American Horror Story: Freak Show: The Metaphor Hammer

Categories: Film and TV

I can honestly say that "Test of Strength" is the first episode of this season of American Horror Story to honestly and completely bore me.

The show has struggled since the death of Twisty the Clown and the brilliance of Edward Mordrake's ghostly quest. Left without one of the show's prime sources of horror, it's devoted the second act to the story aspect of the title. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but unfortunately it is showing off some of the problems that derailed Coven last year.

First off, it was predictable. Really, really predictable. The cast members who are not going to make it out alive this season might as well be wearing red shirts. I understand it's because it's easy to make the audience fall in love with the small and the harmless, and therefore it makes more of an impact when they die but it somehow feels very cheap.

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Reality Bites: Hungry Games

Richard Blais: almost human.
There are a million reality shows on the naked television. We're going to watch them all, one at a time.

The first Mockingjay -- which is the penultimate entry in the Hunger Games movie franchise -- comes out this week. Normally I'd have reviewed it, but I was unable to make the screening. You can probably count on some stuff happening, sufficiently padded out to make a 390-page book stretch for two feature-length films.

Even though I honestly wasn't that upset that I didn't have to drag myself out to hang with an audience more suited to monster truck fandom than sitting quietly in a theater, I figured I'd try and make it up to you. So for this week's Reality Bites, I tried to find something similar in tone, if not overall archery content.

The result: Hungry Games, a show I hadn't heard about before I found it on my channel guide and am likely never to watch again. In that last respect, it's a lot like those Jennifer Lawrence movies.

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Reviews for the Easily Distracted:
Dumb and Dumber To

Title: Dumb and Dumber To

Is It Worth The 20 Year Wait? Nothing is worth a 20-year wait, except perhaps the reunion of the cast of D2: The Mighty Ducks. Because really, who wasn't looking forward to that?

Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: One bottle of Turbo Lax out of five.

Brief Plot Synopsis: Moronic duo trek across America to find one's long lost daughter while contemplating the paradox of existence. They also fart a lot.

Tagline: "The average person uses 10 percent of their brain capacity. Imagine what they could do with 1 percent."

Better Tagline: "The sequel no one wanted, including the cast and filmmakers."

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American Horror Story: Freak Show: In Small Hands

Categories: Film and TV

There's no doubt about it that the best thing this season has been Mat Fraser as Paul, the Illustrated Seal Boy. Part of the collection of real human identities that were cast for this landmark season, he of course brings his own unusual appearance to bear on the screen.

But he alone of the several of such actors really gets the chance to shine out as a performer. It's the perfect combination of embodying what he is with unusual skill. I've said it before and I'll say it again, I'm hoping that he breaks the mold for people with unusual handicaps in the world of acting much like Peter Dinklage did for little people.

There's some hope for that. For instance, Fraser features in a rare love scene for a non-fully-abled person. I can't think of another such scene in film except the old flick Monkey Shines and of course Boxing Helena. Weird how only horror seems to have the guts to go there.

Those other films are bad examples, though. In both cases they feature people handicapped through happenstance, not born as they were as Fraser was. That's one of the reasons watching him do something so simple as climb out of bed naked and dress himself, or even snuggle with a lover in her bed is shocking and inspiring. His very existence forces us to see conventional expressions of physical sexuality, tenderness, and later even cruelty through a whole new lens.

From kept pet to hopeful Romeo to would-be liberator and finally to sacrificial lamb Fraser just owns the whole Midway. If nothing else, he was worth the price of admission this week and for weeks to come.

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Podcast: It's Our All 'Daily Show' Week with 'Foxcatcher' and 'Rosewater'

Categories: Film and TV

It's a special The Daily Show edition of the Voice Film Club podcast, as we talk about Bennett Miller's Foxcatcher (starring Steve Carell) and move onto Rosewater, the movie Jon Stewart left The Daily Show for three months in 2013 to direct. Both are in theaters starting November 14.

Here's a full rundown of this week's podcast. Click on the links to read more about each topic.

- The Hobbit movies aren't just movies, they are playdates (3:30)
- Foxcatcher (8:10)
- Rosewater (21:41)
- The story of a group of kids who re-shot Raiders of the Lost Ark in the '80s (35:05)
- Beyond the Lights (51:50)

Be sure to follow our hosts on Twitter: Alan Scherstuhl (@studiesincrap), Stephanie Zacharek (@szacharek), and Amy Nicholson (@theamynicholson).

Reality Bites: Wealth On The Water

Eh, close enough.
There are a million reality shows on the naked television. We're going to watch them all, one at a time.

We recently had our AT&T U-verse receivers replaced (we'd had the old ones since 2008, au revoir 15 hours of Doc McStuffins). Naturally, I had to create a new "favorites" list, which led to even more time-suckage, considering the number of new networks for my perusal.

One of these I noticed was called AWE. Foolishly assuming the name meant it only broadcast programs of the most kickass nature, I added it, then was just as quickly disabused of that assumption when I looked the station up. "AWE" apparently stands for "A Wealth [of] Entertainment." More amusingly, it once went by the name "Wealth TV." Imagine, a whole channel devoted to nothing but the hobbies and interests of the super-rich.

Haven't they waited long enough?

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Reviews for the Easily Distracted:
Big Hero 6

Title: Big Hero 6

Based On A Marvel Comic, Yes? Any Cameos? You won't see Dancing Baby Groot anywhere, but there is a post-credits scene.

Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: Three Mummenschanz (Mummenschanzes?) out of five.

Brief Plot Synopsis: Kid programs killer robot to avenge brother's death. Kind of.

Tagline: "From the creators of Wreck-It Ralph and Frozen."

Better Tagline: "Did we mention Frozen? Everybody liked Frozen, right?"

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American Horror Story: Freak Show: The Rhythm of Fear

Categories: Film and TV

There comes a time every season where I feel the need to point out that the show faces a near impossibility in what it does; you simply cannot make a 13-hour horror movie. No one would watch that. At least, no one that you would want to sit next to on a bus late at night.

The first four episodes of Freak Show have been the most consistently well-crafted of the show's entire run. It's been solid and horrifying and moving all at once. It's both avoided the more over-the-top atrocity that sometimes covered weaker writing and not shied away from simple terrors that can haunt your dreams.

And there are musical numbers! It's not Repo: The Genetic Opera but then again, nothing else is.

Still, every horror film has to have a lull, and that's what we got with "Pink Cupcakes". Was it bad? No, far from it. It was, however, more like the patter of the carnival barker than the actual pay off.

There were some deeply disturbing moments. Denis O'Hare as Stanley, the corrupt procurer of freak corpses, eats every inch of scenery he's in as a monster of his caliber always does. He truly is this generation's Robert Englund, mixing a wispy frame with an iron, maniacal heart. Teamed with the conflicted but plucky Emma Roberts the two of them could almost be a show all by themselves.

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The Fall Season's 5 Best New Series and Its 5 Biggest Disappointments

Categories: Film and TV

Jane the Virgin is this fall's most charming new show.
There's more television today than at any other point in the medium's history, but there's a good chance you're stuck in a TiVo rut. That's because, with a handful of exceptions, this fall has delivered a truckload of mediocrity and dead-on-arrival trends. (Goodbye, "rom-sit-coms" like the already canceled A to Z and Manhattan Love Story. Farewell, hopefully forever, comedies about women whose defining characteristic is their poor job performance, like spring's Bad Teacher and autumn's Bad Judge.)

Fortunately, there are a few new shows with fresh perspectives, novel conceits, encouragingly diverse casts, and/or deep emotional undercurrents worthy of your Hulu queue. And, of course, there are the season's letdowns -- not necessarily the worst the small screen has to offer, but the ones that suffer the greatest lapse between expectations and execution. Here are this fall's five best new series -- and its five biggest disappointments.

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Reviews for the Easily Distracted:

Title: Birdman

Is This A Sequel To Condorman? Yes, in the sense it's about a guy who played a bird-themed superhero in the movies. No, in the sense that -- unlike Condorman -- the movies in question grossed more than a buck-fifty,

Rating Using Random Objects Related To The Film: Three-and-a-half Judge Mentok the Mind-Takers out of five.

Brief Plot Synopsis: Former superhero actor seeks validation (and an end to the voices in his head) on Broadway.

Tagline: [actually subtitle] "The Unexpected Value of Ignorance"

Better Tagline: "Batman vs. The Hulk! Sort of."

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