TV

My Review: Daredevil Eps 1-4 – Netflix

After 4 episodes of ‪Daredevil‬ on ‎Netflix‬, they are really getting it right, with a show much better — and more solid — than I think we had a right to expect. I love that they film in New York rather than using stand-ins, with Vincent D’Onfrio as Wilson Fisk, Rosario Dawson as nurse Claire and Vondie Curtis-Hall as reporter Ben Urich as standouts.

DDNetflixI also appreciate a lot of the shadowy lighting, which gives the tone of the show a realism that often is lacking in genre TV. And I thought they did a really nice job with the back story of Battlin’ Jack Murdock, which is so important to Matt Murdock/Daredevil’s motivations.

If there’s a weakness in the show, for me it’s actually Charlie Cox as Daredevil himself. He’s not bad. Don’t get me wrong. It’s a tough role to play. But it’s obvious that he’s struggling w the American accent, forcing himself to ‘sound’ American, with a lot of the charisma he showed in Boardwalk Empire somewhat lacking here.

Brit Charlie Hunnam said he had the same issue during the first season of Sons of Anarchy, focusing so hard on making his facial muscles contort to the sound of the American dialect that he found his breathing restricted, which thus made him more rigid than he wanted. But once he got the hang of it, he got much loser, and it showed in his performance throughout the rest of the series.

So maybe the same will happen for Charlie Cox.

I also find Elden Henson working just a little too hard as Foggy Nelson. If he would ease up even just a little bit, it would go a long way.

In any case, there’s really just so much to like here I can’t wait to see what comes next.

Daredevil is off to a great start.

Review: Orphan Black – Accept No Subtitute

Although I’m a little behind this season I’ve really been enjoying Arrow, and based on how it’s developed so far I’m confident it will keep getting better and better. Agents of SHIELD is, well, let’s just walk on by and leave that to others to pick on.

But if we’re talking about genre shows that I love, where I just can’t get enough, the conversation begins and ends with Orphan Black, on BBC America.

Orphan Black

Orphan Black is a dark, twisty, fast-paced conspiracy thriller with maybe the best performance … ever? … by an actress in any show, and I would argue the best of any genre show for sure. Tatiana Maslany is nothing short of brilliant playing nine — yep, nine — totally unique versions of the same character. I have no idea how they pulled it off, but man oh man they did.

But it’s not a one-woman show. It’s got a full cast of characters you either root for, or against — a shout out to Jordan Gavaris as Felix – and whereas they could have dragged out this 10 episode season into multiple seasons, just to milk it, they went full throttle and brought us so far so fast, without ever leaving us behind, that you just have to hang on try to catch your breath.

If there’s a problem with Orphan Black, it’s that they actually did pack so much story into season 1, it will be difficult to replicate the quality over season 2. But if there’s any show that might just pull it off, I’m putting my money on Orphan Black.

Tatiana Maslany?

Oh. Yes, please. Just tell me when and where Orphan Black is airing next, and I’m showing up.

* Note: This blog was originally posted on the Crazy 8 Press Web site: http://www.crazy8press.com/2013/12/16/orphan-black-accept-no-substitute/

Summer TV/Movie Recap: Spiderman, The Dark Knight, Sons of Anarchy and More …

Now that I’ve had a little time to reflect, here’s my rundown of my summer’s TV and movie watching. Have to say, all in all it was pretty darn good:

For my money, The Amazing Spiderman was the best entry in the franchise. I’ve heard complaints that it was too soon to reboot, but I’m not buying it. The Tobey Maquire movies certainly had their moments — the first one being my favorite — but this latest iteration had a great combination of ‘realism’ (as far these things go), fun, humor and lots of heart. The new Peter Parker, played by Andrew Garfield, just seemed far more like a realistic teenager to me. Awkward, confused, but not a total loser dork. And now he’s Spiderman! And they amped up his scientific genius, which was always a core element of the character. Martin Sheen was a GREAT Uncle Ben, and Emma Stone really nailed it as Gwen Stacy. I will admit that the CGI on the Croc wasn’t always great, and the Uncle Ben death scene does have a pretty big flaw, but overall I thought The Amazing Spiderman was great. I can’t wait to see more.

As for The Dark Knight Rises … it was EPIC and intense and a great bookend to the entire three-movie arc. I will say that this last entry wasn’t quite as pure fun as the first two, and, when you take a step back, it has a few plot points that don’t quite hold up, but all in all it was big bang for the buck. Anne Hathaway was especially good, and while Bane wasn’t quite as mesmerizing as The Joker (who could be?), he was a lethal adversary for sure. The creators swung BIG, and for the most part, they landed. I’m really curious to see who takes the reigns next and how they interpret the character.

As for The Avengers, I know it’s sort of geek blasphemy to say, but I didn’t love it. It was kinda entertaining, but I found it to be very loud, very long, and pretty superficial. It looked great, had lots of humor, the HULK was awesome, and the finale did kick some major butt. I’m just hoping that the sequel has more meat on the bones.

On the TV front, Liz and I have been watching The Newsroom. It’s kind of a mixed bag.  The show did get off to a pretty lousy start, and as the season progressed, the intensity and thrill got better overall, and, at times, was great. And Jeff Daniels and Sam Waterston are both great. But one of the shows major weaknesses — and it’s huge — is that the female characters, are, by and large, portrayed as schizo, man-pleasing morons often on the verge of a nervous breakdown over their boyfriends. They just can’t be THIS whacked-out and be the media dream team. The ‘media elite’ as they call themselves on the show. It’s a MAJOR flaw, and one I hope they fix. It’s a show that should be much better than it is.

I’m a little late to the game, but after three seasons of Sons of Anarchy … I’m in. It’s intense, twisty, and extremely violent, but if you like shows like The Shield and Breaking Bad, SOA is worth checking out. I won’t put SOA quite at that level, but it is damn good. These dudes are pure outlaws, and I know I shouldn’t care about them, because they really do pretty bad things pretty often. And yet … I do care. Good TV.

Speaking of Breaking Bad … wow. Just wow. Assuming the final eight episodes hold up (grrrrr … not ’til next July!), Breaking Bad will go down as one of the great TV shows of all time. Bryan Cranston was better than ever, and this last season was filled with great acting across the board, tons of tension, and great plot twists. It is, simply … GREAT.

Next up I still need to watch season 4 of SOA so I can get up to speed for season 5, which started. And Sept. 30 we get the season premieres of Dexter and  Homeland, so I’m pretty psyched there. Otherwise I’ll be watching the final season of The Office, the next season of The Big Bang Theory, and maybe I’ll check out a few of the new shows. Where I’ll find the time, I have no idea, but at least I’ve got some TV to look forward to.

And when it comes to movies … it’s all about Bond. James Bond. Skyfall opens in November. And I. Can’t. Freakin. Wait.

What are you watching …?

Russ’ 2011 Top TV & Movie Moments

With 2011 wrapped up I was all ready for my annual top 10 lists for best movies and best TV shows.

Well … through a combination of not enough time to get to everything I want to see — I knew fatherhood would slow me down somewhere — and a rather lackluster year of entertainment, I’ll be mixing things up this time around.

Rather than my usual top 10 in each category — TV and movies — what follows is a top 10 list of my favorites — TV, movies, moments and performances — all rolled up into one list. Starting with …

10. James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender in X-Men: First Class – Through  the first three X-Men movies, Patrick Stewart and Sir Ian McKellan raised the characters/performances of Professor X and Magneto to iconic status. The odds of any actors slipping into the earlier life roles — and doing the characters justice — were remote at best. And yet both McAvoy and Fassbender brought the goods, making us believe those formative years were utterly real and how and why they developed into the elder versions of themselves we’re tied to forever.

9. Melissa McCarthy in Bridesmaids – A pretty funny movie in its own right, but Melissa McCarthy steals every scene she’s in. I’ll never look at a bridal shop sink the same way again.

8. Skyscraper Climb in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol: I did not like any of the first three MI movies, and Tom Cruise over the years went from movie star to raging D-Bag … and then MI4 hit the theater with a bucket full of holy crap! A generic plot and generally wooden performances, but this movie is two hours of heart pounding action that had me sucked in from the get go. And yet the ultimate show-stopper was watching Cruise’s Ethan Hunt scale the Burj Khalifia in Dubai –the world’s tallest skyscraper — in an aerial scene so visceral and extraordinary I almost blacked out. I don’t know how they pulled it off, but it’s not to be missed.

7. Brad Pitt in Moneyball – It’s tough enough selling a movie about baseball statistics and how they changed the way — to some degree at least — the modern ball club is constructed. But Brad Pitt playing real life general manager Billy Beane brings the goods, with his movie star looks and charm and the right mix of confidence and wounded soul that makes us care just that much more about a boys game run by very wealthy men.

6. Dexter, Season 6, Final Moment – The former best show on TV has become a shell of it’s former murderous self, but (SPOILER ALERT) the final moment of season 6, when our beloved serial killer is plunging his knife into the Doomsday Killer, and Dexter’s sister Deb walks in on him committing the act? FREAKIN. AWESOME. It was a long time coming, and now the final two seasons have an end game in sight we can all sign up for.

5. Boardwalk Empire, Season 2, Final Two Episodes — Though a solid show, Boardwalk Empire has never quite lived up to its hype and potential. But the last two episodes of season 2 is some of the best TV … ever. Intense, shocking and utterly gripping. The layers of psychological madness and intrigue still haunt me weeks later. I’m not saying it’s the best crime show you’ll ever see, but the ending of season 2 would be difficult for any show to top.

4. Homeland, Season 1 – Hands down one of the best political thrillers of all time, with writing and performances that knock your socks off, particularly from Claire Danes and Damian Lewis. From the creator of 24 and former show runner of Dexter, you’ve  got a returned Iraqi war vet — back after 8 years of brutal captivity — trying to resume  a “regular” life. But has he been secretly converted into a terrorist against the U.S.? Or is the lone CIA operative who’s convinced of his betrayal falling victim to her own mental illness? Or both? Or neither? Tense, intense and just downright amazing.

3. Rooney Mara in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – I’m a huge David Fincher fan, and Dragon Tattoo is another winner on his resume. But Rooney Mara sells this movie. She was so utterly brilliant in a grueling role, that it will go down as one of the most iconic performances in history. Like Christopher Waltz in Inglurious Basterds or Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter, it’s impossible for me to even imagine anyone else sinking into the character of Lisbeth Salander better than Rooney Mara. If she doesn’t win an Oscar, then Oscar should pack up his crap and go home.

2. Breaking Bad, Season 4 – The ultimate high stakes game of chess between high school chemistry teacher/turned meth genius Walter White, and mob kingpin Gus Fring, ended in a battle of wits we haven’t seen Kirk vs. Kahn. Even more so, watching Walt’s wife slowly fall in love with the gangster life, as his protege Jesse struggles to retain his soul despite all the awful things he does, and before our very eyes we’re watching Walt become a modern day Scarface. With only 16 episodes to go, this series can only end one way: with everyone finally breaking bad.

1. Game of Thrones, Season 1 – Essentially, this is a sexy, twisty, bloody, action-packed soap opera version of Lord of the Rings. So, yeah … full blown AWESOME. Going in I had absolutely no interest in Game of Thrones, but by the end of the second episode I was hooked. And it only got better from there. More than just epic fantasy, it’s juicy storytelling on a massive scale. Run, don’t walk. It’s that good.

 

 

Honorable mentions:

The Big Bang Theory, Modern Family, The Good Wife, Rise of the Planet of the Apes

 

 

 

My Pavlovian Batman Response

One day after school, I was only in pre-K at the time, and I was on my way home on the bus. The day was slightly overcast, but I didn’t care. I only had one thing on my mind: get back in time to watch my favorite show.

Do you remember the theme song?

Denna-nenna neh
Denna-nenna neh
Batmaaaaan

It was the cheesy POW! OOF! Adam West Batman, and I freakin’ loved it.

But in one of those rare scheduling snafus, when the bus driver was set to drop me off at the stop, my mom wasn’t there.

 Not good.

 We waited a minute, but then had to move on. More stops to make.

 I didn’t say much, I just sat there on the bus, four years old, not sure what to do. Since this was 1975, in a world before cell phones, the driver took me with him to his other stops, and each time those doors opened and closed—farther from home—I had two thoughts: where’s Mommy and … I’M MISSING BATMAN!!!!!!!!

 Of course, as an adult, the new incarnations of Batman are far more sophisticated than the original show. Michael Keaton’s first Batman movie put the Caped Crusader back on the map. The sequel, Batman Returns, was lousy. And despite its flaws, I enjoyed the Val Kilmer-led Batman Forever, and then the movie franchise just collapsed with the final (and awful) Batman & Robin, with George Clooney and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Then the animated Batman returned with a darker, more serious edge, and my hero was back again.

And now we’ve got Batman Begins and epic The Dark Knight from the team of Christian Bale and Christopher Nolan, and Batman is cooler than it’s been, maybe ever. Not to mention The Dark Knight Rises is still on its way.

And yet … as my mother often reminds me, when I was that young boy, no matter where I was or what I was doing, as soon I heard that theme song, I would stop whatever I was doing … and freeze.

My eyes would just light up as I heard:

Denna-nenna neh
Denna-nenna neh
Batmaaaaan

 

With a Pavlovian response, to this day, I’m no different.

Funny how some things never change. In this case, I’m totally OK with it.

Batman lives on.

And by the way, on that day back in 1975, the bus driver circled back to my stop, my mom was waiting for me, and I was able to catch the second half of Batman, with action in the Bat Cave, which, of course, was better than not seeing it all.

Russ’ Review: The Good Wife, Season 1

My initial reaction to The Good Wife, before even having seen it was, meh. Not interested. But then I kept hearing how great it was, so I gave it a shot. Having watched all of Season 1, I can say that the quality of the shows is somewhere in the middle.

What Works: The chemistry between the characters is generally good, and the actors all do pretty well with their roles. There’s good tension between the characters and as the season progressed the relationships started to develop. There’s also good, inherent drama with the premise. Julianna Marguiles is Alicia Florek, the spurned wife of Chris Noth’s ridiculed former State’s Attorney, who had an illicit affair and went to jail for alleged crooked dealings. Now she’s a lawyer trying to make a career for herself—despite her husband’s name—but keeps running into those who either judge her for it, or want her to use the political influence she wants to deny she actually has. Plus there’s a potential love triangle here, so lot’s of pulpy drama.

What Doesn’t: Man oh man the plots be dumb as a post. My biggest problem with The Good Wife is that it isn’t really sure what kind of show it wants to be. A pulpy political/office workplace love drama, or a case-of-the-week lawyer show. Problem is, the cases are very silly and often implausible. There are too many examples to list here, but for one, how about the episode where the building managers in the Floreks’ building just happen to be diamond smugglers? Naturally.

Or the one where an injured plaintiff’s wife just happens to have access to a jury pool, so she can screen for someone who’d be open to a bribe … and then has the mojo to arrange back alley payments to throw the case? Wow. She’s good.

Or that the Florek’s 15-year-old son can detect uneven light patterns reflected back in his dad’s eye in a photograph to prove a steamy, drug-fueled photo was a fake—but all law enforcement missed it. Uh. Yeah. I can go on and on. And why does every case need to be wrapped up each week? Lazy plotting.

Final Thoughts: Despite the show’s inherent flaws, it’s still enough of a fast-paced, love-triangle/political chess match to keep me interested. Good characters with juicy entanglements overcome the silly and often implausible storylines, although there are many times when I cringe at the ridiculous plotting. I will say that the second half of the season was much better than the first, so I’m hoping this bodes well for future seasons. As for the first run, fun trumps logic. But just barely.

Season 1 Score: 6 Stars out of 10

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