Saturday, April 24, 2010

A stellar cast lights up "You Don't Know Jack"

For years, the slogan for HBO's line-up of TV series has been "It's not TV; It's HBO." But that's selling the cable network short. Not only has it managed to reinvent television with edgy, inspired shows like "The Sopranos," "Deadwood," and "The Wire," it's also become a showcase for some of the best TV movies of the past few years.
The crackling election drama "Recount," which aired a few years ago, was on par with -- in fact, better than -- many political thrillers released in theaters. And it's hard to think of a recent biopic that's as compelling, witty and entertaining as "You Don't Know Jack," which airs tonight at 9. The film tells the story of the infamous Dr. Jack Kevorkian (played here by Al Pacino with uncanny accuracy), who gained both praise and notoriety for euthanizing the terminally ill and suffering. Whether or not you agree with what Kevorkian did, the movie is intelligent and engrossing as it follows Kevorkian through his personal and legal battles. Pacino tones down his bombast considerably and gives a thoughtful, measured performance as the man nicknamed Dr. Death. He's surrounded by a stellar cast, including Susan Sarandon and John Goodman as loyal allies and Brenda Vaccaro as his supportive, but long-suffering sister.
Special mention must also be made of Danny Huston who, as Kevorkian's flashy lawyer Geoffrey Feiger, steals every scene he's in. If you remember the real Feiger at all, you'll be amazed by how dead-on Huston is. Part of that is his amazing wig, but Huston deserves a lot of credit, too.
The movie is a bit over-long and a little slow. But, mostly, director Barry Levinson keeps things humming along, and the result is both entertaining and thought-provoking. "Jack" is the best film I've seen in a while. After all, it's not a movie -- it's HBO.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

"Justified" recap: You gotta have art...and then burn it

Know I haven't really been keeping up on my "Justified" recaps, but I wanted to write a blurb on last night's episode, "The Collection," because I really liked it, and am becoming more affectionate about this series with each episode. Spoilers after the break.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

"Lost" recap: All the pieces matter

Spoilers on tonight's episode of "Lost" after the break, so don't click through if you don't want to know.

"Damages" Season Finale: "The Next One's Gonna Go in Your Throat"

I've just got a half hour before this week's episode of "Lost," but I wanted to take a brief moment to share my thoughts on the season (and possibly series) finale of FX's legal drama "Damages." Spoilers after the break -- don't click through if you don't want to know.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

"Lost" recap: Dude, that's clucked up!

Spoilers on this week's episode of "Lost" are below. Don't click through if you don't want to know.

Monday, April 12, 2010

'Glee' returns!

It doesn't feel like "Glee" is still in its first season, does it?
Given that Fox aired a "sneak preview" of the perky musical comedy nearly a year ago, and that the show's cast has been everywhere from the White House to "Oprah," the series feels like it's been on forever. Yet we're merely in the middle of its freshman year.
Considering how overexposed the show has been, you'd think enthusiasm for it would have waned, but the show's fans seem to be hotly anticipating the second half of the season, which begins Tuesday at 9:28 p.m. To them I say -- you won't be disappointed. I've see the first three new episodes and, so far, the show's mix of musical numbers and teen angst remains fresh.
When we last left the singin', dancin' kids of New Directions, they had just won Sectionals and things were looking up. Coach Will Schuester (Matthew Morrison) was leaving his odious wife and falling into the arms of loving guidance counselor Emma (Jayma Mays). Evil cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester (the hilarious Jane Lynch) had been exposed for the malicious manipulator she is and ousted from her job.
When the show returns, it loses no time in making things crazy again. Having won Sectionals, the kids must now win Regionals to keep their club. Oh, and without spoiling too much, let me just say that Sue Sylvester can't be sidelined for long.
The musical numbers come even faster and more furious this time around and, while Tuesday's episode has few showstopper's (save Cory Montheith's Finn wailing the heck out of The Doors's "Hello, I Love You"), the next episode is an instant classic. Called "The Power of Madonna," it features the Glee kids tearing it up to some of the Material Girl's best number. I won't spoil the episode's highlight, except to say it involves a reworking of the iconic video for "Vogue." Oh, and it's the reigning champ for my favorite TV moment of the year.
"Glee" isn't perfect. Cohesive plotting and character development is often tossed aside for showmanship. And the show's stories often fall into a predictable pattern: Glee team encounters obstacle. They struggle, then they overcome.
But really, it's hard to quibble with a show that's just so entertaining. No, "Glee" isn't perfect, but it is super-fun.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

On the fence about HBO's "Treme"

As a die-hard fan of David Simon's brilliant and blistering HBO drama series "The Wire," I desperately wanted to love his newest series for the network, "Treme," debuting Sunday at 10 p.m. And, for a while, it seemed that I might indeed love it.
Not only did it have Simon involved, but the head writer was frequent Simon collaborator David Mills (who, sadly, passed away on the show's set just last week). The series also utilizes two of my favorite "Wire" actors, the bracingly warm Wendell Pierce and wry, sad-eyed Clarke Peters. The rest of the cast is packed with a who's who of character actors, from the always-welcome John Goodman (above), to Oscar-nominee and "Homicide" regular Melissa Leo to lovable goofball Steve Zahn.
On top of all that, there's the subject matter. The show picks up three months after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, and follows the city's residents as they bravely attempt to put their lives back together. Clearly, this is rich subject matter and Simon -- who painted such an evocative portrait of Baltimore in "The Wire" -- has a gift for heart-breaking, but affectionate, stories about troubled cities.
Yet, after watching the three episodes sent to press, I'm sad to report that I don't love "Treme." I like it. Sometimes I like it a lot. But I feel like the series might be trying to do too much, at least at the outset.
On the one hand, the series wants to show us the toll Katrina took on New Orleans's citizens, from a bar owner (Khandi Alexander) whose brother still hasn't come home following the storm to a Mardi Gras Indian chief (Peters) who has effectively lost both his home and much of his tribe to the hurricane.
But that's not all. "Treme" also wants to be a celebration of New Orleans culture -- specifically New Orleans music. There's wall-to-wall tunes here, from the tracks played by Zahn's funky DJ to the trombone music performed by Pierce's struggling musician to performances by real life musicians, such as Dr. John, Kermit Ruffins, and classical violinist Lucia Micarelli.
But wait -- there's more. "Treme" also wants to talk at us, and remind us of the importance of honoring our big cities, even in their toughest times. This thread is mainly executed by Goodman's rage-filled college professor, who delivers profanity-riddled tirades against all who challenge the validity of rebuilding New Orleans. His speeches range from preachy to galvanizing, and garner little reaction beyond bewildered stares from other characters (though, admittedly, no one bellows like Goodman).
With so much going on in "Treme," it's often messy and disorganized. The musical numbers (thought uniformly excellent) sometimes feel shoe-horned in and the wonderful cast often isn't given enough room to breathe. There are so many characters jammed up against each other, it's difficult for the actors to create flesh and blood humans. I understand that chaos might be Simon's intent; that there might not be a way to tell this story neatly. But it makes the show hard to latch onto.
Yet there is a lot of great stuff lurking in "Treme," and if the show ever settles and finds its rhythm (which it starts to by the third episode), it could be really special. The series is visually stunning and its illustration of a ravaged New Orleans, with its literally broken, mold-splattered homes, is breath-taking.
A few of the performances also manage to poke through the mosaic of humanity and become genuinely affecting. Goodman, at this point, need only to show up to make an impression. But Pierce is truly excellent playing a man a million miles away from the good-natured Bunk. His broken trombone player, Antoine, is carnal, angry and knows no other way to make a living than by playing his "bone." He's undeniably screwed up, but also lovable and talented.
One of my favorite musical moments so far is when a drunken Antoine stumbles out of a gig to find two street musicians, one of whom is a violinist played by Micarelli. Pierce's Antoine sings along, lending his boozy growl to "A Ghost of Chance." As he croons, the violinist is taken with him, and seems to be playing just for this broken man.
It's lovely.
I also liked the story about a restaurant owner (played by another reliable character actor, Kim Dickens) struggling to keep her business afloat amid mounting bills and an ever-scarce supply of money. Dickens, so great on "Deadwood," is an engaging presence and her character's pluckiness means we remember her even in those long stretches when we don't see her.
All in all, "Treme" is complicated and hard to love. But I want to try to love it. Despite its mess, this is a show with something to say. Yes, "Treme" doesn't always deliver that message clearly. But, in a world of procedural cop dramas and reality shows, maybe we should just celebrate that something as ambitious as "Treme" exists.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Mini-"Justified" recap: Raylan's just gonna keep calling me, and calling me...

I haven't done much recapping of FX's excellent new drama "Justified," mainly because I watched the episodes weeks ago via screener DVD, and didn't have the foresight to write recaps right after viewing. Thus, my memory of them is a little hazy.
But I do recall that last night's episode, "Long in the Tooth" was, along with the show's pilot, one of my two favorite episodes of the five that I've seen. Alan Ruck was terrific as Rolly, the witness Raylan was chasing when he ran into the odious Tommy Bucks in Nicaragua. Yes, it's been a long time since "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," but the second Rolly yanked out that jerk's fillings, my first thought was "Man, he is STILL trying to pay for that Ferrari!"
But it was a nice standalone episode and I really admire the way this show gives it guest actors space to create real characters.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

"Lost" recap: Pick up the Pace

You can find a recap of tonight's seemingly game-changing episode of "Lost" after the break. There are spoilers, so don't click through if you don't want to know.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Bad news for "Lost" fans

Just came across something today that made me totally furious, and I expect all my fellow "Lost"-ies to feel likewise.
You know that super-annoying countdown clock for "V" that was positioned in the bottom corner of your screen all through this week's episode? Well, ABC has apparently listened to viewer complaints, and is doing something about it. Good news, right?
Well, not really. Apparently, they're going to superimpose the "V" logo under THE ENTIRE SCREEN! What? According to ABC, the effect will be "subtle, like subliminal advertising." Hmm. I seriously doubt it. A giant V? Well, anyway, you can read the entire press release by clicking here.