SEXY POST-STABBING SHOWER! But before we get to that, let's recap the rest of this week's The Following.
The farmhouse murder crew assembles in the basement to figure out what to do with the poor store clerk Paul wooed/kidnapped last week. Emma, naturally, suggests their only option is to kill her. Jacob squirms a bit. Paul reads the line "do you like pancakes? Oh that's right, you'll be dead. They've got a wacky Three's Company energy that really counterbalances all the bondage and murder.
Back at Claire's house (which is sort of The FBI's second command station these days), Claire demands to know when they're going to find her son. Remember last week's home video, Hardy? They're teaching Joe Jr. how to be a killer! They're indoctrinating him into THE FOLLOWING. But before you can say "helicopter parent," Hardy's attention is diverted by an even more pressing issue: Maggie has kidnapped his Williamsburg-based restauranteur sister, Jenny. And she's going to make her eat non-local.
…Actually she's probably going to knife her or something, but that's splitting hairs. In the wake of her husband's death, Maggie has ditched Carroll's prescribed narrative (or as she jokes, gone "off-book," LOL) for a little personal vengeance. And as we learn from Carroll himself, she was a killer long before joining Team Follower: under the name Margaret Schuler, she stabbed her way through the midwest. Chick's got skillz! Which makes Hardy even more hot to find her and save his sister. Joey? You've gotta hang tight, kid. We'll get to you during March Sweeps, promise.
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Super-smooth, Hardy offers a "something suddenly came up" to Parker as he bolts for Brooklyn. But he won't be alone — Weston (who is not in fact named "Iceman" on this show, convenient as that would be for me) tags along, eager to learn more about Hardy's past and probably save the day when all hope seems lost. But in the meantime, just shut up, dude, Bacon needs some zzz's.
Back at the farmhouse, Emma and Paul continue their frosty dance. That is until Paul drops a bomb that upsets her more than any Bravo marathon he and Jacob may have shared undercover: Jacob's never killed anyone. WHU-WHAT?!? And you're hanging with Team Follower, No. 1 Kill Crew in the Northeast?!? Emma's heart is broken. Love means never having to lie about whether you murdered then disposed of someone, right? To say nothing of the time a few years ago when, in a graphic game of Never Have I Ever, Jacob claimed to have tossed a fresh kill in the river. You're a TAYLOR SWIFT SONG WAITING TO HAPPEN, YOU LYING BOY.
NEXT: It's Flashback Time!...
Hardy's about to spend the rest of the episode tied up on a gurney while someone else talks, so luckily we're given a few fun flashbacks to his post-Carroll time in BK. Dining out with Claire, sharing secrets in bed (his firefighter brother died in 9/11; his parents are dead; everyone's dead) — it's basically Girls, only Hannah's an alcoholic and super into Edgar Allen Poe.
(Sidebar: ALCOHOLISM. Can you dramatize someone's dependance on booze — or any substance for that matter — without making it the complete focus of the story? Flight tried valiantly but wound up a two hour testimonial for AA, and the long history of "Very Special Episodes" suggests it's rarely, at least on network television, a subject that can just be treated "as is." Clearly The Following is trying to treat Ryan's alcoholism as another wrinkle in his larger serial killer-hunting story, but every time the subject is raised you can still feel the episode grinding momentarily to a halt.)
Returning to the present, Hardy enters his sister's restaurant, puts on a blindfold next to a "put this on" sign, and is soon greeted by Maggie. She does her villain thing, explaining how and why she kidnapped Jenny, before clocking Hardy in the head.
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Just like Paul suggested, Jacob is having a difficult time readying himself to kill the store clerk. She pleads with him. If he lets her go, she won't tell anyone. Hell, she'll even bleed a little to convince Paul and Emma he really did kill her. We cut to commercial with the knife at her throat, but, I mean, you've seen the episode — he unties her and urges her to make a run for it. It's not long before Emma and Paul cotton to Jacob's actions, though, and soon they're chasing her across the property. They catch her. Surround her like a hunted boar. And in another DEEPLY UNPLEASANT SCENE, stab her a few times.
Don't worry! She's not dead. (But she probably will be by the end of next episode.)
Maggie tells Hardy that her foster dad wore a pacemaker much like the one in Hardy's chest, which she learned to manipulate (fatally so) with magnets. And so Bill Nye sets to work in the restaurant, disrupting his pacemaker as she goes on about "real love" she shared with her husband, the dearly departed fire guy. Then Weston makes like any good character-cum-plot device and saves the day, shooting Maggie to death.
Finally what you've been waiting this whole recap for — as a dirtied Emma and Paul dance less frostily around each other in the shower, washing themselves off from their recent hunt. "It's not like we're gonna get it on," says Emma. BUT OF COURSE YOU WILL. I just like when characters are able to overcome their differences. Jacob discovers the clerk re-tied to her chair in the basement, his effort to set her free totally shot. And now Emma will know what a loser he is! He finds her in the shower with Paul. But rather than freak out and kill him, he takes this new union of souls as an opportunity to get wet with the people he loves. It's the closest thing to a beautiful moment we've seen on this show!
That is, until Hardy heads back to Claire's. Those of you familiar with show creator Kevin Williamson know that in addition to his horror and thriller work, he's also a master of teenage melodrama — most notably Dawson's Creek. (Which I've never seen. Sorry!) And if there's anything that screams "teen melodrama," it's swelling indie music to underscore to a moment in which two characters talk about love. In flashback, Hardy explains to Jenny that he's a "constant reminder of the worst time in [Claire's] life." "But you love her!" she admonishes. In the present, Claire begs Hardy to stay. But he can't! He's committed to his work! Hardy leaves, the music reaches a crescendo, and camera tracks him like Dawson — all sad resignation and emotional vulnerability, walking away from his lover and into a world beset by madness and Poe masks. SCENE.
There are two shows in The Following vying for dominance: one's the often disturbing procedural we tracked last week; the other is Dawson's Creek with butcher knives. It's a weird combination! But one that, properly modulated (and I should note I'm being totally serious right now), could actually be among the more interesting concepts on television. Imagine it: late into an all-night stake-out, Hardy is ready to throw in the towel. An incoming text reads "OPEN YOUR WINDOW." Hardy panics, grabs his gun. But it's just Claire, smiling as she holds a bottle of wine outside the passenger door. "Bad Religion" by Frank Ocean starts playing as they clink glasses. Three hundred feet away someone is probably being murdered. Y/N? Please tell me I'm onto something in the comments.
[Image Credit: Nicole Rivelli/FOX]
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In a post-Harry Potter Avatar and Lord of the Rings world the descriptors "sci-fi" and "fantasy" conjure up particular imagery and ideas. The Hunger Games abolishes those expectations rooting its alternate universe in a familiar reality filled with human characters tangible environments and terrifying consequences. Computer graphics are a rarity in writer/director Gary Ross' slow-burn thriller wisely setting aside effects and big action to focus on star Jennifer Lawrence's character's emotional struggle as she embarks on the unthinkable: a 24-person death match on display for the entire nation's viewing pleasure. The final product is a gut-wrenching mature young adult fiction adaptation diffused by occasional meandering but with enough unexpected choices to keep audiences on their toes.
Panem a reconfigured post-apocalyptic America is sectioned off into 12 unique districts and ruled under an iron thumb by the oppressive leaders of The Capitol. To keep the districts producing their specific resources and prevent them from rebelling The Capitol created The Hunger Games an annual competition pitting two 18-or-under "tributes" from each district in a battle to the death. During the ritual tribute "Reaping " teenage Katniss (Lawrence) watches as her 12-year-old sister Primrose is chosen for battle—and quickly jumps to her aid becoming the first District 12 citizen to volunteer for the games. Joined by Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) a meek baker's son and the second tribute Effie the resident designer and Haymitch a former Hunger Games winner-turned-alcoholic-turned-mentor Katniss rides off to The Capitol to train and compete in the 74th Annual Hunger Games.
The greatest triumph of The Hunger Games is Ross' rich realization of the book's many worlds: District 12 is painted as a reminiscent Southern mining town haunting and vibrant; The Capitol is a utopian metropolis obsessed with design and flair; and The Hunger Games battleground is a sprawling forest peppered with Truman Show-esque additions that remind you it's all being controlled by overseers. The small-scale production value adds to the character-first approach and even when the story segues to larger arenas like a tickertape parade in The Capitol's grand Avenue of Tributes hall it's all about Katniss.
For fans the script hits every beat a nearly note-for-note interpretation of author Suzanne Collins' original novel—but those unfamiliar shouldn't worry about missing anything. Ross knows his way around a sharp screenplay (he's the writer of Big Pleasantville and Seabiscuit) and he's comfortable dropping us right into the action. His characters are equally as colorful as Panem Harrelson sticking out as the former tribute enlivened by the chance to coach winners. He's funny he's discreet he's shaded—a quality all the cast members share. As a director Ross employs a distinct often-grating perspective. His shaky cam style emphasizes the reality of the story but in fight scenarios—and even simple establishing shots of District 12's goings-on—the details are lost in motion blur.
But the dread of the scenario is enough to make Hunger Games an engrossing blockbuster. The lead-up to the actual competition is an uncomfortable and biting satire of reality television sports and everything that commands an audience in modern society. Katniss' brooding friend Gale tells her before she departs "What if nobody watched?" speculating that carnage might end if people could turn away. Unfortunately they can't—forcing Katniss and Peeta to become "stars" of the Hunger Games. The duo are pushed to gussy themselves up put on a show and play up their romance for better ratings. Lawrence channels her reserved Academy Award-nominated Winter's Bone character to inhabit Katniss' frustration with the system. She's great at hunting but she doesn't want to kill. She's compassionate and considerate but has no interest in bowing down to the system. She's a leader but she knows full well she's playing The Capitol's game. Even with 23 other contestants vying for the top spot—like American Idol with machetes complete with Ryan Seacrest stand-in Caesar Flickerman (the dazzling Stanley Tucci)—Katniss' greatest hurdle is internal. A brave move for a movie aimed at a young audience.
By the time the actual Games roll around (the movie clocks in at two and a half hours) there's a need to amp up the pace that never comes and The Hunger Games loses footing. Katniss' goal is to avoid the action hiding in trees and caves waiting patiently for the other tributes to off themselves—but the tactic isn't all that thrilling for those watching. Luckily Lawrence Hutcherson and the ensemble of young actors still deliver when they cross paths and particular beats pack all the punch an all-out deathwatch should. PG-13 be damned the film doesn't skimp on the bloodshed even when it comes to killing off children. The Hunger Games bites off a lot for the first film of a franchise and does so bravely and boldly. It may not make it to the end alive but it doesn't go down without a fight.
The first and most important thing you should know about Paramount Pictures’ Thor is that it’s not a laughably corny comic book adaptation. Though you might find it hokey to hear a bunch of muscled heroes talk like British royalty while walking around the American Southwest in LARP garb director Kenneth Branagh has condensed vast Marvel mythology to make an accessible straightforward fantasy epic. Like most films of its ilk I’ve got some issues with its internal logic aesthetic and dialogue but the flaws didn’t keep me from having fun with this extra dimensional adventure.
Taking notes from fellow Avenger Iron Man the story begins with an enthralling event that takes place in a remote desert but quickly jumps back in time to tell the prologue which introduces the audience to the shining kingdom of Asgard and its various champions. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) son of Odin is heir to the throne but is an arrogant overeager and ill-tempered rogue whose aggressive antics threaten a shaky truce between his people and the frost giants of Jotunheim one of the universe’s many realms. Odin (played with aristocratic boldness by Anthony Hopkins) enraged by his son’s blatant disregard of his orders to forgo an assault on their enemies after they attempt to reclaim a powerful artifact banishes the boy to a life among the mortals of Earth leaving Asgard defenseless against the treachery of Loki his mischievous “other son” who’s always felt inferior to Thor. Powerless and confused the disgraced Prince finds unlikely allies in a trio of scientists (Natalie Portman Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) who help him reclaim his former glory and defend our world from total destruction.
Individually the make-up visual effects CGI production design and art direction are all wondrous to behold but when fused together to create larger-than-life set pieces and action sequences the collaborative result is often unharmonious. I’m not knocking the 3D presentation; unlike 2010’s genre counterpart Clash of the Titans the filmmakers had plenty of time to perfect the third dimension and there are only a few moments that make the decision to convert look like it was a bad one. It’s the unavoidable overload of visual trickery that’s to blame for the frost giants’ icy weaponized constructs and other hybrids of the production looking noticeably artificial. Though there’s some imagery to nitpick the same can’t be said of Thor’s thunderous sound design which is amped with enough wattage to power The Avengers’ headquarters for a century.
Chock full of nods to the comics the screenplay is both a strength and weakness for the film. The story is well sequenced giving the audience enough time between action scenes to grasp the characters motivations and the plot but there are tangential narrative threads that disrupt the focus of the film. Chief amongst them is the frost giants’ fore mentioned relic which is given lots of attention in the first act but has little effect on the outcome. In addition I felt that S.H.I.E.L.D. was nearly irrelevant this time around; other than introducing Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye the secret security faction just gets in the way of the movie’s momentum.
While most of the comedy crashes and burns there are a few laughs to be found in the film. Most come from star Hemsworth’s charismatic portrayal of the God of Thunder. He plays up the stranger-in-a-strange-land aspect of the story with his cavalier but charming attitude and by breaking all rules of diner etiquette in a particularly funny scene with the scientists whose respective roles as love interest (Portman) friendly father figure (Skarsgaard) and POV character (Dennings) are ripped right out of a screenwriters handbook.
Though he handles the humorous moments without a problem Hemsworth struggles with some of the more dramatic scenes in the movie; the result of over-acting and too much time spent on the Australian soap opera Home and Away. Luckily he’s surrounded by a stellar supporting cast that fills the void. Most impressive is Tom Hiddleston who gives a truly humanistic performance as the jealous Loki. His arc steeped in Shakespearean tragedy (like Thor’s) drums up genuine sympathy that one rarely has for a comic book movie villain.
My grievances with the technical aspects of the production aside Branagh has succeeded in further exploring the Marvel Universe with a film that works both as a standalone superhero flick and as the next chapter in the story of The Avengers. Thor is very much a comic book film and doesn’t hide from the reputation that its predecessors have given the sub-genre or the tropes that define it. Balanced pretty evenly between “serious” and “silly ” its scope is large enough to please fans well versed in the source material but its tone is light enough to make it a mainstream hit.