Entertaining Peery: Monday Nights of the New TV Season: Gotham, Sleepy Hollow, and The Blacklist

September 24, 2014 § Leave a comment

Red_ReddingtonThe new season of TV is upon us and here is my review of Monday night’s offerings! The 8PM slot in my viewing block was filled by FOX’s comic book adaptation of “Batman.” I’m not a comic book reader, per se, so I am approaching this show from what I know from being in close proximity to them via my academic association with popular culture and film. Gotham centers on James Gordon as a freshly minted detective who has caught the murder of the Waynes. Gordon makes young Bruce a promise to catch the culprit, which doesn’t go too well. Along the way we meet a pre-teen Cat Woman, who witnesses the murder and begins her fixation with young Bruce, a very young Poison Ivy, a Riddler who works forensics for the police, and the character I think is the best re-invention of these DC staples: the Penguin.

The Penguin is a low-level figure in the city’s organized crime syndicates who is ambitious despite his lack of obvious physical strength or even being smarter than his boss. He is an orphan raised by the syndicate and the viewers see how he gets his characteristic limp. His slimy charm and ruthlessness are going to make for watching this sociopath worth tuning in to see. Gotham , from this first episode it feels like a Law and Order series, except that the who is who to provide the law and order is blurred to an extreme degree. I will be watching, especially since it leads off Sleepy Hollow.

Also on FOX, this combo of Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle starts its second season with the obligatory cleaning up of last season’s cliffhanger. The stand-off until apocalypse is maintained with the bad guys getting another Horseman to pick up the slack of the Headless one, who seems too busy wooing his old girlfriend to actually go and cut heads. Missing from this episode was the excellent Orlando Bloom, whose presence as the police captain was an excellent role, one whose name, Frank Irving, is an homage to Washington Irving. This episode seemed like it was probably John Cho’s last appearance as well, which is a shame as well. Despite what I think was a slow start for a show I really enjoyed last season, I have hopes it will pick up the intensity going forward.

For my 10PM viewing I move to NBC for The Black List, which I think is one of the best, if not the best thriller on TV right now. James Spader, as usual, rocks the role of Red with a performance that should win him an Emmy, in my opinion. This season’s addition of Mary-Louise Parker as Red’s ex-wife is going to be interesting, tragic, and bloody. The show finds interesting ways to continually twist without becoming formulaic.

This week’s twist: (SPOILERS) A terrorist who really IS an evil twin without the hokum and a twist that is terrifying when you really think about the ramifications if it were real.

Monday nights are going to be great, I only regret that CBS moved NCIS: LA to Monday to face The Black List. I will stay with Red and watch LL and Chris when I can.

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Entertaining Peery: Act of Valor. McCoy + Waugh (2012)

February 25, 2012 § Leave a comment

Ohhhhh! "NAVY SEALS!"

The way the world perceives the USA is largely through the lense of our media, especially film. I interact with a lot of people from all over the world and I always find it interesting when they comment on something in the US as “just like the movies.”

Act of Valor I think works as equal parts a filmic memorial monument to fallen warriors “down range” and message to the world that this is how the SEALs throw down. The first part is easily evident from the listing of every fallen Naval Special Warfare soldier since 9/11. The second part I deduced from the perfect balance of near and present danger foes of  the US depicted by the film:

  • Russian Arms Dealers / Smugglers
  • Islamic Extremists spanning Chechnya to the Phillipines
  • Drug Cartels and FARC guerrillas
  • Human Smugglers tunneling under the US-Mexico border

The film depicts active duty SEALs engaging these groups with lethal precision and contingency, ultimately willing to die to complete the missions and save lives of not only their countrymen, but of their teammates.

This use of real SEALs is partially successful. Using non-actors is always a gamble and challenge for even the best of directors. Here I will not blame the SEALs for stilted line delivery, but the director and writers for not working with them better. It has been reported that the mission operations were scripted by the SEALs themselves. This paid dividends in the action sequences and where using the SEALs was successful. One could argue having advisors during production would be similar, but having the SEALs vested more completely in the production insured the realism.

My suggestion for fixing the film: Candid filming of the SEALs talking about the auxiliary issues could have come across less stilted and hard to watch. Give them the topic and roll film while they talk about it and edit after the fact. Could have been much better, I feel. Also, I think the directors McCoy and Waugh should have watched more Peter Watkins films to get the gritty realism via pseudo documentary.

One other bone I have to pick with the dialog was the heavy use of military acronyms and jargon. I am the above average student/aficionado  of military science and if I was scratching my head, I can imagine others might be totally lost. Sure, it lent a realism to the film, but they used high-tech looking map overlays and infographics, why not have a “pop-up” defining some of these terms, it would not be any more jarring than the other graphics, in my opinion.

One other thing about mixing actors and non-actors: I think you go all one way or the other. That way there is less chance that the cache of the actors will impact the film. For example, when Emilio Rivera appears on screen as a human smuggler, Mr. Platt leaned over and whispered “Where’s the Sons?” (of Anarchy) in which Rivera plays Mayan MC gang leader Marcus Alvarez. Also, Rosalyn Sanchez gets underused other than as a punching bag.

Lastly, I would like to add this film to my Film and Video Games class syllabus for the week I would talk about the influence of Video Games on Film. As I stated before, the film used a good number of graphic overlays; these are very similar to many video game mission and way-finding interfaces. Second, the heavy use of First Person Shooter Camera (copyright) and over the shoulder camera of the SEALs in action is a video game staple.

In conclusion, I mainly find this film interesting as a geopolitical artifact than for its entertainment value or any deeper meaning. It is a watch once kind of film and is worth the time.

Reviewed by Josh Peery.

Entertaining Peery: The Walking Dead, “Nebraska” & The Politics of the Apocalypse

February 13, 2012 § Leave a comment

Last night AMC’s The Walking Dead returned with new episodes after its midseason break. “Nebraska” starts up where the show left off with: Rick cleaning up Shane’s messy discovery of what really happened to Sophia and the mystery of the barn.

The episode then continues to explore themes that I dubbed last season as “The Politics of the Apocalypse.”

<spoilers after the break>

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Entertaining Peery: Chronicle (2012) Trank.

February 7, 2012 § Leave a comment

Chronicle (2012) is director Josh Trank’s first foray onto the big screen and is penned by Max Landis (the progeny of John Landis.) The two pair up to make a superhero/villain film that is ultimately darker and grittier, especially so because the first act is pretty charming, than most offerings in the genre. I give it 3.75 out of 5.

The film is shot cinema verite in the current trend of “found footage” and the technique is polished by the story itself since the subjects are able to telekinetically move the camera that is filming.

I liked the film, it is a superhero film with a feeling of realism and depth. That said, of course, I locked in on sub-texts since I never take a film on face value.

Possible Spoilers after cut:

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Entertaining Peery, The Grey. Carnahan (2012)

January 29, 2012 § Leave a comment

I will go ahead and help potential viewers of this film thinking that the film is a “Flight of the Phoenix” (1965)/(2004) in the snow… with wolves. Heck, it is not even “The Edge” (1997).

Joe Carnahan seems to be taking a break from films like “Smokin’ Aces” and the “The A-Team.”

This film is not, in my opinion, an action/adventure film, as it is advertised, or a thriller as some have it billed. I would say it falls much closer into the metaphysical thought-provoker film category. Dare I say, Art film? This is not a bad thing, especially how “The Grey” worked for me.

The title alone, which is not referenced in film, made me think of the book, The Great Divorce, by C.S. Lewis which deals with similar issues that I think “The Grey” tackles. The book’s narrator finds himself in a shrouded, joyless, city: “Grey Town” very much represented by the night-clad and otherworldly oil complex where the film’s grim narrator Liam Neeson has exiled himself. After a short and ill-fated plane ride, the characters find themselves in the deep Alaskan/Canadian wilds, or they might as well be in C.S. Lewis’ Limbo.

With that said, while viewing the film, I didn’t take anything at face value, and most likely a different viewer will have a different experience.

Some aspects of the film I noticed that further reinforced my take on the film are the camera work and how scenes are setup. For a film set in a vast and harsh wilderness, the alienating wide-angle vista shot is simply not used, with first-person camera work the rule more often than not. The film is almost entirely shot in close-up on the characters. As the above average film student will know, this is to establish empathy with the characters and this is a film interested in how the characters handle their situation.

Carnahan also taunts a recent film convention, and one he has used often, in that the chatty comic relief is flat out rejected by the main character and is one of the first to leave the party. The humor that exists is human and does not feel like prefab one liners.

What the audience learns about the characters is what the characters ultimately learn about themselves in the course of the film. Once they learn this, they often leave the party. Hence, its not really about fighting the wolves. In a lot of ways the wolves are manifest of the human characters’ inner struggles and is reflected by the fights with the wolves being depicted very frenetic and shot too close up to see what is really going on.

Even so, the film does have an even measure of Liam Neeson bad-assery. Oh yeah, stay until the end of the credits! (At least I’m told there is a last few seconds scene, I missed it and can’t comment or verify.)

Rating: 4.5 stars if you like to think about what you are watching
2.5 if you are expecting a Liam Neeson action film.

by Josh Peery

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