Another Final Fantasy Final Review…Finally

FF1 logo ORIGIN--article_image (1) The real battle is among the fans. Start swinging your Geek Sword.

Anyone who knows this series knows the story of how, like a hero finding the source of power he needs to defeat a villain, an almost aborted company saved itself at the 11th hour with a little game called Final Fantasy. It was an evolution from Dungeon and Dragons that has gone on to spawn over 15 titles to its franchise. Fans are eagerly awaiting Final Fantasy XV (due out this year). While there have been countless reviews of everything from best villains to greatest video game moments, this will take a leisurely stroll through what I consider the best the series has to offer. At best it will lure in new fans. At worst, it may shed a light on why fans are so passionate.

The original game was a turn-based adventure with some of the best that the fantasy genre had to offer; pirates, dragons, elves, and angry unicorns. An entire world was waiting to be explored. For those that were fortunate enough to play this during its original release, there was little to compare with building the bridge and seeing that majestic title screen.  It set the stage for storytelling and battle systems to come. Four more games graced the consoles, each building on the successful foundation of the original.  However, when Final Fantasy reached it’s 6th game (Final Fantasy VI in Japan was Final Fantasy III in the US), they achieved something truly special.

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Most Final Fantasies are known for their music, this is no exception. The opening has a wonderful track that sounds driven and weary at the same time. What follows is a cast of characters with complicated back stories that create a clear motivation as to why they fight (minus some optional characters). The style has a Europe circa World War I feel to it. Everything is industrial and a bit run down in this world where technology and magic co-exists.

Art plays an important part in this (fitting in with the European vibe) as the heroes find themselves in an art museum as well as an opera house. One of the most memorable moments is where you play spy and go undercover as an opera singer.

There are so many heartfelt moments from a feral boy and his father who almost reconnect; a man who went insane and threw his son into the wild and forgot about him. There is a soldier who must deal with the death of his wife and son in a heartbreaking quest. Not to mention the emotional reunion of all the characters, including one who has suffered so much that she resists joining her friends.

Make no mistake, FFVI isn’t weak when it comes to the action. We have artillery vehicles that shoot magic, creature summoning, a moogle who can take a spear and do multiple attacks in one move for 9999 damage, and more. I particularly like that each character is distinct in their appearance as well as what they can do, and even react to battles in their own unique way.

If you’re a right brain kind of person, this installment is ripe with emotional and creative touches. It is possibly my favorite of the series for it’s balance of strength and vulnerability, as well as its style and landscape.

For me, the next release is the best rival to FFVI. That would be FFVII.
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No FF fans lose their sh** more than FFVII fans when they hear the names Cloud, Tifa, Barrett, or Aeris (dear lord, don’t bring up Aeris). FFVII, in my experience, are the most rabid when it comes to defending a title from the series. No other title in the series can boasts having such highly anticipated movie, is replayed more, or is on more gaming lists than FFVII.

To understand this, you have to know a few things. FFVII marked the big move from Nintendo to Sony Playstation. So old fans of previous games bought it and people who wanted to see what this new console could do bought it. For some, it was the first RPG game they played.

FFVII provided a severe upgrade in graphics, but didn’t lose any of its storytelling or character layers. Cloud, an ex-soldier now mercenary for hire, is at the eye of the storm. However, the roster of heroes is as impressive (if not more so) than FFVI, due to each of them having a fully realized back story that links them all together…even the optional characters!  Standing in their way is one of the most loved villains, Sephiroth. His cool demeanor while doing unspeakable acts, his long white flowing hair, and the way he works that sword are trademark. Personally, my favorite back story is that of Nanaki. I have cried twice in a FF game. Nanaki (or Red XIII as he is also called), travels on a brief but emotional journey to discover the truth about his roots and at the end we are left with a sad revelation.  Most people, however, were stunned and horrified at the demise of one particular character. Any fan will know who I’m talking about.

FFVII’s appeal comes from the characters who are so diverse that there is someone for every type of gamer. That appeal also comes from one bad@ss weapon system that allows for a slew of moves, protections, and attacks. It was here that the summoning of monsters became a spectacle all its own. Selecting this ability during a battle meant being greeted with what felt like a never-ending performance before you were given control again…and no one complained.

This game was also a clear battle of environmentalists versus industrialists. I’m not sure that has ever been achieved so successfully. Far from a perfect game, the storytelling was more ambitious than anything before and provided one of the most recognizable soundtracks in the series. It had so many side quests and secrets, that the options of how to play the game were gratuitous. Those elements alone deserve respect.

FF10Final Fantasy X

There are many hardcore fans of titles that I won’t mention in this article. Each game (even the worst of the series) has something to offer. When you’re talking about 15 versions from a series, you cannot avoid debate about what is worthy, the best, or essential. I say this because I am skipping VIII and IX.

Final Fantasy X is always a polarizing title. Love it or hate it, I would argue that it is the most beautiful of the series. There are heavy Eastern influences that can be seen in the costumes, the buildings, the cultures, and rituals used in FFX. Every location is startling perfection from the sun-bathed waters that surround a lot of the cities to the dark and haunting caves. Especially early on in the game, I feel like I’m on vacation and find myself simply enjoying the lush scenery.

A game with awkward moments spread throughout (such as the bizarre voice work and often cheesy dialogue), it accomplishes a greater sense of culture. The story centers around a woman, Yuna, who sets off on a pilgrimage to acquire the powers she needs to battle a destructive force known as “Sin.” Through this journey, we see how these characters deal with death, religion, religion infringing on politics (and vice versa), and even how clothing helps build this fantasy world. One of the most beautiful scenes (thank to the music, design, and animation working together) is when Yuna has to perform a dance for the first time, to send the souls of the dead where they belong. Again, this game is beautiful.

There is also one of the most tragic love stories in the series between the true main character, Tidus, and Yuna. The way their love develops is acceptable enough, but what it goes through is the real kicker. Once the truths begin to reveal themselves, we have to take a moment to process. THAT is good storytelling. It was enough so that FFX became the first to have a true sequel (Final Fantasy X-2). The other characters has bits of story, but it really boiled down to Tidus and Yuna.

I also found the battle system and weapons quite creative; one guy uses various volleyball-type items as a weapon and our black mage’s power is determined by the type of doll she carries (each doll is a nod to well-known FF characters). Ultimately, though, any character could acquire and use almost any power (except summoning) which was a little disappointing, as was the ability to change the names of the characters. I always liked using friends names for the main characters.

This is a hot game, full of magic and wonder and exploration. It transports you, and almost every hero is like-able (unlike some other characters from other games like Cait Sith or Quina). Despite an awkward step into voice-acting, the rest of it was a visual and emotional dance for most fans.

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FFXII is rarely used as a symbol for what the series is. It has its share of fans, but the overall attitude was stale compared to previous releases. This in part, due to the main character, Vaan, (who  often came across as pointless to the main story) and some would say due to the extreme change of the battle system. I would wager that the lack of “joy” in the characters or story could carry some of the blame as well. Humor was always present in the other installments, reminding us to have a good time and create a roller coaster of emotion. As it stands, FFXII is a bleak drama with characters too focused on their woes to provide appropriate levity. Still, it has its charm and positive qualities to make it a good game.

First, we have yet another creative and inspiring setting; somewhat of a French or maybe more Italian Renaissance vibe with a little bit of steam punk worked in for an edge. It is draped in artistry.

While Vaan was something of a last minute decision because they wanted the first controllable character to be young, it worked against them. Many fans would have preferred the original lead, Basch to carry the story. Vaan was an orphan who has a loose tie to the story (but one you could omit without much being sacrificed). Basch was a disgraced knight accused of a crime he didn’t commit. His character carried more weight. Another fan favorite, Balthier, is a sky pirate that would have served as a suitable lead as well.

The plot is interesting and exciting, but much more mature than in previous games. Political and social warfare is in the backdrop with characters so determined to right the wrongs and are styled to be cerebral, that we leave behind quirk and humor.  I like the maturity, but miss the moments of light-heartedness.

The games also suffers from monotony. You find yourself battling the same creatures over and over for quite awhile. The “mail system” is cute but not engaging. The battle system itself does away with turn-based fighting, and instead allows you almost a real time scenario. You can also assign what characters will do automatically during a fight. This was the moment I noticed that there seemed to be a little less for me to do in terms of the battle. You set things up and can sit back and let it do the rest. I prefer to be more involved.

If you have patience and focus, you may love the story (that feels genuine and historical). If you didn’t care for turn-based battles of the past, you may love the path this game takes. Either way, XII was a game with good and bad, but much like Vaan, didn’t leave as big of an impression as it should have.

There are a few honorable mention moments from other games that I’d like to point out. The opening FMV from FFVIII was a stunning display. It also did a great job (much like FFX) of creating melodramatic moments between the villains and heroes. FFII is responsible for my first video game cry, when powerful twins Palom and Porum sacrificed themselves to save the other characters. It also has one of the best transformations of a character when Rydia and Cecil mature into their full-warrior selves.

Overall, a subject like Final Fantasy can be rather esoteric. It may be difficult to absorb the game simply by reading about it. These games are achievements and have made a large impact on the gaming world. I attribute that to storytelling, diverse characters, and engaging game play. Every fan will have a different take on each game. What works for one does not work for another. I consider Final Fantasy to be one of the great escapes of our current culture.

You’ll notice I didn’t mention FFXIII. I haven’t finished it so I didn’t feel it fair to discuss it…along with the sequels or spin-offs. That could take forever and there are adventures to be had!

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I Stand Alone – Blair Witch 2

This will mark one of a three part look at movies that were critically and publicly trashed, yet I thoroughly enjoyed. This is more than just gulity pleasures and movies so bad they were fun to criticize (like Halle Berry’s Catwoman). These are movies that were judged too harshly, in my opinion, and left me saying “well, I liked it.”

We kick off this series with Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 Written by way too many people and directed by Joe Berlinger, this movie did not try to be the original. It was an actual technical movie.

The original Blair Witch Project was one of the most polarizing movies ever made. People loved it and people hated it. It was an experiment in storytelling. It was an experiment in fear. It was an experiment in vertigo. Yet, it made an insane amount of money, sparked countless rip-offs and spoofs, and left a mark on horror.

I think it was wise of the creators of BOS:BW2 to flip things around on the “found footage idea.” There was no way they would recreate the energy of the first. So, they tell a story of fans of the first movie who gather together to explore the origins of it. Of course, they arrive in the woods and are subjected to hallucinations, unseen attacks, and confusion.

Why was this movie blasted by critics? Why was it snubbed by audiences? How was it nominated for so many Razzies?

Here is a theory. Fans of the first movie enjoyed what it was. Perhaps with 2, they were expecting more of the same. So, that might lead to disappointment. Then, we have those who did NOT like the original. So why would they go see the sequel? It was almost destined to fail, if this theory has any validity.

This is not the best horror movie ever, but I found it’s attempt at a “psychological haunting” more than adequate. Some of the acting was “off”, but we had several performances that did their job: Jeffery Donovan as the mental tour guide, Erica Leehrson as the young wiccan, and Kim Director as the goth gal. They were most memorable of the group. The biggest flaw were the attempts at showing violence (but this was due to an inept producer who should have stayed out of it). Someone wanted gore in a movie that was not known for that.

Overall, the movie unravelled much at the pace of the first one until about half way. The movie could have benefited from giving less to the audience, but I enjoyed it. It was clever, creepy, and cool (minus a handful of out-of-place moments like the camper’s death scene). It deserved a better chance.

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The Tall Man (movie)

the tall manBecause “The Short Man” doesn’t sound as intimidating. 

This review will have to be done delicately as not to spoil anything, should you decide to watch this 2012 thriller. To your delight, this means a short review.

It’s unclear why The Tall Man is so grossly overlooked when people talking about intense movies. In fact, I consider it to be one of the most underrated movies to come out in the last 10 years.

The movie opens up telling you that a series of disappearing children has caused much fear in the small town of Cold Rock. Jessica Beil stars as Julia, a local nurse who was married to a beloved (and now deceased) doctor. Cold Rock is a dreary former coal mining town and Julia is there trying to fill her husband’s shoes. As the local children continue to go missing, a legend forms around a figure known only as “The Tall Man”. Things get in to motion early when Julia wakes up to see a figure abducting her little boy, David. Was it the urban legend come to life? One thing is for certain, the surprises continue throughout the movie. I refuse to ruin any of them.

While the movie may not warrant any awards for acting, Biel’s performance should not go unrecognized. It juggles a complicated character and story line effectively. Samantha Ferris also gives a realistic portrayal of the poverty-stricken mother who is struggling with an abusive boyfriend (who knocks up her daughter). That may sound silly to you, but if you’ve done any social work, you’ll realize this isn’t far fetched at all. I’d also like to point out Jodelle Ferland, who plays this mother’s other daughter (the one NOT about to deliver her own step-brother). If you enjoy horror, you’ll recognize this face from Silent Hill and Case 39. In this, her character is a mute teen who desperately wants to be taken away from her dysfunctional environment. I really like this young actor, but she seems slightly limited. There is something genuine missing from her when she plays “hurt.”  I hope that she can break through this in time.

The script is not short of twists, but is shockingly void of plot holes. Two viewings in and I have not seen any. It feels as though they were able to tell the story, while successfully leaving out anything unnecessary.  As the characters shuffle through the plot, it all falls in place nicely at the end. Some may be bothered that there is a message that seems tacked on, but I would beg that the viewer think back over the entire story. It all poses a very interesting question about love being enough.

At the end of the day, The Tall Man may have suffered from promoting itself as a straight horror movie, which might disappoint those who prefer more juvenile horror flicks. It falls squarely in the thriller category. The draw may have been lacking due to the trailer not being able to share much. It really can’t without jeopardizing the surprises. It was ambiguous enough for there to be a rumor that it was a feature regarding the “Slenderman.” Still, if you run across this movie…no matter what your taste, I would highly recommend turning everything and tuning in to The Tall Man.

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Taking a Chance, Pt 3 – La Rose de Fer (The Iron Rose) (movie)

wVYMUsrnIp It could have been a short film, but he kept putting his baguette in her basket. Wakka Wakka!

The final installment of my random Netflix encounters comes from director Jean Rollin. Since we gave the British a try with Killer Moon, I thought it fair to let France ruin an hour or so of my life. It was shot in 1973 and the description included something about a couple going to a cemetery and not being able to get out. In addition, they are being stalked by something / someone. That’s what it said. Sounds decent, right?

With French films, especially early and low-budget, there comes black and white images of tear drops, shadows, and a clown taking a train into the distance while holding a rose. Jean Rollin was apparently known for doing vampire flicks that stood at the threshold of pornography. Yet, he developed acclaim for his style and effort.

This movie was a continuous trade-off of visual expression and straightforward blunt storytelling. The couple in question started off looking rather creepy when they meet at a wedding. They decide to go on a date; a picnic in a cemetery…a very large cemetery. There’s lots of European-glances, a few soft-spoken French lines, and a random dip into an underground tomb for a roll in the hay.  Oh, and a sad clown wanders into the graveyard to pay his respects to my nerves.

I dare say, I was getting a bit bored. I appreciate pacing and building tension. This couple was so down-right void of personality, I kept checking the remote to make sure I hadn’t paused the movie. The Girl (that’s her name in the credit), Francoise Pascal, is an actress who seemed to have moderate success even here in the states, landing a role on Young & the Restless, a CBS soap opera. In this movie, she spent the first half of the movie, looking shy and shyly exposing her breasts. Meanwhile, her date (played by Hughes Quester), came off as a socially and mentally unhinged as he lusts after the Girl, looking creepy and creepily exposing his splotchy back hair.

Things feel as they are taking a turn when night time finally falls on the couple. They try to leave but find that the paths have vanished along with the exit. They walk, run, and fight their way across the sea of tombstones. The fights are amusing because they come from nowhere and go nowhere. Also, the biggest one consists of him rolling her around on the ground, tearing her clothing as she screams…Why? Because she’s scared. Yeah, nothing cures fear like trauma from being manhandled by a guy on your first date. France really is the country of amour.

At some point, the movie finally decides they’ve had enough footage of the couple wandering and talking about the dead, they amp up the story by having the Girl go crazy. The Guy runs away from her and falls in an open gravy full of bones. She shows up and falls in with him. They have sex again, because…why not?

He stumbles out (though they spent minutes making it seem as if he couldn’t) and decides he needs to go back  to the tomb from round one’s sex-capade  for a watch he left behind. As he goes down in there, the Girl closes the doors on top of him and locks him in. After a monologue, she opens it back up and goes down with him…I’m guessing to have sex with him again (I actually, I read that he was supposed to have suffocated from the 30 seconds he was in there). A woman I’ve never seen before arrives and puts a flowerpot on top of the tomb door. The end…and not once did we ever see them being stalked (unless that was meant to be metaphorical).

Honestly, this movie had a very nice setting and I enjoyed the lighting at nightfall. The Girl was pretty and the touches of mystery were appreciated, but when it was all over I felt like I had been watching a pair of faded French panties blowing in the wind for an hour and a half. That…that just doesn’t work for me.

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Taking Chances, Pt 2 – Mercenaries (movie)

Mercenaries-2014Like Expendables series, but written faster.

SPOILERS AHEAD…and  I don’t even care.

Mercenaries is the subject of my second review of random Netflix choices during a fight against the flu. Produced in 2014, it stars a cast of “would-be”, “has been”,  “kinda stars” like  Zoe Bell, Kristanna Loken, and Vivica A Fox. More interesting additions to this cast are 80’s/90’s female response to Jean Claud Van Damme, Cynthia Rothrock, and everyone’s favorite crazy blond (Rocky IV and Flavor of Love tv series), Brigitte Neilsen. Oh, and they have Nicole Bilderback as an Asian woman to round out the Captain Planet assassins.

The plot is pretty standard. The US President’s daughter is kidnapped while in a war zone (for some reason) and held for ransom. The CIA agent (Rothrock), knowing the head of the kidnapping to be a man-hating tyrant, decide to recruit a handful of female inmates to go in and save the day.

You don’t watch this movie expecting much, obviously. You know there will be lots of gun fire, explosions, impossible acts of danger that defy physics. Each of the main actors brings her A game to this B movie…but that isn’t saying much.  Rothrock was never known for her acting and Fox apparently needs a very involved director to not be an over-the-top cliche.

The surprise of the well-squared thespians, is Neilsen. Despite years of being portrayed as bat-sh*t crazy on Flava Flav’s reality series and appearing intoxicated at public events, she delivers a solid performance as Ulrika (the head of this criminal organization). I don’t mean that she was channeling Meryl Streep, however, she was committed and intense. I wanted to see more of her…in other roles, even. The way she stared fearlessly into the camera when threatening the heroes or her choice to gently caress the president’s daughter’s boob when she talks about being “good friends” with America. She knew what kind of part she was playing, what kind of movie this was, and had a great time with it.

The movie is entertaining, but nonsense. The women infiltrate the compound and fight their way out. There is a scene where at least 80% of the other kidnap victims the women try to save are mowed down with an automatic rifle. That was…something. Fox switches sides, deciding she’d rather be Ulrika’s right hand than pardoned and unemployed. The women leave one girl to mutilate one of Ulrika’s henchmen (that raped her) and board a plane with the president’s daughter. Ulrika manages to drive up to the plane and grab a strap hanging out the back (why was it still open if they had taken off). She climbs in. They fight. She is handcuffed to a bomb, a car, a horse…something…I don’t remember. Then, she is shoved out the opening to land on the compound, blowing up the building (as well as any survivors like the young girl mutilating her rapists). They all giggle, perhaps throw out some one liners, and join Rothrock in celebrating the death of the best character in the movie.

Bell asks the president’s daughter if she wanted to join them as mercenaries since she proved herself (as what I’m not sure, since she did nothing but sit in her cell until she was rescued…I guess they liked the way she ran, smiled, and wore enough make-up to look like a Thai hooker). Then, Rothrock asks the girls if they are ready for another mission, to which they decline doing it again.  Good decision girls. Once was enough. Trust me.

Overall, it was fun if you like dumb action films. This one has women, but could have easily been played by men (which in itself is kind of nice that it wasn’t gender biased). Probably like the Asian’s pay…don’t expect much.

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Taking Chances Pt 1 – Killer’s Moon (movie)

KillersMoonCover‘Twas dry wit that killed the Brickleshireweston girls.

Are you one of those people that think a British accent brings an almost guaranteed promise of quality or intelligence? Are you a fan of early slasher films despite most of them not having much of a plot? Do you start to raise an eyebrow when Netflix says “Because you liked The Lego Movie you might also enjoy Hellraiser: Retribution.”   Well, Killer’s Moon was a stab in the dark option one night as the flu set in. I like horror. I like Europe. I like surprises. Let me rephrase. I used to like these things.

We are feeling at least 15 minutes into the movie  and all there is to show for it is a busload of generic girls singing and some of the most British opening credits I’ve ever seen. Directed by Alan Birkinshaw. Starring Nigel Gregory, Edwina Wray, and Elizabeth Counsell.  I swear I thought I was part of a Murder Mystery Dinner. So, there’s singing, lots of shots of trees, two lads living in a tent on the countryside for fun, and more trees. Something is lurking in the trees and apparently to shy to make a move until 30 minutes in. That would be okay if we were establishing characters or a sub-plot. There is literally nothing.

The aforementioned songbirds are travelling cross countryside to attend a choir convention or some such nonsense. Their bus breaks down, so their teacher/coach (an older stuffy woman with cat-rimmed glasses and all) has them all trek through the muddy woods to find help. Her assistant, sporting a Laurie Strode Halloween 2 (the one in the hospital) wig, doesn’t do much other than look like Barbara from the original Night of the Living Dead in a Laurie Strode Halloween 2 (the one in the hospital) wig.

The head mistress/teacher lady is one of the rudest characters. She is rude to the point of it not making sense. She meets a strange elderly man in the woods and berates him for there not being a hotel closer. She’s so uptight, I think even the royal family would say “Hey…chill out a bit.”

“Chilling out” pretty much describes almost every other young female character in this movie. They looked bored and resentful…like Jennifer Hudson in every role since Dreamgirls. Even when delivering such lines as ” Look, you were only raped, as long as you don’t tell anyone about it you’ll be alright. You pretend it never happened, I pretend I never saw it and if we ever get out of this alive, well, maybe we’ll both live to be wives and mothers.”  Yes, this was spoken from one teen girl to another after our psychos raped her. Then, they moved on like it never happened. Never happened, indeed.

So the premise of this movie is that four mental patients were made part of an experimental treatment that left them believing they were having a “shared dream.” So they assumed they could hurt any and everyone with no consequences (curious none of them tried to fly).

In the midst of this “plot”, we have British Laurie Strode fainting repeatedly (but apparently no one wanted to rape her), two sexy British hunks first trying to score with and then turning into heroes for the girls, a cat’s tail gets chopped off, fat psycho puts on a bolder, fire, wigs, bad teeth, the end.

No wonder you haven’t seen any British contributions to top horror movie list. This movie was MST3K material, if it hadn’t had so much boobies and raping. The sheer awfulness of this movie’s visuals is summed up with the “outdoor” scene that obviously takes place in a studio. You can tell because the sound quality changes (bouncing off the walls) and there is a painting of a forest not 3 feet away from the actors…a painting…

So, if you want to laugh til you fall asleep, this movie should work for you. If you’re looking for torture porn and boobs, you probably need help. Killer’s Moon will forever keep me pinned to that time and space against my will. I didn’t want to make a rape analogy, but that’s where this movie took me.

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American Horror Story – A Dream I Am Waking From

American_Horror_Story_Murder_House_Serie_de_TV-705110012-largeIt’s made in America. It’s full of horror. And it’s a story. 3 out of 3!

***WARNING : SPOILERS GALORE****

The series, American Horror Story, sort of crept onto the scene. FX did an exceptional job with publicity, never really revealing the depths the show would go in storytelling. It peaked your curiosity without ruining any suprises. It premiered in October of 2012 and rejuvinated horror fans with something we had not experienced on television in quite awhile; fear and mystery. I hesitated to watch the series for several reasons until Season 3’s Coven came out. Kathy Bates, Angela Bassett, Jessica Lange, and witches? That was too much to pass up. I was so enchanted with the first episodes themes, pacing, and acting (not to mention the graphic language and brutality they handled gracefully), that I immediately wrote a review for it. Then…something happened. Here is my review (and explanation) of the entire series thus far, as we head into a holiday break from season 4’s Freakshow. I shall review them in the order I watched them.

AHSCovenPosterCoven had a lot going for it. There were social messages of racism and discrimination. The show had undeniable style (not just in costuming and design but in camerawork and editing). We had cat fights maxed out by supernatural powers. A Minotaur was banging Precious for crying out loud!!! It kept me on my toes. The acting / casting was pretty solid all the way around (though I found Emma Roberts a bit typical as the Hollywood actress). About halfway through, I noticed something. There wasn’t a genuine moment happening anywhere. Two characters were fighting one moment and then not fighting the next (for no apparent reason). People died and came back as if it were a new fad. You got used to not grieving a loss or rooting for anyone, because they were bound to show back up or do something uncharacteristically evil. For example, Misty Day (the sweetest and kindest character on the show with a great taste in music, played by Lily Rabe) attacking the ax-man. She didn’t know who he was? Why would she “want a piece of him?” The show began to unravel as if the writers had lost track of the story. Honestly, if it weren’t for the one-liners and cat fights (and the nagging desire to know for sure who would be crowned the new Supreme), I would have given up on the series. Kudos for bringing us Stevie Nicks, though. That was classy and appreciated. It finally came down to the only way to end an unraveled mess of a plot; conveniently kill off people that you didn’t want or need standing at the end. The death of Misty Day was a shocking travesty in that it didn’t have any moral weight to it. She didn’t just die like the vulgar and spoiled Madison (Roberts), when strangled by her Frankenstein-esque play-thing. She was stuck being tortured for eternity. That is not only unsatisfying, it is confusing to an audience who has waited for people to get what was coming to them.

american_horror_story_ver2_xlgMurder House was the first in the series. You must always be forgiving when a promising show has glitches. That is to be expected. Season 1 was brutal, but sensible storytelling. It had a clear plot that unrolled with each episode. It had some pretty undeniable plot holes (like how a ghost can get someone pregnant) and the teenage whining was a bit grating. The story followed a family who escapes their troubles by moving across country into a (unbeknownst to them) haunted hause. What proceeds is a battle for sanity, for survival, and for the possession of a newborn baby. Still, the show was full of twists and surprises. Then, there was the solid acting that felt like a true drama with a horror backdrop. Connie Britton was downright unreal in how real she was as the wife/mother, Vivian. She was perfectly placed opposite Dylan McDermott, as the f*ck up husband of the century. Her relative nature and firm delivery were perfect for a show that had so many characters in it. Evan Peters was charming, even when unhinged. He was an instant breakout talent. It was also fun to see Zachary Quinto as 1/2 of a dysfunctional gay couple. He has great intensity. Yet, with all of these polished deliveries, it all came down to Jessica Lange. Lange played the fussy, uptight neighbor who, of course, had something to hide. She played it with the delicacy of a trained violinist. It was proof that she had the same star power she did in her early career. The deaths in Murder House  were indeed gruesome, but in a Tobe Hooper way. They would show enough. It was smart camera work.  This series wraps up with a little *wink* and a smile, like a good ghost story should.

American-Horror-Story-poster-AsylumNext came season 3’s Asylum. This season is a bit polorizing with fans. Some found it “too busy” while others praise it as the best season. This season allowed Sarah Paulson (as lesbian reporter Laura Winters) to shine. She is trying to uncover a scandal at the church run asylum, Briarcliff, when head warden, Sister June (played perfectly again by Lange) decides to have her committed to prevent any trouble. The plot involves demonic possession (a fun and balanced portrayal by Lily Rabe), alien abduction, racism, serial killers, and mutation by nazi experimentation. Yes, that sounds like a clusterf*ck, but what makes this season brilliant is that they manage to take all of that and knit it into a complete story. When you think something is random, it still serves a purpose to moving the story along.  The pacing on this is insane! (See what I did there?) It never stops progressing, never stops answering questions and raising new ones, never gives you much time to look away. The first half was watched in one night and I felt drained. Paulson and Quinto (who plays a psychiatrist with a secret) have amazing chemistry. Lange’s transformation is nothing short of masterful as she goes from stern authority figure to vulnerable shell of a woman.  We are also introduced to Pepper, the pinhead who is abducted and infused with intelligence by aliens to serve as a caretaker for Kit Walker’s (Evan Peters) unborn baby. Yeah, let that sink in. This season is frightening, funny, witty, mysterious, and at times…sweet. Unlike Coven,  Asylum  sees its characters through to the end, with great satisfaction. The final scene is a reminder of much you had gone through with a line that summed up everything; “If you’re going to look in the face of evil, Evil’s going to look right back at you.”

rs_634x862-140916055811-634.American-Horror-Story-Freak-Show-JR-91614This catches us up to the current season, Freakshow. Given a backdrop of a 1950’s circus freakshow on its lasts legs, this show starts off somewhat predictable. However, there is an undeniable charm in all of the supporting cast of “freaks.”  So far, this would be even harder to review for two reason; it has yet to finish and the story is paper thin compared to previous seasons. If it had to be summarized, it could be said that everyone is out to kill the freaks…even the freaks. That’s not much of a plot, though. The highlights thus far have been Twisty the Clown (delightfully creepy John Carroll Lynch) and his unwanted, but persistent and spoiled admirer, Dandy (Finn Wittrock). Wittrock is refreshing and a thrill to watch as he becomes desperate and unhinged to find his place. Unfortunately, everyone else looks tired or their characters have taken a back seat to the visuals of the “freaks.”   Angela Bassett is wasted (more so than any of the other actors) as the three-boobed hermaphrodite lover of Michael Chicklis’s character.  Kathy Bates also deserves honorable mention. In Coven she was a dynamite racist serial killer, but here she is allowed to do what she does well; reflective drama.  Lange plays the ringleader of the freakshow, passing herself off as a savior when in reality she is clawing at a chance at fame.

This season has so far been strictly about disturbing us, not storytelling. In fact, I found that the “freaks” were not disturbing at all. Bassett talking about her super-sized vagina and Chicklis smothering a woman the size of an infant were just the tip of the iceberg. Confusing doesn’t begin to cover the description of the choices that were made, but in the last episode our spunky lobster boy (Peters) performs “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”  Mmmmm…hmmm…Now, Lange had performed Lana Del Ray’s “God’s and Monsters” earlier in the season and Paulson (playing dual roles as conjoined twins Bette and Dott) sang “Criminal” by Fiona Apple. However, those were at least re-worked to sound bit like old torch songs. Peters was given free reign to do his best 90’s rock interpretation, which I found jarring and irrelevant. At no point had Evan’s character been defined as a singer, and when he was done “rehearsing” Lange simply dismissed his performance, sending him into a rage about some of Lange’s character’s questionable actions. My point? It seemed like the musical performance was merely in there because the creators like musical numbers. It came out of nowhere and went nowhere. Another confusing choice? Casting R&B legend Patti Labelle as a maid, who is only on to wear a Woody Woodpecker suit and provoke the aforementioned Dandy into slitting her throat. What? She doesn’t sing? She’s only seen about 5 minutes total before being killed? Why did she do this? Anyone could have taken that role.

To review, what started off as a promising show is now suffering from a lack of focus. Murder House and Asylum were rich in storytelling. The following installments were spoiled. It was like those movies where the young impoverished girl is given an opportunity to be rich and famous. When she finally makes it, she becomes a selfish b*tch, concerned about surface and popularity. AHS gained a following, then succumbed to the shallowness of success. Creator Ryan Murphy has announced that all of the season’s are related and many have called foul. They think this is a cheap gimmick to get/keep people watching despite the many failing points. I mean almost all of the returning actors are forced to play almost identical characters, only in different settings. Lange is a domineering drunk struggling with her own self worth in seasons 1, 2, 3, and 4. Peters plays the tortured puppy dog love interest in every season (almost always destined to show his butt and cry A LOT, though he does both very well). Bassett is the sassy black woman, again.  I’m hoping like in those rags-to-riches stories, that they will learn their lesson and return to substance. If they don’t, (especially after the announced departure of Lange) they may be forced to close the book on American Horror Story.

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