FBI Pilot Review

Posted September 29, 2018 by johnjamesdamico
Categories: TV Review

Dick Wolf has made quite the career for himself with these network TV crime dramas. He’s covered the basics of the courtroom on the original “Law & Order.” He’s examined the Special Victims Unit on you know what show.

So what next? Well, the Federal Bureau of Investigation of course. And it looks like he has another good show on his hands with this one.

Our premiere episode starts by introducing two young boys who are brothers. We don’t see too much of them here. But it’s enough for the episode to make it feel like we’re watching two real kids.

Then, the unexpected happens. A bomb goes off in a sequence with some impressive visual and sound effects editing.

And after the title card, we meet our protagonist, FBI Agent Maggie Bell (Missy Peregrym). Peregrym gives a solid if not at times basic performance.

After a second explosion, the youngest of the two brothers is left dead. Here we get our compelling side-plot for the episode: the victim’s mother blaming Maggie for her son’s death.

Maggie is admittedly not the most original character for this type of show. She’s a strong woman who uses her work to hide her emotions. But it’s still handled in a way where it mostly works.

The rest of the episode is a somewhat typical story of the team trying to find their culprit. This show is hardly “True Detective” as far as how to tell these  kinds of stories. But we get a few interesting themes in this episode that work pretty well.

What else is there? Well, Maggie gets a good backstory that we’ll definitely learn more about in the future. Although, the rest of the main cast are lacking in development for the time being.

Overall, it’s a good first episode that sets everything up well while also telling it’s own well-written stand-alone story. I could definitely see myself watching this show again.

7 out of 10.

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IMDb Drastically Changes ‘Bottom 100’

Posted August 5, 2018 by johnjamesdamico
Categories: Uncategorized

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Some time perhaps within the past couple of weeks, the popular film site IMDb (Internet Movie Database) made a major change to their ‘Bottom 100,’ which lists the lowest-rated feature-length theatrical fiction films on the site.

Previously, a film needed to have received at least 1,500 ratings from IMDb users to qualify for the list. But at this time, the movie needs at least 10,000 ratings to make it on the list.

The result of this change is a completely new list, removing several lesser-known films and replacing them with films a lot more well-known ones. Some new additions to the list include cult films like the 1990 horror film “Troll 2,” the 2003 infamous drama “The Room” and the 1997 superhero film “Batman & Robin.”

As of the writing of this, the no. 1 movie on the list is the 2008 parody film “Disaster Movie” from the infamous writer/director duo Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer. The film currently has a rating of 2 out of 10 with over 80,000 votes.

One major change to the list is that it now has many films with much higher ratings than the previous version of the list. Before the change, the vast majority, if not all the movies on the list, had ratings lower than 3 out of 10.

But as of the time writing this, you only have to go down to the 25th spot on the list to find a movie with a rating of 3 out of 10. This spot is currently held by the aforementioned “Troll 2.”

The 100th spot on the list currently belongs to the 2010 M. Night Shyamalan action film “The Last Airbender,” based on the popular Nickelodeon animated series “Avatar: The Last Airbender.”

“The list is ranked by a formula which includes the number of ratings each movie received from users, and value of ratings received from regular users,” according to IMDb.

It’s uncertain at this time exactly when IMDb made this change. Although, you can find a forum post about the change dated July 14, 2018. So the change has been in place for over two weeks at the least.

*Update: An earlier version of this post mistakenly said that to make it on the previous version of the list, a film needed 1,000 votes and that the new version of the list now requires 1,500 votes.* 

Ravenous Netflix Review

Posted March 6, 2018 by johnjamesdamico
Categories: Movie Review, Netflix

Tags: , , , , , ,

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Zombie stories are extremely popular right now, and for good reason. With everything from the hit AMC series The Walking Dead to the recent Disney Channel Original Movie, simply titled Zombies, people just love these creepy walking corpses.

So I suppose now was as good a time as any for Netflix to step into the game and release their own zombie apocalypse movie, this one a French-language film, courtesy of Canada.

Ravenous (originally titled Les affamés) opens with some great photography from cinematographer Steeve Desrosiers. Desrosiers along with writer/director Robin Aubert does an impressive job at immediately sucking the viewer into the story. The initial lack of film score was an interesting choice as well.

The film then introduces us to our ensemble cast of survivalists, lead by a young man named Bonin (Marc-André Grondin). Early on, we get some nice moments of character development from some of the cast. Although, there are others that we unfortunately never learn too much about. 

Now, Aubert gives the zombies in this film a couple of more original aspects that give this story a bit of an edge. For one thing, these are some pretty quick-moving zombies, which adds some extra conflict for our main characters.

But even more interestingly, when someone in this movie is bitten by a zombie, it takes much longer than usual for them to become a zombie themselves. And without spoiling anything, let’s just say that this creates several effective emotional moments throughout the film.

Having said that, beyond some of those more original aspects, Ravenous is a film that at times feels like a pretty basic zombie apocalypse story, with some pretty typical character types.

And despite some mostly high-quality camerawork, there’s also some poorly filmed moments that hold the movie back a little. And while the story is largely well-paced, there are some slower moments towards the middle of the film that lost my attention a bit.

The film concludes nicely with an ending that could definitely leave some scratching their heads a bit. Also, don’t forget to watch until after the credits for an extra scene that several people are already analyzing.

Overall, Ravenous is a well-made zombie film that’s worth checking in spite of a few problems. 7 out of 10.

Snowed-Inn Christmas Review

Posted December 30, 2017 by johnjamesdamico
Categories: Uncategorized

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Snowed-Inn Christmas is one of the latest entries in the by-the-numbers Lifetime original Christmas films. Yes, this is definitely one of those movies where you can predict most of the plot points before they happen. Having said that, it doesn’t mean there isn’t anything to enjoy.

The story focuses on two journalists, Jenna (Joy Lenz), an intelligent, organized young woman who could probably benefit from lightening up a little and Kevin (Andrew W. Walker), an immature, irresponsible young man who can be a bit of jerk. Their personalities clash when their boss pairs these two polar opposites together on an assignment to take a trip and write a story on the true meaning of the holiday.

Things go wrong when their plane gets diverted and the bickering coworkers get stuck in the real-world town of Santa Claus, Indiana. Fortunately for them,  an older woman invites them to stay at the small Inn owned by her and her husband, the immediately obvious real Santa and Mrs. Claus (which for some reason, the film sort of treats it like a twist later on).

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The two start spending a lot of time together building up to their inevitable if not somewhat charming romance. You can tell exactly how this is going to play out: they fight at first, then they have a couple nice bonding moments and eventually develop feelings and get together. It’s nothing new but the leads have some charm and we do get one interesting and unexpected development with Jenna’s character.

Although, the development we get with Kevin’s character doesn’t really make a ton of sense. We know at the start of the film that he doesn’t want to spend Christmas with his family. And his reason doesn’t really end up being all that believable.

Additionally, the movie didn’t really need to include the real Santa and Mrs. Claus portion. It didn’t really add anything and the romance was much more enjoyable. It was like they just felt the need to add another Christmas element to the story, which wasn’t necessary.

Overall it’s definitely a watchable TV movie that keeps your attention. There’s plenty of better Christmas movies out there but there’s also plenty of worse ones. I suppose it can get a very mild recommendation (but just barely). It’s the kind of thing you can half-pay attention to and you’ll get some entertainment out of it.

Underrated Christmas Specials (Part II)

Posted December 24, 2017 by johnjamesdamico
Categories: Lists

Tags: ,

Three years ago, I put together a post spotlighting some underrated holiday specials. It was definitely a fun entry to put together. So let’s talk about a few more of these lesser known specials worth checking out this time of year (in alphabetical order).

 

11 Louds a Leapin’ (The Loud House)

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For our first entry, we’re going with last year’s Christmas special from Nickelodeon’s The Loud House, their biggest hit since the talking sponge. Although popular among cartoon fans, it’s likely not known by those of you who aren’t part of that community. But yes, The Loud House is  a good show and this is easily their best episode. It’s funny, well-animated, touching and has a great song with a nice if not cliched message.

 

Christmas (The Wonder Years)

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I adore this show. And this is just a great episode. It starts off as a pretty simple if not really funny story about a family who wants a color TV for Christmas. But it becomes so much more than that by the end. I won’t give it away but trust me when I say that it’s some  emotional stuff. This is a great example of a story that balances comedy and drama flawlessly. Definitely the best special on this list and well-worth seeking out.

 

Christmas Eve on Sesame Street

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Pretty much everyone likes Sesame Street. And this 1978 Emmy-winning special gives you pretty much everything you’d like from something like this. There’s three different plots. The main one focuses on Big Bird and gives us a unique take on the whole “does Santa really exist?” story. Bert and Ernie do their own take on the classic “Gift of the Magi” story and it’s an enjoyable one. And finally, Cookie Monster gets an uproarious little plot about trying to write Santa a letter. The special isn’t without some problems. But it’s still worth spending an hour of your time watching on YouTube:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EF4XRQwzls8

 

The Most Adequate Christmas Ever (American Dad!)

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Considering this is a Seth MacFarlane show, you might expect this to be a really dark, twisted Christmas episode. And don’t get me wrong, there’s some of that. But compared to a lot of his other specials, this is pretty tame. It’s about protagonist Stan Smith dying and trying to convince Jesus to give him another chance at redemption. A lot of people prefer their season 5 special ‘Rapture’s Delight,’ but this is the one for me. It’s one of the funniest episodes of the show and has some nice moments too. Check it out.

 

Night of the Meek (The Twilight Zone 1985)

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This one right here is a remake of the 1960 classic episode starring Art Carney (which I included in my previous list). And surprisingly, this is about as good in its own way. This episode keeps the basic plot and themes of the original. But it makes enough changes to give it its own purpose. One difference is that this one focuses more on the idea helping children during the holiday. And Richard Mulligan is great as the drunken yet kindhearted Santa Claus. Watch it here on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NXYWEswofc0&t=1564s

 

 

Baby Driver Movie Review

Posted July 15, 2017 by johnjamesdamico
Categories: Movie Review

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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In Baby Driver, the newest film from writer/director Edgar Wright, a getaway driver played by talented newcomer Ansel Elgort, who goes by Baby, desperately tries to get out of his relationship with a crime boss (Kevin Spacey).

The film starts with a clever, well-directed introduction to our protagonist, featuring a typical morning for him getting coffee and whatnot, all expertly filmed with a nice tracking shot. One important takeaway from this scene – Baby is a genuinely cool guy.

We then get into a well-shot and well-choreographed action sequence which Wright impressively crafted using nothing but practical effects. It’s a fun scene for the audience. But Baby hopes it will be his second-to-last job ever.

We soon learn that Baby has a sad backstory involving his parents, one that also led to him developing a condition that requires him to constantly listen to music to drown out the noise in his head. Wright makes good use of this unique character trait by adding a good score that plays over pretty much every second of the film.

Another smart touch Wright adds to the movie is what appears to be an intention for the film to either take place in or at least have the feel of taking place in the 2000s decade. I can only assume he did this to add a level of timelessness to the film, or perhaps to contribute to society’s obsession with nostalgia.

Baby later meets a charming love interest named Deborah (Lily James), who doesn’t have much going on in her life other than a likely low-paying waitress job that she doesn’t seem to enjoy. The two of them have pleasant chemistry. And their romance actually adds to the plot and to Baby’s character development.

We get an entertaining, sometimes funny, and well-acted film overall. It doesn’t quite reach the highs I hoped. The story definitely felt a little basic and by the numbers at times. Although the ending went in a couple of unexpected directions, I’ll give it that.

And when all is said and done, it’s a very good movie overall, and one of the best I’ve seen so far this year. I give it an 8 out of 10.

The Wizard of Lies HBO Review

Posted June 29, 2017 by johnjamesdamico
Categories: Movie Review, TV Review

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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Oscar-winning director Barry Levinson (Rain Man) puts forth an impressive and thrilling story in this recent HBO original drama film The Wizard of Lies, which tells the true story of the aftermath of Bernie Madoff (Robert De Niro)’s infamous Ponzi scheme.

De Niro is perfectly cast as the slimy Madoff, in a role that will likely earn him an Emmy nomination (if not a win). The film introduces his character already locked in prison for his crime.

Here we see a New York Times reporter interviewing Madoff about the events surrounding his scheme. This serves as a framing device for the non-linear story which they present through flashbacks.

Levinson presents the story here quite well.. The film goes all out with the realism by using actual archive footage of TV journalists and comedians reporting and commenting on Madoff’s pyramid scheme.

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A little later, we get to see a bit of Madoff’s extravagant lifestyle before he got caught. We see him as the kind of person who views himself as superior to others. The thing is, at times, the film attempts to portray him as somewhat sympathetically.

It’s similar to 2015’s The Big Short where they try to portray it like he didn’t really know what he was doing and how much harm it would cause. It was effective in that film and it works pretty well here too.

Then about half-way through the film, we get a particularly emotional scene where something big happens. This scene is expertly elevated by its use of ironic music. This is easily the strongest part in the movie. Speaking of music, Levinson makes good use of an intense score coming from composers Evgueni and Sacha Galperine.

There’s a lot of powerful, well-directed, well-filmed and well-acted scenes here that make this TV film a real treat to watch. For instance, one clever scene a little later into the film uses drums to play with diegetic vs. non-diegetic music.

Overall, this movie is definitely worth seeking out if you haven’t seen it yet. It gets an 8.5 out 10.


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