REVIEW: DEAD MAN’S CURVE

CAST

Matthew Lilalrd (Scream)
Michael Vartan (Alias)
Keri Russell (Waitress)
Randall Batinkoff (School Ties)
Tamara Craig Thomas (Odyssey 5)
Dana Delany (Desperate Housewives)

dead-mans-curve-1998-_148795-fli_1384485439After hearing of a school policy granting anyone whose roommate commits suicide an automatic 4.0 GPA. Harvard Law School aspirants Tim (Matthew Lillard) and Chris (Michael Vartan) plot to kill their roommate Rand and make it look like suicide. They’re successful, but when the fallout breeds unforeseen consequences and two local detectives close in, guilt and mistrust fester, jeopardizing Chris’s relationship with his girlfriend Emma (Keri Russell) and the roommates’ futures.dead_mans_curveI really didn’t expect much of Dead Man’s Curve at first but I became immediately thrilled once I started watching it. Good performances aside, the script meanders and lacks true thrills, making it slow going at times. But hang in for the ending – as usual, the best part of the curve is the twist.

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REVIEW: COLOMBIANA

CAST

Zoe Saldana (Star Trek Beyond)
Cynthia Addai-Robinson (Arrow)
Cliff Curtis (Jubilee)
Michael Vartan (Alias)
Jesse Borrego (Con Air)
Ofelia Medina (Apolinar)
Lennie James (The Walking Dead)
Callum Blue (Smallville)
Jordi Mollà (Segunda Piel)
Graham McTavish (The Hobbit)
Sam Douglas (Eyes Wide Shut)

In 1992, in Bogota, Colombia, a drug lord’s assassin named Fabio Restrepo (Jesse Borrego) tells his boss, Don Luis Sandoval (Beto Benites), that he wants to leave crime behind. Even though Restrepo gives Don Luis a group of computer disks that he claims contains information about Don Luis’ business, Don Luis is incensed that Restrepo thinks he can leave. Don Luis sends his henchman Marco (Jordi Mollà) and a group of killers to kill Restrepo and his family. Fabio gives his nine-year-old daughter Cataleya (Amandla Stenberg) a SmartMedia[i] computer memory card with the information Don Luis wants and tells her it’s her “passport”; he also gives her the address of her uncle Emilio (Cliff Curtis), a criminal in Chicago, who will take care of her. The last thing he gives her is something that he says will keep her safe: his mother’s cattleya orchid necklace. After saying their goodbyes, Fabio and his wife Alicia (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) leave to battle Marco and his men but both are gunned down as Cataleya watches. Marco tries to manipulate her into giving the information, but when he asks what she wants, she stabs him in the hand with a knife and replies “To kill Don Luis”, and escapes. She makes it to the U.S. Embassy and gives the information in exchange for a passport and passage to the United States. She escapes from the airport through a bathroom window and takes a bus to Chicago. Once she finds Emilio, Cataleya asks him to train her as a killer.

Fifteen years later, a 24-year-old Cataleya (Zoe Saldana) has become an accomplished assassin. Her uncle serves as her broker, providing her with contracts. She is assigned to kill the notorious gangster Genarro Rizzo (Affif Ben Badra), who is currently in police custody. Implementing an elaborate plan, she gets herself arrested while dressed in a disguise. She manages to escape from her cell with tools she hid in her disguise, travel through the ventilation system, kill Rizzo, and return to her cell. The next morning she is released. As with her previous murders, she leaves her signature, the Cattleya flower, which is a message to her ultimate target, Don Luis. After learning about this Colombian orchid, FBI Special Agent James Ross (Lennie James) can now link this case to more than twenty other cases. As a last resort, the FBI decides to inform the public about Cataleya’s calling card. Don Luis, who is currently in a witness protection program overseen by CIA Agent Steve Richard (Callum Blue), realizes that Fabio’s daughter is in the U.S. and orders Marco (whose hand still hurts) and his operatives to find her.
Emilio is furious when he learns Cataleya has been killing with a “signature” since she has thereby put her relatives in grave danger. Cataleya’s newest target is William “Willy” Woogard (Sam Douglas), a millionaire who fled to the Caribbean with $50 million from his Ponzi scheme. She sneaks into his house and shoots him, and he falls inside his shark tank, where the sharks maul him to death. Under the name “Jennifer”, Cataleya later visits her lover, Danny Delaney (Michael Vartan), and spends the night with him. Danny snaps a picture of her while she sleeps. That morning she meets with her uncle, Emilio, who furiously tells her that eight people were slaughtered in Miami, one of them being his friend. Emilio then retires his niece from her work.

Danny shows her picture to his friend Ryan, but when Danny leaves to stop his car from being ticketed, Ryan forwards the photo to his sister-in-law, a police clerk, to find out who she is. Now in the police computers, the photo is recognized by the body/morph recognition software as that of the woman who was in the same prison as Genarro Rizzo the night he was killed. Detective Ross is notified, and the FBI quickly trace her location and they are supported by a SWAT team as they leave for her apartment. After Cataleya says goodbye, she goes home, but gets a call from Danny, who confesses that he took a picture of her. Upon seeing the SWAT team enter the apartment, she manages to escape through the garage and goes to Emilio’s home, only to discover that Mama, Pepe (Angel Garnica), and Emilio have been tortured and killed by Don Luis’s men, leaving her devastated.

Cataleya ambushes FBI detective Ross in his home in order to find out where Don Luis is. She threatens to kill Ross’s family members one by one if he doesn’t try harder to help her. Fearing for the safety of his family, Ross meets with CIA agent Steve Richard, who is unhelpful at first, but after Cataleya fires a warning shot through his “bulletproof” office window with a large-calibre sniper rifle, Richard gives up Don Luis’s current location. Cataleya then goes to a Louisiana land surveyor and threatens him for the floor plans of Don Luis’ mansion. Cataleya assaults Don Luis’s premises with heavy weaponry and wipes out all the guards, then confronts Marco and, after a violent hand-to-hand battle, stabs him in the neck. Don Luis escapes in a van, but is stopped by a garbage truck. Cataleya calls him on Marco’s cell phone, but Don Luis laughs and says that he will kill her and she will never find him because he is never where Cataleya wants him to be. Cataleya responds that he is exactly where she wants him to be. Pepe’s two attack dogs are right behind Luis’ seat and on her command they violently maul Luis to death. Danny is interrogated by the FBI, but when Ross leaves, Danny gets a cellphone call from Cataleya, who gives him her real name, and he tells her he loves her. Ross’ technical team alerts him that Danny is on the phone, but Ross realizes that Danny cannot be charged with any crime, so he is released. Cataleya boards an interstate bus headed for an unknown destination.I approached this film apprehensively, especially considering the clichés which abound in most revenge type films. Fortunately, the film is a masterpiece and Cataleya (Zoe Saldana) brings a vulnerability that we can all relate to, as well as awesome badassery. There is plenty of action, but it is done tastefully and always propels the story further. In terms of romance, there is a sweet storyline where we come to understand who Cataleya is as a woman. It is done tastefully and avoids the cringe factor. Family is also a major theme, and this is where the emotional roller-coaster stems from. Put simply, Colombiana is a fantastic film which you’ll be happy to watch over again. Give it a chance and you might just be surprised.

REVIEW: NEVER BEEN KISSED

 

CAST

Drew Barrymore (Poison Ivy)
David Arquette (Eight Legged Freaks)
Michael Vartan (Alias)
Molly Shannon (Scary Movie 4)
John C. Reilly (Cyrus)
Garry Marshall (Life After Beth)
Sean Whalen (Twister)
Octavia Spencer (Insurgent)
Allen Covert (Mr. Deeds)
Leelee Sobieski (Roadkill)
Jeremy Jordan (Dreamers)
Jessica Alba (Sin City)
Marley Shelton (Planet Terror)
James Franco (This Is The End)
Jordan Ladd (Cabin Fever)
Giuseppe Andrews (Two Guys and a Girl)
Sara Downing (Roswell)

Josie Geller (Drew Barrymore) is an insecure copy editor for the Chicago Sun-Times who has never had a real relationship. One day, her editor-in-chief, Rigfort (Garry Marshall) assigns her to report undercover at a high school to help parents become more aware of their children’s lives.  Her first day at South Glen South High School is miserable. Josie reverts to the old geek persona that ruined her first high school career. She also has an unfortunate run-in with three obnoxious popular girls (Jordan Ladd, Jessica Alba, and Marley Shelton), and Guy Perkins (Jeremy Jordan), the school’s most attractive, popular student. Josie loses hope, but is reassured when a kind-hearted nerd named Aldys (Leelee Sobieski) befriends her. Aldys, who loathes Guy and his gang, invites Josie to join The Denominators, a group of intelligent students.

Josie develops a crush on her English teacher, Sam Coulson (Michael Vartan), and becomes the top student in his class. After reciting a romantic excerpt from Shakespeare to Sam, Josie has horrible flashbacks to when she read a romantic poem aloud in class to her high school crush, a popular boy named Billy Prince (Denny Kirkwood), who later asked her to their senior prom, making her dream come true. However, on the night of the prom, Billy arrives with another girl and both of them hurl eggs and insults at Josie, humiliating her and breaking her heart.

One night while out driving with Aldys, Josie encounters Guy and his gang at a local hangout called “The Court” where promiscuity and underage drinking take place. Her managing editor Augustus “Gus” Strauss (John C. Reilly) loses patience with Josie after a rival paper scoops The Court story, and orders Josie to become friends with the popular kids. He arranges for her to wear a hidden camera, and soon the whole office becomes obsessed with her story. Josie confides in her brother Rob (David Arquette) about her fears. Rob, who was their high school’s most popular boy in his teens, urges her to let go of her old self and start anew. To help her, Rob enrolls as a student and becomes an instant hit. He then uses his influence to draw Josie into the cool crowd, much to the dismay of Aldys.

Sam and Josie grow closer, but Sam struggles with his feelings as he thinks she’s a student. Guy and Josie attend the prom as Rosalind and Orlando from Shakespeare’s As You Like It. Anita, Gus and Josie’s other co-workers watch through the camera and are overjoyed as she is voted prom queen. As Guy dances with Aldys as an alleged act of friendship, the mean girls attempt to dump dog food over Aldys. Outraged, Josie throws her crown away and reveals her true identity. She praises Aldys for her kindness and warns the students that one’s persona in high school means nothing in the real world. Sam is hurt by her lies and states he wants nothing to do with her. Also angered is Rob, who as a phony student received a second chance at baseball. Josie, ultimately making amends, secures him a coaching job.

Josie vows to give Gus a story and writes an account of her experience. In it, she admits she’s never been kissed, describes the students of South Glen South, and avows her love for Sam; the entire city is moved by it. She writes she will stand in the middle of the baseball field and wait for Sam to come and kiss her. Josie waits, but the clock runs out with no sign of Sam. On the verge of giving up… cheers, then a booming roar, as Sam emerges to give her a romantic kiss.

Barrymore is brilliant in this, and she is backed up by a great cast. It is a good rom-com where the romance is not overdone and though it is slightly predictable, it is very enjoyable and good for a night in.

 

REVIEW: MONSTER-IN-LAW

CAST

Jennifer Lopez (Jersey Girl)
Michael Vartan (Alias)
Jane Fonder (Barberella)
Wana Sykes (Clerks 2)
Adam Scott (The Aviator)
Monet Mazur (Just Married)
Will Arnett (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles)
Jimmy Jean-Louis (Heroes)
Christina Masterson (Power Rangers Megaforce)

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Charlie Cantilini (Jennifer Lopez) is a temp/dog walker/yoga instructor and aspiring fashion designer from Venice Beach, California, who meets doctor Kevin Fields (Michael Vartan). She thinks he’s gay at first, based on a lie Kevin’s former girlfriend Fiona (Monet Mazur) told her. But then Kevin asks her out, and Charlie believes that she’s finally found the right man. Things start to go wrong when Kevin introduces Charlie to his mother, Viola Fields (Jane Fonda). Viola is a former newscaster who has recently been replaced by someone younger, and is in the midst of a meltdown. Loathing Charlie from the outset, Viola becomes even more distraught when Kevin proposes to Charlie. Fearing that she’ll lose her son the same way she lost her career, she sets out to ruin Kevin and Charlie’s relationship. With Ruby (Wanda Sykes), her assistant, she tries everything possible to drive Charlie away.

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Charlie eventually catches on to Viola’s plan and fights back. On Charlie’s wedding day, Viola turns up wearing a white dress instead of the peach-colored dress specially made for her. This leads to a violent stand off between the two, leading with Viola refusing to accept Charlie and states she’ll never be good enough for Kevin. Suddenly, Viola’s own dreadful mother-in-law, Kevin’s grandmother, Gertrude Fields (Elaine Stritch), appears and they have an indignant argument, while Gertrude takes a liking to Charlie, saying she is stunning, her grandson is a lucky man, that she is an “exotic Latina”, and if only her son, Kevin’s father, was as lucky to find a woman like Charlie. Gertrude’s resentment of Viola bears a strong resemblance to Viola’s feelings of animosity toward Charlie. Gertrude even believes that Kevin’s father had died years ago of “terminal disappointment,” for which Gerturde holds Viola responsible. Viola counters stating Gertrude “smothered him to death” because she thought nobody was ever good enough for him(basically similar to how Viola is). Gertrude, satisfied she got her last word in, leaves; showing she still favors Charlie. Charlie decides to back down as she witnesses Gertrude and Viola’s relationship. “Nothing’s going to change,” she laments to Viola after Gertrude leaves the room, “In thirty years that will be us.”
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Charlie exits to tell Kevin that the wedding is off. But before that can happen, Ruby enters and talks with Viola. Viola is miffed that Charlie compared her to Gertrude, although Ruby points out that Viola is actually far worse than Gertrude, as she doesn’t ever recall Gertrude trying to poison Viola once, referring to earlier at the rehearsal dinner when Viola put crushed nuts (which Charlie is highly allergic to) in the meal’s gravy. Ruby points out that Viola’s efforts against Charlie to make Kevin happy are unwarranted. “Whatever made you think he wasn’t?” is her final point. Viola has an epiphany and realizes that she wants Charlie to stay, and they reconcile, which ends the feud. Charlie then explains to Viola that she wants her to stay, too, on one condition: if Viola accepts the boundaries Charlie needs, if she is present at any family event, and if she treats her children with love. Charlie and Kevin then get married and when Charlie throws her wedding bouquet, Viola catches the flowers. As Charlie and Kevin drive away to their honeymoon, the film ends as Viola and Ruby walk out of the celebration.

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The two central characters are both strong women so it makes for some big confrontations and funny moments as they try to get one-up on each other. There is a good support cast too. It is very enjoyable to watch on repeat viewings.

31 DAYS OF HORROR REVIEW: ALIAS: DOPPELGANGER

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MAIN CAST

Jennifer Garner (The Kingdom)
Ron Rifkin (Limitless TV)
Michael Vartan (Bates Motel)
Bradley Cooper (Joy)
Merrin Dungey (Conviction)
Carl Lumbly (Justice League Unlimited)
Kevin Weisman (Clerks II)
Victor Garber (Legends of Tomorrow)

GUEST CAST

Tom Everett (Air Force One)
Lori Heuring (Wicked Little THings)
Yvonne Farrow (Roswell)
Greg Grunberg (Heroes)

 

Back in “So It Begins,” Alias used Vaughn’s expansive map of SD-6’s influence to give both Syd and the audience a sense of the scope involved to truly take down Sloane and Company. “Doppelgänger” emphasizes what “A Broken Heart” reinforced: that ultimately taking down The Alliance not only would be slow, but had a degree of difficulty so high that any single mistake could undo the entire operation. Usually mistakes come in the form of incomplete intelligence. Sometimes you don’t know the existence of a factory in Badenweiler. Sometimes you don’t know the true nature of a Social Security number. Sometimes you don’t know your partner has a secondary detonator. If knowledge is power, then sometimes the lack of it can be fatal.

As such, it’s fitting that this is the first hour that features a cliffhanger that represents an emotional moment, not simply an exciting stopgap in the action. The last three hours have featured final moments that interrupted an exciting sequence, but here all we have is fire shining in Syd’s horrified eyes. She might have maintained her double agent status, and Paul Kelvin might have only escaped with a broken arm, but the CIA field agents that died in the factory explosion are yet more casualties in a war Sydney may be waging but barely understands. What’s personal for her isn’t personal for Vaughn’s buddies inside of that blast, and that makes her guilt all the more potent.

 

Syd talks again in this hour of the difficulty with which she masks her true feelings towards Sloane in their daily briefings. That’s an intense struggle, to be sure, but it’s one she can ultimately manage since it’s specific and self-contained anger. She can put aside her desire for revenge in order to obtain a greater, more permanent justice for Danny’s death. But she has a much more difficult time assessing the collateral damage that her actions (augmented by the CIA’s actions, which are equally sincere though not as emotionally specific) cause. “Doppelgänger” is rife with people that consciously or inadvertently get caught up between a Syd and a Sloane place this week: Jeroen Schiller, Kelvin, Dixon, and Will are all caught up to some extent in Syd’s decision to tell Danny about her spy status.

The show never shies away from the weekly assets that come under duress from the show’s missions. Oftentimes, these people have either signed up for the rollercoaster or have made decisions that leave them no other choice. But Dixon and Will (and Marshall, to an extent, though he’s still way on the sidelines at this point) both fashion themselves as protagonists in a story that they don’t yet realize is fabricated. I’m always fascinated by thinking about certain shows, and how they might be better if they focused on a secondary/tertiary character as opposed to the one the show chooses to highlight. (Case in point: Covert Affairs, an Alias knockoff that apparently never actually watched a damn episode of Alias, might actually be a fairly interesting show if it were about Auggie, not Annie.) But I’m also equally fascinated to watch characters that have no idea they aren’t actually the most important person in the narrative being spun.

 

Dixon fashions himself the sturdy, non-flashy agent of an elite, noble government spy agency. He doesn’t think he’s James Bond, but he takes pride in a job well done. He acts as both partner and semi-father figure to a fellow agent that he worries may be in danger in light of her ex-fiancé’s death. He doesn’t picture himself as a hero per se, but definitely has trouble seeing himself as a pawn being used by other people. As for Will: we see in this hour how he can actually be a powerful player in the world of this show once his bullshit detector starts moving from green to red. Until this point, the evidence has been circumstantial at best, easily dismissed by someone like Francie. But a borrowed SSN from a dead woman? You can see his eyes harden in his interview with “Kate Jones,” turning him from a semi-skeevy dork willing to sell out his assistant’s looks for a scoop to a man that just might make some in-roads into the spy world after all. As for the spy world stuff this week, pretty good stuff here, if not the epic awesome of the past few weeks. Watching Dixon knock out Patel was hysterical, mostly for his “I am SO sorry!” apology pre-punch. And the subsequent ambulance chase is the type of sequence that Grand Theft Auto dreams are made of. But mostly the show eschewed big explosions for smaller, more intense interrogation scenes. Jack’s function as in-house Jack Bauer came to light this week which, along with his possible previous investigation by the FBI (Case 332L), gives yet more shading to Spy Daddy’s true leanings.

The lack of big action for a majority of the hour did, however, lead to make the final fireball that much more potent. Previous episodes have left us wondering how Sydney would get out of the situation she was in. This one leaves us wondering how Sydney will mentally cope with what she couldn’t prevent. While Alias will return to its more usual cliffhangers in episodes to come, it’s good to see them show that Syd’s life as a double agent won’t simply be threading the needle each week. There are consequences to her actions, even if she herself escapes them directly. Danny was only the first to die for her role in this dangerous world. But he won’t be the last. And he certainly may not be the only one close to her that has to suffer.

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: BATES MOTEL – SEASON 1-3

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CAST

Vera Farmiga (The Conjuring)
Freddie Highmore (Finding Neverland)
Max Thieriot (House at The End of The Street)
Olivia Cooke (Ouija)
Nicola Peltz (Trasformers 4)
Nestor Carbonell (Lost)
Kenny Johnson (Cold Case)
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RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST CAST

W. Earl Brown (Deadwood)
Keegan Connor Tracy (Final Destination 2)
Mike Vogel (Cloverfield)
Terry Chen (Almost Famous)
Vincent Gale (Battlestar Galactica)
Brittney Wilson (Rogue)
Peter Bryant (Dark Angel)
Ian Hart (Michael Collins)
Aliyah O’Brien (If I Stay)
Ian Tracey (Sanctuary)
Jere Burns (Justified)
Ben Cotton (Stargate: Atlantis)
Hiro Kanagawa (Heroes Reborn)
Alexander Calvert (Arrow)
Keenan Tracey (Rags)
Michael O’Neill (Sebiscuit)
Rebecca Creskoff (Quintuplets)
Michael Eklund (Watchmen)
Brendan Fletcher (Smallville)
Paloma Kwiatkowski (Perry Jackson)
Martin Cummins (Dark Angel)
Michael Vartan (Alias)
Andrew Airlie (Final Destination 2)
Agam Darshi (Sanctuary)
Kathleen Robertson (Hollywoodland)
Tracy Spiridakos (Revolution)
Kevin Rahm (Mad Men)
Ryan Hurst (Saving Private Ryan)
Joshua Leonard (The Blair Witch Project)
Peter Stebbings (Never Cry Werewolf)
Tom McBeath (Stargate SG.1)

If Alfred Hitchcock were alive today, I’ve got a feeling he’d enjoy Bates Motel. This kinda-sorta prequel re-imagines the story of Norman Bates, his equally unbalanced mom Norma and their relationship at the business that bears their name, mixing the ordinary and the bizarre with unpredictable, broad strokes in a more modern setting. Hitchcock always intended his classic film as a pitch-black comedy…and from that perspective, Bates Motel shares a few similarities beyond its central characters and the all-too-familiar motel grounds.Filmed in British Columbia, the show’s foggy appearance and small-town backdrop will immediately remind viewers of landmark shows like Twin Peaks and The X-Files. It feels like a perfect fit, reminding us that we’re either in the midst of trouble…or it’s just around the corner. More often than not, however, Bates Motel is just as much “comedy” as it is “pitch-black”, piling on mountains of over-the-top absurdity that, for unknown reasons, feels kinda normal within the series’ unusual boundaries. As a total package, this is compulsively watchable, suspenseful, goofy, dramatic and, above all else, unpredictable television.Such unpredictability can be a massive gamble…but much like Psycho (and by extension, Robert Bloch’s original novel), Bates Motel has been designed to keep its audience perpetually off-balance. At the same time, there’s a constant cloud of guilt, paranoia and dread floating above this season, magnified by the unpredictable behavior of Norman (Freddy Highmore) and his mother Norma (Vera Farmiga) in the face of several horrifying events: one leads them to White Pines Bay, and the others happen after they arrive. The immediate and focused suspicion of watchful sheriff Alex Romero (Nestor Carbonell) makes us wonder if he’s just extremely good at what he does…or if, in fact, he’s secretly pulling the strings. As the initial story arc gradually shifts midway through this first season, lies multiply, layers of mystery keep us interested in this small town and, eventually, we realize that just about everyone’s a villain here.

This first season of Bates Motel includes ten episodes and several new characters, from Dylan Bates (Norman’s rebellious half-brother, played by Max Thieriot) to the amusingly named junior detective Emma Decody (Olivia Cooke) and popular student Bradley Martin (Nicola Peltz), who is substantially more feminine than her name implies. The casting and performances are universally excellent, especially our unpredictable leads and the countless scenes they have with each other and outsiders. Vera Farmiga is especially impressive from start to finish, consistently stealing her scenes with reckless abandon and deliciously black humor. It’s just one more reason why Bates Motel is more than the sum of its parts.

Season Two expands on these characters and, not surprisingly, adds in a few more for good measure; it makes Bates Motel feel more complex without being overcrowded. Standouts include Caleb (Kenny Johnson, The Shield), Norma’s estranged brother; Zane Morgan (Michael Eklund), the new drug kingpin whose hot-blooded personality leads to an all-out war; Jodi Wilson (Kathleen Robertson), Zane’s sister and the real mastermind of the operation; Christine Heldens (Rebecca Creskoff), an exhausting social butterfly who takes Norma under her wing; George Heldens (Michael Vartan, Alias), Christine’s brother and a potential love interest for Norma; Nick Ford (Michael O’Neill), a “friend” of the Heldens’ with deep political connections; and Cody Brennen (Paloma Kwiatkowski), a rebellious girl who helps Norman come out of his shell, for better or worse. What’s more is that, despite their shared running time with Bates Motel’s established cast, there are very few lags during this ten-episode season. Even Emma Decody, who felt like an afterthought during the first year—and Season Two’s first half, especially—is given more to do in later episodes, and she’s all the better for it.

On the whole, then, this character-driven season path gives Bates Motel even more potential for future seasons. Much like NBC’s Hannibal, this series builds on an established franchise successfully and, as a result, plays out much better than expected. Production values are high, giving Bates Motel a potent, effective atmosphere from start to finish.

Soon after the events of the second season, Norman Bates (Freddie Highmore) begins his senior year at school. He experiences hallucinations there, so his mother, Norma Louise (Vera Farmiga), decides to homeschool him. After Norma’s mother dies, her brother Caleb (Kenny Johnson) returns to town, seeking to bond with Dylan (Max Thieriot). Norman takes a liking to new guest, Annika Johnson (Tracy Spiridakos), but she later goes missing. When searching Annika’s motel room, Norma finds an invitation to a gentlemen’s club. She infiltrates the club, but Sheriff Romero (Nestor Carbonell) catches her and promises to look for Annika. Romero later asks Norma to identify a woman’s body, and she is relieved that it is not Annika.

Romero meets with Bob Paris (Kevin Rahm), who runs the gentlemen’s club, to get information about Annika. Norma meets psychology professor James Finnigan (Joshua Leonard), who offers her his assistance. Norman has a blackout and submerges himself in a bathtub, hoping to recall whether he had anything to do with Annika’s disappearance. Norma saves him from drowning, then goes to lock up the motel. Annika arrives with a gunshot wound, gives Norma a USB flash drive, and dies. Norma is determined to access the password protected flash drive, and asks Dylan to help decrypt it. Norman follows Dylan to his cabin one night, discovering Caleb. He threatens to tell their mother, but Dylan begs him not to spoil the good relationship he has been building with her. Bob ransacks the motel office in search of the USB drive. Later, a man runs Norma off the road and tells her to give Bob the flash drive. Dylan insists that Norma should give the USB to Romero. Norman becomes confused over recent events, thinking he has already told Norma about Caleb when he hasn’t. Romero meets with Bob again, who admits he wants the flash drive back but won’t reveal its contents. Dylan’s friend Gunner (Keenan Tracey) decrypts the USB, finding a financial ledger inside from the town’s illegal drug trade.Bob agrees to a motel billboard near the bypass in exchange for the USB. When Norma is told of Caleb’s return, she packs a suitcase and storms out. Arriving in Portland, she buys a new outfit, trades her car, and ends up at James’ house, where she confesses that Norman killed his father during one of his blackouts. Dylan struggles with Norman’s separation anxiety, which includes an episode where Norman assumes Norma’s personality and wears her robe. Romero is shot and hospitalized; Marcus Young (Adetomiwa Edun) visits and tells him that his time as sheriff is nearing an end. Romero follows Marcus to the parking garage and kills him. Norma realizes that she is still a mother and returns home. She honors her sons’ wishes to meet with Caleb, who breaks down and apologizes upon seeing her.

Dylan grows closer to Emma (Olivia Cooke), learning from her father that she is a lot sicker than she lets on. Romero discovers his mother’s name on the ledger and confrontations his father in jail. His father used his mother’s name in order to get drugs into the prison. After being attacked by Norman, James tells Norma that he needs help. Norma cooks a family dinner in order to get closer to Norman. She invites Caleb, whose presence angers Norman, and Dylan invites Emma. Bob abducts and tortures James to get information about Norma. He then tells Romero about Norma’s relationship with James, and that Norman killed his father. Romero ends his friendship with Norma when she maintains that her husband died in an accident.

James tells Norma that he told Bob everything, and skips town. Dylan takes a risky job in order to gain money for Emma’s lung transplant. Following a blackout, Norman discovers Bradley (Nicola Peltz) has returned to town. After finding out that her mother has quickly recovered after her “death”, Bradley initiates sex with Norman, but he envisions Norma there and leaves. Norma tells Bob she’ll give him the flash drive, but he states that she has nothing left to bargain with. Desperate, Norma ransacks Romero’s house to find the USB, only to learn from Romero that the DEA is investigating it. Their heated argument hinges on her stating the truth about her husband’s death. She ultimately says that they both know who killed him.

Before Caleb leaves town again, he tells Norma about Norman assuming her personality and attacking him. Dylan gives Emma’s father the money for her lung transplant, but later gets a call from him saying that Emma has disappeared. Dylan finds her, and she informs him of her fears about the surgery; the two then kiss. Romero calls Bob to warn him of his impending arrest. Bob goes to the marina and finds Romero there, who shoots him dead. Norman plans to leave town with Bradley and argues with his mother about his mental state. She knocks Norman unconscious and drags him to the basement. Norman escapes and runs off with Bradley. In Norma’s persona, he pulls Bradley out of the car and kills her. He then rolls the car into the bay, as he and his “mother” watch it submerge.Image result for bates motel UnconsciousI really loved all the seasons! this season is even better and more intense! Norman and Norma just keep getting better! The reunion with Norma’s brother was seriously touching! The hooker was great! Norman’s expressions get really psycho looking! Just such great, great acting! It is so much fun! It is funny, yet, disturbing and all at once!! This show is just phenomenal.