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: ‘Blue Caprice’ 11.10.14


Like I did with “Bastards” 2 reviews ago, I wanted to revisit “Blue Caprice” because like it, it was a film that I really liked and had such a strong reaction to, that I wanted to get a review of it up on the site. Now since it “technically” was released last year and its DVD release date wasn’t until very early on in this, I can’t say that it makes the cut for 2014. So even though considering how amazing I thought it was, I can’t consider it to rank among the films I’ve seen this year since it was clearly a last year release. Which is unfortunate because it certainly would have popped up on one of my 2 end of the year lists.

The film opens with a montage of real footage from the aftermath of the DC Sniper case. A true story that took place in 2002. Cut forward (or backwards) and we are introduced to a young man (played by Tequan Richmond in a brilliant debut performance) who spends his days wandering around the Caribbean island in which he lives in aimlessly who seemingly is lacking any guidance or parental presence in his life. That is until a chance encounter when he meets Isaiah Washington’s character, John, who more or less takes him under his wing and starts to mentor the confused and misguided young man. The young man writes in a diary that’s told in voice over narration where he talks about how enamored he is of his new father type figure. John brings this young boy from the Caribbean with him back to the States. Once there, John schools the young man on his extremely radical doctrine and rhetoric of how he views the world. John introduces him to Ray, played by Tim Blake Nelson, who appears to share similar viewpoints of the world in which John seems to see himself surrounded by and who also teaches the young man how to shoot a rifle. We get a bit more back story on John and why he may have become to align himself with such radical political views on the state of his country. His interactions with the young boy growing steadily from what at first seems like healthy mentor/father figure into a brainwashing extremist. From there their relationship only grows stronger, as does the young boy’s vulnerability and grip that John has on him. Which the story just continues to build and build on from there, resulting in a shocking yet totally believable revelation in its final act.

I guess I didn’t know what I was expecting but the film certainly exceeded whatever that expectation was. It’s a great character study of a true “anarchist” led by the amazingly talented Isaiah Washington in what might be his best performance to date. Also, continuing on the acting thread, is the genuine on-screen relationship between Washington and the young Richmond. It does a great job depicting a man on the brink of insanity, and how and why he eventually winds up going to the lengths that he does. Also, I was equally as impressed by the way in which it was shot as was I with the film’s ominous score. I thought it lended itself perfectly to the images I was being shown on the screen. Which brings me to my next point. There are some images in this film that are so bleak, so incredibly haunting, that they’re difficult to shake after the movie comes to a close. Never has a tracking shot of the mere image of just a car rolling up the highway in slow motion elicited such a threatening emotional response. It’s images like these that were similar to how I felt about the ones in Sean Durkin’s film about cults and buying in to radical beliefs in 2011’s “Martha Marcia May Marlene”. A film that I drew a lot of comparisons to, not only in terms of content, but by which the film made me feel. Along with a great supporting cast of the above mentioned Tim Blake Nelson, Joey Lauren Adams, and a nice cameo by “Kids” (1994) and “The Wire”‘s (2002-2008) Leo Fitzpatrick. This is one highly worth renting and sadly enough one that got overlooked entirely for Washington’s incredible performance in last year’s awards season. This is a gripping, thought-provoking, dark, psychological film based on a true account that will leave you rattled and thinking about for days following. It’s too bad the film got sandwiched right smack in-between 2013 and 2014. Because if it had been released this year I can pretty much guarantee it would be making my Honorable Mentions list, if not for a spot on my coveted top 10 itself.

[B+]