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Just Alright... the Podcast is Way, Way Better
This was fine. The filmmaker, a Muslim himself, makes no bones about the fact that he has a specific perspective on the fallout from the Salman Rushdie "Satanic Verses" fatwa affair - he has the stones to put that right in the documentary itself. You don't need to agree with him.
He speaks to a woman from the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain, a former National Front guy, former jihadis, a guy who burned Rushdie's books during protests in Britain decades ago. There's some man-on-the-street interviews in Parliament Square as well. He gets some mild responses and some angry ones, which I think is what he was fishing for (better television, I guess).
Far, far stronger than this is the analogous BBC radio podcast "Fatwa," 10 episodes of 10 minutes each. It deals more with the history surrounding the Satanic Verses controversy, with the Muslim immigrant experience in Britain, radicalization, cultural isolation, racism, politics etc. It's far more interesting than this, which was produced by Vice Media - and, unfortunately, feels too much like one of their faux edgy shaky-cam YouTube videos.
One of the Greatest Satirical TV Shows of All Time
I'm not from Australia, but this show is one my favorite all-time television satires. It does a better job showing the venality, cynicism and amorality of the broadcast news business than anything I've ever seen. It's also wickedly dark, and it succeeds in one crucial aspect that sinks many lesser comedies: it's got great characters, acted with impressive naturalism by a fantastic cast.
From ignorant airhead anchor Mike Moore (Rob Sitch) to the perpetually harried line producer Emma (Alison Whyte), to the cruel yet resourceful reporter Brooke (Jane Kennedy) and the apathetic senior reporter Marty (Tiriel Mora), there's a great cast of characters here who start out by conforming to type and then, as the series goes on, actually reveal a surprising amount of nuance. Like many comedies (Seinfeld, Always Sunny, Archer etc.) the characters are essentially jerkoffs, but you come to like them and - sometimes! - even see things from their point of view. Each of the three seasons also features a different executive producer character, from the sage Bruno Lawrence to the ratings-driven Kevin J. Wilson to the gleefully boorish Steve Bisley.
The naturalistic acting and cinéma vérité-style camerawork makes it all feel like a real newsroom. It's a great example of how (what was obviously) a low budget can still yield something special when you have great acting and writing.
And the writing really is that good here, with plenty storylines following our amoral news team as they report on such sensitive issues as immigration, hostage situations, sexual harassment, Nazis, little kids getting open heart surgery and more. There's plenty of references to Australian news events and media scandals, and some fun cameos from the likes of Harry Shearer and real-life Aussie politicians.
Overall this is a phenomenal comedy, and clips from it should be shown in journalism, media literacy and ethics classes around the world.
Squidbillies' first half-hour episode is a comedic triumph. Chock full of musical numbers and nonstop jokes that almost all land (a distinction that can't always be said of the more recent episodes or the later episodes of sister program "Aqua Teen Hunger Force"), it's one I find myself returning to again and again.
The plot takes us from kid Squidbilly Rusty's induction into an al-Qaeda cell to the the Cuyler family defending their land against an all out assault from the dimwitted terrorists. There's plenty of musical guests like Lucinda Williams, Bonnie Prince Billy, Split Lip Rayfield, Jackyl and the Drive-By Truckers.
It's an awesome half-hour of manic, well-written animated comedy.
Three Identical Strangers (2018)
Very Good, But Takes Awhile to Get Really Interesting
This was a rock solid documentary with likable characters and a couple tragic twists by film's end. But unfortunately I found it a bit too generic for the first 2/3 or so... while it's all one hundred percent true, the archetype of identical twins/triplets discovering each others' existence later in life is a familiar one.
What sets this one apart is the reason the three men at the center of the film - David Kellman, Eddy Galland and Bobby Shafran - were separated. You might see it coming and/or the movie, which came out last year, may have already been spoiled for you by either a talkative friend or the movie's own publicity tour. It's still worth a watch, though, because far more questions are raised than answers given. The interviews with those involved in the brothers' separation are especially gripping... you'll be wondering if they've ever even heard of the concept of "remorse." And there's an interesting, if superficial, discussion of nature vs. nurture toward the end.
Overall, while the documentary packs an emotional punch it takes it a bit too long to get to the really compelling material. And while it's professionally shot, edited and directed, for something this hyped up I was hoping it'd be a bit more unique.
They Shall Not Grow Old (2018)
A Superior Stock Footage Documentary
Yes, it's got a slow start. For what feels like the first 15-20 minutes, the film is rather conventional: voiceovers of British soldiers laid over seemingly unaltered, choppy black-and-white footage, while the sound of an old film reel whirs in the background.
But when the movie magic kicks in -- when the jaw-dropping foley sounds and re-enacted voice lines hit you, coupled with the impeccably colorized footage and newly-smooth frame rates that have been adjusted so the soldiers' movements feel natural, so you feel like you're *there* -- it's really something special.
There's no story at play here other than the lived experience of British soldiers slogging through the Great War; specific battles are seldom even mentioned. At the 3D showing I attended today, which was part of a 1-day only series of screenings in my area, there was a 30-minute featurette that played after the credits, where director Peter Jackson informed us that his was meant to be "a film for non-historians BY a non-historian." You'll feel the quake of artillery fire, hear the clomp of boots through muddy trenches, and see Mark V tanks creak and chug along the frontlines; you'll never hear a stuffy expert telling you about battle strategies.
For instances where the voiceover interviewees are relating stories that the filmmakers don't have representative stock footage for, there are motion-comic style pans, tilts, and Ken Burns-effect zooms into drawings from the contemporaneous propaganda magazine "The War Illustrated" and, for lighter moments such as one soldier's description of his first brothel experience, a variety of Bruce Bairnsfather cartoons.
I seldom tear up during movies, but this one got me a few times -- the piles of bodies, the juxtaposition of the soldiers' smiling faces against their wretched, soiled corpses; and an image near the end, of a battle-worn gentleman softly stroking the head of a small, spotted dog.
See it in a theater if you can.
Not To Be Taken Seriously - Like, At All
My sheer joy at seeing the return of characters from "Harvey Birdman, Attorney At Law" was quickly tempered by the realization that this isn't *really* a new episode or a even genuine reunion; it's just another silly, surreal Adult Swim romp with modern-day references to things like America's current political dysfunction and Amazon Alexa.
This special takes after the weaker episodes of "Harvey Birdman's" later seasons, both in visual appearance and in tone. It's got the bouncy, colorful Flash animation style that replaced the sometimes choppy (though lovable) look of the show's earlier seasons. It's also got a zany, zippy, headache-inducing editing style and on-the-nose sense of humor -- all wrapped up in a barely coherent plot that employs a grab-bag of pop culture references to unsubtly remind the viewer that everything is set in 2018.
It's disappointing, because the best episodes of the original show were the ones that actually played within the framework of a legitimate legal procedural. It was still a goofy cartoon, with appearances aplenty by old Hanna-Barbera characters, but the writing was smart and witty, and the plots were coherent in their silliness.
This ain't that. You'll get to hear almost all of the classic voice cast, from Phil Lamar as the macho superhero Black Vulcan to Stephen Colbert as Phil Ken Sebben to Thomas Allen as Harvey's sidekick Peanut. But they're all utilized in service of a script that too often delivers limp satire and passable jokes when it could've served up something special. Peanut, my favorite character, is barely even present; there's far more (and perhaps too much) of Chris Edgerly's Peter Potamus, the purple loudmouth hippo whose slapstick humor should've been used sparingly to be effective.
And a word of warning: if you actually take the fates of any of these characters seriously, the ending, which retcons events shown in the series, may feel like someone flipped you the bird.
Overall, I laughed out loud a few times... but only a few times. Still, I'm not offended by it. In fact, I don't take it seriously - at all.
(Somewhat) Unfairly Maligned
This show is, on the whole, not as bad as everyone says. But those who tout its unimpeachable brilliance are a bit off, too -- there's some real stinkers in this series, especially in the later seasons.
As a sports comedy it's usually pretty fun, with plenty of cameos from real athletes and personalities. There's also plenty of made-up characters -- agents, coaches, managers, players, and more, all zipping around a cutthroat, cynical world that's clearly meant as a dig at the profession's sickening sunshine-y portrayal in "Jerry Maguire."
The show is at its weakest when it's focusing on its amoral characters' disgusting sex lives. Arliss himself, played by Robert Wuhl, also might be off-putting to some: he's an obsessive optimist, willing to do whatever he can for his clients. And the show too often undermines any genuine sympathy you might have for the characters by immediately jump cutting to over-the-top punchlines.
But when it's funny, it's pretty darn funny. Focus on the first couple seasons; season 1 highlights include "Athletes Are Role Models," featuring a goody two-shoes Christian footballer who takes a bite of the serpent's fruit, played by Rick Johnson; "The Stuff Dreams Are Made Of" with Ken Howard as a washed up baseball icon; and "Negotiating: It's Never Personal," which has an all-around great cast including George Wallace and Michael Fairman, with a great storyline to boot.
The show is readily available on HBO's on-demand and streaming platforms. Worth a watch, if only to seek out the really good episodes.
Luther: Episode #5.4 (2019)
An Okay Ending, With More To Come...
This episode was... alright, in my opinion. It tied up the loose ends of the season, and it did a better job of balancing the find-the-serial-killer plot with the Alice Morgan/George Cornelius plot. Criminal mastermind/fugitive Alice (Ruth Wilson) is more unhinged than ever, which leads to some interesting dialogue and exciting confrontations -- though her character is starting to become rather irritable and whiny.
"What's happened to you?" a character asks DCI Luther (Idris Elba) during the course of this episode. He has no reply. It's been the central theme of this season: Luther cannot continue to be a normal detective and dabble in darkness on the side. Something's got to give.
The ending is fine, leaving plenty of bodies in its wake. I wish I was blown away by it, but Luther has gotten out of worse jams in the past.
I'd love to see a Luther film, with the character going up against a truly vicious, larger-than-life antagonist with the lives of hundreds of thousands of people hanging in the balance. I only hope that any subsequent TV series dares to do something unique with the hard-bitten detective; season 5 felt a bit like watching a hamster spinning in its wheel.
Luther: Episode #5.3 (2019)
It's A Bit Ho-Hum Till that Edge-of-Your-Seat Ending
This episode has a noticeably slower pace than the previous two, before it charges full-speed into a shock ending that left me clamoring to see the finale.
There is now, hilariously enough, little to no "detecting" going on in this so-called detective show. While DCI John Luther (Idris Elba) is away dealing with arch-rival/sometimes ally Alice Morgan (Ruth Wilson) and vengeful gangster George Cornelius (Patrick Malahide), his new partner DS Halliday (Wunmi Mosaku) basically works the case by herself, which leads to a race against time to save a missing woman (played with convincing terror by Katie Brayben). The crime-solving feels almost like an afterthought at this point.
The other stuff is alright. Luther's longtime colleague DS Benny Silver (Michael Smiley) is in dire straights, so it's up to Luther, Alice, and maybe another old friend or two from the past to help him out. Hitman Palmer (Anthony Howell) is enlisted by Cornelius to finish things once and for all. Those Luther loves are, as per usual, placed in mortal danger because of him.
And then there's Hermione Norris as Dr. Lake, a wicked psychiatrist who has a twisted relationship with her even more twisted surgeon husband Jeremy (Enzo Cilenti). Will they be caught before their sick love affair spills even more blood onto the streets of London?
The last 5 minutes make it all worth it.
Luther: Episode #5.2 (2019)
A Gruesome, Wild Ride
This episode picks up the slack from episode one, which I found a bit vanilla as far as Luther is concerned... 5x2 was a huge improvement due its sheer insanity and bloodiness. This is not meant to be a gritty, "realistic" cop show; it's a heightened Grand Guignol-style opera, where people are endlessly tortured, butchered and mutilated and there's only one battered man, the titular DCI John Luther (Idris Elba), who has any hope of stemming the madness.
All of that is to say, this episode is a lot of fun. We witness more bizarre goings-on between Dr. Lake (Hermione Norris) and her freakish surgeon husband (Enzo Cilenti); there's plenty of frenetic action as Luther tries to diffuse the explosive rivalry between his old nemesis Alice Morgan (Ruth Wilson) and gangster George Cornelius (Patrick Malahide); and Luther's boss Schenk (Dermot Crowley) starts to grow suspicious of his top detective (potentially returning their dynamic to the one that existed in season 2).
It's a lot of fun and there's plenty of truly uncomfortable (and often graphic) WTF moments that writer Neil Cross clearly had a great time coming up with.
My only criticisms are that Luther's youthful partner DS Halliday (Wunmi Mosaku) is starting to become total comic relief at this point. I like her, but the episode makes her out to be almost too naive. And then there's Luther himself -- Idris Elba is great as always, but almost all of his lines in this episode seem to be way more curt than usual. In past seasons Luther has had a lot more to say; it's almost as if the character is starting to tire of all the shenanigans that befall him.
Overall, an entertaining hour of TV.
Wish It Took Itself Seriously
Eddie Brock/Venom is such a cool comic book character, and I'm a big fan of the source material. In the comics, he's a reporter with a grudge against Spider-Man who forms a union with a morphing alien "symbiote" that shares his hatred of the Webbed Wonder. Together, they're "Venom", at first a wrathful villain and later a monstrous anti-hero who protects the marginalized in NYC.
Unfortunately, this film is way too vanilla -- and too goofy -- to do the Venom character justice. Part of that is the PG-13 rating, which kicks into high gear anytime a character would plausibly drop an f-bomb but says a lesser expletive instead. More importantly, it results in painfully obvious cutaways whenever the alien symbiote gets a hankering for human flesh (and heads).
The other issue is the humor, which is now a certifiable part of the Marvel Movie Formula. When the alien starts talking to Brock and cracking jokes, making fun of his love life, and being forcefully ironic at "hilariously inopportune" times, I just had to shake my head. The comic books had it right, where the creature knew Brock's innermost fears, secrets, and desires, and would sometimes manipulate him or lead him towards questionable actions. Instead, what we have here is Deadpool-lite in alien form, all silly jokes and goofball humor when real gravitas is called for. Like many superhero movies, this one is ashamed of its source material and so feels it must cloak it with humor. That works in Thor: Ragnarok, but it's facile here.
The movie's story is also too rote, too standard, too vanilla. It's loosely based on some of the comics from the 90s, but it's so un-involving; you'll see all the barely curved "twists" coming a mile away. It's hardly compelling, mostly acting as the glue for the action setpieces which unfortunately don't last long enough. I wish this film was crazier, more bombastic, even stupidly so like the first (and only watchable) Michael Bay Transformers movie. The plot of "Venom" is also suspiciously similar to 2008's "Incredible Hulk" with Edward Norton.
The acting is decidedly average. There isn't much to Tom Hardy's Eddie Brock, a plain-jane everyman whose supermodel good looks never allow him to look as disheveled as his character is supposed to be. Michelle Williams is boring as Brock's ex, on whom is he is fixated, and Riz Ahmed is one of the most dull villains I've seen on screen in awhile. Edit all of his scenes and put them in a supercut on YouTube; you'll cure someone's insomnia.
I'm a Venom fan, who reads Venom comics and just wanted a fun, bloody good time with bone-tearing symbiote action. Unfortunately this movie was too tame, and too un-interesting, to be the kind of turn-off-your-brain popcorn flick it wanted to be.
Luther: Episode #5.1 (2019)
Cliché After Cliché, But Still a Good Show
I love the Luther series as a whole, especially the first 3 seasons -- they comprise some of the most exciting, jaw-dropping hours television I have ever seen. But over time the show has fallen into a formula, one which this season 5 premiere proudly flaunts: drawn-out scenes of an animal-like serial killer with paraphiliac urges stalking their innocent prey; Luther finding himself caught up in the London underworld or with shadowy figures he's dealt with in the past; very little actual detective work that often boils down to Luther or another character using broad stereotypes/armchair psychoanalysis or general wisdom that anyone could've come up with to track down the bad guy (or simply saying "I have a hunch").
A lot of people watch Luther FOR this formula, though I was hoping the show would have evolved a bit by 2019. Here in episode 5x1 we have dapper gangster George Cornelius (Patrick Malahide) returning from season 4 to involve DCI Luther (Idris Elba) in the recovery of his kidnapped son. Cornelius serves the same role Baba (Pam Ferris) did in series 2: an underworld figure meant to involve Luther in the dark side so as to complicate his law enforcement career. There's also a creepy serial killer running around sticking various sharp objects into people, reminding us that this is, above, all, a horror TV show more so than a cop drama.
I found a lot of the events in this episode to be quite contrived and cliché-ridden, though I still enjoyed watching it. Some of these include: yet another new, naive partner to act as a foil for Luther (played this time by Wunmi Mosaku); some gangsters un-ironically strapping a bomb to someone as punishment; a weird psychiatrist (played by Hermione Norris) who clearly knows more than she's letting on.
Still, this is Luther: the acting is brilliant (with exception of Michael Obiora as Errol, who hams it up way too much), the editing and direction are on point, and the thudding, pulsing music will keep you glued to your seat. If you've watched Luther from the beginning, you'll see the ending twist coming a mile away; it's still good TV, just not really "must-see TV" anymore.
Cold Case: Love Conquers Al (2003)
The Motive Feels a Bit Shaky
The plot of this one starts out mysteriously enough with the murder of a teen track star (played by sci-fi queen Summer Glau) and ends up super soapy -- like a lot of Cold Case episodes.
And while I found the process of getting there a lot more interesting than the ending itself, it's impossible to deny that ending montage over Billy Joel's "She's Got a Way" as the show intercuts shots of the characters' past (1981) and present (2003) selves.
My issue is the killer's motive, which, despite being based on a real case, still seemed a bit too flimsy for the brutality of the crime. I was left saying to myself, "THAT'S why she had to die? Really?" It all seemed engineered for maximum soapiness -- or maybe it feels that way because we don't learn enough about the characters outside of the words "love triangle."
There are episodes of Cold Case that can give me the "feels" while also creating somewhat plausible scenarios -- this wasn't one of 'em.
Cold Case: Churchgoing People (2003)
Good Episode, With a Bit of Intrigue
This was a rock solid episode. It had some meat on its bones in a way that the previous 3 episodes did not; while those featured stories that were somewhat predictable, this one actually felt like a good old fashioned whodunnit. It had intrigue, and I didn't know where it was going.
Where it went -- inside a seemingly ordinary churchgoing family who are hiding dark secrets -- did end up in some ridiculously melodramatic territory. But Cold Case has a knack for pulling off plots like this and making you care through its slick cinematography, smooth camera movements, period flashbacks, and great licensed music. It's not the most realistic show around, but it usually has something to say about the human condition -- this episode was no exception.
The performances were good too, especially Isabella Hofmann as a mother suffering from Alzheimer's, and the always reliable Jimmi Simpson as one of her children. The ending montage was fitting: "Live to Tell" by Madonna. Also keep an ear out for a rare un-ironic usage of Rick Astley's "Never Gonna Give You Up."
Overall, a very good episode of Cold Case.
Cold Case: Our Boy Is Back (2003)
Disappointing Lack of Subtlety
A great, dark plot idea -- serial rapist/murderer who was never caught sends letter to cops saying he's going to strike again -- is kind of done an injustice here by the insensitivity of the execution. I like this show, but the subject matter required more gravitas and respect than was on offer; instead there were a bunch of clichés, unnecessarily graphic flashbacks of victims being pinned down and assaulted (and raped, presumably, soon after we cut away from them), and overall a sledgehammer tone when a scalpel was needed instead.
I liked that there was an effort to make this an old unsolved case that meant a lot to Jeremy Ratchford's Detective Vera; it was great to see his character get really fired up. But unfortunately there was too much doofiness with the victim's weirdly misogynistic boyfriend and another side character who is openly mocked by the detectives for her lack of intelligence near the end of the episode. The killer's motivation was corny and straight off of a bad pop psychology website; I get that it's based on the real-life case of the Center City Rapist in 2002, but that doesn't excuse the lack of subtlety.
And disappointingly, I just didn't "get the feels" from the ending montage, which is usually one of the biggest highlights in an episode of Cold Case. It's all too pat and perfunctory; the show seems to be suggesting everything is all right because the killer is caught, even though a bunch of women were still raped and one was violently murdered. "Heroes" by the Wallflowers seemed like way too triumphant a song for such bleak subject matter; I was left with a "broadcast network"-y, taste in my mouth when the credits rolled, and in this case that's not a good thing. Cold Case can be so much better than this.
Cold Case: Gleen (2003)
Average Story, Great Music
This one starts off quite interesting, with a bomb blast killing a housewife while her young daughter helplessly looks on in 1983. It seems she was set to testify against a serial flasher -- was he responsible for her death? The explosion looks authentic and is truly shocking and abrupt -- kudos to the editor for this episode, Maja Vrvilo, for really selling the moment.
The rest of the episode is a bit paint-by-numbers, however. Almost all of the evidence is circumstantial, and there isn't a whole lot of intrigue. Interestingly, there's a also a very similar character to the one D.W. Moffett played in the pilot; here in this second episode Brett Cullen strikes a very similar countenance as yet another controlling, sexist husband who is played against Kathryn Morris's feminist altruism.
But there's no denying the poignancy of the ending; like a delicious dessert after a lackluster meal, it's the viewer's reward for sticking around until the end. Both Bonnie Tyler's "Total Eclipse of the Heart" and Bryan Adams's "Straight from the Heart" are exquisitely overlaid over a flashback scene showing how the murderer did it, followed by she/he being marched in slow-mo towards the waiting police car while all the characters -- including the "ghost" of the victim as she appeared in 1983 -- look on. It does kind of make the preceding 40 minutes feel worth it.
Cold Case: Look Again (2003)
This Pilot Shows Why Cold Case Did Melodrama Better Than Most
This show still holds up, and the pilot episode isn't bad at all. The plot is simple as can be: a maid approaches Detective Rush (Katherine Townsend) with information about a murder she witnessed in the '70s. Kate Mara is the victim, and the perp could be any one of the jerkoff preppies she hung out with.
All of Cold Case's strengths are on display here: fantastic licensed music that's smartly used in just the right places, great casting (D.W. Moffett is a standout), interesting (though not excessive) flashbacks, a touch of slo-mo, and a compelling sense of melodrama. That last point is key: Cold Case was never the most gritty, realistic detective show on TV, and it wasn't trying to be. Instead, it took a humanist approach, using heightened emotional tensions and situations to carry out its thesis that, as Detective Rush says in this episode, "People shouldn't be forgotten." It's corny, sure, but it also totally works.
All of that is to say, while the script here is alright (it deals with domestic violence and misogyny -- sad stuff, but we've seen it all before on network TV), it's the production values and music and cinematography (with a very distinct, steely-cool color palette) and acting that really elevate this material. When Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Have You Ever Seen the Rain?" starts playing over a montage in the final moments of the episode, it's hard not to find your eyes getting just a tiny bit moist -- and this is coming from someone who just called the plot "simple" two paragraphs ago. It's a testament to just how effective Cold Case can be.
An Excellent, Twisty, Melodramatic Hour of Television
This was a darn good hour-long morality play, with a bunch of twists right down to the very end, interesting characters, and a surprisingly cynical edge.
We're introduced to defense attorney Clinton Judd (Carl Betz), who returns home to the titular small Texas town to represent bad boy Brandon Hill (Christopher Jones). The episode derives a lot of its dramatic momentum from the tension between attorney and client -- these two hate each other, and there are plenty of lies to sort through regarding a missing girl before the hour's up. The script by Leon Tokatyan and Harold Gast crackles with great one-liners, constant tension, and the theme of youths easily led astray. The episode sometimes lapses into hammy territory, but for the most part it's all quality melodrama -- a morality play that knows exactly what it is.
I'm not too familiar with late 60s TV, but this was quite dark and really enjoyable to watch. Recommended if you can find it!
Kaubôi bibappu (1998)
A Truly Original Sci-Fi/Comedy/Noir Mashup with an Incredible Original Soundtrack
What more can be said about this show? It's a great choice for people getting into anime for the first time, and it was the first anime show many people in the West were ever exposed to thanks to its broadcast on Cartoon Network's late-night programming block "Adult Swim" in America and on the UK network "CNX" in the early '00s.
It's at times sexy, slick, funny and weird -- always with an undercurrent of smoky, neo-noir grit, wrapped in sci-fi-Western trappings. Across its 26 episodes, it takes viewers from action-comedy ("Jamming With Edward") to madcap chases with tinges of Blaxploitation ("Mushroom Samba") to outright horror ("Pierrot le Fou", "Brain Scratch") to tough-as-nails, near-nihilistic fatalism (the two-part finale, "The Real Folk Blues"). It's quite a ride, and viewers lucky enough to see this series for the first time should really watch the episodes in order, not because of plot spoilers, but so they can appreciate the very deliberate darkening of the show's mood as the episodes progress. Later episodes see the crew of the spaceship Bebop progressively disintegrating, as the characters realize the dark pull of their personal demons are stronger than their bonds and friendships with each other. It's depressing, and it's always stayed with me.
Sound-wise, there's a widely celebrated English voice dub that's one of the best I've ever heard, and there's Yoko Kanno's triumphant original music that takes inspiration from funk, jazz, and more. Half the fun of watching the show is listening to the music on offer -- truly some of the most iconic and complementary tunes of any TV series, animated or otherwise.
Overall this is a brilliant show, with great writing, animation, pacing and huge entertainment value. It's an anime classic because there isn't really anything else like it -- it's one of the purest distillations of an East-meets-West aesthetic that I've ever seen, and it has a surprisingly poignant sadness that courses through its veins. It's one of the few television shows, animated or otherwise, that can truly be called an original.
Primal Fear (1996)
Great Cast, But Less Than the Sum of Its Parts
I wanted to love this film -- it has an excellent cast (Laura Linney, Frances McDormand, Edward Norton, Richard Gere, John Mahoney, Alfre Woodard, Andre Braugher, and more) some good one-liners, and some great cinematography that shows off the reality of Chicago's urban decay. I even read an early draft of the screenplay, which I thought was exciting and well-crafted.
Unfortunately, the slow pace of the film hindered my enjoyment, and that wasn't helped by the film's over 2-hour runtime. Add to that the plot, which is rather ordinary by legal thriller standards, and the hokey, eye-rolling "twist" at the center of the story that somehow makes the proceedings seem even more by-the-numbers.
All that said, it's not a bad movie. The characters are finely etched out and well played by all the actors here, especially Gere as as the charming defense attorney Martin Vail. I liked the direction, and I liked the scenery even more -- here's a movie set in Chicago that was ACTUALLY filmed there, complete with a bevy of cameos (10+) by local Chicago broadcast journalists, copious usage of the real St. Michael's Church in Old Town, a foot chase in Lower Wacker, and more.
Still... the film doesn't do enough in exploring its religious themes, the trial scenes are rather rote and "been-there-done-that," the ending sees the movie double-back on one of its key revelations, which left me with a shrug rather than my jaw on the floor (as I think was intended), and I couldn't escape the feeling that a good episode of "Law and Order" would've packed 2-3 times the tension this film had in under an hour's time.
I don't hate the film, and I know it's based on a novel which may in fact be the source of many of its story issues, but I also think it could've been so much more.
NYPD Blue: True Confessions (1993)
Bland but Likable
There's something about this show... it's charm, perhaps. While the material is, even 4 episodes in, still quite middling and unoriginal, there's a distinct pleasure in watching the banter between Detectives Kelly (David Caruso) and Sipowicz (Dennis Franz), the zippy camera moves, the soapy twists. I wish there was more grittiness here, though maybe it'll come in future episodes (or seasons?). Right now it's strictly melodrama, right down to the cheesy romance between Detective Walker and Officer Licalsi (Amy Brenneman) and his eye-rolling on-again-off-again relationship with his ex-wife (Sherry Stringfield).
The B plot about Wendie Malick as a battered socialite's wife doesn't help matters: it's horribly clichéd and as uninteresting as it was in the last episode, even with a murderous new twist. The A plot is marginally more interesting: a robbery and double murder, with some tension between Sipowicz and guest detective Walker (Robert Breuler). And David Schwimmer is here again in the C (D?) plot, needlessly doing his usual mousy schtick for some hackneyed comedic relief.
Watch for the witty one-liners, Dennis Franz and the cool cinematography.
NYPD Blue: Brown Appetit (1993)
Sipowicz versus Lt. Fancy, and a Case of the Week
The highlight of this episode is a confrontation between Dennis Franz and James McDaniel. The detective and sergeant go at it over Sipowicz's probationary desk duty, with the former trying to convince the latter that he's of more use on the streets catching bad guys than he is filing the stop and frisk reports. Sipowicz's rant is tinged with subtle racist overtones, as he rails against "black bosses" (he privately complains about "that African-American" to David Caruso earlier in the episode). It's an interesting scene, and both actors play it well.
Elsewhere, the "case of the week" is a robbery and homicide related to two drug-addicted adult children (Michael Rapaport, who barely has a single line, and the much more convincing Bradford Tatum) who recently moved back home with their God-fearing mother played by Tresa Hughes. It's not all that interesting, despite some good acting from Tatum and Hughes, and neither is the "C" plot involving Wendy Malick and Alan Scarfe as rich socialites who need police protection from David Caruso's Detective John Kelly.
Finally, Ralph Monaco is just barely present in the opening teaser as Amy Brenneman's cop father, who comes to the precinct to warn his daughter that he is going be indicted for being on mobster Angelo Marino's payroll. He's darn good in this small role, and I hope we see him again.
This is an average hour of television, but the good acting from Franz and other supporting players makes it worthwhile. I'd rather watch a classic show like this than almost any of the other paint-by-numbers police procedurals the Big Four broadcast networks spew out these days.
NYPD Blue: 4B or Not 4B (1993)
It's Soapy, but Dennis Franz Rules as Detective Sipowicz
This episode, like the pilot, is still a whole lot of fun - though the clichés and soapy plotlines continue to lean towards melodrama, rather than the gritty police show I was hoping NYPD Blue would be. Episode 1x2 again charts David Caruso's love life, as his Detective John Kelly grapples with whether or not to pursue his affair with Amy Brenneman's Officer Licalsi amid the ongoing divorce proceedings with his wife, played by Sherry Stringfield.
Far more interesting is Dennis Franz as Detective Sipowicz, who is starting to heal from the wounds he sustained in the pilot. He's now staying away from alcohol and has been put on desk duty for a bit by Lt. Fancy (James McDaniel). But that old Sipowicz anger remains even as he hobbles around the precinct with a cane; will his feud with Alphonse Giardella (Robert Costanzo) get him right back in the ER?
Another stereotypical but nonetheless compelling subplot involves Brent Jennings as Ephraim Daniels, a father who is angry at a judge for not putting away the man who killed his son. David Caruso must defuse a standoff when Daniels takes the judge hostage.
This is purely by-the-numbers stuff, though there are some decent one-liners, the jerky camerawork is cool, and Detective Sipowicz remains a finely wrought character played with compelling vigor by Dennis Franz. His presence elevates the entire show - without it, the show would be a lot less than the sum of its parts.
NYPD Blue: Pilot (1993)
Fun, if a Little Plain
I'm watching this for the first time in 2018, and I was definitely charmed. The show's reputation for violence and bare flesh preceded it, and this pilot episode provides more of the latter than the former: there's two sex scenes, one involving David Caruso and Amy Brenneman, and the other involving Dennis Franz and Shannon Cochran. Both add some grit and raciness to the proceedings, though it's hard to escape the feeling that they're just there for salaciousness's sake.
The story is interesting but unoriginal, with Caruso's Detective John Kelly looking to get even with the mob led by Joe Santos as Angelo Marino. His underling Alphonse, played by noted Batman cartoon voice actor Robert Costanzo, has a rivalry with Franz's Detective Sipowicz, and it flares up in a big way by episode's end. The acting is pretty good, though Franz and Santos are the standouts. Coursing through the background of the episode is Sherry Stringfield as Laura Kelly, who is starting to initiate divorce proceedings with her husband; both still clearly have feelings for each other.
While the whip-pans and shaky camera movements give a "you-are-there" look to everything, there's nothing else particularly unique here. The narrative is kind of soapy, and it's very TV-like, in that no one is going to be watching this and mistaking it for a realistic depiction of what a policeman's job is really like.
As the staging ground for a fun drama, though? It succeeds mightily, and I'm looking forward to seeing what shenanigans Detective Sipowicz and friends get into next.
Jason Bourne (2016)
There Isn't an Original Bone in This Film's Body, But It's Still a Fun Action Thriller
I don't get the hate for this film. It was fun, with plenty of cool fights and two absolutely incredible car chases (one in Greece and one in Las Vegas, where Matt Damon and Vincent Cassel practically demolish the Strip). Director Paul Greengrass's notorious shaky-cam shots were toned down substantially by my reckoning; I could always tell what was going on, and the direction was quite straightforward. If anything, THAT's the issue with "Jason Bourne": it's kinda plain, kind of "been there, done that."
Absolutely nothing unique or original happens in terms of plot, and there even seems to be a bit of retconning going on in an effort to add more secrets to Bourne's past. There's a halfhearted attempt to add some metaphorical meat to this mostly empty-headed action romp by inserting actor Riz Ahmed into the proceedings; he's a Mark Zuckerberg-type who secretly received funding from CIA goon Tommy Lee Jones when his company was just a startup. This subplot ultimately goes nowhere, providing only a facile, skin-deep exploration of privacy and security themes that were explored far better in previous Bourne flicks (especially "The Bourne Ultimatum").
I do agree with critics that Tommy Lee Jones's performance is listless and flat, even though it's possible that he's just trying to portray the character as calm and unperturbed under pressure. It's still disappointing, given the fantastic government spooks who have hounded Jason Bourne in previous movies: Chris Cooper, Brian Cox, Joan Allen, David Strathairn, Scott Glenn. Those actors were giving it their all; hard to believe Tommy Lee Jones is here.
Alicia Vikander is cool though, sorta-kinda taking Julia Stiles's place as the new young CIA upstart working to track Bourne down. I liked her performance a lot - supremely driven and confident. And Vincent Cassel plays the Asset, an expert assassin tasked with helping the CIA take Bourne down; he plays it straight, and perfectly sells his character as a remorseless killer.
At the end of the day, this is an average action movie. It doesn't reinvent the wheel, and yeah - it's weaker than previous Bourne films. But it's hardly the travesty some people have made it out to be. If they do another one, the filmmakers would be wise to get really ambitious and do something truly original - not just with the action setpieces, but with the plot and story as well.