Monday, February 27, 2012


Southland (TNT, Tuesdays, 9pm, CST)

In the spring of 2009, NBC unveiled Southland as a spring replacement series.  This gritty, tough, well written, and well acted gem performed well enough for NBC to renew it for at least 13 episodes on their fall schedule.  NBC had the program slated to air in late September of 2009 but in August, pushed back the premier to late October.  A week into October, NBC announced it had decided to cancel Southland and not air any more episodes.  This is a typical decision from a network that wouldn’t know a good show if one bit the peacock’s beak.

A month later, TNT bought the show and aired the episodes already shot in January of 2010.  They continued the program in 2011 and renewed it for 2012, with a reduction of the budget and cast.  Thus, we have been lucky enough to get more episodes of this remarkable show.

Southland is a remarkable look into what goes on in the day-to-day life of a Los Angles police officer.  The first two season split time between patrol officers and detectives.  This format started to lean more away from the detective story lines in the third season as the budget cuts took affect.  In the present season four, it has really been stripped down to one detective and two teams of patrol officers.  I don’t mind the more focused story lines and it has not weakened the intensity or overall quality of the show.

The main characters are well penned and brilliantly portrayed.  Regina King is Detective Lydia Adams, who is a person fighting to maintain her feminism without forsaking her tough, no nonsense but fair, position as a cop.  She has worked hard for her position, earning her place as a detective but she has sacrificed the part of herself that was a normal woman.  We get a glimpse of that harsh reality as she grows older and as she tries to find that part of her she has pushed aside over the years.

Michael Cudlitz is always terrific as a veteran, career patrolman who loves his job and understands that the personal sacrifices he has made will go unappreciated when his career is over.  He only cares about being a good cop and he tries to be professional at all times.  He carries his own secrets and when he injures his back on the job, he becomes addicted to pain pills because he doesn’t want to leave the streets.  He is what one can imagine is a cop’s cop.  The work Cudlitz does as John Cooper is subtle but powerful and he needs some shiny hardware as reward for such stellar performance week in and week out.

Cooper’s partner is season four is Lucy Liu.  She is growing into her part each week and I am excited to see where it goes.  Already, her Officer Jessica Tang, is building a strong professional relationship with Cooper and they work together and get used to each other’s habits and methods.

Ben McKenzie and Shawn Hatosy are partners, Ben and Sam, and they are now the other featured pairing.  They are younger than Cooper and Tang and they have different ways of approaching their jobs.  Ben (Cooper was his training officer in the first three seasons) is an idealist and sees in only black and white and Sam has had some things go against him on the job.  He had been a detective but had resigned and returned to patrol.

The story lines are taunt and intense.  The cops are doing the best they can and it is not always by the book.  They are doing what they can in a general atmosphere of distrust and disrespect from the people they are paid to protect.  They are in constant danger and sometimes do what they can to survive, even when it blurs into a gray area of right and wrong.  Southland does not make saints out of these characters, nor are they villains.  They are men and women who are doing a very tough job to the best of their ability and sometimes they do not handle every situation as they should. 

I never feel the plot lines are sensationalized and they seem real to me.  The characters are fleshed out slowly, and in depth.  These are not caricatures or canned scenarios.  The gritty feel to the program rings true to me, as do the characters themselves.  I often find myself on the edge of my seat as I hope each officer handles themselves correctly in very intense situations.  Sometimes they do, other times, maybe not as much.  You never get the feeling though, that these people don’t care.  They understand they have a tough job and do what they can to do it right.

Violence, language, and content matter keep the show for adults only.  It is brilliantly shot and the plot lines and active seldom lag.  I always look forward to watching it (it is always one of the first shows to come off my DVR) and I am always ready for next week as soon as it is over.  This program needs viewers so we can enjoy it in upcoming seasons.

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Sunday, February 19, 2012

This Means War

This best thing about romantic comedies is that no one expects award winning performances.  They are guilty pleasures to be enjoyed for what they are – fun and frivolous.  As long as there are strong, likable lead characters with chemistry and the writing isn’t brutal, then it is easy to please. 

This Means War fits the bill.  Reese Witherspoon is in her prime comfort zone and Chris Pine and Tom Hardy have great chemistry with each as well as with Witherspoon.  This is the kind of role we love to see Witherspoon in.  Pine is perfect in the rakish role and Hardy actually brings a degree if depth to a character that could have been boring. There is very little not to like in this film as long as your expectations are realistic.  Throw in the ever amusing Chelsea Handler and there is a lot to like.

A key to success for films in the rom-com genre is for there to be a unique angle – a presentation with a bit of a twist.  It isn’t rocket science.  We all now there is going to be a happy outcome one way or another.  This Means War pairs the rom-com with action and espionage.  The plot line on the spy side is as thin as a super model on a heroine diet during runway season.  There is not much substance there.   The rom-com portion of this picture is where all the meat is and it is like an all-you can-eat rib buffet. 

This movie is funny.  If you were humored by the trailers then you will be entertained in the theater.  The audience chuckled, chortled, and laughed out loud throughout the movie.  The boyish antics of our two leading mean were amusing even as they misused government assets and infringed on the civil rights of our lovely leading lady.  It never seemed mean or cruel and the mood stayed light.  Handler’s best friend role was particularly funny to me as she doled as out advice as only a married person can hand it out to a single friend. 

No one is going to remember the movie on Oscar night but if you want to have fun and be entertained for a couple of hours then you could do much worse (The Bounty Hunter).  It will also make a great movie night when it hits the shelves on DVD.  There is a little bit of violence at the beginning and the end and a spattering of suggestive language here and there but nothing graphic in either case.  It would fun for the whole family except for maybe children under ten or eleven.  If you like romantic comedies, you won’t be disappointed with this fare. 

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Friday, February 10, 2012

Underworld: Awakenings

Sometimes there are movies out there we just like for no apparent reason.  They aren’t award winners or technically great but we just like them anyway.  I have always loved the Underworld series, even the one that didn’t star Kate Beckinsale.  I’m a sucker for vampire lore and this series didn’t disappoint, mixing modern action with a long and murky back story.  When they wrapped up the story in two movies, they made a prequel, without the rump-kicking Beckinsale, and while it was not as good as the first two, it was still immensely entertaining.

Which leads us to Underworld: Awakening.  The story jumps us forward to a world where the existence of vampires and lycens are discovered by humans.  Mankind declares war on these creatures with the purpose of destroying their species.  For the most part, humans win this war and again rule the world.  We are then jumped ahead another twelve years where Selene (Beckinsale) has been secured in a lab for the past decade plus, along with a couple of other specimens. 

The plot plays out and we are fed more and more information about the world as the film speeds along.  As always, the dark atmosphere and great special effects push this movie forward.  The spectacular action sequences come often and at full throttle.  As in past installments, gore and blood are plentiful.  What good flick about vampires and werewolves would be sanitized? 

As in the previous efforts, the dialogue isn’t great.  It is often stilted and plain.  The actors have little to work with outside of the action sequences.  This movie falls a little short in this area compared to the first films in this series.  To be honest though, these films aren’t about the dialogue.  They are about the plot in general and the action, both of which are just fine in Awakening.  Few acting performances stand out in this film but Kate Beckinsale was still awesome as the tough as nails and lycra-and-leather clad heroine, Selene.  Also, India Eisley was intriguing as Eve.

If you are a fan of these flicks, go see this installment.  It lives up to its past history and is probably better than the third movie.  The action is just what we have learned to expect from these vampire films and it set up yet another sequel quite nicely.  Don’t expect perfection, just a lot of fun.  It is rated “R” for graphic violence and is not appropriate for younger viewers and it is a very short movie.  I never came close to checking my watch.  Expect a standard Underworld flick and you won’t be disappointed.

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