Saturday, November 28, 2015

The Ballad Of Luke Cage "AKA Take A Bloody Number!"

The Good: Decent performances, Good character moments
The Bad: Predictable plot
The Basics: A mediocre ramp-up to the finale, "AKA Take A Bloody Number" gives Luke Cage an understanding of what Jessica Jones went through with Kilgrave and gives viewers that battle they truly wanted to see.

This weekend, I am at a Star Trek convention as a dealer and I was put in the exciting position of having my opinion matter when the conversation I was having with some fellow dealers veered onto the subject of Jessica Jones. The person with whom I was conversing was up to episode seven and unsure whether or not she was going to finish the first season. As I round out my second viewing of the entire season, I find myself considering the question of, ultimately, was it worth it? The penultimate episode of the first season is "AKA Take A Bloody Number" and ramping into the conflict that has been building for the entire season, the episode's direction seems more obvious than audacious and in my conversation, I found myself advising the person to end on the high note of "AKA WWJD?" (reviewed here!) and just leave the season there if she was on the fence about bothering with the show.

"AKA Take A Bloody Number" bears some blame for that advice. Going into a season finale, especially a first season finale, a show has to have an energy that drives the viewer to watch to the very end. "AKA Take A Bloody Number" lacks the essential urgency of the best penultimate episodes. Instead, "AKA Take A Bloody Number" follows immediately upon "AKA I've Got The Blues" (reviewed here!) and goes in the most predictable, Marvel Formulaic way possible. It's impossible to discuss "AKA Take A Bloody Number" without some references to exactly where "AKA I've Got The Blues" left off.

Following the destruction of his bar, Jessica Jones takes Luke Cage back to the Alias Investigations office to dry him out from Kilgrave's influence. Kilgrave is still alive and has his father, Albert, with him and they are attempting to create a serum that will boost the range and duration of Kilgrave's powers. Jones is convinced that Kilgrave is trying to up his mind-control strength in order to be able to control her once again. At the hospital, Trish is recovering from her ordeal well, when her mother comes to visit. Dorothy tries to get Trish to let her back in and sis rejected by Trish.

Rummaging through the hotel where Thompson was staying leads Jones and Cage to Zalk Labs for a drug that Kilgrave has the technicians making non-stop. Cage and Jones have a heart to heart where Cage forgives Jones for Riva's death. Back at Trish's apartment, Dorothy arrives with a file about the mysterious organization that Simpson was working for from her personal archives. It turns out that Simpson was made into a supersoldier by the same shadowy organization that paid Jessica Jones's medical bills following the car accident that killed Jones's family. Following a technician from Zalk leads Jones into a confrontation with Kilgrave that pits Jones and Cage against one another.

"AKA Take A Bloody Number" does what viewers who are invested in the characters of Jessica Jones have secretly wanted since Kilgrave's powers were verified on-screen. The episode puts the unstoppable force in conflict with an immovable object and the result is entertaining and predictably devastating. The Kilgrave-influenced Luke Cage is a terrifying notion and given that Jessica Jones's super-strength is not enough to stop him, it puts Jones in the difficult bind of trying to survive Cage and Kilgrave while trying to kill the latter and save the former.

On the character front, "AKA Take A Bloody Number" plays off an important, if subtle, moment from "AKA Ladies Night" (reviewed here!), where Jessica Jones deduces through observations just how important Luke Cage's bar is to him. Jones's observations are proven right in "AKA Take A Bloody Number" and without the anchor to normalcy, Luke Cage bounces between being Kilgrave's pawn and Jessica Jones's willing tool in her quest to take down Kilgrave. The episode also plays off the most interesting characterization of Kilgrave, which has him infatuated with Jones and threatened by any man who might take his place in Jones's heart.

En route, "AKA Take A Bloody Number" fills with a scene between Robyn and Malcolm that has the flaky upstairs neighbor setting Malcolm back on the path of virtue. Or virtuous enough to be a sidekick and moral guide to Jessica Jones. Malcolm intends to flee Hell's Kitchen for his parent's home where he wants to reconnect with what is important and, in that way, he has almost the opposite character arc of Luke Cage in the episode. Cage could have been of use to Jones by getting away and leaving any potential sphere of Kilgrave's influence; Malcolm learns he needs to stay to help and find purpose with Jessica Jones. It's a weird conduit that Robyn becomes to help him understand his own arc.

Krysten Ritter gives a decent performance in "AKA Take A Bloody Number," as Jessica Jones is forced on an emotional roller coaster through the course of the episode. Amid the fight scenes, Ritter emotes well. David Tennant does great with the material given to him, but in "AKA Take A Bloody Number" his character Kilgrave degenerates into a pretty generic Marvel supervillain lacking in the subtlety and intrigue that made him watchable and incredible only a few episodes earlier. Mike Colter exhibits enough range in "AKA Take A Bloody Number" to convince viewers that he can absolutely handle a spin-off if Luke Cage has a decent story to tell [hey, executive producers, if you're reading this - why not shake up the formula you've developed with Daredevil and Jessica Jones and have an established villain in place that Luke Cage finds wherever he goes and have him have to stop him there, as opposed to a similar story with an entrenched protagonist and a rising antagonist who takes several episodes to arrive on-screen for a big reveal?].

But, ultimately, "AKA Take A Bloody Number" is a set-up episode and it is vamping for time as viewers wait for the inevitable confrontation between Jones and Kilgrave that will cap the season.

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Jessica Jones - The Complete First Season, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the debut season here!

For other works with Michael Siberry, please visit my reviews of:
Birdman (Or The Unexpected Virtue Of Ignorance)
House Of Cards - Season 1


For other film and television reviews, please check out my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Thursday, November 26, 2015

Today We Are Thankful "There Is No Try!" (And Hallmark Made An Ornament Of It . . .)

The Good: Good balance, Aspects of the sound clip, coloring and sculpt
The Bad: Aspects of the sound clip, coloring and sculpt
The Basics: The last major Star Wars ornament to get reviewed is this year's diorama ornament: "There Is No Try" . . . . and it's all right . . . sort of.

The internet site I used to write reviews for ultimately asked reviewer to give an absolute "recommend" or "not recommend" in addition to a rating on a star-based scale. Many an hour was spent by many of the most prolific writers on that site belaboring that "recommend" or "not recommend" on a mediocre product. I often found the happy medium in the contradictions: the highly-rated product that I would not recommend or the lowly rated one that I would. The 2015 "There Is No Try" Star Wars ornament almost got me to create such a split decision here. The reason for that conflict within me is that so much of the ornament is done wrong . . . but, for a change, there is so much evidence of the effort that went into trying to make the ornament right!

There Is No Try is the standard-release Star Wars diorama Hallmark ornament. Released in 2015, it is a good bet it will be sold out by Christmas with the release of the new Star Wars film renewing the fan base.

Hallmark Keepsake has a line of collectible ornaments from major franchises, like Star Wars and Star Trek. From the Star Wars line comes the There Is No Try ornament. Fans of the Star Wars Trilogy will easily recall There Is No Try. For those unfamiliar with There Is No Try, it is a moment on Dagobah when Luke is training in the swamp and he gives up on trying to lift the X-wing fighter out of the muck with only the power of his mind in The Empire Strikes Back (reviewed here !). Oddly, the ornament uses the name and sound clip from several moments after the handstand pose that Luke is rendered performing!


The There Is No Try ornament recreates the Yoda and Luke on the Dagobah surface in solid plastic. The ornament, released in 2015, is Luke Skywalker in his Dagobah fatigues, performing a handstand while Yoda balances on one of his feet. The rocks molded into the ground nearby suggest that Luke is using the power of his mind to set the small one atop the larger one. This Dagobah diorama ornament is one of the largest yet made, measuring 5 3/4" tall, 2 1/4" wide and 1 5/8" deep. Hallmark charged $17.95 for the ornament originally and it seems to be an excellent price point for the potentially complicated or rich ornament. Sadly, it is neither.

The Hallmark There Is No Try ornament is made of a durable plastic and Luke upside down, his hands on the dirt ground, back straight. He is not yet performing the one-handed handstand that he does in the film and Hallmark did not make an effort to have the smaller rock actually appear suspended. The detailing - sculpted and colored - is excellent on Luke's pants and shirt and the ground. Luke's clothing is colored to look wet from sweat and the ground looks realistically textured.

Unfortunately, the rest of the There Is No Try ornament is colored in monotones. Yoda looks like an animated character - not a puppet or CG version of the character. Luke's face is hardly distinctive of replicating Mark Hamill's appearance.


As a Hallmark Keepsake ornament, There Is No Try has a sound chip but no light effect. When a button on the base is pressed, Yoda and Luke speak back and forth to one another with lines from The Empire Strikes Back. Unfortunately, the target audience of this ornament will recognize it for exactly what it is; it is dialogue cobbled together from the scene after Yoda falls and tries to convince Luke to get the X-Wing out of the swamp using only his mental powers. Sadly, much had to be cut to get the sound clip down under thirty seconds and the edit is hardly stirring or even relevant to the sculpt.


As with all ornaments, the intent of the Hallmark Keepsake There Is No Try ornament is to be hung on a Christmas Tree. And for those creating the ultimate Star Wars Christmas Tree, There Is No Try is a luxury and fits poorly with other Hallmark Star Wars ornaments.

This ornament has a steel hook loop embedded into the top of the ornament. From that hook, the There Is No Try ornament hangs balanced. It is perfectly level when hung there and the ornament sways when rocked, but otherwise sits stable in the right position!


Hallmark Keepsake began delving into the collectibles market in 1991 with Star Trek when it introduced the exceptionally limited edition original U.S.S. Enterprise ornament (reviewed here!). Since then, they have branched out into other popular franchises like Star Wars and The Wizard Of Oz. The There Is No Try ornament is not at all limited and has not appreciated in the secondary market yet, which makes sense because many Hallmark stores still have it on their shelves. One suspects as soon as The Force Awakens hits theaters, the shelves will be cleared of this ornament. Despite the serious issues with it, I'd bet on it appreciating in the long term.


Like most Star Wars ornaments, the There Is No Try has nothing to do with the Christmas holiday and ultimately, I recommend it to those who have friends who customize figures and ornaments. Buy it, take it to them and have them do what Hallmark should have done in the first place as far as enhancing the details (through paint or a painting/plastic shaving combination) and then the ornament would be truly worthwhile!

For other Star Wars diorama ornaments, please be sure to visit my reviews of:
2014 Cantina Band
2013 At Jabba's Mercy
2012 Han Solo To The Rescue
2011 Showdown At The Cantina
2010 His Master's Bidding
2009 A Deadly Duel


For other holiday ornaments, please check out the Ornaments Review Index Page!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Villains Multiply As Villainy Overcomes Everyone But Trish In "AKA I've Got The Blues"

The Good: Pacing, Generally good performances, Trish's character arc
The Bad: Diverges from the main plotlines to deal with a contrived subplot
The Basics: "AKA I've Got The Blues" has Trish's mother and Nuke taking center stage for the villain roles as Kilgrave goes into hiding following his most significant attack.

There are few shows that I have gone into with no real information that I still felt a great deal of anticipation for that I will go back to even if they let me down. The first season of Jessica Jones definitely met all of those criteria, though. I knew nothing of the protagonist, Jessica Jones, the Netflix previews got me excited about watching it and after a decent bit of rising action through the first few episodes, I was hooked. And then the season peaked with "AKA WWJD?" (reviewed here!) and it never quite recovered from the greatness it executed and the potential it revealed in that episode. "AKA I've Got The Blues" comes after that point, so it is when the season is on the downswing, laboring toward its obvious climactic battle between Jessica Jones and the villainous mind-controller Kilgrave.

"AKA I've Got The Blues" is set immediately after "AKA 1,000 Cuts" (reviewed here!) and there is no realistic way to intelligently discuss the episode without referencing some of the climactic events of the prior episode. Regardless of where "AKA I've Got The Blues" goes, it starts out in a wonderful way with a flashback that makes it perfectly understandable why so many people throughout Jessica Jones know the It's Patsy! theme song. If there is any significant tie-in between Jessica Jones and the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it is my sincere hope that when the inevitable meeting between Hellcat and The Avengers comes up, Dr. Banner, Tony Stark, The Falcon, and Ant-Man all start singing the It's Patsy! song to Trish. Odds are, though, whatever circumstance would unite the Marvel Cinematic Universe's disparate heroes, it would be a dark event. The longer "AKA I've Got The Blues" goes on, the more one has to wonder just how dark things have to get before an Avenger or two pops up to actually help the street-level heroes.

Opening with a flashback that shows how Jessica Jones woke up to Patsy being forced to take her in after Jones's family was killed, the episode flashes forward to moments after the biggest on-screen Kilgrave attack to date. The four survivors are confused and Jessica Jones tries to keep it together following Hope's suicide. Robyn even comes around to lying to the police about Kilgrave's attack, to protect the police who might investigate. Jones and Trish meet up and Jessica Jones insists on hunting down the local John Doe's at the morgues in order to find Albert, whom she assumes is already dead. Jones works herself to exhaustion searching for a corpse that does not exist, getting hit by a truck in the process.

Trish is visited by Simpson at the set of her show and she tells him off for being violent and scary the last time they met. Simpson lies to her about quitting The Program again, which leads Trish to abandon him and go to bring Jessica Jones back to her home. When the morgue calls in the morning, Jessica Jones discovers Clemons's body. Unfortunately, that leaves Trish vulnerable to Simpson's attack . . . which he does when his men come for him. That sets off a battle between Simpson and Jones that destroys the Alias Investigations office!

"AKA I've Got The Blues" is the closest viewers get in the first season of Jessica Jones of a heavy Trish Walker episode. Trish trades on her celebrity in order to get Jones access to the morgues and she has a solid arc from her past reluctantly rescuing Jessica Jones to the present where Jones has been her protector. "AKA I've Got The Blues" allows her to take the role of protector back and given how many crappy decisions Jessica Jones has made in the course of the season, it's refreshing to see someone else take charge. Trish is smart and detail-oriented, which makes her a nat ural private investigator, should the television incarnation of Trish follow her comic book source's lead, it will make sense.

Trish calls Simpson out on his bullshit, before she catches his slip-ups. She is a powerful character and Rachael Taylor plays her exceptionally well. Taylor makes Trish credible as a survivor of child abuse and someone who can hold her own with Jones and her bullshit. "AKA I've Got The Blues" helps prove that Trish can hold her own as a headliner; she need not be a sidekick only!

Krysten Ritter has one of her very few instances of breaking in "AKA I've Got The Blues," which is funnier than one might think to see. As Jones sings the It's Patsy theme song to Maury the elderly morgue guard, her eyes are cracking up and it's almost a delight to see Jessica Jones so simply delighted. If only it were a character choice . . .

The breaking is an unfortunate symptom of a larger problem. Director Uta Briesewitz gives Trish a good arc at the expense of some of the sensibility that has made Jessica Jones fly up until now. Simpson's science-altered body is regulated by three groups of pills - reds, blues, and whites. During the climactic battle, Simpson warns Trish against using the reds because without the blue pills, she will forget to breathe . . . before he tosses the pills away. In the time it takes for the paramedics to arrive while Trish's life hangs in the balance, Jones doesn't even attempt to find them! As well, when Simpson's goon friends arrive, they wait for him to take his pills and become . . . invulnerable? super strong? outright psychotic? (it's not entirely clear what the pills to to make him more soldier-y), which makes no real sense.

"AKA I've Got The Blues" does have a moment of truly impressive character and acting for Jessica Jones and Trish Walker. Elizabeth Cappuccino (who has to have one of the best names in show business EVER!) plays the young Jessica Jones opposite Catherine Blades (Young Trish) and for two young performers, they truly nail the instant camaraderie and quirks of reluctant friends finding common purpose. Cappuccino's delivery when she talks about the TV movie that would be made about Patsy is hilarious and unsettling, which is more than just the lines could have done.

Despite how cool the climactic battle in the episode is, "AKA I've Got The Blues" is yet another Jessica Jones episode that acts as more of a tangent to the main storyline, as opposed to an essential piece of the plot. The result is both an episode that is inherently flawed and one that fits into the overall narrative is a more awkward than organic way.

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Jessica Jones - The Complete First Season, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the debut season here!

For other works with Mike Colter, please visit my reviews of:
Men In Black 3
Brooklyn Lobster
Million Dollar Baby


For other television season and episode reviews, please check out my Television Review Index Page for a listing of those reviews!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Carnage To Catharsis The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2 Is A Dismal End!

The Good: Moments of theme and performance, Special effects
The Bad: Unlikable or under-developed characters, Plot oscillates between predictable and undeveloped, Resolution
The Basics: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2 puts to rest a series that managed to get produced at the right time . . . but will not satisfy serious film buffs.

When it comes to The Hunger Games, the truth is, the franchise did not particularly grab me. I was pretty much repulsed by The Hunger Games (reviewed here!) and while I liked Catching Fire (reviewed here!) well-enough, Mockingjay - Part 1 (reviewed here!) pretty much lost me. I just don't care about Panem. So, I was in no rush to run out and see The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2. But, with it being a holiday and me being on the road alone, I figured it was time to pay my Hunger Games dues and take in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2.

Right off the bat, I've not read the books upon which the films in The Hunger Games Saga were based. This is a pure review of the film and the movie confirmed what I suspected the moment I saw The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1: Part 1 should have ended the moment the rescued Peeta Mellark reached up and began struggling Katniss Everdeen. Instead, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2 begins with the potential of a young woman literally finding her voice and then rising up to raise a rebellion; instead, it is a movie about a mediocre woman using violence to solve her problems. Katniss Everdeen is supposed to be the hero fans root for, but Finnick made more substantive leaps in exposing the corruptions of President Snow, tyrant leader of Panem, in the prior film. Katniss does not follow Finnick's example in using logic, truth, and helping to turn the people of Panem against the corrupt President; as in the prior films, she mopes around until she shoots her problems away with her bow.

Having rescued Peeta from the Capitol, the rebels in District 13 are horrified to see how he has been brainwashed into an animal, intent on killing Katniss. Katniss, however, fights to keep Peeta alive and she is eager to end the conflict with Snow by getting support from other Districts. Her first attempt to shoot a propaganda film amid revolutionaries and refugees ends up with her getting shot. With the rebellion apparently crumbling, President Snow starts to weed out those close to him who might be political rivals, using poison like Finnick previously revealed. Despite being loathed now by Peeta, Katniss tries desperately to save him and be close to him, even though he is still violent from the venom that was used on him by the Capitol.

After Annie and Finnick marry, Katniss joins the squad being sent into the Capitol to disarm the traps that Snow has set. En route to Snow's mansion, Katniss and her companions are beset by creatures, weapons, and obstacles - much like the victors of the Hunger Games encountered during the games - and from Peeta's inability to control himself or overcome his programming. But as the resistance nears victory, Katniss gets information that suggests to her that Snow might not be the only villain in Panem and when someone close to Katniss is murdered as part of political theater, Katniss decides she alone must end it.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2 failed to do what I've been waiting for in all of the films in The Hunger Games Saga: it did not make me care about the characters or Panem. Yes, oppression is absolutely terrible, but Panem in the films of The Hunger Games is a fiefdom of Districts serving the Capitol at a cost of two lives per District per year (one for the victor's district). The system has been working for 74 years at the beginning of The Hunger Games and, substantively, it is analogous to an unrestrained Capitalist system with an authoritarian government, so it was a hard dystopia for me to get into or care about (we have it as bad in real life; we just get to go to the movies and get a new smartphone once in a while). The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2 fails to make the viewer invested in the world of Panem.

Even worse, in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2 it is almost impossible to care what becomes of the film's protagonist. There is no allegory in the film, so Katniss heals until she acts, mopes until she rages and the journey is unsatisfying . . . especially when one considers it without the "wow" factor of the special visual effects. Add to that, the love triangle where Katniss's heart is pulled by both Gale and Peeta is expanded in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2, which feels like a time drain in an already packed film. The love triangle could have been left out and perhaps a scene could have been put in where Katniss sees evidence of the film's other primary villain, as opposed to simply taking other people's words for it.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2 is notable in its underuse of performers Jena Malone (who, frankly, I can always stand to see more of in films) and Stanley Tucci. Elizabeth Banks plays Effie Trinket with less of an annoying quality than in the prior installment, so at least her talents are not as wasted this time around.

Ultimately, though, the time is wasted. Who lives? Who dies? It doesn't matter, so long as there's an Evangelical-friendly scene to cap off the movie with utter denial of the initial characterizations of the characters the corniest summing up of the events of the Saga. That, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2 absolutely has.

For other films currently in theaters, please check out my reviews of:
Bleeding Heart
Hotel Transylvania 2


For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Jessica Jones Diminishes By A Death Of "AKA 1,000 Cuts!"

The Good: David Tennant's performance, Plot moves forward, Pam's character suddenly gets cool
The Bad: Gore factor, Terrible character choices, Pacing
The Basics: All of the characters, but Jessica Jones, suffer the consequences of Jones's decisions in "AKA 1,000 Cuts."

One of the films I have come to enjoy more and more over the years, that I never expected to, was the P.T. Anderson film Punch-Drunk Love (reviewed here!). In it, Adam Sandler takes on an uncomfortable dramatic role (one of his first) and illustrates a profound range that his comedy works did not allow him. I mention this at the outset of my review of the Jessica Jones episode "AKA 1,000 Cuts" because by this point in the first season, the "villain" Kilgrave is beginning to have a lot in common with Sandler's character from Punch-Drunk Love and David Tennant's performance as Kilgrave similarly deep. Like Sandler's character Barry Egan, Kilgrave has been screwed over by everyone in his life at this point and as "AKA 1,000 Cuts" opens, it is hard not to feel bad for him in some ways.

"AKA 1,000 Cuts" picks up at the climax of "AKA Sin Bin" (reviewed here!), revealing how Kilgrave escaped from his perspective and despite the direction the episode - and the season - is now taking Kilgrave in, those who only knew David Tennant from Doctor Who (season two is reviewed here!) have a lot to be excited by from his performance. Unfortunately, the character's peak of greatness has been corrupted and Jessica Jones has replaced the deep version of Kilgrave with an obvious, villainous character who develops now down the Dark Side in "AKA 1,000 Cuts." Kilgrave was betrayed by Jessica Jones and his own mother in "AKA Sin Bin" and that made it difficult to root for any of the supposedly "good" guys in that episode.

Opening with Kilgrave fleeing the room Jessica Jones had him captured in and asserting his power over Hogarth, Kilgrave heads to a doctor. Back in the facility, Trish tries to get a bullet into her head until Jessica Jones helps her get through the command. Jones realizes she is now immune to Kilgrave's influence and Dr. Thompson reveals that Kilgrave's power comes from a microvirus. He and Trish head off to try to make a vaccine against Kilgrave's power, while Jones hunts Kilgrave and Detective Clemons cleans up the crime scene. While Wendy is patching up Kilgrave, Kilgrave stumbles upon Hogarth's secret regarding Kilgrave's unborn child and her plans for it.

Kilgrave gives Wendy her chance to get revenge on Hogarth, while Simpson arrives at his safe room and discovers the post-Kilgrave carnage. When Pam rescues Hogarth, things go terribly wrong. Returning home, Jessica Jones finds Malcolm helping Robyn put posters around for her missing brother. Kilgrave offers Jones a trade: exonerating Hope Shlottman for Kilgrave's father. Malcolm accidentally outs himself to Robyn at the Survivor's meeting and she becomes enraged to motivate the survivors to turn their wrath on Jones. Trish encounters Simpson and realizes that all is not right with her former lover, while Robyn's move puts all of the survivors and Hope Shlottman in a precarious position that forces Jones into an untenable decision.

David Tennant is once again amazing in "AKA 1,000 Cuts." He plays Kilgrave with a delightful, hapless quality that moves the plot forward brilliantly. It is Kilgrave's frustrated utterance that leads him to the knowledge that he impregnated Shlottman and Hogarth has the embryonic tissue and Tennant plays the key moment effortlessly. He makes it seem like it is the first take! Tennant plays Kilgrave as confused and authoritative and full of vengeance, alternately. The flashback scene with Jessica Jones and Kilgrave is good for revisiting the matter of perspective that is otherwise dulled in "AKA 1,000 Cuts."

The enemies multiply in "AKA 1,000 Cuts" as Simpson takes a leap down the rabbit hole and becomes his supersoldier alter-ego Nuke. Nuke has serious crossover potential with Daredevil or the forthcoming Netflix series The Defenders, but in "AKA 1,000 Cuts," Simpson still has a somewhat reasonable motivation. Simpson wants to kill Kilgrave to stop the threat he represents and to that end, Simpson will take any means necessary. In the process, he becomes a monster on par with the one he wants to stop.

"AKA 1,000 Cuts" marks the final appearance in the first season of Pam, Hogarth's legal secretary and lover. In saving Hogarth, Pam is able to become her equal and she squares off against her partner perfectly. Unfortunately, it is in the quick conflict during which Pam saves Jeri that the viewer realizes for the first time that Susie Abromeit and Rachael Taylor were cast way too closely. Given that Hellcat usually appears in the comics as the redhead she is alluded to in Jessica Jones from when she was a child actor, it seems odd that two skinny blondes were cast. In "AKA 1,000 Cuts," there's a double-take the viewer has to do to realize that it is Pam, not Trish, saving Hogarth. Abromeit is good in her character's final moments.

As the name of the episode might suggest, "AKA 1,000 Cuts" is a bloodbath and the climax of the episode forces Jones in a different direction and moves Jessica Jones down a much darker, far less heroic, path. It's hard not to watch "AKA 1,000 Cuts" and just think "if Jones had just worked for more than one day to rehabilitate Kilgrave none of this would be happening!" Given the graphic natures of the multiple deaths in "AKA 1,000 Cuts," it makes it very hard to like Jessica Jones at this point, much less the season.

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Jessica Jones - The Complete First Season, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the debut season here!

For other works with Clarke Peters, please visit my reviews of:
The Best Of Me
John Wick


For other Marvel movie, television season and episode reviews, please check out my Marvel Cinematic Universe Review Index Page for a listing of those reviews!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Unremarkable Ditties: Nothin' Matters And What If It Did

The Good: Some decent lyrics, Vocals aren't bad
The Bad: SHORT, Musically unimaginative, Lack of a hook
The Basics: Very much a young album, John Mellencamp's Nothin' Matters And What If It Did is understandably one he has distanced himself from!

John Mellancamp was my October Artist Of The Month and given how fast the year is going and how I have not chosen a subsequent Artist Of The Month, I've decided to continue my immersion in the works of John Mellencamp through the end of the year! Little makes me instantly regret that decision like the next Mellancamp album in my docket: Nothin' Matters And What If It Did. Nothin' Matters And What If It Did was one of John Mellancamp's earliest albums and it is one that is distinctive only in the lack of any worthwhile songs outside the two songs that made it to the radio. Forgettable and monotonous, Nothin' Matters And What If It Did is the work of a young artist making pop ditties that lack his distinctive sound, energy or enthusiasm in their presentation.

It did not surprise me to read an article in which John Mellencamp, years later, distanced himself from Nothin' Matters And What If It Did. Nothin' Matters And What If It Did lacks deep social commentary that is present on most John Mellencamp albums and Mellencamp challenges himself in no noticeable ways on the album.

With only eleven songs (12 on the 2005 c.d. reissue) clocking out at 35:59, Nothin' Matters And What If It Did is short and two of the songs - "Cry Baby" and "Peppermint Twist" are barely songs - they are more like vocal warm-up exercises/thrashing on instruments. That said, what appears on Nothin' Matters And What If It Did is very much the work of John Mellencamp as he was at the start of his career - though interviews seem to indicate that the record company exerted a lot of creative control over the whole venture. Nevertheless, Mellencamp wrote and composed all of the songs, save the album's opener "Hot Night In A Cold Town." Mellencamp provides all of the primary vocals and plays guitar on Nothin' Matters And What If It Did, but he was not involved in producing the album.

Nothin' Matters And What If It Did is dominated on the instrumental front by pianos. While the guitar, bass and drums that are more commonly associated with John Mellencamp are present, the piano is the dominant instrument on most of the songs, which gives all of the songs a lighter, more up-beat overall sound.

Vocally, John Mellencamp plays very comfortably in his youthful voice's range on Nothin' Matters And What If It Did. Mellencamp sings all of the lyrics clearly enough, but this is not an album where he holds notes particularly long or tests the limits of his voice at at register. He is comfortable with presenting cool, crisp vocals on the album and he delivers that pretty consistently.

On Nothin' Matters And What If It Did John Mellencamp sings mostly about relationships. His lyrics are mildly poetic, but do not evoke as strong of images as those from his later works. Indeed, it is a young man who wrote "Make me feel like I wanna feel / Baby tear this pain from my heart / Make me feel like I wanna feel / Make me feel like I did in the start / Maybe it's a change of plan / Now that your dreams have left me behind / Or is it another man / Who didn't care that you were mine" ("Make Me Feel"), not a seasoned veteran of love and love lost.

Still, Mellencamp tries to communicate on songs like "Don't Misunderstand Me." With lyrics like "I bring you renegade stories / And you tell me I'm crazy and wild / You say that I lack maturity / Stop actin' like a child / But you know I am a liar / And my promises only get in my way / You feel so good, when you're in my arms / Ain't there one right thing I can say / To make you want to stay" ("Don't Misunderstand Me"), Mellencamp hints at the emotional honesty that helped make most of his lyrics truly resonate with listeners.

The closest that John Mellencamp comes to a musical storysong on Nothin' Matters And What If It Did is "Wild Angel." Mellencamp singing "Cabin fever nearly drove us insane / When the snow fell on us last December / Look at me girl, I don't feel the same / Now those days they've all gone together" ("Wild Angel") is a stark contrast to the ridiculous amount of repetition of lines on the songs that surround it - "Cry Baby," "Peppermint Twist," and "Cheap Shot." Mellencamp abandons his early Folk influences on Nothin' Matters And What If It Did.

Nothin' Matters And What If It Did is utterly forgettable outside the two radio-played tracks "This Time" and "Ain't Even Done With The Night." It's unsurprising that no other songs from this album appear on the many compilations Mellencamp has released over the years.

For other works by John Mellencamp, please check out my reviews of:
Chestnut Street Incident
A Biograpghy
American Fool
Words And Music: John Mellencamp's Greatest Hits


For a comprehensive list of the albums and singles I have reviewed, please check out my Music Review Index Pagefor an organized listing!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Rebirth Of Nuke, The Downfall Of Jessica Jones: "AKA Sin Bin"

The Good: David Tennant's performance, Simpson's plotline, Plot climax
The Bad: Meanders, Jessica Jones's character, Inorganic character and plot development
The Basics: Jessica Jones beats the crap out of Kilgrave for no particular reason, which undermines all that the season has accomplished up until "AKA Sin Bin."

After Jessica Jones hit a season one (and Marvel Cinematic Universe!) high with "AKA WWJD?" (reviewed here!), there was a somewhat inevitable quality to the fall the season would take with its subsequent episode. Unfortunately, the fall is farther than it otherwise might have been because the season takes a turn for the utterly baffling when the protagonist makes a decision out of pain and ends up creating the villain. Like The Flash episode "Gorilla Warfare" (reviewed here!), "AKA Sin Bin" takes a character who is at a malleable position and can be turned to good and generically pushes that character into being a villain for no organic reason. Fidelity to the source material is placed above the organic development of the characters in the television incarnation.

And that is disappointing.

"AKA Sin Bin" is disappointing because it makes Jessica Jones almost unwatchable for the episode. A significant aspect of the episode's unwatchability comes from David Tennant's performance and Jessica Jones's severe character defect. In "AKA WWJD?" Jessica Jones saw the potential to harness Kilgrave and his power for the side of good; in "AKA Sin Bin" Jones tries to antagonize Kilgrave into being the villain she initially saw him as, completely neglecting the perspective she was opened to in the prior episode. And Tennant's performance as Kilgrave is heartbreaking to watch.

Kilgrave awakens in the hermitically-sealed room that Jessica set up and immediately begins getting tortured by Jessica Jones. Jessica Jones begins taunting Kilgrave with footage of the experiments that were performed upon him as a child. While recording Kilgrave, Jessica Jones tries to extract a confession through taunting Kilgrave and electrocuting him. Elsewhere, Simpson is mortally wounded and Trish drives him to Metro General Hospital as he cries out for Dr. Koslov. When Hogarth arrives, she advises Jones to release Kilgrave. Hogarth lets Jones know that Hope Shlottman is being offered a deal and Jones leaves Hogarth with Kilgrave while she gets a detective who can authenticate Kilgrave's statement.

Enlisting the aid of Detective Clemons and Trish, Jessica Jones returns to Kilgrave's cell where she tries to goad Kilgrave into using his powers on her so that she can exonerate Hope Shlottman. While Simpson gets healed back into a mysterious medical program to recover from almost being blown up, Trish returns to Jessica's side. Trish and Jones begin the search for Kilgrave's parents with the hope that they can antagonize Kilgrave into revealing his powers on camera.

"AKA Sin Bin" is packed with information, but is tainted by Jones acting more villainous than Kilgrave. Jones notices that the footage with the experiments done on Kilgrave when he was Kevin Thompson includes multiple other children who were experimented upon, potentially setting up future seasons of Jessica Jones.

The character of Jeri Hogarth is given more depth in "AKA Sin Bin" and actress Carrie-Anne Moss has the chance to illustrate just how cold and calculating she can make Hogarth. Hogarth squares off against Kilgrave and her moral ambiguity reaches a new low when she expresses a willingness to use Kilgrave's powers for her own means. Given that Hogarth's big conflict now is with her acrimonious divorce with Wendy, Hogarth's willingness to use Kilgrave seems particularly petty.

The Simpson subplot is interesting and gives rise to a secondary villain for the first season of Jessica Jones. Simpson, as it turns out, was once part of some form of super soldier program and in "AKA Sin Bin" he re-enters it. Simpson is motivated by guilt over his friends getting killed at the climax of the prior episode and his attempt to take power back in his own life is the mirror image of Kilgrave being robbed of his power until the end of the episode.

Ultimately, "AKA Sin Bin" is unpleasant to watch; there is nothing entertaining about watching one person torture another. The episode's climax goes a long way to saving the episode that otherwise meanders and includes some truly melodramatic scenes between Hogarth and Pam, but it is not enough. Sadly, it's almost like the writers and director John Dahl knew how far gone the episode was when Jessica Jones comments on how watching the footage even she feels sorry for Kilgrave, but she does not stop tormenting Kilgrave, so it's kind of a wash. In fact, as Trish and Jones hunt for Kilgrave's parents, Kilgrave very simply writes out "Help Me" in sauce on the glass of the tank and Jessica's response only adds to her cruelty.

The result is that "AKA Sin Bin" becomes the low point of the first season of Jessica Jones, despite the fact that David Tennant's performance is absolutely amazing.

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Jessica Jones - The Complete First Season, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the debut season here!

For other works with Thomas Kopache, please visit my reviews of:
No Country For Old Men
The West Wing
"Harbinger" - Star Trek: Enterprise
"Broken Bow" - Star Trek: Enterprise
"Wrongs Darker Than Death Or Night" - Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
"Ties Of Blood And Water" - Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
"The Thaw" - Star Trek: Voyager
Star Trek: Generations
"Emergence" - Star Trek: The Next Generation
"The Next Phase" - Star Trek: The Next Generation
"The Parliament Of Dreams" - Babylon 5


For other film and television reviews, please check out my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Meh, Coffee. Peet's Coffee Major Dickason's Blend Underwhelms.

The Good: Reasonably priced, Good aroma
The Bad: Not at all distinct in its flavor, Not the strongest flavor for a deep roast
The Basics: The Peet's Coffee Major Dickason's Blend Coffee is an average coffee advertised as a deep roast, which is bound to let down serious dark coffee drinkers.

As one who loves a variety of coffee, one of the things that mystifies me in the world still is people who drink coffee that barely tastes like coffee. Medium blends, light roasts . . . they all come out tasting like diluted coffee to me and that leaves me, a serious coffee drinker, with a strong sense of disappointment. Whenever I encounter a medium blend masquarading as something darker, I get disappointed. That is where I came down on the Peet's Coffee's Major Dickason's Blend Coffee.

I found the bag of Peet's Coffee Major Dickason's Blend at my local discount store and after trying a bag and a half of it, I am not surprised how it ended up there. In a pretty packed market, Peet's Coffee lacks a real hook and has only mediocrity in the bag and cups of coffee.


Peet's Coffee is, apparently, a California coffee shop and this bag was the first bag I found in the Midwest. The bags of Peet's Coffee Major Dickason's Blend coffee weigh 12 oz. and come ground. Because it is not whole bean coffee, no grinding is required. The Major Dickason's Coffee is easily protected from absorbing scents of other foods and the bag can be resealed using the wire-based "tie."

Major Dickason's Blend Coffee has a decent aroma in the bag, which foreshadows a much stronger blend than it actually is.

Ease Of Preparation

Major Dickason's Blend Coffee is remarkably easy to prepare, assuming one has a coffee scoop! First, open the bag. Peet's Coffee Major Dickason's Blend Coffee is vacuum sealed when first purchased. After opening foil bag, procure a scoop (not included) and measure out one heaping tablespoon for every two cups of water in your coffee maker. Major Dickason's Blend Coffee is intended for automatic (drip or percolating) coffee makers, like my Hamilton Beach coffee maker (reviewed here!). This is NOT an instant coffee. As a result, it needs to be brewed.

Consult your coffee maker's instructions for how to brew the coffee. However, as far as the basics go, you'll need a coffee filter, like the Crucial Coffee #4 permanent filter (reviewed here) we use, into which you put the Major Dickason's Blend Coffee and then brew through your coffee maker. The directions recommend making a pot at a time.


The Major Dickason's Blend coffee smells bold and strong, inviting consumers with its bold aroma. It smells dark and like a strong coffee, which made me think the cup would be a powerful and good cup of coffee.

Unfortunately, on the tongue, the Peet's Coffee Major Dickason's Blend is a surprisingly weak blend. The coffee flavor is present, but it is sublimated below a watery flavor that made me initially feel like I had made the coffee too weak. Each pot I made, I tried to up the coffee flavor, but the pots came out equally weak. The Major Dickason's Blend kicks with a medium roast coffee flavor, but it always starts with accents of water overwhelming the coffee flavor.

What truly lost me on the Peet's Coffee Major Dickason's Blend was that what coffee flavor the coffee possessed was completely overwhelmed by the addition of creamer to the beverage. Creamer eliminated all flavor of coffee in the mug and that was both surprising and disappointing.


This is coffee, not something that has nutrients in it! The Peet's Coffee Major Dickason's Blend Coffee does not contribute anything to one's daily recommended allowance of anything. As well, the Peet's Coffee Major Dickason's Blend does not reveal on its packaging what type of coffee beans are in their blend.

This is a caffeinated blend and to its credit, it is a good "wake me up" coffee! This has enough caffeine to energize consumers in the morning when one begins consuming it. Because it is a caffeinated coffee, it appears to not have undergone any of the chemical processes that sometimes cause complications in decaffeinated coffees. This is a blend that actually wakes up the consumer.

Major Dickason's Blend Coffee is marked as Kosher, but does not have any other dietary notes.


Major Dickason's Blend Coffee ought to be stored sealed in its container with bag’s top folded down. Coffee is known to absorb flavors of food nearby it, so keeping the bag folded tightly closed is highly recommended. The bag came to us fresh, but we used it up well before its expiration date.

After brewing, coffee grounds ought to be disposed of. This is not an ideal coffee to make a second pot with (second brewings I attempted came out 1/4 as potent as the first brewing), so this is not an ideal coffee for the coffee miser. These grounds may be thrown in the trash when used or put in a compost pile, if available. Coffee grounds make great compost.


Peet's Coffee Major Dickason's Blend Coffee smells good and woke me up when I needed it to, but otherwise did not measure up on the taste front.

For other coffee reviews, please visit my reviews of:
Green Mountain Coffee Organic House Blend Coffee
Dunkin' Donuts Glazed Chocolate Donut Flavored Coffee
The Coffee Fool Fool's House French Blended Coffee


For other drink reviews, please check out my Drink Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Marvel Gets Its Perfect Work With The Jessica Jones Episode "AKA WWJD?"

The Good: Amazing character development, Impressive acting, Engaging plot
The Bad: Nothing! Not one frame!
The Basics: "AKA WWJD?" puts Jessica Jones in her childhood home with a very different Kilgrave than the one she remembers!

This has been a pretty Marvel intensive week with graphic novels, ornaments and episodes of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Jessica Jones getting reviewed. In all my time reviewing, the elements of the Marvel Cinematic Universe have never quite hit perfection. The closest the franchise has managed thus far was the Daredevil episode "World On Fire" (reviewed here!) and the previous episode of Jessica Jones, "AKA Top Shelf Perverts" (reviewed here!). That inability to push over into a flawless work that holds up over multiple viewings ends with the Jessica Jones episode "AKA WWJD?"

"AKA WWJD?" explores an entirely different side of (the up until now villainous) Kilgrave and it is impossible to discuss without some references to where "AKA Top Shelf Perverts" went before it. After Jones's aborted attempt to get imprisoned to trap Kilgrave and get him to expose his powers on recording devices, Kilgrave told Jessica Jones what his resurfacing in her life is all about. Kilgrave professed his love for Jones and when Jessica finds her old journal left by Kilgrave in her office, she knows that Kilgrave is in her childhood house and she heads there to confront him.

Opening with the flashback to the last day Jessica Jones had with her family of origin as a child, an unsettled Jessica Jones enters her childhood home. Kilgrave has bought the house and he has bodyguards there now. Hank, the bodyguard, easily discovers the recording device Jones had to attempt to get Kilgrave's confession. Kilgrave agrees not to touch Jessica Jones without her consent and Jones reaquaints herself with the house, which Kilgrave has restored. Jones is surprised when Kilgrave keeps his word, even letting her take a call from Trish before she locks him out of her bedroom.

After an uncomfortable dinner, Jones discovers Simpson in the house and when he tells her that he placed a bomb in the basement, she kicks him out and finds and disarms the bomb. While Hogarth's lawyer tries to work out the details of the divorce with Wendy's lawyers, Trish hunts down Simpson and she finds him with old special ops buddies of his. The next morning, Kilgrave and Jessica Jones have breakfast out back when the nosy neighbor, Mrs. De Luca comes over and tells stories about Jones's family. When Kilgrave compels De Luca to tell the truth about a statement she made, Jones uses the moment as a test that allows Kilgrave to illustrate compassion. After Jones accuses Kilgrave of raping her, Kilgrave reveals his past and how difficult it has been for him to understand the difference between his will and other people's desires. Jones takes Kilgrave on a mission to use his powers for a positive result and with that successful, Jones has to choose how to proceed with Kilgrave.

"AKA WWJD?" is so good because it completely turns the expectations viewers might have about Kilgrave on their side and makes him into a truly complicated character worth watching. Kilgrave's backstory is finally laid out and understanding that he received his power as a child makes his character suddenly make a rich amount of sense. Kilgrave never developed an adult sense of rationality, so he essentially thinks like a ten year old and when he told people what he wanted from them, he got it, so his moral development was severely stunted. Kilgrave exposes Jessica Jones to an entirely different viewpoint on him and she discovers that they actually have common elements in their backstories. Kilgrave and Jones were both given superhuman abilities without their consent or understanding and when Jones starts to understand that, "AKA WWJD?" and Jessica Jones turns in a completely different direction.

Jessica Jones is an intriguing protagonist and "AKA WWJD?" because its end is not where it goes. "AKA Sin Bin," which follows, has Jones doing a truly reprehensible thing and the series takes a dive for it. But in "AKA WWJD?" why Jones makes her ultimate choice after getting advice from Trish is not yet clear. Instead, in "AKA WWJD?," Jones harnesses Kilgrave's powers for a good purpose. Jones and Kilgrave make an exceptional team in "AKA WWJD?" and there is something horrific about the truth of Kilgrave telling Jones that he cannot be a hero without her.

"AKA WWJD?" is all about the power of consequences and choices and part of what makes the episode truly great is that Jessica Jones is not a saint. Trish, who was abused as a child, has built up a fortress and has a somewhat forgiving nature - as previously seen with Simpson. Trish is protective of Jessica and she has a good heart, despite her backstory. Jessica is not Trish and the beauty of "AKA WWJD?" is that like Kilgrave, Jessica tries to do the right thing, but she does not succeed. She makes her ultimate decision in the episode based on her pain and loss and her horror of what Kilgrave did in her past. Jones is hampered by her own fears and the inability to move beyond the pain he caused. Jones makes a deeply human choice and it is sad to watch, but perfectly understandable.

Jones's decision in "AKA WWJD?" in no way undermines the episode. In part, that is because the acting is absolutely amazing. Both Krysten Ritter and David Tennant give career high performances as Kilgrave and Jessica Jones in "AKA WWJD?" Ritter delivers a powerful anti-rape statement without it sounding like a P.S.A. And David Tennant . . . wow. Just wow. His performance has to be seen to believed; he is so varied in his performance that he redefines the range of his acting in this one episode. Tennant makes the villain who viewers have spent the prior seven episodes believing is an absolute monster a character one can empathize with. He completely sells lines about how Kilgrave simply does not know the difference between right and wrong!

Director Simon Cellan Jones should have gotten a second take from Robert Verlaque when he blinked as Kilgrave was telling Laurent and Alva they could not blink, but that briefest moment cannot rob the episode of its greatness or its perfect rating. Instead, "AKA WWJD?" is a solid hour of television that makes bold statements, pushes the characters forward and allows the actors to completely explode their potential while playing out a plot that has an incredible potential to go in any possible direction!

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Jessica Jones - The Complete First Season, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the debut season here!

For other strong character-centered works, please visit my reviews of:
"Duet" - Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
"4,722 Hours" - Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.
"Father's Day" - Doctor Who


For other television season and episode reviews, please check out my Television Review Index Page for a listing of those reviews!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Utterly Without Investment Potential: Why The Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials Flops!

The Good: Cinematography?
The Bad: Characters, Acting, Plot, Much of the direction
The Basics: The Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials continues in an absolutely unimpressive way as Thomas and his Maze survivors struggle to survive in the post-Flare world.

I was over the whole "teen lit being made into blockbuster films" well before I saw The Maze Runner (reviewed here!). I'm decades past teen lit being my target demographic and while some adults have been wowed by the books or films they are based on, the skeptic in me is just not sold by the thinly-drawn characters, the senseless dystopias and the films that seem to highlight inexperienced talent in front of and behind the camera. So, I went into The Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials with no particular enthusiasm for it. In fact, all I honestly remembered about The Maze Runner was split between excitement to see more of Patricia Clarkson in the sequel and thinking that actress Kaya Scodelario had had less screen presence than Kristen Stewart in The Twilight Saga (reviewed here!).

Sadly, The Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials lived down to my lack of anticipation for it. After half an hour of waiting for anything truly significant to happen, the film transitions into a second-rate rebellion film with so little investment in the characters that I'm not sure the director bothered to have all the characters say their names this time around. Outside Thomas, Teresa, Aris, Dr. Paige, and Janson, most of the character's names slipped from my mind long before the characters left the screen. That is because much of the movie is teenage boys running around sweaty from people who are essentially zombies and none develop enough to actually truly give a damn about them.

After a flashback of being saved as a child by WCKD and Dr. Paige, Thomas finds himself in the present being brought to a facility, having been rescued from the Maze. At the facility, the young men and Teresa from the Maze meet Janson. Janson tells the youths that they have been rescued from WCKD and are safe at the waystation, where they will stay until they can be relocated to a safe location. Thomas's group is there with many other young people who were in other Mazes and the one who has been there the longest, Aris, quickly realizes that Thomas is suspicious of the facility as well. Aris shows Thomas a secret room in the facility and after Thomas steals a badge from a guard, he and Aris are able to gain entry. They discover that this group is engineering some of the creatures used in the Maze and is harvesting something from the young people brought there. When Janson enters, they see him in communication with Dr. Paige and realize that they are just in a different WCKD facility.

After rescuing Teresa, the young men flee the facility and end up nearby in an abandoned mall where they get enough supplies to survive before they are attacked by Cranks (the infected humans who did not survive the effects of the solar flares). After losing one of their own to an infection, the group discovers a small band of survivors and they work to be put in touch with the Resistance. But WCKD is not through with them and they begin a relentless hunt for the young people and the Right Arm and Thomas's group discovers there is a traitor in their midst.

And after two hours, I still didn't care.

Director Wes Ball does not let the shots linger on the Cranks long enough to truly appreciate what is happening with them and just how dangerous they are. The Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials oscillates between long, boring stretches where people we don't care about try to piece together the world they are just now encountering and meeting people who have lived in it and deliver lots of exposition to them and fast, senseless chases with people running in places they have never been and somehow getting to exactly where they need to go. The world of The Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials is faux-exciting; it is not overly exciting, but things move fast enough (when they do) so viewers forget for a few moments how little they care about the people being chased or the conceits of the world they are in.

Thomas is not a particularly interesting character and he is overshadowed the moment Jorge and then Vince appear on screen. In fact, after Jorge pops up, Thomas could be killed and the story might have progressed in a more interesting way. The Right Arm resists WCKD and for someone who has been betrayed rather recently - multiple times - Thomas leaps right in to trusting them.

The Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials lacks performers with real screen presence used well. Wes Ball, sadly, needs to learn that you can't just throw Patricia Clarkson and Giancarlo Esposito on screen with lousy material and expect them to make it better. Amid a number of amateurs, Esposito and Clarkson stand out, but they seem out of place beside the cast that appears more lost than engaged. There is a large chunk of the film where Kaya Scodelario does not have lines, but is seen behind the guys mouthing things. I'm still not sure why directors of young women seem to give the universal note "never let the audience see you with your mouth fully closed."

The wasteland of The Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials is mirrored by a lack of a compelling story, a dull series of characters and actors who are either unprofessional or unable to deliver their usual caliber of performance in the material they are given.

For other works with Aiden Gillen, please check out my reviews of:
Game Of Thrones - Season Four
Game Of Thrones - Season Three
Game Of Thrones - Season Two
Game Of Thrones - Season One
The Dark Knight Rises


For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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