Thursday, December 29, 2011


Sometimes it is really nice to watch a movie just to watch a movie.  A film like Warhorse can’t really be pigeon-holed into a specific genre.  It is a war movie but it’s not just a war movie.  It’s a movie about a horse but it’s not just a horse movie.  It is an old fashioned film that concentrates mainly on the art of story telling itself.  In that, it succeeds beautifully.

Warhorse is simply a story about the life of a horse and the stories of the many lives that intertwine with this remarkable animal.  Against the back drop of World War I, the horse passes from owner to owner, impressing all with its spirit and strength.  The horse effects each life differently but always in a positive manner. 

World War I is an ignored and nearly forgotten war in this country.  Maybe it is because the United States entered the conflict so late but history slides right over this massive, brutal war.  It may have been the most brutal, useless war in the history of this world, especially for the French, British, and Germans.  It was a war fought in trenches for small patches of land covered in pits and barbed wire. Casualties were incredible for the pitiful gains garnered.  A generation of young men was wiped out in Europe for very little purpose.

Director Steven Spielberg pays a lot of attention to the details of war.  Spielberg is as much a historian as he is a film maker, in my opinion.  He educates several generations on the brutality of World War I in this film and in a manner which should draw interest from many types of audiences.  His brilliance at storytelling is on full display in Warhorse.  The story is patient and layered.  The movie flows slowly early on but picks up the pace as the war starts and more characters are added to the pattern of the film’s namesake.  Once the war starts, the story never stalls or falters as it marches through the war.

This film is appropriate for most audiences but there are a few scenes which may cause issues for younger or more sensitive children.  Several adults in the theater also struggled through two or three very emotional scenes as well.  Spielberg shows some of the horrors of this war but refrains from anything too graphic.  Many things are left to the imagination of the audience in a sensitive manner. 

The movie is long and emotional but it is an important film that should ignite some discussions and research about the first word war.  My twelve year old is already asking questions.  The acting is fine and the horse is noble but it is the storytelling that is the key to Warhorse.  Go as a family, get some popcorn, and just enjoy film making as it is supposed to be. 

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Friday, December 23, 2011

Girls With Dragon Tattoos

Usually I read the book before I watch the movie.  The biggest problem with this is the book is almost always significantly better than the movie and this makes the movie less enjoyable to watch.  I thought I would try something different this time.  With the book eagerly awaits my attention from its spot on my bookshelf, I decided to watch the movie first.  To top off everything else, there are two versions of this film, not just one.  I watched the Swedish version earlier this week and went to see the American edition today.  Keep in mind as I compare these two films that I have not read the book and I do not know which is a more faithful translation.

I was totally prepared for the American version to be a watered down, weak, faded copy of the 2009 Swedish film.  That was definitely not the case.  The Swedish film was more of an old fashioned suspense thriller.  While watching it, it seemed a patient, detailed, terrific film.  The American version is faster paced and seemingly more fleshed out.  The Swedish edition spent more time and effort on the investigation of the crime that lead character Mikael Blomkvist was hired to look into.  Its American counterpart tends to delve into the characters a little more – not only the two leads but some of the other characters as well.  The American movie also has a more satisfying wrap-up.

The essential storyline is the same in both films and I assume it is the same one as in the book.  Several details differ in the two versions but none really affect the plot at all.  They are indeed two versions of the same story.  I enjoyed both of them as I watched them separately and their tone and pace are their own.  In my mind, I have a hard time picking one over the other because they each offer key elements which I like – the patient, detailed storytelling in one and the great character development in the other. 

I will say one thing about both.  Each had a couple of brutal rape scenes in them.  To be honest, I was sure the American version would soften these scenes and probably leave most of them to our imagination.  To his credit, director David Fincher did not waiver in presenting these scenes in a tough, gritty, unflinching manner, just as Niels Arden Oplev , the director of the 2009 film, did.  Bravo to both men.  These scenes were not easy to watch but they were imperative in the development of Lisbeth’s character. 

I thought Michael Nyqvist was better, if slightly, than Daniel Craig in the lead role of Mikael Blomkvist.  Rooney Mara surprisingly delivered a credible performance as Lisbeth, even in comparison to Noomi Rapace’s brilliant work.  The role of Erika Berger was a much bigger role in the American version than the Swedish version and so there isn’t much to compare.  I won’t compare some of the other key roles because I want to do nothing to that tips off the ending for those who haven’t watched either film or read the book.  Let’s just leave it at that both set of actors performed extremely well. 

If I were forced to pick one over the other, at this point I would choose the American version on the simple fact that its wrap up was much more complete and detailed.  The end of the Swedish version left me a bit confused as I felt that Lisbeth acted out of character.  It felt incomplete.  The Swedish film did a better job at building up the relationship between Lisbeth and Mikael but the American film was better about showing the extended results of that relationship.  If you choose to watch just one, you really won’t go wrong with either one.  Both were really good.  Both a terrifically made films and are enjoyable in and of themselves.  Now, one or the other may gain an advantage once I read the book.  We will just have to see.

I always like to add a note to parents.  Neither version is suitable for children.  Both feature brutal rape scenes, violence, nudity, and a disturbing plot.  They are rated R for very good reason and I strongly recommend caution when deciding about letting children under the age of 16 or 17 view these films.

Thanks for reading and HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

I have to admit I was totally unprepared for the first Sherlock Holmes movie a couple of years ago.  I was not educated enough on the character himself and that made me react negatively to that film.  Since then, I have acquainted myself better with the Holmes persona and I liked the first movie when I watched it a second time.  When Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows was announced, I was excited for its release.  This time, I wasn’t disappointed.

The movie is even quicker and smarter than the first.  It is a rare sequel that surpasses its predecessor.  It’s not that A Game of Shadows doesn’t have its warts; it does and some of them are the same as those that plague the original.  Most of these are relatively minor flaws that do not dent the many good things that make this a terrific flick.

I hate it when writers and directors dumb movies down for the audiences.  This is a great insult to me.  They are assuming we are too stupid to understand a smart and complicated storyline and dialogue.  Director Guy Ritchie doesn’t make that mistake here.  The plot twists and turns, doing justice to a brilliant hero and a genius villain.  The action and dialogue are quick and edgy.  There are no lulls or boring parts and this keeps our attention on the screen at all times.

Robert Downey, Jr. is at his quirky, manic best.  He has always been a terrific actor and he seems more at home in this role than as Iron Man.  He does have a tendency to mumble a few of his lines and his accent makes him hard to understand clearly at times.  This may be the quirky character of Holmes in and of himself but Downey, Jr.’s personality probably isn’t too far from Holmes’.

Jude Law, who was the best part of the first film, follows up as the perfect foil, Dr. Watson, who must be the sane, but loyal voice, to Holmes’ ungoverned behavior.  Law is as smart and snappy as his literary counterpart, downplaying his importance to Holmes’ process.  Jared Harris (Mad Men, Fringe) is eerie and creepy as the villainous genies, Professor James Moriarty.  Harris just exudes intellect and evil in a quiet, subtle way.  His voice is always calm but his words seem to drip hidden venom.  Moriarty is almost an evil intellectual twin for Holmes’ genius.  They are evenly matched and that is the main thing that kept this film smart.

Noomi Rapace gains some post dragon body art exposure as “the girl”.  She plays a mystic gypsy named Simza Heron, who is trying to rescue her wayward brother from the mental clutches of Professor Moriarty.  She joins forces with Holmes and Watson ands holds her own in the action scenes.  Her character lacked levity and I would have liked to see less stoicism from her but for the most part, she held her own against her talented cohorts.

At times, the film felt herky-jerky.  This is due to Ritchie’s preferred directing style. He has a penchant for numerous slow motion segments.  He especially loves to slow down the action scenes and drag them out with overly dramatic slow frames and close ups.  At times, this works just fine, as when are heroes flee through a dense forest.  The slow motion frames of bullets and artillery shells ripping through trees are pretty cool but other times it is just distracting.  It is a nifty signature but he uses it just a little too much.

At times, the dialogue and plot felt just a tad bit too clever; almost like it was being clever just the sake of being clever.  The more I thought about this, the more I think this is a good thing.  It kept the movie intelligent but also served as homage to the character of Sherlock Holmes.  It would be a big mistake to dumb down Holmes, his sidekick, or his villains.  Hopefully, if any more films are made for this series, Ritchie will be at the helm because he gets it.

I enjoyed this movie thoroughly and it garnered applause from the audience as the credits rolled.  There is some violence and salty language but most young teens would find this movie entertaining.  There is enough to draw audiences without falling back on cheap tricks like sex and nudity.  Holmes doesn’t need it and this film doesn’t use.  This film is just fine for any child used to seeing typical PG-13 movies.

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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The eReader Rip-off

I have always been a reader.  By the time I was twelve, I had been reading massive novels by John Jakes, James Michener, and James Clavell.  I grew up on a farm in a time when we had no video games, no internet, and only three of four television channels.  My nearest friend lived three miles away and if I had the time to play, I had to walk or drive a tractor.  I did both of those things many times.   More often than not though, reading was how I spent my spare time. 

I love books and I love the feel of books.  I never lay my books open and flat because that damages the spines.  I never dog ear my books.  I hate getting rid of my books; I like to reread many books.  I respect and care for my books. 

As happens through time, I am running out of space for books.  In my man cave, all available wall space is covered by book shelves and all those shelves are full.  I am just flat out of space.  On top of all of else, the cost of books continues to rise.  Plus, bookmakers, intent on squeezing every last dime out of us loyal and avid readers, have decided to change the size of paperbacks.  Now there regular paperbacks and hardbacks, extra tall paperbacks and heavy duty, oversized paperbacks.  Many of these new varieties don’t even fit on my book shelves.  A few months ago, I decided that in effort to conserve space, clutter, and money, I would buy an ereader.  It goes against just about everything I believe in but sometimes practicality must rule.  So, I went to the dark side.

With fear and loathing, I set up my ereader and I prepared to start down loading some books.  Imagine my chagrin and astonishment when I discovered it cost more to down load a book from the infinite space that is internet costs more than purchasing a physical book, made of paper, from a store.  At least a physical book has a cost to it in that it has to manufactured, shipped, and stocked to a shelf.  Not only does the author, the publisher, the distributor, and the store need to extract their pound of flesh and profit, but the materials to produce a book, such as paper and ink, cost money as well.  An ebook eliminates many of those items.  An ebook has no ink or paper, and there is no distributor.  Yes, the author needs to be paid for his work, but it doesn’t cost much to publish a book to the internet.  There is no one who has to physical distribute crates of books to stores.  I understand that the publisher does have employees and such and the companies who run the estores have employees and they all need to make money.  I understand how the system works.

It blows my mind that the same book that costs $7.99 at the store costs $9.99 or more online.  What sense does that make?  What is the justification for that?  There is no answer but flat out greed.  This industry is going to bury the workers who manufacture the books, the warehouse folks to distribute books, and those who work in retail stores who stock shelves and sell books.  This industry is looking to destroy another bit of our economy and they are going to make us pay for the privilege.  People wonder why our economy teeters on the brink of collapse with unemployment and the cost of living not improving, well, this is just another reason.  Technology, while more often than not, eases our lives, it also is destroying good parts of our lives.  This is just another example.  The book industry is slowing dying and instead of helping the economy by charging a fair price for a less product, the owners of these estores are charging more than a real, solid, paper and ink book.  As annoyed as I am at the rising costs of real books, not to mention the even more annoying various sizes now, the fact the estores charge even more for a paperless file that contains a book is just unfathomable.

I’m sure someone will argue that these estores offer plenty of free or $.99 books.  This is true.  Books written before copyright laws, some ancient texts that have been translations, are offered for little or no money.  Great.  Thanks.  But if I want to read on my ereader anything from the last few decades, it is going to cost more than going to a book store and purchasing it.  Why do people pay? I’m not going to.  If I can’t get it online cheaper than in the store, I am not going to feed the beast.  I will just have to donate or resell some of my books to make room for new ones.  I am going to do what I have to do.  Sometimes, convenience does not out weigh sense.  We will be in a fine pickle if physical books disappear from our culture.  You may not think it will ever happen but don’t be too sure.

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Sunday, November 27, 2011

Homeland and Boss - a review

Not having to sit through, or fast forward though commercials is just about reason enough to give premium cable programs a shot.  That these programs are usually well written and even better acted is just gravy.  Here is my take on two new premium cable series.

Homeland, (Sundays, 9pm, CST, Showtime)

This taunt psychological thriller is a perfect look into the fears and work of the post 9/11, American intelligence community.  The shades of gray in which agents live and work has to be as something they deal with on an everyday basis.  How much of this program’s story lines are possible or probable is not for me to decide.  I just know I am thoroughly entertained each week.

The two leads make this show.  I have never been much of a Claire Danes fan but I am converted.  Danes’ passionate, bi-polar CIA agent, Carrie Mathison, truly cares about her country and job.  The problem is that she is such a loose cannon in just about every sense of the word and makes horrible decisions, both personally and professionally, at every turn.  As a viewer, you care about Carrie and you want her to be right, yet you cringe as she puts herself in terrible situations needlessly. 

Damian Lewis portrays a marine, Nicholas Brody, who spent eight years in captivity, is rescued, and reunited with his (cheating) wife and family.  He is not the same man his family knew before his capture and everyone struggles to adjust.  Lewis (best known for his roles in Band of Brothers and Life) is perfect as the twitchy, ill-at-ease, angry Brody.

The main premise is that Carrie believes Brody was turned in captivity and is now a terrorist.  She believes this with all her heart, even when she is the only one.  Carrie and Brody play a sort of cat-and-mouse game with each other as Carrie tries to prove her theories.  Both actors have hit the nail on the head with their portrayals.  Carrie’s passion never seems false and Brody’s simmering anger never seems far from the surface. 

The writing keeps the viewer always guessing about what is around the corner without being stingy with details.  Mandy Patinkin is also brilliant as Carrie’s mentor and supervisor.  The writing keeps us suspecting and guessing if there is more to this character than meets the eye. 

Homeland is a terrific character study with more than one subject to watch.  Keep in mind this isn’t your parents’ Cold War spying either.  The threats this program deal with are all too real and they are laid out with gritty reality.  I find myself anticipating this show more and more.

Boss (Fridays, 9pm, CST, Starz)

How weird is to see Kelsey Grammer as a less than jolly politico?  Give Grammer credit for accepting and pulling off a character so far from the beloved Frasier Crane.  Grammer’s Mayor Tom Kane is dying but that hasn’t slowed his heavy handedness or his Machiavellian control over those who serve him. 

While I like the show, I often find myself wondering, maybe naively, how much of this highly illegal activity still goes on in this era where it takes very little for anyone to get caught doing anything.  Kane parades around the city meeting with a drug dealer and his very flawed reverend daughter right out in the open.  Surely his enemies know about his daughter’s life and would have eyes and cameras on him at all times, ready to exploit whatever weakness exists.

Sometimes I cringe at the mayor’s shenanigans.  There aren’t many laws Kane and his minions don’t break, bend, disregard, or ignore.  The program has a whole I-need-a-shower-after-watching feel to it.  Still, I am intrigued as to how Kane will conquer his disease and enemies.  Kane’s personal life is shadowy and mysterious and we are fed information slowly and I want more.

The show does have a scene stealer in the form of Kitty O’Neill, played perfectly by Kathleen Robertson.  Kitty is Kane’s protégé and personal assistant.  She seems to do some of his dirty work but as yet, we are not sure if it his dirty work, or if it is her own.  Robertson is smart and sexy and dominates whichever scene she is in.

Boss isn’t as good as Homeland and it will not be everyone’s cup of tea.  Scene after scene of politicians behaving badly doesn’t lend confidence in our leaders in real life.  Still, it is interesting with plenty of mysteries for us to ponder and I can’t wait to see how it all plays out.

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Saturday, November 19, 2011

Network Fairy Tales

Unless their call letters are CBS, networks seem to be having a harder and harder time producing hit television shows.  As the networks continue to decide just how many singing shows and dancing programs audiences will watch, they also have to try to develop scripted programs people will actually care about.  ABC and NBC, the third and fourth ranked networks, have gone down a road both familiar and yet original in their attempt to gather viewers.  Both are bringing us programs based on childhood fairy tales, with completely different takes.

Once Upon A Time (Sundays, 7pm, ABC)

Starring Ginnifer Goodwin, Logan Morrison, Lana Parilla, Robert Carlyle

ABC is bringing us this little gem about a modern New England town basically locked in time although its residents are unaware.  With familiar characters such as Snow White, Prince Charming, Jiminy Cricket, and or course, the Wicked Queen, Once Upon A Time, flashes between these favorites’ lives now and their past.  The kicker is that no one (but the Queen) remembers their shared past.  The program bounces back and forth, giving us the back story of some of our favorite characters and what is unfolding in their lives now.  We get to see what really happened after happily ever after. 

Of course, there is a chosen one – a person who is the key to unlocking the secrets and memories of times long pass and how everyone got to the modern world.  The Wicked Queen (the town mayor in the present) has no interest in her townspeople learning about their past.  It is her curse that set the whole thing in motion in the first place.

Well acted and well written, this show is entertainment at its best.  I actually enjoy the back story more than the present setting.  It looks to me as if the actors also enjoy the fairy tales times. Information is slowly doled out about the past folk lore so we get to know our beloved characters at a far better depth than any of the written stories.  The present day story is unfolding to set up the memories when they return to Snow White and Company. 

Once Upon A Time is definitely worth a look.  It has a comfortable feel that is fun and interesting.  I find myself more entranced that I care to admit.

Grimm (Fridays, 8pm, NBC)

Starring David Giuntoli, Russell Hornsby, Silas Weir Mitchell

Grimm has a darker overall tome than its ABC counterpart.  It is a cross between a normal police procedural and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  It integrates normal crimes and beloved stories like Red Riding Hood and The Three Bears.  The lead character is a detective and a grimm, someone who hunts and kills creatures like wolves, bears, and bees, much like Buffy hunted the undead.

The tone was especially dark and stiff in the pilot but has lightened up slightly in subsequent episodes with a nice dab of levity here and there.  It was a good change.  The cops are likeable and are growing into their roles with each episode.  This show could have been much campier than it is and I guess it could slip to that level if the writers aren’t careful.  For now though, think of it as a cop show with a cool twist.

As long as NBC keeps the camp factor at a minimum and the show keeps improving, NBC could have a keeper.  The main story line needs to be constantly developed and moved forward.  The program could easily be messed up and NBC needs to be constantly vigilant but it is mysterious enough to keep me entertained for an hour.  If you like cop shows, give Grimm a chance to show you that investigations can be more than what you are used to.

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Friday, November 11, 2011

J. Edgar

How the movie going public will take to a historical period piece is always iffy at best.  For people like me with a great historical interest, the decision to go see these movies is an easy one – I’m always excited.  For the normal movie lover, I imagine it is a tougher sell.  There has to be hook to gain the interest of the general public.  Sometimes, it is the person or event being portrayed.  Sometimes it is the actors or director that brings in the crowds.  It is never a sure thing.

J. Edgar boasts some real heavy weights.  Leonardo DiCaprio is the lead actor and Clint Eastwood runs the show from the director’s chair.  Naomi Watts and Judy Dench hold major roles.  In addition, J. Edgar Hoover himself is an intriguing subject.  Only time will tell if modern audiences will have enough interest to make this film successful.  I find it hard to believe that younger audiences will have much interest in a movie about a man many probably have not heard of or know anything about.  Of course, DiCaprio made The Aviator a hit.  Can he duplicate the feat with this film?

It is time for everyone to accept the fact that Leonardo DiCaprio is arguably our greatest leading actor.  He is certainly in the conversation.  I admit I have been slow to recognize his massive talent and work ethic.  I think his portrayal of Howard Hughes was the performance that made me forget DiCaprio got his start on Growing Pains.  I know most actors work extremely hard at their craft but I find it hard to believe that many work as hard as DiCaprio.  He has been willing to work under, and learn from, some of the biggest names in Hollywood, namely Martin Scorsese, Stephen Spielberg, James Cameron, Ridley Scott, and now, Clint Eastwood.  Leo seems to really love the characters studies, the roles where he can due his homework and research, and his love of his work translates beautifully to the big screen.  His work as Hoover is no different.  He plays the man with subtle precision, maybe even under playing the man.  Leo seldom overacts any character or scene, and I think that is his genius.

There is a reason though, while Hollywood has not attempted a bio pic on Hoover before.  While much of his public life is now a matter of record, his private life and secretive nature and work is the matter of much speculation.  J. Edgar concentrates on his early career and his private life.  The film covers his career from 1919-1935 and in the 1960’s through his death in 1972.  He is portrayed as a man obsessed with fighting Communism as well as a man who abused his power to gain information on politicians.  These themes can be accepted as fact.  The movie touches on, without much depth, his battle against the glorified bank robbers of the 1930’s.  It also completely ignores the World War II years and the McCarthy years.  It speculates on his relationship with his mother and his deputy, Clyde Tolson and most of the movie focuses on these relationships, as well the Lindbergh case.

I don’t have any problems with Eastwood’s take on Hoover relationship with Tolson.  There is no positive proof Hoover had any kind of homosexual relationship with Tolson although many believe that to be the case.  Eastwood chooses the middle road.  Hoover and Tolson have a love affair without consummation.  Eastwood uses Hoover’s strict but  pampered upbringing as a wall that Hoover just can’t get beyond.  It is a subtle battle within himself but he fights it constantly.  Since Tolson was Hoover’s nearly constant companion and heir tends to point to a relationship more than chief and deputy, or even best friends.

The relationship between Hoover and his mother is also speculative but possible.  Hoover lived with his mother well into his forties until her death.  She is portrayed as strict morally but she constantly builds him and props up his confidence.  Hoover himself is portrayed as often lacking in self confidence and courage.  His public image was a façade and those close to him knew him to be socially awkward.  He obviously is an enigma within himself.

The film does give Hoover his due as a pioneer for using forensic science in criminal investigations.  Hoover revolutionized investigative methods and Eastwood rightfully spends some time on this subject.  The director also delves a bit into Hoover’s illegal information gathering and blackmailing, as well as hints at a possible gambling problem.  Eastwood practically ignores Hoover’s lack of enthusiasm for going after the Mafia.  It is mentioned briefly that Hoover doubted the Mafia’s existence but considering he was the primary criminal investigator for more than four decades, this little idiosyncrasy was not developed.

To be honest, the film had a few problems.  When dealing with such a shadowy, much speculative, and controversial figure as J. Edgar Hoover, it is a mighty big task.  While I question some of the omissions, what is covered is dealt with conservatism and responsibility.  DiCaprio is brilliant and Armie Hammer (The Social Network) portrays Tolson with care and subtlety.  The dialog and filming (much of it in black and white) are well done.  While I’m not a huge fan of the constant flashbacks and forwards, the directing was just fine.  I enjoyed the film and was intrigued throughout.  This film won’t be everybody’s cup of tea but it does a fine job taking a close look at one of the most important figures in the twentieth century in this country. 

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Friday, October 28, 2011

In Time

Anyone who reads my stuff on a regular basis knows I worry about Hollywood’s lack of originality over the past few years. I actually think movie makers have shown some flicker of life lately.  There have been a number of interesting films released over the past few months that, while not the most original works ever, definitely show progress.  Some of the movies I’ve watched recently at least don’t look and feel like they were just churned out of the thoughtless crap factory.

In Time relies on a fairly original premise that seems more of an alternate universe rather than futuristic.  Humans have been genetically engineered to the point of not aging past the age of twenty-five.  After that birthday, humans have a clock on their arm that’s gives them one more year of life and time is counting down.  When it reaches zero, you’re dead.  People can earn and spend time and time has become the currency of the world.

People work to earn time.  They are paid in minutes, hours, and days.  Conversely, coffee, rent, and food cost time.  People tend to live day by day, even minute to minute because the system is designed take their time.  Time can also be given, stolen, loaned, and gambled.  It gives a whole new meaning to all-in poker.

Behind this system is a shadowy, and ultimately, ill defined group of people who own every thing.  They distribute time and control everything from the daily cost of living to interest rates of time on loans.  Their purpose is poorly explained but it seems to be to control population.  The world is divided up into area codes, populated by the rich – century old people loaded with time and still looking a youthful twenty-five – and the less fortunate.  The masses, those time poor souls living by the hour, do not mix with the rich and powerful.

The cost of immortality though, is high.  Those controlling the system, the people controlling the distribution of time, are so concerned with accumulating and harnessing time that they forget how to live.  They spend centuries playing it safe and becoming little more than robotic drones.  The metaphor is subtle for the most part and I prefer that to a heavy handed blow to the head this film could have delivered.

The writing in general was a little uneven.  The dialogue was especially uninspired.  The action sequences were quick and tense without a lot of flashy, unbelievable stunts.  Director/writer Andrew Nichol wasted little time jumping into the storyline and he kept the pace brisk.  The movie could have used about ten more minutes of gradual storyline development.  There were a few aspects that could have been explained more thoroughly.  The final result was sleek and exciting and made for very good entertainment.

Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried played the leads with an earnest believability.  Both are growing as actors and were able to carry the load in this film.  They were supported mainly by Cillian Murphy (The Dark Knight and Inception) and Vincent Kartheiser (Mad Men).  The latter is Seyfried’s Sylvia father and one of those shadowy men doling out time.  Murphy plays a timekeeper, basically a cop, who is so good, he is bad.  Both do a fine job and they blend in with some favorites such as Olivia Wilde, Matt Bomer, and Johnny Galecki, who all have small, but welled acted roles.  The acting was far from perfect but again, they were working with a less than perfect script and no one butchered their roles.

In Time won’t win any statuettes but it gets big marks for originality and entertainment value.  Its sleek action was not bloated with overwhelming and unreasonable special effects.  It carries a PG-13 rating but it does not get out of hand with sex, language, or violence – each of these get one tiny scene to earn that rating.  My 12-year old son could watch it if he wanted.  The premise and action make up for the weak dialogue and the acting was good enough not to be a distraction.  I was entertained throughout and got more than I expected.  All in all, in this day and age, that’s pretty good.

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Sunday, October 23, 2011

New Network Dramas

The networks continue to struggle to adjust to modern audiences’ viewing habits and seem panicky and bewildered by sagging rating for their dramas.  I would suggest to them that they calm down and let some of these programs find their audiences.  There are some new dramas worth watching. 

PRIME SUSPECT (Thursdays, 9:00pm CST, NBC)

Dick Wolf is not involved in Prime Suspect but this new crime drama certainly has a Law & Order feel to it.  It has an honest grittiness to it that is hard to fake.  Maria Bello is absolutely terrific as the lead, Jane Timoney.  The detective is a tough, crusty, humorless cop who seems always to be trying to prove herself with her male counterparts and earn their respect.  She is a no-nonsense kind of gal and to her detriment, has little time for their boyish shenanigans.  All of this aside, she is a good cop and she works hard at her craft. 

This program has a lot of room for growth but we can see the possibilities.  Timoney’s fellow detectives offer some levity to her dead seriousness and they are willing to give their respect more quickly than she is to recognize it.  Prime Suspect is at its best following Timoney on her investigations and at its worst when she goes home to the recently divorced boyfriend and his young son.  Warm and fuzzies are not her strong suit and these scenes seem forced and awkward.  She is socially awkward enough at work but it is just downright painful at home.  With more episodes though, this area could work itself out.

I read comments and criticisms about Timoney’s signature hat and gum chewing (she’s trying to quit smoking).  Some find these distracting.  I say they add to her character, not distract from it.  Get over it and give this character and program a shot.  It is getting beat down in the ratings but it is better than the other two network shows it shares a timeslot with – CBS’ ever increasingly annoying The Mentalist and ABC’s barely medical soap opera Private Practice.  Do yourself a favor and give Prime Suspect a chance.

PERSON OF INTEREST (Thursdays, 8:00pm CST, CBS)

A convoluted and inadequately explained premise is this show’s weakest attributes.  In a process too complicated for this space, Lost’s Michael Emerson get a name an episode from a Homeland Security super computer that has been flagged by the computer as a risk.  Either this person is going to commit a crime or is going to be a victim of a crime.  Former shadowy, Special Forces operative John Reese, played stoically by Jim Caviazel investigates each person and tries to foil whatever crime is in the works.

If you can not think too hard on the general premise and enjoy the road of investigation, you will enjoy this program.  It seems more a suspense thriller than a crime drama.  There is always more to the person they investigate than meets the eye and the reveals are made slowly, keeping out interest strong.  Twists and turns are certainly a big part of the stories and they keep us on our toes.

I will say there needs to be some humorous relief.  Both Emerson’s Harold Finch and Reese are characters shrouded in mystery and are at their best when we catch brief glimpses of emotion from our leads.  Neither character has any humor whatsoever so the tone is quite dour and could use a character to lighten the mood.  Otherwise, I have little to complain about with this thriller.  It keeps me intrigued each week and that is all I can ask.

UNFORGETTABLE (Tuesdays, 9:00pm CST, CBS)

First of all, hyperthymesia is a real condition.  Only a few people in the world can remember every little detail of their lives.  Carrie Wells, played by former Without a Trace star Poppy Montgomery, is a detective with the ultimate photographic memory.  The show does a great job of showing her remembering by an out-of-body process where she strolls through the scenes she has already lived, focusing on details she didn’t realize were important when she lived them the first time. 

I’ve always been a Montgomery fan.  She underplays her characters with a quiet innocence and humbleness I find charming.  The Aussie shares the lead with Dylan Walsh’s Al Burns, a former partner and lover.  Their chemistry seems unforced and subtle.  There is a little tension but it doesn’t overwhelm the scenes or characters.   A strong and interesting supporting cast does not distract.

The crime storylines so far have been vanilla and barely intriguing.  The writers need to blend in the memory gimmick with more interesting stories.  With a little work, Unforgettable could be a terrific show but its dull plots could relegate it to being absolutely forgettable and that would be a crime.

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Saturday, October 15, 2011

Real Steel

For a sport that has become as toxic and tainted as a landfill, the sport of boxing spawns some of the best sports flicks.  Rocky, The Champ, Raging Bull, Ali, Cinderella Man, and The Fighter are just a few rousing pugilistic films that are worth a viewer’s time.

A futuristic film about a boxing robot with a heart like a human champion seems like a good fit in today’s Hollywood that often grasps at straws.  It is an original take on an old genre, at least original as far as movies go.  I have been referring to Real Steel as that rock ‘em, sock ‘em robot movie since I first witnessed the previews.

Luckily, the movie was about more than metal punching bags.  Hugh Jackman was at his charming best and young Dakota Goya was perfect as the human hero.  Goyo was terrific as the precocious pre-teen, a kid who was funny as long as long he wasn’t your child talking to you like Goyo’s Max character talked to his father.  Hopefully, though, you have earned more respect than Jackman’s Charlie had earned from Max.  As much as this was a story of giant, metal boxers, it was even more about the personal redemption of Charlie, as he worked to earn his son’s love and respect, as well as his own self respect.

Director Shawn Levy kept the storyline simple and straightforward.  It didn’t have any twists or turns.  Unpredictability in this case would have been a detriment to this film.  This is a movie people go see to feel good.  They want to cheer for man and machine.  Levy never tried to do too much and less was more.  That being said, the video game boxing matches seemed relatively life-like and were a lot of fun to watch. 

Audiences flock to this movie for sheer entertainment purposes and it doesn’t disappoint.  I pulled for the heroes, both human and robot.  I cheered as I ducked and moved, as my shoulders tucked and twisted with every punch.  It was fun!  I’ve watched some movies lately that I wanted to be “good” movies.  I expected them to be award worthy.  I wanted Real Steel to be fun, and it delivered wholeheartedly.  It won’t win any statuettes but I don’t care a lick.

This film is rated PG-13 but most of the violence is machine on machine.  There was one brief scene where human violence was highlighted but it was not dragged on too long.  There is some mildly adult language but nothing you can’t hear on USA Network.  My 12-year old son had blast and I wouldn’t hesitate to take a younger child, especially boys.

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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Ides Of March

I think Alfred Hitchcock would be bitterly disappointed.  In this age of high tech action flicks and run-of-the-mill romantic comedies, this era of stylized super heroes and flashy CGI, Hollywood seems to have forgotten how to make a good suspense thriller.  Luckily, George Clooney is single handily trying to bring them back.

The suspense thriller was once my favorite genre of film.  I don’t know why they have faded from popularity but I suspect it is because we, as a society, thirst for constant, instant satisfaction.  Explosions, blood, gore, canned, tired, predictable laughs, and computer generated action fill our screens, keeping our flittering attentions from straying into intelligent thought.  I think our society has produced a generation of audiences that won’t sit still long enough to develop characters and storylines at a less than break neck speed.  The quality of movies being churned out by Hollywood reflects this societal decline.

Ides of March is a taunt and intense film that moves along at a steady pace.  Nothing is blown up and no blood is spilled yet my heart was pounding and I found myself leaning forward in my chair.  The characters are fleshed out and the plot twists slowly toward the key revelations.  In short, it was a good, old fashioned suspense thriller smartly written and filmed.  It’s a story of idealism, innocence, loyalty, and betrayal – all of the classic elements. 

The story centers on a veteran campaign manager Stephen Myers, who is convinced that he is finally working for the perfect candidate.  In a world of jaded disappointments, Myers has secretly maintained his idealism, his belief that there was always a politician out there who was truly good and who could truly make a difference.  The story follows the campaign for a Democratic Presidential candidate for a week leading into a big, important primary.  The upstanding candidate seems like a dream come true – a man who speaks the utter truth, lives with true integrity, and refuses to make political deals to gain votes.  Of course, as we all know, no such person exists.  Of course, our young hero has to learn the hard way.

The cast is filled with some of my favorite and most talented actors Hollywood has to offer.  Ryan Gosling is quickly working is way up the chain of talented actors who continue to hone their craft.  He holds his own with the terrific veteran supporting cast.  George Clooney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti , and Marisa Tomei all give believable and solid performances.  Evan Rachel Wood was subtle and spectacular and the same time.  A decade ago, Wood was a talented child actress in an underappreciated series called Once and Again.  She has grown up but has not lost her talent.  I would love to see her in more meaty roles like this one.

Director/co-writer/actor George Clooney does a brilliant job keeping the suspense moving with plot twists and turns.  His use of music to set the tone was not false or heavy- handed like a M. Night Shyamalan likes to do.  It was subtle and terse, really setting the mood.  Clooney has really become the champion of the suspense thriller with similar character and plot driver films like Michael Clayton and The American.  Good for him!  Anything to keep him from making anymore silly comedies is always a plus. 

I was glad this film was so good.  It continued a trend of really good movies that have been released in the past three months.  It gives me hope that Hollywood is trying to improve its product.  I would love to see the genre of suspense thriller return to more prominence in the theaters.  I think it displayed true skill to make such a movie and I think the skillfully crafted films we see, the better the movie going experience will be.

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Friday, October 7, 2011

Networks Debut Girl Power Comedies

Primetime programming is cyclical and situation comedies are hot right now.  The big four network have all busted a new batch and many of them feature strong female leads.  It was not that long ago when nearly are sit coms were darn near unwatchable but the networks seem to be putting more time and effort into them as the sit coms are much cheaper to produce than procedural dramas.  They also tend to do better in syndication and DVD sales.  Here is a look at just a few.

2 BROKE GIRLS (Mondays, 7:30 CST, CBS)

This program with the cherry spot in CBS’ powerful Monday night lineup is probably my favorite and I think it has the most room to grow into something long term.  Its premise is a new take on the odd couple pairing with Kat Dennings as the hard working, blue collar, street-smart girl surviving by plowing away at two part time jobs.  Little known Beth Behrs is a spoiled, naive, well educated, former heiress, fish-out-of-water waif trying to find her way in a suddenly real world.  Dennings and Behrs have good chemistry and play well off each other.  Dennings delivers her lines with acerbic wit and a small, sly, smile.  Her character has little faith in the world or her future.  Behrs is bubbly and optimistic and is fighting to remain upbeat after her fate took a cruel turn.  The supporting cast is in need of upgrades across the board for the program to grow.  The two main characters can certainly drive this show but they need help.  CBS sticks to what they do best with the classic filmed-in-front-of-a-live-studio-audience thing but I’m wondering when CBS will join the new century and break out of this mold.  With some tweaking in the cast, this show is funny enough and likeable enough to survive.  Oh, one more note to the folks who produce this program – lose the horse and the lame laugh track.

SUBUGATORY (Wednesdays, 7:30 CST, ABC)

If you love satirical comedy then Suburgatory is the one for you.  It serves it up by the plateful.  Jane Levy is a teenager being raised by single dad, played by the dry Jeremy Sisto, and is ushered from the bright lights of Manhattan, to the quiet life of suburbia in an effort to save her innocence.  She drops into the fake, plastic world where breast implants and botox are more common than aspirin.  Think Desperate Housewives without the drama.  Levy is funny and witty but I’m not yet sure Sisto can be funny.  Cheryl Hines is a hoot, though, and plays the flirty soccer mom with flair and enthusiasm.  She steals every scene she’s in.  The program has room to grow as the characters around the neighbor are fleshed out.  I laughed throughout the first two episodes and it is a nice fit in between the underrated The Middle and the brilliant Modern Family.  I’ve seen some complaints about the unwieldy title but Subugatory is satirically perfect with a terrific title.

NEW GIRL (Tuesdays, 8:00 CST, FOX)

Zooey Deschanel plays doe-eyed, quirky comedy like her sister plays doe-eyed, quirky drama on Bones.  Her character Jess has a generous degree of naiveté and general weirdness.  Jess catches her boyfriend of four years sleeping with another woman and moves out immediately but has nowhere to go.  She answers an ad for a roommate and ends up moving in with 3 guys, each with his own set of problems.  A couple of the guys are overplayed, especially Schmidt.  If this show is to survive, the male characters need to be rounded out a little better.  Deschanel’s quirky, crazy, innocent act is sweet and funny thus far, but I’m afraid it will grow stale after a while, especially if the guys’ characters aren’t improved a bit.  Deschanel can carry this program for awhile because she is absolutely is believable as this person so I’m willing to give the show a chance to improve.  You should too.

WHITNEY (Thursdays, 8:30 CST, NBC)

This is by far the weakest of this bunch but not as bad as I thought it would be.  Whitney Cummings seems to be a polarizing person but she is improving week to week as an actor.  The show is supposed to be taken from her life and has shown a bit of promise.  The laugh track seems to be more intrusive than usual, though.  I hate laugh tracks because I don’t like to be told something is funny when it is not.  Let me decide what I think is funny.  The laugh track here seems to go off after every line, regardless at the degree of humor and it is very annoying.  The boyfriend is played by Chris D’Elia and he is the most funny and comfortable cast member.  Again, the supporting cast really seems to be forcing their lines and no real chemistry has yet to be developed.  I would love to see some mass improvement here.  Cummings herself can be very funny so I am willing to giver her a chance to improve her acting.  Remember how bad Ray Romano was the first season of Everyone Loves Raymond?  There is room for a lot of growth here, but I will not be as patient here because the product isn’t as good for me.

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Friday, September 30, 2011


The Steroid Era in major league baseball changed the game in many ways.  Majestic home runs and high powered offenses became prevalent.  Power was glamorous and glorious and commonplace.  Salaries skyrocketed along with the pitchers’ ERA’s.  In the midst of all this run scoring, something horrible happened.  Once proud, successful small markets teams were priced out of the market for the muscle bound big boppers that suddenly ruled the game.  Organizations such as Kansas City, Pittsburg, Cincinnati, San Diego, Oakland, and Minnesota were on the outside looking in as the fat cats threw money at slugging free agents year after year.  Teams had to change their business model to even hope to compete.  Success had to be built from within each organization through the draft and be selective with the leftover free agents.  There was very little room for error and teams that missed on their top picks soon became buried in the standings.

The movie Moneyball is really the story of Billy Beane, a former first round draft pick of the New York Mets.  More so than the book by the same name, the film tells the story of Beane’s struggle to think outside of the box.  As the general manager for the small market Oakland A’s, he had to watch a successful team from the 2001 playoffs be dismantled.  Free agent star players from that team were plucked away by teams with deep pockets like the Yankees and Red Sox, frustrating Beane to no end.  A chance meeting with a Yale graduate named Peter Brand led Beane and the A’s to embrace a form of player evaluation based on mathematics and algebraic formulas rather the excepted commonplace evaluations used for decades.

The movie follows Beane’s travails trying to convince his own scouting and coaching staffs of the relevance and possibilities of trying something new, as well as following Beane’s own career through flashbacks.  Beane and Brand searched for players who had the skill set of getting on base but for whatever reason were undervalued by the market.  The film chronicles the 2002 season for the A’s as the team struggles to produce the results Beane and Brand expect and what happens when those expectations finally came to fruition.  The book devotes a great deal of space to the drafting process and philosophies and that part is completely ignored in the movie. 

Moneyball is not just a film for baseball lovers and stat nerds, although it probably helps.  The movie is dramatic and exciting and does a good job at explaining the process for non baseball fans.  Brad Pitt portrays Beane with just the right amount of charisma and quirkiness.  Jonah Hill is Brand and seems woefully uncomfortable through most of the movie.  Philip Seymour Hoffman is pretty good as Manager Art Howe, who according to the movie, fights Beane tooth and nail on Beane’s new vision but accepts the accolades when success is attained.  

The fact is Moneyball the book, and the success of the 2002 A’s had a huge impact on baseball, especially now, as baseball recovers from the Steroid Era.  Not only have small market teams embraced sabermetrics (the term for the algebraic application to baseball) but big market teams have as well.  If you have every watched and game between the Yankees and Red Sox, you will know how long and drawn out each contest can become.  One of the philosophies of sabermetrics is to work pitch counts and get on base as often as possible, really embracing base on balls.  This has caused games to drag on at times.  Some teams have been slow to embrace the new method.  The Kansas City Royals for instance, a very cash poor team, was very slow to embrace sabermetrics.  Other teams, such as the Twins, Yankees, and Red Sox have all had a lot of success.  In the case of the Yankees and Red Sox, money and sabermetrics have lead to championships.  Now, all teams pay attention to the mathematics of baseball and not just the raw results.  As the power and glamour of the Steroid Era fades and statistics return to the levels known before the game was ruled by cheaters, sabermetrics is now becoming more and more accepted throughout the game and once again the small market teams are forced to look for success outside of the box again.  That is for another day.

Moneyball is a baseball movie but I don’t believe you have to be a baseball fan to enjoy it.  It’s a good story and it plays out well on the big screen.  Pitt and Hoffman give good performances and director Bennett Miller seemed intent on not bogging the movie down with the math itself or on discussing the draft process, which would bore non baseball fans.  If you are a fan of sports movies or films high on drama, give Moneyball a chance.

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Friday, September 23, 2011


The themes and premises of disaster movies have never really bothered me.  Whether it was an asteroid hurtling toward Earth or California breaking off into the ocean, these natural catastrophes, while all possible, just don’t cause me immediate worries.  Not so with biological threats.  Maybe it’s because there is a relatively recent history of such events taking place in the last few hundred years, or if I just believe these types of thing are more possible, biological apocalypses frighten me to a whiter shade of pale.  Ever since I read Stephen King’s The Stand, this type of scenario makes me pause.  Even in a fantastical setting as AMC’s The Walking Dead, where a virus turned most of mankind into flesh eating zombies, the very thought of a biological catastrophe seems real and possible, with or without zombies.

Contagion is one the few movies I have watched that has nearly zero entertainment value.  There is little that is upbeat or joyous.  The movie is listed as a thriller and because of its intensity, I can’t argue this point.  To some, the intensity may offer some entertainment value but I didn’t find it so.  That doesn’t mean it wasn’t a good movie.

The best thing writer Scott Z. Burns and director Steven Soderbergh did was to keep the mystery of the origin of virus secret until very late in the movie.  It kept me on the edge of my seat and held my rapt attention.  The atmosphere is obviously dark but the story line maintains a brisk and terse pace, moving forward in a day by day format that never really bogged down.

The story followed several characters, including victim one and her family, CDC agents, a World Health Organization investigator, and a self serving blogger.  The story also spreads out to the people and world surrounding these characters as the world rapidly descends into hysteria and anarchy.  Almost all of the story lines worked although the film seemed to stall slightly when the plot revolved around Alan Krumwiede, the blogger.  In the end, this thread made more sense than it did for most of the film.

The cast is large and distinguished.  None of the roles are big or meaty and none of the performances really stood out for me.  This does not mean it wasn’t well acted because it certainly was.  The movie is more about the plot and not so much about the characters.  Matt Damon, Larry Fishburne, and Jude Law probably had the most screen time but solid work was turned in by Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard, Jennifer Ehle, and Elliot Gould.  Gwyneth Paltrow’s role was tiny and brief.

Contagion is a movie of scary doom and gloom but it never seemed preachy in pushing across its point.  It showed how precariously unprepared we are if such a virus, either man-made or created by nature, were to break out and attack the general public of the world.  To me, it seemed more of a warning and it certainly gave me a certain degree of fright.  I don’t how this movie will play with those who nominate and vote on Golden Globes and the Oscars.  The movie was well written and directed, and has certainly played well in the theater but I see few of the acting performances as award worthy – Winslet was probably the best in a supporting role.  Contagion is a good movie, just not an overly entertaining or uplifting one.  I would keep young or overly sensitive children away because the premise is extremely upsetting.  The theme has not kept people way from the theaters but I doubt the film will lose anything on DVD.  And it is a movie I can’t imagine many people will need to see twice however good it was the first time.

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Thursday, September 8, 2011

Sons of Anarchy

Now that the last pass has been thrown on the set of Friday Night Lights and Rescue Me has put out its last fire, I started to consider what my favorite television program is now.  There are several shows I really enjoy for different reasons – Justified (an engrossing lead character), Chuck (just plain fun), Madmen (all around brilliant), Law & Order: SVU (intense storytelling), Big Bang Theory (laugh out loud funny), Psych (original and fun), Boardwalk Empire (gritty and epic), and Modern Family (brilliantly written and acted) are among my favorites.  One program, though, stands out for me.  I didn’t realize just how much I missed this show until I started seeing promotions for it on air.  For the past month or so, I have been eagerly awaiting the season four debut of Sons of Anarchy. 

FX’s bread and butter has been the development of the flawed hero.  What I mean by this is that most of their lead characters are not perfect or pure people and sometimes are downright evil.  Despite these flaws, audiences are often pulling for them.  FX started this successful formula with The Shield and continued it with Rescue Me, Damages, Justified, Terriers, and Lights Out.  Not since The Shield, though, have I found myself pulling for the lead character, not matter what brutal act he commits, more than I do for Sons of Anarchy’s Jax Teller.

Jax Teller (Charlie Hunnam) is the heir apparent of a California motorcycle gang his father co-founded decades earlier.  The gang, or club as they call themselves, deals mainly in guns and violence, with sidelines in bribery and porn.  The members live from payday to payday as it were.  They are paid as money comes in from their various nefarious enterprises – not a steady income at all.  They battle rival gangs, corrupt politicians, like-minded outlaws, and fired up law enforcement officers.  And, of course, themselves.

Jax is a troubled young man, though.  His father’s dream for the club was based more on brotherhood and family rather than violence and greed, but he died tragically early.  We know there is more to his death than has been revealed and deep down, Jax suspects this as well.  Jax’s father left a manuscript describing his vision of the club but he lacked the courage to direct the club in its early years in the direction he wanted.  Jax has read his father’s legacy and agrees with it but is waiting for the opportunity to extract himself.

This is a nearly impossible task because the Sons are controlled by his step father, Clay Morrow (Ron Perlman) and more subtly, his mother Gemma (Katey Sagal).  Much like Michael Corleone, every time Jax tries to get out, they pull him back in.  Jax has a family – two sons and a fiancée, Tara (Maggie Siff).  He wants to raise his family without fear of death or imprisonment.  The problem is that no one who is in as deep as Jax is can ever get out alive.  Jax is no innocent; he is often violent and sometimes unpredictable.

The leads are brilliant.  Ron Perlman’s whole career seems like preparation for this role.  Katey Sagal, in this role, is so far from Peg Bundy, it doesn’t seem possible it is the same actress.  It is criminal in itself that Sagal and Sons of Anarchy have been ignored at Emmy time.  Sagal is absolutely brilliant and has Emmy worthy moments in all three of Sons first three seasons.  Hunnam’s portrayal as the earnest and sincere Jax is believable and makes us pull for him despite his violent nature.  Several other actors do a superb job filling out the members of the gang, especially Ryan Hurst as the brooding, hulking, Opie, Jax’s best friend. 

An underlying theme of Sons of Anarchy is family and brotherhood.  It is at times warped and unhealthy but in most instances it is sincere.  Despite all the violence and corruption, the men and women love their families and friends like people in every day lives.  It shows a side of violent criminals rarely shown with any depth on television.  It is one of the things that make us pull for the Sons over the people who are trying to shut them down.  Of course, it helps that the good guys are hardly less corrupt that the Sons themselves. 

The other theme lurking in the shadows is the mystery of what happened to Jax’s father.  Most certainly, Clay was involved and it wasn’t an accident.  We also don’t know if Gemma, Jax’s mother, was involved or not.  I’m sure as the series moves on, and Jax steps up his plans to leave the club, more and more details will reveal themselves, with dire consequences.  This keeps me watching and involved week to week.

Sons of Anarchy is brilliantly written by creator Kurt Sutter, Katey Sagal’s real life husband.  Sutter is in complete control here and he knows what he is trying to create.  The show is intense and action filled with plenty of dramatic moments.  This show is also unbelievably well scored.  Sutter and company use music to set tone and mood with a lot of little known music or surprisingly styled cover songs.  Every week, I am impressed by the music used.  I can’t really describe how important to the show this is. 

When Sons of Anarchy was first aired, I didn’t find the premise an interesting one.  I only gave it a try because it was on FX and it came on the heels of the end of The Shield.  I am so glad I did.  There is so much depth to it and the characters are so fleshed out.  Its seasonal storylines have been different and entertaining, not to mention intense.  The villains (club enemies) have been interesting each season.  I eagerly awaited the season premiere and now each week I will bemoan the fact I have to wait a whole week for the next episode to air.  Despite its violence and less than perfect characters, I am pulled into their lives and I want them to defeat their enemies, good and bad.  It is a tough sell to get audiences to pull for characters like this but Sons of Anarchy pulls it off and this has become a FX trademark.

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Friday, September 2, 2011


I will be the first to admit I watch entirely too much television.  I don’t know why.  For a long time, I barely watched any prime-time tv.  As I’ve gotten older, I’ve just started watching more and more.  In this age of the DVR, I can watch even more.  I seldom watch anything live other than sporting events.  Skipping commercials quickly and easily makes watching recorded programs an enjoyable pastime for me. 

Recently, I have tried to be more selective in the shows I chose to watch.  I am much quicker now to give up on programs I find mediocre instead of trying to wait them out until they improve, which they usually don’t.  There are some networks, like FX and USA, in which I will give whatever programs they roll out a chance.  Why?  Because they seldom miss.  Very few, if any duds, show up on their schedules.

While I did not sample every new show aired this summer, I did watch several new programs.  Funnily, I watched none of the shows aired on the big four networks, only cable.  While I have been entertained, two programs really stood out to me as quality productions.  One was TNT’s Falling Skies, which ended much too quickly and I didn’t get around to writing a review for it.  The other is Suits (USA, Thursdays, 9 p.m. CST).  While it has a rather flimsy initial premise, it has improved steadily throughout its first season.

That original premise was that dapper law shark, Harvey Specter hires young Mike Ross as an associate at his law firm.  The problem is that Ross never attended law school.  Ross is a real, if not naïve, brainiac and did pass the bar exam.  In fact, Ross made a career out of taking exams for others to get them into law school but could not afford the luxury himself.  On top of all that, Specter’s firm only hires Harvard Law grads.  I am in no way qualified to answer this question but it needs to be asked.  If someone can pass the bar exam, is he or she still considered a lawyer, even if they did not go to law school?  I don’t know but if anyone does know, please answer it for me in the comments.

Despite this very shaky premise, the show works.  I’m not sure but I think the show’s producers may have thought Mike Ross, portrayed with a wide-eyed innocence by Patrick J. Adams, would be the break out character.  While Ross is a fun and very likable character, there is a small problem with him.  For such a smart guy, he sometimes shows very little common sense and way too much naivety.  In my opinion, the real breakout star is Gabriel Macht.  His Harvey Specter is deep and mysterious, almost like a modern day Don Draper (Madmen) minus the womanizing.  Specter is driven to win and to do it without considering the people involved in whatever case he is working on.  Ross, his protégé, gets too involved but excels at bringing out Specter’s deep consciousness.  Macht is by no means a well know actor but I love his quiet, arrogant, competitive portrayal of Specter and I think he makes the show. 

Veteran Rick Hoffman plays Specter’s co-worker and chief rival, Louis Litt, who also has it in for Specter’s shadow, Mike Ross.  Hoffman seems to enjoy his role as the smarmy attorney who serves as the office villain week in and week out because he shines.  A trio of beautiful actresses fills out the regular cast.  Gina Torres is Jessica Pearson, the boss, Meghan Markle as the legal assistant who causes sparks of sexual tension with Ross, and Sarah Rafferty as Specter’s all knowing and wise personal assistant.  All three do a fine a job and their characters have been slowing developed as the season has progressed, giving each some nice depth.

The writing has been better than some of the writing I’ve seen on other summer shows.  Their development of Harvey Specter has been very patient as layers have been added to his character.  It seems as if they realized Specter was the most intriguing character about halfway through the first season and more and more of the focus is being directed to that role.  The weekly plot lines don’t seem ridiculous (like, for instance Franklin & Bash) but again, I am no legal expert.  The actors don’t seem to be forcing the dialogue and seem very comfortable in their scenes.  The cast chemistry also is real and unforced. 

There are many directions this show can go.  Both Specter’s and Ross’ back stories could easily lead to suspenseful story lines in season two.  Suits uses good acting and good writing to give us more welcome characters from USA.  I look for this promising series to give me several seasons of entertainment.  Season one wraps up next week but I will eagerly await its return next summer.  Now if only NBC could match its daughter network in airing likable and entertaining programming, viewers would be happy.

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