Review: Annabelle


The Good

The female lead is sort of a poor man's Alison Brie, so I'll give 'em points for that. 

The Bad

But otherwise, this film is just dull and, toward the end, seemingly interminable dreck. Also one of the least convincing "period pieces" I've ever seen, by a pretty big margin. (Apparently 1970's Pasadena looked a hell of a lot similar to its 2014 counterpart, save a vintage car driving by in the background here and there).

The Ugly

The execution of this film really points up the limitations of the Annabelle concept, as established in The Conjuring and expanded on here. As a monster, 'Belly leaves a lot to be desired. On the one hand, she's not running around engaging in typical "killer doll" shenanigans like Chucky; but on the other, she's not an ethereal, vaguely defined threat like the demon[s?] in the Paranormal Activity series, or the supernatural force in movies like Session 9, The Blair Witch Project, or Lovely Molly, either. The danger posed by Annabelle is simultaneously too amorphous AND too specific.

It also doesn't help that the movie can't seem to nail down it's own "rules," paranormally speaking. Early in the film, a female member of a Manson-esque hippie cult dies, and her spirit seems to infest the doll. We're told later, however, that it's not the dead hippie girl's spirit that's terrorizing our main characters, but rather a demon (or something) called up by the hippie cult, which is now intent on stealing their newborn child's soul. 

But wait a minute -- If the spirit of the dead hippie girl isn't the one infesting the doll, then why show the dead hippie girl running around shrieking, and then vanishing into thin air, left and right? And if, in fact, the dead hippie girl is just an illusion or whatever that the demon is using to torment Ms. Brie... isn't that kind of off-mesage? This is an evil doll movie. Shouldn't the demon be possessing the doll, or in some way using the doll to terrorize Alison and company... or failing that, shouldn't he at least confine himself to general poltergeist-like shenanigans, supplemented here and there by doing creepy sh*t with the doll?
 
It's like the movie can't decide who it wants it's monster to be -- is it the doll, or the creepy little ghost girl, or perhaps the bloody hippie girl ghost? Or is it, on the other hand, something more akin to the red-faced, wall-crawling, child-stealing thing from Insidious, or maybe the disembodied "entity" from the PA flicks? This flick is just all over the place.

I give it one out of five creepy little ghost girls. Or killer dolls. Or, you know... whatever.

Entertainment News Roundup (August 1, 2014)


The Killing returns for its final (profanity-laden) season on Netflix, and early reviews are encouraging!

I wonder how long it took those Regal Cinemas customers to realize they were watching the wrong movie. (Early reviews on this one look promising too, by the way).

Syfy is ripping off The Walking Dead (not to mention their own Helix) with a new post-apocalyptic zombie thriller. Check out the trailer here.

Marvel Cinematic Universe showrunner Kevin Feige sounds off about why there hasn't been a female-led superhero movie (discounting dreck like Catwoman and Elektra).

Watch out, Pirate Bay fans: Homeland Security is officially investigating illegal downloads of the yet-to-be-released (I think?) Expendables III.

Angel Batista is taking over the Eric Roberts role from The Dark Knight in the upcoming prequel series Gotham.

More as it develops!

Entertainment News Roundup (July 26th, 2014)


Lotta news coming out of Comic Con. Let's see if we can tally some of it up.

Gareth Edwards took some time off from ruining Star Wars to announce that Mothra, Rodan, and King Ghidorah (pictured) will appear in his upcoming Godzilla sequel. He also took the opportunity to get snarky with "fanboys" who complained about the titular monster's collective five minutes of screentime in the first movie. Mr. Edwards, you're a gentleman and a scholar.

Zack Snyder unveiled Wonder Woman's new look in Batman v. Superman, along with some teaser footage from the film. Nothing revolutionary, but hey -- at least it's not hotpants and a corset. 

As reported earlier, showrunner Bryan Fuller offered up a metric ton of spoilers for Hannibal's third season, including the imminent appearance of serial killer (and Red Dragon bad guy) Francis Dolarhyde. Looks like the events of that book will play out over the latter half of Season 3, rather than the previously announced -- and not yet ordered by the network -- fourth season. Here's hoping they get there anyway!

In other TV news, trailers for Season 5 of The Walking Dead and Season 3 of Arrow have hit the interwebz. Beware, however: the first minute or so of the latter is just stock footage from last season.

More to come. Be good!

Pic courtesy of The Big Bang Theory Wiki.

Entertainment News Roundup (July 24th, 2014)


The first real image of Ben Affleck as Batman is unveiled, and somehow the lead photo in this article is a shot of Zack Snyder.

Chris Carter still thinks another X-Files movie might happen. His therapist is starting to grow concerned.

Bryan Fuller reveals that Dr. Chilton, Abel Gideon, Lady Murasaki, and Inspector Pazzi will all appear during the third season of Hannibal.

A recent Entertainment Weekly article reveals the set-up for Avengers: Age of Ultron. Basically it's all Tony Stark's fault, as usual.

More to come!

Entertainment News Roundup (July 18th, 2014)


Michael Scofield as Captain Cold? I can dig it.

I'm also surprisingly down for the Shining prequel Warner Bros. is apparently mulling. Especially with One Hour Photo director Mark Romanek at the helm. Not crazy about the title though.

The proposed Dexter spin-off is dead in the water. I'm beginning to rethink this whole atheism thing.

The Supernatural offshoot, on the other hand, is still weakly flailing about. Should we throw out the line or let nature take its course? 

The low-key TNT postapocalypse series The Last Ship has been renewed for a second season. I'll probably keep watching.

More as it develops.

Entertainment News Roundup (July 17th, 2014)


The new Captain America will be a black man. Unfortunately there are no pics of black men in Cap regalia on the internet (shame on you, cosplayers). Anywho... racists, start your engines.

Also, the new Thor will be a woman. Bet she ends up rocking hooker boots and a corset, like all the other female superheroes. 

Jessica from True Blood has been cast in the Daredevil Netflix show. Rosario Dawson is obviously playing Elektra.

Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci (a.k.a. The Guys Who Ruined Star Trek) have been tapped to reboot Universal's stable of classic movie monsters -- Dracula, Frankenstein, The Wolf Man, etc. 'Cause, ya know, you wouldn't want someone with an actual horror background to do that or anything. 

More as it develops.

Photo courtesy of Ricochet.com

On the importance of good old-fashioned storytelling


"Storytelling itself is a craft, and even though television is a visual medium, storytelling is infinitely more important to the TV format. No one watched the entirety of Breaking Bad entirely for those fast cut montages or beautiful shots of the New Mexico landscape. People watched the entirety of Breaking Bad because they were hooked [on the story]."

This is an excerpt from a comment on The AV Club (written in response to a column you can find here). The article is essentially a screed against "spoilerphobes" -- i.e., those who prefer not to have key story points, plot twists, and so on "spoiled" before viewing a new film or television show. The commenter was very respectfully taking issue with some of the author's main points.

All I really have to say is that I agree with said commenter's sentiments wholeheartedly. I believe plain old-fashioned storytelling gets a bad rap. The predominant viewpoint among critics seems to be that the sights, sounds, performances, and artfulness of the dialogue in a film or TV episode are what really matters, and that the plot itself -- the story -- is kind of a MacGuffin. Something largely inconsequential, that exists more or less entirely to act as a showcase for those other elements.

You see something similar in the academic world, when it comes to writing -- the idea that it's all about the flair and style of the language, or the exploration of theme, rather than whether or not the story holds together or otherwise makes sense. This is why genre work is largely reviled: because it's often so plot (read: story) driven. I'm not saying that a deft hand with language and resonant themes aren't necessary -- they surely are, just as good acting, cinematography, shot composition, and so on are crucial to a good piece of audiovisual entertainment -- but I'd also argue that they amount to nothing if not employed in service to a great STORY.

Essentially, I'd argue that the way critics and academics talk about entertainment is largely out of step with how most viewers (and readers) actually respond to it. This is why critics pretty uniformly loved the TV show Lost, for instance, while most viewers ultimately found it wanting. That show's sins were largely those of sloppy storytelling -- bad art, if you will, as opposed to poor craft -- and, as we all know, storytelling doesn't really matter all that much.


Thanks to anonymous AV Club commenter John for supplying the impetus for this article.

Was the ending of 'Fargo' Kinda/Maybe/Sorta/A Little Bit Sexist?



Watching last night's finale of the FX series Fargo -- which I enjoyed thoroughly, despite the misgivings I'm about to express -- I was struck by the nature of how the show's two villains, Billy Bob Thornton's Hannibal-esque Lorne Malvo and Martin Freeman's Walter White-reminiscent Lester Nygaard, received their final comeuppance. The finale was touching, thrilling, and well-written, don't get me wrong; but I couldn't help but think that if Gus Grimly had been the hero and main character of the show, rather than his wife Molly, he would have wound up playing a much more direct role in the process of his two nemeses being taken down.

SPOILERS AHEAD: Essentially, Malvo was taken out not by soon-to-be-Chief Molly, but by her heretofore gentle-natured husband, who was intimidated into letting Malvo go in the pilot and has been nursing the guilt ever since. Lester, meanwhile, was felled by an act of God (or, read another way, his own stupidity) after straying onto thin ice while running from the cops. Molly isn't even responsible for finding the game-changing piece of evidence that makes Lester a fugitive: her husband hands it over to her, after killing Malvo and finding a tape of his telephone call from Lester among the hired gun's effects.

Now, part of the awkwardness of all this comes not from gender-related concerns, but from a shift in the show's character focus that occurred after that 'One Year Later' time-jump a few weeks back. In the first several episodes, the 'heroes' of the show were Molly and Gus, with Lester and Malvo as their respective nemeses. (In fact, I don't believe Molly and Malvo were ever even properly introduced, unless there's something I'm forgetting). After the jump, however, I'd argue that Gus was relegated to supporting status, with Molly as the show's focal point, Malvo as her primary nemesis -- he's the one who gets the most facetime on her famous bulletin board, after all -- and Lester as a niggling loose end both became obsessed with trying to tie up.

Still, I have to wonder: would the ending we got have seemed satisfying if Gus had been our hero for the duration, dimwitted Chief Jim had stumbled across the evidence incriminating Lester, and Malvo had been taken out by Gus' mild-mannered, milquetoast wife? Maybe in a wacky, 'it's the little things you don't expect that trip ya up' sort of way, but I doubt we could've been expected to take it seriously, or to think it reflected well on Gus as our protagonist.

Do I think that Noah Hawley, or the writer/producers of Fargo in general, are sexist? Not really. But that ending made me think.

Review: House of Cards, Season 2


There's a growing sentiment, among those who write and talk about TV, that the age of the great antihero drama might be coming to an end. According to this school of thought, the likes of shows like The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, The Shield, and even Dexter (when that show was *really* on its game) have said everything interesting there is to say about protagonists who lie, cheat, steal, and often kill their way to the top of whatever hill they're trying to get to the top of. 

I don't generally agree with this line of thinking -- I don't see the antihero drama as a genre unto itself, per se, so much as a realization of the fact that the main character of a TV show doesn't necessarily have to be either a cop, a doctor, a lawyer, or a superhero. Main characters can be flawed, they can be complex, they can even be downright evil, as long as it's in the service of good drama.

When I watch House of Cards, however, I can see where some of the naysayers might be coming from. Cards is an entertaining, engrossing, and at times downright addictive show, and I enjoyed watching the second season about as much as I enjoyed the first... which is to say, a lot. This is a show built largely on the charisma of its lead, and there's no denying that Kevin Spacey is absurdly fun to watch, as most liars, manipulators, and schemers usually are.

The thing is... Frank Underwood would make a great villain, but does he really have what it takes to be the lead character of a TV show?

The "heroes" of those other shows did more than just lie, cheat, scheme, and occasionally show a glint of humanity while doing so (as Vice President Underwood does when he learns that his wife was sexually assaulted by a business associate decades earlier, or that the proprietor of his favorite rib shack is losing his business as an indirect result of Frank's scheming). Walter White didn't start out as a bad guy -- we actually saw the transformation, and that was the point. Tony Soprano may have been a gangster, a thug, and a murderer from the beginning, but his panic attacks and therapy-room confessions let us know that at least a part of Tony longed to be a good man. Dexter Morgan spent the majority of his tenure on Showtime chafing against the ways that his psychopathic nature prevented him from establishing lasting human connections.

These are all relatable, human motivations. We all want to provide for our families. We all want to be good, at least on some level. We all want to be loved.

Frank Underwood's motivation seems to be nothing more than pure, unadulterated, unbridled ambition. He manipulates and back-stabs his way from one rung of the political ladder to the next, seemingly for the sake of doing so. Maybe he truly believes, on some level, in the progressive ideals of his party, and wants to take the reigns of his country so he can lead it in the direction he's convinced it needs to go. Maybe he was bullied as a kid, and craves power because he never had it earlier in life, when it really counted. Maybe he's secretly a neo-Nazi, and wants to use his ever-increasing power to usher in a new Reich. I have no idea.

I'm not sure what I'm supposed to feel while watching this show. Am I supposed to be aghast at Frank's actions? Am I supposed to root for his downfall? There can't be any pathos in watching Frank's fall into further depravity, because he was already well and thoroughly depraved when we first laid eyes on him. Frank is corrupt through and through; and to the extent our occasional glimpses of his humanity seem to conflict with this -- 'tis all for naught, because neither the show nor Frank himself seem to acknowledge the contradiction. There's no conflict within Frank, no inner turmoil; he's more a collection of character traits, at times haphazardly thrown together, than an actual character.

I think House of Cards might be the ultimate vindication of the idea that the villain of your story can't also be the hero. The Sopranos and Breaking Bad worked because they kept pitting their (decidedly villainous) heroes against guys bigger and badder, or at least notably more despicable, than they were. Walter White and his adversaries were rarely less than evenly matched. Frank Underwood has no hero, nor even a slightly less shady antihero, to match him. He's a Goliath with no David... leaving House of Cards little to be but a testament to his cleverness, and to Kevin Spacey's expertly oily charm.