Friday, April 29, 2016


* spoilers *

Dora just finds out she's pregnant when evil trick or treaters assault her house while she's alone, handing out candy. Conceptually, this film is fun and unique. The trick or treaters are kind of like Sam from Trick 'r Treat, eternally young, monstrous, and basically immortal. Their only weakness is salt. I loved the dark humor they brought to the film and how twisted their attacks were. They did an excellent job of being chaotic, mischief making trick or treaters with a murderous twist. Their mythology is unlike anything I've seen before. They basically find a pregnant woman, terrorize her, accelerate her pregnancy, and feed the baby her blood, making it into one of them. It's a cool concept that could have been amazing, but the plot got convoluted and weird as it goes along.

The film was bogged down by moronic characters, weird visuals, bad writing, and the ambiguous ending. Dora and her father proved to be so stupid through the course of the film that I wished they would die. Dora discovers that salt is the trick or treaters' weakness, but does she carry around the salt for the rest of the movie to protect herself? No. The father also chooses horrible courses of action that are textbook horror movie mistakes and it just isn't interesting in any way. The last half of the film is kind of reddish because of the blood moon, but it looks like faded purple or pink. It's just weird and distracting. After the premise is established, the plot just goes into confused mess mode. I didn't know where it was going and I stopped caring by the end.

The ending is ambiguous, which I usually don't mind. However, it just doesn't matter to me either way. The entire film is a dream (sigh) and it's unclear if Dora had a baby and is looking at it sadly in the hospital nursery or she had an abortion and is looking sadly at a baby that's not hers. If it was her baby, maybe she was giving it up for adoption or she was sad that her life is now ruined as a teen mother. This makes the most sense with the rest of the plot. If she had an abortion, I guess she's sad about it and the whole film was a surreal pro-life PSA, which would make me angry if I had any strong emotions left by the end of the film. This is the ending that makes the least sense because she just had a bizarre dream about evil children killing everyone she loves. Wouldn't that be her subconscious telling her that her life would basically be ruined? She could very well lose her boyfriend, her parents, and her friends due to going through with the pregnancy. Either way, the ending is underwhelming and I couldn't bring myself to care about Dora and her fate or her decisions.

I expected this film to be an addition to my yearly Halloween viewing schedule (along with Halloween, The Houses October Built, and Trick 'r Treat), but it just didn't measure up. The film had a lot of potential, but the execution was lacking and confusing. Not recommended.

My rating: 2/5 fishmuffins

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Girls on Fire

Hannah Dexter was just a bland girl going through the motions until Craig decided to kill himself and through their small town into chaos. After feeling the burn of humiliation at the hands of Craig's love Nikki Drummond, she bonds with fiery newcomer Lacey and they become inseparable. Lacey dubs Hannah Dex, giving rise to a persona who cares about music, experiencing life, rejecting the norm, and Lacey's approval. Dex is suddenly somebody, but is it the person she wants to be or the person Lacey wants her to be? Lacey is pretty clearly hiding something and won't share with her best friend no matter how close they get. Her secret threatens to destroy their relationship and their small town.

Girls on Fire is an intense read that takes place in the early 90's featuring teenage girls in the most dramatic point in their lives. Everything is about surviving the horrific landscape of high school where one wrong move can destroy you. While I like aspects of these girls, each of them is so steeped in manipulating others and projecting a socially appropriate or a socially disastrous image that they become desperate and willing to do terrible things. Hannah is pretty bland and fine with doing well in school, but then Lacey turns her life upside down. Lacey introduces her to drugs, parties, Nirvana, and not caring what others think of her. Lacey's approval means everything to Hannah and she will do anything to keep it. Lacey has her own issues and secrets. Her whole persona is designed to be rebellious. Hannah makes her feel powerful because Lacey molded her new persona and manipulates her when it suits her. To Lacey, she's being benevolent and protecting her, but it's clear she just wants to control something in her life when she controls nothing. Her home life is horrible with an alcoholic mother and a controlling, religious stepfather. Nikki Drummond, on the other hand, is the golden girl externally, but the queen bee mean girl underneath. She can manipulate anyone to do exactly whatever evil move she wants and come out looking like a paragon. All of them choose to be cruel to each other and all of them come out with scars they try to hide from the others.

The format of the book is interesting. The "Us" sections are Lacey and Hannah's alternating points of view. The "Them" sections show other people's point of view like Hannah's, Lacey's, and Nikki's mothers. It shows that absolutely everyone has inner depths beneath what they project to the world no matter what their age or experience. We see their true selves and their inner thoughts. Everyone tempers themselves to fit in to whatever society they are a part of. Every character has something to relate to and thoughts and feelings they would never share with anyone else. At first I thought it should have been a teen book, but the violence, the sex, the grey morality, and the honest and multilayered depiction of each character is much more adult.

Girls on Fire is a magnetic read that I couldn't put down. Robin Wasserman's amazing writing crafted a complex story that was masterfully revealed through multiple points of view. Craig's suicide story loomed in the background of the entire narrative until all is revealed in the final pages. The only flaw I found was the ending. I just didn't quite believe it, but it had an interesting symmetry with the rest of the plot. I look forward to the next book Robin Wasserman comes out with.

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins

Monday, April 25, 2016

Horror Movie Mini-reviews: Excess Flesh and Emelie

* Excess Flesh

* spoilers *

Unemployed and depressed Jill is consumed with jealousy towards her cruel roommate Jennifer who is perfectly thin and works as a successful model. Jill eventually simply snaps and chains Jennifer to a wall to punish her. When I heard about this film, the short X is for XXL from the ABC's of Death came to mind. It was an amazing and powerful depiction of an eating disorder through a horror lens. I expected this film to be in the same genre and it was in a different way than I expected. Some moments were incredibly uncomfortable to watch. Any time either girl ate food, some sort of strong emotion accompanied it: lust, rage, jealousy, or self-loathing. A lengthy bit of the film featured Jill eating cups of macaroni and cheese, mostly chewing and spitting it out, sometimes swallowing and hitting herself hard in the face. When the film becomes completely dreamlike, it loses me and becomes to cartoonish. Because of a review I read, I expected absolutely stomach turning scenes involving food and I was let down. The ending was unexpected as the two women are revealed to be one. It's an uncomfortable depiction of the feelings involved in an eating disorder but externalized. I'm glad I watched it, but I wouldn't watch it again.

My rating: 3/5 fishmuffins

* Emelie

The film tells the story of Emelie, a woman who is trying to find a replacement for her dead baby by posing as a babysitter and putting the kids through her bizarre trials. This is another uncomfortable film to watch. Emelie's trials include exposing herself to the oldest one, drawing on the wall, seeing if the children will kill a pet hamster, showing the kids their parents' sex tape, and playing with guns. Despite her psychosis, Emelie proves to be not wholly evil. Her backstory with the accidental death of her baby is quite sad and I understood her grief driving her to find a replacement she could no longer produce herself. Sarah Bolger shines as Emelie and toes the line between friendly and scary very well for most of the film. Another thing the film does well is show how sociopathic children can be. The child she chooses as hers gleefully feeds the beloved hamster to a snake and nonchalantly pulls the trigger of a gun pressed to her head. These scenes rang true and were disturbing as a result. While some of the scenes were uncomfortable and chilling, the ending of the film was disappointing in how ineffectual Emelie proved to be. Emelie is an interesting film with some twists and turns that is sure to disturb and unnerve.

My rating: 3.5/5 fishmuffins

Friday, April 22, 2016


Em Savage may have just led her followers to certain death. She led them to victory against the grownups and managed to take a ship to a planet called Omeyocan, most likely previously settled by the grownups. Em and her people finally arrive, but their paradise disappoints. All of the key files of information have been erased, leaving them just as in the dark as they were before. Buildings full of food are found, but rendered inedible by an insidious mold. Their hunger problem grows exponentially when they find a whole new group of children in coffins. On top of this, Aramovsky is trying to indoctrinate everyone, undermine her authority, and take over control of Omeyocan. Can Em keep control and keep her people from starving?

I love Scott Sigler's books, but I wasn't a huge fan of Alive, the first in this series. The ending was exciting, but too much of the book was spent just wandering around and not knowing anything. I felt the story had more potential, especially where it ended. Alight dispels my complaints about Alive. The action is nonstop and not just about interminably walking. Our characters are trying to discover their progenitors' pasts and figure out how to live on this new planet despite monumental odds in the form of food poisoning mold, hunger, and hostile occupants. Much of the book is spent trying to uncover the mystery of their past: the meaning of the symbols on their foreheads, if Matilda was as evil as she seems, the mysterious species that already lives there, and how to operate all of the unfamiliar technology.

The characters have grown on me since the last book. Their language and thoughts were quite simplistic because they were mentally very young, but since they have experienced so much and their progenitors' memories have been slowly surfacing over time. Em is my favorite character because she works hard to provide the best for her people, but makes mistakes along the way. Matilda's rage and violence are within her and she struggles to overcome them. Em's choices are her own and she strives to be different than Matilda, who was obviously a megalomaniac ruler. Aramovsky enrages me because he's so smart about his manipulation of his people against Em using the religion he knows little about. It gives him power over those who feel powerless and need something to believe it. I hated him, but he was a fully fleshed out character that isn't just a mustache-twirling villain.

Alight is infinitely better than Alive, which bored me a bit. I see now that the first was necessary to set up the story and characters, but the second just blows it out of the water. I didn't know what to expect going in and I wasn't disappointed at all. Not only does the book have mystery and action, but a dash of romance as well. I didn't feel it was necessary, but it didn't overpower any part of the book. I'm looking forward to the next book, which is set up to be pretty epic. A few different possible enemies will converge on the world and an epic war seems to be inevitable. I can't wait for the final installment.

My rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins

Wednesday, April 20, 2016


Hush is a home invasion film with the added twist that the victim is deaf. You (like the murderer) might assume that Maddie would be an easy target, but you would be very wrong. The film is successful in playing into many of the typical tropes of its genre, but also doing things slightly differently. Both the killer and the victim are just a bit different than the normal. Right off the bat, the killer assumes that Maddie will be an easy kill, so he resolves to play around with her first, refusing to enter the house until she is begging to die. He makes it clear he enjoys the hunt and the kill. First, he wears an eerie, blank white mask, but takes it off when she tries to reason with him to leave because she hadn't seen what he really looked like. I like this decision because he really is just a person who kills people for sport and isn't a perfect killing machine like Michael Myers. The first part of the film is a cat and mouse game as Maddie tries to escape or get at phone or other helpful resource while she hides from the killer or distracts him. The killer leaves her sick presents at times, but also falls for some of her tricks. One scene that shows his particular prowess is when a neighbor comes over to see what's going on. The killer pretends to be a police officer and tries to bluff his way into fooling the much larger man. He uses every advantage and doesn't play fair.

Maddie is deaf, but it comes with some advantages and disadvantages in this situation. She has to keep a visual on the killer as much as she can because she can't hear him. During the very beginning of the film, Maddie's neighbor is killed while she obliviously washes dishes just inside the window of the murder scene. It shows how vulnerable she is, but she uses other sense to track the killer and keep herself safe. She feels vibrations for his footsteps and feels his breath on the back of her neck at a critical moment. She can use her deafness to her advantage when she sets of the deafening fire alarm that is so loud so the vibrations will wake her if she's sleeping. One of the mental abilities also comes into play that I wish had been used more. She's a mystery writer that can vividly see the possible courses and plot can take and their endings. During a particularly hopeless moment, she imagines her possible actions and their outcomes to find the best course of action. She does have her limitations. She doesn't really know how to stop her bleeding when she gets shot with a cross bow. When she manages to steal that crossbow, she has no idea how to use it and spends precious time trying to figure it out. I also liked that the beginning scene establishes her character in an efficient way while being a fun scene.

Hush is an exciting, tense film that feels just a bit different than all the other home invasion movies out there. The only downside to the film is the wasted mention of Maddie's ex-boyfriend that never really mattered and could have just been removed. Other than that, Hush is a formidable home invasion film. Check it out on Netflix. I am looking forward to more from Mike Flanagan because I've liked Hush and Oculus and I've heard nothing but good things from those who have seen his other films. I'm particularly excited to see Absentia and the upcoming Before I Wake.

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins

Monday, April 18, 2016

The Winner's Kiss

The heartstopping end to The Winner's Trilogy starts with Kestrel trying to figure a way out of prison due to her betrayal being discovered and swiftly punished by her father. Arin is gunning for war after ensuring the aid of the Dacran queen. Kestrel tries to escape a few times, but after harsh punishment and being subject to various drugs, she loses the will to fight and starts to forget who she even is. Arin focuses on simply not feeling and throwing himself in the war to cope. The Dacrans and Herrans are clearly outnumbered, outgunned, and out maneuvered plus his Moth spy has disappeared. Will Kestrel and Arin ever see each other again? Can the Herrans and Dacran cooperate and overthrow the Valerians?

The Winner's Trilogy is epic fantasy at its best, addictive and masterfully written. Although there isn't any magic to speak of, the world is completely realized with the different people's customs, attitudes, and norms. This book in particular is a wonderful mix of romance, political intrigue, and war without having one aspect take up too much of the plot. One of my pet peeves with young adult fiction is how the angsty romance takes up so much of the plot when earth shattering things are usually happening all around. There's a place for everything in The Winner's Kiss and nothing is forgotten. The romance has the usual miscommunications and pride of the respective people involved which is expected because it builds tension. However, Kestrel and Arin finally level with each other and get all of their feelings out with real conversations instead of half truths and misunderstandings. The political intrigue is the smallest part in this novel because Kestrel is no longer at court, but it's mainly present when Dacran royalty is involved. The war depicted here isn't glorious and honorable. It's bloody, messy, dirty, and horrific. Kestrel finally directly involves herself with the war and is forced to take lives to save her own and get her hands dirty instead of orchestrating everything from safety. All aspects of the book were filled with just enough forward momentum, tension, and drama.

The characters of The Winner's Trilogy are really what kept me reading, especially Kestrel, Arin, and Roshar. Every character is dynamic and interesting to read, even the ones I loved to hate. Kestrel is no longer surrounded by riches. She starts out trapped in a prison built to create mindless slaves through drugs. After months of fighting to escape and being punished, she succumbs to the oblivion of the drugs and forgets literally everything about herself. Once Arin saves her, she has no idea who he is or even who she is, having to relearn and remember everything. The person who comes out the other side isn't exactly like the old Kestrel, but someone new who has to get to know Arin again (plus everyone else in her life) instead of just fall into his arms. She has to discover who she is and reconcile everyone else's account of her with her own slowly trickling in memories, many of which are repressed. I like that Kestrel had to come to terms with her own lies and other undesirable things she did in order to do what she thought was best. Her complex relationship with her father also plays a large role because so much of herself was shaped around waiting for him and hungering for his approval. She has to find who she is separate from him and from Arin before she makes any definite decisions on what to do.

Arin is also changed after Kestrel so soundly rejected him in the last book. His anger and sorrow are closer to the surface as he tries to throw himself into battle to forget. Through new Kestrel, his softer side emerges more and more, but he is no less ferocious in battle. He has to let Kestrel go a little bit and stop being so controlling because she's a force to reckoned with and will make her own decisions despite his. They became a great team as the battles went on and got to know a different side of each other this way.  Arin's friendship with Roshar also develops and becomes almost like a brotherhood instead. The two have such silly banter because Arin tries to be serious all the time, but Roshar insists on making jokes at every turn, no matter how dour the situation. The mutilated prince has lots of layers underneath his jokes and it becomes clear that he actually cares for Arin and Kestrel, who he gets to know throughout the novel. The ending particularly showed the depths of his devotion even if that act in itself is told in a hilarious way. Without Roshar, the book would have been much too dramatic. He succeeds in lightening the mood (even if he may be infuriating) and coming up with schemes that don't always align with his allies. Roshar is a memorable trickster character with his own agendas, but a heart of gold.

If I had my way, I would have read The Winner's Kiss in one sitting. Alas, things like sleep and work got in the way. I loved the entire series and I couldn't ask for a better ending to this series. I eagerly await for what Marie Rutkoski writes next, whether future books exist in this same universe or not. I always lose myself in her masterful writing with its twists and turns that I can never predict.

My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins

Friday, April 15, 2016

Horror Movie Mini-reviews: Darling and Baskin

* Darling

Darling tells the story of a young woman in presumably the 60's taking care of a large, lush mansion with a dark history. The owner warned her that the last caretaker killed herself, but she soldiers on, slowly going mad. It's a bit like Lords of Salem: very light on plot and heavy on visual style. The entire movie is filmed in black and white without a whole lot of dialog. Darling is our otherwise nameless protagonist, portrayed brilliantly by Lauren Ashley Carter. It's clear that she's a bit disturbed when she arrives at the house with a perfectly bland facade and it cracks spectacularly as the film goes one. Much of the film is driven by odd camera angles, closeups, unsettling flashes of images, and Carter's expressive face. The camera slowly follows her as she walks the streets of the city as her mental faculties deteriorate and she chooses her target. The sense of unease is enhanced by the varying score accompanying the film by Giona Ostinelli. One moment, the music is a beautiful, conventional piano score and the next it practically assaults the ears. This film isn't perfect, but it's an unsettling, beautiful, gory piece of art. The only drawback is that it is excruciatingly slow (which I didn't mind) and some of her faces made me laugh during the crazy moments. I recommend that anyone watch the film at least once whether you find it boring or slow because it's so visually striking and truly does take you on a trip to madness.

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins

* Baskin

Baskin features a crass, corrupt team of Turkish cops answering a call and descending into hell. The first third of the film establishes their characters in a very uncomfortable to watch scene. To me, it was just as uncomfortable as the nightmarish visions late in the film. These men tell crass, horrible stories to each other involving mostly their sexual exploit until they turn that aggression onto an innocent waiter just to throw their weight around. Practically each one of them is an awful person either actively or passively allowing each other to bully innocent citizens and abuse their power as police. I felt little sympathy as they suffered. The film is an interesting mix of dream and reality. The visuals inside their personal hell were truly horrific and unexpected. I watched never knowing what my eyes would be assaulted with next. The weird dream sequences/flashbacks that interspersed the plot dragged it down and slowed the tempo. Other than that, it's a pretty solid hell flick that shows unique hell plateaux. I don't have any strong feelings about it either way.  If nothing else, it's an unique experience that I haven't seen before.

My rating: ?/5 fishmuffins

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Kill the Boy Band

A group of Strepurs (not strippers, the crazed fans of boy band the Ruperts) get an expensive hotel room their obsession is staying at to catch a glimpse of them. Things escalate when they capture one of the Ruperts and tie him up in their room with tights. Thing really escalated when he's found dead. How did this idol die? Is one of the group a lying murderer?

Kill the Boy Band is a little bit Heathers and a little bit Mean Girls with a healthy dose of fangirl. The humor is a bit dark and all is not rainbows and butterflies for these fangirls. Moldavsky focuses on the dark side of fangirls. Even though they obsess and love the object of their affection, they aren't afraid to ridicule or hate things about the same people they obsess about. The book shows that this group is just comprised of people who aren't very nice or intelligent, a harsh reality for fangirls who write fanfiction and imagine epic scenarios with them.

Our nameless unreliable narrator is kind of timid and annoying for most of it. She seems to be the most sensible, but her voice is overshadowed by everyone else. All the other girls are pretty flat stereotypes. Apple is the simple one who obsesses over the least impressive Rupert. Her parents spoil her rotten and she's annoying. Isabel is the tough business type one who runs a successful website about the boy band. She's mercenary and willing to do anything to get the juiciest stories. Erin is the queen bee and the most popular one. Her motives are less than benevolent due to an incident at a past concert with the Ruperts. When they realize how human the Ruperts are, their bond falls apart because it was the only think holding these disparate girls together.

I liked the premise, but I can't really relate to the characters. I was never that into something that I would act as extremely as them. It was a cute short read, but I wouldn't read it again and I probably wouldn't read another book by the author unless the premise seemed super spectacular.

My rating: 2.5/5 fishmuffins

Sunday, April 10, 2016

The Other Side of the Door

Michael and Maria found their love and their happiness in India and have lived there, building a family, ever silence. After having a blissful life with two children, tragedy strikes when Maria gets into a car accident with her two children in the car, Lucy and Oliver. Oliver's foot was trapped in the accident, so Maria chose to save her daughter and then come back for him. It was impossible to save him afterwards and Maria is wracked with guilt for years afterwards. Six years after the accident, Maria attempts suicide but fails. Piki, the housekeeper, reveals the place where Maria can talk to her son again, but not see him. It's imperative that she not open the door no matter how tempting it would be to see Oliver. Maria makes the trek, but predictably opens the door, letting her son's spirit out to wreak havoc. How can Oliver return to the afterlife? Will Maria realize that Oliver is dangerous before it's too late?

I didn't have high expectations for this film, but it still managed to disappoint. The biggest problems are the completely predictable, the horrible protagonist, and the treatment of India and its people. Almost every single plot point is a carbon copy of every other ghost film. I predicted the film as it went along except for the very end. I found Maria hard to relate to. I understand having grief and being depressed, but she ignores everyone else's grief in the face of her own. She has a child who lost  sibling and a father who also lost a son. One of the symptoms of Oliver's presence is every living thing dying that isn't human, so all the plants and animals on their property die. Everything around is dead and she keeps her blinders on, just happy that her son is back in some form. She is completely selfish and horrible. Her overwhelming stupidity in opening the door when she was explicitly told not to and her utter denial that her son's spirit becoming malevolent throughout the film made her completely unlikeable.

The Indian setting is beautiful and does make the film stand out from other mainstream horror films, but it's really only used to make the audience feel like their someplace alien. Despite having lived there for over a decade, Maria and Michael have made no friends at all. I find that extremely hard to believe. The only person familiar to them that's Indian is Pikka, their housekeeper, who of course has mystical insight to the world of the dead. The few scenes that Maria is in any public space is full of fear and seeing the society as at best alien, at worst threatening. She has lived here for over a decade. I would hope she would be familiar with it by now after so long, but it's convenient to put the audience ill at ease with unfamiliarity. After she opens the door, shaman-like people follow her to freak her out, further making Indian people scary. It's pretty offensive to set a film in a different country just to portray the people as only alien or mystics to put the audience on edge.

The film has a few bright moments. The mythology used in the film isn't Christian, which is refreshing. The whole reason why Oliver is becoming evil is because his soul can't move on and go through reincarnation. Instead, his soul is static in the living world to rot and become a malevolent force. Much of the imagery of the film is beautiful with an unexpected color palette. Jeremy Sisto is always enjoyable to watch and plays the long suffering husband well. Maria kind of redeems herself eventually. The ending was unexpected, but also left it open for a sequel that I won't watch. The film was boring to watch and borderline racist in their portrayal of the inhabitants of the country the filmmakers chose to set the film. I've pretty much given up on Alexander Aja's films at this point. They are either underwhelming or offensive.

My rating: 2/5 fishmuffins

Saturday, April 9, 2016

The Walking Dead Season 6

The Walking Dead continues to be an amazing show and I will continue to watch, but so many things bother me about this show. I usually wait until September Zombies to post this, but I couldn't wait this time. Here are my spoilery thoughts about this past season.

The Good

* The Season starts with a bang

There are more zombies than I have every seen before on screen and the inhabitants of Alexandria try to move them along before the whole horde comes bashing down their door. The first couple of episodes are amazing and fast paced. First you think everything is going well and then something goes terribly wrong. The danger isn't only from the zombies, but also the Wolves that attack in the middle of this zombie horde situation when Alexandria is vulnerable. The scenes are tragic, exciting, and emotional. Solid beginning.

* Carol

Carol always a delight to watch. I remember hating her first season, but she's grown so much since then that it's crazy. When they want to, the writers can actually develop their characters when they aren't writing manipulative bullshit. Carol goes into kill mode when the Wolves attack, even disguising herself as a Wolf to get around unnoticed. It takes an emotional toll on her and it's clear that she doesn't enjoy killing but will do so to survive. She goes through a whole crisis and tries to take the high road by leaving her enemies alive, but time and time again, she is forced to kill for the wellbeing of herself and her loved ones. There's a scene when the Saviors capture her and she starts to freak out. I thought it was an act to make them think she's more vulnerable than she is, but she was really panicked thinking about being forced to kill them. That episode was pretty meh except for Melissa McBride's amazing performance. Her folly in separating herself from the group leads to the discovery of another hopefully not insane settlement that have horses and armor.

* Morgan

I don't like Morgan's opinions and I think he's incredibly naive, but I respect him a lot. He is willing to disagree with Rick when everyone else kind of blindly follows him. Even when it's ignored, he voices his opinion on what is right. I think he's completely wrong and it's been shown over and over again throughout the course of the show that when you leave enemies alive, they will come back with a vengeance. Morgan is sincere and kind, even in the face of great opposition. It's nice to have a foil to Rick and someone to be the voice of reason and humanity. It's just sad that it's not plausible or realistic in practice.

* Sam and his family's death

In No Way Out, Sam has a panic attack in the middle of a horde of zombies (after seeing a zombie about his age) and is graphically eaten by zombies. Then his mother and brother are also eaten due to emotion and stupid actions. I personally had no issue with Sam's death. It was a bit gratuitous and it was the first time a child had been killed in full view of the camera, but it was realistic. He was abused and lived through a zombie apocalypse. It gets to anyone at any age, but if you act thoughtlessly as he did, you die.

Children's death in fiction seems to hit people in a vulnerable place and it causes them to overreact over fictional children dying. It essentially acts as censorship because of the huge outcry. Even now, very few films and TV shows will include children's deaths because of people's reactions even though they die just like everyone else. The characters are finding out time and time again that when they decide to spare instead of kill, those people come back to kill them. It's a game of survival that they simply won't win with mercy.

* Rick

Rick is always an interesting character. My favorite Rick scene is when he just killed the wannabe assassin at the Hilltop; he's covered in blood, looks at the horrified Hilltop people and says "What?: like it's totally normal to slaughter someone in front of their loved ones. His evolution from badass at the beginning to scared shitless at the end was amazing. I know a lot of people complained about their whole road trip encountering larger and more elaborate Savior blockades as they go, but I found it effective. It shows just how much power, people, and resources Negan has and completely destroyed Rick mentally before he even saw Negan. I'm eager to see his reaction next season.

* More moral quandaries

The episode Not Tomorrow Yet has Rick and his group being the aggressors for the first time in the series. The Saviors have butted heads with them a couple of times, but not escalated as much as Rick's decision to kill them while they sleep. Although it's obviously squicky to kill defenseless people, it's a good plan. I've seen fans act as if they are suddenly attacking unprovoked, but Daryl and a few others almost died when they were confronted on the road by Saviors. They also stole Daryl's bike, weapons, and supplies. They are extorting half of what a whole settlement makes to not kill them and they hold some hostage and murder a few people whenever it suits them. These are obviously bad guys, so it may be distasteful, but it's necessary if they want to secure victory.

* Negan

Jeffrey Dean Morgan is amazing. Whether he's a tragic patient on Grey's Anatomy or a morally grey superhero in Watchmen or a delightfully evil mastermind in The Walking Dead, he always manages to be somehow likeable and he commands attention whenever he's onscreen. Unfortunately, the anger around the season final cliffhanger obscured the fact that the whole season build up to Negan lives up to the hype. In the 5 or so minutes he's onscreen, he (accurately) pegs Carl as a future serial killer and takes his sweet time getting to his point. He shows he has all the power. He can kill every single one of them right now if he wants, but he won't because he wants them to work for him. This one death plus the road block tango shows how extensive his influence and resources are. Negan does it all with a smile and completely at ease. I look forward to seeing more of Negan in the next season. Hopefully we'll see how he is when things aren't going his way.

The Bad

* Denise's death

It is pretty despicable to kill this fairly innocuous lesbian character to give Darryl guilt. She hadn't been super present, but in terms of a minor characters had a pretty decent storyline. I get and even agree that anyone can die, but this is just dumb. Two characters (Denise and Eugene) who have very little skill and experience killing zombies just suddenly want to prove themselves and put themselves in danger for not very good reason despite never having an interest in it before. If Eugene died, no one would have really cared. Denise only died because she has a relationship with Tara and she isn't a major character. The comic books are all about how anyone can die, but the show makes it clear that Rick, Michonne, Daryl, and Maggie are all pretty safe. Denise was specifically killed to make that audience feel like Daryl is in danger without actually killing him off and pissing off a bunch of fans. It's a shit reason to kill off a character and a disservice to Denise and her development. It's only a small step forward from the writer's trick last season where a mostly absent character that no one cared about would get one episode of development right before they died just to make it hurt the audience more.

* Cliffhangers

I usually don't mind a good cliffhanger, but the way The Walking Dead does it is horrible. Glenn's fate was unclear at the end of episode 3. We see him surrounded by walkers with gore spurting everywhere with no indication that it's from him. I figured he wasn't dead, but his fate wasn't confirmed until episode 7. That's ridiculous. It went on so long that I didn't care that much anymore. That jumbo episode with Morgan was so annoying and pointless as a result because at that point everyone cared way more about Glenn and his fate. That sucks for Morgan and it sucks for the audience.

Then the season finale was complete bullshit as well. After a bloated episode that had way more commercials than interesting moments, there was no resolution for the audience. The comic book set up the perfect scene to end on (pictured below): Negan walking away from beaten to death Glenn and saying "Ta Ta" while everyone screamed and cried. Perfect. What we got was some unknown person dying that we won't know about until October. It's disingenuous to the audience and seems to be a ploy to keep viewers. It's one of the biggest shows on TV. It probably lost more viewers with this ending than if they just showing who died. The team has also been hyping this scene all season and it isn't even complete. Now the writers have the opportunity to change the victim if Glenn's death isn't seen favorably or maybe unfavorably enough. Gimple, one of the smug writers, stated on Talking Dead that it doesn't matter who died; what matters is that someone died. It does matter. No one will care if Aaron or Eugene dies quite honestly and the whole season build up and 6 month wait will be an even bigger let down than this season finale. For all of this to be worth it, a major character has to die or it's worthless. The whole thing is incredibly manipulative and the audience deserves better.

I hope the writers learn something from this season and actually give the audience more. If this goes on, I might just stop watching again, but I like a lot of the season despite the flaws. The show has gotten loads better since I stopped watching the first time (right in the middle of the Governor's second season), but if the writers don't wise up, their audience might not be quite so vast in future seasons.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Daredevil (2015)

Daredevil's concept is essentially a blind lawyer with superhuman senses that fights crime in Hell's Kitchen. It's extremely scaled down from the usual Marvel Cinematic Universe fare that deals with alien invasions and the fate of the galaxy. Daredevil or Matt Murdock is trying to jumpstart his grass roots law firm with his best friend Foggy by day and protecting the city from criminals (and getting his ass handed to him) by night. In all facets of his life, he has a lot to learn. He has no clout or experience as a lawyer and he's just going out in a mask and black clothes to do what he can't in the courtroom. It's refreshing to have a hero that is just a person. He's not inhumanly strong or fast, but he pushes himself to his limits for what he thinks is right. He learns from his mistakes and strives to fix any harm he caused on his journey. I find him much more relatable because he has the limitations of a real person. His background is interspersed within the forward moving plot, detailing how he became blind, how he was trained to fight, how he lost his father. I found his backstory heartbreaking because his father wanted so much to be someone his son could look up to.

My first reaction is how brutal the violence is. Daredevil beats a human trafficker to a bloody pulp, stabs criminals in the eyes, drops them off buildings, and summarily breaks bones and maims the corrupt. Karen is savagely strangled with a bed sheet and she practically scratches the attacker's eye out. The action is less stylized and far from neatly choreographed. The effects of the violence aren't glossed over or sanitized. Daredevil often goes home injured and bleeding. Some episodes have him very narrowly escaping death. Bones are broken and blood is spilled on both sides. People are tortured. One particularly good scene in the second episode has Daredevil battling criminals in an apartment hallway in one continuous take. Not only is it an awesome scene, but it's a nod to the brutal Korean film Oldboy. Both fights are one continuous take and show violence for what it is: messy, tiring, clumsy, painful, and fueled by willpower. Take notes DC; this is what gritty and dark looks like.

Daredevil's Hallway Fight Scene by kimchisuckerdude

The cast of characters that help Daredevil are varied and generally virtuous at heart. Foggy Nelson, Matt's lawyer partner, is Daredevil's foil. He's kind of goofy, kindhearted, and sweet, but he isn't just there for comic relief. He has his own harsh journey to follow on the other side of the law than Daredevil. Karen Paige was saved by Matt and Foggy from being framed for murder and she now acts as their secretary. Her goal is to bring Wilson Fisk's company down for killing her co-worker, framing her, and trying to kill her. Despite her fear and lack of physical strength, Karen uses all of her resources to accomplish her revenge. Claire is the nurse who helps Daredevil occasionally. She puts her job and life on the line to do so and definitely pays for it. She still perseveres and does what's right. I like that Matt doesn't really have a love interest. Claire is more of the voice of reason who tells him things he needs to realize.

Wilson Fisk or Kingpin is the big villain of the season, expertly portrayed by Vincent D'Onofrio. Our first introduction to him has a particularly brutal criminal killing himself rather than facing Fisk. This version of Fisk is a bit different than the usual fare. He's often soft spoken and clumsy with his words, but when his temper rises, he unleashes his rage and his considerable strength. His abusive father shaped him, but he strives to be different. His life is spotless and ordered in contrast to his actions and orders. All of his orchestrated violence and destruction is for what he believes to be the greater good. His goal is to make the improve the city and isn't cruel without reason. It's a small but significant distinction to be cruel for the sake of cruelty as opposed to being cruel for a purpose. Fisk has a softer side as he awkwardly but sweetly romances an art dealer named Vanessa. Usually, superheroes feel the pain of their loves being targeted to get to them, but this show turns it around to the villain. He experiences the pain her inflicts on others. His character is so dynamic that I still feel sorry for him when he's in pain despite his monstrous actions, corrupting judges, cops, and other supposedly lawful entities.

Daredevil is a formidable step forward for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. At this point, the tone and style are set for the big screens films. This one sets the scene for the small screen ones as realistic and brutal while still keeping moments of levity, compelling characters, and a complex plot. The only real problem I had with it is with the source material. The different ethnic gangs are stereotypical in their dealings, which doesn't really fit in to the style. It's the only aspect that lacks and I hope next season (which is on Netflix now) can move beyond it. I am thrilled for what the next season has to offer.

My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins