REVIEW: HALF NELSON

CAST
Ryan Gosling (Drive)
Anthony Mackie (The Hurt Locker)
Shareeka Epps (Aliens vs Predator: Requiem)
Monique Gabriela Curnen (Lie To Me)
Tina Holmes (Shelter)
Denis O’Hare (The Proposal)
Deborah Rush (The Good Girl)
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Dan Dunne (Ryan Gosling) is a young middle-school history teacher at a Brooklyn school, with a teaching style that rejects the standard curriculum in favor of an approach based upon dialectics (specifically Engels’ three laws of dialectics, though this is never referred to by name). Though he seems to have it all together in the classroom, on his own time he is found frequently snorting and freebasing cocaine. After a basketball game, Dan’s ex-girlfriend, Rachel (Tina Holmes) turns up, evoking emotions that he cannot handle. A short while later, one of his students (and a player on the girls’ basketball team he coaches), Drey (Shareeka Epps), catches him getting high in the locker room.
Meanwhile, Drey has to deal with a single-mother (Karen Chilton) who is always at work, a brother, Mike (Collins Pennie), who is in prison for selling drugs for neighborhood dealer, Frank (Anthony Mackie) and an absent father. Drey’s lack of supervision makes her a target for Frank’s operation and he encourages her to become involved in his business.
As Dan and Drey begin to get a better understanding of each other as friends, they both know what the other one should stay away from and what they need, but is struggling to get by themselves. Dan perceives that Frank is a bad influence on Drey and tries to intercede on numerous occasions. And Drey tries to get Dan to open up about his drug habit to no avail as he feels uncomfortable talking with a student about it. After a tense conversation with Frank about Drey, Dan goes to Isabel’s (Monique Gabriela Curnen) house, another teacher at the school, with whom he had one previous date. He forces himself on her, trying to right his apparent disinterest in her on their last date, but after she defends herself and runs off, he feels bad and decides to leave. The following day, he further takes his stress out on Drey, telling her to talk to friends her own age when she finds him, hoping to hang out. Drey, a little upset at this, is pushed further into the company of Frank, and he has her do her first drug deal.
Dan goes to his parents’ house for dinner, where his brother, Jeff, and his girlfriend, Cindy, also attend. He says little, and does not enjoy himself much, but a joke of Jeff’s that Cindy tells him makes him laugh. The same night, Drey is out with Frank, dealing. In the film’s pinnacle scene, Drey arrives at a place to deliver some drugs and walks in to a room of stoned drug users. The person revealed to be the buyer is Dan as he walks out of the back room and slumps down at the sight of Drey being the drug runner. There is only a slight shameful nod from him as he holds out the money to hand to her for the drugs. This exchange is the culmination of what each was trying to get the other to stay away from, and is finally brought to its climax by them encountering the other doing just that. The next day, Dan is not at school, and his students are told that he is being replaced by a Mr. Light, without much explanation. This changes something within Drey as she refuses a lift home from Frank, choosing to turn from that path.
She knocks on Dan’s door and he answers. He goes into the bathroom, shaves and cleans himself up, before sitting down to drink a glass of water. Drey sits down and joins him. The film ends with Dan telling the same joke he heard from Cindy, but the timing is all wrong. Drey says, “That was horrible”, and they both laugh.
Half Nelson is a masterpiece film, emotionally purgative and hypnotically realistic; its depiction of people who only experience fleeting moments of happiness in a retrogressive, bleak world is so realistic that it is visually and spiritually and emotionally soul-shattering.

REVIEW: THE DARK KNIGHT

40.2
CAST

Christian Bale (The Fighter)
Heath Ledger (A Knights Tale)
Michael Caine (Quills)
Maggie Gyllenhaal (Secretary)
Gary Oldman (Red Riding Hood)
Morgan Freeman (High Crimes)
Aaron Eckhart (I, Frankenstein)
Monique Gabriela Curnen (Lie To Me)
Cillian Murphy (Inception)
Chin Han (Arrow)
Nestor Carbonell (Bates Motel)
Eric Roberts (Amityville Death House)
Anthony Michael Hall (The Dead Zone)
Keith Szarabajka (Angel)
Colin McFarlane (Doctor Who)
Michael Jai White (Spawn)
William Fichtner (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles)
Beatrice Rosen (2012)
Tommy ‘Tiny’ Lister (Jackie Brown)
David Ajala (Supergirl)
K. Todd Freeman (A Series of Unfortunate Events)

A Gotham City mob bank is robbed by a group of thugs wearing clown masks. While doing the job, they double cross and kill each other one by one. The remaining thug reveals himself to be the Joker and leaves with the money. District attorney Harvey Dent leads a campaign against the organized crime in the city, to the applause of its citizens. Through Gordon, he requests to collaborate with Batman, and lends Gordon a petitioned search warrant for five banks with suspected mob ties. Wayne Enterprises cancels its deals with Chinese accountant Lau as CEO Lucius Fox questions Lau’s legality. Bruce Wayne intrudes on Dent’s date with Rachel Dawes and offers to support the DA through a fundraiser.

Mob leaders Maroni, Gambol and the Chechen holds a videoconference with Lau, who has taken their funds and fled to Hong Kong. The Joker interrupts, warns that Batman is unhindered by the law. He offers to kill Batman in exchange for half of their stolen money. Gambol instead puts a bounty on the Joker, but is killed by him shortly after. The mob ultimately decide to ask the Joker for help. Batman finds Lau in Hong Kong and brings him back to Gotham to testify against the mob, and Dent places 549 criminals in custody. On TV, the Joker threatens to keep killing people unless Batman reveals his identity. As part of Joker’s plan, Commissioner Loeb and the judge presiding the mob trials are killed. The Joker plans to kill Mayor Anthony Garcia at Commissioner Loeb’s funeral, but Gordon sacrifices himself to save him. Dent learns that Rachel is the next target.

 

MV5BMTUwODg2MzU1OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMjYzMTk2Mw@@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1499,1000_AL_Bruce decides to reveal his identity, but Dent publicly admits being Batman before Bruce does. Dent is taken into protective custody, but the Joker appears and attacks the convoy. Batman comes to Dent’s rescue and Gordon, who faked his death, arrests the Joker. With the Joker behind bars, Gordon is promoted to Commissioner. Rachel and Dent are escorted away by policemen who are controlled by Joker. Batman interrogates the Joker, who taunts him before revealing that Rachel and Dent have been trapped in separate locations rigged with explosives. Batman races to save Rachel, while Gordon and his men head off to save Dent. Batman arrives at the building, realizing that the Joker sent him to Dent’s location instead. As the building explodes, half of Dent’s face is burned and he is hospitalized. Gordon fails to save Rachel in time. The Joker escapes the jail with Lau.

Coleman Reese, an accountant at Wayne Enterprises, sees the Tumbler’s design in the company file. He publicly claims to know Batman’s identity. The Joker burns the mob’s money along with Lau, and kills the Chechen. In response to Reese’s claim, he states that he no longer wants to know who Batman is. He threatens to destroy a hospital if Reese isn’t dead, and Reese becomes a public target. Gordon orders the evacuation of all the hospitals in Gotham and go to secure Reese. The Joker finds Dent in a hospital and manipulates him into seeking revenge for Rachel’s death. He destroys the hospital and escapes with a bus of hostages. Dent goes on a killing spree, killing people responsible for Rachel’s death, including Maroni.

At night, two ferries are rigged with explosives; one ferry containing civilians and the other containing prisoners. The Joker promises to blow each of the ferries by midnight or if someone tries to escape, but will let one live if it blows up the other. The passengers refuse, and Batman and the SWAT raid the Joker’s building. Batman apprehends the Joker, who gloats that he has corrupted Dent and undone his achievements.  Gordon arrives at the building where Rachel died, where Dent threatens to kill Gordon’s son in revenge. Batman arrives, but Dent at shoots him. Before Dent can determine the fate of Gordon’s son with his coin, Batman tackles him off the building to his death. Batman persuades Gordon to preserve Dent’s image by holding Batman responsible for the murders. Gordon relents, and a manhunt for Batman ensues.This sequel continues the darker style and throws more violence into the mix. Batman Begins was a great introduction to a new re-imagining, and Dark Knight makes things bigger and better making it one of the greatest comic book movies of all time.

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: LADY IN THE WATER

 CAST

Paul Giamatti (The Amazing Spider-Man 2)
Bryce Dallas Howard (Jurassic world)
Bob Balaban (Ghost World)
Jeffrey Wright (The Hunger Games 2, 3 & 4)
Sarita Choudhury (Gloria)
Freddy Rodriguez (Planet Terror)
Bill Irwin (Interstellar)
Jared Harris (Sherlock Holmes 2)
Noah Gray-Cabey (Heroes)
Doug Jones (Hellboy)
David Ogden Stiers (Two Guys and a Girl)
John Boyd (Bones)
Monique Gabriela Curnen (The Dark Knight)

hqdefaultThe woman of the title isn’t a lady so much as a sea nymph, otherwise known as a “narf” in the fairytale parlance dreamed up by Shyamalan. And the waterlogged universe she inhabits is a swimming pool at a dingy Philadelphia apartment complex called The Cove. But the poor narf, named Story (Bryce Dallas Howard), is in dire straits. She needs the help of humans to return to her magical universe, and so Story gleans hope one night when she is discovered in the pool by The Cove’s sad-sack handyman, Cleveland Heep (Paul Giamatti).

Cleveland, who keeps to himself in a tiny cottage adjacent to the apartment building, suffers the scars of a tragic past that he keeps under wraps. Story’s plight suddenly gives purpose to this lonesome man; in no time at all, he is helping protect the narf from a vicious creature known as a “scrunt,” which lurks in the woods surrounding The Cove. Moreover, Cleveland sets out to deduce which of the apartments’ tenants have preordained roles in Story’s rescue.MV5BOTcwMjQ2MTA1NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNzA4NzkyMw@@._V1_SX1500_CR0,0,1500,999_AL_Randomness does not exist is the hermetically sealed world of M. Night Shyamalan. As Cleveland learns that Story is part of a fairytale brought to life, Lady in the Water takes on the risible everything-has-a-purpose theme that turned the filmmaker’s Signs into dross. Still, the neatly constructed order induces fewer eye rolls this time around, since Shyamalan can simply hide behind the kitchen-sink dynamic of fairytales. All the silliness Shyamalan tosses in about guardians, healers, a guild and the like reminds me of the Rob Lowe character in Thank You for Smoking, who notes that movies can remedy any inconsistency with “one line of dialogue: ‘Thank God we invented the … whatever device.'”MV5BMzMzNzM4ODY5NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMDU3NzkyMw@@._V1_SX1500_CR0,0,1500,999_AL_A lot of whatever devices turn up in Lady in the Water, a film that shamelessly displays the seams of its bedtime-story origins. Cleveland learns about Story’s magical world, and what must be done to return the narf to her kingdom, from an elderly Asian woman (June Kyoto Lu) with an unnerving command of the mighty obscure fable. Neither the woman nor her Americanized granddaughter (Cindy Cheung) gives it a second thought that Mr. Heep, who quickly accepts Story’s story, keeps popping up with hypothetical questions about the world of narfs and scrunts. Another resident reads magical messages on cereal boxes.

The cast tries to jumpstart things, albeit with mixed results. Howard, who was perhaps the best thing about The Village, is well-cast as the pale, ethereal sea nymph, but she is given precious little to do. Giamatti is also a gifted actor, but he isn’t asked to do much more than stutter and project melancholy. Some very good character actors — including Jeffrey Wright, Freddy Rodriguez, Mary Beth Hurt and Bill Irwin — are wasted in one-dimensional roles as The Cove’s apartment dwellers.

And then there is the director himself. Shyamalan has appeared in his films before, but Lady in the Water marks his first significant acting part. Here he portrays a struggling writer whose manuscript, “The Cookbook,” might just be pretty darned important. As a filmmaker, Shyamalan is a bona fide original. As an actor, he is merely insipid. Then again, maybe Shyamalan’s casting of himself as the unappreciated, world-changing artist just fills some deeply rooted narcissistic need of his.