Cole And Bobby
Movies on the TV
By Cole Dabney and Bobby McCurdy
We don't usually review television as a matter of policy. To be honest, I don't think we've ever reviewed TV for this publication. But since Hollywood has consistently been flooding multiplexes week-after-week with nothing but garbage, we think it's almost unfair to simply ignore the commercial-free premium cable network that is HBO. (I'll catch an earful from television guru John Pierson if I didn't note the industry term is "pay cable", though I'd argue that all cable is essentially pay cable.) Month after month, year after year they provide quality programming, and even as theatrical releases get worse and worse, they continue to seek perfection. So hopefully you don't mind us as we cover 3 of the best pieces of filmed entertainment to be released in any form this year, big or small screen: one film, one miniseries, and one episodic series. (And Bobby also reviews one of the only theatrical releases worth seeing through the first third of the year.) Enjoy!
You Don’t Know Jack
It’s hard to believe that an actor such as Al Pacino—once known for his fine acting skills, method ways of preparation, and Academy Award nominated performances—has become a shell of his former self as of late, continuing to drag what’s left of his career along with him in order to add more to the bank account whilst paying no attention whatsoever to the kind of role he’s ending up in. And though one could argue that this trend started almost immediately after the wonderful 1995 film “Heat”, there’s no arguing against the statement that he hit an all-time low in 2008, when Pacino starred in two of the consensus worst movies of that year.
It was at that point I think we all figured that we should just leave the man’s career for dead and never again give one of his dull, cookie-cutter films a chance ever again.
Boy, were we wrong.
In a return to a form we haven’t witnessed him in since he began screen acting in the 1970s, Pacino takes on the role of Dr. Jack Kevorkian, the assisted suicide crusader who is considered to be one of the most controversial figures of the 20th Century. With what is sure to go down as one of the most important roles of his career, Pacino comes through by delivering a true tour de force performance that Kevorkian himself said was so spot-on that Pacino looked more like him than he ever did.
The story begins in 1987 when Kevorkian, a medical doctor with over 35 years of experience, begins offering terminally ill patients in the Detroit area the option of euthanasia. By choosing to flip the switch on the euthanasia machine he’s created, the patient then receives a lethal dose of potassium chloride, thus ending his or her own life. With no law on the books to put him away and an outraged pu
blic, the state legislature goes to work to make sure “Dr. Death” doesn’t strike again. But despite any new laws, the impassioned pathologist pays no mind and continues administering euthanasia to terminally ill patients, causing his arrest and subsequent day in court.
Victorious and set free to pursue his life mission of stopping people’s endless suffering, we are taken through a number of real life interviews with Kevorkian’s patients, and each time is as hard as the last to watch as they choose to die. Here is where each viewer must confront his or her own beliefs and find out how they feel on the issue, and doing so isn’t easy—especially with a film that seems to be pretty clear on where it stands on the subject—but I think director Barry Levinson does a good job of staying honest with the viewer.
After conducting assisted suicide to well over 100 patients, Kevorkian makes what would become his crucial mistake: playing the videotape of the only euthanasia he performed where he pushed the button on “60 Minutes” during his interview with Mike Wallace. But in what may be the most innovative technique in the film, we see Pacino, not Kevorkian, in that seat being interviewe
d, just as we do in all of the interviews shown in his home videos of pre-euthanasia confessions.
Featuring a supporting cast that features grizzled veterans like Susan Surandon and John Goodman on their A-game and lesser knowns such as Danny Huston and Brenda Vaccaro delivering some of the best work of their career, it’ll be interesting to see who will shine the brightest to Emmy voters.
With Pacino’s 70th birthday coming the day after the film’s premiere, it’s a funny time for the actor to start peaking again. Now whether or not this is a path that he will remain on still remains to be seen, but the least fans can hope for is that he will continue to challenge himself by taking more sophisticated roles and working with talented, more experienced directors like Levinson that will help push him to reach his potential. (Both of these bits of advise would have saved all of us the grueling task of watching those 2008 disasters “88 Minutes” and “Righteous Kill”.) At the very least, I am glad to say that I’m actually looking forward to see the next Al Pacino movie. - Cole Dabney; 4 ½ stars
The superhero/comic book film genre has evolved over the past decade from box office bust to boom. Some of the highest grossing films of all time have been comic book adaptations, and critics have even given high praise to a few. Unfortunately though, for every “Iron Man” there have been at least two “Ghost Riders”. The success has studios forcing out ill-advised combinations of wrong story, director, and cast, resulting in more bad movies than good ones. In essence, the genre has grown stale. Out of the staleness “Kick-Ass” was created, more a critique and a parody of the superhero template than anything. The idea works wonderfully, and in parodying the genre Kick-Ass manages to create one of the most entertaining comic book movies around.
Created by Mark Millar, who also created the very fun Wanted a few years back, Kick-Ass aims to take place in the real world. In this world the heroes do not have fantastic powers and are simply normal people looking to make a difference. One of these is the titular hero (Aaron Johnson), a high school student of unremarkable character who takes up the costume after witnessing repeated injustices. A fight with muggers leaves him an Internet superstar and “Kick-Ass” fever sweeps the city. This popularity also leads to encounters with two heroes with stronger powers, Big Daddy (Nic Cage) and Hit Girl (Chloe Moretz). Reluctant to join real heroes at first, events spiral out of control and he must join them to down the local mob boss.
More than any other superhero film in recent memory, Kick-Ass effectively combines equal parts comedy and action, becoming a new breed of comic book movie. Even with lots of laughs, it still manages create action sequences, a testament to Matthew Vaughn’s direction. The casting is spot-on, with a good mix of unknowns mingling with established veterans. As with other movies of its kind, expect a lot of imitators over the next few years. Few will be able to match the uniqueness of this film, and will become just another “regular” comic book movie. - Bobby McCurdy; 4 stars
The number of television critics convinced HBO’s “The Wire” is the best series of all time (not to mention the decade) would be hard to count considering the widespread amount of people that feel that way. As David Simon’s first venture in the world of creating a TV series, I can’t begin to imagine the huge amount of pressure he felt to deliver with his second show. The good news for him, “Wire” fans, and anyone else that likes high quality programming is that he avoided the infamous curse of the sophomore slump and has delivered what could be the newest HBO hit series for years to come.
Set in New Orleans just 3 months after that fateful hurricane tore the city up in 2005, “Treme” follows a diverse group of characters in New Orleans as they struggle to try and rebuild their houses, their lives, and their city. The key word there is ‘struggle’, because that’s what it is every day. Whether it’s the white woman trying to fix her restaurant back up before she loses it or the black woman that can’t find her brother who was stuck in prison when the hurricane hit, we see that everyone is struggling here regardless of race, background or upbringing.
Much of the show is focused around the music the city is best known for, including that special New Orleans style jazz and the second line brass band. It’s that never-ending Nola sound is a constant reminder of where we are and what’s going on, regardless of how many local artists are living hand to mouth each and every day.
What the show has done best through the first half of season one is highlight the affinity that all citizens of New Orleans—black, white or Creole—share with each other, and that without them all lending a hand and pitching in, nothing will ever get done. Yes it makes you cheer for the success of the cast of characters we’ve met, but most importantly it provides you with a reality check on how bad off one of our nation’s formerly great cities is and makes you want it to be like it always was. Now that’s something worth cheering for both on and off the silver screen.
“Treme” airs Sunday nights at 9 PM on HBO. - Cole Dabney; 4 stars
In most depictions of World War II on film in the last twenty-five years, the emphasis has mostly been on the war in Europe against Nazi Germany. The landmark 2001 HBO miniseries “Band of Brothers” showed this side of the war and did so with incredible accuracy and production values. Almost an entire decade later, the same production team behind that miniseries (Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks notably) is back with a similar miniseries exploring the efforts of the Americans who fought against Imperial Japan in the Pacific. The series, appropriately titled “The Pacific”, focuses on three Marines in brutal combat, harsh environments, and fighting a passionate enemy. And while different from “Band of Brothers” in some ways, the miniseries is every bit as good and in some ways passes its predecessor.
Unlike “Band of Brothers” in which the narrative features a single company that we see go from training to war together, “The Pacific” has three disparate characters who we only meet as they’re suddenly thrust into battle. It’s a much different approach, but one that works well. Everyone knows of the origins of the Pacific War and there’s no need to waste time again showing the training process. While basic background information is provided, we mostly learn about the characters and their fellow Marines while they’re already in the thick of war. As the war progresses, we see the characters take much different paths from each other and learn of different stages of the war. We witness jungle warfare, long stretches of no activity at all, R&R in a welcoming Australia, the war bonds recruitment circuit, and the final push to the Japanese mainland. The characters provide an emotional base to this story, but the central focus remains the war itself.
One of the main goals of the series seems to be to show the audience just how different the Pacific war was from the more well-known European theater. An island war which relied almost entirely on Navy support and transport, there are numerous times when the Marines receive either inferior supplies or no supplies at all. This failure of supply reinforces the already difficult war experience and displays what a tremendous sacrifice those Marines provided. It’s scenes like these that make this miniseries special. As simply a study of the Pacific war it’s an important work all to itself, but it’s also a testament to all those involved in that it can compete with the big Hollywood films to tell a compelling, significant story and more often than not, come out victorious.
“The Pacific” airs Sunday nights at 8 PM on HBO. - Bobby McCurdy; 3 ½ stars