NBC

July 14, 2014

Comic-Con Sneak Peek: Constantine

DRAWN

 Constantine – Drawn

What? Another comic book property that is being visualized on the small screen? As if all of the big-screen adaptations aren’t enough. I know this review already sounds pessimistic, and why shouldn’t it be, I mean, this is DC/Warner Brothers that we’re talking about here. If you haven’t gotten it by now, this is my take on the forthcoming TV adaptation of DC/Vertigo’s cult comic book series “Constantine”. And while I’m not the biggest fan, and maybe the 2005 film version kind-of-sort-of ruined it for me, I’m strangely drawn to the show, and this is only the pilot.

A little history lesson first; “Constantine” was created back in the 1980s by comic book legend/cranky old weird man, Alan Moore, who I’m sure has already condemned this show. John Constantine is a chain-smoking, hard living, cynical exorcist who has been condemned to Hell. He’s kind of like Beetlejuice in some ways.

In the pilot episode we find John residing in an mental institution after a botched exorcism that leaves a young girl names Astra dead and banished to Hell. He soon meets a girl named Liv Aberdine who is connected with John’s past and is hunted by a growing threat from Hell. If you can’t tell by now, there is a lot of Hell-related activity in this show.

Putting this out there; I’m not an avid reader of “Hellblazer” and don’t know all that much about the exploits of John Constantine in the comics. I really only have the film that featured Keanu Reeves in the starring role to fall back on, so excuse me if my knowledge might be lacking, but if I was to simply judge the show on it’s own merits, and as a completely impartial viewer who has little stake as a fanboy, I would say that “Constantine” has a bright future. Much in the vein of “Grimm,” another NBC mainstay that garnishes decent ratings in a horrible time slot on Friday night, I believe that NBC has a winner on their hands.

Albeit a rabid fanbase, “Constantine” is still a rather fringy property, much like many of Vertigo’s comic book titles. Yes, we have the possible “Sandman” adaptation with Joseph Gordon Levitt’s involvement and Seth Rogen and AMC’s interest in “Preacher” but it’s surprising to see NBC taking such a gamble on “Constantine.” As I said, “Grimm” and “Constantine” are two rather comparable shows, and could this be the writing on the wall that NBC is growing tired of “Grimm” or is NBC seeing the interest in adapted work, ie, “Hannibal” which is much-watch TV in my book.

As far as casting goes, Matt Ryan is who I would have always wanted to play John Constantine. One, he’s English, which I’m sure pleases fans. Two, he’s sardonic and speaks with a British accent, no Keanu-surfer dude “Whoa” here. And three, he’s oozing charm, something Reeves never had in the film. Ryan will be the one to make or break this show, and if this is any inclination that he can after one episode, I’d say the show is in good hands.

As with any review, there have to be a few cons. One, David Goyer is helping in show-running duties. It’s not that I don’t like Goyer, he’s okay sometimes, but I think his ego and big ideas get in the way. Two, and this isn’t a big deal to me, but it’s blasphemy to others; there is no smoking in this show, in the classic sense. And by classic sense I mean putting a cigarette to your lips and smoking it. News flash people, you can’t smoke on prime time Network TV. You can show mass murder, implied child molestation, implied rape, cannibalism, and all sorts of other wholesome family activities, but you can’t smoke. Yes, you might argue “Why put “Constantine” on NBC than?!” Well, this is what you got, and if you are going to be blinded about the fact that Constantine doesn’t smoke and make that the barometer of your argument of why you won’t watch the show, that’s pretty dumb.

Outside of smoking, the show looks like it is going to hit on all the major points that the film was neglectful about. The casting seems spot on, the world feels lived in, the special effects already look better than the movie, and I was drawn in after only 45 minutes, whereas the film I was bored to tears. Smoking is small potatoes, and if you pay close enough attention to the pilot you’ll see a nice little nod that should make you feel a little better that the creators did all they could to incorporate your precious cigarettes.

All in all, “Constantine” looks better than I expected, and it might wash the taste out of mouth of the lackluster film version starring Johnny Utah (and don’t get me wrong, I love “Point Break”). It looks like NBC is all in, and the fact that it has to compete against Fox who is premiering another DC property later this Fall in “Gotham” I’d say they will let the show grow and become one of the surprises on Fall schedule.

Fun Fact: John Constantine first appeared in 1985’s “The Saga of the Swamp Thing.”

March 30, 2014

The Simplistic Reviews Podcast: March 2014 Edition

Here’s a drinking game.  Take a shot every time the boys mention Michael Bay’s new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie.  No, wait…you’ll be dead in like 10 minutes.  Okay, take a shot every time they insult Michael Bay’s new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie.  No, no, you’ll be dead in about the same amount of time.  Neal DaSouza fills in for an ailing Matthew Stewart and helps discuss various members of the cinematic animal kingdom.  From Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, to Alvin And The Chipmunks, to something called Rastamouse.  (And you thought anthropomorphic turtles was disturbing.)  The boys also air more dirty laundry in their most embarrassing segment, Simply Ashamed, and each pick their favorite non-Marvel Studios Marvel movie.  I got my fingers crossed for Howard The Duck.  All that and more on the March edition of the Simplistic Reviews Podcast.

 Show Notes:
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Trailer
X-Men Days Of Future Past Trailer
Constantine Promotional Picture
Ben McKenzie As James Gordon
Alvin And The Chipmunks Animated Movie
Rainbow Bright The Movie
Dragnet Rap Song
Don’t Be A Menace Cop Scene With Bernie Mac
Rasta Mouse

Music Notes:
Birds & Brass By Sort Of Soul
Its A Shame Remix By The Spinners
Lawyers, Guns, And Money By Warren Zevon
The Best By Tina Turner


FOR MATURE AUDIENCES ONLY.
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October 27, 2013

Simplistic TV: Dracula: Premiere Episode

ORDINARY

Hey!  You know what the entertainment world needs more of?  Vampires!!!  I’m sorry.  My sarcasm is turned up to eleven because I’m a little jaded.  This will probably sound like an old man boring his grandchildren about the “Good Old Days”, but I truly long for the days when vampires were frightening, bloodthirsty monsters.  The days when they were wolves in sheep’s clothing, and that clothing wasn’t True Religion jeans or Tom Ford suits.  The days they plucked at the entrails of their victims, not their own body hair.  The days of Blade, Bram Stoker, and Buffy The Vampire Slayer.  I know I’m not covering any new ground here.  No one can argue that over the past decade, Hollywood’s use of vampires has…well…sucked.  Oh, there are some outliers.  However, for every Let The Right One In, there’s a fifth sequel to Twilight.  For every Angel, there’s a Vampire Diaries.   Even True Blood has steadily declined into nothing more than an oversexed softcore porn film set at a Louisiana college frat’s Halloween party.  (Seriously, I’m more afraid of the city of Compton than Bill Compton.)  Now NBC, with all the timing of a Jay Leno punchline, tries to pick the bones of this dead genre with a show about the king of all vampires.  A show about Dracula.

Dracula comes to us from Cole Haddon and HBO’s Carnivale creator Daniel Knauf.  The show centers around Dracula, going by the name Alexander Grayson, as he hunts down the members of an evil Illuminati-esque organization in 19th Century England.  That concept might sound interesting on paper.  However, when Dracula explains his reasons why, something feels a bit strange.  I mean, he is a vampire after all.  It works when a Hannibal Lecter punishes people he finds disgusting, but here it’s like watching Freddy Krueger take out members of Halliburton.  I know it’s an attempt to place Dracula in the sympathetic protagonist role.  Though, after watching the first episode, I’m not sure if it totally works.  No matter how evil of an organization it is, no matter what they did to Dracula (I won’t spoil it), do you really think he’d have any difficulty taking them down in about eight seconds?  Do you really think we as an audience can look at them in a light harsher than that of a demonic creature that randomly slaughters innocent people?  Hypocrisy aside, I hope Knauf and Haddon don’t end up neutering the character in an attempt to make us like him.  We like him because he’s a wicked, deadly, unscrupulous creature of the night, not some mopey introvert. 

There are some positives I took away from the premiere.  First, Dracula doesn’t sparkle in the sunlight, he burns.  Thankfully, most of the traditional vampire motifs are back at play here.  Secondly, it is pretty graphic for a show on NBC.  The limitations broadcast television presents hasn’t seemed to hinder the bloodshed.  Third, the show looks very expensive.  Making a show a period piece tends to shoot the budget up a few million dollars.  That’s something networks usually shy away from or alter into modern day re-imaginings.  (See Elementary & Sherlock)  NBC says that Dracula will be a limited series for now, which may account for the liberal use of elaborate costumes, sets and locations. 

In regards to performances on Dracula , this show is totally a John Rhys Meyers vehicle.  I think he’s a solid actor and I’m happy to see him in something for mass American audiences.  His run on The Tudors and a brief role in Mission Impossible 3 had him poised to be a big star at one point.  (We’re not gonna talk about From Paris With Love)  As Dracula, Rhys Meyers is good.  He has the charm, the air of mystery and brings the appropriate…um…bite when the character needs it.  Sadly, everyone else in the cast stands out as well as wooden furniture in a log cabin.  The closest you get to a pulse is Nonso Anozie as Renfield and Victoria Smurfit as Lady Jayne Wetherby.  They appear to be having fun with their parts and relish every bit of the setting.  No one else manages to grab your attention.  Even Thomas Kretschmann’s Van Helsing feels ORDINARY and boring.  To be completely fair, Francis Ford Coppola did have in Bram Stoker’s Dracula a British speaking Keanu Reeves and a supposedly sultry Winona Ryder.  So, glass houses and all that.  But the gulf between fun acting to forgettable acting wasn’t as large as it is on this show.

As a whole, Dracula does try and put some of the teeth back into the vampire genre.  However, it doesn’t really grab you as much as it should.  A television show focusing on the origins of the most famous monster ever should feel like more of an epic experience.  This show only winds up feeling kind of ORDINARY.  With its expensive budget and its Friday night time slot of death, I fear Dracula is not long for this world.  Bring your garlic…and your crosses…and your holy water…and your overly elaborate staking methods…watch it…then tell me I’m wrong. 

September 24, 2013

Simplistic TV: The Blacklist: Premiere Episode

FILLING

There were two shows I’d been pining to see all summer.  One stars a resurrected S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent.  The other stars Alan F%*KING Shore.  After watching the premiere of the latter, all I can say is this.  Not since Kiefer Sutherland’s 24 has there been a television show that is as pulpy, intense, humorously ridiculous, and just plain fun as NBC’s The Blacklist.  A show centered around a character larger than life.  Larger than the show he’s on.  A character that rights the ship no matter how bonkers or predictable the situation may be.  That was Kiefer Sutherland.  That was 24.  That is now James Spader.  That is now The Blacklist.  A show that is FILLING that hole in your heart that you don’t like to admit you have.  The hole that enjoys the hell out of a show that wants to be fun.

Understand that 24 was a television event when it premiered back in 2001.  It was a show primarily based on a gimmick.  Twenty-four episodes a season, for one hour, played in real time, all equaling one day.  People watched in droves because the concept hadn’t been done before.  However, something changed after season 3.  Oh, the show kept its format.  However, people stopped flocking to watch it for the concept alone.  They flocked to it because of the craziness.  They flocked to it to see how the show would push the envelop that week.  They flocked to it to see what insane thing Jack Bauer would do to someone next.  The show became a guilty pleasure that people weren’t that guilty about.  The Joe Carnahan directed pilot for The Blacklist is eerily reminiscent of the 24 I used to love.  You see all the punches coming, but are still giddy when they land.  What surprises there are border on unrealistic, but you still gasp when they happen.  And OH BOY is there a character in it that chews up the scenery.  So, what’s it about already?

An infamous American traitor, missing for decades, shows up one day at FBI headquarters and turns himself in.  He offers the government a list of dangerous terrorists plotting against the country.  His only request is that he’ll spill what he knows to a rookie FBI profiler.   Not as experimental a concept as 24.  However, I think the series producers understand what they want to be.  They want to be that 4th season of 24 right out the gate.  They understand that what made 24 great was the outrageous situations and the crazy plot twists and of course the larger than life character.

To be honest, this review was essentially a test to see how long I could go without gushing over the sardonic brilliance of James Spader.  He is such a great choice for this character.  Raymond Reddington is essentially the bizarro Jack Bauer.  A man who talks when he should act and acts when he should talk.  A man always two steps ahead of every situation.  A man, I’m not afraid to say, plays the Hannibal Lecter role better than the man playing the Hannibal Lecter role on fellow NBC show Hannibal.  If there was one reason and one reason only to watch The Blacklist, James Spader’s performance is that reason.  You can just see the potential for great stuff to come with him.  Lets hope writer Jon Bokenkamp can give him as good of material as David E. Kelly did.  Because this show will go as far as Spader’s character takes it.  Relative newcomer Megan Boone is fine in the role of FBI profiler Elizabeth Keene.  What you hope for, chemistry-wise, is if she can hold her own well enough with Spader.  The man does have the potential to act you right off the screen.  Boone has her moments and will hopefully gain more strength as the show goes on.  I’d say something about Henry Lennix, but he is essentially playing the same role he plays in every single thing he’s in.  “Bland Man In Charge.”  Diego Klattenhoff is a bit of a cold fish as well, but who cares?  It’s Spader’s show.

Blacklist is a show that FILLS the void left by shows like 24 and Alias.  Shows that are aware of their flaws, but use them in a way that somehow amplifies their fun.  It is a void that needed to be filled and that networks have been trying to fill for years now.  Don’t believe me?  Fox is already trying to bring back 24 one last time after their movie plans for the show went belly up.  Until that day, The Blacklist will serve as a more than adequate placeholder.  Slap on a fedora…stay away from ballpoint pens…watch it…then tell me I’m wrong.

April 5, 2013

Simplistic TV: Hannibal, Season One Premier

Hannibal – Mulligan

When trying to adapt a specific character from another medium, say literature or film, to television, its always a tricky proposition.  Since the character is already established in said mediums you have to know the audience that already recognizes the character and make them believe the transition is seamless, while still exposing the character to a new market, fans, critics, etc.  One of the most recognizable characters in modern crime novels is Hannibal Lecter; the psychiatrist/cannibal that haunted our dreams through the words of Thomas Harris.  Even if you’re a “lament” you’ve heard of Lecter in some way, shape, or form.  Now we get to see Dr. Lecter on the small screen as he assists criminal profiler, Will Graham, from the novel “Red Dragon” to try and track down serial killers.  While the premiere episode of “Hannibal” was bumpy, at best, I’ll still give it a mulligan for what its trying to accomplish, at least for a few more episodes.

If you’ve seen, or read, “Red Dragon” or “Silence of the Lambs,” you pretty much know the deal.  There is a killer on the loose, in this case a killer impaling young girls on antlers, and on occasion one or more of their organs missing (see where I’m going with this).  Will Graham is on the case, commissioned by Special Agent Jack Crawford, played by Laurence Fishburne, to find the killer.  Crawford brings in another consultant, Hannibal Lecter, a respected psychiatrist from the Baltimore-area.  Graham and Lecter seem an unlikely duo at first with each one trying to outwit the other, but Lecter sense a kindred spirit in Graham with his ability to empathize with the killers he hunts.

Despite my misgivings about this show, the more I think about it, the more I want to see where it goes.  You know the end of the journey for both Will and Hannibal, but now its the journey of how they both got there.  It’s the cat-and-mouse game that will guide the show onward, which isn’t that bad when you think about it.  With so much fervor on origin stories about mythological characters (just look at every Marvel Studios Phase 1 film) “Hannibal” has a chance to succeed with an audience that wants to know; Why? and How?

While I’ve talked myself off the ledge about the storyline of “Hannibal” my main concern is the casting; namely Mads Mikkelsen as Lecter.  For starters, I like Mads, I think he is a solid actor who knows how to play a villain and steal scenes on occasion.  But I just feel that he is wrong as Lecter.  For starters, he LOOKS like a killer.  The thing about Anthony Hopkins playing Lecter, or even Brian Cox for that matter, was that he didn’t look the part of a psychopathic, narcissistic, cannibal.  He was a posh doctor with a penchant for opera, fine dining, and drawing.  Hopkins was the ultimate wolf in sheep’s clothing.  Mikkelsen, on the other hand, is a wolf in wolf’s clothing. If I saw him walking down the street I would run the other way because I knew I was only a remark away from being served with a nice Chianti.  I also found myself struggling to understand Lecter when he spoke.  Since Mads has a pretty thick Danish accent, not all the dialogue came through clearly which isn’t great when you are trying to hang on to everything Lecter is saying to get deeper into his character and motives.

With that being said, I don’t blame the casting either.  If the creators are basing this version of Lecter on the novel “Hannibal Rising” it makes sense.  Lecter, by birth, was Eastern European, not British as some of us might assume.  While aristocratic, Eastern Europe, namely Lithuania, is vastly different than the British Isles.  Can Mikkelsen outshine Hopkins as a Hannibal Lecter for a new generation?  Well, we’ll have to see about that.

From a literary standpoint, the show sticks pretty close to the source material of “Red Dragon,”  which is good  in my opinion.  It sheds more light on Will Graham and his special gift for empathy, but it comes off as kind of a second rate Sherlock Holmes, more so the Benedict Cumberbatch version than the Robert Downey Jr. version.

Bottom line, I’m giving this show a mulligan.  I can’t judge a show that I have reasonably high hopes for by just one episode.  Sure, there are kinks to work out, and the show suffers from “a style over substance” problem, and if another network had the rights to Harris’ work, namely an FX or dare I say, HBO, maybe the show could push the envelope a bit more, but that’s not really the issue.  I think the biggest thing people are having a hard time wrapping their heads around are the casting choices and the overall mood.  We fear change, and we’ve been spoiled by the Hopkins’ Lecter for over 20 years so when this new, “exotic” Lecter comes along our first inclination is to bash him, and I fully understand why, but before we jump to conclusions, divorce yourself from preconceived notions of who Lecter was, and let this new incarnation do it’s own thing.

Fun Fact:  H.H. Holmes, who lived from 1861 to 1896, has been given “credit” as one of the first known American serial killers.  His crimes were an inspiration for the book, “The Devil in the White City.”

September 13, 2012

Simplistic TV: Revolution

UNDERWHELMING

Revolution comes to us from Supernatural creator Eric Kripke.  The new captain of the Star Trek franchise and television veteran J.J. Abrams executive produces.  The father of the Iron Man films, Jon Favreau, even directs the pilot.  The concept, a world thrown into chaos from a technological blackout, isn’t entirely original, but still interesting.  So, how do I feel after watching it?  Completely and utterly UNDERWHELMED.  I am sadly short on whelm.  Totally in need of more whelm.  And the fault of this lies mainly with the cast. 

Besides a brief appearance by the consistently good Giancarlo Esposito, the cast is a laundry list of no named actors.  Now, I know the casts of shows like Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Lost were relative unknowns at the start.  However, those actors put out award winning efforts while tackling very original concepts.  The cast of Revolution seems to be phoning in their performances as though they were aged Hollywood superstars….or direct to DVD Wesley Snipes. 
Tracy Spiridakos, who serves as the show’s lead, (Obvious Hunger Games Cash In Attempt By The Way) is as stock as they come.  She doesn’t have enough acting ability to carry a scene, let alone an entire series.  Graham Rogers, who plays her brother, comes off more like a speaking extra than a costar.  The character with the most potential on the show is Uncle Miles, played by Billy Burke of…ugh…Twilight fame.  He’s a mysterious ex soldier who we know little about, other than he’s good at killing.  An actor with some range and charisma could bring a lot to this type of role.  However, Burke sleepwalks through every line he delivers and even parts of his fight scenes. 
In this attention deficit disorder world we live in now, it is hard to have a show that can captivate and keep viewers.  Especially, if the actors don’t convince us to care about the characters they’re playing.  The performances of Revolution’s cast do little to convince me to care.  Watch it…better yet, DVR it…do your laundry…play with your kids…take up stamp collecting…then if you get bored…really bored…watch it…then tell me I’m wrong. 
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