Sunday, January 31, 2016

Ray Donovan - Binge Watch Review

I'm going to start out this by dragging this show down, with two reasons that I had for not catching it when it was first released.

Ray Donovan looked to me like a full waste of time when I first saw it released. The star, Liev Schreiber, didn't seem to me to be any type of leading man. Let's face it, he was just creepy in the Scream films, and if he did anything else, I can't recall or didn't see it.

The premise seemed like a stretch as well, Hollywood giving itself a gangster tinge, and so I never bought it. I was surprised that it hung around, but not enough to jump in, until now.

The show stretches my comfort level, with enjoyment and some celebration of these awkward characters. This review is done after watching the first two seasons.

Writing -

I've found a lot of depth in this writing, maybe just because the bar is set so low with regular television, but I think I've mentioned that shows on HBO, Netflix, Showtime, AMC, and sometimes even USA or FX, raise the bar.

I'm not sure that it is all scripted into the scenes, but this show takes the non-verbal response to a full plot device. I'll cover this more in talking about the acting in this show, but some belongs here. These are characters whose maybe sole cross trait is their inability to communicate verbally, except for Jon Voight, whose character apparently can't shut up.

This show does a really good job of juggling plot lines, across episodes, and even seasons, there are a good many plot threads and none are obviously left hanging. This show revolves around the character Ray Donovan's ability as a fixer, while showing in the end that nothing is ever really fixed.

The characters are filled out, believable, evolving, and outside of the stereotypical lines usually drawn. Maybe the only one that is overstated is Mickey Donovan, but Jon Voight makes it work, and is clearly enjoying himself as the deeply flawed, self-centered matriarch who can both ingratiate and alienate everyone in a block radius.

If not for the people around him, Ray's character could be the least inspiring, but the nuances of his brothers are reflected subtly in the tough guy lines and scowls.

His brothers are my favorites. His brother Terry, a retired fighter, running a gym, with Parkinsons Disease, possibly brought on by his father allowing him to stay in the ring too long in a fight. This is the guy I bet everyone roots for, and who seems to take on the brunt of the other's failures.

Ray's other brother Bunchy is also severely damaged, mainly because he was abused by a priest as a child. Season 1 he was a drunk, Season 2 recovering but finding obstacles. Through the changes, the character remains strongly drawn.

Ray's wife is also drawn with consistent complications, and evolving through the show.

One point I notice as I go through the seasons is the way that a season has a way of quickly tidying itself up as episode 12 rolls up, taking care of some insurmountable looking issues while now reserving the premise that nothing is really ever over.


Liev Schreiber

The King of the non-verbal response, is Schreiber. That weird, creepy face from Scream can be stretched out into long silences in this show, some whole scenes, with a well staged flashback, are framed and narrated by just this scowl, or variations of it. Sometimes I hear the Christian Bale Batman in some of his comments, more like grunts, but then he will have some on target sequences that make the rest of it seem valid. This performance does make the Scream part seem again like a cameo.  


Eddie Marsan

 This actor looked familiar, but nothing I saw in his IMDB listing told me where I saw him. his portrayal, a very physically demanding one, is hard to do correctly and can look ridiculous, but he is compelling.

 Many of these characters make me uncomfortable, you watch them deliver scripted lines that they truly look like they are random and could be anything in each reaction.

Terry is the demarcation line for the characters that cause discomfort, you like the guy, you are rooting for the guy, but some shots of him, are of a man in constant stress, pain, with his core goodness spilling out and around it.

Sunday, January 03, 2016

Star Wars - The Force Awakens - Pro's and Cons - Spoiler Alert

If you're a well-read, or well-watched, sci-fi person, Star Wars is the lightweight of the genre. There is no getting around that. ,

It has had much more impact than other offerings because it was able to find an audience larger than any of them before it, and even since, maintains it's own type of loyalty. George Lucas will tell you it it is because it is a widely appealing action romance that just happens to be in space. This is what allows it to overcome some serious shortcomings in plot development, and twists.

The Force Awakens demonstrates this, both with it's popularity now, already becoming the highest grossing film in history, and it's content.

To judge it as a shrewd sci-fi fan is not fair, it was born into a world, nay, CREATED the worlds in which we compare star fighters for their performance, and alien species dialects. Star Trek dragged a cart down this road, Star Wars put it in hyper/warp speed.

Star Wars lives on it's entertainment value.
That's what I am writing towards, after letting it all settle in for a couple weeks.
  • New characters
    • Poe, Ray - these are good characters, good young actors, and hold some promise.  - Pro
    • Fin - I really like Fin, and he is a good addition to this story and theme, but why did they have to be so lazy bring him in. I cover this in further detail below, but realized as I edit that I forgot to mention him as a character. 
    • Kylo Ren/ Ben Solo, not sold yet. The character premise itself bothers me because he very much feels like he's been dropped in, and a thought I had in the theater seat was 'Wow, they could actually pull two films out of his training and turn just like they did for Anakin in Episodes 1-3. ' The actor, I had to look it up after the movie to make sure he wasn't Nick SImmons, son of Gene Simmons, except that he looked a lot like Nick back when they were doing the show, ten years ago. I am not sure how I feel about how awkward looking he is, the actor, but I suppose he does have some chops, so in my edit I am calling this a half-Con, still not buying in 100%.  - half -Con
  • Technology, used correctly, polish this up very nicely. I will probably go back to see it again soon, and looking forward to just enjoying the visuals, which they took full advantage of. - Pro.
  • Han Solo getting killed -
    If any actor and character deserve to do a victory lap, and just enjoy playing a character they know well, on film, Harrison Ford and Han Solo do, and this was what this felt like to me.

    There were clear times where he seemed to be just reveling in the fact that there he was shooting off his laser, fighting in spaceships, at his age, after all these years. You see other actors that do it, The Lethal Weapon movies after 2, Oceans 11+, Rocky and Rambo, and maybe a little in Indiana Jones.
  • If they are following in the form of Obiwan for Han, that is fine for me, it was surprising, and made me gasp out loud. The death was not convincing. He could have gone into a vent, like Luke did, or survived in any number of other ways, which is also fine with me. - Pro
  • Parallel's to Stars Wars (aka A New Hope)
    • It starts on the same world, with a cute but different droid than R2D2. They work their way through the galaxy, and in the first big scene, Obiwan/Han dies. It's been long enough since the first offering that this seems both an homage and offering up slightly better chops to keep us guessing. - Pro
  • Just happening to bump into Han out in space? Yeah, what can you say, it's a small universe, right? - Indifferent - Trekkie level concerns. Some happenstance is necessary for plots.
  • The switch of Fin - 
    • Let's get this straight, he is a lifelong storm trooper, then his buddy gets shot and dies, leaving a red Monster Logo on his helmet so we can track him, and this makes him despise fighting so much he goes to the other side with the very guy that killed his buddy, to whom he professes love not 30 movie minute later? Lazy effort that falls short of even below trekkie level attention - Con
  • Ray's sudden knowledge of the force -
    • Accepting that her brief flashback reveals that Luke was her father and that she has the lineage, how did she immediately adopt the mind control rhythm when never showing it before? - I can accept it.

Avengers 2 - Ultron's Movie treatment

Cleaning up some old drafts where I want to think I made some good points, this was from early last summer. ---
I've now seen Avengers 2 twice, once on the regular screen, then again on Imax 3D.
It holds up.

One thing I noticed in the first showing, in the first scene, the CGI seemed almost purposely ridiculously bad until they got to the compound, did not show up in my second viewing.

What is very clear is that the producer and writer of this are all on the same page. The dialogue is real, the graphics perfect, and the mild work done with the subject matter is done well, with respect to those that are invested in these characters.

Someone gets it.

A voice I never heard from Ultron as I read comics with him in them, James Spader, brought something genuine to the tired, is it pre- or post- Terminator 2 type storyline. Acknowledging that the Ultron saga began far before Terminator, otherwise I think it's a lot of trade offs.

Now, my take on Avengers 2 after initial impressions have faded and or taken hold.

It hasn't held up as well as Avengers 1 or Captain America 2, but I still appreciate it despite using Ultron as the subject matter, and that is because of James Spader, who DID nail it, and yeah the Director gets it all, but Ultron is the most tired of the Marvel themes.

I am very excited about the upcoming Civil War, and many of the other Marvel Projects, hopefully, I will blog about them.

The Emergence of Netflix and other streaming content

Haven't dropped off the planet, even though there haven't been posts here lately, and I haven't failed to notice that the landscape of entertainment has changed drastically, even in the time since my last post.

The relevance of the networks is dropping of the cliff, HBO is the old hand in the game now, and is getting challenged by a company that was busy mailing us videos around the time I started this blog and web entities like Amazon and Hulu that are making surprising pushes themselves.

I'm enjoying it. I was waiting for this fight back in 2008 or so, as network scripting stagnated and nobody was quite sure how to use the new mediums we had. I have an off/on relationship with Netflix over the years, but now watch a lot of it, and still find gems in the forms of series that I can binge watch and maybe later catch in Real time on whatever network they originally started on.

I also realize that Blogs themselves have kind of slipped out of relevance, but for my own use, I plan on making one more run at it with them. Ideas I've had for articles over the last couple years, I've just swallowed, but for the next few weeks or months or until it's again tiring, I will start putting them here again.