Saturday, April 18, 2015

Extra Thoughts on It Follows, Most Violent, Arrow, and Nimoy

I haven't written a post like this before, but I realized that there were a few extra points that I wanted to make about the following entries that I posted recently. I'll be brief:

I really didn't spend enough time discussing the score for It Follows. I didn't even realize this until I watched Red Letter Media's review for It Follows (they also covered Furious 7). The RLM review included several clips from the movie - and I noticed that I was suddenly looking around corners as well as into dark rooms hesitantly, as if I were actually nervous and I was doing this in my own home.

Honestly, I am very aware of when a soundtrack/score doesn't quite work, or tells you what to feel too often, or becomes intrusive, It was a major mark of quality to have the IF score impact me so strongly. I was aware of its power at the time, but I don't think I expressed that appropriately in my review, so I wanted to point it out now: the music is not just a callback to 80's horror, it's insanely creepy and pulse-driving. Cheers to the filmmakers!

Meanwhile, I realize that I was being a bit harsh on Arrow. The problem is that, while it does have all of the strengths that I pointed out, the flaws are so intense and consistent now that I feel like the show is actively discouraging me from watching it. And I can't imagine why they'd start to run their show in that fashion; it makes no damn sense - just like all of their scenes involving the law...

Friday, April 17, 2015

WTH, Amazon Marketing?!

I see this in my inbox this morning. The funny thing is that I love Orphan Black, and have idly thought of how to recommend the series without spoiling the hell out of it in the process.

But there are so many things that are wrong here. For one thing, today marks the premiere of Orphan Black's third season. The ordinal number in the last sentence is pretty important, because watching the entire first season won't get anyone prepared for - or interested in watching - the events in season 3.

It also represents a further failure in marketing because, as I noted in yesterday's Justified post, I already have Amazon Prime and so can watch seasons 1 and 2 of Orphan Black whenever the hell I want. In fact, I still haven't seen the second batch yet, and have just been waiting for a week when I have the time and desire to check it out. Amazon should be able to tell that I am a Prime member and send me something an email that's tailored to people who signed up for that service...

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Recommended: Justified

[4/21/15 Update: added 5 paragraphs after the last video, didn't notice the missing text (which was important to me) for 5 days. Damn.]

Justified is one of the best gifts that TV has ever given me. It’s a crime drama centered on Raylan Givens, a U.S. Deputy Marshal who is more a teen’s impression of what he thinks a law-keeper should be than he is a modern-day law enforcement official. It’s immediately evident in the costuming, with Raylan always wearing a white cowboy hat – right there, you can see that Givens wants to be Wyatt Earp, not a “mere” professional in the criminal justice system. Raylan often forgoes backup, bends the rules severely while adhering to their principles, and – in the opening scenes of the first episode – gives a criminal 24 hours to leave town or else... possibly as an excuse to agitate the other man enough to make him draw his gun.

If you watched Burn Notice, try not to say "Hi, my name is Michael Westin" when the clip starts.

It’s one thing to say claim killed someone in order to save a life; it’s quite another thing to admit that you gunned someone down, yet that - as our lead says when asked about the fatality - "it was justified." Not “inevitable” or “necessary,” but “not unacceptable.” Deputy Marshal Givens constantly rides that line, to the viewer's joy and the extreme displeasure of crooks and fellow Marshals alike. His appeal is easy to understand; s--t, it’s why guys from my generation wanted to be Han Solo, not Luke Skywalker - and why women of the Star Wars generation had crushes on Harrison Ford, not Mark Hamill.

FX’s Justified is based on a book series by Elmore Leonard, one of the masters of modern crime fiction. In this cable TV show, a rambunctious lawman is transferred from his job in Miami to the next Marshal’s office with a vacancy. Unfortunately for Raylan, that office is in Lexington, Kentucky – spitting distance from his hometown of Harlan, KY. Givens spent his whole life trying to get away from the coal mines he toiled in, the good ol’ boys who annoyed him with their lousy behavior, and his worthless, petty crook father. Now, he’s right back where he started.

Even worse, his magnificent ex-wife, Winona, has moved back to the area and is remarried and, oh, she also works as a stenographer in the same court building that houses his new office. F--K

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Reviewing with Others, Pt. 78: Candlestick

I was going to post a Recommendation for FX's show, Justified, but I won't be able to put up my thoughts on the day that its sixth and final season comes to a close. Why? Because today is the only day I can post my review for an independent drama/suspense film, Candlestick.

If you're of a mind to watch a modern-day callback to the works of Alfred Hitchcock, you should check this picture out. Christopher Presswell's second feature film is a pretty strong, if flawed, effort. You can read my thoughts about it here, at Man, I Love Films. My thoughts on Graham Yost's adaptation of Elmore Leonard will have to wait a day or so, and I think I'll continue to alternate between movies and TV entries leading up to this site's 6th anniversary in 9 days. Whiplash, Ex Machina, Selma, Birdman, and more are coming up...

Monday, April 13, 2015

Recommended: Sleepy Hollow, Season 1

Watching the first season of Sleepy Hollow is a magical experience: at one time, it’s so bat-sh-t insane that you can’t imagine how you’d do anything other than laugh derisively at whatever the showrunners put on-screen. At the same time, though, the interaction between the leads and the series’ audacity all manage to work so bloody well that you can’t sneer at or dismiss the result - nor can you peel your eyes away from it. What looked like a “so bad it’s gonna be good” hour became “so insane and appealing that I love it” viewing.

It's 2013 and - just outside the town of Sleepy Hollow, New York - Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison) is resurrected from a two-plus century slumber. This British man died fighting on the colonial side of the American Revolution, in a duel against a fierced masked warrior.

Now, he’s teamed with an African-American cop named Abigail Mills (Nicole Beharie), a hard-boiled do-gooder who’s in turmoil because the Headless Horseman (that same warrior) has just come back to life and killed her mentor/partner, Sheriff Corbin (Clancy Brown). Despite Ichabod’s future-shock and Abbie’s disbelief, these two learn that they are both tied to each other as well as to Corbin’s secret occult group that is dedicated to fighting the forces of evil that are now amassing... in Upstate New York (dun dun dun).

If all of that sounds likely to make for bad TV, or seems completely nonsensical, let me just tell you - yes, I also thought that at first. But George Washington’s bible plays an important role. Crane didn’t have a good relationship with Jefferson! And, hey, this is a series that not only presents a Golem invented by one of America’s Founding Fathers, but early in season 2 Abbie gets to incredulously refer to it as “Franklin-stein’s Monster.” F--K YES, we need more fun TV like this.

The tone (and purported aim) of the program is high quality horror-based crime procedural, one with a strong sense of humor as well as high stakes. Whether it’s being intentionally-campy or dead-serious, SH follows in the lofty footsteps of both Fringe and The X-Files in bringing a sense of dread and gruesomeness to primetime network viewing. And, like both of those prior Fox shows, its true centerpiece is the amazing chemistry between its two leads.

This series creates a pairing that easily belongs in the same discussion as Scully and Mulder, or Peter Bishop and Olivia Dunham – yet in an even crazier context. Mison’s Crane is a scholar, a principled man who fought for the Colonies when his wife made him see the justness of their cause. His charm, manners and good fashion sense make him one of the most pleasant and engaging fictional characters I’ve ever seen... And what could be stifling and irritating old-timey behavior is handled perfectly – Abbie proactively gives him a hard time about the disparities and social attitudes that helped make women powerless in the 18th Century. Not only does this unlikely pair develop a wonderful rapport, but it’s not long before Crane’s educated wit learns to embrace snark – and it’s an additional joy to watch him become outraged at modern aspects, like paying for bottled water.

Damn, maybe I love SH because I was a history geek ages ago, and Ichabod has such firm and fierce convictions on civic matters.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

A Most Violent Year Review – It’s the most violent time of-

2014’s A Most Violent Year is a study in contrasts. For one thing, many aspects of the execution are perfect, while the parts that fail manage to fail a bit hard. For another, it’s a movie that feels old (it recalls The French Connection) and new (ethnic diversity, Chastain’s strong role) at the same time. The part of my brain that just coldly reviews movies is somewhat dissatisfied, whereas the New Yorker in me is thrilled to see my hometown's extinct aspects on display in 2015.

The first thing I should note is that the cast is excellent: Oscar Isaac is a new actor to me, and I think he’s great. He does a lot of subtle work with a role that is intentionally under-written. Jessica Chastain has a strong supporting part, which she plays with a perfect steeliness and fire. David Oyelowo is fine in the limited role of the Brooklyn DA. And Albert Brooks proves to be a great minor player in a film that would seem much poorer in the absence of his wry, assured presence.

The story: In 1981, Abel Morales owns a company that sells heating oil to New York City houses. This scrappy rags-to-riches immigrant just bought a palatial home, and is about to buy a fuel plant that'll ensure the growth of his business. Yet Abel’s life is turned completely upside-down as he tackles two problems simultaneously: the Brooklyn DA investigates the home oil industry, focusing on Morales, whose company is targeted for violent attacks and truck hijackings that cost him stability as well as tens of thousands of dollars (1981 $, mind you).

Will Abel renounce his good-hearted ways as his misfortunes worsen and the tide gets high, or will he stick to his guns? Can hard work and noble intentions win out in an utterly corrupt world?

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Double Dip: Arrow

[Update: My 2nd-to-last draft posted at 7:58AM by accident. You're seeing the final draft as of 12:01PM]Well, I'm in the awkward position of, um, revising my prior recommendation of Arrow. Much as I felt for Burn Notice before it, the show's general charms are still there, but the later seasons are not able to follow through on the promise evident in its early days.

So when did things go awry? What made me lose my love for the Greg Berlanti/Marc Guggenheim TV project, abandoning it as I have done with other series before? Sadly, what initially seemed a mere sophomore slump turned into ongoing trends that I don't think the show will ever reject.

Even in the program's first outing, the writers displayed a shaky grasp of how the world works. While Arrow gained points early on by forcing its lead to get declared legally alive, many scenes were devoted to a cop and a lawyer (Det. Quentin Lance, and his daughter, Laurel). In the scenes centered on these two, you really got a sense that Arrow's staff knew little about the operation of... cities or the legal system.

Even at the start, Quentin's authority and position fluctuate wildly, and Laurel wears $6000 suits while working for a Legal Aid group. The second season takes it from "a bit silly" to "did the writers go to school" or even "have the writers lived in a city" territory. Public officials do things clearly beyond their powers, executives at a billion-dollar corporation answer public phonelines (?), amid civil and criminal justice systems seemingly calibrated to increase angst and uncertainty.

Hell, season 2 manages to start with Moira Queen on trial for her part in a man-made earthquake that killed hundreds of people; after her (spoiler alert) acquittal, Moira is then approached to run for Mayor. It's not even Moira's idea! Businessmen suggest mayoral candidacy to a wealthy accomplice to a mass murder (via duress) in the poor part of town. This arc is not conveyed in an ironic or campy way, and Mrs. Queen actually does pretty well in public opinion polls... despite Starling City, y'know, nearly putting her to death a month earlier.

There's also one element that's just a consistent weakness in CW shows: the network really plays to teen audiences, yet loves to fill their shows with adult material. Who wants a show with teens doing teen s--t, right? The CW truly is a ground zero for "teenagers" who drink and screw often, without worrying about getting caught, pregnancy, STDs, cops. So CW roles get to emote and even actualize their teenage-sized emotions, but also do adult-sized stuff - and that combination, after a while, just becomes comical. At least, it does to anyone with a mature or experienced viewepoint.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

So Kevin Smith is Making Mallrats 2

Two weeks ago, when a coworker told me that Kevin Smith would be making Mallrats 2, there was only one way in which I could reply:

Keep in mind, I actually enjoyed Mallrats - to summarize my review, it was a lot of fun, even though it wasn't an especially good film. I just don't think that this is in any way necessary, and I can't imagine what more there is to say about the situations and characters depicted in the original film.

Oh, sorry, for those of you who haven't seen Clerks - you should feel bad for missing out. The whole scene is basically a Great Moments In... Venting About Work:

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Great Moments In... Realized Threats and Sincere Apologies

There was no way that I wouldn't post this whole sequence from A Fish Called Wanda, but it's in two parts - and, I must say, I prefer what I was forced to do by the lack of one unified clip, because both halves of the scene really are great.

Honestly, I can still remember the first time I watched this movie, and I remember howling with laughter throughout, especially this moment. Bless Cleese, Kline, and director Charles Crichton - I really need a good laugh today, they delivered beautifully, and I'm happy to share this clip, on the off chance that you need a good laugh, too:

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Great Moments In... Personal Offense

I love A Fish Called Wanda. 1988's mad comic crime film was dead-funny and had a superb cast. Cleese and Palin operating at full Monty Python levels of humor, Jamie Lee Curtis was great, and Kevin Kline... I'm not sure whether the Academy was voting for his character (Otto) or Kline's performance, but that is one Oscar win that I would never argue against. He's one of my favorite film roles ever, and the curse-riddled diatribe here is just one of the minor comedic miracles that Otto pulls off.

If you haven't seen the film, you should be slightly ashamed of yourself, and you should skip this entry and rent Wanda asap. I'm going to watch the movie some time this week, so the following scene has been on my mind:

to those of you who have seen AFCW, just know that I will post the continuation of that scene in a future GMI entry. A Fish Called Wanda kind of has a lot of great cinematic moments.

I have a little free time coming up, so expect Selma, The Lego Movie, Whiplash, Birdman, and several other reviews or double dips to pop up. I'll continue to go through some of 2014's high-profile films, as well as Carrie and a couple of others. I'm not sure whether I'll do all those and then start the TV reviews that I mentioned a few updates ago, or whether I'll alternate.

Just finishing up my 2014 overview, let alone those TV recommendations, will take this blog into April, which will be this site's 6th anniversary. I'll provide an update for when I think I'll actually quit writing here. In any case, I will - as usual - try to make it fun for all of us.

Half a Film Student

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

It Follows Review

We open on a quiet suburban street. As a frantic, piercing music cue plays, a young woman bursts through a home’s front door, wearing only modest lingerie and shoes. She races up the road, and suddenly stops 40 feet away, looking back. A neighbor, unpacking groceries, asks if she needs help; the younger woman waves the neighbor off – before running in a full circle back towards the house, where her dad is now on the lawn, asking what’s wrong. Both figures disappear into the dark doorway and whatever lies beyond.

And then the young woman runs right the hell back out, gets into the car parked in the driveway, and burns rubber.

The opening to It Follows hooks you in the space of several rapid heartbeats, and the conclusion of the opener is equally engaging. As the story slowly unspools, the audience finds itself sinking into the tale, as slowly and inexorably as a person struggling in quicksand. Although it’s not a perfect horror film, writer/director David Robert Mitchell has crafted a legitimately scary, fun ride.

It seems like throwback cinema is all the rage these days. Guardians of the Galaxy had an Indiana Jones vibe throughout its opening sequence. Predestination felt like a callback to many stripped-down, no-frills sci-fi films, like Gattaca or 12 Monkeys. And The Guest hearkened back to 1980’s and 90’s stories about psychotic strangers who become tragically attached to normal people or families. That last film probably shares the most similarities with It Follows - and only in part because both possess a synth-heavy score that makes you think of John Carpenter’s highlight reel.

In fact, It Follows is so steeped in the work of yesteryear that it confused one of the friends who saw it with me. She arrived 10 minutes late, and so she didn’t see the woman at the beginning use a cell phone to make one frightened, desperate call. We had a long talk about the picture afterwards, and I had to reassure her that it was set in the present day. But my friend had a point: everyone’s clothing style seems pulled from the 70’s/80’s, the cars are almost all older models, and we don’t see another cell phone for the rest of IF’s running time. All I could think was “maybe Detroit’s suburban kids are behind in fashion, and can’t afford cell phones until they move out.”

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Terry Pratchett is Gone

I would like to ask 2015 to stop killing people that I care for deeply. This is just terrible news. Terry Pratchett was a skilled writer with an incomparable wit, a vast imagination, and a work ethic that was superlative. And the world is surely less bright for his no longer being in it.

I haven't had time to write here (even to give Leonard Nimoy a proper send off), as I continue to watch one of my relatives die slowly and badly. I will try to take time soon to do some of the writing that I haven't been able to attend to.

But I should add that I am extra upset, as Terry was a brilliant person and he had been diagnosed a while back with premature Alzheimer's, which had an impact on his ability to physically write as well. As I now well known, there's nothing worse than when a person's mind is taken away from them. And, when his problem was first diagnosed, Terry had the style and good humor to break the news in a post that he titled "An Embuggerance." (I can't link to the original post, as Paul Kidby's site has likely crashed)

I love you, Terry, and I already miss you. Rest well.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Leonard Nimoy is Dead

Leonard Nimoy is gone, and all I can think is FUUUUUUCK! I said it aloud, surrounded by coworkers. He was the best.

More later.