Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Fear the Walking Dead: “Pilot” Recap & Review

Unable to resist the homage to its big brother’s iconic opening, this series kicks off with 19-year-old junkie, Nick Clark awakening from a stupor inside the dwellings of an old, abandoned church-turned-drug-den. Groggily ambling about in search of his friend, Gloria, Nick calls out to her with no response. Making his way downstairs to the sanctuary, he immediately realizes there’s something wrong. Distant screams echo through the corridors and masses of blood soak the stairway railings. Fear seizes the youth as he comes across more and more mutilated bodies splayed throughout the downstairs before finally finding Gloria enjoying a fleshy snack behind one of the church pews. Donning the iconic Walker Eyes, the girl rises to greet Nick in the most horrifying way. The boy races from the scene, and we get a glimpse of downtown Los Angeles as Nick hysterically runs out into traffic, only to get hit by a car.

Following this white-knuckle opener, things come to a crashing halt as we’re introduced to the other main characters across town. Nick’s dysfunctional family greets the morning with plenty of melodrama to go around. Smarty-arty sister, Alicia, exhibits a perpetual scowl as her high school guidance counselor of a mother (Kim Dickens) flirtatiously canoodles with live-in boyfriend, Travis (Cliff Curtis) before the family gets the news of Nick’s accident.

Believing to be out of his mind, Nick refuses to cooperate with the police as they interrogate him from his hospital bed over the ravings he made earlier about all the blood and viscera he’d seen. Given Nick’s long history of substance abuse, everyone assumes the young man hallucinated the whole thing, including his family as they arrive at the hospital.

Later at school, more evidence of the impending apocalypse comes forth as Nick and Alicia’s mom, Maddie, makes mention to the low number of children attending. Apparently, a mysterious “flu” runs rampant throughout the U.S., but everyone seems to turn a blind eye to the potential threat. Maddie confiscates a knife from a paranoid teen, demanding to know why he felt the need to bring it. Instead of taking solace in the counselor with who he seems to have a good rapport, the teen simply makes an ominous mention of everyone’s imminent doom, leaving the conversation completely void of any useful details. Gee, thanks a pantload, kid.

Travis decides to check out the ramshackle church Nick ran from earlier, seeing the same blood and viscera…minus the bodies. Instead of calling the police (like a smart person would), Travis tells Maddie about his discovery. In all absurdity, Maddie brushes off the murderous rampage as nothing more than typical druggie behavior. When Nick’s roommate at the hospital dies, he uses the distraction to escape, forcing Travis and Maddie to go out and find him.

Chaos around the city continues to rise as more and more people go missing, including Alicia’s boyfriend. A police shootout is captured on film of 5-O trying to take down a Walker, which gets leaked over the internet. Again, everyone assumes the video is just a hoax. Meanwhile, Nick meets up with an old friend, Calvin, at a local coffee shop. This supposed clean-and-sober pal has actually been selling Nick and others drugs for quite some time, and Nick begs him for some dope so that he can forget about what happened at the church. Afraid that Nick ratted to the police about him, Calvin promises to supply Nick with the drugs and drives him out to the L.A. River with the intent to kill him. The plan backfires though when Nick becomes wise to the plan. The two struggle to gain possession of Calvin’s gun before Nick shoots in self-defense. Maddie and Travis meet up with Nick, coming across Calvin’s re-animated corpse. When Maddie and Travis refuse to believe that he’s actually a zombie, but merely hurt, they confront Calvin. The Walker attacks the pair before Nick repeatedly plows over Calvin with Travis’s truck.   

When weighing this spin-off series to the visceral nature of its predecessor, the pilot episode of “Fear the Walking Dead” is undoubtedly underwhelming. Does that make it bad? Not exactly. It’s simply rocking a different tempo, more akin to True Detective’s slow-burn approach. The downside to this style change might deter some TWD fans though who are looking for a more exhilarating ride from start to finish. Let’s face it, the series premiere to The Walking Dead was far more memorable and compelling. And with viewers’ knowledge of what this future world of Walkers will look like and the rules necessary to survive in it, Fear runs the potentially fatal risk of being repetitive. Plus, the “everyman” status of all the main players who are clearly not connected to the initial cause of the Walkers will make it harder for fans to get the true origin story. Plenty of television series and films gloss over the beginning stages of contagion for a reason. Audiences generally hunger for nail biting intensity woven into the infection plot, and it’s hard to balance that entertainingly with the contemporary setting and characters still living seemingly normal, mundane lives. 

One show that nailed this patient zero-outbreak plot with brilliant execution would be FX’s The Strain. Mixing the stories of everyday civilians with the group of doctors who are up close and personal to the vampiric infection running rampant, the series shows the slow unraveling of society along with the brilliant mystery behind the epidemic with continuously solid, scary, well-paced episodes. Though it’s too early to judge Fear the Walking Dead on its overall value, the pilot clearly lacks this desired effect. Plus, several red flags already wave even with just one episode aired. If Walkers are already out and about, then why hasn’t anyone really seen them with the exception of one video? Did they all just run…or, um, walk into hiding? It’s pretty safe to say that the Walkers don’t really care about displaying showmanship to scare folks at the opportune moment, so the fact that the general population hasn’t seen any of them in this age of technology is clearly just convenience for the writers. Plus, everyone seems abundantly dimwitted as to what’s happening around them with the exception of Nick, the freaking drug addict! In times of survival, if the junkie seems like the most capable out the bunch, it’s about time you find yourself a new group to roll with.

 Fear the Walking Dead: “Pilot” Rating - C

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Sunday, August 23, 2015

Scream: The TV Series – Bloody Good, or Bloody Waste of Time?

Out with the melodrama, and in with the bloodbath. After some rather lackluster, teen soap-opera episodes, Scream: The TV Series at last ups its game in the second half of its season. Though chills and thrills may come in abundance, the storyline still falters from some overall pacing issues, but nothing nearly as cringe worthy as earlier episodes. The scares satisfy, the deaths (though oddly fewer than expected) deliver in brutal fashion, and the mystery is compelling in its own right. With that being said, the parallels one can draw to it and its obvious source material, Harper’s Island, are still too numerous to mention. That spat (though a rather large one) aside, the show does accomplish what it set out to, despite its rocky start. 

Now, time for some good old-fashioned analyzing. 

Two for the Price of One 

Though serial killer couplings are more of a rarity in reality, having two people working together in a murderous bloodbath is relatively common in film and television, especially in the whodunit category of the horror genre. Given that the other killer can perform alone, this pairings tactic provides alibis for each potential suspect for at least one killing, stumping the audience as to who’s really behind the acts. Plus, considering that three out of the four Scream films used this ploy, as did Harper’s Island, it’s all the more fair to assume that we should be looking for two killers versus one. So, who are our prime suspects? Let’s break it down. 

Noah Foster: Labeled as the “Randy” in the small screen adaptation, this slasher film efficiendo is not only very tech-savvy, but also an enthusiast of mass murderer, Brandon James. Deadly combo right there. 

Jake Fitzgerald: Revealed as a total creeper, this arrogant jock was spying on Nina Patterson via web cam all the way up to her violent murder and was also blackmailing the mayor with stolen security footage as well. If this doesn’t establish this guy’s lack of morals and empathy, I’m not sure what does. And let’s not forget that he recently managed to miraculously survive when the killer brutally stabbed him in the chest, that just so happened to miss all his organs. How very convenient… 

Kieran Wilcox: Sure, the guy has the face of a devilish angel, but who can ignore the fact that this steely-eyed bad boy just so happened to stroll into town when the murders began? The son of Lakewood’s sheriff, Kieran enters the picture after both his mom and stepdad were killed in a car accident. Was a car involved? Most likely. Was it an accident? That remains to be seen. Not much is known about him asides from his deep interest in gothic literature and that he has a rough relationship with his father. After making it a point to zero in on our protagonist, Emma, he’s managed to seduce her with his enigmatic charm with relative ease, despite her mixed emotions after her bitter breakup from Will. Then in the one instant when Emma returns her affections to Will when he nearly dies, Emma’s ex has another sudden brush with death…which ends with him being sawed in half, right down the middle. Yeesh… Could jealousy be another one of Ghostface’s evil attributes? 

These three definitely have some questionable circumstances surrounding them, but let’s be honest. Two people in particular stand out amongst the rest. 

Prime Suspect #1: Audrey Jensen – Having lost her former best friend, Emma, to Nina Patterson’s high-status clique, she’s found herself as the subject of ridicule by fellow classmates. After Nina sends out a video of Audrey making out with another girl to everyone in town, causing it to go viral, Nina gets sliced and diced by her poolside. Just as the late Nina made Audrey an internet sensation, Ghostface returns the favor by releasing a GIF to everyone of the killer taking a selfie with Nina’s dead body. Then, only later when Emma confesses to Audrey for being a part of the video prank does Ghostface start harassing her, leading to the leaked video of Will deflowering Emma. An eye for an eye, perhaps? 

Audrey’s DNA was also found inside one of the Ghostface masks from the abandoned hospital containing the killer’s lair. And we’ve seen this artsy student’s murderous temper on the video that Emma and Noah discover when Audrey is taken into police custody. The only reason she’s released is because Emma made up a false alibi for her out of guilt. Audrey also admits to having used the Ghostface’s voice changer for one of Rachel’s movies, and she keeps a secret photo of Brandon James amongst her possessions. This circumstantial evidence seems suspicious enough, but one thing is damning above all. Ghostface boldly takes credit for each of his/her kills, with the exception of Rachel Murray, Audrey’s make-out partner from the viral video. The killer goes through the effort of making Rachel’s death look like a suicide. Why? When a highly publicized serial killer makes it abundantly clear that he/she enjoys the notoriety, wouldn’t said person want to take credit for killing Rachel? Nothing about Rachel, asides from her relationship to Audrey, connects her to the rest of the victims. She didn’t even live in Lakewood. The only reason she danced the Gallow’s Jig seems to be because of something she may have known about Audrey that could implicate the rebellious teen later. 

Prime Suspect #2: Piper Shaw – Anyone with a keen eye can figure out that there’s something extremely shady about this intelligent crime podcaster. The girl comes face-to-face with Ghostface, and only walks away with a minor head bump while Will is stabbed and dragged away. She also uses her injury later to excuse herself from the abandoned bowling alley just before some major smack goes down. When introduced in the second episode, Piper mentions to Emma that her father was murdered before she could remember. In episode 8, we find out that Emma’s mother was pregnant with Brandon James’s child after he was killed by police following the massacre. Maggie gave up the child for adoption, leaving said individual to be about twenty or twenty-one years of age in 2015. Can you guess how old Piper is? Yep. And who could ignore the showrunners’ attempt to dress down the gorgeous Amelia Rose Blaire with those ridiculously nerdy glasses? This purposely executed persona of demure and sweet immediately sends up red flags.

But what would Piper’s motives be? Well, that’s where some theorizing comes in. Even Maggie (Emma’s mother) believes to this day that Brandon James was innocent for the massacre in the mid-90s. If true, then who is the original killer? Taking a page out of the first Scream movie, it could be the soul ‘survivor’ of the attacks, Emma’s father. He was obviously furious about Maggie’s relationship with Brandon, and even left his wife and daughter years later when he discovered that Maggie had given birth to Brandon’s child. If Piper is in fact Brandon James’s daughter, then coming to Lakewood to start a similar bloodbath might spur her father’s murderer to return to town…as he later does. Ghostface makes numerous mentions to Emma that her entire family is a lie. Well, if Emma’s mother really loved Brandon, but later unwittingly married the man responsible for his death and sullied legacy, it would definitely make Emma’s family a sham. 

So, who do you guys think is behind the mask? Let us know. 

Scream: The TV Series – B-/C+


Thursday, August 13, 2015

Pretty Little Liars: “Game Over, Charles” Recap & Review

You hear that perpetual thumping? Don’t be concerned. It’s just PLL fans banging their heads on whatever hard surface they can find. Why might that be, you ask? Well, if you’d just seen the summer finale, you would know all too well. After five and a half seasons, 130 episodes, and all those red herrings, we finally get a face to go with the infamous “A”. The result…is rather underwhelming.

With help from Mona, the Liars try to track down a recently kidnapped Alison and find themselves at the corporate office of the Carissimi Group. Sara Harvey so conveniently helps them break into Rhys Matthews’s locked room, and they walk right into “A”’s evil lair. The vault door closes on them, locking all the girls inside with the exception of the suspicious Sara Harvey. Meanwhile, Alison awakens inside what looks like a prison cell with Mr. D and Jason’s lifeless bodies on the floor outside the room. With a strangely futuristic video feed showing the Liars and Mona everything happening to Alison, they see the notorious “A” lurking in the corner of the cell. The big reveal…Jason’s ex, CeCe Drake, is underneath the infamous black hoodie. Can you say creepy?

The rest of the episode pretty much plays out as exposition to reveal CeCe’s motives for becoming “A” with enormous mounds of information dumping and not a lot of time to digest it all. CeCe, known as Charles back in the day, apparently didn’t try to drown Alison in the bathtub. Yep, it was all just a big misunderstanding. Already unhinged at his son’s predisposition for wanting to wear dresses, Mr. DeLaurentis convinced his wife to lock Charles up in the Radley Institute after the bathtub incident. Mrs. D was more understanding of Charles’s cross-dressing tendencies, in which she’d buy duplicates of Alison’s wardrobe to give to her son when visiting him at Radley.

Bethany Young was apparently the one responsible for Toby’s mother’s presumed “suicide” when she blatantly pushed her off the roof, in which she blamed Charles. Mrs. D paid off Wilden to cover up all the secrets after she faked Charles’s death to rename him “Charlotte” before re- administering him back into Radley under a different name and feminine appearance. Things took a turn for the truly disturbing when Charles a.k.a. “CeCe” managed to sneak back into Rosewood and start a relationship with his/her own unwitting brother, Jason, just to get close to the family. Sadly, your head does not work like an Etch A Sketch. Doesn’t matter how hard and long you shake it, those incestuous images won’t go away.

Speaking of Jason, both he and his father are in fact alive. “A”, using a mysterious serum, drugged the guys to leave them in a state of paralysis, in which they’re fully awake and conscious of their surroundings, but unable to move whatsoever. One can only assume, after listening to Charles’s sickening confession, that Jason definitely spent a lot of time in the upcoming five year time jump at therapy. Yuck.

This disturbing brother/sister relationship came to Mrs. DeLaurentis’s attention only when Jason brought CeCe home…for his family to meet his new girlfriend. To say Mrs. D wasn’t happy about this lewd, family affair would be putting it mildly.

It is also revealed that CeCe is the one who hit Alison over the head with the rock that fateful night, mistaking her for Bethany Young. In light of this revelation, Mona confesses to the Liars that she, too, suffered a case of mistaken identity when she hit Bethany with the shovel, thinking it was Ali. CeCe later befriended Mona while the two were hauled up in Radley, though Mona was too medicated to remember CeCe. She just assumed her guilt was making her hallucinate that she was really talking to an imaginary Alison. That’s when Mona apparently mentioned that the Liars were happy about Alison being dead, sparking Charles/Charlotte/CeCe’s vengeance towards the group. Oh. My. God. You have a headache yet? Don’t worry; we all do. Lastly, Sara Harvey is revealed to be both Red Coat and the Black Widow, leaving Emily distraught. Show of hands, who was shocked that Sara was a baddie? Anybody? No? Didn’t think so.

The Liars, realizing that the video feed is coming from Radley, manage to break out of “A”’s lair and get to the institute to rescue Ali before CeCe has a chance to blow it all up. What happens to CeCe after that is perfectly UNCLEAR as the scene fades to black after the cops arrive on scene and CeCe surrenders by calling “Game over.”
Well, that was…anticlimactic.

Sure, after five and a half seasons, expectations were undoubtedly high. Perhaps too high. Not all fans would be satisfied, no matter who was revealed to be lurking underneath that black hoodie. But when intended gasps are instead met with groans, it’s a sure sign the show runners hit a sour note. The allure of “A” has always been the calculated, enigmatic menace behind each threat, taunt, and malevolent act. CeCe’s back story completely derails that appeal by either chalking her behavior up to misunderstandings or plain, impulsive psychosis. And you can’t ignore the elephant in the room. With transgender awareness now at a focal point in the media, Charles/CeCe’s “shocking” reveal reads more as a last minute gimmick than as a genuinely organic idea. What makes this offense worse is the fact that this particular case regarding transgender lifestyles plays out more like Buffalo Bill, given that her gender identity crisis was compounded with ideas that incest and violence were reasonable actions, resulting in a blatantly insulting portrayal of a transgender individual.   

Are we also really expected to believe that the clearly masculine figure that leapt from the rooftop after shooting Ezra in season four’s finale was petite, little CeCe? All signs up to that point made the likelihood that a male, particularly Wren Kingston, was in fact “A”. This information dump of a finale felt more like the creators were more interested in shocking fans than giving them what they really deserved, a perfect villain. Many viewers picked up on tidbits throughout the series that made it hard to ignore Wren’s suspicious behavior. The fact that “A” scheduled the British custom of “tea time” while the girls were trapped in the Dollhouse seemed like a good clue. The fact that Wren owned an eerily similar placard reading “Love Thy Neighbor” that also happened to be hanging on the wall in the Dollhouse was another. Then there’s the fact that the police were suspicious of Wren’s questionable doctorial credentials, in which he somehow worked in both medical and psychiatric branches of the field. The fact he knew Radley all too well without having ever been there can’t be ignored either.

The list goes on and on. It was even hinted that “A” was in the series from the very beginning. CeCe didn’t show up until three seasons in. Plus, the show’s creator, I. Marlene King, tweeted a picture of a young Charles at the farm, along with the caption, “An apple a day…” The old saying, “An apple a day keeps the DOCTOR away,” seemed like a heavy hint at Kingston as well. And lastly, one must suspect that the creators were also responsible for the fake leak from a supposed former employee saying that Wren was in fact Charles. This fan-favorite theory was emphasized so much that it feels like PLL just enjoyed pulling the rug out from everyone’s feet by playing a dirty, five-year trick. Whether that’s the case or not, this midseason finale was undoubtedly a massive disappointment. And I'm still wondering how long the Liars' mothers will be stuck in the basement for?

Pretty Little Liars - “Game Over, Charles” Rating:  D -

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Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Pretty Little Liars: “Last Dance” Recap & Review

It is coming.

No, not winter. At least not yet.

Just one week away, and the infamous “A” will be revealed.

After being disinvited to their senior prom, the Liars decide to host their own low-key version in Spencer’s barn. Sadly, Caleb jets off to New York without much explanation and Sarah’s own prom is scheduled the same night, leaving Hanna and Emily dateless. Thankfully, things are looking up for Aria. Not only does Ezra accept her offer to attend the girls’ makeshift prom, but Aria also finds out that she won the photography contest, which means she’ll be leaving for her internship in L.A. come summer.

With Charles still on the loose, the Liars’ mothers aren’t taking any chances. Mrs. Marin, Mrs. Hastings, Mrs. Fields, and Mrs. Montgomery all convene in Spencer’s kitchen so that they can keep an eye on the girls as everyone arrives at the barn in the backyard. And who can ignore the lovely homage to the series opening scene as a thunderstorm rolls into the area just as Ali arrives? She receives a text from Charles, ordering her to go to Rosewood’s prom. Determined to speak to her brother face-to-face, Alison sneaks away the instant the mothers aren’t paying attention.

Oh so fitting to the “Enchanted Forest” theme, Alison arrives at the festivities looking like the Belle of the Ball. Her stunning entrance isn’t lost on Clark, who all so suspiciously happens to be the photographer for the event. Back at the barn and clearly in boredom, the Liars check out all their classmates’ posted prom pics on their cells, and Emily spots Ali in one of the shots. With too many servings of wine already underway, the Liars’ mothers are completely oblivious to what’s happening literally right in front of them as Aria, Hanna, Spencer, Emily, Toby, and Ezra all manage to skulk off undetected to prom. Forget the tipsy mothers for a moment. How did the police officers stationed out front not notice six people all leaving the property at once? Clearly, the gang didn’t hoof it to prom, so you’d think Rosewood’s finest would see them taking one of their cars and driving off. Just saying…

Ali peruses the dance as more taunting texts pour in from “A”, telling her to seek him out. Just as she’s about to close in on her brother, Spencer intervenes. Knowing full-well what Charles is up to, Spencer urges Alison to walk away while she still can. Ali immediately rebuffs the advice, demanding that Spencer stays out of it. All Alison wants is answers, and she’s determined to finally get them. Everyone splits up to survey the room, keeping Alison in sight as she continues searching for Charles.

Caleb crashes the party, looking quite smashing might I add, filling Hanna in on what his mysterious trip was about. Apparently, he’s been offered a high paying job working as an information risk analyst. He invites Hanna to move with him to New York, which she gladly accepts. Toby and Spencer patch things up as well, but things don’t look so good for Team “Ezria” as Aria decides to go through with her plans to L.A. and Ezra joins Habitat for Humanity.

Another unexpected guest arrives, in the form of Sarah Harvey. She conveniently steals Emily’s attention, just as everyone else loses sight of Alison. The Liars do spot something of interest…like Clark running after Ali with a gun in hand. Toby manages to take down the creepy photog, only to discover that Clark is actually an undercover cop. Now in the wind, Ali wanders through the maze of decorations alone before “A” snatches her from behind. Charles drags her out into an empty corridor where his sister finally gets the chance to face him. And by her reaction upon his off-camera reveal, he’s definitely someone she knows.

After an entire summer of unanswered questions and melodrama clogging the runtime, PLL finally regains its footing with “Last Dance”. Though nothing is actually revealed to us, the rising tension woven throughout the entire episode makes for a gripping viewing. Its magnificent direction and cinematography coupled with the enchanting costumes and set pieces recaptures the series’ allure that had been noticeably absent for most of this season. All that’s left now is to speculate one last time over who’s really hiding underneath that notorious black hoodie.

Prime suspect on our radar? None other than Melissa’s current beau, Wren Kingston. Why might you ask? Previous seasons have dropped many hints that seem to point to this delicious British doctor, like how he shares “A”’s choice in alcoholic beverages and has the same OCD tendencies. And who can forget “A”’s message, “Nosey bitches die”? The standard American spelling of nosy doesn’t have an e, but the British version does. Plus, you can’t ignore the fact that the drawing Kingston showed Mona while she was in Radley looks eerily similar to the farm footage Spencer saw inside the Dollhouse. The big giveaway recently was during Spencer’s Oxford interview. Remember when blood started seeping from her purse all over the visitor’s chair? “A” texted her right after she fled the building. Either “A” went through a whole lot of trouble to take his scheming to an international level, or he was already in England. And where was Spencer staying during her visit? Wren’s flat…where he could easily plant the blood in her purse. Nothing’s for certain though. We’ll just have to wait till next week’s big reveal to find out. So, who do you guys think is “A”?

Pretty Little Liars - “Last Dance” Rating:  A