Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Following- "The End is Near"

We are nearly at the end of the first season of The Following and there are so many different things to talk about. We get a few answers in this episode but there are still a ton of hanging plot threads that have not been addressed in several weeks. There was no progress on the Angel of Death storyline, the cult background of Agent Parker, the murder that Ryan committed in his past, or finding out why the "followers" are so dedicated to Joe. I realize that with one episode left we might have to wait until next season to get some closure on these threads but I can voice my need for answers.

The Jacob/Emma romance came to a conclusion with Emma slitting Jacob's throat. Just as Jacob was on the cusp of becoming a strong character he was taken from us by the queen of bitches, Emma. The writers had bungled Jacob's progression after Paul died by making him a moody "killer" with ninja-like abilities. His arc started off strong, went off the rails a bit, and then we got this episode which left us with some hope for the character. The decision to kill Paul early in the season seems like a mistake at this point because we were robbed of the chemistry between the guys and Emma, as well as their interesting backstories. Why couldn't the writers just get rid of Emma? I hate her almost as much as Betty Draper from Mad Men, give it a few seasons and Emma will likely be my most hated character of all time. I guess the greatness of a character is measured by the emotional response they get from viewers, so she is a pretty effective character that I just hate. Hopefully Ryan or Claire enacts some form of justice on her for all of the shit she has gotten away with, including killing two cops.

The Mask of the Red Death as done by the followers was fucking hardcore. Trapping a bunch of innocents in a gymnasium with the FBI agents and a few followers blending in was genius. The deaths were brutal with axes, knives, and guns being a few of the tools that the followers had at their disposal. Hardy, Weston, and Parker were pretty helpless in the situation where they had to react instead of attacking. So there were a whole bunch of people getting murdered before the FBI could even react. Parker being taken hostage and buried alive was something I did not see coming. I don't think that she is going to die but it is something that is going to mess with her for a while.

There is still a lot of things up in the air for the season finale. Is Joe going to kill Claire? Will Ryan reach Joe and Claire in time to save Claire? Will the Angel of Death remerge and insert herself back into Ryan's life? Hopefully some of these questions will be answered next Monday night. We'll see you next Monday with our wrap up of the finale and our opinion on the season as a whole.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Lords of Salem

Chances are that most of you reading this will not be able to see this movie until it comes out on DVD or VOD. It is currently showing in 300 theaters nationwide and luckily it was showing at one of my local theaters. Rob Zombie has made his first "true" horror movie in that this movie frightens you to the core from beginning to end. This is a disturbing movie on every level and was just what the horror genre needed at this time. There are no happy endings in this movie just bleakness and despair.

The summaries of this movie online have been fucking atrocious. The real story of the movie follows Heidi, a local radio personality and recovering drug addict. She is an eclectic, upbeat young woman that lives in the small town of Salem, Massachusetts. Her story is inter-cut with flashbacks of the Salem Witch trials and the deaths of a particular coven of witches. One day a package is delivered to the radio station containing a record addressed to Heidi, and oddly enough she is the only person able to get the record to play. The record is a looped track of five notes and it puts Heidi into a trance every time she listens to it. Soon she begins to experience strange visions where the lines of reality and fiction begin to blur.

There is no upbeat or happy portion to this movie. A crushing sense of dread invades every image in this movie and it never lets up. Rob Zombie doesn't allow any of his characters to have a happy ending and you can tell this is going to happen pretty early on in the movie when all sense of hope is lost for our main character. This is gorgeous and Zombie took enough care to make sure that no scene was neglected, even the most mundane of scenes. The one thing I will be critical of was the appearance of Satan, he looks fucking goofy. He is only in the movie for a few seconds but it really throws you for a loop and makes you almost laugh out loud.  

Zombie's writing ability has definitely taken a leap forward in The Lords of Salem. His earlier movies were very rough around the edges with simple dialogue, wonky performances, and limited action. The story is much more complex than in any of his previous four features. With the subplot of addiction and not knowing if Heidi is experiencing visions due to her past addiction or if she is truly being sought out by Satan and the coven of witches. Sherri Moon Zombie really upped her game in this movie and shows that she can absolutely carry a movie. She is able to switch tone on the fly and is a captivating presence. Ken Foree, of Dawn of the Dead fame, shows up for good measure. The rest of the cast is comprised of actors and actresses of horror classics.

I know that most people will not like this movie and I absolutely respect their opinion. The uncomfortable nudity in this movie would be enough to turn most people away. most people want a central hero that has a chance to overcome their situation, in The Lords of Salem there is no hope. When I saw this movie at least 10 people walked out by the halfway point. You have to also keep in mind that the imagery get progressively weirder and more grotesque as the movie goes on. Some of the things you see will make you feel uncomfortable. Just power through these moments and you will be rewarded with one of the most unique horror movies to come about in some time.

This is not a movie for the faint of heart. The Lords of Salem is brutally depressing and features a fresh take on a disturbing event from our country's past. Under the watchful eye of Rob Zombie, this is one of the most beautifully shot horror movies of the last decade and hearkens back to the classic works of the likes of Dario Argento. I personally recommend that you see this movie if it is playing in a theater near you.

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Following- "Havenport"

The first domino in Joe Carroll's eventual downfall has fallen and it is a major one. I knew Roderick would eventually turn but I had no idea that it would be this soon and so abruptly. We all knew that there was a massive amount of tension between Joe and Roderick, but we didn't know what the breaking point would be.it seems like the breaking point was Roderick feeling like he was being left out of Joe's "plan" as well as the fear of getting caught after Weston recognized him at the Sheriff's station.

"Havenport" is one of the best episodes of the season thus far by showing us all of the different sides of the story. We got to see all of the major players in this episode with time being spent with Ryan, Joe, Weston, Roderick, Emma, and Claire. Ryan and Roderick got most of the screen time with us seeing bits and piece of Joe reacting to his plan slowly collapsing around him. The abrupt death of Roderick in the middle of the episode was jarring but there was nothing really left for the character to do at that point. The only thing that could have saved him was a prolonged conflict with Joe but that had run its course. We also couldn't go through Joey changing hands again for the third time as that thread had already gone stale.

Ryan got back to being a complete boss by taking charge and calling out all of the followers to turn themselves in for a deal. There is no way for him to back any of his guarantees but he was just playing mind games with Joe & Co. He had another confirmed kill which is like his 10th of the season. Looks like we have another Jack Bauer on our hands with this one. I also have a feeling that he knows that he is Joey's biological father, which has been a longstanding theory of mine from the beginning of the season.

Can someone tell me when Jacob became a fucking ninja, the guy is nearly invisible when he wants to be. I had no idea that a guy who was a little bitch at the start of the season could turn into a psychotic heartless killer in a matter of days. Then Ryan turned him back into a bitch with a couple pf sentences. Jacob is a very interesting character but he is becoming increasingly frustrating with the way he is being portrayed. Dude is not a ninja, stop writing him like he is. It is just pointless.

Claire really needs to die at this point so Ryan can go full steam ahead with hunting Joe. The damsel in distress act is pointless at this juncture in the story and her death would move the story forward instead of holding it back. Natalie Zea is awesome to look at but there is no depth to her character at all and the show isn't trying to fix that. Maybe she will get some more screen time next week. Emma was being the whore that she is again this week, and she is another character that has seemingly outlived her usefulness. If Claire dies then maybe she will become Joe's lover which would be interesting for a little while.

There are a ton of places that this show can go over the next two episodes. I hope the writers chose to go the ballsy route by killing Claire and then having Joe go into the wind becoming a king without a castle in the world of killers. Have him roam the country picking up killers along the way. Just an idea but it may be able to keep things fresh for a while. Did anyone else laugh when Donovan got stabbed in the eye? You could see it coming from a mile away and he still got close to her, what an idiot. I really did love this episode and I am really pumped for the final two entries of the season. Also keep in mind I was writing this review as I was watching the episode, so that is why there are a few jumps from topic to topic.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Constantine #2

To start off, I wanted to wish everyone a very happy New Comic Day. Constantine is the best of the "New 52" series from DC other than Batman. The great thing about both series is that they have stories and character that are not dependant on other titles and crossovers. Constantine can have his own self contained stories even when he is globe trotting with Justice League Dark. Jeff Lemire, Ray Fawkes, and Renato Guedes have a perfect handle on John Constantine and is damn near identical to his Hellblazer version.

This is is the second chapter in the new series and builds off of the great first issue. We follow John as he is searching for relics that The Cult of the Cold Flame are also searching for. They are trying to bring about a magical apocalypse and Constantine isn't going to stand by and let that happen. Mister E is introduced and is shown to be a major player in the magic realm of the DC Universe. The Spectre also shows up to claim Constantine but John quickly talks him out of that course of action.

Constantine is one of the first heroes I have seen that openly acknowledges his past failures and knows that he has to pay for his mistakes. In the first issue of the series he states that magic comes with a price. This means that the universe balances itself out for you essentially "cheating" it out of something by using magic. John also realizes that his luck is going to run out and he will more than likely be killed at some point. Jeff Lemire and Ray Fawkes write him in a grim and charming manner and they make you root for him by making you completely ignore that the fact that he is kind of a scumbag.

I couldn't end this article without talking about the incredible art of Renato Guedes. His art was one of the main draws for me and he has not disappointed. Each scene is perfectly rendered and he is able to handle even the most gruesome scene with skill. He portrays John Constantine as a younger version that we are accustomed to in the Hellblazer series, and it works for this series. I am really looking forward to his continued collaboration with Jeff Lemire, who is a talented artist as well.

This is a fledgling series and is still finding its footing in the DC Universe. Constantine is thankfully being guided by the incredible trio of Jeff Lemire, Ray Fawkes, and Renato Guedes. I recently added this to my monthly pull list and I would suggest that you do the same thing.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Following- "The Curse"

The Following continued to ride the train to crazy town this week and it was glorious. Joe finally got off his ass to try and fix the many mistakes that are popping up with his plan. Ryan had to try and bail out Weston from another life and death situation. Parker got in Jacob's head and Claire beat the shit out of Emma. Joe and Ryan also got to have their first real "heart to heart" conversation of the series.

The main action of this week focused on Ryan, Weston, and Parker on the hunt for the man who was supplying Roderick's armory from last week's episode. Weston was quickly taken hostage by Joe and this is when the episode really took off. Joe is trying to push the notion that he lives through death and the same thing goes for Ryan. Joe feels like the only time that he is alive is when he is surrounded by death and that is why he is doing what he is doing. Ryan on the other hand has been surrounded by death from a young age having witnessed his father being killed in a convenience store robbery. The revelation that Ryan killed the man that killed his father by making him overdose on drugs was definitely the bombshell that I was looking for. This shows why he has the need to save everyone because he is trying to atone for that sin.

We also finally got to see Ryan develop an actual relationship with Weston. He has been mentoring Mike for most of the series and this is the first time that he actually acknowledged that he may have had a negative effect on Weston. With his own revelation about going too far, he doled out some "fatherly" advice and told Weston to stop going down his current path before he does something that he will regret for the rest of his life. This is the fundamental difference between Joe and Ryan. Joe feels no remorse for the murders he has committed, whereas Ryan is motivated to right his wrong and never repeat his mistake.

Joe also had a lot more airtime than usual and we got the opportunity to see how insecure he really is. He doesn't care that Roderick's plans are crumbling but he was almost brought to tears when Claire called him a hack writer. This is a serial killer with a cult at his disposal, and is also the most wanted fugitive in America but he cannot handle criticism. He is on a whole different level of crazy than the rest of his followers. His own ego is going to be downfall in the end, mark my words. We were also let in on the fact that he really does plan on killing Ryan at the end of his all of this.

I wished that there had been more follow up to the revelations in last week's episode where we found out that Molly was a follower. This is going to be a major plot point and the show only has three episodes to ramp this up. Jacob has also done a complete 180 and he seems to be one of the most bloodthirsty killers in the cult at this point. Seems like this developed a little too quickly and it is really awkward at this point after seeing his previous aversion to killing. Seeing Emma get choked out by Claire made the episode a must watch in my opinion.

This wasn't the strongest episode of the series but it was still very solid. It was great to get some backstory on Ryan and see him grow up a little. Having Weston back in action was awesome and even Parker had some solid moments by messing with Jacob. With three episode left, I can't wait to see what craziness is going to go on over the next few weeks.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Evil Dead

The 2013 version of Evil Dead is a continuation of the franchise that started in 1981. Fede Alvarez has taken over the directing duties for the series from Sam Raimi and he also wrote the movie as well. This is a reboot of the series and is not a remake. The story still takes place within the same universe as the previous three movies and takes place 30 years after the events of the first film. It also improves on many of the aspects that were lacking from the first installment and we'll be getting to those in detail in just a minute.

Evil Dead tells the tale of five friends and their journey to rid one of them of a nasty addiction, there is also a book written in blood and made of human flesh that comes into play. We follow David, Eric, Mia, Olivia, and Natalie (put the first letters of the names together for a nice little Easter Egg) into the hills of Tennessee to help Mia kick her drug habit. Not everything is as cozy as it seems as the group quickly discovers that something terrible had happened in the basement of their cabin and come across a book encased in human flesh and barbwire. Eric being the scholar of the group decides to read from the book and he unknowingly unleashes a  demon that will stop at nothing to destroy and reap the souls of everyone in the group.

As a reboot and sequel, Evil Dead succeeds in every possible way. The story is more layered than the original, the acting is better, and the effects are out of this world thanks to the increased budget. I loved that Alvarez included the addiction storyline for Mia (Jane Levy), simply for the fact that it kept the group at the cabin even when things started to get a little squirrely. They were there to help her at all cost and that was really put to the test. The "Naturon Demonto" aka The Necronomicon is given more screen time and seems to have evolved over its adventures. There are more translations scribed into the book and it no longer has a human face as a cover. We find out why the book does what it does and the reasoning behind the demon possessing people which leads to some insight on the series as a whole.

The effects were spectacular and it was a relief to see a director willingly use practical effects over CGI effects. There are a few instances of CGI but it was due to the fact that the particular effects could not be achieved any other possible way. The gore was over the top but not to the point of being silly and Alvarez did a great job of walking that line. I can't wait to see how he handles the series over the next few sequels. Whoever was the makeup artist in this movie deserves a goddamn Oscar for all the crazy shit that they had to do. Demonic possession, burn effects, and dismemberment are only a few of the things that they had to make believable. The effects on the character of Eric alone are award worthy as he is just brutalized throughout the course of the movie with each beating he receives upping the ante of the last one.

The acting is a thousand times better than the original but you as the viewer have to keep in mind that you are not watching award winning caliber actors. All of the performances are solid and there are definitely times where the dialogue is weak but that is mainly limited to the beginning of the movie when we are being introduced to all of the characters. You have to keep in mind that half of the cast is pretty much expendable and primarily serve as cannon fodder for the demon. Jane Levy (Mia) and Lou Taylor Pucci (Eric) give great performances and it is going to be great seeing Levy anchor the series for year to come, hopefully. Levy has to switch from possession mode to her regular self at a moments notice and her character's journey is definitely a horrific one to say the least.

For all of you haters out there saying that this movie isn't close to the original, keep these comments in mind. The original cast, excluding Bruce Campbell, was fucking horrible. Overacting and limited emotion ruled a good chunk of that movie. The effects were low quality even by B-movie standards and the new movie blows them away. The story in the reboot is more layered and complex whereas the original was a bare bones concept. Also keep in mind that this is a sequel and not a remake, so no one is trying to replace the original. The story in this movie takes place 30 years after the original, which is stated plainly in the introduction of the movie. There are similarities between the original and this version, which is also explained in the movie if you bother to pay attention. I love the original and it will always be near and dear to my heart but even I can't deny that Evil Dead is just a flat-out better movie in almost every way.

This is the perfect reintroduction of the Evil Dead franchise to the masses. It takes what made the first film great and turns everything up to 11. With two sequels on the way and a crossover with Ash looming on the horizon, I can only hope that Fede Alvarez is allowed to be in the driver's seat for the whole journey. This is not a movie that you should see, it is a movie that you MUST see.

Order of Greatness in the Evil Dead Series
1. Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn
2. Evil Dead
3. Army of Darkness
4. The Evil Dead

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Following- "Whips and Regret"

"Whips and Regret" didn't bring the same level of excitement that has been present in the past few episodes. we got another "Follower of the Week", this time following the douchey redneck militia asshole. His character served no true purpose except to expose that Joe's "flock" is somewhat fractured. You have people who are mainly following Roderick and others that are solely following Joe. This is going to be a major plot point for the series from this point on because Roderick is not afraid to openly question Joe because he feels like they are in this together whereas Joe feels like everyone is there to serve his needs. Big things are going to come from this in the future.

Ryan didn't really do much this week except send a generic bunch of psychos to a meeting with the Grim Reaper. I love when he is allowed to be snarky and when we don't see that it takes away from his scenes, this episode featured a very mopey Ryan. He got to have some sexy time with Joe's "Angel of Death" and this episode was a whole lot of setup, more on the followers' side though. The whole FBI plot did nothing to further their story and they ended up in the same place they began. Just a weak week for the FBI storyline. Hopefully with the return of Weston next week, this plot will begin to heat up again.

Jacob had another solid outing and his change in the past few weeks has been pretty jarring. He wasn't even able to hit a person a few episodes ago and now he is threatening to beat the shit out of Claire and threatened to murder Emma, to her face. Joe had a very awkward dinner with Claire that did nothing for either character. The most important scene of the episode was when Joe hit Roderick for questioning him. Roderick at this point feels like he is equal with Joe because he is the one that organized everyone and is the one keeping them safe whereas Joe is just throwing people into the meat grinder.

I almost forgot to mention Joe's "Angel of Death", Molly. She is by leaps and bounds the most deranged of "The Followers" in terms of the amount of kills she has. Molly is a nurse and kills a sizable amount of her patients because they are either suffering, terminal, or simply for being annoying. Her complete lack of remorse is frightening and she openly asks Joe to be given the assignment of tracking Ryan (in 2009). She gets close to Ryan, like P in V close, and it is revealed that the only reason she agreed to move to NY to watch him was Joe had agreed that she could be the one to kill Ryan. She is a big player in the series and its going to be exciting when Ryan finally finds out that she is a follower.

This was a solid episode but was not nearly as exciting as the last few weeks have been. It went a long way in setting us up for the final stretch of episodes.

Monday, April 1, 2013

The Walking Dead- "Welcome to the Tombs"

A season that has seen some of its best episodes in the last few weeks ended on a sour note.  Seriously Walking Dead, building up the finale, and delivering, is what you are supposed to do.  This week was a disappointment on too many levels.  There was an aspect or two I really enjoyed, but I’m going to go ahead and start with everything that was wrong with the episode.

I guess I should begin with the “prison assault”, If there was one thing that this episode was promising, it was 27 deaths and a big showdown in the prison.  I’m going to go ahead and say they failed on both accounts.  Many of the deaths this week were very tame zombie kills and Woodbury extras. There could have been an amazing amount of gun fire back and forth for the whole episode.  I would be lying if I said that having Woodbury walking through the underground in the dark quiet basement of the prison wasn’t getting me excited.  Then the lights and alarms started to go off, I figured ok, here we go.  This was not the case as we get the people of Woodbury run away with their tails between their legs to get away from the prison.  On top of this, The Governor follows and doesn’t stay to have a fire fight.  The Governor I had hoped to see all season showed up and killed a bunch of defenseless people when he stopped the convoy in the road.  This was the man who was such a badass in the comics I was afraid of him in real life.  He was pure evil in this little moment.  This was one of the good things about this episode.  Want to know another bad thing, after killing off his army he drives off with Martinez and Shupert and you never see them again during the episode.  Seriously, what the heck?  I understand you want to keep him around for another battle, but come on!  This is not ok to do.

Earlier in the episode we got another glimpse of the new and improved crazy Governor when he was beating up on Milton for killing his zombies.  Milton didn’t back down really either and brought up his daughter, a no- no when dealing with The Governor.  Milton is one of the few characters who had a good episode.  He had the choice of killing Andrea or dying, and instead took a swipe at The Governor.  Milton tried to go out in a blaze of glory.  The Governor wasn’t having any part of it though and killed him stone cold.  He did leave Milton to go kill Andrea, still strapped to the chair.  I guess it’s about time we talk about Andrea.  She is a perfect example of what is wrong with this show sometimes.  She is finally coming around to be likeable, and what happens, she dies in the stupidest way possible.  She continuously talks to Milton as he is dying in front of her and not trying to get out of this situation as quickly as possible.  Finally when she does get the pliers by her feet, she doesn’t rush to cut herself free, she gets bitten by Milton, off-screen of course, which stinks.  This seemed to me like a way to appease the fans who don’t like this character.  I’m not going to lie, I was very happy that she was killed off here, but I felt nothing.  Merle killed me last week, no pun intended.  But this week two major characters died, and to be honest I wasn’t surprised or upset about either.    The show never knew what to do with Andrea and without being surprised; they didn’t know how to kill her off either.  I found it funny that one of her last lines was, “I tried”, and when talking about giving her best effort in not having anyone die.  This seemed like the writers being like “well we did what we could, sorry everyone”.  This was such a waste of a character that is one of the best in the comic series.

One thing this episode did do ok with was Carl.  Was the kid he shot in the face going to give the gun up?  Probably, but with what has happened in the past, could Carl really take a chance with Hershel, Beth, and Judith being right there?  No, he really couldn’t.  Yes, they are pushing the point that he has no morals because of the “society” he is growing up in, but I was ok with this in the long run.  You could also see in the beginning of the episode that he was pissed he wasn’t in on the plan to trap The Governor and Woodbury in the prison.  He feels like he belongs with the others in the group during these times.  Again, I don’t blame him for feeling that way, but most likely he doesn’t belong in the gun fights.  He also straight up told Rick to stop fucking around when it comes to The Governor, and any other situations like this.  With every missed opportunity, another member of the group has a chance to die.  In his eyes, it’s us vs. them.  This is the same sentiment The Governor has had all season.  Carl is a cold mofo and it should be interesting where next season takes him now that the rest of Woodbury has moved into the prison.

Michonne didn’t have much to do this episode except to thank Rick for taking her in early in the season.  Maggie and Glenn got to shoot at The Governor for a bit.  Tyreese and Sasha are finally in the group, after not doing much this episode either.  So much was wasted in this episode it isn’t fair to the viewer.  To have the sun rising and Rick not see Lori one last time I guess was a way of saying Rick isn’t  crazy anymore.  There was so much anticipation for this episode with how the season has been winding down, but all we were told was The Governor will be back and we won’t write Andrea anymore.  The potential of this show is really amazing, but now 3 seasons in I don’t have much hope of it coming anywhere close to where the comic books are.  Maybe the show should end like this season did, a slow montage of zombies moving in a field and focusing in on a cross, telling all of us they have laid it to rest.  Change my mind Season 4.

Review by Bryan Lasky