ground with too many unnecessary sequels and spinoffs). Sony Animation has produced several fun films, Dreamworks Animation has delivered a couple of standouts, and of course, we all know Disney Animation’s history. Then there’s Warner Brothers Animation, who, outside of their DC, LEGO and Hannah-Barbara brands, hasn’t delivered a whole lot in terms of winning products. So it was interesting to see them step out of their comfort zone once again (after 2016’s Storks, which did impress me quite a bit!) to produce a film that resembled something you might expect from a studio like Blue Sky. I can’t say that Smallfoot is full of laugh-out-loud moments, but it does have a strong, tender narrative that keeps it from sinking into the ice. Read Full Review
When grading films, books or any other type of entertainment, there are a lot of factors I take into account — acting, writing, editing, character development, cinematography, direction, pace and overall entertainment factor, among others. This is why I very rarely give anything an F, as there is almost always some redeemable qualities that keep it from being a complete disaster. It’s also why I’ve never walked out of a movie; no matter how bad it is, there’s always a chance the film will redeem itself in some way. Within the first minutes of Assassination Nation, the new sociopolitical mind rape that just hit theaters, I was sickened and completely disengaged; an F was certainly on the horizon as I bordered that fine line between holding true and walking out. As the movie progressed, so too did my tolerance to the point where it was clear there could have been a good, meaningful film somewhere hidden under the grotesque masks of sadism. Read Full Review
Most Surprising Death: Nick (Frank Dillane), Fear the Walking Dead
As always, there were plenty of shocking deaths this past season: Klaus and Elijah Mikaelson (The Originals), Charlotte (Lucifer), Clayton (NCIS), Rufus (Timeless), Quentin Lance (Arrow), Roman (Blindspot), Fitz (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), Mia (Humans), Alison (The Affair), poor little Ferguson (New Girl), and of course the bloodbath that is The Walking Dead (which has never been shy about killing characters. Corl. CORL!). However, The Walking Dead‘s sister show, Fear the Walking Dead, has always been more hesitant when it came to killing its core players, so it was a real shock to the system when Nick (Frank Dillane) was suddenly shot in the 3rd episode of season 4. Not only was it a complete surprise, but it was so unceremoniously produced. One moment he’s reflecting on the (at the time, possible) death of his mother (Kim Dickens) and then bang. Gone. After surviving so much — walking with walkers; a complete bridge collapse — Nick is shot by a fourteen-year-old girl (Alexa Nisenson) avenging the death of a man who all but brainwashed her. It just goes to show, you never know when your time is up, so always make the most of the time you have.
Sad to See You Go Award: Lucifer (Lucifer, Preacher, Supernatural)
It may be surprising that there were even this many representations of the King of Hell on television, but we lost not one but three Lucifer’s this season, and each one hurt just a little. First in line was Supernatural‘s Lucifer, who was obliterated by Jack (Alexander Calvert). As portrayed by the always awesome Mark Pellegrino, this version was a remarkable character — fun, goofy, sarcastic and menacing all at the same time. Then there was Preacher‘s version of Satan (Jason Douglas), who, after sending out his troops to bring Eugene (Ian Colletti) and Hitler (Noah Taylor) back to where they belong, as well as collect Tulip (Ruth Negga) to help secure Jesse’s (Dominic Cooper) soul, was shot dead at point blank range by the Saint of Killers (Graham McTavish), who then left Hell in the capable hands of Adolf Hitler. Finally, there was the announcement that Lucifer was canceled by FOX, and the thought of not being able to see Tom Ellis’s suave Lucifer hoof it through Los Angeles solving crimes with detective Decker (Lauren German) any longer was sad to say the least. Praise be to the heavens that Lucifer was picked up by Netflix, so at least there’s some saving grace in witnessing the ultimate villain perish multiple times in one year.
Most Promising Career Potential: Harper Grace
She may not have made the top 24 on American Idol, but Harper Grace shouldn’t worry. When she first appeared at her audition, she brought with her a charm that sold me on her original song, “Yard Sale”. What could have been a corny little ditty became a clever tune with just the right touch of heart and whimsy. Her touch at writing was good, but it wasn’t until Hollywood week that she proved her talent wasn’t a fluke, when she sang another original song, “Rest In Peace” — a creative, soulful break-up song that if I had heard it on the radio, I never would have believed it was written by a sixteen year-old ingenue. It wasn’t her time this year, but look for Harper to have a long career, if not as a singer, than as a fantastic writer.
Welcome Back Award: Michael J. Fox, Designated Survivor
Michael J. Fox has made guest appearances on several shows over the last few years, but it never felt like he was truly back in the acting game since first being diagnosed with Parkinson’s. That feeling ended with his terrific, if not brief stint on Designated Survivor. As Ethan West, the special council investigating President Kirkman’s (Kiefer Sutherland) involvement in several circumstances that may have ended his run as President, Fox was a natural fit, attacking those around him with his blunt fervor, yet doing so from a place of integrity. I’m not sure whether Fox will continue on in the series after its recent cancellation and last-hour pick-up by Netflix, but I hope he does because he brought life back to a season that was starting to feel a bit stale and worn.
Most Morbid Game: Worst Case Scenario, This Is Us
In the season 2 finale of This Is Us, Randall and his wife Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) play a game in which they tell each other their worst fears on a topic to get their thoughts out into the open. It’s introduced as they try to cope with Déjà’s (Lyric Ross) seclusion after moving back into the home because her real mother told a court she wanted to give away all of her parental rights. Reasonable way to address your fears, no? We don’t find out how seriously morbid the game can get until Randall teaches Kevin (Justin Hartley) the game as they hunt for a missing Kate (Chrissy Metz) on the day of her wedding. After coming up with a seriously twisted idea in which Kate disappears and Toby dies from a heart-attack because of it, the facial expression on Kevin’s face is priceless. And so are the nervous laughs produced by such a morbid way of thinking. (Admit it; we all do it!)
Most Honest Critic: The auditioner’s dog, American Idol
Let this be a lesson to you: never bring your dog with you to an audition. During American Idol‘s new round of auditions, one of the contestants brought their dog into the room with them. Innocent enough, until the dog started going to the bathroom every time her owner started singing. I’m not sure how much of it was editing and how much of it was real, but the point is, it was hilarious and said everything we needed to know about the poor girl’s audition. It was, well, you fill in the blank.
Worst Special Effects: Ghost Wars
I couldn’t bear to watch more than one episode of Ghost Wars. Not because the acting wasn’t good (some of it was… some of it… meh), or the plot wasn’t somewhat intriguing (perhaps a bit of a rehash of other supernatural shows). No, the reason I couldn’t get past the first episode was the somber tone and the laughable special effects. Don’t get me wrong, some of the corporeal effects were fine, but everything else, including a bus dropping over a cliff into a fiery death made me feel like I was watching something out of the Sharknado playbook as opposed to a serious supernatural drama.
Oddest Big-Boss Battle: Beebo fights Mallus, Legends of Tomorrow
We’ve all come to love the weird and strange things that happen to the Legends of Tomorrow every week, but no one could have expected to see a giant, thirty-foot tall Beebo jump into action against the evil the Legends had been worried about all season long. In the third season finale, the team finally figures out how to fight Mallus (voiced by John Noble) and combine their elemental medals together to become one ultimate life force of joy, which ends up being the toy first introduced in an earlier episode (and also appeared on The Flash!). Watching this gargantuan, fuzzy blue bear fight and ultimately destroy Mallus was not only weird, but oddly fun and glorious, the perfect representation of what this show is — and that its not afraid to go big, no matter how off the wall it might get.
Weirdest Ingredient Choice: MasterChef
The most recent season of MasteChef got off to an interesting start when the contestants’ first mystery box challenge included ingredients representing each participant’s state. Florida got to cook with oranges; Wisconsin, cheese; Iowa, corn; Texas, steak; and California… spot prawns? As the contestants were cooking, one of the chefs was confused at why the California contestant, S.J., was cooking a Louisiana-style dish. I wasn’t. Spot prawns would have been a much better ingredient for someone from Louisiana. But from California? Anyone I know probably would have said avocados, or maybe even wine as the best ingredient to represent California. If they wanted a true Californian dish, that’s what they should have given this contestant. Weird.
Most Satisfying Conclusion: 12 Monkeys
When it was announced that the terrifically mind-bending film 12 Monkeys was going to be turned into a television series, I thought the studio execs had lost their minds. How could they possibly top such a classic piece of science-fiction? Then the show premiered, and all of my fears were laid to rest. The entire cast was a tremendous blend of personalities, matching the intricacies of the original cast while making the characters and the story their own. As the show deepened its mythology, weaving its own intricate story together, it grew more and more intriguing to the point I was disappointed to see it end. Thankfully, the producers took great care to make sure they used the final 11 episodes to perfectly untangle the web they had created. I can’t say I was totally on board with the final addition to the puzzle, but it didn’t matter. The moment James Cole (Aaron Stanford) was reunited with Dr. Cassandra Railly (Amanda Schull) was a terrific way to say farewell to such a perfectly executed series.
And with that, we close out the 2017-2018 television season. Come back next year for more television chaos!
Now that we’ve gotten through some traditional awards (check out Part 1), we begin the awards for specialty categories, starting with ones geared more toward the writing side of things.
Best Twist: The Exorcist
I don’t know about you, but I did not see this coming. Throughout the first five episodes of The Exorcist‘s second season, we got to know a handful of foster kids with individual personalities and troubles. One of those kids, Grace (Amélie Eve) was a shy, agoraphobic little girl afraid to step outside or meet new people. Her safety net was the love for her foster father, Andrew Kim (John Cho), as well as the potato sack she wore over her face to feel protected. At no point would I have ever thought this little girl was a figment of Andrew’s imagination. Perhaps it was the distraction the show gave us by keeping the priests’ story line separate for the first few episodes. As we all wondered when, how and why the two stories would come together, we forgot to notice that no one but Andrew ever actually communicated with Grace. The producers set this reveal up perfectly and makes you wonder… was M. Night Shyamalan somehow involved?
Most Poetic Story Arc: Niska (Emily Berrington), Humans
For three seasons, Niska, one of David Elster’s (Stephen Boxer) original sentient AIs, has been almost completely disconnected from the main story lines. Yeah, her stories occasionally weaved in and out of the overall arcs, but she was always an outsider, someone who wanted to be human, to fit in and be judged not because of what she was, but who she was. So it is very poetic that as Mia’s (Gemma Chan) journey comes to a devastating but necessary close, Niska’s journey has just begun. Once disconnected from everything, Niska has now literally become connected to everything (love those new purple eyes!), and is the key to leading Mattie (Lucy Carless) and her new hybrid offspring (who better be named Mia, or so help me…) into a brave new world.
Biggest Bombshell: The Blacklist
Ever since the first season of the series, producers of The Blacklist were adamant that Raymond Reddington (James Spader) was not Elizabeth Keen’s (Megan Boone) father. So it was a little disheartening to learn last season that, lo and behold, he actually was. There was always the lingering question as to whether Reddington somehow altered the DNA test results, and one big reason for this was the season-long mystery of what was in the duffel bag Reddington was hell bent on keeping secret. In the final moments of the season finale, we finally learned the truth — Reddington is in fact Liz’s father, however, the man we’ve come to know as Raymond Reddington is a complete fraud. It turns out the contents of the duffel bag belong to the real Raymond Reddington, so now the question is, why was he killed? And what reasons did the fake Reddington have to assume his identity? We’ll just have to wait for next season to find out.
Oddest Refocus: Kevin Can Wait
In what has to be the most blatant attempt at recapturing the magic from a previous show without rebooting that particular show, producers on Kevin Can Wait decided to dump female lead Erinn Hayes and hire Leah Remini as a full time member of the cast. How did they handle the situation? By killing Kevin’s wife without ever explaining what happened and then forcing Vanessa (Remini) into Kevin’s family as if she had been part of their lives forever. I never watched King of Queens, and there was a reason for that… I never cared for the chemistry between Kevin James and Remini; and based on this new iteration, I don’t think I ever will. Kevin Can Wait was never the best show on television, nor was it the best comedy — most of it was all rehashed and convoluted — but at least it had a spark that kept me interested. That spark fizzled with the change in focus to Kevin and Vanessa’s relationship and their new business venture. All I can say is, I’m not surprised the show was finally put out of its misery, giving Hayes the last laugh.
Most Heartbreaking Moment: This Is Us
You’d probably expect the most heartbreaking moment of the season to come from a show like This Is Us. But in a season of many heartbreaking moments, one stood out as being the most devastating, and no, it wasn’t Kate (Chrissy Metz) losing the baby. After Kevin (Justin Hartley) is injured on the set of his newest movie (and being triggered back to memories of his dad), he starts spinning out of control, leading to a deep depression where he’s all but drowning his feelings in alcohol. While doing so, he manages to ruin another relationship and have a one-night stand with an old high school friend. When he leaves this drunken fling in the middle of the night, he realizes he’s left the necklace his dad gave him behind and goes back to retrieve it. Cue the most powerful breakdown of the season. Because the woman is so angry with him for leaving, she refuses to give it back, leaving Kevin to hit rock bottom and wallow in her front lawn. Hartley did a terrific job building to this moment throughout the season, and as he sinks ever lower, screaming for someone to help him, you feel the devastation burrowing into your bones and can’t help but want to do just that.
Nice Try Award: Rise
In one of the closing moments of the final episode of Rise, Josh Radnor’s character’s son tells him that, “What you did here was amazing.” In regards to the final episode, this sentiment couldn’t ring truer. The episode that showcased the performance of the controversial play “Spring Awakening” was magnetic, heartbreaking, inspiring and full of passion. It’s a shame the rest of the series was so uninspired. Trying to capture the same dramatic magic of This Is Us, with the grit of Friday Night Lights, Rise came off as pandering to as many different groups as it could think of instead of being honest with itself. If the producers really wanted to make a mark, they would have taken a page from the play it was promoting by breaking the rules of convention. Instead it played it safe, and that is ultimately why it failed to gain the notoriety it so desperately desired.
This season’s most noticeable trend: Bad Military Dramas
With the success of TNT’s The Last Ship and History’s SIX, it was only a matter of time before the networks jumped on the bandwagon to produce their own hit military dramas. This season attempted to ignite that trend with three offerings that all felt basically the same without any clear distinction between them (which is probably why only one of them is returning). NBC kicked things off with The Brave, a contrived series that desperately tried to push a sense of tension, but failed to deliver because of its phony characters and lack of consistent story line (note to showrunners: when you set up an intriguing moment in the last minute of your first episode and then abandon that thread in the second episode with a throwaway line, it’s not a good sign that you’re ready to commit); CBS then brought us Seal Team, a bland attempt at showing us the ins-and-outs of what makes the Navy Seals tick. With drab, boring characters that had weak chemistry puttering about in a monotonous tone, I almost fell asleep waiting for something exciting to happen; and finally the CW tried to ignite a new arm for itself with Valor, a show that screamed CW all over the place, but couldn’t quite find the right balance between military intrigue and the lovers quarrel.
Best Christmas/Homage Episode: Lethal Weapon
I was quite disappointed with Lethal Weapon‘s first season Christmas episode when no one drive a car through Murtaugh’s living room. Well, the show made up for that this year, as producers finally paid homage to the film in some very fun ways. The story beats and circumstances are much different, but you could feel the vibe of that original film throughout the entire episode. Not only does Riggs drive his truck through Murtaugh’s living room, but the episode started with “Jingle Bell Rock” playing over the first scene. We got to see Riggs in a Christmas tree lot, as well as a twist on Riggs jumping off a building that not only moves the character arc forward, but makes fun of both the film and the series up to this point. To finish it off, the show also sent some love to another classic eighties cop series, Beverly Hills Cop, when Murtaugh goes into a strip club that just happens to be playing Vanity 6’s “Nasty Girl.” Good job, Lethal Weapon. Let’s hope next year, you wont receive a Chaos award for the wrong reasons.
Weirdest Shout Out: Superstition
There are a lot of shows — mostly spinoffs — that make call-outs to their sister shows to not only give their worlds depth, but remind people about where they came from. Sometimes, call-outs to other shows can go a little meta, as with Supernatural‘s fun shout-out to ex-cast member Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s affinity for a barbed wire bat. What you don’t see very often (if at all) is a call-out to a show that doesn’t have any relationship to that particular show. In Superstition‘s first episode, Mario Van Peebles’ character is about to go out on a hunt for some supernatural being. After his son (Brad James) pulls the car around, Peebles opens the trunk and asks him, “You have an arsenal back here like Sam and Dean?” The reference came so out of left field, I had to rewind to make sure I heard what I heard. As far as I know, no character on the show has any relationship to the hunter brothers, and at no time were they ever connected to Supernatural, so why this reference would randomly pop up is beyond me. Does this signify that the producers of Superstition were hoping one day the worlds would collide, or was it just a lame attempt to associate itself with a much better show that this one tried to mimic to no avail? Based on the first episode, I’m guessing the latter.
Nice Recovery Award: Mr. Robot
After the incredible 1st season of Mr. Robot blew us away with its mystery of who Mr. Robot (Christian Slater) was and his relationship with Elliot (Rami Malek),the show went into a major sophomore slump, wherein I was almost ready to give up on the show. It had lost a lot of its first season edge and didn’t seem to know what it wanted to be anymore. Even the first few episodes of the third season dragged a bit as it tried to clean up its second season mess. But half-way through the season, it finally started to once again find its voice, culminating in one of its best episodes to date. As Elliot tries to stop the Black Army from executing its plan, we follow the action in what appeared to be a single shot during a hectic forty-five minutes that played so well — with great intensity and a pace that never let up — it reaffirmed why so many fans loved Mr. Robot in the first place.
Jump to the final round of awards for the 2017-2018 season, including the most surprising death, the most promising career potential and the most morbid game.
Every year I release my awards for the best of the television season. With the Emmy Awards on Monday, I will be delivering my awards in three parts over the next three days. (See previous Awards – 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013)
These aren’t your typical awards. I do have some traditional awards, but unlike the Emmys, I seek out moments that resonate in some way, whether it be ones that made me cry, made me think or just shocked me to the core. As always, these are based solely on the shows I personally watch, so if you saw a moment you think should have been included, feel free to pitch your greatest moments in the comments.
We start, of course, with some of the more traditional awards, including Best New Series, Best New Character and Best Ensemble. Onward to the Awards
In the trailer for Peppermint, one of the characters asks what Jennifer Garner’s Riley North was doing traveling the world for five years, bouncing from place to place (paraphrasing of course). Within the context of the movie, my first thought when I heard this — she was becoming Sydney Bristow! For anyone who remembers Alias, the terrific spy series that ran on ABC from 2001-2006 and made Garner a name for herself in the industry, you’ll know that she’s more than capable of unleashing hell on her enemies and look good doing it. And though it’s great to see Garner returning to her action roots after a string of dramas, rom-coms and faith-based films, I’m not sure how I felt about her kicking tail and taking names for the sake of vengeance rather than justice. Read Full Review
When someone sets out to tell a story, the intent is to capture the audience’s imagination and provide a satisfying climax that keeps people wanting more. Everything is developed in a way that allows us to fall in love with the characters so much, we want to continue to spend time with them, even though they have received closure at the end of their story.
Sometimes, though, this need for more stems from the wrong reasons. The characters may meander through circumstances that don’t necessarily add up, eventually throwing us a curveball at the end that makes you wish that story was the one they had told instead of the one you actually had to sit through. This scenario is Kin in a nutshell — a film that provides nothing of substance until the very last minute, but by then, it’s far too late. Read Full Review