The Walking Dead Season 4 Review

Spoiler Alert: Although I tried to keep them to a minimum, there are still spoilers in this review for this season as well as previous seasons of The Walking Dead.  Do not read this if you haven’t seen season 4 and you care about spoilers.  Otherwise, I hope you enjoy the review.

I’m going to be honest, I wasn’t really looking forward to this season of The Walking Dead.  Sure, I enjoyed the third season, but the overall inconsistency with the show’s quality from season to season made me less eager to watch season 4.  Season 1 was an excellent start despite it only being 6 episodes, but season 2 ruined most of what made the show great by limiting the main setting to one location and having the writers decide that the only way to have tension was to have every character make as many stupid decisions as possible (like when Glenn went down that well as bait), eventually resulting in their lives being put in danger.  Not only that, but the whole of season 2, especially the first half, was incredibly padded out (particularly the search for Sophia), resulting in story arcs going on much longer than they should have, simply for the sake of meeting AMC’s demands.  Season 3 was better, but it kept many of the problems of the previous season, most notably the characters’ tendency to make stupid decisions on occasion (I’m looking at you, Andrea).  But, having said all of that, I still had some hope that season 4 could be a return to form for the show  It could be a chance to bring back that same creative spark Frank Darabont brought to the table that made season 1 the best of the three.  Unfortunately, while season 4 has a few good episodes, the rest of the season ended up failing to deliver.

The most glaring issue with season 4 is that it lacks any sort of focus.  It has so many story and character threads that it doesn’t feel like a single story being told, but, rather, several smaller stories being presented one at a time.  Now, there’s nothing wrong with having a few subplots here and there, but season 4 is so disjointed that I can actually split it into three separate parts to review individually (which is what I’m going to do): the disease episodes, the Governor episodes, and the Terminus episodes.  The disease episodes, as you probably know, are the first five episodes of the season and, frankly, they are also the worst of the season.  They serve no purpose other than to kill off the expendable characters and to attempt to make Tyrese seem important.  But, (and I hope you’re reading this AMC) having a character pout for five episodes over a someone we barely got to know and then having him get in people’s face whenever they tell him to calm down doesn’t make them relevant or important…it makes them annoying.  The biggest problem I have with these episodes, though, was the revelation that Carol was the one who killed Karen and David.  It seemed incredibly random and out of character for Carol to do that rather than, say, Carl who showed us at the end of season 3 that he would kill if he thought he was justified in doing so.  I understand that Carol isn’t helpless like she was in season 1, but I don’t think she had gotten to the point that she would kill two people for being sick just yet.  Ultimately, the first five episodes came across as a pointless excuse to drastically reduce the number of people.  This actually sacrificed much of the potential those characters had.  What a waste.

However, the show does start to pick up once it reaches the Governor episodes.  Although not perfect, the Governor episodes do an excellent job of developing the Governor’s character as he walks the line between redemption and damnation, culminating in his last stand at the prison.  These episodes also provide several emotional moments in the form of a few major character deaths, something the first few episodes might have benefited from.  This does bring me to my first complaint about these episodes: Judith’s “death”.  I may sound cruel when I say this, but I thought she should have stayed dead.  Now, before you start raging in the comments, hear me out.  Her death was such a powerful moment and had such an impact, not only on Rick and Carl, but on me as a viewer that it seemed like a cop-out for the writers to have Judith miraculously survive without explaining how Tyrese rescued her (besides, the writers have shown in the past that they aren’t above killing off children).  My only other problem with these episodes is that they feel like they belonged at the end of season 3.  In fact, the show probably would have been better off if they had eliminated the disease episodes, put the Governor episodes at the end of season 3, and started season 4 with the Terminus episodes.  But, that aside, the Governor episodes were, without doubt, the highlights of the season and they showcased what the writers are capable of at their best.

Unfortunately, the show only goes downhill from that point.  Sure, the first of the Terminus episodes move the plot forward a bit, but they’re pretty lacking in terms of character development.  Some of you may argue that they explore Michone and Daryl’s back-stories, but almost nothing is said that we didn’t either already know or that we couldn’t have inferred on our own.  And even then, they dive into the back-stories for no real reason other than to inform the audience (and kill time).  Exploring a character’s back-story should never be done solely for that purpose.  Yes, you want to inform the audience, and, yes the audience wants to understand what that character has gone through, but it should be done in a way that develops the character rather than dumping exposition on the viewer.  Let me give you an example: in The Walking Dead The Video Game, the back-story of Lee, the main character, is revealed bit by bit as he recounts it to other members of his group and, while it also brings the audience up to speed, the main purpose for revealing his back-story in the game is for Lee to come clean by talking about his past and, ultimately, gaining the trust of the other group members.  Lee’s back-story serves to develop the relationship between him and other characters rather than just telling the audience what happened to Lee before the outbreak.  In the show, though, the writers use the back-stories as a means of dumping as much extraneous information into the viewers’ heads as possible when that shouldn’t have been their goal at all.  They treated Michone and Daryl’s back-stories as a means of informing the audience rather than progressing the story and the season suffered because of it.

The latter half of the season wasn’t without its high points, however.  Episode 14 develops the relationship between Carol and Tyrese, bringing Carol’s story arc from the beginning of the season full circle while also bringing Lizzie’s condition to the forefront.  It truly was a great episode and one that made more sense for Carol.  While I thought it was out of character for her to have killed Karen and David, the fact that she had to kill Lizzie at the end of that episode felt more reasonable (just look at the flowers).  With Lizzie, she was forced into a situation in which she really had no choice but to act; with Karen and David, she chose to murder two people for being sick.  Carol’s decision process matured more realistically when she was forced to kill Lizzie than when she chose to kill Karen and David.  Rather than make an irrational choice to murder two people to stop the spread of a disease, she made a rational choice to put an end to Lizzie’s sickness, which would have only spread more death.  That episode stood out along with the Governor episodes as one of the best of the season and gave me hope that things would only improve.

But, then, we got to the season finale.  Honestly, it was one of the worst season finales I’ve ever seen (though it’s nowhere near as bad as Dexter’s finale).  Now, don’t get me wrong, I didn’t think the episode was bad, the episode just didn’t feel like a season finale.  I didn’t mind that the writers went with a cliffhanger ending, but they did so without any of the season’s conflicts being resolved.  It didn’t feel like the end of a chapter, but more like a chapter was cut off at the midpoint.  Dexter’s sixth season had a cliffhanger ending, but the main source of conflict for the season (the Doomsday Killer) was dealt with by the end, bringing that chapter of Dexter’s story to a close.  Similarly, in Code Geass, the first season ends with a cliffhanger, but the battle at Lelouch’s school had ended, again, bringing that chapter of the story to a close.  In The Walking Dead, they had a cliffhanger, but the group was still split up, Beth was still missing, and we still don’t know with certainty what was going on in Terminus (though I can guess).  The finale felt more like a penultimate episode than an actual finale, and that’s keeps it from being a good finale despite being a decent episode.

In the end, The Walking Dead’s fourth season has a few good episodes, but it’s extremely lacking in terms of tension and character development, with the exception of the aforementioned episodes.  It seems that for everything that this season did right, it did another two things wrong.  This isn’t the worst season of The Walking Dead (that “honor” still belongs to season 2), but it is the most disappointing.  Season 4 had such great potential early on, but squandered it on exposition dumps in the form of Michone and Daryl’s pointless back-stories and excuses to kill off characters like Dr. Caleb.  (Remember him?  So do I…that’s why I described him so vividly earlier in the review.)  At this point, I’m seriously worried that the show may not ever recapture the tragedy and macabre revelations made the first season so great.  Only time will tell, I suppose, but the writers desperately need to refocus on the suspenseful character-driven narrative that made The Walking Dead stand out in a horde of other zombie apocalypse works.

Sherlock Season 3 Review

Spoiler Alert: While I will avoid spoiling events of this season, I am going to assume that if you’re reading this, you are familiar with the events of the past two seasons.  If you haven’t seen the first two seasons of Sherlock, then the short version of this review is as follows: go watch Sherlock right now.  Seriously, stop what you’re doing and go watch it.  Stop reading this review, close out of this window, and go watch it.  Are you back, yet?  OK, then let’s get on with the review.

For those of you reading this in Great Britain, yes, I know season 3 wrapped in the UK about a week ago, but I wasn’t able to get this review out then, so I figured I should at least talk about the season before it airs in America…and what a season it was.  It’s not often that a show can maintain the same level of quality throughout its lifespan (you need look no further than Dexter to see that) but Sherlock is one of those shows that manages to stay just as intriguing and just as exciting in every season.  Although it isn’t flawless, Sherlock is without doubt one of the best shows on TV right now and for good reason.  The writing is fantastic, the acting is phenomenal (in particular Benedict Cumberbatch’s portrayal of Sherlock Holmes), and the source material is expertly adapted to suit modern times.  Season 3 carries on that tradition for the most part, but there are some things that I feel keep it from being as good as the last two seasons.

My greatest concern going into this season of Sherlock was how they were going to explain how Sherlock survived his fall at the end of the last season.  Trying to explain how someone survived their apparent death can be extremely difficult and, if you don’t do it correctly, it can come off as just being a ridiculous excuse to bring back some character.  Fortunately, the explanation behind Sherlock’s “demise” made sense and, even if it wouldn’t have worked in real life, it was believable enough for me to buy it.  Granted, it takes quite a while from them to actually explain everything, but regardless I could tell that the writers put a great deal of thought into explaining things when they were putting the script together.  The same could be said for the rest of the script this season; the writing is just as good as it has been in the last two.  That being said, it does take the focus away from the crime-solving aspect of the show in favor of further developing the relationship between Sherlock and Watson.  Although, there are still crimes to be solved this season, most of the first two episodes is dedicated to its main characters.  While I don’t feel that it was poorly executed (I think just the opposite–it was nice to see a more human side of Sherlock this time around) it took away from some of the intrigue that the last two seasons had in spades.

However, the final episode introduces the main villain of the season Charles Augustus Magnussen, a man who deals in blackmail and served as an excellent replacement for Moriarty with a presence that just might rival that of Sherlock’s old foe.  Episode 3 is when the plot really starts to get interesting (not that the first two weren’t interesting) as Sherlock must, once again, use all of his skills to take down one of the greatest threats he has ever faced.  Indeed, the episode managed to deliver some truly exciting moments as well as some plot twists that I don’t think you’ll see coming (What else would you expect from Stephen Moffat?).  This episode kept me on the edge of my seat the entire time and I was wondering how they were going to carry things over into the next season.  But, as it turned out, the season had an ending that I thought could have been better.  Don’t get me wrong, it got me excited to see season 4, but it really made season 3 feel less like the beginning of a new story arc and more like a mere set up for next season.

Sherlock season 3 is a welcome return to Baker Street with the same great writing and acting of the previous two seasons.  It had plenty of memorable moments, did a much better job with the middle episode than has been in the past, and had an ending that will be sure to keep people wanting to see what happens next.  But, at the same time, the choice to put a greater focus on Sherlock and Watson’s relationship early on took away from some of the intrigue that the show is known for (though the final episode partly made up for this) and, as such, it took the season a longer time to establish the main conflict.  In the end, I suppose the best way to describe season 3 is a natural progression without escalation.  While the character development and story feel like a natural continuation of what had been done the previous season, there was no sense of escalation in terms of the main villain.  Sure Magnussen was an imposing figure and sure, he posed a great threat, but because he wasn’t introduced until the final episode, he wasn’t able to establish himself enough to feel like a greater threat than Moriarty.  Despite my few complaints though, I enjoyed season 3 immensely.  The advancements made with the characters’ relationships and the short time with Magnussen was well worth any problems this season had.  If you haven’t already, I highly recommend you watch season 3 of Sherlock; it’s an experience you won’t want to miss.

Frozen Review

Every once in a while, I see a movie trailer and don’t really think much of it, but, when I actually see the movie, I’m blown away by how good it is (as was the case with Super 8).  After I walk out of the theater, I realize that the trailers and previews that I saw didn’t even come close to doing the movie justice.  That’s what happened to me with Frozen; I went into the theater not sure what to expect and left with the same kind of feeling I had after watching such movies as Beauty and the Beast, Tangled, and The Lion King.  To borrow the words of Dean Hardscrabble from Monsters University “Frozen did something that no movie has done this year: it surprised me.”

Disney has established itself (particularly with its more recent animated movies) as being able to excel when it comes to characters and the Frozen is no exception.  Anna and Elsa (the two female leads) are what I consider to be two of the most human protagonists that Disney has introduced.  What I mean by that is neither of them are flawless (or at least nearly so) like some Disney characters of the past (I’m looking at you, Aurora); they have flaws and problems that they have to deal with, just like we do in real life.  And the way that they each handle their respective problems seem like the way a real person would act.  Both Anna and Elsa feel like they could exist in real life (minus Elsa’s snow powers, of course), like you could meet them in your everyday life.  They may be princesses by title, but that by no means makes them unrelatable.  On top of that, the three major supporting characters (Kristoff, Olaf, and Sven) do much to add to the movie.  Olaf in particular offers plenty of comic relief to balance out the more emotional moments in Frozen.  However, he does so without compromising the seriousness of any situation; when given the choice between humor and emotion, Frozen always goes with emotion.

One notable change from past Disney movies that Frozen makes is the fact that there really isn’t an ever-present villain (I know some may argue that there are two villains, but they were never as important to the story as, say, Jafar or Maleficent).  Instead, the story focuses on Anna’s quest to save her sister, which lands itself toward telling a more relatable story.  Not only that, but it shows that Disney doesn’t have to rely on   Fans of some of Disney’s past villains hoping for a new one may be disappointed, but I think that if there had been a villain like Jafar in Frozen, it would have ruined the experience.  The movie was meant to be about Anna and Elsa overcoming their problems and growing as individuals and as sisters.  Adding a villain would have just over-complicated things.  Since Frozen is a Disney movie, I have to talk about the musical numbers, and, let me tell you, it doesn’t disappoint.  Frozen has some of the best songs of any recent Disney movie, with the standouts being Let It Go and In Summer, and I would even the soundtrack up there with classics like Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King.

Disney has hit the jackpot yet again with Frozen.  They have found a way of taking the “Disney princess” movies and translating them to modern times with Tangled, and Frozen is a continuation of that success.  If this new round of animated movies is a sign of things to come, then the future sure looks bright for Disney Animation.  Frozen is without a doubt the best animation of 2013 and will certainly be a contender to be my favorite movie of the year.  It doesn’t matter if you’re young or old, everyone should be able to enjoy Frozen, especially if you’re as big a Disney fan as I am.  Having grown up watching classic Disney movies, it gives me great pleasure to be able to wholeheartedly recommend Frozen and to say without hesitation that Disney just might have another classic on their hands.

The Legend of Korra Book Two: Spirits Review

SPOILER ALERT!  I just can’t thoroughly review Book Two of Korra without talking about spoilers, so I’m warning you now that you shouldn’t read this review unless you’ve seen all of Book Two.  You have been warned.

Out of all the movies and TV shows coming out this year, I think Book Two of The Legend of Korra was one of the ones that I was most looking forward to.  Not only was it the continuation of the follow-up to one of my favorite shows ever, Avatar: The Last Airbender, but it was going to explore an area left mostly untouched both in Avatar and Book One of Korra: spirits and the spirit world.  This was an opportunity to take the franchise to new heights and add to the already rich lore of the Avatar universe.  Book Two had just about everything going for it, and that was what had me so excited.  Unfortunately, Book Two fails to live up to its potential in almost every regard, leaving me incredibly disappointed with the final product.  While The Legend of Korra Book Two: Spirits has a few great moments scattered throughout, it is a largely unsatisfying chapter in Avatar Korra’s story.

From the beginning, it’s clear that Book Two doesn’t quite live up to the standards of Book One.  The dialogue doesn’t feel as well-written, the dark spirits look a bit generic (much like the ghosts in Luigi’s Mansion), and Korra magically learns how to calm dark spirits down despite the fact that no one taught her how to do it.  However, the greatest letdown of Book Two is the character development or, rather, the lack thereof.  Most of the characters that I grew to love (Lin, Tenzin, Asami, etc.) were practically reduced to background characters, contributing almost nothing to the plot, and even Tenzin’s arc with Kaya and Bumi (who was a huge disappointment, by the way) felt like it was only added to pad out the story.  Even Bolin who, even though he wasn’t one of my favorite characters in Book One, had such great potential to shine in Book Two did nothing of importance until episode 12.

The preexisting relationships between the characters are handled poorly as well, most notably Mako and Korra’s.  Within a few episodes, they break up after getting into some forced argument about Mako not supporting Korra enough, and I wouldn’t have had a huge problem with it if they hadn’t basically declared their undying love for each other at the end of Book 1 or there had been some decent build up to their breakup.  I understand that all couples argue, but going from “I love you” to “I don’t want to be with you anymore” is a bit ridiculous (what is this, Twilight?).  This along with another unsuccessful romance between Mako and Asami (though I liked their relationship more this time around) and Bolin having two teased romances that came out of nowhere and went nowhere left a sour taste in my mouth as far as the old characters were concerned.

However, the writers did introduce a series of new characters, including Unalaq, Korra’s uncle who has a vast knowledge of how to deal with spirits and who later becomes one of the main villains of Book Two.  While he does bring up an interesting dilemma, mankind’s treatment of the spirits and its disregard for old traditions, he ends up becoming a pretty generic villain.  Unlike previous villains in both Avatar and Korra, Unalaq doesn’t get much in terms of background.  Sure, you find out a bit about his past, but you never really get to see his motives.  With Ozai and Azula, they were born into an evil environment and both wanted to rule over those they felt were weaker through fear.  With Zuko, he was desperate to prove himself and regain his honor.  With Amon, he wanted to take away what he thought was the source of all evil in the world.  With Unalaq, he wanted to destroy the world because he’s evil.  Because we don’t get a good look at his motives, he loses the presence that made his predecessors so menacing and intriguing.  As for the other new characters, I felt that they were underutilized except for Eska, who mainly brought some comic relief into the first few episodes.

Despite all these flaws, though, there were some things that I liked about Book Two.  I found the two episodes featuring Wan and the origin of the first Avatar fascinating even though they contradict established lore on several occasions, such as when they explain the origins of bending and the nature of the Avatar State.  The war between the two Water Tribes, as short as it was, was a great source of tension, something lacking from the main story.  I also liked Mako’s subplot as an officer in Republic City trying to find the culprit behind a series of terror attacks that appear to be the doing of the Northern Water Tribe.  And I loved that Jinora finally got to contribute something to the plot.  But, these subplots also have their own flaws.

As I mentioned before, the Wan episodes contradict preexisting lore at times and I didn’t quite buy Wan’s transformation in the first episode.  In addition, it’s never explained how Jinora knows so much about the spirits, how she knows how to solve some of the problems Korra and the others face, and why she can enter the spirit world when Tenzin can’t.  The Civil War, which looked to be one of the more exciting plot points, is dismissed for most of Book Two while these other subplots happen.  My biggest problem with them, though, is that they ultimately overshadow the main plot.  I was actually more worried about how Mako was going to avoid going to jail for the rest of his life than I was about the world coming to an end, and when your subplots are more interesting than your main plot, that’s not a good sign.  That being said, the final two episodes were amazing (even if they relied on a deus ex machina to resolve everything) and they definitely ended Book Two on a high note.  But, two good episodes, even if they are the finale, don’t make up for all the missteps of the previous twelve.

In the end, Book Two of The Legend of Korra feels rushed, which is ironic considering how long it took to be released.  It may seem like I’m going out of my way to be hard on Book 2, but I hate the fact that I have such a negative opinion of it.  I’ve been a fan of the Avatar universe from the very beginning.  I waited anxiously for The Boy in the Iceberg to air for the first time ever since I heard about it, and I kept watching through all three seasons of Avatar and Book One of Korra.  These two series are very dear to me and I never pass up an opportunity to rewatch old episodes and relive all the great moments these series have to offer.  But, it’s for those reasons that I’m so disappointed with how Book Two ended up.  It had so much potential, but it was squandered on poor character development, plot points that went nowhere, and subplots that wound up being more interesting than the main story.  Book Two may be worth watching if you’re a hardcore Avatar fan (if for no other reason than to see where the plot goes), but casual viewers may find it a turnoff to the series, which is such a shame since I know the writers are capable of so much more.

Thor: The Dark World Review

The first Thor movie was a bit of a mixed bag for me; while I enjoyed the overall story I felt that Thor’s transformation from the arrogant son of a king to a man worthy of the title God of Thunder as well as his relationship with Jane were somewhat underdeveloped.  As such, I went into Thor: The Dark World (which is definitely not ripping off The Legend of Zelda with its title) both hopeful that it would fix the problems that the first movie had and skeptical about it actually succeeding in that regard.  While I can say that Thor: The Dark World does in fact right the wrongs of its predecessor, it introduces a few new problems that keep it from reaching its full potential.

As I said, Thor: The Dark World fixes the main problem that I had with the first movie: Thor’s relationship with Jane.  This time around I actually believed that they were a couple mainly due to the performance of Chris Hemsworth and Natalie Portman who reprise their roles as Thor and Jane respectively.  Both play there parts well and Hemsworth in particular stands out as if he were born to portray the God of Thunder.  The supporting cast does fine as well, though once again Kat Denning and Stellan Skarsgard (Darcy and Dr. Selvig) play minimal roles in the overall story.  That being said, they both do well in the scenes they are featured in as are Anthony Hopkins and Idris Elba.  However, the most memorable scenes are (not surprisingly) the ones featuring Loki.  Tom Hiddleston without a doubt without a doubt steals every scene he’s in and stirring up quite a bit of mischief.  Malekith is a different story, though.  Christopher Eccelston does his best, but honestly, I found his character to be incredibly generic; he had no real back story or motivation other than what you might expect from a standard comic book villain.  What does he want?  Why, to destroy the world, of course.  Why does he want to destroy the world?  Well, that’s just what Dark Elves do, apparently.

That is probably my biggest problem with Thor: The Dark World.  Ultimately, the story revolves around a villain that isn’t that interesting and so the plot basically devolves into a case of Thor having to stop some overpowered bad guy from destroying the world and save the woman he loves.  This may set up for some awesome fights, but it doesn’t really help set the movie’s plot apart from other comic book movies.  The other problem I have with the movie is the humor.  Much like Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World relies more on humor than past Marvel movies, but it doesn’t always work to the movie’s benefit.  Don’t get me wrong, most of the humor is well-timed and made me laugh out loud.  But occasionally the movie would present a scene solely for the purpose of a joke (which felt unnecessary) or insert a joke into an otherwise serious situation.  Sure, a movie like this could use some comic relief, but it shouldn’t compromise the serious tone that a given scene just set up.  It really took me out of the experience for a second and made me think “Why are you trying to be funny here?  This situation shouldn’t be funny!  Get back to the action!”

Other than those two complaints, though, Thor: The Dark World is a worthy sequel to Kenneth Branagh’s original (it’s a shame he didn’t return to direct the sequel).  If you can look past the generic villain and sometimes out-of-place humor, you will be in for a real teat.  Thor: The Dark World is a much-anticipated and welcome return to Asgard with plenty of action and a few twists towards the end.  Any Marvel fan should be able to get their money’s worth, and, even if you’re not a not a huge comic book fan and have just been following the Marvel Cinematic Universe you should still get some enjoyment out this movie.

Ender’s Game Review

Sorry it’s been so long since I’ve posted anything.  I never had the opportunity to see The Counselor like I had planned and I didn’t have anything else to post.  But, now I think I’m back on track so I can post regularly again.  With that, let’s get into Ender’s Game.

Ender’s Game is based on a novel of the same name written by Orson Scott Card and tells the story of Ender, a young man recruited by the military in an attempt to recreate a commander who gave his life to stop an alien attack on Earth before the events of the film.  As such, the film mainly consists of Ender training to one day take command of Earth’s entire fleet and take the fight to the aliens (known as Formics).  The prospect of this being a movie about training rather than an actual war movie may sound disappointing to sci-fi fans.  However, Ender’s Game has enough entertainment value to merit you watching it regardless of that fact.  This mainly because of the characters themselves, specifically Ender and Colonel Graff.

Ender is perhaps the most interesting character I have seen in a movie this year.  He is very reminiscent of Lelouch Lamperouge from Code Geass (though that’s another review for another time) only without any of the negative aspects of Lelouch’s character.  Ender is intelligent, calculating, wise beyond his years, and strondg-willed while, at the same time, remaining friendly to those around him.  All of this enforced by a stellar performance by Asa Butterfield, who is easily the standout of the movie and what makes Ender’s character so compelling.

The rest of the cast does a fine job too, with Harrison Ford returning to the sci-fi genre as Colonel Graff, a hardened commander who will stop at nothing to ensure that humanity is victorious.  Viola Davis and Ben Kingsley also play their parts well, though neither of them are in the movie as much as you may think.  The only person I was disappointed with was Hailee Steinfield (she plays one of Ender’s friends at the training camp).  I wasn’t disappointed because her performance was bad, but because I felt that her character was underutilized, which is a real shame considering the potential she showed in True Grit.

This may seem like more of my own personal preference rather than a legitimate problem with the movie, but it actually alludes to my main complaint with Ender’s Game: the supporting characters don’t get much development.  It seems as though they just continue to show up where ever Ender goes for the sake of him having his friends with him.  Because of this, some moments that should have been more emotional than they ended up being fell short of getting a real reaction out of me.  I wish they could have made the movie longer so that I could have seen more of the characters grow.  Instead, the only one that gets a decent amount of development is Ender.

However, this problem didn’t detract too much from the movie, and I still found myself enjoying every bit of Ender’s Game.  The story is fascinating and the end of the movie is something that I think people will be talking about for a while.  It’s one of those endings that you continue to think about after you leave the theater and drive home.  It will stick with you and make you want to find out what happens next as well as ponder the main moral question of the movie: do the ends justify the means?  In the end, Ender’s Game is an excellent sci-fi movie with an interesting main character and wonderful story that delves into a relevant moral dilemma that has been pondered for quite some time.  I highly recommend that you see Ender’s Game and, even though I haven’t read it yet, I can say that the novel the movie is based on is probably worth reading too.  If it’s anything like its theatrical counterpart, it should be well worth it.

The Fifth Estate Review

This weekend I had a choice between seeing The Fifth Estate and seeing Gravity.  As you can probably tell from the title of this post, I chose to see The Fifth Estate (mainly because it would have been a little late to do a review of Gravity).  And, after seeing The Fifth Estate, I honestly wish I had gone to see Gravity.  The Fifth Estate tells the story of Julian Assange, the creator of Wikileaks, and covers the span of several years as Assange starts to get the attention of the US government as well as several like-minded individuals and media outlets interested in helping him.  However, despite a strong lead performance, The Fifth Estate never truly reaches its potential and instead turns out to be a partially developed movie with an interesting premise.  It has a slow start and, even in the second half when things get more interesting, the plot is never fully developed.

As I mentioned before, Benedict Cumberbatch delivers a strong performance as Julian Assange, and he is ultimately what drew me to the movie in the first place.  The cast of the cast put in fine performances, but their characters really fade into the background as the movies mainly focuses on Assange and his associate, Daniel Berg.  However, rather than taking a similar approach to The Social Network in which the story solely covers the events surrounding the creation of Facebook, The Fifth Estate also tries to add in some more personal moments with Berg.  While I see what they were trying to accomplish, these were the scenes that had me the least interested; I was never fully invested in his private life and just wanted to get back to the main story.  On top of that, the movie takes its time building up to the major leak Assange stumbles upon.

This makes about the first half more of a bore than anything else because, while I was still curious to see what would happen next, it took longer than was necessary to show me.  The second half is a different story, though; as Wikileaks starts to get more attention and leaking more classified information, the movie starts to pick up.  This part of the movie is also where the choice is left to the audience as to whether or not Assange’s cause is noble or vile.  This was one of the aspects of the movie that I actually liked because it reminded me of The Social Network; the movie doesn’t tell you what to think, it just presents the events and lets you decide what to think.  That being said, even this section of the plot isn’t fully developed.  I felt as though the moral ambiguity behind Assange’s convictions weren’t carried as far as they could have been.  Also, the second half feels a bit rushed as the plot is cut off toward the end with a brief segment following it that isn’t really directly related to the previous scene.  That was perhaps the most disappointing part of The Fifth Estate, it feels like you only got part of the story, which is a shame considering how much I wanted to know more about Wikileaks and Assange after seeing the trailer.

The Fifth Estate isn’t horrible by any stretch of the imagination; in spite of all of the problems I had with the movie, I still found the story to be an interesting one.  However, I couldn’t help feeling like I hadn’t seen it all.  It seemed like The Fifth Estate had only shown me part of what had actually happened, and that is ultimately what drags The Fifth Estate down.  The incredibly interesting and relevant premise is never completely capitalized on, leaving the audience with an underdeveloped plot and performances that, with the exception of Benedict Cumberbatch, are just OK.  I would say that The Fifth Estate is still interesting enough to see if you have nothing better to do, but there are far better movies in theaters right now.  My only regret is that I passed on one of them to see this.

Captain Phillips Review

The issue of Somali pirates was never something that I gave a lot of thought to.  I had heard of a few instances where ships had been hijacked, and I knew it was a problem, but I never really looked into it.  So, when I saw the trailers for Captain Phillips, I was naturally curious to see more of what was going on around the horn of Africa.  Now that I’ve seen the movie, I can say that Captain Phillips is probably the most intense movie I’ve seen this year, and certainly one of the best.  Captain Phillips is a heart-pounding thriller that will grip you from beginning to end.

As you probably know, Captain Phillips tells the true story of a container ship that was hijacked by pirates off the coast of Somalia and the actions of the crew and, most notably, Captain Richard Phillips in response to the situation.  Much like Prisoners (which I also reviewed) Captain Phillips does an excellent job of accurately portraying the situation.  Although the movie has a somewhat slow start, once the pirates get onto the ship, it feels as if someone says one thing wrong or makes one mistake, the entire crew will die.  Even before that point, when the pirates first appear behind the container ship, the movie begins to pick up and an ominous atmosphere dominates the next 2 hours.  The tension that the movie sets up with the Somalis’ first appearance remains until the climax at the end when everything comes to a head, keeping you on the edge of your seat the entire time.

Of course, this review wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Tom Hanks phenomenal performance as the titular character.  Right from the start of the hijacking, you can tell his first priority is the safety of his crew regardless of what happens to him.  The fate of the entire crew rested in the decisions that he made, and Hanks was excellent at showing that.  His performance in Captain Phillips has me truly eager to see him in Saving Mr. Banks later this year.  Now, the actors playing the crew members are fine, but its Barkhad Abdi (the leader of the pirates) and his fellow Somalis that stood out amongst the supporting cast.  Their performances add greatly to the intensity of the movie; they had such a great presence, and I felt as though they wouldn’t hesitate to shoot someone if things started going south.  The tension rose in direct proportion to their desperation, making the situation that much more convincing.

At this point, there isn’t much more I can say about the movie, and that may sound like a bad thing, but really, the premise of the movie is simple enough that it doesn’t take much to cover everything.  The only complaint I can think of is that the first 10 to 15 minutes feel a bit slow, but, honestly, that didn’t bother me at all.  The beginning is a set up for the ship to get into Somalian waters and so it was necessary.  Though, really, compared to the rest of the movie, the beginning was bound to feel slow anyway.  In the end, Captain Phillips is definitely on my list as one of the best movies of the year.  You will be on the edge of your seat as soon as the pirates appear on Captain Phillips’ radar and you’ll stay there until the last 5 minutes.  Captain Phillips is an absolutely amazing experience that should not be missed.

Dexter Series Review

Now that I’ve posted a review of the last season of Dexter, here’s my review of the whole show.  As with the last review, I’ll try to keep it as spoiler free as possible, but I may reference some things that happen in the earlier seasons.

It’s not often that a show like Dexter comes around.  Not many other shows have been able to introduce such a unique and interesting premise while presenting it in such a well thought out manner and, honestly, even the shows that do have a unique premise don’t really compare to Dexter.  I mean, how many shows can get you to root for a serial killer?  Not many.  That’s one of the things that made Dexter one of my favorite shows; it takes a moral dilemma (killing murderers and other criminals outside the law) and makes you see how it could be considered justifiable.  But, beyond that, it gives a great deal of thought to the characters and their development as the show progresses.  All of this combines to form an all around great show that challenges your way of thinking when it comes to serial killers.

If you couldn’t tell from the last paragraph, Dexter is about a serial killer named Dexter Morgan (thus the title of the show), a forensic technician for the Miami Police Department who spends his nights hunting down and executing criminals that fall through the cracks of the justice system.  The fact that the show is about a serial killer may be a turn off to some, but I urge you to give Dexter a chance.  The writers really go out of their way to portray Dexter as a sympathetic character, and it works really well.  Dexter is different from other killers; he has a code and a set of “morals” that drive him to do what he does and, although he doesn’t like to admit it, he cares about the people around him.  Perhaps the biggest reason that this approach works is Michael C. Hall’s performance as the titular character.  He does an excellent job at showing both sides of Dexter’s personality (though nothing beats his scenes in the kill room).  All of the supporting cast put in great performances as well with the standout being Jennifer Carpenter, who plays Dexter’s foster-sister Deb.  With Dexter, the characters are what drive the show, and that makes all the difference.

In addition, the first five seasons do an excellent job at developing Dexter as he learns that he cares more about his friends and family that he originally thought and that, perhaps, he can find a balance between his normal life and his life as a killer.  Season 5 in particular does a good job and hammering this message home for reasons that I won’t spoil, but that I can say are worth watching the show to see.  However, the best season by far is season 4, when Dexter faces arguably his greatest foe in the entire series.  That season always had me on the edge of my seat and the season finale practically had me in tears (no spoilers in the comments, please).  Unfortunately, after season 5, the show starts to go downhill a bit.  While season 6 wasn’t awful (in my opinion anyway) it introduced a few plot points that I really didn’t like (one of which involves his relationship with Deb) that were expanded upon in the seventh season.  Ultimately, the problem with seasons 6 and 7 is that they back-peddle on Dexter being able to have a life outside of being a serial killer.  Another problem I have with those seasons is that Dexter makes the same exact mistakes that he made in season 4, and it got to the point where I started to feel annoyed with Dexter rather than sympathetic to his cause.

Fortunately, season 8 does away with that for the most part (see my season 8 review for more details) and takes the show back to what I liked about the first five seasons.  It had great build up to the finale, keeping me on my toes for the last few episodes and wondering how it would all end.  And then I saw the ending and….oh boy.  It started off really well, but then it kept going and I couldn’t help but think that the way things ended up didn’t make much sense.  The more I thought about it, the more I didn’t like it, which is a real shame considering how much I liked the rest of the season.  But, while the ending left a lot to be desired, I’d be lying if I said the journey to the end was anything less than stellar.

There’s no doubt that Dexter is a unique show and, at least at the beginning, has excellent character development and plot twists.  However, towards the end, the writers seem to have lost their way, undoing much of what made the show great in the first place and giving us an ending that left myself, and much of the fan base, disappointed.  Even so, Dexter is definitely worth watching.  Even if you don’t like the last few seasons, the first five more than make up for it by taking you on an emotional and philosophical roller coaster that will most definitely leave an impression on you.  Dexter may not be perfect, but you would be cheating yourself if you skipped out on watching arguably one of the most interesting shows on television.

Dexter Season 8 Review

I will have a review of the entire show up within a day or two, but, for now, I’m just going to give my thoughts on the 8th and final season of Dexter.  I will try to keep it as spoiler free as possible, but I am going to assume that you have some knowledge of the events of the first few seasons.

Going into this season of Dexter, I wasn’t really sure what to expect.  The promos that Showtime released prior to the premier looked cool, but the last two seasons had me wondering if the show would ever get back to the greatness of the first five seasons.  Season 8 did, for the most part, but it definitely has its share of problems.  What I liked the most about this season was that it took the show back to what I liked about the first five seasons: Dexter and the police were going after some serial killer while Dexter continues his quest to find a balance between his life as a father and forensics technician and his life as a serial killer.  This season also did a good job of addressing the issues Deb faced after the end of the last season.  They didn’t sweep it under the rug in between seasons nor did they drag it out longer than it needed to.  It got the right amount of attention and then everyone moved on to the more pressing problems of the season (namely the Brain Surgeon).

Most of the intrigue comes from the introduction of Dr. Vogel, a psychiatrist who has ties to Dexter’s origin as a killer.  This coupled with the return of Hannah from the last season brought the show back to what it had hinted at earlier: that there’s something about Dexter that sets him apart.  He actually cares for people and, because of that, he may be able to have a life beyond the code.  I was relieved that they did this because I felt that they completely ignored it in the last season (when Dexter killed Hannah’s father) and it was one of the things that made me dislike Hannah for a while.  She seemed to drag him down to her level, making Dexter seem like every other serial killer.  However, they managed to fix that problem this season and got me liking Hannah again.  All of this combined for some great build up to the final episode and I couldn’t help but like where the season was going.

Unfortunately, season 8 didn’t always deliver.  There were a couple of side stories that were introduced and ended up not going anywhere, new characters that were brought in didn’t really serve much purpose when you look at the big picture, and Dexter still made the some of the same mistakes that drove me crazy in seasons 6 and 7.  He still kept that “it has to be me” mentality when he could have easily walked away from a situation.  Sure it made for plenty of suspense, but it still bothered me.  Finally, the ending wasn’t quite what I hoped it would be.  I won’t ruin it for those of you who haven’t seen it, but suffice to say that it was a bit disappointing.  At first, I thought it was really good ending, but then it kept going and I found myself wondering, “Why end it like this?”

This final season of Dexter is really a mixed bag.  If I could compare it to anything, I’d compare it to Mass Effect 3 (maybe not the best analogy, but it’s the first thing that came to mind).  The journey to the ending is great, with any possible flaws outweighed by some interesting plot points and good build up.  However, the ending itself will leave most people unsatisfied and/or wishing it had been done differently.  That being said, I would still say that this season is worth watching, so long as you’re prepared for an ending that will most likely leave something to be desired.  If you were turned off by season 6 or 7, I recommend you give this season a chance, if only to see the show through to the end.  Dexter has had its highs and lows and this season falls somewhere in the middle.  And, while I would be lying if I said I won’t miss Dexter, I wish the end could have been a bit different.