iZombie Season Finale: Oops

publicity still from iZombie
iZombie aired its season finale on June 9 and although titled Blaine’s World, it could just as easily been called Oops. It is not just Liv who makes mistakes, there are a number of characters who misjudge the situation and this miscalculation gets em in the rear, like Blaine when Liv injects him in the nether regions with Ravi’s cure toward the end of the episode. Ultimately, the heroine herself is the victim of her own impulses by the time the credits roll and the audience can only shake their head and wonder at the irony of it all.

Since Liv discovered in the previous episode that the cure seemed to be working in the last lab rat, she has been fighting off the urge to take the remaining two doses. While the show’s main plot deals with Major in danger and Cameron stupidly selling the thumb drive back to Vaughn Du Clark, the other plot threads are Liv’s desire to take the remaining dose of Ravi’s cure, Peyton’s vanishing act, Du Clark’s next move in his marketing of Max Rage and Evan Moore’s working at Meat Cute.

The police follow Cameron’s false trail, where he pretends to fear for his life while selling back the thumb drive only to discover that he really is in danger of dying and the cops learn what Du Clark was so desperate to hide. When the police grab Cameron, they find out that he murdered Nate and Teresa and that he did make a copy of the thumb drive, despite what he told the red head in the green dress.

Liv goes down to tell Ravi what she and Clive learned from the thumb drive and he is not there. She watches the cured zombie-rat drinking water and Ravi calls. He is concerned about Major and Liv learns that Peyton has still not shown up. She sends a text to Major, telling him that the brains he gave her are monkey brains.

DeBeers’ flunky intercepts the text and he realizes where his astronaut brains are. Liv has one of the two doses in her hand preparing to inject herself when Blaine calls her to demand his brains back. She takes the astronaut brains to DeBeers in exchange for Lilywhite, the villain gives her a hooded man that is supposed to be Major and it is not.

In the meantime, her fiancee has escaped from the freezer, collected his newly purchased guns and grenade, and turned Meat Cute into a blood-soaked scene of retribution. Blaine returns and plants a knife in Major’s stomach, leaving him to die slowly in front of the recently vacated freezer and goes to stop the music. As he turns around Liv shoots him in the side.

After a brief interaction, where he tells Major that Liv is a zombie, she injects DeBeers with the cure hoping that he dies. She then scratches the dying Major turning him into a zombie. The show moves into irony mode when her brother Evan comes to work at the shop just as Lt. Suzuki blows the place up to plant and alter evidence at the crime scene.

Liv gives Major the last of the cure and gets a call from her mother from the hospital. She learns that Evan needs a blood transfusion or he will die and she is the only match for his rare O negative blood type. Since she did not take the cure Liv cannot provide the needed blood. As her mother’s voice fades in telling her to follow the doctor, the camera zooms in for a close up as Liv says no.

iZombie delivers a season finale that takes the audiences’s breath away. The whole episode is full of those moments where bad or impulsive decisions come back to haunt the individual who makes them. Liv has the biggest “oops” moment when she learns that wasting the cure on DeBeers was a big mistake, perhaps almost as much as her giving the cure to Major, and that this will cost her brother his live.

The big question here is…Will she scratch Evan? Even more importantly should she?

11 June 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

Stitchers: Episode Two (Recap/Review)

ABC LogoAs Stitchers moves further into the first season with episode two, things are starting to come together. Although there is still a feeling that the series is rushing, by the end of this segment, Kirsten agrees very quickly to become a more permanent part of the program after being “lied” to.

The the full article at Viral Global News…

R.I.P.D. (2013) Howard the Duck Dressed as Jonah Hex?

Film poster for RIPDThere are many reasons that R.I.P.D. (Rest in Peace Department), the Dark Horse limited edition comic-based film died a dismal death on screen and Jeff Bridges announced that the “suits” screwed the whole thing up after the movie got panned universally and was even compared at one point to Howard the Duck. Critic Roger Moore also blasted the film and called it the worst comic book adaptation since Jonah Hex.

Ouch.

A trifle unfair of Moore as at least R.I.P.D. did not have Megan Fox in it. Although the film is a stinker overall despite having a good cast to work with. Starring Jeff Bridges, Ryan Reynolds, Mary Louise Parker, Kevin Bacon and Stephanie Szostak the film should have entertained with so much talent shoved into one film.

Directed by Richard Schwentke (RED, Insurgent) the film confuses more than it entertains and spends far too much time on the James Hong, Marisa Miller gag which appears to be a lift from Dead Like Me where the returned deceased look different from when they were alive. Having said that, the joke could have been used to much better effect with a little more emphasis on the interaction of the two “avatars.”

The comic book, published by Dark Horse Comics; who published, amongst other cult favorites, Hellboy and Sin City, ran for four issues. Not unusual for the comic publisher who seems to specialize in “one-offs” and limited editions of comics. In the comic, the joke includes the fact that Nick Cruz and Roy’s big boss is indeed “God” and that there is a heaven and a hell. While the film skirts around this issue by referring to “judgement” and they mention hell, Nick’s old partner Bobby Hayes (Bacon) mentions that he refuses to go there, the big boss thing aka, God, is shuffled off to the side.

*To be fair, however, I have never read the comics and apart from the odd synopsis of the short-lived series, can only guess at the “God angle,” although it does seem that this was part and parcel of the wry tongue-in-cheek delivery of the comic.*

The plot of the film, which apparently does follow the comic’s main premise, has Nick Cruz being killed, although in the Dark Horse publication he does not know who killed him and in the film Nick knows his crooked partner did him in.

*A major complaint that I had with the film was the whole “shot in the face” schtick that is mentioned several times in the movie and the scene where Reynolds as Cruz is pumped full of lead, not one of the bullets hits him in the face. Was this considered too graphic or horrid for the film’s PG-13 rating or just on oversight?*

Watching the film one cannot help but have a sort of Deja Vu feeling. It is not too dissimilar to Last Action Hero; the Arnold Schwarzenegger hodgepodge where the comedy made no real sense, such as the inclusion of a cartoon cat as cop, and the producers used a “kitchen sink” approach to the comedic mix. R.I.P.D. feels much the same. The biggest difference between the two films is reception, Roger Ebert actually admitted to liking parts of the Schwarzenegger film.

It should be pointed out that Bridges got a chance to pay respect to his late father Lloyd Bridges with a visual lifted straight from Airplane!. Father Lloyd played a character named McCroskey in the 1980 film who had “picked the wrong time” to stop a number of things, including sniffing glue. At one point in the hysterically funny film, Bridges Senior has a close up of his wildly smiling face and his hair is standing straight up. The camera repositions and the audience can see that McCroskey is upside down. Jeff Bridges replicates that shot as his Sheriff Roy hangs upside down under a building overhang holding a rope attached to a “dead-o.” Complete with wild smile and long hair dangling Bridges does the shot, although without the camera repositioning.

R.I.P.D. iS just not as entertaining as it could have been. The lack of direction, the kitchen sink attitude towards its comedy and the missing coherency hurts the film overall. Bridges and Reynolds fail to mesh as the former seems to be channeling his Rooster Cogburn and the latter plays it all too serious. The two styles never quite fit together.

Watching the film, I kept wanting to see more of Miller and Hong in action and wondered how Mary Louise Parker could still look so young and attractive. This is a 2 out of 5 star film with little to recommend it except for the presence of the beautiful Parker and Szostak who each brighten up the film with their performances. The chaps in the movie are never really given a chance to shine.

Sorry fellas.

While the film is not really Howard the Duck dressed as Jonah Hex, it is a curious blend of both these misbegotten films where direction and focus were both lost by those making the film and the actors never stood a chance. Wait for this one to show up on telly.

10 June 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

Wayward Pines: The Prisoner Updated?

Wayward Pines banner
Coming late to the Wayward Pines party, the first thought after watching the premiere episode is that this show is an updating of the superlative, and before its time, British series The Prisoner, “Who is number one?” Starring the intense and brilliant Irish actor, director and producer Patrick McGoohan. In some ways the only thing missing from Wayward Pines is the big plastic balloon-like ball which used to chase down and capture the odd “inmate” from the village who managed to get past its boundaries and almost escape.

*It should be pointed out that The Prisoner was remade in 2009 and released as a six episode mini-series. It was met with a mixed critical reception, much like the original 1960s series.*

This Fox series is not just The Prisoner revisited though. There are hints of Twin Peaks, American Horror Story and Cape Wrath, aka Meadowlands in the US throughout the show’s plot and if one looks hard enough, more off-beat and odd television show’s may be spotted like Eureka or even at a stretch The Stepford Wives film.

Of course, Matt Dillon as Ethan Burke is this show’s version of Number Six. In the 1960s show, the “agent” is someone who has opted to get out of the system. His “defection,” which is in fact a resignation, is not allowed; hence his incarceration in the quaint yet disturbing village. As far as we know Burke has not tried to leave his organization. He has had some sort of meltdown after failing to stop a bombing where over 600 innocent people died. His Secret Service Agent is mired in a world of guilt, regret and pathos.

A car accident leaves him injured and disoriented in the “town” (village) of Wayward Pines. As he stumbles about, after checking himself out of the deserted hospital, it becomes apparent that this place is not what it seems. By the end of the show, he has learned that the area is surrounded by a tall, seemingly never ending, electric fence with signs that warn death is imminent if the boundary is crossed.

As this first episode shows, Burke’s life is pretty screwed up from the word go. His guilt, from failing to stop the bomber and his affair with a partner who is thought to be missing has consumed him. Discovering that she is in Wayward Pines, along with the dead tortured Secret Service agent who is also missing, Burke learns that this town is a prison where people listen to what is happening and questioning things can be fatal.

“There are no crickets in Wayward Pines,” says the back of a bar bill that Juliette Lewis’ character, Beverly, hands Ethan in the Biergarten. Of course the same slip of paper has an address where he finds the other missing agent dead and decomposing. Later in the episode, Burke hears crickets and leans towards the foliage where the sound is emanating. He discovers a metal box and this is responsible for the cricket “sound effects.”

After leaving the hospital Burke tries to call home twice and leaves messages for his wife. Away from the town, the Secret Service tell Theresa Burke (Shannyn Sossamon) that her husband is missing and that there was no sign that he was even in the car at the scene of the accident. By the end of the show Mrs. Burke checks the answer machine and it holds no messages from her husband.

Thus far Wayward Pines is four episodes into its first season and looks very promising. Binge watching will allow the viewer to catch up on events and see just how strange things may turn out. The cast includes the superb Juliette Lewis and English actor Toby Jones (Captain America: The First Avenger, The Hunger Games) and Terence Howard (Iron Man, Empire) and of course Matt Dillon as Burke.

Show creator Chad Hodge has come up with an interesting show that appears to borrow from a few existing examples of the weird and wonderful. Producer M. Night Shyamalan directed this first episode and has obviously set the tone for the rest of the first season, which may still turn into an updating of The Prisoner. Time will tell whether this new show finds the audience it deserves.

7 June 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

The World Made Straight (2015) Noah Wyle & Southern Drama Hold the Cheese

Film poster for The World Made Straight
The 2015 film The World Made Straight, is a dose of southern drama, holding off the cheese, and delivering a tale which encompasses the Civil War, the drug culture and how weed seems to have replaced White Lightning as the redneck’s produce of choice. Noah Wyle plays the “Professor,” aka Leonard; a disgraced school teacher who was framed for selling pot. After losing his wife and child, along with his job, he decides to deal drugs and drop out of society.

He takes in a lad who leaves home after an argument with his overbearing father. Travis (played by Brit actor Jeremy Irvine, who made his name in War Horse) steals some marijuana plants from the local drug lord and sells them to Leonard on the advice of his friend Shank (Haley Joel Osment).

Leonard lives with his drug addict girlfriend Dena (Minka Kelly) who is not best pleased with the news that Travis will be living in the trailer as well. The “Professor” has a fascination with the past, as his ancestors and Travis’ were part of the Shelton Laurel massacre. A real event where 13 suspected union sympathizers were executed, the youngest being 13 years-old, although in the film they repeatedly refer to his age as 12.

The movie is adapted from the Ron Rash 2006 novel of the same name. This drama is a slow moving tale which features a few flashback sequences of the Civil War massacre and Leonard’s more recent past. The feeling is one of doomed existence as well as an acceptance of fate. As directed by David Burris, his first feature film in the chair, The World Made Straight moves at a snail’s pace.

Amazingly this does not detract from the power of the actor’s performances and actually helps the viewer get into the story. With its reflection on needless violence and the need for escape, the film holds our attention throughout.

Wyle is excellent as the over-educated drug pusher who cannot stop reading his ancestor’s Civil War diary and is desperate to save Travis from a dead end existence in the area. Irvine as Travis Shelton is all angst and ire, unhappy with his lot in life yet resenting the interference from his girlfriend (played by Australian actress Adelaide Clemens) and Leonard.

What is missing from this film is that “cheese” factor where the action all feels like a soap opera in progress and each character a stereotype. The one problem with the movie is that it feels more like a TV movie of the week rather than a “proper” film. Available on Netflix and Amazon Instant Video, the film is a bit on the long side, but still enjoyable.

3.5 out of 5 Stars.

Bad Asses on the Bayou: Third Time up for Viral Video Based Film

screenshot from Bad Asses on the Bayou
It is hard to be too critical about Bad Asses on the Bayou, aka Bad Ass 3. This is the third time up for the film series based on a viral video posted on YouTube back in 2010. Featuring a “Vietnam vet” in his late 60s who beats up a younger chap on the public transit bus, the footage turned Tommy Bruso into an Internet sensation. Unfortunately he was also on the Google-owned site a year before for getting tased by the police when a drunken Bruso got belligerent about being in the wrong seat at a baseball game.

In essence, the real life, “Bad Ass” was a bit of a nut, one “friend” stated that the man who served in the US military for 3 months during the Vietnam war, suffered from Bipolar and that he was bit off the rails, so to speak. Writer, director Craig Moss (Breaking Wind, Saving Ryan’s Privates)came up with a highly fictionalized version of Bruso where the “vet” turns vigilante when his one and only friend is murdered and the police do not seem to care (Bad Ass). This straight to DVD, and Netflix apparently, film proved popular enough that a second visit was set up where the screen version of Bruso, Frank Vega (played by cult favorite Danny Trejo) teams up with a pal, Bernie Pope (played by Danny Glover) for Bad Ass 2: Bad Asses.

Each of these films boasts an estimated budget of around $5 million and in the third installment, John Amos plays the part of Earl, father of Carmen (Loni Love) who is worth a fortune after his plantation is found to have oil under it. Carmen is kidnapped at her engagement party and the two men; Pope and Vega, decide to get their friend back.

These films are pretty low brow and despite the entertainment value of seeing Trejo, Glover and John Amos (a personal favorite) on screen, this one trick pony should be brushed down and put back in the stable. In all likelihood, the first film, which came out two years after the viral YouTube video with Tommy Bruso punching out a fellow passenger on the bus, came at a time when the public’s awareness of the bearded 67 year-old “hero” was already diminishing.

By now, a good five years later, type Bruso’s name in the search bar and not a lot comes up. A little like the plot of this film and the script it adheres to. It is a bit depressing to see Danny Glover reduced to playing these types of roles. Although he has aged well and still looks good onscreen.

Sadly, this type of film misuses his talents. Trejo has been in enough cheesy films to overlook his participation in this low budget followup to a film based on a mentally ill man who shot to fame via YouTube back in 2010. The stuntman turned actor has made a career out of playing oddball parts and when his Frank Vega says, full of outrage, “you shot my fanny pack,” we chuckle and nod our heads accepting this cockeyed attempt at humor by the screenwriter who is relying on Danny’s delivery to make this amusing.

This film ends with the promise of yet another sequel, this one possibly starring Glover, Trejo and Amos. While all three actors may welcome the income this would generate, the idea of one more abysmal repeat of marginal humor and three old age pensioners doing their version of Dirty Harry fills me with dread.

Bad Asses on the Bayou, aka Bad Ass 3, is a 2.5 out of 5 stars. This third in the series is as tired looking as its two stars. Perhaps the specter of Tommy Bruso can be put to rest now.

7 June 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

Dead Snow 2: Red vs Dead Sequel Gold

Film poster for Dead Snow 2.
Dead Snow 2: Red vs Dead is the long awaited sequel to the 2009 Norwegian comedy horror film written and directed by Tommy Wirkola (Stig Frode co-wrote both films and this gold plated sequel also had Vegar Hoel working on the script.) This film follows the adventures of Martin (played again by Vegar Hoel) who was the unlikely survivor from the Dead Snow.

The first movie was about a group of friends who travel to the mountains for a skiing holiday and while they are staying in their cabin find Nazi gold hidden in a box under the floor. The second that any of the treasure leaves the box, a horde of zombie Nazis come out of the snow and begin killing off the holiday makers one-by-one.

For those who have not seen the first film, this is all covered in a short recap narrated by Martin himself. This time, the survivor is wanted by the police after they found all his dead friends up in the mountains. His fiancee, Hanna; who he accidentally killed with an ax, still has the weapon lodged in her throat, “with your fingerprints all over it,” the police detective smugly informs Martin.

On top of his immediate problems of being charged with multiple murders, he has had Herzog’s arm attached to his body, Herzog was the Nazi commander who led the undead soldiers. While recuperating in the hospital, handcuffed to his bed, Martin meets a young boy who is in contact with the US Zombie Squad. He talks the lad into releasing him only to kill the youngster with his zombie arm.

After trying, in a spectacular failure which results in obliterating any chance the boy had of recovering, to revive his new friend, Martin then talks to the zombie squad and they promise to arrive in Norway and save the day. The rest of the film deals with this disparate group trying to kill off the Nazi zombies as well as resurrecting a group of Russian zombies that Herzog had killed during the war to help them win this zombie battle.

At 100 minutes the sequel is that little bit longer than the first one. Overall, however, this does not matter in the least as the gags, and the gore, keep coming with machine gun rapidity that leaves the viewer gasping. The film’s humor runs from parody to full-on slapstick. Perhaps the only complaint was the decision to make the dialogue English versus Norwegian with subtitles.

It is surprising to hear Martin speaking English and while there are a few moment of confusion once the US Zombie Squad are introduced it all becomes clear why they dropped their native language and the subtitles. In all honesty, the film still works brilliantly and is funny regardless of the dialogue change.

Comparing the two films, it is obvious that the budget for number two is much bigger than the first one. The scope of the movie is much larger, no longer restricted to the snowy mountain setting from number one, this sequel roams across the Norwegian landscape through a village or two and back into those mountains.

In Dead Snow 2: Red vs Dead, there are zombie fighting nerds, or geeks, a tank, the ability to touch dead people and turn them into zombies, or “recruiting” as Martin puts it at one point, and some local police who are very funny indeed.

Without resorting to any spoilers, there also seems to be a good chance for a Dead Snow 3 to become a reality. For those who loved the first two, this could be good news if they do not mess things up.

This is a real 5 out of 5 star film despite the odd things that make no sense, such as a museum tank having life rounds in it. Available on iTunes to stream and available on DVD.

7 June 2015

Michael Knox-Smith