Friday, September 22, 2017

The People V O.J. Simpson

The People V O.J. Simpson obviously follows what was dubbed by some to be "trial of the century", that being football star O.J. Simpson being tried for the murder of his wife. This series could almost be described as a train wreck waiting to happen, yet to its credit it never does happen. Now to be sure there are times where the train starts sparking near the tracks, and losing traction, but it never falls off completely. Those moments are mostly found in the depiction of the man himself particularly in his most personal situations where the show veers heavily towards camp, this also is not helped by Cuba Gooding Jr who wildly overacts in the role as well as just is a poor fit for him to begin with. The bits we get of the "juice"'s personal life seemed purposefully skewed towards the melodramatic. The show shines however when we get into the courtroom where the show successfully reveals the circus, but also the intense complications involved that unfortunately are made to go beyond the man's guilt. Inside the courtroom the big personalities work for the defense, except for John Travolta who just goes a bit too far even for his role. The series though successfully though unveils the curtains on those personalities, or at least has some fun with their egos and presence. On the prosecution side though the show is perhaps at its best in revealing the unique struggles of the two attorneys who aren't quite ready for what the circus of the trial, the media, but each have their very personal investment within the case. There is where the most potent material is found, and it successfully bridges sort of the spectacle of the trial, with a real emotional connection realized. When the series is succeeds it is often quite great particularly in recreating those most intense interactions in the courtroom, when it's off it is more than a little odd. In the end the series seems to give you both the tabloids and the real journalism approach to the story. This creates not the most consistent tone, however the series is on point most of the time, which is certainly more than enough to create a compelling story.
4.5/5

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy Mini Series

It is in many ways true that television is better than it has ever been, and it now where many of what will be seen as the classics of television may be created. I write this because that sort of "list" doesn't yet exist, in say the way we have a Sight and Sound poll for the greatest films of all time. Although there are series that still are treated with affection from the earlier period they are few and far between. There were earlier indications of change though with a rise in mini-series of note beginning around when this Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy premiered in the late 70's, and adaptation of John Le Carré's novel of the same name. Although it must be noted that some of technical and budgetary elements due date it as a television production of the time. Thankfully the same cannot be said for the storytelling which brilliantly captures the world found within the novel, a world of dark twists and turns, of a specifically glamorized spy world. This actually further reflected in that low key production in many ways, as the offices of the spies could be of any old office, they just are living in a normal world just like anyone else, on the surface anyway. That lack of veneer plays directly into the idea of this spy world though which is entirely without glamour or glitz found in a James Bond. These are just tired older men doing a job, although that job is one of duplicity and mercilessness. The series is brilliant in crafting this world and realizing through the various characters headlined of course by Alec Guinness's outstanding turn by George Smiley, that apparently influenced the way Le Carré wrote the character in future installments. The series is about low key yet powerful moments that capitalize on the incisive nature of the writing and the strength of the performances. It might not have the production value of a film, but it does have excellence in storytelling, perhaps even more so as the series is an early example of making use of what television has to offer that film does not.
5/5

Friday, September 1, 2017

Game of Thrones Season 7

Game of Thrones Season 7 brings the series nearer to its conclusion with the showrunners deciding to reduce rather than expand the length of the season. An odd decision if there ever was one, given the complexity of the show, though originally I thought perhaps it was to expand each individual episode, but though there were a few episodes that were a bit longer their total length is only about twenty minutes more than seven hours. This must be said was a mistake. Although there were naysayers saying the early seasons took to long in their pace, I would say that is a nonsensical reaction to the show's story telling and storytelling in general, a recent attitude among some viewers who seem to crave character deaths than a genuinely compelling or entertaining show. Never cater to these viewers who frankly should just read a Wikipedia page entry on any given show since what happens seems to matter more than the actual execution of it. Although I suppose I won't become an overly critical sort, as again when something is popular this can lead to nitpicking rather genuine criticism, such saying "where'd the army of the dead get those chains" is a nonsensical thing to gripe about, however the carelessness involving geography is a worthy claim given it had not been ignored, for the most part, in the previous seasons. Again another point though is that the source material also fell into problems in its last two entries partially due to mind such ideas, which is noble, yet it ended up being perhaps a foolish notion given the expansion of the world lead George R.R. into a corner that might be unable to escape from. That leaves the show to attempt to close out their series in their own way, their own way apart. Now in part this season, though the pacing was particularly swift did accomplish more than expected in creating a compelling conflict between not only Cersei and Daenerys, but also Daenerys and Jon Snow. In the first half of the season, though they perhaps should have slowed down just a tad accomplished much and did seem to find the complexity of the politics in the world in quite the effective fashion. It also delivered on its "promise" of Dragons finally in a truly stunning sequence which was also was not simplified due to the character involved. Its second half are where the problem arose though when it shifted to the threat White Walkers, who were never a problem before. This is where the pace really went into a downright ridiculous overdrive particularly in the contrived mission, by the writers not the characters, to get a Dragon beyond the wall. That is where all the proper build up the series went out the window. It went beyond just the pacing as it also so quickly removed certain complexities particularly within the Snow and Daenerys conflict. Now a slower pace could have allowed the writers to build to a more natural reason for this development but instead we got a rush job. The same goes for our side story of Winterfell, the Stark sister and Little Finger's last scheme. The downfall behind the man quietly behind the entire series was sensible in terms what should have caused it, and again even within that situation in a single season it could have been completely satisfying. The reduced time though forced the false conflict between the Stark sisters, as well as made Little Finger's plan seem just a little too slight, again slowing things down would have only benefited all. Now having said that I again do think the slathering of criticism is ridiculous. The accusations of fan service, aka when the loved characters are successful is mostly unfounded. It it rather the need of a show to eventual fulfill expectations as to constantly subvert them would be impossible, not to mention if you've subverted them long enough that becomes the expectation. Even with the flaws of this season it was still a highly entertaining show even in its weakest episode, and the characters we've become so invested are still compelling, for the most part. Hopefully the showrunners will take a step back slow the pace down for the final season to give the show a proper sendoff worthy for the entire series. This season after all was not a failure as the greatness of the show was still evident, even if the flaws were the most evident since season 5. 
4.5/5

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Daredevil Season 2

Daredevil season 2 continues with the last season left off. The flaws of the previous season are not all gone, Eldon Henson as Matt Murdock's friend becomes particularly intolerable here, though he's not helped by the whiny material they give his character. Nevertheless Henson's performance still is on the same level as his work in the Mighty Ducks. This season benefits greatly from a first half though that features Jon Bernthal as Frank Castle aka The Punisher, launching his far more deadly crusade for justice in the series. Bernthal is amazing the role, and every scene he is in works in some way. The conflict over killing between him and daredevil, with Cox delivering some of his best work, is incredibly effective. The material thankfully does not get hung up with Punisher as his story moves at a strong pace as we unfold from a villain, to slowly understanding what motivates this man. His story absolutely works, beyond on central problematic coincidence within the plot. That's all great though. The season though is sort of broken off into two halves the second half being the return of Murdock's old girlfriend, and naturally trained assassin, Elektra played by Elodie Yung. Although this version of the character is a major step up from the horrible rendition in the Daredevil film, it fails to capture the full potential of the role. A part of this does come from Yung's performance that is often one note in portraying just a general modern femme fatale. She doesn't find enough nuance there, and additionally her chemistry with Cox is lacking. This side though suffers from excessive repetition of the theme again with scene after scene of Matt saying Elektra brings out the worst of him, him trying to change her, her doing something bad, and repeat until we reach the last episode. The side of the story is not all bad, thanks mostly due to the return of Scott Glenn as Matt's mentor Stick, but it suffers similair problems seen in the first season. The Punisher side on the other hand is quite strong throughout, with even D'Onofrio returning far more effectively as Fisk, and once again the action certainly delivers. This again is not a great season, but it is a good one that is a proper upgrade over the first season.
3.5/5

Daredevil Season 1

Daredevil is the first of Marvel's Netflix series, that are a grittier take on supposedly the same universe as their movies. Far grittier in terms of content anyways, but this is also compared to superheroes series in general which have been pretty light in the past. This also stands in contrast to the downright terrible Daredevil solo film, that did no justice to the material. This is considerably better than that film, and is far more faithful to the source material. I think though that has given the series far too much credit overall though. Not that this is a terrible series but it is deeply flawed one at times. Watching so many shows these days, unlike many in the past, you just assume there will be at the very good performances to watch. Well that's not quite the case. There are many amateurish performances throughout and not just in side roles. Both Deborah Ann Woll and especially Eldon Henson leave much to be desired in their pivotal roles as Daredevil aka Matt Murdock's closest confidants. Now Murdock himself is reasonably well played by Cox, though I will say his performance works best depending on who he shares with. The series most lauded performance was Vincent D'Onofrio aka Wilson Fisk, though I found his mannerism got tired quickly and felt his work lacked the needed menace. There are good performances though, again Cox as well as Vondie Curtis-Hall and Scott Glenn, but it really isn't norm. Now an element that is impressive is the action, particularly within budget, and those scenes work well. What strings them together though stumbles often in its plotting that involves characters repetitious going over their individual conflicts again and again, sometimes through clunky dialogue, with the occasional terrible comedic moment thrown in now again. That isn't every scene or episode though, there is decent writing to be found but never great. It does at least deliver Frank Miller's Daredevil more or less from the comics, the action is very good, it is considerably better than some of its predecessors, but that does not make it a great series. 
3/5

11.22.63

11.22.63 although a mini-series is structured a very long film. It is not about episodes, but a single multi-faceted story though at its core it is that essential fascinating question of going back in time to change history. This series taking on the idea of saving Kennedy from assassination. Now with television you can almost take things for granted now but it is outstanding how impressive this series is in a mere technical sense. It has a film level production, even though it is a television series, which is really essentially as it so effectively creates both the needed cinematic enhancement to the story, along with the creation of the 1950's/1960's setting. Now the series as it begins with that central idea which brings you right in through a particularly strong performance by Chris Cooper who sets up the time travel idea. The fun of the idea is realized and the series hooks you with that right away. Although that aspects remains fascinating and entertaining throughout it is not the only facet nor is that facet simplified. The idea of time is nothing slight whether it is the series way of showing it lashes back when one tries to change it, but the series goes further in pondering what that idea really means when acted upon. Again but a facet as it also takes the idea of being a person in this different life through the story of hero Jake as portrayed by James Franco in a career best performance. Franco, who I am not usually a fan of as an actor, brings an old-school charisma though with enough of a modern bent to essentially still be from the future. The series leads to is greatest surprise when it introduces the school teacher Sadie, played to perfection by Sarah Gadon, after Franco's Jake takes on a teaching job. A romance can so easily feel tacked on, especially in a story like this, but rather than being tacked on this is actually strongest aspect of a great series. Franco and Gadon share some of the best chemistry in recent memory and make their romance truly something special, and in the end truly something heartbreaking. The series manages to create such an investment in the story past the plot, which while never becomes secondary, everything else with it adds such a powerful weight to the quest. This leads to such a series of devastating and poignant moments in really every episode, from the opening story of a murder, to Jake's attempt to stop that murder, the revelation with the yellow card man and of course the final scene which is one of the most moving scenes in the history of television.
5/5

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Better Call Saul Season 2

Better Call Saul Season 2 picks up right where the previous season left off, but that's part of the problem. The repetition found in the previous season is found again. We see Saul turn down the new job, take the job, want to leave the job, decides to keep it, decides to leave it, told he can't without losing money, decides a new way. In that we get several scenes of various cons that take a long time yet aren't all that entertaining. Then we have his relationship with his brother where Saul undermines Chuck, Chuck undermines Saul, they come back together, and repeat for the rest of the season, thankfully that does get somewhere in season 3, this season though is just a whole lot of wheel turning. Mike's side, where Jonathan Banks is more co-lead, is effective though technically be directly evoking Breaking Bad right down to the return of several characters. It's good though, and that's the important thing. Of course the other half isn't truly bad, there is some bad supporting acting again, yet the main players including Bob Odenkirk, Rhea Seehorn, Banks and especially Michael McKean, the visual directing also is on point. I will say it successfully set up a great third season. Its progression though would've probably been handled in less than half a season on Breaking Bad, and it is not as though it is so much richer in character or entertainment value, quite the opposite.
3.5/5