REVIEW: AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.: SLINGSHOT

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CAST

Natalia Cordova-Buckley (Los Simuladores)
Clark Gregg (Avengers Assemble)
Chloe Bennett (Nashville)
Yancey Arias (Legion)
Alexander Wraith (Westworld)
Jason O’Mara (Son of Batman)
Ming-Na Wen (Stargate Universe)
Iain De Caestecker (Filth)
Elizabeth Henstridge (Wolves at The Door)
Henry Simmons (Noo Good Deed)

agents-of-shield-spinoff-hunter-bobbiThe miniseries was released on December 13th. Released in six episodes ranging from three to six minutes, fans get some insight into some missing time between Season 3’s end and Season 4’s start, which is a great bonus because these scenes are not needed to enjoy the main show but are a fun extra. We watch as Elena signs the Sokovia Accords, becomes a SHIELD agent under Mace’s control, and tracks down a criminal. Plus, the old 0-8-4 from Season 1 is also involved because, as any fan of the show knows, it’s all connected! In fact, Slingshot references a lot of things in Agents Of SHIELD and even the MCU, so it fits in well.16174889_1836004673347908_6687458020023952722_nAnd, if that weren’t enough to convince you, know that Slingshot stars all the other SHIELD characters, too, interacting with Yoyo in interesting ways, which really made the series seem like a bonus AoS episode. While I’m very glad to get this bonus material, I wish it were a bit longer. The whole thing only takes about 20 minutes to watch. Because it was so short, things moved very quickly and felt a bit rushed.So how can you watch Slingshot? If you have the ABC app, they’re all on there for your streaming pleasure, but, if you’re like me and reside outside of America, ABC so nicely put them all on YouTube, so you can watch them there.aiden-romero-300x169I liked Slingshot, overall. Seeing more of Yoyo was awesome, and, despite the time constraint, these episodes had some humor, some romance, some action and some drama. What more could I want? I think it was great of Marvel and Agents Of SHIELD to end the year in such a fun way, and I hope the success of this leads to more miniseries in the future.

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REVIEW: AGENTS OF SHIELD – SEASON 3

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MAIN CAST

Clark Gregg (When A Stranger Calls)
Ming-Na Wen (Stargate Universe)
Brett Dalton (Lost In Florence)
Chloe Bennet (Nashville)
Iain De Caestecker (Filfth)
Elizabeth Henstridge (Reach Me)
Nick Blood (Trollied)
Adrianne Palicki (G.I. Joe: Retaliation)
Henry Simmons (NYPD Blue)
Luke Mitchell (The Tomorrow People)

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST CAST

William Sadler (Iron Man 3)
Constance Zimmer (UnReal)
Andrew Howard (Bates Motel)
Matthew Willig (Year One)
Juan Pablo Raba (The 33)
Spencer Treat Clark (Mystic River)
Blair Underwood (Gattaca)
Daniel Roebuck (The Man In High Castle)
Powers Boothe (Sin City)
Jack Guzman (Power Rangers Wild Force)
Nelson Franklin (New Girl)
Mark Dacascos (Kamen Rider Dragon Knight)
Dillon Casey (Nikita)
Natalia Cordova-Buckley (Los Minondo)
Adrian Pasdar (Heroes)
Bethany Joy Lenz (One Tree Hill)
Ravil Isyanov (Bones)
Titus Welliver (Lost)
Reed Diamond (Dollhouse)
Alicia Vela-Bailey (Lights Out)
John Hannah (The Mummy)

After its rocky start, Agents of SHIELD had turned into a much more entertaining, involving series by its second season. Season 3 of the Marvel series found the show operating on as strong a level as the year before, There was a lot to enjoy. The show used the mid-season split to essentially divide between two villains – both played by Brett Dalton. In the fall, Dalton was still playing Ward and in the spring, he was Hive (walking around in Ward’s dead body). Overall, the fall run was very Strong and cohesive. The rising threats, including Gideon Malick and Lash, were intriguing, the storyline about Simmons’ time on another planet really compelling and the tragically short love story between Coulson and Ros (a very strong Constance Zimmer) played well – even if his quest for revenge after Ward shockingly killed her was a bit heightened, given how quick their relationship was.That aforementioned Simmons storyline was a standout, with Elizabeth Henstridge and Iain De Caestecker both doing excellent work, as Fitz did all he could to rescue Simmons, only to find she had changed while she was gone. It all led up to the phenomenal episode “4,722 Hours,” which is the best hour of Agents of SHIELD to date. A very offbeat, ambitious episode, “4,722 Hours” took place almost entirely on the alien planet Simmons was trapped on, with only her and the Earthling astronaut she discovered there, Will (Dillon Casey), anchoring the story. The reveals in this episode set up a love triangle that felt earned (something that often isn’t the case on TV shows), as we could understand the pain this situation was causing both Fitz and Simmons, and feel sympathetic towards both of them. Once more, I have to note that these two characters have come a long way since the show began, backed by two great performances.You really can’t go wrong with Powers Boothe as a villain and it was very fun to see the veteran actor greatly expand upon his shadowy role in the Avengers as Hydra leader Gideon Malick. The way they used Malick to connect some dots on Hydra history from the MCU was cool and in his final episodes, he did a great job showing the loving father beneath the scary façade – who realized too late he was messing with the wrong Inhuman alien-god creature.We also had Lincoln and the Secret Warriors. The idea of the Secret Warriors was cool, as Agents of SHIELD amped up its superhero side and we met characters like Joey (Juan Pablo Raba) and Elena/Yo-Yo (Natalia Cordova-Buckley), There was a lot of teasing and set up here with some payoff. When this team within the team finally went on their first mission, in “The Team,” it was immediately followed by them turning on one another, with no time to really see what their dynamic might be like.Lincoln’s character got an expanded role, His best material was early in the season, when he was on the run and refusing to join SHIELD. But once he was part of the team (officially or not). Daisy herself however, fared better. Now fully aware of and embracing her Inhuman heritage and superpowers, she was re-introduced as a kick ass, capable superhero. The early days of Agents of SHIELD pushed “Skye” too much as being special when she hadn’t earned it, but now, it was much easier to buy into her transformation and Chloe Bennet flourished showing off Daisy’s dangerous physicality, which allowed her to blend martial arts with those increasingly powerful earthquake powers.Among the rest of the cast, Mack (Henry Simmons) was a very likable, easy too root for part of the team in Season 3, and making him and Daisy field partners turned out to be a clever pairing. May’s storyline was mostly cantered around Lash and the reveal he was truly Andrew, which initially was very compelling. Hunter and Bobbi continued to be a cool couple, and getting Bobbi back in the field after the early episodes was easy too root for. The two got a big, sad  send off for a spinoff that now isn’t happening. As for Coulson, his aforementioned romance with Ros worked well, and him killing Ward was a suitably big moment. Some of his angst and guilt over that murder felt a bit unfocused in the spring run, but there was some good material here as well – including the show retroactively accounting for Coulson being so damn adoring and protective of Daisy since the beginning.Brett Dalton had done great work on SHIELD since we learned Ward was a Hydra agent, taking the bland boy scout he appeared to be and subverting it in a big way. And I was glad that SHIELD’s creators never tried to redeem Ward or put him back on the team somehow – we understood what shaped him, but also never forgot he was a broken, bad person. However, it was time for Ward to go and the Hive storyline allowed them to put him to rest for good.Season 3 was a great season to a continuing great addition to the MCU.

REVIEW: ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN

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MAIN CAST (VOICES)
Drake Bell (Sueprhero Movie)
Ogie Banks (Superman vs The Elite)
Greg Cipes (Teen Titans)
Clark Gregg (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.)
Tom Kenny (Spongebob Squarepants)
Matt Lanter (Heroes)
Chi McBride (Human Target)
Caitlyn Taylor Love (I’m With The Band)
Logan Miller (Deep Powder)
J.K. Simmons (Spider-Man)
Steven Weber (Izombie)
RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST CAST
Misty Lee (Killer Kids)
Jonathan Adams (Bones)
Tara Strong (The New Batman Adventures)
Eric Bauza (Batman: Assault on Arkam)
Dee Bradley Baker (American Dad)
Kevin Michael richardson (The Cleveland Show)
Stan Lee (Spider-Man)
Fred Tatasciore (Hulk Vs)
Troy Baker (Lego Batman: The Movie)
Clancy Brown (Highlander)
Rob Paulsen (Teenae Mutant Ninja Turtles)
Phil LaMarr (Free Enterpise)
Travis Willingham (Shelf Life)
Steve Blum (Wolverine and The X-Men)
Mark Hamill (Star Wars)
Adrian Pasdar (Heroes)
Roger Craig Smith (Wreck-it Ralph)
Diedrich Bader (Batman: The Brave and The Bold)
Christopher Daniel Barnes (The Little Mermaid)
Maurice LaMarche (Futurama)
Dwight Schultz (The A-Team)
Jack Coleman (Heroes)
Robin Atkin Downes (Babylon 5)
Rose McGowan (Planet Terror)
Bumper Robinson (Sabrina: TTW)
Stan Lee (Avengers Aseesmble)
Seth Green (Family Guy)
Oded Fehr (The Mummy)
Freddy Rodriguez (Ugly Betty)
Phil Morris (Smallville)
Milo Ventimiglia (Heroes)
Cameron Boyce (The Descendants)
Maria Canals-Barrera (Justice League)
Will Friedle (Batman Beyond)
Eliza Dushku (Tru Calling)
Greg Grunberg (Heroes)
Michael Clarke Duncan (The Finder)
George Takei (Star Trek)
Iain De Caestecker (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.)
Robert Patrick (Terminator 2)
Elizabeth Henstridge (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.)
James Marsters (Caprica)
Keith Szarabajka (Angel)
Billy West (Futurama)

I recently watched  Ultimate Spider-Man and I can honestly say that I have never wanted to stop watching a Spider-Man cartoon before in my life… until now. I have been a big fan of the Spider-Man comic series for many years and have liked almost all of the cartoon iterations of him, but this one just hurts to watch. I understand that Spider-Man is supposed to be a smart-mouthed teen who likes to make jokes while fighting crime, which is my favorite part about the character, but this show just takes it to an extreme.


I think one of the biggest problems for me was how much the stories are broken up by all of the “cut away” scenes.  I understand that Spider-Man is a show made for children and I get that the characters aren’t going to be nearly as serious as they are in the comics, but I feel like this was just too far from the source material for me to enjoy it. Another thing that bothered me was how just a few years ago we had, in my opinion, one of the best Spider-Man shows to date, Spectacular Spider-Man, and it was canceled in only it’s second season. I had really high hopes for Ultimate Spider-Man to fill the void that Spectacular Spider-Man left, but it just didn’t deliver at all.

As far as the voice acting on the show goes, they all seem to have done a really good job… with what they were given to read. So much of the writing in this show just seems so forced.why was Spectacular Spider-Man so much better and the most honest answer that I can give you is that it seems as though Marvel actually put a lot of work into Spectacular Spider-Man. I’m not saying that they didn’t put a lot of work into Ultimate Spider-Man, but it’s much harder to see in this one. The character designs in Spectacular Spider-Man may not have hit all of the right points for some people, but I really enjoyed it. The action in the show looked really good and it was easy to follow exactly what was happening, because you didn’t have a bunch of blur that you had to try and see everything through. The story for Spectacular Spider-Man was your standard Spider-Man fare, but while it was a show essentially for kids, it also appealed to many adults as well.


I really wanted to like Ultimate Spider-Man, but I just didn’t. I feel like if this show was about just another teen superhero other than Spider-Man it would have been much more forgivable, but for it to take such a dump on such a beloved character, it is just really sad to see. Now all that I can do is hope that the new Spider-Man movie can really bring something good to the table.

REVIEW: AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. – SEASON 2

CAST

Clark Gregg (When A Stranger Calls)
Ming-Na Wen (Stargate Universe)
Brett Dalton (Killing Lincoln)
Chloe Bennet (Nashville)
Ian De Caestecker (Filth)
Elizabeth Henstridge (Reach Me)
Nick Blood (Identicals)
Adrianna Palicki (G.J. Joe: Retaliation)

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST STARS

Hayley Atwell (Cinderella)
B.J. Britt (Veronica Mars)
Neal McDonough (Arrow)
Reed Diamond (Dollhouse)
Henry Simons (No Good Deed)
Patton Oswalt (Blade: trinity)
Lucy Lawless (Ash Vs Evil Dead)
Adrian Pasdar (Heroes)
Kenneth Choi (Street Kings)
Simon Kassianides (Quantum of Solace)
Brian Patrick Wade (The Big Bang Theory)
Ruth Negga (World War Z)
Maya Stojan (Castle)
Dylan Minnette (Goosebumps)
Kyle MacLachlan (Dune)
Brian Tee (Jurassic World)
Monique Gabriela Curnen (The Dark Knight)
Joel Gretsch (V)
Tim DeKay (Swordfish)
Dichen Lachman (Dollhouse)
Lou Ferrigno Jr. (The Young and The Restless)
Jamie Harris (Rise of The Planet of The Apes)
Blair Underwood (Gattaca)
Christine Adams (Batman Begins)
Edward James Olmos (Green Hornet)
Luke Mitchell (Home and Away)
J. August Richards (Angel)
Cobie Smulders (How I Met Your Mother)
Jaimie Alexander (The Last Stand)

For many, Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD in its first season  became a forgotten and/or overlooked series, which was too bad, and yet understandable. This was Marvel’s first TV series, coming off of an amazing run of movies and it just didn’t deliver when it debuted. The initial episodes felt unfocused and badly paced,but many people people felt the show improved when SHIELD notably improving in the wake of Captain America: The Winter Soldier’s events.In season 2 the pacing was hugely improved, with storylines no longer taking forever to bubble up again and secrets no longer being kept both from the audience and the characters that no one on screen seemed in a hurry to deal with. Instead, there was payoff to big plot threads happening consistently, as both lingering questions from Season 1 and newly introduced plotlines were deftly dealt with and tied up, while paving the way for new mysteries. On the villain front, there was some nicely done twisting and turning regarding who the Big Bad would be in Season 2. We began with a focus on Hydra leader Whitehall and while Reed Diamond had fun in the role, Whitehall rarely had moments that made him feel like a truly credible threat. When he was killed in the midseason finale, it seemed Kyle MacLachlan’s Cal would take center stage as SHIELD’s main foe… but there was yet another swerve in store.The fact that Skye’s mother, Jiaying (Dichen Lachman), was alive at all was a surprise and we soon saw that she was the leader of the Inhumans and could be pretty strict and cold when it came to doing what she felt was right to protect her people… but that was all hiding just what a zealot she had become, convinced war with humanity was inevitable and willing to begin it herself (via a staged attack) to get all her people on her side. The fact that Jiaying was the true main villain of the season was a subtle, slow reveal and much appreciated for how it was pulled off. We understood the tragic events that had changed her, even as we came to see she, and not Cal, who was the most dangerous.Oh, and did I say Inhumans? This was also a huge part of the season, which was especially notable because it indicated that behind the scenes, Marvel had decided Agents of SHIELD could lead the way in a much more notable way than before, rather than being simply reactive to the events of the films. We know an Inhumans film is coming in a few years, but now this series has already introduced the concept into the MCU. Presumably the film will focus on the Royal Family and a very different group of Inhumans than the ones we met here, but this show was still allowed to be the first part of the MCU to give us Terrigen Mist, the Kree origins and all the major background elements of the Inhumans.
In general, SHIELD felt less restrained this season. The first couple of episodes utilized the notable Marvel villain Absorbing Man, while the reveals that Cal and Skye were, respectively, Mr. Hyde and Daisy Johnson/Quake, rooted this show much more into its Marvel Comics roots.While it began in the latter half of Season 1, SHIELD: Season 2 also benefited from much stronger characterization. While there were so many characters they all didn’t get as much time as might have been ideal, they still all felt much more distinct and specific than the show’s early days, and the fact that several members came and went and shifted allegiances kept things interesting. Ming-Na Wen was always a great presence on the show, but Melinda May was given a lot more depth, as we met her ex-husband, Andrew (Blair Underwood) and finally got the dark details of that incident in Bahrain that we kept hearing about in Season 1. The rift between Fitz and Simmons added a lot more textures to both of them, and was beautifully played by Iain De Caestecker and Elizabeth Henstridge, while Coulson, now the director of SHIELD, had to reevaluate his approach, making much harsher decisions that pained him, but felt more involving and believable than the overly sappy, often naive approach that he began the series with.As for Skye, the writers and producers certainly still were determined to make her the most important and revered character on the show, but this season, it actually felt like they were earning her that position. Sure, we had to accept that she’d apparently gotten one hell of a crash course in being a badass fighter from May between seasons, but it felt good to see her actually be such a formidable presence in the action scenes – and Chloe Bennet really rose to the challenge of her characters new dynamic. And by making Skye both an Inhuman and Daisy/Quake, we at least had tangible reasons she would be important to us as viewers, beyond Coulson simply saying she was awesome over and over again. Bennet and Kyle MacLachlan also were able to build a strong rapport together as the estranged father/daughter duo. Speaking of MacLachlan, what a job he did. While Dichen Lachman brought the perfect pained righteousness to Jiaying, who truly believed what she was doing was right, MacLachlan had the freedom to go absolutely crazy as the absolutely crazy Cal and wow, was he fun. He expertly conveyed his character’s wish to be a happy, doting husband and father intermixed with his violent rage and gave the season some of its best moments – goofy Mr. Hyde makeup/visuals in the season finale aside.The new additions to the SHIELD crew were also appreciated, with Nick Blood’s Lance Hunter, Henry Simmons’ Mack and Adrianne Palicki ‘s Bobbi Morse/Mockingbird all fitting in very well. With such a big group of agents, someone was bound to be overlooked, and unfortunately, that was Trip (B.J. Britt), who never really got a storyline of his own – except to be the big midseason death. Which wasn’t as impactful as it could have been because he felt like a character with potential that was never fully utilized in any capacity (Remember when he and Simmons were flirting?).The “Other SHIELD” storyline was an interesting inclusion, with Edward James Olmos bringing exactly the gravity you’d expect him to as Gonzales. I liked the idea of he and Coulson being so opposed and yet very respectful of one another, in their own ways. I just wish we’d gotten a bigger payoff to that, as Gonzales was killed by Jiaying before he and Coulson really came to any sort of conclusion in their own conflict except on the “very begrudging/wary allies” level.I went into Season 2 very concerned about Grant Ward’s continuing presence on the series. His betrayal was a shot of Adrenalin the bland SHIELD crew needed and his actions had been too extreme and lethal to be forgiven or excused – but this is TV, where it seems any character can be redeemed. And I really didn’t want to see Ward redeemed, especially since Brett Dalton really found the character when he was allowed to play him as a villain. Thankfully, Season 2 didn’t try to bring Ward back onto the SHIELD team – in fact, by the end, he was more delightfully despicable than ever, torturing Bobbi and setting a trap to kill any SHIELD agent that attempted to rescue her and shooting and killing May, point blank, the first chance he had.SHIELD: Season 2 benefited from a show now unafraid to shake up the dynamic. Perhaps having to completely change everything about the series two thirds into the first season served as an inspiration, but from Simmons’ double agent status, to Gonzales’ crew taking over, the show rarely felt stagnant. The show’s always been in a difficult scenario – people love the interconnectivity of the MCU, but because the movie’s have the big superheroics covered, SHIELD felt hindered by not being able to deal with a lot of the bigger name heroes, in a way a series like The Flash (which isn’t connected to DC’s movies at all) doesn’t have to deal with. The decision to have Coulson and Skye begin to form a team of superpowered members seems to indicate those involved have decided its time to bring some more ongoing flash  to the series, even if it won’t be with the biggest name characters. Things will no doubt change in a big way again as a result, but right now, it’s exciting to ponder what’s coming next.

REVIEW: 500 DAYS OF SUMMER

  CAST

Joseph Gordon-Levitt (The Dark Knight Rises)
Zooey Deschanel (New Girl)
Geoffrey Arend (Garden State)
Chloe Grace Moretz (The 5th Wave)
Matthew Gray Gubler (Criminal Minds)
Clark Gregg (Agents of Shield)
Patricia Belcher (Bones)
Rachel Boston (Witches of East End)
Yvette Nicole Brown (The Ugly Truth)

It’s not,  a love story, as our narrator tells us, but more of a reflection on how things went sour between Tom (Gordon-Levitt), an architect turned greeting card writer, and Summer (Deschanel), the flighty assistant in his office with an inborn sense of good fortune and natural magnetism. As to be expected, the film takes us through select snippets through their 500 days of interaction, emphasizing the bright highs and rock-bottom lows as a morose Tom regurgitates the story to his friends — an odd bunch to be giving him relationship advice, comprised of an off-kilter woman repellent (Geoffrey Arend) and a guy who’s been in a relationship since he was 18 (Michael Gray Gruber) — and his younger sister. He reflects on their first meeting, when he discovered his love for her, dealing with her commitment issues, and how it all tumbled down due to her stubborn capriciousness. But he also reflects on the lasting memories: their view of Los Angeles from a park bench, a stumble through IKEA where they lightheartedly mock domestic lifestyle, and a turning-point rendezvous by the copy machine.

Director Webb doesn’t tell us this story in linear fashion, instead triggering memories like a stream of firecrackers going off in Tom’s head with day markers attached to each. He doesn’t annotate every memory day-for-day, since our memories don’t work that way, but instead remembers the morning after he and Summer first made love — illustrated by a gleeful, smile-inducing musical number — and ties it together with a more recent memory of him at his most depressed as he arrives at his office one day. Visual cues like that one are scattered throughout Marc Webb’s picture, handled in a fashion that feels somehow recognizable to anyone who has felt that broken-hearted ache. That’s partly a glimpse at cinematographer Eric Steelberg’s outstanding work, which carries over a similar boldness of visuals from his work on Juno into a collage of eye-catching poeticism. Several other moments communicate with us directly through their meaning, like watching Tom and Summer enjoying a movie, then immediately after we watch Tom sulk in a theater alone with an abstract “suffering” arthouse film a la Ingmar Bergman playing in front of him. And it’s all a string of identifiable elements, from the transition of a quirky laugh into a piercing cackle and a birthmark changing shapes like a cloud in the sky.

Of course, there’s the very good possibility that 500 Days of Summer could’ve been a complete wash of silliness and gallivanting on the laurels of independent oddity, but Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel never let us wander into that mentality. Gordon-Levitt has always been a strong character actor, but he’s really garnered attention as a dark and brooding leading man following startling good turns in The Lookout and Mysterious Skin. He scales the brooding intensity back as Tom, yet still painting his moroseness with broad strokes of emotional depth, while also harking back to his experience in comedy for the physical humor. I was surprised at exactly how humorous he could be even when he’s moping around, conflicting our feelings when we’re suffering through the Linus-like cloud above his head. Deschanel is equally as impressive as Summer, tapping into her signature wide-eyed disposition to craft a well-pitched, unconventional “hippie chick”. She somewhat makes us understand Tom’s fawning at the scatterbrained yet alluring Summer, but it’s the way Deschanel plays against Gordon-Levitt’s charm that really make them a delicious duo.

Their dynamic helps to set the film apart, but it’s the endlessly clever writing from first-timers Weber and Neustadter that really shapes 500 Days of Summer into a wealth of tangible, identifiable emotion. They’re fully aware of how they want their film to move, how it leaps from time period to time period, and what makes Tom and Summer tick.

500 Days of Summer isn’t completely about heartache. It’s also about the good times people have in relationships, the stuff they’ll remember once they’ve broken apart from someone they care deeply for. Within that, there’s also plenty of humor — lots of good, deep-seated humor.

REVIEW: ONE HOUR PHOTO

CAST

Robin Williams (Hook)
Connie Nielsen (Gladiator)
Michael Vartan (Alias)
Dylan Smith (Re-Animated)
Erin Daniels (The L Word)
Gary Cole (Chuck)
Lee Garlington (Ameircan Pie 2)
Jim Rash (That 70s Show)
Clark Gregg (Agents of SHIELD)
Eriq La Salle (ER)

Mark Romanek’s under-appreciated One Hour Photo came about during a transition period in the mainstream photography scene, a point addressed early on in the film. Before the age of digital cameras — where people take thousands of shots nobody ever sees, duplicate them at home, and wipe them away with a few clicks — snapshots either needed to be processed in a dark room or entrusted with a lab for developing. That meant a person doing the developing would see , and possible remember, every single candid shot and glimpse at one’s private affairs. Romanek saw that suspicion as an opportunity, framed in a sterile department store and centered on the seeming trustworthy clerk whom you’d give those rolls of memories. Could that person have been Sy Parrish (Robin Williams), the bespectacled, clean-cut employee who obsesses over a repeat-customer family. The strength in Romanek’s thriller, a comment on blind trust and valuing the family dynamic, lies in how eerily possible that might be.

Should it be reassuring or alarming that the first image of Sy is of his in-custody interrogation? That’s the direction Romanek takes the audience, down the path of misgiving from the moment Sy offers his perspective on his time as a SavMart photo-lab manager, a job he takes very seriously; he calibrates and measures prints with the utmost care, diligently remembering repeat shoppers. The most important of all his customers, though, is the Yorkin family: an unpretentiously beautiful mother, Nina (Connie Nielsen, The Devil’s Advocate); the busy bread-winner father, Will (Michael Vartan, Alias); and their young, caring son, Jake (Dylan Smith). Sy knows these people in ways most don’t, from memorizing their address and the size of their home to the idyllic appearance of their domestic situation, adorned with birthday parties and little-league games. What’s also shown, though, are the moments when he returns to his home, a sparse apartment full of the Yorkin’s photographs.

Romanek could’ve easily forced Sy into a caricature of a stalker or an unashamedly disturbed villain, but instead he takes a more complex route: he’s interested in bringing this man as close to “normal” as the thriller’s setting and purposes will allow, until the situation no longer allows it. Constant narration — Sy’s interrogation — beckons the audience into the space of his mind, revealing his tolerant and often rewarding outlook on his customers. When he discusses unsavory people, they’re neutral observations with a twang of judgment, not unlike the musings of regular Joes. When he discusses the family dynamic, his outlook is almost admirably idealistic, as if he only knows of the families depicted in perfect photos. Navigating the intricacy of his mind becomes a sharp, disturbing experience as the knowledge of his police custody crosses our minds, and Romanek plays with that idea as Sy uses his job to cross boundaries in ways the general public would rather not consider. He’s the worst kind of monster: the one you really couldn’t foresee as being one.

One Hour Photo’s success, both in terms of intensity and dramatic potency, hinges on the utterly chilling performance from Robin Williams. While Good Will Hunting and Insomnia unveiled a comeback in his serious dramatic side, presenting him as physically intimidating and apt at carrying a dark past, Sy takes his talent in a more cunning, sinister direction than previously seen from the animated comedic actor. From behind large-framed glasses and under a peculiar blonde haircut, the intense eyes that Williams gives the photo-lab manager hide a disturbed man with a void in his life. The psychosis and obsession he conveys through nuanced facial reactions can be pretty remarkable, where the stillness in his gazes and the calmness in his voice often send chills down the spine when he interacts with families, co-workers, and children. The performances around him create a “safe” mid-sized town atmosphere — Connie Nielsen’s honest warmth lures in our attention as she drops off film and eats at a mall — proving ideal for Sy’s under-the-radar fixation.

Romanek explores a mesmerizing visual tone that becomes crucial as we’re making heads and tails of Sy’s mind, where the cinematography of Jeff Cronenweth (Fight Club and The Social Network) switches between sterile, void sparseness and multihued vivacity for some clever jarring effects. He bathes scenes in the Yorkin’s lush upper-scale home with overbearingly warm oranges and browns, emphasizing a false sense of safety and perfection, while the stark-white aisles of SavMart almost convey a sense of blinding clarity through the eyes of Sy. The film very much filters through his point-of-view as his narration guides the audience within his psychosis, where the few impartial glimpses at his life blow the notion of privacy open by a mosaic of photos on his apartment’s wall. Backed by Reinhold Heil and Johnny Klimek’s pulsating, haunting score, this is a striking sensory experience that lulls the audience into a bizarre combo of sensations between ill-omened fear and cautious sympathy.

That’s the nature of a beast like One Hour Photo, a Hitchcock-esque exploration of the underbelly of the mundane ad the family dynamic, not unlike a twisted combination of Cape Fear and American Beauty. Romanek’s film is, admittedly, far more interesting during Sy’s descent into mania than when he’s finally pushed over the edge though, driven by circumstances that come across more as overstated developments to elevate suspense instead of a natural progression of his mental instability. Romanek undeniably goes for bizarre shock value as his punctuation, which waters down the organic human properties that he’s worked so hard to develop. Yet, even when he takes Sy into the world of the truly demented, the reason he’s locked in cuffs and answering questions, Robin Williams and Mark Romanek still generates a disturbingly authentic perspective on idealistic relativism, and how the mind of “The Photo Guy” who yearns for the family in those snapshots is truly calibrated.

REVIEW: A.I.: ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE

CAST

Haley Joel Osment (The Sixth Sense)
Jude Law (Sherlock Holmes)
Frances O’Connor (Bedazzled)
Sam Roberds (American Beauty)
Jake Thomas (The Cell)
William Hurt (Captain America: Civil War)
Brendan Gleeson (The Smurfs 2)
Ashley Scott (Birds of Prey)
Jack Angel (Transformers)
Ben Kingsley (Iron Man 3)
Robin Williams (Hook)
Meryl Streep (Into The Woods)
Chris Rock (Rush Hour)
Ken Leung (Lost)
Clark Gregg (Agents of SHIELD)
Kevin Sussman (The Big Bang theory)
April Grace (Whiplash)
John Prosky (The Devil Inside)
Kathryn Morris (Cold Case)
Daveigh Chase (S.Darko)
Justina Machado (Final Destination 2)
Adrian Grenier (Drive Me crazy)
Paula Malcolmson (Capria)
Enrico Colantoni (Veronica Mars)

A.I. began life as a short story by Brian Aldiss, but it blossomed into something more sprawling under Kubrick. It is the story of the first-ever robot boy. Set in a future where climate change has left multiple major cities underwater, a refocused society has made many technological advancements since the cataclysm–including synthesized life. Robots have different functions in society, but largely act as servants, be it of the more traditional kind (maids, chauffeurs) or less domestic (sexbots). At the start of the movie, a scientist (William Hurt) proposes a new function: true love. What if they could create a simulacrum of a real child, one that could be programmed to love its adoptive parents unconditionally? Could then the humans love it in return?The prototype is David (Haley Joel Osment), a specially built android that looks real in every way. He is given to a married couple (Sam Robards and Frances O’Connor) whose own child is currently in cryogenic stasis until a fatal health problem can be solved by medical science. Stuck in her grief, the mother, Monica, takes to her new “son,” developing a strong attachment to him. Only, when her actual child (Jake Thomas) is healed and returned to her, the human boy’s jealousy makes it impossible to keep David. Monica is unwilling to send David back to the factory for destruction and so lets the robot boy go instead. Devastated by this rejection, David takes his animated toy teddy bear (voiced by Jack Angel) and goes looking for the Blue Fairy, the angel who turned Pinocchio into a real boy at the end of the story Monica read to him. If he can become real, she can love him as much as her flesh-and-blood offspring.What follows is David’s fairy-tale journey. Like Pinocchio, he will run into many hazards, including a destructive carnival where robot-hating humans dismantle artificial life as a form of entertainment. There David meets Gigolo Joe (Jude Law), a pleasure robot who is on the run, as well. He agrees to help David find the Blue Fairy, detouring to a dazzling futuristic city where all manner of carnal delights can be found before finally heading to Manhattan and, supposedly, the edge of the world.The philosophical question at the core of A.I. Artificial Intelligence is the difference between authenticity and artifice. Are they mutually exclusive, or is that just a matter of perception? Kubrick famously put off making the movie for over a decade in hopes that an actual robot could be built to play the part of David. Spielberg came into the mix after Kubrick had seen Jurassic Park. It apparently made Stanley realize that if an approximation of a dinosaur was good enough, fake robots would be, as well. Extending the metaphor into the creative process, he embraced the idea that artifice could stand in for the authentic. One could even take it further to say this necessary balance was also the difference between the two directors, why it took both of them to make this extraordinary picture: the authenticity of Stanley Kubrick lent credibility to the artifice of Steven Spielberg, and vice-versa.

Spielberg doesn’t so much repress his style for A.I. as he tries on another man’s clothes and walks around in them for a while. The final movie has the chilly rigor of a Kubrick movie, but with touches of Spielberg’s slick storytelling. The teddy bear that serves as David’s Jiminy Cricket is perfectly integrated into the live action, and the fully imaginary Rouge City, inspired as it was by European comics, is just as believable–and indeed, indistinguishable in terms of craft–as the version of New York City that Spielberg sinks into the Atlantic. One is created from whole cloth, the other uses reality as its starting point–and neither is more real or unreal than its counterpart.

In terms of acting, it’s easy to see why Osment was viewed as the leading actor of a new generation. His performance as David is remarkably subtle. He uses carefully choreographed body language to convey the character’s “otherness.” He carries himself awkwardly, maintaining a blank naïveté that is essential to illustrating David’s lack of experience. It’s a far more complex construction than it might appear. Also good are O’Connor as the grieving mother (she has the widest range of emotions of anyone in the movie) and Jude Law as the charming hustler. He brings a touch of classic Hollywood style to the role–a gigolo is just another type of actor, after all.

There is nothing else quite like A.I. Artificial Intelligence, and given that once upon a time Stanley Kubrick showed us the dawn of humanity, it seems fitting that his career should end by showing us what the world would be like once humanity was gone.