REVIEW: DEFENDING JACOB

Chris Evans, Michelle Dockery, and Jaeden Martell in Defending Jacob (2020)

Starring

Chris Evans (Knives Out)
Michelle Dockery (Hanna)
Jaeden Martell (IT)
Cherry Jones (The Beaver)
Pablo Schreiber (First Man)
Sakina Jaffrey (Lost In Space)
Betty Gabriel (Unfriended: Dark Web)
J. K. Simmons (Spider-Man)

Chris Evans at an event for Defending Jacob (2020)

Recurring / Notable Guest Cast

Paul Wesley (The Vampire Diaries)
Poorna Jagannathan (Awake)
Jake Picking (Top Gun: Maverick)
Nathan Parsons (Roswell, New Mexico)
Leighton Meester (The Judge)
Kat Graham (The Vampire Diaries)
Daniel Henshall (Skin)
Matt Lanter (Disaster Movie)
Patrick Fischler (The Finder)
Megan Byrne (Ghost Town)

Chris Evans, Michelle Dockery, and Jaeden Martell in Defending Jacob (2020)As a limited series packed to the gills with recognizable faces and even big-name stars, Defending Jacob is yet another step in the right direction for Apple TV+. Though the nascent streaming television (and movies) service from one the biggest tech companies in the world has had something of an uneven start, with ambitious, big-budget series like The Morning Show and See that created relatively small ripples in the sea of streaming content when they likely should have been the source of enormous waves signaling a massive change in the day and age of Peak TV. Nevertheless, the progress of Apple TV+ continues apace, with nearly every subsequent television show being arguably better than the last (with the exception of Amazing Stories, sadly). And while the service finds itself taking smaller steps toward seriously competing with the likes of Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Disney+, the inclusion of star-driven adult-oriented dramas like Defending Jacob make the service a welcome outlier among services relying on ubiquitous IP or that are relentlessly chasing the next Game of Thrones.Adapted from the novel of the same name by William Landay, the series is written, executive produced and showrun by Mark Bomback (Outlaw King), with all eight episodes directed by Morten Tyldum, who helped create the somber look and feel of Starz’s superb sci-fi spy drama, Counterpart. Like most of Apple’s original series to date, Defending Jacob looks like a million bucks, with its chilly color palette that accentuates the story’s brooding and moody tone. It’s sort of the complete package, in terms of prestige-y dramas, with the aforementioned Evans and Dockery playing Andy and Laurie Barber, a well-to-do Massachusetts family who finds their world is one day shattered after their son, Jacob (Jaeden Martell), is accused of brutally murdering his classmate.Pooka-10What follows is a slow-burn thriller that asks how far a parent would go to protect their child, even when the questions regarding his guilt are too great and too compelling to ignore. Complicating matters is Andy’s position as an assistant D.A., a fact that shines an unwelcome spotlight on a crime that already has their community in an uproar. But while Defending Jacob could have been a compelling two-hander, with Evans and Dockery weighing the possibility that their child is indeed guilty of a horrific crime, all while doing everything in their considerable power to ensure he’s set free, the series offers a robust supporting cast that helps make the Barber’s world feel more lived-in and compelling, especially as it begins to turn on them.Defending_Jacob_Photo_010104The rest of the cast is made up of terrific character actors like Cherry Jones, Sakina Jaffrey, and Pablo Schreiber, while also bringing in the always-welcome J.K. Simmons and Betty Gabriel (who both worked with Tyldum on Counterpart). Each supporting role plays a fascinating part in examining the ways in which a community can be torn apart by violent crime and the ensuing accusations that emerge as a result. They also help ground the story as it unfolds, and as the series introduces plausible and not-so plausible answers to the question at hand. But many of the key supporting players — Jones and Gabriel, chiefly — also aid in assuaging one of the biggest obstacles the series faces: that of convincing the audience that Chris Evans and Michelle Dockery are the middle-aged parents of a teenaged son.a5-21-e1585242550178In approaching this concern, Defending Jacob stacks its cast with characters for whom this is not at all unusual. It’s a bid to normalize what is essentially an odd sticking point for an otherwise compelling mystery-thriller that just happens to have cast two people who very much look like movie stars as everypersons. The result, then, is something of a strange throwback to the kinds of mid-budget thrillers that Hollywood doesn’t really make anymore. From that perspective, it’s easy to see why Evans was attracted to the material (he also serves as executive producer on the series), having come off an extended stint playing the lab-grown super soldier and idealized version of the male form for Marvel. So, while it may be a bit of a stretch to think there’s a small-town D.A. with biceps bigger than the average human’s head racing to keep his son out of prison for a crime he may or may not have committed, it’s ultimately a small quibble considering Evans and Dockery deliver strong performances that, along with the rest of the cast, ultimately make the series worthwhile.200412-defending-jacob3Though it’s easy enough (especially right now) to jump into a dark eight-hour drama with a cast as appealing as this, it’s important to note the series dutifully takes its time getting started, as though the term “slow-burn” wasn’t just an apt descriptor but the ethos of the entire production. In that sense, Defending Jacob feels a great deal like HBO’s superb The Outsider. And while the former doesn’t have the benefit of a supernatural entity haunting its edges, it does have a compelling mystery and thoughtful performances to keep audiences watching until the end.

REVIEW: LOST IN SPACE (2018) – SEASON 2

Maxwell Jenkins in Lost in Space (2018)

MAIN CAST

Molly Parker (Pure)
Toby Stephens (The Machine)
Taylor Russell (The Maze)
Ignacio Serricchio (Bones)
Maxwell Jenkins (A Family Man)
Mina Sundwall (#Horror)
Parker Posey (Superman Returns)
Brian Steele (Terminator Salvation)
Sibongile Mlambo (Teen Wolf)

Parker Posey, Ignacio Serricchio, Maxwell Jenkins, Mina Sundwall, and Taylor Russell in Lost in Space (2018)

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST CAST

Raza Jaffrey (Homeland)
Amelia Burstyn (Defiance)
Sakina Jaffrey (House of Cards)
Selma Blair (Hellboy)
Bill Mumy (Babylon 5)
Shaun Parkes (The Mummy Returns)
Tattiawna Jones (Flashpoint)
Aaron Pearl (Man of Steel)
Rob LaBelle (Jack Frost)
Bradley Stryker (Izombie)
Ajay Friese (Riverdale)
Angela Cartwright (The Sound of Music)

Molly Parker and Maxwell Jenkins in Lost in Space (2018)Cosmic crusaders The Robinsons (plus Don West, Dr. Smith, and Robot) are back for the holidays, and this time the calamity-magnet clan is banding together to battle against hostile alien droids, creepy and corrupt mission officials, and general galactic chaos.
Netflix’s Lost in Space reboot, once again, delivers a solid, satisfying run filled with dazzling effects and stunning heart. It tops Season 1 in terms of adventure and stakes, and, for a streaming series, it shows grand restraint by only being 10 episodes – with episode lengths actually varying (anywhere from 39 minutes to 54 minutes). That might sound like tacky praise, digging into the structure of the show, but it means that the story’s being told in the amount of time the creators felt it needed, and not filling up pre-ordained space – a welcome change from most streaming series.Molly Parker, Toby Stephens, Ignacio Serricchio, and Maxwell Jenkins in Lost in Space (2018)The cast is phenomenal, from Toby Stephens and Molly Parker’s John and Maureen to their kids, played exceptionally by Maxwell Jenkins, Mina Sundwall, and Taylor Russell. It’s crucial that these roles land well because our belief in the family, in this particular brood, is the crux of the entire series. If you don’t buy into “The Robinsons vs The Universe,” the show doesn’t work. And though they might bicker and banter, this family is the driving force of the saga. If their dynamic drags things down, the entire narrative fizzles.Mina Sundwall in Lost in Space (2018)Fortunately, The Robinsons are sensational as a family, either united or divided, and their interplay always works. From John and Judy’s emotional bond (which plays out beautifully in Episode 5, “Run”) to Penny’s strained relationship with Maureen as the middle child with no discernible exceptional abilities, the cracks in the Robinson’s foundations, both big and small, make for great viewing. And Ignacio Serricchio’s gruff-but-genial Don West is there keep them all together while Parker Posey’s “Dr. Smith” is there to tug at the threads in an attempt to rip the seams.Toby Stephens, Maxwell Jenkins, and Taylor Russell in Lost in Space (2018)Posey’s Smith, as the show’s wild card, has an awesome showing this season as the Robinsons, who start the season marooned on a planet in the galaxy they were pushed into at the end of Season 1, eventually rejoin their Alpha Centauri-seeking society and the good (fake) doctor is forced to think on her feet in order to avoid being caught and punished for her many crimes. And all the while, she’s got a powerful push/pull relationship with the universe’s First Family where she’s both their foil and their adversary. The Robinsons can be a bit overwhelming when it comes to love and support so it’s nice to have a self-centered “survivor” in the mix, even if her heart occasionally softens towards others.Molly Parker, Toby Stephens, Maxwell Jenkins, Mina Sundwall, and Taylor Russell in Lost in Space (2018)Will and Robot’s relationship, the one that began in Season 1 and allowed Will to become more confident and driven, continues to grow and change this year, with more layers added to the mystery of Robot’s origins, species, and how it ties into humanity’s ability to traverse space. JJ Feild (Captain America: The First Avenger) arrives this season as Dr. Ben Adler, the mission’s head of artificial intelligence studies. At first, it seems like Ben’s an easy-to-predict character. He arrives just in time to, perhaps, woo Maureen, bond with Will, while also possibly being a stealth “big bad.” But his arc surprises, and, like most elements of this series, it defies the usual cliches.Brian Steele in Lost in Space (2018)Of course, Lost in Space also has a (non-fatal) flaw in its blueprint. Nothing can ever go right. It’s in the story’s DNA. What this means is that when dangers and threats aren’t being presented by other characters — like Dr. Smith, aliens, or Rolo Haynes’ (Black Mirror) Hastings — there has to be some type of unforeseen space peril. Whether it’s severe storms, poisonous algae, or (LOL) water that somehow disintegrates all metals, this series can be pretty unrelenting. Granted, the writing usually weaves everything nicely into the characters’ specific emotional journeys, but the non-stop menaces can be a grind often run the risk of feeling farcical.Maxwell Jenkins in Lost in Space (2018)Netflix’s short-lived (and not great) Another Life featured a very similar “let’s throw every disaster we can think of at our heroes” edict, but the show had no alternate identity to support that design – that’s all the plot was. Fortunately, Lost in Space – which features, over the course of only 10 episodes, four different situations of important characters being stuck/trapped somewhere that requires a “Hail Mary” solution – has larger themes to focus on and a core cast that’s worth spending time with.
Brian Steele in Lost in Space (2018)Lost in Space feels less land-locked in Season 2 as more crazy challenges continued to befall the formidable Robinson family and Robot’s eerie origins are explored further. The unrelenting disasters can drag but the performances are so good, and the family-first credo is so vital, that the drama never dips.

REVIEW: HEROES – SEASON 1

Starring

Milo Ventimiglia (Gotham)
Hayden Panettiere (Nashville)
Jack Coleman (Spawn)
Tawny Cypress (Brooklyn’s Finest)
Leonard Roberts (Smallville)
Santiago Cabrera (Transformers: The Last Knight)
Masi Oka (The Meg)
Greg Grunberg (Alias)
Adrian Pasdar (Supergirl)
Noah Gray-Cabey (Code Black)
Ali Larter (Final Destination)
Sendhil Ramamurthy (Beauty and The Beast)

Hayden Panettiere in Chapter One 'Genesis' (2006)

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST CAST

Ashley Crow (The Secret Circle)
Thomas Dekker (Terminator: TSCC)
James Kyson (Sleepy Hollow)
John Prosky (True Blood)
Richard Roundtree (Shaft)
Clea DuVall (Argo)
Nora Zehetner (Brick)
Cristine Rose (How I Met Your Mother)
Stacy Haiduk (Superboy)
Matt Lanter (Disaster Movie)
Danielle Savre (Boogeyman 2)
Deirdre Quinn (Miss Congeniality)
Adair Tishler (Dollhouse)
Maurice LaMarche (Futurama)
Tina Lifford (New Jack City)
Elizabeth Lackey (Planet of The Apes)
Eugene Byrd (Bones)
Jimmy Jean-Louis (Monster-In-Law)
Riki Lindhome (The Lego Batman Movie)
Erick Avari (Stargate)
Randall Bentley (Upside)
Archie Kao (Power Rangers Lost Galaxy)
Nicole Bilderback (Bring it On)
Matthew John Armstrong (Bones)
Rick Peters (Dexter)
Rena Sofer (Traffic)
Jayma Mays (The Smurfs)
Sakina Jaffrey (The Equalizer 2)
Zachary Quinto (Star Trek)
Tiffany Hines (Bones)
Graham Beckel (L.A. Confidential)
John Ross Bowie (The Big Bang Theory)
Christopher Eccleston (Thor: The Dark World)
Brad Greenquist (Ali)
George Takei (Star Trek: TOS)
Jessalyn Gilsig (Nip/Tuck)
Monica Louwerens (Power Rangers Lightspeed Rescue)
Bill Fagerbakke (How I Met Your Mother)
Rusty Schwimmer (The Perfect Storm)
Stana Katic (Castle)
Stan Lee (Avengers Assemble)
Missi Pyle (Gone Girl)
Missy Peregrym (Van Helsing)
Eric Roberts (The Finder)
Malcolm McDowell (Star Trek: Generations)
Kellan Lutz (Twilight)
Sterling Beaumon (Powers)
Ellen Greene (Little Shop of Horrors)
Jack Guzman (Power Rangers Wild Force)

Tawny Cypress and Santiago Cabrera in Chapter One 'Genesis' (2006) Set on present day Earth, the show details how a growing number of people are developing special abilities outside of government control with a variety of consequences to them and the population at large. Unlike the truncated second season, the first had a full 23 episodes to explore the concept, resulting in a number of smaller, multi-episode arcs that all built toward a bigger picture as the season progressed. Unlike the old style of comic books though, the cast is made up of all sorts of regular people that start to notice they are “special”, some of whom learn to increase their abilities with concentration or training, stumbling at times but honing said powers in numerous ways.Masi Oka in Heroes (2006)In overall terms, the story uses the Human Genome Project as something of a starting point, using scientist Mohinder Suresh (Sendhil Ramamurthy) as a focal point for identifying gifted people as he follows a trail set forth by his father, a formerly distinguished geneticist that chased what were considered crazy ideas about human evolution until he was killed. Mohinder discovers that certain trace markers in human DNA predict people with abilities and having observed firsthand exactly how gifted some of these people are, he ends up trying to warn them of a serial killer named Sylar (Zachary Quinto) and what appears to be secret agents out to capture them. Needless to say, his efforts are not universally appreciated and he himself is cast into the mix as a pawn, forced to face both powered and mundane humans out to stop him. The show also uses a dozen or so other main characters that either have powers or interact heavily with them, many seemingly patterned after specific comic book characters in terms of abilities, though not so much in terms of their personalities.Greg Grunberg in Heroes (2006)Take Hiro Nakamura (Masi Oka) for example, he can bend the space time continuum if he concentrates hard enough, the Japanese office worker slaving away at his father’s corporation while dreaming of his special destiny. The guy is a stereotypical science fiction/comic book nerd too, wanting more than anything to become a hero rather than follow the path laid out for him by his father Kaito (George Takei of Star Trek fame). His hit or miss attempts to control his powers provide some of the comic relief of the show but he also serves as someone genre fans can identify with as he tries to uncover his own future with the help of his best friend, the mundane Ando Masahashi (James Kyson Lee).Hayden Panettiere in Heroes (2006)Then there was Claire Bennet (Hayden Panettiere), a gal with Wolverine-like healing powers who figures out she will regenerate no matter what happens to her, the gal finding out her adopted father Noah (Jack Coleman) is working for an agency with special plans for anyone with her kind of talents. The Texas high school cheerleader becomes an integral part of the main picture as she is stalked by Sylar, a man with the ability to take special powers by decapitating those he encounters, their showdown predicted long before by Isacc Mendez (Santiago Cabrera), a precognitive that draws the future while under the influence of heroin.Masi Oka and James Kyson in Heroes (2006)The cast also included internet stripper Niki Sanders (hotty Ali Larter) whose multiple personality disorder grants her alias Jessica super strength, Nathan Petrelli (Adrian Pasdar) a district attorney running for Congress that can fly, his brother Peter (Milo Ventimiglia) that finds out his ability is especially powerful as time moves forward, Matt Parkman (Greg Grunberg) a street cop that can read minds, and DL Hawkins (Leonard Roberts) who can become intangible at will. Some of them try to keep their secret, like Nathan since he is running for office, while others are on the run from the agency searching such folks out (their point man being Noah with the aid of a Haitian that can negate powers and erase minds played by Jimmy Jean Louis), the conspiracy something straight out of shows like The X-Files, Jericho, or Angel. The interactions of the cast make the show quite special too, capturing the spirit of modern comic books better than anything else I have seen to date.Adrian Pasdar and Rena Sofer in Heroes (2006)Particularly appealing is the manner in which most of the powers are not overly flashy, the dramatic elements allowed to keep the science fiction elements present but downplayed so that a larger audience won’t be alienated. Some of the episodes were gaudier than others in this respect but the exploration of human nature made this a wonderful show to appreciate, the sheer number of extras requiring me to take a lot longer to review this one but the quality of extras was such that I can see why so many fans found this show (in previous releases) to be such a winner, making it a high end Highly Recommended or better, reports of the second season being somewhat less inspiring but still interesting to me now that I’ve gotten a taste for the show. Also, fans of comic books and science fiction will likely find the great many references to other works interesting to find, things such as character names, addresses, license plates, or other minutia standing out to the dedicated few willing to pay stricter attention.Heroes Season 1 may not have tread completely new territory in terms of vast conspiracies (the manner in which Micah manipulated the election seemed to come straight out of the Gore camp), super powered humans, or the way in which human nature deals so readily with conflict but it was the kind of comic book for TV that I have been waiting for all my life and despite a few writing quirks in this first season, it was most entertaining with the kind of replay value few TV-on-DVD sets provide these days. It dealt with numerous situations that non-fans could appreciate too (rape, alienation, “being different”, and the balance between individual rights versus those of the public being only a few to speak of) and left the show open enough for following seasons to take the characters in all new directions. The use of a formulaic process in the episodes was proven to not impact the quality of the show too, my initial concern about the time travel arcs being a series of “do overs” covered well before the finale showed a healthy respect for making our own destiny instead of a predestined outcome as originally implied.

REVIEW: THE GURU

CAST

Jimi Mistry (Blood Diamond)
Marisa Tomei(The Wrestler)
Heather Graham (Killing Me Softly(
Michael McKean (This Is Spinal Tap)
Dash Mihok (The Day after Tomorrow)
Christine Baranski (The Big Bang Theory)
Dwight Ewell (Chasing Amy)
Bobby Cannavale (Ant-Man)
Ajay Naidu (Bad Santa)
Sakina Jaffrey (Mr. Robot)
Ajay Mehta (Anger Management)
Rizwan Manji (The Dictator)

Ramu Gupta (Jimi Mistry), a dance teacher, leaves his native city Delhi, India, to seek his fortune in the United States. He is lured by the exaggerations of his cousin, Vijay, who has already moved to New York City. Vijay’s deception is the first of several that drive the plot.

Seeking work as an actor, the naïve Ramu unknowingly lands a role in a pornographic film. That evening he accompanies Vijay and his roommates on a catering job at a society birthday party. When the Indian swami hired to address the party falls into drunken oblivion, Ramu takes his place. Lacking a real philosophy, he improvises by repeating advice he had been given by Sharonna (Heather Graham), an adult film actress he met earlier.
the-guru-1
Lexi (Marisa Tomei), the birthday girl, is so impressed that she promotes him as a New Age sex guru to her friends. Ramu hires Sharonna, ostensibly for advice on how to be an actor in adult films, though what he really wants is more ideas he could use in his new role as the guru of sex. A personal relationship develops between the two, though Sharonna is engaged to a firefighter who thinks she’s a school teacher. Complications ensue from these and other deceptions.
the-guru-2
A very funny & intelligent movie that spoofs all stereotypes, American as well as Asian. A real good hearted, feel good movie with some wise insights into peoples’ foibles