How to Get Away with Murder (TV Review)

How to Get Away with Murder (TV Review)

Annalise Keating is a charismatic and intimidating lawyer and professor who teaches the notorious college course that she entitles, “How to Get Away with Murder.” Students cower in her presence, and do their best to not make fools of themselves on the first day of class. Keating is bold, determined, and damn good at what she does.

Each year, she selects a small group of her finest students that will help her out as members of her law firm. Here, they will work together to solve difficult cases, all the while revealing the dark secrets of their own.

murder2How to Get Away with Murder provides a nice combination of an episodical crime series, where there is a new mystery to be solved each week, all the while focusing on the background problem that ties the entire first season together: her law students have murdered someone, and are trying to cover it up.

A sorority girl ends up dead, and she is known to the group because she was friends with one of the students neighbors. Here we undertake a story where Keating’s husband is involved in her death, as he was having an affair with the dead girl. Eventually, he ends up dead, at the hands of the law students, who begin their quest to cover up their own dirty deeds, using the knowledge they are learning from Keating, both in and out of the class.

murder3While is seems tricky, it comes across very well on the screen, and makes for an intriguing show. It is non-linear, and will skip around in time frequently, to provide backing information on the central murder, all the while barreling the plot of each episode forward.

One thing that makes How to Get Away with Murder so entertaining and watchable is the cast. Led by Viola Davis, who has won a number of awards for her role as Annalise already, who plays her character with a fierceness rarely seen in a female lead on TV. As the series progresses, we see chips in her steely veneer, and Davis is able to bring an intense vulnerability to her character that makes her more fragile, real, and endearing. It is difficult to dislike Annalise, despite her being strongly set up as a dislikeable character from the beginning. She seems to care only for herself, and will stomp on anybody or anything that stands in the way of getting what she wants. While she acts as an anti-hero, it is intriguing to see what lengths she will go to to protect those that she cares about, keep her promises, and keep her own secrets in the dark.

murder5The rest of the cast is rounded out by strong performers. The five law students are strong (aside from Alfred Enoch, who plays the meek Wes of the group…he starts off as being pretty annoying, but gets better as the season moves along), and the rest of the supporting cast is good as well. The other people closest to Annalise include another lawyer, played by Gilmore Girls alum Liza Weil, and the not-sure-exactly-what-his-job-is Frank, played by Charlie Weber.

murder6The cast is rounded out by a character that becomes the focus of much of the story, Wes’ neighbor Rebecca, played by Katie Findlay, most famous from her time as Rosie Larsen on The Killing, and from roles in small films such as Premature. Findlay provides a solid backbone to the story, and she is an increasingly strong actor, even though she sometimes seems slightly miscast as the tough-as-nails, uncaring goth drug dealer Rebecca. Still, her acting is very good throughout, and her importance to the show cannot be denied.

murder4How to Get Away with Murder provides a ton of twists and turns, easily hooking the viewer into the plot of the show. A good backing murder, along with interesting cases along the way in each episode, and a cast that is able to create their own unique personalities when they could have just been lumped together (a credit to the solid writing), makes HTGAWM a very solid show, and well worth a watch on Netflix.

There are plenty of cliffhangers here, including the final episode, which will lend itself to what could end up being a very interesting second season of the show. I, for one, will be sure to watch once the second season rolls out, to see what has happened to the delicate circle created by Annalise, and to see if everything can be held together, as a bunch of students to their very best to get away with murder.

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“Wrapped in Plastic. Twin Peaks.” (Book Review)

“Wrapped in Plastic. Twin Peaks.” (Book Review)

The day that Laura Palmer was found dead on the beach in the small Washington town of Twin Peaks, a cult-classic was unleashed.

Even though the series only lasted for a total of 30 episodes spread across two uneven seasons, Twin Peaks has remained a phenomenon, and consistently viewed as a show that was able to change the face of network television. 30 episodes have created a ton of fan websites, a yearly festival, magazines, books, and even after much desire from the public, who was both fans of the show when it initially aired, and those who have discovered it in the quarter-century since, there will be a new run of episode of Twin Peaks starting in 2016.

plastic2I have written a few items on the show on this blog, as well as more on my often-neglected Twin Peaks blog. If you want to read a review of another book related to the show, please check out https://gatsbyfuneral.wordpress.com/2014/12/13/reflections-an-oral-history-of-twin-peaks-book-review/.

Wrapped in Plastic. Twin Peaks provides us with another view on the series, and one that is incredibly well done in a very short amount of space. As a part of the Pop Classics collection (which also includes books on Showgirls and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), this story of Twin Peaks is done in a great way that provides more information for the Peak Freak out there, as well as the casual viewer, or one just getting into the show. There is much repeated information in here, if you are a die-hard fan and follower of the show, but it still provides enough insight to keep it interesting, over its very brief 101 pages.

Something I especially enjoyed about the book was the nods to the humour in the show. So many things that are written about Twin Peaks focus on the darkness, on the strangeness, and on the the murder of Laura Palmer, and then the following decent of the show from the heights of pop culture after the murdered was revealed. But so many people forget that there were so many moments in the series that were very humorous, and they no longer deserve to be neglected. Author Andy Burns does a great job of reminding us of those funny moments, and how it added so much to the show, as well as giving us a break from the messy lives of the people that inhabited the small town.

plastic3Wrapped in Plastic also does a strong job of citing the influence that Twin Peaks has had on modern television. We often hear about how influential it was, but Burns goes to the point where he describes the impact that this show had on other major dramas of our time, from The Sopranos to The X-FilesNorthern Exposure to Psych. It really brings everything all together, and after reading the book, it gave me a new appreciation of how important this series really was in changing the way that networks viewed the shows they were airing, and how people were watching them, and what they were willing to deal with.

Burns takes us quickly through the development of the series, the casting, and the magic of David Lynch and Mark Frost in creating the show, along with notes on several of the episodes in the series. He writes like he truly loves the show, which is great, because let’s be honest…the vast majority of the readers of this book are also going to be fans of the show, and want to read about it by someone who loved it too. He also focuses a fair amount of his time on the development of the themes in the series, such as the duality of the characters, demonstrated primarily by the role of the Black Lodge, and the dopplegangers that are found within. I found this quite interesting, especially when many more connections were made to the prequel film, Fire Walk With Me, as it offered me some views that I had not thought of before.

While Wrapped in Plastic is not as in-depth and intensive as something like Reflections: An Oral History of Twin Peaks, it still manages to get to quite a bit. With the book being so short, I had no trouble reading it in one sitting, in a little over an hour. This speaks not only to the brevity of this work, but to the readability of it. It is very interesting, and it is always great to be taken back into the town of Twin Peaks, and into the lives of the characters in it. And Burns does a great job of doing that, exploring the relationships between the characters, pointing out his observations, along with generally maintained theories about the show.

For those die-hard fans of Twin Peaks, who are clamoring for something to keep them occupied until the much anticipated Mark Frost novel, The Secret Lives of Twin Peaks comes out at the end of the year, and then the 2016 episodes, Wrapped in Plastic is a fantastic place to get back into the world of our favorite town. It does well to be nostalgic, so fans can remember the lofty heights of the show, even remembering its demise with some affection, and it does well to look forward, to see how the fingerprints of Twin Peaks are all over our current television landscape.

The Killing: Season 4 (TV Review)

The Killing: Season 4 (TV Review)

I have to admit that the shine wore off of The Killing once the killer of Rosie Larsen was revealed. Season 3 provided some thrills, and then Netflix decided to release the final, concluding season, in an abbreviated run of episodes that would bring the show to a close. As incredible as the first couple of years were, something was lost along the way, to the point where the fourth season of the show sat in my Netflix queue for a very long time.

kill2The basic gist of Season 4 is that there is a new killing, this one of an entire family of a kid who attends the local military academy. Our two intrepid detectives, Linden and Holder, are on the case, determined to crash through the walls created by the school, and the crusty colonel in charge, played very well by Joan Allen.

As far as the murder goes, it was pretty interesting. In no way was it as all-encompassing as the Rosie Larsen killing and subsequent chase for the killer, but it is still pretty good as far as murder mysteries go. It never seemed as though it was able to keep us guessing like the first murder on the show did, but it was still entertaining, and stuck with the traditions of The Killing, in that it is quiet and violent, haunting and morbid.

The main issue that I had with the season was Detective Linden, who had been brilliantly portrayed on the screen over the course of the show by Mireille Enos. She became annoying. As her life is constantly unraveling, and she fails to deal with the issues in her real life, I felt that while she had always come across as a strong, determined woman, she degraded into a whiny nuisance. I felt far less sympathy for her, as we begin to see that all of the things that befall her life are her own poor choices and decisions. A secondary plot of Season 4 centers around the murder that Linden perpetrated on her boss at the end of Season 3, and the cover-up that she engages in with Holder to protect herself. Her new boss is on her tail, trying to uncover facts about the disappearance, and it was unfortunate the way she had fallen from grace from the way her character was initially written. Not that there was a massive difference in her character, just that we just stopped feeling bad for her.

kill3While The Killing was still a great source of entertainment, it definitely was starting to show its cracks by the end of its run, in my opinion. I understand that many will disagree, and argue that Season 4 created a fitting ending for the series, but I didn’t see it. The very ending of the show, once the murder was wrapped up, was odd, and out of place for the way that the entire series had been created and run. It came across as cheesy, and something that was not fitting of either Linden, or Holder.

Perhaps I didn’t love the final year of the show. This does not mean that it is bad television, not by any stretch. The Killing is still a compelling drama that leads us through some interesting twists and turns. Perhaps it was a victim of its own success, not being able to live up to the first couple of years of the show. Still worth watching, as there are plenty of shows that were worse than this finale. It would still rank quite highly on my list of murder dramas that are out there. I just wanted more, and I didn’t want to start disliking a character that we had rooted for over the course of a few years.

Premature (Film Review)

Premature (Film Review)

Premature provides us with one of the most predictable and unoriginal teen films in recent memory, but despite this, remains somewhat watchable.

A simple concept that provides us with a bit of a Groundhog Day and American Pie mashup gives us a high school kid that needs to relive the same day over and over again, until he rights some cosmic wrong and can move on to the next day. The only twist that has been provided to this script, to ensure it is not a complete rip-off, is that our main character restarts the day every time he has an orgasm, usually at some kind of inappropriate time. Then he restarts the day, waking up to his mother walking in on him after a wet dream.

pre3
Will he end up with the school hot girl? Of course not.

The results are unsurprisingly stale and not hilarious.

We get the same pattern of understanding what he is going through. At first he is confused. Then he tries to push the boundaries, knowing that he will have to relive the day anyways (oh my god, he touches the breasts of his chesty English teacher! Edgy!), and then an understanding of what he needs to do to make things right and move on.

Despite average jokes sprinkled in here and there, and an ending that is predictable from minute six of the film, Premature provides some very mild entertainment, mainly because of a couple of the cast members.

The central character is portrayed by John Kama, and he is ok. We don’t really care about him, he is often as dull and annoying as he is enjoyable, but he doesn’t ruin the film by any stretch of the imagination. Sometimes, his dull, bored, uncaring teenager shtick is somewhat enjoyable. He goes through the film, trying to lose his virginity to a girl that is out of his league, while at the same time trying to decide if he really does want to do well on his Georgetown college entrance interview. His father is an alum, and of course wants nothing more than for his son to go to the same school as he did. I suppose this passes as a central conflict, as he needs to realize what he really wants in life. Any surprise guesses at the ending?

Katie Findlay is the best part of the film.
Katie Findlay is the best part of the film.

The only real highlight of the film is Katie Findlay, who plays the female best friend to our orgasming protagonist, Gabrielle. Findlay, who I know best as playing the dead Rosie Larsen on The Killing, is a breath of fresh air in the movie. She is able to come across as cute, fun, and charming, right from the beginning. She is able to use up what little there is of a meager script, and create a female character that we actually really enjoy. Sure, she remains a template from nearly every other teen drama where there is the girl that we all know should be with the lead, but he never sees it that way until the very end, but Findlay makes it work, and we like her. While Findlay has had minor roles here and there, from what I can see on IMDB, she seems like the has the poise and potential for more in her career. She could probably bang out a few more teen roles, but there is potential in her acting, and she is imminently likable on the screen, to the point where by the end of Premature, we kind of wish that the film had been centered on her, instead of the actual main character.

pre5At the end of the film, we know that we have seen this before. All of it. There is actually nothing new in Premature, but it is okay enough to not hate it, or to hate yourself for watching it. I know that nobody is going to fire up Netflix and choose Premature expecting something fresh and original. But this one is exactly what you expect from it, offering nothing new. There are definitely worse teen films out there, like Alpha House, but there a ton of ones that are better. This one is near the bottom of the barrel, but isn’t quite swirling the drain.

The Bridge: Season 1 (TV Review)

The Bridge: Season 1 (TV Review)

Scandinavia needs to get more credit for producing some really cool stuff. They have spawned incredible bands over the past couple of decades that never really get the fame or applause from North American audiences, and now they have started to create some really good, dark, and interesting television.

Probably starting with the original version of The Killing, they have struck again with the simple and ominous The Bridge. This is a review of the original Danish/Swedish show, not the American version (which I have not yet seen).

The story begins simply enough, with a body being found on the bridge that connects Copenhagen to Malmo (the bridge itself is impressive, and huge). The first twist of the show is that there are actually two bodies out there, and since it was placed directly on the border between Denmark and Sweden, it requires a police investigator from each country to help solve the crime.

bridge3Our two leads in the series are Saga (played brilliantly by Sofia Helin), the Swedish investigator who is abrupt and to-the-point, as she has a mild case of autism, and Martin (played by Kim Bodnia), the Danish family man who has a history of poor relationships and choices with women. The two of them, right from the start, manage to play off one another perfectly, creating for us an excellent team that is always entertaining to watch.

The Bridge doesn’t stop with one murder, however. The killer expands his reign of terror, and wants to point of five problems in the world, and create anarchy on the streets of the two usually quiet nations. It is interesting, and there are some moments where you feel like the great film Se7en served as inspiration.

Saga and Martin run between the two countries, following their leads, trying to break the codes left by the “Truth Terrorist,” all while dealing with issues in their personal lives.

It makes for often riveting television.

In all honesty, I felt that the show sagged a little bit towards the end of the first season, after they had identified who the killer is, and are simply trying to find him. This was quickly pulled back together, and created a riveting ending to the first season of the show, again with some influence from Se7en. Not a rip-off, but some of the questions that were raised by that film are revisited in the show, and it is done quite well.

The Bridge provides us with an interesting killer, one whose grand plan is not dissimilar from one of the villains of Dexter, but it is always done better. Cold and calculating, he influences the people of Denmark and Sweden, making some question if he really is a villain or not.

The BridgeOverall, this was an excellent show. I may not have been as captured as I was on another recently watched foreign crime show, Broadchurch, but it was still excellent stuff. One warning to viewers on Netflix…you will have to read subtitles. I realize this is a huge turnoff for many viewers, but it is well worth it. The Scandinavian languages are pretty interesting and fun to listen to, and the reading never interrupts major action scenes or anything. Like any movie with subtitles, you get used to it quickly, to the point where you never notice that you are reading the dialogue.

The portrayals of both Copenhagen and Malmo are fantastic as well. Beautiful places are made haunted by the social issues that are prevalent not just there, but all over the world. The creators do a great job of showing us the dark, seedier side of places that are normally seen as fantastic. Also, the music excels in this show. From the haunting opening theme, to the score of the series, it is always understated, and adds a chill to the scenes on the screen.

All of the action and plot aside, The Bridge can also be seen as a show about people working together, and making their lives right. The characters of Saga and Martin are very strong, with a lot of depth and development. It makes the show a strong character sketch, and aside from the intensely interesting murder mystery, they help drive the show forward and keep us glued to the screens.

While The Bridge was not my favorite crime drama, it is definitely in the running. The darkness and simplicity of the setting fits perfectly with the complexity of the story. A very good show.

Broadchurch (TV Review)

Broadchurch (TV Review)

Simply put, Broadchurch is one of the best crime dramas I have ever seen. From the beginning, the British thriller is engrossing, taking us in to the small town lives of the people of Broadchurch, who are reeling over the discovery of the murdered body of an 11-year-old boy. Like a good crime drama, this is a town that has secrets…and everybody has something to hide.

Typically, a show of this nature is able to successfully point the suspicion on a couple of characters that we legitimately believe have a chance of being the killer. Broadchurch manages to blow this up, as at certain points, we suspect nearly every character of being a murdered, due to the incredibly intelligent writing on the series. The mystery builds up from the moment we hear of Danny’s death, and people come out of the woodwork to become suspects with every new episode.

broadThis provides us with a constant state of excitement in watching, wondering who could have committed the terrible crime that is in danger of ripping the town apart.

There are people with mysterious pasts, questionable actions around the time of the murder, and tremendous back stories that are haunting and horrifying.

And watching the whole thing unfold is absolutely incredible.

There can be comparisons made to the great crime thriller The Killing, a show that was adored by many in its first seasons of trying to determine who killed Rosie Larsen. As exciting and twisting as The Killing was, Broadchurch is just better. Starting with a fantastic filming location, on the cliffs of England, to the spectacular writing and phenomenal writing, Broadchurch is as close to perfect as a series could be.

broad2The actors excel in their roles in this show. Starting with Jodie Whittaker, tasked with the role of the young, grieving mother, she makes us feel for her plight. She owns the pain the character feels, and it never comes across as hammy or over-acted. The detectives, played so well by David Tennant and Olivia Colman (who is more traditionally seen in comedic roles like Peep Show and Twenty Twelve), bring more depth to the show, as we care about their lives as well. Tennant is the outsider, new to the town, and Colman is the detective who has strong roots in the community, and their clashes while trying to solve the murder are clever and important to the development of the story.

There are many layers to the story here, so it is not simply a story of trying to resolve the murder of a young kid. There are stories of friendship, abuse, professional drama, personal drama, marital issues, questions of the role of the church, the role of media, the importance of our past following us, and more. All of it is wrapped up beautifully in the dark series.

Be warned, Broadchurch offers very little in the way of levity, or comedic relief. It is a hard, edgy, dark show, and this helps us cope with the brutality of the situation that the people of the town are going through.

Don’t hesitate on Broadchurch. It is so incredibly well done, it is pretty much guaranteed to be worth your while. It will keep you guessing until the very end, and there are a ton of plausible candidates to be the murderer. It is dark, and constantly mysterious, and an absolute thrill.

The best news just might be that there is going to be a second season of the show that begins in January.

Sherlock: Seasons 1 & 2 (TV Review)

Sherlock: Seasons 1 & 2 (TV Review)

After sitting forever in my Netflix queue, I finally got around to watching the first two seasons of the always highly recommended by others, Sherlock. That may seem like a lot of TV watching over a couple of days, but as it is a British series, each “season” is only three episodes long (each episode is about an hour and a half, however).

Pouring through the first couple of years, I wondered why I had been so hesitant to begin watching this show.

sherlockLike other British crime shows, Sherlock offers more than the North American fare. Shows like CSI, or The Mentalist, have always lacked something, a certain depth that is too rarely explored on American network TV. Here, we all know that the good crime shows with the real depth are on the cable networks, like AMC’s The Killing. But there has been a boon of very strong British crime drama of late, and along with The Fall and LutherSherlock deserves its place among the elite.

The premise of the show is easy, and we all know about Sherlock Holmes. Here we are given the introduction between Sherlock and his dear friend Watson at the beginning of the series, and from there we are taken off on their crime-solving adventures. The show is set in modern times, but there are always good nods to the classic tales of Sherlock Holmes, like the occasional incorporation of the famed hat.

Our modern version of Sherlock isn’t a pipe smoking sleuth, he is a “high functioning sociopath” that is trying to quit smoking cigarettes, has no time for social niceties, and is an absolute genius. Our new version of Sherlock is able to process massive amounts of information, making him a formidable opponent for any criminal activity.

As the series progresses, we see Sherlock go from an unknown entity who simply helps out the police now and then, to being known as an incredible crime solver, thanks to the blog of his friend Watson. The blog brings him fame, and unwanted attention, as he must deal with becoming a bit of a celebrity while just trying to find cases that satisfy his massive intellect, and ego, and will keep him entertained.

This fame raises the show to its climactic events at the end of season two, which culminates the battle between Sherlock and his greatest criminal opponent, Moriarty.

With each episode spanning nearly an hour and a half, each one is like a movie. There is an opportunity to develop a complex plot, as well as move the characters, and their lives, forward. This is where we get the depth in the show, as we get to know them all better, and begin to understand them more. Throw that in with some classic British wit, and there is a winning combination.

Something else that is found in a large number of British dramas is the quality of the acting. They always seem to have top-notch people fill out the roles, from the top to the most minor of characters. The same can not often be said about US counterparts.

sherlock2The lead roles are played by Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman (as Sherlock and Watson, respectively). And they are played especially well. Major credit goes to Cumberbatch, who truly owns the titular role, and makes the show as good as it is. Sherlock is a genius, and an egomaniac, straining all of the relationships he has with people. When he goes on one of his rants used to explain what is happening, it is great acting. Cumberbatch’s rapid fire speeches that remain eloquent in their own way engross the viewer, managing to explain so much, in such a small amount of time. He carries the show, as he should, and everybody else is a spectator in his life. Due to his mastery in the role, Cumberbatch has become a serious celebrity, and a fan girl’s dream. And, justifiably so. He truly is great here.

The mysteries themselves are always very solid in the show, some of them are completely engrossing. Certain episodes are simply great. The events of “The Hounds of Baskerville” are suspenseful and intense, the battles with Moriarty are great, and the inclusion of “The Woman” add a whole new twist to the show. Each episode is well thought out, interesting, and intense. It is a delight for viewers of mystery and suspense.

The show succeeds where I believe both Sherlock Holmes films failed. Despite the genius of Robert Downey Jr., those films were simply not great, in my opinion. There were simply put, dull. Sherlock avoids those trappings, and remains entertaining in each episode.

Everything about Sherlock is strong, from top to bottom. I have nothing to complain about with the series, and would definitely recommend giving it a watch, if you haven’t already.

It is great fun, seeing what will unfold from 221B Baker Street.