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Okay, but needs to find its footing.
In any television season, there are usually two or three new cop shows that crop up. In the last several years, these usually fell into one of two categories: the procedural that follows criminal from crime to prison - a la Law & Order and the far more common (over the last few years) forensic detail CSI and its offspring and ilk.
In this light, Southland is a bit of a throwback. The show follows uniforms and detectives working in L.A. and, as you would expect, encountering gritty and disheartening situations. It seems to focus on two groups: a uniformed crew (people by some older, jaded cops and their younger idealistic partners), and a group of detectives (who lack the individual interest of the uniforms). The main story seems to involve a rookie (Ben McKenzie) who is stumbling through his first day under the tutelage of his experienced trainer (the enjoyable Michael Cudlitz). There was another story introducing us to the detective crew (Regina King, Tom Everett Scott, et. al.), but for me this lacked the interest of the uniforms.
We'll start with what's good. The show should be commended for avoiding the popular models mentioned above, instead aiming for a more traditional cop show. The visual style is also interesting; the show apparently was filmed on HD hand-held cameras in a faux-documentary style. The performances are good, for the most part. It also seems to avoid the gloss-over storyline. In the first episode a young victim of gang violence is not just another face, but peripheral family characters are introduced.
Unfortunately there is much that's not so good. As I mentioned, it should be commended for its throwback nature, but at times this can seem like a re-treading of Colors. The dialogue is a bit stilted ("You do what they tell you in the academy, you die.") and a couple of the actors specialize in scene-chewing. The vast contingent of characters can cause me to lose interest in the other story-line and some of the elements only serve to remind me of better shows; the gritty nature makes think of The Wire; the visual style reminds me of Boomtown; the moral ambiguity reminds me of The Shield. I don't know if NBC will give this one time to find its footing, but networks don't have a good track record.
With so many cop shows out there, the best bring a new element to a tired genre (Life, The Wire). So far this one doesn't have anything to add.
Not bad, but limited potential
As another reviewer put it, NBC should be applauded for producing something other than the standard police procedural, of which we now have about 200. Sadly, I suspect that this show will quickly run out of steam.
Kings is set in a kind of alternate reality, which seems to share a common past with us yet a very different present. In a country that strongly resembles the United States, a King rules rather than our democracy. And this is a King in the old sense: there is a group of advisors, but the King has the final say; this King begins and ends wars on a whim; this King has rivals assassinated for public snubs. There also seems to be an official religion of sorts, with a leader that does not answer to the King. He is the mouthpiece of God.
Obviously, the story of David is the basic template here, although as others have noted, the show deviates a bit. The problem I have is that shows of this type often start out strong and then lose steam by trying to eek more seasons out of a tired idea. I'm saddened at the loss of the mini-series as a viable medium. It seems that shows are often sold on an idea that doesn't really have legs (Lost, Heroes) and the writers lose direction after a season or so. Why not end the show when it's strong and bring things to a logical conclusion? This seems a prime candidate.
My Own Worst Enemy (2008)
OK, if lightweight
I would call this quite entertaining television popcorn fair. You really need to turn your brain off and I have serious questions about how long they can maintain this scenario, but for the time being it is a good way to waste an hour.
The story involves Edward, raised an orphan, who joined the army, served in the special forces and eventually joined a SUPER SECRET organization who works behind the scenes to save the world on a regular basis. This organization recruits people who are willing to have an alternate personality created for them (in Edward's case this is Henry) and live two lives - one 'normal Joe' type life and one superspy, each unaware of the other's existence. Whew! It's complicated just to write a quick synopsis! It's pretty entertaining, but suspension of disbelief is a requirement. I couldn't stop wondering why, when one agent displayed mental imbalance, they merely erased her spy identity and let her live her normal life, yet when they suspected the same of Edward they were going to kill him. Wouldn't they just have a universal policy? And then there's this whole conspiracy of folks around him who are helping to hide his condition. Why? It only endangers those around him. His civilian personality frequently pops up when he's supposed to be shooting down an airplane or torturing a suspect. The biggest question for me is what is the possible advantage of splitting a spy's personality in the first place? This is brought to a head in an episode concerning Edward's partner Raymond (or Tom, in civilian life). Someone from Ray's past recognizes 'Tom', and of course, he has no idea what's going on. This actually does lead to one of the more amusing episodes however, with Tom's wife witnessing Ray committing murder. I'm not sure how long I can keep my thoughts turned to 'off'.
Overall, this may be one of those shows that ultimately would have worked better as a mini series; I may be just one "we can torture because we're the good guys" speech away from giving this the boot.
Gary Unmarried (2008)
some talented people, horrible show.
Jay Mohr, in the right vehicle (Go), is pretty good. In the wrong vehicle (Ghost Whisperer, this steaming pile), he's horrible. He has this smarmy ego that can come across as strangely charming at times, but merely annoying at others, and boy is this one of the others.
Ed Begley Jr. is rarely in good form. I think the only exception was Veronica Mars, and that's because the writers gave him some good lines, and he was killed off before he could act himself over a cliff.
Jaime King is still a mystery to me, but only because she's only been in bad shows (The Class anbody?).
Paula Marshall is the exception here. Almost always worth watching, she lights up her scenes, even with Mohr trying his hardest to pull her under. She's a relatively well fleshed out character, for a show of this type. If they made her the protagonist, I might give this another shot, but she's not, so I won't. Oh, and go back and watch Veronica Mars for her as well.
The Real Cancun (2003)
This movie doesn't know what it wants to be.
At first glance, this looks like a "Girls Gone Wild: the Movie" type of movie. Which would be fine; those videos may be morally bankrupt, but at least they don't misrepresent themselves. This, on the other hand ... ugh.
Firstly, you get more titillation from a "Girls Gone Wild" commercial than you do from this entire film. This film is actually done in the style of a documentary, following several young folks on spring break, wandering around Cancun, trying to get laid and drinking a lot. The problem is that the people are not interesting, and nothing they do matters. However they manage, the filmmakers make Cancun seem boring. So, that combined with the exploitative nature of spring break ... if I could give this negative stars, I would.
Oh, and you can't spoil a movie with no plot. Except maybe to say so-and-so hooked up with what's-her-name. But who cares?
The Bill Engvall Show (2007)
I'm trying to like it, I really am!
Bill Engvall is one of those comedians that I pause for, whenever I see him. Which is why, when I spotted a television show with him starring, I decided to give it a shot.
From almost the first line, I was not impressed. And things just went from bad to worse. The jokes are not just flat, they're stale. He has problems communicating with his wife ... just like Dick Van Dyke! His kids don't listen to him, but he's proved right in the end ... just like Bill Cosby! His work keeps him away from home ... just like, eh, you get the idea. the jokes are recycled, the story lines are recycled, and the characters are recycled.
Now, I don't necessarily blame Mr. Engvall for most of this. TV after all, has a long history of pulling the teeth from comics to make them palatable for the general public. I was quite looking forward to the George Lopez Show, for example, only to be similarly disappointed. But frankly, based on the utter blandness of this show, I have to wonder, just what did Engvall fight for? Anything? Oh, and I gave this two stars instead of one because Nancy Travis is worth watching.
Miami Vice (2006)
I've come to expect better from Mann
Over the past decade and a half, Michael Mann has managed to set himself apart from the run of the mill movie maker that Hollywood seems determined to groom. This pack produces popcorn flicks with quick action, no character development and little that will remain with the viewer past the closing credits. Mann, on the other hand has made several gripping stories that delve into the psychological lives of the characters, gradually fleshing them out until they feel real to us and we care about the events that befall them.
This has created in me a certain high expectation. In Collateral, Mann followed a patently ridiculous idea, somehow weaving in and out of situations with these characters, gradually exploring motivations until the situation faded into the background. In his best film to date, The Insider, he followed characters through their struggles with ethics, loyalties and danger. It was for this film that Russel Crowe deserved an Oscar.
Now we come to Miami Vice, certainly the low point of Mann's mature career. He does still know how to set a mood. I enjoy the use of music, for the most part, and the quiet moments are welcome. However, he dispenses with the character development he is so good at. The story moves at a quick clip, and we have little time to understand the motivations of these people. For example, why are Sonny and Rico so devoted to each other as parters? We never know. We also are expected to believe that Sonny, while undercover, will allow himself to fall in love with the paramour of a Columbian drug kingpin. I also must take issue with some of the casting. I very much like Colin Farrell, but here has added some bulk (hopefully just temporary), and he does not carry it well. Gong Li, while a good actress, does not make for a convincing Cuban. She speaks with a noticeable Asian accent! Finally, Mann is not a master of the love scene. There were two, which bordered on painful to watch. I must commend Mann however, for his obvious distaste with the torture scene. His movies, while not gentle, do away with the unnecessary I-do-this-you-scream scene which pops up all too often in the action genre.
There was well documented difficulty in the making of this movie, so perhaps not all the shortcomings can be laid at Mann's feet, but for better or worse, I have come to expect much, much more from him.
The Mist (2007)
Not too darned bad ...
Adaptations of books are almost never up to the same quality as the source material, which is why this movie pleasantly surprised me.
Horror or shock movies seem to work best before the big *reveal*. Once the creature, or alien or whatever is shown on screen, there is an unavoidable disappointment, because what the human imagination creates is almost always more terrifying that what appears on screen. Jaws being a prime example. Scary as heck when all you see is someone being pulled under water; not so scary when you're watching a mechanical shark munch on a boat.
This story, by its very nature, rarely encounters this. Mist hides rather than reveals, which gives the movie makers ample opportunities for things to jump out and grab someone, just to vanish again. It works best when sticking to this formula.
There is also an interesting psychological component to the story, taken straight from the novella. Everyone is under intense strain and everyone reacts to it in different ways, with most people grasping what little control they still have. Marcia Gay Harden portrays a bible thumping lunatic (one of Stephen King's favorite caricatures) who convinces a number of others that this is the end of days and that they need to make right with God. Another group is positive that there are no creatures in the mist and that the others are scaring themselves into delusion. This exploration helps move the movie beyond the standard kill/die/survive themes of most modern horror.
The movie is not perfect. The momentum does flag a bit in the middle and the when the makers do show the monsters, they reek of CGI. And then the much talked about ending. I should mention that I was very fond of the non-ending that King penned, so I may be a bit biased, but the movie seemed to try too hard for a "you'll never see this coming!" Unfortunately I did.
The Chronicles of Riddick (2004)
Bloated and Unoriginal *very limited spoiler*
Pitch Black, the predecessor to Cronicles of Riddick, was a good movie. While not bringing anything new to SciFi, it was an enjoyable film, introducing interesting characters on an alien world, with menacing threats. Obviously low-budget, it was a necessarily simple story, which only added to its effectiveness.
Which brings us to the sequel. In every way that Pitch Black was simple and streamlined, this movie is bloated and bombastic. We are treated to endless scenes of monolithic star ships landing, crashing, shifting into giant statues. The character driven interest of the first film is lost, to be replaced with uninteresting threats, unscary enemies and silly dialogue. While in the first film there are no hints of multiple 'races', we are now introduced to Furyans, Elementals, etc. Riddick is no longer the simple criminal, he is a member of an almost extinct race of angry psychopaths. OK.
From all this, you might expect that I liked the movie not at all, which is not true. I did enjoy parts of it. But I wanted to like it so much more than I did.