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Archive for August, 2011

“It’s funny, I don’t see the miracle. See, the way I see it, I’m the one that allowed you to be unleashed upon the world. Like I’m the one who’s going to find a way to put you back in your cage.” – Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant)

Sometimes the smallest tweak can make the biggest difference. Particularly with format adjustments, they can create memorable episodes and clever conceits to circumvent the occasionally repetitive tendencies of television.

This isn’t one of those magical changes.

Still, it’s not too bad. That’s not me trying to ride the middle of the road for convenience, either, but the side story didn’t particularly grab me. It’s cool and all that they didn’t worry about playing with the formula and keeping Raylan at home, and some of the interaction with Attorney Rick Vasquez (Rick Gomez) was compelling, but the mileage on the conflict with the hostage-taking Cal Wallace (W. Earl Brown – Deadwood alum) can only go so far. Amusing moments include the cat-and-mouse with the SWAT-Team and the obscure methods Raylan uses to get Cal out of trouble.

Still, as usual, it’s all about the Crowders. And here, things have taken a quantum leap. They’re both out and things are primed for some real fireworks at the end of the season. It’ll make a nice reprieve from school, and promises to outdo much of the luke-warm mid-season.

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“I may be a man of the cloth, but I sure as Hell ain’t no lamb!” – Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins)

And back to the sweet, long-form goodness of old. As you can imagine, I was pretty happy to find that the switch to the episodic format was just a brief thing. And that’s not to discredit them for hinting at the long-form direction, but I was really pleased with the overall tone of this one, minus a little waspishness with the lady folk.

This episode makes good on the tense promises of the last three, beginning with the slam-bang action of a botched hit on Ava. Add to that a few dicey elements, the now fully hostile relationship between Boyd and Raylan, the introduction of Bo Crowder (M.C. Gainey), a rule-dispensing hit-man (Ray McKinnon, fellow Deadwood alum), and a less than innocent police officer (Brent Sexton) keep the consistently overflowing series replete with crosses and double-crosses. Besides an exciting chase scene and darkly compelling scenes in prison, things just carry well. There’s also the revelation that the assassins aren’t after Ava – they want Raylan. Well, the surprise is limited given that it says that on the DVD case… but it says something about the fact that Raylan is stuck between a rock and a hard place – between an investigator who wants his hide and a mob that wants to hide him. Times are tough.

Really, it’s tough to pick standouts in an episode where just about everyone played their part to the whole. Still wish Rachel and Tim got some development besides “helpful assistants” and that Art could be more than a stock voice of reason, but I guess that’s the breaks. Let’s just say that I’m looking for some ensemble choices in the future, because a major weakness right now would be that it’s too Raylan-centric (though those plot-lines are pretty juicy). The scene with the ladies was interesting but kind of clunky. Hoping they can turn that into something that simmers. And I can’t forget Mr. Duke or Bo Crowder – two imposing forces that really made things fun. The show is at its best with titanic presences, and while I was expecting things to really pick up in the season two game, they might surprise me with the pairings in late season one. Keep piling on the stakes, guys.

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“You have any idea what it feels like, when every night she goes up to the big house and I stay here in the barn?” – Greg Davis (Bret Cullen)

Ha, you’ll have to excuse me for a minute. The description on the DVD case mentions something about a “seductive widow”… Justified, you’re an FX show, quit being preposterous. And anyway, minus some peculiar European touches and a fun bookending sequence between Crowder and Givens, it’s pretty straightforward.

This yarn evolves out of some very expensive Hitler paintings. Raylan pulls strange art collector Karl Hanselman (Robert Picardo) to nab wealthy owner Owen Carnes (Peter Jason). It’s only with interference from his wife Caryn (Katherine LaNasa), her horse-working beau Greg Davis, and mawkish art dealer David Mortimer (Tony Hale) that things develop with unexpected gusto. After a crafty murder plot, a lengthy investigation, a near fatal stand-off, there’s still the matter of those “Hitlers”. The concluding moments, intertwining both the Arlo Givens storyline, the increasingly bizarre Crowder storyline, and the odd preening of Hanselman’s character that things become clear. If not surreal and marvelous, it is at the very least striking.

Thematically, I’m kind of on/off with this episode. On the one hand I’m totally pro the small adjustments they made to keep things exciting. On the other, this episode was definitely of the weaker variety from an episodic point of view. Hanselman’s strange and vivid plot-line helped keep things in gear and moving towards a very tense conclusion. Still, a lot of it felt dated for the episodes we’ve seen (Raylan’s confrontation with Greg Davis, for instance) and that’s not a good sign at halfway through the season. That said, I’m very excited to see how (and if) the Arlo and Crowder plots come together in the next episode. And the Winona plot-line! The chemistry between her and Raylan was pretty palpable.

This is the first episode I’ve been genuinely interested in Winona. Again, I think Pacardo did a terrific job making a moment out of a surreal storyline, and there was a certain charm to seeing LaNasa as one of those Hepburn-esque independent cowgirls. There’s even the fact that Tony Hale (also Buster in Arrested Development makes a strange cameo in the midst of all the dirt and grime. Overall, though, it was all about those tense stand-off conversations between Raylan and Boyd Crowder. Thankfully they’ve cast strong actors to carry the dialogue, because they’ve got all the grit and fervor of a good gunfight. And with Raylan on the hook for shooting, well, nearly everybody – we can expect a few more of those too.

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Short-Take: Camp – 2003

“But I’ll tell you something. They’re a bunch of little freaks. And the more normal we try to make them, the more lonely and isolated they’re gonna feel.” – Bert (Don Dixon)

Oh, Camp. I saw this about two and a half years ago on the recommendation of that same friend who recommended Rubber. While I won’t say I loved this one, it’s a fair bet that I like this story about the trials and tribulations of theatre camp quite a bit more than the one about the killer tire.

The movie follows one season at a quirky summer camp. Beginning with scenes of performance and a particularly brutal queer-bashing, it quickly establishes that it’s not afraid to mix tough realities in with the lighter fare. Our protagonist is Vlad (Daniel Letterle), who manages to romance just about every girl (and boy) at the camp. We follow him, a troubled gay student named Michael Flores (Robin de Jesus), and Vlad’s strongest admirer Ellen (Joanna Chilcoat) as they navigate the difficulties of performance and romance. They eventually get support from an alcoholic playwright named Bert (Don Dixon), and strive to put on a strong final performance to impress a very special theatre personality (Stephen Sondheim, as himself).

I wouldn’t really say Camp is a good movie… but that doesn’t mean it’s not fun to watch. And the kids, particularly the now Oscar and Tony nominated Anna Kendrick (as Fritzi) really shine in these roles. Robin de Jesus has also been nominated for Tonys since this film, and while his plot-line is a little heavy for the otherwise absurd film, it’s clear that he’s a strong talent in the making. The scenes where they put on their own performances (with canny references to Beckett and Dreamgirls) offer up fun excursions into theatre for those in the know. While it would probably seem beyond repair if you watch it without a theatre background, the references to romantic entanglement, hierarchical relationships, and the often egomaniacal nature of theatre are explored with knowing verve.

That said, a lot of it is just downright silly. And the strong cast is sidelined by a plot that works in fits and stops. While the performances are fun and engaging, the ramshackle plotting for the characters means they often seem to fall prey to contrived difficulties or out of the blue character development. And given that so many of the actors are young, they’re not all quite up to snuff. Jill Simmons (Alana Allen) falls off the radar completely, and Letterle’s performance as Vlad is often beguilingly vague. The ultimate resolution is a little wonky (though the message is an important one), and if anything it falls into the category of “hilariously bad”. There’s a sort of three-second delay after every character speaks… yeah, it’s pretty goofy.

I can’t really be mad at Camp. If you go in expecting something knowingly bad you’ll be fine, and you’ll actually be able to pick out a few winning performances in the lot. It’s a little long, and has that But I’m a Cheerleader feel of awkwardly pushing the envelope in a film centered around young people, but chances are you’ll just laugh a lot at the outlandish nature of it all. A must-see for those who are theatrically inclined, it manages to capture all that’s wonderful and inane about the craft.

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“But, our stories are our own, huh? We all got our cross to bear.” – Arlo Givens (Raymond J. Barry)

I won’t mince words here – I was very impressed by episode five. While the initial plotline of Raylan working as a handyman to capture a crook with an outstanding warrant didn’t exactly light things on fire, the big reveal for his dad really moved things in the right direction. After Arlo Givens crashes his own property he sets off a chain of events that put him and his wife Helen (Linda Gehringer) in conflict with drug dealer Stan Perkins (Eddie Jemison). Raylan has to balance his troubled past with his father and increasingly dangerous stakes surrounding the drug war. As things come to a head, it seems increasingly likely this conflict (along with the Boyd Crowder situation) will provide the crux of the remaining season.

And the tense relationship between Raylan and Arlo might actually have the strength to carry it. The eerie music and blood-feuds conjure up the same otherworldly feel of the first episode, finally making good on the mystery of Raylan’s father. There’s also a small reference to LA (ep. 4) at the beginning, a lot of talk (and foreshadowing) about Boyd Crowder, and the first meeting between Ava and Winona. While episode 3 might have suggested that Ava and Raylan were going to become an item, it’s not quite so simple (not that he’ll turn her down). Further complexity develops when the attention shifts to Raylan’s family, the loss of his mother, his love/hate relationship with Helen, the contradiction of a criminal father and law enforcing son. This is a rich episode that manages to advance nearly every standing plotline (no Tim Gutterson, thoguh) and still include a stand-alone mission. Not bad at all.

I was very impressed with the chemistry between Raymond Barry and Timothy Olyphant. Particularly the scenes they share in the hospital where Arlo discusses Raylan’s grandfather, they had a real spark and intensity. And Barry’s quite the actor to pull off such a shifty, physical performance as this one demands. I thought the plot-line involving the hiding plot-line was definitely serviceable, but there was a nice moment between Raylan and the flavor of the week, Sonya Toomey (Karina Logue). Her performance as a cagey mother with trust issues provided a nice wordless moment of helplessness.

We’ll see whether this is an anomaly or a nice launching point for things to come. But if they can keep that tone of dark, Twain-esque misery, I’ll be really happy. I think they put together a nice little package with this one, simultaneously looking to the next episode and the engaging conflicts which will shape the show.

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“And you being a tall, good-looking, white man with a shit load of swagger? That has nothing to do with it?” – Rachel Brooks (Erica Tazel)

Raylan is going on an adventure. When a fugitive dentist decides to rip some teeth out, his identity is revealed to be Roland Pike (Alan Ruck) – a man Raylan didn’t catch years ago. He and Rachel, who is serving as the primary on the case much to Raylan’s chagrin, head to Los Angeles to track him down. As Pike attempts to elude both the police and his old mob connections (who know Raylan all too well from his antics in the first episode), he also has to contend with his finicky girlfriend (Michelle Nordin). Other colorful characters emerge from the LA setting, including the cantankerous Mr. Jones (Clarence Williams III), the seasoned Jim Ferzinsky (David Warshofsky), and the old-school Don Jaime (Chalo Gonzalez). With snipers, assassins, gun-fights, and… dentistry? Things are pretty primed for action. The chase lasts nearly the entire episode and offers some nice moments of development for Rachel and Raylan.

I like that this episode actually tied up some loose ends. While it did take us pretty far from Kentucky, it managed to connect all three parties (police, criminal, mob) with surprising ease. We get the sense that the ramifications of Raylan’s actions in the first episode will determine a lot of future interactions and will remain a heavy presence in the writing. It also explains why Raylan visited Nicaragua (something he mentioned to Ava in episode three) and tosses in that at some point he worked in Texas. While I would have liked more emphasis on the relationship between Rachel and Raylan, I’m glad somebody finally called him out for being a showboat. And it was nice to focus on just two characters, rather than trying to give Tim Gutterson more screen-time.

Kind of cool that they got Alan Ruck on the show. I guess he’s not super famous, but you know, everybody knows him from Ferris Bueller…. I really liked his performance here, particularly his acknowledgment of the darker side behind the friendly dentist. That complexity and his relationship with his daft girlfriend help keep things from seeming too straightforward, and the stand-off near the end of the episode is exciting if predictable.

If anything, it was a fun episode because it managed to tackle topical things like immigration (Breaking Bad over here) and tie together a host of interesting characters in compelling fashion. While it might have felt a little out of place in the Kentucky driven show, it was suitably Leonard-esque and managed to keep the darker themes mixed in with some funny moments of pop-culture absurdity.

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The second tale of the third book begins with buffoonery! Specifically that of entertainer “Headless Sakon”, a man who will let you chop off his head – for a price. Charging people to swing, and narrowly avoiding blows, is all part of Sakon’s game. And, when a rogue mallet flies at Daigoro, Itto quickly proves himself to be an equally skilled warrior. Sakon agrees to take the two to dinner, and takes full advantage of the liquor in supply. Daigoro plays with a new toy, a spinning top, while Itto inquires about the mallet in question. Itto observes that Sakon could have directed the mallet elsewhere, yet he threw it at the Ogami. Sakon explains the violence directed at him from the onlookers hoping to see him decapitated, but notes that Itto exudes a sort of demon lust.

Introducing themselves, we learn that the man is Shino Sakon – a renowned swordsman. Yet Sakon has disavowed his reputation, instead adopting a lawless code that doesn’t buy into the false restrictions of bushido. The two argue ideals, expressing both the relevance of the assassin’s road and the way of the human beggar, but ultimately Sakon’s sense of justice will not permit Itto to continue and jeopardize Daigoro.

The two fight in an eerie graveyard. We witness a variety of sword-fights, but ultimately Itto is victorious. Yet in his final moments Sakon admonishes the choices Itto has made, urging him to return Daigoro to the world of the living. Moved emotionally, yet unwilling to abandon their cause, the wishes give LW&C a pause for reflection.

This story works due to the peculiar nature of Sakon. We’ll see more stories in the vein of odd carnival tricks, but this is the first and really remains a pretty cool one. It has a real freak-show quality to it, and the fact that a renowned samurai like Sakon is reduced to a road-side show is particularly poignant. Daigoro plays with a small top, eventually destroyed by Itto, and the relevance of the toy as a destroyed childhood and a spinning thread of life in the balance is very appropriate. I also enjoyed the way in which the meaning of honor and devotion are explored by the men, both honorable warriors, but taking very different tacts towards the correct way to live in the new, lawless world. That’s a big part of the reason Sakon is so much more indulgent than Itto, as in a world where the samurai were quickly disappearing men had the choice to leave their tradition behind and embrace new ideals, or to stay true to the asceticism of their original code. Sakon embraces the way of the Human Beggar, and seems more alive and noble having recognized it. That said, not all men of this or any era walk the same path. As a result, he and Itto are placed into conflict over what is ultimately best for the future of the nation – Daigoro.

In terms of art, major mention must be given to the trippy action sequences of the main fight between Sakon and Itto. The two fight a series of mental battles, expressing their power as samurai, before fighting one decisive one. This technique will be employed again later, but it really does make for a cool and inventive way to avoid traditional battles and fights. The tear at the end was kind of hokey… the face just didn’t seem to mesh with this sentimental tear. You can also tell a lot about how much Sakon truly knows, as he initially disguises his true ability, just by watching his facial expressions. His small responses to Itto or friendly demeanor to Daigoro actually play up a lot more about the man than meets the eye.

Overall, a super cool character sketch. They’ll do more with these in the future, but for now it’s just interesting to note the various roads a samurai can walk towards enlightenment and justice.

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