Tag: HBO

Vinyl: HBO’s best series since Sopranos

Bob Marley once said, “One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.”

When I heard Martin Scorsese and Mick Jagger were cooking up an HBO series about the music business in the 1970’s, I didn’t want to believe it. My brain wouldn’t compute what my heart was dancing around my chest about. Arguably the greatest director of all time and the greatest rock n’ roll front man baking a drama cake at the premium cable network giant that collects Emmy awards like I collect coffee mugs. Are you talking to me? No way. Then it happened. Vinyl was a reality.

Two episodes and three hours into this wonderful Sunday exodus, I want more. Right now. There’s a reason HBO renewed this series after one night. You don’t let gold leave the hotel room if you have it for the entire night. You don’t let gold get away so Lena Dunham can whine about her existential crisis for another couple seasons. Vinyl hits a cueball shot back to the glory days of HBO. Sopranos, The Wire, Oz and Boardwalk Empire. Shows that didn’t care if you dug them because they had swagger and walked like a heavyweight. (more…)

The Leftovers on HBO: Hopelessness bliss

Quick Note to Leftovers fans: Justin Theroux’s Kevin, the fucked up centerpiece of HBO’s unpredictable marriage of Lost and The Twilight Zone, isn’t dead. Calm down. Regroup. Make more coffee. He wasn’t killed off on Sunday’s episode.

Yes, he did drink the poison glass in order to escape the Patti confrontations and restore order in his life. Yes, he did foam at the mouth Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction style. No, the old wise man who promised to bring him back squirted the drug onto the floor and blew his head off. Yes, Kevin is more than likely alive and well. Co-creator Damon Lindelof didn’t kill his Matthew Fox 2.0 just yet. Take away Kevin and there’s plenty of juice dripping from the steak of HBO’s fall tentpole, but I can’t see a situation where it’s done in the second season.

Bold strokes keep a show like this afloat but with the season devoting so much time to the Kevin storyline, why would they just kill him off by drinking a glass of dirty magic water. That is no way to dish Jennifer Aniston’s new beau the death ticket. He will be back next week as Season 2 takes its final swings.

Part of the hysteria of watching an original piece of entertainment like HBO’s weirdo blend is having zero clue what is going to happen with the quiet assurance that every exit will be a big one. Lindelof has created along with Patrick Sommerville and novelist Tom Perrotta a series that asks the toughest questions without answering the obvious one. Such as, three years on October 15th, where did all those people go? The Departed, vanished, missing or all together gone up and burst into one puffy flakes folks. I prefer the answer to never drop because it will never match the hype that has built for over a year. Aliens would be lame. God stepping in for some weeding would be lame. A spiritual arrival would be lame. Miley Cyrus, Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga kidnapping thousands of folks from their homes would be twisted but still not work. The trick with the Leftovers is peering into the human soul via this organic plot device.

Take Theroux’s Kevin, a former cop who can’t find any inner peace because the woman he kidnapped while sleepwalking and saw commit suicide haunts his daily movements. Yeah, he sleepwalks so much that his girlfriend Nora needs to handcuff him to the bed. A predicament that set him back on Sunday’s episode. An episode that was devoted to the “Is Kevin a psycho or simply an innocent dead people viewer” conundrum. Apparently, it’s bad to tell your lover that there is another person in the room taunting them. It’s an even worse idea to tell them its the same person you watched stab herself in the throat. Especially if your lady is a woman who lost her entire family in the Departed and used to cure her pain by having strangers shoot her in the chest.

Tell me there isn’t a more romantic couple on television than the sleepwalking rippled arm Kevin and the former gunshot vested Nora. No way.

In trying to save that love and defy the idea that he is like his crazy people seeing father(Scott Glenn, missed this season), Kevin says yes to the old man’s wishes in drinking the poison to go fight his demons. He takes the plunge for love and sanity. Did he pay the ultimate price? No. Kevin is still alive folks. He may still be damaged, sweaty, and full of misery but he isn’t gone.

How good is the acting on Leftovers? It’s astonishing. It’s not just convincing. These actors meld themselves into the roles. A cast of ensemble performers, stage trained thespians, and names no one has seen on a poster before. Theroux, better known for his wife and the fact that he co-wrote Iron Man 2. Carrie Coon, known for playing Ben Affleck’s sister in Gone Girl. Christopher Eccleston(who may have stole the best episode from each season) from an assortment of supporting roles. Regina King, a face from film’s past. Amy Brenneman, who will always be Judging Amy to most and Robert DeNiro’s girlfriend from Heat. Kevin Carroll. Margaret Qualley. The gifted Ann Dowd. Several true actors and no stars. All going for broke for Lindelof’s spooky drama.

Every character on this show could carry the show for their own hour. Look at Eccleston’s solo act two weeks ago. The hour starting with the tale of Matt and his

What is next? I suppose Matt’s wife is going to get out of that wheelchair and convince everyone the holy man isn’t nuts. John is going to find out Kevin’s palm print was the one found on his missing daughter’s car. That should be a nice wakeup call for our poisoned anti-hero. Nora will come back to Kevin but that won’t end up. I suppose a front lawn boxing match with King’s Erika could suffice. The town will be revealed as bullshit by the end of season 2 due to the fact that the three girls supposedly disappeared. What if they didn’t though? What if the three girls ran away? If not, what is the real season 2 theme? Same old departure all over again. Kevin sleepwalking. Matt getting his wife pregnant. John and his anger management issues.

The biggest kick in Season 2’s story has been the strain that belief can put on the human soul. What if thousands of people flocked to one town because they thought it was safe? What if it wasn’t a miracle and just a chance encounter with luck? What if John’s angry firefighting ex-con is right and it’s all made up. Isn’t that a direct tie to religion general? A bunch of people thinking someone above them is in control instead of themselves. That a higher power is their reason for what happened three years ago. What will be the big reveal of Season 2’s finale?

Maybe the cast will just act the shit out of their scenes, present new twists for Season 3 and retain our attention. The greatness of a TV show like the Leftovers is making the viewer think a little while examining their own needs and identity. This show will turn the tables on you more than once.

The show has gotten better this year. It was always interesting and wacky fun in Season 1, but this year the complexity has developed. The second act has been more invigorating, intense and well put together than the first season. As long as the season doesn’t end on a major cliffhanger and doesn’t show Aliens sucking people into the sky, The Leftovers will have survived the dreaded sophomore curse(looking at you True Detective). 

Speaking of that recent HBO misfire, Lindelof is chasing the same themes that Nic Pizzolatto did on True Detective. Loss, abandonment, false sense of security, meaning of life, destiny, desolation, and the idea of living with what you are in this world. One creator is doing a better job of expanding on his story than the other. Instead of focusing on the “what”, Damon Lindelof is keeping his focus on the characters and their plight.

And one more time. Kevin isn’t dead.

Gennady Golovkin will make you love boxing again

Ask any casual boxing fan on the street and they will tell you the sport is losing steam. It’s getting boring, doesn’t have the allure it used to, or lacks stars. Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao are getting old and Andre Ward doesn’t seem to be too interested in fighting. The heavyweight division is dead. Canelo Alvavez is an exciting talent but needs to beat Miguel Cotto to regain world dominance again. For my money, Gennady Golovkin is going to bring boxing back and he will do it one knockout at a time. This weekend, at Madison Square Garden in New York City, Golovkin will face his stiffest test in Montreal’s David Lemieux, a fellow power puncher with knockout power. A pair of middlweights clashing like a pair of trains on a lit up track.

For all the people who don’t like seeing two boxers step into a ring and dance around each other while throwing harmless jabs and complacent hooks, meet this Russian tank. He’s got hammers for fists and he likes action packed fights. He likes action packed fights so much that he will resist knocking his opponent out so he can give the fans a better fight. A longer bout. How about that? GGG, as fans and analysts call him, will take a few punches to enliven the audience. He will take a shot, smile at the opponent as if the love tap wasn’t hard enough and then unleash a few thunderous shots of his own.

The best boxers have the ability to cut off the ring. Make the square shrink and seem like a tight phone booth instead of an open ring. The best boxers cut it off and then attack with a vengeance when their prey is stuck in the trap. That’s what Golovkin does in his fights. He stalks his prey around the ring and gets them into a corner, where he attacks the head and the body. He has knocked opponents out before with a single body shot to their kidneys or a dynamic combination to their head. He’s the train that rips across the tracks that fighters don’t see coming. If Floyd put you to sleep with his slow boiling ring routine, Gennady is going to pull you out of your seat when he goes to work. On the Road to Golovkin-Lemieux on HBO this past week, GGG put it bluntly. “You have dance. Or you fight. I prefer action.” So do we.

The most appreciative fan of the sweet science will admit that a power puncher is fun to watch. The glory days of Mike Tyson knocking people out before they knew where they were at is sexy and something that was missing before Golovkin showed up pitying the fools who got into a ring and locked horns with him. Golovkin has the highest knockout percentage at 90.9 in middleweight championship history and that includes over 300 fights, both professional and amateur. He has 30 knockouts in 33 professional wins with no losses. He has never been knocked down, showing the ability to have a jawline comprised more of porcelain than glass. He isn’t a flash in the pan yet a real deal that will be realized completely when he sends Lemieux to the canvas Saturday night in the Big Apple.

With no disrespect to the Montreal native, I don’t think Lemieux knows what he is getting into with GGG. It’s like expecting a few inches of snow and getting slammed by an avalanche. Lemieux can say that Golovkin hasn’t tasted the kind of shots he can deliver, but that coin can be flipped the other way. He hasn’t tasted Gennady’s power and that’s the dangerous part. Did I mention that Gennady Golovkin has knocked out 20 straight opponents since he joined up with Abel Sanchez in 2010.

Here’s an example. Marco Antonio Rubio beat Lemieux four years ago. Golovkin knocked Rubio out in the second round a year ago. After the fight, Golovkin called out Cotto to no avail. He knocked out Martin Murray in the 10th round and Willie Moore Jr. in the sixth round after a third knockdown forced Moore to shake his head to the referee, who stopped the fight. Golovkin has destroyed the same opponents who either gave Lemieux a tough time or beat him.

On Saturday night, Golovkin is going to officially coin himself as the pound for pound champion in boxing. He isn’t the next best thing. He is the thing right now in boxing that shouldn’t be missed. If you can’t buy the fight this weekend, go somewhere and watch it. Don’t wait for the replay. It’s better than any action movie in theaters and worth watching. The greatest boxers appeal to hardcore fans, casual fans and people who don’t even like the sport. When you watch Golovkin work, it’s hard to keep your eyes off him. He’s truly something else and he’s quickly taking over the sport.

True Detective’s Season 2 Finale: A Giant Mess

(In case you missed it on KSDK)

Picture yourself ordering a big juicy ribeye steak and you get a dried up bland T-bone steak cooked by a cook who hates his job. That’s what I got after 8 hours of heavy handed drama on HBO’s season 2 of True Detective. The finale stunk up the room and it left me with a bad taste in my mouth. How did golden boy Nic Pizzolatto round up all this talent and mess this up? Next time, Nic, buy a diaper and unload in that instead of all over people who pay top dollar for HBO and went into this summer expecting something better.

I gave this season time to grow on me. Think of spending a few hours with a VERY serious kid at a playground. He’s cool and wants to have fun but can’t stop talking about philosophical meanings and boring layered narratives. That’s True Detective in 2015. Overwrought and overcooked and just too much in the end. Worst of all, its creator lost his compass. Pizzolatto can write twisty seedy stories about the rugged battles we fight within our subconscious on a daily basis but believe me he had better than this assortment of characters running around with their heads cut off in the middle of this mystery plot.

Hey, there’s Vince Vaughn, trying to recover some dignity from a career that fell straight down the soft comedy rabbit hole. Vaughn was trained on theater and came up in Hollywood through dramas like Clay Pigeons and Return to Paradise. What happened to that magnetic presence from Swingers? Vaughn was miscast here as a former criminal trying to go straight and a stupid one at that. He couldn’t handle the dialogue and never seemed comfortable except for a handful of scenes. Maybe he bit down too hard on the comedy bug or maybe he wasn’t meant for this gym class.

Look at Taylor Kitsch, playing the most doomed closeted gay cop of all time. So serious, never smiling and tormented beyond belief. The main recipe this season was inner torture. Look at me, I am pale, unhappy and out of cigarettes. Show pity on me. Taylor’s Paul, an ex-soldier trying to ride a patrol bike who gets sucked into this crime investigation set to explode. He never seemed right for the job, the same way the actor never knew quite how to play his character. When he found his step, it was overacting. So visible and forced.

Same for Rachel McAdams, the beautiful talented actress who is working so much right now she may need a break. Sometimes, when actors work at much as she has in the past year, I wonder if they don’t know how to handle a big role like this. Her overprotective, damaged, knife wielding badge started out like someone we could like in a dirty cool way, but quickly her character boiled too much and the goods spilled out. By the end of Sunday’s finale, I really didn’t care what happened to her character because I never felt like I knew her.

Colin Farrell’s Ray was the only character I felt had a complete base to work off of. A cop whose wife was brutally raped, a crime that set Ray off on a revenge trail that left him thinking he had killed his wife’s attacker but spending the rest of his life not sure if his son was really his. Farrell adopted this deep slightly Southern drawl and assortment of plaid shirts and funky facial hair to rip into Ray. It was like his Miami Vice character went to Texas and came back a changed much more tormented dude. A sad one but a character we cared about. Farrell can visually project 80 emotions on his face but in the end, the showrunners did him wrong, at least in my eyes. They walked him into a trap. I didn’t expect characters to find happiness at the end, but I expected they’d read something better than what they found.

One character needed his comeuppance and didn’t get it. You’ll know if you watch.

Season 1 was brilliant because it had a sexy confidence, was extremely well written and felt fresh and rightfully gloomy. People were sad, drinking too much, way too violent, but they had a purpose throughout the misery. The season had a vibe and a pulse. It was a wild guitar solo that seemed to last for 7 hours before encore sprung this culmination of all the plot threads. It also had a white hot can’t go wrong Matthew McConaughey meeting the character of a lifetime in Rust Cohle. A man who preached about a flat circle. Maybe Pizzolatto should have stuck with that circle and brought him back, along with Woody Harrelson’s Marty Hart.

To me, the biggest missing element from Season 2 was a foil for the seriousness of the main characters. Season 1 balanced McConaughey’s madness and wrenching monologues with the bewildered humor and light presence of Harrelson. Season 2 was missing a Woody Harrelson. Something to balance all the depressed folks out. Too bad.

Another missing element from Season 2 was director Cary Fukunaga, a maverick world creator from Season 1 who turned Louisiana’s swamp into a gothic lost and found crime zone. The rift between him and Pizzolatto split the marriage they shared via True Detective and deprived Season 2’s players of a great director. Without his compass(Fukunaga’s camera), Pizzolatto was lost this go around.

Maybe Season 3 brings back Cohle and Hart. Go back to what worked and what put you on the map, Nic. Season 2 found you without a purpose. Season 2 felt like leftovers in a broken refrigerator. It was the little brother trying to be as cool as the older star athlete and coming up short. Maybe fans were set up to be disappointed.

True Detective Season 2 tried to go big with a larger cast and wide spreading mystery plot. It misfired, badly. You can go back and watch it again, and I’m sure the effect wouldn’t be better. Only worse.

Nice try, Pizzolatto. Next time, find a worthy story, characters worth caring about and something fresh. Take some time my friend. You need it after that strikeout.

In the meantime, go catch up on Cinemax’s Banshee, a show that DOES NOT disappoint. Like ever.

Entourage The Movie is a waste of your time

Entourage was a pure guilty pleasure for TV fans back in 2003 when it debuted on HBO. It was an escape for blue collar stiffs and wannabe dreamers who didn’t have the logistics, cajones or money to escape to LA and take a shot instead. Those 26 minute episodes every Sunday were like crack for the rich and famous nerds like myself.

At its best, Creator Doug Ellin’s High Life seminar gave people a sly behind the scenes spill of how movie stars really act, how nutty directors really are and how aggressive agents wanted to be sharks. It was irresistible. Every time the credits hit, you wanted more and more. The TV show ran its usual course, playing out like a party in Hollywood Hills. Exotically hip and vibrant for 3-4 seasons before dying off a slow retread filled life for the last 3-4 seasons.

Every TV show overstays its welcome. It’s just a matter of how long they beg to sleep over before you want them out of the house. Entourage the movie, released four years after the show closed its doors on HBO, didn’t need to happen and feels old. It’s like the boys from Queens got lonely, needed a place to crash again, and your wallets are the only place in town with a light on. I wonder if HBO said no or just didn’t pick up the phone for this bros first soap opera. (more…)

Bill Simmons and HBO: A Match Made in Heaven

When ESPN decided to part ways with writer/podcast extraordinaire, my instant reaction was plain and simple. The sports network was letting a golden asset loose and it wouldn’t be long before another network scooped up his talents. Well that happened. Wednesday, HBO announced a multi-faceted deal with Simmons and this is a match made in heaven for fans of the writer and the premium cable network. It’s about time Simmons got super sized and put in a classy five star restaurant dinner rotation.

HBO doesn’t mess around, is fearless with its content and so is Simmons. The DNA’s are a match. The acclaimed and notoriously free spirited Simmons is a hardcore Boston sports fan but he can also transition into movies and other teams and sports at will. The best podcasts and columns are the ones that involve movie quotes, comparisons and creative connections around the sports and entertainment industry.

Before he started the award winning documentary series 30 for 30 at ESPN and started the well respected website, Grantland, Simmons was the sports guy. The Grantland staff today is full of Simmons addicts. They write like him and will keep that idea rolling in his absence. Simmons started it over a decade ago writing these epic articles previewing the NFL matchups or compiling a master mailbag session. He was unfiltered and uncanny in cutting to the center of a point without retreating. That turned some people off and in the end was too much for ESPN to handle. (more…)