REVIEW: AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. – SEASON 6

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013)

Starring

Clark Gregg (Captain Marvel)
Ming-Na Wen (Stargate Universe)
Chloe Bennet (Nashville)
Iain De Caestecker (Overlord)
Elizabeth Henstridge (Wolves at The Door)
Henry Simmons (Superman vs. The Elite)
Natalia Cordova-Buckley (Bates Motel)
Jeff Ward (Plus One)

Maximilian Osinski, Briana Venskus, Chloe Bennet, and Elizabeth Henstridge in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013)

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST CAST

Joel Stoffer (Species 3)
Maximilian Osinski (Love & Other Drugs)
Briana Venskus (Let’s Be Cops)
Barry Shabaka Henley (Heores)
Matt O’Leary (Mother’s Day)
Brooke Williams (Spartacus)
Karolina Wydra (Be Kind Rewind)
Maurissa Tancharoen (Dollhouse)
Sherri Saum (Sunset Beach)
Anthony Michael Hall (The Dark Knight)
Coy Stewart (Deadly Detention)
Lucas Bryant (Haven)
Winston James Francis (Glow)
Paul Telfer (The Vampire Diaries)
Shainu Bala (Last Resort)

Brooke Williams in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013)Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has been one of the few Marvel TV series that has successfully captured both the excitement of the Cinematic Universe and the joy of the comic books. It’s achieved this by constantly re-inventing itself. What began life as essentially a spy-fi procedural drama with the odd movie reference has evolved into a classic telefantasy, covering everything from magic to parallel worlds.Elizabeth Henstridge in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013)The new series is set before the events of Infinity War, which spares us from the show having to work in the odd movie reference here and there. (Though in fairness, a lot of the integration between the series and the movies is seamless, with the MCU elements essentially working as shorthand for the casual viewer). The agents are still reeling from the events of the last series, with Coulson seemingly gone for good, S.H.I.E.L.D. still functions as Earth’s defence against the weird, with Mack taking on the role as director. Meanwhile, Daisy, Simmons, and two other agents (who you grow to love) are scouring space for Fitz. It seems that one of the few consistent things about the show is that the adorable couple that is Fitz and Simmons are cursed to be separated by time, space, and circumstance. This particular story arc is one of the key sources of fun throughout this season. It starts off as a ‘Lost in Space’ melodrama, veers into the territory of some sort of galactic road-trip before turning into a cosmic version of couples counselling. The FitzSimmons pairing has always been electric on screen, and six seasons on these talented actors have created something rather special.Brooke Williams and Winston James Francis in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013)The more Earthbound drama is similarly full of surprises. We have a new set of bad guys with an all too familiar face returning to remind the viewers exactly why this show has been so successful. Fans of the various Marvel storylines will catch on to this arc plot fairly quickly and realise that a dimension-hopping band of bruisers who are seemingly intent on wrecking the joint are very, very bad news. The character of Sarge is, of course, the most interesting, but credit is also due to Brooke Williams as the psychotic Snowflake, who combines lunatic charm with utter ruthlessness to great effect.Ming-Na Wen, Lucas Bryant, and Natalia Cordova-Buckley in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013)There are some clunky moments, of course. Mack and Yo-Yo continue to have absolutely no chemistry, and the show struggles to integrate the character of Deke into the main story, which is a pity because he has some of the best moves in the series so far. With  S.H.I.E.L.D.’s sixth season now finished it will interesting what the creators have planned for the seventh and final season coming in 2020.

REVIEW: CAPTAIN MARVEL

Starring

Brie Larson (Kong: Skull Island)
Samuel L. Jackson (The Hateful eight)
Ben Mendelsohn (Ready Player One)
Djimon Hounsou (Guardians of The Galaxy)
Lee Pace (Pushing Daisies)
Lashana Lynch (Still Star-Crossed)
Gemma Chan (Mary Queen of Scots)
Annette Bening (American Beauty)
Clark Gregg (Much Ado About Nothing)
Jude Law (Spy)
Mckenna Grace (I, Tonya)
Vik Sahay (Chuck)
Kenneth Mitchell (Star Trek: Discovery)
Stan Lee (Avengers Assemble)
Chris Evans (The Losers)
Scarlett Johansson (Lucy)
Mark Ruffalo (Just Like Heaven)
Don Cheadle (Traffic)
Nelson Franklin (New Girl)
Patrick Gallagher (Glee)

Brie Larson in Captain Marvel (2019)In 1995, on the Kree Empire’s capital planet of Hala, Starforce member Vers suffers from amnesia and recurring nightmares involving an older woman. Yon-Rogg, her mentor and commander, trains her to control her abilities while the Supreme Intelligence, the artificial intelligence that rules the Kree, urges her to keep her emotions in check.Brie Larson in Captain Marvel (2019)During a mission to rescue an undercover operative infiltrating a group of Skrulls, alien shapeshifters with whom the Kree are at war, Vers is captured by Skrull commander Talos. A probe of Vers’s memories leads them to Earth. Vers escapes and crash-lands in Los Angeles. Her presence attracts S.H.I.E.L.D. agents Nick Fury and Phil Coulson, whose investigation is interrupted by a Skrull attack. In the ensuing chase, Vers recovers a crystal containing her extracted memories while Fury kills a Skrull impersonating Coulson. Talos, disguised as Fury’s boss Keller, orders Fury to work with Vers and keep tabs on her.Jude Law, Brie Larson, and Rune Temte in Captain Marvel (2019)Using her extracted memories, Vers and Fury go to the Project Pegasus installation at a U.S. Air Force base. They discover Vers was a pilot presumed to have died in 1989 while testing an experimental light-speed engine designed by Dr. Wendy Lawson, whom Vers recognizes as the woman from her nightmares. After Fury informs S.H.I.E.L.D. of their location, a team led by Talos disguised as Keller arrives. Fury discovers Talos’s ruse and helps Vers escape in a cargo jet with Lawson’s stowaway cat Goose. They fly to Louisiana to meet former pilot Maria Rambeau, the last person to see Vers and Lawson alive.Samuel L. Jackson and Brie Larson in Captain Marvel (2019)Rambeau and her daughter Monica reveal that Vers is Carol Danvers, who was once like family to them. Talos, arriving unarmed, explains that the Skrulls are refugees searching for a new home and that Lawson was Mar-Vell, a renegade Kree scientist helping them. Talos plays a recovered recording from Lawson’s jet, prompting Danvers to remember the crash: Lawson was killed by Yon-Rogg to prevent her from destroying the engine before the Kree could recover it. Destroying the engine herself, Danvers absorbed the energy from the ensuing explosion, gaining powers but losing her memory.Samuel L. Jackson and Brie Larson in Captain Marvel (2019)Danvers, Talos, Fury, and Rambeau locate Lawson’s cloaked laboratory orbiting Earth, where Lawson hid several Skrulls, including Talos’s family, and the Tesseract, the power source of Lawson’s engine. There, Danvers is captured by Starforce and interfaces with the Supreme Intelligence. During their conversation, Danvers removes the Kree implant that was suppressing her powers, allowing her to reach her full potential. In the subsequent battle, Fury retrieves Goose, who is revealed to be an alien Flerken. Goose swallows the Tesseract and scratches Fury, blinding his left eye. Danvers destroys a Kree bomber, forcing Kree officer Ronan the Accuser and his squadron to retreat, before overpowering Yon-Rogg on Earth and sending him back to Hala with a warning to the Supreme Intelligence.Djimon Hounsou, Brie Larson, Rune Temte, Gemma Chan, and Algenis Perez Soto in Captain Marvel (2019)Danvers departs to help the Skrulls find a new homeworld, leaving Fury a modified pager to contact her in an emergency. Meanwhile, Fury drafts an initiative to locate heroes like Danvers, naming it after her Air Force call sign, “Avenger”. In a mid-credits scene, set in 2018, the activated pager is being monitored by the Avengers when Danvers appears. In a post-credits scene, Goose climbs onto Fury’s desk and regurgitates the Tesseract.Brie Larson in Captain Marvel (2019)This is actually one of the rare examples of a prequel that “gets it right”, and explains things that happens in later films while managing to tell its own story. It also explains why the highly publicized (and until now highly off-limits due to licensing) Skrulls are absent throughout the rest of the MCU’s history. It also manages to provide some color around Ronan’s obsession with power, even though he only has a few brief scenes.
All in all Captain Marvel is a solid film on it’s own, while still connecting itself to the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe. Certainly worth the price of admission

REVIEW: AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. – SEASON 5

Ming-Na Wen, Henry Simmons, Clark Gregg, Iain De Caestecker, Natalia Cordova-Buckley, Chloe Bennet, and Elizabeth Henstridge in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013)

Starring

Clark Gregg (Captain Marvel)
Ming-Na Wen (Stargate: Universe)
Chloe Bennet (Nashville)
Iain De Caestecker (Filth)
Elizabeth Henstridge (Reach Me)
Henry Simmons (Taxi)
Natalia Cordova-Buckley (Bates Motel)

Jeff Ward in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013)

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST CAST

Jeff Ward (Plus One)
Joel Stoffer (Death Ring)
Eve Harlow (Heroes Reborn)
Dominic Rains (Jinn)
Florence Faivre (The Expanse)
Pruitt Taylor Vince (13 Sins)
Coy Stewart (Devil’s Whisper)
Catherine Dent (21 Grams)
Lola Glaudini (That Awkward Moment)
Dove Cameron (Descendants)
Brian Patrick Wade (The Big Bang Theory)
Briana Venskus (Let’s be Cops)
Maximilian Osinski (In Time)
Spencer Treat Clark (Glass)
Peter Mensah (Spartacus)
Adrian Pasdar (Heroes)
Nick Blood (Trollied)
J. August Richards (Angel)
Zach McGowan (The Scorpion King 5)
Reed Diamond (Bones)
Ruth Negga (Preacher)
David Conrad (Roswell)
Derek Mears (Swamp Thing)
Rya Kihlstedt (Home Alone 3)
Patrick Fabian (Better, Call Saul)
Willow Hale (The Ones)
Joel David Moore (Julia X)
Patrick Warburton (Family Guy)
Jake Busey (Starship Troopers)
Alyssa Jirrels (Alexa & Katie)
Gabriel Hogan (Heartland)
Craig Parker (Reign)
Raquel Gardner (The Boy Next Door)

Dominic Rains and Elizabeth Henstridge in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013)Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has done the impossible. It went from one of the most throwaway action dramas in recent history with season one to one of the most memorable. Over the course of five long years, the series has re-invented itself, and slowly forged a capable band of misfits that are worth watching week after week.Henry Simmons, Clark Gregg, Eve Harlow, and Michelle Toh in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013)It was somewhere around season three that I started truly enjoying the show, and by the time the artificial intelligence-driven LMD arc hit in 2017, I was hooked. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has the power to do what basically no Marvel film (with few exceptions) has done to date: make us laugh and cry in the same short span. Clark Gregg, S.H.I.E.L.D. star Agent Coulson always said that people should give the show time to grow, and while I’d argue four years is far too long of a wait, it’s worth investing in at this point. Season five mostly carries that legacy upon its back with a few missteps.Rya Kihlstedt and Dominic Rains in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013)While I’ve grown fond of S.H.I.E.L.D. it’s very easy to poke Swiss cheese-sized holes into it. The writers still don’t seem to know how to handle Yo-Yo, the Inhuman that can run so fast that it seemingly stops time, only to return to her original location. They created a figurative monster, one that could basically end every conflict before it starts, and they’ve had to come up with weird ways to curb her power, some of which are incredibly hokey. They’re also constantly wandering aimlessly with her character arc, putting much of the burden of her budding personality onto her partner, Mack — one of the brightest parts of the show.Florence Faivre in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013)The lack of John Hannah and Mallory Jansen, two of the strongest parts of last season, is felt, but others, whether it’s newcomers or old friends like Adrian Pasdar, have stepped up. Really though, the trophies should go to the principal cast, who are stuck together like a family for this long despite being on the bubble every year. Ming-Na Wen is one of the most underrated action performers on TV right now, and Chloe Bennet managed to transform Skye into the formidable Daisy mostly on her own, evolving and learning alongside of the show with charisma and relatable flaws to boot.Ming-Na Wen, Clark Gregg, and Willow Hale in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013)I miss the smaller focused arcs of the past few seasons, but this year S.H.I.E.L.D. has mostly settled on two acts: the future, and a lead into Infinity War. The former was a very bold and tricky maneuver, and I think they pulled it off. For a while, there S.H.I.E.L.D. pivoted into a bleak sci-fi operation, more so than it ever has been in the past, with some of its darkest sections to date.Ming-Na Wen and Clark Gregg in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013)The thing about the future portion of this season is that you never really know what’s going to happen. Coupled with an ominous theme bad things were always piling onto the crew, to the point where you really felt that they had no chance of making it out alive. By the end of it, when most of them do, it feels like their actions still have weight to them, something that was wonderfully communicated in the previous season. It’s not so much cheesy callbacks as it is genuine character development, as the team works to make this pseudo-MCU world one worth exploring. It’s also nice to see Marvel throw S.H.I.E.L.D. a bone, giving them at least one worthy villain and the entire Kree race to work with.Ming-Na Wen, Clark Gregg, and Chloe Bennet in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013)Its second act isn’t nearly as strong, sometimes focusing far too much on Hydra (a concept that’s been touched on nearly every season now to mixed success), it eventually culminates in a worthwhile showdown with one of the most formidable foes yet with actual consequences. Is S.H.I.E.L.D., or the Marvel universe completely done with Hydra? Probably not, but for now it seems like new problems are on the horizon.Dove Cameron in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013)Ultimately, season five of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. ends with at least one twist and several turns. It’s beautifully filmed as a series finale just in case they didn’t get that one last renewal (which they recently did), and despite the truncated action scenes that still show how little of a priority S.H.I.E.L.D. is for ABC, it more than gets the job done for a network TV show.

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)
Eddie McClintock (Bones)
Kirk Acevedo (Arrow)

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.
Hayley Atwell in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013)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)
Minka Kelly (Titans)
Ian Reed Kesler (The Finder)
Richard McGonagle (3rd Rock From The Sun)
Jennifer Hetrick (Star Trek: TNG)

Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in (500) Days of Summer (2009)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.Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in (500) Days of Summer (2009)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.Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in (500) Days of Summer (2009)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)

Robin Williams in One Hour Photo (2002)

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: AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. – SEASON 1

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)

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST STARS

J. August Richards (Angel)
Shannon Lucio (The O.C)
Ron Glass (Firefly)
Cobie Smulders (How I Met Your Mother)
Sarah Dumont (Don Jon)
Leonor Varela (Blade II)
Samuel L. Jackson (The Hateful Eight)
David Conrad (Roswell)
Ian Hart (Harry Potter)
Ruth Negga (World War Z)
Louis Ozawa Changchien (The Bourne Legacy)
Cullen Douglas (Pure Genius)
Vincent Laresca (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang)
Titus Welliver (The Town)
Maximiliano Hernández (Ringer)
Ilia Volok (Power Rangers Wild Force)
Saffron Burrows (Deep Blue Sea)
Charles Halford (Constantine)
Peter MacNicol (24)
Erin Way (Colony)
Robert Baker (Supergirl)
Laura Seay (Superbad)
Maximilian Osinski (In Time)
Aiden Turner (All My Children)
Dylan Minnette (13 Reasons Why)
Daniel Zovatto (Don’t Breathe)
Christine Adams (BLack Lightning)
Maiara Walsh (The Vampire Diaries)
Carlo Rota (Saw V)
Stan Lee (Super Hero Squad)
Elena Satine (The Gifted)
Bill Paxton (Aliens)
Robert Belushi (How I Met Your Mother)
B.J. Britt (One Tree Hill)
Jaimie Alexander (Thor)
Dylan Bruno (Taken 3)
Brad Dourif (Cult of CHucky)
Adrian Pasdar (Heores)
Patton Oswalt (Young Adult)
Amy Acker (Angel)
Glenn Morshower (Transformers)

Ming-Na Wen, Clark Gregg, Iain De Caestecker, Brett Dalton, Chloe Bennet, and Elizabeth Henstridge in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013)When Marvel’s cinematic universe first took off, the next move was to make the leap to television, Marvel turned to Avengers director Joss Whedon’s brother Jed and his wife/collaborator Maurissa Tancharoen, who took the popular Marvel Cinematic Universe Phase One character Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg), the man who helped gather the heroes who became the Avengers, and made him the star of his own series, focused on his team at S.H.I.E.L.D., the international peacekeeping organization run by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson.) The hour-long drama would build off of the well-known heroics, and tell connected tales of espionage, as Coulson and his squad respond to threats to humanity around the world.Now, in case you haven’t seen The Avengers, you should know that in a climactic battle, Coulson was very badly injured, which became a rallying point for the heroes. Well, he’s back, but how he made it back is a large part of the series’ foundation, which is revealed in piecemeal over the course of the first season. Coulson’s search for the truth is intertwined with the arrival of the newest member of his team, a hacker known as Skye (Chloe Bennett), who has plenty of secrets of her own, in part due to her past as a rogue “hacktivist.” Trust is a massive theme in the series, as no one is sure about anyone else but they have to rely on each other if they are going to complete their missions, which remind one of Fringe in a big way, as the team investigates strange phenomena in order to keep humanity safe.Lorelei, Though certainly not a big-name Marvel character (her sister The Enchantress has a much higher profile) and not the first recognizable super-powered character on the show (that would be the cybernetic assassin Deathlok, whose origin is revealed over the course of the season), Lorelei tips the scales with her appearance because she, as an Asgardian, creates a direct link to the world of Thor, and also because she’s followed to Earth by Lady Sif (Jaimie Alexander), the Asgardian warrior from the two Thor films. Finally, fans exclaimed, there’s some honest to goodness superhero action to be enjoyed, and that was followed by direct ties into the new Captain America movie, picking up the plot from the theaters and bringing its effects home. This was the crossover dream that comics mastered decades ago, and now Marvel was making happen between movies and TV (and you didn’t really even need to see both sides to enjoy them separately.)After offering this cookie to the fans, the series shifted back to the spy game though, where it would stay for the rest of the season, introducing Bill Paxton and Saffron Burrows in major roles) as Coulson’s organization crumbled around him and the team shifted from saving the world to saving each other. Coulson’s team, which, aside from Skye, includes Ward (Brett Dalton), a perfect soldier; badass pilot May (Ming-Na Wen) and science specialists Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) and Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge), comes together quickly as a unit on the series, establishing their personalities right off the bat, with Skye serving as the show’s young star, showing the old guard how a new generation does the job (though still requiring saving and offering a hearty cry every now and then) and Fitz and Simmons serving as the audience’s tech-loving stand-ins, the most down-to-earth parts of a fantastical realm. May though, with her economy of words and excess of butt-kicking skill, is the “Wolverine” of the show, and her relationship with Coulson serves as a backbone for the series. Naturally, Gregg’s performance is integral to the show, and he continues to shine in the role of Coulson, giving us a smartass secret agent for the ages.While the show is a serial and does well at telling action-adventure arcs of mystery and intrigue, building the mythology and establishing a larger storyline, it could do one-offs as well, including two of the season’s best episodes, “FZZT” which ties into The Avengers while telling a standalone story that put a spotlight on Fitz and Simmons, and “T.R.A.C.K.S.”, which puts the team on a train and tries out some interesting storytelling structure. The show also has its humorous side, taking its tone from the Marvel films, which blend grits with grins (and though Patton Oswalt gets a featured role in one episode, for once, he’s not responsible for the laughs.) For the most part, this mix works well, as it helps illustrate the growing camaraderie between the teammates and keeps the tone light, but it can get out of hand very quickly. The final episode, where much of what’s been revealed over the course of the previous 21 episodes comes to a head, the lightheartedness (thanks to an appearance by a famous friend of the team) goes over the top.