Tag Archives: Amazon Prime

Amazon’s Homecoming: Season 2

I did not expect the creators of Amazon Prime’s Homecoming to craft something as compelling for their second season as they did the first time around but here we are. Season one is a brilliant, tense, meticulously mounted piece of suspense drama storytelling and is one of those perfectly bookended items that never even needed a continuation, which is why I am so surprised at how much I loved this second iteration, which is just close enough to the heels of its predecessor to be considered a new chapter of the same story and just independent enough to be kind of anthology as well.

From this point forward it gets a bit spoiler heavy for season one, so there that is. As we open a young woman (Janelle Monáe) awakens in a canoe on the middle of a lake with complete amnesia, her mind wiped clean. This keeps up the paranoid Bourne and Hitchcock stylistics that have been a staple since season one. When we left this story it was becoming clear that the shadowy Geist corporation is doing some shady pharmaceutical research on unknowing veterans with PTSD, and as we enter into this new chapter we see that this is even unbeknownst to their own CEO, a salt of the earth entrepreneur played by the great Chris Cooper, who I haven’t seen in a while. Monaé’s character along with others must get to the bottom of what Geist is up to while dealing with season one’s disgruntled vet Walter Cruz (Stephan James, an extraordinary talent), crafty Geist fixer Audrey Temple (Hong Chau, always excellent) and a spectacularly corrupt Department of Defence bitch played by Joan Cusack in a towering pillar of ham fisted lunacy.

This season is quite the departure from the first, mainly for the fact that Julia Roberts’ Heidi Bergman is no longer around, she was the rock, moral centre and sympathy bank for that chapter and the others who absorb that position here are considerably less innocuous. That provides lots of terrain for moral ambiguities, complexities and psychological rifts especially with Monáe’s character who is played wonderfully. Chris Cooper was the highlight of this one for me though, as the aging founder of Geist, a profane horticultural guru who feels ill matched to the tide of corrupt bureaucracy and mutinied against by his own employees. He lives in a rusticated farmhouse on the edge of vast crops of mysterious foliage while the Geist headquarters loom clandestine on the horizon, built of hard metals, stark angles and gloom. He’s an earthy element amongst all this new age Pharma innovation and I loved his cranky, compassionate performance, an obstinate old salt who watches Airwolf on a tiny analog tv to get him ‘fired up’ and rebels haughtily at the malevolent forced trying to privateer his inventions. One way this differs from the first season is in use of music, there are no more direct lifts from classic film scores but rather beautiful new compositions from Emile Mosseri. The themes are all still intact though, probing the same moral ground and complicated character profiles using terrific camera work and burnished colour timing to bring this story to life, a scintillating tale that takes a while to get to the heart of, kind of like the frequent images of spiralled architecture we see that serves as visual cue for what this story wants to explore in structure and content. A bit shorter and less dense than season one but no less mesmerizing, well written, flawlessly acted and beautifully produced.

-Nate Hill

End of an Era: Nate’s Top 20 TV Shows of the Decade

It has been an amazing decade for television! Not only that but in the last ten years we have seen a giant shift from the casual week-to-week entertainment factor of cable TV towards serious arthouse long form storytelling, major production value on the small screen and a much celebrated golden age of serialized television. There have been dozens upon dozens of beautifully crafted, innovative, imaginative and affecting pieces of work produced and here are my twenty personal favourite!

20. The Big Lez Show (2012/YouTube)

This one is something else. Essentially a simplistic piece quite literally animated on Microsoft Paint, it highlights the profane, raucous and often meditative adventures of Big Lez, his stoner Sasquatch buddies and many others. Australian humour adds an offbeat quality and there’s never a shortage of bizarre comedic set pieces, hysterical character interaction and a sense of WTF-ness that permeates the whole thing.

19. Justified (2010/FX)

You’d never believe that such a legendary, Kentucky fried aesthetic could be distilled from one Elmore Leonard short story, but this thing is a feast. Timothy Olyphant scores big as brittle Federal Marshal Raylan Givens, venturing back to his rural roots for six glorious seasons of pulpy, star studded, densely verbose modern western intrigue.

18. Goliath (2018/Amazon Prime)

Billy Bob Thornton does a career best turn in this surreal LA noir about a disgraced ex super-lawyer on the skids and forced to take on near suicidal class action lawsuits. Cue mystery, political corruption, glossy California decadence and a sense of ramshackle family within his tight knit crew. It’s a fantastic, high powered thriller and intense character study with top caliber guest actors and a feel for California and the surrounding area that draws you right in.

17. Ray Donovan (2013/Showtime)

Part Grand Theft Auto, part L.A. Confidential with a healthy dose of contemporary pop culture, this is a fantastic cross section and often satire of gritty underworld Hollywood through the eyes of Liev Schreiber’s Ray, a Boston bred tough guy with the polish of L.A. who acts as fixer, muscle, often romantic partner and secret agent of sorts to the elites of media and sports industries. There’s morality plays, fierce examinations of Shakespearean loyalty and betrayal, stinging dark humour, farcical sensibilities, dastardly villains and a lot of pathos packed into this still continuing epic.

16. Shameless (2011/Showtime)

Life for a lower middle class Chicago family is hilariously documented in this candid, raunchy, heartfelt and chaotic framework full of fantastic performances, chief among them William H. Macy as their perpetually drunk patriarch and the lovely Emmy Rossum as his brave, fierce and resilient daughter. There’s never a shortage of hijinks, severely R rated shenanigans or berserk subplots around, plus along the way you get a good sense for each family member and their woes, joys and personal struggles.

15. Game Of Thrones (2011/HBO)

I do have issues with this show, namely pacing, tone and the fucking rush job of a last season thanks to those two writers. However, this is a gargantuan fantasy epic that changed the landscape of television forever and has an infinity of gorgeously mounted set pieces, complex character dynamics and yes, dragons.

14. Stranger Things (2016/Netflix)

Neon, 80’s nostalgia, Amblin vibes, Stephen King atmosphere and yesteryear pop culture abound. This show is now an international phenomenon and rightfully so but it legit has the quality and heart to back up the hype, particularly in the near perfect first season.

13. Homecoming (2018/Amazon Prime)

Julia Roberts uncovers a deeply planted conspiracy amongst the ex military patients she’s hired to provide counselling for in this baroque, moody noir that only arrives in thirty minute episodes but somehow seems much denser. Melancholy, burnished and stocked with musical tracks lifted right from classic Hollywood films, this is one captivating piece of storytelling.

12. The Alienist (2018/TNT)

This dark, macabre tale sees a psychiatric pioneer (Daniel Bruhl), a crime scene illustrator (Luke Evans) and the first woman in the New York police department (Dakota Fanning) on the hunt for a terrifying, ever elusive serial killer near the turn of the century. It’s slick, intelligent, unexpected and not watered down whatsoever, leading to one of the starkest and most brutal yet captivating portraits of history I’ve ever seen onscreen.

11. The Terror (2018/AMC)

This inclusion goes for season one, which in its own is a thing of magisterial beauty, terror and primal existentialism. An elemental fiction reworking of a real life naval disappearance in the arctic, this story is best binged in one rainy day to absorb character, incident and the cold atmosphere of such a remote series of events.

10. Fargo (2014/FX)

I’ve been flayed for holding this opinion before but for me this tv adaptation outdoes the Coen brothers’ original film itself. A near biblical trio of seasons that begins with the icy Minnesota black comedy crime aesthetic and ascends at times to something daring and esoteric, this breaks both the mould it was forged in and that of television itself. Plus you get to briefly see Bruce Campbell play Ronald Reagan and if that ain’t worth the time capsule then I just don’t know what is.

9. Letterkenny (2016/CraveTV)

Rural Ontario seems like an odd setting for one of the snappiest, smartly written and hysterical comedies this decade has seen but there you go. Basically just the humdrum misadventures of a town with 5,000 population and no shortage of mayhem, this is television like no other and you really have to just crush like five episodes, immerse yourself in the mile a minute dialogue and jokes to experience the magic. Pitter patter.

8. Happy! (2017/SyFy)

Disgraced, alcoholic ex cop turned hitman Nick Sax (Christopher Meloni in a career best) and his daughter’s imaginary friend Happy the flying unicorn (Patton Oswalt) hunt down all kinds of freaks, weirdos, perverts, contract killers and arch villains on Christmas Eve to find a bunch of kidnapped children. That description says nothing though, only through viewing this can you appreciate how ballsy, subversive and deeply fucked up this story really is. Not for the faint of heart, but anyone with a love of whacked out dark humour and unconventional storytelling will get a royal kick.

7. Hannibal (2013/NBC)

I’ll admit I wasn’t super pumped when I heard that NBC was doing a Hannibal rendition, as they’re kind of a vanilla cable show runner. But creator Bryant Fuller churned out something spectacularly atmospheric, unbelievably artistic and so not what you’d expect to see. Mads Mikkelsen makes a chilling, low key and almost ethereal Dr. Lekter, Hugh Dancy a haunted, empathetic Will Graham and there’s an eclectically rounded cast of guest stars including Laurence Fishburne, Kacey Rohl, Eddie Izzard, Michael Pitt, Katherine Isabelle, Lance Henriksen and more.

6. Westworld (2016/HBO)

The advent of artificial intelligence blends with humanity’s deepest desires and eventually something more profound in this complex, operatic, gorgeously mounted science fiction epic. It’s a tricky beast and a labyrinthine (literally and figuratively) experience to process but stick with it and the resulting effect is mesmerizing.

5. Maniac (2018/Netflix)

Jonah Hill and Emma Stone headline this psychological fantasy that’s kinda tough to pin down. A clandestine drug trial in a casette futurism setting leads to personal revelations, social satire and the kind of episodic time travel multidimensional storytelling that I live for. Brilliant stuff.

4. The Haunting Of Hill House (2018/Netflix)

Stephen King called this a work of genius, and I too share that sentiment. This is old school spook horror done beautifully, with powerful performances, psychological depth, harrowing scares both ghostly and wrought from human nature and characters that forge a strong place in your heart with each passing episode.

3. The OA (2016/Netflix)

I’m still so choked that Netflix cancelled this after only two seasons yet they keep tired, mediocre garbage like Riverdale and 13 Reasons Why limping on long past their shelf life. I’ll quit being bitter now but you’ll see what a gem this is after five minutes of the pilot. Rich storytelling, groundbreaking conceptual design and ideas that don’t only think outside the box but defy dimensional existence. One day someone will pick this up for continuation but until then please check out the two masterful first seasons.

2. True Detective (2014/HBO)

A southern gothic conspiracy folk horror, an inky, fatalistic LA noir and a bleak ozark family saga. So far. The first season kicks off with Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson in the darkest heart of Louisiana and while it’s my favourite part of this anthology so far, all three chapters cast their respective spell wonderfully.

1. Twin Peaks: The Return (2017/Showtime)

David Lynch delivers not only a dazzling, appropriately perplexing and ever mysterious follow up to his initial series but a personal filmmaking magnum opus. He and his team changed the face of television once in the early 90’s and with this stunning piece of originality, horror, musical performance, surrealism, coffee, cherry pie and inter-dimensional travel… they pull it off again.

Thanks for reading and tune in lots in the coming decade for much more!!

-Nate Hill

Amazon Prime’s Goliath: Season 3

Amazon Prime has released season 3 of their excellent original series Goliath and I pretty much binged the thing in one night. While the first entry set the stage for a darkly funny, deeply emotional and consistently eccentric brand of storytelling, season 2 diverged from that into the decidedly perverse and unconventional in terms of a narrative bereft of catharsis, obvious beats or satisfactory resolution. That’s not to say it wasn’t good, it was just… different. This third season both continues to trailblazer those off colour paths and also gets back to the roots of what made the first season such an engaging genesis.

Billy Bob Thornton’s Billy McBride takes on the case of his old buddy (Griffin Dunne) whose wife (Sherilyn ‘Audrey Horne’ Fenn) has a deep connection to their past and has now died under mysterious circumstances. This eventually pits McBride and his trusty motley crew up against the deranged Blackwood clan and their acolytes, an elite society of billionaire ranchers who are corrupt to the bone, willfully malicious and have been stealing the county’s water for their own gross financial gain. Led by brother and sister Wade (Dennis Quaid) and Diana (Amy Brenneman), they and their peeps prove to be a titanic adversary for Billy & Co. and the story here feels fresh, funny, immediate and fully fleshed out right down to the smaller roles and one episode arc players. I love this show because it doesn’t just cast ‘of the moment’ stars, attractive young blood or flavour of the month hotshots like a lot of other stuff, it delves back into the collective cinematic and televised past and pulls out some truly talented people that we maybe haven’t seen onscreen in the past decade or so but certainly haven’t forgotten and recall with a smile as soon as they show up. As such we get excellent work from folks like Beau Bridges, Illeanna Douglas, Julia Jones, the great Graham Greene, Monica Potter, musician Paul Williams and season 1 villain William Hurt who comes back with a nasty vengeance here.

Thornton rocks the McBride role, cultivating the jet black humour, deadpan self deprecation and fiercely guarded but incredibly soulful empathy that make the character come alive and the performance stick in your mind. Nina Arianda returns as ruthless scene stealer Patty Solis-Papagian (pronounce it wrong and I wouldn’t wanna be you) and steals scenes harder than she ever has, this girl whips up Emmy worthy work and makes it seem effortless. The season focuses a lot on the villains and their struggles as well as their wicked acts, particularly Quaid and Brenneman who are both flat out phenomenal. There’s this kinky, just plain wrong aesthetic between the two of them but they never seem like moustache twirlers or one note monsters, always complicated and conflicted. You get a sense of region, of history and of real human strife on their side of things and I heartily applaud all artists involved for the work put in to invoke such a world and such reactions from me. The narrative is airtight to this season too and feels as conclusive as a hammer blow while still leaving plenty of room for more story and keeping one ever present, omniscient antagonist in the wings for more storytelling later. Also kept up is the strange, experimental and increasingly surreal style, and you haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen Dennis Quaid take peyote and dream that he’s singing Conway Twitty’s Some Say Love to an auditorium packed with other Dennis Quaid’s. He’s got some pipes too. All in all this is such a rich, unique and invigorating piece of storytelling and I hope they never cancel it.

-Nate Hill

#byNWR Presents TOO OLD TO DIE YOUNG. Reviewed; Part I.

Too Old to Die Young
Miles Teller as Martin Jones in TOO OLD TO DIE YOUNG

Amazon Studios has just unleashed a juggernaut, Nicolas Winding Refn’s TOO OLD TO DIE YOUNG as a new exclusive to their streaming platform. The series, which runs ten episodes wherein more than not have a feature-length runtime, is moody and stylized, and quite frankly might be the first series that one cannot simply binge. It is not that it is bad; on the contrary. Refn has developed a show that is so dense and exhilarating that some viewers might need to take a break between episodes and get back into the routine of the normalcy of their respective lives because TOO OLD TO DIE YOUNG is not just dark, it is pitch black.

Much like his previous two pictures, ONLY GOD FORGIVES and THE NEON DEMON, Refn has become a fierce auteur, channeling other filmmakers like David Lynch and Michael Mann, but mostly carving out his own niche within arthouse filmmaking.

Too Old to Die Young William Baldwin
William Baldwin as Theo in TOO OLD TO DIE YOUNG

The first five episodes of the series build a world of degradation and debauchery. There are few likable characters, and the ones that are likable are fundamentally likable for the wrong reasons. The plot is loosely strung together by central events that the characters weave in and out of. Much like TWIN PEAKS: THE RETURN, the viewer just has to put their trust in Reft and co-creature Ed Brubaker and enjoy the ride that is wonderfully accompanied by Cliff Martinez’s hypnotic score.

The series is anything but formulaic, including its center characters. Miles Teller is Martin Jones, a police officer whose partner is killed in the opening scene of the pilot. He’s also a hitman for a gang, as well as dating a seventeen-year-old high school senior whose father is a beautifully coked out and wealthy investor, William Baldwin.

Too Old to Die Young Mandy
Miles Teller, TOO OLD TO DIE YOUNG

It absolutely, positively cannot be understated; William Baldwin gives the finest performance of his career. His introduction scene is one where he’s sitting across from Teller. Not really interrogating him, or yelling at him for being a thirty-year-old policeman who is illegally dating his daughter; he is establishing his dominance over his daughter’s older suiter through intense stares and clearing his sinuses that have surely are from an obscene amount of cocaine he did.

The four episodes that follow introduce us to new characters. The second episode is solely focused on the killer of Teller’s partner from the pilot. He’s in Mexico with his Uncle, a Cartel head. The third episode introduces us to Jena Malone who is a caseworker by day and an energy healer who connects with the parents of victims of sex abuse. She sends out a one-eyed John Hawkes who is an off the radar former g-man who is dying. They are lovers, pretty sure.

The worldbuilding is mesmerizingly intense. Themes of murder, deviant sex, self-discovery, and vengeance are all prominent parts of each episode, creating an environment that is apathetic on itself, where our “heroes” of Teller, Malone, and Hawkes are trying to restore the balance in a world that has become total darkness. Halfway through the series, the pendulum swings to and fro the motivations of the characters, leaving so much to be discovered and desired. Amazon Studios deserves all the credit in the world for having the balls to back a project such as this. Regardless of the ambiguity and self-indulgence of Refn, one thing is for certain; TOO OLD TO DIE YOUNG is a work of beauty and everlasting art.

 

Amazon’s Homecoming

Amazon Prime hits it out of the park yet again with Homecoming, a tightly structured, noir laced conspiracy thriller that’s so contemporary yet so unbelievably retro I couldn’t fathom how well they pulled off the mixture.

Julia Roberts gives her best performance in years as Heidi Bergman, a low level mental health worker who has been left in charge of the mysterious Homecoming facility, which on the outside is an integration program to help veterans with PTSD transition into civilian life. This is a privately funded deal though, and Heidi begins to suspect that the powers that be don’t have these guys’ best interests at heart, especially after observing the shady avoidance behaviour of her slippery boss Colin (Bobby Cannavle, also the best he’s been in some time). Years later, Heidi waitresses in a marina fish joint, the events and apparent scandal of Homecoming in her rearview, until a dogged Department Of Defence investigator (Shea Wigham, pretty much incapable of hitting a false note) tracks her down and asks questions, forcing her to look at the past in a new light.

This isn’t just your average spook thriller with Manchurian Candidate undertones, but it certainly achieves that as well. At the core is Heidi’s emotional relationship with Walter (Stephen James, a revelation), one of the vets she’s treating, and how that affects her perception of what’s going on around her, their dynamic is the constant and the catalyst for things to get out of hand. To say more would be to spoil an incredibly subtle, slow burn paranoia piece that unspools one thread at a time and is an utter delight to unpack as the viewer. Roberts is sensational, usually we get a character from her on feature film terms, for two or so hours and then the arc is capped, but there are ten half hour episodes here and she’s allowed to room to breathe in her work, drawing us in and earning sympathy beat by beat. Cannavle is a pithy portrait of corporate greed and casual apathy run amok, not necessarily a bad dude but certainly an amoral, selfish schmuck who realizes the consequences of his actions too little too late, it’s fantastic work from the him. Wigham is always brilliant and plays this guy in the guise of a robotic company man, but as the story progresses we see that he cares far more than his tucked shirt demeanour lets on. Other stellar work comes from Rafi Gavron, Jeremy Allen White, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Sydney Tanmiia Poitier, Dermot Mulroney, Sissy Spacek and Hong Chau.

I was floored by the camera work here, the overhead angles, meticulous lighting, tracking shots and general symmetry in frame are so immersive and well done, this thing visually feels like noir to its roots while still being very of this era, thematically speaking. It also cleverly plays around with aspect ratio in order to put us in Heidi’s psychological state and accent the passage of time, a tactic I’ve never seen before but am now obsessed with.

It took me a bit to clue in that creator Sam Esmail literally lifted hordes of original score from classic 60’s, 70’s and 80’s horror thrillers and used them here, but by the time I heard cues from John Carpenter’s The Thing and The Fog I had an ‘aha’ moment and had to go look up just how many themes are sampled, and trust me there’s a lot. That could have been a lazy choice from a lesser production to just *entirely* recycle old music, but it’s used to such effect here and works splendidly for this story. This is brilliant stuff and I can’t think of a single criticism really. Stick around for a provocative post credits scene that pretty much begs for a second season.

-Nate Hill

Amazon Prime’s Goliath: Season One

Amazon Prime has sneakily started to put out some incredible original shows in the last few years, it’s really worth signing up (way cheaper than cluttered ass Netflix) to see the exciting directions they’re headed in. One such show is Goliath, which on the surface appears to be a slick, spotlight showcase for Billy Bob Thornton in another one of his now platinum alpha male loudmouth roles. It is that, to an extent, but it’s also a detailed, densely written mosaic of Los Angeles life viewed through a prism of classism, corruption, dishevelled family values and high powered corporate war games.

Thornton is Billy McBride, a disgraced lawyer who helped found the largest and most powerful mega-firm in LA only to be barred from it years later and left in exile. He mopes around in a cheap Santa Monica hotel, wanders the beach at night with bottle in hand and gives a local stray dog some love. This is until maybe the biggest lawsuit of his career yanks him out of bleary eyed entropy and pits him against not only his old firm but the largest high tech weapons manufacturing giant in the country. The show is aptly titled and works beautifully as an underdog story. Billy is low rent, works out of motel rooms and storage units, hires whoever will tolerate him and often prepares speeches and depositions over a high ball at the local dive. The firm is clean cut, ruthless, well researched and not afraid to get extremely dirty in protecting their powerful, scary client. Atop the skyscraper’s penthouse sits co founder Donald Cooperman, a bitter old Machiavellian lunatic played by William Hurt. Hurt embodies him like Harvey Dent crossed with a Bond villain, an eccentric asshole who coldly shunts his lawyers and clerks around the firm’s checker board and communicates with a paratrooper clicky thing, making every move he can to stonewall Billy’s case.

This is Thornton’s best role in years and he does get to do that patented snarky thing that every Bad Santa fan always cheers for, but McBride is also a well rounded, very human character rooted in backstory, fuelled by emotion and dynamic in his interaction and well guarded compassion for the people in his life. His law clerk is an escort girl (Tanya Raymonde), his ex wife (Maria Bello) works for Cooperman’s firm and his daughter (Diana Hopper) resents his wayward lifestyle but loves him unconditionally. There’s an eventual loyalty and tribal feel to his ragtag entourage that I picked up on and enjoyed a lot. They have casted this thing to the nines and picked unique actors for parts you wouldn’t have pictured them in too. Molly Parker is a right cunt as the firm’s lead shark, scene stealing like a pro and positively dripping acid in court. Olivia Thirlby nails the rookie just coming out of her shell, Nina Arianada is a sharp, foul mouthed go getter as a lawyer representing the family suing this firm, and watch for appearances from Jason Ritter, Brent Briscoe, Sarah Wynter, Dwight Yoakam, Damon Gupton and Harold Perrineau as a shrewd, no nonsense judge.

This is of course only a review of the first season, but on its own I can’t really think of anything wrong with it. It’s smartly written, emotionally relatable, super exciting and looks beautiful visually. It’s a story of redemption, one of the little guy standing up to essentially the biggest bully you can dream up and even has elements of family drama as well as thoughtful romance. Thornton and Hurt lead the herd like the pros they are, but everyone in their wake gives equally as powerful work. The locations feel authentic, lived in and detailed, considering they shot in the actual Santa Monica motel and bar that we see onscreen. This tale reaches seemingly mythic heights at times but never falters in catching the little moments, the gaps in between important plot establishing scenes that show characters simply interacting casually or chatting about their favourite movies. You don’t see that kind of care put in much, but damn it goes a long way. I’m somewhat apprehensive about season two after a reported writer switch up that garnered some nasty reviews across the board, but we’ll see. As it stands, season one is its own enclosed story, works spectacularly and I’m happy we got it. Highly recommended.

-Nate Hill