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Mysteries of Laura – To Binge or Not to Binge

The Mysteries of Laura - Season 2

Mysteries of Laura showed up via the auspices of a press release stating that the new season was starting. Having missed the premiere episode, the Debra Messing show was moved to a back burner till now.  After the initial question of whether to binge the entire first season to catch up on what was happening in the second season was broached and then ignored, the first three episodes of the series’ return to TV screens were viewed.

The verdict?

Excellent television with tight writing,  interesting characters, a good dose of humor (in all the right places) and mysteries that were…mysterious. Each episode needed solving, despite an “almost” armchair viewer discovery in episode one  The Mystery of the Taken BoyThis non-NYPD viewer guessed the kid’s sister had a part in the kidnapping, but, the girl was not a viable suspect, she just inadvertently provided the “in.”

Watching the entire first season of this series is not a requirement unless, after seeing the first three episodes, the new fan wants to go back to the beginning. The show is a revamping of a Spanish television series Los misterios de Laura which had a rocky history on a State owned channel before being re-imagined for a “gringo” audience.

Debra Messing stars as Laura Diamond, the ex-wife of  Jake Broderick (Josh Lucas), mother of twins and NYPD detective.  The cast of “Laura” is rounded out with Laz AlonsoJanina GavankarMax Jenkins as Billy Soto, Meredith Bose, and Max Carnegie respectively as well as Callie Thorne as the boss everyone despises Captain Santiani (or Santini as Laura continually calls her).

With a thumping “Miami Vice” type musical theme and some great Big Apple second unit shots for the opening credits (as well as throughout the episodes) Mysteries of Laura is a catchy program.  Not just because of the presence of Messing either. The Will and Grace star has proven that she can still do comedy plus she also has  some impressive “dramatic chops” that so many would kill for. However, this mystery of the week series has a more than capable cast who work brilliantly with the show’s star.

As the title suggests, each episode deals with a  mystery. Episode one was the mystery of a kidnapped boy (who was illegally adopted), two was a lonely woman who scammed friends with fake cancer (who was murdered) and three was the “locked room” death of a billionaire techno wunderkind.

In the latest episode, The Mystery of the Locked Box, the murder weapon was pretty well thought out by the show’s creator, (look away now if you have not watched this episode yet) a “murder drone” outfitted with razor sharp blades. Pretty ingenious.

The storylines are good; quite inventive and interesting. The interactions between the characters are humorous, and just as interesting as the storylines. Each person in the police bull pen feel like they have worked together, if not for years, at least long enough to have good cohesion.

Ms. Messing rocks it in the role (Sidenote, in watching episode 203, did anyone else notice what looked like a very poorly disguised bulge? Apparently it was rumored that Debra  Messing had a baby bump but now there appears to be some doubt as to her actually being pregnant. Watch episode three of season two…Baby bump.)  as the “mom” oriented detective who follows some impressive hunches.

Fans of mystery shows, which this is, will love this series. The setting may be the NYPD but the construction of the show is mystery, a’ la Agatha Christie.  Mysteries of Laura is procedural, to be sure, but this is not the focus of the show. That would be the dynamics of the players and the lead character’s ability to ferret out the clues that lead her and the police department  to the truth.

Secondary to the show’s main storyline is her juggling of home life and the show deals with this  aspect with humor. Speaking of humor, check out the “convenience” store scene with Messing and Lucas. This award winning actress easily combines subtle comedy with drama to give us a “mommy detective” with attitude. A real winning combination.

Mysteries of Laura airs Wednesdays on NBC. Catch this one for smooth television that delivers a huge dose of entertainment. Binging is not required, unless  you want to as this show is written well enough the viewer can pick things up fairly easily.

Agents of SHIELD: Purpose in the Machine (Review) Tissues Required


Agents of SHIELD continues the missing Jemma storyline, but only until the very end of Purpose in the Machine. Last week saw Lash killing new inhumans before Phil or the opposition could collect them and Fitz going into the monolith room and beating at the huge hunk of rock while screaming at it to “do something.”

This week, we learn where May (Ming-Na Wenis and what Grant (Brett Daltonhas  been up to.  Another Asgardian is turned to; Professor Randolph (Peter MacNicol) who first appeared  in 2013,  via the episode The Well, for help with the monolith.  May, is with her father (James Hong), the victim of a hit-and-run accident that may or may not have been orchestrated by Ward.

Meanwhile, Grant is busily kidnapping Baron Van Strucker’s son. Strucker was in Avengers: Age of Ultron and a member of HYDRA, as well as SHIELD. Ward is rebuilding HYDRA and he is intent upon making it better than it was before.

Leo, who was last seen beating the big rock with his fists, is rescued by the team just as the stone changes.  He finds a grain of sand, which proves his portal theory which prompts Coulson and his agents head to Norway to collect Randolph who reluctantly agrees to help.

Fitz and the team, along with Randolph, head to Gloucestershire where the monolith appears at the start of this episode. The group discover an oddly shaped room with old electrical equipment.  This room was a container for the monolith and Fitz, with a little help from Daisy, goes into the the stone, that Mack brings from HQ and Leo rescues Jemma.

While this episode has a number of references to the big screen verse of Marvel, “floating cities” and Baron Von Strucker and new inhumans, there was plenty of small screen focus going on. Daisy, whom Phil insists upon calling Skye, is becoming a “leader.” At least that is Dr. Andrew Garner’s prognosis.

Fitz becomes action man as he refuses to stop until he gets Simmons back, which he does in such a spectacular edge of the seat fashion that the viewer was in danger of getting muscle cramps.  May is hunted down by Lance, who reveals that he knows why she is looking after her father.

Ward has prior of hurting the opposition by harming/killing those closest to his target. As shown at the end of the episode by Von Strucker’s son enrolling in Andrew’s psych class, May’s old flame has obviously been targeted by HYDRA’s new leader.  Besides turning into a leader, Daisy also shows that she has learned to master those new powers, it is her controlled tremor that keeps the portal (monolith) open long enough for Fitz to bring back Jemma.

Purpose in the Machine ticked all the right boxes this week:  A white knuckle rescue, reaffirmation that Grant Ward is the nastiest bully in the playground and enough tears to sink Nick Fury’s flying fortress.  In terms of emotion, and the requirement for a box to tissues, Whedon and director Kevin Tancharoen hit viewers with a double whammy.

As Fitz was being drug back by the cable, he and Simmons’ hands kept slipping and after losing her hand once, the final “pull” looked to have left Jemma behind as the monolith was destroyed by all the tremor action going on.  Leo is seen emerging from the rubble and  then he matter-of-factly  reaches into the crushed remains of the stone next to him and pulls out Simmons.

“Fitz-Simmons” are back together, and if the emergence of Jemma from the rubble did not bring at least a lump to the viewer’s throat, then Simmons’ waking up and crawling over to the sleeping Fitz and putting her head on his lap guaranteed floods of tears.  Tissues are required for this episode unless you are Hunter who opted to crack open a beer in celebration at the news.

This episode belongs to Iain De Caestecker; his focussed Leo was the hero of this story, although Daisy (Chloe Bennetcomes in a close second with her tremor control allowing Fitz to grab Jemma and retrieve her from that alien world.  Brett Dalton proves yet again, that even with just a small amount of screen time he convinces as one nasty bit of work.

DAZ CRAWFORD, BRETT DALTONNow that Leo and Jemma are back as a team, it may be his turn to help Simmons to cope with what she’s been through.  Daisy has a cool new nickname, Mack calls her  “Tremors” after she helps Fitz and May decides to help Hunter in his plan to take out Grant from within HYDRA. Andrew, however, looks to become a Ward casualty.

Agents of SHIELD airs Tuesdays on ABC. Tune in and get your Marvel fix.


Scream Queens: Haunted House – Too Campy? Could Be...


Perhaps some people are more easily impressed than others, for instance, this viewer found the entire episode of Scream Queens Haunted House worth watching just for the extended Matthew McConaughey impression by Diego Boneta while preparing to question the  former Kappa in the trailer. That scene, as well as Grace’s father revealing that the scary thing about Children of the Corn is your inner child killing you, made the show.

There were things that still worked about the series, although not as well as last week’s episode Chainsaw. The character of Denise Hemphill has worn out her welcome, with all the campy eye rolling and hand waving.  The whole Niecy Nash act is overkill and adds nothing to the show…


The other thing that made Haunted House delightfully worth watching was the unison scene with Nash and Boneta in the “hag” scene.  Hemphill and Martinez both reveal things learned about the house where ZayDay will hold her “haunted house” fund raiser.

Both of these scenes show a sort of genius that “gets it.” There are a few other things in the episode that work brilliantly, the “discovery” of the obligatory multiple victims. Like any decent slasher film, bodies have to be found; laid out in a grisly display to scare the heck out of the movie’s protagonist.

Chad and Hester (Glen Powell and Lea Michele respectively) who are obsessed with dead bodies, Chad fantasizes about necrophilia, find the dearth of murdered students and the decomposing Ms Bean in the haunted house and they both freak out accordingly. 

In the local coffee shop, they sit, in shock, and then tell the students in the place to avoid the house because of the dead bodies. The news galvanizes the other customers who all rush over to see the house of corpses.

Later when ZayDay finds that her fund raiser does indeed have real dead bodies in it, she calls 911 and speaks to a dispatcher who sounds suspiciously like Walton Goggins (Django Unchained, Justified) and considering how good Boneta was at doing McConaughey it would to be surprising to  learn that  he also “did” Goggins for the call.

Perhaps the problem with this comedy horror treat is the inclusion of too much comedy. Murphy, Falchuk and Brennan have thrown in everything, including the kitchen sink, with enough gags in each episode that repeated viewings are needed to get all the jokes, references and sly (and not so sly) genre homages.  Viewing figures are dropping steadily each week.

This may be more because of audience tastes being…out-of-sync with the show’s creator’s vision. Rather oddly, Scream, the MTV “salute” to the Wes Craven classic franchise, which missed the mark on so many levels, earned a second season, while the fans who normally flock to any  Ryan Murphy project have been tuning out.

It does beggar belief that viewers aren’t getting this show, too much comedy seems to equal death. (Something that would blow Mel Brooks away as all his films have loads of gags in them.) How can one not appreciate the interaction between Grace (Skyler Samuels) and her dad where her father says:

Wes: “No you were born in a hospital. I was there. I saw you come out of your mother…big mistake, by the way…”


The episode this week, sees ZayDay get kidnapped and at the end of the episode the “woman in black” is sitting in  a rocking chair surrounded by damaged dolls, in the haunted house and it is former Kappa Gigi Caldwell (Nasim Pedrad) who is doing the wailing. 

It may help this series to have more Jamie Lee Curtis, Emma Roberts,  Diego Boneta and Oliver Hudson and a lot less Niecy Nash.  Regardless of whether Hemphill becomes the Red Devil’s next victim or not, the gags are numerous in this series and may be flying by the less conscious viewers. Is Scream Queens too camp for fans of comedy horror? 

As Bugs Bunny would say, “Mmmmm, could be.”

However it is most likely a case of too much on offer and this is confusing the target audience. It appears that  Murphy and co. may have aimed their latest offering more towards “Gleeks” who adore  that verse but who may be incapable of appreciating this one.

It has to be noted that the dining room scene with the obnoxious “frat” and his house brother whom the little group of Chanel’s attack is odd, yet funny.  Taking feminism to its most combative and extreme fells strangely satisfying yet disturbing on so many levels. Kudos chaps for putting this in, surrealistic comedy that works.

*Sidenote* The two films being watched, firstly by the trailer park gal (And how funny it this storyline? The implication being that if one leaves University sans degree, they become trailer park “trash.”) are “Leprechaun” and “Children of the Corn.” 

Scream Queens airs Tuesdays on ABC, if you love full tilt comedy that just happens to be set in the world of slasher films and all that entails, tune in, you will like it. Gleeks?  Maybe not so much…

Castle: PHDead (Review)


PHDead follows the two-part season open of Castle with a step back to the show’s earlier formula, after a fashion. Kate is still not at home and Rick is desperately trying to win her back. The move back to its roots  is suggested by Lucy the home operating system in the opening sequence.  Martha (Susan Sullivan) make a welcome return in this episode later as she attempts to help Rick deal with Kate’s leaving.

While the episode itself feels a little redundant, in terms of heading back to the beginning of  the series,  the comedy moments were well done. For example:  Rick excitedly unwrapping the pyramid home operating system which introduces itself as “Lucy” and Castle replying that his wife has left him. The system responds:

“Yikes, sucks to be you Rick.”

Definitely worthy of a chuckle or two, as is the 22 Jump Street gag with Esposito and Ryan, where the suspect pegs them without even looking up from his tablet as “over 40” cops.

Just as funny is the whole Alexis “dressed as a dirty angel” scene in the frat house.  While this was not the whole gag, Beckett showing up to “own” Rick as he is about to lose at beer  pong against Frankenstein’s monster, is the punch line.

While the underlying thread of season eight is Beckett’s continued partnership with analyst Vikram Singh (Sunkrish Bala) as they try to smoke out the dirty CIA operative,  the other side of the Caskett coin is Rick’s misinterpretation of his wife’s decision to move out of the marital home.   

There is also the usual odd-ball murder to be solved and in this case a university student  is murdered while dressed as a convict. After discovering that the man is not an escapee from the local prison, they believe that the orange jumpsuit is a costume. As Kate says  “in university” Halloween is a month long event.

Ryan and Esposito and Rick all head to Hudson U to question suspects and classmates of the murdered student.  Castle “buys” his way on to the faculty and Kate orders Ryan and Esposito not to work with him.  Cue the 22 Jump Street approach as they try to unobtrusively question the main suspect.

As the show continues, Rick and Alexis discover a BDSM den that the dead student used with his lover.  However,  before they find the “50 Shades” lair, Castle’s P.I. partner goes undercover to question the suspect that Ryan and Avi strike out on.  She learns that he did not kill the victim and where the dead man’s “love nest” is.

Later Alexis heads to a frat house party, dressed as  (as Avi  puts it) a dirty angel,  and Rick goes in after being wound up by his two friends.  They learn about Peter’s faculty girlfriend; a Dr. Lillstrom who is head of the psych department.  Alexis and Rick head to where Lillstrom’s phone was last triangulated and they discover that the department head is conducting an illegal prison study funded by the military.

After the usual Castle-style investigations and hunches, which has Rick placing Lillstrom in cuffs and under citizen’s arrest, the real culprit is caught. The dean, who welcomed Rick with open arms as a guest lecturer was having an affair with the late Peter who was murdered by one of the other prisoners in Lillstrom’s Army funded study.

At the end of the episode, Kate hardens her resolve to keep searching, even after her informant “Michael Smith” tells her, firstly how to track the CIA operative and then finishes by saying that this will get her killed.  Rick is still confused about just why Kate has left and is still trying to “win” her back.

Perhaps the best bit of the season so far is the increased presence of Molly C. Quinn as Alexis. The grown-up daughter teaming up with her dad is funny and the two have an excellent father-daughter chemistry (These performers have always come across brilliantly as the immature dad with the parent kid.) which comes over as cute and touching.

One note of complaint is that it feels as though the show’s new runner has opted to make Vikram a “Rick Castle clone” in terms of “manliness” issues. In other words, the chap being overpowered by the stronger Kate, check out the punching bag scene and see if, in your head, you can’t see Rick in Singh’s part.

Alexis, Frankenstein’s monster and Rick

Still, the season is just starting and the whole thing may work out fine.  The question is whether the recipe of more Alexis and less Kate (and Martha) will please long term fans. Castle airs Mondays on ABC and is still addictive viewing for fans of Nathan Fillion and Stana Katic. Tune in and enjoy.

Blindspot: Eight Slim Grins (Review) Moments of Truth

Blindspot - Season 1

Show creator Martin Gero serves up the fantastic in Blindspot and rather than expecting us to “get it,” he provides enough moments of truth to make the unbelievable palatable and acceptable.  Unlike another network’s tale set in the world of the FBI, this show pays less attention to trying too hard and more to the characters, their interaction and the mystery of the former Jane Doe.

Those who have not watched this episode yet, either waiting for HULU or for the DVD of season one to be available in shops, stop reading now.

It should come as no surprise the Jane is actually the “missing for 25 years” neighbor kid that Weller’s daddy was accused of doing away with. Taylor Swan, aka Jane Doe has shown up after all this time, covered with tattoos and proficient enough at hand to hand combat to be registered as a dangerous weapon. There is also the fact that she can use about any sort of sidearm and rifle manufactured…

As this week’s episode deals with the Candymen who are all former SEALS (something that they believe Jane is, or was) who now rob jewelry stores the world over, Patterson finds another tattoo which turns out to be an old FBI file number. She grabs the physical file and drops it off to the boss, explaining that Mayfair worked on the case.  Mayfair, tells her tech that she will look at it later.

The man from Jane’s/Taylor’s memory turns up at her safe house at the beginning of the episode and after some satisfactory unarmed combat, the man is shot before he can reveal anything of use to Jane.   At one point Jane has a tooth knocked out with the table leg her assailant uses against her.  She spits the thing out, a’ la The Hulk in Avengers: Age of Ultron, and ups her game to overpower the man.

After telling her that she cannot trust “them” (the FBI) the man from her memory is killed. Patterson finds out that the Candyman who was shot in the jewelry store has the exact same SEAL tattoo as Jane.  Jane Doe and Weller go to question the man, who is in hospital. While they are there, the seriously wounded man’s colleagues come to rescue him.

There are a couple of good fights, a decent shootout and some interesting twists and turns. Rather unsurprisingly, the dour Mayfair turns out to have a secret and her contact, (actor Michael Gaston who always plays stinkers) wants to have Jane killed in case the secret comes out.

By the end of the show, Jane finally learns who she is after Patterson reveals that the results of the DNA test prove that she is Weller’s old childhood pal, Taylor.  Mayfair decides that Jane/Taylor can now accompany the team on all assignments and she is allowed to have a gun.

This show is fantastical, a woman covered in tattoos with no idea who she is or how she got those tattoos. She is proficient at hand to hand combat, better than good with firearms and is very intelligent. The FBI let her roam around the bureau and get involved with the investigations without really knowing who she is.

Despite these more “out there” bits of the plot, the show works.  Unlike the ABC series, Quantico, which opted to use FBI training as the integral part of their suspension of disbelief and failed, Blindspot relies on the characters, plot and dialogue to sell its believability.

Example: Patterson tries to explain a finding to Agents Reade (Rob Brown) and Zapata (Audrey Esparza):

Patterson: “You guys familiar with ALPR?”

Reade: “Like the dog food?”

Patterson: “No, not… A-L-P-R… Automatic License Plate Recognition.”

In the above interaction, Reade is teasing Patterson, which Zapata recognizes and the two agents smirk at one another while the technician, in a state of what must be continual exasperation, explains what she means.

In fact, Patterson (Ashley Johnson) may just be the biggest grain of truth in the whole show. Her character is all about enthusiastically solving the riddles in front of her, whether it be the tattoos  she must decipher or tracking down a robber’s sister’s car. She is also a brilliant bit of comic relief.

Blindspot does not just have Patterson as its moments of truth, the performances also feel right.  The team, as Weller explains to Jane, has a way of doing things, a rhythm and the three performers work well enough together that this does not feel like an exaggeration.

Jaimie Alexander provides the biggest truth of all. Her character has shifted with each episode from the confused tattooed woman with a wiped memory to a more determined individual who wants to know who she really is and who did this to her.

As each episode concludes, we feel that another layer has been exposed, not peeled back, but left open just enough to tantalize both Jane and us, the audience. Blindspot airs Mondays on NBC.  This is a show that, despite its outlandish premise, works beautifully, miss this one and you will miss some quality television and performances.

Gotham: The Last Laugh – Jerome in the Box?


Watching the second season of Gotham has been a fascinating look at how show runner Bruno Heller loves teasing his viewers. The Last Laugh, which picks up after Jerome has slaughtered most of the GCPD and killed the newly promoted Commissioner Essen, continues the theme of “rising villains.”  We learn, in the episode’s opening sequence that Theo’s sis, Tabitha and Barbara are very close and what Galavan’s motivations are for wreaking havoc on the city of Gotham.

As Theo continues his personal vendetta against the city, there is still that animosity between Kean and “Lee” Thompkins(Tabitha seems to be a little jealous of Kean as well), Jerome puts on a deadly magic show at the Children’s Hospital benefit, Jim Gordon plays rough, with a little help from Harvey, and Selina looks all grown up.

With Alfred putting some smooth moves on Dr. Thompkins and Bruce telling his little partner in crime Selina that he misses her, romance is in the air.  So is a little insane jealousy from Barbara who tells a captive Leslie that she and Jim will get back together after a “harpy” split them up.

It is Thompkins who gets “line of the night” award with her telling Kean (while tied to a knife throwing target):

“You are one crazy b*tch.”

The build up in this season of Gotham’s new villains used  the premise that Jerome is the going to become The Joker. Up to this point is seemed pretty irrefutable;  look at the evidence: The maniacal laugh, the vicious sense of humor, the wholesale slaughter of Gotham-ites…

However…While Jerome, or rather Cameron Monaghan the actor who  plays him, channeled his inner Cesar Romero/Jack Nicholson/Heath Ledger, it appears that this red haired homicidal maniac is a red herring.  Everyone assumed that this kid was going to put on the makeup and the lipstick, along with that huge grin. 


Theo stabs Jerome in the neck during the big standoff between an armed Alfred, Jim Gordon and the “future” Joker who was holding a knife at the throat of the future Batman. Galavan rides his star Maniax member to the floor, with the implement still  stuck firmly in Jerome’s neck.

This mini villain, who killed his blind father earlier, expires with a mad grin, eye’s wide open in a blind amused stare and we see him, at the end laying on a gurney in the morgue the same way.  Sic transit Jerome mundi.  Theo tells Kean later that Jerome was growing tedious and that his one note act was getting stale. He had to go.

But has he?

The whole blind father curse (played by the prolific character actor Mark Margolis who was Tio Salamanca in Breaking Bad) where certain denizens of Gotham begin laughing in that Joker style of chortling and misbehaving in very deadly ways after watching TV footage of the killer is the real red herring,  n’est-ce pas?

Theo has been a master at deception since he arrived in Gotham.  Spreading porkies (pork pies – lies) all over the city.   His villainy by deception as well as intent with an emphasis on becoming the only member of a new ruling class is apparent only to us, the viewers.

Stepping away from Galavan, and his rather unhealthy relationship with sis, and the remaining Maniax; Harvey Bullock has stuck his head the in the lion’s mouth, or The Penguin’s rather, and this may come back to bite him in a very nasty way.

(And this is why we do not go to visit the “king of Gotham” when we are over-tired, Harvey.)

The “yes Ms. Mooney, no Ms. Mooney” insult, along with “umbrella boy”crack  has reached a part of Oswald Cobblepot that Bullock should have left alone.  The new crime king will wait for his chance to strike back and Harvey may become a memory all too soon.

In this version of Gotham, where Batman is still a rich kid with issues and the future Cat Woman looks all too gown up, things are all over the place in the verse. We are charting the rise of Jim Gordon, not Bruce Wayne, and all bets are, presumably off.


Jerome is not dead and this is not a “what the fudge” moment.  The actions of Valeska screamed Joker almost from frame one.  Viewers of Gotham should not be convinced of Jerome’s demise.  This feels way too much like a diversionary tactic from camp Galavan.  It would come as no surprise at all to learn that this is all a part of Theo’s “role as hero” plan.

After all, a hero is only as good as the villain he, or she, faces.  Jerome is, thus far, the most charismatic (and not in a good way) baddie in the show.  What better way to look great while upholding the law than to have the recently dispatched bad guy pop back up like some malefic Jerome in the box?

Gotham airs Mondays on Fox, do not miss this increasingly dark journey into the rise of the villains and Jim Gordon. On a final note if, in fact,  Jerome is dead and Weller has opted to kill off the “Joker?”



Avengers: Age of Ultron Somber Revisit to the Verse Here be Spoilers

Poster for Avengers 2

After having to wait for iTunes to stop offering Avengers: Age of  Ultron for purchase (sorry but if it’s to own, Blu-Ray with a load of extras is how this reviewer rolls) and giving punters the chance to just rent Joss Whedon and Marvel’s follow up to The Avengers (Assemble) the viewing experience turned out to be a somber revisit to the Marvel verse. The sobering sequel introduces two new characters, one lasting much longer than the other (Scarlet Witch aka Elizabeth Olsen) who becomes a member of the home team before the end credits roll.

This sequel is darker than the first. It also has less of the obvious Whedon touches. There are, most likely, a number of reason for this holding back of the Joss effect.

Firstly, it is not news to anyone who loves the Avengers films that Joss “Is Boss” Whedon  is bowing out of the business of forging the films.  As Whedon also has a small screen version of the Marvel world to produce weekly, it makes a huge amount of sense to leave the big screen shenanigans up to another director/writer to play with.

Secondly, things in the comic book world of Captain America, Thor, Iron Man (Tony Stark) Black Widow, Hawkeye, Hulk, et al are due to become very dark indeed with the next installment dealing with the infinity war, civil war, the death of Cap and any number of dark and disturbing issues in Marvel land.

The Avengers did have  Joss Whedon all over it, a clear stamp of his wit, framing, dialogue and directorial genius. Avengers: Age of Ultron feels grim, in comparison, and dangerous. The overly clever wit has been toned down and is less Joss than usual. (Although the Iron Man scene where Stark says, after shooting all the bad guys in the room is, “Good talk,” and an obviously in-pain shot guard moans, “No it wasn’t.” Pure unadulterated Whedon.)

*Sidenote* Samuel L Jackson as Nick Fury gets what may just be the best, i.e. funniest, line of the film. Speaking about Ultron’s building up of an army, he says that he is producing quicker than a “Catholic Rabbit.” While this may not necessarily go over very well with the Pope, is it very, very funny. Although Spader’s Ultron comes a very close second with his “I can’t physically throw up in my mouth, but …”


Well, as stated above, Whedon is due to hand over the reins of power to Joe and Anthony Russo for Avengers 3 Part one (due out in 2018).  Also, as mentioned above, fans of the comic books for each of the main characters know that dark days are coming and this has also, apparently necessitated a change in style. The franchise should not have a huge shift in directorial influence with some transition. Hence the darker feel.

The film is not, however, without its amusing moments but the banter is either missing or toned down to near nonexistence.  The entire storyline is sobering, so much so that even the re-emergence of Samuel L. Jackson‘s Nick Fury fails to elicit  a cheer.  James Spader, who plays Ultron, kills it, sounding uncannily like Tony Stark, with the way he delivers many of his  lines  and feeling like the ultimate rebellious teenager who wants desperately to overpower/outperform  his father (Stark).

The plot in the second Avengers film has Tony Stark doing what he does best,  acting independently, although he has Dr. Banner (the Hulk) helping him. He develops an AI peacekeeper to help defend earth. Ultron, his creation, is flawed and ultimately decides that mankind must evolve to survive. Unfortunately his idea of evolution is an enforced extinction of the species therefore allowing  one to take over.

All of the Avengers must reform and evolve  in order to face and defeat this threat, in the process, Tony and Banner create Vision (Jarvis with an infinity stone in his biotic forehead).  While the film feels a bit sobering, there are a still a few moments of levity and a couple of things that tell us these uneasy team members were meshing very well, until the rise of Ultron.

Hawkeye and The Black Widow are Clint and Nat. Bruce and Natasha have “a thing” and we learn a whole lot more about Barton. For instance, he has a house in the country with kids and his wife Laura is played by  Linda Cardellini.   Clint also has DIY fever and constantly remodels the house.  

This iteration of the Avengers has our heroes fighting an even bigger army with a huge threat going on all about them. A huge section of ground that, when released from its ever increasing height, will annihilate life on earth is the battleground setting where all the heroes fight Ultron’s mechanized troops.

Andy Serkis has a  brilliant cameo and he is not in a mo-cap suit for once. Elizabeth Olsen kills it as the Scarlet Witch (Wanda Maximoff)  as does Aaron Taylor-Johnson who plays brother Pietro (Quicksilver). Paul Bettany finally gets to show off more than his dulcet tones and he proves to be just as impressive in the “flesh.”

The ubiquitous Stan Lee cameo comes at the start of the film and is said to be Stan’s favorite one to date. “Excelsior” aside, the film has a lot of memorable moments.  The scenes are on par with the first foray into the big screen world of Marvel heroes.  We have some backstory for Natasha, courtesy of the Scarlet Witch, and we learn what Tony Stark really fears.

By the time the film ends, we have a new group of Avengers, Stark has stepped away from the new “S.H.I.E.L.D.” and Cap is still heading up the organization.  Vision looks to be the new “in the trenches” leader of the group and Earth is still under threat.

As a sort of PS type sidenote, the whole Captain America schtick of “Language” was amusing as was Stark in his Hulk suit beating the Hulk’s head into the pavement while  repeating desperately “Go to sleep, go to sleep, go to…” Almost as good as Tony then knocking out one of the big guy’s teeth and saying in a very little voice, “I’m sorry.”

Even though the overall feel of this Avengers outing was  a little less Joss and more transitional, the film is, like the first, an exciting experience.  There were, however, no goosebumps inducing moments, as in the first film.

Avengers: Age of Ultron is a 5 out of 5 stars for entertainment value and because (Duh!) it’s Joss Whedon, Robert Downey Jr, Scarlett Johansson, Chris Hemsworth, Chis Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Jeremy Renner, Cobie…

Quantico: America – Changes for Gravitas (Review)

Priyanka Chopra

The poor decision to make the pilot for Quantico too short, in other words “normal” episode length, rather than a full feature length open is still an issue. This week’s episode, America has changed the series format aiming, it seems, for a sort of gravitas. The addition of a Priyanka Chopra voice over at the start of the episode does little to improve the show.  It is still a messy and somewhat convoluted plot that goes in all directions while the series’ creator continues using fiction as thinly disguised  patriotic flag waving. 

Alex Parrish is still on the run, from last week’s episode where the former director of the academy helped the accused agent to escape. As she attempts to discover who has framed her for the explosion, the series continues to bounce back and forth between her training and the “present.”

While there are many things that annoy about this show, it does have moments of truth, the monologue from Miranda Shaw (Aunjanue Ellis) about human behavior and that people tell “truths” about themselves based upon what others want to hear, for example.  The interactions between the trainees, the competition, the jealousies and the curiosity all feel spot on. 

In terms of plot, the disgraced Caleb has returned as an analyst (thanks to his sister we learn later in the episode) and he is joined by a group of  data specialists. One of whom zooms in on the first openly gay NAT, Simon Asher (Tate Ellington). The new analyst, Elias Harper (Rick Cosnett) first hits on Simon and then begins digging into the trainee’s past.

A few things have been cleared up, which could have been done earlier if the pilot were longer, such as the twin thread. It now turns out that the director, Shaw, is conducting some sort of ground breaking experiment.  Something must go wrong since Miranda is “out in the field” getting Alex away from Liam nine months later.

We learn that the assistant director Liam O’Connor (Josh Hopkins) had a thing for Parrish (and who can blame him) and also has something over Ryan Booth’s head. Booth (Jake McLaughlin) says to O’Connor at the meeting in the woods that “This is Chicago all over again.” The assistant director then tells the undercover agent that if he wants to see his family again, he will do what O’Connor instructs.

There are a number of hints that no one in this particular class of NATs are who or what they claim to be.  As a montage or two shows, each one has secrets, skills and abilities that do not match their profiles. All the better to make the viewer feel a sense of paranoia, which seems to also be the theme of Quantico. (Apparently we now need to suspect and turn in anyone whom we believe to be a threat and this equals patriotism…)

Johanna Braddy
Is that Arabic Shelby is speaking?

The spiel by the director states clearly where and how a threat to the country could be from within:

“Our own backyard… a neighbor you grew up next to, a one-night stand you had, perhaps even a family member.”

Sounds more like the “good old days” of Russia, under Stalin, where neighbor’s turned in their neighbor, family members contacted the KGB about siblings  and life was one paranoid trip of turning in your friends before they turned you in.

There are issues with the flashback sequences not providing clarity in the right areas. This will, presumably, be sorted out as Parrish gets closer to clearing her name. The NATS and the analysts are all still very attractive, even the newer ones. The recruit Natalie Vazquez (Annabelle Acosta) who jumps to the fore this episode as Alex’s shadow (main competitor) and analyst Harper both look like models out of the pages of either Vogue or GQ respectively. 

Regardless of the America’s Next Top Model look of the cast the acting is, thus far, more than acceptable. Chopra is, of course, perfection in her role, despite the somewhat disjointed script. McLaughlin is convincing as Booth and the rest of the cast all fill their character’s shoes with conviction.

Quantico has gone overboard to give the viewer as many suspects as possible.  All the NATS seem to be either hiding something or pretending to  be something other than what they appear. Add to this group of potential terrorists, the staff, Director Shaw and her former partner (On and off the job?) with their little secrets and sidelines and it appear that anyone and everyone could be real bomber.

Alex may be the best of the best thus far, it is mentioned again via a flashback that this young recruit is sharp, and innocent of the charges levied against her.  However, she has the whole “I shot my father and killed” storyline where  Liam is looking for information about her late FBI agent father.

The addition of Alex Parrish telling the viewer what is happening to her at the start of the e episode  feels a little too Kung Fu or even The Fugitive (the television show and not the film) where  either a character or an announcer declares, “Accused of a crime…” A little old hat but obviously deemed necessary by producers to help diminish the confusion.

Rick Cosnett
The Vampire Diaries actor Rick Cosnett…

Quantico, via the auspices of the show’s writers, is trying to improve the appearance and the storyline of the series. This second episode is picking up the scattered pieces in an attempt to clarify and smooth its rocky opening. The series airs Sundays on ABC. Time will tell if this one straightens out enough kinks to become addictive or whether it merely continues to irritate.

Her First Black Guy (2015): Christopher T. Wood Strikes Again Film Review

Poster for Her First Black Guy

In his second short, and second time up to bat as writer, producer and acting in his own creation, Christopher T. Wood strikes once again but not out, hitting another homer with his spot on comedic story telling and performance.  Previously Wood starring in the short, award winning, film Time to Kill (2014).

His first foray into the short film arena had Wood as hitman with too much time on his hands, a look at what might really happen in those killer for hire scenarios.  This time, it is accountant Kevin, that Christopher portrays.  A single man who wearies of blind dates who all fall in love with his perfect skin coloring.

Kevin wants a woman who has done something with her life, has a meaningful job and travelled outside the Los Angeles city limits. Most importantly, he does not want to be “Her First Black Guy.” Directed by Sam Auster (The Return of Joe Rich) and set in what looks to be Los Angeles’ Formosa Cafe, or a reasonable facsimile, this short film is as funny as Wood’s first offering but for different reasons.

This is a tour-de-force on the actor’s part in reacting to the ever increasing build up going on around him. The same can be said of Caroline Fogarty (Waitress, As High as the Sky) as the blind date Claire.  This performer kills it with an incredible delivery that is funny, awkward, and compelling, she gives Wood plenty of input for his mounting confusion to feed off of.

Her First Black Guy is a definite case of a “be careful what you wish for” cautionary tale.  The punchline, that his character is actually  not as “lofty” as his requirements for a date, works brilliantly. Claire’s reaction to his less than impressive resume is ironic to say the least. Clearly both people are looking for something different, although Kevin is unsure of just how to react.

The gag is a variation on the old comedy routine where  someone keeps getting increasingly bad news,  but in this instance, the “bad news” is only bad because this blind date of Kevin’s  is akin to “Superwoman.”  Kevin is stunned by each reveal of the woman who took  the bus to Formosa for their date.

Equally funny is the fact that this blind date is not the only one bowled over by his “perfect skin tone.” Each person she knows in the club remarks upon this asset, much to Kevin’s discomfort and chagrin.  All the cast deliver in this comic look at blind dates and the real (or unreal) expectations and fears of the participants.

The cast also includes: Chris WilliamsJames BlackJohn Eric Bentley and Matt Riedy who gets the closing gag at the end of the film.  Cinematographer Kris Denton delivers in terms of framing and lighting on a set consisting of a darkened bar area which would defeat many. The film looks crisp and tight thanks to this veteran’s efforts.

Her First Black Guy opens the Austin Film Festival, October 29, at 7 p.m. and will premiere at the Rollins theatre.  For more information and a chance to sign up for the event follow the link here

This is another cracking short film from Christopher who proves that his humor in Time to Kill was not a one off. Keep an eye out for this festival film and be prepared to laugh as Wood strikes again.  A 5 out of 5 stars for comic delivery and exquisite timing.

Horizon: Science Fiction Web Series is Cracking Entertainment

Steven and Chloe see the ship

Paul Dudbridge is, in essence, the English Robert Rodriguez of science fiction webisodes with his cottage industry approach. Directing, co-writing, co-editing, producing and working as cinematographer on what is obviously a labour of love. The end result is Horizon, a 10 part web series (with the tagline: In 2015 Everything Changes) which follows the  journey of five people who are affected by the sudden appearance of spaceship over Bristol.  The series starts on 5 October, 2015 and from the first frame, the viewer is caught up in the events on screen.

Starring, Paul Tonkin, Simon Pierce (who also co-wrote the series along with Paul and Chris Marshfield), Kate Marie DaviesCassandra Charlick, Alicia Ancel, Kessie Bartlett and Jason Allen, the webisodes, that run from four to 10 minutes in length, look brilliant and the acting,  based upon a pre-screening of the first three episodes, is spot on. Combined with exceptional CGI effects this is compelling viewing. 

Each segment moves quickly and contains a “bit of business” from certain characters and a bit of action.  (There appears to be a “hidden” thread as well, keen eyed viewers will notice a small mark…) The  webisodes project a sense of realism, from the use of ITV real-life newscaster Ian Axton (who also played a newscaster for the superlative ITV drama Broadchurch) to the “everyman” characters we watch attempting to come to grips with the “invasion” and their efforts to escape the threat.

Other “bits” includes Davies’ character Nicole, after being helped from the wrecked car by Steven, she grabs her cell (mobile) phone and after checking it, leans close to Steven, peers closely at his mouth and asks, somewhat accusingly, “Have you been drinking?” Positively brilliant bit of business that had this viewer chuckling and nodding while acknowledging that if one were in Steven’s place, it would be so annoying from his point of view.

Later on, Dudbridge uses the cell phone as a scene enhancer and as a sign of just how much the smart phone has become an essential part of our lives. The  scene shows that these bits of modern technology control us as well.  In the same setting, on top of a carpark where Steven’s younger sister Katie is hanging with her hoodie mates watching the spaceship, when the alien craft defends itself against attacking aircraft, the device shows us what the aliens used; EMP.

This is science fiction presented on an intimate level yet it feels big. The airliner,  the escalation of events and  that huge alien spaceship hovering over Bristol. Entertainment that delivers enough impressive set pieces to raise goosebumps on the viewer.  After the spacecraft sets off the EMP blast there is a jet airliner that comes zooming into the frame, just over the fleeing hoodies.  The aircraft is so low that it causes the snotty Katie and big brother Steven to duck for cover. For such short blasts of entertainment this is a wonderful bit of business.

Steven, Dan, Chloe and Nicole set out to gather supplies, and Katie, in order to escape to the  country.  Despite the shortness of the episodes, the characters are clearly defined and their interactions with one another are revealing.

The cinematography is  spot on and, for once, the sound is perfect. The actors are not drowned out by the soundtrack and the “foley” effects do not override the action. The blend of ambient sound along with the dialogue is just right.

Horizon is cracking entertainment that leaves the viewer ready for more. Dudbridge has said there will be a second season if all goes according to plan. These type of shows are what the Internet could have been invented for. Slick, polished and feeling like a big budget production with some stand out acting from the cast, this is magic in a web series.

The cast of Horizon

Horizon starts 5 October and for more information about the show, the crew, the cast and the story head over to horizonwebseries.com. Like the tagline says, “In 2015 everything changes,” check out the series site and see why.