10/26/2010

TV on DVD Review: The Mentalist -- The Complete Second Season



Now Available to Own


Yes, mystery buffs might argue that it's consistently outmaneuvered by ABC's Castle with regard for the sheer number of bizarre twists that occur in each case-long forty-two minute episode, nonetheless in its second and vastly superior season, CBS' diabolically clever Mentalist proves why it's still the best police procedural series on American network television.


Yes, Castle's eponymous, charming lead played by Nathan Fillion may make you smile far more often than the unspeakably blunt and purposely tactless CBI consultant Patrick Jane (Simon Baker). And similarly, The Mentalist doesn't revel in pop culture laced banter like its conceptually similar comedic twin Psych.

However, the show clicks along more masterfully than the competition by ensuring that the supporting players are just as fascinating as the Sherlock Holmesian derived brooding hero who closes cases based on supremely heightened powers of observation as well as his keen psychologically intuitive insight into human behavior.


Yet Jane isn't nearly as huggable or soft around the edges as the other men who have filled similar television shoes in the aforementioned series as instead creator Bruno Heller's conflicted protagonist has more in common with characters we've seen across the pond in Cracker, Murphy's Law, Touching Evil and others.

As another brilliant outsider whom we can best tolerate and understand through the guidance and relationship of another outsider in the form of a female (a UK police procedural favorite standby), Jane has met his ideal match in Robin Tunney's tough but loyal Teresa Lisbon.


Benefiting from the near-shorthand you get after you work with someone long enough, the friendly colleagueship that at times hints at romantic tension but mainly the unconditional love of a makeshift family unit via Jane and Lisbon's intriguing dynamic has grown stronger with time and is reflected in the way the entire supporting cast is stepped up in this five-disc installment.



While the writers finally give in to poor lovesick Wayne Rigsby's unrequited love for Grace van Pelt as the two (played by Owain Yeoman and Amanda Righetti) tentatively embark on a relationship with consequences and complications neither was expecting, overall it's a standout season for Tim Kang's unflappable gang-banger turned agent, Kimball Cho.

Delving into his past and future as in addition to a new love interest, Cho's old ultra-violent alliances come calling, The Mentalist ratchets up personal drama and deftly balances it with each new case as the impressive season continuously surprises us.


Yet more than just presenting us with taut standalone episodes that boggle the mind, those behind the scenes earn particular admiration for paying off on certain cases several episodes later as well as sprinkling in a few new characters whom we just know will show up again either in this twenty-three episode run or the recently launched third season.

While most writers would be tempted to let Jane drop his guard down now that he's been around CBI for so long, right from the start, they explore Jane's dark side. Moreover, they're none too shy in hinting that instead of a mere quest for redemption to bring villains to justice to make amends for his life as a former trickster, Jane's primary goal is to deliver deadly justice to Red John, the psychopathic serial killer who slaughtered his wife and child.


And as the second season picks up from it's violent predecessor, Jane considers walking away from the California Bureau of Investigation altogether after the killer's case is assigned to Agent Sam Bosco (Terry Kinney), only to be grudgingly persuaded back to the squad by Lisbon... along with the opportunity to acquire more information about the Red John case by any means necessary.

Yet in addition to Jane's reckless behavior, the risks for all involved are elevated as buffers and new watchdogs are inserted into the squad with alarming consequences to prove that no one is safe.


Admittedly, at times, The Mentalist's incredible capacity for mental aerobics threatens to get the best of it as some hurdles are knocked down too quickly and subplots get lost in the shuffle in order to solve the case in forty-two breakneck minutes logic and complete understanding be damned. Yet fortunately as witnessed in this extraordinarily DVD collection, the duds are extremely few and far between.

The second season of Heller's consistently compelling puzzler steps up the cases as well as the roles of the cast of characters. Thus, it challenges you to – if not – untangle the web faster than Jane than at least master your patience as you wait for the final denouement and eagerly pick out the perp all over again by moving on to the next mentally riveting episode.


Text ©2010, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. 

FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.

Blu-ray Review: Three Kings (1999)



Now Available to Own




“Are we shooting people or what?” The sheer confusion and utter insanity of war embodied in the sardonic query posed by first class Army Reserve Sergeant Troy Barlow (Mark Wahlberg), which opens David O. Russell's screwball soldier boy heist movie immediately sets the tone of what's to come.


It's a pitch-perfect first line of dialogue in a year of enviably brilliant screenplays from American Beauty to Magnolia to Being John Malkovich and in 1999's prolific year where creative, thought-provoking masterpieces were pouring into the multiplex like rain in Seattle, the fact that we can instantly recall those words eleven years later speaks volumes.

Nonetheless, at the same time, we were overwhelmed and damn near spoiled by theatrical greatness the likes we haven't seen very often in recent years of titles that we usually randomly wind up adding to our Top 10 list largely by lack of suitable options. Thus, it's unfortunate that aside from critical praise including earning a major champion in Roger Ebert, Three Kings didn't receive the attention it deserved in a crowded twelve months of unforgettable pictures.

While overall the year belonged to Sam Mendes and Alan Ball's equally sardonic, satirical Beauty, ironically Kings was eclipsed in the arty scene by the efforts of one of the film's stars – Spike Jonze's own instant cult favorite Being John Malkovich.

And after American soldiers returned to Iraq following the horrific attacks of 9/11, Warner Brothers' acclaimed Kings began drawing a new wave of interest from fans. Particularly, it attracted those looking to address parallels in the both wars in tandem with the fact that both conflicts were overseen by presidents from the same family as well as the increasing concern that like the Gulf War, we were predominantly fighting for oil as addressed in Kings.


Yet because of sensitivity and controversy surrounding the situation, it seemed that the thing we needed more than anything in order to step back and really look closer (to use a lesson from Mendes' Beauty) with regard to Russell's Kings was time, making this recent Blu-ray release one of extraordinary pre-election urgency.

Honestly, this is particularly vital in assessing not just the confusion, overwhelming complexities and acknowledgment that nothing is black and white but to a larger extent in understanding just how eerie it is in retrospect to dissect the way that history just keeps repeating itself whether or not “we're shooting people or what.”


And although it's not bashful about its politics, Russell's movie works well on a number of levels, best perhaps as first and foremost an old-fashioned '60s testosterone fueled male camaraderie outsider picture of men on a mission.

But instead of presenting us with a Kelly's Heroes ensemble consisting of a Dirty Dozen or Magnificent Seven large number, we tag along with a small group of soldiers played by George Clooney's embittered nearly retired Major, Wahlberg's Troy and his friend Chief Elgin (Ice Cube) along with Troy's sycophantic sidekick Conrad (Jonze).


The core trio comprise the eponymous three kings, in an admittedly less than religious but extremely witty interpretation of the tale in reverse as unlike their namesake's role of bearing gifts after traveling afar, their intent is to take ill-gotten goods back for themselves in the form of Saddam Hussein's stolen Kuwaiti gold.

In addition to the Kubrickian Strangelove infused larger than life situations where messages masquerade as humor, Russell manages to satirize the media, most specifically via actress Nora Dunn's thinly disguised take on Christiane Amanpour, whose career at CNN you may recall was solidified for her Gulf War coverage.

To push this agenda of the filter of news coverage even further on a stylistic, subtle level, the look of the film is incredibly surreal as Kings' team bleached the film stock, thereby desaturating color in order to bring the war home to viewers the way that we first saw it in newsprint to trippy effect.



Piecing together different elements in a genre blending quilt of madness and freewheeling creativity, what begins as an adventurous buddy comedy morphs into something much more humanistic and troubling. Since they are after all supposed to be heroic, predictably the men's pursuit of stolen fortune is usurped by the reality of the “New Iraq” following the conclusion of the war as the American soldiers aren't able to take up arms against Saddam's loyal fighters who kill innocents in cold blood before their eyes.


Ultimately, they face a tough moral decision of whether or not to get involved without the government say-so because as both human beings and soldiers they just can't witness such atrocities without response. However, around this point, Kings begins to grow slightly incredulous as it moves from a smaller scale war film into something resembling a Clint Eastwood spaghetti western in the vein of the Kurosawa remake A Fistful of Dollars in yet another example of Russell's growing tapestry of genre interplay.

Nonetheless, ultimately its temporary loss of focus and direction in the last act is forgiven by the overall visceral impact of the work when the credits roll. Impossible to pin down, Kings is a towering achievement and the type of film that the abysmal, pointless Clooney vehicle The Men Who Stare at Goats proved cannot be duplicated.

However, given Russell's fascination with visualizing the damage a bullet causes on the inside of the body rather than through fake blood on the outside, Kings is not a film for the squeamish or to be watched while dining. But just like the insanity of wondering whether or not to fire a gun from the start, these explosive sequences are vital to illuminate what really goes on after the squeeze of a trigger.


Although his disagreement and fights with the director were widely publicized and debated in the media, Kings boasts a tremendous breakout performance by Clooney whose turn in the film solidified his potential as a leading man on the big screen as opposed to just his small screen work on TV's E.R..

And fortunately, the movie shines in an exceptional Blu-ray transfer wherein the explosive high definition sound rockets through all of your home theatre speakers and likewise ensures that you won't miss Russell's incredibly penned memorable lines. For the time has never been better to take another trip through Russell's royally twisted Kings to appreciate the genius hidden like Saddam's gold under the facade of a war-torn buddy heist action dramady.


Text ©2010, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  

FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.

DVD Review: Agora (2009)



Now Available to Own

 

Don't let the fact that you haven't heard of this sumptuously shot and intelligently written work from The Others mastermind Alejandro Amenabar fool you into expecting the worst. First and foremost, the victim of a forgettably bland title (“Agora” refers to an Ancient Greek gathering place), this multiple award winning Spanish import was done no favors by a foolishly inaccurate advertising strategy.

Hoping to play up the sandals and swords on display in Amenabar's old-fashioned Ben-Hur like historical opus by giving action seekers empty promises of a Troy, Alexander or Gladiator angle, Lionsgate ultimately did Agora a disservice.

Essentially a bad strategic gamble that underestimated moviegoers, the studio failed to attract those looking for something intellectually – rather than viscerally – thrilling. Amenabar's unusual, admirable work celebrates science, philosophy, deductive reasoning, logic and scholarly pursuit as the purest and most noble weapon to employ against religious fundamentalism fueled violence as Rachel Weisz's brilliant astronomer Hypatia instructs her pupils in matters of equality and the importance of proof over blind faith.


Yet instead of letting the facts speak for themselves, those marketing this passionate chronicle of events surrounding the fall of Alexandria in a 4th century holy war, falsely paint Hypatia as some sort of Lara Croft meets Cleopatra construct.

Moreover, we're led to believe that “the fate of the ancient world is left in the hands” of Hypatia whom the synopsis claims “becomes the center of an epic battle that changes history forever,” when as a woman, in all actuality and aside from the respect she rightfully earned as part of the Platonic school, Hypatia is merely the one voice of reason in an increasingly unreasonable world ruled by men.

Intriguingly as the movie begins, Hypatia's beauty and gender is presented to us like it's almost an accidental afterthought. Mainly, the well-respected astronomy teacher challenges her diverse all-male class of Christians, Jews and Pagans who worship the mythological Gods as well as nonbelievers to weigh the pros and cons of Ptolemy's geocentric model of the universe versus the as yet unproven controversial heliocentric theory.

However, while sexual desire is the last thing on the mind of the seemingly asexual Hypatia (despite Weisz's wish that Amenabar would've allowed her to explore her character's femininity a bit further), obviously at least a handful of her pupils are attracted to the oblivious scholar.


Her most ardent would-be suitors include the handsome Pagan Orestes (Oscar Isaac) who declares his love for his master in public before she brusquely and matter-of-factly refuses him since to be wed would mean that she would then become a devoted servant and no longer free to expand her mind.

No stranger to the contradictions of freedom and servitude, Hypatia's most intense admirer is her loyal slave Davus (Max Minghella). From the first moment Minghella's Davus appears onscreen, we're immediately aware of what's lurking underneath his gaze.

And considering the hot, smoldering looks he musters up the courage to send her way, it's no wonder that out of frustration that they're not of equal station, Davus rebels. Enslaved, he becomes a Christian in order to be free and perhaps does so with the aspiration to declare his love as a man worthy of her hand until the tenderness of his affection is tainted with violent anger.

Despite his fascinating presence, the character of Davus is fictitious. Likewise, we can't be certain just how accurate the depiction is on the whole regarding what eventually occurred with some of Hypatia's former pupils who turn on her by aligning with the Christians following a deadly holy war that overthrew the Pagans and destroyed the Library of Alexandria.

For by eliminating all theories and scientific proofs in the library, the Christian warriors drive home the lesson that in direct contrast with scholarly pursuit, there is only one book to follow. Thus, the underlying message of the danger of fundamentalism in religion of all types remains truer and timelier than ever.

And repeatedly, Agora easily and urgently invites us to draw parallels with what is going on in the Middle East today when we see large statues being defaced and toppled to the ground as well as contradictions in religious words and actions here and abroad.

Yet as much as we're initially tempted to simply yell “hypocrite” when presented with the often two-faced Christian characters, Amenabar's film is much more complicated in reminding one that even if you believe in something, you shouldn't stop questioning the world around you.

While solar system astronomy is the topic that obsessed Hypatia in her pursuit to remind those that we're all so insignificant in the scheme of things and what unites us is stronger than what divides us, Agora also challenges viewers to inquire about the motives, repercussions and authenticity of blind faith.

Similar to the way that Hypatia understands that to give herself to a man as a wife, she'll have to put her scholarly days behind her since she will never be able to disobey “her master,” Amenabar draws this subtextual theme out even further by daring us to compare this decision to that of her refusal to convert to religion.

Namely, even though her society has been overrun and her fellow Pagans have given in, Hypatia understands that becoming a Christian will mean that she will never be able to question her master God's unexplainable ways since fundamentalist devout faith requires the absence of reason, logic, and absolute knowledge.

In stark contrast to the way that Davus sought freedom from literal servitude through Christianity, Hypatia knows that she'll be giving up her freedom for servitude if she joins the religion. For instead of taking up arms, Hypatia takes as many scrolls as she can out of the library, understanding that only the truth can set her free and that can't be found by following just one line of thinking.

An unparalleled discovery considering most limited-run Lionsgate discs, it's a brilliant, provocative film about matter over mettle (or even metal). And while Agora does lose focus a bit as it continues on considering the amount of characters and a little suspension of gender-blind disbelief with regard to Hypatia post-holy war, the lengthy yet ambitious new approach to an old fashioned epic makes Agora well worth putting enough faith into to make up your own mind.


Text ©2010, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. 

FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.

Blu-ray Review: Mad Max (1979)



Now Available to Own






With the combined sounds of a car engine timed with Brian May's remarkably intense musical score that initially seemed like it was in the same vein as The French Connection, we're immediately placed on edge during the perfunctory opening credit sequence of Mad Max.

And given the odd but arresting marriage of a driving soundtrack and ambient driving noise of an automotive roar, although we're unaware of exactly what's to occur next, we're well aware that we've never seen anything remotely like it, once our eyes are presented with the opportunity to focus long enough to take in two deranged, nihilistic joy-riders flying down an open Australian road.

Undaunted by the sight of police officers zeroing in on them and eerily unstopped by the fact that they're heading into a well populated area filled with wandering toddlers, there's plenty of madness to witness in the lengthy car chase that introduced the world to Mad's Mel Gibson.


In effect, filmmaker George Miller's groundbreaking, independently financed and executed futuristic dystopian action thriller kicks off with a bravura sequence that doubles as a litmus test for the viewer to see how much we're going to be able to handle in a film that was originally banned in two countries upon release and boasts a conclusion that inspired the Saw franchise.

Briskly paced and constantly self-inventing, Max builds suspense continuously as it pays off on earlier events often at unexpected times. To this end, you're never exactly sure who (if anyone) will be safe and just what in fact characters will be walking into as Gibson's jaded police officer, Max Rockatansky finds himself caught between an adrenaline junkie nature and a desire to quit the force for his wife and child.


Yet when an out-of-control outlaw motorcycle gang of psychopaths go after those closest to Max, he has no choice but to seek revenge. Although the screenplay is incredibly weak overall, the most distressingly disappointing aspect of Mad is that the character of Max is extremely under-developed and somewhat illogically unsympathetic for not following the title cue to get “mad” earlier on following the murder of his partner!

If he had realistically been proactive, as opposed to uncharacteristically (especially for his profession) retreating during an anticlimactic act of time-suckage until the worst happens, Max could've prevented further murderous mayhem by morphing into the badass Aussie version of Charles Bronson's antihero in Death Wish or Clint Eastwood's in Dirty Harry.

Nonetheless, putting aside our issues with the script and character conundrums, what we're left with in Mad Max is one ambitiously original, aggressively bold action powerhouse that builds outrageous chases upon chases with recklessly cinematic abandon. And along the way, Max's crew puts creativity ahead of practical concerns like budgetary expenses as if the indie film from a debut director had James Bond franchise style money-men behind it.


Throughout, it walks (or rather races) along the fine line between sadistic ultra-violence and unforgettable images to jolt us to attention as if instead of gas, the cars and Kawasaki bikes were running on pure adrenaline fueled testosterone.

A controversial powerhouse, George Miller's Mad Max is a stunner of a movie that's impact still resonates today as I recognized countless moments that have influenced major motion pictures repeatedly during this – my very first – experience watching Max in action on high-definition Blu-ray.

Technically speaking, although Max was the country's first film to be shot using an anamorphic widescreen camera lens, the sun-drenched landscapes don't exactly lend themselves to eye-popping clarity since the visual emphasis of Max is on the gritty, unforgiving bleakness of their dystopian surroundings.

Nonetheless, the soundtrack – including the original Australian voice-work instead of the American dubbed theatrical version released in the United States – is so overwhelmingly augmented that it damn near blew out my Sony speakers and subwoofer as if they were a set of tires being beaten down to the rims by Officer Rockatansky in a high speed pursuit.


Text ©2010, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  

FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.