TV Series Review – “Bloodline” (Season 1) 5.9.15

I can count on one hand how many TV series that I’ve actually taken the time to watch more than just a few episodes of. Maybe because I just never bought in to the whole “binge watching” phenomena that seems to go hand in hand with watching them. In thinking back, the only 4 TV series that I’ve actually watched in their entirety are “Twin Peaks” (1990-1991 = still my favorite series of all time), “Freaks and Geeks” (1999-2000), “The Sopranos” (1999-2007), and “The Wire” (2002-2008). Beyond that I’ve tried to invest both time and effort into watching “Breaking Bad” (2008-2013) and last year’s “The Knick”. Both shows which for some unknown apparent reason I just couldn’t get into and hung the towel with after maybe half a season or so. I pretty much always skip over anything about TV shows or series that I see printed online or in some cases, are advertised for on TV.

Except for in the case of this little TV series that came along which I heard was being heralded as the best Netflix original series since “House of Cards” which I knew more about by reputation than anything itself as it’s yet another series that didn’t really interest me in the slightest. What caught my attention about this particular series was not only that it came highly recommended by two of my co-workers (which always makes for stimulating water cooler talk come Monday morning), but by its incredible cast consisting of 6-time Oscar nominee Sissy Spacek (you know the bar is being set and high for cable TV when they can enlist an actress of this caliber), Oscar nominee Sam Shepard, Emmy award winner Kyle Chandler (for 2006’s “Friday Night Lights”), Australian actor Ben Mendelsohn (who I’ve recently declared as being the best character actor currently in the business), Linda Cardellini (ironically who starred in one of the series mentioned above = 1999’s “Freaks and Geeks”), and Oscar nominee Chloe Sevigny. At the time I was and am still awestruck of how a TV series could have possibly assembled such an amazing cast. Which was one of if not the main reason of how and why I got lured into it.

Netflix’s “Bloodline” originally aired back on March, 20th of this year, with all 13 episodes of its first season being available at once. The show itself is a family drama/thriller that revolves around a one Rayburn family. A wealthy upper crust family who own a very successful Inn down in the Florida Keys. The Rayburn’s consist of the patriarchal father Robert (played by Sam Shepard) and mother (Sissy Spacek), along with their four children; the eldest Danny (in what’s sure to be an Emmy nomination later this year by the mightily impressive Ben Mendelsohn), the second son John (Kyle Chandler, who should also garner a nomination for his strong work here), Norbert Leo Butz as the youngest son (an actor of great talent who I was previously unfamiliar with up to this point), and the youngest sibling, the sister, played by Linda Cardelliini. In typical family noir fashion everything looks good from the surface but nothing is as it seems. The show starts out by introducing us to the eldest brother Danny (Mendelsohn) who really acts as its central figure. Danny is the black sheep of the family, the one that got away, who happens to also have a bad drug habit but who comes back into the lives of his family when a celebration takes place in honor of their name in the season pilot. The events that transpire from this point forward examine the interpersonal dynamics of the family, as secrets and scars are revealed when layer upon layer of their family history unfolds and we are shown the inner depth and darkness of what happens to people when they try and leave the past behind but the past isn’t quite through with them yet.

This is a gritty, dark, and deeply probing psychological family drama that explores the inner depths of what lies underneath a family’s surface when their past resurfaces and the great lengths they try and take to cover them up after decades of secrets, deception, and lies. It works on just about every technical level from its stunning cinematography of the Florida Keys in both it’s sunshine paradise and murky swamps (nicely done metaphorically), to within its ability to grasp the viewer and engage them into its intricately woven plot, to its masterful writing, and what winds up surprisingly equaling the sum of its parts in the acting department (hard to do when you have this much talent on display). As already mentioned both Chandler and Mendelsohn give spectacular performances, particularly that of the latter, whose character seems drawn from something similar to that of the diabolical Robert DeNiro in Martin Scorsese’s “Cape Fear” (1991). The inner workings and pathos that Mendelsohn brings to his role is further proof that he’s one of the greatest character actors working in the business. I couldn’t think of any other actor who could bring this much depth to a part. Which I’ve always said is the greatest testament to an actor’s performance, when you can’t possibly imagine any other actor pulling it off as well as they do. It’s also consistently rewarding as no episode seems to go wasted and every one that proceeds the last plunges deeper and deeper and darker into the inner lives of the Rayburn family. Culminating in a great last couple of episodes where everything is brought to the forefront and a devastating and tragic event occurs which was both disturbing and shocking and left me foaming at the mouth for another season (which is already slated for 2016). As far as TV series’ go, this is one of the better shows I’ve seen, which even despite my admittedly limited palette, I can confidently say that anyone who chooses to take the time and invest themselves in it will be both highly rewarded and left salivating for more.

[A-]

Review: ‘Cold in July’ 9.13.14

I’ve grown quite fond of director Jim Mickle over the past couple of years. Really only having very recently seen both his 2006 debut – “Mulberry Street” and last year’s “We Are What We Are” (a surprisingly better remake of the 2010 Spanish film of the same name). Though admittedly I was a little disappointed with his 2010 film – “Stake Land” it still had its moments. That and I knew we were being introduced to a new kind of genre director. Perhaps a new horror director but with something very different to say. His films up to this had focused on a decaying city being overrun by toxic rats, a vampire hunter, and a family of cannibals. Though there have been several genre pictures of this kind. Mickle seems to have more of his own vision and puts a personal stamp on everything he does. Like with many great directors, you would almost know it’s a Jim Mickle film even if you didn’t know so going in and had seen any of his prior work. He is an auteur. But rather than be pigeonholed to one specific genre, Mickle here steps outside of his comfort zone to delve into an entirely different genre. A sort of genre hybrid. One that contains elements of film noir, crime, suspense, and thriller tropes.

We are first introduced to Richard (Michael C. Hall from Showtime’s “Dexter”). Richard is a quiet, reserved family man. Who at the very beginning of the film has to make a rather difficult choice in order to defend his family. Someone winds up dead. And this someone’s father, a man who goes by the name of Russel (played ruthlessly by the great Sam Shephard) wants revenge on the family of the man who killed his son. Richard’s paranoia increases over his own family’s safety after several run in’s with Russel, and after one specific incident, they are put into a kind of pseudo-Witness Protection program. The first act was more or less standard fare. But then things really start to pick up. Richard witnesses an act of police corruption, believes his family was set up and used as bait, and tells Russel that he doesn’t think it was his son who he killed and that it was all part of a cover up involving both the police and local Texas mafia. Then about halfway in we meet a man by the name of Jim Duke (played by the legendary Don Johnson), an outside detective from Houston, who comes in to work on the case. Things also seem particularly shady to him as well, and the 3 central characters then band up together to go and seek out the truth. By whatever means necessary.

Mickle does a great job here of tackling a new genre, one that acts out as an almost hybrid of sorts. It’s a gritty piece of pulp noir crime thriller. He does a great job of making sure the audience is constantly second guessing at the twists and turns that come up constantly at almost each and every corner of the film. His ability to wrack up the amount of tension and suspense that he does without letting go is nothing short of amazing. It also has a incredible original score, one that’s heavy on the synthesizer and sounds like something from early John Carpenter films like “Assault on Precinct 13” with hints of the excellent Cliff Martinez (“Drive”) scores of recent years. The pulsating, thunderous, driving beats of the score accentuate the story’s suspense and drama. Mickle’s 3 central actors – Michael C. Hall, Sam Shepard, and Don Johnson all come with the goods here. All three performances are particularly strong and none stand out above the other. What I can say too without hopefully giving too much away, is that its climax that had me gasping. The violence is someone restrained up to this point, but when the the end comes Mickle really brings the guns. I thought the last 15 minutes, which had elements of a great Western showdown, and reminiscient of something out of a Sam Peckinpah film, were some of the most tense, well shot and choreographed segments I have seen of any film this year. This one already has earned a spot on my top 20 films of the year so far. If this type of material sounds like something that you might be interested in I can assure you you won’t be disappointed.

Grade: B+