3/06/2015

VINCE VAUGHN IN UNFINISHED BUSINESS

year: 2015 rating: **
It’s Politically Incorrect to use the “R” word for… the mentally challenged. And it’s even worse, especially in a movie with a bullying subplot, to laugh at… those people. Which is the first of many problems with UNFINISHED BUSINESS since the unpredictable third banana wild card, played by Dave Franco, is beyond "touched."

Not sure when Tom Wilkinson aesthetically morphed into Jack Klugman. And lately, Vince Vaughn’s comedies have been lackluster. Although compared to DELIVERY MAN, this underdog globetrotter isn’t entirely horrendous: yet it constantly aims in that direction.

The plot is both simple and complicated: Vaughn’s Dan Trunkman and Wilkinson’s Timothy McWinters are former employees of a successful company that… it really doesn’t matter what they did or are attempting: Something about having “good numbers” and basically, if an important deal fails – shuffling the boys from St. Louis to Portland, Oregon and then Berlin, Germany – the future isn't theirs.

Other than one over-the-top scene at a gay nightclub bathroom, there are no real laughs, shocking or otherwise. Franco’s brain-dead Mike Pancake hardly utters a complete sentence. The wrongly cast/overly qualified Wilkinson seems lost while Vaughn acts like a passenger in his own vehicle, sleepwalking through the usual "cool talkative guy" routine. Meanwhile, bonding sequences with his wife and kids (mostly online) disrupt what could have been a wild overseas party – like the trailers (and poster) imply. But everyone's having a bum trip. Especially the audience.  

3/05/2015

HOUSE OF CARDS BINGE NOTES: SEASON ONE CHAPTERS 2-3

Kevin Spacey as Frank
HOUSE OF CARDS binging continues, from the second episode following the pilot, these were all written watching and experiencing the show while catching up to Season 3...

CHAPTER 2: Like DALLAS tycoon J.R. Ewing, Frank Underwood's a guy you love to hate… Only there’s little hating going on since no one else is very lovable in comparison… We’re talking Washington here so Frank is probably the most likeable of the lot… He turns and looks right at us, and says what’s going on… So his lies are honest and he’s serves his audience a promise to, for better or worse, deliver...

Hillary & Carville inspired?
And this fourth wall breaking has gone even further – he tells us an opinion about a rowing machine and a few other more mundane things, less important than the important political maneuvers during the first chapter… This time we journey deeper into the knockdown of his possible replacement for Secretary of State… Perhaps it’s a bit farfetched to think an education bill would get so much media scrutiny in the first place, especially manned by Democrats, but by digging up the past, Frank, using his blog medium Zoe Barnes, pounds his surreptitious rivals (as in, they don’t know he hates them) while the most vulnerable and flawed of the cast, Peter Stoll’s Rep. Peter Russo, snorts coke and smokes pot (rarely are both of these actions done at the same time... why medicate a catapult?)... Russo's getting loaded with a libertarian recluse (with a really hot stripper girlfriend) who… well that’s one of many things set up for further episode… We’ll only highlight what’s memorable...

Rowing Underwood
And it’s a good chapter, sort of a slick version of the pilot, moving forward at a nice pace… And least we forget the secondary character, Frank’s wife Claire, played by Robin Wright, who, taking over a non-profit clean water association, proves equally cutthroat as her husband... And he does use that rowing machine he’d moaned about earlier – seeing Spacey shaping up is reminiscent of AMERICAN BEAUTY, only without Bob Dylan on the radio in a dusty garage. "Said the joker to the thief..." 

Shaping up in Beauty
CHAPTER 3: The first episode not directed by David Fincher… Kevin Spacey’s GLENNGARY GLEN ROSS pilot James Foley takes the helm, and this chapter finally settles us into Congressman Frank Underwood’s menial job with the down and outs, progressing from the edgy pinpointed revenge theme of the pilot and continuous follow-up…

Almost feels like the start of an actual series now, as happens when the initial kickstarting pilot/movie ends and a real story begins, an aftermath with legs... Because of an electric tower that resembles an X Rated Peach on the South Carolina highway... that Frank had signed into fruition (partial pun intended)... a young girl is killed while driving and texting, and we venture with Frank to his roots, where he represents but has far surpassed mentally… And that accent now fits the setting…

Kate Mara in Fantastic 4
One very important scene shows the difference between a D.C. shark and a small town minnow when the latter, sitting on his porch and irate to the bone, doesn’t invite his enemy up for a drink… Frank points this out, and we learn a deeper lesson in the political beast: never show your real feelings and always be kind... Friends close, enemies closer kind of thing…

Sexy Kate Mara
Meanwhile, the fourth-wall breaking hits a new high – or low depending on your perspective as Frank turns to the audience during a Sunday morning church vigil, telling us about his father, who he cared little for… No surprise there… And the show’s young hot sexpot Zoe (starring in the upcoming FANTASTIC FOUR reboot) seems to have sights above and beyond her newspaper for a newscaster job at cable news… And things are subliminally heating up between her and her mentor… Nice soapy element… After all, all these addictive high-end cable serials have their roots planted in the nighttime soaps of yesteryear, only now we can watch ‘em whenever and wherever… Long live technology… No more waiting a week and being tortured with commercial breaks.

RIP
Now a word or two about THE WALKING DEAD and how it’s been the last season… (NOTE: The following was written before the positive post about the episode REMEMBER). Seems to be stuck in a sort of malaise, which isn’t entirely a bad thing… In this zombie apocalypse future there would be a lot of meantime… Wandering around searching for life, in a sort of investigatory element, is always welcome, and sometimes surpasses high drama and battles and such… Only we’re getting our feet stuck in the sand…

A beloved character, Tyreese, died last episode, the second of the fifth half-season and while surprising and bittersweet, and pretty shocking, must an entire episode dwell on an important character buying the farm? Just a thought, and more on THE WALKING DEAD as it goes... And perhaps we’ll venture back to the beginning, during those first two seasons when, like the entire BREAKING BAD run, it seemed like a really long epic film with a beginning, middle and end… Lately it feels like a story that doesn’t quite know how to end in order to continue further… Or something... But for that you can venture into the CABLE page by clicking here. More HOUSE OF CARDS binge notes coming soon...

3/04/2015

OLVIA WILDE IN THE LAZARUS EFFECT

2015 rating: **1/2
The best thing about THE LAZARUS EFFECT needs to be mentioned right up front: In a movie taking place almost entirely inside a basement laboratory dealing with a hit-or-miss experiment, this could have been filmed in that trendy and annoying shaky camera chronicling perspective, and it's not... After all, how would you record a person's dream? And Olivia Wilde's Zoe keeps having a pretty nasty one.

Yet most of the 90-minute ride has a group of scientists, headed by Zoe and her husband Mark, trying to bring back... things from the dead. Starting with a pig... failed. Then a dog... success, kinda. The poor pooch turns out giving CUJO a run for his money, sans the body count: That's up to our formidable leading lady...

And it's too bad EFFECT isn't an effective horror flick, instead resembling one of those Straight-To-Videos you'd rent for cheap thrills. Because Wilde, with tight cheekbones and glaring eyes, has the perfect aura of a devilish, mischievous foe. Being the first human to be revived (and eventually garnering LUCY like powers), her initial expressions – as she starts turning on her workmates – are really quite spooky. It's a shame the rest of the movie doesn't follow her lead, or live up to her potential. OVERALL RANK: Jedi, Rebel, Droid, Sith.

3/03/2015

BETTER CALL SAUL SCRAWL: EPISODE 105 ALPINE SHEPARD BOY

Episode 105 Grade: B–
A building episode includes an intriguing cliffhanger, a big revelation and the first BETTER CALL SAUL with a title longer than one word, ALPINE SHEPARD BOY is a reference to a statue during a string of low-rent and/or misleading jobs Jimmy McGill gets as benefits of HERO, which is ironic since the entire purpose of all that work was to make more money with real clients – nothing doing…

Beginning with Michael McKean as the mysteriously bizarre Chuck McGill, Jimmy’s older brother lawyer who suffers from what we finally discover is called ELECTROMAGNETIC HYPER-SENSITIVITY, and it’s not very… legit…

Either is one scene that, involving an unintentionally perverted toilet bowl a married father wants to patent, seems readymade for show-fans to quote at the Tuesday morning water cooler. (Jimmy even shares the experience with his pseudo-girlfriend a few minutes later... just in case we missed something.) But most of the episode is searching for an outlet – pun intended given Chuck’s illness; yet it’s true... While an intriguing glimpse into Jimmy’s kitschy progression, getting clothing tips from a MATLOCK rerun, and a niche for doing wills for the elderly (Elder Law)… including THE THIRD MAN theme playing with orchestration at an old folk's home… the best is saved for last: And it’s about time real light is shed on Mike, Jonathan Bank’s tough crooked ex cop and the only other connection to BREAKING BAD. Now we’re getting somewhere since Mike was one of the best BAD characters, and that’s a show with many great characters. And while ALPINE is mostly weird and offbeat – resembling something from the Coen Brothers universe (the toilet bowl voice sounded like the creepy Asian dude from FARGO) – there’s something real edgy to wait for. To look forward to.

3/02/2015

WALKING DEAD DIARIES: STRANGE SOLACE IN SEASON 5 REMEMBER

Title: REMEMBER Grade: A
The best episode in a very long while, the gang finally arrives at their new location, Alexandria, looking very much like Mayberry... or rather, Woodbury... Remember the Governor? Remember that other "safe haven," full of terrorist cannibals?

Well you can rest-assured our roaming heroes REMEMBER, hence the episode title, because like tom cats inside a warm and cozy kitchen, they're out of place and beyond-suspicious. Especially the possum-eating Daryl Dixon.

Don't You, Forget About DD
As the episode continues, Rick and Carol become slowly accustomed and adjusted to this new setting... Rick given his old job as cop and Carol resembling a suburban "Junior League gal"... But Daryl wants nothing of it. Like what probably happened with BREAKFAST CLUB rebel John Bender during the inevitable Monday morning wakeup call at Sherman High, he's witnessing the same folks he bonded with are, once again, completely unrecognizable...

The Reluctant Gait
In other words, Daryl probably didn't want anything to do with cops before the Zombie Apocalypse. Nor did he hang with middle class married mothers. Those conventional tax payers adhered to his woodsy kill-or-be-killed lifestyle only when (and because) the bottom fell out. But this isn't a Daryl episode. He's merely a facial barometer of peripheral untrust.

Hell, even the always-wary Michonne is digging this new town, guarded with fail-safe walls and run by a seemingly open-minded and friendly former Congresswoman, videotape/interviewing each stranger and whose pretentiously gung-ho son provides the big third act suspense as he, his buddy, Glen and Tara venture into the woods, partaking in a terrific battle against the Walkers, referred to as Dead Heads. It's proven in this and the following scene, back within the confides of town, that Glen can not only hold his own, he's as unsure and suspicious as Daryl.  

"You wouldn't like unemployment."
If you return to, say, the original DALLAS... The character Cliff Barnes constantly threatened to end the show. If he put J.R. Ewing out of business, that's all she wrote. Same with the investigative journalist on THE INCREDIBLE HULK... while perpetually dogging David Banner's heels, if his mission were accomplished, the curtain would close entirely.

Love Actually shaven
THE WALKING DEAD doesn't have one particular character threatening to put the wild ride to an end... Not even the Walkers, who would have to kill all the main characters at once... But the very thought of our nomadic survivors finding complete solace, comfort and safety is, while good for them, death to the continuously dangerous adventure. Even Carl realizes this new place could make them soft in an extremely cruel world.  

It's just a matter of time till the lovely cloth on the tidy tables turn. But the setting is an intriguing one, and the last batch of wandering episodes have been rather weak... So hopefully, things don't go to pot anytime soon. Let's just simmer for a while. PREDICTION: The hidden agenda might have something to do with Rick, Carl and Baby Judith... The Congresswoman seems more interested in the domestic trio, who could add to the town's nostalgic normalcy. She may only want Team Grimes to stick around, for the long run. So if a regular character buys the farm anytime soon, it may only seem accidental. 

3/01/2015

DISNEY PRESENTS KEVIN COSTNER IN MCFARLAND USA

year: 2015 rating: **1/2
Sometimes life imitates art. Other times, art imitates life. And every so often, art imitates art imitating life...

Biopic Doppelganger
Like in the case of MCFARLAND USA mirroring the Gene Hackman sports film HOOSIERS, both true stories and extremely similar in theme and substance including a reluctant star player; a stubborn female teacher with good intentions; a disgruntled assistant coach with bad intentions; a kindly old-timer; a physically inept yet endearing team member/mascot; hands over hands before each match; and the most striking and important similarity, an intense coach demoted to a small town after being fired from having “abused” a back-talking athlete. But instead of a hayseed Indiana town, McFarland is almost all Spanish – and completely under the radar.

Kevin Costner
The casting of the leading role works and it doesn’t. At the very end we see Jim White, twenty-five years later, the real life long distance running coach the film is based on, who’s not much older than Kevin Coster is now.

The Real Guy
The story about a man with two young daughters at an occupational crossroads would be more logical with someone around forty. But Costner fits the laidback style since most of the actors aren’t actors, but student/athletes. In that, he tones down his already mellow persona to fit their non-professional style. Plus Costner has the background in sports cinema including BULL DURHAM, TIN CUP, FOR THE LOVE OF THE GAME and especially AMERICAN FLYER, involving another tough sport where mountains are scaled.   

Recommended Costner Film
Balancing a typical underdog vehicle while primarily focusing on the Mexican American struggle, all the cultural aspects, while an important backdrop, distracts from the real story. And what’s missing is Coach White’s own progression from a football coach into an expert at this new challenge – with the expectation of throwing in a “How To Coach Long Distance Running” VHS tape (this was the '80s) we never experience how he learned the ropes along with the team. It all just sort of happens.

Of the “actors” herein, most of the performances are awkward – the dialogue feels rushed and the personalities mesh together. Then again, these young men have the kind of realism an actor couldn’t learn. Scenes where Costner’s Coach White steps into their work shoes borders on effective and melodramatic. A combination that often hinders the entire “life affirming” cinematic experience.

Overall, while McFARLAND USA has its heart beating in the right spot, there needed a steadier pace with more time centered on the very sport that shaped the man, the students, and the town. But as feel-good movies go, it isn't that bad. OVERALL RANK: Jedi, Rebel, Droid, Sith.

2/28/2015

SPOCK BRANCHES OUT: EVERYBODY MUST GET SPORED ON STAR TREK

Just Say No To Spores
In the Original STAR TREK: SEASON ONE episode THIS SIDE OF PARADISE, Captain James T. Kirk is up against an adversary more challenging than a Klingon warship or lizard monster, and ironically this new challenge feels really good.

"Maybe we can't stroll to the music of the lute," Kirk says. "We must march to the sound of drums. "But before this realization, the crew lands on a farmland planet that, having harbored an Earth settlement years earlier, was supposed to be wiped out from... something very hard to pronounce. Whatever it was had the capability of the black plague and yet, there are civilians present: all with big bright smiles and a sunshiny countenance.
"Now I would not feel so all alone, because..."
Turns out there are plants called SPORES that shoot out a confetti-like material that makes each crew member, except for Kirk, stoned to the gill.

Under the Spore's influence, Mr. Spock, finally letting his ears down, falls for an old girlfriend. He becomes so giddy as a result of the puking poppy, he sees dragons in the clouds and eventually hangs upside down from a tree.
See what love and a head-change can do to even the most logical among us?
Doc McCoy yearns for a Mint Julep and eventually even Kirk falls prey to this substance that couldn't be more blatantly symbolic of a drug sweeping the nation at the time... Marijuana!

Well if anyone knows where to get their hands on this material, please contact the Starship Enterprise. Our five year mission is at an end, and has been for a while...
What we have here is a Vulcan condom ad
"Well that's the second time man's been thrown out of paradise," Dr. McCoy, sobering up, says as the Enterprise leaves the planet.

"No, no Bones," replies Kirk pensively. "This time we walked out on our own... Maybe we weren't meant for paradise... Maybe we were meant to fight our way through. Struggle, claw our way up... Scratch for every inch of the way."
Wouldn't you know, the Spores exist on a green planet
But now, all the work is done. Why not hang around getting Spored all day long? Perhaps Uhura can sing her lungs out as we devour gallons of tranya and plomeek soup whilst playing multi-level chess till dawn...

For the time has arrived... To live long and party!
BUY STAR TREK DVDS AT AMAZON

2/26/2015

WILL SMITH AND MARGOT ROBBIE IN FOCUS

2015 rating: ***1/2
With Elmore Leonard gone, and Quentin Tarantino making either War, Western or Kung Fu flicks, it’s nice to hear the JACKIE BROWN style groove of classic and modern-nostalgic R&B guiding a hustling-bustling crime caper flick along… And it helps if it’s actually good.

Will Smith’s con man extraordinaire Nicky and wannabe player Margot Robbie’s Jess are made for each other, almost too well…

In a nicely edited sequence, Nicky teaches the stunning blonde how to "hypnotize" a potential victim: followed by so many easy scores with the help of a band of hustlers under Nicky’s watch, your head will spin – yet with the steady music and solid mainline it’s a nice kind of dizzy despite one too many recent flashbacks, and the bigger cons testing a logical ability to suspend disbelief.

Broken into two halves, the initial overdose of steamy bedroom sequences pay off so the leads, developing with each other, mean more when the prime "gotcha" moments occur. And Will Smith proves his worth as an actor, always keeping you guessing if he’s telling the truth, taking you for a ride, or both. Let's just hope the immense publicity for FOCUS pays: It's well worth the price of seeing everyone else being ripped off. OVERALL RATING: Jedi, Rebel, Droid, Sith.

2/24/2015

BETTER CALL SAUL SCRAWL: GETTER BETTER WITH EPISODE 104 HERO

E4: HERO Grade: B+
“Upon this rock,” Jimmy McGill says, with a nice payday in front of him, hunkered in the beauty parlor's backroom office. “I will build my church.”

And finally, we the audience have a place to almost worship. For Jimmy McGill has true purpose in life. And yet he still struggles with being a perfectly honest dishonest lawyer. And the storyline in HERO, Episode Four, is beginning to straighten things out.

The Kettlemans, from NACHO
Bookended with ambitious scams that should have been completely predictable, they actually work. One dealing with the young Saul (“It’s All Good, Man”), supposedly in his twenties, and then in the present time – which is still a backstory to the BREAKING BAD aftermath universe. Knowing what we know about Saul – being one of the most crooked lawyers on Earth – and now learning about his youthful mullet-era, conning on the street, sheds an intriguing balance… like that judicial scale… of a guy who wants to be more honest than he was in the past, but, without realizing, he's fighting the inevitable result of his future.

Jule Ann Emery
And this is the only episode truly worth re-watching. Nuances and subtle moments you might have missed shed more light. Only Michael McKean's weird space suit remains an awkward enigma, and the almost love interest, Kim, still doesn’t completely feel at ease. Their conversations flow nicely, but drag on too long.

Being a serial, there are particular elements finally worth waiting for: Jimmy’s only real customer, Nacho, although seeming a contrived BAD throwback, has a genuinely lethal persona. Best yet, through this threat we know Mike will have Jimmy’s back, and could get out of that booth and actually do something. And last but not least, those seemingly perfect yuppies, The Kettlemans. Of the crazy drug dealers and lowlifes Jimmy deals with, this upper class suburban couple, thinking they’re too good for his slimy services, hold an extremely important element, and what Jimmy wants more than anything: legitimacy as a lawyer. Yet the true villain is his brother's former partner, a high class lawyer who sets the theme for this entire episode. Which includes two dopey young cameramen, the mental equivalent of the skateboard shysters from last time. Jimmy lecturing dimwitted punks is a reoccurring theme.

So for now, BETTER CALL SAUL isn’t trying too hard, and let’s hope this course continues. Even the movie references are improving. THE THING. Kurt Russell. Good call. Although that reference wasn’t from Saul. Better give his Girl Friday some credit.

2/23/2015

MONDAY EVENING QUARTERBACKING THE 2015 OSCARS

The Host
The Oscars were back to the nostalgic big Broadway vibe and yet seemed, compared to the extravagant 1990's era, surprisingly contained… Neil Patrick Harris did a pretty good job… He doesn’t have much of a singing voice, though, for his showman persona, but the jokes were all right, and he wasn't trying too hard...

Nails On Chalkboard
JK Simmons was a humble class act actor, the real deal, especially compared to Best Supporting Actress winner Patricia Arquette, who should have been really brave – instead of lecturing the entire country during her frantic drive-by takeover, why not bite the hand that’s feeding her the venue to raise hell in the first place? Aim that awkwardly screeching bitterness at Hollywood… She looked like a disheveled vampire doll left in a bucket of soggy flour... And what the hell was Meryl "Millions A Film” Streep cheering her on concerning the subject of underpaid women? Lord, the blatant hypocrisy in that town...

RIP Robin
During the memorial, Robin Williams shown in the middle, one of many, was weak… He should have been last, like Philip Seymour Hoffman... You know, Best for Last...

Winner
The Top Actor winners were, for the most part, predictable… If THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING centered more on the harsh transitional realities of scientific genius Stephen Hawking’s debilitating disease, Eddie Redmayne's performance would be completely warranted, no questions asked… Yet the movie itself rushed through what would make the role Oscar-worthy, instead celebrating Hawking's electronic “sermons," which did most of the work: like Mercedes McCambridge in THE EXORCIST...

Loser
The other contender, Michael Keaton, was good in BIRDMAN but not entirely convincing, and his frantic turn often felt like a performance – he and Edward Norton both… And the two top awards flanking his loss... Best Picture and Best Director (both surprises)...  had to be a letdown; but as mentioned in the pre-Oscar post, a nomination is comeback enough for a man formerly stuck in Straight-to-DVD purgatory…And Julianne Moore should have won an Emmy instead: her disease-of-the-week had Lifetime Channel written all over it...

As for Sean Penn’s snarky "Green Card" quip during the Best Director presentation: it seems they bring the Malibu-raised rebel on that lighted stage to be a controversial mouthpiece pitbull for the muzzled poodles to secretly admire...

The Indian Runner
Ironically, it was the director and starlet from THE INDIAN RUNNER, an obscure 1991 counter-culture melodrama starring David Morse, Viggo Mortensen and Patricia Arquette, who provided the two “shock” moments...

The Jack
That's if you don’t count Neil’s audience-jab concerning “snubbed” Martin Luther King Jr. actor David Oyelowo; who himself reluctantly took part in bashing the disastrous ANNIE reboot… Glad someone mentioned it…

And last but not least, always the big question, who should host next year? Well Neil’s opening act was passable… a sort of mockery of its own lavishness… but the “villain” of the production, turning a mediocre song into a bonafide skit, really made the number shine… And Jack Black can act, sing, and do both at the same time, and he’s really funny to boot… How about it, Hollywood, give Mr. Toad a chance! At this point, Oscar could use another wild ride. 

GROWNUP REVIEW OF THE DUFF

2015 rating: **1/2
DUFF stands for Designated Ugly Fat Friend i.e. a fat ugly person who popular kids use to look more human, and the problem starts with the casting: Mae Whitman’s Bianca isn’t ugly, even when she tries her hardest, and she’s not fat. Granted, her two best friends are prettier… Then again, magazine models have that edge over most people. And the Designated part is where the story (and paranoia) really begins…

The most popular guy in school, Wesley, who is Bianca’s next-door neighbor and childhood pal, bluntly unveils the DUFF meaning, and she sees the signs, filmed creatively in a whimsical fashion, viewing the imagined – from lusty daydreams to computerized grids describing the campus ala narration – where Bianca’s philosophies on the subject make for a nice ten or fifteen minutes, and there's a genuine chemistry between Bianca and Wesley: He's teaching her how to be attractive while becoming more real in the process. But eventually THE DUFF loses focus and winds up jumping all over the place – which can be said of the movie and the main character. Other than cyber bullying and an awkward first date, there are very few obstacles to climb. 

Picture WELCOME TO THE DOLL HOUSE without the realism; SHE’S ALL THAT without the glasses; or SIXTEEN CANDLES without... Anthony Michael Hall.  Which is what this high school comedy seriously lacks. With the "funny friend" in the leading role, someone (besides Ken Jeong) needed to break the ice. OVERALL RANK: Jedi, Rebel, Droid, Sith.

2/22/2015

WALKING DEAD DAIRIES SEASON FIVE: THE DISTANCE

THE DISTANCE Grade: B–
At this point, when a Walker shows up on THE WALKING DEAD it’s like when that mini computer lets out a strange noise, and you realize it’s a phone!

So many other elements make up this show, especially those initially friendly live human strangers that turn out truly awful. The Governor was Mr. Rogers compared to those cannibals, and, it seems, there’s simply no one out there as nice as Rick and company. So most of this episode is tense trepidation on whether to trust the average looking young man who said his mother fed him bad tasting things to make him more manly, which in itself is a bit off.

The show used to storm through so much terrain in the course of 55 minutes... but the pacing has been getting progressively stretched out: Three weeks back, a regular died slowly; then his friends roamed around, slowly; now they are not-so-quickly warming up to a new guy with his promise of a camp that could finally be home sweet home, and their hesitation is more than understandable… If only tonight’s THE DISTANCE covered more of it. 

He should've played his Ace much earlier
This new stranger, Aaron, seems too aware that he should understand the group's dire hesitation – like he’s a fan of THE WALKING DEAD. “I’m no Governor, guys, I promise!”

Well some kick ass ground did get covered in the middle – a nice leap forward, and perhaps the best scene in this entire fifth season/second half… And the Walkers, appearing out of nowhere, are a dangerous element and not just groaning wallpaper.

Okay, well, now it’s time to backtrack. These diaries, as explained last time, are written during each commercial break. So, for the Politically Correct, an apology is in order – that line about mom trying to make the new guy more manly wasn’t without reason... He has a significant other, injured and waiting...

Beyond Peripheral
Thus we have our first male gay couple on board, so they simply cannot be villains. Funny how won-over the group got after witnessing that groundbreaking kiss. PC laws must work in both worlds: with or without zombies. But still, some mystery remains. Maybe this camp isn’t as nice as our new cast members are completely trustworthy.

It's easy enough for an episode to center on one person when the group is broken up; yet when they’re all together, the other cast members, beside the one or two centered on, all hang around quietly, like extras on a high school TV show classroom… Even Alpha Male extraordinaire Jeremiah is gentle as a lamb, and Daryl hardly budged at all: that is, other than the Walker attack. But Glenn was Rambo this time around. 

And Carol’s final line to Rick: “Even when you’re wrong, you’re right.” Now that's some ass kissing. But Rick has been a pretty good leader. That beard needs to go, though. Perhaps the camp has a barber shop. Or salon. 

2/21/2015

OSCAR NOMINATED 2014 BEST PICTURE NOMINEE SUMMARIES

87th Academy Awards
It's Oscar time, again, another extravagant star-studded showcase where the golden statues are handed out... But one problem with the entire Oscar concept, and why it's not really a legitimate and/or accurate platform to historically merit the best motion pictures and performances overall, is the mere fact The Academy Awards occur each and every year.

Imagine if you had a list of BEST ANNUAL MOMENTS... One year you win $50,000; another you get married; another you get divorced; another you spend 10 months in a coma after serving 11 months in jail... No matter, that list must get done! So in a nutshell, 2014 was the worst Oscar year in decades, and beyond comatose... But here's a countdown of BEST PICTURE NOMINATIONS from best to worst, including links to the complete original review...

FULL REVIEW
1) WHIPLASH: Student and Teacher in a jazz class clash within a music academy bandroom. But not really. It’s all JK Simmon’s platform as he cuts loose on the students, particularly Miles Teller, with the heated venom of a deranged drill sergeant. This entertaining indie has a few flaws. The music, while sounding terrific, never seems better or worse for the teacher’s irritation over “getting it right” to be clear to the audience – providing no character arc for our young hero, whose goal is to improve as a drummer while surviving forceful tantrums. Does JK deserve Best Actor? Well the fact he was nominated for going so over-the-top is ironic since his most effective scenes involve more down-to-earth subtle moments.

FULL REVIEW
2) SELMA: Controversial for the supposed Best Actor Snub based on race, even though 12 YEARS A SLAVE won big last year and the film itself is in the running, SELMA provides a thoughtful and surprisingly mellow glimpse into Martin Luther King Jr. surrounding the historic march. And the lead actor does deserve a nomination over most contenders this year, especially the likely winner, Eddie Redmayne. 

FULL REVIEW
3) BIRDMAN: A party trick of a film having the entire ride be one continuous shot without takes, distracting from an otherwise entertaining story of an actor who, like the kid in WHIPLASH, is being pushed – and pushing others – to get his performance down just right while attempting a comeback after being famous for playing a superhero named BIRDMAN: an obvious nod to Michael Keaton’s BATMAN. Keaton is one of two frontrunner's for Best Actor, but he probably won’t win... Let's face it, being nominated is comeback enough. Just ask John Travolta. 

FULL REVIEW
4) AMERICAN SNIPER: The financial success of this film, based on the bestselling memoir by the late Chris Kyle... a sniper during the Iraq War... made particular Hollywood insiders really angry, mostly envious, and while it doesn't only cater to "patriotic white people," since Bradley Cooper is an extremely popular actor nationwide, the film itself is somewhat mediocre in its portrayal of a controversial figure who could have stirred-up "haters" even more had Cooper really stretched the canvas, painted in broad strokes by director Clint Eastwood, trying in vain to please everyone: never the right choice.  

FULL REVIEW
5) THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL: Speaking of paint, Wes Anderson is the Jackson Pollock of hipster cinema – he throws the colors in a frantic splash and it all must mean something. But while GRAND starts out with a nifty plot and wonderful cinematography, after the first act, during a potentially intriguing jailbreak, the characters get lost in the convoluted pandemonium.

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6) THE IMITATION GAME: A very intriguing premise based on a real life genius figuring a way, through groundbreaking code-breaking computers, to help win WWII, the story mostly centers on the man’s personal struggle to embrace his homosexuality, which was beyond taboo in that era. Basically, IMITATION doesn’t know whether to be a cerebral thriller, a historical war drama or a "coming out" story, and fails at every angle.

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7) THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING: Speaking of brilliant men, this Stephen Hawking biopic, while aesthetically impressive, has a weak romantic story and  is more a subliminal platform for the man’s THEORY over his marriage, which this is supposed to be about. Eddie Redmayne will win for this role, but it’s hardly deserved. He simply doesn’t do very much since Hawking's physical struggle takes backseat to what he's there to teach us.    

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8) BOYHOOD: A truly ambitious device filming a boy... the same boy... growing into a young adult by director Richard Linklater is a ponderous character-study with a natural-on-screen child turning into a completely awkward teenager with the personality of a stomped eggplant. He mopes around listening to his girlfriend, teachers, parents and headphones with the expression of a bored hipster who, if you saw him sitting inside a coffee shop, you probably wouldn’t care about what his life had been like before that dull gaze into narcissistic oblivion. But we get to experience it – mostly centering on dad’s political rants, mom’s failed relationships and other scenes that are more patchwork than a complete story. And the fact Ethan Hawke's nominated for Best Actor is no surprise... His character would have detested AMERICAN SNIPER. Seriously though, both he and Patricia Arquette seem more like acting teachers coaxing a performance from their "son" than potential Oscar winners in their own right. 

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