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Ive included a few classic TV shows that stand the test of time as well. All my lists are updated regularly!
(All my lists are continuously updated so check back from time to time!)
Gets Better Every Season
Mafiosa is a French TV series that ran for five seasons and deals with the Corsican mafia. The story revolves around Sandra Paoli (Hélène Fillières), a lawyer and the daughter of a mob boss who ends up inheriting most of her family's mafia assets after her beloved uncle is gunned down. Sandra is joined by her hot headed brother Jean-Michel (Thierry Neuvic) in an almost dysfunctional drama with your typical mobster subjects like murders, drug deals, extortion, gambling, etc.
Not quite as violent as Italy's Gomorra, nor does it have the complex characters of HBO's The Sopranos or the historicity of Boardwalk Empire, Mafiosa tends to go back and forth between being a soap opera and a mobster show. Sandra tends to fall in love with the hit men she employs and in the ludicrous first season- shuttles back and forth between being a defense lawyer and mafia queen.
The second season gets better as she finally ditches the lawyer subplot and goes full mob boss and the third season is actually quite good as the stakes go higher. But you just can't help but feel it's a little contrived when Sandra does things that no mobster would tolerate: like giving away information to cops, or dating her soldiers and allowing them to abuse her.
There are occasional side plots with goofy gangsters and family angst with her brother's teen daughter (the very hot Phareelle Onoyan), but on the whole it feels a little too tame for the subject matter its supposed to portray. Nevertheless if you're a fan of gangster shows you might want to check it out, just don't expect to be blown away by it.
Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
A Smorgasbord of Characters and Convoluted Action
The original line-up of the Avengers are back for one last go: Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Hawkeye and Black Widow and a whole bunch of new unofficial heroes in Joss Whedon's final turn in the director's chair for Marvel's ensemble franchise.
What's the story about? Well it's pretty simple, in the wake of Loki's attempted invasion of New York City, Tony Stark attempts to create an artificial intelligence whose sole task is to protect Earth against future threats. Of course, this backfires and the Avengers end up creating their deadly enemy, Ultron. The rumors are true: one Avenger will die and it might not be who you expect.
Is it worth watching? Well, first the good stuff: the battle between an enraged Hulk and Iron Man in an unnamed African city is the highlight of the movie and it happens around the midpoint. Supporting characters in the first film like Hawkeye, Black Widow and the Hulk finally get center stage though at the expense of old stalwarts like Thor (who becomes an inadvertent comic relief throughout most of the movie) and Captain America (who turns into a one-dimensional boy scout). Iron Man is the Jimmy Neutron of the team- a tortured genius who tries to create a solution to a problem that has yet to exist and ends up creating a Frankenstein monster of sorts- it's not that Tony Stark is the villain but this does tie in nicely with the upcoming Captain America: Civil War movie.
This brings into focus the central weakness of the movie: namely too many characters and not enough screen time for each one to be fleshed out. The movie not only serves as an origin story for Ultron as well as new Avengers Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver and the Vision but it ends up making the story a paper thin pastiche of short character building vignettes around huge swirling chaotic battle scenes- many of them too enamored with fast editing to the point that they are almost too quick to follow with the mind's eye. Additional cameos by the Falcon, War Machine and Nick Fury only adds to its ad-hoc nature and myriad narrative.
In the end, Avengers Age of Ultron is ultimately satisfying but if you look closer, it seems to be nothing more than a placeholder for future plot lines in the upcoming Marvel Universe movie franchises.
Too Much Exposition, Meandering and Bland
With Hollywood at a loss to make original movies, it was inevitable that the Robocop franchise would eventually get the reboot. In 1987, the original Robocop became an instant box office hit with its mixture of witty satire and over the top violence as well as top notch acting by Peter Weller, Kurtwood Smith and Ronny Cox; the deciding factor in what made that movie so fresh at the time was the addition of Dutch director Paul Verhoeven who seemed to understand what the audience at the time needed: a high tech cyborg (artfully designed by special effects whiz Rob Bottin and its robotic suit would become a cinema icon) who fought crime in a near future world overwhelmed by greed, hypocrisy, corruption and excessive, almost cartoonish violence.
In this reboot, the studios were able to acquire the services of Brazilian director Jose Padiha (who directed Elite Squad and its sequel, two intense police thrillers set in his native Brazil) but unfortunately they forgot to give him a good script to work with (there were rumors during production that Padiha had a lot of ideas that were nixed by studio bosses. Figures.). The other reason why the original movie also worked was because its R rating worked in its favor: the enormous amount of bloodletting added to its satirical view of the future as well as that of American culture which really spoke to the audience. With this reboot aimed at more family friendly crowds, the PG-rated violence is filmed using rapid jump cuts which makes it totally confusing, its like watching a video game on fast forward so that by the time your mind registers what's going on the scene is finished.
The movie itself also suffers from pacing problems- just when the narrative is about to steamroll forward, the scenes abruptly change so that any emotional momentum is lost because there just isn't much characterization of the main parts; everything that should have an emotional impact is glossed over by a jump to a new scene with way too much focus on explanations of what the characters are doing so that the audience fails to gain sympathy for anybody.
I can't really judge Joel Kinnaman's acting in the title role since there really isn't much for him to do other than walk around in the Robocop suit and utter a few words every now and then- he seems to spend too much time bug eyed and in shock more than anything else. The supporting cast also seems wasted, with Michael Keaton and Jackie Earle Haley's screen time largely limited to trying to explain whats going on rather than actually doing anything. Even Michael K Williams seems lost as Robocop's sidekick. Patrick Garrow as the heavy is pretty much a cardboard villain compared to the 1987 version with the menacing Kurtwood Smith and his gang of killer psychos. Gary Oldman's performance is pretty much average since he's also got nothing much to do.
Alas, the biggest disappointment is the movie's absence of any sort of humor: the 1987 film had boatloads of wacky commercials that interrupted the narrative yet provided a great view on how that future world was set up as well as crazy, sadistic villains and a pun on the name of the chief baddie (Dick Jones- best name ever). Instead, we get snippets of a news media show run by Samuel L Jackson whose presence in this movie is also wasted since he spends more time recapping what we already saw and his jokes fall flat.
The only good scene happens right at the beginning with a battle between Iranian insurgents and the robot army but soon after the movie quickly loses momentum and never regains it. Better to skip this one and wait for the rental, or better yet, watch the 1987 version- its way better.
The Counselor (2013)
Bleak, Nihilistic Coolness
Don't listen to the critics! The Counselor is a bleak and unrelenting thriller of the first order that serves as an excellent companion piece to Cormac McCarthy's award winning No Country For Old Men. If the latter movie traces the beginnings of the drug war in Texas in the early 1980's then The Counselor serves as its inevitable aftermath; the drug trade has made many of its players rich and the competition has made killings far more widespread and fiercer than ever. With more money being made the more dangerous it has become- bankers and unscrupulous politicians are now in on the take and so the stakes have gone past heaven.
In this potential nightmare scenario exists the title character played by Michael Fassbender, he is a highly successful defense lawyer with a somewhat naive fiancée played by Penelope Cruz and his shady coterie which consists of a wisecracking middleman named Westray (Brad Pitt), nightclub owner and part time dealer Reiner (Javier Bardem) and his viper of a girlfriend Malkina (Cameron Diaz). The counselor is in a bit over his head due to his lavish lifestyle and so decides to do one drug deal to pay off his debts. Of course, with these amoral characters the inevitable betrayal begins and we follow each and every one as the downward spiral ends in a bloody orgy of pain and death.
Cormac McCarthy's novels have always been about life and death and the decisions one takes that leads to their respective outcomes- his books are perfect analogies of existentialism. With this, his first original screenplay, McCarthy essentially goes over the same territory that he covered in No Country For Old Men but this time everything has gone corporate- the Mexican Cartel now controls the drug trade in the southwest United States and anyone who dares to cross its path will face an unrelenting army of thugs and assassins until they meet a gruesome end. This pervading sense of doom permeates the entire movie and does not let go; I think the reason why most critics didn't like this film is because there is no humor, no catharsis to pull back the nihilism that pervades the entire storyline. Whereas in No Country For Old Men, the Coen brothers were able to inject their dark humor into the movie, Ridley Scott's directorial skills in this film allows no such reprieve.
Fassbender is excellent as the title character; its clear that all his skills as a top defense lawyer has come for naught as he gets involved with things way beyond his expectations; seeing his breakdown into a broken man is a thing to behold. Bardem is as quirky as ever as his best buddy Reiner- his tinted eye glasses, psychedelic clothes and puffed up hair is perfect for the role. Brad Pitt is adequate as the knowledgeable Westray (who seems to be playing a variation of the bounty hunter character that Woody Harrelson played in No Country For Old Men) but its Cameron Diaz who steals the show as the cunning and sociopathic Malkina- she seems to be the new embodiment of death- sultry, seductive and deftly using everyone towards her ultimate goal. Even the bit parts are played by popular actors such Dean Norris, Bruno Ganz, Rosie Perez, John Leguizamo, Edgar Ramirez and Ruben Blades.
The Bourne Legacy (2012)
Less Action, More Plot But Just As Good
Since Matt Damon decided not to reprise his role as Jason Bourne the filmmakers decided to continue the Bourne franchise without him- the result is the Bourne Legacy. Although it has less action than Damon's earlier trilogy it is still quite entertaining and proceeds along a breakneck pace, never slowing down to be boring and is a welcome addition to the Bourne franchise.
Jeremy Renner takes over as lead protagonist Aaron Cross but Damon's presence is constantly being reminded to us since the previous supporting cast from the Bourne Ultimatum (Albert Finney, Scott Glenn, David Strathairn and Joan Allen) all make cameos to make sure that we are firmly within the same universe. In fact the whole movie's timeline takes place at roughly the same time as the Bourne Ultimatum and the constant narrative shifts makes one even anticipate a Matt Damon cameo.
So what's the story about? Well it seems that Jason Bourne wasn't the only assassin in the Treadstone project but now it is revealed that there were other projects beside that one too. Because of the public fallout with the Jason Bourne expose the powers that be decide to shut down these other projects by killing everyone involved. Naturally Renner survives and with the help of surviving scientist Rachel Weisz tries to make sense of it all before they themselves are killed.
Renner's assassin is slightly different than Damon's since he is neither conflicted nor does he have amnesia but is instead addicted to some sort of blue pills that makes him more deadly. Jeremy Renner does an able job filling in for Matt Damon and the plot and action whirls fast enough to satisfy most moviegoers (though a workplace shooting may hit too close to home for some) but the younger crowd might bemoan the lack of constant massive explosions. For everyone else, its good enough to warrant more. The only weakness is that the ending is somewhat abrupt and seems to hint at a sequel due to a number of unresolved plot and character issues.
Here's to hoping Matt Damon and Jeremy Renner teams up in the future with another Bourne movie!
Margin Call (2011)
Incredible and Riveting in a Very Subtle Way.
If Oliver Stone's WALL STREET(1987) was the financial masterpiece that illustrated the excesses of the financial world then JC Chandor's smartly written and riveting MARGIN CALL(2011) would be its successor. The entire movie takes place over two days and one sleepless night within an unnamed Wall Street investment firm in a fictionalized retelling of the days just before the 2008 financial meltdown; the film starts with a very subtle bang: a mass firing of employees begins and one of them happens to be the head of the risk department, Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci plays him with a smoldering intensity), despite his protests that he is onto something big, they take away his cellphone coverage and he gets escorted out of the building by security. At the last minute he hands over a memory stick to his protégé, Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto) an MIT graduate in rocket science, with a dire warning. That night, Sullivan manages to piece together a puzzle that may very well be a portent to the firm's financial apocalypse. What follows next is a series of meetings and denouements as to whether the entire company will survive and sacrifice their clients or would they take the risk of keeping their toxic assets and hope to weather the storm.
It's an ensemble cast and a very powerful one at that. Quinto's Sullivan is smart and can put the numbers together but he is clearly out of his league on what to do next, since he can no longer reveal what has happened to Tucci (who has been let go and cannot be contacted due to the firm's arrogant incompetence) he then goes to the higher authority, the Brit supervisor Will Emerson (Paul Bettany in one of his best roles in years; Bettany plays Emerson as an amoral realist but with a charm and a coolness that makes him likable). Emerson in turn goes up to his boss, Sam Rogers (the ever reliable Kevin Spacey) and tells him about it; Rogers is the one moral focal point of the entire movie, he for one truly cares about the consequences of saving his own skin, namely he will have to lie to his clients, the very customers who entrusts him with their money, in order to save the company. Spacey plays Rogers as an old, worn down warrior, but still willing to put his morals aside for the sake of practicality- the fact that Spacey also appeared in the preeminent sales movie of the century GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS(1992) makes the impact of his presence more deserving here.
As the film moves up in the chain of command the morality, or the lack of it, becomes even more acute as we meet the higher ups: Roger's boss, Jared Cohen (played by Simon Baker in his best role ever) who happens to be younger than him- Cohen is near the top because he's reptilian and is in it for his ego- he's the closest character to a Gordon Gekko in this movie. Baker's counterpart, who happens to be a woman who was responsible for letting Tucci go is Sarah Robertson (Demi Moore, in what also happens to be her best role ever), a hard as stone corporate boss who just happens to be in over her head. But the man on top, an emaciated vulture named after the true to life last CEO of the now defunct Lehman Brothers is John Tuld (Jeremy Irons). Irons plays Tuld as a man who makes few but important decisions and will stop at nothing to make sure that the firm makes money, regardless of who gets thrown under.
JC Chandor makes excellent use of pacing and suspense and despite on what appears to be a complex storyline set in the world of international finance, is able to make it clear that any layman can understand what is going on and what the consequences will be. There's an ongoing joke within the movie that as the problem gets passed to the higher ups, the less they themselves seem to understand what is going on and consequently, asks that their subordinates explain it to them as if they would explain it to a child or a dog. While this movie may not be to everyone's taste, I would highly recommend it to anybody that wants to know just what exactly happens when one decides to use a bank or another financial institution in Wall Street: you may never trust a financial firm ever again after seeing this.
The Avengers (2012)
One of The Best Comic Book Movies Ever!
A culmination of several movie franchises, THE AVENGERS certainly delivers. There could have been many ways that the studios could have screwed this movie up but they chose the right director: Joss Whedon (former helmer of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly on TV as well as an actual comic book writer for Marvel Comics). Whedon knows his stuff and he creates what is probably the most compatible comic book movie ever; the whole film reads as if it was an actual Marvel comic book!
Whedon subtly melds the disparate elements from multiple other comic book movies and effortlessly creates an epic storyline that makes sense. The tesseract (known to comic fans as the cosmic cube) that was the focal plot point of CAPTAIN America: THE FIRST AVENGER (2011) has been recovered and being studied closely by the government when Loki (Tom Hiddleston), the villain of the previous THOR (2011) movie appears and takes control of it. In response, Col. Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson, in his usual badass self) decides to form a small but lethal response team: Iron Man, Captain America, Hulk, Black Widow, Hawkeye and Thor. If they can get along and work together then they might have a chance to save the world.
Being the top billed character because of box-office receipts, Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) gets the best lines and almost steals the entire show. His wisecracks upends the traditional leader of the Avengers, Captain America (Chris Evans, playing the straight man to everyone else) and puts the latter character in a disadvantage- the movie's lone weakness is that Cap doesn't get to do much other than act as a foil to the larger than life Tony Stark. Thor (Chris Helmsworth) does shine in the few scenes in which he is at front and center while both Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) give much needed humanity since they are the only members of the team that don't have superpowers. But the one character that makes the most impact of his limited screen time is Mark Ruffalo, who plays the volatile Hulk- Ruffalo plays Bruce Banner as a smoldering Stanley Kowalski, always seemingly in control yet has a temper like nitroglycerine- his Banner is different from the brooding Eric Bana of 2003's HULK or the timid Edward Norton of THE INCREDIBLE HULK (2008); you don't get to see much of Ruffalo compared to the others but his character is the most intriguing of all. Hiddleston is adequate as the pouty, scheming Loki but you can't help but believe that he is simply outgunned with all these powerhouses surrounding him.
The movie is almost perfect but does fail to take chances with their characters. Evan's Captain America is a direct copy from the mainstream comic book but you wished he might have been given more of an edge, like the Ultimate Marvel incarnation of Captain America: a slightly racist do-gooder who prefers to smash heads when someone doesn't measure up to his 1930's morality. If only the movie had been longer there might have been more insight into his character but with this film running over 2 ½ hours it might have been a systematic one.
In the end though, there is something for everyone in this movie, from the constant action scenes to the quiet ones that add humanity to what would otherwise be cardboard clichés. Highly recommended!
The Iron Lady (2011)
While Meryl Streep gives an excellent performance as Margaret Thatcher, the movie instead focuses on an old woman's dementia and senility while glossing over the important events of Thatcher's life. We never get to see the in depth events and reasons on how she was able to overcome the glass ceiling for women back then and become the first woman prime minister of the UK and many other events in her time have all been left out or given a very trivial send off. It would have been more interesting if we had been given more glimpses of what shaped her as well as the internal battles within her party and her decisions that gave her the chance to make the UK prosperous again.
Instead we are treated to over an hour of a hallucinating old woman! Abominable!
Der Räuber (2010)
A Mesmerizing, Existential Thriller!
Most fans of Hollywood movies will probably not like this film because it doesn't contain massive explosions or a bombastic soundtrack (in fact it practically has none) but this stunner (based on the story of a real life bank robber) is one of the great thrillers of the decade. A sleek, sparse study of existentialism, THE ROBBER is a must see.
It begins rather abruptly, the first scene is a man named Johann (superbly played by Andreas Lust) running in what seems like a training center, but as soon as the camera pans back we realize he is in a prison and is about to be released after serving a 6 year sentence. As the story unfolds Johann is set free where he begins to win marathons but leads a double life as he returns to his old habits of stealing cars and then using them as getaway vehicles for his bank robberies.
As with European cinema, much of the pacing and characters are understated, there are times when nobody says anything but from the background noises and the looks on their faces you can clearly tell what they are thinking. Even though the few people he knows (his former girlfriend, his parole officer) deeply cares for him and pulls strings to get him to live a normal life it's clear that he does not want any of it. Johann just wants to rob banks and run because that is all he is. The whole movie takes place in Austria, the land of Heidi and Vienna coffee houses but with the movie being portrayed through Johann's eyes, Austria seems bleak, detached and robotic to make it look almost unbearable to be living in; while there are other characters in the story, they seem to be nothing more than minor twinkles in Johann's eye- he does not care for them and it almost seems like they are ghosts to him.
There were some professional critics that lambasted this movie for not revealing Johann's motivation on why he is what he is. But what they don't understand is that it really doesn't matter. Some people do things because it's the one thing (or two in Johann's case) that gives them meaning- everything else is of no consequence. I find the main protagonist/antagonist of this movie to be a combination of Johnny Depp's John Dillinger in PUBLIC ENEMIES and Barry Newman's Kowalski in VANISHING POINT. They exist only to do the one thing that matters to them and that's it.
Miami Vice (1984)
The James Bond of Cop Shows!
When it comes to police procedurals, TV history can subdivide it into two eras: before Miami Vice and after Miami Vice. Before Miami Vice came along procedurals would usually show cops as overweight, pudgy guys wearing ill-fitting suits (like in Hawaii Five-O, Kojak and Dragnet) or as incorruptible blue centurions in uniform (as in Hill Street Blues or Police Story) who were straight up god fearing boy scouts who did their job and nothing else. Shows about cops tended to be mechanical, with cops going about their daily, almost boring routines when it came to solving things like murders, robbery and such; undercover cops in these shows tended to look like street winos with their ragged clothes and even worse hair.
But when Miami Vice came along it changed everything. Essentially a show that focused on the drug war that engulfed (and still continues) Miami in the 1980's, this show turned the normally plodding police procedural up on its ear. The series centers on tough but sensitive Detective Sonny Crockett (Don Johnson) and his suave, streetwise partner Ricardo Tubbs (Phillip Michael Thomas). Gone were the ill-fitting cheap suits that cops of yesteryear wore, Crockett and Tubbs were handsome, hip and wore the best designer suits drug money could buy as well as having high powered speedboats and Ferrari sport cars as their vehicles of choice when it came to nabbing the bad guys. Miami Vice was also one of the first TV shows that had a cool, synthesizer rock score (courtesy of Jan Hammer) and regularly included the latest pulse pounding music by the original artists as part of its score. Vibrant pastel colors replaced the usual boring earth tones of other cop shows to the point where the series was actually responsible for the art deco renaissance of Miami Beach. It was also one of the first TV shows to have a series finale and their guns were always state of the art.
Despite their stylish clothes and fast lifestyle, there was a substance to the characters of Miami Vice that very few mainstream TV shows could match back then- both Crockett and Tubb's relationships with their women and their families, while looking fast and trendy from the outside almost always ended up in tragedy as the series wore on, by the end of the series both men were burned out that the whole show ended up as a microcosm of America's never-ending and ultimately futile War on Drugs; the constant betrayals of their friends and the ubiquitous corruption both within the police force and the courts and politicians ultimately took its toll. As the show finished its five year run, it went from hip and zany to nihilistic and dark; much like the wave of popular opinion as the cheerful Eighties turned into the cynical Nineties.
While never a ratings superstar and despite only lasting five seasons, the influence of Miami Vice lives on in the countless other TV shows that have been shown since then.