The Frozen Ground: when an upstanding citizen is accused of kidnapping, torturing and raping a ‘lying’ prostitute the case is immediately dropped, but lands on the desk of a diligent detective. The first-time director coaxes solid performances from an impressive cast: Con Air’s Cage and Cusack are always welcome (and Cage looks like he actually wants to be here!), supported by the likes of Vanessa Hudgens, Dean Norris, Kurt Fuller, Brad Henke, and 50 Cent’s teeth. Unlike 99% of serial killer films, this is different because you know very quickly who the baddie is – it’s not a random character added in the last act – so we see the cop stalking the killer, while the he tries to evade detection, not unlike Insomnia (in setting / location too). In fact the only real mis-step is the clichéd ‘over-committed-detective-with-suffering-family’ trope, but it’s a minor part of the picture. As great as this is, it’s a tough one to recommend because it’s pretty grim viewing in parts, but I’d put this as being head and shoulders above your average movie in the burgeoning ‘true crime / serial killer’ genre.
The Counselor: when a lawyer invests in a drug smuggling operation that goes south, the world around him collapses. This movie essentially comprises of a heap of dragged-out scenes where fine actors deliver lines that probably looked great in a script, but end up coming over as quasi-biblical, pears of faux wisdom “that would sound totally rad in the trailer, man.” Some of the conversations were so vague and non-directional that they felt intentionally cryptic for no reason. The other distracting aspect was the ridiculously over-luxurious, decadent and excessive lifestyle of every protagonist; lavish clothes, jewels, cars, props, and even animals – it feels more like you’re flipping through a high-end fashion magazine. The casting here is crazy-good, and the quality of actors is world-class, there’s even some great flashes of acting – but it’s all crushed under the weight of great expectations. The most fun you can get out of this is playing the “OMG it’s that guy” cameo-spotting game, with the likes of Toby Kebbell, Dean “Hank” Norris, Donna Air, Rosie Perez, Bruno Ganz. And seriously, does Cormac McCarty just sit at home thinking of new ways to kill people all day? In a nutshell, The Counselor is too arthouse-y for it’s own good – and the distracting stars, lifestyles, plot, and “that would be cool in a film” conversations make it all feel like a surreal advert – aimed more at getting punters in the screen, than delivering a decent film. You can’t help but feel disappointed that a cast/director/writer this good have produced something so ordinary and forgettable – when compared to a lesser cast and (arguably lesser) director doing balls-to-the-wall a film like Savages. The Counselor is a ridiculously convoluted (although NOT as hard to follow as people have made out) that lets us know immoral actions may have grave consequences – ahhh duh duh duh duh!
Breaking Bad (Season 4): The pressure’s turned up even higher as Walter White and his protégé Jessie Pinkman play a dangerous game of tactics with Mexico and ABQ’s top drug kingpins. This is the first season of BB that comes out of the blocks sprinting, starting dramatically, with the coldest murder to date. Almost every episode has a narrative purpose, story & character development and some solid drama – it’s not just about the characters anymore (finally). Needless to say the acting is some of the finest on TV; Walt and Jessie continue to evolve, but it’s Gus who shines brightest as an ever-calm, focused, calculating, courteous, professional, ruthless, business-minded, innocuous drug lord. Hank gets a lot more time, and a gripping sub-plot as he does some top investigation work; as does Mike, Gus’ hardened, dryly comic right-hand man. Visually, the show is like nothing else, with so many innovative & beautiful time-lapses, montages, and knockout camera shots. They’re often unusually high or low which sticks out; attached to an object (like a shovel or self-navigating vacuum cleaner); and sometimes stuck inside / behind / under something – a pipe or oven – and there’s even a dodgy ‘filming up through glass pretending to be underground’ shot. The show’s visual flair is one of its best and most unique features, and something that always keeps you on your toes. The tone also becomes more eclectic as everything closes in on Walt: synth music and manic laughter wouldn’t feel out of place in The Shining, and there’s some flat-out slapstick moments like Walt scrambling around his house trying to evade hitmen. Season 4 is when Breaking Bad finally makes the leap from good to fantastic and unmissable TV; every aspect is continually improving and evolving in to everything you could ask of a show; stylistically, plot-wise, and such 3D characters – which comes together to produce a final product that is entertaining, thrilling, dark, funny, ‘gritty’, and believable.
Breaking Bad Season 1 Review
Breaking Bad Season 2 Review
Breaking Bad Season 3 Review
BReaking BAd (Season 3): picks up soon after the explosive Season 2 finale, Walter and Jessie’s operation keeps growing, but is attracting yet more interest from the feds and rival gangs. By the time S3 had started we’d seen the ups and downs of the Walter-Jessie relationship several times, this season was – for me – the first time that another relationship became more interesting; Walter and Gus – which ranges from courteous & professional to explosively volatile – you also get the feeling that Walt has finally met his match, as Gus puts the squeeze on him, and the people he cares about. It’s definitely the best source of drama in this season. After Walt comes clean with Skyler their relationship also changes significantly, yet, not exactly in the direction you’d expect. Because so much emphasis is put on characters, family and relationships it takes over four episodes (of only thirteen) for any real plot to happen, and the only tension comes from the two silent cousin gang bangers. I find it fascinating in America that Breaking Bad depicts in-depth drug making techniques, drug use + abuse, violence, a man’s head being crushed by an ATM machine… but the word ‘fuck’ is bleeped out. Season three has some of the best moments (Car Park, Ladder confession, finale) in the series so far… yet it’s also got some of the slowest, most plodding and outright bizarre episodes (‘Fly’ episode feels out-of-place, and Walter – for the first time – appears ridiculously simple). The most defining feature of Breaking Bad is that it all still feels relatively normal and realistic – you believe in the characters, their families, their lives, their roles. You know people like these. That’s still the show’s strongest suit, but after 3 seasons it’s hard to see how much longer it can rely on character development over drama.
Breaking Bad (Season 2): picks up immediately where Season 1 finished, as the two rookie criminals slowly harden and come to terms with murky business that they are now a part of. With almost double the episodes, and the character groundwork laid in S1, there’s much more scope for the story strands to finally go somewhere. You get the feeling that the show is finally changing up the gears in the drama department. The biggest change is that we now see a lot the effects that the duo’s meth is having, in particular the social slant is much rougher than S1, with a proper – no-holds barred – look at the users, their families, and the more ruthless cartels. Both leads remain fantastic while their limits and attitudes constantly evolve, and it’s weird that no matter how horrific or low the things they do are, you’re still behind them all the way. Saul; a fascinating, funny, crooked lawyer, is a solid addition, and good comic relief in parts. Stylistically, it’s still very much unique, retaining it’s punky visual edge and stylistic colouring – which can, and does, liven up the slower sections of storytelling. So the stakes are higher, the operation’s bigger, the rivals are tougher, police more involved, personal lives more strained – what’s not to like about Season 2!? One of the few shows on the telly that manages to strike a great balance between entertainment, drama and comedy.
Braking Bad: a struggling middle-aged high-school chemistry teacher with two jobs finds out he has terminal cancer, however his get rich quick scheme is one-of-a-kind; cooking the purest crystal meth Albuquerque has ever seen. First off, the two central characters, Walter White and Jessie Pinkman, are played absolutely superbly by Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul. Walter a regular guy in a unique situation that forces him to use and abuses science to kill guys, blow up cars, dispose of bodies, burn a lock, and cook ‘glass grade’ crystal meth – his transformation through the series is interesting to watch as he manages to strike the impossible balance between sympathy through his cancer, and villanous through the cooking. Jessie is equally good as the streetwise, try-hard, and they’re dysfunctional relationship is entertaining and funny – it must have been a joy for the writers. To single out another character, the step-brother Hank is played brilliantly, with some great, subtle, comedy timing. The series does lose its way in the middle, with nothing really happening for a few episodes – far more ‘cancer drama’ than ‘drug/crime thriller’. It also ends very abruptly, bang in the middle of a volatile story arc; which leaves you gagging for Season 2. The show has a unique and distinctive visual style; it looks very 90s, with lots of vibrant colours popping out of the screen, and a grainy/distorted ‘tape’ effect. Breaking Bad: Season 1 takes a massive gamble by putting almost everything into the characters and their back-story, hoping that audiences connect enough to interest them in a second outing – it pays off, although if the dark/morbid/macabre humour and bleak story won’t be to everyone’s taste.