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Apr 23, 2014

SALEM: IT'S GONNA BORE THE HELL OUT OF YOU

I must be honest, I did not expect much from WGN's first original TV series Salem in the first place. Yet, I could not possibly imagine, it would be that bad. Like most people, I've seen my fair share of trashy horror movies - all that garbage that earned less than half of its budget - but up to this point, there hardly was any series that would fill this niche on TV. In its tackiness Salem can only compete with some of the low budget Russian TV shows, and has a good chance of winning (if you've never seen Russian series, just take my word for it: the comparison with them is an insult).

Salem takes us back to the end of the XVII century, when all the infamous witch trials took place. In the center of this series are Mary Sibley (Janet Montgomery) and John Alden (Shane West), who are smart enough to become lovers in the society where non-marital romantic relationships are severely punished. Consequently, Mary becomes pregnant, but is forced to solve this problem on her own, as John gets conscripted to fight Indians, before she learns about her condition. So she decides to get rid of the baby by sacrificing her fetus to the devil (on that note, she seems quite far on, how could she hide it for so long?). 


When seven years later John returns, he finds his hometown engulfed in witch hunting hysteria, instigated by the loyal customer of the local brothel Cotton Mather, the preacher. And Mary is married to a rich old guy, who's immobilized by the stroke (also, she's a witch, which John is yet to find out).

Somehow, the show manages to portray the obvious lunacy of puritans and at the same time introduce the idea that they weren't really wrong about the necessity of the witch hunt. Apparently, those hypocrites' fault was not the killing and torture in itself, but their inability to detect correctly, who must have been killed and tortured. Call me narrow-minded, but this is an idiotic premise.

The plot progression, the dialogues, the special effects and the acting induce yawns; the scenes from various horror movies look ripped off, rather than cited; the series is full of cliches and shallow characters. From the first episode we have learned all witches' names, and can probably guess how the story will advance fairly accurately. The only question left unanswered is whether Mary has any useful or interesting magical powers. She doesn't seem to show any significant abilities except for limited mind control. All the other scenes where she performs her witchy stuff, seem to be put there just to expose her body.


Clearly, the creators did not intend it to come off funny, which makes it especially amusing. The only environment where this series could actually be enjoyed is in the company of drunk or stoned. There you could at least laugh at numerous failures of this show's script and its ridiculous special effects. But if you're in the mood to get scared, don't even bother, there's no way in hell Salem could help you with that.

Apr 21, 2014

ORPHAN BLACK SEASON 2 EPISODE 1 RECAP

One of the few noteworthy conspiracy science-fiction dramas, Orphan Black, returned last Saturday with the brand new episode Nature Under Constraint and Vexed. First of all: wow! This is how you start the second season! This is how you pack the first episode with action, without leaving your viewer confused.

If you haven't watched the first season, I suggest that you do. It's a very unusual blend of various TV genres: one moment it goes like a police or CSI-ish procedural, the next it turns into a real action drama, dark comedy or a thriller. Unlike most conspiracy series or films, the story of Orphan Black is rather coherent and does not feel in any way far-fetched. Okay, maybe cutting a piggy tail off one man's ass was little too much.


It is also very interesting to watch Tatiana Maslany, who plays more than half of important characters on the show, and her seemingly limitless ability to transform into numerous personalities. Her acting talent is especially apparent in those scenes, where one clone is supposed to impersonate the other. 

Aaanyways, here is how it goes:

Sarah is wondering around the streets, looking for her daughter, who has disappeared along with her foster-mother Mrs S at the end of last season. Sarah walks into a diner and orders tea. She can't reach any of her sister-clones, so she dials Paul and leaves a message on his voicemail, asking whether Neolutionists kidnapped her family. Shortly after, she receives a callback from Paul's number, but it's Rachel, the bitchy clone, talking. She tells Sarah that she'll only get her loved ones back if she signs the patent contract.


Right about this time two neat men enter the place with the intent to take Sarah "to Kira" (yeah, right). The diner owner tries to intercede by pointing a rifle at the freaks, but gets a bullet in his head. As he falls down, his rifle goes off and takes one of the men out. This gives Sarah a chance to escape. She locks herself in the bathroom, breaks the wall with the fire extinguisher and gets the hell outta there.

To get her daughter back, Sarah needs a plan or, at the very least, a gun. Luckily, she knows just the right person to turn to, so she sends her foster-brother Felix to the suburbs, to Alison, who's right in the middle of pulling her act together. No alcohol, no pills; she's now channeling her energy to an amateur musical Blood Ties (surprisingly, it's a real musical), where she plays the main part that used to belong to her friend Aynsley, whom she watched getting strangled by the garbage disposal.


She doesn't want to know anything about the clone conspiracy or let Sarah shoot people with guns registered under her name, but she knows this guy named Ramon (of course, she does), who could get an unregistered piece... maker. So she contacts him and sends him to Sarah with the hand-made card. Oh, Alison. Thoughtful and cordial, as ever.


Having obtained the gun, Sarah distracts Neolutionists' security dispatch by making them chase unsuspecting Alison (who showed those bastards how the real housewife can use her pepper spray), puts on Cosima style make-up and braids and runs off to face Rachel, who's meeting some important Koreans (both South and North) at the Dyad party. After the meeting, where Rachel admits her corporation made some lobbying efforts to convince the Supreme Court allow patenting synthetic DNA (a clear reference to the recent real-life decision), is over, when Rachel is left by herself, Sarah points a gun at her, demanding her daughter released. At first, Rachel tries to play cool, but a bullet just inches from her ear make her realize that Sara means business. She confesses that she's lied about having Kira, someone else had taken her. Sara hits the bitch and considers shooting her, but Paul interferes. She knocks Rachel out, and Paul lets her run free afterwards.


She turns to Art asking for his help in finding Kira. Apparently, it's Helena's religious nuts who kidnapped her.

Speaking of the devil, Helena is alive (I was supposed to be shocked by this turnout, but I simply forgot that Sarah shot her). So she must be having so special healing abilities. Leaving blood stains all over the place, she enters a medical center and passes out at the front desk. The neat guy from the opening scene appears there too, overlooking her hospitalization.


And what about Cosima? Nothing comforting, she is still sick of the unknown respiratory disease, and Delphine tries to convince her to start working for Dr. Leekie. Cosima says she does not want Neolutionists to get her bio material, but her lover takes her blood sample to Leekie anyway and tells him that Cosima has developed the same symptoms as the other two subjects (one is German Katja, the other one is "unknown" for now). At the Dyad party, disguised as Cosima, Sarah accepts Leekie's offer. So, most probably, the scientist clone will start working for Neolutionists after all. 

As I said in the beginning, this was a very solid comeback for the series. Intense, exciting and hilarious - everything one needs to get entertained. The show does not go too deep into the characters' like, let's say, Breaking Bad, Fargo or True Detective (at least for now); there is hardly any point it tries to prove, any philosophical idea it explores. It's just a fun series to watch, which is not a bad thing - I'm all for diversity. Besides, it gave me a new favourite expression "what the Dickens?", what more can I ask for?


Apr 18, 2014

FARGO - THE CROCODILE'S DILEMMA - RECAP

I've outlined my general thoughts on Fargo in my previous post, now it's time for a recap.

The episode begins with Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton) driving along the frozen highway. Suddenly, a herd of deer jump across the road and Malvo hits one of them. This accident lets a man, wearing nothing but underpants, escape the trunk of Lorne's car and run into the woods. Later, that man is discovered frozen to death by two police officers, Vern Thurman (Shawn Doyle) and Molly Solverson (Allison Tolman), when they investigate this car crash. At first they suppose the almost-naked-man is the driver, but the absence of any head trauma that must have been caused by the hit, makes them check the local hospital for any suspicious men.

And indeed, Malvo happens to look for some medical assistance; while waiting for the personnel to address his head injury, he engages in conversation with a timid insurance salesman with the broken nose, Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman), who's been having a bad day (which was about to get even worse). Question by question, Lorne drags the cause of Lester's trauma out - turns out, this is the courtesy of the proud owner of a truck depot, a father of two dull sons, Sam Hess (Kevin O'Grady), who used to bully Lester in high school and can't pass on the thought of mocking him in present. Lester tries to sugarcoat the situation as much as he can, 'cause "it's not good to dwell on those things", but his new acquaintance sees it for what it really is.


"If that were me in your position... I would have killed this man", says Malvo eventually.
"Heck, you're so sure about this, maybe you should just kill him for me", responds Lester, unable to conceal his true desire.

He can't believe this is really happening, neither can he say "no" to Malvo's confirmation question, whether Lester is actually asking him to kill a man, so Sam Hess' destiny is decided: he is stabbed to his head in a hooker house. After Lester hears about it, he finds the hitman, and tries to take his words back in a way, but what's done is done. Lorne convinces him that killing Hess made Lester more of a man than he's ever been. Encouraged by this thought, Mr. Nygaard attempts to be a man and fix the darn washing machine, but fails miserably in front of Mrs. Nygaard, who does not hesitate to throw what she thinks of him in his face. And then... he hits her with a hammer multiple times, mumbling "oh, jeez" along the way. Somebody must have developed taste for human flesh, huh.


After realizing what he has done, Lester calls Malvo in with the clear intent to kill him and present to the police as the murderer. Right about this time, the police find out that Lester's been talking to a man with the head injury about the late Sam Hess in the hospital, and Vern Thurman pays the unfortunate insurance salesman a visit. As he notices the blood stains on the floor and attempts to arrest Lester, Malvo, right on time, shoots him twice, and then disappears, leaving Lester with two bodies and the back-up that Thurman called for on its way. So to escape the arrest, the newly born murderer throws himself against the wall and loses conscientiousness. He wakes up in the hospital, not cuffed, so that seems to have worked.


Malvo carries on with his live, and we see him driving away, presumably after having completed the assignment given by his boss in Duluth. He is stopped by Deputy Gus Grimly (Colin Hanks), but after hearing a number of very convincing requests not to go down that road and return home alive, Gus lets him go.

Apr 16, 2014

FARGO - PILOT REVIEW - THE CROCODILE'S DILEMMA

The most anticipated new mini-series of the year, Fargo, premiered last night, and oh boy, was it great! I've been longing for a great dark comedy like this for a long time now. 

The action is set in Bemidji, Minnesota, in 2006, however the spirit is more that of the late 90's. Though the series clearly inherited the mood and the feel from the original film with the same title, it does not repeat the plot or the characters. A typical bad guy named Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thornton) makes an involuntary stop in this off this beaten track place and, after meeting a pushover insurance salesman, Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman), starts spreading chaos and violence around the town, seemingly, just for the fun of it. 


Nearly every character in the series looks rather caricaturistic, especially the women, for example, a cop who gags whenever he sees a dead body; a pregnant housewife, who can't decide what color she wants for the nursery; a successful entrepreneur, who thinks it's a good idea to fake-punch a forty year old man, whom he used to bully in high school, and so on, however, there is no feeling of untruthfulness in their motivation or actions.


The series explores what happens when a man, who's all his life been trying "not to dwell" on how other people treat him (on that note, can't help feeling that he deserves every bit of contempt he gets), is suddenly forced to go down a different road. We've seen something similar in Breaking Bad, though Lester Nygaard is definitely far less sympathetic or relatable than Walter White. Despite his inner urges, he does not choose to become "bad" on his own: extremely susceptible to other people's opinions, just like he had been influenced by, let's say, his wife before, he's now affected by Lorne Malvo's judgement. And even though we can already see that it will drive him to an unhappy ending, it surely will be a fun journey to watch.

Apr 14, 2014

NEW SERIES IN MAY

Fox doesn't seem to be able to let go of Kiefer Sutherland's superhero Jack Bauer, so on the 5th of May he returns with the mini-series 24: Live Another Day (a clear reference to Die Another Day). I absolutely hated the original 24 series, seriously, I can't think of any other show what annoyed me that much, but I'm sure there are many people who can't wait to see it.



Penny Dreadful, which airs on the 11th of May on Showtime seems a bit more interesting. Basically, they take a bunch characters from various spooky novels (e.g. Dorian Gray and Dr. Frankenstein) and put them to Victorian London. The show is created by John Logan, whose writing credits include Skyfall and The Aviator, and features Bond girl Eva Green, who plays one of the main characters.

 


On the 22nd of May a new action drama Gang Related premieres on Fox. The series is created by Chris Morgan (Fast and Furious) and it is about L.A. Police Department's special Gang Task Force and its war on gangs. Latinos will hate it, I'm afraid.



Then we have three new series from NBC. On the 27th of May they release The Night Shift about the night shift ER doctors from San Antonio Medical Center.


Two days later NBC introduce a sitcom Undateable by Adam Sztykiel, which is based on the book Undateable: 311 Things Guys Do That Guarantee They Won't Be Dating Or Having Sex. It's about a bunch of guys and their unfortunate lack of dating skills. The first look promo is here.


Finally, a new show about pirates with John Malkovich as Blackbeard, Crossbones, debuts on the 30th of May. The show was created by Neil Cross (Luther). At first there were rumors that Hugh Laurie would take the main part, but I guess, that wasn't meant to be. Unfortunately, I could not find any promotional video, so here's a poster instead:


Apr 10, 2014

BANSHEE SEASON 2 REVIEW

[THIS CONTAINS SPOILERS]

I meant to write about Banshee for a while now. In fact, I thought I would recap it, but changed my mind after having watched the first episode.

I'm not a big fan of action movies, especially those with extreme violence and numerous sex scenes, but somehow I have a soft spot for this show. This is one of a few series, where violent payback for unjust, criminal actions is not tabooed, and I like it for it. For too long we've been fed with the same principle: a protagonist cannot do what the antagonist does, and I'm glad too see that at least somebody explores other possibilities. 

The question of whether or not answering with violence is a viable option is raised throughout the season, and there's even a short monologue on the topic, read by the lead. One by one, the good people surrounding Lucas Hood, as well as the sheriff himself, answer this question on their own and choose what feels right rather than what society would say is right. Some, like Emmett, pay the ultimate price for it; some, like Siobhan, not only get away with it, but finally get some inner peace. 

Both the opening episode and the season finale left me confused, the narration was so incoherent it felt like I was listening to a drunk telling story. I guess they just tried to put as much action and psychological tension as they could to make those episodes "exciting".


Unfortunately, few of the characters grew any layers. Rebecca's character has definitely changed the most as she tries on her uncle's shoes and does her first steps as his future heir. It saddens me that Job gets so little time on the screen and still we know next to nothing about him. Instead of exploring the regulars, the creators add a bunch of new characters and kill them off or send them away almost instantly.

By the end of the season Lucas seems to have finally let go of the past with Ana; whatever connected them is gone: the house he bought for them is burnt to the ground, the diamonds turned out to be pieces of glass (a discovery that hasn't been properly addressed, by the way), and even Rabbit doesn't threaten either of them anymore. But he can't leave Banshee now that he officially has a daughter. And the new threat is coming:


I have little hope that Chayton Littlestone will be a good replacement for Rabbit as a villain, but let's see how it goes.

Apr 9, 2014

TURN S01E01 REVIEW

Inspired by the news of a decent (read: not disastrous) viewers' number for Turn on an extremely competitive night (one would think that planning a premiere on the same day when Game of Thrones returns is suicidal), I have finally overcome my prejudice against the men in powdered wigs and white pantyhose, and watched the pilot. Well, not that I regret it per se... let's just say there was no pleasant surprise: the show seemed to be exactly what I imagined it to be after having read the synopsis.

Turn takes us back to the 18th century, the time of the American Revolutionary War; we take a closer look at the life of a farmer, Abe Woodhull, who, like nobody, fits the profile of a lesser man. Lying low, he's growing cabbage, a good part of which ends up infested with worms, so he is not even good at it. Watching the "redcoats" commit all sorts of indiscretions, he keeps being loyal to the crown, like his father - a very influential man, as it turns out. He's married and has a son.



"The normal" life he's trying to maintain is ruined, when he gets into a fight with the British at his ex-sweetheart's tavern. The fight leads to a chain of events which results in Abe becoming a spy for the Continental Army. 

I've read that some people say they like that it's not all black and white, but it is. Sure, Americans use waterboarding to obtain intelligence (nice to know their techniques have not changed since 1776) and kill the enemy in a very cruel manner, but there is not a single moment during the episode, when we would hesitate to say who the real bad guys are. 


Abe is the only character that's got any edge; all others are merely the decorations. I see Turn as a story about a man trying to find the true self and finally get rid of his father's beliefs, he's always thought of as his own. And just like we know the outcome of the Revolutionary War, we know the ending of this story, don't we?

P.S. The intro is awesome, but I can't help feeling it's not right for this series.

Apr 7, 2014

SILICON VALLEY S01E01 REVIEW

Silicon Valley premiered last night on HBO, so I'll write a couple of words about it.

Synopsis:

Richard lives in a Silicon Valley incubator with four other geeks and works for a global tech company Hooli; his own project develops very slowly, until two billionaires, Peter Gregory, who hates college education (I'm with him on that, by the way), and the founder of Hooli, Gavin Belson, find out about the algorithm he wrote that allows to compress files without any data loss. Naturally, they want in, and Richard must decide, which offer he would accept.


In may ways, it's like Better Off Ted meets The It Crowd, only without the awkward romantic relationships (well, at least for now, I definitely sensed the potential love story between the lead and the college-hater assistant) and any normal people. The series portrays the ridiculousness of the tech world, populated with the suddenly rich social freaks, who can't think of spending cash on anything better than a performance by Kid Rock (!) at their party. 

The tech world is divided. On the one side there are billionaires driving exceptionally narrow cars and talking to the spiritual advisers. On the other side - the nobodies, the guys who have gotten the shit kicked out of throughout all their lives, the guys who do not want to change the world, or even get rich, for that matter; they just want to make it happen, without fully realizing what it is.



The acting is exceptional and is essential to the show. Most of the jokes are funny just because of the tone and the facial expressions. And of course, the creators couldn't not introduce the typical American comedy character - the insensitive doctor. Only here, on top of delivering the usual anatomical jokes, the doctor is pitching his patients with his app idea.

The episode ends with Richard's speech about how he doesn't want his company to turn into any other "corporate cult", and that was probably the funniest part of the show. We've seen it all before; the most dramatic example is, of course, Google; the company, famous for fighting "the evil" (i.e. Microsoft), has turned into... well, whatever it is now.

So, whether you love or loathe the tech world, this show is definitely worth checking out.

Apr 6, 2014

NEW TV SERIES IN APRIL

Tonight, on the 6th of April, we've got two new shows on HBO and AMC.

Silicon Valley is a new HBO comedy, created by Mike Judge. He actually used to work for a video card start up company in the past, and as far as I understand, he did not really enjoy it. This makes it interesting, 'cause if you’re not an IT enthusiast, it should be easier for you to look critically at the environment and make fun of it.

The first teaser was rather disappointing, but the second one and the sneak peeks look very promising. The series is rather short, only 8 episodes, so It’s better be good.



Turn airs tonight on AMC (a.k.a. the Breaking Bad channel). This series is based on a book named Washington Spies. It is a period drama set in the 18th century during American Revolutionary War. The creators promise all the spy movie fun with guns and chases etc. Quite honestly, it seems like there is a little too much testosterone in this show for me to enjoy it.



On the 15th of april FX releases Fargo with the Coens as executive producers. This is an anthology, so expect a different story every season. The first one is based on a 1996 film with the same name that  has altogether earned seven Oscars. There already was an attempt to create a spin-off, Kathy Bates even directed the pilot back in 1997, but that wasn't meant to be. The new version involves brilliant martin freeman (he’s everywhere now) and Billie Bob Thornton as the leads.

FX has already revealed the first 7 minutes of the pilot, and it looks great. Dark, funny, with exceptional acting – I have a feeling it will be the best new mini series of the year. So yeah, I’m looking forward to all the ten episodes.




Another period drama slash supernatural witch show called Salem is coming out on the 20th of April on WGN. It is created by Brannon Braga, who has been previously working on Terra Nova, and Start Track franchise, and Adam Simon, the guy who wrote for a number of horror movies, including a trashy one named Bones, with Snoop Dogg (which earned less than half of its budget).

The show is set in the 17th century, and the witches are real and running the witch trials. How about that?



For the teenagers and those that are young at heart, MTV has created a new show called Faking It, which will air on the 22nd of April. It’s about two girls that pretend to be a lesbian couple just to fit and become popular in High School. Enough said.
  

A new mini series named Black Box is set to debut on the 24th of April. The show is about Catherine Black, who is a secretly  bipolar neuroscientist. So, in essence, it’s like if instead of a leg/Vicodin problem Gregory House had the mental stability of Carrie from Homeland.  I doubt it’d be any good.



CBS took a movie Bad Teacher and turned it into a series, which will premiere on the 24th of April. Frankly, I haven’t fully recovered from the loss of the money I paid to see the movie, so I have mixed feelings about it. The only thing that I can mark as interesting in the show’s trailers, is that Juanita from Desperate Housewives still looks as a kid.



Finally, on the 29th of April, USA Network releases a new comedy about the female friendship called Playing House. The show is based on the real life friendship between Lennon Parham andJessica St. Clair and they also play the leading parts.

Jan 31, 2014

AHS: COVEN - THE SEVEN WONDERS

The witches have the last supper the night before they attempt to perform the Seven Wonders to figure out who the next Supreme is. Delia tells them to kick ass, she doesn't take part in the trials, 'cause she knows, she's not the one.

All four - Misty, Queenie, Zoe and Madison - pass the first test successfully, they use telekinesis to move candles. Then, the mind control test, where the girls cause each other a little harm, and Madison nearly makes Kyle strangle Zoe, but gets interrupted by Delia. Misty is the first one to get eliminated, as she fails the next task - unlike the other girls, she cannot return from her personal hell, where she has to dissect and resurrect the frog on repeat.

The three continue with the Wonders and play teleportation-tag outside the academy. The game gets Zoe killed - she teleports to the top of the gate, and the spikes pierce her body. Queenie fails to bring her back to life (how come she could do this to Misty last week?), so she's out. Madison refuses to perform the task on Zoe, she kills a fly instead and resurrects it. Like her predecessor, the supposed new Supreme cannot care less about the morals or the coven itself, so Cordelia mourns the end of witches.

But Myrtle has an epiphany - how could she not see this before? Delia has royal blood in her veins, she must be the next Supreme, not Madison! So Cordelia performs all the Wonders, including Divination - the one Madison fails. The starlet rushes to her room to pack and leave for Hollywood, threatening to tell TMZ all about the crazy w(b)itches, but she's followed by Kyle, and like Frankenstein, she dies from the hands of her own creation. Spalding appears to help Kyle get rid of her body. The perv probably takes her back to his attic. (What's up with the baby?!!)

Zoe is resurrected, and for some reason, she does not continue with the test, I guess, you die - you lose. Delia regains her sight and glowing health and gives an interview on TV, urging the young witches to come out and embrace their witchy selves, seek acceptance within the walls of Miss Robichaux's.

To spare her from unnecessary Watergate scandal, Myrtle convinces Cordelia to burn her at the stake for killing her fellow Council members. The last word she says on the show is Balenciaga!!!

Delia asks Zoe and Queenie to be her Council, and of course they agree. Suddenly, the new Supreme hears the voice of the old one. She finds Fiona, looking horrible, who's never been killed or fed to alligators as it turns out. She's just put the memory of murdering her inside Axeman's head to deceive Delia, with intentions to kill the next Supreme once the Seven Wonders test reveals who she is. She dies in her daughter's hands, hugging her for the first time in her life. Then Fiona wakes up in her hell: in the country house with the Axeman. In the beginning of the season, Fiona hears another chemo patient asking God to take her after her daughter's wedding, but she misses this sign and instead of trying to connect with Cordelia, she wishes for a man to belong to. Now, in hell, she's asking for her daughter, but it's too late.

Delia and her Council open the doors of the academy and the young witches flood the building. The coven is safe, the witches thrive.

Like other seasons of AHS, Coven is full of metaphors.Yes, it portrays the world of women, where men are nothing but a threat, a weakness, a punishment or an unnecessary (unwanted) help, but for me it's not what it's about.

It's about looking closely at what you believe you are and questioning this belief, like Delia; it's about taking your second chance to become a better version of yourself or wasting it, like Madison or Delphine; about being able to look beyond the misery you're in or be consumed by it, like Misty; about taking the responsibility for your actions, like Myrtle; about being able to realize that the family you want is not the family you have, and let the pain of bitter disappointment go.

The attempt to show all of this with the help of Urban Dictionary and high fashion is interesting, but not entirely successful. I just wish they'd put a little more effort to it.