Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Dexter- A Look Back

Dexter told the story of a serial killer Dexter Morgan.  It was a fun and macabre show that glorified violence and justified it in the deaths of Dexter’s victims.  Though based on a series of books, the television series strayed heavily from its source material. It instead focused on various characters that were a part of Dexter’s life.  In eight seasons there were a lot of decisions, both good and bad, and I wanted to take a look at them now that the show has finally concluded.

Season 1- Season one gave us our introduction to Dexter.  He showed us his code that kept him from getting caught. Dexter along with his friends and family had to band together to stop the Ice Truck Killer.  The twist was really solid and the writing was fresh.  It seemed like the producers at Showtime had hit gold.

Season 2- Season 2 began the Dexter oddities. Dexter goes to rehab because Rita thinks he is on drugs.  Rita also starts on a long stint of being painfully annoying.  Then Dexter hooked up with Lila, a pyromaniac who would eventually cause a lot of problems for Dexter.  He also had to dodge Sgt. Doakes until his death.  This season seemed to be trying hard to capture the same flame but left most people wanting something else.

Season 3- Rita is pregnant and Dexter proposes to her.  Dexter finds a friend in Assistant District Attorney Miguel Prado, played by Jimmy Smits. Dexter attempts to teach Miguel the code but Miguel uses it to his own end.  The season ends in the marriage of Dexter and Rita. Rita is nothing but a harpy the entire season.  Season 3 was an improvement from season 2. The villain was actually a threat to Dexter because he was smart and manipulative instead of a passionate murderer, like Lila.

Season 4- Dexter is now a family man.  A new serial killer called the “Trinity Killer,” played by John Lithgow, is terrorizing Miami.  Dexter meets him and finds what drives him and uncovers what sort of monster he really is.  Lithgow steals this season and is amazing as the Trinity Killer.  The twist at the end is incredible and it makes this the best season since the first.  If the producers were wiser they would have ended right here on this amazing high note.

Season 5- Season 5 has Dexter dealing with the loss of Rita.  He finds a girl named Lumen, played by Julia Stiles, who was in captivity in one of his victim’s rooms. She was gang raped and he helps her get revenge. This season was a huge drag, going from something as monumental as the Trinity Killer to a rip-off of Sudden Impact.  There wasn’t even much of a threat from the central villains.

Season 6- The last fairly decent season of Dexter.  He faces a new killer called the Doomsday killer that uses apocalyptic imagery in his kills.  The killers are played by Edward James Olmos and Colin Hanks who bring stellar performances.  It had good moments that culminate in Debra finding out Dexter is a serial killer.  Considering the let down of the season before, it was a gripping way to wrap up a season.

Season 7- This season was huge mess.  A Ukrainian mob boss was after Dexter for killing his lover in the first plot. Then we have a woman named Hannah who poisons her victims. Dexter falls in love with Hannah at one point and then has an about face to turn her in to the police. She promptly escapes.  The writing for this season was all over the place.  The mob boss was an interesting character and it was just tossed aside in a very lame fashion.  This season also ended in an event that was supposed to be a big deal but it was too little too late.

Season 8- The final season.  Dexter introduces us to Dr. Vogel, a women who taught Dexter’s dad the code that Dexter lives by. It’s funny that we never heard of her before.  The writer’s do a poor job trying to make you care for this character. Then they bring back Hannah so that Dexter can have some more interaction with a love interest. The end takes everything we know about the character and tosses it on its butt.

The end of Dexter took a likable character and made him into someone that is horrible. Why? It would seem that writers feel that Dexter is just a teenager inside and can’t tell the difference between teen angst and mourning.  His family is filled with selfish jerks that have never thought about how things will go beyond the present day.  The show had its good times and bad times but for the most part it’s a decent show.  Sadly, it jumped the shark over halfway through the series.

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Top Ten Sidekicks in Movies

Many times a hero will have help on their journey.  Often overlooked, the sidekick becomes a useful tool for the protagonist.  They assist in fights, challenge the hero, or are written into the story to create romantic or comedic tension. Many show exceptional bravery and strength of character.  The following sidekicks really standout because they could be considered heroes in their own right. 

10.  Alfred Pennyworth from the Batman movies- Whether played by Michael Caine, Michael Gough, or Alan Napier, the character of Alfred has always been a steadfast and helpful butler.  He loves Bruce Wayne as if they were family and he understands much of why he must take up the mantle of Batman.  It makes him all the more interesting since he cares so much for the man he swore to protect. The major difference is that Michael Caine in the Dark Knight films seems to be mostly filled with a mass of sage advice where the others are a lot more selfless in their actions. All versions of Alfred show that they love and care for the versions of Bruce Wayne/Batman and want to help the boy they helped to raise.

9. Officer Anne Lewis from the RoboCop movies- Anne Lewis’s partner, Alex Murphy, died in the line of duty and was reanimated as the cyborg RoboCop.  She realized who he was and helped him recover his humanity.  Throughout the three movies she showed her skills until her untimely demise.  She stayed the course with all the glitches and emotional problems of Murphy and that made her a strong asset. Considering the hellhole that she patrolled, she was a collected individual and went into just about every situation with the poise that you’d expect from a professional police officer. 

8. Sallah from Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Last Crusade- Indiana Jones knows when he needs someone he can count on he can call on Sallah. As one of the strongest excavators in Egypt, Sallah is faithful and a strong friend.  When the Nazis blow up his brother’s car he goes out of his way to steal camels in compensation for the loss.  He is considered such a beloved character that Disney used his character and voice for the Indiana Jones ride at the Disney parks. He is a family man whose sense of humor and love of life is matched only by his quick wits.

7. Trinity from the Matrix movies- Trinity is an interesting character.  As the first character we are introduced to in the Matrix, she shows us that that some people really do know how to bend reality.  When it comes to finding Neo she is the one that introduces him to Morpheus. She moved much of the action of the films and was independently responsible for many of the events.  She didn’t even necessarily need to be attached at the hip of the main hero to do her part.  Trinity kept fighting until her death.

6. Russell from UP- Russell is the young man that befriends the elderly Carl Fredricksen. Together they go on an adventure in Carl’s floating house and find more interesting friends like a bizarre bird and a talking dog.  Russell is brave and is always willing to help.  At first Russell is out of enthusiasm to earn a merit badge, but soon after he becomes genuinely interested in assisting Carl and taking part in his adventure. Having him around helps both of them grow as characters and their story is great as a result. They face a lot of dangers but even grow to become something akin to family at the end of their tale.

5. Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter series- Hermione Granger seems to be the character that knows what’s going on.  She is the smart one and someone that shows her friends that she is willing to sacrifice a great deal to face the dangers her friends face.  In many cases the others in her circle seem to get by with the aid of dumb luck where she is book smart and knows when and where to bring those skills. As she grew as a character she found out how to use her wits more as well as her book smarts. She ended up turning into a very powerful and skilled witch.

4. Chewbacca from the original Star Wars trilogy- Chewbacca not only has the most memorable dialogue of the Star Wars films; he also has the greatest hairstyle.  He shows great skills at battle and at piloting.  Much like Han Solo, he is clearly a character that lives a free life and would do anything with for his friends.  Chewbacca’s loyalty is to his core.  If you mess with someone he cares about he will make you feel pain.  He is a tough sidekick and considering he can rip people’s arms out their sockets, he is a good one to keep on your side.

3. Spock from the Star Trek films- Spock is the sort of friend that you’d want to have at your side in any exploration or diplomatic activity.  He thinks logically, but in truth his logical attitude hides a very sensitive mind.  He would gladly sacrifice himself for his friends if he knew that it would serve the greater good.  It is a bold man that is willing to take that sort of action.  Besides that, his Vulcan abilities give him enhanced strength, keen intellect, and an ability to mind meld with any creature with intelligence (which can be keen in lots of situations).

2. Doctor Emmett Brown from the Back to the Future movies- In all the versions of history, Doc Brown has been helpful, if a little absent-minded.  He has shown that no matter what, he cares for Marty McFly and the human condition.  He wants nothing more than to make a better life for Marty’s family and occasionally himself.  There is no real explanation as to how Marty and Doc Brown became friends, but one thing is for sure- as long as there is a Hill Valley, there will be a McFly and Brown and they will be together causing havoc.

1. Samwise Gamgee from The Lord of the Rings trilogy- Possibly the greatest friend in literature and on film.  Samwise risks life and limb to stay by his friend Frodo.  He is even told several times he can leave, yet he refuses despite how tempting the option must be for him.  He eventually comes to terms with the grave possibility of his own death. Samwise is willing to carry Frodo up Mount Doom when it appears Frodo is too weak to carry the ring. He stays the course, showing how incredibly brave he is and in the end of it all, shows that he is one of the strongest of the smallest races in Middle Earth.
In the end, these sidekicks have proven themselves heroes in their own right.  Each one of them is brave. They are all amazing and unique and show that they are loyal to their friends.   The next time you watch a movie be sure to save a salute for the sidekicks. They are often the glue that holds the stories that we love together.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Insidious Chapter 2- review

Insidious Chapter 2 is the sequel to the 2011 supernatural horror film Insidious.  The cast has reprised their roles from the previous film and they do a fine job falling back into their familiar situations.  The plot has several holes but if you keep an open mind it makes a decent follow-up to the first film. That being said, it is neither as frightening nor as well thought-out as the previous movie.

Insidious Chapter 2 begins with a flashback to 1986 where a young Josh Lambert is getting help for his ghostly troubles. We then flash forward to the last events of the first film.  Josh, played by Patrick Wilson and his wife Renai, played by Rose Byrne, have moved in with Josh’s mother after the death of Elise.  They soon discover that angry spirits besiege them in their new house as well. Is something more sinister afoot?

The acting is really well done.  Rose Byrne brings back her sense of fear and vulnerability from the last film.  Patrick Wilson shows some interesting skill in being both a villain and hero in this movie.  Even the side characters, such as the tech guys that helped Elise, the medium, bring a sense of entertainment to this film. 

The scares are developed by the movie’s atmosphere and an occasional jump scare. If children’s toys are scary to you, I’d avoid this movie because they constantly use toys for scares. The story is strange in the way it glosses over some subjects.  For example, the killing of Elise is basically left to the cops and dismissed in the first 15 minutes of the film.  There is also a strange aspect of astral time travel, which is cool but creates all sorts of plot problems. I am not sure what the rules are for traveling in the Further because it’s poorly defined in the movie.

Insidious Chapter 2 is an okay follow-up to the first film.  For a PG-13 horror film you will feel some good scares and some genuine unease as people walk through places that are lit like the Haunted Mansion armed with nothing but a greasy flashlight.  It is certainly the weaker of the two movies and it ends with the promise of a sequel.  Frankly if they do a sequel I’d hope that they go the direction they seem to be going, with a new family and a whole new set of scares. Bottom line, this is a good movie and definitely worth seeing.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Riddick- review

Riddick is the third movie involving the science fiction adventures of anti-hero Riddick.  Vin Diesel falls back into his character of Riddick with ease and is made far more likeable then he has been in previous films.  Riddick builds on the stories of past movies while still being original and fun.  The action and the effects make for a very enjoyable movie-going experience.

Riddick, played by Vin Diesel, is betrayed by his Necromonger underlings and left for dead on a desert planet.  There he discovers that creatures on this planet are savage and deadly.  He is able to befriend a jackal-beast pup, which he raises to adulthood.  Riddick then finds a mercenary station and sends out an emergency beacon.  Two teams of mercenaries come looking for Riddick, both with very different agendas.

Vin Diesel is actually very charming and is a lot of fun as an action hero in this movie.  His scenes with the jackal-beast are humorous and tender at times, and sometimes reminiscent of Mad Max with his dog in The Road Warrior.  The mercenaries are interesting as well and each character is a unique individual and not just another body for Riddick or alien to chop up. 

If you enjoyed Pitch Black or The Chronicles of Riddick then you will certainly notice the mood change of this film.  The action is sometimes similar to watching the 80s Conan the Barbarian film in a space setting.  It is violent and sometimes irreverent but not without entertainment value. 

This is the sort of movie that John Carter should have been.  If you enjoy science fiction or action adventure this movie will be a lot of fun for you.  Riddick is probably the best of the trilogy. It is certainly the most interesting and the most visually appealing.  If in seeing a space barbarian crush his enemies sounds appealing to you, then you should definitely see this film.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Rocky- retrospective

The film Rocky may be the greatest underdog story put on film.  These movies show a guy who simply wants to go the distance and his story is inspiring to this day.  The characters have become icons and the moments from the films have become cemented in film history.   All of the Rocky movies spanned a six film series that encompassed not just the story of a fighter but the story of his family and love.

Rocky- Rocky tells the story of how boxer Rocky Balboa, played by Sylvester Stallone is a bruiser with a heart of gold.  He helps out a kid in his Philadelphia neighborhood and he finds beauty in a shy pet shop worker, Adrian, played by Talia Shire.  When the cocky heavy weight champion Apollo Creed wants to hold an exhibition match he chooses Rocky based solely on his nickname, “the Italian Stallion.” Rocky trains with the aid of Mickey, played by Burgess Meredith.  The day of the fight Rocky goes the distance with Creed in an epic match.

The acting in this movie is great. Everyone does a great job making this world believable and in the 1970s when everyone was an antihero it is amazing to see a character that is so kind-hearted.  The music is like something that we’d expect to hear while summoning a Greek hero.  Rocky touches the underdog in all of us and reminds us that every once in a while the little guy can knock a giant to the ground.

Rocky II- Rocky II follows where the last film left off.  Rocky considers himself retired and starts spending his money and doing commercial work.  He marries Adrian and they get pregnant.  Apollo Creed has wanted a rematch and financial pressures force Rocky to fight Creed once again. This times he goes beyond the distance and actually defeats Creed to become the champion.

Rocky II is almost as good as the first.  The acting is still top-notch and the characters bring a great deal of seriousness to their roles again.  Watching Rocky and Adrian’s relationship bloom is adorable and makes for a really sweet love story.  The only dislike I have is that Rocky is portrayed as especially dumb, which he is not.  He mistakes condos for condoms and so on.  Where it wins me back is that he retains his heart of gold even when people treat him badly. 

Rocky III- After winning his match with Apollo we get a montage of Rocky winning match after match.  Rocky and Adrian are now very rich.  Rocky has an exhibition match with the wrestler Thunderlips.  Clubber Lang, played by Mr. T, challenges him. They fight in the ring and Rocky loses.  Mickey dies during the fight. Left without a trainer Apollo agrees to train Rocky.  Rocky eventually beats Clubber and wins back his title.

This is where the series starts to get weird.  The addition of Thunderlips, played by Hulk Hogan, is a scene that is funny but inevitably doesn’t really add much to the movie.  Otherwise it’s a good movie.  The growing friendship between Apollo Creed and Rocky shows that both men are good at heart but have a warrior-like respect for each other. It is sad to see Mickey go but it is done well and with dramatic dignity.

Rocky IV- A huge Russian boxer named Ivan Drago, played by Dolph Lundgren, comes to America.  Apollo challenges him to a boxing match and is killed in the ring.  Rocky decides he will go to Russia to avenge his friend.  He trains in the mountains and eventually is able to defeat Drago.  He gives a rousing speech to the Russian audience, which gives him a standing ovation.

For some reason they added a sentient robot to this movie.  It makes it very goofy.  This movie takes it even more down that road by making the villains over-the-top.  It’s such a product of its time and it is an obvious Cold War statement.   It is a fun movie but it seems to take the serious tone of the series and make it more humorous.

Rocky V- Rocky comes back from Russia and they discover that due to shady accountants they are broke.  So the Balboa family moves back to the streets where they started in Philadelphia.  He goes to work at Mickey’s old gym and takes up training a new boxer named Tommy “The Machine” Gunn. Rocky finds that focusing all his time on his new protégé takes away time from his son.   Tommy is upset because his career isn’t moving fast enough so he calls Rocky out a bar and they get into a brawl.  Rocky wins the street fight and goes home with his family.

Rocky V is the weakest of the movies but it’s certainly not a bad film.  It seems to teach the lesson that violence solves problems.  It also is a downer in a lot of ways.  In the end of the street fight Rocky is still broke and Tommy is still the champion.  So it is really not for anything except pride.

Rocky Balboa- Rocky has retired and owns a restaurant.  His wife Adrian has passed away and he visits her grave regularly.  A sports show takes a computer match-up between the current heavyweight champion Mason “The line” Dixon and Rocky and decides Rocky would be the victor.  Mason then decides to challenge Rocky to an exhibition match.  Rocky is still a sweet guy and helpful to others. His son Robert has lost his way and Rocky helps him find his path as he trains for the fight in Las Vegas.  When he gets there he shows that he still has what it takes to fight hard despite his age.  Like his match with Creed it comes down to a decision and the fight goes to the champion but Rocky still feels like a winner for going the distance.

This was the perfect way to end the series.  I hate seeing Adrian go but adding touches of his life like little Marie and even Spider Rico from the first film were welcome.  What he said “going forward when life hits you hard” is a great message.  The filming during the fight is the most realistic in the whole series and looks like it could have been seen in a pay-per-view.  It really brings the perfection back up to the level it was with the first film.

The Rocky movies are wonderful films and should be enjoyed by anyone.  If you do not desire to see periods where things got silly you can probably watch just Rocky, Rocky II and Rocky Balboa and get the idea of the whole series and love it for what it’s worth.  They are the story of an underdog who beat the odds.  The characters are endearing and the stories are classic.