Wednesday, March 4, 2015

House of Cards (Spoiler Alert)

Dark. Poignant. Disturbing.  Ruthless. Finally, politics I can get behind.

On February 1, 2013, Netflix introduced the world to a new political drama starring two-time Academy Award winner Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright. Now, I was a bit skeptical at first. Seriously, another political drama.  But I of course gave it a whirl. I do enjoy my political dramas.  I was a big fan of The West Wing and I am one of the millions of Scandal addicts. 

Season 1 starts off with a bang with lead character Frank Underwood (Spacey), a congressman from South Carolina, killing a dying dog with his bare hands.  That scene was so pivotal because right off the bat, we are introduced to the ruthlessness of Frank and we, as the audience know he is not going to be Mr. Rogers.  Underwood is on a whole other level of disturbed. He is power hungry and losing pretty much anything is his kryptonite.  This man will literally stop at nothing to have everything he wants.  Kevin Spacey portrays him in a way that almost chills you to the bone.  In other words, in a way only Kevin Spacey can.  At first, his wife Claire, was a little difficult to analyze.  At first, my thought this was just another cold fish of a television wife, trying too hard to be a cold fish.  This is not the case.  This woman is stone cold and I think I love her.  There is a reason Robin Wright is the first actor to win a major award for a web only television series when she won the Golden Globe for best actress in a drama series.  She is able to grace the screen with such a frosty stoicism that the temperature practically dropped while I was watching.

The writing is superb with some of the words hitting you like a bullet in the dark. I think many people would agree when I say that Frank and Claire Underwood are probably the most intriguing yet darkest pair of characters on the small screen these days.  House of Cards is a very different kind of political drama.  It is no secret that at the helm are a husband and wife team with some very serious control issues.  There has also been a threesome with a Secret Service agent, beer pong in the White House, a reporter pushed in front of a train, and a first lady peeing in front of a Russian diplomat.

Season three was revolutionary in writing, acting, even camera angles at times.  However I am sorry to say, the ending, although not expected, was too generic for this show.  Claire is a stone wall, maybe even titanium and she does a 360 and turns into every other wife on television, whining about not enough attention right at the very end of the season finale.  This is not Claire Underwood.  I only hope at the beginning of Season 4, it goes back to extraordinary and quickly leaves this very ordinary and, I am sorry to say, trite way to end what was an exceptional season.  House of Cards so far has been a tight, taunt structure full of subtle twists and turns that will, at times, leave you speechless. Hopefully, it will soon not all fall apart.

Thank you and see you at the next blog.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Gone Girl

You know, I've seen a lot of movies in my time and anyone who knows me knows I like the dark ones with the twisted, dark characters.  Now, I always believe in full disclosure which means I have to admit first that I have not read the book.  Since right before the movie came out, everyone was reading it which makes me one of about a dozen people in the world who have not read it.

Okay, back to my love of dark and twisted movies and their characters.  If you enjoy those aspects of movies also, you will also know there have been so many awesomely dark characters in cinema.  For every Dr. Hannibal Lecter and Buffalo Bill, there's an Aileen Wournos, Jigsaw, Annie Wilkes, John Doe (Seven), Norman Bates, and Jack Torrance.

Just to let you know right off the bat, I am not going to say who is the twisted one in this intriguingly dark tale of love, marriage, and all the straight jackets in between.  That would make a bad, bad movie critic and I would really need to be slapped hard on the hand.  On the simpler side, Gone Girl  is the tragic story of Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck), a bar owner in a small town whose life is suddenly put to a grinding halt when, on his fifth wedding anniversary, his wife Amy goes missing.  Also, again on the simpler side, most of the movie is is trying to decipher, "did Nick Dunne kill his wife?"  The story weaves like an episode of Law and Order but you will figure out there is more to this story of whether simply did Nick Dunne kill his wife or not.

So, that is all I am saying about the plot itself.  This is storytelling at its finest.  At first, the flow is perfect, like floating on a Texas Hill Country river in summer while it is at the perfect level.  Suddenly, it turns into a riptide, pulling you under and trying to rip each limb out of your body.  It is even hard to say too much about the performances, worrying I will divulge too much about this deliciously nasty plot.  Ben Affleck is great, definitely continuing his massive comeback (Matthew McConaughey's is called the McConnaissance but I am trying to figure out what to call Ben's).  Neil Patrick Harris plays a very different type is this movie, definitely putting Barney in the rearview mirror.  It was odd seeing him in this type of role and I need to do some more pondering before I decide if I want to see it again or not.  I think he will put Barney far, far behind him and us.  The standout is Rosamund Pike who portrays the kidnapped Amy Dunne.  All I can say is she better get some major award love next year.

This is one of the best American dramas this year. There are no car chases, big explosions or natural disasters.  It's a deep, dark story, with actors and great writing leading the way.  If you do not experience this film, I am afraid you will be gone too.

Thank you and see you at the next blog.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Judge

This is one of those movies that will grab you by the collar, push your butt in the seat and scream in your face, "watch me now and be in awe."  Now, that is not because there are big giant Michael Bay-esque explosions dancing across the screen, not that there is anything wrong with that.  Many of you know about this movie already, drooled during the trailer, or have seen it in its entirety and wiped the emotion from your eyes while leaving the theater.

The reason for the drooling (not that I did that at all when watching the trailer) was not only the story but the tour-de-force of talent just littering this picture.  How can anyone not be in total awe of Robert Duvall?   Granted, much of his career is before my time but I am lucky enough to have witnessed the awesomeness of his portrayal of "Boo Radley" in To Kill A Mockingbird, Tom Hagen in The Godfather and The Godfather Part II, Lt. Colonel Bill Kilgore in Apocalypse Now, and of course there is one of the most iconic performances of all freaking time, Gus McCrae in Lonesome Dove.  Yes, yes I am kind of a fan but I think that means I have impeccable taste.  Also, I am by no means the only one because his career spans 58 years now. 

Robert Downey, Jr. stars as Hank Palmer, a powered attorney living in Chicago.  When a death in the family forces him to return to his hometown in Indiana, Hank is forced to face his father, Judge Joseph Palmer (Duvall) who he does not have the greatest relationship with.  Right at the moment Hank is about to leave to go back to Chicago, his brother Glen (played surprisingly well by Vincent D'Onofrio) calls to let him know that their father has been arrested for hitting a man with his car.  This causes Hank to be involved in the life, town, and family that he so desperately wants to be apart from.  This is by far one of if not Robert Downey, Jr.'s finest performance.  He is most definitely on a whole other plane in his career.  He and Duvall are so powerful together, they are like a cinematic grenade exploding on the screen.  Robert Duvall  displays a whole new level of artistry as he portrays the tough as nails, small town judge.  Vera Farmiga, who portrays one of the best television characters right now, Norma Bates on Bates Motel, plays Hank's childhood sweetheart Samantha.  Farmiga has always done a very nice job of portraying women who are heavily layered and complicated, but she is definitely versatile enough to play the laid back, girl next door type.  That surprised me because I did not see that side in her at first.  I also liked seeing Billy Bob Thornton back on the silver screen but his performance was pretty usual for him.  What I mean is he plays a certain kind of character extremely well, a prosecuting attorney being one of them, but I do not see him playing a character like Hank Palmer for instance.  However, he could always surprise me one day and I would like to see that.

The Judge is a film that is not going to be for everyone but for the ones who like a good, deeply dark family drama with bits of humor mixed in then this movie is for you.  It does, however, get down and dirty with the family dynamics that many of us face every day and so for a lot of people (including me), this movie is going to hit close to home for you and there are scenes that will be hard to watch which made this story all the more real.  The actors handled the intense scenes beautifully.  It definitely will make you think what is going on with your own family at the moment or something you dealt with in the past.  The Judge is a superb American drama with an equally superb cast and if you do not enjoy this movie, then yes, you will be judged.

Thank you and see you at the next blog.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Jenji Kohan and her merry band of misfits. Is she changing the face of the television character? (Spoiler alert!)

In the wee hours this morning (June 6th), one of the most anticipated and talked about television events of the year occurred.  At 3 am here in Texas, season 2 of Orange is the New Black premiered on the streaming service Netflix. About a day before it premiered, I skimmed one article that was analyzing the awesome trailer for the season and the author recommended maybe spending the entire summer watching the 13-episode season instead doing what is now known as binge-watching.  I will first admit, right here, right now that I did not decide to wait, I binge watched the hell out of season 2 and in less than 48 hours (hey I still have to work), I was finished.  It was the visual book I could not put down.

Jenji Kohan is the head writer and executive producer of the Netflix phenom that is Orange is the New Black.  Before that, she is best known being the executive producer of one of the longest running cable programs ever, WeedsWeeds was a revelation.  It was something new and fresh and it was a force to be reckoned with when it hit the small screens. The story of a woman living in an affluent California suburb who starts selling pot after her husband unexpectedly drops dead of a heart attack, starred one of the most versatile actresses in Hollywood, Mary Louise Parker.  She portrayed Nancy Botwin, who at first is just your run-of-the-mill widowed mom of two boys trying to keep her life as together as possible but soon finds out that her new career choice comes with consequences.  Some of the situations were comical but many of them were very serious and of course as the years went on, her life spiraled out of control.

However, I am here to talk about characters and boy, did Nancy have some characters alongside her. There was Doug, the city councilman and one of her biggest customers who was by her side throughout the entire run of the show. One of my favorites was Celia Hodes, portrayed brilliantly by Elizabeth Perkins.  She was one of those suburban moms who wanted the perfect suburban life with perfect husband and perfect child.  Instead, Celia is married to Dean who she thinks is the biggest loser on Earth and her daughter is Isabelle, a young girl with a 'weight problem' and is also a lesbian.  Celia even once said, "I should have had an abortion" while watching her daughter on video.  Nancy has two sons, Silas and Shane.  Silas is the oldest who becomes a force in the pot business.  He is also insanely good looking and hooks up with just about every female he comes in contact with from a deaf girl while he is in high school to a much older divorcee.  Shane is extremely smart but a bit of a sociopath of course.  His extreme protection for his mom in all of her precarious situations put the entire family in grave danger many times.  Then of course, there is Nancy's brother-in-law Andy who, in my opinion, is one of the most interesting, funny, dynamic characters in all of television.  Another aspect that makes Kohan's characters so different than anyone else on television is in the writing and simply the crazy things they say.  Obviously, her top two shows are not network shows so there is no censoring with what the characters say but still, some of the lines that come out of the characters mouths push the envelope even by cable standards.  Any fan of Weeds who has watched the show more than once (I am not going to admit fully that I am one of those people) should remember his classic speech to his nephew Shane about the benefits and the how-tos on masturbating.  I often wonder if that scene was shot in one take because Justin Kirk (actor who portrays Andy) spills his soliloquy so flawlessly, it really should go down as one of the iconic speeches in television history.

There were so many more extremely interesting and complex characters appearing in Weeds including Nancy's dealer in the beginning, Heylia James, a woman not to be messed with but knows how to do business.  One of my favorite lines from her was, "I don't know, I guess you just bring out the fuck you in me."

That takes me to the vast, sweeping character driven vehicle that is Orange is the New Black.  There really is no way to analyze every character in this show without doing a series of reviews (or a full-length novel), there are that many of them.  It is most definitely one of the most successful female driven shows ever.  Most of you might already be familiar with the premise, which is based on the memoir Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women's Prison by Piper Kerman.  The title character, Piper Chapman is a young woman living the life in New York City with her fiance, Larry but perfection ends when she is sent to prison for being a drug mule ten years before.  When we meet her in episode one, she is already in prison but throughout the series, we see her life before going in
 as we do with the rest of the inmates.  Chapman is annoying, weak, and incredible naive at first, which is exactly what she is supposed to be.  She grows and gets stronger in a short period of time, which I would think is something that has to happen in prison. Taylor Shilling's performance is not entirely convincing but I do see her growing more in her role as time goes by and Chapman's 'time' goes by.

Of course, at first, even before the show premiered, we knew the star and title character was Chapman, but, and I know I am not just speaking for myself, that there are a bevy characters in this show that are on their way to being stars and title characters.  These women are simply a force in talent and it being such a large group of them, I would have loved to been a fly on the wall during the casting process which had to have taken a really long time.  A very versatile group of actresses, none of them really household names, explode onto the screen with dark, daring, comedic, soul-baring performances speaking dialogue from an equally dark, daring, comedic, and soul-baring script.

One of the most daring performers on the show is Laverne Cox, who portrays transgender woman/hairdresser to the inmates Burset on the show.  Cox, who is a transgender woman herself, was featured on the cover of Time earlier in June and became the first transgender person ever to be on the cover.  Then there is one of my favorites, the recent recipient of the best supporting actress award from the Critics' Choice television awards, Uzo Aduba. Aduba portrays Suzanne "Crazy Eyes" Warren, who delivers a tour-de-force performance in every episode especially in season 2.  She, along with everyone else, up the ante for season 2 when it comes to performances.  They were all great in season 1 but in season 2, we got to know them more with layer after layer exposed.  Kate Mulgrew is one of the most established actresses of the bunch, best known for her role on Star Trek: Voyager.  She portrays "Red," disgraced former head of the kitchen crew now trying to connive her way back in, however, runs into a major roadblock in season 2 when a 'friend' from the past comes back to the prison. Another face we know is Natasha Lyonne, famous for her role in the first two American Pie movies.  She plays Nichols, whose constant sarcastic wit and promiscuity hides the fact that she wants to find some kind of real companionship, even behind bars.  We also got to see one of the most anticipated appearances in the show, portraying the enigmatic Alex Vause, Laura Prepron (That 70's Show).  Vause was Chapman's girlfriend ten years before and the drug dealer Chapman ran drugs for which is what landed her in prison in the first place. At first, Vause is a little difficult to read which is why I had to use the word enigmatic.  She's confident and strong but doesn't show much emotion.  Her role in Season 2 was smaller (only 4 episodes) and I cannot decide if she is sincere or a conniving bitch, or maybe a little of both.  She acts more uppity than Chapman but no one gives her any grief about it.  It has been announced though that she is appearing in every episode of Season 3, which I am very excited about.

The friendship between Poussey (Samira Wiley) and Taystee (Danielle Brooks) is one of the closest bonds in Litchfield.  Even though Poussey has feelings for Taystee, their friendship has still stood the test, even with a roadblock of their own in Season 2.  At first, I wasn't crazy about the relationship between Diaz (Dascha Polanco) and CO Bennett (Matt McGorry)  but they have become almost cute. She and her mother, Mendoza, definitely got off to a rocky start but they have now gotten closer with her pregnancy.  Mendoza, Red's replacement as head of the kitchen crew, definitely holds her own as one of the more aggressive of the inmates but is trying to make it right with her daughter.

Ahhh, what can be said about the little villain of Season 1, Pennsatucky?  Tiffany, if she weren't in prison, would more likely be leading her own cult outside of the razor-sharp wire.  She was quite the devious little twit in Season 1 and part of that big violent end to Season 1.  She is still the one we love to hate in Season 2 but I think we may be liking her just a little bit more now.

I mentioned a 'roadblock' a couple of times and that would be the force of our Season 2 villain, Vee. She is extremely vicious and that is deliciously portrayed by one of my favorite character actresses, Lorraine Toussaint, who I loved in the show Any Day Now.

Then there is the drama with the employees of the Litchfield, and wow, is there some drama.  The most colorful of the characters would definitely have to go to the resident horny little devil, CO Pornstache Mendez.  This is a man who loves the job that everyone else loathes because he gets to push around and yell at a bunch of women who he considers the lowest of the low in society.   Pablo Shrieber's performance is extremely convincing and in-your-face which is exactly as it should be.  The young CO Bennett gets a lot of attention for knocking up Diaz, which is a very interesting storyline.  I am interested to see how it develops in Season 3 and when she finally gives birth. Will he take care of the baby himself while she is in prison?

Obviously this entry is so long because of the critiquing of two great shows, both with large casts.  I actually feel bad about all the characters I left out and I left out a lot of them.  Jenji Kohan has paved her own way and it is a perfect time for that to happen.  Her characters and story lines are dark and humorous.  They are about people in situations that seem could really happen and that cannot be easy to do with the outlandish things that happens to them.  The last several years, television has experienced an astonishing creative renaissance, with millions of people tuning into shows with jaw-dropping twists and turns which are generating news headlines week after week.   Orange is the New Black is one of those shows and I personally cannot wait to see what the future holds for the inmates and employees of Litchfield.  It is clearly apparent that these women are literally changing the face of the television character which is something that is not a crime.

Thank you and see you at the next blog.

Monday, March 10, 2014

True Detective

At first, I wanted to write that this was like someone took "Seven," "Law and Order:SVU," and  "The Silence of the Lambs," mashed them together and threw them in the Louisiana swamps and what wondered out was an eight episode act of haunting television beauty.  Now, I do realize I put this show in a very positive light by that glowing review but the only negative I see is comparing this act of haunting television beauty to anything else, and I mean anything.

Matthew McConaughey continues his McConnaissance with his unfathomable portrayal of the tortured  Detective Rust Cohle.  It's not that he is a very complex man, he is just so exhaustively fed up with the world around him, and who wouldn't be. I would be too if I had the x-ray vision to look into a person's soul that this guy has, and be right all the time about what I saw.

Lets face it, Woody Harrelson is a chameleon and can literally absorb himself in every role he takes on.  Detective Marty Hart is the family man part of this serial killer tracking duo and he too is also very tortured, by his life and his job.  I don't think he even realized it though, until he met and partnered up with Rust.

The story is dark and chilling but rolls perfectly along with an apocalyptic Southern Louisiana sitting exquisitely in the background like a character in itself in the storyline.  The going back and forth between time periods can be a little overwhelming at first but if you keep your eyes on the prize, you will be able to follow along but you have to keep your eyes on it.  The writing is tight and perfectly executed, weaving a tale of human darkness and suspense that hasn't been seen in years.  There's no CGI special effects (well, 1 or 2 instances but they are small and necessary), explosions, or flashy costumes.  Its just good old fashioned story telling, character development, and actors making these characters burst all over the screen. The final episode itself was awesome, with scenes that could rival some horror these days.   This is a prime example of the road to creative tour-de-force television has paved in recent years and I say keep it coming. Watching this nearly 8 hour, what I like to call television motion picture since each season is a stand-alone story (see American Horror Story), was better than most things you will see at the movies these days and it doesn't take a true detective to tell you that.

Thank you and see you at the next blog.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Dallas Buyers Club

*This film is nominated for 6 Academy Awards including Best Picture.*

On the road to the 86th Academy Awards (which, at the time of this writing, is tomorrow night), I, just in the nick of time, got to watch one of the front runners this year for pretty much all the awards it is nominated for.

At first, Dallas Buyers Club  is hard to watch.  This is mostly because we are used to seeing Matthew McConaughey as  a strapping, muscular, very healthy man.  However, for this role, he literally put his life on the line to play AIDS patient Ron Woodruff, an electrician who is diagnosed with HIV in 1985 and given thirty days to live.  I think by now, we have all seen the infamous pictures of him during the film shoot, or by now you have seen the actual movie.  He is difficult to watch when starting the 1 hour and 58 minute long movie because  you are looking at a McConaughey who has lost 35 to 40 pounds.  Last year, I did an Entertainer Profile on Matthew McConaughey mostly because of his stellar 2012 performances, then came Dallas Buyers Club, which he has already won a Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Actor and is frontrunner for the Best Actor Academy Award tomorrow night.  I ended that profile with this line, "From what I have read though, we can expect the same level of tour-de-force versatility in the near future and I say bring it on Matthew."  Little did I know that this was coming to our screens, this life changing, mind-altering, up lifting portrayal that can only be described as cinematic ecstasy.

Then there was Jared Leto, who, in my personal opinion, took six years off from acting because he wanted to come back with a splash. His portrayal of Rayon, the transgender HIV postitive woman Woodruff meets in the hospital, Leto landed with a continent covering tsunami.  I wish I could be in Los Angeles tomorrow to hand him the Best Supporting Actor award.

These were not only the performances of their careers, Leto and McConaughey give the performances that could span several careers.

The movie is good, no it's great.  Once you get past the shock of watching these two men in a whole other, and much thinner, light, you see this beautiful story emerge.  This film is a powerful look at living, dying, and all the shit we have to put up with trying to accomplish one and not the other.

Thank you and see you at the next blog.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Entertainer Profile - Leonardo DiCaprio

It has been a while since I have done an Entertainer Profile, but judging from the amount of views they get, I need to start doing them more often. They are quite popular.  There is no one more deserving right now of one than a man who is pretty much at the top of my list when it comes to quality of movies and the pure awesomeness of his performances.  I would absolutely love to meet him one day and just pick his brain, not literally of course because that would be wrong.

He was born in Los Angeles, California in 1974 to George and Irmelin.  His father was an artist who worked on comic books and mom was a legal secretary.  He was put into the industry as a child and scored some small television roles, such as a cameo on Roseanne as a classmate of middle child Darlene Conner, which I saw recently and nearly yelled at the t.v. when I saw him.  He did a low-budget, direct-to-video film, Critters 3 and a now infamous stint on the final season of Growing Pains.  Then came This Boy's Life, being picked by Robert DeNiro himself for the role and as you can see below, the rest is history.

This Boy's Life (1993)
Whats Eating Gilbert Grape (1993) - Twenty years later and this film is still a perennial cult classic and the first of his four extremely well-deserved Academy Award nominations.  His breakout role as a mentally challenged teenager and brother to Johnny Depp's Gilbert Grape launched his film career.
The Basketball Diaries (1995)
Romeo + Juliet (1996)
Titanic (1997) -  This movie is and will always be in my Top 5 favorites of all time, even in the top 3.  I still to this day find it to be one of the best written, acted, most enjoyable cinematic experiences ever to grace any screen, any where. The movie was the number 1 box office champion in the world until Avatar in 2009 and was nominated for 14 Academy Awards and won 11.  Titanic catapulted DiCaprio into a worldwide mega-star.
The Man in the Iron Mask (1998) - This was a solid movie with an excellent cast including Jeremy Irons, Gabriel Byrne, Gerard Depardieu, and John Malkovich.
The Beach (2000)
Gangs of New York - (2002)
Catch Me If You Can (2002) - DiCaprio + Tom Hanks + Steven Spielberg = good enough for me!
The Aviator (2004) - One of his best performances.  He was mesmerizing. His second Academy Award nomination.
The Departed (2006) - Lets face it, there is not a damn thing wrong with this movie. It's Scorsese and some of the best actors in the business in a dark, engaging thriller.
Blood Diamond (2006)  - His third Academy Award nomination.
Revolutionary Road (2008) - DiCaprio reunited with his Titanic co-star Kate Winslet was what won me over.  They portrayed Frank and April Wheeler, a married couple plagued with problems while living in 1950's Connecticut.
Shutter Island (2010) - DiCaprio + Scorsese + horror movie set in the 1950's = a damn good time!!!
J. Edgar (2011)
Django Unchained (2012) - see review 1-9-13
The Great Gatsby (2013) - see review 5-9-13
The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) - see review 1-20-14

This profile is being written ten days before the 86th Annual Academy Awards where he is nominated for a very explosive performance in The Wolf of Wall Street.  I am honestly saying that he is who I am rooting for and if you do not know why, then watch the movie.  If you watched it and still do not know why, then watch it again.  As a writer who is working on another book and a movie script, I can safely say that I hope one day, one of my books or scripts for a book lands in his hands.  So Mr. DiCaprio, I don't know if you are even planning your retirement at the moment but all I ask is please wait to at least know my name before you do.

Thank you and see you at the next blog.