REVIEW: DAMAGES – SEASON 1

MAIN CAST

Glenn Close (Guardians of The Galaxy)
Rose Byrne (Bad Neighbors 1 & 2)
Željko Ivanek (Heores)
Noah Bean (Nikita)
Tate Donovan (Argo)
Ted Danson (The Good Place)

Glenn Close in Damages (2007)

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST CAST

Philip Bosco (The Savages)
Anastasia Griffith (Shadow of The Sword)
Peter Riegert (The MasK)
Marlyne Barrett (The Wire)
Maya Days (Blue Bloods)
Peter Facinelli (Twilight)
Donnie Keshawarz (Homeland)
Michael Nouri (The O.C.)
Casey Siemaszko (Back To The Future)
Zachary Booth (South of Hell)
David Costabile (Suits)
Carmen Goodine (Alter Egos)
Tom Aldredge (Cold Mouintain)
Victor Arnold (The Seven-Ups)
Todd A. Kessler (Bloodline)
Elliot Korte (Just Another Story)
Garret Dillahunt (12 Years A Slave)
Robin Thomas (Pacific Rim)
Mario Van Peebles (Highlander 3)
Donal Logue (Gotham)
Donna Murphy (Spider-Man 2)
Peter McRobbie (Lincoln)

Rose Byrne in Damages (2007)No grandstanding or overwrought speeches. Hardly any impassioned objections. No interchangable characters. No cases that are wrapped up in a neat, tidy bow before the end credits for each episode make their upward crawl. FX’s Damages shatters every preconceived notion viewers have been trained to expect from a legal drama, and its critically acclaimed first season is now making its bow in high definition on Blu-ray. MV5BMjc4MjU1Nzg1N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMTA1NzQ2MjE@__V1_The series opens as a young woman — half-naked, spattered with blood, and shellshocked — slips out of a high rise apartment building and frantically darts through the streets of New York. Damages then cuts to the exhausted, disheveled woman in an interrogation booth as a couple of detectives almost disinterestedly look on. Far too deep in shock to speak, the only clue as to who this devastated young woman is or what happened to her is a bloodied business card she was carrying, and as the camera closes in, a title card reading “Six months earlier” quickly splashes across the screen.It may only be a difference of six short months, but the Ellen Parsons (Rose Byrne) we see when the clock rolls back is an unrecognizably different person. This wide-eyed idealist is in the middle of being courted by one of Manhattan’s most prestigious law firms. Even though an offer is slid in front of her with more zeroes than the prospective first year associate would ever have thought possible, Parsons blurts out that she has an interview scheduled with Patty Hewes later in the week, and the cheery atmosphere abruptly turns cold. Hewes has carved out a reputation for herself as one of the most powerful and unrelenting forces in high stakes litigation, and taking it as a foregone conclusion that Hewes will offer Parsons a position that she’ll eagerly accept, Hollis Nye (Philip Bosco) warns her that Hewes will irrevocably change who she is.Rose Byrne in Damages (2007)As Parsons starts to see each and every one of her dreams suddenly lurch within arms’ reach, some five thousand former employees of billionaire Arthur Frobisher (Ted Danson) have seen their hopes savagely ripped away from them. His corporate empire collapsed after the SEC caught onto his Enron-like shell game, costing his employees their entire retirement fund — upwards of a billion dollars — while Frobisher himself escaped with his checkbook intact. The government was immediately leery of the timing, with Frobisher pocketing hundreds of millions of dollars by cashing out his stock just before a catastrophic SEC report revealed the company’s underhanded accounting practices, but an intensive three year investigation was unable to turn up any convincing trace of wrongdoing. The criminal trial may have been a total failure, but Patty Hewes (Glenn Close) has been tapped to spearhead a colossal class action law suit against the billionaire on behalf of his thousands of financially devastated employees, and she’s hellbent on fleecing this corporate bully of every last cent. As it turns out, Parsons may be the linchpin to shattering Frobisher’s carefully constructed facade, but at least at first glance, that has nothing to do with the neophyte’s legal prowess.Glenn Close in Damages (2007)Part of what Damages such an infectiously addictive series also leaves it tougher than usual to review. Nothing — nothing — can be taken at face value, and there are so many twists, turns, deceptions, and double-crossings in the plot that any attempt at describing what happens even from the second episode would spoil more than I’d like. Just to be clear, this isn’t Anatomy of a Murder; the courtroom is overly familiar territory, and Damages has no interest in retreading it. Tossing aside legal maneuvers and precedents in dusty books, the season prefers instead to pull back the curtain into the extensive prepwork behind an investigation of this scale, including Hewes’ deft manipulation of everyone and everything around her, Parsons clawing her way through months of backstabbing and mistrust, and Frobisher’s stubborn determination to reclaim his family’s name and clear himself of any wrongdoing.Rose-in-Damages-1x02-Jesus-Mary-Joe-Cocker-rose-byrne-16722887-500-281With hundreds of millions — and potentially a hell of a lot more — at stake, it’s an agonizing journey for everyone involved, riddled with blackmail, assassination threats, subterfuge, abortions, bomb threats, murder, blackmail, kidnapping, infidelity, media manipulation, suicide, deranged stalking, toothless, bloody nightmares, and…oh, just for good measure, a book deal. Damages strikes an extremely effective balance in being lurid enough to stay interesting without veering too far over the edge and coming across as some sort of Prison Break-like cartoon. It also gets a hell of a lot more free reign than I’d expect from basic cable, which is made clear early on when Frobisher is screwing a random blonde in the back of an SUV, snorts a line of coke off her hand, and makes a call to have a witness in the wrong place at the wrong time gunned down. The language isn’t neutered either, with a “bullshit” or “shit” spat out several times each episode, used sparingly enough that the profanity still carries a substantial impact.Rose-in-Damages-1x02-Jesus-Mary-Joe-Cocker-rose-byrne-16722572-500-281Unlike most legal dramas, Damages is an intensely serialized series, focusing squarely on a single case for the entirety of these first thirteen episodes. The writers have a knack for lobbing out a big revelation in each installment, continually maintaining the momentum set into motion in the premiere. Damages has a unique structure that suits the material particularly well. For one, no meandering subplots creep in as filler. Virtually everything that happens is either essential to the Frobisher case or to understanding these characters. There are really only three subplots in the entire season: one involving a mentally unhinged stalker, another following the drastic measures Hewes takes to rein in her rebellious teenaged son, and a third swirling around her number two’s possible defection from the firm. The writing mixes in these stories deftly enough, ensuring that the pacing of the Frobisher case doesn’t stumble along the way and that the audience doesn’t get overly distracted. The only of these plot threads that’s ineffective revolves around Tom Shayes’ loyalty to Hewes and the firm; its inevitable resolution is the only particularly predictable element in the entire first season and the only time the writers seem to be fumbling to fill time.D_EP_105_206Damages also effortlessly juggles two separate timelines. There are brief stretches in each episode set in the here and now, revealing tantalizingly vague clues as to what it is that’s left Parsons drenched in blood and shellshocked: a bloodstained shoe, a disappearing corpse, and a garish bookend caked in blood and tangled with hair, to rattle off a few. The majority of the season takes place in the past, starting off six months earlier and inching forward to the present day from there. As Damages go on, we find out who the players are…what these visual teases mean…how entire lives were upended or butchered outright. The series would’ve been compelling and tense even if it had unfolded in a more linear, traditional way, but the additional layer of that second timeline really adds another layer of intrigue, making it that much more of a suspenseful mystery. For all of this to gel under a slew of different writers and directors shows how strong a hand was guiding the series, and the work in piecing it all together in editing is exceptional.Rose-in-Damages-1x05-A-Regular-Earl-Anthony-rose-byrne-16730966-500-281Damages lives and dies by the strength of its performances. As effective as the twists and turns of the investigation into Frobisher’s machinations are, this is inarguably a character-driven series. The centerpiece is, of course, Glenn Close as Patty Hewes. She’s a legal shark, and much like the great white in Jaws, the writers avoid overexposing her to ensure that every appearance — every line of dialogue — carries a dramatic impact. Essential for this sort of puppet master, Hewes remains impenetrable throughout. There are no weepy monologues or impassioned speeches in front of a sobbing courtroom. There’s a vulnerability she tries her damndest to mask — something that leaks through as the season draws to a close, despite her best efforts — but that steely veneer remains intact whenever someone else shares the scene. It’s an exceptional performance by Close, who infuses the character with a strength, intensity, and slightly elusive charm that make it instantly clear why Hewes so utterly dominates the field: beloved by her clients, at least when victory is in sight, cautiously admired by her associates, and terrified by any lawyer ambitious enough to sit on the other side of the aisle.damages7_0Hewes is far removed from any of the attorneys I’ve seen in dozens of other legal dramas. Hewes wants to give her clients what they deserve, of course, but it’s not about altruism or doing the right thing; this is a game to her, and Hewes is a damned good player. Being pitted against an arrogant bully like Frobisher just makes the battle that much more compelling, and Hewes is so determined to pull a win that the law itself is incidental. She’s not a do-gooder or a staunch heroine, and the steps she takes to ensure victory and to get her unwitting pawns to step in line are nearly as repulsive as the lengths Frobisher goes to in order to protect his bankroll. This intense character isn’t watered down to be more easily embraced by some particular TV viewing demographic. Hewes is humanized just enough to make her seem like a well-realized character and not a one-note force of nature, defined largely by her relationships with her family: her husband is a jet-setting financier who she barely sees, and Hewes’ son is a brilliant but rebellious teenager who resents his mother and is teetering on the brink of expulsion.Rose-in-Damages-1x09-Do-You-Regret-What-We-Did-rose-byrne-16752016-500-281Ellen Parsons too is defined in large part by her relationships. Parsons thinks she’s lost her shot at working under Hewes when her interview is inflexibly rescheduled to her sister’s wedding day, and she without hesitation chooses family over her budding career. Two of the driving forces this season are part of Parsons’ extended family: her fiancé David (Noah Bean), whose grueling hours as a surgical intern make any chance of spending time together that much more remote, and her best friend and future sister-in-law Katie (Anastasia Griffith). Parsons’ personal and professional lives are continually colliding, and there’s an instant level of intrigue by how in the space of six months she devolved from an upbeat, optimistic, naive law school grad eager to start her first day at a prestigious firm to an embittered, disheveled mess accused of murder…to see just how her short time at Hewes and Associates so profoundly and irrevocably transformed her. Rose Byrne does a marvelous job playing what at first glance looks like two entirely different characters, and it’s fascinating to think that she so seamlessly weaves the two together throughout the course of the season, despite these moments being shot far out of sequence and not even being entirely sure how these puzzle pieces connected together during filming.Ted Danson in Damages (2007)Ted Danson is another standout as billionaire executive Arthur Frobisher. One intriguing choice Damages makes is that Frobisher himself isn’t a worthy adversary for Hewes. His corporation may have been modeled after Enron, but Frobisher is hardly a Ken Lay. This isn’t the usual corporate stereotype: a balding, bespectacled man in his 60s who condescendingly sips a glass of $1,200 Scotch in some palatial office and barks out orders. No, he’s a reasonably down to earth guy — fit, trim, eager to sit down for a family barbeque, shoot hoops with his teenaged son, or grab a sandwich from a cart on the street corner. Nothing about the man, at least to those who don’t religiously tune into Court TV or Fox News, would point to a couple billion dollars at the bottom of his balance sheet. That said, Frobisher is fiercely protective of his fortune and his name. While it’s never in doubt that Frobisher is guilty of bilking his employees — or that he’s at the very least hiding something — he’s arrogant enough that he’s convinced he’ll be vindicated in court, no matter what his handlers say or suggest. Far from the calculating criminal mastermind these sorts of series are usually littered with, Frobisher is an impulsive screw-up. He stubbornly sticks to whatever game plan seems like a good idea at the time, backed by a big enough bankroll to pay someone to mop up whatever mistakes he makes along the way. The most intriguing villains are almost always the ones who sincerely don’t think they’re in the wrong, and Frobisher’s been lying to himself about his innocence so long that he even seems to buy the party line himself.untitledThere are a couple of other key roles worth noting as well. Even if Frobisher himself isn’t much of a capable opponent, his attorney Ray Fiske (Zeljko Ivanek) is as close to a match for Patty Hayes as they come. There’s a particularly intriguing relationship between Frobisher and Fiske — an uneasy friendship borne out of the fact that there’s not much of anyone else to whom either of them can relate. One of Hewes’ greatest assets is Tom Shayes (Tate Donovan), her instantly likeable second-in-command. Shayes is bright, talented, and doggedly loyal, but he doesn’t have what it takes to step out from Hewes’ shadow. The fact that he’s a quietly reluctant second fiddle makes him more compelling than someone who unquestionably follows orders with a smile.Rose-in-Damages-1x12-There-s-No-We-Anymore-rose-byrne-16757877-500-281I was thoroughly impressed by Damages. As frequently as the series teases and misleads viewers along the way, all of it seems logical and earned, not just a case of the writers lazily pulling the rug out from under the audience just to keep them off-guard. The season resolves all of the central conflicts before it’s over and done with, and although it doesn’t end on a cliffhanger, exactly, there’s a hell of a lead-in for season two and some tantalizing questions left dangling in front of viewers. It’s such an addictive show that I devoured the entire first season in a day, and there are very, very few series that have compelled me to do that. Tightly woven, wonderfully acted, and sharply written, Damages is a series that’s well worth discovering on Blu-ray for those who missed its first season.

 

Advertisements

REVIEW: 12 YEARS A SLAVE

 

CAST

Chiwetel Ejiofor (Doctor Strange)
Michael Fassbender (Alien: Covenant)
Lupita Nyong’o (Black Panther)
Paul Dano (Swiss Army Man)
Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game)
Sarah Paulson (The Runner)
Alfre Woodard (Luke Cage)
Adepero Oduye (Geostorm)
Garret Dillahunt (Winter’s Bone)
Brad Pitt (Ocean’s Eleven)
Scoot McNairy (Argo)
Taran Killam (Epic Movie)
Chris Chalk (Gotham)
Paul Giamatti (The Hangover – Part 2)
Michael K. Williams (Gone Baby Gone)
Bryan Batt (Scream: The Series)
Quvenzhané Wallis  (Annie)
Marc Macaulay  (The Punisher)
J.D. Evermore  (Django Unchained)

Chiwetel Ejiofor and Adepero Oduye in 12 Years a Slave (2013)In 1841, Solomon Northup is a free African-American man working as a violinist, living with his wife and two children in Saratoga Springs, New York. Two white men, Brown and Hamilton, offer him short-term employment as a musician if he will travel with them to Washington, D.C. However, once they arrive they drug Northup and deliver him to a slave pen run by a man named Burch. Northup proclaims that he is a free man, only to be savagely beaten with, at first, a wooden paddle, then, a leather belt. Northup is later shipped to New Orleans along with other captive African Americans. He is told by the others that if he wants to survive in the South, he must adapt to being a slave and not tell anyone he is a free man. A slave trader named Freeman gives Northup the identity of “Platt”, a runaway slave from Georgia, and sells him to plantation owner William Ford. Tension grows between Northup and a plantation overseer which ends with Northup savagely beating and whipping the overseer. To save Northup’s life, Ford sells him to another slave owner named Edwin Epps. In the process, Northup attempts to explain that he is actually a free man, but Ford tells him he is too afraid and that he cannot help him now.Paul Dano and Chiwetel Ejiofor in 12 Years a Slave (2013)At the plantation, Northup meets Patsey, a favored slave who can pick over 500 pounds of cotton a day, twice the usual quota, whom Epps regularly rapes and abuses. Some time later, cotton worms destroy Epps’s cotton. Unable to work his fields, Epps leases his slaves to a neighboring plantation for the season. While there, Northup gains the favor of the plantation’s owner, Judge Turner, who allows him to play the fiddle at a neighbor’s wedding anniversary celebration and to keep his earnings. Northup is also raped by a female slave in the middle of the night. When Northup returns to Epps, he uses the money to pay a white field hand and former overseer, Armsby, to mail a letter to his friends in New York. Armsby agrees and accepts Northup’s saved money, but immediately betrays him to Epps. In the middle of the night, a drunken Epps wakes Northup and questions him menacingly about the letter. Northup is narrowly able to convince Epps that Armsby is lying and Epps relents. Solomon then emotionally burns the letter he intended to give to Armsby.Lupita Nyong'o in 12 Years a Slave (2013)Northup begins working on the construction of a gazebo with a Canadian laborer named Samuel Bass. Bass is unsettled by the brutal way that Epps treats his slaves and expresses his opposition to American slavery, earning Epps’s enmity. Northup overhears the conversation and decides to reveal his kidnapping to Bass. Once again, Northup asks for help in getting a letter to Saratoga Springs. Bass agrees to send it. One day, the local sheriff arrives in a carriage with another man. The sheriff asks Northup a series of questions to confirm that his answers match the facts of his life in New York. Northup recognizes the sheriff’s companion as Mr. Parker, a shopkeeper he knew in Saratoga. Parker has come to free him, and the two embrace, though an enraged Epps furiously protests the circumstances and tries to prevent Northup from leaving. Northup gives an emotional farewell to Patsey and rides off to his freedom. Patsey faints as Northup leaves.After being enslaved for 12 years, Northup is restored to freedom and returned to his family, leaving behind the other slaves. As he walks into his home, he sees his wife with their son and daughter (fully grown) and her husband, who present him with his grandson and namesake, Solomon Northup Staunton. Northup apologizes for his long absence while his family comforts him. The film’s epilogue displays a series of graphics recounting Northup’s unsuccessful suits against Brown, Hamilton, and Burch, along with the 1853 publication of Northup’s slave narrative memoir, Twelve Years a Slave. The memoir describes his role in the abolitionist movement and the mystery surrounding details of his death and burial. Patsey and Northup never met again.To watch 12 Years a Slave is to be confronted with the grim reality of slavery in a way that’s never been done before. To say this is the best film ever made about slavery feels trivial, as slavery is a subject in film that has been shown with naive romanticism from films like Gone With the Wind or silly exploitation from something like Django Unchained. Both of which serve to make the topic digestible. To watch 12 Years a Slave is to experience a level of despair and misery that can become overwhelming. It’s a film of such ugliness, such blunt emotional trauma, that it may haunt you for hours if not days after seeing it. So why should you watch a film that could leave you reeling and devastated? Because, it’s also one of the greatest cinematic achievements of our time.

REVIEW: THE GIFTED – SEASON 1

MAIN CAST

Stephen Moyer (True Blood)
Amy Acker (Angel)
Sean Teale (Reign)
Natalie Alyn Lind (Gotham)
Percy Hynes White (Rupture)
Coby Bell (Burn Notice)
Jamie Chung (Office Christmas Party)
Blair Redford (Satisfaction)
Emma Dumont (Aquarius)

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST CAST

Hayley Lovitt (Ant-Man)
Toks Olagundoye  (The Neighbors)
Joe Nemmers (American Crime)
Jeff Daniel Phillips (Westworld)
Elena Satine (Revenge)
Garret Dillahunt (12 Years a Slave)
Sharon Gless  (Cagney & Lacey)
Jeffrey Nordling  (Nashville)
Zach Roerig (The Vampire Diaries)
Michelle Veintimilla  (Gotham)
Frances Turner (The Exes)
Danny Ramirez (Assassination Nation)
Skyler Samuels (Scream Queens)
Raymond J. Barry (Falling Down)
Ray Campbell (Breaking Bad)
David Norona  (The Mentalist)
Stan Lee (Avengers Assemble)

What ingredients are necessary for a successful show about powered individuals? Cool abilities? Flashy visuals? Likable characters? Interestingly, Fox’s The Gifted manages to have them all despite following some formulaic paths to tell its story. Any worries viewers might have about the young, good-looking, CW-like cast should be tossed aside. Everyone from the headstrong but calculating mutants to the strangely sympathetic government enforcers to the argumentative but caring siblings in the Strucker family have levels of complexity not often seen in comic book shows.It helps that there are powers on display right away that we haven’t seen on previous superhero-as-outcast shows. Of particular interest is Jamie Chung’s character, Claire a.k.a. Blink, whose ability involves creating writhing purple portals that allow her to travel instanteously from one point to another. Having her character join the Mutant Underground as someone still new to her abilities is something we’ve seen in shows like The Tomorrow People or Alphas, but that trope is usually reserved for the main character. Here, her burgeoning powers and escape from the law are merely used to set up one of the big motivations for the mutants to come out of hiding.The Gifted’s main story, arguably, revolves around the Struckers, who live in a world where anti-mutant laws are in effect and the X-Men and the Brotherhood of Mutants have gone off the grid. Public fear of the dangers of super-powered individuals has led to strict government control and prejudice in the form of derogatory terms like “mutey.” Reed Strucker, played powerfully by Stephen Moyer of True Blood, helps prosecute those mutants who use their power to break the law, and the initial concern that he and his wife (Amy Acker of Person Of Interest) share centers around their son Andrew, who’s being bullied at school almost to the breaking point.Viewers can probably guess what happens next, but that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable to watch unfold. The irony of Reed working against mutants and then finding out about his son’s powers being awakened by the strong emotions associated with abuse by his peers is richly nuanced and informs everything the family does afterwards. There are some surprises for the family along the way as well to sweeten the pot, but as Reed seeks help from the Mutant Underground, his discoveries concerning the Magneto-like Lorna a.k.a. Polaris (Emma Dumont of Aquarius) provide a pleasantly paradoxical reluctance and incentive for Lorna’s boyfriend, the light-manipulating Marcos a.k.a. Eclipse (Sean Teale of Reign), to help the Struckers.What they’re escaping from is the Sentinel Services, a group of elite enforcers who apparently go after those with particularly destructive or potentially game-changing abilities. Two things stand out about the introduction of these mutant hunters. First, the lead agent, Jace Turner (Coby Bell of Burn Notice), is oddly sympathetic while being coldly rigid in rounding up mutants; and second, the Sentinel Services have mysterious ways of tracking the seemingly untrackable and bring a lot of high-tech toys to take down those with powers. The combination makes for a very interesting, dynamic enemy opposite quite flawed protagonists — just how we like it.Characters in the background felt strong and full of promise as well. Although Acker’s Caitlin Strucker didn’t have quite enough to do in the pilot, her screen presence has always been unmatched and as the season goes on she becomes a more prominent character and crucial to the mutant underground, her daughter Lauren (Natalie Alyn Lind of The Goldbergs), who could have easily disappeared into the background as just another pretty face, is wonderful both when she was fighting with her brother and when she was supporting him with secrets of her own. And a mutant to keep an eye on, just from the sheer awesomeness of his powers, is John (Blair Redford of Satisfaction), who has a number of abilities hinted at by his alias “Thunderbird” that will not be spoiled here.The Gifted has what it takes to be another “X-Men adjacent” hit for Fox Television alongside FX’s Legion. The latter is much more esoteric but does have several things in common with this new mutant offering, including the manner in which Andy Strucker’s (Percy Hynes White of Murdoch Mysteries) powers manifest. The series builds towards a great finale that changes the entire dynamic of the show and leads into what should be an awesome Season 2 later in the year.

REVIEW: TERMINATOR: THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES – SEASON 1 & 2

SarahConnorChronicles

MAIN CAST

Lena Headey (Game of Thrones)
Thomas Dekker (Heroes)
Summer Glau (Arrow)
Richard T. Jones (Godzilla)
Brian Austin Green (Anger Management)
Leven Rambin (The Hunger Games)
Garret Dillahunt (Winter’s Bone)
Shirley Manson (Knife Fight)
RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST CAST

Owain Yeoman (Supergirl)
Sonya Walger (Flashforward)
Nick Wechsler (Roswell)
Dean Winters (Brooklyn Nine-Nine)
Charlayne Woodard (The Crucible)
Tony Amendola (Annabelle)
Sasha Roiz (Caprica)
Jonathan Sadowski (Friday the 13th)
Brendan Hines (Lie To Me)
Catherine Dent (Taken)
Alessandra Torresani (The Big Bang Theory)
Tiya Sircar (The Vampire Diaries)
Andy Umberger (Angel)
Lee Thompson Young (Smallville)
Neil Hopkins (Lost)
Peter Mensah (Spartacus)
Bruce Davison (High Crimes)
Karina Logue (Scream: The Series)
Craig Fairbrass (Cliffhanger)
Dean Norris (Breaking Bad)
Zack Ward (Transformers)
Busy Philipps (The Smokers)
Leah Pipes (The Originals)
Jon Huertas (Sabrina: TTW)
Mackenzie Brooke Smith (Supergirl)
Dorian Harewood (Earth: Final Concflict)
Stephanie Jacobsen (Alex Cross)
Adam Busch (Buffy)
Richard Schiff (The Cape)
Eric Steinberg (Stargate SG.1)
Todd Stashwick (The Originals)
Rebecca Creskoff (Bates Motel)
Carlos Jacott (Firefly)
Samantha Krutzfeldt (A Mann’s World)
Connor Trinneer (Stargate: Atlantis)
Chad Lindberg (The Fast and The Furious)
Chad L. Coleman (Arrow)

When we first heard that FOX was making a Terminator series, we mostly groaned and rolled our eyes. It just sounded like a bad idea and a cynical ploy to capitalize on a flagging movie property. What’s more, when you think of Terminator, you think of big movies with huge effects and action sequences that set new standards. You don’t think of “Terminators of the Week” battling on smaller screens with tighter budgets.

 It was the first regular episode after the pilot that I feel the show really came into its own. That’s when the tone of the series was established, the more deliberate and introspective pace. Summer Glau’s performance as Cameron changed a bit.
 It’s the mark of a good show when, one by one, all of your issues are accounted for. In the episode Heavy Metal John does what he has to do despite Sarah’s overprotection. He’s becoming the leader he needs to become, and when Sarah says it’s too soon, Cameron says something to the effect of “Is it? The world ends in 4 years…” At the same time, Sarah came to value Cameron’s strategic value. She might not trust her (and should she?), but she no longer denies her the tactical advantage they have when using her.
As for the missing Terminator parts, the show picked up the ball there and ran with it. Agent Ellison finds the missing hand, and destroying the Terminator Cameron disabled becomes a great scene and establishes the use of thermite. When a show proves to you that it’s got the bases covered, and that it isn’t being sloppy with its storytelling – it gains your confidence and makes tuning in each week that much more satisfying. Terminator pulled this off in just nine episodes – which is remarkable considering they had only so much time and never planned on having such a short season because of the writers strike. There were a number of stylistic flourishes throughout the show that demonstrated how the series was different from the movies, and that this wasn’t going to be a show that was afraid to strike out on its own. Sarah’s dream where she assassinates the creators of the atomic bomb was particularly inspired. Bruce Davison (as Dr. Silberman) describing in awed rapture the events from T2 was a terrific bridge between this series and one of the most famous sequences of the entire franchise. The series ended on a high note, with Johnny Cash’s “The Man Comes Around” playing while a Terminator does what Terminators do. Only this time it’s done in a stylistically original way. It’s another scene that serves as an example of how the show stepped out on its own. It shows a level of creative maturity not usually found in franchised properties.
Then there’s the introduction of Brian Austin Green as Derek Reese. This was a decision that had us – and other fans – concerned that the show was making a big mistake. Why Green? It seems there could have been dozens, if not hundreds of other actors to take on this role. Actors who didn’t play the keyboard wielding dweeb on Beverly Hills 90210. Yet, again, the show proved worthy of our confidence and trust. Green did an excellent job, and played Reese not as your standard badass, but instead a man of emotional depth who had been turned into a soldier because the world around him fell apart.
Green’s best moments came in the finale. First, he uses a little girl to creatively settle a hostage situation. Then, he takes John to the park to celebrate his birthday. Without getting specific, there’s a touching moment, playing on the time travel device. “Happy Birthday,” Derek says, and leaves it at that. It’s an emotional note that was never quite achieved in the movies – and proof that the episodic format allows for greater complexity and character development than we’ve seen in the franchise. It’s also encouraging that the characters had become so resonant in these early episodes – and bodes well for the future.
No one likes to see a good show go under, especially just as it’s approaching new heights, and the recent cancellation of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (2008-2009) proved almost equally disheartening. At least the latter had a fighting chance, though: the mid-season replacement pulled down great numbers at first, but its popularity rapidly declined during the initial nine-episode run. Higher production costs didn’t help matters, either…yet Chronicles was renewed for a full-sized second season, where it expanded the series’ mythology and tossed in a few stand-alone episodes. Featuring plenty of terrific characters, tense action and special effects on par with Hollywood blockbusters, there was plenty to like…but roughly a month after the season finale aired, it was confirmed that the series wouldn’t return.
Nonetheless, this second and final season stands as one of the better stretches of television in recent memory. In an accompanying behind-the-scenes featurette, creator Josh Friedman admits that the cast and crew had no idea that Season 1 would end where it did—but you’d never know from watching, since the series stops and re-starts so seamlessly. Opening adventure “Samson and Delilah” kicks things off in a major way, punctuated by a gripping slow-motion sequence set to a musical cover by Shirley Manson of Garbage fame. Speaking of Manson, she’s front and center this season as Catherine Weaver, the mysterious leader of ZeiraCorp, a growing corporation with an interest in advanced technology. She’s eventually joined by former FBI agent James Ellison (Richard T. Jones); Ellison acts as her head of security and a mentor to ZeiraCorp’s experimental computer, who’s known as “John Henry”. Though more intelligent and efficient than the world’s greatest minds put together, this powerful entity is still a child learning about the the world and the humans in it.
Naturally, such a vague company—especially one with its hands in high-tech gadgetry—soon ends up on the radar of Sarah Connor (Lena Headey), who continues to forge onward with her son John (Thomas Dekkar), John’s uncle Derek Reese (Brian Austin Green) and Cameron, a Terminator sent from the future to aid them. New to the crowd are Jesse Flores (Stephanie Jacobsen) and Riley Dawson (Leven Rambin); both serve as love interests to Derek and John respectively…but like Catherine Weaver, they seem to have somewhat questionable pasts. Far more than the typical good-versus-evil formula that typically dominates modern sci-fi, The Sarah Connor Chronicles takes a decidedly different approach: it focuses on human existence and emotion as much as firefights and chase sequences. The formula works amazingly well during this season of 22 episodes.
 After the blistering “Samson and Delilah”, things don’t let up for a while. “Automatic for the People” introduces Riley and takes our heroes inside a nuclear power plant—but a major clue is unearthed, as Sarah discovers a list of events, places and other clues about Skynet, the company that Sarah believes will bring about Judgment Day. “Mousetrap” is a standout episode for a number of reasons: not only does it push the story further onward, but it’s one of the more suspenseful and exciting episodes in the bunch. “Allison from Palmdale” stands tall as a solid origin story for Cameron, while the extended “Goodbye to All That” sends John and Derek on a field trip with a Terminator model 888 in hot pursuit. These episodes—and several others, of course—show how much Season 2 has expanded the story’s scope. Well over half the episodes are shot on location in various parts of California and beyond—and with the vague threat of ZeiraCorp looming overhead, tension remains high throughout the first half of the season.
As the season’s second half approaches, things start to get a little cloudy…both for the narrative itself and the show’s ratings, which gradually slid as the season progressed. “Self-Made Man” and “Alpine Fields” are two stand-alone episodes designed to draw in new fans, as the creative team felt that a continuous thrust forward would hurt the series’ chances of survival. Unfortunately, these two episodes are some of the least impressive: while decent enough on their own terms, they feel completely out of context and arrive at the wrong time. These may have added a few viewers, but I imagine they probably confused and frustrated those expecting the series to continue its steady pace forward. Nonetheless, “Earthlings Welcome Here” gets things back on track…but within the context of the series’ original broadcast dates, it may have come too late. This would be the last episode before the holiday break, with Chronicles returning two months later in the dreaded Friday night timeslot…which television fans refer to as “the kiss of death”.
It’s sad, really, because The Sarah Connor Chronicles really got back on its feet from that point onward. “The Good Wound” was much better suited to draw in new fans than a stand-alone episode: taking several cues from Terminator 2, this Sarah-centered adventure re-acquaints us with an important figure from her past. The next several episodes flesh out story elements introduced earlier in the season, as Sarah, John, Derek and Cameron set out to solve a mysterious factory explosion in the desert. After “Some Must Watch While Some Must Sleep”, Chronicles sprints to the finish line: Jesse and Riley’s pasts begin to unravel, John Henry and ZeiraCorp’s true intentions are revealed, Sarah and company head off into unfamiliar territory and several major characters meet their doom. It all culminates with “Born to Run”, which ends the series on a high note, tying up several loose ends but leaving others to the imagination. Poignant, clever and almost hopeful, it’s a fitting farewell to a series that was killed off too early.

Regardless, Warner Bros. has given The Sarah Connor Chronicles a strong send-off on DVD, as this second season arrives in a fully-loaded six-disc collection. The series’ crisp cinematography and ambitious sound mix—both of which feel more like big-screen efforts than typical TV fare—are supported by a solid technical presentation, while fans can also look forward to a collection of entertaining and informative bonus features. Though Friedman’s excellent series now joins the gone-too-early ranks

REVIEW: LOOPER

CAST

Bruce Willis (Red)
Joseph Gordon-Levitt (The Dark Knight Rises)
Emil Blunt (The Girl On The Train)
Paul Dano (The King)
Piper Perabo (Coyote Ugly)
Jeff Daniels (The Martian)
Noah Segan (Cabin Fever 2)
Pierce Gagnon (Rio 2)
Xu Qing (League of Gods)
Tracie Thoms (Wonderfalls)
Garret Dillahunt (Killing Them Softly)
Nick Gomez (Hours)

In 2044, 25-year-old Joe works for a Kansas City crime syndicate as a “looper.” Since future technology has made it near-impossible to dispose of bodies, the syndicate uses time travel, invented thirty years later and outlawed instantly. Managed by a future man named Abe Mitchell, loopers kill and dispose of face-concealed victims, and are paid with silver bars strapped to the target. To prevent connections to the syndicate, loopers kill their future selves with gold bars strapped to them when they retire, effectively ending the contract and “closing the loop”.Joe’s friend Seth, part of a minority that manifest low-level telekinesis (or TK), confides that his old self has escaped, after warning him of a person in the future called the Rainmaker who will overthrow the five major bosses and close all loops. Joe reluctantly hides Seth in his apartment’s floor safe, but is taken to Abe by Kid Blue, one of Abe’s elite “Gat Men.” Joe reveals Seth’s location instead of forfeiting half his silver, and Abe’s men cut an address into younger Seth’s arm, then begin severing body parts. As Old Seth’s limbs disappear, he goes to the address and is killed. When Joe’s next target arrives, it is his older self with his face uncovered. Before Joe can kill him, Old Joe shields himself, knocks younger Joe unconscious and escapes. Returning to his apartment, Young Joe fights with Kid Blue, only to fall off a fire escape and black out.In another timeline, Young Joe kills his older self as he arrives. He moves to Shanghai, where his drug addiction and partying persist, becoming a hitman to finance himself. Years later, he meets a woman during a bar fight and they marry. Thirty years after, Joe is taken to close the loop and his wife is killed in the process. Overpowering his captors, Joe sends himself back to 2044 thereby altering history. When Old Joe sees Young Joe fall, he shoots the Gat Men and drags him away. Old Joe begins to manifest vague memories of Young Joe’s actions in the present, and meets his younger self at a diner to explain that he intends to save his wife by killing the Rainmaker as a child. Kid Blue and several other Gat Men arrive at the diner and a gunfight ensues: Young Joe collects a corner of Old Joe’s map as both escape. Young Joe follows the map to a farm where Sara and her son Cid live. Sara recognizes the number on the map as Cid’s birthday and birth hospital’s code. Young Joe guesses that Old Joe is going to kill all three children born at the hospital that day, not knowing which one will become the Rainmaker, so he waits at the farm to protect Cid and Sara.Jesse, another Gat Man, comes looking for both Joes at the farm, but Cid and Young Joe hide in an underground tunnel. Later that night Sara and Young Joe have sex, and Sara reveals she has TK powers. Cid’s powers are revealed to be even stronger, with Sara hiding in a safe when he has a tantrum. In the morning, Young Joe wakes to find Jesse holding Sara at gunpoint in the living room. Frightened, Cid falls down the stairs and telekinetically destroys Jesse. Young Joe realizes that Cid will become the Rainmaker, using his powers to control the city, and that Old Joe will now know this from his memories.Kid Blue captures Old Joe and takes him to Abe. Old Joe breaks free and kills Abe and his henchmen, then travels to Sara’s farm. While Young Joe kills Kid Blue, Old Joe pursues Sara and Cid. Cid’s cheek is grazed by Old Joe’s bullet, and he creates a telekinetic blast that destroys much of the surrounding cane field and wrecks Young Joe’s van, but is calmed by Sara before he can kill anyone. Telling Cid to run into the still-standing cane, Sara stands between Old Joe and her son, and Young Joe realizes that the death of Cid’s mother will turn him into the Rainmaker. Unable to run due to injuries to his legs sustained when Cid wrecked the van and knowing Old Joe is out of range of his weapon, he shoots himself, erasing Old Joe’s existence and saving Sara. The film ends with the implication that Sara’s demonstration of love towards Cid has healed the rift between them, meaning Cid will not become the Rainmaker, and they will have a much better life – especially as they find Joe’s silver in the van.This is a brilliant movie experience, its an wholly original and entertaining idea, that the writer/director has managed to successfully transpose to film.

 

 

REVIEW: REVENGE FOR JOLLY

CAST

Brian Petsos (Bridemaids)
Kristen Wiig (Paul)
Elijah Wood (Lord of The Ring)
Oscar Isaac (Star Wars: The Force Awakens)
Adam Brody (Jennifers Body)
Ryan Phillippe (Cruel Intentions)
Garrett Dillahunt (Deadwood)
Amy Seimetz (You’re Next)
Kevin Corrigan (The Get Down)
David Rasche (Ugly Betty)
Gillian Jacobs (The Box

The film reverts 36 hours earlier after a man pulls up at a house and confronts another man at his front door. The tale centers on Harry (Brian Petsos), a freelancer who spends a great deal of time with his beloved female pup, Jolly. Owing a group of people a large amount of money for refusing to do them a favor, he plans to leave town to avoid the debt. One day when he returns home, Jolly is found dead. Stricken with grief and anger, Harry enlists the help of his close cousin Cecil (Oscar Isaac) to find Jolly’s murderer, dragging him through a path of destruction.At a bar, they interrogate a rude bartender, Thomas (Elijah Wood), getting a lead on a man named Bachmeier (Ryan Phillippe), a regular visitor and suspect who was given Harry’s address upon request. Harry snaps and shoots Thomas dead for that reason. Next, they track down known hooker, Tina (Gillian Jacobs), who was recently seen with Bachmeier. Refusing to pay her for sex and written info, Cecil is shot by Tina in the hand with a gun, but Tina joins her friend Vicki (Amy Seimetz) in death when Harry shoots them, as he grows overly vengeful.The following stop takes Harry and Cecil to a law firm office, where they confront and wipe out three unscrupulous lawyers, Bobby (Bobby Moynihan), Eichelberger (David Rasche) and Danny (Adam Brody), for withholding info. The receptionist eventually tells them Bachmeier is at a wedding reception. There, Harry and Cecil show up uninvited and hold the people hostage, although Bachmeier is not present and his sister, Angela (Kristen Wiig) informs them that her family is dysfunctional. After killing many people in attendance, assaulting Angela and shooting her husband, Gary (Garret Dillahunt), a man soon gives them Bachmeier’s address. The film returns to the beginning. Harry pulls up at a house, leaving Cecil in his car to approach an armed Bachmeier at his front door. Harry blames him for Jolly’s death, and Bachmeier invites him in like nothing is wrong. The final image shows two shots fired inside the house, though it is only seen from a distance on the outside.While this is a comedy, it is not a movie with comedy that will make you laugh yourself crazy. However, the comedy here is so bizarre and outrageous that it just works out quite nicely. I enjoyed this oddball comedy and was rather entertained by it.

REVIEW: THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD

CAST

Brad Pitt (Killing Them Softly)
Casey Affleck (Gone Baby Gone)
Sam Shepard (BLack Hawk Down)
Jeremy Renner (The Avengers)
Sam Rockwell (Iron Man 2)
Paul Schneider (Elizabethtown)
Garret Dillahunt (Winter’s Bone)
Mary-Louise Parker (Red)
Zooey Deschanel (Tin Man)
Alison Elliott (Birth)
Ted Levine (The Silence of The Lambs)
Michael Parks (Argo)

In 1881, young, starstruck Robert “Bob” Ford (Casey Affleck) seeks out Jesse James (Brad Pitt) when the James gang is planning a train robbery in Blue Cut, Missouri, making unsuccessful attempts to join the gang with the help of his older brother Charley (Sam Rockwell), already a member. The train turns out to be carrying only a fraction of the money originally thought, and Frank James (Sam Shepard) tells Charley Ford that this robbery would be the last the James brothers would commit. Jesse returns home to Kansas City, bringing the Fords, Dick Liddil (Paul Schneider) and his cousin, Wood Hite (Jeremy Renner). Jesse sends Charley, Wood and Dick away, but insists that Bob stay. He wanted the younger man just for his help in moving furniture to a new home in St. Joseph, Missouri. Bob becomes more admiring of James before being sent back to his sister’s farmhouse, where he rejoins his brother Charley, Hite, and Liddil.Liddil reveals to Bob that he is in collusion with another member of the James gang, Jim Cummins, to capture Jesse for a substantial bounty. Meanwhile, Jesse visits another gang member, Ed Miller (Garret Dillahunt), who gives away information on Cummins’ plot. Jesse kills Miller, then departs with Liddil to hunt down Cummins. Unable to locate him, Jesse viciously beats Albert Ford (Jesse Frechette), a young cousin of Bob and Charley. Liddil returns to the Boltons’ farmhouse, and argues with Hite, which ends with Bob Ford killing Hite. They dump his body in the woods to conceal the murder from Jesse.Jesse and Charley Ford travel to St. Joseph where Jesse learns of Hite’s disappearance, which Charley denies knowing anything about. Meanwhile, Bob goes to Kansas City Police Commissioner Henry Craig (Michael Parks), saying he knows Jesse James’ whereabouts. To prove his allegiance with the James gang, Bob urges Craig to arrest Dick Liddil. Following Liddil’s arrest and confession to participation in numerous gang robberies, Bob brokers a deal with the Governor of Missouri, Thomas T. Crittenden (James Carville). He is given ten days to capture or kill Jesse James, and promised a substantial bounty and full pardon for murder.Charley persuades Jesse to take Bob Ford into the gang; the brothers return to St. Joseph. Introduced as cousins to the Howards (the James’ pseudonym), they stay with the family, including Zee James (Mary-Louise Parker) and their two children. Jesse wants to revive his gang by robberies with the Fords, beginning with the Platte City bank. On the morning of April 3, 1882, Jesse and the Ford brothers prepare to depart for the robbery. Jesse reads in the newspaper about the arrest and confessions of Liddil. While the three men are in the living room, Jesse removes his gun belt and climbs a chair to clean a dusty picture. Bob shoots Jesse in the back of the head and flees with Charley. They send a telegram to the governor to announce Jesse’s death, for which they were to receive $10,000. However, they never receive more than $500 each.After the murder, the Fords become celebrities, touring with a theatre show in Manhattan in which they re-enact the assassination, but people soon dislike that Bob shot Jesse, unarmed, in the back. Guilt-stricken, Charley writes numerous letters to Zee James asking for her forgiveness, but does not send them. Suffering from terminal tuberculosis, he commits suicide in May 1884. Bob works around the West. On June 8, 1892, Bob is murdered by Edward O’Kelley (Michael Copeman), at his saloon in Creede, Colorado. O’Kelley is sentenced to life in prison, but Colorado Governor James Bradley Orman pardons him after ten years in 1902.Get ready for the assassination everyone knows is coming but no one can prepare for. Never has been a film that tells you the entire story in the title and can still surprise the viewer with beautiful cinematic moments.