Friday, June 21, 2013


Note: I apologize to any regular readers (if I have those, please comment and let me know!) who were reading my episode-specific reviews and wondered what happened. My real-life job has been taking it's toll on me, but now that I've temporarily rejoined the ranks of the unemployed, I have much more time for blog posts! Instead of covering the last few episodes in separate posts, I figured I'd condense them into this general overview of the first season.

If you would have told me that an NBC show about Hannibal Lecter would be one of the best interpretations of the character and his universe since Thomas Harris' original novels, I can guarantee my reaction would have been nothing short of utter disbelief. I am always thrilled when my preconceived notions get dashed on the rocks however, and this is one of those moments. Hannibal is a fresh and jarringly unique perspective on a tired franchise that was in danger of becoming woefully antiquated.

It's kind of astonishing how many facets of Hannibal are superbly executed. The most talked about has to be the hallucinatory component of the visuals. This decision alone helps set the show apart from previous interpretations of the tale, and gives viewers an immediate hook, even if they are simply channel surfing. Seeing a person with their head on fire or a midnight black elk-man is certainly a reason to stop and check out what's going on. But, the visuals aren't gimmicks. They help shape the narrative and relationship to our main character, Will Graham, and his particular perspective of the world. I'm sure it will be the most memorable aspect of the show once it's gone off the airwaves.

But, there's plenty more worth praising. Specifically, the casting is stellar across the board. The two leads (Hugh Dancy and Mads Mikkelsen) are eerily captivating, giving us two very opposed looks into the minds of monsters. There is a calm rapport between the two that fits well with the cold and almost medical tone that looms over the entire series. It's very easy to watch these two characters sit and talk for forty-five minutes. The supporting cast are all top notch, especially a steely and stern Laurence Fishburne. This is the kind of "crime scene investigation" show a man of his talent deserves to be on.

Possibly my favorite element of the show is the pacing. There is a methodical and deliberate flow felt throughout the entire series, even in the one-off "killer of the week" episodes. There's definitely a sense that showrunner Bryan Fuller knows the story he wants to tell and isn't worried about taking time to build that story from the ground up. It's the kind of pacing you'd expect from an AMC or HBO show, but it's on NBC! That still blows my mind.Let's hope they don't mishandle this show like most of their other decent programming. *cough*Community*cough*

If the show does end up spanning the entirety of the Hannibal Lecter mythos (as showrunner Bryan Fuller has indicated he would like), I am beyond excited. This series has shown the potential to be the most engaging portrayal of the world's most famous cannibal ever attempted. It's smart, slick and well aware of its horror roots. There's no winking into the camera or needless fanservice going on. Everything feels purposefully constructed and well thought out. Break out the chianti and celebrate, because this a show worth devouring.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

MOVIE REVIEW: MANIAC Is A Masterful Plunge Into Utter Madness

Not all films should be enjoyable. Some should be unnerving, disturbing, and should force the viewer to stare directly into the most abysmal corners of the human condition. Maniac (a remake of the 1980 cult favorite of the same name) is most certainly this kind of film: a character study of one man and his murderous compulsion, told from his own perspective. And I don't mean narrated by him in some cheesy voice-over, but rather filmed from his point of view. Almost 90% of the movie has us looking at the world through the eyes of Frank (Elijah Wood) as he stalks and scalps helpless young women on the city streets.

Immediately (and I mean that literally, from the very first scene during the credits), this film is going to turn a lot of people off, and in a way, that's a very good thing. The idea to shoot the film from Frank's perspective may seem gimmicky to some, but what it does is turn the audience into the killer, and I'm sure there are plenty of people out there who will be heavily put-off by this. It's extremely difficult for most people to step into the head of a deranged person, and this movie makes it a mandatory aspect of the experience. I almost envy those who have the kind of moral fortitude that makes them incapable of feeling empathy for a truly demented character, but those people would be missing out on a captivating (in the darkest way possible) and even tragic performance by Elijah Wood as Frank. This isn't a character who enjoys killing, but is driven to it by his heavily fractured psyche. We get hallucinogenic glimpses into Frank's past that show how his relationship with his mother helped turn him into the monster he is. While these bits of backstory do help us to sympathize with Frank somewhat, they aren't making excuses or forgiving his murderous acts. They are simply presenting things as they are, and leaving it to the viewer to be either repelled or pulled in.

Repulsion is a perfectly natural response to this movie, and that's why I'm so captivated by it. It's putting you into the mind and body of a deeply disturbing character and daring you to walk a mile in his shoes. The original film (a great piece of work in its own right) was also based around this conceit, but thanks to the traditional camera work, you were still an outside observer. With this new iteration of the story, director Franck Khalfoun crafts an even more morbid intimacy with the POV tactic. While this is the central concept that the movie rests on, it's certainly not the only thing the film has going for it. Elijah Wood's performance is astounding, managing to shift from sad to creepy to downright terrifying all in the span of a few minutes. We mostly see Frank in mirrors and reflections, but we do get a look at him a few times outside of his own purview, and it helps to reinforce the boyish innocence of Wood's looks. This only makes his dark nature much more perfect, and really hammers home the idea of a wolf in a sheep's skin. Wood's voice is what his performance hangs on, and it has this cool cadence that keeps you eerily mesmerized. It's my favorite Elijah Wood performance since his silent turn in Frank Miller's Sin City.

The cinematography has this wonderful polish about it, which also helps to differentiate it from the grungy aesthetic of the original film. It also makes the violence standout in a starker way, and the violence in this movie is brutal. With the exception of one brief moment near the end (and it's actually the only sliver of levity in the film, and it's still twisted and violent), nothing is played for laughs or "look at this special effect!" exploitation. The murders are visceral and harsh, making the film all that more insatiably difficult to endure. I've never enjoyed feeling this awful during a cinematic experience before.

I'm also a fan of the score (credited to the monosyllabic Rob) which has this 80's synth heavy vibe, and it probably wasn't an intended effect, but it gave the film a kind of video game feel for me. The proliferation of first person shooter games has made a large generation numb to experiencing violence from a point of view position, and this film almost feels like a mean-spirited comment on that phenomena. It certainly adds another layer to the film, and makes for an interesting debate on the relationship between the viewer (or gamer) and the acts being committed on screen.

If there is one weak link in the chain, it would have to be the performance by Nora Arnezder as Anna, the girl Frank is infatuated with. She's not entirely bad, but there's a stilted quality to some of her delivery, which is an unfortunate side effect from her accent. Still, she does have moments of genuine tenderness that actually give you a small bit of hope for Frank's future. But, this is the bleakest of tales and only has one real ending. And the ending (almost exactly like the original) is phantasmagoric and haunting as hell.

Maniac is a modern horror masterpiece, and I'm not exaggerating that. The places that it forces you to go are some of the darkest imaginable, but the ways in which it makes that journey are expertly crafted and viciously unique. Held aloft by a landmark performance by Elijah Wood and an aura filled with tension, Maniac is the rare horror film that actually induces that very emotion: horror. For many, it will be far beyond what they can handle. But, if you have the stomach for it, enjoy staring into the abyss and seeing what stares back.

Friday, June 14, 2013

MOVIE REVIEW: MAN OF STEEL Is the Greatest Achievement in All of Superhero Film

For the time being, I'm afraid I won't be able to look at Man of Steel from a point of complete objectivity, because what it accomplishes in the arena of "superhero film" is so monumental that any criticisms I have about it (and I do have a few) get washed away by the spectacular grandiosity on display. While I'll do my best to pick things apart later on, I am unable to avoid talking about the one perfectly executed aspect of Man of Steel that makes it the most important and influential superhero movie ever made: the idea of the superhero as a mythic figure.

Superheroes are the American equivalent to the Greek pantheon of gods. Everyone in our culture knows enough about the origins of popular superheroes that they've achieved a deity-like status in our society. While this idea has been successfully realized in various other storytelling mediums, film has always struggled to completely capture the godlike element of a superhero tale. There have been bits and pieces scattered throughout some movies (even previous Superman efforts), but never an entire piece devoted to fully realizing the legendary component inherent in all superhero fiction. Until Man of Steel, which is beyond appropriate considering the status Superman holds as the progenitor of all superheroes, making him the most reverential figure in the entire genre.

Some may argue that this idea was already explored in Christopher Nolan's series of Batman films, with Bruce Wayne's creation of a crime-fighter symbolized by a bat. While that is somewhat true, Batman's nature as a non-superpowered being means that his mythic qualities have to be built over the course of time (in Nolan's case, it takes three films for the myth of Batman to become cemented in the eyes of the world). Superman is a mythical figure from the moment he is born, and this is given even more weight in Man of Steel by making him the first natural birth on Krypton in centuries (in this iteration of the story, Kryptonians are genetically engineered and produced to fulfill specific roles in society). This sort of divine nature, coupled together with his myriad superpowers, puts Superman in the realm of a religious figure, which is something the filmmakers are keenly aware of. It's no coincidence that Kal-El (Superman's Kryptonian name) is thirty-three years old (the age when Christ was crucified) when the majority of the film takes place. There's also plenty of imagery (some of it painfully overt) reinforcing these theological overtones, my favorite being an illustrated history of Krypton told through a series of tableaus that look like marble etchings from the Roman era. All these elements combine together to create a film that treats the superhero genre with sacrosanct admiration, like a worshiper preaching his gospel to the masses. This factor alone makes Man of Steel stand out from its peers in such an important way that it's impossible to dismiss it.

But, that's not the only thing the film has going for it. Another incredibly strong factor is director Zack Snyder, who may have constructed his visual masterpiece with this movie. Yes, I'm saying this film is more of a visual success than 300 or Watchmen (both films I highly enjoy) and the reason for that is because Snyder finds a way to reel in the more outlandish aspects of his style without sacrificing his unique eye. It's a level of perfect compromise that makes the movie look far more streamlined than his other garish efforts. He also proves that he is one of the greatest high-concept action directors working today, with every fight scene and set-piece doing its best to top the last. The level of inventiveness on display during these moments is incredible, with brilliant camera moves that somehow manage to capture the weightlessness of a being that is free from the shackles of Earth's gravity. The action in Man of Steel is stellar and certainly a selling point for the film. Zack Snyder's direction easily claims second place next to the mythic quality of the film.

Coming in at a strong third place is Hans Zimmer's score. While it has his trademark drums, there is a choral bit to some of the tracks that helps to strengthen the church-like aura that surrounds the entire picture. Although I am a tried-and-true Batman fan, I have to argue that Zimmer's music for Man of Steel far outshines his work on the Dark Knight trilogy, if for the simple reason that it feels so much larger. His Batman scores did their job well, but never quite imbued the character with the kind of ostentation necessary for a superhero. Man of Steel's score is overflowing with splendor and majesty, and does what all good pieces of film music aspire to.

Now we come to the honorable mentions, which is where the casting ends up. Henry Cavill does a wonderful job playing Clark Kent/Kal-El/Superman as one inseparable persona. I also really enjoyed his more understated performance, giving Superman a kind of forced relaxness, which seems perfect for a character who has to constantly keep himself in check. He's certainly a worthy successor to the line of prestigious actors who have worn the 'S' shield. Russell Crowe has an unfortunate lackadaisical quality to his acting style which doesn't quite gel right with the character of Jor-El, Superman's birth father. He's not bad but certainly not noteworthy. The villainous General Zod, played by Michael Shannon, is much more suited to a low-key performance, and Shannon does gangbusters with it. He exudes authoritative menace in every scene he's in, and like all good villains, there's an element of his character that you can't help but sympathize with. His right hand officer, Faora (Antje Traue), is also a delight and gets almost as much action time as Zod. She isn't just relegated to sidekick status, and gets some of my favorite little bits from the movie. Kevin Costner and Diane Lane as Johnathan and Martha Kent both adequately fulfill their necessary roles, but do nothing to make them standout. Diane Lane does get one pretty badass and fun line though. Although he doesn't get quite enough screen-time to make a solid impact, Laurence Fishburne infuses his natural likability into his gruff interpretation of Perry White, the editor of the Daily Planet. I'm really hoping we get some more face-time with him when the sequel comes around, because it'd be a shame to waste him. The last member of the cast that deserves mention is Amy Adams as Lois Lane. I don't really have a complaint about her performance, but I don't have anything to extol either. She has charm and tenacity, but the real issues with her stem not from her acting but from how her character is written.

And now we reach those few complaints, and the primary one is the script. David Goyer is not as great as his reputation makes him out to be, and Man of Steel more than proves that. Some of the dialogue in this film is either groan-inducing or laughable. To be fair, it's not a lot of it, but it crops up in enough key moments to leave a souring impact on the whole experience. The biggest script issue is Lois, who doesn't have the kind of strength that is a benchmark of the character. She also just gets shuttled around for the entire running time, not really feeling as important as the film makes her out to be. The third act also feels like typical Goyer, with a ticking time bomb scenario in effect yet again (just like every one of his Bat-flicks). There's also a huge moment at the end that feels like a very important and distinct departure from the character of Superman that gets seemingly forgotten once the scene cuts away. This moment seems like it would be the emotional setup for Superman's character in the sequel, but as quickly as it happens, it is dismissed. That is the worst kind of storytelling there is, and while it's an admittedly powerful moment, its power is robbed away by its immediate dismissal. I'm sure Goyer won't be getting a co-writer for the next film, but I really wish for nothing else. He needs someone to help whittle away some of his bad dialogue and cliche plotting.

This may seem like a strange complaint, but Man of Steel's pacing feels relentless. While the first act has the requisite "getting to know you" stuff, the rest of the movie is so unyielding that it borders on exhausting. When the film finally finished, I almost felt out of breath. For some, that may actually be a plus, and I can't really argue that, but for me, I like it when the pacing follows more a wave-like pattern than a steep and unstoppable incline. For a summer blockbuster though, it seems appropriate, so that's a much more personal gripe.

Man of Steel is in no way a perfect film, but it is a profoundly great one. More than that though, its tone is what elevates it above its slight missteps and above all other superhero films. The magnificent awe that is stamped on every frame of this film is undeniable, and even if there are legitimate issues with the film, what it succeeds at more than makes up for them. If this film really is the foundation for a DC shared universe, they couldn't have built it better. In this world, superheroes aren't just pulpy action heroes, but beings possessing a godhood making them just as influential as any religious figure. The struggle between humanity and divinity is the basis for some of the greatest stories ever told, and if it's handled like it is in Man of Steel, we could be in store from some equally great stories.

Friday, June 7, 2013

MOVIE REVIEW: V/H/S 2 Outshines the Original in Almost Every Department

Considering that my only foray into film was an anthology horror movie, I have something of a soft spot for the sub-genre. I like the campfire stories vibe you get from watching a bunch of disparate stories congeal into a single cohesive bit of ghoulish fun. So, when I heard about a new anthology horror film called V/H/S, I was eager to give it a viewing. The problem was the amount of hype people put behind it, with many proclaiming it to be the great return of the sub-genre. While I did enjoy the first film, I was not as impressed as others seemed to be. I'm not particularly fond of the "found footage" gimmickry that has swallowed the horror genre whole, but the original film managed to find ways to justify itself. My biggest problems with V/H/S were the pacing and the wraparound story. Luckily, V/H/S 2 (I much prefer the more clever original title, S-VHS) completely solves the first issue and tweaks the second issue just enough so that it's marginally better.

The only way to review anthology films is to dissect each individual segment, so I'll do that below, but as far as an overall impression, V/H/S 2 is triumphantly enjoyable. The slow pacing of the original gets thrown out pretty quickly and the segments start happening almost instantly. There's a good balance as far as genre types go, and each entry is skillfully handled by its respective director. By the very nature of anthology stories, some segments will be more to your liking than others, but from an objective viewpoint, all the entries succeed in telling a story in a compelling and well thought out way.

Note: I will be listing the titles for each segment, and the only one that some may consider spoiler-y is the final entry, so I will white it out. Just highlight if you'd like to read it.

Segment 1 - "Tape 49": This is our wraparound story, and compared to the first film's wraparound, it's certainly better, but that's not saying much. It's about two private detectives who are looking for a lost college student, and stumble upon a collection of VHS tapes that the kid was collecting. It has a few moments of standard creepiness, but they are all pretty telegraphed. My main complaint about the wraparounds in both films is that they don't seem to serve much meaning other than to jump into the stories. While it obviously has to serve that function, it can also try to do something unique itself. Look at Creepshow or Tales from the Darkside to see what I'm talking about. Still, this is way more streamlined and easy to understand than the original's wraparound, and it's a lot more conclusive narratively. And to me, the final shot is actually really funny, so that's a plus. These movies need a little bit of humor, in my opinion. The first one was almost too serious, and with this one's ending, there seems to be a slightly lighter and fun spirit going on behind the camera.

Segment 2 - "Phase I Clinical Trials": For our first segment, we have a classic concept (a body part that has ties to the supernatural) done in a fairly inventive fashion. The lead character has an experimental cybernetic eye implant, so the whole thing is from his point of view (the company giving him the eye is recording everything for research purposes). Well, he starts seeing things that shouldn't be there and everything gets real spooky fast. While this story doesn't do anything too new, it's still executed in a highly focused and precise manner. It's a good lead in for the movie, and the way it ends is pretty fantastic and eerie.

Segment 3 - "A Ride in the Park": I really liked this one. It's about a biker out in the woods who runs into a bloodied woman who is being pursued by zombies. I guess this next sentence could be considered spoiler territory, but whatever, it's the premise of the piece. The biker is bitten and turns into a zombie, and since he has a camera mounted on his helmet, we get to experience some first person zombie action. There are a few small bits of humor in this bit, and that's something this series desperately needs. When they get everyone together for V/H/S 3: The Revenge of Betamax, I sincerely hope there is an entire segment that is more horror-comedy, because the one or two moments in this segment are a welcome relief. And the ending to this bit does something I don't think I've ever seen in a zombie film, and it actually moved me. While this segment isn't the best of the film, it was certainly my favorite.

Segment 4 - "Safe Haven": This will be the one that everyone will be talking about, and rightfully so. A documentary group interviews the leader of a bizarre cult and gains access onto his compound, and it just so happens to be when their strange prophecy is being fulfilled. The level of outright insanity in this piece is commendable, and the way it's handled gives it an all too realistic feel, even though this segment is easily the most outlandish. You get flashes of Jonestown, the Westboro Baptist Church and any other terrifying cult you can think of. The effects work in this piece steal the show from the entire film, and gorehounds will find much to like. I can't even get into how awesome this bit is without spoiling the madness on display. This is the highlight of the movie, no doubt.

Segment 5 - "Slumber Party Alien Abduction": For an ending segment, this one is kind of disappointing, but even so, it's still handled extremely well and has a few effective moments. I won't even get into what the premise is, so if you want to know, just highlight the title. It sums it up pretty nicely. The kid actors in this do a damn good job of seeming like real kids, probably because they are allowed to swear and act stupid. The creatures in this are pretty standard as far as design goes, but they still manage to look decently scary.

All in all, V/H/S 2 is a huge improvement from its predecessor, mostly because the pacing issues from the original have been completely eradicated. Even though some segments are stronger than others, it's undeniable that each one has a sure hand behind the camera, and good writers as well. My only hope is that the creators find an interesting and satisfying way to connect all three movies (they've already announced a third film), since there is one moment during the wraparound that proves these movies take place in the same universe. For someone who is bored to death of the "found footage" gimmick, V/H/S 2 makes me a believer that the format can be used in an innovative and compelling way, as long as you have a good story and an interesting visual talent.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

MOVIE REVIEW: THE LAST STAND Isn't the Arnold Comeback We Deserve, But It Is the One We Need

If you are at all a fan of Arnold Schwarzenegger and his particular brand of action films, it's kind of hard not to like The Last Stand. While it isn't as over-the-top as many probably want it to be, and while it certainly has some pretty big flaws, it's still a solid entry in his leading man filmography. It's deftly directed by Kim Jee-Woon (making his American debut) and has just enough energy and old school charm to help gloss over the weaker parts.

Sheriff Ray Owens (Schwarzenegger) is planning on enjoying his day off in the quiet border town of Sommerton, when escaped cartel boss Cortez (Eduardo Noriega) and his band of goons (lead by veritable character actor Peter Stormare) come storming through town on a mad dash to get into Mexico. It's up to the sheriff and his rag-tag group (Luis Guzman, Johnny Knoxville, Rodrigo Santoro and the insanely gorgeous Jaimie Alexander) to gear up and make good on the movie's title.

The simplicity of the story may actually be to its detriment, since most lovers of Arnold flicks want things to be as outlandish as the Austrian's acting style, but I kind of like that Arnold's comeback movie is actually very downplayed until the third act. There aren't tons of one-liners being thrown around (there's a good number near the end though, so don't worry) and the action featured in the first two-thirds of the movie is fairly straightforward and unspectacular. That may sound like a dig at the movie, but it only helps to make the big climactic showdown seem even bigger by comparison. And that showdown is, for lack of a better term, awesome. You get lots of practical squib work with the blood, nice big explosions, vehicular shenanigans and a great variety of gunplay. When Luis Guzman emerges from a cloud of smoke wielding a Tommy gun, it's applause worthy.

As far as performances go, everything here is standard fare, which may be another reason Arnold fans might not have been as overjoyed with the film. Ray Owens won't join the ranks of the T-800, Dutch or Conan in Arnold's acting trophy room, but that's okay for this movie. It all works into the down-to-earth feeling the town and its inhabitants are supposed to have. The only two "out there" performers in the picture are Peter Stormare and Johnny Knoxville, but that's inherent to their personalities and acting styles. Stormare's second-in-command baddie is actually far superior to the main villain, Cortez, in terms of presence and cool factor. There's a scene early on in the film with Stormare and a farmer (played by the always welcome Harry Dean Stanton) that gives Stormare's character a lot more menace than Eduardo Noriega's antagonist role. If the film has one big flaw, it's this. Action movies (and most other stories) rely on a strong villain to help give the surrounding events proper heft. Noriega's character spends almost the entire running time in a car, away from the town, which is where our brains know the real threat is going to be. I wish they could have found a way to consolidate the two villains into one and let Stormare play around more.

And Knoxville is pretty much directly riffing on a character from another Kim Jee-Woon film, The Good, The Bad and The Weird, going so far as to wear the exact same hat as the character from that film. This has to be a direct reference by the director himself, and I'm fine with that. Knoxville plays himself well, but my main issue with most of the characters in this film is that they serve no other purpose than to service the plot. Knoxville owns a gun museum, so he's where they get all of their weapons from. Rodrigo Santoro's character is an ex-Marine who spends the first two acts locked in a cell, but once his deputy friend is killed, he is deputized so they have another good shot on the team. And poor Forest Whitaker's FBI agent. ...Oh, did I not mention that Forest Whitaker is in this movie? Well, he doesn't merit much mentioning since his character exists solely to spout exposition about the bad guy and give us reasons why Owens and his town won't be getting any help. His character is necessary, but they don't do anything with him to make him interesting as a person.

But, in the end, you're coming to this hootenanny for some action, and on that end, this film more than delivers. Action doesn't just need to be exciting, but also staged well and that takes the hand of a confident director. Kim Jee-Woon is certainly the man for the job, since his action scenes are easy to follow and properly choreographed. I also applaud the minimal use of CG blood, since you can't get the same impact as you can with a big goopy squib explosion. The violence in this is spaghetti western at its finest, and I'm all about that. There's an especially humorous part with a flare gun that certainly wins the kill of the movie. John Woo's American debut, Hard Target, and this movie would actually make a spectacular double feature.

I'm glad I mentioned spaghetti westerns because that's essentially what this movie is, just filtered through an Arnold action movie lens. It's also nice because there isn't really a western film in Arnold's filmography (I refuse to acknowledge The Villain) so it helps it to stand out amongst his other films. You can tell Arnie likes playing up the Gary Cooper-esque qualities of the character, especially at the end when he finally confronts Cortez. Since Cortez isn't the best villain, the last fight doesn't have the narrative weight it should, but it totally works as a knock down brawl between two guys. Seeing Arnold give a guy a suplex is cool in any movie.

I think if this movie had come out in the mid-nineties (somewhere between Junior and Batman and Robin), people would be calling it one of Arnold's best. But, as a comeback movie, it disappointed by not being the zany cartoon people expect from Arnold and his action adventures. That's a shame, because it's certainly worth a viewing. And it's a much welcome distraction from the majority of action films nowadays, which are either so slick that they feel sterile (pick any Jason Statham movie), or are primarily children's properties gone big time (I'm giving you the evil eye, Transformers). It's nice to see a very simple, straightforward piece of popcorn action that has a good sense of focus behind it. It'd be nice if the characters were more strongly written and the villain was more intimidating, but I could lob that same complaint at Eraser and I enjoy that movie as well. If you're an Arnold fan, you definitely need to see this one. If you're an action movie fan, this is certainly worth a rental at the very least. It probably won't knock your socks off, but it'll leave you with a nice little smile on your face at the end.

Sunday, June 2, 2013


Note: I apologize to any regular readers (if I have those, please comment and let me know!) who were reading my episode-specific reviews and wondered what happened. My real-life job has been taking it's toll on me, but now that I've temporarily rejoined the ranks of the unemployed, I have much more time for blog posts! Instead of covering the last two episodes in separate posts, I figured I'd condense them into this general overview of the first season.

Man, what a weird show.

And not weird in the Twin Peaks "what's going on?" way. More like this show came from some Bizarro universe where people had iPhones in the 1950's, everyone spoke in the cheesiest way possible, and having ten or so characters (each with their own side-plots) is seen as a good idea.

I've come to accept that Bates Motel is not a Psycho show. It's this Bizarro universe soap opera that happens to have some characters from the Psycho universe in it. That's probably the biggest detriment to my interest in the show, since I was really looking forward to an in-depth probe into the mind of Norman Bates and a look at the domineering figure of his mother. While the show flirts with that here and there, you can tell that's not what the creators are interested in. They spend way more time on all the mysterious goings-on that envelope the town Norman and his mother have moved to. The Bates clan just happen to be pawns in that game.

The show started off quite well, but by the end of the season, it has devolved into this wacky composite that feels completely unfocused. There are cadres of characters that are either inconsequential or downright annoying. It doesn't help that absolutely no one is giving a performance worth serious discussion. If at least one of the cast members was shining, it'd help elevate the show a bit. Alas, everyone is slumming it.

But then there's that Bizarro quality about the show that actually makes it watchable. The way people deliver lines like, "I killed my dog!" come off as unintentionally humorous. I'm not arguing that Bates Motel falls into the much-coveted arena of "so bad it's good" fare like Troll 2 and Plan 9 from Outer Space, but it's bad quality does have this spark of oddness to it that keeps you watching. I wish this were some other show besides a Psycho prequel because I think I'd like it a whole lot more.

The show is plagued by hackneyed writing and extraneous plots, but the way that those are executed with such earnest make the show strangely involving. It's not so much like watching a trainwreck as it is watching fundamentalist Christian children speaking in tongues: you know it's crazy and wrong but because they are committed to it, it actually draws you in.

By the end of the season, the big overarching plot (which has nothing to do with the relationship between Norma Bates and her son) seems to have been settled in a pretty unspectacular way. While I'm not hopeful for season two, there is an element of morbid curiosity that plagues me. There's also a chance that things could start to get focused more on the two main characters, but with worthless characters like Dylan and his crime doings around, I can't hold my breath.

At this point, the show has lowered my expectations of it greatly, and maybe that works in its favor, but it is disappointing since the idea of a Psycho prequel show does have a lot of promise. I guess I'll just have to accept this show from whatever dimension it jumped out of and see if it can top itself with its own brand of sincere wackiness. It'll be hard to beat Norma's cry of, "I murdered the crap out of him!" and Norman yelling about not having any black socks.