Tag Archives: Amy Brenneman

HBO’s The Leftovers

Are you content enough in your beliefs to set aside the big questions of what we are, where we come from, where we go when we die and what it all means? Do you strive endlessly across all fields of existence for answers to these questions or are you, for the most part, happy to live your life and just let the mystery be? Whichever side of that fence your soul sits on will have a lot to do with how much you enjoy and what you take away from HBO’s The Leftovers, a confounding, fiercely individual three season showstopper from Lost’s mad storytelling brewmaster Damon Lindelof, a series I just reached the finale of last night and am honestly sheepish about even tackling a review as the thing is so dense and pockmarked with events that take a while to process.

Outlining the show’s general premise does zilch in imparting it’s essence, but here goes: one day, all at once, all over the world, three percent of the world’s human population vanishes into thin air. Just like that. Where did they go? Well.. refer to the first few lines of my above paragraph. This show isn’t really about how or why these people left, it’s about the people left behind, how they live now, how the world has been reshaped and altered by such a huge event, and where to go from it. We meet people like small town police chief Kevin Garvey (Justin Theroux in probably the encore performance of his career), his daughter (Margaret Qualley), his mentally unstable yet weirdly charismatic father (Scott Glenn, awesome as ever), deeply wounded Nora Durst (Carrie Coon, excellent), God himself or at least a dude claiming to be him (Bill Camp taking a whack at an Australian accent), a strange drifter (Michael Gaston) with a penchant for shooting dogs, Kevin’s ex wife Laurie (Amy Brenneman), passionate preacher Matt (Christopher Ecccleston), wayward housewife turned cultist Meg (Liv Tyler) and many, many more. The one who resonates the strongest might just be the great Ann Dowd in a ferocious, affecting and often downright hilarious turn as Patty, figurehead of a spooky cult called the Guilty Remnants who wear all white, chain smoke and take a vow of silence. They serve to represent the splintered remains of humanity who have deliberately renounced many of their ways in recognition of their collective trauma, while the rest of society chooses to bury it, soldier on but are no less afflicted.

Season one is kind of like the dry run, based on an existing novel by Tom Perrotta and serving as a deeply felt series of dramatic and interpersonal revelations revolving around the upstate New York town of Mapletown, and those that live there. Season two and three however are where the cart flies off the rails (in the best way imaginable) and the magic really happens because it’s all brand new material spun by Lindelof and Perrotta himself who signs on as co-creator. These seasons traverse from Mapleton to an eerie Texas town called Miracle, on to Australia and even to dreamy purgatorial planes of inter dimensional space that defy description or logic. There are a wide variety of human beings here who all react differently to this mass departure as they grow, learn and suffer into the future at their own paces, turning to everything from religion, crime, messianic devotion, ..uh… shooting dogs, mind bending near death experiences, time travel, metaphysical pseudoscience and more. I’ll admit I struggled with this one because of its purposeful ambiguity, and not in the impenetrably surreal way of, say, Twin Peaks or even the offhand arbitration of Lost, two narrative vernaculars which I have always been able to accept and intuit. No, here the mystery is different, it’s like a dream where the riddle is so specific and clearly drawn yet the answers are so squarely out of reach, and for the most part remain so until the haunting, emotionally resonant and appropriately hazy finale episode. I began watching this looking for clues, stockpiling them for later, paying attention to behaviour and profiling these folks so that I might get to the centre of the mystery before the show itself did… but I didn’t, and neither did the story. It’s just not that kind of piece, and one need only look at the artistic expression and music of the opening credit sequence to see this. Season one always starts with a baroque, austere and Michaelangelo-esque vision of humans ascending in great discomfort, it feels decidedly biblical and somehow organized. Then in season two the visual aspect of the credits is far more esoteric and less classically spiritual… human beings are caught in candid snapshots of day to day activities with their loved ones, many of whom aren’t really present in the frames, their silhouettes replaced with nebulous stars and open space while Iris Dement’s delightful song ‘Let The Mystery Be’ warbles along in the background. These people are gone and that’s the first mystery, but it leads to many more and it’s almost not even our business or our right to impose so many questions and demand explanations in a story like this. This is *their* story, these brilliantly written and acted humans we see onscreen and it’s an intensely personal, at times indescribable story. We bear witness and can draw our own conclusions as to what it all means, but at the end of the day we have no way of knowing and such as it is in this show, so too is the case in our very own existence, we kind of don’t have a choice but to do just what every episode gently reminds us: just the mystery be.

-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

Jon Avnet’s 88 Minutes

It takes less than 88 Minutes into Jon Avnet’s aptly titled Al Pacino thriller vehicle to realize you’ve kind of waded into a mess, but the viciously bad reputation this one has is kind of overblown, at least for me. Yes it’s a big implausible house of mirrors but instead of mirrors there’s cliches and WTF plot turns, there’s absolutely way too many characters running about and the pace is all across the board, but I enjoyed it anyways, in a fun TV movie kind of way.

Pacino and his pacemaker play Jack Gramm, an FBI profiling guru who is forced to marathon run around Seattle (naturally Vancouver, cue eye roll) overturning stones, under which there may be murder suspects. There’s a nasty serial killer (the always awesome Neal McDonough) who is sitting on death row, days away from execution. He proclaims himself innocent and whaddya know, an hour or so after that some incredibly convenient copycat murders start happening, giving him the seeds of reprieve. It’s up to ol’ Al, his tough guy Bureau boss (William Forsythe, again always an awesome familiar face to see) and others to smoke out this co-conspiracy… or something like that.

Pacino is still trying to do the ladies man shtick here with a shock of grey hair and a leather coat hide, but if you ask me it never really worked for him anyways, at least not in the traditional sense. Take Taylor Hackford’s The Devil’s Advocate for example, where he naturally plays The Devil. There’s a scary, untrustworthy glint in this actor’s eye that makes him most at home in arch villain and sort of renegade roles, but when he tries to play the straight arrow type thing, it feels off. He’s serviceable here though, doing a lot of running, shouting and gun waving and mugging for the camera like a curb-side mine. McDonough does most of his mugging from behind a newsroom camera as some network does a special on his last few days and he barks thinly veiled threats to the masses. Forsythe does his stalwart G-Man thing and the rest of the roster is actually pretty impressive and includes Benjamin Mackenzie, Amy Brenneman, Stephen Moyer, Alicia Witt, the great Deborah Kara Unger and eternally babyfaced Leelee Sobieski as one of Pacino’s students who, inexplicably, has the hots for him.

Speaking of all things inexplicable, the plot traffics in them like currency and by the end we wonder just how long the writers can manipulate these chess piece suspects around the board before we begin to call bullshit on this bonkers narrative. All silliness aside though I had fun with this one, it’s like Agatha Christie by way of Criminal Minds with so much extra gobbledygook thrown at the wall that I couldn’t help have fun despite not following the plot at any given minute. Give it a go on beer night.

-Nate Hill

Rodrigo Garcia’s Nine Lives

Rodrigo Garcia’s Nine Lives is a fascinating one, if a bit too cluttered with spare vignettes for a feature film. It’s one of those mosaic pieces where we see a string of unrelated episodes about various people here and there in the midst of some life changing moments, and as is usually the case with these, it is absolutely star studded. There’s two formats for these, the one where everyone’s story is interwoven and the vignettes collide and weave (ie Paul Haggis’s Crash) and the linear template where each story is a standalone piece, with no blurred lines or cross crossing. This film falls into the latter category, and themes itself on nine different women in various instances of their lives, be it tragic, joyful, passionate, penultimate or simply everyday life. The issue is, nine of these stories is just too much for a film that runs under two hours. Or perhaps it’s not and what I meant to say was that nine stories that are this thoughtful, complex and important shouldn’t have shared the same compacted narrative, for its too much to keep up with from scene to scene. Anyways there’s quality to be found, some actors cast brilliantly against type and any flick that rounds up a cast of this pedigree deserves a high five. My favourite by far of the bunch is a two person scene between Jason Isaacs and Robin Wright Penn as two former lovers who meet in a supermarket after being apart for many years and try to reconcile their feelings. Both actors are tender, attentive to one another and it’s some of the most affecting work I’ve seen from either. A more lurid one involving Amy Brenneman and William Fichtner lands more with a questionable thud, both are great as well but their scene needed some backstory. My second favourite stars a young Amanda Seyfried as a girl who alternates speaking with her father (the excellent Ian McShane) and mother (Sissy Spacek) who are in different rooms of the house. It’s intimate family drama through a prism of casualty and works quite well. Other sequences, including one that sees Glenn Close on a picnic with her granddaughter (Dakota Fanning), aren’t as memorable or striking. But the cast alone is enough to stick along for the ride, and includes Lisa Gay Hamilton, Mary Kay Place, Holly Hunter, Kathy Baker, Sydney Tamiia Poitier, Stephen Dillane, Molly Parker, Aiden Quinn, Joe Montegna and more. A worthwhile watch for the handful of stories that have some weight, but falters here and there and could have axed some of the commotion of too many solo narratives buzzing about.

-Nate Hill