Saturday, December 3, 2016

The Walking Dead S7x6 Swear

The Walking Dead has steadily expanded the world around Alexandria. After dedicating episodes to the Kingdom, Negan's compound and the Hilltop Colony, it's now Tara and Heath's turn to show us another corner of the apocalypse. After the refreshing Maggie and Sasha-centric episode Go Getters last week, could the show keep up the good luck, girl power, and decent pacing with SwearThis post contains spoilers - you've been warned!

After seeing the consequences of Rick's group and their failed endeavor to eliminate Negan, it's a bit forgetful to forget that two people directly involved on the satellite outpost still have no idea what's going on at home. On their own and held up in their RV, Heath wrestled with the moral implications of their actions, while Tara urged him to keep believing in themselves on a human level, even if they have to kill to stay alive.

The initial moral dilemma shared between the two was a bit of a broken records characters have played before, But Heath's claim of choosing you over someone in order to survive nicely set up the rest of the episode for Tara. In fact it wasn't long before the duo became uno, and Heath was removed from the picture as a new group of survivors were introduced.

Cut to two seaside wanderers Cindie and Rachel discovering Tara washed ashore on their beach and fighting over whether to let her go or shoot her on site, respectively. When Tara woke up to a supply of fish and a spear, it was only inevitable she would attempt to find out who these people were and if they were safe to get help from. Delving into the forest, she discovered a vast colony of women of all ages working and living in beachside villas, constructing supplies, and taking inventory of their ammo. It wasn't long before her unwanted presence was re-discovered and she was surrounded and arrested, only to be spared again by Cindie - who had the most compassion to let Tara live.

Tara had some very big questions to answer: How could a child (Rachel) be persuaded or taught to shoot a person with no questions asked? In a female-based community, where were all the men? Without showing an ounce of hostility, what made these people so on-edge against her?

A bulk of her quest was very slow-paced, but unlike the recent side-tracking episodes, I didn't mind this one. Not only was it refreshing to see  Tara period, but also watch her try to balance her humor as a defense mechanism, attempt to bridge the gap between herself and these anxious survivors, and subtly struggle with the ramifications of killing to survive.

While the story felt drawn out, the Oceanside leaders' perseverance reminded me of Maggie, Sasha and Rosita, even Saviors from The Same BoatSome are out for blood, some are wholly evil, and some still hold onto compassion not assuming everyone is dangerous, people shouldn't be left behind.

What we soon came to realize there might not be one town in all of Virginia that Negan doesn't rule. Tara soon finds out the women were survivors of a much larger group, where all of the men from age 10 and older were executed after getting into a skirmish with Negan. The remainders were going to be forced to work for him but they escaped and are trying to desperately to remain hidden.

A big excuse we give Team Family is that they have to take potential threats.While Alexandria isn't responsible for what happened to Natania's group and their men, the show is now exploring different sides of the so-called enemies survivors or bystanders, and how they just might be like our guys; trying to rebuild after they lose everything: "All of you thought you had to. None of you had to. You just did."

Despite Tara's persistence that their groups aren't too different, her little slip of trying to wipe out Negan's soldiers, was enough to make up Natania's mind of what to do with her. Any person who might be a threat is killed on site, and allowing Tara to linger too long especially with her connection to the Saviors cemented their decision. They promised to let Tara free in the morning and give her some extra help to return to her community.

However, that was just a rouse to try to get Tara killed. She with two "aides" Cathy and Beatrice barely stepped outside the grounds before they tried to execute her. Cindie ended up saving her for a third time, but only promised to help her the rest of the way to find Heath, if Tara swore to never tell anyone about their group. She did, together, they round up at the same bridge where Tara and Heath were separated.

Tara's visit at the camouflaged beach houses wasn't exceptionally powerful for the moment, but the use of flashbacks to slowly expose how she was separated from Heath were nice plug-ins. Their conversation of choosing yourself over someone else came full circle; as it was discovered that they were swarmed by walkers, and when it seemed that Heath was abandoning Tara to be attacked, he was a distraction for her; he was surrounded by walkers as she was pushed over the bridge into the lake.

As much as I liked the approach to Swear, it also felt a bit lackluster - particularly dealing with Heath's disappearance.

The Walking Dead is known for dropping homages to past episodes and easter eggs for future ones. As Tara returned to the spot where they were forcibly split up, the only evidence of Heath left was a random business card with PPP written on it left lying next to fresh tire tracks. Though theories abounded online of what it could mean,  i.e. the letter combination have not been used in any earlier episodes, let alone an exchange of bonding between Heath and Tara. So there's no telling what it could mean. And unfortunately, the bigger question is if fans are really engaged to find out. Heath's missing-in-action heroics felt like a recycled bit from Beth's kidnapping in season four, and who's to say this won't go down that same rabbit hole....

Heath's disappearance might be a missed storytelling opportunity, but a good move on Corey's part (who is cast in Fox's next 24 revival). Perhaps it's the show as it is now, or the fictional wounds of losing could-be-interesting characters, especially African Americans like Noah, to red shirt formula. Heath as a character didn't particularly resonate with me. He really only felt interesting around Glenn or Tara, and not by that much.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, his vanishing act allowed for Tara to contextually and emotionally pay homage to their friend Glenn throughout her journey, and the results delivered a decent solo episode.

The impact of Tara and Heath's mission hit harsher at the end. As she scavenged her way home and strolled up to the gates without her partner, but armed with sunglasses, a doctor bobble-head and a huge smile on her face, that rebellious exuberant expectation of coming home dissipated. We don't really need to hear Eugene share the news of what happened while she was gone; to see her and Rosita in Denise's old hospital wing was enough for her grief to hit home. As Rosita wanted to exact revenge and is desperate to find more communities that will help them take on Negan, Tara kept her promise to Cindie. One can only image that it might've been the same choice Glenn would've made too.

But how long will Tara keep this promise?

A growing claustrophobia is taken root as every episode revealed just how much and who Negan owns or has impacted. With so many people vying for a vanishing amount of supplies and racing against the clock or Lucille to provide for him, does this incite groups making enemies out of each other or helping one other? Will Rick's assumption that strength in numbers, theirs against his, can be his his downfall prove true? Does association by murder strain Alexandria's possible allies with Natania's group?

Swear could easily feel like a manipulative considering it's been weeks since we experienced Glenn, Abraham and Denise's fate as well as the Not Tomorrow Yet rampage. Instead of written to tease us with sadness of Tara not knowing what happened to her friends and girlfriend, the episode let her shine on her own, bring subtle reminders of what Glenn taught her, and show even more groups under Negan's control. It might've not needed a whole hour on it's own, but any episode focusing on the central group instead of the Saviors is somewhat of a blessing. Even if it moved as slow as a season one walker on the prowl.

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Additional Thoughts:
+ Swear was a nice homage to how Tara and Glenn's friendship started....There was a lot nice moments lifted from episodes like Inmates and Us.

  • Tara trying to rally Heath to do more than believe he was going to die and forgive himself for what they did to the Saviors i.e. Glenn telling Tara she can't feel guilty about the Governor and she has to help him find Maggie
  • Tara trying not to get separated by walkers from Heath on the bridge reflected Glenn not giving up on Tara in the tunnel when she got trapped
  • Natania and her group trying to convince Tara to stay i.e. Abraham, Eugene and Rosita dragging Glenn/Tara with them to Washington D.C. like there was no going back to where you came from
  • Cindy trying to help Tara find her friend 'cause she's just that kind of person
  • Tara walking home to Alexandria only finding out it's not what it seems anymore i.e. GREATM arriving to Terminus believing it was a sanctuary

+ The women are so much more fascinating than the dudes. I wonder if any of their strength is going to pay off or will it just come down to Rick killing Negan. And we have to wait a whole 'nother season for anything to go down. *sigh*

+ AKA I'd love to just see all of the wounded women rise from the ashes and set Negan's shit on fire, and they all take turns getting their deserved vengeance. MUAWAHHAHAHA, *cough cough flu season*

+ I MISS GLENN. LIKE WHY GOD WHY.

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Thursday, December 1, 2016

My Dream Loot Crate - Galaxy Defender

Loot Crate Subscription Crate
Chances are you've probably heard of Loot Crate before, but if you haven't, the subscription service provides a geeky crate of the coolest memorabilia delivered to your doorstep every month to two months. Each box is filled with theme-related collectibles, apparel, home goods, and more for all of your geeky, gamer and nerdy needs.

It just so happens the good people at Loot Crate invited me to create a "Dream Crate" of my own design. Being a fangirl of their amazing subscription I couldn't refuse the challenge!

Earth is a pretty complicated place. With the help of some cool gadgets and memorabilia, we can stand up for what's right everywhere we go. My dream is for Loot Crate to bring out the Galaxy Defender in all of us with the help of Guardians of the Galaxy, Star Trek, Wonder Woman, Star Wars, Doctor Who and The Avengers.
No matter how much we may have our differences, in fiction nothing can stop us from coming together and give us inspiration to come together in real life.

Collectibles above can be found at the following:
Dancing Groot Funko pop l Guardians of the Galaxy
Star Trek Iphone Case l Star Trek
I Rebel l Star Wars: Rogue One
Wonder Woman mini-backpack l Wonder Woman
The Doctor's New Sonic Screwdriver l Doctor Who
Avengers Assemble Travel Mug l Marvel

If you could design your own crate, what would you put in it? What makes you feel like a Galaxy Defender? 

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Monday, November 28, 2016

Bridget Jones Trilogy Review

Bridget Jones's Diary review
Bridget Jones is one of my all-time favorite film characters. The trilogy itself might exaggerate love as all romantic comedies do, but its heroine doesn't adhere to the improbable Hollywood standards. You know the kinds: the hot forbidden but normal-enough-looking girl next door who manages to be the cool girl most guys want in every situation. Or the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. ETC.

No, Bridget is something else. She's self-destructive but determined; idealistic; flighty and charming; pressured by society about dating, marriage, and body, but tries to be single-minded. And, it's been quite the treat and torment to watch her journey through Bridget Jones's Diary, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, and Bridget Jones's Baby.

Bridget Jones's Diary review
Directed by Sharon McGuire, and based on Helen Fielding (who was also the screenwriter), Bridget Jones's Diary is one of the best romantic comedies ever. Bridget (Renee Zellweger) journals a year of her life as she battles a list of resolutions: weight, cigarette and alcohol intake, professional hurdles, and torrid relationships with her boss Daniel Cleaver (Hugh Grant) and Mark Darcy (Colin Firth).

Headlining the low-key prequel is Renee Zellweger. When the film was made, Zellweger as an American playing a Brit caused great outrage. Despite the pressure of living up to a beloved bestseller, and critics who body shamed her, she delivers a hilarious performance. Bridget isn't necessarily representative of every Everywoman, but she's relatable by often not having her act together whether by making sheer mistakes or reacting to romantic/personal disappointments. She is flighty, a wee self-absorbed but loving, recovers from her embarrassments as best as possible with humor (and a bit of drinking). Jones could've been over-the-top, but the native Texan fleshes out the character very well. This might be one of her best roles yet or ever.

A great credit to this movie's lasting impression goes to the script. A thesis could be made of the numerous parallels of Jones evolving sense of self and relationships, but I won't go there. Maybe another time?...

While remaining funny and touching, the movie playfully but relentlessly explores how much pressure Jones (and women in general) is under from family, friends, and society to get married and settle down. Every corner she turns or party she's invited to is a glaring reminder: Your eggs are expiring. You're getting older. Tick tock. Yearning for validation, she blindly falls for the creepy yet charismatic swoons of the seemingly perfect man (Daniel Clever). He shows her attention, despite the fact that it's the cheap kind. She triumphs, fails, and goes about her business with a great support system of friends and dysfunctional, loving parents. She learns not to equate being single to worthlessness, about the type of man who is wrong for her, and accept the one who could be right for her.

Jones's life reflects a modern day Pride and Prejudice. Similar to Elizabeth Bennett's arduous relationship to Wickam and Darcy, Jones tries not to settle for someone for the sake of it, but a person who offers her true love in return.

The whole cast is nearly darn perfect, especially with Firth. (And Hugh Grant as the sleezy wolf in Prince Charming's clothing). Like Jones, Darcy too is almost molded into a role: the distinguished lawyer with the distinguished lawyer wife and all of the prestigious titles that earns. But with Jones, opposites attract. The only thing holding them back is making wrong assumptions. Darcy genuinely appreciates her, even it's from afar. His personality is a little bit dry, but he's a man of looks more than words. Anyone should really be admired the way Darcy enjoys and appreciates Jones' company. Firth gives a million subtle affectionate mannerisms, it's really what makes this modern-day Darcy resemble Austen's classic creation but also his own thing.

As the first movie of what would become three, it's unaffected by expectations or the typical style of rom-coms today, where apartments look like Ikea apartments and characters' jobs don't match their designer wardrobe and impromptu luxury vacations. Jones's entire savings probably goes into cigarettes and alcohol instead of Dolce and Gabanna and Milanos. Her struggles with self- image, vibrant friendships and boorish job, and her life like clothes and apartment reflect, which makes her relatively down-to-earth.

Bridget Jones's Diary explores her troubles with wit and sincerity. Dialogue and scenes land at the perfect times to be funny and touching. We can brush off her most embarrassing and relateable moments with a laugh or cry, and also want to see her succeed.

Unfortunately, that's not the case for it's sequel. Similar to other genres like superhero or action, romantic comedies rarely require a follow-up, but heck if Hollywood doesn't dabble in the story after the more important story. Enter: Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason.

Under the helm of a different director but returning screenwriter(s), the story tries to explore Jones and Darcy's relationship after the assumed "happily-ever-after". Their differences threaten to tear them apart, but instead of exploring Jones' spontaneity to Darcy's reservedness with a clearly constructed arc, the movie is more or less a circus.

Though Jones might've needed that extra boost of Darcy loving her just the way she is from Bridget Jones's Diary, her outlook of him and herself flips upside-down. Out of nowhere she seems to morph into an overly-smitten overprotective obsessee who projects her jealousies onto Darcy. Unlike the first movie where she had rumors/prejudice to base Darcy on, here she feels like he wants to fix her without him ever giving that indication. And her flubs in public at work functions aren't established as if they're naturally different, but the movie is going out of its way to humiliate her.

The shared "I like you very much - just as you are" speeches in the first movie is vital to both Darcy and Jones. Yet the sequel seems to forget why it, we, and Darcy liked Jones just as she is. Though Zellweger is still funny, every time Jones exudes confidence, scenes go out of their way to remind us how out of place she "should feel" about her weight, outspokenness, and lack of formal education. Even though she previously achieved professional notoriety, she's reverted into sideshow tricks. Her humor transforms into repetitive silly gags. It's only more exasperating when Cleaver is back on the scene, and short term memory nearly blinds her to fall for him again. She's stuck between a loser or knight-in-shining armor place which devalues her already complicated self-esteem.

It's respectable Edge of Reason was like "Hey, Bridget and Mark were barely friends who had a lot of misunderstandings. Let's see if they can make it work." But as flimsily as Jones dismisses Darcy's true acts of expressing his feelings for her and boldly leaves their relationship, she wants him back for nearly the same flimsy reasons. And what she's going back to is not the same Darcy. Before he merely concealed his feelings like the 'upperclass begrudging Brit' trope, but he's almost like a robot here. The script doesn't offer him, or her, the same emotional subtleties. They both read each other wrong in all of the wrong ways and the story doesn't balance their possible incompatibility naturally.

The second installment has some funny and genuinely dramatic moments, but most of it feels cringe-worthy. After the initial Cleaver fiasco, it's natural to explore Jones's trust issues. But instead the movie evaporates her in exchange for Darcy's "approval". She ends up riding off into the sunset with Prince Charming, but I'm not sure she actually triumphs.

Bridget Jones's Baby Entertainment Weekly
Which is why, Bridget Jones's Baby is a huge deal. It had a lot of making up to do.

Five years after Edge of Reason, Jones and Darcy are separated after their relationship suffered from fatal incompatibility. Sharing individual one-night-stands with a billionaire love guru Jack Qwant (Patrick Dempsey), and then Darcy, their lives are thrown for a loop when she becomes pregnant.

Back with director Sharon McGuire, and new writers (including castmate Emma Thompson), this threequel returns to basics as best as it possibly can. Most of the story comes across like an hour-and-a-half episode of Maury, but manages to draw out the tension and humor of who is the father is, and making the best of an awkward-as-ass situation.

It also allows Zellweger to come back with playfulness and maturity as Jones's story comes full circle. Her expectations still might not match reality, and her pregnancy exasperates the choices she thought she'd have in her mid-forties. The story explores how it's okay for her to want what her friends have in terms of the possibility of being a single mother, maybe a spouse, but also being responsible for someone other than herself or an unrequited partner. Family helps free herself of what society thinks of her being  a spinster, or pregnant, or married or any label. She's also earned professional achievements, is hardworking, still a bit of a klutz, cheeky and fun-loving as we've liked her and seen her grow.

The story has a great balance of drama and comedy too. Jones's pregnancy means something to everyone: to Jones, to Jack who avoided love despite being a mathematician at compatibility, and Darcy finally fighting for Jones. The trio's preparation for the baby's arrival drums up a refreshing rivalry that joins the likes of Cleaver vs Darcy and who she might end up with.

Like the first movie, this one gives enough for Darcy to do. While the script dials up his incapacity to express himself a bit too high, Firth is able to balance it out with some truly fantastic scenes. Nearly all of Darcy and Jones's moments add to the gravitas of their complicated relationship. Though Darcy's feud with Jack could've felt like a cardboard cut-out of the old showdowns against Cleaver, iconic fist fights are replaced with subtle cultural jabs and the necessary chivalry to put Jones first.

Bridget Jones's Baby was a great way to cap off the series, or at least what I hope remains a trilogy. The movie mixes familiar faces with new challenges. Even if it's tone felt more like a light-hearted drama than a laugh-riot (except that last half hour), this sequel is worth it.

Rom-coms may have a predictable formula: Women and (typically) men meet, they fall in love, say I Do, etc. In the face of relentless superhero and action franchises, this series achieved a pretty incredible feat: millions of book copies sold, three regularly printed columns, and a billion dollars at the box office. Though a great deal of Jones's journey is enveloped by her self-inflicted and societal validation from men/a man, and renders feminist and anti-feminist debates, these movies are all hers: exaggerated, love-obsessed, self-improving, touching, funny, and imperfect.  Here's to Bridget Jones, always a legend.

Bridget Jones Diary ★★★
The Sequel That Shall Not Be Named 
Bridget Jones's Baby★★★

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Saturday, November 26, 2016

Series Review: American Horror Story Roanoke

Having been unspired by Ryan Murphy's previous series like Nip/Tuckand Glee before, American Horror Story never managed to hold my attention. The sixth season American Horror Story: Roanoke was my first full rodeo with the FX success, and what he churned out was not exactly what I expected.

Matt and Shelby Miller purchase a farmhouse nestled on the mysterious land of the famous Roanoke colony. By moving to a new place, they hope to start over and mend their broken relationship. Instead their issues are nothing compared to what haunts them when their house acts as a magnet for paranormal activity. The duo share their tale in a fictional documentary My Roanoke Nightmare which re-enacts their experiences.

Combining two genres at once, American Horror Story: Roanoke is impressively a show within a show within a show - practically like the Inception of Ryan Murphy's creations.

My Roanoke Nightmare morphs from dramatic recreations into documentary when the Millers and all of the re-enactment actors return for a reality series Return to Roanoke: Three Days in Hell. Locked together in the old abandoned house, who and what the couple previously survived comes back with a savage vengeance.

Both Roanoke installments especially engaging is what feels like two sets of casts. Andre Holland and Lily Rabe capture the hesitant confessional vibe found on most ghostly docudramas, while their re-enactment portrayals are increasingly dramatized by Sarah Paulson and Cuba Gooding Jr. When the reality tv aspect steps in, there's a satirical contrast between their performances and as celebrities/actors - (especially Paulson - give her all the awards please!) but also AHS elite like Kathy Bates, Angela Bassett, and Lady Gaga.

Even though Murphy typically utilizes great casts, his content of sex and violence can often be a veil over thin storytelling. Here the violence is gruesome but isn't an onslaught without a purpose. The documentary duplicates the melodramatic and slow-burning tone of ghostly encounters series. And, then the reality tv part is sprinkled with creative commentary about pop culture, over-the-top personalities and motives of Hollywood stars, and so much more. It helps that a lot of the gore here is hodge-podged from other familiar movies/shows like Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity, Big Brother, and Ghost Adventures. Though Roanoke uses bloodshed to keep up the action and tension, its well-balanced by the writing.

I can't adequately compare if this season fell in line with it's predecessors, but on it's own, Roanoke was right up my alley. Much to my surprise, Murphy's wild supernatural probe fares to be shocking, gruesome and entertaining. There's a lot to revisit this season for clues, horror and humor, and may even give earlier seasons another chance too.

Rating: ★★★
What did you think American Horror Story: Roanoke?
Which season should I try next?

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Thursday, November 24, 2016

The Walking Dead - S7x4 Go Getters

After stopping by the Saviors' compound and Alexandria, The Walking Dead catches up with leaders-in-waiting Maggie and Sasha. How is the duo coping after their dramatic losses? Go-Getters heads to The Hilltop Colony. This post contains spoilers - you've been warned!

Was Go-Getters the episode we've been waiting for since The Day Will Come When You Won't Be? Instilling two grieving widows with the resilience to go on, sneaking in an angsty love story, and re-enforcing Negan's knock-offs, I would give that a resounding HELL YEAH.

If there's one thing that the apocalypse has taught us, it's that you can't keep bad-ass women like Sasha and Maggie down, and I'd even squeeze Enid in this category too. The trio managed to infiltrate The Hilltop Colony where they were not wanted by it's leader Gregory, but proved that they are here to stay and make sure his operations change for the better.

The last time we saw the duo, it was the morning after Negan's bloodshed. Sasha worked up the courage and swore to get Maggie to safety despite her own brutal loss. Well the two definitely made it, but despite her battle cry to Rick, the emotional and physical toll overwhelmed the last remaining Greene-Rhee. When she woke up after a few days' rest, Dr. Carson revealed Maggie's placenta had separated from her uterus, likely calling back to her kidnapping in The Same Boat. With Sasha and Jesus by her side and giving extra support, Maggie was able enough to get up to visit Glenn's grave. Together, they mourned by their sites with Jesus until Gregory interrupted with a few unsavory plans. Just a few scenes of them at the beginning already got this episode out to a beautiful start.

Well, Sasha and Maggie unknowingly broke a few golden rules by burying their loved ones instead of burning them, as well as Rick not upholding their end of the deal to kill all of the Saviors. With Maggie requiring more time to heal, especially if she's pushed to the point to miscarry or give birth, they refused to acquiese to Gregory's demands to leave immediately.

While the episode mostly focused on the Hilltop Colony and their temporary stay, some slight interjections with Carl and Enid's escapades was a bit of a broken record but still fitting for the type of friendship / love story they're having.

While Maggie and Sasha were trying to stay put and call for unity, Alexandria is more divided than ever. Rick with Aaron went sculling for supplies while Michonne retreated to the meadow for her marksman skills. She left Carl somewhat in charge before he tagged along with Enid to her solo trip for the Hilltop Colony.

Though their YA love story was a bit repetitive, it was a struggle not to feel like a proud yet creepy surrogate fangirl mama.

As Carl and Enid roller-skated their way to her destination, it's interesting that their relationship is based on silent nuances. They've both experienced and witnessed hardships, in the apocalypse, dating pretty much skips over the getting to know each other phrase and moves straight into "You're here, I'm here, let's enjoy our time together while it lasts". They only subtly justified and tried to understand what happened to Glenn and Abe, and their differences on what to do next. Enid was explicit in her concern with Maggie and didn't feel the need for vengeance, almost like she was already carrying a piece of Glenn's humanity with her. Meanwhile Carl admitted to his need to take Negan out; and that he didn't necessarily watch Abe and Glenn's death for them, but for him - so when he could kill Negan, it wouldn't be a choice. Their departure was surprisingly more mature than we've probably seen them before.

Back to the Hilltop Colony, nobody could blame Gregory for fearfully reacting to Alexandria's failed promise to exterminate the Saviors. To him, it could be a matter of time before Negan figures out the two groups were in cahoots and they both could pay the price. However, Gregory has to be one of the worst poker players ever.

As Maggie and Sasha made plans to stay for at least the night, they proved more than their worth when the colony was attacked in the middle of the night. The group's gates were left wide open as blaring classical music played within the camp. Walkers stumbled into the camp attracted to the noise and blazing fires. Sasha with Jesus managed to take out some of the zombies, while Maggie climbed aboard a tractor to take out some more and decimate the blaring car. Their debate with Gregory to stay, having earned their way for at least a while longer, was interrupted when Saviors showed up on their doorstep.

Gregory is like a substitute teacher who's supposed to have all the answers but doesn't - so he just kinda makes things up as he goes along and keeps evading trouble with the principal (Negan). Not to mention that he forgets people's names, constantly seems to be in a rush though nothing is urgent requires his attention....and he's just an overall asshat.

When Negan isn't around, his dominion over every little thing (blah blah blah) is much more powerful. Teethy, uni-brow creeper Simon as the head of this unexpected stroll uneasily played around the bush of why they were making their acquaintance. Reading between the lines, he managed to disseminate that Rick's group wiped out "their brothers and sisters" and the Hilltop Colony should be grateful that Negan didn't wipe out the competing group of providers, and that they taught them a lesson with the walkers the night before. He was also obsessed with a painting of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and called it "management by example" - a given since Negan and Charles controlled enormous territories....

Simon only shared a few scenes with Gregory, but there was a general air of uneasiness to him. He didn't know if one second to the next if he really knew that Maggie and Sasha were in the camp all along, and just waiting for Gregory to reveal his cards. He was on the verge of ratting out Sasha and Maggie, only to be outdone by Jesus who hid them in a closet but didn't tell Gregory which one. Smart move, Kung-Fu Jesus.

As Simon's group loaded more supplies, Jesus with Sasha and Maggie met with Gregory in his bedroom, their real hide-out. Gregory isn't that much of a villain, but damn did it feel good for the women to put him in his place. Maggie was over him coming onto her, she knew he took Glenn's pocket-watch from his grave, so she socked Gregory and for him not to know call her "Marsha, honey, or dear. My name is Maggie. Maggie Rhee."

It's a shame that so many fans missed out on this iconic moment. The Walking Dead has dropped nearly 35% in ratings - YIKES - but it was a strangely wonderful culmination of such brief tension with Gregory and just not putting up with his bullshit. If knocking out the Hilltop's boss could feel so good, I can't imagine what it'll be like to finally be rid of Negan.

Maggie's James Bond declaration was amazing, but this moment wouldn't have worked if it wasn't for her straight-up perseverance, Jesus' belief in them, and Sasha's unshakable strength too. And when Enid joined the mix to accidentally mark Abe's grave with Glenn's balloons, to make Maggie grilled cheese sandwiches and soup, was EVERYTHING. This quartet has the makings of bold, fierce leadership: Maggie's diplomacy, Sasha's ready to take action, Jesus' open-mindedness, and Enid learning from the best. When the writers remember female friendships, the series is all the better for it. Maggie and Sasha have always had each other's backs. They're staying with the Hilltop Colony and they're one big ass-kicking (dysfunctional) family.

This episode was sprinkled so many touching and rewarding moments: YES I'M GOING TO LIST THEM BECAUSE THEY GAVE ME LIFE.
  • Sasha wanting her and Maggie to remember their loved ones
  • Sasha willing to pay her and Maggie's way for them to stay and keep her safe
  • Maggie passing down her dad's pocketwatch to Enid; Maggie saying grace at the table
  • "We don't need anything to remember them by. We have us."
  • "For this morning with his light, rest in shelter of the night, for health, and food, for love and friends, for everything my goodness sends. Amen." - Raldo Walph Emerson
  • The gentle nod to Glenn's inability to lie
  • Sasha echoing Deanna with Jesus: What do you want?
  • Sasha smoking that stogie and sharpening her knife
  • Sasha almost knifing Jesus while killing walkers, just like she almost killed Michonne the same way in season five
  • Jesus giving solace to Sasha about Abe's sense of humor
  • But also giving Sasha the necklace Rosita made him
  • But Sasha was not wearing Rosita's necklace she was sitting with Abe's stogie and sharpening her knife....
  • "Everything is wrong." - "Not everything."
  • Jesus meeting up with Carl in the van on the way to Negan's
Go Getters developed a little bit of everything: teen angst merging into vengeance, room for mourning and strength, and continued to re-inforce Negan's creepy minions with mind games and intimidation tactics.  Maggie and Sasha's whereabouts evened the brutality out of the premiere almost perfectly - if not the best than some of the previous episodes have managed so far. When Jesus stated that he couldn't imagine anyone until now to take Gregory's place, we all believe it. And perhaps more than just the Hilltop Colony, we have something to go on for the future.

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Additional Thoughts
Did Daryl and Rick secretly become experts at Morse Code to communicate in Service? Pretty cool theory.

+ Season seven's episodes should've played out; The Day Will Come When You Won't Be, Go Getters, Service, Easy Street (and The Kingdom - though I've forgotten about the Kingdom and previous Carol already.....)

+ As the Saviors live higher and higher on Negan's hog, and supplies run out more quickly, how will Negan's people survive without access to adequate providers? His supply and demand balance is going to fall out of swing really soon. It's only so long before some wells run dry.

Sasha's getting ready for war but will her PTSD return? P.S. I LOVE YOU SONEQUA.

+ Where did the zombie heard outside of Alexandria trail to - if the Hilltop Colony, Saviors compound and the Kingdom aren't that far from our gates? Why haven't they've seen an influx with walkers?

+ Nice job playing Crazy Taxi with the walkers, Carl. You destroyed one of the community's last working cars for your girlfriend. Not sure if it's silly or heroic.

Are we going to be saying goodbye to Carl soon? Most of the original cast signed up for seven seasons. So some of our favorite characters might be reaching their expiration date. Andrew and Norman are safe for now since they renewed but Chandler Riggs might not return and instead go to college. We'll find out as the season progresses!

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Monday, November 21, 2016

Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them (2016)

Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them Review
Five years ago the Harry Potter film franchise came to an end. I would've never believed J.K. Rowling would be at it again. But her endless imagination couldn't be contained and apparates again to the big screen with an adaptation of the Hogwart's fictional textbook Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them.

Based in the 1920s, magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) briefly travels to New York City while en route to Arizona. Unaware of the U.S. wizarding government's ban on magical beasts, Scamander's creatures are in danger when they accidentally set loose. No-Maj - American equivalent to Muggle - Jacob Kowalski (Dan Folger), a former Auror Tina Goldstein (Katharine Waterston) and her sister Queenie (Allison Sudol) team up with the British native to catch his critters before the wizarding world is exposed.

Veteran Harry Potter director David Yates returns to helm this next franchise with Rowling tackling the role of screenwriter. By reputation, the duo have some fair expectations to live up to but also the freedom to start from scratch. Introducing a new collection of characters into a familiar setting is no easy feat, and together they conjure an enjoyable flick.

Mainly we ride the Hufflepuff coattails of bashful and awkward Scamander. He's naturally more comfortable with animals than people, but instead of fully succumbing to a fear of not fitting in, he protects his unique "beasts" from being abused or mistreated by other wizards. His creatures are absolutely adorable (GIVE ME A NIFFLER AND BOW TRUCKLE NOW PLEASE), and the story lovingly explores his struggling relationship with humanity.

Along with him for the ride are two witches and a No-Maj. Career gal Tina Goldstein might do anything to get back into the President's good graces but her doubts against Scamander are transformed by his sweet but oblivious nature. Her vivacious sister Queenie uses her telepathic gifts to help, and they all develop a close friendship with Jacob (beautifully played by Folger). Each character is connected by the world ostracizing them. Their humility, warmth, and kindness unites them to face mayhem and create a little mischief together.

But a few other minor characters bewitched my interest a little bit more. No-Maj Mary Lou Barebone (Samantha Morton) runs a horrific crusade against witches and wizards. She takes advantage of impoverished children by invoking fear of evil and witchcraft to earn their trust and implement her beliefs. One of her children, a traumatized teenager Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller), is secretly taken advantage of by a mysterious wizard (Colin Farrell). Morton's intimidating presence, alongside Farrell's dark intentions, creates quite a startling difference from Scamander's humorous escapades. As a trio, they effectively stand-out, especially Miller. Their scenes could've been a fascinating movie of it's own.

Like the Harry Potter films, the locations are almost characters themselves. The production splendidly swoops us into another dimension. Costume designer Colleen Atwood never fails to create beautiful wardrobes befitting everyone's personality. Veteran Harry Potter production designer Stuart Craig creates wonderful to disturbing landscapes with the dark Barebone house to the opulent Magical Congress of the United States, and Tina and Queenie's homely apartment. While there might be a bit of CGI explosion to cover Scamander's creatures, every tiny production element lends a great deal to how this era of magic looks and feels.

Unfortunately, the gamble to make this movie a prequel and give Scamander is his own adventure doesn't come without a few problems. Some of it exists merely in our Muggle world such as controversies over white-washing, Rowling's distortion of Native American legends, and news of Johnny Depp's casting. For the movie itself, Rowling creates intriguing characters but she doesn't fully flesh out the story.

The bulk of her plot reminded me of the super disorganized Suicide Squad. 'A band of misfits track down unjustifiable threats in the city, only to be thwarted by an unstoppable superpower who is manipulated by an unsuspecting antagonist.' The plot between the two are inherently the same, just a bit more fantastical for the latter.

Fantastic Beasts welcomes us back to the wizarding world, but its intricate details often contradict each other. This mostly stems from Rowling toying with allegory and segregation, but not firmly establishing them - either as obstacles that should come into play against Scamander or for the xenophobia she touches upon. One half of the story centers on her rules of both societies, and the other half is a pure delightful escape. They often give the impression of being different movies instead of complimenting each other.

Out of everything, David Yates might've delivered one of his better directorial work for the Potter series, even if it has pacing issues. There's nothing not to love about Rowling's new band of misfits and villains. The only issue is that the movie tries to do it's own thing, but allow her to drop hints for the future - which might equate to how disjointed the script appears. Which even being fully aware that more movies are on the way, it's a slight shame this doesn't feel complete. As much as I'll probably revisit this spectacular world again in the future - inevitably, it is still Harry Potter - this tale struggled to be the spellbinding cinematic return I anticipated.

Rating: ★★☆

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Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The Walking Dead S7x4 Service

The Walking Dead Service
Negan arrives at Alexandria to collect his 'earnings' but Rick and the community aren't ready. People are divided on whether to try to overthrow their new leader or surrender to his command. This post contains spoilers. You've been warned!

After a lackluster start to season seven, the announcement of a 90 minute installment fueled a bit of excitement. What was going to happen so significantly that Service warranted an extra half-hour?

Negan's visit was a surprise to Rick and co. who weren't expecting him for at least a week, but he came early to collect...the fruitless material things that might make our grieving family the slightest bit comfortable. Like the Grinch weaving in an out of Whoville, Negan's boys rounded up the couches, mattresses, hardware, and eventually the guns. Rick was forced to follow the leader while carrying Lucille, trying to speak through body language to Daryl, and wanting to beat the hell out of Spencer (like we all do).

The biggest conflict didn't necessarily have anything to do with Negan. It was the group handling their new leader. Rick was forced to re-enforce the rules that Negan was in charge when his group threatened to kill Olivia because two guns were missing from the armory's inventory. Even though Rick had to race against the clock before Negan lifted a finger to kill Olivia, it's hard to take his threats with genuine concern.

Personally, even with as little tension as possible, I enjoyed Rick's struggle. With restraint of the iconic head-tilt and headstrong temper, his loyalty edged in and out. Every time Negan got on the sheriff's way, he would grip Lucille tighter and then his resolve would weaken. While the episode didn't exhibit the group mourning Glenn or Abe's loss as a whole, Rick's grief was divulged enough to not make the episode feel like it was entirely Negan's show.

Everyone in Alexandria is still riding out that high of invincibility after slaying the barricade of walkers in their community. That is except for those who saw Negan's bloodshed in person. The episode almost became a Rick vs the people re-run from his season three days (in fact a lot reminds me of that era when Rick's moves depended on the Governor's threats). Some couples and individuals still have the desire to fight while others' confidence has been shattered.

Aaron supports Rick acquiescing to Negan while Eric wants to stand up for themselves. Michonne is working on her marksman skills out in a meadow, not fully surrendering to what happened. Father Gabriel (his scene with Negan was hysterical) thought quickly about making it look like Maggie was buried in their cemetery. I don't know how long this is going to last since the Saviors will be moving to the Hilltop Colony where Maggie is. Have they achieved the obliviate spell  to perform?

Service gave us an iota of the Team Family we've been waiting for but didn't do much for this tiring antagonist.

For all of the nursery rhyme chants and empty threats he makes, Negan is stuck in a behavioral and personality rut. His speeches of owning everyone, and blah blah blah is passed repetitive. He spews so much hot air to little results, the Oscars orchestra should play him off. Not to mention the more screentime Negan's emasculating jocularity has had, the women are forced to either take the backburner or be demeaned by his creepy "testosterone".
Find anything else? - Dwight
Just your dead friends. - Rosita
In contrast, Dwight captures more interest and attention. He might be Daryl 2.0, but his power exudes through the few actions he takes with sick delight. All he had to do was roll into the joint and target Rosita by stripping her of guns, water, AND HER HAT. And then demanded her and Spencer fetch Daryl's bike where Denise died. It was quiet but ruthless, and also fueled Rosita's determination. Austin did so much less than Jeffrey Dean Morgan and achieved so much more.

As well, who likes or loves-to-hate Spencer? The last remaining member of Deanna's family is so whiny and cowardice (though has a good point that the group wouldn't be in such a desperate situation if it wasn't for Rick) that he preaches to Rosita about what's best for them when he doesn't know what it is best for anyone. And while she is fiercely fighting back to gain more weapons and hide them from the Saviors by killing freaking walkers, he hid food, booze, and the missing guns Rick needed in order to save someone's life. On top of which, when confronted, Rick insults him and abuses Glenn and Abe's memory. Deanna would be ashamed of him, but at least Spencer gives more to loathe than Negan.

The episode wrapped itself up with Rick's admittance of his love for Judith as his step-daughter. Though we haven't talked about Shane and Lori's affair for a few years, and it was probably an unspoken assumption by fans that Rick wasn't his, this reminder brought up the consequences to a lot of tough decisions he's had to shoulder.
I wanted to break your jaw, let you choke on your teeth. But I didn't. That wasn't weakness. It took everything. - Rick to Shane, 18 Miles Out
But Rick accepting so much abuse from Negan forces us to question to what end does he think this is a good life, let alone a life for Judith or the community? Breathing is better than nothing, but as Beth once said, 'If you don't have hope what's the point of living?' Michonne pointed out they earned everything they have from from fighting. Even with the number of fighters against them, there has to be some way out of this. It might not be obvious right now, but the opportunity to strike will make itself known. But Rick confiding in Michonne and pleading his case spoke volumes to just how much losing people on his watch affects him now as much as it ever did.

Only a few rich moments of our group and peaks with Dwight saved Service from being a dud but just barely - mostly due to the throwbacks to season two and three with Rick's contention against Shane and the Governor. It seems to be a trend that the cast fulfills what the writing lacks. The show doesn't ultimately have to service full episodes to individual groups but if it does, the pace has to do us a service and start picking things up soon.


Additional Thoughts:
+ THIS. BLUE. SHIRT. IS. EVERYTHING.

+ ROSITA AND MICHONNE are magic.

+ Oh look, as my friend Brittany said, the show remembered Aaron and Eric.

+ Negan shooting into the window was a nice homage to Rick's paraphrased window theory from season five.

+ Does Carl ever catch a break? He stands up to Negan face-to-face and is adamant about being the man Rick has raised him to be. I mean, he just rocks.

+ Enid held onto the balloons Glenn and her set off in Heads Up. DAMN IT.

+ Negan stole the mattresses to burn them. *sigh*

+  "Mercy for the lost, Vengeance for the plunderers". Was this new writing on Alexandria's wall? Reminds me of Terminus.

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