Sunday, April 24, 2016

Book Review: Dark Summoner (Relic Keeper Series Book 1) by D.D. Miers

"Looking at him made me desire things I never thought I would want." 

Bound to a fate she doesn't want... 
Burned by a passion that torments her soul... 
Torn between two immortal rivals...
Only one thing is certain. Nothing is as it seems. 

Abby Davenport has spent the last ten years forgetting her past until a fateful night reveals her false reality. Thrust into a new world of dark sorcery and ancient magic, she's shocked to discover her destiny lies as the keeper of a powerful relic. Now everyone wants to control, own, or destroy her. No longer able to discern truth from lie, she's torn between a charming guardian and a mysterious summoner. Abby finds herself strangely drawn to each man--one sworn to protect and one who calls to her soul. Can she survive the strange and dangerous labyrinth of the first realm, where every move, emotion, and reaction must be a calculated one? 

QUICK  REVIEW: 

First of all, what a beautiful cover! Secondly, I'm so happy I came across this. Even better, I nabbed it for FREE from Amazon during a promotion. A free book with stunning "You-know-you-want-to-read-me" cover art...of course I got hooked. Props goes out to D.D. Miers for this great first installment of her "Relic Keeper" series. Plus, it's her freaking debut!

That's amazing! 

It's an easy, quick, gripping read. Abby, our main protagonist, is a highly relatable character, despite her tortured past. Her inner monologues reflect the same thoughts that you, the reader, would think as she's swept up into this new, crazy world, and that puts you right in the front seat of all the action. 

We've all read books where we roll our eyes at the stupid things the protagonist does, says, or thinks.

Abby Davenport is NOT that character. She's smart. She reacts with common sense. She does what we the reader would do if we were in her shoes. And you can't deny the chemistry between her and the swoon-worthy Dorian.

My only gripe with the book...
I wanted more.

No, not because it was an incomplete story. I'm just being a bit greedy. I wanted the words to never end. I can't wait till the next installment comes out so that I can continue on with this series. Definitely a fan! If you're looking for a enthralling read, I highly recommend picking this up, ASAP! 
Rating: 5 Stars

Saturday, April 16, 2016

MOVIE REVIEW: "Everest"

Experienced climber Rob Hall (Jason Clarke), the leader of guiding expedition company Adventure Consultants, says his goodbyes to his pregnant wife Jan (Keira Knightley). He flies out to Kathmandu where he meets up with his new batch of clients that he’ll train and escort to the top of Mount Everest. Forking out a small fortune of $65,000 a piece to brave this harrowing mission includes the ever so charming Texan, Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin), humble mailman Doug Hansen (John Hawkes), and Yasuko Namba (Naoko Mori), a skilled climber who has already conjured six of the Seven Summits, making the peak of Everest her final mission.

Tensions rise between Hall and fellow climber Scott Fischer (Jake Gyllenhaal) when prestigious journalist Jon Krakauer (Michael Kelly) joins the Summit climb after Rob snags him for publicity over Fischer’s competing company named Mountain Madness. Rob’s company embarks on the ascent where we’re introduced to Helen Wilton (Emily Watson), Adventure Consultants’ base camp manager.  

The different teams embark on a forty-day long prep exercise, and in the midst of training, overcrowding proves problematic. Given the crucial time window to safely scale and descend the mountain before nightfall, the two rivals decide to team up. All seems to be going to plan as the joined companies reach the summit, but after discovering that guide ropes on upper reaches haven’t been installed, it sets the teams back by over an hour, just as a deadly blizzard descends on the mountaintop.

Mountaineering movies are nothing new to the silver screen, having graced us with thrillers like Cliffhanger and Vertical Limit. Given that the feat of concurring Earth’s highest mountain is a death defying stunt in itself, Everest captures not only the thrill of previous climbing movies, but also the survivalist spirit seen in grittier films such as 2012’s The Grey. Sweeping landscapes and stunning cinematography make Everest a vertigo-inducing adrenaline rush that will leave its audience on the edge of their seats. There’s no doubt that Contraband director Baltasar Kormákur was the right choice for the project, capturing the brutality of the mountain’s elements in breathless fashion. The pitfall to this movie ultimately rests in its pacing and plot development. The first act of Everest is a rather slow ascent that sets the stage for the climax, but the drawn out introduction bogs down the runtime. Thankfully, the information provided to us by way of training exercise montages clues us in on the true dangers of Everest. And that’s where we see the true star of the movie: the mountain itself.

Avalanches, faulty gear, rickety ladders, high winds, hypothermia, and even severe frostbite aren’t the only things to fear. Upon reaching the top summit of Everest, known as The Death Zone, any injury or wrong move can cost you your life. The atmosphere is so thin in fact that the human body starts to systematically shut down at this elevation, hence the ominous nickname. This dizzying peak rests at the same cruising altitude of a 747 aircraft, making it an open graveyard that no helicopter can reach in attempt to rescue. If that’s not frightening enough, the lack of oxygen is pretty much the final nail in your coffin on the likely chance something goes wrong. This can cause swelling in the brain that will lead to disorientation, loss of vision, difficulty breathing, and even hypoxia that can make you behave irrationally and suffer from hallucinations. Every aspect of this harrowing journey is demonstrated with such white-knuckle intensity that it puts you, the audience, in the middle of the action, making the terror literally palpable.

Another thing the film does so cleverly is hook potential viewers with a star studded cast. Hollywood heavyweights Jake Gyllenhaal, Keira Knightley, Robin Wright, and Avatar’s Sam Worthington all play a role in Everest, but surprisingly enough, none of them are the leads. Jason Clarke takes the helm in a particularly compelling role of real life climber Rob Hall, and an impressive batch of character actors pilots the supporting roles that includes John Hawkes (Winter’s Bone), Josh Brolin (No Country For Old Men), Thomas M. Wright (Outsiders), Martin Henderson (The Ring), and Dawn of the Dead’s Michael Kelly. Considering the heavy clothing and hazardous conditions, no one has the particular luxury of using body language to convey emotions. Everything relies solely on actors’ close-ups, and it never fails. Each plays off one another impeccably, but the one misgiving is that of Jake Gyllehnaal. 

Don’t get me wrong. His performance was stellar. But…

Most advertisements rank him as the third lead in the film, and his face is on a lot of the promotional posters. Yet, his screen time is very limited. This gripe aside, Everest is a thrilling spectacle that deserves viewership. But don’t even think about watching it on your phone.


I’ve become an advocate for televisions in recent years after hearing a friend of mine watched Gravity on his cell. Sure, certain movies like rom-coms don’t lose any of its experience by viewing it on a smaller screen. So if you want to watch Bridget Jones or The Wedding Singer, then by all means… But movies like this deserve a properly sized screen. So grab a blanket and plant yourself down in front of your TV, because Everest will leave you chilled to the bone.

Rating: B+


By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=46883004

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Once Upon a Time: "Our Decay" Recap & Review

What do we get when the Wicked Witch and the God of the Underworld team up? A match made in Hell...

We return to the past in the wondrous green realm of Oz on Zelena’s so-called birthday. On her quest to enact the time travel spell that will claim Regina’s happy ending as her own, the Wicked Witch tries to steal the brain from Dorothy’s beloved Scarecrow. Before she can finish the deed, a certain Kansas girl, now all grown up, swoops in to save the day. With the help of Toto, Dorothy distracts Zelena long enough to grab her friend and go.

In the present day Underworld, Hades strong-arms Rumplestiltskin into opening up a portal to Storybrook. As Belle visits Mother Superior to help feed Zelena’s baby, the Wicked Witch appears to reclaim her child. A gaping hole in the floor appears, swallowing up Belle, Zelena, and the newborn. Crash-landing in the Underworld, Belle manages to escape an injured Zelena, taking off with the baby.

Along the way, Belle manages to find Rumple. Her husband breaks the news to her about his deal with Hades, where the Lord of the Underworld will claim his second born child. Baffled by his concern, she realizes only then what he’s hinting at. She’s pregnant. If having the fear of your unborn child being ripped away from you isn’t bad enough, Belle also discovers the truth that Rumple has become the Dark One…again. Unable to condone his need for power, she leaves him to find her friends.

FLASHBACK:

Still sulking over the loss of the Scarecrow’s brain, a vital ingredient to enact the curse, Zelena finds an unwelcomed visitor in Oz. Hades himself appears, offering his helping hand. In return, he wants to share her soon-to-be curse. If he can go back in time, he can overthrow his brother to take Olympus as his own. Having been banished to the Underworld, the only way he can be fully free to stay in other realms is by true love’s kiss, which is pretty much impossible since he’s been stripped of all kindhearted emotions. Zelena refuses his offer, but he won’t take no for an answer. When she returns to her castle, he begins pestering her all over again, this time poking fun at her lackluster birthday festivities. She sharply corrects him that it isn’t her birthday.

“I don’t know the day I was born, but thank you for reminding me.”

“That is actually a sad story,” he muses.

“I only know the day my mother abandoned me.”

“Getting sadder,” he mocks. “So, this is what? Celebrating Abandonment Day?”

The two verbally spar off, but they eventually come to find that they aren’t so different.  Having been robbed of their happy endings by their siblings, they’re both out for vengeance. Zelena finally consents to his offer, and they go out together to find the Scarecrow. Oddly enough, cuteness ensues as they come across a bicycle among Dorothy’s wreckage, sharing a bike ride through the woods that ends in a playful tumble.

When they find the Scarecrow, Zelena gleefully takes care of Dorothy and claims the Scarecrow’s brain, only to see afterward that Hades is gone. Returning to her castle, she’s only too happy to find him waiting for her. Zelena then assumes that he’s come to say goodbye, because he is condemned to return to the Underworld. He assures her differently, professing her to be his true love. If she kisses him, then he’ll be free. Distrust gets the better of Zelena, and she refuses him. They’re both cut from the same cloth, and she fears that Hades is only using her to get what he wants most: revenge. Zelena demands he go back to the Underworld and never return, in which he sourly assures her that she will regret her decision.

PRESENT DAY:

Realizing that Hades opened the portal to take her baby,  Zelena winds up on Emma’s doorstep, asking Robin and Regina to help her find her daughter. The trio eventually crosses paths with Belle. Desperate to hold the baby, Zelena convinces Robin to let her feed their daughter. Unsurprisingly, she uses her magic to escape with the baby. Reality hits when she’s safe and sound, seeing that her magic backfired, injuring the infant. Regina and the others track Zelena back to the Underworld’s version of her house, where Zelena openly returns the baby to Robin. Fearing that she can't properly protect her daughter, Zelena tearfully pleads with him and her half-sister to take care of the child, to keep her safe from Hades.

Meeting in the town square, Hades and Zelena reunite. To her dismay, she learns that Hades only opened the portal to keep her daughter safe from the others who took her away to begin with.

“I would never hurt you… That’s the thing about true love; it endures. It can never be broken.”

Hades recreated the Underworld to look like Storybrook just for her, so that it was in the image of the dark curse she wished to enact. After all this time, he still loves her. History repeats itself however, as Zelena can’t bring herself to trust him just yet. Smart girl. She sets out to find her daughter—on her own—when Hades calls out, “April 15th.” Her true birthday.  In a rather dementedly sentimental fashion, Hades had tortured the information out of Cora, taking care of her for Zelena’s sake. He assures Zelena that if she ever changes her mind, he’ll be waiting for her.   


Following the rocky ride that has been season five, “Our Decay” is the best of the year…by far. Sure, we’ve got some people making some really stupid decisions here, but that’s nothing new. Despite their repeated defeats, the villains still prove to be the smartest of the bunch.  Why would you trust Zelena to not pull something and run away with your daughter, Robin?  Let’s face it. The Heroes of the show can be so naive and gullible sometimes. Even though they all know very well that the Baddies are evil, they can’t help but to keep falling for the same tricks. Yes, the show is about redemption and the hope that anyone can become a hero. But just because you try to see the goodness in people doesn’t mean you have to be downright idiotic. As the saying goes, “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” Well, we’re at the 167th second chance here, and yet no one's learned from their mistakes.

That gripe aside, the romance between Zelena and Hades is oddly charming. Their past damage has made them wise, particularly Zelena. It’s refreshing to see someone using everyday commonsense. Sure, love makes you blind, but heartbreak makes you wiser. And Zelena proves to be smart enough to keep her head above her heart. Anticipating the slow burn of their romance certainly peaks interest. With the show’s main couples seeming to have stalled out, the authentic connection between these two villains is a much needed refreshment. Up until this point, Zelena has been the woman we all love to hate. Between her genuine devotion to her daughter’s wellbeing and her rational approach to Hades, there’s undoubtedly a change in the wind.  

Episode Rating: A

Saturday, April 2, 2016

MOVIE REVIEW: Jeff Nichols' "Midnight Special"

Midnight Special tells the story of Roy (Michael Shannon) after he escapes a rural Texas cult with his eight-year-old son Alton (St. Vincent’s Jaeden Lieberher). Accompanied by a state trooper, Roy’s childhood friend (Joel Edgerton), they take off down remote roads under the guise of night in an old Chevy as an Amber Alert is issued. Initially opening as a chase-thriller, it’s unclear as to the motivations of Alton’s hijackers. In fact, everyone’s an enigma, particularly the boy who’s oddly sporting goggles and noise-canceling headphones. As it turns out, the trio is being pursued by both the government and religious extremists who believe that Alton is either a threat or a messiah. Why might they think this? As it turns out, the curious boy with the glowing eyes in the backseat just so happens to possess otherworldly abilities.

Jeff Nichols’ films, though highly acclaimed, remain grossly underseen. Finding one of his movies playing at your local cinema seems as likely as stumbling across a Honus Wagner baseball card on the sidewalk. Being a fan of his work since seeing 2011’s Take Shelter, I’d made a conscious effort to see his newest films when they hit theaters. With that determination in mind, it took two gallons of gas and an hour-long drive just to get to the closest screening for Midnight Special. My expectations were admittedly high before I even got to the theater, as you can imagine, given that the round trip cost more than the price of the movie ticket.

As seen in Nichols’ previous works, Midnight Special teases its audience with the conceptions of each genre the director/writer tackles, but he never fully commits to the formula. Nichols also refrains from the conventional narrative. While similar films map out everything from the get-go, Midnight treats you as if you’re a fly on the wall. You’re not told anything through exposition. The world is fully recognized, but it’s left up entirely to the audience to piece the story together. This brilliantly executed concept leaves an underlying tension woven throughout the entirety of the plot, all the while making the relationships between his characters the true focus. And it’s always refreshing to know that the filmmaker trusts his viewers to be both smart and curious enough to follow along.

It’s impossible not to draw comparisons between Midnight Special and the early works of Steven Spielberg, particularly E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. The earthy Texas scenery and throwback fashions also lends a hand in capturing an ambiguously retro time period, seen similarly in last year’s horror hit It Follows. Accompanied by David Wingo’s churning ethereal score, the film’s underlying mystery lifts expectations to dizzying heights, which may be its only downfall come the final act. Rarely does a film of this nature truly satisfy everyone upon payout. And given the secrecy surrounding the project, it’s impossible to express said oversights in greater detail, at the cost of potentially spoiling the film. With that said, fans of Nichols’ previous films like Mud and Take Shelter will find the emotional investment more gratifying than the eventual conclusion.

This is made possible by the stellar cast. Your average moviegoer may be familiar with Michael Shannon for his towering stature and often villainous character portrayals in films such as Premium Rush and Man of Steel. Having worked with Nichols on every one of the director’s projects, there’s no doubt as to why Shannon’s partnership remains so strong. Between the complexity of his characters and the continuous choice to never play into Shannon’s wheelhouse, Nichols always pulls a wholly original and even stronger performance from the actor with each project. And as previously seen in Mud, Nichols clearly has an eye for casting great child actors. Jaeden Lieberher is no exception. With regards to the supporting players, Sam Sheppard never disappoints, and Adam Driver shines as the film’s comic relief. As for Joel Edgerton, this Aussie can’t seem to do any wrong as he continues his hot streak of truly riveting performances. Additional credit goes out to him for having nailed a spot-on Texas accent. Honestly, is there an inflection this man can’t do? The biggest surprise comes from Kirsten Dunst who delivers in the heartbreakingly powerful portrayal of Alton’s frumpy, excommunicated mother, a turn many did not expect out of the actress (unless you’ve been watching FX’s Fargo). Seriously, if you haven’t seen her in it, you’re really missing out. Binge-watch, people.

In summary, Midnight Special is a truly beautiful, albeit uneven viewing experience that will undoubtedly be the topic of conversation upon exiting the theater. Its homage to classic 80’s sci-fi is a breath of fresh air amid the storm of CGI blockbusters flooding the cinema. The film ultimately works better as a character study than a science fiction piece, but it’s still a compelling experience that shouldn’t be missed. 

Rating: A –


By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=48545443

Friday, March 25, 2016

Movie Review: "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice"


The highly anticipated battle that comic book fans have been waiting for finally hit theaters. But do the Caped Crusader and Metropolis Marvel make for silver screen gold, or does their movie matchup make for kryptonite?

Two years following the destructive events of Man of Steel that left Metropolis in ruin, Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) shares the public’s sour sentiment towards Superman (Henry Cavill). Given the devastation left in the wake of his limitless power, The Last Son of Krypton is now viewed as a threat to humanity, and Batman sees himself fit to put an end to his reign as the infamous Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) launches a devious quest of his own.

We all saw the trailers, and a painful one in particular gave us a glimpse into the convoluted and congested plot of this two-and-a-half-hour spectacle. It’s common knowledge nowadays that Zack Snyder makes visually stunning movies, and Batman v. Superman proves to be yet another prime example of his keen directorial eye. But even the best visuals can’t mask the incoherency of Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer’s screenplay. If anything could be taken away from Marvel’s execution to the big screen, it’s that the slow burn of singular entry films builds up much more nicely to a team-origin story. Just as what crippled The Amazing Spider-Man 2, too many players on the board bogs down the development of the eventual Justice League.


Batman v Superman remains bloated and jumbled as it tries juggling far too many key points. Four separate storylines run throughout the course of the movie, and none of them are properly fleshed out by tale’s end to give viewers any true investment. Whether this is the studio’s decision to accelerate the expansion of the DC Universe or merely a choice of the screenwriters, it’s still shoddy plotting.

Poor storytelling coupled with jarring shifts in genre make for a disjointed mess that hardly compliments its actors. And that really proves to be the greatest pity of the entire production, considering its handy ensemble. Henry Cavill remains serviceable in the role of Superman, Amy Adams does her best despite the screenplay robbing her character of any particular relevance, Gal Gadot delivers a solid performance as Wonder Woman, and Jeremy Irons is a delight in his turn as Bruce Wayne’s trusted confidant, Alfred.

As for the controversial casting choices surrounding the film, those decisions result in a tossup. The internet exploded in a tirade last year over Ben Affleck landing the iconic role of Batman. The Argo director most certainly gets the last laugh over the unwarranted hatred here as he brilliantly embodies the Caped Crusader’s grizzled, primal aggression seen yet only in comic book format. Some may gripe over this embodiment’s loose “no killing” rule, but Batman’s nature in the grit of this universe still seems fitting. On the other side of the coin, Jesse Eisenberg sadly plays as the weakest link of the bunch, but that’s not to say that he’s horrible in the role. He’s just not Lex Luthor. With his short-circuiting tics, Eisenberg’s portrayal resembles more of the intelligibly quirky Riddler than Superman’s charismatic archenemy.

If the studio had taken its time and explored each of the many plot points in separate films, the DC Universe could have given Marvel a run for its money. Unfortunately, its eagerness to flood the market results in a chaotic mess. Worst of all, it casts a shadow of doubt over the highly anticipated Suicide Squad, due out in August.


Final Verdict: C -


By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=41557090

Monday, March 21, 2016

MOVIE REVIEW: Joel Edgerton's "The Gift"


With a new job lined up, married couple Simon (Jason Bateman) and Robyn (Rebecca Hall) relocate from Chicago to Los Angeles with the hopes of finding a fresh start. The pair returns to Simon’s hometown and settles in with the purchase of a swanky house in the Hollywood Hills to start a family. A chance encounter with Simon’s old and rather peculiar high school classmate, Gordo (Joel Edgerton), threatens to spoil their idyllic lifestyle however after he goes out of his way to welcome the happy couple to their new home. Robyn sees past Gordo’s awkwardness and finds a kindred spirit in him. Gordo begins leaving the couple numerous presents and even visits Robyn to lend her a helping hand while Simon’s away at work. Things take an unsettling turn though after Simon voices his concerns, insisting that he and Robyn need to sever ties with the oddball.

Having been introduced to the slew of run-of-the-mill thrillers last year with films like The Perfect Guy and The Boy Next Door, it’s impossible not to go into The Gift thinking that it’ll be another regurgitated slop of clichés. Modern-day cinema thrives on gratuitous content, and this genre is no exception with its exploits of sex, nudity, violence, and gore. So imagine my surprise of finding out that The Gift is rated R…only for language. Even in the gilded age of top-notch thrillers like Cape Fear and Fatal Attraction, drastic age-sensitive content was required to affectively tell the story. So how does a film like this one hold up without any of the obvious flash and slash? 

Remarkably well.

Joel Edgerton proves that he’s a force to be reckoned with, having written, produced, and starred in his first full-length directorial film. The Gift expertly takes its time peeling away its many layers with brilliant subtlety, unnerving its audiences and urging them to the edge of their seats before leading into a stunning, tailspin climax. Subverting from the clichés and conventions we all know too well from the genre, The Gift is essentially a character-driven chamber piece thriller that relies only on its masterfully crafted storytelling and superb cast. 

And what a cast it is.

With antagonists commonly portrayed in thrillers nowadays as always being hyper aggressive and in-your-face, it’s a breath of fresh air to see Edgerton dial down and play the role with perfectly devised restraint and sensitivity, making his character someone that audiences can oddly empathize with. Even in spite of his subtle demeanor, he’s still the film’s scene-stealer, and that’s not an easy feat by any means. Best known for his comedic chops in projects like Horrible Bosses and Arrested Development, Jason Bateman steps outside his comfort zone and delivers his most versatile and effective performance to date since 2007’s Juno, proving he’s more than a one-trick pony. And as far as Rebecca Hall is concerned, it continues to amaze me why she isn’t on top of Hollywood’s A-list. She hasn’t worked with acclaimed directors like Christopher Nolan, Woody Allen, and Ben Affleck just because she’s another pretty face. The character of Robyn, with her struggles of past demons, personal loss, and social insecurities, is undoubtedly complex. It takes a true talent to portray these depths, and with the service of Edgerton’s writing and direction, Hall’s performance appears so natural and effortless.  

The Gift teases us with the conventions of the thriller genre and flips it all on its head at just the right moments. As soon as the audience feels they know where the story is going, it lurches in the other direction. The characters’ personas strip away as the story arc progresses, overturning the stereotypical roles of protective husband, tentative housewife, and creepy outsider into something truly authentic. The cinematography is beautiful, the direction perfectly executed, and the foreboding atmosphere never ceases with slow-burning tension from start to finish. It’s a polished piece that knows exactly what it’s doing and never falters or goes astray from its objective. The storyline resonates within the viewer, leaving a lasting impression that will inarguably make us all reflect on past experiences. Joel Edgerton delivers a poignant psychological thriller unlike anything put to film in recent history, proving that The Gift is indeed a gift that will keep on giving. 


The Gift: 4 ½ out of 5 Stars

Source (WP:NFCC#4), Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=46366854>


Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Pretty Little Liars "Hush, Hush, Sweet Liars" Recap & Review

Tuesday night on Pretty Little Infidelity Liars, season six wrapped up not so much with a bang, but with a massive WTF? Dedicated fans know strange happenstances are commonplace in Rosewood, yet no one could quite wrap their heads around the events of the finale. That’s what you get when you mix Mission: Impossible, Night of the Living Dead, and Army of Darkness into PLL

Yes, you read that right. So, how did all of this transpire? Time to breakdown the mania of 6B’s closer.

“Hush, Hush, Sweet Liars” kicks off right after Hanna sends “Uber A” her false confession. The perp appears to buy the ruse, responding that he/she will shoot all the girls if Hanna is lying. Mind you, “shoot” is sent in the form of an emoji gun.

Hanna agrees to meet with “A”, but requests one more day to get her affairs in order. And with that, all Hell breaks loose over the course of the next twenty-four hours. Yvonne and Toby spar off when Cavanaugh tells his fiancée that he won’t be able to attend her mother’s election party. She demands to know why, but he can’t tell her anything other than that it’s in the service of helping Spencer. The pair parts ways for the night on poor terms, but Spoby fans get treated to a glimmer of hope as Spencer and Toby team up to investigate Radley. Using Sara Harvey’s blueprints to hopefully uncover what she’s likely hiding in the refurbished building, they go down into the underbelly of the old sanitarium where they run into a snooping Mona. The three come across an empty room with nothing but old medical records for someone named Mary Drake, who gave birth to Charles twenty-five years ago when she was still a patient at the asylum. This child was then adopted by the DiLaurentis family, making Charlotte Ali and Jason’s adopted brother/sister.


Meanwhile, Caleb rigs up an electrical fence by the Lost Woods Resort with the hopes of thwarting “A” before the big meeting. As Hanna and he wait things out, Hanna finally comes clean to her ex over the fact that she still loves him after we’re treated to a flashback of the former couple’s breakup. Despite Spencer dropping the “L” word on her new beau not twelve hours prior, Hanna and Caleb share a lip lock until they’re interrupted by Aria and Ezra. This infidelity hurts all the more considering the showrunners pushed for us to accept Caleb and Spencer as the new pairing for the entire winter half of the season.

And they’re not the only adulterous ones of the bunch. Whether or not you like the tumultuous shipping of Aria and Ezra, it still leaves a bitter taste in your mouth when these two former lovebirds take a roll in the hay upon getting glowing reviews from Aria’s boss over their new book. We may not have spent much time with Liam, but it’s obvious that he’s a good guy (and a much healthier relationship option for Aria). Ms. Montgomery even spoke to Emily about Liam’s fear that she still had feelings for Ezra, claiming they were, for the most part, unfounded. Aria seems to suffer from some personality disorder, because not three hours later, she’s deep in the sheets with her ex-English teacher…again.

Amid the relationship melodrama, Alison takes a detour from happy honeymooner to full-on Girl, Interrupted. After her vivid dream in the hospital of her mom coming to visit her, she suddenly seems to be suffering from hallucinations. A music box starts playing on its own upstairs, and when Ali goes to investigate, she sees her grimy, dirt-ridden dead mother standing in the doorway of her old bedroom. Rightfully in a panic, Alison seeks comfort with Emily, who assures her that it’s all just a side effect of her painkiller medication. She tries convincing herself that it’s the culprit, only to find the deceased Detective Wilden lying in bed with her when she wakes up from a nap.

Thinking that she’s off her rocker, Alison checks herself into the mental health facility that previously housed Charlotte mere hours before Elliot is supposed to come home from his business trip. Emily begs her to reconsider, but Ali ultimately goes through with the decision.

All’s well at the Hastings’ campaign party when it’s announced that Veronica won the election. The merriment gets crushed when Aria calls Spencer to inform her that Hanna has gone missing. During the elaborate trap to catch “Emoji A”, someone triggered the sensors coming up to the motel room. Apparently, nobody thought of implementing the buddy-system to ensure that Hanna wouldn’t be left alone, because Caleb, Aria, and Ezra all leave her to check out the trigger. Of course, no one’s there, and they discover the same when they get back to the motel room.

First rule of baiting traps, make sure there isn’t a secret passage hidden beneath the floorboards. 

Bunch of amateurs.

The group reviews Caleb’s camera footage from the electrical fence, seeing none other than Alison’s dead mother on the recording. In the last minutes of the show, the deceased Detective Wilden appears again in the DeLaurentis house and rips off an Ethan-Hunt-style facial mask, revealing himself to in fact be Elliot—with a British accent no less.

What?!?!



As it turns out, Mary Drake, the woman from the recently uncovered hospital records, is in fact Mrs. DeLaurentis’s evil twin! She and Elliot invented this entire ruse—including Elliot marrying Alison—all so that when she checked herself into the mental hospital, Elliot would have control over the Carissimi Group. Taking away the family business is apparently step one in their quest for vengeance, as Elliot was apparently in love with Charlotte and Mary wants justice for her daughter’s death. The Liars receive one last text message reading, “Thanks for giving me Hanna. You’re free to go. – A.D.” Then the show concludes with events coming full circle as Hanna’s body is dragged across the floor of the church bell tower where Charlotte met her death at the start of 6B.



Considering all the “twists” coming out of left field and the sheer lunacy of events, it’s impossible to watch PLL anymore with any sense of investment. The suspension of disbelief one has to implement is seriously pushing it, even by soap opera standards. When the show debuted, the original “A” proved to be a formidable foe. The sound of an incoming text message honestly put knots in your stomachs, because “A” was truly menacing. This “Emoji A” has about the same gravitas as a petulant middle schooler. 

Amid all the ridiculousness, the worst offense remains in the writers’ treatment of a particular Liar. Distraught from her father’s death, broke from poor life choices, and left without a job, Emily had the most compelling back story following the five-year time jump. Yet, over the course of the winter season, her character arc fell flatter than a pancake. And yet again, while the other Liars regale in copious love affairs, Ms. Fields continues to be the odd girl out for another season. Our deepest sympathies go out to Shay Mitchell for her continually untapped talents. Shame on you, writers. These grievances aside, the question still stands, if Mary and Elliot are “Uber A”, who actually killed Charlotte? And furthermore, do we really care anymore?  

Not really. 

Pretty Little Liars "Hush, Hush, Sweet Liars" Rating: D +

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Pretty Little Liars: "Did You Miss Me?" Recap & Review

Text message “M” for muder.

Emily confronts Mona after discovering she was the one who called Charlotte the night she was killed. Mona confirms the suspicion, saying that she wanted to meet up with their former tormentor. Considering the amount of dirt Charlotte had on each of the girls, Mona wanted assurance that none of her misdeeds would come to light, but she tells Em that Charlotte never showed up at the Two Crows Diner for their get-together. On the other side of town, honeymooning Alison takes an accidental swan dive down a flight of stairs. Sure, she ends up in the hospital with a concussion, but it hardly seems like foul play. After all, distractedly standing at the edge of a second floor landing in towering high heels does leave you rather susceptible to mishaps. But since this is PLL, we’re supposed to believe that this is all the evildoings of “Uber A”…despite a direct close-up shot of Alison’s foot showing us that she blatantly took a misstep.


The Liars find it suspicious that both Ali and Aria are in the hospital now, and their reservations get confirmed when a get-well card arrives in Ali’s room with Emily, Aria, and Ali’s faces all crossed out of a cartoon drawing of the girls. Emily and Spencer go on a stakeout, following Mona around town where they spot her conversing with Sara Harvey’s personal driver. When the two conspirators part ways, Emily taps the backend of the mystery man’s car while he’s in the hardware store, giving Spencer an opening to search his belongings as he distractedly checks out the damage. Surprise, surprise. He’s toting around blueprints to Radley along with a room key to the joint, which he later hands off to a seemingly able-bodied Sara Harvey.

Top Cheese Ball Award of the Week goes to Aria and Ezra as the pair works together on their new co-written book. Ezra wishes to rewrite a pivotal scene, where Nicole and he have their last conversation before her death. Aria sits on the couch and reads the rewrite, with Ezra and Nicole reenacting the scene behind her in the cheesiest, most overacted play-styled sequence in recent PLL history. Later in the evening, Aria’s publishing boss, Jillian, arrives in town with an invitation to dinner. The co-authors join her, where Jillian says that she’s knows that Aria and Liam “used to be an item.” Now, if Aria wishes to talk with the publishing house, she’s to report to Jillian directly, not Liam. But…wait. What? Did we all miss something? Because last we checked, Liam and Aria were still very much together. Did Jillian talk to Liam and force the two to break up? And if so, why? Losing an adorably loyal boyfriend via your evil boss would leave any other girl on Earth distraught, but after all’s said and done, Aria doesn’t see too broken up over it.

The same cannot be said about a bedridden Alison. The newlywed takes falling down the stairs as a sign that karma’s coming around to bite her in the butt for all the bad things she’s done in the past. All’s well fifteen minutes later after a concussed dream brings the deceased Mrs. DeLaurentis to Ali’s bedside. Her mother assures her that Elliott is a good man that can protect Alison in the ways that she couldn’t. This gives Ali the assurance she needs to return home when her new husband is sent away on business for the next week.

Meanwhile, Hanna and Caleb hatch a plan to catch the evil “Uber A”, whose greatest offense so far appears to be overusing text messaging emojis.



Spencer drops in to break the news to them that Sara Harvey is back at the Radley under a false name when a teary-eyed Hanna suddenly “confesses” to murdering Charlotte.


But not really. After relaying a detailed murder confession, Hanna suddenly goes into her best Resting Bitch Face as poor Spencer gawks in horror. Hanna turns to Caleb and says, “See? She believed it. And if she believed it, even for a minute, they will, too.” Turns out, it was all an act to see if Hanna could sell her story to “Uber A” to make he/she believe they’ve caught the killer. Talk about the cruelest form of “Gotcha.” When Emily gets brought into the mix, neither she nor Spencer are sold on this plan, but Caleb and Hanna tell them that they’re going through with it whether anybody agrees with them or not. We’re then treated to a flashback of Caleb and Spencer when they were in Spain, but it honestly serves no purpose other than to beat us over the head with the fact that the pair has good chemistry.

Hanna, who seems completely clueless as to the wedge she’s put between Spencer and Caleb, shares face time with another Rosewood beau, Lucas. Seriously, between her fiancé, her ex, and this wannabe boyfriend, Hanna’s not just having her cake; she’s eating the entire bakery! Lucas sweeps in to save the day by giving the blonde beauty a million dollar line of credit and an empty factory for Hanna to build her own fashion brand with new designers, no strings attached. For a girl who seemed hell-bent on leaving this torturous small town, Hanna suddenly has a change of heart and wants to stay.

Yeah, because what says getting in touch with your roots better than crime scene tape and a high body count? As far as the Lucas situation goes, Hanna should know by now that nothing in life comes free. Proceed with caution, Ms. Marin.

It’s never an easy thing to rip on a show you enjoy, but honestly, PLL has fallen far from its prior glory. Each scene in this week’s episode is cheesy, melodramatic, unnecessary, downright silly, or worse: all of the above. Non-accidental accidents, an unimpressive villain, ghostly apparitions, and exaggerated storylines leave us all with one sentiment…



Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Pretty Little Liars: “Burn This” Recap & Review

Let the bridesmaids burn!

Kicking off episode 18, Aria apparently went through with officiating Alison and Elliot’s wedding, as the newlyweds have skipped town. As the Liars clean up what’s left of the dual ceremonies, Aria discovers a series of ominous photos added to her parents’ camera. Staged by table cue cards, the messages warn the Liars to give up the killer by election night….or else. Aria manages to find a silver lining amid the drama, as Ezra informs her that he pitched an idea to her publishing house for her to co-write his new book.

Meanwhile, Spencer copes with the fallout from the campaign scandal, and her father isn’t making things any easier for the youngest Hastings. He demands that Spencer put some distance between her and Caleb. The plan fails miserably after Toby drops by the house and cold-cocks Caleb in the nose, believing him to be responsible for the leak. Instead of patching him up inside the house that they’re already in, Spencer decides it’s best to play Florence Nightingale with Caleb out in the open at a local park. Of course, the paparazzi catch the lovebirds in action, and the news passes through the grapevine back to a furious Mr. Hastings.


Thankfully, we finally get a little insight as to what broke up the beloved coupling of Spoby (Spencer and Toby). Flashbacks to Spencer’s sophomore year at college reveal that she had a pregnancy scare, forcing the pair to examine their strained relationship. Ultimately, it’s a false alarm, but the damage between the two has been done. Given this past circumstance, Spencer feels obligated to confront Toby over the political leak that his current fiancée had an abortion a few years back. She insists that Caleb had nothing to do with the scandal and at last comes clean about the new “Uber A” who has surfaced. Toby and Spencer find themselves on better terms, but all isn’t so fine and dandy for the remaining Liars.

Emily has apparently been bit by a radioactive spider, because she suddenly has superhero-level listening abilities. She overhears a random vehicle muffler as she walks down the street, and immediately recognizes it as the same sound as the truck that tried turning her into road kill the night prior. Going all-out Nancy Drew, she sleuths her way down to a local mechanic shop and finds the pickup hidden beneath a car cover. A worker spots her snooping around, and Emily is immediately—and quite conspicuously —turned away when she asks the mechanic if Spencer’s sister borrowed the truck.

As for Aria, an unwelcomed visitor lands on her front porch in the form of Detective Tanner. She insists that Aria accompany her to the police precinct for a lineup. Apparently, an unidentified witness gave a description of the woman who called Charlotte the night of her murder, and it’s a frighteningly close match to Aria. During her briefing, Ms. Montgomery steals a look at Tanner’s records. Of all things, the witness distinctly described an attractive brunette who just so happened to be carrying a pink dice key ring.

Anywho....

Hanna may not be under attack by the law, but she definitely holds the record for the world’s most miserable Bridal Shower. When Ashley attempts to lighten the mood with a trivia game about the groom-to-be, everyone fails miserably to answer any of the questions right.


Are we really expected to believe that Hanna didn’t gush all about how Jordan proposed to her? Or how they even met? Yeah, no one’s buying any of that.

If things couldn’t get any more awkward, Mona swings by the party just before Hanna’s electronically-controlled apartment goes haywire. The tablet that works everything from the temperature in the room to the music system suddenly malfunctions, shutting off the lights and kicking up the A.C. to tornado-level wind gusts.



Obviously, the absurdity can’t end there. Just as Aria heads across the room to pick up some tossed gifts, the fireplace practically explodes in her face, leaving her hospitalized with second-degree burns. Still shaken by the incident, Emily and Mona stick around Hanna’s apartment to clean up the mess. After dumping out the last of the charcoaled party favors, Mona says goodnight and heads to her car. Of course, Emily takes notice to her keychain, seeing pink dice.

So, who was really shocked?

Anybody? 

Anybody?


Yeah, didn’t think so.

PLL succeeds this week in giving its fans a reasonable excuse for why Spencer and Toby parted ways. Asides from that high note, the episode is possibly absurd, even by soap opera standards.

Apartment tornados, people. Apartment tornados.


Need I say more?


Pretty Little Liars: “Burn This” Rating —     D+ 

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Pretty Little Liars: "We've All Got Baggage" Recap & Review

Wedding bells and murder weapons. Ah, yes. What else would you expect from the town of Rosewood? As always, the Liars have their plates full, with Emily's eggs being stolen from a fertility clinic, Spencer’s mother coming clean about her cancer, Ezra returning with his newly written book that Aria ghostwrote in his absence, and Hanna finding herself unemployed. You know, the usual.

When a wave of dirty politics hits the Hastings’ Senate campaign, Caleb takes the fall for Spencer after a secret someone uses her IP address to send out damaging reports. Spencer’s mother fires Caleb after he falsely confesses and he is consequently kicked out of the barn. That seems okay with him, because he’s more preoccupied with the suspicion surrounding Spencer’s sister. After all, Melissa’s broken suitcase could be the murder weapon in Charlotte’s death. Plus, Hanna conveniently remembers an absurdly unforgettable run-in with Spencer’s sister back in New York. It's funny how something like this would slip her mind...until the perfect time to label Melissa as the next red herring.

Emily meets a friendly face while ordering textbooks at Hollis, only to later find out that he’s an undercover reporter. With this knowledge, she turns the tables and weasels information out of him, discovering that Melissa returned early from London and therefore could have made the infamous call to the DeLaurentis house on the night of Charlotte’s murder. Emily heads out to the diner where the landline originated in search of more answers, only to find the parking lot and building empty. A monster pickup truck then begins threatening her, repeatedly barreling down on the young woman as she tries not to get made into a crushed hood ornament. Emily conveniently takes shelter on top of a large metal storage container after the truck manages to run over her cell. While up there, Emily just so happens to come across a long metal rod that looks suspiciously like the murder weapon!

But of course, she drops it, allowing the chaotic truck driver to reclaim the piece. 


Meanwhile, Mr. Montgomery asks his daughter to be the wedding officiant for his and Ella’s impending nuptials as Hanna finds temporary work acting as Ella’s stylist. The wedding goes off without a hitch, but all isn’t well for Aria. Obviously, to up the melodrama, Liam assumes the worst in regard as to why Aria wants to stay in Rosewood. Apparently, it never ever came up that she previously dated the literary darling of her publishing house. So when Fitz accidently drops the histrionic bomb to her new beau over lunch, it racks Aria with unnecessary guilt later on as she officiates her parents’ second walk down the aisle. Then, of course, Liam comes to the wedding, and the two quickly make up over the ridiculous quarrel. The reunion seems sweet until a couple of unexpected visitors show up on Aria’s doorstep following the ceremony. Since Aria’s now officiated, Alison and Elliot come to her, insisting that she marry the pair right then and there. And by the look on Aria’s face, she’s not particularly comfortable with the idea. 



PLL these days is pretty hit or miss. Sure, the series has descended to more of a soap-opera level that forces you to suspend all disbelief at the door, but it can be fun in a campy sort of way. When it’s not so much fun though, it’s really just pure melodrama without payoff. In addition, the transition from past to present in the five year time jump is still rough. The Liars themselves blossomed nicely into their future versions, but the same cannot be said about the supporting players. One in particular: Caleb Rivers. Remember the days when he was the rugged, rough-around-the-edges bad boy?


Yeah, those really are just memories now, because there’s not a single fleck of that guy left. Now, Caleb looks like a polished country club hipster, sporting polos and bright colors. Seriously, what happened to the leather jackets and devil-may-care attitude? He’s now another stuffed shirt in a line of replaceable cookie cutter men. And even after all these weeks, we still have no clue as to what the heck happened between Spencer and Toby. There’s unmistakable hostility on his end, and the destruction of their relationship might help us feel better about the sudden ship between Spencer and Caleb. Answers, PLL. We need answers.   

Episode Rating: C