Posts Tagged ‘TV reviews’

The Boiled Leather Audio Hour Episode 66!

September 20, 2017

The ‘Game of Thrones’ Season Seven Post-Game Show

You wanted it, you got it. Sean & Stefan vs. Game of Thrones Season 7. ’Nuff said! NOTE: Since a lengthy illness on Sean’s part prevented us from getting this episode out in a timely fashion, we’re rushing it to you with minimal editing. Ooh baby we like it raw!


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“The Deuce” thoughts, Season One, Episode Two: “Show and Prove”

September 18, 2017

By now, perhaps you can detect the pattern emergingCandy discovering porn, Vincent moving from tending bar to owning one, Lori getting a crash course in street life, Abby choosing la vie Bohème: In case after case, The Deuce isn’t just introducing us to its characters and their world, it’s introducing those characters to their world. And while it may be new to them, the approach is, frankly, getting a little old.

Think of The Deuce as the world’s seediest superhero-team movie – Avengers After Dark, say – but one in which every hero and villain’s origin story is squeezed into a single movie before anyone so much as throws a punch. Or, closer to home, imagine a version of The Wire in which newbies like the young low-level drug dealer Wallace were our entry point into every storyline. Pretend that McNulty’s a rookie cop instead of a seasoned detective; Avon Barksdale and Stringer Bell meet for the first time rather than run the gang together; Tommy Carcetti campaigns for student council president instead of mayor, et cetera. No matter how much you love the Marvel and/or Detective John Munch Cinematic Universe, you can see how same-y and sloggy that would get.

For writers, this approach is awfully convenient. It gives you a semi-organic way to include exposition, since someone has to tell these noobs what’s what. And as your protagonists get an eye-opening view of their new world, learn their new role and discover whether they’re good or bad at it, you can quickly assemble their character arcs like so much Ikea furniture.

But for viewers, it’s rote and repetitive. Despite the presence of master crime novelists George Pelecanos and Richard Price in the writers’ credits, “Show and Prove” leads you by hand through the most basic of plot beats – headstrong young women hugging disapproving mothers goodbye, wide-eyed naifs getting their first look at the dark side of the city, down-on-their-luck dudes deciding that this mafioso is different from all the others, yadda yadda yadda. It all feels as predictable as the nightly visit from the paddy wagon that the women of the Deuce. Can we at least get some Chinese takeout too?

The Deuce is suffering from origin-story overload; I reviewed its second episode for my beloved Rolling Stone.

“Narcos” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Nine: “Todos Los Hombres del Presidente”

September 18, 2017

If you need to sum up the problem with Narcos Season 3, you could do a lot worse than to show what victory for Agent Peña and his allies looks like: the Rodriguez Brothers, cozying up behind bars. This is what all of Peña, Feistl, Van Ness, and Salcedo’s efforts have amounted to: the Cali Godfathers, hanging out together in a jail in which they have full rein, their momentary internecine enmities forgotten. What was it all for? You’d have to ask Narcos‘ writers for the answer.

The penultimate episode of Narcos Season Three left me questioning whether the whole exercise has a point. I reviewed it for Decider.

“Narcos” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Eight: “Convivir”

September 18, 2017

The star of “Convivir,” Narcos Season 3 Episode 8, is the camera. Once again, standout director Fernando Coimbra lets imagery convey emotion and comment on the plot, in what is otherwise a very straightforwardly shot series. And in this tense, cruel hour of TV, that willingness to show rather than tell matters more than ever.

I liked episode eight of Narcos Season Three quite a bit too. I reviewed it for Decider.

“Narcos” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Seven: “Sin Salida”

September 18, 2017

All told, it’s super-engaging genre television. But thanks to director Fernando Coimbra, it’s well made genre television as well. Coimbra lends a certain glow to the nighttime lighting of the city and the base where Peña and Serrano plan the raid. He cleverly mirrors church-door entrances by Pacho and Peña. And he echoes it again when he shows Miguel breaking down from exhaustion and fear in a doorway in his largely destroyed safehouse, emphasizing the fact that unlike the other two men, he’s not moving forward. (It’s actor Francisco Denis’s strongest moment in the role, too.)

Bottom line? This is more like it.

I reviewed episode 7 of Narcos Season 3 — the first one I really liked — for Decider.

“The Deuce” thoughts, Season One, Episode One: “Pilot”

September 11, 2017

Set in 1971, David Simon’s sleazier-than-thou new HBO show treats Manhattan like a Magic 8-Ball, where losers from the outer boroughs, uptown or across the country get shaken up; the hope is that they come up with a better future for themselves than “REPLY HAZY, ASK AGAIN LATER.” Maggie Gyllenhaal plays Eileen, an ex-suburbanite better known as “Candy,” one of Times Square’s most in-demand sex workers – she can switch identities simply by removing her blonde explosion of a wig. James Franco stars both as Vinnie, a Brooklyn bartender who slaves away seven nights a week, and his dirtbag twin brother Frankie, whose two most prominent personality traits are wisecracks and gambling debts. The renaissance-man actor eases into both roles simply by growing a period-appropriate mustache – a facial-hair accoutrement that transports you to the age of Richard Nixon and Travis Bickle more effectively than a million music cues. It’s a show about transformation, both onscreen and off.

Co-created by The Wire/Treme impresario and his frequent collaborator/acclaimed crime novelist George Pelecanos, The Deuce boasts an impressive array of talent in the executive producer chairs alone, including Gyllenhaal, Franco, director Michelle MacLaren (Game of Thrones/Breaking Bad), and The Night Of co-creator Richard Price. It also comes hot on the heals of HBO’s other big-budget–era NYC period piece from a pedigreed showrunner: The Sopranos/Boardwalk Empire vet Terrence Winter’s ill-fated music-biz drama Vinyl. The two series’ proximity makes apples-to-apples comparisons both irresistible and instructive. One title conjures up the nostalgic idea of a lost golden age, when music, and by extension life itself, was real, maaaan. The other is just a forgotten and nondescript nickname for 42nd Street. This ain’t no dream factory, kids.


[But] clocking in at around eighty minutes – nearly the length of many of the movie landmarks set in the era it’s portraying – it features a whole lot of … well, atmosphere is putting it generously. As we slowly get to know the sprawling cast, few if any surprises are on offer: smiling pimps with hidden mean streaks, workaholic husbands with restless spouses, college kids dabbling on the wrong side of the tracks, sex workers who (gasp!) have a family they’ve left behind, yadda yadda yadda. It’s tough to justify the sheer amount of screentime involved for figures who do so little but play their appointed roles.

I’ll be covering The Deuce for Rolling Stone this season, beginning with this review of its series premiere. It’s nothing to write home about yet, but to be fair you coulda said the same thing about The Wire after its pilot, too.

“Halt and Catch Fire” thoughts, Season Four, Episode Four: “Tonya and Nancy”

September 11, 2017

Can’t any of these people ever do anything that isn’t in some way designed or defined by each other?

Well, no, of course not. That’s the point. That’s the resonance and relevance of Tonya and Nancy — two athletes forever linked by the former’s attack on the latter, and the latter’s response. You can’t tell the story of one without telling the story of the other.

I reviewed yet another lovely episode of Halt and Catch Fire for Decider.

“It”: Everything You Need to Know About Stephen King’s Killer Clown Story

September 11, 2017

Pennywise is one of modern horror’s greatest monsters
He’s the original killer clown from outer space and the most infamous villain in Stephen King’s bibliography, which is saying something. (All apologies, Randall Flagg.)  Pennywise the Dancing Clown is the form most frequently taken by a malevolent entity that’s been haunting the entire town of Derry, Maine for centuries; it’s lurked beneath the land since it hurtled through the cosmos and crash-landed on Earth from another dimension millennia ago. This shape-shifter can transform into its victims’ worst nightmares, feeding on both their fear and their flesh. Its preferred target: little kids, whose vivid imaginations give it an extensive menu of terrors to choose from. This also explains the monster’s default mode: What kid doesn’t love clowns? (At least before It more or less singlehandedly ruined their image, that is.)

But in addition to being one mean, multifaceted predator, Pennywise has exerted a malign influence on the entire town. He himself – or It Itself – only emerges from hibernation once every 27 years or so for a feeding frenzy that lasts roughly a year to 18 months. But Its presence in the sewers beneath Derry radiates an evil that makes the small town the murder capital of New England … and generates a sort of willful amnesia among the population. Such forgetfulness keeps folks from reflecting on their sleepy burg’s history of atrocities, disasters and mass murders. It also prevents people from connecting the dots when the creature resurfaces and kids start going missing en masse.

Overall, Pennywise combines a killer look and set of powers with one of King’s strongest concepts: a fairy-tale troll that hides out not under a bridge, but an entire city – a ghost that haunts not just one house, but all of them. As our foremost chronicler of small-town American evil, King has a royally good time with the idea.

I wrote a primer on It — the book, the miniseries, the movie, Pennywise, Tim Curry, That Scene, you name it — just in time for the release of the new blockbuster film adaptation for Rolling Stone.

“Narcos” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Six: “Best Laid Plans”

September 11, 2017

There are problems on the (nominally) good-guy side of the story, too. Feistl and Van Ness are fun enough to watch, with their Mutt-and-Jeff height difference and the contrast between Van Ness’s uptight demeanor and his awesome collection of ‘90s band t-shirts. (Wu-Tang is for the DEA as well as for the children, apparently!) But poor Javi Peña spends so much time running around by himself — literally running around, in this episode, thanks to his foot chase with Franklin Jurado in the streets of Curaçao — that he might as well be starring in a completely separate show. Without a foil like his former partner Chris Murphy or regular in-person contact with any of the other current main characters (Feistl, Van Ness, Jorge, the Rodriguezes, whoever), his adventures feel disconnected and weightless. His dull narration (the episode’s big concluding speech begins with “Things don’t always go according to plan” — no shit!) does him no favors either.

I reviewed the sixth episode of Narcos Season Three, which pours on the bloodshed but feels oddly empty despite the spectacle, for Decider.

“Narcos” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Five: “MRO”

September 11, 2017

“It was a mistake, not stopping it sooner,” says Christina Jurado of her life near the beating financial heart of the world’s largest drug cartel. “Have you ever done anything like that?” “I have,” responds Javi Peña, presumably thinking of his role in starting the Los Pepes death squads, but perhaps also rueing ruined romantic entanglements, or just his general penchant for being a pain in everyone’s ass.

This exchange (between Donna from Halt and Catch Fire and the Red Viper from Game of Thrones, as if my dreams were doing the casting) sums up “MRO,” the fifth episode of Narcos Season 3. A whole lot of people are reaching the point where they’re in over their heads, and should have stopped swimming away from the shore a long time ago. Some, like Christina — whom Javi is pressuring to persuade her cartel financier husband to turn on his bosses — realize it. Others don’t.

I reviewed episode five of Narcos Season Three for Decider.

“Narcos” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Four: “Checkmate”

September 11, 2017


There’s a case to be made that the ease with which Peña and company knock Gilberto Rodriguez off the playing board shows just how fatally cocky the Gentlemen of Cali had gotten following the fall of Escobar and the establishment of their sweetheart deal with the government. The show makes this case itself with the musical montage that leads up to the raid: A portrait of Gilberto’s life as the happily married husband to three different wives, all of whom know each other and are perfectly content with the arrangement, cleverly soundtracked by the camp swagger of LL Cool J’s “Going Back to Cali” (a song Gilberto himself probably wouldn’t be caught dead listening to, which is why the music cue works). In his own way, the elder Rodriguez is an interesting figure, and Damián Alcázar is entertaining and convincing in the role; he looks like a well-tanned chief executive of a medical supply sales company or something, which is exactly the vibe of affluent anonymity the character wanted to cultivate for himself.

But the quick-and-easy downfall of the season’s central antagonist points to the void left in this show by Escobar’s death. While Gilberto’s fortune, power, and influence may have been larger than that of Pablo Escobar, Pablo Escobar was larger than life — a supervillain in Robin Hood drag who sincerely fancied himself a man of the people (and looked the part) even as he sent countless thousands of Colombians to early graves. And actor Wagner Moura was the face of the whole show in the role, radiating stoned malevolence from his dark eyes despite his cool-uncle mustache and doughy physique. Perhaps the show will make a play to build Pacho Herrera, the most unique and compelling of the four Cali godfathers, into someone worthy of slipping into Pablo’s sweatshirts. With at least six episodes to go, they’ll need it.

I reviewed the fourth episode of Narcos Season Three — gripping and obviously pivotal but narratively problematic — for Decider.

“Narcos” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Three: “Follow the Money”

September 11, 2017

You gotta hand this much to Narcos: It can begin by introducing an all-powerful Mexican druglord nicknamed “The Lord of the Skies” and that won’t even be, like, the fifth most important thing that happens in the episode. “Follow the Money,” the unimaginatively titled third installment of Narcos’ third season, has its problems — for example, a montage about money laundering with a music cue, the Wu-Tang Clan’s “C.R.E.A.M.” (“Cash rules everything around me”? You don’t fuckin’ say!), every bit as lazy as the episode’s name. But never let it be said that the thing isn’t jam-packed with stuff. My notes on any given hour of Narcos run longer than my notes on an ep of Twin Peaks, that’s how dense this thing has gotten.

I reviewed the third episode of Narcos Season Three for Decider.

“Narcos” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Two: “The Cali KGB”

September 11, 2017

Without a doubt, the New York City massacre perpetrated by Cali kingpin Chepe Santacruz-Londoño in the hair-salon headquarters of some young Dominican rivals is the dominant image of “The Cali KGB,” the second episode of Narcos Season Three. Appearances and voiceovers to the contrary, Narcos rarely goes for the Coppola/Scorsese gusto when it comes to memorable execution scenarios. But Chepe’s behavior here — accelerating the countdown issued by his enemy in an attempt to be intimidating, blowing everyone away with an UZI concealed under his barber’s gown, and, in a bit straight from The Godfather Part II, awkwardly struggling to extinguish the fire in the fabric ignited by the heat of the gun barrel — is a gangster set piece par excellence.

I reviewed the second episode of Narcos Season Three for Decider. The shootout was a fun outburst of violent spectacle, but elsewhere the show is trying to have its cake and eat it too with regards to its characters’ hypocrisy about justified violence.

“Narcos” thoughts, Season Three, Episode One: “The Kingpin Strategy”

September 11, 2017

In the past, Narcos has rewarded patience. Its no-nonsense approach to Escobar and his enemies — best summed up as “a crook made a billion dollars and went berserk, so the Colombian and American governments went berserk too until they finally murdered him” — avoided easy moralism, and the slow-and-steady filmmaking suited that approach. As what amounts to a pilot for Narcos Vol. 2: The New Bosses, “The Kingpin Strategy” is hit or miss, but I’m willing to keep an open mind. As both Peña and the cartel could tell you, you’ve gotta learn from the past.

Gentlemen, start your binges! I’ve been reviewing the new season of Narcos on Netflix for the past week or so; here’s my take on the premiere, which utilizes a few tricks to make up for the absence of the show’s two previous leads, with mixed success.

Why ‘Twin Peaks: The Return’ Was the Most Groundbreaking TV Series Ever

September 4, 2017

A side note here: It feels goofy to praise David Lynch for not participating in the usual back-and-forth between showrunner and viewer about the need for answers, closure and a finale that “sticks the landing,” which the conclusions of The Sopranos and Lost have rendered a seemingly permanent part of the TV discourse. (It’s like giving Stanley Kubrick a shoutout for resisting the temptation to create the Kubrick Cinematic Universe.) Still, even if this wasn’t on the filmmaker’s mind, as seems likely, it certainly was on ours. How refreshing to watch a show wholly alien to the debates that consumed the final seasons of even the most truly wonderful dramas, from Mad Men to The Leftovers. And how cool to see a series so gloriously unsuited to the era TV takes, too. After “This is the water and this is the well,” didn’t every article you came across with a title like “Lucy Brennan Proves David Lynch Has a Receptionist Problem” or “Dr. Jacoby’s Spray-Painted Shit Shovels Would Work Much Better Using the Netflix Release Model” feel … a little small? Like, even smaller than usual?


Twin Peaks: The Return was a dazzling work of filmmaking. But unlike its jittering cameras, flashing lights, billowing smoke and ambient whooshing and whirring, its emotional foundations were rock solid. We may marvel at the cosmos Lynch and Frost created – a universe of vast purple oceans, towering metal fortresses, billowing red curtains and infinite fields of stars. We may spend another 25 years attempting to puzzle out Audrey’s location, the glass box’s bankroller, the true identity of “Judy” and what, exactly, became of the girl with the bug in her mouth. But there’s nothing ethereal or mysterious about abuse, trauma and the irresistible death-march of time. That part of Twin Peaks, the part that counts most, is as clear as your reflection in the mirror.

Twin Peaks is the best television show ever made. I tried to explain why for Rolling Stone.

“Twin Peaks” thoughts, Season Three, Episodes Seventeen and Eighteen

September 4, 2017

So ends the con job that Lynch and Frost telegraphed from the season’s subtitle, The Return, on down. After all, the original Twin Peaks ended in the worst possible way: goodness corrupted, evil triumphant. Fire Walk With Me hinted at a way forward, only to linger on cruelty and suffering. Certainly nothing in Lynch’s intervening filmography indicated that this story would have a happy ending. Why wouldn’t we wind up right back where we started: an unspeakable violation, carving a hole in the moral fabric of the universe that no one, not even the whitest of knights, is capable of making whole?

This is Twin Peaks: The Return, alright. A return to pain that can’t be healed, crimes that can’t be solved, wrongs that can’t be righted. We drank full. We descended. There’s no way up and out again.

I reviewed the final episode of Twin Peaks Season Three for Rolling Stone.

“Narcos” thoughts, Season Two, Episode Ten: “Al Fin Cayó!”

September 1, 2017

NOTE: As best I can tell I never linked to my review of last year’s Narcos season finale. In the interest of completism, here it is!

“Al Fin Cayó!”, the tenth and final episode of Narcos Season 2, was the series’ finest episode. That’s a major achievement in itself, entertainment value aside — a sign that the season and the show got better as they went, which was by no means a guarantee. Particularly regarding Pablo Escobar, Narcos in general and this episode in particular wound up pulling off a work of real emotional alchemy. It made him more human — sympathetic to the point of it being hard to watch him endure his agonizing downfall — even as grew more unequivocal about the monstrousness of his crimes.

Contrast him with comparable TV crime bosses. By the final season of Breaking Bad, even as we pulled for Walter White to get out of each scrape, it was difficult to not want him to suffer. Despite committing several of his most heinous acts in The Sopranos’ last season, Tony was always a more appealing character than his New York rivals. On the flip side, Marlo Stanfield, the archvillain of The Wire’s waning years, was pure evil, impossible to see as anything but a dead-eyed killer.

But with Pablo Escobar, Narcos managed to make you feel like you were watching a human being’s life fall apart as he lived in mortal terror and depressing isolation, and that he was a world-historical murderer who’d killed countless thousands so he could sit around palatially appointed estates in the world’s ugliest sweatshirts. It’s difficult to think of another show so certain that both halves of such a story needed to be driven home even in its final hour.

So yeah, last year I reviewed the season finale of Narcos for Decider.

“Halt and Catch Fire” thoughts, Season Four, Episode Three: “Miscellaneous”

August 31, 2017

David Lynch, who as the co-creator, co-writer, and director of Twin Peaks is currently airing the best show in the history of television, says “Cinema is sound and picture, flowing together in time.” By that metric, the opening sequence for this week’s Halt and Catch Fire (“Miscellaneous”) is the definition of cinema. The sounds: the dripping of two faucets in two apartments, accompanied by a piece from Paul Haslinger’s score that’s as lovely an ambient composition as I’ve heard in years. The picture: the faucets (one of them flowing upside-down as we rotate into its spacetime location), the apartments, the woman inhabiting them—Cameron Howe—and, in one of them, the man—Tom Rendon (the always welcome Mark O’Brien)—whose heart she’s just broken. The time: the present, in which Cameron is wandering around her past and present lover Joe MacMillan’s apartment alone, investigating the life he built for himself, and the past, in which Cameron painfully explains to her then-husband Tom that despite having a one-night stand with Joe, she does not love him. “There’s no loving Joe,” she says, teary-eyed. “He’s impossible to love. He’s empty, and he just becomes whatever circumstances need him to be.” We hear these words even as this past flows together with the present, in which she’s reunited with Joe, and quite in love. “Who are you?” Tom replies. It’s an open question. Cinema is sound and picture, flowing together in time.

I reviewed last weekend’s luscious episode of Halt and Catch Fire for Decider. What a show.

“Twin Peaks” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Sixteen

August 28, 2017

With only one week and two hours remaining, this season/series revival had spent nearly its entire running time chronicling the (mis)adventures of a Coop far from the one we knew and loved all those years ago – and that’s not even counting the evil doppelganger who escaped the Black Lodge into our world. Our beloved federal agent may have finally escaped that zig-zagged hellscape, but he wound up trapped in the life of a Las Vegas insurance agent named Dougie Jones. Episode after episode, “Dougie” was unable to remember not just his past but, like, how to speak in complete sentences. Somehow, this didn’t prevent our hapless hero from surviving multiple assassination attempts, winning both the local mob bosses’ favor and thousands of dollars at the slots (“Hell-oooooooo!”), making sweet love to Naomi Watts and consuming his fair share of damn good coffee and cherry pie. It was as if his innate Coop-ness was still shining through, guiding him through life’s dangers even if he was incapable of figuring out how a door works.

Then, last week, something changed. Hearing the name of his old mentor Gordon Cole in the movie Sunset Boulevard, “Dougie” was somehow triggered into jabbing a fork into an electrical outlet, sending him into a coma. What emerges on the other side in this episode is wonderful even beyond the imagining of people who’ve waited for this moment for two decades and counting.

“You are awake,” says the one-armed man Philip Gerard in a vision.

“One-hundred percent,” says Dale – the real Dale – in response.

Welcome back, Cooper — the do-gooder, go-getter and wrong-righter whose decency shone like a beacon through all of the darkness all those years ago. The music that accompanies his awakening is the Twin Peaks theme itself. He even still loves and cares for Janey-E and Sonny Jim, the family you might have expected him to simply abandon. By the time his insurance-agency boss Battlin’ Bud Bushnell warns him the FBI is looking for him and he turns to the camera and says, “I am the FBI,” it’s hard to believe there was a single Peaks freak on the planet who wasn’t either screaming for joy or a blubbering mess.

I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been as moved by an episode of television I was by last night’s Twin Peaks. Just openly sobbing with joy. I reviewed it for Rolling Stone.