Friday, March 25, 2016

Movie Review: "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice"

The highly anticipated battle that comic book fans have been waiting for finally hit theaters. But do the Caped Crusader and Metropolis Marvel make for silver screen gold, or does their movie matchup make for kryptonite?

Two years following the destructive events of Man of Steel that left Metropolis in ruin, Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) shares the public’s sour sentiment towards Superman (Henry Cavill). Given the devastation left in the wake of his limitless power, The Last Son of Krypton is now viewed as a threat to humanity, and Batman sees himself fit to put an end to his reign as the infamous Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) launches a devious quest of his own.

We all saw the trailers, and a painful one in particular gave us a glimpse into the convoluted and congested plot of this two-and-a-half-hour spectacle. It’s common knowledge nowadays that Zack Snyder makes visually stunning movies, and Batman v. Superman proves to be yet another prime example of his keen directorial eye. But even the best visuals can’t mask the incoherency of Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer’s screenplay. If anything could be taken away from Marvel’s execution to the big screen, it’s that the slow burn of singular entry films builds up much more nicely to a team-origin story. Just as what crippled The Amazing Spider-Man 2, too many players on the board bogs down the development of the eventual Justice League.

Batman v Superman remains bloated and jumbled as it tries juggling far too many key points. Four separate storylines run throughout the course of the movie, and none of them are properly fleshed out by tale’s end to give viewers any true investment. Whether this is the studio’s decision to accelerate the expansion of the DC Universe or merely a choice of the screenwriters, it’s still shoddy plotting.

Poor storytelling coupled with jarring shifts in genre make for a disjointed mess that hardly compliments its actors. And that really proves to be the greatest pity of the entire production, considering its handy ensemble. Henry Cavill remains serviceable in the role of Superman, Amy Adams does her best despite the screenplay robbing her character of any particular relevance, Gal Gadot delivers a solid performance as Wonder Woman, and Jeremy Irons is a delight in his turn as Bruce Wayne’s trusted confidant, Alfred.

As for the controversial casting choices surrounding the film, those decisions result in a tossup. The internet exploded in a tirade last year over Ben Affleck landing the iconic role of Batman. The Argo director most certainly gets the last laugh over the unwarranted hatred here as he brilliantly embodies the Caped Crusader’s grizzled, primal aggression seen yet only in comic book format. Some may gripe over this embodiment’s loose “no killing” rule, but Batman’s nature in the grit of this universe still seems fitting. On the other side of the coin, Jesse Eisenberg sadly plays as the weakest link of the bunch, but that’s not to say that he’s horrible in the role. He’s just not Lex Luthor. With his short-circuiting tics, Eisenberg’s portrayal resembles more of the intelligibly quirky Riddler than Superman’s charismatic archenemy.

If the studio had taken its time and explored each of the many plot points in separate films, the DC Universe could have given Marvel a run for its money. Unfortunately, its eagerness to flood the market results in a chaotic mess. Worst of all, it casts a shadow of doubt over the highly anticipated Suicide Squad, due out in August.

Final Verdict: C -

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Monday, March 21, 2016

MOVIE REVIEW: Joel Edgerton's "The Gift"

With a new job lined up, married couple Simon (Jason Bateman) and Robyn (Rebecca Hall) relocate from Chicago to Los Angeles with the hopes of finding a fresh start. The pair returns to Simon’s hometown and settles in with the purchase of a swanky house in the Hollywood Hills to start a family. A chance encounter with Simon’s old and rather peculiar high school classmate, Gordo (Joel Edgerton), threatens to spoil their idyllic lifestyle however after he goes out of his way to welcome the happy couple to their new home. Robyn sees past Gordo’s awkwardness and finds a kindred spirit in him. Gordo begins leaving the couple numerous presents and even visits Robyn to lend her a helping hand while Simon’s away at work. Things take an unsettling turn though after Simon voices his concerns, insisting that he and Robyn need to sever ties with the oddball.

Having been introduced to the slew of run-of-the-mill thrillers last year with films like The Perfect Guy and The Boy Next Door, it’s impossible not to go into The Gift thinking that it’ll be another regurgitated slop of clichés. Modern-day cinema thrives on gratuitous content, and this genre is no exception with its exploits of sex, nudity, violence, and gore. So imagine my surprise of finding out that The Gift is rated R…only for language. Even in the gilded age of top-notch thrillers like Cape Fear and Fatal Attraction, drastic age-sensitive content was required to affectively tell the story. So how does a film like this one hold up without any of the obvious flash and slash? 

Remarkably well.

Joel Edgerton proves that he’s a force to be reckoned with, having written, produced, and starred in his first full-length directorial film. The Gift expertly takes its time peeling away its many layers with brilliant subtlety, unnerving its audiences and urging them to the edge of their seats before leading into a stunning, tailspin climax. Subverting from the clichés and conventions we all know too well from the genre, The Gift is essentially a character-driven chamber piece thriller that relies only on its masterfully crafted storytelling and superb cast. 

And what a cast it is.

With antagonists commonly portrayed in thrillers nowadays as always being hyper aggressive and in-your-face, it’s a breath of fresh air to see Edgerton dial down and play the role with perfectly devised restraint and sensitivity, making his character someone that audiences can oddly empathize with. Even in spite of his subtle demeanor, he’s still the film’s scene-stealer, and that’s not an easy feat by any means. Best known for his comedic chops in projects like Horrible Bosses and Arrested Development, Jason Bateman steps outside his comfort zone and delivers his most versatile and effective performance to date since 2007’s Juno, proving he’s more than a one-trick pony. And as far as Rebecca Hall is concerned, it continues to amaze me why she isn’t on top of Hollywood’s A-list. She hasn’t worked with acclaimed directors like Christopher Nolan, Woody Allen, and Ben Affleck just because she’s another pretty face. The character of Robyn, with her struggles of past demons, personal loss, and social insecurities, is undoubtedly complex. It takes a true talent to portray these depths, and with the service of Edgerton’s writing and direction, Hall’s performance appears so natural and effortless.  

The Gift teases us with the conventions of the thriller genre and flips it all on its head at just the right moments. As soon as the audience feels they know where the story is going, it lurches in the other direction. The characters’ personas strip away as the story arc progresses, overturning the stereotypical roles of protective husband, tentative housewife, and creepy outsider into something truly authentic. The cinematography is beautiful, the direction perfectly executed, and the foreboding atmosphere never ceases with slow-burning tension from start to finish. It’s a polished piece that knows exactly what it’s doing and never falters or goes astray from its objective. The storyline resonates within the viewer, leaving a lasting impression that will inarguably make us all reflect on past experiences. Joel Edgerton delivers a poignant psychological thriller unlike anything put to film in recent history, proving that The Gift is indeed a gift that will keep on giving. 

The Gift: 4 ½ out of 5 Stars

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Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Pretty Little Liars "Hush, Hush, Sweet Liars" Recap & Review

Tuesday night on Pretty Little Infidelity Liars, season six wrapped up not so much with a bang, but with a massive WTF? Dedicated fans know strange happenstances are commonplace in Rosewood, yet no one could quite wrap their heads around the events of the finale. That’s what you get when you mix Mission: Impossible, Night of the Living Dead, and Army of Darkness into PLL

Yes, you read that right. So, how did all of this transpire? Time to breakdown the mania of 6B’s closer.

“Hush, Hush, Sweet Liars” kicks off right after Hanna sends “Uber A” her false confession. The perp appears to buy the ruse, responding that he/she will shoot all the girls if Hanna is lying. Mind you, “shoot” is sent in the form of an emoji gun.

Hanna agrees to meet with “A”, but requests one more day to get her affairs in order. And with that, all Hell breaks loose over the course of the next twenty-four hours. Yvonne and Toby spar off when Cavanaugh tells his fiancée that he won’t be able to attend her mother’s election party. She demands to know why, but he can’t tell her anything other than that it’s in the service of helping Spencer. The pair parts ways for the night on poor terms, but Spoby fans get treated to a glimmer of hope as Spencer and Toby team up to investigate Radley. Using Sara Harvey’s blueprints to hopefully uncover what she’s likely hiding in the refurbished building, they go down into the underbelly of the old sanitarium where they run into a snooping Mona. The three come across an empty room with nothing but old medical records for someone named Mary Drake, who gave birth to Charles twenty-five years ago when she was still a patient at the asylum. This child was then adopted by the DiLaurentis family, making Charlotte Ali and Jason’s adopted brother/sister.

Meanwhile, Caleb rigs up an electrical fence by the Lost Woods Resort with the hopes of thwarting “A” before the big meeting. As Hanna and he wait things out, Hanna finally comes clean to her ex over the fact that she still loves him after we’re treated to a flashback of the former couple’s breakup. Despite Spencer dropping the “L” word on her new beau not twelve hours prior, Hanna and Caleb share a lip lock until they’re interrupted by Aria and Ezra. This infidelity hurts all the more considering the showrunners pushed for us to accept Caleb and Spencer as the new pairing for the entire winter half of the season.

And they’re not the only adulterous ones of the bunch. Whether or not you like the tumultuous shipping of Aria and Ezra, it still leaves a bitter taste in your mouth when these two former lovebirds take a roll in the hay upon getting glowing reviews from Aria’s boss over their new book. We may not have spent much time with Liam, but it’s obvious that he’s a good guy (and a much healthier relationship option for Aria). Ms. Montgomery even spoke to Emily about Liam’s fear that she still had feelings for Ezra, claiming they were, for the most part, unfounded. Aria seems to suffer from some personality disorder, because not three hours later, she’s deep in the sheets with her ex-English teacher…again.

Amid the relationship melodrama, Alison takes a detour from happy honeymooner to full-on Girl, Interrupted. After her vivid dream in the hospital of her mom coming to visit her, she suddenly seems to be suffering from hallucinations. A music box starts playing on its own upstairs, and when Ali goes to investigate, she sees her grimy, dirt-ridden dead mother standing in the doorway of her old bedroom. Rightfully in a panic, Alison seeks comfort with Emily, who assures her that it’s all just a side effect of her painkiller medication. She tries convincing herself that it’s the culprit, only to find the deceased Detective Wilden lying in bed with her when she wakes up from a nap.

Thinking that she’s off her rocker, Alison checks herself into the mental health facility that previously housed Charlotte mere hours before Elliot is supposed to come home from his business trip. Emily begs her to reconsider, but Ali ultimately goes through with the decision.

All’s well at the Hastings’ campaign party when it’s announced that Veronica won the election. The merriment gets crushed when Aria calls Spencer to inform her that Hanna has gone missing. During the elaborate trap to catch “Emoji A”, someone triggered the sensors coming up to the motel room. Apparently, nobody thought of implementing the buddy-system to ensure that Hanna wouldn’t be left alone, because Caleb, Aria, and Ezra all leave her to check out the trigger. Of course, no one’s there, and they discover the same when they get back to the motel room.

First rule of baiting traps, make sure there isn’t a secret passage hidden beneath the floorboards. 

Bunch of amateurs.

The group reviews Caleb’s camera footage from the electrical fence, seeing none other than Alison’s dead mother on the recording. In the last minutes of the show, the deceased Detective Wilden appears again in the DeLaurentis house and rips off an Ethan-Hunt-style facial mask, revealing himself to in fact be Elliot—with a British accent no less.


As it turns out, Mary Drake, the woman from the recently uncovered hospital records, is in fact Mrs. DeLaurentis’s evil twin! She and Elliot invented this entire ruse—including Elliot marrying Alison—all so that when she checked herself into the mental hospital, Elliot would have control over the Carissimi Group. Taking away the family business is apparently step one in their quest for vengeance, as Elliot was apparently in love with Charlotte and Mary wants justice for her daughter’s death. The Liars receive one last text message reading, “Thanks for giving me Hanna. You’re free to go. – A.D.” Then the show concludes with events coming full circle as Hanna’s body is dragged across the floor of the church bell tower where Charlotte met her death at the start of 6B.

Considering all the “twists” coming out of left field and the sheer lunacy of events, it’s impossible to watch PLL anymore with any sense of investment. The suspension of disbelief one has to implement is seriously pushing it, even by soap opera standards. When the show debuted, the original “A” proved to be a formidable foe. The sound of an incoming text message honestly put knots in your stomachs, because “A” was truly menacing. This “Emoji A” has about the same gravitas as a petulant middle schooler. 

Amid all the ridiculousness, the worst offense remains in the writers’ treatment of a particular Liar. Distraught from her father’s death, broke from poor life choices, and left without a job, Emily had the most compelling back story following the five-year time jump. Yet, over the course of the winter season, her character arc fell flatter than a pancake. And yet again, while the other Liars regale in copious love affairs, Ms. Fields continues to be the odd girl out for another season. Our deepest sympathies go out to Shay Mitchell for her continually untapped talents. Shame on you, writers. These grievances aside, the question still stands, if Mary and Elliot are “Uber A”, who actually killed Charlotte? And furthermore, do we really care anymore?  

Not really. 

Pretty Little Liars "Hush, Hush, Sweet Liars" Rating: D +

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Pretty Little Liars: "Did You Miss Me?" Recap & Review

Text message “M” for muder.

Emily confronts Mona after discovering she was the one who called Charlotte the night she was killed. Mona confirms the suspicion, saying that she wanted to meet up with their former tormentor. Considering the amount of dirt Charlotte had on each of the girls, Mona wanted assurance that none of her misdeeds would come to light, but she tells Em that Charlotte never showed up at the Two Crows Diner for their get-together. On the other side of town, honeymooning Alison takes an accidental swan dive down a flight of stairs. Sure, she ends up in the hospital with a concussion, but it hardly seems like foul play. After all, distractedly standing at the edge of a second floor landing in towering high heels does leave you rather susceptible to mishaps. But since this is PLL, we’re supposed to believe that this is all the evildoings of “Uber A”…despite a direct close-up shot of Alison’s foot showing us that she blatantly took a misstep.

The Liars find it suspicious that both Ali and Aria are in the hospital now, and their reservations get confirmed when a get-well card arrives in Ali’s room with Emily, Aria, and Ali’s faces all crossed out of a cartoon drawing of the girls. Emily and Spencer go on a stakeout, following Mona around town where they spot her conversing with Sara Harvey’s personal driver. When the two conspirators part ways, Emily taps the backend of the mystery man’s car while he’s in the hardware store, giving Spencer an opening to search his belongings as he distractedly checks out the damage. Surprise, surprise. He’s toting around blueprints to Radley along with a room key to the joint, which he later hands off to a seemingly able-bodied Sara Harvey.

Top Cheese Ball Award of the Week goes to Aria and Ezra as the pair works together on their new co-written book. Ezra wishes to rewrite a pivotal scene, where Nicole and he have their last conversation before her death. Aria sits on the couch and reads the rewrite, with Ezra and Nicole reenacting the scene behind her in the cheesiest, most overacted play-styled sequence in recent PLL history. Later in the evening, Aria’s publishing boss, Jillian, arrives in town with an invitation to dinner. The co-authors join her, where Jillian says that she’s knows that Aria and Liam “used to be an item.” Now, if Aria wishes to talk with the publishing house, she’s to report to Jillian directly, not Liam. But…wait. What? Did we all miss something? Because last we checked, Liam and Aria were still very much together. Did Jillian talk to Liam and force the two to break up? And if so, why? Losing an adorably loyal boyfriend via your evil boss would leave any other girl on Earth distraught, but after all’s said and done, Aria doesn’t see too broken up over it.

The same cannot be said about a bedridden Alison. The newlywed takes falling down the stairs as a sign that karma’s coming around to bite her in the butt for all the bad things she’s done in the past. All’s well fifteen minutes later after a concussed dream brings the deceased Mrs. DeLaurentis to Ali’s bedside. Her mother assures her that Elliott is a good man that can protect Alison in the ways that she couldn’t. This gives Ali the assurance she needs to return home when her new husband is sent away on business for the next week.

Meanwhile, Hanna and Caleb hatch a plan to catch the evil “Uber A”, whose greatest offense so far appears to be overusing text messaging emojis.

Spencer drops in to break the news to them that Sara Harvey is back at the Radley under a false name when a teary-eyed Hanna suddenly “confesses” to murdering Charlotte.

But not really. After relaying a detailed murder confession, Hanna suddenly goes into her best Resting Bitch Face as poor Spencer gawks in horror. Hanna turns to Caleb and says, “See? She believed it. And if she believed it, even for a minute, they will, too.” Turns out, it was all an act to see if Hanna could sell her story to “Uber A” to make he/she believe they’ve caught the killer. Talk about the cruelest form of “Gotcha.” When Emily gets brought into the mix, neither she nor Spencer are sold on this plan, but Caleb and Hanna tell them that they’re going through with it whether anybody agrees with them or not. We’re then treated to a flashback of Caleb and Spencer when they were in Spain, but it honestly serves no purpose other than to beat us over the head with the fact that the pair has good chemistry.

Hanna, who seems completely clueless as to the wedge she’s put between Spencer and Caleb, shares face time with another Rosewood beau, Lucas. Seriously, between her fiancé, her ex, and this wannabe boyfriend, Hanna’s not just having her cake; she’s eating the entire bakery! Lucas sweeps in to save the day by giving the blonde beauty a million dollar line of credit and an empty factory for Hanna to build her own fashion brand with new designers, no strings attached. For a girl who seemed hell-bent on leaving this torturous small town, Hanna suddenly has a change of heart and wants to stay.

Yeah, because what says getting in touch with your roots better than crime scene tape and a high body count? As far as the Lucas situation goes, Hanna should know by now that nothing in life comes free. Proceed with caution, Ms. Marin.

It’s never an easy thing to rip on a show you enjoy, but honestly, PLL has fallen far from its prior glory. Each scene in this week’s episode is cheesy, melodramatic, unnecessary, downright silly, or worse: all of the above. Non-accidental accidents, an unimpressive villain, ghostly apparitions, and exaggerated storylines leave us all with one sentiment…

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Pretty Little Liars: “Burn This” Recap & Review

Let the bridesmaids burn!

Kicking off episode 18, Aria apparently went through with officiating Alison and Elliot’s wedding, as the newlyweds have skipped town. As the Liars clean up what’s left of the dual ceremonies, Aria discovers a series of ominous photos added to her parents’ camera. Staged by table cue cards, the messages warn the Liars to give up the killer by election night….or else. Aria manages to find a silver lining amid the drama, as Ezra informs her that he pitched an idea to her publishing house for her to co-write his new book.

Meanwhile, Spencer copes with the fallout from the campaign scandal, and her father isn’t making things any easier for the youngest Hastings. He demands that Spencer put some distance between her and Caleb. The plan fails miserably after Toby drops by the house and cold-cocks Caleb in the nose, believing him to be responsible for the leak. Instead of patching him up inside the house that they’re already in, Spencer decides it’s best to play Florence Nightingale with Caleb out in the open at a local park. Of course, the paparazzi catch the lovebirds in action, and the news passes through the grapevine back to a furious Mr. Hastings.

Thankfully, we finally get a little insight as to what broke up the beloved coupling of Spoby (Spencer and Toby). Flashbacks to Spencer’s sophomore year at college reveal that she had a pregnancy scare, forcing the pair to examine their strained relationship. Ultimately, it’s a false alarm, but the damage between the two has been done. Given this past circumstance, Spencer feels obligated to confront Toby over the political leak that his current fiancée had an abortion a few years back. She insists that Caleb had nothing to do with the scandal and at last comes clean about the new “Uber A” who has surfaced. Toby and Spencer find themselves on better terms, but all isn’t so fine and dandy for the remaining Liars.

Emily has apparently been bit by a radioactive spider, because she suddenly has superhero-level listening abilities. She overhears a random vehicle muffler as she walks down the street, and immediately recognizes it as the same sound as the truck that tried turning her into road kill the night prior. Going all-out Nancy Drew, she sleuths her way down to a local mechanic shop and finds the pickup hidden beneath a car cover. A worker spots her snooping around, and Emily is immediately—and quite conspicuously —turned away when she asks the mechanic if Spencer’s sister borrowed the truck.

As for Aria, an unwelcomed visitor lands on her front porch in the form of Detective Tanner. She insists that Aria accompany her to the police precinct for a lineup. Apparently, an unidentified witness gave a description of the woman who called Charlotte the night of her murder, and it’s a frighteningly close match to Aria. During her briefing, Ms. Montgomery steals a look at Tanner’s records. Of all things, the witness distinctly described an attractive brunette who just so happened to be carrying a pink dice key ring.


Hanna may not be under attack by the law, but she definitely holds the record for the world’s most miserable Bridal Shower. When Ashley attempts to lighten the mood with a trivia game about the groom-to-be, everyone fails miserably to answer any of the questions right.

Are we really expected to believe that Hanna didn’t gush all about how Jordan proposed to her? Or how they even met? Yeah, no one’s buying any of that.

If things couldn’t get any more awkward, Mona swings by the party just before Hanna’s electronically-controlled apartment goes haywire. The tablet that works everything from the temperature in the room to the music system suddenly malfunctions, shutting off the lights and kicking up the A.C. to tornado-level wind gusts.

Obviously, the absurdity can’t end there. Just as Aria heads across the room to pick up some tossed gifts, the fireplace practically explodes in her face, leaving her hospitalized with second-degree burns. Still shaken by the incident, Emily and Mona stick around Hanna’s apartment to clean up the mess. After dumping out the last of the charcoaled party favors, Mona says goodnight and heads to her car. Of course, Emily takes notice to her keychain, seeing pink dice.

So, who was really shocked?



Yeah, didn’t think so.

PLL succeeds this week in giving its fans a reasonable excuse for why Spencer and Toby parted ways. Asides from that high note, the episode is possibly absurd, even by soap opera standards.

Apartment tornados, people. Apartment tornados.

Need I say more?

Pretty Little Liars: “Burn This” Rating —     D+