Critic Offers His Take On Fall Foursome
by Chauncey Telese
A High School Rumor, a bank heist, Prohibition, and superhero suburbanites: this looks like a fall Fatal Four-Way! Sorry for being away for so long I’ve been busy with school starting and having to work a lot. Since I’ve been away for awhile, allow me to quickly catch up on what I’ve missed and what I’ve learned over the last three weeks:
1. Sookie’s a fairy and hates Bill, Tara hit the road, Sam killed his brother (thank God), Eric buried Russell alive (at least by vampire standards), Hoyt’s mom will try to kill Jessica, Jason will raise a commune of were-panthers, and Sookie has vanished Bon Temps.
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2. Don Draper (more on him later) and Peggy have become kindred spirits, Henry is realizing that marrying Betty might not have been a good idea; Don may quit drinking, and the seventh episode “The Suitcase” is on the Mount Rushmore of “Mad Men” and will earn Jon Hamm and Elizabeth Moss Emmys.
3. I was right about the Vikings, wrong about the Cowboys (Lord, was I wrong about them), the Dolphins and Texans look amazing, Peyton is still better then Eli, the Jets look like they may be for real after all, Pittsburgh will live without Big Ben, Jahvid Best is the best fantasy pick I’ve had all year, my Rams aren’t as bad as I thought, and Green Bay will represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.
4. Just like Jax cemented that shooter’s head into the pavement, “Sons of Anarchy” has cemented itself as one of the five best shows on TV.
Okay, whew, now that we’re caught up I have some interesting things for you this week. I have a quadruple feature for you but only two are movies and the other two am two highly anticipated pilots one brilliant and the other well, we’ll get to that.
Alright, let’s get to it.
“Easy A”: The 21st Century “Clueless”
As an insomniac (no, really I am), I watch a lot of movies and TV until I can fall asleep and about a month and a half ago I decided to DVR “Clueless” at 2 a.m. because I hadn’t seen it in over ten years. I realized that while it is unbelievably dated it still is a good movie and makes me wonder what happened to Alicia Silverstone (seriously, after breaking out in “Clueless” and “Excess Baggage” her ‘take the money and run’ decision in “Batman and Robin” seems to have blacklisted her for life).
Anyways, “Clueless” was a great way to adapt Jane Austen’s “Emma” for contemporary audiences, even though the valley girls of the nineties even though they probably said “like oh my god, what’s Emma?” Well, this century has seen a few attempts at trying to take a classic story and bring it into today’s world, Amanda Bynes’ bomb “Sydney White” being the most recent example (they tried to do some weird combination of “Twelfth Night” and “Just One of the Guys”).
In the world of internet blogs, Facebook, Web Cams, and Twitter, we have that movie. “Easy A” is not only a clever adaptation of “The Scarlet Letter” but it is self aware of that fact and beats up the Demi Moore version that I had to watch in 11th grade English class because Mr. Botton wanted to show us how Hollywood ruins good stories. Also what I loved about this is that it confirmed to me that Emma Stone is indeed a star (more on her later), and is written with a great deal of wit and heart.
“Easy A” takes place in a high school in Ojai and is about Olive (Stone) who is a smart girl that just sort of blends into the crowd. In order to get out of going on a camping trip with her friend Rhiannon (Aly Michalka) she claims she had a wild date with a college guy. This story is heard by Marianne (Amanda Bynes) who is the school’s hardcore Christian crusader (think watered-down Mandy Moore in “Saved!”) and of course, the rumor spreads like wildfire. Olive thinks that the rumor is funny and rolls with it and that’s where things get complicated.
She is approached by Brandon (Dan Byrd), a gay classmate who asks Olive to pretend to hook up with him so he can be thought of as straight. Once this works out she ends up doing this same service for other troubled high school guys (for gift cards) and she ends up brandishing a red A on her scanty outfits. As time goes on things spiral out of control for Olive and it begins to get difficult for her to undo the damage.
This movie contains a lot of strong supporting work from Thomas Haden Church as her cool English teacher (he’s a hoot), Lisa Kudrow (yes, Phoebe returns) as his guidance counselor wife who doesn’t approve of Olive’s decisions, Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci who are comic wonders as Olive’s parents (they almost steal the movie), and Malcolm MacDowell (yes Alex Delorange himself) as the principal.
The real star is Emma Stone. Stone has shown she’s really good at playing the witty sarcastic teen in “Superbad,” “Zombieland,” and “The House Bunny” (though in that one she was also awkward socially). Emma Stone is enjoying the career that Lindsey Lohan was supposed to have but Lohan instead went on to become Amber Waves from “Boogie Nights.” Stone just needs to pass the “Saturday Night Live” test and maybe look good in one dramatic movie and she’s officially an A-list star. In “Easy A” she shows that she can carry a movie, has great comedic timing, and when the movie calls for it she shows she can do the heavy stuff as well.
My only complaint was “Gossip Girl” star Penn Badgely’s Todd who is the guy Olive secretly has a crush on. He’s the school mascot (yet he’s extremely handsome) and only has about 10 or so minutes of screen time. He didn’t really have any sort of distinguishing character traits and is just there to say “I don’t believe what people say” type of lines and you never really care about him you just want Olive to be happy. Oh well, minor complaint from a terrific comedy. I highly recommend it. Moving on…
“The Town” Proves That We All Owe Ben Affleck an Apology
We’ve all made fun of Ben Affleck over the years. After winning an Oscar for Writing “Good Will Hunting” (a personal favorite of mine) with Matt Damon, Affleck’s career had been comprised of some really bad paycheck movies (including a movie called “Paycheck”) and a smattering of hits, bombs, and his rock bottom “Gigli.”
However, over the last four years Affleck has rebuilt himself. He showed he can act again with “Hollywoodland,” that he is still capable of being funny (two really great stints on “Saturday Night Live”), and then wrote and directed 2007’s criminally underrated “Gone Baby Gone” (which was a better adaptation of a Dennis Lehane novel then Clint Eastwood’s “Mystic River” and that’s saying something). People thought it was a fluke but not me. In “The Town” Affleck puts it all together and proves that he can still write, still act, and that his directing abilities haven’t hit their ceiling yet. This movie will undoubtedly be remembered come Oscar time.
“The Town” takes place in Charlestown, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston that has produced the most bank robbers in America, and Affleck plays Doug MacRay, the brains behind a successful band of bank robbers along with his best friend Jem (Jeremy Renner of “The Hurt Locker”).
In the opening sequence Doug, Jem, and the other two members of their team rob a bank and take Claire, the bank’s manager (an amazing Rebecca Hall of “Vicky Christina Barcelona” and “Frost/Nixon”) hostage and leave her on a beach. They take her driver’s license and notice she lives in Charlestown and that they have to find out whether or not she saw anything. Doug agrees to handle it and ends up falling for her which makes Jem nervous. Doug realizes he wants to get out of the heist game after another attempt at robbing an armored car doesn’t go as planned, and that he’d rather start a new life with Claire. Doug is convinced to do one last job by vicious bankroller Fergie (a terrific Pete Posthelwaite). Meanwhile Doug and Jem are being pursued by relentless FBI agent Adam Crawley (Jon Hamm).
I don’t think “The Town” will ever be mentioned in the same sentence as “Heat” as far as the pantheon of heist movies is concerned but it is a truly amazing movie. It has one of the best overall casts of any movie this year and every actor in their own way will amaze you. Affleck may have just submitted his best acting performance since “Chasing Amy” (another favorite of mine), Jeremy Renner will easily be a contender for Best Supporting Actor because he is intense and at times frightening (Renner also is going to be Hawkeye in “The Avengers” so he’s going to blow up in a big way), Rebecca Hall is truly haunted, Jon Hamm is proving that he is a star both in TV (Don Draper, his hilarious recurring role on “30 Rock”, and becoming this generation’s Alec Baldwin on “Saturday Night Live”) but he has a definite future in film (can’t wait to see him in Zack Snyder’s “Sucker Punch”), and the most shocking to me was “Gossip Girl” star Blake Lively (who by the way has also passed the “Saturday Night Live” test) who plays Jem’s drug addict sister. Unlike how she is on her show, she is stripped of any beauty what so ever and gives the type of performance Amy Ryan gave in “Gone Baby Gone.” Blake Lively, by the way, will be in “The Green Lantern” with Ryan Reynolds, so like Renner and Hamm, her career can only continue to skyrocket.
Affleck the director is showing he’s got a tremendous future. He is showing that if Scorsese and Allen have New York then he has Boston, Affleck shows he has an eye for the grittiness of Boston and as a native Bostonian gives the film an authentic feel. I look forward to seeing what Affleck picks as his next directorial effort and think that while he’ll never match Matt Damon as an actor, he could end up with the better career.
Moving away from film I recently saw two TV pilots, one from HBO, the other from ABC and while the shows are entirely different from each other it demonstrates how far and away cable is from network television in creating quality dramas. Let’s start with cable.
“Boardwalk Empire”: Returns HBO to the Top of the Cable Ladder
HBO used to rule the roost of premium cable channels with shows like “Deadwood,” “OZ,” “Sex and the City,” “The Wire,” “Larry Sanders,” “Six Feet Under” and “The Sopranos” as well as a slew of brilliant movies and miniseries. However, once “The Sopranos” went to black and Carrie Bradshaw and company took their act over to the silver screen, HBO’s clout seemed to fade.
Showtime caught up to them with “Dexter,” “Weeds,” “Californication” and other highly rated shows; FX’s “The Shield” was in it’s prime as was “Rescue Me” then “Sons of Anarchy” came later, and HBO passed on this series called “Mad Men”(pitched by “Sopranos” alum Matthew Weiner) which AMC gladly bought it as well as this other show called “Breaking Bad.”
HBO was in a rebuilding stage, “John from Cincinnati” bombed, “In Treatment” hasn’t caught on with audiences, “Entourage” got a lot of buzz but not much else, and “Big Love” was overrated. Then in 2008, HBO took a chance with a vampire show called “True Blood” gave them their best ratings since “The Sopranos” and then people started to talk about HBO again. The network then made “Hung” and “Treme” and suddenly they were turning around. Now HBO can officially say that they are back with their lavish, expensive, and fantastic gangster drama “Boardwalk Empire.”
“Boardwalk Empire,” which was created by “Sopranos” vet Terrence Winter and is produced by Mark Wahlberg, Martin Scorsese (who also directed the pilot), and Tim Van Patten (another “Sopranos” vet) is based on the book Boardwalk Empire: The Birth, High Times, and Corruption of Atlantic City by Nelson Johnson. It starts out in 1920 at the beginning of Prohibition, before Donald Trump ruined any hope Atlantic City had at catching Vegas. The series follows Atlantic City treasurer Enoch “Nucky” Thompson played by the always outstanding Steve Buscemi, who is in favor of Prohibition as demonstrated in a hilariously phony speech to a politically active women’s organization. He opposes it not for moral reasons but because he can make a ton of money bootlegging it.
As treasurer, he makes deals with prominent gangsters in Chicago and New York City such as Lucky Luciano and “Big Jim” Colosimo, and others. His driver Jimmy Dramody (Michael Pitt), is a shell-shocked World War I vet who strives to have a bigger role in Nucky’s operation (and boy does he earn it), Margaret Schroeder (Kelly Macdonald) is a poor Irish immigrant who struggles with an abusive husband that asks for Nucky’s help to support her family, Michael Stuhlberg (“A Serious Man”) plays gangster Arnold Rothstein, and Michael Shannon of “Revolutionary Road” plays Agent Nelson Van Alden who believes enforcing Prohibition is the Lord’s work and his life’s mission.
I know this seems like a lot of characters and in upcoming episodes we are introduced to more including Michael K White’s (Omar from “The Wire”) Chalky White who is Nucky’s connection to getting the African American community’s political support, and Gretchen Mol (“The Notorious Betty Page” and “Life on Mars”) plays Gillian, a prominent performer at a Boardwalk nightclub, but once you watch the pilot it’s pretty much easy to follow. You will be dazzled by the lavish sets which were constructed in nearby Brooklyn and they really show off a lot of flash and attention to detail in order to get you to believe it really is 1920. The costumes look equally terrific and just based on their production design alone they will win a plethora of Emmy Awards.
The pilot itself which was brilliantly written by series creator Terrence Winter and directed by Martin Scorsese, demonstrates a high amount of wit, humor, and violence. We see how Nucky has to rise up to become more then just a corrupt treasurer; make no mistake, he is a full-blown gangster.
This show is intended to portray a world in between “Gangs of New York” and “Goodfellas” and it does so spectacularly. We are not only introduced to all of our main characters but also shown the rise of future gangster Hall of Famers Al Capone and Arnold Rothstein. The star, though, is Buscemi, who has spent a career wowing audiences in everything form “Fargo,” “Ghost World,” “Reservoir Dogs,” and “Airheads” (so sue me, I love that movie), showing up in most of Adam Sandler’s movies (his best man speech in “The Wedding Singer” never fails to make me laugh), and a fifth season gig on “The Sopranos,” and now finally gets a chance to carry his own show.
As long as this show is on he will be an Emmy mainstay along with Jon Hamm, Bryan Cranston and Michael C. Hall. He plays Nucky with great charisma and viciousness when needed. This show airs Sunday nights at 9 p.m. on HBO. I could not recommend it more and as the series goes on I’m sure it will join “The Wire” and “The Sopranos” and the best shows in the history of HBO. Also it will give Jersey the sense of esteem that it had during “The Sopranos” run before Snooki and the Situation destroyed it.
Okay, well now onto one of network TV’s most anticipated pilots.
“No Ordinary Family”: Proves That Network Superhero Shows are Kryptonite for Quality
At ComicCon I kept seeing promos for a show called “No Ordinary Family” which starred Michael Chiklis of “The Shield” and Julie Benz of “Dexter.” It was about a dysfunctional suburban family that gains superpowers and the complications that arise. This show looked expensive (though not as much as “True Blood” or “Boardwalk Empire”) and like Boardwalk, it shows ABC’s desire to gamble big on an ambitious idea. The show premieres on September 28 but I got the chance to see it online last week and any doubts I had about it being as good as NBC’s “Parenthood” or Fox’s “House” were validated big time.
Chiklis stars as Jim Powell, a police sketch artist (more on that later), who is married to Stephanie (Benz), a biologist. Together they have two kids, Daphne (Kay Panabaker of “CSI” and younger sister of actress Danielle Panabaker) and JJ. Jim is upset by the fact that his wife is always working, Daphne is dealing with a jerk boyfriend, and JJ is struggling in school. Stephanie doesn’t really know what is going on at home and doesn’t see what Jim sees, that the family is in a crisis.
After the family goes to Brazil for Stephanie’s research, they are in a plane crash and land in a water that contains several mysterious plants. Upon going home Jim notices that he has developed super strength, Stephanie gains super speed, Daphne is telepathic and JJ becomes super-intelligent. The only person who knows all of this is Jim’s best friend George (Romany Malco of “Weeds” and “The Forty Year Old Virgin”). Jim decides he wants to use his powers for good and does so in trying to apprehend a big time jewel thief.
This series doesn’t work for me at as the writing makes it a third-rate “Incredibles.” Unlike Pixar’s movie about a family of superheroes, it fails to really establish who the characters are. Jim just comes off as whiny, Stephanie is just another workaholic parent, JJ doesn’t really do much but moan and groan, and Daphne is just another awkward teen. The other thing I didn’t like is that they chose to make Powell a police sketch artist. I understand that Chiklis probably doesn’t want to play Vic Mackey his whole life but a police sketch artist? Chiklis is in better shape then the other cops in the station and yet they think he’s a joke and not a real cop, really? I’m not expecting Chiklis to burn a villains face into a stove, rip off an Armenian money train, plant drugs on a bad guy, or beat anyone to death, but at least make his character believable. The producers have essentially miscast Chiklis because he doesn’t come off as believable not because he’s a one note actor but because the writing tries to fit him into a box that clearly doesn’t fit him.
Another thing that was minor but drove me nuts was a scene in which Stephanie is explaining to the board at her lab that there is evidence of an ancient plant (the one that would eventually give them powers) and before she can continue, a scientist jokes “Who cares about some old plant?” This bothered me because a scientist at a supposedly prominent research lab would know that science has discovered agents in plants that have curative powers for serious diseases. From a common sense standpoint this scene almost killed the pilot for me and they didn’t even get powers yet. Also, the effects don’t really look good and essentially rip off “Hancock”. The only part of the show I liked but won’t get me to tune in was Malco. The guy is hilarious and it is a shame he isn’t on “Weeds” anymore because the show has suffered without him. I can smell cancellation on this show a mile away (I could be wrong but then again ABC recently fired the guy who green lit this series).
If the movies I’ve mentioned don’t thrill you then there is also the animated film “Alpha and Omega”, the horror film “Devil”, the action film “Resident Evil: Afterlife”, and for those looking for more independent entertainment there is Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s directorial debut “Jack Goes Boating”.
Thank you for reading and stay tuned as next week I see if greed is still good with “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” and Ryan Reynolds and I get “Buried.” Also this weekend marks the return of “Saturday Night Live” with host Amy Poehler and musical guest Katy Perry (she will probably be in a sketch or two so let’s see if she passes the “SNL” test). Sunday marks the return of “Dexter” at 9 Sunday on Showtime and “Eastbound and Down” at 10:30 p.m. Sunday on HBO.
Remember you can see these and other fine films at your local Edwards.