The Following: Season 2 Review

season 2How can a series involving a group of psychotic killers get any more terrifying? Series creator Kevin Williamson (Scream, The Vampire Diaries)  knows the answer and he used every inch of his creative genius to set the new path for Joe Carroll (James Purefoy) and his new set of followers in the second season of Fox’s The Following.

A year after Claire’s death, Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon) seems to be living a normal life — staying healthy, teaching at University, making new friends and even reaching out to his family, more specifically his niece Max (Jessica Stroup), a New York police detective. On the surface, Ryan seemed on the top of his game, but this is only because he and Max are secretly working on weeding out the remainder of Joe’s followers, and even Joe himself, as Ryan believes that his arch nemesis did not die in the Lighthouse incident. When Mike Weston (Shawn Ashmore) is called in by the FBI to consult for a killing spree in a New York subway train involving perpetrators using Joe Carroll masks, Ryan is convinced that Carroll is up to his usual antics. What he didn’t see coming was the appearance of a much more powerful villain, with more resources, and just the same amount of crazy that Joe has.

I thought that the first season of The Following was awesome and thrilling but Season 2 upped the ante with double the amount of crazies, this time involving twin psycho killers Mark and Luke (both played by Sam Underwood from Dexter). Underwood actually impressed me the most this season because of this kid has loads of intensity and portrays both of his characters with a sort of vulnerability and desperation that made viewers relate to him. However, he was still able to make them separate entities for the viewers. I really thought that there were actual twins playing the role at first but kudos to Sam for doing such a great job. Despite the obvious psychopathy, I actually liked his character so much I sometimes forgot that I was on Team Ryan.

I also liked the development of Mike and Ryan’s relationship this season and Mike’s evolution from a smart, by the book FBI agent to a dark and driven version of his old self after he suffered personal losses and started obsessing about his own nemesis. There were a couple of times Ryan and Joe mentioned that he was turning into Ryan and I liked  that despite the fact that he was going dark, he was basically the same dude. This was a challenging season for Shawn Ashmore, indeed and he stepped up the plate and delivered. Plus I liked his character’s chemistry with Max, specially in the last episode. They make a great pair and gave the show a breath of fresh air from all the mayhem and violence.

Speaking of character development, Joe and Ryan’s weird  bromance was one of the main highlights of this season. The last three episodes had Joe expounding on his connection with Ryan and how he was his best friend, which was weird but made a lot of sense considering the odds — how similar they were and how they were both obsessed with the other. It was creepy but it made a lot of sense. It was a defining moment that wasn’t there in the first season despite the constant taunting and it was a great moment to see.

At first, I was actually wondering how the second season would play out. I knew that the guy in the lighthouse was a very important component in building season 2 but the twist still surprised me. What surprised me even more was how Joe managed to build another set of followers, this time using religion as a base and abandoning the Edgar Allan Poe route. It was scary how Joe was able to easily manipulate and brainwash Korban cult members into believing that he was a prophet and that he holds the key to salvation, and that in real life how the possibility is also open. How easy to convert religious fanaticism into psychotic killer obsession was one of the most horrifying realizations this season presented.

Admittedly, this season was not perfect. There were a lot of facepalm moments for Ryan at the beginning when he stubbornly refused to involve Mike and went all maverick on the cops with his own investigation. His carelessness was astounding but so was the FBI’s inability to track Joe and his followers despite all of the resources available to them. I was glad when Ryan finally decided to let Mike in on his team and their trio with Max was complete. At least he had some solid backup. All I could say about this ragtag team is that they have the luck of the Irish. It seemed like there were close calls in almost all of the episodes. I was so tired worrying about them. It was exciting but very very exhausting.

All in all, Season 2 was definitely more violent and showed less regard for human (or animal) life, depicting them as disposable tools to build a legacy. Viewers will learn more about the motivation of Joe and Ryan and the ending seemed like it could work as a series finale as well. But it was also open for a third season, which according to reports will be helmed by a new showrunner Jennifer Johnson from Alcatraz. It would be interesting to see what she brings to the table when it seems that the Carroll/Hardy chapter (the strongest storyline of the show) has drawn to a close.

Oculus: Movie Review

OculusAfter 10 years locked up in a mental institution for killing his father, 21 year old Tim Rusell is finally free and eager to see his sister, Kaylie, who has spent the last decade in a myriad of foster homes, building a career for herself and obsessing about the night that tore their family apart. Kaylie believes that an antique mirror in their old home possessed her parents into doing the despicable things they did and swears to prove her parents were not murderers. When she finally locates the mirror, she asks for Tim’s help in destroying it to put an end to its curse once and for all.

Oculus caught my interest from the very first moment because of the sheer mystery behind the events in Kaylie and Tim’s childhood. While Oculus was clearly going for a supernatural horror with its Sinister-inspired approach, there were always more questions raised as more details were unraveled about the events leading up to that fateful night in the Rusell household.

Initially, it will throw audiences off to learn that the brother and sister remember things differently. The fact that the two have tendencies of suffering from delusions compounds the mystery further. The psychological jargons that serve to justify what happened 10 years prior fuels the possibility that the events happened because of very real personal issues with no supernatural entity involved. But then again, there is also a very real possibility that the events were spawned by something elemental and a very real sense of danger ensues as the two unstable and traumatized siblings try to entrap a supernatural being preying on people for centuries.

With all of this confusion, one would normally think that Oculus would be a mess but it was not. Sure, the jumping timelines took some getting used to but as the story progressed and the siblings get more immersed in their mission, the transitions became more fluid, and so did the intertwining stories of both past and present.

PROVING A THEORY. The siblings set out to face their demons (or a demon) in their old house.

PROVING A THEORY. The siblings set out to face their demons (or a demon) in their old house.

Personally, I loved the innovative cinematography of the film, leading to beautiful shots and not just the typical person looking at the mirror fare. The camera shots here were well framed, birds’ eye view, slanted in such a way that only a portion of the individual is seen through the mirror. I also loved the strong sibling dynamics which carried the overall effectiveness of the movie. The you and me against the world theme was executed flawlessly by both pairs of lead stars. Karen Gillan (adult Kaylie) and Annalise Basso (young Kaylie) consistently projected the intensity and courage of a protective big sister, while Brenton Thwaites (adult Tim) and Garret Ryan (young Tim) both showed the vulnerability and uncertainty of a younger brother overwhelmed by what’s happening to his family.

What’s great about Oculus is that it took its sweet time laying the groundwork for a mind boggling horror, reserving shocks in strategic moments but establishing a strong dramatic relationship between the lead stars, then basically just keeping the audiences at the edge of their seats with quiet deliberation. The danger lurks and rears its ugly head throughout the movie but audiences can feel that its always there whether in the form of a malicious supernatural being or a crazy sibling.

But what’s really brilliant about Oculus is that despite its simplicity, it manages to divert the audiences’ attention into thinking that what was causing all of the problems was something else when in fact, it was what it was saying all along. And what shouldn’t be a surprise becomes a great surprise with the ending.

All in all, a great horror movie. It felt long because it was so quiet but it managed to accomplish what it set out to do, which was keep audiences at the edge of their seats and not make them feel safe, even for a moment. For those who are curious to know what happened to Tim, director/scriptwriter Mike Flanagan developed a short in 2006 entitled Oculus Chapter 3: The Man With a Plan. I don’t know what happened in between though.

Teddy Bear Museum: A walk through history with the cute and the cuddly

Originally posted on cineramaetcetera:

TEDDIES IN HANBOKS. The Teddy Bear Museum depicts Korean history through cute and cuddly bears. (photo by Tyrone Chui)

When I originally booked my family’s trip to South Korea, I wanted to visit as many settings to Korean dramas as I could and one of them was the Teddy Bear Museum featured in one of my favorite Kdramas, Princess Hours. However, I knew that the Teddy Bear Museum was situated in Jeju and we only had time to look around Seoul so I was a bit defeated.

ELECTRONIC MAGNIFIER? Check out short presentations of specific areas in the map through this LCD. (Angie Chui)

Luckily, I didn’t give up and researched a bit more, only to find out that there is a branch right in the middle of the city at the N Seoul Tower. And the great part is, the area is also covered by the Seoul City Bus Tour, which we used to travel the city’s various tourist spots in two of our four-day trip.

LIFE AT THE PALACE. Palace workers go about their usual functions like a well oiled machine. (Tyrone Chui)

Getting there: Commuting is a bit tedious as the area is uphill since the tower…

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Ender’s Game: Movie Review

Enders-Game-film-posterIn yet another Hollywood adaptation of a young adult novel by Orson Scott Card, featuring kids being used for violent entertainment/propaganda (Hunger Games) or weapons in a war against aliens, Asa Butterfield (Hugo) stars as Ender Wiggin, a brilliant young cadet who was handpicked by International Fleet Col. Hyrum Graff (Harrison Ford) to receive training and be groomed as the next commander in a major attack against aliens called Formics, who 50 years ago tried to establish a colony on planet Earth. With his talent for logic, and strategy, Ender goes through the program and becomes the leader of a ragtag band of talented misfits in the Academy. As the training becomes more intense, however, Ender begins to question his decisions and the true face of the enemy.

INTENSE. Asa Butterfield concentrates as he crafts a battle plan against the Formics in Command training.

INTENSE. Asa Butterfield concentrates as he crafts a battle plan against the Formics in Command training.

From the trailer, one would think that Ender’s Game is a non stop action adventure like Star Wars or Starship Troopers. The concept, is, after all, based on the same premise — destroying alien invaders. The difference is, this time, kids as young as the 10 years old are being trained to launch wars in simulated battle environments, with the care for their welfare, sanity and morality becoming only secondary considerations in a war against the Formics, giant moth-like creatures that are being prevented from a second attack against the planet.

ENDER'S POSSE. Ender's band of misfits revive the Dragons, a Battle School team discontinued for not ever winning one challenge in the school's history.

ENDER’S POSSE. Ender’s band of misfits revive the Dragons, a Battle School team discontinued for not ever winning one challenge in the school’s history.

The graphics for Ender’s Game was awesome. The designs were spectacular and looked like it could very well be lifted from scenes from a video game. I liked the scenes with Ender at the academy, while he was establishing his role as leader to the Dragons — composed mainly of his streetkid buddy Bean (Aramis Knight), Petra (Haylee Steinfeld), Alai (Suraj Partha), and the bully Bernard (Connor Caroll). I think that casting for this movie was pretty amazing. The kids gelled well together as a group and as individuals, their performances were excellent — especially Asa Butterfield, who played the conflicted genius Ender, who bore on his shoulders the responsibility of eliminating a threat to his planet, to his race and to his family and the one person he truly loved — his sister Valentine (Abigail Breslin), who is growing up to be such a beautiful young woman. I liked that when they were playing war games, they looked like they were having fun like kids playing capture the flag in camp. While the bullying is a bit violent and extreme for me (more like prison level), it served to establish the magnitude of the training and the level of competition and hate that are developed in the children. The intensity of the cadets’ concentration in the final simulation and the difference in their attitude from the beginning of the training was totally different and this reaches out to the audience, especially when the final twist was revealed.

FINAL SIMULATION. For graduation day, Ender leads a simulated attack against the Formics.

FINAL SIMULATION. For graduation day, Ender leads a simulated attack against the Formics.

Ender’s Game could have, however, benefitted from some editing. While sequentially, each scene served to establish the big picture, there were parts of the story that were too drawn out making the dialogue parts too long before the next major development in the story. The foreshadowing parts were good and when everything is pieced together in the end, the horror becomes all too real for moviegoers, especially those with children.

All in all, Ender’s Game was a good movie, but it was nothing like the campy (but entertaining) action-fest like Starship Troopers or the Sci Fi adventure like Star Wars or Star Trek. While it stars children, the content is nothing truly appropriate for kids. While it was visually stunning, the message would sit better with adults and world leaders because the elements of this science fiction scenario can easily be subplanted with real life countries waging war against each other in our world today. At the end of the day, Ender’s Game gets audiences to think what cost humanity is willing to sacrifice to win a war. Because come to think of it, we really don’t need aliens to destroy our planet. We are doing it on our own.

G.I. Joe Retaliation: Movie Review

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GI Joe Retaliation seeks to bounce back from the rather passable but underwhelming first installment by signing on two of today’s most badass action icons – Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who only has to appear in a movie for its awesomeness to rise ten notches and John McClane himself — Bruce Willis.

This time, the story borrows inspiration from current events and revolves around the ongoing missile dispute among major countries in the world, most prominently the United States and North Korea. With Zartan posing as the most powerful man in the world (the President of the United States) using high level nanotechnology developed by the Cobras, he attacks the Joes and frames them in the murder of the Pakistani president. Zartan then uses the death of the Pakistan head to call on other world leaders to meet regarding nuclear disarmament in the guise of seeking a peaceful resolution to the ongoing conflict. All the while, the Cobras plot Cobra Commander’s escape from a high security German facility. Unfortunately for them, some of the Joes escape and vow to avenge their brothers from the treachery of the Cobras, and clear their names as loyal soldiers of the United States of America.

The story itself offers nothing new. This storyline has been rehashed time and again in mainstream action movies and the only thing that is different is the presentation. In terms of action, I could not fault the filmmakers for their execution because of the non-stop explosions, stunts and machismo that oozes from every pore of this film. However, I felt that there was too much going on most of the time that the story just fades into the background and everything just becomes a big bunch of action scenes lumped together. The problem with this is that the audience becomes so bombarded with everything that is going on that they cease to appreciate individual moments of brilliance in the execution of the scenes.

I also felt that the bromance between Roadblock (Johnson) and Duke (Channing Tatum) was a hard sell in the beginning of the movie, so much so that audiences would feel that something big will happen between the two based on their interactions and dialogue. From the get go, there was a difference in the treatment of the two actors as Johnson’s character clearly overshadowed Tatum’s character Duke, who was part of the original characters of the franchise.

Sad to say, I was also not a big fan of Johnson’s tortured look. I felt that it is one thing to project rage and anguish but its another thing to oversell it to the audience. While I could not fault Johnson for his execution of his action scenes, I could, and would call him out on his overacting.

I think the thing that differentiated GI Joe’s second installment from other action megahits like Transformers and The Expendables was that it became too intense. It focused too much on the action sequences and failed to consider its balance with fun and entertainment. GI Joe is based on a cartoon series and making it fun is a basic requisite for the film. The first installment had Marlon Wayans as Ripcord who flipped wisecracks at Channing Tatum’s Duke. This time around, no one was there to counter Roadblock’s intensity, and there were hardly any missteps on the part of the Joes that posed as a challenge to their rather impossible mission.

One thing I liked about the film was the subplot that focused on Storm Shadow (Lee Byun Hun) and the Arashikage Clan. I liked how his character was given a chance to shine in this installment because Storm Shadow is one of more dynamic characters of the franchise. Lee Byung Hun is a fine actor and I liked his fashion sense best among all the ninjas of their clan.

All in all, director John M. Chu managed to come out swinging with this high impact popcorn movie. I’m not quite sure whether I liked it in total but it did have its merits. My main problem with the movie was that it was too cliché. I guess I was just looking for something different, but I guess that’s my problem.

Warm Bodies: Movie Review

WarmBodies_002Even before I read the book, I knew without a doubt that I was going to be watching the movie version and I finally caught the film this afternoon with some girlfriends from work. I was excited to see how writer/director Jonathan Levine (50/50) would adapt this Isaac Marion novel to the big screen, because judging from the trailer, the movie looked awesome. And it was awesome, and adorable, and heartwarming, and funny… oh let me just get on with it.

R is a zombie, but unlike other zombies, he yearns to regain the feelings that he had when he was still human. Now, he can’t remember anything about his former life and lives out his days at the airport, a hive of the undead controlled by “Bonies,” skeleton like zombies who will devour anything with a beating human heart. One day, as R and his best friend M, along with a zombie pack storm the city to get some grub (read: humans), they encounter a group scavenging for supplies, and he lays eyes on the human girl named Julie for the first time. When he munches on the brains of Julie’s boyfriend Perry, he learns bits and pieces about their relationship and he finds himself wanting to have the same connection with Julie. So in order to save Julie’s life, he takes her with him to the airport, inside his home, an abandoned airplane filled with memorabilia to keep her safe. As the two spend more time together, R discovers that he is changing, and as his feelings for Julie develops, the feelings that has since eluded him begin to return, along with his humanity.

The premise of this movie is totally whacked, and as with the book, many fans of the zombie lore will surely react to the very idea that love has the power to revive the undead. But Warm Bodies managed to make the ridiculous premise work, mainly because it retained the very essence of the book that made it so much fun. It poked fun at zombie stereotypes in an offhand manner, the scoring was super cool and super cheesy at the same time. The cast was also super likeable. Nicholas Hoult was adorable as the zombie R, creepy but still adorable, a tad ripe and grungy but charming nonetheless. Teresa Palmer was the perfect girl to play Julie. She had a kickass attitude that was just right for the daughter of the military leader of the humans (John Malkovich). Saturday Night Live alum Rob Corddry was great as R’s goofy sidekick M.

Warm Bodies was an unsual rom com, or as they are now dubbing it, zom-com. I think Jonathan Levine was the right guy to handle this project because he has that air of coolness about him that translates to his adaptation of rather unusual subjects (such as a zombie-human love affair). His other project 50/50 starring Joseph Gordon Levitt as a cancer patient and Seth Rogen was sort of the same way. He has the ability to put a positive spin on rather dire situations and make light of a rather grim topic like zombies (who are mostly featured in horror flicks).

Compared to the book, there were some minor tweaks, some that I missed like the bonies having a worship session and a wedding session, and some towards the ending that actually served the movie well, but basically, the filmmakers did good in this movie adaptation.

All in all, Warm Bodies was a fun ride, very entertaining and very cute. The interactions between Julie and R were very sweet and audiences can’t help but exclaim awwww on many scenes. The fact that audiences keep forgetting that R is a zombie (who should really be creepy and gross) is a testament to the success of the pairing. Warm Bodies was light, funny and smart and extremely well put together. Good writing, excellent casting, great scoring, make up and CGI. I can’t help smiling, just thinking about Julie overselling her zombie act, my favorite scene in the book, and in the movie. I wouldn’t mind seeing it again.

If you want to check out my review of the book, check it our here: http://cineramaetcetera.wordpress.com/2012/11/12/warm-bodies-book-review/