The third episode is always the real test of a new series. Sure, the pilot establishes the concept, but there’s usually a long production hiatus between the shoot for the pilot and that for episode two. The second episode of a show can almost come across like a second pilot, in a sense. So the third episode is the real indicator of whether a series can transcend the novelty of its concept and immerse you in its story and characters on a long-term basis. These third installments are usually easy on the shocks and plot twists but dive a little deeper into the characters and their relationships.
That was what happened in the third episode of Bates Motel, titled “What’s Wrong With Norman.” (A title that excluded a question mark.) But damn, if it still didn’t end on a hell of a reveal. Our friendly neighborhood Sheriff’s deputy, Shelby, keeps a Chinese sex slave in his dungeon of a basement! I’m surprised by how quickly the sordid details of Norma and Norman’s town have floated to the surface: the human trafficking issue certainly reared its ugly head once again, as did the potfield. And it would be the Bates boys, doing a capable Hardy Boys impression, who would discover all this. Dylan took the job to work for Bradlee’s father—who, amazingly, had not died but was in an induced coma with a very poor life expectancy. That meant guarding the potfield, a task he prepared for by doing a whole “You talkin’ to me?” routine in his mirror. He’d make $300 a day protecting $5 million worth of weed. Dylan wanted to guard it and smoke it. But he learned the two families from town that own it would not be too pleased about that. Apparently, this potfield is responsible for much of the local economy.
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Little did Norman know that his brother was now guarding the potfield from which he and Emma had barely escaped with their lives last week. Emma was particularly shaken. She felt guilty because she never really believed that there was human trafficking going on. She just used that as an excuse to bond with Norman. But once she saw that shed for real, she knew a dead Chinese sex slave really had been buried there. Norman wanted to have nothing to do with it. He called that diary “pornographic” and denied being obsessed with it. And yet he collapsed in the middle of class after imagining his teacher and Emma as the girl tied up. Was he aroused or horrified by that flight of fancy? Or was he horrified because he was aroused? The attraction and repulsion to sex that will one day make him take up a butcher knife are already firmly in place.
Norman recuperated in the hospital, an expense he and his mom sorely didn’t need. And we saw once again what a big TCM fan he is. It looked like he was watching a Ronald Reagan movie, but I couldn’t tell which one. More eagle-eyed classic Hollywood fans, please render an assist to this cinephile in the comments if you know what movie that is. While there, Bradlee stopped by to give him flowers. Norman is somehow a babe magnet when it comes to both girls with oxygen tanks and girls who are the prom-queen type.
Officer Guyliner, I mean Romero, showed up at the Bates’ house with a search warrant to look for Keith, the previous owner who raped Norma and who got a butcher knife stuck between his ribs. They scoured the place, and Norman knew immediately he had been given away because he had kept Keith’s belt as a souvenir. Moron.
Emma used her oxygen tank to force her way in to Bates House. She told Norman that if they forgot that poor dead girl it will be like she never existed. They had to uncover the circumstances of her death and expose this human trafficking ring. They searched the bathroom and found a Chinese character under the bathroom sink, a character that Yahoo Answers later revealed translates as “beautiful.” That made them even sadder. With that character and the diary hidden in Norman’s room, she must have been kept captive there. The motel itself was probably used as a brothel. In just the span of 30 minutes of screen time Norman had gone from wanting to deny this girl’s existence to doubling down on the search to unravel the mystery of her death. It’s also remarkable to see how one of the most awkward characters in pop culture history has already found himself in the middle of his own love triangle: with hottie Bradlee and sickly Emma, who cut in to his conversation with Bradlee with more than a glint of jealousy.
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So Norma went on a date with Officer Shelby, involving wine consumption by a warm, cozy fire…and a little subtle blackmail. He told her that he found Keith’s belt under Norman’s bed. He wondered, did Norman kill Keith? He knew the former owner of the house was a bully, and he indicated that he might be willing to suspend the investigation. If Norma let him “take care of her.”
At first Norma took him at his word. She told Norman she thought they were safe. But as she continued to think about, she knew her son was right: Shelby could blackmail her to do anything. This was Norman’s mistake. And Norman would have to correct it. “You know what you have to do, don’t you?” asked Norma, indicating that Norman may have placed them in situations like this before and been forced to mop up after himself.
So Norman went to Officer Shelby’s house, presumably to steal back the belt and maybe also to kill Shelby. But what he found was a veritable haunted house. No. Scarier. The kind of place a serial killer would live. All flickering lights, peeling paint, and dark shadows. And whimpers. Oh, the whimpers. Behind a door where Norman maybe thought Shelby was sleeping was…a Chinese sex slave! So he’s in on the ring! And maybe even worked with Keith to keep it going, despite his saying that he didn’t like the guy. The final shot? Shelby pulling up to his house and about to enter the door. Get out, Norman! Terrifying.
What will Norman do to get out of this? Will he have to slash his way out? Or will he somehow escape with the belt and without Shelby noticing? Maybe he can use the existence of this sex slave as a type of blackmail over Shelby?
What do you guys think? And at this point, are you now officially hooked on Bates Motel?
Follow Christian Blauvelt on Twitter @Ctblauvelt
[Photo Credit: A+E]
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As the fifth year at Hogwarts begins most of the wizardry world is having a hard time believing Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) has returned further propagated by the Ministry of Magic who refuses to recognize anything evil is brewing and blames all the hullabaloo on Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and Dumbledore (Michael Gambon). The Ministry even interferes with Hogwarts business by making Ministry employee Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton) the new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor whose outwardly sweet demeanor hides a sadistic streak a mile wide. She thinks the children should only learn about the Dark Arts “theoretically” and tortures all those who disagree. But the Voldemort threat is a reality and Dumbledore has re-formed the Order of the Phoenix a group of witches and wizards that prepares to battle the Dark Lord. Harry is unfortunately being kept in the dark for his protection of course even as his connection to Voldemort grows stronger and he’s royally peeved at being ignored. Urged on by Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint) he forms his own order of Hogwarts students called Dumbledore’s Army to teach them what defenses against the Dark Arts he has already learned. Oh yeah Harry also shares his first kiss but make no bones about it—love is the furthest thing on Harry’s mind when the crap hits the fan. War is imminent. Everyone steps up their game in Order of the Phoenix. Radcliffe Watson and Grint have shed their adolescent whininess and aw-shucks goofiness to give their characters the greatest depth so far. They are forced to grow up pretty quickly in Order with little time for any playfulness and the three actors handle the seriousness with aplomb. Of course both Radcliffe and Grint have already ventured out of the Potter world—Radcliffe shed more than just adolescence on stage in a production of Equus while Grint lost his virginity in the indie Driving Lessons--and their extra experience shows in Order. Also good are Matthew Lewis as the usually clumsy Neville Longbottom who shows his mettle in more ways than one and newcomer Evanna Lynch as the slightly off-kilter Luna Lovegood who proves to be a loyal member of Dumbledore’s Army. But the kids have to keep up with the talented adult cast especially Oscar-nominated Staunton (Vera Drake) as Umbridge. The veteran actress’ interpretation of one of J.K. Rowling’s nastiest characters so far in the Potter lore is spot-on down to the pink wool suits and irritating twitter “ahem” she uses when she wants your undivided attention. Helena Bonham Carter also makes an impression however over the top it is as the evil Voldemort follower Bellatrix Lestrange. Does she ever want to look pretty onscreen? Then there’s the laundry list of Brits whose time onscreen may be short but is nonetheless memorable including Alan Rickman as the sneering Prof. Snape; Gambon as the wise but flawed Dumbledore; Gary Oldman as the kindly Sirius Black Harry’s only real family; and of course Fiennes as He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. His late-in-the-game appearance once again throws you for a loop. It stands to reason that at five movies in moviegoers would have a favorite Harry Potter flick by now. Those who love those Triwizard Tournament special effects might feel The Goblet of Fire was the best; or Prisoner of Azkaban for its time-bending action. Yet The Order of the Phoenix may be the one movie that speaks directly to the fans of the books. Without as much wide-eyed wonderment or wizardry flash the story is still chockfull of compelling details that are absolutely pivotal to the continuing Harry Potter saga. Screenwriter Michael Goldenberg (Peter Pan) and director David Yates (HBO’s The Girl in the Café) manage to wade through this volume of information and cut successfully to the chase with great effect. Yates who has signed on to do the sixth movie Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince even shows an affinity for action in the final dramatic confrontation between good witches and wizards and bad ones. But overall Order of the Phoenix may leave audiences not as well-versed in the novels a little itchy for some good old-fashioned wand-waving and Disney special effects. Thing is it’s just going to keep getting darker and darker for Harry and his crew. The days of happy fun playtime are over.
With stories like this who even needs the “Inspired by true events” shield? Primeval tells of the world’s most prolific killer Gustave. You see Gustave is a crocodile and he remains at large to this day. His thirst for human blood goes unpublicized until he chows down on a white woman at which point an American newsman Tim Manfrey (Dominic Purcell) his cameraman Steven (Orlando Jones) and TV personality Aviva (Brooke Langton) head down to Burundi Africa where they hope to document the capture of Gustave. They’re joined by a wildlife preservationist of sorts (Gideon Emery)—a rare breed in a post-Steve Irwin world—who doesn’t want to harm Gustave. The deep jungles of Africa become a veritable obstacle course when the locals embroiled in a long-standing civil war and unwilling to have some damn Yankees televising their homeland stand in the crew’s way not to mention Gustave proving an evasive 20-foot-long um little bugger! The names might not ring a bell but you’ve seen these three stooges before--all on TV in fact. Purcell is currently enjoying about half the 15 minutes of fame of Wentworth Miller on Fox’s slipping Prison Break. Purcell plays Tim with steel and virility as he hides his Aussie accent for the most part but he’s still got a ways to go to reach Clive Owen’s caliber of acting--and more importantly Owen’s caliber of roles. Langton of The Net (the TV show adapted from the Sandra Bullock movie of the same name) and Melrose Place fame shows off the beauty that will afford endless opportunities to prove herself as a “real” actress—which is ironically similar to her character’s plight—but will never get there with roles in movies like Primeval. And Jones still best known for and plagued by his 7-Up commercials is in true negligible-sidekick mode here--worthy of a snicker approximately once out of every dozen times he tries overzealously to get one. Jaws may come to mind based on the water creature-stalking-man plot but well it’s tough to even mention those two in the same sentence. Director Michael Katleman a TV fixture himself at least doesn’t even aim high enough to reach that level. No from the get-go he’s shooting more for an Anacondas feel—and yes that’s the horrific sequel to the so-terrible-it’s-fun J.Lo “original.” Katleman almost reaches Anacondas-ian highs but not quite. Among other notable problems the director cannot for one moment strike the right balance between the aforementioned level of guilty pleasure-dom and genuine horror. Instead he catches us off guard with what are supposed to be the thrills—and also with the comedy. Finally once Gustave is revealed which should essentially be the moviegoers’ reward the croc looks more a prop sitting in a theme-park lot. And the script from John D. Brancato and Michael Ferris (Terminator 3 co-writers)—well let’s just hope with the story being uber-derivative and cheesy enough as it is Orlando Jones ad-libbed all of his unlaughable comedy!
Who knew about the traditions of “stepping?” Stomp the Yard lets moviegoers in on this age-old style of dance customarily done in the black fraternities and sororities where teams demonstrate complex moves and create rhythmic sounds by using their bodies. It’s exciting to watch to say the least. But in between the powerful dance sequences we’re handed a corny plot revolving around a wrong-side-of-the-tracks guy named DJ (Columbus Short) who moves from L.A. to Atlanta to escape his woes and inadvertently gets in on the whole step deal when he attends Truth University. DJ’s raw talent as a hip-hop inspired dancer places him at the center of a fierce rivalry between two fraternities—one who has won the annual stepping championship seven years in a row and the other who wants to claim it for themselves. Guess which fraternity DJ joins? Guess who wins? Yeah not too hard to figure this one out. The cast thankfully sells the hackneyed story starting with the incredibly charismatic Short (Accepted). A former choreographer for pop stars such as Britney Spears Short certainly pulls off the dancing with ease and he handles the dramatic chores with aplomb. He also has nice chemistry with the lovely Meagan Good (Roll Bounce) who plays a rich girl DJ pursues despite being the girlfriend of rival frat stepper played by Soul Food’s Darrin Henson another excellent dancer. The third actor/dancer to watch for in Stomp is Brian White (The Family Stone) as the leader of DJ’s fraternity and an old school step master who gets a little education from the streetwise DJ. Let’s just say everyone is very easy on the eyes and their moves sizzle and pop. Much like Tyler Perry’s movies (Diary of a Mad Black Woman Madea's Family Reunion) Stomp the Yard may appeal to a niche market but it's definitely a refreshing change of pace from typical urban street movies. Sure Stomp is one cliché after another but newbie director Sylvain White knows exactly where the film’s bread is buttered: It’s all about the dance and music. And while other dance movies--the recent Step Up comes to mind--fall in the same category White distinguishes Stomp by skillfully highlighting this particular pulse-pounding dance style as well as showing the rich culture and traditions of our black college campuses.
After FBI agents Kevin (Shawn Wayans) and Marcus (Marlon Wayans) Copeland botch an undercover sting operation at a local NYC grocer they get relegated to acting as chauffeurs on their next assignment. The mission? To pick up heiresses Tiffany and Brittany Wilson from the airport and drive them to the Hamptons where the bureau will tail the socialites who are believed to be targets in a kidnapping plot. But it seems these two bungling agents can't even get this simple task right and they end up flipping the SUV over. Tiffany and Brittany refuse to go to the Hamptons with their faces scraped up and decide to recover in Manhattan. To avoid getting chewed out by the bureau chief yet again Marcus and Kevin decide to impersonate the heiresses and foil the kidnapping plot themselves. They call an in FBI buddy who happens to be a makeup genius and voila: the White Chicks are born. And with everyone getting collagen lip-enhancements the Copeland brothers are easily able to pass themselves off as the Wilson sisters. Don't worry too much about the plot; you'll be so fascinated by the Wayans in whiteface that you'll forget all about it.
Hilarious and rarely stepping out of character Shawn Wayan makes it easy to believe he's a white socialite clarifying his masculine mishaps such as chasing down a mugger with quips like "It's not just a bag it's Prada." And although both the Wayans make impressive white chicks Shawn definitely has the advantage in the physical department. As Brittany in the beach scene Shawn looks stunning in a mint-green sarong and a matching Pucci-inspired bathing suit and doesn't like any more manly than say Madonna. It's not surprising considering both actors dropped about 30 pounds each for the parts. Marlon Wayans meanwhile plays the role of Tiffany they more demure of the two sisters. Although the Wayans do resort to some hackneyed gender bending gags including a predictable date with an oversexed clueless male and the perils of a big chest the characters remain endearing because of the clichéd yarn they avoid. Although there is an all-girl sleepover party for example Brittany and Tiffany interact with their female friends in a very sweet manner rather than plot to get them out of their nighties and into the sack.
With too many writers to rattle off it's no wonder White Chicks' plot is so spotty. Getting top writing credits is director Keenen Ivory Wayans who manages to deliver a pretty hilarious comedy despite its really stupid storyline. One of the main reasons this film works is seeing the Wayans brothers in their special effects makeup which was done by Keith Vanderlaan and Greg Cannom. But unlike Cannom's work on Mrs. Doubtfire the Wayans feminine alter egos look womanly rather than drag queeny with their angular features molded into surprisingly soft ones. Don't be surprised if you find yourself overly preoccupied by the Wayans' appearance constantly looking for telltale signs of where the masks end or where the makeup doesn't blend right. There are also a few really funny scenes to distract you from the Wayans' faces including a club dance-off to Run D.M.C.'s "It's Tricky" and a mother-dissing match ("Oh my God you wanna talk about mothers?" Shawn exclaims.) But once the plot is resolved and the stars are back in their own skin moviegoers will snap back into the moment and realize "Oh right--there was a story behind all of this."
Loosely based on the (rather lame) 1960 Rat Pack film dashing understated-but-cool thief Danny Ocean (George Clooney) orchestrates the most sophisticated elaborate casino heist in history less than 24 hours after being released from jail. In one night Danny's handpicked 11-man crew of specialists--including an ace card sharp (Brad Pitt) a young-but-masterful pickpocket (Matt Damon) and a demolition genius (Don Cheadle)--will attempt to steal over $150 million from three Las Vegas casinos owned by Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia) the elegant ruthless entrepreneur who just happens to be dating Danny's ex-wife Tess (Julia Roberts). To score the cash Danny will have to risk his life and risk his chance of ever reconciling with Tess. But if all goes according to his intricate nearly impossible plan Danny won't have to choose between his stake in the heist and his high-stakes reunion with Tess. Or will he?
The star wattage in this movie could solve all of California's electricity problems in one fell swoop. George Clooney easily passes himself off as suave mastermind Danny Ocean playing the role with understated class and elegance. Brad Pitt takes a similar arc as Rusty though he's slightly more dispassionate and professional than Clooney's visionary Ocean. Matt Damon is convincing as the inexperienced-but-talented pickpocket who's essential to getting in the vault. And Julia is simply Julia--glamorous and charming a smart cookie who is being wooed by the evil ruthless (and anal-retentive) casino mogul so elegantly portrayed by Andy Garcia. Affecting a Cockney accent and attitude Don Cheadle's portrayal of the demolition expert is a tour de force. Carl Reiner is absolutely hilarious as Saul Bloom an aging old-timer who comes out of retirement to infiltrate the casino as a debonair arms dealer. Elliott Gould Bernie Mac Scott Caan and Casey Affleck round out the cast nicely with inspired performances especially Gould's and Mac's.
Soderbergh cemented his reputation last year as a director of serious weight when both Traffic and Erin Brockovich were nominated for the Best Film Academy Award and garnered him two Best Director nominations---an unprecedented feat. Ocean's Eleven marks Soderbergh's departure from the serious to the seriously fun. This is one of the most stylish most elegantly filmed movies I have ever seen. Not only are all the actors beautiful but so are the locations clothes and shot selections. The speed and pacing of the flick belie the movie's length; Soderbergh clearly had fun making this movie. He shot this film very intimately often allowing the camera to stay close on the actors a tad longer than expected which lets their personas shine through--thus their personalities draw you into the movie as much as the caper itself. It's not often you see a movie where the direction has as much wit and cleverness as the plot itself. Ocean's Eleven makes no pretense to be something other than a jaunty cheeky exhilarating heist movie. So while the plot's not too deep all is forgiven considering the level of acting and direction.