Archive for the ‘TV’ Category

chernobyl

Episode 1: 1:23:45

In April 1986, the Chernobyl nuclear plant exploded,  there were reports that the core was “gone”  and assistant engineer Anatoly Dyatlov, (Paul Ritter) deputy chief engineer at Chernobyl  seemed incredulous at hearing this news, despite reports from Night Shift supervisor Aleksandr Akimov (Sam Troughton) and Senior Engineer Leonid Toptunov.  Robert Emms) Of course people like Victor Bryukhanov  (Con O’Neill) the plant manager and politicians like Zharkov want to minimize the situation, but a fireman from Pripyat , Vasilly Ignatenko (Adam Naglitis) has seen examples of radiation poisoning up close, as a result of the explosion.  Do the plant owners and politicians face the ugly truth and evacuate nearby towns or continue to minimize the situation?

There are two aspects of the Chernobyl story intriguing.  One is the disaster of the nuclear power plant with the core blown off, and the utter disbelief that something like this could happen, and then there is the beginnings of a cover-up, by the management in the plant and the Communist leadership.  If news of this disaster got out, even at the tail end of the Cold War, heads would roll, so the government does what it does best, hide the truth, and endanger the lives of thousands of its own citizens.

The acting is excellent, though it’s a bit disconcerting to hear Russians speak the King’s English with the Queen’s accent.

Episode 2: Please Remain Calm

Valery Legasov (Jared Harris) deputy director of Kurchatov Institute, and an expert on nuclear power, balks at a report prepared by a commission headed by Mikhail Gorbachev. (David Dencik) Gorbachev responds by sending Legasov  and Boris Shcherbina  (Stellan Skarsgard) to Chernobyl to investigate the scene.   Shcherbina  is skeptical of the reports of a disaster.  Ulana Khomyuk, (Emily Watson) a nuclear physicist from Minsk travels to the Chernobyl site to warn that there may be a second explosion, with much worse consequences.  What do Legasov and Shcherbina  do about this possible second disaster?

Chernobyl is an intense and gripping story, it is hard to watch, even as a dramatization, and even harder to binge.  The only flaw is that one of the characters is a fictional composite character and that undercuts the seriousness of the storytelling a bit.  Some of the information is also fictionalized, so don’t take the miniseries as gospel. The writers didn’t need to fictionalize characters or facts, the story is powerful enough on its own.  Tell it, with no embellishment.

The acting is excellent, especially by Jared Harris, who plays a man torn between keeping this horrible secret and telling everything he knows.  The viewer can see the conflict etched in his face. Stellan Skarsgard is also good as a party loyalist trying to work within the system to achieve Legasov’s goals.

Episode 3:  Open Wide O Earth

Lyudmilla Ignatenko defies a nurse’s orders to visit her firefighter husband, Vasilly.  Legasov has a plan to  stop the radiation from  getting into the groundwater involving coal miners, do the miners agree?  Legasov informs Khomyuk that she should interview plant workers in the hospital. Legasov and Shcerbina have good news and bad news for the Chernobyl commission.  How does Gorbachev take the bad news?

The firefighter and his wife’s storyline are reminiscent of 9/11. There were many firemen running into danger to try to help others, seeing it from that point of view made those scenes more personal and more heartbreaking.  The Soviet government wanted to take  advantage of their citizens loyalty to their country, while also taking extreme measures to keep the details of the disaster from leaking to the West. That made the government doubly duplicitous.

Episode 4:  The Happiness of All Mankind

Khomyuk tries to determine why the reactor exploded by interviewing Dyatlov, what does she find out, what does she ask from Legasov and Shcerbina?  Legasov and Shcerbins are trying to use lunar rovers to clean the radioactive graphite from the roof of the power plant, but one section of the roof, nicknamed Masha is especially difficult to clean up, what do they do?   Some soldiers have a difficult mission, especially for a new soldier. Luydmilla is about to give birth, what happens?

The Soviet government has a decision to make about how to clear the roof of the plant, and the decision they make is shocking, but not surprising.  The reactor explosion is the next issue, again the government has a decision to make, again they make a decision that should surprise no one.  The soldiers get hardened and more nationalistic as the disaster takes a bigger toll.   The final scene of this episode is perhaps the most poignant pf the series.

Episode5: Vichnaya Pamyat

Dyatlov, Fomin, and  Bryukhanov are charged with operator error at their trial following the Chernobyl disaster.  But Khomyuk and Legasov may have some testimony that may contradict the official party line of operator error. Will they testify honestly?  Especially since KGB Cherkov promises Legasov a promotion if he follows the official story.

This episodes illustrates a perfect example of a show trial, the government has  its fall guys, they have the charges, they know the results, and they don’t want anyone to get in the way of their story.  The key question is do Komyuk and Legasov testify?  This is gripping drama that the news media in the U.S. media didn’t really follow up on, so it was thoroughly compelling viewing to see how this played out.  The postscript to the story, which showed the actual people involved was somehow more deflating than the dramatization.

 

 

 

 

My Impressions of Chernobyl

Chernobyl is the best miniseries I’ve seen since True Detective.  This miniseries came along at just the right time.  There was never much coverage of Chernobyl in the states, perhaps because it happened in the Ukraine, or perhaps because America was enamored with MTV and materialism.  And even if I had perfect recall of the events in Chernobyl, which I don’t, memories fade, so I had a very sketchy recollection of the events of the reactor explosion, and aftermath.  This miniseries filled the sketchiness with a complete picture which is a complex and dire picture.

The writing is just as complex, there are heroes and villains, but the heroes  are dying, and the villains are fighting to survive.  How many of us, if put in the same situation would do exactly what the Soviets in power did, mainly fight for their own survival and the survival of their political system.  What irks me about the Soviets was they created a  cottage industry out of lying and keeping secrets.  The KGB and the government seemed to take a particular joy from hiding things and punishing common folk who obliviously went through with their lives, serving the state, because they didn’t know anything different.  And the leaders in the government especially Gorbachev I portrayed as ruthless and demanding  This is surprising because Gorbachev is usually thought of as a hero in the U.S., for his handling of the collapse of Soviet communism, but he’s far from heroic here.

The writing exposes the secrecy and the perverse joy the government had in keeping these secrets.  The heroes, duty-bound and stoic, try to prevent the disaster from reaching epic proportions.  There are heroes within the government too who quietly try to expose as much truth as they can without losing their lives.  The result is heartbreaking , but also oddly enlightening and uplifting.  Would the American government try to keep an accident like this a secret?  Undoubtedly yes, but we have countervailing institutions that dig at secrets that governments try to keep, like the free press and judiciary which are supposed to serve as a check and balance over an overly secretive government.  The show trial in the last episode shows the inert nature of the Soviet judiciary, instead of being a bulwark against a corrupt government; it is part of the corrupt government.  There are small flaws, the writers create a composite character to move the story along, and this is a mistake, there is enough drama in the real story and characters to make for a really compelling miniseries.

The acting is superb.  Jared Harris plays Legasov, as a man absolutely torn between exposing the truth and destroying his career, and risking his life.  The viewer can see the consternation written all over Harris’ face. It is a masterful performance.  Another powerful performance is turned in by Stellan Skarsgaard as Boris Shcerbina.  At first the viewer thinks that Boris is just another Soviet apparatchik, but then the transformation begins.  By going to the plant, seeing the selfless nature of the people around him, seeing Legasov, all of his changes Shcerbina and the change is so subtle, that it’s totally in keeping with this character.  The combination of understated acting, and great writing resulted in this character being realized to his full potential.   Emily Watson is less effective as Ulyana  Khomyuk, the character is not well-written and Watson seems to overemphasize her character’s importance.  One flaw with the acting is that all the actors speak with thick British accents, which belies the reality that this tragedy happened in the Ukraine.

The direction was well-done.  Visually, there is a contrast between the dank, gray colors of the plant and the coal mines, and the brighter seemingly innocent look of the surrounding town.  There is a reliance on makeup to convey the horrors of radiation poisoning, but it’s not an overreliance.  The pacing is good, and the performances are good even by the secondary actors.

Despite some minor flaws, Chernobyl is riveting drama, which viewers need to see and watch slowly, and let the horror of this disaster seep into every pore of the viewer’s being.  This should easily win multiple Emmys, if there’s a better miniseries this year, I haven’t seen it.

Chernobyl, an explosive drama.

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killing eve

Episode 1: Nice Face

MI5 Security Agent Eve Polastri (Sandra Oh) is doing her own private investigation of the murder of a shady Russian politician.  She is making side bets with her boss, Bill Pargrave, (David Haig) about how the politician was killed and who killed him.  Eve is tasked with protecting the only witness to the killing, the politician’s girlfriend, Kasia Molkovska  (Edyta Budnik)  Can Eve protect her?

This episode is a great introduction to what looks to be a very good show, the plot is interesting and unexpected in a lot of ways and the acting is very good.  The cast is mostly British, except for Oh, who I never really cared for as an actress.  I did not like Sideways at all, but Oh shows good timing here and the humor is very dry understated British humor.  Pretty impressive for the opening salvo.  There are even some good production values here and the show looks stylish.

Episode 2:  I’ll Deal With Him Later

After being relieved of her duties, Eve is offered an opportunity by Carolyn Martins (Fiona Shaw) of MI6 to track down the assassin whom Eve seems obsessed with.  The assassin , Villanelle (Jodie Comer) is having a little trouble controller her bloodlust, despite being warned by her handler, Konstantin(Kim Bodnia)  many times to tone her flashy behavior down. Has Eve met Villanelle before?

It’s interesting that this episode spends most of this episode is devoted to Villanelle, because she is the much more interesting character.  Eve and her gang of detectives seem to be comedy relief, and play second fiddle to Villanelle in a show named after Eve.  I don’t know if that was intended, but that the way it seems.  Great performance by Julie Comer who seems to enjoy killing way too much, her performance has hijacked the show from Sandra  Oh.

Episode 3:  Don’t I know You?

After Villanelle kills a Chinese cyber expert, Zhang Wu (Simon Chin) in a dubious location in Berlin, Eve and Bill try to track her down, even while Konstantin warns  Villanelle that they are in town, and that she should report their doings back to him.  The Chinese government representative, Jin Yeong  (Lobo Chan) seems more interested in Eve  then finding out what happened to his dead compatriot.  What is he after?

This is the first, and I hope, only, weak episode of Killing Eve, the plot breaks down in silly and correctable ways, the secondary characters are cartoonish in their simplicity, and most shocking of all the script has some really old and tired female objectification. I guess the #MeToo movement hasn’t reached the UK as of yet.  And this script was written by a woman.  The ending of this episode is very predictable, and Villanelle, who should be the most unpredictable character is predictably crazy.

 

 

Episode 4:  Sorry Baby

Eve is distressed about what happened to  Bill.  Chinese intelligence points to a mole in British intelligence.  At the same time, Villanelle is part of an assassination team that wants to kill the same mole?  Who I the British mole and do Eve and her time save him from Villanelle?

This was another weak episode,   because it makes Mi6 so inept, Eve and pals spend half the episode tailing the right person, and then half the episode wondering who’s after the mole.  There’s an assassin on the loose, and they can’t figure out why the mole is running for his life?  Don’t ask Eve Polastri to protect anyone, she is unable to o it.

Episode 5:  I Have A Thing About Bathrooms

Eve tries to protect the mole, while being chased by Villanelle.  Is she successful in either catching Villanelle or protecting the mole? Villanelle also finds out that Nadia, who was part of the hit squad on the mole, is alive, and sharing information with the British authorities,

I used to like this show, but it has left  the realm of reality, and entered some fantasy world, trying to make a point other than anything to do with spying.  There is no way an MI6 officer would act this brazenly stupid all the time.  And on top of it, Eve screams, proving the sexist point that spying is not women’s work.  Whatever point this show is trying to make, it’s making the opposite point.

Episode 6:  Take Me To The Hole

Villanelle travels to Russia to find Nadia, and Eve and Carolynn Martins follow suit.  Following Villanelle puts a strain on Eve’s marriage. At dinner, a surprise guest joins Eve and Carolyn, who is it?

This was an interesting episode, because instead of trying to psychoanalyze Eve, it got back to the central premise of the show which is spying.  The spying aspect is more interesting than any of the personalities involved.  The writers tend to overplay Villanelle’s character, like she’s a superhero that can’t be destroyed.  They should stop that.

Episode 7:  I Don’t Want To Be Free

Something has happened to Nadia, and Villanelle wants to get out of the jail cell she’s in desperately, but Russian officials are making it difficult.  Carolyn is considering shutting down the operation tracking Villanelle, what does that mean for Eve?  Villanelle has a new target, who is it?  Eve follows up on a promising new lead.

This is another interesting episode, because Eve is doing actual detective work, and there is more backstory about Villanelle. This is what the show should have been about all along, but it took a few episodes to find its footing.

 

 

Episode 8:  God I’m Tired

Villanelle has taken a hostage in order to get to her target safely.  Eve disregards orders from Carolyn to go back to London, and instead goes to Paris to continue tracking Villanelle.  Does Eve find Villanelle?  Is she prepared to kill Villanelle?

This was an ok episode, it was hardly a cliffhanger for me, because I knew something about the show that others may not know, but what I knew sort of ruined the ending for me.  The last three episodes almost redeemed the show for me, more on  why I said almost in my season 1 summary.   This was a good closing episode, not a great one.

Season 1 Summary:

After the first episode of Killing Eve, I was genuinely excited about this show and the seemingly limitless directions in which it could go.  By episode two, my enthusiasm for the show was dampened, because Eve was not even the main character in a show named after her.  The show made Villanelle a supervillain, incapable of being hurt, tormenting people and leaving them in awe of her supreme evil. Villanelle is written like Freddy Krueger or some other horror movie bad guy, an evil that will never die.  I’m reminded of Dr. Evil’s son Scott, who, “Don’t overcomplicate things, just take a gun, and bang.”  But Eve seemed incapable of doing anything to Villanelle, either frozen with fear, or moist with admiration.  The last 3 episodes get back on track, but the show was too far gone for redemption. The middle three episodes take the show way off track, and to the point of being silly and inconsequential.  When there are only 8 episodes in a season, 3 episodes off the rails are much too much.

Sandra Oh was absolutely the wrong person to play Eve, she plays Eve as a frightened, screaming  unsubstantial person.  This character undercuts women having serious jobs like an analyst in MI6 and this is clearly not what the writers intended, but this is how the show appears.  Eve is a bumbling goofball who can’t find her bottom with both hands, and the MI6 brain trust seem like the Keystone Kops.  It’s groundbreaking, even revolutionary to have two female leads, but the  Eve character undermines serious women everywhere by being a frightened immature woman child.  Even Villanelle is pure Hollywood psycho, the character is fun at first, but ears thin after 8 episodes.  Both Oh and Julie Comer could have done more to add dimensions to their characters.  Oh’s  heavy handed approach  to the comedic aspects to her character really  ruin the character.  She won a Golden Globe Award and a Screen Actors Guild Award for Eve Polastri. Go figure.

Julie Comer has a lot of fun with this role, and why not, she gets to play a seductress and cold blooded assassin, and she takes great joy in killing people.  Julie Comer does a great job playing the remorseless Villanelle, so much so, that she takes over the show, and leaves nothing for the rest of the cast to do.

The direction is not very visually stimulating, there are some moments interior and exterior shots that pop with color, but on the whole, it’s not a visual show.  The pacing is god and most of the acting is good from the ensemble cast. I don’t know how much of a role the directors play in the acting of the cast, so I really can’t comment on that.  The paving was good most of the time, and the episodes were short enough not to be burdensome.

 

Killing Eve:  Didn’t  slay me.

 

 

 

mrs maisel season 2

Episode 1: Simone
Midge is working at B. Altman and planning more standup appearances, when she takes an unexpected trip with her father, Abe. Susie takes something of an unexpected trip to the Rockaways. With time to think Midge mulls her future with Joel. What happens on the trip? What is Midge’s decision about Joel?
Viewers sometimes have to suspend reality during sci-fi movies or shows, but viewers shouldn’t have to suspend reality in a comedy, but viewers will. I’m sure the writer did this to grab viewers’ attention, and it works, but it’s not necessary. Some of the scenes seem forced , and some of the dr drama is definitely forced. The saving grace is the episode that it is funny, very funny.

The cast is fantastic, comedic timing cannot be taught, and this cast’s timing is superb. Rachel Broshnahan is perfect as the fast talking, quick witted Midge. The drama didn’t seem as authentic in this episode as in the first year, but I will give her time. Alex Bornstein from Family Guy plays Midge’s street smart agent perfectly. Tony Shaloub is also perfect as Abe, Midge’s perpetually cranky father, Abe. These three carry the show and are very funny. Marin Hinkle handles her expanded role as Midge’s mother Rose well.

The direction seems visually flashier and more daring, maybe they have more of a budget in year 2 than they did in year 1.

Episode 2: Midway To Mid-town
Abe gets comfortable in his new surroundings, up to a point. Midge gets her first big paying gig, but keeps getting bumped in the order by male comedians, what does Midge do when she gets her chance? Joel takes control of his dad’s garment district business. He likes the feeling of power so much, he tries to exercise some control over Midge. How does she react?

The writing in this episode is inconsistent. It shows one woman emancipating herself and another woman whose dreams are slowly being crushed. It also seems that the writers are trying to soften Joel’s rough edges, make him less of a jerk. The jury is still out on that. This episode has more drama with some comedy, but it’s also less forced and more natural than the first episode.

Episode 3: The Punishment Room
Midge gets promoted to the coat room at B. Altman, and agrees to plan a friend’s wedding reception. Rose audits some art classes and gets in trouble with the professor. Joel tries to get a loan for his parents and goes on a treasure hunt.

The writing is funny, the performances are good, but there are specific things about the writing that trouble me. The stereotypical Italian family is no funnier now than it was in the 50’s. Also every comedian has a filter, they all know when to turn it off and on, also there are still two types of women, one who has to walk on eggshells and get their husbands to bail them out of trouble. Also Midge is asked by her agent to do something that a male comedian would never have to do. Also there are some tied sitcom tropes. Overall, still a good show.

Episode 4: We’re Going To The Catskills
Midge and her parents go to the Catskills for a month on vacation. People are talking about Midge and Joel’s separation. Joel is lonely, Abe is drunk. Rose is determined to get Midge something, Susie is determined to get Midge something different.

This episode is more of a serious episode. Again, not really sure what this season is trying to say about women, but a couple of things concerned me.

Episode 5: Midnight At The Concord
Joel’s parents show up at the Catskills, and Abe can’t spend another year with Joel’s dad, Moishe. Susie is still hanging around the Catskills, pretending to be a plumber. Midge hears something that makes her want to go back to New York City, but how will she get there?

I found out what’s bugging me about this season, it’s one thing to write as if the show is set in the 50’s, but they shouldn’t use the same plot devices as writers use in the 1950’s. The writers also use rom com plot devices, which is a bad sign. The show is still funny including an extremely funny exchange between Kevin Pollack and Tony Shalhoub, but the writers must avoid the pitfalls of easy answers, and pat situations. I predicted the ending of this episode, that’s not a good sign.

Episode 6: Let’s Face The Music and Dance
Abe is alternately angry, happy, and angry again as events unfold around him. Susie is suddenly the most popular person at the Catskills resort. Rose suddenly becomes close to her daughter in law Astrid (Justine Lupe) to find out more about her son Noah’s (Will Brill) profession.

Kevin Pollack and Tony Shaloub are again very funny in this episode. Justine Lupe is also very funny but she plays into a negative stereotype about women’s ability to keep secrets, The writers made Susie excessively harsh in this episode for no apparent reason. And the writers insist on following this silly rom com path for the show that only makes the show more predictable.

Episode 7: Look She Made A Hat
Midge visit an art gallery with Benjamin (Zachery Levi) a friend from the summer resort Midge visited. The artist Declan Howell (Rufus Sewell) seems more interested in Midge then selling a painting to Benjamin. Susie has a proposal for her family. What is it? Joel is drinking to forget the one year anniversary of their breakup. Midge has a secret to reveal at Yom Kippur dinner, what is it?

The writing from last year seemed to challenge the conventional wisdom regarding women, but this season seems to want to fit the women into conventional gender roles. The writers really try to shoehorn Midge into a traditional female role instead of making her a trailblazer, like they seemed to be in the first season. That is disappointing. The episode still manages to be funny, at the Yom Kippur dinner where no one atones for anyone. Justine Lupe continues to be funny as Astrid, the converted Gentile, who wants to be more Jewish than the Jews, Tony Shaloub and Kevin Pollack shine again. This episode features no standup, for the first time in the almost two years, and that was a shortcoming of this episode.

Episode 8: Someday
Midge goes on her first tour with Susie, and forgets something major going on at the same time. Midge asks Abe to come to a show of hers, but he’s too busy listening to Ethan’s records to respond. Joel warns Susie, while Susie and Midge are on the road. Midge finally returns home to find her house a mess.

The writers start this episode with a standup routine, which rectified the issue from the last episode. The writers are making Midge more responsible and less entitled, which is good. The late 1950’s references are cool, but they go too far with one. The issue with this episode is that the writers continue to reinforce traditional gender roles, with Joel providing the chivalry in this episode. The show takes place in the late 50’s, but this used to be a show about a woman trying to find her footing after her husband left her. It doesn’t seem to be about that anymore.

Episode 9: Vote For Kennedy, Vote For Kennedy
Susie tries to get Midge booked for an arthritis telethon, but she might get bumped by an old rival, Sophie Lennon. (Jane Lynch) Abe is bored at his dream job, and the frustration boils over at the university. Joel is increasingly frustrated by all the problems in his dad’s garment factory. Benjamin seems impressed by Midge’s standup.

There’s a lot of stress under the surface of this episode, even between unlikely characters. I like that they try to be true to the period, for example, the character of Shy Baldwin. I don’t know that the denouement of this episode made sense, but the stand-up comedy was funny.

Episode 10: Alone
Abe’s got a few decisions to make. Rose goes to see the tea leaf reading lady. Joel makes a decision about his future. Sophie Lennon makes Susie an offer. Shy Baldwin makes Midge an offer.

This is a good final episode, filled with cliffhangers, and questions that need to be answered. All the main characters are moving in different directions than they started the season. The ending is serious and realistic and I like it.

My Impressions of Season 2:
I like this show, I really do, but it seemed like the writing took a step backwards this year, last year it seemed like this show was about a woman trying to make her way alone, and that was interesting. This season, up until the last episode, it was about something completely different. In a very real way men played a much larger, more dominating role than I ever imagined would happen after season 1. The writers seemed to infantilize  Miidge at some point, but they also took Midge out of her comfort zone at other times, which was both interesting and necessary. The ending of the last episode was actually gratifying to me, except for one aspect of it that I would change, but other than that, I was pleasently surprised by the risks that episode took.

The acting is amazing Rachel Broshnahan was meant to play the role of the sometimes coddled, but always tough as nails Midge Maisel. It’s difficult to find an actress who can perform both comically and dramatically, but Broshnaan does both flawlessly. Alex Borenstein is very funny as Midge’s fast-talking, street smart manager, Susie. Tony Shaloub is fantastic as Midge’s mostly laconic father Abe. Shaloub is another actor who can play a seious schene and a funny scene with equal aplomb.Marine Hinkle did a good job, plaing Midg’s mom, Rose, but I wish she got to show off the sharper edges the writers gave her in the first episode. Michael Zengen does a good job as Midge’s husband Joel, he benefits from the fact that the writers try furiously to rehabilitate.

The direction starts of with a bang with exotic locals and visual effects, then settles down to normal storytelling, Jeff Bezos can’t be blowing his money on tv shows, he has a divorce settlement to pay. There was nothing nooteworthy about the direction after the first few episodes.

The Marvellous Mrs Maisel: Still A-maise-ing in Year 2.

patrick melrose

Episode 1:  Bad News

Patrick Melrose (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a British addict who learns of his father David’s (Hugo Weaving) death.  Patrick tries to give up heroin, in honor of his dad’s passing, does he succeed?  He also tries to date his girlfriend’s friend Maryanne. (Allison Williams)  How does that go?

What to say of this character and show?  I didn’t sympathize with Patrick, I didn’t pity him, I didn’t laugh at his many travails, because they were of his own making. Patrick is a trust fund baby, who spends his money like water to feed his vices, and he thinks he’s fine.  Then there’s the excuse lurking around. The action that will excuse Patrick’s neediness and behavior,  I know exactly how this is going to end, and I don’t think it’s worth going through five hours just to find out  what happens to a thoroughly despicable character.  Benedict Cumberbatch is fine, it is fun to see him play a creep, but it’s as if he’s doing a one man show and not getting much help from the rest of the cast. The episode is a slog, to see such self-destructive behavior over and over again, is difficult to say the least.

The visual direction is good, as in there are interesting shots from many different angles, but the pacing is very slow, an hour takes forever in this show

Episode 2:  Never Mind

Patrick recalls a trip to Lacoste France in 1967, where something horrific happened to him.

So, now the audience sees what drove Patrick Melrose to his self-destructive excesses.  Many people go through horribly painful  events in their lives, not all of them turn into addicts and fewer still want to kill themselves with an overdose.  These books and this show is glorying drug use by making  it all seem like one big party, other than the withdrawal symptoms, and they become redundant too. Other than good performances from Benedict Cumberbatch and Hugo Weaving, this wouldn’t even be worth watching the story of addiction has been told many times, so what can be added, I don’t know.

Episode 3:  Some Hope

In 1990 Patrick attends a party thrown by Bridget (Holliday Granger)  a woman he first met at the family home in France Bridget is now a countess, and has invited everyone to the party, from Patrick’s friend and fellow addict Johnny Hall (Prasanna Puwanarajah) to Princess Margaret. (Harriet Walter) Patrick makes an important admission to Johnny at the party.

There is a major tonal shift in this episode, there are still flashbacks to remind the viewer of Patrick’s trauma, but it’s also a blistering satire of the idle rich, until the viewer realizes that Patrick is one of the idle rich, that makes the satire a little less effective.  Still the tonal shift is a welcome change. The only issue I have with this episode is that Bridget looks the same 23 years after Patrick first met her.  The makeup people should have aged her a little.  The camera continues to shoot this film from interesting angles.

 

Episode 4:  Mother’s Milk:

Patrick goes to the South of France to visit his mother in 2003.  He is married now with two young boys, but he still has vices, but does he indulge them?

Patrick is married and has two kids, he could concentrate on them, he could make then the center of his world, he could forget about his past, and concentrate on his future.  In other words, he could be an adult, but does he do that, or does he continue to live a Peter Pan life where he doesn’t want to grow up and face his responsibilities if being a husband and father?  Parts of this episode is funny, but it’s also frustrating to watch.

Episode 5: At Last

In 2005, Patrick must come to terms with his mother’s death, while continuing to self-medicate with alcohol.

At last, this show is over.  The viewer finally sees some consequences of Patrick’s behavior, but even the consequences are clichés , and he never quite seems to understand how his behavior affects other people.  The visual direction continues to be stellar.  But the story is never quite realistic enough to be gripping.  Finally, the flashbacks on this episode are confusing, it is never clear when it’s 2005, and when it’s before 2005.

Impressions of Patrick Melrose

The acting by Benedict Cumberbatch and Hugo Weaving is excellent, and that’s why I kept watching.  But in the end, the story glorifies drug and alcohol abuse.  In the age of rampant opioid addiction, that is a dangerous viewpoint to present.  Patrick has a built in excuse for his excesses, and the consequences of his actions are only briefly mentioned and off he goes again, living his carefree, consequence free lifestyle. When Patrick actually hits rock bottom, it’s so short in duration, that it doesn’t have an impact.

Cumberbatch is good, despite playing a not very likable character, either as needy addict or devil-may care alcoholic, he is kind of a cad.  His character seems to think life owes him something instead of making the most of a very advantageous position. The problem with playing an amoral person is that the audience will never root for Patrick to succeed, because his goals are out of whack.  So it may be a fine performance by Cumberbatch, but the character is pretty despicable.

Hugo Weaving is used to being a bad guy, he played Agent Smith in three Matrix movies.  Here he is relentlessly, one dimensionally evil , playing Patrick’s father David.  He does the best he can, despite being boxed in by the writers.  Jennifer Jason Leigh is not given much to do after the first couple of episodes.

The direction is very visually stimulating throughout, the camera is used in many different angles to give the viewer a lot of different perspectives of what is happening in each episode.  The downside of the direction is the pacing is very slaw, and when the subject matter is difficult, which is often,this show becomes difficult to watch.

Patrick Melrose:  No one comes out smelling like a rose in this show.

 

Westworld-Season-2

 

Episode 1:  Journey Into Night

Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) continues her vengeance filled rampage. Maeve (Thandie Newton) searches for her daughter.  Bernard (Jeffrey Wright) tries to help Charlotte Hale (Tessa Thomson) escape. The Man in Black (Ed Harris) is looking for what’s In the middle of the maze.

The writers go out of their way to be cryptic,  Bernard is the most cryptic of all the characters.  He has to pick a side and stick to it.  The violence is too much,  once the writers chose the season one ending, they had to go down this road a little, but they are in danger of losing the aspects of the show that make it  interesting.   The writers have turned an intriguing concept into a bloody revenge fantasy.

The acting is a mixed bag.  Thandie Newton stands out as giving the best performance, she shows grit, determination and empathy all at the same time.  Even Rachel Wood is saddled (no pun intended)  with a character that is too one dimensional.  Jeffrey Wright just looks confused and bewildered, that’s not acting, that’s a genuine response to the script.  The writers have given James Marsden nothing to do, last year, at least he was comic relief.  Tessa Thompson is just window dressing, and I like Ed Harris, but I don’t know if he’s a good guy, bad guy, anti-hero, he’s been  going to this resort for 40 years and he still doesn’t know what it’s about. The direction is unremarkable, except for the slow-motion stylized violence in the episode.

Episode 2: Reunion

Dolores recollects her earliest memories as an android, with Bernard by her side.  Maeve is fixated on finding her daughter.  The Man in Black and Dolores are looking for the same thing for different reasons, but Dolores has a lot more help in trying to find it.

This episode was slightly more interesting than the first episode, because there is a little dissention in the android ranks  Maeve is not interested in the same thing that Dolores is interested in, and tells her so.  The Man in Black is yet another cryptic character, what is he after?  Why did he wait so long to act on his fears?  Teddy is another wasted character, no development at all.

Episode 3: Virtu E Fortuna

Grace (Katja Herbers) gets attacked by an animatronic tiger.  Dolores gathers an army.  Maeve continues to look  for her daughter with Hector (Rodrigo Santoro) and Lee Sizemore (Simon Quartermain)  in tow.  Dolores asks Bernard to fix her father, whose speech patterns are faltering.

Thus episode was distressing, because Dolores continued to be one dimensional, and they took the fierceness and intelligence away from Maeve, she should be the intelligent counterpoint to Dolores’ single-minded rage.  But this episode makes Maeve a standard damsel in distress. There was a tired Native American trope that comes straight out of John Wayne or John Ford moves.  There is a slight bit of interest in why Dolores’ father’s code is so glitch, and Teddy is starting to develop, but very slowly.  But the Man in Black is nowhere to be seen in this episode, and I don’t know why his storyline was delayed.

Episode 4:  The Riddle of The Sphynx

Bernard asks Elsie (Shannon Woodward) to fix him, his memory is sputtering, but what is Bernard remembering?  William (Jimmi Simpson) is talking about a new project to James Delos (Peter Mullen) who is Delos?  The Man in Black rides west and meets someone he knows, who is it?

This is an episode without Dolores and Maeve and it’s a very interesting episode.  The interesting character is Delos, and how he’s worked into two of the storylines.  Another new character is introduced in this episode.  It is as if the writers scrapped the first three episodes entirely, and that was smart.  The first three episodes were a miasma of gore and violence.

Episode 5: Akane No Mai

Maeve and Lee enter a new world where a  geisha, and her trainee look familiar to Maeve.  Dolores makes a decision about Teddy.

This is a racially insensitive episode, and it seems like filler.  Like when Wolverine goes to Japan.  What are androids doing in ancient Japan?  It’s lazy writing, because whenever the writers run out of plot in one world,  they can create another world, and put androids in it. Furthermore, the writers brag of plagiarism, which is explaining away bad writing.

It is racially insensitive because it draws a parallel between geishas and prostitutes. The only character Dolores has empathy for is her father, which makes her rather unlikeable.

Episode 6:  Phase Space

Teddy’s back and he’s better than ever, what did Dolores do to Teddy?  The Man in Black makes a promise to someone, does he keep it?  Bernard and Elsie are trying to solve a mystery, but whose side is Bernard on, and what does he find out?  Maeve ditches Samurai world to find her daughter, is her quest finally complete?  What’s the result?

This is a slightly more interesting episode because Maeve is back on her original quest, as is The Man in Black, and there are a few plot twists in this one.  But the reveal makes the season 1  finale sort of a moot point.

Episode 7:  Les Encorches

Bernard and Elsie try to bring the system back on line.  Bernard thinks he sees an old acquaintance, but is it his imagination.  Maeve tries to save her daughter from marauding Native Americans, does the Man in Black find wat he’s looking for, or does he get what’s coming to him.  Both Dolores and Charlotte Hale are looking for the same thing.  What is it?

This is another really violent episode, the writers seem to be de-emphasizing  certain characters, while emphasizing others.  The characters and storylines that the writers are emphasizing are less interesting to me.  The humans seem to want something, and the androids seem to want something else altogether

Episode 8 Kiksuya

The Native American host  Akacheta  (Zahn McClarnon) take Maeve’s daughter. (Jasmyn Rae)  Where does he take her?  Akacheta also finds The Man In Black, what does he plan for him?  Maeve is found by Lee, and she needs help, does she provide it?

This is another filler episode much like the Japanese samurai episode, this episode focusses on Akacheta’s awakening.  Just because they give a character a backstory doesn’t make it interesting or valuable to the rest of the storyline.  The writers are making amends for giving the Native /American character a tired old Western trope in the earlier episodes, and it doesn’t  work.  The viewer can skip this episode entirely and no miss a thing.

Episode 9:  The Vanishing Point

Dolores and Teddy reach the outskirts of Valley Beyond, who is there to greet them?  Charlotte thinks she’s found a way to counteract the increasingly unpredictable hosts.  The Man in Black reminisces while recuperating. Maeve is desperate for help, who comes to visit her?  Bernard and Emily are stuck together, but where does his loyalty lie?

The audience sees a large backstory about the Man in Black, there is a twist, at the end of the backstory, but nothing is very shocking anymore with this show.  The Native Americans return to their trope, so much for their nobility in the last episode.  There is also a twist in the Dolores Teddy storyline, but are the writers only going for shock value or is there some point to all these revelations?

Episode 10: The Passenger

Everyone congregates at the Valley Beyond.  What happens there?

The ending to the finale is so confusing and headache inducing and violent that I’ve almost given up on the show, but by the time season 3 rolls around, I will probably start watching it again.  If a viewer made it through 9 episodes he or she probably just wanted to see how the season ended, and is now probably feeling as frustrated and confused as I am.

Impressions on Season 2:

This show and this season embodies everything I hate about sci-fi.  The writers establish a universe and rules  to that universe and then say “Screw it, we’re going to do what we want.’ And that is frustrating, because there are no rules or no structure, and so sometimes it feels like there is no point in watching this show.  The viewer also gets the sense that the writers are saying, whatever we screwed up this season we can fix next season.  The amount and scope of the violence is inexcusable and inescapable.

The violence in some of these episodes is unbearable, it’s almost like plot filler, whenever the writers ran out of ideas, they’d stage a gunfight.  On top of that, there were at least two whole filler episodes, one involving Japanese  culture, and one involving Native American Culture, neither had anything to do with the main storyline, so I thought it was a waste of two hours.  Most of all the writers were disparately trying to say something profound while trying to wrap the dialogue inside a riddle, and that induces frustration from the audience.

The acting was just ok, I expected better from such a stellar cast.  Evan Rachel Wood is stuck in a one-dimensional role, full of rage and violence.  She is not likeable, despite her many attempts in the show to explain her thoughts and actions.   Thandie Newton’s character  is also one-dimensional, but in a kinder, more compassionate  way and so Newton  gets to show more emotional range, she is tough and tender at the same time. Jeffrey Wright does a good job of acting confused because his character is confused about who to help and what to do.  Ed Harris also plays someone who is fixated on a goal, but as to the final outcome for the Man In Black, I wasn’t too surprised.

The direction, which was sometimes visually engrossing, too often settled for filming vast vistas or slow motion gunfights, which are visual clichés in the Western genre. Most of all, the pacing was very slow, for a show about the future, the action moved like a bad Western.  It’s hard for different directors to have one vision, but sometimes the stories bore no resemblance to each other, and that makes it difficult for the story to have continuity.

 

steve martin martin short

The legendary stand-up comedian and writer Steve Martin and SCTV and Saturday Night Live alumnus Martin Short perform for an audience in Greenville, South Carolina.

Steve Martin and Martin Short met over 30 years ago while filming the movie the Three Amigos.  Please don’t judge their careers by that movie, it is awful.  If you want to fairly judge Steve Martin, find an old copy of his “Wild and Crazy Guy” stand-up routine, or watch the movie The Jerk or Bowfinger with Eddie Murphy, a side-splitting satire of guerilla filmmaking and big Hollywood studios.  If you want to judge Martin Short, watch old episodes of SCTV or Saturday Night Live.

This comedy show is pretty funny, the first thing to notice is the jokes have some pretty recent references.  The two do a sketch with pictures of themselves, which is hilarious only to see the hairstyles of the 60’s and 70’s. It’s amusing to see the pair try their hands at insult comedy.  Short does a few impressions, and sings, and gives insight into one of his recurring characters.  Steve Martin, shows off his musical talent, and the guy has some serious musical talent.  There was only one really unfunny sketch was one which Short did by himself which was a satire of Broadway shows, but ended up being an embarrassment to Short and diminished the show a little.

Overall, the show is very funny, and a nice showcase for these two talented performers, who get to put their many talents on display for the masses once again.

Martin and Short:  Long on Laughs.

 

Fahrenheit 451

Guy Montag (Michael B. Jordan) is a firefighter in the future in Cleveland Ohio.  In this America, firefighters don’t put out fires, they start them.  Specifically they start fires to burn books that are deemed offensive by the government.  The government allows people to read the Bible, In the Lighthouse and Moby Dick, but bans all other literature.  There is a group of people that are fighting this censorship, derisively called Eels by the government and the firefighters.  Under pressure by Captain Beatty (Michael Shannon) a young Eel named Clarisse McClellan ( Sophia Boutella) gives Beatty information on one of her fellow resistors, an old woman with a vast library.  When Montag and Beatty get to the location, the old woman burns herself and the library.  Before she burns herself, she yells the word, “Omnis !” The old lady burning herself has a profound effect on Montag.  How does he change?  What is Omnis?

This is not a faithful adaptation of the classic book by Ray Bradbury, and that is not a good thing for viewers of this film.  The central premise of the book involves people turning away from reading books, in favor of other forms of entertainment.  This premise should be more prescient today with the advent of social media, online shopping, and streaming movies, but somehow this adaptation concentrates more on style than substance.  It changes substantial plot points until almost nothing remains of the original book but the title.  This new adaptation adds a meaningless romance to the story and changes the ending to make it look like every other action movie that Hollywood churns out today.  Do yourself a favor, read the book and skip this movie, it will make Ray Bradbury happy and save you the time of comparing this version of the movie to the book.  The book is vastly better anyway.

The acting is above average, for the most part.  Michael B. Jordan is convincing as the conflicted firefighter, where does his loyalty lie, to Beatty or to his conscience? He is boxed in by a script that doesn’t allow for character or plot development Michael Shannon is once again excellent, and turns the intensity up to 11 as Beatty.  He wants to find those eels and stomp out this movement.  Once again, the character is not allowed to develop, and seems one-dimensional.  Sofia Boutella is again hired for her looks and doesn’t even get a chance to show any range in her acting skills.

The direction is more interested in making this a fast-paced glossy image of a movie rather than conveying any big ideas.  So the viewer moves from chase scene to chase scene and images projected on sides of a building.  It’s all style over substance.  The pacing is surprisingly slow for a movie that purports to be an action film.

Fahrenheit 451:  Not So Hot