True Detective: Season 2 Review

            The first season of True Detective seemed to be lightning in a bottle.  It was a perfect combination of top notch directing, acting and writing that turned into one of the most visually striking and alluring shows in television history.  After the show’s second season, in which stars Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson were traded in for Colin Farrell, Rachel McAdams, Vince Vaughn and others, it has become even clearer that the first season really was lightning in a bottle.  The second season is very much your typical crime drama of the last few years (one that struggles to latch onto the last dying embers of the tropes of the TV Golden Age) that is occasionally elevated by strong directing and a dependable performance from Colin Farrell.

            Season two follows a police taskforce (Farrell, McAdams and Taylor Kitsch) and a gangster (Vaughn) trying to solve the murder of a prominent member of a local government that ran away with the gangster’s money.  It’s a convoluted plotline that only gets more convoluted as it goes along.  At first you have to at least admire how many characters and plot points showrunner Nic Pizzolatto forces you to remember, but when all of this leads to such a typical ending, it’s hard not to feel like you have been duped.

            As a whole this season just isn’t very good and the problems are just all over the place.  Whether it’s the dull direction from Justin Lin (who was billed as the big director that would help to replace Cary Fukunaga doing career best work in the first season) in the first couple of episodes or Vince Vaughn choking over dialogue that a much more capable actor would have used to create this season’s version of Rust Cohle (McConaughey’s iconic character of the first season) or a massive storyline being condensed into just eight hours there’s a lot not to like in this season.

            However, there are moments of promise sprinkled throughout the season that will keep you watching.  Colin Farrell has quietly been having a renaissance of his own ever since his career best performance in In Bruges, and his role, as Ray Velcoro, is just another cap in his feather.  He’s stuck with some of the more ridiculous dialogue but makes it feel natural, and although his accent wavers in the early episodes a bit he is the actor that most settles into his role.  It’s ultimately his performance that makes you believe in the rather predictable and disappointing finale.  Additionally, the directing team does much better when Justin Lin leaves.  Miguel Sapochnik’s direction of the season’s six episode (which featured the much talked about orgy sequence) is the closest any of the directors get to capturing Cary Fukunaga’s style, and John Crowley’s direction of two episodes features some top notch sequences (including a freaky and visually stunning walk through a desert in the season finale) that makes you wonder what he can do with his next feature film Brooklyn.

            The second season of True Detective is a disappointment that has just enough moments of brilliance to keep you coming back for more.


Mr. Holmes Review

            With successful film and TV franchises being released in recent years, it’s difficult not to find a Sherlock Holmes story that interests you.  I personally prefer the energetic, Benedict Cumberbatch-led Sherlock, but it’s hard not to enjoy just how consistently well done the other versions have been in recent years.  The latest Sherlock Holmes project to be released into theatres, Mr. Holmes, not only gives the Holmes tale a unique spin but also features one of our greatest actors giving one of his best performances ever.

            Mr. Holmes takes place in post World War II England with an old Sherlock Holmes (Ian McKellen) retired to a countryside abode where he takes care of his bees and tries to find a cure for the Alzheimer’s disease that is defeating him.  When a boy (Milo Parker) asks about his time as a detective, Sherlock tries to remember the result of the case that made him retire.

            Anyone who comes into this film thinking their going to get the energetic screenplay or the kinetic action of recent Sherlock Holmes installments are going to be disappointed.  This is a slow burn that really takes a while to kick into gear.  The construction of this story is meticulous as throwaway lines early on end up becoming major plot points.  So this film asks a lot of focus from its audience members.  It doesn’t always deserve this focus, as the first half of the film can be a tad boring, and Bill Condon’s direction doesn’t go anywhere interesting.  However, the revelations of the third act and the character change that Sherlock endures are quite fascinating and actually deserved.  This is a fitting end to Sherlock Holmes, and I think this film deserves a lot of credit for bringing author Mitch Cullin’s vision to the screen.

            The one thing that truly makes this film a success, though, is Ian McKellen’s performance.  McKellen is one of the best actors of his generation, and it is just a delight to see him get another performance at his age that takes full advantage of all of his talent.  McKellen is able to bring so much realness to a man that is physically on the verge of death, while still bringing a lot of life to a film that desperately needs it at times.

            Mr. Holmes will end up being one of the more memorable Sherlock Holmes adaptations in a decade already filled to the brim with them.


Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation Review

            The Mission: Impossible franchise seems to be one of the very few cases of a film series getting better as it goes along.  The original film (which itself is based off of a 1960s TV series) is a typical 90s blockbuster that doesn’t age too well, and its sequel is the typical case of diminishing returns.  However, something strange happened when J.J. Abrams took over the franchise with 2006’s Mission: Impossible III as the film turned out to be the fun blockbuster that this series was striving for and failing to achieve all along.  The series reached its pinnacle with Brad Bird’s Ghost Protocol, and now the latest entry into the series, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, finds new ways to inject energy into this aging franchise even if it isn’t quite as good as the two previous entries.  The film finds new ways to make the series interesting while still standing on its own perfectly fine.

            Rogue Nation begins with the CIA taking over the IMF after the events of Ghost Protocol make Congress question the purpose of an agency with so little oversight.  Making matters worse for everyone is that Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is on the hunt of the mysterious evil organization, the Syndicate, that no one else seems to believe exists.  Ethan must find proof of the Syndicate’s existence before the CIA can bring him in.

            Rogue Nation oddly feels much more like a Bond film than a Mission: Impossible film.  One of the main characters of the film very much fits the Bond girl profile, the main villains of the film are almost an organization out of an Ian Fleming book, and Britain even plays a key role in the film’s plot.  Even if this does make the film seem odd at times, it ends up being a better Bond film than most Bond films.  Rebecca Ferguson steals the show as the film’s Bond girl, Ilsa Faust.  She brings so much charisma and energy to the performance that she easily makes herself an equal to Tom Cruise, and director Christopher McQuarrie and cinematographer Robert Elswit shoot her like a goddess.  The film even gets through its bond-esque, convoluted mystery plot much better than most Bond films would.

            While the film ultimately feels a bit long, it’s hard not to admire the fact that everyone seems to be trying hard in the making of this film.  The cast (led by the consistent Tom Cruise) and the crew (Elswit does some fantastic work shooting this film, and the stunt crew deserves much credit for a film that is action packed but is also able to maintain its old school style) make this a film that is much better than its individual parts.

            Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation is one of the better films of the summer.


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