My Feelings About “TRUE DETECTIVE”

MY FEELINGS ABOUT “TRUE DETECTIVE”

I am among the many viewers who saw the Season Two finale for HBO’s “TRUE DETECTIVE”. And like many viewers and critics, I did not really care for it. But unlike many viewers and critics, I feel the same about Season One.

Season One managed to garner a great deal of accolades from critics and television viewers alike. Quite honestly, I never understood this attitude. I found Season One ridiculously slow, pretentious and a little too complex for its own good. I am still wondering why it took the main characters portrayed by Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey practically two decades to find a killer that struck me as nothing more than a murderous lunkhead.

The problem with the Season Two finale is that it ended with the bad guys winning and most of the good guys dead. It ended with a realistic portrayal of how city corruption really works and many television viewers and critics could NOT take it. They needed an ending with the bad guy(s) dead and one or more of the protagonists – either Colin Farrell, Rachel McAdams, Taylor Kitsch or Vince Vaughn – crying with manpain or woman pain, a’la McConaughey. I suspect that if “CHINATOWN” had been released today, many people would be tearing it apart for its downbeat ending.

I am not saying that “TRUE DETECTIVE” is better or just as good as “CHINATOWN”. It is not. Both Seasons One and Two cannot compare with the 1974 movie. But I will say this . . . I understood the finale of Season Two better than I did the Season Onefinale, which left me shaking my head in disbelief.

I do not like “TRUE DETECTIVE”. I did not like Season One, with its ridiculously complex story arc, pretentious writing and slow pacing. These are the same reasons why I dislike Season Two. But I did understand the finale of the second season . . . a lot more than many critics and viewers who would prefer if our movies and television series would reflect society’s illusions, instead of its truths.

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“THE BLACK DAHLIA” (2006) Review

”THE BLACK DAHLIA” (2006) Review

Judging from the reactions among moviegoers, it seemed quite obvious that director Brian DePalma’s adaptation of James Ellroy’s 1987 novel had disappointed them. The ironic thing is that I do not share their feelings.

A good number of people – including a relative of mine – have told me that they had expected ”THE BLACK DAHLIA” to be a docudrama of the infamous 1947 murder case. Others had expected the movie to be an epic-style crime drama similar to the 1997 Academy Award winning film, ”L.A. CONFIDENTIAL” – another Ellroy adaptation. ”THE BLACK DAHLIA” proved to be neither for many fans. For me, it turned out to be an entertaining and solid film noir that I enjoyed.

Told from the point-of-view of Los Angeles Police detective Dwight “Bucky” Bleichert (Josh Harnett), ”THE BLACK DAHLIA” told the story of how the January 1947 murder of Hollywood star wannabe, Elizabeth Short aka “The Black Dahlia” (Mia Kershner) affected Bleichert’s life and the lives of others close to him – especially his partner, Lee Blanchard (Aaron Eckhart). The story began over three years before Short’s murder when Bleichert saved Blanchard’s life during the Zoot Riots in 1943. After World War II, the pair (who also happened to be celebrated local boxers) participated in an inter-departmental boxing match to help raise support for a political bond issue that will increase pay for the LAPD, but with a slight tax increase. Although Bleichert lost the match, both he and Blanchard are rewarded by Assistant District Attorney Ellis Loew (Patrick Fischler) with promotions and transfers to the Warrants Department and the pair became partners. Bleichert not only became partners and friends with Blanchard, he also became acquainted with Blanchard’s live-in girlfriend, a former prostitute and artist named Kay Lake (Scarlett Johansson). Although Bleichert fell in love with Kay, he kept his feelings to himself, due to his relationship with Blanchard. Thanks to Blanchard’s penchant for publicity, the two partners eventually participated in the murder investigation of Elizabeth Short (nicknamed the Black Dahlia). The case not only led the pair to a rich young playgirl named Madeleine Linscott (Hillary Swank) and her family, but also into a world of prostitution, pornography, lesbian nightclubs and the dark underbelly of Hollywood life.

Written by James Ellroy and originally published in 1987, ”The Black Dahlia” became the first of four novels about the Los Angeles Police Department in the post-World War II era (”L.A. Confidential” was the third in the quartet). In my opinion, it was the best in Ellroy’s L.A. Quartet. I believe that it translated quite well to the movie screen, thanks to DePalma’s direction and Josh Friedman’s screenplay. Like the movie ”L.A. CONFIDENTIAL””THE BLACK DAHLIA” turned out to be superior to its literary version. Not only did DePalma and Friedman’s screenplay recapture the ambiance of the novel’s characters and 1940s Los Angeles setting, the plot turned out to be an improvement over the novel. Especially over the latter’s chaotic finale. Despite the improvement, ”THE BLACK DAHLIA” never achieved the epic style and quality of ”L.A. CONFIDENTIAL”. If I must be frank, I really do not care. Movies like the 1997 Oscar winner are rare occurrences of near perfect quality. Just because”THE BLACK DAHLIA” was another film adaptation of an Ellroy novel, did not mean that I had expected it to become another ”L.A. CONFIDENTIAL”.

Mark Isham’s score for the film did not turn out to be that memorable to me. All I can say is that I am grateful that he did not attempt a remake of Jerry Goldsmith’s scores for ”L.A. CONFIDENTIAL” and ”CHINATOWN”. On the other hand, I was very impressed with Vilmos Zsigmond’s photography for the film. One sequence stood out for me – namely the overhead shot that featured the discovery of Elizabeth Short’s dead body in the Leimert Park neighborhood in Los Angeles. Ironically, part of the movie was shot in Sofia, Bulgaria substituting as 1946-47 Los Angeles. Production Designer Dante Ferretti and Art Director Christopher Tandon did a solid job in disguising Sofia as Los Angeles. But there were a few times when the City of Angels seemed like it was located on the East Coast. And I could spot a few palm trees that definitely looked false. However, I really loved the set designs for Kay’s home and the lesbian nightclub where Bleichert first met Madeline. I loved Jenny Beavan’s costume designs for the film. She did an excellent job of recapturing the clothing styles of the mid-to-late 1940s and designing clothes for particular characters.

One of the movie’s best strengths turned out to be its very interesting characters and the cast of actors that portrayed them. Characters that included the ambitious and sometimes malevolent ADA Ellis Loew, portrayed with great intensity by Patrick Fischler; Rose McGowan’s bitchy and shallow Hollywood landlady/movie extra; Elizabeth Short’s frank and crude father Cleo Short (Kevin Dunn); Mike Starr’s solid portrayal of Bleichert and Blanchard’s immediate supervisor Russ Millard; and Lorna Mertz, the young Hollywood prostitute portrayed memorably by Jemima Rooper. John Kavanagh and Fiona Shaw portrayed Madeline Linscott’s parents – a Scottish-born real estate magnate and his alcoholic California society wife. Kavanagh was charming and fun in a slightly corrupt manner, but Shaw hammed it up in grand style as the alcoholic Ramona Linscott. I doubt that a lesser actress could have pulled off such a performance.

Not only were the supporting characters memorable, so were the leading characters, thanks to the performances of the actors and actresses that portrayed them. I was very impressed by Mia Kershner’s portrayal of the doomed Elizabeth Short. She managed to skillfully conveyed Short’s desperation and eagerness to become a Hollywood movie star in flashbacks shown in the form of black-and-white audition clips and a pornographic film clip. At first, I found Scarlett Johansson as slightly too young for the role of Kay Lake, the former prostitute and artist that both Bleichert and Blanchard loved. She seemed a bit out of her depth, especially when she used a cigarette holder to convey her character’s sophistication. Fortunately, Johansson had ditched the cigarette holder and Kay’s so-called sophistication and portrayed the character as a warm and pragmatic woman, who turned out to be more emotionally mature than the other characters. I found Aaron Eckhart’s performance as the passionate, yet calculating Lee Blanchard great fun to watch. He seemed funny, sharp, verbose, passionate and rather manic all at once. There were times when his character’s growing obsession toward the Black Dahlia case seemed to border on histrionics. But in the end, Eckhart managed to keep it all together. Another performance I truly enjoyed was Hillary Swank’s portrayal of the sensual, rich playgirl Madeline Linscott. Just by watching Swank on screen, I got the impression that the actress had enjoyed herself playing Madeline. I know I had a ball watching her reveal the charming, yet dark facets of this interesting character.

Ellroy’s novel had been written in the first person – from the viewpoint of LAPD detective, Dwight “Bucky” Bleichert. Which meant that the entire movie had to focus around the actor who portrayed Bleichert. I once heard a rumor that Josh Harnett became interested in the role before casting for the movie actually began. In the end, many critics had either dismissed Hartnett’s performance or judged him incapable of portraying a complex character. Personally, I found their opinions hard – even impossible – to accept. For me, Harnett did not merely give a first-rate performance. He ”was” Dwight “Bucky” Bleichert. One must understand that Bleichert was a difficult role for any actor – especially a non-showy role that also had to keep the story together. Throughout the movie, Harnett, DePalma’s direction and Friedman’s script managed to convey the many complexities of Bleichert’s personality without being overtly dramatic about it. After all, Dwight was basically a quiet and subtle character. Harnett portrayed the character’s growing obsession with both the Black Dahlia case and Madeline Linscott without the manic and abrupt manner that seemed to mark Blanchard’s obsession. You know what? I really wish I could say more about Harnett’s performance. But what else can I say? He perfectly hit every nuance of Bleichert’s personality. I personally believe that Dwight Bleichert might be his best role to date.

I wish I could explain or even understand why ”THE BLACK DAHLIA” had flopped at the box office. Some have complained that the film had failed to match the epic qualities of ”L.A. CONFIDENTIAL”. Others have complained that it failed as a docudrama that would solve the true life murder of Elizabeth Short. And there have been complaints that Brian DePalma’s editing of a film that was originally three hours ruined it. I had never expected the movie to become another ”L.A. CONFIDENTIAL” (which did a mediocre job at the box office) – a rare case of near Hollywood perfection. I really do not see how a three hour running time would have helped”THE BLACK DAHLIA”. It was a complex story, but not as much as the 1997 film. Hell, the novel was more straightforward than the literary L.A. Confidential”. And since the Hollywood publicity machine had made it clear that the movie was a direct adaptation of the novel, I found the argument that ”THE BLACK DAHLIA” should have been a docudrama that would solve Short’s murder rather ludicrous. Since I had read the novel back in the late 90s, I simply found myself wondering how DePalma would translate it to the movie screen.

In the end, I found myself more than satisfied with ”THE BLACK DAHLIA”. It possessed a first-rate cast led by a superb performance from Josh Harnett. Screenwriter Josh Friedman’s screenplay turned out to be a solid job that slightly improved Ellroy’s novel – especially the finale. And director Brian DePalma did an excellent job of putting it all together. I highly recommend it – if one does not harbor any high expectations.

“TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN” (2009) Review

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Below is my review of the new movie by Michael Bay called “TRANSFORMERS: Revenge of the Fallen”:

”TRANSFORMERS:  REVENGE OF THE FALLEN” (2009) Review

Two years ago, I had posted a review of the 2007 movie, “TRANSFORMERS”.  Needless to say, I had written a bad review of the film. Since then, I have seen the movie at least once or twice on television cable. And my opinion of it has changed. Somewhat. My new opinion has led me to view its sequel, ”TRANSFORMERS: Revenge of the Fallen” with different eyes. Let me explain.

When I saw ”TRANSFORMERS” for the second and third times, I discovered a little secret. If a moviegoer harbors low or no expectations of films like the ones from the “TRANSFORMERS” franchise, that person might find him or herself actually enjoying such films. All it takes is the act of simply shutting down one’s brain. However, there are chances that this little tactic might not always work. It did work for me when I saw ”TRANSFORMERS” for the second time. It also worked when I finally saw ”TRANSFORMERS: Revenge of the Fallen”.

This second movie began two years after the first, when the main hero, teenager Sam Witwicky has graduated from high school and is ready to enter college. In this film, a revived Megatron (the main villain from the first film) and the rest of the Decepticons have returned to Earth in order to take Sam prisoner, after he learns about the ancient origins of the Transformers and some vital information about a certain machine from the remnants of the All Spark (please do not ask me to explain this – I suggest you read the Wikipedia entry). Joining the mission to protect humankind are the Transformers, their leader Optimus Prime, and members of the NEST Team (military Special Forces assigned to work with the Transformers).

And how was the movie? Honestly, it was not all that bad. But it was also far from perfect. One had to deal with a lot of overbearing action – Michael Bay style. In fact, I found it nearly impossible to distinguish between the Transformers and the Decepticons during their fights. The use of Eubonics by two of the Transformers – twins Skids and Mudflap – annoyed the hell out of me. Nor did I find it at all humorous. And could someone please explain how the National Air and Space Museum (where Sam and his friends found the former ancient Decepticon, Jetfire), which is supposed to be in Washington D.C., end up in a location that strongly resembled the western United States? Seeing John Tuturro’s nearly bare ass in one scene did not help matters. Nor did Ramón Rodríguez’s frantic portrayal of Sam’s new college roommate, Leo Spitz. He made Shia LaBeouf’s performance in the 2007 movie look downright subtle. And quite honestly? This movie was too goddamn long. A running time of two-and-a-half hours for a movie based upon toy robots?

But as I had earlier stated, I had no high expectations of the movie and I managed to shut down my brain – somewhat – while watching it. And the story was not that bad. Screenwriters Robert Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Ehren Kruges found a way to bring Megatron back from the dead in a believable manner. They also introduced another villain – an ancient Transformer Prime who went against the other Primes by constructing some kind of machine that can steal the heat and energy from Earth’s sun. Hmmm . . . not bad.

Another aspect of ”TRANSFORMERS: Revenge of the Fallen” that impressed me was Ben Seresin’s photography. Despite the movie’s fast action, Seresin did an excellent job in capturing the color and grandeur of various locations like New York, Washington D.C. and especially the Middle East. And although there were times when Michael Bay seemed to succumb to his penchant for MTV-style direction, he still managed to maintain a steady pace for the film. And through his direction, he expressed his talent for revealing the funny and quirky sides of the average American citizens.

Speaking of American citizens, I might as well talk about the cast. Shia LaBeouf gave a more subtle performance as the Transformers’ human friend, Sam Witwicky. With Ramón Rodríguez chewing the scenery, I guess that LaBeouf felt he could relax and tone down his performance. Megan Fox gave a nice and occasionally funny performance as Sam’s mechanic girlfriend, Mikaela Barnes. It was nice to see Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson return as Army Rangers William Lennox and Robert Epps. As they had done in the 2007 movie, the pair made a solid screen team. Aside from his ass, it was nice to see John Tuturro reprise his role as Reggie Simmons, now a retired U.S. intelligence agent. However, I must give top kudos to Kevin Dunn and Julie White as Sam’s wacky parents, Ron and Judy Witwacky. More than they did so in the first film, they made a great comedy team, much to my surprise.

Should you go see ”TRANSFORMERS: Revenge of the Fallen”? I cannot answer that question. It is certainly not one of the best films I have seen this year. But if you are looking for the occasional mindless form of entertainment in which you can shut down your brain, this is definitely the movie for you.

“TRANSFORMERS” (2007) Review

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“TRANSFORMERS” (2007) Review”

Based upon the Japanese cartoon TV series and the line of Hasbro toys, “TRANSFORMERS” is the story about how Earth is caught in the middle of an intergalactic war between two races of robots, the heroic Autobots and the evil Decepticons, which are able to change into a variety of objects, including cars, trucks, planes and other technological creations. This 2007 film was developed by producers Don Murphy and Tom DeSanto and executive director, Steven Spielberg, had convinced Michael Bay (“PEARL HARBOR”, “BAD BOYS” and “THE ISLAND”) to direct it as his first family film.

I really do not know what to say about “TRANSFORMERS”. It has a pretty good cast with the likes of Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson, Jon Voight, Anthony Anderson and John Turturro. It also featured the voices of Peter Cullen as Optimus Prime (leader of the the good alien robots) and Hugo Weaving as the voice of the evil Megatron.

I am already into the third paragraph of this post and I have yet to give my review. It sounds as if I am delaying in giving my view of the movie, doesn’t it? Perhaps I am. Like I had stated in the previous paragraph, I do not know what to say about “TRANSFORMERS”. On the surface, it is a pretty exciting, yet funny film. It can boast some first-class action, which happens to be Michael Bay’s forte. And the performances are pretty good. I could say that Shia LaBeouf (Spielberg’s new favorite) was exceptional. Although there were times when I found his performance a little frantic. Rather like a young John Cusak on crack. And I also thought that Tyrese Gibson seemed a little too big to be playing second fiddle to a TV actor like Josh Duhamel. And despite all of the action, special effects and good performances, I had left the theater with this uneasy feeling that “TRANSFORMERS” seemed a little beneath for someone of Bay’s talent or reputation. When one really comes down to it, the movie seemed nothing more than an over-the-top kiddie flick.

But hey, if you are really a fan of THE TRANSFORMERS franchise, I suggest that you check it out. Chances are you will not be disappointed.