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Sunday, June 30, 2013

Simplistic TV: Utopia: Series 1

UNSETTLING
I haven't been the most feverish fan of 'out there' shows like X-Files, Lost, or Fringe, but I have watched all three shows to completion.  I mainly started watching to see what all the hype was about, and I eventually finished to figure out where each show was going.  The results for shows like that, unfortunately tend to always be underwhelming.  Why?  High concept shows are harder for audiences and networks to digest.  It's much easier to plop some cheaper to make reality show/carbon copy cop procedural on Thursday nights than an 'out there' show that goes in a wild new direction.  Networks give high concept, 'out there' shows just so much rope before they start interfering.  After the allure of 'the new show' wears off, networks move these shows to crazy time slots, under promote them, and quietly execute them from the line-up without a peep.  To avoid that, showrunners of these shows are forced to reveal huge plot points too early in order to keep viewership up.  They betray established characters by shoehorning in romantic relationships or deaths to boost ratings.  Ultimately though, showrunners fall into the habit of losing focus and setting their bar so high, they can't possibly give their viewers a truly satisfying ending.  Thankfully some networks have begun understanding shows like that DO have an audience and DO need their space.  They understand that shows like that DON'T need to rush and DON'T need gimmicks.  They just need freedom and time to tell their stories.  Cable has been that refuge here in the states recently.  However, UK television has been providing that creative environment for as long as I've been watching television.  That is why shows like Misfits, and Orphan Black thrive there.  Hell, Doctor Who may be the most 'out there' show ever made and it's been around for seventy years in the UK.  Series one of Utopia has not only thrown it's hat in the ring with the other 'out there' shows I've mentioned, but also stands out as one of the most crazy, unpredictable, original, and UNSETTLING shows I've ever seen.

How do I describe Utopia?  Hmmmm.  Okay, let me try this.   Four fans of a strange, impossible to find, comic book go on the run when a shadowy government agency tries to hunt down and kill anyone who knows about or is in possession of the book.  The book itself, being a tome or blueprint for some evil master plan to be enacted upon the planet.  Sound silly?  Well, it kind of is.  However, from the first scene of the first episode of the first series, Utopia takes your preconceived notions and whacks them over the head with a baseball bat by showing you a disturbing and UNSETTLING interrogation/multiple murder.  The silly is the smokescreen this show uses to catch you off guard time and time again.  The graphic nature of the violence comes out of nowhere and grabs your attention.  It is used like a super strict nun's ruler over a parochial school classroom.  The thing about the violence, however, is that it is always in service of the story or the situation.  It is not violence for violence sake.  It is violence that is a result of things that occurred or the catalyst for things that need to happen.  I say that because of a controversy this show was swept up in due to the events of it's third episode and the horrible events of Sandy Hook.  I read the story and then watched the scene and I did not see it as a glorifying act.  To just chalk it up to irresponsible glorification is a lazy way of viewing it.  However, this is a discussion for another day.

The UNSETTLING nature of this show is apparent as well in the cinematography.  I don't usually get into the technical ways things are shot too much, but I think it deserves mentioning here due to the purposefulness of it.  Each episode of Utopia is in a psychedelic ultra high contrast. (An LSD user's heaven.) Shots themselves are nearly always oddly framed and camera movements are sometimes jarringly unconventional.  You could be watching a scene of two people talking, and they'll be completely out of focus from a high angle while an obligatory wall fixture on a nearby building is in focus.  A character will be talking directly into camera almost completely obscured by the sun's glare over their shoulder.  Negative space takes center stage more times than not as characters are given tremendous headroom or moved almost completely to one side of the frame.  There are super wide establishing shots of sickeningly colorful scenery where the main characters are just dark specks on the horizon.  Your eyes in every scene will be darting around trying to find out where the danger will come from.  It might be creator Dennis Kelly's attempt to mimic comic book visuals themselves or just a way to spit in the face of conventional filmmaking in order to stand out.  Either way, it oddly works for Utopia, given it's strangeness.

The performances on the show are all solid.  A blessing, seeing as there are some unbelievable situations that happen in this show.  However, I never doubt the truthfulness of each character for a second.  Nathan Stewart-Jarrett proves that the charm and watchability he displayed on the aforementioned UK show Misfits wasn't a fluke.  Alexandra Roach shines with each witty one-liner she gets to drop.  Paul Haggins and child actor Oliver Woollford put in tremendous work. (Though I hope Oliver is eventually given even more things to do on this show.)   However, there are three standouts, in my opinion, that give performances you might not have seen before.  They are Adeel Akhtar as Wilson Wilson, Neil Maskell as Arby and Fiona O'Shaughnessy as the infamous Jessica Hyde.

We've seen conspiracy theory computer geeks done to death in film and televison before.  But there is something about Akhtar's Wilson that separates him from the rest.  He doesn't have the same angst and bitterness portrayed in those geeks before him.  He seems happy and at peace with his life.  Sure he spouts out some paranoid governmental rumor now and then, but when we meet him, he genuinely likes himself and his family.  That warmness helps you relate to him more than if he were angry at the world and didn't trust anyone.  Fiona O'Shaughnessy has the task of playing the girl with all the secrets.  The badass.  The loner and rebel.  Jessica Hyde is like a darker cross between River Tamm from Firefly and Leeloo from The Fifth Element.  There are times when her curiosity, brutal honesty, and compassion make her appear very sweet.  However, there are other times when it is revealed that she has been feigning those emotions to get what she wants.  Thus, leaving us unclear of her true nature.  And when she wants to, Jessica Hyde can be downright frightening.  O'Shaughnessy plays her like a sphinx most of the time.  But when true emotions do come, she pulls them off without shortchanging the character.  I've talked about the talents of Neil Maskell before in my review of the equally UNSETTLING Kill List.  What he does here in Utopia, however, is truly amazing.  He takes such a despicable, sociopathic, hauntingly scary, unrelatable character like Arby the hitman and somehow gets you to sympathize with him.  Some of the...check that...most of the show's deplorable acts are done by Arby.  You think that he is a lock to be the shows main uncompromising villain.  But by the third episode you'll begin to rethink your feelings on him.  How Maskell does that with a character that is a step above robotic, is beyond me.  Of course the writing is a huge factor, but there is something beyond Maskell's eyes that reflects a man that is just lost in himself.  A man who knows he is a monster but can't help his nature.  It is a truly great character and performance you'll be hard pressed to find on American television.

Utopia is an 'out there' show with a concept that is dark, UNSETTLING, interesting and very relevant to our society today.  Thanks to UK television and a shorter but more potent 6 episode a season quota, it has enough rope to truly tell it's story.  Hopefully, this time, it will be a show with a satisfying ending.  Buy a box of chocolate covered raisins....stay away from spoons....make sure to know where Jessica Hyde is....watch it...then tell me I'm wrong.

Monday, June 24, 2013

This is the End

FRIENDS
This is the End - Friends

Modern comedy falls into three groupings; buddy comedies (The Internship) re-hash comedies (any of The Hangover films) and comedy that came from the penis of Judd Apatow.  If it wasn't for Apatow you could say that comedy would be dead.  Coming from a generation that thought "The Cable Guy" was one of the best comedies of the 1990s, that pretty much sums it up.  But what happens when you get a film that doesn't have any of Apatow's fingerprints on it, yet, remains at heart, an Apatow film?  You get the Rapture-inspired comedy, "This is the End."  A film about friends, redemption, and a lot of jokes about cum.

Let me put this on front street;  "End" will not be for everyone, but it should be if you've seen any Seth Rogen, James Franco, Jonah Hill, or Danny McBride film, which I guess would mean that THIS film IS for EVERYONE!  Sure the humor is sophomoric, gross, and the conversations between the actors runs from inane, homoerotic, to, at times, philosophical, but what would you expect from the same guys that brought you "Superbad" and "Pineapple Express."

"End" revolves around a party at James Franco's new house where he's invited everyone from Kevin Hart to a coked-up Michael Cera (who steals every scene he is in). Between the cocaine lines, bong hits, and Capri Suns, The Rapture begins, sucking people into heaven in blue light, while sinners remain on earth.  A majority of the cast dies, but a small group, including Rogen, Hill, McBride, Franco, Craig Robinson, and Jay Baruchel,  survive and slowly turn on each other while trying to figure what to do in the now-post Ap

If you're looking for a plot and/or story, you're looking for the wrong thing.  "End" is clearly a comedy showcase from Rogan to Robinson.  Each actor gets their chance to shine and it's hilarious the watch even if you kind of know where the story is heading come the climax (that sentence is full of innuendo, but so is this film).  There will be some people in the audience that might feel divided about the humor, that ranges from potty-talk, to mean-spirited, but remember; it's comedy anyway you slice it, and unless you are simply someone with no sense of humor, you'll get a chuckle every few minutes.

What sets "End" apart from other Apatow fare, as well as any other comedy that's been in the multiplex lately is the film's take on celebrity.  "End" plays out more like a reality TV show, which might make you wonder; are these actors really like this in real life?  The answer is; maybe, maybe not.  Most of use are used to the characters that Seth Rogan, James, Franco, and Jonah Hill play in their movies; man-boys that smoke pot, have menial jobs, yet somehow end up for the better come the end of their films.  "End" takes this idea and puts it in some semblance of reality, yet all the actors are still playing a caricature of themselves from their films.  It's an interesting way to view the film when you think about whether these guys have slowly taken up a role in "real" life that they are known for from their films.  It's meta upon meta upon meta......

If you don't want to get that deep, that's fine, "End" is still the funniest movie that you'll see all year without a doubt, and that should be enough to get you're money.  However if that's not enough.....spoiler alert......the Backstreet Boys are in it.  Now if that doesn't make you want to pony up about 10 duckets, well, I'm sure you can still check out "The Hangover: Part III" at the dollar theater.

Fun Fact:  Over the course of their careers, The Backstreet Boys have sold over 130 Million records.  Suck on that N'Sync!

The Simplistic Reviews Podcast: A Little More Conversation


If you've been following our podcast since it's inception, you know we like to rant, rave, and go on intense tangents.  Well this month we decided to take an entire unaired section of our May Podcast and turn it into a bonus edition of The Simplistic Reviews Podcast.

In this little nugget of joy we take on Iron Man 3, Star Trek Into Darkness and you get to hear Matt sink lower and lower into drunkenness.  It's really a thing of beauty......and sadness.  On top of that we also delve into Peter Weller's filmography and imagine if Robocop decided to police Hogwarts.

Show Notes:

Iron Man 3
Star Trek Into Darkness
Effects of Alcohol on Speech
Peter Weller

FOR MATURE AUDIENCES ONLY.

Click HERE to listen to podcast

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Saturday, June 15, 2013

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Simplistic Reviews Podcast: May Edition



May.....June....who cares?  It's another Simplistic Reviews Podcast posting in June, but they're talking about things in May.  Yeah, that's just how these clowns roll.

From Philip Seymour Hoffman's smack habit to the benefits of drinking whiskey during a podcast (thanks Matt), we got you covered.  Oh, and why HPV saved Michael Douglas' life.

The guys also unleash their newest segment "Hey Fu*khead" where they unload on people and things that are ruining the world and the sad lives of DJ, Justin, and Matt.

And for you TV-heads, our hosts take a look at the upcoming Fall TV schedule and break down what to see, what to watch with caution, and what to avoid like the plague.

Also, if you get tired of our site reading reviews, head over to SlaughterFilm.com, click on the link on their page, and get re-directed back to our site.  Counter-productive? I think not, because Cory and Forest are doing the Devil's work over on SlaughterFilm.

*Correction to podcast:  Alan Silvestri did not score the Friday the 13th films, it was actually Harry Manfredini.

Show Notes:

Hoffman's Habit
The Rains of Castamere
Best of Fall TV 2013
Deep Throating for HPV

FOR MATURE AUDIENCES ONLY.

Click HERE to listen to podcast

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Sunday, June 2, 2013

Simplistic TV: Orphan Black: Series 1

ADDICTIVE
You might think I'm a little late to the party, but I wanted to finish watching the first season of BBC's Orphan Black before getting into it in depth.  However, from the first two minutes of the pilot episode of the freshman show, I was completely ADDICTED.  This is a show that grabs you immediately and does not let go.  It is concept high and, more importantly, a proverbial clinic for outstanding acting performances.  Orphan Black was recommended to me by a friend of mine a few months back.  His biggest selling point to me was, "Its on the BBC."  Despite the recent stellar work on cable, most American shows are cop drama, medical drama, pop culture comedies, reality shows, lather, rinse, repeat.  The BBC, however, seem to be the place I end up heading to for very original, high concept, well acted shows.  Shows that don't pull punches.  Shows that take major chances.  Shows that produce unsung, cult status, acting performances.  (See: Misfits, Luther, Sherlock, The Thick Of It)  There is a reason Hollywood producers try and bring these shows stateside, but they mostly fail. (See: Coupling, InBetweeners, Life On Mars)  They fail because they missed the 'take risks' part their predecessors had done.  The BBC has bigger testicles to stick with high concept shows that strive to be different, where NBC, CBS, ABC, and FOX always go the way the wind blows.  This is a conversation for another day.  The BBC's Orphan Black stands tall as a great new show that is on the cusp of being the next big thing.



THOUGH O.B.'s REVEAL HAPPENS PRETTY EARLY ON...HUGE SPOILER ALERT!



LAST CHANCE!!



Orphan Black is a Sci-Fi, Mystery, Drama, Comedy, Action, Thriller that revolves around a young misfit woman named Sarah realizing that she is one of several.....CLONES.  Dun! Dun! Duuuuun!!!  Sarah, through her own desperate attempt to reboot her life, steps into the shoes of a women she just figured looked like here.  However, she quickly realizes she has actually stepped into a world of body enhancement cults, anti-technology cults, murder cover-ups, assassin/cop cat and mouse games, and suburban american drama.  In essence, Orphan Black is one part X-Files, one part The Shield,  and one part Desperate Housewives.  Because these clones have been living completely different and separate lives from each other, it allows for some very interesting role reversals and identity switch circumstances.  Sarah is the main character of course, but the show allows you to see situations through the eyes and perspective of her clone counterparts.  Some friendly, some not so friendly and some psychotic enemies.  Except for maybe the episode 'Rookies' from the animated Star Wars series, the concepts and fundamental analysis of cloning have rarely been touched on.   Usually with crappy and apoplectic results.  But Orphan Black is the first time I've seen a show or film really get to the meat of the matter.  Raising some great scientific and moral questions about it and what actual identity means.  And though the subtlety of the special effects and the way they pull it off transform this show into a must watch, it is the performances that makes Orphan Black truly stand apart.

I first saw Tatiana Maslany briefly in the Channing Tatum and Rachel McAdams movie The Vow.  Don't ask.  Conjointly, she was a relative unknown to me.  So, when I saw her as the star of this series, I was a little perplexed.  Her resumé is pretty light.  Should she be getting this big a vehicle?  That question, again, was answered in the first ten minutes of the pilot.  The Canadian born actress easily proves that she can tackle this dream role.  I call it a dream role because any ambitious actor or actress would jump at the chance to play a part that allows you to play almost 6 different characters who are completely different from one another and also have their own varying degree of personality complexities.  Sarah, the British con artist.   Helena, the psychotic Ukranian assassin.  Katja, the German socialite.  Beth, the emotionally torn dirty cop.  Alison, the cold soccer mom.  Cosima, the grungy brainiac.  I could go on.  Maslany nails all of these characters so perfectly, you find yourself forgetting these parts are played by the same person.  The real treat is when Maslany has to play one of the characters trying to pretend to be another one of the characters.  The idiosyncrasies of each clone are so specific that you buy that one clone isn't a perfect fit for the other.  Maslany's Emmy nomination is the biggest forgone conclusion since Daniel Day Lewis's Lincoln.  The other great performance opportunity the show grants you is watching other characters react to different versions of Maslany.  None more awesome than Sarah's orphanage brother Felix, played by the Jordan Gavaris.  He, on paper, is the comic relief of the show.  But his character has a depth and complexity all its own.  His love and loyalty for his sister Sarah always shows, and his annoyance for her suburban housewife counterpart Alison shows as well.    He also gets the best lines of the series. Unlike some of the other flamboyant characters on tv, however, Felix isn't a cardboard cutout of clichés.  He is no Sheldon from the unctuous Big Bang Theory.  He feels real.

There are so many things about Orphan Black that I would love to get into.  However, I don't want to spoil the surprises any more than I have already.  And trust me, there are plenty more.  Each episode is like a hit of LSD.  A brand new crazy experience every single time.  And just as ADDICTIVE....um...or so I've heard.  Seriously.  I don't do LSD.  Really!  Okay maybe there was that one time in Prague, but it was too dark in that nightclub to tell what Olga gave me.  Though I did wake up naked in a TJ Max so....ahem...I digress.  Tuck your genetically added tail between your legs...watch it...then tell me I'm wrong.

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