Category Archives: hbo

Swingers

Swingers ~ Well over a decade before he revolutionized the superhero movie and created the Marvel Cinematic Universe with Iron Man, Jon Favreau wrote and co-produced this dramedy for guys in the spirit of Diner that almost definitely inspired all the fictional parts of HBO’s “Entourage.” Man, Swingers is the flick.

These adventures of a group of neurotic struggling actors are as much classic Woody Allen and prime “Seinfeld” as they are 1960s Rat Pack. And the dated ‘lounge-speak’ that every drunken player/loser spouted back in the 1990s until you wanted to punch them, when done right, by the originals, and in context, is mesmerizing.

Style and substance, great characters and dialogue, and a killer soundtrack – this movie is money, and it knows it. Recommended.

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Clear History

Clear History ~ I stumbled onto this movie blind and with caution. Blind because I didn’t know anything about it other than it starred Larry David and Jon Hamm. With caution because HBO movies, with very little exception, have been very bad to me in the past. Whether it’s The Girl, Behind the Candelabra, or Phil Spector, it hasn’t been all that pleasant. In the case of Clear History, this might be a new beginning.

The story is one of bad judgment and revenge, starring and co-written by Larry David, with all the style and idiosyncrasies of “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” What a surprise. Larry David, at first in stealth mode looking very Unabomber-like, plays a man who jumps ship on a billion dollar electric car idea, then lives as a hermit under an assumed name after the world thinks of him as a total idiot. While he’s hiding out in Martha’s Vineyard a decade later his boss comes to live. With his new life at stake, LD plans his revenge.

Larry David is at his finest here. Michael Keaton is a surprise here, he’s funny and even uses his Beetlejuice voice to good effect for the first time in decades. Liev Schreiber is good too, even though he’s uncredited because of his contract with rival network Showtime. This is also the first time I have enjoyed Danny McBride in anything.

Clear History is a very good, very funny movie, recommended, especially if you’re a “Curb” fan. Keep it up, HBO.

Bad Blood

Regular readers know how much I love HBO’s “True Blood.” I even reviewed every episode of season three here on the blog. Now, in its sixth season it has started to go sour for not just myself, but for a lot of fans. Here are just a few reasons why, and not just because Sookie and Bill and/or Eric are not still together.

From the beginning, within the show’s credit sequence, and with references like “God hates fangs” and “coming out of the coffin,” the vampires of “True Blood” have always been a metaphor for the gay rights movement. At times the analogy has become quite uncomfortable, while happily when homosexuality has been shown in the world of the show, it’s been normal and accepted.

This makes “True Blood” a welcome fence post in modern television, but this season has been different. It’s cutting too close to the bone. The in-story escalation of anti-vampire protests has produced some frightening parallels, the most horrifying being the dragging to death behind a car of a young vampire in Texas.

We all know this happened to a young man a few years back, spurring on murders against race and gender minorities. I, like most viewers, turn to TV fantasy to get away from the cold darkness of the real world. I not only don’t want to be reminded, I don’t want to see such things trivialized in what has become a supernatural comedy drama. And with recent events in Russia these last few weeks, the vampire concentration camp subplot is even worse by comparison. There may just be such places for gays soon.

Those issues aside, the stepping down of show creator Alan Ball as writer and showrunner seems to have had a serious negative effect on the show. In my mind “True Blood” seems to have lost its way. The show this season feels more disjointed and less real.

The characters feel more like cookie cutter templates being moved about a chessboard than real people. They have been broken down to their basics and show very little else in the way of depth. Sookie, Jason, and Tara, for instance, might as well just be ‘slut for supes,’ ‘dumbass,’ and ‘clever curser’ for the lack of depth they have shown of late.

This just might be the end for me as far as “True Blood” goes. But for those still on the bandwagon, be sure to catch my friend and colleague Marie Gilbert‘s recaps/reviews of the current season of “True Blood” at Biff Bam Pop!.

Random Tater Pic of the Day #109

James Gandolfini Dead at 51

Actor James Gandolfini died today in Italy from a massive heart attack, he was 51. The three time Lead Actor in a Drama Emmy winner was best known for playing bipolar modern gangster and family man Tony Soprano in HBO’s “The Sopranos.” He was also a producer, and a star of stage and screen, besides his television work.

I first became aware of the man when he played a very evil piece of work in Tony Scott and Quentin Tarantino’s True Romance. His menacing presence made him perfect for the complex character of Tony Soprano in my opinion.

“The Sopranos” first entered my wheelhouse during its second season. I had written a still unpublished novel with hyper-violent overtones. Two beta-readers told me I needed a balance between the violence and the drama of everyday life, and both, separately suggested that I had to see “The Sopranos” so I could see how it’s supposed to be done. I got HBO, and was blown away. I quickly caught up, and was addicted to the show until its end.

Most of the reason the show was so successful was Gandolfini’s talent and presence. If we did not believe Gandolfini as Tony, the show falls apart. He was the show in many ways.

The man was perhaps the best lead in perhaps the best show ever made for TV.   It is so sad to lose such a talent so young. Who knows what might have been in his future. James Gandolfini will be missed.

Behind the Candelabra

Behind the Candelabra ~ I remember Liberace from my childhood. I remember him from the 1966 “Batman” TV show (in syndication, I’m not that old), where his appearance as villainous twin brothers equaled the series’ highest rated episodes. Such was the power of Liberace. He was not only a fabulous piano player, and a faaah-bulous showman, he was a huge star, and a serious draw when it came to stage and screen. When Liberace was on TV, for various reasons, you had to see it, and his stage show, whether in Vegas, New York, or LA, it was always a sensation.

While it wasn’t talked about back then, I think everyone knew Liberace was gay, it was oddly accepted he was different in that way. Liberace was wholesome entertainment. When I heard HBO was making a movie about him, I feared the worst. Especially after recent hack jobs on Phil Spector and Alfred Hitchcock. HBO knows how to make quality television series, but the folks who make their movies are out of control.

When I heard it would be about Liberace and his last lover, Scott Thorson, I knew it would be another smear piece. Thorson’s book of the same name was a memoir in much the same vein as Mommy Dearest.

Then I heard about the casting, and I was intrigued. Michael Douglas as Liberace, and Matt Damon as Scott Thorson. Wow. Boggles the mind, doesn’t it? Here’s the thing, they pull it off, they pull it off mind bogglingly well. When I see a flick with a big name star, if I can stop calling them by name, and believe they are the character, that’s impressive to me. For instance, Meryl Streep and Mel Gibson are always Meryl and Mel to me, but here, this was Liberace and Thorson. The actors’ performances are stunning.

True or not, those performances are scarred by the outrageous and flamboyant story. It may have happened that way, and they may have worn those clothes, but the absurdity of the situations take away from the quality of Douglas and Damon.

It also doesn’t help that the rest of the cast is filled out by comedians and actors doing their crazy best. Rob Lowe, Dan Ackroyd, Scott Bakula, and Debbie Reynolds, among others, are at their insane peak, equal to Douglas and Damon.

Should you watch it? Definitely. Behind the Candelabra is both time capsule and freakshow, and most importantly a manic showcase for the actors involved, and nowhere near the usual trainwreck we have gotten recently from HBO Films.

HBO’s Phil Spector

I was completely taken aback by the title card that preceded HBO’s Phil Spector. Here’s what it said: “This film is a work of fiction. It is not “based on a true story.” It is a drama inspired by actual persons in a trial, but it is neither an attempt to depict the actual persons, nor to comment upon the trial or its outcome.”

What?? Wow. I wonder how many lawyers between HBO and Phil Spector it actually took to write that nightmare up? I understand it’s worded to keep either party from suing the hell out of each other, but it also seems like open season to make up whatever the hell they want about real people and not get sued. Wow.

The facts: Phil Spector, perhaps one of the world’s greatest music producers, shot model and actress Lana Clarkson in his home in 2003. Spector claimed it was suicide, was tried twice for murder, and finally convicted to serve nineteen years in prison.

This film: Helen Mirren plays defense attorney Linda Kenney Baden who enters Spector’s madcap mental ward world in an attempt get him out of the murder charges. Jeffrey Tambor as attorney Bruce Cutler provides occasional comedy relief.

Al Pacino plays Spector as subtle but completely insane, sort of like a sedated homeless clown person with voices in his head and a violent streak. His home is like cross between a museum, a circus, the Addams Family house, and the Psycho house. And oh, those wigs. Sadly the wigs were real.

The film’s soundtrack, like the performances of Pacino and Mirren, is one of its few saving graces. HBO’s Phil Spector is a wonderful example of a few diamonds hidden within a piece of dog crap. If I didn’t know about the case, and Spector’s career, I wonder if this movie would even made sense. It seems built for footnotes.

The film is surprisingly and unrecognizably written and directed by David Mamet. What was he thinking? And what did Phil Spector ever do to David Mamet? These are the mysteries I would like solved. I love Mamet, and this was a major disappointment.

As the tagline for this flick says, ‘the truth is somewhere in the mix.’ Unfortunately, I think that mix has been erased and taped over multiple times. This is a mess. This is two down in my book as far as HBO movies go. Between this and The Girl, I think they should stop making movies about real people, it’s just not working out. I’m dreading the Liberace biopic coming later this year now.

House of Cards

I’m about a month late to the party on this one, but there’s still time for the rest of us. This fabulous Netflix exclusive TV series starring Kevin Spacey, Robin Wright, and Kate Mara, is probably the best thing I’ve seen outside of pay cable in a while. And that’s probably the coolest thing about it – it’s not cable at all – it’s only available on Netflix. Welcome to the future.

“House of Cards” is based on the book(s) by Michael Dobbs, and the BBC miniseries that followed by Andrew Davies. Originally set in British Parliament, show developer and producer Beau Willimon adapted the concept to Washington DC and the US Capitol for American viewers. Spacey is an ambitious Congressman manipulating his way to the top with almost demonic precision and sly fourth wall breaking asides to the viewers at home. There are Emmy caliber performances by all involved, but I wonder if it will be eligible for the Emmys?

Netflix, observing viewing habits and trying to keep ahead or at least abreast of cutting edge technology, has gone into the entertainment business, creating their own shows. Seeing that many folks will watch an entire series at once, sometimes a season at a time – a practice called ‘stripping,’ Netflix created shows meant to adapt to that. In that spirit, the entire first season of “House of Cards” was released all at once on February 1st.

The compelling characters, I tense stories, and terrific performances will keep you coming back episode after episode. It also has the likes of David Fincher, James Foley, and Joel Schumacher in the director’s chair.  This is a series worthy of HBO, Showtime, or AMC, yeah, it’s that good. I highly recommend it. I just don’t know what I’ll be doing until season two comes out…

HBO Digitals

I love HBO Go, absolutely love it. Since I installed it in my iPhone, I have watched the entire runs of “Big Love,” “Deadwood,” and “Oz,” all awesome television in their own right. Recently, while exploring HBO Go, I found a section hidden off in the Comedy category called HBO Digitals. These are mini-shows, could-have-beens I guess. There are four, and they are really something special. I would almost want to watch these mini-series than some of the real stuff that does make it to ‘real’ TV.

“Garfunkel and Oates”

If you’ve seen this terrific musical comedy duo, you know what to expect. I love them. They are sly and funny, and even better in their own three to five minute mini-episodes. The episodes are more or less frameworks for their songs, but still, damn funny. Oh, and sooo not work or family safe.


“The Boring Life of Jacqueline”

The opening episode is a test in cringe – how long will you hold out? Yes, when they say boring, they mean boooring. It is almost like a dare gone too far, or a staring contest. If you get past the first episode, it’s worth it. The show does kick in eventually and becomes a rather disturbing picture of a lonely but pitiful, and suicidal sociopath. Jaclyn Jonet plays an out of work actress obsessed with the building maintenance man. Don’t let the description or first episode scare you off, this is wonderful and subtle brilliance from Mike White, and deserves a spot on HBO’s regular line-up.

“Brody Stevens: Enjoy It”

This one is about BS, a comedian, manic depressive, compulsive Twitterer, performance artist, stalker, baseball player, and god knows what else. You might know him from “Chelsea Lately,” or the Hangover movies. I don’t really know what this program is about, besides Brody Stevens wrecking his life, even after a half-dozen episodes, and I like that about it. He’s abrasive, specializes again in cringe humor, has animation, and always surprises. Co-produced, co-written, and co-starring Zach Galifianakis. It’s fun, not for everyone, but fun.

“Single Long”

At first this seemed like a failed hipster/slacker sitcom about a dating site, but eventually it turns into a sweet love story between two reluctant friends. Like “Jacqueline,” it takes a while to kick in, but it’s well worth it. The show is fully saved by the charisma of spunky Sarra Jahedi. I just can’t get enough of her. All great finds on the iPhone with HBO Go.

The Following

I was wary of this one. Usually when Fox gives a lot of hype to a new TV series, it’s either a big hit, or a big disaster. Excuse me while I wash the taste of “Touch” and “Alcatraz” out of my mouth. But then again, there was also “24.” Fox has been pushing “The Following” very hard, but because I like Kevin Bacon (well, bacon in general), and I’m just sheeple like that, I gave it a shot.

Bacon is former FBI agent Ryan Hardy, reactivated because a violent serial killer he put away has escaped prison. The charismatic James Purefoy is the killer Joe Carroll. Purefoy is a favorite of mine. You might know him from HBO’s “Rome,” and you should also know him from the excellent John Carter and the even lesser known Solomon Kane. The dude is awesome.

The catch here in “The Following” is that all the time Carroll has been in prison, he’s been online building a very particular social network. They’re not just followers, mind you, they’re also copycats and wannabes. Yeah, a serial killer social network, hanging on his every word.

Now the star power is not all in front of the camera, there’s some behind it as well. The pilot is written by creator and showrunner Kevin Williamson. You probably know his work, new spins in the worlds of horror and drama like Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer, “Dawson’s Creek” and “The Vampire Diaries.” However, like Fox, he’s had his share of dogs as well. Anyone remember “Hidden Palms”?

Also in the cast, but too far in the background for my tastes, are Shawn Ashmore and Billy Brown, both terrific actors. I also like relative newcomer Li Jun Li. It’s a great cast, but vastly overshadowed and overwhelmed by Bacon and Purefoy, not that there’s anything wrong with that.

What is wrong however is a little thing and a big thing. The little thing is Williamson needs to brush up on his knowledge of pacemakers. The big thing is this premise is more miniseries than series. Viewers will only be able to take so much of this, before they start asking, “Is it time for the good guys to win yet?” The monotony can only be saved by new twists, and I wonder if Kevin Williamson has enough of them.

For another opinion on “The Following,” check out Amanda Reynolds‘ terrific review at Biff Bam Pop! here.