Ballers Ep. 1 (Pilot) Review: Scraping In


Creator: Steve Levinson

Channel: HBO

Stars: Dwayne Johnson, Omar Benson Miller, John David Washington, Rob Corddry

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In 2004, HBO franchise Entourage delivered the ultimate frat-boy, rags-to-riches fantasy. The show, delivering vicarious thrills via babes and big houses, became a trendsetter of gargantuan proportions. Today, with equality the aim of the Hollywood game, the show and movie have become a sad indictment of mid-2000s idiocy and greed. Sadly, for Dwayne Johnson more than anyone, HBO sports-dramedy Ballers simply cannot escape Entourage‘s soul-sucking shadow. However, thanks to its charismatic lead actor, it still has enough potential to step up with all guns blazing.

Ballers, despite significant flaws early on, has enough potential to become one of the year’s most entertaining shows. The pilot sets up season 1’s intriguing premise, but fumbles before reaching the end zone. American Football is now drenched in controversy. The NFL, refusing to take responsibility, has seen some of its biggest stars commit atrocities including rape and domestic violence. Less importantly, on-field incidents including Deflategate have made NFL a laughing stock. Stuck between Any Given Sunday and Jerry Maguire, the series focuses on former player turned sports agent Spencer Strasmore (Johnson), pushed by financial advisor Joe (Rob Corddry) to “monetise” his ‘friendships’. His early retirement, at the hands of crippling concussion, has affected his health, psychology, and finances.

Like Maguire, Ballers covers a handful of ego-driven superstars on the brink of wasting such unequivocal potential. Ricky Jerret (John David Washington), leading a debaucherous lifestyle, may soon lose his roster spot for the upcoming season. Vernon, however, cannot help but throw money at family members and friends. Meanwhile, similarly to Spencer, Charles Greane (Omar Benson Miller) is a nice-guy former athlete searching high and (painfully) low for his future career path. The pilot gave us a taste of future conflicts, with top-tier sports agent Jason (Troy Garity) and Miami Dolphins executive Larry (Dule Hill) popping up at opportune moments.

The pilot attempts an out-there fusion of over-the-top bromantic dramedy (Entourage) and in-depth character study (Jerry Maguire). Despite the bright, fun imagery and cool cast, the episode’s tonal shifts leave cause for concern. Its oil-and-water trajectory – between brash comedic moments and maudlin soul-searching – hit like a defensive lineman. However, even on shaky ground, its core ingredients make 30 minutes fly like Russell Wilson. Spencer, crushed by his former teammate’s death, is more likeable than most HBO anti-heroes. Balancing out the sex and pill popping, his guile and charm elevate the show’s slower moments.

ballers02Mainstream hot-shot Peter Berg, having worked with Johnson on Welcome to the Jungle over a decade ago, revels in the high-class lifestyle the show’s lead characters take for granted. The pilots run-time is packed with sex scenes, nightclub sequences, and stilted camerawork gazing longingly at multi-million dollar mansions. However, Berg never forgets to highlight professional sport’s indestructible dark side. The episode’s many ups and downs, from Jerret’s out-of-control behaviour to Spencer’s first few successful meetings, illuminate one key aspect – humanity is essential to any industry.

Ballers‘ first episode, though an awkward kick off, showcases enough potential to deliver one of contemporary TV’s most lively and enjoyable dramedies. Johnson and Berg, overcoming Entourage‘s suffocating and dated allure, provide solid groundwork to get their latest creation off and running.

True Detective S2, Ep.1Review: Truest Grit


Creator: Nic Pizzolatto

Channel: HBO

Stars: Colin Farrell, Rachel McAdams, Taylor Kitsch, Vince Vaughn

TrueDetectiveS2_KeyArt-692x10243½/5

Last Year, crime-thriller TV series True Detective became a pop-culture staple of epic proportions. Beyond Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson’s insatiable charisma, lines including “Time is a flat circle” were uttered more than anything the big screen offered up. Showrunner Nic Pizzolatto’s neo-noir masterpiece, despite a few bumps along the way, rightfully sat atop many Best of… lists. So, with HBO and its rock-solid fan base looking over his shoulder, how could Pizzolatto ever top Season 1’s serving of blood, balls, and brains? Season 2’s first episode, The Western Book of the Dead, promises a more conventional, but still groundbreaking and energetic, detective-thriller anthology.

The Western Book of the Dead follows four major characters prone to jumping between both sides of the law. Our central ‘protagonist’, Detective Raymond Velcoro (Colin Farrell), still reels over his ex-wife’s rape. Shifting through the Vinci Police Department’s jurisdiction, Velcoro’s loyalties lay with criminal and entrepreneur Frank Semyon (Vince Vaughn). Semyon, whose business partner Ben Caprese has mysteriously disappeared, must prematurely present his light rail plans in front of his wife Jordyn (Kelly Reilly), city representatives, and varying mob connections. Meanwhile, Detective Antigone “Ani” Bezzerides, neck-deep in a missing person’s case, stumbles across her sister Athena and father Eliot’s misgivings.

This episode resembles the four main characters – as slimy, retched, and enthralling with too much to keep track of. The characters, writhing in the grit and despair their professions entail, rarely display empathetic or endearing traits. Pizzolatto, in an effort to ‘dark and gritty’ his creation to an unholy extent, develops loud, brash ciphers of Rustin Cohle and Martin Hart. Their antics and emotional flip-outs border on parody. Velcoro, threatening his son and his son’s bully before eviscerating the bully’s father, has already become a mindless creature. The thinnest plot-thread, surrounding physically and psychologically damaged war veteran/California Highway Patrolman Paul Woodrugh, adds nothing but silly, overwrought stylistic interludes.

TDBar640Pizzolatto’s blunt, pulpy screenplay delivers several confusing one-liners. Lines like “If you ever bully or hurt anybody again, I’ll come back and butt fuck your father with your mom’s headless corpse on this goddamn lawn” land with a deafening thud. Unlike Season 1, Season 2 has been handed to multiple filmmakers. Director Justin Lin, attempting to kick off a new season and live up to mind-numbing expectations, adapts to the anthology format efficiently. Lin, fusing his blockbuster-driven style with the series’ vulnerable sensibilities, is a valiant successor to Season 1’s Cary Fukunaga. Lin, however, never stretches beyond the conventional HBO-crime-thriller aesthetic. His handheld camerawork and attention to detail adds to the series’ immense thirst for nihilism and dread. The climax and resolution will leave its audience yearning for the next episode.

Though slightly disappointing and wildly all over the place, The Western Book of the Dead might not hold up on its own. However, as a “Welcome home” special, it makes for an intensifying first chapter for Pizzolatto’s beloved creation.

The next episode, Night Finds You, will air on June 28th.

Greenfield (Web Series) Review: Always Greener


Directors: Julius Telmer, Jevgeni Nicolai Busk

Writers: Jevgeni Nicolai Busk, Morten Pape, Julius Telmer, Daniel James Tenni

Stars: Ethan Thomas, Marthe Snorresdotter Rovik, Liam Graham, Claudia Cirillo

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4½/5

Review: GREENFIELD

Tech. Review: Lenovo TAB 2 A7-10 7″ Tablet


4½/5

The tablet has become one of modern technology’s most popular devices. The handheld system can hold enough power to topple governments, carry a household’s worth of entertainment, and store the average Joe’s slew of upcoming work projects simultaneously. Today, the tablet is the perfect tool for business and pleasure. The size, easy-to-use setup, and storage capacity make it a must-have. So, why do tech. stores and online hubs make it so difficult to choose?!

lenovo-tab2-a7-10hero01-1Swiping through the vast array of Apple and Samsung merchandises can turn a harmless venture into a frustrating and mind-altering battle to pick, buy, and leave the complex. In addition, Recently, Windows and other major brands have made strong pitches worthy of your cold, hard cash. I present the Lenovo TAB 2 A7-10 7″ Tablet – a device putting up a hard fight against the IPad and Samsung Galaxy. Firstly, and this should be the tagline, the A7-10 can perform almost everything the bigger brands love shouting about…all for the humble retail price of $99. Automatically, that is a win!

The A7-10 is one of Android’s biggest releases over the past few years. The exterior traits will immediately lure in the average punter. It’s crisp 7″ screen delivers more than enough aesthetic glamour to suit every function. The screen – fitting its sleek, ergonomic design – delivers on the promise of its 1024×600 IPS display for efficient profile and wide-angle viewing. Its, being a worthwhile companion from any adventure, can thank its 269g weight and 9.3mm thickness for its popularity. Its use as a kindle, mp3 player, and web-surfing tool simultaneously fits for business, pleasure, and adventure.

Thanks to its 1GB Ram, 8GB internal storage and 8-hour battery life, this Lenovo tablet is one of the most advanced 7″ devices on the market. The film buffs and gamers, the device delivers a quad core processor enables multi-tasking on a grander scale. If that was not enough, its Dolby Audio setup allows for a clearer surround sound system than any other Lenovo. Valuably, its GPS functions are ideal for any situation with or without Wi-Fi. The software, though more useful online than offline, Android’s 4.4 KitKat Operating System ups the ante for future Lenovo projects.

Apps and services like Word need help from Google Play, with downloading speeds depending entirely on Wi-Fi strength. In addition, connection between laptop devices and the tablet could fray and spatter, so make sure to back up your work. Despite minor hindrances, however, the A7-10 is the most effective and efficient tablet devices out there. Get in, before the i-Padders realise what they’re not looking at/swiping/throwing across the room in frustration like a frisbee.

Verdict: A smart, Smooth, and Snazzy Tablet.

Heat (1995) Retrospective Review: Mann-made Masterstroke


Director: Michael Mann

Writer: Michael Mann

Stars: Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Val Kilmer, Tom SizemorE

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Release date: December 15th, 1995

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 170 minutes


1995 cops-and-robbers heist-thriller Heat, along with a handful of other mid-1990s releases including Se7en and Braveheart, helped construct mainstream cinema as we see it today. Nowadays, we roll our eyes whenever a typical heist-thriller graces the big-screen. The 21st Century’s over-saturation of cinema, TV, and contemporary art – from the past and present – has given us an undying sense of fatigue and frustration. Thanks to Heat‘s groundbreaking production, anyone can look at any heist-thriller’s poster, take a deep breath, and predict the entire plot.

Of course, most current action-thriller filmmakers owe Heat an enormous debt of gratitude. From top to bottom, Heat is an invigorating tale of broken promises and senseless desire. Based on former Chicago police officer Chuck Adamson and his pursuit of career criminal named McCauley, Mann goes hell-for-leather adapting this haunting and ballsy narrative. Here, LAPD robbery-homicide detective Lt. Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino) is positioned as the City of Angels’ gun-and-ego-toting sheriff. Struggling through his third marriage, with frustrated wife Justine (Diane Venora), Hanna places his work above anything or anyone else. Meanwhile, uber-successful thief Neil McCauley (Robert De Niro) and his crew – Chris Shiherlis (Val Kilmer), Michael Cheritto (Tom Sizemore), Trejo (Danny Trejo), and new guy Waingro (Kevin Cage) – set up a dangerous armoured truck heist to steal $1.6 million in bearer bonds belonging to money launderer Roger Van Zant (William Fichtner).

heat1Mann, having developed 1980s TV series’ Miami Vice and Crime Story, made his name in on-screen crime and corruption. Heat, based on his 1989 NBC TV movie LA Takedown, was the Chicagoan filmmaker’s pet project. He, learning from the hits and misses, wanted to create the essential ode to LA, genre, Hollywood, and mainstream entertainment. rollicking through the 80s and 90s, Mann has given such timeless, effervescent classics including The Last of the Mohicans, Manhunter and Thief. The latter, showcasing blue-collar criminals tearing into safes, kicked off Mann’s affection for anti-heroes and vicious bastards.

So, how does this particular filmmaker make us side with safe-crackers, bank-robbers, assassins, and goons? Heat lives up to its namesake – cranked up to 11 throughout its breezy 170-minute running time. This crime-thriller never drags or strays, sticking with its core ingredients up until its confounding final frame. The duel between good and evil, solidified by Pacino’s tough, ‘true’ detective and De Niro smooth criminal, draws a blurred, intricate line. Hanna and McCauley, despite little interaction, make one another fall back in love with their respective endeavours. Hanna, committed unhealthily to the gun and badge, is pushed to the brink by McCauley’s horrifying antics. Unlike his compatriots, Hanna’s gunning-for-blood style provides the balance between brains, brawn, and balls.

De Niro, after discovering Hanna’s reputation, steps up his game to ensure on going success. He, taking out the trash after each mission, becomes a lean, mean brute becoming as much of a perfectionist as Mann himself. Pacino and De Niro, despite sharing only 10 minutes of screen time, click together as two sides of the same coin. The notorious diner sequence, bringing the Godfather Part II actors together for the first time, provides a weighty, poetic exchange between two veterans prepped for the future. The supporting cast – including Jon Voight, Natalie Portman, Ashley Judd, Ted Levine, Dennis Haysbert, Hank Azaria, Henry Rollins, and Jeremy Piven – elevate this crime-thriller above similar 90s shoot-em-ups (Bad Boys, The Rock).

heatwideMann, having spent 7 months joining ride-alongs with the LAPD’s robbery and homicide department, pushes himself, his performers, and crew into the blood, sweat and, tears approach to big-budget filmmaking. His immaculate attention to detail, noticeable in each frame throughout his multi-pronged career, is an extraordinary force of nature unafraid of studio expectations. Mann hurled his actors into bizarre situations – having De Niro and co. case a real bank without warning. In fact, Sizemore – to distract some of the staff – began fake negotiations for a loan throughout the experiment. Beyond this, Mann made sure his actors became intimately involved with their characters’ livelihoods – having them converse with actual criminals in Folsom State Prison.

Here, Mann makes a point of fusing masculinity and stakes with LA’s harsh, salty atmosphere. His penchant for sharp, eye-popping visuals shines from the opening frame. His focus on gritty, urban vistas adds to the movie’s nightmarish allure. His affection for street lights, bold colours, and concrete-laden cityscapes defines his auteur-level persistence. Mann utilises diners, nightclubs, and apartment blocks to accentuate the banality of day-to-day existence. For cop and criminal, LA is a disgusting, labyrinthian maze in which only a small handful have a chance of escaping. Hanna and McCauley’s immense knowledge of LA keep them on their toes and ahead of everyone else.

To this day, Heat‘s action sequences are still seen as some of the best in contemporary crime-thriller entertainment. Mann, having developed a style sitting comfortable between Depression-era shootouts and John Woo-inspired chaos, effectively fuses his attention to detail, thrilling pace, and claustrophobic atmosphere. The opening heist sequence broke the mould, testing each actor’s limits and the possibilities of big-budget action cinema. This set-piece was pulled without CGI, flipping a top-heavy truck whilst shooting on location downtown. The banks heist, one of the loudest in recent memory, was similarly overblown and impeccably constructed. Putting the actors through three months of firearm training, this sprawling sequence unleashes its director’s range of well-constructed ticks and tropes.

500fullHeat set Mann on a hit-and-miss path between its muted release and today. In 1999, The Insider roared into cinemas. Earning a collection of Oscar nominations, its arresting political-thriller twang launched Russell Crowe’s name into the A-list. 2001 saw Will Smith earn and Oscar nomination for his searing, rhythmic portrayal of Muhammed Ali. Collateral, released in 2004, paired Jamie Foxx and Tom Cruise in a run-all-night action-thriller with several over worldly twists and turns. However, as his affection for digital photography took hold, he delivered several problematic crime-thrillers. Miami Vice, Public Enemies, and Blackhat – receiving middling critical and commercial returns – put dents in the 70+ filmmaker’s reputation.

Heat, having influenced everything from The Town to The Dark Knight, is a cracking, crafty crime-thriller with one eye on the score. Mann’s signature visuals, attentiveness, and saucy action direction help pull off the incomprehensible – make us root equally for cops and criminals.

Cinderella (Home Release) Audio Review: Shattered Slipper


Director: Kenneth Branagh

Writers: Chris Weitz (screenplay), Charles Perrault (novel)

Stars: Lily James, Cate Blanchett, Richard Madden, Stellan Skarsgard

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Release date: March 13th, 2015

Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures 

Country: USA

Running time: 105 minutes


2½/5

Review:

Drive Book Review: Noir Navigator


Author: James Sallis

Publishers: Mariner Books, Scottsdale, AZ: Poisoned Pen Press

Genres: Noir, Crime-thriller

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Release date: 2005

Country: USA


3½/5

The connection between entertainment and reality has never been stronger. However, as our sponge-like brains absorb increasingly more movies, TV shows, songs, books, comics etc., our perception of reality has grown to resemble a multi-coloured, indecipherable blur. For example, anything featuring fast cars will push backward-cap-donning revv-heads to stain cinema car parks with tire tread and lost brain cells. Every so often, however, a creation will walk the line between intelligence and entertainment as coolly as a Buddhist tight-rope walker. Drive, written by author/poet/critic/musician/musicologist James Sallis, is one such attempt with something for book, TV, and film buffs alike.

His first critically and commercially effective novel provides pitch-perfect doses of explosive thrills and philosophical touches. This noir actioner, garnering a sequel, Driven, in 2012, is the greatest example of fusing Zen-like peacefulness and subtlety with Hollywood’s ADHD-like necessity for thrills, chills, and spectacle. drive-bvfThe story is simple enough, following a man so mysterious and collected he never gives out his real name. Our lead, known as ‘Driver’ to the reader, leads a lonely, one-note existence. His day jobs include race-car driver and car-crash-savvy stuntman. However, his night-time activities lean on the wrong side of the law. To the underground universe of Los Angeles, Driver is the getaway driver worth tracking down.

Sallis’ best-selling beach-read revels in the ghouls and demons languishing in the City of Angels. From the opening page, the narrative, characters, and details stick like grit underneath fingernails. The story follows a collection of missions Driver carries out, testing his will, guile, and patience. Each chapter is separated into dark, atmospheric, and pulsating short stories. Shifting between lonely nights – in his filthy one-room apartment and daring assignments, Driver is a likeable but ambiguous audience avatar. With only a handful of character traits (“I drive. That’s what I do. All I do.”) Sallis paints his anti-hero’s existence with healthy splashes of blood-curdling restraint.

Despite horrific subject matter, Sallis short-but-sweet style is easy to digest over a couple of hours. Known for Lew Griffin and John Turner series, the acclaimed writer perfects his crime-thriller style within Drive‘s subdued, succinct narrative. Driver is an overwhelming noir lead character. Fuelled by blood-baths and carjackings, the balance between chaos and remorse is difficult to repel. The narration, treating several moments of hardcore violence with control, is wholly focused on character over kills. Drive’s conflict, between nice guy and revenge-fuelled toughie, provides a hearty, rich concoction of noir, action-thriller, and character study.

Unlike the film, in which Driver’s decisions are influenced by his neighbour, Irene, and her child after her husband/his dad’s death, the book treats remorseless as the all-encompassing form of justice. Right and wrong become blurred, fitting into the mid-2000s anti-hero trend disgusted by the American Dream. Subverting and building upon noir and airport-read conventions, the focus on alienation, displacement, and mean-spiritedness is not for everyone. At a pacy, refreshing 187 pages, Sallis’ story is a Tin Man figure – lacking heart, but determined and spirited throughout the adventure.

Verdict: A gritty but simplistic Airport yarn.