Tag Archives: Taylor Kitsch

HBO’s True Detective: Season 2

So just what was it about season two of HBO’s True Detective that caused such a monumental ruckus of ruthless criticism? Well, who can say. I imagine it had something to do with the dark, difficult and byzantine way that creator Nic Pizzolatto presents the material. Maybe it’s the fact that it had to follow the lightning in a bottle, southern gothic, out of left field mastery of season one. Simply just the shift in tone and setting? I’m reaching for straws here because the hate and rejection that this brilliant piece of television has amassed always flew over my head. This is deep, dark LA noir at its finest, most gorgeously dangerous and I love every challenging, impenetrable episode to bits.

The setting shifts from bayous of Louisiana, the amount of lead characters multiplies significantly and where there was once eerie folk horror and occult conspiracy we now find decadence, corruption most high and a focused, implosive inwardness in exploring each individual the narrative focuses on. Colin Farrell is unbearably intense as LA cop Ray Velcoro, a haunted addict who has fallen from the grace of both the department and his family, but isn’t down for the count quite yet. Vince Vaughn is emblematic of every career criminal trying to go straight as Frank Semyon, a stubborn small time kingpin with dreams of scoring big in California real estate. Rachel McAdams is haunted as Ani Bezzerides, a cop with a tragic past and the deep set trauma to prove it. Taylor Kitsch is Paul Woodrough, a pent up special ops veteran turned state trooper who rounds out this quartet as they’re faced with the kind of miserable, insurmountable odds one always finds in the best kind of film noirs. There’s an unsettling, decades old conspiracy afoot in the fictional yet uneasily realistic county of Vinci, CA, a brooding, festering menace that seems rooted in the now booming transportation system that has taken the economy by storm. Our heroes struggle to fight treachery, debauchery and excess run mad everywhere they turn, for their souls and California’s itself alike as the slogan for promotional material “We get the world we deserve” seems stingingly apparent throughout.

Farrell is my favourite as Velcoro, the anxiety ridden badass who displays the horrors of his past in the manic whites of his eyes and drowns them out with enough booze and blow to feed a city’s collective habit. He’s an antihero type, moonlighting as an enforcer for Vaughn but maintaining a fierce moral compass when all else is naught. Vaughn feasts on the stylized dialogue here and produces verbal poetry so good it hurts and you hit the rewind button just to hear his delivery again. His Frank is a hard, jaded piece of work with a soul hiding beneath the layers of anger and distrust for the world around him. McAdams’s Ani comes from a place of childhood trauma so unthinkable that they barely show it in hushed flashback, and it’s apparent in her caged animal body language, by far the actress’s most affecting work. Kitsch makes the slightest impression of the four and his arc didn’t seem as immediate as the others but he still did a bang up job in intense physicality. After the success of season one a host of excellent actors were drawn to this project, standouts here include David Morse as Ani’s commune leader dad, Kelly Reilly as Frank’s intuitive wife and second in command, Rick Springfield (!) as a shady plastic surgeon, Ritchie Coster as Vinci’s terminally alcoholic mayor, W. Earl Brown, James Frain, Ronny Cox, C.S. Lee, Lolita Davidovitch and the legendary Fred Ward as Ray’s bitterly prophetic ex-cop father.

Pizzolatto spins a very different kind of story here, one composed of long glances, deep shadows, arresting establishing shots of Vinci’s sprawling highway system, as dense and tough to navigate as the season’s central mystery, which isn’t one you get a sense of in just one, two or even three viewings. Impatience and frustration are easy to understand with this narrative, but one shouldn’t write off this piece so easily and I’m sure that’s what happened. A few people don’t have the time to invest in it, get hostile and throw some negative reviews out there and before you know it it becomes cool to hate and there’s folks throwing around words like ‘flawed’ before they’ve attempted a single episode, but that’s the way the internet works I suppose. Balls to them though, this is a deliciously dark, highly stylized, very emotional ride through a world whose themes, intentions and true colours aren’t readily visible until you descend several layers deep alongside these compelling characters. It’s thoughtful, pessimistic yet just hopeful enough to keep a candle lit in all that darkness and has some of the most beautiful acting, camera, dialogue and music work I’ve seen from anything. Masterpiece.

-Nate Hill

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Disney’s John Carter Of Mars

If Disney had kept the much more alluring title ‘John Carter Of Mars’ instead of hacking off the last bit and just keeping the dude’s name, I feel like Andrew Stanton’s John Carter would have had a better chance in marketing and taken flight, because it’s not even near as bad a film as people would have you believe. In fact, it’s a gorgeous, beautifully told, elaborate retro science fiction dream and a flat out great film. I suppose it’s kind of like Waterworld, where a film tanks so badly that people start to confuse bad numbers with bad quality and a whole negative stigma is whipped up around it. Speaking of Waterworld, another great film, John Carter bears similarities in production design and visual atmosphere, albeit set on Mars for most of the duration. Based on a series of books by Edgar Rice Burroughs believed to be some of the earliest works of literary SciFi, Taylor Kitsch plays John Carter, an ex Civil War badass who finds himself whisked away to Mars through a dimensional cave portal out in the desert, propelled on an adventure with warring clans, giant alien yeti beasts, a princess (Lynn Collins), humanoid extraterrestrials led by a green Willem Dafoe, an adorable little dog/toad/road-runner animal and more. This is one of those old school epics that doesn’t just hire a few leads and a gaggle of supporting players but turns a whole casting agency upside down, shakes it and signs any actors that fall out, and as a result we get a jaw dropping lineup that includes Samantha Morton, Polly Walker, Thomas Haden Church, Ciaran Hinds, Jon Favreau, James Purefoy, Daryl Sabara, Mark Strong, Don Stark, Bryan Cranston as a crusty cavalry general and Dominic West in full Shakespeare mode as an evil Martian prince. Oh, Ross from Friends is apparently in there somewhere too but I’ve never been able to spot him, keep your eyes peeled though. The plot at base level is a fish out of water story as John adjusts to the planet (seeing him mess around with the gravitational field is so much fun), bonds with Dafoe and his tribe of Tharks, takes on giant furry Pokémon things in an intergalactic gladiator arena and casts his gaze starward, wondering if he’ll ever see his blue planet again. A few convoluted subplots get in the way including Mark Strong’s weird metaphysical warlock priest dude, but for the most part this a propulsive, rollicking, operatic space adventure with special effects that won’t quit and a real sense of wonder. Why this flopped so bad is anyone’s guess and it’s a shame because when this happens people tend to focus more on the event of its release and that perceived failure more than the film itself, and the legacy gets clouded. Forget the losses a studio with billions in couch change ‘suffered,’ forget any bad press or skewed marketing and just enjoy the film on its own, because it’s one for the ages.

-Nate Hill

Sun, Sand & Savages: Oliver Stone’s underrated return to form 


Oliver Stone’s Savages is the best film the man has made since the early 90’s, and reminds us of what colourful, bloody, hectic, Mardi Gras shock & awe blistering good times the man is capable of bringing us. His political/war films are all well and good, but for me the lifeblood of this filmmaker lies in his sun-soaked pulp n’ noir toolbox, the ability to spin grisly, darkly romanticized genre campfire yarns that exist eons away from the geopolitics of our plane. Savages is so whimsical it could float right out of our grasp on a cloud, if it weren’t so heavy and heinous at the very same time, and it’s in that careful balance of heart, horror and humour that the film comes out on top, despite a relative cop-out of an ending that can be forgiven when the package as a whole is considered. Based on a novel by Don Winslow, this is an odyssey of cartels, violence, love most pure, drugs, guns, California dreaming and a cast having more fun than they have so far in their collective careers, and I do mean that. The film opens with grainy, harrowing camcorder footage of sinister cartels beheading innocents to set an example, and that’s just the start of it. Pan over to Cali paradise where angelic Ophelia (Blake Lively in a beautiful, vulnerable performance) lives with the two loves of her life, gentle hippie Ben (Aaron Tyler Johnson) and hardened Afghan vet Chon (Taylor Kitsch), two brotherly marijuana barons who provide the west coast with the finest bud the region has to offer. They live in harmony, both in love with Ophelia, existing as a functional little romantic trifecta tucked away on the sun-dappled coastline, until darkness finds them in the form of the power hungry Baja Cartel, who want a piece of their impossibly lucrative action. Although spearheaded by a fiery Salma Hayek, it’s Benicio Del Toro’s Lado who strikes fear into hearts, a ruthless, casually sadistic enforcer who’s not above the lowest brands of violence and degradation. Del Toro plays him with a knowing sneer and a grease-dripping mullet, a positive scourge of everything pure and good in his path. Ben and Chon are thrown into a world of hurt when he kidnaps Ophelia, held as a ransom so the boys play ball with Hayek’s plans for aggressive expansion, promoting all out guerrilla war-games between both factions. John Travolta does his wired up thing as a cheerfully crooked DEA underboss who is their conduit to all things intel related, and Emile Hirsch their surveillance expert. This is a film of both bright light and terrible darkness, and it’s easy to get swept up in the hypnotically wistful current before the film turns evil loose and gut punches it’s audience. The visual tone is crisp and endlessly colourful, and Dan Mindel’s cinematography doesn’t shy away from the overt nature of the brutality, especially when Hayek’s right hand accountant (Damien Bechir) is gruesomely tortured by Lado, and during a daring highway ambush that showcases both Chon’s merciless tactical resolve and Ben’s fragility, both driven to staggering extremes by their love for Ophelia. Stone has always had a flair for eye boggling excess, dastardly deeds done under a baking hot sun and garish, over the top characters that would be right at home in a cartoon if they weren’t so tangibly present, especially in Del Toro’s and Travolta’s cases, it’s a beauty of a thing to see them both chow down on the scenery here and riff off of each other in a quick scene where they share frames. Many folks were underwhelmed by the work of the three young leads, but they couldn’t have been better, really, especially Lively, who’s wounded soul brandishes a sword and shield of sunny disposition even when faced with utter hopelessness, a lilting poetry to her hazy narration that threads the tale together in fable form. Commerce is chaos here too, as we see how the south of the border drug trade encroaches on many individuals who don’t yet understand the evil emanating from that region, and are rudely awakened. There’s so much going on in this film, it’s so vibrantly alive in every facet, a showcase example of the bruising, beautiful power that movies have over us. 

-Nate Hill

PTS PROUDLY PRESENTS CINEMATOGRAPHERS CORNER WITH NIGEL BLUCK

NIGEL BLUCK

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Photo Credit: Lacey Terrell http://www.laceyterrell.com

We are absolutely proud to present Nigel Bluck, the director of photography of all eight episodes of the second season of TRUE DETECTIVE.  Nigel was the sole DP on the series this season, and did an amazing job giving the series an unprecedented and unique boost to its tone, setting the visual bedrock where we watched the new characters get the world they deserve.  Nigel also was the DP of Julius Avery’s SON OF A GUN, Julie Bertuccelli’s THE TREE, and he was the second unit director of photography of visual effects on THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING, THE TWO TOWERS and RETURN OF THE KING.  Nigel was listed this year in Varity’s Top Ten Cinematographers to watch.  Please visit Nigel’s website here.

True Detective We Get the Show We Deserve

True Detective We Get the Show We Deserve

“I didn’t live my life to go out like this.” – Frank Semyon

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                Bleak and hopelessness.  That’s what we’re left with after the conclusion of the second season of Nic Pizzolatto’s masterclass series, TRUE DETECTIVE.  Each one of the characters got exactly what we were promised, they got the world they deserved.  I want to preface what I’m about to say next with this: From the first episode of the first season, I was completely obsessed with TRUE DETECTIVE.  After the season concluded with the most satisfying ending it possibly could, I thought there was absolutely no way that a second season could, at the very least, be comparable on any level to the first.  Rust Cohle was a cinematic and ideological godsend.  No one had higher expectations for season two than I.  Colin Farrell, Vince Vaughn, Rachel McAdams and Taylor Kitsch were announced as the primary cast.  I thought, okay, this is interesting.  I always loved Vaughn in dramatic roles and Farrell has always been an actor I’d watch in anything.  Kitsch was good in SAVAGES, though I had not seen FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS.  McAdams piqued my interest based on her performance in TO THE WONDER.  All that being said, and after digesting the finale of season two, I can honestly say that not only did Farrell, Vaughn, Kitsch and McAdams give career-high performances, and not only is season two better, but it completely upped the artistic game for not only Nic Pizzolatto, but also HBO and serious television series from this point on.

If you’re outraged by this, let me explain.  The first season was too big to fail.  It was backed by HBO, had Cary Fukunaga directing all eight episodes, T Bone Burnett doing the music, and drew the star power of Matthew McConaughey, Woody Harrelson and Michelle Monahgan.  The season was a dark cop show, wrapped in McConaughey’s dialogue sewn with lyrical realism.  The first season became not only a phenomenon but a revelation.  We had never seen anything like this before.  It became a monster that everyone suddenly watched.  Whether or not they grasped the content is irrelevant.  Everyone watched it because everyone was watching it.  Then came the finale, which underwhelmed a lot.  Disappointed many.  Those people were concerned about the ritual killing case not being fully closed.  But that wasn’t what the first season was about, was it?  It was all about Rust inadvertently finding his inner peace.

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Then came season two.  Some people found the casting to be lackluster.  There wasn’t one director for the entire season, and then the initial reviews came out, which were mixed, but predominantly overly harsh on the show.  Keep in mind, the critics were only sent a screener of the first three episodes.  The critics directed their negativity specifically at Pizzolatto himself.  The harsh criticism is akin to the same media sabotage that Michael Cimino suffered from his masterpiece HEAVEN’S GATE.

                Not all of the criticism to the second season is unwarranted.  The dark noir and the pulp dialogue are not for everyone.  Even those who are avid fans of that genre had legitimate criticism of the second season.  Understandably, TRUE DETECTIVE certainly is not a show for everyone.  I will be the first to admit that.  I’m friends with a lot of filmmakers and writers on Facebook.  The reaction from them was mixed as well.  Some loved it, some didn’t like it, and some were very vocal about their absolute disdain for the show, and specifically Pizzolatto himself.

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I chat with one filmmaker very often, and he initially didn’t love the show nearly as much as I did, but as the second season unraveled, he was just as drawn to it as I was.  I asked him one day why there was such hostility directed towards the show and Pizzolatto.  His response was one word: Jealousy.  He then elaborated and told me that the disdain for Pizzolatto came from the fact he was not a part of the machine, he was a novelist who wrote a brilliant first season and went from a college professor to the showrunner of the most powerful show on the most powerful network overnight.

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Whether or not that is true, it doesn’t really matter.  What has me in absolute disbelief are the people “hate-watching” this previous season and proud to be doing so.  I can’t help but take away that these are the same people who started watching the first season because it became pop culturally trendy too.  They were the same people who on their initial reaction to the first season’s finale didn’t register it at first.  These are the same people who jumped on the trendy bandwagon to hate the show this season.  It became a game of Facebook “like” baiting, and Twitter retweeting.  Whoever could make the snarkiest hashtagged quip won the internet for the day.

                I wish I could thank each and every one of the “hate-watchers” personally and tell them how much I appreciate their viewership to keep buzz for the show high and keeping the ratings very high and ensure a third season from HBO is Pizzolatto is willing to do another.  Whether or not you loved the show as much as I did, or thought it was an admirable follow up, or absolutely hated it, one thing is the absolute truth — we got the show we deserved.

 

TRUE DETECTIVE 2.7 BLACK MAPS AND MOTEL ROOMS – A Review by Frank Mengarelli

TRUE DETECTIVE 2.7 BLACK BLACK MAP AND MOTEL ROOMS

“Look me in the eyes.  I wanna see your lights go out.” – Frank SemyonTrueDetective207Main

So much happened in this weeks episode.  A tease to who the identity of the killer, Crow Head might be.  Frank engaging in a full-out POINT BLANK mode, Ray and Ani transition their brooding rage and anger into intimate feelings for one another, and Paul is dead.

Let’s start with Frank.  I am so completely satisfied with the transgressive story arc of Frank Semyon.  Anyone who continues to ridicule Vaughn’s performances is now, undoubtedly an idiot, and has no idea what they’re talking about.  Semyon rose to a successful gangsterless business man before we saw the first episode, and from that first episode we slowly watched Frank lose everything that he built, and now it’s time from him to rise like the phoenix from the ashes and completely obliterate anyone who has wronged him.  The escalation of the last scenes with Frank were a direct homage to the epic preamble of the climax to THIEF.  Remarkable writing.  I truly hope that Semyon makes it out alive, out of all the characters that we’re given this season, Semyon is the most pure hearted one.  He didn’t choose the life he has, it chose him, and he did his best to shake it.  I can’t imagine a better thematic end to Semyon than to get LONG GOOD FRIDAY’D.

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Ray and Ani’s final scenes in the episode together were beautifully poignant.  They are two people who are completely burnt out by their lives.  They are dead inside, partially from where they came from, but particularly the choices they made in the past and how they’ve dealt with their lives splitting.  Whether or not if Ray and Ani are good people is irrelevant.  They are good with each other, and trust and embrace each others shadows.  They are the only ones that can ever really understand and accept one another.

Then there’s Paul.  Wow.  I was legitimately sadden by his fate.  What made it even worse was cutting to his fiancée laying in bed, watching that old movie with Judy Garland embracing the baby.  Wow.  Just…wow.  Out of all the characters, I think Paul was the one who had the hardest time coping with life.  He was a killer, who lived the life of who he thought he should be.  He hit a breaking point of either ruining the life of his beautiful fiancée, Emily, or trying to make it work.  Maybe he couldn’t have, but he was going to try.  And now, now it’s all over.  He’s dead.  And his baby is inside of a pure hearted good woman who is stuck in a hotel room with Paul’s awful mother.  That might even be more profound and sadder than Paul’s death.

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As for Crow Head.  So, cult killings are out.  Blake fessed up to killing Stan, giving Frank a glorious scene to showcase his well warranted brutality.  My guess is Crow Head is either Tony, the Mayor’s son, or the girl from the diamond robbery where Caspere was the sole proprietor of.  Maybe that little girl was the one who worked at Caspere’s office and was seen in that photograph from the party with him.  Maybe she isn’t, and maybe it’s something bigger and/or completely different.  All I know is that next week is the finale, and they have not announced a director yet.  One can only hold out hopes for the likes of William Friedkin or HBO player Timothy Van Patten.  Or, maybe, just maybe Nic Pizzolatto will direct it.  That would be worth it if only to see all the rage hater’s heads explode.  Either way, I am counting down the days and cannot wait for the conclusion of what I still say is, the best show on television.

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TRUE DETECTIVE 2.5 OTHER LIVES – A Review by Frank Mengarelli

True Detective 2.5 OTHER LIVES

“I try and limit the people I can disappoint.” – Ray Velcoro

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Two months have passed since the blistering shootout close of last week’s episode.  The characters have all moved on, trying to reinvent themselves.  Vince Vaughn has now sunk to where his character presumably was months, maybe even years before the show started.  He’s nowt living in the suburbs in a small house and being driven to a bar he currently runs.  Colin Farrell shaved off his Sampson mustache and now works for Vaughn as an enforcer.  Taylor Kitsch is moving ahead with his charade engagement and McAdams is now smoking cigarettes and ditched the e-cigs.

The big revelation in this episode was family.  It took five episodes for it to sink in, but the three detectives come from terrible places.  Affliction parades over all of the main character’s souls .  Whether it is Farrell’s drunk and racist cop father, or McAdams’ free loving, inner-self father or Kitsch’s drunk and tarting mother; all three of them escaped where they came from and tried to live their own lives, but always in the shadows of their former selves.  And then it struck me during the formation of the secret investigation they got wrangled into.  The only place these three belong are with each other.  There is no other family for them in this world.  They accept and understand each other’s plights, and speak fondly of one another.  Acceptance is something that the three detectives desire the most, and with each other – that completely achieve that.

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The big reveal this episode was that Vaughn gave Farrell the wrong information on the man who raped his ex-wife, in order to put Farrell in his pocket.  Sometime between the fourth episode and the fifth, the actual rapist was caught unbeknownst to Farrell, until he was told mid episode.  This sent Farrell into a path of self-righteous destruction, beating down Rick Springfield’s creepy doctor to get information about the sex parties, uncovering a blackmail scheme that shined a lot of light on the mysteries of the season.  Something happened after Farrell got the information from Springfield, he lunged towards Springfield and the camera cut away to a new scene.  What happens after the cut?  Does Farrell beat him to death?

The episode finishes strong with Vaughn and his wife in bed, in a good place.  They were open and honest with one another about who they are and what they want, and came to the realization that they love one another, regardless of how far Vaughn has fallen from grace and whatever his wife’s struggles were prior to their marriage.  Farrell shows up, banging on Vaughn’s front door.  Vaughn answers.  Farrell can barely contain his rage of being strategically misled by Vaughn.  He’s shaking, he’s grinding his teeth.  Vaughn is at a standstill, unsure of what happened to Farrell and what his intentions are.  The camera cuts back to Farrell.  He’s stone cold.  Not moving.  In that moment, Farrell has made up his mind that he is going to kill Vaughn.  Give Collin Farrell the Emmy, Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild award now.  Same goes for writer/creator Nic Pizzolatto.  He is a literary genius.

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