Category Archives: TV

Lone Gunmen

lonegunIf you were an X-Files fan then you already know there is a new season of the classic sci-fi series coming in January 2016. You also likely know there were two intersecting series back in the 90’s: Millennium and this spin off, The Lone Gunmen.

I watched the first season of Millennium and enjoyed but haven’t made time to watch the rest. The Lone Gunmen I didn’t know about until last year. When I happened across a copy for $1, I snagged it. I’m only two episodes in, so I can’t really formulate an opinion but I did learn a very creepy fact.

The Lone Gunmen were always involved in the government conspiracy thread of the X-Files, which producer, Chris Carter, continued in the spin off. The first episode’s story arc involved  a conspiracy of crashing  planes into the World Trade Center.

Sound familiar?

Now the weird part. I had to check the air date because initially I thought the story arc was just in bad taste or trying to capitalize on an epic tragedy. The episode aired in March of 2001; as you know already that story arc would materialize in real life 6 months later. Of course its just a sad coincidence. However, I’m curious if that coincidence had anything to do with the series being cancelled after September 2001.

Booth At The End

booth-at-endInteresting setup. The Man sits with a tattered notebook in the last booth inside an innocuous diner. People stream in constantly to meet with him, each wanting something they feel they cannot get on their own. The Man makes deals with these people; after consulting with the notebook, he gives them a task. They report back on their progress and if they complete the task, their wish is fulfilled. The Man tells them their wish may still be granted if they don’t complete the task, but there is no guarantee in that case.

Caveat Emptor echoes loudly when you hear the wishes. Likely you’ll raise an eyebrow to the spoken requests versus what these people actually want.  In the beginning you might believe The Man has an uncanny knack for enabling people to help themselves. However, as the stories evolve, intersect and the effects of carrying out their tasks have some undesirable effects, you might think something more sinister is in play. I was never certain which was the case but that is likely the point – it depends on your perspective; whether you believe in fate, that you make your own opportunities or something in between.

A young girl wants to be prettier, her task is to rob a bank. To prepare she buys a gun and starts learning about how to carry out the crime. In the process she meets a young man who robs banks and they develop a relationship. The young man, coincidentally, is the son of another of The Man’s clients, a police officer who wants to catch a bank robber, who is, as it turns out, his son. The young girl? She changes her wish after meeting the young man, since really what she wanted was to be in love, she was only using looks as a means to that end.

There isn’t much in the way of cinematography since the entire piece takes place in the diner. You never see The Man’s clients execute any of their tasks, you only hear the details when they report back. Xander Berkeley does a great job as The Man, stoically handing out some gruesome tasks, seemingly knowing the outcome beforehand. Berkeley’s road-weary expressions and the detached ambivalence in his voice give one the sense that he has been facilitating wish delivery for far too long. His marked reluctance to answer questions from the increasingly curious Waitress, speak to The Man having unfulfilled wishes himself.

Post-watch I learned Booth at the End was originally released as a 2-season set of webisodes by FX. I streamed them  in movie form from Amazon but I think Amazon’s offering was just Season 2.  Also interesting, Berkeley’s real-life wife, Sarah Clarke, both of whom anchored several seasons of 24,  makes an appearance as a nun who loses her faith and to restore it, she must become pregnant.

If you’re in the mood for a cinematic puzzle involving multiple, overlapping story lines, all  which pose  philosophically interesting questions with no definitive answers, Booth at the End is a good watch.

Coven

covenSeveral friends tried to talk me out of watching the third installment of American Horror Story – Coven. They whined and moaned about how the series had become muddled in focus and the constant recycling of actors had brought an unsavoury homogeneity to the characters.

I listened. I considered. I ignored. I finished it last night.

Since the series started I’ve been a huge fan, partially due to my love of the horror genre. Also, I found it a bold move for FX to take on a horror series, particularly at a time when viewers are choking on pseudo-horror vampire and werewolf themed shows networks are shoveling into the media trough.

I’m happy to report Coven, while not topping AHS’s excellent second season, Asylum, for me, it came close.

I did understand some of the complaints, however I think they were misdirected. The writing did seem a little repetitive and some of the story arcs took way too long to conclude. Several recurring characters were underdeveloped to the point of being superfluous. This isn’t due to recycling actors, as my friends suggested, its just a writing impasse. The acting is actually very good and I did notice a substantial increase in well-delivered dark humour.

Acting is good from the entire cast but it is anchored by three veteran actresses: Jessica Lange, Kathy Bates and Angela Bassett.

Lange is hugely successful as the ‘Supreme’ witch who is filled with equal parts of venom and regret; that she morphs so easily and convincingly between the two is reason enough to watch the season.

Pairing beautifully with Lange is Bates, who blazes every scene as the sadistic and racist upper crust matron with a penchant for torturing her staff. Bates’ consistently well-timed and subtle delivery of dark humour was nothing short of perfect. 

For me the overwhelming show-stealer was Bassett, as the  vindictive voodoo priestess and chief nemesis of both Bates and Lange.  Bassett is larger than life in every scene, her character exacting revenge and verbally bitchslapping the witches to point of humiliation. But Bassett, despite her gravitational pull, is a polished actress and knows how to balance her performance so that other characters build the story with her rather than for her. The chemistry between Lange, Bates and Bassett is so palpable and beautifully adversarial, you hope they will be in every scene.

I was surprised by the addition of voodoo into the story line, which creates the tension and one of the main story arcs for the season – voodoo magic vs. witch magic, which force will prevail?  I loved that the season was filmed in New Orleans; a perfect spot to project a distorted, paradoxical mixture of magnolias and sweat, old-world sophistication meets urban sinister.

I was a little disappointed in the final episode, it seemed a bit obvious and cliche, but that doesn’t detract from Coven’s net effect for me, a very entertaining season with some magnificent acting and atmospheric production style.

And now on to season 4 – Freakshow.

The Rains of Castamere

rainsYeah, I know I’m  a year behind on Game of Thrones. And, yeah, I know I should read the books – someday.  I just finished Season 3 last night and its slowly displacing Breaking Bad as my favourite late-model TV series.

While I thought I had adjusted to the ruthless cunning woven into the brilliantly written script, I was completely caught off guard by The Rains of Castamere. This is one reason the show is so compelling; no matter how clever you think you are at predicting how the pieces will move about the chess board, invariably you will be wrong. Kill off a main character? Sure, that happens all the time. Two? Sure, just another day playing the Game of Thrones. But three in one episode and all in the last 10 minutes? And then there was the brutal way it was executed, acting from Michelle Fairley deserving an Emmy,  followed by a simple fade to credits with absolutely no soundtrack. That was an excellent production play – no sound, no images, black backdrop, white words — leaving the audience alone to absorb the abrupt changes and playing on the uncertainty principle to heighten tension.

The actual season end was anticlimactic but that’s the pattern GoT has established. The second to the last episode of the season will completely change the storyline,  the last episode will show you the possibilities of how the story might unfold next season. Then you wait until Spring.

I didn’t think any episode of any series could dismantle Breaking Bad’s Ozymandias as my all-time favourite but that title is now held by The Rains of Castamere.

Red Oaks

redoaksEven more Amazon pilots!

Red Oaks is an obvious 80’s version of The 70’s Show. A light-hearted teen comedy in the setting of a country club where some kids work and others join their parents for events, begrudgingly. Despite the setting, the tone of the pilot is anything but pretentious. Its the typical gambit of issues facing the teen crowd, mostly addressed with humour.

I laughed a few times, particular at one teen waxing philosophic and romantic over the tenets of Buddhism to a love interest which subsequently inspires her and all the other teens to strip and jump into a water trap on the golf course.

The overwhelming reason to give this a watch is for it’s faithful recreation of the 80’s  – the big teased hair, side pony tails, too much eye shadow, high-waisted jeans, classic goth, old school video games, MTV videos. I probably laughed more at the 80s kitsch than the dialogue. And then there’s the music. I had to Shazam some of the songs since I had long since forgotten them, they really went obscure on some tracks.

I might tune in again to see another episode if its picked up as a series. This kind of show is a good 25-minute decompression after dealing with terminally cranky co-workers for 8 hours.

 

Hysteria

hysteriaI was in Austin when Amazon was filming some extras scenes for this pilot. Filming in Austin is a frequent enough occurrence that most locals just ignore it and move on. I was interested and managed to find out the pilot was for a new show starring Mena Suvari called Hysteria.

I made a mental note. Then completely forgot. That is until tonight when I saw the pilot show up in Amazon Prime – ah, ha!

I wanted to like this show more than I did – its a little better than OK. The premise is interesting – a small population of high school kids in Austin are afflicted with some sort of hysteria, a possible neurological disorder causing convulsive behaviour and landing them in hospital. The main protagonist, an infectious disease specialist, Suvari, is recruited away from her Houston digs to investigate. Ironically, Austin is her hometown and there are some back stories involved with her family.

At the end of the pilot there is conjecture that the hysteria is being spread by social media. That people are somehow so connected to the stream of events pushed through devices they become ‘infected’ by the content. A new and literal spin on ‘going viral’. This is the first problem I had with the show. Almost all evidence points to the opposite – as a society we are gradually becoming desensitized to specific events due to an ongoing saturation of information. Its the same adage since the internet was born – if you keep repeating the same thing, people will ignore you since there isn’t any new information and they aren’t capable processing the deluge of information they already have.

The other problem I had was the injection of vague subplots. One involving a high school girl having a sordid affair with a middle aged policeman was too staged. Another involving the protagonist’s brother on death row for murder was ambiguously defined but constantly referenced. Dialogue between brother and sister seemed poorly constructed since it gave no clues to nature of their relationship other than the obvious – strained.

Acting from Suvari is quite good; she takes on a very serious, almost tortured persona in keeping with her character’s past and current career. Suvari defines the tone and pace of this show since most of the other actors are just OK and the direction, while good, swings between styles too frequently – moody and mysterious to chaotic in one frame.

If I happen to see this turn into a series, I might check out one more episode to see if they can weave the elements together into a cohesive story. Otherwise, I’ll pass.

The Cosmopolitans

cosMore Amazon pilots!

You’ve met people like this before. The people who convince themselves they’re good actors but aren’t. The one’s who think they can influence your decision making with their poorly constructed scenarios and sad attempts at social engineering. Misguided, clumsy foreshadowing intended to set you up for something you figured out in primary school and disregarded. The slow lane people who wind up making policies the rest of us politely ignore.

Yeah, those people. We listen but typically we quietly move these people into the liability column, delete them then move on.

Unfortunately, The Cosmopolitans, was like watching 26 minutes of those people. Not one character or back story was believable. The writing was stale and meaningless. I don’t really fault the writers, more the creator, since really, what could a group of lackluster Euro-trash and American ex-pats wandering through Paris have to say that anyone wants to hear? The writers were probably trying to be clever but it came across as pompous and forgettable.

Directing was not cohesive. Situations that might have been wryly funny were poorly timed and lacking any sort of emotional quality that might have retained an audience’s interest. Maybe they were going for understated intellectualism but it came across as a stream of expressionless Instagram photos with comments I will never read.

Cinematography was good, weaving street scenes of a clean and congestion-free Paris between the mumblings of the sullen, rudderless characters . Unfortunately Paris is neither clean nor congestion-free so that bit of good camera work created an alternate Paris no one will  likely see in person.

I hope this pilot doesn’t turn into a series, but if it does, that’s OK since I will never know.

Hand Of G-d

hogIn high school I realized I had the ability to compartmentalize, that is to switch off certain aspects of life in real time and focus elsewhere. I was being bitched out by my Spanish teacher in front of my classmates  for not paying attention to her reading aloud from a book. I still didn’t care  what she was saying so I focused on her necklace; an intricate collection of Aztec and Mayan silver figures stitched together with black leather threads and cobalt beads.

At the end of her long-winded and ultimately futile diatribe I simply asked her in Spanish- ‘Where did you get that necklace?’.

Maybe its being the product of 2 New Yorkers, a genomic mutation originating in a city of 8 million type-A people all jabbering on incessantly. Who knows? But I find the ability to switch it off tremendously useful.

In case you don’t have that ability, this new Amazon pilot, Hand of G-d,  might be a little difficult to watch. While I liked the pilot episode, much like The Killing, it revolves around crime, some painfully damaged people, suspense and plenty of mystery — very little of the plot is feel-good.

I don’t like the characters in this show from a personal or emotional perspective. However, the plot is very compelling – compartmentalization, engaged. A morally ambiguous judge suffers a personal crisis which catapults him into having waking dreams billed as visions from G-d. Subsequently he joins a religious group having some very shady members. The visions, while completely dismissed by everyone around him, show signs of being the truth. Writing is clever at suspending disbelief; the visions may be correct, they may also be circumstantial.

Acting from the cast is good considering the odd situation and combination of themes such as religious fanaticism, vigilantism and moral relativism. Most notable is the judge come religious cultist, played by Ron Perlman. Perlman has played some distinctly unlikable characters but I suspect this role will be very challenging as it seems he will be walking a line between dispensing the law as a judge and breaking the law as vigilante hiding under the guise of a religious awakening.

While continuing episodes could become trite, as they often do with anti-hero roles, I feel some supernatural element might be thrown into mix, which is appealing.  The pilot ends with a sledgehammer against a plate glass window, so to speak. so I’ll check up on Amazon later to see when or if this pilot turns into a series.

 

Goodbye, Dexter Morgan.

dexterFinally I sat down long enough to watch the last season of Dexter. I was a little leery of spending time to watch the last season since it was not well-received by fans. However, other people’s opinions are just that, respected but not adopted.

I get Dexter fans’ disappointment. The last season had some good moments but it was a slow, linear burn to the end, which was clumsy and not at all in keeping with what had become a fast-paced, action-packed series filled with curves.

That said, I get what the creators were doing. In CM Hall’s other show, 6 Ft Under, the series finale wrapped up every character’s fate in what has become the best 10-minute segment ever recorded for television. In Dexter, the entire final season was an attempt to answer some unanswered questions about how Dexter came to be the serial killer who kills serial killers. I think it was just too drawn out which left me feeling bored and somewhat disconnected, since the story line wandered in its attempts to consolidate the mythology.

Some people objected to the sequence of events during the final episode. How else was it to end? Despite the season teasing us into thinking Dexter had outgrown his dark passenger, did we really expect a killer to sail off into the sunset with a happy ending?

Silly rabbit.

The final season was certainly the weakest but I still loved this series.  Aside from the interesting high-level story, the highlights for me:

CM Hall: He  had 5 years of practice playing a distorted, internally-conflicted character with his role in 6 Ft Under. He was  excellent at giving Dexter an unspoken depth and ambiguity; I was always torn between believing the character’s childhood trauma deleted his ability to empathize and believing it was there but dormant.

Jennifer Carpenter: The final season set up an internal conflict for her character which really showed her acting skills; its a shame her moment to shine was obfuscated by questionable story line choices. Her terrets-inspired monologues are still some of the best I’ve heard; even NY-ers  would respect her flowing delivery of the f-word.

CS Lee: The writers had fun with his character and CS Lee was a convincing vehicle. The pervy, dead-pan Masuka delivered what I thought was one of the funniest lines in the series. ‘That is not opinion, its SCIENCE. And science is one cold-hearted bitch with a 14-inch strap on’. Not even the cast could keep a straight face.

John Lithgow: His performance as the Trinity Killer was arguably the best villain of the series. His ability to turn on a dime from cold, calculating killer to internally tortured man-child was chilling.

Given the series ending, I strongly suspect there will be a Dexter feature film in the next few years. I just hope there is not a sappy reunion and happily-ever-after ending for our favourite anti-hero.

Luther

lutherI curse thee BBC for creating yet another addictive series.

Whilst watching The Wire some time back I did not realize Idris Elba was British, he wore a very convincing American accent as the drug-dealing Stringer Bell. In Luther, Elba restores his native British accent and steps to the enforcing side of the law as a London detective with a penchant for chasing down clever serial killers.

The character development is good, Luther being a street level cop with a keen instinct for understanding criminal behavior and an unswerving confidence in those instincts. This confidence causes routine conflicts with superiors, however he is usually spot on. Whatever psychological advantage he possesses at work is  a disastrous disadvantage when it comes to relationships otherwise. While this theme is not new to crime dramas, the plot is fresh and Elba’s performance is convincing.

Alice, a suspected serial killer, presents the first of many odd story arcs. Luther attempts to prove her guilt even though, we as the audience know she’s guilty, she is also very clever at covering her tracks and injecting doubt.  Alice is more adept at psychological cat-n-mouse than Luther but shes also disturbed and over-confident. Alice and Luther develop a bizarre  relationship characterized by precarious high-wire balance and high-stakes card calling. Ruth Wilson brilliantly plays Alice; she imparts a pairing of intellectual strength and emotional damage with chilling effect.

London is always good setting for a taut psychological crime drama; the city is simultaneously sophisticated, sexy, menacing and unpredictable, which makes it a pivotal character and reflects perfectly the characteristics of Luther making it an entertaining watch.

Only 14 episodes were made, most of which are free on Amazon Prime.