Sunday, June 01, 2014

Viewing Bliss!

Today's entry is dedicated to 3 TV series and 1 film, all of which I highly recommend.

The first is NBC's Hannibal. Season 2 has already concluded, but it's worth a mention because frankly, the show completely fascinates me.

The plot twists induce whiplash while talky scenes go on and on forever, but the wildly changing tempo keeps things fresh and surprising, and I never knew how each episode will end.

I shall refrain from analyzing the strange dynamics between characters, other than saying that they border on ludicrous at times, yet somehow remain believable ( though this depends entirely on the viewer ). Hannibal Lecter and Will Graham's constant cat-and-mouse games are nail-biting, and what I initially thought were weird / moronic acts have finally revealed themselves as entirely the opposite.

The addition of Michael Pitt as deranged billionaire, Mason Verger ( who actually appeared in Thomas Harris' sequel to Silence Of The Lambs and was played by Gary Oldman in the film version ), is genius. Pitt is riveting in the role and almost unrecognizable with nerdy glasses, bedhead hair, a cackling high-pitched voice and twitchy posture.

Main grouses? Definitely the romantic subplots. Hannibal and Will both succumb to feminine wiles, which I suppose the writers felt would add dimension to the storylines, but which I find tiresome. Please stop.

The murder scenes are still as creative and artistic as ever, accurately described as intricate tableaux of death. One killer stitched corpses together into a mural, then sprayed chemicals on them to harden the skin, before admiring his work from the top of a grain silo. Another buried his victims inside dead horses, while another removed internal organs and replaced them with fresh bouquets.
Totally wacko stuff - I love it. :)

The finale was absolutely shocking, but I won't reveal spoilers here. In a nutshell, it was a gruesome bloodbath with a significant body count involving major characters, ending with a cliffhanger guaranteed to make you scream, "AAARGH!"

That's what great television is made of, and season 3 was confirmed 3 weeks ago. Congratulations!

Next is FX's Fargo, based loosely on Joel and Ethan Coen's Oscar-winning comedy/thriller. Certain key elements remain similar - the small Minnesota town setting, the constantly miserable weather, a smart and determined female police officer, and at the centre of it all, a hapless dorky fellow whose life is turned upside down, causing him to reveal a previously dormant dark side.

The cast is exceptional, especially Martin Freeman as abovementioned dork. He really nails the character - from the grating accent to the villainous transformation. Like Breaking Bad's Walter White, Lester Nygaard straddles that fine line between good and evil - you wince as he displays moments of violent ruthlessness, but also feel sorry for him as he sinks deeper into the hole he's dug. I guess the most important lesson taught here is that every single one of us is capable of murder, as long as there's motive, opportunity and that little push that tips you over the edge.

Other standouts include Allison Tolman as the suspicious deputy sheriff ( a non-pregnant version of Frances McDormand's Marge ) and Bob Odenkirk ( Saul Goodman from Breaking Bad ) as her gullible boss.

Many new series these past couple of years have opted for a leisurely pace in terms of scene setup and plot / character development, with Hannibal and Fargo following the same format. I'm a huge fan of this particular style ( excluding Game Of Thrones, which has way too many people in it ). Keep it up!

Showtime's Penny Dreadful sounds positively nuts if you really think about it - i.e. a mashup of famous Victorian era literary characters, including Victor Frankenstein, Dorian Gray, Mina Murray and Dracula. The pilot episode set things up; after that, everyone got down to having some REAL fun.

For a horror fan like myself, a show like this can go either way. Aside from True Blood and X-Files, I've avoided most paranormal-themed series because they're either too campy or over-ambitious, or most commonly, feature pretty young casts with zero acting talent.

Penny Dreadful suffers from none of the above. The leads are Timothy Dalton, Eva Green and Josh Hartnett, none of whom is below the age of 30. Dalton played James Bond in the late '80s ( my favourite 007, FYI ) while Green's resume includes a string of Hollywood blockbusters. Hartnett's the least experienced of the lot ( though he, too, had his moment of stardom with Black Hawk Down and Pearl Harbour ) but has aged well and suits the role of hot-headed cowboy, Ethan Chandler, who's recruited to join Sir Malcolm Murray ( Dalton ) and Vanessa Ives ( Green ) as they hunt for Murray's daughter, Mina ( from Bram Stoker's Dracula, get it? :)).

Victor Frankenstein also gets enlisted, with ample screen time devoted to his backstory ( though I find the scenes with his monsters - yes, there's more than one - a little dull ).

The character I'm currently most intrigued by is Dorian Gray. Played exquisitely by Reeve Carney ( last seen on Broadway in the Spider-man musical ), Gray looks like a boy band member but exudes a pulsating undercurrent of menace and wild eroticism. A scene involving him and a prostitute was equal parts disgusting and sensual. A fine balancing act which was expertly pulled off!

Another highlight was the seance in episode 2. Green took centrestage and practically made my skin crawl with her extremely convincing interpretation of a full-throttled demonic possession. Like I've said before, my horror threshold is quite high, so whenever something scares the crap out of me, it's like hitting the jackpot! I'm very pleased. :)

I hear Dracula and Van Helsing will make an appearance soon. The crowd is growing but I'm confident that the show's creator and writer, John Logan, will keep things organized. He is, after all, the man who wrote the screenplays of Gladiator, The Aviator, Hugo, Skyfall AND the next one or two Bond films.
You can't get any better than that!

Last is the film In Secret, starring Elizabeth Olsen, Oscar Isaac, Tom Felton and Jessica Lange.
A brooding romance / thriller set in France, it revolves around sexually frustrated Therese ( Olsen ), who's trapped in a loveless marriage to her cousin, Camille ( Felton ), and bossed around by her aunt ( Lange ). When Camille's handsome and intense friend, Laurent ( Isaac ), enters the picture, he engages Therese in an affair which later leads to tragedy.

The plot isn't that unusual, and the movie doesn't boast major A-listers. But I'm extremely impressed with the performances, especially from Olsen and Isaac. The former consistently wows with her screen presence and maturity in project selections, while the latter recently hit the jackpot with the Coen brothers' dark comedy, Inside Llewyn Davis, and a role in J.J. Abrams' Star Wars: Episode VII.

Isaac is one of my new favourites, after catching my eye in Won't Back Down ( he played a cool high school music teacher ) and The Bourne Legacy ( a glum-faced fellow assassin opposite Jeremy Renner ). But I'd actually also seen him years before, in Sucker Punch and Robin Hood, without noticing him.

Every actor hits his/her stride at some point, so this is Isaac's time. His performance as Laurent is explosive - Isaac scorches the screen every time he appears, and steams it up in his love scenes with Olsen. He also handles the dramatic bits skilfully, infusing them with just the right portions of rage and restraint. Laurent's layers are gradually peeled away, exposing the monster beneath. Isaac is truly amazing!

Before I sign off, a quick mention about another TV show which I've become hopelessly addicted to. Titled Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, it's sort of a spinoff from Jon Stewart's political satire talk show, though I find Oliver's far more entertaining.

I literally fell in love with him when he stood in for Stewart for ( I think ) a month last year when the latter took a break, and absolutely KILLED it! Perhaps the British accent makes everything sound funnier, but Oliver's delivery is also key. He looks like a dorky university professor ( or librarian, it works either way ) but has one of the sharpest wits I've ever encountered. Sure, there's no doubt the show has cue cards ( don't they all ) but there're so many moments when he doesn't even seem to be reading them, ad-libbing snarky comments that make me laugh out loud, not just from a direct interpretation of the joke, but from additional analysis of its other meanings.
Because the beauty of Oliver's humour ( which exceeds Stewart's and even Jimmy Fallon's ) is its sheer depth. He doesn't merely poke fun at a person or a situation, he extrapolates it to all mankind, illustrating our many foibles and follies, yet somehow managing to make it seem cute and totally okay.

And no topic is beyond his grasp, be it food product labelling, Google software, the death penalty or India's general election. The last one's especially fantastic, and I really applaud Oliver's staff for collecting a set of side-splitting clips from Indian talk shows, ingeniously comparing them to their American counterparts.

Yep, we're all a lot more alike than we originally thought!

I'm adding Oliver to my list of "nerd crushes", which currently stands at 2 ( Martin Freeman has the honour of being the other candidate ). It's important to differentiate these crushes from simple admiration / fan appreciation ( that list is pretty long ). Because someone I have a crush on is capable of reducing me to a quivering heap of jelly if or when I come face to face with the person.

I fully intend to try getting tickets for Oliver's show when I return to New York in late 2015 ( yes, again! but it's for a conference in nearby Boston :)). He completes my trio of adorable talk show hosts - the other 2 being Seth Meyers and Jimmy Fallon.

Till next time, happy watching!

1 comment:

dlpthomas said...

check out john olivers podcast with andy zaltzman